Our first two days in South Africa could only be described as an adventure.
We arrived at the Johannesburg airport at around 4:30 pm on Saturday. After a relatively easy time doing the requisite errands (grabbing luggage, exchanging money, getting a new sim card, and renting a car), we were off to Pilanesberg National Park, which was about a two and a half hour drive from the airport according to google maps.
We decided to grab dinner on the way there and either were stuck in a weird time drain or, more likely, just didn’t realize how long dinner took because we didn’t really get on our way until closer to 8.
No problem, except that it was raining fairly hard, the signage to the park was confusing/sometimes non-existent and we were essentially driving out to the middle of nowhere. We got lost and drove out into total darkness about four different times. I wouldn’t exactly say that the journey was harrowing…but I might be tempted to if I were the type of person who was prone to hyperbole…
Which I am, so yes, the journey was harrowing.
It was pitch black, raining hard, and we had to drive on the opposite side of the road. Even though in my brain I knew that driving on the left side of the road was correct, about once every three minutes I really felt like we were about to run straight into oncoming traffic. There were also stretches of road where there was no one else around, seemingly for miles. At various parts in the journey, the thoughts that this was like the beginnings of a horror movie did indeed cross my mind. Especially when at one point we drove off the tarred road into a super dark, bumpy dirt road and the map had trouble locating us.
However, armed with google maps, a positive spirit and Lisa’s ten year old yet surprisingly good memory of the area, we finally drove into the park at about half past eleven – a full two hours later than we had initially told our accommodations
Also the park is rather large, and there are multiple places that you can stay. We had made reservations at the Tented Safari Camp, which we were both excited to stay in but were having trouble finding. After driving around what felt like the whole of Pilanesberg (it wasn’t, but after spending half the day in transit, it certainly felt that way) and probably waking up multiple people by shining our headlights at them, we finally happened upon our campsite.
…Only to find that the check-in tent was dark and empty. There was a brief moment of panic where I thought we might have to sleep in our car, which certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing ever but wasn’t ideal after a long day of travel. However, to our great luck, one of the other resident guests was still awake and helped us find our tent with minimal pain or embarrassment. (We did accidentally unzip a tent that already belonged to someone else, but it was only once and I don’t think we woke them up, THANK GOD, because that would’ve made for some really awkward late night/early morning conversation).
Now, I keep saying the word ‘tent.’ I’m sure you’re thinking, Lelanie, a tent, really? Which, 1, rude – I can totally camp. And 2 – this wasn’t really camping, it was definitely more like glamping.
We settled in and I took a shower (I told you it was glamping). Despite the long day and the comfortable beds, I was so wired that I tossed and turned for quite some time. I finally fell asleep probably around 1.
And was awakened at 5am for our game drive! Now, I haven’t been getting great sleep overall – and I had only slept about two hours the night before – but I sprang up out of bed, ready for the day. And honestly, it’s really not so bad to get four hours of sleep when you’re greeted by this upon waking:
I mean, there are certainly worse ways to wake up, right?
So, we got up and had some tea and a biscuit, then loaded up into our truck to find some animals in the bush.
First off, even if we had literally seen no animals, the day still would’ve been completely worth it for the views of the scenery alone.
Unfortunately, I’m not a talented enough photographer to really capture the insane beauty of the park, but the tranquility of driving through such awesome landscape could’ve been enough for me.
But, I was fortunate enough that I was able to view such breathtaking beauty and see an abundance of wildlife.
First off – and I don’t have a picture because it turns out predators are really good at staying hidden – we saw two leopards. Our tour guide could hardly believe that it was my first game drive and I was able to see two leopards in the wild. She said that it was two years into being a game driver – meaning she looked for animals in the wild as a living – before she ever saw a leopard. Perhaps I’m not just an elephant whisperer, but a leopard whisperer as well.
Anyway, between the arranged game drive in the morning and our solo drive in our car, I saw a vast number of animals.
We had to break for a herd of wildabeest crossing the road:
Saw a pod of giraffes mixed in with some kudu and wildabeest:
We came upon a large herd of zebra and watched as many of them paired off and nuzzled one another:
We saw herds of impala everywhere:
And my personal favorite – we watched a large bull elephant cross the road right in front of us:
We ended our day with this elephant sighting, which I want to point out happened about five minutes from our exit gate. We could’ve gone back around the park and looked for a pride of lions, but seeing the elephant right there in front of us was such an exhilarating high that we figured we’d end the day on a high note.
All in all, despite the trouble of getting there, I really enjoyed my time in Pilanesberg and really liked the tented camp experience. My only complaint is that we were only able to stay one day and not two, but perhaps an experience for the next time I’m able to come to South Africa – whenever that might be.
Our time here in Johannesburg has mostly been taken up by meetings and eating the ridiculously delicious food at our hotel. The food is so good that I pull an angry face every time I bite into it. Angry at what, I’m not quite sure. Perhaps that this food exists and I’ve only just now eaten it and never will again? Who knows, my emotions are sometimes a mystery.
I have some thoughts about Johannesburg and South Africa as a whole ruminating around my brain, but I’m trying to sort them out a little bit more before committing them to written word. Tomorrow we have a work day and a meeting with an employer, but then we’ll head to the Apartheid Museum in Soweto. I think I’ll have a better handle on my thoughts and emotions after that, so I’ll just wait until tomorrow to get it all down.
For now, I’m going to take a benedryl and head to bed. We’ll see what day 14 of this trip brings!