|Friday, October 5th:
This morning started bright and early at 5:30. We wanted to get an early start to Kruger Park. We packed the trailer with our luggage, ate small snacks for breakfast, and picked up Dr. Winnie. Then we had to say goodbye to what had been our home for the prior two weeks. It was sad to leave, but we were all very excited for what awaited us at Kruger.
Traffic in Manzini on our way out of town was horrible! Kids were walking everywhere to go to school.
It took about two hours to reach the border to South Africa. We had to fill out a form to get through customs and into South Africa. We saw a sausage tree on our way to the bus once we made it through. It is a very odd looking tree. It looks like sausages are dangling from the tree! We’ve seen very unusual vegetation while we’ve been here.
The landscape on our way to Kruger changed. Swaziland had quite a few mountains. It became flatter and had more brush. We passed more sugar cane fields and saw some banana tree farms.
As we got closer to Kruger, we passed other game reserves but didn’t see any animals. We arrived at our accommodations, Thandanani, around noon. This is also a game reserve (they are known for their rhino) so the entire perimeter was fenced in. There was a guard who unlocked the gate. On the gate, was a sign that said “Warning, Dangerous Animals.” The landscape inside Thandanani was beautiful. There were rolling hills with gorgeous rock formations. We quickly dropped off the trailer and headed towards Kruger—where they also needed to see our passports and we had to fill out another form. On the way in the park, there was a bridge with a river. We got to see our first crocodiles!
Once in the park, the first animals we saw were warthogs, which were very cute. We also saw our first herd of impalas—and we’d end up seeing hundreds of these animals! We all got very excited when we saw our first elephants.
The most exciting event of the day occurred pretty early. We ended up calling today the “day of the rhino.” As we drove down a road, we noticed several white rhino off the side of the road—probably about ten). They kept creeping closer and closer to the bus. One rhino had the longest horn we’ve ever seen. It had to be two feet long. Another rhino had a bird perched in its ear! Several had small birds on their backs. We figured out that they wanted to cross the road; however, there were too many cars that had stopped keeping them from crossing in their normal spot. A bit further up the road, they crossed the road right in front of our bus. The problem is that there was a very steep bank on the other side and they could not get down. So now, they are all on the road and pinned in by cars and a very steep bank. This is when some of us became a bit nervous. Several of the rhino made a “whiny” noise like they were scared. Others started foaming at the mouth and making a growling noise. We thought they were going to charge a tiny Toyota car parked by them—the car finally got the hint and moved back. The rhino in the back kept his eyes on us and acted very aggressive towards our bus. Once the Toyota moved, the rhinos were able to go up the road a bit further and cross. We all escaped unharmed, but it was an unforgettable experience!!!
After all of that excitement, we also saw the following animals: an elephant coming out of the water, guinea fowl, wildabeast, zebra (there was a family with a baby), giraffe, kudu, and lots of birds. The birds here make amazing music.
We stopped at one of the camps for lunch. It took forever—we are all learning that service in South Africa is not as fast as in America! While waiting, we looked in a shop and watched monkeys playing outside.
After lunch, we hopped back on the bus and saw more impala and kudu in the distance. There was also a bush buck and a cape buffalo in the distance that was so big we thought it was a baby elephant.
We stopped at another camp for a bathroom break, which turned out interesting. First, we saw a very pretty bird. However, we got word that a hyena was sitting out behind the building. We all went around and looked. It was HUGE! It looked about the size of a tiger. We were all foolish for getting as close as we did (they can be dangerous), but it was a wonderful siting and one we weren’t likely to see again.
Afterwards, we saw more wildabest, zebra, and a herd of impala (with some of the males fighting). There were also huge vultures and other small birds. Since the park closes its gates at 6, we left to go back to Thandanani. On our way in, we saw more animals (mainly impala and bush bucks). The camp here is beautiful. There is a main open air restaurant and bar area. Off of the main building, there are several smaller buildings spread throughout the grounds. Each has a thatched roof. Inside was very nice and there was air conditioning—the first we’ve had here!!! It was a luxury we were all thrilled to have.
That night, we all met at the main building to eat. We talked to the manager for awhile. He said to be careful at night as cape buffalo and rhino come through the camp at night. That was a bit scary as he showed us where they had damaged some of the plants, lights, etc right by our rooms! This camp has about 15,000 acres where they have approximately 160 white rhino and 30 black rhino. They also have cape buffalo, a few leopard, giraffe, etc. No lions and no elephants (too destructive). They do have hunts where people will pay up to $120,000 to hunt a black rhino. They also kill some of their game, process it on campus, and serve it in their meals.
Our starter for dinner was chicken salad on a pastry. Dinner was sweet and sour pork (that we think was warthog), rice, cottage casserole (like shepherd’s pie), broccoli with cheese, and squash. Dessert was a dark warm cake / brownie with ice cream. Mosquitos were biting like crazy!
Kyle led devotions and several expressed what they’ve experienced from being on this trip. Many said it was the best group and trip they’ve been on. Afterwards, we all headed back to our “huts” for a good nights rest.
Saturday, October 6th:
We got up bright and early for a full day in Kruger Park. On our way out of Thandanani, we saw a family of giraffe. They posed for our cameras, and we certainly took lots of pictures. The camp sent us breakfast boxes for the trip. We ate our cheese sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, fruit, and yogurt on the way to the Crocodile Bridge gate.
This gate was a larger gate than the one we entered the day before. Ken let us know that it’s a main road that goes along a river, so you normally see quite a few animals. To mention everything that we saw would take a book, so I’ll just mention some of our more memorable experiences!
First, we came across a rather large elephant. You’ll have to ask someone on the team about the elephant as I won’t elaborate here…We saw many impala, warthog, elephants (several herds of more than 20), hippo in the water, birds, zebra, cape buffalo in the distance, nyala (which is a rare animal to see), monkeys, baboon, etc.
We had three amazing experiences today. First, we were told there was a lion nearby. We raced to the area where it had been spotted. The person was incorrect. It wasn’t a lion, but FOUR cheetah. They were gorgeous and walked right past our bus. The lead cheetah had been injured. The inside of one back leg was bloody. They were so graceful as they walked by. It just took a few seconds and they were gone. We all felt blessed to see them as we would’ve missed them had we been about 30 seconds later! Thanks to Tsela for getting us there so fast!!! He was an awesome bus driver!
Our second amazing experience was with a couple of elephants. We had seen so many elephants around the river and crossing the road in front of us. So we didn’t get too excited when we ran across a small group of elephant with a baby. We watched them eat for awhile. The parent started to get a little nervous with how close we were to the baby elephant. We were trying to drive by (they were right against the road), but the big elephant kept giving us “the look.” It was flapping it’s ears and acting like it was going to charge us. We finally inched past them but were going very slow. Right as we got by, the parent roared and acted like it was charging…I think it was charging us. Tsela stomped on the gas and we were out of there in a flash! The second close call of the trip!!! Who knew Kruger could be so dangerous!!! Now we all know why they don’t allow you out of your vehicle while in the park!
The third incredible experience involved an animal we had been looking for all day. We were heading out of the park and as we drove by an open area, we looked over and saw a lioness on a side road. Tsela hit the breaks and backed up, but the lioness was pretty much gone by the time we got back to that area. We didn’t give up though! We sped ahead to find the entrance to the side road. We found it and headed down it keeping our eyes open for her. We reached the other cars that had been following her from the other side, but we didn’t see the lioness. We once again thought we were too late. Then, out of nowhere, she appeared on the road. We were all incredibly excited. She actually let us follow her in the bus and never acted aggressive—we certainly kept our distance—well, for awhile! When we noticed she wasn’t getting scared off, we drove right next to her. At one point, she wasn’t more than one foot away from the bus. She was very tired and looked to be an older lioness. It was an amazing site to see and one that we’ll never forget!
Although we looked and looked and looked, we didn’t see a leopard. However, we saw all of the other big 5 animals and had amazing and rare experiences! We had a long day in the park, but it was one that none of us will forget!
Back at Thandanani, they were preparing for a braai (cookout). On the menu was steak, a sausage that they make from beef, and impala. The impala was fixed in a kind of pie and was very good. It was one they had killed at the camp. There was also porridge with a tomato and onion sauce to poor on top (since it is very thick). There were grilled mixed veggies and sweetened carrots. It was all delicious. Dessert was a coconut type bar.
It had been a very long day, so we were all ready for bed after dinner. However, we had packing to do for our departure the next day. We all packed and headed to bed to get ready for another early morning!
Sunday, October 7th:
Eight of us woke very early today to go on a safari at Thandanani. We were apprehensive to spend the money after seeing so many wonderful animals in Kruger. However, the two and a half hour safari did not disappoint. Very early on, we saw our first black rhino. The black rhino is the same color as the white rhino. However, it’s upper lip comes to a point as it eats leaves off of trees. The white rhino’s lip is more square as it eats grass. Their backs are also a bit different. It is very difficult to see a black rhino, so we were thankful for the experience—and boy did we get one. Before we know it, our guide jumps out of the bus and gets the rhino to start to charge him. The rhino got within 20 feet or so from our bus.
We also saw rowan, sable, ostrich, dung beetles, and several other animals that we didn’t see in Kruger. We also saw several giraffe and a lot more rhino throughout the safari. We also got a closer look at Kudu. One of the other highlights was when we came upon a herd of cape buffalo. Our guide drove right up to them. There was a huge bull in the group all the way down to several very young ones. They stood around and grazed. There may have been over 40 in the group, and they were very close! We got another good look at a big male cape buffalo on our way out. He was sitting in a pool of water and had a small bird perched on his back. The scenery was beautiful and we were very grateful that we had time to participate!
Back at the restaurant, they had cereal and eggs, bacon (which looks more like undercooked ham), toast, mushrooms, and tomatoes. After breakfast, we headed back to finish packing for our trip home. Once we were packed, we had a short service led by Dale. It was a great service.
Around 11:00 we were packed and started our VERY long trip home. The first leg of the trip was a 6 hour bus ride to Johannesburg. The landscape certainly changed in South Africa. For awhile, there were beautiful hills and rivers which looked quite a bit like Colorado. Then, it turned into high plains, much like Wisconsin.
We arrived in Johannesburg in plenty of time. We checked in our bags, exchanged our money back to US dollars, said goodbye to Jimmy and Dr. Winnie, and headed through customs. It all went pretty flawlessly. At 8:30 Swazi time, our plane took off and we left Africa, which all of us had come to love.
The next 17 hours was spent in the air. We tried to sleep! However, on the morning of Monday, October 8th, we all arrived safely in Atlanta. From there, some of our team separated to their connecting flights. The remaining 10 of us took off to Louisville around noon and arrived at 1:30. Everyone is very tired but very glad to be home safely. It was an amazing and unforgettable trip—one that will be difficult for all of us to put into words. The Swazi and South African people are amazing and stole our hearts. We are blessed to have gone and look forward to our next adventure!