From “Volunteer Africa” to “Vacation Africa”

We’ve been on “vacation” from our vacation this past week. Still in Southern Africa, but now instead of the fully immersive volunteer experience, we’re now on the next chapter: vacation Africa.

With Adam’s arrival, we up’d our game and are cramming in as many sights and adventures as we can in the two weeks he has here.

In Zambia that meant that me and the girls moved from our casita at Home for AIDS Orphans to the Livingstone Marriott (yay Adam and his Marriott points!), which served as our base as we explored the local Maramba central market, the more touristy curio market, the local Italian restaurant with homemade pasta/pizza, the sundowner (happy hour) at the elegant colonial-era Royal Livingstone Hotel, and of course, the Zambia side of Victoria Falls and its very wet, dramatic and precariously close to the falls “Knife Bridge”.

In Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe that meant we treated ourselves to an overnight canoe trip on the Zambezi River, elephant riding (Vivi & Adam) the high adrenaline zip line and gorge swing (Zara & Shelley), sunset snacks overlooking the watering hole of the very elegant Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, and the drumming/singing/dancing-filled Boma dinner experience.

RV-ing South Africa

In South Africa now, we are taking active immersive vacation to the next level. RVing. Or “caravaning” as it is referred to here. Taking on the open (bumpy) roads, deciding each day where we want to go and what we want to do as we make our way from Johannesburg to Durban through KwaZulu-Natal and the “Elephant Coast.”

Setting off: We have never liked arriving to any new destination at night. With an RV, it particularly sucks. But we didn’t land into Jo’burg until the late afternoon yesterday, and the check out and training on the RV took some time. So we didn’t hit the road til after 5:30pm. Dusk.

Adam braved the highways – driving an RV, on the “wrong” side of the road with the steering wheel on the “wrong” side. Dinner was a roadside gas station (where we discovered the local savory pies that are surprisingly tasty & cheap. They seem to only be available at roadside gas stations rather than places in town. So they are now our favorite road trip food here!)

First camp site: in the coal-belt town of Ermelo, where the scenery was freight trains moving coal and a huge coal energy-generating factory. We arrived in the dark of night (around 9pm), plugged in the RV, and had fun figuring out how to convert our tables to beds and beds to tables. Because of the size and shape of the beds vs we Ducker people, Adam & Vivi shared the “double” bed in the back, Zara got the kitchen table turned bed in the middle, and Shelley the “nest” bed that hangs in front of the RV over the drivers compartment. We all slept surprisingly well, despite the cold weather. (It is winter here in the Southern Hemisphere! We spend the mornings and evenings wrapped in sweatshirts and fleeces!)

Day 1 drive

RV Day 2: The Swing Vote on Swaziland

We had grand plans to cross into Swaziland today, just for lunch. Our route across to Zulu-Natal took us through the border town of Piet Retief. In our quest for more passport stamps (and the ultimate goal of 100 countries) we though the 20-30km detour – and border crossing – might just be worth it for a meal and a stamp.

But even the good tarred roads here are bumpy in an RV. And apparently, the closest border crossing had a notoriously potholed road. Adam was not particularly enjoying the stress of driving, nor were the girls particularly enjoying the bouncy back. So we voted and decided not to tack on the kilometers and hours for the passport stamp, and stayed the course in South Africa.

We instead took a walk through the town of Piet Retief and found chips (fries), coffee (thank goodness) groceries, and surprisingly, Black Tap-like milkshakes.

We continued on to the town of Pongola where we treated the kids to a western style pizza lunch by the pool of a local hotel, while Adam and I took a walk about of the local market and bus stop across the street (and bought more of those tasty pies). We then made the final push to the luxury campsite that Adam selected; Bonamanzi.

Day 2 drive to the game reserve

While our first night campsite was just that – a place to park and sleep – this luxury site was its own mini game reserve. Impala and waterbuck greeted us by the front gate. Two on-property watering holes had built-in hides (places to sit unobtrusively to watch animals come and go). A fancy restaurant. A pool (although its way too cold here to want to swim!), etc. Not to shabby.

Day 3: completing the “Big 5”

We woke up at 5:30am today for our 6am game drive at the largest and oldest game reserve in the area: Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. We had hoped to see lions. But alas, we did not. However we did complete our quest for viewings of “the big five” across all of our safaris. (We previously saw 4 of the “big 5” – lions, leopards, elephants and buffalo – in Chobe.) On today’s game drive we saw the elusive rhino. And in fact on this particular game drive, the rhino was not so elusive. They were everywhere!

First we had a spotting quite far from the truck and we thought we would have to be satisfied with that. But by the end of the game drive, a family crossed directly in front of our truck and seemingly stopped to pose for us!

Now we are off to the Indian Ocean/northeast coast…! Saint Lucia, South Africa – here we come!

Day 3 drive to the coast

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