Luxury Travel in South Africa: My Adventures at Tswalu Kalahari (Day 1)
We’ve been going nonstop lately, so it’s been harder to sit down and write. After our community visit at Singita, we left Zimbabwe for a night in Johannesburg, where the Westcliff was gracious enough to host us. While Ellerman still wins the award for most epic night, our last night together as a group was a pretty memorable one and the Westcliff did everything possible to help. This Orient-Express property is one of the best in Johannesberg. As the only true resort-style property in the city, it’s great for business travelers, leisure travelers, and everyone in between.
The night started off with a lesson in molecular mixology, which was the most interesting science class I’ve ever had. Our molecular mixologist/bartender “deconstructed” signature cocktails, turning them into a totally unique experience. The collective favorite was watching the making of blueberry flavored caviar, which was served on the side of a citrus martini.
Our 6-course dinner was delicious – complete with three different kinds of lobster, springbok, and the best chili pepper-dusted chocolate ganache dessert I’ve had on this trip. Our hosts, Sean from Orient and Andrew, the GM of the Westcliff, were so generous and fun. It was bittersweet, though – we all tried to stay up and make the night last as long as possible, not wanting to say goodbye.
The next day, Beth left for Madikwe, Jamo spent another night in Johannesberg, and Kristen went back to the states. All of our South African hosts (including Allison from Singita, who we LOVED) headed to Durban for INDABA. Ansley, Will, Cassie, and I flew to Tswalu, an incredible lodge in the Kalahari Desert.
“It’s just like we’re pioneers,” Will said on the way over, “except we’re taking a Learjet.”
Admittedly, the Learjet was pretty awesome. We lucked up there– that is not the typical transfer for Tswalu.
I’d never been in one before and was amazed – it’s so fast that it shaved about 45 minutes off of our travel time, getting us to Tswalu in time for afternoon tea and a game drive. I am so glad I stayed on to see the property – it is an entirely different feel than Singita. It makes me excited to come back and explore Africa since the landscape and wildlife vary from place to place. On the way in, we saw tons of antelope and were even charged at by a Sable, which freaked me the heck out.
We’ve also gotten to see tons of Springbok, which is a personal highlight. Because of my AWESOME dance moves at Ellernman house (and incessant amount of energy that night), our hosts nicknamed me “Springbok.” I was distressed by this at first, uncertain of what a Springbok even was, but they all insisted that it was a compliment. Springboks are the symbol of South Africa – they’re graceful, fun, and free spirited (I am definitely not graceful). They nicknamed my dancing the “dance prance” and the joke has continued on through the trip. When we ate the Springbok at the Westcliff, I felt a little cannibalistic (but my Springbok relative was DELICIOUS), so it’s been nice to see the animals not served medium rare over potatoes. They’re actually my favorite of the antelopes because of their coloring and because they like to pronk.
What is pronking, you ask?
Get your mind out of the gutter. It means showing off/jumping in Afrikaans (or Dutch, I can’t remember the country of origin). When excited, the Springboks will jump three times their height through the field – I think it’s a pretty accurate comparison to my dancing at Ellerman.
When we checked into our room (Cassie and I are sharing a villa), we almost ran straight into the grazing Nyala outside of villa. Before we knew it, it was joined by a baby Nyala and a large male – so cool! We think these were Nyala…they could also be Kudu, I don’t really know my African antelopes all that well.
Tswalu is known for its Meerkat population, which we also got to experience last night. These are by far my favorite animals here – they even beat the giraffes.
We were able to get so close and we’re tempted to go back and take some home as souvenirs. We feel the same way about all of the male staff members and tour guides here. Let’s just say there’s more than just good game viewing here.
Not only did we get a treat with the meerkats yesterday, last night at dinner we were visited by Badger the Honey Badger! Everyone knows how great honey badgers are after that YouTube video (Cassie has an even greater connection considering her LSU heritage, but I won’t go there as a Dawg fan), but this one is semi-tame and returns to the resort every month or so. Most people on staff hate him since he tends to destroy things (did you know that honey badgers are one of the most aggressive animals in the bush – they have been known to chase off elephants!), but we were in love.
Earlier today, we went rhino tracking. I’ll be honest – when it was mentioned last night, it was just about the last item on my Africa to-do list. No part of me wants to wake up early to walk through the bush and look for an animal that can easily impale me. My sentiments were pretty similar when we were actually on the track. We were in the knee-deep grass, trying not to step on snakes or animal droppings, and following our guide, Cameron. He pointed out the black rhino tracks and I did my usual response to nature, which is a little on the apathetic side: “Oh, wow. Do you think we’ll get back in time for eggs benedict?”
However, when the moment came that we actually got to see a rhino and her calf, it was EXHILARATING, minus the fact that they were running straight toward us. Even though armed with rifles, guides are, of course, strongly discouraged to shoot, especially when it comes to the black rhino. They’re extremely endangered and harming one is a punishable offense (25 years in prison for poaching them). We were encouraged to climb a tree if charged by a rhino, but the trees here are few and far between (and short) and it’d be nearly impossible for 6 adults to climb the only one nearby in order to avoid the rhino. Luckily, it changed course last minute, but it definitely gave us all a good adrenaline rush.
Now, we have some free time to enjoy the fact that, until this afternoon, we’re the only guests on property. Tswalu is first class in its accommodation and beautiful grounds, so we’re hanging by the pool closest to the watering hole, watching as Kudu casually stroll by. Tonight’s another game drive and we’re planning a Mexican fiesta (I don’t remember where this idea came from or how it will go, all I know is that Will is worried the animals might get offended if we bring a piñata).