The Biggest Surprise Ever!

I know I’ve been silent the past few weeks, and there’s a very good reason for that.  You see, I’ve been in the USA!

I’ve known for a few months that I would be going home to Iowa in July/August, but I chose to keep it a secret so I could surprise all my friends and family, primarily my father.  Only my Mom and sister were in on the surprise.  On the 25th of July, I border my flight in Johannesburg, landing back home in Iowa on the 26th, where my Mom kept me sequestered at home for the day.  On the 27th, my Mom and I drove to meet my Dad at the end of RAGBRAI, which is a bike ride across Iowa.  I surprised him at the finish line, which was an incredible experience.  He certainly didn’t expect to see his daughter from South Africa at the end of RAGBRAI….speechless for sure!!

Since then I’ve been enjoying life in the States.  I have a month at home before I head back for my third year of service, designated Home Leave by Peace Corps.  PC bought my ticket and granted me 30 days of leave, which I am exceedingly grateful for.  Good food, family, friends, and all the familiarity of home….I’ll post some pictures in the coming days!

-Jen

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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

Kruger Safari Photos

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Some monkeys walking down the road in Kruger….African traffic jam. Actually this happened to us outside Kruger too.

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Dad perched on the edge of a cliff.

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Zebras always make me laugh a bit.

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Elephant herd.

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Elephant going for a walk.

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So many impala!! This was only a small section of the herd.

I might post more pictures later, if my internet cooperates.

-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

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

A Long Awaited Vacation

Sorry for my absence for the past few weeks.  There are two good reasons: the demise of my blackberry, and the arrival of my DAD in South Africa!!  Dad came for about 8 days, and we managed to pack a LOT of stuff into those few days, which left no time for blogging.  I’ll probably write a few posts about our trip, so this one doesn’t

My host family.

My host family.

become insanely long.

Dad flew in on the 23rd of March, and I stopped by Spar in Hatfield to buy him a few Mountain Dews and hopped aboard the Gautrain to meet him at the airport.  I had to wait almost a whole 1.5 hrs for him to walk through the gate, and when he did, this was our conversation:

Dad: I have to go through customs.  Where is customs?

Jen: You just walked past customs.

Dad: No, I have to go through customs.  There was a sign.

Jen: Yeah, and the sign pointed to the counter and you walked through the exit.  Let’s go before they realize you skipped customs.

Dad: What?

The NEW tar road TO my village.

The NEW tar road TO my village.

Joburg customs is a joke.  We found our rental car, and I had a lot of fun watching him get used to driving a car where “everything is backwards”.  He did pretty well at staying on his side of the road….that day.  We made it to Pretoria before sunset, and grabbed some pizza at my favorite backpackers, Khayalethu.  He got to meet a TON of PCVs, many of whom were excited to meet him because meeting parents is just fun.  We hit the hay early for a long drive to my site the next day.

After a mishap with my new phone’s alarm, we started only about half an hour late, and I only got us a little bit lost.  Or drive was a little longer than expected because I was getting used to my new phone, and got us a little lost a few times, but not horribly lost.  In desperation we stopped at Wimpys for breakfast at around 10am.  I had forgotten how horrible Wimpys food is, and apparently had just gotten used to it.  They brought out the plates and Dad took one bite….then I remembered how awful the food really is.  His face was quite hilarious though.

Kids in the village.

Kids in the village.

100_1512After an uneventful drive….well uneventful for Africa which meant driving through an active construction zone….we made it to Vryburg, which Dad immediately announced as sketchy.  We stopped and bought an insane amount of groceries as we had a car, then I took over the wheel and drove to my village.  That was really exciting, to DRIVE into my village.  We had several conversations like this:

Dad: Now those, are those houses for animals?

Me: No, those are houses for people.

Dad: No, those short ones with the metal.  Those can’t possibly be people houses.

Me: Those are houses for people.

People Houses.

People Houses.

Soccer time.

Soccer time.

The Tuck Shop.

The Tuck Shop.

We stopped at my school, toured the garden, then I drove happily to my house, waving to my surprised host family.  Dad had fun meeting them, me acting as the translator, and giving them little gifts from America.  We went on a walk to the edge of my village, stopped by a soccer game, and went to the village shop to buy cold drink aka Coke.  Then I cooked up a dinner as he slept, then wandered around my yard asking too many questions and taking a ton of pictures.  It was a nice night in the village.  Of course, a rain storm blew in, knocked the power out, and we spent some time chatting by candle light.  He got the full African Village experience!  Some people pay money to do such things on holiday! 🙂

Kids who push the donkey carts to haul water.

Kids who push the donkey carts to haul water.

African Sunset.

African Sunset.

The next day was spent on an even longer drive back past Pretoria to Mpumalanga, but I managed to get us not-as-lost that time. The next stage of our trip was the typical African holiday experience.

-Jen