Final thoughts about Africa

Being  able to take this magnificent trip was quite a gift. We will never forget the places we visited, the animals we saw, the amazing guides, the excellent accommodations and the wonderful traveling companions. We would recommend Smartours for a future trip without reservation.

We packed just about the right amount of clothes. Jim took shorts, which he never wore. I took sandals, but wore once. We took bathing suits, but didn’t use. Otherwise, we packed layers to wear for the cooler parts of the day and light things for the warmer parts. May is a wonderful time to go to Africa. It is fall, after the rainy season, but with some greenery still left. The days were cloudless for the most part, too.

Taking the correct electrical adapters is very important and we recommend that you take a three way plug, so you can charge your camera, iPad, phones and anything else at the same time, as outlets were sparse in some hotels. Most hotels had a hair dryer, so leave yours at home. Besides, unless you have a dual voltage one, it will be of no use and it takes up room.

We traveled light, Jim with a medium sized bag and me with a carryon, plus a small duffel. Many times, I checked the carryon, when possible. I hate to pay extra to check a bag. Neck pillows are a must on the long flights, and inflatable ones are really nice to have, so you are not lugging it around. We also had several inflatable pillows, which were great fo soften the hard airplane seats and use as a footrest. We wore compression socks for the long hauls, which keep your feet from swelling and help to minimize the possibility of deep vein thrombosis in your legs.

One other item we recommend is a luggage cover. It keeps your bags from being damaged or getting dirty, but also makes identifying them on the carousel easier. They are very stretchy and come in different sizes. Many people use the bag wrapping service, but it is a one time thing and for less money, you have a covering that can be washed and reused.

The shopping was minimal, but I did purchase a carved ostrich egg, which will be a wonderful reminder of this trip and a lovely night light. I already had the light ready and waiting!

Ostrich egg night light

I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure. Aside from sharing our journey, documenting it reminds us of the many experiences we had.

A Boat Ride and then on our way Home

We set out after breakfast in a small pontoon boat to check out the Delta’s birds and wildlife. The birds were prolific. We spotted, thanks to our guide that morning, More, so many species, that it was difficult to remember them all. Fortunately, he did.

We also saw elephants giving themselves a dust, or water bath with dust, so they could be covered in earth or a clay-like surface that helps them keep cool in the noonday sun. They looked like they were having a ball, too. They really knew what to do to stay comfortable.

Many crocs to see, some large and some small. We laughed when we saw something that looked like a croc, but was actually a log. Pretty typical, I guess. These logadiles are very common, but harmless!

Just as we were about to return to the Camp, there was a large crash of hippos (yes, that’s what they are called), in the tall grass, making their way to the water. I would say that there were at least a dozen, bobbing, snorting, coming out of the water and going below. When they snorted, the water sprayed everywhere. I was able to catch them in process and we all loved it!

Time to head back, get washed up a bit, collect our luggage and head to the “airport,” which is still a dirt runway with only one terminal and no gift shops. Although I was still apprehensive, the 45 minute journey to Maun, Botswana, was smooth. I didn’t clutch hardly at all. It doesn’t mean that I will go on a small plane again. Maybe drugged!

The Maun Airport is small, with many light aircraft taking people to the various lodges and camps. There are a couple of larger jet planes, going to Johannesburg or other important cities. The wait was only a an hour and a half, about as long as the trip to Joburg itself. Smooth sailing…

We went through immigration with no difficulty, and then headed to the gate for the two and a half hour wait for our plane to JFK in New York. A little lunch, a bit of touring the stores for any last minute buys and we were off. While the long flight from JFK to Joburg was full, this plane was not. we were able to snag two seats together each, giving us some room to spread out and get some sleep.

Jim took a sleeping pill and slept like a baby for two four-hour stints. I usually can sleep anywhere, but the person at the other end of the four seats decided that he needed to have his light on as he watched the in-flight entertainment! I guess I should have said something, but politeness, and my half opened eyes, persuaded me to just close them and do the best I could. I slept…

The fifteen and a half hour flight actually went fairly quickly. It was smooth and I loved that there was a camera mounted on the tail of the plane, so you could see what the pilot sees. Since it was night time, all I could see were the runway lights at takeoff and then the approach and landing  in New York. It was like a GoPro on steroids!

We gathered our luggage, said a fond farewell to our traveling companions, and headed to the gate to await our Aeromexico flight to Mexico City, then on to Guadalajara. In the end the travel time was about 40 hours, including the layovers. Once home, our dogs greeted us with great enthusiasm. Doug and Johanne, our house sitters spoiled the dogs rotten, with lots of walks, petting, hugs and treats. Pancho was sad to see them leave. They had a 5am flight to Equador for their next house sit assignment. What a life they are leading.

I will post a lot more pictures in a separate blog posting.

Happy elephant
Fish eagle
Sunning croc
Egreta, cormorants and more
Baboon
Happy hippos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Day at the Okavango Delta

The pictures are terribly out of order, because my iPad and this blog site have minds of their own! In any case…

Today is our last full day here in the Okavango. The Camp is so very accommodating, offering good meals, unlimited beverages and drinks, a tea/coffee break on morning game drives and a cocktail break on late afternoon drives. We stop under a tree and enjoy a light snack with our drinks, while watching nearby zebras, wildebeests and impalas.

Early in the morning and later in the evening, when the temps are low, you dress in layers and are given a fleece-lined hooded poncho, that keeps you very warm as you whisk through the bush. As the day warms up, you peel off the layers and enjoy the cloudless sky.

We always sat in different seats, so everyone had an opportunity to take pictures. We see more elephants or warthogs and  note that this is an everyday sighting. We didn’t see any cheetahs in the morning, but saw wildebeests and beautiful giraffes. In the evening drive, we finally got our wish to see about five or six wild dogs, a very rare event. KT, our guide, was very excited to find them. We even had a honey badger sighting, one of the meanest animals around, a mom and baby.

A young male elephant decided to show his bravado by coming toward us quickly as we were driving by, with ears flared and trunk up, trumpeting loudly.  KT said that he was misbehaving according to how herds usually work. You truly have to be afraid when the ears are back and the trunk is tucked under. KT hit the gas and we flew threw the bush.

Awaiting us at the Camp in the evening was a big, warming firepit and a lovely candle-lit dinner. As we were eating, A huge male bull elephant just outside of the reception area was a frightening sight. The staff was trying to chase him away, but he was very stubborn and wouldn’t leave. Although several elephants are common visitors to eat the marula fruit from the many trees in the camp, this one is a bit more aggressive. As I went toward the door to take a picture, he looked directly at me and got agitated, trying to come through the door. Yikes! No wonder we must escorted to our rooms to avoid any encounters.

It was a great day of game drives. We are sad to be leaving tomorrow, but we have had such a great time. In the morning, we have a boat trip on the Delta to see birds and maybe more. It will be sad to end the trip, but also time to go home!

Our room at the camp
Welcoming party at camp
The tub!
Airplane to the Delta
View from the plane
Our tented lodging

On to the Okavango Delta

We had breakfast at the Mowana Lodge and then took the short ride to the Kasane International Airport. It actually is a modern facility, with only a few flights in and out. There is an international flight to Johannesburg and probably elsewhere and small planes to destinations domestically. I knew we were flying on a small plane, but didn’t realize how small.

With Karen and Chico departing from us, we were eight. To get to the Delta, we had to split up into two planes, four and four. The planes only hold six total, so there was no option. I am not a small plane gal, so just seeing this plane got my heart into palpitations!

We took off into the clear sky and I just closed my eyes and breathed. When there was even the slightest bump (and fortunately not too many during the trip), i grabbed Jim’s hand and squeezed. Poor Jim had a paralyzed hand at the end of the 90 flight.

We landed on a dirt runway, scattering plovers who were meandering on it. We arrived at the “terminal” and boarded the Land Cruiser for the short drive to the Kadizora Lodge. It is located in the northern corner of the Okavango Delta, very remote, surrounded by over 100,000 acres of marshland. There are over 200 lodges in the Delta, some with their own landing strips.

This Lodge is quite amazing. The tented rooms are large and very comfortable and even has a claw-foot tub. We have to be aware of elephants who wander into the camp regularly, and the occasional big cat. Unfortunately, internet is only available in the common areas, and it is slow, so maybe no pictures! We have been advised to not wander at night without an escort. They didn’t have to mention it twice!

After a lovely lunch, we got settled in our tents and returned to the bar area for “high tea,” at 3:30 in preparation for our evening game drive. We have been promised to see lots of interesting game. And, we weren’t disappointed.

Supposedly, there were signs of cheetahs by the other guides, so we headed to the area they mentioned. For over two hours, we navigated on deep sand, dirt and water paths, almost invisible until the Land Cruiser turned on to them. That vehicle was amazing. Of course, we saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, more  antelope varieties, warthogs and buffalo. They were a joy to see, but where were the big cats?

All of a sudden, KT noticed a leopard in the tall grass alongside the path we were on. Quickly, he turned around and we followed the cat, who was walking casually down the path, not paying us much mind. It was a female about nine years old and she stopped every once in a while to mark her territory, so the males would find her.

With the sun almost setting, we were thrilled to have this sighting. And, she kept walking… KT moved the truck in front of the leopard and blocked the path, so we could get better pictures. She didn’t care, and just walked under the vehicle to continue her journey. And, it happened five or six times!

Another guide in his vehicle came by to witness this awesome sight, so I got a shot of her near their truck. Just before one trip under our truck, she looked up and stared at me, and the results could have been frightening. Everyone saw it, so it wasn’t my imagination. I got some fabulous pictures.

Finally, she turned into the grasses and disappeared. We were satisfied that we got to see one cat, and it was remarkable. However, as we started back to the Lodge, we had elephants walking across our path, out of nowhere, then a large male lion and finally, a porcupine waddled on the path and we were able to follow it for a while. KT never experienced the leopard incident before, nor had a lion so close or witnessed a porcupine right in front of us.

Sadly, with the incredibly slow wifi speed, i can’t add the pictures now, but I will at my first opportunity. Two more game drives tomorrow, a boat trip on Tuesday morning and we start our trek home.

 

Chobe Game Drives


Well, today was an especially extraordinary day. We woke up early to board our Land Cruiser for the short drive to the park. The roads are sand and pretty rough dirt, so we were jostled quite a bit. The morning chill was not too bad because we each had a warm, fuzzy blanket to cover our legs. Believe me, it makes a difference. Jim still wore his new knit beanie. Off to find animals…

Lilac breasted roller

During the morning game drive, we drove for an hour and a half and saw almost nothing. We stopped to see a bird, vulture or guinea hen (the Chobe chicken) for way too long. I know that there are lots of birders out there, but for us, more than a few minutes seeing birds was too much time. Then, suddenly, we saw more

Warthogs

impalas, warthogs and cape buffaloes. What we really wanted to see were elephants, giraffes and especially lions. Maybe in the afternoon game drive.

Elephant by the car

We left at 3:00 for the second drive of the day. Almost immediately, we saw several parades of elephants (yes that is what a herd is called), some almost within an arm’s length of the car. We were thrilled. There were families with lots of babies, too. And then, we saw a tower of giraffes (yes, the name for a group of them ), both young and old. There were no babies, which would have been great. It was getting late, time to leave the park. We were still disappointed that we didn’t see any lions.

Then, as we turned a corner, there were five or six vehicles

Male lion

with people obviously looking at something. Lo and behold, there were two lions, just posing on the ground, as if they knew we were coming. They looked to be about 18 months old, male and female, possibly siblings. We were all so happy that this sighting made the day complete.

We realized that we didn’t have lunch, so dinner was especially welcome. Sadly, we will be saying goodbye to our guide Chico, and travel mate, Karen, neither of whom are continuing on to the Okavango Delta extension of the trip. Tomorrow morning, we all go to the itty bitty airport in nearby Kasane, but Chico and Karen will fly home to Namibia and Detroit respectively, while we go on to our next destination for three more days. It will be a very fond farewell, with plans to keep in touch.

What I neglected to mention is that Karen, Deborah and I went to the golf clubhouse here and got to watch the “wedding” of the year. You heard right… Since we are only one hour ahead of London, we could watch it without waking up in the middle of the night. With gin and tonics and beers, we felt very British!

I actually did that at a previous royal wedding with a big group of ladies, donning pajamas, pearls and fascinators (those silly hats the women wear). Thank you, Anita, but this year, we got to watch and critique in real time! Jim played nine holes of golf, then joined us in the clubhouse. You can imagine what a fan he is of royal weddings. We had a ball…  Amazingly, Harry and Meaghan were here in Botswana less than a week ago and someone said that they may go to Namibia for their honeymoon. And, we just missed them! Maybe next time.

View from dining room
Lodge dining room
More elephants

Sunset

On to Botswana and Chobe National Park

Cresta Mowana Lodge

We left in the morning to drive to Botswana from Zimbabwe. The border isn’t very far, less than an hour away. We made it through immigration pretty quickly and got to our new digs, Cresta Mowana Lodge, just outside of the park, just in time for lunch. Sitting on the patio alongside the Chobe River, was just beautiful and relaxing.

1,000 year old baobob

Mowana means baobab, and there a number of very old ones on the property. Normally, they are without leaves, because the elephants eat them and the trunks have gouges from the tusks. The branches usually look like the root system you would see below ground. Not these trees. They are leafy and healthy. I guess no elephants have stayed here recently.

Our room

We settled in our rooms and very shortly, went to the river for our sunset cruise to find more animals. Our guide told us about the area, while offering us drinks and snacks. The Chobe and Zambezi Rivers intersect where four countries come together, namely Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia. The Zambezi continues on to Victoria Falls. And, I was incorrect when I said that it starts in Mozambique. Rather, the Zambezi starts in Angola and after the Falls, flows through Mozambique to the Indian Ocean. I know there are those who have already checked my facts!

Triple decker boat

We saw crocodiles, hippos, impalas, a warthog, cape buffaloes, monitor lizards and lots of birds. There were many boats on the river, including three story houseboats. It was a nice way to end the day, seeing another extraordinary sunset.

Elephant
Warthog
Hippos
African crocadile
Monitor lizard

Victoria Falls and…

We woke up this morning to another beautiful day. Although it was a little chilly in the morning, the high for the day was supposed to be 83F, which Is very comfortable, especially with no humidity. Mike, our local guide, picked us up and took us to to the Falls, about a five minute drive away. We were given long raincoats and a little talk about the Falls. The water that feeds the Falls is spring water from natural wells, but after the good rainy season, which ended in March, the water was very high, causing a very heavy mist that you can see for miles.

Karen, who is one of our group, was here 15 years ago, in November, in the dry season before the rains, so this experience was quite different for her. There was less water, but less drama, too. I put my iPad in a big ZipLok bag, to protect it from the moisture, which worked out very well.

Although my shots aren’t as crisp as I would have liked, I think they depicted the essence of the Falls and surrounding rainforest. There are 16 viewing stations in total, with the last one being the bridge to Zambia, on the other side  of the Falls. We are on the Zimbabwe side.

The force and power of the water is more than impressive, even though it is the third highest drop, with Niagara, between the US and Canada and Iguasu, between Brazil and Argentina ranked as one and two. The Zambezi River starts above Mozambique and ultimately spills into the Indian Ocean. Despite its long length, it is only the fourth longest river in Africa. The first three are the Nile, Congo and Niger Rivers. Discovered by Dr. David Livingstone, there is a huge statue of him at the entrance to the Victoria Falls National Park. You may remember hearing, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume,” when a British search party was looking for him. They are one in the same.

Bridge to Zambia

We walked to the 13th (out of 16) viewing area, but couldn’t get any further, as the mist and the slippery walkways posed potential problems. At many of the viewing stops, the mist presented itself as rain, not hard, but constant. In other places it was just a gentle mist. Good thing we had the jackets, which were long and hooded. We still got pretty wet. Well worth it

Returning to the Lodge, we had lunch and at an excellent seat overlooking the watering hole to witness the daily 1:00PM vulture feeding. There are at least four kinds of vultures and Maribou storks awaiting the raw meat provided by the Lodge staff. Just before 1:00, the birds started gathering, flying by the hundreds overhead, sitting patiently in the open area by the water and in the trees. I guess their alarm went off! They are so well trained that when the man removing the meat from the cooler wasn’t moving fast enough for them, the man turned to them as if to say, “Cool it!” They did! In another few minutes, it was an amazing feeding frenzy.

After the fowl settled down, presumably satiated, we went to Karen’s room for cocktails. This is her 19th Smartours trip, so she got a super deluxe room, a two story affair with two baths, champagne, wine and more. Four more on our trip joined us. From Karen’s  balcony, we could see three elephants millimg around the watering hole, along with a herd of impalas., prior to going on our evening game drive and bush dinner.

We were picked up in a big bush nine passenger vehicle and headed to the private game preserve, which is about 3,200 square kilometers. It was a very successful drive (safari?)

Bushmobile

because we saw Impalas, Cape Buffaloes, Elands and Sables (both a type of antelopes), Plains Zebras, Baboons, Black Rhinos and a bunny! We didn’t see lions, cheetahs or leopards, but may in future safaris, seven more to come. Cedric, our guide was very knowledgeable, about animals, trees/foliage and even stars/constellations.

We stopped at a man made dam and reservoir to benefit the animals, for a cocktail break at sunset before going to our bush dinner. Expecting a camp meal, it was far from that. We had a very nice meal of grilled meats, a variety of sides, salad and dessert, all in the preserve. It was another long, but fascinating day.

Tomorrow morning, we were supposed to walk with lions, departing at 6:00AM, but decided to beg off the experience, particularly since we are leaving at 10:30AM for Chobe National Park, about 70km away, for two nights and four more safaris. Lots of pictures…

Impala
Baboon
Black rhino
Cape Buffalo
Eland herd

 

 

Plains zebra
Sable

 

Off to Victoria Falls…

Just to wrap up last night, Terry and Debra joined us to peruse the mall. Jim was looking for a knit beanie to wear in the early mornings for the game drives and Terry wanted a new backpack. Debra and just wanted to see this amazing upscale mall across from our hotel in Mandela Square. Well, we weren’t disappointed on any count.

The biggest surprise was that the anchor store was Woolworth’s – yes, Woolworth’s. They had every kind of fashion department and a supermarket that could best any Whole Foods or fancy market in the US or Canada. Debra and I were walking around with our mouths hanging open at the variety and quality of the offerings. Fortunately, we didn’t have much time, or we would still be there!

VF Airport

In any case, we left our hotel this morning at 7:30 to get to the Joburg airport for our flight to Victoria Falls. The short flight was packed and we were in row 66, just three rows from the back. I was not imagining that the VF airport could handle such a big plane. Easy flight, but once we landed, we were told that the delay in getting our visa to enter Zimbabwe was very tedious. They weren’t kidding. We stood around for over an hour at one of the many kiosks to get processed, to pay the $45 US per person for a two entry visa, so we can walk over to the Zambia side of the falls. Yikes! Eventually, we got through, got our bags and bus to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, about 30 minutes from the airport.

Lobby of VF Lodge

The Lodge is beautiful, surrounded by woods that welcome animals to the watering spot, visible from all the rooms. After a quick turnaround, we walked to the lobby and right at there was an elephant getting a sip of water. How awesome! We met in the lobby to take our sunset cruise on the Zambesi River to spot more wildlife. The pontoon boat had tables and chairs, a stocked bar and a captain who provided lots of

Watering hole w/elephant

information about the river and area. We were serenaded by men in various native costumes, singing and harmonizing songs that could have been from The Lion King. We all loved it.

As we slowly navigated the river, sipping vodka tonics, we saw several hippos hidden, then visible in the water. Sometimes, only their eyes were above the

Hippos

water. It kind of felt like a ride at Disneyland. We saw white beaked vultures in the trees (one of many species of vultures in the area that are fed to great fanfare every day at 1:00PM). We saw beautiful small birds with very colorful heads called Bee Eaters. And, we could see the mist from the falls, creating rainbows. However, the best part was the sunset itself. We were all enraptured with

More hippos

the colors of the sky as the sun went down. Or, maybe it was the vodka tonics!

The sunset

Back to the Lodge for dinner and more music. It has been another long day, but very satisfying. Tomorrow, we are off to see the falls in another boat, from below. Luckily, it is nice and warm here (mid to high 80’s), so getting a little wet should pose no problem. We are going to the artesan market and in the late afternoon, to an evening game drive and bush dinner. Another adventure… Time for bed.

No explanation needed
VF mist
Bee eaters

Long Travel Day

Our wake up call was at 3:00am for a 4:00am departure from the Lodge. The wind was whipping the canvas on our front porch, but it wasn’t a cold wind. The bus took off on the four hour drive to Windhoek, Namibia’s capital. We were the only traffic on the very dark road, with stars that shown brightly. Even an oryx crossed the road in front of us!

The bone rattling ride on sand covered washboard roads was pretty bad. I got my neck pillow, which helped me get a little sleep. However, the worst part was that the bus (a Mercedes bus, no less) had NO HEAT. As we got closer to the sunrise, the temperature dropped from 12C to 9C, which even a jacket and socks couldn’t help.

Fortunately, the last hour was on paved roads and the stop for coffee and tea warmed up our hands. The pit stop was in a town called Rehoboth, like in Delaware. Settled in the 1600’s, the German men came to Namibia and eventually found African women to marry. This was quite scandalous, but it explains why one of the  ost prominent languages here is German. You see it on the street signs and is spoken by whites and blacks alike.

We got to the airport around 10:00am for our noon flight to Johannesburg, a little over an hour flight. They still managed to feed us lunch. Ah, civilized travel exists after all. From the Joburg airport, we made it to our hotel, across from Nelson Mandella Square. The attached mall is unbelievable. The shops are very upscale and Jim, as well as Debra and Terry from our group, found an item or two they wanted.

We had dinner at a lovely steak restaurant on the square and were not disappointed. Across the way was another restaurant we avoided called Trumps, even though we are pretty sure there is no connection to a current President! Back in the room for bed and an early breakfast and departure to Victoria Falls in the  morning. Another flight, about two hours long. No pictures, but a good day

 

Off to the Dunes…

 

Our desert vehicle.               We got up early this morning to take the hour drive to the famous red sand dunes. The best known ones are No. 45 (because it is located 45km from the park entrance), Big Daddy and Big Mama. The sand color is due to the amount of iron in the sand. We drove in the same open vehicle we had last night and it was bone-chilling cold the entire way (about 12C, plus the biting wind).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we arrived at No. 45, we could see many people walking up the ridge to the

Dune 45

top. It isn’t as tall as Big Daddy, and there were lots of tour groups there, so we continued on to Big Daddy, about 20 km farther. The paved road ended after 10 km and reverted to a washboard sand road, perfect for our vehicle, as long as you don’t stop. There were a few vehicles that did stop and all they could do is watch their tires spin in the sand.

Big Daddy

 

We had the same guide as last night, John, who took most of the group (except Jim and me) up a nearby dune to get the feel of climbing Big Daddy, without the three

Climbing the nearby dune

hour climb. We opted to take pictures of them from below and were glad that we didn’t make the climb. However, we met them on the other side and got to see an old lakebed and another great view of this awesome dune.

Big Mama

After many photo ops, we crossed the road to a shaded area below Big Mama, for a lovely picnic snack. Coffee, tea, cold cuts, freshly baked breads, two kinds of yogurt and cereal made the al fresco meal just perfect.

Picnic snack

 

 

Afterward, we drove back, with John going over 90 km/hr, like a bat out of hell. Remember that this vehicle is totally open, so the wind was whipping our faces and just keeping our hats on our heads was a challenge! Returning at that speed made for a faster trip, but we were wind-burned in the process.

Thinking that we were heading back to the Lodge, we turned off the road to the Sesreim Canyon, just outside of the resort entrance. At over 9 mt deep, it was carved by water into the volcanic material. In the rainy season, it is a flowing river. It was an unexpected sight.

 

Finally, we got back to our casita, where I deposited mounds of sand from my shoes on the front porch. It was as if I was wearing shoes two sizes too small, with another sock-full of sand between my toes! A quick wash and we had a bite of lunch. So now, while I am catching up with the blog, Jim is taking a bit of a nap. Tomorrow morning, we are meeting at 4:00 am for the five hour drive to Windhoek and a short flight back to Johannesburg. Sounds like an early evening to me…

Sossuvlei Lodge