Monday, October 15, 2012

Arathusa Safari Lodge - Keith Marallich

I was very fortunate a few months ago to attend an industry workshop on the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and then even more fortunate to win a two nights stay at the Arathusa Safari Lodge in a lucky draw – lucky for me, unlucky for the other attendees, they didn't win! On our arrival Janice and I found that the lodge was almost fully booked – testament to the fact that Arathusa is a genuine “value for money” destination in this fine game reserve. Our room was the standard room, comfortable and with all amenities one would want, including an outside shower. The lodge itself overlooks a large waterhole and hippos aplenty were present all throughout our stay. 

        A view of the lodge from the far side of the waterhole

       Our bedroom - the bed is level, the duvet is crooked!

       The bath, there is also a toilet, inside shower and outside shower

        Our room from the outside

       Another view of the lodge

        The breakfast and lunch deck, overlooking the waterhole

I must make mention of the meals here at Arathusa – they were simply superb. Breakfasts had more than enough choices  to suit all palates, lunches were a buffet-style, consisting of light meat dishes, pasta, salads and the like (who has space for a large lunch after a big breakfast only a scant three hours ago?) and dinners…well. On both evenings the chef (see what I did here? I said “chef”, not “cook”). Yes, the chef was in attendance on both evenings to explain his menu and answer any questions one may have had. On the second night he made a rather big mistake (well, in my opinion, it was a rather big mistake), in that he asked the lodge guests if they had any requests for breakfast the next day. There was a fairly large, rather noisy group of guests in the lodge at this time, and all were travelling together as a group. In fact, there were too many of them for one vehicle so this particular group was split up between two vehicles and we had sometimes six, sometimes seven and once even eight of them on our vehicle during the game drives. I’m not going to mention their country of origin – it is not fair to judge people on their nationality (not that I'm judging anyone) – rudeness and loudness is not the sole preserve of any nation, group or gender. Anyway, this group had a large table at dinner, and they prevailed upon the chef to provide “grits” at breakfast.

The educational part of this blog…Wikipedia gives us the following explanation of “grits”-
“Grits (also sometimes called sofkee or sofkey from the Muskogee word) are a food of Native American origin common in the Southern United States and mainly eaten at breakfast. They consist of coarsely ground corn, or sometimes alkali-treated corn (hominy). Grits are similar to other thick maize-based porridges from around the world, such as polenta, or the thinner farina. Grits are usually prepared by adding one part grits to four parts boiling water, sometimes seasoned with salt or sugar. They are usually cooked for 5–10 minutes for "quick" grits or 20 or more minutes for whole kernel grits, or until the water is absorbed and the grits become a porridge-like consistency. As grits expand when they are cooked, they need to be stirred periodically to prevent sticking and forming lumps. They may be served with grated cheese, butter, sausage or country ham red-eye gravy. Grits have also been known to be served with fish such as fried catfish or salmon croquettes. Shrimp and grits is considered a breakfast delicacy in the Low Country of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Another popular variant is Charleston-style grits, where the grits are boiled in milk, instead of water, to give them a creamy consistency”. So now we know, grits is nothing more than mielie-meal porridge in this country. Some in the group were now advising the chef on how to cook this stuff that for many South Africans has been a staple diet for most of their lives. I even heard one guest suggest that the chef had to add garlic to the grits! (I can see the South Africans reading this pucker their mouths in distaste – mielie meal porridge and garlic for breakfast – yum!)

The upshot of this is that at breakfast the following morning, one of the dishes on offer was grits. This of course produced screams of delight, howls of joy, and the odd OMG! Some in the group prevailed upon other guests at the lodge to partake of this particular exotic dish, but there were not too many takers. In my mind, grits cannot compare to bacon, eggs, sausage, mushrooms, toast, preserves, coffee, muffins, scones, etc. etc. as a breakfast, which is what the other options were.

Now, you may be asking yourself why mention this group at all and maybe I should not have, but unfortunately for me, they did negatively detract from my experience in some way. At meal times they were loud, sometimes very loud. As mentioned above, there were always between six and eight of them on our vehicle – they had arrived a day before we did and they were to depart a day after we had left, so one lady in particular took it upon herself to be the interpreter of all things to do with the bush, game drives and the like. I had spoken to Armand, our guide, long before we departed on the drive and told him that we were old hands at game drives, but this lady also took it upon herself to admonish Janice and me not to stand up on the vehicle, not too speak too loudly, not to make sudden movements, etc and this long before the drive even began. She would sit in the seat just behind our guide and would from time to time turn back to everyone else behind her and repeat exactly what the guide had just told us – remember we are on the same vehicle and can hear exactly what Armand is saying! Another example is that we would drive past some zebra and she would say to Armand: “Tell them about the zebra”. Armand would then tell us about the zebra, and she would then repeat all this info for our benefit! On the last morning she was still telling him to tell us about some animal or other, but I got the impression that Armand by this time did not hear her, as he just kept quiet. If Armand happened to point out a bird, two of the men in the group would grumble and pass comments, such as “not another bird” or “enough with the birds” "oh no" and similar comments, quite loudly, quite rudely, very embarrassing for me (and I presume for the guide – he has to satisfy all guests). This of course invoked giggles and chuckles from others in the group. Maybe they thought that the full spectrum of game viewing was limited to only the “big 5”? Maybe they were unaware that nature has to be experienced in its entirety and that not only certain animals are to be viewed and others disregarded. 

One morning we were following up on a rhino that Armand knew was in the area, but we hadn’t found it yet. Armand then received a message that three leopards had been seen and that these animals were together and not too far away – a very unusual sighting indeed, to see three leopards together. When Armand suggested that we go and find the leopards, the spokesperson for the group decided “we saw a leopard yesterday, let’s find the rhino” and that was that – all in the group concurred (except for me and Janice, we would have preferred to see the leopards). Okay, we did see the rhino, so I suppose it all turned out okay, but given the choice between three leopards or one rhino, I know what I would have chosen. Remember, I was not there in a work capacity; I was a guest like everyone else!

Game viewing, as is usual for the Sabi Sands, was good. However, one thing that struck me was that we had not seen any lions and that there had not been any reports of lion sightings for the last few days…strange. In fact, on this trip I visited four lodges in total, and it was only at the very first one that we saw any lions, and then only a brief sighting of a male lion. However, there were some good sightings of the general game, such as nyala, buffalo, impala, zebra, water buck, giraffe, elephant, as well as some not too often seen animals such as white-tailed and dwarf mongoose, African wild cat and side-striped jackal. Oh, and of course, quite a few birds - joy! 

       The white rhino, in lieu of three leopards

       A young nyala wandering about inside the confines of the lodge

Some sightings that stood out for me was a hyena chewing on a leather belt, a coalition of four cheetah brothers that we found in a dry river bed, a leopard mock-charging our tracker and two hyenas devouring an impala. The hyena that was chewing on a belt was seen on our drive back to the lodge, Where he found this belt is a fundamentally good question for which I have no good answer – he was just chewing on a belt. My only hope is that this belt had not at some stage been attached around the waist of anybody prior to the chewing! The cheetah had killed what looked like a young impala and when we came upon them they had almost finished off the prey and not long after we had arrived they moved off. However, any sighting of cheetahs is special; more so if there are four of them, so this was exceptional. The leopard had a kill wedged in some branches up in a tree, but she herself was on the ground, lying down on long grass. We had stopped our vehicle between her and a termite hill nearby and I suspect that at this point she wanted to get to the termite hill, as there was some sun here and she maybe wanted this warmth. On her way past our vehicle, she made a mock charge on our tracker and then carried on to the termite mound, with a backward glance as if to say, “The next time you won’t be so lucky, just wait!” As for the hyenas, they had caught an impala (or had maybe stolen this from another predator?) and within a short space of time they had finished this animal off. It was early morning and the light was still very low, but alas, the group decided that they did no longer wish to view hyena, we had to move off.

       The hyena and the belt

       One of the cheetah brothers in the dry riverbed

       Another brother with the left-overs

        Sharing the spoils

       Time for a nap maybe?

       The messy after-effects of impala for breakfast

       Ahh, impala, the cornerstone of a nutritious breakfast

       The backward glance

I again repeat what I said in my first paragraph, Arathusa is a good destination, well priced within the Sabi Sands and offering very good game viewing. If you do go there, you are sure to have a good time – the group has by now left the lodge!

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