Today I want to share a blog post from my friend and our Product Development Manager at Friendly Planet, Judy Poliva. Judy grew up in South Africa, the destination at the center of our Win Wild South Africa Sweepstakes. I asked her to fill us in on what makes South Africa so special and she delivered, so read on. After you’re finished, be sure to enter to win a free trip for two to South Africa on our Facebook page (now closed)!
When we were children growing up in the Johannesburg area, we didn’t realize how lucky we were. We lived within driving distance of the Kruger National Park!
Almost every year during our winter school holidays (July), my parents would pack up the car with supplies, and we would head off on a self-drive safari, for a week or sometimes two. As we got closer to the park, my sisters and I would start practicing game-spotting by looking at the herds of cattle.
But once we entered the park, the competition started in earnest: who could spot the first animal (this was usually an impala), the first giraffe, or a lion! This was a daily, all-day competition, and we never tired of it. On our journey home, we missed being on the constant look out, and the cattle didn’t seem so interesting anymore.
We would be ready at dawn to start out on our game drive as soon as the gate opened. At every rest stop, we listened carefully as travelers shared their stories of what they had seen, so that we could head off there as well. We also had to remember to close all the windows so that the vervet monkeys or baboons didn’t try to steal our things.
If we saw some cars in the distance, we headed in that direction. Or we drove around, hoping to get lucky. At night, we would watch wildlife films in the open-air theatre at the camp or listen to a lecture by a game ranger. We would fall asleep listening to the sounds of roaring lions not too far away, and wake to the gentle coos of the bush doves.
One of the most memorable of my childhood experiences was in the northern region of the Kruger National Park, a more remote area that had only one-lane dirt roads. There was no other car in sight. We came around a corner, and the road dipped down a sharp incline to a dry river bed and then up an equally sharp incline. As we neared the bottom of the dip, an elephant walking along the dry river bed started crossing the road. Then, another and another and another, a seemingly endless stream of these huge, majestic creatures. There must have been more than 10 elephants of all ages.
Suddenly, one of the larger elephants looked in our direction and raised its trunk, flapped its ears, and took a few steps in our direction. My father put the car in reverse and we slowly went back up the hill. My sisters and I were shrieking with a mixture of excitement and fear. The elephants eventually decided we weren’t so interesting after all. They continued their journey, and disappeared into the bush once more. Once again, we were alone on the road.