June - July 2017
  • Day18

    Last day of vacation

    July 10, 2017 in Zimbabwe ⋅ 🌙 27 °C

    Mom got her hair done in the hotel at 9am while Ken and I went down for breakfast. They offer a breakfast buffet which is not bad. We left at 10am for a lion walk which mom arranged for since they had done it 7 years ago and really enjoyed it. Interestingly, Belmond - who arranged the trip for us - does not support the lion walk and so couldn't arrange it for us. A young woman named Amanda picked us up in an open safari vehicle. We had to stop at their office in town to pay for the excursion. While Ken and mom went inside to pay, dad and I were shooing away individuals trying to sell us bracelets or the, now worthless, Zimbabwean trillion dollar bills which are no longer in circulation. It was a 20 minute ride from there, mostly on bumpy road. Once there, we were greeted in an outdoor 'reception' area and joined by an American tour group. They gave us an orientation that included their conservation efforts and desire to release lions back into the steadily decreasing lion population. All well and good though there was quite a bit of discussion about how they count on us, as tourists, to help fund their endeavors (through the walk, purchasing their lion walk products, buying the video they were going to make of us, etc...)
    We broke up into 2 groups and walked with walking sticks which were to help establish some level of dominance with the lions. They brought 2 lions to walk with us, a female and male pair of cousins who were 19 and 21 months. They were playful with each other which was adorable. We walked, in pairs, with the lions through the bush. The walking terrain was quite difficult for mom. Dad appeared to do fine with it. It was actually hard to keep up with the lions as they were pretty fast! There were a couple of guides with us and lion handlers as well - even a gentleman with a rifle. The guide took all of the cameras and took many pictures. After we each walked with the lions, the animals rested in the shade and we each went up (behind them!) to pet their backs and get pictures. We were asked to tip the handlers and that was pretty much that. We went back to the reception area for light snacks and a drink and to watch the videos they wanted to sell us. The whole thing seemed heavy handed, and it wasn't entirely clear to us what the purpose of the business was - to help save lions (though not one has been released back into the wild since the lion walks started over 7 years ago) or to just make money. Still, Ken and I enjoyed the pictures we got (expensive ones though! - $150/person).
    We got back to the hotel by 1:15 and left with Yvonne, at 2p, for Ken and me to be able to say we've been to Zambia! She drove us the 4 of us to the check point and across the border. We all met up with a driver (Calvin) who drove us to the Livingstone Hotel - a beautiful 5 star hotel with gorgeous grounds overlooking the Zambezi River. We had a drink outside and had another nice conversation with Yvonne about the state of affairs in Zimbabwe. There is still a bride price here which allows for male ownership of women. If a woman is mistreated by her husband her parents will often encourage her to stay in the marriage because they can't pay back the dowry. Yvonne, herself, is divorced. There is about a 50% divorce rate here.
    We discussed the race delineation here including black, white, and colored (child of mixed parents) groups, the latter being a difficult word to accept in my vocabulary but is common place here.
    We were able to see a room at the hotel and it was very nice. There were also zebra all over the property which I'm a big fan of. 😁
    We drove the 5 minutes back to the border, switched back into Yvonne's vehicle and she took us the 5 minutes back to our hotel. So we've officially been to 4 more African countries!
    At 7p, mom, dad, Ken and I had dinner reservations and ate at the Livingstone Room at the hotel. It's their fanciest restaurant. The service was excellent, the food very good and the prices very reasonable for such a nice restaurant. And, of course, the company was great too! It's been a wonderful 2.5 week trip and we always love traveling with my parents. They make it very easy!
    Tomorrow we will have breakfast here and leave for the Victoria Falls airport at 11 to catch a British Airways flight to Johannesburg at around 1pm. It's an under 2 hour flight. If all runs on time, we will leave for Atlanta at 8pm and will get in 16 hours later. We will finally get home at around 11.
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  • Day17

    Victoria Falls

    July 9, 2017 in Zimbabwe ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    Lazy morning. Still up at 6:30 but only by our internal alarms. Breakfast is included at this hotel, so we met up with mom and dad for breakfast at 9. At 10, Yvonne picked us up to go to Victoria Falls (only a few minutes away). She had pre purchased tickets, so we walked right in. She gave us a short orientation and discussion about the falls and we started our 4.4km, leisurely walk, with 16 look-out points to appreciate the exquisite falls. March and April are the high water flow months for the falls. By November the volume of water will have greatly decreased.
    The falls were made famous by Dr. David Livingstone in 1855 when he came across them for the first time. ("Dr. Livingstone I presume?") Yvonne brought us ponchos for the wet portion of the trip which was a must (to stay dry anyway!). I had a chance to talk with Yvonne quite a bit on the walk. She is so easy to talk to and is very honest about the state of affairs in Zimbabwe (though it would be illegal for her to say some of the things she says!) Belmond subcontracts her to guide tours in this area. She started her business, Routes Through Africa, 6 years ago after managing the local Abercrombie and Kent tour operator office here in Victoria Falls. She tells us that very few women own their own companies in this country. Pretty remarkable!
    We had lunch with Yvonne at The Lookout Cafe (recommended by her) which had beautiful views of the falls and the historic bridge (finished in 1904) that spans the Zambezi River. Ken had crocodile which truly tastes just like chicken. (I confirmed. 😊) This restaurant is also the point where travelers sign up for bungee jumping, swinging and zip line. We saw a few people jump. Made me sick just looking at them!
    We had a half hour back at the hotel before Yvonne drove us to our next activity at 3:30p. We took a sunset cruise on the Ra Ikane, a small skiff with seating for 12. Drinks were included along with some small appetizers which were fine, not excellent. We had nice views of birds and crocodiles, a water monitor lizard, saw hippos, and saw another lovely sunset. We were back at 6:15p.
    Yvonne picked us up and drove us back to the hotel (5-10 minutes).
    We ate at the terrace again, this time just dessert. The ice cream brownie was mediocre in my opinion.
    An early night tonight - back up to the room by 7:30, but Ken and I ended up sitting in the lounge downstairs so that the room could be turned-down.
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  • Day16

    And on to Zimbabwe

    July 8, 2017 in Zimbabwe ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    Had a shortened game drive this morning from 7 to 10:30. Only a pride of lions worth mentioning though they did perform when they suddenly ran after a Steenbok. It was quick though with no catch.
    Our 14 seater flight left for Kasabi at 11:25. This time I was prepared! Scopolamine patch, Meclizine and Zofran to start then no looking outside the window and staying distracted playing a game on my iPad. Worked like a charm! The flight was 40 minutes long. We were met by Yvonne, our guide for this last portion of our trip. She seems wonderful - beautiful English and incredibly knowledgeable. The historical and current political/societal conflict in Zimbabwe is extraordinarily depressing. It is a true dictatorship here led by Robert Mugabe (who is 93 years old). There is a 95% unemployment rate! Zimbabweans are required to use banks to save money with strict limits on what cash can be withdrawn. The government changed currency suddenly several years back (from a highly devalued currency to the US dollar). This was done overnight and those with a lifetime of savings in the banks, lost it all. There is enormous corruption and voter fraud here so little changes. Makes one grateful to live in a democratic country!
    Yvonne drove us the 10 minutes into Zimbabwe. We had to purchase our visas (good for both Zimbabwe and Zambia which is very close) and clear customs. This took about 30 minutes including time in line. She then drove us 60km (about 40-50 minutes) to Victoria Falls where she dropped us off at the Victoria Falls Hotel. Very elegant hotel much like the Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island - fancy in its heritage, location and view but small rooms with little storage (no towel rods which is strange). We are in room 136 and mom in dad in room 137. Unfortunately, we are on the 2nd floor with no elevator here which is tough for both mom and dad.
    We had 45 minutes before we left for a helicopter ride above the falls at 4. (12-15 minute ride for $150/person). I got the co-pilot seat with great views and opportunities for photos. It was a beautiful first view of the falls. Given that Victoria Falls is part of a National Park there were warthogs right on the property too!
    We were back at the hotel by 5:30pm and went down for dinner on the hotel terrace at 6. I had a yummy ceasar salad and Ken's chicken sandwich was delicious. (Ice cream sundae was weak though) 😕. It's annoying to have to pay for our meals again not to mention, they charge for still water!
    Up to the rooms by 8 and, I am totally ready for bed!
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  • Day15

    Final game drive day

    July 7, 2017 in Botswana ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    In keeping with our good fortune on this trip, we successfully tracked a leopard! And by 'successfully tracked a leopard' I mean that we spent 3 hours following tracks unsuccessfully before Muffin responded to another guide's radio call that a leopard was spotted!! Woohoo! Muffin sped to the spot in minutes and was willing to drive over trees to get us the best view of that leopard (who was on a hunt for red billed horn bills). Beautiful cat and it's amazing that anyone found it considering it's size and how well it blends in with it's surroundings! This game drive also gave us another steenbok, who obliged us with a few still seconds to get a photo, and a large herd of buffalo.
    Had a great lunch back at the lodge and took a nap during siesta.
    The afternoon game drive was a bit weak. Found a few kudu (bad picture below) and a sleeping female lion by breaking the rules and driving off-road. Other than that, pretty slow. Hyenas still did not behave tonight.
    Back at the lodge, buffalo and elephants were mingling at the water hole. We had a huge dinner (since they brought me the wrong dish first and then the right one after, both of which were great!) and then, after dessert, came out singing and trilling with a 'happy wedding anniversary' cake. It was lopsided and frozen and had very strange sour cream frosting on it, but we all felt obligated to eat some. 😁
    While eating a few week old elephant came to the watering hole. Sooo cute! 🐘
    Muffin (Maphani officially) has been great at going wherever he needs to to get us to the animals we want to see. His English isn't as good as Sello and Onx's, so he misses some of our (great!) jokes, but he is very nice and has done an excellent job. 👍 Staff at all the lodges have been very friendly and helpful.
    Tomorrow morning will be our last game drive in Botswana. On to the final leg of our trip tomorrow.
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  • Day14

    Chobe National Park

    July 6, 2017 in Botswana ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Given our success yesterday, I placed my animal order with Muffin before we left for our am game drive: pride of lions and leopard. And wouldn't you know, we found a pride of 8 lions with their cubs (about 8-10 months)! It's almost lunchtime now, so stay tuned for a leopard update!
    We also saw a large herd of Eland and then, during siesta time, we had 7 elephants drinking from the watering hole right in front of our deck. Tried calling the kids to show them, but wifi is very spotty at all of these lodges and the video and call broke up alot.
    PM update...
    So, no luck with the leopards. We did get some wonderful photos of impala mock-fighting and a giraffe bending over to eat. We saw more steenbuk (tiny and adorable antelope who are too skittish to get good pictures of!) And we saw spring hares (bunnies with long tails who hop like kangaroos). We had some incredible views of the animals like one would see in a safari magazine. No complaints! The terrain here is interesting, dry grass spotted with burnt logs and short trees (really bushes). We tried to see young hyena at their den but they didn't cooperate with the 6:30 curfew (our curfew in the park, that is). We did get a sundown drink and snack in the park - off the front of the Jeep - before heading back to the lodge. (Corn nuts are awesome btw!)
    Back at the lodge we watched a large group of elephants, all ages, from our deck before dinner.
    When we went up to dinner, the lodge manager greeted us and told us that they had set up a private dinner for the 4 of us in the boma (a traditional Botswanese courtyard with a central log fire where, historically, court or mediation was held). It was really nice. We were served dinner there just as we would have in the dining room but sat side by side around the fire. Time to relax and get to bed. 😊
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  • Day13

    To Savute Elephant Camp - Chobe

    July 5, 2017 in Botswana ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Our morning game drive gave us 3 new animals, the reedbuck, the wildebeest and the hyena (who kindly led us down the road, looking back every few steps to make sure we were following!). Onx also educated us on termite mounds (way more interesting than you'd think) and regaled us with a poop-spitting competition between him and Jimmy (a 2nd guide). Yes, you read that correctly! They used antelope poop though it is much stickier than giraffe poop, the preferred ammunition for this contest. And now I officially know way more information about animal dung than I ever needed to!!
    Onx drove us to the airstrip (2 minutes away) and we said goodbye. He has a wonderful personality and we enjoyed our time with him.
    The pilot asked if I wanted the co-pilot seat and I jumped at the chance. We flew for 10 minutes before picking up 4 more passengers. Unfortunately, whether I sit in the front or the back, 8 seater planes don't agree with me. I got sick and it was miserable. Luckily, the 2nd leg of the flight was only 30 minutes. Just about 28 minutes too long!
    Our new guide, Muffin, picked us up at the airstrip and drove us the 1/2 hour to the Savute Lodge. Rooms are identical to the Kwhai River Lodge.
    We ate lunch (though I wasn't too hungry) and we went back to the rooms to relax. I fell asleep outside in the chaise lounge, only to be woken up by a squirrel (?) gnawing on my knee!!! Note to self, no sleeping outside here!
    I couldn't help but give the lodge manager, Steve, a hard time about the camp's attack squirrels. We asked that, in return, he make sure we saw a lion 🦁and cheetah 🐆 (the latter, rare in these parts) on our afternoon game drive. He promised to try. Before we left, he put out a wooden lion and cheetah for us. 😂
    BUT, wouldn't you know, we saw the lion (1 male sleeping) and 2 cheetah eating the tsessebe they had just killed!! It was awesome! We also saw ostrich, a Verreaux Eagle Owl, black-backed Jackal, a Kori bustard (huge land bird) and, to top it all off, an African wild cat! Way to go Muffin!
    We ate dinner (only soup and salad for me - still not feeling great and not a fan of lamb or pork) while watching elephants at the watering hole in front of the dining room. Then we relaxed in the room before bed.
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  • Day12

    Exploring The Okavango Delta

    July 4, 2017 in Botswana ⋅ 🌬 13 °C

    We got to sleep in today - a whole hour! They wake us up every morning with coffee and an hour later we are at breakfast. Another chocolate muffin for me! 😊
    We went out on a speed boat to search for wildlife. We saw hippos, crocodiles, elephant and lots of birds. Dad was happy. My favorite was the bright green 'little bee eater'.
    At noon, mom and dad went on their helicopter ride while Ken and I ate a quick lunch. A 1/2 hour later, we were driven to the helicopter pad (less than a 1/4 mile.) The ride was very fun. We got to add buffalo, ostrich and tsessebe (the fastest antelope) to our list of animals seen.
    After, we enjoyed a nice rest on our deck.
    We had tea at 3:30 and then went out for our afternoon excursion at 4. Today we traveled by mocoro (a dug out canoe for 2) navigated by a guide pushing us with a long rod through the grasses near the lodge. It was peaceful and relaxing. We saw several frogs and beautiful birds. We met up with other mocoros at a tablecloth lined table in the shallow water with champagne and a small snack. Attached to the champagne was a happy anniversary note to the Lessers and Bishops. 😊 Onx snuck out of the grasses to greet us. Everyone had a glass of champagne in the mocoro and it was lovely!
    We went back to the lodge and watched the sunset from the lodge-claimed 'most exclusive bar in the world'. It was beautiful!
    We had a Botswanese BBQ for dinner (appropriate given that it's July 4th today!) and staff entertainment to conclude the dinner. Dinner itself was mediocre but who's complaining. 😉 Anyway, any dinner accompanied by the beautiful sounds of bell frogs is perfect!
    Very nice day!
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  • Day11

    From one terrain to another

    July 3, 2017 in Botswana ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    After another delicious chocolate muffin for breakfast (for me anyway), we went out on a truncated game drive. 7:30 to 10:15 we searched for new species and cats, but luck was not on our side this morning. We saw, the now typical, zebra, impala and elephants with some more warthogs and dwarf mongoose for good measure. We said goodbye to Sello. (tip: $20/person/day is standard for the guide. We gave $10/person/day for rest of staff).
    By 10:40 we were on the 12 seater plane, headed for Eagle Island, another Belmond resort in the Kalahari desert of Botswana.
    Eagle Island Lodge is in the center of the Okavango Delta where the mighty Okavango River drains into the Kalahari. The Lodge was recently remodeled and is stunning! Our tent has a plunge pool (the water is too cold for me though), an indoor and outdoor shower, real windows and a view to rival any! The channels of water up to our deck are an easy path for any hippo, and there is evidence of elephant throughout the lodge grounds. While relaxing on our deck, I heard bleating and found a baby bush buck right next to our tent.
    We went on a sunset barge trip with our guide, Onx. He is actually the Belmond environmental manager and is in charge of all the safaris and guides for the 3 Belmond camps. He was mom and dad's guide 3.5 years ago when they were here and loved him. Mom requested he guide us which he agreed to do, even though he doesn't guide anymore.
    We saw a few elephant and hippo. It's unbelievable how fast hippos can move in the water! The sunset was beautiful.
    Now dinner at the lodge and then our escort back to the tent to relax before a full day tomorrow. 😊
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  • Day10

    In search of the king of the jungle

    July 2, 2017 in Botswana ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    We heard lions last night with their short snoring like sounds, far from the lion roars you were taught as a child! After breakfast, at 7:30, we drove in the direction of the calls. From near our camp, we could see the lions, far across the river that our tents look onto. Sello told us it would take 45 minutes to get there and whether they would be there when we got there was anyone's guess. It was a risk we were willing to take. A lion hunting, we went! 🦁😊 We found 2 adult male lions resting and, soon after we showed up, they got up and walked away. We tracked one of them for awhile but never got as close again.
    After lunch (pasta with beef stroganoff) we had a lovely rest at the tent.
    We left for our afternoon safari after 'tea'. There was a group of vervet monkeys playing around (and in!) the dining area.
    No more big cats for us today, but we did get to see
    many hippos charging into the water, wart hogs, steenbok, dwarf mongoose, water buck, kudu, and multiple male elephants. We tried for a night game drive but it was long, cold (about 50 degrees but colder in moving vehicle) and unsuccessful.
    Now, back at the lodge having dinner (yummy chicken Kiev for me 😊) and will pack up before bed so we will be ready to leave after a quick game drove in the morning.
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  • Day9

    Safariing

    July 1, 2017 in Botswana ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    I know, not a word, but appropriate none the less! I'm sitting here, having afternoon 'tea' (with delicious lemon glazed cookies!), watching an elephant and listening to grunting hippos from the dining area of our lodge. It is quiet and peaceful and I couldn't be more content!
    We woke at 6am to the delivery of coffee, tea and crackers. Breakfast was at the lodge though Ken and I were late because we thought we had an extra 1/2 hour. Ah well. A quick bite later, we left with Sello for a game drive. We saw an adorable giraffe mom and baby and then joined many other safarians (I know, not a word again...) to hunt for a pack of wild dogs which we found! Very exciting since there are only 500 wild dogs in Botswana. They are skilled hunters with a nearly 100% kill rate when they are tracking prey. And they are ugly!
    We stopped for coffee and biscuits in the bush, aside our safari van, tablecloth and glassware included. Afterwards, we noticed another safari van had fallen into an 'elephant hole' - front left tire in the water and front right tire not even touching the ground! Luckily no one was hurt! Our guide, and another helped use their trucks to pull the other truck out.
    Then we headed back to the lodge for an afternoon 'siesta.' We each had a 30 minute massage included in our stay, which dad opted not to use, but mom, Ken and I each had ours during that time. We all chose a simple head, neck and hand massage. It was awesome! We had a nice buffet lunch of vegetable chili over jasmine rice. Then we relaxed at our tent after lunch and got our own safari viewing from our porch. We saw elephants, hippos and lechwe along with some very pretty birds. Tea time was at 3.
    We left for our 2nd safari of the day at 3:30. Our luck continued! We saw a 2 hour old lechwe who could barely stand, elephants that walked right next to us (and I mean - heart racing close!), African ground hornbills (that apparently don't usually like to be watched), a beautiful saddle-billed stork, a troop of baboons with a tiny baby in tow, a male and female kudu and those tenacious African dogs again.
    We stopped in the bush for a sunset drink and snack and then drove to, what's called the 'Boma'. The Boma is a dinner held twice a week on the Kwhai River lodge property where guests eat outside around a fire and have a buffet meal. Food was decent but not great. The staff sang traditional Botswana songs after dinner. As we were walked back to our rooms (guests must be accompanied by a staff member to walk around at night) we found 2 hippos right behind mom and dad's cabin. Luckily they weren't in the slightest bit interested in us as I understand they are incredibly dangerous if at all provoked.
    Tomorrow, we get to do it all again! 😊
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