Lions... grrr!

Trip Start Jan 12, 2008
Trip End Oct 01, 2008

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Saturday, February 9, 2008

As always these days, I'm awakened by Bob Marley's Three Little Birds' "Don't worry about a thing" which is much needed today as my alarm springs into action at 6 am, a short hour after I fell asleep.  Why???  I am up and out the door a few minutes later to meet up with Noah and his girlfriend to hike Lion's Head, a mountain overlooking the city of Cape Town. We ascend in the cool early morning hour but the hike turns out to be much harder than I had imagined as I am clearly out of shape at this point.  The views are surreal and the three of us have a great time chatting. Breakfast at a cute little place called Arnold's costs me $2 for two eggs, fried tomatoes, an ostrich sausage and toast. A quick shower and I'm off to the airport to head back to Jo'burg and meet up with Liz Marchetta, a friend from high school who is working for the Peace Corps outside Jo'burg.

Liz is waiting for me at the airport and we grab a rental car and decide to head to The South African Lion Park ( which I've heard so much about.  Two hours, five gas stations, downtown Jo'burg (not too pretty), and a very long loop around the city later we wind up at our destination.  We do a brief driving tour of the pastures and see some animals.  We explore the lion cages in which many lions are just a few feet away from the car. I'm impressed with the animals size and grace but would like to interact with them more than just hooting and hollering at them to no avail... THEN COMES CUB WORLD!!! We walk in not knowing what to expect and happen upon a group of rangers putting two older cubs into a cage to head to the theater for the night as they are the stars of Jo'burg's Aida. There are also cheetahs, jackals, hyenas and other older lion cubs which are all cool and all, but nothing too special. Next we spot a ranger in a pen with a bunch of younger cubs and we make a bee line to join him.  The next 15-20 minutes were some of the happiest moments of my life to date!  I got to play around with the cubs with my only restrictions being that I couldn't pick them up.  Unfortunate but it didn't matter as I was in heaven! One bit me on the knee and butt, obviously my favorite one, and I nicknamed him Maneater.  I cannot explain in words how awesome this experience was but I wanted to bring one around the world with me. We asked if we could stay in the nursery with them for the night and they said no regardless of price. I asked how much to buy one and they just turned us away.

At this point, our adventures had made us quite hungry.  Lucky for us, we were just a few short minutes away from a restaurant called The Carnivore.  I had been to this same restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya with my family and claim that meal to be the best I've ever had, so I was mildly excited. We had every animal on the menu as they serve food like a Brazilian steak house until you raise a white flag of surrender.  I ate crocodile, zebra, ostrich, kudu, pork, beef, chicken, wildebeest, and a few others I can't recall. I'm not sure exactly how much meat I ate, but I struggled to get out of the restaurant and remember feeling so completely happy that I felt drunk despite only having one dawa (a traditional vodka, honey, lemon and sugar drink).

Another 45 minute detour (I swear the signs were horrible) and we were on our way to the airport to find a hotel.  I was so tired of driving aimlessly that we stopped at the first hotel we found once in the airport complex.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that there was a casino on the premises?  Now, I decided before my trip that I wouldn't be frequenting casinos as I am technically unemployed but Liz had never been to one, so I figured we could make a short stop and she could just see what they were like.  I start with the equivalent of $100 and 30 minutes later we got up from the blackjack table with a free hotel room, car rental, trip to the lion park and dinner at The Carnivore, as well as some left over for Madagascar...  Good times!

Speaking with Liz throughout the day was awesome as she has a much different perspective on South Africa then Noah, Christine, and Coach.  She has been working for the Peace Corps here and has been exposed to a much more local experience.  While slightly jaded about the violence, she provides an extremely informative insight into what real life in South Africa (outside of Cape Town and Jo'burg) is like.  I wonder how hard it will be for her to transition back into life at home, but will have to check back up with her later in the year as she still has time left in her program. 

I fall asleep responding to emails and thinking about how amazing my experience here has been and how much I'm looking forward to the next stop, Madagascar!
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