16 HOURS TO SOUTH AFRICA

Almost a year ago to the day, Tony and I were finishing up our six-week sabbatical in Eastern Europe.  Towards the end of the trip, Tony told me, “I had so, so much fun on this trip!  But I think on our next one, I’d like to do something a little more adventurous and not just tour cities.”  I knew exactly where I wanted to take him.  And that’s how our trip to South Africa started…

I spent months searching for the right tour.  I don’t usually like doing tours, but I wanted to do a safari while we were in South Africa, so it was a necessary evil this time.  We had pinned down the week to go over Thanksgiving (to maximize our PTO time), and so the budget and date constraints made it tricky.  But my persistence paid off, and we were lucky to have found a tour that met all of our needs.

Over the course of the months following our return from Europe, we were able to turn our African safari adventure from a group of two into a group of five.  My friend, Nicole, my mother, and a family friend, Anne, were all excited to join us!  It was a great group.

The week before we left, Tony had been traveling for work.  He got home on Thursday night at around 7 pm, and he was not in good shape.  He was sniffling, and sneezing, and sounded absolutely horrible.  I put him to bed with lots of medication, hoping that he would snap out of it within 24 hours.  Unfortunately, he did not.  So we packed the tissues and colds meds and boarded our 16 hour flight to Johannesburg.  I sat next to him, hoping that the dry air from the plane, being recirculated minute after minute, wasn’t going to infest my delicate lungs.  I got lucky, and for the entire week, I was healthy as could be.  It wasn’t until the flight home that I was attacked by the same pesty bug that had knocked Tony down.

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Tony and his safari vest. He found this on Amazon.com and was SO excited about it!

We arrived at the Johannesburg airport, grabbed some cash from an ATM, and loaded up into the van that drove us 30 minutes to our hotel.  We had arrived to Johannesburg a day before our tour began.  This was intentional as I knew we would be tired…and I wanted to have the opportunity to experience the city before we ventured into the wilderness.  I have an unspoken and unwritten tradition of starting all my adventures with a local beer.  After a long travel day, nothing is better at setting the tone for an exciting adventure ahead of you than finding a local restaurant and taking that first sip of the bubbling local beer.  And so we did this.  The locals in South Africa call alcoholic drinks “dawps.”  And needless to say, we enjoyed our dawps as the perfect start to our trip.

We spent the next day exploring Johannesburg.  The city itself is not that exciting.  We were excited, though, to see some things related to Nelson Mandela as this was his hometown.  Most of the museums were closed since it was a Sunday, but we did see a few monuments and were able to capture some photos.  We also got to ride on the Gautrain, which is one of the top touristy things to do in Johannesburg.  It’s their new train system, and is actually pretty nice.  We ended our night the same way we did the previous.  We were in bed soon and could not wait to get out of the city and into the wilderness.  We wanted to see some animals!!

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Early the next day, we packed up our luggage and made ourselves cozy in the van that would drive us for eight hours north to get to the edge of Kruger Park.  I won’t bore you with the details of the day, just know that while the scenery was okay, it was a long and boring day.

After arriving in Hazyview, we settled into our cabins and found dinner at the only restaurant nearby.  We would frequent this restaurant over the next few days for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  The menu was pretty extensive, and Tony was excited to try all sorts of new food – spring buck, kudu, crocodile, and a variety of other creatures he felt the need to entice his pallet with.

The next morning, our driver took us further into the wilderness to see some of the views – mountains, waterfalls, cultural shops.  It was all very pretty, but the most exciting part was the baboons.  We were walking down a hiking path when we saw two baboons sitting on a rock just a short distance away.  We stood for awhile watching, taking photos, observing them in their natural environment.  And just as everyone turned their backs, I screeched, “They’re mating!  They’re mating!”  And with the quick turn of heads, a very subtle laughter could be heard.  Off in the distance, the male monkey’s bum bounced up and down for a few brief seconds before the female darted off.

Our eyes had been teased.  We couldn’t wait to get into the safari van the next morning and surround ourselves with lions and tigers and bears.  Or in South Africa – lions and rhinos and giraffes.

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