The Big 5 Before Breakfast!

Alexandra Szotka
April 25, 2014

I’ll begin this post where my last one left off. So after leaving Soweto, I’m pretty sure we drove the long way to Kruger in order for us to see the “Panorama Route.” This route featured some of South Africa’s most beautiful natural wonders. However, before we got to the nature stuff, we got to eat and eat A LOT! We stopped at this famous restaurant called “Harry’s Pancakes,” which were basically glorified crepes with countless filling options. After we stuffed ourselves with the crepes we walked next door to on one of South Africa’s premier Belgium chocolate shops. I got a couple super-overpriced truffles that ended up being worth every rand I spent. My favorite by far was the hazelnut truffle, basically nutella in one bite! After we were pleasantly full we boarded our coach bus once again and drove to see the “Blyde River Canyon,” which is a believe the 3rd biggest canyon in the world, behind the Grand Canyon, and the Fish Hook Canyon. That may be wrong, but that’s my story and I’m sticking with it! Anyways, we saw amazing views of the canyon and surrounding natural wonders such as viewpoints called “God’s Window” and “the 3 rondawels.” The “3 rondawels” got their name because the shape of these three mountains all look like the traditional houses made in South Africa, called rondewels. After sitting around all day on the bus, it was wonderful to finally arrive at our tour guide Crazy Dave’s backpackers in Nelspruit, which is the capital of the Mpumalanga province in South Africa. Crazy Dave and his family had one of the best backpackers (basically a glorified hostel, bunk beds, one bathroom, just super casual) that I have gone to since being here and frequenting a lot of them. Anyway, we quickly ate another delicious vegetarian dinner and went to sleep super early in order to get enough rest for our 4am wake-up call in the morning!

I’m on the top of the world, you and I! But really these are the 3 rondawels.

The canyon!

I’m SUCH a rebel!

Canyon chillin’

Once we woke up for our 4am wake-up call we piled into our safari vehicles which were all lined up in front of the backpackers. Luckily we got to choose who was in our car with us, so I ended up sitting with all my favorite IES Abroad friends. We drove about an hour to get to the closest entrance to Kruger, and on the way we set the tone for what would be a thrilling two days of annoying our safari guide Dave. We screamed songs at the top of our lungs as we drove down the highway, and when we got to the park, Dave just glared at us. We just didn’t care because we knew that under Dave’s gruff exterior, we would eventually find a secretly joyous person.  We started the trip by quickly using the bathroom, because Dave told us that “we won’t be stopping for 3 hours, if you tell me you have to pee, well I’m just gonna tell you that you have to wait….” With that threat out in the open, I promised myself that I wouldn’t drink for the rest of the day. We then entered the park and for about 20 minutes we didn’t see any wildlife, then all of a sudden Dave pointed out Cape Buffalos to us, who were grazing about 30 feet away from us. After the buffalo siting, we continued to get lucky, seeing not only a Lioness, but also two leopards, elephants, and white Rhinos.


Welcome to Kruger!

What we like to call “an African roadblock”

Dave not only had a knack for spotting animals in the dense bush, but he also was a trained herbologist, so he knew what every plant was and what medicinal value they all had. He was constantly showing us the cool things plants could do, such as one that became an African toothbrush, one that could be used as soap, one that could poison, one that could cure nausea, and one that may help prevent skin cancer. Dave was so knowledgeable and this really helped our game drive become more meaningful. However, one of the most memorable parts of the day, was when Dave really started to become sassy. We were driving past this tree, and all of a sudden, one girl Sydney says, “Oh my god, it is a BIG RED ANIMAL hanging from that tree!” I proceeded to turn and announce the same thing, after seeing what I believed to be a BIG RED ANIMAL. Dave quickly reversed the vehicle and because the tree was quite a distance away, we all took out our binoculars to get a better look. We were all trying to figure out what the animal was when all of a sudden Leah says, “OMG, guys I think that is a dead animal hanging from the tree…” We all got really quiet and Delise joked, “ohhh, should we have a moment of silence? what should we do? Should we go take it down?” We were all just stunned and after seeing the animal with new eyes we all began to see the dead animal and began to think it was hanging on the branch fully skinned. Dave seemed a little hesitant about our hypothesis on the animal, so we passed the binoculars forward and Dave had a look. He slowly turns to look back at us and says, “Guys, that’s a dead branch…” We proceeded to burst out laughing at our stupidity, and the fact that we had been SO concerned and yet it wasn’t an animal at all! Our laughter continued on for about another 20 minutes. We then saw a bunch of little ducks cross the road in front of us and Sam said, “Oh look at the little babies!” Dave, per usual, had a smart comeback, stating, “Actually, those are adults.” Of course that comment set off the laughter once again. Finally we got to an area where we saw a baby Zebra with its mother. Sam, once again said how cute the baby was, and Dave proceeded to say, “Oh those things get HAMMERED by Lions, and by hammered, I mean killed.” We were stunned once more by his dry humor and we laughed and laughed and laughed. By that time, I think Dave continued to joke like that because he knew that we would take no offense to his sarcastic comments.



Favorite animal!

At the end of the day we ended up actually sleeping in the park at this campground with these little two person huts. I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and I was too terrified to walk all the way across the campground the bathroom, because I was fearful of what large, angry animal would see me as food that night. After this experience, I can definitely say that although I am all for hiking and nature, camping isn’t really my thing. I’d prefer a clean shower, free of giant bugs, any day. After our game drive the following day, I waited two long hours for my mom to finally arrive in South Africa. Once we met up, a WHOLE knew set of events occurred. More to come about mum in Cape Town!


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Alexandra Szotka

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Alexa is a sophomore at Ithaca College studying both Public Health and Politics, while also hoping to dapple in her new found interest in gender studies. She grew up in Windsor, Connecticut, famous for being the first town in Connecticut. When Alexa doesn&#39;t have her nose in a book, she can be found singing, eating (especially anything pumpkin), being sarcastic or exploring the fantastic world that we are lucky enough to call home. Studying in Cape Town in a dream come true, and Alexa is ready and willing to soak up every last bit of adventure that comes her way!</span></p>

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