25 December 2013

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.  

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