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.  

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