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2019 Adventure – South Africa

Thursday: October 24, 2019

Here is another post for my 2019 Adventure! Remember, I plan to keep these simple with a short introduction, then show the sites and the eats, along with a favorite memory or two. If you want more details, just ask in a comment or through here :)

I did add some photos I finally got from my brother to the two previous posts so check those out!

On July 9th, we bussed from Maputo, Mozambique to Nelspruit, South Africa and found a taxi to take us to the rental car office. From there, we drove straight to just outside one of the gates of Kruger National Park. For the next three nights, we stayed in rondavels (little round houses) at the Park’s camps. Do you remember the very first time you saw the original Jurassic Park? The beginning scenes, before it turned horrifying, that is. The goosebumps you got when the characters witnessed dinosaurs for the first time, emerging quietly from the jungle? Yep. That is what Kruger is like. I had mistakenly thought we would be lucky to see a few animals over the course of the entire time in Kruger. How amazed was I, when we saw almost everything before we even found the camp to sleep! I also mistakenly thought the roads would be crammed with tourists, but in fact we were solitary much of our journey (in Kruger and everywhere else!)! You can be greedy with your wishes here. Kruger, as I would find out for the rest of Africa, delivered.

When I saw the original Lion King way back, I remember thinking “that’s not what nature looks like” and took it to be artistic license. But, Africa really does look that way. I need to seriously invest some time in learning why the geography and topography is what it is – vast plains with enormous bald rock outcroppings. And the animals really do all mix together at waterholes or just when they are out and about. Of course, I’ve seen this in documentaries and whatnot, but it’s just different in real life. Too cool.

While we did a self-drive safari (as in, you drive in your own car wherever you want on the roads and stay for however long you want at each spot), we also booked three other kinds through our camps: a night drive, a morning drive, and a bush walk. As a self-drive, it is illegal to be outside of a camp after dark, yet a lot of animals aren’t active during the heat of the day. Plus, without a tour guide, you just don’t learn much! My favorite is, of course, the bush walk. At first I did have to pause and question my life choices when the reality struck me – I mean, I was just simply walking around out in the wild where dangerous and frightening animals hang out, afterall. Our two guides were very professional about safety measures though (stay quiet, stay in single file, and do exactly what they say even if they come off as incredibly rude yelling at us and treating us like a baby – if they say climb a tree, climb the effing tree!), and they taught us a lot about different plants (it is cooler than it sounds, trust me!) and tracking animals. In fact, though no one in Kruger will tell you how many rhinos there are because of heavy poaching problems, I can say there are at least two – That’s right! We walked up to a pair of rhinos! It was exhilarating (and when I say “walked up to”, I mean we were still quite far away as the image will attest).

Keep in mind that I mostly enjoyed being there, being present, rather than trying to document it for others to see. While I do have some of my brother’s photos, you should still check his stuff out for more/better images. And I’ll write more about South Africa in future posts – Kruger is just a lot all by itself!

The places (for all maps: Red = airport; Blue = overnight; Pink = short stop; Green = Day trip; Yellow = Border crossing; Brown = Train, or in this case, the car rental office):

What we saw:

What I ate:

And most notable memory:

I already said how awe-inspiring the safaris were. I could mention that neither my brother nor I knew what a Dom Pedro was, and decided to order it without asking (icecream + amarula liqueur). MmMmMMmmmm. Or, I could mention the one morning I was awoken before the sun rose to some loud vocalization out in the wild. I couldn’t sleep and it was driving me bonkers. I finally got up and stood on my stoop watching the sun rise, to finally find the source: two hippos in the river, fighting by yawning wide to show their teeth and yelling. They were at a standstill – the river was wide, and there was plenty of space to go around each other, but neither wanted to leave the skinny little path. Silly hippos. But instead I will talk about the driving.

I had expected driving anywhere in Africa to be this nightmare of aggressive drivers, packed pedestrians, roaming animals – loud and a definite sense of pure and utter chaos. I based this on my experience as a passenger in other countries and what I’ve seen in movies. As with much of my expectations for this trip, I was totally wrong. I felt more at ease driving there than almost anywhere back home (“there” being in South Africa, Swaziland/Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and Bostwana)! Let that sink in for a minute or two. African people (referring to those regions I visited, not the entire enormous continent, of course) have a gentle culture (well, in truth like a million cultures), without a sense of hurry or self-importance seen here in the States. So, driving was super easy.

What else I did not expect was the mental effort it took to drive on the opposite side of the road. We had a mantra to remind each other “stay on the left” to the tune of “Staying Alive”.  A major joke is that because the car is reversed, so are the knobs and buttons. You know how many times windshield wipers were used instead of turning signals? Countless! And the joke really is on me, because the intense concentration I endured for the month of driving upwards of 8 hours a day has slithered its way into my subconscious. Do I admit that in my very own car, though I have been driving now for over 20 years, the windshield wipers have been flipped whilst turning multiple times? Or, how when I am walking on the road, deserted at the time of cars, I cannot picture which side a pedestrian should be on, even though I’ve been home now for over a month? Who knew I would be left so confuddled! The best advice I found, which I discovered back when I was researching driving in foreign countries, was that the driver stays in the middle of the road, no matter what. That I need to remind myself of this just astounds me.

I am also glad we bought the extra insurance – before we left Kruger, we already had a hole in the tire from a thorn. Thank goodness our camp had a motor station! And by the time we returned the car, we had a cracked windshield from a rock along the high speed highways in Namibia. Oi.

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