26 September - 8 October 2017

A travelogue of our trip

We consider our lives to have been highly blessed through our numerous experiences with various cultures over the years. We thank God for providing us the health and financial means to travel, often in style. Every destination has offered us new insights. Our worldview is greatly shaped by the places we have been, the people we have met, the foods we have eaten, and the natural and man-made wonders we have seen. We relish observing the creative ways in which foreigners solve problems of daily life. We never cease to be fascinated by the similarities and differences.

Such amazing trips have spoiled our efforts to choose a place for new adventures. We have stopped expecting each trip to exceed the excitement of the previous one. In reality, we've had more than our fair share of "once-in-a-lifetime" vacations.

Due to Michael moving to a new clinic with an uncertain opening date last summer, we did not take a major vacation in 2016. Some might argue that our Caribbean cruise with Acappella in January 2017 was a delayed, but major, vacation. Though we had lots of fun, it was too dissimilar from our usual family vacations; one of us doesn't tolerate constant, unpredictable motion and it was our 21st time to visit the Caribbean.

A sizable investment in traveling in 2017 required our usual protracted discussions about where we might both enjoy. Timing was easily determined by our need to wait till after Jeannie's school board reelection in September and the best date to leave would be the day after the monthly school board meeting. We jointly concluded it was time to accept an invitation to visit our friends in Swaziland. This was Jeannie's first trip to Africa; Michael worked and studied in Tanzania in 1980.

Next, we needed help from a travel agency or tour company to work out the details. Online reviews of Audley Travel convinced us they would best create the African adventure that we sought. Indeed, we were very impressed with their customized itinerary from start to finish.

To prevent malaria, we took Malarone (Atovaquone 250mg / Proguanil 100mg) daily on this trip and for 7 days after returning.

Details of our trip follow.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Our dear neighbor, Janet Cathey, drove us with our luggage to the Fort Smith airport. Our Delta Airlines flight left around 3 p.m. for Atlanta. We departed Atlanta on Delta about 8 p.m. for the non-stop flight to Africa.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Neither of us slept well on the plane, and it felt like we lost a day. Around 5 p.m. we landed in Johannesburg, South Africa, 9,000 miles from home. Though we've traveled enough that we could have managed on our own, we really appreciated that our tour package included someone holding a sign with our names on it when we got off the plane to escort us rapidly through immigration, baggage claim, and customs. Then we were met by a prearranged, friendly driver (holding a sign with our names on it) who transported us to the Peech Boutique Hotel.

We had a nice meal in the hotel restaurant about 7 p.m., then eagerly prepared for a good night's sleep.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

We were up at 7 a.m. We enjoyed watching an African masked weaver bird feeding its young near our door before and after our free breakfast at the hotel.

We rode with Uber 1½ miles for US$2 to catch the City Sightseeing (hop-on/hop-off) bus that departed from The Zone shopping mall at Rosebank at 10 a.m.

Johannesburg skyline Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa with 4.4 million people. It is the largest urban area in the world that is not connected to the sea or other major waterway. The city exists only because gold was discovered there in 1886. At one time, 40% of the world's gold production was coming from the mines at Johannesburg. Though the extraction of gold inside the city is finished, it remains a major financial center in southern Africa.

The tourist attractions here are not as popular as in other major cities where we found the City Sightseeing tour buses especially helpful. Nevertheless, we had a day filled with discovery. We were met by a guide when we hopped off the bus at Carlton Centre, the tallest building in Africa. The "Top of Africa" view from the 50th floor was impressive, but marred by the haze and overcast sky. Our guide helpfully identified many of the points of interest far below us.

We next rode the bus to the Apartheid Museum, a genuine tribute to Nelson Mandela. We ate lunch outdoors in the museum, then caught the bus to Constitution Hill. There we walked completely around the top of the wall of the old fort. By now, we were too tired to attempt the other landmarks there.

September is the beginning of spring in the southern hemisphere. The temperature started out a bit chilly, but we were shedding our jackets by mid-day.

On more than one occasion, Michael noticed it was difficult to breathe and feared asthma was imminent, speculating an allergic response to something pollinating in early spring. After learning that Johannesburg is 5,751 feet above sea level (higher than Denver), he recognized his chest tightness was solely due to the high altitude. The problem was easily corrected by walking slower and taking deeper breaths. It could have been avoided altogether if we had properly prepared for our visit to Johannesburg. We both considered Johannesburg an unavoidable stopover on our way to Swaziland, so thought of it as the least exciting part of our African adventure.

Around 3 p.m. we were back to our beginning point of the sightseeing bus tour. We visited the huge African Art and Craft Market nearby. Every shopkeeper was aggressively trying to pressure us into buying things in spite of our lack of interest in taking an object home with us. It was exhausting.

We remained in the mall and shopping center at Rosebank the remainder of the afternoon. We ate supper there at an Italian restaurant, then returned via Uber to our hotel.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Alzu Petroport Tokozani from Ilios Travel arrived on time at 9 a.m. for our 6-hour journey to Swaziland. He was not only an excellent driver, but eagerly answered all our questions about South Africa and Swaziland. Shortly after 11 o'clock, we stopped for lunch at Alzu Petroport truck stop near Middelburg, South Africa. Though it was a bit chilly and windy, the two of us ate on the outside terrace to enjoy the unexpected, spectacular view of rhinos, buffaloes, antelopes, and ostriches at a nearby waterhole.

After clearing the border crossing into Swaziland, we arrived around 3 o'clock in Matsapha at Esibayeni Lodge where we would spend the next 3 nights. We were 9,205 miles from our house in the States, the farthest we had ever been from home. We were delighted to see Annette Whittaker awaiting our arrival at the hotel. We delivered to her a suitcase full of supplies with a few pleasant surprises. After giving us time to settle into our room, she drove us around some of the area served by the medical clinic where her husband, Dr. Bob Whittaker, provides general medical care.

clinic sign Dr. Whittaker worked as a surgeon at Nigerian Christian Hospital for 34 years. His surgical skills were compromised after he was shot and kidnapped in 2009. He and his wife moved to Swaziland where they built and opened the Mathangeni Church of Christ Clinic in 2015. The clinic was built in partnership with the Matsapha Church of Christ and is attached to their building. The clinic remains open till 7 o'clock on weekday evenings to serve the thousands of factory workers who daily walk by as they get off work at nearby businesses.

Annette gave us a V.I.P. tour of the clinic, then took us to supper. We carried food back to the clinic for Dr. Whittaker, who couldn't join us while finishing the day's patients. We then attended the prayer and song service in the church building till 8:15. Though some English was involved, the service was primarily conducted in the Siswati language. We were returned to our hotel by 8:30 to prepare for a busy Saturday.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

We left our hotel about 7:50 on Saturday morning with Dr. Whittaker and Annette. Along the way, we picked up Bonkhosi, an orphaned teenager who the Whittakers have taken in.

clinic Immediately upon arrival at the Mathangeni Church of Christ Clinic, we participated in the morning devotional with the staff and awaiting patients. Michael gave a short message about what Jesus taught about how we should treat others.

Michael shadowed Dr. Whittaker as he examined and treated several patients throughout the morning. They enjoyed discussing cases and comparing treatment options. A prayer was said with each patient before they left the exam room.

Jeannie assisted Annette with setting up a new tent, putting up new signs throughout the clinic, and with Annette's weekly math tutoring.

The clinic was closed on schedule by 1 p.m. The Coles and Whittakers traveled to a mall in the nearby city of Manzini. There we ate lunch together, then drove to an African crafts market to shop.

After some afternoon rest time at the hotel, the Whittakers picked us up about 7:45 and drove us to Planters Restaurant at the Royal Swazi Sun Hotel in Ezulwini. We all enjoyed an elegant meal at a great price.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

We met with the Christians at Matsapha Church of Christ for their weekly worship assembly from 10 o'clock to 1:15. Michael lectured on Christian leadership in the men's Sunday school class from 11 till noon. Jeannie taught the traits of a healthy relationship in the ladies' class. We both had Siswati translators, though everyone seemed to understand our English while we were in Swaziland.

church building Sunday assembly Coles and Whittakers

We went to lunch with the Whittakers at Malandela's Restaurant amid the rural setting of Swaziland’s Malkerns Valley. About 4 o'clock we went to the Whittakers house. At 5:00 they hosted a Bible study in their home. Several kids from age 9 to 18 participated.

We were returned to the hotel where we ate supper before finishing our packing for Monday's departure.

jacaranda tree Monday, 2 October 2017

Andrian, our driver from African Safari Adventures, arrived at our Swaziland hotel at 8 a.m. We crossed back into South Africa about an hour later. Being early springtime, jacaranda trees with their bright purple flowers were numerous. We crossed over the scenic Drakensberg mountain range by way of a few hairpin curves. We took a quick restroom break in Hazyview.

Soon after we entered the Greater Kruger National Park, a bunch of monkeys raced across the road in front of us. We then spotted a giraffe near the road. About 1 o’clock we arrived at the gate to Waterbuck Game Lodge in the Thornybush Private Nature Reserve, which covers 53 square miles of predominantly open savannah. About 10 minutes later we switched to a Thornybush vehicle and rode to the lodge, built in a beautiful setting inside a large fenced compound. We were assigned one of the 4 luxury cabins built at the edge of the fence. Across the back of our suite there were no curtains on the big windows which provided incredible views of the watering hole that, because of the season, was dry near us. There was complete privacy except for birds and mammals that we might spot. A high wooden deck across the back let us feel even closer to, yet completely safe from, the large animals in their natural setting.

cabin suite deck with elephant

Lunch was served at 3:30. We departed with our guide/ranger/driver, Franco, and our tracker, Vusi, for our first safari at 4:00. Two other couples, who also arrived at the lodge the same afternoon, were with us in an open Land Cruiser. They were David & Camilla from France and Mario & Eveline from Switzerland, who were now living near Cape Town, South Africa.

giraffe lion We saw dozens of animals, including elephants, giraffes, and lions. We stopped for refreshments as the sun was going down. It felt a bit uncomfortable stepping out of the vehicle while we were exposed to the wildlife, but none were in sight. The vehicle was without windows or a roof, so there really wasn't much alteration in feeling safe. The temperature dropped considerably after sunset, making short sleeves uncomfortable in the open vehicle.

Here's Jeannie's inventory of the animals we saw: • 5 Cape buffalo • 12 elephant • 4 giraffe • 12 kudu • 1 male lion • 1 lioness • 5 nyala • 1 mongoose • 1 nocturnal genet • 1 warthog • 1 fiery necked nightjar • 2 Egyptian goose • 1 gray heron • 1 spotted eagle owl
Regrettably, not everything was recorded. Generally, we could only list wildlife that our guide identified for us and that we spotted with our own eyes. Rather than leave her lists in the order of what we saw, modifications were made to roughly alphabetize the mammals followed by the birds.

Upon returning to the lodge, we ate the evening meal around an outdoor fire pit inside the boma around 7:30. A boma is an enclosure or small fort, erected to keep out dangerous animals. The word "boma" apparently first appeared in the writings of journalist and adventurer Henry Morton Stanley as he was searching for Dr. David Livingstone in Africa in 1871.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

We were up at 4:45 and on our way to see wild animals by 5:40, just as the sun was rising. It was a bit chilly at first, but we were soon shedding our jackets and rolling up our sleeves. We were driven around the game reserve for about 3½ hours. About 8:00 we stopped for tea in a relatively safe place, being warned to stay far away from a nearby crocodile at a waterhole. When we returned to the lodge, a cold breakfast was awaiting us. Then we were served a hot breakfast. The food was always delicious and plentiful.

Jeannie's morning animal inventory: • Cape buffalo • 1 male bushbuck • 1 crocodile • 17 elephants • herds of impala • 1 giraffe • 5 grey duiker (antelope) • 5 kudu • herds of nyala • 1 warthog • 1 male waterbuck • 5 wildebeest • flock of arrow-marked babblers • 1 forked-tail drongo • 2 kingfisher • 1 wattled lapwing • 2 white-backed vultures • 1 yellow-billed hornbill

elephant white rhinos crocodile

Jeannie and 3 other members of the group went for a 1-hour walk in the bush with a guide at 12:30. It was a little dangerous, especially when they discovered they had become surrounded by 3 elephants and had to stealthily make an escape. After the bushwalk ended, we were thrilled to see an elephant off the deck of our cabin. Soon after, we saw 4 elephants at the waterhole behind the lodge.

nyala female nyala Egyptian goose

A light lunch was served at 3:30, then we were back out in the vehicle with our driver and guide searching for more wild animals. A new couple, Carl and Coco from Hanover, Germany, joined us. Due to spending time following a male lion on patrol of his territory after sunset, we returned to the lodge later than planned. A tasty supper was awaiting us in the boma.

Jeannie's animal inventory of the afternoon safari: • 2 Burchell’s zebra • 6 elephant • 1 grey duiker • 1 giraffe • 5 hippo • 2 impala • herds of impala • 15 kudu • 3 male kudu • 2 lesser bushbabies • 1 male lion • 1 nyala • 2 scrub hare • 2 white rhino • 2 white-tailed mongoose • 3 wildebeest • herds of wildebeest • 2 zebra • 1 black-bellied bustard • 1 eagle • 9 Egyptian geese • 1 purple glossy starling • 1 red-billed oxpecker • 12 white-faced whistling ducks • 4 yellow-billed hornbill

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

We were again on our way to find exotic animals shortly after 5:30 a.m. We rode much farther and longer that usual, about 60 kilometers during the morning. Our tracker was searching for and found a cheetah and her 4 very cute 7-week-old cubs. The tracker later spotted a leopard. The Land Rover followed it deep into the brush. It was well worth dodging low lying thorny branches to allow us to get photographs. We ate breakfast immediately upon returning to the lodge at 10 a.m.

cheetah and cubs buffalo leopard

Jeannie's morning inventory: • 1 black rhino • 6 Cape buffalo • 1 mama cheetah and 4 cubs • 5 grey duiker • 12 elephant • herd of elephants • 1 giraffe • 1 hippo • herds of impala • 1 leopard • herds of nyala • 1 scrub hare • warthogs • 2 white rhino, male & female • 4 wyldebeest • 4 zebra • 1 kimba (sp?) • 1 blacksmith lapwing • 1 brown snake eagle • 1 Egyptian goose • 2 kingfisher • 1 ostrich

We unexpectedly and delightedly found impala inside the compound just outside our cabin. We learned they can get through the fence that keeps the larger animals out. (When we arrived on Monday, we saw evidence that an elephant had somehow found its way into the compound that morning. We never heard how, but the staff managed to shoo it out before we arrived.)

We had a break till our lunch was served at 3:30. Before our fifth and final safari began, 2 couples checked out of the lodge and 2 new couples arrived, Kingsley & Laura from Seattle, Washington, and Marco & Silvia from near Milan, Italy. Sadly, our group saw few animals during this drive compared with previous excursions. We did spot some monkeys for the first time inside the reserve. And we quietly watched a pair of lionesses up close for 20 minutes. It never stopped being exciting for us to fortuitously locate the animals in their natural environment and observe their behavior. We were continually amazed at the skills of our tracker and driver. Finding the animals was much more a task than is evident from reading our description of the safaris. sundown break

When we stopped for our snack at sunset, we got out of the vehicle not far from some unthreatening antelopes. We were in a wide open space which our guide and tracker knew was free of dangerous animals at the moment.

Jeannie's afternoon inventory: • 5 Cape buffalo • 1 tiny green chameleon • 3 grey deiker • genet • herds of impala • 4 kudu • 2 female lions • herd of nyala • vervet monkeys • barn owl • grey go-away-bird • red-crested korhaan (suicide bird) • saddle-billed stork boma

We returned to the game lodge where our group of four couples ate supper together with our driver in the boma at 7:30. At 9 o'clock it was our turn to say goodbye. Though sad that we had finished our safaris and had to leave behind new friends, we were excited about the expectation of a new adventure awaiting us in a new country the next day.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

We were once again up at 4:45 a.m. Wild monkeys amused us at the game lodge around 6:30. At 6:45 a staff member transported us to the outside gate. There we transferred to a vehicle from Eastgate Safaris & Transfers for our almost 2-hour trip to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport near Nelspruit, South Africa. The lodge graciously packed a breakfast for us to eat on the way.

Our South African Airways flight left about 11:30. We were served a light lunch before landing at Livingstone International Airport in Zambia about 1 p.m. We had a nice view of Victoria Falls from our side of the plane as it descended.

Clearing immigration and paying for multi-entry visas took a very long time since we were at the back of the line. After retrieving our luggage we were met by a driver from Wild Horizons. He was also transporting a delightful young couple from Malta with whom we enjoyed getting acquainted.

greeters zebra When we arrived at the Avani Victoria Falls Resort we were immediately entertained by 4 men dressed as warriors or cannibals –we weren't sure which– as they sang and danced as we exited the vehicle. Apparently, every guest is given a similar welcome. Before we reached the check-in desk, we were handed a tasty cold lemonade. Every hotel employee we met during our stay seemed focused on making us feel very welcomed and appreciated.

The hotel is located inside the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Wildlife Park. After getting some things unpacked, we discovered zebra and impala on the hotel grounds as we walked the few minutes distance to Victoria Falls. There we hired a guide and followed him to several vantage points where we could photograph the waterfall as seen from Zambia.

Victoria Falls is the world's largest waterfall and is recognized as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It was known by the local inhabitants as "Mosi-oa-Tunya," "The Smoke That Thunders." Its mist can be seen from 30 miles away. On the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, the falls is a mile wide where the Zambezi River drops 360 feet with a flow rate of 10,000 to 106,000 cubic feet per second. Being the dry season, Victoria Falls was less impressive than in photos we have seen that were taken during the rainy season.

Victoria Falls Michael and Jeannie Victoria Falls Victoria Falls

We stopped at some craft shops on the walk back to our hotel, but could not casually shop due to the vendors being so aggressive at trying to sell us stuff if we showed the slightest interest.

It was about 100°F, stiflingly hot on this sunny day close to the equator. We bought Cokes to drink as we returned to our air-conditioned room to cool down. We went to supper by the hotel swimming pool about 6:30 and shared a Greek salad and a pizza Margherita with added ham. We enjoyed the unexpected music performed by The Black Culture Marimba Band near our table throughout the meal.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Our last full day in Africa was truly spectacular and unforgettable.

The first thing we did immediately after the complementary breakfast was find transportation to deliver us to the Zimbabwe border. We arrived there shortly after 9 a.m. After clearing immigration, we walked just a few minutes to the entrance to Victoria Falls National Park. Since the falls flow toward Zimbabwe, the view is better than from Zambia. We took lots of photos and got back to the border by 10:30 for a ride back to our hotel.

Victoria Falls Victoria Falls

This vacation was our first trip into South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Michael has now visited 36 countries in his lifetime. Jeannie has been to 35.

After eating a quick lunch at the hotel, we were driven to a helicopter. We were entertained by a marimba player while we waited at the site for an additional passenger. The musician gave Jeannie a quick lesson and they played a marimba duet together. With just a bit more practice, Jeannie could have done it perfectly.

We were then taken by helicopter on a 30-minute flight to see Victoria Falls and the surrounding countryside. We also spotted a large herd of elephants and flew over some native villages. Flying low through the Zambezi River gorge was particularly exciting. Though it was a very cloudy day, the view of the falls from the air was majestic.

Victoria Falls
vervet monkey

We had some free time in the afternoon to rest at our hotel. As we were getting ready for our next adventure, we stepped out onto our second-floor balcony to spray on mosquito repellent and were unexpectedly surprised by several vervet monkeys on the balcony and in the trees who would have liked nothing better than to create a lot of mischief if they could have sneaked into our room.

We were transported at 4 o'clock to the "African Queen" for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. It was too cloudy to see the sunset but we did spot lots of hippos, baboons, zebras, an elephant, and a crocodile. We were very fortunate to be seated beside a bird watcher who told us the names of every bird we saw, including heron, white-fronted bee-eater, marabou stork, kingfisher eagle, yellow-billed stork, blacksmith plover, Egyptian goose, brown hooded kingfisher, and openbill stork.

We returned to the hotel shortly after 7 p.m. We ate enough complementary snacks on the cruise that we enjoyed just some fruit and ice cream at the poolside restaurant while being entertained with upbeat live music. Then it was time to pack for our return journey to the States.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Appropriately while still at Victoria Falls, Michael finished the book, Into Africa--The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone, by Martin Dugard. There are surely other good books on the subject, but we can highly recommend this excellent book to anyone wanting a better understanding of how Africa was forever changed since the mid-1800s by the life of David Livingstone--physician, missionary, and explorer, and the most famous man on earth at the time. In 1855, he was the first white man to see the world's largest waterfall, Victoria Falls, naming it in honor of his Queen. He died in Zambia in 1873, searching for the source of the Nile River.

We departed Zambia at 1:50 p.m. on a British Airways flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. We had to exit the plane on the tarmac in a rain shower about 3 p.m. Our 16-hour Delta Airlines flight to Atlanta, Georgia, left at 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

We landed in the very early morning in Atlanta, a 7-hour time change. We had several hours to wait before our flight to Fort Smith. We enjoyed a great Italian lunch at Carrabba's. Robertta Moses met us upon arrival in Fort Smith about 2:30 p.m. and gave us a ride home.

We are looking forward to our next adventure. We have already booked a trip with Story Land and Sea to return in 2018 to our beloved Italy.

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South Africa {59 photos}
Swaziland {133 photos}
Kruger wildlife {633 photos}
Victoria Falls {473 photos}

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Copyright © 2017, Michael & Jeannie Cole

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