The idea of going on an Africa safari started about two years ago when I suggested to my wife that we consider expanding our summer trips from Western Europe to other parts of the globe. Each time I suggested it she would veto the idea because of the “risks” and her general comfort level and love for France and Italy. Two things happened to get her to change her mind. First, some unsettling events in Western Europe made it clear that no place is completely safe and second, I pointed out that our son William would be leaving for college in a few years and this is the time we would be able to travel as a family. It helped that William was becoming a young man and was interested in new and bigger adventures.
Last summer we visited Machu Picchu (my wife, Rocio, was born in Peru), and later in the summer visited Iceland. Prior to our recent trip to Africa, our most audacious journey was to Japan for the kid’s Spring Break this past March. When I pointed out that we traditionally ski during this trip, William did some research and soon had arranged for us to spend a few of our days in Niseko for some incredible powder skiing.
Starting about one and a half years ago, William became interested in photography especially videotaping with his drone. He started filming our trips and then editing them to music. Including his Africa video he has completed eight videos, each one better than the last. His Africa one is my favorite so far. It is wonderful to have our family trips memorialized in these videos and immediately available on his YouTube channel. Obviously, these are memories that my wife and I will always cherish.
The idea of planning a trip to Africa was intimidating so we decided to use Backroads, an American travel company that specializes in active travel vacations. It was an easy decision to use them as this was our eighth trip with them and they have always done a great job.
Our adventure started on July 19, flying from Ft Lauderdale, FL to Dubai. We spent a few forgettable days in Dubai before flying to Cape Town, South Africa. In Cape Town, we spent several days exploring the city and surrounding areas. A highlight was a family hike on Lion’s Head that had spectacular views of Table Mountain and the bay surrounding Cape Town. We met our group on July 25 in Cape Town and began the organized portion of the tour. There were 19 people which included four families and two guides. The families were all from the United States and Canada. The kids ranged from 9-16 yrs old. The oldest adult was an 82-year-old grandmother whose energy, mental sharpness and intellectual curiosity were the envy of the other adults.
From our meeting point, we headed to Table Mountain and hiked through the adjacent forest. Our first two nights were spent at The Cellars-Hohenort just outside of Cape Town. The second day we headed to Cape Point and hiked to the Cape of Good Hope. William filmed some spectacular shots with his drone. We then biked and drove through the incredible Chapman’s Peak.
On our third, day we left the Cape Town area and drove to Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness retreat where we saw incredible wildlife and rock art. We biked, hiked, and traveled on Landcruisers to see the wildlife. At the camp, we saw the incredible Cape weavers making these unusual egg-shaped nests. One could watch their construction for hours.
On our fifth day, we flew to the Mashatu Game reserve in Botswana where for several days we had an exceptional ranger and tracker take us in a Landrover to see the animals. We were surprised to see how the animals basically ignore the vehicles as part of their natural environment. The viewing was incredible and like nothing we had ever seen. One of the highlights was the biking safari, though it was a bit sobering to see the lead guide with a high-powered rifle on his back.
On our way to Londolozi on day nine, we stopped in the town of Lillydale B, at a school named Vuyelani and met some of the teachers and students. It was not too many years ago that the students were being taught under a tree. Now they have classrooms. The funds for this came from a number of sources including the Africa Foundation that works with the private game reserves to benefit the communities around the lodges. Companies such as Backroads and guests have also contributed.
The welcome we received from the children was really overwhelming. We were treated like rock stars. William is working with the Africa Foundation to raise funds earmarked for a new classroom at the school we visited (information on donating under YouTube description). Imagine how it would feel to know you helped with the education of these children.
From the school, we drove to Londolozi which was really an amazing way to spend our last two days of the trip. It is a special place that naturally seduces you with the unity of the land, animals, and community. It might be the first time my soul felt so at peace. We have so many wonderful memories that we will cherish, many included in my son’s video.
Some of the highlights of Londolozi were the way the lodge and people were able to mingle with the animals, the beautiful leopards, the wonderful food, including the safari coffee breaks and evening sundowners. Meals in the boma were quite memorable. Listening to Dave Varty, one of the Londolozi founders, talk about the history of Londolozi and his time spent with Nelson Mandela was incredible. Perhaps most touching was the tour of the village behind the lodge where the staff lived. I was impressed how Londolozi has been integrated into the community fabric and been able to help improve the lives of the local people.
This was our best trip ever. No sooner had we returned home, the discussion turned to the timing of our next Africa trip. What warms my heart the most is the thought of returning to South Africa and on the way to Londolozi stopping to see my son’s name on a plaque of a classroom he helped sponsor.
Written by Bill Julien