(From Lester Holt, TODAY Anchor)
Now that we're past that summer/fall divide, otherwise known as Labor Day, it seems everybody's asking the question: "What did YOU do this summer?" My answer: "I went on an African safari."
Of course that begs the question, "Was it vacation or work?" And each time I have to pause, and think about it. For the record it was work. But between you and me (and unfortunately my bosses who will likely be reading this) it sure felt like vacation at times.
Our regular viewers of Weekend TODAY may recall some months ago when we announced I would be accompanying the winners of the National Geographic Kid's Magazine Hands on Explorer contest to South Africa. The kids, ages 10-14 entered essays and photos describing their experiences as explorers at home.
Their international exploration began at the Grootbos Nature reserve along the Western Cape. It's a beautiful resort overlooking the Indian Ocean, and from there they embarked on cruises to study whales, a journey to a protected island to learn about the plight of Africa's shrinking penguin population, and a shark-cage diving trip where they came face to face with Great White Sharks. The point was for them to understand the sharks have more to fear from us, than we from them. And yes, I took a turn in the cage, and will report on that, and the controversy over these shark excursions in a future broadcast.
The highlight for all of us, however, was the trip up to the Sabi Sabi private game reserve. Watching the kids catch sight of their first wild elephant was something that still brings a smile to my face.
Over three days we would all get close-up views of not only herds of Elephants, but Cape Buffalo, Lions, Rhinos, and Leopards, as well as Zebra, Giraffes, and even new litters of wild dog puppies. For the kids it was a virtual classroom in the wild. They took notes, photos and drew sketches of everything they saw. The moment that truly dropped my jaw was witnessing a mother Leopard drag a freshly killed Impala up a 30-foot tree for her hungry cub. This was the stuff I used to watch on the old "Wild Kingdom" show as a kid, never imagining I'd see it in real life. And now here I was with a group of children, watching their world expand before their eyes.
They also made some important cultural discoveries, as when they paid a visit to a Black Township, part of South Africa's legacy of apartheid. The American kids were visibly impacted at the sight of people living in tin shacks with no indoor plumbing.
It was a challenge to their senses, and I found it fascinating to watch them overcome their shock and slowly connect with the townspeople and quickly realize how much they had in common. It was a visit that seemed to delight all.
My story this Saturday on the journey of these American kids is the first of several reports I shot while in South Africa, covering everything from the environment to humanitarian issues. The stories will be appearing over the next several weeks on TODAY and NBC Nightly News.
And by the way, if the bosses are reading this, the t-shirts and post cards on my expense report were purely for business. :)
Click to read blogs written by the kids.