Let's take a walk through a brand new day.
We’ve all come to expect the worst in 2020; but I never dreamed that I would survive a tornado and a hurricane in the same year. I’ve jokingly said that I can’t travel to Asia this year even if the travel ban is lifted. If I do, I’m sure that I’ll be in the middle of a typhoon!
Hurricane Delta surprised us all. As I scanned the weather report before my departure for Cancun, it was obvious that I would spend part of each day of the week enjoying some rain. Not to be deterred from my trip, I packed an umbrella and a rain poncho. There. I was set.
Not so fast. Within 24 hours, a little rain had turned into a prediction of a Category 4 hurricane. There I was in a foreign country with just me, my wits, and an oceanfront hotel between me and the big storm.
How did I handle it? The best I could with the cards I was dealt. I am certainly not an expert on survival, but I thought I’d share my thought process as the storm strengthened and some tips that might help if you are in the same unwanted predicament.
1. Find someone who speaks the language and determine the exact plan that the hotel has for the guests. For us, it was a rated Category 4 space where make-shift beds were placed. Bring your pillow and blanket since you have no idea of the length of stay.
2. Think of the most important items that you may need and put them in a waterproof bag. For me, those items included my passport, money, credit cards, a flashlight, my phone, a portable phone charger and charging cord, my car keys, some nuts, chapstick, and of course my pink lipstick! (I also threw in some Tums for fear of the strange food I may be forced to eat if the storm caused severe destruction.)
3. Think survival. I packed a lunch box (orange bag) with bottles of water and also put bottles of water in my suitcase. I ordered room service with foods that I could put in resealable bags to survive on my own after the storm. I ordered bacon, cheese, bread, yogurt and fruit. I know from experience that those items can last a few days without refrigeration.
4. Think about the aftermath. I hoped my suitcase and its contents would survive and that someone could find the owner if it did. So, I put business cards in resealable bags and put a copy of my passport (which I always carry when traveling) in a resealable bag and put both in the netting that is immediately visible when the suitcase is opened.
5. Save my hat! I really like my sunvisor and I knew it would get crushed in my suitcase or my backpack. So, I studied the room. Where does my hat have the best possible chance of survival? I decided on the refrigerator.
6. Study the room. I stored my suitcase in the place where it could best survive. For me that was the seat in the shower which was the most interior and elevated space in the room.
7. Prepare the room as best you can. My room had a balcony overlooking the pool with glass sliding doors. I closed the black out curtains and the decorative curtains and pulled them tight. Next, I pushed all the furniture against the curtains. My hope was if the glass shattered as the wind was hurtling toward my room that the curtains might “slow” the movement of shattered glass.
8. Pack a small backpack. I always carry a foldable backpack when I travel. That pack came in handy. These are the items I stuffed in that pack: water, snacks, rain poncho, travel umbrella, washcloth, handtowel, change of clothes, hand sanitizer, the yellow waterproof bag mentioned above, and toilet paper in a resealable bag. The small backpack could be placed under my pillow in the shelter and would not take up valuable floor space. (No luggage is allowed in shelters)
9. Wear closed toe shoes. If the hurricane caused mass destruction, my feet would need protection.
10. Consider headphones. When in a shelter, one should be respectful of the people around them. We were very fortunate that 400 people in the same room were extremely respectful. They lay down on their makeshift beds, watched movies on their phones, read books, or spent time on social media. The only disturbance was the sound of a baby crying for about 10 minutes before he fell asleep.
11. Call, FaceTime, or text those you love. It was important to me to have possible final communication with the 3 people I love most in the world. I hoped I would live to see them, but if not, I needed to say I love you once last time. ( I also called upon my husband’s knowledge of buildings to ask where I should sleep in the shelter. He had an immediate answer and also told me how to best escape the storm surge if that should happen.)
12. Register with the State Department through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – STEP. This lets the USA know your location.
13. Remember that YOU are responsible for YOU. Use your best judgement, think through possible scenarios, and do the best you can. The tips above aren’t researched nor do they have “hurricane approval”. These are things that made me feel that I was doing the best I could to protect myself in a foreign country with only a hotel room and the resources provided by the hotel.
14. Find your inner strength and do the things that keep you calm. I tend to be level headed and calm under pressure so this was not an issue for me. I prayed, I spoke with loved ones, and prepared as best I could. Then, I turned it over to a greater power than is within me. I tasked myself to share any positive news that I heard throughout the day with those around me. Others around me prayed and called upon clergy for prayers. Some fretted, worried, cried, and needed to continually talk about the impending storm. I passed no judgement. Some even chose to weather the storm with the help of a pretty little bottle. Again, no judgement from me. We all deal with a crisis in our own way.
15. Be thankful when the storm passes. I returned to a room with no broken glass, a suitcase still in the shower, snacks and water still in my backpack, my favorite hat still in the refrigerator and no need for the little yellow waterproof bag that held my valuables. Others in Mexico were not so lucky. I am thankful for the experience, thankful that the storm weakened and thankful for the true dedication of the Mexican people who fed us, kept us safe, and did it all with a smile. I am forever grateful and humbled by their dedication to the guests knowing their own families were weathering the storm alone. We were blessed.
Maybe 2020 is looking up.
On a Tuesday afternoon, I received a text. “Want to go camping in the mountains of North Carolina?” Let’s see…the mountains, fresh air, hiking, streams, and a chance to spend the weekend with my favorite daughter. That would be a resounding, “YES!”
We started our journey with a stop in Cades Cove, Tennessee. The drive through the cove is always a favorite and a chance to experience America during a simpler time. The views are never ending and we almost always spot bear and deer somewhere along the drive. We saw both but could only get a photo of a very patient deer.
After leaving Cades Cove, we drove to Pigeon Forge where we spent the night and had the opportunity to eat at a restaurant with exceptional food. If you find yourself hungry in this town, stop at Bullfish Grill and get the cilantro lime chicken. It is divine! The homemade bread is addictive.
Now, for the reason we came. The camping trip. We drove to Topton, North Carolina to join the Trail Dames at Appletree Group Campground in the Nantahala Forest.
It is a campground designed for more than 125 people but there were less than 20 Trail Dames so we were able to get our favorite spot…a bit of land by the creek. Sleeping to the gentle sounds of the creek is heaven.
We endured a night of rain but the next day was gorgeous! A perfect day for a hike. We settled on the Bartram Trail which took us on a trek right alongside a stream. Mikella had chosen the trail and invited a fellow Trail Dame, Tiffany, to come along for the hike.
It was an enjoyable hike only cut short by a huge felled tree that had us saying…Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go around it. Guess we will turn around and go back the way we came. It was ok because we had something very important to do.
Take off our shoes….
Hang our hammocks…
Climb into our hammock….
It was a short nap because we had to get up to make dinner and enjoy a nice evening fire.
Around the fire, there was a discussion as to whether we’d like to climb up to Wayah Bald to see sunrise the next morning. It sounded great at 9 pm and we were all in. At 5 am, it didn’t seem quite as exciting. But, these two ladies got up and navigated our way in the dark to catch that sunrise.
It was worth the trip. Beautiful views.
Mikella insisted that I take a picture in my “outfit” for seeing sunrise. I threw a khaki dress on over my leggings and shirt that I slept in. But, then I was cold so I threw on my long sleeve aqua fishing shirt. I was still cold so I threw on my fuschia colored jacket and ran out into the dark without brushing my hair. When I saw the picture she took, I knew why she was laughing at my “outfit”. Before you judge…remember that there are no mirrors in the woods!
As the sun rose and we began to look around, we realized that the Bartram Trail and the Appalachian Trail meet here on Wayah Bald. We retraced the steps where Copper and David would have hiked as they made their way to Maine on the A.T.
After enjoying sunrise, we made our way back to camp to pack up for home. It had been a wonderful few days spent with one of my favorite people on earth.
Waking up in Crater Lake National Park with the sun beaming through my window was quite a different scene from yesterday’s big fat snowflakes. What a gorgeous day!
I couldn’t wait to see the lake again to see how it had changed with the difference in lighting. When I had my first glance, I realized what a gift yesterday had been. I had seen the lake in winter and today I was seeing it in spring. Two days…two seasons.
Unfortunately, today was my last day in the park and I chose to exit through the North Entrance so that I could complete the West Rim Drive. As often happens, the north is colder and more frozen. It certainly was the case in this park. But, again, beauty abounds in nature in many forms.
As the exit to the park grew closer and I was feeling sad about leaving, I almost missed my second gift.
I had the opportunity to see where David would come out of the woods in Crater Lake NP!
I knew that he would walk right behind Mazama Cabins and then snake around the Lodge and up along the West Rim as the map above shows. What I didn’t know is that he would come out right by the road.
I couldn’t stand it. I just had to hike a little on this trail just to see what he might see. It is going to be a beautiful journey.
I exited the park toward Diamond Lake and stopped for one last snow covered shot of Mt. Bailey. What a great place for a picnic.
The last stretch of road along Oregon’s Scenic Byway followed a stream for many miles. With the window down, the lull of the water, the wind in my hair and the smell of fresh clean air, I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect ending to my journey with two very unexpected gifts included.
Since I started this journey in early June going north through California, my days have been gloriously sunny and beautiful. Today, my luck ran out.
More about that later.
I started my journey from Mt. Shasta this morning and for the first time since I left home had a proper breakfast. It was delightful. Being full and ready for a big day, I headed out to see Lake Siskiyou. Following the GPS, my route encouraged me to turn right on the North Shore Road and this beautiful Wagon Creek Bridge was my first point of interest. The bridge allows for a loop trail around the lake.
Leaving the lake, I took Forest Road 26 to get lost for awhile in the Shasta Trinity National Forest. I wasn’t literally lost. Just lost in my thoughts and the beauty of the land. I didn’t know where the road would end but I was enjoying the ride.
Coming off of the Forest Road, I headed towards Crater Lake National Park and just happened to come upon a little town who has found a way to make some money. I won’t spoil it by saying the words, I’ll let you see for yourself in the photos.
After passing through the town, I continued on via the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway through even more beautiful scenery before entering Crater Lake National Park.
Just a few minutes later, I came upon the Southern Entrance to Crater Lake National Park
Notice the bright blue skies in the last picture? Look what I found as I continued to drive up toward the rim of the crater. Total surprise!
There wasn’t much to see when I got to the rim where I SHOULD be able to see Crater Lake. Guess what I saw? FOG! Not a glimpse of the huge lake. The lake that is the deepest in the United States at 1,943 feet.
Crater Lake is where my luck ran out. I had driven all the way from Southern California to Oregon to see fog. Bummer! The folks at the lodge said that this was expected for the next two days along with rain and snow. So, I went to bed with little hope of seeing the lake and woke up to see big fat flakes of snow coming down right outside my cabin window. I must admit that I ran outside like a child to see the majesty of it all. It was beautiful!
I spent the morning in the lodge hoping beyond hope that the sun would come out and let me get just a little peek at what I had driven so far to see. Instead, it kept snowing and snowing and snowing.
Then, at 2:15 pm, my miracle came. The sun came out, dissipated the fog, and the snow stopped. Wow, just wow!
Good things really do come to those who wait. Even if it takes sitting by a window in the lodge for 4 hours trying to believe in a miracle.
Then, at precisely 3:02, the lake was shrouded in fog and the snow began to fall.
For 47 minutes, I saw one of the most beautiful sites in the world. I am blessed. Now, it can snow, snow, snow. Mother Nature, I don’t mind a bit. 😊
Do you remember when you were young and often said, “I can’t wait till I get old enough to….”. Well, today, I had an “I’m finally old enough” moment. I drove my car to the entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park and announced to the park ranger that I would like to purchase a Senior Citizen Lifetime National Park Pass. I said, “I am so excited to be old enough to get one!” He laughed and said, “I’m happy for you”. His comment was very anticlimactic for an event I have waited 63 years for!
After driving from Lodi, California where I had a very pleasant lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in 10 years, I made my way Mineral Pass.
Mineral Pass has Highlands Ranch Lodge and the Village at Children’s Meadow as an option for lodging. The lodge is beautiful but the Village was practical so I’m sure you know which I chose. The meadow was very inviting with wide open spaces and beautiful horses.
I had an overwhelming sense that I needed to invite Laura Ingalls and Anne of Green Gables to picnic with me.
Upon entering the park, from the Southwest side, I realized again that the park was going to be fairly void of visitors. But, a nice lady stopped behind me and asked if she could take my picture.
The Kohm Ya-mah-nee Visitor Center was closed due to Covid-19, but a masked Park Ranger was available toanswer questions.
The first point of interest in the park is the Sulphuric Works area where mud pots send steam into the air along with a very stinky sulphuric smell. NASA is working with Lassen NP to study microorganisms that can survive in the thermal mud pots. They may also explain life in other universes such as Mars. I learned that this study is called astrobiology. A new term for me.
Leaving the mud pots, the roads snake and wind as the altitude increases. Then, comes a nice surprise of gorgeous snow!
Even Emerald Lake still looks emerald in its frozen state. And yes, that is a fisherman trying to get a bite under the ice.
Driving around the mountain brought more and more beautiful views. Upon arriving at Kings Creek, I got the perfect shot of Lassen Peak.
Driving further down the mountain, I came upon Summit Lake and found a couple in a blow up raft who had the entire lake to themselves.
At this point, my homemade cranberry walnut bread and turkey sandwich laden with cream cheese and cranberry sauce was calling my name. Manzanita Lake seemed the perfect spot to have a picnic lunch with the ducks, the fish and the HUGE blue jays.
After lunch, I wanted to check out the Manzanita Lake Cabins. These are camping cabins with no water or electricity. They looked nice though. This is one of two places that you can stay in the park. The other is at Drakesbad Guest Ranch.
Exiting the park, I couldn’t help but think about what a beautiful walk David was going to have when he arrives in Lassen sometime in August. Neither was it lost on me that I had driven to Lassen in 3 days and it would take him 3 months to walk there!
As I entered the town of Old Station, I had been told that the PCT was just .03 off the highway. I just had to go take a look! The first picture is where David will be coming FROM and the 2nd photo is where he will be walking TO when he arrives in Old Station. So, I walked a bit on both sides so that I could tease him about my hiking the PCT in Lassen National Forest before he did!😜
It was time to be back on the road again to head to my next destination: Mt. Shasta. Hwy. 89 took me right to it. The view was fabulous!
When I opened the door to my hotel room, this is the view from my window.
It has been a good day.
In my quest to visit all of the US National Parks, I made my way from Ventura Beach to Pinnacles National Park right outside of Soledad, California.
It was a gorgeous day for a 4 hour drive from Ventura to Pinnacles NP. The Hwy. 101 drive took me through mountains, steep grades, the Salinas River Valley and through agricultural bottomlands including pimento pepper fields and vast wine vineyards.
Arriving in Soledad, I learned that it was named after the 13th Mission established in California and is known as the most technologically advanced and economically productive agricultural region and is known as the “Salad Bowl of the World”. It was a beautiful green (and purple) drive. Can’t forget the fields of radicchio!
After passing through Soledad, the road into the park is very solitary and narrow and often becomes one way as it twists and turns.
The most surprising thing about the park was that I was the only one there. The park had just reopened on the western side.
The park has a strong desert feel and then opens up into these craggy rock pinnacles. Visitors often climb here and also make their way into the many caves.
It is definitely not the prettiest national park I’ve been to but I think the hiking, caving, and rock climbing would be excellent. The park is also the place where the California Condor was reintroduced.
As I exited the park, I couldn’t help but notice this last picture. A picture of time passing on.
After I dropped David off on the PCT, I drove to Ventura Beach to catch a boat to the Channel Islands National Park. It is one of the least visited national parks due to access.
The boat ride is 1-1/2 hours to either Santa Cruz or Anacopa Islands which are part of the Channel Islands NP.
Upon arrival in Ventura, I booked my fare to Santa Cruz and settled in for the night. Five-thirty AM the next morning arrived along with an email stating that the trip had been cancelled due to stormy seas.
Undeterred, I booked the trip again for the next day even though the agent said, “I’m not gonna lie…it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.” Pfffsh! I love the ocean, I love boats, I’m going! Tomorrow!
Finding something to do in Ventura Beach wasn’t difficult. The National Park Center, the beaches, the shops, and restaurants provided plenty of entertainment.
Finally, the morning of my projected “bumpy ride” arrived. After loading up on sunscreen, layering up, packing my pack with food and water and downing a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin, I was ready to go! Side note: There is no water or food on the island. There IS a pit toilet. 😩
The ride was indeed bumpy but the day was gloriously sunny and warm.
Upon arrival at the park, I learned that at one time the island was used for ranching. Mainly sheep. It was a family business and over the years with greed and family arguments, the land was eventually given over to the National Park Service and Nature Conservancy. The National Park has one side of the island and the Conservancy has the other side.
There are two major critters that everyone tries to see while here: The Santa Cruz Island Fox and the Island Scrub Jay. I got lucky and saw both. My reflexes weren’t fast enough for my own pictures but here are the critters as seen through the lens of another photographer.
The island is beyond beautiful even though the hiking goes up, up, up. Upon arrival at the top, the views are breathtaking.
There’s even a fair amount of plant life. I love seeing little flowers blooming among all the scrub and thistle. These little flowers made themselves known.
Finally, 3:30 arrived and it was time to head back to Ventura Beach. The wind had picked up considerably and as the man said, “It’ gonna be a bumpy ride!” But, we masked up, social distanced and enjoyed the ride back home.
The Corona virus is a thief.
Covid-19 stole three big trips from me: Hawaii with my daughter, South Africa with my son, and Alaska with my husband.
The good news is that we are all healthy and the dreaded Covid hasn’t robbed us of our health or life. We are blessed.
My son, David, also thought that he had been robbed. His plan for 2020 was to hike the Pacific Crest Trail … a 2,650 mile trail that begins at the border of Mexico and ends at the border of Canada. But, officials told the would be PCT hikers to stay home. So, he did.
Then in May, word quickly spread that the trail was slowly opening back up and hikers were welcome.
David got his gear together, invited me to head to San Diego with him, and off we went. We were a little nervous about the airport, the people, the masks, and social distancing but we believed in our ability to “be smart” as we traveled. The airport was a ghost town and so was the train. The airplanes were half full and impeccably clean! Food was given to us in ziplock bags and everyone wore face masks in the airport and on the plane.
We arrived in San Diego and found that airport to be empty as well. It was a strange feeling. We quickly adapted and began to enjoy the few days we had together before David would spend the next 5 months in the desert and mountains of California, Oregon and Washington.
We went to Coronado Island and had some excellent Mexican food at Miguel’s.
We were saddened to see that the fabulous Coronado Hotel which opened in 1888 and has been continuosly open for 132 years was closed due to Covid-19.
Heading back across the bridge into San Diego, we had some free time to enjoy some of the restaurants and breweries
Then, on National Trails Day, with a loaded down pack and 5+ gallons of water, I dropped my son off in the little desert town of Agua Dulce. It was a small community with lots of horses on both sides of the canyon road.
To get to the trailhead, it was up a gully washed rutted road that went straight up. Once there, I knew it was only minutes before he headed off into the desert alone to fulfill his dream of hiking the PCT. There was only one thing left to do…take as many pictures and get as many hugs as I could before I said, “Have a blast and hike on!”
See that dot of blue headed into the desert? That was my final visual. It was a happy and sad sight all rolled into one. David living his dream. Me missing him already.
As I drove away, this was the first sign I saw as I stopped at the red light. I hope it’s a sign of good things to come for my first born and favorite son.
If you would like to follow his journey for the next five months, you can find his blog at www.rutteric.com.
If you feel like sending up some good wishes, prayers, or positive thoughts into the universe, they would be greatly appreciated.
Sabi Sabi and Umkumbe Lodge
We left Maun and flew to Johannesburg where we spent the night at the Protea Hotel O.R.Tambo. It was quite a fun hotel as the entire thing was decorated with airplane parts.
Our only purpose here was a stopover on our flight from Johannesburg to Nelspruit to get to Sabi Sands. When we arrived at the gate at the airport, I was quite surprised to see this sign. Not gonna see that in the Atlanta Airport!
We arrived at the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport at 11am and quickly made our way to the exit where our driver was waiting to take us to the Umkumbe River Lodge. As a reminder, Umkumbe means rhinoceros and that was the only animal we had not observed in the wild. We hoped the name of the lodge was a good sign as we were on a mission to see a rhinoceros, painted dogs and hyenas.
Choosing Sabi Sands was intentional because it shares a no-fence border with Kruger National Park. Since the Big 5 don’t know about invisible borders, the animals roam freely into Sabi Sands.The difference is that Kruger often has long lines of jeeps with drivers required to stay on roads. Sabi Sands is private land so jeeps can go off-road and there are often no vehicles anywhere nearby.
As we drove the bumpy dirt road to Sabi Sands and Umkumbe Lodge, the animals began to appear out of nowhere, First, there was a kudu, then some zebras, then a giant giraffe looking down on us and we hadn’t even reached the lodge!
Hopes were high for animal sightings on our drive. We were greeted by Sam, who would become our guide, and taken to our room through an arbor of bougainvillea. It was in full bloom and beautiful! Our room was HUGE with two beds, a sitting area, an enormous bathroom with an outdoor shower and indoor tub. The patio looked out over the river and elephants and other wildlife were out there just walking by our room and checking us out. Our room was the Wild Dog room and there were rhinoceros cookies on our beds. More signs that MAYBE we would get to see our rhinoceros, painted dogs, and hyenas. We had just enough time to eat some lunch and get ready for our first game drive.
At 4pm, we headed out to see what animals we could find. We hadn’t been on the drive more than 5 minutes before we saw the most amazing sight: a brand new baby elephant born just hours before. The baby still had afterbirth on it and her skin was pinkish in places. The mother had afterbirth on her rear and legs. The little baby was so precious. She kept trying to suckle the mother but she was too short! The mother finally stopped where the baby could reach the nipples. It was fun watching the baby trying to keep up, but kept bumping into the mother. She couldn’t get the speed right. It was such an amazing sight and the guide said the baby couldn’t be more than a few hours old. In fact, the guide said she’d never seen a newborn this young and kept taking picture after picture documenting the event. You can hear her commentary in the 2nd video. She is in awe of what she is seeing.
We finally left the baby and mother and of course the aunts who protect the mom and baby to have some quiet time to themselves. As we continued to drive, we immediately saw fields of impala, lots of kudus, giraffes, zebras and the cutest little wart hogs. They looked just like Pumba!
As the sun sank lower in the sky, it was time for a traditional sundowner. This time the sun really showed out and gave us a marvelous sunset.
As we were headed back to the lodge, our guide and tracker spotted a hyena. This was one of David’s top requests. He wanted to see hyena in the wild. The hyena crossed the road just in front of us, stopped to lay down on the edge of the road, looked at us a while and then stood up and took off into the bush.
We headed back to the lodge where we were greeted with a nice dinner and a roaring fire. Then it was off to bed for another early and cold morning game drive.
On the morning game drive, we were first greeted by a rare sighting of a grey Duiker. David spotted it in the brush where they like to stay since they are small and hunted for their meat. They are solitary animals and a member of the antelope family. We felt fortunate to see one.
Then we spotted giraffes and wildebeest having breakfast on the plains as well as a pack of zebras and herd of elephant.
We also spotted one of my favorite birds several times…the lilac breasted roller. The photos below were taken by one of our Safari group members, Ashley. She is so talented and shared these photos with me because she knows how much I love this bird.
We witnessed a small bird that seemed to be on all the animals hides. This is when we were told about the importance of the oxpecker bird. He is responsible for eating all the insects and bugs that could cause disease among the animals. They eat from the animals ear, their rear, or anywhere there are tasty bugs. Oxpeckers are extremely important to the stability of nature.
After driving for a while we stopped for coffee, tea, and biscuits out in the bush. Just as we have sundowners, we have sunrise tea/coffee and biscuits. After a light pre-breakfast, we drove along and encountered two hyenas that were not happy with each other, They had a little snarky exchange with each other a couple of times and then went their separate ways. I guess hyenas can wake up on the wrong side of the bed too.
As we made our way back toward camp for “real” breakfast, we came across the same little family of warthogs. They are very skittish so have the camera ready and rolling if a picture or video is desired.
Our next sightings were of kudu and wildebeest. One little wildebeest did NOT like us being there and had a staring match with us. We also came up another hyena so David definitely got his wish of seeing hyena in the wild.
After breakfast, David and I showered and enjoyed some free time by the pool just reading and enjoying the beautiful day. We also spent some time on our back porch watching the elephants, monkeys, and impala as they grazed and played right outside our back door.
Then it was time for the afternoon game drive. We enjoyed a little birding and found a Burchell’s Coucal, another Lilac Breasted Roller and aYellow Billed Hornbill. The ever present impala showed themselves and I got a picture of their rear end. They are lovingly called the McDonalds of the bush because their backside looks like the McDonalds Arch.
And then it happened. We began to see signs of a rhinoceros in the area. I didn’t want to get my hopes up but I just couldn’t help it. The anticipation grew as we saw piles of dung. Rhinos leave “messages” for other rhinos. The uniqueness of the smell in poop can tell a rhino about other rhinos in the area. A rhino will sniff the dung pile deeply, shuffle through it, then defecate in the same spot. This marks his dominance. We also saw evidence of a rhino mud bath. And then, as we rounded the corner, there he was…Mr. Umkumbe himself….a rhino!
We had officially seen all of the Big 5 in the wild! I was a happy girl! I don’t think Mr. Umkumbe was too happy with us being there though. He let us gawk at him, then he stood up and walked away. Be sure to watch the video. He does give us one sign that he was excited to see us.
As we drove away, the water buffalo made themselves known as we headed to a beautiful spot by the lake for our last Sundowner. These Sundowner stops with beverages and snacks had become a very special part of our safari. It was a time to enjoy chatting with the jeep mates and reflect about what had been seen on that day’s drive. Most importantly, it was a chance to stop and truly enjoy those amazing African sunsets.
As we drove back towards the lodge, Africa gave us one last thrill. Another opportunity to see the elusive leopard! She was scent marking at the time we saw her.The tracker was very careful not to shine the light in her eyes because it can limit an animal’s ability to protect themselves if their sight is temporarily impaired. These trackers and guides care deeply about these animals.
Back at Umkumbe Lodge, we enjoyed our last dinner in Africa. As we arrived back at camp, I invited our guide, Sam, to sit with us. Then another family of 4 asked us to sit with them. So, we moved our tables and chairs together. As we began talking, another couple joined in the conversation and we invited them to join their table with ours. Pretty soon, we had one long table and enjoyed the evening sharing stories and memories and scenes from the day. It was a heartwarming “last supper” in Africa. It’s interesting how the people we met on Safari bonded so quickly. We all felt so blessed to be in the middle of this amazing land.
As we stood to leave the table, two gentlemen from the Netherlands asked us if we’d like to joining them at the fire and share some wine. We accepted and then an offer was made to David to try a Netherlands cigar. He accepted and the men sat smoking a cigar while I enjoyed the conversation. Then, the inevitable happened. The fire slowly died and it was time to return to the room and pack for an early morning departure. What a day…a rhino and a leopard!
We took one last opportunity to visit with our guide, Sam, before we left the following morning. It was her birthday and she had the day off. We asked to see her to give her a nice tip and share how much we had enjoyed our experience. She was a great guide, a knowledgeable guide and a sincere animal conservator.
I dreamed of going on an African Safari for more years than I can count. Two travel folders bulged at the seams with ideas, thoughts, pictures, and plans for this amazing trip. David and I labored over where, when, how, and how long throughout several months. All I can say is “Wow! We made some good choices”. The Big 5 were seen in multiples. The guides and trackers were true professionals. The lodges put us up close and personal to the wildlife and the people we encountered were so special. I have traveled all over the world and this trip touched parts of my soul that I didn’t know existed. It opened my eyes to the REAL Africa…not the one portrayed in books and on television. I experienced the REAL people…not just the tour guides and hotel personnel. A friend who has been to Africa many times said, “This won’t be your last visit to Africa”. I’m ready. I want to see more, experience more, feel more and be in tune with nature in a way that can never be described. A way that can only be experienced. Africa awaits and I am ready.
When we arrived at the Maun Airport, we were greeted by a driver who took us on a quick tour of town and then whisked us away to the Cresta Maun hotel.
We had the afternoon free to rest or explore. David and I did neither. As we chatted with two of the guests on our tour, Ashley and Shaun, we realized that there was more to be seen before we left Africa. We had witnessed four of the Big Five in the wild but we still had not seen the rhino. Our safari seemed incomplete. We originally planned to go to the Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge in Sabi Sands(a private reserve right outside of Kruger National Park). At the last minute, in the interest of time and money, we had chosen to leave that portion of our trip for another time. But, now that we were here, it seemed as though things were unfinished. So, David and I made the last minute decision to change our flight back home to 3 days later and spend 3 days in Sabi Sands looking for the elusive Rhino. It took us quite some time to find a lodge with availability and rearrange our flights, but we managed to get it done.
We still had one last night with our group and we would spend it in Maun with a native family who would cook dinner for us and engage us in stories of Botswana.The lady who offered her home for this experience was raised in Maun but left to go to the United States where she was educated. She came back to her native land and pledged to help the children learn that there was a way out of poverty. So, she bought some land, made it her home and started a mission. The land became a place where children could come to learn. She encourages them to bring anything they can find on the side of the road, in their home, on the street, in the trash etc. and then she teaches them how to up-cycle it or make something from it. Examples: The chairs we sat on were old tires with woven rope seating and a homemade cushion to make them comfortable. A stick on the side of the road became a beautiful cooking spoon (which I bought). Old magazines became necklaces. Soda can tabs became coasters and hot mats. The children then sell their wares at the site they are made. Visitors have dinner, hear stories of Botswana, browse the goods for sale and the money goes directly to the children. Genius!
The stories told this evening were of Botswana cultural norms, mores, and beliefs. She shares these stories with visitors and locals so that the heritage can be preserved and passed to the younger generation.
The food we were served had different names but was somewhat similar to what we might have in the south. Something like collard greens, something like rice, something like black eyed peas, chicken, barbecue pork, butternut squash and their staple, Pap or Ugali. Pap is a fluffy porridge made from maize meal (coarsely ground maize). Depending on how it’s cooked, it can be runny, soft, or stiff and almost flavorless. It is the sustenance of Africa and is made so that it can be eaten with the hands in most homes. Ugali eating etiquette requires that the Ugali be placed on a plate in the center of the table where everyone takes a small amount, forms it into a ball, depresses a hole in the center and uses it to dip the stew. Ugali is on the bottom right of this photo.
Before the night ended we received drumming lessons and for a minute we all sounded pretty good with all the different types of drums in symphony! Drums were originally used by tribes as a form of communication. Today, drums are still an important part of African culture and are used in celebrating ceremonial events and rituals within a community.
It was a sad evening as our group had become very close on our Safari adventures and this was our last night as a group. Experiencing a meal with a local family was the perfect way to say to goodbye to Botswana together.
The Okavango Delta, Botswana
Today, we took a trip to the Kasane International Airport to board a little 10 passenger puddle jumper so that we could continue our safari in the Okavango Delta. This area is listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and I must admit, I am so glad I did.
We were told that we could only pack in a small duffel bag due to limitations of weight on the small planes we would be traveling on. David and I were really glad we packed light. After all, what do you really need on safari but hiking pants, some long sleeve khaki shirts, good shoes, some socks, a warm jacket, gloves and a good hat to keep the sun off your face. OH, and lots and lots of sunscreen.
Our little airplane landed in a grassy field where the terminal was a tiny little building that also served as the luggage carousel in case of rain. After the plane left us in the grassy field, we had about a ten minute walk to get to our boat that would take us to our lodge. We had no idea what we were going to experience.
We boarded the double-decker pontoon with our backpacks and set sail for our lodging. We were welcomed to Mopiri Safari Lodge with traditional African songs of the Delta and warm smiles. (When you hear them sing in the video, you will also hear someone making a high pitch sound like a bird in the woods. That is part of their culture and part of every song and dance. We tried in vain to make this sound, but were never successful).
The staff escorted us to the lodge and there we received our welcome fruit drink and tent numbers. Juliette gave us the introduction to our room and explained that we must make sure we latch the door each time we go in or out. She showed us how the monkeys have “attacked” our door trying to get in! We were also instructed not to leave any snacks on the table or we would have ‘guests’ when we returned. The video shows the inside of our tent and the monkey claw marks where they tried to get inside.
We were instructed to be back in our tents before sunset since wild animals roam freely. If we went back after dark, we had to be escorted by staff. I learned why. Staff encounter wild animals all the time and are trained on how to respond with each type of animal. Visitors are not trained and would most likely respond with flight mode resulting in a bad ending. I had the opportunity to see what a herd of elephants could do as I made my way to the spa. A massage had been booked in the open air pavilion and it was located about a 10 minute walk from my tent. I was escorted there and the escort kept having to remove logs and debris from the path. She said, “Please excuse the mess, but a herd of elephants came through last night and didn’t use their manners”. (And, by the way, the massage was divine! 110 minute massage for 60 dollars with African oils and scrubs. If I could only relive that one more time.)
It is impossible to describe how very special the Mopiri Safari Lodge is. The staff became like family. They wanted nothing more than for all of us to have an incredible authentic experience and we did. They sang to us their Botswana song: Beautiful Botswana each night we were there. They made a fire for us to enjoy, cooked incredible tasting food, visited with us and told us stories in the evening.
When exploring the Delta, we made our way through the narrow passageways filled with papyrus, lily pads, and trees in 6 seater aluminum boats. We learned so much about the flora and fauna as well as the ways that nature is used by the native Botswana people. The Botswana people waste nothing. Seeds, roots, flowers…it is all used or eaten in some way.
On our second night in the Delta we had the opportunity to make our way by boat to a fly camp. What does this mean? It means canvas tents, cots, and an outhouse. This would be how the early explorers enjoyed Safari. It was our choice if we wanted to go to Fly Camp or stay at Mopiri Lodge but David and I weren’t going to miss a thing. So we took just a tiny backpack with toothbrush, night clothes etc. and jumped in the little boat to go. We were pleasantly surprised at how comfortable these meager lodgings were and truly AMAZED at the incredible food we were served by cooks who made a 4 course meal over a campfire! Breakfast the next morning was equally as amazing. I made my way to the back of the camp to talk to the cooks and tell them how in awe I was of their culinary abilities in such meager surroundings.
After a morning hike to learn more about the environs and animals, we made our way back to the creek where we were greeted by local people who would take us up close and personal through the Delta on their traditional form of travel, the mokoro. A mokoro is a hollowed out tree turned into a boat. It glides through the grasses as a “poler” takes it into narrow passages among tall grasses. It is easy to be sitting right next to wildlife in these little boats. All of the polers were male except for one lone woman. We called her the “super poler”. Being so close to the water gave a new appreciation of the Delta. The mokoro and the waterways are the highway in the Delta. It is just a quieter and slower form of transport. A traffic jam in the delta consists of one boat passing another in the narrow channels.
Before we made our way back to fly camp, the locals shared handcrafted items that were for sale and we enjoyed seeing their talents. They had some beautiful items that took hours to make. David bought a little wooden Mokoro as a memory from our trip and a means of enhancing the local economy.
Leaving fly camp, we made our way back to Mopiri lodge for a last afternoon safari and a last sundowner in this beautiful part of Africa. Once again, the sun showed out as we enjoyed snacks and drinks and watched the sun fade. Several tried their hand at fishing but the fish weren’t interested.
In thinking about leaving the next morning, our entire group was very sad. We were trying to find a way to show the staff there how much their care for us had meant to the entire group. Ashley said, “ I wish we could sing them a song like they did for us to show our appreciation.” I said, I can write one if everyone will sing. So I wrote the song in about 5 minutes flat as my heart was full and the words poured out. The group practiced it once and then we sang our song to the staff. We cried, they cried, I know it sounds crazy that 10 people could get so close to the staff of this Safari Lodge. The video shows our group singing the last verse of the song. You can witness the Mopiri staff appreciation and celebration as we ended. They later told us that no other guests had ever done anything that made them feel so special and connected.
I especially felt close to Juliette who was the manager/mother of the group. We just connected somehow and I wanted my picture made with her. I stood behind her chair so that she would be the central focus of the picture. As I moved behind her chair, she stretched her arms up high and grasped my hands. THAT is the kinship we felt.
Before I left, I gave my sandals to the server who had taken such good care of me. I love lemons in my water and he made sure that those lemons were there every meal and that my water glass was always full. He immediately put on the sandals and they fit perfectly. They were of the TEVA style and defintiely unisex. He was proud to have them and I was happy to give them.
As we made our way to the boat and pulled away from the dock, we listened as they sang their Beautiful Botswana song and goodbye chants. We all continued to wave and wave and wave until we were out of sight. The boat was silent for a few minutes as we processed our leaving differently. What an amazing experience we had. None of us could have planned it or expected the outcome.
We were boated back to the grassy field where the small plane would arrive and take us to Maun. While we waited, we stood under a tree and continued to share our thoughts on the experience we had just enjoyed. As we flew over the delta towards Maun and witnessed above what we had experienced below, it was easy to feel quite insignificant in this massive delta.
Botswana and Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park is listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and I certainly know why. We began our journey into Chobe NP with a cruise down the Chobe River. For me, the most exciting part of this river safari was the close proximity to the elephants. Our first sighting of the day was this giant crocodile but I’m not very fond of crocodiles so I only took one picture of him. I know he has a very important role to play in the ecosystem but for some reason crocodiles are not very appealing.
One of my favorite videos from this day is of an elephant who has eating down to an art form. He pulls the grasses up with his trunk, shakes all the dirt and yucky stuff off by slinging it back and forth and then puts only the tasty clean grass into his mouth.I loved watching him eat.
My next favorite thing was watching the elephants swim. I’ve seen them swim before but had never seen them swim underwater for such long periods of time.Technically, they could swim underwater for as long as they desire because they have their own built in snorkel.
Elephants form deep family bonds and live in herds with a matriarchal head. This means the oldest, and often largest, female in the group will lead the herd. A family usually includes the mother, her sisters, daughters and their babies. Hmmmm…..what’s missing from this family? Where is the daddy? Male elephants grow up and leave the herd. The elder bull elephants are responsible for teaching the young males. We learned that teenage males are the ones to be most wary of. We actually had to back the jeep down the roadway to get away from one young male who was strutting his stuff. The guides don’t take chances. This is one of my favorite pictures of a baby elephant.
We watched as an elephant herd crossed the river with the mother leading the way, the baby close behind and the aunts right behind the baby. Elephants cross a river in single file in order to protect the young. There is a concerted order and they all file into position. After all, those crocodiles are lurking everywhere. The videos on this blog post only show 4 or 5 elephants crossing but we witnessed an entire herd. who were all scattered out on land, methodically and slowly creating a long line as they crossed the river together. Each elephant has his position and waits until his turn to cross.
Hippos were lounging around in the water as we cruised down the Chobe River and didn’t do too much moving. They just sort of stay in one place and seem perfectly comfortable around the elephants and other animals in the water. They stand up occasionally, give a giant yawn, and then go stand in the water. We learned that if a hippo ever gets after you, head for deep water. They don’t swim but rather walk on the bottom. If you head for land, the hippo will win every time. Hippos are very territorial and take care of anything in their territory. The word I would use for hippos on the days we saw them is lazy!
Close by the hippos were the Water Buffalo. They didn’t bother even looking up at us. They just kept eating and eating and eating.
Bird sightings were a big part of the wildlife we saw. The most unusual was a rare sighting of a Goliath Heron. These are fairly rare to see on safari and one just strutted his stuff in front of us for quite a while right on the river bank. We also saw Magpie Shrike, Kori Bustard, Crowned Hornbill, African Eagle, Lilac Breasted Rollers (my favorite) and Go Away Birds (called this because that’s the call: Go Away, Go Away, Go Away).
This was a late afternoon safari drive and we ended the day with a traditional sundowner. This time our sundowner was on a boat. The boat was eased into an area where we could watch the sun set and drinks and snacks were set out for all to enjoy. Wine, Gin and Tonic, Soft drinks, fruit juices and the usual nuts, popcorn, dried fruit and biltong. We are all addicted to the dried fruit and we enjoy the dried meats as well. Everything here just seems extra healthy. No preservatives and additives in the food. The sun really showed out tonight and gave us an incredible sunset!. Then we headed back to Chobe Safari Lodge.
After a restful night of sleep we were out on safari again the next morning at 6am which is the standard time for a safari drive to begin. They are prompt with departure so being on time is a must. David and I were always early because we were eager to start the day and find out what awaited us in the savannah or river. We are SO glad that we didn’t miss today’s drive because what we saw was AMAZING!
We were driving through the savannah looking for animals and our driver, Samson, was educating us about different animals, behaviors, and habitats. All of a sudden he stops talking, puts the jeep into drive and takes off at an alarming rate of speed. We had no idea what happened but then we heard the word “leopard”. We sped through the savannah on a “Ferrari Safari’ and we had no idea what we were about to witness. But….Samson did!
Someone had radioed him in his earpiece that there was a leopard on the prowl in a certain area. With Samson’s expert driving and maneuvering we ended up with front row seats watching a leopard in hunting mode…shoulders down, body long, quiet strides, and an unwavering focus. Just watch it in the video below. What a beautiful animal and what focus he had. Samson later told us that leopards are incredible hunters because of their stealth and focus.
Down by the river were lots of monkeys doing their morning grooming. I had fun watching a little baby monkey run away from its daddy, play with the other monkeys and then run back to daddy to protect him. He would just wrap his little arms around daddy and hold on tight. You might wonder how I knew it was daddy. Well…..he showed us.
In the sand were remains of giraffes and water buffalo . I’m getting quite an education about nature. The giraffe skull you see in the picture below is a remnant of a kill from 2018. All that is left are the ossicones of the skull. The big animals eat their fill of the meat, the vultures come in and eat the remains and then the hyenas finish off the bones for the calcium. Nature works perfectly, even if it isn’t pretty, when man doesn’t interfere. The Cape Buffalo horns were very interesting to see up close.
The night ended with another beautiful sunset and we enjoyed the nightly sundowner.
We returned to the lodge at dusk and it was beautiful with the lights shining as we brought the boat to shore. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner and had a southern delicacy. They spell it a little differently though. We had a good laugh and made some corny jokes about the dumblings. But, they tasted good.
After our exciting day, we couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow might hold.
Painted Dog Conservancy and Hwange National Park.
The day had finally come…our African Safari was about to commence. On the way to the Painted Dog Conservancy which was our first stop of the day, we passed a lady on the side of the road selling Bird Plum and Baobab Fruit. Our guide wanted us to taste each of them so she asked the driver to stop and she purchased some. They were both tasty and the baobab fruit has more Vitamin C than an orange. Pictures of the fruit are below.
We made our way to the Painted Dog Conservancy to learn about the plight of the dogs. They are very reclusive and of course run in packs but are currently endangered. The dogs are despised by the locals because they kill and eat livestock when there is not enough food. This causes the locals to teach their children to also despise the dogs. The conservancy was started to teach the children the truth about the animals through storytelling. The center is so well done and the story that is told through murals on the wall would touch any human’s heart. Each elementary age child has training in the center and then observe two painted dogs in captivity that will never be able to be released into the wild due to their injuries from snares. It was heartbreaking to watch the animals there but we learned that almost all of the animals brought into the center ARE released back into the wild and do very well. They are beautiful creatures and certainly deserve a fair chance at life.
Next, it was off to Ivory Safari Lodge near Hwange National Park via open-topped safari jeeps so that we could look for game on the way. We had high hopes of seeing the Big Five and unbelievably we got to see 4 of the big 5 in one park! We were also very lucky because our guide is a lion expert. He is actually the lion expert who put the collar on Cecil and was part of the team who found Cecil’s collar after he had been murdered. For those who don’t know of Cecil, I’ll relay the story. Cecil was a beautiful huge male lion believed to be the largest in Africa. A dentist from the USA wanted to hunt and kill him. Animals cannot be killed in the National Park which is where Cecil made his home by choice. So, this dentist hired poachers to lure him with fresh killed animals to JUST OUTSIDE the national park and that is where Cecil met his death. Was it legal to shoot him outside the park? Yes. But, the bigger question is was it ethical. In my mind that is a big NO! The dentist thought that his money could buy him anonymity but he wasn’t as smart as he thought. After the lion was killed, they took the battery out of Cecil’s collar and buried it so no one would ever know what was done. Well, they weren’t smart enough to know that there are TWO batteries in every collar. So, our guide and another tracker found the collar and uncovered the story.
We saw so many animals that day: zebra, giraffe, elephants, bushboks, impalas, buffalo, springbok, a secretary bird, and too many other birds to mention.
As the sun began to set, we experienced a tradition on African Safaris…a sundowner. At sunset, no matter where you are, the safari vehicles stop and set up a mini cocktail party. The traditional drink is gin and tonic but guests can choose their drink of choice. Snacks of biltong (dried meat), nuts, dried fruit, popcorn, etc are laid out and everyone enjoys celebrating sunset. It’s a great tradition and allows everyone time to enjoy a little social hour.
Our game drive concluded at the lodge where we checked in to thatched roof rondovals. Ours came with a chameleon that came and went through the walls. Another couple had a bush baby that came and went in their hut. Wildlife is truly wild in Africa! The lodge was set right on a watering hole so we watched all the animals come up to the water to drink. It was so cool to be sitting on the front porch and watch the beautiful elephants, impalas, monkeys, etc just walk right by the room. There was also a blind where we could sit to be even closer to the animals….so close you could reach out to touch them. Of course, we didn’t because they are wild animals and need to remain so. Our rooms all had beds with mosquito netting and rooms were prepared for guests by draping the beds in netting and lowering the shades over the windows to keep mosquitos out. There is no electricity after 7pm so any charging needs to be done before that. We could choose to retire to our rooms after dinner or sit by the fire or in the blind to watch the animals. We loved Ivory Lodge. Sleeping with the breeze blowing through made for a peaceful night’s sleep. But, it was up early and on to the safari vehicles for a 6am safari drive the next morning. Or so we thought…
As we were all getting ready for bed with some in pajamas, some in the shower, etc, we heard our guide outside saying “We have spotted a pride of lions. If you want to see them, the safari vehicles are leaving NOW.” So I quickly stripped out of night clothes and into day clothes and coats and gloves and ran to the vehicle. Wow! Am I ever glad I did! We got to observe 7 lions as they crossed near our camp. They were beautiful! Lesson learned…always be ready for a safari drive because the best ones are often sudden and impromptu!
The following morning, bright and early, we grabbed some light breakfast and hopped into the jeeps. It was quite cold out especially while driving down the highway, so we donned warm parkas they had for us and we wore our face masks to keep our faces warm. This time we actually entered the national park and continued some 50km into it where we were met with a very special surprise. Our guide knew where Cecil’s son, Humba, often like to spend his afternoons sleeping in the grass. What a beautiful sight he was when he revealed himself. At first, we could only see him in the prone position as he slept in the sunshine. Then, as if on cue, he stood, showed us a big yawn, walked about 10 steps in his grand posture, turned around and went right back to his napping spot. What a magnificent creature! Nothing the rest of the day could beat that sighting even though we saw many more animals and dozens of bird species and had another delightful sundowner as the sun set in the west.
We stayed at Ivory Lodge one last night. The last morning we had a leisurely breakfast before cramming back into a van to head back up the Vic Falls Road, and out to the border into Botswana to visit Chobe National Park. We couldn’t wait to see what awaited us there.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls, Zambia
Our day began with a leisurely breakfast and a late checkout as we prepared for our flight to Zimbabwe. Our flight left around 4pm and we arrived in Victoria Falls at sunset Wow! What an introduction to a new country. A beautiful sunset and a huge airport sign saying “Welcome to Zimbabwe”. The locals just call it Zim. The Victoria Airport was quite an introduction to Africa as we passed stuffed lions eating impalas, stuffed leopards and other animals. We were greeted by our driver from Shearwater Village and whisked away from the airport to our first road sign…a red caution sign with a huge elephant in the center. Yes, we were definitely in Africa. LOL!
Our driver shared with us that the elephants are very active at night and that the locals know to drive cautiously so as not to have accidents. It is similar to our signs in the USA showing jumping deer on a caution sign.
We were further instructed that evening as we made our way back from dinner that we should walk back before dark since one never knows if the elephant encounter will be a pleasant one or a struggle for dominance. Goodness, we had a lot of new rules to learn. We came from Johannesburg and Cape Town where we had to be wary of certain people in certain areas. Now, we could totally trust the people but had to be wary of elephants!
Our lodging in Victoria Falls was Shearwater Village. Upon getting the welcome talk and a room tour, we headed back to the hotel’s restaurant for a wonderful dinner. We were tired and glad we didn’t have a long walk back after dinner. Our little thatch-roofed room was our first encounter with sleeping under mosquito netting. This was to be the way of life for the remainder of our African Adventure. Spoiler alert: we never encountered a single mosquito in 3 weeks! We were there in winter so we were blessed. There were other critters in our rooms like spiders, chameleons and snow bunnies but no mosquitoes. Thankfully! Needless to say, we still slept under our mosquito netting every night of our trip after leaving Cape Town.
The next morning, we arranged a taxi to the Zim side of Victoria Falls National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was everything we dreamed it would be and more. The views just kept on coming as we took picture after picture trying in vain to capture the beauty. Our very first view point after entering the park was a view of the falls with a full rainbow! The park was very well done with signage and brochures establishing what you saw as you viewed each area. The official Zimbabwe name of the park is Mosi-Oa-Tunya, meaning “smoke that thunders”. David Livingstone discovered Victoria Falls in 1855 and a statue of his likeness is erected in the park in his honor.
After hiking through the park and stopping at every vista point, we hailed a taxi to take us back to Shearwater Village. The taxis have a blanket price but none of them take the route seriously. Upon entering the taxi, pleasantries are exchanged and then the question is posed: “Do you want to see the largest Baobab Tree in Zimbabwe? Is it ok if I take you there?” Of course we said “Yes” as he was so excited to share it with us. The tree was between 1,000 and 1,500 years old with a girth of 18 meters and a height of 23 meters. Next he asked if he could take us on a tour of the little town. We said, “Yes”. So he drove us around pointing out the schools, stores etc. Since he was being so friendly, we asked if he could take us to the famous Victoria Falls Hotel. He said, “Of course”. He even knew someone there who allowed us entry to take pictures and explore the hotel. It was beautiful with extravagant views which led to it being named to the prestigious Leading Hotels of the World. After touring we asked to be taken back to our hotel and he promptly took us back. We were quite aware that he was looking for a nice tip but we didn’t mind at all because we got a great tour, entry to Victoria Falls Hotel and tour guide commentary all for the inexpensive price of a taxi ride plus a tip. He was the most joyful taxi driver I’ve ever had!
Since we were getting back at sunset this time, we opted to walk out to The River Brewing Company, where we ordered some light sandwiches for dinner. I sampled some local lemonades and David had a flight of the local beers, which he reckoned was somewhat better than the ones he’d tried in South Africa. We had to pay attention on our way back to Shearwater since we finished our dinner after dark. Elephants roam freely here and we had to walk carefully and purposefully as we made our way back to the lodge. Elephants don’t see well so they perceive everything through smell. We wanted to be perceived as friendly so we chatted joyfully all the way back.
After visiting Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side, on the following day, we opted to view them from the Zambia side. It is quite a production to get from one country to the other even though it is only a few feet to get across the border. We could have walked but opted to take a taxi to the Zimbabwe border patrol and get our passport stamped as we exited. They checked our Kaza Visa which means multiple entries into Zimbabwe as we departed as well. Then we walked to another taxi which took us across the border to the Zambian border patrol. They checked our credentials, stamped our passports and then moved us along. We exited on the other side of the border patrol and began making our way to the Avani Hotel where we planned to have lunch. We were immediately approached by a friendly older man who insisted on telling us every step of the way that he would take good care of us and get us to the hotel. We obliged him as we knew he was looking for a tip but he was interesting so we let him walk with us even though we knew exactly where we were going. We arrived at the hotel and the guards let us in when we told them we were having lunch there. I ordered a pizza that was the most awful thing I’ve ever tasted and I promptly gave it away to two teenagers sitting near us just having a beer. They were happy to have it and I was happy to get rid of it. The good thing about this hotel was the number of zebras just walking around grazing and making the grounds look beautiful. They are not tame but just wander in, graze and wander out. It was fun to watch and of course I took tons of photos of them.
As we entered the Zambia side of the Victoria Falls, a guide asked if we would like a tour. We were a little short on time so David answered in the affirmative. The guide could take us to the highlights on the Zambia side and we could get back that evening to meet our tour group for our upcoming safari. The Zambian side was just as beautiful as the Zimbabwe side and in some places was even more beautiful. We finished our quick tour, tipped our tour guide and was off to find a taxi driver.
David and I met two ladies the night before who encouraged us to go and visit the Mukuni Village. It is a traditional village where the people still live in thatched roof huts, follow the traditions and customs of their people, yet allow visitors for the price of $5.00 to walk through the village, meet the people, and even enter the Chief’s Palace if permission is granted. We were granted permission and had a few minutes to sit and take in the idea that this room was where big decisions were made…life and death decisions. We learned that huts are built round because snakes are abundant in Africa. The African people know that a snake can curl up in a corner and go unnoticed. But if a snake enters a round building, he is more likely to be noticed with no place to hide. We were allowed to enter a hut and see where the children slept. Yes, their rooms were as messy as many children’s room are with clothes strewn about and beds unmade. We witnessed the people as they went about making dinner and eating, as they practiced for a school play, and as a young girl “coming out” was performing her tribal dance to show that she was a young woman now.
Nothing about this visit was staged for visitors. There were crying babies, boys playing in the streets, children being disciplined and old men playing a form of mancala under trees using rocks. It was quite a cultural experience and one I would highly recommend. Their hope is that you will buy goods made by the local people. But, there is zero pressure to buy.
We made our way back over the border and back to the hotel in Zimbabwe where we would meet our National Geographic Safari group with whom we would spend the next ten days. After our briefing we had the option of going to dinner with the group or attending a “BOMA”. A BOMA is a large gathering in which wild game and other African foods and drinks are served. It is also a cultural experience where dancers enjoy performing local cultural dances for the audience and teach the audience drumming techniques. The highlight of the evening is two-fold. The first is encouraging visitors to eat a mopane worm. They are supposed to be an excellent source of sustenance for Zimbabwe people. If you are brave enough to eat the worm, you are given an official certificate. David ate the worm immediately and received his certificate. It took me a while longer but I finally decided to try it. I hated the crunchiness but the taste wasn’t too bad.
After dinner and trying the many different game meats, and other African foods offered, the audience is encouraged to participate in the cultural dances. David was chosen and I must admit that he represented the USA very well as he danced and then encouraged others to join him. If you’d like to see his participation, the video is below. The evening ended with drumming and a send off. I also took a video of a little girl who found such joy in the drumming lesson. It gave me joy just to watch her. The evening ended and we headed back to the hotel to prepare for our first safari adventure tomorrow and our opportunity to see the Painted Dogs.
Robben Island, Ellerman House and Mount Nelson High Tea in Cape Town, South Africa.
Today held a big disappointment for us. We secured our Robben Island tickets before ever leaving home because we wanted to see the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and better understand his plight. We made our way to the dock this morning to board the ferry to the island and were heartbroken when they told us that the boat couldn’t go out due to high winds. They stated that we could hang around for the 11:00 ferry but that it probably wouldn’t go out either. Ever the optimists, we hung around to see if it would go. Lady luck was not on our side that day, but we did get even more educated as we watched the films, read the displays and spoke with people in the exhibits about the Mandela story. One small comment made us feel a little better about missing the tour. Someone told us that if we had been to Alcatraz (which we have) that we had the picture. He also said that since the tour guides were former prisoners and wardens that sometimes the tours could be absolute torture as they droned on and on. LOL! Even so, we still would have preferred to see Robben Island for ourselves.
We had two other activities planned for the day that we were excited about so we headed off to our first activity. It is a place listed in the book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Sitting high on a hill in Bantry Bay is Ellerman House along one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Ellerman House is the former home of a British shipping magnate and is now known as South Africa’s finest boutique hotel. The staff pamper 14 guests in beautiful rooms with floor to ceiling windows and surround guests with some of South Africa’s finest paintings. We were afforded a private tour. The guide escorted us to the wine cellar which is designed in the shape of a corkscrew. It was fabulous! The art in the art gallery is changed on a regular basis to exhibit the best of South African art. The house and art were magnificent!
Upon leaving Ellerman House, David chose to lead us to the Observatory neighborhood. He had read about a place there called Tapi Tapi where handcrafted authentic African ice cream is made. The names of the ice cream are in the picture below. They were all quite unique. I tried the Masawu, Caramel and Lemon combo and David tried the Matemba, Toffee and Chili. Both were excellent. The owner is South African and is building his business as he tries unique and never created ice cream flavors. He expanded into the lunch market recently and David enjoyed one of his specialties: Chikichori, which is spicy matembo, PB and Munyenma Sauce and Cheese. It LOOKED like grilled cheese but tasted very different. David loved it and spent some time talking to the owner about his entrepreneurial ventures. His creations are representative of all areas of Africa as seen in the menu below. We walked around the little community of Observatory seeing the art gallery, the pub, the pizza place, and the used book store. I enjoyed my conversation with the bookstore owner as she suggested several books that I should read to learn more about South Africa.
We made our way to the next stop that was also listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: High Tea at the Lord Nelson Hotel. We were very fortunate to meet a young British man, Stehan, who was the “gentleman in charge” for the afternoon. He took us on a tour and was quite proud of the hotel and their services. Mount Nelson opened its doors in 1899 and has been the hub around which the city’s social life traditionally revolves. This is the place to have High Tea in South Africa and is quite an exquisite display. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves as one reads the menu, the selection of teas and the beautiful service. There were three pages of tea choices! We were surrounded by 6 acres of gardens including 6 foot hibiscus trees and lavish rose beds. The pink stucco grand dame hotel was definitely worth a visit and high tea was lavish and scrumptious! A MUST when visiting South Africa.
This was our last night in South Africa and we were certainly sad to leave as we walked around a bit and then returned to our hotel to do laundry tasks, repack and prepare for our flight to Victoria Falls. Thank goodness for that complimentary upgrade with the washer and dryer! Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and it is described as breathtaking. We were ready to see it!
Cape Point, Kirstenbosch Gardens and Boulder Beach
Our South African Guide, Gillian Schroeder, picked us up bright and early for a rainy day drive to Cape Point. On the way, she pointed out her favorite place to get fish: Fish On The Rocks. Love the name. Our drive began on a very scenic and winding road that was a bit harrowing at times with the hairpin curves. The road, Chapman’s Peak Drive, skirts the ocean along Hout Bay towards Cape Point. We got tickled as we passed a sign saying, “Baboons are Dangerous WILD animals. Keep doors locked and windows closed”. That’s not a sign one sees in the USA! This led to a discussion with Gillian about the problems baboons cause in Cape Town. She lives there and says that if they get in your house, which they will at some point, and you don’t notice…..you come home to a MESS! When they get excited and realize they are trapped, they poop all over the house and in the meantime, eat everything in sight. YIKES!
Our next stop was at the Cape of Good Hope which is at the southern tip of Africa. It is also the focus of many shipwrecks. David and I took the Funicular to the top of the mountain to get a better view of Cape Point. The lighthouse is still there and there is a climb to the top to access it.The views were fantastic even in the rain. As we made our way down the Funicular, there were several tour buses. Those buses were signals to the baboons to come out of hiding. It was explained to us that they hide behind tires or rocks and when the last person comes off the bus, they try to jump on. They have learned that buses have backpacks on seats and backpacks hold snacks! Those little buggers are smart! Needless to say, there is a man with a long stick that tries to deter them from getting close to the bus but they are persistent!.
Safe from the baboons, we made our way down the mountain to the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape was originally known as the Cape of Storms by Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Dias in 1488. So many shipwrecks happened at this point. It was later renamed, by King John II of Portugal, the Cape of Good Hope because of the new optimism caused by the opening of a sea route to India and the East. When I was in school, I was taught that the Cape of Good Hope was the most southern part of Africa. That is not true. It is the most southwestern but the most southern is actually Cape Agulhas, which is about 90 miles southeast of the Cape of Good Hope. This area is where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet. The things you learn when you travel!
As we made our way down the mountain toward Boulders Beach, it was quite fun to just come upon an ostrich on the side of the road. Sometimes they looked up to check us out and other times, they kept their head down and continued to eat.
Boulders Beach in South Africa is famous for the large population of African Penguins and are absolutely adorable. It was fun to watch them waddle into the water and especially fun to see the babies and mamas. Be sure to watch the video as the penguin couple make their way to the ocean.
Enroute to Kirstenbosch Gardens, Gillian stopped at Jubilee Square to tell us the saga of the dog, Just Nuisance. Just Nuisance was the only dog ever to be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy. He was a Great Dane who served at HMS Afrikander, in Simon’s Town, South Africa between 1933-1944. He died at the age of seven and was buried with full military honors. Just Nuisance was disobedient at times as his “Conduct Sheet” shows. He was guilty of traveling on the train without his free pass, sleeping on a bed in the Petty Officer’s dormitory, going AWOL, losing his collar and resisting eviction from pubs at closing time. His statue stands in the harbor in his memory
We were sad that the rain continued as we visited Kirstenbosch Gardens but we made the best of it. We could tell by the many buds on the plants that the colors would be bursting in about 2 more weeks. The gardens are huge and would take days to see it all. Concerts are regularly held in the gardens and locals enjoy the gardens on a regular basis. I could easily see why. Even our pictures in the rain show how beautiful it is.
After leaving the gardens, we made our way to Signal Hill to see where the hang gliders take off. It was too foggy to get much of a view, but we did see a good panorama of Cape Town on the way back down. Then we drove to the area where the Muslims first made their home in South Africa and is the site of the first mosque. It is called the Bo-Kapp Area. Every house in Bo-Kaap was painted with a different color to represent a specific talent or trade in the family. The house with magenta walls had great chefs, while the orange house represented a tailor and his family, and so on. Unfortunately those brightly colored houses bring tourists like us to see them and it causes a bit of a traffic jam.
We also saw the old buildings of the city center and the South African Parliament complex. One of the sights that I loved was that they erected a statue of Nelson Mandela on the exact spot at the Parliament House where he gave his first speech after being released. The statue is perfect and shows him sharing the news with the people. We had a day of learning today which I cherish.
Finally, just before sunset, we drove back up toward Table Mountain. Unfortunately the cable cars were being serviced so we couldn’t ride to the top. It was also too foggy to get the Instagram picture with Table Mountain in the background. But we drove to the lower viewpoint and had a fabulous view of the city. We learned at the top of the mountain that Table Mountain is one of the NEW 7 wonders of the world. The New 7 wonders include 4 that I have visited and 3 that I have not. I have visited the Amazon in South America, Iguazu Falls in Argentina, Table Mountain in South Africa and Halong Bay in Vietnam. I have not been to Komodo in Indonesia, Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Philippines and Jeju Island in South Korea. Those are new ideas for the Travel Bucket List.
Cape Town, South Africa
Finally! A day of rest! We had been going, going, going like an Energizer Bunny for days and we were ready for some “do your own thing” time. We started the day with my favorite thing….sleeping late. After a good nights rest and a nourishing breakfast, we set out to explore Cape Town on our own. We spoke with the hotel management first to ask where we should not go since there had been some issues with crime in CapeTown. Once we were assured that our exploration would not take us to those areas, we set off on foot to explore. The Victoria and Albert Waterfront (V&A) was our first destination.
David wanted to check out a grocery store and the stores were right in the midst of V&A Waterfront. We enjoyed exploring and seeing what Cape Town had to offer in this section. We had the obligatory pictures taken in the Instagram frame with Table Mountain in the background, took some pictures of the V&A Clock, stopped to get our ticket to Robben Island and then David stocked up on snacks at the grocery store. Since he had been hiking all summer, his appetite was immense. He bought enough snacks for the whole month!
On the way back to our hotel, we stopped to visit the Cape Grace Hotel, a famous hotel in Cape Town where dignitaries and Presidents and Heads of State regularly stay. It is a beautiful property and right on the Waterfront. The flower arrangement with the national flower, the Protea, was magnificent.
After a full day of walking and exploring, we returned to our hotel for a nightcap and room service for dinner. Tomorrow would be another jam packed day so we retired early and prepared for an early day.
The Cape Winelands, South Africa
Arriving at the Protea Hotel Franschhoek around 7:30pm, we immediately smelled culinary aromas that had our stomachs shouting for nourishment. We were glad we decided to heed the call and eat because our meal was a culinary delight. I began with an amazing fresh tomato basil soup with delightful fresh made bread and light feathery crisps to drop into the tomato soup. My mouth waters now just thinking about it. The main course was steak and creamed potatoes with a nice Merlot. David always finishes with dessert so he ordered a unique ice cream mixed with nuts and crunchies which I fail to remember the name of. As if this wasn’t enough, the waiter gave us chocolate martinis on the house. David quickly devoured everything; but, the chocolate martini was a little much for me. I managed to drink about half when my stomach said, “Enough!” It was sinfully delicious though.
We spent a restful night and were ready to meet our Cape Wineland tour guide, Steve Andrews, who scheduled three winery tour visits for us and gave us bountiful history lessons about the area. It is interesting that these winelands have been a part of South African history since the 1600’s but have only recently become a staple on American tables.
Our first wine tasting was at Haute Cabriere in Franschhoek, which was a gorgeous open view winery with the Drakensberg mountains in the distance. The lush green valley was filled with grapes and made for the most scenic vistas. Franschhooek, in South Africa’s Western Cape, has centuries-old vineyards and Cape Dutch architecture. There is also a wine train that goes through the valleys and stops at the various wineries.
Upon leaving the winery, Steve took us to the Huguenot Memorial. The French Huguenots came to South Africa to break free from religious persecution. The memorial features a woman standing on top of the world with a Bible in one hand and broken chain in the other symbolizing the religious freedom they achieved upon arrival in Franschhoek. She is casting off her cloak of oppression. The French Huguenot refugees established farms and businesses and brought their French culture and agriculture knowledge. They tried fiercely to hold onto their language, but the Dutch and British schooling forced them to integrate into local culture and language.
With Franschhoek in the distance, we made our way to the second winery in Stellenbosch: Tokara. Once again, the wines were of such high quality and the sommeliers were very attentive and knew their wines. We had our first Pinotage Wine and David and I both loved it. It became a staple with dinner for the rest of the trip. The sommelier also gave us a very special opportunity to taste Tokara Potstill XO Brandy, a very fine limited release brandy. The views of the winelands from this winery were exquisite. Had there not been another winery and another city to explore, I could have stayed here all day long simply looking at the views of the land.
We chose to have lunch at a staple franchise of South Africa that served quite good pizza: Col’Cacchio. More than enough pizza and breadsticks for two.
After leaving the restaurant Steve took us on a tour of the town and honored my request to stop at a place I’d read about prior to leaving home, Oom Samie Se Winkel. It is an old general store where goods can be bought, sold or traded. It has been in existence since 1904 and one can find anything from dried fish to biltong to candy to frying pans. The most popular item there is the selection of spices. I could have spent hours just wandering around looking at all the unique items. The store clerks graciously let me take their picture so that I could always remember the interior of Oom Samie Se Winkel, the general store of Stellenbosch. As we headed out of town we saw the oldest wine press in Stellenbosch, a HUGE wooden structure in the town square.
The third town visited for a wine tasting was Paarl and Steve’s hometown. He was very proud of his home and took us to his favorite winery, Fairview. The best part of this tour was the cheese pairings that accompanied the wine. As a surprise upon leaving Fairview, Steve took us to Spice Route, another winery and brewery and chocolate factory experience loved by the locals. David tried the beer at the Cape Brewing Company and remarked that maybe South Africa had a lot to learn about brewing craft beer. (LOL)! It had been a great day with Steve and we gave him a nice review on Tripadvisor. We learned a lot and enjoyed some very flavorful wines and cheeses.
We ended our day as Steve drove us to Cape Town to the Protea Marriott North Wharf Capetown Hotel. Once again, we were pleasantly shocked when we received a complementary upgrade from a hotel room with two beds to a suite complete with a living room, dining room and full kitchen as well as a much need washer and dryer! We were definitely blessed with some beautiful lodging.