October 31, 2008, Category: South Africa, Travel

Day 2: Punda Maria

IMG_0748Note: I have posted a small selection of the nearly 4,000 pictures we took on the trip. You can see them here. If you didn’t start reading on Day 1, you might want to start from the beginning 

Yesterday when I asked Curtis if Africa was anything like he imagined, he said no way. The traffic in Joberg was as bad as anything I’ve seen in Seattle, the cities packed with people, and buildings lined up one after another for miles…er…kilometers on end. Today when I asked him if Africa was anything like he’d imagined it, he got a big grin. It was.

The day started stressful though. The host of our Bed and Breakfast turned me completely against our junker of a rental car, which wasn’t hard, when he told me that if I was seen driving that around with our luggage packed to the ceiling (small hatchback), we would get robbed. They’d run out at a street light, hit the window with a spark plug, grab a bag, and run. His description of the spark plug really made it visual, he even explained how they break off the conductor on the bottom so it will shatter the window. Or…a buddy would be hiding in the bushes and shoot it out with a pellet gun. Well, Curtis and I already hated the car, so we took it in for an exchange. At first they looked at my existing contract and said my bill was twice what I had reserved. I felt sick. Then they wanted 5X that amount for an upgrade…my heart fell to the floor.

In the end, after explaining and negotiating, I got the upgrade for R16 more a day. After the exchange rate, that is less that $2. So for about $30 for the whole trip we went from a scary tin can that stalled at lights to an almost new mid sized sedan. Very nice! We couldn’t stop talking about how glad it had worked out until past Pretoria (which because of the traffic was a couple hours). Now all our luggage fits in the trunk…unseen. Whew!

I didn’t realize how long of a drive it is from Joberg to Punda Maria. We drove all day long. Curtis is just like me though, we were both so excited to get to Kruger we kept driving and didn’t even stop to eat. Not smart, I know, and eventually we had to force down some bread and cheese (I went so long without eating I didn’t want anything). The country we drove through was amazing. Even several hours from Kruger we saw baboons on the side of the road which helped fuel the excitement. For the last three hours of the trip, we didn’t see another white person…which was an awesome experience for Curtis. (Well, me too, but I’ve been there before…)

We drove through a very poor area. Houses were sometimes sheets of wavy steel nailed together to form a square structure. Others were round thatched roofed huts called rondovals. And, surprisingly enough, once in a while there would be a nice brick home with a satellite dish. But 99% appeared to have no plumbing, the streets were dirt, and people walked everywhere. Waves and waves of people on the side of the road. Lots of school kids in uniform, lots of women with buckets on their heads, …lots of people.

I kept telling Curti, I want to stop and talk to them, go in their houses, and hear their stories. But not only were we racing the clock to get to Kruger before the gates closed (the GPS had our ETA cutting it close), we were both a bit nervous. These towns were very different than any around Joberg…and not ones I was used to from my previous visits. There weren’t stores like we were used to, no restaurants or stops along the way and I started to get nervous about petrol (it’s petrol here, not gas). We finally reached a gas station and market but were both uncomfortable doing anything except filling the tank, even though we wanted a snack. The shops to us looked more like abandoned buildings, run down and dirty. But that wouldn’t have stopped me. Our minds had been filled with stories about crime and danger. I’m in South Africa with my 14 year old son, a lot of cash on me, expensive camera gear…I couldn’t take any chances.

Later, in a larger city we pulled into a Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was busy, hundreds and hundreds of people all round us…not one white. Curtis was the only other white person I’d seen in hours. Were were both too nervous to stop. I hated that I was so afraid, believe me. I wanted to talk to people….but I just don’t know this area at all. It’s really sad, honestly, I would have loved to spend some time with them. We left the parking lot without any chicken…we didn’t even get out of the car. I found out later we’d turn east too soon. We should have driven north to Louis Trichard.

A bit further down the road we met road workers holding a big Stop sign…construction reduced the road to one lane and we had to wait our turn for the oncoming traffic. I turned off the car, rolled down my window, and felt the heat and smells pour in. It was really nice. Two boys were playing on a fence post about 30 yards away, barefoot. Several women sat on a stump just ahead of us talking in a radio trying to figure out if they should let us through yet (in an African language I couldn’t understand). So we sat there for a while and it was nice. I wasn’t afraid then because I couldn’t help the situation. We were there and had to go through. I get nervous when I’m in a situation when choice I’m contemplating make might put us in jeopardy, like getting out of the car in the crowded marketplace.

They finally signaled us on and we smiled and waved…large grins appeared on their faces. That helped. The road was rough for a while and we drove slow, waving at everyone we could. It was so much fun to see their expressions. I don’t know how often they see white people driving through that wave and say hi. Then we hit another flagger who directed us off the main road onto a dirt road that weaved through their village. Now we were driving really slow and could hear some of them saying things to us, seemed like nice things but we couldn’t understand. But as we drove further and further, I started to get nervous. Where were we going? The GPS said we weren’t far from the main road but it didn’t have this street in it’s system…and we just kept driving.

We finally hit pavement again and I was ready to turn left but the GPS (and Curtis) said to turn right. I thought we were back on the same road…turns out we weren’t. Luckily I didn’t go with my own gut that time (most if the time it doesn’t let me down like that).

From that point, it wasn’t long until we hit the gates of the Kruger Park. What a feeling! Back after 15 years…it was awesome. We paid our fees and started crawling down the road at about 10 mph. I saw something run across the road up ahead and immediately said “Mongoose!” I was right, and we pulled up right next to it as Curti snapped a few pics. He looked at me with a big grin and said, “this is so awesome!” My big camera gear was still in the trunk waiting until we hit the camp area a few miles in. But Curti got a few pics with the little one. A bit further and we found a medium sized elephant knocking around some trees about 100 feet into the brush.

By the time we hit the camp, which was only 10 or less miles in, we saw nyala, impala, a steenbok (imagine a deer the size of a house cat!), and monkeys jumping from tree to tree. Pretty dang cool for the first 30 minutes! We got to camp and it took them three tries to get us a vacant rondoval. The first one a guy came to the door really upset while I was jiggling the key in the lock (he appeared to be lounging in the buff). The second one already had suitcases in it, so we backed out. But the third time was the charm though. We got our room and Curtis cranked the AC.

So now, we are laying in our beds waiting until our night drive with the ranger starts. I’m dead tired and would actually prefer to hit the sack, but Curtis is so excited to go spotlighting in Africa there is now way I’d think to put it off. I do think I’ll sleep good tonight.

Continued on Day 3…

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