Tanzania: The Serengeti Edition.

Our entry into the park took longer than we anticipated. It was a bit of mayhem. There were different desks to file the paper work and then pay, and lines are not something they use there… It’s more of a mob mentality where you have to push your way through. The last time we had experienced this was at the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe the year before. I didn’t expect this as much in the tourist regions of Tanzania, but I suppose it’s because primarily only Tanzanians were frequenting the “lines”.

DSC_1146Once, we had everything squared away, we passed through the final checkpoint with our car where they verified our documents and then dropped the chain barrier so that we could officially enter the park. We still had quite a ways to our next hotel, which as you know, was an impromptu booking.  On the drive in, we were ecstatic to see a hyena bathing in a big muddy puddle right on the side of the road. We were able to stop right next him, and as he got up and began to walk away we were able to move forward side by side. Even though, I have encountered hyenas in person (fed one by hand even!),  and just seen them earlier that day in Ngorongoro, I had never been this close to one in the wild. I was electrified.

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As we passed through the park “center” we saw a petrol station, and figured it would be a good idea to top off the tank since the park was so vast, and we didn’t want anything stopping us from exploring in the coming days. As it turned out, the petrol station in Serengeti National Park was the only gas station we had found in Tanzania that took credit card. haha. Brad was in utter disbelief, and it allowed us a good laugh.

Once we found our lodge, checked in, unpacked & got settled, we decided to head back out for a little while. The one thing we quickly learned about was the dreadful tsetse fly. They loved our big white SUV. Flocked to it, really. There we were in the African savannah constantly swarmed with massive gnarly flies. ..but it didn’t slow us down. …and it definitely did not stop me from hanging out the sunroof despite their aggressive bites, that had Brad cursing and swearing constantly as they snuck into the car.

That night, we were under strict instruction not to wander off on our own on the hotel grounds. We were to be escorted  to our room after dark because of the wildlife. While dinner was good, but not exciting we didn’t linger too long. Instead we headed back to our room to get some rest which was aggressively interrupted in the middle of the night when we were awaken by a ghastly intense screeching roar. I had a feeling what we had heard was a leopard, and it was right outside our room. …no wonder they had the rule. I was accustomed to hearing buffalo or antelope or night, but I was not prepared for that bone trembling sound that I experienced. You know, the kind that even though you just turned 30 (literally, that was the early hours of my birthday) makes you want to hide under the covers and wonder if it could break through the tiny window by the door because it can smell you and your snacks!

DSC_1202That new day was my birthday, but not just any birthday, my 30th! …and I was ready to get the show on the road. I was eager for lions, cheetahs, leopards, anything and everything I could see, but especially the big cats I had never seen before in the wild. So, we loaded our gear back into the car & headed out once again.

With our sightings few and far between, mostly just giraffe, warthogs, baboons, etc… You know, the basics. We decided to call it a day since Brad’s stomach was starting to act up. We raced to get to our hotel in order to beat an incoming rain storm. We were navigating a very rough, and overgrown road, and at this point, the humidity and the bush areas of the park were giving us the royal tsetse treatment. It was the most we had seen, and even our hotel host couldn’t believe the amount of flies that we had brought with us.

As the rain began coming down, we hunkered down in the lobby. Our host told us that on occasion they have a visiting leopard that likes to come into the open air space and take up comfort on the sofa along the wall. I was hoping it was something I could bear witness to, but I did not have the opportunity, unfortunately. Wouldn’t that have been something??? To just wander into to lobby one day, and see a leopard ‘posted up like it ain’t no thang’. I don’t even know what I would do in that situation, but if I had to guess I would say that I’d probably just start talking to it! haha.

When we got to the room, it was clear that Brad was done for the day. He was feeling pretty crappy. He decided to soak in the tub, so I went and walked the grounds hoping to see wildlife. I got nothing, not even a monkey. It just wasn’t my day, which was very disappointing since it was my birthday, after all. My husband was sick, and I had no critter sightings. Romance & adventure were definitely out the window!  When I got back to the room, Brad was in bed. I talked to our hotel host, who was kind enough to bring us some tea, ginger ale, and crackers. Their service was top notch which was great since the room cost us nearly 1000 USD a night. …but if you could see our view from our balcony, and feel the beds… It was worth every penny, and definitely the only place where Brad could be sick and comfortable at the same time! The massive tree house-esque tent was pretty luxurious considering we were in the bush!

We had a gorgeous view at dinner again overlooking the Serengeti. We sat on the patio and enjoyed a wonderful meal, until it started to drizzle again. They were kind enough to move us under cover to finish dining. Again, we were waited on hand and foot, and shortly after dinner they surprised me with a birthday cake and song! It was truly special to be treated in such a way in one of the most incredible places I have been. Despite the disturbances in our day with the tsetse flies and Brad’s intestinal troubles, the views and first class treatment were definitely easing my woes!

We finished off a movie before bed that night, and the following morning were packed up again before breakfast. It was a bright new day for wandering the savannah, as well as, Brad’s stomach.  We found our way back through the high grasses that covered the rough muddy road, and were headed toward the next hotel which was the opposite direction. We spent the bulk of the day just driving around in hopes of something  spotting magnificent.

With the luck we were having, I wasn’t expecting to see much more for the rest of the trip, but I tried to stay positive. We kept trying different roads, and watched where the other vehicles were headed, and sure enough we got lucky a couple hours later. In a new area we stumbled on a long line of cars overlooking a log with 3 lions lounging the day away. They had no interest in the tourists or their snapping cameras; just the cool breeze brushing through their fur and warm sun. It was perfect basking weather for a cat. After a little while, we moved along to let some other people in.

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DSC_0241As we continued our journey on the opposite side of the main road, about 30 minutes later we were just doing our thing when we were caught completely off guard by a LEOPARD carefully settled in the middle of the road drinking out of a puddle. He blended so well with the color of the dusty road and the shadowy shades of gold and green behind behind him that we barely even saw him at first. It all happened so quick that at first I couldn’t tell if it was a leopard or a cheetah. Within a couple seconds of us spotting him and him spotting us he was on the move. He played coy for a bit hiding behind the grasses before crossing the street right in front of us and heading for cover in the overgrown pasture. While I stumbled to get my camera and focus in on the leopard I was in complete shock that we had just miraculously encountered this shockingly beautiful creature, whose movements were paced with poise. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that I was just gushing over this animal as we went our separate ways. As I lost sight of the tips of his blackened backs of his ears, it was as if he was waving goodbye with the tip of his tail.

DSC_0836-2Brad & I continued to traverse around that same area in hopes of seeing other big cats, but no luck was had. There were plenty of buffalo and birds, but then our luck continued to change. As we headed back to the main road, we noticed a group of cars huddled near a tree…. We new that meant only one thing: a sighting! We headed that direction with steep anticipations, and thankfully were towards the front of the pack with an excellent line of sight of a pride of lions, mostly cubs and a couple older females hanging out in a tree. Yes, your read that right. These massive kitties were in a ginormous tree. We were probably there for 20-30 minutes, but because of the nature of this sighting we ended up getting trapped in a massive mob of safari vehicles. Thankfully, because of our excellent position, we were not bothered to be stuck. I was having the best time photographing the sweet youngsters as they rested in the tree, and then one by one followed their mother across the dirt road to a new tree. This was probably one of my favorite and most special safari memories.

It was a good day for cat sightings, and we had our full day of adventure, but with the evening start to creep up, we decided to try to find our next hotel. It proved to be a massive challenge. Probably, the biggest of our trip. We attempted to follow the GPS, but it was of no use. We ended up heading down dirt paths in the completely wrong direction, so we tried a different route, but no luck. At one point, we headed to the Visitors Center to get help, however they were of no help. While they had sent us in the correct general direction, there was no possible way that we could have found the place alone. At this point, tempers were starting to flare as we had no idea what to do. We had passed another tented camp that I thought could have been it but there was no signage, it seemed to be in the wrong spot, and we couldn’t figure out how to get to it (because of roads). Thankfully, at this point after hours of trying to find our way, we met a safari guide on the road who was able to help us. In fact, he was headed to our exact same tented camp with other guests! It was an honest to God miracle! In that moment the Lord was looking out because there was no way we could have found this place on our own.  We thought we were pretty far out, but it turned out that we had to go even farther!

DSC_0623 (3)We were in the middle of nowhere now & our hosts were telling us about how they had been having lions in the camp hunting… which we never saw, of course.  It is safe to say, the tented camp was the least luxurious place we stayed while in Tanzania. It was just us in a giant hot tent with small dim bathroom amenities, but we still had an overwhelming thirst for adventure to compensate. Our dinner was incredible, but followed by a rough night of sleep. The winds were so aggressive as they whipped against our tent that I thought it might start to pull up from the ground or the roof might blow clean off. It was mind boggling!

DSC_0815-3We had a really early breakfast the next day, and our camp hosts were kind enough to pack us to-go lunches for the road. We spent the day mostly exploring the area closest to us. I loved seeing the large rocky outcroppings where I hoped to see a pride of lions chilling, or cheetahs resting…. but during the first half of the day, we only got one big loner male lion sleeping on top of a stone heap… Just his head was hanging down a bit, as the flies buzzed around his large snout.

Later on in the earlier hours of the afternoon, we were roaming solo on what felt like the southern most parts of the Serengeti. There was no one around. It was quiet and the sun was beating down on us through the windows, but we just kept driving hoping for a sighting while fighting the urge to give up. When we finally saw another vehicle we pulled up behind it, and noticed they were watching something in the far distance barely even noticeable to the naked eye. It was two female lions stalking a family of warthogs. The lions would come up and down from the tops of the waving grass whilst keeping a watchful eye, waiting for the pigs to unsuspectingly inch closer and closer. However, as far as I know things didn’t work out for the lions. Despite their patience and talent for ducking low, the warthogs headed farther away. We were disappointed not to see a mad dash for a meal, but I was, also, relieved for the pig family knowing they probably got another day to stick together. We ended up leaving with the suspicion that the lions were not going to be having warthog for dinner, and felt our time may be best spent elsewhere.

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It was crazy how one day we had incredible success, and the next we saw hardly anything. It was hard to stay enthusiastic when all you wanted was to see more leopards, and even a cheetah for the first time. That’s what is crazy about doing a self-drive. It can really be an all or nothing gig. It’s all left to chance!

DSC_0553 (2)-2As Brad was ready to turn back & head to camp for the rest of the afternoon, I wanted to push on a little further as it was still early in the day with nothing waiting for us at camp; and thank God we didn’t! Lady luck was shining down on us after all! As we drove down the windy and very bumpy quiet road with no one even miles near, we stumbled upon a cheetah. One gorgeous cheetah who didn’t really want to give us the time of day, but also was in no rush to get away from us.  We stalked her from a safe distance, hoping to respect her boundaries as she sauntered away, but all I wanted to do was leap from the car and walk along side her through the giant field while I stroked her back with admiration.

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Feeling lucky again, we pressed on more, but nothing more came to be seen. At one point we lost track of the road, so we decided to stop so that we could figure out where we were at. I climbed on top of the car to get a higher vantage point, but I couldn’t see anything. We had no choice but to do a little mild off-roading. NOTE: Both getting out of your car & going off road are big No No’s in the Serengeti. You can get a big fine like Kristen Bell & Dax Shephard (complete with music video).

Once we found the road again just a short jaunt away, we knew it was time to head back. I was ready to be out of the car since it had been another  long day on the road, and I was psyched to clean myself up and have a hot meal again. That night was, also, a rough night of sleep. I didn’t think it could be any noisier than it was the night before, but I was dead wrong. It was so loud, I was actually slightly concerned for our safety.

The next morning we were up early as usual, enjoyed breakfast, packed up our bags, and began making our way out of the Serengeti. The sun had barely risen, but we noticed a little tan head just above the grasses watching some warthogs in the distance. We sat and watched the patient girl for a few minutes, but then passed on figuring that this could go on for hours.

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DSC_0721 (2)I was sad to leave the Serengeti, but was, also, kind of eager to head home since this trip had very much so had its challenges. That morning began our long journey back toward Arusha.  We cruised around some of areas near the main road and actually had some fabulous encounters with elephants, impala, and even a chameleon crossing the street before we officially said goodbye and topped off our fuel.

…to be continued.

 

Here are some of our other photos from the Serengeti:

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Tanzania: The Tarangire Edition.

It was a long drive in. As we got closer to our turn off point, we realized we needed to stop for petrol because we wouldn’t be able to get any for a couple days. The problem… There was not a petrol station anywhere in sight. We had to turn back. At this point, we were ready to kill each other. It was just one of those days… I felt Brad didn’t listen to me or think things through, so here we were rerouting, wasting time, etc. It was nothing short of classic marital nonsense.

So with our journey slightly rerouted, we searched for a petrol. We found a spot, but they didn’t accept credit cards, so we decided to check one more station… …and, naturally, they didn’t accept credit cards either.. We were at a loss and just decided to bite the bullet and fork over more of our cash. We didn’t have a choice. We were burning through our cash faster than we knew was possible. This was a major unexpected problem we were having in Tanzania.

Back on track, we followed the long dirt road back to the Wildlife Management Area which was further back than the GPS made it seem. We wondered if we were on the wrong road, but decided to press on because we had no idea where else it could be. Our perseverance paid off, and we got there around 3PM, but we were not ready for the headache that we were about to experience. Brad got out to speak to the guard who insisted that we were supposed to get our permit back in Arusha. He refused to take payment there, and told us the only way for us to get through was for us to go back to Arusha for the permit. We were flabbergasted, given our experience at Lake Moshi, where the man took our cash without hesitation. NOTE: I wonder if the man at Lake Moshi, just pocketed it…  We wondered, could this day get anymore frustrating?

Young WarriorWe waited patiently as possible, and Brad insisted the man call our hotel to work out the details. After constant back and forth phone calls, the manager of our next hotel worked out a deal wit the guard that the hotel would pay for the permit, and it would be delivered the following day by a colleague in Arusha, but the guard had to let us through. He agreed. NOTE: Thankfully, this time wasn’t totally in vain; the silver lining to this mess of a situation was the pictures I was able to get of the Young Maasai boy dressed in his warrior costume. I was able to trade these photos for a bottle of water 1000 Tanzanian Shillings.

Finally past the gate, feeling agitated and simultaneously relieved, we pressed on. We thought we made it through all the obstacles for the day, and were finally ready to dropped our bags, relax, and unwind so that we could enjoy tomorrow. Unfortunately, an even bigger obstacle lay in our way. A river. IMG_1871-2I wish it were a joke, but it’s not. At this point, swear words were flying from my mouth, and we were feelng defeated and disheartened. We could literally see our hotel on top of the cliff across the river. We were envisioning the worst, such as a night without dinner and breakfast and sleeping in our car. Quickly, I tried to pull it together and plan. We got out of the car to try to examine the depth, thinking it might not be as bad as it looked. I was throwing in rocks the size of my head and sure enough it was a hard plop and they were gone… Brad volunteered to wade in and see how deep it was, but I was strongly advising against it because if I lost him to the river, there was absolutely nothing I could do. I had seen a sign for a hotel a little ways back and decided we should head there to try to call our hotel. We did just that, however, we hit another snag. IMG_1874When we pulled into the parking lot, we were dumbfounded. The place had burned down (I am cracking up while I write this, by the way). Was this situation real, we were wondering. It was straight out of bad dream. Brad took the lead, and headed to speak to the workers who were working on rebuilding the place. They sent for the manager, while Brad and I waited restlessly for about 15 minutes. We still hadn’t heard from anyone so Brad wandered off in search of someone who could help us. Finally, two people came over, and we were able to explain our dilemma. They tried to call our hotel, and while this was going on some of the construction workers ran off to the river to check the depth. We followed along in our 4×4 with the hotel management in the back seat.

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When we pulled back up to the river side, one of the workers was wading his way across the river. He was able to navigate all the way across on foot, and it never went past his hips, so we knew we would probably be fine. Our path was determined.

Once that man was back on our side, a car came charging down the hill to the water, and pushed its way through to us. A British chap hopped out of the vehicle and gave us the run down. He was the manager of our hotel, and came to our aid. He informed us that they had been yelling to us from the hotel, but we were never able to hear them.  Brad and I thanked the locals & hopped back in the vehicle, and followed our new guide across the river, to be led to our next restful location.  As we wandered up the hill and into the tall grass we were delighted to see elephants right by our hotel… NOTE: This meant there were rules… like, don’t walk anywhere alone at night. Stick with your Maasai guide. 

When we got there, the Tarangire River Camp, we followed our rescuer to the lobby area. We had a good chat about the river (it had appeared just a couple of days earlier because of all the rain), Tanzanian politics and tourism, and how difficult it is to do your own self-drive tour in that country,  then filled out our forms…and, next, we were ushered to our tent. The Maasai carried our bags for us, and led us down the dirt path to our little piece of heaven. We unpacked a bit and got ourselves organized before we went to wander the grounds.

IMG_1884We found our way to the viewing deck which overlooked the river we had to cross. We couldn’t believe the day we had. We were so grateful to be at camp and be able to let loose. We wanted drinks with dinner to help take the edge off, but with our cash situation being slightly dyer we kept it light. We enjoyed the incredible meal, and turned in early.

It was a great night’s sleep followed by an early morning. We were eager to get a jump-start on our day. We got our bags back to the car, and enjoyed a simple breakfast. We had to pay cash (cards weren’t accepted) for the remainder of tab which included our fee for the WMA gate and our beverages with dinner.

With everything loaded and ready to go, we were ready to cross the river again, and take on the challenges of the day. Thankfully the water level of the river had lowered over night, so navigating the water wasn’t quite as challenging.

DSC_0214.jpgWithin 20 minutes we were back at the WMA gate. Brad got out to see if we were okay to exit, but sure enough the guard would not let us through. We were beyoooond frustrated. Brad had the guard call the hotel and speak to the manager, who assured the guard that his guy was on the way with the permit. …but that still wasn’t enough. We were required to wait until the man with the permit arrived, despite showing him the proof that we paid the hotel for the permit. We discussed just going around the barrier and taking off, but we didn’t. We waited about 30 minutes, Brad kept going in and out of the office hoping the man would cave, but he was resistant. Brad contacted the man with the permit who assured him he was on his way and would be there soon… but “soon” seemed to be a loosely used term in this country. Finally, Brad called the hotel manager himself to see what his take was. His advice was exactly what we wanted to hear… just go… haha. So, we did. Brad told the guard we were leaving, quickly got back in the car, and we took off around the barrier. We were not going to keep playing the games. We had shown proof of payment and he had assurance, from multiple people, that it had been taken care of. It was out of our hands; we had to get on with our day.

Luckily, it was a short drive to Tarangire National Park. We got out of the car, had one last bathroom break, filed our paperwork, and paid the fees (they took card). We took the map and high spirits, got back in the car and went through the gate.

DSC_0543Tarangire took us completely by surprise. We were in the park for several hours. We took turns driving, and went down many differentroads in search of lions and leopards and cheetahs. That portion was all standard, but what got us was the insane amount of elephants. We saw hundreds!!! That is pretty much the only thing I even remember seeing in Tarangire: elephants. Old elephants, baby elephants, bulls, females, families, pachyderms… it was absurd. Several hours of our life were spent invading herds of elephants. I would stand out the sunroof filling, photographing, and of course, speaking to these beautiful, powerful, majestic animals.  There was one time we were even threatened by an elephant to back off. Don’t worry, we did.

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Thanks to you pictures, I can tell you that in addition to the elephants, we saw zebra, antelope, springbok, a variety of birds, giraffe, vervet monkeys and more. But, elephants were the only animal in the Big 5 group that we saw. Aside from the quantity of elephants we encounter, Tarangire wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, but we were, also only there for maybe 6 hours. I think with the right amount of time, we could of tracked more.  Here are additional images from the park:

We eventually decided that it was crucial for us to make our way out of the park, and get back on the road. We had to make our way to our next overnight location Gibb’s Farm, which sat on the exterior mountainside of Ngorongoro Crater.  It was about a 3 hour drive, and we wanted to make it in time to relax before the sun went down.

…to be continued.

Victoria Falls: The Road Trip Edition (Part 2).

 Day 14:

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iphone update 1385With a game plan in mind, we were going to Zambia, we started our day off right. Breakfast first… then we parked our car in the lot just outside of customs and across from the Victoria Falls National Park entrance & made the walk to the Zimbabwe customs office. Getting our of Zimbabwe was a cinch. We paid our fees, got our stamps, and crossed. We made the walk across the Victoria Falls Bridge. We were able to take in the breathtaking view of the “smoke” rising up from the water crashing below. It’s a view that would never get old. Within minutes, we were greeted by a couple of Zambian men who were curious about us. They asked us all about our homeland, how long we were visiting for, what we were doing that day. It was fun, until they relentlessly tried to sell us jewelry that we didn’t want. NOTE: The key is to just be as gracious as possible in turning them down. Sometimes, even when you tell them that you have no money, they keep pushing because they know that you could just get more money… Their selling strategy: wear you down, but the key is that once you buy one thing, they will try to get you to buy another.

When we were almost to the Zambian customs office, we were greeted by another man… He would get us a taxi. He was so persistent on getting us a taxi, that he followed us into the customs office and watched us until we were done. At that point, he just kept on talking to us and telling us that it was a long way into Livingstone and that we needed a taxi. We agreed on a price, and he took us over to one of the drives who then drove us into the town. We were dropped off in front of a cafe, and proceeded on foot. We followed the main road passed many shops and even saw an event happening in a parking lot, that appeared to be the national soccer team doing some contests and entertaining the “commoners”. It was interesting, and it seemed like everyone was having a great time.

iphone update 1389We continued on. We ended up at a Mukuni Park Curio Market that lines one block and had a covered walkway. It was great. There were several shops (most of which sell the same stuff), but they had far better things to offer on this side of the border. I had my eye on a few things, but we knew that we would need more cash. So, with goals in mind, we continued on. We ended up wandering through a shopping area that was definitely for the local people. There were shoe shops, mattress shops, and home supply shops.

NOTE: It was one of those moments, where I looked around and realize how blessed we are to be American citizens because the shops were very small and crammed full of simple things, and the shops were mostly dirty and so poorly lit that some of them seemed dark. It was a truly humbling moment. If these people saw how we live here, with our large shopping malls that are so immaculate, they wouldn’t even know what to do.

Brad told me a story about a couple of Congolese that were brought to the US for training. One of the first places they were brought was Walmart. Apparently, they were completely overwhelmed, but at one point brought back two overflowing shopping carts full of alcohol. What we take for granted, our living in absolute excess, to them is like sweet manna from heaven because they are so used to living with the bare minimum. Sometimes, I think we lose track of reality here, I know I do at times.

We ended up near their large market which had produce, tech products, clothing, textile.. it was interesting, but it wasn’t for us because it was clearly for the locals. We ended up turning back toward where we started. Brad was thirsty and needed some caffeine to help him gear up for the negotiating ahead. After fueling up at Cafe au Lait Limited, it was time to find the ATM, so we headed across the street to Barclay’s (a large banking institution). The ATM line was pretty long, and I ended up in an awkward situation when a drunk Zambian guy came up to me and was trying to give me his keys. He kept telling me that I had to drive him because he was too drunk to drive. He then continued to make some unkind remarks, and was telling Brad that he wouldn’t say what he was thinking because it wouldn’t be appropriate… It was really uncomfortable & I was really happy when it was our turn to make our way up the steps to use the ATM. By the time we came back down, the guy was gone. NOTE: we didn’t want any trouble because of being in a third world country, where the people look out for each other not necessarily visitors, so we did our bests to just let him do what he needed, and just minded our own business as best we could. 

iphone update 1394.JPGWith relief, we made our way back to the curio market. We passed several booths before getting to the first one that I wanted to see. We negotiated hard here. I ended up with a beautiful tribal mask. Then we went down a little further where we negotiated the price down for 3 paintings. …we were ready to go… but on our way out, we were stopped. One of the shop keepers really liked Brad’s sunglasses. He told us that he would trade Brad’s sunglasses for any three things in his shop. We were on board since Brad’s sunglasses were not expensive. However, the shop keeper, and now his brother, were then telling us that we couldn’t have any three items and that if we wanted what we had chosen (a large carved out bowl, a carved ironwood elephant, and a mask) then we would have to pay them extra. They wanted a lot, and it took a lot of effort to get them where we wanted them. We weren’t messing around because they intentionally tried to trick us. We were ready to walk (reluctantly) if they didn’t give us what we wanted. We settled on the three items traded for Brad’s sunglasses and 100 Kwacha (their currency- when I looked up the exchange rate, it was wildly inaccurate. I think it was about, 1 Kwacha to 10 cents when we got it).

iphone update 1393.JPGWith our hands full of Zambian treasures, we headed back toward the border. We were dead-set on finding a place for lunch and ended up at Kubu Cafe. They had a fairly well diversified menu, so we ended up getting a sandwich and a burger. The food was pretty good, and the service was wonderful. It was a pleasant place where you could sit on the patio without being hassled. We felt ridiculous with our large pile of loot sitting on the table next to us, but we also, had a great deal of pride in our stack of finds.  With lunch over, we still had some Kwancha to get rid of, so I headed next door to the grocery store to buy some food to take back. They didn’t have as good of options on the other side of the border, surprisingly. Here, I was able to grab another pack of Oreos and Kips.

We felt so alive, and felt as though we were finally starting to find our stride in this part of Africa. We wandered back toward the street wher we grabbed a taxi to take us back to the border. When the price was agreed upon, we loaded up and climbed in. The drive back was short, but we had an unplanned stop along the way. Our driver was stopped by an officer that was in the middle of the road. Our driver, then, pulled over and got out of the car and was talking to the officer for a while, and then was over by the police car. Brad and I were concerned about the situation and were quite confused. Frustration was setting in because we had no clue what was going on. Were we going to have to walk back?? haha.

Finally, our driver returned to us and shared that they were looking for someone, and that he had told the officer that he would take us to the border first since he had committed to that, and then return to help in the search. It was peculiar, but we said ‘okay’ and continued our journey.

At the border, as soon as we were out of the cars, the locals around the customs building began talking to us. I had one man telling me to make sure I kept my food up high because the baboons would try to steal it. I wasn’t entirely sure how true this was, but I figured he must know from experience. I was going to be dammed to let some monkey steal my precious Oreos, so up into my large trough like bowl they went.

Going back through Zambian customs was, once again, a breeze. We just got in the short line, and waited our turn for our stamp. We then proceeded back toward the bridge. A man came up to us on his bike with a small pull-cart attached. He begged us to let him give us a ride to the Zimbabwe customs office. We had to continually decline. I think he was frustrated that we wouldn’t say ‘yes’, as he started to get a little snippy with us. It wasn’t long before our friends from earlier showed up, claiming that we had said we would buy jewelry. The guy that had talked to me was far more accepting when I declined his offer. Brad, on the other hand, had a very persistent Zambian who did not want to take ‘no’ for an answer (I’m cracking up as I am writing this). While Brad was continually trying to rid himself of the persistent salesman, I ended up with another guy begging me to trade my food for his trinkets. I continued to politely say ‘no’, as I looked straight ahead and increased the speed of my walk. Brad was finally able to catch up, and the guy trying to peer-pressure him began to back off. Finally, we reached the office.

Getting back into Zimbabwe was, as usual, a pain. Although, it was far more organized than when we were coming from Botswana, we still were dealing with silly problems. We waited in line as the officers took their time processing each person in front of us. Thankfully, we had beat the rush of a tourist group, that somehow seemed to pass us by. We filled out our necessary forms, and handed the man our card (we were purchasing double entry visas this time – which sadly, we were never told about the first time we crossed over). Naturally, despite several efforts, our Chase Visa card wasn’t working – the irony, it worked fine everywhere else before & after. Both of our cards were continually declined, so we ended up using most of the cash that we had. We were so frustrated, but did our best to shake it off because there was nothing more we could do.

With everything finalized, we felt rather silly walking back to the car with our stockpile of goodies, but we were so excited to have found such great items. We headed back to the hotel to unload & unwind. We decided it would be a good night to go to The Boma for dinner & a show. …and we did just that.

We showed up without a reservation & were given a sarong to wrap around us and tie over our right shoulder. We were just in time to be greeted by the greeting committee. A group of Zimbabwean men and women dressed in tribal garb with faces painted, all while singing us a fantastic greeting. It was slightly overwhelming to the point that I had a ridiculous large smile on my face and couldn’t help but laugh with pure joy. I was so excited, like a kid at Christmas.

iphone update 1404.JPGWe were led to our table  off to the side in a quiet area near a stock pile of drums (when we figured that they prefer you to have a reservation). They took our drink order, and then proceeded to bring us an appetizer with some exotic meats (such as crocodile & kudu), and some not-so exotic things like a vegetable samosa and something else. Everything was delicious. We then, were able to hit the buffet. Each of us started with a bowl of soup, that I remember was fairly sweet but definitely delicious. It was then time to move on. It was time to get serious. We were hitting up the big buffet, a buffet of meats and stews!

I wasn’t feeling bold enough to go wild and try everything, so I made it a point to make my main food source the chicken skewers. I ended up having a nice chat with a guy from Australia, and was talked into trying the peanut (butter) spinach by an American. I grabbed a bit of the guinea fowl stew, and a white grain like-substance that resembled mashed potatoes, but had a consistency more similar to couscous.  I also, ended up grabbing the tiniest scoop of mini-fish because I couldn’t tell what it was when I was in the line… The low down: the chicken was chicken, the peanut-butter spinach was not my fave (turns out I’m just not a huge peanut butter fan), the white stuff was bland but went well with other dishes, I didn’t even bother trying the tiny fish because they still looked like tiny fish, and the guinea fowl stew was BOMB!! Sadly, my guinea fowl was mostly bone and skin & not a lot of meat, but I was so glad I got to sample it. While sitting there, Brad gave me some warthog from the stew to try, and it’s safe to say it was, hands down, the best thing at the table. The flavor was amazing, and it was incredibly tender. I would have thought that it would be gamy and maybe fatty, but I guess it makes sense… I’m a pork-lover!

While we were eating a team of drummers and dancers took the stage to enlighten us with their talents, and give us a little sample of Zimbabwean culture. It was so fun! It was loud, but fun! They had festive costumes and their dancing was crazy as they went along with the overwhelming rhythm of the large drums. I LOVED IT!  ….a little bit later on, after dessert, they passed around smaller drums to all the guests to join in and did small competitions between each section of the room. At one point, they had everyone up in a circle on the main floor competing in a dance off. Brad & I stood there for a while before we tried to escape in fear of getting picked because we are your stereotypical white people that are terrible dancers and have no musical rhythm.. or just rhythm in general.  As the majority of patrons danced on, Brad & I decided we were ready to go back. We wanted to explore the National Parks the next day, and were tired from our grueling border-crossing journey earlier that day.

Day 15:

We woke up at a normal hour, and decided that it was a good day to head back to The Lookout Cafe for breakfast. The weather was beautiful. It wasn’t quite as good this time. Brad got what I will call a “deli plate” (because it was meats & cheeses), and I have no remembrance of what I got… Probably just eggs and toast. Sometimes, less is more…

With some slight disappointment in our hearts (over the food, never the view), we headed back tot he car. The plan was to head south toward Hwange National Park. We took the detour that was in place because of a road closure. We weaved our way through part of the town, and back to the main road. Dead ahead was another police stop. Brad’s immediate reaction was to just turn the car around. He didn’t have it in him to be hassled again over the car. I think he was on a short fuse at this point. I was frustrated now too, because it was another plan that we had to scrap. We just decided, instead, to go try to enter into the Zambezi National Park that sits just down the street from the hotel.

We had tried to get in a couple days before (or maybe after Zambia), but they would not let us because they didn’t think our vehicle could handle the terrain, nor did they think our car was actually four wheel drive… (makes sense, it kind of looks like a mom car).  Today though, we succeeded. The lady at the desk told us to take caution, stay on the main road, avoid flood areas, and that if anything happened to us we were on our own. We paid our fee, got our pass, and headed into the park. We reached the gate keeper who verified our documents and let us through. It was all dirt road from here. We didn’t think it was nearly as bad, as the lady had made it seem. There were definite rough spots, but we didn’t feel doomed from the start.

ipad update 1881.jpgWe were incredibly eager to see some more wildlife. We spent many hours in the park driving up and down roads as far as we thought possible. At one point, we attempted a mud spot along the main road, and ended up having to back out because we were not getting enough traction. We were disappointed because we hadn’t seen anything other than birds, springbok, and monkeys. We ended up turning back with the intention to start exploring side roads.  Things started to improve. Small crocodiles had beached themselves along the stream near one of the bridges in attempt to warm up. We began to see larger types antelope grazing or lying in the grass… and as we took on one of the large hills, we saw zebra and wildebeest sticking together.

ipad update 2128.jpgWe made our way back down and unsure of what to do, headed back toward the entrance with the goal to explore more of the side roads. We drove up and down a couple with nothing exciting to share, but then, as we began our descent down one of them, on our left hand side, stood a large bull elephant snacking on the tall grass. He was so handsome, but didn’t have much interest in us, so began to wander away, and as did we.. As we headed further down we came across a group of warthogs that spooked as soon as we got to close. We decided we wanted to trek on a little further, but our journey was cut short by a deep mud hole. We were stuck.ipad update 6205 Thankfully, not too stuck. Brad hopped out, and was able to give us enough of a shove while I pressed the gas pedal to get us out. We ended up finding another way around, but it just led to a dead end and no other sightings. We were wearing down fast, and losing hope. It was too hot for many animals to be out, and the grass was way too tall to see anything resting below. Before we headed out we decided to head back a little ways so that we could do one final check because the elephant had renewed our spirits. We ended up heading down by the river to see what else we could find. We were hoping to see some animals getting a drink, but that was not the case. As we continued along the path, a bathroom break was required. Once again, I was vulnerable to the elements, but my bladder was feeling so much relief.

ipad update 6129We continued driving along the river for a little while, and we got pretty lucky. We ended up running into a mash up of zebra and giraffe, and we had the pleasure of watching them for a little while before we all decided to part ways. The sun was sweltering, and we knew it was time to go… but before we did, we headed back the opposite direction  along the river where we had seen another random driver. From there you could see a narrow strip in the middle of the water. A small group of hippos rested along its bank, and a crocodile laid upon it. We were really excited about this because the crocodile looked quite large and well-fed. It was the first time we had seen one this large in the wild.

We were 3/4 of the way back to the exit when we snuck up on a tower of giraffes. FUN FACT: A tower is what you call a group of giraffes. We watched them for close to ten minutes before parting ways once again. Giraffes are such fun animals to watch with their excessively long limbs. (A Zambezi NP Gallery is at the bottom)

We finally made it back to the hotel, where we dropped off our gear, and cleaned ourselves up. We hung out for a little bit longer while I did a little bit of laundry in the sink.

iphone update 1452.JPGWith dinner on our minds, after not having a proper lunch (it was Kips & granola bars again in the car), we headed to Shearwater Cafe just along the main road that takes you through town towards the falls, the bridge, and Zambia. We were ready for a really good meal. We ordered our drinks, a pizza for me, and pasta for Brad, and enjoyed the warm African air.  I continually had issues with my sparkling water, as it was clear that the manufacturer wasn’t probably sealing the bottles. Thankfully, the restaurant was willing to take care of the issue without any trouble and even comped our drinks. The food was really good! It was nice to be eating something more familiar and more substantial.

We wanted to do a sunrise game drive the next morning, and were eager to get back to the hotel to get rest so that we could be up by 5 AM. We discussed going to Chobe National Park, but decided to just go back to Zambezi NP. We had heard amazing things about Chobe, but because we were wanting to do a sunrise drive, we thought it best to stay closer so that we didn’t have to be up as early, or deal with customs that morning.

Day 16:

iphone update 1455First, we stopped at the office & took care of fees & paperwork before setting off on our journey once again. It was a fun drive, and it started off with a couple of guinea fowl running up and along the road ahead of us before spastically jumping off into the grasses.  We were continually hoping to see some lions crossing to the river for morning drink, or to see a leopard in a tree with a fresh kill, but we got nothing. No dogs or cats on this trip. We followed the main path as we did the day before. We followed behind a troop of baboons for a while until they cleared the road. ipad update 5973We tried again to make it past the large mud pit, but it was too risky. We ended up turning back. This time with a photo of the map, we headed in search of new trails. First we made our way back up the large hill from the day before, but saw nothing on the way up. As we made our way back down, and as we approached the main road… There in the trees, shaded in mystery were a couple of Cape buffalo. It was the high point, thus far. The biggest thing we had seen that day. We wandered back down some of the smaller roads in hopes of finding a new trail. We had success. We found a small road that was quite overgrown most of the way that led us further baipad update 6064ck into the park. We did not see a thing. It took us across a river, and over a large outcropping of rocks.

Eventually, we decided to turn back because it didn’t seem like there was much hope for sightings if we continued on this road. We found a spot to turn back, and crossed through the river, and attempted to make the climb over the outcropping of rocks, but had a very difficult time. We were getting stuck. The front of the car was bumping the ground below  and our front right tire was up in the air.  I had to get out of the car in attempt to help guide Brad through this section. It was far more helpful to have a set of eyes on the road outside of the car, than two sets inside. From here, getting back was a breeze. We cruised right along, and seems like we spent less time going back than we did going in.

ipad update 6096When we reached the main road in the park. We continued on a little ways, and decided to head down another small road. On our way up, we ran into yet another group of giraffe and zebra. We watched the towering giants slowly meander through the area, while the zebra took off in pure fear. We followed the small road as far as we possibly could, back through large trees that looked like elephant land. The path we were on came to an abrupt end at the paved main road that leads you from Botswana into Victoria Falls (the one we had driven through on our way into town the first night). We were baffled that it was so easy to get into the park. It seems like easy access for poachers, as there was no fence or any other protection, but I guess elephants could just break it down anyways. We also, found it funny that we had just paid $30 dollars to get in to the park, when we could have just entered through a random dirt road off of Kazungula Road. Ahhhh, Zimbabwe!!!

Our sights were few and far between that day. With nothing truly exciting to report. It was all the usual, but this time Cape buffalo instead of elephants. (Don’t forget the photo gallery below!)

Since breakfast had been a stock pile of granola bars, and the remaining Kips… We knew that we needed to get some food, and clean up. We head back to the hotel, and upon arrival, I noticed that we had actually done some slight damage to the vehicle around the front left wheel-well, but it was able to be repaired. Thankfully, a couple of the men from the hotel, came over & helped us pop things back into place. We were incredibly grateful for their willingness to go above and beyond.

iphone update 1242After getting ourselves a bit more put together, and changing our clothes, we headed into town, and back to The Lookout Cafe. We decided we wanted to enjoy that gorgeous view one last time before we left.  We scarfed down our delicious food, while we watched the place fill up with other patrons who were equally as enthralled with their surroundings.

When we were done & the check was paid we decided to walk down the hill a little ways in search of the nature walk, but I think we missed our turn because we just ended up near the train tracks where the local guys try to sell you the fake currency and carved items.  We spent some time down there photographing the baboons that had walked down with us from the top of the hill, and then decided to turn back because we began getting frustrated, so we decided to turn back.

We headed for the hotel, so that we could start getting organized, but I just felt like going back into town and browsing the shops one more time. There wasn’t really anything that I needed, but I thought one of the flat woven baskets would be fun to hang on the wall. We ended up in the handcrafted market down the street and across the train tracks. This time we went to an area where there was suppose to be no hassling, but that wasn’t the case. I, also, remembered that there was a specific printed fabric that I wanted, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. When I communicated what I wanted to one of the shop keepers he was determined to find it for me…. however, he just continually showed me patterns and color schemes that I didn’t want and were nothing like what I showed him. While we were waiting for him to check elsewhere, we wandered into one of the shops, where we found a woven bowl that we could agree on. Brad got the price to what he thought was reasonable, and we left. We were almost to the car, when the shop keeper who was looking for the fabric found us. He brought us down the road back toward the market we had visited a few days prior. He brought inside of the women’s building, and they all proceeded to completely overwhelm me by showing me tons and tons of fabrics that were nothing at all like what I wanted. …not even close. They were trying to guilt us into buying just about anything at this point too. I was so over it and burned out because everywhere you look there was a woman with fabric or keychains or some nonsense trying to get you to buy it and they all talk over each other in attempt to get your attention, so Brad and I just turned around and left while turning them down one by one from start to finish. We said we may come back the next day, but the danger with that is that they try to get you to commit to a time, a day, a place. Its insane.

iphone update 1478.JPGSo we got back in the car and drove a very short distance to The Three Monkeys, a fun outdoor restaurant with a big “I ❤ VIC FALLS” sign in the yard. We were excited because we had driven past it several times, and were curious. When we got seated, our awesome waiter took our drink order. While we sat perusing the menu Brad notice that the shop keeper that was on a fabric hunt, was at the restaurant entrance being kept out by the restaurant staff. They had more fabric in hand. We thought the situation was taken care of until we noticed that they found their way around, and into the yard. They came up to the railing (we were on an elevated platform sitting maybe four feet off the ground), and started lifting up the fabrics that they had found. I was dying on the inside. I didn’t know whether to laugh or yell, at this point. Nothing, was even close to what I wanted, and their scheming to get past the entrance was hilarious. You just have to admire their commitment to trying to close a sale.

Brad and I enjoyed our dinner. I got a chicken wrap and a salad (both were huge), and Brad ordered a pizza. Brad’s pizza was really salty, and my wrap had a lot of dressing, and my salad wasn’t quite what I expected… But, overall it was pretty good. I would go back! It was fun atmosphere, and would be a great place to go with a group. We didn’t stay too long after because it was time to head back and start packing.  So when we got back to the hotel we did just that. We did our best to get organized, and had fun watching the reality shows on Discovery Channel.  We just enjoyed each other on our last night.

Day 17:

We were up somewhat early, and headed to breakfast. We decided to eat at the hotel for convenience reasons, and I just found myself frustrated while we were there. We ordered from the menu for obvious reasons: it was the cheapest option. The food was fair, and I could not wait to get out of there, so that we could focus on other things.

Our Britz rep was meeting us that morning so that we could drop the car off. We ran into him in the parking lot, and he let us know that he needed our paperwork from the border crossings. Thankfully, I had held onto every piece of paper through out our journey, so it was just a matter of going back to the room and sorting through it.  He looked over the car, and we were good to go. Brad & I followed him back by his house, where we met a couple of guys that were responsible for driving the vehicle back to South Africa. Once all the details were sorted (which meant our rep was keeping the African in check by stating that he didn’t want his customers hassled over details, and they needed to figure it out), our rep drove us back to the hotel.  He told us that he had been trying to work with the government to instate laws or actions that prevent police from constantly harassing or bribing tourists. NOTE: I was thankful for that effort because we had definitely experienced it, and it is just frustrating. I can’t imagine how terrifying it for people who don’t understand how those things work. 

Brad & I worked to get everything packed up, and then met our taxi driver out front. We got checked out, and were on our way. It was a beautiful drive and a bit long.  When we got to the airport, a man came and got our bags for us & brought us to the ticket counter. Getting through security and customs was a breeze as it was a very nice new and small airport with a couple of cafes & shops.

The flight back to Johannesburg was easy and short. When we got there, I had four hours until my next flight, so after dropping off my checked luggage again, I headed back to Brads hotel, so that we could hang out together for a while.

Eventually, it was time for me to head back to my terminal. Brad walked me to security… and for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I was not ready to let him go this time. But it was time for me to head to Spain to meet my sister.  So finally, I let go, and tried to make us laugh to ease the pain.

I was through security and it was time for the next chaper.

Zambezi National Park Photo Collection:

Botswana: The Road Trip Edition.

 iphone update 1147Day 9 (continued):

When we reached the customs building we began filling out our forms, but then realized that we needed to register the car. All the information needed had been provided by Britz, so that made it easy. Once we had everything finalized & had paid all the necessary fees, we were on our way. We were probably in & out of in less than 10 minutes. It was great!

ipad update 4857.jpgImmediately, once we crossed into town: donkeys. We thought it was fun, and they seemed so out of place to us. When we think of donkeys, we think of North & South America. I mean, we have donkeys (a.k.a. burros) that roam wild here in Arizona near Lake Pleasant. None the less, we were entertained. As we passed through the town, and out toward the middle of nowhere, the donkeys did not seem to disappear. Donkeys lined the streets and occasionally blocked the streets. NOTE: One thing that Brad’s co-workers had warned us about was donkeys. Brad was told that there were going to be tons of donkeys. We learned quickly that the best way to get them to move was to honk the horn and do your best to not stop…. They will move… I preferred a more gently approach. Roll down the window, and ask nicely. Both methods were effective. 

The other thing we noticed very rapidly were the potholes… and the size. Some looked as if they could swallow a car. The potholes, much like donkeys, never disappeared. They, too, were everywhere and constantly slowing us down. There were several points that we had to attempt to veer off the road to avoid a pothole or several. Sometimes, off road was the only way around the potholes… Kind of defeats the purpose of the road. 

We were astonished that Namibia’s roads were so pristine, and yet right across the border, Botswana was a different story. I’ve never seen roads in such poor condition. …and as Brad would say, “as soon as you start getting comfortable, and thinking you are in the clear, they pop back up”. There were a few big potholes that we had hit, and the scary thing for us was, that with no phone service, and being in the middle of nowhere, if we popped 2 tires, we were screwed. 

ipad update 4830.jpgAnyways, back to the journey itself. Botswana (aside from the roads) was beautiful.. It was very lush and green, and there were many massive termite mounds to be seen. ….and donkeys. haha.  There were also, large numbers of goats and cattle, as well. About half way through our drive, the weather began to change drastically, and surprise (not surprised), we were in a massive down-pour. This had us a little on edge. With the amount of rain that was falling (basically like driving through a waterfall), and the number of potholes on the road…. We were driving at snail speed in attempt not to die and/or be stranded.  Eventually, though, as they always do, the storm cleared, and we were back in the sun.

The time did eventually come for a bathroom break…. Note: That’s the other thing… On the drive from Rundu to Maun, there were almost no places to stop and eat or use the restroom. We were really surprised. It was mostly small villages & townships. Because of the lack of amenities, we ended up having to find an area where we could pull over. Sure enough, being a guy… This was no issue for Brad. For me on the other hand, it’s a slightly different story. It requires balance and willingness to bare my “goodies”, as Ciara would call them, to the elements.  When I was out of the car, I found that the muggy air was almost too much to bear while I wandered off into the bushes while simultaneously studying the ground for snakes or anything else that might have wanted a bite of my derriere. All that I could see were ants… a decent sized beetle, a spider that I was keeping an eye on, and a millipede that had wandered off in search of some privacy. Me on the other hand, that was the best I was going to get. So, I did my business as quickly as possible and made my way back to my car, which in a sense felt a little but like a walk of shame.

We turned back on the main road continuing our journey to Maun. It was another day without lunch, and surviving on granola bars, and other snacks, but it wasn’t too bad considering the most strenuous activity of day so far had been putting my luggage in the car and squatting in the bushes.

We arrived to Maun that evening. We were on the city outskirts as the sun was setting, and by the time we reached our hotel (which I think I had to find off memory again), Rivernest Boutique Cottages,  it was dark. We checked in & took our times getting our bags to our spacious suite (it had a small kitchen & a living room). Once we were settled, it was time to find dinner. Because our hotel was not serving, and thank God for that, the hotel receptionist directed us to Sedia Riverside Hotel which was only a few minutes back up the road towards town.

Finding our way back to Sedia was a little difficult because part of the road was flooded & Brad was convinced that we were going the wrong way…. I, however, was persistent about following the road we were on because of the street-side sign. I think he thought I was nuts, but the key is that I was right. Within a minute or so, we were there. We told the man at the gate that we were there for dinner & had no issues getting in to park. iphone update 1157We walked into the beautifully decorated hotel, and headed toward the restaurant which was out on the patio. We got a table with no issue, and our server was kind enough to walk us through our options: Buffet (which was mostly picked over) or the Menu.
The menu was a no brainer, and I ordered a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables which was to die for. As simple as it was, after not having a real satisfying meal since Walvis Bay, it truly entertained my tastebuds! I finished it off with a hot fudge sundae in order to satisfy my sweet tooth. We, also, had a couple of enchanting dinner guests… A couple of cats that I’m assuming live on the property. They were hoping for a handout!

We were back in the car, when I realized that I had left my purse on the chair next me. As I started to head back in, our waiter was coming out after me to deliver it. I was really nervous because that bag had all of our money, my passport… everything. So it was a real delight & a testament to the integrity level of the hotel & the staff when I learned that nothing was missing. It was a big part of why I was thinking I may want to stay there the next time I return; that and because the food was so good!

When we got back to the hotel, I made it a priority to start washing my underwear, so that I wouldn’t be bogged down with it when I got to Victoria Falls. We then spent a little time watching Planet Earth on my iPad, before we called it a night.

Day 10:

The next morning we were up bright and early for another big adventure. A mokoro ride on the Okavango Delta (through Delta Rain). NOTE: I was interested in using another company, but had no way of getting a hold of them, it seemed as if they went out of business or their middle man did. Delta Rain’s prices seem to be pretty reasonable & they were prompt in their reply. A lot of company’s seem to respond in Africa time, which is slower than a Mexico minute, and sometimes they just don’t reply at all. But first breakfast, we headed into the dining portion of our hotel. The lady took our order of eggs and bacon (which also came with beans & tomatoes). We were able to take our time eating because he had plenty of time until we were to be picked up. However, our driver ended up arriving a bit early, so we did our best to get ready a few minutes prior. Our driver gave us a run down of the plan before Brad & I loaded up into the back of the massive 4×4 vehicle before we headed out toward the delta.ipad update 1433.jpg

The road was incredibly rough and bumpy, and many parts were flooded. Even our driver struggled a couple times getting us through, but he did. We passed by marsh lands that seemed to be a hang out for some local donkeys, small farm lands, and through a village. Once we were unloaded we waited a little bit before our driver introduced us to iphone update 1168our mokoro guide. I cannot tell you what his name was, I couldn’t pronounce it there, and I can’t even remember it here from home, but I remember his smile. Our guide loaded up his mokoro with our massive cooler of lunch food, and our chairs for sitting in. Once we were ready to go, he instructed me to sit in the middle and Brad to sit in the front. I was incredibly jealous because part of my beautiful view included Brad’s head… Once we were both seated our guide pulled the boat back into the deeper water and began to push us along with the pole. We were off.

ipad update 1453.jpgThe delta was stunning! The grasses that emerged from the water were close to 2 feet tall, and the thousands of waterlilies were scattered throughout the water. We were pushed through clearings where motor boats would pass through, or our guide would take us down incredibly narrow paths which meant you would occasionally get smacked in the face with the reeds.

After about an hour or so of floating, we were beached. Our guide led us under a large tree where a clearing had been made by previous visitors. Here, we dropped our belongings & took a minute to cool off before heading out on foot.

I was completely unaware that we would be trekking through the wilderness on foot, and was unprepared. I was in flipflops, and some of the grasses were up to my waste. We stayed on the trampled paths, and wove through the grasslands as a small herd of three. Occasionally, ipad update 4913I feel the sharp grass roughly scrape my shins and the tops of my feet, but I kept going with an enthusiastic spirit in hopes of seeing something grand.

In the distance our guide pointed out zebra, wildebeest, and antelope that had been grazing. We watched them as they watched us, unsure of whether or not they should move on. We kept searching for larger animals like elephants or giraffes, but none could be seen in the heat of the day. We saw a crane in the far off distance & a beautiful bee-eater, but nothing else. We had been walking for near a half hour, and there was no cloud cover or breeze to break the searing sun from our skin. We decided to turn back at the lack of wildlife to be seen.

iphone update 1169When we returned to the tree, we set up our lunch. There were chicken legs (I opted out, in fear of food poisoning), pasta salad, rolls, and a bean mix concoction. Everything tasted so good, and cold food and water were a refreshing option in the shade.

Eventually, other groups began to show up. We started speaking with a Dutch couple who had been driving from Victoria Falls. (They had our same route, just about, but were just going the opposite direction.) We had a good chat about our experiences, and they had warned of what was to come. They told us that the road up to Victoria Falls was in bad shape. They told us that the potholes were terrible, and that there was awful flooding for close to two kilometers at one point. They told us that we would probably need a snorkel to get through. This news made us a little uncertain of our future because our vehicle did not have a snorkel! Aside from that, It was nice to have a little bit of a social visit.

iphone update 1170With our lunch finished, and conversation beginning to dwindle, we decided we were ready to head back. We asked our guide to take us back a little bit early. What caught us off guard was how brutal the ride back would be. It seemed as if there were no clouds left in the sky, not a single breeze left to grace us with its presence. The sun was beating down on us, and it was almost unbearable. Brad was wearing his jacket at this point in an attempt to keep his fair freckled skin from burning, and I was using mine to keep the sun off my legs. I felt as if I couldn’t win. I had to pull my jacket on. It almost felt as though my skin were going to begin melting off my bones.  At one point we had to stop so that our guide could rinse off his face in the cold delta water. About halfway along our journey back, our guide pulled us up into a clearing and pointed out the small cluster of hippos at the other end. It felt bold to be coming up behind the hippos, and you never know if one may come up behind you and capsize your boat. I prefer a death that excludes hippos…

iphone update 1178When we got back to the main shore, we were glad to see our driver waiting for us. He was early. He was willing to snap a cute picture of Brad and I together before we all loaded up into the vehicle to head back.  The journey back was once again rough, but this time I was very sunburned & doing all that I could to stay away from the sun, which included moving into the middle seat. I, also, had a full bladder & could not wait to get back to the room.

That evening, before heading out for dinner, we made it a point to wash away the filth that had set in our our boat ride and wash a few more clothes before our departure the next day as it began to pour rain (thankfully, it came after our mokoro ride, but a light rain would have been enjoyed on the boat). While I showered, Brad took the car up the street to fill the back tire back up with air because we didn’t want it to get any lower over night since we had an activity planned the next morning.

Dinner ended up being a big cheesy pizza from Debonair’s Pizza. This was the same place we had eaten at in Kruger the year prior, but this time it was one thousand times better. NOTE: Maybe it was just because we were craving pizza, or maybe it’s because quality control isn’t as big of a deal in Africa as it is in the states.  The other thing I have to say about Debonair’s in Maun is that the service was impeccable. The gentleman there that acted as our server was great. He was incredibly friendly, and on top of his game. I was really impressed. He was better than a lot of American servers, and I’m sure he will make it far with Debonair’s if he stays with the company.

After dinner, we ran over to the super market next door to grab a sweet treat. The debate was more oreos or to mix it up. We mixed it up. We each got ourselves and ice cream bar… and Brad chose better. Do I remember what I got? Not particularly (an ice cream version of an American candy bar… not a Snickers, otherwise there’d be no regrets), but I remember that Brad’s was better.

We wandered to the car and drove back to the hotel. We were in for the night. I finalized some things for my sister-trip to Spain, and then we ended up watching a movie again, and began to get organized for our early departure the next morning.

Day 11:

We were up with the sun again. We made sure our bags were completely packed up & that was nothing was left behind before loading up the car & heading to grab some breakfast. We ordered the same as the day before, but today it seemed harder to eat, especially for Brad who was having some minor stomach issues. Our appetites just were not their usual selves. Being as it was, we dropped our key at the front desk and drove towards Maun International Airport for our helicopter ride with Helicopter Horizons. We were meeting at 8:00 AM, and had a take off time arranged for 8:30 AM for a 45 minute ride.

iphone update 1186When we arrived at the office, we were given our tickets to get us through airport security, and made our payment. We were then instructed to head to the airport, and pass through security.  So we did just that. We showed the man at the screening area our tickets and our passports. From there, another man met with us and put us in the back of his sedan along with one of our pilots. It was a short drive over to the landing pad. There, we then met our other pilot. We watched as the two arranged the helicopter for our door-less excursion, and admired the surrounding areas. We were then briefed on safety precautions and instructed on how the head sets worked. It was easy.  With in minutes, we were strapped in and ready for our very first helicopter ride, which happened to be over the Okavango Delta.

ipad update 1577With clearance from traffic control (which you could hear taking place through the headphones), we began our ascent into the moist Botswana air in search of the swampy delta & all that reside there. We passed over the township, and the fence (which is intended to help reduce the issues had with foot and mouth disease), and after about five minutes or so, you could begin to see the tall grasses and vast openness. Within minutes we began to spot the giraffe and zebra and antelope. …and after a few more minutes, the elephants began to reveal themselves. We were finally seeing elephants!!! It was what we had been waiting for. Not too far below we could see herds of elephants scattered within the trees, and giraffes eating, and antelope leaving a dark trail in the grass-filled waters. It was beautiful.

In that moment, I was jealous of God’s view. I wish I could always see the world that way.  It makes me wonder how it feels to take in the views from Mount Kilimanjaro or Mount Nyirangongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m sure it’s far more satisfying the beautiful view I can have here at home from the McDowell mountains which over look the valley of the northeast Sonoran Desert.

The flight went quick, and I was sad for it to end, but it was an incredible start to our day. We had a long one ahead of us. On our way back to the car, we stopped into the gift shop, but found nothing for us. Instead, we headed to the gas station. We had an 8 hour drive ahead of us, and needed to make sure we were prepared. We got gas & Brad had confirmed that our tire was still good from the fill the day before.

ipad update 1706It was on: an eight hour drive first to the east and then North & into Zimbabwe for our final stop at Victoria Falls.  The drive was interesting.  A little ways outside of Maun we experience another road stop (we experienced several on this trip, many that haven’t been mentioned), but this one was slightly more intense. For some reason, they had us get out of the car while they asked us what we had in it. All we had was luggage, and that’s what we said; they didn’t even inspect our vehicle. They were looking for any type of animals or foods they may have been of any cause for concern. Naturally, we don’t just pick up stray steenbok, and tote them around in our vehicle. So we were told we could go. NOTE: They had several veterinary check-points through our road trip where they could check livestock for traces of diseases. We were often stopped at these, and then quickly waved through, usually after verifying Brad’s drivers license.

ipad update 5096Road conditions were pretty much the same, many potholes & many donkeys…  For a while, we had a “spotter”, as Brad calls them. A driver in front of who has to dodge the potholes first. This, in my opinion, also made things a little more interesting and entertaining.  Eventually things began to improve as we neared Motopi, and headed into Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. This is where we had our first free-roaming elephant sightings. We were able to get a few pictures of big beauty playing shy behind a tree.

Once we were out of the National Park, the road began to be flooded. (If it wasn’t one thing in Botswana, it was another.) When the Dutch people had told us of flooded roads, they made them seem impassible, and like there was only one spot. However, there were several spots that we passed through where water was flying up and away from the car as wheels went crashing through. My immediate assumption was that the flooding had probably subsided & that we wouldn’t have to worry about any impassible flooding. iphone update 1209I thought we would be fine since the other couple had driven through a couple days prior… What I didn’t realize was that the worst was still ahead. Finally, we reached the extremely flooded area. We were hesitant. There was a medical vehicle ahead of us that seemed to sit a little lower and, also, did not have a snorkel. The driver fearlessly charged into the water at a mellow speed. Our only option was to follow with no one behind us. The water was probably a little over knee-deep (granted I’m 5’6″) and did probably go on for at least a mile. Brad did his best to stay just behind the vehicle in attempt to avoid his wake. The water was lower this way, and the last thing we wanted was to flood the engine.

It was a stressful time in the drive. I took video and pictures, and did my best to encourage Brad and remind him to stay close enough the car ahead so that the water stayed low. Eventually, we all made it through. …and I had to laugh as we reached the end where many vehicles sat debating or waiting to tow out other bold drivers. We did it.

After that the drive became a breeze. We stopped in Nata for fuel & hoped for snacks but we decided to opt out because it didn’t seem like they had great options, and instead just took advantage of a bathroom break.  As we headed further north we went through a few national parks, and from there we began to see more of the free roaming elephants. We had one large bull try to intimidate us into fleeing by throwing his head up and down while simultaneously flapping his large ears in unison. He was magnificent: a beautiful reminder of the intelligence and majestic nature of the largest earth-roaming mammal.

ipad update 5324During our drive, we got hit with a few rain storms, some heavier than others. We also stopped at the gas station in Pandamatenga for snacks, which was really just water & a KitKat because we were trying to use our Botswana Pula (the currency).  As we drove further north we passed through beautiful fields of flowers full of large birds. Brad won’t admit to it, but I think he refused to stop for photos… I think he was burnt out on being in the car.

ipad update 5307Eventually we made our way into Kasane, the Northern city of Botswana. From here, we headed to the Customs office to fill out paperwork and get our passports stamped so that we could leave the country. Little did we know about the “fun” that was about to unfold once we crossed the border.

It was Bye, Bye Botswana. Hello, chaos.

…to be continued.

 

South Africa: The Kruger Area Edition.

With all of our things loaded in the back of Neil’s truck, we were off on a new adventure and our itinerary had begun.  (Neil & his father own and operate Jewel of Africa Safaris & I found them on Safari Bookings. I picked them because our trip was customizable, Neil was very prompt in responding to my all my emails, and the price was reasonable. Not to mention, they booked us at a sweet hotel just outside of Kruger National Park!) You can view our 5 day itinerary here (it will open in a separate tab): Kruger-itinerary.

africa-2016-058With the road trip underway, Neil started us out by sharing about the history of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and on towards Kruger. It was very informative, and I’m sure that Brad loved it far more than I did. The drive lasted close to five and half hours, but had some beautiful sights along the way. Halfway between Joburg and the Kruger area, we stopped at a rest stop that had a few different fast food restaurants, and a great view of a small man-made watering hole and a small gathering of animals which included rhinos.

africa-extras-100Eventually, our drive did continue, and we made our way to our hotel, Pezulu Treehouse Lodge. Sadly, we did find out that we would have to stay in 2 separate “rooms” while we were there due to a booking issue, but we didn’t care because we were stoked about the hotel in general! FACT: The Pezulu Treehouses were awesome. They were literally tree houses, off the ground with room for animals to walk underneath! …and the food…. the food was some of the best that I had on the entire trip.  Our first adventure was a bush walk around our hotel. It was so cool. We were able to get in close proximity to the giraffes, we saw ostrich, zebra, buffalo… ….and lions… Well, when I say that we saw lions… It was one of the local residents who offers walks africa-extras-062with his “pet” lion sisters… Funny enough, they caught glimpse of the giraffes, and due to their natural instincts took off on a chase after the long-legged & long-necked mammals.  Neil instructed us on what to do should we get charged by the lion (stick your arm out in front of you & wave your hand back and forth to disorient it), and we laughed because we weren’t sure how serious he could be. Once the lions were back on track and we round out our bush walk, we headed back to camp. We relaxed for a little bit, and then headed to the outdoor dining area, which was complete with a campfire surrounded by the amazing cuisine.

We were off to bed early, because we had to be up before the sun for our Kruger NP safari. We were picked up by the entrance of the hotel, and thankfully the staff had packed us a light breakfast. africa-extras-063It was a long & cold drive into the park, but we got to experience a beautiful sunrise, and even had the exciting experience of seeing a dead honey badger on the side of the road… When I say “exciting” I am being sarcastic… It was both sad & unfortunate… Once we were to the park gates we had to fill out an informational form for the park records, we were able to grab a quick snack and coffee, and then we were back in our safari vehicle for our big adventure. Right off the bat, we were seeing Impala, Kudu, zebra, giraffes…. A while later we saw many elephants, we saw a couple rhino… and from a far distance, we were able to see lions through binoculars. To be honest, our day in Kruger wasn’t what we hoped for. We did not see any lions on the move, we saw no cheetahs or leopards either… basically, no cats… but tons of everything else!  FACT: Animals live by their own rules and will do their own thing… There are no guarantees in nature. During the middle of the day, we stopped at the “food court” in the park for lunch. The options are all fairly basic. Several quick order and go places with decent food, but nothing to brag about. Either way, it was nice to be out of the car for a while! We chose  Debonairs Pizza, which was marginal to say the least.

By the end of the day we were ready to be done, the lack of exciting sites, and the chatty Canadians that we were sharing a vehicle with pushed us into the “ready to go back” mood. When we got back to the hotel, the staff had taken care of moving our bags to our next tree house, which was a little smaller than our original. (Because of the inconvenience, Neil had arranged a surprise for us early the next morning.)  Dinner was delicious once again, and the pleasantries exchanged with Neil over dinner were enjoyable. It was like having a friend at our table each night… In fact, he does remind me a lot of one of my better friends.

Africa 2016 153.JPGThe next morning we were up early, but thankfully after the sun. We met Neil down on the main patio for  breakfast that consisted of eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee/tea or juice. It was simple, but sufficient! The big surprise was that Neil had arranged for us to walk with the lions, the ones mentioned above. We were so excited! Being the animal lovers we are and because of the limited interaction that can typically be had between men and lions, this was a true thrill for us! We walked through the bush to West’s house ( They also own Lion Treetop Lodge) where he walked us through some information, we signed a waiver… and we headed out.  Africa 2016 167 2.jpgWest is armed with an automatic weapon on his back, in the event of another lion coming into attack, not because he fears his well-fed lions are a threat. FACT: These lions are not drugged. They are loved, well cared for, well fed, and definitely treated with the utmost respect. He also, has 2 game keepers with him to help keep tabs on the lions, and we were also accompanied by his dogs… A Golden, and a Jack Russell named Sam who was clearly the alpha over everyone (We heard a brief story about how he once grabbed onto one of the lions lips out of fury, and the Lion ended up just shaking back and forth in attempted to fling him off) . The walk seemed like it flew by. All I could do was admire the beauty and majesty of these beautiful adolescent white lions. They walked with such intent, and played with a inquisitive ferocity. They were stunning, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. We were encouraged to pet them, hold their tails, and walk beside them, but I would be lying to say that it wasn’t in the least bit a little intimidating, and I was definitely cautious about being overly handsy… After all, I want to keep my hands.. The walk was amazing, and Neil acted as our personal photographer, and held onto my Nikon the entire walk while snapping some amazing photos. After we walked them back to the house, we were able to enter their enclosure, and discuss the nature of the lions more, as well as grab some additional photos. You can view a series of our photos here:

After the lion walk, we all went back to get spruced up, and rest for a few minutes, before we headed on to visit Jessica the Hippo. Perhaps, you have heard of her??? She is famous…  There was even a short documentary made about her. Apparently, she has been on Friends, and she is one of the only hippos to constantly interact with people… so much so, that I even got to give her a kiss. Jessica’s owner told us the story, that after a massive storm, the baby hippo was found on the river bed near their home. They did what they had to, which was take her in as one of their own. Jessica & her new human parents fell in love with each other. Jessica was raised in the home, and has adjusted to her “human” life quite well. She allows her humans to swim with her in the river, and has no problem receiving their love. It’s 100% pure trust. FUN FACT: In Africa, Hippos kill more people than any other mammal… but not this tame lady!

Africa 2016 358.JPGAfter feeding and loving the big girl, it was on to the next… We were headed onto the next event… a boat ride on the Blyde River. However, when we got to the main gate, we found out that we had missed the boat. We continued on a little ways anyways just to check out the views… They were stunning… Once we had enough, we headed back to the hotel because Neil had rearranged our schedule, so that our Safari game drive was that night opposed to the following day… However, apparently our driver from that Reserve kind of, sort of forgot to pick us up. Realizing that they should have been their a while ago, Neil reacted. He called the company & pointed the mistake. Within minutes, we were in Neils truck, & we were flying down dirt roads with the intent to meet another driver who would then transport us to the Reserve. OH BOY! What a drive. I don’t know if you have ever ridden in an open safari vehicle flying down the pavement at God knows what speed, but it was the first time I was truly committed to wearing my seat belt. It was like a thrilling amusement park ride, but where you are actually thinking you could die if I Gazelle walks out in front of the car.

africa-2016-361-1When we reached the gates, we hopped out quickly, just to have to wait. We filled the necessary paperwork, and explored the grounds where we got to admire the cheetahs in their habitat on the grounds TIP: The next time you see a cheetah up close, look at its paws. They have paws like dogs, even though they are part of the cat family. Eventually, we were directed to the next safari vehicle which was already filled with a group that was probably waiting on us, the ones who got left behind. Finally, our evening game drive was happening. It was similar to Kruger… Lots of long, four-legged animals just chilling around the park. The skies had become cloudy, and the air had become chilly, but it was still exciting. All we wanted though, was a cat, and finally we got it! With direction, our driver found his way into a lion’s den… Thankfully, it was clear by their bulging bellies that they had recently feasted and had no interest in us. They just laid there, practically comatose and went about their day.

Finally, we backed out, which was an art form of its own. We drove around a while longer, and got to admire a beautiful African sunset over the treeline. It then became a night safari. But first, we stopped… We stopped off in a clearing for drinks and snacks for about 20 minutes. It was nice to stand for a while, but standing in a wildlife reserve in the dark, is a little creepy… I mean, who knows what might jump out from the bushes at you…  I made the mistake of drinking a beer which caused me to become a exhausted. The final leg of the drive (in the dark) is a blur… I just remember wanting to go to bed, and hardly being able to keep my eyes open. It was dinner time when we got back to the hotel. I was cold, exhausted, and very quiet… I ate my dinner, and then we headed back early for bed.

Africa 2016 412 1.jpgThe next morning, we got to sleep in just a little bit later, and enjoy a breakfast without feeling rushed. I was also able to get some  photos of the wildlife that enjoyed feeding on the hotel grounds. The nice thing was it was just going to be a mellow day, but sadly we were going to be in the car for a while. This was the day that we were truly going to get to experience the Blyde River
Canyon & God’s Window. It was a long drive up & along the mountains to visit God’s window, but it was worth it. It was also, quite cold… So armed, in Ugg boots (I brought other shoes too as back up) & a sweatshirt, we jumped out africa-extras-163of the car to admire the view. It was stunning! We were there for about 15 minutes, taking photos & following small short trails. It was like we were in another land… From the mountain top, you could see the vast valley & paper farms. It was foggy when we were there, but even then you could understand why it was called God’s Window. From there we headed back down to Lisbon Falls, the local waterfalls. We spent probably 30 minutes there, and Brad and I were able to climb down the mountain a bit to get some great photos, and realized it was time for some cooler footwear… It was difficult, but worth it. Then from there we headed to Three Rondavels View Point, which overlooks the Blyde River Canyon. The view was truly breathtaking.. Neil being the fabulous guide that he was, encouraged us to climb under the fence that was installed, and climb out onto the rock to get some great photos. Although we joked at the time, about how this is how Neil kills his clients… He was right! The photos were AMAZING, and worth the nerve racking thrill. It was just crucial to not look down.

Eventually, after a quick bathroom break, we made our way back to the small town of Graskop, which is mostly for tourists. The streets are lined with restaurants gift shops, but it was a great spot to stop, grab a bite to eat, and stretch our legs. We popped into the local chocolate shop to see if there were any goodies we needed, and then headed to Harrie’s Pancakes, where Neil had made a lunch reservation for Brad & I. Apparently, pancakes there very different than pancakes here. It is sort of like a crepe, but not… It actually kind of reminded me of a tamale (a Mexican dish), a little bit. It was different, and not my favorite. But it was a good experience!

africa-2016-512After a good meal, we were ready to begin our descent back down the mountain, and around to the other side for our boat ride. Neil winded around the rough South African roads, and got us to the boat dock. We all gathered to the front seats of the boat, and eventually our captain & crew were there to accompany us. The boat was filled with fuel, and we were off. We got to see the small little groups of monkeys play on the nearby rocks, and got to take in the breathtaking views of the canyon. The clouds had partially cleared, and the temperature had warmed up a bit. It was beautiful weather for a stunning environment. They took us to see skull rock, and then back around into the lake where we were able to spot, kudu, hippos, and a beautiful kingfisher. There after, the boat was turned around, and we were docked. Our fun was over, but it was a full day.

africa & extras 238.JPGWhen we got back to the hotel late that afternoon, we had to start getting our things together because we were leaving early the next morning. However, we mostly just laid around, I posted pics on instagram and perused social media, and Brad read CNBC… typical… Neil had made arrangements for us to go over to one of the other hotels for a little while for drinks and to meet his friends that owned the place. A charming German couple who made us feel right at home. We all sat around one of the “picnic” tables and chatted, as we watched the sun set over the horizon line. After spending an hour or so there we headed back to our hotel. Finally, it was time for our last supper & well, that food, that chef, that service, it would all be missed. I still miss it!  After dinner, it was time to get serious about packing. We packed all we could, and were off to bed for another 5 AM wake-up was ahead of us.

africa-2016-525-1With packing final, and groggy eyes, Neil picked us up at the bottom of the stairs below our tree house in the dark. We were off to one more game drive. Conveniently on this early morning, we ended up being the only ones in the car, and Neil came along with us. It was cold and cloudy, so it ended up being another very calm drive… TIP: Always bring a jacket, even in Africa it gets cold, thankfully safari companies do have blankets for the cold rides.  We didn’t get to see much more than we already had, with the exception of the stunning Guinea Fowl. I am sort of obsessed with the Guinea Fowl… You can see his picture above. We were able to get a few beautiful photos of warthogs, giraffes, and guinea fowl, but not much more. After a few hours our drive came to a close, and were back in Neil’s truck headed for Joburg so that we could catch our flight Capetown. It was a really fun final drive with Neil. He was definitely a great guide, that I would love to have him again should we go back… or even just grab drinks with if we are in the area. FACT: BOOKING WITH NEIL’S COMPANY IS A GOOD IDEA IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A FUN EXPERIENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA!

Finally, we were dropped off at the Johannesburg airport, and it was time to move on… Capetown was calling our name, along with all the wonderful adventures that would follow!

africa-2016-526-2LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) pancakes here aren’t the same as pancakes everywhere

2) Big cats are hard to find

3) A full cat is a lazy cat

4) Treehouses make the best hotel rooms hands down… even if the shower situation sucks!

5) I want to move to the Kruger area… I’m in love with it!

 

South Africa: The Johannesburg Edition.

africa-extras-043
yes, that is an ostrich….

After a flight to Atlanta and then a grueling 15 hour flight to Johannesburg, I was there, and I knew that Brad was waiting on the other side of Passport Control. I couldn’t wait.

 

We found our hotel driver, which I had booked ahead of time because I wasn’t sure how safe it would be getting from the train station to our hotel (as we figured out later, it would’ve been fine). We were booked at The Capital Empire in Sandton.  We confirmed with our driver that we were safe to wander at night, so once we were settled into our room we headed back down stairs to go try to find dinner, and get some exercise. After a brutal total of flight times, my appetite was minimal, but I knew if we didn’t get something that I would be up at 4 AM feeling starved.

We headed out the door of the hotel and through the security gate, down and around the corner toward Sandton City, the mall. We wanted to find Mandela Square. Brad had been there once before, but couldn’t remember how to get there. We wandered down various streets all around the mall trying to figure out how to access it. The struggle was real. It felt like we would never get there. Finally, we found the back way in. What we later realized is that it would have been just as easy to get there had we entered the mall first.  Once we were through looking at the gigantic recreation of Nelson Mandela we began looking for a restaurant where we could get something fairly simple and easy. We settled on a Tasha’s Cafe inside where I got a grilled cheese, and Brad got a salad… The grilled cheese was good, but America’s are better & I make the best..  Either way, with full bellies, and absolute exhaustion, we headed back to the hotel to sleep. Thanks to Brad’s job, he didn’t have to adjust to a different time zone. I was the only one that would suffer!

africa-extras-008The next morning we were preparing for what we thought would be a full day. When I woke up (before Brad) I didn’t feel like laying there until he woke up, so I went to work out for about and hour. When I returned, he was still in bed so it gave me sometime to get showered and start getting ready with the hopes that we would be out the door at the same time. The first thing on the agenda was breakfast. It was not included in our hotel, so we had to find something. When we reached the end of the sidewalk outside the hotel, we went right. We wandered a little ways down the road, and found a very enchanting cafe that I believe was called the Tea Garden. They had indoor and outdoor seating. Naturally, we wanted to enjoy the beautiful outdoor weather and the environment. It reminded me a little bit of Alice and Wonderland or Disneyland. It was whimsical and we thoroughly enjoyed it.We proceeded to have some delicious omelettes and toast before we wandered the grounds a little bit.

A little bit after we continued up the road a bit to see what else was there. We found a couple other small cafes as possibilities for the next morning, but we realized that it would be a good idea to head back in order to get on with the next activity. We gathered our essential belongings and headed back toward the mall to the Thrifty car rental. Getting a car took an extensive amount of time, as it seems is the norm. FACT: Car rental companies and patience are two things that don’t go hand-in-hand.  

With both of us in the car – opposites sides of the car this time, and driving down what felt like the wrong side of the road… We were ready to take on British-influenced streets of South Africa in an attempt to get to the Cradle of Humankind. FACT: It is ranked as one of the best things to do just outside of Johannesburg, and I would say that it was definitely an interesting exhibit. It is great for the science-loving, fact hunting, museum enthusiast. For me however, I got a little bored by the end. There are only so many little information tags under each exhibit that I can read before it all turns into mumbo-jumbo about the same thing. I did enjoy the boat ride,  though… Yes, a boat ride… A boat ride exhibit of how the earth has changed over the millions of years. …and there was a spinning starry tunnel which was kind of trippy. TIP: I will say that I would recommend this to anyone who has a free 4-6 hours, and doesn’t mind driving on the opposite side of the road, unless you are used to Her Majesty’s way. It truly was an interesting experience that  would be fun for kids and adults…. If anything, you get some incredible views of the South African valleys when you are done. But as a whole, it was way more & better than I expected.

We had a fairly long drive back into town, and thankfully, it was easier getting back into the city than leaving it. We returned to the hotel to drop off our car (we needed it the next day), and went to find ourselves a tasty meal. We headed back in the direction of the mall, as that is where the action was. We had a late lunch at Wangthai where we both indulged in a some delicious Thai noodle dishes. We sat on the patio as well which sits on the second floor overlooking the square. It was nice to just be able to sit and relax for a little bit with out any further plans hanging over head for the day. But eventually the check came, and an obligation to move on.

We spent quite a while cruising through the mall, and checking out some of the shops. The mall felt like a giant maze filled with all the usual things, but some unique brands. A few hours later, we found ourselves hungry once again for an evening meal. We wandered all over and eventually discovered what I call “the best Indian food (aka Chicken Korma) I’ve ever had” (granted, I’ve never been to India) at a lovely restaurant called The Royal India.

Once again, un-adjusted from the jet lag, we headed back to the hotel for an early bed time. The next day was a big deal, and we were extremely excited about it!

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S.A. McDonalds deliver your food on a scooter… and American ones have two drive-thru lanes… lol

 

We were up and at’em. We were in the car for our 2 hour drive, but still needed food. Being the bold adventurers that we are, we stopped at a McDonalds along the way for a very quick and efficient breakfast composed of egg biscuit sandwiches. They were delicious as usual, and definitely cheap.. We were back in the car, quick as a flash, and were headed to Bela-Bela in the Limpopo province. What awaited us was way more than we we bargained for. We were headed to Bambelela to interact with Vervet monkeys, and learn about them and the organization that operates as a Vervet Monkey & Wildlife Sanctuary for the young and injured. FACT: I had a really hard time staying in contact with them when trying to schedule, for some reason they were not receiving my originals, so I ended up having to contact them from another email address.

 

Getting there, the dirt road was incredibly rough. I didn’t expect a dirt road, and neither did our compact vehicle. We made the best of it; well, Brad made the best of it. Eventually we reached the gate, where we gave our name and were let through. We followed the signs pointing us in the direction of the sanctuary, and it was quite an intriguing drive. There were several large private homes along the way that seemed like a dream to be in.  Eventually, at the end of the road we

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a young Baboon

found Bambelela, a big giveaway was the large amount of monkeys running all over the grounds. Not just Vervets, but also Baboons.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that we were the only guests there (…and it stayed that way). Once we were out of the car we were greeted by Sue. She was great to “work” with. She was very pleasant and informative. You could tell that she was truly passionate about her work, as well as the animals. After our informational tour, it was time. Time to get in the cage with the “cheeky, naughty” (as Sue calls them) youngsters. What a thrill. We removed anything loose or valuable and handed them over for the 15 minutes that we were in the cage. The little guys lived up to their reputation. africa-extras-041The amount of spunk that was jumping around was sensational. It was really something to have these tiny primates jumping all over from person to person. From 5 feet away you suddenly feel a gently thud on your body… At one point one crazy Vervet crawled up inside my shirt. and out the top. They were biting my wedding ring, and occasionally my fingers (all in good, somewhat gentle fun). They were completely fascinating by my bun of hair, and also felt the need to open my mouth, inspect the inside, and check my eyes for any issues… One little monster even stole my hair clip, which I had forgotten was there. The volunteer that was in the cage with us (also, our designated photographer), went to get it back by grabbing the monkey by the tail and offering it a disciplinary action (as would be done by an adult Vervet). As they instruct, you never take from a monkey, unless they know you are in charge, or else you’ll be engaging in a battle with an irrational creature.

Eventually, our play time came to a close, the bill had been paid & we were back in the car. Thankfully, I had packed hand wipes… We were filthy, and we even had bits of monkey poo on our clothing which we were desperately trying to remove with a pack of Wet-Ones. It was no-matter.. We had another wildlife encounter ahead, and as we found out it was also, a bit messy. TIP: Always pack hand wipes, they are a game change for the overly adventurous traveler.

From Bambelela we made our way back down the extremely bumpy dirt road to Adventure with Elephants. I had arranged an elephant encounter, where we could learn and of course interact with African elephants (yes, they are definitely different from Asian elephants & I will post more about that later on). When we arrived, we got checked in and had to wait for them to bring the elephants around, which seemed like the perfect time to take advantage of the bathrooms to try and remove the monkey-poo. Once I removed all that I could, we headed back to the patio where we were able to observe some natural wildlife on the grounds below.

Eventually, 4 large beautiful African Elephants & 1 baby made their way to their covered stand. They were put in their places, and we started from the right and began working our way left. With the first elephant, we got to see how intelligent the elephant was. First they introduced us by name. (I don’t remember her name). Then we each gave her a shoe. As she was instructed, and according to her smell, she was able to return each shoe to the correct individual. Next we got to meet the baby… one big baby. It was beautiful, but didn’t have much of an interest in hanging out with us. It wanted to hang out with mom. We got in a couple pets, and then decided to let it do it’s own thing, with mom. The next elephant we gave treats to, and got to learn a little bit of the basic elephant anatomy. We got to inspect it’s tail, touch the pads of its feet, and examine it’s eyes. Such big beautiful eyes.  Finally, we moved down to our last elephant. A very handsome fellow, who I believe was in charge of tricks. He offered us kisses from his trunk, sprayed us with water, and even kicked a ball back and forth. He was wonderful!

Here is my little Elephant Gallery, please enjoy, and disregard my monkey hair…:

africa-extras-053From their our tour came to a close… We watched the elephants wander back off to their side of the land, and within a minute or two we found Trouble, the adopted Meerkat who was taken in by the founders. He was much too busy hunting for bugs to want anything to do with us… It was unfortunate because apparently he is quite the socialite with guests… TIP: If you have the opportunity to interact with African elephants, I would highly recommend it. It is incredibly life changing to be able to see the grandeur, intelligence, and beauty of such a majestic animal.

africa-2016-053-2We stayed on the property for a while because we were waiting for our USB drive of photos that they took for us. While we waited, we were able to get washed up again, and just relax. While we waited we had the delightful experience of seeing a couple giraffes come up near the complex. We just watched them for a while, until we felt it was time to get back.

We hadn’t had a proper lunch, just snacks that I packed for the drive, and we were both feeling starved. When we got back into town, we decided to get cleaned up before we dropped the car off, that way once we were clean & changed out of our filthy clothes, we were able to head back over to the square from Thrifty. We went hunting for dinner, not literally, but couldn’t commit so we ended up back at Tasha’s for an easy meal before we just cruised the mall again. Eventually, we headed back to the hotel because we had to get packed. We were being picked up the next day by our guide for Krueger National Park, and he was going to be there relatively early.

The next morning proved to be a bumpy one. During getting ready, I had a little bit of an accident. My bottle of foundation (aka makeup) got knocked to the floor and smashed. Their was liquid and glass all over the hotel room floor, and thankfully there was no carpet (although, then it wouldn’t have broke). Anywho, I began to panic at the thought of going the next 2 weeks without it because I was not blessed with perfect skin… My survival instincts began to set in, and I quickly messaged Neil (our guide), and asked if we could delay our pick up time by 1/2 an hour. Once again, we headed back to the mall… but not just for makeup, for breakfast too. We found a really yummy cafe, Doppio Zero, near one of the entrances. The breakfast was really exquisite. TIP: Breakfast in Johannesburg is top notch. They know what they are doing. I knew we were on a mission, so as soon as the shops opened, and we were done with our food, we headed toward one of the “department stores” to quickly grab what I needed, and then get back to the hotel.

To our surprise, it actually worked out perfect because we ended up having to wait a little longer for Neil, than we all anticipated.

africa-2016-054-1LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) Sometimes even maps can’t help you find your way.

2) Dirt roads and compact cars don’t go together.

3) Monkeys shouldn’t be pets — much too frisky.

4) Makeup just shouldn’t come in glass bottles

5) I’m way too accident prone, to own small, frequently-used items made of glass.