At about 11 am we get into the jeep to go on a picnic. Once again, we drive for awhile on the crazy, steep trails.
We head towards the mountains. The picnic spot is under a large tree, and near a waterfall. We come to the picnic area first. There, a crew from the lodge has set up canvas chairs, a table loaded with food (there are only eight of us!), and a full bar. There is also a handwashing station for trips to the guarded "bush toilet". Are we pampered or what? This is crazy.
We settle into enjoying our food and drinks. Nothing like being in Africa enjoying a gin and tonic.
A short jeep ride takes us to the river. The falls dump into the river near the rocks to the left in this photo:
Hmm, maybe the gin and tonics weren't the best idea. Because, the next thing the tipsy tourists do is climb up a cliff to the top of the falls. We have to step up steep and wet rocks, while perched on the edge of a dropoff. I and the other women (except Tonia) stayed at a spot mid-way up that had a great view of the falls, while the others went to the very top. I braced myself steadily against a huge rock and took some photos.
The guys came back, smiling:
John and Simeon:
We returned to the Royal Zambezi, and after a short rest we went out on a canoe trip. The canoes were towed down the river to where a secondary, small river forms a passage for a short distance between two spots on the Zambezi River. I think it's the same area we were in when we saw the maternal herd cross the river the day before. I didn't take my camera because I didn't want to risk getting it wet. We saw elephants and hippos and crocodiles, and we kept our distance since we were in a canoe rather than a large jeep. It was a peaceful, quiet way to view the animals.
Back at the lodge we were again met with glasses of sherry. Later, we went on a night jeep drive, not quite as exciting as the night before, but we did see for the first time a bush baby. Dinner at the lodge that night was fresh caught perch, one of the best meals in a trip of excellent meals.
"Knock knock". Time to get up for our 6:30 am foot-tour nature walk.
Coffee and light breakfast foods get us moving. We'd found out yesterday that there was really only enough hot water for one shower in the morning. I, as the female, of course claimed it. (When we mentioned this to the staff, they turned up the hot water system. Tonia calls hot water heaters "geysers", which gave us a laugh. But that really is the term for a hot water heater in South Africa.)
An armed guard accompanies us on this trip, because we are on foot. He and Simeon and the rest of us get into the boat that takes us a little way down the river. We get out at a pretty spot that shows a lot of erosion and mini-grand canyon style formations. I left my camera behind on purpose, because we didn't expect to see many animals - in fact, we hoped we would not see big or predatory animals on this trip.
Simeon knows everything about the wildlife in southern Africa. He is a Zimbabwe citizen who has a work permit for Zambia, and is employed in the tourism profession. (We can see Zimbabwe every day, as it is just across the Zambezi River.) Simeon uses his smart phone constantly, and believes that it is just that sort of technology that will bring Africans into mainstream world culture. The power of knowledge. He sure impressed us, both with his intelligence and his wit.
So, what did we see on the nature walk? We saw termite mounds and learned that termites cultivate fungus gardens. The termites never come above ground; they travel through underground tunnels to gather wood a long way from the mound. Here is a photo of a termite mound (and a tree) that we saw in Chobe National Park:
We saw pottery and other artifacts of tribes that used to live in the area. When the area became a national park, they moved all of the natives to other parts of the country. This causes great grief to these peoples to this day, because they believe that they need to live where their ancestors are buried in order to have proper guidance for their daily lives. A sad story with no resolution.
We saw a lot of animal tracks. Impala prints were everywhere. Hippos made narrow paths inland; you didn't see individual prints, just the path. Simeon showed us elephant prints, and explained how an elephant print can be actually two overlapping footprints. When walking, an elephant places its back foot in the same spot where the front foot had been. When they go faster, the back foot will step further forward. Thus, you can tell how fast an elephant was moving by studying the footprints. Here is a photo of an elephant print that I took in Chobe National Park:
We also saw a lot of animal dung. Elephant dung has a lot of local uses, and can be made into paper. As with a lot of animal species, impala dung helps males mark their territory.
Simeon picked up a piece of impala dung. Then he said, "Boys in the villages have a lot of time spent sitting around, thinking of things to do. One thing that all boys everywhere like to do is show their skill. One game is to put a piece of dung in their mouth and see who can spit it the furthest."
Then he looked at the guys in our group. "Try it" he said. He handed each guy a piece of dung and in fact, he put one in his own mouth. The dung was dry and odorless. In turn, Ted, Doug, and John put a piece of dung in their mouth, and lined up. "One, two, three, go!" and they spit the dung out.
Who won? I forget. But us girls giggled a lot. To this day, we think Simeon was just pulling our legs and having a good laugh on our account, but we are not really sure.
photos courtesy Tonia
We gathered around a huge double-baobab tree for a group photo. These are Tonia's photos - thanks Tonia for sending them to us.
By about 10 am we return to our lodge. I took some photos of our tent as we lounged around, resting for our next adventures.
The desk and my "charging station", and John out on our deck. The lodge area is powered by a generator. The electrical system is different from in the US, but I had brought a converter for my iTouch and camera battery charger. Free wi-fi was available up at the lodge.
We left for our next safari drive at 3 pm. This drive lasted until almost 8 pm. Long, but one of the most exciting outings we had on the entire trip.
About an hour into the drive, we came upon a mother and baby elephant.
The group of elephants turned in our direction and were right along the road we were on.
That mom did not want us in her way. She definitely let us know that we should stop and wait for her to cross with her baby.
Here is some attitude:
This elephant sashays away, showing us who is boss in the bush:
The elephants in Chobe were tame compared to the elephants we saw here in the Lower Zambezi. We definitely felt a difference in attitude in the elephants here. We kept our distance!
The elephants were wilder, but also, we did not see the same level of habitat destruction as we did in the Chobe park. You'll note from the photos that the bush looks healthier in the Lower Zambezi.
The movie below is the same group of elephants, now crossing a shallow river. You can hear us talking about how the elephants have us a bit intimidated!
When Simeon started down this jeep trail to the river, we thought he was going off a cliff!
A pretty view of the river. That's a hippo in the water.
A baobab tree:
It's almost half past five. Time for a sundowner! Simeon brings us to a pretty spot on the river and we watch the sun set:
Simeon and his helper set up our sundowner bar:
Wow, is this ever the way to travel!
When we got back in the jeep, I put away my camera. It's too dark to take photos by this time. (I regret this decision later.)
This movie below doesn't show much, but it gives you an idea of what it was like driving around in the dark. The helper kept shining a spotlight left, then right, back and forth across the jeep trail and into the bush on either side.
Whenever the guides saw an animal, they would turn off the jeep lights. One reason is that prey animals such as impalas would be put at a disadvantage, meaning, predators could easily see them. Once we suddenly had a hippo in the headlights. Simeon immediately stopped the jeep and turned off the lights and we waited quietly until the hippo left. It's not a good idea to be in the way of a hippo, even in a jeep.
We drove through a herd of elephants. We couldn't see them, but we could hear them crashing through the trees on the left, the right, behind, and in front of us. Suddenly one trumpeted right next to the jeep! We all jumped about a foot and slid over to the other side of the jeep to get away. We didn't feel entirely safe, even in the big vehicle. These elephants are wild! They showed attitude in the daylight, but at night, that "attitude" was multiplied by about ten! What an experience.
About half past six, we saw another light, and a jeep that had stopped. What are they looking at? Maybe a leopard in a tree? That jeep leaves and we drive up to where they were. Simeon stops the jeep and turns off the jeep lights. Then they shine the light in the tree and - there! a leopard!
It was so amazing to see. She was looking right at us. Tonia told us that the leopard looks very pregnant. I didn't get a photo - I tried, but I had it set to "no flash" and didn't get it out of my camera bag and changed to "flash" in time. I was sort of thinking that we shouldn't be taking a flash photo of wild animals. Oh well, Tonia got a good photo, and sent a copy to me:
photo of our leopard courtesy of Tonia
The leopard eventually moved out of the tree and walked away. That was just so cool!
We kept driving around for another hour. There was word of another leopard sighting that didn't pan out. The sharp-eyed guides found other animals, though, and spotlighted them for us to see: a jennet, a civet, a white tailed mongoose, and a waterbuck.
Finally, we return to the lodge and an 8 o'clock, three-course dinner. All of us put that crazy wild drive through the elephants and the sighting of the leopard as among our top three experiences of the trip. We are glad we still have another couple days to enjoy the Lower Zambezi.
"Knock, knock." That's our wake-up "call" at the Royal Zambezi, spoken by one of the helpers at our tent door.
At the lodge we are offered a buffet of fruit salad, yogurt, breakfast breads, juices, and of couse, coffee! We watch the sun rise over the river as we enjoy our early morning nourishment and caffeine.
Soon we are off in the safari jeep for the short drive to the entrance to the Lower Zambezi National Park. We get there about 7 am. Our guide Simeon jumps out of the jeep and talks to the park rangers who man the office. They gesture and talk awhile, pointing up and down the road. Simeon comes back and says "a big male lion just walked by the office, heading back down the road, out of the park." So we turn around. We are off to track the lion!
Is this crazy or what? Besides the report of the park rangers, our guide bases the male lion presence and direction of travel on these footprints in the sand:
I can't see the tracks in the above photo, but I'm not an expert. We'll have to trust our guide.
Simeon and Tonia talk about the habits of male lions as we drive along. Dominant male lions service females - lionesses - in different prides. This particular lion is likely on the move from one pride to another, since his prints are always on the road (easier to travel than the bush) and he is taking a straight, direct path (to wherever he is going). He is on a mission!
We come to an area with a slow moving river beneath a tall, red-earth cliff. No lions here, but a group of baboons is hanging out. It's amazing how they can go right up the cliff. I took lots of photos in the early morning sunlight.
Awhile later we saw an African open-bill:
Half an hour into the lion-tracking, we enter Lower Zambezi National Park through a different entrance than we had originally intended:
An hour later, the jeep trail went up a very steep, rutted, and overgrown trail. The driver tried to get the jeep up it, but it just wasn't making it. So we all got out of the jeep and walked on ahead a little ways, and they cut bushes out of the way and and tried again.
Nope, it didn't make it that time. He tried again.
Yeah! This time he made it.
It was worth getting the jeep up that steep trail - at the top, Simeon drew a circle around some lion tracks. I think I can see the print in this photo.
We did see a baboon:
And we saw a really neat tree called a "strangler fig". This "tree" begins as a seedling in the crevice of another tree, and grows roots down and branches up, eventually enveloping the other tree and strangling it.
We drove and drove on the dusty roads, looking for that lion. Up hills, around curves, down hills, backtracking, going through water - this was a heavy duty four-wheel drive trip. Simeon or his helper often had to push branches out of the jeep's way. We saw a lot of scenery, but no lions. Finally we gave up and drove up the mountain a little ways and stopped for coffee and treats (and bush toilet). The views were nice, so I'll share a few of my scenery photos.
I crouched down and pretended I was a lion in the grasses:
(It does look like the grasses you see lions in in nature movies, don't you think?)
We get back in the jeep and spend another hour on the roads. More scenery, that's about all we saw.
No lions here:
A couple kudus near a mud hole:
Over four hours after starting the lion-tracking, we come to the private airstrip, so we know we are just about back to our lodge.
Dusty and a little tired of the bouncing jeep, we gratefully return to our lodge. It was an interesting time and we saw a lot of the Lower Zambezi National Park. We had an adventure, even though we never saw the male lion.
We sat down to a brunch and enjoyed the great, quiet views of the river. We then had several hours to enjoy our tent and bar and the surroundings. I sat out and watched a monkey climb around the tree in front of our tent. We needed this time to rest: we have another safari drive scheduled for this evening. Unlike in Chobe National Park, in the Lower Zambezi we are allowed to drive around looking for animals after the sun sets. We want to see a leopard!
Let me tell you about the Royal Zambezi. We are greeted like we are long-lost friends who have just come home. It's isolated and intimate, and right on the Zambezi River. There are only 14 suites at the Royal Zambezi and there are not many other lodges nearby, since the location is a difficult drive or expensive charter flight from Lusaka. During our stay, we never saw the crowds of tourists that we saw in Chobe or at Victoria Falls.
There are a lot of people employed at the lodge, from the extraordinary chef to the manager to the boat and safari drivers to the waiters and room helpers to the grounds staff. We are assigned a "guard" who will escort us from the lodge to our room each evening. This is because elephants and hippos and other animals freely roam the lodge grounds. They weren't kidding! The last evening we were there, an elephant was right outside our tent and surprised several members of our group on the pathway to the tents.
Our "tent" is actually a permanent structure, with concrete floors and half-walls. It has a bathroom and shower in it. The sides are screens with shades to roll down for privacy.
From the inside, it's kind of like being outside. John and I both love the outdoors, so this suited us to a tee.
That first afternoon, we sat in our tent and looked out at a couple elephants on the sandbar.
Our tent is only a short walk from the lodge. The lodge is open to the view, and full of comfy chairs and animal books. Tables on the deck are set with white tablecloths right on the deck in the open air for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each day, we arrange our meal times around our activities.
We arrived at the Royal Zambezi in the early afternoon and were served lunch. After we explored our new lodge, we went out on a boat for a "sundowner". This means, we boated around and looked at animals, then pulled over to the bank. We sat on the shore and were served gin and tonics and mini-pizzas. (Can we go back yet?)
I'll share some photos from that first afternoon. First, the elephants on the sandbar outside the lodge.
A crocodile going down to the river.
From the boat, we looked back at our tents. The two elephants are still wandering along the sandbar.
We watched an elephant for awhile. In the first photo, he is with a white egret in flight.
The elephant came right towards our boat:
Then he came into the water:
He's playing with the water:
Note the hills behind the river. Our previous lodges were on plains.
Simeon (our local guide) brought our boat back to the Royal Zambezi. We walked up from the dock and were greeted with glasses of sherry. Lovely! An hour or so later, we gathered with Tonia and our group for a leisurely, three course gourmet dinner, and drank wine and talked and laughed into the night. Finally we take an escorted walk to our tent.
And soon, the low bellows of hippos lull us to sleep.
We leave the Chobe Safari Lodge at 8 am and Sefi drives us the ten minutes or so to the border of Botswana and Zambia. Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia all meet at a point to the west of Victoria Falls. Before, we entered Botswana by going west over the Zimbabwe land-border. This time, we will go north from Botswana over the Zambezi River into Zambia. We were never very far from this multiple-country border while we were in Botswana, and in fact we could see Namibia on our boat trips.
Our travel today will take us first to the town of Livingstone, just north over the Zambezi River from Victoria Falls. (Victoria Falls is in Zimbabwe, Livingstone is in Zambia.) Next, we will take a charter flight from the Livingstone Airport to our new lodge near Lusaka, Zambia.
On the drive to the border, we see miles of big trucks parked along the side of the road. In line are tons of semis with long trailers piled high or low with construction materials or other goods. Tonia explains that drivers sometimes wait weeks to get their vehicle across the border. Not only do they have to wait for the ferry, there are regulations, fees, inspections, and who knows what else to get past. So inefficient, such a hamper to business, so rife with the possibility of corruption and bribery.
The front of the line of trucks:
We are stamped out of Botswana at a small, efficient office. Our own people-only ferry awaits to take us to Zambia.
I take some photos of the river crossing. Just looks like another river from this view.
Looking back from our ferry at the line of trucks on the shore.
A truck ferry ready to be loaded:
A truck ferry going the other way ready to be unloaded:
Our ferry approaches the shore, the border to Zambia. The photos give you an idea of the jumble of vehicles and structures and people that awaits us.
It takes about twenty minutes for our ferry to cross the river. We disembark and are thrust into chaos: a crowd of hawkers. We are trying to keep an eye on our baggage (it was on a different ferry) and Tonia and each other while fending off the Zambians who come close up to us and speak quietly, insistently "hello, my name is such-and-such, I am your friend, I make these beautiful bracelets for you to wear, you need these, buy them from me, mine are the best, the copper is from my country and the finest . . ."
Dropping into that crowd was a jolt. Back into the reality of Africa. This is so, so much the Africa we saw when we were in Togo with Tammy.
Thin pane of glass.
Tonia gathers us from the midst of the throng and gets us onto a tourist bus. Then she collects our passports and cash for visas, and she and the bus driver head for the border office, leaving the six of us on the bus.
Black faces continue to press up to the windows, "copper bracelets, I make them myself, teak animals, big five, I make them myself". We, the very rich very white foreigners, stare forward. I am very conscious of my privileged status, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Just that thin pane of glass separates their world from my world. But what a separation.
My thoughts wander. Last year, when we visited Tammy in Togo, we lived right in the local culture for two weeks. We got in their fro-fros and bush taxis, we stayed in a house like theirs in one of their towns, we shared meals in their homes, we drank in their bars and shopped at their open air markets. We bought items from the hawkers when thirsty or hungry. Tammy was always there to guide us, within an arms reach to help us, and we felt very little uncomfortableness. We were living the Peace Corps way, living like the locals, and only our white skin gave us away.
But this time, at the border, I felt the huge rift in status. We had spent the last week in Africa but in European-style comfort, cushioned in luxury lodges from the local culture. Looking out the bus, we see how most of Africa really is. Poor. It's awkward, I did nothing to deserve this status. But I would not change places with them.
Slowly I become aware that it's taking a long time for Tonia and the driver to return. Then, a guy comes on the bus and says he will drive us up a little ways, out of the throng. He repeats his plan several times. A few of us are apprehensive: we are sitting there without our guide, without our passports! (Is he a kidnapper?) But John and the other guys note that he is wearing the same uniform as our driver, and we say "okay", and he moves us up past the border office. Almost immediately Tonia and our driver return and flourish our stamped passports, all of us smiling at her recount of how she got to the front of the line. And smiling because all is well! We are safe again.
And on our way.
It's about an hour to the Livingstone airport.
We wait in a small restaurant-lounge. Is it too early for a beer? Why no, it's 10:01am!
Our plane is one of the small ones in the center of this photo:
I liked climbing into the small plane. John got to sit up front next to the pilot. They offered us chips and bottled water. We settled into the hour-and-a-half flight.
Here is a view through the foggy plane window and through the hazy sky, taken soon after we took off. Even though it's not a sharp photo, you can see the mist from Victoria Falls in the center of the frame:
And now we are at the airstrip in Zambia. Here is our plane on the small landing strip:
We are met by Simeon, our guide in Zambia. He drives us to the Royal Zambezi Lodge, just a few minutes from the private airstrip. We are met with cool glasses of juice. We walk through the open lodge area and gaze on the elephants on the sandbar.
Tonia claimed we'd have to be taken kicking and screaming from the Stanley and Livingstone, our first lodge on the trip. But she was wrong, it's the Royal Zambezi that caught our hearts and still calls to us "come back, come back!"
More on that later. It's time for us to settle into our tents (tents!) and then go out on a boat on the river. To be continued . . .
We head out in the safari vehicle to go to Chobe National Park for the last time.
Below is the park entrance. Our driver had to check in and out each time we went for a safari drive.
We had had such an experience with the elephant crossing this morning that on this late afternoon trip, we plan to just enjoy our last visit to the animals in this park. Chobe is fairly dense with wildlife, and the elephants (especially) seem pretty used to having tourists watching them. This afternoon we again see giraffes, kudu, impala, vultures and other birds, and hippos. We are always on the watch for leopards, looking up in trees. I'll share just a few photos: species we hadn't seen before, that I hadn't photographed well before, or photos that I especially like from that day. (The last animal we saw was a surprise and a special, rare treat. But I'll get to that.)
We saw a black sable antelope, an endangered species:
A kori bustard bird:
I can't resist photographing giraffes:
We had seen a banded mongoose, but I had yet to get a good photo.
I'm not sure, but this elephant might be in musth. Note the dark line down the side of his face, and darkened stains on his rear legs. Musth is a periodic sexual aggression condition in bull elephants. I remember a stinky smell, too, another sign of musth.
Far in the distance were two hippos with open mouths. The sun was sinking and taking the light away, but you might get a kick out of this photo anyway.
We were almost out of the park when suddenly the guide pulled over to the side. Hyena, he said. And ssssshh! There was a mother hyena and her babies in a den in a culvert under the road. We strained to take pictures in the fading light. Then each safari jeep coming up behind us wondered what we were looking at, stopped, and made noise until we shushed them. The mother hyena was quite stressed. We didn't stay long because we knew we were bothering her. It was yet another amazing sight.
I switched to movie mode. If you listen closely, you can hear the high-pitched mewling of the babies at the beginning and the end of the clip. About a third of the way through, one of the babies briefly appears in the bottom left of the frame.
After this unexpected sighting, we finally returned for our last dinner and night in the Mowana lodge in Botswana. Tomorrow, off to a new country.
Since today is our last day at the Mowana Safari Lodge in Botswana, I spent some of our free time between outings taking photos of the lodge. Basically, it's a large hotel, in most ways just like a good hotel anywhere in the US. They even turned down our bed and put chocolates on the pillows each night.
Each time we returned from a safari drive or boat ride, we were greeted with hot, moist towels!
The food at this lodge was always buffet-style. This is both good and bad, of course. The food was mostly typical American-style food, although we were able to try local game, such as kudu and impala. They always had one dish freshly cooked to order, such as a stir-fry at night and eggs any style in the morning. The lunch buffet was served outdoors near the pool and bar, while breakfast and dinner were in a large banquet room. The food was good, in general. I especially liked the desserts though: I always deny myself such pleasures and at the lodge, I threw caution to the wind and ate whatever I wanted.
A surprise to us was that the tap water was drinkable, as it was in all of the places we stayed on this trip.
The view from our window of the hotel grounds and the Chobe River:
Our wing of the hotel:
They had a golf course, but John didn't play.
The entryway to the hotel lodge area and one of the safari vehicles. Chobe National Park was about 15 minutes away, and it was pretty chilly in the open vehicle.
The restaurant where we ate breakfast and dinner.
The baobab tree in the center of the lodge:
The Mowana is right on the Chobe River. Here is the way to the jetty:
The lunch buffet area, bar, and pool:
We did go swimming here. It wasn't as cold as the pool at the Stanley and Livingstone.
Large baobab tree at the turn-in to the hotel.
All in all, the Mowana was a good place to stay, but it wasn't special like the Stanley and Livingstone.
Continuing from my last blog entry, we had just spotted a large group of elephants on the shore. Sefi brings our boat closer.
Tonia tells us that this is a special herd: it's a "bachelor herd" of young and old male elephants. Such herds are called askaris, and they do what groups of males do most everywhere: they test their strength, chase girls, hang out, and play.
Each bachelor herd is led by an old bull elephant who not only teaches the younger males where the best watering holes and feeding spots are located, he teaches them how to be good male elephants: "male etiquette". In return, the young males treat the old bull with respect and affection. Young males without the guidance of a bull elephant have been known to express rogue behavior, such as rampaging through villages.
As we draw closer, we can sure tell that this is a herd of elephants with attitude. It's just different from the mixed herds we had seen before. We are so enthralled that we spend an hour and a half watching them. I'll let my photos and movies tell the story.
The herd in the distance:
The entire herd barely fits in my camera frame:
I start taking a movie. Please excuse the shaky moments, I hadn't practiced movie-taking before we went to Africa. Plus I am shooting through the big heavy lens from a rocking boat. But notice the elephants playing in the middle of the film.
This panorama shows the entire herd but you might have to scroll to see it all:
A young male with attitude:
We notice a water monitor near the elephants. Hey - I know this is a crummy photo, but trust me, there's a reason for it.
The herd gathers ranks and moves down river about half a mile. (Can you name the birds in the foreground?)
Our boat follows the herd and moves down to the other side of it, so the next photos are taken from the opposite direction (and about 25 minutes later).
The elephants came out on a small peninsula, moving around at the waters edge, flapping their ears, drinking water, and stomping in the water.
Remember that water monitor? It has followed the elephants on their travel down the river bank:
Here's a movie of the elephants milling around the river bank. The bellowing sound is from some hippos that are nearby.
Here are the elephants about ten minutes later. If you listen to the sound in the movie, you will hear us wondering if the elephants will go into the water and cross the river.
The water monitor is still following the elephants.
Now, watch this!
Here are some stills of the elephants in the water. The bull elephant leads:
Blows water out his trunk:
A panorama of all twelve elephants, with the bull in the front. Note the way the last male hangs back. He never did cross the river. (We are pretty sure the water monitor did, though.)
They play around a bit:
Swimming, one with his snorkel up:
Here all you see is the tops of the elephants and their snorkels:
A close-up of the snorkel play:
There are three snorkels in this one:
I switch back to movie mode.
The first elephants are almost to the land.
Here they are walking out of the water:
Eventually the elephants are out of the water and walking along a grassy riverbank.
Except for the one elephant that never crossed. He is still on the other side of the river.
The elephants walk along.
Then we notice something just in front of the elephants. I'm not talking about the Egyptian goose or the white egret in the photo below: look closely. Those big grey balls are hippos! The elephants are walking right towards them.
The bull elephant hasn't quite seen them yet:
Now he does - you can see him looking at the hippos on the left:
He puts his head down . . .
. . . and then up as the elephants come closer to the hippos.
The elephants come a little closer, curling the bottom of their trunks.
Then the bull elephant turns back to the rest of the herd, the askaris, and flares his ears in communication.
The bull elephant now leads his charges past the hippos. The hippos seemed to be carefully ignoring the elephants, heads turned away and not moving.
I changed the camera to movie mode to catch the march of the elephants, one by one, past the hippos; note how the hippos take a couple glances at the elephants, but mostly keep still with their backs turned.
Eventually a couple of the hippos get up and walk away, their backs to the elephants.
The film clip (just above) shows how the last couple male elephants stopped before passing the hippos and started playing in the mud. In this still, the smallest male gets all wet on top:
The mud play continues:
The elephants are walking away. It's 1 pm and time for us to go back to the lodge for lunch.
Weeks and years after our safari, we will remember the elephant crossing as one of the best parts of the trip, right up there with seeing the pride of lions. What an experience.
We get to sleep in! Our first activity is a boat cruise at 9:30 am, so we get to enjoy a leisurely buffet breakfast before we head for the jetty. This time, our guide, Sefi, drives the boat, and it's a smaller boat with just our own tour group.
It's back to picture-taking time. Here are some African darters:
A pied kingfisher:
Grey go-away bird (grey lourie):
A jesus bird, so named for how it appears to "walk on water":
The photo below shows the "walk on water" technique a little better. Notice the spur-winged goose looking at the jesus bird curiously and the dangerous crocodile in the background.
The bird on the right is a pied kingfisher, the left one is a forktailed drongo.
Water monitors are hard to pick out from the background of earth, leaves, and sticks. They are cool to watch move, though, so if you have time view the movie at the bottom of this blog post.
This vervet monkey is way up in the top of a huge tree.
Here is a vervet monkey mom and baby. There is a banded mongoose just off to the right.
A group of impalas came down to drink. This photo shows clearly the "Mac Donald" sign on their rear ends:
I took a series of photos showing an elephant eating the bark of a tree, to illustrate the issue of elephant destruction of the forest in Chobe National Park.
In the last photo, I zoomed in on the elephant's face. I like this photo - you can even see the elephant's facial hair.
We saw a boatload of people looking at something - oh! It's a crocodile in the water!
Our guide pulls our boat nearer.
For a full 8 minutes, this crocodile sat there and posed for us with his mouth open. I zoomed in for a close-up:
Here's what it looks like just past the stationary crocodile. Hippos and birds and another crocodile lounge, fly, and feed. The big brown and white birds are spur-winged geese, and the white one on the hippo is a white egret. (I shot a movie of the scene too - see the bottom of this post.)
A close-up of a single and then several spur-winged geese:
The crocodile that was posing finally closed his mouth . . .
. . . and swam away.
We saw another jesus bird:
And an Egyptian goose:
We also saw a black sable although it was too far away for me to get a good photo. But hippos were nearby and posed for us:
We are about an hour into our late-morning boat cruise. Off on the shore, in the distance, is a large group of elephants. Our boat moves closer . . . but that tale will have to wait for my next blog post.
Water monitor moving:
I took the following movie as our boat neared the stationary crocodile that "posed" for us. I like it because it shows an intermix of hippos, crocodiles, birds, and even tourists.
At 3 pm our group met at the jetty and boarded an open boat (along with a group of Germans) and headed towards the river "entrance" to Chobe National Park. The view was lovely.
Here's a view looking out of the inside of the boat:
The boat driver had to check in at the Chobe National Park office, which was a shack on the river:
A close-up of the sign:
Traveling by boat is a great way to see all of the wildlife. We found it especially good for viewing birds and hippos and crocodiles. Land animals came down to the river to drink. It was easier on our bodies than the bumping, noisy jeep, and . . . and! . . . they served drinks and snacks on the boat.
Right off the bat I caught a photo of a fish eagle in flight:
A kudu at the water:
Here is the first crocodile that we saw:
A herd of elephants with a lot of babies came to the water:
The boat drew near to a group of hippos in the water. They are standing on the river bottom and chomping down on vegetation. You only see their heads so it's hard to make out from the photo, but you can go to the bottom of this blog entry and watch a short movie of hippos eating.
Hippos on the shore take a lot better photo:
These are water monitors. There are two, one on top of the other:
Another fish eagle in flight:
A double-decker boat full of local school children passed us and they all waved.
The sun sets, and our boat returns us to the Chobe Safari Lodge.
Watch the crocodile swim and a surprise encounter:
We are peacefully sleeping in our Mowana Safari Lodge room when our 5 am wake-up call comes. Time to get back in the safari jeep, to see the animals!
Dressing warmly, we gather with Tonia at the main lodge, where coffee and breakfast breads and juices are temptingly laid out on tables. Even though we are all still trying to shake off lingering sleepiness, we are excited to go back to the animal park, and we are still talking about seeing the lion pride last night. Draining the last of our coffee from our cups, we go out to the safari jeep and climb back in.
We enter Chobe National Park and head towards the river. Early morning view:
A fish eagle:
Below is a cape vulture. They are relatively rare, and not usually seen in this national park. According to Wikipedia, there are only 8000 cape vultures left.
and a zoom-in:
Here's a path you don't want to walk down!
Guess we are boring, the lioness closes her eyes:
We saw three other lions a little further away (one had already walked off before I shot the photo below). These are not like the lions that we walked with a couple days ago - these lions are wild and dangerous. I shot the photos at full 300mm zoom (meaning, the lions are a ways away). If a person were to get out of the jeep and approach them, they might just be lion-breakfast.
A little ways from the lions, we stopped for thermos-coffee and restrooms. We got out of the jeep and walked around. It was a little scary, knowing there really were wild lions nearby!
The photo below is of a sign at the rest stop. I certainly wouldn't harass any animals or walk very far from the safety of the jeep.
An example of my continuing effort in trying to get a good photo of baboons:
A lilac-breasted roller:
A brown-hooded kingfisher:
We were lucky to spot a puku, a type of antelope. They are an endangered species and rare in Botswana. I was able to catch a few photos of a handsome young male. In the second photo, note his small horns. This photo on Wikipedia shows the an older male with larger horns.
A cape buffalo carcass:
When an animal is killed (or just dies), scavengers descend on the carcass: nothing is wasted on the savannah. We came on the scene below: vultures and marabou storks working on something dead. That's a lappet-faced vulture on the right, with the red, featherless head. The brown ones are called white-backed vultures. The big grey bird is a marabou stork.
I caught one photo as the marabou stork was just about to land.
I loved watching baby baboons with their moms. These scenes are notoriously difficult to catch on camera, since the baboons always seemed to be against background-color the same as their coats. I'm pretty happy, though, with the photo below.
Finally, I got a photo of a baboon against a good background. This big male baboon found a chair:
We saw some hippos in the distance. I'll have better hippo photos to show in later blog entries, but these two are sort of interesting. In the first, I zoomed in and caught a line of hippos climbing out of the water.
Then I zoomed out to show a panorama of our view.
And our morning drive comes to an end. It's only 9 am! We head back to our safari lodge and enjoy a proper breakfast. We then enjoy the pool next to the bar and rest up for the next adventure.
See that small dark cluster in the center of the above photo? Below the giraffes? It's hard to tell, but that's the lions! John and the others have the benefit of binoculars. I only have my camera. I zoom in the telephoto.
The giraffes do not take their eyes off the lions. Lions are able to take down giraffes, our guide tells us. The giraffes close ranks.
I zoom in on two of the lions:
Here is the entire scene, as we saw it from our jeep. There are three lions, two together and one a little to the left and closer to us. By this time, the giraffes had crossed behind the lions and are off to the left, outside of the range of the photo.
There is still another lion off to the left:
I panned to the left to check what the giraffes were doing:
The lion over on the left got up:
Now there are three lions together, with one looking left towards the giraffes and the other two looking to the right.
The lion to the left is on the move:
The giraffes are watchful:
Now three of the lions settle in together.
We have to leave. The sun is setting and we will have to race to get out of the park in time. We hunker down and cling to the seat-rail for the bouncy drive to the lodge. We don't talk much on the trip back, we huddle in our jackets and let our minds re-play and absorb the scene we had been lucky enough to watch: a wild African lion pride hanging out on the savannah.
We've been driving around in the safari jeep for about two hours now. Chobe National Park closes by about 6 pm, and since all entries and exits are logged, we know we have to leave soon. That's okay, we have been bumping along for so long and have seen so many animals on this first day in Botswana that we are ready to head to the lodge for a good dinner and cushy bed.
So we gaze at the skyline, watch some guinea hens, and appreciate the beauty of a fish eagle.
hippos in the distance
Then we see trees, full of vultures and other scavengers.
Our guide suddenly stops, gets out of the jeep. "Here", he says, "Here are some tracks, lion tracks." He points to a definite big cat footprint on the edge of the dusty road, right next to an elephant track.
His radio crackles. He speaks briefly in Setswana . . . then he says "hang on" and the jeep jumps forward and races off in a new direction. "What's going on?" we ask Tonia. "Lions!" she says.
Our day of adventure is not over. The best part is yet to come.
Impalas are a type of antelope. They are abundant in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya, where they live both in and out of game preserves. They aren't as big as kudu, and I got the feeling that they are easy prey for the lions. This lovely, graceful female caught my attention:
We came upon a couple male impalas sparring. Note the "M" on the rear end of the impalas - it's formed from two looping black lines on either side of the tail. Tonia calls the impala "the McDonalds of the game preserve". The "M" really does look like the McDonalds logo. I thought she also might mean that the impala is eaten by all of the carnivores in Africa!
The face off:
The fight begins:
The one on the left has the other impala's head pinned. Note how the hooves of the impala on the right are off the ground.
The left impala must have won, because he looks smug as the other one walks away.
We saw quite a few giraffes in Chobe National Park. Giraffes are not designated an endangered species, but their numbers are slowly dwindling. Their primary food is acacia trees - they can reach leaves that most other animal species cannot.
Note how this giraffe delicately dips its head into the tree:
The photos do not convey the grace of the giraffes. I put a video on youtube:
In the two and a half hours that we were in Chobe National Park on Tuesday afternoon, I took over 200 photos. I'll choose my favorites and share photos of different animals in each of the next several blogs.
Chobe National Park is quite crowded, both with tourists and animals. The myriad, criss-crossing jeep trails are dusty and rough. Just like in our Rocky Mountain National Park, when one carload of people spots an animal, it stops and watches, and then other carloads come up on the scene, and they stop too. The guides are in radio contact with each other, and sometimes we'd rush off in a new direction to follow a lead to an animal or situation we had not yet seen. We were either holding onto the seat-rail for dear life or focusing our cameras or binoculars on the wildlife. Not just a quiet walk in the woods, this type of safari-ing. Our guides not only alert us to birds and animals, they keep up a running commentary on animal behavior.
We are told that the animals view the jeep and the people in it as one large unit, and because of this they will not attack us because we appear very large and do not look or smell like prey. We do not leave the vehicle except in specific locations, and then we do not stray far from it, but stay under the watchful eyes of our guides.
I never got tired of watching elephants. Luckily, our tourmates felt the same. The way the elephants lumber gracefully along, the different gestures that they made that told us how they felt, the interactions of the mothers and babies . . . so fascinating to see in person.
Many of the elephants had broken tusks. This is due to wear and tear while foraging or perhaps from sparring with other elephants.
Here is a young elephant walking by:
and then he got jaunty:
Here is a baby elephant:
An elephant ripping a limb off a bush:
This group of elephants is walking up after getting a drink in the Chobe River. Elephants drink by drawing the water up into their trunk, and then shooting it into their mouth. Note how close these elephants are to the jeep - those are John's binoculars that you see in the photo.
Note that the mom's ears are slightly flared, and see how the baby's trunk clings to her side. If you look closely, you will see the elephant's breast between her front legs. And see how wet their legs are from being in the water.
The mom looked in at us as she passed, her ears definitely tell us her mood:
After giving us her opinion about our presence, the mom walks away, her baby following, touching her tail and flank with its trunk.
The herd passes us and leaves, tails swishing.
A herd of mothers and babies:
The elephant in the front is the matriarch, warning us with her flared ears:
In the photo below, note not only the elephant, but the damage to the area that elephants have caused. Parts of Chobe National Park are full of dead, skeletal trees. Some people believe that the reserves are too successful because there are too many elephants and they destroy the habitat. They believe that it is unstainable, and that some elephants need to be culled, much as the elk are managed in US national parks. But public outcry ensues when this is mentioned. Others are of the opinion that the forests overgrew in the late 1800s because of animal disease epidemics, and that the elephants are helping the area return to a savanna state by reducing the number of trees.
Today we leave the Stanley and Livingstone (kicking and screaming!).
The trip will take about an hour by motor coach. But first, Andrew drives us to a local school to meet with teachers and students. The students, all young girls, treated us and another tour group to a performance of traditional music and dance. Then they each tell us what they want to be when they grow up, and each of in turn tells them what we do in our own country. The visit was sort of a planned touristy-thing but we didn't mind, it was interesting and good to see that education is important to the local people.
We leave the school and travel west to Botswana. At the border, we leave Andrew's motorcoach and check our passports at the Zimbabwe border office. We walk across the border (I was not allowed to take photos). We are required to step through a section that is wet with a solution to prevent the transfer of hoof-and-mouth disease from one country to the next, then our passports are checked at the Botswana border office.
We climb into a motor coach and meet our new local Guide, Sefi. We will stay in the Mowana Safari Lodge. On the map below, note the location of Chobe National Park, in the upper right hand corner of Botswana. Our safari lodge is just outside that national park, on the Chobe River, which forms the border of Botswana and Nambia to the north.
We settle into our rooms and enjoy an extravagent buffet lunch. Here is a sign in our room:
That's all the rest for the travelers, though! Time to get back into a safari jeep!
Sefi drives us the five or so miles to Chobe National Park. Just inside, he stops by the side of the road and points out an elephant trail and fresh tracks. We start to get excited again, because we haven't yet seen totally wild elephants!
We follow the jeep trail:
And suddenly, right in front of us, is a giraffe!
Giraffes are amazing to watch, so graceful, so elegant. We saw a redbilled hornbill:
A blackbellied or capeglossy starling:
A blue waxbill:
We all of these animals within 20 minutes of entering Chobe National Park! This area is simply teeming with wildlife, more so than the area around Victoria Falls. I'll share more animal photos from this same day in the next blog entry.
On Monday, we got to sleep in. We had a leisurely breakfast on the outdoor deck, talking with Tonia and the tour members as they came and went. Two tour members opted for a helicopter tour of the falls during the morning. When they came back, we all went to the town of Victoria Falls and wandered around a craft fair and some shops, and had lunch at the elegant Victoria Falls Hotel, overlooking the Victoria Falls bridge. (I left my camera at the lodge.)
We returned to the Stanley and Livingstone and had a few hours to enjoy our suite and the grounds. The Stanley and Livingstone is located inside the Victoria Falls Private Game Reserve (also called the Nakavango Estate). Animals rove freely in the reserve, but are kept out of the lodge-grounds by an electric fence (as long as the generator is working, that is). We spent our "free time" watching zebras, impalas, kudus, elands, baboons, and different birds in the field around the water hole.
the beautiful grounds of the Stanley and Livingstone
our group viewing the animals
the water hole they are looking at
and a little to the right of the last photo, lots of animals
as you notice from how small the animals appear in my photos, binoculars help! John used them a lot
At the Stanley and Livingstone, the lodge itself and our suite were very elegant. We had a living room, a bedroom, and a huge bathroom. Tonia said the we would have to be taken "kicking and screaming" from the Stanley and Livingstone! It was that perfect. We barely had enough time to enjoy our room, though, as we just couldn't stay away from the animal viewing areas outside.
the outside of our hut, or suite
pond, animals in the distance
pond - water hole in distance
bar and restaurant
entry to the main lobby/restaurant/bar
One time I stepped out our door and caught a group of baboons right there - they scrambled quickly away before I could take a picture. They jump right over the electric fence.
inside lodge - you can see a hint of its elegance - this is where we had a lecture by an expert on Dr. Livingstone in the late afternoon
our bedroom our bedroom
John in the living room - there were 2 TVs!
part of our bathroom
part of our bathroom
part of our bathroom
This slow-paced day gave us a chance to catch our breath and think about where we were. So, a geography lesson.
Zimbabwe is located in southern Africa; it touches South Africa on the south, Mozambique on the east, Botswana on the west, a tip of Nambia on the west, and Zambia on the north. The Zambezi River separates Zambia from Zimbabwe. The Zambezi is the fourth-longest river in Africa; it flows east/northeast across this portion of Africa and eventually flows into the Indian Ocean.
I grabbed these from the 'net - image credits at the bottom
Zimbabwe used to be named Southern Rhodesia, and Zambia used to be Northern Rhodesia. Tonia pulled out a map taught us some of the history of this area. (It's quite a story, more than I'm ready to go into here.) The city of Victoria Falls (and airport) sits on the Zimbabwe side of the river; Livingstone (and airport) sits on the Zambia side of the river. So where we are visiting is the edge of Zimbabwe, around the touristy areas near the falls and the game preserves.
Tourism both provides southern Africans employment and encourages the countries to save the wildlife. According to Wikipedia (accessed 7/2012), 60% of Zimbabwe's wildlife has died since 2000 due to poaching eand deforestation. The local people that we met were zealous about saving the wildlife, but a few poachers ruin it for everybody.
On the tour, we had our constant tour guide, Tonia, contracted by Odyssey Tours. In each country, she arranged a local tour guide, who provided not only transportation, but expertise on the wildlife. In Zimbabwe, our local tour guide was Andrew. He met us at the airport and was our guide on all daily activities in Zimbabwe. Andrew has a degree in mechanical engineering, but the economic circumstances of his country prevent his employment in his field. Being very intelligent, he is able to adapt and work in the tourism industry instead. In a way, he serves as an ambassador for his country to the tourists that come from all over the world. There is hope for Africa, because there are intelligent and forward-thinking people living there.
We always had a lot of people waiting on us, ready to carry bags, serve food or drinks, turn down our bed, whatever, including just talk about the state of the world!
Before dinner, we enjoyed a fascinating talk on the Scottish explorer David Livingstone by a local historian. Our dinner, again, was amazing. The table is set in the elegant lodge area with white tablecloth and napkins. Three courses: prawns/mushrooms appetizer, cream of cauliflower soup, chicken stew over rice or steak, profliteries dessert (cream puff-like with whipped cream and chocolate).
Right after we rode the elephants, we went to do a "Lion Walk".
A few small buildings mark the Lion Walk area. We check in and sit down on some benches in a covered area. Our lion guide discusses safety issues. We are to walk near the rear flank of a lion and use a stick to nudge the lion if necessary. We sign waivers.
Then we follow the lion handlers down a path in the bush. Here is what we see:
One by one, we were encouraged to pet the lions. John really doesn't like cats, but here he is!
just too cute
Now we begin our walk with the lions. The photo below was taken by one of the guides. We are right behind one of the lions and are told not to pass him. Never be in front of a lion.
Here is a photo of John and I taking our turn right behind the lions. We are encouraged to touch the lion as we walk.
Finally it's time to let the lions go back to the bush.
We gather again in the covered area. It's kind of like de-briefing. What an experience!
We watch a short film and listen to a talk about lions and lion-rescue. Rescued orphan lion cubs are brought to the shelter and taken care of by humans until they are about a year old. The two cubs we were with today are 11 months old, and brother and sister. Soon, they will be placed in prides on the preserve. These two cubs have been "spoiled" for ever being totally wild, because they are not afraid of humans. They need to be afraid of humans, for their own safety.
After the cubs are successfully placed in wild prides, hopefully they will grow, mature, and have their own cubs. Those cubs will be totally wild. If necessary, those cubs will be moved to other areas in the continuing attempt to re-populate Africa with wild lions.
The project is called "Lion Encounter". The lions serve as ambassadors to the human population, letting us get to know them so that we will work to save the African lion for future generations of lions and humans both.
It's only 11:30 in the morning. Back into the jeep and off to more adventures.