Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve

South Africa has a wide array of game parks, game reserves, animal sanctuaries and zoos to choose from. Some have a variety of animals while others focus on one specific species. Some have a large area of land while others have a small plot to work with. Some parks allow the animals to roam freely while others keep them in separate, secure areas. Some allow for hunting expeditions while others do not. Some have a hiking option while others are strictly driving. Some offer restaurants or concessions on the property while others do not. Some are operated and maintained by the government while others are privately owned. Each park has its own layout and style allowing for a unique experience no matter which facility you visit.

After my visit to Hazyview, I went back to my friend’s house in Krugersdorp to assist as they moved homes. After a few long days of hauling boxes and furniture, we took a break to visit the nearby Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve. Do not be fooled by the name, the reserve houses far more animals than just rhino and lion.

In our own vehicle, we drove through the large park to different areas of animals. This reserve has the predatory animals divided into large, fenced sections by species. One of my favorite happens to be the Wild Dog.

IMG_20170301_165441_362African Wild Dog has similar coloring to a hyena but is shaped more like a canine. Compared to the hyena, it has rounder ears and a flat back. They are a very social animal but only the alpha male and female will breed. While hyenas scavenge for food, a pack of dogs will hunt for their own food and work together to quickly take down their prey. Wild dog is one of Africa’s most endangered species due to disease and persecution from humans. Efforts are being made to keep them from extinction but unfortunately at this point, the dogs have to be in captivity to be preserved.

One great feature of this specific park is the ability to interact with different cubs for a small fee. Lion cubs, cheetah cubs, leopard cubs…All available to see up close and personal. Since the animals are constantly exposed to humans throughout the park, they try to introduce them at a young age with the goal of helping to prevent harmful acts in the future between man and beast. We decided to visit the sleepy, white lion cubs.

White lions are rare. Their color comes from a unique recessive gene which limits the number of white lions in the wild. Therefore, efforts are being made to preserve and boost the white lion numbers in captivity. The common brown lion can give birth to a white cubs but white lions cannot birth brown cubs.

During our drive, we also were able to see cheetah. Was there ever a more mesmerizing cat? With the black lines down its face, the slim body made to run and the beautiful spotted pattern from head to toe, even in captivity, the cheetah is a delight to watch.

The Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve also has a zoo component to the property. Birds like the red-headed, Marabou Stork (photo above) roam freely. Baby rhinoceros and pygmy hippopotamus are kept safe. Different types of fox and rabbit meander about. A variety of African snakes and lizards can be viewed in the reptile house.

Take a drive. Watch the animals. Take a close-up photo. Enjoy the moment.

Next stop: Capetown

Matthew 6:26

The Panoramic Route

From being a tour guide, I learned to never let the weather deter me from attempting to experience what I am there to experience. Of course if safety is being challenged, then I need to make a decision. But I try to not let drizzle or rain take away from the adventure. In some ways it adds to it, just like Tropical Storm Dineo did.

Upon recommendation, I wanted to see the “Panorama Route” near Hazyview. An all-day drive takes a person to some of the most spectacular scenic views the area has to offer. Lookout points over canyons, mountain formations, rushing rivers, waterfalls and quaint towns awaited me. I decided to request the professional guiding experience of the Laughing Waters Guesthouse Manager, John so that I would be able to enjoy the scenery around me as he navigated the path and potholes while providing interesting information along the way.

Because of Dineo, we experienced drizzle, rain, and low clouds. While I was not able to see all of the sights boasted about in online articles due to the low clouds, I did get to see the waters rush like they have never rushed before in the area. In fact, John told me that in all the years he has lived and guided in the area, he has never experienced such a high volume of rushing water. This really was unique timing to be along the eastern side of South Africa.

Low clouds keeping scenic sites secret from visitors along the Panoramic Route


Blyde River Canyon


Blyde River running through the canyon

At over sixteen miles long and on average 2,500 feet high, Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons on earth. Since it is found in a subtropical climate, it is often green with lush foliage and colorful wildflowers. The rock walls are a swirl of brown and orange. As I gazed upon the natural beauty of this canyon, I could not help but feel like I was standing in a painting. It really is a breathtaking beauty.


Treur River on right joins together with Blyde River on left

In Blyde River Canyon is Bourke’s Luck Potholes. Round “potholes” have been carved into the side of the rock from the many, many years of water swirling. Due to the volume of water rushing through this place, the potholes were difficult to see. But this is also the location where the Treur River joins with the Blyde River. In Afrikaans, Treur means “sorrow” or “sad” and Blyde means “joy” or “happy.” At this point, the “sad river” joins with the “happy river” and together they live happily ever after in unity.


Lisbon Falls and Bridal Veil Falls

The Panorama Route has a number of waterfalls along the way. Usually, the falls are mild with a relatively low line of water flowing over the edge. But with the constant rainfall for over a week or so, these waterfalls were flowing at high volume. I could feel the power in my feet and chest as the water thundered down the rock fronts to the bottom. The mist rose up the sides of the canyon in a thickness the local people had not experienced before. Even in the drizzling rain, the waterfalls were a sight to be seen.

Harrie’s Pancakes


South African Pancake

Before I get too far on the subject of Harrie’s Pancakes, I should really inform you about the difference in South Africa between pancakes and flapjacks. From what I could read online, the batter differs by a couple ingredients but I am a simple person who likes the gist of things. So for the gist of it, a flapjack is pretty much the same as a pancake or flapjack in America. A pancake is made with a similar batter but rolled with ingredients stuffed inside. I would venture to say it is the same concept as a crepe but thicker batter as the outer shell. Pancakes can come stuffed with sweet fillings like fruit, syrup, honey or chocolate but can also be filled with mince (ground beef), chicken, lamb, vegetables, cheese and more.


Harries’s Pancakes is a well-known stop along the Panorama Route and for good reason. After being in business for eighteen years, they know how to make the perfect pancakes. The restaurant will probably be packed when you arrive, so put your name on the list and feel free to wander to the shops and craft kiosks while you wait.


Even when the weather looks bad, make use of the time you have. Incorporate the rain into your adventure. You never know when the clouds will part just for a glimpse of sun to shine. You never know which sights will be more clear in the midst of a foggy day. You never know if animals will come out of hiding when normally they would not have on a hot, sunny day. And most times, your photos will turn out far more vibrant in cloudy conditions. Seize the moment and chase the adventure.

Laughing Waters Guesthouse

I am going to go ahead and call Laughing Waters Guesthouse in Hazyview, Mpumalanga, South Africa, a beautiful, unexpected miracle in my life. I only chose it because of the reasonable price and positive reviews found through http://www.booking.com. Mark my words, if I ever get to go back to Hazyview, this will be the only place I stay because it was THAT wonderful.


Driving through the lemon tree groves

When I pulled up to the security gate, posted instructions said to call John or Heather for security code to enter. After receiving the pin code and punching it in, the gate opened to a whole new world. The drive from the gate was gorgeous as I slowly crept my way through the lemon tree farm. Rows and rows of not-quite-ripe, green fruit with the occasional early bloomer, yellow lemons lined the drive. As I neared the end of the lemon trees, a grove of macadamia nut trees carried on along the path until the second gate came into view. As the gate opened in front of me, so did the view to a large home nestled in an  exquisitely manicured garden. The entire drive from the main road simply took my breath away.



Once a farm house, now a guesthouse nestled in beautiful gardens.


Heather met me at the door to welcome me to Laughing Waters Guesthouse. Even though I was a bit early, she took it in stride and was prepared for my arrival. She gave me a tour of the house and showed me to my room. At one time, this was home to the farmer of the lemon trees and his family. He still owns the house today but stays in another home on the property, allowing this one to be used as a guesthouse. The home has only six bedrooms with an open, but covered area for dining. The large, spacious, common rooms offer plenty of breathing room, even when the Guesthouse is booked to capacity.

Heather escorted me to my room and made sure I was comfortable. She brought a carafe of fresh, homemade lemonade. It was, without a doubt, the best lemonade I have ever had. And then left me to adjust and get comfortable.

The room was newly renovated. It was simple, classy and elegant. I had access to the patio outside with a  view overlooking the garden and swimming pool. Plump, little greenish blue birds flitted and fluttered about in the flowers by my window, then landing on the window’s burglar bars to take a rest. Needless-to-say, the place was gorgeous.

Laughing Waters Guesthouse includes breakfast as most guesthouses do. A cold breakfast buffet is available as well as hot options. The omelet was delicious and made to order. One thing that sets Laughing Waters apart from other guesthouses is offering a dinner option. Hazyview is a small town with limited restaurant options. The next two towns are nearly an hour away and with the roads covered in deep potholes, many guests are hesitant to drive at night on roads they are not very familiar with. The chef is incredible. Every meal I ate was fantastic. She could easily have her own restaurant, and to think it is right at my fingertips was a delight.

As if the accommodations were not enough, Guesthouse managers, John and Heather, were fantastic. As soon as I entered the property, I felt calm and relaxed. They are laid back, easy-going and very knowledgeable. They look forward to chatting with their guests and never made me feel like I was interrupting them. They have combined experience of over forty years in the tourism and hospitality industry. John is also a tour guide in the area and is always happy to help you explore your interests of places to go and things to see. But their kindness does not stop at hospitality; They go above and beyond. While I was staying with them, through a series of confusing events, my credit card was shut down. While trying to deal with the run around that is the American call center, I ran out of minutes on my South African sim card and of course, the cell phone website was now having technical difficulties. Heather did not hesitate to hand over her own cell phone and let me use it for as long as I needed to in order to get things sorted. When I offered to give her Rand (South Africa’s currency) to offset the phone call, she would not take it. Then, while leaving Hazyview to head back to my friend in Krugersdorp, I blew a tire trying to avoid a pothole. You know how it goes, swerve to avoid a pothole and gash your tire on a huge rock. When I called Laughing Waters to see if John would be able to help me, he wasted no time to come help me change the tire…okay, okay I will be honest, I did not do anything. He changed the tire while I finished my coffee. Again, I offered to give compensation for his assistance and he would not take it. These two lovely people take customer service above and beyond. They were God blessed miracles in my journey.


Birds on burglar bars


I could have stayed at any guesthouse in the area, there are many. But I believe this guesthouse was specifically picked out for me for my time in Hazyview. Because of tropical storm Dineo, it rained every single day and yet I was provided with a place of comfortable rest with an evening dining option that all other guesthouses in the area do not provide. I had two major issues strike without warning – the credit card and blown tire. I was provided with the kindest of guesthouse managers who looked to help and did not want any compensation. That is a great blessing.

Psalm 145:1-7

Elephant Kisses

For simplicity sake, only two species of elephants exist in the world, the Asian elephant and the African elephant. From their classifications, I assume you can guess where each species originates from…either Asia or Africa.

Asian elephants are the smaller of the two species. Proportionally, they also have much smaller ears which are in the shape of a rough triangle with the point facing outward. Also, their skin often has a reddish hue to it. Only the male elephants grow tusks. Asian elephants tend to be more trainable and used for transportation or work like we would use oxen or horses.

In 2008 I visited Thailand on two separate occasions, six months apart. Each time, I had the opportunity to ride an elephant. The first time was a very tourist oriented facility with platforms to get on the elephant and padded bench seats to sit on as we trudged along well-worn paths. After the ride, the workers gave a demonstration of the amazing abilities the elephant possesses in terms of work, sport and memory. It was a nice introduction to the Asian elephant. My second encounter was through private elephant owners where we went to their village, climbed up the elephant’s shoulder to sit in a bamboo basket and roamed our way through an overgrown jungle. A man walked in front of the elephants swinging a machete to clear the overgrowth from the path. It was such a uniquely different experience from the first!

After my Thailand visits, I realized how much I loved elephants. When I thought back over my childhood, I remembered being interested in elephants and owned little elephant figurines. I had always loved elephants but had never realized it! When I learned about the Elephant Sanctuaries in South Africa, it was a “must-do.”

African elephants are different from Asian elephants. Typically they have enormous, dark grey bodies with larger ears, shaped like the continent of Africa. Both male and female elephants grow tusks. They are more temperamental than Asian elephants and are more difficult to domesticate.

African elephants – large, grey, big ears in the shape of Africa.

The Elephant Sanctuary has three different locations in South Africa. The Sanctuaries provide unwanted elephants who have already been domesticated elsewhere, a healthy and safe place to live. Because they are very social and have already been accustom to human interaction, the Sanctuary can offer a unique experience to curious visitors and satisfy the elephant’s needs. Depending on the visitor’s interest and budget, several experiences are available from “Trunk-in-Hand” (walking the elephant) to being an elephant keeper for a day. I opted to do Trunk-in-Hand and an Elephant Back Ride.

Elephant stalls

The Elephant Sanctuary in Hazyview, South Africa is the newest of the three facilities and currently houses only two elephants, Kasper and Kitso. Our time started off with seeing the stalls where Kasper and Kitso sleep. They look similar to a horse stall except a much larger space. Nothing too exciting to tell about it.

After the stalls, the guide shared information about the anatomy of the elephant. As we looked at an elephant skull, different holes were pointed out where the tusks would be, the ears and spine. Check out the photo of the elephant diagram, it is fascinating. Elephants only have one stomach unlike cattle which have four different stomach chambers. The heel has a large air pocket which actually pushes the elephant up on its toes, allowing it to walk rather quietly. The end of the trunk has a little “finger” which allows the elephant to pick up the smallest of items like nuts to feed itself. The trunk also inhales dirt or water just to be forcefully blown back out as sun protection or bathing. The tusks are used to fight, dig and even rip bark off trees which is why they vary in length. One tusk is usually shorter than the other based on the elephant’s preference – it is kind of like being left or right-handed. This animal is so incredible. No other animal in existence that has similar anatomy to the elephant!

After our classroom phase, we headed to the elephant experience. We were introduced to Kasper and Kitso by being given a large handful of pellets to feed them. As each elephant put his trunk out for the pellets, we were instructed to drop the entire handful in. We were all hesitant to drop so many pellets at one time, I think we were all worried about suffocating them!

Each person took a turn with the elephant keeper and one of the elephants to learn hands-on about them. We were able to touch the rough, one-inch thick skin. We poked the air pocketed heel. We petted the soft belly and grabbed the solid tail. We felt the beautiful, ivory tusks and peeked inside his mouth at the tongue and teeth. At the end of the demonstration, we all received a muddy kiss. Basically, the elephant puts his trunk on you and blows air through it. The trunk was a bit scratchy against the skin.

Then, we all had a chance to walk the elephant, “trunk-in-hand.” The walk was not very long but one really feels small when walking a few feet in front of a full size African elephant. The elephant keeper kept telling me I needed to walk faster. While elephants look like they mosey along, it is just an illusion to their size. I had to walk at a much quicker pace than I anticipated.

Last but certainly not least, came the elephant rides. We climbed a tower of stairs to board the back of the elephant with the elephant keeper. This experience was far different from the rides in Thailand because it was bareback. I did not have a cushy seat or anything to hold on to. I sat on the elephant’s spine as we went for a ten-minute stroll around the grounds. With each step, I was shifted to the right or the left. I had to hold my body core together to maintain balance giving a great abdominal workout! The ride was fairly uncomfortable so I was okay with only ten minutes. But what an experience.

If you visit South Africa and want to visit one of three locations, click on the website for the Elephant Sanctuary: http://www.elephantsanctuary.co.za/index.htm

Of course other differences exist between the Asian and African elephants so feel free to do some googling if they interest you. Both species are very fascinating in their different biology, behavior and social interaction. Even if you visit a zoo, take note which type of elephant they have; You will start to see the differences quite quickly.

Kruger National Park

I debated bringing my good camera on this journey. I love my digital Canon SLR with additional lenses and filters, but trying to figure out how to carry without damaging it along with all my other belongings was a difficult puzzle I decided to not solve. So I chose to use my phone and just be happy with the results. The only thought I had was, “If I wind up in Africa on safari, I am going to wish I had it.” Boy was I right.

While my phone does a nice enough job, the zoom feature is lacking when I am trying to get a close shot of animals who blend in with the surroundings. I did the best I could and will only share the best photos of the lot. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Let this be a learning lesson. Always figure out a way to bring your best camera on big adventures.

That was my disclaimer. Now on to the good stuff: Kruger National Park.


Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in the entire continent of Africa. It spreads across more than 7,500 square miles (nearly 5 million acres) in the northeast corner of South Africa. According to Wikipedia, protection of this land dates back to 1898 and is now a UNESCO site.


In the previous blog, I shared that I was staying at the Sefapane Safari Lodge. In addition to accommodations, they also offer various activities. I signed up for the Evening Safari With Bush Braai through the lodge. A braai is the South African term for “grill-out” or “barbecue.”

Ten of us loaded up into the lodge’s safari vehicle. Since I forgotimages-1 to take my own photo of the truck, I borrowed this photo from Sefapane Safari Lodge’s site.

We set out on a five hour adventure into Kruger National Park in hopes of seeing animals, birds and beautiful scenery.


With Tropical Storm Dineo expecting to hit the Mozambique coast, rain was in the forecast starting the evening we went on our safari. We were all hoping the rain would hold off until after it was complete. It did hold off until much later that night but we did experience some strong wind at points along the way.

Warthog in center of path

From the lodge, we drove about five minutes to one of nine entrance gates to Kruger National Park, the Phalaborwa Gate. Once we passed the gate-keeper, we cautiously bumped our way down the deeply potholed and pitted dirt path into the park. Within minutes, a large, female warthog welcomed us. The first animal sighting is always exciting!


As we slowly drove along the fence line toward another safety gate, large amounts of heavy-duty vehicles, machinery and earth piles came into view on the other side. Separated by only an electric fence stands an operating copper mine. South Africa is incredibly rich in natural resources and minerals like copper, gold, diamonds, granite, platinum, and the list goes on. This particular operation in Phalaborwa is now owned by a Chinese company. It felt a bit strange to be looking for animals in their “natural habitat” with mining operations going on just a stone’s throw away. But, it is just an example of the way things work sometimes in South Africa.

On any African Safari, we are always on the lookout for “The Big Five.” The Big Five was a phrase coined by hunters to reference the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot. The term stuck and transferred over to the safari world as well. The Big Five include: African Elephant, African Lion, African Leopard, Cape Buffalo and Rhinoceros. While Kruger National Park is home to all five, the chances of seeing them all in one game drive are unlikely as the African Leopard and Rhinoceros are rare sightings on their own.

After passing through the security gate, we headed deeper into the park. Beautifully colored birds darted around our safari vehicle through the thick, lush foliage. As we came to a “T” in the road, a gasp was heard. Immediately to our right was an African Leopard. I do not think anyone the in the vehicle was able to catch a photo because of how quickly it moved back into the overgrowth but we all caught a glimpse of the spots. What glorious spots they were. The leopard is among the most difficult to spot while on safari because they are nocturnal (typically active at night). In fact, the rest of my immediate family have been on numerous game drives and have never seen a leopard. This was a very special sighting. Even after the spots were gone, we all sat in silence hoping it would reappear but it never did.

We continued on down the jerky, uneven paths. We saw impala by the herds, feeding with their young. Cape Buffalo (one of The Big Five) were spotted in the shade under the trees, always with the Oxpecker bird on their back. Monkeys darted around just behind the first layer of trees – easy enough to see but not photograph. And then, the giraffe was spotted.

Just a baby. A curious baby, male giraffe happened upon the right hand side of the vehicle. We sat quietly looking at it, as it looked at us. The thought of “If the baby is here, the mama must be near,” gnawed the back of our minds. And then, she appeared. He was on our right and she stood at the end of the trail in front of us, watching. Giraffe’s are mild, timid, curious creatures. They do not often make sudden or defensive movements. They watch. They look. They listen. They wait. The baby waited. The mother waited. We waited. Who was going to move first? Finally, mama giraffe made the first move, cutting through the growth to get to her baby. We crawled forward at a snail’s pace to watch but also to let her know we are not a threat. I never see enough of the giraffe. They are such a unique animal; No other animal with similar look or characteristics. I could see a hundred of them and still be intrigued.

As we crested a hill, the most beautiful, unexpected river came into view. The largest of the water sources running through Kruger National Park, Olifants (Afrikaan’s for “Elephants”) River runs north to south, through Mozambique, eventually emptying out in the Indian Ocean. The view was breathtaking. Impala fed upon the grass around the river. Waterbuck wandered in the muddy  sandbars. From beyond the banks, we could hear the grunting of the hippos making their presence known. From where we sat, they looked like boulders out the water. Just a glance through binoculars and one can see the hippos staring at our safari vehicle, alert to the new arrival.

We drove a bit further and took a break along some river rocks and boulders. As the sun was starting to set, the clouds took on beautifully muted shades of pink and orange. We had just enough time for a beverage, snacks and a deep breath of appreciation, all the while hearing the hippos grunting in the background.

We ended our evening with a Bush Braai. A table was set, lit up by lanterns for a fabulous braai (grill-out). Several salads, chicken kebab, steak and more awaited our arrival and a glass of wine topped it off. Such a great way to end our safari.



As we drove our way back toward the gate along the bumpy dirt paths, handheld spotlights illuminated  the wilderness, always looking for more animals. We were delighted to have one more encounter with Cape Buffalo in the middle of the road.

It was uncommon for us to not see any elephants or zebras. Although we were not given any exact reason as to why they were not present, I am guessing Tropical Storm Dineo has something to do with it. Elephants are extremely sensitive to changing weather conditions. I am guessing they made their way to a safe place. But again, that is my own speculation.

The rain started to fall only a couple of hours after our return to Sefapane Lodge and then again the entire next day. I am glad I took the opportunity for the Kruger National Park game drive while it was available!



Psalm 91:2



Driving on the Left

Monday was one of those days when everything seemed to go wrong.

I was scheduled to take off to the town of Phalaborwa, located just outside Kruger National Park. My friend, Elsa, has an extra vehicle that she was willing to entrust into my hands but a couple of things needed to be sorted with it first before I could take it. We started our errands at 9:30am and arrived back at her house around 5:00pm, unsuccessful in our endeavors. Everything hinged on something else. We could not get this piece of paper until we accomplished that. We could not accomplish that until we first did this. And so on. Tears of frustration were shed, unexpected money was spent, and at the end of the day, emotions were exhausted. I called my safari lodge in Phalaborwa to ask if they could hold my accommodations until the next day and luckily they agreed. After lots of prayer, we decided to tackle the issue(s) again in the morning to get it sorted.

Tuesday morning, the majority of the issues fell into place in about one hours time.

Volkswagen Polo

The seemingly impossible, became possible. I left Elsa’s house, driving on the left side of the road with a manual, Volkswagen Polo for the six-hour trek toward Phalaborwa.

South Africa has traffic police who, at random, direct a vehicle to pull over to be checked for registration, licensing and to make sure it is roadworthy (looking for safety issues like overly worn tires). If something is in need of attention, the traffic cops will issue a fine or ask for a bribe to have it swept under the rug. The Polo’s registration is expired and is in process of getting renewed but I drove it anyway. Elsa and I agreed to just take the fine if I get pulled over by the traffic police – the chances are good of getting pulled over at some point along the drive.

Before I left, we prayed for safety for me, the car and the other drivers on the road. We also thanked God in advance for blinding the eyes of the traffic police to this little, white, Volkswagen Polo. After about an hour of driving, I came upon a HUGE traffic police assembly on the highway. An estimated 50+ officers were standing on the freeway directing vehicles to pull over. Again, I began to pray and thank God for blinding them to the Polo. The moving truck in front of me was directed off to the side.

Driving down the highway in the bed of the truck.

The silver Mercedes behind me was directed off to the side. And I? I drove straight through without acknowledgement at all. I passed several smaller groups of traffic police and never was pulled over. Thank you Lord for answering prayer!


I turned off the freeway onto a two-lane highway that routed through more rural areas. The views were spectacular as the earth changed to a deep reddish-orange color. Bright green trees popped out against the vastly different soil as the road became more and more winding. At one point, I came around a curve to find a farm of banana trees that stretched for acres and acres. Some of the rural towns were rustic and dare I say, poor, as buildings noticeably changed from cement blocks to wood poles and shiny, corrugated steel. Signs for businesses changed from professional, lighted fiberglass to hand painted plywood becoming the Africa many of us have pictured in our minds eye.

When the winding road stretched out into a straight drive, mango tree farms lined both sides. Every few kilometers, a makeshift wooden stand with hand drawn signs invited travelers to purchase fresh mangoes from the merchant taking an afternoon snooze.

Mango stand on right hand side of road.

And then, the mangoes were gone. Fences, gates and a variety of animal crossing signs alerted me that I had now entered game reserve areas. Each game reserve and farm blended into the next for miles upon miles. I kept an eye out for any animals near the fence. My efforts only excited by a handful of ostriches.

Eventually I arrived in Phalaborwa and the Sefapane Lodge, who thankfully still held my reservation. After checking into my rondavel (round hut typically with a thatched roof), I took a short drive to the store to pick up insect killer and mosquito spray.

Take a virtual tour of the rondavel accommodations with me:

Aside from a couple of cockroach sightings (and killings), Sefapane Lodge was fantastic. The rondavels were comfortably “African authentic” in relatively private settings. The breakfast buffet was delicious. The on-sight restaurant had some unique dishes like ostrich meat as well as basic traveler comfort foods with great service. The property is well manicured and has beautiful landscaping. The pool is a decent size for relaxing and also has bar access right from the pool. Guest services offers a wide variety of activities including a number of different safari experiences in Kruger National Park which is only a five-minute drive away. I was pleasantly surprised with Sefapane Lodge. Just tell them Tara sent you.

In the end, this adventure was worth Monday’s frustration and delay. We cannot always control the circumstances but we can control how we respond to them. It starts with a deep breath, or maybe several. In fact, take as many as you need. And then drive forward from there, even if it feels awkward because you are now driving on the left hand side of the road when you are used to driving on the right.

Next stop, Kruger National Park.


Psalm 91




Visiting Springs

I met Marianne in the Negev Desert in Israel in October. She was traveling with a small group of people from South Africa who are on mandate from the Lord to go to Israel to pray over the land, the people, the government and anything else the Lord impresses upon their hearts. This team of mighty prayer warriors have seen incredible miracles over the years as they continue to respond in faith to the Lord’s invitation back to Israel. Israel is an expensive country and as the exchange rate gap between the South African Rand and the United States Dollar grows wider, the stories of financial provision just to go to Israel are miraculously astounding. Marianne told me of one of her journeys where the Lord provided the financials just days before the departure. When she called the travel agent to book her plane ticket, he said the plane was full. She told him, “No, the Lord told me I will be on that plane. There is a seat open for me.” Just after speaking those words, she heard excited shouting from the agent. “You won’t believe it! You won’t  believe it! Your name just showed up in the seating chart but I didn’t enter it there! You must come now to pay for the ticket so we don’t lose the seat!” Miracles.

Marianne & Eddie’s house in Springs, Gauteng, South Africa

Following my time in Durban and Ballito, Marianne invited me to stay with her in Springs, Gauteng, South Africa. I have had a wonderful img_20170127_183502770time joining Marianne in the daily activities of life. She and her husband, Eddie, shared stories about living in South Africa. They cooked some traditional foods, different from the food I experienced in the Durban, Natal region. Even in the rain, they had a braai (grill out).  I had the opportunity to meet several of their family member and friends.


Take a tour with me of Marianne and Eddie’s house:


When I was on my way to see Marianne, she told me about “boot camp.” It is a one hour workout in the evenings, Monday through Thursday. She asked me if I would be interested in joining her and I said, “YES!” I love to work out but on the road, it has been fb_img_1485717268533difficult. So I gladly accepted the invite. Every Saturday morning, Springs also has something called “Parkrun.” Parkrun is a weekly, free 5K, inviting the community to get active and get healthy. Participants can register online where they will receive a bar code to bring along to the race. The progress is monitored with the bar code and results are emailed to each registered participant. This past Saturday, the race had 500+ runners, joggers and walkers join! They also take photos and post them on Facebook. To the right is the photo of me. I am sure I was running so fast that the camera could not capture me…Or at least, that is what I am telling myself. Since I have not run in quite a while, the course was a little more painful than I was expecting but it was all about the participation and enjoying the moment.

As it turns out, Parkrun is an international organization that started in the UK with one goal: a weekly, free 5K for anyone and everyone to join. The Parkrun organization has now spread to over 14 countries bringing in people of all different ages and athletic abilities. In fact, I would say there were far more walkers at the Parkrun in Springs than runners. All are welcome. If you are interested in more information on where they are located or how to start one, feel free to click on their website: http://www.parkrun.com.

Completed the Parkrun! (l-r): Tara, Marianne, Alicia (Marianne’s daughter), Darryl (Marianne’s sister)

Marianne and I also had a salon day on Wednesday. After checking out the prices for a haircut and color, I decided to go for a change. If you are traveling in a country where the exchange rate is in your favor, sometimes it is worth the risk. The cost was about a third of what we would pay in the United States. Marianne took me to a lady at Cathy’s Hair Studio in Springs who is known in the community for doing color. After wearing the same few clothing outfits over and over, it was nice to do something to feel good about myself. I am not feeling bad about myself but it is nice to feel a little more “put together” for a moment.


Here are some words I have learned while visiting South Africa so far:

  • Lekker = Enjoyable, used for almost anything that you would savor
  • Fringe = Hair bangs
  • Braai = Grill out
  • American fries = Thin French fries like the ones from McDonald’s
  • Mince = Ground meat (like ground beef but comes in more options than beef)
  • Tackies = Sneakers, running shoes, hiking shoes, canvas shoes
  • Purse = Women’s wallet (The word “wallet” is only for men)
  • Handbag = Purse
  • Shoulder bag = Backpack

This has been a precious time in Springs. A huge THANK YOU to Marianne and Eddie for taking such good care of me. Thank you for the stories, laughter and wonderful conversation. You have blessed me in so many ways!

Tomorrow I leave Springs to visit Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa.



Small Walks on the Wild Side


This happens to be my second visit to Africa. In 2001, I traveled with my parents and grandparents to visit my sister, who was living in Botswana at the time. If you do not know where Botswana is, I have included a map of the southern countries of Africa. No time like the present to start familiarizing ourselves with this HUGE continent. Take a long look at the countries, their names and locations. Seriously, we can wait.

Welcome back.

While we were visiting my sister, we had the opportunity to see amazing sites in Botswana and South Africa. We took in nature reserves of different sizes starting with a very small drive-thru reserve in Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone, to a river safari near Chobe National Park building up to a large reserve called Madikwe Game Reserve in the northern part of South Africa. It was a great strategy because each game drive/safari built upon the previous one. Although it was not intentional, my visits to nature reserves in South Africa have also began this way…starting with a small walk on the wild side.

The east coast of South Africa is not known for safari animals and game drives. Because the weather is so humid, the habitat is not the best for them. Marine animals are the main highlight for this area. However, I was able to find a small nature reserve just fifteen minutes outside of Ballito, South Africa called “The Rain Farm.”

The Rain Farm sits along the shallow Umhali River. It offers nature walks, game drives and has a variety of options in accommodations for whatever type of sleeping adventure you are looking for. I decided to go on the nature walk and the game drive. The Rain Farm does not have any predatory animals like lions or hyenas. They mostly have plant eaters which allows for safe walking. Do not get me wrong, you still have to keep a distance away from the animals like the waterbuck. That guy kept an eye on us for a long time to the point where we headed off the main path and hiked through the brush to keep a good distance from him. This is where I wish I was traveling with my good digital SLR camera with a zoom lens because that waterbuck was a beautiful creature but too far away to adequately capture with my phone. But, I digress.

I saw emu, ostrich, several types of antelope, caracal (a type of small cat), wildebeest, zebra and my favorite of the visit, giraffe. Most of the animals are used to the game drive with the sound of the vehicle but as we walked, they tended to be more skittish. The exception to this was the male giraffes. They were magnificent. We were able to get near them, only a couple of arm lengths away. It was only after we passed them and I stopped recording that I realized I had been holding my breath while they were near. I did not want to do anything to scare them off, not even breathe. Take a look for yourself!

After the nature walk, I went on a game drive. The vehicles they use are like pick-up trucks with several rows of bench seats added to the bed of the truck. The benches do not have seatbelts so it is best to hang on if they are driving at steep grades or fast speeds. The trucks also have a canopy cover to shade guests from the hot sun or any rain. In the larger game reserves, the driver typically carries a hunting rifle in the cab as the very last resort toward an attacking animal. But because the Rain Farm is a small reserve with no predatory animals, a rifle is not necessary.

The drive took approximately an hour as we made our way through most of the same land I had just hiked. Since many of the animals are more accustomed to the sound of the vehicle, they did not run away and we were able to get closer views of the antelope and wildebeest. Both of these experiences were a fantastic way to ease into the animal sightseeing.

Through my friends who live in the Johannesburg region, I was put in contact with a new friend, Noelene, who lives near Durban. She and her son, Darryl, were extremely helpful in showing me around the Durban area. They also took me to the Natal Lion Park.

(l-r) Tara, Darryl, Noelene

Side note: Keep an eye out for that symbol on the hood of Darryl’s car, it is the logo for his soon-to-be released clothing line called DANOCH. The logo represents the Lion of Judah.

Located in the Natal Midlands, the Natal Lion Park is exactly what it sounds like – a park for lions. After you pay the admission fee, you drive your vehicle down a very bumpy, dirt path to the first of two gates. Signs at the gate tell visitors to keep all windows rolled up, turn down loud music, do not feed any of the animals and if a lion approaches the vehicle, it is best to keep moving slowly.

As we reached the gate, the gate-keeper came out of a small concrete shack to open the first gate BY HAND for the vehicle to enter. After closing it behind us, the car was now enclosed in a large, protected “cage” area. He then went to the front of the car open the second gate by hand. No electric gates here my friends! The double gated, cage area is a safety precaution so if a lion makes it past one gate, they are trapped in the cage and will not be able to get past the second one to keep them in their parkland. As the gate-keeper opened the second gate, he slid back into a small gap between two of the fence lines which would keep him protected if a lion happened to enter the cage. Interesting job he has!


The park area was not as large as I expected and the lions are considered captive animals but even so, it was a nice experience to see live lions wander the fenced in area. The park had something like eight to ten lions – several males a just a few females. Since it was midday and humid, the lions mostly sat around with their tongues hanging out trying to cool down. Regardless, the lion is such a beautiful animal!

Right next to the Natal Lion Park is a small zoo. We had some extra time so we took a stroll through. Normally zoos are not my thing but it was nice to see some animals I would not normally see like a liger, a tapir, a white lion and many brightly colored birds (some were talking birds). Again, it was a good start to seeing animals. Hopefully I will have an opportunity to see them again in the larger game reserves as this journey progresses.

This past Wednesday, I said “goodbye” to the Southeast side of South Africa and took an eleven hour Greyhound bus ride to the town of Springs. I need to put in a plug for the Greyhound bus in South Africa. This was a good experience. The bus is far more luxurious than the United States has to offer. The seats are more comfortable, movies are played onboard and there is even a bus “hostess” who offers beverages and snacks during the ride. The bus was double decker and I happen to get a front seat on top for nice scenery views the entire way. I highly recommend testing it out if you ever get the opportunity.


In Springs, I have a friend whom I met in Israel named Marianne. Marianne invited me to come stay with her, so here I am! So far it has been nice to spend time with her, hear about and meet some of her family, learn more about South African culture and play with her four dogs, one cat and one talking bird named Coco. Coco only speaks Afrikaans so Marianne has to translate what she is saying so I can understand. 

Yesterday, I had the most shocking animal experience so far. Marianne and I were driving to the store when all of a sudden, she says, “I need to ask that man a question.” She pulled the car over, jumped out and ran over to a truck window. She came back to the car and said, “Come on, I want to show you something.” I followed her onto the man’s property, past a thatched roof patio area and into his house. As we walked out the back door, two large, Siberian tigers came into view – one white and one orange. Apparently, the husband and wife who own the property love felines. They have 19 different cats from Persian house cats who have their own room in the house to these two huge tigers and a small, older dog with painted toenails. They had to purchase the house next door in order to have enough yard space for the tigers to play. When I asked what made them decide to raise the tigers, the only thing the woman could tell me is “I’ve always loved cats.”


Come along with me as we continue exploring parts of Africa!

Connecting the Unrelated Dots of a Miracle Filled Path

I read this excerpt today and found it fitting for parts of my journey and how I wound up where I am today. I would like to share it with you:

“The story is told of a man on an African safari deep in the jungle. The guide before him had a machete and was whacking away the tall weeds and thick underbrush. The traveler, wearied and hot, asked in frustration, “Where are we? Do you know where you are taking me? Where is the path?!” The seasoned guide stopped and looked back at the man and replied, “I am the path.”

We ask the same questions, don’t we? We ask God, “Where are you taking me? Where is the path?” And he, like the guide doesn’t tell us. Oh, he may give us a hint or two, but that’s all. If he did, would we understand? Would we comprehend our location? No, like the traveler, we are unacquainted with this jungle. So rather than give us an answer, Jesus gives us a far greater gift. He gives us himself. We often think freedom in the midst of a trial translates as having all the answers we need. Instead, God offers all the Jesus we will need to get through the trial” (Experiencing the Heart of Jesus by Max Lucado).

This adequately describes this whole trekking journey.  Where am I going? What is the point of this? Come on, give me something to count on! And He responds with “I am yours to count on.” Or just as the story says, “I am the path.”

By nature, I am a goal oriented person. When I was on the swim team, I pinned my swim goals to the ceiling above my bed so I could see them every morning when I woke up and again when I went to sleep. When I reached a goal, I spent very little time (if any at all) celebrating them before setting new goal. I feel I am at my best when I have the big picture and tangible goals in front of me to chase down.

I want to know where this journey ends or if it just keeps going. I want to know if I will return to the United States or become an expat in another country. It would be much easier for me mentally and emotionally to know I have to be in a specific place at a specific time. I want to know the end result so I know how to focus my expectations. But I do not get to know the end. I have to continually refocus on the journey, not the destination.

So how do we connect the dots of the journey we are called to? As I look back over time since I left home, I can see how the seemingly unconnected pieces of this journey have prepared me in big and small ways to take the next step. I will do my best to lay out some of the implications as I see it:


o   Deepening an already strong relationship with my dad by spending ten adventurous days together in a new destination.

o   Spending all hours of the day in a minivan sightseeing for ten days has prepared me for long bus and plane rides between destinations.

o   Meeting up with Jessica who is from my hometown and now an expat living in Reykjavik, Iceland. Talking with someone else who has taken a big step to leave the US encourages me to keep pressing forward.

Northern Ireland

o   Meeting Milad and Holly Korkis who shared their love for Israel, Palestine and Syria with me, providing a new perspective. It prepared my outlook and heart even when I did not know I was going to spend time in Israel.

o   Holly and Milad provided very cost effective accommodations for me.

o   I learned to be okay with co-ed hostels in a safe country.

Luxembourg & Amsterdam, Holland

o   I met up with Jeremy (and his lovely family), my roommate from home who blessed me like crazy by allowing me to stay with them and provide some transportation.


o   Provided opportunity to rest up from constant travel and prepare for the next season of travel.

o   Connected with dear friends, Sandra and Lisa for a special time of bonding and exploring with each one separately.

o   Connected with other American backpackers traveling for extended periods of time as well, thus encouraging me to press forward.

Vienna, Austria

o   Challenged me further in a co-ed hostel (I was the only girl for a few days).

o   Connected with other backpackers who were taking on the world encouraging me to press forward.

Czech Republic

o   Traveled off the beaten path and connected with Bridget, a female American living in the Middle East. I learned more insights from firsthand perspective. I believe this was preparation for Israel.

o   Connected with a group of medical missionaries who were at the end of their intense time on the field. Always an encouragement by people who are adventurously loving others with their God-blessed talents to keep pressing forward.


o   Visited friends who blessed me like crazy by allowing me to stay with them and showing me all over the country.

o   Connected with Americans from Texas who invited me back to Israel to work with them.


o   Met up with Mom and Sister to accomplish a long-awaited dream together, deepening our already strong relationship.

o   My parents blessed me by covering accommodations and transportation.


o   Helen, my Texas friend who invited me back, blessed me immensely by taking care of accommodations at Biblical Tamar Park in the Negev Desert.

o   Invited to stay at Biblical Tamar Park after the Texas group left to help the Park for a reasonable rate. Especially at Christmastime, this was a great blessing.

o   My dear friend, Dawn, visited and blessed me with encouragement and adventure.

o   While at Biblical Tamar Park, I met amazing people including a group of from South Africa who invited me to visit them at some point during my journey.

South Africa

o   Through the above-mentioned friends in South Africa, I was connected to a friend in Durban, South Africa named Noelene. Noelene’s family members invited me to stay with them for about a week while Noelene and her son, Darryl have taken me all over Durban to show me their city. They all have blessed me with accommodations, time, fuel and ideas of places to see.

o   When checking into a hostel in Ballito, South Africa, I was given an incredible rate for a suite after a mix-up in booking a co-ed dorm room.


When I went to Israel in September to simply visit friends, I had no idea that visit would eventually lead to South Africa but God knew. I had no idea I would need each expat and traveler as encouragement to continue pressing forward but God knew. I had no expectation of people to assist me financially and yet many along the way have blessed me in ways I have not been able to repay but God knew. Currently, I have no idea where this is headed next but God knows.

So if He knows each step and if I can trust Him, then what do I have to worry about? Nothing. I have nothing to worry about. God is clearly in charge of this adventure.

But what do I do when I am feeling lost, afraid, without hope or just treading water? As I looked in the Bible, I happen to notice Psalm 23, which many of you are familiar. This is a promise from God for anyone who is looking for hope and is brave enough to believe in Him. This passage is not just meant to be heard at funerals. It has daily implications. As you read the words, I challenge you to think about them deeply and the promises presented here:

“The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need. (If you do not think He has provided what you need, please keep reading…)
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams. (Who finds green meadows and babbling brooks peaceful?)
He renews my strength. (Who feels weary and needs new strength?)
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley, (What scary valley are you walking through?)
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me. (No fear in the dark, scary valley!)
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me. (He is prepared to do battle to protect you!)
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies. (Who are the enemies in your scary valley?)
You honor me by anointing my head with oil. (An award of honor received, even when you feel weary.)
My cup overflows with blessings. (Opportunity for blessing is endless!)
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will
pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”

(Picture yourself with green meadows, protection, feasts, comfort, awards of honor and overflowing blessings…forever! Sounds too good to be true? Call Him on His bluff and test Him!)


So then what is a goal oriented girl supposed to focus on during this unspecified travel time? Ah, great question with an answer I am still learning. Goals are clearly laid out in the Bible for those who have decided to believe in God. Here are the things He is instilling in me as I journey along:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not need to force our way in life, able to marshal [organize] and direct our energy wisely.” Galatians 5:22-23 MSG

He is bringing gifts and blessings into my life. He has allowed me to lovingly connect with others, I am excited about my life and I ultimately have peace, even when I do not know the goal or it seems scary. I am sticking with this journey even though I have wanted to throw in the towel at times. I have growing compassion for people as I meet them and hear their stories. I understand that most people want to do what is right, even though others have a different point of view and opinion. I am continuously learning to not force my perspective or way of life on others – combine this with passion and understanding allows for compromise. My friends, I am learning that these things are the big picture goal!

If you have been offered a poor view of God, I encourage you to look into the real one. Give Him the opportunity to share who He is with you. Do not trust those who have given you a disastrous picture of Him. I do not like to be falsely accused of who I am or my intentions and I do not believe He does either. Go find out for yourself who He is, even if your skeptical, hesitant or even angry. Test Him!

Following His lead has been very advantageous for me. And now He has led me to South Africa. Since I do not know where my future is headed, I will focus my energy on continuing to improve the goals of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. No law exists, anywhere, against these things.

These are only some of the connections I can pin point. This does not incorporate the miraculous links still to be realized. It is amazingly bizarre how one dot, one unrelated connection leads us to the next.

I still do not know where this path is headed, but I can find peace and rest in the One who says, “I am the path.”


Photos of Durban, South Africa:


Photos of Ballito, South Africa: