Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

First Full Day at Chongwe River Camp

Have you ever thought you might like to be a safari guide in Africa? It sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? What a great life, you take people on drives a couple times a day, tell them about the wildlife, eat meals with them, it’s all fun . . . right?

These guides work hard. First, in order to qualify as a guide, you have to take – and pass – a national exam, an exam in three parts. If you don’t pass any one section, you have to take it again. You have to know the common name for animals, birds, trees, bushes and flowers, and you also have to know the Latin names.

If you are a guide, people will ask you the craziest questions, and expect you to answer. If someone gets sick on the drive, you have to know basic First Aid. If something goes wrong with the car, as a guide, it is your responsibility to fix it, or to get the people you are responsible for back to camp.

If you are a guide, you can go back to where the leopard ALWAYS hangs out, or to where another guide spotted mating lions, and today, with your guests, they won’t be there, and you won’t see any sign of them. If you show them two prides of lion, they will be elated until they hear that the other guests saw mating leopard, and they will be mad at YOU, the guide, because they didn’t see them. If the day is too hot or too cold, you have to find a way to make your guests comfortable.

At the end of a long day driving and trying to make people happy, you have to sit with the same people at dinner, making polite conversation, answering their questions, and you’d be surprised how often it is the same question.

We really admire the guides. They work hard. They can make or break a guest’s perception of a camp. It’s hard work.

Our guide at Chongwe River Camp, Victor, knocks himself out. Although we didn’t show up until after four the day we arrived, he had us out on the river by five 🙂

Early the next morning, we have a campfire by the river, with a pot of porridge, home made hot muffins and a glorious sunrise:

We head out on a game drive, passing the waterbuck once again, and spot a stork fishing for his breakfast:

The morning light is achingly beautiful; we can’t stop taking pictures:

Victor is leaning over the side of the car; that is always good news. He’s spotted a lion print:

The Cape Buffalo are still sleepy and a little slow, so we get some good photos:

We get to the entrance to the Lower Zambezi National Park:

And we see a jackal! The only other jackal we saw as at the salt pan, and that at a distance!

We are driving around looking for lion when suddenly Victor stops the car and backs up. There, on the grass, under a tree, is a leopard, just waiting for us!

Now here’s the thing – I probably took about fifty shots of this leopard, but I am not happy, and this is normal for trying to shoot leopard, or lion – many times they are in grass. Sometimes it can confuse your camera, you think you are shooting the leopard, but your camera focused on the shoot of grass just in front. Or you think you’ve taken the perfect shot, and there is this leaf, or grass, just marring the perfection of your shot. Or the leopard is facing away from you. Or the leopard is walking into the brush! Oh no!

This nice little female leopard put up with us for about half an hour, then leisurely walked away, all of us still snapping, snapping, snapping . . .

I love this elephant, I love this elephant’s ear. We’ve taken a lot of elephant photos, but I really love this elephant:

We can’t believe what a wonderful morning we are having, and just as we are feeling life can’t get much better, Victor spots two young lions. He says they are part of a larger group, but the larger lions have gone off hunting and these have been left tagging behind:

Just after the young lions have wandered off stage, we see this big boy coming down the road, and he is terrifying. He has one thought on his mind, find that lady elephant, and we do NOT want to get in his way:

I know, I know, this is a family blog . . .

It’s been quite a morning, and we head back to camp, but we are all too excited to sleep after lunch. I intended to wash my hair, but there is a cold breeze blowing in off the river, and our wonderful open air shower is just a little too shivery for me today.

We take a walk into the main camp – here is the main camp lounge:

And the dining table overlooking the Chongwe River:

And overlooking a huge pod of sunning hippo:

We run into Chris, one of the Chongwe River Camp owners, with whom we flew from Lusaka to Royal, the airstrip for Chongwe River camp. He talked about the new direct flight from Dubai to Lusaka and how he wants to market to expats in Dubai, Qatar, Kuwait, etc. to get them to come down to Chongwe for their holidays. We tell him we did most of our Africa travel from Kuwait and Qatar, that it was a piece of cake with a time zone change of only an hour, not 8 hours, and travel time usually just overnight, and the price is a lot cheaper from there, too. It’s a great trip out of the Middle East, and we think he has the right idea, to market the camp to expats and locals there.

After tea, we head back out on the river, three of us, while one goes fishing. What we love about Chongwe is that there are so many things to do, and so much fun!

Victor finds a spot near the White Fronted Bee Eaters for sundowners, and we meet up with the fishermen, who, alas, did not catch anything:


Back at the AlBida Suite (the Family Suite) Steve-the-Butler has laid out a beautiful campfire to welcome us back.

It has been a perfect day. Victor joins us for an early dinner, and as we finish up a chilly breeze starts blowing and we all say goodnight, knowing morning will be coming early once again.

Advertisements

June 27, 2012 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, Hotels, Living Conditions, sunrise series, Sunsets, Tunisia, Zambia | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Safari / WordPress Upload Image Hint

After several mornings of agony trying to upload my sunrise photo, only to be successful later in the day, I went to the FAQ section, where one little line gave me a clue for something else to try. It’s something about when you sign on, you might get one link or you might get another.

When uploading an image, if I see that they are using “Flash” I know it is going to work. If it says it is using “browser,” it is never going to work.

As cumbersome as it may be, what works for me is to sign out, and sign in again, hoping this next link will enable the “Flash” upload.

Bonus morning photo, just because I can:

April 26, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Photos, sunrise series, WordPress | , | 15 Comments

The Great Migration (3)

Our trip started at the Grumeti River Camp and continued on the the Serengeti Tent Camps. We have filled our eyes and ears with the sights and sounds of the Great Migration, and have had the thrills of elephants, giraffes, lions, hyenas, alligators and vultures in addition. Now it is time to head north, to the Klein’s Wilderness Camp, located near Klein’s Wilderness Lodge.

The “airport” at Serengeti, from where we are flying, is a busy little place with one open-to-the-air little cafe and a toilet down a path with two stalls. It’s the bring-your-own paper kind of place, but it’s nice there is that convenience. The landing strip itself is just a cleared piece of ground where the little two engine planes land and take off.

00airport-cafe.jpg

Our flight is larger than most we have taken, maybe 20-something people, most on the way home or to Zanzibar. First, they are dropping us off at Kleins, a short flight away. The landing field at Klein’s has a little antelope running across it when we get there, so the pilot circles and lands on the lush green landing strip. There is no one there. We wait, it is inevitable that a car come roaring around the curve any moment now, but no car comes. The pilot comes on the microphone and asks who the passengers are for Klein’s, and we raise our hands.

“I can’t leave you here,” he says.

We totally understand. There are lions around. This is a wild country.

“I have to take you to Arusha with us,” he says, “and I will bring you back on the next flight.”

I am not entirely unhappy. In the tiny little airport in Arusha, I found a vendor who is selling Masai textiles and raw gems at very good prices. He is Moslem, and astounded that I speak some Arabic. When I come back to his shop, he is delighted to see me again. (or maybe I paid too much the first time, ya think?)

I pick up a few more momentos, and head back for the airline departure desk, where there is a very loud argument going on over the telephone about who is to blame about our not being picked up at Klein’s Wilderness Camp. The Camp says the airlines never told them. The airlines say they did. It’s on our itinerary, which we have had for months, and we landed exactly when they said we would, but in Africa, you have to stay flexible, flight schedules change depending on where customers need to be dropped off. It doesn’t pay to get angry or aggressive, you learn to just go with the flow. Things will work out.

A short time later, the pilot takes us to the plane for the flight back, and whoa! We fly right over an active volcano!

00volcano.jpg

This time, when we get to Klein’s, a car is waiting and the arguement between Klein’s and the airlines continues. On the way to Klein’s, we are told that they were never told when we would be arriving.

Don’t you hate it when people refuse to take any responsibility? The airlines treated us so well, the pilot said he didn’t think it was their fault but he went out of his way to make sure we felt well taken care of. This is the only time at CCAfrica that we felt the camp was not well managed, and part of that feeling came from this continual message of “it’s not our fault.” We later learned that the previous camp manager had just been fired and a new manager was starting, and there was a lot of work going on to try to get the camp back on track.

This was another beautiful location, we were high up and could see forever.

00camp2.jpg

Sometimes, in the mornings, or in the late afternoon, the migrating antelope came through the camp. We could sit outside and just watch them file past.

Most of our days in this camp, we would leave early in the morning, have lunch with us so we would stop somewhere in the park, and not get back until late at night. These are the vehicles we travelled in, stopped for a break

00vehicles.jpg:

Some of the roads were barely there, were pitted, or rutted, or were raw rock:

00roadshot.jpg

We spent hours watching the zebra herds, and the shy antelope:

00roanzebra.jpg

“How can you spend hours watching zebra?” you might ask. Every zebra is different. It’s particularly fun watching female zebra with their young. When they are born, the momma zebra insures that her little baby zebra sees only her coat for the first important hours of it’s life, so that the baby can recognize the momma zebra’s own unique markings:

00aeveryzebradifferent.jpg

But there were other thrills as well. The nice thing about travelling in a very small group (most of the time just AdventureMan and I and the guide) was that you can ask them to stop while you photograph a beautiful purple flower:

00purpleflower.jpg

And if you see a leopard, you can just sit and watch him as long as you like:

00leopardtreeshot.jpg

We rarely ran into others from the camps, but this Masai was accompanying another group:

00masai.jpg

Among the thrills in this more northern camp were also the glorious birds. This is one of our favorites, a Lilac Breasted Roller:

00lilacbreastedrollah.jpg

I’m not sure what this bird is, probably a common starling. His fluorescent coloring attracted my eye. AdventureMan says that the fluorescent coloring happens a lot in birds which eat excrement, but he is not sure that is true, just what he thinks he remembers:

00beautifulbirdnotroller.jpg

We love travelling with CCAfrica. They specialize in eco-tourism, like the Robin Pope Safari Camps we travel with in Zambia. Our all time favorite safari with them was The Hemingway, a 14 day safari through Botswana, starting in Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls, heading south to Chobe and Moremi, Savute, the Okavango and then flying into the Kalahari. It was an all-time thrill. If January is a little slow for you and you want to read about the Hemingway Safari you can click on that blue type and it will take you to the first entry – of thirteen! I wrote it up back when I was first blogging, sort of as a discipline for myself to get it all down in writing. There aren’t a lot of photos – I wasn’t digital then – but it is a very thorough description of a trip-of-a-lifetime safari.

Even though they don’t seem to offer this particular safari anymore, CCAfrica will tailor any safari you want to your specifications. What we loved about the Hemingway was that so much of it was under canvas, so we would be sleeping right out among the animals – and listening all night.

A warning – none of these safaris are for people who HATE getting up early. The game is active in early early morning and late afternoon, so most camps get you up at 5:30 – 6:00 so you can grab a quick cup of coffee and bite to eat and then run for the jeeps/vehicles that will take you out to see the game. It can be very cold on an early morning game run, but oh – the thrills! It is SO worth it! You come back late morning, have your mid-day meal, which in these camps is always amazing, and then you have quiet time in the heat of the afternoon, when you can catch up on those zzZZZZZZZzzzzz’s you missed out on in the early morning. You wake up refreshed, ready for afternoon tea and your afternoon/evening game drive. They feed you and feed you – but we never gain weight on these trips, maybe because you are rocking around over the rough roads all day.

And, when the trip is over, and you are ready for a few days of sloth and luxury before you return to the real world, there is no better spot for transitioning than the CCAfrica private island hideaway of Mnemba, a place we dream about on a cloudy dark day in Kuwait:

00mnembaisland.jpg

That is Mnemba island in the background, viewed from the beach in Zanzibar. You take a boat to get there, and when you land, you land barefoot. You never put your shoes on the entire time you are there. It is beautiful, secluded, luxurious and infinitely private. You can have all your meals in your own banda, if you wish. They have their own marine reserve, a dive shop, snorkeling equipment and it is all included. They even have internet. 🙂

View from our Mnemba banda:

00aviewfrombanda.jpg

December 30, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Arts & Handicrafts, Botswana, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Holiday, Living Conditions, Lumix, Photos, Tanzania, Travel, Zanzibar | , , , , | 10 Comments

The Great Migration (2)

After two wonderful days in Grumeti River Lodge we transfer to the CCAfrica’s Serengeti Under Canvas Program, with the first camp being a short drive from the Grumeti River Lodge.

We LOVE tent camping. We used to camp out of a Volkswagon bus across the US with a baby and a cat (now that was an adventure!), in Tunisia, in Jordan. Now, I still love camping, and I particularly love it CCAfrica style – maximum 8 tents to a camp, a huge bed with good linens, an indoor shower and toilet, brass water containers, all very Hemingway in feeling. I love having coffee brought to the tent early in the morning, and I love the quiet shuuussshhhing of the wind through the high African grasses. We have our own dining tent to the side of our tent, which is high on the ridge, or we can choose to eat with the others.

Here is a view looking out from our tent across the Serengeti Plains:

00camp1.jpg

There is one little fly in the ointment – to get in and out of this camp, we drive our open vehicles through an area infested with tsetse flies. I am terribly, horribly allergic to mosquitos and to tsetse flies, and of course they find me irresistible. I am totally wrapped up in local large cotton wraps called kikoy – I look like a very colorful bedu woman, all covered except for my eyes.

But it’s worth it. I take tubes of Benedryl2 with me and lather it on morning and night to keep the size of the bites down.

First trip out of the game camps we find gnus at a water crossing. No hungry alligators, but it’s wonderful getting to watch them crossing:
00gnucrossing.jpg

There are only four of us in the Rover, so we can spend all the time we need watching the elephants. It’s always a delight to find a mother with a baby. The elephants are so sweet with the babies:

00elephantmombabe.jpg

Early one morning, we catch a group of hyena:

000hyena.jpg

Even better, as sundown nears, we find a pride of lions, catching the last rays of the day and preparing to hunt:

00lionthrill.jpg

I have one of the early Lumix models, an FZ10. It takes beautiful photos, even under very low-light conditions. It is small, lightweight, fairly fast, shoots movies as well as stills, captures audio, and oh – did I mention small and lightweight? It has the equivalent of a 420mm lens, in a small body. It is an amazing camera and gets amazing shots.

Sundown has it’s own rituals, with a stop every night for refreshments and a toast to the setting sun:

000sundowners.jpg

We spend two nights at the Grumeti River Camp, following the herds, photographing as they drink, as they trek, but in truth, you simply can’t imagine the scale of The Great Migration unless you see it for yourself. At one point, we sat in the center of a road as thousands of gnu and zebra filed past.

000greatmigration.jpg

We sat for an hour, shooting stills and shooting movies, and when we left, the line just kept going. We were surrounded. Sometimes it would thin a little, and sometimes the gnu would start to gallop and they would all start to gallop and the sounds of their hooves would thunder on the ground.

Other times, we would be sitting, and we would hear the sound of the gnu just shhhhussshhh, shhuusssss, shuussshhhhhh, interspersed with the occasional “hungh? hungh? hungh?”

Watching the zebras drinking, all would be quiet and then all of a sudden one would twitch or panic or something, and then you would hear loud “SWWWOOOOOOOSSSHHHing” noises as they rushed out of the water. We loved the vastness of the Migration, the enormity of it, the huge, grand overwhelming scale of it all, but for me, it was these sounds that have stuck in my memory.

AdventureMan and I find these experiences nourish our souls. We feel close to God in the African wild. We love the sights, and the smells and the sounds. We love meeting the African people. When we get back, we can still sniff the smell of wood-burning campfires lingering in our clothing.

Next, we head for Klein’s Wilderness Camp.

000planetogrumeti.jpg

December 29, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Lumix, Marriage, Tanzania, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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: 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: Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe (Part 1)

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.

September 7, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Road Trips, Travel, Zambia, Zimbabwe | , , , | 2 Comments