Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Trip Overview

By Chuck & Claire

Ultimate Africa. Amazing. A truly wonderful experience. 

We finally took another one of "those" trips, indulging life-long desires to see the wild animals of Africa in their natural habitat. Once again we decided that an organized tour would be the best way to see all that we wanted without all the drudgery of planning personal travel in remote, difficult areas--this view was buttressed by our reading of Paul Theroux's new book, The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari. We asked people who had used the services of OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) and determined to give them a try, especially since we would like to use someone who covers the globe, in order to use a known quantity in the future.

Elephants drink at a waterhole in Chobe National Park ... a village near Hwange National Park welcomes our small group ... the spray of Victoria Falls roars in the distance ... This is a partial record of our trip to South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Won't you join us for a brief while?

Staff singing a greeting upon our arrival at Baobab Safari Lodge.  We were not only surprised by this welcome, we were overcome. The beautiful harmony of the African chant and the open-hearted welcome of the staff moved us greatly.

Our first home in the Bush. The rule, after dark, is that no one walks outside without a guide to lead you.

The decor was lovely. We really didn't need the mosquito netting. It was cold, 41 degrees in the early morning; so they used heavy layers of bedding to keep us warm. Even after un-tucking the sheets, it was difficult to turn over, but it kept us warm!

Our first sunset. Since we were typically up at 5:30 a.m. in the Bush, we were able to enjoy many sunrises and sunsets.

The view from our deck. We often were awakened or kept awake by animal sounds at night--baboons, elephants and hippos mainly.

We spent two days seeking out game in Chobe National Park, the second-largest (and first-established) national park in Botswana.

Chobe National Park is home to one of the world’s largest elephant populations—the present herd is estimated at 50,000 animals. This enormous region offers variety in both wildlife and terrain. Riverine forest, flood plains, and mopane trees are home to large and small game.

"Our safari days follow this general pattern: After our morning game-viewing, we spent siesta time quietly during the heat of the day, followed by teatime in the late afternoon. Next we headed out for our afternoon game-viewing drive. In the evenings, just before sunset, we gather to soak in the magnificent views of the golden sun sinking behind a nearby watering hole. We then sit down to enjoy dinner together by candlelight."

"Large groups of giraffe amble about the land, and hyena, cheetah, leopard, and wildebeest may also be glimpsed in this thickly populated habitat. The birdlife here is spectacular, ranging from eagles and bustards to plovers and rollers, and bee-eaters bustle near their sandbank nests. There are also water birds, such as egret, ibis, and heron, along the river."

Our Safari Land Rover. These were essential for travel on the rough dirt and sand roads. We often rode in the back seat, which has extra elevation, but is colder and bouncier.

Our first real game sighting. This hyena was gnawing on a cape buffalo carcass when we stumbled upon him early in the morning on our way to the game preserve.

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing this cheetah. This is the fastest land animal, in case you had forgotten; it can reach speeds of 70 mph. 

We got to watch him for a long time. It had its kill and wasn't going to move for us. But cheetah are not particularly agressive and will not fight large predators to keep its prey.

Elephants were plentiful in Botswana.  This mini-parade of mother and child simply passed in front of us.

This meditating baboon set the standard for mindful watching. 

We were extremely fortunate to happen upon this leopard parked in the middle of the road. 

There are several categories frequently used in Africa--the Big Five, The Ugly Five and the Small Five. The Big Five consists of trophy animals: Elephant, Rhinoceros, Cape Buffalo, Lion, and Leopard. We saw them all--but one was slightly cheating: The Rhinos were in a private reserve and we suspect that they may have been released for our viewing.

The Ugly Five consists of Wildebeest, Marabou Stork, Warthog, Hyena, and Hippopotamus. We were fortunate to see all five of these as well.

The Small Five consists of Elephant Shrew (rodent), Rhinoceros Beetle (insect), Buffalo Weaver (bird), Ant Lion (insect), and Leopard Tortoise (reptile). We saw the middle three.

This magnificent tree provided shade for our afternoon tea break. Plant and animal species have clever ways of taking care of themselves. Zebra fawn have long legs which helps them to disguise themselves from predators. Trees have bitter sap or thorns to keep browsers at bay; the mopane sends bitter tannin to its leaves on the western side once a browser starts to feed upon it. It also signals other mopane trees in the area that browsers are present. Clever browsers like the kudu start feeding on the west and then move to the eastern side.

Our guides provided us with coffee, tea, soft drinks, wine or cocktails. A gin and tonic, one peaceful afternoon, was a respite highlight. 

Elephants sometimes did not mind our presence. But, they got testy--and noisy--when we were near their young ones. 

This Prince of the Jungle is about 4 years old. It is just about time for him to establish his own pride.

Picnic in the Bush

Our first sighting of the infamous wart hog--one of Africa's Ugly Five. We saw a number of sounders of these. 

Relaxing near a waterhole during our afternoon tea break.

This cute vervet monkey was curious about our accommodations and kept looking in on us. 

A grazing herd of impala shelters on a protected spit of land in the river.

Tracking these young lions was easy at this point. 

These siblings plot strategy as they consider whether to bother with the cape buffalo herd, nearby, or the impala further down the beach.

After interrupting our late afternoon tea time by walking down the beach, this fellow decided to cool off and enjoy the sunset. 

Fording the stream

Our next lodge is a private Wilderness Tented Camp adjacent to the border of the Moremi National Park in the northern region of the Okovango Delta.

Our accommodations at our second lodge

Our complimentary laundry service, nicely returned to us. But, for cultural reasons, we had to wash our own "smalls" while in the Bush. We have no idea how that term came into use. 

Typical African sunset

Next, we flew by aircraft to Kasane and transferred by road and boat to Livingstone, where we took a light aircraft transfer to the Lufupa Tented Camp in Kafue National Park in Zambia. One of Zambia’s most impressive parks, Kafue is one of the first to join an initiative to link the national parks of five African countries into what will eventually become a 108,000-square-mile park, to be known as the Kvango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (also the Okavango-Upper Zambezi TFCA).

"Kafue is home to the greatest diversity of mammals in Zambia, with 55 large mammal species, including six varieties of large cat and 20 hooved species. Leopard and lion prowl the area around the Lufupa Channel in search of warthog, hartebeest, and the elegant puku, an antelope found only in Zambia and the Congo."

"Kafue is one of the continent’s largest national parks—at 8,600 square miles, it is roughly the size of the entire state of New Jersey. Kafue’s habitats span riverine forests, floodplains, woodlands, and dambos (open grasslands)." 

Our sister plane during one of our internal transfer flights

Posing giraffe. We knew that many species of animal have group names. We discovered that giraffe have three: tower (when standing), journey (when walking) and stride (when galloping). A single male giraffe is a cop. 

Kudu. Note the strips on the side. 

Our ride in a mokora (dugout canoe--actually fiberglass these days) in the Okavango Delta.

A dazzle of zebra and a herd of impala.

Chuck cruising on the Okovanga Delta in a Mokora 

Cruising down the river in Zambia

One of the lovely birds we enjoyed--a lilac-breasted roller

Returning home after our river cruise

The top of a hippo. They are often found in groups called pods, rafts, schools or bloats. They are actually dangerous, accounting for many deaths in Africa. "The hippo is extremely aggressive, unpredictable and unafraid of humans, upsetting boats sometimes without provocation and chomping the occupants with its huge canine teeth and sharp incisors. Most human deaths occur when the victim gets between the hippo and deep water or between a mother and her calf." You are in danger from their ground-rumbling charges--if you find them bellowing loudly, swinging their heads like giant sledgehammers, the massive open mouth and jumping up and down.

End of a beautiful day floating down the Zambezi

Sunset on the Zambezi River

Next, we transferred to Linkwasha Camp near Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe via Victoria Falls. Our lodge here is located on a private reserve and offers unrestricted views of a watering hole, the broad, savannah grasslands, and acacia woodlands.

Our lodging in Zambia

Our room

The outdoor shower with a wide-open view of the savannah.  We never used the inside shower.

The pool is often visited by elephants.

If you are quiet and on the far side, they sometimes walk up and take a drink; the pool is raised, so there is no chance they will step on you. But, you do need to keep your cool.

The view back to the veranda from the pool

Claire at the pool

Fashionable lounge-wear, provided by the camp

View from the veranda

In the lounge

Dining Hall

Morning omelets in 41 degree weather. 

Part of the educational experience in Zimbabwe was visiting an elementary school partially supported by The Grand Circle Foundation, parent of OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel). We also enjoyed a Day in the Life of a nearby village.

The 6th grade class who hosted us

Two charming boys at the village school 

Sandile, one of the children, in her classroom

We also discovered the local culture and traditions in a Zimbabwe village by speaking with the Headman, whose first name is Johnson, and touring his homestead.

Our first glimpse of Headman Johnson of the school's village

Elephant ride on La Duma with Heritage, her trainer. More comfortable than we expected. 

 Claire feeding La Duma

Chuck gets a turn. Elephant trunks have a thumb and a finger at the open, grasping end; and, they do slobber a bit.

Our farewell evening in Zimbabwe was special. We first listened to the captivating rhythms of an African drum circle and watched the staff dance. Drum circles are communal events, regardless of experience, and we were encouraged to join in with our travel companions. This was followed by a tasty farewell dinner. Next day we moved on to Victoria Falls. When Claire first mentioned a trip to Africa, I said "Any trip that includes Victoria Falls."

Victoria Falls more than three quarters of a mile wide and is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World

"These awe-inspiring cataracts, whose African name (Mosi-oa Tunya) means 'the smoke that thunders,' are nearly twice as high as Niagara, one and a half times as wide, and generate three [five?!] times as much water. On a clear day, you can see the mist sprayed into the air from these crashing waters from more than 50 miles away. At peak flood times, 1.4 billion gallons of water per minute pass over its edge."

On our guided tour, we explore walking trails and lookout points—each with different views. There are five main cataracts, including the most dramatic, the Main Falls and Devil’s Cataract. The flora around the falls is naturally profuse: You’ll see ebony, fig trees, and many flowering species. The rain forest surrounding the falls is particularly lush, fed by Victoria’s perpetual spray.
Some of the viewing points of the Falls are quite misty. Thus, the need for the rain gear.I actually got soaked; fortunately, I dried out before our departure back to the hotel.

Stylish Rain Gear

More Stylish Rain Gear

Helicopter view of the Falls. We figured we'd never return, so we unexpectedly splurged at several points on the trip.

High Tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel

Lounge in the Victoria Falls Hotel. There was an excellent pianist in the (unseen) corner playing his stylings of African themed music--utterly delightful.

View from hotel grounds, looking back at the rear of the hotel and the High Tea patio.

The Zimbabwe-Zambezi Bridge, completed in 1904 as part of Cecil Rhodes plan to build a railroad from Cape Town to Cairo. The bridge still stands, but the project was never fully completed.

Claire, Lynn and Chuck gear up for a walk across the bridge catwalk.

The intrepid trio mid-way across the bridge.

Victoria Falls as seen from the underside of the bridge.

Our room at the Rainbow Hotel at Victoria Falls

Rainbow Hotel and pool

A lecture on David Livingstone on the morning of our departure by Russell, a guide in Victoria Falls, was a highlight and a surprise. After reading Paul Theroux's The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari I was ready to dismiss Dr. Livingstone as a failed explorer and missionary; but Russell successfully argued that it was his extraordinary influence in abolishing the Southern Africa slave trade that is his greatest legacy. He is a national hero in Zimbabwe and there are statues of him and his two loyal servants at Victoria Falls and at the airport.

In addition, he logged many thousands miles of perilous travel at great cost to himself, his traveling companions and his (absent) family. "Livingstone was one of the first Westerners to make a transcontinental journey across Africa, Luanda on the Atlantic to Quelimane on the Indian Ocean near the mouth of the Zambezi, in 1854–56." Further, "He was the first European to see the Mosi-oa-Tunya ("the smoke that thunders") waterfall (which he renamed Victoria Falls after his monarch, Queen Victoria); he later wrote, 'Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.'"

Finally "his fame as an explorer helped drive forward the obsession with discovering the sources of the River Nile that formed the culmination of the classic period of European geographical discovery and colonial penetration of the African continent." 

Our wonderful guide, Naume, introduced us to her lovely children our last night in Victoria Falls. She and her family live there. We were so sorry to leave her behind at this point. But, the Ultimate Africa trip was over and we were to leave for the Cape Town extension the next morning.

Kirstinbosch Botannical Gardens in Cape Town. Developed on land donated to the country by Cecil Rhodes. "With Table Mountain as its backdrop, a bevy of bays at its feet, and the lushest foliage this side of paradise, Cape Town arguably occupies one of the most spectacular natural settings on Earth." Botanist Ronald Good identified six floristic kingdoms (Boreal or Holarctic, Neotropical, Paleotropical, South African, Australian, and Antarctic), the largest natural classification units he determined for flowering plants. Good's six kingdoms are subdivided into smaller units, called provinces. According to our guide, Ian, the tiny Cape Floristic Region of South Africa has more floral diversity than all of Great Britain.

Table Mountain in the morning at 37 degrees

View of the Lion's head and tail, with Saddleback Mountain forming the body

African Penguin--short but cute, with interesting markings

More members of the colony at Boulder Beach, South Africa

Cape Point, South Africa, seen from the old lighthouse

Claire at the Cape of Good Hope. We also got to see our only pride of ostriches on the side of the mountain, here.

This was our second winery visit on an  optional tour to the Stellenbosch Wine Country. Beautiful site.

A typical view of the Stellenbosch landscape from our first winery visit

We were able to do a driving tour of several Townships in Cape Town. It was raining, so we did not walk through any. South Africa is still somewhat race conscious, though there are areas where living is mixed, with income being a primary barrier to home purchase.

We were later privileged to have a home visit and meal with a family and friends of "Coloreds;" this was a scheduled part of the trip experience. They seem to believe that they have not really made any progress on the socio-politico-economic scale--they were in the middle of the racial classification scheme when Whites were politically dominant and are still there now that Africans are. The remaining category, Indians, is presumably in the much the same position as Coloreds.

"We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity" ~ Oliver Tambo