All posts by Erin Mueller

Goodbye South Africa, Hello America

As I write this, we are in Chicago O’Hare after flying from Nelspruit to Johannesburg to Frankfurt. We just said our goodbyes to my sister’s family, and we will board for Portland in a bit. Just a couple of last images from our time in South Africa…this has been a moment in time that I will forever cherish!

The Big Five

Our sunrise game drive was a great success! It again started slowly, but after about 1.5 hours of searching, Phillip found a large herd of water buffalo! That completed our Big Five sightings: elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and buffalo. Even better, he found a mother cheetah and her three cubs off in the distance (too far for my iPhone to capture). Then he got word of a leopard in a tree, so we saw that too. It was a spectacular morning in The Kruger!

We will soon begin our long journey home. As usual, it is quite bittersweet to leave this special place. I treasure all of the moments spent here as a family exploring the beauty that is South Africa.

Our Day in Kruger

We had a wonderful Sunday in The Kruger! Our sunrise game drive yielded the usual sightings, plus four male lions up-close. It was exhilarating! We saw a “giraffe forest” unlike anything I’ve ever experienced (I lost count at 30). A similar elephant forest happened later as well. A pair of jackals was as a highlight too. An amazing morning, for sure.

It was in the 80s, so the girls swam while the rest of us chilled pool-side. We had a bit of time on our deck before heading out to our sunset safari. The highlight this time was probably the hyenas who instantly appeared at our snack stop after we left. I guess they were cleaning up the biltong we dropped. 🙂 We wondered from where they were watching us as we had our snacks!

Dinner soon, and then sleep and a sunrise game drive remain before beginning our long journey home. Sorry for the brevity of the post, but I want to soak in our last few moments in The Kruger.

(Note: Reed and Jackson are using nice cameras with telephoto lenses, but the photos below are just a few from my iPhone.)

From The Mother City to The Kruger

We awoke to heavy rain in The Mother City of Cape Town. William arrived at 8am to take us to the airport. I enjoyed listening to him tell some of the same stories as we drove through the city, past Langa, etc. Check-in was easy and our flight to Nelspruit Mpumalanga was swift. I think it was about the cutest airport I’ve ever seen, complete with one runway/luggage carousel, thatched roof, and birds of paradise everywhere.

We were greeted by a cheerful man named George to drive us the two hours to Crocodile Bridge and into Kruger National Park and Shishangeni Lodge. We were fortunate to see a lion, elephants, zebra, giraffe, hippo, monkeys, and lots of various antelope…all before our safari had even technically started!

We had a few minutes to go to our rooms before setting out on our evening game drive. Our guide for our two days in The Kruger is Phillip, and he is awesome. The sightings started slowly, but before we knew it, we were off road to get a closer look at three adult and two baby giraffes! Also, we saw many more elephants and impala, as well as other kinds of antelope, white rhino, hippos, crocodile, a variety of birds, warthog, and more.

Phillip stopped the vehicle about half-way through our three-hour drive and set up our snack station. We got out, stretched our legs, and enjoyed biltong, chips, fruit, and marshmallows with our soda, beer, and wine. There was a large herd of impala nearby, and Jackson asked Phillip about the noises they were making. Well, they were in fact warning sounds and, before we knew it, we were back in the vehicle watching a leopard prowl toward them! It was incredible.

We drove back in the dark, using a spotlight to see a giraffe up-close, and we chased a porcupine down the road a ways. We enjoyed our outdoor boma dinner by the fire, and it is nearly time to turn in as I write. We will be up early for our morning game drive. I am so happy to be back in The Kruger!

Transitions

Friday was our last day in Cape Town. We awoke to fog, which was rather disappointing since today was the only opportunity for the family to take the cableway up Table Mountain. We crossed our fingers and said a few prayers that the sky would clear.

Reed finished his peace psychology seminar with the students while the family went to the waterfront. We rode the Cape Wheel and browsed the artisan shops. After lunch, we took the hop-on/hop-off bus for a few stops, and then we met up with everyone at the District Six Museum. It is too much to put into words as I blog at this late hour…I encourage you to read about District Six. It is an important story to know.

We said our good-byes to the students, which was quite bittersweet. I am so thankful for a “successful” program and meaningful experience, but it is a special moment in time that we will never share again. I value each person and their journey here, and I am grateful that they invested so much in this.

The family hopped back on the bus and ascended Table Mountain to the lower station. Thankfully, the skies had cleared by now, and it was a unique day to go to the upper station. There was a low bank of clouds over the Atlantic on the “back side” of the mountain. It was stunning. We enjoyed our time and got a lot of nice photos of the spectacular views.

We intended to hop back on the bus, but it didn’t have a scheduled stop for awhile. Instead, we Ubered to Camps Bay for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. We enjoyed some American fare and 80s/90s music videos to mark our last night in Cape Town.

It is time for The Kruger tomorrow…I can hardly wait. Journey mercies to the students as they transition back home.

Cape Point & Penguins!

Our party of 16 had a wonderful Thursday excursion around Cape Point. We drove through Hout Bay, along the rugged Atlantic coast, and down to the Cape of Good Hope. We went to the Point and ascended to its top. Some chose the hiking option while others of us rode the funicular. At the top, we marveled at the views and took a LOT of pictures!

Next we drove to the water and it’s famous sign. We walked on the rocky shore, and some brave ones did a little rock climbing that made me quite nervous! I was relieved when we were all back on the bus, heading to our lunch stop in Simon’s Town. At lunch, Ernesto surprised Reed with a bottle of wine he bought for him way back on our first full day in Cape Town. The name seemed fitting for the male Professor Mueller – “Stubborn Man.” 😉

After lunch, it was time to go to Boulders Beach Penguin Colony. The famous “jack-ass penguins” were quite adorable and entertaining. We had fun watching their behaviors and taking LOTS of pictures (again). We had a little time for souvenirs, coffee, and ice cream before heading back to the city. It was a great day at the Point and with the penguins!

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the last day of the Concordia program. We’ve learned so much, made new friends, and are forever changed. I am grateful for the time here!

P.S. One of our students celebrated her 21st birthday today. Happy birthday, Mo! 🙂

Reunited… & Robben Island

Wednesday Reed was reunited with the students, and it was a joyous occasion to behold. 🙂 He also got to meet Carmen, Oliver, and Loyiso at VACorps. I walked back “home” while Reed and the students had their first Peace Psychology seminar. Then we all met up at 11:00 and went to the waterfront. We had some time to visit Nobel Square and grab some bites for lunch. The sun was shining down as we strolled through the beautiful seaboard.

All 16 of us assembled at the Robben Island Museum for the 1:00 ferry. It was delayed about a half hour, but then it was a quick 20-minute ferry ride to the island. When you arrive, you board large busses, but the staff miscounted and there was not room for the family (the students were split between two busses). We waited a few minutes, and then a small minibus arrived just for the 9 of of us! Our guide was so knowledgeable about all of the sites around the island, as well as the important history that happened there.

We were impacted by the stories we heard. We also appreciated the beautiful view back toward Table Mountain. We learned that Nelson Mandela used that same view as an inspiration, as I’m sure many others did. It was stunning. We also were able visit the house where Robert Sobukwe resided. And of course we visited the cell of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. It’s too much to summarize the stories of these and many other courageous souls who endured much in the name of equality and peace.

We took the last ferry back and some looked through the museum while others played nearby. Then we enjoyed browsing through the African Trading Post, as well as a delicious meal at Ocean Basket. Ubers swiftly returned us home where we talked, laughed, and prepared for the next day.

After Robben Island, Jackson said that Cape Town is his favorite city. He has a connection going back 6 years when he was first here, and it warmed my heart to know how he felt about being back. There is so much here to learn, see, and feel, and my heart is full to share the time with these dear ones. All 15 of them! 🙂