Upon arrival to Johannesburg airport I was excited to reach my sixth continent, (and most likely last, as it’s doubtful I’ll make it to Antarctica) but my tiny bit of apprehension about the African continent unfortunately grew larger the further into the airport I got. When packing my checked luggage, I was aware of the bad reputation that the airport has for pilferage, though I assumed expensive things in designer luggage was targeted and my poor backpacker’s bag would be exempt (especially because I purposefully put the dirty laundry on top). However, the guy sitting next to me on the plane did not assuage any of my fears, as he told me a story about how the contents of a simple tin of chocolate, packed within a suitcase, fell victim to the baggage handlers.Already on edge, we proceeded to the immigration lines…basically in the dark. Later while picking up the rental car we found out that the power was out, which explained the very minimal lighting throughout the entire airport, but that certainly did not help my trepidation as I was waiting in long immigration lines and for my luggage. Knowing the reputation that the city of Johannesburg has, we drove straight out of the airport to the safer Pretoria area. After checking into the hostel, we asked the guy if it was ok if we parked out front. He told us we could leave the car there, but it would most likely be somewhere else in the morning. We moved the car to the secured lot. With that, it was the end of our first day in Africa.
The second day we ventured off on foot into the South African administrative capital of Pretoria.The city is a lot like Detroit; know the areas to stay away from and you’ll have no problems wandering around the rest of it. There isn’t a lot to see or do, but the government buildings were definitely impressive.
We took off for the Blyde River Canyon area, and following in suit of the rest of our outdoor pursuits, it rained and was generally overcast for most of the day. Nevertheless, we got a few decent, though still hazy pictures of the impressive canyon, and were on our way.
It was then time for my “Disneyworld” – Kruger National Park. You basically drive around the park on the paved or gravel roads keeping the camera in one hand and the binoculars in the other, with both eyes surveying the savannah and darting from tree to tree (and for Matt – the driver- occasionally on the road) hoping to spot animals. The roads can get kind of crowded with other vehicles, but it can work to your advantage; if a car is stopped, there might be something cool there, but if there are several cars stopped somewhere, there is definitely something worthwhile. It then becomes a game of jockeying for the best position to see the animals as they move around, for the most part unhindered by the cars or spectators.
I would have never expected that I would be so willing to go to bed by 9pm and wake up at 5am, but that had become my sleeping pattern to better view the game in the park, and was well worth it. Within the first two hours of entering the park, we saw giraffe, a lion, buffalo, wild dogs (a rarity in Southern Africa), and an elephant “that was not taking no prisoners” to quote one driver in the mix of cars in the grey giant’s path. The game viewing continued throughout the three days to include a pair of cheetahs making their way to a watering hole, several hyenas with full bellies from a night of scavenging, a large group of hippos bobbing up and down in the water, and the absolute highlight: a pride of 13 lions lazily enjoying the sunrise.
I am happy to report that my initial heightened safety fears weren’t necessarily warranted (at least thus far), but it was probably a good thing to put me on edge as I had become complacent after Rio. Still, I am disappointed that I still can’t escape Hollywood pop culture. The hostel only gets five channels; one of them manages to carry “The Biggest Loser”, or some other American show that I had not anticipated seeing while so far away. I must say that it is an improvement over Australia and New Zealand TV programming though. They show either the regular American shows(including, but not limited to: “American Idol” and endless reruns of “Friends”) or knock-off game shows of “Deal or No Deal”, or my personal favorite “The Farmer Wants a Wife” (based off of “The Bachelor” I’m guessing). I probably shouldn’t complain too much, as it is American movies, music, and TV encourages and/or teaches so many people English, which makes it infinitely easier to get around in non-English speaking countries. I suppose that once I get away from the first-world infrastructure of South Africa, a lot of the western influence will be lost and I will eat my words about wanting to experience other cultures as I’m stuck using squatty pottys.