Thank You, Thank You, Beautiful Africa

This morning I sadly said goodbye to the bush, and we began our journey to Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe for the final part of our trip.  The animals gave us a wonderful send-off. A lion was in our camp last night, and it sounded like he was right outside our tent. As we drove in our safari vehicle the two hours to the Sawatani airstrip, zebras, giraffes, elephants and impalas appeared along the way. There were even impalas in the runway.

Before checking into Shearwater Explorers Village, our Victoria Falls home for the next two days, we stopped for a traditional African meal and entertainment. We had another chance to eat Mopane worms but decided to pass again. My favorite part of the meal was peanut butter rice.

The highlight today was our visit to Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world. David Livingstone named the falls after Queen Victoria, but the Kalolo-Lozi people called it Mosi-Oa-Tunya, the “Smoke that Thunders.”

After being in safari vehicles for the past two weeks, it felt wonderful to walk the beautiful area.

We were fortunate to see a beautiful rainbow over the falls.

After viewing the beautiful Victoria Falls from the ground, we flew over it in a helicopter the following morning.

The day was clear and beautiful and the falls were truly stunning.

Later that day I got my first bartering experience at the market by our lodge. Although it felt a bit overwhelming, I think I did OK. I probably would have paid the same price with or without my items, but it was fun. It was also a great way to lighten my luggage and get some African souvenirs. Shoes and tee shirts seemed to be the most in-demand items.

In the afternoon Phanuel brought his beautiful and very poised three children to meet us. They each introduced themselves and shook our hands.

We ended the last full day of our trip with a dinner cruise on the Zambezi River. Yes, the same Zambezi River that flows over the cliffs at Victoria Falls. I was reassured that we never motored too close to the falls.

A local musical group entertained us after dinner. They sang a song that the miners would sing to give them courage as they went into the mine.

They introduced their next song by saying they were happy to share this song with others who had performed it. The song was their original version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Driving back to the hotel, we saw a hippo and an elephant on the side of the road. We had seen many hippos in the water but never saw one on land until that night.

The next morning a fourth-generation Zimbabwean woman gave us a fascinating presentation on David Livingstone, Scottish missionary, explorer and anti-slavery crusader. Then it was off to the Victoria Falls Airport for the start of our twenty-five-plus-hour journey home.

At the airport Phanuel, our wonderful trip leader, relinquished his responsibility for our bags. At the start of our trip, he told us they were his babies and he would make sure they got safely from camp to camp.

And suddenly it was time to say a sad good-bye to Phanuel. He was an amazing leader who made sure we all had the best possible experience. From his “ding, ding, ding” to get our attention for announcements to “wakey-wakey” calls to get us up in the morning to “ish” on the end of times for arrival (never departure, we always left on time), he created an environment that allowed us to experience the beauty and magic of southern Africa. His rich laugh delighted us and his willingness to share his traditional culture enriched our understanding.

I am so thankful for my African adventure-the people I met, the animals I saw, the land I explored, and the culture I experienced. Thank you, thank you, beautiful Africa.

Last Safari Day in Africa

It was like Africa knew today was my last safari day and decided to put on a dazzling show. It started with the elephants and lions we heard in camp last night. Some sounded like they were right outside our tent. We began our safari by following lion tracks out of camp. We lost the tracks, but soon saw a leopard cross the road and began to track him.

Lasti, our guide, left the road and drove into the bush to follow him. We could see where he was going and pulled ahead to get a better look. We were able to get a number of views of him.

All of a sudden the leopard pounced, and a bird flew into the air. It was so exciting to watch the leopard’s powerful muscles as he ran into the bush after the bird. We are pretty sure the bird got away.

As we were driving by the airstrip, we saw a pack of Wild African Dogs cuddled together in the middle of the roadway. Lasti said they must have recently eaten and were sleepy and content. They would occasionally raise their heads when we made a sound but really didn’t move much. They are an endangered species and a rare sight.

We continued into the Okavango Delta, to ride in mokoro, the dugout canoes traditionally used for transportation and hunting in the delta.

After the mokoro ride we drove to a shady spot for lunch, expecting something simple served from the back of the safari vehicle. Instead we found camp staff waiting for us with a buffet lunch and camp chairs set up in front of a beautiful delta view.

Lasti, our safari guide, got his name because his mother planned for him to be the last of her six children.

As we drove back to camp, it felt like the zebras, giraffes, elephants, impalas, red lechwe, wart hogs and the many beautiful African birds came out to greet us. There were animals everywhere. And we were the only people in the delta to see them.

As we got close to camp, Lasti noticed a tree full of vultures and drove into the bush to see if there had been a kill. We saw the remains of a kudu.

Not far from the remains we saw a mother lion and her three cubs. They were full and relaxed as we drove around them to get the best view.

Because our camp is new and there are no other camps in the area, the animals here are not totally used to the safari vehicles and will look up when we make a noise. But like the animals in the other areas we visited, they see the vehicle as one shape and do not view it as a threat. That is how we are able to safely be so close to the animals.

As on the final night at our other camps, tonight was cultural night and the staff sang traditional songs for us. And as at the other camps, their voices were beautiful.

Phanuel,our wonderful trip leader recapped our safari experiences and pointed out that today we had seen four of the big five animals in Africa-elephants, lions, leopards, and cape buffaloes. Rhinoceroses, the remaining member of the big five are so rare that they are seldom seen.

Okavango Delta, Day One

After a two-hour drive from the air strip last night, we were happy to arrive at Tamog Tented Camp, our home in the Okavango Delta. We were the first group to stay in this brand new camp. As often happens with new facilities, there were a few issues that needed tweaking-mostly plumbing and power in the tents. The staff were great fixing things as quickly as possible, and our group was understanding of the situation. It was wonderful to see how everyone took the high road in this challenging situation. By the second day most of the issues were resolved.

This camp is more rustic than our previous camps, but I am loving the feeling of camping while still having all the perks of great food, a comfy bed, plumbing, and electricity.

Ono, our wonderful guide, is a teacher, as well as a guide.

We were tracking a leopard and he taught us all the steps he followed to find the leopard. After investigating a fleeting glimpse of a leopard,Ono spotted an impala leg on a tree limb. The leg was all that was left after the leopard took the impala up the tree to keep it safe for multiple meals.

He noticed vultures circling and distressed calls from other birds. We followed the bird calls but did not find the leopard.

On the ride from the airstrip to camp the previous night, Ono asked us what we most wanted to see . I said zebras because we had only seen a few in our previous camps. Dazzles of zebras appeared every day we were in the Okavango Delta, and I never tired of seeing these beautiful animals. Although they look like horses with stripes, their backs are too weak to carry riders.

Ono pointed out therapeutic plants his mother had taught him to use and let us try them. We used the giant devil horn which turns into soap and moisturizer with a little added water to wash our hands after tea and cookies in the bush. We rubbed the leaves of the silky sage between our hands and smelled its sweet scent which is used to repel mosquitoes.

The bush here is more open than the other places we have been, and it easier to see animals in the distance.

Our sun downer was by a beautiful watering hole.

As the sun set, the African silhouette and evening sky were especially stunning. We saw Venus in the West and Jupiter in the east.

A National Geographic Moment

Last night Phanuel told us we would be leaving camp in the afternoon to fly to the Okavango Delta in Botswana rather than in the morning as planned due to some issue with our planes. So we got an extra safari in Chobe, and it turned out to be the most dramatic safari of our time here.

Vultures were circling and as we drove into the area, we could smell something decaying. We never found anything so were going to leave. A guide from a different camp told Moses, our guide, that he had seen a dead elephant yesterday. Back we went and found the dead elephant. The closer we got, the stronger the smell.

As were watching the dead elephant, Moses spotted a lion pair under a bush. They were pretty well camouflaged by the bush, but suddenly they both stood up and started mating. The male lion gave a loud roar, and they both lay down again. Moses said it was a “National Geographic moment” to see this rare sight.

The vultures stayed in the trees while we were in the area.

We also saw some new animals-common waterbuck and red lechwe

It was fun to see more baboons.

Moses solved the mystery of why the elephants only eat a few leaves from a tree and then move on to a new tree. We thought it would be easier for them to stay in one place until they had eaten all the available leaves. When the leaves are pulled from the tree, it releases a tannin stored in its roots that makes the leaves unpalatable.It is nature’s way of protecting the tree.

I have been so impressed with our guides. They know every animal, bird, and tree in the bush, as well as knowing their habits and life cycles. But even more impressive to me is their love and respect for all creatures. They truly live in harmony with their environment. I think we could learn a lot from them.

In the afternoon we took a one-hour flight from Kasane airport in Botswana to Sawatani airstrip and then rode two hours in a safari vehicle to get to our camp in the Okavango Delta.

Before we left the airstrip, we saw our first wildebeest.

Final Day in Chobe National Park

We had an ultimate African moment last night. Elephants were chomping grass, bumping our tent, and making their presence known as we were going to bed. Just after we turned off the light a strong smell filled our tent, and we knew they were still there, digesting their food. Jeanne woke me a little after midnight because she didn’t want me to miss the up-close and personal view of our elephant. He was huge (his head was higher than the top of our tent) and just inches from our bathroom screen, pulling off tree limbs and eating the leaves.

Not sure how long he stayed, but when we left our tent in the morning, leaves were everywhere and his calling card filled the walkway.

Phanuel asked us if we had read our newspaper this morning when we walked in for breakfast, and we had a great time sharing elephant stories.

Today was an all-day safari. In addition to the elephants, impalas and giraffes that we are almost starting to take for granted, we saw some new animals as well. We had seen a lone cape buffalo earlier, but today we saw a huge bellow, more than a thousand, of cape buffalo. Knowing they are part of the Big Five because they can be so dangerous, I felt on edge as we drove through them. Often we were just feet away from the closest ones. Some looked at us, but most ignored us. Males can be identified by the little cap, called a boss, between their horns.

We saw a warthog earlier, but he was moving too quickly to get a picture. Today one posed for us.

New sightings were a mongoose and a sable antelope.

 

Our guides set up a beautiful picnic lunch for us in the park. After lunch, Six, one of our guides, talked with us about Botswana. Mining of diamonds is the number one industry and tourism is the second.

Even though I already had taken tons of pictures of elephants and giraffes, I couldn’t stop taking more when I saw them.

Relaxing on the deck of our tent before dinner, we were delighted to watch an elephant stroll by and stop for a snack.

And then the elephants did a repeat of last night, but this time it was in the daylight and we could see what they were doing. It started with a parade of elephants along the flood plain below our tent.

Then once again our tent was surrounded by elephants. It was exciting to watch the biggest elephant come up the hill beside our tent, push the sidewalk rope down with his trunk, and walk along the sidewalk and up the hill on the other side, pulling branches off trees and eating leaves.

Our elephant visitor mesmerized us for at least an hour as we watched him outside our tent and ran inside when he got closer.

We ended our evening with a farewell dinner and cultural exchange. As we sat around the fire in the Boma, an African gathering space, the staff sang a lovely farewell song.

Baobab Camp has been especially fun because the camp overlooks the Chobe River flood plain. Animals frequently walk by our camp to and from the river. Sometimes it seems like the animals could overwhelm the people. I have so enjoyed the feeling of being surrounded by and peacefully co-existing with the animals. And the intriguing baobab tree, is part of our lovely view.

Chobe National Park, Day Two

This morning was the chilliest so far. We all bundled up and headed out with Moses, our guide, to look for new animals.

Less than thirty minutes out, another guide alerted Moses to a clan of spotted hyenas. The guides share information with each other on vehicle radios. Lucky for us the hyenas were still there when we arrived, and Moses told us it was uncommon to see seven in one place.

We saw more lions, giraffes, kudus, and impalas. The most beautiful bird we saw was the Lilac-breasted Roller.

We encountered an African mystery. Baby frogs were hopping in a line along a sandy road. Moses said it was perplexing to see them there because there was no water nearby and the river they were moving toward was too far for them to reach before the sun killed them. Even though their journey seemed doomed to fail, Moses drove on the side of the road to avoid running over them.  As we got closer to the river the road became strewn with dead baby frogs.

After our tea break, Moses and Phanuel had an explanation for the frog mystery. They showed us a water hole that could have been where the frogs started. They thought the frogs knew the waterhole would soon dry up and set off for the river.

Sadly, the frogs had no chance of reaching their destination. However, in the bush nothing goes to waste, and we soon saw Southern Ground Hornbills eating the dead frogs.

After lunch we went on a backyard safari to learn how the camp functioned. Everything here is done by hand-no washing machines, dryers or dishwashers. The staff wash clothes for us each day, hang them to dry and iron them. “No sun, no dry” and we were fortunate to always have sunny days and find our clothes neatly folded on our beds in the evening.

Villagers from nearby Mabele gave us a basket weaving demonstration in the afternoon, and we all had a chance to try this intricate craft. I have a new appreciation for how much time it takes to make one small basket.

On our afternoon safari, Moses showed us an elephant skull and told us that elephants get six sets of molars during their lifetime. The elephants are very careful to preserve their last set of molars because they know they can not survive without them.

We were rewarded with another beautiful sunset when we returned to camp.

 

Zambia to Botswana

Elephant in the camp! As we were leaving camp this morning, the guides cautioned us to quietly walk to the safari vehicles because an elephant was in the road-right by our tent, as a matter of fact. Two vehicles full of people did not disturb the elephant or cause him to move, so we had to take an alternative road to the airstrip.    We flew small planes to Livingstone, Zambia and then boarded a van to cross into Botswana. Long lines of semis were waiting to take the ferry from Zambia to Botswana. Phanuel told us the trucks could wait in line for up to a week.

Copper is the number one industry in Zambia. Many of us wanted to buy Zambian copper bracelets as souvenirs before we left the country. As our van pulled up to immigration, we were surrounded by young men selling copper bracelets and carved animals. We weren’t able to get off the van right away, so we opened the windows and bargained for our bracelets through the window.

We took a small boat across the Zambezi river and boarded a different van in Botswana. On the way to our next safari camp, we stopped to visit a woman who lived in a small homestead. She had watched our van drive by, so our driver asked her if she would talk with us about how she lived. She greeted each of us and invited us into her home. One of her young sons was home while we were there. Her very limited power comes from a small solar panel and her water comes from a nearby stream. Her family has only enough food for one meal a day which they eat at about 3:00. I was so impressed with how this woman who had so little could smile and laugh and so graciously share her life with us.

Mid afternoon we arrived at Baobob Wilderness Camp, our home in Botswana for the next three days. Located on the Chobe river, the camp sits above a flood plain that is a favorite place for wildlife to make their way to the river. The deck outside our tent gave us a perfect view of the animals coming to and from the river.

There is so much wildlife in the area that we were told to pause and listen before leaving our tents to make sure no animals were nearby. We were also told if animals were in the path to stay in our tent and one of the staff would come and get us.

After high tea we went on the best safari so far. We saw a young male lion who had just eaten so we were able to safely get close to him. We could get close to many of the animals because they see the safari vehicle as one familiar object, not individual people.

Then we hit the elephant jackpot. Hundreds of elephants were in route to the river to drink, play and roll in the mud to remove some of the bugs on their hides.

A congress of baboons entertained us.

We had our first sighting of  giraffes who were grazing and drinking behind the elephants. We were not able to get as close to them because they run away if people get too close.

We also had our first cape buffalo sighting. They are one of the “Big Five” animals because they are among the five most difficult and dangerous African animals to hunt on foot. Hard to believe they reportedly kill more hunters than any other African animal because they look a lot like black cows with curved horns.

A beautiful sunset graced our evening “sundowner.”

Boat Safari in Zambia

Another amazing day in Africa! We went on a boat safari on the Lufupa and Kafue rivers which converge in front of our camp. In the morning we went left down the Lufupa river and in the afternoon we went right down the Kafue river.

Hippos were feeding in the river and must have had babies nearby because they did not want us to get too close. They followed our boat and made leaping moves in the water a few times. Boyd, our guide, made sure we stayed comfortably in front of the hippos.

We also saw crocodiles, impalas, pukus and beautiful birds of all colors, including African fish eagles, Zambia’s National bird, and saddle beak cranes.

We saw an amazing web made by the tent spiders.

When we stopped for tea and cookies in the bush, Boyd went around the area clapping his hands to make sure there were no animal surprises in the grass before we got off the boat.

About ten minutes before we expected to return to camp for lunch, Phanuel appeared and waved us to shore. He told us we were going on a little hike and led us to lunch in the bush. A beautiful table, bar, buffet and omelet station made me feel like a character in Out of Africa.

Most days we are busy from dawn to dinner, but yesterday and today we had a little afternoon break. It was magical to sit on our tent front porch and feel surrounded by the sounds of life on the river.

Before our afternoon boat ride, Lydia gave a cultural presentation about Zambian life in the villages. She showed us how the villagers use a big mortar and pestle to make peanut butter, an important protein source.

She also taught us how to wrap our chitenge into skirts and baby carriers.

After a sunset boat safari, dinner and a beautiful farewell song from our Zambian staff, we returned to our tents for our last night in Zambia.

 

 

Kafue National Park

Today was another great day of seeing new animals and learning more about life in Africa. It seemed like the graceful impalas were everywhere. Impalas in shows like Wild Kingdom always seemed to be leaping along, but today they stood still for us.

We came upon a tree full of vervet monkeys playing and grooming each other. The more we looked, the more monkeys we saw.

This is tsetse fly territory. The good news is they aren’t transmitting disease right now. The bad news is their bite hurts and itches for days afterwards. I had an up-close view of one when it landed on the black (an appealing color to tsetse flies) hood liner on the woman sitting right in front of me.

The Zambians have an ingenious way to repel tsetse flies-they burn elephant dung and the smoke drives them away. A little can of burning dung hung on the back of our vehicle and really did seem to keep the flies away.

Halfway through our morning safari we stopped in the bush for tea and cookies.

While we were having tea in the bush Phanuel told us us the story of Cecile the collared lion who had been shot by an American hunter. Earlier we had passed the guide’s reserve. The guide had used a dead impala to lure Cecile out of the park where it would have been illegal to hunt for lions. The story was big news in both the US and Africa.

We learned about some of the trees and bushes that are used for medicinal purposes. People in the villages rely on these natural remedies more than drugs and clinics.

After lunch Phanuel gave a talk about HIV/aids in Africa. It was so encouraging to hear that attitudes were changing and treatment was more available.

After a little afternoon break, we learned more about Zambia and then went for a late afternoon safari. I got a better view of the zebras and saw many colorful birds.

Our “sundowner” (African happy hour) was in the bush. It truly was another “African moment”, drinking wine in the middle of the bush with a beautiful sunset in the west and a full moon rising in the east.

Driving back in the dark, we were close to seeing a leopard. The signs were all there- a group of impalas gathered in a circle standing guard, leopard tracks heading toward the impalas and fresh leopard dung near them. Although our guide was pretty certain the leopard was close, we never saw him.

Zimbabwe to Zambia

This morning we left the wonderful staff at Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe and traveled by safari vehicle, van and small plane to the Lufupa Camp in the Kafue National Park (which is the size of New Jersey), Zambia. A brief sighting of a leopard as we left Hwange was a wonderful good-bye. The van drove us to the Zimbabwe/Zambia border and we exited the van and walked across the bridge over the Zambezi river into Zambia. The bridge crosses the magnificent Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world

      

We re-boarded the van and drove through the town of Livingstone, Zambia. We stopped at a market and Phanuel gave all the women two dollars to buy two meters of chitange, the multi-purpose, colorful batik cloth Zambian women use as wrap-skirts, baby carriers, and padding for carrying items on their heads. We will learn more about chitange when we get to our camp in Zambia.

At the Livingstone airport we boarded a small plane and flew about an hour to a landing strip in the middle of the bush.

Safari vehicles were waiting on the side of the airstrip to take us to camp. Once again the staff greeted us with song and a yummy fruit drink.

After a lovely appetizer, camp staff escorted us to our tent.  All the tents are right on the Lufupa river, and the sound of hippos just off the shore greeted us.

After moving into our tents, we went on an evening safari to see nocturnal animals. The highlight was seeing a serval, a member of the big cat family, that is very shy and seldom seen. Amazingly, he seemed unfazed by the spotlight from our safari vehicle and all of the people taking pictures. Phanuel called the sighting “an African moment.”

As we cuddled in our beds with mosquito netting all around us we could hear the hippos coming out of the river to feed-another wonderful  “African moment.”