A note from the present: To all the loving friends and family kind enough to fruitlessly check for my updates: I’m so sorry that I haven’t had enough internet to upload anything! So here are some blogs that I’ve writing but have been unable to post yet. Sorry for the delay! Miss you all!

From Monday, September 5, 2011:

I HAVE NOT DIED ON SAFARI.

Let me just go ahead and get that out of the way. I wasn’t even bitten badly enough to be put in the hospital for a few restful days. So please, everybody breathe, because I can tell you that the closest I came to death-by-wild animal was either (a) watching the sweet lions sleep, (b) a youthful elephant trying to high-five me with his trunk, or (c) finding a lizard in my drapes. Guess which one scared me the most? I know, it’s a little sad, but if y’all won’t laugh at me too hard then I won’t laugh at you for how safe a safari is relative to everyday life in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.

Going on Safari was an INCREDIBLE experience, though…one I feel incredibly blessed to have experienced. I think I got the best deal possible, because I’m at an age where I find sitting in a car from 4:30am to 6pm, driving around the bush looking for leopards and such, is incredibly relaxing. I think it might be hard to go if I was older, because that old car was real bumpy and would easily upset any bad joints you had—or, if I had been younger, I might have been bored out of my mind. And, what’s more, I think safari is something that can be done quite well in about three days. Flying all the way from America to embark on a two-week adventure in the bush might be, I think, a bit redundant.

Arriving at the airport, I was immediately tickled to find that you step off the one plane that the airport accommodates at time and walk straight to the single thatched-roof hut that is the airport. Then, of course, you wait for the tractor to bring around your luggage and grab it off. Once I had met the person from my safari tour to pick me up, he let me climb in the back of the truck for ride to the lodge—and was kind enough to stop and point out to me the giraffe and zebra smiling on the side of the road as we went. Obviously, from then, I knew it was going to be a great weekend.

And, what’s more—I met the perfect circumstances in more ways than one.  Once I got to my safari lodge (which was in a private game reserve, meaning that if you hear hooves at night, it probably is right to think zebras—or, of course, giraffes, leopards, ostriches, warthogs, etc.) I was lucky enough to meet three lovely girls who were law students at Cornell. They made wonderful companions for the next three days. Glenn, my driver/lodge manager who I had made friends with on the ride over, saw us talking and told me that the girls had booked an all-day Kruger park tour for the next day—and hey, would I like to go along—for free?

Thanks for that, God. Thanks for that, Glenn.

But we got started right that afternoon with a private game drive. Private game drives are different than the Kruger experience because the drivers aren’t bothered by things like roads or bushes. They just drive right off them, or through them. Robert and Lawrence were our guides—Robert drove while Lawrence sat shotgun (literally. Think about that.), and they showed us lions, elephants, buffalo, hippos, rhinos, giraffe…RIGHT up close. Like I said, the elephant was all games with me. And then, once the sky started to turn the brightest pink you could imagine, we stopped for a glass of wine and watched the world’s most beautiful sunset.

Back at dinner we met a sweet Bulgarian couple on their honeymoon, enjoyed our delicious food, and then went to bed early to prep for our 4am wakeup call. It came as soon as you’d think. But then in the morning, after some coffee, we climbed in our safari vehicle with blankets, good spirits, and our trusty guide Clive, and drove the hour to Kruger National Park. Clive has lots of safari-tour buddies and has somehow worked out a system where he knows where all the good animals are. So when he heard that the only one of the Big Five (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_game) left to us was the leopard, he radioed some friends and then excitedly packed us right back into the car and set off across the park (racing, I think, far above whatever speed limits exist there) another hour, to a tree where we met a family of three leopards—the hardest animal too see. I had even met a couple at the airport who’d been on an eight-day, all-day safari and hadn’t seen them. So we were pretty excited to sit and have breakfast watching the baby cubs play.

The rest of the day was just as incredible—it was so relaxing to drive around, stopping to take pictures of all the animals that truly, astoundingly blend in with their environments. Isn’t it crazy to think that a giraffe print would fit somewhere? But they do, and it was amazing to see. We saw everything from leopard turtles to wild dogs, hyienas, crocodiles, lions, impala, rhinos…we saw everything. Definitely goes down as one of my most incredible days.

I also realized that anyone you happen to meet on an Africa safari is, as a rule, incredibly interesting. At dinner that night I sat next to an old man explorer/doctor/CEO from Australia and two girls who, funnily enough, were from St. Andrews, Scotland, and off on their “practicals” for medical school. Getting to talk to them got me awfully excited to be going so soon!

The next day I got up early again to go on a “game walk”. Our guide, Able, showed us everything from how you can use Devil’s Thorn as shampoo (that’s right. I said showed) to how to bite a certain plant into a perfect toothbrush, to how to tell holes that warthogs reside in, to how shockingly fast giraffes are running away from you. After that, we all came back to a lovely breakfast and then—sadly—I had a few hours to shower and sit back and read before it was time to head back to Joburg.

Here’s a few of my favorite pictures from the weekend—I hope you enjoy them! But of course, I really have to encourage you to go and see for yourself. 🙂 You won’t regret it.

Love,

Rachel Marie

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