South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia
As we left for what promised to be another wonderful trip, I never really believed in my heart that we would see very many of the animals at a decent distance or that the scenes would resemble those nature shows on Africa that are always on TV. Was I ever wrong!!! As you'll see from the photos on the coming pages we saw more animals than we imagined, some of them coming within a few feet of the jeep we were riding in.
At all of the camps, we traveled in open top jeeps with tiered seats so everyone could see. Some camps, we just had a local guide and our private guide and photography mentor, Lex Hes. Other places we also had a tracker sitting on the front of the jeep like you see in this picture. The animals are used to seeing the vehicles around, so they don't pay any attention to them as long as you don't make loud noises or sudden movements when they are nearby. When we were going to be near any of the predators, our tracker would get into the seats with us instead of staying on that front jump seat.
The worst part about the trip is getting to and from South Africa. It is just plain far away and on the other side of the world from here, almost 30 hours. We left on July 28th and didn't arrive in Cape Town until the afternoon of the 31st!
July 31 - August 3 - Cape Town. We spent a few days in and around the city of Cape Town, South Africa seeing the sights and getting over our jet lag before starting on the main part of our trip. We visited the top of Signal Hill for an nice view of the city, Table Mountain and the surrounding area. A full day of wine tasting was arranged for the Stellenbosch area outside of Cape Town, similar to Napa Valley with beautiful views.
August 4 - 6 - NamibRand Nature Reserve in the hear of the Namib Desert in Namibia. On our way to Namibia we met Lex Hes, who would be our guide for the rest of our trip. In addition to guiding and to running a school for guides, Lex is a terrific wildlife photographer; his work appears in most of the better books on the region, and he has several of his own, including The Leopards of Londolozi. We not only got the benefit of his experience with the animals, but basically had a private two-week photo workshop that completely changed how we look through the lens (though please don't blame Lex for any of our weaker efforts here!).
We stayed first in the very remote Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge. No roughing it for us, the rooms were amazing. The Namib Desert is beautiful with its sea of red sand dunes and moonscape-like volcanic rock mountains. The permanent dunes here are said to be some of the highest in the world. I've read that geologists say that the Namib Desert could be the oldest in the world. The older the dune, the brighter the color from slow iron oxidization and millions of minute fragments of garnets. The tallest dunes are over 300 meters or approximately 1000 feet high. On our full day here, we visited the Sossusvlei dunes and Dead Vlei, a salt-encrusted dry lake that killed all trees here. It is amazing that the area doesn't get covered by sand, but the white, salty bottom is always visible.
It is incredible that animals can survive in the desert, but an amazing variety of them do. A sampling of the animals we saw during our game drives includes: Gemsbok(Oryx,) Mountain Zebra, Springbok, Cape Fox, Cape Hare, and Ostrich.
August 6 - 7 - Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, Namibia. A short trip for a change of pace before the safari. While we were here, we enjoyed a dolphin cruise around the bay where the seals jumped on our boat and we had a hard time getting them to leave (our captain feeds the seals regularly and they know he always has food aboard, but he doesn't usually have such a tough time getting them to leave). After our cruise, we had a very nice seafood barbeque lunch on the beach and quad biking on the dunes later that afternoon. It was quite windy, so you really needed the goggles, but it was fun zooming around the dunes on those bikes.
August 7 - 10 - Jao Camp, Botswana. Jao Camp is a private reserve on the border of the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta. The camp is all built on raised wooden decks to allow the animals to pass below, this elephant is passing right near our room in the background. We had all kinds of activities here to visit the animals. Some days we would head out in jeeps and visit places accessible by land, others days we would ride in a boat to a nearby island and drive in jeeps kept there, or we might stay on the boat and visit the hippos and birds that live in the delta and catch a glimpse of other animals passing through the shallow areas of water, or one morning we went out for a short ride in the shallow dug-out canoe-like boats that they call a mokoro. Each of us got to have a try at driving the mokoro, with differing success rates. Mokoros are the primary transportation of the locals from this area when going to their home villages near the camp. Our camp was beautiful and very luxurious for being in such a remote area, the rooms are all open with screens and netting over the bed and look out over the water of the delta.
A short list of the animals and birds we saw at Jao include: Red Lechwe, Leopard, Elephant, Warthog, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Zebra, Hippo, several kinds of Stork, Heron, Eagle, Hornbill, Kingfisher, and too many others to count. It was an amazing area for birds.
For most of the trip, Safari day schedules were something like this:
5:30 - 6:00 Wake up call
6:00 - 6:30 Depart on morning activity or game drive, return to camp around 10:00 or 11:00 for Brunch
14:00 - 16:00 Lunch or Afternoon tea, depending on schedule and camp
16:30 - Depart on afternoon game drive, Sundown drinks in the bush, night drive on the way back with spotlights for nocturnal animal sightings, return to camp between 19:30 and 20:30
20:30 - Pre-dinner drinks and dinner
August 10 - 14 - Chitabe Camp, Botswana. Chitabe is another camp which borders the Moremi Game Reserve. Here, we were further away from the Delta in a drier area and everything is done driving in the jeeps. This camp is not quite as luxurious as Jao, but still quite nice with tent canvas for walls instead of permanent structure on raised walkways and platforms. One afternoon, some guests weren't allowed to come or go from their room since there were lions napping underneath them in the shade. Another day, an elephant was in camp and decided he wanted some of the green trees on the other side of the walkway, so he used his tusks and broke a section of the path until he could get the snack he really wanted, then he left. Luckily, this was in an area where there were multiple choices of pathways or some guests would have been stranded in their rooms.
A sampling of the animals we saw at Chitabe: Lion, Chacma Baboon, Elephant, Leopards Zebra, Cheetah, Hyena, Ostrich, Kudu, Tsessebe, Impala, Bushbuck, Bat-eared Fox, several kinds of Mongoose, Jackal, and many more.
August 14 - 16 - Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe. After our morning game drive and brunch, we headed to Livingstone, Zambia to see Victoria Falls. Our rooms at the River Club overlooked the Zambezi River about 10 miles upstream from Victoria Falls. Before dinner, we headed over to view the falls for sunset. The views and colors are really amazing. For our only full day in this area, we arrangeded to go white water rafting on the Zambezi River. We got fitted for helmets and life jackets before heading to the river. The boats are put into the water just around the corner from the falls, at the bottom of the river gorge. The noise from the falls was very loud and we were quite wet from the mist. There were rescue kayakers in the water with the boats to catch people who fell out of their rafts on the rapids. Our trip was approximately 24km and included mostly class 3, 4, and 5 rapids as well as one class 6 which you are not allowed to go over and had to walk around. Most of the rapids have names like Devil's Toilet Bowl, Gnashing Jaws of Death, The Washing Machine, The Terminator, Morning Shower, Morning Glory, etc. A couple of the kayakers went through the class 6 rapid, also known as Commercial Suicide, but even most of them walked around. They sent the rafts over empty and the kayakers caught them on the other side. There was a brief stop for lunch and then more rapids and some smooth coasting along the river to a nice beach, the afternoon was much easier than the morning part of the trip. At the end we had to climb a steep trail up and out of the gorge to the buses waiting to take us back. We couldn't take many photos of the day with our disposable cameras, but they do have photographers along the sides taking photos. You can see a good sample of those photos at the website of our rafting company, Safari Par Excellence and have an idea of what our day was like.
August 16 - 17 - Johannesburg, South Africa. Spent the night in Johannesburg before heading out to our last game park. J-burg seems somewhat of an armed camp, with houses in all the nicer neighborhoods surrounded by six foot walls topped with razor wire -- quite forbidding.
August 17 - 21 - Londolozi Bateleur Camp, South Africa. Londolozi is one of several private reserves which border the Kruger National Park and is famous for its leopards. The leopards are normally one of the hardest animals to see in the wild, but amazingly enough we have seen more than one at each of our camps! Although we normally didn't see other jeeps when out visiting the animals, when there is a good sighting, the jeeps all communicate by radio and others may come to where you are. We tried very hard to always situate our jeep so that others wouldn't be in our photos, but this will give you an idea of how close we all got to the animals. This trip was all about photography and our group had lots of stuff. I wish I had a copy of the photos some of the other groups took of our jeep when we were at an animal sighting. This will give you an idea of our determination to get the photo. Sometimes the acacia tree thorns had to be braved to get a closer shot!
We were also determined to track the apparently semi-legendary Aardvark, after a hilarious story that our guide Lex told us, no doubt to his great regret (ask us to tell you the story, so we'll know if anyone read this far!). He gave it his best effort, closely investigating a likely burrow.
Some of the animals we saw at Londolozi: Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Buffalo, White Rhino, Zebra, Nyala, Impala, Duiker, Giraffe, Mongoose, Warthog, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, and many others.
August 21 - 22 - Traveling. Headed home from Johannesburg and arrive back home mid day on the 22nd.