{travel} I've Been Keeping a Secret... We've Been on Safari!

I've been keeping a big secret...

While you were seeing my blog posts about fall decor for the last couple of weeks, I was traveling through South Africa!

And now that we are home, I am so excited to finally tell you all about it!

Two weeks ago, Scott and I set off for a week long safari, followed by several days spent exploring beautiful Cape Town!

Since returning home on Saturday afternoon, we have barely scratched the surface of reviewing the thousands {and thousands} of photos that we took while in Africa, so I'll be sharing the details of our travels in a series of blog posts over the next few weeks. There will be much better photos of the animals and landscape to come, but, for today, I wanted to give you just a quick sneak peek at the safari half of our trip.

While on safari, we went on two game drives each day - a three hour early morning drive, and a three hour late afternoon drive. Since these are the coolest times of day, they are when the animals are most active.

We were with the same guide, and the same group of eight other travelers the entire time. We got to know each other quite well and many of us became fast friends! Ironically, four of our eight safari companions were also from Denver {as were quite a few other people we met and befriended at the lodge}. We are already looking forward to a Denver-based safari reunion and photo exchange in the near future.

Our guide, Paul, was so much fun! He had just begun his job as a ranger, and we were his first ever group. But he had just completed a year worth of guide training {in addition to his related education}, so he was amazingly well informed and made it a wonderful experience for all of us.

While we did spend the majority of our time driving around in the safari vehicle, Paul was eager to get us an even closer look at some of the animals, so we did some walking as well!

I have some pretty crazy stories about some of our walking adventures, which I'll share with you soon, but let's just say that we later walked even closer to this cheetah, and under very different circumstances.

After our safari came to an end, we left the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa {along the north east Indian Ocean coast}, and traveled to Cape Town {on the south west Atlantic Ocean coast}. No photo sneak peeks of this part of the trip today, but let me just say that there is now no doubt in my mind why Cape Town was named the top travel destination for 2014 by the New York Times and why it is often regarded as the most beautiful city in the world!

I also thought I would use today's post to answer a few of the questions about our trip that we've been asked most frequently.

How long was the flight? Getting to the safari lodge took two full days. Our flight left Denver on a Saturday at about 10 am, and didn't arrive at the lodge until Monday morning. We flew from Denver to Washington D.C. {3 hours} where we were very rushed to make our connecting flight. We then flew from Washington/Dulles to Johannesburg, South Africa via Dakar, Senegal. It was an 8 hour flight across the Atlantic to Dakar, where the plane landed to refuel and collect a few additional passengers. We were on the ground in Dakar for about 1 hour, but we were not allowed to deplane during that time. It was, however, a good chance to stand up and stretch our legs a bit. The flight then continued on for another 8 hours across the continent of Africa, arriving at the Johannesburg airport a a little after 5 p.m. local time. For those that are counting, that means it was 17 hours on the plane from D.C. to Johannesburg! I was curious how that ranks, and it appears to be in the top 5 longest flight routes in the world {just slightly longer than LA to Sydney, Australia, which I have had the pleasure of flying}.

We spent the night at a hotel attached to the Johannesburg airport. It wasn't much to see, but we were thrilled to be off the plane and sleeping in a real bed that night.

The following morning we boarded a very early flight on a small prop plane which took us from Johannesburg to Richards Bay {the nearest airport to our safari destination}.

When we arrived in Richards Bay {about an hour later}, we were then driven the final hour and half to reach the lodge. All in, we flew just under 10,000 miles from Denver to Richards Bay.

After the week of our safari, we then had a car transfer for the 3 hours drive from the safari lodge to Durban {South Africa's third largest city}, where we boarded a 2.5 hour flight to Cape Town.

On paper, our return to the US took only one full day, instead of two, because we gained back 8 hours rather than losing it, and because we didn't have to overnight at an airport hotel. But in terms of total flying time, the return trip was actually a bit longer. We flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg {2 hours}, then had a two hour layover during which we went through customs before boarding our flight from Johannesburg to D.C., again via Dakar, Senegal {17 hours}. We had a another two hour layover in D.C, {again taken up by customs procedures}, and then boarded the final leg of our flight from D.C. to Denver {4 hours}. From door to door, our return trip was 30 hours of non-stop travel. Exhausting, but so worth it!

What made you decide to go to South Africa? Going on safari is something Scott and I have always wanted to do. It was originally a trip that we wanted to take before having kids, and one we had even started to plan about five years ago. But at that time the economy was bad and we both worried about job security, so we decided it would be better to keep most of the money we had saved for the trip safely in the bank, and we instead took a much less expensive, but still amazing, trip to Costa Rica.

After Beckett was born a couple of years later, we assumed that an African safari would be far, far down the road for us. That fall, we attended an annual charity event sponsored by my law firm, where each year they auction off a all-inclusive 6-day safari. Several of my colleagues had purchased the trip at the auction in the past, and had raved it. Scott and I told ourselves each year that someday we would bid on that trip...someday! But that year, the live auction was moving along very slowly. When the safari came up for bid, the room was quiet - no one was bidding. Finally Scott and I exchanged looks and without any real discussion, we impulsively decided to make a low opening bid - certain that someone would end up outbidding us {but ok with it if they didn't}.

For those who know us - we don't really do anything impulsively {I'm sure that won't surprise any of you who have read about the detail to which I plan my decorating and organizing projects}, so spontaneously deciding to bid on this trip was not like us at all. As you probably guessed, no one outbid us. We got an incredible deal and we were so excited! On the way home we decided that we would go on the trip right away, before having a second child {we were already trying for number 2, but expected it would take some time based on our prior experiences}. As it turned out, just a week later we learned that Cooper would be joining our family! That, of course, put our travel plans on hold for about two years. But we managed to make the trip a reality right at the end of the allowed time frame for the safari package.

Where were the kids while you were in Africa? Scott and I are so fortunate to have all of our parents close by, so the grandparents took turns watching our boys while we were on our South African adventure. Beckett and Cooper stayed with my parents most of the time that we were away, but spent one long weekend with Scott's mom and another long weekend with his dad. We couldn't possibly thank them all enough for being willing to watch the boys for such an extended period of time!

Cooper is still too young to really understand that mommy and daddy were going away for two weeks, but we explained it to both boys and told them all about where we were going. Beckett {who is now 2 and a half}, loves animals, and was so excited to hear about everything we would be seeing. He would tell everyone, "Mommy and Daddy going to Africa! They will see zebras, and lions, and giraffes, and rhinos, and cheetahs, and hippos, and sharks, and penguins." He was disappointed to learn that we would not be seeing tigers, but after we showed him, on his globe, where tigers do live, he began telling everyone, "Mommy and Daddy not going to see tigers in Africa. Tigers live in A-gia."

We spent a lot of time preparing the kids for our trip and making them feel a part of it - including making books with them, and putting together special gifts for them to open before we left and while we were away. I'll share more details about all of that in the coming weeks.

We missed the boys terribly while we were away, but they loved every minute of their own vacation with their grandparents, and they even went on their own backyard safari. Thankfully Facetime allowed us to talk to the boys nearly every day. I think it really helped them to be able to see us, and I know it helped us to see their smiling faces! At times, we were even able to turn the iPad around and show them zebras or other animals wandering past the front of our tented safari camp, which they, of course, loved!!

There will be much more South Africa talk to come, but don't worry, there will be regular blog content in between. I have some pretty exciting stuff coming up later in the week, including a fall home tour on Thursday {with links to similar home tours from dozens of other talented bloggers}. And on Friday I am participating in a DIY Halloween Costume Blog Hop with over 80 other bloggers - you won't want to miss it!

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