We think we will have a long day today as far as driving is concerned and we are up and gone at 7:00AM but make a short stop to see what is happening at the small lake below the visitor center. There is one water buffalo and a flock of Marabou storks. The buffalo is in the water and then out into a mud wallow getting ready for his day. With nothing else moving, we get in the car and head out of the camp.
On the nine km drive out of the camp to the main road, we see several elephants browsing or, as we say, "rearranging the landscape." At the intersection with the main road traffic is backed up by a herd of elephants in the road just north of the intersection. A mother and her calf are standing defiantly in the road staring back at the people. Since the rules are that you can’t harass the animals in any way, this jam will last as long as the elephants want it to last. Fortunately, we manage to get around the jam and turn south toward the entrance to the park, but what a neat way to end our time in Kruger! We do see another little critter's home near the gate,
At the gate, they verify that we do not intend to return and take our pass and bid us safe journey. We cross the bridge here but do not see much going on. Last time there were numerous crocodiles lying on the sand banks but we only see one today and he is hard to see.
Heading south toward Jepp’s Reef, the border crossing location with Swaziland, the highway is good and the landscape is very pleasing with lots of bananas and sugarcane growing is large fields. There is a significant range of hills to our right most of the way. After about 40km we come to the border and are directed to park and go into South Africa Immigration where we get our passports stamped as leaving the country. Then we move 50m and are directed to park and go through immigration and customs for Swaziland and pay our R50 ($5.00US) road tax. This whole thing does not take more than 20 minutes but could be a real time user if there was a crowd. Back in the car with our stamped gate pass we are stopped to produce the pass and a copy of our road tax receipt, reminded to keep this with us the whole time we in country and allowed to proceed. This was a bunch of government make-work for no real result other than it collects a little money and employs at least 75 people!
We immediately note that the highway is in good repair and we will be impressed with the road all the way through Swaziland. It gets a little rough when going through villages but the highway itself is as good as most of the FM roads in Texas with wide shoulders and wide lanes. We do have to watch out for road bumps as they use them generously whenever there is a school and going through any populated area. Some of these are vicious and slow us to 15km to avoid damage. We hit one or two that do not have any warning and they give us quite a jolt. The other hazard is cattle and other animals on the road. We see untended cattle as well as small herds with herders near by; in one case two small boys about seven!
Swaziland is a kingdom. It is obviously very agrarian as the only industry we see is a large distillery making, we presume, rum out of the sugarcane. We have been given some advice as to our route and our GPS chooses the same route as the fastest way to go. We started out with a full tank of gas so we make no stops on our way to the southern border crossing. We did not think to check our mileage but it takes nearly three hours and we probably average 80km (50mph) per hour. It is a pleasant, uneventful drive once we learn to watch for and recognize the approaching speed bumps. It is also a real show for us as life is lived outside and is very colorful! At the southern border station we reverse the process of the morning in both countries with the exception of paying the Swaziland road tax. More make-work!
Just south of the border crossing we pick up the N2 and turn south and a little east toward our goal of St. Lucia. This is a good, major highway and the traffic is relatively light most of the way. Toward our turn-off to St. Lucia it really picks up and there is a passing game whereby the slower vehicle is expected to pull onto the shoulder to let the faster car by and this seems to work. It gets a little hairy at one point when a car decides that the car ahead passing a truck is taking too long for his liking and passes the passing car in the oncoming lane forcing the car in that lane to the shoulder. No harm no foul, but there is a lot of horn blowing! We are never really held up too long by the increasing number of heavy trucks and everyone seems to know how the game is played.
It is about 20km from the N2 to St. Lucia and we have no trouble finding Zulani Guest House. We park and go to the door and find the place is a fort! There is a locked iron gate across the front door but the lady of the house comes after we ring the bell and lets us in but locks the grill after us. We are warmly welcomed, shown our room and invited to have a drink with her. Dick is parched and has a beer that goes down well while Carolyn has a coke.
June, the owner, makes reservations for us on the 4PM hippo and croc viewing cruise on the St Luis estuary. This estuary is part of the World Heritage site, the St Lucia Wetlands Park, billed as where the mountains meet the sea, a unique safari system.
It is just after 3PM so we are in no rush! She also recommends a place for dinner, Braza Grill. We unload and then head for the boat. We park and are held up for car watching money by a young black man. Dick gives him all his change, less than $1US and asks if that is fair. He smiles and says yes. Hope the car is there when we get back!
The boat is fairly large and there are lots of people already on it when we arrive. We find seats and wait for the 4PM departure which is delayed by the Captain, a young woman, waiting for a large group of Israeli’s. We would have left them and been the better for it as they are quite pushy and their kids are brats! The Captain has to make an announcement that she wants the kids with whistles to put them up for the duration of the cruise. Guess who’s kids have whistles!
The cruise is two hours long and by the end of it we have seen numerous hippos in 3-4 different family groups who have their own territory in the river and have made passing friends with three families from South Africa. One of the couples had been to Houston in September 2014 just to attend Joel Osteen’s church and had eaten at Goode Company Barbecue. They raved about the BBQ! One of the other couples had a 12 year old son with them. He has chosen to study Zulu as a language elective and helped Dick with some pronunciation issues on road signs. Many place names begin with an "M" and it is pronounced as a hum before the word is said. Interesting! His mother said that he is good at Zulu and they want him to learn it so he will know what is being said around him and about him. One gets the feeling that the whites here live in a constant state of unease with at least some the black population! This family lives in Durban. The third family was from Johannesburg.
We are back at the dock at 6PM, just at sundown, and head for the car past a group of young boys pounding on a drum and doing an energetic Zulu dance demonstration. They are, as expected, looking for a donation for their efforts and get R10 ($1.00US). And, the car is still there and all the glass is intact!
We head for dinner. The restaurant is upstairs but Carolyn toughs it out and we get an outdoor table overlooking the car which we had to park on the street. A pleasant young lady helps us to order. We start with coke for Carolyn and beer for Dick. Dick has snails in a cream sauce made from cream, butter, flour and herbs. It is very good. We also have an order of focaccia bread that is slathered in butter and bits of garlic! What is not to like? Our main course, which we share, is 12 queen sized tiger prawns split lengthwise and grilled. They are presented with heads on and unshelled. They are very good but there is a lot of waste in the meat you can’t get out of the shell. The only downside of the meal is that they do not have a full bar and Carolyn really wanted a bourbon and coke.
By the time we are done it is after 7:30PM and, despite the fact we were told South Africans eat early, the restaurant has filled up and our waitress is swamped. We finally get a bill and the whole thing including a generous tip is only R400 ($40US).
We head back to Zulani and go through the security procedures of getting into our home for the night. First, there is a massive rolling gate across the driveway. We have a clicker that opens this. "Be sure and close it when you are in." Then we unlock the front door gate and lock it behind us. Our hostess is up so we do not have to unlock and relock another set of doors before getting to our room! Once again, there is an underlying fear present in the whites who live here. It is almost palpable!
Once in our room with door locked, we download pictures, get showers and Carolyn works on the blog until about 10PM. Dick calls it a day after downloading pictures and cleaning some space off on the camera chips.