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South Africa: Land of wonders

Adventure in the Bush

Kruger National Park is ground zero for wildlife-watching in South Africa, the safari experience animal lovers always dreamed about.

Kruger ranks among the greatest national parks in the world and is home to an impressive diversity of wildlife. We spent two days at the park to see as much of the wildlife as we could. Our home base was Imbali Safari Lodge, a luxury 12-room encampment deep in the Kruger backcountry.

Immediately after our arrival, our lodge hosts loaded us into Land Rovers outfitted with stadium-style seats for our first game drive.

The whole point of a game drive is to spot as much wildlife as you can, and in Kruger, that isn’t difficult to do. Official estimates place about 3,500 lions, 19,000 elephants and more than 150,000 impalas inside the 7,500-square-mile park.

Those numbers worked in our favor: On the first game drive, we found a trio of lions guarding a recent kill, as well as numerous elephants, giraffes, zebras and exotic birds. The next day, our afternoon drive ended in a bush cocktail reception, during which our guides walked us quietly to within yards of a group of wild white rhinos.

That wasn’t the only thrill of our final game drive: The excursion included keeping a watch on nearby lions while our guides changed the tires on a safari vehicle and racing SUVs through the dry river bed below the base of the safari lodge.

Kruger National Park gave me a new perspective on adventure.


Forgiveness in Adversity

“Believe it or not, in 1986 I went through these doors shouting ‘Down with apartheid!’ I was about 20 years old, and for about three months, I was kept in solitary confinement before going to the main cells.”

Robben Island is one of the most infamous places in the modern history of South Africa. It was on that prison island, a short boat ride from Cape Town, that Nelson Mandela and hundreds of other political prisoners were held for years during their struggle to overturn the racial segregation scheme known as apartheid. Today, the prison is a museum, and our group toured it with a guide named Sip, a former political prisoner, who reflected on his time at the facility.

Sip took us through prison cells, washrooms and other areas of the prison, and described both the harsh treatment he received from the guards and the way the prisoners continued their civil rights work in spite of their imprisonment.

“Believe you me, whatever they tried to do to you backfired,” he said. “The more they mistreated you, the more determined you were to fight for freedom.”

Our tour included a look at the small cell where Mandela spent much of his 27-year prison time. The cell is outfitted with the same furnishings that were there during Mandela’s time.

Later, a tour stop in Johannesburg brought our understanding of the apartheid struggle into sharper focus. The Apartheid Museum is South Africa’s official institution dedicated to telling the complicated story of this dehumanizing racial segregation, which lasted until 1994, and the heroic efforts of leaders that worked to overcome it.

Mandela was one of those leaders, and the museum paints an inspiring picture of the man who used his postimprisonment presidency to encourage unity and progress instead of bitterness and revenge.

The apartheid story gave me a new perspective on forgiveness.