Saturday, August 26, 2006

Okavanga, Botswana: Babies and more babies

We made our way to the main tent about 615am and fortunately for us, the elephant from last night found a much more interesting place so we could actually leave our tent. We had hot porridge from a campfire pot (although they do have a fully functional kitchen making as great food as I myself would make). It was so creamy and delicious and with hot milk, it was positively yummy. Yummy oatmeal sounds like a bit of an oxymoron but it’s true.



I knew that nothing could top the day I had yesterday but I was wrong. On our way to the early morning drive, the six of us ( a family of 4 from the UK living in Botswana), Martin and Richard decided that we would go back to lat night’s scene to see what had happened. There we found not six lions well satiated and contently laying around their kill. But there was a pleasant surprise waiting for us. In the midst of all the gory scene were two of the most beautiful lion cubs I have ever seen. Richard said they are only about 3-4 weeks old. They were laying beside what I thought was their mother but looking slightly away from the camera. I used Izabel’s call again and as soon as I said a soft Psst, they looked over my way and I got another postcard perfect picture except mine is better because I didn’t set up an unmanned camera and leave it to take an automatic picture. I was there in person, taking the picture about 15 feet away from them. I definitely have to post all my pictures on a webpage. Those little darlings were perfect. I literally could stare at them all day. Martin said that if one of us got up now and walked out in the middle of the pride (that’s what a group of lions are called), they would likely not attack us because they are too full. None of us were willing to test out that theory so we watched the babies for quite a while. That was certainly more entertaining than the scene nearby. Now this may be too gory for some of you so choose to skip over if you want to. I’ll put it in italics so that it’s easier to skip over.

The buffalo was laying there, the testicles gone from the scene the night before. It was dismembered and the intestines eaten. The lungs were strewn over by the head waiting to be eaten later I suppose. The liver was by the rear hind legs. Then there was the mounds of grass from the intestine laying about 18 inches away from where the belly used to be. Part of the back rump was eaten, so there was a gaping hole about the size about a basketball. Thn there was part of the face missing, the top lip being completely eaten down to the teeth and gums. One ear was gone and there was a pool of dried blood at the belly area. The top back leg was in the air from rigor mortis I guess but it showed the missing belly area. Okay so how many of you read it? If you did, you have to write a comment on the blog admitting that you your curiosity got the better of you and even though you were warned that it was going to be gory, you were like a moth to a flame. Couldn’t resist, eh? It’s like driving by an accident and not looking. How’s that for good writing? Remember to admit to reading this on the blog!!

I continued to watch the baby lions for about 30 minutes then we drove off looking for other things. Well to say the sightings were spectacular would be an understatement. We saw a tsessebe (another kind of antelope which is the largest kind), lots of Kalahari sand (where it is virtually impossible to find a stone or a rock), an abundance of mopani trees (from which the mopani worm comes from that I ate or at least tasted), many, many acacia trees in bloom, some red lechwes (antelope), two groups of zebras, carmine bee eater birds, weaver birds (who make their nests on the West side of trees so if you ever lose your bearings, you can just look at the nests on the trees and find your directions), yellowheaded hornbills, steenbok (another kind of small antelope), a blue wildebeest (animal whose head is actually a navy blue in colour), little bee eater birds, a hoopoe bird with a crest on the head, a green pigeon (didn’t know there were green pigeons) and I saved the best for last – a journey (that’s what you call a whole group) of giraffes.
The best part was that there were a few baby giraffes. Nothing cuter than baby anything and these were no different. We found these on our way back to the camp and after we saw them, we forgot all about breakfast (it was now about 10am). It was the perfect African safari scene – one that you would expect to see on National Geographic or some such show. We stayed way too long and took way too many pictures but it was worth missing breakfast. In fact we didn’t really miss breakfast. They waited for us to come back to camp and then served it. And what a breakfast!! There was hot and cold and if you didn’t feel satisfied after that (impossible not to overeat), then there must be something wrong with you.

We went back to the tent for a shower and rest till lunch which was at 3:30pm. Who could eat lunch? I willing had a small plate of salad and that was about what most of us could manage. Then it was off to the afternoon boat cruise in the delta. Lots of flora and fauna. The water in the delta is very clear and apparently very drinkable although I didn’t drink any. Wouldn’t want to get sick at this late date so I’ll stick with tap water which is very safe to drink here.
As it was getting dark, we made it over to a heronry (where lots of herons bed down for the night) and I took some pictures of birds I had never heard about let alone seen. We had a perfect sunset on our way back but it quickly got dark so Martin was navigating in almost pitch blackness except for the headlights of the motor boat. It is quite disconcerting to see all the channels and know that we could easily get lost but he sure knew those waters. It was with a sense of relief (for me) that we made it back to the docks. I asked Martin how he knew where to go and he said by the trees. Well they all look the same to me in the dark – shadows with branches. I don’t know how he could distinguish one from the other but he could.

Back to the camp for dinner and bed. Long exciting day and the fresh air really makes you want to sleep at the end of the day. Wonderful experience.
1. September 2nd, 2006 by Pat Mohr
I read the entire blog — as always. The gory scene did not freak me out. It would have had I been there, of course. I’m so enjoying my safari alongside you guys! Love, Pat

2. September 2nd, 2006 by The Coloma's
Great Blog…. Come home already!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Maun, Botswana: Okavanga Delta - a piece of paradise

This morning we went on our last game drive at 6am. I was so looking forward to it and it did not disappoint!! We arrived Chobe and after a few minutes drive of seeing nothing the driver was radioed by another driver that he had seen a leopard. We chased off to the location and there in an almost dried waterhole was a young leopard in all it splendour posing as if for a picture. It was a bit too far away for me to get as good a picture as I wanted to I used Izabel’s call (Pssst – I swear it works!! You should try it next time you’re out in the wild or at the zoo) and he strolled around for a bit, circled a tree just behind our vehicle, leapt up into the tree and posed among the branches for a perfect postcard picture. I’m going to have to add that to my collection of pictures for my babies.
The acacias were in bloom and the smell was very nice. When I was young, I used to read Harlequin romances and many of them were set in Africa among the acacia trees. Now I know what they are. Apparently Noah built his ark with the umbrella thorn acacia.
Elephant dung was everywhere. The locals burn the dry dung for keeping mosquitoes away. I bet it would probably keep everything else away!! The elephant eats about 22 hours a day consuming about 360 kgs of food and drinking about 180 litres of water. We saw some honey birds. They are interesting. They eat honey from the combs and when they can’t reach the honeycombs, they will whistle when people are around and guide them to the honeycombs. People will of course try to harvest the honey from the combs and in the meantime, the honey birds will get some of the honey. Hence the name honeybird. I thought someone named a bird after me – honey bird. Obviously I was wrong.

Our guide today was the same one from the boat cruise yesterday. His name is Mbala. The names here are different. They don’t always have vowel sounds. He said that many North Americans and Europeans say Mabala but it’s M-bala as it sounds without the “a” vowel sound. He is very knowledgeable about guiding and actually studied at Mokolodi (where I’m taking the students on Monday for a game drive). Chobe Park is the largest park in Botswana – about 11,700 ms. Considering how small the country is, over 30 percent of the land is used for parks.

After the game drive, we went back to the hotel to get ready to go to the airport for our trip to Little Kwara in the Okavanga Delta. We arrived in Maun about 30 minutes late and left in a chartered single engine plane that seats 4 people including the pilot. Robin and I were the only passengers so that means that I can finally say that I have my own chartered plane. Yeh heh.

The pilot asked who wanted to sit in the front seat and I didn’t even give Robin a chance to think about it. I jumped in first and the pilot disappointingly said that I couldn’t fly the plane although I would have no clue how to.

The delta is huge and this is interesting. The waters of the delta start in the highlands of Angola and through Zambia and will usually a river flows into a larger body of water like a sea but this one flows into the sands of the Kalahari Desert. We arrived at Little Kwara about 30 minutes late and a 4x4 overlander was waiting for us at the airstrip. A vehicle has to wait there for passengers because there are wild animals which can attack. The vehicles are built for safaris. The guide’s chair is in front of the hood of the vehicle and he sits there on the lookout for wild animals. The guide’s name is Martin and the driver’s name is Richard.

Instead of going to the camp, we were whisked off to our afternoon game drive. Talk about exciting. We literally did not even have time to catch our breath and we were off. We drove around for about an hour and saw nothing. Then the driver got a call on radio to say that another vehicle had spotted a leopard so off we went in hot pursuit of the leopard. After driving around for about half an hour, we saw nothing that looked like a leopard – not even a spotted bird.
Richard suggested that we go to where he had seen some lions a few days before so we agreed that we would go. He gave us a little pep talk about safety, saying that the animals are not tame even if we get close to them so if we see any, we are to remain in the vehicle, keep our voices down and no sudden movements. He drove over some rough terrain and finally in the distance we saw two lions sitting on a tiny hill – well more like a bump in the grass.

We drove up silently – as silently as you could drive in a 4x4 (which is neither silent or invisible). There in front of my eyes was not one, not two, but 6 lions. I could hardly believe my eyes. Two male lions were laying on their backs, legs spread wide open basking in the sun, three female lions were soaking up the sun and one young male was eyeing the females. It was an incredible sight but not as incredible as what was to come later. We stayed there quietly watching them for about 45 minutes then it was tea time so we drove off about 300 metres, got out of the 4x4, got out a little table, complete with tablecloth, wine, wine glasses and a few snacks and had our afternoon tea out in the open sky knowing that at any moment we could have to leap back into the vehicle if the lions decided to move. Fortunately they decided to rest and we had our wine after which time, some of us marked our territory behind some bushes (if you can decipher that) and we were off again to have a last look at the lions.

We were told that male lions are a bit lazy and it’s the females who do most of the hunting while the males will wait and eat the kill. The males will only do any work if the prey is too big for the female lions to take down. The males will also eat first even if they didn’t do the killing and the females have to wait until the males are fully satisfied before they can get to eat. Sometimes if the kill is too small, the females get nothing and can go hungry for days. Does this sound familiar? Don’t answer. Lions lose their prey more times than they get them and they are not always efficient at catching their prey. They are also not known for having a plan so they can wander around aimlessly for days trying to stalk their prey.

Anyway, the female lions got up and started to wander off so we decided to follow them. They really didn’t look like they had a plan and frankly neither did we. We followed them knowing full well that they don’t plan their kill. The male lions soon followed ambling along the path that we were on. Then we spotted some impalas and thought the lions would go after them but impalas are very fast so it would be difficult for lions to outrun them unless they are young and at this time of year, they are either pregnant or almost a yearling.
We kept following them and really I don’t know how Martin was seeing them. All I was seeing (and it was very dark) was tall grass when he shone his flashlight but he knew what to look for. We rounded a corner of the path and there was a male lion lying in our path so we had to stop. Man was I quiet. The thing was about 6-8 feet in front of us. We were so quiet that you could hear a blade of grass rustle which is what I suddenly heard right beside my door. It was a lion walking about 6 inches from where I was sitting – in an open vehicle!!! Talk about holding my breath!!! I was so startled that I wanted to yell but that was the very thing not to do. I made not a single sound. In fact none of us in the vehicle made any sounds. Martin by this time was in the front passenger seat because it was too dangerous for him to be sitting in his seat in front of the bumper.

Suddenly from the left of the vehicle we heard water splashing and rustling in the bushes and we turned in time to see a buffalo charging directly in the path of our 4x4. That was a death sentence because if that didn’t kill us, the lions in hot pursuit of the buffalo would have had a human feast with the eight of us. Martin shone the flashlight in the eyes of the buffalo which had a frightened look on its face. Who wouldn’t if you had 4 lions chasing you? The two males in front of us sprang up and joined the chase. The buffalo just cleared the back side of our vehicle and ran for its very life. We turned around and followed the chase and what a chase!!. What we saw was either a spectacular law of the jungle or a gross scene of killing and carnage. I chose the former.

So this is what happened next. The buffalo continued to run but one male lion sprang onto his back and sunk his teeth into the hide. The weight of the lion slowed down the buffalo enough to have the other male lion jump on his back from the other side. That slowed him down some more so that the female lions were now grabbing his tail, his sides and whatever else they could sink their teeth into. They stayed far away from his head because the horns can wound them quite seriously.

If they could make him fall, they would be able to kill him but as long as he was standing, he could still overpower them. But there were now 6 lions on this buffalo so he was not going to have an easy time of it. After about half an hour of fighting them off, they got off and jumped him again and the force dropped him to the ground. Then they were all over him knowing that his horns were not really a danger to them but still staying far enough away from them. One of the males positioned himself behind the neck and bit hard. One of the females somehow got between the back legs and held on to the testicles and bit hard. I knew it was hard because I could actually hear the crunching sound as she tried to chew it off. Another male cut off the bull’s air supply by smothering him. Between the six lions the bull didn’t stand a chance of survival. We were about 10 feet from all of this and had a front row view of everything.

Finally after about 45 minutes, the bull was dead. We watched for a few more minutes as they tried to rip chunks from him then we left wondering if we had indeed witnessed what we thought we saw. Then the adrenaline rush set in when we really comprehended the danger we were in. We got back to the camp slightly speechless from the day’s events and were also ready for a good dinner. Our hostess Mel met us at the gate of the camp well lit by lamplight. She asked if we wanted to eat dinner first or go to our tent so we opted for the tent first. She gave us the safety talk about absolutely not venturing out of the cabin alone at night. If there is an emergency, there is a whistle close to the bed and we have to blow it and light a lamp while the other camps have to extinguish theirs so she can know which camp has the emergency. It was getting a bit scary especially when everything is pitch black except for the starlight and we still had not seen our tent. So off we went with our flashlights in the company of Richard who looked like he was going on an elephant hunt in the dark. Well indeed it was an elephant sighting – right in the path to our tent so needless to say, we all hightailed it back to the main eating area and decided that it was dinner after all and the tent could wait.

Dinner was very gourmet and it was no camp fare. It was in fact better than anything you’d get at any high end restaurant anyplace and it was all fresh cooked – buns, soup, meat, everything….

After dinner we tried for the tent again and this time we were successful. I was sure glad that the elephant found something more interesting than the outside of our tent. But this tent was no ordinary tent. It was tenting 5 star style. Teak furniture – everything from the towel rack that sits on the floor, to the vanity, to the bed frames, to the chairs on the veranda. Yes our tent had a veranda. It is built on a platform made of teak and has a claw-footed bathtub, double sinks, a shower sort of outside (wooden slats covered with a tarp), two beds and two additional veranda chairs on the inside. This is living. I have to describe the doors though. All of them have screens – only screens – including the toilet, the shower, the veranda and the door going outside. So privacy is not something you cherish. When I say screens, I mean that instead of wood, the doors are covered with mesh like you get in summer screens for your windows. Imagine that you are in the toilet or shower and there is no door. That’s what it’s like. Mmmm hmmm. And imagine that someone walks in to your tent – say the maid or the plumber and you say “Wait a minute” but he or she can see right into your tent. Yep. That’s about it. Might as well be no door. Well I had a shower and fell into bed to be fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow (this obviously written when I woke up). Nothing could top this day.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Chobe Park, Botswana: Game drive, daycare & boat cruise

It was another early morning rising. I got up at about 5am and was really looking forward to the morning game drive. The guide said that there are different animals in the mornings than there are in the afternoons. I couldn’t imagine what I would see but I was looking forward to the adventure.

We had tea and a muffin and left about 6am to return at about 9am. We saw some of the ones we saw on the first game drive but this morning we spotted a seven lions – one of which crossed about 50 metres from us. These animals are not tame but the way we were acting, you’d think they couldn’t hurt us. We saw banded mongoose – I know mongoose from Guyana but didn’t even know they had several types. Gamebok, kudu, impala, elephants, giraffes, buffaloes and the two rare finds were a sable which is hard to locate and three painted wild dogs running in the wild. They were the same types that I saw in Ghanzi but those were in a fenced and protected game reserve and these were running wild. Even the guide got excited when he saw tehm. He said he had not seen any of them for years and to find one on a game drive is rare. They started chasing a buffalo and the buffalo started to run but suddenly stopped in its tracks and started charging after the dogs. They ran away and went after another buffalo. The buffaloes are the most dangerous of the animals and will charge at you for no reason and with no warning especially if they are wounded. The dogs did not fare any better with the second buffalo but it was watch them circling the buffalo. They spread out in a triangular formation and worked together to attack the buffalo. They didn’t manage to do anything because the buffalo is vicious. That sighting was worth the morning’s drive.

After breakfast I called Kostis to see if we could visit the daycare at Kubu Lodge. He met us at the hotel and took us by combi to the daycare. Can I just tell you about this combi experience? The vehicle would normally seat 11 people but I counted 19 of us and had one woman moved over like the conductor (I call him that but mosly he is the man hanging out of the combi trying to get additional fares even though the vehicle cannot take one more person. Packed like sardines would be a total understatement. Imagine if they were trying for a world record. They’d probably fit 60 or 70.

We arrived at the daycare and for some reason I thought it was an orphanage but it’s for vulnerable children not orphaned children. I mean that some of them may be orphaned but they are living with a family member. They range in age from 2 ½ to 6. I gave them each a Canadian flag and they were running around in a giant circle waving their flags. It would make a good poster for some CIDA project. CIDA if you want to use the picture, just ask and I’ll send it to you. The little ones go to school for 8am where they are served breakfast for many, there is nothing at home to eat). Then they get some structured play time and activities and then it’s lunch. They leave the centre about 5pm to go home.

Sometimes the parents or guardians forget to pick them up so they have to be taken home. I asked what they would be doing if they didn’t have the daycare to come to and Kostis said that they’d likely be home drunk because it keeps them quiet or sleeping if there is no food to eat. Some of the young girls – as young as 5 - are sexually assaulted and the perpetrators are not punished. You can get some serious jail time for killing an elephant or some other wild animal but for raping a woman or girl, they crime although punishable, is hardly ever investigated. Sad to think that the life of a woman is worth less than the life of an animal. It was indeed shocking to hear that.

Let me describe the daycare such as it is. The space was donated by the lady that owns Kubu Lodge. It’s actually two garages converted into a daycare. The furniture is minimal but the kids have a safe place to go to everyday and at least two meals to eat. They are given clothes when they arrive at the centre but they have to change before going home because the family may take the clothes and sell it for alcohol. The daycare started out with 3 kids a few months ago and they are now up to 21. People in the community hear about the daycare and bring their children. Distribution of wealth is so unequal. It’s the few Have’s and the many Have Nots.

We got a taxi back to the hotel. Not a taxi exactly. We stood at the side of the road and Kostis waved any vehicle that passed. A car finally stopped and gave us a ride into town for 5 pula total (a taxi quoted us the tourist price of 40 pula). I read in a tour book that in Botswana, many people use their cars as personal taxis and it’s perfectly safe to hitchhike as long as you pay the driver – usually the same rate as you would pay in public transport. I gave him 10 pula and told him to have a good day and he had this big grin and said that he was indeed going to have a good day after the 5 pula tip that he got.

In the afternoon we went on a the boat cruise that we missed yesterday. Everyone said that it was better than the game drive but I didn’t think so. I loved the overland one rather than being in the water because I could get closer to the animals. We saw a number of hippos – I estimate about 75. A could of crocodiles thrown in and a water antelope (I thought there was only one type) called a red lechwe (pronounced lee-chee). There were lots of birds and that was pretty. Can I remember all of them? Lets see – open-billed stork, white egret, snakebird (because when it’s swimming in the water, the neck looks like a snake), black egret, francolins, African jancana, Egyptian ducks, starlings, lilac-breasted roller (Botswana’s national bird and it has 7 colours). That was quite a collection of birds but I still prefer the game drive because I could still see the birds mostly because we were driving beside the river.

It was dinner and bed. The fresh air was so invigorating and the day so stimulating that I fell into bed as soon as my head hit the pillow (journal entry written later).

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe: What beauty!!!


I wanted to go on a boat cruise this afternoon but we planned a day at Victoria Falls and we did not return in time to go on the cruise (although our driver gave it a good boy scout try by driving at a breakneck speed to get back to the hotel in time for 3:30pm. Missed the cruise but we had a great day anyway.

I got up early (about 5:30am) and headed down by the river to take some pictures at daybreak. My pictures are looking quite good even if I do say so myself. I’m trying to upload them onto my hotmail site for pictures but I cannot figure out how other people can view them without going to the trouble of setting up a hotmail account. I have not had time to figure all of it but as soon as I do, I’ll send the URL.

Okay so our driver arrived at 7:30 which is the time we said we wanted to leave so we could get back in time for the cruise. The driver explained that he had to pick up 4 more people so I hopped in the front seat so I could interrogate (ummm, I mean talk) to him about the falls and whatever other information he could give me. We ended up with 6 more people and the van got quite crowded but I was okay in the front with the driver. We ended up splitting up into two vehicles at the Zim (that’s how we Africans call Zimbabwe) border so eventually we were all comfortable. There was an awful surprise waiting for us at the border. The queue was about 8 deep and we got our USD$30 each to pay for the Zim visa. Only thing is – get this – Canadians have to pay USD$65 each. Yes that is USD$130 just to enter the country for the day (or for a single entry visa). I just had to ask. I was told that since March, many people from Zim have applied for Canadian visas and have to pay an application fee but if they don’t get a visa, they don’t get a refund of the fee. It’s pretty costly for them because their money is worth so little. And most times they don’t get a visa to enter Canada.

The Zim government thinks that it is a money making endeavour for Canada and the hefty entry visa fee for Zim is their way of balancing the scales of justice. So does that mean that I can ask the Canadian government for a refund of my visa fees? Since they collect the visa application fees, how come I have to pay it at the other end? Anyway, it’s a good thing I had enough money because the other horrible surprise was at the Victoria Falls hotel where we had lunch. Robin ordered a Caesar salad and what he got for USD$15 was a plate of iceberg lettuce with two olives. I’m not even kidding. For USD$15 I got a half chicken breast and a few strips of carrots. I could have eaten my money and been much fuller. Guess the final bill. It was $11,400 Zim $$. Too funny. It’s almost as bad as the Italian lire.

Except for those criminally offensive high prices, we had a great time at the falls. It’s as beautiful as everyone says it is. From the Zim side, I could get a full view of the falls and people from the Zambia side can see the gorge. I think we had a better view but then again, I wasn’t at the other side. I took lots of pictures and those are beautiful too. I do however have to boast that the Kaiteur Falls deep in the rainforest of Guyana is spectacular. For those of you who don’t know, it is the highest SINGLE DROP water Falls in the world – about 838 feet in a single drop – meaning no ledges or breaks. Try going over that in a barrel!!

We saw so many baboons. It’s interesting to see them in a zoo and they look cute and harmless but seeing a whole pack of them running around me, walking beside me and chasing each other is a bit intimidating because they can get aggressive if they think you have something they want. Fortunately they were not aggressive and the baby ones were the cutest – sitting on their mommy’s backs (this information is for Izabel). When I go back to Winnipeg, I’ll get an album of pictures for my two babies and they can take it to their daycares for Show and Tell and they can tell their friends that their Nani went to Africa and saw lots of wild animals. I do hope that these pictures will create some interest for them in wanting to see and experience the world.

While lunching – if you could call it that – at the Vic Falls hotel, we had a great view (likely what we were paying for and if we kept staring we wouldn’t notice the lack of food on the plate) of the bridge that goes from Zimbabwe to Zambia. The bridge by itself is quite a lovely view but if you so desire, you can pay to bungee jump off the bridge. That’s like paying to kill yourself. Thanks but I can think of more interesting ways to spend my money like going to the Vic. Falls craft market. Our driver Abraham told us that when we go to the market, we would be told a price and we have to negotiate or else we’d be seen as silly. I wanted a hair comb and I was offered one for the special price of USD$22. The thing was made from bull horns which are plentiful. I looked indignant and he went down to $15. By the time I left the market 15 minutes later, I bought it for $5. It was fun to bargain but I felt bad after. On the way to the market, we had to stop on the road and three very ragged kids came to the car to ask for money. They had just finished garbage picking and pulled out a few bones that they were chewing on. The driver drove away before I could give them some money but I’m not sure what they would have done with the money.

I have to mention this and it may offend some people but it was so glaring that it’s worth mentioning. When we were at the hotel, every single person (except for me and Robin) eating there was white and I mean every person, and every single server was black. Our driver Abraham was telling us about an incident at the Vic Falls hotel. He said that a few years ago, he was at the hotel with some people who he had driven to the Falls. He was told by one of the staff that he was not allowed to eat at the hotel – it was only for Whites. He told the people he took there that he was not allowed to stay and eat with them and they were angry that a staff would say that to him. He said he told the server that he brings a lot of guests to the hotel and if he couldn’t eat there, he would take them someplace else. Not a real threat because many tourists want to say that they have eaten at the hotel. The surprising thing about the whole incident was that the server telling this to Abraham (who is black) is also black. Abraham thinks that he may have been mistaken for a Ndebele (one of the two predominant tribes in Zim) by a server who may have been a Shona (another tribe). Zim. President Robert Mugabe is a Shona. Apparently the two tribes do not get along and one is always looking for ways to make life difficult for the other.

After speeding back to the hotel for the boat cruise which we missed by half an hour, we sat by the pool and had a drink – non-alcoholic PacMan. I can’t even remember what was in it but it tasted like ice cubes.

Dinner at the Commissioner’s restaurant and then it was bedtime after another full day. Tomorrow we are going to visit the daycare that was started by Kostis from Greece. Co-incidentally, the daycare is located at the Kubu Lodge where we picked up one of the couples today. I peeked into the yard but the kids must have gone home already. Tomorrow we’ll visit and I have to remember to take my Canadian flags and pins.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Kasane, Botswana: First game drive – impalas, kudus, elephants, giraffes…

and that was just the beginning.

We left Gaborone this morning at about 11:15am for Kasane. Mitho gave us a ride to the airport and the flight was very uneventful. That’s the way I like to fly – totally uneventful. Kasane airport is small compared to some of the airports I’ve been to – Heathrow. Sao Paulo, Kennedy, Mexico City and Hong Kong. We were supposed to be met by a representative from the Chobe Marina Lodge but after waiting for a few minutes, we realized that no one was meeting much less greeting us. This did not bode well for the next few days. We asked at information and a man overheard us. He said he was supposed to meet some people and they did not arrive so he offered us a ride to the hotel. He was dressed in some kind of safari outfit so of course we thought that was enough to make it safe to go with him. It was indeed safe. You can tell he is used to driving around tourists because he even told us how long it would take to get to the hotel – 12 minutes.

We got to the hotel and checked in about 1:45 if I have to explain the hotel, I would describe it as a piece of paradise I asked the travel agent in Gaborone to get me something reasonable but no tents. This is what she got me. All inclusive at a posh hotel right on the Chobe River with three restaurants, a multi-level pool complete with bar, a cascading waterfall that runs UNDER the hotel, a chalet that sleeps 6 overlooking the river and a gardener’s dream in terms of the grounds. It impressed the heck out of me and it’s a far cry from the tents at Ghanzi. There was a beautiful restaurant called Mokoros (which is actually the name of a dugout canoe used in the Okavanga Delta). They had a huge buffet and I was starving by 2pm. Off to the room which was again huge. Two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a living room with a sofa bed and a nice size apartment sized kitchen.

After a great lunch and dropping off baggage to the room, it was a game drive from 3:30 – just after sunset. I really didn’t know what to expect so I was going with an open mind. Oh MY GOD!!! I could hardly describe the experience. Our driver Gibson took us to the Chobe Park which is about 11,000 square kms. It is the largest park in Botswana and about 5 kms from Kasane. I used to watch TV and see African safaris but I never thought in a million years that I would ever actually experience one and Botswana is one of the few places in Africa that you can still see much of the environment protected from copious amounts of tourists. Of course you couldn’t tell that from the convoy of vehicles that were in the park for the game drive. We looked like we were in the zoo and the animals were looking at us – likely thinking “what are those creatures? Look at them. Look how they have those metal things dangling from their necks and look at the way they are pointing and making strange noises.”

Now for the actual game drive. We got into the park and the first thing you notice is how dry and deforested everything looks. That’s from the elephants looking for food in the dry season (now). They eat as much as 300 kgs of food each day and drink about 200 litres of water.

We saw the first herd of elephants (about 5) and I got so excited that I quickly got out my camera and started clicking away. Little was I to know that it was just the beginning!!! I felt like a kid going to the zoo for the first time but this is no zoo and the animals are not in a cage. They are free to roam and we are the ones needing protection if we get too stupid. Then it was a bachelor herd of impalas. I am now certain that if I ever see another impala anywhere, I’ll be able to recognize by dark tan colour with the black stripes on the behind. There were kudus with the humps and sort of greyish brown. There were lots of buffalos. They are the most dangerous of all the animals in the park, the hippos being the second dangerous. We went down by the river and saw some hippos in the water but we could only see the backs because they were mostly submerged – occasionally spouting jets of water from their heads. There were lots more elephants by the water and the herd had several baby ones. And this part is for Izabel. The baby elephants were not sitting in their mommy’s laps. They were walking beside the mommies but on the inside of the pack because the mommies protect them. The babies have lots of mommies because all the mommies take care of each other’s babies.

The herd usually has one male elephant, which is huge – about 3 ½ meters high and weighs 6000 kgs. Females are about 2 ½ meters and weighs about 3500 kgs. When the male gets too old to take care of the herd, it leaves and there is a fight between the males from the bachelor pack to see who gets to lead the herd. When the old males leave the herd, they go off n their own and will eventually lose their teeth, and die of starvation because they can no longer feed themselves. There are no female herds because the females will never leave their families and by staying together, they help to protect the baby elephants from predators. There were a few male herds, grazing and sometimes fighting among each other but mostly they stay by themselves. The young males from the family herd can stay until they are about a year or two old then they have to leave too and either join another bachelor herd or form their own. The lone male with the females will impregnate all the eligible females but he also has to be strong enough to fight off the other males who may want to take over his herd. The gestation period is about 22 months and the new babies are about 120 kgs. When born. The babies will hold on to the mother’s tail with their trunks so that the mother can protect them. They really are cute to look at especially when they are travelling and the young ones are in between the big ones being well protected by all the other females.

We drove on some more and I really wanted to see a zebra but Gibson said that we won’t see any because they only come when the rainy season starts because they need the grass which is almost non-existent now. We saw some lions but they were so far away that we would need binoculars to see them and them only barely. Disappointing but I could say that I saw some lions. Up close would be better and certainly chasing something would be even more special. We were lucky to see some giraffes. Not some - in fact we saw two. They are huge and they’re not in a zoo!! They were just wandering around and stopped right in front of my camera for a perfect photo opp. I was using Izabel’s call – Psst - and it seemed to work like a charm. I knew that kid was smart. On our way out of the park, guess what? ZEBRAS!!! A small herd but zebras. I called out Psst and they stopped again for a photo opp. It was a perfect ending to the game drive. I was satisfied that if I didn’t see anything else for the rest of the trip, I’d be happy because I saw zebras and giraffes. I can go to Las Vegas to see lions – in cages mind you – but I can see them. Seriously, this place is so amazing that I could hardly believe I’m here.

We went back to the hotel just after dusk with a nice satisfied feeling. It was cold in the vehicle driving back. As soon as the sun sets, the cold air seems to descend as if in waiting. Dinner was at the Commissioner’s restaurant where we could have a buffet dinner with a braai (a BBQ) of chicken, Bream (a bony fish from the Chobe River), kudu and warthog sausage. We could have chosen to eat upstairs where the servers will serve you but we stayed downstairs where it’s outdoors on a beautiful balcony overlooking the Chobe River. If you want a perfect vacation which is part honeymoon/adventure/safari/luxury/family vacation, this is definitely the place (if you can afford it). I may be working for a very long time to pay for these few days but hey, what are credit cards for? You don’t really have to pay the money when you use the card, do you? Robin says that we have never carried a balance on the credit card so that must mean that they don’t charge us. Yeh!! Right!! It’s time for a good night’s sleep after all that fresh air and wild animal sightings. It was a good day altogether.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Like a kid in a candy store; Like Christmas in August

Robin arrived on Saturday without incident. I received an email from Orbitz to say the flight from London was going to be late so I was really hoping that he would not miss his flight to Gaborone. Fortunately he had enough time to do make the connections and arrived safely.

I was up early and by 7:30am I was dressed and ready to be picked up for the airport at 10am. So after pacing around for an hour, I walked to the Main Mall and went to the Cresta President Hotel for a toast and coffee. Really I was checking out the place to see if our students could find employment there when I meet with the Kitchen Manager on the week of the 28th.

Jayanthi and Jim took me to the airport and when we invited them for dinner that night, they declined saying that Robin might be too tired. We unpacked the suitcases and I was like a kid in a candy store with all the things he brought for the centre. It was a full and heavy suitcase and I was trying to imagine the look on the faces of the staff and students when they see all of it.

We left a few minutes later and went out to get a combi to the Riverwalk Mall. I had no idea which to take so I went over to the women selling the crocheted things and by the time I had asked for directions, I found myself with a large bedspread and a sweater. We walked on the wrong road, turned back and walked on the right road and found out when we finally got to the combi stop that there were no combis that go to Riverwalk Mall. We would have to take two. By the time we had done all this, we were half way to the mall so we walked the rest of the way. In the meantime Robin is thinking that I am deliberately starving him while I take a walk to the mall because I forgot to say that the restaurant we were going to eat at was at the mall. He was probably thinking he had to come all the way to Africa to face starvation. Fortunately we arrived in time to have a cool drink because by this time, the midday sun was hot, hot, hot. We walked around the mall and shopped and then had an early dinner by 5pm. He wanted to walk back home but by the time we would have finished another one hour trek, we’d be mugged or something worse because it would be dark. I didn’t fancy being mugged so I declined. Besides I walked enough for the day.

Sunday morning we went back to the crochet women and bought 4 shawls (which they’ll be making before we leave, a tablecloth and another bedspread. That was definitely more sales in two or three days than they would have done in a month but the things are so beautifully done. I wish I could buy it all but that would be a lot of things to bring home besides the two teak tables I bought. What was I thinking of anyway? We didn’t really go to buy more things. We were on our way to Gabrone Sun for breakfast but by the time we got there, it was 10:30am and I felt more like brunch than eggs and toast. We sat by the pool and ordered our grilled veggie sandwiches and samosas (yummy Pat) and had a few cups of coffee. Then it was back to the house where I worked on the backyard a bit.
We went out with Jayanthi and Jim to a Halal Chinese (for real!!) restaurant. The food was very good but honestly I have never been to a Chinese Halal restaurant. That means they don’t serve any prok products. There are a lot of Halal restaurants here although I didn’t think there was a large Muslim population. Most people are Christians but many business owners are South Indian and many are Muslims so they can decide how they want to prepare and/or sell their meats.

This morning I got up early because we had to be at the radio station for 7:30 for our interview at 8am. We of course arrived at 7:15. We went on the air at 8:10am and talked for about 20 minutes. We managed to cover all the points we wanted to make. It was hard to know how things went but Robin was in the studio with us and he said it went well and we sounded very natural. When I got back to the centre the students and staff who were huddled around a little portable radio hugged and kissed me and said how proud they were of all the things I said about the centre. I hope it’ll be good publicity for us.

We unpacked the suitcase of the things Robin brought and I’m telling you, I have never heard hoots and hollers like I heard today. If I could have recorded it, I would have. I think that feeling will stay with me for a very long time. The students wanted to know how Papa Sandra knew what to buy. I said I gave specific instructions. We had enough things for the kitchen to have extras so we cleaned out some of the cupboards, organized some of the shelves, moved around some things and installed locks on some of the cupboard doors. This was work day for Robin. He even got a couple of blisters in the palm of his hand to prove it. I did say he’d have his share of work to do when he got here and he sure did. Everyone was wondering if Papa Sandra would mind if Mama Sandra stayed in Botswana for another year or so.

I spent the afternoon printing the invitations. Some of the names are so foreign to me that I had to be very careful when I was typing them because I wouldn’t know if I made a spelling mistake. We invited the Mayor and the media so hopefully we’ll get some coverage. I then worked on the programme and same thing. I typed the names of the graduates but have no idea if the names are correct so I gave it to the teachers to check the spelling of their students because I’ll be using the same list to print the certificates.

I made a TO DO list for the grad ceremonies and a list of all the invitees so that next year it won’t be such a hassle to get the work done. I was in a bit of a rush today because we leave for Kasane tomorrow and I wanted to get as much work done as I can before I go because we’ll be there till Sunday. Kasane is on the border of Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe and it’s about 80 kms from Victoria Falls. I’m looking forward to seeing the Falls. I met a man Kostis in Ghanzi and he happens to live in Kasane where he is working with a Greek NGO to run an orphanage for children of HIV parents. I will go visit the orphanage because I think it’s similar to the one in Palapye that Katherine was running. I wanted to visit but didn’t get a chance to do so before she returned to Canada. Anyway, it is essential that we take anti-malaria pills when we go to Kasane and the Okavanga Delta. The mosquitoes are so big that they will bite you through your clothes. This is the winter so they shouldn’t be too bad. I have my malaria pills and my insect repellent but if the mosquitoes are anything like the ones in Winnipeg or Guyana, they’ll think insect repellent is a drink served at happy hour.
Not sure about internet access so I may not be able to blog but I will be keeping an ejournal, so I’ll have lots to say when I get back if I can’t post from there. For those of you who read the blog with your morning/evening coffee, you’ll have withdrawal same as if you gave up your coffee for 5 days. Stay happy and safe everyone until I blog again… which could be tomorrow evening or Monday evening. Tomorrow afternoon when we arrive there is some kind of boat cruise that is supposed to be spectacular so I’m looking forward to that. If I see a zebra, I’ll be happy. Anything else will be a bonus. Okay a giraffe would be nice too. Rhinos are alright but the elephants will have to be in a very large herd to impress me. A baby zebra will impress the heck out of me. Apparently each zebra’s stripe is different. I’ll have to check it out and let you know.
Going on a tiger hunt.
Going on a tiger hunt.
I’m not scared, I’m not scared…..