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Something old, something new: Part 1 - Dulini Lodge, South Africa


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I find I'm all a-flutter, thinking of starting my trip report. One, I almost hate to wrap up the trip (even though I've been home for a few weeks now), but writing about it makes it real. And, two, I'm not actually sure that this trip did end a few weeks ago -- it was so big and meaningful and gorgeous, I think I'll still be thinking about it and living in it for quite a while.


So, just to get me going here, let me start with a quick sum-up of what brought me back on safari, just a few short months after my first safari (in August, 2015), and I'll also post in some preview photos.


As some of you might remember from my previous trip report, I went with my husband to Dulini Lodge in Sabi Sand, in the Greater Kruger Park area of South Africa. It was shortly after my dad had died, and not only did I completely and utterly fall in love with the wildlife and landscape of South Africa, I also felt that going on safari really helped me turn a corner in my own grieving process. I determined that, if at all possible, I would bring my widowed mother back with me.


My dad had left me a little bit of money outright on his death, though most of his money transferred to my mom. The thing I could do with the money that would most honor my dad would be to put it in a bank, not touch it, and let it gain interest over many years. However, the second most honoring thing I could do with my money, I thought, was to go with my mom to Africa and to be there together for the one-year anniversary of his death. With a little wink towards my dad's spirit, who might have rolled his eyes a little, but I think would also have been pleased at our adventurousness, my mom matched my money and we decided to go on safari together.


Even with our combined money, however, I was faced with the reality that I didn't want to take my 75-year-old mom on a trip that long in coach (I worried about her getting blood clots, as well as generally not being very comfortable), but flying business was prohibitively expensive. As it turns out, however, my mom and dad hadn't spent their credit card points in eons and had thousands saved up. It was a bit of a battle royale with the airlines, but I ended up being able to purchase business class tickets for both of us using points. We would fly Delta from Atlanta to Johannesburg on the way over, then Virgin Airlines through London coming back.


At times, I did question what in the world I was doing, bringing my septuagenerian mom to Africa for the first time. I have a brother (a half-brother -- he has a different father), and I could hear the same questions in his voice every time our plans grew. "You two are going to South Africa?" he would ask.


"Yes. Well, now I'm thinking South Africa and Botswana. That way we'll have one place I've been to, where they'll take care of us on the anniversary, and one place new."


[Long pause.]


"Actually, there will also be a stopover in Zambia. And Zimbabwe. Both, really. To see Victoria Falls. Mom wanted to see the Falls ..."


[Longer pause.]


"Zimbabwe, eh?"


And I can't say he was wrong. It was a little odd. My mom was a very good traveller when she was younger -- we used to go back and forth to England all the time for hers and my dad's research, and I remember showing up at the airport with nothing but suitcases, and by the end of the day we'd have a flat rented, groceries bought, and our lives set up for the next six months -- but she had never been outside Europe. Plus, she and my dad really hadn't traveled much at all in recent years; she would have to apply for a new passport.


Still, we needed a place to be on the anniversary, and more than that -- we needed a new way to be together. This would be the first time we had ever traveled together, just mother/daughter, and what better way to do it than with two weeks in the bush, with ever-decreasing access to the outside world? I had confidence (or at least semi-confidence) that it would be perfect, as long as my mother didn't break anything or have otherwise to be evacuated via helicopter. We bought the safari, we bought the insurance, and we crossed our fingers.


Let me go ahead and ruin my own story and say: it was glorious. Amazing. Astounding. And my mom loved it! She shrugged aside any suggestion that she might want a bit of a lie-in on this or that morning, that it might be OK to miss a morning game drive. "Why?" she would ask. "I'm here to see the animals." She is already making plans to bring back my brother and his family. I just hope that I'm invited.


Here was the itinerary:


May 10-11th, travel from Washington, DC to Johannesburg

May 12th, Federal Air to Dulini Lodge

May 12th-16th, Dulini

May 16th - Flight to Livingstone, Zambia, then transfer to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

May 17th - Transfer to Kasane, Botswana, and flight to Little Vumbra

May 17th - 19th -- Little Vumbra

May 19th - 23rd -- Chitabe

May 23rd-24th -- travel through Maun to Johannesburg to London to Washington, DC.



And a few teaser pics.



















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@@hannahcat, how lovely to have had the opportunity to travel with your Mum, and how great she enjoyed it so much she's planning on going back. You obviously reawakened a sleeping spirit of adventure in her.

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@@hannahcat a wonderful way to spend time to bond together and to support each other while you both remember the one-year anniversary your dad has left you.


I remember what a huge impact your first safari had on you, and it's so great that it has the same effect on your mum too! hope you get invited too!

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Excellent photos and a wonderful beginning...can't wait to hear more!

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I feel like you just got back from your first safari -- an incredibly memorable one at that. Don't tell me you topped it. Wow. This sounds like it's going to be good. Can't wait to hear more.


And what a way to both honor your father and provide an unforgettable adventure to your mother.

Edited by Alexander33
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You seem to be a Leopard cub magnet! :) Great start, looking forward to this.

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@@hannahcat - Great preview to your TR and well done for taking your Mum.

I Travelled with my Dad 2 years ago on safari in Krüger.

It was very Special for both of us.

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I am still remembering the fantastic sightings and equally great photos from your first trip, so I am sure we all will have more sweet moments to enjoy in.

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hurrah! looking forward to your report nothing beats sharing such a wonderful experience as a safari with someone close!

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What a wonderful idea - a great way to think of your Dad together - and I am so pleased that she loved it.

Lovely photos as a teaser - so I look forward to the rest!

I hope your mom will read the report.

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Wow, that is a teaser. I´m really looking forward to see more of this :)

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Wow, thanks so much to everyone for the very generous replies!


@@TonyQ -- I sent my mom the link and she called me just a few minutes after to say she was indeed reading it and she really liked it (whew!). She's telling her own version in a memoir she's writing, so it'll be interesting to see how they both turn out.


@@Hads -- I am so glad you got to travel with your dad. I agree with you, @@Towlersonsafari, sharing a safari with someone you love is very special.


@@michael-ibk -- I don't want to jinx it, but I did get lucky with the leopard cubs. Oh, and I also had a very particular leopard cub sighting ... more to come.


@@Kitsafari -- Thanks! Fingers crossed :) .


@@Alexander33 -- I know, it kinda felt like I had just come back to me too. But that's OK because I was ready to go back as soon as the plane landed from Johannesburg. I wouldn't say I topped the first one -- asking which safari I liked better is like asking, "which of your children do you love more?" -- but I would say we got lucky with some of the sightings. Oh, and if I had the bug before, it's like a raging fever now.


@@Gregor, @@xelas, and @@KathBC, thanks so much for your kind comments. I hope the report will end up being fun for us all.

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For this trip, along with renting the Nikon VR 80-400 f/4.5 lens, as I did last time, I also rented a Tokina 11-20 f/2.8 wide angle lens. Here are my first inept attempts at getting an aerial shot of the mountains before you get to Kruger, as well as the "airport" at the Ulusaba landing strip.






It was so wonderful to get off the Federal Air flight and see Fred standing there, a grin on his face as if to say, "we are going to have the best time."


I am now going to say something that will no doubt sound a little foolish. I realize that Dulini Lodge is a paying concern, and that it is not really my home. And yet, when Fred helped my mom off the plane and then immediately helped her into the seat beside the driver's seat just as we had discussed eight months or so beforehand to accommodate her osteopenia, I could have cried. It really felt like a return, if not to home, exactly, then at least to people who cared. Which is really nice. Martin would again be our tracker with Fred -- and if you remember, he is an absolute magician -- and in a minor miracle, Jesse, who works front of the house and of whom I had become very fond, was just back at the lodge after having been gone practically since I left the last time. It couldn't have been a better set up.


Before the afternoon game drive, we had lunch on the lawn, where a vervet monkey promptly stole one of mom’s bread rolls, which entertained her mightily, though it vexed the staff.




On our first game drive, we meant to go see a cheetah, but almost immediately Fred got a mysterious call from another ranger to come see something, as that thing might be mating. Rhinos are the only thing they don’t talk about on the radio, but seeing them mating would be very rare – Fred had never seen such a thing.


As it turns out, there were a group of rhinos – several females, two males, and a calf. And it did look like one of the males was trying to mate with one of the females, but she was having none of it and kept chasing him off. Sometimes, the male also chased off the other male. The male who was trying to mate was having slow success, though – he kept getting successively closer each time he approached, but only by inches each time, and it still seemed like he had a ways to go before she would consider entertaining his advances.


(By the way, I'm not putting photos in here because I take it that would endanger the rhinos. Let me know if I'm wrong about that and I'll post some -- although at first the rhinos were so close that it was hard to capture them with my telephoto lens!)


Fred said this courting could go on for days, so we left to find the cheetah we had originally been chasing – but the moment we got there, we got a call from another guide, telling us to come back to the rhinos as they were mating! We spent just a couple of minutes with the cheetah (which Fred hates to do – he likes to spend time with an animal, but still, you don’t often get to see rhinos mating), and we rushed back to the rhinos.


Unfortunately, after only about 10 seconds of us being there, the rhinos stopped mating, though it was clear that the male rhino, at least, was still interested – he was scent marking the territory and chasing after her. Even though we missed most of the "action," it was incredible – I don’t know if it was because we saw them in a group or because these rhinos really were bigger than the ones Michael and I saw last time, but suddenly they just seemed immense to me, and the idea of them mating seemed preposterous, like the idea of two short school busses mating. The last time I was at Dulini, I had seen the body of a poached rhino, so it seemed particularly lovely to imagine that perhaps I had just seen a baby rhino -- the next generation -- being created.


Before driving off, we also observed some territorial behavior from the male: as the other vehicle was trying to get into a better position, the male rhino mistook the vehicle as a competing male rhino, and charged it. The range rover exited quickly, stage left, followed by a rhino, but fortunately the angry rhino didn’t chase the vehicle long before returning to his lady friend.


Next to the rhinos, we also saw a fish eagle who dropped her catfish, and a hyena who was there and picked it up – so we saw a hyena steal a catfish from an eagle, which is pretty cool.




After all this, we had sundowners, then watched some sleeping lions on the way back to the lodge.




Dinner was at the boma, and was great fun. I am not sure that the guests are actually supposed to get up and dance with the staff at these -- in fact, I'm pretty sure they're not -- but that didn't stop me loving seeing my Mom getting up and dancing with another ranger, Dinamosi, who was really nice and showed her some steps. I’m sure she hasn’t danced since Dad died, and it was wonderful to see her have a dance partner again and do something she really enjoys.


I went to bed enormously grateful that for the opportunity to be together with my Mom at this time, enjoying each other and this gorgeous country and its people and its wildlife together.




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@elefrommoz -- I particularly meant to respond to you -- what a nice way to think about the trip. Yes, I hope this did re-awaken her "sleeping spirit of adventure" -- it's a wonderful phrase.

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I am assured that observing your mother enjoying this trip beats any of the wildlife sightings you have had! Just lovely!

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@@hannahcat - thanks for sharing this beautifully written report.

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The next morning, my mom and I were extraordinarily lucky to get the vehicle all to ourselves: one person who had come with us the night before was an agent, and he wanted a lie-in, and so did the German couple whose trip overlapped ours.


(I later learned that the Germans, Anna and Thomas, had been on 200 safaris in the past thirteen years(!), and on this occasion they were going on safari for a month, so wanted a little bit of a break. Anna and Thomas, by the way, were the first people I've met who are also active on SafariTalk -- an event just as exciting as any other prime sighting! -- but I must have misheard their username. I thought Thomas told me that Anna was called "Mama Anna" on SafariTalk, but I can't seem to find her. At any rate, Thomas and Anna, if you're reading this, nett Sie kennenzulernen.)


Fred and Martin were keen to find Xikavi, the leopard I had seen last year with her cub. I was delighted to hear that Xikavi's cub was alive and with her still, and Fred and Martin did a yeoman's job of narrowing down her location to a single block, then walking most of the block, but it was one of those mornings in which she just didn't want to be found. It's a nice reminder that with the cats, at least, if you find them, it probably means they're OK with it, because if they're not OK, you can be standing almost on top of them and still not see them.


I enjoyed watching the tracking process, whatever the result.




Well, no matter, there were plenty of other animals to see, and it was a lovely morning. We spent a little time at a hyena den, watching the playful cubs.








We also returned to the cheetah whom we had abandoned so abruptly the night before. This morning, he had a kill. He was clearly quite nervous about other predators finding him with the kill -- he kept looking up and checking around, and he was also very careful to eat without puncturing the stomach or intestines, which contain most of the dead meat smell. Between the two, he gave the impression of being very fastidious, like a man in a fancy restaurant who is more interested in people watching and maintaining his trim figure than he actually is in the food.












Over coffee, we saw (I think?) some dark capped bulbuls, as well as an orange tip butterfly.







On the way home, we saw this lovely kudu, who I think has a quite knowing expression.






And here, to welcome us back, is a nyala, one of the nyalas who seem to have taken up semi-permanent residence on the lodge grounds.




All in all, a gorgeous morning, and a wonderful start to the safari.




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You know what? I think I'm going to try something a little bit different. Instead of writing this game-drive by game drive, I think I'm going to try writing these as a series of vignettes, in roughly chronological order. That's partly because that's how I remember things, and partly because I think there's a real story to tell here, and it's a story of drought. Almost everything we saw at Dulini -- from the lions too bloated on warthogs to move (more on warthogs later), to the little hills by the river that were, we were told, not hills at all but rather the graves of hippos -- had been affected by drought.


I can't remember why the graves for the hippos were dug, by the way. Of course, most of the animals that die in Sabi Sand are eaten or rot -- their corpses are not managed by humans. Why were the hippos different? Maybe there are too many of them all at once? Maybe they could spread disease, to have that many dead hippos? I wish I could remember; I'll have to write Fred and ask him.


Perhaps the animals most affected by the drought besides the hippos were the buffalo. We saw many large herds, apparently walking long distances to find water.


One herd on the move stumbled across the hiding place of a Cape Hare.




Had the hare stayed hidden in the roots of the bushes, she would have been fine, but she was terrified, and she kept abandoning one hiding place and hopping to the next one as the buffalo approached. The buffalo payed her no mind, but she was clearly having the worst morning of her life. Here's a picture of her retreating from the buffalo's approach.




This is where I can see that having one's own vehicle would be a great asset. I don't know if this would be possible even with one's own vehicle, but I would have loved to try to get a photo at around the hare's level (or as low as I could go), as the hare hopped away from the buffalo. Of course, with other people in the vehicle, you can't hang out with a hare and some buffalo for 30 minutes while you try to realize your "artistic vision," but it would be fun to give it a try.


Another herd of buffalo had clearly walked a great distance to this waterhole, and were deeply disappointed to find it almost all mud, with just a few grimy pools of sludgy water on the surface.




Many buffalo waded into the mud, hoping to find hidden water in the sludge; this was dangerous, as, if the smaller ones in particular got stuck, they would make easy prey.






The drought's timing is particularly unfortunate, I feel, coming as it does just when the South African Rand has plunged. It's my understanding that all of the lodges around Kruger, as well as the SANPARKS accommodation within Kruger, are unusually fully booked, so that just at the time South Africa will be welcoming an enormous new batch of tourists, the wildlife itself will be harder to find and more and more desperate for water. I teased Fred and Martin that they'll end up being like lions: more possessive of their sightings, and with stronger delineations between alliances of rangers. They laughed, but perhaps with less mirth than usual.

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By the way, if you're OK with a bit of a "spoiler" (to the extent that this genre can have a spoiler -- surprise! I'm on safari!), a local photography blog published a "dispatch" on my safari. You can find it at DC Focused.


In it, I reference @@xelas and Zvezda's excellent photos, and particularly their photos of giraffes. Inspired by them, I was trying for a similar capture of that s-shape of droplets that giraffes make when they drink -- I didn't quite nail it, but it's just another reason to go back. :D

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Finally able to read your dispatch! Great writing great photography! Your next trip you should rent also a more capable camera (think D500)! You deserve it!!

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@@xelas Thanks! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!


And I was kinda thinking the same thing about the camera ... maybe even buying a full frame camera. Maybe a used one? I didn't know when I bought the D3300 how interested I would become in photography, so my husband (rightly) talked me out of getting a super-fancy camera at the time, but at this point I think I might like a little bit of an upgrade. ^_^

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Great TR so far - lots of hyaena coverage too! ;)
The 'backstory', and contemplative, calm yet appreciative tone make for easy and interesting reading. Also love the scrub hare and buffalo together.

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Thanks, @@Big_Dog! I aim to please. :)


Again, because of the drought, some non-traditional characters took starring roles at Dulini this time around: the hyenas were absolutely prospering, and we spent time with them again on another morning drive. At least four hyena moms had cubs of varying ages, and they did their best to show that, it really doesn't matter how attractive (or not) the adult animal might be: the babies are always cute.


These are some of my favorite photos from Dulini.










I didn't get any great pictures of warthog babies, but they too were all over the place. Fred explained that warthogs generally hide their babies deep in termite mounds -- which is great for keeping them away from predators, but does generally mean that, when the hard rains come, a number of them drown every year. This year, however, the hard rains never came, so the warthogs were absolutely proliferating.





This perhaps contributed to the extreme laziness of the lions during the time we were there -- yes, lions are always lazy, but this was ridiculous. Every time we saw them, and whenever we saw them -- sunrise, sunset, middle of the day, whenever -- they were absolutely flat, with stomachs like beach balls.




This young male was in such a food coma, he was trying to fall asleep in the world's most uncomfortable position.






By the way, one more note on the guiding at Dulini: all the guides at all the camps noted the proliferation of warthogs, but only at Dulini did they explain why there were so many warthogs running around. I really appreciate knowing that kind of backstory -- it's things like this that help a visitor piece together what makes an ecosystem tick.


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Uh_oh busted

Fabulous photography, and what a wonderful story behind the safari trip. I know your mom must have enjoyed sharing this trip.

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Thanks, @@Uh_oh busted! Thank goodness, she did love it -- and I loved going with her. :) It was great sharing these special sightings with her.

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