Ellyn and I have been on the Rio Negro and the Amazon during the flood season. We’ve been to various islands and villages in the Philippines, traveled the Nile in Egypt, white-water rafted through Cataract Canyon in the American Southwest and have ridden mules to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
That said, you can understand the weight of the declaration that our trip to Africa was the best vacation ever! Much of it had to do with the flawless and detailed planning that Priscilla Macy of Global Sojourns provided.
We usually read & research extensively about the places we visit. This includes history, geography, geology, socio-political and guide books as well as historical novels and movies, articles, websites, kids books, coloring books – we do mean everything.
But nothing compares to the thrill of real life. And as educated as we became, there were still a multitude of surprises.
There was the pack of wild dogs who traveled into the Khwai game area of Moremi. They were trying to take over an established hyena den. The nightly fights, the stalking, the hovering and endless waiting this process involved were fascinating. The guides were even more excited than we were.
As the only guests in the Khwai Tented Camp, we had our guide Pilot to ourselves. He spent the days teaching us how to identify and follow tracks. We were rewarded by being the only folks to find 2 female and one male lion in the dense bush (if we hadn’t experienced his driving, we never would have believed that one could drive a truck through the bush we were in!!). With no one else in the truck to decide on a different agenda, we were able to hang out with the lions for quite a while.
There was the night drive that turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience when a leopard used our truck to facilitate her kill. As soon as we put out the lights she shot out from her hiding place under (yes
under) our truck and in a split second we heard “Crunch!” The lights were turned back on immediately and we went closer to sit quietly watching her suffocate the impala, her teeth at its throat. It kicked a few times, then the leopard calmly dragged the impala into the bushes.
There were the small things, too. Who knew the thorns of the acacia and the ironwood trees we’d seen so many pictures of were a million times more strong and spiny and painful. Like handling barbed wire more than plants. Or that elephants drag their trunks in the sand for fun leaving whimsical zigzag patterns along with their footprints. Or how the sound of a hippo with its deep, low, throaty laughing all night just makes you giggle in your tent (even though this is the meanest, deadliest guy they warn you about). It’s the hippos and elephants that necessitate the guides to protectively walk you back and forth from your tent at night.
Believe it or not, elephants are really quiet and really fast (when they’re not shaking the heck out of an acacia tree to get the fruit or knocking over and trampling a full grown tree out of boredom and lack of enough living space). I can’t tell you how many times one was much much closer to us than expected.
Then there was the ostrich that ran along side our plane as we landed on the airstrip in Moremi. It was unexpected when our driver stopped the truck to watch a puff adder, one of the world’s most deadly snakes slowly work his way across the road. Every drive was a “game drive”
even if we were just headed into town for a planned event and every driver seems to be a guide. Every opportunity is a chance to see animals – like the healthy sized frog that lived in the mouth of a decorative mask hanging in our bathroom
We enjoyed game drives from a motor boat. You can get pretty darn close to bathing, playing elephants and drinking buffalo herds. You can also get right on top of crocodiles and birds that nest in the banks (bee
catchers) but thankfully *not* so close to the pods of hippos. The game drive on horseback allowed us to walk amongst zebras because we were not identified as people, just different looking horses.
Monkeys and baboons are plentiful. At Thorntree Lodge the vervet monkeys will take any and everything not nailed down (consider yourself warned).
We watched them as they watched us through our patio window, not 2 feet from each other, separated by glass. At Khwai, the cook couldn’t take afternoon naps because she had to protect all the kitchen and dining items from the baboons – who, by the way, do not run from a woman trying to chase them away, only men.
We did some Drift Fishing on the Zambezi River from that motorboat, too.
We were told we were fishing for Tigerfish, whatever that was. Being avid fisherladies from NYC we successfully caught trees, grass, the motor. Our casting in front of and behind the boat, sometimes went all of 6 or 7 inches (BTW, we were supposed to be casting on the side). We had our guide laughing along with us as he came about to pick up a blown away hat. When we got back to the boat someone showed us a picture of a Tigerfish. I would have been utterly speechless if one of us pulled one of those monsters out of the water (we had a few hard bites and in retrospect I’m not at all unhappy we didn’t catch anything!)
Know this when visiting Victoria Falls: if your guide begins to take off his shoes, roll up his pants and put on *two* raincoats, take it as a hint, put your camera in a plastic bag and enjoy being drenched thoroughly by the giant waterfall. The mist feels more like a garden hose at full throttle.
There can be many border crossings and immigration visits and such.
Don’t worry, your guides walk with you every step of the way. Often we felt like children in the care of very competent parents handing us off to the next set of aunts & uncles.
We rode elephants. This was an experience worth doing. How many people can say they’ve spent an hour walking through the bush on the back of the elephant? It was a game drive, but there aren’t very many animals that get in the path of an elephant so we only saw impala – but we sure didn’t care, for goodness sakes….we were riding an elephant!
We also did the walk with lions. Also worth it just to spend some time with young cubs, who actually are not so small and are quite strong!
The handlers are very alert because the lions are not tame – they worry most about the lions playing with you (claws out, teeth ready to bite….in fun). There are some questions about these two activities, but we felt like the efforts were real (to return lions to the wild to help their decimated population) and to raise orphaned elephants).
Oh, and by the way, in the city of Johannesburg, they call traffic lights “robots.” Come on, doesn’t that make you smile?