Perhaps the most exciting story from my time in South Africa comes from the Safari Game Drive we took on the weekend.
Our Safari was a self-guided tour through Pilanesberg National Park, one of the largest and most well respected nature reserves in South Africa. Although Kruger National Park is larger, our guide from the University of the Witwatersrand, Mathabella, argued that since Pilanesberg has a larger ratio of animals to land area, it is actually the best nature reserve in the country.
In any case, we were in for a long day of driving around. We saw all the essentials: hippos, giraffe, rhinos, lions, kudu, impala, guinea fowl, warthogs, wildebeest, meerkats and baboons. But right as we decided to make our way to the park’s central visitors center for some lunch, we encountered some elephants. The road was in a U shape, with the bottom of the U being a bridge over a small stream. Immediately after crossing the stream we had to wait in line for the elephants to cross the road. When we joined the line, there were about four or five cars in front of us, but soon, there were fifteen or twenty in total. Out of the blue, a few teenage elephants turned and started sauntering towards the car at the front of the line. Elephants often only fake charge at cars, but you have to back up irregardless, as you wouldn’t know for sure if it was a fake charge until it was too late. So there we were, backing up away from the elephant, at least until our guide backed us into a bush!
Three or four cars passed us as we sat there trying to maneuver our Ford Ranger Truck out of the shrubs and onto the road. Finally, we were on our way again; this time, with only one car in between us and the elephant. Over the course of the whole ordeal most of the elephants were peaceful, with only a few coming at us at different stages.
We backed up across the river, probably traveling a few hundred meters in reverse, until the first elephant went on its way and left us alone.
So, wanting to get to lunch, we started forwards again. We made it over the river and around the first bend, when all of a sudden a large, male elephant stopped eating the leaves off of a tree turned and trumpeted and stomped right at our buggy as we drove by. The loud noise and sudden nature of it all left us feeling nervous, so we slammed on the gas. We thought we were in the clear since the car in front of us was now out of view, but as soon as we rounded the next bend, we were greeted by that truck going full speed in reverse towards us, with a teenage elephant charging full speed not far behind.
Resultantly, we had to back up past the elephant from before, who, needless to say, was not very happy to see us again. Thankfully, we were able to keep backing up until the elephants got bored and walked off.
The entire experience was certainly the most nerve racking of our time in South Africa, and left us with a sense of respect for the power of the wild animals.
Photo is of the elephant who turned and trumpeted at us, and highlights quite well how close he was to us, as you can see the edge of the road and the cars shadow in the picture.
On the last day of my last trip to Thailand, I learned about two things that I could have done if I had more time: pet a tiger and swim in a shark tank. Ever since then, I've been looking for an excuse to go back.
My excuse came this year when I discovered that flying from Tokyo to Berlin would cost about $600 one way, but that a one way ticket from Tokyo to Bangkok and another one from Bangkok to Berlin would cost $500 combined. I wasn't getting a free trip to Bangkok-- I was getting paid to stop there.
Bangkok has some amazing malls- the apparent king of them being Siam Paragon, at the Siam skytrain station. Besides a movie theater with fold-nearly-flat leather recliners complete with pillows and duvets, a Lamborghini dealership stocked with cars, and one of the best food courts I've ever seen, it also has an aquarium. A big aquarium.
Beautiful doesn't quite do it justice. I wonder if there are any words to adequately describe Phuket, Thailand (pronounced pu-ket). Paradise, perhaps?
Located in the Andaman Sea of southern Thailand, Phuket's name, according to some sources, is said to be derived from two Thai words, phu (mountain) and ket (jewel). Seeing this beautiful mountain jewel was well worth the 23 hours it took to get there. There are tons of airlines that fly regularly to Thailand, but the best deal I found was with Korean Air. They provided top-notched service (even in economy class).
In 2004, the Indian Ocean earthquake caused a devastating tsunami throughout much of southeast Asia. Phuket has since recovered and has experienced tremendous growth. However, one tour guide confided that because of so much development, the island's natural beauty diminished. Admittedly, as a tourist, I couldn't relate but was very respectful of his concerns. I was drawn in and mesmerized by the aqua blue water, white sand beaches, mountain views, delicious cuisine, and the warm friendly smiles of the Thai people. Seven days was not nearly enough time to take it all in.. but believe me I tried!
Let me say though, nothing can prepare you for the heat. The weather is very, very hot and you will sweat like there's no tomorrow!! We were there in March, the "dry season", when temperatures are "cooler" and sea conditions are good for swimming and diving. (March is also considered high season for tourism which officially ends in April.) If you do make the trip, be sure to pack light loose fitting clothes. You can research the best time of year to plan your trip by visiting sites such as The Phuket Holiday Guide which breaks down the pros and cons for each month of the year.