Hazyview Elephant Sanctuary

Elephant Sanctuary

Elephant Sanctuary

On our last 3 day safari excursion, we visited an elephant sanctuary. Seeing the elephants in the wild is so different than when you’re up close and personal with them.

Not nervous at all.

Not nervous at all.

See how I’m hugging this elephant? My smile says this is an amazing experience while my stance says think of an emergency escape plan quick in case this thing goes berserk.

Wait, you want me to touch the tongue?

Wait, you want me to touch the tongue?

After the sanctuary, we had a 6 hour drive back to Johannesburg and it’s officially work again on Monday. On our way back, we made quick pit stop and I figured I’d use an ATM machine to get some cash since J has been my sugar mama the entire time I’ve been here. So what I learned here is that the ATM machine is timed. If you don’t enter in your information quick enough, the damn machine will swallow your card because it thinks that it’s a stolen card.

The irony of this. Long story short, my card was somehow skimmed and now stolen. THANK GOD my bank credited me back for everything. Someone just made out with over $1000 which is 3 months salary for some here in So. Africa.

I’m feeling frazzled, but the bank is handling everything so there’s nothing that I can do. I just feel violated. Probably how the elephant felt this morning when he was forced to hang with me.

Yeah, yeah…trying to keep some kind of sense of humor despite all this.

The Big 5

Kruger Overview: Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers an area of 19,485 square kilometres (7,523 sq mi) in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in northeastern South Africa, and extends 360 kilometres (220 mi) from north to south and 65 kilometres (40 mi) from east to west.

All the Big Five game animals are found at Kruger National Park, which has more species of large mammals than any other African game reserve (at 147 species). (Wikipedia)

Fun fact from our guide: The park can fit the entire country of Israel.

This is how we ride. VIP status level 1000 thanks to J!

This is how we ride. VIP status level 1000.

On the hunt for the big 5! We just wrapped up our 2nd day of our safari and we booked a VIP tour so we had our very own safari car. I have to give credit to J for planning this one. It was worth every single penny.

Our amazing tour guide "Lucky."

Our amazing tour guide “Lucky.”

Lucky has eagle eyes and can spot anything from a mile away. To me they look like rocks, but to him it’s a leopard eating an impala in the distance. We crossed off every single animal from our list: elephants, giraffes, lions (male and female), leopards, hippos, rhinos, baboons/monkies, pumbas, impalas…

Spotted this guy first thing in the morning.

Spotted this guy first thing in the morning.

More giraffes!

More giraffes!

Imagine driving next to a valley and looking down below by the water and seeing over 30 elephants and giraffes roaming the grounds. No words.

Oh hey there

Oh hey there

Oh hey, more elephants.

Oh hey, more elephants.

Fun facts about elephants: The park stopped culling elephants in 1994 and tried translocating them, but by 2004 the population had increased to 11,670 elephants, by 2006 to approximately 13,500, by 2009 to 11,672, and by 2012 to 16,900. The park’s habitats can only sustain about 8,000 elephants. (wikipedia)

16,900 elephants! Hey Americans, I think the elephants are doing just fine here in Africa. Let’s focus on saving the rhinos shall we?

The white rhino

The white rhino

I learned that Africa actually has an over population of elephants and it is the rhinos that are rare. Poaching for rhinos is illegal in Africa and can get you 15+ years in prison.

Zebras!

Zebras!

Sun setting across Kruger

Sun setting across Kruger

The sunsetting across Kruger is just like how you see it in the Lion King. Red and glowing across the sky. It is a sight to be seen and pictures just doesn’t do it any justice.

Smile!

smileToday was a great reminder as why I do what I do. The days spent in front of my computer glued to my desk was all put into perspective when we visited the Smile Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Smile everyone!

Smile everyone!

They are a Google Ad Grantee and have found much success with raising awareness through our program. The foundation works with young kids through reconstructive facial surgery.

We were fortunate enough to tour the hospital where we met the entire staff including the founder who established the program along with Nelson Mandela!

During the tour, we also met the precious little princess pictured below with her mom. She was born with a cleft lip and it was really interesting to hear how the mom describe the cultural thinking behinds kids who were born this way. For a long time, she blamed herself and thought that it was a punishment from God.

Luckily, she found the Smile Foundation and they were able to help her restore her daughter’s lip through surgery. She still has a few more surgeries to go, but as you can see the before and after picture shows a huge difference.

Princess before surgery.

Before

Princess and her mom after surgery.

Princess and her mom during our visit.

I’m just so impressed at the incredible work that they do with these kids and how they change their lives in such a big way.

The picture below is with the Operation Manager and the Founder of the organization. We met this sweet little girl who was unfortunately abandoned by her mom and is currently looking for a foster home.

This little girl is looking for someone to adopt her. She melts my heart.

She melts my heart.

My biggest takeaway for today is that I have to remember to remind myself to take a step back from time to time and think about how many lives we actually touch through the work that we do. That can all get lost when you’re just staring at a computer all day, everyday. I feel so very blessed and fortunate to have this opportunity with Google and I hope to get many more of these to come.

Baaaaa Sowenya Mamabeatsebabah

Not going to lie. I had to Google that.

Sitting in my hotel lobby and being like....

Sitting in my hotel lobby and being like….

I feel like after this flight any other flight that I hop on is going to be a complete breeze. The flight was a total of 28 hours. 24 flight time with a 4 hour layover over in Dubai (aka Vegas #2).

Me in the future:

“Oh, we have a 12 hour flight to Europe? That is so freaken short!”

You want to know what the best part was about my long flight? Literally an entire row to myself. An entire row! I can’t explain to you the feeling that you get the minute that plane door closes and you realize the seats next to you are empty.

So…I’m officially in So. Africa! Hence, the Lion King reference. Thanks to the Goog, I’m here in Johannesburg for the next week and a half for purely work. Then we’re off to Kruger for a safari and capping off the trip in Cape Town for a bit of sun and sand.

Its been a long time since I picked up this backpack…

Had to mend this backpack back up again because it's tearing at the seams.

Had to mend this backpack up again because it’s tearing at the seams.

but I will be traveling all over until October! Including a very first trip with the one and only HB.

Oh hey there HB! Crab night right before my big trip.

Oh hey there HB! Right before my big trip.

He’s pretty hilarious and also deserves some kind of kudos for surprising me with these right before my flight to So. Africa.

Ok, ok...quit it already. You have my heart.

Ok, ok…quit it already. You have my heart.

“Them southern boys sure know their way to a girl’s heart.”

And of course I’m saying this in the most butchered southern accent ever. Can’t. Help. It. I told him to put my accent in check when I come out to Tennessee.

The next couple of months of work and personal travel starts right now! I can’t wait to cap off the year by creating more amazing memories with some incredible friends and loved ones.