Category Archives: Africa 2018

Off to Africa

The day is finally here-I am leaving for my dream trip to Africa.  Almost two years ago, my dear friend, Jeanne Asakura, said, “Sure, I’ll go to Africa with you.”  Since husband Paul’s business requires him to have reliable internet access, I was thrilled to find an enthusiastic travel buddy who could go “off the grid” with me. Fourteen months ago we booked the last two places on our Overseas Adventure Travel safari and today we start our adventure. Packing for this trip was a bit of a challenge. OAT advised us to wear muted earth tones, not black or blue which attract tsetse flies, or white or bright colors which have traditionally been used to keep animals away. Not much in my closet is beige, khaki or olive.  I did a little thrift store shopping and now have an adequate safari wardrobe of earth-tone clothing.

We begin our adventure with a couple of days in Johannesburg to see the sights, visit Soweto and recover from our fifteen-hour flight. Then we connect with the fourteen other members of our  group and fly to Victoria Falls to meet our tour guide, Phanuel. From there we travel by small planes and motor vehicles to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. Our last stop will be a return to Victoria Falls to explore and then back to Johannesburg to fly home.

Most of our accommodations will be tented camps in national parks. I loved canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters wilderness in northern Minnesota, so I know I will be just fine with my lodgings.  The tents are pretty luxurious with en-suite bathrooms and electricity and I have heard that the food is excellent. Some of the camps are solar powered and the amount of available light and power each day will be affected by how sunny the day was.

Internet availability will be scarce in the camps, maybe non-existent.  I plan to write each day, but I will only be able to post when I am somewhere with WIFI.

So much about this trip excites me-viewing the animals in their natural habitat, being in a place that is so different from what I know and meeting people from different cultures. Because I traveled with OAT to Peru and Ecuador, I know there will be wonderful opportunities to interact with local people and learn more about how they live.

Let the adventure begin!

Welcome to Johannesburg

We are here! I am amazed at how great I feel after a fifteen-hour flight, the longest ever for me. Here’s my explanation- a long flight provides more uninterrupted time to sleep than a seven or eight-hour flight.

We had  great arrival-our luggage all made it, customs was welcoming and our smiling transfer driver was waiting for us as we entered the airport lobby.

Larry, our transfer driver, shared his enthusiasm for his country as he drove us to the hotel. He told us that that there are twelve official languages in S. Africa; he speaks six of them. His step-father was a visiting lecturer in African studies at the University of Illinois. When he learned we would be here a few days, he said we could not leave without visiting Soweto. After planning a visit to Soweto for the next day and hearing from people about how unsafe it was, I was thrilled to hear his recommendation.

After settling in to our room, Jeanne and I had a wonderful dinner of stuffed black mushrooms and S. African wine.

Soweto and Johannesburg

First stop today was Soweto, the black residential southwest townships of Johannesburg. Soweto has a population of 1.3 million with 99.5% black or colored.

The area was larger and the homes more diverse than I expected. Many of the homes were small and crammed closely together.

But there were also lovely homes with well-tended gardens. Winnie Mandela’s home took up an entire block.

On the Main Street of Soweto, a group of young men entertained us with a peppy song and dance routine.

A young woman gave us a guided tour of Nelson Mandela’s home in Soweto.

In 1976, the students of Soweto protested the requirement that all education be delivered in Afrikaans, the language of the government but not the people of Soweto. Fifteen-year-old Hector Pieterson was one of the first students to be shot and killed by the police. The picture of the dying Hector being carried away by his sister and friend became the symbol of the Soweto uprising.

The Soweto uprising brought the fight against apartheid to the world’s attention.

After visiting Soweto, we went to the Apartheid Museum. It was a somber visit looking at the history of apartheid in S. Africa.

It was an afternoon of contrasts as we first drove through downtown Johannesburg, which  has boarded up buildings because so much business and commerce have left the city center for the beautiful nearby city of Sandton. Beautiful modern architecture, clean streets and new buildings on almost every other block confirmed what our guide told us about the decline of Johannesburg and rise of Sandton.

My experiences in Soweto, Johannesburg and Sandton today left me troubled by the reality that a city of more than nine million people could be building beautiful new office buildings but not provide a public transportion system so people would not need to walk miles to get to work. Life is hard for many of the people here, but in spite of the hardships the people were friendly and welcoming. I think it must be true that people visit Southern Africa for the animals but return for the people.

Lesedi Cultural Village

After an incredibly enlightening but very sobering visit to Soweto and Johannesburg yesterday, today we enjoyed an uplifting and joyous visit to Lesedi Cultural Village. Victor, our wise and knowledgeable tour guide, provided amazing insight and information about African history and culture on the three-hour round-trip ride to and from the village. We felt so fortunate to be able to talk with him about his experiences growing up in South Africa.

Located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, the Lesedi Cultural Village is composed of traditional homesteads inhabited by the Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Basotho and Ndebele tribes who live according to tribal folklore and the traditions of their ancestors. Nelson Mandela was a member of the Xhosa tribe. Young men in tribal dress greeted us with song and music as we entered the village.

Before going to the villages, our Zulu guide gave us a brief African tribal language lesson and history of the tribes. Zulu and Xhosa languages incorporate a clicking sound which made it a bit challenging to repeat the words he taught us.

The Zulu village was our first stop. The Zulu are the largest ethnic group in Southern Africa and were known as a powerful people. Our Zulu guide demonstrated how visitors would safely enter a Zulu village. After we received permission to enter, the gates were opened and we went in and toured the village.

In each village, tribal members in native dress demonstrated daily activities like weaving straw mats, grinding corn and carrying water in head-top containers.

In one of the villages, we went inside the one of the dwellings.

A traditional African dance show was a powerful ending to our delightful visit.

 

Johannesburg to Zimbabwe

Today we flew from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls and boarded a van for Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe. Phanuel, our OAT trip guide, met us at the airport and pointed out sights along the two-hour drive to the park. At the entrance to the park, we boarded safari vehicles for a one-hour game drive to our camp.

Camp staff welcomed us with music and special drinks.

The main area is open air, and we each have our own individual tent cabins. Once it is dark, we must be escorted to our cabins by a staff member armed with a rifle.

Our cabin is really a tent with canvas sides and screen doors, but it has electricity and a bathroom with solar-powered hot water. It is totally charming.

After dinner, Phanuel imitated the animal sounds we might hear at night and reminded us not to leave our cabin unescorted. As I lay in bed listening to all the animal sounds, I heard an elephant and at least two other animals I couldn’t identify.

A Day in an African Village

Today we had the privilege of meeting the residents of an African village and learning about their daily lives. Francisca and Phillip, the owners of the homestead (villages are composed of family homesteads) we visited, welcomed us to their home and showed us how they lived.

Francisca, her friends and the children sang a welcoming song for us.

We went in to their kitchen which is a small building with their dishes and an open fire for cooking.

Residents at a neighboring homestead were preparing to build a new hut.

A very special part of the day was sharing tea and butter and jam sandwiches the villagers prepared for us. Francisca had invited some of her neighbors to join us for the day and during tea they introduced themselves and told us about their families. Then we did the same. After introductions, we asked each other questions about women’s lives.

Before going to their homestead, we went to a market with a list of food items to take as gifts. The list was in Shona, one of the languages of the area, so we had to get help to know what to buy. People in the market were helpful, and everyone laughed as we figured out what to get. I took a picture of three of the girls who helped us. They didn’t like how their picture looked and wanted to pose for another one.

One of the most interesting items on our list was a long bar of soap. The villagers wash their clothes by hand using a slice of the soap to rub on their clothes.

The Zimbabwe economy is in bad shape right now; they have no cash. The ATM machines are empty most of the time,and the banks often do not have any cash. People line up in front of the banks early each morning in the hopes of being able to get cash. We gave our cash for the groceries to Phanuel who charged the groceries and took the cash back to the camp staff. Most transactions are conducted via a cell phone app and no cash changes hands.

On the way to the village we stopped to talk with some women who had been occupying a tent for the last year to protest their husbands not being paid. The men, who worked in a government-run coal mine, had not been paid in five years.

I had an almost close call this morning when I ran back to my tent to get my water bottle before we left. I made a wrong turn and rather than heading to my tent, I was heading out of the camp. Lucky for me, two of the staff were walking down the road and showed me the right way to go. They also pointed out the tracks of the lions who had been on the road the evening before.

We went on a short safari before dinner. After about an hour we had only seen two impalas and a few birds and I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t see many animals. Suddenly Godfrey, our safari guide, stopped the safari vehicle and quietly said, “elephant to the right.” We were thrilled to see an elephant not too far off the road. And then we saw two elephants. One of the elephants came closer to our safari vehicle. It was so exciting. Suddenly he was only about two feet from me. Just when I was starting to feel he might be a little too close, Godfrey stepped on the gas and took off. The elephant charged after us.

Farther along we hit an elephant bonanza-at least ten elephants were walking through a field.

We spent so much time looking at the elephants that it was dark before we headed back to camp. On the way back we heard an elephant roar close to our safari vehicle and an elephant came charging out of the trees. It was all pretty exciting.

 

Hwange Safari – Zimbabwe

Pinch me – I’m in Africa seeing the animals I dreamed about!

After our six AM “wakey-wakey” greeting from Phanuel and a quick breakfast, we embarked on a ten-hour safari. We saw more animals then we had seen the day before-elephants, impalas and wart hogs. But most exciting of all were seeing the animals we hadn’t seen yet – hippos, giraffes, lions, crocodiles, zebras, baby hyrax, and kudu.

Yesterday and today we saw so many elephants that we almost developed “just another elephant” syndrome. We even had another elephant charge the back of our Jeep. Phanuel told us the elephant was a young bull who was just playing with us. He knew because his ears were out and his trunk was down.

Albert, our guide gave us a lesson about elephant nutrition and digestion by breaking open a large hunk of elephant poop and showing us what was inside.

We saw an elephant drinking and refreshing himself at one of the watering holes.

We stopped at one of the largest lakes in the park for tea. While watching a crocodile swimming in the lake, I noticed black blobs popping up and down. Phanuel told us they were hippos.

Right below where we had our tea was a den of adorable baby hyrax.

After more game viewing we stopped at the Masuma watering hole for lunch. Our guides set out a lovely lunch for us.

It was an animal bonanza with hippos, crocodiles, lions and beautiful birds.

On the ride back to camp, we saw four zebras. I hope to get a better zebra picture before I leave.

For our final night in Camp Kashawe , the staff performed a thank you song and their beautiful national anthem. They invited us to join them in some African dancing around the fire. I was so very touched by their beautiful words and the warm atmosphere they created for us. It was a beautiful way to end a perfect three-day stay.

 

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.”

 

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.

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.