Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Hemingway Safari: Leaving the Kalihari Lions (Part 11)

Our last morning hearing “Good morning” and zip zip, as our water is delivered. The big full moon is still up as we get our coffee around the campfire, hating to go. But, all too soon, it is time to load our bags into the truck and head for the airstrip. It is cold. I have my sweater on over my dress. Both Godfrey and Paul, at separate times, admire my long Saudi dress, and tell me with approval that I look like an African woman. I am just glad that there are also blankets available in the truck, as it is really, really cold in the desert.

I am even more glad for the blanket a couple hours later, when Godfrey slows the truck, and then stops. In the middle of the road, not 100 yards away, are two lions. Big young male lions. They show no fear, and, in fact, one starts walking purposefully toward the truck. He eventually turns back, but as we begin to leave, he turns back for another look. Now, there are three of them. The biggest keeps walking toward us, and walks to the side of the truck, the side where I am sitting. Godfrey tells us just to keep still, and all that he has taught us about lions goes through my mind. Sit still, look him in they eye so he will know you are dominant and not afraid.

We’ve seen lions before, in Chobe, in Moremi, and in these more heavily travelled game parks, I think the animals know you aren’t a threat. Most of the time, they just tolerate you presence, or slowly walk away. And, my friends, I am looking this lion in the eye. He is four feet from me. And I know sees me. And I don’t think he thinks I am a part of the diesel and rubber smell, he looks amused, and intrigued, and . . .hungry.

I have seen my cats look at little mice the same way. And I am aware that we have no gun, and no real weapon. There is a shovel, but it is attached to the front bumper. The jack is on the rear bumper. There are thermoses, but they are in the wicker baskets. I am sitting her with nothing but a blanket and a camera, and this big interested looking lion is within pouncing distance. And he doesn’t think I am dominant. And he is very, very close. “Godfrey, DRIVE” I say, and I can hear AH and Angela breathe again; we’ve all been holding our breaths. Godfrey drives, very slowly, and the three young males lope along behind us.

I will add, that while I was sitting motionless with terror, eye to eye with the Kalihari lion, my husband was sitting just behind me, shooting photos over my shoulder.

What if we had had the flat tire in the middle of all this, we wonder? How would we change a tire? Godfrey says, you just wait until they go away. Waiting out a lion could take a LONG time, and it would seem even longer.

Then, out in front of the truck steps a female, and she has wounds. Godfrey drives very slowly, very carefully, for a wounded lion is a far less predictable lion. We are nearly giddy with relief when we finally get free of the lions, who lope along behind us for quite a while. The road is sand, and we can’t drive very fast.

My Adored Husband is totally annoyed that he ran out of film in the middle of the episode; I had film but I didn’t want to shoot while I was busy maintaining eye contact with the lion. (As it turns out, he did get one really good shot of the lion, a very beautiful shot, the lion is light gold against the white wheat of the background, and I love the shot.) The adreneline is still pumping. We made it to the airstrip just in time, in spite of the time we spent with the Kalihari lions.

Time to say goodbye to Godfrey, climb aboard our last little Cessna and leave the bush. What a way to go! Our flight to Maun is uneventful. Maun is a funny little airport, very small. We find a couple gift shops – we haven’t been spending anything out in the bush – and we deliver a message to Afro-Ventures from Godfrey, telling them he needs more information on his next safari. He has a full contingent of seven for the safari, a reverse of ours, starting in the Kalihari, just hours after we leave. They promise they will radio him the information.

We are not the same people as before we went to Botswana. We miss our camp. We loved this trip. You have to be able to endure the bumps and lumps of the overland drive to handle this particular trip, Afro Ventures’ Botswana a la Hemingway, but there are other ways, there are trips where you fly from destination to destination, and stay mostly in lodges. You would still experience much of what we experienced, just not the camping portion.

AfroVentures and CCAfrica merged, and we don’t think you can get a better combination of knowledgeable guides and gracious accomodations. Every single day of our journey exceeded expectations. It was a grand adventure. Thanks for coming along.
grumeti-lion.JPG
This lion is actually a Grumeti lion from Tanzania, but I wasn’t digital yet when we travelled Botswana.

http://ccafrica.com

September 21, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cultural, ExPat Life, Travel | , , , , | 2 Comments

The Hemingway Safari: The Kalihari (Part 10)

The next morning, we take it easy, late breakfast, get all packed up and are ready for our short trip to the airstrip. Our pilot is Collin McAlister, again, which we find delightful. And this time, I don’t even feel the least bit claustrophobic. I LIKE flying this way, where you stow your own bag, you get on, fly, get off, grab your bag – it is SO efficient!

This flight is totally different from the last one, in that we go from the lushness of the Okavango Delta into the dry Kalihari. Now the Kalihari airstrip seems remote enough when we see Godfrey there to meet us, but we still have a four hour drive in front of us to the Deception Valley camp site. Godfrey has put the canvas top over the wagon which protects us from the hottest part of the sun, but still we can see out.

Godrey points out to us the tiny melons growing along the side of the road, and says that the lions eat them for water, as there is no source of water in the middle of the desert. There were some pumps, but there was an earthquake and the pipes broke. Later, on one of our game drives, we see a crew out in the middle of way-far-out-nowhere, and they are repairing the pipes so that one day the water holes will function again. We also see a tiny green desert hibiscus flower.

We have never seen such a bleak landscape. It is hard to believe that this land can support any life at all, but . . . Godfrey shows us wonders. One of the first is an entire herd of gigantic male kudus, very large deer-like animals with beautiful twisted antlers. They can bound over very high fences, and make it look easy. We saw this, on the long drive to our camp site, the fences were over 7 feet high, and these huge antelope sailed over at a gallop. It takes our breath away.

We also saw ostrich, many of them, male and female, and they always run away when we get close. When they run, they really bounce from side to side, and look very comical, like ballerinas running off-stage.

We have to stop several times to go through gates into the Kalihari game reserve. We want to see the lions, the lions of the Kalihari, the great, very wild lions we have heard about. We don’t see any on the four hour ride to our camp, but we have seen so much that it hardly matters. And we are grateful to sink into our familiar beds in our familiar tents, to have a hot shower, and a rest before the afternoon game drive.

As we come into camp, John and Richard are leaving in the big truck, to go get water. We use water very sparingly, but supporting life out on the desert means you have to bring in everything. John and Richard will drive a couple hours to the water station, will fill and drive back. The water is a little red. We don’t drink it, and we keep our mouths shut when we shower.

During our late afternoon game drive, we see a Cape Fox running through a herd of steinbok, and just as the light is failing, Godfrey spots a cheetah walking through the grass a few hundred yards away. We watch until darkness falls and we can’t see it any longer.

By this time, our ears have adjusted and we can understand Godfrey almost perfectly. When he says the steinbok dig for “tubas”, we know it is not musical instruments, but tubers. When he says “maybe he feign-ed illness, I don know”, we understand that maybe Paul was sick and maybe he wasn’t. We know that the “red boo boo shirke” is the red breasted shrike. We have come to admire and respect Godfrey immensely. He has so much knowledge of the animals and birds and trees and flowers, and also he manages the staff so well, keeps them operating smoothly under very extreme conditions AND keeps all the equipment well maintained.

We admire his driving ability. You would have to see the roads we are on to understand, the narrow, one lane, unpaved roads. Sometimes rocky, mostly sandy and always rutted and full of holes. In the Kalihari, there is the additional challenge of aardvark holes. The aardvark loves digging in the roads, as the roads are clear of brush. But aardvarks dig HUGE holes.

Back in camp, the lanterns are glowing in front of our tents, Dorcas meets us with hot washcloths, and oh, glory, there is a huge full moon rising over our camp. Here we are in the Kalihari desert, and we never want to leave.

I DO miss the sound of the elephants and hippos, and I don’t hear any lions. Even the birds are quieter here, no owls. It is very, very quiet. And then, there is that huge, full moon. We are in heaven. For dinner that night, Sky serves chicken in peanut sauce, and oh, it is delicious. The next morning when we stop for mid-morning tea and coffee, we find he has made sandwiches with the leftovers, and we are delighted. On this morning’s game run we see mongoose, an aardwolf, and a bat-eared fox. Four days in the Kalihari, and where are the lions?

We take a full day game drive to far away places. We see a solitary giraffe, and wonder how on earth he survives? He is very old, you can tell by his very dark color, Godfrey tells us. We set up for lunch under a huge tree. Godfrey looks up, and while we don’t see a leopard, we know a leopard has been there, as there is a dessicated springbok carcass high in the tree, where the leopard left it.

We get to see the springbok springing, which is a lot like the pronking of the impala, and we see a red haartebeast, and a brown hyena, all very rare, but still, no lions. We do see lion poop, Godfrey tells us we know it is lion poop because it has fur in it.

On our way back to the camp, at the end of a long day, we have the first, and only, flat tire of our trip, and the cause is a thorn. Not just any old thorn, this thorn is as thick and strong as an iron spike. It is astonishing how fast Godfrey and Paul change the tire. The tires are big, thick, sturdy tires, and we are amazed that this is the first and only one we have had. And at the same time, we haven’t seen anyone else for hours. If we didn’t have a spare, or if we lost a tire AND a second tire, we would be very very isolated out here in the middle of the desert. It is a soboring thought. The kind of thought you don’t think before you make a trip like this or you might not make the trip at all! 😉

We are back in camp this last night of our journey about 5, early for us, but we have been out all day, and we have to be packed to leave the next morning BY seven, in order to make it to the airstrip for our pickup.

Godfrey prides himself on being reliable, and says if you get a bad reputation for not being on time the bush pilots can refuse to do your pick ups. Not only does he deliver people promptly, but he always has tea/coffee/sodas and sandwiches available to offer to the pilots, and from talking with Collin, we know that this is exceptional and remarkable. But Godfrey is a very unusual person, and we have watched him now for two weeks, and learned that a lot of his success comes from taking his time with people, talking with them, building relationships and consensus. We kid him that one day he will probably be president of Botswana, but Godfrey says he will be happy to be president of the Tour Guide association.

September 20, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Environment, ExPat Life, Travel | , | 2 Comments

The Hemingway Safari: Nxabexa (Part 9)

The next morning we are going on the mokoro ride. The mokoro is a very narrow little canoe, and they are going out into the swamp with men who use poles to take the canoes on a shallow water safari. You don’t want to get into too deep water, as there are hippos, who are very mean and ugly when you get into their territory. They are also very fast for creatures their size, and lethal. There are also mosquitos.

All in all, I just figure I NEED a quiet morning to myself. I love my sweet husband, and from time to time I just NEED some alone time. Coffee and tea, and small cookies are delivered in a wicker basket at 6:30, even small flasks of milk. AH pours me coffee and gets ready to leave. I am looking forward to a leisurely shower, wash my hair – I know there is a hair dryer. So I go to the shower (zip zip zip zip) and then discover there is no conditioner so I have to go back into the cabin, already dripping wet (zip zip zip zip – zip zip zip zip) and I have to laugh; it is a good thing I am not in a hurry!

I spend the morning reading magazines, updating my little notebook, and I can hear voices as they sail off in front of the cabin in their little Mokoros. There are all sorts of odd noises, including a crashing sound on my tent at odd intervals. As it warms up, I sit out on my deck and meet a young monkey friend. We play a game, he bobs his head up and down and I bob back. Who is imitating whom? He scrambles up the tree, drops onto my tent and slides down, grabs another branch and within seconds is back bobbing at me. Now I understand that crashing sound!

One of the nicest things at Nxebega is that throughout the day, you can hear singing coming from various parts of the camp. There is a safe in our cabin, but since we left Victoria Falls, there have been no locks, just tent flaps – zip zip zip zip. After a while, we no longer even thought about it. Nothing is taken. We even have gotten used to the whole tent flap thing – zip down, zip sideways, step in, zip sideways, zip up. At night, you also zip the outer flaps, so then you have four zips to get in and another four to close back up. And you just do it.

At dinner this night there are two tables, as Nxebega has it’s full capacity of guests- 20 people. AH and I and Angela sit with Ashleigh and Steve, and an Italian couple. It is a lovely evening, full of great conversation. Dinner is a roasted tomato soup, a lamb tagine with couscous (which even AH loves, and he doesn’t usually like lamb) and dessert is a brownie with caramel sauce.

We love being at Nxebaga. We love the genuine hospitality and the beauty of the place. At night, you hear a tinkling sound, it is the painted green frog. Each frog has a slightly different pitch, and when they all sing together, it sounds like wind chimes, or some very modern kind of music. I just love the sound.

In the middle of the night, we can hear elephant sounds, loud loud trumpeting, more than one elephant. The next day, Steve tells us that it sounded like a bull elephant in “must”, but that when a lion attacks an elephant baby, and all the elephants wail and wail, it is truly a horrible sound. We hope never to hear such a tragic sound.

September 19, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Hemingway Safari: Moremi & Nxabexa (Part 8)

On the next morning’s game run, we see TWO cheetas, and oh my, are they lovely. They pose for us, get up and walk around for us. Well, not really for us, but as if we aren’t there, which is what we really like. We watch as long as we can, and then go watch the hippos.

For lunch, Sky has fixed vegetable crepes. Now is this living, or what? That afternoon, we go to the other side of that rickety bridge to game hunt. As we near the Gametrackers lodge, we see two little boys walking along. They stop Godfrey and ask “have you seen lions?” These guys DON’T want to see lions, they are afraid of the lions. Godfrey assures them we haven’t seen anything between them and the village. They are barefoot, and I hope they can run really fast if they see the lion.

When we return, we have a guest for dinner, Natalie, who is taking over the camp site with her crew on the next day, for another touring group. It is fun having a fresh face, and fresh stories to hear around the dinner table. Sky has fixed roast beef with fried rice, a green salad and pears poached in port!

Early the next morning, Godfrey hands us vouchers for our flights and for our stay at Nxebega Lodge. We drive over the rickety bridge one last time (I’m praying my way over this bridge every time we cross) and leave Moremi, heading toward an air strip. We get there a few minutes early, and watch our little plane arrive, with Collin, our pilot. First he shows us on a map where we will be flying, and goes over a few safety rules. We stow our bags and climb in – it is a Cessna 210 and only seats four comfortably, although two more could crowd into the very back.

Collin is one of the happiest people I have ever met – he has a sandwich and soda which Godfrey has offered him, and then we take off. This is the part of the trip I have dreaded, the flight in the small plane, but Collin McAlister is very confidence inspiring. He is small and lean, and one of those people we have met, one of many, who loves Africa and loves what he is doing. Mostly, his air service is like a taxi, taking eco-tourists from remote airstrip to remote airstrip. I’m not at all worried about his competence, but I DO find myself feeling a little claustrophobic once we get in the air. I shut my eyes, lean back, pray for a calm spirit, and within minutes, all is well.

I really love taking photos of the changing landscape. In a mere 45 minutes, we see Nxebexa spelled out in sandbags, and we land. Pick up our bags, say goodbye to Collin and meet Tsabo, who is waiting with the jeep to pick us up and take us to the lodge. At the lodge, we are met with hot washcloths, a refreshing big glass of guava juice, and a warm welcome.

Steve, the manager, takes us to our cabins, we drop our bags and come back for lunch, which, once again, has been held late for us. At this point, however, we understand how very gracious this is, as lunch is most often served at 11:30 and tea at 3 or 3:30, so when they hold lunch late for us, it puts the staff behind on setting up for tea.

Lunch includes pizza! It is breakfast food and lunch food, and there is both a buffet AND they are asking us what we would like from the kitchen. There is so much good stuff on the buffet, pizza, good vegetables, salads, etc, and we are just fine without special ordering anything.

Every now and then, you can look at life and see a pivotal moment. Our time at Nxebega was pivotal on our journey. Until now, we are just awed by the total experience. At Nxebega, we begin to understand more clearly that something unusual is happening in our lives. That “x” after the “n” in Nxebega is actually not an “x” as we say it in English, but a glottal stop. Most English speakers actually pronounce it Na’ah-beh-ha.

As AH and I sit down to eat our lunch, Anne comes by to chat with us, hospitably, as is the custom in these very small, intimate lodges. We ask her to join us, and have a 15 minute conversation. We learned a lot in that 15 minutes. Anne had a grant to study the impact of high end/eco tourism on the environment, and has been comparing that impact in Nepal, Antarctica and Botswana. You can see by her interactions with Steve, the manager, and the staff, that she has fallen totally in love with Botswana, and she has misgivings about eco-tourism.

Botswana’s focus on high end tourism, protecting the game to attract tourists and providing luxurious surroundings to cosset them as opposed to the Kenya model, going for the groups and high volume travel, is enlightened, but Anne has some reservations about the impact on the Botswanan people. For example, she says, none of the tourists take the time to learn even a few words in Setswana. They address all the help in English.

Just the night before, AH had asked Godfrey for a few words, and, thank God, wrote them down. He has even used them – saying hello and thank you in Setswana, but now I try really hard to learn them, too, and feel really really really bad that I haven’t. Other places we go, we speak the languages, or at least a few phrases. How could we have been so rude? Listening to Anne is fascinating.

Steve, the manager of the lodge joins us too (this is one of the amazing things about the hospitality in Botswana, this kind of personal time and attention) and we learn SO much that puts our experiences in perspective. One of the neatest things of all is that almost every time we ask the question “How did you get here?” we got an answer that knocked our socks off. When I asked Steve how he got there, he laughed and said “I fought and clawed my way to be here!” Later, when we had another opportunity to chat, we learned that he has worked in many places around the world, born in South Africa, but loves Botswana and wants to be a part of it’s future. And this is what we are beginning to learn, from Godfrey and his family, from Steve, and Ashleigh, and Anne, from the kitchen workers, from the game trackers, from the gate keepers and the soldiers – they love Botswana, and they believe in the future of Botswana, and will fight and work their bottoms off to be a part of what they believe, with all their hearts, will be Botswana’s future success.

What we didn’t know, until just minutes later, was that this was Anne’s last day. As we were exploring Nxebega, we heard singing, and when we found it, at the entrance to the lodge, we found Anne being seranaded by the Nxebega staff, singing they love her and will miss her. Anne was sitting on the jeep waiting to take her to the air strip, and sobbing. As we watched the very heartfelt farewells, we believed with all our hearts that Anne is another one of the true believers, who will be back to do her part to ensure that Botswana has a positive future.

Physically, let me tell you what Nxebega looks like. It is stunning. It looks a lot like the Florida Everglades, it is swampy and marshy and full of life. In the middle of a hot and arid country, a river flows great volumes until it just disappears. Most rivers run into the ocean; this river flows into a desert and evaporates.

We were visiting at the end of the rainy season, when it is all greatly green and watery, and it is nothing short of stunningly beautiful. Think palm trees and palmettos, think high grasses and lots and lots of wildlife. Herds of elephants, giraffe, baboons, leopards, cheetahs, lions, and oh, that is just the beginning. The area is really known for it’s beautiful birds!

We have a tent with a wooden floor, covered with coir carpeting. To get into the bath area, which is open to the out of doors, you have to unzip the two zippers of the inner flap and the two zippers of the outer flap. If you don’t keep these zipped, you have flies, or snakes or . . . baboons! You might have something else, thirsty or hungry! So you very conscientiously zip zip zip zip every time you need to go into the toilet/shower/sink/ dressing room area.

They have a generator, like at Savute, it is buried and soundproofed with sandbags, so that you can’t hear it. The generator comes on at 5 in the morning and goes off at 11:00 at night. Your bedside lights are run off batteries, so you CAN use them after 11, but you run down the batteries if you do. Besides, we are so exhausted every day that it is lights out for us by 9:30 or 10:00 every night. We have a terrace on our tent, looking out over the swamp. And a beautiful shower, Nxebega is SO clean. No insects in our tent, not a smudge. Lots of great magazines to read, and materials about Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. There is even a very good gift shop, with lots of fun things.

While we are picking up a few things, we talk more with Steve and Ashleigh about eco-tourism, about the politics in an emerging country, and about the difficulty of maintaining a resource intensive luxurious bush lodge way out in the middle of nowhere. All supplies have to be brought in from Maun, a safari jumping off place. Much of the produce is brought into Maun from South Africa. They never know for sure what they will get or not get, so their menu planning has to be flexible, and they have to be able to fix a lot of things themselves. The employees often come from far away, and they live right at the lodge, and go into Maun, or home only every now and then.

Keeping trained employees is a constant concern. One time, Steve, the manager, was going into Maun, 6 hours away, to pick up supplies and had a breakdown with his truck. As it was just a quick go-into-Maun, pick-things-up-and-come-back kind of trip, he didn’t even grab a water bottle on his way out, and ended up passing out from dehydration along the side of the road. Meanwhile, people in Maun had seen a truck a lot like his, and so everyone thought he really was in Maun. By the time someone passed him on the road and got him to a hospital, he was nearly dead. Now, he never goes anywhere without a water bottle! And a radio!

There is no electric fence around Nxebega to keep the animals out, and we are told that sometimes the game trackers go out looking and looking for leopard, and while they are out, a pair of leopards will walk right through the camp. One day recently, a family of monkeys were playing around the swimming pool and a baby monkey fell in. The monkeys were screeching and screaming and they can’t swim, so the baby was just drowning, and Steve fished it out with the skimmer.

Ashleigh, the assistant manager, says they have to keep the menus flexible. They have a two week revolving menu, but she likes to find new recipes to try so that the staff doesn’t get bored and stale. I have four of her recipes; the food at Nxebega was knock-your-socks off good! We went out for a game drive with our guide, Sami, who looked and sounded like a teacher, if teachers looked like Morgan Freeman (American actor).

We had a great time, At sundown, we stopped for drinks – and to watch the giraffes gracefully crossing the setting sun. Later our guard picks us up for dinner and we gather in the lounge, discussing the day, your game drives, etc. with the other guests.

There is a man from South Africa, with his three very lovely college-age daughters, and a South African couple, us, the Italians . . . and that’s it! Nine people. They make drinks or serve wine, and they have big servers full of hot mixed nuts. Then, dinner is served and all go into the dining room where one long table is set with candles. Dinner the first night was parsnip soup, beef sassouie (sort of stew) polenta, grilled peppers and for dessert, a walnut baklava with ginger ice cream. By the end of the ginger ice cream (total WOW) we just want to fall into our beds.

We are handed our wool covered hot water bottles on our way out. In the middle of the night, I wake up and I need to use the toilet, but I can’t find my flashlight. I’m not desperate, but I am a little scared, and I know that AH will wake up eventually, which he does, and when he goes into the bathroom (zip zip zip zip), I go too, but when he leaves he takes the light with him! I do NOT want to be alone in the bathroom with no light! It is very very dark, there is no ambient light in the sky. So I make him come back in, I finish and then zip zip zip zip, back to bed.

September 18, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cross Cultural, Social Issues, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Hemingway Safari: Moremi (Part 7)

We are eager, we are awake early, it was barely dawn, so AH and I decided we could walk to breakfast without an escort. Just as we hit the main path to the lodge, we heard “ROOAAAAARR Roooaaaaarrrr, ROOOOOOAAAAARRRR” and I can tell you, it sounded like they were right on our heels. The earth shook! AH laughed as I nearly ran all the way to the lodge, even though Godfrey has told us not to run from lions, but to stop still and look them right in the eye. When lion roars, there is no more frightening sound on the earth. I would like to think I would have the presence of mind to stop and look one calmly in the eye, so he would know I am dominant, but when I hear that roar, my resolve melts away. I don’t think I want to find out if I am that brave.

We depart for Moremi, where we were camping once again. Savute was dry and golden, but driving into Moremi, we are passing branches of a river and ponds, and it is lush and green.

Before we get into Moremi, we have to stop at the North Gate, where two truck loads of French tourists are stopped, and have been stopped for four hours, as an impasse has developed. The entry fee to the park must be paid in Botswanan pula, but all these tourists have is American dollars. The Drifter’s guide and the gate guard have established their positions, and won’t budge. The tourists sit and swelter. Godfrey talks the gate officials into taking a promissary note from the company, saying they can collect from the company in Maun. Godfrey thinks outside the box. He sees solutions and possibilities where others see problems and dead ends.

Once he has resolved the French Tourists problems, we cross the bridge into Moremi. There aren’t a lot of times on this trip when I feared for my life, but this was one of them – and we ended up crossing this bridge several times. It was made of skinny trees, tied together. Some were stuck in the swamp we were crossing, vertically, and then the rest were tied, horizontally, together. You could hear them breaking as we crossed. The bridge was tippy. Our big truck was heavy. Godfrey knew what he was doing, but he told us that last week a rough camping truck had gone off the bridge.

There are hippos is this area, and crocodiles. I DON’T want to go off this bridge, this tippy, creaking, cracking bridge.

Now for all that I loved Savute Elephant Camp, we all agreed that we loved our own little camp as much. AH and our travelling companion are even saying they like our own camp better, and I have to agree, I really like the smallness and intimacy of our own private little camp, too. And, even better, as we drive up, lunch is all set up out under a couple trees. Sky, the cook, has joined the team, and is feeling better, and has fixed a wonderful lunch, including a curried banana salad and a rice salad and cold cuts and cheeses. We have time for lunch, time for a shower and some rest before tea and our afternoon game drive.

As we are resting, however, I can hear crashing around, and I can hear hippos grunting. Hippos have a very low, resonant grunt. Now, granted, when it is cold, sound travels, but this is the heat of the afternoon, and I hear hippos.

Oh yes, Godfrey tells us, we are near the hippo pond. Isn’t this a great camping site, one of his favorites! When we leave for our afternoon game drive, we find that the hippo pond is not 300 meters away from us! But we are in an official camp site, and we just have to trust that our tents are not on a hippo path.

Hippos are not cute. They are huge, and bad tempered, and very territorial. I really really don’t want to run into a hippo, and I don’t want a hippo to run into our tent. I love the sounds they make, though, and grow to love having them as neighbors.

We search and search for leopards and cheetas, to no avail. We see duiker, a tiny little antelope, and more zebras. We see comical Secretary birds, and marabu storks. We see lots of hippos.

Arriving back at our camp is nearly magical, driving in to see all the kerosene lamps lit and our chairs around the fireplace. A little like coming home. There is enought hot water in our shower that AH and I can both take showers, and then dinner – Sky has fixed fish curry! tiny new potatoes! Chinese snow peas! Crispy cooked carrots! And, oh my, creme caramel. Here we are in what AH calls Nowhere squared, and we are eating this incredible meal.

AH and Godfrey decide to solve some of the world’s problems over cognac, and I crawl off to my hot water bottle. We are all tucked in and sound asleep by 9:30 most nights, breathing fresh air, listening to the sounds of our neighboring hippos.

September 17, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cooking, Cultural, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Hemingway Safari: Savute (Part 6)

Morning dawns cold and early. We have breakfast around the campfire and head out once again on a game drive. This is about the coldest I have been in a long time, and when we come back, I buy a heavy sweater.

At lunch, we are asked whether we would like duck breast at dinner, or beef stroganoff. Our entire table opts for the duck breast in a sweet chili sauce, served over cous cous. Imagine, a million miles from anywhere, and eating and sleeping like kings.

As we finish our afternoon game drive, we end up in a long line of traffic returning to the lodge – the young lions like to walk in the road. More like sauntering in the road, after all, they are the kings, we are the gawkers, so we all just toodle along behind as they take their sweet time walking along. It was a fun moment, but meant that we just barely got back to the lodge in time for the dinner bells, a man playing on one of those wooden xylophones with the tinkly wooden sound. It’s an inviting way to be called to dinner.

When they finally had us all seated for dinner – remember, there is a maximum capacity at Savute Elephant Camp of 24 guests – there was an expectant pause. Then, from the kitchen area came a conga line of all the staff, kitchen staff, chambermaids, laundry staff, grounds people, game trackers and managerial staff, black and white together, singing “Cmon everybody”. They danced all around the dining room, oh what fun. Then they gathered at the bar/lounge area and sang a song that started “Beeee-you-ti-fuulll Savute (clap clap clap), Beeeee-you-ti-fuuullll Savute (clap clap clap) I will never forget . . . . Beee-you-ti-fuuullll Savute”. And then they sang the same for Botswana (clap clap clap) and for Aaf-reee-kah (clap clap clap) and I am embarassed to tell you, but seeing them all together, working so hard, so graciously, to give us a good time, I just cried. Tears just rolled down my face, I couldn’t help it. It was so beautiful.

The whole idea of Savute Elephant camp is so beautiful, and the graciousness and hospitality is so personal and genuine, I just loved it.

September 15, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cultural, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

The Hemingway Safari: Part 5 Savute

“Good Morning” you hear, at 6:00 a.m. sharp, and zip zip as Richard and John deliver your hot water for washing off before leaving. At six, the air is quite cold, and the water bottles are no longer hot. I figured out that if I lay out what I am going to wear the night before, I can get dressed really quickly in the morning. I keep heavy socks right by my bed, as occasionally there is a sticker in the tent, but the socks provide a layer of protection. We put on several layers, as not only is it cold, but our vehical is open, and the wind is cold, even though we also have blankets to wrap up in. So a T-shirt layer, a long sleeved shirt layer and a cotton windbreaker layer, and then a sweater layer. Yes, it is that cold.

AH is already out by the campfire with Godfrey, discussing the plans for today, which are to drive to Savute. Although it is a mere 200 km or less, it is all single tracked road, and mostly sand, a very slow drive. Godfrey has a big pot of hot coffee all readyAND we go into the dining tent and get some breakfast. When I started the trip, I was eating the granola cereal, but watching Godfrey and AH eat the hot cereal, I discovered that it is really good, and it warms you up in the cold cold morning..

We are packed and in the truck by 7, and do one last game drive on our way out of Chobe. We noticed, in Chobe, that while we see herd and herds of elephants in the late afternoon game drives, we have never seen one on the morning drives. “Where are they?” we ask Godfrey, who tells us that they are deep in the bushes where we can’t see. Our running joke is that this is all Botswana by Disney, and Godfrey has it all mechanized, animatronics, so that he can thrill us from time to time by scheduling something new.

During the night, over and over I hear a bird, or something, that calls out, and then others answer, and the calls escalate, higher and higher until they crescendo. “What is that?” I ask Paul, who says it is a Scope’s owl, but Godfrey says it is a Pell’s owl.

We have yet to ask Godfrey a question he can’t answer. Most of what he has learned, he tells us, he learned when he went into the army, and found himself in the anti-poaching unit. He credits his knowledge, and his organizational abilities, and his leadership abilities to his time in the army. As tough as it was, he learned a lot about survival, and learned how much he truly loves nature.

We listened with awe as he would tell us about different trees and flowers, how they mingle, how they struggle against one another for survival. We tried to memorize all the names of all the animals and birds he would show us, and he very very patiently told us as many times as we needed to hear them. Best of all, Godfrey would let us just sit and watch and experience as long as we wanted. It was a blessing to be such a small group, and such an agreeable group. We all loved just watching – watching the giraffes feed and drink, watching the elephants wallow and play. Being able to just sit and watch helped us to understand better.

Leaving Chobe game park took most of the morning. When we stopped for mid-morning tea (and Simbaseku’s egg sandwiches, which we grew to love) it was in the midst of a herd of zebra, which we hadn’t seen before.

Godfrey has pointed out a high circling Batteleur eagle, which is the symbol for CCAfrica, Conservation Corps of Africa, which recently bought AfroVentures. Godfrey tells us about the flag of Botswana, that the blue is for the blue of the big sky, and the black and the white are for the people, black and white working together for a new country. He tells us this several times during the trip. He is a true believer.

The more we get to know Godfrey, the more we like him. At first, we know him as a guide, the one who explains how our tent works, what we will do tomorrow and in what order, a teacher. But as we spend more and more time together, we get to know the person inside, and his experiences, and his dreams. And on this day, we are greatly honored, we get to stop and meed Godfrey’s family. Godfrey’s family was originally Namibian – Namibia is just across the river, we can see it while we drive. But when the nations were separated, they chose to live on the Botswana side where they had family.

First, we see the new housing they live in. In Godfrey’s village, there are signs for Habitat for Humanity, who are building new houses, cinderblock houses, in the village. Godfrey’s Mom and Dad and one sister live in one such house, and have a large circular corral for their cattle built out of large sticks. His Mother is sitting in front of the house on the ground, legs straight out in front. She recently became blind overnight, and Godfrey has been taking her to the hospital frequently to see what, if anything, can be done. His Mom and Dad are both in their seventies, a miracle in Botswana where 36% of the people have the AIDs virus and life expectency isn’t much more than 40 years. We also meet his sister, and a sister in law, and several young nephews and nieces.

All I have with me are some cinnamon candies, which we share. If only I had known I would have this opportunity! After leaving Kavimba, we pass the now deserted compound where Godfrey grew up. We can see the circular remains of the housing, of the cattle pens. They are a little farther away from the river now, but the cinder block keeps them safer.

We can understand why the children are SO afraid of the lions and the elephants; lions think of cattle as easy prey, and the elephants take what they need, and just knock over whatever gets in their way. They have memories of where to eat just the right vegetation to provide the minerals they need, and sometimes the villages have been built where they graze on that one particular vegetation. It’s a constrant struggle between the villagers and the wild animals.

We get to see the school, and we see the ambulance, and we can hear the pride in Godfrey’s voice as he points out signs that the life in the village is getting better. As we near Savuti, we pass a herd of male elephants wallowing and drinking, jostling a little for space, and then, thrill of thrills, a pair of honeymooning lions! The lions are just 30 feet from the truck, male and female, lying very mellowly in the warm sunshine (we have stripped down to T-shirts during the morning tea break, as it has become quite warm.) Godfrey explains to us that normally, females hang around together with their young, and young males hang around together, and every now and then, rarely, you see a mating pair. They spend about four days together, mating and just relaxing together. This pair is VERY relaxed, and we photograph them to our heart’s content.

Godfrey tells us that the lions don’t really “see” us, they smell the diesel and the rubber, and think of us and the truck as one animal. So it is important, he continues, to sit still, and not to stick our heads out the top as we watch. At one point, the male lion stands up, looking at us, but he falls back down, as cats do when they are feeling relaxed and not at all threatened. All this stopping and watching makes us run a little late, and we drive up to Savute Elephant Camp about one.

First, Godfrey had to undo the electric fence links and then re-fasten them behind us. As we drove up, a group of about ten chambermaids were standing together, and began singing “you are welcome (clap clap clap) You are welcome (clap clap clap) you are welcome” and it was so lovely, so charming and so unexpected that I found myself getting a little choked up.

Savute Elephant Camp is a mind blowing experience. First, we see our rooms, which are so lovely, so luxurious and so unexpected that our eyes nearly pop out of our heads. But we didn’t have time for anything more than a very quick face and hand wash, as they had held brunch/lunch for us and we needed to be back at the lodge right away.

The lodge is also breathtakingly lovely, all open and airy, with gorgeous leather upholstered furniture and a spacious huge bar. And oh, by the way, there are SO many elephants at the water pit just below the swimming deck, which is just below the dining room.

The food here is fabulous. I have babootie, a South African cassarole dish which I tried to make once but it never tasted THIS good. As we are sitting, some of the local game trackers come and sit with us, and tell us about the camp. After lunch, we meet Liesl, newly wed and the Food and Beverage manager, who usually works at the Eagle River Gametracker’s lodge, but who is filling in for someone else off on vacation, and we meet Freddie, who tells us the way things work at the lodge.

Most important of all is that you NEVER NEVER NEVER go to your cabin or come from your cabin alone after dark. They have escorts, and you set a time when you will be picked up for dinner and then they escort you back to your cabin. There are only a maximum of 24 guests at any one time. We only have a short time back in our “cabin”. Our cabin is huge. Yes, it is a tent, but a tent built over a mahogony platform. There are two 3/4 sized beds together, which makes up a huge king-sized bed, surrounded by white hangings, and with a white cover, so that you sleep totally insect free. There is a reading corner, with two chairs and a table, and a writing table in the other corner.

Behind the sleeping area is a built in mahogany area for hanging your clothes, for your suitcases, for putting things away, and a laundry basket. Anything you want laundered must be in the basket by 7 in the morning and will be back to you by the next evening, washed, dried and ironed. There are fresh bathrobes hanging in the mahogany closet, and a shoe shine kit. And oh, heavenly joy, there is a hair dryer! And a huge walk in shower! Even though I have been showering in the camp, having a huge walk in shower and a hair dryer – oh what luxury. So I quickly shower and wash my hair, but leave it wet and tuck it up under my hat, as we are going on a game drive and it is HOT HOT HOT.

We spend a little time on our huge teak private terrace, watching the elephants amble up to the water hole in front of the lodge, and then ambling past on their way to other watering holes. Only this last month, we learn, have they put up the electric fence. Before that, you might be showering and into the shower would pop an elephant trunk, sucking at the shower water. It had its charm, but having the elephants inside the camp also caused a lot of destruction. They thought long and hard before putting the fence up, and did so reluctantly. It is just too expensive and to resource intensive bringing in materials to repair damage done by the elephants.

On our game drive that afternoon, we see SO much game. In particular, a group of young lions, who also seem to be well fed and very relaxed. They are oblivious to us watching, maybe even hamming it up a little for us. We are SO close to these lions that they are lying on the ground maybe five feet from our open back of the truck. One gets up, heading toward us and our travel companion says “Godfrey, drive!” and the look on her face is pure fear. We laughed, but I was on the other side of the truck.

My wet hair keeps me nice and cool, but as the sun goes down I am glad to have my hat over my hair, as it gets cold quickly once the sun goes down. We drive to an outcropping of rock and AH and I hike up to see the San Bushman carvings. They don’t look very old, to me, but AH dutifully takes a photo and we hike back down.

Back at the lodge, I dry my hair and we wait for Godfrey to escort us to dinner. At dinner, all Godfrey’s friends stop by to talk to him, and we learn that in 1997 Godfrey was voted Guide of the Year, and that no one has been elected since, so he is still it. Dinner is a buffet, with a choice of baked chicken or ostrich shish-kebab with fruits. AH and I both have the ostrich, which is really good. They have funny butter dishes here, designed to prevent the baboons from eating the butter. The butter is in the top, so when the baboons pick up the top, they see an empty plate on the bottom. It never occurs to them to look in the top, where the butter is packed.

People are gathering around the campfire, but we are TIRED, so Godfrey escorts us back to our tent. All night long we can hear the elephants walking to and fro, crashing through the trees. And we can hear other things too, long loud screams in the night.

September 13, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cultural, Social Issues, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Hemingway Safari: Chobe Part 4

At six the next morning, we hear the sound of zipping and then “good morning!” as our hot water is delivered into the bath and dressing room. We hurry our cleaning up, as it is COLD! We gather around the campfire for coffee, and have either hot or cold cereal and fruit before heading out on our morning game drive.

First, we watch the lions for about 45 minutes – they are a hoot. They are about 200 yards away, and rolling around, feeling well fed and guarding their carcass from the hyenas and jackals. Other trucks full of viewers start arriving. At sunrise, we are down by the river, watching hippos and crocodiles, and Namibean fishermen from across the river. Godfrey tells us there is a huge problem with poaching, as Botswana has made a decision to protect the game and encourage eco-tourism, but Namibia hasn’t. As the game has been hunted out in Namibia, hunters cross the river to hunt in the game reserves.

At 9:30 we stop for coffee/tea, all packed beautifully in a wicker picnic basket, with small sandwiches. AH and I start laughing – we had no idea we would be fed five times a day on this trip. At 11, we arrive back in camp. The deck chairs are in front of our tents, and lunch is ready. Dorcas meets us – every time – with the hot washcloths. And yes, there is HOT water in the shower!

Lunch is macaroni and cheese, cold cuts and cheeses and fresh baked bread, cucumber and green pepper salad with joghurt dressing, and oh, it is delicious. And now, thanks be to God, we have siesta time, time to snooze a little, time to look at the guide books in the library and check out what we have seen, time to review maps of where we have been. Ah, we need siesta time.

AH has just drifted off to sleep when I spot a HUGE baboon walking by our tent, right into the center of the camp. I shake AH awake and point. The baboon turns around, looks, then continues on his way. What a thrill. Tea is served at three, and Simaseku has baked an apple cake. My friends, this is a problem for me. I am on a weight loss program, and I don’t want to hurt Simaseku’s feelings, but I just can’t eat all this food!

On our afternoon game viewing we spend a lot of time watching the elephants wallowing along the river. It is so much fun, they are rolling, splashing, blowing water over their backs, having a great time. Some of the adolescent males are flghting a little, but not seriously. Later, we spend another 45 minutes watching the lions, and then . . . one of the most magical moments of the trip happens.

As we leave the lions feasting on what is by now a very smelly carcass, it is almost dark. Too dark to take any photos. And my guess is that the stink of the carrion was carried with us, as we had sat watching for a lenghty period of time. We run into a huge herd of impala. Impala are like the skinniest, most graceful little deer you have ever seen. They have large liquid eyes and thin little legs. And for whatever reason, as we drove into the midst of them, they went crazy. When impalas are anxious, they pronk.

If you were a ballet dancer, and you did a leap, and at the top of the leap you gave it a little extra kick, you would be pronking. And to confuse the predator, the impala pronk in all different directions. I am guessing we smelled like a predator, because for a good five minutes, the impala did what I can only describe as an incredible ballet around our vehicle. Groups would dash from one side to another, in front of us, behind us, beside us, leaping and extending that leap, like crazy ballerinas. It was the craziest, most graceful, wildest ballet I have ever experienced. I wish you were sitting next to me as it happened, I wish you could see them, barely visible in the diminishing light, as they did their manic leaps and bounds. We couldn’t photograph, we could just sit and experience it. It is a sight I will never forget.

Tomorrow morning we will depart for Savute Elephant camp, and stop to see Godfrey’s parents and village en route. I am getting used to the noises in the night, I even LIKE them! I love sleeping in our tent, and although I am in the midst of wild animals, I feel strangely safe.

September 12, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Circle of Life and Death, Cooking, Cultural, Travel | , | 2 Comments

The Hemingway Safari: Entering Botswana (Part Three)

Leaving the Victoria Falls Hotel, we did an official tour of the Falls, with an Afro Ventures guide, Aaron. We got him to tell stories about nightmare trips he had been on, with nightmare tourists. The worst, funniest, was a man who was truly not fit to be on safari, had some serious health challenges, and made the group stop all the time to accomodate his needs. Then, after searching and searching for leopard, the group found one and sat enthralled, watching. At which point the very difficult man said loudly “aach, it’s just a leopard, you can see them in the zoo” and slammed a door and the leopard ran away

After the tour of the Falls, Aaron drives us in a van toward Kasane, where we will pick up our official vehicle – we are leaving Zimbabwe and going into Botswana. The highway is two lane, and paved, and we asked Godfrey if we would ever see a road like this again, and he laughed and said yes, that we would have a few miles of good road at one point in Botswana, but only maybe ten miles in the next 14 days.

Not an hour out of Victoria Falls, the van slows and we take we sight a small aircraft crashed by the side of the road. Godfrey tells us it happens all the time, the private plane operators don’t allow themselves enough fuel and then have to try to land on the highways. This one had two survivors, but there are armed guards on the plane to protect it from human scavengers.

The border crossing is a piece of cake. We walk in, Godfrey takes us to a lady he knows who stamps our passports and wishes us a great trip. Meanwhile, we recognize another group from Vic Falls, still in line. Travelling with Godfrey is a lot like travelling in the Arab world, he stops and visits with people, brings them little things, gives them a coca cola, etc. It seems to take a little more time. . . until we zip right through customs while others stand and wait.

The first thing I notice in Botswana is the womens’ hair. From the woman at the custom’s office straight through Botswana, and later South Africa, you see the most beautiful, elaborate tiny braids. These rows aren’t like the ones that were the rage in the U.S., these are tiny, tiny, and close to the head, and in lovely patterns. And people are so friendly, so polite. People are genuinely cordial.

Just across the border, near Kazungula, we have to stop and go through a shoe bath to prevent the spread of hoof and mouth disease. As we talk with Godfrey, we discover he was in the US in the snow storm, and when he saw a woman in trouble, he told her to get out of the car that he would help her, and she thought at first he was trying to carjack her car. As he got the car out of the drift, she said “where are you from???” and he told her. Well, how many people know where Botswana is? She thanked him, and then told him he had to be careful about being helpful in the United States.

Godfrey is exotic. Different. It takes a while for our ears to adjust to his speech, because while he is speaking English, some of it is British English and some of it just lilts differently than our ears are used to. Godfrey is very very tall and thin, and has eyelashes that you might think were artificial, they are so long and curly. He points out a bird, one we have noticed many times, and he calls it the Lilac buubuu rolla. Later we find it in a guide book, and it is the Lilac Breasted Roller.

We stop in Kasane, where Godfrey tells us we can exchange money, and we decide to just change $100, and change more when we need it. Big mistake, or potentially so . . . we never had another opportunity to change money! Fortunately, all currencies are acceptable as tips, so we ended up just tipping in dollars. Kasane is a one main street town, but full of activity, little shacks as markets, some stores. Even an internet cafe, but it was the only time I saw one. We didn’t know that Kasane was the last “major” town we would see.

We drive on to Mowana, the lodge where former President and Hilary Clinton stayed when they were in Botswana, where we say goodbye to Aaron, who is heading back to Vic Falls, and we pick up our own vehicle. AfroVentures designed this themselves; it is on the bed of a large Toyota 4-wheel drive truck, they rebuilt and redesigned it so it has good, comfy seats with good springs (this becomes very important once we hit the single lane roads of clay, dirt and/or sand) and a frame around it so that you can leave it open totally, or put on a canvas fitted top and canvas sides. It also had a good sized drinks refrigerator that worked so well that sometimes our water froze.

Attached in the back was a luggage carrier trailer, but since it was just the three of us there were times we said “forget the carrier” and we just took our luggage in the truck with us. At Mowana we had lunch sitting on the deck around the pool, and listned to the Simpson Brothers play on wooden xylophones, a very Caribbean sound. Lunch at this very elegant lodge was again a buffet, and again, the buffet included fish curry! All food and drinks on this tour are covered, so we know we could look like elephants by the end of the trip if we gorge.

Godfrey tells us how when the Clintons were there, in 1998, the whole lodge was empty except for them and their security people. They even used their own guides. What astonishes us, as we are eating and looking around the lodge, is the huge number of Americans we are seeing. Normally when we travel, we see a lot of Europeans, but in Victoria Falls and in Botswana, we are seeing almost exclusively Americans.

There is a good looking big boat down at the pier and we head for that, but then Godfrey takes us to a side pier and our boat, a boat just for us! There is a guide on board, and Godfrey will go ahead and drive to our camp site, while we go by boat. This boat is like the jet boat of the other night, except that instead of seats in the boat, it has a flat deck with a table and four chairs at the table. And that is how we travel on the Chobe river, my friends, floating down the river.

We came to see the animals, but we had no idea how thrilling the birds would be. As we depart Mowana, we are accompanied by two swallows who fly around us, dipping and circling, and they stay with us a few kilomenters before turning back. Our guide is pointing out Malachite kingfishers, and Carmine Bee Eaters, and oh my, thousands of the Malachite kingfishers nesting along the shore.

We are shooting film like crazy, even knowing that the magic of this boat ride can’t be captured. Best of all, for me, is the look on my husband’s face. He is SOOO into this, he is having a great time. Truly, this is a dream come true.

The Chobe river is very wide and very flat. It is winter in the southern hemisphere, and just past the rainy season, so the waters are still high. We see lots of elephants wading, feasting on the green grasses, herds of water buffalo, and then, near to the end of our river tour, we are able to sit and watch a herd of elephants crossing from one side to a grassy patch. The elephants go in groups of 10 – 15, while others are waiting on the other side, encouraging, and others are left behind, gathering their courage.

Once they get to where they have to swim, their trunks go up in the air to breathe. Watching elephants swim is a thrill. But there is a baby elephant, struggling hard to keep up, and about half way across, he panics and swims back to shore. On shore, another small elephant is the first to greet him, stroking him with his trunk and standing close. Other elephants gather around, stroking the little one and very visibly comforting him. Shortly thereafter, the last group starts across, including the baby. The matriarch, the oldest (or toughest) female elephant is the last to go, and she gently nudges a few of the more reluctant ones into the water.

We all love being able to stay still, and watch these things happening. Godfrey is waiting on the beach where our boat pulls up, and we tell him about what we have just seen. He tells us that baby elephants are the most vulnerable, and that the elephants treasure them and take good care of them. He said that often the baby elephants don’t make it across, and their carcasses end up providing food for crocodiles, that the lions also prey on the baby elephants, and that recently lions actually brought down a big elephant near Vic Falls. Several lions grabbed the trunk, another chomped the trunk shut and suffocated the elephant. It took about 20 lions to bring the elephant down; something most people hadn’t seen before.

Godfrey takes us on an evening game drive, and as the sun is setting, it sets behind giraffes, looking at us curiously. We love giraffes. They are so graceful, and so elegant, and the look in their eyes is so gentle and curious. We watch them drink. They are wary of us, but not particularly concerned. Once they determine we are not a threat, they mostly ignore us. The young ones are more comical; they show the most interest and curiousity as to who we are and why we are there.

We watch elephants feed, we visit herds of impala, kudu, and see families of baboons. We see lions feasting on a dead water buffalo, and jackals, hyenas and vultures waiting for their turn. Godfrey knows so much. He really loves his job, being able to spend so much time observing the animals, and he loves the beauty of the natural world. He tells us about seeds that need to go THROUGH birds or animals in order for the tough outer seed to be taken off so that the seed can implant in the ground, surrounded by appropriate fertilizer. Some need to go through fires. Lions have very acid digestive systems and can eat bacteria without harm. And this is just the first day.

Finally, we drive back to camp. As we drive in, it is deep dusk, and we can see the tents, with kerosene lanterns in front. It is a beautiful sight. We can see the dining tent, all set up with a book case full of books, with several different games and cards available, and a table set for four. The entire camping staff is there to greet us – seven people to support the needs of three. It’s humbling.

Dorcas, the only woman on the team, holds a basket full of hot washclothes, so we can wash the grit of the game drive off our faces and hands. She also keeps our tents clean and does our laundry. Simaseku is very tall; he is the assistant cook, right now the only cook as the head cook, Sky, is sick in Kasane. Paul is the assistant guide, and our other host in camp. John and John Jr. and Richard keep the fires going, help with meal preparation, tent set up, gather firewood, haul water, etc.

Godfrey gives us a brief introduction to our tents. My friends, there is a LOT of zipping. there are windows, and flaps that attach over the windows inside with velcro, and flaps that cover outside, too, if you wish. There is an entry net and an entry canvas, and when you go to bed at night, it is best if both are securely fastened. At all times, the net entry must be securely zipped to prevent insects and worse – snakes – from entering. As you enter the tent, you see a room about 14′ x 14′; two single beds together, nightstands, lamps all lit, a large chest for luggage, a thermos of ice water, glasses, and our own little flashlights to use to walk around camp after dark.

We are warned to stay inside the perimeter of lights; that mostly the animals won’t come where there are lights at night. In the next room, about 10′ x 14′, there is a toilet, a shower bottom with a gravity shower – a huge canvas bag full of HOT water, enough for AH and I both to shower, and a basin, also full of hot water, on a dressing table with big soft fluffy towels. This is my kind of camping!

There is also a laundry bag – and this is what makes it possible to travel on safari for 14 days with only 22 lbs of luggage. Anytime we are in camp for a full day, Dorcas washes our clothes, dries them on a line and irons them using a hot coal iron. They have to heat all the water for washing the clothes over fires. They bake bread and cakes for our meals in a hole in the ground with an iron box which acts as an oven. (The bread is absolutely delicious.) There is no electricity. Everything is either kerosene, fire, or run on batteries, like our bedside lights. Godfrey asks us NOT to leave the lights on all night, as it uses up the batteries too fast, and it attracts the bugs.

I will tell you, that first night, I was a little scared. We could hear . . . things. We could hear elephants trumpeting, and we could hear something crashing in the brush nearby. Best of all, we could hear birds, owls, calling birds, but also . . . other things. Godfrey had told us that if something came, just to stay in the tent. He also said it wouldn’t do any good to call for help, as the African staff was more afraid of the animals than we are!

At dinner, we learn that Godfrey for many years was a soldier in the Botswanan army, working in the anti-poaching unit, and it was at that time that he began to learn so much about nature. He was born in Namibia, before Botswana and Namibia became separate nations, and grew up in a small village not too far from where we were. In the village, people kept cattle, and lions were a constant worry. Lions love cattle, they are all in one place, not hard to catch, and you can eat them for several days. But if a cow isn’t readily available, why a stray child will do. Godfrey says that villagers grow up terrified of being taken by a lion.

Dinner is by candlelight. We have comfy African mahogony deck chairs, and china and crystal glasses – this may be camping, but it is truly elegant. There is a full bar, and all kinds of wine, most of it wasted on us. I am drinking a lot of bottled water, I feel so dry. Dinner this first night is beef stroganoff and rice, crispy green beans with garlic, cooked carrots and cheesecake for dessert. Did you know that at night lions go . . . Hummmpgh. . . huuummph . . .. .huumpf? Trust me. They do. They sound like they are right next to your tent.

Actually, because I was tired, I slept pretty well, when I wasn’t listening to all the sounds. It was cold, and while we were eating dinner, Dorcas and Paul put hot water bottles in our beds. AH is thrilled with this new technology – it is nice and warm!

September 11, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Uncategorized, Zimbabwe | 4 Comments

The Hemingway Safari: Part 2

The Hemingway Safari Part 2
Upon waking, a tray of tea and coffee was arrives, with a hibiscus flower and little cookies. Oh, love this Vic Falls Hotel! And we’re off on an Elephant Safari! The brochure said “a 15 minute drive” but it is more like 45 minutes as we drive to the Nakavongo Estate.

When we get there, they explain that these are elephants which were babies when large culls of the elephant herds were made, and farmers adopted them. Elephant babies are SOOO cute, so adorable, but . . . they grown into elephants, and there is a constant conflict between elephants and land owners. Elephants clear land, they clear it by breaking and eating all the foliage. Long story short, when they grew out of cute and became adult, the farmers couldn’t or wouldn’t keep them anymore and there was a problem with what to do with them. Rather than destroy them, a group decided to try to train them, with great success.

Elephants are so intelligent, and really enjoy learning new things. They are kept on a huge 500 acre reserve, and only work 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon, and roam about the reserve the rest of the time. They sleep at night in stables, to which they return voluntarily at dusk, as there is elephant kibble to encourage their return.

Riding an elephant is a trip. We rode on Emily. There is a three person saddle, so the guide rides in front, then another person (that was me) like the meat in a sandwich, and then the last person. We had stirrups, and although the elephant rolls from side to side, I felt pretty secure, even though it feels very high up. We rode out to a watering hole, and then back, about an hour and a half. We learned a lot about elephants, how they are trained, how they are cared for, how they each have their own personality. At the end of the ride, after we got off, we were able to feed the elephants, and interact with them.

And then, they served breakfast. Somehow, we hadn’t understood that this was all part of the tour, but keeping people fed is a big part of the graciousness and hospitable welcome you receive. The breakfast that morning was served in an open lodge at huge long wooden tables. And it was anything you wanted, even omelettes made to order, and bacon and sausages and toast and hot cereal . . . the food was wonderful.

After breakfast they showed the video they had made of us riding the elephants. It was a total hoot, and we bought it. And when we got home, we watched it right away and relived all the fun we had that day, riding the elephants.

Returning from the elephant trip, we visited the gift shops, wrote some postcards and decided to spend some time by the pool. It was lovely. AH drifted off into sleep, I got to read a little, and we could hear the sound of the Falls roaring.

At five, we were to meet our guide for the Botswana Hemingway safari in the lobby, so we had time to relax until then. Promptly at five, we are in the lobby, but there is only one other person. How can this be? We knew that the minimum for running the trip was two people, and the maximum was seven, but only three people? Would it run? And then Godfrey, our guide, showed up and said that indeed, we three were it, AH and I, and a single woman from New York. We went to the Stanley room and had drinks, and Godfrey briefed us on what to expect for our safari.

We had reservations for a 7 p.m. African dance evening, and then reservations at 8 for dinner with him, again at Jungle Junction, which we love. Godfrey is not entirely reassuring. At dinner, as we talk, we learn that in the camping portions of our journey, we will have seven people with us, all Africans, and that most Botswanans are afraid of sleeping out in the bush. They are raised with a healthy fear of the wild animals, and prefer NOT to be too near them! We are warned to stay in our tents at night, not to wander outside the camp perimeter, and if a wild animal comes through, to just remain calm and quiet, and not confrontational, and the animal will eventually go away. This is a little disquieting, a little hard to adjust to.

What was I expecting? Maybe something like Disney does Africa, where the wild animals are friendly, not hungry? Where they are benign and sort of domesticated, not wild and . . . not wild. Unpredictable. He warns us about lions, about hippos, about elephants. Don’t get between a hippo and the water, don’t get between an elephant and her baby, don’t run from a lion but look him in the eye. Arrgh. And don’t yell. Don’t run. Don’t move around a lot. You’ll be just fine. Just sign this release, which absolves us of all responsibilities.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the Jungle Junction prior to departure, and watched elephants walking by outside the electrified fence, baboons inside the fence, and oh, what fun. We settled the hotel bill, and met Godfrey and our travel companion in front of the hotel at 8:00 a.m. And, my friends, this is just the beginning.

September 9, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Travel, Zimbabwe | | 2 Comments