Monday, August 22, 2016

From Johannesburg to Nairobi to Arusha

For the first time since the day after the gorge hike, my thigh muscles are not hurting...I used muscles on that hike that I didn't even know I had.

The numerous red dots on my legs are still as vibrant as they were two days ago.

The Breakfast buffet at the Aviator Hotel is substantial...with lots of meat but also lots of fruit.

Cameron put our bug spray and suntan lotion in his carry on instead of checked luggage so it is confiscated...ahhhhhhh! We buy more at the airport.

The Joburg airport is quite nice with good shops ( including Shawn's favourite store, Cape Union Mart) and fairly fast wifi. I finally get internet quick enough to do skype or whatsapp calls, unfortunately it is 3:30 am in Oakville and 1:30am in Calgary.

The flight to Nairobi is five hours. There is a bit of turbulence on our descent which brings  back memories of our turbulent flight to New Orleans last February. A driver is waiting to drive us to the border of Kenya and Tanzania. Our driver is a quiet guy so there is not a lot of conversation during the ride. The van is a little tight. Shawn sits in the front and Graham, Cameron and I sit in the back.

In the two hour drive to the border we pass through an industrial area by the airport and then lots of little towns.

The market areas of these towns are on each side of the highway. Many of the buildings are made from corrugated metal in a block style. The store signs are all hand painted. Many merchants just have their wares on tables in the open.The areas are usually busy with people walking to the businesses or just socializing. I see a lot of people in Masai dress.

We pass a " Feed the Children" centre.

There are many motorcycles on the road and three wheeled little truck.

We switch drivers when we get to the border. We go to the Kenya border for our exit stamps and then buy our entrance visas at the Tanzanian border. Despite it being dark out, there are all kinds of people selling things at the border crossing including many Masai women selling jewellery.

It is pitch black with hardly any buildings as we drive towards Arusha. We ask our driver Frank when we will be able to stop for a washroom. He says in Arusha. "How long before we get there?" I ask. "Three hours" he replies. Hmmmm.

In the middle of nowhere we are stopped by the police. They look in the car and ask why we are not wearing our seat belts ( a fact that is stressing me as well) and Cameron says " because they are broken." Our driver leaves the van, gives the police money and we are on our way again. Our driver calls them " hunters".

I doze off in the back, squished between Graham and Cameron. I wake up a few times when I am air born from going over hidden speed bumps. The drivers all seem to drive with their high beams on...or maybe it just feels that way because there are no lights by the highway.

Shawn says it's a good thing that I am dozing because many times during the drive it looks like we are going to have head on collisions. It is a good thing that Frank is such a skilled driver.

True to Frank's word, we don't get to a bathroom till we get to Our accommodations, "Christina's Place". It is a miracle that none of us left any wet spots in Frank's van.

Our rooms are lovely and very clean.  We sit out and have some drinks in the upstairs, open air sitting place. It's off to bed now because We are unsure what time our safari starts tomorrow.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Last Days at Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is a small tourist town with a main area of tourist shops, markets , a grocery store, restaurants and excursion places. The sound of helicopters taking tourists over the falls is constant.

Zimbabwe doesn't have its own currency; they take US dollars, Namibian dollars, Euros, Botswana Pulla and Rand. Shawn asks Gift what they give you when you go to the bank machine? Gift replies " sometimes US dollars, sometimes rand, sometimes Pulla....whatever they have that day."

People all over on the streets are selling the old Zimbabwe currency which is worth nothing these days. You can buy trillion dollar bills. Graham is collecting these bills.

The cost for things in Zimbabwe is a lot more than in Namibia and Botswana.

We head to Victoria Falls National Park. The falls are truly impressive. It's not just one small falls, it is about 1km of straight waterfalls falling into a large crack in the earth.. You walk a trail that leads to many different falls viewpoints. We look across onto the Zambia side of the falls and at one point we see people lounging in the Devils Pool at the side of the falls ( like right at the edge)....this natural pool is the ultimate in  infinity pools, with the edge dropping off into a deadly precipice. Amazing.

The trail ends at a spot where people stand or sit with their legs hanging over the cliff edge. It makes me feel sick especially when Graham and Shawn decide to pose vicariously close to the edge. Cameron is ahead of us with Frank and Alex so God knows how close they were standing.

We are not going to see the falls from the Zambia side because it costs $30 each to enter Zambia then $75 each to return to Zimbabwe plus a few hours each time for border crossings. Yikes.

We all packed our own lunches in the morning and eat them at the falls. Because of all the mist from the falls ( actually at times it's like a soft rain), there is a rainforest vegetation that ends abruptly where the rainy  part ends. Bright blue lobelia grows wild here.

We check out Dr Livingstones statue.

Meeting everyone at the park gates, Alfons drives Brenda over to pick us up. Once on the truck, Gift announces that as requested by Frank and the guys, he has organized a game between us and a second league soccer club division team called Amagagasi  ( which means big waves) at 3:00pm so we only have 30 minutes to check into our hotel.

We arrive at the Rainbow Hotel, which looks luxurious after many days of camping. We quickly drop off our stuff and get back onto Brenda. We drive through the tourist area and go to a part of the city inhabited more by locals.

We are full of vim and vigor, deciding who will be playing for our team as we drive into the stadium. The Amagagasi team are stretching and running through their paces. " "We are so dead" someone yells out, ( it might have been me).

They are expecting us. Someone opens the gate and Brenda rolls in.

Alfons parks the bus and we all get out. Our team, consisting of Gift, Frank, Graham, Martin, Felix, Alex, Sam, Ieuan, Lucas and Cameron in goal prepare themselves. The rest of us, the cheering squad sit on the benches. There are only a few other local kids and people in the stadium to start.

Gift runs across the field to speak to the Amagagasi coach....Shawn suggests " He's going over to discuss terms of surrender".

Our team goes to the bench, introductions are made, some Amagagasi members join our team to even out the numbers, black and white jerseys are handed out to our team, the Amagagasi team wear white. Cameron is given a green keeper ( soccer goalie) shirt.

They start to play. Our team does better than expected. Cameron makes some great saves. Martin gets hit in the head with the ball. Jolanda worries that he's broken his glasses but all is well. Our boys play well but the Amagagasi are well practiced ( and haven't been sitting in a truck for three weeks) and start to score. We scream encouragement for our team every time their feet get within twelve inches of the ball.

I notice that crowds are starting to gather, more and more by the minute. I take pictures of the local kids as they ham it up for the camera. I get the kids to dab. The adults smile and chuckle at our enthusiasm. There are easily a few hundred people in the stadium by the end of the game. Everyone is having fun and in good spirits.

We lose 3-0 but the locals are treating our team like champions. The players from both sides pose together for team photos. Emails are exchanged and friends are made.

People follow us to the bus and surround our team. Cameron is already on the bus but they keep calling to have him (the goalie) come back out. They tell him they think he should be recruited by Zimbabwe. A man congratulates Cameron and crowds of kids start chanting something over and over again. The man and Cameron start doing some jumping dance....the rest of our other players are also surrounded....everyone is going wild. No word of a lie, I have videos to prove it.

Kids surround the truck and follow us as we drive out. Everyone waves. We feel like rock stars. What a day.

Gift is thrilled. He says it's one of the first times that a tour has made a point to mingle with the locals. We feel honored.  I can feel the good will all around.

We go back to the hotel to quickly change and soon meet up to walk to a lovely, very posh resort called "The Kingdom" for our last full family supper. A really talented African singing and dancing group perform. Shawn makes a speech thanking Gift and Alfons. The evening ends too soon.

One of the hotel staff offers to put up the mosquito nets over our beds. We don't notice any bugs so we say it's ok. He seems surprised and wishes us a good night.

The strong taste of bug spray in my mouth wakes me up. I open my eyes to find Shawn dousing himself in mosquito spray inches from my open mouth.

After a great buffet breakfast at the hotel, Ieuan and Cat are the first to leave for Zambia.

Shawn, Graham, Maddie, James and I are picked up by a friendly guy named Captain  Frank and his assistant Peter and he takes us to the place where we begin our gorge walk.

I must admit, I have a fear of heights and am a poor climber...there is definately no mountain goat in my genes.

The hike immediately begins by descending the steepest, really long, open bar staircase I have ever seen. Captain Frank goes down first with me immediately behind , followed by the rest of our group. I go really slow and hyperventilate all the way and I may drop a few four letter words on my way down.

The hike continues along and down the cliff with some rocky areas being very narrow. Captain Frank is with me the whole way.

We stop and watch the white water rafters going down the Zambezie River. The rafts of tourists are always accompanied by many guides in small one person kayaks. Their job is to pick up anyone who falls out of the raft. These guys often "play" in the rapids with their small boats by trying to stay in the centre of the rapid for a while....kind of rapid surfing.

We look at the big rapid below us and John asks what level of rapid it is. Captain Frank says it's an easy 1+ rapid. Yikes.

The scenery is rugged and beautiful.  At one point we stop under the bridge and while listening to our guide explain about the area and history, we watch the bungee jumpers. Lots of screams come from the jumpers. You couldn't pay me enough to do that.

They say you should do something that scares you once a day. I'm of the mindset that once a year is enough....and it can't be too scary.

After hiking a while more we arrive to an edge where Captain Frank says we can jump off the cliff and the current directly below will pull us back in to the area where Peter is waiting to pull us out. My initial thought is " Not a chance in hell" but I find myself taking off my shoes and adjusting my life jacket and helmet. My helmet is a little loose so I decide to keep my wide brimmed safari hat on underneath it.

Captain Frank has our cameras. The plan is, he counts to five and we jump as he clicks the picture. Graham jumps first, then Shawn, then Maddie and James jump together, then it's my turn. Frank counts to five, I hesitate..." Stop, stop, let's try again" I say. He counts to five but I'm too busy praying to jump, he counts to five, this time I'm too busy thinking, then he counts get the drift. Finally around the tenth or twelfth count, I jump far out.

I'm exhilarated in my daring but I can't see a blooming thing cause my now soaking wet hat brim is flopped over my eyes. I blissfully float into the current. Urgent calls of "swim towards us" are coming from the whole group. I try and the next thing I know Shawn grabs one arm, James grabs the other and they drag me towards the waters edge where I grab Peter's outstretched hand.

Unbeknownst to me, I had jumped a bit to far, caught the wrong current and was starting to float down the Zambezie.

After Graham jumps a second time, we put on our shoes and hike back up. The steep, narrow stairs are just as scary going up.

Once at the top we are treated to bottles of Zimbabwe's a good thing that we didn't drink the beer first.

I mention to Captain Frank that we are looking for a local soccer jersey for Cameron and he drives us to a market in the local area by the stadium.

Cameron is up when we return to the hotel. He tells us that Frank, Felix, Alex and him have been invited to watch the Amagagasis practice at 2pm and that the coach has a shirt for him.

After changing we meet up with The gang to walk into town for some lunch and shopping. Cameron and the guys go off on their own with plans to go to the football stadium at 2pm.

Jolanda tells us the the locals have been trading wooden and stone souvenirs with the boys for their things. One local told Felix that he would give him a little wooden animal figure for his socks! Jolanda says " you don't want his socks, they stink!" But the man says, "that's ok, I will wash them".

Apparently later Sam trades his pants for a big hippo statue....I'm not sure what Sam wears back to the hotel.

Shawn, Graham and I decide to go to the practice. We arrive at 2pm to find the pylons set up but hardly anyone there. I check out the local market and when we return to the stadium, more players players have arrived. Cameron, Frank, Felix and Alex finally show up at 2:30. They had taken a wrong turn but eventually figured it out.

About 2:50pm, Frank, Alex and Felix say they have to go to meet Jolanda, Martin, Leonie and Evi at the Victoria Falls Hotel for high tea. Shawn and I decide to join them and Cameron decides to stay there with one of the local guys who we talk to a lot.

We catch a cab and as soon as we pass through the hotel gates we feel like we've been transferred back to the times of British Colonial Zimbabwe, From the white jacketed and capped guard at the front entrance to the typically British leather seating area. The walls are covered in past pictures of the royal family.

The building is bright white. We walk through the sitting area in the entrance to the courtyard gardens with fountains and birds of paradise, then through another colonial sitting area with halls off it until finally we walk out onto the back terrace and gardens where they serve the tea.

Many women are in dresses, hats or fascinators. I started out being dressed in my bright white skirt, blouse and scarf, unfortunately by 3pm I have managed to get a lot of bright blue pen marks all over the front of my skirt.

The view of the falls from the end of the garden is spectacular. Warthogs wander freely around the property and through the marigold gardens. Mischievous monkeys scamper about. A couple of them go to one of the gardens' pull off the petunias and eat them. By the time Evi and I walk back to our table, all petunia blossoms at that garden are gone.

The bathrooms of the hotel are lovely, with a pretty vanity area.

Our group is seated at two tables of five. The younger group is seated at one and Jolanda, Martin, Evi, Shawn and I at the other. The tea is as lovely to look at as it is to eat; scones with jam and clotted cream on the bottom plate, delicate sandwiches on the middle and fancy little cakes on the top. There is a lot of food there.

The table across from us empties and an observant monkey quickly jumps up and steals a fist full of sugar packets before the waiter shoos it away.

Frank, Alex and Felix leave the hotel before the rest of us. They are nowhere to be seen by the time we finish taking our pictures. They are already at our Rainbow hotel when we arrive. A taxi driver recognizing them from our game with the Amagagasi stops to pick them up and then refuses to accept payment.

Locals seem to always recognize our soccer players. Cameron is forever waving and making thumbs up gestures to people who recognize him.

In the few hours before meeting the gang for supper, I hand wash some laundry and bring a huge pile of laundry to the front desk for hotel service to do.

We meet at 6:45 and walk en mass to the pizza joint. After all the large meals we were in the mood for pizza. I find in Africa most of the meals seem to be based around meat. We even have meats such as kidneys, ground meat dishes, a few types of sausages and bacon in the breakfast buffets.

There are  twenty of us, so we take over the upstairs dining area. After supper we head back to Rainbow Hotel. The kids all go out partying ( apparently Cameron and Lukas even went to a house party) and the rest of us either went to bed or hung out at the pool chatting.

I don't have bug spray on and for the first time I notice the mosquitos. I continue to drink my wine and chat.

That night I asked our room Steward to put up our mosquito nets. He smiles and says " you now see what I meant last night".

Now that the tour is over, Frank shares the room with Graham and Cameron. It smells like Ode de young male with indelicate undertones of sweaty tshirts and stinky socks.

I have no idea what time the guys return from their partying.

Cameron and Lukas leave at 7am for white water rafting. I have some concerns but try not to think about it. Cameron says the coach of the Amagagasi has a team keepers jersey for him and will give it to him at the 1:00pm game. Cameron asks if he is not back from white water rafting, if Graham or Frank pick it up. We promise one of us will.

Cameron says that white water rafting was fun but they had a few dangerous tumbles. He also said something about small crocodiles being near one spot where they had to swim back to the boats.

This morning After showering I notice that my calves and feet are covered in bright red polka dots with whitish circles around them. They are not itchy. They are nowhere else on my body. There are so many of them that it looks like red polka dots. I suspect mosquitos or some weird kind of razor burn from shaving my legs.

Most of our group are there for breakfast. We see Gift and Alfons greet their new family. Our Dutch friends Shon, Anita, Annet, Sam and Flor leave for Capetown  on a Nomad bus. Sigh.

Jessica is concerned because her sleeping bag is missing. She leaves for Uganda without it.

Martin, Jolanda, Felix, Alex, Leonie and Evie leave at 10am for their own countries. Fabio and Federica leave for Italy at 11:00. It is hard to say goodbye.

And then there are eight.

For a person who doesn't do separations well, this is all really difficult.

Maddie, James, Graham, Frank, Shawn and I go to check out the markets. I barter off my towels and some money for a little stone lion and rhino statue. We watch the man as he polishes it to turn black.

We all go along with Maddie and James to the Victoria Hotel again. I notice that once again there are petunias blooming in the garden. It seems that they replant them whenever they are eaten by the monkeys. After Graham has a look around, we leave our Aussie friends and head to the soccer game.

Cameron's local friend sits with us and the coach comes over with the keeper's shirt. We chat a bit and exchange emails. The score is 0-0 at half time when we head back to the hotel.

We meet a German man ( who lives in Australia) at our hotel pool. He is part of Gift and Alfonse's new family. We tell him how lucky he is to have them for guides and that he's in for the adventure of a lifetime.

Cameron, Frank and Lukas go out for more partying and Maddie, James, Shawn, Graham and I grab a cab ( friendly Eddie) and head to the Safari Lodge to watch sunset over the watering hole.

We order drinks and watch the huge storks and Cape Buffalo in the lengthening shadows.

This morning we see Alfons at breakfast. He says that Brenda's next tour which was supposed to leave at 8am is delayed because Gift is still at the hospital with a lady who broke her arm while white water rafting yesterday.

Our airport shuttle won't arrive till 11am so I run to the market with the last of our Namibian currency and Cameron's puttaputtas. A guy comes up beside me and asks if I want to buy stone statues. I say I only want to buy batik at the woman's market. He says " Buy from my mother. Her name is Susan, she is the big fat one." I say, "would she be happy if she knew you described her like that? Do you think she'll still cook you supper?" "Probably not", he says with a smile.

I get to the women's batik place and was able to pick out his mother with no problem.

I run back to the hotel with my souvenirs. Maddie, James, Frank and our family leave on the shuttle. We say goodbye to Frank at security.

We are on the same South Africa Airlines flight to Johannesburg as Maddie and James. Shawn, the boys and I are all seated separately....Coincidentally, Shawn is seated with Maddie and James. The seats on this flight are wide with lots of leg space...the meal is good....for airplane food.

We say goodbye to Maddie and James at the airport hotel shuttle.

We are now at The Aviator hotel. It is pretty basic but it's just overnight cause our flight to. Nairobi leaves in the morning. We have adjoining rooms with the boys. The door between them was opened but their feet stink so I close it, only to realize that there is no door knob...I get maintenance in to open the door. They show us where the doorknob is kept ( on top of the wardrobe)....hmmm.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chobe National Park - Pure Magic

We set up our tents at a Chobe National Park campsite. The bar/ gathering area is lovely but the internet is temporarily not working. We all sit around the fire after a delicious Heartbeest stew.

A painfully skinny and submissive dog eats our scraps then lays down by the fire.

I get up at 5:45am and shower by flashlight. There is finally Internet at the bar which I check out before going to breakfast. It's sad to think that we only have two more days on our group tour.

We are on the road by 8am and go through immigration again first out of Namibia and then back into Botswana.

The Botswana border crossing area is elevated and overlooks plains filled with Buffalo, Zebra, Baboons as well as domestic cows...all laid out in front of us. Awesome.

We travel into Kisane, a small town on the outskirts Chobe National Park to stock up on wine, snacks and drinks...I also purchase a bright piece of material which will make a great table cloth.

There were some adorable warthogs roaming around. Evi is delighted, she is a big warthog fan. I get up really close to them for some pictures.

We are now arriving to Thebe River Lodge and campgrounds.


OMG. What an amazing day. I don't think life gets any better.

After setting up tents and eating lunch we go on a game drive. It is fabulous. We see Impalas,elephants,lions,warthogs, giraffes,hippos, hornbills, Guinea fowl, buffalo,crocodiles, kudos, sables, fisher eagles and baboons. Many times they are so close you can practically touch them.

Then, as if that wasn't enough, they transfer us to a boat where we travel around the islands and all the same types of animals are also there. So close. It is pure magic. I keep having to pinch myself.

It is wonderful to share the experience with these awesome people. I feel sad that tomorrow is the last day of this tour.

We all bring special beverages for our cruise...unfortunately most of us drinking wine forget to bring  glasses so we drink directly from bottles or wine boxes.

We stay out watching the crocodiles glow golden in the late afternoon. The hippos and elephants, silhouetted in fiery sunset are forever engraved in my memory. Life just doesn't get any better.

We return to the camp where Gift and Alfons have prepared a feast. Our two honeymoon couples, Ieuan & Cat and Fabio & Federica celebrate our last tent night and the honeymoons with sparkling wine for all. We chat by the fire until quite late (11:00), ok, I doze a bit.

It's the last day of our group tour...the last time taking down our tents. Departure time is 7:00 am. At 6:45 the group goes into high speed, with three weeks of practice the camp is packed up in a matter of minutes and there's nothing left on the site to show we were there.

Ieuan sets up his camera on the tripod and we steal a few extra moments to take a final group photo; two normal and one with us all dabbing.

We are on our way to Zimbabwe. The border crossing out of Namibia is quick, the crossing into Zimbabwe, not so much; an hour and a half. We all need to buy visas for Zimbabwe. The Europeans pay $30 US each, the British $55 US and us Canadians $75 each....don't ask me why.

A large group of monkeys amuse us while we wait by fighting over a scrap of sandwhich. A family of warthogs travel through the parking lot, nervously moving quicker when they realize they've caught our attention.

We arrive in Victoria Falls and are now booking tours. Cameron is going white water rafting with Lukas on Saturday and Shawn, Graham and I are doing the gorge tour with Maddie & James tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

It's all Fun and Games until Someone Pisses off an Elephant

Three dogs stay at the has obviously just had puppies. They keep trying to get into the garbage. They also get into a fight in the middle of the night and throw themselves against Felix and Alex's tent.

I am rather perturbed when a roar/ growl noise wakes me up. I think, " what boob is revving their engine in the middle of the night? "Then I realize,it's the hippos.

Cameron and Frank stay at the bar a little later and the bartender shows them how the crocodiles eyes glow red when you aim the flashlight at them.

In the morning we split up and get onto two boats for a two hour boat ride to the heart of the delta. We stop many times for crocodile sightings. Our guide says that many of the crocs  grow to be over 5 1/2 meters...that's meters not feet. The first croc is huge...and irritated by our presence. After a few seconds he opens his jaws, slides into the water and under our boat. Definitely time for us to go.

The papyrus and grasses reflect in the river in a Monet fashion. A rainbow appears in the spray of our boat. Birds fly along beside us as if attempting to keep up. We spot many Fisher Eagles along the way.

Arriving at the docks, we transfer to three jeeps and continue our journey for 45 minutes by road passing many small villages made up of round buildings with grass roofs.

I feel like I'm in a parade, people and especially young children wave and run beside the jeeps. One little girl is waving and running so fast that she trips and falls....quickly picking herself up. Being used to all the people waving to us, we wave to some teenage boys as we pass. One of them gives us the finger....teenagers.

We are in the last jeep. Suddenly a herd of elephants cross the road between us and the first two jeeps. Unhappy at having their crossing disturbed, one of the elephants charges the second jeep.

Elephants give warning by mock charging twice before actually charging for real.

There are easily over 30 elephants in the breeding  herd, half on one side of the road, the other half on the other. The half that haven't crossed are visibly agitated . They stand on the side, trumpeting their concerns. We stop the jeep cause it's really not a good idea to get between a pissed off herd of elephants.

Despite us being stopped, they still don't move; nervously contemplating whether it's safe to cross or not. Finally they take the plunge, single file, rushing to catch up to their buddies on the other side.

We soon reach our campsite, Jumbo Junction, which is located on the edge of the Okavango Delta World Heritage Site. The staff sing a welcome as our jeeps roll in. A big dog fan, Leonie is delighted to find that we have a resident two month old Jack Russell named Buddy.

On the Delta local people graze their farm animals and lions, elephants, hippos, zebras and other animals run free. A fence surrounds Jumbo Junction which keep the cattle out but often the elephants still get in by trampling the fence. The staff advise that if elephants get into the camp we will get instructions as to what to do- apparently running is not the best option.

The staff take us to the tents which are already made up with beds.

We head back to the bar where we have lunch, hang out and play darts and volleyball until we head out on our three hour dugout boat and walking safari. Sam takes this opportunity to snooze on the hammock.

There are fruit bats resting in the rafters, looking like dull brown Christmas balls.

For the afternoon we have an excursion into the delta by dugouts and then a walk at the end point before returning. The dugout type boats we go out in are called a Mukoro. Each boat holds two people plus a poler. Our poler's name is City.

Our flotilla of mukoro glide into a seemingly endless watery meadow of white, pink, purple and yellow water lilies. Gorgeous.

City picks a part of a waterlily ( the fruit) and invites us take a bite. It is bitter. Apparently you can also eat the roots which taste like potatoes.

We hear a snort, look to the right and there is a school of hippos. Awesome. We are told that we'll return to the hippo pond after our walk.

We land on an island where domestic and wild animals both exist. A herd of horned cattle roam the island.

Our guide, Navas, finds us some piles of elephant crap. Much to my horror he picks them up. The poop is so large he needs two hands to lift it. He says that there is no bacteria in the elephants poop because they only eat vegetation and they eat over 70 species of trees a day, 350 kg of food, drink over 150 liters of water and intermittently sleep only 6 hours a day ( the rest of the time they are eating). They run up to 40 km/hr and are one of the slowest animals (but are still a lot faster than people).

He then brings the poop around for us to look at and smell. I chicken out but Anita smells it and says that it doesn't smell much at all. Anita even picks some up! The poop consists of grass, seeds and sticks.

So this new discovery that elephant's poop doesn't smell means I need to correct my comment from a few days ago about the stinky odor at the watering hole....I said I suspected the elephants. I was wrong, it must have been the rhinos.

Navas then tells us that elephant poop is used for medicine because of all the different tree leaves they eat. They put the poop in a glass of boiling water and let it soak and settle to the bottom...then drink it to help upset stomachs. Hmmm, I think I'll stick to Tums.

Navas demonstrates that if you are thirsty and find fresh elephant poop, you squeeze it and water comes out. He digs under the largest pile of poop to get a handful of still wet poo from the bottom, forms it into a ball between his hands and squeezes it wringing out a trickle of water. The information seems to have the makings of a practical joke ( imagine tourists all having elephant poop tea that night) but Navas seems totally serious.

He then shows us two types of elephant poop; one large and then a bunch of small ones in a line ( about a few feet between each plop). He asks us to guess which belongs to the male and which is the female's. The female's is the big one cause she stops to poop ( often while waiting for her baby), the male just poops while he's walking.

We next move on to hippo poop which is about the same size as the elephant's but only has grass in it.

We check out the termite hills and the little poison apples. While standing and listening to our guide, a cow with large horns runs determinedly past us and around the corner. Shon says, " Oh,oh. Anita is sitting over there. " Anita comes from around the corner where the cow disappeared, looking totally unfazed.

Getting back into the mukoros, we drift towards the hippo pond ( keeping well out of their way). There is usually one strong male hippo and his harem of females and young. Often a younger male will come and challenge the head male which ends in one of two ways; one of the males die or the young male leaves to find another harem to fight for. A challenge takes place as we watch.

The sun is starting to set as we leave the hippos. It bathes the delta and lilies in a golden light and disappears in fiery splendor, leaving a magenta horizon in its wake.

After supper at the bar we listen to a expert explain the plight of lions in Africa. Their numbers are dwindling. The problem in the delta is that livestock and wild animals share the same living space. The livestock is free range and often doesn't go into a safe space at night. Although the government pays full price for any livestock that is killed by a lion, the people are outraged when the lions go into villages and kill their animals. They feel as if they've been burgled. Although they collect their compensation, they still want revenge and try to kill the lions.

The world was outraged when Cecil the lion was killed by a dentist in an illegal hunt. It got all kind of press but within a week of that incident,  a whole pride of lions were poisoned and almost no one took notice.

What the " Pride in our Prides" organization is doing to help is educating the people, helping and encouraging them to build kraals ( like barns) and putting the animals in them at night. They are also putting collars on the lions in order to locate where the lions are at all times. If the lions are heading into populated areas, they can warn the people to gather their animals and plan their days to be in different places than the lion. So far it is working.

We hung out in the bar chatting for the rest of the night.

All this hanging out in bars makes us sound like we drink a lot but the bars at these campsites are really more of a common space where people gather and sometimes get internet. It doesn't matter if you order drinks or not.

We hear the hippos, elephants, owls and some unidentified growls in the night.

We are up and showered by six and leave in the mukoros at 7:00am. Today is our 24 th wedding anniversary. What a wonderful way to spend it.

Dawn over the delta is beautiful. The yellow night waterlilies are closing and the bluish/ purple, pink and white day waterlilies are just starting to open. Birds are busy, starting their day.

We land on an island and break up into two groups. As we are walking in single file behind our guide, Filter, we hear a loud trumpeting. He immediately stops us. A short distance away, a herd of breeding elephants come out of the trees. Filter talks quietly on his walkie talkie. Breeding elephants are the most sensitive. Filter tells us to walk quickly in a parallel direction. We stay down wind. He says we need to get further past the elephants. He asks if we can run fast. Federica and I quickly say no...we don't want to run. We continue walking, nervously looking over our shoulders.

By the time we find a herd of zebra, there is no more sign of the elephants.

I can't believe how close we get to the zebra herd.

Filter pulls off a branch of a plant and asks us who cooks. When Flor doesn't put up her hand he asks why she doesn't cook and states that all the women cook cause the men are too busy taking care of the farms or working. We smell the plant which is wild sage, used for cooking and medicinal purposes such as treating gonorhea....who'd have thought?

After brushing our teeth with the toothbrush plant ( I can't remember the plants real name) we head back to the boats and glide our way to Jumbo Junction.

The rest of the afternoon is spent relaxing, playing darts, petting Buddy and reading. The younger folk play volleyball.

At 3:30, our mukoros glide us once more through the lily pads, stopping to show the guys how to make us gals water lily necklaces and making the guys lilypad hats.

The party begins as we land on an island. The poler's challenge us to pole the boats ourselves, in teams of two per boat. The first person poles to the reeds and the second person poles back. It's not as easy as it looks. Cameron poles a boat with Lukas and Graham goes with Annet. Shawn and I go together. Newlyweds, Ieuan and Cat do fine but Federica from our second pair of newlyweds falls in while Fabio remains firmly emplanted in the boat. Surprisingly, Maddie, an experienced Australian sailor falls in ( James just goes in up to his knees). Shawn falls in but only gets his legs wet. I surprise people by poling well and keeping my balance. It's easy to surpass expectations when people set them so low.

We then enjoy our drinks while many of our younger guys challenge the poler's to a game of soccer. The poler's win.

At sunset we watch a couple of herders bring their cows in and go back to our mukoros, returning with the last light from the vanished sun.

I try to get a picture of the fruit bats who, despite the darkness, still remain in the rafters. My flash goes off and they scatter in a wild flurry.

After supper we sit around the fire. Shawn and I exchange anniversary cards ( and he gives me an African kissing stone) then recites our engagement poem. We then discuss the Zimbabwe part of the tour.

I'm exhausted, so I head back to the tent before Shawn. Unfortunately, on my way back from the bathroom, I get turned around in the dark and end up wandering the trails in the wooded tent area, eventually finding my way to our tent. It is a bit scary cause animal sounds are all around me.

The stars are stilł very clear in the sky when I get up for our early start this morning, (5:30 am). I pick out Orion's Belt and the Little Dipper. We need to leave by 6:30 because we have a long way to Chobe National Park where we are staying tonight. Gift says we really need to boot it if we want to get our tents up before dark.

We load the two jeeps and bounce along the road to Seronga, passing people performing their morning duties; letting livestock out of kraals,sitting by a bonfire, women carrying things on their heads and kids going to school ( many of them running). The mornings are cool so many of the locals are well bundled.

Gift says that to stay on time, do not stop the boat to take pictures of wildlife unless it's a crocodile trying to eat a hippo. We agree. We pack the boats and off we go.

Suddenly we hear a loud "crack!" And ominous cloud of smoke escapes the motor. Our driver opens the motor's  casing and douses the flames with water. The second smaller boat comes up beside us, the driver throws over a rope and tows us back to the dock. Fortunately we hadn't travelled too far.

Within an hour ( of which Graham and I walk over to check out a herd of horned cows who were aimlessly wandering around), Gift organizes another boat to take us back to where Brenda is.

Along the way we zip past crocodiles, a hippo and all sorts of birds.  We discover a poisonous boom slanger snake at the dock. It just sits there as we load up Brenda and take pictures of it.

We stop little and move quickly in an attempt to make up time. We get through the immigration exit in Botswana and enter the border of Namibia in good time, only to stop for gas in Namibia and find that they don't have diesel. The next Namibian gas station is 200 km down the road. We don't want to go back across the border again so Gift contacts the Nomad (that's the company wee are using) Spanish tour group, ( the group that was really loud when we were in the same campground as them  in Spitzkoppe) and they bring us a container of fuel.

Gift and Alfons drop us off at a picnic site beside a game reserve and we make and eat lunch while they take Brenda to  get the gas from the Spanish group. While we are eating, a lone, huge bull elephant crosses the road a few feet away from that's something you don't see every day.

Gift warns us that we will be getting into camp very late ( translation: we'll be putting up our tents in the dark). Our night time game drive will probably be changed to the morning.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Arriving to the Okavango River

When e say goodbye to Joana, who is flying back to Portugal today. It is sad to see her go.

Lukas from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil joins our family. He sits with Graham.

A couple days ago, I mentioned to Gift that it is fortunate that so far none of our group has taken ill. Gift said its because of all our hand washing. I said " so we probably won't get ill because we're acclimatized now?" Gift said that's not always the case, usually people get a bit of runs the third day after they start taking the malaria pills. Hmmmm.

We are currently in Brenda, hurtling towards Botswana. We stop for lunch just before the Namibia and Botswana border.

Just as we start eating, a sudden dust storm comes up.

I hear that sand in your food is good for digestion.

The border crossing is quicker than the one between South Africa and Namibia. We stop and have our paperwork checked on both sides. We lose one hour due to the time change between Namibia and Botswana.

We arrive just before sunset to the Trailblazer campsite which is run by the San Bushmen. The choice is given of staying in our tents or paying a bit extra to stay in the mushroom shaped stick huts. The huts have a light, two beds with really warm blankets and mosquito netting. Some of us ( including John and I) chose the huts. Maddie and Jim had prebooked one of the cottages.

Gift has us cutting up all manner of vegetables for a vegetarian supper of rice and stir fry...which is perfect since we've been eating a lot of meat on this trip. Ive also been eating lots of junk food cause we usually stop for bathroom breaks and water/snack replenishing at service stations ( which aren't known for their healthy choices).

After supper we go to a central area where two huge bonfires light up the night. We seat ourselves at the first fire on chairs facing  the second fire. About five San Bushman women of various ages are seated around that fire. They are soon joined by four men (20's to 70's) in native dress; loin cloths and dried cocoons filled with small pebbles wrapped around their calves. These rattle when they move. The women begin to clap and chant as the men move their legs in a rhythmic dance. Dust rises around their feet. Many times they dance while in a low squat position.

This sounds a lot easier than it really is...think of doing non stop low squats at the gym. The show lasts almost an hour. They get us up to dance and my legs feel it after three minutes. I'm really impressed with the guy in his 70s who danced the whole show.

The performance around the bonfire has a feeling of unreality as if we are witnessing something from another time.

After the show, our group stays around the campfire to talk. Gift tells us about Botswana and also relates how last year on one of his tours a young lady was bitten by a scorpion when she was sleeping outside. She screamed. They rushed her to the medical clinic at Spitzkoppe and then she was taken by ambulance to another hospital and then by helicopter to Windoek. The poison had spread too quickly and she passed away. Gift says it still haunts him. You never know when or how your time will come.

Shawn rises early and along with Frank, Martien and Felix goes on a tour with the Bushmen to learn about different medicinal plants and the San tribes healing methods.
Most of the others sleep in and I spend the time taking pictures of birds.

The starlings here are gorgeous. When the sun shines on them, they are truly a vision of teal iridescent beauty.

We drive on roads, rarely passing villages. We stop every now and then to " Mark our territory" (usually behind a bush).

Tonight we stay at Swamp Stop Camp. It has great facilities, hot showers, running water, WIFI, pool, bar,restaurant and deck overlooking the Okavango River. We watch the sun set from there.

It is getting warmer, the further north we go.

We head into the delta on boats tomorrow.

Friday, August 12, 2016

I heard hyenas and jackals calling in the night. At first I thought it was someone on another campsite with very loud children.

We leave Etosha National park at 7:00am.

We stop in Okahanja for lunch and to check out the craft market. Now this is an exercise in negotiation. I saw a batik which they said was 600 Namibian dollars. I had already bought one the same size for 200 rand ( which is equal to Namiban dollars) and I said I would pay no more than 200. They said 300. I started walking away. They said 250... I continued walking. He said let me ask my mother and then (without asking) ran over and said I could have it for 200. I also bought a beaded warthog and little rhino bowl.

Annet purchases a huge wooden giraffe and Jolanda gets some large wooden bowls. I would love to get things like that but have hardly any room in my luggage so can only buy small things.

Graham came over to show a bowl that he agreed to pay 120 Namibian dollars for but everyone said he was paying too much so he went back and negotiated it down to 70. As we were leaving, a guy comes and offers him a second similar bowl for 30.

We ate egg salad sandwiches at the picnic area and are now on our way to Windhoek where we will be staying in a hotel.Windoek is a larger German influenced city.

We stop for an hour in town. We have a choice of going to the museum or shopping. I'm embarrassed to say, We go  shopping; Shawn needed shorts and I wanted bio Oil ( great for stretch marks and aging skin).

A funny thing happened the other day that now keeps popping up in our conversations. A bunch of us were all sitting around having a beer and Frank (20 years old), pulls up a picture on his phone of about 10 pretty girls that are all dressed up and says " What do you think of the girl in the bottom left hand corner?"  Iauen ( from Wales) questions "The one with the big boobs?". Frank replies "That's my sister."

After checking into our hotel and hand washing some clothes we meet everyone at reception where Gift had organized a couple big van cabs to take us  to Joes Beerhouse for supper. It was really good..but huge portions. Lots of game meat was offered on the menu.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Etosha National Park

Our campsite is well equipped with warm showers, plenty of bathrooms, a grassy camping area, a bar in front of the watering hole and WIFI ( also in front of the watering hole).

After hanging out at the watering hole and trying to deal with things on Internet and skype ( which keeps lagging), I finish my beer and go back to the campsite for another delicious supper of springbok, potatoes and peas. Gift made a fabulous birthday cake for Felix and Evi at the truck....that man can do miracles.

I fall asleep quickly and only wake a few times to the sounds of barking dogs, unidentifiable animal sounds and a psychotic chicken.

We leave early for Etosha National Park where we will do some safaris.

Entering the park we stop to take pictures of Springbok, Oryx, Kudus, an eagle, giraffe and elephant family. We also stop for facilities and water.

I fear we are becoming spoilt. In the beginning someone calls out Giraffe ( who happens to be half a km away) and we stop the truck and take pictures for a good ten minutes. Now we only shoot if animals are right in front of us.

The watering holes are the best places for spotting animals.

Our first water hole has zebras, oryx, springbok,ostrich and wildebeests all coexisting in perfect harmony.

Our second watering hole at first only has springbok and oryx. All is calm until a black backed jackal slinks onto the scene; ears prick up, all eyes are on the intruder. A herd of springbok bound out of his way. He goes to the edge and drinks.

In a distance another jackal makes his way towards the hole. As he gets closer, the oryx chase him to the other side of the hole. Things settle but all eyes continue watching the jackals as we drive off.

Along our route, giraffe heads pop out from the scrub like dandelions in springtime.

We spot a bird and ask Gift what it's called. Gift seems a bit bashful at first and says " It's a Kori Bustard....and I'm only going to say the name once."

We can see mini dust tornados from time to time.

A call goes out, "elephants on right, giraffes on left".

This is awesome.

We stop at the campground for lunch. Gift suggests we check out the water hole while they prepare lunch. He says there probably won't be many animals there but it's worth a look.

There was a herd of over twenty elephants there; mothers, youngsters, babies and a few large males. Pure magic.

We watch them sand bathe, drink and just hang out. Soon, as if on cue, all the females and children line up and exit, leaving just the ever present springbok. In a minute the elephants are replaced by a herd of zebra. They are so close.

After our lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and coleslaw, we continue our game drive.

We see all the animals from earlier in the day as well as a cape fox. We go to another water hole where we see a rhino. He moves into the perfect position, I click the picture.

There is a rather pungent aroma coming from the watering hole. I suspect the elephants.

We set up in our campsite which has a swimming pool, camp store, restaurant and showers.

At sunset we check out the camp water hole. A lone rhino is the entertainment. He drinks and wanders off.

After supper we head to the watering hole again. It is dimly lit which creates a dreamlike atmosphere.We wait in hushed anticipation. . A little animal that I can't identify shows up for a drink. Then come the elephants.

It's amazing how quiet such large beasts can be. They line up at water's edge and dink with their trunks. One of them does something that bothers another and an indignant noise bellows into the air before peace settles again.

A large black rhino followed by a baby materialize at water's edge.

Suddenly the herd is alert. A mother elephant with baby in tow, leave the scene. The other elephants band closer together. I don't notice any change in the rhinos. A lone hyena shows up at the opposite side of the waterhole to drink...the elephants slowly make their exit in a stately line with only the largest male remaining. A few minutes later, even he leaves. The rhinos disappear back into the scrubby bush and all is quiet.

We leave for our morning game drive at 6:30. Our goal is to spot some large cats.

Brenda jostles us on the unpaved roads, in the process loosening articles in the over head compartments. One of my Mephisto sandals fall out and hit me on the head.

The first watering hole we check is empty except for a few ducks. Fabio is our best spotter but even he cannot find anything. I spot a lone jackal trotting close by. Finally four zebra show up. Where is everybody this morning? We move on.

A helicopter flies overhead searching for rhino poachers. It hovers, low to the ground in the distance.

We visit the salt flats which are barren as far as the eye can see, except for numerous piles of deification in a variety of sizes.

We see zebras, hartebeest, springbok, kudu, oryx, wildebeest,giraffe, rhinos, bustards, hornbills, ostrich, Eagles and more, but none of the cat species are found.

At one point we count well over 30 elephants at the watering hole, with over ten more coming. Gift tells us that elephants have something in common with people...they mourn when one of their herd dies.

Alfons stops to speak to one of the other guides. They inform him that there are a pair of lions up ahead. We find them sleeping under a tree. There is not much movement.They finally put up their heads and look around before going back to sleep.

We spot some warthogs in the distance.Shortly after, we find another lion sleeping at the water tanks.

We head to our campsite for lunch and I hand wash a few items so they can dry in the hot sun.

Tonight's is the campsite with the best water hole. This afternoon we only see one large male elephant, two oryx and a bunch of springbok there at the camp water hole. The best water hole viewings are often at night.

We are given a choice to hang out at the pool and campsite or go on a game drive. Only Fabio, Federica, Jessica, Joand I choose the game drive. We see many of the same animals and a mostly eaten giraffe carcass. The lions are still sleeping in the area where we saw them earlier. Fabio coughs loudly and clears his throat but they don't budge.

The sun is going down in a big orange ball. We head back to camp. Time to shower and get ready for tonight's water hole antics.