#1 South Africa, June 20, 2011

Dear Everybody,

Well, here I am in South Africa with my two grandsons, Lorenzo (12) and Marco (14). The flights were long (8 hours and 10 ½ hours) but went smoothly although the computer flagged us in Minneapolis because we were going to South Africa and didn’t check any luggage since we had only ‘carry-on.’ When they saw us with our backpacks, they OKed us but had trouble convincing the computer to let us on the plane. We were the last passengers to board. An extraordinary thing happened on the flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg—the flight was only half full (shades of the ‘80s) and both Marco and Lorenzo were able to stretch out over three seats and both slept for four hours!

 

 

After arriving in Johannesburg we spent the first night at a backpacker’s hotel near the airport. The next morning we returned to the airport and got our rented car, which was a great little four-door Kia sedan. To drive it, I sat on the right, driving on the left side of the road, shifting a five-gear floor shift with my left hand and, hardest of all, pushing the lever for the directional blinkers with my right hand. Since my car at home has the blinkers on the left, I mistakenly (many times) flipped on the windshield wipers.

As we left the airport, I miscued onto a wrong road, and to correct, made a (careful) illegal turn. Unfortunately two South African police pulled me over for the infraction. I explained that I was attempting to go on R21 to N12 (the freeway). After some discussion—“Can I pay YOU?” as I pulled out cash, and more discussion about the difficulty of finding or staying on R21, and brandishing a hundred-rand bill (about $14), one muttered something about “well, for an old woman—“ and accepted my bill. Then they said they would escort me to the freeway (N12) and to follow their police car (with lights blinking!) It was about four miles and a little confusing, soooo—it was almost worth the hundred rand.

We were off, going east to Sabie, our second night stay where we found the funky Sabie Backpacker’s Lodge. Later we ate pizza in a railroad car cum restaurant with a talking parrot.

We arrived at Phalaborwa Gate to Kruger Park where we registered and entered. In the park the speed limit is 50 km (about 30 mph) which gives one a chance to spot wildlife, and we certainly did! On the hour’s drive to Lataba Camp we saw elephants three times, giraffes twice, an ostrich, zebra, hornbill, stork, waterbuck, kudu, terrapin, and baboon!

Lataba Camp was wonderful, and there was a lot of wildlife right in the camp. We ate dinner overlooking the river, watching elephants  and impala. The next morning we got up at 4:45 AM to go on a guided game drive in an open-roofed vehicle with a naturalist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to many of the animals and birds we had already seen, we saw Cape buffalo, hyena, lions, wildebeest, kori bustard (biggest flying bird in the world) and others. This was just thrilling!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More game viewing on our own in our little car and another sunset game drive with a naturalist provided opportunities to view many of the already seen animals and birds, but additionally we saw white rhinoceros, scrub hare, spring hare (hops about like a small kangaroo), fish eagle, hippos and a crocodile.

 

 

The weather has been ideal with highs about 78 degrees and sunny. Of course it is their winter and again (as in Argentina) one has to remember that the sun is in the north!

Marco and Lorenzo have been A-1 travelers and we’re really having fun. When we drive the boys sit in the backseat and do the navigating for me—what a treat! One day we stopped in a citrus-growing area at a roadside stand so the boys could buy a net-bag of 36 oranges. They think the food is fine, and not a problem.

On the last day at Lataba we went for a morning drive and an afternoon drive in our car and saw many animals and birds On the way back to the camp we were lucky enough to see four black rhinoceros! What a capstone to Lataba. We had seen four of the Big Five! (lion, elephant, Cape buffalo and rhinos—leaving only leopard)

After three nights at Lataba camp we left early at 7:00 AM to drive (50 km/hr) to Pretorioskop camp, an all day game drive! On the way we stopped many times to see animals (elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, etc) but also new ones—saddlebilled stork, warthog, sable antelope, and Sharpe’s grysbok. The following day we went on a couple of game drives in our car.

 

 

On our last day in Kruger Park, we were in the car, ready to go out of the gate and observed that a whole group of impala were coming into our camp through the gate. Suddenly two of the males started fighting ferociously right in front of us. Those sweet little animals suddenly displayed their vicious side—which was quite a surprise to us! Marco and Lorenzo thought it was the highlight of the day!

 

 

 

 

 

Kruger Park far exceeded our expectations and we are so fortunate to have experienced it. Tomorrow we will be driving to Swaziland.

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