Thursday, April 27, 2017

Safari: Camp Jabulani

It has been a fun family adventure sharing our safari with Barb and Joe, but once we landed in  Hoedspruit, Kruger Park, South Africa, we went our separate ways. We would not see them again until we are back in Michigan. Since they had joined us late in the planning, there was no space for them at Camp Jabulani. Thus, we spent Christmas in separate places and would leave the area on separate flights. Perhaps we would see them at the airport on our last day.

Looking toward the other end.
We were met at the airport by our professional game ranger, Dean, and said goodbye to Barb and Joe as they were off to a different location. So once again we were not with family for Christmas, but I can assure you Camp Jabulani made up for it!

Camp Jabulani is in the Kapama Reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. It is a family-owned and managed private lodge offering first class accommodations, cuisine, facilities and personalized service. There was no set agenda; we planned our activities each day with our ranger, who guided our selection based on what the best opportunities of the day might be. Thus, the three of us drove, hiked, watched, photographed, etc. some amazing sights. This was a 5-star experience every moment.

Our little living room.
Our private lodge had its own plunge pool, a massive stone bathtub (you know my love of a good soak!), a fireplace in the lounge area, an outdoor glassed shower and a king-sized bed looking out the sliding glass doors.

The setting of each of the eight lodge buildings is very remote and private. We crossed a swinging bridge to our lodge. The bridge helps to keep the animals from coming into the lodge compound area. Once again, we needed to be escorted by our ranger whenever walking to the main buildings in the dark! It is the wild animal kingdom, after all.

A luxurious bath awaited me!

The bridge is just around the bend. Our lodge building
is just to the right of this walkway, but up a private path.

Our table for two with the Philly family in the background.
Mealtimes at Camp Jabulani were special! Talk about royal treatment! Just as the literature said, the chef created “perfectly sized masterpieces that are a symphony of color, texture and balance, flavor and fresh ingredients.” I think I gained ten pounds during this indulgent stay.

At first, we sat at a table for two. After a couple of meals, we were invited to join a family of four from Philadelphia. That made it more lively in terms of conversation. After all, we have a lot of togetherness on the boat, so we always welcome the chance to join a larger assembly.

We enjoyed the company of Bill, Marsha, Adam and Audrey during the rest of the meals and at Sundowner events. They were the ones who recommended a driver to use for a tour when we returned to Cape Town. It turned out to be a good choice.

Each day we would set off with Dean on a game drive early in the morning and then return for a big breakfast and a snooze. After a later lunch, we would head out for an early evening game drive and return for a gourmet dinner. Following after dinner drinks, we were off to see what we could find in the late night.

The most notable feature of Camp Jabulani is the herd of trained elephants which were rescued by the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. The featured elephant is Jabulani and he is also the logo for the liquor Amarula. Jabulani is the lead elephant on the elephant safaris.

The highlight of one day was our introduction to the Camp Jabulani elephants! They were amazing: huge, but gentle. I felt so small when standing next to Jabulani. The texture of his skin was rough with short hairs sticking out. Not exactly a creature to pet! The ears and trunk were entertaining.

When he took treats from our hands, the “lips” of his trunk were very gentle. The elephant handlers bridge the gap between guest and giant with an introduction of each elephant by name and personality.

Elephants are very social animals. The handlers gave insight into the lives of this herd and the individual elephants. It was fun to watch them interact both while we were riding on a safari and when they were playing at the watering hole.

One of the young ones was a bit of a rebel. He didn’t walk in line, but took shortcuts. At the watering hole, he was the instigator of playfulness.

Every afternoon the handlers take the elephants to the watering hole where they are most playful. They like to kneel down in the water to cool off. Their play was quite entertaining and we could easily tell which were the "troublemakers" in the group. It was fun "trouble" and fun for us to watch.

We even returned to the watering hole at sundown to watch sunset end our day. I must say we had Sundowners is some amazing settings throughout this adventure.

Sundowners at the watering hole.
Then back to the lodge for dinner and a night drive.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Johannesburg and Mandela Square

Back in South Africa:

This statue is huge!
Early the morning after our Boma dinner experience, we were headed to the Victoria Falls airport for our flight to Johannesburg. We had a one night stop there on our way to our third safari camp. So, that put us back in South Africa for the rest of the year.

Once again, our travel agent planned a special stay as she put us in the Michelangelo Hotel right on Mandela Square. Since it is not safe to go places at night (like most big cities), it was convenient to exit the hotel directly into the square.

Johannesburg was originally founded as a mining camp when the unbelievable rich gold deposits of Witwatersrand were first discovered in 1886. Now it is a modern city of two million people. It is the largest city in South Africa and the third largest on the continent of Africa. Standing 5000 feet above sea level it is also the country’s financial and commercial center.

To make the most of our few hours in Jo-burg, as it is called here, we headed out to Mandela Square for dinner. There is a huge statue of Mandela, a fountain area where the kids were having some cool fun and lots of restaurants and shops. After scoping out our options, we spotted one call “Trumps” so we decided it was appropriate to visit in honor of our new president!

He has nothing to do with this place! It has been there for many years. Like most places in South Africa, the focus was on meat. We all had a wonderful dinner with huge portions of meat even though we ordered the smaller cuts! This is a meat-eating country from what we have seen. Obviously, we haven’t been exposed to the poorer areas of Africa.

After breakfast, we flew to Hoedspruit near the world famous Greater Kruger National Park. We were back on the east side of Africa, not that far from Richards Bay where we had cleared into Africa a few weeks earlier. We were heading to our final safari camp. This is where Barb and Joe left us as we were in two different camps.

Little did I know that we were about to have one of the most amazing experiences of all…

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe: Awesome!

A Visit to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls:

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Africa
Having enjoyed two beautiful safari camps in Botswana, it was time to board that little plane again and fly to the border of Botswana near Zimbabwe. Fortunately, we were met at each point by a tour guide to assist us through the border crossing process. We had to drive a distance from the airport in Kanse to the border patrol area. One guide took us to the drop off point and another one met us on the other side once we had cleared Immigration and, of course, paid our fees.

Our first floor living room
Zimbabwe is situated in south central Africa and is also landlocked with Mozambique to the east, South Africa to the south, Botswana to the west and Zambia to the north. It is about the size of California and shares Victoria Falls with Zambia. Their government is somewhat unsettled and has a history of guerrilla warfare. The country was formerly known as Southern Rhodesia when it was a self-governing colony of England. After much racial violence and warfare, it became the independent nation of Zimbabwe in 1980.

They have abandoned their own currency for the US dollar. Zimbabwe has an extensive mining and agriculture industry with tobacco being a main crop for export. Two thirds of the world’s chrome reserves are found within Zimbabwe. They also mine coal, asbestos, copper, nickel gold and iron ore. There is a good economy, but those in power are self-serving.

The second floor bedroom overlooking the watering hole.
We were then driven in an open-air vehicle to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge for a two-night stay. This lodge was different from the camp lodges and looked more like a ski lodge. It was even built into the side of a mountain. Our “room” was more like an apartment! One the main floor was a living room and balcony. Our bedroom was upstairs overlooking the watering hole below. And my favorite: a large tub in our bathroom! This is a real luxury after only having showers on the boat.

Feeding the vultures below our lunch seats!
Most of our meals were in the Makuwa-Kuwa Restaurant, also overlooking the watering hole. This was where we could observe the daily vulture feeding exhibit, called The Vulture Culture Lunch. Hundreds of vultures show up for lunch each day. It is quite a site. The view from our room and the restaurant took in miles of the bushveld and central watering hole where we observed many birds and buffalo.

Never a dull moment on this adventure: shortly after lunch and a rest, we were off to a boat trip on the Zambezi River. Our reservations were on the Signature Deck of the Zambezi Explorer which gave us a great view and lots of drinks and snacks.

We cruised the river until sunset and saw the hippos and other wildlife along the banks. Then we crossed the border to Zambia to see the falls from both sides. Obviously, we didn’t see the water falling as we were above them, but we saw the heavy mist created by the falling water. I guess we can say we were in Zambia, too.

David Livingston

Victoria Falls are the largest and often called the most beautiful falls in the world. During flood time in the rainy season, the falls are one continuous wall of water. The rest of the time, it
separates into a number of narrower falls along the Zimbabwe and Zambia border. At the area of the falls, the Zambezi River is over a mile wide and plunges into a vertical chasm across its entire width.

The drop ranges from 165’ to 325’ with the force of the falling water sending spray clouds high into the air. Thus, the African name for falls: “Mosi ao Tunya”, meaning the smoke that thunders. When explorer David Livingston saw the falls in 1855, he named them for Queen Victoria.

Early the next morning we were picked up by our guide for a tour of the Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. While you can view the falls from both Zimbabwe and Zambia, the better vantage point is on the Zimbabwe side.

The falls are like Niagara Falls, but extend over a much larger range. There were many vantage points for photos as we walked the whole distance of the viewing range. We also encounter a lot of mist, rainbows and even a tropical rain shower as we passed through the site. I was a drowned rat by the end of the walk and then the sun came out and things started steaming up!

 After we finished our tour, we had the driver drop us off in the craft  market area to see the local artisans' wares. It turned out to be a lot of people selling the same things that they obviously did not make themselves. There is a crafts cooperative in the area where many items are made, so it was a matter of bargaining with different resellers. Actually, there was little that I wanted. Since we had gotten rid of so much "stuff" when we sold the house, I have been very good at not collecting things from every stop! Just jewelry!

The return to the lodge for a change of clothes and lunch was a welcome event! Then it was naptime – again! We are beginning to appreciate the midday cool-down naps in these warm countries. It could become a habit – even when we return to the north!

Late in the day, we were picked up by a driver and taken to the Gusu forest for an evening dinner event. The setting was lovely and we experienced a wonderful meal of traditional cuisine and entertainment under the open African sky. It is called “The Boma – Place of Eating.”

It was a magical night with foods gathered from African soils and prepared in traditional ways. The selection of meats, poultry and game were excellent and beautifully prepared. You could select anything and as much as you wanted. There was a huge selection of vegetables, salads and desserts, too.

For the brave-hearted in our group (that would be the other three, but not me!), you received a certificate if you ate one of the lightly grilled Mopani worms! A real African delicacy. Humph! Okay, call me a chicken, but I am very selective about eating critters I don’t like in real life!

The evening began with a traditional pre-dinner hand washing, followed by the dining experience, only to be capped off with a fabulous show of dancing, singing and drumming. Most of us were given drums to play along with the entertainers. They taught us a little about drumming and had several fun contests. It was an interactive and high energy show. We were in the VIP area with our table on the edge of the stage. Great view!

Shangaan and Ndebele dancers and singers inspired everyone with their energy. Before the evening was over, they had everyone up dancing as well. It was a special family evening and fun to watch the children enjoy it all.

A witchdoctor came around predicting your future and there was a sangoma, a traditional story teller who shared African folklore, culture and heritage. It was a most enjoyable experience. We always appreciate the local customs, costumes, foods and entertainment.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Safari: More Camp Xugana

It may seem that Camp Xugana had only water related activities. No so. The camp is located on an island in the Okavango Delta, but it has a large savannah area in the center of it. When we were not exploring by boat, we were in our land vehicle with Ken guiding us inland.

We saw some of the same animals we had seen in Camp Savute plus some we had not. The savannah was similar to the savannah at Savute, but we saw larger herd of the roan antelope, whereas we saw more sable antelope at Savute. Different habits attract different species. It also has a lot to do with adaptation to the environment. For example, one of the animals in the Delta has a foot structure that allows it to walk in the water better than its land-based cousin. Unfortunately, I have forgotten which one it is.

One of the highlights of the time at Camp Xugana was a bush walk. We got out of the vehicle and went off on foot to get up close to nature. Ken pointed out tracks, trees, bark patterns, fruits and nuts, flowers and other plants and small animals and insects.

We learned how to tell which animals had been in the area, how old the elephant dung was, and some of the habits of the different species. The elephant dung balls are huge! But they are very significant in the eco-system. If the dung is round and relatively moist, it is fresher so you know the elephants have been in that area recently. When the dung dries out, it begins to flatten and spread out. In the drier patches, you can see all the seeds and grasses that bring nutrients to the smaller animals, birds and insects. There is a pattern and rhythm to life in the bush and all of the animals are interdependent in some way. Fascinating!

Ken told us to stay in a line and walk single file as he led us and another ranger followed behind us. This minimized our presence in the wild. Of course, Ken was carrying a rifle. Another "just in case" moment. Fortunately, it was never used.

Brushing your teeth in the wild.
We have heard of a few charging elephants and other aggressive animals making some safari adventures rather unsettling. And it is not unheard of to lose a tourist or even a ranger trying to protect his tourists from harm.

We saw the termite mounds and learned how the aardvarks stealthily move in and destroy the termite colony. After the aardvarks leave, the holes they left behind become habitats for small animals. There is an ongoing interchange in nature. Everything is used and reused in some way.

Both rangers shared ways of the indigenous people and how they lived and hunted. Their use of plants was most interesting. One particular plant is used as a toothbrush in the bush. After cutting off a stick, one chews it until it forms a brush-like tip. And apparently, it leaves the mouth with a pink color. What an easy way to see if the kids have actually brushed or not!

Big cat tracks! We are off to find lions or leopards!
The photos can tell the rest of this story. It was a wonderful experience and once again it was hard to say goodbye to the lovely staff who made our stay remarkable.

Another elegant giraff

Roan Antelope




Of course, Zebras

Lioness on the hunt