Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tarangire National Park

We sleep well. I wake up and have a cold shower. It's only after I come out of the washroom that Shawn tells me I need to turn on the hot water switch before I shower....hmmmm.

We have a breakfast of fresh bananas, homemade pineapple juice, bread, crepes, eggs and tea.  We meet our guide, Chochi, put some of our luggage into the jeep, ( the rest we leave at Christina's) and drive to the It Started in Africa offices which are in the centre of Arusha.

The streets are full of activity. Lots of people going about their day to day activities.

Many women carry large items on their heads. They wrap a scarf or something on top of their heads to make a flat base for whatever they are carrying. Balancing things on their heads  is probably why most of the people appear to have really good posture. In North America, we generally have a lot of included. Maybe I should start carrying things on my head.

We are heading to Tarangire National Park which is a couple hours away.
En route we are stopped by more police. Chochi gives them money and we are on our way.

We pass many Masai people, often herding their cattle but sometimes sheep and goats. They wear brightly colored Masai blankets wrapped around their torso and legs and another wrapped around their shoulders. They often carry sticks or spears. I am amazed at how they get large herds of cattle, sheep and some donkeys all travelling in an organized line in the same direction...I can't even get my one dog to come when called.

There are two types of Masai houses; one is made of all mud and the other is mud and grass. The houses are usually round.

Chochi says that out in the smaller villages, the women do 75% of the work. They build the house, take care of the children and do the cooking. The men take care of the herds and do the BBQ. The men get the best cuts of meat. They also drink a mix of cows blood and milk to make them strong. But that is just in the smaller Masai villages.

We pass a handsome young Masai man ( teen) on a bike. He is wearing the Masai blankets and beaded bracelets. Chochi says that he has just returned from being on his own at a Warrior school in the wilderness for three months to a year and is circumcised in a ceremony when he returns. Then he is a Masai warrior.

We eat lunch in the picnic area just inside the gates of the park. beautiful morpho blue starlings are all around the picnic spot. These birds glimmer in the sunlight.

There is a guy on duty to scare off the mischievous velvet monkeys. He throws rocks at them but every now and then they still manage to get on someone's table.

The game drive is awesome. Chochi pops the roof of the jeep open so that we can hang out and take pictures. We see so many animals and birds including Impalas, zebras, elephants, wildebeest, ostrich, dikdik, velvet monkeys, vultures, Maribou stork and  waterbucks.

The highlights are a group of six lionesses and Cubs finishing off a young wildebeest. We are so close to them that we hear them crunching the bones. The male ate his share earlier. For some reason, the females do the hunting but the male gets to eat first then the lionesses and Cubs get the leftovers.

Another highlight is a very low hung elephant....his appendage actually drags on the ground and at one point he appears to scratch himself with it. I can hear the guys in the next car making comments.

We also find a cheetah. Chochi says that he hasn't seen a cheetah in over a year and a half.

And the birds. Chochi points out a stunningly gorgeous blue bird called a Lilac Roller
as well as some adorable spotted birds eating termites called Hoope.

Too soon its time to leave the park. While we are waiting in the jeep for Chochi to sign out of the park, a monkey climbs onto the hood, then up the window and starts putting his hands in the drivers window which was open a crack...he runs back to the bottom of the jeep when we pop out of the roof to take pictures.

On the one hour drive to our campsite at Natures Haven, we watch many of the Masai men and boys bringing in their herds. There is something majestic about them with their confident, upright walk and their staff in hand.

Chochi shows us a village that is inhabited by one Masai man, his 43 wives and his over three hundred children. He is well off cause he owns lots of cattle. His kids used to need to cross the highway to go to school and one day one of them was hit by a car and killed. So that this wouldn't happen again, he built a school in the village and the government funds it.

We are shown to our tents when we arrive. There are beds inside that are already made with fresh linens and a sitting area in front of it with an electric light and socket to charge our devices. Peter, our cook has set a table for us in the dining part of the campground. We snack on some popcorn before being served zucchini soup, fish, roasted potatoes, vegetables and fresh fruit ( very creatively cut). Peter is very careful about my Graham's peanut/ tree nut allergy.

Chochi eats with us and we have a very enjoyable supper together.

The weather is very comfortable, a lot warmer than when we first began our trip in Capetown. We can hear jackals or hyenas in the distance.

I am up early this morning. I realize that I made a gross miscalculation of judgement in Zimbabwe when I traded my hand and body towel for a couple of stone animals and a soap dish. FortunatelyShawn showered last night so I grab his now dry towel.

The shower is warm and I look out over the sink into the trees and I watch some bright yellow birds as I brush my teeth.

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 and Cat and Fabio and 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 we 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

We 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 Shawn 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.

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

Etosha to Windhoek

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, Shawn and 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.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Giraffes, Termites, Warthogs and...a Horse?

Amanpuri Hotel is basic but has all the important things; clean rooms, hot showers, laundry service, good restaurant for breakfast, bar and most important of all WIFI. Despite sending out four bags to the laundry service, I still have a fair amount of delicate hand washing. My husband, Shawn artfully drapes our camping clothes line around the room, which is now laden with wet articles.

The breakfasts in the morning are good; bacon, eggs, toast, yogurt, juice, cereal, coffee or tea.

Shawn, Graham and I take a relaxation day...many of the group choose optional extreme sports activities including quad biking in the dunes, sky diving (I would rather be sliced and dropped into a tank of starving sharks...then again, I am afraid of heights) and Cameron, Frank, Alex, Ayla and Merel choose sand boarding.

Cameron had a great time and said they met a French guy that bought them all beer.

Shawn, Graham, Jolanda and I set out to explore Swankopmund. The streets are very wide, but there really isn't a lot of street traffic. The town has a strong German influence. We feel perfectly safe here.

There is a neat downtown area with a lot of safari outfitter shops, pharmacies, restaurants, Namibian Art stores and Antique shops ( more on that later).

Graham and I watch a flock of those chicken/turkey like birds which are called Guinea Fowl. They don't appear to be the deepest thinkers in the bird kingdom.

The waterfront is lovely and has a big lighthouse and a few piers.  A lone surfer rides the waves as they crash to shore. The day is warm and sunny. We stop for coffee at a waterfront cafe before continuing to a Saturday artists market.

The actual artists are selling their wares; wooden statues, masks and salad tongs, carved stone statues and bowls, batik printed materials, jewelry and ornaments. Each stall owner stops you to talk about their crafts.  They are a bit pushy but in a friendly manner. I let them know that I'm not buying anything in the morning but would return in the afternoon to make my purchases.

Just separate from the market, a large group of topless women with their children from the Himba tribe display their handmade jewelry. At first I thought they had fur collars around their shoulders, but upon closer inspection I notice that their hair has numerous long red covered rope-like braids that go to the shoulder and then the loose ends were all teased together to create the effect of one continuous black collar.

Jolanda decides to go back to the hotel to meet up with Martien, Felix and Leonie who had just come back from quad biking. Shawn, Graham and I continue to explore. Graham discovers Peters Antique Shop which has all manner of World war stuff, local crafts and antique things, old postcards, stamps, maps and so much more. Unfortunately, they were just closing for lunch but would reopen at 4pm.

While searching for a restaurant for lunch, we spot Martien, Sam, Felix, Leonie and Evi who had just missed Jolanda. We go to the same cafe where we had our morning coffee and I have the most phenomenal couscous with spinach, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese and croutons in a balsamic reduction. Yummmmmm.

Splitting up after lunch, I go off on my own to the market and negotiate for a little
wooden zebra that Shawn wants. I also get a Batik Guinea fowl pattern material and an engraved nut from a palm tree. The nut already had a giraffe, hippo and Guinea fowl etched on it and the guy carved Namibia 2016 as neatly as can be while I watched. The skill and precision in how quickly he carved the minute details is impressive.

All the vendors recognize me from the morning and call my name as I pass. I feel bad when I don't  buy from them, they seem so disappointed.

The Himba ladies call me over and cry out " look here, pretty bracelets" every time I move to another's offerings.

I forgot to mention, I purchased some carved giraffe salad tongs; one can never have enough salad tongs.

I meet Graham and Shawn at Peters Antique shop at 4pm. Graham is in ecstasy and has to examine everything in the many roomed shop so we leave him there and return to the hotel to refresh for supper.

Gift introduces us to the three newcomers to our tour; Jessica from Germany and Maddie and James from Australia.

We go to Kückis Pub for supper. Gift had made reservations for 18 of us but our numbers had grown to 24 because we had a farewell supper with Merel and Ayla and a hello supper with Jessica, Maddie and James. This seemed to throw the staff off a bit and it took over an hour to get our meals.

I order butterfish, butternut squash and spätzle. It is good but the portions are huge enough to feed three people. I suddenly hit a wall and am so exhausted that Graham and I head back to the hotel early.

 This morning we pack up, load Brenda and all hang out in the courtyard utilizing ever last moment of Internet in the warm African sun. It's then time to continue our Namibian adventure.

We stop at an area of Skeleton Coast National Park. Gift tells us that we are running a little behind and this will be a 10 minute stop so " make like Chinese tourist and jump off truck, picture picture and jump back on."

Skeleton Coast got its name from all the whale bones that were scattered along the beaches. There are many ship wrecks on the skeleton coast because of the strong currents. The wreck we visit happened in 2008.

There is a skeleton fashioned from beach driftwood and refuse with a note made of sea shells saying " Welcome to skeleton Coast".

Our trip continues. We are now going back into a mountainous region that seems to pop up out of nowhere. These aren't jagged mountains, they are rounded.

It's hot inside Brenda because we closed the windows in an attempt to keep the dust from the natural roads out.

Our next stop is to Spitzkoppe for a guided tour. Gift tells us to wear closed toe shoes. No patta patta ( flip flops).

Gift announces that this will be our campsite for the night. He advises that there is no water, showers, flush toilets or bar here. "I assume that means there is no WIFI" I state. "Yaba" Gift confirms.

An open top straw enclosure surrounds the outhouse toilet. Although they smell, the seats are surprisingly clean and the setup  fits the purpose. It is all doable....just as long as you don't look closely into the depths.

The day is hot, 38 degrees. We park Brenda beside a small mountain. Gift and the food prep team prepare lunch and then we head out with our guide towards Spitzkoppe mountain. Spitzkoppe means pointed head. The movies 10,000 BC and The Gods Must Be Crazy were filmed here.

We study the 2,000-4,000 year old rock paintings.

Our guide teaches us a bit of click language and tells us that bushmen store their water in ostrich eggs. They put a hole in the egg, empty the yolk, fill it with water, seal it with a stick and bury it, making sure the stick is above the ground so that they can find it when needed.

He then shows us the rhino plant which is deadly poisonous. It has a milk that the bushmen put on their darts to kill their prey. They have to cut out the part of the animal where the dart entered but the rest of the animal is fine to eat. The milk of this plant when ingested, in contact with an open wound or inhaled when burning is deadly.

After our tour we climb up to the rock bridge. The stones here are textured and give lots of grip. I get nervous about going up so high but James and Maddie help pull me up.

We see a lot of large Guinea Pig like rodents on the rocks. I wonder if Bonnie and  Clyde from High Park Zoo in Toronto escaped again and caught a flight to Africa. Gift later tells me that they are called Swakup Dassies.

I end up going down the rocks on my butt...heights really aren't my thing. Shawn and Graham continue climbing. I start to walk back but get a bit confused with the road so I wait for the guys at the bottom of the mountain. I see some green birds with peach faces that look like lovebirds. I don't think they are native to this area though.

Cameron and his buddies climb another rock. I return to the camp only to discover that he's ripped the whole backside out of his linen shorts...and those are the shorts that dry the quickest.

We set up our tents in the dimming light after sunset.

In the darkness, our campfire and truck light dramatically illuminates our mountain , silhouetting Brenda in its foreground.

Gift serves a delicious oryx stew which he made in a big black cauldron over the fire. We companionably sit around the fire, discussing the trip so far. All agree that this is the adventure of a lifetime and the friendship of our group ( our travel family) makes it that much richer.

There is some talk of scorpions in the area but most of us still choose to sleep outside. The skies put on a grand performance with clear constellations, satellites and shooting stars. I try to keep my eyes open but drift off despite the sheer magic of it all.

I watch darkness turn to light as dawn breaks behind our mountain. Our camp comes alive as we dismantle tents and pack the truck. Brenda is decorated with balloons and streamers to celebrate Felix and Evi's birthdays".

We're on the road by 7:00am. We stop in an hour to use the flushable fasciities. Hakuna Matata plays on the truck speaker as we take off.

The dust isn't as bad on the bus today. It's still dusty but not as bad. Alfons put weather stripping on the bottom of the door yesterday.

A market in a small Herero village is our next stop. There are about a dozen wooden stick stalls manned by women at sewing machines. The young children happily run around in the sand. The women are dressed in brightly colored long dresses with material head wear. We buy two Herero lady dolls.

I get pictures of the kids; they are beautiful....and its on the road again.

Everyone is in high spirits. Hey Ya by Outcast is playing while Brenda flies over the unpaved road, sometimes causing our bottoms to rise a few inches from our seats when we go over a huge bump. Birthday Ferrero Rochiers are passed around. Someone's taken down one of the big balloons which we all bat around the truck. Yee Ha! This is living!

The next stop is a Himba village. It is actually a cultural information village inhabited by 26 women, 6 men and 39 children. The children are quick to greet us.

The women are bare breasted and have cuff bracelets around their lower legs. If there is one line down the length of the leg cuff it means they have one child. If there are two  lines it means they have two or more children.

Their skin is a deep reddish brown from the red ochre they cover themselves with to keep their skin from burning. They clean themselves with smoke instead of water. In a hut, they have a small fire/ smoke dish that they use to make themselves sweat. They clean their clothes/animal skins with the smoke as well.

The women attach a goatskin piece to the top of their heads as a sign that they are eligible to have children. They have numerous braids going down to their shoulders that they cover in a milk/ochre mixture and they add hair extensions to the ends which they get from stores ( in the old days they would get them from their husbands and children).

Frank brought the soccer ball with him which the boys kick around with the children until one child leaves with it. Next thing I notice is that all these little Himba children are dabbing with the boys. ( dabbing is that pulling back a bow posture that I talked about the other day...a pop culture thing.)

The kids take our empty water bottles.

Cameron bought a bracelet for the girl who he says is not his girlfriend. I buy a bracelet as well and Shawn gets a little wooden hippo.

There is a small schoolroom outside the village with signs on the wall...alphabet' another says " I deserve an education", " I am a boy" and more.

We have our lunch a few km away from the village and are now on our way to our night camp. There are many termite hills along the way. We stop to take pictures when we spot a family of giraffes.

On the road again, Evi  spots three warthogs. We spot many more along the route.

Evi calls out "Elephant!"

Everyone yells "stop the truck!"

As the truck is grinding to a halt, Evi yells out, " Sorry. My mistake. It's a horse."

We will be arriving to our campsite shortly

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Zebras, Oryx, Springbuk and Flamingos

It appears the Scutt family are poor representatives of Canada. Shawn and I are second to last in getting our tents down this morning...Graham and Cameron are last. Yikes

The winds picked up last night. Because the sands were whipping around so much, Gift and Alfons prepared our supper inside Brenda ( our truck) and we all crowded in  and ate at our seats. Supper was still good, pasta in a meat and veggie sauce.

Just as we finished our meal, we looked out the window and Juana's ( our traveling companion from Portugal) tent blew away. Mike and a few guys ran out and caught it. Juana ended up sleeping in Brenda last night because there was no way to get that tent back up in the wind.

Meanwhile the rest of us all ran out of the truck to make sure that at least one person was sitting in each tent. The winds are so high that grains of fine sand get through the canvas into the tent.

We are told that we have an extra early start in the morning because we are going to watch the dawn over Dune 45.  That means we wake up at 4:30am. I'm  in bed by 8:30pm.

I wake up to the sound of voices. I think I hear Gift saying " good morning!" So I jump out of my sleeping bag and start collecting my clothes. Shawn says " what are you doing?". I answer, " I'm getting ready. Gift said we have an early start.. Can't you hear, everyone getting up." To which he replies, " it's only 11pm...that's just people going to bed".  Oops.

The winds really whip the tent through the night but when we get up in the morning we are still in the same spot... I was half expecting to wake up in China.

I don't think anyone showered this morning cause as soon as you step out you are covered in sand. I must confess, I didn't comb my hair cause I can't  find my comb in the dark.

We are now back in Brenda tearing through the desert to catch the sun rise.

I love's such an adventure!

We arrive at dune 45 ( with a number of other tour trucks) and everyone gets out and starts to climb. The sands swirl and dance in the wind..we push against the wind and our feet sink backwards 11 inches for every 12 inches stepped. It's not easy.

The dunes seem alive, subtly shifting with the grace of a tai chi master.

Graham and Cameron take off way ahead of us along with some of the other guys and gals. I brace myself to keep from being blown over. My husband says, "Stand closer to the edge so I can take your picture". Hmmmm.

I tell Shawn to go ahead since I am moving so slowly. Then I'm blown into the sand. A large, athletic bald guy with a strong European accent comes up behind me and helps me up. He says, "Hold my hand, I will help you to the top." We pass my husband. I soon tire out and say goodbye to my helpful companion. Shawn catches up and we decide to watch the sun rise through the wind blown haze from the mid-way point before we return to the base.

Let me tell you, it's a lot easier getting down to the bottom.

Interesting point: Namibia has the second tallest sand dunes in the world. ( China has the tallest).

The boys make it to the top. We watch Cameron and a bunch of his Dutch friends take turns rolling down the dunes. Graham was the last to return with Evi ( from England) and Mike.

Once we get to the bottom, everyone takes off their shoes and fine grains of tan sand pour out like beer at a keg party. I even have to take my knee high socks off and turn them inside out.

We get back into Brenda and drive to another spot where we wait for four wheel drive trucks to take us to Seserin, which is home of a dead forest. There used to be a river there that dried up but there is still water deep under the ground. The trees there seem dead but get just enough water from down below to keep them slightly alive. I kind of think of them as zombie trees.

As we wait for our jeeps, the guys start a game of pictionary in the sand. People draw things from their country. When it's Fabio's (from Italy) turn the guys call out "pizza!" Before he even starts to draw.

The group has really melded. A great bunch of people.

Cameron and his buddies from Holland keep "dabbing" for pictures.

Dabbing definition: straightening one arm on a diagonal while pulling back the other arm....almost like you are pulling a's a pop culture thing.

Gift points out that the dune behind us is one of the larger dunes...almost twice the size as the one we climbed earlier. He says it's called Big Daddy and the one across from it is named "Big Mama". Most of the other dunes are numbered.

I am horrified when we start walking towards Big Daddy. Heavens to Betsy, we aren't climbing another one I hope...I follow the group.

Fortunately we skirt the bottom and climb over a small dune. The wind is still strongly blowing, but now that the sun is up, it's warm. I strip off my down jacket.

My hair blows uncontrollably around my head. My shadow resembles a Greek goddess...Medusa.

I have my first glimpse of the zombie forest from the top of the small dune; Halloween like leafless trees in a hardened white cement-like base. There is a desolate beauty to it.

I put down my back-pack and jacket so that Graham can take a picture and the wind picks up and blows my jacket across the concrete basin. I take after it like a tortoise on fire. Fortunately Gift is a lot faster runner than I, catches it and returns it to me, dusty but otherwise unharmed.

I get to sit in the front passenger seat of the jeep on the way back. Gift tells the driver not to let me touch the controls... I wonder if someone has told Gift about my unfortunate car incident from a few weeks earlier.

We fly across the desert passing oryx along the way. I don't know how the driver knows his way. It all looks the same to me. He tells us to hold on, guns the motor and we fly up what seems to be an impossibly steep incline only to get stuck in the sand at the top. Our driver is skilled, he gets us out and we are back on our way.

It is so hot now that I change into my tank top and peasant skirt. The temperature here changes drastically. You can be at 5 degrees in the morning and 25 degrees five hours later.

We stop back at our campsite for lunch. I don't normally like hamburgers but these ones taste awesome....must be that eating outside thing. Oryx roam free around the campsite and I get some really close pictures.

There are also some really large birds nests. They are made by sparrow type birds that work together to create a community where they all have their own rooms.

On the road again. It was a really early morning. Half of our group are now sleeping as trusty Brenda motors us to the next destination.

We stop for a quick break at a bakery in Solitaire. There were a lot of adorable meerkats here. They are quite squirrel-like. One of them comes right up to me and poses for the camera.

We arrive to our campsite. Blessedly, the wind has calmed down and we can put up our tents. We prepare ourselves; (hat, sunscreen, water) and head to a large jeep/truck where our tour guide, Frans, awaits us.

Frans is a man of the land, his grandfather was a bushman. He informs us about some of the desert plants, history of the area, culture of the bushman, local animals and tracking, all in an interesting and often humorous manner. He informs us that if someone fools around with a bushman's wife and leaves a footprint, even if he denies it, will be found guilty if his footprint matches and then cweek (Frans does cutting motion across his throat) and he becomes food for the jackal (Frans does a little dance).

We see zebras, oryx, and Frans digs up a big spider.

The sun sets in a ball of glowing orange glory and we watch the colors on the horizon change until they slowly fade to black.

I took a nice warm shower at the camp and borrow Evi's comb. Fortunately it had wide teeth because the knots In my hair are so bad. It felt good to be clean again.

Gift and Mike demonstrated their magic with a delicious supper of sausages, steaks, vegetables and potatoes.

I wander down to the bar and discover that the zebras are at the spotlit water hole. They are skittish creatures and we all keep very quite. The bar is the perfect vantage point to watch them.

They are ghostly in their spotlight, ears alert for any sign of danger.

One zebra kicks some of the others out of the way. Neighing and calling sounds are heard in the darkness outside the lit up area. Many zebras come and go. Frans told us that they drink the watering hole dry every night. And then it is always refilled.

We are in the middle of nowhere. The sky is alive with stars and I have never seen the milky way so clear. It takes my breath away.

Through the night I hear the soft shufflings, snortings and sounds of the zebras. I also hear a repeated deep nasally sound of "oo-oo-ooooo". I think it is an oryx. This place is wonderful.

In the morning, We pack up in good time. After a pancake breakfast, I check out the empty watering hole. The only sign of the zebras visit is a smattering of large, black poop.

I turn on my music (Coldplay, Adventure of a Lifetime) and take in the moment....burning the scene into memory to be taken out and relived on cold winter days.

Too soon we get back on Brenda and leave this magical place.

Herds of oryx and Springbuk graze as we pass. An oryx runs down the side of the road and a herd of zebras stampede across the road in front of us, trampling a fence on the other side.

We stop at The Tropic of Capricorn to take pictures. We can see no signs of civilization no matter what direction we look.

Our next stop is at a viewpoint that looks like a moonscape.

We arrive into Walvis Bay; a gorgeous seaside resort...There's a Florida type feel to it. We stop to take pictures of the thousands of flamingos hanging around the water's edge. Both greater and lesser flamingo species mingle here. I can't help but smile when around flamingos.

The truck stops again when someone spots a pod of dolphins swimming off shore. Orange and yellow  jellyfish dot the shoreline.

Now onto Swakopmund. We have desert on one side of us and the Atlantic ocean on the other. We pass an oil rig off the coast. It is virgin beach with no resorts to be seen until Swakopmund. Quite refreshing.

We are in a hotel for two nights. We have done hand washing and sent the rest of the laundry out to be done. Our portable camping clothesline is artfully strung across our hotel room.

Our group goes out for supper as a family since Mike, Ayla and Merel will be heading home the day after tomorrow. Sigh.

We go to a great Italian restaurant and then out dancing after. Fun fun fun.

Friday, August 5, 2016

South Africa to Namibia

I'm rather embarrassed to say, but Hubby and I are the last to dismantle our tent this morning.

Today we have a really early start because we are traveling a long distance to get to Orange River ,South Africa. I am up at 5am and have a nice warm shower before clearing out the tent and taking it down in the dark. I seem to have misplaced my flashlight which could prove challenging for future in the dark tent dismantling situations. Hopefully it shows up.

We almost leave without our towels. I left mine to dry on a chair and I hung My husbands on the truck (Brenda's) rear view mirror. Luckily Alfonse (our driver) notices as we are about to drive off.

Our tour group is split into four subgroups; the lions, the elephants, the zebras and the kudus. We revolve doing group duties; food prep, truck packing, dish washing and truck cleaning.

We are driving through the Northern Cape. It consists of rocky, scrub lands with lots of sheep and a few cows. Think tumbleweed country.

We stop for lunch at a roadside picnic spot. It's starting to warm up a lot. We'll soon be stopping at a mall in Springbok to load up on supplies.

After driving through terrain that can best be described as mountainous desert, we arrive at our campsite, Fiddler's Creek in Orange River. It is so beautiful beautiful; so peaceful. And it is warm now...the perfect summer day.

After putting up our tents and changing into summer clothes, everyone relaxes except for the "elephant" group who prepares supper. My flashlight turns up...thank goodness.

The door of our tent faces the river...what a view to wake up to.

We are in South Africa but Namibia is across the river. Cameron, a few of the guys and two of the dogs just swam across the river to Namibia and back.

The water is calm, like glass. Every now and then a fish jumps and breaks the waters stillness.

There are three pet campsite dogs here who love nothing more than for us to play fetch the rock with them..and we are not talking pebbles, these are big rocks. The black pit bull is hilarious, you can hear him snorting long before he arrives.

There is no WIFI here. The buildings including the bar are grass thatched. The bar is really fun and quirky with all manner of articles including shoes, hats, bills, signs, beer caps, license plates, crutches, paddles and more nailed to the roof and pillars.

We partake of some beverages as we watch the sun set.

Supper is delicious; pork cooked on a grill over an open fire, potatoes mashed with onions and  carrots, mixed vegetables including red cabbage and onion gravy. Yum.

After supper we lounge by a bonfire under the stars and chat while the younger group sit in the open air bar playing cards. I love the comradarie of this type of trip.

Gift tells us about one tour where they were looking at crocodiles and one Korean gentleman taking pictures said "how close can we let the crocodile get?" Gift said "Where is he?" And the guy pointed directly in front of him. Gift said he was so shocked that he froze to the spot. Luckily The driver quickly yanked the guy away. Later the tourist told Gift that he thought  he was fine because crocodiles don't leave the water. Yikes!

The black pitbull dog keeps wanting the ball thrown for him., snorting his delight with each toss. He never stops. He's my husband Shawn's  best friend cause he throws the ball the most. In the night we hear him snorting at our tent door. Hope reins eternal in that beast.

Before I go to bed I really look at the stars; bright, backlit pinpricks  in a sky of black velvet. I love this place.

I wake up a few times in the night, once with a Charlie horse in my calf and the next time because our snorting, four legged friend is incessantly barking at something in the distance.

Our campsite is just as gorgeous in the morning. About half our group goes canoeing and the rest of us have a relaxing morning. Shawn and I go for a walk to the most floral laden Bougainvillia bush I have ever seen. We are suddenly joined by three bounding Mastiff dogs, ( which intimidate me at first). They were literally climbing all over each other to be petted. Two of them escort us for the rest of our walk.

When the canoe group return, we have lunch and head for the border.

The border crossing is a long drawn out affair. On the South African side, we get out of the truck, line up and have our passports checked. Then we go back to the truck. Next all our hand luggage is taken down from the over- head bins and dogs go into the truck and sniff around. And this is just to leave South Africa.

Graham and I were both finger printed when we entered South Africa.

After we cross the Orange River into Namibia, we stand in line again and go through passport controls. Gift says that we had a quick border crossing...I'd hate to experience the long version. We are now on our way to the next campsite at Fish River Canyon.

Cameron is with a gang at the front table playing cards. Graham is chatting away with Felix and Shawn is fast asleep. We speed across a Namibian road as popular African music ( An artist named Johnny Clegg) plays over the speaker. It suits the countryside.

The roads are unpaved. As Gift says, " they give us an African massage."

Alfons is really booting it with the truck (Brenda) and a huge cloud of dust follows in our wake. The dust makes me cough and my eyes water.

We stop briefly by the side of the road and a few guys tear out to do their business and we are off again.

The landscape in this part of Namibia is still mountainous desert but it almost has the feel of the lava fields on the big island of Hawaii ( but it's not volcanic)...or Sudbury after the strip mining.

We stop at our campsite and quickly put up our tents but don't take time to move in our luggage or sleeping bags. We race against the clock to get in our hike and watch the sun set over the canyon. I can't believe how quickly the temperature changed. It 's really cold so I change from my skirt and tank top to pants and a winter jacket.

Fish River canyon is the largest canyon in Africa ( there is some dispute because the Ethiopians say that they have the largest canyon). Irregardless, it's impressive. Very much like Grand Canyon.

Not keen on heights, I have a few jittery moments hiking around the edge of the canyon but overall, do ok. We watch the sun go down from the observation point.

Since it's winter here, we have shortened daylight hours. The sun comes up about 6:15am and sets about 5:00pm in Namibia.

We share our big box of wine with our traveling companions after sunset and Gift and Alfons make a delicious supper of salad, rice and beef stew that we eat by flashlights at the lookout.

After returning to our camp, we finish setting up our sleeping bags and sit around the camp fire chatting. It's very cold. Most of us have on toques and gloves and I wear my light down jacket under my winter down jacket.

We wear our toques to bed...ok, I even wore my gloves. Through the night, I'm surprisingly warm and even strip off a number of layers.

We tear down the campsite early this morning. Shawn and I are second last to finish so there is improvement. We have breakfast and are on the road by 7:00am.

As we whip down the roads, enjoying our "African massage", the landscape slowly changes. The bushes get bigger and more plentiful, the land is flatter and we spot more wildlife. We see herds of oryx grazing by the side of the road and spot six ostrich all running in a line, the leader flapping his wings....don't know why he does that, probably for artistic effect or maybe (as I said before), hope reins eternal. Mike (our South African travel friend) told me that an ostrich can really kick the crap out of you.

We stop at a tiny town to stretch our legs, grab snacks and go to the bathroom. Our next stop is at the side of the road, under one of the rare trees in the middle of nowhere....literally.

We are in the Nam desert. It is an outcrop of the Kalahari desert. There are hardly any trees.

The dust is everywhere. Sometimes I just put my shirt over my face and breath through that.

We explore Sesriem Canyon. I am  kind of concerned cause the guys are all climbing the steep rocks ( that have a lot of foot holds).

Our campsite is in the desert; windy and lots of sand. I'm now in the campground bar. We will be having supper in ten minutes.