Category Archives: Touristy

We finally saw cats…

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We’ve been in a kind of denial about Kruger National Park having cats — lions, leopards, cheetah, etc. We’d been a couple of times and never seen any hint of them. Yeah, we’d seen other people’s photos, but it was just hard to believe. But, we finally had our opportunity — and it was grand! (Some pictures below!)

Our trip to Kruger was on 2-4 November . The girls did a splendid job and really enjoyed it.

We got to see two young male lions laying right next to the road not too far into the park. The first one we watched for about 10 minutes, he would pop his head up when he heard a noise but was lying on his back/side. As we decided to move on since he wasn’t too entertaining, we were passing the other car stopped with us and then could see there was another sitting under a bush beside him (but we couldn’t see that before). He was sitting up so we watched them for a while before they got up and walked away. We would have assumed they were lionesses until they got up to walk away — their mane was still very light and short. It’s hard to imagine them getting much bigger, but they are young and I guess they do!

We had great accommodations at our camp right next to the river! The vegetation prevented seeing much from the actual cottage, but we had breakfast on our patio which was situated next to the fence where we could see and hear everything. We went for an early (5a) drive on Saturday in hopes of seeing something. The first two hours we saw a couple of elephants. And that’s all.

But as we were heading back to the camp and topped a hill, something little walked out into the road a distance away. I said, “What is that?” The girls thought it was a baboon or monkey (it was that small), but it was walking like a four-legged animal. It sat down in the middle of the road and as we got closer, the mother lion walked out from the other side of the road next to it. Wow! Then two other cubs came out following the mother. They sat there in the middle of the road for a while in front of us. Another car drove up behind us. Then the mother started to walk away. That first cub we saw was very, very slow and the mom lion just left him lagging behind — eventually leaving him completely! We followed her up the road and eventually she walked off the side with the two cubs.

We drove on up the hill (less than 100 meters) and there was another lioness and her four cubs — and a tour truck and other cars around them. This one carried one in her mouth and sat around for another minute. Then we followed (second in line) this lioness and her cubs down the road until she walked off the road with the cubs following. Definitely a great lion morning! We were then surrounded by a whole bunch of baboons and made our way back to the camp and had breakfast and packed up to go out again. The lions definitely made our early morning worth it.

On Saturday, we saw lots of elephants — including following about 15 (including babies) to a waterhole where they played and cooled off for about 20 minutes. It was cool and overcast on Friday (which was nice) but began to warm up on Saturday (though it was overcast until mid-afternoon). We saw a few giraffe and we also found another lioness and cubs down by the Sabie river — we didn’t have a great view but were able to see them down there. We saw the other usual things: mongoose, hippos everywhere, rhinos (and a young rhino, but from far off) and a couple of cape buffalo (not many and on the far side of the Sabie river). We had a large monitor lizard surprise us while we ate lunch at a picnic site. We saw a mother hyena and her cubs as well.

Just before getting to our Saturday night camp, there were a couple of cars stopped. Only one seemed to know what it was looking at — through binoculars. After listening to them try to explain it to the other car I looked at one lonely tree that was over the horizon of the ground (it was about sunset time) and sure enough, a leopard stood up on the branch and then laid back down. We sat there for quite a while trying to help the girls see the leopard through the binoculars. It was pretty much impossible to see without but was certainly a leopard when we got the sights on it. Way, way, way far off (check out the picture with the arrow in the gallery), but we saw it.

When we got to the camp, they upgraded us to a family house instead of our cottage. We wished we had friends and family with us! We had a big place on the Rhino Trail next to the Dam with three patios, three bedrooms, a large living room (with a TV that had no good shows on), kitchen, garage, etc. It was a nice treat — we wished we had arrived a little earlier to enjoy it! We got up at 4a the next morning to go on a sunrise drive (since we learned that 5a is way after sunrise here!). We saw a hyena run across the road, two sleeping rhinos hidden in the bush, some lovely birds, and that’s it. Really. It was two hours of absolute nothing again — with a grumpy little one. We went back to the house, had breakfast, and stayed around there for a couple of hours. Ellianna, Caroline and I went for a walk on the trail by the dam at the camp. We saw a Rhino, squirrel, and a hippo loaded with turtles.

Then we made a much longer than expected drive out of the park — after the guy at camp wouldn’t sell us gas without cash — and he also wanted South African cash, not Swaziland! — and we didn’t think about using the ATM). It was a nervous drive toward the end.

We were backed up down the road by a very, very large elephant bull (with the longest tusks we’ve seen), saw several large journeys of giraffe, and were completely surrounded at one point by a large herd (30+) of elephant passing through. The girls were very excited to see something they had been looking for — a hippo walking because my mom said she had never seen a hippo walking. So, we did spot one walking through the bush beside road up from Crocodile River as we drove along.

Sunday was very, very hot but we finished seeing a mixture of zebra, giraffe, and wildebeest together just before the exit and about six warthoglets with a mom and dad warthog at the camp gate.

Last Wednesday, we went to Hlane Royal National Park here in Swaziland with a visiting lecturer, Floyd Vidler, and met up with our third year students were celebrating with the Allisons. We had a great time seeing more elephants and rhinos (including a baby rhino). We ended the day getting stuck in a mud hole. Oops! After being stuck for about 45 minutes, the park staff came and pulled us out, thankfully. We were a little worried about getting out in the mud after seeing some strange things in the water. 🙂

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Kruger Park Pictures

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The Candle Factory

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A while back our family visited The Candle Factory on one of our “day trips”. This is a touristy place in Swaziland. Not only do they make candles, but they have a playground, which is a big bonus for the places we visit! I think we have been to all the playgrounds in Swaziland!

We had actually seen several candles that came from the Candle Factory, but I think they are much more appreciated when you can see how they are made.

When we arrived, the electricity was finished (out) and so we watched for a while in the dark. The man (in the pic below) was sitting and working on making elephant candles. It was amazing to see how he can take a clear rectangle piece of wax and turn it into a patterned animal. He kept the wax warm in an oven where he was working and gave the girls a little piece to work with as he was sculpting the wax into elephants.

He worked the clear wax into a ball and then covered it with a piece of the wax that had a pattern. Once it was covered he just worked it and sculpted it until it looked like an elephant. It did not really take very long at all. He added eyes that were little beads or something and then dropped it into a cool bucket of water. It was neat to be able to be so close to him as he worked and we could ask questions and just watch as long as we wanted. When he was done, he asked the girls what they wanted and he made them a giraffe and zebra from the pieces of clear wax he gave the girls.

There were so many different candles at the factory…from any animal you could imagine, to just regular looking candles, to busts, and candles of women showing their bust, to animals mating. Anything you could imagine, or things you wouldn’t imagine, could be found at The Candle Factory…all made there by hand. Pretty neat!

Hlane Game Reserve

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I am a bit late in getting this post written, but recently we went to another game reserve called Hlane. The “H” sounds like a “K”. We had a great time. We packed a picnic lunch to eat when we arrived. Before we even made it into the reserve we could see some elephants. They were a little far off, but we could tell what they were. Definitely not a great view though.

As we arrived and headed for the picnic area, along came a herd of elephants. I don’t remember how many, but maybe 5 or 6. They just came walking along. We were standing at the fence and were not far from them at all. The elephants just walked up to a group of trees and ate a bit before heading on their way. There was even a baby with its mother. We have heard so much since we have been here about how elephants can get mad and charge you and even kill you, to be honest, I was a little nervous that we were just standing there with the elephant looking right at us.

After watching the elephants and a big group of rhinos at the watering hole, we enjoyed our picnic before getting back in the car to take a drive through the park. It is really hard to write about our animal encounters. They are all so different and it is kind of a “you had to be there” moment. However, we did have a surprise encounter with another group of elephants as we were driving down the road. We were looking for a giraffe (which we did not find) and were just driving along and out from the bushes an elephant popped out. I know it surprised us and I’m pretty sure it was surprised too! We were apparently in its way and it let us know. We had to keep backing up as it was coming right down the road towards our car. There were several more elephants, including the baby again, that were eating on the side of the road. After we got far enough away, I guess the elephant decided it was not bothered by us anymore and just went about his business.

We have really seen some incredible things living out in the wild. It is hard to appreciate the real homes of animals when you are accustomed to seeing them at the zoo, but it is so different to see them wild. It makes you sad to think about these animals living life in a cage or small place in the zoo when you can see how they are really made to live!

Here are a few pictures from our trip to Hlane.

Malendela’s & House of Fire

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Wednesday is break day during the week…no classes. Instead the students work in various jobs. Every student works on Wednesday in lieu of classes (others also work in the afternoons and on weekends to earn extra money). They all get paid more from their work on Wednesdays than they have due for school fees (housing, meals, etc.). I spent most of the day working on some stuff for class the next few days. But we took a little drive and had a great lunch and unique time.

We took a drive through Bethany (beth-AH-knee), a poor area on the side of one of the mountains. Many of the homes were made of mud and sticks and my dad told us about going to church in the middle of one of the neighborhoods where they would go down the mountain and have baptisms in the river. It was a moving story that for him helped really feel like he was “in Africa” and imagined it like John the Baptist at the river…amongst the brush, the cattle, bugs, etc.

Then we went to a place called Malandela’s for lunch. The restaurant has a beautiful view of the mountains; gorgeous gardens and good food. I ordered “Swazi Mixed Grill” off the chalk board menus. My plate came out with mashed potatoes (yum) a very nice salad, a barbequed chicken leg, a pork chop and a long link of sausage. Others had liver and onions (obviously none of us ‘younger’ Carters) and burgers and the girls shared a big kettle of chicken and dumplings. We ate on the patio with the beautiful views on a warm day. It was very nice.

The place also had a very unique entertainment venue that is a happening place on the weekends. It is called House of Fire (http://www.house-on-fire.com) and had a variety of stages and places to visit, drink, and have a good time. It was very elaborately decorated by some local artists with lots of color, tiles, statues, and all kinds of things. It felt very Austin, Texas. Really more like going to a mission in San Antonio that some hipster Austinites got ahold of and put tile murals everywhere. They host weddings, events, concerts, parties, festivals and things inside the place and on the grounds. It was a cool place—even with nothing going on.

We also did a little looking around the stores at the intricate and beautiful weavings—a lot of weaved bowls, rugs, coasters and placemats—that are so beautiful and are made by local women to have sustainable income. And we checked out the latest from Baobab Batik—another women empowerment enterprise that uses a local wax and color on cloth to make amazing designs. They’ve got some great, great pillows, cloths, and stuff! And of course, there was the toy store with lots of brightly colored wooden objects. We didn’t make any purchases today, but it’s fun to look at the things they have.

Malandela’s and House of Fire was not what we expect from “Africa” but was a nice, nearby oasis. (The bed and breakfast pool looked especially inviting—though it’s too cold here for it).

The Glass Factory

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Glass Hippos & Candle Animals

Our 3 glass hippos from the glass factory ...and handmade candles (zebra & giraffe) from the candle factory (will post later).

The other day we went to a glass making factory. We got to watch people on the factory floor making glasses with long stems. There was a place upstairs to observe the workers down below. It was very hot in the room we were in because of the fires used to make the glass. The workers had all different jobs they were doing, but each one did the same job over and over again…like a factory.

First someone would take a long pole and stick it into a huge fire. They would pull out a ball of glass that looked like it was just a small ball of taffy or something similar in consistency. Then they would give it to someone that would shape part of it into the cup part (that holds the liquid) of the glass. It was so hot it was just red like a fire, but as they were working you could see it begin to cool off and then turn clear. After that part was ready they would then pass it on to someone that would put the stem on the cup part. Then they had to put a base on the bottom.

It was so interesting to see how they could just twirl the hot glass from the fire around and then it would take shape and become something so quickly. Then how each part was actually attached and then in just a few minutes a beautiful work of art was formed…all in glass.

Sometimes when visiting the glass factory the workers are blowing glass. We hear that is pretty neat to watch. The items in the shop where you can buy things was full of many amazing things, all made from glass, such as all the “African” animals, many different kinds of drinking glasses, pitchers, vases, bowls and many other things.

While we were in the shop looking around a lady that worked there kept telling me something that I could not understand. I knew it was something about having something for children, but I did not know what they had. We finally figured out they have a little grab bag basket with something wrapped fully in newspaper. For a small price, you can pick one. Thanks to the grandparents, the girls each got one. They were all small glass hippos, 1 was a baby. They are very cute and a fun way to remember the glass factory.

Mlilwane

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On Saturday we took a trip to Mlilwane. It is a smaller game park where you can drive and walk around and look for animals and birds. There is a place you can stop and eat and all around they have fires going if you want to bring food to cook out. It was really neat. You can visit for the day or they also have little huts you can rent and stay the night. There are bikes to rent and horses to take rides and explore. It is the neatest little place…although it is not that little! If I had the opportunity, I would spend a weekend there in one of the huts and the day exploring or reading in a beautiful, exotic and peaceful place. (My 10 year anniversary is coming up soon…hint, hint Brad).

You have to remember this is not a zoo! There is no guarantee what you will see. It all has to be just the right timing. All the animals live in the wild in their natural habitat. While visiting we saw many animals I had never seen before and some I had never heard of before. Impala were what we saw the most. They were usually in big herds. They were mostly graceful and slow, but a few times we did see them get startled and run off. One even came right up to Ellianna as we were walking to see if she had something to eat. Yes, they are wild, but I guess that one was friendly. Others we say were warthogs, blesbok, nyala, and antelope.

The place to eat is by the water. As we arrived in the area the first thing we saw was two big (duh) Hippos just sitting out sunning. It was a beautiful day and they just laid there as we watched. We saw one get up, but it just turned to a different position and flopped back down again. I’m sure everyone is up to date on their Hippo knowledge, but if you have forgotten, Hippos are very dangerous. They kill a lot of people each year.

After getting a bite to eat (and seeing some Monkeys go into the kitchen and swing around from the trees)we walked to explore another area. There is a play area and a pool (have you ever seen Warthogs poolside?) and the girls enjoyed a chance to swing. The area we are in surrounded by mountains. It is beautiful all over! As we walked to the edge to look over and down, we saw a herd of Zebra. Here they call them Zebra (with a short e sound). Say it out loud, it’s fun. In all we counted about 17. They were very close to us, even a baby with its mother. Brad and Ellianna walked down the hillside to see how close they could get and the Zebra did not even move. They were standing just a couple yards away from them. Here they would use meters, not yard, but I don’t have a good concept of how big that is yet. Yes, I learned that in school, but it’s been a while. So, after hanging with the Zebra for a while and taking some pictures, they walked back up. I was standing at the top enjoying the view of the mountains and blue sky filled with clouds, wishing I had the camera to take a picture of Brad and Ellianna standing among the Zebras. So, when they came back up we got Brad’s mom to take our picture. That kind of sighting and especially that close in not something that is common for a place like that we hear. It was pretty amazing!

We also saw a Crocodile out sunning on a small island. As we were taking a closer look (from the car) we noticed on the other side of the water where there were woods two more huge Crocodiles were out sunning and there happened to be two people that were out hiking that had come upon them. We had binoculars to help us get a better look. But, that was not good enough. We decided to go Crocodile hunting and go through the woods to take a closer look. Yes, I was a little worried! Mom, I know you probably would not approve of me taking your grandkids through the woods to find the Crocodiles. However we made it out alive so don’t worry. We found them and right as we approached them one got up and started walking…as I started back peddling. I was holding the youngest child… I think it would have eaten Brad first since he was closest. We got some pictures and then made it back to our car.

We had a really fun time and were thankful to get to see some things we had never seen before. We hope to go to Kruger while we are here so I guess this just gives us a small taste of whats to come!