by Bob Peterson
Here is the travelogue I kept during our 2002 trip to Southern Africa. If you click on the blue hyperlinks, you will see photos I took on the trip using my digital camera. In almost all cases, the photos were taken under the circumstances listed in the notes. The photos average about 400K each, but I reduced them from the original near-photo quality images.
Saturday May 18, 2002 - Johannesburg, South Africa
Right now, in Minneapolis it is 3:30pm. But I’m writing this from Johannesburg, South Africa, so here it is Saturday the 18th at 10:30pm. The trip to South Africa was very long, as we expected. We took a two-hour flight from Minneapolis to Boston, where we had an hour or so layover. From Boston we took a six hour flight to Amsterdam where we had another layover of a couple of hours. From Amsterdam, we took an even longer flight–ten and a half hours–to Johannesburg. Johannesburg is a very clean, modern city. We’ve also heard that people do not walk at night in Johannesburg without carrying a loaded gun.
Luckily, our luggage made it, here...I was worried after having so many transfers.
The hotel is very nice. As far as I’m concerned, and I’m very impressed with the people here from the travel agency. We’re using International Expeditions again, as we did in Peru.
Now I’m very tired and grungy. Tomorrow we have to get up early, like 6:00am in order to eat breakfast and be ready to leave by 7:30am. Tomorrow we’re supposed to fly to Botswana for our first camp.
Sunday May 19, 2002 - Johannesburg to Moan to Vumbura, Botswana
Last night we set our alarm clock for 6:00am, our theory being to breakfast at 7:00 and we were to be met in the lobby at 7:30. Well, the new travel alarm clock we bought at Wal Mart didn’t go off (it’s totally broken), so we didn’t wake up until 6:30am. We rushed to shower and get ready and pack, rushed through breakfast, and barely made it to the lobby on time.
We were taken to the Johannesburg airport again, where we proceeded to wait for our flight to Maun, Botswana. We waited and waited and waited. Some of us were concerned that we were in the wrong location of the airport, because for the longest time, nobody was there at the gate we were to depart from, until long after our flight was to board. We were finally told that the pilot had some kind of accident and they had to fly in another pilot from somewhere. I joked around that they were using the hour and a half to put someone through flight school!
We finally boarded our small 24-seater jet and flew to Maun. We shuffled through customs and immigration, collected our luggage and were shuffled onto another plane. This plane was smaller, and had 12 passengers, including us.
The plane took off, and it was wonderful because we had a wonderful view of the Botswana landscape. The closer we got to the first camp, the more animals we saw from the air. We saw elephants, hippos and some kind of gazelle-type creature from the air.
Our tiny plane set down on a tiny dirt runway where we dropped off two passengers at their camp. I was quite nervous to see how the pilot was going to land a vehicle going 150 miles per hour on what was nothing more than a short dirt road, but he had no problems.
Then we took off again. We set down again and dropped some more off. Finally, we set down at “our” camp and we got off. We were taken by open-air jeep to our camp, which is called Vumbura lodge.
After a very rough ride across some bumpy deep-sand roads, we had a small introductory glass of half-beer, half apple juice (called a beer shanty–excellent!) and were given some information about the camp.
There are two sets of camp managers at the moment, the outgoing set and the incoming set who are in training and are scheduled to take over in just a few days. The outgoing set was Rob, a tall handsome white man who kept putting his feet in his mouth, and Hazel, Rob’s white girlfriend who knew the camp well (two years running) but who was just counting the hours until their departure back to civilization. Rob seemed to love the outdoors, but Hazel seemed fearful of the dangers that lurk in the African darkness. The last straw for her was a brush fire that occurred three days prior to our visit in which the camp nearly burned.
The incoming couple was Cristina, a lively, bubbly and attractive woman with short blond hair, and her husband, Graham, who was also obviously excited about this new job they were starting as camp managers.
Our guide was Kay, a very down-to-Earth black man who was about 45-50 years old. I swear to God he could spot a grasshopper jumping in the grass three miles away, but the guides from the sister camp (Little Vumbura) called him “old man” and teased him that his eyes were not as good as they used to be. We’d be driving and he’d say, “Look! Two kudus.” and point to two tiny specks in the distance. We couldn’t even see them without binoculars, and even with binoculars, we couldn’t even tell that they were antelopes, let alone which kind! I teased him that he had special 50X magnifying contact lenses. Kay was one of my favorite people there. He was incredibly grounded, whereas the white managers seemed to have a slight (almost undetectable) air of superiority or something toward their black employees.
After freshening up at our tent, we were taken for our first game drive, which means we drove around in the open-aired land rover looking for animals. We were pretty successful, too. Besides the numerous weird-looking birds, we also saw baboons, impalas, zebras, vervet monkeys (which are rare at this camp), African wild cats, bats, wildebeest (gnus), a spring hare (which looked and hopped just like a kangaroo!), a warthog, hammerkop (a bird with a funny shaped head), red billed horn-bill (nicknamed flying chili pepper because that’s what their red bill looks like), vultures, sacred ibis, a greater kudu (which is a type of antelope), and impalas.
When we got back to our camp, I had to pee really bad, but there was an elephant on the path leading back to our tent! The two guides had tried unsuccessfully to scare the elephant away, but he refused to budge, and who’s going to argue with it? Finally, Kay approached it from a different angle, snapped some trees to make noise, and finally persuaded the thing to leave.
We were told never to leave our tent by ourselves in the dark without being accompanied by a guide, because the wild animals here are literally free to roam about the camp, and quite often do. We were also told that the animals do not ever intrude on the tents. Hopefully, we won’t become a midnight snack for some hungry predator. As I write this, I can hear the howls of hyaenas in the background, and I was told we probably wouldn’t sleep well tonight because of the strange animal noises around.
Tomorrow we are being woken up at 6:00am for our morning animal drive. Therefore, I’m going to stop here.
Monday May 20, 2002 - Vumbura Lodge, Botswana
The plan was to have someone playing a drum at 6:00am to wake us up, and they would be back at 6:30am to pick us up for our morning game hunt.
They told us last night that we wouldn’t sleep the first night because of the animal noises. Despite that, we went to bed at eleven, and Kathy and I were both out like a light. They say dehydration is a big problem here, so they keep pushing liquids at us. Consequently, I had to get up three times in the middle of the night to pee.
I woke up bright and early at 6:00am, despite the fact that it was still very dark out. It was shortly before sunrise. Very soon thereafter, I heard the morning drums start. I aroused Kathy, and she started waking up. We started getting dressed, and I heard the sounds of a very large animal outside our tent. I told Kathy, then I looked outside with the flashlight (which they call a torch). In the light of my flashlight, I could see a huge bull elephant eating leaves from a tree not more than fifteen feet (five meters) away from our tent. I wasn’t afraid, but I was surely convinced to stay inside the tent until someone came to fetch us.
Very shortly thereafter, I heard the sounds of very loud hollering probably twenty five or thirty feet from our tent. I was convinced it was our guides trying to scare away the elephant, but later I learned it was baboons. They make an extremely loud sound like a man shouting “Ooh-Ah-hoo!” at the top of his lungs. Had I known it was the baboons, I would have been quite alarmed because they were in the trees above us.
At 6:30am, Kay snuck through the back forest into the area of our tent. He told us to stay inside because there was an elephant. No s**t, Sherlock. As if we didn’t know what those loud crashing noises were! He told us to wait inside. He tried to make noise to convince the elephant to leave, but the elephant wasn’t falling for it. When you’re at the top of the food chain, you have very little to worry about. Finally, the guide shot a flare gun at the elephant, and, like a Fourth-of-July bottle rocket, the thing whizzed past his huge head and exploded near him with a loud BOOM!
The elephant turned his head and looked around a little. He didn’t panic at all. He didn’t seem concerned in the least. Finally, he walked slowly down the path and eventually into the forest at his very leisurely pace, unconcerned about us.
The morning game drive was very interesting but we saw very few animals. We were looking specifically for a cheetah. We drove around, and when we rounded a corner, the land rover stopped and the guide, Kay turned off the engine. I looked at the ground, and there in front of us was the dead body of an impala. There was no blood, so it looked like a fresh kill. I remarked, “Looks like a fresh kill. There must be a predator around here somewhere.” Then I noticed, sitting in the grass, not fifteen feet away from the land rover, were two cheetahs lying on the ground, resting from their hunt!
As we watched, the cheetahs got up and dragged the carcass across the grass, into the shade. Then they proceeded to bite it open and chow in front of us. I think they liked the land rover. We were told that they consider it to be a large, harmless animal which keeps the baboons from harassing them. Ordinarily, baboons would keep attacking and harrassing the cheetahs until they took the kill away and ate it themselves. We were told that these were inexperienced one-year-old cheetahs and that the mother cheetah was nearby, frightened to come near us.
Kay must have made some sort of announcement over his radio (very quietly, of course) because soon afterward a second land rover from the neighboring camp showed up to watch. The second rover said he had driven by that very spot only five minutes before we did, and the cheetahs weren’t there. We must have just missed the kill.
We watched the cheetahs for a long time, then we left. Of course, we took lots of pictures. We were told that cheetahs are very hard to find. There are ten times as many leopards in the area, and we haven’t seen any yet.
We continued our game drive and saw other animals, such as antelopes like kudus, much as we did yesterday, but nothing came close to the excitement of the cheetahs..
We came in around 11:30, ate lunch, then retired to our tent where we rested. I did a little work on my book “Mike” while Kathy did some journaling with the Fiva (our tiny laptop). Then we showered and napped until it was time for our evening game drive.
In the evening game drive, we had a mission: Giraffes. Now, Kay is very knowledgeable, but he lets us dictate what animals we want to see. Then he goes after them like an expert. After driving around here quite a bit, we found a small group of five wild giraffes loping around lazily eating and such. Success!
At sunset, we pulled over and set up a table near a couple of grazing gnus (wildebeests). We sipped white wine and chatted as the sun set in the west. It was beautiful. (We also did that yesterday).
After it became dark it started to get cold (being winter season here in Botswana). We drove home, looking for wild animals in the dark. You shine a floodlight in the field, and you can see eyes glowing back at you. It’s very cool. In driving back to the camp this way, we happened to see a civet with a young one. This young civet was probably only a few weeks old, and it was cute as the dickens. It looked like a cross between a spotted cat and a striped racoon. Our guide, Kay, said that we were very lucky because in his thirty years of being a guide, he had never seen a baby civet.
On our way back to the camp, our landrover got a flat tire. We nursed it back to the camp, however, without further delay.
We saw other animals on our game drive, but I don’t remember them all.
When we got back to the camp, we ate dinner, and it was fantastic. We sat around afterward, talking to our hosts and the other people here. Two more women have joined us here today (but they weren’t on the morning game drive). That brings our “group” up to six people. Kathy and myself, Bill Thomas and his wife Brenda, and the two women. There are a couple of other people here, like this grad student working on a Ph.D. thesis on birds (or some such) but they do not accompany us on our game drives.
After dinner, we sat around the campfire and talked and laughed until our sides ached. It was a very good time.
Tuesday May 21, 2002 - Vumbura Lodge, Botswana
Again, I slept like a rock, except for getting up two times in the middle of the night to pee. There were no elephants near us when we awoke, but the baboons were howling again and they sounded very close. That didn’t stop our guide from fetching us at 6:30 again, and off to breakfast we went.
The camp is beautiful. I took pictures of the lounge, the dining area, the bar and the buffet. The food has been absolutely fantastic, with a wide variety of meats, pastas, vegetables, fruits, and all. I would never have expected such excellence from this deep in the bush. This is one hundred times better food than we had in Peru when we were in the jungle.
There are literally animals all around us. On this morning’s game drive, we drove out to a field. We parked about twenty feet away from four female lions who were just sitting on a mound, napping and watching the landscape. As we watched, a small herd of about a dozen zebras walked into view. The lions watched the zebras very closely, trying to decide whether or not they should try for a mid-morning snack. Then, a large giraffe walked graciously onto the same field. The lions didn’t seem interested in him, though. We watched and took pictures for a long time, then we left.
We went to a small pond where one of the last watering holes was drying up. Normally this time of year, waters rushing down from Angola flood the whole area. We were told it is not unusual for the camp to be inaccessible, except by boat. They said the land rovers are worked to death, and forced to drive through several feet of water. The land rovers have special snorkels which allow the carburetors to get air when the thing is in four feet of water. Several times a day, under ordinary circumstances, land rovers would have to be pulled out from under the water, and the guests would normally be soaked. This year, however, the floods are late, so the watering holes are all drying up. Long story short: This watering hole we passed was squirming with more than a hundred catfish. We were told they would eventually die unless it either rained or the flood waters came, and the likelihood of rain this time of year is nil. This pond of a hundred catfish was tiny. Probably only a few inches deep and no more than six feet (two meters) in diameter.
Then we went and saw another, larger, watering hole where several crocodiles were bathing. Large African pelicans and egrets were also there.
We also saw some rare sable antelopes.
On the way back to our camp, we saw another female lion hunting. The alarming thing was, she was less than a mile away from our camp. This place is literally teeming with life, and not just small and harmless life like it was in the Amazon (which only had a few deadly things, like the anacondas, scorpions, spiders, and cayman). Here, most of the animals are dangerous and quite large compared to South America.
By the way, three days before we arrived, there was a terrible accident. Our camp was burning rubbish in a pit about a half-mile away, and the fire got out of control. It resulted in an enormous brush fire that consumed thousands of acres of land. Everyone was in a panic. It burned for days. The local people all came together and tried to stop it. They did back-burning and all kinds of things to try to stop it. Luckily, they were able to stop it before it became too devastating. On the one side, it was stopped by a river. On the other sides, it was stopped by the small roads. We were told that if it had crossed the road and not stopped, there was nothing else to stop the whole country of Botswana from burning. It was very lucky they were able to stop it.
Even so, much of the land around here is severely scorched and black. Our hosts took a landrover and drove for more than two hours and never got to the end of the scorched area. It grows back quickly, though. Only a few days later, there are three-inch green sprouts all over the scorched area. It hasn’t had much of an impact on the wildlife here either, because the animals just seem to not care. The lions we saw earlier today were sitting in the middle of the scorched area, and so were the zebras and the giraffe. I would have thought the burned grass would discourage animals from going there, but they don’t. They’re all over here. Even now, as we drive by on our game drives, we see logs still smouldering.
That’s all for now. We saw other animals, such as giraffes and a fish eagle which looks like a small Bald Eagle, but I’ll try to fill this in later from the lists we’ve been checking off and from Kathy’s notes.
Near sunset, we came across a herd of probably a thousand cape (water) buffalo, all walking in the direction away from the large watering hole. It was very cool to watch, especially with the sunset. We joked that we wanted our wine and a snack now, because that implied our guide, Kay, would have to get out of the landrover and set up the table in the field of buffalo.
After dark, we saw two different types of jackal, the black backed jackal and the side striped jackal.
We looked most of the day for a leopard, but we never saw any.
Wednesday May 22, 2002 - Vumbura - Xigera, Botswana
This morning we went on our last game drive at the Vumbura camp, still trying to find our illusive leopard. We drove around and saw a pride of eleven lions, three large females and the rest were nearly full-grown. We were able to get extremely close to these lions, who didn’t seem interested in us at all. Again, we were the only vehicle around, and open-topped, so it wouldn’t have taken much for a lion to take one of us if he really had it in his or her head to do so. The open situation made us rather glad were weren’t in Kenya or Tanzania where we would have been peering out the windows of an enclosed bus with thirty other tourists, among twenty other busses, all parked around three lions. Remind me never to go there! Botswana is so much better.
Rather than look at us, the lions were scoping for other game, and there was lots of it. There was a small herd of tsessabe, which is a type of antelope. The lions watched them attentively but they were keeping too much of a distance to be caught.
At one point, one of the lions decided it wanted a better look at the herd. So it got up and walked straight over to our landrover. Some of us were quaking a bit, but the lion parked itself about nine feet (three meters) from us and sat down. That provided us with some wonderful pictures.
After we watched for a long time, maybe a half-hour, then we got bored. As we were getting ready to leave, two warthogs started walking toward the pride of lions. They have very poor eyesight, so they didn’t know better. The lions took an immediate interest in the warthogs, and as we watched, they sent a scout around to both sides of the warthogs. The young ones crouched down and pretended they were grass, and they blended in perfectly.
The lions then carefully constructed a trap, and the warthogs walked right into it. The warthogs got within probably thirty feet of the lions and then they caught a smell of them. Nervously, they started walking away from the pride. The right-hand scout was too far away, however, and the left-hand scout was a coward, so they let them get away. It was an exciting fifteen minutes, though.
We also saw a reedbok, kudus (one with a wire around her neck), a giraffe, a tsessabe.
After a shower and lunch, we were taken down the bumpy road back to the airport where we flew to our next camp, called Xigera (pronounced Key-gra but the X is supposed to have a click.) After a short, bumpy ride on another land rover (this one with a roof for protection from the sun, but still not enclosed) we arrived in camp.
The new camp, Xigera, is a lot more modern than Vumbura. The whole camp is elevated six or more feet off the ground and our tents are more like cabins. They are basically canvas walls and screen windows hung on a more permanent frame of logs, with wooden-framed screen doors. They’re better than typical camping tents, because they have a bedroom with a king-size bed, a dressing room with basin, a bathroom with flush toilet, and a shower.
This is a lot like the tent of Vumbura, but much more modern. It has 220-volt electrical outlets, electric lights, an electric fan, and so on. The rooms all face East so the guests can watch the sunrise every morning from bed. The porch offers a beautiful view of the valley below, where we could watch the different hoofed-animals grazing below.
The camp is situated on an island, and the only way onto the island is via a bridge. Now, somehow the animals have learned that this bridge allows them access to the island, so they’ve learned to cross it if they want. The people at the camp have gates on the bridge, and a sand-trap. The sand trap does not stop the animals from getting on the island. The purpose of the sand trap is this: the staff rakes the sand smooth every night, and in the morning, you can see what animals have traveled to and from the island by which tracks are left in the sand in the morning.
At the island-end of the bridge, there is a “V”. If you follow it to the right, you get onto the forest floor of the island. If you follow it to the left, you walk up onto the decking of the camp. We were told that at night, the gate is shut so that the animals can only go to the right, thereby making it difficult to get on the decking.
Xigera seemed to have a huge number of staff members. It seemed like there were dozens of staff to each person. The managers were Cheryl (or Sheryl) a very pretty white woman with short black hair and some of the most luscious and tempting eyes I’ve ever seen. I’d like to call them bedroom eyes, but that might give you the wrong idea (and I don’t want to do that!). The other manager was a man, but I’m afraid I didn’t remember his name. I guess I was too busy looking at Cheryl’s eyes. The caterer was a very bubbly and beautiful young black woman named Pinky.
When we crossed the bridge ourselves, we were met by the numerous friendly staff. We also learned that the island is not isolated at all. Even elephants come to the island (bypassing the bridge and crossing through the water) and, in fact, an elephant had been in the camp since early morning. This elephant seemed a bit used to humans, because we were crossing near it on the bridge and it didn’t seem to care. (I assure you, this was not a pet elephant, this was a wild, male bull elephant, and it was huge). Kathy and I took some pictures of it.
In the afternoon, we took a ride in the mekoros which are basically narrow flat-bottomed canoes. The ride was fun and relaxing, but after only a few minutes of poling around the island (they don’t paddle, they use long poles to push the boat around), we got out of the boat and started walking. After a short walk, we saw two different types of owls. The first kind was a barred owl, but it was pretty small and didn’t look like the barred owls we have in the States. The second kind was supposedly very rare, called the Pels King Owl. We were told that birders come from around the world to try to find this and go home unsuccessful many years in a row. Too bad I’m not a birder!
The only other thing we saw in the line of animals was a tiny reed frog. We saw papyrus plants and water lily just like we have in northern Minnesota. In the middle of our mekoro wide, we got out on an island and had a snack. On the way back, a took a photo of a colorful bird called a little bee eater, which flutters back and forth while hunting for insects. We got back just after sunset, which was beautiful.
The mosquitos are much worse here. Vumbura had almost no bugs at all. I think I saw one mosquito the entire three days. But because Xigera is an island on the water, it has lots. Luckily, the camps provide bug repellent (called Peaceful Sleep) and bug killer (called Doom), so we didn’t have to use our DEET at all. Vumbura provided those as well, but it was hardly necessary because there just weren’t any bugs.
We had a wonderful dinner, after which we sat by the fire and chatted. This is a very popular camp and there are quite a few more guests here. As we chatted, we watched animals crossing the bridge onto the island. Kathy saw the black silhouette of a large cat crossing the bridge. She asked what it was, and one of the guides said it was a leopard. Some of the people were scared, but we remained quiet and didn’t move. When the cat got to the island side of the bridge, we could see the leopard’s spots by the light of the lanterns.
As I write this, I’m sitting at the bar, and the leopard is somewhere underneath the decking below us. On the other side of the bridge, we just heard another leopard calling, trying to find its partner, which is on our island. It’s a little bit disturbing to know (1) there are night predators out there like the leopard searching for food, (2) he’s on the same island as you, and (3) you’re considered a delicacy! Disturbing.
Later as we watched, we saw hyaenas cross onto the island. Hyaenas are scary as hell and I’ll tell you why. It’s more from a horror story point of view that I’m speaking, and I’ve probably got the creatures pegged all wrong, but here’s my side of the story: First, they have a large body with a hunched back and an unnatural gait, like some twisted genetic mishap. Second, I think I’ve heard that they will torment even the mighty lions and until they manage to take their food away. Third, they don’t want to be seen. They’re very dark and secretive, preferring to lurk in the dark shadowy places like Jack the Ripper waiting to tear someone apart. Fourth, they have extremely powerful jaws and teeth. They’re the only creature I know of who will devour every part of a cadaver, especially the bones. Their droppings come out all white because of all the calcium in the bones they eat. I can practically hear some announcer saying, “After the hyaenas are done with you, the authorities won’t even find your bones left to know you were alive! You’ll just be vanished.” There’s something sinister about them. Even their laugh seems somehow twisted and evil. I’ve probably got them all wrong.
Thursday May 23, 2002 - Xigera Lodge, Botswana
Happy anniversary to me! Today Kathy and I are celebrating ten years of blissful marriage, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it than in the African bush.
As I write this journal entry, I am sitting on the bed of our small cabin. To my left, I can hear the crashing sounds of a hungry elephant who is busily tearing apart clumps of bushes that are right outside of the cabin which look like small palm trees. The elephant is using incredible force to uproot and demolish the trees and eat the roots. He discards the green leaves on top.
To my right, I can hear the incredible roars of a lion who has walked onto the island. He’s making quite a racket. Nonetheless, I have been nearly a week without my rowdy music, so I’m getting a fix by listening to Megadeth’s CD “The World Needs a Hero” (excellent CD for people who appreciate metal).
Here’s a recap of the day:
This morning, as we ate breakfast, we saw a huge troop of baboons walk across the bridge and onto the island! Very interesting. We wished we had our cameras to capture the event on film, but unfortunately we left them at the cabin.
After breakfast, we went on a “game drive” and “game walk”. We had two guides, B.K. and Captain. They basically drove us to the airstrip (a scary-as-hell tiny strip of unpaved road that airplanes are supposed to land on) where we got out and walked in the bush for about forty-five minutes. It was very uneventful, and our guides aren’t nearly as good as Kay was at Vumbura. I guess we’re spoiled.
After a wonderful lunch, we had a break in which Kathy and I watched the baboons who came on at breakfast go about their havoc. They were also joined by vervet monkeys. They were all over the camp, including on the walkways. At one point, Kathy and I went down to the pool area where we found several baboons making trouble. One of them was digging in a basket, pulling out all the bath towels. Then, as we showed up, he stole one of the towels and took it into the trees, his prized possession. He had the towel for at least twenty minutes, roaming about the island with it! Eventually he came back to the pool area, where Cheryl discovered him. She got down off the decking, onto the forest floor (which we are forbidden to do because it’s dangerous because of poisonous snakes and wild animals) and started chasing it, screaming at it, “You give me back my towel, you naughty baboon!” After chasing him a while, he finally let go of the towel and she got it back, but it was ripped and therefore useless for customers.
This gave me a whole new perspective on baboons. Coming from the USA, I always thought of baboons as fierce, large, mean and intelligent creatures that are very dangerous and scary. Their fangs, we’ve been told, are larger than a lion’s fangs. Still, they’re mostly afraid of humans. They have good reason to be afraid of Cheryl!
Which brings me to another point. We were told that somehow, baboons can tell the difference between men and women and they’re not afraid of women (Cheryl being the exception!) According to many of the people we talked to (both blacks and whites) the baboons will run when a man comes near them, but they tend to not see women as a threat, and they’re not intimidated by women. That’s a huge problem. Some of the camps have taken to playing tricks. For instance, we were told that one camp had a large group of men dress up in women’s clothes and go walking in baboon areas. The baboons were not afraid, but the men suddenly threw off their women’s clothes to reveal fierce men, and they chased the baboons making all kinds of noise. The baboons learned from this that some “women” might actually be men in disguise, and therefore they should give them more distance and respect, etc. (I’ve learned this lesson long before any baboon did, however!)
The managers told us the baboons were a big problem. Since we’re in a game preserve, they’re not allowed to hurt the animals. They have to periodically frighten them with B.B. guns and such. Their current instrument, which they called a catapult (although I never saw it), is broken, so they’ve sent a request for more weapons, but who knows when they will arrive. Most of the supplies to these camps come from the country of South Africa, so it takes time to arrange.
In the afternoon, most of the guests decided they wanted to see hippos. We piled onto a boat and went down the delta for 45 minutes until we reached a tiny lagoon in which three large hippos were submerged. For about thirty minutes, we sat there and watched the hippos bob up and down. They could have been sleeping for all we knew, because we were told that hippos can submerge and come up for air, even in their sleep. At night, they come onto the land to graze, but spend most of the hot day keeping cool in the water. Even though we only saw their noses and ears in the water, it was still pretty cool.
Sitting around the camp fire after dinner, someone noticed another cat figure–this time much bigger than yesterday’s leopard–crossing the bridge to our island. Someone asked “What is it?” and one of the guides said, “Lion.” Pinky got up and started walking away, obviously afraid. One of our traveling companions, Bill Thomas, followed her thinking, “I’m not sticking around here–She’s one of the locals, so she knows what’s safe.” Another guy said “I’m going to get a picture.” He grabbed his camera and crept over to the bridge. When he reached the gate, he gulped and whispered back to us, “The gate’s not shut! The gate’s not shut!” Luckily, the lion went the other direction, but I bet he had to wash underwear that night.
Friday May 24, 2002 - Xigera Camp - Kings Pool Camp, Botswana
This morning Kathy and I took a boat ride from the camp through the delta. It was pretty uneventful. We navigated many narrow channels where Kathy was being wacked on the left side of the boat while I was being wacked on the right side. Very narrow. Besides the numerous birds, we saw a crocodile swimming (it went under our boat), lots of big catfish, and another variety of fish. It was a nice, relaxing boat ride, just Kathy, myself and our guide. Our guide, whose English name was Captain, showed us how the water is very clean because it is filtered by the millions of papyrus reed roots in the water. At one point, we stopped and got off at an island that had a big baobab tree.
We sped back to camp, ate a short lunch, got on a plane and flew to our next camp, which is where I’m writing this. The plane rides are pretty cool, especially when you can see animals below. The camp is called King’s Pool.
Immediately after arriving in Kings Pool, we saw tons of wildlife. It’s incredible the amount of animals here. Just at the airstrip, we had a welcoming committee. We saw several giraffes, zebras, elephants and waterbuck antelopes all in one spot. Waterbucks have a white bulls eye marking on their butt, and they joke that it helps the male of the species to procreate.
On the drive from the airstrip we saw a large number of elephants, including three baby elephants. This place is just swarming with elephants.
When we got to the camp, we got our usual introduction and laying out of rules. We noticed a bunch of hippos right on the water as we look out from our deck. Some are standing, catching some sun lying on the river bank, and others are swimming. Kings Pools has an incredible number of hippos. Hippos are everywhere: standing, sitting, sunning, bathing, running, swimming, having their afternoon tea. This place makes a farce of yesterday’s hours-long hippo excursion at Xigera.
It’s also much hotter here for some reason. We’re going to be getting up early here (5:30am) to take advantage of the day before it gets too hot..
Kings Pool does not have elevated decking like Xigera was, so once again we have to be escorted to and from our tents when it’s dark. Even during the day, we have to be extra cautious because there is so much wildlife, particularly dangerous ones like hippos and elephants here.
In the afternoon game drive, we saw lots more wildlife. About the most exciting thing we saw was a very rare cat called a serval. It had strips and spots. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos because we saw it at night.
We also saw several different kinds of owls. They were pretty cool.
Saturday May 25, 2002 - Kings Pool Lodge, Botswana
This morning we got up at 5:30am. The air was very cold (I’m guessing 40F). We had a quick breakfast, and off we went on our first game drive. I was pretty tired. I didn’t drink any coffee because I didn’t want to sit on the land rover with a full bladder for hours on end. Nonetheless, we stopped twice to mark our territory on nearby trees.
It was a very long game drive. At first, we saw nothing. We drove around in the cold, shivering in our jackets and huddled under heavy ponchos, trying to track some lions. For three hours, we looked for animals, and saw nothing, not even a single impala. Well, maybe an occasional baboon, or a beautiful bird called the lilac breasted roller which we affectionately called the LBR. but that’s about all. I should have stayed in bed. Apparently the animals have enough sense to sleep in.
Eventually, as it warmed up, animals started coming out and we saw all kinds of animals. At one point, three or four zebras were near the land rover, but we thought there might be more. We asked our guide how big the herds get and he said the herds are pretty small. Probably about a dozen or less. Anything larger would be highly unusual. Well, the zebras kept coming and coming. Pretty soon this was a herd of at least two hundred zebras. I think our guide was embarrassed.
Later, our guide was telling us that we would never see a cape buffalo in that area. If we did, it would be highly unusual, and only one or two, never a large herd. Moments later, we saw a herd of at least three hundred cape buffalo. Funny how the Universe likes to slap people in the face who pretend they know what they’re talking about but don’t.
Later, we saw different groups of hippos in the water. The largest group of hippos was probably about thirty-five. We also saw a good sized (about nine feet or three meters long) crocodile near the water. Later, we saw another one that was much bigger, but it was also farther away. The second one was probably fifteen feet or four and a half meters long. It was a monster. We joked that he was the Namibian border patrol. You’d have to be suicidal to cross that river.
We also saw several large elephants while we were driving. One of them wanted to use the road we were on, and he was quite unhappy with the land rover. He flared his ears, blew his trumpet at us loudly, then mock-charged us. We remained still, and it just took the right of way and cut us off, taking over the road we were on. He wanted to cross that road, and it was determined to go first. Reminds me of Minneapolis drivers in rush hour. I’m just glad it did not turn into road rage. Once across the road, it was happy and just walked away at a fast clip.
When we got to Livingston’s crossing, the woman camp manager (Andrea, from Canada!) Had prepared a large surprise lunch in the bush. She and her staff had a large table set up, and a five-course meal out in the middle of nowhere (in the wild). It was very nice, but some of us were looking around nervously for the poisonous snakes–puff adders and black mambas–we’ve heard so much about.
We were out on the game drive for a very long time. By mid-afternoon, the temperature changed from this morning’s frigid 40F to an stuffy and uncomfortably hot 95F.
For our afternoon activity, we drove out land rover a ways down the river where we got out and took a ride on a large double-decker pontoon boat. We went down the river quite a while, watching herds of elephants come down to the water to drink. We had an absolutely glorious sunset.
We parked on the far side of the river and had an afternoon snack (they’re feeding us absurd amounts of food here. We touched some of the long grass from the other shore, just so that we could officially say we’ve “visited” the country of Namibia, even though we never got our passport stamped. After the boat ride, we drove around a while, and we saw a few animals like a fish eagle.
On the way back to the lodge, we did another night-drive, spotting more interesting creatures of the African bush, particularly genets. When we got back to the lodge, we piled out of the land rover, but immediately the other vehicle radioed us that they had spotted a male lion near the airstrip. Forsaking dinner, we piled back in to the land rover and sped away. We zoomed across the bumpy sand roads until we were at the airstrip. We went over to where the other land rover was parked, and sure enough, a male lion was lying in the grass there. Unfortunately, the lion was uncomfortable with two land rovers. He must have figured he could finish one land rover off in a wrestling match, but not two, so he got up and walked away into the woods. But how can such a big cat just disappear? Amazing. He left before we could get our cameras turned on. We saw him for about thirty seconds, which was a lot better than not at all.
For a while, we followed him and the other land rover went back to camp. At one point, we could hear him roaring very loudly (obviously nearby) looking for his pride, but we never saw him again. He must have been wearing his Harry Potter cloak of invisibility.
When we got back to camp, we apologized for our hasty retreat, thinking that our dinner which had been carefully prepared, would have been ruined. Nonetheless, dinner was very good.
Sunday May 26, 2002 - Kings Pool Lodge, Botswana - Victoria Falls, Zambia
This morning, we got up a little later. This time the hippos were very loud and woke us up.
We ate breakfast and went for a “bush walk.” Basically, we walked single-file, weaving a path through the African bush with a guide in front (named Brookes) and a guide in the rear (named Captain). As much as we tried, we didn’t see much wildlife. We saw a few impalas and some zebras, but they were off in the distance. We did see a group of five giraffes. Brookes brought a high-powered rifle in case we needed to defend ourselves against large animals like lions or elephants, but we didn’t use it (thankfully). We walked at a very fast pace and were exhausted when we finally got back to camp.
I count myself lucky, traveling at that pace, that we didn’t stumble across some poisonous snake like a puff adder or a black mamba.
After lunch, we drove back to “Kings Pool International Airport” and flew to the city of Kasane, Botswana. From there, we were shuttled in a bus to a ferry which took us across the Zambezi river into the country of Zambia. From there, we were driven to the city of Livingstone where Victoria Falls is located on the Zambia side of the river.
We checked into the Royal Livingstone, which is like a five-star hotel. Very fancy. In a way, it was very much like culture shock, since we were so accustomed to the game lodges in the bush. I’m not very happy with the hotel either, mainly because I’ve already had to kill ten or more ferocious man-eating beasts (mosquitoes) in our hotel room. I have several mosquito bites, despite the large amount of DEET we’ve been wearing to ward them off. Since this is a malaria-infected area, and malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, it’s a good thing we’re taking malaria pills (ours is called malarone, but there are two other kinds–doxycycline which we used in Peru and another kind (larium or something like that) which is taken weekly and is known to give some people very vivid nightmares and occasionally hallucinations). Even so, if I get sick after our trip, I’m was told to insist my doctor do a blood test for malaria and sleeping sickness.
Outside the hotel rooms are hundreds of vervet monkeys, waiting very persistently for an opportunity to get inside the hotel rooms and steal fruits and other food. They’re cute, but kind of a nuisance at the same time.
In an effort to exchange for some Zambian money (called Quacha), we took a hotel shuttle to the activity center, which has a shop, a bank, a casino, a candy store, etc., but since it was Sunday the bank was closed. The casino was open, but they wouldn’t change money. They gave us the option of using a travelers check to purchase a gambling card, which, if we won, we could cash out for American dollars, with the winnings given in Quacha, but we opted not to do that.
We walked the short distance from there to the falls, which was very beautiful. We were told by one of the hotel staff not to be there alone after sunset, because there were thieves and dangerous people who preyed on unsuspecting tourists there, so we just walked around taking photos until a half-hour before dark, then we went back to the hotel. We were not disappointed because tomorrow morning, we get an official tour of the falls with a guide, so we’re sure to see much more. What little we did see of the falls was breathtaking.
We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was very nice. This meal was included as part of our trip too (tomorrow’s isn’t). The prices were not too bad, a far as a good American high-class restaurant is concerned. The food was alright, but I personally liked the food at the camps more. For one thing, the portions were small compared to the camps, and the drinks were an extra charge, whereas the camps provided an all-you-can-drink full bar, complete with alcoholic drinks of all kinds.
The hotel does have a few nice perks: We have a means to charge the batteries of the computer I’m using to keep this journal (the Fiva) and the batteries for the digital camera.
That’s all for now.
Monday May 27, 2002 - Victoria Falls, Zambia
What a full day. This has got to be one of the fullest days of my life.
We got up early, ate a mediocre breakfast at the hotel, and left for the hotel’s activity center where we had arranged to meet our traveling companions, Bill and Brenda Thomas. We were picked up by our driver, a large black man named Gilbert.
Gilbert drove us to a local African village not too far from our hotel at Victoria Falls. At the village, there were lots of kids playing and staring at us. A local woman gave us a short tour which included the home of an average family and the home of a family with relatively more money. They even took us inside the home. We asked her many questions about the lifestyle of the villagers and it was very interesting. Then we were taken to the shopping area where the local artisans tried to sell us craft items made from carved wood.
The people of the village really love American stuff: T-shirts, pens, paper, etc. If you don’t have the 26-pound weight restriction on your luggage, load it up with a huge box of writing pens, paper, some clothes you’ve outgrown, and perhaps some medicines and give them to the villagers or use them for bartering at the local craft area of the village. We’ve been told that there is a market on the Zimbabwe side of the river that is much bigger and much more unusual, as far as bartering goes, but we won’t have time to go there.
After we left the village, Gilbert picked us up and drove us back to the hotel, where the falls are actually located. We walked down to the falls, donning rain suits, and peering over each of the many perches overlooking the gorge. Kathy was given a rain poncho that was too small for her, so she used it to protect her camera instead. There was so much spray from the falls that we all got soaking wet, especially Kathy who had no poncho. It was beautiful. (Clarification: beautiful meaning both the falls and Kathy in a drenched wet blouse!)
Despite the beautiful view, after we got back from the falls, Kathy and I decided to take a helicopter ride over the falls to get a better look. It was pretty expensive ($75 per person) but we decided to do it anyway, thinking that we probably won’t get another opportunity in our lifetime to see the magnificent view. Our traveling companions, Bill and Brenda, decided not to go. So we paid our money and off we went to the heliport in a minivan. They shuffled us from the minivan and onto a helicopter whose blades looked dangerously close to the ground, as if it would nearly take our heads off on the way into it.
We got in, strapped in, put on headsets as instructed (which blocked the noise of the engine almost entirely) and off we went. It was only a fifteen minute helicopter ride over the falls, but it was absolutely breathtaking. We took several turns around the falls. It was so beautiful that I exhausted a set of batteries in my digital camera and very nearly filled up my 256MB flash card which can hold one hundred photos at the desired resolution. I think I took 96 pictures.
After the helicopter ride, we went back to the hotel activity center and ate lunch at a small outdoor café. The meal was good and we were very hungry because it was mid-afternoon. While we were eating, a man who was eating a large plate of fries (chips) two tables away got up to purchase a drink or get some ketchup or something. Immediately when he left, a monkey jumped up on his table and started stuffing his little face–hand over fist–with the man’s fries! Kathy and I were laughing so hard our bellies ached. By the time the man returned, most of his fries were gone. We informed the man of the mishap, and he said he had been watching and had told the hotel workers. Nonetheless, he sat down and proceeded to read the newspaper and eat the rest of his chips! (To Kathy and I, it was unthinkable to eat off the plate once a monkey had plundered it for fear or diseases or bacteria). We laughed for a long time over this event.
You’re probably not going to believe this, but on the drive back to the hotel, believe it or not, we ran into the presidential motorcade! The (fairly new) president of Zambia had a meeting with the chief of the village we had visited earlier today. We saw this huge line of cars turning to go to the village. Our driver told us he was planning to visit our hotel, the Royal Livingstone, for a meeting after he was done at the village.
When we got back to the hotel, I noticed a large number of fancy uniformed men around the hotel. Many of them had guns. I asked them, “Are you waiting for the president?” To which they replied “Yes.” I said, “Well, here I am!” Some of them were amused and some were not, but I thought it was funny. As we walked to our room, I told Kathy to check all the grassy knolls for assassins.
I quickly dumped all of the photos from the flash card to the computer, and off we went again on our next appointment, which was a sunset ride on a large boat named the African Queen. It was very relaxing and beautiful. We even saw elephants, zebras and hippos and various birds, but the best part was the sunset itself. The subsets just seem to keep getting better. Very peaceful, very beautiful, and relaxing.
From the boat, we went for our dinner. Our driver took us back to the hotel activity center where, once again, we ran into the presidential motorcade. This time our bus (this time a full sized tour bus, but only ten or so passengers including us) was blocking the motorcade, and they honked for us to get out of their way. As we watched with open jaws, the president of Zambia drove by with literally fifty or more expensive cars.
The cars parked and hundreds of presidential staff got out in front of us and walked to the hotel lobby. Most of them looked like large well-groomed and sharply dressed bodyguards. After they were taken care of, we were allowed to leave the bus and go about our business at the hotel.
We ate at the steak house associated with the casino at the hotel’s activity center. The food was fabulous. Much better than the five star hotel dinner, which was overpriced bland food, and small portions. I ordered a steak with garlic mushroom sauce, and it was fantastic. I tried some of Kathy’s food, and it was excellent too. So if you ever get to the Zambia side of Victoria falls, eat there.
I really think that we should have stayed at the three-star sister hotel, the Sun Zambia hotel instead of the overpriced Royal Livingstone, which reportedly charge $440 per night!
Tomorrow we have to get up early, drive to the Zimbabwe airport, and catch our flight to the next camp, which is called Chikwenya Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.
Tuesday May 28, 2002 - Vic Falls to Chikwenya, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
This morning we got up fairly early, and caught our ride from Victoria Falls, Zambia into Zimbabwe. Our driver was Gilbert again. When we reached the border, we shuffled out of the van into the border control building where we filled out our paperwork and paid our thirty dollar entrance (Visa) fees ($30.00 US per person). Cash is required by Zimbabwe, so we had to budget our tips carefully (next time bring more cash!).
We were driven to the Victoria Falls airport. At the airport, Gilbert left to pick up Bill and Brenda Thomas, so he couldn’t stick around to help us much. For a moment or two, we felt a little lost, not knowing where to go, but Vic Falls airport is really tiny and Gilbert had asked an airport security man to help us find our flight to the next camp, which is in Zimbabwe’s Mana Pools national preserve. It’s called Chikwenya.
The man asked us to wait in a particular area, which we did. Finally, another American couple showed up in the same area. A bit later, a small black man showed up there and introduced himself as our pilot, Kevin. He had the coolest accent I’ve ever heard. I wish you could hear it. It was a very thick but elegant combination of British, South-African and I don’t know what.
The four of us walked with Kevin out to his tiny six-seater plane and got in, after our luggage was stowed in the compartment underneath. Then Kevin told me, as incredulous as this seems, that I was his co-pilot! I don’t know anything about airplanes, so I was a bit concerned to say the least.
Despite my apprehension, upon Kevin’s request, I sat in the co-pilot’s seat and everyone else took their places as well. He started the motor and off we went. As he flew, I studied everything he did, but I was thinking, “Hey, every other airplane I’ve been on, there has been two pilots. If Kevin has a seizure or goes into anabolic shock or has a heart attack, we’re dead meat. Unless I learn to fly this plane, and quickly.” So I studied Kevin’s procedure very carefully. “Pull the throttle to decrease prop/engine speed, push to increase it. Slow down with flaps at ten percent. Approach with flaps at twenty percent. God, please keep Kevin alive! Pedals turn left and right. Vertical wheel makes the nose go up or down, horizontal wheel makes it go right or left...But how do you stop the damn thing when you’re bumping along a short dirt runway at one hundred fifty miles per hour? Dear God, please preserve Kevin!”
The American couple we met at the airport was heading to a different camp, so Kevin flew us from the Vic Falls airport to a small camp where they got off. On the way, we talked him into flying over a large hydroelectric dam that Kathy had read about. We took a bush-style potty break and waited for another couple to arrive from another plane that was smaller yet. While we waited, people told us we were currently at the site of the largest crocodile farm in the world. I forget how many thousands of crocs they have there at any one time, but it was amazing. I’d like to get back there some day.
When the two women got off their tiny two-seater plane, they seemed very glad to be alive. They called their plane the Icarus. I asked them if it was because the pilot flew too close to the sun, or because they thought the wings would fall off. They said the pilot made them very uncomfortable: they even had to tell the him to lock his door! They were very grateful to be switching pilots to Kevin.
The women had problems stuffing their luggage into Kevin’s plane, and they told us they had already ditched on sizable hard-sided suitcase because it didn’t fit in the last plane. The one poor woman was left with all her clothes in a flimsy clear plastic bag. Small, moldable luggage (like our duffle bags) are required here.
The flight from Vic Falls to Chikwenya lodge was a lot longer than any of the others. It was about two and a half hours including the stopover.
The terrain at Chikwenya camp was once again completely different from the other camps. This time, there are mountains in the background. The land is very diverse, with some areas being strewn with dead trees destroyed by elephants. Other areas are dense forest. There is a huge dry riverbed which runs into the Zambezi, a permanently flowing river which borders with Zambia.
The wildlife here has been quite a bit different too. There are lots of baboons here, lots of elephants, and tons of hippos, but not too much else (disregarding the antelopes).
The camp managers were two white men named Kevin (another Kevin, not the pilot) and Shaun. Both Shaun and Kevin had serious looking exteriors, but they were frequently cracking jokes and teasing each other. The caterer was a petite and beautiful black woman named Carly, and her accent was very similar to the pilot Kevin’s (i.e. very charming).
We went on an afternoon game drive and saw a few animals, including a very small baby elephant. I would have liked a photo of it, but it was after dark. We also saw porcupines. The wildlife isn’t as abundant here as it was in Botswana, but there’s still plenty of it. They have huge numbers of impala, a favorite food of many predators like lions, leopards and cheetah, and the guides made jokes of it. They showed us how an impala, when its tail is down (which it normally is unless running) has a white “follow me” marking on the rump that looks just like the MacDonald’s symbol (the golden arches) and for that reason they are called the fast food of the bush. They called the impalas “meals on wheels” and such. Hilarious.
Wednesday May 29, 2002 - Chikwenya camp, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
In the morning, we went on a combined game drive and game walk. We walked down the dry riverbed and through the forest. We didn’t see much, but we did see some alarmingly fresh dung left by a leopard. Luckily, we didn’t see the animal itself. We also saw some beautiful cliffs. This walk was much nicer than the others. We’re going to do another tomorrow morning.
In mid-afternoon, Kathy and I were dropped off at a wildlife observation platform where we watched nearby wildlife, like hippos, baboons, antelope, warthogs, and Malibu storks. Two hours passed very quickly.
After three o’clock tea, we took a nail-biting canoe ride down the river, with the hippos. From day one, Kathy has been talking about canoeing with hippos and how fun it would be. That’s why she chose Southern Africa and not Tanzania or Kenya. From day one, I’ve heard from other sources that the hippo is the most dangerous animal in all of Africa. More people are killed by hippos every year than all other large game animals (elephants, lions, and so forth) combined. The problem is, hippos can submerge for up to seven minutes, so you can canoe right over the top of them without knowing it, and if they come up for air at the wrong time, they’ll attack the large animal that’s invaded their space (the canoe.) If you’re unlucky, the hippo will kill you with its huge jaws and massive teeth immediately after you’ve been knocked into the water. If you’re luckier than that, the hippo with go after the canoe and leave you for the crocodiles. So, what do we do with this knowledge? Like fools, we all piled into canoes and head off downstream with literally hundreds of hippos in the waters.
There were some very white-knuckle tense moments on the ride, like when a couple of the hippos did mock-charges at the canoes from a distance of maybe fifty feet away. And when we negotiated a very narrow passage with two hippos sitting squarely in the middle of the river, leaving us very uncomfortably little space to pass. At another point, the hippos were so pervasive in the river that we had to get out and portage the canoes. At another point in the river, there were so many hippos I could not count them. I stopped counting at forty and that was only the ones who weren’t submerged! The most rattling moment is when a hippo surfaced and splashed only three feet (one meter) directly behind our canoe. I’ve never seen Kathy so happy so close to death.
I must give a lot of credit to our guide, Kevin, who expertly guided us and gave us advice. He previously had a full-time job for three years (I think) as a guide on multi-day canoe trips in similar water, so he knew what he was doing.
After the canoe ride, we had another sundowner with another beautiful sunset.
Thursday May 30, 2002 - Chikwenya camp, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
This morning we did a little of everything: we took a game drive for a while seeing birds like the hammerkop and a couple different eagles, plus elephants and other animals, then we got off the land rover and went for a boat ride. We took the boat to an island named after the camp, got out and did a bush walk. We walked for a while, then we saw a lone cape buffalo. We’ve been told that large herds are no problem at all, but singleton bulls can be very dangerous and unpredictable.
We watched him for a while, then we headed back for the boat. We kept tabs on the buffalo, and it started following us. We eventually made it back to the boat, got in and drove further into the channel to lose the buffalo. Then we got out and walked again for another hour or more. Before long, it got very hot. We saw a few antelopes and some baboons, but other than that, not much.
In the afternoon, we went fishing, and it was very fun. Originally, Kathy and I were the only ones interested in fishing, but when push came to shove, we had a land rover full of people who wanted on. Soon we had a chaotic mass of eight or so people all fishing from the same side of the boat.
The fishing was quite good. Kathy caught the first fish, a nice sized bream. She caught a few others, bream, tiger fish and even a catfish. I did well too. I caught four bream in all, plus some catfish, other scrub fish and even a tree or two (we were close to the shore).
Then we caught the most beautiful sunset imaginable.
After sunset, we drove back to camp, dropped the fish off and went on a night game drive.
When we got back to camp, we ate the fish we caught and it was excellent.
Friday May 31, 2002 - Chikwenya camp, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe to Minneapolis, USA
We got up at 5:30am as usual after packing. We did a game-drive until we needed to fly out of Mana Pools. From Chikwenya, we flew to Victoria Falls airport, a two-hour flight. We flew on a plane even smaller than the one we came in on. The ride was very smooth, but the pilot seemed to me to be a bit inexperienced. As we flew, he was studying cards that contained flying instructions! It was a bit unnerving, but he seemed very comfortable and familiar with the plane we were on; I think he was studying how to control a different plane. Then, just as we were landing, we hit a gust of wind that took the plane back up a bit. The “stall out” alarm sounded, and the landing was bumpy. I was glad to be off that thing.
We had a couple hour layover in Vic Falls, then we boarded a larger jet to Johannesburg, South Africa, which was another two-and-a-half hours. After a couple-hour layover in Johannesburg, we flew on KLM to Amsterdam, a horrible twelve-hour flight.
By the time we got to Amsterdam, we were tired and filthy. We had a several-hour layover in Amsterdam, so we rested and paid to shower. From Amsterdam, we took another horrendously long nine-hour flight to Chicago, and then another two hour flight to Minneapolis. What a horrendous set of plane rides. The only reason we did it this way was to allow Kathy to fly for free using frequent flyer tickets. Next time, we’ll consider a more direct route because it’s just not worth it.
I definitely have to come back to Southern Africa again. This time I’d like to hit other camps. We keep hearing about camps like Mombo, where they have rhinos, and Makalulu where it’s a more desert-like environment, but the animals are abundant. We’ve been told the ideal time to come is September, because that’s when the animal viewing is best. Much later, and it gets too hot. Much earlier and the animals won’t be as good.
What we did right
• We packed pretty well, I thought. See “What We Brought” below.
• We had the right luggage: Just a plain, lightweight and flexible large duffle bag. Hard-sided luggage would not have worked in those small planes. Some people at the camps we visited had to abandon hard-sided luggage because they wouldn’t fit in the plane, and they were small sized hard-sided bags.
What we did wrong
• We didn’t take enough American cash. We brought three or four hundred dollars cash, and about a thousand in travelers checks. Everywhere we went, it was either impossible or unreasonable to cash travelers checks, so we didn’t use them at all, except for the helicopter ride at Vic Falls. Almost everything we bought demanded cash, and mostly US dollars. The camps were pretty much all-inclusive, so that helped. We bought very little (just a few trinkets) but we also needed cash for tipping. We planned ahead and brought $100.00 in one dollar bills. We could easily gotten by with fifty ones and more fives, but the ones worked out okay.
• I bought a solar battery charger for my AA Ni-MH digital camera batteries, but I didn’t need it at all. I had brought six sets of 4 batteries, and that was ample for the conditions. I could have gotten by with four sets of four. All of the camps had the capability to charge batteries. The Xigera camp even had 240Volt power in the room to charge our own batteries. So my solar charger was a waste of money. On the last day, I tried charging a set of batteries with it anyway, just to see how well it works. I haven’t tested the batteries yet though. The normal 110-240V charger I bought at Radio Shack was all we needed to bring. (It’s hard to find Ni-MH chargers in the US that go to 240 volts).
• We brought a heavy book on African animals which included pictures and information about each animal. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but all of the camps and all of the guides had these books for your reference, so we never even cracked our book open. It was wasted space and weight.
What We Brought
• Luggage: Two large duffle bags, a small backpack to hold game drive necessities, and a large shoulder-strapped heavy-canvas bag for carrying bulky things for the drives and flights.
• Clothes: Each of us brought the following: Four pairs of very lightweight (not jeans) slacks (including the ones I was wearing), Two pairs of shorts, seven pairs of sox and underwear (including the ones I was wearing), two long-sleeved shirts, three short-sleeved t-shirts, two handkerchiefs, and one brimmed hat to block the sun. We also brought a very lightweight Columbia jacket for the chilly morning and evening drives in the uncovered land rovers. This is the lightest we’ve ever packed for a trip.
• Computer equipment: Now, I know what’s you’re probably thinking. “You’ve got to be crazy bringing a computer to the African bush.” It was a tough decision, because it used about two pounds of my 26-pound weight limit (including all luggage and carry-ons) but it had several important purposes. First, my 5GB hard drive allowed me to archive all the photos from my digital camera on a nightly basis. As far as I’m concerned, this was the only thing that made the digital camera practical in Africa using the resolution I wanted (which is, 1280x1280 compressed JPEG format). At that resolution, I was able to store exactly 100 photos on my camera’s 256MB flash card. Second, it allowed both Kathy and I to keep this interactive journal of our trip. Third, it allowed me to take some much-needed music with me. I can only survive about a week without good music before I start climbing the walls. Normally, I was content to listen to the sounds of the outdoors (baboons, birds, crickets, hippos, etc.) But every once in a while I needed to hear some music. For a computer, I brought my ultra-light Casio Fiva, a slow 200MHz Pentium computer, with a 6.7 inch display, but it was all I needed. For accessories, I brought: (1) The power cord/charging unit (handles 240Volts automatically), (2) a tiny USA to UK outlet converter, (3) The PCMCIA flash card reader to download the photos from the camera’s flash card, (4) the normal Lithium Ion battery and (5) an extra capacity battery.
• Analog camera equipment: We brought Kathy’s SLR, which is a Canon EOS E-Lan II camera with a 28-300mm Tameran auto-focus lens. We also brought a dozen rolls of 100, 200, 400, and 800 speed each. Actually, we went heavy on the 100 because it was good for the bright, hot African sun. The 800-speed was useful for dusk and early morning when there was less light, and also for capturing fast movers like birds in flight. Initially we were concerned about running out of film, but in the end, we only exposed 25 rolls of film. We also brought lens caps, elastic straps that attach the lens cap to the camera, a dust cloth, a tiny tripod (which we did not use), a spare camera battery (which we didn’t use either, but it’s important to have it there when you need it). We also brought several Ziplock freezer bags, labeled as follows: “100”, “200”, “400”, “800”, and “Exposed.”
• Digital camera equipment: (1) We also brought my digital camera, a Minolta DImage-7 digital (ordered over the Internet). We also brought: (2) a 256MB flash card (ordered over the Internet because it’s twice the memory for half the cost you would pay at a retail store). (3) a backup 128MB flash card in case the 256MB card filled up. We ended up not needing it, because almost every night we dumped the photos from the flash card to the computer’s hard drive. (4) six sets of Ni-MH batteries, fully charged. (5) bubble paper bags to keep them from jostling. Since we couldn’t bring our camera bags, this was necessary.
• Binoculars: We brought our Nikon 8-24X Zoom binoculars. These are great. You can target your animal at 8X, then zoom it in to 24X and count how many feathers are on it if you want.
• Misc: (1) Sunglasses are a necessity. I brought an extra pair in case the first pair broke. (2) SPF-30 Sun screen lotion, (3) DEET (mosquito repellent), (4) a book to read (or, in my case, to write). (5) Two writing pens (I’d bring more next time so I could give them away), (6) A small fanny pack to hold passports, credit cards, money, (7) misc medications: ibuprofen, antacid tablets, Zantac, decongestant, antiseptic, band aids, (8) necessary toiletries, like deodorant, toothbrush, tooth paste, razor, etc. Woolite detergent for washing our underwear. (The camps will launder everything else, but not underwear). (9) A small box of mints. A nice refreshing taste of home while we’re away. (10) Two small stuff-sacks to hold dirty laundry and keep it separate from the clean clothes (11) Dental floss, (12) Spare disposable contact lenses (13) Kathy’s saline eye drops for her contacts. (14) Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, light rechargeable cordless razor, Kathy’s face lotion and other lotions. (15) Malerone malaria pills.