Sunday, February 21
We had big plans for today. We had been in South Africa for 46 days and not gone on a safari. We were going to change that today! Right outside of Johannesburg is a place called the Lion Park. We had heard really good things about the park and wanted to see some animals!
We stopped at a McDonald’s on our way out of town. It was a Rock ’n Roll McDonald’s, which was fun. They had these massive leather chairs that you got sucked into, unable to get out of, let alone eat from. After we maneuvered into a slightly convenient position, we ate our breakfast quickly. The park opened at 9:00, but we were aiming to get there around 9:30.
After a rock ’n roll breakfast, we headed out. It was a great drive as it was a direction we had not driven yet. The scenery was, as our experience had proven, beautiful! We loved getting to see Johannesburg in the backdrop as we drove out of the city. Our adventure began at the gate as we entered the lion park.
Getting there early Sunday morning was the ticket! We were one car of maybe 10 in the parking lot and were able to get a spot under a shade tree. When we went up to the ticket counter, we decided to chance it and buy tickets to pet the lion cubs. We had bought tickets for Tisetso to pet the meerkats, but he wasn’t such a big fan. With our tickets in hand, we found our way to the safari van. It was a big truck with a cage top, probably to keep the tourists in more than the animals out, if I had to guess.
Our safari guide hopped into the truck, introduced herself, then crawled up front to start the truck. She had left the door open when she got behind the wheel, but I thought she had a switch up front to shut and lock the door. I was wrong. We started driving and some of her co-workers started shouting that she had left the door wide open! Thankfully, she stopped, shut it, and we got on our way. Safely.
The first enclosure we drove through were the tame animals. We saw antelope, springbok, ostriches, zebra, giraffes, etc. My favorite was watching a springbok leap around and run. We hadn’t gotten to see one in action, so it was great to see South Africa’s national animal playing around. The tame animals were in large part laying around or grazing—not terribly exciting, but still fun to see.
The next enclosures were a little more thrilling as they were the lions, cheetahs, and wild dogs. Our tour guide told us we were there at a good point in the week as the lions are fed at noon on Sunday. All of the lions were still awake, which was unusual. They were typically already asleep. Not only were they awake, they were alert and waiting for the food truck to bring the meat! Fortunately for us, while in the white lion enclosure, the lions decided to investigate our truck to see if we were supplying lunch. Technically, we were a bunch of meat in a truck, but the wrong meat. The lions did circle the truck when we entered. It made for entertainment and good pictures.
The lions and cheetahs were beautiful! It was neat to see the family dynamics to the prides. They had regular lions, white lions, and mixed lions (a family comprised of regular and white). Apparently white lions are rare in the wild, so seeing that many in the park was a treat (not that I was planning to go look for any lions in the wild). Along with the lions and cheetahs, we got to see wild dogs. Of all of the animals, I felt this pack of dogs could make short work of any meat that entered the enclosure. Not to say the lions wouldn’t jump at the chance for lunch, but these dogs seemed so wild. It was a little unnerving to see an animal I would pet in everyday life (based on its appearance) ripping apart flesh and circling the truck to get more.
When we were done with the safari, we got off the truck and headed to the cub petting area. The whole way, I was reassuring Tisetso that the cubs would be very small, very cute, and used to being pet by humans. We got to the area and found the fence around the enclosure covered in cloth material, so I wasn’t able to see what we were actually headed into. I kept reassuring Tisetso that the cubs would be very small (no more than my knees) and that I could hold him, if he wanted, so the cubs couldn’t get him. Boy was I wrong!
We were finally admitted into the enclosure and ushered over to a low wall with two giant cubs laying on it. They were about twice as big as I had imagined. The first one was awake and chewing on a stick. I got into position and got a picture. The “cub” kept moving around and was making me nervous. Brian was next and walked up to pet the cub. I took his picture, then the cub turned its head, looked at Brian and lunged and nipped at his face. Needless to say, I had a heart attack and ushered everyone to the sleeping lion.
Tisetso was refusing to pet the lion. I really wanted him to, so I told him he could get a patch for his adventure vest (something we had bought at the pier in Cape Town) if he was adventurous and pet the lion. It happened—with one finger. Tisetso approached slowly, making sure the lion was asleep, then stuck out a finger and touched the lion’s paw and jumped back. Patch earned!
All the while this was happening, there was a woman trying to pet the lion who had just tried to eat Brian’s face. It was not going well. She had to abandon the idea of getting a photo with the cub that was awake. It kept swatting at her with its paws and nipping at her. I was honestly impressed with her determination to keep trying. Apparently she was not as afraid of losing her face as I would have been!
After our adventure petting the lions, we headed into the area with some other animals and an observation area where you could feed a giraffe. Unfortunately for me, the giraffe had had its fill of lettuce for the morning and was napping in the shade. We watched the giraffe for a few minutes and checked out the ostriches who had come over the check us out. One of the ostriches pooped in front of us and it was disgusting. (Why do I bring this up on the blog? Because now, even two months later, Tisetso still brings it up! Usually randomly and in front of people who wonder why he is talking about “that bird who pooped!”)
With that image burned into our minds, we headed to the mall! We were going to start packing up and wanted to grab the last of our souvenirs before heading home. When we got back to the flat, our lunch consisted of eating whatever was left in the fridge or pantry! It made for fun eating.
Our afternoon consisted of packing, Brian and Tisetso playing Ben 10, and resting a bit. We attended the 4:00 pm service at Bryanston Bible Church for our last time. It was surreal to realize we would be back with our friends at Redeemer in one week. When church was done, we headed to Nando’s for dinner.
Nando’s is a South African restaurant that happens to have a location in Chicago, with a new one opening in Naperville (very close to us)! We had wanted to go to Nando’s while we were in South Africa and, in true form, we made it the last day we were there! It was everything we had hoped for—the place we ended up going to was delicious and the service was impeccable. We loved it and couldn’t wait to have it back in the States.
We headed back to the flat for our last night in South Africa. We wrapped up the evening with an episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates and some packing. We were excited and anxious for the next day and the travels ahead.