It was our first weekend in South Africa and Michael was taking us to Pilanesburg National Park. We were going to spend all day going on a game run, trying to find and identify different animals. Michael told us some of his personal history with the park, which made the trip more personal. His great grandfather used to own a farm on the land before it was a national park, and went to school there, too. Eventually, his family helped build one of the dams in the park. He even showed us the site where his family scattered his grandfather’s ashes. It was clearly a special place for him, and we were all so grateful to have him as our guide since he was so open and excited to teach us.
I never would have dreamed of being in a park with so much land. it was surrounded my stunning mountains and hills, and dirt roads which got us through the terrain. We were constantlyin awe about how lucky we were to experience something so magical. We were all so in love with exotics and could not believe our eyes the first time we saw the variations of different species. Whether it was a giraffe, elephant, or rhino, all of us would run from side to side on the bus to get a better view. Aside from craving the experience of observing the beauty, we yearned to learn more about the lesser known animals. Eventually, we became better at telling apart kudo, impala, and springbuck from one another. Michael even taught us how to look for track marks that would indicate an animal was close by or had been there recently.
One of the most memorable things which happened in the park was the rhinos that we saw. There were so many, which was refreshing since rhino poaching has become a very serious issue. Everyday 3 rhinos are killed, and if a change isn’t made the species will soon go extinct. Rhinos are so majestic and to think that future generations won’t be able to admire them in person had everyone in my group emotional. Another special moment we had was when an elephant herd passed right in front of our bus. A younger elephant became curious about the bus and stopped right in front of us. We all tried to be very quiet so we wouldn’t startle the elephant. He became comfortable around us and started picking up dirt from the ground and throwing it onto his back.
We took a break from driving and had lunch at a restaurant inside the park. We all were excited to try new food and I even got to try a burger made from ostrich. Once we were done eating we went to a little souvenir shop run by locals who hand made everything sold in the store. We met one man named Richard, who did some fascinating work. He smiled as we showed interest, and we all ended up buying a souvenir to take home with us. We stuck around just to talk to him for a bit and he was so humble and grateful that young people were interested in his work. He went into depth about his job, and how much he loves it, and even though it doesn’t get him enough money for a car, it gets him enough to eat. It was really nice to see someone so humble and kind to strangers, which served as a reminder to be thankful for what you have and kind to those that you do not know.