Mar 16th 2014
Our time in Johannesburg was short, barely two days, so we had to allocate our time wisely. We decided that we should spend our first day visiting Lion Country Safari. After all, how many times does one get the chance to do this?
We had landed in Johannesburg at 6 a.m., got to our hotel, checked in, ate, then rested for an hour or two. At noon our tour guide came to pick us up.
He told us his name in his native tongue and frankly, we could not repeat it. It did however begin with the letter T, so he said we could call him Mr. T, or just T. So be it!
We had a 40 minute drive to the lion park. The cars in South Africa drive on the left side of the road, the opposite of what we in the USA are accustomed to. This shattered an urban legend I had heard that the only places where cars drive on the left are islands (Ireland, the United Kingdom, etc.). So I guess I can stop telling people that one.
As we drove to the park, we asked T about all the buildings we saw with the high walls and fences around them. He explained that was due to the high crime rate and added that personal and building security was the number one growth industry in the nation. We stopped at one intersection and saw a large sign posted by the provincial government, “Warning, you are entering a high crime area.” Even with that, we never felt threatened or in danger in the short time we were in the country.
We eventually arrived at the park.
After the souvenir shop we had our fist chance to see the animals: these were not particularly wild, they were behind a fence that we could walk up to.
After seeing these animals up close, it was time for us to get in the car and have T drive us out to the area where the lions roamed.
I was very happy at this time that I had bought a new camera, the Fuji SL1000. The 50X optical zoom would come in handy as we drove by, but not very close to, the large cats.
T drove us around the rest of the park, we saw more lions, some wild dogs, and some more lions. By now the day was starting to catch up with us, it was Sunday afternoon and we had been on the go since we left Austin on Friday evening, so we were very glad to hear T say that we had seen the entire park. After another quick stop at the souvenir shop, he drove us back to the hotel.
We had dinner and then called it a night. I looked forward to sleeping in a bed for the first time since Thursday night. Suffice to say, we slept very well.
Day two in Johannesburg
We slept fairly late, then went to the hotel dining room for a wonderful breakfast; we again sat on the outdoor veranda and enjoyed the mild weather.
My friend loves to drink iced tea, even with breakfast; when he ordered it, the server had no idea what he meant. Eventually he figured out the best thing to do was to order a pot of hot tea with two large glasses of ice. That worked.
We were still tired from the previous day and decided to take it easy, we’d walk over to Mandela Square, located just a few blocks from our hotel.
Nelson Mandela Square is not an outdoor square like Times Square in New York, you can’t drive by and see it. Rather, it is the interior courtyard of a large group of buildings that include an upscale hotel, a shopping mall, a library, many restaurants, and offices. It seemed fairly obvious to me that its construction was not only a tribute to the great man, but also part of the economic development of the Sandton area of Johannesburg.
We had to walk through the shopping mall to get to the famous Mandela Statue, it was worth the effort.
We shopped at some of the local craft shops located next to the library, then ate lunch at a restaurant in the square. By now it was past noon, so we walked back to the hotel, packed our bags and checked out.
The hotel had a shuttle bus that took us to the Gautrain station. We took that, and went to O.R. Tambo International Airport, went to the British Airways counter to check-in, and that is where one of my most fouled up trips ever began. I’ll share that story in the next article.
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