Practical Traveler: Kruger to Port ElizabethWritten by Judy Pfaffenberger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When one thinks of going to Africa, a safari usually comes to mind. However, my 24 day trip there in November was much more. After a long flight, 38 of us met up in Johannesburg for Grand Circle’s Highlights of South Africa tour. This was by far the most expensive trip I have ever taken, but a friend that I had taken along on several trips passed away about two years ago and left me $5000 so that was just about right for this special trip.
Two days in Jo-burg gave us a chance to get acclimated with a city tour and a visit to the famous township Soweto; a combination of shanty town, low-income housing, and a smattering of more upscale homes belonging mostly to people who operate businesses there.
Then it was off to Kruger National Park for two days of game drives. On the way we took the Panorama Route to Blyde Canyon where the landscape was somewhat similar to parts of Utah. One particularly scenic area was called The Potholes.
For our game drives the option was offered to upgrade to a small open air 4×4 with a professional guide for an extra $115 per day, but cheapskate that I am, I decided to stick with the air conditioned bus at least for the first day. With only 4 of us on the bus, we had great flexibility for taking pictures. Our bus driver along with our regular guide Charl did a fantastic job of spotting the game and telling us about them. The second day we had about 20 on the bus since many decided it wasn’t worth the extra money to be exposed to dust, heat, and bugs while not being able to hear the driver very well. We saw 4 of the famous “big 5” with leopards being elusive because they are nocturnal.
The highlight was getting to see a group of about 15 female lions and cubs lunch on a zebra. Lions are actually not considered the best hunters so when they get such a feast, they make the most of it. We saw much wildlife but no large herds such as I had seen in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania on a previous trip.
After two days of animals I was ready for a change of scenery which didn’t take long as we drove to Swaziland, one of the poorest countries in Africa. Our home for 2 nights was the Mountain Inn in Mbabane, overlooking a beautiful valley.
The next day was what Grand Circle calls “A Day in the Life.” This was all located on a tribal nature preserve. We met a local chief at her residence where she tried to teach us some of their songs and dances. Then it was time to visit the local Esitjeni Primary School, supported by the Grand Circle Foundation. Our lunch at the Orphan Center was a traditional Swazi meal prepared by the local women. It was similar to what the orphan children receive daily there: stewed tomatoes and onion, squash, beets, and white maze. About 30 of them live in the community, mostly with extended family. In Swaziland one in three adults is infected with HIV and several of these children also were.
After lunch we divided into small groups to visit some of the homes in the community. Most homes do not have electricity or indoor plumbing, but they do have cell phones which they take to stores about once a week to get charged. I find these visits extremely interesting and worthwhile since one of the main reasons for travel is to meet people and see how others live. Home visits are a hallmark of Grand Circle.
We went from Swaziland to Zululand back in South Africa. Here we stayed in rondevals – round huts with thatched roofs- but with a modern bathroom and wall-mounted flat screen TV. Although it was touristy, I thought this was one of the more interesting places I’ve ever stayed. The complex was built for a movie several years ago and then converted into a Zulu resort, Shakaland, named after a Zulu king. We had a tour of the village, complete with native dancers and then an ample buffet. We certainly did not need a wake- up call when the local roosters started in at 4 in the morning.
A short drive took us to the airport at the outskirts of Durban for our short flight to Port Elizabeth where our hotel overlooked the Indian Ocean. (To Be Continued)