Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome/Ngiyanemukela (Zulu)/Welkom (Afrikaans)!

When you tell your 10-year-old and 12-year-old that you are moving to Africa, there are two pictures that most likely come to their minds - animals and poverty.  Hannah and Noah have seen a fair amount of poverty in the past five years of living in West Africa, but as they recently pointed out to me, no animals to speak of.  Since Hannah is leaving Africa in June, and we don't know if or when she will come back to Africa, I thought it was time to rectify the situation.

Hannah will share with you our week long vacation in South Africa last week in the words and pictures below:

So, as most if not all of you know, we, the Reeds, along with my Oma spent the last week in the beautiful country of South Africa.  Since pictures are worth a thousand words, there will be more on this than usual, and they will hopefully do a lot of the talking for me.  But here’s an overview of the week in South Africa:

Tuesday, Day One: We arrived in Johannesburg in the morning, and spent most of the day resting and exploring the area around the hotel we were staying at. 

Wednesday, Day Two: This is where the excitement started.  We awoke bright an early at 6 am, and were on the road to Kruger National Park by 7.  We were going on safari for three days!  It was a very long drive, but in gave us time to get to know our guide.  His name was ‘H’.  Not really, but that is what he said to call him, because he said it would be easier.  We got to the Kruger in the mid-afternoon, and started off with a lot of excitement.  Within the first couple hours, we saw impala, giraffes, zebra, beautiful birds, and a black rhinoceros.  The black rhino was the most exciting, as it is extremely rare to see one.  We got to our bungalows and put our luggage down, then went out on safari again, this time seeing hyenas, baboons, and even some hippos and crocodiles from a distance.  We had a delicious South African dish for dinner, and went to bed around 9:30.

Thursday, Day Three: We got up way too early, around 4 am and were on the road by 4:45, as H told us that early in the morning was a great time to see animals before it got too hot.  So we drove around, looking every which way for animals, in the open jeep H picked us up in.  We all got fairly cold, but warmed up with some hot chocolate a couple hours later.  It was in this early-morning time that we had one of the most exciting experiences, if not the most exciting experience, of our trip.  We were driving along a dirt road and up ahead of us we saw a huge bull elephant standing in the middle of the road.  As we approached, he moved off onto the side of the road, and began eating the leaves of a tree, still only maybe 10 meters away from our vehicle.  Then, all of a sudden, he moved directly in front of our jeep, so close that he was touching the front of it, just calmly eating.  It was very tense in the car, as elephants will scare easily and are big enough to tip and trample our car.  But H made the decision to turn on the jeep and quickly back away, and as he did the bull elephant backed off too, waving his huge head and he strode back to his tree and began eating again.  Since the road was a narrow one, and the way back was long, H moved forward again, coming to stop again so we could watch the elephant eating.  Since the elephant was still riled, we had to be very careful and not make a sound.  Then, when H believed that he was calm again, he started the engine of the jeep.  As he did so, the elephant charged!!  It was only a mock charge, but he came so close he almost rammed into the jeep!  It was terrifying, and exhilarating.  We got away and the elephant, thankfully, decided not to chase us.  It wasn’t until we were a good distance away that my hand came away from my mouth and H stopped shaking.  Mom’s reaction?  To burst out laughing.  So anyways, after a while longer, we went and had breakfast, rested up a bit at the bungalows, and then in the evening, went out on safari again, this time with a larger group.  We started out as the sun was going down, and would be gone until after dark.  It was fairly uneventful at the start… until we heard about the lions that had taken down an impala.  So the man driving (not H this time, since we were with a large group) started driving.  It took a good 45 minutes, but the time was well rewarded as we came across a beautiful male lion up the road.  We pulled up alongside it and when it roared, which it did several times, you could feel the vibrations throughout your whole body.  It was terrifying, and awe inspiring.  A couple miles further, and we came upon the lion’s pride, noisily devouring an impala.   Once we turned around and headed back, we came across another elephant in the road.  It left the road once we came, but it trumpeted several times while still close to us.  That sound, like the lion’s roar, was incredibly loud, and extremely cool to hear.  The matriarch of that herd mock-charged us, and we quickly left.  When we got back, H was waiting, and we went to eat dinner.  

Friday, Day Four: This day happened to be December 17, mom’s birthday!!!  Happy Birthday Mom!!!! We got up at 4:30 this time (yay, an extra 30 minutes!!), packed our stuff, and headed out of the Kruger.  It was hard to say good bye to such a peaceful, beautiful place.  But the day’s excitements had just begun.  On the way back, we had a couple stops planned to see some of South Africa’s beautiful sites.  The first stop was at an absolutely breathtaking waterfall, called Lisbon Falls.  The second stop was at a place called the Three Rendevals.  Neither of these places could possibly be described with words, and even pictures won’t do them justice, but hey, we tried.  They were absolutely breathtaking.  We got back to the hotel after hours and hours of driving, at around 4 pm and rested for the remainder of the day.

Saturday, Day Five: We got to sleep in on this day, until an incredible 8 o’clock, and left at 9 to go to South Africa’s Apartheid Museum.  The Apartheid Museum is filled with everything to do with the apartheid in South Africa, which started in 1948 and ended in 1994.  It showed videos, pictures, and had lots of information about what apartheid involved, how it began, and how it ended.  After the museum, we went to the Gold Reef City, an amusement park literally next door to the museum.  We went on some rides, which is always fun, but the main attraction for us there was the gold mine that the park was built over.  We got to take a tour down into the mine and saw and learned about the lives of miners in the mines, and how the mine worked.  It was fascinating to actually be in the mine, where it was dark and damp, with rock and dirt all around.  At about 5:30 we headed back, and stopped off at a restaurant to belatedly celebrate mom’s birthday.

Sunday, Day 6: This was supposed to be a ‘relax at the hotel’ day, and it turned out to be just that for Mom and Oma.  The huge storm that rolled around in the late afternoon was unexpected, but they were still able to rest after the business of the days before.  For Noah and me however, it was a fun-filled day that also turned out to be the kind of fun that’s restful.  We went over to Noah’s best friend’s house, a good friend of mine too, and hung out there for the day.  We swam in a pool that was close to his house, I watched him and Noah jam on the guitar and failed miserably when they gave the guitar to me to try, we went on their boat out onto the dam they live next to, went knee boarding, and watched him go wakeboarding and bruise his ribs after falling.  All in all, a very fun day, and Noah and I went back to the hotel happy and sunburned in the evening.

Monday, Day Seven: Our last day in South Africa.  We spent this day at the mall, doing some shopping for goodies that are difficult to come across in Ghana.  We left for the airport around 1:30, ate KFC after checking in, and got on the plane around 4:45.  After a 5 and a half our plane flight, we arrived safely back in Ghana, luggage in tow and happy to be home.

These were the first animals we saw upon entering Kruger park.  They are Impala, which are plentiful withing the park and fall prey to many of the animals within the park.  They are part of the antelope family and are very beautiful and graceful.
This was one of our more exciting sightings, a rare black rhinoceros.  White rhinos are more common.  Even H, our guide, had never seen one before at Kruger.  (Hannah spotted it - good eye, Hannah!)
One of our first sightings of zebra, with the added bonus of seeing a giraffe as well!  Both are calm animals, and as you can see, get along pretty well.
A troop of baboons, hanging out by the side of the road.  they babies were so funny as they tried to play on the rail and kept falling off!
Just a boring ol' picture of us, in the open jeep where we spent most of the safari.
At mom's startled cry of "Ohh!", this Kudu took off running, but not before we got a glimpse of him and his massive horns.
A huge heard of buffalo crossing the road.  And I mean, it was huge - hundreds of buffalo.  Very cool to watch.
Our first elephant sighting!!! It was a small herd of only 3, and they were a distance away, but still very exciting.
This was the elephant that mock-charged us first.  It was so close, absolutely terrifying and awesome at the same time.
This shot is of the elephant starting to charge the vehicle.  Thankfully, we got away with no injury to ourselves or the jeep.
This lovely little cackle of hyenas (yes, a group of hyenas is really called a cackle.  Guess what a group of zebras is called?  A Dazzle.  Guess what a group of giraffes is called?  A tower of giraffes.  Cool huh?) was relaxing by the side of the road just waiting for their picture to be taken.

This is the lion that we saw on the evening safari.  It was an awe-inspiring thing to hear it roar.  [Video of this is below.  If you carefully at the end, you will see Hannah in the rear-view mirror, looking awed!]

The bungalows where we stayed.
These are the guys who helped us with the tour in Kruger.  On the right is Jonathan who cooked some delicious meals; in the middle is Hilke (or "H"), our awesom tour guide, and on the left is a guy from Australia who hung ouut with us on our 2nd night in Kruger.
This is the beautiful Lisbon Falls.  The picture does not do real justice to its beauty.  Surrounded by mountains, and beautiful green fields, it is in the mountains of South Africa.
A picture of the Three Rondavels.  It was dizzyingly high, but absolutely breathtaking.  There just aren't words for the beauty of this area.  BTW, if you have ever watched the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, this is where the bushman throws the coke bottle off the edge of the earth.  Often clouds will fill this place.

Us in front of the Three Rondavels.