Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Holiday in KwaZulu-Natal

Here are some pictures of our holiday in South Africa. We all had a great time. It was good to get away (no phones or computer) and relax. For me, it was also great not to have to drive for a week. As always, I am amazed at the diversity and beauty of Africa. The area of the KwaZulu-Natal coast is about 3 to 4 hours from Manzini. Unfortunately, it took us almost two hours to get through the border gate because of the long line of people wanting to cross. It normally takes only about 20 minutes or less, but it was a Monday holiday so people were returning to South Africa after a long weekend. It was also the last week of the second term for Swaziland schools which is when the 7th graders who can afford it go on a week long field trip to Durban. The border post we were going through is the quickest way to Durban from Swaziland.

We started our trip by meeting up with Richard, about 2 hours late, in the town of Hluhluwe (pronounced shashloee) where we visited with a few of the people associated with ZUMAT (Zululand Mission Air Transport). ZUMAT is an organization that flies Doctors and medical supplies into the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique. They will also air lift critically sick or injured patients out of the rural areas to a hospital so they can receive adequate care. It was very interesting to talk with them and hear some of their amazing stories.

After ZUMAT, we drove to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park which was only about an hour from the town of Hluhluwe. We spent the first two nights there in rondavels with thatched roofs. The name of the lodge was appropriately named Hilltop and was beautiful. During the day we drove through the park and saw elephants, warthogs, rhinos, zebras, giraffe, a hyena and several varieties of antelope and wonderful birds. The countryside was so different from what we have so far experienced in South Africa or Swaziland.

I think this is the sweetest picture. These two zebras were so cute and cuddly and the Rhinoceros was so big and magnificent.

This is a male Nyala.

I love giraffes!

On Wednesday we drove to St. Lucia which is about an hour or so South of Hluhluwe on the Indian Ocean. We stayed in a park called Cape Vidal which is a little north of St. Lucia. It was like going into another world. The beach was beautiful with white fine sand and the beautiful blue ocean with its great waves. Considering it is still winter, the water was pretty warm, though we didn’t do more than get our feet wet. We stayed in a quaint log cabin just a (large) sand dune away from the ocean. If it hadn’t been for the monkeys and small antelope that wandered around the cabin I would have thought I was in California. Both evenings I walked a little bit down the road to see if the little store was open. The first night it was almost dark when I started. As I walked I had a brief thought that it probably wasn’t a good idea to be walking alone without my phone or even a flashlight. It wasn’t far, but when I saw the monkeys I remembered that this IS Africa and I remembered that there were signs to be aware of leopards, hippos and crocodiles. I put those thoughts out of my mind and kept walking. On the day we left, we gave one of the workers a lift back to St. Lucia. He asked us if we had seen the Leopard that had been hanging around the store the last two nights!

The road to Camp Vidal. Hippos and crocodiles live in the lake.

The beach at Cape Vidal.

Me ready to go for a walk along the beach. I didn't have all of this with me when I went to the store in the evening.

On Friday we drove to Maphelane which is on the south side of the St. Lucia Estuary. The information about the park said the road could be difficult to navigate. We thought it was because of sand. We were wrong. It was because of all the potholes, the hill and the sharp winding narrow road. We stayed in a log cabin again but it wasn’t quite as quaint even though the floor plan was identical. This is a fisherman’s camp. The water coming out of the tap was usually a shade of yellow to light brown. We usually take bottled water with us just to be safe, but when we stopped in St. Lucia to buy more groceries, we completely forgot about getting more water. We boiled some water and let it cool so we could use it as drinking water. We used some in the morning to make coffee and it was so gross and salty we had to throw it away. Then Richard read the information sheet that came with the confirmation of the reservations and saw that we were advised not to drink the water in the cabins. Luckily the (very) little store they had sold bottled water. The beach at this camp was just as beautiful but not as rocky. It was a great beach for walking in the waves, fishing from shore and swimming.

On the road to Maphelane we drove through a couple of mangrove tree forests. They were amazing and very spooky.

This is me trying to be brave enough to cross the mouth of the iMfolozi river about 2 hours before low tide. I almost made it, but chickened because every once in a while several big waves would come at once and the current got real strong as the ocean and the river collided and fought over which would go out to sea and which would come in to shore! Our friend Elfie walked across it at low tide so if I had waited I could have made it. Oh well. It was fun.

Our cabin:

Gary and Richard trying to light the gas stove in this cabin. It was a real hoot!

Sunrise at Maphelane.

The black streak in the ocean is a crocodile. Jeri and I called it a sea crocodile. We watched it for a long time while trying to figure out what it was. It was not stationary but kept moving down the shore. Gary thinks it was just a rock. But when we told our friend Elfie who lives in St. Lucia about it, she said they do get washed out through the estuary and struggle until they finally wash up on shore and then walk over to the fresh water of the estuary or river. Is it real or was it a figment of our imaginations?

On Sunday we parted ways with Richard. He drove back to Johannesburg and we headed up towards Swaziland but we had made reservations to go on a afternoon drive at a rather small game reserve called Tembe Elephant Park. We thought it wouldn’t take much extra time to go there. As usual, we were wrong. It wasn’t that far off of the highway to Swaziland, but the road we had to travel on was horrible. Some of the potholes had to be a foot deep. We were driving in the little VW citi (rabbit) that Gary and Jeri have rented while they are here. Some of the potholes were wider than the car! We thought we would have a lot of extra time, but because of the roads we barely made it there on time for our drive. Tembe is on the part of land just below Mozambique and to the east of the lower part of Swaziland. This area was once covered by the ocean so the ground is mostly deep white sand. Vusie was our guide. He grew up in the area. He told us that Tembe was created because the elephants kept terrorizing and killing the local Tembe tribe that lived in that area. The government finally decided to fence the elephants in and move the people to an area right outside of the park. Vusie was very informative and had great eyes. We saw one of the biggest elephants I think I have seen so far. And then a bit down the road he spotted a pride of Lions. There were at least 8 and more likely 10 lions in tall grass about 100 yards off of the road eating the day’s kill. (It looked like it was probably a large male Nyala.) We had to use binoculars to see them, but we could see the Lion, and couple of lionesses and about 5 or 6 cubs. We watched them for at least 10 or 15 minutes. The cubs were so cute. They would go pounce on the Lion to wake him up and he would kind of swat at them, and then lay back down. Then they would wrestle with each other. The lionesses (and sometimes the lions) team together to catch the food but the lion is always the first to eat. When he is full, the rest of the pride eats. When they had enough to eat, some would lie on their backs with their feet up in the air, others would just kind of roll around and others, would flat out go to sleep. We couldn’t believe we were sitting there in the middle of the “bush” in a big jeep tour vehicle without any windows, solid doors or a roof watching lions about 100 yards away from us.

After a bit, because the sun was starting to set, we had to start back to camp. We weren’t too far down the road when we saw a herd of about 17 elephants of different sizes walking towards a watering hole by the side of the road. There were at least 3 real small ones. They stopped at the watering hole and played in the mud, drank the water played in it. They didn’t pay any attention to us. Unfortunately we finally had to leave because we were late getting back. We stopped by the camp to get some coffee because we were freezing and Gary needed some caffeine before we headed back to Swaziland. We were a bit worried about the road and how long it had taken us to get to Tembe. The border closes at 10:00 pm and we didn’t get off of the drive until after 6:30. While we were waiting for the coffee, we went to stand by the big fire they had going to try and get warm. One of the staff asked why we weren’t staying and then where we were driving to. When we told them Swaziland they said they were afraid we wouldn’t make it to the border. To make a long story short, they gave us a deal on a room and we stayed the night. It was a fantastic experience. We slept in a tent that was unlike any tent I’ve ever seen. It was a luxury tent complete with a beautiful shower, electricity, an electric blanket, and a very comfortable double bed and a twin bed. They also fed us a great dinner and a wonderful breakfast the next morning. When we left we felt like we were saying goodbye to family. It ended up being a real good thing we stayed. Not only was the road horrendous, but there wasn’t a sign at the road we were supposed to turn on so we ended up driving about 30 minutes out of our way before we realized we were going in the wrong direction. It would have been worse at night. Its little things like that that reminds us that we aren’t in Kansas any more!

I think this may have been the largest "lonely bull" elephant I have ever seen. The male elephants don't hang with herd of female, baby and teenage elephants so he wasn't with the herd at the watering hole which is why they call the male elephants lonely bulls.

The picture isn't real impressive, but believe me, in person the site was awesome.

Outside our tent. It was in the middle of the bush like no one was around. You could sleep, take a shower or sit on the pot will watching the small antelope right outside. The inside was like a luxury hotel.

Looking back on the week I hear my mother's voice saying "Don't you ever get tired of going?" My answer to her was always "no." That would still be my answer with a few qualifiers. One, how can one ever get tired of reveling in God's beautiful creation? And two, yes, I hate to say it I do get tired more than I used to, but I'm not going to let that stop me until I'm too tired to move and then I'll rest, or I'll keep going until there are chores to do and then I'll rest instead of doing mundane chores! I can hear my mom chuckling, shaking her head and saying "That's my Chrissie!"

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