On Saturday morning, after spending a lovely evening in our log chalet at Zur Alten Mine Guest Farm, my mom and I loaded our suitcases and backpacks into our rental car. We had breakfast with the other B&B guests. To tell the truth “breakfast” doesn’t quite describe it. It was more like a feast. I had three pieces of chocolate cake. If that’s considered wrong then I don’t want to be right. We settled our bill with the owner and he helped us decide which Panorama sights to stop off at. We only had two hours to spare before we had to begin the five-hour drive to Johannesburg Airport. As we discussed our options the owner asked us if we had heard about the famous person who had died in the United States the previous day. We hadn’t. He regrettably informed us that Gene Hackman had passed away. I was really surprised. I didn’t even know he was sick. It wasn’t until we got home that we realized that it was Larry Hagman, not Gene Hackman. (I just looked both of them up on IMDB and Gene is almost two years older than Larry. Stay strong, Gene!)
After we created our game plan for the day we said farewell to our gracious hosts and drove to Bourke’s Luck Potholes. These “potholes” were formed naturally and they are quite a sight to behold. They were named after Tom Bourke who predicted he would make a fortune prospecting for gold in the potholes. Sadly he didn’t have much luck.
We used our remaining time to visit Lisbon Falls. I had promised one of my friends that I would take a picture of a waterfall for her. Here it is:
Just before noon my mom and I officially set our sights on Johannesburg. On our way out of Graskop we stopped off at a woodcarver’s roadside craft stand. The man was very nice. My mom bought one of his carved birds. I was tempted to buy something but I decided to hold onto my cash for upcoming toll roads and one final souvenir run at the Johannesburg airport.
Whilst en route to the airport we stayed on the Panorama Route for as long as possible. Eventually we had to get on the “real” freeway. The skies were a little cloudy and at a few points we experienced some moderate rain. I realized we were incredibly lucky – we had never once been rained on during the trip. This was the dreariest scene we saw the entire time:
We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to return our rental car and go through multiple security checkpoints. It’s a good thing we did because my poor mom had a terrible time over at the Air France check-in counter. I would be flying Delta to Salt Lake City via Atlanta. My mom would be flying Air France to San Francisco via Paris. We both had to print our boarding passes and check in our bags at our respective airline counters. My Delta check-in process took me about 10 minutes. My mom’s check-in took her at least 45 minutes. The Air France desk was in complete disarray and when I walked over there it looked like some of the passengers were ready to throw punches. At that point my flight’s departure time was quickly approaching so my mom and I parted ways. The next line I had to go through (where Customs stamps your passport) took me about 45 minutes. It was awful, mostly because I was baking hot and I didn’t have water in my water bottle. (I hate that rule!) I sincerely dislike the Johannesburg Airport. Regardless, I’m sure I will return one day. I will just be sure to avoid Air France!
When I arrived at my gate I had to show my passport to enter the waiting area. The boarding process began a little while later and when I boarded I had to show my passport for the fourth and final time. They sure had a lot of security protocols! I found my seat and settled in for a long, long flight. Seventeen hours long to be exact. The best part of the flight was the fact that the middle seat on my row was empty. This made for a much more comfortable ride. In order to readjust to the US time zones I knew I had to stay awake for the first 6-8 hours of the flight. After that I could sleep the rest of the flight and be on a mostly normal schedule. With the help of some prescribed sleeping pills I was able to get a good night’s rest.
On Sunday morning I woke up with a few more hours to go before my flight landed. I ate breakfast and watched another movie. Near the end of the flight I took a look at the flight route map and almost laughed out loud. The flight was crazy long!
When I landed in Atlanta it was a great relief to walk around for a little bit! I found my next gate and wrote in my journal to whittle down the 3.5 hour layover. After I burned out on writing I used my iPhone to catch up on a few emails and Facebook posts. Eventually I boarded my flight to Salt Lake City. The end was in sight – only four more hours of flying to go! To my surprise this last flight is the one that nearly undid me. There was someone in the seat next to me so all of the stretching out space I had on the other plane was gone. Plus I had already been in a car, in an airport, at a gate, or on a plane for the last 28 hours. I was ready to be done!
When I landed in Salt Lake City I did a little victory dance (mentally, not physically), claimed my baggage and met Stella outside for a lovely ride back to her place. She had to leave for church right away but I had time to grab the stuff I had left in her condo and give her a thank-you hug. I loaded up my car and nervously sat in the driver’s seat before I set out. I was a little scared to drive back to my apartment since I had sat in the passenger seat and observed reverse-direction traffic for the last week and a half. (What if I forgot which side of the road I was supposed to be on?) I made it home problem free. I finished writing in my journal before I allowed myself to unpack, take a shower or turn on the TV. I used my remaining hours of freedom to stretch out on my couch (PRICELESS) and catch up on my DVR and talk to a few friends.
In the weeks since the trip I have had several dreams about being on safari. I really hope I can make it back to South Africa one day. If you like animals I would completely recommend saving up your money and going to South Africa for a safari. My entire trip cost about $4,000 but it was paid for a little at a time – first the Delta flights, then an in-country South Africa flight, then a deposit on the safari lodge, then my cash withdrawals in-country, then my credit card purchases, and finally all of the money I still owed my mom.
Many people have asked me what my favorite part of the trip was. I really can’t pinpoint an exact moment. There are too many to choose from! All I can really offer is a Top 10 Moments in chronological order. (You’ll notice they all involve animals.)
Great White Shark Dive (Part 3)
Penguins at Betty’s Bay (Part 3)
Baboons on the car (Part 5)
Herd of elephants (Part 6)
Bathing hyena (Part 7)
Finding the lionesses (Part 8)
Searching for the Africa wild dogs (Part 8)
Watching a newborn wildebeest learn to walk (Part 8)
Spotting the rhinoceros (Part 9)
Safaris may be seen as a once-in-a-lifetime vacation but I recommend setting aside time for two or three trips to Africa. Once you get back from your first trip you just might find yourself perusing flight options for the following year. South Africa can steal your heart. Be prepared to love it!