Things I will never be able to do again: go to a zoo. Thanks a lot Africa.
I will honestly never be able to go to zoo again without thinking about how I want to open all of the animals cage doors, put them in first class on South African Airways, with a stop in Senegal for gas and then set them free to live forever in Kruger National Park, which I am dubbing the ultimate zoo. I cannot even begin to put into words how magical this whole experience was.
I will say that before I left I was of course extremely excited but I was crazy nervous also. I had never been to Africa. This was a whole new continent and as Americans, I feel like we have a lot of preconceived notions as to what Africa is like: a lot of animals, women with baskets on their heads and AIDS if I am being 100% honest. I am by no means trying to be rude or insulting but I bet if you ask people on the street in America what they think of when they think of Africa those are some of the things they will come up with along with The Lion King. I got a phone call from my brother before we left because the military had handed him a packet of info (all very useful but scary as well) of things to look out for when we are in South Africa: don’t get money out at the airport as it will result in your getting held up and gunpoint as well as reminders about diseases and how 25% of the country is infected with AIDS and in particular the region we were going to has crazy rates of cholera. Great, I thought to myself, what have I got myself and my family into. I hung up with my bro after telling him I am sure this is going to be awesome regardless even though his question of why didn’t we just go to Hawaii to go shark diving was still ringing in my head.
But. No country has surprised me more than South Africa. Everyone I met was awesome. They all had an awesome sense of humor and were total jokesters – whether they had a serious job in airport security or were the awesome staff at the camp – everyone was so funny. While they do in fact have animals and there are people that I met or walked by that were fighting some disease, as an American, I will no longer have those preconceived notions about this amazing country and likely the whole continent as well (already thinking I want to go to Kenya and Namibia).
We landed in Johannesburg after 17 hours trapped on an airplane. We waited for the shuttle from our airport hotel to pick us up, checked in, ate some dinner, chatted at the hotel bar and passed out. The next morning we hopped on an hour long flight to Hoedspruit airport which is right outside Kruger National Park to be transported to Hamiltons Tented Camp. When we arrived, our driver was there with my name on a sign and I could not have been more excited. There was even a warthog there to greet us in the parking lot. It was about a 2.5 hour drive to our “camp” and I was already amazed at how many animals I had seen. Our driver was awesome and taught us so much about animals I had never even seen before. Seriously, I was cursing my parents for not teaching me animals past what our country has. But at the same time, I was excited to learn more and take it all in. I say camp in quotations because this was no camp. Or if it was, it was the most luxurious camp I had ever been to in my life. Even the mosquito nets around the bed were whimsical and an outdoor shower while baboons play in the trees right above you – seriously awesome. It was so majestic listening to a lion less than 50 yards away from you make noises as you fell asleep or hearing the hippo yawn right outside your door while the baboons are sliding down the roof of your tent. Magical.
Above: (Hoedspruit Airport – third longest runway in the world apparently, complete with warthogs)
Below: Our driver explained that the animals use the roads because it is the clearest route. Makes sense to me. It is also where they always stop for a poop.
When we finally got to the tented camp, we briefly signed a few waivers, and before we even saw our rooms, we were whisked away on our safari land cruiser with our awesome guide, Tuhan and another fun couple who had already been there a few days and were so nice to be so kind and tell us everything we really needed to know. I didn’t bring my big camera that night because I really didn’t have time to grab it. But within the first 20 minutes, I knew that the amount of time I was going to be here was not going to be enough for me. For a normal person, yes, the amount of time we were there was likely fine but honestly, I could have done another week. It was awesome. You literally just sit and look and listen. Tuhan was already cracking jokes when I asked questions. I asked about whose poop that was on the road in front of us and he gets out of the vehicle and says “Let me talk some shit to you” and proceeds to pick up the poop and explain that it was white rhino poop and that their poop is like rhino Facebook, it tells them so much about the animal that laid it. Hysterical way of putting it.
Backing up a bit – let’s talk about what you do on a safari and how everything goes down. This was literally the only vacation in my life where I was in bed by 8:30pm and up around 5am. The game drives were about 3-4 hours depending on how the activity was and what we could see. The morning game drive left at 6am and came back around 9 to Hamiltons where we were greeted with a hot towel and an amazing array for fruits and grains for breakfast followed by hot breakfast (after the evening game drive you get a sip of sherry and a hot towel – it always warmed me up so much). After that you have free time to do whatever you want. There was a pool but we went when it was pretty chilly out so sitting on our balcony or playing cards was the best option. We talked to our favorite camp peeps – Singini and Given – and just relaxed. It was literally the most relaxed I have ever been in my entire life I think. The evening game drive left around 4pm and we were usually gone until about 7:30. It got dark around 6:30 and it really was the only time I just sat and didn’t look for anything. Tuhan had a spotlight that he would hold out the side window and flick back and forth looking for something exciting. It was on the first night that he had spotted something so small that I had decided it wasn’t worth looking anymore, because if there was something out there in the dark, Tuhan was going to find it. I definitely was not. Even though I did spot some rhino the second day. Also – I have no idea how one can hold a spot light in their hand for over an hour straight up flicking it back and forth. There has to be one that can be controlled a different way. That looked like torture.
The red flower on the tree in the photo up top is what I am dropping down to the bushbuck in the photo below. That is what they eat. 🙂
Giraffe shirt numero uno.
I know, a picture of wine with my retainer…classy, huh? This was the only trip I have ever been on that having my retainer was a huge hassle. Don’t worry, I will address this in my invisalign update that will be coming sometime soon. Also – that was legit the best iced tea in this world. I don’t know what they did to it but it is amazing. And they always put together all these awesome centerpieces for your table based on like vintage safari traveler gear. I loved it.
Our binoculars were never more than a few inches from one of us at all times. There was always so much to look at! Also – this is what I look like when I am the most relaxed I have ever been. Just needed more wine. Which I could have gotten but I didn’t want to miss anything.
Frank and the resident hippo, Bob.
While it never rained on the safari, it was only sunny one day. Tuhan said that it was weird weather since it is normally cold but at least sunny. The animals like the sun and are more active when it is out. On the game drives, they also take about 20 minutes out of the drive to park, pour you some wine or get you a beer or a drink of your choice (or coffee and tea for the morning) and you get to chat with your guide. We asked Tuhan probably ridiculous questions but he answered them all happily and he told awesome stories. Being a safari guide is likely the only job on this planet better than mine, I have ultimately decided. Which makes me think I should just go to safari school. It is only 6 months. 🙂 Hmmm….
Onto the animals of Kruger National Park. One morning we found three lionesses eating a zebra. I am purposely not posting those photos here but the lionesses are beautiful animals.
My morning tea. 🙂
Oh, the white rhino. I felt so bad for these guys. Tuhan told us about how there is a really big problem with rhino poaching in Kruger right now. That horn is worth $300,000 on the black market right now. Who knows why, it isn’t ivory, it is made out carotene and grows back but regardless, people will take advantage of someone’s situation and say I will give you 10k if you go kill that rhino and get it’s horn for me and that person will do it because 10k could mean so much to their family that is struggling. There are a lot of ex-navy seals who are working to stop rhino poaching. It is seriously so tragic and they are predicting that rhinos will be extinct in just a few years because of it. If you are interested in more info, I would definitely recommend checking out Stop Rhino Poaching and the Rhino Conservation.
These are all from our balcony.
Brett and Daren’s tent was too far of a walk so I just took pictures of them from a distance.
Can you spot the baboon and crocodile?
We went back and the one of the lady lions was still there chowing down. These are far less gruesome than the others I have. The other two had likely gone to get some water. It was awesome to see how alert she was. She would hear things we wouldn’t and stare into the distance for long whiles. Totally awesome and creepy at the same time. I’m also about 4 feet away from this lion at the most. So crazy.
Next day! This guy was smiling for me.
This was a little nuts. Tuhan got out of the truck to make sure there were no LIONS or LEOPARDS in the tall grass because he wanted us to be able to get out and have a closer look at the elephants. I thought that was all insane and amazing at the same time. You have no idea how much of a sense of security you feel when you are in the truck until you are no longer in that truck and are walking around in tall grass with your safari guide who is telling you to stay in a single file line behind me and do everything he says. Do not run unless he says run and then run to the truck and film everything in case he dies. What the hell? Crazy talk.
It was so pretty.
This was taken at 10000 ISO and at 1.2. Obviously grainy, but I thought it was so cool that if a tree was in your way, you just machete it down.
I remember that last day tossing and turning trying really hard not to ask Frank what time it was since he was the one with a watch. I was so excited and sad to be going on our last game drive. I gave in and asked at 5:12. I giddy-ly said to myself – they’re coming soon. Hehe. Because someone came and woke us up at 5:30am each morning.
This is us with Singini and Given. They were the two who were there the first day we got there and the last day. I remember coming back from the second to last game drive and saying Given and Singini! You’re back!! The original crew! And Singini said of course I am back – two most important men in South Africa – Nelson Mandela and Singini. He was seriously so awesome!
Us with Tuhan. He was also awesome. I would highly recommend making sure he is your guide if you are ever in Kruger. Plus, he says hysterical things when you get in the cruiser like “Let’s go find some jugular shredding cats” or “I love the smell of shit in the morning.” 🙂 He also takes amazing photos!! Click here to check out some of his work.
I had seen so many photos of elephants at Hamiltons and I thought it figured I didn’t see one damn elephant at the camp. Right before we were leaving, there it was, right down by the water. Perfect end.
For those curious, these were all taken with two cameras. The ones labeled Kruger National Park when you are hovering were taken with my 5d Mark III and either my 50mm 1.2 or my 70-200mm. The other camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS20 (it has underwater capabilities without a box which we brought for shark diving) and those photos should say SouthAfricaLumix when hovering. Also, all travel plans were made through Alex Bohn at Antietam Travel Services. I highly recommend contacting her for your travel needs – she is incredible!