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The Alaska State Ferry: Through the Inside Passage


Load that pick-up with supplies, because prices for everything in Alaska run high. Speaking of “high,” a retail marijuana shop is open for business right outside of our motel in Bellingham, Washington not far from the ferry terminal.

Never thought we would see the day

Never thought we would see the day

Workers quickly point out that bringing Washington weed out of state is illegal, even though we’re traveling to another “weed legal” state.

Mare and I plan to spend the summer volunteering as caretakers for the Bald Eagle Preserve in Haines, Alaska. We travel a lot and rarely visit a place more than once, but this will mark our third summer here. Haines is that special. Getting there is fun also.

Haines, Alaska

Haines, Alaska

After a four-hour wait at the terminal, where police dogs sniff vehicles, we drive onto the ship for an elevator ride to the second floor. Mare secures two lounge chairs up top in the solarium, where we’ll sleep for three nights under heat lamps.

"Room" with a view

“Room” with a view

You can also pitch a tent, using duct tape instead of spikes. Cabins are available, but sell-out fast. We prefer the panoramic view and fresh air outside. Public showers and bathrooms are free.

The peaceful waters of the Inside Passage

The peaceful waters of the Inside Passage

Goodbye beautiful Bellingham! Rare sunshine and clear skies follow us the entire cruise up the Alaska Marine Highway.

Sunset from the Ferry Columbia, Alaska Marine Highway

Sunset from the Ferry Columbia, Alaska Marine Highway

Except for a foggy morning in Ketchikan, the first stop in 38 hours.

Ketchikan Harbor

Ketchikan Harbor

Dogs cannot wait to get out of cars and hit the grass, as most large dogs “hold it” for all that time. On a previous trip, we laughed when our dog Jack took a world class, record pee here. Unfortunately, Jack is no longer with us. We miss traveling with him, but know that he would not miss this ferry ride.

One of several lighthouses lining the passage

One of several lighthouses lining the passage

I do my best to ignore the ladies next to me, as they constantly talk…to everybody, forever, except for me. Don’t intend to be rude, just don’t want to get stuck yakking for three days. It’s the first time that I have faked reading a book!

Fishing Lodge - who recognized our passing with fireworks!

Fishing Lodge – who recognized our passing with fireworks!

The ferry has a cafeteria and restaurant, but we bring our own healthy fare. Okay, we sneak some beers from the cooler, without causing a ruckus.

Wrangell, Alaska

Wrangell, Alaska

Relax. Cruise past remote island towns and a few lighthouses. This clear day reveals fishing villages along shores of the Wrangell Narrows. Typically, they’re cloaked in fog. The inside passage route often resembles a river.

The mountains are becoming more significant, but the waters remains calm

The mountains are becoming more significant, but the waters remains calm

Glaciers divide mountains the farther north we travel.

The mountains near Petersburg, Alaska

The mountains near Petersburg, Alaska

It does not get any better than this!

It does not get any better than this!

Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska

Nearing Haines, we get excited when spotting waterfalls from Rainbow Glacier, and our friends Dale and Rennie’s cabin in the woods below.

Rainbow Glacier near Haines, Alaska. Can you see our friend's house?

Rainbow Glacier near Haines, Alaska. Can you see our friend’s house?

We used to view this glacier from our cabin in Chilkat State Park, where we volunteered as campground hosts for two straight years. Living without running water and electricity proves that you don’t need as much as you think.

We disembark the ferry and retrieve keys for a different cabin from Alaska State Parks. This one has electricity! Next stop, the Haines Brewery where it’s growler time. Paul, the proprietor recognizes us from past years. “I didn’t realize you guys were gone so long,” he says with a smile. We share some excellent craft beer (Spruce Tip and Lookout Stout) with good friend Shannon, who greets us.

Our cabin sits on the braided Chilkat River. In the fall, this river provides a final salmon run on the North American Continent.

Home Sweet Home, on the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

Home Sweet Home, on the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

Up to 5,000 bald eagles shall convene here to fatten-up for winter. Like the salmon and the eagles, we have returned to Haines. It feels like home, except that Jack isn’t here.    Ron Mitchell

Need More Namibia


Out of the desert and onto the coast.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Flamingos in Walvis Bay

Hello, flamingos and white pelicans of Walvis Bay! This place is a birder’s paradise.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Flamingos taking flight

We’re not birders, but still appreciate the beauty of birds.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

White Pelican

The Atlantic Ocean crashes into the sands of Namibia, as we enter the holiday resort town of Swakopmund.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

The dunes near Swakopmund

Mare treats us to several nights of luxury at the “Beach Lodge” which is designed to look like a wrecked ship, right on the ocean.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

The Beach Lodge

Driving part of the Skeleton Coast, we understand how it had earned its name.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Driving the Skeleton Coast Road

Salt flats, mineral and precious gem mines, and the road goes on forever.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Zeila shipwreck

Many shipwrecked sailors died of exposure here.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Tables with chunks of salt crystals for sale line the road

Man cannot live on salt alone, but he can certainly purchase it.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Cape Cross Seal Reserve

A surreal seashore with over 100,000 seals make us feel like intruders. Wonder if they think that we stink too?

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Beach shower – the best show in town

Invigorating walks along a never ending shoreline rejuvenate our bodies, which have been car-bound for days. A simple outdoor shower provides a chance to frolic, and clean up at the same time.

Photo by Marilynnn Windust

Himba woman with child. Check out that hair!

Himba tribal members have kept their cultural heritage intact for many years. The female hair style utilizes a mixture of clay and mud.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Shopping for souvenirs

Crafts are handmade and very reasonable. Bartering is an important ingredient of their culture, so it’s foolish and insulting to agree on the first price.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Adios Namibia – It has been spectacular!

We wrap up another amazing adventure in Namibia. A land that has so much more than just sand. Our next adventure will take us back to Cape Town, a place that feels like home.      Ron Mitchell

Never-Ending Namibia


We read, “Don’t bother with Namibia. I can take you to the beach and show you some sand. It is over-priced and over-rated.” Being from the desert in Arizona, and serious budget travelers, we almost did not go.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Namibia!

As we met and talked with fellow travelers who loved Namibia, a new plan and path emerged. So, after that 20-hour bus ride to Windhoek we rent a car and venture into the sand.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

The road to Solitaire, Namibia

The road transforms from pavement to gravel, making for slow travel. We’ll call it “magnificent travel.” Vast terrain transforms in color and formation every several kilometers.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Blue Wildebeest crossing the road

We’re getting worried that our small Volkswagen may be running out of gas (gauge is stuck on full).

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Where are we?

We haven’t seen another vehicle for several hours, except for a mule-driven cart.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

The only folks sharing the road

Namibia has a population of only 2 million people, as opposed to South Africa’s 53 million. No wonder it’s one of the safest countries in Africa!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Solitaire, Namibia

The town of Solitaire certainly earns its name. They could have named it “Relief.” After a gas-up, we make like a baby and “head out.”

Photo by Marillynn Windust

Desert Camp, Sesriem

Let’s make camp in a safari tent at “Desert Camp.” The tent comes with a bathroom and back porch kitchen.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Living the Braai life!

Talk about a porch with a view…we are in planetary paradise. Fire up that lamb braai! Photo by Marilynn Windust Suddenly, the road turns straight, forever into oblivion. Changing sunlight sets mountains, dunes, and vastness aglow with different colors.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Namib-Naukluft National Park

Impalas, ostriches, gemsbok and wildebeests also love the desert.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Ostriches

In the morning, many rush to Namib-Naukluft National park to climb the dunes and watch the sun rise over the landscapes.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Dune 45

About every ten years, rains flood the washes and riverbeds. That’s when Sossusvlei, a large ephemeral pan, comes to life.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Catching sunrise on Dune 45

It attracts hundreds of thousands of migrating birds from as far away as the Arctic. Usually, though, the pan is dry and looks like a different planet.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Sossusvlei

Some of the highest dunes on earth are formed by some of the oldest sands in our world. Here, they separate the desert from the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Zebras – really?

Back on the straight, gravel road, Zebras come out of nowhere.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

The road to Walvis Bay

We’re heading to the Namibian coast, totally grateful that we decided to travel here. Gotta have more sand!  Ron Mitchell

Travel


“You guys are living the life. You’ve got it made.” Throughout our travels we hear these sentiments from many different folks. We are and we do. We live in a state of appreciation. But why do we love to travel? I don’t know…so I researched “travel,” the word.

An ancient root from the Latin word tripalium means to impale with three stakes, as in torture. Later, the French root travail, or travailen means to torment, labor strenuously, journey, toil and struggle. Hmm…50 Shades of Travel? Perhaps I don’t want to know why we love travel.

Here’s an example of a day in the life of a traveler, which is just as typical as seeing wonderful things and meeting beautiful people:

Mare and I board a 20-hour bus from Livingstone, Zambia to Windhoek, Namibia. The bus gets so full of passengers that there remains no seat for the extra driver. He ends up sleeping below the bus in the luggage compartment.

Being the only white people on board, we get another glimpse of what it feels like to be a minority. Of course, we’re in Africa. The man sitting behind Mare is too huge for the seat. Mare cannot lean her seat back at all. I argue with him a bit, but he’s too huge for that also.

As soon as the bus leaves the station, our backs soak with sweat during this hot, bumpy ride. The road is long and straight, and elephants cross on occasion. An awful movie blares. It begins with white cops chasing and beating up a black thief. Great. Then, it develops into something about cops getting way in to God, and end up practicing loving forgiveness. (Science fiction?)

Four hours later we all disembark to walk about a mile in the hot African sun, between various Immigration and Customs buildings. We swipe our feet on chemically soaked rugs to prevent spread of “hoof and mouth” disease. This practice occurs at least four times during the twenty-hour trip. I begin to look forward to it, to break the monotony.

At the Namibian border, we are screened for Ebola by standing sideways, while a woman shoots a ray gun at each of us. Then we receive a torn piece of cardboard with a number written on it. Apparently, that means we do not have Ebola and can enter Namibia.

Ten hours into the ride, the black of night cloaks the windows. Mare cannot lean her seat back, so falling asleep means that her head drops forward. She lays her head on my lap, and stretches those long legs straight up in the air against the window. Mare sleeps. Lucky devil.

My knees ache. Back still wet with sweat. Neck is tied in knots, and leg where Mare’s head lies is totally numb, but I don’t have the heart to wake her. My ass feels like someone has scrubbed it with sandpaper, and my elbows are rubbed raw from the arm rests. Then, as soon as I close my eyes, the final movie blares louder than any other – “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”

The screeching sound of singing chipmunks in the darkness for two hours is surreal. That “Hula Hoop” song stays stuck in my head for days.

Twenty hours later, we arrive in Windhoek. It’s six o’clock in the morning and we can’t check in to the hostel room until noon. We walk the streets, mainly waiting for a “decent” time to have a beer. Time of day matters little at this point. Finally, in the room and out of our clothes, a shower has never felt so good.

The strange thing about “travel” is that we love it. I’m not sure what that says about us, but we live in a state of appreciation for all of life’s experiences. Well maybe not all… sometimes it simply feels good to stop.

Why do we travel? Most often, a pay-off comes with it. In this case, the following day we rent a car for an exhilarating ride on remote gravel roads, and end up in a safari tent at Desert Camp, outside of Namib-Naukluft Park. Unworldly landscape and monstrous dunes blow us away. Perhaps we travel just because we like to see different stuff.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

We’re living the life and we got it made. Thank you, Abundant Universe!  Ron Mitchell

Tis the Season in Botswana: Chobe National Park


The onset of rainy season fires up wild animals. Mare and I board a boat with eight others for a safari cruise on the Chobe River, where Botswana be on the left, Namibia on the right.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Cruising the Chobe River in Botswana

The Chobe and Zambezi rivers meet at the tip of Impalila Island, resulting in a junction of four different counties – Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

We know they are out there….

From the safety of our boat, we glide past crocodiles and lizards who blend in with the terrain. A bay of water lilies in bloom provides food and disguise for the many water birds. It also signals the beginning of breeding season.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Can you see the bird?

None will escape the eye of the Fish Eagle, the national bird of Zambia, who scopes out the river scene from a tree.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Fish Eagle, the national bird of Zambia

Hippos roll all over each other, engaging in foreplay. Males are full of testosterone and very aggressive.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Hippos feeling frisky

They are Africa’s deadliest killers, from a mammal perspective, and have been known to charge boats. Running under water at amazing speed, they can sink their tusks through the hull of a boat! Experienced guides know how to spot the bow wave, and scoot on out of there.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Hello there!

Here come the elephants. Chobe National Park boasts Africa’s largest elephant herds.

Photo by Marilynnn Windust

Here they come

They put on a spectacular show, frolicking in the muddy waters. Female elephants are careful to prevent randy young males from engaging in incest.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Mama keeping an eye on the youngsters

When males reach this age, they are banned from the female herd. They get to hang out with the guys for the rest of their life, following the females in anticipation of an invite.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Trouble brewing?

Once we disembark, and jump into a safari truck, the breeding theme intensifies.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Waiting for dinner

Vultures wait for the remains of a kill, while we watch a male baboon get excited when a female strolls past. He licks his lips enthusiastically, but she keeps on walking. (That technique had never worked for me either)

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Hey there baby!

Whoa, big fella! This male elephant crosses our path in an obvious, perhaps desperate search for a female. Just how many legs do elephants have?

Photo by Marilynnn Windust

The elephant in the room

After a sexually charged water and land safari, we’re moving pretty slow back at the junction. I feel like smoking a cigarette.        Ron Mitchell

Traveling to Victoria Falls: Zambia and Zimbabwe  


Stuck in luxury. The Manhattan Hotel in Pretoria, South Africa has five star accommodation. Surrounded by a prison, bus and train stations, the sketchy unsafe streets imprison us in irony.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Just a small section of the mighty Victoria Falls

We cannot get a visa for travel into Zimbabwe. The application website does not work, and the bus company will not wait for us to get one at the border. Even a trip to the Zimbabwean embassy proves fruitless. They won’t let us through the gate. Okay, travel plans change. We will fly to Livingstone, Zambia to witness Victoria Falls from the Zambian side.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Victoria Falls from the Zambian side

Stand in the center of a rainbow on a walking bridge over a gorge. Let the mist of Victoria Falls cleanse you like a cloudburst ascending from the ground. Cry in the moment as one-million liters of water per second fall down a 108 meter (about one football field) drop.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

The pool at David Livingstone Lodge on the Zambezi Riverfront

Words and photos cannot describe or compare to feeling, breathing, wearing Victoria Falls. The earth simply split open in the middle of the Zambezi River and now takes us all in. From a distance, the mist looks like smoke from a major forest fire. No wonder local folks call the Falls Mosi-oa-Tunya, which literally means the “Smoke that Thunders.”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Livingstone Island with the mist (smoke) rising from behind

Let’s take a two-hour tour to Livingstone Island, where Scottish explorer David Livingstone was the first European to witness this amazing sight. Depart from the ultra-luxurious David Livingstone Lodge on the Zambezi Riverfront. I thought the tour was going to be stupid. I was wrong.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Walking on the edge of Livingstone Island

After a short boat ride to the island, six of us hold hands while following one guide. We traverse over slippery rocks in the Zambezi River within feet of the edge of the Falls. The rainy season is late this year, which gives us an opportunity to “swim” in the Angel’s Armchair.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

In the Angel’s Armchair atop Victoria Falls

One by one, we go out with a guide who holds our hand while we lounge in the rapids on the lip of Victoria Falls. Zim! Bam! Wee! What a thrill! Crab crawl back to land over rocks and through the rapids. I hope that I did not ingest too many parasites by swallowing Zambezi river water during this adrenaline rush. Later, Mare reads sad stories about travelers losing friends, and guides from this activity.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Does not look like a good way to go…but then again….

Dammit. We’ll walk into Zimbabwe. Yes, after numerous customs/immigration checks on the hot road, we are in, baby!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Finally!

The view from this side is also spectacular. We can see where we swam yesterday. Outside of the park, hawkers and hustlers fill this border town, and we’re wearing thin. One guy persistently wants my tennis shoes. We have only enough US dollars for two beers and no lunch.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Victoria Falls from the Zim side of the bridge

Back at the “Jollyboys Backpackers Hostel” we meet many interesting travelers. One man from Scotland has been riding his bicycle for the past seven months. He started in London, destination Cape Town. He was hassled in Egypt more than anywhere else, being hissed at as “Ferener.”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

A look at Angel’s Armchair from the Zimbabwe side

Another young man finished his 27 month Peace Corp stint in Lesotho, purchased a Triumph motorcycle (never rode before) and has been riding Southern Africa for several months. They both tent camp, in this unrelenting heat.

Then there are the 40 or so teachers in training here for a month. All but a few are women from Norway. They are young, blond and beautiful. Makes hanging out by the pool a pleasure, for me.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Mesmerizing

We made it to Zimbabwe. No big deal. The big deal, Victoria Falls, a true “Wonder of the World,” will mesmerize you from either side.   Ron Mitchell

Kruger National Park, South Africa


The freezer in the general store at Skukuza Camp contains various cuts of wild meat. Let’s go look at wild animals before devouring them.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

Camping in Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park encompasses 7,523 square miles (19,485 square kilometers) of game reserve. The best way to see Kruger is to camp. We return the camping gear that we purchased back to Sportsman’s Warehouse, and book a safari tent for less cost.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Ground Hornbill

Our little Honda w/out 4WD proves adequate for game drives, and dodging the most beautiful Ground hornbills I had ever seen.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Lions resting near the side of the road

Lions sleep in the weeds during the day, yet another reason for rules that keep you inside your vehicle.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

This guy just would not move on

Stay a safe distance from elephants. This one delays us for about fifteen minutes.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Well hello there!

A family of giraffes cross the road and brings Mare to tears. Baboons do what Baboons do.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Baboons

Temperatures soar back at the safari tent, which comes equipped with a fan and refrigerator. We stay cool by rinsing in showers in the shared bath across the road, as well as frequent dips in the pool.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

After the storm – Sunrise Safari

An evening thunderstorm cools things, while lightning bolts create strobe light effects under the clouds. Sleep to the sounds of the jungle…an insectophony if you will.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

African Wild Dogs

We wake early and get in line to wait for the gates of the Camp to open. Drivers, start your engines. Colorful, energetic wild African dogs surround our early morning ride!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

We follow our safari guide “friend,” as do the wild dogs

Let’s follow the hired guide in the fancy safari truck. Maybe he knows where the lions sleep today. And he does. After “guiding us to them,” he says, “I’ll send you the bill.” Oops. He does not send a bill, but I guess we made a faux pas.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Thanks safari guide!

White Rhinos are plentiful.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

White Rhino

A lioness, (spotted by Mare) claims the river bed. For some strange reason, we’re starving.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Lioness in the river bed

Back at camp, we are the fenced-in population, while the animals watch us. Signs prohibit throwing food over the fence to hyenas and monkeys.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Living the Braii life – with the wildlife

Let’s live the braii life…Warthog, Impala, Blue Wildebeest, and Gemsbok dominate the grill tonight. Where else could this happen? That wildebeest may have tasted better had I not dropped it in the dirt, but what an exotic feast!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Adios Kruger NP

A giraffe bids us farewell on our final morning drive back to “civilization.” Wait a minute, let’s turn around and purchase one last batch of wild game meat for the road.  Ron Mitchell

Graskop, South Africa:  The Blyde River Canyon


Cliffs, valleys and canyons of the Drakensberg Mountains meet the Blyde River near the small town of Graskop, South Africa.

Photo by nice fellow tourist

Blyde River Canyon

We decide to chill out in the cool here for a few days. Take in some sweeping valley views from the Valley View Backpackers Hostel.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

The view from the Valley View Backpackers

This area offers a myriad of adrenaline activities like white water rafting, canyoning (kloofing) and candlelight caving, but we’ve done it all at some point. If you’re not afraid, where’s the fun?

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Lone Creek Falls

Let’s drive the Panoramic Route. Breathe in the mist at Lone Creek Falls.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Mac Mac Falls

God’s Window proves to be foggy during our entire stay…hope that’s not a sign!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Berlin Falls

Walk a short way to a crease in the canyon and see several more surprising waterfalls.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Lisbon Falls

After viewing the Three Rondavels, Blyde River Canyon lures us into a strenuous hike to its belly.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

The Three Rondavels

The Belvedere Day Hike starts at Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Much larger than ones we dodge on the road, they are formed from whirlpools at the confluence of the Blyde and Treur Rivers.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Bourke’s Luck Potholes

We swim in sweat, just an hour into hiking this humid heat. The trail grows difficult weaving up and down into the canyon. Slick boulders, thorny vines, and washes help us lose the trail several times. Watch for snakes.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Descending into the Canyon

The canyon walls and river exude beauty and awe, but we’re too gassed to appreciate it. Got to hike at least two more hours to make it out of here, and our legs are gone. Hey, here comes that adrenaline when we get lost again!

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Coming through…. Ouch!

Climbing rocks and searching for markers, we’ve forgotten about watching for snakes. Shoot, we have to stop just to slow down our heart rate. Finally, we reach relatively flat ground and have only an hour of hiking back to the Potholes. Perhaps we enjoy hiking because it still scares us.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

So are we on the trail now?

Tonight, we celebrate with cold beers and peri-peri chicken livers and gizzards at Caninmambo Restaurant, a Portuguese/Mozambican joint. Next adventure, a grand finale of wild animals in Kruger Park, a South African highlight.       Ron Mitchell

Welcome to the Kingdom of Swaziland


Hail to the King! Africa’s only monarchy, Swaziland  has a friendly and thriving culture which enhances any adventure. Fifty shades of green grace the valleys and grasslands that greet jungle covered mountains in the distance.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Swaziland!

We get lost looking for the town of Ezulwini, but folks give us directions with a smile. The first hostel we check in town has sanitarium style sleeping cells, so let’s move on. Great move.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Welcome to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

Blue wildebeest, zebras, warthogs and other antelope relatives hog the dirt road to Sondzela Backpackers in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Blue Wildebeast

We’re the only guests for the next two nights. Outside of our hut, it’s so quiet that that I can hear a warthog chewing weeds.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Quiet down out there!

We stare over grazing game in the grasslands. Hundreds of lightning strikes above the mountains signal an approaching storm, which cools down the temperature. Mliwane means ‘little fire’ on account of the lightning strikes. Did we die somewhere and end up in paradise?

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Room with a view

Welcome to a real braii, cooked for us over burning logs. We devour some species of hog chops, along with mealie, pap, cabbage, beetrost, and green salad. Hands down the best meal we’ve had in Africa thus far.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Getting ready for a serious Braii

In the morning we sip coffee and watch game animals rise after bedding down from last night’s storm. Back in the states it’s Super Bowl Sunday. We could not care less.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Hello there! Hiking in Mlilwane

Walking an easy trail, a water buck stares at us and grunts. Hope he’s not too stressed! This sanctuary has no predators other than crocodiles and hippos at night.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Jayne crocheting plastic bags into rugs

Before a dinner of chicken stew over rice with pumpkin, Jayne crotchets next to the fire. Imagine this…She first gathers plastic grocery bags from the trash. After washing and drying them, she cuts them into one-half-inch strips. Jayne then ties the strips together and rolls them into a ball of “yarn” before creating colorful throw rugs.

Photo by Ron Mitchell

A rug made of candy wrappers and junk food bags

In the morning, Mare purchases a special rug that Jayne shows her. It’s totally made from discarded bags and wrappers like Doritos, Snickers, and whatever else she may find. Jayne’s rugs are creative, unique works of art from an inspiring recycle of plastic! It takes her about three days to make one rug.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

A storm approaches at sunset

On our way to the casual border crossing, we stop at a grocery store. A guy in line behind us wears a New England Patriots football jersey. He’s an American working in Swazi, and told us about the Super Bowl. We had totally forgotten about it.

Thank you, Swaziland, for the gracious welcome. Ron Mitchell

St. Lucia, South Africa: Extremely Hip


The “Hippo Crossing” road sign into the small town of St. Lucia gives us an initial impression of gimmick tourist trap.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Really?

That is, until we cross the estuary where several hippos grazing underwater lift their heads up for air, several feet from the road.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Yes, really!

After getting settled into Bib’s International Backpackers Hostel, I head out for supplies.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Braving the street – before dark

At the liquor store, Burt the owner learns that I’m from the United States. “Stephen King just left here yesterday,” he says. “He comes here a lot on holiday and we’re good friends.” Burt always gets a free copy of King’s books, and asked me to send him a copy of mine. I laugh. “Don’t expect a great novel.” Bert gives me the PO Box for the bank where his wife works. “Can’t send it to my house, mail gets stolen in South Africa.”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Hippos enjoying just a small part of these protected wetlands – the view from our table at the Deep Sea Angling Club

Friendly folks talk to us everywhere in this town. St. Lucia had transformed from fishing to tourism. Over a dish of lamb curry at the Deep Sea Angling Club, a patron tells us that the iSimangaliso Wetland Park protects five distinct ecosystems and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He also warns us about walking around at night. “That’s when hippos come out of the water to graze on land.”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Definitely don’t want to run into this guy on the street

Hank Swatter tells us a story about his father, who is a rare survivor of hippo attack…One night about two years ago, their “sausage dog” starts barking. Anthony Swatter goes into the yard without a lantern, expecting to catch a burglar. He startles a hippo, who attacks him and gouges his abdomen with his tusks. Then hippo bites down on Anthony’s leg and flings him into the bush, snapping off the leg with his teeth. Hippo tries to gouge again, when Anthony swings a desperate punch onto hippo’s sensitive lips. Hippo resumes grazing, while emergency medical staff attend to the victim. Anthony lives with a prosthesis and colostomy bag. (Google “Man loses leg in hippo attack” if interested)

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Our first Rhino sighting

Let’s drive though Hluhluwe Game Reserve and spot some animals. From the safety of our little Honda, we have a front row seat to watch a grazing rhino.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

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A monkey along the way has a serious case of “blue balls!”

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Buffalo

Buffalo, waterbuck, and colorful nyala are not bothered too much by our presence.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Waterbuck

There is something new and thrilling around every corner here in Southern Africa.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Nyala

I wonder if Stephen King’s next book will involve hippos.

Photo by Marilynn Windust

Yikes!

Ron Mitchell

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