June 29, 2011

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls was magnificent and we visited at the perfect time - not so much water that we were blinded by spray nor so little that we were not impressed. Located on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe, these falls form the largest sheet of falling water in the world.
From our helicopter and on previous flights, we could only see spray.  As we approached by helicopter, we could see the water thundering into a single chasm.  We also got a fantastic view of the Victoria Falls Bridge, completed in 1905 when Zambia was Northern Rhodesia and Zimbabwe was Southern Rhodesia.  Seeing the falls by helicopter should not be missed!

 After our helicopter tour, we walked on delightful paths along the falls. It looks sunny but we wore waterproof ponchos and still got drenched. We also watched crazy people bungee jump head first off the Victoria Falls Bridge. They hung upside down over the gorge for what seemed like an eternity (and that was just me watching) until someone finally reached them and they were "winched" up.

After all that excitement, we were ready for "Afternoon Tea" at the elegant Victoria Falls Hotel with its lovely views of the falls and bridge.  Guests are only a 10-minute walk from the Falls.
We walked into town for a bit of shopping and took a shuttle back to our hotel with its view of a watering hole, popular with elephants and other thirsty wildlife. 
 It was in our deluxe Victoria Falls Safari Lodge that I had my most frightening wildlife encounter with a gargantuan spider on my mosquito netting.  I took several deep breaths before calling the front desk and the clerk actually asked if it was on my pillow.  I replied that if it was on my pillow, I would be screaming.  A very nervous man with a box and a broom arrived to save the day.  

June 27, 2011

Life in the Camps

 We drove from Victoria Falls to our camp in Chobe National Park. After that, we flew in small (often very small) planes to our camps. The bush pilots were usually young locals but one came from Canada. Our international flight from Botswana to Zambia required a copilot and we got a South African Airways commercial pilot who was moonlighting for some extra cash.
We stayed 3 nights in each of 4 camps.  These camps catered exclusively to OAT travelers and thus provided the amenities and services soft adventure American travelers love.  Clean comfortable tent cabins with ensuite facilities, hot showers, and a means to charge our cameras and kindles.  Hot coffee and breakfast provided first thing in the morning.  Plenty of water, snacks, delicious meals and a well-stocked bar meant no one ever went hungry or thirsty.  At lunch and dinner, the head chef and other staff members were introduced by name. Daily laundry service was a dream and always returned artfully wrapped with straw ribbon.  Each stay ended in a night of entertainment by the talented staff. Most amazing of all, despite the fact that new groups arrived constantly, the staff always maintained their enthusiasm and made you feel welcome.

Every camp provided many game drives, plenty of wildlife spotted by expert guides and happy hour at sunset. Great care was taken to keep us safe and informed of what to do in the event of an emergency.   

While every camp maintained consistency in quality of accomodation and services, each camp also tried to distinguish itself with a memorably different experience.  OAT took great care to place us in  four unique landscapes. 

Baobab Lodge, Chobe NP, Botswana: 6/18/11 - 6/21/11

I bought a basket woven byGrace

We launched our river cruise from a nearby luxury lodge.

Wilderness Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana: 6/21/11 - 6/24/11

We travelled to the hippos by mokuru canoe.

Lufupa Camp, Kafue NP, Zambia: 6/24/11 - 6/27/11

The camp is at the confluence of the Lufupa and Kafue rivers, and I went on every river cruise offered. 
This was the only camp offering tsetse flies.  The guides burned elephant dung as a deterrent and we made sure we applied our DEET.
We were allowed to go on night drives and spot a leopard.

Linkwasha Lodge, Hwange NP, Zimbabwe: 6/27/11 - 6/30/11 
 My cabin was so remote from the main camp that I had to be driven there at night and escorted to my door.
Man-made water holes for animals are formed by pumping water up and through the Kalahari Desert sands.  The water is so purified that our water at camp could be drunk straight from the tap.
This camp offered bush walks with an armed guide.  He showed us how to approach a herd of wildebeest without being noticed. 

June 26, 2011

Big Five: Finally Saw My Leopard

The "Big Five" are supposedly the five most dangerous mammals: Lion, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Rhino and Leopard.   
Lion, Cape Buffalo, and Elephant were plentiful. 
 No Rhinos on this trip but I had seen several on an East African safari in 1974.  Spotting this leopard at night was a fantastic way to complete my sightings of all "Big Five."

June 25, 2011

Cheetahs - Hunting and Posing

In Kafue National Park (NP), we spotted two cheetahs walking purposefully down the road.  One disappeared into the bush almost immediately while the other looked intently into the bush.
Suddenly the cheetah shot into the bush.  Our guides went quiet and then began talking to each other.  Finally, one turned back to us and said  "We think they've made their kill - let's go see."
Off into the bush we drove and when we reached the thornbush, we could see and hear a cheetah chomping away on fresh puka.
Below is the 3rd brother who participated in the hunt, pacing nervously in our presence.
In Hwange National Park (Zimbabwe) we stumbled upon a cheetah who was a photographer's dream.  He was conveniently waiting for us by the side of the road.
As we approached, he yawned.
 Ambled over to a tree
Sharpened his claws and sprayed said tree
Then proceeded to hop atop a termite mound where he moved his head from side to side, pausing so that the most inept of photographers could capture a great shot. 
Happily we each complied by taking at least 50 photos of that photogenic fellow.