To­day’s ad­ven­tur­ers shoot photos, not bul­lets, cap­tur­ing the lion, ele­phant, buf­falo, rhi­noc­eros and leop­ard in their na­tive habi­tat

Our Canada - - News - by Geoff Allen,

Our African ad­ven­ture started dur­ing the win­ter of 2015 in Calgary, sit­ting in my doc­tor’s of­fice. Dur­ing a reg­u­lar checkup, he asked me how my fall trip to south­ern Alaska to pho­to­graph the griz­zlies feed­ing on the spawn­ing salmon had been. I ex­plained that it was a very suc­cess­ful trip and I was able to get some great shots. He then asked me when I was plan­ning to go to Africa to ex­pe­ri­ence the “African Big Five.“With­out much thought, I replied that Africa wasn’t even on my travel list, mainly be­cause of con­cerns about safety and po­ten­tial ill­ness. Then, in a per­haps an­noyed tone, he re­minded me that he had grown up in South Africa. I left his of­fice with a clean checkup and one name—ka­pama Pri­vate Game Re­serve.

So, 18 months later, in Septem­ber 2016, I was on a plane with my wife Wendy and mother-in-law Karen Lamb­den, headed to Cape Town, South Africa, for a three-week ad­ven­ture! We had done our home­work on what we wanted to see and do while there, but as you can well imagine, we still re­ally didn’t know what to ex­pect once we landed af­ter 20 hours of fly­ing on two air­planes to the other side of the planet. Three lost Cana­di­ans in Africa! Our first week was spent in Cape Town, tak­ing in all the things a first-time vis­i­tor would want to see: the Vic­to­ria & Al­fred Water­front, Ta­ble Moun­tain, Stel­len­bosch wine coun­try, Si­mon’s Town (to see the pen­guins), Langa Town­ship of Cape Town, Robben Is­land Mu­seum, The Com­pany’s Gar­den, and Cape of Good Hope. All these stops were much more than we had ever ex­pected; the beauty of the At­lantic Ocean coast­line, cou­pled with the scenery of the Ta­ble Moun­tain range at the foot of Cape Town City ex­ceeded our ex­pec­ta­tions. Our in­hi­bi­tions and con­cerns about trav­el­ling to south­ern Africa were quickly sub­dued by the friendly, happy, wel­com­ing South African peo­ple. Any of the above­men­tioned at­trac­tions are due their time; we par­tic­u­larly en­joyed the visit to Robben Is­land and learn­ing of the his­tory and hard­ships the African peo­ple faced dur­ing apartheid.

For our next eight days, we were headed to the north­east­ern cor­ner of South Africa to visit the Ka­pama Pri­vate Game Re­serve, as per my doc­tor’s or­ders. To get there, we flew from Cape Town to Jo­han­nes­burg to Hoed­spruit, which is a small town sit­u­ated at the foot of the Klein Drak­ens­berg moun­tain range in South Africa’s Lim­popo prov­ince. Upon ar­rival at the airstrip, we were met by our ranger, who would be tak­ing us on sa­fari dur­ing our stay

there. We were wel­comed with smiles and pleas­ant greet­ings in the full sun of a +30°C af­ter­noon.

And so it be­gan—the por­tion of our trip that I didn’t re­al­ize would change me for the rest of my life.

As we jumped into the open-back, eight-pas­sen­ger Toy­ota Land Cruiser, our sa­fari was about to start, all thanks to a sug­ges­tion from my doc­tor. As soon as we left the airstrip, we drove across a sec­ondary road and en­tered into Ka­pama Pri­vate Game Re­serve. Within three min­utes of the 30-minute drive to get to the river lodge where we’d be stay­ing, our cruiser was sur­rounded by a troop of ele­phants head­ing to a small pond to cool off. Sur­round­ing the pond were six to ten gi­raffes! It was like a planned setup, but it wasn’t—wendy, Karen and I were com­pletely taken by sur­prise by the sight. I mean, re­ally!

Once we ar­rived at the lodge, we were greeted by the man­age­ment, who were so wel­com­ing and friendly. With “We love the Cana­di­ans!” ring­ing in our ears, we were served cold, re­fresh­ing fruit drinks as the pro­ce­dures and ameni­ties of the lodge were ex­plained to us.

The lodge is a quaint, 64-room build­ing sit­u­ated in the heart of the re­serve. We would get a wakeup call every morn­ing at 5 a.m., as our morn­ing sa­fari started at 6:30 a.m. sharp!

It was cold in the morn­ing, around 10°C, and the sun was just ris­ing over the sa­van­nah as we drove off in the open-back cruiser for the first time. Within min­utes of leav­ing the lodge, we spot­ted rhi­noc­eros, wa­ter buf­falo, ele­phants, gi­raffes, warthogs and lions, most hav­ing a morn­ing feed of veg­e­ta­tion—well, maybe not the lions. But what cool tem­per­a­tures! I hon­estly had to hold my breath to try and stay re­laxed as I snapped away with my cam­era. Such views through my viewfinder! And this was just the first of 15 3½-hour sa­faris we had booked. We’d be at it seven hours a day, morn­ing and af­ter­noon, for the next eight days! No sleep­ing in or stay­ing up late for us, not when we had the op­por­tu­nity to go on sa­fari and spend time with such re­mark­able crea­tures. Ka­pama took ex­cel­lent care of us with their friendly staff, amaz­ing food and com­fort­able rooms—the spa treat­ments weren’t too bad, ei­ther! The cul­ture in gen­eral is some­thing you need to ex­pe­ri­ence first­hand; it has such a calm­ing ef­fect.

As I look back now, in the plan­ning stages for our next trip to the African con­ti­nent in 2018, I re­al­ize how for­tu­nate we were to be there among all the wild an­i­mals, many of which are in jeop­ardy of ex­tinc­tion. On many oc­ca­sions, we were able to get so close that we could hear them breath­ing or snor­ing and, in the case of one leop­ard we en­coun­tered, crunch­ing bones.

This amaz­ing land on our vast planet truly makes one un­der­stand how small we are in re­la­tion to the big pic­ture; how, if we could make even one small change in our lives to help the less for­tu­nate, it would make a dif­fer­ence in the world.

As Cana­di­ans trav­el­ling to a place that is a world away from our ev­ery­day re­al­i­ties, we were treated with re­spect and shared a feel­ing of hap­pi­ness that I can’t re­ally de­scribe. We look for­ward to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the same feel­ing again in May 2018.

Thank you, South Africa!

Top left: Geoff, his wife Wendy (right) and her mom Karen en­coun­tered rhi­nos, leop­ards, ele­phants and much more!

A colony of more than 2,500 African pen­guins re­sides on Boul­ders Beach in Si­mon’s Town.

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