Back in 1995 several international women’s groups came together to discuss the possibility of hosting an international night. The objective of the evening would be, not only to focus on the food, national costumes, dances and music of each respective nation, but more importantly to raise money to support the local charities of these international women’s clubs. Small World was born. Thus, 24 women’s groups had an event that attracted 300 expatriate people and raised 300,000 Naira ($2,000). Flash forward to 2010. Small World 2010, last February, celebrated their 15th year and “sparkling future”. Now Small World 2011! Last night Rocky & I attended our first Small World. There were 27 women’s groups representing over 60 countries. The event was attended by 3,200 people and raised over 32,000,000 Naira ($213,500) which will be distributed to the Small World Charities. This year the “go green” theme looked to reduce the carbon footprint of the event and to build “Green” awareness across the community. For the first time recycling bins and solar power lighting were throughout the grounds. The plates on which the world’s cuisine was served were made of banana bark and were completely biodegradable as well as manufactured from natural materials that would normally be left for waste. The beautiful National flower decorations in the entry were all made of recycled paper, as well as all the fashion models costumes. It was a beautiful breezy evening, with more food to taste than one could ever imagine. The Chinese had wonderful sushi, Scandinavia had exceptional chicken pate, Ibero-America had icy-cold homemade margaritas, Germany had sauerkraut and sausages, and the list goes on! We gave it our best shot, but there were just some places where we could not partake as we could not eat any more. We did certainly not go home hungry. Two and half hours into the event, a stage show consisting of each country’s interpretive dances began. While some entertainers followed the “go green” theme closely, others simply danced their country’s native dances. It was quite a musical and enjoyable evening and we will definitely go again.
4:55am and the gentle “god morning” from beyond the door greets us. After the adventures of yesterday, we are wondering what today can bring, as it is Valentine’s Day, the day of lovers. Today, Matt has a Rangers meeting 3 hours away and will miss our morning game drive, but Doctor will be our driver and a young man named Service will be our Tracker. Another couple with us from London have had their hearts set on seeing lions, and Doctor promises to give it his best shot, but they explain that lions are relatively sparse in the Sabi Sands, which is why the leopard population can thrive so successfully. We set off, and soon come upon a solitary male Rhino sleeping in the road with his legs gently folded underneath him, and his body straddling the hump at the side of the road. He pays us no mind, and we continue our journey setting off on various dirt roads looking for tracks or signs that lions have recently been around.
The most recent citing has been 4-5 days ago, but Doctor and Service can find no indication that lions are anywhere in the vicinity. However, their tracking is not in vain, because they soon see something that excites even these experienced hunters. We proceed cautiously, stopping occasionally and both driver and tracker leave the vehicle and inspect tracks, leaves, and even sounds and smells in the air. They are Trackers – they are on the trail, in their element, and doing what they do best. Soon, we turn a corner, and there in the road, alert and lazy, are 4 Wild Dogs! Wild Dogs are some of the rarest predators in Africa, and in the entire Sabi Sands area there are only 2 known packs of them. The last sighting of wild dogs in this area was quite some time ago, and consisted of a pack of 7 dogs. Doctor finds it curious to find only 4 of them now. Wild Dogs need to have large groups to hunt successfully because of their small size. They typically will take turns “running” an animal to exhaustion, until it becomes easy prey to the pack. These 4 get up and wander down to a Tee in the road, apparently conflicted between going right and left. Suddenly, with yelps of joy and welcome, the wayward 3 dogs of the pack run in from the left, and the entire group plays and romps with each other in a happy reunion. But now, it is time to hunt, and the Alpha Dog leads the pack back our way down the road, passing next to our vehicle looking for a likely herd of gazelles. We follow and track the dogs which cover a lot of ground very rapidly. However, when the leave the road and cross a ravine, we lose them and are forced to travel the long way around. After a brief delay in the loose sand of the river bed, we “4-wheel drive” our way out, and are lucky enough to catch up with the dogs another few miles ahead. But it is now near 9:00am, and breakfast is calling, so we leave our hunt and head to the lodge.
Breakfast of cheese, yogurt, cereal and a huge vegetable omelet, one of which we choose to split, leads to another restful afternoon on our suite’s back deck. But today, clouds roll in and a few raindrops fall keeping us under the cover of our deck’s gazebo. By lunch, one of our 3 couples departs, but 4 new couples arrive, including more Brits and a couple from Vancouver. Lunch is a buffet of different types of salads, all of which are delicious. It is soon time for our afternoon game drive, but by now, the skies are overcast, the wind has picked up, and Matt has returned as our driver. One couple of the new arrivals joins our vehicle to replace the departed couple, and the others accompany a second land cruiser. With the threat of impending rain, Matt passes out rain ponchos to the 6 of us to hold just in case, and we start on our drive. But, the weather has made the animals nervous, as the wind disrupts their ability to sense sounds and smells that help protect them Instead, they resort to tight groupings, and stay away from any perceived danger. In addition, cat predators will be difficult to find, with no desire to get their feet wet or dirty. We pass the abundant small herds of grazing animals, but Matt decides to take a different approach, and we go off-road to check out the area that the female leopard that we “spooked” yesterday gave birth in recently. We have no idea if the mother leopard is in the area or not, or even if the cubs are around or can be found, as they are only 2 months old. However, as we slowly guide the huge vehicle through and over the local bush, Matt suddenly spots them – 2 leopard cubs scurrying off to hide under a bush while mom is away! We do not want to spook them and so we keep our distance to ~25 ft, and they are so small and well camouflaged that they are hard to spot, especially when they duck their heads down in the tall grass and dark shadows. We watch them for 20 minutes before we navigate our way out. The rest of the afternoon’s game drive was a succession of antelopes, gazelles, wildebeest, zebra, impala and water bucks, interrupted only by the warning sounds of hippos when we stopped near their watering holes, and the occasional grumpy water buffalo.
Snack and G & T’s were at a Bush Airport Runway, surrounded by a huge herd of 100’s of impalas. At least the rain held off, and we were rewarded on our night drive back by the sighting of a Genet cat beneath a bush 60ft from the road, glaring at us as the spotlight lit him up. Our return was met with a glass of Amarula, and we retired to our suite to ready ourselves for dinner. Upon entering, we were shocked and surprised to find our room sprinkled with rose petals. Even more surprising was to find the bathroom romantically lit with tea candles, sprinkled with rose petals and a bottle of chilled champagne beside a hot, drawn bubble-bath filled tub. After Julie took advantage of the hot bubble-bath, we went to enjoy our Valentine’s Day dinner, which was a wonderful Rack of Lamb, and included a heart-shaped chocolate cupcake for dessert. We thanked everyone for their hospitality as we would not be able to go on tomorrow morning’s game drive since our transport back to the airport would pick us up at 8:00am.
On Tuesday, we slept in until 7:00am, packed and showed up for breakfast. The night had seen a storm come overhead, and it was raining out all morning. By 7:30am while we were at breakfast, Matt returned early with our group from the game drive, as everyone was cold and wet, and the animals had all taken cover. Our transport to the airport arrived at 8:00am, and we began the 2 ½ hour drive back to Nelspruit. Things had gone smoothly up until now, as we arrived at 10:30am, were checked in by 11:00am and we were ready for our noon flight on British Air back to Jo-burg. But then, disaster struck! BA’s plane had mechanical problems, and it would be another 3 hours before a replacement plane could be there. This would mean that we would miss our Jo-burg to Lagos flight at 3:30pm, which only flies once per day! We called our travel agent, and they suggested taking a chance and flying on an Airlink flight that would put us in Jo-burg at 3:00pm, but we would have to run and be escorted personally by Airline personnel through the Jo-burg airport to have any chance of making our flight. Well, as luck would have it, and through the incredible dedicated efforts of Airlink and South African Airline Terminal personnel, we made the flight without a moment to spare, and returned to Lagos, Nigeria after a whirlwind Valentine’s Day holiday.
And so to all of you Lover’s out there, may your adventures always be unexpected, but always put a smile on your face. We hope you’ve enjoyed the tale of our little adventure. Happy Valentine’s Day from Julie and Rocky!
The gentle knock and friendly call of “good morning” woke us at 4:55am. We quickly freshened up, dressed and headed to the lodge for a quick biscuit and coffee, before boarding our Cruiser for an early morning game drive. This is rainy season in Kruger, but we have yet to see any rain, and the roads and creek beds are dry. The soil here is predominantly sand and loam, which means that any precipitation disappears fast, except where numerous water holes preserve their catch. Immediately on our drive this morning, we came upon an enormous bull elephant eating marula seeds beneath a tree. This is a favorite food of elephants in the area and is more widely known as the basis of the Amarula drink commonly associated with South Africa. After passing and stopping to observe numerous herds of grazing animals, Doctor made an interesting discovery of tracks on the road. Many of the predator animals use the roads in this area to move around, as it takes less energy than for them to move through the dense bush. We circled the area and came upon two cheetahs resting in the road, a mother with her 2-year old full grown daughter. They were obviously tired from a recent chase and paid us no attention as we came up to within a few feet of them. Finally, they got up and moved on to an area where a wildebeest and gazelle herd kept a watchful eye on them. Once there, the mother took higher ground, while her daughter sought shade under a small tree, and we positioned ourselves almost directly between them. After a while, the mother circled our vehicle close enough to be touched, and joined her daughter to gently groom and clean her. This daughter would be leaving her mother soon, but for now, their bond was apparent.
We left the cheetahs and began out trip back to the lodge when we came upon a herd of ~10 elephants, including a 3 month old baby elephant hiding beneath his mother, taking water at a water hole. We kept a bit of distance on this group, (100ft), as we watched them spray water around from their trunks, and drink to their content.
We then returned to the lodge for breakfast, a mid-afternoon plunge in our private pool and spent time reading and relaxing on chaise lounges on our suite’s back deck.
After a wonderful lunch of steak or vegetable salads and a Windhoek beer, we embarked on our afternoon game drive at 4:00pm, and Matt took requests. Julie still wanted to see Rhinos, and so Doctor and Matt vowed to give it their best shot. We headed to an area where the terrain lends itself to Rhinos, and soon came upon a large group of giraffes, casually eating the tops of trees, and wary of us watching them from so close. When they moved off, we resumed our journey until we came to a 5-track intersection, and Doctor and Matt stopped the vehicle and left for a bit of bush on-foot tracking. They returned in 5-10 minutes claiming that Rhinos were here recently, and that they had moved off to our left. We took that road, and when we came to the next fork, Doctor indicated we should go left again. We traveled no more than 5 more minutes when we came upon 4 very large White Rhinos, grazing on the fresh grass surrounding a large termite mound beside the road. We watched them from various positions 20-30ft away as Matt told us much of their habits and challenges in surviving horn poaching. We followed this group down to a watering hole, but then finally, left them and headed towards an area that Matt was familiar with that was home to a recent mother leopard.
Along the way, we came upon two enormous giraffes, one who was very old, with a very dark coat and grey face.
We continued and finally came upon another vehicle that had spotted the mother leopard hunting in the bush, and we joined the stalk. This leopard was clearly trying to stay hidden, remaining very low in the grass, and intent on her gazelle prey. Matt, being familiar with her, took up various advance positions, knowing that she would have to pass close to us. At one point, she was only 10-15 feet away in the grass, almost invisible except for the nervous twitch of her tail. But apparently, she had had enough of our interference, when she suddenly leapt from the grass at us, barring her teeth in a snarl, prompting gasps and surprise from all of us, as Matt thumped the side of the Cruiser and shouted, and she frustratingly slunk away.
While we caught our breaths, Matt took us to a local watering hole for drinks, but a water buffalo had already claimed it for his own. In better judgment from our recent encounter, we decided to move on to a little clearing where we took our usually snacks and well deserved G & T’s. After settling our nerves and our stomachs, we set off again while the sun set. In the dusk, we came upon another group of 4 Rhinos, and watched them briefly until darkness fell.
On the way back, we could see another vehicle on the road facing us with their spotlight on. We stopped and waited, as a very large male leopard walked straight at us, from ahead, down the road. He passed the vehicle only 1 foot away, easily within touching distance, as we held our breaths and snapped our cameras. We followed this leopard for a bit, as he marked various places along the road in a campaign of “territorial housekeeping” making sure that his boundary was well announced to all.
Finally, it was time to head back, but Doctor had the spotlight out, and along the way he brought us to a halt, jumped to a nearby bush in the dark, and emerged with an 8 inch and 2 inch pair of green chameleons.
How he spotted them in the dark, we had no idea. We continued to the lodge, had our wet wipes and ports, and prepared for dinner. But, tonight was a surprise, as the staff escorted down to the dry, sandy river bed where they had set up a barbeque grill, a complete bar and a custom dining room outdoors on the floor of the river. Drinks, salads, scalloped potatoes, baked onion casserole with grilled chicken, kudu and corn on the cob was the feast of the night. Dessert was carrot cake with a sparkle of starlight and the night was magic. And then, off to bed!
The occurrence of the Eid al Malud holiday on Tuesday gave an opportunity to jet from Lagos to South Africa’s Kruger National Park to search for yet unseen African wildlife. Kruger Park is South Africa’s oldest National Park, created in 1898, but more recently the park has grown to combined government refuge lands with local, private game-parks to form South Africa’s largest National Park today. We decided to go to the Sabi Sands area on the northwest side of Kruger towards Mozambique. The Sabi Sands area is known for exceptional game viewing and first class accommodations in the bush. It is a collection of privately owned lands that were originally targeted for cattle grazing, but were returned to being a wildlife refuge when Tse Tse flys and other pests decimated the herds. Today, it houses a sparse number of small, privately operated lodges and we were guests at the Simbambili lodge.
As is usual, our trip began with the obligatory ride from Ikoyi Island in Lagos to the Murtalla Mohammed Airport in Ikeja, a normal 30 minute drive over the world’s 3rd longest continuous water-crossing bridge. However, this day saw a typical unexplained and unexpected traffic jam that turned a 30 minute trip into a 210 minute trip. Luckily, we had left plenty of extra time, and still made our overnight flight to Johannesburg without any issues. Once we landed in Jo-burg at ~5:30am, we transferred to a domestic flight on Airlink Airlines to Nelspruit, a very nice and rustic, recent World Cup port city on the southwest side of Kruger Park, where we were met by local auto transport for the 2 ½ hour drive north to Sabi Sands.
The Simbambili Lodge (Simba = lion, Mbili = two) is situated on the banks of the Manyeleti River (which only flows water during flash floods) and overlooks the Manyeleti Flood Plain. It has been as a Guest Lodge since 1997 and although all Big Five animals (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Water Buffalo, Rhinoceros) live there, it is especially known for Leopards and African wild dogs. The Lodge consists of 8 guest suites, each with their own viewing deck, private gazebo and plunge pool, 1 family suite, a wonderful viewing deck, and a range of 1st class amenities. We were warmly greeted by the Lodge Manager and staff, informed of the typical daily schedule, and guided to our suite to unpack and freshen up. The typical day at Simbambili starts with a knock-on-the-door wake-up at 5:00am for a quick coffee and a morning game drive until 9:00am. Upon return, it is time for a leisurely breakfast, and the day is free until lunch at 2:00pm, followed by a late afternoon game drive from 4:00pm until 7:30pm.Dinner is at 8:00pm and drinks can be had on the public viewing deck or in the privacy of one’s own suite. We were one of 3 couples currently staying at the lodge.
We arrived at noon, unpacked, had lunch and prepared for our first game drive. The game drives are part of the lodge’s package, and include dedicated game rangers and trackers to guide you in the bush. The vehicle was a brand new Land Cruiser that seats 3 rows of 3, theater style, in an open design that has no walls, doors, or roof. The tracker rides on a front-bumper mounted jump-seat so that he can get a fresh look at any tracks of signs of wildlife. Our first game drive revealed an area very different than those we had experienced in Kenya and Tanzania. The Sabi Sands area is characterized by relatively thick and lush vegetation, including trees, bushes and tall grass. However, the vehicle allowed for off-road excursions into the bush whenever the experienced ranger and tracker had good cause.
Our ranger-driver for the week was a South African named Matt who was as knowledgeable as any guide we had ever had. Our tracker was a gentleman named Doctor, who was also an apprentice ranger. Together, they were an outstanding team at locating and approaching wildlife in this challenging environment. We began our first game drive by approaching a small herd of 4 water buffalos that were cooling themselves in one of the abundant water holes. Matt stopped 30ft away from the dominant bull, who was not happy with us being there, and stalked the back of our vehicle, until at 15ft away and very unhappy with us caused us to think better about staying any longer and drove us to move on.
The area included many birds (hornbills, Walberg eagle, beaver birds) and herds of antelopes, gazelles, water bucks, bushbucks, kudus and zebra. Soon we came to an open area where a lone female impala was guarding her fawn, but she was nursing a huge wound on her side where claw marks and bites could clearly be seen. She would not last long in this predator-filled area!
Further on, Matt and Doctor located a young male leopard in the bush stalking a group of gazelles. We went off-road and shadowed the2-year old leopard as he slowly tried to position himself closer to his quarry, often leaving him only 10ft away from us! Matt explained that the predators often took advantage of “the cover” that our vehicles provided as part of their stalking strategy. We followed in the bush until the leopard finally decided he needed a new and better view. Expecting this, Matt positioned us under an opportune tree, and the leopard obliged by coming to us, jumping up into the tree’s trunk and climbing onto a branch only 10 ft above our heads! From that viewpoint, we watched as he groomed himself and tried to get something out of his mouth. His excessive salivating while we watched made us a bit uncomfortable, but we were assured we were in “good hands”. Finally, we left and traveled to a dammed pool where a small group of Hippos were keeping a wary eye. We stopped on the shores for a very civilized drinks and snacks, and a bit of stretch after our leopard encounter. A tin of beef jerky, sweet potato chips and mixed nuts later, all washed down with a round of gin and tonics, we were back into the Cruiser to watch the sun set and continue our safari. Around the corner, we came upon small herds of elephants grazing, and majestic giraffes. As daylight failed us, Doctor took out the vehicles portable spotlight and scanned the bush for any unique nightlife while we traveled back to the lodge in the dark. We returned at 7:30pm to a wet washcloth and a glass a glass of Port, before washing up and returning for dinner. Dinner tonight was around a campfire in an area adjacent to the lodge, where we were served salads, and our choice of chicken, lamb or kudu, with crème brulee for desert. It had been a long first day for us, so it was time to be escorted to our suite and then off-to-bed in preparation for tomorrow’s 5:00am wake-up.
We were bussed out of the office today for a small competition to determine Shell’s world class swimmer at the Ikoyi Club.
There were three teams in green, red and yellow polo shirts. The winners of these same competitions in Warri and Port Harcourt were flown to Lagos to compete.
Individual races, men races, women races and team races, with crowds cheering and medals for the winners. Swimming was then followed by a celebratory meal….and not one computer in sight! Now that is a different work day!
Today was a lazy day at the beach. Very quiet, small waves, and balmy waether. A beautiful day for walking the beach. While I searched for beach glass I found our boat driver, Samuel and his son fishing. After 4 swings and pulls of the net, their green bag was full of fish. They were planning a fish fry for lunch.
Thursdays are crafts morning…I devote 3 hours to sitting with friends of the British Womens Group to make craft items for our annual bazaar. The bazaar funds the needs of our charities. While the bazaar will not be held until November we are already busy working. This morning we are making gecko’s.
Our favorite Scottish celebration is that of Burns Night. Burns Night Ball celebrates the poetry of Robert Burns. While the event is quit festive it is one of the few nights one can dress in their finest and dance away. The hagis is paraded, whiskey toasts made, poetry read, the lads and lassies addressed and the dancing begins. Rocky and I hosted a table of friends and had a spectacular evening!
American Women’s Club (AWC) supports 13 charitiesby a variety of resources. But those who have the calling to work as staff for these charities are rarely thanked or reconginized. So each Christmas AWC provides gift bags of food for the staff of our charities. We gather in one room to fill “go-to-Ghana” bags with flour, gary, pasta, beans, casava, rice, tomato paste, sardines, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and other small nessecities. Over One hundred bags were organized and distributed this year.