JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — Straight south. As far as you can go without grazing Antarctica. A (largely) new direction. A (culturally, at least) new continent. A (completely) new hemisphere. And the experience? Like nothing we’ve ever seen before. This is Africa.
But how did we get here? Two of our good friends in Munich invited us to join their wedding in Botswana (where she’s from). It seemed like no better opportunity to explore one of the world’s most evocative locations: the deep heart of Africa.
We touched down in Johannesburg’s Tambo airport and the plan was to meet up with our pal Whitney, coming from the U.S. and hightail it straight for the bush. A week exploring the wild in Kruger National Park to the northeast. We hooked up with our guide and a handful of other folks that were joining for the week.
The first stop was Marc’s Treehouse Camp in the heart of the Balule Nature Reserve, a private reserve that skirts the edge of Kruger proper. Our accommodation was literally in the bush: a lux treehouse overlooking a muddy watering hole. If nature was what we came for, nature was what we got — with some pretty nice creature comforts.
After the dusty six-hour drive from Jo’burg, you’d think the last thing we’d want is to hop back into a car. Except, of course, if it was in an open top Land Rover and the route was bouncing through the dirt tracks for a sunset game drive. It was amazing to feel the fresh air, taste the cool African dew and spot dozens of wildlife for the very first time.
At first you don’t quite understand what you’re seeing when a giraffe or kudu walks out in front of you. At first you’re caught off guard, then you slowly realize that this is no zoo, this is no exhibition in the heart of the city — this is nature, this is their world. And we were the visitors.
After bouncing through the bush in the dark, sighting a pair of giraffes, a group of foraging elephants and so many impala, we rumbled up to a huge baobab tree with a snapping bonfire under it. Dinner was a classic South African Braai — the wild African equivalent of a barbecue. We sat by the fire and chowed down on flame-roasted game while lightning flashed in the distance. It couldn’t have been a more picturesque welcome to Africa.
In the end, that lightning wasn’t for show. As the winds picked, up and the first drops fell, we jumped back in the jeeps and raced back to the camp — every bump threatening to throw us out into the dark. It was the best damn roller coaster ride you could ever find in the middle of nowhere.
The first few hours in Africa and already the fireworks were flying.