So for the end of my trip I had two weeks to do all the things around Johannesburg and Durban, which is a lot of stuff! Compared with the rest of Africa, South Africa is chalked full of cool touristy activities. Animals, coastline, beaches, diving, hiking, history, battlefields, you name it. So I decided the best way, given my timeframe, was to rent a car and cruise around for those two weeks. Plus so many of the places I wanted to see were not easy to get to by public transit. Ideally I would have stayed at a hostel for a few days to try and recruit people to rent the car with me, but once again, no time. From Mozambique we took a bus from Maputo to Johannesburg. My German friends got off at Nelspruit, as they were going straight to Kruger National Park, which is the biggest safari destination in South Africa. I however arrived alone at Central Park station in Johannesburg, right in the middle of downtown, which, to my first impression, did seem like the safest place to be.
Luckily there were five car rental places right at the station, so I went straight there to see if I could rent a car. Of course there were lots of cars they had available to rent, but being a silly American who can’t drive manual, I had a very difficult time finding one to rent. All the Europeans I talked to thought it was very amusing that I had no idea how to drive stick! Finally after checking with the first four places, I found one that had an automatic! Some little Honda. Yes!
So it was cheap enough, $30/day, and after filling out all the paperwork I was good to go. Now my main concern was getting used to driving on the left hand side of the road. At this point I didn’t have a smartphone, or wifi, or a map, or a guidebook, or basically anything. I had some addresses of hostels on my laptop, but that had died, so I was basically flying blind driving around downtown Joburg. And downtown Joburg is NOT the place you really want to be driving around cluelessly. It’s shitty, rundown, crowded, and it felt like the equivalent of driving around the South side of Chicago without having any idea where to be going. Not fun.
Plus people are always standing partially in the street, jaywalking and running across the streets in front of you. It made me nervous as hell. Then you get the people who are constantly coming up to the car at stoplights trying to clean your windshield and stuff. I'm fine in the vast majority of travel situations, but this, combined with getting used to driving again, was making me seriously stressed out. And every time I’d try and hit the blinker it was the windshield wiper, because, ya know, they’re on opposite sides now! So I basically kept driving until I reached the highway, and kept driving until I saw the exit for a big shopping mall.
There I was able to buy a sim card for my phone and get some wifi and figure out where exactly I was. I was going to head to Kruger, so I decided to cut some driving time down tomorrow and drive straight to Nelspruit (3 hours away) tonight and meet up with my German friends at their guesthouse. I got to Nelspruit around midnight, but due to insufficient planning/maps I could not for the life of me find the guesthouse. I must have driven around the whole town twice before giving up and finding a dentist/lawyer office parking lot and sleeping in my car.
What I didn’t realize was that this was parking lot was right next to a school, which apparently did not have a parking lot. So at 6 am I was awoken by the sound of a dribbling basketball. There was a group of 10 year olds playing games in the parking lot. Wtf! I don’t mind sleeping in the car, but I hate people seeing me sleeping in my car. So I waited a while, occasionally popping my head up in the backseat like a god damn gopher, checking to see if these kids would scram. But noooo, they weren’t going anywhere. In fact more cars started showing up, dropping off their kids in this lot. Could I have picked a worse spot? Eventually I had to bite the bullet and roll out of my back seat with these little mutants watching me the whole time. Of course the whole car was fogged up and I couldn’t see anything while I was backing up, so I was praying none of these little gremlins were behind me. They weren’t and I sped out of there as fast as I could!
I ended up texting the Germans and they were also renting a car, so we drove together to some cave and a waterfall before I headed off towards Kruger. Now there was one place I wanted to hit up before Kruger, called Blyde canyon, which has a phenomenal viewpoint. Some of my friends I’d met earlier had made their facebook profile pic from this viewpoint, and all their friends were like, ‘wow, so amazing!!!!.’ So it must be a cool place! As I was driving there I managed to get a speeding ticket going 58km/hr in a 50, (5 mph over the limit) which is total bs, and it was the type of ticket you had to pay on the spot, which smelled like a scam to me, but what could I do? I had to go with one of the officers to the station to pay it, and I told them I wanted a ticket in the mail or a court date to contest it, and they basically told me I can pay or go to jail. So I paid of course. Then I tried to follow my google maps screenshot on my computer to get to Blyde canyon and managed to get hopelessly lost. I forgot how difficult navigating is without a smartphone and google maps gps!
So at this point I headed to Kruger, where I had already made reservations at a campsite. But you can’t drive after dark in Kruger, so I was speeding along trying to make sure I got there in time. So I made it through the first gate, and was driving on what was basically a 2 lane highway in the park going 100km/h (65mph) and got pulled over again by the traffic control. Apparently the speed limit in the park is 50 (35mph!) and they told me that I was going so fast that they could send me to jail. They said they’d let me off with a 2,000 rand fine ($135), but after seeing how flustered I was and that was most of the money that I had, they said 1,000 was fine. This was probably another scam too, I’m not sure. But anyway I made it to the second gate, where they told me it was getting too dark and I wouldn’t have enough time to drive to my campsite before dark, so I couldn’t enter the park. Great. Really great day. I ended up sleeping in the car AGAIN, up and ready to re-enter the park at 6am when it opened.
But driving around Kruger was pretty cool. The park has good roads is completely stocked with game. In a day and a half I saw probably 10 rhinos, 8 lions, lots of elephants, some hyenas, and all the other usual stuff like zebras, springbok, baboons, giraffes, etc. Sometimes it gets boring, but then you see a lion a few feet away or a family of elephants crossing the road in front of you and you’re like ok, this is pretty sweet! Overall it was a really good time. And I think I might have gotten lucky, because I met some people who drove around Kruger for 2 days and didn’t see any rhinos or lions, which I thought was crazy! After Kruger it was off to Swaziland, time to check another country off the list! Some Kruger pics: