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Phinda--Where the h is silent, as are the egg-laying Loggerheads


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Phinda means Return, as in return the area to its previous wild state so that the original animal inhabitants can survive. In personal terms, it was my own return, having visited in June 2007.


Here is a link to the previous visit, entitled Phinda—“Where the h is silent, but the rhino flatulence is not”



No flatulence to my knowledge with this black rhino


Dates of visit: Dec 5 – 9, 2012


Reason for Choosing Phinda: Good place to see my favorite African animal, the cheetah, and the chance to see egg-laying turtles nearby at that time of year



Accommodation: Mountain Lodge


View from Mountain Lodge


Last time I stayed at Forest Lodge because rhino tracking is done from Forest or Vlei. I wanted to try a new lodge but did so with trepidation because I thought nothing could beat Forest Lodge for the surrounding natural beauty and resident wildlife. But Mountain Lodge was up to the task!



Nyala on Grounds of Mountain Lodge Mother and baby Vervet--Taken through the glass of my window Mountain Lodge Impala on Grounds of Mountain Lodge Male Nyala on Grounds of Mountain Lodge


It is now a tossup as to my favorite between the two. I had #7 at Mountain, a honeymoon suite. The long walk there was good exercise. Beautiful, luxurious, artistic, Holy Moly fancy…



Nursing warthog on Grounds of Mountain Lodge Giant Snail on Grounds of Mountain Lodge Baby Nyala and a Vervet on Grounds of Mountain Lodge

Edited by Atravelynn
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Cheetah cubs, age 6 months


Booked through: Eyes on Africa


Toll Free: 800.457.9575

Email nicky@eyesonafrica.net

I corresponded with Phinda directly, both by toll-free number and by email, and received prompt, accurate info.



Toll Free: 888 882 3742

E-mail: usa@andBeyond.com


I decided to use Eyes on Africa to book because the cost was the same as going direct, Phinda only books guests into Intercontinental or nicer in Joburg (I was looking for something less), and I used Eyes on Africa last time for Phinda with complete success. This time too.





Before arriving Phinda: Robin Pope Safaris to Kasanka, Bangweulu & Liuwa Plains, Zambia

Here’s a link to that report:



A really different 3 week safari. The conventional and unconventional:

The largest mammal migration on earth, which is the strawcolored fruit bats in Kasanka, Zambia; sitatunga in Kasanka; black lechwe and shoebill stork in Bangweulu Swamp, Zambia; 4th largest African migration, which is the blue wildebeest through fields of pink lilies in Liuwa Plains; Lady Liuwa in the wild paradise she calls home and now shares with other lions; Phinda for egg laying turtles, giant snails, the rare sand forest, and the ever present handsome nyala.


A Nov-Dec Robin Pope Bat and Liuwa Plains safari plus Phinda offer a great chance to see The Big 5 and cheetah, in addition to the unique animals and habitats mentioned above.


to be continued

Edited by Atravelynn
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Getting to/from Phinda:

Last time I visited Phinda there was a Federal Air roundtrip flight from Joburg as part of the Phinda package. Not this time. Not sure if flying to/from Joburg is no longer an option, or those flights are in transition, or there’s just no direct charters flights in low season.


So I booked a commerical roundtrip SAA flight from JNB - RCB. Phinda arranges the ground transport to/from the airport.


To Phinda

4 Dec Depart 18:20 Lusaka, Zambia – Arrive Johannesburg 20:25 on SAA. Weather delay resulted in arrival at 22:00.


Overnight at Peermont Metcourt Hotel at Emperors Palace, including breakfast. Free Shuttle behind the Intercontinental. Various online info inaccurately indicated no shuttle or limited shuttle. When I was there, it was a 24-hour shuttle, every 30 minutes. Transfer time between airport and hotel via shuttle was 10 minutes. I chose Peermont Metcourt because it had the lowest rates of places that were acceptable to me. I had a very nice room, impressive layout, sleek and modern. A packed breakfast was provided on Dec 5 due to my early checkout. A good deal all the way around and what I’d do again.


5 Dec - Depart 06:10 Johannesburg – Arrive Richard’s Bay 7:25 on SAA


Phinda provided transport by a Phinda vehicle and staff member who greeted me with a sign. An hour and 40 minutes to Mountain Lodge, arriving in time for brunch, followed by a nap to make up for the 4 hours sleep the night before, and then an afternoon game drive.



Young Nyala on Grounds of Mountain Lodge Warthog on Grounds of Mountain Lodge Nyala on Grounds of Mountain Lodge



Leave Phinda

9 Dec - Depart Mountain Lodge at 12:30 after morning game drive and brunch, toting a snack bag, in the same vehicle with a different Phinda driver. Again, 1 hr 40 minutes to airport.


9 Dec Depart 13:05 Richard’s Bay – Arrive Johannesburg 16:20, in plenty of time for my international flight to USA.


Mother and one of her two 6-month old cubs


Approximate daily outings:

06:00 – between 9:00 and 9:30

Midday there were ranger-escorted complimentary walks or a variety of other activities for a fee, depending on the season.

15:45 – around 19:30 (included a sundowner stop)



to be continued

Edited by Atravelynn
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Other activities I did besides game drives - Walk with Ranger (no additional cost):

Usually you go with your own ranger, but since two of us decided to go at the last minute we had a different ranger, Darryn, who had just started and was as enthused as all getout about absolutely everything. He drove us to a nice area for walking.


I asked him if he recalled his first game drive as an official Ranger, since he would not have to remember back very far. It was hilarious what all happened: both a lion and cheetah kill and I think a black rhino plus several species of cubs. He may never have another outing like that first one.


Our walk focused on camel spiders, caterpillars, leopard tracks, and trees that marked the surprising presence of a sand forest.


Camel spider and dung beetle


The walk got off to a disconcerting start. After 3 steps, it felt like somebody had punched me in the eye. A red hornet had stung me. We could name the culprit with certainty because an active hive hung above our head and because Darryn knew his insects. I was just hoping my eye wouldn’t swell shut. It didn’t but it left enough of a bruise that in the airport on the way home a guy peddling cosmetics from a kiosk approached me to have me try his remarkable product for dark under eye circles. He assured me that was my sole dermatological flaw and that his special cream would fix it. I tried to explain about the hornet sting but English was not his first language and I think he thought I was crazy and gave up on me as a customer.



Tree that grows in the Sand Forest, seemingly misplaced. Sand Forest may be spreading


Anyway, it was a lovely walk with some pleasant little surprises that Darynn requested not be divulged. “What happens in the drainage line, stays in the drainage line,” he advised. I can share that he was referring to a natural and picturesque wetland, drainage line/basin and not a dripping drainage pipe. The pleasant little surprise is nothing startling, strenuous, or scary .




The mother and two 6-month old cubs were not part of the Walk with the Ranger

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Great start - I love the cheetah montages! (you’ve raised the trip report bar.) Sorry to hear about the hornet sting – very disconcerting when something like that happens when you are traveling. Also, too bad that Federal Air discontinued its service to Phinda as they are a very comfortable alternative to flying SAA. I look forward to reading/seeing more...

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Nice to wake up to a Phinda report. Sighings of cheetah appeared quickly!


And the giraffes; love their grace and artful poses. Ouch on the bee sting; hope Darynn had a magic elixer handy. :blink: Not much on insects, very squeemish ~but liked the tree...


I have friends heading to Phinda; they will enjoy this so much to get them up and going; and over the very cold temps here in the south.


More Soon We Hope!

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Nice to wake up to a Phinda report. Sighings of cheetah appeared quickly!


And the giraffes; love their grace and artful poses. Ouch on the bee sting; hope Darynn had a magic elixer handy. :blink: Not much on insects, very squeemish ~but liked the tree...


I have friends heading to Phinda; they will enjoy this so much to get them up and going; and over the very cold temps here in the south.


More Soon We Hope!

These friends must join safaritalk, preferably before they leave, and then do a trip report upon their return. Do you know where they are staying?


"Very cold temps." Don't make me laugh. What are they 40 F for a high? Oooooo Low near freezing? Ohhhhhhhh ;)


The hornet sting just ran its natural course, without elixirs: 1. What the hell? 2. A few swear words. 3. Bent over silence. 4. A few deep breaths. 5. Some winking to test the vision. 6.Dabbing the watering eye. 7. On with the walk. To his credit, Darryn asked if I wanted to go back to the vehicle and return to the lodge.

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Also, too bad that Federal Air discontinued its service to Phinda as they are a very comfortable alternative to flying SAA. I look forward to reading/seeing more...

So that option is kaput. That flight was a lot more convenient because you landed right at Phinda, no hour and 40 minute transfer each way. Adding up the flight and transfer costs, it was probably less expensive too. Maybe something similar is in the works in the future.

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Other activities I did besides game drives - Turtle Safari (about $290 USD)

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If you want to book Phinda’s Turtle Safari to try to see turtles laying eggs on Sodwana Beach, first get info on what nights this safari can go. It all depends on the tides because the vehicle has to be able to traverse a wide enough beach. So low tide is necessary and the best time for turtles is the highest point of the low tide.


Another thing to consider is South African school holidays, which started around the day I left, Dec 9, 2012. When I was investigating dates, Mountain Lodge was 100% booked Dec 10 and several consecutive days after that due to families vacationing during the school holidays.


A minimum of 2 participants is required for the Turtle Safari, so I was thrilled that another couple had signed up, making our group 3.


Departure time and length of the excursion varies. For my trip it was:


21:10 Departed with Rangers Seth and Toby in a closed van traveling on the highway. Seth and Toby were very enthused about this unique and exciting assignment and really hoping for turtles. It was possible to do some preemptory snoozing to fortify for the long night.


22:40 Arrived at the gated entrance to Sodwana Beach. Made a restroom stop. Switched to an AndBeyond safari vehicle with a covered top.


23:00 We hit the beach, a beautiful sight even before we ever saw a turtle. Ghost crabs all over the place. Seth and Toby were cheering and pumping their fists in the air, obviously thrilled to be there. With absolutely nobody else around, it was very exciting.


23:30 Continuing to drive, we reached the “productive” part of the beach after half an hour. We kept on driving, spotlighting, and looking both in the waves and on the shore.


00:00 At midnight we saw our first turtle—Loggerhead—going back to the water after laying eggs. We were all very excited and got out of the vehicle to watch and take pictures. She returned to the ocean and swam into its depths. Our driving journey continued.




00:30 Two Loggerheads spotted within a few minutes and a few meters of each other, laying eggs. We watched them, not able to believe our luck with this “two-fer.” We drove on, then did a U-turn and returned along the same stretch of beach, looking for turtles that came ashore after we had passed.



Loggerhead digging deep to create a clutch to lay her eggs She is intently laying 100 to 120 eggs The clutch fills up, with eggs dropping single file in batches of 2 or 3 eggs. She pauses between batches



Strands of mucus secreted with the eggs can be seen Caught this egg dropping in midair


01:30 A fourth Loggerhead was observed right after laying her eggs. Oh, what a night! Shortly after observing #4, we had an added adventure when rising tide in a tricky part of the beach started to engulf the tires of the moving vehicle. We were stuck. We hopped out and pitched in, scooping the wet sand away from the tires. I recall thinking that just as the turtles had laboriously dug nests in the sand for their eggs, we were frantically digging out sand to save the vehicle. With Seth gunning the motor and us pushing, it broke free just in time. We carried on toward our starting point.


02:00 The fifth and last Loggerhead was sighted.




03:00 Back at the park gate, we returned to our parked van for the drive home, first making a restroom stop. Snoozing was possible for the guests.


04:30 Back “home” to Phinda.

04:45-5:30 Rest

05:30 Wake up knock and a shower.

06:00 Morning game drive. I sure as heck wouldn’t miss it. That drive produced a gorgeous black rhino, nicely posing.


Black Rhino


After the morning game drive I crashed until afternoon tea, just prior to the afternoon game drive.


Weather/temperature for turtle safari: We had a brief heavy rainstorm enroute to Sodwana, then it was dry, warm and pleasant. I took rain pants and wore zipoffs, and on top a long-sleeved shirt, light fleece, and rain coat. On the beach we were barefoot (shoes in vehicle), with zipoffs zipped off or trouser legs rolled up. The rangers wore shorts. Good idea to bring a torch. Even when our clothes had gotten wet from the vehicle rescue, I was never cold or chilled. (And my teeth chatter easily.)


Sometimes Leatherbacks are seen in addition to Loggerheads. We didn’t see any. Five turtle sightings was very lucky. There is no guarantee of seeing any turtles. Sometimes another vehicle carrying at least a dozen turtle watchers from nearby beach lodgings also goes out and must be contended with. The rainy forecast for that night had spared us. The other vehicle remained parked back by the entrance gate.


Seth and Toby made sure the turtles had space and were not in any way harassed. We were called in one by one to observe the egg laying for a minute or so, once it was well underway. I felt good about the respect shown to the turtles.


One of the turtle safariers had grown up in the area and recounted the days of his youth when the beach was filled with vehicles driving up and down it at night. That level of access has been curtailed. In fact I think Phinda is the only outside vehicle allowed to drive on the swath of beach that is still accessible. Other parts of the beach are completely off limits, offering further protection for the turtles.


On our outing we noted 13 tracks made by turtles that had ventured out of the ocean and onto the beach but then immediately turned around without laying any eggs, and re-entered the water. This apparently was very odd behavior because of the numbers of turtles coming ashore and not laying. They had not been disturbed because no one else was on the beach and we were not even present to witness the turnaround. We speculated that the nearly full moon that was obscured by clouds might have confused the turtles. Who knows?


The tracks made by the turtle are evident


The turtle safari was a thrilling night out!


Edited by Atravelynn
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Other activities I did besides game drives Brunch with Thulani, Ranger from last time

I had requested Thulani, my ranger for a week during my last visit, but he had left Phinda to study to become a teacher. After arriving to Phinda, I discovered he was coming back for a stint as a substitute Ranger, beginning his duties a few days after my return home. His university was on Christmas holiday, freeing his schedule, and many rangers wanted to spend Christmas with their families, not on a game drive—a perfect combination. Mountain Lodge Manager Richard was helpful in contacting Thulani and arranged our reunion during brunch. Thulani and I had a wonderful visit and I so appreciated his taking the time to come see me. I was not the only one happy to see Thulani again. All the staff welcomed him like a family member. Thulani also does “substitute rangering” in June/July. Working as a teacher he’ll be able to continue to work at Phinda during school holidays.


When I met Ranger Seth at tea my first afternoon at Phinda, I mentioned an incident on a game drive that we saw when I was there 4 years ago that had generated a lot of enthusiasm from him and Thulani. It was a bird eating ticks off of a duiker, deep in the sand forest. Seth immediately remembered how rare that sighting was. “Oxpecker, I believe,” he said. Later, when Thulani and I were having brunch I recounted the bird and duiker incident when Seth had been with us. “That was an Oxpecker, right?” I asked. “No, a Yellow Bulbul,” Thulani corrected. Checking my notes upon returning home, Thulani was correct. He remembered like it was yesterday and not 4 years ago.



Kudu was not served at our Mountain Lodge brunch Nor was crocodile on the menu

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Green season in Phinda:

Overall it was a wonderful time to visit: lower prices*, brilliant green backdrops, baby animals, giant snails out and about, and of course, the egg-laying turtles, in addition to the animals, hospitality, and habitats Phinda is known for.


Giant Snail seen on game drive


The numbers of baby impala were amazing. Did each mother have triplets? The place was swarming with little impalas. I was told three weeks before there were no baby impalas.



This shot is the perfect representation of emerald green and babies


Compared to my late June visit back in 2007, the grass was noticeably higher. Specifically, I recall photographing white rhino calves with ease in June, but in Dec. these stubby creatures were often obscured by vegetation.



White rhino calf I was able to get as it scampered across the clearing with Mom


I only got a single keeper lion shot this time, in part due to tall grass, and even this shot was peeking through stems. But the effect was one of my favorite photos from Phinda.



Teenage boy


Animals like zebra and nyala could be seen easily but high grass meant fewer photos. Several times the ranger stated the obvious--that we could look for cheetah in a certain area but it would be very hard to find them due to the high grass. And it was hard or impossible.


I saw way more “star birds” that Phinda is noted for in June than December, and never did see the Pink Throated Twin Spot this trip.


In the dry season we never saw hippos, but in December, we were greeted with some eyeballs.



The rotation of a total of nine different vehicle mates during my Phinda stay were South Africans except one, and most were Phinda returners. Their conversations often centered on viewing and photographing conditions: “The light was better in the dry season, just look at these photos from my phone that I took last time.” “It was really different when I was here in July. I can’t believe how high the grass is now.” “In the dry season I always saw something spectacular.” There was even a declaration by one professional photographer that future visits would be in the dry season when grass was lower and the soft golden light was more prevalent.



Examples of cheetahs in high grass . There are two walking in this photo.


I was told that this rainy season started early and did not let up, so the grass just kept on growing.


Despite the frustration of tall grass, with hard work by Ranger Sibu and a little luck, we all had moments that brought oo’s and ah’s and comments such as, “I always see something I’ve never seen before when I come here.”



Mother hyena grabbing the pup in her mouth Giant Snail on Grounds of Mountain Lodge Cheetah cub up on the tracker seat

Like the guy who made the comment of always seeing something new at Phinda, all 3 of these sights are firsts for me, though I have seen cheetahs on hoods/bonnets.



Certainly, I was very pleased with my green season visit.


White Breasted Cormorants that nested in the trees and flew off together in flocks

*At the moment, the current Phinda pricing does not seem to have a discount for mid-Nov to mid-Dec, which is what I took advantage of. Rates are here: http://www.phinda.com/rates-and-specials/


To be continued

Edited by Atravelynn
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Highs of approx 90, lows were about mid 60s. Even early mornings or on night drives did not get cold. Skies were cloudy much of the time, but we were never rained on.



Bird highlights:

Black Coucal (appeared while observing the mother cheetah and cubs, double lucky)

Crowned Hornbill

Martial Egle

Narina Trogan (star bird)

Pin-tailed Whydah

Plum Colored Starling (seen often at Mountain Lodge)

Purple Crested Trogan

Pygmy Kingfisher

Steppe Buzzard

White Breasted Cormorant (in flocks)

Wire Tailed Swallow


I took no keeper photos of birds, so mammals will accompany the bird list:



On my veranda of Mountain Lodge suite White Rhino


Black Rhino on top, White Rhino on bottom

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Cheetah highlights:

10 sightings!

A Lone male spotted on 3 consecutive drives, photographable twice.

Mother with two 6-month old cubs, easily viewed and photographed.

Two males walking together in high grass, too hard to get photos.

Two different males on the move, pausing and posing for photos at times, obscured by grass at other times.


At the risk of having to forfeit my pith for outrageous and excessive cheetah posting, I am going to blanket the next sections with cheetahs.





To be continued

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Cheetahs everywhere, Lynn ........... I guess you got your cheetah fix and more to come in the Serengeti soon.

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10 cheet-ahhh sightings - you must have been in heaven!! Thanks for the info on the turtle safari; this looks like a great combination for me and my wife...turtles for her, rhino for me, cats for both of us and good general game viewing. Did you like t forest or mountain lodge better?

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Love Love your report, as always.


The turtles - what a great adventure - having lived on a beach for a year, I was always excited to see the turtle tracks!

And the cheetah on the tracker seat - something I've always wished for. And lunching with your former guide. I always wonder where the ones we get so attached to end up. (I hope Twaffle is working on that for me now!)

I love Green Seasons ~ the beauty offsets perhaps fewer sightings, but the game is always found with the right guide/tracker.

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Cheetahs everywhere, Lynn ........... I guess you got your cheetah fix and more to come in the Serengeti soon.


Yes, Hari, hoping for a few more in the Serengeti. I'll be on the lookout. Can you tell any that you see that I'll be there soon?


Did you like t forest or mountain lodge better?


For rhino tracking, you must stay at Forest, or one step up at Vlei. If you wish to spend more time in the unique sand forest, then you'd want Forest Lodge. If you want to do a canoe/kayak trip or a boat ride on the the Mzinene River, then Mountain is a more convenient starting point. Otherwise, I liked them equally. Ideally you could split time between them both. A 2 nt-2 nt split is recommended. I'd split if I could do 3-2 or 3-3 just to save such frequent packing & unpacking. Another reason to stay at both places is to concentrate on the wildlife highlights residing in each region so you don't have to spend time going back and forth. It takes at least an hour on a regular road to get between the two.

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Edited by Atravelynn
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Wonderful cheetah sightings. I just showed the photos to my husband and we both said "Wow!"

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To be continued, but no more cheetahs

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Wonderful cheetah sightings. I just showed the photos to my husband and we both said "Wow!"

Maybe Mrs. and Mrs. Pennyanne will be cheetah viewing at Phinda. I do think I had some good luck. 10 sightings, in 8 outings, 7 photographable in December. Light was never real good in Dec. In June 2007 I had 7 cheetah sightings in 10 outings and I think all were photographable.

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Looks to have been a great trip Lynn, thanks for sharing. Some excellent photos.

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Thanks PCNW, 7 of the 10 cheetahs cooperated for photos. So did a couple of giraffes.




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Paradoxically, the food was so wonderful that I cannot comment on any of the main courses. I enjoyed my servings of soups, vegetables, bread, salad, and of course dessert, in such abundance, that I never once had room for any of the several evening’s entrées.


The exquisite cuisine extended to the dried pineapple and brown sugar fudge in a tightly sealed glass jar in the room. When I was recovering from late flights or the turtle trip and slept through the scheduled meals, this tasty combo kept me going. It was so good that when it came time to head home I just couldn’t leave the pineapple and fudge behind, so I carefully packed them in my Ziplocks, knowing I was setting myself up for a potential customs hassle at the US border because I’d have to declare a fruit. Fortunately, when I held up the Ziplock of 5 rings of dried pineapple rings to the agent upon my return, he asked, “Is that all?” and then waved me through with a chuckle.


One night a surprise delicious bush dinner included a sinful dessert: chocolate salami. No sausage involved, it was slices of a chocolate cakeroll that merely resembled the appearance of salami. On the drive back from our sumptuous bush dinner, during which I enjoyed not only a couple of chocolate salamis, but a couple of glasses of wine, I made a heartfelt declaration to my vehicle mates regarding our meal and the heavy cloud cover under which we had dined. “If there had been a storm, and the bush dinner had been cancelled, and that meant we had not gotten the chocolate salami, it would have been a disaster!” From every seat agreement rang out.


At lunch the salads were a cornucopia of top quality ingredients, masterfully combined. I was raving about these salads when Ranger Sibu announced that it was his wife, Cinderella, who was in charge of salads. Eventually we were able to meet her and personally congratulate her on her fine culinary skills.


I also was able to meet Sibu’s two lovely children, whom he had spoken of with pride, because they were on school holiday.


Edited by Atravelynn
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