There was never any real danger, but we were just a few feet away from some wild crocodiles. Lunging distance, you might say, from notoriously fast creatures with their razor-sharp teeth. Their prehistoric eyes peered at our vessel, probably wondering what sort of beast it was, with its strange clicking of camera shutters.
Two days before, we were close enough to feel a sandy sweep of air from a young bull elephant when he rushed from the bushes. He stood at the back of our jeep, ears and trunk up, staring us down. Our guide whispered not to move. The elephant can only see the outline of our vehicle, he said, so as passengers we need only to be still in his gaze.
Africa is a place of adventure, and the greatest adventures await where the wildlife dwell. When we travel, we are guests in faraway places, sometimes in untamed places where local faunas reign. Nowhere is this more true than on an African safari. I’d learned that in South Africa a few years ago, on my first all-land safari. But upon this return to the mother continent, I joined game drives both on land and on water, where crocodiles and elephants joined hippos and eagles and many more wild animals in their natural habitats.
For this journey, I traveled with CroisiEurope Cruises (www.croisieuroperivercruises.com). The company is based in France and was among Europe’s first major river-cruise operators. Now, CroisiEurope has applied its expertise to more exotic corners of the world, like Southeast Asia and Southern Africa. So I found myself among the first guests aboard the African Dream, one of two brand-new vessels (the other is the Zimbabwean Dream) that CroisiEurope built to show adventurers Zimbabwe’s Lake Kariba.
This cruise was more than simply boarding a ship, unpacking, and letting the views come to me over a magical week in the southern hemisphere. It was luxurious, yes, but it also involved a few planes, boats, and automobiles that added to my notion of adventure. The cruise is technically only half of the voyage, which combines with a private lodge stay in Namibia.
To make the most of my time in Southern Africa, my trip spanned urban explorations in Johannesburg and Cape Town, along with CroisiEurope-led visits to four nations along the Zambezi River (Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe), culminating in the glorious sight of Victoria Falls.
I arrived in Johannesburg from New York a few days early in order to adapt to the local time and explore the capital a bit before my rendezvous with my fellow cruise passengers.
Hopping into my $25 Uber from the airport, I checked into the Hyatt Regency Rosebank (191 Oxford Road. Tel: 27-11-280-1234. www.hyatt.com). The hotel is centrally located, and has a nice balance of business and leisure vibes. It’s also conveniently part of the Rosebank Hyatt Centre, with indoor and outdoor shopping and dining. Among its cafés and restaurants is The Grillhouse (1 Hyatt Centre. Tel: 27-11-880-3945. www.thegrillhouse.co.za), where I got to enjoy some traditional South African fare like meaty herbed boerwors sausage, and delicious chakalaka (spicy tomato and bean relish) over pap (like plain corn grits).
Joberg is a big city whose complexities can be difficult for travelers to comprehend. But there are two vitally important places to visit to try and understand the region’s history, including its segregated past. The Apartheid Museum (Northern Park Way and Gold Reef Rd. Tel: 27-11-309-4700. www.apartheidmuseum.org) is a must for any visitor, because it unpacks South Africa’s political system from the first European arrivals, through the apartheid’s 1991 repeal. It’s a difficult story, and the museum shares it well using both intimate, personal stories, as well as a broader view. The museum is a bit outside of central Joberg, but the huge structure allows for multimedia displays, temporary exhibits, and both small and enormous artifacts (I’ll never forget the gigantic armored truck inside, riddled with bullet holes).