28 December 2013

Lion Park. Until we meet again, South Africa. ❤️

Since we laid low yesterday we were more than ready to make the best of our last day in JoBerg.  From our list of options we decided on Lion Park.  It was close by and we didn't want to stray too far form the metro area since our flight departs at 8:50 pm.  By 11 we were on our way to see the lions with our driver Elliott.  Since we didn't see any in Pilanesberg I thought this would be a nice treat.  The lion park didn't disappoint even though there were some aspects I didn't like.  Hence the name, there were lions EVERYWHERE!  

The park gives you the option of driving your own vehicle through the park or driving with the rangers in the caged safari bus/ vehicle.  We chose to pay more to have the caged safari bus drive us through each section.  Once again we found ourselves on a bus with a diverse group of tourist.  The first section of the park was where the Giraffes, Zebra, Spring Buck, Wildebeest and others were.  This section was on acres and acres of open land, not nearly as large as Pilanesberg but definitely not confining like a zoo.  Our ranger did a great job teaching us about the animals.  The spring buck jump high spring into the air each morning to show their strength and agility.  They do this for two reasons.  The first, mating.  Chicks love strong healthy males whether you're human or a spring buck.  The males show off every morning to convince and remind the females what great genes they have to pass on to baby spring bucks. The second reason is to show predators that they are strong, healthy, and won't be an easy win.  Predators stalk their prey first.  They watch them to see who is the weakest.  They don't want to work any harder than necessary to catch a meal.  The strong will put up too much of a fight, so they want to attack the weakest (I guess humans and lions aren't too different huh?).   

After that section we moved onto the first lion section.  There were about 7 lions there, a male and 6 lionesses.  They were big, beautiful, strong cats... But unmistakably still deadly wild lions.  Now the worst part of this was all the cars in this section, there was an actual traffic jam.  The people who decided to drive their own cars were finding lions and parking next to them.  Some people would actual try to block the lion into a corner or section when they tried to move.  Really people?!  Do they not realize that little bit of steel and glass is not enough to stop the lion that you are stalking and trapping in.  Predators don't like being hunted even if it's just by someone with a camera.  defending themselves and their territory is in their nature...  Their wild nature.  The best part of this section is that some of the lionesses moved into a more open part allowing us to take pictures and video unblocked by civilian cars.  Just as we were filming the male came over, mounting a female and they started a very loud intense mating section.  We were all shocked and laughing at the lions getting it on full throttle like that.  9 year old Zane had his camera up taking pictures then said, "Wait... What are they doing? Are they...? Ewwwww!!!!!"  The look of disgust in his face was priceless.  He cringed and took a seat, he was traumatized and put himself in timeout.   I was hysterical I don't think I'd laughed so hard in years.  

The next section of lions was for the white lions.  White lions are albinos and they must live in captivity.  Their white flesh, fur, and bright blue eyes make it impossible to camouflage in the wild.  If they can't blend into their surroundings they can't hide from a hunt prey, they eventually starve to death.  In this section the guide explained to us that although the males are territorial it is the female that is more vicious and dangerous (sounding like humans again, huh?). He said the two weeks prior one of the females was upset for whatever reason and jumped on top of the safari bus, which is about the size of a school bus.  Thank goodness the roof of the vehicle is also caged.  He said they could see her weight bend the roof as she roared and swung her paws at the windows.  He said the people on the bus went into straight panic mode.  The ones in the front ran toward the back, the ones in back ran toward the front and everyone was screaming.  I'm pretty sure a regular car couldn't have held up in such an attack.  Eventually she jumped off and went on about her business leaving a group of traveling tourist scared for their lives. 

The third section also had white lions and blended lions.  There was so much traffic in this section that the rangers had to use their owns cars to chase the lions to various sections of the fenced in acreage.  If the lions don't move the cars don't move... The lion featured in the movie "White Lion" was in this section,  He was a beauty!!  Our ranger explained to us the these lions who are raised in captivity are more dangerous than the ones in the wild.  The animals in the wild fear humans and avoid them at all cost.  The lions raised in captivity are not afraid of humans but they still have a heart and spirit of the ruthless wild animal they really are.   There is no telling when or why they will snap. 

The next section featured 3 wild dogs.  Pilanesberg also had a family of wild dogs but we didn't see those either.  According to the ranger they are very hard to spot in the wild and they are arguably Africa's most hated animal.  They are actual dogs, not wolves or other doggish like creatures, they are just plain dogs.  They are just wild and untamable. Why are they so hated? Because they are savages. Unlike a lion who will suffocate its prey first a wild dog eats its prey alive.  They attack in a pack and eat the live flesh of their victim, it is a horrible violent  death.  People have tried to breed wild dogs with domesticated dogs but the dogs (and many times the breeder) meet a quick painful death.  The rangers can only interact with them for a few weeks after birth before the dogs start trying to bite and eat them too!

The last section had cheetahs.  They peacefully laid under the trees enjoying the shade.  The cheetahs are the favorites among the rangers.  He said they are highly intelligent even able to respond to names they are given.  He says a lion is unable to recognize its name no matter the training involved.  The cheetahs ended the game drive part of the park, so we all returned to the parking lot, got off our bus and were directed to the petting area of the park.

The petting area allowed 8 people at a time to pet lion cubs.  These cubs were much larger than I thought they'd be.  At first when we entered the cage with them Zane and I were like,"We're good.  We're just here to look..."  I felt like I was in Neiman Marcus window shopping knowing I had no business touching certain things I could buy, in this case it was just a big-ass lion cub.  Dude, on the other hand, was like,"I wanna touch that one!"  He walked right over and started petting a cub that was bigger than him.  He did so in the same way he pets the 3- legged dog at the 2B Happy lodge.  "Come on mommy!  Come on Zane!"  He encouraged us to pet the cub too.  I'm just going to be real here, when Dude tells you to do something you just do.  He just has that kind of personality.  Once we started petting the cub we saw there wasn't much to fear at all.  The ranger in that area announced,"Please touch them with some force.  If not they will think that your gentle touch is a bothersome fly.  They will then swat at your hand with their claws... you don't want them to draw blood." I then started pressing so hard I think I felt bones, Ha!

The petting area also let you feed Giraffe from the first section, Ostrich, and Merekats.  We washed our hands and were ready for lunch.  After a quick filling lunch we went to the gift section were I was able to buy postcards and a few other things.  Postcards are my affordable souvenirs for  family and friends and I had a list of addresses of those expecting a postcards from us.   Right before leaving the park Zane and Dude had a chance to be wild human child animals and jump around in the park's inflatable castles.  

Earlier in the day when we found our seats in the caged safari bus (still in the parking lot) I felt someone touch my arm from outside the bus reaching through the cage.  I looked down and saw a woman with a familiar face, by the time I realize who this out of place face belonged to she quickly waved and rushed over to a another nearby caged safari bus.  Once aboard her bus with her husband and daughter all waving at us I was in pure shock.  It was one of Zane's classmates and her parents from his previous school in Atlanta.  I wanted to give them all hugs and ask them a million questions.  It wasn't until we crossed path with them later on in the restaurant that we were actually able to talk and chat.  Saying that it's a small world is an under statement. 

Once we got back to 2B Happy we washed our faces.  We packed up the car and said our goodbyes to Patience before heading to the airport with Sibusiso.  He dropped us off hours ahead of time.  
While waiting in the airport 4 year old Dude saw a man walk by wearing a Nelson Mandela shirt. "Mommy look it's Nelson Mandela!"  In was shocked how was he able to recognize this world hero, and with such excitement!
- "Mommy when are we going to see Nelson Mandela?" 
- "Sweetheart he died three weeks ago." I tried to explain.
-"He died?!?!" He shouted horrified "Awwww!"
It was so cute, because he was genuinely disappointed.  I'm still shocked that he understood who Mandela was and that he is important to all of us.  Most of those lessons and talks were reserved for Zane.  With him being older and more mature we knew he could handle the heavy stuff.  It was never even a thought to share those lessons with Dude at such a young age.  We under-estimated our little guy. Travel truly is the best teacher.
Before we knew it we were boarding our plane for a 16 hour flight back to Atlanta.

Johannesburg was amazing, the boys were so much fun and such good company. After just 5 days the charm of South Africa had won over our hearts and I often find myself thinking about what I'll do next when I return next.  I'm hopeful to see what this beautiful country of so many rich ethnicities will become.  She is such a new democracy and the "born free" generation (children born after 1994 at apartheid's end) will help her live up to her full potential.  It was our pleasure and honor to experience South Africa, but something tells me that we are not done with her yet.  

26 December 2013

The top 5 at 8!!

Its 8 o'clock here and I wanted to share the top 5 things I like and don't like here in South Africa:

Top 5 likes: (in no particular order)

#1. The great people I've met.  This is always my favorite wherever I go.  The world is full of kind helpful people and they always make each trip special.  For me this always leads to life long friendship.  I still regularly talk to my very first host family in Ecuador from 1996!  These bonds are unbreakable.  If you followed our journey in Germany you may remember our host Thomas.  Well we communicate quite often, he just came from visiting AlphaPoppa's parents in the BVI while passing through the Caribbean. He will visit us this summer.  Life-long friendships are priceless!

#2.  African music and radio shows.  I have no idea what they are saying but the music makes you want to get up and dance.  As you know I'm a linguist so I love hearing different languages.  The radio stations keep it real speaking mainly in African languages not English, and that also is music to a linguist's ears!!

#3.  The safari.  Mind-blowing!  I detest zoos.  I'd feel the poor animals are driven to insanity in captivity, and it's just cruel.  All experiences with wild life should be done safari style.  Maybe we should close all zoos and take the money used to keep them open to send people on safari in Africa.  Ha! 

#4.  The history of South Africa although tragic it is still so hopeful! The people here peacefully overcame Apartheid.  They were gifted a humble leader who lived a full life and died honorably as an old man surrounded by family and loved ones.  The government and the people work together to right the many wrongs of the past.  The government has built millions of homes to house black African who were previously forced to live in shanty towns.  However, at the same time, more so in the countryside, people aren't waiting on the government and they are building their own beautiful homes.  Yes, South Africa has problems but they are actively being addressed.  It seems so hopeful.

#5.  Our accommodations at 2B Happy.  Yes it's like a peaceful oasis in the middle of chaos but that's really all that matters.  The price is unbeatable, it's clean and beautiful with the best customer service I've ever had! If I HAD to stay somewhere else I would  choose the upper or middle class section of Soweto.  There was busy but felt very safe, people were just walking around smiling going about their lives.  The homes were also beautiful.  

#6.  Yea I know I said 5, whatever... #6 the tourist industry is set up for you to hire a personal tour guide.  I haven't seen this in any other place.  They pick you up from your Johannesburg location in a car and take you from spot to spot explaining things and answering questions.  This is super cool because you don't stick out like on a tour bus full of tourist snapping pictures through the window.  Instead it's like being with a knowledgable friend who takes good care of you.  I would imagine that this is a great business for locals to start in a high-crime city.  All they need it a decent car (not too fancy), good drivers, and flyers at all the hotels and BNBs.  They keep tourist safe and make money informing people of their fabulous country!  

#7.  Yea, I know I said 5, whatever... #7 backpackers.  Now you always hear about people backpacking across Europe, but until I got here I'd never heard of people backpacking across Africa.  Well they do.  Lots of them!  Mostly Germans and other Europeans.  They just move from lodge to lodge seeing and learning.  How awesome is that.  From our American perspective it is "too dangerous", "Africa is so dangerous!" We seem to be the only ones who are thinking this.  From what I'm being told many countries are extremely safe, South Africa (outside of Johannesburg), Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Namibia, Botswana, and Uganda were some safe places listed in some of the "Backpack Africa" books I've seen here.

Top 5 dislikes: (in no particular order) 

#1.  The poverty in PARTS of Johannesburg.  Not all places are as grimy as the places around our lodge but this part and others like it are a bit much, when it comes to being poverty-stricken.  I wish we could just get out and roam around freely to discover.  I don't think that's a good idea in this neighborhood.  Everything we want to see is outside of this area, so we are just driving through anyway. 

#2.  There is still racial separation. In all fairness the same thing bothers me about the US so I don't want to point fingers at South Africa without pointing a finger back at us.   I see few Afrikaans (white South Africans) in JoBurg.  I hear they live mostly in Pretoria (the capital) and other areas they try to keep for themselves.  But who am I to judge I teach in a segregated school in the very city that ignited the civil rights movement. 50 years later we are still forcing people to mix.

#3.  The other things I don't like have nothing to do with South Africa, like not being able to speak the other 10 languages of this country.  I don't like that we don't blend in as well as I'd like.  That the weather was cooler than I expected and overcast/ drizzling most days. Or that I didn't make it to the beautiful city of Cape Town. So #3 really isn't a strong dislike that I can blame South Africa for.  It is just what it is.  And overall our short visit was sweet and fun. 

As always the good outweighs the bad.  So I must stop here.  If I think of anything else I will add it later, don't hold your breath though, it may take me a while ;-)


The reality is that when you travel with kids you move slowly and sometimes you just don't move at all.  Today was a non-movement day,  I woke up at 4am, of course.  The kids woke up at 5:30, by then the sun is high and bright.  The first thing out of Dude's mouth was,"Mommy, can we go on safari again today?!" We had a good laugh at that, he was dead serious though.  I don't blame him for wanting to return, it was great.  By 8am we were all fed dressed and ready for action.  The only thing was the kids were having so much fun playing with the Legos and lego characters they brought with them that I didn't want to disturb them. I let them play.  My only plan for the day was to go downtown and catch the city tour bus.  At about 10am we went to the main office and Sibusiso was there.  He offered to drive us to a nearby pharmacy to buy mosquito bite ointment for Zane.  He has about 3 mosquito bites that are driving him crazy.  Luckily South Africa has very little malaria, only found way out of the cities.  Pilanesberg game park boasts that it is malaria free.  So I'm pretty sure that health wise he's just fine but annoyed by the itching.  During our drive in the neighborhood we found all the pharmacies were closed, today is a public holiday so most big businesses are not open.
The block that our bed and breakfast lodge is on is gorgeous.  The surrounding area... Not so much!  This part of JoBurg is the HOOD.  Allen, a Ghanian renting the  cottage next to us in 2B Happy, loves his cottage but hates the area.  He says it frightens him very much and he always makes sure he's in before dark.  He says that some taxis were even nervous dropping him off here at night.  In his comparison Accra, Ghana is much safer, practically crime-free, and he is not used to a neighborhood like this.  He is right, it's  grimy and rough.  There are waaaay too many homeless people in this area.  Most of them are women roaming aimlessly with their children.  Barefoot and wrapped in blankets they look desperate for help.  I told the kids to remind me of how hard their lives are.  I refused to pay $75 for a video game for Christmas and they were devastated. (Btw that game would have cost almost half our safari tour!).  "So Zane.  You don't have a video game to play in your comfortable warm house that's stocked with healthy food, and that kid over there doesnt have shoes and apparently not even a home or bed.  How bad is your life again?"  Both kids looked sick at the thought and comparison, they could only really look at me shaking their heads, they looked embarrassed.  My daddy always told me, "Dont be the type of person who complains in life.  Whatever problem you have someone else is worse off and they are making life work.  Look at a guy with one leg.  He's got all the same problems you have AND he doesn't have a leg!  Don't focus on that problem, be grateful you have two legs!" Boys, the reality is that our luxurious first-world problems are fake and don't deserve the anguish that they are given.  Swallow that!
This area is busy and grimy and since we really don't blend in I didn't want to be hassled by going into town unsure if anything would even be open, as it is a public holiday.  I asked Sibusiso to take us back home and we would chill at 2B Happy today, I was getting sleeeeepy anyway.  The kids were happy to get back to their Legos.  We played War, Dominos, and Monopoly.  They played outside, they even played their own game at the front office pool table.  I, on the other hand, could barely keep my eyes open.  Before I knew it, it was 2 o'clock and I was lifting my head off the table just waking up.  "Ok boys let's go back in" I laid on that futon and was out, dude fell asleep with me and Zane joined in.  We needed that rest!  By the time we woke up it was dark out, our bodies are all screwed up.  We leave tomorrow night but I hope we can do something fun and affordable before we leave.  Let's see what life gives us in the morning! 

Below a map of South Africa.  It takes 24 hours to drive from JoBurg to Cape Town.  South Africa is very big even though to me it doesn't look too big on maps

Sorry I'm not able to rotate it on my phone app! 

25 December 2013

Cutting costs abroad

Just as we were exiting the gates of Pilanesberg Park Dude put his sweet little excited head on my leg and fell asleep.  He did good (smile). He even took some fantastic pictures.  Zane was hungry and ate all the snacks we had left. After about 15 minutes he too leaned over and was out for the count.  I knew they would wake up hungry so I bought some snacks, powerade, and two sandwiches at a gas station that we stopped at for the rest room.  I was still kinda freaked out about the bug incident that I forgot to mention in my last post.  Right before we saw the elephants on the safari (in the beginning of the safari) I thought I felt something go up my pant leg, I thought, I wasn't sure...  Then I saw those big beautiful elephants and was mesmerized.  Then I got caught up in the impala and buffalo.  Just as all the excitement was dying down I felt a flutter... in my pants... by my knee. I kinda grabbed it with my pants but really didn't feel anything.  So, I let go, shook my leg, and there it was.  It fell out right next to my sneaker.  Wtf is that?!?!  Zane looked like he was going to faint "Mommy did it bite you?!" "No. I don't feel anything" but who the hell knows, I've never seen a bug like that before, what if it has some strange bite that you don't feel, you just drop dead?  After all we were on an African safari!  I took a picture of it just in case it did something to me and I'd have to identify my assailant later.   Luckily as of now I have absolutely no problems just the Hebee-gebees.  See the pictures below, and "say hello to my little friend!" (In my Tony Montana voice).  Yikes!

Once we reached Johannesburg Patience and Sibusiso were kind enough to let me make a quick stop to the Pick'N'Pay super market.  It's a beautiful supermarket, unlike the rundown corner store I shopped at our first morning here. I walked around the store collecting food and snacks for 2 more days and nights of meals.  I also took a bunch of pictures and video.  Check out was confusing and not like anything I'd seen before.  I kept asking the cashier "What do I do next?" "Am I standing on the correct side of you?"  She was sweet and laughed at my awkwardness with me.  I explained that I'm truly not as dumb as I sounded with; asking what must be the dumbest questions she'd ever heard.  I explained that I was from the US and everything was just different. My total cost was $14.00 US.  I bought cereal, milk, bananas, cheese, hotdogs, eggs, and small bag of chips I still had my African ramen noodles at home and Zane was excited about trying them out.  So far my total grocery store purchases came to $24 and I bought whole pizza pie and a drink for $6 the previous night after our Soweto tour.  So far $30 for food, $200 for five nights at the bed and breakfast.  Not too bad! The tours were the most expensive part and that was mainly due to the safari, which was a priceless opportunity that would have cost me more had I done it any other way.  Approximately $200 in tours. 
Many people can spend more on hair, nails, car notes, designer clothes and hand bags, etc.  
One way Im able to afford all this is I have no car note. I drive an old car that gets the job done of getting us safely from point A to Point B.  My students (and bold coworkers) laugh at my 1988 Grande Marquise.  "Why don't you get a new car?!"  "You don't look like you should be driving a car like THAT!" "You should get better car than that. Like a BMW!"   Some people actually get offended at my car choice.  How dare I not buy into the status cuo? Sorry folks I just can't do it.  It's just a stinkin' car!  I really don't care what people think, and if I must impress someone I much rather them be impressed by my character than my car.  
In addition to cutting cost driving my old school "yacht" ( as I like to call its long steel body) I do my own nails and I don't buy designer anything.  My one luxury is getting my hair professionally twisted.   So every month I save money and I use that to travel.  
My tip to all of my readers is that if you're able to travel modestly like me, no need for expensive hotels, facials, and restaurants every night; you can pull this off.  The biggest expense will be your plane ticket.  But there are also ways of addressing that.  Fly on a budget airline, they have great deals nowadays. Spirit has deals from $300 from Atlanta into just about anywhere in Central America. You can also get a buddy pass, and fly on the standby list if you know anyone who works with the airline.  We actually flew here in standby.  So now you see this whole experience was not expensive at all.  You just have to be brave and take risks.  
Purchasing plane tickets is an art.  I'm signed up to at least five budget airfare web pages.  They sent me cheap flight deals daily. Groupon sells great package deals, especially if you like resorts.  Or some sites let you bid on same or next day tickets that the airlines sell to break even in last minute deals.  Once you see a cheap flight advertised buy it first, THEN plan the other details later.  Most people are afraid to buy then plan.  They rather plan, then buy.  I started out with that  mentally, but it made things complicated.  Hosts want to know the exact dates you'll be in their city, not when you "think" you'll be there. Waiting to buy tickets has also made me miss out on numerous great deals.  planning takes more than a day and often the surprise cheap rates are only offered for hours.  In this blog I will never add airfare into my final travel cost.  I dont add the airfare because my readers reside in many different parts of the world.  my flight from Atlanta can be drastically different from the airfare from the west cost.  I've found that it's just easier to add up the cost once I arrive at my destination and then let my readers search and add in their own ticket price for an estimate of how much they would have spent traveling in a similar way. 

So there ya have it folks!  I hope I've explained the main parts clearly enough for you to also use some of my tricks.  I have a generous addiction.  I want everyone I know to travel, even people who I don't know!  I find great joy hearing about others' travel stories, sharing contacts on good people who will help you see their country, and seeing people do things and be places outside of their comfort zone.  Most things I do while traveling are so cool that I want my friends and family at home to share in the experience with me.  To laugh with me, and sometimes at me, be afraid, grateful or mad with me.  Before this blog I used to come home and share stories and pictures with everyone, but this allows me to share our experience right away while letting loved ones know that we are alright while far from home.  I also hope the boys read the blog when they are older and have forgot the details, and say "Hey! We had a cool childhood!"  
Checkout the pictures below from my shopping experience and stay tuned for video post in YouTube.  

Our safari Journey

Everything went as planned.  Patience and Sibusiso picked us up at 5am (we were wide awake anyway, lol) and we headed out of the city. My first impression was that it looked like driving outside of Atlanta or any medium to large size city in the US.  There were malls, outlets, warehouses, trucking companies. Not much of a difference at all.  South Africa is well developed and the roads are smoooooth.  There were barely any cars on the road, perhaps for the holiday.  We all chatted for the first hour and a half.  Patience and Sibusiso are originally from Zimbabwe.  They moved here in 1994 right after Mandela became president and liberated the country.  They are from right across the border with South Africa their native language is a cross between Zulu and Xhosa.  It seems that these were all different but close tribes before European colonization put up borders and divided them. They mainly speak to each other in Zulu since they live here.  Each of them speak 5 languages, and can "get by" in 3 others; which isn't much considering many South Africans speak 11 languages. Yes, 11... eleven... one-one... that is not a typo.  

Once we got into our second hour of driving the scenery changed drastically.  It went from 95 South (our US east coast highway) to Lion King (Disney 😉). The vastness that I described looking out the airplane window was back, but this time I was in the middle of it.  If you've ever driven in Texas you may understand what I mean.  You look out the window and you know you are in a big place.  That Texas feeling is swallowed whole by what I'll call the Big Africa Affect.  For the last part of our trip our eyes were wide open.  

We passed a few mines during our journey to Sun City But these weren't copper mines and cole mines like at home.  These were platinum mines, golds mines, diamond mines!  Freakin' chrome mines and iron ore mines.  They were mining things I never even heard of.  What in the world is manganese or vanadium?!?!  We've all read that Africa is rich in natural resources but seeing it is much different than hearing it.  I was happy to see that the mines were not invasive looking and didn't create a nasty smell like in other places I've visited.  The Lion King feel overwhelmed the mine presence and that was a treat all in itself. We reached our final destination, an Engen (pronounced engine) gas station/ rest stop an hour and 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  The Game Trackers guide would pick us up from there, then take us into Sun City to get the other passengers and to enter the park.  While waiting we took time  to get snacks and water and to sit and talk with Patience and Sibusiso.   The gas station was crawling with what I think were tourist from The Middle East, other parts of Africa, and wealthy South Africans seeking to enjoy the sun city experience.  Despite what I was told before my arrival I don't look South African and I sometime get a few stares.  Im about 5 inches taller than most men, way skinnier than everyone else, I have a long narrow face, all the other women have round full faces.  Our cottage neighbor from Ghana even asked me If I was black (insert side eye glance here).  But at the gas station I did notice a group of young women staring at me and I couldn't help but look back.  They were in the latest fashion playing pop African music from their car with the doors open while taking group selfies in the parking lot.  The first thing I noticed was their strange complexion.  They weren't as dark as everyone else at the gas station, yet It wasn't a natural looking skin color.  Could they be?!  ... No ... Maybe?! Could they be the South African women who've become infamous for bleaching their skin to gain a lighter complexion.  I wonder if they were looking at me thinking I was a fellow bleacher.  I'll never know the answers to my own questions but that's what the whole situation seemed like to me. 

When the guide came to get us I was sooo stoked it was NOT a "closed vehicle" (aka a minivan) like the ones I noticed many tours operators were using.  cCuntless numbers of them stopped at the Engen station to gas up and get cleaned while we were waiting.  Our safari vehicle was a huge open bus-like, um... Safari vehicle!! Just like you imagine when you hear "safari vehicle" It was freakin' awesome!!! The driver then took us into Sun City. I could write a whole blog entry on Sun City alone.  Before arriving there I was unsure what this Sun City place was, due to the name I assumed it was a town or city, however, what it really is is a huge resort/ adventure park/ casino/ spa/ with Vegas like shows in the middle of damn-near nowhere South Africa.  Nothing in Orlando can compare to Sun City.  Long stretched of cars waited to enter and pay at its toll like entrance.  Again I felt, and later saw, the same bleached women staring at me from a couple of cars away.  Once inside I saw signs for zip lining, big show performances, water park, and spas, it was pretty overwhelming.  The driver stopped at the main office so I could make my payment and they we joined a group of about 10 people in an identical open safari bus vehicle. The others on the bus were from Indian, Korea, and an African couple and their son.  Zane, Dude, and I sat in the very back.  We drove though Sun City and exited it from a back exit onto a dirt road.  After about 5 minutes we were at the gates of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve.  Just as Patience told me anyone can enter the park in their own vehicle and drive around it.  But its humongous!!! And it has animals in it, not just birds but WILD lions, hippos, warthogs, elephants, zebra, giraffe and kudu!  What is a Kudu?  Why was this the first time I've even seen or heard of this very large animal!  What if you go in there in your little Ford four-door vehicle  and get a flat tire? You gonna get out and change it?  What if it gets dark and you get lost? More power to the many cars and passengers I saw driving through there like it they weren't in a real life game park. Anyway as soon as we got in the park we saw a herd of about 20 elephants walking like THEY WERE HOME... straight chillin'!!!  All of us in all of our diversity had the same damn reaction; mouths open, jumping up to stare in awe, then a photo frenzy. OMG it was amazing!  then on the other side we saw impala and a buffalo.  We were surrounded! It was A-freakin-MAZING.  2 minutes late we see a hippo and these things called marapustos (these big voulcher like birds).  At that point I realize that I better start taking notes because our guide was naming things I'd never heard of... A marapusto?! Huh? Warthogs were next. Then this Kudu animal. I still need to google search it.  It's bigger than a horse with a funny humpish thing on its back. Whatever it is it looked back mean-mugging us while the guide scolded the little boy in front of us for making animal sounds, "Stop making noises to attract the Kudu over here.  Because if it does come over it will snatch you out of this jeep and drag you into the bush!"  Needless to say no one, especially that little boy, made another animal sound the whole entire 2.5 hour game drive!  Ha!  After seeing the giraffe for some reason I started getting a little emotional, choked up even.  I couldnt believe I was able to get me and the boys to Africa on a safari.  We are not rich and this is something that the wealthy get to participate in, not just average-joes like us.  The boys were SOOO excited, beyond excited they took fantastic pictures and videos that I will share with you all in the near future.  Not only was this all a mind-blowing experience it was also educational for them, and me!  Times like these are our best bonding times.  This may have been the best $168 I've spent in my life.  I am so happy that things lined up so well for this to happen.  This was hands-down the best Christmas of my LIFE!  We saw just about ever animal species in the park 4 of the "Big 5" and much more.  We even saw a Dung Beetle rolling dung!!  The only animals we did not see were lions and wild dogs.  Our guide informed us that Lions are not everyday sightings, they are known to hide from a couple of days then they make a grand appearance when they want.  With the vehicle being SO OPEN the thought of a lion being as close as the giraffes, impalas, and really almost all the animals were seemed a little scary.  We will definitely go on another safari in the future so now we can look forward to a similar great experience with lions added in to make it even better.  Please enjoy the pix.  I also took lots of video that you will have to view on our YouTube channel.  Once I get home to post them.