While we lived in Germany and Qatar and Kuwait, we went every year to Africa. On the smaller flights out of Johannesburg to Windhoek or into Zimbabwe or Zambia, we would encounter swaggering men, hanging out in the aisles, talking loudly, usually with big bellies, all decked out in safari gear/ersatz military camo. At first, I thought they were mercenaries of some sort, they seemed to be so full of themselves. Then a stewardess told me they were the “tiny-dick” hunters.
I had never heard the term. These are men, who, to make themselves feel good, pay thousands of dollars to be taken to an animal, like Cecil, the lion below, to kill. They have these hunts in the United States, too, where semi-tamed lions are shot at game farms, trapped, and fed, only to be sacrificed to the egos of the “tiny-dick” men.
Walter Palmer says he was told all the permits were in order. A news article on NPR yesterday tells how this famous lion from a protected game reserve was lured across the boundary so that Walter Palmer could shoot his with is little bow and arrow. Walter Palmer has broken the rules and lied before. He has a history of imagining that the boundaries do not apply to him.
I love it that his shameful behavior has been outed, and that his name and his detestable hobby are now known internationally as a man who would shoot a beloved lion for the sake of his ego. Below is the story from Associated Press via AOL News:
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota dentist who went on a guided bow hunting trip for big game in Zimbabwe said that he had no idea the lion he killed was protected and that he relied on the expertise of his local guides to ensure the hunt was legal.
Walter Palmer, who has a felony record in the U.S. related to shooting a black bear in Wisconsin, released a statement Tuesday after Zimbabwean authorities identified him as the American involved in the July hunt. They said Palmer is being sought on poaching charges, but Palmer said he hasn’t heard from U.S. or Zimbabwean authorities.
“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt,” said Palmer, a dentist who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie. He said his guides had proper permits, and to his knowledge, everything was handled properly.
“I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion,” he said.
The 55-year-old was identified by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, the Safari Operators Association of Zimbabwe and police as the American facing poaching charges for the crossbow killing of Cecil, a well-known lion. Local authorities allege the lion was lured from a protected area and killed in early July. Zimbabwean conservationists said the American allegedly paid $50,000 for the trip.
The lion’s death has outraged animal conservationists and others, including U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat. In a statement late Tuesday, the congresswoman called for an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see whether any U.S. laws were violated.
Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, condemned the lion’s killing in a statement.
“To get a thrill at the cost of a life, this man gunned down a beloved lion, Cecil with a high-powered weapon,” the PETA statement said.
Palmer’s hired spokesman, Jon Austin, said he believed Palmer was in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area Tuesday. No one answered the door at Palmer’s home, and a woman who came out of his dental office in nearby Bloomington said he wasn’t there or taking patients Tuesday. Phone calls to listed home numbers went unanswered.
According to U.S. court records, Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear he fatally shot in western Wisconsin. Palmer had a permit to hunt but shot the animal outside the authorized zone in 2006, then tried to pass it off as being killed elsewhere, according to court documents. He was given one year probation and fined nearly $3,000.
Doug Kelley, a former federal prosecutor and Palmer’s attorney in the bear case, was unavailable for comment Tuesday, according to his assistant.
Palmer has several hunts on record with the Pope and Young Club, where archers register big game taken in North America for posterity, said Glenn Hisey, the club’s director of records. Hisey said he didn’t have immediate access to records showing the types and number of animals killed by Palmer, but he noted that club records involve legal hunts “taken under our rules of fair chase.”
Although African game wouldn’t be eligible, Hisey said he alerted the group’s board that Palmer’s ethics were being called into question. He said Palmer’s domestic records could be jeopardized if he’s found to have done something illegal abroad.
A Facebook page for Palmer’s Minnesota dental practice was taken offline Tuesday after users flooded it with comments condemning Palmer’s involvement in the hunt. Hundreds of similar comments inundated a page for his dental practice on the review platform Yelp, which prior to Tuesday had only three comments.
Some people left stuffed animals at the door to his shuttered office Tuesday in a sign of protest.
Palmer is properly licensed and able to practice in the state, according to the Minnesota Board of Dentistry. Board records show that Palmer was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint settled in 2006, with Palmer admitting no wrongdoing and agreeing to pay a former receptionist more than $127,000.
Today the church prays for the troubled and sometimes controversial diocese of Manicaland, in Zimbabwe.
(Play the video of the Soweto Gospel Choir as you read this summary from today’s Lectionary Readings How I would love to be able to attend this festival!)
CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN AFRICA (18 JUNE 1896)
Bernard Mizeki was born in Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) in about 1861. When he was twelve or a little older, he left his home and went to Capetown, South Africa, where for the next ten years he worked as a laborer, living in the slums of Capetown, but (perceiving the disastrous effects of drunkenness on many workers in the slums) firmly refusing to drink alcohol, and remaining largely uncorrupted by his surroundings. After his day’s work, he attended night classes at an Anglican school.
Under the influence of his teachers, from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE, an Anglican religious order for men, popularly called the Cowley Fathers), he became a Christian and was baptized on 9 March 1886. Besides the fundamentals of European schooling, he mastered English, French, high Dutch, and at least eight local African languages. In time he would be an invaluable assistant when the Anglican church began translating its sacred texts into African languages.
After graduating from the school, he accompanied Bishop Knight-Bruce to Mashonaland, a tribal area in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), to work there as a lay catechist. In 1891 the bishop assigned him to Nhowe, the village of paramount-chief Mangwende, and there he built a mission-complex. He prayed the Anglican hours each day, tended his subsistence garden, studied the local language (which he mastered better than any other foreigner in his day), and cultivated friendships with the villagers. He eventually opened a school, and won the hearts of many of the Mashona through his love for their children.
He moved his mission complex up onto a nearby plateau, next to a grove of trees sacred to the ancestral spirits of the Mashona. Although he had the chief’s permission, he angered the local religious leaders when he cut some of the trees down and carved crosses into others. Although he opposed some local traditional religious customs, Bernard was very attentive to the nuances of the Shona Spirit religion. He developed an approach that built on people’s already monotheistic faith in one God, Mwari, and on their sensitivity to spirit life, while at the same time he forthrightly proclaimed the Christ. Over the next five years (1891-1896), the mission at Nhowe produced an abundance of converts.
Many black African nationalists regarded all missionaries as working for the European colonial governments. During an uprising in 1896, Bernard was warned to flee. He refused, since he did not regard himself as working for anyone but Christ, and he would not desert his converts or his post.
On 18 June 1896, he was fatally speared outside his hut. His wife and a helper went to get food and blankets for him. They later reported that, from a distance, they saw a blinding light on the hillside where he had been lying, and heard a rushing sound, as though of many wings. When they returned to the spot his body had disappeared. The place of his death has become a focus of great devotion for Anglicans and other Christians, and one of the greatest of all Christian festivals in Africa takes place there every year around the feast day that marks the anniversary of his martyrdom, June 18.
Today I am so honored. I received a letter from MR.JOHNSON TSVANGIRAI the son of
MR.MORGAN TSVANGIRAI leader of the MDC(Movement for Democratic Change) in
Zimbabwe. Imagine that! He is writing to me! And . . . he wants to share a LOT of money with me.
It must be because I love Africa so much – do you think? I mean, how did he get my name (Intlxpatr) and why else would he be so generous to me?
But I don’t really have the time right now, so I am passing along this “opportunity” to you. It claims to be from a Zimbabwean, but it sure sounds Nigerian scam to me!
With warm heart I offer my friendship and greetings, and I hope this mail meets
you in good time.I humbly ask that you take due consideration of its importance
and immense benefit and also sincerely seek your confidence, as I make this
proposal to you as a person of integrity.I am MR.JOHNSON TSVANGIRAI the son of
MR.MORGAN TSVANGIRAI leader of the MDC(Movement for Democratic Change) in
I got your contact through Network online in my search for a reliable and
reputable individual to handle a very confidential transaction which involves
the transfer of funds to a foreign account and I decided to write you because
of the present political situation in my country today which forced me to seek
political asylum in the Netherlands as instructed by my father because his life
has been threatened by the present leader of ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National
Union ? Patriotic Front) and president of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe,My
father who holds a seat in parliament presently in Zimbabwe envisaged this
crisis hence he had transfered most of his liquid funds to Johannesburg – South
Africa to deposit the sum of US$9.5 Million (Nine Million Five Hundred
Thousand United States Dollars)with a Security and Finance Company as if he
foresaw the looming political danger in Zimbabwe.
The money was deposited in a Box as valuables/Antiques to avoid much demurrage
from the Security and Finance Company. These funds where meant for the purchase
of New Machineries and Chemicals for Farms and the establishment of new farms
in Lesotho and Swaziland. The land and political problem arose when President
Robert Mugabe introduced a new land act that wholly affected the Rich White
Farmers and some few black farmers.we vehemently condemned the “Modus Operandi”
adopted by the government. This resulted to mob action by the war veterans and
some political thugs. Heads of governments from the west,especially
Britain,France and United States of America have voiced their condemnation of
Mugabe’s plan. Subsequently, South African Development Community (S.A.D.C) has
continuously supported President Mugabe’s new land act, it is against this
background that I and my family who were residing in South Africa have decided
to transfer my Father’s Estate Funds to the Netherlands.
As the eldest son of my Father, I am saddled with the responsibility of seeking
a genuine foreign partner that will participate in investing these Funds in a
Lucrative Business, These funds have been transferred without the knowledge of
my government who are tactically freezing our family’s wealth and South
Africa’s government seems to be applying the same policies as that of the
present government in Zimbabwe. I am faced with the dilemma of investing this
funds in South Africa for fear of encountering the same experience in future
since both countries have almost the same political history.
For more information concerning the brutality of the Mugabe government please
click this links:
More so, the South African Foreign Exchange policy does not allow such
investment hence I have gone to the Netherlands to seek “POLITICAL ASYLUM”.As a
businessman I want to entrust my future and that of my family into your hands,
I must let you know that this transaction is 100% risk free and the nature of
your business does not necessarily matter. For your assistance, we are offering
you 20% of the total sum, 75% for Me and My Family while 5% will be mapped out
for any expenses we may incure during the course of this transaction. We wish
to invest our share of the money on commercial property based on your advice.
Finally, all we demand from you is assurance that you will not sit on this
funds when it finally gets to your personal or company’s account in your
country. If this proposal is acceptable by you, please confirm your interest
via Email and i shall forward for your perusal any documentations to satisfy
you that this project is Legitimate.
Thank you for your Anticipated Co-operation as I await your prompt response.
(For the TsvangiraiFamily).
More from the Atlanta airport – just look at the texture in these statues!
This one is my favorite. I wish you could stand closely with me and see the texture carefully incised in this piece:
Again, thank you Atlanta, you made my day.
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!
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.
There is no objectivity in this account of our journey to Victoria Falls and Botswana. I will babble endlessly about the beauty of the country and the kindness of the people. You will think my descriptions of our journey and our stays fanciful, over-the-top. I have waited to write this because I needed to let the trip percolate and settle in my own mind. I felt like a helium balloon on the end of a very long tether, not at all grounded, bouncing with euphoria. Can any trip be that great?
I can only tell you this . . . at the end of the trip, AH (adorable husband) and I agreed we had never had a better 18 consecutive days in our entire lives. Yes, it was THAT good.
Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls
We flew South African Airlines from Frankfurt – Our seats were way in the back of the plane, which at first we thought a disadvantage, but there were lots of extra seats and we got to spread out and even sleep on the overnight flight. It was delightful for us to be flying overnight, and still be in the same time zone when we landed. We got to Johannesburg early and had a great time just looking around while we waited for our flight to Victoria Falls. We couldn’t buy anything, not a single thing, because our weight on the trip was limited to 10 kilos – about 23 lbs, plus camera equipment. We could only bring soft sided bags, bags that could be squashed into the tiny cargo hold of a little Air Safari Cessna 210, which holds no more than six people, max.
We were provided with a list of things to bring, including a medical kit with topical and internal antihistimines, bandages, pain killers, etc. Oh yes, and our malaria pills. Malaria prophylacts have different effects on different people. We were taking Larium for two weeks prior to our departure, during our trip, and must continue for four weeks after the trip. Even so, there are strains of malaria you are not protected against, and we were warned by the medical people that if anything odd pops up in the next year to remind medical professionals treating us that we travelled in Botswana.
The effect Larium has on me is to make me very awake, especially the first two or three days after taking the once-weekly dose. There are other effects – it also gives you very vivid and wild dreams.
Given such a low weight allowance, I had one dress with me, a rayon weave that I had picked up in Saudi Arabia. I wore it travelling, and two times for dinners at lodges. Even sleeping in it on the plane, overnight, it always looked good, and the wrinkles just fell out. Other than that, I wore jeans and T-shirts most of the time, and a long sleeve shirt when it got cool. I had bought a pair of tencel jeans, but they DO wrinkle. The cheap little Liz Claiborne jeans I bought wore like iron, and stayed good looking. I would have taken two pair of those had I known. I had to buy a wool sweater while I was there, as it is the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere, and while the days were very warm between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., the nights were very cool, even COLD!
Arriving in Victoria Falls was a hoot. We had received mixed information on whether or not we would need a visa, and, as it turned out, we did. Everyone did. We stood in line forever. We asked others how much it would cost, and the answer was “what ever they think you will pay”. We ended up paying $30 each, but one guidebook had said $35, so we were not unhappy. And there was a lot of paperwork for two little visitors visas.
People having the most problems were the big game hunters, bringing in weapons to go hunting. The whole idea of shooting these animals is so repugnant to us that we hoped they had to pay a fortune to bring their weapons in. In Zimbabwe the infrastructure is falling into chaos. There is an air of desperation and uncertainty, and a lot of complaining about President Mugabe, his preferential treatment of his cronies, and his private police force. People say that they don’t know from day to day which laws apply, and which will be enforced.
First thing, we went to change money at the airport and no one could agree on what the current rate of exchange was. We changed money, but at what we later learned was a very bad rate. Instead of 55 Zimbabwe Dollars to the US dollar, we later got 80. Oh well.
After months of research, Gary had chosen to travel with Afro Ventures, which recently merged with CC (for Conservation Corp) Africa. We saw a lot of other tour operators while we were there, and never once did we regret our decision. AfroVentures had two young men at the airport to meet us and take us to the Victoria Falls Hotel.
Wow. I wish you could walk into that hotel for the first time with us. It is gorgeous. It is older, with large, spacious rooms and high ceilings. When you enter the foyer, there are large dark wood enclosures for guest services, for money exchange, for concierge, for porters, for booking excursions . . . there is a downstairs convenience and souvenier shop and a huge upstairs shop.
Our room is at the front of the hotel, facing the falls. There are poster beds with mosquito nets, and a dressing room with umbrellas and raincoats for walking down to the falls. Security is everywhere. There are guards at every entrance, and in every hallways. The hallways are long and filled with prints and trophy heads, mahogany furniture and floral arrangements. It is beautiful, it is clean, and it is SOOO elegant. We decided to have lunch on the terrace and decide what to do next. We had come a day early so that we could rest up and be fresh when we started the actual safari, but we are both feeling too excited to rest!
Out on the terrace are several tables filled with people in groups who came to see the total eclipse of the sun (reminds me of an old Carly Simon song). We learned that there are people who do just that, chase eclipses. I think they also, incidentally, do some game viewing. At one table nearby, we hear a guy call out “Steve! We’re over here! Where were you?” and Steve responds “I’ve been on the phone with my banker and my brokers. I’ve told them to liquidate everything and wire it to the hotel, and I’m just gonna stay here until it’s gone, and then tell them to just shoot me!” We laughed. Already, we feel the same way.
Looking at prices in Zimbabwe dollars is pretty scary. Our lunch, two grilled salmon sandwiches and soft drinks, came to a little over $5,500. And that is the way it looks on the menu; the Zimbabwe dollar uses the same sign as the US dollar. Our dinner that night came to over $10,000. Now when you divide by 80, it’s not so bad, but it is a shock when you see the bill. We kept our ears open at lunch and learned a lot. We learned that the balloon ride over the Falls is not a ride, you just go up in a balloon that is tethered over the Falls, but you don’t go anywhere. We learned that the helicopter ride is too short for the money, and a disappointment. We learned that there ARE people who do the bungee jump off the bridge we can see from the terrace, but you’d have to be crazy. Americans talk in such loud voices, and don’t care who is listening.
After lunch we took a hike down to the Falls, a short 5 minutes, but first we booked a tour for late afternoon and another for the following morning.
This is when we truly discovered how chaotic the situation is in Zimbabwe, because we had only brought so much cash with us, thinking we could use our credit cards. Well, we were told, we could use our credit cards but there had been a lot of problems in Zimbabwe with people using credit cards being charged huge amounts to compensate for the fluctuating currency. So we decided to use cash/dollars to pay for our tours, and it wiped out nearly 1/3 of what we had with us. We weren’t concerned, as we knew we would see cash machines later in the trip and could pick up more cash. Another big mistake. We never saw another cash machine until we got back to Johannisburg.
As you leave the hotel to walk to the Falls, you go through a gate, a huge electrified fence. Just outside the fence are huge elephant poops, and that is the purpose of the fence, to keep the elephants out. This is not like our trip to Kenya and Tanzania, more than 25 years ago, when the animals were kept at a distance.
The Falls are spectacular. We paid to get into the park and then hiked to all the vantage points. We had umbrellas with us, and that was a good thing, as the Falls are at a high point right now, and the mist is as heavy as rain in several locations. It is a very hot day, midday, and the cool mist/rain feels great. As it is Saturday, there are a lot of local families visiting the Falls, and that is fun for us, too. We got thoroughly soaked, but enjoyed every minute of it.
The thunder of the water flowing over the falls makes it hard to hear one another, it is so loud, so forceful. It is an awe-inspiring and breathtaking sight. And, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, we learn, and spend the rest of the trip trying to figure out what the other six might be. Natural wonders, not man made.
We have a short rest in our room and it is time for our afternoon tour, a sunset cruise. Here is where we first learn how special this whole adventure is going to be. We thought we had booked on some boat with a large group. Not so! We were picked up by Larry, who then picked up Zandelie. Who is Zandelie? We’re not entirely sure. She is Zimbabwean, works at the African Kingdom hotel, and maybe is Larry’s wife? Girlfriend? We are it. We are the tour.
Larry drives us to a large campground, a campground NOT surrounded by a huge electric fence, where elephants have pushed over most of the trees and baboons are destroying the thatching on the campsite roofs. At the river edge of the campground is a small flat boat with a powerful engine. We see other boats with lots of people, but on our smaller boat it is just us, Larry and Zandelie.
With the small boat, we can get into very shallow inlets and grassy areas. We climbed aboard, and Larry takes us to see elephants, and water buffalo, and wart hogs, and hippos, and baboons. We have a potty stop and Larry points out huge hippo footprints and asks us not to go too far, and to come right back. Did you know that the hippo cause more human deaths than any other animal in Africa?
We anchored near the Zambian side of the Zambezi river, drank Zambezi beer, have a plate of hors d’eouvres and watch the sun go down. All drinks and snacks are included on the tour. The sunset is spectacular, the smalls, the sounds, the sheer beauty – it’s an incredible ending to our first day back in Africa.
Larry drives very slowly on our way back into Victoria Falls, and it is a good thing. There are cars and trucks on the dark road without lights, some on the wrong side of the road. As we enter Victoria Falls, things are really hopping, lots of people, the bars are open but the streets are not well lit. We pass three guys in wheelchairs, just tooling down the road, in the dark, nearly made my heart stop.
Back at the hotel, we decide to try the hotel buffet at the Jungle Junction, so we walk down to make a reservation and unintentionally interrupt a worship service. They are very kind, and reserve for us a lovely table. When we come back, we find that our expectations were wrong, that the food is fabulous. This chef specializes in curries, and oh, we are in heaven. There is a cold gazpacho soup, and a huge buffet, but we adore curries, so just have the soup and curry. Gary has dessert . . . there is SO much to choose from. We are astonished everyone is taking such good care of us.
There is one funny personal moment . . . as we were unpacking at the hotel, and marvelling at how thoughtfully they had provided so many things – a retractible clothesline in the bathroom, and clothes washing powder, the umbrellas, etc., AH found a decorative tin of Lindt chocolates by my side of the bed. “Wow!” he said, “Lindt chocolates, can you believe that??” and he looked inside and found the spicy Chex mix I like so well, and said “I can’t believe it! It’s full of the Chex mix you love!” and I am nearly dying of laughter. I had thought the food might not be very good, and often on these trips you often eat late, so I had brought a supply of Chex mix for holding us over until dinner. All of a sudden he realized it wasn’t the hotel, and we just roared with laughter. We just fell into our beautiful bed, SOOOO tired, and we slept like babies.