Week 1

So, we've now spent a little over a week in South Africa and to say I'm overwhelmed is an understatement. 

WE arrived in Johannesburg, camped in a meteor impact crater, hiked a few impressive igneous sills, and made it to the beach along the southern coast. It's been a wild journey and we're barely halfway done. 

MY first thoughts on Johannesburg are that it's a city I could see myself in, but wouldn't necessarily love to live in. It's landlocked, but besides that it's slightly dirty and a little abrasive for my tastes. With that said, it's also a city of unique issues and history. It was basically founded from Gold - the city is essentially built over abandoned gold mines. One unfortunate feature of the mining that built the city is the formation of tailing dams and acid mine lakes from the dumping of waste materials. These materials contain high amounts of trace metals and uraninite - which basically makes them radioactive, toxic hills affecting a lot of the populations with the misfortune of living in the surrounding areas. Thankfully there are some positives as the mining technology that built these dams were only able to remove around 60% of the gold, and modern technologies can now extract even more from these waste piles. This means a cleaner, healthier Joburg. That is, if it's still profitable for the owners of the dump sites.

WE then moved to the impact crater in Vredefort (a World Heritage Site) and made it to a little farm where they hold camps for geophysicists - who were absolutely incredible - to gain some field experience. The first night we had a camp fire and sat around hanging out and talking with everyone only to find that there was a group of Americans there in partnership with Penn State. The next morning we meet with one of the leading professors on the impact site for a tour of the surrounding country and a history lesson on the area. It was incredibly informative and I could spend a blog post alone on all of it, but I won't. The skinny of the situation is that a massive meteor impacted the area about 2 billion years ago ripping up buried sediments and forming a dome from the rebound of the impact. The force of the impact actually caused solid rock to act as a liquid and the rapid cooling and release of pressure created some extremely rare and unique formations - even forming a mountain chain of sorts surrounding the crater forming the rim roughly 300 km across.

FROM there we made our way to Golden Gate National Park, an area infilled with sediments, then penetrated with igneous dykes and sills, and ultimately carved down by river systems leaving a landscape similar to the Grand Canyon. It was humbling to see and to experience the scale of these massive mountains. We did some fantastic hikes and learned about the regional geology, but the highlight of this trip for me was the visit to the living museum of the Basotho people - the true native inhabitants of the land. The living museum in the park chronicles the people and their everyday from the first of their history to the influences of dutch people and into the modern day. It was incredible to be able to see first hand how their lifestyle has changed through time to the way they live in the modern world. It's also nice to know that the customs and practices that shaped these people are still being taught and preserved for future generations. There was a group of young kids on a tour in front of us and they were awesome. They were so interested in the culture and we even got a chance to dance with them to the sounds of traditional Basotho musicians. It was something I don't think I was ready for, but will absolutely never forget.

PORT Elizabeth is a cute town on the southern coast of South Africa and reminded me of any other beach town I've been to in the States or Abroad, but that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to talk about Elephants - so many Elephants. Our first night there was mostly dinner and unloading from the 9 hour drive we just finished, but the next morning we found ourselves at Addo Elephant National Park. We tried to get a guide at first but unfortunately they were all busy, so we just went through on our own. it was magical. We didn't see any Elephants at first, but ofter about 30 minutes of seeing Kudu, Eland, Zebras, Jackals, Dung Beetles, and various other birds, we finally saw what we had come for. This massive Elephant starts to appear across the tops of some bushes until we see a back, then a few feet, then the start of a trunk and head, and finally this massive bull makes his way directly in front of our van and begins to walk alongside the road. It was WILD. These animals are insanely graceful and walk with an air about them. When they look at you it's not just an animal risk assessing a situation, this is a soul looking back into yours and making judgements on it. It was an emotional moment for some and an inspiring one for others. By far one of the greatest events I've had the opportunity to witness. But it gets better.... We follow the Elephant for a little while and our leader says, "I think I know where he's going." So we take off to the next watering hole to find not 1, not 2, not even 3, but 5 Elephants making their way across the horizon, our bull included. It was so cool to get to see the families interact on their way down and how the mother protects all of her babies (Elephants are matriarchal). 

It's been an incredible trip so far and I'm feeling extremely blessed with every city we go to and every new thing we get to see. I can't wait for the next 2 weeks and for whatever else this country has to offer.


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