We are back from a spectacular holiday and our chocolate labrador is just as thrilled to see us as we are to see her! Note the photo above vs. the photo in the previous post — 4 duffels have blossomed into 4 duffels + five other pieces of baggage! :)
So here are the actual answers to the “fill-in the blanks” post:
Marketman and family are off on a trip of a lifetime to South Africa. We were not allowed to bring our normal luggage and had to pack wisely, cramming a carefully coordinated wardrobe into these duffel bags because this is all that would fit on the small private charter planes we would be flying to our safari camp. On arrival, we jumped into/onto a Land Rover and almost instantaneously run across a few impala (antelope) while on the way to our 5 star hotel. Temperatures may range from 8C to 30C, and keeping warm or cool enough will be a challenge, but to see some leopards and lions, it’s hopefully all worth it. While there will probably be sufficient wine to drink, MM frets Coke Light will be scarce or non-existent. MM has his supplies of champoy and spicy sampalok close at hand, to battle potential motion sickness. Despite the type of luggage, MM had to make sure he brought along only the finest underwear, as the valet and/or butler(s) might judge him. This is a part of the world we have never visited, but we hear there is rice. The fourth duffel is mostly empty, leaving space for some shopping and we are likely to stock up on mohair scarves and blankets (from Angora goats) and exotic skins like crocodile and ostrich. On the way home, a quick stop at the Changi airport will mean superb duty free shopping and we are close to home.
The journey began on a late afternoon Singapore Airlines flight from Manila to Singapore. A short layover in the Changi airport then we boarded another Singapore Airlines 777 from Singapore to Johannesburg, South Africa, a roughly 10.5 hour non-stop journey across the Indian Ocean. We arrived, cleared customs and were met and whisked off by van to the other side of the runway, where the hangars for private jet services were located. The waiting lounge of Federal Air Charters was luxuriously simple — with comfortable furniture, a thatched roof, beautiful outdoor garden and seating areas right beside the tarmac. They had cappuccino machines, hot soup, sandwiches, cookies and soft drinks at the ungodly hour of 6am when we arrived. A four-hour wait here meant catching up on some sleep, emails, or a quick visit to their in-house safari gear shop in case we needed further outfitting. We didn’t buy anything, having carefully chosen and packed a wardrobe of sand, tan, olive and brown colored clothes and shoes to ensure we blended in with the locals (humans and animals alike).
Our bags were carefully weighed and tagged to our destination, and I braced for our weigh-ins as well. I had gone on a three week diet beforehand to shed some 8-10 pounds to make sure I didn’t breach weight restrictions (or pay for another seat!) and so I could also eat with abandon while on holiday. One look at our party of three (Mrs. MM is petite and the Teen is svelte) and the attendant didn’t bother to weigh us at all. Phew! Saved from potential humiliation… heehee.
The turbo-prop that pulled up was bigger than I had expected, a 19-seater pressurized cabin that cruised at close to 25,000 feet and there were only 12-13 passengers destined for three different safari camps. We boarded, took off and settled in for a 1+ hour flight to Northeastern South Africa, near the Kruger National Park.
The first part of the trip was flying over a blanket of clouds, which slowly gave way to a clearer view of the landscape below. It was surprisingly populated (I had visions of heading into the jungles for some reason, despite knowing the bush was actually that, a bunch of bushes!) and simple homes in large settlements were visible for much of the flight.
Closer to the safari camps, the landscape turned quite brown (this was the late Fall, start of Winter in the area) with clumps of green and an occasional black or dark form on the horizon. Our pilot said to keep our eyes peeled for animals, but we didn’t really see much (probably more a result of dirty windows and failing eyesight).
The plane landed at a small airstrip at Mala Mala to drop off a few passengers, took off minutes later and flew at low altitude to Londolozi, then we had the whole plane to ourselves before landing at the private airstrip at Singita. We had arrived after nearly 24 hours in transit, bedraggled but excited at the same time, and were about to experience the four most incredible days in the bush (on safari).
The arrival/departure “hut” was the quaintest we have ever seen, like an outdoor lanai in a chic home, stocked with an extensive selection of cold drinks and a toilet. It also had the shortest wait time before our flight on the way out. We arrived about 8 minutes before boarding our plane when we left a few days later. Note Marketman in safari colors, which were perfect for the occasion. It was close to 27C and sunny when we arrived. I was still sporting a tan from a weekend in Bantayan a few days before.
We were introduced to Sipho, our guide/spotter/driver and Louis, our tracker who would be with us for all morning and late afternoon drives to see the wildlife. We got into our Land Rover, which despite being a 6-seater (for guests), was for our exclusive use for the next four days. We noticed other camps had 9 seater Rovers so we appreciated this extra touch of space or added luxury. Over the next few days, Mrs. MM and our daughter would sometimes change seats to get a different vantage point (while I stuck to my middle level seat).
Once our stay was over, we were driven back to the airstrip again and here we finally understood the strict limitations on the type, size and weight restrictions for baggage (and humans) as this tiny private four-seater prop plane landed (just seconds after three zebras dashed across the unfenced runway!) and taxied to the departure hut. It was so small that our four bags barely fit in the tiny cavity under the floor of the cabin! I had to crawl in on my knees to get to my seat! As we all rolled our eyes at each other, said a silent prayer and donned the earmuffs to drown out the noise from the engines, we flew at an altitude of 3,000 feet for just 20 minutes to the nearby Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport for a truly rough flight (thankfully on a larger jet plane) to Cape Town just as a powerful storm was hitting the area…