Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Africa !!!

I am hijacking my own blog to post a few pictures of my recent African safari.   It was a hard summer, with the deaths of Dee Dee and Elvis, as well as some health challenges and difficult things going on at work.   At one point I canceled my reservation, as I just didn't think I was going to be able to swing it with everything else that was going on.    After a four day pity party, I decided to re-book it and 'push through'.   It was an opportunity to check a big item off my 'bucket list' and getting to do it with my brother Dan was a bonus!

I arrived in Johannesburg on August 16 and we had the better part of one day to spend before taking off on the 15 day camping safari.   We decided to take a tour of Sowato, the largest of the African townships created in the early 20th century, a product of segregationist planning that moved Africans to the slums on the pretext of preventing the spread of disease.   Today it is an urban area of more than one million people, and a study in contrasts.   Some areas have been developed into modest middle class housing while other areas are still waiting for the infrastructure that was promised after the end of Apartheid.  Cars are far more a status symbol than one's home, and it is not uncommon to see a BMW parked in front of a shanty.    We toured some of the poorer areas and Dan is pictured here, handing out oranges to the children.   These people have SO little - especially by American standards - but the sense of community is so strong that, at least on the surface, there is a surprising acceptance of - and contentment with - their living conditions.   It was an eye-opening day that was quite a contrast to the rest of our trip. I'm glad we did it.

Handing out oranges to the children of Sowato 

The next day we began the overland camping safari with Intrepid Travel.  Our group of 12 was made up of mostly Aussies and Brits; all highly educated and very well traveled.  Dan and I were the oldest, and only Americans.

Okavango Delta 
There is not time or space to tell all of our stories or describe all that we saw and did, but I'll mention some of the highlights.    We visited a remote village steeped in tribal customs, spent two nights in the Okovango Delta (a complex eco system of waterways that is life-giving to the vast desert regions of Botswana and Zimbabwe), had a couple of days at Victoria Falls, as well as Chobe and Kruger National Parks.  Early morning game drives, and evening sunset cruises gave us ample opportunity to view a huge variety of birds and wildlife, including all of the 'big five'.  Among the most memorable:

1)  A HUGE population of elephants on the Chobe River, including one 'family of four' that we watched, mesmerized, for over an hour.

Family of Four - Chobe River 
Lioness feasting on a dead elephant
2)  Two lioness' feasting on the trunk of an elephant that had died (of anthrax, our guide told us) within the past 24 hours.
Lioness feasting on a dead elephant

3) A lioness leading her cubs to the river bank to cool off and drink.

Lioness and cubs

Mama baboon and baby 
4) Baboons that were everywhere - playing tag in the trees, nurturing their young and in general, acting a whole lot like humans!  We had to keep the zipper pull at the top of our tent doors (out of their reach) because they have figured out how to unzip the tents and steal everything from items of food and clothing to computer cables and camera equipment!   They were enormously entertaining - up until the last day, when I saw a fairly large one snatch a little steenbok (small antelope) from the woods, dart across the road with it and tear into it!   The full cycle of nature can be hard to watch sometimes.

Victoria Falls from a helicopter
There are many, many more memories and lasting impressions I could write about.   Just a few of them (in no particular order):

A three hour ride in a mokoro (dug out canoe) into the Delta with local polers serving as our guides and providing meals and entertainment.
Into the Delta

Swimming with the crocs and hippos in the Delta.

Amazing birds in the Delta and even more amazing sunsets!
Sunset over the Delta

Explanation of the 'long drop' - our delta toilet!
Explanation of the "Long Drop"

Giving our leftover food to the local guides.

Learning the various dialects of English used by the Africans, the Aussies and the Europeans.

Many, many hours spent on a hot truck without air conditioning or window shades.

Drinking water, water and more water - and still struggling to stay hydrated.  

Walking through chemical solution to prevent the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease at various checkpoints along the highway.

Watching a leopard - camouflaged in the brush.

Victoria Falls
Having our safari vehicle blocked by a HUGE bull elephant that could have easily overturned us .... waiting patiently and quietly until he decided to saunter off.

Watching an elephant that was stuck in a thorny bush with a baby under her trunk.

Giraffes dropping to get a drink - cautiously watching for predators in their vulnerable position.

Setting up charging station most every night with a huge array of cameras, smart phones and laptops!

Interesting, fascinating billboards and signs - such as the one we saw to the "Tent and Toilet" Campground!
Sunset Cruise on the Chobe River

Village children running for miles alongside our truck - SOOO excited that we were coming to THEIR village.

People who have SO LITTLE and yet welcomed us with such warmth and genuine hospitality.   I understand why people fall in love with Africa.   It is a magical place, and I am so blessed to have take the trip of a lifetime.

Rhino Sanctuary

Cape Buffalo

Doing Laundry at Victoria Falls

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