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Christmas and The Kruger National Park

Written by Jessica on February 15, 2014

Jessica having her first South Africa beerStart: December 5, Seattle WA
Finish: January 1, Johannesburg, South Africa
Types of meat eaten: at least 10
Animals seen: 50 +
Trees with pubs inside: 1
Money spent on illegal fireworks: not allowed to say

The past several months Jess and I have been preparing for our trip to South Africa, working on projects and getting things squared away for our journey of rediscovery

Two days before our flight, our trusty 4Runner, Blue, started misfiring. Our efforts to fix the problem failed, and we ended up at a mechanic. The conclusion: we needed new fuel injectors. Cost to repair $1000 and a weeks time. Greeaatttt. Thankfully family nearby let us borrow cars to get us until flight day... and poor Blue is parked until our return. 

On our flight from Amsterdam to South Africa every other passenger was reading a newspaper headlined "Farewell Mandela". All I could think of were his words “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.” That is all I wish for Madiba.

Our arrival in South Africa was as expected, hugs, kisses, laughs and tears. There were definietly some moments of "wow this place changed" but mostly Jess and I were tired and dirty from flying for 31 hours. A hot shower, some beer, food and a good nights rest was pretty much all we wanted.

Our first day back on the continent was sunny and 85, the beers were cold and on the grill was full of lamb and sausage. Yum! Fortunately we brought our limited-edition (never to be made again - soon to be on auction on eBay) Ruined Adventures beer cozies. Never have warm beer again. It was good to be home and great to see our family again. 

The first week was spent catching up on the happenings in the family, going to town in small doses to reacquaint ourselves with the people, cultures and the cost of things at the mall. In retrospect, getting reacquainted at shopping malls two weeks before Christmas was probably not the smartest thing to do. It did however give us a chance to spend time with our nieces and newphews, helping them Christmas shop for their parents and grandparents.

blue #2

On top of it all, we had less than two weeks to buy a car. We had spreadsheets upon spreadsheets. Budgets came, and budgets went. In the end we traded the older, bigger, high clearance SUV for the newer, better-maintaned (full-leather-interior, aircon-that-works and holy-shit-it's-got-cup-holders) Subaru Forrester. Blue #2. 

Christmas at my mom's house was awesome. It's something that I have truly missed. We spent the days preceding in a shopping frenzy, making snacks and preparing this feast.

In case you haven't noticed, South Africans are meat-eaters. For snacks we have meat, meat and more meat. You can have some potatoes if you really want, but you better follow it up with some more meat. How I have missed this.

And for those with a sweet tooth there is always the pineapple tart and custard and condensed milk tarts. Needless to say, weight loss was not on our to-do list. 

Christmas Eve we decided that everyone can unwrap one gift. This is my neice, Sherdean, giving my mom a tea cup and a box of tea. "Because grandma likes tea." 

Christmas morning we spent lounging about, unwrapping gifts and catching up on the last five years.

Ready for Christmas dinner, Jessica discovers the wonders of the Christmas cracker. Something that apparently has not found its way to the States. Each one contains a joke, a mystery gift and a paper hat.  (And no, cracker as in "Yo homey pick the cotton faster cuz here comes ole Mr. Cracker"1 does not have the same meaning in South Africa.)

A few days after Christmas, Jessica’s RIT college roommate arrived for a 10-day trip around the country. The first and the last time I saw Melissa was at our wedding reception almost 8 years ago. Our plan was to go to the Kruger National park for 3 days, spend New Year’s eve with my family, then drive to Cape Town for the remaining 6 days. Queue the mayhem...

One of the first animals we spotted was this gorgeous white Rhino grazing all by himself. The rest of the day was equally as impressive, animals were abundant, scenery phenomenal and the accommodation surprisingly nice.

The following morning we headed out in search of cats. We had seen a lion the day before, but we really wanted to see some cheetahs or maybe a leopard. Instead we saw tons of elephants, the bulls all worked up because of mating season. 

It was amazing to see how some people ignored the rules when approaching these behemoths. The day we left the Kruger one bull elephant flipped a car over. There are videos that clearly show the driver following the elephant too closely and then ignoring the warning signs before the attack. The park officials decided that the elephant had to be put down for attacking a car and injuring the people. Makes sense, right?

There were a few less aggressive animals on the road. This little guy stood frozen for about five minutes before deciding that we didn't mean him any harm. Then he sllooooooly continued his walk across the road. 

There were tons of little monkeys, with even smaller monkeys attached to them. 

Our second and third day saw lots of rain, with many of the roads closed to non-4x4 traffic. Not being ones to stand on ceremony we tested the waters and muddy roads. Blue #2 had no issues crawling in and out of valleys.

Not sure what these little guys were called, but we found several dozen huddling together in the rain. This one looks like he’s had enough of both tourists and the weather.

And finally, some carnage! This poor elephant crossed the river, got stuck in the mud and became a buffet for crocodiles. Sing it with me now... "The circle of life...."

On the way back from the Kruger we spent the night at a guest house that felt like it belonged in the hills of Costa Rica or Guatemala. We once again found ourselves in search of the Resplendent Quetzal. Yes, Quetzals those mystical little birds that I swear don't exist, not in Central America, nor in Africa. We left dissapointed again. 

sa 16

sa 18The next morning we headed home and stopped by one of the world's largest baobab trees, and the only one to have a pub inside. The entrance was a mere hole in the side of the tree, but the inside was big enough to hold at least a dozen people. Unfortunately the taps were closed when we visited. 

Back in Gauteng, we said goodbye to 2013 with illegal fireworks sold by the guy at the liquor store who does the window tinting from the back of his sketchy VW golf. Classy. 

Some bottles of champagne were drunk, glow rings were worn and the neighbors all blew things up in the street. Welcome to 2014!

Up Next: We head south to Cape Town and start buying wine by the case.


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#1 James 2014-02-15 15:43
damn Africa looks awesome. I need to drink inside that tree before I die. good to see the Subie gettin dirty

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