Jazz Evening

We spent a great day taking friend Scott to some of our special Paris places.

First stop was Paul’s favorite museum, the Musee d’Orsay, which has the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works.

We were lucky to catch one of the final days of a beautiful exhibit, En Couleurs, la Polychrome Sculpture en France 1850-1910, that looked at the revival of color in sculpture.

Then on to Montmartre, a lovely hilltop area of Paris that was the gathering place for many of the important artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

We were so happy to return to our favorite Montmartre restaurant for our favorite Montmartre lunch of soupe l’ognon.

We enjoyed a wonderful evening of jazz at Chez Papa’s , an intimate jazz club in the St. Germain area of Paris. I had made our reservation in French and over the phone (no verbal clues to see if they were understanding me), so I was so happy when we got there and they had our name on the list.

This quaint club reminded me of something from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Lovely trio

 

The Louvre and Wine Tasting

I love the luscious Charentais melon, a French variety of cantaloupe. Always fragrant and flavorful, they are one of my favorite French breakfast foods.

After breakfast we went on a guided tour of the Louvre, the largest museum in the world.

My main memory from our last visit to the Louvre in 1993 was how disappointed I was when I saw the Mona Lisa. It was dark, covered by cloudy glass and hard to see. Now the Mona Lisa has a new home in a larger, better-lit room and looks beautiful.  It is protected by special glass to prevent damage from flash photography and any other nefarious activity. Our guide explained why the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world.

One could spend days in the Louvre and not see everything. In three and a half hours, our CityWonder Tours guide gave us the history of the building, escorted us to the highlights of the collections and taught us what to look for in each work.

After enjoying great art at the Louvre, we enjoyed great French wine at O Chateau. We tasted wine from six different regions. As a champagne lover, I enjoyed learning the proper way to open a bottle of champagne. Alain, our instructor, thought he had probably been our guide at an O Chateau wine-tasting dinner five years ago.

Post-wine tasting we enjoyed a lovely dinner at La Cantine de Troquet, located across the street from our apartment. The karma was great with charming staff, happy diners, and amazing food. I loved my beautiful dish of zucchini, eggplant and Parmesan cheese.

 

The Long Journey to Paris

I always tell myself to be prepared for snafus when I fly, but until our flight from Amsterdam to Paris it had been years since I experienced major air travel challenges. My experience at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol reminded me of the importance of staying calm and flexible.

Ten minutes after boarding for our 1:00 PM departure, we had to deplane because the plane had a flat tire. The captain assured us it would be fixed and we would be on our way in two hours. Two hours later we once again queued at the gate, expecting to board the plane and be on our way. The departure time passed and no KLM staff appeared or made an announcement.

Three times we were given a boarding time, queued, saw no staff or heard any announcement about a change in departure. After the third departure time there was a near riot as angry passengers swarmed the information desk demanding answers. Eight hours after our original departure time, our flight was canceled, and we rescheduled another flight the next morning.

The next morning our new flight departed almost on time, and we finally arrived and moved into our Paris home-away-from-home by the Luxembourg Gardens.

A few hours later our friend Scott arrived and we explored our neighborhood.

That evening we went to my dear friend Moira’s home off the Rue Cler for wine and cheese.

By the end of the evening we had forgotten yesterday’s travel woes.

 

La Rentree

Tomorrow we leave for my favorite city, Paris. Its beautiful streets, amazing pastries, abundant art and elegant culture always enchant me. Paris is more like a collection of small towns than a big city, and every block reveals some special delight.

This is a special trip because a dear friend is joining us for his first visit to this magical city. We are excited to share our favorite Parisian experiences with him.

After our week in Paris, we are renting a car and exploring some of the beautiful French countryside in the Loire Valley, Dordogne region and Aix-les-Bains.

La Rentree is a celebratory time in early September when the French return from their long, lovely August vacations to school and work. I am looking forward to my personal La Rentree, returning to the country I love.

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.