Story and photos by Justin Ocean
“A week-long exploration into the luxe queer side of the Rainbow Nation.”
Day 2, MalaMala
This morning a monkey tried to eat my muffin. Well, not quite, but the Shangaan waitress decked out in traditional garb says that’s what the family of Vervets is eyeing. Maybe they were plotting revenge after the peep show I gave while using the outdoor shower of my khaya this morning (all but one side of the suite is blocked off my high walls, the other is just you and the animals of the reserve). But it’s also 6am, and that’s liable to bring out the naughty side in anyone.
Early mornings and cool evenings are prime game viewing times — midday is just too damn hot! — and for someone who used to puddling back to my apartment around 5am after a Manhattan party crawl, it’s actually quite refreshing to be up and about, the cool dewy breeze whipping your face on the open-top 4x4. In fact, here at Rattray’s on MalaMala, it’s a veritable twice-daily adventure as you bounce up hills, creep through sand, ford streams and literally bowl down trees to get to the animals.
This is no watch-from-the-sidelines game park, a complaint many have of the neighboring Kruger. In fact, Tom and Laure from NYC, my co-riders (there’s only 4 guests max per car), ended their two-week birthday extravaganza of safari-lodge hopping in Botswana and Zimbabwe here and agreed: MalaMala was the crème de la crème.
You can even pretend you’re on Lost and learn to track animals
with walking tours that get you up-close and personal with the varied
tracks, droppings and insects like Dung Beetles and Millipedes you
otherwise miss zooming by in a car. Amazement knows no size in Africa.
Having the varied landscape and concentration of animals helps — this
morning alone we saw a lazy blood-stained Lion sleeping off its massive
belly, two male Leopards facing off in a territorial dispute, Cape
Buffalo munching grass, Wild African Dogs (the most endangered mammal,
with only about 250 roaming an area of the size of Great Britain)
looking cute, a Warthog looking tasty, Kudu and Steenbok looking horny
and a six-foot-long Black Mamba (the most venomous snake in the world)
looking angry, standing up ready to strike the car as we surprised it
round a corner — but the reserve’s success soundly falls to its staff.
Expert rangers (cute professionally-trained, twenty-something guys — yo
Sean!) also double as your host in the camp, sharing the gourmet meals
with you and regaling you with stories, factoids and good humor on the
drives. Their love for the job is infectious and for someone whose
knowledge of African animals is about as deep as The Lion King, deeply appreciated.
Local Shangaan trackers (hey Collin!), who’ve had the art passed from
father to son, work in tandem with the ranger speaking a pidegon Zulu
language to deliver a highly personalized, unparalled safari
experience. It’s no wonder that Julian Harrison of Premier Tours, who literally wrote the book on safaris (Fodor’s African Safaris: From Budget to Big Spending), made MalaMala my one and only.
Continue to Day 3, MalaMala to Cape Town
Go back to Day 1, MalaMala