The great escape ~ Helicopters and Army Men

Sorry for the delay on posting the final post of our great African adventure. If you missed the previous post, have a quick read through to catch you up to speed for this installment.

So at the advisement of our lodge hosts, we packed our bags to be ready to fly at any moment. We planned to go out on another drive in the land cruiser to see some game hopefully, and I was praying hard that this will be our glimpse of the big 5 that we were so dying to see! Literally MOMENTS before stepping on to the land cruiser the phone rings with the Chief of Police on the other end saying to the lodge owners: The army is sending a chopper to come get your guests at the top of the main road in the next 15 minutes!

That’s when it hit me. It’s over. The opportunity gone. Done. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was that there was not going to be another chance for this to come right. And that’s when the tears came. I had been so strong through the whole ordeal, but I was done.

I know this might sound ridiculous that I was so upset over not getting to see animals, but this was so much more than that to me. It was deeply rooted in the desire for Mr. T. and I  to experience a true African Safari and for us to share that experience, that “first”  together. I had set high expectations for this part of our trip and it was now beyond my control that it was not going to happen. Wow. That’s a stretch for me. Knowing I couldn’t do anything to change the outcome. I always look for a solution of how we can make things work – even in crazy circumstances like floods! What a test of grace and patience.

So we piled into the land cruiser and off we headed out of the reserve at break neck speed navigating through washed out roads, and potholes big enough to swallow the vehicle.

We gathered on the main road and waited to be rescued. What a weird feeling that was. Here we were with the amazing sunshine beating down – everything looking so beautiful, but we were being airlifted to safety?!?! I think that’s why it felt so strange – I didn’t feel in any danger, but the fact was there was no access in or out….and as I had mentioned the food was running out!

Once at the main road we met up with 4 Danish guests from a neighbouring reserve who had been in safari tents which had been washed away by the torrents of water that rushed through. They unfortunately lost almost all their luggage. So all the luggage you see in the pictures is ours!

Seeing the chopper come over the rise was like a scene out of the movies.

Knowing that it was coming to get us out of dodge was the craziest feeling.

Mr. T. turned to me and said ” It kind of feels like we are refugees!”. Oh goodness. Never in a million years did I think we would need an army airlift out of the African bush!!

They touched down and with little fanfare we loaded into the Puma Helicopter.

From the air we got a perspective of some of the localized flooding.

We also got to have a perspective of how huge the Kruger Park and neighbouring reserves are – as far as the eye could see there was bush. It was incredible. I must say I was scouring the bush from the air for a last glimpse of an elephant!! After a quick 10 minute ride courtesy of the South African Army, we touched down at a nearby Military base.

Mr. T. signed us into the army base (uh…insert another surreal moment – being signed into an army base?!?!?)

and after some confusion of who we were and where we had we come from (insert scary moments) we hopped on the van with the Danish guests on the way to a bed and breakfast – with no reservations (it’s now 5 pm and this was the only hope for the night!).

Mr. T. got us booked into their last room of the night and with God’s grace the B&B had a car rental on site – with one little car available for us in the morning! So with the usual African delays in the morning (read: the car had to go get the wheels balanced!) we were off headed back to Jo’burg, in a much smaller vehicle than we had came in!

I must say that through both cyclones God has protected us and given us a peace that passes understanding during a very confusing and unsettling experience. You’re in a different place, far from home and at the mercy of others looking out for your safety.

Reflections on the Rain

Reflecting on this from the warmth of my couch at home I can say I wanted everything to be so perfect. I wanted to take award winning pictures (lol) and have crazy lion-licking-toes stories. But isn’t that how we often want life to go? We want the sunshiny days, but please hold off on the floods, thanks! We’d rather not endure the rain if we can avoid it. We don’t want to be tested in our grace and patience, thanks very much, especially when I have elephants to see! Ahhh, but that’s exactly when the rain comes to come set us straight. That need to have everything go so perfect gets tested and how you react to it determines what you will learn from the moment.

It’s not about having the perfect moment or experience but growing our grace and practicing our patience. We make plans and dream of how it will all unfold and when it doesn’t it can be devastating. But I’ll tell you what the rain, literally and figuratively, has taught me.

It’s taught me to not let the failed expectation over shadow the whole experience – there were fantastic moments at the lodge, adventures Mr. T and I had that we couldn’t have had anywhere else. It’s taught me to wait for the rainbow after the rain. For us that came in the form of our free chopper ride to safety! Mr. T. did make a point when he said: “A chopper ride to see the glaciers on an Alaskan cruise is well over $600 a person!”

Sure, it didn’t go the way we wanted but Mr. T. and I got to exercise our grace in a bigger way and demonstrate patience with the wonderful people who took such great care of us.

Thankful for our safety,

 

 

 

2 Cyclones and still happily married!

Hello friends, sorry it has been awhile since the last installment from our South African adventure. Internet connections are hard to come by in Africa! We have been home for a few weeks now but many of you have been asking about our last adventures.

Heads up: grab a coffee for this post and hold on to your seats, this is going to be a heck of a story. I was hoping that the next post in our African adventure was going to bring you fantastic wildlife shots and stories of surveying the African bush….but there is in fact a very different story to tell!

I’ve decided to do this story in installments because a) it keeps you hanging on the edge of your seat waiting for the next installment and b) it is just that long!

Very early on the Tuesday morning  of January 17, we headed out for our once in a lifetime Big 5 safari. We held great expectations for the next four days: Seeing the Big 5 up close and personal, staying at a private game lodge. This was going to be a dream come true!

I should at this point let you know that we drove ourselves 6 hours by car from Johannesburg, in my uncles’ SUV that he graciously lent to us for this excursion. Driving through the mountain passes we experienced some pretty heavy rain, but as is typical in Africa it was heavy at times and then cleared pretty quick. So, on we went.

We arrived at the lodge at lunch time and were greeted by the owners who let us know that we were the only two guests in camp, and welcome to your very own private game experience. “Wow!” we thought, “we are truly in for a treat.”

At about 3:00pm, our Ranger said that the scheduled afternoon game drive would have to be postponed as the rain had now increased and off roading in the bush would get us stuck in the mud that once were dirt roads. My heart sank. That’s too bad, but oh well we have three more days.

After a lovely dinner, we headed to bed.

By this point the pathway to our chalet was a small river, and shoes were pointless. Let me tell you, the rain poured and poured that night like I have only ever heard once before: on our Honeymoon in the British Virgin Islands! Which brings me to the title of this post: Mr. T. and I were experiencing our second cyclone of our marriage, in our second year of being married.

A quick aside to fill you in: Our second week of honeymoon was spent on a 50 foot catamaran, sailing the British Virgin Islands, sounds glorious doesn’t it? Well, three days in and Subtropical Cyclone Otto was bearing down on us sending us scurrying to the nearest hotel for cover for the night. We spent the night listening to gale force winds tear at the roof with rain lashing at the sliding door. In the morning there was a Jacuzzi on the floor where there was previously tile. My nerves were shattered.

Fast forward to this Tuesday night and we have the same scenario repeating itself. Only know I’m concerned that I’m going to see lions and rhino’s float past my sliding glass door in a second. Oh did I forget to mention the SLIDING DOOR DID NOT LOCK?!?!?

We woke up at 5:30 am Wednesday morning with Cyclone Dando pelting us with sheets of water that did not stop all day. Notice the cactus leaning over precariously? The ground was too saturated to hold it up anymore!

I cannot tell you the irony of the whole situation being a carbon copy of what we endured in the BVI. Here is a bullet point list of the similarities:

  • The Kruger National Park region received 480 mm of rain in 30 hrs. That’s the entire rain fall for the year! During our BVI experience, they had more rain fall in 3 days than had EVER been recorded in Tortola (the capital) since they began recording the weather there.
  • Hoedspruit (the closest town to our lodge) was declared a National Disaster Zone and we had reports of the South African army airlifting people on rural farms to safety. The BVI declared a State of Emergency during Cyclone Otto.
  • During both experiences power had been cut off due to the storm. Which means no communication as to what it is you are dealing with, i.e. what kind of storm is this? Is this passing over you? Is it going to stop, how urgently do we need to evacuate?
  • At both places where we stayed the common areas (which is open air) were flooded and incredible amounts of debri and mud covered the living and dining rooms. The staff at the game lodge got up at 5:00am and began shoveling mud out.
  • Both cyclones we have been through have been record setting in their regions, both in rainfall and in damage sustained.
  • During both storms we have been fortunate enough to be on the outskirts of the eye of the storm, and have only experienced the flooding caused by them.

So our Wednesday was spent with squeegees and brooms in hand helping the lodge staff manage the deluge as best we could.

Using rocks to diverge tributaries, we battled the water for over 10 hours. We heard reports over the bush radio that all access in and out of the entire game reserve was cut off. Entire roads had been washed away, leaving gaping 15 meter wide and 4 meter deep chasms with raging waters in their place.

 

We weren’t going anywhere for a while! Let alone in my uncles’ SUV!

Thursday morning, with the rain having stopped, we attempted our first “bumble around” in the land Cruiser to assess the damage in the area and “try” to see some game we had originally come for!

I tell you what, that ride was intense! We got stuck in the mud and had to dig ourselves out of extremely sloppy mud using rocks and tree branches under the wheels.

When we did get going our ranger “put foot” and hurtled that cruiser through the single track bush trail at about 65km/h just so we didn’t get stuck again! Our poor tracker Eddie, sitting on the front of the cruiser was bouncing so much he looked like he was on a trampoline! It was all Mr. T. and I could do to look at each other with eyes as wide as saucers and hold on and stay in the vehicle. Mr. T. likened it to racing a Ferrari – only this was in the bush!

We did see a couple giraffe (the lovely lady giraffe at the beginning of this post was one of them) and some buck, but that was about all.

Back at camp lunch was served in the hide and the chirps could be heard once more from the insects and birds coming out of hiding.

This little guy is a Red Billed Hornbill and he was extremely brave and hung out with us for a good 20 minutes.

Our lodge hosts then came to give us the good and bad news. I hate that, cause quite honestly is there really any “good” news in a situation like this – just give it to me straight! The low down was this: they were running out of food (nothing was coming in remember) and the fuel supply that was keeping the generators going was down to the last 40 litres. The good news… We can arrange for an Army Airlift by helicopter for you, but we have no idea when that will be: today (being Thursday), Friday or Saturday.

With that we will pause the story for today. Tune in on Monday for the next installment of our adventure in the soggy bush. The Great Escape!

Stay dry friends!