Thankful for friends around the world

As I count down the last week of my Africa trip (for me and the small kids) before I leave Stu with the teenagers for a while, I reflect on how wonderful our friends are around the world. When we arrived to Namibia, we were welcomed by Armin and Helen, friends we had made on our honeymoon in Mozambique over 15 years ago. Even though time had separated us, these wonderful people welcomed us (7 of us) into their home and gave us so much of their time, as well as loaning us loads of their equipment. Luckily for us, Armin is one of the top rangers here in Africa and gave us incredible insights of what to see and do in Namibia and Botswana. And as we head back to see them one last time, we give a big shout out to all those wonderful people around the world who are naturally kind and giving.

PS… If you are looking for an amazing tour and tour guide in Africa, be sure to contact ‘Rock View Namibian Safari’s’, as Armin is simply the best.

Chobe National Park .... here we come!

We are blessed to have made connections around the world from our years of travelling and I always say ‘Connections are everything’. And on Kim’s recommendation, we headed to a friend of her’s and were happy to meet Rex who ran ‘Kalahari Tours’ in Kasane, Botswana. Rex offered an experience of a national park which we had not done on this trip, a river cruise, and it surpassed our expectations. We were able to get within feet of Nile Crocodiles, Hippo’s and Cape Buffalo, parking our vessel so close that we could see them blink. The Chobe river was teaming with wildlife and we viewed it all from the comfort of our seats… what a great way to say goodbye to Botswana.

The fun of Livingstone

Livingstone is known for being on the Zambian side of the famous Victoria Falls, but this activity town has so much more to offer. From 5 grade river rafting, zip-lining, bungee jumping and sky diving to river cruises (booze cruise), safari excursions, walking with lions/cheetahs or rhinos, this town is a hive of activity, and Jollyboys Backpackers is at the heart of it.

Our 3 teenagers went into a dorm (for their first time) to meet other young backpackers and to have a week on their own. They loved their experience, especially having connected with their roommates, 4 young Alaskan fishermen… let the good times roll.

We stayed at Kim’s home for the week and were spoiled rotten by her and her husband Tony’s hospitality. We were fortunate enough to be invited by a friend of Kim’s up to a private island on the Zambezi river and had a wonderful couple of days, swimming in the Zambezi with hippo’s and crocs in the distance. (We did swim in the rapids, so the crocs would not eat us).

But the best part of this week was when we learned that Robert Mugabe had finally stepped down as president of Zimbabwe, after 37 long years. We celebrated with champagne and fireworks... and it felt great to be in Africa at this momentous time. 

Crossing borders... from Botswana to Zambia

After leaving the stunning Elephants Sands Bush Camp, we headed north for the border, one which we remembered from years ago and were not looking forward to crossing. As we approached the border post, we came upon a line-up of large trucks parked on the side of the road, all waiting their turn to be transferred across the river by the 2-vehicle ferry. For some, it would take days to traverse this small distance, but luckily, we went to the front of the line and were soon on our way to Zambia. As the ferry transported us across the river, a fellow passenger pointed out that we were in the middle of 4 countries: Botswana (south), Zambia (north), Namibia (west) and Zimbabwe (east).

We regretted not being able to visit Zimbabwe at this time, however their president, Robert Mugabe had just fired his vice-president and a military coup looked imminent.

After 3hrs of Stu being led from office to office, filling out the required paperwork and $250 U.S. lighter from our wallet, we were off on our way to Jollyboys Backpackers, Livingstone and to visit the owner, our friend Kim.

Close encounters of the MASSIVE kind

Our last stop in Botswana was a recommendation from other travellers…. Elephant Sands Bush Camp. We had risen early from ‘Planet Baobab’ (home of the gigantic Baobab tree) and were the first campers to arrive to this unique spot, setting up our tents on the edge of a natural watering hole. The campsite filled throughout the day, but our early morning mission had set us up with one of the best viewing spots in the camp. We were amazed and enthralled as elephant, after elephant, walked within meters of our front row seats.

Sometimes it seemed unreal that these were wild Elephants walking passed our tents. And on one occasion, we were warned by an Elephant as he flared up, and then by one of the rangers, to remember that these were wild animals and could easily crush us if we got too close. It was hard to resist and remember this as they slowly meandered past.

Thank God for Botswana

One animal stands out for us in Botswana… and that is the majestic Elephant. Even though their population has decreased by 30% over the past decade, they seem to have a strong hold here. The same could be said for the Lion. We have learned that only 2000 Lions are left in the wild, ¼ of this population (500) are found here in Botswana. Unfortunately, their numbers are going down at a rapid rate and if this continues, our grand children won’t have the opportunity to see the Lion King. I know this story is echoed for most species around the world due to loss of habitat, mainly due to the amount of land we need for farming, and here in Africa, hunting has decreased the population even further.

Fortunately, hunting has recently been completely banned in Botswana……

GO BOTSWANA…. YOU ARE LEADING THE WAY!

One of a kind experience in Botswana

Stuart and I have been to most of the 'Great Parks' in Africa and we have been blessed by what we have seen, but what we have just had in Moremi Game Reserve was incredibly special.

Let me set the stage. Imagine a 'campground' with no water, no toilets, no showers, no facilities... but the biggest DIFFERENCE, no outer fence to keep us separated from the African animals. Our campground was simply an area beside one of the rivers in the great Okavango Delta, where upon our arrival, we witnessed one of the most beautiful scenes that nature has to offer. The background was the meandering river dotted with Lilly pads and Water Lilies, and the banks held both small green shrubs and majestic towering trees. And in the foreground, 6 massive elephants wading amongst the reeds, with Sable, Zebras and Antelopes in the tree line. Spectacular!

Besides the various game drives where we saw a plethora of animals, Stu and I went on Mokoro ride with our small kids, where our 'guide' used a long pole to propel us through the shallow waters of the delta. We were amazed when we came within meters to a group of male elephants feeding on the banks, and then a herd of Cape Buffalo, a close encounter from a new perspective.

The camp site itself was a place of action, as we had visitors from a group of elephants, as well as passing lions and hippos. From bucket showers to digging toilets with a machete, our time here will not be forgotten.  

Flying high over the Okavango Delta

I love how things happen. There we were sitting on a comfortable couch, over-looking a beautiful riverside backdrop, when an opportunity arises. Would I like to go on a 1hr flight over Botswana’s Okavango Delta? Are you kidding me? This epic landscape is teaming with wildlife and I jumped at the opportunity to see it from the sky.

A quick trip to the local airport and I was off on a 7-seater plane, soaring between 400-500 feet over the expansive Delta. Within minutes we soared over hundreds of Elephants, herds of Cape Buffalo, groups of Rhino’s, Hippo’s, Giraffes and so much more… an incredible viewing that past quickly, but what a sight! Knowing that we were in the dry season I expected to see little water, but I was surprised to view such dry and sparse landscape with few watering pools and rivers. I later learned that this country is presently in a 2-year drought and water is a precious commodity.

While I soared the skies, the three teenagers were having their own unique experience of the Delta. They travelled by boat, then a wooden dhow to spend a night under the stars in a remote setting and would see this landscape from a different perspective.

Our stay here in Maun has brought another highlight: this one for my husband Stu and this was meeting a Shark. Not the one that swims in the oceans, rather the one that plays the mighty rugby and one of the best teams in South Africa. Franco and Stu chatted for ages about the sport and it left my man in smiles for the rest of the day.

Simple pleasures.

Walking with cheetahs

There are no words to describe the incredible experience of walking with cheetahs. To be able to stroke their fur and hear their purring is like nothing I have done before... and I am so grateful that I got to experience this with my extended family. My step-daughter, nephew and niece were all enthralled with the time we got to spend with this magnificent cat and it will definitely be logged as one of the highlights of Namibia. Tomorrow on to new adventures in Botswana......

Getting close and personal

We have now travelled to our last park in Namibia and we were able to get close and personal to the big cats of the country, and to Stuart's delight, his favourite animal... the wild dogs. They also had a sanctuary for some cheetahs, which I will be walking with later today. What a day! 

An epic 10 days in Etosha National Park

There is nothing better than sitting at the designated campsite watering hole, or in your own vehicle, looking out at the unique wild life that Africa has to offer. We have been blessed with our sightings over the past 10 days, with our sightings of black rhino's, lions, cheetahs, leopard, elephants and so much more. It has been a joy to hear the excitement in our kids voices as they spot the animals, screaming 'ELEPHANT', 'RHINO'S',  and the best 'OH MY GOODNESS, THERE IS A LEOPARD IN THAT TREE!'  We are up at the crack of dawn  to find these beautiful creatures and then go to bed after our camp fire dinner and marshmallows to finish the night. We will miss this park, but looking forward to our new adventures.

Etosha National Park

We were on our way to Etosha National Park. This park is known for its high concentration of animals and being in the peak of dry season, they would be concentrated at the watering holes. And within the first few hours we saw: a Black Rhino, Hyena’s, Springbok, Zebra’s, Kudu’s, Giraffe, Elephant, and to top it all off… a lion kill!!! There were 2 male lions, 2 females, and 2 juveniles… and as we sat and watched the multitude of animals at the watering hole… we watched a scruffy jackal walk right into the pride, being taken out by one quick swipe by the lioness. What a way to start our animal adventures. Could it get any better?

 

Change of Extremes

After leaving the sand dunes and driving hours with nothing but sand and desert to accompany us, we arrived to the coastal town of Swakopmund , and were pleased to find a wonderful campsite called Tiger Reef which was meters from the beach. Here, we were able to clean the van from its layers of dust, get our clothes professionally cleaned (rather than by hand in a bucket) and restock our supplies in preparation of our 10 days in Etosha National Park.

We spent 3 nights in this coastal town and were shocked by the freezing evening temperatures, bundling ourselves up in our down jackets and wool hats, trying to keep warm in our tents. But as soon as the sun woke up, temperatures quickly rose and the teenagers made the most of it, going on desert quad biking tours and tandem skydiving at 10,000 feet.

Feeling refreshed and cleaned, we headed north, ready to see the wildlife that this country had to offer. With only a couple of hours before sunset, we found a campsite near the entrance of the park, wanting to be one of the first into the park the next day. However, we were quickly reminded of how different parks work here in Africa, as they opened and closed the security gates behind us. Instead of the animals being enclosed and put behind fences, it was us humans who were secured behind walls, allowing the animals to roam free in their natural habitat.

We were all excited to begin our park adventures, but had to put a hold to our packing as we saw an Eland (largest antelope of Africa) and Wildebeest standing outside our gate! We all quickly rushed over with camera in hand, never dreaming that we could get so close to these wild creatures. Luckily the animals were quite tame and were not afraid as we went out to stroke them, so we were able to take a few photos.

 

Sand Dunes of the Namib Desert

We were awake by 4:30am, packing down the tents and shoving the sleeping bags and backpacks into the back of the van, hurrying to beat the sunrise before it broke across the desert sands. Our mission was to be on top of Dune 45, one of the largest sand dunes in the Namib Desert, to watch the dramatic change of light as the sun's rays hit the Earth's surface. 

Although it was a challenge for our youngest two, which needed to be pulled and bribed at stages, we made it to the top in time and were mesmerised as the landscape changed dramatically in front of our eyes. The dark shapes of the surrounding hills transformed into golden dunes, with one side in light and the other in shadow, and we sat in awed silence appreciating the beauty of our surrounding.

 

Built for Diamonds

Imagine a scene where diamonds were so numerous that they were scattered all over the ground and one could pick them up by the handful. This was what the Germans encountered as they built the railway towards the Skeletal Coast via the Namib Desert in the late 1800's. Due to this unique gem, a town was born out of the sand and thrived for 80 years, bringing in the first X-Ray machine into Africa, before it was abandoned as prospectors found diamonds 6x the size further north. It now stands eerily barren, with only sand and tourists filling its empty buildings. 

The 'Grand Canyon' of Africa

Mother nature has created some outstanding landscapes around the world and Fish River Canyon is certainly one site that stands out as one of the best. Similar to the Grand Canyon in the U.S., this massive crack in the surface of the earth's crust is amazing to witness, especially when you recognise that it was all due to the movement of water, millions of years ago. 

I must say that I felt its pull as I stood on its cliff edges, so stayed well back as I watched the teenagers pose for their photo shots, recognizing that one wrong step is all that was needed, since there were no barriers in place to prevent a fall.

This is one of those places that takes your breath away, and makes one realize how blessed we are to be living on this extraordinary planet called Earth.

Rude Awakening...

Although temperatures soar in the African sunshine, they plummet during the night, so we weren't keen to get out of our cosy sleeping bags to see what the noise was outside our tent in the early morning light. But luckily Stuart isn't one to lie about, and after unzipping our tent, we were surprised to see the troop of baboons parading around the campground, and one specifically unlocking our box of food. With an extra large bag of our pasta in hand, the large baboon took off into the bush and enjoyed a feast with his family, on our behalf.

First lesson learned: Make sure all food is locked away when you are bush camping.

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Hello Africa!

In all my years of travel, I have never experienced such terrible service as what we have just experienced with British Airways. A 14-hour delayed departure, a missed connecting flight, 2 nights in hotels and no accountability, meant we were in transit for 2.5 days and had a huge hole in our wallet… But all was forgotten as we finally arrived into Windhoek, Namibia. Hello Africa!

We were fortunate to be friends with one of the best tour guides in all of Africa, and Armin (and his amazing wife Helen) welcomed us into their home and then helped us gear up for the adventures ahead. After a couple of days of organising and a 10-seater van filled to the max., we headed south to our first stop, the Mesosaurus camp, where the owner and guide led us to the 250-million-year-old fossils that he had found on his farm. Learning and seeing the remains of an animal that existed before the dinosaurs, and which was one of the first creatures to walk on land, was mind blowing.

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Counting down the days.

Okay. Here we go. There is a focus. A plan of where we are headed. There are 7 of us, heading to Africa in search of amazing wildlife and unique terrain. I am excited and nervous at the same time, and hope that it creates magical memories to last a lifetime.

Stu and I will be touring with our 3 children; aged 5, 8 and 18 (Max, Eva & Marie), along with our nephew, Matthew (18), and niece, Stacey (19). 

So far we have rented a vehicle, but that's about it. We've looked at a map, created a 'route' to incorporate Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia and will hope for the best... always aware that we must focus on the positive in order to create the happiest reality. 

I know there will be points of struggle, frustration and anger, but I also that this is once in a lifetime opportunity for all of these kids, a chance to see nature's wildlife, unique flora and faunawhich may not be there for the next generation.

So here's to an amazing trip. Bring it on.

Meeting the Gorillas in Uganda 2008

After hours of climbing up over a mountain, we came to the family group of Gorillas. We spent 45 minutes with them, watching as they grazed feeding off the vegetation. An amazing experience.