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30 June 2012

Day 2, Sunday: Elephant Ride

The morning is still young! Before 10 am we clamber back in the jeep to return to the game preserve to ride elephants.

The elephants that we will ride were rescued as babies and raised by humans. The handlers are experts on elephants, and very attached to their elephant. The elephants roam freely with wild elephants in the reserve when not being ridden. The money that tourists spend for the elephant rides helps the local economy, and we (the tourists) get an exceptional experience: close contact with these amazing animals. It a thousand times better than watching them on nature shows.

Here is a photo of the elephants and their handlers, waiting for our arrival:

elephant ride

In the photo below, I'm on the elephant, holding the camera up over my head and looking down. The guide with the rifle protects us from wild animals.

elephant ride

The elephant grabbed snacks off bushes as we passed.

elephant ride

We passed a herd of impala:

elephant ride

Here we are on our elephant:

us on elephant
us on elephant

We are now off the elephant. Ours was the one in the middle of the photo below. He has to be chained because he is the alpha elephant in the group. The scaffolding to the right is what we climbed to get onto the elephant's back.

elephant ride

John feeds the elephant:

elephant ride
elephant ride
elephant ride

Here we both are, sitting on the elephant's leg:

us sitting on elephant leg

The elephant sticks out its tongue:

elephant ride

Some warthogs were hanging around:

warthogs

This shows how big the elephant looks from down on the ground:
elephant ride

Eventually we have to leave the elephants and go off to our next adventure. Back in the jeep!

safari jeep

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29 June 2012

Day 2, Sunday: Safari drive

Our deep sleep is broken by the sound of an alarm. 5:15 am! Time to get up and go on a safari drive! A quick sip of instant coffee and a Cliff bar, and we are off.

We climb in the Ford Ranger at 6 am. The back of this 4WD truck is fitted with seats, open to the air. On each seat is a heavy fleece poncho and a windbreaker poncho. Tonia says to don them both - it's going to be cold! We pull them on, dubiously, over our long pants and jackets. (Isn't Africa hot?)

Andrew, our local guide, tells us that, behind his seat in the truck, there is a rifle. Okaaay.

It's dark out. We take off through the bush. Bush is certainly the word for this vegetation. Mostly small trees, small bushes, large bushes, and grasses. Grasses just like we have seen in nature movies about lions.

The sky slowly lightens. Our hands and faces freeze in the wind as we bump up and down the jeep trails. I sniff the air, and find it smells of animals . . . and soon we enter a clearing with two black rhinoceros.

black rhinos
black rhino

These black rhinos are roaming freely in the preserve, but they are guarded 24 hours a day by armed militia. Poachers are shot, no ifs, ands or buts. The black rhino is a critically endangered species, largely because the horn is used in Chinese medicine to aid male sexual stamina. Poachers kill black rhinos and take only the horn, which is worth tens of thousands of dollars. Note in the photo that the larger rhino's horn has been pared down; this is to prevent the poachers from killing the animal for it's horn.

Right next to the black rhinos were a couple cape buffalo.

cape buffalo
Note the redbilled oxpickers that are on the cape buffalo in the photo below. These birds eat the ticks off the buffalo.
cape buffalo

Scroll to the bottom of this blog post for a short movie of the cape buffalo.

The photo below shows the jeep trail we were on. Note the vegetation - it shows why bush is called bush.

safari jeep trail

The next photo is a black jackal that I was lucky enough to get in the photo. He was skulking quickly back into the bush, but glanced back briefly at the crazy humans in the jeep.

black jackal

We saw different kinds of birds:
brown snake eagle
brown snake eagle


marabou storks
marabou storks

vultures
vultures


And we saw zebras:
zebras

I liked watching baboons but I don't think they take great photos. They kind of blend into the background.

baboon

We got close to an impala:

impala

After a couple hours, cold but excited, we came back to our lodge for a proper breakfast. Famished, we loaded our plates from the buffet of fresh fruit salad, cheeses, sliced meats, rolls, breads, dried fruits, and cereals. When we sat down at our table, we were asked "Would you like some eggs? How would you like them cooked? Toast with that? Ham, sausage, or bacon?" Thus began the "fattening up" of the tour members.



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28 June 2012

Victoria Falls

Our first three safari nights were spent near Victoria Falls at the Stanley and Livingstone, a safari lodge. As we arrived, we were greeted with glasses of cold, fresh juice. We put our luggage in our room (well, "suite" is more like it), gazed at zebras near the lodge's water hole for awhile, then got back in the vehicle for the drive to Victoria Falls.

Victoria Falls is one of the seven wonders of the natural world. The falls form as the Zambezi River, nearly a mile wide, drops suddenly three hundred feet into a narrow chasm that runs perpendicular to the river. Thus there are two huge, long cliffs, the one the river falls over, and the one we will stand on, a few hundred feet away. It's early winter for Zimbabwe when we visit, and the river is nearly full volume. We are told to be impressed, but we really don't quite know what to expect.

The road to the falls has signs that warn "Elephants!" Baboons and warthogs frequented the city area, and vervet monkeys played around the gate into the Victoria Falls national park.

Note: Click on any photo to view a larger version.


vervet monkeys

The viewing trail begins at the western end, loops away from the falls to the eastern end, then comes back west along the cliff's rim. At the trailhead, Tonia (our guide) makes sure we have umbrellas and raincoats, and points the way.

The local peoples call the falls mosi-oa-tunya - the smoke that thunders. We soon learn what this means.

Mist billows and drifts across the path, rains down on us. Rainbows form in the mist. Sunlight sparkles on the water droplets on the grasses and bushes. The falls, unseen, thunder their presence.

We walked through this surreal world. We got wet. We didn't care.

mist
mist
near the falls
near the falls
near the falls

At the eastern end, the Zambezi gathers and rushes off in a narrow channel under the Victoria Bridge.

channel

bridge

Our first look at the falls:

Victoria Falls

The photo isn't out of focus, what it shows is the mist. The problem with getting good photos of the falls is that clouds of mist periodically rise up and partly obscure the falls. The mist rises so far above the falls that you can see it from miles away.

John held an umbrella over me so I could take pictures without soaking my camera. The mist rose and fell; I got a few shots when it least obstructed the view.

Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls
John at Victoria Falls
John
John and Patty at the falls
John and Patty
Victoria Falls
note the moon to the right of the rainbow
Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls

Soaked and still in awe of the falls, we finally had to leave and go back to our lodge. We watched the animals at the water hole and had an excellent dinner at the lodge: crocodile in crepes as appetizer, a beef main dish, and a sort of lemon meringue pie. We sat for hours drinking wine and talking about our day, our lives, and how to make the world work better.

A movie of the falls lets you hear the sound:



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27 June 2012

Safari: First safari moment.

Months of planning, John and I thinking "safari" sounds fun, but not knowing exactly why. Then long flights and we are in Africa. We meet our tour group and guide, spend a night at a grand hotel, and take another flight up through Africa to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Our tour guide ushers us into our first motor coach to go to the safari lodge.

After so much time spent caught up in details, captured in planes, finally we are chattering with new friends as we drive along a dirt road through the African bush. We wonder how far away is the lodge, what will it be like, then . . .

. . . I hear "baboons!!"

I look out the window as a family of baboons crosses to my side of the road. Suddenly I know: Yes this is exactly what I want to experience! This is what it is all about. I really want to see the animals of Africa, and now I am doing it! My first inclination when I read the African safari brochure back in November was right, this was a really, really good idea, to come here!

first baboon

Photographically, this is the worst photo that you will see in this blog. But I have to start with it, because it captures a significant moment: my first sighting of a wild baboon running across the road while I fumble to grab the camera that will become a comfortable and natural part of my hand for the next two weeks, while I realize that I have just stepped into a different world, a world of animals out of a zoo, a world of African animals roaming freely.

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