Joined May 2017 Message
  • Day19

    Cascades, A Bridge Walk & Bargaining

    August 22 in Zambia ⋅ ⛅ 84 °F

    Two days ago we flew from Botswana to Zimbabwe to stay in the tourist town of Victoria Falls. Soon after arrival, we walked along the 16 viewpoints of the falls. At one mile wide, it is the widest of the big three waterfalls (Niagara and Iguazu are the other two). It is nearing the driest time of the year, but the flows were still impressive.

    That evening, we were hosted in small groups by several families for dinner. We, Nance, Sande and Dottie really enjoyed our visit with this very modern family, not at all like the village visit we had earlier in the trip. The mother used to be a teacher, but as the Zimbabwean government changed, it eventually became impossible for her to make a living teaching to contribute to their family income. Now she buys or finds items to sell in a market. She calls it hustling. Her husband is a whitewater rafting guide and was away in South Africa. We met her two daughters—15-year old Tyra and 25-year old Kimberly, and her 28-year old son, Troy, his fiancé, Praise, and their one-year old son, Sia. Kim is a software developer, Troy is a waiter, Praise does event planning, and Tyra is a junior in high school and got a little help with her Chemistry homework from Sande and Darryl.

    The next day, we took a tour of the historic Victoria Falls bridge across the Zambezi River, which divides Zimbabwe and Zambia (formerly Northern and Southern Rhodesia). The tour started with a presentation by an actor portraying the bridge designer and chief construction engineer, Georges Imbault, a 22-year old Frenchman at the time he was hired on in 1903. He set the stage for us to understand what a feat of engineering this structure really is. It was fabricated at a steel factory in England, then shipped to Mozambique, and then transported by rail to Victoria Falls and put back together. The bridge was constructed simultaneously on each side of the river. At the end of a hot day, as the two sides were ready to be joined in the middle, it was found that they overlapped by about 1¼ inches and could not be riveted in place. Bad news! However, in the morning, it was found that the bridge had contracted in the cool of the night to exactly 1¼ inches, and the two sections were quickly connected.

    Soon it was time for our “inspection” of the bridge. Once suited up in harnesses with cable carabiners, we walked across the catwalk on the underside of the bridge, staying clipped into the cables all the while, and getting to see all of the details “Georges” pointed out. After reaching the Zambian side, we climbed up to the roadbed of the bridge and walked back into Zimbabwe (no passports required). A good tour!

    After lunch at the lush grounds of our hotel, we went in search of some handicrafts to bring home. After so little business for the past two years, the merchants are pushing their wares perhaps more aggressively than usual. It was a bit stressful, but we managed to find a few things we liked.

    Soon it was time for our sunset cruise on the mighty Zambezi River. The hippos were gathered in large groups, getting ready to head ashore to graze for the evening. But first they had to show us who’s boss by opening their mouths WIDE!

    Starting tomorrow, we head to the UK for a few days to break up the long trip home. It’s been fun sharing our African adventure with you, thanks for following along!
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  • Day18

    Safari by Boat and Jeep

    August 21 in Botswana ⋅ ☀️ 81 °F

    This is our last day in Botswana and final safari day before we head to Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe. A river boating excursion was part of our morning safari today. On the drive over, we saw our first hyenas, drinking at the water hole near our camp. Our guides said they were staying in the area to feed on the elephant carcass (along with the vultures).

    We drove farther into the (somewhat) wetter area of the delta, to a tributary where we would board dugout canoes called mokoro. They once were carved from wood, but the Botswana government became concerned about deforestation, so now they are all fiberglass. The locals use them for fishing, with a line or nets. They also use them to take tourists around, two at a time, with one man poling.

    We started poling downstream until a spotter saw a hippo in the river, coming our way. A lone hippo is likely a male who has been forced out of the group by the dominant male. That means they’ve probably lost a fight and are hurt and angry. Hippos are extremely dangerous to humans in the water. Our trip leader, Nash, lost a good friend that way while leading a canoeing trip together. I expect our local makoro guides had similar stories, because they made a quick turnaround, heading for shallow water, and the spotter even got out onto the riverbank and dragged his boat for awhile. Once we got farther away, it was safe to continue with our brief river safari.

    There wasn’t a lot happening on the river, although a couple of large male kudus came down to drink, and Egyptian geese were paddling around. It was very peaceful, and our guide was interesting.

    Back in the jeep after the river, we found a pride of lions guarding a different elephant carcass. Every now and then, one of the males would run toward a vulture who was interested in the elephant. We think the lions were saying that they weren’t finished with their meal, just resting.

    During the rest of our morning drive, we found two kinds of antelope we hadn’t seen before—the lechwe, one the most aquatic antelopes; and the tsessebe, a large, speedy antelope.

    The afternoon drive yielded nothing as exciting as a leopard or lion, but we were happy to find more Lilac-breasted rollers, zebras, jackals and an ostrich!
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  • Day17

    Lions, a Leopard & One Unlucky Impala

    August 20 in Botswana ⋅ ☀️ 79 °F

    In the morning, we set off with Gully to continue tracking the male lion and to see if it had found its buddy or its brother in the pride. We found the one male pretty easily, but the other one was nowhere to be found. He is an impressive beast, with a full mane. You can hear his call in the video as he’s trying to find his pal—same as what we heard overnight.

    While out in the bush, we saw a black-backed jackal, elephants, giraffes, warthogs, birds and a couple of‘slender mongoose.’ We also ran across the lionesses and their juveniles—no sightings of the mom with the cute cubs.

    The other jeep’s guide, Fahna, spotted drag marks and leopard tracks. He followed the tracks to a spot where where the leopard had stashed a freshly killed impala in a tree and was pacing below. By the time we got there, the leopard was eating away on its dinner in the tree.

    At our sundown happy hour, Darryl spotted a lion slowly making its way toward us. We all gathered near the two jeeps and soon it turned and walked away, whew!
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  • Day16

    Okavango Delta, Botswana

    August 19 in Botswana ⋅ ☀️ 75 °F

    We’ve flown about an hour south of Chobe National Park to Santawani Camp, a private concession run by Wilderness Safaris. It’s not fenced, like a private game reserve, but animals roam freely here and we can stay out on evening drives after dark. It also features a shallow watering hole within easy view of the camp main area and the tent cabins. All kinds of creatures wander down here to drink.

    After the warm greetings we’ve come to expect from Wilderness Safaris’ staff, and the tasty and healthy lunch, we went out on our first game drive. We are at the far edge of the Okavango Delta, which at this time of year is extremely dry. The upside is that mosquitoes are nearly non-existent (helped by cooler temperatures here—especially at night, brr!). Because we’re not in a national park, we can also drive anywhere. There is so much brush land, I don’t think we’re being too destructive—certainly not more than the elephants. Our guide, Gully, drives the Land Rover over small fallen logs, mows down sage brush, or whatever it takes to get to the wildlife. He’d gotten word on the radio about a female lion and some juvenile offspring (around 6 years old), so off we went. They were mostly resting, but it was still thrilling to see lions after not seeing them since our first days at the private reserve.

    Soon, we got word on the radio that our guide in the other jeep had found a mother lion with three baby cubs in the open. This is very unusual, since the mothers usually hide their babies in a den or deep brush to protect them from predators or a non-parent male. Non-parent males will kill babies to be able to establish their own pride of offspring. The little cubs were around 2 months old, a bit unsteady on their feet, and as playful as kittens—dried elephant dung, or mom’s tail, or a stick makes a great toy.

    After that, we went in search of papa lion. The guides felt that the mom didn’t hide the babies because papa was somewhere nearby. Soon we found him sitting near the hollowed out carcass of an elephant that had been killed a couple of days ago, possibly by him or another male in the pride. Vultures were circling, but they wouldn’t come near while the lion was there.

    A herd of elephants was hovering nearby, wanting to get to their fallen comrade. Elephants hold a type of memorial for their dead, where they gather around and stand completely still for a few minutes — even the babies don’t move an ear or make a twitch. They will do this even if they come upon an elephant skeleton that has been scattered by hyenas. They will push the bones together and hold their moment of silence.

    Another beautiful African sunset finished off the drive. During the night and part of the morning, the sound of a lion was disturbingly close to our tent cabin! But we learned later that the lion was just establishing its territory, and possibly looking for a pride-mate, and was not in hunting mode.
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  • Day15

    All-day Safari: Chobe National Park

    August 18 in Botswana ⋅ ⛅ 90 °F

    On most days, we would set out for a morning game drive around 7am until around 11am, then take an afternoon/evening drive beginning around 3:30 or 4pm. But because Chobe is so big, and because we have to be out of the park by 6:30pm, we maximized our allowable time today, going out for 8-9 hours straight (with stops for morning tea and lunch).

    Today we spent a lot more time near the river’s edge, watching storks (yellow-billed, Maribou and open-beaked), herons, great numbers of white pelicans, and so many more of the animals we’ve seen before, but never get tired of seeing. We got to observe more of how the elephant herd protects its young, circling around them as they walk, and making sure they are nearby adults at all times.

    Our lunchtime picnic was somewhat disturbed by mischievous vervet monkeys who stole from people’s plates if they weren’t watching carefully.

    We are fascinated by Baobab trees, which are unique looking and have an edible fruit. Some 500 years ago, before elephants were as prolific as they are now, large baobabs were everywhere. But now, the juvenile trees are munched down before they can grow to full-size.

    In the late afternoon, Ban (guide) gave a talk on Botswana’s policy around poachers. In the 1990s, Botswana’s rhino population had dwindled to 19 animals due to poaching of the animals for their horn. As we’ve mentioned before, poaching is a hugely organized (and well-armed) business.

    At that time, the 19 were sent to a sanctuary to breed, and in 2001 Botswana game wardens introduced 34 rhinos into the wild and monitored them with chips in their horns. But before long, they began losing rhinos and wardens. So in 2013, the government introduced a policy of shoot-to-kill; poachers get one warning and if they don’t surrender, they are shot. The rhino population increased to over 500 in the wild. In 2018, the new president suspended the policy due to conflicts with neighboring countries. Botswana has lost 92 rhinos since then. It’s a dilemma—should they protect the animals (and their tourism industry), or pay more attention to human rights?
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  • Day14

    Botswana Marshland Animals and Birds

    August 17 in Botswana ⋅ ☀️ 88 °F

    After breakfast, we set off with our guide, Ban, into Chobe National Park. We were going to meander along the river to see what we could see, but Ban heard on the radio that there were some lions out, which is pretty rare. So we zoomed along the bumpy, sandy road to the sighting. Two young males and three females were lounging in the shade in a protected brushy area, away from prying eyes (they thought!). Ban thought they may have had an early morning meal, as their bellies looked full and they were quite content to sleep or quietly watch us as we quietly watched them.

    After that, the other animals didn’t want to feel left out—with zebras, waterbucks, giraffes, elephants and baboons making an appearance. We saw a sable antelope for the first time, grazing among impala and zebras, until it decided they were infringing on its territory and chased them away. We also found a number of birds while out today, including a vibrant turquoise bird called a Greater blue-eared glossy starling, yellow-billed storks and a tawny eagle. We ended the day with some giraffes feeding at the water’s edge, splaying their legs to reach the ground, and a pride of lions thinking about hunting some Cape Buffalo.

    Earlier in the afternoon, a couple of village women came over to our camp to show us how they do basket weaving. It was interesting to hear how they dye the palm strands nowadays. Blue comes from carbon paper they get from the shops that use it for receipts; pink come from Kool-Ade; brown comes from rusty cans and bark. The women are part of a crafts collective, consisting of 11 women and 2 men. A simple plate-type basket takes 4-8 hours to make. Some larger baskets might take a month to finish.

    Each safari camp we’ve been to has its own guides, and they have all been so amazing—full of details about plants, animals and birds, as well as tidbits of knowledge from their time growing up in the village. The camps have all been run by a company called Wilderness Safaris, which sounds like a very responsible company. They hire most of their staff from the nearby community/villages, and during the COVID tourism shutdown, they supported not only their employees, but whole villages with food supplies. They also require guides to take refresher courses each year for three weeks to keep their knowledge up-to-date. Wilderness Safaris sends out auditors to ensure the camps are recycling waste properly and running the camps in a sustainable fashion.
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  • Day13

    Onward to Botswana

    August 16 in Botswana ⋅ ☀️ 90 °F

    After breakfast and fond farewells to all the Kafue Camp staff, a short jeep ride took us to the grass airstrip of “Lufupa International Airport,” as they call it.

    From there, we boarded a bus to take us to our next camp at Chobe National Park in Botswana. While still in Zambia, we stopped at a market for locals, to see the vast array of items on sale, including: bars of soap (you break off what you want from a long waxy-looking green bar), fresh vegetables, dried fish, spices, junky plastic Chinese items, and loads of used clothing. They’d rather have used clothes from the U.S. than the new items they get from China, because they are more durable. We talked to a vegetable seller about the small white eggplant she was selling and to a miscellany seller who asked us about our current and past president. Everyone speaks English here, along with their local dialect.

    Further along the way to camp, still in Zambia, we stopped at Mosi-oa-tunya National Park to see some white rhinos. Poaching is such a problem for white rhinos that in this small park, each rhino is assigned two rangers to guard them, each in 12-hour shifts to monitor and protect them.

    Crossing the border, we were at the junction of four countries—Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Baobab Safari Camp, our home for the next three nights, is located along the river that divides northern Botswana from Namibia. In a couple of months this river will dry up and it will be tough times for the animals (food and water-wise). In six months, it may be flooded and the animals will have plenty of food and water and will not cluster around the river like they do now.

    The afternoon game drive featured baboons with babies on their backs, giraffes browsing in the trees and a sunset happy hour at the river.
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  • Day12

    A Day on the Rivers

    August 15 in Zambia ⋅ ☀️ 88 °F

    Today was a dust-free, bounce-free day spent in shaded pontoon boats on the Kafue and Lufupa Rivers. Rafts of hippos were semi-submerged in the water, keeping their skin moist from the sun. If they ducked under the water completely, they’d come up spraying water like a whale. We were told that hippos don’t swim, they walk along the river bottom, sometimes munching on water plants—but they like land grasses better.

    Nile crocodiles lined the banks, and we were introduced to many native birds, including three varieties of kingfisher. The African fish eagle is the national bird of Zambia. Everyone knows its call because it is always played before the national news. The news is broadcast in the seven most dominant of the 72 different languages in Zambia (one for each tribe). English is the official language, making 73 languages in Zambia.

    In the middle of the day, between our river safaris, we had free time to play dice Catan in the lounge by the river. Later, Helen, the camp manager, gave a presentation on some of the traditions of Zambia, and showed us how they make peanut butter—which is used in everything from their morning porridge to their dinner vegetables (delicious!).

    With the cooler temperatures on our sunset cruise, some of the hippos had moved up to the banks and the crocs were a bit more active. Back in camp, our dinner featured fresh-caught tilapia, thanks to a couple of our fellow travelers and our guides.
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  • Day11

    Leopards and Warthogs

    August 14 in Zambia ⋅ ⛅ 73 °F

    Well, if the last park was all about elephants, this one (for us) will be all about leopards. It can be very rare to find leopards in the national park. The previous OAT group visiting Kafue didn’t see any for their three-day visit — so we know we are lucky.

    The grasslands were covered in mist as the sunrise glowed on the horizon for our morning game drive. The Puku, another type of antelope, were out grazing. We suspected a predator may be nearby since they were all looking one direction, and not at us. Sure enough, as we drove around some more, we found a leopard tracking a lone puku. But we were told that since the puku had its eyes on the leopard the whole time, the leopard was unlikely to attack. The puku can usually outrun a leopard, and are only caught if surprised. We were able to follow the leopard for awhile, going off-road in our jeep. We may have been within 100 feet of it. That was exciting!

    More driving took us past several different kinds of birds, more puku and impalas, and several interesting trees. The Ilala palm was originally planted along a route to water by the Portuguese, but now the palms are scattered all over. The fruit can be used to make wine, and the inner leaves are like cabbage (hearts of palm?). We saw a Giant Kingfisher catch a fish, and some colorful xx birds.

    We had just rounded a large termite mound when we heard squealing and saw a warthog running in circles at the base of a tree, clearly agitated. Up in the tree was a different leopard that had just caught it’s morning meal—a baby warthog. The mom walked away and the leopard stayed in the tree staring at us, all the while with the dead warthog in its jaws. Eventually it must have wanted to eat in peace, so it climbed down and walked into the bushes with its prey. The circle of life in action.

    Back at camp, we went on a little walk around camp, and were taught about more of the native plants and their medicinal and culinary uses. Along the way we saw a family of warthogs. The babies are pretty cute, the adults, not so much.

    The evening game drive was relatively uneventful, except for nearly being charged by an elephant! Apparently, the mom didn’t like us getting close to her baby. We were sitting in our jeep on the road, but mom seemed to be getting agitated—swinging her trunk around. Then suddenly, she flared out her ears, took some running steps toward us and trumpeted loudly. We cleared out in a hurry!

    Every evening at sundown, we have a little happy hour called a Sundowner. Tonight we stopped near the river and watched saddle-billed stork and hippos in the water as the sun glowed orange on the horizon.
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  • Day10

    Zimbabwean Coal Miner; Onward to Zambia

    August 13 in Zambia ⋅ ☀️ 84 °F

    Before we left Zimbabwe, we met with a coal miner who told us some sobering stories about the exploitation of the local workers. For a number of years, the workers weren’t receiving cash salaries—just housing and food parcels that weren’t enough for a large family. Now that Chinese investors have taken over the mines, meager salaries have returned, but safety and living conditions are no better. The miners do not have the financial means to access adequate food, medical care, and education (which is not free) for their families. The miners fear reprisal or loss of employment if they try to fight for better wages. With unemployment in the country in excess of 80%, they can’t just find other work; plus they’d have to find and pay for new housing.

    The Zimbabwean government does nothing to help—with such rampant corruption, the ministers and regulators are in lockstep with the new Chinese mine owners and benefiting financially. These talks are what OAT calls “controversial topics,’ meant to take visitors out of their comfort zone and teach us about things the government (or the world) may not want to talk about.

    On a more upbeat note, we got a quick drive-by visit to one of the primary schools the OAT foundation is supporting. A portion of our trip fees, along with private donations, provides books, computer and technical equipment, some teacher salaries and one free meal a day for needy students. On a less upbeat note, OAT has had to find a workaround to deal with the corrupt Zimbabwean government. For a while, the government was pocketing the donations of school funds. Now donations of school supplies go through Rotary International.

    Two 8-seater planes took our group to Kafue National Park in Zambia. Already, we could see that the land was a bit less dry. Our new camp, Lufupa River Camp, is located on the Kafue River. All of our tent cabins and the open-air dining room face the river. We can see hippos and the occasional croc in the river, and vervet monkeys live in the trees. We had a nice, musical greeting from all of the staff (see video).

    On our evening drive, we came a leopard just on the edge of camp. It was dark, so our photos are fuzzy, but we were all thrilled since we’d only had that one brief sighting back at the private reserve.
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