Thursday morning the team was able to sleep in a bit. Then they did some last minute shopping at the local grocery store and the Manzini Market. Then it was off to Hlane Royal National Park to experience a little bit of the African bush. Hlane is about an hour from Manzini. We got there a bit later than anticipated, but luckily we arrived in time to check into our huts (rondavels) before going on a sunset game drive.
We split into two vehicles for the sunset drive. The boys went in one and the girls (plus Justin) in the other. Unfortunately, we didn't have an even number of males and females so one male had to ride with the females. Justin was a good sport about it.
One of the first animals we saw was a herd of Wildebeast.
Not long after entering into the outer section of the park, we saw this lion sunning himself. A few minutes after we stopped to watch him from about 15' away, he got up and walked right behind our vehicles and then started pacing. He must have heard or smelled some of the antelope on the other side of the fence.
After a while, the lion started walking down this path and we followed him. He didn't seem to mind.
He was going to a watering hole. He startled us one time by jumping and running a little bit away from us. We must have startled him. But then he settled down and started drinking. We were close enough to hear him lap up the water!
We saw a herd of elephants, but we were looking at them into the sun so it was difficult to get a good picture of them. We couldn't get closer because there were several very young elephants in the herd. Elephants are very protective of their young, so it is best to give them a lot of space if they have young ones. After driving down the road a bit, we found the herd's bull elephant. He didn't seem to mind that we were about 15' away, but he did keep a close eye on us.
This gives you an idea of how close we were to the bull elephant.
A beautiful African sunset. This picture doesn't do it justice.
Shortly after sunset we returned to the base camp because it is too dark and dangerous to drive through the park after dark. When we returned and started walking to our rondavels, we walked by a pond near the open air restaurant. We heard this loud snorting sound. It was very dark, but as we strained to see what was making the noise, we saw a hippo out of the water near the pond. I think we spooked him. It seemed like he didn’t know if he should charge us or go back into the water. Luckily there was an electric fence between us and him. However, I really wondered if he decided to come at us if that little 3 wire fence would stop him. It was totally awesome. When we continued on to our rondavels we saw that the staff had lit lanterns outside and inside our rondavels. It was so beautiful.
Two of the three birthday boys. After a great Swazi dinner, we celebrated Michael's 21st birthday, Morgan's 19th birthday and Justin's 14th birthday with presents (pictured), the traditional singing of Happy Birthday in English and Dutch and birthday cakes complete with candles.
AFter dinner we watched Swazi traditional dancing by a big bonfire. Afterwards Morgan & Michael showed the Swazi drummers what U.S. drummers could do.
Then it was off to bed early. Many of us didn’t sleep real well because the lions roaring and the hippos periodically snorting kept waking us up! Now, how many people can say the lions and hippos kept them awake all night?
This morning we went on a early morning walk.
Two of the three hippos in the same pond we were near last night.
The guide told us a few facts about hippos which included that they can swim, walk on the bottom of the pond or river or on land and that they can mate on land or in the water. The look on the girls faces tells it all!
We tracked and finally got close to some giraffes. These two were a little shy.
But this young male giraffe wasn't so shy. He walked right in front of us and let us come close to watch him eat.
We saw 8 or 9 rhinos all total. A few times we had to quietly back up and hide behind a bush so they wouldn't see us. We were less than 10' away from some rhinos at one point. This guy was on the road we had to walk on. We were probably about 20 - 25' away from him. There was a female rhino and her baby not far away. When it became clear that the rhino wasn't going to move and let us pass, the guide started using his walking stick to beat at branches to scare him away. (Thank God, white Rhino's have very bad eyesight.) Finally he went running away from us down the road and into some bushes.
Breakfast after our morning walk. Breakfast never tasted so good!
We left the park around 10:00. I drove with the team as far as Mbabane where we had our last lunch together and then after many great hugs, we had to say good-bye and they went on their way to Johannesburg. I miss these guys already. They have been a fun group and are such a great group of Christian young men and women and I pray the Lord richly blesses them all in whatever God’s plans are for them.
To all of you who have been commenting on the blogs: thank you. I printed them each day and read them to the team. They were thrilled to hear all the comments and I was so happy to know that ya’ll enjoyed reading the blog.