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Southern Africa Safari

Author: Marden P. (More Trip Reviews by Marden P.)
Date of Trip: June 2008

June 27th.   Okavango Delta.

After breakfast we boarded a power boat and headed into the Delta. It was very much like Mud Lake, except instead of cattails there was papyrus grass 10 to 15 feet tall and bamboo 15 to 20 feet tall, but the islands and channels and over-all feel was much the same. We even saw a flock of geese (spur-winged) flying over. The water that wasn't covered by bamboo and papyrus was covered by lily pads. There are "day" lilies and "night" lilies. The flowers are much the same but the pads are different. Night lilies have a larger pad and the edges are serrated, or jagged, while the day lilies have round pads with smooth edges. The tops of the pads are green but if they are turned over they are a dark red. Our guide pulled up a lily-pod and we all had a taste, except Mom, of the nutty, mild pulp. We sat in shallow draught dugouts. The ones were rode in were synthetic material but they looked like real wood. Each canoe was about 16 feet long and the poler stood in the back and pushed with a 12 foot pole. The Makoros, as they are called, had flat bottoms and were quite stable but occasionally a pole would get stuck in the mud and nearly pull the poler into the water. We rode two to a canoe (plus the guide/poler) except for Angie who had her very own. We poled for about an hour and a half stopping to look at monkeys, birds and plants and to take pictures. Then we went for short walks on two islands. Each one was about five acres and had a variety of brush and trees. On the first island we saw monkeys and a warthog. We crept up on the warthog and watched him for about 10 minutes without him knowing we were there. Then the monkeys saw us and sounded the alarm. The warthog's tail went up and away he went. A bushbuck that we hadn't even seen also took flight. We saw a baobab tree that elephants had been feeding on. They tear the bark off and then loosen the fibrous interior with their tusks and eat it.  It is about 80% water and they seem to really enjoy it. The trees recover and don't seem any worse for the experience. Found an aardvark hole, in a termite mound, but nobody was home. On the second island we saw three elephants feeding on trees. They would pull branches off and eat leaves, twigs and stems. We got to watch them for a half hour from less than a hundred yards. Ate our lunch and watched more monkeys and warthogs. The water is very high now and most of the animals have moved south to the edges of the delta. Those that are left are pretty much stuck on the island they are on until the water level goes down. The elephants are the exception because they can wade, or swim, from island to island. We would sometimes see the smashed reeds and grasses that marked their passage. We poled slowly back to meet the powerboat and took dozens of picture of the lilies and other flowers. We discovered a dead croc and stopped to get a closer look (as close as the smell would allow). Mike asked our guides to pry its mouth open so we could see the teeth. One guide wanted no part of it but another stuck his pole in the mouth and tried to open it. The mouth didn't open but a tooth broke off and he stuck it on the end of his pole and showed it to us. It was a serious weapon! After covering about 6 miles we arrived back at the power boat. Then we flew home. Racing through narrow channels with bamboo and papyrus lining the edges was exciting and a perfect ending to the day. The water was so clear we could see things on the bottom in 20 feet of water, not at all what I expected, and the guides drank right out of the channels. The guide stopped once and pulled up a night lily pad and made Jessie a hat. Very stylish! Back in camp there is a tree that has thorn-like projections all over the trunk. Some of them are larger than my thumb and have a hook-like point. They don't look too dangerous but can do serious damage if you bump into them-as Jessie found out when she did. We used them to hang laundry on and they worked very well. There were also little red pepper bushes all over the camp. The showers are great-you can get hot water and regulate it- but they are pretty open and as soon as the sun goes down it gets pretty cold in them. Sunrise is about 7:00AM and sunset is about 6:00 PM. Of course, we just passed the shortest day of the year here and it does make for long nights if you only sleep 6 or 7 hours like I do.  None of the camps have electricity after about 9:00 PM and many of them don't have it at all outside the main building and some don't have it period.  So anything we do after sunset has to be done by the light from the campfire or our headlamps. 

June 28th.   Delta to Tsodilo Hills. 

Broke camp and drove back out the sand road. We stopped in the "refugee village" to put air in the tires and the native children came to watch. There was a group of boys who came close to the truck and one of them was mimicking everything that Mike did. They had toys made of smashed tin cans and wires that they rolled across the ground. Angie took some pictures with her digital cameras and I showed them to the boys. They loved it! Also took pictures of two little girls, who poised for us, and of the houses and older natives who didn't pose. We took the road north and drove for about an hour and then took a gravel road west and south to the Tsodilo Hill. The hills are amazing. They just rise up, out of nowhere, in the middle of the plains, and it is easy to see why they inspired awe and worship in the natives. The rocks are amazing colors because of the minerals in them. Pinks, greens, reds, blacks and grays are all mixed in amazing combinations. There are three hills and the natives called them "Male, Female and Child". People have lived here for almost 200,000 years. There are lots of rock paintings, mostly of animals, done in two distinct styles. The older paintings are done in red and are about 3000 years old, while the newer ones are done in white and are only about 800 to 1000 years old. We went for a hike with a local guide and saw paintings of many animals including: hippo, giraffe, elephant, eland, kudu and warthogs. There were also geometric figures and a few human images. The Tsodilo Hills have evidence of the earliest iron working in Africa. We saw deep grooves that were worn into the rocks when iron tools were sharpened and saw the area where the ore was mined and smelted. A number of different peoples lived here over the centuries. There are springs and seeps scattered over the hills that allowed people to live here permanently. The hills are probably 1500 to 2000 feet high and we climbed to a ridge about 800 feet above the plains. The route up was easy but the route down was just a steep gully filled with huge boulders. It was hard for the ladies but they did really well. Back at camp the showers were "OK". The water here is solar heated and there are large tanks so there is enough to take a good shower. The plumbing is weird though. Under the sinks there are no drain pipes. Instead the water just drops into a cement groove and runs out thru the wall. The camp is very sandy with no grass at all. Jenman used to stop here on a regular basis but many people didn't like it so it was dropped from their itinerary. I suspect other companies have done the same because the road in was in bad shape and the camp is not maintained very well. There are a lot of tree squirrels and Francolins around and they entertained us when we were eating or just sitting around camp.

June 29th.  Tsodilo Hills to Mahangu Lodge, Namibia. 

I got up at first light (6:30 AM) and went for a solo walk in the hills. It was a real treat to be alone and move at my own pace for a change. I found several pieces of rock art that the guide didn't show us and took pictures. The light was much better than yesterday afternoon. I also found a number of seeps that animals (and, I suppose, early people) use. I can understand why many people don't find it very interesting here but for me it was one of the highlights of our safari. We had breakfast, broke camp and drove north into Namibia. The crossing into Namibia was very different than any border crossings we have made up to this time. There were no long lines or crowds and the custom officials were actually smiling and friendly (perhaps the former had something to do with the latter). The border station was interesting as well. Outside there was a display of animal skulls including elephant, kudu, hippo, impala and many other species and inside there was a beautiful carved wood mural of many of the same species. The road in Namibia was gravel but it was very well maintained and better than many paved ones we have been on. On the drive to camp we saw both sable and roan antelope. Mahangu Lodge is a very nice camp. It is right on the river and there is grass everywhere. The grounds are landscaped and well tended and there are little signs and sayings all over welcoming you.  There is an observation tower (twenty or twenty-five feet tall) that looks out over the river and, unlike the one in Moremi, it was very solid and stable. The reception center had a large zebra skin rug and we found ourselves walking around it instead of on it.  There was also a carving of a hippo that must have been three feet tall and four feet long. It was beautiful. The showers and toilets are the best since leaving home. Went for an afternoon game drive and saw lots of animals but still no big cats. Roan, sable, impala, reedbuck, tsessebe, lechwe, bush buck, baboons, monkeys, hippo, elephants and giraffe all were out to welcome us. We returned to camp for showers and dinner and to talk around the campfire. I bought a set of carved lion salt &pepper shakers at the camp office. The natives get their water from two large above ground tanks and then carry it back to their individual homes. Most were carrying it on their heads but some had donkey drawn carts and oxen drawn sleds that carried large containers. It amazes me how few donkeys and horses we saw being actually used. There are donkeys everywhere but it is only occasionally that you see them doing anything useful. We have only seen one horseback rider in the whole time we have been here. 

June 30th.  Mahangu Lodge to Kwando Camp.

 Last night was the coldest night we have had. This morning there was fog everywhere and I am sure the temperature was in the mid 30's. We went out, right after breakfast, on a game drive. Saw a lot of roan antelope and baboons. The baboons are so fun to watch and so much like people, especially the little ones. The very young ride hanging under their mothers and the slightly older ones ride piggy back. We saw bushbuck (best look so far), zebra, reedbuck, impala and warthog but no cats. Returned to camp for breakfast and then packed up and hit the road. We drove through the Caprivi Strip for most of the day and saw no game. This area was poached out during the Angola civil war and the game still hasn't recovered. Chauntel stopped on the road and ran back and picked up a lizard for us to see. I don't know how she sees things like that when she is driving 110 KPH. She put it on her arm and it just sat there and stared back at us until she released it. We arrived at Kwando Camp about 2:30 PM, set up camp and ate then went on a game drive in Mudumu NP. There were no animals!! In two hours we saw 4 zebra, 2 impala and 1 buffalo. The sunset was great though. We parked on the bank of a river and took pictures and gawked until dark. There is a large bush fire in the area and the smoke made the sunset even more spectacular than usual.  We took pictures of the group and enjoyed the next-to-last night we will have together in camp.  Tomorrow we are here and then it is back to Livingstone and then home.

July 1st.  Kwando Camp and Mudumu NP.

 It was another cold night, not as bad as last night however, and noisy. There were a lot of birds and some critter in the garbage can behind our tent. Whatever it was liked the salad we threw away except for the peppers which it left in a little pile at the side of the can. Got up at 6:30 AM and went for another game (?) drive in Mudumu. What a bust! This was not the place to finish our trip. We did see a few buffalo, zebra and roan antelope but they were few and far between. If I had the trip to do again we would skip the big loop to the south through Planet Baobab and this area and spend the extra time in Chobe NP. We walked around camp while lunch was being prepared. They have some very nice permanent tents here but they are all flooded. There were monstrous rains here this year and the rivers are still very high. The toilet facilities here are housed in circular bamboo huts with thatched roof and a piece of rope that can be tied across the doorway to show they are occupied. The camp was very crowded and showers were at a premium. However the camp is building a new addition just for Jenman and they hurried and finished the shower for us. Lisa was the first person to ever use it. A real claim to fame, HUH! In the afternoon we visited a traditional native village. It is set up to show tourist how the natives live, or maybe more accurately, how they used to live. The village had four thatched huts, surrounded by an upright pole fence (like the OLD WEST forts) and a number of small structures. At the grandmother's hut we were shown how mullet is stored in huge woven baskets with a thatched roof built over them and set up off the ground to keep pests out. If the pests do come there are dead-fall traps to smash them. The women demonstrated how the mullet is trashed and pounded into a meal. At grandfather's hut we saw a fish trap, bow and arrows and a hippo call (a kind of drum with one end open and a reed attached that can be rubbed, with a wet hand, to produce a very realistic hippo noise. They also showed us a chicken-coop where the chickens are kept at night to keep them safe from predators. It is a little thatched hut built on a platform about six feet off the ground and it has a "ladder" that the chickens climb up and that is then removed for the night. We were shown iron working techniques involving a billow made from cow skin and sticks. The medicine man showed his hut and how he tends to the ill. He looked into his magic horn (a piece of glass set into the large end of a cow horn) and told us we were all well and that we would enjoy our stay in his country. The natives then demonstrated their musical instruments and did some dances for us. Lisa and I both were invited to join in for a few steps. Even the very small children participated in the dances and our girls loved their girls. As we left the village we got a look at how things are changing. One hut had a satellite dish and another had a solar panel that was used to charge batteries. We returned to camp and spent some time photographing the beautiful birds that abound. There were some bee-eaters that were catching a variety of large wasp, in mid-air, and then beating them on a limb to kill them before eating. We played cards for a bit and then ate, showered and retired for our last night in the tents. 

July 2nd.  Kwando Camp to Livingstone, Zambia.  

We broke camp and packed the tents for the last time. We always sweep the tents out and try to keep them clean but we made a special effort this time. Chauntel will be picking up a new group in a couple of days and we don't want them to think we were slobs.  Drove all morning, passing through custom at Namibia/Zambia border, and reached Livingstone, where we checked into the Waterfront again. We went to the downtown marketplace where we traded all our extra hats, jackets, shoes, bandanas, towels and etc. for curios.  Jessie is a pretty shrewd bargainer and I am a real push-over. We got several soapstone figures and a number of carved animals that I hope we can get home in one piece. They are quite fragile, especially the soapstone. Jessie also got some jewelry and cloth and etc.  We had our final supper with Chauntel at the lodge. She had a gift for each of us. Angie had wanted a Jenman T-shirt but Jenman doesn't sell them, they are only for the guides, so Chauntel gave one of hers to Angie. She gave Mike a little airplane made out of tin cans. Jessie received a giraffe-hair bracelet and I got a beaded lizard. Lisa was given a small carved doll called a "traveler". When you are traveling you give it to someone special that you meet and then they give it to someone they meet on their next trip and so on.  At dinner we tried an African delicacy, some fried emperor moth caterpillars, or MOPANE worms. Jessie managed to get about half of one down and I ate a couple but they will never make my favorite foods list. They tasted much like very bad jerky.

July 3rd.  Livingstone to Johannesburg. 

lion encounter south africaArose at 5:30 AM, complete with the same bites I got here the last time, and left for the lion encounter at 6:30. We crossed the border into Zimbabwe and drove 6 or 8 miles to the reserve where they are working to breed lions that can be re-introduced into the wild. The program is a four step one that starts with orphaned cubs, or other young lions that come from a variety of places. These cubs are raised in a natural environment but they have a lot of interaction with humans for the first couple of years. Then they are moved to an area where there is natural game and encouraged to hunt. Most of their food is still provided by keepers but as they learn to hunt they are gradually weaned away from it. There are other lions in the enclosure area and the older ones teach the younger ones. Gradually the lions form natural prides and stake out territories. Then the prides are moved, intact, into a new area where they are the only lions but there are other predators and a good supply of game animals (this is usually a park or game reserve) but where they can be monitored and kept away from human contact. When cubs are born into these prides they will be wild lions and will have no contact with humans. At adulthood these cubs can be allowed to form prides that can then be reintroduced into areas that have lost their lion populations. This is an oversimplified account but it gives an idea of what the research center is trying to do. We got to walk and interact with two lions that were 13 months old. They weighed about 150 -170 pounds and were two and a half feet tall at the shoulder. We walked through the brush with them and watched them play with each other and with the staff. There were a number of photo opportunities of both the lions in natural settings and of them poised with us. It was hard to remember that these are not pets and could be deadly. The staff was very careful to keep us out of dangerous situations. We then had breakfast and returned to the Zambia border where Chauntel met us and drove us to the airport. Although we didn't experience any problems we found out that the U.S. State Department had advised citizens not to go into Zimbabwe. The political situation is very tense and many people have been seeking asylum at the U.S. embassy. Inflation is unbelievable and Mike bought two 15 billion (Zimbabwe $) bills for $2 U.S. and would be able to buy one loaf of bread with them. The money even has an expiration date printed on it. Our driver was very critical of the government and said it wouldn't get better until god took the president away. Our flight to Johannesburg took 2 hours and then we checked into the Airport Grand. After long showers and/or baths we walked across the intersection and had supper. It was an excellent buffet and the total bill was 300 Rand or about $55 U.S. for the five of us. Retired early-it has been a long day.

July 4th.  Johannesburg to home (??).

Checked out of the hotel and went to the airport at 11:00AM. Jessie and Angie went to settle with South Africa Air on the bag that didn't arrive with us. The airline was very good and paid Jessie $340 U.S. which pretty much covered the clothes and other things she had to buy. Then we had lunch at a little café in the airport. A waitress remembered Angie from when we ate there almost a month ago. We were eating when a group of missionaries walked in. There were two native missionaries, who had completed their missions and were flying home, two Elders from the U.S. and the mission president and his wife. Jessie got the names and numbers of the Elders mothers so she could call them when we get home and asked if we could call anyone for the President. He said "No, thank you, we have only been here a week". We shopped and just killed time until 7:00 PM when we boarded our plane. After flying for 8 hours we stopped to refuel (stayed on the plane) and then flew another 8 hours to JFK. We arrived in New York at 7:00 AM Eastern Daylight time after having been on the plane for nearly 17 hours. We then checked Angie in for her flight to Phoenix and Mom and I wandered around JFK until our flight boarded at 4:00 PM. Arrived in Salt Lake City and Katie picked us up and took us to her home for a night's sleep. So ends the great adventure.

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