When everything came together - three weeks off, the right vaccinations, helpful relatives the Reisers jumped at the chance to take the trip of a lifetime, and they went on safari to South Africa.
Tim and Linda Reiser, their son, Dan, and daughter, Andrea, started their trip in Johannesburg with a big rugby party weekend. "It's like football here," said Linda Reiser. "They have huge parties. People wear jerseys and root for their team, the Springboks. They drink a concoction called the Springbok." Served in a shot glass or large spoon, it is Amarula and creme de menthe liquors. Amarula is similar to Bailey's Irish Cream.
Then, on to Cape Town and some shopping. Linda Reiser was particularly enamored by the textiles, and she brought many of them back. One of the more breathtaking sights of the trip was Table Mountain. Cable cars take visitors up 2,500 feet. "We were fortunate in that we saw the top - it was clear enough one day," Linda Reiser said. For much of the time the top of the mountain is shrouded in a thick cloak of fog nicknamed "the tablecloth."
The family went there at the end of June. "It was winter there when we were there. Highs during the day were about 75 degrees, and it got down to 35 at night," explained Tim Reiser.
The Reisers enjoyed the sights of Johannesburg as well as Cape Town and then flew from Cape Town to the Singita Game Reserve near the Sabi Sand Reserve and Kruger National Park.
The Singita is world-renowned for its cuisine and amenities. Guests are treated to three large meals a day - even if they are out in the bush. "We finally had to tell them to cut it down to two meals because we couldn't eat that much," Linda Reiser said. However, they continued to make three meals because Singita staff members cook for their families when they are cooking for guests.
The housing areas have their own built-in pools. "Because it was winter there, there were no flowers but there were also no bugs, and we didn't have to worry about taking malaria pills," explained Linda Reiser.
"You could hear the hyenas at night," Tim Reiser said. "If you need to walk around the compound at night, you have to be escorted by staff because the animals can and sometimes do come right up to the lodges where guests are."
Each morning and evening, when the wildlife is out and about, trackers would take the Reiser family out in jeeps.
"I was so amazed at the cheetah," said Linda Reiser. "They are huge, and we saw some wild dogs, which you don't get to see much there anymore." At night, the couple recounted, trackers would shine small lights back and forth in front of the jeeps to see catch the glint of games' eyes, and then the jeeps would stop and everyone would peer into the darkness until their eyes adjusted to see the wildlife.
Trackers could leave the jeeps but guests cannot, and when elephants come near the jeeps, guests are told to sit perfectly still.
"I guess the elephants aren't bothered by the jeeps, and when you are sitting still in them, they look at you like a jeep. If you start to fidget, they might pluck you right out."
The wild game was amazing, Tim Reiser said. By the end of the stay at the Singita, they saw water buffalo, hippos, elephants, leopards, impalas, baboons and lion cubs.
Linda Reiser said she was surprised to learn that the lionesses keep their litters together, and if they go off and leave their young while they are hunting, the litters will stay together and wait for their mothers.
During the day, the family entertained themselves with archery, tennis, swimming or just sitting on the decks of their lodges enjoying the experience.
Tim Reiser said he enjoyed the elephants, and the babies playing with the adults were remarkable.
One dining experience, the boma dinner, was unforgettable, Linda Reiser said. An area of the Singita is cordoned off with a bamboo fence and set up like a British officer's mess area - china, silver flatware, white tablecloths, tiki torches, candlelight and dancing.
"The bush is just breathtaking," Linda Reiser said. "The air is like velvet on your skin, and it's so quiet and beautiful."
When the family left Singita, they flew over Mozambique and down the Indian Ocean coast to Durban. They went sight-seeing at Boulders Beach, home of a colony of African penguins. Nicknamed jackass penguins because of a raucous noise they make - they object to be petted, but otherwise you can get quite close to them, Linda Reiser said.
From Durban it was back to Johannesburg and then home.
Linda Reiser said the trip changed the family's eating habits. "We are eating healthier and using more spices. I had to go out and buy some when we returned."
Their advice: If you have the chance to go - go. Some areas were off-limits to tourists because of unrest, and security was high in some areas, but if using guides, you don't have problems.
Make sure to get all the necessary vaccinations, and planning for a trip like this - to take in the sights and make travel arrangements - takes about a year. Linda Reiser suggests the trip would not work well with preteens.
"They say children should be at least 13 to go on the safari trips," said Tim Reiser. "You have to have the patience to sit in a jeep."
Remember, you can only take two bags weighing 50 pounds so if you plan on bringing a lot of items back, pack lightly and get a really, really good camera.
"It's not an experience we will ever forget, and the pictures hold so many memories," Linda Reiser said.
Story published Friday, November 7, 2008 ( Volume 3, Number 6 )