Wild Encounter: A South African Safari

Disconnect to reconnect. Experience the thrill of the wild, beauty of silence and luxury of life with a South African Safari.

Pouring rain drowns the sounds of the bush and for a brief moment, the sky becomes as wild as the earth below her. Under cover of a nearby tree, three male lions stand tall as they patiently wait for the downpour to stop. Suddenly, the dark sky clears and the sun peeps between fluffy clouds. A little leopard turtle emerges from its shell to amble across the road and once again, the bush comes alive.

image…Waking up at the crack of dawn to go jostling in a 4×4 over unpaved paths to see wild animals was not my idea of relaxation. Yet, there I was at Lion Sands in the Sabi Sands Reserve of Kruger National Park, somehow awake at an ungodly hour and ready for a game drive with the husband, our friendly guide, talented tracker and a few fellow guests. The supremely comfortable Land Rover roared to life and off we went.

Safari away…

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A picture of tranquility

Birds chirped out greetings as we made our way through the bush. Our first sighting had us smiling: a herd of Impalas that capered about as they chomped on juicy grass. A little further, we chanced upon a baby elephant following its rather large and protective mama. We watched in admiration as they passed. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, our guide whipped out a tablecloth that he spread on the hood of the Land Rover along with some refreshments.

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A territorial leopard

After the brief ‘picnic’, we set off again. Suddenly, the guide killed the engine. He and the tracker got down on one knee to examine fresh droppings and some pugmarks. Just as suddenly, they veered off the road and onto the long green grass, slashing and forging their own path before stopping a few feet away from a lounging leopard. How they managed to pinpoint the leopard’s exact location remained a mystery, but we chalked it down to experience.

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Roaring beauty

Later that day, we spotted a lion and lioness awakening from their siesta and moved in close enough to see their teeth as they yawned. As we drove into the sunset, we stumbled upon most of the wild animals on our bucket list, including catching: giraffes wandering, rhinos sunbathing, male lions prowling, a lioness walking with her cubs and zebra grazing. However, just as the husband aimed his camera at the zebra, our naturalist  became very excited and asked us to be seated immediately.

Quickly, he maneuvered our vehicle over the grassland and sped in the same direction as a few other vehicles. Apparently, someone had just spotted the elusive wild dog. For wildlife-simpletons like us, abandoning zebra to watch dogs seemed strange.

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Wild dogs keeping watch

Nevertheless we chased the pack of wild dogs and reached just in time to watch them hunt a baby Impala. Wild dogs are vicious, relentless and merciless and do not bother to kill their prey before eating it. We saw the poor baby fight to its death. The sight was too horrific to watch, yet we could not stop watching. Our heart went out to the baby Impala and yet, we understood it was the natural order of life at work.

Why Safari?

In the bush, life is unpredictable. It is this reality that is at once thrilling and humbling. The images of life at its simplest, fill the mind until all other thoughts are erased. There are no mobile phones, laptops or televisions; only the bush, its inhabitants and its guests. The clarity of thought, depth of relaxation and the extent of grounding experienced with a safari holiday are unmatched.

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Which Safari?

Think safari, think Africa. Where in Africa, depends on the purpose. To witness wildebeest migration, Kenya and Tanzania; for an out-and-out safari holiday, Botswana or Namibia; for the first-timer or a light taste of adventure – South Africa.

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A window to wilderness

We fell into the latter category as safari was a part of our trip to South Africa and not the sole purpose. Selecting the right property is important as besides the safari and bush walks, relaxation is the only item on the agenda.

While there are some incredible properties, the Lion Sands River Lodge in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve ticks all the right boxes:

  • Luxurious rooms with vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows that overlooks the river and offers an opportunity to spot wildlife from bed
  • Experienced and knowledgeable guides and trackers
  • Warm and welcoming staff; every time a vehicle enter or exits the property, the security guard performs a little jig
  • Delicious African-inspired meals, with the highlights being vegetarian bunny chow (curried vegetables on a bun) and homemade chakalaka sauce (special hot sauce)
Travel tip: The property offers a unique experience for those brave enough to face the wild alone: dinner and overnight stay under the stars in a lone treehouse amidst the bush.

To safari or not to safari…

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Watching wildlife in its natural habitat is at once humbling, exciting and enlightening. While wildlife spotting largely shapes the safari experience, the property, people and land complete it.

There is something almost magical about the land. Maybe, it is the rarity of finding something so raw and unspoilt. Or maybe something as simple as watching the land and its creatures awaken to a new day.

Or maybe, the sheer beauty of silence. A silence so profound that every breath and whisper is audible. A silence so peaceful that it calms the soul. A silence so complete that it frees the mind. A silence that, if heard, conveys what it means to be one with nature.

Sometimes, we have to disconnect from the world and connect with nature to reconnect with ourselves.


Additional Travel Tips
  • For the luxury traveler: incredible high-end properties abound, but two unique options are Ulusaba and Singita Boulders Lodge
  • For local booking assistance: contact Cape Portfolios
  • For the safari enthusiast: Game reserves may be fenced or unfenced. The unfenced game reserves – such as Sabi Sands – allow free animal movement and are considered a more ‘natural’ safari experience
  • For photography enthusiasts: properties may offer cameras on hire, but memory cards need to be purchased

10 Unforgettable Dining Experiences

Dining is a necessity, fine dining a pleasure and experiential dining an adventure. A bucket list for those that love food, dream about it, salivate over it and are inspired by it.

Why do we celebrate special moments with our palates and bellies? When does a meal become memorable and a memorable meal, unforgettable?

It may seem obvious, but not all dining experiences are created equal. Case in point: The husband and I once went to a highly recommended restaurant in Hue, Vietnam for a special 7-course vegetarian Vietnamese meal. Course #1 was a vegetable sculpture of a peacock, with tofu and veggie spring rolls poking out of the body instead of feathers. I should probably mention that I hate tofu. Onto course #2: meat-like tofu sans vegetables. Though the husband loves tofu, the meaty resemblance was a turn-off. As were courses 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Starving by then, we hoped dessert would revive us. Just then, the waiter left a mysterious potted chili plant on our table. After awhile, I requested the waiter to bring our dessert. He pointed to the “plant” and said “That’s it.” Taken aback, I asked him how it had to be eaten. He pointed at two hanging chilies and asked us to pluck them. The chilies were made of marzipan. Bland, tasteless, marzipan. Delirious with hunger, we quickly wrapped up, but by this time all nearby restaurants were shut and our food luck ran out on us. Once the hunger pangs subsided, we shared – and continue to share – a good laugh over the unsavory experience. Just like that, the shared experience became a cherished memory.

Fabulous gastronomical experiences are those that make you sit up and pay attention to the details; truly unique experiences wrapped up in the joy felt when fantasy meets reality at a party in the mouth. Fabulous dining experiences are different in that they are sometimes greater than the meal itself. While great dining experiences may involve gastronomical ecstasy, other elements play a large role e.g. uniqueness, ambiance, occasion (especially life-changing events) and multi-sensory engagement. Here are some incredible dining experiences that do live up to their promise:

Dinner with a View: Locanda dell'Isola Comacina, Lake Como, Italy
Dinner with a View: Locanda dell’Isola Comacina, Lake Como

1. On a secluded island: Locanda dell’Isola Comacina is a restaurant on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Como, Italy. A truly unusual evening spent surrounded by the beautiful blue-green waters of Como and the verdant hills at its edge. The island can only be approached by boat from the nearest town and is so tiny that the restaurant practically covers all of it.

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The meal begins with 8 different types of vegetarian appetisers, followed by fresh pasta and an amazing cheese course. The staff comes with a large wheel of fabulous parmigiano reggiano, which is carved at the table. The final touch – and highlight – is the post-dinner coffee. Lights switch off as the owner regales guests with a dramatic story about the island while creating a caffeine concoction complete with blazing brandy.

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Suspended Dining: Faber Peak, Singapore

2. In a cable car: A unique experience for couples as well as families, the husband and I did it with our baby. When dining with a baby, creativity is the name of the game. Faber Peak, Singapore, lends itself beautifully to the occasion. A private cable car can be booked and each time the car completes a run, a new course is served, starting with a complimentary bubbly toast. The food is nice, but the views of the city and surrounding water are truly fantastic. As the evening wears on, the blues and greens make way for oranges and pinks, and finally twinkling lights in the inky black sky. The view kept the baby entertained and gentle sway of the car eventually lulled him to sleep so we had a peaceful and uninterrupted anniversary dinner (except for a quick, mid-air, diaper change!)

3. In a treehouse: A fabulous addition to any honeymoon itinerary, the Capella Marigot Bay Resort and Marina, St. Lucia’s intimate Treehouse is set with only one table. The steps up to the Treehouse are lit by lanterns, while flickering candles and fresh flowers adorn the beautifully set table. A dedicated butler ensures uninterrupted flow of delicious island cuisine and cocktails.

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Dining over the City of Light (Image Source: http://www.lejulesverne-paris.com

4. Atop a tower: For fine dining with one of the best views in Paris, head to restaurant Le Jules Verne located on the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower. Helmed by Alain Ducasse, the kitchen focuses on contemporary French cuisine (Vegetarians, beware!). Classic interiors, subtle lighting highlight the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the City of light. The views of the lit up iconic sites across the city, are enchanting and mesmerizing. Ask for a table by the window and be specific about dietary preferences as fish may be considered ‘vegetarian’.

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Fairytale Dining: Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur (India)

5. Like royalty: What better way to script your own foodie fairytale than to feast atop a beautiful and authentic palace? Take a boat to a magical love nest: the Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur (India). Emerging as an ethereal vision amidst dreamy Lake Pichola, this floating palace is royaly romantic. From the elegant jetty, to the lovely lily pond and beautiful marble flooring, the hotel is a treat for the eyes. Dine at the terrace that overlooks the gorgeously lit Jag Mandir Palace and listen to the music of gently lapping waves. The menu, placed as paper scrolls on plates, is curated especially for the occasion by prior consultation with the chef. The repertoire of dishes ranges from oriental and continental to local cuisine. Fun fact: James Bond’s Octopussy was shot here.

6. At one (or all) of “World’s 50 best restaurants“: All the restaurants in San Pellegrino’s list are worthy of pilgrimages by gastronomes. One of the most incredible experiences can be had at The Tasting Room in Le Quartier Française, Franschhoek (South Africa). Molecular gastronomy blends seamlessly with simple traditional cooking to deliver an amalgamation of flavours ranging from fresh and subtle to Umame and intense, with unexpected surprises. For vegetarians, Chef Margo Janse puts together an amazing 9-course meal that is a delight for all senses. Think amuse-bouche of opposing tastes, freshly baked corn bread in a miniature tin, Butter roasted cauliflower, amasi, hazelnuts & currants and an imploding dessert. The menu is a surprise by the chef, so be sure to let them know of any dietary preferences in advance.

It’s not just about the taste, but the complete experience…especially the service. The servers introduce each course, highlighting the ingredients as well as the chef’s thoughts, emotions and memories that are encapsulated in the dish. As a result, the diner feels a connection to food that goes beyond taste.

7. By the water: Life is a beach. Live it up with sundowners that turn to candle-lit dinners under a canopy of stars that overlook sparkling waters. Feast your eyes and feed your hunger with stunning views, bottomless drinks and endless food – perfect for when you want time to stand still.

Dining on the Rocks, Six Senses Samui, Koh Samui, Thailand
Dining with the horizon: Dining on the Rocks, Six Senses Samui (Image source: http://www.sixsenses.com/resorts/samui/dining)

Dining on the Rocks, Six Senses, Koh Samui (Thailand) for 270-degree views that give the feeling of being suspended over water. Have a pre-dinner drink at the bar and watch the incredible sunset. While the vegetarian food is strictly okay, the unparalleled views more than offset the taste.

Ku de Ta, Bali (Indonesia) for dining on lounge chairs overlooking the beach, while enjoying an electric vibe. The relaxed buzz is perfect for a night out on the island, while the wonderful vistas are a scene to remember.

A Touch of Greece In India: Thalassa, Goa
Sublime Sundowners at Thalassa

Thalassa, Goa (India) for a taste of Greece in India. Located atop a clift overlooking the Arabian Sea, the restaurant sport gorgeous views all around. Fluttering white sheers, white cushion-covered chairs and crisp white tablecloths are a striking contrast to the brilliant sky and sparkling waves.  Come before sunset and stay for the traditional plate-breaking jig by the waiters.

 

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Weaving gourmet magic with vales and vineyards: La Petite Ferme (Image source: http://www.lapetiteferme.co.za)

8. Overlooking vales or vineyards: While there are some fabulous restaurants around Napa Valley and other vino-centric locales, one of the most charming ones has to be La Petite Ferme, Franschhoek (South Africa). Recognized as one of the top 15 ‘Best Value’ establishments in the world by Condé Nast Traveller,  the food is fresh, simple and tasty and served with stunning views of the boutique winery and Franschhoek valley. Straight out of a storybook, the restaurant is framed with ivy-covered white trellis and surrounded by pretty lawns with benches that compel you to sit and enjoy the panoramic views. Better yet, stay awhile at one of their 5 luxurious suites, complete with plunge pools overlooking the finest vistas around.

9. By the riverside: The Oberoi Hotels’ Wildflower Hall does a fabulous picnic by the river. Start with some whitewater rafting in the mountains and counter the adrenaline rush with food-induced coma. Fresh pastas, salads, and yummy desserts are nicely packaged and set on a bench along the river. Complete with a white tablecloth, silverware and dinnerware. Set a scene for your own storybook with the some sun, gurgling river, chirping birds and gorgeous blue skies.

Chef Rego, Vivanta by Taj - Holiday Village, Goa
Chef Rego, Vivanta by Taj – Holiday Village, Goa. (Image Source: http://www.vivantabytaj.com/holiday-village-goa/dining/chef-profiles.html)

10. At a Chef’s Table: Guests of Vivanta by Taj – Holiday Village, Goa (India) are in for a treat when they sign up for a private dining experience with Chef Rego. Having a chef cook live is a special experience in itself. When the chef concerned is a 30-yr veteran specialising in authentic Goan cuisine, that experience is divine. The mango curry (seasonal) is made from mangoes freshly plucked from on-site trees just before the meal. A thorough gentleman, the chef is more than happy to talk about each dish he prepares. Fairy lights around a make-shift tent, crashing waves and a gentle sea breeze complete the experience.

On my wish list: Too many, but a list-topper has to be “Dinner in the sky” 

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Dinner in the sky: Brussels (Image source: dinnerinthesky.com)

The last byte…

Dining is a necessity, fine dining a pleasure and experiential dining an adventure.

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Walls no bar: Dining at Ladera, St. Lucia

Where there’s a mood, there’s a mode. Find unique dining experiences around your location or destination. Whether it is a food festival, food tour or fine dining, there are options for all purses and personalities.

Or, cook up your own delicious experience – explore an exotic locale, taste a mind-blowing concoction or discover an unusual experience. Meals do not need to be expensive to be memorable. Sometimes, the simplest and spontaneous ones are the best. Find a gourmet food store or local market, pick up fresh bread, cheese, fruit, dessert and a bottle of wine. Walk or drive around and set your picnic at a spot that makes you happy.

Great dining experiences have the power to transform an ordinary meal into an extraordinary sensory and emotional experience.

That, I suppose is how a meal becomes memorable and a memorable meal, unforgettable.