Africa

Out of Africa

So we made it out of Africa in one piece.  My biggest fear of getting horribly sick and having to seek African medical attention didn’t come true (I just hope that my other big fear of getting malaria symptoms once I’m back home and have no health insurance doesn’t come true either).  There were no major episodes of food poisoning and I even managed to gain weight in Africa.  We weren’t even the victims of “informal wealth redistribution”.   If there weren’t pictures to prove we actually went, you may not even believe it. 

When Matt and I booked this 21 day camping safari, I have to admit that I was apprehensive about how it would go.  Amazingly enough, I was exceedingly happy with the way everything went, so we decided to continue on with the same tour company for another 20 days through East Africa.  Keep in mind that when we decided to continue it was despite the fact that there were 18 girls and not a single guy booked.  With the addition of the second segment, our grand total came to 41 days of African camping, something I couldn’t have possibly even imagined myself ever doing, seeing that my idea of camping up until 6 weeks ago was setting up a tent in my neighbors’ backyard when I was 10.   

All in all, Africa was in some ways exactly what I expected, and in other ways I was completely wrong.   There are many African clicking languages, which are still very much used by many different tribes; however a lot of them also learn English.  Women (men almost never do) really do carry packages on their heads, which if you have good balance (I don’t) is very practical.  Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia) really surprised me with the decent and pretty much western infrastructure and facilities (bathrooms, internet, etc.) available.  East Africa (Malawi and Tanzania) on the other hand, not so much…  If you were brave enough to endure the stench surrounding the rooms they called bathrooms, you were rarely surprised to find a western toilet and not simply a hole in the ground.  Better put, stopping on the side of the highway to find and hide in a bush was preferable to stopping at an actual bathroom, and before this trip I would have let my bladder burst before even thinking about doing that.  On the first part of the tour, I religiously showered everyday and almost always in a moderately comfortable shower.  On the East African leg of the tour, you were hardly ever lucky enough to find a warm shower. I could blame an elephant for dipping his trunk in the above ground water tank and drinking most of the water so that I didn’t shower that night (making a record three day stretch), but quite honestly I wasn’t even planning on attempting an icy shower anyway – baby wipes work almost as well. 

Being without creature comforts for a decent amount of time makes you really appreciate the western “technology” of hot showers, proper bathrooms and internet.  I wish I could say that I’ve learned to live without them, but I can’t – I simply appreciate their availability now.  Once we got to London, we were so deprived of internet time that we spent five hours at Heathrow airport sitting on the floor (by power plugs) trying to catch up on hostel reservations, train schedules, and email. 

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Sense of Adventure in Perfect Isolation – Ngorongoro Crater

After leaving THE Serengeti National Park, we backtracked to the Ngorongoro Crater.  For those of you who don’t know, it’s an onomatopoeia for the sound a cow bell makes (or at least that is what we were told, because I can’t see it).  Anyway, we camped at the top of the crater, and gee-whiz, it was cold.  We’re talking 5 degrees south of the equator; mind you Florida is about 27 degrees north.  It was probably the altitude, but still, we weren’t that high up, and anyway in the morning we descending into the crater and it was still an icebox. 

Our truck broke down in the morning before we left. Somehow we made it back without a problem, but then in the morning the clutch suddenly didn’t work.  Jill blames it on the driver’s late night rendezvous/joy ride. Anyway, this was half the fun.  We had 3 trucks for 20 people, 2 trucks with 6 people, and 1 truck with 8 people.  We had the truck that fit 8 people.  So because we didn’t want to waste any of our time in the crater, we packed ourselves into the other 2 trucks.  That means 10 people in a 6 person truck plus the driver.  At least we kept each other warm, sort of.

So this place just seems out of this world.  You descend about 200 meters into the caldera of about 100 square miles.  Visibility, even with an overcast sky (unfortunately), was immaculate.  You could see the rim of the crater in all directions.  In the middle of the crater is a fairly large size lake with thousands upon thousands of pink flamingos.  Since we came in winter time, the water levels were near their lowest, so they were pretty far, even with the “altered camera lens”.  It didn’t matter though, it was just a sea of pink (by the way, a flamingo’s call is pretty annoying, especially when there are thousands of them), a great view.  You have plains, hills, ponds, a forest, and mountain sides all in this tiny little area that is secluded basically from the rest of the world.

Somehow, tons of animals got down here and they don’t want to leave.  There is so much water from the high elevation, as it was so green, especially compared with the rest of Tanzania, which was basically brown all over this time of year. 

The pictures we have really don’t do this place justice due to the fog/overcast.  It was still a great experience; the cold weather, the open safari vehicle, the landscape, the animals.  Good stuff. 

We also managed to see 2 lions with their 5 cubs cruising around.  One of the lion’s attempted to hunt, but was spotted by a wildebeest who alerted the herd.  Shucks. 

Unfortunately, we were only here for 4 hours.  But it was definitely a great conclusion to a 41 day overland trip from South Africa to Tanzania/Kenya

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Serengeti National Park

The granddaddy of them all, the highlight of the Africa, the crème de la crème, THE Serengeti National Park.  The climax of the 41 day trip to Africa was the Serengeti National Park.  Sure you could say our expectations were high, but it didn’t matter.  This place was fantastic.  Even if the millions of wildebeest and zebra already migrated north to Masai Mara in Kenya.

On our way to the park, we stopped on the way to buy souvenirs, and there was a fruit stand that was selling red bananas.  The only other time I have heard someone mention red bananas was Mitch Hedberg.  He was a comedian who had a bit about comparing bananas to a traffic light.  “On a traffic light yellow means yield, and green means go. On a banana, it’s just the opposite, yellow means go ahead, green means hold on, and red means, where the “bleep” did you get that banana at?”  Now we know, Africa.

Our trek through Serengeti started with basically a one hour drive though what you would picture as the African Savannah, grasslands spotted with the occasional acacia tree.  The game drive started in the afternoon.  After making our way around pride rock, we managed to see a few lionesses sleeping.  Picture a cat lying on its back with its legs curled and in the air.  Picture the same image here, but a lioness, a 300-400 pound cat, wild, untamed, and only 40 feet from our vehicle.

Next was the Hippo pool.  Mind you this pool was no larger than a public pool.  We counted over 50 hippos just “chillin” in this pool, literally.  You could barely see anything besides hippo backs and the occasional yawn.  They act just like bobbers on a fishing line.

Next, we saw 3 cheetahs eating a kill.  Unfortunately, the kill was hidden below the grass, but the cheetahs were eating it.

So Jill and I figured out a way to extend the zoom on our camera, which is alter the camera lens by placing binoculars right on top of the lens.  This helped to improve our pictures without carrying around the large cargo of a giant “bazooka” looking camera lens.

The term “altered camera lens” was originally coined by Markus, a german fellow who was the murderer in a game we played on this trip and used an “altered camera lens” to kill someone.  Basically the phrase was overused by everyone, so I have to follow suit.  It’s like the movie “Super Troopers”, trying to fit a random phrase in somewhere.

Apparently, there is no such thing as an elephant graveyard.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing experience, but we had no idea what would come next…

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Catching Up

So as you can probably see, we are a little behind in writing our posts.  So now that internet is a more readily available and Jill has been hounding me, we are going to get out of Africa soon enough and on to Europe.  It’s just so hard to not be lazy, because not everything we do is that interesting to put on here.

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Zanzibar

On the ferry ride from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar Matt showed his first sign of weakness on the trip: he managed to get seasick (I of course had to make my customary trip to the bathroom as is common practice on boats unfortunately).  He maintains it was food poisoning from the chili flavored banana chips that I bought, therefore his status as superhuman immunity is still intact.  Once we arrived in Stone Town it was immediately apparent I had underestimated the Arab influence on the island; it truly looked like this island belonged in the Middle East, not a three hour ferry ride from East Africa.  The women all wore traditional Muslim dress, many with their faces completely covered.  Prayers at several times throughout the day were announced through public loud speakers. The buildings were very much what I would picture to be Arabic architecture (I’ll let you know if I was correct when I get to Jordan). 

Zanzibar is known as the “spice island” for the spices grown, probably a self-coined term to rid itself from being known as the “slave island”.  We went on a spice tour where we saw both the slave trade and spice aspects of the island.  The slave markets were quite appalling; seeing the very tiny chamber that up to 75 slaves were cramped and essentially starved for two days before being “put to market”, so that only the strong slaves would survive and would fetch higher prices.  The pretty girls had it easier though, they were sold into prostitution.  The spice portion of the tour was much more appealing to see where all the random spices actually grow on trees, bushes, etc. 

On the north side of the island was the beach section. It pretty much looked like a lot of Caribbean Island beaches.  Some local ladies on the beach set up a salon type thing under a bungalow right on the beach.  They offered manicures, pedicures, massages, etc.  Matt, most likely under the influence of being the only male on a truck with 18 other girls for a week and a half, decided he was going to get a pedicure.  He claims that I “made him” do it, however, it was most definitely under his own volition.  My only response when he told me he was going to get one was “let me get my camera first”. 

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Chobe National Park

Just outside of Chobe National Park, we stopped at a campsite that was appropriately named “Elephant Sands”.  Multiple elephants congregated around the watering hole to drink and bath probably about 100 feet from the bar where we were eating our typical lunch of cucumber, tomato and mystery meat sandwiches.  The highlight of the actual park was the sunset cruise, where we saw several elephants swim (or maybe just walk along the bottom using their trunks as snorkels).  The coolest sight was dozens of hippos eating their dinner which is strikingly similar to the game “Hungry Hungry Hippos” in the way their jaws open and close almost continuously munching plants in the water.  The video is funny, but I was on a boat when I took it, so the quality of footage is less than National Geographic worthy.

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Zambia

After paying the outrageous Zambian visa charge of $135 for Americans (not having a choice to go to the Zimbabwean side because of the absolute disaster that Mugabe has created), we saw the magnificent Victoria Falls.  They are the second largest behind Iguaçu Falls in South America, but still larger than Niagara.  The water level was the highest it has been in years, which meant not only no white-water rafting, but you get completely soaked attempting to see them, literally it was raining upwards immediately surrounding the falls. 

The only other thing of note was the anticorruption billboards along roads; “Just Say No to Corruption” or “Succeed the Right Way, Not the Corrupt Way” (which I unfortunately didn’t get a picture of), but a man in one of them looked strikingly similar to Kwame Kilpatrick…  The rest of Zambia (which I only saw through the windows of the truck), didn’t really have much of interest. 

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Malawi

Malawi was the next country in the trek to Tanzania. There isn’t a lot to see or do except the beaches along the famed Lake Malawi.  We stopped at one beach, Kande Beach, which was overly bombarded with locals trying to take advantage of tourists.  It was quite annoying leaving the camp property and being harassed by men calling themselves Mr. Smooth, 50 Cent, Jean-Claude Van Damme, etc. as soon as you took one step outside of the metal gates.  We went on a village walk to “see how the local people live”.  Learning about their belief in polygamy was interesting; it is seen as a status symbol to have multiple wives and the first wife is the boss of the next wife.  The trip to the school and hospital was basically insulting though.  The principal kept saying over and over again how they don’t want/need supplies, but how they want/need money (to line his pockets, not help the students who may actually benefit from it).  The entire community seems to depend on tourism (in a harassing sort of way) rather than trying to develop any other kind of actual independence, which is quite sad to witness.

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Survivor – The Game

Since we had 4 hours free time in the Okavango Delta when we arrived, our tour leader suggested we play a game to help pass the time.  The name of the game is Survivor, although others may know it as Assassins or a variation thereof.  The rules of the game are this:  you receive on paper a name, a weapon, and a location.  Kill or be killed. You must kill the person on your paper with the weapon in hand at the specified location.  When you kill, you receive the name, weapon, and location of the person you killed.  You become a survivor if the name you receive is your own. 

When the tour leader said, “Start!”, everyone became paranoid that where they were standing was the location their killer needed them to be.  My first task was to “kill” Dave with a toothbrush next to the fallen tree near the fire pit.  I waited there patiently until he passed by.  I told him I had an idea that would help him try to kill his victim, who unfortunately knew where she was to be killed and with what weapon due to his first failed attempt. So I killed Dave, but now my next victim, Louise, knew that I had to kill her with a chair by the mokoros. 

Meanwhile, Jill was tasked to kill Hanna with a rain fly while she was sitting in a chair.  Hanna was by far the most paranoid of any in the group.  About 30 minutes after the game started, she finally sat down.  Easy kill.  Her next task was to kill Carsten in his tent with a shoe.  Her patience would rule the day here.

Our tour leader offered for us to try our hand at powering a mokoro.  This prompted Louise to run down to the mokoros.  I immediately ran down there with a chair hoping for the kill.  She jumped in one of the mokoros, and I told her she was dead.  She thought she could get off on a technicality.  After she argued that “in a mokoro” is different than “by the mokoros”, I lifted her out of the mokoro and she met death.  Unfortunately, she already tried killing Heather in the kitchen with some grass reeds, but failed.  She was allied with the tour leader, and she was trying to kill me, unbeknownst to me at the time. 

During lunch, Heather would not go to the kitchen, because she was afraid that I’d eliminate her.  So she had other people grab lunch for her.  She was complaining that she needed some more snacks, but wasn’t able to go get them because I was on constant alert.

Later that day, after much of the initial killings had been done, I was playing a game of 500.  The tour leader said to the packing team, which included me, that we were to empty the water containers but not by the river, but behind the tents because we didn’t want to contaminate the river.  In any event, as I was walking behind the tents Heather came running up behind me with an empty wash basin trying to kill me behind the tents.  Fortunately for me, my ally, Cameron, held her back, which allowed me to get in front of the tent in order to survive. 

Nearing the end of the afternoon, it was time for swimming at the water hole.  Heather started walking towards the swimming area, which she needed to cross the kitchen to get to.  I sprinted over and hurdled a couple chairs then began “strangulation with grass reeds”.  I became a survivor.

Everybody went to the swimming hole.  Carsten raced back to his tent to change so he could get in the water.  Jill followed.  Carsten was killed in his own tent with Jill’s shoe.  Jill became a survivor, he never would have gotten her in a mokoro with a live insect anway.  The End.

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Okavango Delta

To get to the Okavango Delta, we took a mokoro (dugout wooden canoe) ride out to an uninhabited island.  It was basically like a Gondola right, but in the middle of Africa instead of Venice.  We arrived at our “embarking” station after a 2 hour bumpy ride and a “foot and mouth” check point.  As we arrived there were about 20 locals or so that started unloading the truck and grabbed our gear and put it in the mokoros.  The mokoro ride lasted about an hour and was as relaxing as can be, especially since we were woken 5:30 AM. 

As we landed on our island, the first thing we noticed was a buffalo skull in the firepit.  We immediately set up camp, and had about 4 hours to rest, eat, and play the game “Survivor”.  After that period, it was time for a game walk.  In theory this should have been awesome.  The Okavango Delta is one of the most densely populated areas of big game in Africa, if not the most.   During our one and a half hour game walk, guided by certified locals, we saw a pack of zebra (apparently the rest of the world pronounces it zeb-ruh, whereas Americans pronounce it zee-bruh, much like the letter z, zed versus zee).  Anyway, it was very disappointing, especially because this was the most expensive optional payment of our Safari trip.  At night, the locals performed sing and dance routines for us, which provided some entertainment.  As part of tradition, our group had to perform as well.  Needless to say, it was fun.

The next morning, we awoke very early for a morning game walk.  Again, we saw more zebra and not much else. Later that afternoon, after a mokoro ride back and a 2 hour bumpy ride and a “foot and mouth” checkpoint, 12 of us from our group went to the airport to fly over the Okavango Delta.  We sat in a 7 seater.  Before take-off, the pilot showed us on a map where we’d be flying, and it was so much further into the delta where we had been the previous night.  He said, “Where you were last night, really isn’t the delta, the delta doesn’t start until here”, as he pointed to a game reserve line about 20 kilometers north of where we had been.  The plane ride was pretty amazing.  We got to see herds of elephants and buffalo, a few giraffe, and just the vast size of the delta. Apparently, anything goes with aviation in Botswana, at one point in the flight, our altitude was at most 50 feet. We flew in tight formations with 2 other planes.  It was one of the highlights of the Safari trip. 

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Cape Town

After a very lazy week in Mauritius, it was time to make our way to Cape Town for the start of our organized safari. In Cape Town, we went to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned during the apartheid years.  It was quite a sad experience listening to the guide, who was imprisoned there himself, tell the atrocities that occurred there not so long ago.  Adding to the apartheid excursions was the township tour.  It was quite humbling to go through these neighborhoods, most of which wouldn’t even be adequate for farm animals in the US.  In a “hostel”, which consisted of four small bedrooms, one bathroom and a kitchen, there could be up to 12 families living there.  Those at least were made of stone, while some others who didn’t like the cramped living quarters made their own hut of a mixture of scrap metal, wood, and cardboard with dirt floors.  It was a weird experience wandering around the area that is very much lived in, with all the little kids so starved for attention that they clung to you.  Other than the still obvious effects of apartheid, the city is quite nice- a beautiful maritime landscape topped off by Table Mountain.

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Namibia

It was time for our organized tour with Acacia to begin.  The first real stop was at the Fish River Canyon which is the second largest canyon in the world behind the Grand Canyon.  It was a big hole in the ground, similar to the Arizona version, but significantly smaller (160km vs. 446km long, 27km vs. 29km wide, and 550m vs. 1.6km deep), and with less majestic colors (in my humble American opinion). 

Namib-Naukluft Park, the red sand dunes of Namibia, was awe-inspiring.  We climbed Dune 45 at sunrise, which overlooked all the iron-rich dunes in the area.  Absolutely amazing scenery. 

Swakopmund is a very German town that Brad and Angelina made famous.  It is known as the extreme sports capital of Africa.  We went sandboarding, which is like snowboarding but on sand, which hurts much less falling than on snow and ice.  We also rode down the dune on a piece of polished wood on our stomachs, much like sledding.  I somehow managed to get the least air resistance of anyone doing it that day and had the fastest clocked speed at 75km per hour sliding down the dune, before crashing headfirst into a sandbank (I am still finding sand everywhere).  We also went quad biking around the dunes, which allows much faster speeds than typical 4×4, it was ok, but nothing too spectacular except the views of the water. 

We made a brief stop at Cape Cross to see the quarter of a million seals residing in area.  They managed to create one of the foulest smells I have ever witnessed.  Despite the stench, it was a sight to see with so many seals either laying on the rocks or swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Etosha National Park had a lot less density of animals than Kruger, so it was kind of a disappointment in that respect.  They did however have a watering hole at the campsite that was light with floodlights all night which allowed good viewing of rhinos coming to drink past dusk.  The coolest part was how close the animals came to the viewing stands though.  In the middle of the night I was woken by very loud lions roaring at the watering hole. I of course jumped out of bed in time to see them wandering/laying around.  I was hoping they were going to be hunting the zebra also at the watering hole, but they weren’t hungry I guess and just kept to themselves. 

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Vacation from Vacation

Mauritius is a fair sized island in the Indian Ocean that is east and a couple clicks north of Madagascar.  Where the official language is English, yet everyone speaks French and hardly anyone speaks English.  Formerly part of the British Commonwealth, there doesn’t seem to be a lick of British culture left on the island save for some traffic circles, which by the way have traffic cops on the country’s only major highway.  Traffic circles apparently don’t work when you never have a break in traffic from one direction for an extended period of time.  According to our airport transfer driver, 10% of the Mauritius population commutes to the capital city of Port Louis on this major highway.  So basically, the highway is gridlock going south anytime after 12PM.  We stayed on the northern part of the island in the touristy area of Grand Bay.  Mauritius is like Hawaii divided by 100.  The major resorts are 2 or 3 stories, and there are only 5 of them in a row in the area we were.  There was one super market, a casino the size of a Rite Aid (that came equipped with dodge ‘em cars and bumper boats for the kids to play on, when combined was larger than the gaming room floor), a ton of restaurants and shops that sold Hollister paraphernalia at 5 times US prices. 

We stayed at a budget bungalow complex on the main road for a modest 25 Euro per night fee.  The airport transfer was more expensive.  The lovely lady who greeted us and showed us to the room went through the normal spiel and finally got to the “surrounding area” part of the routine.  All she said was, “the beach is that way, and the supermarket is the other way.”  Compared with everywhere else we’ve been, this was a delight.  It was nice not having to get a map and find directions everywhere we need to go.  Instead, we walk out of the hotel, turn left for 50 meters, and voila, we’re at the supermarket/casino/dodge ‘em cars.  The super market was not unlike any other. Except that the most popular item had to be the 400 gram, 11 Rupee freshly baked French bread (that’s just shy of a pound and less than 50 US cents and 4 adjectives).  We would see people carrying backpacks of the French bread rolls out of the store.  We purchased one daily. 

Our days were mostly lazy.  Explore a little the first few days, walk to the resorts and utilize their beaches and read or swim, hang out at the supermarket.  We wanted to try out our newly earned SCUBA licenses in Mauritius, but we succumbed to our frugality.  Anyway, we were bummed out about that.  So we just loafed some more. 

Our Doctor who administered our vaccines gave us a packet of weather reports for every country we were going. Mauritius in May was apparently a mild 26 degrees Celsius and only rained two days of the month.  We got three days in one week.  So that kind of spoiled the beach fun, which led us to watching the show Alias on the computer. 

The biggest challenge of all, which turned out to be fruitless, yet unnecessary was trying to pay for our hotel bill in Euros.  Our hotel owner insisted that we pay Euros for the weeklong stay.  She said that we could take Euros out of a nearby ATM or just exchange money.  The last thing we wanted was to pay huge premiums to exchange money.  So we searched for this elusive ATM, we saw one at the airport that had such a claim, but it was mislabeled, and it was already too late to go back.  The hotel owner had faulty intel on where the ATM machine was near us.  So we essentially put our ATM card into every machine in the area to no avail.  This whole operation was to save probably what amounted to 30 bucks.  We had not op tech to help us locate the cheapest Euros as the internet café was too pricey.  Our intelligence gathering was pretty weak as the banks barely spoke English and offered no help.  When we asked HSBC (who had the ATM at the airport with the supposed Euros), “Where do you have an ATM that dispenses Euros”, our response back was, “We sell Euros at 45 Rupees.”  So finally, we went back on the final day to pay and told her we’d like to pay in Rupees instead of Euros.  We were worried that she’d try to pull a fast one on us with a poor exchange rate, but she ended up giving us a more favorable exchange rate than the market.  High Five.   

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Mom, skip to the second paragraph…

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.

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