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Would a trip to South Africa be complete without meeting an elephant? Here, the Holland’s group includes Katie Holland, Bernie Holland, Sharon O’Shea, Kris O’Shea, Mark O’Shea, Erin Holland, Emily Holland, Sarah Rehwalt, Alicia Collins and Gracie Holland. They were able to walk with, pet and hand-feed these elephants.

Erin and Bernie Holland of Happy Valley have traveled extensively around the world but count a trip last year to South Africa as unforgettable.

With a van full of relatives, the couple traveled for five days from Cape Town to Johannesburg, walking among wild animals, eating “incredible food,” and traveling through rural areas where villagers had never seen white Americans.

They returned to the United States full of appreciation for South Africans and the kindness they were shown.

“It was amazing,” Erin Holland says. “We enjoyed the incredible landscapes, the oceans and mountains, the wild animals. People were so incredibly kind. We would go there again.”

A retired public relations executive who worked with Microsoft, Holland is a skilled planner who mapped out the trip with her sister-in-law Kris O’Shea, who had lived in South Africa for several months.

The Hollands brought along four of their children, Bernie’s parents, O’Shea, and a good friend.

The trip began in Cape Town, a port city with sweeping views of mountains and the busy harbor filled with boats headed for Robben Island — the notorious prison that once held Nelson Mandela and is now a living museum.

They visited the prison, touring it with a former political prisoner.

In the seaside town of Blattenberg Bay, their tour included a bird sanctuary, indigenous forest and an elephant sanctuary.

At Cape of Good Hope, one of the great capes of the South Atlantic Ocean, the group walked with elephants that Holland says are “incredibly sweet and incredibly powerful.”

Another highlight of the trip was Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa, which takes up about 7,500-square miles. One of Africa’s largest game reserves, its high density of wild animals includes lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos, known as the “Big 5.”

Hundreds of other mammals make their home there, as do diverse bird species, from vultures to eagles and storks.

Lavish hotels sit on the reserve, and the Hollands would go out on safari in the early morning and late afternoon, always returning for sumptuous meals.

The group traveled to Durban, a coastal city known for its African, Indian and colonial influences. Holland notes the seafront promenade, a huge theme park and aquarium, and botanical gardens as highlights of the city.

It’s part of KwaZulu-Natal Province and was the site of the 2010 World Cup.

“It was one of the nicest and best places we dined,” Holland says, impressed by servers who walked dinner guests to the door after the meal.

Other highlights included:

Blyde River Canyon, known as Africa’s “grand canyon” a breathtaking natural feature of South Africa.

Cape Point, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans converge and visitors witness two oceans splashing together. The Hollands saw sharks and wild animals while trout fishing, horseback riding and hiking.

“This was the cherry on the trip,” Holland says.

Verlorenkloof Estate, home to a rich stone-walled heritage legacy that lies at the epicenter of an extensive complex of late Iron Age archaelogy.

The estate has in excess of 120 recorded sites and has been actively involved over the past 10 years in developing this resource in association with leading South African and international archaeologists and historians.

As adventurers, the group bought food at roadside stands, but also dined with fine wines and gourmet food.

They were rapt by the “incredibly friendly Zulus, who knew more about the United States and what was going on than most Americans,” she says.

Even in the poorest areas, everyone had satellite TV. School children were a pleasant sight, dressed in crisp, clean uniforms on their way to classes.

They toured “amazing wineries,” Holland says, and stocked up on wines for areas they would be visiting that didn’t sell alcohol.

Prices were low because of the exchange rate. For example, a $100 bottle of wine in the United States would cost just $7 to $12 in South Africa. Such was the case for food, where a group of 10 could eat for $150.

Meat is the foundation of meals, and South Africans eat a lot of venison because there are so many deer there. Venison jerky “was the best I’ve ever had,” Holland says.

Safety was always a concern, she says. At one point, there was a political riot in a small urban village and her group was escorted by police away from the scene.

“There is high crime in some cities, so you have to have situational concern,” Holland says. “There are lots of white people who live in South Africa, but not a lot of touring Americans in a van that looked like their taxis. So, we would get people waving at us.”

Travel, she adds, “gives you an appreciation of other cultures, of other ways of thinking and living. It makes me appreciate my own life.”

It teaches her, she says, that Americans “have too much stuff.”

In China, another country the Hollands have visited, has no obesity.

“There is something to be said for a simple existence, where people walk or ride bikes to get where they want to go.”

Erin keeps physically active through swimming, kayaking the Willamette River to pick up trash, biking 40 miles a week, skiing and walking the dog two miles a day. Bernie Holland plays tennis.

They enjoy talking about their trip to South Africa, especially to local senior groups. Their next big trip is planned to Bali and Bora Bora. ☸

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