Starting out Strong

All I can say is “wow”. These past 2 weeks have been amazing. I don’t even know where to begin! I think the plane ride is a good place to start… I must admit- the flight wasn’t horrible, and the jet lag could have been a lot worse. Fortunately, I slept for almost 6 hours. I read, did homework, and watched movies for the other 9 hours. It wasn’t until a full day or 2 after the flight when I felt extremely tired. Needless to say, I had no problems falling asleep early those nights!

The first week we stayed in a bed and breakfast in a suburb of Johannesburg called Melville. The rooms were similar to a standard hotel room; each room had its own bathroom, and we each had a roommate. This style of living is something that I have been doing for 3 years, so luckily it was very easy to adjust. I felt like I was at home (or school). It also helps that my roommate and I get along great! It was such a beautiful place, and it was in a great location! We were a short bus ride away from all of our day trips, and a short walk away from restaurants, coffee shops, and shopping areas. While in Joburg we went to Constitution Hill, Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Apartheid Museum, Liliesleaf Farm, the Voortrekker Monument, and the Cradle of Humankind (Sterkfontein and Maropeng). These trips were very educational and unforgettable. They put South African history in a way that truly got to you. They took us through the different prisons and cells, gave direct quotes from ex-prisoners, displayed old clothing and other artifacts, and more.

After our week in Joburg, we departed for Kruger National Park. We were there last weekend from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. We stayed in a smaller park right outside of Kruger called Marloth Park, where we stayed in a lodge called Backpackers Inn. The rooms were the exact same style as the bed and breakfast, except this place held 4 students in a room (and there was a risk for malaria, yikes). We spent a half day in Kruger Park on Friday and a full day on Saturday. Words cannot express my feelings for the park. We got very close to a bunch of giraffes, elephants, zebras, impalas, and baboons. We also saw crocodiles, hippos, warthogs, and more. Sadly, we didn’t see any big cats or rhinos, but the experience we had is unforgettable. I can’t believe how close these animals were to the road. It made me not want to go to zoos anymore because the animals looked so much happier. This park is their home, and they have all the freedom that they need.

Then off to George! We stayed at a hotel in town, and then we went to the Nelson Mandela University campus on Monday evening, all day Tuesday, and back again for another full day on Wednesday. We met with environmental conservation students and interviewed them on their perspectives on certain environmental topics. After we finished our interviews, the students took us on a hike to a gorge on campus. Then, Wednesday night we enjoyed an authentic South African braai! This is the equivalent to a barbecue (except a lot better). The students made us feel so welcome, and I’ll never forget our time with them.

So far, I feel like I’m right on track to accomplish all of my goals! We’ve been learning a lot of the South African history through the museums, and we learned about environmental conservation from the Mandela University students. Also, seeing the national park and talking with the students made me feel extremely connected with the culture and outdoors. I’m so excited to continue my adventure through South Africa!!