It’s simple human math. Having low or no expectations frequently equals having the time of your life. And so it was at our all-too-brief stay at Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa.
Aside from elephants and antelopes, lions and leopards, there’s a great bar and and equally great bartender. Michael, in a deep, deep baritone, convincing you that you’re the wisest man in the world because you had the vision to order screwdrivers for pre-departure cocktails. “An excellent choice, Mr. Brooks. Excellent!”
It’s not that we didn’t expect the place to be nice. The website offers every indication that you will enjoy comfort and luxury. But the meter was instantly pinned when we walked into our room and discovered it had “his-and-hers” bathrooms.
From our patio, we enjoyed cold Castle beers and watched impalas graze on the lawn below us. (Hold the Chevy jokes.)
Mala Mala encompasses 30-thousand acres. There are no fences. So you are encouraged to close your sliding glass back door when you leave, lest a baboon stop by to forage for snacks. And after dark, your armed guide will walk you back to your room. Just in case.
Two suites to a building.
As delightful as the accomodations and amenities (yes, there is even wifi) are, Mala Mala is in the animal business, including keeping them alive. Unless they dine on each other.
Poaching is a serious problem, an illegal business of high risk with high reward. The tusks of elephants and the horns of rhinos are prized by poachers.
So prized, that poachers will find pictures tourists have posted on social media, and use the information on those pictures to pinpoint the location of those animals. Then, they go in for the kill. In response, Mala Mala has banned the use of iPhones and iPads for picture-taking on its property.
But there is civilization in the wild. On our last evening expedition, to our pleasant surprise, our four groups converged for a happy hour.
My wife and I have never traveled with a group before. She meticulously researches and plans the trips we take. But our NBC Connecticut group got along famously. A fun bunch of smart people.
Our guides, expert marksmen, highly-educated wildlife authorities, turned into hosts. Our guide, Bens, mixed a lovely gin & tonic. Note the bullets on his belt, in case there were any four-legged party crashers.
Too quickly, it was time to leave the way we came. Mala Mala has its own air strip.
Two chartered twin-engine planes took us back to the Johannesburg airport in more comfort (and peace of mind) than the single-engine Cessnas that brought us there.
We never got to see Johannesburg, but we did spend time in Cape Town. Speaking of expectations…
(To be continued.)