Out of Africa
After 14 days, over 50 elephants, a dozen lions, and countless World Cup 2010 billboards - we are back from a fantastic vacation in South Africa.
We tried springbok steak, slept in a home guarded by three ostriches, drove 800 kilometers on South Africa's superb highways, saw our first wild elephant (and rhino, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, hippo, and hyena). I had a dinky point-and-shoot camera with a 25mm lens and just 3x zoom, so thankfully the animals cooperated by coming up close to the vehicle to get their pictures taken. John was ready to zoom off if inquisitive giraffes came too close, but we wondered whether our car rental insurance would cover elephant damage.
We successfully resisted the touristy urge to cram tons of sightseeing into our two-week trip, and visited just two places: Johannesburg, and the area around Kruger National Park. In our too-short stay, we visited friends, took in a good dose of South African history, and saw an amazing number of wild animals up close. I can now identify lion tracks and elephant poo - or rather, "spoor" and "dung". Our ranger would be horrified if he heard me call it "poo." And I'm still far from being an expert at classifying antelope.
Johannesburg was an interesting mix. Posh and cosmopolitan in Sandton City; semi-abandoned and in need of revitalizing in the old downtown; still relatively quiet and full of bird life in the suburbs, where Kathy's good friend Mathew offered us a guest room at their lovely family home. World Cup 2010 posters were everywhere! John scoped out the stadiums and moaned that we were a year early.
South Africa has great roads (that is, except for the areas undergoing roadwork for the World Cup). After being car-less in expensive Singapore for the past four years, it was refreshing having a smooth highway all to ourselves. In fact, this Africa trip may end up costing us a lot if it entices John into buying a car! We opted for a practical Corolla instead of a high-performance BMW - I figured we'd save on speeding fines, and anyway typical game-viewing speed is below 30kph on Kruger's unpaved roads. We got one speeding ticket in 10 days of driving... and that, only because John overtook a queue of 3 light vehicles and an agonizingly slow truck, uphill, on a highway bridge, while passing a parked police car. No hope of getting out of that one.
(John says - at least it wasn't curved, at night, and raining!)
We booked a variety of places - a lodge at the exclusive Sabi Sand private game reserve, a cozy guesthouse with two resident hippos, and regular bungalows at Kruger National Park. The view from our room:
But the absolute highlight of our trip was the Wolhuter Wilderness Trail that we booked in Kruger. We spent three nights out in the bush, in a section of the park that is closed to regular tourists. Eight guests doing the walking trail, two armed rangers, one great cook. Oh, and Corlia, our ranger's wife.
Living in a tiny city-state, it is hard to comprehend the vastness of the African bush. On our wilderness trail, we had just our group (and the resident Section Ranger), alone in a wilderness section more than half the size of Singapore. No other sign of humans or human habitation in sight. And that section in turn was just a fraction of the total Kruger National Park, which is over 350 km long and an average of 60 km wide... close to two million hectares. How many hectares is Singapore? About 60,000.
We saw a tiny corner of a tiny pocket of Africa. It left us humbled and feeling very small... insignificant in the thousands of hectares of African wilderness, and the tens of thousands of years that humans and animals have co-existed on this planet.
More stories to come.
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