What was I thinking?
This has to be the worst way of getting to Africa from Hawaii! Hilo-Honolulu-Taipei-Hong Kong-Dubai-Johannesburg. It was 60 hours of pure HELL! My reasoning when booking was we could do layovers in Dubai and Hong Kong on the way back and see more of the world. That sounded good on paper, but didn’t really put much thought into how long it would take to get to Africa.
Tom and I left Hilo on September 19th for an overnight in Honolulu. Took an afternoon flight, had a good prime rib dinner at the hotel, had a few g & t’s and off to bed. Woke up early the next morning, took the shuttle to China Airlines, checked in (10 minutes) and waited for Burger King to open. We tried to get China Airlines to check our bags all the way through to Johannesburg, but since the flight to Dubai was after 12:00 midnight, they couldn’t do it.
The first flight wasn’t too bad on an A300 with a pretty good VOD system. The plane was full and the 2-4-2 configuration was nice, and we left Honolulu on time. I watched 3-4 movies, slept a little, played some video games and 9 hours and 40 minutes later we landed in Taipei for a two hour layover. Not much to see in the Taipei unless you like Asian porno magazines, as these were available at most of the shops. There is a museum like thing there with reproductions of the real art you would see if you went to the Taipei Museum.
The next flight was on a 747, again a full flight, this one with no VOD or game system. The food smelled gross, some kind of sushi roll type thing but steamed. I think that was the first meal I ever turned down. Short flight of only 1 hour and 45 minutes to Hong Kong.
Since our bags weren’t checked through, we had to collect our duffels and go through immigration and wait 8 hours for our next flight. The immigration process was quick and we went to the Emirates check-in area but they wouldn’t be open for another 5 and a half hours. If you are a shopper, the Hong Kong airport is for you, I‘m not so didn‘t bother with the shops. Found a Burger King and had dinner and walked circles in the airport. If I had known at the time how easy Hong Kong is to get around, we would have left the airport and went into town, but I didn’t want to take any chances of missing our flight to Dubai.
Finally Emirates check-in opened and we were able to go into the secure area where there is even more shops, a lounge, restaurants etc. Our flight was called and we were again on our way. Another 2-4-2 configuration, another full flight, good VOD system and pretty good food. Took an Ambien and got some sleep and before I knew it, 9 hours later, we were in Dubai.
For anyone with a layover of more than 2 hours, Emirates gives you a free meal in one of the restaurants in the airport. Not bad, nothing to write home about but it did kill some of our 5 and a half hour layover. Then off to the Duty Free where we stocked up on gin. The Dubai airport is big, modern and crowded but there is NOWHERE to sit while waiting for your flight.
Off we go, finally on the last leg of this journey and felt we would be in Africa soon. This flight was full, best VOD system, ICE, but the seats were 3-4-3. I can’t sit still for too long, so the poor guy next to me didn’t get much sleep as I was up and down quite often. 9 and a half hours later, WE MADE IT! 60 hours after leaving home, we were in Africa again! It never felt so good to be somewhere as it felt to be here. Got our bags (30 minutes), went through immigration (15 minutes) grabbed a luggage cart and made our way to the hotel shuttle area over by the Domestic Terminal. They have really cleaned up the JNB/ORT airport, banning all unlicensed porters and taxis and it was a nice, unharassed walk, unlike the other times we went through JNB.
We stayed at the Southern Sun Airport Hotel, a five minute ride from the airport. Very nice hotel, comfortable rooms and a good restaurant. It’s about 1/3 the price of the Airport Sun and I thought it was just as nice. Cracked open the first bottle of gin and toasted to a successful trip. Had dinner in the restaurant and went to bed.
Left the hotel for the Domestic terminal and waited for our flight to be put on the screen. Rented a cell-phone from Vodafone, went to check in, showed my original credit card used to buy the ticket (they did ask for it) and we were on our way to Kruger (KMIA) airport. Nice flight with a chicken salad sandwich and Coke Light (too early for g & t’s) and 1 hour and a half later we landed at KMIA, a really beautiful airport, looked kind of like a big mountain lodge. You could smell Africa in the air and feel it on your skin.
Let The Adventure Begin!
I had been having nightmares for months about this “self-drive” trip we were doing. Elephant trampling the car, trying to change a flat tire surrounded by lions, etc. etc. but when we got there most of the fears vanished and I felt confident that we could do this and enjoy it. Went to the Avis counter, got our car (a Hyundai Tucson SUV-comfortable and roomy) and we were on our way. Anyone considering a self-drive, I highly recommend renting an SUV for the height and suspension. The unpaved roads in Kruger can be pretty bumpy and I am glad we didn’t rent a sedan.
Left Will Always Be Left!
The lady at the Avis counter told me directions to the town to buy supplies. Go left here and in 10km you will see White River. O.K. I chalk this up to jet-lag but my figuring was this: Since I’m driving on the opposite side of the road than in America, the directions must be opposite also. So, we go right and am driving over these hills with a beautiful village and all the villagers in their blue and white church clothes heading back from church. After 25km, Tom said, “how much farther?” I said “I don’t know, it was only supposed to be 10km, but we’ve gone 25km so maybe we should turn around.” He said, “How’d ya f--k this up?” I said “The lady said turn left at the road and I did.” He said “You turned right” I said “Yeah, but since I’m on the other side of the road than at home, the directions are opposite than what she told me.” He said “Left will always be left, no matter what side you drive on.” (and I heard the word moron somewhere in this conversation.)
We turned around and again passed through this beautiful village and all the villagers in their blue and white church clothes, over these hills thinking “I’d like to live in this village.” Some of the houses were brick huts, others had very ornate gates and windows and there were goats all around. Very scenic village, but we were on a mission to get to Kruger.
Found White River and stopped at two supermarkets to stock up on supplies. Coke Light, tonic, and some food. Since it was a Sunday, the shops closed at 3 so we had about an hour to get all we needed. The first store was pretty much wiped out so asked a woman where the other shop was. She said “Turn left at Kentucky” it’s on the right. Here we go again! Kentucky turned out to be Kentucky Fried Chicken, I of course turned right but managed a quick U-turn and found the Super-Spar Market and finished our shopping and followed the signs to Kruger Numbi gate.
Checked in at the park gate and drove a short distance to Pretoriuskop, our home for 1 night. Saw some zebra, giraffe and impala on the way in. Bought our Wild-Card, got our key and drove to our bungalow. There are park fees for every day you are in the park or you can buy a Wild-Card which is cheaper if you are spending more than 6 nights in the park. The cost of the Wild-Card is a bit over $100 U.S. per person and is good for 1 year. The daily park fee without a Wild-Card is around $18.00 per person.
The bungalow here was in the rondaval design. Two beds, shower, toilet, sink, refrigerator, hot plate, air conditioner and that’s about all, not as well equipped as the other camps we stayed at. There was clean linen on the very comfortable beds, great pillows, towels and a bar of soap. I went to check out the restaurants and found a “take-away” restaurant and a buffet style restaurant and decided we would eat at the “take-away” restaurant after our first game drive. Loaded up the g & t and headed out. The way Kruger is set up is the main roads are paved and in very good condition and off of the main roads there are “loops”. The “loops” are mostly gravel, again in good condition but in the corrugated type road and very bumpy. Speed limits on the paved roads is 50kmh and on the gravel roads 40kmh. Rarely do you go that fast as there is almost always something to stop and see.
We took the first loop out of camp and came across a rhino! Of all the animals we hadn’t yet seen on our trips, rhino was the one I most wanted to see. He/she was incredible in size and we spent some time watching it eat grass a bit off the road. Continued on the drive and came across a tssebe, some elephants, more zebra and giraffes, water buck and birds. Pulled off the road for a g & t and watched some zebra eating and baboons playing.
Got back to our bungalow and found out the “take-away” closed at 6, and the menu at the buffet didn’t sound so good, so we had salami and cheese sandwiches, a few more g & t’s and in bed by 8. The rules at Kruger are that you have to be in the camp gate by 6, and must follow the speed limit. Oh yeah, and Do Not Feed The Animals! Not much to do after 6 except eat and sleep. All of the bungalows have braais (bar-b-q’s) for cooking but we didn’t have any food to bar-b-q this night. Another thing to know is that Kruger is very popular, especially on school holidays and you need to book the camps you want early. It was school holidays while we were there and I booked the camps about 6 months out and availability was limited for the first couple of nights. That is the reason we had to spend 1 night here, 1 night there. Two or three nights at each camp would be enough, 1 night is not long enough.
Off to Orpen Camp
Got up early the next morning, had some cereal and headed off to Orpen Camp, our next stop. 182 km from Pretoriuskop to Orpen, and of course I had to stop and see all of the animals along the side of the road. Took most of the day to get there, stopped at Satara Camp for lunch and stock up on tonic. Beautiful scenery on the way up, the usual cast of characters along the side of the road-zebra, giraffe, impala and elephants. Made it to Orpen by mid afternoon.
Orpen is one of the smaller camps and there is no restaurant here, but they do have a nice shop and swimming pool. The bungalow was more square in design with a bigger (huge) bathroom and shower, two comfortable beds, even better pillows, a refrigerator, hot plate, air conditioner, toaster, all utensils and large deck. We had squirrels and yellow billed hornbills to keep us company.
I saw a group of black “little ladies” looking into the pool area so I went over to them and asked if I could take their picture, they were so cute. Showed them what they looked like on the screen and they all laughed like crazy! They wanted so badly to go into the pool area, so I told them “Go ahead, put your feet in the water.” They had a ball and giggled at the rather large lady in her bikini and a rather large man in a speedo. I admit I laughed along with them. There is a web-cam at the waterhole outside of the camp, but I never saw a single animal using it.
Loaded up the g & t and went on a game drive. Found a hyena family on the side of the road, and this is where I fell in love with hyenas. They are so fascinating to watch. The mom was nursing her cub, dad (or surrogate dad) was fast asleep. Finally baby woke up and was quite a character! Came across a huge herd of buffalo, at least 200 who surrounded the car. The cutest little buffalo thought he was so tough staring in our window and making all sorts of funny faces. When they finally crossed the road it was time to head back. Stopped to say good-night to the hyenas and were back at camp by gate closing. Tom spotted a snake on a dirt mound, so I took a picture and when back at camp, asked an “independent” guide what kind of snake it was. He said that it’s not supposed to be out this time of year, probably one of the refugees from Mozambique brought it in. I’m thinking “yeah, you leave your country and pack up a spitting cobra?”
Glad we didn’t book him for our night drive!
Since there was no restaurant here (we knew that when we booked) we had salami and cheese sandwiches again and a few g & t’s to ward off the malaria.
We booked a night drive at this camp. It had started raining and had gotten cold but went ahead with the drive. Probably one of the worst drives I’ve ever been on (the worst is coming up). Due to the rain, we didn’t see much of anything, and honestly, I didn’t care if we did I was so cold. Met a nice man manning the gate at the camp. When he found out we were from the U.S. he asked if we had ever met Oral Roberts. I said, “no, we hadn’t” He said “I LOVE that man, I have read his book, I LOVE that man, I saw him on T.V. I LOVE that man.” “When I quit this stupid gate job, I am going to save and someday I will go to America and meet Mr. Oral Roberts”. “I LOVE that man!” O.K.
Got up early again. Tom wasn’t feeling too good. Had cereal and headed off to Shingwedzi Camp, our next stop where we’d be staying 2 nights. Stopped to visit with the hyena family, the baby was quite inquisitive, he went up to another car and sniffed the tires, then mom came and brought him back to the den. The ride was beautiful, big boulders coming out of nowhere, passed the Tropic of Capricorn, which I think is significant since they had a sign stating that was where we were. Not a lot of animals due to last nights rain, (but I did stop at every giraffe and zebra we came across) and I actually set the cruise control for 60kmh. We had 225 km to cover today and Tom slept most of the way. Made it to Shingwedzi in mid afternoon.
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What was I thinking?