The Harvard women's tennis team blogs about the conclusion of its 11-day training and touring trip of South Africa (photo courtesy head coach Traci Green).
Monday began with a delicious and exotic breakfast at the airport hotel, followed by a four-hour drive to the Entabeni game reserve. The closer we drove to the reserve, the bumpier the roads became and towards the final few kilometers, we were all bumping along a twisty, terrain scattered with wild animals.
We were welcomed warmly into the game reserve where our safari guide, Yevan, showed us to our rooms and provided us satisfying, locally-produced lunch buffet. The reserve contained a spacious lobby, dining hall, bar area, lounge, and each room contained a private porch with a view of the lake and Entabeni mountain. After shutting our windows, so the monkeys don't get in, we headed out to our first game drive!
Yevan drove the jeep out of the reserve and out into the plains and we began to spot the animals. Among the more common beasts, we saw the blue wildebeest and springbok and then got to get up close to three rhinos! Near dusk, we headed towards the leopard trail and while we weren't able to spot any leopards, we encountered several giraffes, a scorpion, and zebras. Despite the bumpy road and chilly weather, we were eager to get back out on the safari tomorrow morning bright and early.
We woke up bright and early today at 5:30 a.m. for some biscuits and tea before heading out for our second game drive. The night before, a group of elephants had come into the lodges, so we followed their tracks and found them walking behind some trees. The ranger parked his car where the elephants would be walking, and told us to sit very still because if we frightened the elephants, they could get very aggressive. We all watched in awe as these massive animals started crossing the road right in front of us. As we were taking pictures, one of the elephants turned, looked at us, and started walking straight towards us. We were literally a meter away from a wild African elephant! It was a moment filled with both excitement and fright. One wrong move from any of us could have caused the elephant to flip the car. Nonetheless, we all got tons of pictures and videos, and it was definitely a surreal experience.
After our game drive, we had breakfast back at the lodge before heading out to some caves at the top of a mountain. Our ranger had us walk in a single file line and told us to keep quiet as he kept a lookout for dangerous animals. At one point, he noticed fresh leopard tracks, which definitely gave us all quite a scare. It's a good thing we only saw the tracks of the leopard. After a long hike up a mountain, we reached a cave with clay pots that were hundreds of years old. These pots were made out of mud and cow dung and had a few carvings on them. Most people stayed at this cave while the brave ones climbed even higher up the mountain to see a breathtaking view of South Africa. As we looked down on the reserve, a family of wildebeests were looking up at us. After the hike, we all headed to a natural rock pool where we swam with fish. The water was so clean, and the view was so beautiful, that it was like nothing we had ever experienced before. Finally, we ended the day with another game drive before heading back to the lodge for a good night's rest.
Our final day in Entabeni was a cultural experience. We rose early in the morning to make our 6:30 a.m. game drive where we were looking to spot a lion. Unfortunately, after three hours of driving around, we saw every animal but the cat. However, excitement came when a rhinoceros came literally inches from each of us in the car. He was calm and walked by us and had any of us stuck out a hand we could have brushed his side. Yevan our guide told us to stay still so the animal would not be startled and charge at us.
After our morning ride, we went to the resort golf course for a simple breakfast. Full from breakfast, we drove 15 minutes to the Pedi cultural village of the camp where we learned about tribe rituals, cuisine, and entertainment. The original tribe houses were constructed with a ring of tree branches that were packed with cow dung and dirt until it became a thick wall. The roofs were made of grass and the more elaborately decorated, the more important the resident was. Houses, however, were only inhabited at night. An interesting fact was that the door of the tribe leader was very low. This made any visitor vulnerable upon entering because the only way they could get in was to bow and squat low to fit under the door.
The food was next and it was a fear factor experience. We were offered a taste of caterpillar, alcohol, porridge, and grain dish.
Lastly, we were given a taste of the music of the tribes. Three local performers played five songs for us and let us try their drums as well. We were told each drum had two sounds. The bass sound that you hear when you hit the center of the drum and the more hollow sound near the rim.
After this experience we drove back to the lodge and packed up to go home. All of us had a terrific experience at Entabeni and an amazing tour of South Africa!