Wednesday, December 7, 2011

CANOEING WITH THE HIPPOS


I decided against whitewater rafting because you had to go up and down a huge mountain of steps with no handrails to get to the river, which would be difficult for me normally, and more so because my recent health issues have made my sense of balance worse and I am more prone to falls.

Instead I went canoeing this afternoon on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia.  There were national parks on both sides so it was complete wilderness except for a few isolated resorts along the shores.  My companions were an Australian couple, Sam and Deb, and their three daughters, Rachel, Miriam, and Lizzie, ages about 8 to 18.  Their fourth daughter is studying in France. We had two people to a canoe, and I shared with Obit, one of the two guides.

Getting ready to canoe
the Australians


Obit shared the canoe with me


There are lots of islands in the river, so we were actually in Zambia part of the time.  There were a few sections with small rapids and some whirlpools, which just made the canoes spin a bit.  Of course you get wet canoeing, but the water was wonderfully warm.  When I get on my homepage, I read that the temperature in Asheville has been in the 20's lately and it does not seem real here in the Southern Hemisphere.  It is much hotter here than it was in Ngara or Kigali, ranging from 75 to 85 degrees.

We saw lots of hippos, who are supposed to be the most dangerous animal in the water in Africa and kill many people every year.  Our guide seemed to know which groups had baby hippos, which would be especially dangerous to go near.  At one point one of the hippos opened his huge mouth wide and showed all his teeth, which Obit told me was a sign of agression.  They usually just stand in the water with their eyes and ears showing, but this one came after us.  He was getting nearer but luckily we came to a set of rapids and left him behind.  


Elephants on shore




























In the evening, I went to the Boma Restaurant at the Safari Hotel.  A driver picked me up, as well as a Spanish couple staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel who spoke no English.  He needed me to translate since the husband did not come down right away and he could not understand why.  They have a great buffet with lots of wild game, both grilled and in salads.  They also had dancers and singers.  They gave us drums and we all had a great drumming session that he directed.  Later I danced. 









Tuesday, December 6, 2011

WALKING WITH THE LIONS

Morris, the Jamaican Canadian I met on the Chobe trip, had been a volunteer for several weeks at the Lion Walk, an NGO that is helping to reintroduce lions into the National Parks in Africa.  Studies show that the lion population in Africa has dropped 80-90% in the last 30 years, from 200,000 to as low as 16,000.  At this rate, there will soon be no lions left outside of zoos.  

Guard, Israeli volunteers, and Morris observe the cats


They raise lions and accustom them to people, so they can raise money for the project by having tourists walk with the lions.  They are well fed and kept from harm, but they don't discourage their instinctive hunting behaviors.  At age two, the lions are sent to another reserve where they are still watched and fed when needed, but left more on there own with no unecessary human interaction.  Their cubs are totally wild, and are sent to various game reserves in Africa to repopulate.  There are only a few lions in the project at a time, so it is a slow process.  

We all carry long sticks.  If the lion gets aggressive in any way, you either tap him on the snout or put it between his teeth to distract him.  We walked for about half a mile with the lions.



Monday, December 5, 2011

CHOBE NATIONAL PARK

On Monday, I was picked up at the hotel and I and Morris, a Jamaican who lives in Dawson Creek, Canada were taken in a bus to the Zimbabwean border, where we were picked up by a tour guide in a Landrover on the Botswana side and taken to the Chobe Marina Lodge on the Chobe River between Botswana and Namibia.  We cruised in a boat down the river all morning and saw many more animals and birds than I had on the Zambezi River, including vervet monkeys, open billed storks, monitor lizards, lechus (like an impala), fish eagles, kingfishers, Nile crocodiles, hippos, cape buffalos, kettle egrets, African spoonbills, great white egret, longtailed plover, gray herons, elephants, and water bucks.


Chobe Marina Lodge boats
Looking into the crocodile's mouth

hippos

cape buffalo

elephants



We had a nice buffet lunch on returning to the lodge, and I tried the local beer.  We then drove to the Sedudu entrance of Chobe National Park for a game drive.  The park is 11.7 square km and is not fenced so the animals wander in and out.  The first animals we saw were impalas, which our guide called "the McDonalds of the wilderness" or "fast food for the lions."  In addition, we saw wart hogs, Marabou storks, buffalo, tortoises, many elephants, baboons, guinea fowl with bright blue heads, mongeese, and kudus.  One of my favorite things to watch was the dung beetle, who rolled a ball of dung bigger than he was along the dirt.  I was told he (she?) puts the ball in a hole and the female lays eggs, which get nutrients from the dung ball.  We didn't see giraffes or zebras in the park, but they were on the road to and from the border.


impalas

warthog

Marabou stork

elephant

baboon
our safari vehicle
guinea fowl
mongeese
kudu

elephants seeking shade










Sunday, December 4, 2011

VICTORIA FALLS

On Friday, 12/2, I flew to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  I usually don't go back to places I have travelled to, preferring to see something new, but this is one of the favorite places I have ever been and I couldn't resist.  I made the arrangements from Kigali, where I finally had good internet access, and went through several African and American search engines before I booked through Expedia.  It is not a cheap trip at about $2000 for the week, including airfare to and from Johannesburg.  The last time I was here, in 1976, the country was still called Rhodesia and Mugabe was a guerilla in the jungle.  The only thing around here then was the Victoria Falls Hotel, which opened in 1904, and the campground, where I stayed.  I spent some time at the hotel because my friends and I met and partied with a rugby team from Durban, South Africa, who were staying there.  The hotel was dark at night due to the civil war going on and proximity to the jungle.  Everything around was kind of shabby at that time and you could walk anywhere.  Now there are fences restricting access to the falls and you can't see anything unless you pay $30 to get in, or $7 if you are Zimbabwean.

Victoria Falls


The Victoria Falls Hotel has been refurbished and is now 5 stars, and would have cost me an extra $1000 to stay there for the week.  I did go there for lunch one day.  I considered getting the crocodile caesar salad, but opted instead for a chicken and bacon salad sandwich and Zambezi beer, which were both delicious.  There are many pictures on the walls of the Royal family stay there in 1947, including King George and his wife (remember the King's Speech?) and young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.  At that time the Solent Flying Boat Service would fly you from Southampton, England to Johannesburg with a stopover on the Zambezi just above Victoria Falls, where all passengers disembarked and stayed overnight at the Victoria Falls Hotel.


Dr. David Livingstone "discovered" the falls (before he met Spencer Tracy, I presume)

 
My hotel, the Kingdom, is next door and has the same management company.  It is fairly new, built around 1999.  The floors are all 12 inch tile and everything is earth tones.  I had an upgraded room with king sized bed, refrigerator, coffee pot, TV, and a good sized balcony overlooking a stream and waterfall.  They don't have internet in the rooms, and it took me days before they could figure out how to connect my Apple laptop to wifi in the lobby, so I didn't get anything done on my blog.  I hadn't seen TV for about 5 months but am out of the habit.  I turned CNN on a few times but could not stand it for more than 5 minutes. I did watch The Hangover one night at 2 a.m. when I couldn't sleep.  Cute, but I can't figure out how it got Best Picture Oscar.  There is a casino on site but I only walked around it once to check it out.  My first morning I heard a lot of rustling leaves of the big tree outside and thought it was the wind, but it turned out to be monkeys.


In front of Kingdom Hotel

my balcony

















I was here at high water time before and the falls were amazing.  They are twice as high and wide as Niagara Falls.  This is probably the lowest water flow of the year, so not nearly as impressive, but the falls were still obscured in places by the mist.  Cloudy so no rainbows.  There were lots of foreign tourists, which I did not see here before.  I was kind or surprised to see lots of African tourists also.  About half the people at breakfast each day were black.  They had a great breakfast buffet, which was my only "free" meal of the day so I loaded up and snacked most of the other meals. I had bought two bottles of wine at the duty free shop at Johannesburg Airport, which was more than enough for the week.  The only wine you can buy at my village in Tanzania is Altar wine, which is sickeningly sweet, so I enjoyed relaxing in the evening on my balcony with a glass of wine and my kindle.








After I walked to the falls, I went across the bridge which connects Zimbabwe and Zambia.  When it was built, it was the highest bridge in the world.  Now they have bungee jumpers in the middle of it.  I watched them go down (a 365 foot drop), and it really made me queasy.  They have to stay upside down a long time till they are pulled up, and I imagine that would cause quite a headache, especially since your adrenaline already has your blood going fast.  I also watched a tandem jump, where two people jump and swing out quite a ways back and forth until they are pulled up.  At least they stay right side up.
Bridge between Zimbabwe and Zambia




Looking down at a bungi jumper

"King Kong" and Zambian friend on the bridge



On Sunday evening I went on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River for $40.  It was pretty leisurely and I drank wine and watched lots of hippos and birds.  Not near as many animals as I saw on the Nile River in Uganda, though. 

Zambezi River Cruise
Sunset on the Zambezi