To any readers, I feel I owe an explanation. I am over halfway through my trip and am just now beginning to write. Oh well! You’ll see, it’s been a whirlwind adventure and I haven’t had much time to sleep, let alone write. However, I will still do the best I can to elicit the beauty of the countryside, the wonder of the culture, and the weight of the history.
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As many fine adventures begin, mine began with an airplane ride. The third longest in the world, to be precise. After a fortunately uneventful 15-hour flight, we finally arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, wide-awake and adrenalized in a time zone slowly preparing for sleep. In an ode to our new host country, we sang the South African national anthem in the lobby of the airport, drawing an interested and decidedly appreciative crowd who rowdily applauded at its finish. After taking a bus ride to our first stop- the Heia Safari Ranch- we had our first meal in the Ranch dining room, and let me tell you, readers, it was one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in my life. They told me that South Africa has good food, however I was still not prepared for what awaited me. Along with the usual salad and vegetables, they had at least three different but equally delicious types of meat every time I ate there along with at least four desserts, all of which I sampled every day. My diet literally consisted of meat and dessert, and I regret absolutely nothing.
After waking up, I was greeted outside my window by the first of many animals I was to see that day. A group of lemurs were playing outside my hut, and I was quick to snap a picture before they scurried away.
One of the cooler features of staying at a safari is that the animals roam free. From lemurs, to zebras, to giraffes, the animals do what they want, when they want, occasionally gracing us with their presence. The rest of the Ranch was just as pretty as its permanent residents. There were hiking trails that looked out over the beautiful South African countryside and a refreshing pool right next to the outdoor bar. The drinking age in South Africa is 18, so the first drink I ever bought at a bar was a pint of South African beer for around $2.50. Everything is cheaper in South Africa, especially the booze. Four average bottles of wine costs a little over $10 and an average lunch is around five. After losing the trail of a 10 km hike and walking probably a little over 2 miles (it’s the intention that counts), I waited out for my group’s trip down to the actual safari.
The Ranch has some animals, yes. However, we travelled to a safari park that had many more. South African law dictates that safaris under 3,000 acres must feed the animals food rather than let them roam free and hunt for it themselves, so since it was too small the animals were fenced off in different parts of the park, kind of like a really wild zoo. The herbivores lay claim to the largest tract of land as far as I could tell, and I saw the national animal- the Springbok- alongside zebras, ostriches, rhinos, impala, waterbuck, and Pumba. (Well, probably not actually Pumba, he’d be well over 20 years old.) The carnivores were far removed so that the park still had herbivores to showcase, and we saw wild dogs, cheetahs, some lounging lions, and rare white lions.
I liked the cheetahs the most, partly because the cat is my spirit animal. The tour guide told us that cheetahs are among the most fragile of big cats, that they were built solely for speed and that if they get into a fight they’ll easily dislocate a shoulder. Don’t get me wrong, I was not built for speed. However, I resonated with the graceful reclining of the cheetahs in languid, lithe relaxation, stately rulers over their tragically enclosed kingdom.
Overall, it was a fun day, even if it fit the stereotype of African adventures. I bought my first drink, woke up to monkeys, and caught a glimpse of a variety of exotic animals. There were plenty more adventures to come. However, I’ll always keep this day as one of my fondest memories of the trip.