After several years of ‘wanting to go’ we (Jolly and Ep)made our first trip to South Africa in 2011 and we made plans for a three-week-roundtrip by car.  In these three weeks we decided to stay the second week in Mpala Lodge. In Greece (!!) we had met people who recommended this place very much and it seemed so attractive to us that we booked for a week.

So we flew to Johannesburg, drove to Pretoria and Graskop and saw the Panorama Route where we found God’s window closed. So it needed a second visit to find this window a bit more opened.

And then we headed for Hoedspruit to start our ‘Mpala Week’. We felt excited because we did not know what to expect and how we would like it.

Day 1: From Graskop we drove to Hoedspruit where we had an appointment at ‘Sameys’, a restaurant at the roadside. In a temperature of 34 degrees we would be picked up at 16.00 hour by a person from Mpala Lodge. Of course we were early and exactly at 16.00 a truck arrived in the empty parking-lot. We were welcomed by Clayton, one of the rangers. He headed in the truck and we followed in our rental car. Off road we went for the first time this trip. Half way To Mpala Lodge we had to leave our car behind the secured gate of the National Park. And then it became quite clear why we had to leave our rental car behind. In the truck we went up- and down hills, a stony and bumpy road through a landscape that was very exiting and  at the same time giving a complete feeling of leaving the habited world. The first wild animals showed themselves. We watched them in silence and delight. And at last there was the lodge with the whole staff in line to welcome us. It felt like a VIP treatment to make you  feel shy. We got a lodge near the waterfront and waterlovers we are, we loved it from the very first moment. The beds, the decoration, everything so well designed. After we had unpacked we had a lovely dinner with salad, rice and kudupie(?). We shared a table with Boy and Gerda and we would meet them again the following days. With heads full of all those impressions and feelings it was not easy to get to sleep but of course we succeeded with all the expectations for the following day.

Day 2: 9.00 hour.  Breakfast in the mainhouse. A lovely building, representing the African atmosphere to the most. Very happy with all we had to eat we went to our lodge again where we were offered  a cocktail. It was again rather hot and on the porch of our lodge we enjoyed our stay, the drink, talked a bit and listened to all the noises that were strange to our western ears. All of a sudden Ep pricked his ears and said ‘hooves’. We sat upright and saw right across the river three giraffes coming to the river and eating from the trees. These moments are unforgettable. And so many would follow! At 16.00 we would have our first game-drive so we could take it easy for a few hours. Unfortunately I forgot my swimsuit but any problem could be solved. Elena gave me hers to use so we went to the pool, had a lovely swim and made acquintance with the monkeys who made it clear that it was there territory as well. The game-drive was exciting. Giraffes, zebra’s elephants, gnu’s, we saw them all in their own habitats and we realised that this is the real South Africa. We ended the game-drive with a sundowner. A magnificent overvieuw of the Elephant River and the African landscape. Just watch, be silent and admire this magnifying place. Back ‘home’ we dressed for a special dinner in the Boma. And it became a really special dinner!! The food was excellent and again we met Boy and Gerda. So we talked of our home regions, the where-abouts and the special music. Boy got his synthesizer and we started singing. He the homesongs from Denmark and we the folksongs from Friesland. All-in the African night. So we got an audience! A very very special evening in the romantic atmosphere of the Boma.

Day 3: A day off. Just to relax and enjoy everything that is around. After breakfast our new friends Boy and Gerda had to go so we all waved them goodbye and wished them a safe trip home. Back in our lodge after breakfast we always found it neat and clean. When we were away the staff did a wonderful job. We were treated like real VIP’s. Words cannot say what the service was like. This applies to the whole staff. Managers, cleaning, kitchen, garden. It was really TOP.  And maybe the most important that they gave us a ‘home-feeling’. It was still warm so we had a lovely swim, explored the grounds of Mpala Lodge and sat on the porch of the mainhouse where all of a sudden a hippo swam in the river. And as every day there were the impala’s, the warthogs and the monkeys in the gardens. So when we walked to tthe mainhouse there were always animals around. At the end of the day we were surprised to hear drums. And this sound was surely not the sound of the drum to tell us that dinner was ready! We went to have a look and  saw a colourful group of dancers coming. It appeared to be a local tribe that showed their traditional dances. Men, women and 2 little girls. It was moving to see the little ones dance. They showed that they had the African dancing in their veins and hearts. An authentic experience you can never forget.

Day 4: A very early rise! Coffee in the mainhouse at 6.30 hour because we had a walk with ranger Juan. As we sat with our coffee on the porch of the mainhouse a very special occasion happened. All of a sudden we saw a mother hippo with her baby coming out of the water and disappearing in the bushes. Breathlessly we saw this happen. What a coincidence and privilige that we were there on this moment. And then we went for the walk where we for the first time ‘met’ two elephants. Eye in eye! It became really thrilling when one had scented us, scraped his legs, waved his ears, so ‘told’ us not to come closer. Juan whispered where we should run to in case he might decide to attack, but after waiting very silently he turned his back on us and disappeared. It felt like a real confrontation with the power of a wild animal. Back ‘home’ we had breakfast (always top!!) and mailed all our experiences to our children. But the day had more in store for us. At 14.00 hour we all drove off to gamefarm Hope. For the first time in our lives we became acquinted with quad-driving. Fast or slow we drove through the countryside, saw the huge huge Baobab trees, played games with animal droppings and had lots of fun. In the evening we had a traditional dinner, prepared in a pot on a logfire in the Boma of the gamefarm. A very charming place. The way back ‘home’was a 1 ½ hours’ nightdrive. We tried to spot animals but this time they did not show up. Only one big owl surprised us. Again a wonderful day.

Day 5: Again an early wake-up call. This morning we had a bushwalk with ranger Clayton. No elephants this morning but interesting smaller animals and termite mounds. The walks with the rangers are always very interesting because they could tell so much about animals, nature and the environment. So we had very good discussions with them about protection of the whole lot. Breakfast was ready after this bushwalk and the program of the day had a bit changed. Because we could not visit the school (holiday) we went to the reptile park near Hoedspruit. We were very impressed when the English zoologist John demonstrated the most dangerous snakes and learned us that snakes only attack human beings when they feel threatened. On my asking why he worked with these scary animals he said he felt attracted to them because they were the underdogs and the most despised animals. A heartwarming motivation! Shaylock, one of the servants had got a little baby so on our way home we went to a store to buy her a little present. It was a nice way back. Elephants, lots of impala’s, waterbucks and giraffes showed up. Dinner was served on the terrace. With candlelight. Again a perfect day and night.

Day 6: We got used to early getting up!! This morning Breakfast at 4.30 a.m. because we would leave at 5 o’clock for a 2 Days’ tour to the Kruger Park with Clayton. Two and a half hours later we arrived at the gate of the park. And that day Hundreds of Buffalo, Giraffes, Zebra’s, Impala’s, Waterbuck, Gnu, Rhino, beautiful birds, Eagles and more and more passed our eyes. We saw a group of elephants with a baby crossing the road just in front of us. It is moving to see how these huge animals protect their babies. We were hardly able to take it all-in. Of course we would like to spot the Big Five. And we came very near. But at the end of the day we still missed the lion and the leopard. We did not mind but Clayton knew where they mostly hide so he took us to every place where they might be. But they did not show up. We were not disappointed at all because the day had been so full of beauty. These haunting made that the gate had been closed already so we stayed for the night in an appartment in Lower Sabie. There we had a really nice braai and after that, with heads so full of impressions and emotions, we needed a good sleep.

Day 7: Kruger day 2 also started a bit later with getting up at 5 a.m. and breakfast at 5.30 a.m. This day we would travel back to the lodge so at 6.00 a.m. we left Kruger through the gate. Again lots to see during this trip. A beautiful landscape and again there were the animals. A hippo alongside the road, a hyena, crocodiles on the waterfront and beautiful birds. When we were back in Mpala Lodge at 15.15 p.m. we were treated to delicious fruits and then we could do with a lovely swim and get some rest. This day ended with a last dinner in the Boma. So we sang again, had lovely discussions with the managers about development aid and realised that our stay had come to an end.

Day 8: Goodbye-Day!! If you have ever been in a place like this you know that paradise exists. So a goodbye will ever be accompanied by sad feelings. That is what it was like. Again the service had been exceptional because we left with a suitcase full of clean and ironed clothes!! At 10.00 everyone was ready to wave us goodbye. Clayton drove us to the gate where our rental car was still waiting. Although we had one week ahead, our African experience was marked by our stay in Mpala Lodge. When we talk about South Africa we think on this special place on earth where the feeling of being so close to Nature in all its manifestations is incredible and indescribable. We hope and dream to be back one day.

Jolly van Hijum, Holland