On the road in South Africa

Hluhluwe Travel Blog

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Along the Indian Ocean

We are now well into our tour of South Africa with Nomad Travel Company. Our group is made up of 5 Germans, 2 Italian, 1 Polish, 1 Romanian and me and our three guides are Belgium, German and South African.  Ages also range from 21 to 60 across the group.  The heterogeneous group doesn’t socialize much together since the Germans normally speak German and one of the Italians barely speaks English.  Yet, the group experience is not as bad as I expected.  Everything runs pretty much on time and everybody is good about getting back to the bus on-time.

Much of our days are spent on our truck which is nicknamed Frankie.  It can hold about twice as many people as it is so it is pretty comfortable despite some sometimes poor roads.

A little cold and windy at the beach near St. Lucia.
  The first day we left Joburg at around 8:30am and arrived near Kruger Park at around 8pm.  While we made a number of short sight-seeing, shopping and eating stops along the way it is still a long way.  In addition, the morning tends to be quite early.  As animals are most active at sunset and sunrise we try to be at the park entrances when it opens (normally at 6:30am).  Tomorrow we are waking up before 5am.  This is compensated by bedtimes usually around 9pm.  Without any television and an unsocial group there isn’t much else to do in a national park at night any way.

Much of our trip so far has been focused on seeing animals.  The second day of the tour we went to an animal rehabilitation center to see many of the animals close-up in a more zoo like setting.

The St. Lucia Greater Wetland Park.
  They take injured or orphaned animals and rehabilitate them for transfer back to the wild.  Unfortunately, some of the animals cannot be fully rehabilitated so they stay at the center permanently.  The most exciting animal was a 5 week old rhino who wondered the grounds freely.  While at one point he did charge a woman holding a young baby, for the most part he seemed rather harmless.  From there we went to Kruger National Park which is one of the most famous wild animal reserves in the world.  We spent hours every day driving the park looking for animals (elephants, antelopes, giraffes, zebras, etc.) in our tour vehicle.  Some animals can be as close as 10 meters away while many are quite a distance away.  The hardest to see are the cats (leopards, lions and cheetahs).  On the last night we did take a sunset safari which allows you to go with a guide in a park vehicle that stays out past the time when the park is closed.  The three hour tour started off well as our guide was very, very knowledgeable and showed us many of the plants and special features of the park, but we didn’t see many animals.  Finally 2 hours and 55 minutes into the tour we saw four male lions.  They were about 20 meters from our vehicle and for the most part didn’t even seem to notice we were there as they walked in pairs down next to the road.  We saw them for less than five minutes and then they slowly disappeared into the thick brush and we headed back to the lodge.

From Kruger Park we headed to Swaziland and stayed in traditional beehive huts which were essentially made from straw.  Since the temperature was going down below 40 degrees at night this could be a bit cold, but the idea of staying in a traditional house was kind of exciting.  That was until Ana spotted a few pieces of poop on one of the bed.  I tried to tell her that it was dirt and wipe it off before she could see it too closely, but she stopped me and kind of freaked out.  Apparently the thatched walls of the buildings make for good rats nest.   After threatening to sleep on the truck for a while Ana finally agreed to switch to a different hut.  It was winter and the huts would keep rats warm so they probably all had rats, but Ana didn’t find any poop so we were safe and the trip finished without any rat sightings.  Overall, we have been surprised with how nice most of the accommodations are.  As we are in Africa and the trip was sold as accommodations one step above camping, we didn’t expect much.  We normally have our own bathroom and about half of the rooms are heated.  In the South African national parks most of the rooms even have a full kitchen and grill.  Food also has been good.  One of our guides is a cook/translator and has been able to fulfill Ana’s complex eating requirements and keep our stomachs full.

As far as the country goes as a whole, we have been surprised by the level of development.  We have seen little signs of slums, huts or below standard neighborhoods in South Africa.  The roads for the most part have also been pretty well constructed.  While we have lots of potholes (which are bit rough in such a large truck), they seem pretty safe and much better than India.  We have been warned by our guides who do tours throughout Africa that other countries are not so comfortable.  Roads tend to be a lot worse and that you are better off camping, because you can keep your tent clean as a hotel room likely will not be.

That is it for now…on to find some more animals before some hiking in Lesotho and southern South Africa.

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Along the Indian Ocean
Along the Indian Ocean
A little cold and windy at the bea…
A little cold and windy at the be…
The St. Lucia Greater Wetland Park.
The St. Lucia Greater Wetland Park.
photo by: inkie1010