After what I thought was the most incredible three days of my life, Abby and I departed Cape Town hopeful that the next part of our journey would at least be a lot of fun. We had no idea that the second part of our trip could be even better than our time in Cape Town. We stayed at the Jackalberry Lodge in Thornybush Private Game Reserve which is right next to the famous Kruger National Park. We went on a game drive every morning and evening to explore the reserve and try to find the Big Five.
The Big Five are named as such because they are considered the five most dangerous animals to humans when encountered on land. They include: lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and cape buffalo. Apparently the group that came just days before us were unable to spot all of the animals because they spent a long time searching for leopards and were unable to find them. We were lucky enough to find one on our first drive!
It was hard to see how dangerous some of these animals are when they’re relaxing. All the sleeping cats we saw reminded me of my kitty at home-although I doubt they would want to cuddle with me like Reggie does. Things were much more intense however when we found a male leapord on a hunt a few days later. You could feel the tension as he stalked a warthog from afar. We also saw an incredible number of elephants, cape buffalo and rhino-both black AND white. I couldn’t believe that we saw both types of rhinos in the wild! At one point, our car went off roading (one of the benefits of staying at a private reserve rather than going into the National Park) and we found ourselves in the bush surrounded on all sides by elephants! They came so close to our car we could probably have touched them and went about their business eating.
The final animal we saw (and my personal favorite) was of course, the lion. Growing up The Lion King was my favorite movie and in college, my best friend bought me tickets to see it on Broadway for my birthday. I actually cried at the surprise and to this day it is one of the best presents I’ve ever recieved. I’m not quite sure why I’ve always loved lions but I think there is something so beautiful about an animal at the top of the food chain that is also so playful and social with its family members.
Someone asked our tour guide what his opinions were about the whole Cecil the Lion debacle that happened last year and his response was really interesting to me. He basically said that the story was sensationalized and that nobody in Africa actually cared about the lion. It reminded me of an article I read when the story first came out about how lions are terrors to Africans and how the local people hunt them because of how dangerous they are. Although the original story upset me, it was more upsetting because I find it just another example of American greed and excess. It was interesting, however, to hear how the backlash from established countries actually really hurt the tourism economy in several African countries due to the money they get from hunting excursions.
Another thing I found very interesting was the realization that race relations are still a very touchy subject. I didn’t notice it as much in Cape Town but I assume that is in part to the fact that it’s a city and we were in a tourist area for most of our time there. There were a few moments where I felt uncomfortable because someone made a remark that would be inappropriate in our culture (or at least I would be offended) but seemed completely normal there. It made me appreciate the fact that although we still have a lot of work to do here at home in that department, there are still many places in the world that are so much farther behind us in their race relations. It also makes me wish our country could set a better example so that others would be encouraged to catch up a little faster but that’s a topic for another day.
Leaving Hoedspruit and the Jackalberry Lodge was the most difficult part of our trip. I hadn’t been outside in the wilderness in a long time and I had missed it so much. Every night we ate dinner under the stars and I loved seeing new constellations. It was pretty funny when more than one person insisted they saw the Little Dipper which isn’t a constellation you can see in the Southern Hemisphere. The only constellation we share is Orion but it was pretty cool to view it from another part of the world.