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Friday, November 1, 2013
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Today was my last day in South Africa. It's hard to believe my trip is over. I had been looking forward to it for so long, and now its over in a blink of an eye. What a great time I had! I saw so many sights and did so many things. It definitely whet my appetite to come back again, whether it be South Africa or another safari in Kenya and Tanzania.
This morning i hung out with my host's ex-wife and she showed me a bunch if her crafts. Then my host picked me up and took me out for breakfast. I still had a few things to buy that I hadn't had a chance to get yet, so we stopped at a mall first. We found some of the stuff, but not all.
Afterwards, we drive down to the Apartheid Museum. The museum is wonderful. If you ever get the chance to go to joburg, I highly recommend it. However you really need to allocate enough time. We got there and had about 2.5 hours to spend and barely a rat he'd the surface. We were directed to a special exhibit on Mandela first, where we spent a great deal of time, not realizing that there was the whole permanent exhibit that we hadn't touched yet. By the time we got to the permanent exhibit, we had to rush thru. It was a great experience going thru the museum with someone who lived thru apartheid and remembered much of what we saw. He provides some great commentary and insight into what I was seeing. He was also upset we didn't have enough time to get thru the exhibit. I told him the next time I come to town we'll leave enough time.
I really had a great time in joburg. Even tho I only met my host when he picked me up at the airport, I felt like I had known him for much longer. It was wonderful that he was willing to open his home (well, his ex's) and hospitality to me without ever having met me. His brother lives in Philadelphia so I hope to extend him the same courtesy when he comes to Philly.
Overall, what a great trip! Now to figure out where to go next!!!!! Until then, adios!
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Well, today I not only said goodbye to Botswana, but I also said goodbye to the group. When we landed in joburg, they continued on to NY, while I met up with the father of my cousin's best friend who is from joburg and who is going to house me tonight and take me around town tomorrow. How sweet is that? My cousin asked him for recommendations and he insisted I stay with him!
Of course, our trek to the airport was not without a bit if comedy. We first had to go thru immigration in Botswana (that went smoothly) and then get bused a short distance down the road to Zimbabwe for re-entry. There, just like when we entered the country, there was a long line for us to go thru. After about a half hour to 45 minutes, we were finally thru. However, once we were on the bus we learned that one of the tires on the trailer was flat. No problem, right? Just have to change it. Of course, that's easier said than done bc one of the lug it's was missing and was instead secured with a bolt. They didn't have any tool to take it off. So, we had to wait for another trailer to arrive to transfer our luggage. Luckily we planned for some mess ups and we got to the airport on time. However, at the airport our fearless trip leader and another woman at checking were told there were no more seats on the plane. Our local guide did her magic and managed to get them on the flight, but they both had to sit in the jump seats! Crazy!
Upon arrival, I managed to say goodbye to everyone before going off to customs and immigration. At this point, I have set foot in 3 countries in one day! Talk about a world traveller. ;-)
Sailed threw immigration and met my host out front. He was very easy to spot, wearing an orange shirt just as he had described. We stopped off for some juice and tea and chatted for awhile before he dropped me off at his ex-wife's house, where I would be staying for the night. She is also very nice and she showed me her beautiful garden and some of the things she's been making. Unfortunately, I was a bit of dead weight. I started falling asleep at 8:30 while watching tv. Managed to check in for my flight before heading to bed. I don't have any wifi here, so I'll be posting this later.
Tomorrow, we are planning to go out to breakfast, then hit a couple shops where I want to pick up a few things I didn't have a chance to get yet, and then go to the apartheid museum. Whether we can see more than that, we'll play it by ear, based on time.
Monday, October 7, 2013
This morning we were up early for our last morning game drive. While I hate getting up so early, I also hate the idea that my vacation is almost over. Until then, I won't dwell on it. Back to the game drive report!
We loaded up in our jeeps this morning and saw a ton of elephants, including some just crossing the road in front of us. One herd that we saw even had a baby that could have been more than 4 months old. So friggin' cute!
We saw more impala and kudu antelopes, but also had the rare sighting of a sable antelope. Our guides were quite excited to see it bc you rarely do, from what they told us at least. We saw several different birds, including a beautiful lilac breasted roller.
We almost saw a leopard this morning as well. It was about 50-100 feet away from us, but bc it was behind a bush and eating, it never came out and we never saw it. However, all the drivers said it was back there. The leopard is now the only one we haven't seen!
After the morning game drive and breakfast we had a ton of free time until our next game drive. A few of us walked into town in search of gifts, but there really was nothin there. Still, it was nice to get out and walk even if it was hot as hell. I made a massage appt and had an extremely relaxing one hour massage. Couldn't get over how tight my shoulders were from all the traveling and jeep rides. Afterwards we went for a dip in the pool and then sat out in the shade.
As soon as we got in our jeep for the afternoon drive, we told our driver we were on the hunt for some leopards. Unfortunately, leopards were not to be in the cards for us this trip. We went back to the same place the leopard was rumored to be, but no one saw him. We waited for a while, to no avail. Instead, today was the day of the elephants. We must've seen over 100 elephants today! We saw several herds of 10, with babies, either eating or walking or even swimming (!!!) in the river. I took a series of photos (from afar so who knows how well they turned out) of an elephant walking into the river, submerging itself and then walking up the banks on the other side. So cool! I didn't realize elephants could swim. At the end of the day we saw at least 30 elephants on one of the islands in the river. What's neat is that they walk in single file lines.
In addition to elephants, we saw impalas, sable antelopes, waterbok, giraffes, warthogs, and a fish eagle. Looks just like our bald eagle. We stopped again for drinks for a sundowner. On the way back, we had the most spectacular sunset. The sun was a re fireball at some pint!
Really sad that the drives are over and everyone heads back tomorrow. We had our farewell dinner, which seemed odd to me since I am staying an extra day. I made some new friends on this trip and rekindled old friendships. It really was a great trip. For the most part, everyone got along. I really like traveling in the smaller groups for that reason.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
We left Zimbabwe today and arrived in Botswana around noon. Our hotel is beautiful and located on the banks of the Chobe river. The Chobe river runs into the Zambezi river, which then runs over the Victoria falls, and eventually into the Indian Ocean. We had some free time this afternoon so I had time to throw on my bathing suit and take a dip in the pool. Soooo nice. And what a difference the weather is here compared to Cape Town. It's in the mid-90s to 100s here. The heat today was quite oppressive.
The main attraction today was an afternoon safari cruise on the Chobe river. Chobe is different from the other places we've been bc it is a national park and therefore we have no idea what we are going to see. With the private game reserve, they knew exactly what they had on the property. Here, there's no way of knowing what you're going to see.
Out on the river you could totally tell the difference. We saw close to a hundred Cape buffalo, a good 50 impalas, close to 30 elephants, crocodiles, waterbok and more. The best was we finally saw our hippos!!!! We probably saw 20-30 hippos up and down the river with their heads peaking out over the water surface. At one point, we came around a bend and saw a huge mass grazing on the grass. Turns out it was a hippo, which is a rare sight to see a hippo out of the water grazing during the day. We kept waiting for him to head back into the water, but he wasn't budging. While that was happening, on the other bank were a herd of elephants and their babies. It was hard to decide which side of the bank to watch!
As the sun was setting, we came across another pod of hippos. These hippos were more cooperative than the others in the water and even yawned a few times for us. The sunset was beautiful, with a herd of Cape buffalo grazing next to us. What a great way to end the day.
Looking forward to our two game drives tomorrow. Rumor going around is that a group on a game drive yesterday saw a leopard. I could only hope that we see one. That would close out the big 5 we've seen on this trip. How cool would that be?
This morning was another early one (up at 6:45). We got on the road early and drove out to a local village to meet with the chief of the village and learn more about him. He was very energetic and enthusiastic about his village, his responsibility and the African way of life. The chief mentioned at some pint how they like their woman heavier bc it means that they are happy and treated well. He said that with skinny women he wonders if the man is a using her bc doesn't look healthy/happy. At the end of our visit, we were talking about what happens to a woman and her property if her husband dies young. The chief mentioned how it is the responsibility of the family to take care of her bc too hard with the dowry to change families, etc. I mentioned my family's situation and the chief exclaimed that it means I am African. I then told him when my birthday is and he was extremely moved by the significance of the date and gave me a big hug, telling others my situation and how I am African bc of it. It was a very interesting visit.
Afterwards, we went to the local craft market to do some shopping and bartering with everyday items we brought from home. It was very overwhelming bc the stall owners would all come up to you to try and get you to their stall. It didn't help that they all had pretty much the same thing. We had also been told that things were much cheaper here so we waited to do our shopping now. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like it was really all that much cheaper. I did barter with some flip flops, socks, tsuirts, rain ponchos, etc. Some folks had much better items to trade with but I didn't want to load down my suitcase with junk.
At 1pm everyday, the hotel puts out its leftover meat and carcasses for the vultures. I went down to watch the ceedinggfrenzy and it was insane. The vultures started circling the hotel at abuout 12:15 bc they know it just about feeding time. Once the guys put the food out and left the area, the vultures swooped in and it was a free for all! I got some crazy photos.
This afternoon we had some downtime before heading to the Victoria Falls Elephant Park. Here we had a chance to pet the elephants, ride the elephants, and feed the elephants. What gentle giants. Bill and I rode an elephant together in India, so of course we had to ride together again. Out on the ride we saw giraffes, waterbok, warthogs,
Impalas, and most imprtan, we saw Cape buffalo. What does that mean? It means that we have now seen 4 of the big 5 animals. All we have left to see are leopards and hippos.
The park also took in an orphaned cheetah when it was days old. It only knows human interaction and is now used as an am assessor to educate people about cheetahs and why they should be protected. Right now, at the current rate of hunting, cheetahs could be extinct or endangered (can't remember) in the next 20 years. Meeting Sylvester (the cheetah) was a big surprise. Not only did we meet him, but we got to pet him! How many people in the world can say that they pet a cheetah???? Not many!
The best was as we were getting briefed on Sylvester, he wandered off (on his leash) to another area with his handler. He literally walked right by me, about a foot away! Kind freaked me out! The. I look over to where he went and he's sitting down LICKING his handlers head! So crazy!!!!!!
We are off to Botswana this morning and hoping to see hippos, the last big animal (aside from leopards which are very elusive and hard to see sometimes) we have yet to see. We may not have wifi there so I'll post updates when I'm back in wifi range.
Friday, October 4, 2013
Today we left South Africa and flew to Zimbabwe to go visit Victoria Falls. I got to sleep in until 6 before we had to leave for the airport. Woohoo!
Right now it is the end if the dry season (winter) and it is very dry here. Because of this the water level in the Zambezi River is quite low and therefore the falls were not as full and powerful as they usually are. Victoria Falls is a mile of uninterrupted falling falling water. The sheer size of it is amazing. I heard how big it is, but you really don't grasp it until you walk the entire length of it. Normally, it is a sheer wall of water and the spray is so powerful that you are sopping wet, even with a raincoat on and can barely see the falls thru it. Today, there was at least a half-mile stretch that was dry. I guess you could say that the plus of the river being so low is that we could actually see the falls and the river above it! Still, even at low levels, the falls are amazing! I am very glad that I got to see them. Maybe the next time I'm here I will come at a different time when the water levels are higher. :-)
For dinner tonight we went to a Boma, which is a type of BBQ where there was all kinds of game meat you could try: warthog, eland, worms, etc. I was not that adventurous and had just chicken and beef. Afterwards, we were all handed drums and drummed along with this group and then joined in with some dancing. I thought I got a video of it but apparently my new point and shoot camera (which I hate) didn't get it. Sigh. It was a total tourist trap where they bus the hotel guests, but it was still fun.
They had a witch doctor there that read your fortune from bones and nuts for $1. My friend and I decided what the hell and tried it. I didn't understand a thing he was explaining for why the fortune was what it was, but he said that I would have a very happy life. That I am very healthy and strong, I have a good love life, and I will make lots of money. Pretty generic, huh? More so when my friend mostly got the same thing and to other friends got the same fortunes as us. Then again, what more do you expect for $1?
In Victoria Falls we are now in the malaria area so we are all taking our malarone. I totally take for granted my pest-free home. My room, while nice, doesn't have screen doors on the balcony and the doors themselves have gaps in them where the nasty little night crawlers can get in. We have mosquito netting around the bed, but there are a number of little holes that the bugs can crawl thru. When I got back from dinner there were tons of bugs crawling out the outside of the netting. Sooooo gross!!!! I am so itchy right now just thinking of all those things getting into my bed. I've already seen a few mosquitos flying around inside the netting with me. I don't know how I'm going to sleep tonight!
Soweto, which stands for southwestern township, is where the blacks in Johannesburg lived during apartheid. We learned that if something was called a township, that's where the blacks lived, and if it was a suburb, its where the whites lived. We had a guide who lives in Soweto take us around and tell us about the history of the area. It's really interesting to see how similar apartheid was and its impacts on the black community to our history with respect to segregation. It was really disturbing.
We learned about the student protest on June 16, 1976 against apartheid and the forced teaching of Afrikaans in the schools and sparked a nationwide riot. This protest led to the innocent killing of over 200 children over the course of 4 months. We went to the Hector Pieterson Museum, which commemorates Hector Pieterson, a 12-year old boy who died during the initial protest on June 16th. The museum documents the history behind apartheid and what led to the demonstrations that fateful day. It was quite emotional, reading about it. Made me grateful for what I have, but also angry that people can treat others like that just because of the color of their skin.
Soweto is now no longer a black only township, but many people have stayed there even though they can now live where we they want.
Before going to the museum, we walked down Vilakazi Street, which is the only street in the world that has/had two Nobel laureates living on it: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. They call it the Nobel laureate walk.
There's probably so much more that I can say about Soweto, but I only have so much time.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Ok, we are now going on day 3 of me waking up at 5:30am. This is getting old. I'm exhausted and on this morning's ride, you could really tell how out of it I was. For example, I pointed out an animal at 4 o'clock, but really it was at 8 o'clock. Couldn't tell time. My confusion (exhaustion) continued throughout the day.
So this morning was our last game drive at Entabeni. The reserve is split into the lower escarpment (16,000 hectares) and the upper escarpment (6,000 hectares). Our lodge was in the lower escarpment and that's where all of our game drives had been up until today. This morning we drove up the mountain on the most insanely steep road I've ever been on. I'm surprised we didn't topple over from the angle. I believe our guide said its the steepest road in South Africa, maybe even Africa? I'm so glad we had seat belts in the jeep! We searched for leopards, but all we saw were klipspringer antelope on the way up. Apparently, leopards are very elusive. Oh well.
On our way to the crazy road up the mountain, we ran into 3 giraffes just chilling out along the road.
On top of the escarpment, we saw ostrich, warthogs, eland (another type of antelope) and another large animal that was off in the distance that we couldn't get to due to time constraints. I would have loved to see a hippo, but hopefully we'll have better luck in Botswana.
After our ride, we packed up and were driven by jeep to our bus at the entrance to the reserve. On our way, we saw more giraffes, wildebeest, etc. The very last animals we spotted on our way out were the two cheetah males. For a pretty rare animal to see, we managed to see them on 3 out of 4 game drives! Not bad. We then drove 4+ hours back to joburg.
Day #2 of waking up at 5:30am. You know I'm great company these days if I'm waking up so early! Actually, today was a great reason for waking up early be a use we went on our first morning game drive at 6. We were out for 3 hours, driving all over the reserve in search of the big five. At one point we thought we saw 2 lionesses, but after we cruised over there we realize they were two cheetah that walked out in front of our jeep and one just laid down in front of us. Very cool. Because it is spring, we saw a lot of animals with their young. Our guide was great, pointing out both the animals and the birds we came across. We saw a bunch of different animals today: impala, warthogs, wildebeest, klipspringer, zebras, jackals and more.
After our morning ride we came back for a wonderful breakfast at the lodge. Once breakfast was over, 12 of us jumped back in the jeep and headed out for a 12-minute helicopter ride over the reserve. The pilot took us over this one ridge, but before he did, it looked like he was about to go into the cliff which really freaked me out. Instead, at the very last minute, he cut to the left and took us thru a small ravine. I almost lost my breakfast! Before I explain the rest f the ride, I need to provide some context regarding where we are. We are staying at the Entabeni Game Reserve, but there is a golf and safari resort next door. The resort has your typical 18 holes, but it also has an additional hole, the 19th hole. The 19th hole tee is situated on the ridge of the mountain and the hole is at the bottom. The only way to get to the tee is by helicopter. If you make a hole in one, you get something like a million dollars. Our pilot flew us over that tee and then dove down over the ridge to give us a view of the 19th hole. OMG!!!! That almost killed me! Aside from the dips and curves, we flew over giraffes, elephants, wildebeest, impalas and more.
Can you see it? It's the green in the shape of Africa!
The lodge set up a wonderful lunch outside for us with a view of the zebras and wildebeest roaming the grounds. After lunch I went back to my room/hut real quick and there was a wildebeest just hanging out behind our veranda! Had to be about 15 feet away, tops! Tried to get a pic but it didn't work out so well.
Before our evening ride, some of us went to a neighboring nature conservancy where they take in injured animals. They had some lions there, including white lions, so it gave us an opportunity to see them up close since we hadn't seen them in the wild yet. They were all sleeping after having eaten just before we got there. On our way we saw some giraffes up close compared to those we saw yesterday a little further away.
Fairly so after we began our afternoon drive, we spotted a herd of elephants in the reeds on the other side of the plain. We watched them for a while, hoping they would come closer but they didn't. Still, I got some good pics with my big lens and had a good view with my binoculars. So glad I brought them!
We finally gave up with the elephants and moved on. We had just been talking with our guide about how many of the big 5 we'd seen and whether the lions we saw at the conservancy could count toward our sightings (the answer was no). As we turned a corner we came up. A gorgeous male lion drinking water out of the watering hole. He must have been drinking for 5 min (we could hear him lap up the water), then he sat up, looked around, and went back to drinking. However when he went back to drinking, he stood up with his back legs as if be were doing downward dog. It was hysterical! After a little while longer, the lion got up, stretched, and then proceeded to walk right by us, only 2 feet away! What a majestic animal!!!! You don't realize what a beautiful animal the lion is until you see it in the wild and 2 feet away. Wow! Here's a pic but I have better ones from my DSLR camera.
After the lion left us, we met up with our other jeep for a sundowner, happy hour in the bush as the sun goes down. We could hear the lion in the distance calling the females. Sounded like a heartbeat. Really cool. We didn't really see anything last night on the way back. We tried to find the lion again but couldn't.
Finally, we had a BBQ outside by a huge fire it was really nice and surprisingly not freezing. The staff came out after dinner and sang some beautiful songs before having us join in on their circle. It was great!
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