Reese and I really enjoyed our time in the Kruger, and were quite lucky in our viewing of animals. We really did see them all! The biggest difference I see from the 70s and 80s is that the animals are much more habituated to human contact (well, to our vehicles) and are not nearly as skittish as they used to be. That made for much more relaxed viewing and their casual approach to the roads and things so that we could see more of them from the main roads… especially those along the river. It is winter here so the weather is mild and they are active all day rather than just at dawn and dusk, so that made viewing easier as well. There are now a lot of concessionaires inside the park and it has become more of a business than a completely natural experience like it used to be, but it is still exhilarating to see these wild animals in their natural habitat! As Reese said, Kruger is the size of Israel with huge populations of all the animals in this primeval looking landscape so you can’t ever really get tired of it.
We had been looking forward to Mozambique so we could speak our Portuguese with them. When Reese and I were in Brazil alone for a year (well, alone is relative as we had a maid and driver and lots of friends, but we were without Francie/Mom), we often used to speak Portuguese at the dinner table with just the two of us. So, at the first opportunity of going through the border post we encountered the Africanized Portuguese they spoke. It was more like Paulista Portuguese than Carioca Portuguese, but it was remarkably similar. The fiasco at the border was a portent of things come. Mozambique in this highly traveled causeway was like any backwater playground of people preying on tourists and travelers… everyone with their hand out or a scam to offer. That started things off on a bad note, and as we arrived into Maputo it was getting very dark very fast. Remember the first rule of Africa? DON’T DRIVE AT NIGHT! So, we get into Maputo and know our hotel is somewhere near the water but we don’t know which one. My cell phone had “gone missing” in Plettenberg Bay so we had no way to check the internet. Almost everywhere in Africa charges by the amount of data it takes to load whatever site you visit, and that adds up very quickly, so our hot spot was out of data and we had no way to find out which hotel we were scheduled at. Through a lot of begging and pleading we found a hotel that called the travel agent our friend in Hazyview had suggested and found out we were in the Tivoli Hotel just a couple of blocks away from where we were. It was very run down on the outside, but the rooms were pleasant. The elevator (lift) worked only occasionally (TIA), and the internet never worked even though I paid $15 for it. Come to find out our room was $220 per night, a real rip off! The bad taste was getting stronger in my mouth with Maputo when I got some bad news from some e-mails about my work and my dissertation that caused us to rethink our trip. So, after dinner when we got back to the hotel it was time to make the call and head back to South Africa en route to Somerset West once again. The next morning after a nice breakfast we had to schlep our bags down three flights as the lift wasn’t working. We checked out and set our GPS to go back through Swaziland and down the East Coast of South Africa on the way home to the Squirrel’s Peep. The weather in the high veld was just too darned cold and boring to go home that way, although it would save a day of travel. So, as we are tooling down the EN4 freeway and approaching a toll booth the bike went all wobbly and the rear tire blew. Danged! What to do? It looked like the tire (tyre) had been punctured on the sidewall (remember what Reese said about us having to park the bike on the sidewalk outside the hotel the night before?). I walked over to a worker by the toll booth and asked if he could call for help from a towing company. Well, he went away and never came back! Just as I was getting really frustrated a guy in a white pickup with a crew cab pulls up and asks in English if he could help. God works in mysterious ways, but He certainly sent these two angels at the right time. We loaded the bike and all our gear into the bed and hopped in the back of the crew cab while he drove us around looking for a place to help us. We finally landed at this place that worked on tires and they agreed to help us. We unloaded the bike and I showed them how to take the rear axle off, remove the abs sensor so it doesn’t get damaged, remove the hub and then loosen the chain to get it off. It was actually very easy with the right tools and took just a couple of minutes. They vulcanized the sidewall and showed me where the valve had failed on the inner tube so I pulled out my spare inner tube and they mounted it professionally and got it back on the bike in record time. All told we had lost about 2 hours and it only cost us 100 meticais (the equivalent to less than $5). I tipped the workers 200 meticais and they were thrilled. So, we were off for the Swaziland border. The owner of the tire place was a South African from Johannesburg and he recommended the way back to the border, advising us to take a small border post that was out of the way, which we did and it was a piece of cake going through the border. BUT, on the way we had loaded the bike too quickly and Reese didn’t have enough room so we stopped to rearrange it at a gas station in a very small town. I got a drink and asked the owner which way to the Goba border post in Portuguese and that gave him an entre to start talking to us. When he found out we were Americans he immediately ran into the office and pulled out his Blackberry to show us a picture of himself in front of the White House in DC that he had taken last year. He raved on about how much he loved America and was planning to go back next year. Imagine, a gas station owner in the middle of Southern Mozambique was a world traveler!
As I said, the border post was very smooth and totally unlike our experience the previous day of getting into the country. People were pleasant to deal with and there was no long line of people going through. Reese and I had gotten our Yellow Fever shots so we wouldn’t have a problem moving from country to country, but no one ever asked us from them. I had been turned back from Swaziland in 1979 because I didn’t have one and now they don’t care! Oh well, it was good protection of our health anyway! Once through the border to the Swazi side the roads were much better and it really had the same feel as if we were in South Africa. Everyone accepted South African Rand so we were good to go. More on Swaziland from Reese…..