Letter to My Mom

By Brady Maghran


To my mom and grandma, since I know you’ll be reading this anyway,

It’s now our 10th day in South Africa and of course I’m having a blast. I’m getting along with everyone here and I probably haven’t been taking as many photos as you guys would like although I can assure you some of the other people on our trip have got that more than covered. I’ll give you guys the full low-down when I get back but I thought I might tell you about a rough outline of what we’ve done, some of the highlights so far, and some of the wild moments we’ve had. 

    We flew into Johannesburg our first day and stayed there one night before leaving for a town called Hoedspruit. The airport we flew into was practically a house with a runway. We then went to Wit’s Rural Facility, a research camp for Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg. While in the camp, we had a number of speakers come in and talk about topics like human-wildlife interactions near Kruger National Park, the effects of elephants on the savannah, and a nature walk all about termites. We took another nature walk with our teacher/leader/driver extraordinaires David, Melissa, Nolan, and Thomas. Thomas is our driver who knows more about the land here than just about anyone and who also speaks around 9 languages. It was very interesting to learn about all the plants and animals here from people who know them like the back of their hands. It’s also very surprising to see how many of the plants have been imported to Arizona or how similar the wild plants are here to wild plants back home. We also went to an endangered species rehab center where we saw a lot of the incredibly endangered species we probably won't get the opportunity to see in the wild such as wild dogs, rhinos and cheetahs. 

    After 4 (5?) days at Wit’s, we headed into Kruger and went North to a research camp called Shingwedzi. This was our first game drive and we saw just about every animal you could hope for, apart from cheetah, rhino and wild dogs, which we still haven’t seen. (note, I didn’t have enough time to finish this on day 10, it's now day 13)  Many of the animals I was so surprised to see, such as secretary birds which I thought I would only ever see in zoo tycoon. I didn’t take a ton of photos but my friends have enough to go around. It was amazing to see animals I have been familiar with since I’ve been little but have never been able to truly see in their natural environment.

Our camp at Shingwedzi was amazing, it was a mix of tents and houses to stay in with a large open cabana where we did lectures and all of our eating. I would take being in lecture outside while watching a bunch of mongooses (mongeese?) try to break into our trash over massive lecture hall as CSU any day. One time, I went and took a nap on the concrete outside to listen to the birds and woke up to a mongoose crawling up my shirt. We stayed there for like 3 days and went on a bunch of safari drives and saw many of the same animals we did during our first drive, we were pretty spoiled that first day.

 We then left Shingwedzi and headed even further north, to a place called crooks corner, named so because it is where Mozambique, Zambia, and South Africa meet so thieves would live there for an easy escape into another national boundary. We had lunch near there in full view of elephants drinking, monster-sized crocs and hippos, and vervet monkeys stealing our sandwiches. We were going to an area called Hamakuya, which translates to “the place of chief Makuya”, to stay with the Venda people. Before we got there we learned some TshiVenda, the local language. It’s an incredibly interesting language but I have as rough a time remembering it as I did with Spanish in high school. As we went through some of the villages the children would shout “Makuwa! Makuwa!” at us, which literally means “white thing”. 

We stayed a camp the community had built and it reminded me of something out of an 80’s adventure film, or maybe my dreams. Large tents that slept 5 with a picturesque view of the river which had water as blue as the sky. There were beautiful pools with cliffs great for diving, sadly there were crocs in the pools, so I never got to take a swim. Locals ran donkeys and cows and goats up and down the river and you could always hear the clanging of the huge bells that hung around their necks. The camp was a great place to look at the stars, free of light pollution. I’d always thought the stars back home were about as good as it got but the night sky here glows in a spectacular way. We went to our homestays in the village’s about 4 days in but to tell you all I want to about that I would need another 5 pages. 

We are only 2 weeks in and this has already turned out to be an incredibly formative experience for me, it has been great to see and learn about the diverse human-wildlife interactions happening in this area and grow my understanding of other cultures with first-hand experiences. All of our teachers and lecturers have been masters of their crafts and it seems like I’m learning new and exciting things every second of the day. I’m getting along great with the other students here and it's great to meet people that enjoy engaging with the same material I do, while also having their own niches of knowledge to add to discussions. 

Love you guys and miss you lots, 


Madison Waggoner