Adventure begins next Wednesday, Feb 15. While we have certainly spent more time planning this trip than any of our previous ones, this is the first time that I have felt ready to begin documenting it. First got the idea for the trip last spring, a surprisingly long time ago it now seems, when one of my colleagues returned from a mixed business/pleasure trip to South Africa and I saw some of her fabulous close-up shots of big cats and at the same time, one of Virginia's colleagues returned from South Africa with equally excited reviews. We have traveled extensively through all reaches of Asia and the Pacific Rim as well as Europe and Asia will always have a siren call for me, but we have been thinking about an African adventure for a number of years and the tipping point was the animal photos (and the wine reviews!). Since that time we have been in a fairly low-key but continuous state of research and planning. Why so much planning time? Neither of us enjoys group travel so that all of our various travels throughout SE Asia, India, China, Burma, Bhutan and all the rest have been just the two of us and occasionally sharing portions of trips with another like-minded couple, friends from New York. Because we travel alone, it means that all the destinations, logistics, planning and organization is done by us, usually with the help of a local agent who can deal with the on-location arrangements. So, job one, is deciding where we actually want to go and why and for how long and how will we get there and back; a hugely iterative process, aided in the last 4 or 5 years by TripAdvisor which has become our first port of call in the research department.
This trip was really a tabula rasa and we struggled to give it some shape at the outset. However we are extremely fortunate to have put ourselves in the hands of a South African travel planner named Susie Prangley at African Avenue. Susie and her husband Rich run African Avenue and Susie has been the soul of patience for the last 6 months while we hammered out an itinerary, which seemed to change hourly, as we went through our research and planning. Our most difficult task was trying to sort safaris. We knew that we wanted to do more than one, to get a sense of the different types of terrain and habitat, but beyond that we were flying blind. So, how to narrow it down?
We wanted to spend at least 3 nights at each location so that we could settle in a little and get a sense of the locale and ultimately we decided to spend 4 nights each on two safaris. Next, which safari camps? Susie and Trip Advisor between them were hugely helpful and we had no shortage of good information and many of the camps were very attractive but we couldn't find the decisive variable that would allow us to rule in and rule out. After a long, pleasant and wine-soaked dinner with all of our research spread out around us we managed, in an anticipatory pun, to get it all in focus.
Part of the safari experience is the daily game drives at morning and evening to suss out the local fauna and watch the animals at work and play. These are usually, our research suggested, in open Land Rovers with 4 or 6 other residents of the camp. Because we are both fairly serious photographers, we realised that getting good photos while trying to shoot past the other passengers heads and arms or waiting for a shot while everyone wanted to drive on was going to be trying for the other occupants of the car as well as for us, and this became our decisive factor.
When a camp met all the other criteria that we felt were important and that Susie felt positive about, the acid test then became whether or not they had the ability to supply us with a private car and tracker. On that basis we ended up with two camps, very different in location and ambiance, but both attractive for a whole variety of reasons and which, in each case, will be providing us with private cars. The first is Inyati in the Sabi Sands region next to Kruger National Park, and the other is Tswalu, which is on the edge of the Kalahari Desert.