Day 36, Monday, March 31, Aquila Game Reserve, South Africa

The Crystal Symphony is at sea from Sihanoukville to Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam. The Crystal Serenity is in Walvis Bay, Namibia. (I’ll be there in 4 days), The MS Amsterdam is at sea from Durban to Cape Town.

I put in a wake up call for 5AM and spent the early morning organizing my bags for the safari and cruise, leaving the hotel about 6:45 for the end of the jetty and a very nice sunrise. After my final packing tweaks and email checks I left my room about 8:45.

My pickup was set for about 9-9:15, with my driver arriving about 9:15. There was already one couple in the van and we stopped near the convention center for a second before heading down the highway. Aquila advertises they are “less than 2 hours from Cape Town”, but between a rest stop and construction we arrived about noon. I think I have been in this area before. I have made 2 Rovos Rail trips between Pretoria and Cape Town and a scenic stop was made at Matjiesfontein which our information packet listed as nearby; by my GPS it is about 30 miles towards Johannesburg, the railroad tunnels on the trip are about 10 miles towards Cape Town. Rooms were to be ready at 2, so I relaxed on the grounds for about an hour before visiting the buffet for lunch.

My chalet is rustic but comfortable. There is no phone or TV but there is a wood stove and electric heat inside, a tub in the washroom, and an outside shower. My patio has a fireplace. The chief thing lacking is power outlets. There are 2 outlets, with the room having a fridge, coffee maker, and heat. To use either the heat or anything of mine, I need to unplug either the fridge or coffeemaker.

Before I knew it 4 o’clock rolled around, time for the first game drive. Aquila uses large safari vehicles (converted trucks) and mine had all 24 seats filled. Aquila is quite large, but it is not like a natural park. The animals are owned by the park and are enclosed in 2 fenced areas, one for the lions and one for everything else. It is also essentially a desert area without a lot of places for cover for big animals.

Our first stop was near a water hole where there were ostriches, zebra, plentiful springbok and a few hippos in the water. They mostly stayed under water and were difficult to photograph. My apologies for the hippo photo; I was taking a bit of video when one came up unusually high; the photo is actually of that paused moment on my computer screen.

We followed a pair of rhinos for some time and then spotted the elephants in the distance and went towards them. Our ranger Yanney explained that there are only 2. They came from Kruger National Park which was being overrun with elephants and some had to be either relocated or destroyed. We briefly followed a second pair of rhinos and then Yanney parked the truck and we had a little snack. He retrieved some rhino dung and explained that they only process a small part of what they eat and the balls were mostly filled with unprocessed grass.

Our final stop was in the lions area. They are efficient predators and if mixed with the other animals there would soon be no other animals left. They have a large range area but their diet consists mostly of deceased farm animals brought to their range. Cats are active mostly at night (we didn’t see leopard at all) and they were mostly lying around although there was one near fight.

On the way back to the lodge we saw some antelope, and some buffalo hanging right around the gate we use to get back to the lodge. Fortunately, there was an alternate exit available. We returned to the lodge about 6:30 and dinner was at 7. I hope to be in bed tonight by 10. Returning from dinner was a familiar site that I’ll see more of once on the Amsterdam. There was a towel elephant waiting on my bed.

As my parting shot, today is another example of why it is good to have choices. With relatively little effort I was able to get to a place with a very interesting array of wildlife. It was not in the class of places like Kruger National Park, and would not likely hold my interest for a multi-day stay, but it was an excellent experience for the time that was available.


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