First Day in Hoedspruit
By Lina Ware
After a full day of traveling-including around 18 hours of plane time- the feeling of “being tired” was a major understatement. The small feat of exchanging/withdrawing rand for spending and buying SIM cards for spotty service was tiring and stressful on our tired minds. After a short drive from the airport, never had an airBnB’s bunk beds felt so comfortable and Indian take out never so incredibly tasty. This was all in Johannesburg, but our time here was brief, as we arose at 6:00am the next morning, listened to an intriguing lecture about Savannah ecosystems, and scarfed down breakfast before rushing to the airport yet again to take a flight from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit. If one were to have a good day at an airport in America, it is nothing compared to the easiness of the “Jo-Berg” check-in, security, and boarding process.
After a blissfully short flight-about an hour in length- we landed in the quaint Hoedspruit airport in which our luggage was brought in by a tractor and laid on the floor for passengers to sort through. Did I mention the Warthogs near the runway? We did not have to hover in the air for them to clear the runway as stories had said, thankfully, but one young child excitedly claimed “Dad! I wanna eat a Warthog!” much to the humor of those within earshot. After assuring our luggage was accounted for, we drove for about 40 Minutes in a GDV (Game Drive Vehicle) to Wits Rural facility, which was ridiculously fun as there are no windows in the passenger area and the movement makes it seem as though we were on an amusement park ride. After unknotting our hair and wiping our faces of the plentiful dust, we explored our camp Caravilla, settled our luggage in the well-kept and comfortable rooms, and went to our first of many catered meals.
The drive to the food hall is about 10 minutes long, a good time to watch your surrounding nature pass by and to occasionally yell “STOP!” at the top of your lungs so the driver can halt for the group to view the newest beautiful animal or bird this environment has to offer. Once at the surprisingly beautiful and modern dining hall we ate our first amazing meal, catered by Lindi, while seeing a herd of Impala across a small valley from the outside benches and taking numerous excited photos. On our way back from lunch we saw not one, but two majestic, towering male giraffes. Not only were their colors darker than I expected, but their mannerisms were much calmer and curious than I would think of. They were patient with us as we followed them for around half an hour, snapping hundreds of photos in the process. (Though this particular blog entry covers only the first day, I will add that every day since then I have seen at 3 giraffes/day, and the awe towards them hasn’t faded yet!).
After letting our stomachs settle we had two lectures in the classroom, one covering “Health Transitions in South and Sub-Saharan Africa” and the other covering “Biodiversity, Livelihoods, and Human Well-Being in a South African Savannah”. Both lectures had many interesting facts and viewpoints (though our jet-lagged faces may have conveyed boredom-my apologies to the wonderful lecturers) and were a thought-provoking way to end the first day in an amazing and surprising new environment. I cannot wait to see what new things await us!