Feeding a Hippo and Zooming Through Trees

Dad and I quickly realized how short his trip to SA was.  After our safari day in Kruger, he only had 3 nights left in country!  On our was back down to the Graskop area, we made a short detour to do something extremely unique: visit Jessica the Hippo and interact with one of the most dangerous animal species in Africa!

 

Now, Jessica is a semi-domesticated hippo that was rescued after a flood about 13 years ago.  Her “family” will tell you she’s still completely wild, but wild hippos do not eat bread and sweetened rooibos tea….I had mixed feelings about the visit for several reasons, and was horrified at the “funny” (aka extremely offensive and racist) story the host told us about a local printer.  However, it was really cool to get up close and personal with a hippo, including feeding her, giving her some tea, kissing her, and giving her a back massage.  I’m fairly sure this is a VERY unique experience, and was worth the money.  For kids, it would be an amazing and once in a lifetime experience….heck, it was still that for my Dad and I.

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After shrugging off our slight misgivings about Jessica the Hippo, we continued on down the Panoramic Route and stopped off at the Three Rondevals, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, and God’s Window.  The fog because extremely dense at God’s Window, so the employees let us in for free.  Though we didn’t get to see the view, we did get to play around a bit on a slightly flooded and sparsely maintained rainforest trail.

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Our last big adventure was ziplining, which we did in Hazy View.  There weren’t a whole lot of ziplines in Limpopo, but this one made up for that.  It was a 3 hour, 9 line, 1.6km long zipline course.  And WOW was it fun!  I had been ziplining before, but this one was longer and a bit more…rugged than the last.  Very African, but in a good way.  The one I did on the Garden Route in 2011 was more strict, straight-laced, and formal feeling than this one….but I still felt 100% safe.  Our guides were great, and our small group of 8 or so people were a fun bunch.  One lady was pretty afraid at first, but seemed to have a blast.   I fully intend to do another zipline in SA, and would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone!  

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The day after ziplining, we headed back to Pretoria.  On the way we stopped at the Sudwala Caves.  I was a little let down by this attraction….the tours were tame, with big groups and lost of kids, and the guy talked extremely fast….I had to translate the English for Dad, and I even struggled to catch some things.  It would be fun for kids, but it was underwhelming, though a nice break in the drive back.

 

Dad left the day before Easter, and I swear the saddest place in the world might be the airport departure gate.  Or else the lonely Gautrain ride back to Pretoria.  🙂  He’s already talking about coming back, and my Mom wants to as well.  Guess who is excited for that?! 😀

-Jen

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Kruger Safari and the Panoramic Route

After a quick visit to my village and a massive roadtrip that ended in a terrifyingly potholed road at night with semi trucks, we rolled in Lydenburg exhausted and found our guest house relatively easily, the Aqua Terra Guest House. We grabbed dinner at Spur, which cracked Dad up with its Native American themed décor, then fell asleep in our very comfortable beds. The next morning we took a walk by the “river”, had a delicious breakfast at the guest house, then headed off along the Panoramic Route to Hoedspruit.

Along the way I learned how to drive a manual in the mountains by driving through the Long Tom Pass, and we stopped for a bit at Pilgrim’s Rest and the Mac Mac Pools. Pilgrim’s Rest is a town that is probably like Williamsburg in the States. We found lots of traditional craft shops alongside the stores and museum related to the Afrikaner pilgrims who usesd to live there. The Mac Mac pools was a small waterfall with a few pretty pools set in a plateau in the mountains. Lots of people were there, including some families who came to swim. However, it wasn’t overly tourist, and when we set off along the walking trail, we saw absolutely nobody, which was peaceful.

We managed not to get horribly lost, despite the confusing signs which sparsely dot the mountainside. We had wanted to see Jessica the Hippo that night, but arrived too late. We stayed at the Loerie Guest House in Hoedspruit, which had nice rooms but not much else going for it. I arranged with the owner to be let out very early the next morning for our safari in Kruger…

…to no avail. The next morning, we stood at the gate at 5am and were stuck for almost half an hour behind the locked gate. We finally got out and had about a 45 minute drive to the Orpen Gate at Kruger. We arrived soon after 6am and began our safari!

Now, Kruger is HUGE. I mean, it’s bigger than some states. One day in Kruger really isn’t enough, and it’s certainly impossible to see the whole park in one day. Heck, I think it’s impossible to see it in a week. We were in the park essentially from opening to closing, and only drove through a few roads. But we had a blast and saw many animals.

I had previously been on a safari in Pilanesburg, so I had seen most of the animals before, but I also saw some new things. We saw wildebeests/gnu, a hyena, guinea fowl aplenty, giraffes, zebras, impalas, massive spiders, warthogs, monkeys, snakes, kudu, waterbucks, hippos, tortoises, a chameleon, buffalos, vultures, elephants, rhinos, vervet monkeys, bush babies, termites, and even a creepy cricket that flew in my window and hit me in the face. We didn’t see any cats, but the herd of 20+ elephants was amazing. And we even got terrifyingly close to a few different elephants.

By the end of the day, we were absolutely exhausted and stopped at a roadside bar and grill for burgers. We basically strolled into Hoedspruit after dark and went to bed. It was a full and amazing day of safari!

I’ll post photos later on, promise.
-Jen

Kruger Safari and the Panoramic Route

After a quick visit to my village and a massive roadtrip that ended in a terrifyingly potholed road at night with semi trucks, we rolled in Lydenburg exhausted and found our guest house relatively easily, the Aqua Terra Guest House. We grabbed dinner at Spur, which cracked Dad up with its Native American themed décor, then fell asleep in our very comfortable beds. The next morning we took a walk by the “river”, had a delicious breakfast at the guest house, then headed off along the Panoramic Route to Hoedspruit.

Along the way I learned how to drive a manual in the mountains by driving through the Long Tom Pass, and we stopped for a bit at Pilgrim’s Rest and the Mac Mac Pools. Pilgrim’s Rest is a town that is probably like Williamsburg in the States. We found lots of traditional craft shops alongside the stores and museum related to the Afrikaner pilgrims who usesd to live there. The Mac Mac pools was a small waterfall with a few pretty pools set in a plateau in the mountains. Lots of people were there, including some families who came to swim. However, it wasn’t overly tourist, and when we set off along the walking trail, we saw absolutely nobody, which was peaceful.

We managed not to get horribly lost, despite the confusing signs which sparsely dot the mountainside. We had wanted to see Jessica the Hippo that night, but arrived too late. We stayed at the Loerie Guest House in Hoedspruit, which had nice rooms but not much else going for it. I arranged with the owner to be let out very early the next morning for our safari in Kruger…

…to no avail. The next morning, we stood at the gate at 5am and were stuck for almost half an hour behind the locked gate. We finally got out and had about a 45 minute drive to the Orpen Gate at Kruger. We arrived soon after 6am and began our safari!

Now, Kruger is HUGE. I mean, it’s bigger than some states. One day in Kruger really isn’t enough, and it’s certainly impossible to see the whole park in one day. Heck, I think it’s impossible to see it in a week. We were in the park essentially from opening to closing, and only drove through a few roads. But we had a blast and saw many animals.

I had previously been on a safari in Pilanesburg, so I had seen most of the animals before, but I also saw some new things. We saw wildebeests/gnu, a hyena, guinea fowl aplenty, giraffes, zebras, impalas, massive spiders, warthogs, monkeys, snakes, kudu, waterbucks, hippos, tortoises, a chameleon, buffalos, vultures, elephants, rhinos, vervet monkeys, bush babies, termites, and even a creepy cricket that flew in my window and hit me in the face. We didn’t see any cats, but the herd of 20+ elephants was amazing. And we even got terrifyingly close to a few different elephants.

By the end of the day, we were absolutely exhausted and stopped at a roadside bar and grill for burgers. We basically strolled into Hoedspruit after dark and went to bed. It was a full and amazing day of safari!

I’ll post photos later on, promise.
-Jen

Christmas in a Swimming Pool

Being from Iowa, and having spent every Christmas in Iowa, Christmas time means COLD and often snow. So I simply was not able to understand Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. Christmas when it is HOT out does not make sense to me, and still seems surreal.

Anyways, our setting for Christmas was a little lame. Sue, Genna, and I were at Khayalethu Guest House in Pretoria (an awesome backpackers which I intend to use a lot), and the only other people there were 4 other PCVs from different training classes. It was awesome to have the run of the place and be able to trust everyone at a backpackers.

On Christmas Eve after, the three of us were trying to decide what to do for dinner, and had narrowed it down to having Roman’s Pizza or KFC deliver-yes, I know, it may be the saddest excuse for a Christmas Eve ever! As we were deciding between the two, the owner of Khayalethu came in with an Afrikaner man, who explained to us that he loved PC and is amazed at all the work we do, and was stopping by to see if any PCVs were around to come to Christmas dinner at his house that night. Things like that really DO happen in real life!

Now, normally I would not go to some random guy’s house in a city in a foreign country, but as the owner of the guest house (which nearly all PCVs use) knew him, and some PCVs from our training class had spent a good deal of time with the guy a few months ago, we decided it was safe. He also gave us his contact info and address to give to our families….sorry Mom, I didn’t forward the info.

So, a few hours later the Afrikaner and his wife pulled up in two separate cars to take 5 of us PCVs to dinner. They had a fancy table set and some delicious food that we stuffed ourselves with. And it was really neat to talk to a few Afrikaners, as that doesn’t happen in my village (no white people, remember). It turned our really depressing Christmas Eve plans into a classic PC memory that I’ll always remember.

The next day held no gift exchanges or caroling, although we did set up my ipod to the Christmas tune while we swam in the pool. Let me repeat that-I SWAM in a POOL on CHRISTMAS! How strange! I even got sunburned, on CHRISTMAS! Ok, yes I am easily entertained. So were the other two PCVs.

Riding back to Vryburg in a kombi with a sunburn was not so fun, especially as I was sitting next to a sunburned Sue and a sunburned Genna, and they both were radiating heat! But we survived the ride, and I’ll probably travel on the kombis rather than buses because it is far cheaper and faster, though not as comfy.

The rest of the school holidays I spent at home or at Sue’s, reading, sewing, watching movies, sleeping, reading, etc. Lots of reading….my host family doesn’t understand how I can enjoy reading for hours on end!

-Jen

Swimming on Christmas!

Swimming on Christmas!