08 December 2013

2. - 8 Dec.: Port Elizabeth to Lalibela and first game drive

Get up at 8:30 and leisurly breakfast in the terrace of our Bed and Breakfast "Admiralty house". It's run by a friendly couple and we share the buffet with patrons of all races and colors, something that won't be happening too often over the next several weeks, where I will witness almost exclusively white tourists monopolize the tables of my hotels.

After breakfast I go sim card hunting again. Can't find any Vodacom store but the lady at the reception recommends to get a MTN, which is supposedly better anyway. They have a store at a little shopping mall nearby, and they are open on Sunday, at least in the morning. If I hurry after the long breakfast I can make it. And I do: before noon I become the proud owner of a South African phone number. The mall is a small affair, perhaps a couple of dozen smallish stores dominated by the ubiquitous Pick n Pay supermarket.

Armed with a data plan I can now install my sim card on my Samsung and confidently place it in the suction cradle I brought with me from Europe. A charge cable ensure a sufficient flow of energy and we are off for an easy drive.

Despite a couple of unnecessary detours owed to my talking too much while I am driving (when I drive I am the living proof of the theory that men can do only one thing at a time) which made me miss a turn or two, we are accurately steered by Google maps to the Lalibela lodge. We arrive at Lalibela in the early afternoon and settle in our beautiful thatched house. A few minutes to drop our stuff and grab a bite to eat and get ready for the first game drive of this trip. It's been a few years since my last one, in Tanzania, in 2005.

The name Lalibela surprises me, it turns out the owners Rick and Sue van Zyl visited the famous town in Ethiopia a while back and loved the name and the meaning behind it: "for whom the bees have foretold greatness". An Ethiopian legend has it that if a swarm of bees buzz around a baby's head, the child is destined to become king. I am not sure I would try on my baby but Sue loved it and the name Lalibela stuck in her mind, only to resurface when it came to name their newly opened business in 2002. It was the coronation of a longstanding plan to transform their earlier farm "Hillside" into a game reserve.

Our ranger is Juan, a 22 year-old enthusiastic nature lover who loves being in the bush and driving his 4x4 open safari "vehicle" as he calls it. He'd be on the road all the time. Rain shine day night he'd be looking for wild life if he did not have to take his guests back for their meals. His favorite words, as he passionately and methodically explains everything from geology to biology, are "basically" and "specifically". It's chilly and it rains intermittently but we are rewarded with a bounty of lions, cheetas and countless antilopes.

This evening is Yan's birthday and the manager has prepared a romantic candle-lit setup in the garden, with a small buffet all for the two of us and a slurpy cake with candles and birthday song at the end. The folk dance at the end is also quite well done and a pleasant, if a bit predictable, end of this first day in the bush. We enjoy the end of the evening with drinks by the fire in the company of a few other guests.

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