Kruger Park, South Africa

At the last moment, the good people at Air Canada came through and were able to get me an upgrade to business class on the Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg. Since I slept (or feigned sleep in hopes of converting desire to reality) for most of the flight, I didn’t do much eating and drinking. Consequently, I was pretty dehydrated when we touched down. Nonetheless, since I did sleep a little, I wasn’t very tired. In preparation for the FIFA World Cup in 2010, Johannesburg’s airport is in the process of becoming really large. It’s already pretty big, but since it’s in the midst of an expansion, it’s also pretty disorganized. You have to do a lot of walking to get between two places that you would naturally be close together (international arrivals and departures, for example).

After breezing through immigration, I crossed the street, and found, tucked in behind the InterContinental Hotel, the shuttle bus stop, where I hopped in the CityBug shuttle bound for Nelspruit. In the little van were only a few people, and I spent the ride chatting with a young woman who is studying electrical engineering. She had a C++ programming text book with her – she’s just begun the class – so we talked about control structures, and pointers. The conversation was fun and made the time pass quickly. After a few hours, we arrived in Nelspruit, I hopped out of the van and had an ice cream while I waited for the guys from the Funky Monkeys hostel to pick me up. Arriving at the hostel, I was greeted by a pair of lively Jack Russels named Ping Pong and Cleo, who were wrestling one another for an old branch. The hostel was great and helped me set up a fabulous trip to Kruger Park with the sister company, Funky Safaris, which I’d really recommend.

At the hostel, I met a fellow (Ryan) from Santa Barbara, who recounted a story that compelled me to worry for my safety during the remainder of my stay in South Africa. While in Durban with his sister and his girlfriend (who was out of the US for the first time in her life), a pair of bandits stopped them on the street, demanded their wallets and then shot the Ryan in the leg. When we met, he was hobbling around crutches – lacking any sensation in his foot made it very hard for him to stand. Ryan was hopeful for a full recovery and was in surprisingly good spirits, but, days later, his girlfriend was still visually trembling. Ryan’s story was followed by that of another fellow who was sipping beer in a Johannesburg hostel when armed men burst through the door and demanded everyone lay on the floor and empty his pockets. I personally had no trouble, but I often detected an undercurrent of mistrust tensely woven through the social fabric. Given the history of race relations in the country, I think it’s understandable, but it’s sad the problem now manifests itself through building high walls and topping them with electrified razor wire.

After a few great days in Kruger Park, I made my way back to Johannesburg on the CityBug. This time, the shuttle was pretty full and the man behind me had some sort of gastro-intestinal problem; 75% of the way through the trip, it was apparent that he’d soiled himself. He actually removed his socks and shoes and tight-rolled his pants so the fecal waste would be trapped in the leg of the trousers, just around his knee. A noble move (it saved him from staining the van seat), but the smell was revolting. When it became apparent to everyone what had taken place, the driver pulled over and allowed the man to visit a petrol station toiled to clean himself up. It might have been better if the ill chap informed the driver ahead of time, so we could have accommodated his needs.

Anyway, we eventually reached Johannesburg, where I hopped on a flight to Cape Town. Interestingly, Kulula (the discount carriers I used), is working with British Airways, who operates some of their flights. So, en route to Cape Town, I was served a real snack in economy class: free drinks and a sandwich. Nice.