We spent our last hours in Pilanesberg National Park, participating in two different game drives: one in the evening, and one in the early hours of the morning. I’ll admit, while this part of the trip generated excitement in pretty much everyone else on the trip, I was pretty hesitant in the beginning. I’ve never had any aspirations to go on any type of safari to see wild, dangerous animals in their natural habitat – especially while sitting in such an open and exposed vehicle. However, once our guide drove us into the park and onto the park’s roads, I began to actually see the animals that lived in the park and calmed down a little. The biggest issue for me was not knowing what to expect, because we were told that animals could be extremely close to the vehicle. This was especially true on the second game drive in the morning when we saw the giraffes and the elephants – we could have reached out and touched them they were so close. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of these animals though. I was more fearful of the cats – lions, leopards, etc. So I was very pleased when we saw the lions relaxing in the sun a very far distance from our truck. It would have been nice to get some closer photos of them, but I definitely felt more safe with the way everything played out.
Despite my fears of this activity, I wouldn’t take it back. In fact, I might even do it again if I’m ever presented with the opportunity. It ended up being pretty cool, and now I can say I’ve been on not just one, but two safaris. Not many people can say that.
To go backwards a bit, our last day in Johannesburg was pretty interesting. The early part of our day consisted of a tour of Alexandra Township led by a white man who clearly had some issues, and seemed weirdly adamant on proving that he was racist no longer despite Apartheid. Because our guide was so off-putting, I simply decided to tune him out for the majority of the tour and focus on what I was seeing around me in the township. As an African American person, I wasn’t too shocked or deeply saddened by the awful things I saw people living through in Alex because I’m used to seeing and hearing about people with black skin suffering, whether they’re African or American. However, what did surprise me was that the people living in poor conditions in Alex are living rent free, which in turn seems to be preventing the government from doing much to help get the people out of there to start rebuilding (at least this is what our guide told us, it didn’t seem to sound incorrect). I was also intrigued by the increased lack of effort by the government to provide a garbage disposal system. I noticed that in both Capetown and Joburg there didn’t seem to be very many trash cans. I always found myself having to hold my trash for a long time or simply hoarding it in the van until we got back to our accommodation to prevent littering. But in Alex, there simply was no real system at all. everyone would just throw all of their trash straight into the streets, which piled up and caused very foul odors to permeate the neighborhood. It was also very interesting to see goats roaming the premises eating the garbage right in plain sight. Since things like that don’t usually happen in the United States (in reference to wild animals roaming the streets), it’s always a sight to see wild animals walking around at their leisure amongst the people.
Another part of this tour that was interesting was visiting the hostels. It’s amazing what people are strong enough to live through. The hallways had no lights or windows, making it almost impossible to see where you were going without a flashlight. There was nothing but trash piling up around the walls of each building, and I was intrigued by the little stores that had set up inside some of the rooms that we passed by. Although I was intrigued, it also came to a point where I felt intrusive. Our group was just trekking through the living spaces of random people we didn’t know, which just seemed kind of rude to me. I know if I were living somewhere in conditions like that, I wouldn’t want random people who weren’t from the area trampling through my space without some kind of prior knowledge. I know the people living in the township might not have felt that way, and other people tour there, but our guide seemed to be making our presence a little bit too known for my liking. Despite all of that, I still thought it was a good idea to walk around Alexandra Township, because like our visit to Soweto, that was one of the few times during the trip where I felt we had an authentic view of what it can be really like to live in certain places in South Africa – especially the places that consist of people who were physically affected by the laws of Apartheid.
In terms of the trip ending, I was surprised at how fast the weeks went by. However, I was also excited to get home so that I could have time to process everything that I had done and seen while in the country. I’m realizing now that taking that trip to South Africa and seeing two very different places (Capetown and Joburg) was a very unique experience that most will never experience. I got to see things that I never thought I would, and I got to meet people who actually lived through Apartheid, which is really cool to me. For many other things in history that I’ve learned about Black or African people, I never had the opportunity to hear the stories straight out of people’s’ mouths because they were already long gone. But to say that I actually got the true stories of Apartheid from actual human museums is pretty awesome and inspiring.
I’m definitely grateful for all of the experiences I had while in South Africa, and I’d love to do it again.