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Safari Time
Johannesburg, South Africa

Aug 20, 2005

14:00


After almost three months in europe, it was time to hit continent number 2 - africa was calling. I got several mixed reactions when people found out that I was including south africa in my trip. I was suprised by how many people were suprised by the choice - south africa is a big tourist destination - for non americans it turns out. The entire two weeks I was there, I met a total of 4 americans. It is far away and as I was discussing with another american, I think people still view it as an exotic and lion filled place. I actually have reservations writing this entry, the typical travel writers dilemma, because I absolutly loved it there, and would encourage you to go, but it was nice not running into other americans all the time!

While some were impressed I was including it on my trip, I'd say the wordly or well informed, actually were concerned. Johannesburg is actually considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world (don't ask me by who or what definition of dangerous they used), but the travel guides are FULL of warnings. It actually got to the point where I was laughing because the warnings seemed so over the top. I ended up not really spending much time in Jo'burg, but did spend a day in a suburb before I went on my safari. That's right, I did an african safari - but more about that later. i stayed at an inn run by the safari company for on night and even though it was in a suburub, we were warned about going outside at night and down certain streets. Even on my ride from the airport I noticed something interesting: everything, and I mean everything was behind a gate or a fence. And not just a gate or a fence, but one with pieces of cut glass on top, or electrified. Every place was surrounded by them. The only place I could find that wasn't surrounded was a gas station, but even that had two armed security guards. I was never in fear though, I actually just found it incredibly interesting and still wonder what it's like to live in a place where there is absolutly no trust. I'll tell you one thing - I'm considering investing in the security field in South Africa because they have to be doing well.

On to the safari - I chose a five day tour through Kruger national park and a private game reserve to see the big five (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, rhino). I actually chose the company on a whim, but it turns out they are one of the longest running and have the most tours, and I loved them. There were 16 of us on the tour and I was the only american. We traveled in this huge bus like thing from Jo'burg to a private game reserv right next to Kruger. There was recently an initiave to knock down all th fences between kruger and the private reserves, so now the animals from kruger are free to roam into the privat parks. The drive to Kruger was beautiful - the scenary in africa was nothing like i had seen before, although i was told by th aussies that it looked a lot like the outback. When we arrived in the camp, there were tents on platforms with attachd bathrooms that would house two people. The girl I was paired with ( a 24 yr old Canadian who had spent 7 weeks volunteering in an orphanage in Ghana) and I decided we wanted the tent farthest away from everyone and most out in the wild. That's right, all the animals roaming in this park were also free to roam around out tents. The next day we went on a safari walk - oh yes on foot - and no our guides carried no guns. For awhile we saw nothing then all the sudden the guide stopped, I was two people behind him, I look around and see two HUGE black figures and tails moving, the guide does an about face, his face has a look of fear, and he tells us to turn around. Well turns out we walked straight into two bachelor buffalo, and I quote the guide, 'the encounter could have turned fatal'. What a way to start the morning! Then we go on to walk close to giraffes and zebras, and then six minutes after seeing them, we get back to our tent. In the camp monkeys had gotten into our food even though lids were on and everything was closed, they just tore right through it.

(To be continued ... I'm getting kicked off the computer).

So needless to say, we are right near the wildlife. That night my tentmate and I are talking and we here this LOUD noise, and the breaking of bushes RIGHT outside our tent. All the flaps on our tent were closed so we couldn't see what it was, but it sounded big and very close. Kristen (my tentmate) says to me ' what are we going to do? Derek (our guide) is way on the other side of the camp!' It was quite thrilling. In the morning we find out 7 buffalo came right through our camp. Talk about being right next to the animals!

That night we went on a day-turn into night safari ride in open air vehicles. It was quite the roller coaster ride in those vehicles on dirt roads all through the park. The 'spotter' was amazing at finding animals - so much so that I began thinking he had planted the animals in certain spots. He even spotted a chameleon high up in a tree - in the pitch black of night! Someone commented there were probably thousands of them in the tree and I couldn't stop laughing.

The next day we moved on to Kruger park where there are rules in terms of driving so we couldn't off road like we did in the private park. We got to a watering hole that had hippos, giraffes, zebras, wilderbeasts, elephants, impalas (like deer), crocodiles, turtles, and so much more. It was an amazing sight to see all the animals interacting. We sleep in a camp in Kruger that night and on the way to camp we saw wild dogs. You're probably thinking what I was - wild dogs, so what. Well they are the rarest animal in Africa and my guide was so incredibly excited to see them as he's only seen them one other time in his life.

The next morning we awoke early (actually every morning we were up by 5:30) to get a good chance of seeing lions. Hours went by and we didn't see any, so we were all getting disappointed. Then all the sudden we see a lioness RIGHT next to a car on the side of the road. We all started snapping pictures. Then we find out a bit further up there's a herd of lions surrounding a buffalo, trying to kill it. The sight of a buffalo surrounded by 7 lions all hidden in the bushes, and the interaction between the buffalo and lions statigizing for positions was just incredible. We watched for an hour and the lion did jump on the buffalo and left a huge mark, but the buffalo wouldn't give up without a fight and in the end got away. It was like watching one of those nature programs - but it was about 20 feet (not exhagerating I promise) in front of my face. Absolutly thrilling. Then we went on to find leopards, blah blah blah :)

I never thought of myself as an animal person but the safari was just beyond belief for me. I highly higly recommend going on one, and also the company I went with: Drifters. They gear their trips to 18-55 (so some of you better hurry up!;)) and even getting into the truck is an adventure so you do have to be on the younger side.