You’re on African time now

After what we shall call the unfortunate squid incident, we arrived in Bangkok to catch a 10 hour Thai Airways flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. While the staff and service was as lovely as I have come to anticipate, the flight left much to be desired. The turbulence was awful. A lot of the side, side…..up… DOOOOWWWN. I’ve done my share of flying, not a lot, but a bit. And while this didn’t rival the cardiac-arrest inducing final decent into Columbus, OH (by far the MOST harrowing I’ve ever experienced), it was disconcerting. But I looked around the plane and everyone was sleeping, or trying to, so I figured if they weren’t worried, I shouldn’t either. John was able to sleep through most of the flight, I was able to get a few hours, and we arrived on time with a few more gray hairs and one of our nine lives lost.

When we left Thailand, it was summer with humidity at 100%, sunny, and 85 degrees. Arriving into Johannesburg was quite a shock, with dry, cool air and a brisk 50 degrees! I was thrilled, John was a bit displeased, but all was good after a double espresso at the Illy kiosk.

We picked up our rental car and headed off! We passed a well known township, Soweto, where Nelson Mandela grew up. More recently, it has become safer for foreigners to tour there, but it took a little more courage than we were feeling. Perhaps another time.

Besides, I was just too excited for our next stop, Ukatula! I’ve heard much about it through John as his best friend Evan went there last year when he was a delegate from the United States for an international convention for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Praetoria, South Africa. Others had raved about it as well, and this was the highlight for me in SA.

We had an appointment at 10:00, but with customs delays and traffic, we were going to be about 40 minutes late. I was so worried we would miss our tour! But those fears were put to rest when the lady at reception told us not to worry. “You are on African time now”, she assured us with a calm, almost whisper-talk that we encountered so many times over the next few days.

Ukatula is an animal reserve for all kinds of big cats (lions, hyenas, leopards). You take a short tour of the property…



…and we learned that hyenas like to chew and savor their food for days. Even when other animals will deem there is nothing left to eat, these guys hang on to an ounce of hide and when it gets too dry in the African sun, dunks it in a river to marinate it and chew some more. Like a dog with a bone, these guys had determination matched only by perhaps humans with the equally unhealthy habits of guilt or resentment.



we visited the lions cages. They were calm and lazy, until…



…they noticed small children in our small tour group. The guide explained while they could take down a much larger predator, and have a bigger kill, they like the easy targets. So when they see anything small (like little children) they become easily excitable which is a kind word for the absolute greed I saw in their eyes. They ran towards the fence eyeing these little children as they jostled from side to side. It was unnerving, but was a reminder to keep your children close. For reasons in the animal kingdom, and otherwise. But it was an education, and awe inspiring.

They also had tigers. While not indigenous to South Africa, they had saved these two off of the black market, and gave them a second chance:


…and the pièce de résistance of our visit is this- no words necessary:


The baby lions were so docile and curious.

They like to bite your hair…


Play with their toys…


See what’s in your pockets…


And come in close for a cuddle.


After that, you were taken to ‘the little devils’. These were the ‘teenagers’, if you will, and very rambunctious!

They liked to play bite…


Swamp you altogether…





Play hunt…



Show you their pearly whites….


Forget about you and go bite his brother …


And then nap so hard, their tongue falls out…


It was thrilling, fully worth every penny, and such a great start to our African adventure!

And then we were off to Kruger National Park for 3 days! Within 30 minutes of entering the park, we ran into this kind fellow!


But Kruger National Park, five times the size of Rhode Island, deserves its own post… Coming up next! What other animals do you think we saw?


14 thoughts on “You’re on African time now

  1. I loved your pictures of ukatula. Brought back so many memories of when nick and I were there. Looks like an amazing time with those cuties! Glad you got to visit it.


  2. Absolutely amazing!!!! What a wonderful time you all had with your kitties!!! Minke is totally jealous!!!! Much love to you both…


  3. Wow, I’m really in awe of your experiences. What a magical trip. Now I want a baby lion!!
    P.S. You’re a great writer & storyteller. I feel like I’m almost there with you.


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