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South Africa!

Jo'burg and the Big 5


View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

This blog posting got a bit delayed as we haven't had the best internet connections here...
We departed South America excited to see a new continent and one that we’ve been dreaming about for some time – Africa! We flew South African Airways for a surprisingly short eight hours from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Johannesburg, South Africa (or Jo’burg, as the locals call it). We landed early in the morning and after transferring to our hostel, slept most of the day trying to nurse our jet lag.
On day two, we headed out to explore Jo’burg via a city tour. There isn’t really a good public transportation system in the city and being there are several bad areas of town travelling without a local guide is discouraged. As a result, we opted for a city tour run by our hostel. The tour included a trip to the “Top of Africa”, the highest man-made point in Africa (the fiftieth floor of a skyscraper). We also stopped by the football stadium, recently renovated for the 2010 World Cup, and Soweto, a township in Jo’burg where Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela lived for a time; both Nobel Peace Prize winners. Lastly, we visited the Apartheid Museum, which was fantastic, probably the best museum we have been to on our trip. It was very well done and provided tremendous insight into a recent and dark era in South African history.
IMG_2314.jpg A township in Jo'burg
IMG_0213.jpg Picture at the Apartheid Museum
IMG_2316.jpg At what was Mandela's house in Soweto
South Africans, like Americans, share a history of racial discrimination and segregation, commonly known here as the Apartheid. While I generally knew of the Apartheid and Nelson Mandela prior to arriving in South Africa, travelling here has given me a much better understanding of what happened here in the last sixty-years and Nelson Mandela’s role. I found the Nelson Mandela exhibits particularly moving…incarcerated for 27 years as a political prisoner, released in 1990, and then elected president in 1994 on a platform of peace and forgiveness- his life story I felt was inspiring.

After visiting the sights of Jo’burg, we headed northeast to Kruger National Park for some wildlife viewing. Due to the highly inflated prices of Kruger safaris, we decided to see the park on our own. Fortunately, we met up with a medical student from UCLA (Zach) who had the same sentiment and the three of us set out on the wrong side of the road…and the wrong side of the car to Kruger.
We spent two full days driving around Kruger National Park (it is huge, supposedly the same size as Wales, however big that is) viewing the Big Five and so much more . . . impalas, buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, baboons, wildebeests, kudus, monkeys, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, lions…you name it. It was National Geographic up close and personal. It is amazing how big the animals are and how many of them there are in one place. We came upon two pairs of lions, both oddly close to the road, and they were huge! Like could-have-had-you-for- a-snack-in-a-second huge. I was most impressed by the giraffes, though I don’t think the boys shared my opinion. They look pre-historic with their enormous frames, almost like an awkward teenager, but they move around so gracefully. We managed to see four of the Big 5 (buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant), but we missed a rhino somehow, even though they are supposedly much more common than lions and leopards. We even slept in the park one night and went on a night drive with a ranger where we watched for “eyes” with a spotlight and stopped periodically to view hyenas, leopards and other nocturnal animals. Pretty awesome! On our last morning in the park, we went on a ranger guided walking tour. Getting out of the car in Kruger is generally not allowed as the wildlife may think you are either a threat or food, so either you go with a guide or in the “designated walking areas”. The walking tour was a nice stroll out in the bush with three rangers each carrying a semi automatic rifle. I never thought you could learn so much about the behavior and habits of animals by analyzing their poop (which is everywhere in the bush). Learned a lot that day.
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IMG_2507.jpg Our morning Bush Walk
IMG_2562.jpg The Impala stare down
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We made our way back from Kruger to Jo’burg via the Drakensberg Escarpment which is supposed to have some of the most spectacular scenery in South Africa. We snaked our way up the mountain for a view from God’s Window, but apparently God was not in the mood to show off the scenery, as the fog was so think we could hardly see the road in front of us. So, unfortunately, we missed out on that experience.
The drive back from Kruger was long and we were getting very tired, but the radio kept us entertained. In honor of the 4th of July, a local radio station was having an American accent contest where callers had to do their best impression of an American accent. The impressions had us in hysterics as most of them were pretty bad. The girl who won the contest was actually an American tourist…I think that was cheating).
The next morning we parted ways with Zach and hopped on a flight to Cape Town! We’ll write again soon :)

Posted by geldere 05:28 Archived in South Africa Tagged animals scenery kruger apartheid Comments (0)

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