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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

African Adventure 2014 - Final Thoughts

Africa was an amazingly beautiful place. Our trip there was both everything and nothing like we expected. The big cities, such as Cape Town and Johannesburg, were surprisingly westernized. In Cape Town, we were continually amazed at both the beauty of the area and how "normal" life seemed. Out in the bush and more rural areas, Africa was every bit as wild as we expected. Kari, imagining a scene more like the Serengeti, and Ben, knowing it was more densely scrub like, had very different ideas of what our safari experience was going to be like. In the end, the bush was a different world than either of our imaginations.

Even though there were some similarities to America and the Western World, there were also many differences. First off, the general pace of life is much slower. The biggest and easiest example occurred when ordering food. A meal at a restaurant, not a fast food joint, was minimum an hour commitment, no matter what was ordered. A simple order of two burgers and fries would take well over an hour from the time we were seated to the time we had paid the bill and were leaving. It was incredible! Another difference with meal time was the requirement to ask for the bill, despite the waiter knowing we were done ordering anything. Without explicitly asking for the bill, it may never arrive until closing time.

Language was another big change. Though English, that is British English, was at least one of the official languages everywhere we went, every country and village had a different complement of languages. For instance, South Africa has 11 official languages with English and Afrikaans being some of the most widely spoken. Outside of the major cities, many different languages, such as Zulu and Swazi, were spoken, with each village having a different dialect or, often times, a completely different language. Most people we met on our travels knew 4-6 different languages. Thankfully, rudimentary English was one of them. It was challenging enough to communicate with other tourists from around the world.

Speaking of culture, mostly unknowingly, we were exposed to lots of different cultures. Like many big cities, there were street performers, dancing and playing drums, in Cape Town. Several of the lodges had dancers come in for performances in the evening. We also tried to talk with everyone we had contact with, our drivers and guides especially, to learn more about them and their culture. One of the most memorable experiences was the drive from Nelspruit to Chapungu, swinging through the Marula Market on the way. Our driver, Jason, shared a lot about his culture and the happenings in the region as we drove through several towns and cities. On the drive, we got more of a taste of how people live in this part of the world. Our drive also seemed to occur during the end of the school day, as many kids in their uniforms were walking home from school as we passed. Another memorable cultural experience was our walk in the Namibian village. We were able to have a more personal experience of their daily lives as they showed us around. The most surprising thing was the ubiquitousness of satellite dishes attached to mud-walled dwellings. We kept thinking we have a more permanently constructed structure and we do not have a satellite dish. Wild! While Ben was only vaguely interested in the cultural aspect, Kari was super excited to see this and hoped we could see more.

Onto the specifics of each location and our trip:
Cape Town
  • Primi Royal is a very nice bed and breakfast with 10 total rooms a couple blocks from the beach in Camps Bay. We would be interested in staying here again or looking for something closer to the V & A Waterfront.
  • Camps Bay is a beautiful beach near Cape Town, consisting of primarily restaurants and relaxing by the beach.
  • Hussar Grill is an awesome steak restaurant, that we highly recommend.
  • The Codfather is for the seafood lover, very fancy, that we recommend but is not essential for us when we return.
  • We would like to go shark diving in winter, take a ferry to Robben Island, learn to surf in Muizenberg, and climb Table Mountain.
  • It was our absolute, favorite accommodation on this trip, possibly ever.
  • It has awesome rooms/tents, great food, great service, incredible staff, and loads of personal attention.
  • Four nights was a good amount of time.
  • It has 8 tents for a maximum of 16 total people, so it is a very intimate setting.
  • The rangers and trackers are great but the enjoyment of game drives is a bit group dependent.
  • The jeeps work together to find the animals.
  • We would absolutely love to go back.
  • It is a beautiful location and set up.
  • It is more geared towards large tour groups with hundreds of rooms/guests.
  • Meals were predominately buffet style; food was not impressive.
  • It was a cool opportunity to go to a Namibian village.
  • There are loads of monkey pests.
  • There was a lack of personal attention.
  • It was a cool experience, but we are not interested in returning.
  • It is a very fancy accommodation; beautiful and luxurious.
  • It has decent personal attention despite its large size.
  • The showers were too small for Ben.
  • It has great views and proximity to Victoria Falls.
  • It offered unique activities.
    • Elephant-backed safari was a little depressing; not likely to do again.
    • Lion encounter was very educational and interesting. We really enjoyed the experience.
  • The food was super expensive.
  • There were lots of aggressive peddlers on the streets; can be intimidating.
  • The Falls were beautiful and a fun experience.
  • Once was likely enough and we are unlikely to return.
  • African Rock Hotel
    • It is very beautiful, but it is not really close to anything; a bit isolated.
    • More than what we need for a night waiting to catch a plane in the morning.
  • Though we will most likely avoid Johannesburg, there are a couple hotels by the airport that we could walk to instead of needing a transfer.
  • Never again will we take the multi-layover flight from the US to Africa.
  • Non-stop from here on out through either ATL, JFK, or IAD.
Travel Agent
  • We booked our trip with Ramona at Go2Africa. She was super helpful and put together a fabulous trip!
When we return to Africa, we would love to go back to South Africa, particularly Cape Town and Thornybush. Outside of that, we would be interested in seeing other parts of the country, including Port Elizabeth and the Garden Route. We are also interested in seeing Durban and the Zulu people, as well as other parts of Africa like Kenya and Tanzania. Ben is now open to renting a car for portions of the trip, though transfers were incredibly simple. South Africa was an absolutely beautiful place, that we cannot wait to return to!

Monday, May 26, 2014

African Adventure 2014 - Journey Home

Once the van was ready, we jumped for our transfer to Victoria Falls International Airport. It was fairly uneventful, and we arrived, ready to check-in for our flight. Victoria Falls International Airport was probably the third largest airport we encountered while in Africa, only Cape Town and Johannesburg were larger. Granted, this does not say much, considering the international section only had two "gates". Another interesting aspect of this airport, at least our British Airways flight, was a handwritten boarding pass. Amazing! Also, security seemed tougher here, similar to Cape Town, but weaker than Johannesburg.

While we were waiting to check-in and drop off our luggage, we ran into Christine and Debbie. They were on the earlier flight with South African Airways. Once through security, we hung out with them waiting for our flights. About half of the waiting area cleared out when their flight left, providing us the ability to stretch out a bit and sit down.

The flight was very uneventful, and we were soon in Johannesburg. We worked our way through immigration, collected our luggage and walked through customs. Then it was time to check-in for our international flights home. One flight down and three flights to go. Hooray!

Something unique, at least as far as we are concerned was the baggage trolleys in OR Tambo International Airport being able to go up the escalators. Fully loaded with our luggage, it easily handled the escalator, saving Ben's strength for a little while. Check-in was a breeze and soon we were through security and immigration.

Once inside our terminal, we found some food. Kari had some shrimp and pasta, which was ok. Ben had a rather disgusting piece of steak. The service was really poor as well. Oh well. It was something to satisfy hunger pangs a bit.

After our meal, we went looking for the last of the souvenirs. By golly, we did it again. We ran into Christine and Debbie. This was probably our last chance to run into them as they were on a direct flight to New York and we had a multi-stop journey to get home. We said our goodbyes and headed off to finish our time in the OR Tambo International Airport before our flight to Heathrow.

The flight to Heathrow was uneventful. Ben tried to sleep as soon as we boarded; however, that did not seem to be in the cards, as they kept the cabin lights on to serve mysterious chicken and beverages for a while. Realizing sleep was a bit futile at the moment, Ben decided to watch Escape Plan. It was a pretty good movie. Unfortunately, by the time the lights were turned off, Ben was too awake to fall back asleep. Oh well. Kari also struggled to sleep on this flight. As we were getting close to Heathrow, they served English breakfast and Ben started watching Captain Phillips, based on a real life story of a shipping captain attacked by pirates off the Horn of Africa. Very good movie.

When we landed in Heathrow, we tried to figure out where we needed to go. Thankfully, we had 3 hours, since this journey through was not as easy or fast as the last journey through Heathrow. This time we actually never needed to pass through immigration, somehow avoiding the UK and remaining in international space.

Entering the UK might have been faster to connect between the different terminals. We found the US Airways ticket counter to get our boarding passes for the rest of the journey and make sure our luggage was linked. For some reason, Ben must have looked a bit off, as he was selected for random screening. What made it a little comical was that Ben, the white guy, was getting searched by three brown guys. Usually we hear of the reverse. Ben cooperated and was quickly allowed to wait at the gate. Unfortunately, the security agents forgot to put a sticker or mark on his boarding pass, so every future checkpoint we encountered, Ben was stopped and questioned about being searched again. This was starting to get a little annoying when trying to board the plane, but they apologized for the inconvenience and let us on our merry little way.

With the goal of trying to stay awake to reset our clocks, we watched several movies together on the flight from Heathrow to Charlotte. Our selected titles included Epic, The Internship, Delivery Man and Date Night. This helped kill the time until we landed. Just prior to boarding, we were informed that we would have to collect our luggage in Charlotte to go through customs before handing it back off to catch the flight to Indy. What seemed like an appropriate length layover of 1 hour, now seemed to be way too short.

Once we landed, we were able to clear immigration rather quickly. Then it was the waiting game for our bags to show up to go through customs. This seemed to take forever. Customs was a breeze, and we made it to the baggage re-check with about 40 minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart. We were told this would be plenty of time to get the bags on the plane and we raced off to security to try to make sure we did not miss the plane. We were really glad that Charlotte was a fairly small airport. Security is more standardized in the US, even though it is more strict, it is fairly predictable. This was something new for us overseas. Every country, sometimes every airport within a country, does things a little differently. In the US, it is probably overkill, but at least it is the same at every commercial airport nationwide. We made it to our gate right as it was scheduled to board, but they were running a little behind, giving us a few minutes to let family know we were back in the US. This flight was probably one of the smallest, if not the smallest, planes we had been on this whole trip. We were in the last row, unable to recline, and we decided to watch another movie, Toy Story, on the flight to Indy.

In Indy, we slowly made it to the baggage claim, totally beat from the last 40 hours of travel, only to discover our bags had not joined us. Ben was wondering if it was too good for it to be true for everything to clear Charlotte without a hitch. We already knew that there was a later flight out of Charlotte coming to Indy, so we checked baggage services with US Airways to make sure they were on the later flight. They were and should arrive in Indy around 9pm. We were informed that they would deliver them later this evening, so we went to find a taxi to head to Ben's parents' house. Knowing we needed food and to stay awake for a while, we ordered some Pizza King pizza and breadsticks and watched a movie. By 10:30pm, with no word from US Airways, we decided to get some sleep and deal with it in the morning. At 11pm, US Airways called to let us know they had our bags and wanted to see if we would like them tonight. We did, so Ben let Kari sleep while he waited for the bags downstairs. About an hour and a half later at 12:30am, the bags finally arrived. Ben just dropped them in the house and went up to fall asleep. What a long end to the already long two days of travel!

African Adventure 2014 - Victoria Falls Hotel Day 3

With the desire to soak up every moment of our remaining time in Zimbabwe, we woke up at 5:30am, hoping to catch the sunrise over Victoria Falls Bridge. While Ben showered, Kari hurriedly got dressed and ready to go watch the sunrise. Though not as beautiful as the day before, it was still a lovely sunrise. The moon had also not completely sat and was hovering just above the Victoria Falls Hotel. Very lovely.

After the sun was rather high in the sky, we headed back to the room so Kari could shower and Ben could begin packing. Ben was able to get most of the souvenirs in his pack, leaving Kari's available for any potentially additional ones we might find.

Breakfast was served buffet style in the Jungle Junction; the location of the previous night's buffet dinner. Who did we run into at breakfast? You guessed it! Christine and Debbie! For having only met at Chapungu a few days prior, it seemed like we were going everywhere together. The buffet was quite delicious. Ben had a ham & cheese omelet, some bacon, some fruit and a couple croissants. Kari had a bunch of fruit and a sampling of eggs and bacon.

After breakfast, we wandered around the grounds and decided to have one last go at picking out souvenirs at the market. Hoping to avoid the street dealers, we raced off, zigging and zagging our way to the market. Once there, we found a few more items to complete what we were looking for. With little time remaining before our transfer, we raced back to the hotel to finish packing.

With many people trying to catch transfers to the airport at the same time for the few flights out of Victoria Falls International Airport daily, it seemed like check-out took forever. Thankfully, we were not in a rush.

After check-out, all we had to do was sit and wait for our transfer. As luck would have it, our transfer was one of the later ones, freeing up some space on the couch to relax for a bit.

African Adventure 2014 - Victoria Falls Hotel Day 2

Our final early morning and full day in Africa. The alarm went off at 5:30am, indicating it was time to get up to find the elephants to ride for our safari. The driver picked us up at 6:20am from the hotel and off we went to the Wild Horizons Wildlife Sanctuary.

When we arrived, we were introduced to the elephants and encouraged to touch them while they took photos and video for us. Christine and Debbie were also doing this activity as part of their adventure pass. Once we had acclimated to the elephants and listened to the safety briefing, we were escorted to the loading zone. We climbed onto Tendai, a female of 27 years with two little ones, with our driver, Sydney. We walked around, exploring the shrubland and crossing a creek in the area, for about an hour or so, pausing to take photos along the way. It was certainly an interesting experience. But very staged and we saw no other wildlife while on the safari.

Following our safari, we gave our elephants some treats to thank them for the ride. We were treated to an English breakfast, which seemed to be extremely common here in Africa. During the breakfast, the team at Wild Horizons frantically put our video together, so we could watch it before deciding to buy. The whole time Ben was curious about whether this was for rehabilitation or strictly for the amusement of people. The elephants did not look as fit, healthy or happy as the ones we encountered in the wild at Chapungu. It was actually a little sad and depressing. Oh well. We were glad to do it once, but we probably will never do it again.

After our time with the elephants was complete, we raced back to jump in a van for our lion encounter. A whole load of people from Mahogany Vacations joined us on this adventure. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the lion rehabilitation area, we were informed that one of the lions had escaped. Thus, they had to cancel the morning walk, due to safety concerns. Having a flexible schedule, we were able to reschedule for the afternoon. Feeling bad, our driver, Liki, drove us to see the famous baobab tree near town that David Livingstone camped at during his exploration of the area. The 1500 year old tree was very impressive but we were in a hurry to squeeze in our next activity.

Back at the hotel, we quickly changed clothes and began our journey to Victoria Falls, modifying our day just a bit. As we approached the edge of the property of Victoria Falls Hotel, a security guard asked if we were heading to the Falls and offered to escort us. This was helpful in several ways. First, he helped us correctly navigate the path, pointing out things of note along the way. Second, we were able to ask questions to learn more about the area. Finally, and probably most importantly, the street vendors left us alone while in his presence. He walked us all the way to the entrance of the Falls before turning back to the hotel.

Instead of just entering the park, Ben wanted to see if it was possible to look at the Falls from the bridge, viewing the Falls as Cecil Rhodes intended. To do this, we had to exit Zimbabwe, but we could not enter Zambia for fear of not being allowed back in the US. It turns out that many people want to do this, so it was rather simple. We had to get a stamped form from Zimbabwe immigration to exit, then we were free to walk out onto the bridge. This turned out to be a longer walk than we originally imagined. At the center of the bridge, on the line indicating the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, we admired the view and took several photos of the Falls and the gorge below. Cecil Rhodes picked the perfect spot for a bridge to admire the view and the awesome power of the Falls. Once we had our desired photos, we headed back to Zimbabwe immigration to get our slip stamped and enter back into the country. Super simple.

Back in Zimbabwe, we walked into the Victoria Falls National Park. Skipping our normal routine of reading all signs due to a lack of time, we headed straight for the Falls. There are 16 lookout points along the footpath, highlighting different vantage points along the Falls. Earlier in the day, we were informed that we would be soaking wet before we were halfway through the walk. After the first five lookouts and only barely speckled from the mist, we were really starting to question how wet could we really get. We soon learned as we approached Danger Point. Danger Point is a slippery path where the mist turns to rain. We got drenched! Absolutely soaked! We laughed quite a bit at how wet we got.

With little time left before pick-up for Round 2 of our Lion Encounter, we raced back to the hotel to change and put on some dry clothes. Thankfully, the second lion returned, so everything was a go. When we arrived, we signed waivers and listened to the safety explanation, then we got to meet the lions, Washe and Wadiwa. They were absolutely beautiful. During our walk, the five of us guests took turns walking next to and petting the lions. At the halfway point, we stopped to take photos up close with the lions. We must have magic fingers, because Washe rolled over to let us rub her belly. It was so soft.

Once our walk was over, they fed the lions and we went to have refreshments and learn more about their rehabilitation strategies. Their current plan is to raise a pride of breeding animals to release to a no-human-contact zone and allow them to have cubs that never have interacted with humans to release in the wild. So far they have had mixed results, but the program seems promising. This was a fantastic and wild experience.

Following our lion encounter, we were driven back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Tonight, we ate at Jungle Junction, which is a buffet with live entertainment. The entertainment for the evening was some local African dancers. It was delicious food and a great show, especially the dancers on stilts in costume! We both tried crocodile tail to add another exotic animal to the menu and Kari tried ox tail.

After dinner, we chatted with Christine and Debbie before heading back to the room. It was certainly a full and great day! It will be bittersweet leaving Africa in the morning.

African Adventure 2014 - Victoria Falls Hotel Day 1

When we arrived at the Victoria Falls Hotel, we were immediately taken aback by the character, history, beauty and hospitality. This was in stark contrast to Chobe Safari Lodge. Lemonades and warm, minty, moist towels were brought to us during the check-in process, to help make it more comfortable. Our porter helped us take our bags to our room, stopping in the courtyard and on the terrace to show us some of the features of the hotel and the grounds. He also shared some of the history of the hotel during the walk to the room. We learned it is one of the oldest hotels near Victoria Falls.

Once in the room, our porter showed us the features to our room, even making sure Ben's adapter worked before leaving. He was fantastic! Kari instantly fell in love with the room. We were even fortunate enough to have a view of the bridge connecting Zimbabwe and Zambia over the "Boiling Pot" of the Falls. It is an incredible room with an incredible view. After getting settled, we walked down to the terrace to have lunch. The menu confirmed our suspicions that Zimbabwe was going to be more expensive than Botswana. Instead of our typical $10-$15 lunch for the two of us, at the Victoria Falls Hotel, lunch of similar size cost $50. Yikes! Oh well. Thankfully, we are not staying here long, since it is not the greatest value for the money.

Following lunch, we set off to explore the grounds a bit before walking off to the village. With some small bills in hand, we left the confines of the hotel to see what was beyond. Immediately, we were greeted by people selling their wares on the street. We were able to shake them to get to some of the shops. Making use of some of Ben's bartering skills, we were able to get pretty good prices for a few pieces. Then we began our walk back. We were hounded the whole way. Ben ended up purchasing a few more items after bartering the prices down, feeling pretty good about his score and knowing more family gifts were collected. Kari, meanwhile, was a wreck. Bartering is not something she likes or is comfortable with, wanting to learn more about people and help everyone. She felt like a horrible person by the time we returned to the hotel.

Back in the room, Kari grabbed the bottle of Amarula to ease her mental and emotional pains from the bartering system. We then got cleaned up and ready for our sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, the 4th largest river in Africa at over 2700km. On the way to the transfer to the boat, we ran into Christine and Debbie, friends from Chapungu. It was nice seeing friendly faces and sharing about our experiences since we last saw each other. The sunset cruise was nice. We saw more hippos, crocodiles, and various birds while our boat drifted along the Zambezi River. Complimentary drinks and snacks were served during our voyage. Despite the initial cloud coverage, the sunset turned out to be beautiful.

After admiring the sunset for a while, the boat headed back to the hotel. Since we were not overly hungry, we opted to just get dessert from the terrace. It was quite tasty. Well, at least Ben's was. Kari's adventurous eating got the best of her. She was thankful to have her strawberry daiquiri to make it all better.

Back in the room, we noticed that we had yet another royal treatment. The mosquito netting was pulled around the bed with slippers placed for us to use as we exited the bed. Spectacular service! In these first few hours, we could tell that we are going to enjoy our brief stay at the Victoria Falls Hotel.

African Adventure 2014 - Chobe Safari Lodge Day 3 & Transfer to Zimbabwe

Still on safari schedule, Ben awoke around 5am. Part of this was also because we passed out really early. Safari, eating and sleeping is tough work! Seriously though, the constant changing of locations, heat and odd sleeping hours really takes a toll on the body. We arose rather early, considering we did not have anything on our agenda other than breakfast and our transfer to Zimbabwe. We quickly organized our things and did a quick inventory of gifts for family before breakfast to know who we still needed to find souvenirs for.

Once we were pretty much ready to go for the transfer, we headed to the restaurant area to have breakfast. Having found things we like the day before, it did not take long to pick out our breakfast from the buffet. Our big excitement for breakfast was a giant bug that landed on Kari's plate, running across all of her food. She wisely stopped eating off of that plate and went to get some more. Who knows what interesting diseases the bugs of Botswana carry.

After breakfast, we went back to do a final run-through of the curio shop and then collected our things from the room to await pick-up for our transfer. Our driver, Joshua, came to pick us up in a safari jeep. Ben immediately started to wonder if we would be riding in this open-air vehicle the full 80km between Chobe Safari Lodge and Victoria Falls. It was not to be. Joshua only drove us to the Botswana immigration post and then to the Zimbabwean border. As we were obtaining our visas to enter Zimbabwe, John, from Wild Horizons, greeted us and introduced us to the driver, Abia, who would drive us the rest of the way to Victoria Falls in a van.

The rest of the drive was rather uneventful. As we neared closer to Victoria Falls, we could tell that life in Zimbabwe was better off than in Botswana or Namibia. It looked much more westernized and developed. This could be an artifact of the resorts around the Falls.

African Adventure 2014 - Chobe Safari Lodge Day 2

The alarm sounded early in the morning, indicating that it was time to get ready for the morning game drive. Today's game drive was in Chobe National Park. Our guide, KG, picked us up from the Chobe Safari Lodge and drove us into Chobe National Park. Unlike our time at Thornybush, Chobe National Park had several rules and regulations we had to follow, such as driving in a particular direction, along a particular route and no off-road driving. We immediately noticed the difference in ecosystems between the two places. Thornybush is mostly lying scrub brush and trees, whereas, Chobe National Park has marshlands by the river and woodlands on top of the ridge. These changes in ecosystems manifested in the types of animals commonly found. Impalas, hippos, and baboons were constant companions. Like at the lodge, vervet monkeys were ever present at the designated stopping location. The one animal we expected to see, due to how common it is, was the elephant. For whatever reason, despite having 20% of Africa's elephant population within Botswana, we did not find a single one. Strange.

Following our game drive, we grabbed a quick breakfast and then spoke with the activities coordinator about setting up a tour of a Namibian village. We were in luck. She quickly found a guide willing to take us.

Before we knew it, we were in a small boat heading to Botswana immigration to leave the country. We quickly left Botswana and checked in at Namibia immigration to enter Namibia. Fantastic!

After a short walk, we were in the village. The village was similar to what you expect in Africa. Mud dwellings with either tin or thatched roofs. Some even had reeds surrounding an open space, creating a courtyard. In the village, we were greeted by some kids who spoke in their native language to inform others that white people were here. The village, called Kafuvu, was home to a 3000 year old baobab tree. It was stunning! Not long after our arrival, we were greeted by the headman, or chief, and his wife and were invited into his courtyard to take some pictures. Our guide showed us the chief's garden along with his kitchen and the beginnings to another dwelling. The kitchen is unlike anything we are familiar with. It is basically a fire pit with a piece of tin on to form a roof and protect from rain. Kari was in awe of the banana tree.

As we wandered through the village, our guide described daily life and the culture of the people in the village. During this time, many of the women in the village gathered beneath the baobab tree to display their wares. The craftsmanship was remarkable, and we ended up buying a wood carved rhino. One of the things that surprised us is that despite not having electricity and living in a mud dwelling, many have television and satellite dishes. Additionally, everyone in the village is related to the chief in some way. Finally to get married, you have to marry outside of your village and present either a cow or the cash equivalent of a cow to the chief of the bride to ask for permission to wed. It was a very interesting place.

Once back in the boat, we quickly cleared both the Namibian and Botswana checkpoints and made it back to the Chobe Safari Lodge. We had just enough time to change and grab some food before we needed to get onto a different boat for our river cruise. The river cruise was on the Chobe River inside the Chobe National Park. The guide would stop the boat whenever we neared an animal or place of note. We saw elephant (finally), hippo, crocodile, kudu, impala (of course), puku, and various birds. As with many things on the water, it was very hot. We were grateful to be turning back near the end, as we were displaying the early symptoms of heat exhaustion. Kari did get some good practice with the camera, taking many beautiful shots.

Following the river cruise, we went back to the room to cool off a bit before dinner. We both had stir fry, fairly boring. Nothing too special, but it was somewhat safe food, considering our stomach's are a little sensitive.

To escape, the bugs, we retreated to the room to enjoy some quality time before bed. Kari tried the Amarula that housekeeping left for us to enjoy. She says that it was only slightly reminiscent of the marula fruit we tried on our walking safari.

African Adventure 2014 - Chobe Safari Lodge Day 1

We arrived at Chobe Safari Lodge and began the check-in process. Immediately, we noticed the many differences between here and Chapungu. While we knew we were spoiled at Chapungu, we had not fully realized the extent. At Chapungu, we were greeted by the staff upon arrival and immediately introduced to our butler who took care of us during our time there. Here at Chobe, we definitely felt more like a number. We had a porter help us find our room and escort our bags; however, it was not the same personal touch as at Chapungu. It did not help matters when the maid service came in to convert the two single beds to a double bed while Kari was stuck in the bathroom without pants. Everything had been a blur for Ben, so he completely forgot she was in the bathroom without her pants on.

After we got settled and confirmed our events for the next day, we wandered around, exploring the grounds. We had a quick snack/lunch before going back to the room to put on some DEET prior to continuing our exploration. During this time, we discovered that Chobe Safari Lodge is infested with vervet monkeys and warthogs. The monkeys were everywhere. One even was scampering around on our roof before a gunshot scared it away.

We took some time to address our postcards and put stamps on them. Only after we tried to drop them at the front desk did we realize we had South Africa international stamps and not Botswana international stamps affixed to the postcards. Oh well. The woes of the traveler. We will just have to try to mail them back at OR Tambo International Airport.

We noticed that there was a beautiful sunset over Namibia, so we went to the edge of the river to watch. Once it had set, we went over to dinner. Chobe Safari Lodge serves dinner as a buffet. Ben asked the waiter for some help with instructions then filled a plate with many delicious things. The make-your-own stir-fry seemed to be the best. The rolls were also outstanding. Towards the end of our meal, some dancers performed nearby. We watched until they finished, then we completed our meal. In an attempt to avoid the bugs, especially the mosquitos, we went back to our room to enjoy some time together before bed time.

African Adventure 2014 - Flight to Botswana

After getting accustomed to safari time, Ben woke up around 5am. Not having to be awake yet, he tried to sleep some more without disturbing Kari. Around 6:30am, Kari woke up and let Ben know, noticing that he was also awake. We got up to begin packing and get ready for our flight to Kasane, Botswana.

Once we were packed, we walked over to the main part of the hotel to enjoy a delicious breakfast. Ben had a South African omelet with boerewors and cheese and Kari had two eggs over easy with some bacon and sausage. We shared some fresh fruit and homemade bread. Very good. Following check out, we loaded up the van with Calvin for our transfer back to OR Tambo International Airport. We quickly found check-in to drop off our luggage and headed towards security. Of all of the airports we used while in South Africa, this was the closest to airports we are familiar with back in the States, which makes sense with this being the largest city in South Africa.

Our flight appeared to be running late, since we waited at the gate for a while until a bus finally showed up to take us to the plane. The flight was rather uneventful. We wrote a few more postcards and relaxed until we touched down in Kasane.

Upon arrival in Kasane, we were greeted with sweltering temperatures, providing the Africa experience we expected from the beginning. We both made it through immigration seamlessly and waited for our bags to arrive. Instead of the typical turnstile found in American baggage claims, they just opened a garage door and handed the bags over to us.

Only in small airports will you have this experience. With our bags in hand, we walked through customs and met our driver, Monda, for the transfer to Chobe Safari Lodge. This was by far our shortest transfer yet, only about 5 minutes. He told us a little about the area and pointed to Namibia. Somehow during planning we completely overlooked that we would be this close to yet another country. In fact, Namibia is just across the Chobe River from where we are staying at Chobe Safari Lodge. Wild!

African Adventure 2014 - Transfer to Hoedspruit and Flight to Johannesburg

We were a little sad to say our goodbyes as our transfer to Hoedspruit arrived. Vincent, our driver, told us even more information about the area on the hour-long drive to the airport. Hoedspruit means "head river" in Afrikaans. Supposedly, one of the founders lost his head in the river.

In Hoedspruit, we arrived at one of the smallest commercial airports we have ever been to. There are only two desks for check-in, two small lounges and a garden space to wait for departures in. They only had one gate and only had a couple flights a day. When boarding for our flight was called, we got in line to pass through security. We have found that airport security is a bit lax in comparison to the standards in the US; however, this was reminiscent of pre-9/11 days on charter flights. Though we went through a metal detector, no one cared that Ben set it off. Once outside there were a couple agents glancing briefly inside the bags and asking a few questions. We guessed the metal detector was more there to reduce the flow to the bag checkers. Through security, we walked on the tarmac to our plane and got ready for the short flight to Johannesburg.

In no time, we landed, collected our bags and found our transport to the hotel for the night. We are staying at the African Rock Hotel; a small boutique hotel in Johannes burg. It is very small and the room is very luxurious. After we checked in, we went to the room to relax until dinner.

When we entered the main part of the hotel for dinner, we were greeted by the chef, Christine. This was yet another sign that this hotel is a little beyond our comfort zone, really excessive when actually considering the small amount of time able to enjoy it. Christine described the menu and asked for our selections for the main course. We both chose the ostrich and beef filet combo. First-up was the salad. Ben does not like beets and goat cheese, so he picked them off and ate the rest of the salad. Apparently, this was incorrect, as Christine came out to see what was wrong. Instead of not wanting to offend her by saying that he did not like something up front, he accidentally offended her by sending food back on his plate. Oops. She instructed us to just tell her what we like and do not like up front, so she can prepare a perfect meal for us. Ben apologized and she indicated that we just need to come back so she can make us a meal we will love from start to finish. The ostrich and beef filets were outstanding and the dessert was also quite good. After dinner, we went back to the room to get some rest before our flights in the morning.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

African Adventure 2014 - Chapungu Camp Day 5

On our final morning at Chapungu, we showered up before our final game drive. The sky was a bit cloudy, but the winds from the day before had died down. We set off in search of lion and rather quickly found a male lion's track in the dirt on the road. Though a little old, Cedrick tracked the tracks for a bit before Gerhard was informed of the two male lions nearby. We raced over just in time to see them resting near the side of the road. These males were part of the pride in the southern part of the reserve, patrolling their northern boundary. One was fast asleep, while the other looked at us before standing to walk further into the bush. It was a spectacular display; one that Ben had been hooping for. The only thing that could have made it better would have been a roar. Following the lions, we found some kudu females, zebra, and more lion tracks from the big male in the bride in the northern part of the reserve. We found a group of young male impala that were practicing battle by locking horns.

On the way to our morning hot chocolate and rusks, we managed to get stuck on an upward slope following a river crossing. After several spirited tries with Cedrick guiding, we jumped off to lighten the load and make it easier for Gerhard to clear the trenches. That seemed to do the trick, as he was up the slope in no time.

We parked near a head of wildebeest and some warthogs for our morning stop. We were able to chat with Cedric some more before Gerhard indicated we should grab what we want for our walking safari. From our brief rest, we began the journey back to camp. Not long into our walk, we heard the impala sound an alarm, indicating a predator was close by. Ben hoped we might be able to see, but the sound was coming from the opposite direction. On the walking safari, Gerhard pointed out a variety of plants and creepy crawly critters, such as golden orb spiders (Ben held one), kite spiders, dung beetles and termite mounds. When we encountered some ripe marula fruit on the ground, we stopped to try them. It was a little sour, but quite tasty. We wished we could have found more available for consumption. Gerhard also described the impact on placing roads incorrectly. About a hundred years ago, when the reserve was used predominately for hunting, the roads were placed to have good access to game. Now, they have learned that the roads are mostly placed on seep lines, changing the natural flow of water in the park. If they could change the road system, they would move them to the crests of the slopes, which would actually allow for better game viewing. This is rather unfeasible, so they try to make due as best they can.

When we returned to camp, we were greeted to another hot breakfast before we packed up to get ready for our transfer to Hoedspruit. We settled our bill and filled out the comment card. Chapungu was an absolutely fabulous place and one that we hope we can return to, especially if Gerhard and Chris are still there. Though beautiful, the people really do make this place special.