So, last time I left off, we were roasting marshmallows after finally having arrived at Panzi Bush Camp. The camp is really nice, they had showers, which of course made our day. And they’re really nice showers, the water was hot, they were outdoors and it was so nice not to have to take a bucket. We fortunately/unfortunately didn’t see any monkeys while showering (they like to watch, those perverts!) and the cabin itself was really nice as well, comfortable and clean and with my favourite roommate, Roberta.
The next day we got up fairly early, had our breakfast and we were off for the panoramic route. Our first stop was the Big Swing, which is one of the world’s highest cable gorge swings. There is also a zip-line, which most of us did first, then 8 of us went to do the big swing. Antoine and I had decided to do it if the other one did it, and luckily for us you can do it tandem, so off we went. We were the third group of the four, so it was a little nerve-wracking watching the others do it and hearing their screams. Plus, you have to wait quite a while after the last group goes to get belted in and be ready to fall, so that definitely adds to the suspense! Finally we were ready and it was our turn and we turned around (you fall backwards) and slowly inched our way to the edge. And then with a nudge (we told him to just push us!) and a slight leaning back on my part (Antoine was more chicken than I was), we were falling! For what seemed like forever, and we both just screamed cause it felt like we would keep falling, and somehow Antoine’s leg got caught oddly in the ropes and his leg was sticking up! But then we finally hit the end of the rope and we started swinging and it became fun and I couldn’t stop laughing (while Antoine continued to scream). Eventually they brought us down and that was the not fun part, because to get back up we had to climb these rickety stairs and there were A LOT of them!!! We took many breaks, and kept looking up wondering if we were anywhere near the end. We finally did make it to the top, stopping to watch Roberta and Klara take their turn, before catching up with the others to hear their stories and see the videos.
From there we went for lunch, then headed to God’s Window, where you can look out at the Lowveld and enjoy the breathtaking views. Then we headed to Lisbon Falls, which as you probably guessed is waterfalls! Seeing as how it is winter and the dry season, the falls weren’t as spectacular as they are when they’re at their peak, but it was still really beautiful. After that, we visited Blyde River Canyon, the largest “living” canyon in the world (the Grand Canyon is the largest, but it is not considered “living”), which was truly amazing. We spent quite a bit of time there exploring and walking around, and I loved it, it’s so beautiful and probably my favourite of the sights we saw that day. From there it was back to the camp to have dinner, enjoy the bar and the wifi, and of course, sit around the campfire roasting marshmallows and laughing and joking. One of our guides, Neil, has a rule that you should speak English (so everyone can understand), and kept catching Antoine speaking French with me, and so he had to do a lot of Jaeger shots as punishment!
On Sunday, we woke up at 5am, got ready and and split up into two different trucks for our drive through Kruger National Park, which is a nearly 2 million hectares of protected area, where you can see an amazing variety of wildlife. We spent the day driving around, checking out different water holes and popular areas frequented by the animals. We didn’t get to see the Big 5 (Buffalo, Elephant, Rhino, Lion and Leopard; so named because they are the hardest to hunt), but we did see 3 of them: buffalo, elephant and rhino (sadly we didn’t see any cats that day). We also saw plenty of zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, warthogs, baboons, eland, impala, kudu, nyala, monkeys, and springbok, as well as plenty of vultures, eagles and other birds. We also saw a crocodile and a hippo, although it was mostly buried in the water, so we didn’t see too much of it. It was a really fun day, and the group in our truck was pretty awesome. I was disappointed we didn’t get to see all of the Big 5, but maybe next time. I was extremely happy we got to see some rhinos, as rhinos are on the critically endangered list due to poaching for their horns (one rhino horn can be worth $250,000 in Vietnam). Over 1000 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2013 alone, and it’s a real crisis. People are working hard (and putting their lives on the line) every day to protect the rhinos and prevent poaching. There are lots of organisations working to protect the rhino, but you can check out this one: www.savetherhino.org for more information if you’re interested.
We eventually returned to the lodge after sunset, ate dinner, and relaxed by the fire for our final night together. We had such a great time at Panzi, we really wanted to stay a few more days. Unfortunately, it was up bright and early the next morning for breakfast and then start the long journey back to Soweto. It was again a very long day, as we had to drop off everyone else at their projects, although we didn’t mind dropping off the volunteers at Ukutula and stopping for a very quick visit to see the orphaned baby monkey that had been rescued and getting to pet the lion cubs! And we had fun singing loudly to our favourite songs on the way back. We finally made it back to Soweto and the orphanage at 9pm, where we quickly caught up with Loren (she stayed at the orphanage because she’d already been to Kruger) and headed off to bed, exhausted but happy.
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