Johannesberg, Jo’berg, Jozi. It goes by many names, but it is all the same city…Johannesberg, South Africa. When we planned to come here with my parents, my brother said, “Oh, so your going to have our parents come to one of the most dangerous cities in the world to visit? Nice, Jocey (note the sarcasm).” My other sister was talking to a friend and she said, “There is no way they are in Johannesberg, it is too dangerous. People don’t go there.” Well, we were there, and we actually ended up being there longer than anticipated due to our early departure from Botswana.
Fortunately, we had a pleasant and safe experience by following some basic precautions to stay safe…our hotel was in the nicest area, it had fences and armed guards, we NEVER drove at night (we’ve been told if you live there long enough, you are guaranteed to have been carjacked or have someone close to you have been carjacked), and we didn’t go exploring into areas we didn’t know on our own.
Jo’berg actually has a lot to offer and I’m really glad we ended up having a few more days here than we originally planned. The most popular tour in the area has to be the tour of Soweto, or Southwestern Townships. This area has everything from sheet metal slums to middle class areas and is a major cultural center in the Johannesburg area. This is the neighborhood where Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived. They actually lived on the same street, making it the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners lived! In preparation for coming to South Africa, I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography A Long Walk To Freedom so I was really looking forward to seeing where this great man began to develop into the incomparable leader he became. Below are the highlights from the tour.
If I had to pick one thing most people think of with Africa it would probably be the animals. We were able to go to a reserve outside of Johannesberg and visit an animal creche and pet a bunch of different baby animals. The most memorable are the 4 month old lion and tiger cubs! 4 months sounds young, but they were actually pretty big! We had a fun time getting up close to the animals in a safe environment although after seeing them in the wild, you can’t really compare the experiences. We definitely wouldn’t have been able to get this close in the wild!
The fact that we are “world schooling” as we travel around the world causes us to change topics depending on the region we are in. For example, in Rome, we learned about ancient Roman history, in Germany, WWII and The Brothers Grimm, and for science in Botswana we were learning about mammals, ecosystems, and plant life. We continued the things we were covering in Botswana in South Africa, but we also had the unique experience of visiting the World Heritage Site, “The Cradle of Humankind.” This is a region near Johannesburg that has become a world renowned paleoanthropological site (place for studying ancient fossils). The limestone caves in this area known as Sterkfontein have produced more than a third of the early hominid fossils found to date. We were able to go in the caves where “Little Foot,” a near complete Australopithecus fossil skeleton possibly dating back 2.5 million years was found from 1994-1998 . They had a fabulous museum and visitor center on site covering the history of the earth, DNA, ancient fossils, and much more. We could have spent much longer than we did there, but we had a fabulous and very educational experience.
While there, I was humbled by the enormity of creation and reconfirmed in my convictions of us having a divine, benevolent Creator who made this incredible world for us to experience human life.
Of all the things that happened in Johannesburg, the most exciting was when my Mom and Dad came to stay with us!
Before we left home they chose South Africa as the place where they wanted to visit us. We had a ton of fun planning the time when they would be with us and we counted down the days until we were able to see them. Their flight arrived at 6:00 AM and they planned to take a taxi from the airport. We were all so excited that we couldn’t sleep the night before and then we all got up at least an hour before they even got there (we aren’t morning people so this is a big deal for us). It was like waiting for Christmas morning, but instead of presents and a yummy breakfast we got to see family and have homemade treats!
We had been enjoying (most of the time) only each others company 24/7 for the previous four months (except for a couple of days in Paris with our friends the Smith’s) and we were so excited to see family. We were also excited to have someone else to share our adventures with! I don’t think the boys stopped talking the entire 6 hour drive to our safari and most of the rest of the time my parents were there. It was so great to see family and have them experience what life is like for us on the road.
After arriving, my parents took a nap and then we headed out for the day hoping to assist them in overcoming jet lag. We had a really fun day at the Lesedi Cultural Village which has traditional villages from five different South African tribes and educated you about each of them. They also had an entertaining music and dance presentation, followed by an African feast. My parents hadn’t been there 8 hours and we already had them eating crocodile and ostrich! They did pass on the dried worms, but Tyler gave them a try!
After the village tour, we drove to the Johannesburg, South Africa LDS Temple. It was a beautiful, peaceful place to be with family.
After doing our best to keep my parents up all day to combat their jet lag, we headed back to the hotel to rest before our 6 hour drive into the mountains and on to the Kapama Game Reserve the next morning.
AFRICA. Just the name elicits thoughts of adventure, cultural unknowns, and danger. It’s a land of enchantment and once you have been there, you will forever have a space in your heart for it. We traveled to Uganda, Africa in 2009 and were looking forward to exploring more of the continent with the whole family this time around. We spent 2 months traveling through 5 different countries in southern Africa and were again captivated by this amazing continent.
We spent the bulk of our time in South Africa, but were able to visit Zambia, Botswana, Swaziland, and Namibia as well. What an adventure!
We started out our African experience in the country of Zambia. We were welcomed at the hotel with mosquito nets and bottled water to brush our teeth, and we knew we had arrived. The hotel we were staying in was established to help local teens from difficult circumstances. They had job training in various things to help them learn to provide for themselves. It was a fine place to stay and a good home-base for the time we spent there.
Our main purpose in staying in Zambia was to visit Victoria Falls. It has been named one of the natural 7 wonders of the world and we were excited to get to see it. Well, we visited in the dry season and a drought was in progress so the water was so low that the majority of the falls were dried up. We were basically looking at a bunch of cliffs with some smaller waterfalls going over them. Disappointing for sure, but when you are traveling around the world, that type of things will happen every once in a while.
The falls are located between the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe, so although we were able to gaze over at Zimbabwe, we didn’t have a chance to actually visit there. However, we did have the ability to pick up some Zimbabwean money and finally realize Tyler’s dream of becoming a billionaire!
In Zambia we were able to see our first wild animals! We took a sunset boat cruise and had a great time. We were so excited to get our first glimpse of wildlife, but it was nothing compared to what we would see in the coming weeks.
We only spent a couple of days in Zambia but that seemed to be enough. From there we headed to the neighboring country of Botswana. To get there, we had read online we could just take a taxi to the river and catch the ferry across to Botswana. While that was technically the case, it was much more rustic than we were anticipating. Luke actually said, “That’s not the boat we are actually taking across, is it?!” Yes, it was, and we survived, but it was a good lesson to not take everything at face value and when reading information, always filter it with our favorite phrase learned from the Langford’s in Uganda: TIA (This is Africa). Everything needs to be run through that filter. Or in other words, lower your expectations.
Botswana was a beautiful country of about 3 million people. They were celebrating 50 years of independence while we were there. They pride themselves on being a safe place to visit in Africa, which can’t always be said for the neighboring countries. We stayed in two different places in Botswana. Kasane, which bordered Chobe National Park and Maun, which is situated in the Okovango Delta. We rented a car while we were in Botswana and Jeromy had the opportunity to learn how to drive on the other side of the road, with a stick shift, in Africa. I can not tell a lie, we did have a few close calls, and in the beginning there was a bit of screaming “Other side of the road!” But by the end of our time in South Africa, he was a pro. I’m just glad it was him and not me!
We loved our time in the small town of Kasane. We stayed in The Chobe River Cottages which gave us a little room to spread out and they were located right in the heart of town. This made us able to walk to the grocery store passing mongoose, baboons, and warthogs along the way.
Staying in Kasane was a very inexpensive way to be able to experience safari. We booked a guide through our hotel for about 30 dollars a person per game drive (lasts about 3 hours) and they just picked us up at the hotel and drove us into the park. We were able to go on 2 game drives and a boat cruise while we were there. The animals we can remember seeing in the wild in Botswana were: elephants, hippo, leopard, lion, kudu, impala, baboon, vervet monkey, bushbuck, waterbuck, wildebeest, buffalo, nile monitor, crocodile, black-backed jackal, zebra, giraffe, guinea fowl, steenbok, banded mongoose, warthogs, ground squirrel and more different species of birds than I can count. We also visited a conservation center where we saw many different types of snake and other animals, but if you don’t see them in the wild, it doesn’t count on our list!
The only bad thing about our time in Kasane was that there were rolling electricty blackouts while we were there. So every other day we didn’t have any power at our cottage. It was over 100 degrees so we headed out in our air conditioned car and did some exploring. We were able to see some wild animals on our own as well as visity a crocodile farm and a wildlife conservatory.
A highlight of our time in Kasane was visiting the local congregation of our church there. There were only 7 other people there so Parker passed the sacrament and we each got up and spoke during the service. The members were so welcoming and their strength and testimony were an inspiration to us. I hope to make it back there someday to visit our friends!
When we arrived at our lodge in Maun, we were very excited. The rooms were thatch roofed and the setting was beautiful. A true African experience!
A highlight of our time in Maun was going to a Halloween party there. We got to know the owner of the place we were staying who had three daughters. She told us they were going to a party and invited us there with them. We had a great time, eating good food, getting face paint, watching Halloween movies, playing with new friends, and they even had a haunted house! The best part was that it all benefitted a worthy cause. Normally, no one celebrates Halloween in Botswana, or in Africa in general, but there must have been some Americans or Canadians in the area bringing the tradition over. We didn’t think we would be celebrating Halloween so it was a welcome surprise.
While the party was fun, we came to Maun for one reason and that was to visit the incomparable Okovango Delta! We booked a boat cruise through the Delta from our Lodge and headed out. It was our whole family, an Australian woman, a German couple, and our driver. We set off and everything was going great. We wound our way for about an hour through reeds and past mokoro boats headed to see the animals, when all of a sudden we heard a funny noise and our boat stopped moving. Our driver started inspecting the engine and almost as if in a cartoon pulled a spring out that had obviously broken off. We soon found out the spring was what made steering the boat possible. At first, we weren’t overly concerned, not a big deal, he can just call on his cell phone or radio for help and someone can come pick us up. Wrong! That would have been great except he had no radio and we were too far out in the Delta for cell service. This wasn’t looking good. After some trial and error Jeromy was able to use flip flops to protect against the heat of the engine and push the engine in the right direction while the driver controlled the throttle. Parker, Tyler, and Luke were kept busy collecting reeds in the hopes of making a pole that could guide us through if that became necessary. After an hour or so of traveling (very slowly) our guide found a spot to pull over, went and climbed up a 15 foot tall termite mound searching for cell service. You had to laugh or you’d cry because I haven’t mentioned yet that by this point we are sitting on a boat for hours in 100 degrees plus temperatures just hoping to be rescued. Our guide was able to reach someone, but it still took another couple of hours before we were able to get in a boat that worked. While this was not an ideal experience, the bright side is that we were able to have some amazing elephant sighting along the way and make new friends with the other people stranded with us!
Maun, was the only place we left earlier than we had planned. After the disaster on the boat, an evening of being eaten up by mosquitoes in a high risk malaria area, and to top it off no air conditioning in 100 degrees or more weather, we were all ready to go. Jeromy woke up that morning and said, I’m driving to the airport to see if we can change our ticket. He came home and within one hour, we were on our way out of Botswana and on to South Africa. I would like to make it back to the Okovango someday, but we knew we had a lot of safari ahead of us still and we were in need of a change.
This is where Jeromy came up with his new qualifications for the places we will be staying on our trip. Many of you may have heard of “The Big Five” when going on safari. It’s the 5 animals in Africa that are the most dangerous to hunt and can only be killed with a shot to the head. They are the lion, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard, and buffalo. Well Jeromy now has his “Big Five” of requirements in a place to stay. These were the five things a hotel or apartment had to have for us to be able to be comfortable there. They were a bed, a toilet, hot shower, reliable wifi, and air conditioning (if there are reasonable temperatures this isn’t a necessity).
The truth is we were only able to spend one day in Namibia, so we have a lot to learn still, but in our short time there, we were able to visit a village which was a really great experience.
As we walked in there was a group of women dancing and singing a welcome song for us. It was beautiful and lots of fun as they pulled each of us up to dance with them. While it was lots of fun for us, I think this may have just been a clever ruse to laugh at the visitors inability to actually dance! We enjoyed ourselves anyway!
Despite the fact that we were face to face with lions, rhinoceros, elephants, and great white sharks during our time in Africa, the most scared I was the entire time was driving through the windy mountain roads of Swaziland at night in the most dense fog I have ever experienced. That’s not even mentioning the huge semi trucks, animals, and people who had to be avoided along the way as well. Between Jeromy’s impressive driving skills and a few prayers as well, we made it to our hotel in one piece and all were incredibly relieved.
We were mainly just driving through Swaziland, but we made a couple stops a long the way and spent hours driving and being able to see the beautiful country.
While we loved to visit all of these countries, our favorite country in Africa had to be South Africa. We spent over 6 weeks there, so I will talk about that in my upcoming posts.
It was a great adventure and opportunity to learn about the different cultures, people, and landscape in all of these countries. We feel blessed to have experienced at least a little bit more of what Africa has to offer.