Our agents travel to some pretty awesome destinations. When they return, our excitement to hear about their adventures is almost as great as their excitement is to share them. In ON LOCATION, they talk about the little nuances that make each place special. From Peru to South Africa, Switzerland, and Croatia, experience a fantastic second-hand journey and maybe take away some travel inspiration while you’re at it.
Tristin makes good on her promise to visit the gorillas.
You didn’t lie when you said you were going back to Africa, did you see the gorillas?
Aright, we’ll save the best for last then. Let’s start where you started. South Africa?
Yes, South Africa was our first stop. We stayed at a lodge in Hoedspruit, which is next to a massive game reserve. There were four different lodges around the reserve, all about an hour’s distance from each other. Each of the lodges has a theme or niche about it too, one is like a tree house and another is super modern. They all overlook the river. Driving is like a safari all its own, so you see all sorts of animals - Rhino’s, Giraffes – just casually driving between the lodges.
I suppose Cape Town hasn’t changed much since you were last there.
It’s still the San Francisco of Africa in my opinion. This time we stayed at the Table Bay Hotel, which is just huge. It has somewhere in the vicinity of 300 rooms on the wharf, so it’s great for major groups that feel like seeing the country. It’s also owned by the same company that operates Sun City if you’ve ever stayed there.
I haven’t, but maybe I’ll visit one day.
Would shark cage diving convince you?
We went to a place that’s featured on Shark Week every year, Seal Island I think it’s called. It took us three hours to drive there.
A six hour round-trip?
It wasn’t boring at all. You see the mountains, drive through wineries, and see native villages. When we arrived, we got fitted for our wetsuit and boarded a boat which then took another 20 to 30 minutes to finally reach where we would be diving.
Is diving anything like JAWS where the throw you in a cage and hope for the best?
Nope, you get snorkel gear and the cage itself is long, but not very wide. It’s designed for more than one person, and not to be underwater the whole time. You would tread water as they baited the shark then they would tell you to hold your breath and dive under. We did that for 40ish minutes, but the wind made it very hard to see anything. The waters were murky. In fact they almost called it early. So while under-water viewing was tough, above you could see the sharks breach the surface and eat. All of them were great whites too. We saw four and one was around 18 feet long (you could see the whole body), which was the biggest our 20-year veteran guide had ever seen.
I love it! But it doesn’t sound like it leaves you much time for anything else.
We thought we might have time to hike Table Mountain when we got back, but it was already getting dark.
Now you didn’t stay in South Africa, what was next?
We flew out to Rwanda, which has changed so much since the horrible things that happened to it back in 1994. Now Rwanda is considered the cleanest country on the entire continent. It’s also one of the safest as they have a strong police force and tons of security. In fact, when checking into our hotel, they had us pass our bags through an x-ray and us through metal detectors much like an airport.
Were the gorillas in Rwanda?
It was more of a stopping point. We went to Uganda instead.
Could you not see them in Rwanda?
It’s more expensive. Uganda is half the price and has the most mountain gorillas. There are only about 800 worldwide.
Alright, this sounds like an adventure in and of itself.
It was. We started out early in the morning, which would end up being a five hour drive. People in Africa walk everywhere and sometimes travel several hours on foot to where they need to be. The towns are little shacks with tons of people inside or around them, buying things from the markets. We were cautioned against buying any food however. As we drove into the mountains, I couldn’t help but notice just how much work the women do. They are out in the fields. They take care of the animals. You see the women carrying supplies on their heads with babies strapped to their backs while walking bare foot on dirt roads.
What did you see the men do?
We really didn’t see the men do anything.
I’m sure there is a good joke in there somewhere.
When we reached Uganda’s border, I was shocked at just how quaint everything was. None of it was very official looking. There was a metal bar separating the two countries with little shacks that housed the border patrol. The would ask our occupation, which ended up being pretty funny as I told them I was an event coordinator for Morris Meetings and Incentives and they would question it like I was making it up because they had never heard of us. My husband had no problems since he works for Subaru, and they all knew the car company, “yeah we love Subaru!” Then give me a suspicious eye.
I guess we need an office in Africa.
You would have to get used to the attention. We felt like we were always on display since people there don’t ever really see white people. Some would stare and sometimes a crowd would gather to look at us. The kids were super friendly though as they would run alongside our car. Beyond that though, we ultimately made our way to the Chameleon Hill Lodge, which just overlooks some awe inspiriting scenery.
Who owns it?
A woman from Germany. The story goes; she took a left turn when she meant to take a right and just happened upon the place. Fell in love with the environment, so she built a hotel.
What do the locals think of the hotel?
They are fine with it so long as they are included in the process. The chief of the nearby village has a lot of say when it comes to the decisions there. She really can’t do anything without his permission. Problems arise otherwise.
But it’s safe there?
Fair enough, but back to the real reason you’re here: the gorillas.
Right. Early in the morning, we joined a guide and trekker to hunt down a family of gorillas. They gave you the option of an easy, medium, or hard hike, which was more concerning length then terrain. As we hiked there were signs of elephants close by. We passed by their nest and saw fresh tracks. We were always just a few steps behind them though, so we never saw them. Anyway, we turn a corner on the path and come face to face with a small family of gorillas just hanging out.
That sounds amazing. How close were you?
Between two to seven feet maybe? We would sit and watch them, some of the babies would get close, but they never touched us, though they often do with tours to play with hair. One of the babies would sing and pound his chest to impress us. Then he went swinging in the trees and fell on his butt. Think he was embarrassed after that.
I’m getting flashbacks of high school.
The big daddy was super chill. We found him grooming one of his ladies while she nursed one of the babies.
So they weren’t put off with you or aggressive at all?
The guides take special care not to overwhelm the gorillas. You only get an hour, and they only do one trek a day for groups. So while, no they weren’t really anxious, you still have to be cautious. Don’t reach out to touch them, including the babies of they were to climb on you. No eye contact. They see that as a challenge. The closest we came to an angry gorilla, which wasn’t really scary by the way, was when one of the mothers felt we were circling her when the group got up to leave. She yelled, pounded her chest, but when she saw we were just descending down the hill, she calmed down.
So what are you supposed to do if they charge?
Don’t run. Make yourself small. Again no eye contact. If you run they will chase you.
When you inevitably go back to Africa, what are you planning on doing next?
Looking forward to hearing about it.