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  • Tony

Into Africa

Updated: Jul 9

For as long as I can remember, Africa has appeared distant and unreachable, a place I could only experience while watching programs like Wild Kingdom or National Geographic episodes depicting the circle of life, or when the news featured stories about Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, the World Cup, or other significant events. After retiring and particularly since relocating to Portugal the possibility of actually traveling to and exploring Africa has become a reality. Since then we have included several African destinations in our travel plans, eager to discover and gain a deeper understanding of the continent.

For this trip, we focused on South Africa, traveling with two friends, Anna Marie & Glenn, from the USA, on the agenda; two cities, three different Safari Park experiences, and one of the world's seven natural wonders (as if the rest of the trip wasn't filled with natural wonders!). We started our two-week journey with a long travel day: three hours by train from Portimao to Lisbon, 16 hours by air from Lisbon to Dubai, and on to Cape Town, over 24 hours of travel, including transfers and layovers!

Once on the ground, we spent a few days enjoying Cape Town and the surrounding areas, A few hours north for a Safari at AM Safari Park near Kruger National Park, Farther north crossing over from South Africa into Zimbabwe for a few days at Victoria Falls, Then traveled west into Botswana and Chobe National Park for a few days at the Chobe Lodge, finally we traveled back to South Africa and Johannesburg for a short stay and our return flights home.

My apologies for the length of this post. There is so much beauty and visual interest that it was difficult to reduce the 2,300 images that I shot into the few posted here.

Cape Town

We were warned by many that Cape Town was a very dangerous place, including violent crime, kidnapping, and killings, with the caveat that you shouldn't walk alone, be out at night, and only travel in tourist areas. For the most part, we followed the advice but did take trips with a guide to places that felt perfectly fine. In the V&A Waterfront, we walked from the hotel to the shops and restaurants without any issues or concerns. There were police and security around and very visible. Like many countries, there is a struggle here with a lack of affordable housing, high unemployment (over 30%), and issues with drug abuse. While you can see evidence that the government is working hard to correct the problems, the sheer amount of people coming here to find jobs is overwhelming. Many housing projects are under construction; in the shanty towns, even though the homes are generally not up to code, the government provides clean water, public space cleaning, sanitation, and electricity to each home while addressing the need for housing. This is not a perfect scenario, but it is more than most countries do. I don't want to understate that crime exists, but your chances are pretty good if you take reasonable precautions and follow guidelines. The high crime levels can be attributed to the lack of jobs and income, with unemployment above 30% and the need to survive. I'm not trying to excuse it, but I assume survival at any cost eventually kicks in.

Back in the tourist area, our hotel, the one&only Cape Town, was located in the Cape Town Marina Victoria & Albert Waterfront area, which has plenty of shops, restaurants, and entertainment a tourist could wish for.

Our first-day tour included parts of the city and Bo-Kaap, an area formerly known as the Malay Quarter. This former racially segregated area is known for its brightly colored homes and cobblestoned streets and is the oldest surviving residential neighborhood in Cape Town. The homeowners' brightly colored facades are an expression of freedom after Apartheid, as all the houses were previously painted white.

Continuing our trek outside the city, our Cape tour headed west.

Out on the Cape of Good Hope the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

Boulders Beach and the African Penguin colony (Yes, there are Penguins in Africa). Formerly known as jackass penguins because of their distinctive braying, the once-endangered penguins have established this area as their home.

On our second day, we headed out of the city south toward Hermanus to Creation Winery, where we enjoyed the surrounding countryside and the excellent South African wines

The next stop is Stellenbosch, a cute small town in the Cape Town wine region about 45 minutes from Cape Town. Lunch at the Fat Butcher

AM Game Park

A two-hour flight from Cape Town north to Hoedspruit (Still in South Africa) for our next destination, a private Safari Park, a small lodge, and Villa. We were fortunate that our travel agent was able to book the Villa for us at the same rate as the two rooms at the lodge. To our surprise, the three-bedroom Villa was all ours, private with our game driver, tracker, butler, Chef, and housekeeper! We were very spoiled during our stay.

The AM Villa

The highlight of our time at the AM Vila was having our own tracker and guide. This smaller private reserve of 2,000 hectares (5,000 Acres) was only available to guests at the lodge or the Villa. We learned that we were the only guests in the entire Park during our stay, which answered our question about why we didn't see other jeeps there. Because the Park doesn't have elephants, the bush can be a bit denser than other places, making tracking animals much more difficult. Thankfully, we had Gustaf and Bongani, who were excellent at their work and very entertaining, too...

Every day here we had an early morning game drive at 6:00am so that we could catch the nocturnal animals feeding before they sleep for the day, and the waking of the others as they begin their search for water and food. In the afternoon, another game drive included a cocktail and snack in the bush at sunset. The first night, we stopped adjacent to a family of Rhinos who were at their home for the night. Keeping a close eye on them as we were out of the jeep made for an eventful happy hour

We took a morning off to visit and support an Elephant rescue center, HERD (Hoedspruit Elephant Rehabilitation and Development). The elephants here are rescued and adopted from the wild, providing an environment to flourish. Arriving at sunrise, we were able to see the facility's open space and have a few up close moments with the HERD

On our last day, Gustaf and Bongani took us to another larger Private park nearby, The Manyeleti Game Reserve. With over 23,000 Hectares (56,000 Acres), the park was expansive and provided us with a very different environment. Mostly wide open spaces with a few trees and bush due to the large elephant population here made it easier to spot distant animals.