WARNING: This is a long blog post. I wrote way too much. But there are tons of pretty pictures of super neat African animals to make up for it.

I never thought I’d get to say this.

Fiance and I went. On. An. African. Safari.

Just another incredible reminder of how cool our lives are right now and how fortunate we are to be having this experience in South Africa.

We got to host two of our good friends from the US for a couple of weeks and play at being tour guides, so we thought it would be really fun to do our first safari with them. We unfortunately didn’t have the time or the cash to go all the way out to Kruger, the big National Park in South Africa that’s home to most of the country’s safari animals, so I started researching our options in the Western Cape (where Cape Town is located).

We narrowed it down to two, but ended up choosing Inverdoorn (note: they haven’t given me any compensation to write this, nor do they even know I’m doing it). We decided to do a one night trip that included two game drives and three meals.

We set off giving ourselves an hour long buffer for travel time. We’re driving a rental Mercedes that saw its best days long, long ago. One of its more tame (and common) quirks is that it takes at least ten minutes to warm up and will often die at stop lights after we leave our flat. Recently, it died while our car was turning right. We were in the middle of the road. Literally hanging into both lanes. Fiance drives us everywhere because I’m an anxious wreck whenever we’re in the car. His last job involved a lot of high stress driving, so he’s used to coping with this. Oregon is known for its polite drivers who never honk their horns unless a crash is imminent. That’s where I’ve learned to drive, that’s pretty much the only place I’ve ever driven, and it’s really the only place I ever want to drive again. The driving here is much more chaotic, to put it gently. Pedestrians pop in and out of the street, people stop in the middle of the road with little warning, and everyone drives fast. Too fast for the many unpredictable obstacles.

All this to say that I’m a very nervous driver in South Africa. We started our trek north into the middle of the province, expecting the drive to take a little over three hours. Funnily enough, our GPS told us we’d be arriving about an hour and a half before we expected to. We thought this would start changing as the GPS recognized how slowly the car was moving, but it stayed steady. This was odd.

The first leg of our journey was passing over the Cape Fold Belt and started off with a bang- mostly because the drive through the mountains and vineyards is jaw-droppingly stunning. We also saw a big group of baboons, including some babies, which was especially fun because our friends hadn’t seen any yet. As we started getting higher and higher up we entered a stretch of road called Bain’s Kloof Pass. (A few fun facts: Bain’s Kloof Pass was built in 1853 by convict labor. It was the first inland passage to the north. The pass is within a natural heritage area.) Eventually I started wondering when the bumper along the side of the road would show up, since there was a scarily steep drop off just a few feet to our left. But it never came. The thing about our tank of a car is that it tends to take wide turns and has some trouble stopping quickly, which was super not good for this stretch of road. So, despite the incredible views out our windows, I sat wide-eyed, staring intently at the road, gripping the door and grinding my right foot into the floor, or as I like to call it, my invisible brake. Not that Fiance wasn’t driving well, but if I had been driving, it would have been faster to walk to Inverdoorn.

When we finally got to a stretch of road that wasn’t cut into a cliff, we found out the trade off was that it would be dirt off and on. It was still well worth it. I could go back to snacking and pointing to things out the window instead of living in terror.

We finally got to Inverdoorn, much earlier than expected, and found out we’d taken the “unrecommended route” to get there. Which explained why we’d gotten there so quickly and why they’d said on their website that “any car” could handle the trip from Cape Town. The few minor heart attacks I’d suffered were all for naught. Obviously I insisted on the “slow way” for the way home.

The place was beautiful. Relatively small and most of the accommodations are individual small cabins. Our room was gorgeous and very comfortable. There’s a pool, fire pit, and TV/gathering room. Our only complaints were pretty minor: we woke up to discover the hot water wasn’t working (just meant more sleep before our 6 a.m. game drive!), the pool wasn’t heated and it was too chilly to swim, and the telescope mentioned on their website wasn’t working. All in all, we were very well taken care of.

We started the afternoon off with lunch, which was an excellent buffet that included leek quiche, paprika chicken, and the South African classic “bobotie”. The perfect fuel for our first game drive! AAAHHH! I was so excited I had to jump around a bit to make sure I could sit still for three hours. They took us out in giant safari trucks that made us all feel super cool.

Our first stop was to see cheetahs. Inverdoorn has a special cheetah rehabilitation project.

Our guide’s (who was great!) walkie talkie went off loudly while we were looking at the cheetahs (and probably only 10 feet from them) and it spooked one of the gigantic cats. Our guide had a stare down with the cat to calm her down for far longer than my pounding heart could take, but luckily I live to tell the story.

They took us to see how they help the cheetahs needing rehabilitation get regular exercise. They have a lure on a track that the cheetahs get incredibly excited to chase, just like a cat toy with a tiny cat that can’t run faster than any other living thing on the planet.

It was incredible to see a creature moving that fast. And really, really fun.

Next, we went into the rest of the reserve.

We saw wildebeest, which have been called the ugliest animals in Africa. They have super skinny legs.

Then we stumbled across a watering hole with SO MANY RHINOS AND ZEBRAS.

Rhinos (big 5!) might have been the animal I was most excited about seeing. They look like the closest still-living animal to dinosaurs, and I’m so sad they’re almost extinct. In fact, the western black rhino went extinct in 2011. Poaching is a huge problem in South Africa and the primary reason these incredible creatures are going extinct. Inverdoorn is the first reserve to start poisoning the horns. It doesn’t hurt the animal at all- it would be like using nail polish with poison in it- and diminishes the value of the horn since they’re sold to be consumed, for the most part. There are people who believe the horn, when ground and eaten, can cure cancer and erectile dysfunction.

We also saw a group of Cape Buffalo (one of the big 5!). These things are scary. The big male buffalo can easily overturn a car. A guide told us one once charged him. One of our friends responded “And?” He said “And… I’m alive.” He was stoic. Or something.

We saw so many different types of antelope. I wish I could tell you the names of them all.

We saw hippos, too!!! They went into the water as soon as they saw us coming, but we saw them poking their heads out and spraying water. I totally thought they looked like whales, but didn’t voice that opinion for fear of sounding silly. But of course I’ll voice it here because the internet is a safe space.

And ostriches. Wild ostriches are ENORMOUS. And terrifying. Oh, but ostriches are delicious. (Side note: after I wrote those last four sentences I spent about an hour reading about ostriches on Wikipedia. They’re super cool.)

The view from any where in the park is amazing, especially as the sun started to set.

After our first amazing game drive, we got back about 20 minutes before dinner. We gathered in the dining room a little early and had some great pinotage, South Africa’s signature wine, and cucumber, feta, and cherry tomato kebabs. So tasty. They’d told us we’d be having couscous, so I assumed we were going to have a vegetarian meal. Not so. We had a goat cheese salad. With the best goat cheese of ever. Then a buffet line that included said couscous, but with meatballs, paprika chicken, and stewed lamb. For dessert, we had some kind of chilled, baked cream with chocolate sauce underneath. All in all, an awesome meal. I can’t believe I didn’t take pictures to share.

The next morning, we were up bright and early for our 6:30 a.m. game drive. They put coffee, tea, and biscuits (cookies, to you Americans) out at 6:00 a.m., which I couldn’t have functioned without. I think we all managed to get four cups of coffee each down in about ten minutes.

The first twenty minutes or so was spent shivering under blankets driving around in the dark. I forgot to mention- our guide was great, but he clearly really enjoyed driving the trucks. He drove as fast as he could out on those narrow dirt roads and whipped around corners. This was fine, and kind of fun, but it was freezing cold outside and this meant the wind was whipping us in the face.

But the sunrise was super pretty.

And then amazing things happened.

First, we stumbled upon some bizarre water antelope but it was too dark for me to snap a photo of them. I wish I could remember what they’re called. They spend a ton of time in the water and use it for protection.

Then. Oh, and then. We came upon several giraffes.

The giraffes were so cool. And HUGE. I wish a photo could evoke how amazing they were.

I took about a million giraffe photos. They just hung out with us! I learned something about the big, untouchable African animals. They couldn’t care less that you’re a few feet away from them snapping some photos. They will keep going on with whatever it is that they’re doing (eating or sleeping, mostly). If anything, your presence might be mildly annoying because they have to walk around you, but you are certainly not scary.

And then more amazing. ELEPHANTS! Huge adrenaline spike. So much excitement. Real life elephants.

We saw elephants, guys! WILD elephants. This ain’t a zoo.

They were so beautiful and incredible and all the other good adjectives.

After goggling at the elephants for as long as possible, our guide took us to what he called Jurassic Park. The lions that Inverdoorn has had been raised for “canned hunts”. This means they were raised in a cage, fattened up to be the biggest trophy possible, and were destined to be hunted in a contained area. Inverdoorn took them in before they met this fate, though. These lions are kept separate from the other animals, not because they’re necessarily a danger, but because they don’t know how to hunt or protect themselves and could be susceptible to predators. They have to be fed by humans and Inverdoorn isn’t trying to breed them because they couldn’t teach their cubs to hunt. This doesn’t mean they don’t have a killer instinct, though, and we were given some heavy duty warnings before entering the lions’ part of the reserve.

They have two females and one male. Real life lions were way bigger than I had imagined.

Yes, they were totally eye-balling us. It was only a little terrifying.

Then we headed back to the housing area for breakfast. Not before catching one last glimpse of South African’s national antelope, the springbok, though. They were everywhere.

We had a great buffet style breakfast before heading off, taking the “recommended route” home, of course.

It was an incredible adventure! If you’re looking for a safari in the Western Cape, I highly recommend Inverdoorn. Great bang for our buck and we had an amazing experience!