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Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

10/28/09: Johannesburg, South Africa

Today was our first full day of officially being on our own since we arrived in Africa. We have been so spoiled the last several weeks – someone tells us when to wake up, when to eat breakfast, what we’re doing that day, when to go to the bathroom… Since we didn’t think it was healthy to mope around in our dorm room all day, and partly out of pure habit, we didn’t sleep in but got up bright and early to have breakfast. Miraculously, we found a bakery that had delicious croissants and brownies and other yummy goodies and went there for breakfast. (Without Marietjie telling us where to go!)

 

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Rest assured Mom and Dad - no brownies for breakfast for us

We managed to go to the post office and send a couple of packages of souvenirs home. (All by ourselves! Ok fine, we went with a few other girls from our tour.)

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Successfully having sent off our boxes, we take a triumphant photo in front of the post box

We even found a place to eat lunch at the mall by our hostel. (By ourselves!) AND, we went and saw a movie! (By ourselves!) We saw Up, which I had wanted to see before leaving on our trip but just had never gotten around to it. Guess how much it cost to see the movie? 15 rand each. That’s TWO DOLLARS EACH! Granted it didn’t have the armrests that raise up (but a lot of other movie theaters at home don’t either) and it smelled a little bit like smoke (couldn’t figure that one out, we were the only ones in that theater and there were no ashtrays) and there wasn’t any movie trivia at the beginning (luckily I don’t care that much about what movie Jim Carrey first starred in), but it was only TWO DOLLARS! It was wonderful. The movie was pretty good too.

After the movie, we went back to our hostel to relax and immerse ourselves in the bliss that is being all by ourselves (in a dorm room housing 16 other people). Eventually, Carol, Garry and Zoey from our old Zambezi truck arrived, and we showed them around like the seasoned travelers we are.

It’s funny – Kevin and I keep talking about how we’re now really on our own, but ever since we got off Kavango yesterday, we’ve still been surrounded by people we know. Almost every meal we’ve had has been with people from one of our old trucks. Mark and Lindi gave us recommendations for restaurants and things to do. So really, we haven’t been on our own at all.

I guess I’m just a bit nervous about how that’s going to change when we finally really and truly are on our own, but I’m ready too. I mean, with Kevin carrying my bag (and me if needed), how hard could it really be?

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Puzzles for Postcards

When Tenzig Falls Behind Anagram

Trust Even Moe

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Pictures of the Day: It’s too late, Kevin. You’re stuck with me.

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10/27/09: Johannesburg, South Africa

We departed the Acacia truck after our final drive and with one final look over our shoulders (and a tear in each of our eyes) and we said goodbye to our temporary home.

Two minutes later we returned to grab our bags. I hate prolonged goodbyes.

I’ve been looking forward to today for some time now, because as much as I’ve enjoyed our Acacia tour (and I would recommend it to anyone), I’ve been ready to begin traveling on our own. Zhou’s done so much good planning, and I’ve been itching to carry lots of bags in order to get some long overdue exercise.

Before moving onto the next phase of the trip though, this past week I did learn another lesson that I’d like to share with everyone, especially the kids. “If you must judge, be prepared to budge.” (Do you think that one will catch on?)

I really didn’t give our six finishing days on the Kavango truck much of a chance. After all we had come from the mighty Zambezi truck! No one could cook as good as Marietjie, no one could drive as good as Richard, and no people could possibly replace the Zambezi group. Things just weren’t going to be any fun. While I’m not saying that our old truck has been surpassed, we did meet some nice new people, especially our guides, Mark and Lindi. My only two regrets now are that I prejudged that they wouldn’t be as good as our old guides and that we weren’t able to spend longer in their truck.

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The Kavango truck, with Mark and Lindi in the front row

So on to the individual part of the world trip: 278 days of just me and Zhou! Our first act as our own travelers: checking into a hostel, the Ritz Backpackers of Johannesburg.

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We’re staying in an 18 person dorm room (9 bunk beds) for 100 ZAR per person per night (~$13 each, but we had a small discount because of our ISIC card). I won’t lie, we are breaking into hostel life easily, as we know the other 13 people in our room for tonight, but it’s still something new for us. When was the last time you slept in a room with 13 other people?

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The Ritz is very nice (although it doesn’t live up to its American counterpart’s name) and it’s actually in a safe part of Johannesburg. Going into today, I was very nervous about Zhou and I alone in this city where all people do is rob and murder each other, but we both feel very safe here. There’s a nice bakery nearby, an upscale mall and several nice restaurants. It actually reminds me a little of home. But don’t worry Mom and Dad, we won’t be settling down here. Two days until Hong Kong!

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Picture of the Day: As contemporary as South Africa feels, for some reason Vanilla Ice is still the front page picture of the Business Times.

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10/26/09: Kruger National Park, South Africa

Here’s why I don’t like Kruger National Park:

It’s too darn big. Depending on who we listened to, it’s either 2 million or 70 million hectares, whatever a hectare is. In words we were able to understand though, it’s bigger than England. When you combine this size with all the below factors, it becomes really difficult to enjoy a game drive.

The roads are paved. Sure, you can drive faster on paved roads and your butt doesn’t get quite the workout it does on dirt, but usually that’s not the goal of a game drive. For some reason, the sight of paved roads reminds me more of my neighborhood at home than a wild animal safari in Africa.

You can’t off-road. You couldn’t in the other public national parks either, but in those there were so many more roads to choose from. It didn’t feel nearly as restricting in the Serengeti as it did here in Kruger, where several times we saw furry animals in the distance but couldn’t figure out what they were.

There are too many trees. The Serengeti was filled with plains and sparse rock formations (e.g. Pride Rock), so it felt like you could see for miles. If you love plant life and birds that sit in trees, perhaps Kruger is the park for you.

Our guide was terrible. In the Masai Mara, our guide was very unknowledgeable as well, but he wanted to help us find animals. This one didn’t have a clue about the wildlife, and he had more fun racing our other truck over the paved roads than spotting animals. This isn’t any fault of the park itself, but it still made for a lackluster day.

Radio communication needs improved. Again, this one might have been our specific safari company (I apologize, but I can’t remember the name), but they only had radio communication between the two drivers (which wound up being largely used for smack talk). In the other game parks, we were able to pick up signals from more drivers and therefore see more animals.

There are too many cars. Kruger Park is open to everyone and their mothers, so you see lots of families driving through looking like they’re on their way to the grocery store. Seeing all the Honda Civics and Toyota Yarises with Garfield stuffed animals in the windows was quite a change from the usual safari jeeps.

Drivers stink. A byproduct of my previous complaint with the park, this is the worst problem of all. In case anyone in charge of the park is reading this, let me explain. When you allow any idiot who could barely pass their driver’s test into a park where animals have spent the last millennia trying not to get eaten by each other without worrying about people cruising 40 mph down newly paved roads, accidents are going to happen. In our one day there, we saw three dead animals on the side of the road, having been killed not by predators, but by bad drivers. I’m sure economically Kruger does well by allowing all cars into the park if they pay the entrance fee, but [morally] it just doesn’t make sense to me.

It’s too bad though, because two years ago, Kruger Park used to be an incredible experience.

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Picture of the Day: This was the only wildlife that I saw the entire day. What a sight though!

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Tree < Rhino

10/25/09: Thorny Bush Park, South Africa

This morning we stopped at a mall on our way to Thorny Bush. Let’s just have that sentence one more time, shall we? This morning we stopped at a mall on our way to Thorny Bush. A mall! With escalators! air conditioning! McDonald’s! overpriced milkshakes! a Woolworths (I didn’t even know they still existed in real life)! a movie theater! We only had half an hour, so we had just enough time to enjoy the luxury of the escalator (twice, once up and once down, both times on the left), an ATM, and an overpriced milkshake (it was chocolate). Though we had been to shopping centers before this, we haven’t been inside a real mall with clothing stores and electronics and books and air conditioning and did I mention the escalators? I think it was our first real taste of non-bush life since we’ve come to Africa. And I loved it. Which just goes to show you that some things you can’t fully appreciate until you don’t have them for awhile.

Like game drives. (Good segue, wasn’t that?) In the last five and a half weeks, we’ve been on seven game drives. I’ll admit that once we got to Ngorongoro Crater for the last of the seven, I was a bit game-drived out. I was getting to the point where I wasn’t excited about seeing giraffes or elephants. And I’ll admit that during some of the longer stretches when we weren’t seeing many animals I may have rested my eyes a bit. Just a little bit. And I knew in my head that I really should have paid more attention because when were we going to be in Africa again? So that’s why I was so excited about the game drive tonight.

And I wasn’t disappointed. Our guide was excellent, the best one we’ve had so far. Also, since Thorny Bush is a private game park, we were allowed to go off-road to get closer to the animals. There’s nothing like seeing a buffalo up close that makes you really appreciate why they’re considered the most dangerous of all the animals (that, and being informed by our guide that unlike most other animals, if a buffalo charges you, it won’t stop charging you until you’re dead).

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A few of the over 300-buffalo herd out truck got in the middle of

 

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You can see the shadows of our heads in the upper left-hand side of the picture – this cheetah stopped four feet away from our truck and just looked at us

 

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I have a newfound appreciation for rhinos after seeing this family up close – especially because we literally ran over a small tree to get there

After tonight’s game drive, I’m really excited to spend an entire day in Kruger Park tomorrow. I’ll take that over an air-conditioned, escalator-ed mall any day.

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Picture of the Day: Lindi, guide extraordinaire, made us these snack packs for the road – of course I ate most of Kevin’s

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