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!
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.
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.)
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!
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! 🙂
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! 🙂
I am happy to report that the family is here, and we are already enjoying our time together! They arrived around 2:30, and William swiftly got us to our “sustainable giving home.” It was a beautiful, warm day so they got a good view of Table Mountain on the way. William thought we should go directly to the cableway, but the timing was not right after two days of flying!
There was a little time to settle in and shower before heading to Gold Restaurant, where we learned to play the djembe, tried 14 different foods from around the African continent, and enjoyed lots of singing and entertainment (including face painting for all!).
It is late now and all are trying to sleep. Tomorrow if the weather holds we will visit Robben Island!
Our braai Sunday night was delicious. There were mixed reviews on the ostrich kabobs, but no one can deny the meat was tender, juicy, and flavorful. 🙂 Monday morning at Backpackers’ Paradise was cold! Gerard said 3c in fact, which is about 37f. We found our way to the main lodge to sit by the fire (with the 3 cats who reside there!) as we woke up and waited for breakfast. Toast, eggs, and fruit filled our bellies, and we set out in the minibus around 8:30.
We drove back through the Klein Karoo, which means “little land of thirst.” We went past the ostrich farms, through the hop valley, and over the Outeniqua Mountains. We drove through the city of George and back to Wilderness. Our first stop was at the Kaaimansrivier to do some kayaking. Thankfully the sun was out and it had warmed up! Gerard guided us along this calm, shallow river to a secret waterfall and past a sandy beach. We saw the waves of the Indian Ocean crashing in the distance. Aside from some bumper boats and splashing, it was a fairly tame paddle. 🙂 The kayak guy said most South Africans have not seen the waterfall that we visited, so we felt special!
We piled back in the minibus and headed to a Spar Market to purchase our lunch items. We drove a couple of minutes to Wilderness Beach, and we picnicked in the sand as we watched the waves. The Indian Ocean here is very blue and the sand is quite gold. Most of us got at least our feet in the water, and some got their whole selves wet! It was a fun time together, relaxing in the sun and admiring the beauty around us.
As I write this, we are on our way back to Cape Town, some 5 hours from here. Gerard got us some snacks of “Nik Naks” (like Cheetos) and “Jelly Tots” (think Dots), and the students have requested an ice cream comfort stop in awhile. 🙂 Our first stop was along the road at an ostrich farm. It was fun to get an up-close look at these amazing creatures! We made a couple more comfort stops, as well as an incredible sunset stop with Table Bay and the back of Table Mountain in full view!
On the home front, the family is on their long layover in Frankfurt, Germany. It was an extra stressful departure yesterday as the new South African regulation of carrying original birth certificates for minors was not known to us. Reed learned of it in PDX and was able to get our kids’ originals, but my sister is traveling with copies. Oliver from VAC said they should suffice just fine, and he acknowledged it is a ridiculous new rule when birth certificates were verified in order to obtain the kids’ passports! Anyway, fingers (& toes) crossed they will have an easy-going passport control agent in Johannesburg tomorrow!
Saturday we set off bright and early for our Garden Route Tour. I, for one, was excited to get out of the city for a few days and explore some new areas. We enjoyed our first “comfort stop” as our guide Gerhard calls them, at the Oumeul Bakery in a cute town called Riviersonderend. Gerard surprised us at our second comfort stop with a treat of “milk tart” that he secretly purchased at the bakery! It was like a warm custard pie in a phyllo dough crust. Yum.
We ventured on, driving some five hours, and we were delighted to view the Indian Ocean at Mossel Bay (notice the township too). We arrived around 12:30 for lunch at the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. After our lovely lunch in the beautifully decorated lodge, we set out for our 2.5 hour safari. The sun was out and so were the animals! We saw giraffe, rhinos, elephants, lions, and many kinds of antelope. A couple of highlights included the lions sunning themselves on the road after a big meal (check out her belly!). Also was our guide squeezing fresh elephant poo and drinking the “water” from it. I’m not even kidding. It was one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen. One of our students’ phones slid right out of the truck, but amazingly we recovered it using “find iPhone.” It truly felt like some kind of South African miracle!
We said goodbye to the animals and journeyed on to Sedgefield, a little surf town right on Myoli Beach and the Indian Ocean. We got a peek of the sunset before we settled into our rooms at Afrovibe Adventure Lodge (no Wi-Fi hence no blog post). Then we enjoyed a beachside / fireside dinner and colorful welcome drinks, courtesy of Gerard. It was a good day on the Garden Route!
Sunday we awoke to rain. So, we got our Gumbies on and made a new plan for the day. No beach time or canoeing / hiking (we’ll save that for Monday), but instead we began with visiting a scenic viewpoint in Knysna. Not unlike the Eagle Creek Fire last fall, Knysna suffered a huge arson fire last June, so we could see the evidence both in scorched hillsides as well as lost homes. Sadly relatable.
Next we crossed the Outeniqua Mountains toward Oudtshoorn. Along the way we saw “hop valley” (yes, where hops were harvested a couple of months ago!) and lots of ostriches. Oudtshoorn is the ostrich capital of South Africa, and some of us will enjoy it tonight at our fireside braai (barbecue). We also had a good time singing “Africa” by Toto as we drove in the rain. 🙂
Gerard planned to take us to lunch at a winery, but it was closed being Sunday. So, he instead took us to a very unique lodge / restaurant with a big inside fire / braai. It was incredible! The owner (seen in the photo in a khaki shirt by Gerard, who’s wearing black) cooked lamb chops and beef sausages right in front of us. Different kinds of salads, veggies, and pickles – along with some delicious warm rolls – accompanied the meat. We departed with full bellies, perfect for a little spelunking (not!).
We traveled a short distance to Cango Caves, 20 million year old, spectacular limestone caverns. Some students did the adventure tour where you slide through something called the “letterbox” and climb “devil’s chimney,” among other feats. I went with a student on the heritage tour, which goes through six of the “halls.” Unfortunately, one student is not feeling well and rested in the bus for both the caves and lunch. Hoping the rest helped and the evening is much better!
We just settled in at Backpackers Paradise in Oudtshoorn. Our fireside braai will be at 7:00 tonight. Monday we plan to dip our toes in the Indian Ocean (finally) when we travel back to the canoeing / hiking area we missed today due to the rain. The weather report looks better, so hopefully that works out! We then will make the long drive back to Cape Town, arriving after dark I should think.
Reed and the kids are at PDX now as I write this, so I can hardly wait for them to arrive, along with my sister’s family! When we return to Cape Town tomorrow, I need to move to our family accommodations, so I may not get to blog. For your patience and for following along, I say “baie dankie!” (Afrikaans for “thank you,” and pronounced, “buy a donkey!”)
On Thursday, students were at their placements wrapping up their work there. I think they have had valuable experiences overall, serving alongside staff at the Ihata Shelter and Heideveld Clinic. I will read more in their journals and final reflection papers!
Thursday evening was an optional free activity through VACorps: a concert at the Baxter Theater. Ernesto and I went and had a great time! The singer – Tankiso – was AMAZING, as was her four-man band. She sang all original songs (minus one that was written about her), that ranged from traditional Xhosa and Sotho ones to those that were in English. Themes included the struggle of the people here, femicide, empowerment, and oppression. As I said, it was an amazing experience for which I am very grateful!
Thursday night was very wild, weather-wise. The rain was heavy off-and-on, as were the winds. I thought I would awaken to fallen trees and crumbled buildings, but all was fine! You can see the construction project next door to my flatlet is coming along nicely. 🙂
Friday was a free day. I got together with Sheila, who was my “home stay mom” for six weeks in 2012. She took me to lovely De Grendel Wine Estate where we chatted for a couple of hours while we tasted several delicious South African wines. (Check out our view of Table Mountain!) It was a special time to reminisce and catch up.
Saturday morning we will depart early for our 3-day Garden Route Tour (see photo of itinerary if interested). I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post while we’re on the road, but trust that we are having a good time together and are in great hands exploring this beautiful country!