Wednesday was our first full day of Kruger National Park. If you don’t know anything about Kruger National Park, it is very comparable to Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. It is around the size of Israel, which doesn’t make imagining the size very easy. Let me just say this- it is huge! At the park you are allowed to drive your own car through or you can rent a jeep while you are at the park. We rented a safari jeep and it was a great experience. There are camps throughout the park where you can stay overnight, so each day you can explore something and someplace different. We stayed at Satara, as mentioned in the last posts. Pictures of the camp are also included. Throughout the camp there are also rest stops and little stores along the way. At Kruger, you aren’t allowed to leave your vehicle, as you are in the wild. However, you get so amazingly close to the wild animals, you forget you are in a car.
Wednesday we drove about 10 hours total throughout the park. Looking back now, 10 hours was a crazy amount of time. However, I was never bored! Everything was so new and amazing. Even if we didn’t see anything for an hour or so on end, I still was amazed at the fact that we were enjoying the weather, wildlife, and each other’s company. I won’t lie, a couple times in the afternoon my eyes grew a bit heavy and I probably dozed off a little. Now I know what you’re thinking- how in the world could you fall asleep while in a safari jeep in South Africa? Well, it’s a pretty simple answer. Between the jet lag and the early mornings/late nights I was dragging pretty good. Even as a college student I wasn’t prepared for the lack of sleep. It was rough but I made it through.
We saw a lot of elephant, zebras, wildebeest, and impalas at the park. Some of the other interesting animals we saw there was the Greater Kudu, Waterbuck, hyenas, and giraffe! Seeing these animals up close absolutely blew my mind- and still does. It still feels surreal that I was in South Africa so close to these animals.
December and January are the main months for newborns and births. So sorry in advance for all of the baby hyena pictures- I couldn’t get enough of how sweet they were!
Tuesday morning was still spent at the Pridelands bush camp. We woke up at 5 AM to be hiking through the woods at 6 AM. We took about a 3 hour hike in search of spotting wildlife. We split off into two groups. On the hike, I got the chance to follow wildlife based on following their tracks. I had never followed tracks before, but it was amazing to learn how. I never realized how hard it is to track animals on different terrains. We tracked a giraffe for about 2 hours and never found it, but I could have followed the tracks for another 2 hours. There is so much detail to pay attention to, it is like a mystery and you have to piece together the story. I was very surprised as to how much I actually enjoyed tracking and the attention to detail it takes. We saw many different types of tracks and learned about a lot of animals.
After finishing our morning hike, we got packed for the transfer to Kruger National Park. We didn’t do many activities this day as the drive through Kruger to the Satara camp took most of the day. Kruger National Park is the size of Israel so it seemed as if you could drive through the park for days. It took around 3 hours for us to get to the Satara rest camp from the gate that we entered. I slept pretty good at Satara as we finally had air conditioning again- thank God!
Monday brought an early morning at the bush camp. We drove to Moholoholo which is another wildlife rehabilitation center for animals- their sole purpose was to rehabilitate with the ultimate goal of releasing the animal back into the wild. We had a chance to meet with the owner and talk with him prior to touring the facilities. His name was Brian and he had such a passion for wildlife. He never had any formal training, but has spent his entire life around wildlife and therefore is still very knowledgeable when treating animals and their injuries. We had a chance to tour the clinic where veterinary practices take place. It was amazing how small the facilities was as well as how there is no formal training or set of standards that needs to be practiced there.
The tour itself was very cool to see the animals and hear about their stories as to how they ended up in rehabilitation at Moholoholo. There are two very interesting animals they have at Moholoholo. One of which is their Southern ground hornbill bird. His name is Dodo and he loves the ladies- human ladies that is. It is innate for these types of birds to give a gift (usually a rock, stick, or some other mess of objects) to a female as a mating offering. If the female accepts, the two birds mate for life. However, Dodo thinks that he is a human and therefore continuously offers women gifts, in hopes of having a mate. If accepted by a human woman, he wouldn’t mate with another Southern ground hornbill. Poor guy. Can’t imagine trying to give women gifts on the daily and never having them accept the gifts. Must be a depressing life. Another interesting animal they have there is a Honey badger named Stoffel. He is the next Houdini. Over the years he has escaped numerous enclosures. He even went so far as to manually unlocking gates with his paws. Youtube him for videos! When the facilities introduced a female into the enclosure in hopes of calming him down so he wouldn’t attempt to escape as much, he used the female as a stepping stool to spring free! The entire time we spent around his enclosure, he was still searching for ways to get out. Maybe next time, Stoffel.
The next stop for the day was one of the most amazing experiences of my South Africa trip. We visited Jessica the Hippo. For those of you that don’t know Jessica, she is a wild hippo that was raised by humans. She has a website if you want to look her up. She was found on the edge of a river near the home of Tonie and Shirley Joubert, washed away from her mother by a flood the same day she was born. Her umbilical cord was still attached even. Tonie and Shirley took her in and raised her as their own child. They never put her in an enclosure however. She is free to roam wherever she wishes. What’s amazing is that even after 18 years, Jessica still returns to the Joubert home every night to sleep and for meals that tourists can feed her. She can even open their doors and she walks into their home when she is hungry. They’ve had to replace about 15 beds on account of Jessica making herself comfortable in their home. She even protects her parents- her parents swim with her in the hippo and crocodile infested river behind their home. One time, a crocodile decided it was going to come in for a closer look and Jessica killed the crocodile to protect her mother. This amazed me.
Jessica eats sweet potatoes and drinks rooibos tea. When you visit her, you get to feed her and give her drink as well as petting her and kissing her. This was one of my favorite locations because it was absolutely amazing to see Jessica’s relationship with humans. She is so intelligent. I never thought I would ever in my life to have such an interaction with a wild animal. She amazed me. She was very gentle with everyone that interacted with her. Just a look between her and a human is communication enough. It is amazing how tight of a bond she has grown to have with the Jouberts. I would love to return back here another time. This was a magical experience.
Night time brought another game drive and an outdoor shower. I really enjoyed the night time game drives at the Pridelands. It was really cool to be driving through the South Africa wildlife as the sun was going down around us. I got a bit more sleep the second night at the bush camp, but still not a full night’s sleep as I was listening to hyenas howling once again as I fell asleep. It is still crazy to think that I camped in the wilderness halfway across the world.
Sunday brought a great breakfast at the Karula and the world’s best orange juice! Nothing in South Africa has artificial sugar, so their orange juice was fresh and natural. It’s making my sweet tooth sing as I type this. We hit the road right away in the morning to transfer from White River to Hoedspruit.
After arriving in Hoedspruit, we visited the Nyani Cultural Village. This isn’t a real village. It serves the purpose to teach tourists and visitors about South Africa’s tribal history and the movement of their different groups because of “white men”. We spent about 2.5 hours there. The employees there dress in traditional tribal outfits as they tell a tale of the history through song and dance. There were so many emotions in their songs, but I could tell they all enjoyed their job and sharing the history with us. We even joined them for some dancing, which made me realize how out of shape I am. All of their songs are very powerful and their dances are so fast, I don’t know how they survived the dancing along with the heat!
The afternoon at the Nyani Cultural Village brought lunch. This however, was not a normal lunch. There was no silverware, and so hands were used (preferably the dominant hand as the non-dominant is used for other things*). Lunch consisted of chicken, mealie pap (see picture), squash, and a the nice little surprise of a caterpillar. And yes, I did eat the caterpillar. When in Africa! I don’t think I would do it again but it was a great experience that definitely got me out of my comfort zone. For those that want to know- the taste was very chewy (the head was crunchy) and the aftertaste honestly tasted of dirt.
After finally eating some of my meal, we had to leave as we had an appointment for another location- The Endangered Species Centre. This center is trying to rehabilitate animals as well as raise numbers of endangered animals by breeding within their facilities. They especially have a stress on cheetahs within their facility. We rode in a safari jeep while we were there that allowed for up close encounters with their animals.
After visiting the animals at the Endangered Species Centre, we transferred to the Pridelands for the next two nights. The Pridelands is a bush camp located on a private game reserve. To explain, a private game reserve is land owned by a person or persons in which they own the animals on their land as well. We stayed in tents with no protection from the wildlife outside. First arriving I was very scared to stay in tents knowing that nothing was stopping lions or elephants from running right through/over our tents. We had no protection. However, the animals are really put off by the human sounds and smells of the camp. They are becoming more and more familiar with it, but it was time for me to put on some big girl pants.
This trip as a whole really allowed me to go outside of my comfort zone, especially between trying the caterpillar and staying at the bush camp. I had never gone tenting in the wilderness, let alone in South Africa with no protection from their megafauna wildlife. This was an experience I will never forget. I don’t think I slept very much, if at all. I was too worried about being pummeled by an elephant or eaten by a lion. I even heard hyenas howling all night, which was a little scary.
Besides being scared actually sleeping I loved going for game drives (safari rides) at the bush camp. Since the private game reserve is privately owned, when you are on the drive you are allowed to leave the jeep and walk around. I thought this was super cool because we ended up just crossing paths with a giraffe as we left the jeep. I also thought looking at the different animal tracks was really cool- we got to see giraffe and impala tracks! I also really enjoyed spending the nights around the fire- it was time to eat dinner and to discuss the events of the day and really enjoy the wildlife around us!
Thursday was leaving day. I had a lot of mixed feelings about leaving. I had never been outside of the U.S. so it was nerve wracking. I left the Green Bay airport pretty excited- without really thinking of the 20 hours of plane time ahead of me. Note: prior to this trip, the longest I had spent in a plane was 4 hours, so I was about to have a rude awakening.
Flight one: Green Bay to Chicago
This flight was super short (1 hour) and just got me more excited. After getting past security at Green Bay I was very excited. I couldn’t wait for what was in store, regardless of the old man in front of me on the plane farting and the man behind me talking to himself. You never know what you will find in Green Bay.
Flight two: Chicago to London
Best advice to give and take when traveling across seas- SLEEP ON THE PLANE. That flight was super unsuccessful for sleep. I was uncomfortable and way too excited to sleep. So my 7.5 hour flight ended in maybe 1 hour of sleep.
We had about a 9 hour layover in London so we took advantage of it and did a walking tour of London. I finally got to check off riding in a double decker bus off of my bucket list. We visited Trafalgar Square and Leadenhall Market and ate dinner at a restaurant called Prezzo as well. The architecture of London absolutely blew my mind. It is so pretty. We walked a good couple miles that day and somehow were still awake enough to get on the last flight.
Flight three: London to Johannesburg, South Africa
The longest flight. 10.5 hours. This flight seemed as if it would never end. I tried to sleep but only got a couple hours between my movie watching. The flight dinners were fairly good, but I could tell my stomach and my body were taking tolls from the time in the air, and the pressure changes due to elevation. I was ready to be landed in Johannesburg.
Landing in Johannesburg was amazing. We landed when the temperatures were around 85F or so. It felt so good to be in warm weather in the middle of January. I couldn’t believe I was finally halfway across the world ready to take on South Africa. We were picked up at the airport by our tour guide/wildlife expert Andy. We got to exchange some money at the airport for goodies and food. Note: Those of you traveling in the future, use ATMs at gas stations (petrol stations) and at the airport. The exchange rate and interest rate at the businesses within the airport are a lot more expensive!
Outside of the airport it was still very much visible that apartheid still affects South Africa. The roads of Johannesburg were recently done as well as many buildings. However, mansions and huge houses were visible next to shacks that were standing only by small pieces of metal and plywood stacked together. It was a really sad sight to see that in their country, you were either very rich or very poor.
We definitely weren’t in America anymore as there were hundreds of people walking along the roads, all hitch hiking for a ride. There aren’t many cars within the city, it is mainly taxis. Their taxis are vans that hold around 14 people, but many of them carry 30 people at a time. We drove to lunch at a restaurant called Wimpy, which is somewhat similar to a McDonalds, except you sit and order from your table. I ordered a grilled cheese (cheese sandwich) and chips (french fries). I barely ate any of my food, my stomach was still trying to realize that we had finally landed!
We drove for a couple of hours in our van and finally reached our destination for the night- the Karula Hotel in White River. This hotel was so cute with little cottage-like rooms. I got WiFi here and was able to reach out to some people and let them know where we were. Dinner was served shortly after. Note: Their meals are more spread out in terms of time. Breakfast is served around 7/8, lunch is usually around 1/2 and dinner isn’t served until 7/8 normally. This was quite the adjustment, but my stomach didn’t know what time it was or when I should be eating anyways. Dinner at the Karula is a five course meal, and all the food there was amazing!
The meal for the first night was: potato and leak soup, baked hake fish with lemon, roasted beef with roasted potatoes and carrots and peas. The fourth course was apple crumble with hot custard on top (I think I gained 5 pounds just by smelling it!). The final course for the night was cheese and crackers, meant to clean the palate after dinner. After all the food and travel, I was ready for bed. The first night there it stormed really bad and I struggled to sleep but got enough to get by.
I am finally back on U.S. soil. It feels great to be back home at least a couple days before my classes start again!
I will be posting about everyday we were in South Africa like the locations and sites as well as the activities we did! I should mention now that I will not be posting pictures of rhinos at all. The rates of poaching are increasing and threatening the lives the the rhinos there. So I will not be posting their pictures to protect their locations. Thanks for understanding!
Happy New Year!
Well, here it is-
My first blog post. I was not planning on it coming out this late but I have been busy preparing for the trip. Busy preparing, but somehow still not packed or fully prepared. Leaving for South Africa on January 3 seemed like such as distant thing a couple of months ago. I can’t believe I am finally two days away. I am actually really freaking out but once I set foot on the plane I think I will finally be comprehending that I am traveling halfway across the world, having never set foot outside of the US! I am pretty sad to be leaving my family and I wish that they could experience this with me. However, I am pretty proud of myself to be doing something out of my comfort zone. I am hoping that my family gets to read this blog. Hopefully I will be able to blog while I am traveling, but even if I don’t get a chance I will still continue to write about my trip even after I am back.
I have never been a fan of packing so I am struggling pretty hard to pack for a trip that lasts almost two weeks and takes me across the US border. I will definitely be forgetting something and knowing me, something important. Hopefully it won’t be too important that I could pick it up at an airport or gas station (petrol station as it is called in South Africa).
Looking forward I think I am most excited to just take everything in. This being my first international trip it is a little scary and daunting, but I want to show myself that I set my mind to it and I can do it- culture shock, heat, and all! I am really excited to try the foods there- it is a very meat heavy diet. I am particularly looking forward to trying some different kinds of jerky- possible ostrich? I am also looking forward to all the interactions with the animals. If you know me, you know that I love animals and any chance I get to interact with them has me freaking (in a good way)! I know for sure I’ll get a chance to hug and bathe an elephant as well as feed and kiss a hippo. For those who want to check it out, we are going to see Jessica the hippo. Google her. She has her own website. I can’t wait. I already feel my cheeks hurting from how huge my smile will be. On the top of my blog page you can see Blyde River Canyon (it’s the Grand Canyon of South Africa) and I will be traveling and hiking there as well. Cannot wait for the pictures and the views.
As for now, I have a lot of packing and preparing to still do. Can’t wait for you all to follow along the journey!