Lions and Leopards and Rhinos, Oh My!…

lion africa tree leopard

Word association. I am on my back in Pilates class and Marti, the Empress of Pilates instructors, compellingly calls for table top (on your back, bent knees, legs straight out from the knees, feet flexed). I struggle to get through her demanding classes and think, “Table top…mountain…South Africa. That shall be my next blog. Back to holding impossible positions while my stomach muscles register 7.6 quakes in my belly. I am sweating again, but I think this is exercise related so I relax and unselfconsciously embrace the perspiration.

We recently returned from a magical trip to South Africa. David, my handsome, charming and accented husband, was born in America, but grew up in England and South Africa (this is when outsourcing is a good thing and no one lost their job). His family is geographically desirable so we planned an extensive stay in Cape Town. Unfortunately, my lovely father-in-law passed away suddenly before our arrival date. We considered cancelling the trip, but wanted to pay our last respects. We were able to attend a beautiful graveside service. Pinky was a pediatrician, an academic who established the Poison Control Center in Johannesburg, accomplished author and prolific artist. It was apropos that he now resides with a breathtaking view of Table Mountain, inspiration for more evocative paintings in the afterlife.

Today, I am focusing on the safari. Visitors to South Africa cannot pass up the opportunity to experience a game reserve, especially in Kruger National Park.  Sabi Sands is the part of the Park that must be explored. After extensive research, I found the most amazing place to stay, Nottens Bush Camp. It has been family owned for 25 years and one of the original private game lodges in South Africa. It is situated in an unbelievable location and one of the best kept secrets in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve and Greater Kruger National Park. By the way, Richard Branson, owner of Virgin everything except perhaps pubescent girls, has a reserve where the price tag for a one night stay is $15,000….same animals, better peeps at Nottens if you get my drift …although Branson’s place has TV. Call me crazy. I didn’t travel more than half way around the world to watch the Kardashian’s.

The Sabi Sand Reserve is part of the largest conservation area in South Africa and the oldest of all the private reserves. It was formed in 1950 and consists of 153,000 acres. There are no fences so the game move freely throughout the enormous natural reserve.

The days begin at 5:30am with a knock on the door of your individual private house. A tray of tea and biscuits is delivered.  AT 6am, you board open-top Land Rovers with head ranger, Joseph, and his trigger man, Fox, who rides shotgun on the left front fender of the Rover. We encountered the Big 5 (lions, leopard, elephant, rhino, water buffalo) on our first go round.

Exhilarated by the wildlife, you return from a 3 hour morning game drive and eat amazing food,( talk about farm to table), addictive baked goods and made to order eggs. After consuming half of Africa’s gross national food products, we relaxed  by the infinity pool. It was an arduous morning of sitting and watching game,  eating and observing giraffes, monkeys and wart hogs romping on the lodge grounds. Before high tea and the late afternoon game ride, we indulged in a heavenly spa massage.

Night drives are unbelievable with more stars than in Hollywood. As the sun sets, you stop in the middle of the bush for cocktails and the view. You then return to camp for a hot shower, and then dinner and socializing with the other guests. Conversation is lubricated by incredible bottomless glasses of enticing South African wines (I’m a cabernet gal) and divine cuisine in the boma (outside enclosure) around a blazing fire.

A real highlight was when we witnessed a frantic, premeditated kill by 2 lions (brothers) of a kudu (antelope family). To add to the excitement and adrenaline rush, just know that I was close enough to the lion to make eye contact and smell kudu on his breath. The 2 lions blindsided the kudu, took him down in seconds and immediately began gorging. From a different direction a leopard appeared, rushed in and grabbed a kudu leg as if she was grazing choices at an outdoor buffet. The lions went berserk. The leopard ran up a tree, leg in mouth and outwaited the hungry lions. When the leopard dashed down the tree, the lions pursued and we frantically chased after in the Land Rover. I lost my Fred Segal hat which was not yet paid for, but I was assured that one of the lion brothers would wear it well.

Needless to say, the leopard outran the lions, much to everyone’s delight. That night we revisited the sight and the lions were sleeping off their banquet with engorged bellies. We found them the next day in a nearby location still belching and panting from their gluttony. There was no evidence of the kudu at the kill site, even his huge antlers were missing.

Now, I am going to stop talking and let the photos paint an African picture. If you have the opportunity, do not miss out on being one with the animals in Africa. A special shout out to Courtny Catzel for the amazing photographs.

rhino giraffe elephant

Melktert recipe (Milk Tart)…when in South Africa you must eat like a native.

  • Pastry
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ stick butter
  • Pinch of salt
  • Filling
  • 4 ½ cups milk
  • 2 ½ tbsp. corn flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 ½ tbsp. flour
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tbsp. butter

To make crust, cream butter and sugar. Add egg. Beat well. Add all other ingredients, making a stiff dough. Press into a round pie pan and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.

For the filling, bring milk to boil. Beat eggs, add sugar, flour, corn flour and salt. Pour boiling milk into the mixture and stir well. Place back on stove and stir until mixture thickens. Add butter and vanilla. Pour into baked crust. No more baking required.  Allow to cool in the frig.

It is delish and a great dessert. Invite some pinkies up friends over for high tea and melktert!

milk tart
South African Melktert (milk tart)

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