|The Old Lion who Sprung to Life in the Night Hunt|
AFRICA the land of Smoke and Thunder, where the natives say that Africans have time; everyone else wears watches. It is the oldest place on earth, sheltering relics of prehistoric times, predators with the swiftness of foot and silence of death. It is without modesty or privation. It is brutal and real. It is a land of solitary hunters and closeness of kin. It is of blazing sun, cool nights and calming waters. It is of constant danger and unyielding beauty. It is a pace of life that is measured in two speeds; turtle like slowness and Cheeta flashes of speed. There is no middle ground for a comfortable jog of hoof or foot.
It is a land of wide smiles, tender hands, pleasantries and chefs of gourmet wonderment. It is a land of meat eaters where vegetarians will soon hunger. This Africa is survival. No one person can leave Africa without being changed emotionally with fear, sadness, friendship and the awe of its beauty. It humanizes us, opens our eyes to the simple uncomplicated meaning of life and death. It draws us back with just the mention of its name. It is one place on this great earth that everyone should be so lucky as to enter its realm and be changed forever.
Africa has become my sobering reality and constant reminder of what life is – a wonderful gift that we should cherish and share our good fortune with all of life’s inhabitants, human and animal alike. It encompasses all masses and forms of life, harmonizing every being with the next and finding a place for every creature under its hot African sun, unrivaled sunsets and star lit nights.
We all belong to this Africa, our birthplace of humanity and keepers of its wildlife. Let us go forth and better this world as only we humans can do, for Africa has shown us the truth, the light and the finality of death without the incumbencies of meaningless wealth and greed that ultimately destroy us with false happiness as we collect THINGS and not goodness of soul. Next time you hear or see the word Africa, be transformed and let giving and goodness enrich your life and others; instead of collecting and keeping. Amen for Africa.
At the time of this writing I should almost be sitting, comfortably in seat 40A of a South African air bus. Instead, I’m writing this note from yet another hotel room in Washington. As I have said previously, nothing ever goes smoothly when I travel no matter how hard I try and plan for the unexpected.
I rose leisurely this morning after a good night sleep, eager for the long travel day ahead. I ate a reasonable breakfast then packed up the few things I had taken from my suitcase the night before and headed to the lobby of the hotel. I decided to ease myself down into the comfee arm chair and read my novel for a while. Once in a while, some meeting room participants would break from a session. Their voice levels were raised just enough to disturb the rather tranquil atmosphere, distracting me from my concentration. Before long, I was heading outdoors under the canopy waiting to catch the courtesy shuttle bus to Dulles Airport. It dutifully arrived on time and I pressed down into the seat for the short 10 min. trip to the airport.
With passport and tickets in hand, I approached the rather disserted South African Airways counter to check in some four hours ahead of my scheduled flight. I passed my documentation over to the ticket agent. The attendant readily informed me, “with much regret”, that the flight was cancelled! Now what?? They were providing me hotel accommodations with explicit instructions to report back to the airport for 8 am tomorrow. I was asked to retrieve items I might need for the overnight stay and then my luggage would be weighed and tagged right then and there. I had everything organized in my luggage and rummaged through for a tube of toothpaste and a tooth brush. I wasn’t unpacking my whole suitcase on the floor at the ticket desk. Other passengers looked horrified when they too were informed of the change in plans as they trickled in.
I called my tour operator and told her the problem. I asked her to get in contact with the person who was to meet me at the airport tomorrow afternoon (their time) and give them the change in flights. Not only did I spend an extra $300 in flight change and $300 in hotel accommodation so that I wouldn’t be exhausted for the long flight today, it was all for nothing as I will be a guest of the Hilton tonight. I will also miss a day in Sun City which I was really looking forward too. Not much I can do without wings!
We all tottered with sluggish disappointed onto the next shuttle bus, minus our checked baggage of course. The couple I sat next to where returning home to South Africa and a lady opposite me was catching a safari out of Botswana. It isn’t the same one I’m booked for, but who knows, we might meet up again. To break up the sullen quietness on the bus, my cell phone rang with its distinct “whinny”. Everyone on the bus started whinnying back and we all felt much better with a little humour to help soften our discouragement.
So for tonight, I will wash out my undees in the basin and use the hairdryer in the hotel to dry them. As for a nightwear, I’m afraid it will have to be my birthday suit.
Since there is nothing in walking distance to visit, shop or explore, and since I’m 50 minutes away from downtown Washington, tours of historical sites are out of the question at this late afternoon. Instead, I decided to walk the hotel parking lot for some exercise. That is the extent of my touristy visit of this great state. Sorry George, you won’t get the pleasure of my company on this trip. I’ll have to catch the White House another time and maybe when there is a new President in the House. Oops, maybe not politically correct for me to express my prediction.
Will report back whenever…
You can send me e-mails and I will eventually be able to read them. (Hopefully, if nothing else goes array.
Saturday, 11:17 a.m., South African Airways flight 208 tilts its noise to the air and takes flight. The previous flights to South Africa had been cancelled twice as a result of a leaking fuel tank that needed emergency repair. Since I don’t swim very well, it’s good that the trouble was spotted long before we were airborne. (I’m certain mom and her little angel wings are making sure I have a safe trip.)
After a quiet night and early rise to meet the shuttle, this was one flight I didn’t want to miss. As misadventure would happen, when I went to check in through security, I was told my carry on could not go with me. I had just purchased a carry-on on wheels to make life easier for me during the long waits in the airport. I was turned back to the registration desk. I approached the SA desk with trepidation, as a small group of bored passengers assembled around the vacant SA reception desk. It was now 7:15 am with the scheduled flight to depart at 10 a.m. By 8:10 a.m., everyone was getting a little anxious since we all needed time to pass through security. Most of us already had our boarding passes, but our hand luggage was the problem. Finally, it was my turn to approach the agent and explained to her the situation. I unpacked my computer and carry-on purse and checked the now empty suitcase, except for a tube of tooth paste and brush.
Luckily, there wasn’t much of a line-up for security when I approached the security area. But with Murphy’s Law strongly on my side, my hand luggage was pulled for inspection. I knew that neck cushion with the massage unit would most likely pose a problem for inspectors. I deliberately left the item unzipped for easy inspection, with batteries taken out. The bag got the total inspection examination. Finally, I was cleared to go to my departure gate.
As I walked in the direction of my gate following the very good signage I might add, I realized my boarding pass was absent. I turned heal and walked back to the security area once more. The agent that had searched my luggage was busy checking other passengers. I hailed a passing security agent and asked if I might please have my boarding pass that was in plain sight of me on the desk. Without complaint, she complied and handed me the pass. Finally, I could check in for boarding after walking the countless moving sidewalks.
I immediately recognized faces from the day before. I had struck up a conversation with a widow from Virginia (originally from Sweden) yesterday. The service in the hotel restaurant the night before was atrocious. So poor in fact, it took and hour and a half before I finally got my bill in a half-empty restaurant. Ann Marie, the widow from Virginia, wasn’t having any luck either. She surmised that her baby lamb rack was cooling on the stainless steel counter back in the kitchen. Since the head waiter supervisor ignored her hand signals for assistance, her booming accented voice took over. The cackling of voice and clatter of utensils were silenced as the now summoned ‘big cahoona’ made his way immediately to Ann Marie. Without a due, her delicious presentation of roast baby lamb rack appeared on her table miraculously. She could see I was having the same sort of problem getting any service. I only wanted a cup of coffee and rather than having Ann Marie call out on my behalf, I walked directly to the reservation desk and asked politely if I may have a coffee and the bill. The head waiter immediately went to my assistance as I sat down and chatted with Ann Marie for a spell.
Although Anne Marie’s unorthodox approach to getting service may have seen a bit radical, she did praise the staff and chef for cooking such an exquisite meal. All was forgiven in the end.
We were all secured on the trolley taking us to the plane. Ann Marie sat next to me with a fellow originally from Zimbabwe on the other side. We had chatted up quite the storm and were enjoying each others’ company. As the bus approached the airbus on the tarmac, it quietly came to rest a few feet from it. As the minutes slowly ticked away, everyone was becoming over-heated on the non-air conditioned stuffy vehicle. I pulled my trusty fan out of my purse and cooled down a few of immediate fellow passengers. They were most grateful. One gentleman looked like he was going to faint and I told him he couldn’t, as the plane would be delayed yet again. He smiled and willingly took my fan for a few moments of supple breeze. It was obvious that our flight at 10 a.m. was yet delayed for the umpteenth time. After 20 sweltering moments, we finally boarded the air bus. I was getting my first introduction to Africa with the distinct tones and dialect of returning South Africans and Zimbabweans. It was delightful and entertaining listening to the native converse in their comfortable lingo.
I look forward to receiving news from home.
The flight lasted some 15 hours and was uneventful. I watched a total of 3 movies, read, wrote and curled in the fetal position in a vain attempt to sleep. Although the plane was near capacity, I was one of the few that had a vacant seat beside me. After hours of trying to squirm my way into a somewhat acceptable position, I decided to lie on the floor between my seat and the next. At this rate I wasn’t trying to navigate the seat belts that kept digging into all soft tissue with annoying discomfort. I’m sure Sherri wouldn’t have approved, but at this point I didn’t care.
We finally landed in Jo Burg, the local term for Johannesburg. I made my way through customs and collected my luggage. As promised, someone was there to meet me, holding a large sign with “Miss Sampson” displayed in large letters. Well at least I was being called “Miss” now and not “Madame”. Although the information he had been given about my flight change from the agency was wrong, he decided to wait a little longer in case my flight did in fact come in. I was soon handed over to a very friendly chap named December for the 2.5 hour ride to Sun City.
December, as it turned out, was given the name by the family who his parents worked for. It was, is (?) the custom for the employer to name the black children. Since he was born on Christmas Day, he inherited the name December. As is the tragedy in Africa, both his parents are deceased and now he must make his way in this world on his own.
The main roadway is a two-lane affair with only a small shoulder to ease over to give way for someone who wanted to pass. Traveling at 120 km, they waste no time, but there is also little traffic to content with at least on Sundays. It’s a little tough getting use to driving on the wrong side of the road. I tend to want to get in the driver’s seat, mistaking it for the passenger side.
Poverty abounds as the VW van travels the flat straight road to Sun City, a gaited complex specifically designed for the tourist trade. On route, I observe that there are no fences to restrict the cattle, so everywhere cattle crossing signs appear, much like our deer or moose crossing signs. Although this region has its dire economy, the people look relatively well fed, including their animals. The tin shacks they call home, dot the landscape of this bush country. Even though these people are poor, a great community spirit has roots here according to December, and the crime rate is almost non-existent in these areas unlike the larger urban centers. He himself had come from such a life and is beginning to prosper. After an hour or so of listening to the different languages, I was getting use to the English version, especially the word “yes” pronounced yeh’s. The Dutch translation is “yah”.
As the van cruises along the two lane super highway, huge billboard type signs are erected in strategic locations along route. It is not the usual type of advertising that one would see at home. These large print signs display Funeral services at reasonable rates.
The sad statistics rate the average age of Africans here a mean of 42 years, with Aids being the #1 killer. As I would soon discover, every washroom I would enter has a generous supply of free condoms in an attempt to stem the rise of this deadly epidemic.
As the van continues in an unbroken straight line, other billboard signs erupt on the landscape with messages of safe-sex. This disease is without doubt, more dangerous than any of Africa’s Big Five.
I finally arrived at my destination and secured my large suite at the Sun City Hotel. The views are quite magnificent and I hope to post these on the photo site. I managed to grab a few hours sleep before touring the complex. Unfortunately, I have to leave in the morning so my chance for a hot air balloon ride has been dashed.
|Dinner at the Palace|
Tonight, I had reservations for dinner at the castle. The opulence is overwhelming. What grandeur! I was treated with old world grace and charm. I was always addressed as Mrs. Sampson before they ever asked a polite question. I was treated like a millionaire. I felt a little humbled by the whole experience with ladies descending the two grand staircases in elegant evening gowns with their partners sporting snow white suits. With the abject poverty I had seen earlier, I felt a little guilty being treated so finely. Still the Africans have been well trained for their posts in such grand fashion. They are extremely polite, helpful and always service with a smile. This is such a contrast from our North American experiences. Tomorrow it is back to Johannesburg.
I am not certain how much longer I will be able to e-mail home. My power converters don’t fit the plugs here. It might be just the way the complex is wired. I have to purchase wireless e-mail downstairs, so hopefully you will all receive this transmission. I still have about 60% battery life left in this computer battery and a fully charged one to keep going. Hopefully, I will have power at some time.
I look forward to receiving news from home.
|Entry Hall at the Palace|
After spending a delightful tour of the local aviary and capturing some fantastic pictures with my trusty digital, I caught the van just in time to take me back to Johannesburg. I was so pleased to see December waiting for me with a handshake and smile as I climbed into the front seat looking for the phantom steering wheel.
We chatted for a while. I didn’t get a glimpse well enough of the other passengers, but my little jokes were met with silence. Now I know how a comedian feels when his routine isn’t going well. However, December laughed at everything, especially the saying “put the pedal to the metal” which he thought was hilarious. One guest that sat behind me with some sort of European foreign accent asked “You’re not American are you?” My reply of course was - NO Canadian, eh. She thought the accent wasn’t right.
When most of us disembarked from the van at the same hotel, I caught on why there was so much dead pan faces and silence behind me. It was a group of Asian tourist. I don’t think they understood me at all.
The hotel I’m reserved at is lovely and spacious. The Rosebank Hotel is situated at the very trendy “Richie” section of the city. Sherri would love shopping for shoes here!
After a light lunch pool-side, I leisurely strolled the few blocks to the shopping area. There is security everywhere, including razor fencing to keep out the undesirables’. It was here I did a bit of souvenir hunting, with every vendor begging me to buy something. I did purchase a few interesting items at most likely outrages prices. Since I read it was impolite to haggle over a price, I didn’t offer. When I went to leave, all of a sudden the price dropped dramatically. So much for politeness I guess. I needed Helen with me on that shopping event.
I managed to get a power converter at a luggage shop that actually works here. As a lesson to anyone else who might be traveling to SA in the near future, buy the converters there. Don’t waste your time and money at home. Even though the converters I purchased at home were marked for Africa and several other countries, SA is an exception. Most of these multi-plug converters use the British pattern which is again different from SA. I am happy to report that I can now recharge the lap top which I am typing on at the moment while it is charging. That would be a disaster if I lost power. I’ve managed to save all my photos to the PC and uploaded some yesterday until I couldn’t re-enter “photo-site” for some reason. It is tricky using technology overseas.
Tomorrow I’m off to Soweto to see one of the two very transverse ways of life. From the very wealthy to the desperately poor, I hope to record in my journal the experience I come away with.
My morning itinerary takes me to the home of Winnie Mandela, Bishop Tutu and the former home of Nelson Mendela all heroes in SA and globally, with the exception of the little black sheep in the family, Winnie.
|Nelson Mandel's home|
In the afternoon, I will be visiting some of the wealthiest estates in South Africa including the affluent northern suburbs. Mixed into the touring will be a history lesson on South Africa’s Supreme Court system and the symbolism of Ghandi Square. From there we are scheduled to arrive at the Market Theatre and Museum Afrika. “Yehs” it should be a very interesting day.
The morning shines bright under the African sky as we head out to visit the other side of Africa that is sheltered from the more affluent eyes of the world. Soweto awaits us as we travel back into South Africa’s troubled past whose wounds still abound in poverty and disease. Soweto means South West Township and was created to house the many blacks that worked in the gold mines of Johannesburg. It was designed as a barrier to keep the blacks from encroaching on the mainly white city residents of the city proper. Its Dutch immigrant rulers wanted to protect themselves from the ignorance of the poor native population. This was in fact probably the first racist and segregation practice employed.
As we approach the “millionaire” row that the blacks now inhabit in Soweto, the tour guides awe at the magnificent homes that have evolved from the rubble of human suffering. To put it into perspective, our aging farm house would be an absolute palace in comparison. Tiny, yet large by SA standards, the streets still harbour abandon rubbish, with plastic bags strewn about like giant balloon in naked trees and other litter scattered among the dead grasses and shrub plants that dot the hillsides.
As you travel the short distance further into Soweto, the “middle class” section appears. They are very modest homes with tin roofs. Across the street is more of the getto type housing with no sewers and sporadic communal water stations, portable pot-a-porris are seen in strategic locations throughout, something new to the area.
As the mini van navigates the tired roads we come to the more well known residence of Winnie Mandela. Its massive wall and bullet proof windows grant her some protection. A little further along we come to the humble home and beginnings of Nelson Mandela. It is small, cramped and shivering cold in winter.
You can easily see why his people love him so much as he gave up his life as a respected lawyer to be sentenced to life in prison charged with treason. This peacemaker of South Africa and his struggle for his fellow countrymen’s independence came with a heavy sacrifice. And today, life is better in South Africa because of him, even though you can’t imagine it after visiting Soweto. It was depressingly worse in years past.
As you drive into the depths of Soweto, the shanties begin to appear in large roaming numbers. It is hard to imagine living in such conditions. These people have nothing but pride and religion to give them some strength in their daily lives. The hopelessness tugs heavily on their spirit and despair is everywhere.
The driver takes us to the largest church in SA. From the pulpit of this Roman Catholic church, Desmond Tuto often spoke to his people. The Anglican priest found sanctity in the place of worship, the only legal building that people were allowed to gather, as the Dutch respected the church as well and would not violate it with gun fire. It became a haven for free speech.
|Memorial to First Victim of Soweto Uprising|
It’s been a full day of errands before boarding the Rovos Rail tomorrow. I started the day with a 40 min. drive from Johannesburg to Pretoria. The driver was a rather sour puss; pre-senior, white fellow who never said two words to me the entire trip. My eyelids grew heavy with boredom as the kilometers clicked away. He was the most unpleasant chap I have had to experience. I usually get the good looking young black males who are most chatty. For some reason I got stuck with the “old fart”.
I settled into my classy suite at the Court Classique and found in short order that my telephone in my room didn’t work. I eventually was able to make contact with home for the first time, via the hotel reception desk. I tried in vain once more to get connected with the wireless and it certainly remained “less”. My PC can’t find the frequency so it is rather useless. Everyone here is clicking away on their keyboards while mine remains silent. After still more frustration, I decided to grab a quick bite before taking the courtesy shuttle van to the huge mall here in Pretoria.
It was a hustle bustle place and very confusing to find your way around. The main thing I had to remember was finding entrance 7 in order to meet my chauffer at precisely 3:45 pm. My mission began.
First I located the post office so I could mail my excess luggage back home and lighten the load of my suitcases. I decided to dispense with the converter plugs that didn’t work, as well as the chargers, books, some clothing and various other items of no consequence.
Once I was finished with the post office, I tried in vain to find the currency exchange. This mall has several levels with twists and turns that sometimes lead to dead ends. After an hour of walking aimlessly around this immense structure and after asking a number of shopkeepers, I finally found the place. I needed to exchange some US dollars for Rand so that I can keep on tipping. It is amazing how quickly you go through the Rand. It isn’t of much value and I’m still guessing at the acceptable tipping fees.
Once I finished with that, I had five minutes to find entrance 7 and meet the appointed driver. As I stole away in my mind earlier key landmarks of where I might find entrance 7, I finally retrieved the scrap paper mental notes and made it back up the many levels to the appropriate place. Looking for a chauffer with a yellow tie with African animals on it was my only clue. I approached a young man who seemed to fit the description and was relieved to find out that he indeed was my driver. Off to the hotel we went.
Even though we were in rush hour traffic, The “beamer” still cruised along for the most part of 100 km/hr. They think this is bad. They haven’t experienced the Don Valley Parking Lot or the 401 at rush hour. Oh, for Brian, in South Africa BMW means “Break My Window”. It is the most sought after car for thieves here, next to the Audi and Volkswagen. Those are the three big car companies here. The only people that can afford them are the wealthy folk or businesses. I’ve seen just one Chevy and a few Japanese cars and trucks.
Upon arrival at the hotel, I made a vain attempt at trying to have someone from Dell Computers walk me through my wireless problem over the phone. I had copied down the tech support number from the yellow pages in Johannesburg in the event that someone might just be able to assist me. The hotel set me up in a conference room with my lap top in hand. For the next hour, the technician tried in vain to get my PC to accept the connection. His only resolve was that it couldn’t pick up the frequency. Everything seemed to be in proper working order. So there you have it. A brand new PC purchased especially for this trip in which I cannot communicate! I can tell you, I’m not too impressed with Dell Computers anymore.
It was like living in the 70s again when I first traveled to Spain by myself, using the post office to mail home stuff and writing out postcards to everyone; phoning from the hotel lobby, minus my calling card that didn’t work either. This is the exact same routine I followed back then. So much for technology! Still, I can input on the computer, watch a movie when I don’t understand the tribal language on TV and copy my photos for safekeeping. That is something I couldn’t do back in the 70s.
I decided that I wasn’t going to let technology ruin my trip. So if and when you received this diary, just remember to always take along pen and paper and a good old fashion camera. Even the telephones here are a challenge, so forget your cell and calling cards.
After my futile attempt at inspiring my PC to pick up the satellite connection, I settled down to a glass of African lager. Now you know I’m not generally a beer drinker, but this stuff wasn’t half bad. I was thirsty to say the least and it hit the spot. I was amused by a trio of ducks that strolled on the walkways, through an open portion of the lobby and back out into their little stream of water and plants that mot the entrance to the lobby. The amorous drake was feeling frisky with the hen. Dodo behind just carried on without them; supposedly not in the mood.
Tonight I sampled the Ostrich in dark red wine. The owner of the wine cellar and bistro paused a while at my table engaging me in conversation. As he put it, I was about to learn a little unknown Canadian history. He went on to tell me how SA sent over lumberjacks and pine cones to help establish our weed ridden hills. When he was done, I replied, “thanks for the fable” to which he heartily laughed. He soon returned with his mock up business card, writing his name as “Sir Cedric”. As he sauntered away, he said to me, “and in case you forget what I look like, my photo is on the back.” I curiously flipped over the card to reveal the head of a lion. Very nice I remarked as the flirting proprietor had the last laugh.
I have been very impressed with the flavour of the dishes served here. They are quite remarkable. I’ve never eaten pumpkin as a vegetable, so the chef and I were exchanging recipes. I told her that pumpkin is used in pies as a dessert. She had never heard of such a thing and was going to try it with some nutmeg and brown sugar. As for my main course dinner, I’ll never look at an Ostrich again in the same light. Their meat is like beef and unlike any poultry I have ever tasted. Very good I might add.
As the evening progressed, I chuckled to myself as the drake seem very boisterous this evening, paddling by in his little mot river, his noble green feathered head raised just a touch higher.
Just the same, I am only eating very small amounts of everything, just in case I get that vengeful nasty visitor better known as traveler’s diarrhea. I have even eaten fresh fruit salad and took a wee bit of fresh salad the other night for the first time. So far so good!
|Interior of my private Cabin|
Chug, chug, chug, puff, puff puff, the whistle signals our departure from Pretoria on route to Victoria Falls.
After an informative tour of the railway station, repair depot and revitalization of the old carriages, we stepped on board and into a romantic era of turn-of-century luxurious train travel. Walking through a railway yard with freshly washed sneakers is like wearing white in a stable. The black smudges mar the pristine white of the shoe. My butler is Thobi and he briefly explained how the relic, but now modernized apparatus works, ie plumbing etc. The passenger list consists of 99% American, one South African and of course me, the lone Canadian. Naturally, the owner of Rovos Rail introduced me to the other passengers; sort of a celebrity or some might say oddity, as a passenger on board this “orient express” style train.
Our coal-fired, steam driven revived engines will soon start rambling along the steel rails. It takes 5-6 ton of coal to create enough heat to put life into the valves and pistons that drive the train. The train uses 100 kg of coal per 1 km and substantially more in hilly areas. The soot and distinct odor from the coal smoke forces me to close my open air window until we begin to roll. I can see why breathing coal can be very unhealthy if it were to linger in a stationary position for too long.
Even the signal lights have been restored to their former red and green, imported from abandoned stations throughout SA. These early 19th century mechanics still provide the means of communication to the Trains’ engineers. Of course modern technology is also used as a backup.
Slowly the train gathers speed as we push forward heading west and then east. The rock of the compartments and clickity clack of the rails is very soothing to the soul. I am now transferred back into another time.
My Edwardian style room with its rich solid wood paneling and finely appointed fixtures gives the allure of traveling a century ago. My computer is rested upon my writing table as I watch the views of Africa roll by.
The cong rings throughout the passageways and rooms, announcing that lunch is now served. Since I have a deluxe suite, my room is situated at the front of the train. The walk back to the dining room is long and slow. My best comparison for navigating the passageways would be like taking a rolling sidewalk and adding some twists and dives to it. Eventually, I entered into the first dining room where I took the first available seat. I suppose it took me longer than most to reach the dining room as it was near capacity when I arrived.
As previously mentioned, I’m the odd ball on the train. The rest of the guests are with the Smithsonian Institute; all professors and the like. There I sat, the little horse trainer from Canada, unassuming and quiet.
The table across from me introduced themselves and we began a conversation immediately. When they learned I was a horse trainer, one asked if I was a “horse whisperer”. I said, no. I don’t do anything mystical. They laughed and perceived me a rather down-to-earth sort. They seemed very intrigued that I would travel all alone in the not so safe place as Africa. One fellow commented that I was a very brave soul. My answer was that if you wanted to do something that bad enough, you just do it. You can’t always be afraid to explore and learn. The response I got was “bravo”.
My salad fork speared some leafy delicacies as lunch time conversations continued. The main menu event arrived shortly afterwards, mine being rib eye and scallop potatoes. What a treat. My fluted glass was frequently filled with sparkling white wine. I’m certain if I hadn’t said anything, the wine would not stop flowing. The fellow across from me was very flushed and noted that he thought he had had a bit too much.
The conversation turned to the litter that sullies the beautiful landscapes where people occupy it. It is a shameful display of squalor and human indifference. My American colleagues’ approach was to supply a better system of garbage collection. This was a very practical approach to help solving some of the problem. I too had been pondering what might be done to alleviate all the filth and resulting disease that this waste brings. My thoughts were more philosophical, dealing with getting the root cause of why so much litter.
Although I may be totally off mark here, I find that poverty and litter go hand in hand, regardless of the country or racial lines. I feel that when people suffer from such low self-esteem brought on from a desperate feeling of hopelessness, the litter becomes the lowest element in their society. Without pride in oneself, the act of tossing whatever is used up, often reflects how they must internalize their feelings of self-worth. It is a reflection of their misery. My observation was that the African people are still struggling to grow as a people and find their rightful place in this world of change and conflict. This will take a very long time to achieve and perhaps no one can understand this better than our own native aboriginal people. My opinion, which was met with such candid expression of “possibility”, was welcoming to their ears.
Now that the serious matters of Africa were dealt with, I was cordially invited to attend the speaking session with thoughts and words on Mandela and SW de Cleric by the Smithsonian group. They are providing me with my own headset and asked to participate. This should be interesting..
The presentation was of political interest as the speaker outlined the different factions and parliamentary procedures. The system here is based on the British parliament, the same as ours. Although it must have seen foreign to the American audience, I on the other hand was quite familiar with it.
After the presentation I had time to regroup and dress formally for dinner. This evening’s dinner had a selection of asparagus, Tuna or Ostrich. Since I’m not a fan of either fish or asparagus, I had Ostrich again. They gave everyone a slice of roasted garlic to ward off the mosquitoes. That’s not all it will ward off! I tried it but it was rather pungent so I abandoned the practice. I’ll keep my windows shut and leave the air on instead.
I skipped dessert and extra wine as these meals are becoming increasingly rich and not too good for the caloric count.
Dinner was at 7 pm, a common dinner hour here. They eat quite late, something I’m not use to. By the time the meal was consumed, it was 8:45. Now, I’m trying to wear it off a bit before I pull the covers and switch off the lights for the night. The train is still chugging along at a good speed, but will soon idle somewhere for the night when we reach our appointed destination near the game reserve.
Tobi has been very vigilant in keeping everything in order. Even the toilet paper is folded every time I come back from a meal or something. My bed was turned down for me with a little package of sweets added to my pillow. He even left me tomorrow’s weather schedule which should reach a high of 29 degrees! He left me a tea pot and assortment of teas and biscuits for my nibbling and sipping. I’m going to take advantage of the laundry in the morning. Who knows when I’ll get a chance to do it again?
Tomorrow starts early at 5 am. I hope I will be able to sleep some. Tobi will wake me in the event I doze off. It’s a full day’s outing so I’m looking forward to the game drive and research and rehab centre for the wild beasts of Africa.
P.S. There is someone else here besides me whose wireless doesn’t work either. She told me she was so frustrated she was about to chuck the whole machine. I sympathized with her.
DAY EIGHT – Elephant Standoff
It was just before 6 am as we disembarked from the train and awkwardly heaved ourselves into the waiting open air 4X4s. The morning air was fresh with a new day as the sun slowly rose in the east to reveal dawn in Klaserie.
Our guide and animal tracker was called Freedom. He certainly lived up to his name as he bore down on the rugged dirt road at 40 km. Freedom was free and fast! As we all sort of kept a unified common comment of “holy crap” to ourselves, we didn’t know how much we would need a fast get-away that only Freedom could provide.
|The Wild Driver "Freedom"|
Dawn in Africa is in some ways similar in nature from a literal sense as we know it. It is the breaking of a still night when the wild birds call the hour of sunrise to order in the bush land.
|Wild Guinea Hens|
Our first encounter with African wildlife on this protected game reserve was a small herd of Zebras. It is one thing to see animals in zoos, and it is quite another to witness them in their natural habitat. Every animal we captured on film and in memory this day struck us as creatures of strength, beauty, fitness and speed. They are all so well suited for their environment and truly a wonder.
We were asked what animals in particular we would like to see if we came across them. I immediately piped up with “Elephant”. One other lady wanted to see the big cats. The rest of the gang was silent.
Freedom would slow occasionally to 30 km as he watched for traces of wildlife scratched in the dirt road. We came across several grazing deer like animals called Bush Bucks and the Kudu. This large animal is similar to a very small moose, but much larger than a deer for example. They are powerful and fast.
|Sunrise with the Zebras|
The graceful giraffe was everywhere. Their quiet demeanor is unobtrusive and stoic. I posed the question to Freedom as to what its natural enemy was since it was so tall. To my surprise, it is the lion. Since the giraffe is Africa’s tower in the bush, the lion has to force the animal into rough terrain. When the giraffe becomes unbalanced, stumbles and falls, it is then that it becomes prey for the lion as the pounce on the downed animal.
The coyote type, Jackal looked with interest at our vehicle before shooting off into denser bush. Freedom was on the hunt for the elephant.
|The Shy Jackal|
After an hour of searching areas that the mammoth descendant may be, we finally struck pay dirt. It was obvious we were on the elephant’s trail as it left its calling card only an elephant could leave. Our tracker was in constant contact with the other vehicles as the CB crackled away with the announcement of various wildlife sightings.
I continued to glance at the speedometer that read a steady pace of 40 km, as we rolled and juggled our way over all sorts of terrain. It was almost impossible to spot anything at this speed unless you had an experienced trained eye on the bush.
As we approached a fork in the road, the air suddenly changed with a whiff of an unidentified odour, not bad, just strange. ELEPHANT!! No sooner had Freedom informed us that we were getting close, as we rounded the next blind corner, it suddenly appeared in the roadway. It was a young bull in powerful testosterone fervor. Its breeding season here and this fellow wanted to show us his Provo do and courage by chasing us from HIS ROAD!
This was to be our “High Noon”, although it wasn’t a western movie; there weren’t any actors, just flesh and blood reality, no six-shooters – just two adversaries staring down at each other waiting for the first move.
To many it was sheer horror when the elephant blasted a deafening warning with his massive trunk raised. His ivory tusks gleamed in the early light of dawn. Like a stallion does in aggression, the elephant shook his massive head from side to side and then suddenly went into a raging charge! This may have been described as a mock charge by the experts, but to us it seemed the real deal and was most likely not a mock charge.
Without time to lose, Freedom shifted into reverse and hammered the pedal with his foot. A short distance away, the elephant seemed to have made his point. We waited quietly for a moment before turning the 4X4 around to make what we hoped was a peaceful exit.
The movement of the vehicle alerted the elephant once again to defend his territory. This time he meant business. With Freedom charging down the dirt path at 30 km from a dead stop quickly shifting gears. The elephant kept gaining on us. I was trying to capture the moment on film to verify what I write is true, although it was hard with everyone looking back and not allowing me a clear shot. Curiosity from the onlookers on our vehicle, turned to terror as everyone was shouting at Freedom to “step on it now!” The elephant had come within six feet of our vehicle before it tired and backed down. As we slowed, you could see the defiant bull elephant raising his trunk in victory. He had driven the annoying tourists from his domain and I suppose feeling quite proud of himself. To be quite honest, I don’t think a human could outrun an elephant. You might even be hard pressed on a horse, although the horse will have more stamina and should outlast an elephant’s brief charge.
Although most felt it was too close a call, I was intrigued by it all. Wow, having an elephant charge is something you can’t imagine unless you are in the moment. He was magnificent and my admiration for this large thundering animal has not diminished. It made my day. I knew I was finally in Arica!
As everyone settled down, we observed some less aggressive animals, notably the hippo and catlike deer called bush bucks. The ugliest of all, was the quick witted wart hog. I finally managed to get a photo as a small group wallowed in and around a mud hole. This wild pig is vicious, fast and I suppose unpredictable. Still it has its place here even if God didn’t grant it any good looks.
The big cat was still allusive. Time was running short as early light sudden grew in intensity along with a rise Celsius.
Freedom had also tamed down his driving to 30 km now as we cruised the many dirt trails in search of lions. The CB crackled into life again as the troupe ahead had discovered a pride. We turned down another road when we came upon it. A large male lion rested in the tall dry grasses. We were able to drive within 10 feet of it as it rested its bulky frame in the cool African grass. I’ve never seen such a large lion before.
Freedom told us it was a male in his prime weighing in between 400-500 lbs. He was such a sight to behold. With all his grandeur, he rose to his feet and casually sauntered off in search of his pride. A low droning growl emanated from deep within him.
|Afternoon Nap for the Big Cat|
Turning back onto the track, and only a few meters away, his pride lay under the umbrella shade of a weathered tree. There were 4 of them altogether. Obviously they had a night of successful feasting, as we were of no consequence to them. They posed for our cameras and listened to our silly chatter. Freedom continued on only to pass the male again, lying by the side of the road this time, not far from where we last encountered him. You could almost reach out and touch him, we were now that close to him. He seemed very bored with us as he placed his weary head upon his huge front paws and dozily closed his eyes.
Well it was off to a hearty breakfast in the bush..
Leaving the “bush breakfast” which is really a closed in patio affair, we headed off in the 4x4s for the Cheetah Rescue Project Centre and the wild dog breeding program. Entering the compound you are immediately taken by the beauty of these sleek spotted cats. Amazingly, they purr and meow just like the domestic cat. I would have thought that it would be such a resounding growl or something, not this meek little hello. The Cheetah is endangered and so this non-profit group is specializing in breeding these animals and releasing them back into the wild. Although there is no human contact by hand, the Cheetahs certainly recognized the handlers and come when called. They seem to bask in all the attention that is given to them by visitors.
Their diets are strictly controlled so that when they are released, they are extremely healthy. They are fitted with a radio collar so that their movements can be monitored once released as part of their research program.
They are also a rehabilitation centre for injured wild cats and dogs. They also have a few pensioners that are too old Cheetahs or sick to be released back into the wild. The two tigers housed at this facility are the result of abandonment from a circus. These animals were released into the wild and being domesticated and trained tigers not exposed to wilderness life, their chances for survival were nil. They would have simply died. Hence, they live at this sanctuary in peace and tranquility, even though they are not native to Africa.
As the gate was unlocked and we drove over the electrified cattle grate, we entered the wild dog compound. These dogs were very curious upon our arrival and posed enthusiastically for our cameras. The wild dog of Africa is also an endangered species. This is an important breeding program to help re-establish their numbers before it is too late. The animals themselves are not large, perhaps the size of a medium-sized dog. Their radar ears are what are most notable. It was a small group of five, but a scrappy lot at that.
Most are scarred from fighting and one had lost its tail, bitten of in some quarrel. Although they are cute and colourful, I wouldn’t want to disembark from the vehicle to greet them.
With our excursion completed, we headed back to the train for our lunch and final dinner of the trip. Tonight I will do my final packing and bid farewell to my very discrete butler, Tobi. Tomorrow it is off again in the plane and onto Victoria Falls.
The alarm pinged away announcing 6:15 am. I rose to a sprinkle of rain that speckled the glass of my observation window. All packed and ready to depart, I wandered the half a kilometer narrow passage way as the train bumped and grinned its way along. This time it was only a light breakfast. I stuck to what I was used to – toast, coffee and orange juice. Although, the waitress tried in vain to indulge me in other delectable, I resisted.
I was still recovering from last evening’s farewell dinner. As we returned to our sleeping quarters for the last evening on this classic train, we were all pleasantly surprised to find a special treat waiting for us in our rooms. I was of no exception.
Tobi had turned down my bed linen as usual and spread rose pedals on the sheets with a bottle of sparkling Brute and accompanying flute glass, nestled into a cozy blanket. I had written him a sweet note thanking him for all the attention to detail and care he had taken. I left him a small token gift from Canada, a copper key chain with a grizzly bear engraved on it. This morning Tobi located me in the lounge and personally thanked me for the gift. As is he custom here, you don’t necessarily shake hands but they take both your hands in theirs as a sign of respect. In many ways I will miss him as I journey on. As we clambered onto the bus for the short journey to the airport, all of the Rovos Rail staff stood on the platform waving their goodbyes.
I managed to clear immigration at the airport easily. One passenger however was taken aside and his luggage inspected. They seemed to be questioning his medications which weren’t in proper prescriptions bottles. I’m glad I left mine in their labeled bottles.
I made my way up the narrow swaying steps into the old bird, a DC 3 aircraft. We were assured that she was one of the safest aircraft ever built and that she has been completely refurbished. The vintage plane with her nose pointing upward on the tarmac, quickly spread her wings and took flight with ease once we were all boarded.
There are no modern conveniences on this old lady. You are literally transformed into the aviation past when air travel was less complicated. We are flying at a lower altitude, glancing out the window at the landscape below our wings. It is a 3 hour run to Zambia fraught with turbulence from cutting through a head wind. I should have taken a Gravol before we left, but I had no idea the flight would take so long or be so rocky. It’s been a long time since I last rode in a small aircraft.
I was never so glad to set my feet down on firm footing. My nausea eased considerably as I entered Zambia without incident. The border police were quite amused when I produced a letter from their Consulate office in Ottawa stating my intentions. They said they have never seen anyone so prepared and welcomed me to Zambia with a wide encouraging smile.
After retrieving my luggage I found my to the awaiting taxi vans looking for their pick-ups. I approached two men with the Wild Horizon sign. I wasn’t on their list and so they made some calls trying to establish where my contact was. Apparently, plans had changed and someone was waiting for me at another airport on the other side of the border. Since I didn’t know that and followed my instructions to the letter, they decided to take me across the border into Zimbabwe and transfer me from there.
The border crossing was interesting or should I say intimidating. Wild monkeys climb all over everything. Don’t leave a door or window open or you will be sure to have a monkey join you.
I had my visa in order before I left Canada and I was waived passed to the next check point. While waiting for transfer, an official noted the black bag I was carrying and asked it that was a computer. I said yes and was hauled over for further scrutiny. They wanted me to declare it or I might lose it or have to pay for it. Being prepared, I produced my Canada Customs Declaration green card showing in detail that all the electronics I had in my possession where purchased in Canada. She looked at the official form, then handed one of their own to me and said I will need to complete it before I leave. It was at this point that I figured I might be in for a difficult time of sorts. I remember my nephew lecturing me not to say or mention names of any political nature while in Zimbabwe. I already got the same recommendation from my driver from Zambia. It is a rather tense border crossing.
When I arrived at my hotel, the luggage was unloaded. Of course, my luck, I had one bag and someone else’s. They had mine and what a surprise if they were to open it up and find a riding helmet inside. Fortunately I had locked it. The poor fellow had to travel across the border again and retrieve my luggage in Zambia.
When I got to the reception desk, the paperwork that was suppose to be waiting for me, that wasn’t ready at my time of travel to Africa, of course WAS NOT THERE. Now what? I’m still waiting for them to straighten it out as everything is paid, but no paper trail to prove it. I was lucky to be able to make two overseas calls to have Bob contact the travel agent and try to fix it. I’m still waiting.
I checked in anyways and decided to go on an elephant safari. What the heck, I was chased by one yesterday, maybe I should see what they are like from above.
|On the Trail|
It was a long dusty drive to the elephant camp. When we finally arrived, a beautiful clean camp with breathtaking views greeted us. The guides welcomed us and served us a cool drink before introducing us to our elephants.
I got the elephant with baby in tow. Up I went on the gigantic mounting block to ease myself onto the elephant’s broad back behind its handler. After brief intros, we headed off into the setting sun. Elephants amble along rather slowly but surprisingly silent. The enormous bulk sways in lateral movement and is actually very easy to sit to. Although somewhat wider than a horse, you can still use leg aids. I had a very interesting conversation with my guide as we discuss how he trained his elephant. We were comparing notes and found a lot of things are similar. Granted, the elephant is more intelligent and can play games easier than a horse, but the basics are the same.
At one point in the ride, my elephant stopped to relieve herself in a Niagara Falls flow, no let me correct that, Victoria Falls gushed out. Behind us was a bull whose tusks were directly beside me. I saw his trunk begin to rise as if sniffing the air and the utter glean in his soft brown eye. I looked at him and said, I know what you are thinking bud, behave yourself, I’m up here. And then I asked the guide if my elephant was possibly in season. He said no and asked how did I know what the bull was thinking? I said to him, if you don’t know, then you’re in trouble and I’m in bigger trouble. He chuckled as he kneaded his elephant on, leaving the bull to ponder the moment.
Baby kept right up and it is interesting to see how the whole herd bonds with the young one. They all look out for her. The rough hide of the elephant and the keen sense of smell and touch of their trunk is a wonder at how such a bulky huge animal has such a caring attitude. This was so evident when we arrived back at the base and an orphaned baby girl elephant followed her handler about. She was just two months old when she was rescued. It’s been a struggle to save her and she is still on the thin side, with the jury still out on her chances of survival. Her trunk caresses her handler with great loving affection. He brings her a bottle every 2 hours and she suckles for brief moments. The survival rate for these orphans is not good. The orphan elephants need round the clock attention. They can’t be left alone. They hunger for nourishment and contact; the latter being of utmost important for an elephant and is essential to their wellbeing. One without the other is fatal. As the baby started to lean on me for attention and wrap her trunk with similar affection around my arm, it is my wish that she will make it to adult hood and find her place with the other adoptive elephants. It breaks your heart, knowing how lonely it must be for her without mom to protect her and comfort her.
|Orphan Female with her Keeper|
Back at the hotel, I was now famished since I hadn’t eaten all day. I went to dine. During dinner, I had the pleasure of being serenaded by a local troupe of acapella singers. I loved the African music and was delighted to support these struggling artist and purchased their home grown CD.
As I finish this last journal for the day, I look forward to gazing out onto the great reserve in front of me and watch Africa come to life at the watering hole in the morning.
Good night from Zimbabwe.
I woke to the sound of coos and monkey chatter. These opportunists were scurrying around trying to steal whatever they could manage. At breakfast, a couple of more daring monkeys, slid down the roof and reached from the overhang to steal some fresh fruit from the table. With sling shot in hand, one of the waiters took aim, but the monkeys fled before he could get an accurate shot.
|View from my Room|
My morning trek took me to the Smoke with Thunder, aka Victoria Falls. Its overall sheer size, dwarfs Niagara Falls in length. It is like comparing apples to oranges, each distinct and each beautiful. Spray wills the surround area with a smoky mist and vegetation is lush. Its cooling effects are quite noticeable as you get closer to the observation points. It is truly an amazing sight, or more correctly, sights to behold with its endless connecting falls.
We arrived back at the lodge late morning, time for a much needed nap after climbing the steep rock stairs up and down the expanse of the various sections of the falls. By noon, I settled into the bar for a bite of food. One of today’s menu items was a buffalo burger. I can certainly attest to the fact that lions have good taste! The meat is lean and less fatty than a bovine hamburger. I don’t know why the natives didn’t try to domestic these animals. I wouldn’t hesitate to eat another one.
Late afternoon brought me to the Zambezi River, one of the longest rivers in the world. I boarded a canopy platoon boat for our tour. I was seated next to a fellow whose accent betrayed his true identity. Although he spoke with an Australian flavour, he was in fact a Canadian who had lived in Australia the past eight years. He had been taking a sabbatical from work as a school teacher to travel these past couple of years. Originally from Hamilton, we struck up a conversation that stuck the whole journey. At our table was a young couple from South Africa. We shared thoughts on both our different countries and explored these differences. As we worked our way up the river, the occasional hippo would raise its eyes above the waterline and thrash about to show off. In fact, hippos account for more human deaths by wildlife in Africa than any other. So when a hippo makes a threatening gesture, beware. Vulnerable out of water, they are a deadly menace in the buoyancy of water moving with amazing speed.
|Hippos aka River Horses|
|Sunset on the Zambezi|
After quietly riding upstream we eventually found our way back to the docking area as the sun began to sink below the calm African sky.
Upon returning to the hotel, I dined on War Hog tonight. As the waiter pointed out, the beauty of the Wart Hog is not on the outside, but on the inside. I would have to agree. It was delicious. I told him I would never look at a Wart Hog in the same light again.
It was a long morning waiting for a ride to take me to Botswana. After a delay at the border, my driver arrived with a couple of other passengers. We made the hour trek to the border crossing and passed through the two check points fairly easily. It is still intimidating on the Zimbabwe side and the dead pan faces look with incriminating eyes at you. After a 30 minute ride into Botswana we arrived at the safari lodge in the heart of Africa’s jungle. Botswana is home to the largest herd of elephants and they are everywhere.
I felt more at ease when we arrived in Botswana. The quality of life here is seems much improved over Zimbabwe. The hotel staff was extremely kind and helpful, even sorting out my flight arrangements for me with British Airways which no one could do from home or in Zimbabwe where I will be flying out of.
As I entered my suite and looked out through the huge screened patio doors, a local wart hog sniffed around and came within a couple of feet of me when I approached the patio. All the wild animals room the entire complex and it is not safe to be out after dark. The hippos and elephants wander at will after dusk and can be very dangerous if encountered. We in fact are visitors of their habitat and everyone must respect the animals first and foremost.
I was scheduled for the river sunset boat ride beginning at 3:30 pm. There wasn’t a minute lost to wonderment as the boat cruised slowly up the ancient Chobe River. At almost every corner and shoreline, nature presented itself in every imaginable form. Most notable were the elephants. Huge family herds of elephants were without exception as you followed the shoreline. Elephants being elephants, splashed in the water, teaching their babies how to do it as well as eating all sorts of vegetation. One was off on his own, in the deep water, swimming about eating lily pads to his heart’s content. Only his massive head and tusks were visible.
They are truly social animals and family oriented. They look out for each other and care for everyone. We could learn a lot from the society of elephants.
As the river wandered aimlessly along, great numbers of hippos floated like giant fishing bobbers in the water. We approached with caution as these huge water logs spied us with a wary look.
When we arrived back at dockside, I prepared for dinner. As I portioned out small bits for myself, I heard a painful loud groan just a short distance away. I said to one of the staff that I hoped it was a hippo wailing and not someone in mortal pain. She reassured me it was indeed a hippo.
Tonight I dined on Kudu. Once again, it was delicious. I slowly made my way back to my suite, following the lit wooden bridge, hoping not to encounter some form of wildlife on the way.
Tomorrow it is another early rise as we adventure out in the 4x4s again to see Africa up close and personal. I’ve changed batteries and memory card in my camera ready to take aim.
Another early morning rise before the sun caught up to the night. With my cotton quilted jacket affording me little warmth from the surprisingly cool night air, I hoisted myself up into the Rover. Blankets were dispensed to everyone on board to guard against the frigid breeze we were to experience as we traveled the open air on the highway before turning onto the national park entrance.
Slowly the air began to warm with the rise in the east of early morning dawn. We spotted a number of smaller game but nothing in the more substantial version. It was extremely quiet with little movement. On the long trek back after 2 hours of searching the many pathways, I started to drift off into sleepiness. I think the early mornings were starting to take their toll. However, I awoke when buffalo were finally spotted. This is one animal that has eluded me so far in my amateur photography. Not any more. I clicked away capturing a family of buffalo with a huge male standing very alert and defensive. My excitement for the morning was over as we returned to the lodge with a hearty breakfast awaiting us. I was booked again for another afternoon cruise of the Chobe (pronounced Chobee). But first, I needed to take a much deserved nap.
|Crocks on a Buffalo carcass|
After eating a very small meal, I made my way onto the boat once again. Today, the wildlife wasn’t as abundant. Not so many elephants this time, just a smattering here and there. Hippos were big on the watch list today however and I finally got to capture one out of the water.
Cruising slowly along the shoreline of the Chobe, we came upon a buffalo who had succumbed to some sort of fate. It was lying in the shallows as we approached. The garbage collectors where out in great force, chewing away on the carcass. Revolting as it might seem, this is real life in Africa as I photographed the crocodiles dining on a large meal of rump roast. Nothing is wasted here. According to our guide, this two day old carcass will be gone in a couple of more days. At least it won’t pollute the water.
We carried on observing a variety of wild birds, Water Monitors, Mongoose, Elephant, more Hippos, Kudu (pronounced coodo) as well as Impala, Water Buffalo and the Nile crocs.
On tonight’s menu was Impala which I tasted a sliver. It is much like venison and not too wild of a taste. I’m still eating just a mouthful of this and that, but the food being as rich as it is, makes it difficult to count calories.
Tomorrow I head back to Zimbabwe to catch a flight back to Johannesburg and then back again to Botswana the next day. Seems totally ridiculous why in earth I have to travel across three borders and back again within 48 hrs. I don’t know why I just couldn’t stay in Botswana the extra day. Travel agents for you..
I’m all packed and ready for another day on the road. With any luck I will have no hassles crossing or at the airport. Wish me luck..
It’s been a day of travel. I declined the 5 am safari this morning, opting for some much needed rest. I was packed and ready to go for my 10 o’clock pick up. At 10 past 10, I was getting a little concerned. Drivers came and went, as I inquired after each one if I was on their list. Each said no. At last, one driver couldn’t locate his only passenger by the name of “Simpson”. I said that it was most likely me. He was scheduled to go the airport so I convinced him that I was his “Simpson”. Off we went heading for the Zimbabwe border once again.
This was the part I disliked. After handing over my passport, I was told that I needed to pay $65 US cash for another Visa. There is no point in arguing, you just keep you mouth shut and pay up. At least this time I left my computer with my luggage, otherwise I might have lost that too.
After a two hour journey, we arrived at the airport. I said goodbye to my friend and waited at the check-in counter to have my bags weighed. I was aware that the weight had to be a lot lighter than it was coming over and I thought I had taken that into consideration when packing – I know I had. At any rate, I was told I was 10 kilos over and had to pay $55 US cash. That wasn’t bad considering the fellow behind me got nailed for $165 US cash. After an hour’s wait in the security area, we were finally allowed to board the plane for the trip back to Johannesburg.
Now this part of the trip seemed really ridiculous as mentioned previously. Not only did it cost me a further $120 US just to get out of Zimbabwe, I lost a whole day in travel. I arrived in Johannesburg at 5 pm and got settled into my hotel. The porter helped me with my luggage to the courtesy van, after I replenished my US cash at a foreign exchange desk. The porter didn’t seem well at all. He was coughing and sputtering the whole time and I figured he had TB or worse. I tried to avoid his coughing as best I could.
After a nice dinner, I tried in vain once again to get my PC to connect either wireless or by dial-up. Both attempts failed miserably. So here you have it.
Tomorrow I fly back to Botswana in the morning – crazy!!!
The alarm buzzed me awake as I dragged myself from beneath the covers. Time to get ready for another day of travel - ugh.
I had a very light breakfast and arranged to leave one suitcase behind in a secure area of the hotel until my return the following week. That substantially lightened things up for me.
After checking out, I hopped on the shuttle for the 3 min. ride to the departure area of the airport.
The Air Botswana desk wasn’t opened. Many of us milled around the area waiting for the booth to come alive with Air Botswana reps. It was eight a.m., two hours before the scheduled departure time. By 8:15, a young lady dressed smartly in navy colours, announced that the flight had been delayed. It was now scheduled to leave at 11:30 am. By 11 am, we, the intended passengers checked our bags through and went to the security area. It is a very relaxed security system, unlike our airports in North America and beyond.
Breezing through security we headed for our designated gate number. I had already been in the airport proper for more than 2 hours, as I stood in line with an odd assortment of people who didn’t look like they were going to Botswana. As it turned out, they were all heading for Dubi! I thought they looked Arab or Muslim of some sort. The Botswana flight had been delayed yet again and this time the gate number changed. Just goes to show you that you can’t believe everything you read. They are a little slow at updating things.
Off I went three hours later to sit and wait yet again. At this point I was becoming quite dull and bored. Between BO from others, cell phones ringing off and nauseating fumes from the planes with the exit doors open, I was totally disgusted at wasting yet another fine day in an airport.
Finally, we boarded a prop-job airplane and of course I had the very last seat in the tail of the airplane. It was at that point I searched in vain for some gravol without luck. It must have packed in the suitcase I had checked.
We soon became airborne and to my surprise, it was a very smooth flight, unlike the earlier one I had on the DC3.
At just after 4 pm, I was met at the airport and driven the short distance to my hotel. The airport in Maun (pronounced Ma oon) is very tiny and casual. It was nice for a change to get back to some sort of sanity.
Tomorrow I grab the small bush plane to join the horse safari. At least I will have six days in one place!!!! so to speak.
I managed to sleep in this morning and was collected for the short trip to the airport at 10:10 am. I met three other ladies from England who were also going on the horseback safari. It was a good job we were all traveling light as we were led out to the tarmac and our SMALL revived old Cessena plane.
As it turned out, the captain of our plane was a Canadian from Montreal. Since I was the only other Canadian, I got to ride beside him at the controls. I paid attention to his pre-warm up routine as he adjusted the choke and brought the engine rpms up to speed. The gages all read normal with the pressure gage coordinating with the engine’s rpm. Oil temp looked good and we had lots of fuel. Who knows, if something happened to him, I might be required to fly the thing. God help us!
After a short, little bumpy 20 min. ride, we found an abandoned airstrip in the middle of nowhere where he set the plane down. From there we were transported to a whirly bird (helicopter) for the next 10 min. of flight. How exciting! Again, I was chosen to ride beside the pilot. It was an amazing ride! I now love helicopters. You see the ground right below your feet as we hovered just above tree tops skimming along at a leisurely pace. I clicked a few photos of buffalo on the run and elephants grazing before we set down at the camp in the lovely lush delta known as the Okavango Delta.
The camp is situated on an island and it is in the heart of wilderness beauty. We were greeted by the staff and shown to our own private tents.
These are luxury strong canvas and screened houses on a raised platform. As this is wilderness, we may have the occasional hippo or elephant wandering by as the sun sets.
We are advised just to stay quiet and calm while they pass. Under no circumstances are we to bring food into out tents. That is only common sense, but we all know that that can be in short supply with tourists.
Before lunch, I met some of the assortment of horses. I spied a relatively good one; dark bay with a medium blaze and white sock. He turned out to be a lead horse and the owner’s private mount. I’m not sure who I will be saddled with this afternoon, but it will be an introductory ride.
All the horses are very fit and mostly sporting roached manes and hock length tails. The majority are thoroughbred crosses with huge withers from plenty of saddle work. As I would later discover, these horses band together 24/7 and are totally insensitive to rein pressure (i.e. no brakes). They depend on the lead horse to tell them when to stop or turn. They instinctively trot/gallop when the lead horse starts whether you are ready or not and jam on their own brakes when they feel it is time. Not the sort of horse I’m use to.
One I sort of favoured, was just recovering from an attack by a croc on one of the rides. He seemed sound enough.
I met their Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Pit Bull who are the family pets. Life for canines here in the Okavango is short with 3 or 4 years being considered very old by the living conditions. It is not that they die of disease, it is predatory attacks from a variety of animals and snakes that claim them as victims. It is a reality here that you must always be watchful of everything from snakes to crocs to Hippos and Rhinos and the like. Always look up and down.
The wilderness is tranquil and yet dangerous. It is not for the faint of heart. Only rugged, challenging people need apply. You definitely appreciate life in its truest form here. This is Africa!!
My ride out in the afternoon brought back shades of Spain and the grey gelding Romero. I was given a grey thoroughbred gelding who played with me most of the time. Just so you know, I’m ditching the camera tomorrow. You can’t imagine how difficult it is riding with one hand and holding on to your camera with the other cantering through knee high water and the like. Not to mention my horse who decided it was time to get down and play. His canter was filled with rolling bucks of delight as I hung on with the camera in one hand. If I roll the dice and get him again tomorrow, I’m ready with both hands on the reins this time. You will all be happy to hear that I stayed on despite my handicap.
Of course the best horse in the herd of 56 was the one I liked; the owner’s horse. Go figure. Well at least I can say I have good taste.
The horses only spooked once when a wart hog ran from the bush and startled the otherwise bored horses. I’m not use to riding low headed Thoroughbreds so I didn’t feel quite at home in the saddle. And saddle… I’m really spoiled with my Freedman! Although these were fairly good quality saddles with cheat seats to boot, I couldn’t find a very comfortable seat. My crotch is still tender tonight. The tip of the saddle puts you in a constant forward lean and the twist on the saddle is narrow and very unaccommodating to a woman’s hip. Don’t know how the guys do it. Still it was fun and an experience riding the delta.
After a feast in the evening and a brief sit by the campfire, we have retired to our tents. We are not to be alarmed if we have a lion, elephant or hippo pass by our tents during the night. They quite often do here. We are told that the lions are more interested in the buffalo than humans; and the elephants just want to browse around. Still we shouldn’t wander out at night.
I zipped my tent shut (just the screens), sprayed for mosquitoes and I am listening to a chorus of frogs and crickets at waters edge; no call of the lions yet but the night is young. I just hope no crocs come by.
After just two hours of sleep the 5:45 am wake up call came to my tent. Eating late is a real problem for me as I can’t just fall into silent slumber for the evening. At 3 am, I decided to read a chapter in the novel I had brought along, trying to deactivate my busy mind.
At 6:00 am, a lion’s deep groan could be heard throughout the camp. It was just across the river. This area in Africa is home to the only pride of water swimming lions. They have adapted very well to the water here, so crossing a river is not an impossible feat for them. I always thought that cats are especially fearful of water. Apparently, these big cats are not.
After a quick coffee and a muffin, we mounted up for a six hour jaunt through the wetlands of the delta. Feeling the effects of yesterday, my knees and ankles still ached. We trotted and walked and galloped over all sorts of marsh and dusty elephant paths.
We stopped on occasion to squat behind a tree before mounting again and trotting off. It is the custom that you find the nearest log to mount your horse and NOT mount from the ground. I mistakenly swung up on my little Egyptian Arab horse, Zulu, and was unceremoniously chastised for this. Believe me, I’m not looking for a log if something big is coming that requires immediate action for self-preservation. I conceded to the rules from then on and perched myself next to a log or termite mount for future mounting sessions. At least here there are so many fallen trees due to elephant construction also know as destruction, that you’ll find one almost around every corner.
We slowly edged our way around some barbarous looking bushes at the edge of a waterway, only to find a family of hippos grazing along side the tall grass. Usually, they are in the water at this time of day, so this was a rare find. It was complete silence as we passed by them.
We discovered a small herd of zebras next and shortly after, we came across an even bigger herd. As our horses approached the statuesque zebra, they (Zebras) turned tail and went to the gallop. We followed along. These pony size members of the horse family were giving us a good gallop as we closed in on them. We pulled up (or should I more correctly say, the lead horse pulled up) and the Zebras soon abandoned their escape as well as we turned and continued on our journey.
By the fifth hour of our ride we were all feeling a little tired (me more than the others) when a large crack from the bush momentarily startled the lead horse. Behind the crack in the forested area was a large bull elephant. He had decided to take the tree down for better pruning. The enormous tree fell like a bulldozer had just hit it. Our horses stood silently grazing the tall grass while we watched and waited. Assuming it was safe to continue, we completed our ride as we galloped through the waterway back into the camp confines.
After a relaxing dinner and swapping stories amongst the guests, we were coming together as a group. I would best describe my companions as follows: The British are crazy, the Germans – disciplined, the Americans, although very hospitable – know everything and then there is me, not quite the right cog in this wheel.
One interesting cast of our crew of riders, was the very pretty “alfa” female (as she described herself) who is one of a handful of Captains in the world who command large cruise ships. She is becoming more Americanized in her thinking, even though she still calls herself a Brit. One story struck me as quite funny, but at the same time encouraged by our border inspectors.
She was telling us that she will never visit a port in Canada again after her trouble with the authorities. She went on to explain that when her ship was boarded and asked if there were any weapons housed on board, the Captain stupidly replied “no”. A regular search them ensued when the agent came forward with two full magazine clips for a Glock handgun which were located in the Captain’s night stand. The agent gave the Captain an option. She could tell them were the rest of the firearms were, or they could send in the dogs and rip apart the ship searching for them. The Captain wisely complied and went to the bulk head of the ship and retrieved two pistols, an automatic machine gun type weapon, stun guns and bear spray, all illegal in Canada. The Captain was then cited.
She, the Captain, couldn’t understand all the fuss. She reiterated to our little campfire chatters that they didn’t have any intention of using the firearms that were secured as she put it. I thought to myself, let me see, she works for a Texan who is gun crazy, she lies to the inspectors, then produces a string of lethal weapons, all on a “luxury cruise ship”! What isn’t right with this picture?
At any rate the Captain was quite indignant about how Canadians treated her and vowed she will never dock in Canadian waters again. That is fine with me. Who is to say she wasn’t transporting weapons for criminal intent.
As I’m keying this journal in, a lion has just called out in the blackness. It’s coming from across the river. Since I’m alone in my tent, I hope that it stays on the other side for tonight at least. To be quite honest, I think the lion is less of a danger than the Captain.
Mid afternoon was a sightseeing adventure from the confines of a dug out canoe. As our guide polled us along the water, we observed a wide variety of birds, foliage and fauna.
It is now pressing just after 10 pm as I close this entry. Tomorrow our horses must swim across a river and I have to ride it bareback. I just hope I don’t float away and become prey for a croc. With roached manes, there isn’t anything to hold on to. Hopefully, I will survive as we break camp for the next leg of our safari.
Another early morning call as we embark for the river, minus our shoes with pants rolled above the knees. I was mounted on a big grey Thoroughbred named Mazoozoo as he strode out at a good walk down the trail. We had a new guide today, PJ, the owner of the camp who kept us at a good pace. We came upon a lone bull elephant as he watched our horses graze at the end of the rein. (It is the custom to let these horses bulldog the reins away from you and graze whenever they want. It is not the custom here to allow these bad manners on the trail. Again, I found this very annoying, not to discard the fact that it can be quite painful.) It was during this self-grazing by my mount that the big grey pulled very hard as I was slightly turned in the saddle, observing the elephant for safety sake. That strong yank on the too short rein pulled a lower back muscle and I knew I was in for trouble the rest of the six hour ride.
Trotting was almost unbearable and the gallop excruciating. At break I tried to eek out some relief by stretching and walking. By this time I was feeling quite nauseous and faint. We mounted again and continued the long trek to the new camp. About ½ hour out from the destination of our new camp, the horses were put into a full mad gallop. It was all I could do to stop from passing out as the horse reeled and did a final buck before coming to an abrupt halt, digging his toes into ground with great urgency. I was never so relieved to see a tent on the shore knowing I was at the end of the ride. I could barely dismount, my back flaming in pain. They decided to take me across the river in a dug out as I couldn’t imagine swimming with the horse. I think I would have taken my chances with the crocs at this point.
At dinner, the dogs joined us and vied for attention from the many guests. The male pit bull is the dominant one, since he came first. The female Staffordshire is the guest and he becomes jealous when attention is paid to her. With this in mind, it was not wise that the owner picked up the male and placed him on her lap at the dinner table. The female, feeling left out, sat next to the guest beside the owner and as expected or even predicted, the guest showered loving pats on the female. Without warning, the male attacked. The owner hung on to the male as she leapt from her chair calling for help to control the brute as he struggled to get out of her grasp and continue the fray. Two large men took the dog from her and held it away from the group. It was a very uneasy time as we waited for the male to settle down before being led away and tied up for the remainder of the evening. The female was banned immediately and taken to the kitchen tent. As much as these seemed like nice dogs, I really don’t think they are good trusting pets. They are fighting dogs and I feel rather unsafe around them.
I’m going to beg off the game drive this evening as I’m in terrible pain. I don’t even think I’ll be well enough to hoist myself into the saddle tomorrow. My cot is hollow and not very supportive. At this point, I think I have to surrender to the ride.
I chose to rest my back today and opted for a ride in the 4X4 to rendezvous with everyone for lunch under the umbrella of an old sausage tree. It was a rather boring day, but I was feeling so ill and sore, it didn’t really matter.
We arrived back in camp around 5 pm as I burrowed once more down into a novel that I had exchanged with another rider. I had finished my book so we switched.
Dinner tonight was a wonderful curried chicken dish. It was so good, I had two helpings. With the help of a little glass of red wine, my back is starting to loosen up or at least felt like it. I hope that I can make the last ride back to base camp tomorrow and still be able to get into the small bush plane tomorrow for the trip to the airport in Maun. I start the day by swimming on the horse across the river at dawn. I’m hoping my body will hold together for the six hour journey.
DAY NINETEEN – BLACK DAY COMETH
I’m semi writing this bit in much pain. Most of this journal entry will be completed another day. I will make brief points to remind myself of the day’s events.
We broke camp this morning and to be just on the safe side, I requested horse leg wraps from the stable grooms as I wrapped my sore lower back for extra support. We walked out and I was being cautiously optimistic that I could make the six hour, 25 mile ride back to base camp. Instead, Murphy’s Law was upon me.
After passing a large bull elephant approximately one hour into our ride and working our way through razor sharp barbed bushes, we started off at a steady strong trot, head to tail down a winding elephant animal track trail. Six horses in front of me merrily weaved their way through the hard concrete packed clay when all of a sudden my large grey Thoroughbred dropped like a stone beneath me. As he scrambled out of a very nasty burrowing hole, I tumbled out to the left landing on my shoulder and hip, coming to rest finally on my previously injured left side of my back. I howled; writhe in pain. As riders gathered around me, I first wanted to make sure I hadn’t broken my back. My toes and legs were OK, but the back pain was excruciating. We were in the middle of nowhere with every conceivable predator a possible ambush in the making. I was helped me to my feet and slowly walked for a short distance, trying to compose myself and reorganize my badly bruised body. The thought of being hoisted back onto my horse was unconceivable, but it was either that, or walk the next five hours with a guide and riffle in hand. I would be very easy prey for a lion or leopard in my condition.
The game plan was to switch saddles, giving me a trail saddle (semi Australian stock saddle/western more on the lines of a cavalry saddle). The high pommel steel frame gave me a little support as I tried to keep the bump of the stride and pitch of the saddle from jolting my back. Riding mostly standing in my stirrups, leaning heavily on the pommel, my back twisted and burned to the rock of the horse. The next hour was agonizingly slow and miserable.
As we cut through more dense brush, we startled a herd of buffalo. All the horses were on edge as the Buffalo kept crashing about in the thickets trying to decide which way to exit. The rifleman took hold of my horse’s left rein to steady him and be ready to pull the rifle from its case. I thought for a moment that I had met my Waterloo and I would die on this delta should the buffalo charge us. There was no strength left in me to hang on to a crazed-with-fear galloping Thoroughbred. Luckily the buffalo decided to negotiate a clear path and thundered off to the right of us.
By the time we reached a deeper water area where a dug out canoe could navigate, I was near passing out with the pain. I gently lowered myself to the ground and sat on the floor of the dug out as two men polled me out to a waiting outboard boat 15 minutes later.
Next I had to transfer from the dug out to the aluminum boat and sit yet again as my muscles shook in protest and nausea started to creep in. The two pain pills they had popped into me at the time of the accident were quickly losing their effect.
When the prop was dropped into the cool water of the Delta, we navigated only about 100 feet, before the men took over the polling. Percy (our driver) pulled the heavy load of reeds from the propeller. This routine went on with repetition for the next half hour before we finally reached deeper, less grassy open water. Gunning the engine, we started to make better time before our boat succumbed to the string and drag of grasses again.
By this point, I decided to try a little humour to see if that might help me forget the ugly stabbing pain. And so, the boatmen of Botswana joined me with a chorus of “Row Row Row Your Boat”, every time they took up the long polls.
Roaring around again in open water, we came across the bumping half submerged logs known locally as hippos. Instinctively, and with much aggression, the male disappeared under the water. When we looked back, 20 feet in our wake, the huge log leapt out of the water with a menacing grunting roar of defiance as our tin boat flew down the river.
As we approached the camp I was helped out of the boat feeling somewhat light headed and insanely in pain. I asked for some ice for my back and with a steadying arm, was helped to my tent. Momentarily, two frozen packs wrapped in a towel appeared and I settled them under my seized and fiery hot lower back. Awe, at least the heat was dissipating slowly and the stiffening process was working in earnest.
More pain killer tablets prescribed to me which I gladly took. I was left to rest while the camp radioed for help.
I was in so much agony that tears began to well up and roll down my cheeks. I felt like a little whimpering baby so far from home, so all alone almost being transported into another world by a wild herd of African buffalo. I soon shook off the useless nonsense of self-pity as I pulled the ice packs from my back. I caught a strong whiff of fish as I lifted the packs away. My God, as I almost vomited, these have been keeping some fish frozen. (Even the slightest odor of fish puts my stomach into utter turmoil.) As I gagged, I tossed the packs to the vacant bed beside me and tried to shut my eyes and also shut out the pain and world around me.
Later that evening, a nurse arrived at camp and was trying to coordinate a copter ride out for me to take me to the hospital in Maun. I have given her my insurance paperwork and contacts, medical information and the like.
The deluxe insurance package I had purchased turned out to be totally unhelpful. Since I hadn’t broken anything that was obvious at first glance, they (insurance agents) didn’t see the need to help me. They wanted the camp to call back during office hours! Some idiot in Toronto has no idea what it is like to be stranded on an open plain, surrounded by the BIG FIVE of Africa with only radio contact to civilization, that someone with a severe back injury being tossed at speed from a horse, can appreciate. As the pain increased, my lioness roar will be heard once I get back to Canada AND God help the person if I find out which one took the call!
Try as they might, a Medivac air ambulance wasn’t going to happen because of the insurance company’s uncooperativeness. I could of course privately pay $5000 US cash for a commercial helicopter to retrieve me from the jungle. I didn’t have $5000 cash on me. I would have to wait until morning and see what transpires. In the meantime, I am being held captive by a roaming elephant between my tent and the short 20 ft walk to the eating area. He is taking his time so I dare not disturb his supper. They will bring me a tray to my tent with more pain meds later and the horse liniment I requested from the stable’s equine medical supplies.
I had a rather sleepless night with lions growling, hippos roaring and elephants continuing to graze by my tent. The morning has not brought good news. The insurance company is being very difficult so now my only alternative is to ride out on a mattress in the back of a 4X4 traveling at 10 km/hr. following game tracks.
I was dosed up on painkillers for the long 2.5 hr. drive out to the airstrip. After bracing with my elbows lying in the back of the truck, with only the hot African sun pressing through the screen netting as dust filtered through and spray from the wetlands showered me for brief periods, and the missile sausages loomed over head as the truck passed under their shade, we arrived. My dress had flipped up during the journey exposing my lily white legs to the hot African burn. I couldn’t move to cover myself so instead added a painful sunburn to my litany of injuries.
My purse which was originally set beside me was relocated to the cab of the truck for the journey. I think their thought was that it just might bounce out. The trucks were unloaded and I specifically asked if my purse was among the luggage. I was informed it was.
I struggled to climb into the small Cessena for the trip to Maun airport where an ambulance with flashing lights was waiting to take me to the hospital. I kept my eyes closed for the 20 min. flight to Maun hoping the miles would fly by quicker.
Finally we bump, bumped down and rolled to a stop with the ambulance along side. The rest of the passengers disembarked along with the luggage. I chatted briefly with the medics who have offered to take me to the hospital but feel that I could probably continue on to JoBurg and seek better medical attention there if I wish. There isn’t a whole lot they can do with soft tissue injuries, other than give pain pills and/or therapy. The worst was behind me so I decided to fly on. As a parting word, the medics said that I should take this matter up with my insurance company as they felt they (insurance people) were very negligible in assisting me and further stated that if it had been a heart attack, broken bones or head injury, I would most likely have died waiting for them to give the go ahead. In their mind, and mine as well, this was totally unacceptable procedure.
As we sorted through our baggage, I was shocked to see that my purse wasn’t among the items. I was literally stranded!!!
Shaking in pain, standing with no passport, money, credit cards, plane ticket, visas and the lot, I was now quickly acquiring the temper of those wild buffalos. When the rep for the Safari people mentioned that they would charge me for sending a plane back for my handbag I started to lose it right there in the airport. I don’t normally raise my voice or swear, but now I had nothing to lose. I WAS NOT AMUSED!
As it turned out, they sent the plane back, held the Air Botswana flight departing for JoBurg until I had my purse safely back in hand.
I have arrived back in razor-wire city JoBurg and civilization which comes with a hot deep tub in my 5 star hotel room. When I pulled the plug, I think I have left half of Botswana in the bottom of the water depleted tub. As my aching back slumbers in the bed sort of, I close this chapter of my day.
|My Rescue Team|
Four AM rise comes way too early for my battered and bruised body. Slowly I point myself in the direction of the shower and standing patiently as the warmth eases my muscles briefly.
Packed and ready to go, I’m off to the airport for the trip to Kruger.
The flight is pleasantly short but the drive to the game camp is horrendous. Two and a half hours of wash board roads tugs cruelly at my injured back. My hands have turned purple with the grip of the rail trying to soften and suspend the bounce of the van. Finally, we arrive at this beautiful gem in the middle of Kruger Park.
After settling in, I took the opportunity of booking in with the massage therapist. I felt a lot better after a session with her. Still very stiff and sore, but at least I can sit a bit now. I’m having two more sessions with her to try and get myself right or at least comfortable to some degree. I hope to be able to get at least one game drive here before I leave.
|My Little Rondavel|
Still, this afternoon, I had elephants rooming below my balcony, browsing on tree branches, a large bull elephant some 30 ‘ away and a lioness wandering by on her leisurely early evening hunt. This is God’s place in Africa!
p.s. I’m working on making friends with an African Grey Parrot name Fritz. He already seems to be warming up to me. He was chasing people away from the chair I was sitting in. Reminds me of my Taboo..
I rose stiffly this morning but with less warm up of muscle.
I checked in for another massage and spent the day reviewing my journals of the trip so far. I walked several times, did stretches and read my book. With the back starting to release its terrible grip somewhat, other bruising and soreness is complaining now. My tail bone in particular is very sore and a large shiner is starting to poke to the surface of my left hip. Tomorrow I hope to participate in an afternoon game drive and get some of my last photos. I’m missing the rhino and leopard yet. With any luck I’ll find these to complete the series of the “big five”.
Tomorrow I have my last booked massage so hopefully I will be well on the way to recovery before my long flight home. I’m certain I will still have some discomfort, but nothing like I have had to endure.
I rolled over and hung my feet over the bed and pulled myself into a sitting position. The stiffness was still present, but perhaps a little less. After breakfast, I went for my 10 am massage and felt a lot more relaxed. My tail bone is still paining and a few other places that I hadn’t notice before.
As I immersed myself in a good murder mystery novel while lounging in the bar, news flash on the radio and drifted out into the air until it caught the attention of my ears. “Tourist killed by elephant on safari in Botswana”! There were no further details and I wondered, was it my safari camp? That could have been me on the report. What a sobering thought.
Today was the day I was going on the afternoon game drive. I still need evidence for my camera of the illusive Leopard and Rhino.
|Wildabeast at Dawn|
I put on my back brace and took the front seat position on the Land Rover. In front of me was a 410 riffle, big enough to take down an elephant if need be. My ranger was Stephen, the biggest guide at the camp and a very handy driver. Knowing he had a handicap person on board, he took the bumps very slowly. It was good to get out at long last. We found the usual assortment of Impala and elephants before coming upon the leopards.
Our first encounter was an 18 month old female. She came right beside the Land Rover which made for some perfect shots (camera of course). Later we came across her handsome father as he ambled up a steep gully right into view. We followed him for a long time before he finally wandered off into denser brush.
As rangers, they keep records on the animal population and since many species do not travel great distances, it is a simpler task knowing which animals are in your territory and who are new comers.
The leopards are sleek and muscular, but not as large as a lion. These two examples were a delight to photograph, almost posing like movie stars for the cameras.
|Leopard at Dusk|
As the sun fell below the horizon and darkness set in, the spot light held by our spotter sitting on the hood mounted jump seat, fanned the light from one side of the road to the other as we searched for big game. A few Impala were seen but the real catch of the night was a pride of six female lions and one male. They sauntered down the track looking quite pleased with themselves. Stephen suggested that they had come off of a big kill and were well fed tonight. He figures that they took down a Kudu, giraffe or some larger size prey due to the fact that all of the lions had satisfied their appetites and looked quite full. Just as well, I don’t think anyone of us wanted to be their dinner.
It was dark and cool as I stepped out of my thatch roof hut at 5:15 am. I am determined to find my Rhino today. We all loaded into the Land Rover with spotlight and headlights guiding our way through the dense brush and rut-punishing roads. It wasn’t long before we found a track that led us straight to a huge white Rhino, lying peacefully in a clay mound. I snapped away at the sleeping hulk, amazed at its 2 ton size. Now I have all of the BIG FIVE photographed. Later in the day, we would come upon this fellow, slowly trekking down the road spraying his boundaries with a hydrant force gush of urine to ward off any other male rhinos.
Further along we met up with a large herd of about 50 elephants. It was tricky not finding ourselves in the middle of the herd. It seemed as though they where circling us and one grumpy male trumpeted his disapproval of our visit. Cautiously we kept out of the Indians circling the wagon, so to speak.
Traveling through large thickets, the Rover continued to grind its way along in first gear. Under a tree lay a pride of lions, including the old fellow we say the night before. It was the same group and they looked very content with full stomachs. The grand old lion didn’t even raise his head in acknowledgement. I think he was happy just to be fed. Lacking teeth now in his elder years, the females take care of him. Hopefully, he can remain with this pride for the remainder of his days. Once you see his photo, you can’t help but feel for the old gentleman. He still is majestic with the years of wisdom etched in his face.
The afternoon game drive turned in quite a performance. We tracked our usual elephants, catching the tail end of a mating ceremony at the old water hole. Elephants were in abundance once again as we watched them play and socialize in the water, take mud baths and just generally just be elephants.
As the sun set low over the horizon, we attempted to find Leopard and Hyena to no avail. We did discover a Hyena’s den but no occupants present. As the fading light of day dropped off the rise, it was time to switch on the spot light for night vision. As it would be, we found our pride of lions again with the old male tagging along. It must have been the call of the wild today, because to our surprise, old kitty mated with one of the females on an abandoned air strip. Being under the cover of darkness, those who attempted to catch the feat on camera were sadly disappointed with only fuzzy images of a very private affair. We followed the orderly fashion of a lion hunt for half an hour. Following each other, spaced out accordingly, walking a slow methodical single line with determination in every step. We would shut off the vehicle and kill lights only to find lions on either side of our vehicle using it as cover in the open grass. They were after the Impala at the edge of the landing strip.
Lions are amazingly silent, tracking each hind paw exactly in the front paw track. They have an extra padding of hair that softens any crack of a twig that may give them away. We never heard them coming behind us and looked a little shocked when we found them quietly lying beside the land rover when we briefly turned a light on. It is somewhat unnerving to have a lion a hair’s breadth away.
We decided to let the lions continue on their insidious nightly hunt without us busy bodies following their every move. Off we went back to base and settled in for the evening.
|View from the Deck and Pool|
DAY TWENTY-FIVE – The Lion Hunt
The early morning game drive went on a usual as I lay in my netted tent bed, the “DO NOT DISTURB” sign hanging on the door handle outside. After a light breakfast, I walked the short distance to my added appointment with the massage therapist. Relaxing on the table, the warm stones penetrated deep into the stressed and tired muscles of my back and shoulders. Two game drives yesterday proved to be a little too much for my injured back and increasingly sore tail bone. But still the incredible scenery and photos paled in comparison to my protesting back.
This afternoon I will take up my post opposite the guide/driver for another experience following the game tracks. Perhaps this time we will find the allusive Hyena.
We loaded up for our four hour sunset game drive which was the most adventurous and climatic of all the game drives I’ve been on.
We came across one of the many herds of elephants sauntering across our path in their slow motion sway. One female with calf in tow came extremely close to our stationary vehicle. Instinctively, the large female ushered her calf to her right side placing her between us and the Land Rover. I sat dead still looking into the large brown eye that peered at me. We were within a foot of each other. I didn’t squint but softened my face to give no hint of fear or aggression. The momentary reading of eyes passed as the few tons of wild elephant continued her walk following the rest of the herd.
In just two hours of exploring dense bush, dried up seasonal river beds and well trodden dirt game trails, we had spotted all of the BIG FIVE. My only wish was to at last see the shy but lethal and vicious hyena. As late afternoon turned into darkness, I was ready to release any hope of finding the Hyena. All of a sudden, Stephen mumbled something to our spotter after receiving direction from his secretive ear piece from the other game driver. We were off quickly crashing through brush, over logs until finally meeting up with another Land Rover. Caught in the spotlight was my Hyena. I clicked away hoping that even with just the smattering of light from the hand held beam, I could capture this boy on my camera. I was lucky having several pics come out reasonably well. He looked profoundly menacing with steel trap jaws that could tear apart and crush anything with ease.
As we turned away and headed out another route, we came upon a pair of Leopards. They too had a brief love affair going when we arrived. What is it about the wilderness and the three letter word? I know procreation is everything, but to see it on such a regular basis was quite a lesson in the birds and bees.
We followed the Leopards for about 20 minutes before we broke off and gathered with another group of Land Rovers on open grassland. It was the lions and my sweet old boy again. The lions now on hunt, were positioning themselves for a kill. All lights were extinguished from all vehicles as we waited in silence and blackness for the chase to begin.
As the previous night, the lions used our vehicles as cover while they skillfully got into position. The small Impalas were nervous, sensing that the lions were close, but unable to detect their exact proximity. The buck snorted his alarm to the herd. A small rolling thunder of little hooves grew louder as 40 or so Impala took flight across the open plain. You could hear a skirmish of sorts approximately 40 feet ahead of us and then the undeniable roar of the kill boomed into the blackness of night. Seven lions had calculated with deadly mobilization the taking down of one unfortunate Impala.
With engines switched on and lights blazing into the blackness of the night, we arrived in mere seconds to find the lions devouring the Impala with a ravishing hunger I had never seen before. The smell of death permeated the still night air as steam rose in the cool air from entrails eviscerated from the Impala. The lions smeared in blood on their broad faces, crunched and tore into the flesh of the little Impala with ferocity.
The old male lion took command of the largest share and wandered off with his prize catch of meat. That soft amber eyed ancient lion I had photographed earlier was now a full fledged hunter in the fury of the kill. His weary muscles suddenly erupted in mega tones of power as he slipped away with his kill, clutched in his mouth dripping red with blood.
Squabbles broke out among the females vying for the remainder of the kill. We were reassured that the lions – just a mere 10 feet away – wouldn’t attack us. It seems a little precarious to think that four wheels and a little steel on an open air rover, can afford protection from these marauding killers, never mind our point man whose legs dangled from the jump seat at the front bumper in a teasing manner. I think he needs danger pay for this job!
As sickening as the scene was, I managed to capture some photos under the artificial lights of the vehicles and spot lights trained on the killing field. The lions seemed unperturbed by the glaring lights and they continued to devour the prey in large heaping gulps.
My first thought when we arrived on scene was a silent cry of sympathy for the deer-like wee animal. I was somewhat relieved to see that the animal was already dead and not suffering. It had died within seconds of being tackled.
I must admit that the lions are very efficient killers and get down to business as swiftly and deadly as possible. It was a reality check as to how dangerous a night on the African grasslands can be. The lions would soon be on the hunt again tonight, for this one Impala would only satisfy the feeding requirements of one lion, not seven. “The lion DOES NOT sleep tonight”.
It’s early evening as I sit at a patio table on the deck overlooking the Park, not far from last evening’s traumatic event. There is an elephant just off in the treed area breaking off branches to feed itself. The baboons are calling and a few monkeys scurry above me in the large tree. It’s peaceful, only the elephant slowly making its way into view. Another elephant has joined it as I am listening to two slow grunts simultaneously. It’s mating season so there might be more going on in the brush than I can see.
I’ve sorted my luggage, had one more massage and have spent the day taking it easy and reviewing my journals. Nothing too exciting. Tomorrow will be a very long day as I start the long journey home. My back still gives me grief and the therapist suggested I see my physician on my return. I think I will too.
It will be good to get back to my own bed although I will miss the wildness of Africa. A little part of me has been forever changed with this experience. Our lives are too complicated and rushed. Learning about survival and the natural beauty that abounds, makes you stop and wonder what we are doing. I think the animals have it right. They keep life simple, but never boring. It is a very respectful, dangerous but orderly life here. Everything has its place and purpose.