Saturday, November 7, 2015

Africa, Part 1

Driving on the right side of the car and left side of the road
WOW!!  I love Africa!  We arrived in Johannesburg Saturday evening and picked up our rental car. From there we left the airport to head towards a hotel we had booked for the night called the Birchwood.  Since they drive on the left side of the road, this was going to be an experience in itself. Justin and I came up with a plan that I would drive first and he would be my constant reminder of what lane to be in or aim for.  So off we went on our first 10 km drive.  Thank goodness I had Justin because as we were exciting the garage I approached one of those spiral ramps to go up or down.  I instinctively wanted to turn right and head up, even though the sign was pointing left and down. Justin told me to turn left.  Once out of the garage I merged onto the freeway, the road forked and we picked one since the GPS had not plotted our position accurately from being in the garage.  I picked the wrong one, so I needed to get off the freeway and back on in the opposite direction.  I got off ok and needed to take a right.  Again, Justin reminded me right is the far lane not the ones nearest me.  It was uncomfortably strange to be on the “wrong” side of the road, sitting on the “wrong” side of the car.  Also, every time I tried to signal I turned on the windshield wipers.  By the way, I should mention that the car we have has a manual transmission, so I am shifting with my left hand, although thankfully the gear box is identical to what I am used to.  With a few more twists and turns we arrived at the Birchwood.  This complex was ginormous, at least 1 square kilometer with probably 50 separate buildings.  We headed straight to bed.  

"To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live
 in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others"
- Nelson Mandela quote at Apartheid Museum
The following morning we went to the neighboring McDonalds for breakfast.  The kids were delighted to see that they had regular maple syrup like in the States.   In Italy their syrup was chocolate, caramel and honey, the same as for the sundaes.  After breakfast we headed over to the apartheid museum in Johannesburg.  I was surprised to see that Johannesburg reminded me of any large city in the United States.  The 30 minute drive from the hotel to the museum was oddly familiar feeling. The streets were clean, the buildings newer or well maintained, the roads were very nice, and had lots of skyscrapers. Once at the museum we had a very sobering experience.  I had not known that apartheid was abolished in only 1994, a mere 21 years ago.  Once entering into the museum, they have you enter one of two entrances, based on your ticket, you are randomly assigned “white” or “non-white”.  We could still see each other, but we were separated by metal cages.  Each cage contained the government identity cards of different individuals, depicting their name, gender, photo, and race.  It was interesting to learn that when apartheid became a law in 1948, peoples race changed to fit into different groups based off of the opinion of the official’s judgment, who had absolutely no training. Sometimes, family members were split apart. Throughout the journey in the museum we learned about the rise and eventual fall of apartheid.  In one room we read the “manner of death” of 17 men who had been detained by police because of their suspected alliance with the movement to abolish apartheid.  The excuses became more and more ridiculous as you read the list.  The first excuse was that the detainee tripped and fell, then further down some “fell” from the 9th floor, to someone slipped on a bar of soap, to finally a detainee slipped on a bar of soap and hung himself on the soaps rope.  Reading the list made me feel sick to my stomach that people had the audacity to come up with these flimsy excuses of the horrific beating and death of another human being.  As the museum progressed we learned about the final vote and abolishment of apartheid in 1994.  It is still such a young accomplishment.  We grabbed a drink at the museum snack bar and had a lengthy discussion with the kids about what they thought and how they felt.  I was happy to hear how appalled, offended they were and that such a thing could have existed.  I was happy to know that our children are growing up in a place that such laws don’t exist.  Once back in the car we started our 4 ½ hour drive to Marloth Park.  On the outskirts of town we did drive past a couple of shanty towns of “houses” built with old, forgotten wood, metal and fabric.  At the end of some of the rows was a port-a-potty.  I looked at these and was taken aback by the conditions of these “houses”, and wept for the people that must call this home.  The conditions are deplorable, and yet what other choice do they have?  Although parts of Johannesburg reminded me of the USA, this smacked you in the face reminding us that we are not in the USA. 
Shanties on the outskirts of Johannesburg

A couple of hours outside the city we stopped at a rest stop along the freeway.  We all went in to use the restroom and as I was entering the women’s room I noticed some animals outside the picture window.  I called everyone over and we noticed rhinos, buffalo, and emu.  We were all excited. After the restroom we headed outside towards the animals enclosure, where we also noticed zebra and ostrich.  We decided to grab a bite to eat and sit at one of the tables outside about 50 feet from the enclosure.  I was in heaven.  I couldn’t believe that I was in Africa, eating lunch, overlooking these animals.  I think by now everyone is sick of me saying, “I can’t believe we’re in South Africa,” or “I love South Africa!”  
Rhinos at the highway rest stop

Roadside flowers on the
way to Kruger National Park
After lunch we continued to Marloth Park, which is a rural, gated housing community with animals roaming freely, located just south to Kruger National Park (KNP).  Along the drive the scenery went from farm land with red earth to lush vegetation with trees that had gorgeous purple flowers.  It went from a flat straight road to a mountainous winding road. Lucky for me I got the first driving shift of flat and straight and Justin got the second part of twisting, winding hills.  By the way, I was still turning on the wipers every time I needed to switch lanes.  Oops.  Once in Marloth we spotted, warthogs and impalas.  We even had a warthog take a dip in the watering hole outside our front door. Although this is a housing community, we are not able to see any neighbors, you feel completely secluded.  The following day we decided to head to one of the entrances into KNP to purchase our “Go Wild” membership.  When we got into the car Eden asked to play minecraft on my phone (ugh).  I told her that we were not playing with electronics, but instead look outside and look for animals.  We pulled out of the driveway and headed towards the main road.  Our unpaved driveway is about 500m from the main road on another unpaved road.  All of a sudden Eden says, “I saw a giraffe it was tall and big, big, big.”  Justin stopped the car and we started to discuss if she saw it, no one else did.  I did say that Eden does know what a giraffe looks like.  I turned my head towards the side of the car and out the window I saw 3 large Kudus.  We ohhhed and ahhhed and then Justin reversed the car to see if Eden was right.  Sure enough just 5 feet from the side of the road was a giraffe eating leaves from a tree.  We could not believe that 1) the giraffe was so close, 2) Eden was right and 3) none of us had noticed it at all.  I told Eden how clever and smart she was to find the giraffe, she beamed with pride.  We sat and watched the giraffe for some time.  Once we got to the main road Joel noticed something along the side of the road.  We went over, and lo and behold, there were several zebras by the side of the road.  We also ended up seeing impalas and warthogs again. We couldn’t believe it, we hadn’t even left Marloth, what was KNP going to be like!!  We picked up our membership then headed to Komatopoort, a small town south of KNP, to pick up some groceries. We headed back to the house and settled in. 

Warthog in the watering hole by the front door of our bush hut.

The first giraffe spotted by Eden
Zebras near the house
The following day we went into KNP via Crocodile Bridge Gate.  Again, while leaving Marloth we spotted 2 giraffes and a herd of zebras.  While crossing the actual bridge over Crocodile River, Caleb spotted a very large crocodile with his mouth gaping open.  We passed through the gate and let the adventure begin.  Within the first 11km we saw lots of impala, warthog, zebra, vervet monkeys and a large bird that I haven’t figured out the name of yet.  At about this point Eden announced that she needed to pee “badly.”  Now, this is not a stop and pee on the side of the road kind of place, since there are wild animals everywhere.  So not knowing what to do we tried to put her off.  She complained loudly that she would not be able to wait.  So I got the idea to hang her hiney out of the car window and let her go.  We had paper for her to use so we decided to give it a try.  We waited until we came to a less vegetated spot so that we would be able to see better if an animal might be approaching.  Took her pants off, rolled the window down, sat her on the door frame and told her to go, she did NOT hesitant!  And man did she have a lot.   While she was in the midst of releasing herself, ahead of the car about 150ft, a buffalo came out of the bushes on the opposite side of the road.  Justin asked, “Do you think he smells Eden’s pee?”  I kind of chuckled and said no, but honestly I didn’t want to find out.  She finished just as the Buffalo got to the front of the car.  I pulled her in and rolled up the window.  The buffalo kept on walking along the driver’s side of the car, passing within several feet from the vehicle.  Wow.  I have to say that, that IS the most unique experience I have had when one of our children has needed to have an emergency potty break.  We got Eden dressed and buckled her up and off we went again. 

African Cape Buffalo taking a stroll down the road
Not much farther down the road, we came around a corner and Justin said, “Oh my God.”  Right there on my side of the car was a huge elephant eating grass.  He was only 5ft away.  It was incredible.  He just kept on eating and every once in a while stopped to watch us.  At one point he decided to also releive himself, and let that part of him all come out.  Danielle was quite appaled and the boys just started laughing.  Then the elephant started to shake his groove thing and Joel announced, “It looks like its wiggling.”  Wait it gets better.    Once completely out it was touching the ground, Justin was like, “I can’t believe it is touching the ground.”  Then, wait for it, it touched his tummy with it, and Joel exploded in laughter saying, “Mine can’t do that!”  We all started to laugh, well except for the elephant.  

Big Male Elephant

We continued along amazed at the animals we had seen thus far.  We came upon a herd of giraffes and then saw a mother, baby and juvenile elephant cross the street in front of our car!  I just kept saying, “I can’t believe it” and “I am having the best time.”  We had heard from another driver that a leopard had been spotted in a tree at a place called Dukes Watering Hole, so we decided to head over to that place and have our picnic lunch in the car.  We got there and unfortunately did not see the leopard, but we did see his fresh kill of impala that he had dragged up into the tree.  We had our lunch but no animals came around.  Later in the day, we ran into the same person that had originally told us about the leopard and she showed us a picture they had taken of the leopard in the tree with its kill right below him on a lower branch.  

The impala killed by a leopard and drug up a tree
We continued towards the Lower Sabie rest camp, by this point I , myself really needed to go and I was not about to stick my hiney out the car window.  Along the way we saw elephants and tons of hippos.  Man those guys are gigantic!  Once at the rest camp, we took a little leg stretching break and got some ice cream.  The rest camps here are fantastic, very fancy, I would not call it rustic. They are, by the way, surrounded by a very high electric fence, we even drove across a 12ft section of the road that had electrified wires running across it.  Once back on the road, we spotted more hippos in Sunset Lake, just outside of the rest camp.  Closer to the car I noticed 2 lumps in the water and asked, “Do you think those are hippos or rocks.”  Then all of a sudden my question was answered when first the head of one hippo emerged to take a breath, and then the head of another.  We sat and watched then for a while and then moved on.  

Hippos sunning by the river
Hippos in and near the river

Not much farther, a large group of baboons were crossing the street and continued down the road in the opposite direction of where we were going.  There were huge males, juveniles, and mother’s holding their babies either on their backs or cradled on their chest.  It was adorable.  Again these guys passed withi two feet of the car.  The kids were ecstatic.  There was even a large male who sat down on the side of the road that waited until everyone crossed the road, checked to make sure no one was left behind and then followed the group.  Huh, very interesting.  

A crew of baboons walking down the road
Monkey with baby nursing

A couple of kilometers later we turned the car around and headed back towards the gate we entered. We kept seeing giraffes, hippos, elephants, zebras, warthogs, kudus, and of course impalas.  Then we saw 4 cars stopped on the side of the road and looked  to see what they had spotted.  A LION.  A male lion with a full mane lying in the grass.  Sitting 10ft from the side of the road.  Holy cow!  The kids squealed in delight and we reminded them to stay quiet.  We watched as the lion got up walked about 20ft into the brush and lay back down again.  Truly amazing.  I really have no words to describe what we had just experienced.  In one day we had already seen so much.  We saw 3 of the big five, elephant, buffalo, lion, now we just need leopard and rhino.  Can’t wait for tomorrow. 

The Lion!

Lots of Impalas!

A giraffe posing for a photo

A couple giraffes walking by

Warthogs - The little ones get on their knees to have their mouths reach the ground

Taking a dip in the splash pool to cool off

1 comment:

  1. We just return from our trip and we were starve for your news and comments, we are happy that you enjoyed Africa so much and the many animals you saw.