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Dear Vacations To Go Customer,

Alan Fox is on safari in South Africa with SITA World Tours and his first report, from Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge, is below.

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In the twilight before dawn, there was a chill in the air in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve adjoining Kruger National Park. As we set out in a Land Rover with no top and no doors, we pulled our thin jackets close and spread blankets across our laps.

Our tracker, Louis, found lion prints in the dirt. Our guide and driver, Franscois, left the road in the direction the lions had taken. We lurched across the rocky terrain, filled with anticipation.

Shortly after sunrise, we spotted a lion in tall grass by a dry creek bed. As we approached, we were startled to see a second lion emerge from the bush, then another, and another. Within moments, there were 14 of them, and we were completely surrounded.

We were as defenseless as lambs and may have looked just as tasty but the lions paid us little notice. Lions in game reserves know vehicles to be harmless. As long as you stay quietly seated in a vehicle, you are not perceived as a threat, or a meal.

There were at least four adult females, several juvenile males and females and two cubs, one barely 3 months old. The lions had not eaten in several days. There were a lot of mouths to feed and two cubs had died in the preceding months. The pressure to find food was mounting.

For an hour, we traveled through the bush with our furry companions. The adults kept a close eye on the cubs and occasionally paused to look and listen for prey while the juveniles played almost constantly, climbing fallen trees and pretending to stalk each other. The cubs snuggled up with their mothers whenever they could.

The animals were beautiful, strong and healthy, but the adults carried the scars of a violent life. One had fresh, bloody scratches on her neck, another was missing part of an ear.

Up ahead, in an opening surrounded by tall bushes, we saw a male impala with his harem of six to eight females. By this time, the lions were widely scattered and advancing slowly in the direction of the impalas but had not yet seen them. The impalas could see our Land Rover, which did not worry them, but could not see the lions.

It looked like the table had been set for a kill.

Forty yards to the left of our vehicle, an adult lion spotted the harem. She froze in her tracks, face hardened and eyes focused.

Another lion emerged from the bush to our right with a deadly stare locked on the impalas. The change in demeanor was remarkable.

The rest of the pride had disappeared.

For several tense minutes, we waited, wondering if the other lions were surrounding the impalas. A lion is only slightly faster than an impala and lacks the latter's endurance. Generally, a lion must be within 30 yards of an impala when a chase begins in order to have a chance at catching its prey.

Suddenly, the lion on our left charged the impalas, which saw it immediately and escaped into the bush. By the time the rest of the pride realized what was happening, it was all over.

Not long afterward, as the sun rose and the day warmed, the pride congregated at the edge of a meadow to sleep and conserve energy until late afternoon.

There would be no meal that morning.



I am writing tonight from the 5-star Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. It's the first lodge of three that I will visit on my South Africa safari.

I arrived yesterday via small plane from Johannesburg. At 4pm we set out on the first game drive of the trip and discovered a herd of elephants with several calves, munching its way to a waterhole.

We left the road to follow along and observed an assortment of animals and birds including impalas, waterbucks, a 3-foot-long lizard (rock monitor), grey herons, glossy starlings, yellow-billed hornbills and purple rollers.

The highlight of the drive was an encounter with endangered African wild dogs. By some estimates, there are only 1,400 adults left on the planet, so traveling with a pack of nine for almost an hour was an unexpected treat.

It's heartbreaking to think that the species could be extinct within a few years.

We left the wild dogs behind and were careful to put a couple of miles between us and them before climbing out of the Land Rover for the traditional "sundowner," a drink in the bush at sunset. Within minutes, a spectacular array of stars filled the night sky.

This morning we saw many more species of animals and birds, along with the pride of lions. On our afternoon drive, we had an entertaining rendezvous with a wildebeest that was elaborately marking its territory by rubbing its head on the ground, kicking up dirt with its hooves and rolling over on its back with legs splayed in the air. At the end of his ritual, he realized we were watching and looked almost embarrassed.

Later, as the sun set, a leopard walked by close enough to touch, though we knew better than to try. Leopards are among the most elusive and beautiful creatures on the continent.

Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge is one of four luxurious Sabi Sabi properties on this vast, private game reserve, each with its own personality. Sculpted into the slope of a hill, Earth Lodge is almost invisible from three sides and has been described as the most environmentally friendly lodge in Africa.

Don't think for a moment that means guests are roughing it. Earth Lodge boasts a spa, bar, library and fitness center. There are four dining areas: indoors and outdoors overlooking a watering hole, an underground wine cellar and a traditional African boma (outdoor dining area protected by a fence).

The staff is friendly and attentive and everything runs beautifully under the supervision of lodge managers Heath and Bridget.

Thirteen spacious bungalows are spread across the property, with views of watering holes and hillsides that are visited by herds of elephant and other game. Each bungalow has a private plunge pool, bath and indoor and outdoor showers and sitting areas.

There are no fences around the lodge. Lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and rhinos (Africa's so-called Big Five) are sometimes seen nearby, so guests must be walked to and from their suites after dark.

We dined in the wine cellar last night and alfresco tonight, by candlelight, with a sumptuous selection of appetizers and entrees including game and fish.

I've been fortunate to travel in all the major safari countries in Africa, and the game viewing on the Sabi Sand reserve is as good as it gets. This is aided by the fact that guides are allowed to leave the road for up-close experiences, and by the considerable skills of Franscois and Louis.

Tonight, outside the walls of my bungalow, a half-moon hovers over Africa and 14 hungry lions again are on the prowl. Impalas band together near the center of the meadow and watch the darkened tree line.

Sleep will not come easily to the lion or the impala. Every animal here lives on a razor's edge.

Alan Fox



To view photos or a slideshow from this leg of my safari, please click here.

Alan Fox is traveling for the second time with the deluxe safari operator SITA World Tours. The company has more than 80 years of experience and specializes in guided travel to exotic destinations.

SITA offers upscale safaris throughout Africa on scheduled departures for small groups but will also customize a safari for as few as two people. They work with the best lodges and guides in each destination and take care of every detail.

The safari experts at Vacations To Go can help you find the perfect SITA safari. To see SITA safari itineraries in Africa, click here. To see all SITA tours worldwide, click here.



Top 10 Africa vacations

1) South Africa: A World in One Country, 14 days with SITA Tours. Begins in Johannesburg and ends in Cape Town. Starting at $3,150. Departures from August 27 through December 17, 2017.

2) Wonders of Namibia (National Geographic Journey), 10 days with G Adventures. Begins and ends in Windhoek. Starting at $2,799. Departures from August 28, 2017 through December 24, 2018.

3) Gorillas & Game Parks, 16 days with Intrepid Travel. Begins and ends in Nairobi. Starting at $3,030. Departures from September 23, 2017 through December 22, 2018.

4) Tanzania Private Safari, 9 days with Monograms. Begins and ends in Arusha. Starting at $4,749. Daily departures from January 1 through December 30, 2018.

5) Scenic Cape Town & Kruger, 10 days with African Travel. Begins and ends in Johannesburg. Reduced airfare from select gateways is included. Starting at $4,895. Departures from August 27 through December 1, 2017.

6) Exploring South Africa, Victoria Falls & Botswana, 14 days with Collette. Begins in Cape Town and ends in Johannesburg. Starting at $4,943. Departures from May 9, 2018 through April 24, 2019.

7) East African Explorer, 13 days with SITA Tours. Begins and ends in Nairobi. Starting at $5,925. Departures from August 29 through December 28, 2017.

8) Southern Africa: Travel to the Ends of the Earth, 9 days with CroisiEurope. Begins in Johannesburg and ends in Victoria Falls. Save $800 per couple. Starting at $6,319. Departures from January 11 through December 19, 2018.

9) Kenya & Tanzania: A Classic Safari (BBC Earth Journey), 13 days with Tauck. Begins in Arusha and ends in Nairobi. Starting at $8,665. Departures from January 20 through December 22, 2018.

10) Botswana Safari in Style, 10 days with Abercrombie & Kent. Begins and ends in Johannesburg. Save $2,000 per couple. Starting at $8,995. Departs October 4, 11 & 18 and November 15, 2017.

Customers in the US and Canada can call us toll-free at 800-291-3346. For a list of our other toll-free numbers worldwide, click here.

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Please e-mail me your comments, suggestions and questions at alanfox@africasafari.com and I will respond the same day.

If you enjoy our newsletter, please forward this email to family and friends.

Sincerely,

Alan Fox
Chairman & CEO
Vacations To Go


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