Cape Town

With a farewell dinner in Vic Falls the grand group of 16 travelers prepared to go our separate ways. Nine of us to continue on to Cape Town and seven to travel on on their own or to return home. We flew together, one last time, to Johannesburg where the Cape Town gang caught a domestic flight to our last stop on the trip. The return to city life was a bit jarring. No more worry about animals wandering through the camp and no more bush toilets readily available behind a bush. Some even had brought along city clothes. Our hotel, The Inn on the Square is indeed on the central square which houses a daily market of vendors selling the usual trinkets found in every vendors market we had passed throughout the trip. With only one more packing for travel ahead of us some used the opportunity to make purchases. The hotel is very nice and the staff is very helpful, if you are waiting for a “but” here it is. The bathrooms are the smallest we have ever tried to enter. Actually they are less spacious then on our motorhome and made even more difficult by having full size doors that swing in. I had to wedge myself between the toilet and the shower to open or close the door and I needed to close the door because there was no place for me if the door is open.

Enough about minutia. Post Mandela Cape Town is a great mix of contrasts. The people are still grouped into White (European) Black (African) and Colored (sort of everyone else). These categories are not pejorative nor do they speak of apartheid. Rather they are how the people refer to themselves and by choice where they choose to live. The city itself seems to be well integrated. It is in the Townships that the separation is apparent. Townships are a remnant of the old ways. They are “walled off” by expressways and rail lines and internally they are divided into sections depending on when they were built. The outer rings are terrible looking galvanized metal shacks and passing through sections of adobe shacks of two or three rooms eventually we saw newer sections whjere middle income people live and raise their families. We had a home hosted dinner in a private home in a Colored Township. We had a lovely meal and a lot of interesting conversation. We found here as elsewhere a great curiosity about the current election in the US.

The counterpoint to our day in the townships was a tour by five of us to the Stellenbosch Wine District. This is an Africaans area that has been producing wine for some time. We stopped at two wineries for tastings, the second included cheese pairing. The wines were very nice, but nothing I am rushing to buy. Lunch was on our own in Stellenbosch and we agreed on a student populated restaurant with tables on the sidewalk. This is probably as good a place as any to mention money. The Rand had dropped in value before our arrival and a US $ bought 14.2x R while we were there. Menu items ran from 70 to 90 R. The first time I bought dinner on our own in the hotel it came to $18 for the two of us. It was a nice meal with wine!

We did see the obligatory sites including the the Cape of Good Hope:

Yes, that is actually us in  a picture together!
And we went to the gardens where Protea grow in profusion:

This too is a Protea, it is a Silver Leaf
And we saw penguins:

The light house at the Cape of Good Hope – this one has not been used in many years as it is high enough to be fogged in much of the time:
and Table Top looked like this much of the time we were there:
Three of our party made it up the cable car the morning of our departure day.
We caught a glimpse of the Jewish Community and were told about the wonderful galleries that we never had time to get to. 
Eventually we had to board a plane and say goodbye for now to our new friends:
As we tour the US in GeeWhiz, our motorhome, we look forward to calling on those whose paths we cross. 

Okavango to Hwange and beyond

The dip in the pool did not happen. When I got there it was off and the sediment in the bottom was unappetizing. The next day I learned they only ran it in the morning. So much for a dip in a small pool.
We set out for two cruises on boats on the Kafue and Lufupa rivers. We saw many birds along the water’s edge on the first cruise. That cruise was cut short while we heading back when a member of our group passed out. Fortunately another member who was on the boat is a nurse anesthetist.
She jumped in and got everything under control while we headed for camp. The good news is the incident was a passing thing, from heat, dehydration aggravating a known issue. Everyone is well and attending all events. Our second cruise was cut short for some of us when word of a lion on the camp road was passed and most of us agreed that chasing a lion seemed more interesting then drifting around looking at birds, crocodiles and hippos. Contrary to our guide, BK’s, promise the lion did not wait for us along the road and we never did see one in Lafupa Camp, or any other cat in the Kafue Reserve.
By a variety of buses and safari cars we made our way over the border from Zambia to Zimbabwe walking over the “historic” Victoria Falls Bridge. It is not only historic but also old and does not seem likely to last much longer without significant upgrades. Only one truck at a time is allowed over it and it sways badly when they cross. At the center, right on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border is a bungee jumping platform. It may be the only place where you can swing between two countries while bungee jumping. No one in our group thought this was a good idea. We completed our walk across the bridge to rejoin our Zimbabwean bus for the ride to Hwange National Park and Kashawe Tent Camp. The tent accommodation is lovely. It is set in the park so there are no fences and animals are free to roam. I awoke this morning to a herd of Bushbucks grazing just feet from our front porch. Our game drives have been interesting but with no cat sightings.
We saw lots of elephants. This park was once home to 1 or 2 thousand elephants. Today on any given day the elephant population ranges up to 48,000. There is a major source of water at watering holes and it is safe from hunters. Along the Zambezi River which is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, hunting is permitted. Apparently the elephants have figured out that they are safe in the park. The result is utter devastation to the trees and plant life in the park. Vast acreage has been denuded and with continuing drought it is unclear how the elephants and other herbivores will survive long term. As the elephants range out to find food they will ultimately start eating the farmers fields and the conflict will be serious for both sides. We have seen the devastation elephants can cause in other parks as well. They are deforesters and reforesters wherever they live, but when they are in overpopulated areas there is not enough time for the reforestation to happen.

As if this is not enough environmental devastation the road from Victoria Falls to the park passes through the Hwange Coal Mine. It literally runs around the rim of the open pit mine. Huge Chinese built earth movers are ripping the coal from the earth and transporting it to a major electrical generating plant. Driving though leaves one coated with coal dust. The terrain looks like the outtakes from a bad SciFi movie.
As I write we have one more High Tea and one more game drive planned before we move on to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe for the last two nights of the base Ultimate Africa trip. We will then move on to Cape Town.
In Victoria Falls Airport departing for Cape Town:
We were so active in Victoria Falls that I never got to write or post. Still uploading pictures too.
During our first day tour we stopped at Rainbow Restaurant for lunch before walking out to view the falls. We had several up close and personal adventures with Vervet Monkeys that considered any food left unattended (turn your head away) as theirs. Bared teeth from a disappointed Vervet are not my favorite view of monkeys.
Resuming writing in Rochester: For all our friends who have spent hours at Niagara Falls these are even wider and at low water seem to pass as much water as Niagara at peak daytime flow. I cannot begin to imagine them at high water. We made it back from the walk to Danger Point in time to get the bus back to the hotel so we could prepare for our dinner cruise on the Zambezi above the falls. We wrapped up our time in Zimbabwe with one last game drive to see Black Rhino. These are more scarce than the White Rhino and are only living on protected game reserves as their horns are worth as much as $2,000,000 in illegal world trade. We found the alfa male patrolling around the site where his 4 year old son in penned in a boomah for his protection. Papa won’t permit ANY male to survive in his territory and has already killed a five year old son.

I’ll post this now so I can continue to organize pictures and write about Cape Town, a city we both would love to return to on our own to explore in a more leisurely mode. 

An Interim Post – no pics yet

A long catchup post:
As promised there has been no connectivity since the last post. There was WiFi at the local airport but as soon as we all tried to use it, it slowed to a creep. Some of you may have seen a brief FaceBook post. That was it.
After three nights at Baobab Camp in Chobe National Park (well next to it) we took three planes to transport 17 of us to Banoka Camp in the Okavango Delta. To date we have seen most every large animal and many birds found in this part of the world. The only “major” mammal we have yet to see is a Cheetah. Carol and I have seen Cheetah in Tanzania four years ago . Also we have yet to see a Black Rhino.
In Chobe we learned, or maybe relearned, the meaning of an “African Massage”. The entry road had us rocking side to side with the occasional up and down motion just to keep us alert. It was more like riding a bucking bronco than being in a 4 wheeled vehicle. This long road took us to the Chobe River which forms a border with Namibia. Once along the river sightings of animals increased substantially. We never did see any of the cats in Chobe, not for want of looking, but we did watch a pack of Wild Dogs size up herd of Cape Buffalo looking for a young, or old or weak member to take down. Confronted with more than a few horned heads of large buffalo, they decided to look elsewhere for breakfast. That was the major predator we saw in our six game drives in Chobe. I will not provide the entire birding list we saw. My favorites start with the Lilac Breasted Roller the Goliath Heron, and the Open Bill Stork. Oh how could I leave out the Saddle Billed Stork and the various colored Horn Bills.
The cabins were very pleasant, set in an open campus so we required escort to and from when it was dark. The animals do wander through. They are canvas walled require mosquito netting which is provided as is a mosquito repellant. The food was served in the main lodge with open walls so as the temperature dropped it got chilly. The last night dinner was served in a bomah (corrected spelling), a circular corral with high walls. We ate local foods in a local manner, no utensils, and were well entertained by the staff.
Note for anyone contemplating such a trip. Early morning game drives depart with sunrise, 6 AM in these parts at this time of year. It is Chilly! Driving in an open safari vehicle is cold. We all have multiple layers and gloves and warm hats. By 9 AM most of the outer layers are stowed and by 10:30 we are stripping down to shorts and tee shirts. By 2 PM it is HOT. As I am wrigint this it is 6 PM and I am in shorts and a T shirt but others will be donning long pants and shorts for the dinner hour.
Banok Lodge in Okavango offers tents with full baths and two vessel sinks for our comfort. Power is solar with generator backup and water is plentiful. The tents all face onto a plain that is normally under water and the river is beyond. The area is well populated by mammals, large and small. Our second night our escort to our cabin was delayed while a Hippo decided to move out off the path and away from the paths to our tents. These tents are on sturdy platforms 4 or more feet elevated and have plenty of room for the king sized bed and desk that I am writing at. As we settled down for the night the sounds from outside got louder and it became apparent that more than one animal was disturbing the neighborhood. There was no way to seek help if help could be found. It was clear that leaving the tent was foolhardy and sounding the alarm would only draw staff into danger and not make us any safer. We waited and eventually we fell asleep. In the morning we found fresh elephant dung infront of the tenet next ours and fresh elephant and hippo track around both tents. The calls of lions and elephants were reported by everybody on our side of the lodge. It was a very exciting night! And most of us still got a reasonable amount of sleep.
In the morning we had two highlights beyond game drives. First we had a “back of the house” tour of the facilities that make this lodge work. For 16 of us plus another party of 4 the staff total is about 30 to provide housekeeping, food, maintenance and guide services. Most of these workers come from surrounding communities which own the land the lodge has been built on. After the tour we went on a boat ride on boats poled from the back. They can not use the dugouts for tourism because the number required would e require too many trees be destroyed. They make them out of fiberglass and they are also much lighter than wood.
What remains in Banoka for us is High Tea with explanation of the geology of Okavango Delta followed by a final game drive here and dinner. Transport to Kufue in Zambia sounds complex using buses, boats, and at least two flights in small aircraft. I get tired thinking about it.
Tourism is big business for this region of Botswana. They claim it is the number two industry in the country after diamond mining and just ahead of agriculture.
Okavango to Kafue River was as complex as it could be. Our safari jeeps took us to the airstrip where we flew back to Kasane Airfield. A bus took us from there to the boarder with Zambia where we dismounted from the bus to pass through exit passport control and then back on the bus to the landing at the Zambezi River to cross into Zambia by small boat. The wait to cross on a ferry is 2 to 4 weeks! After crossing the river we boarded a new bus to drive first to Immigration/Passport Control for Zambia then back on the bus to Livingston (not Texas) where after a stop in the market we continued on to the Airport for another flight to Kufue airstrip where Toyota Safari Cars picked us up for the short jaunt to the Fukupa Tent Camp on the Kafue River.
We are closer to the equator and closer to summer, it is very hot mid day. The Tsetse Flies are active in the heat of the day so we are not. Our drivers pick up dry elephant dung and put it in a can on the front of the truck and ignite it. The smoke seems to drive off the insects. It might drive off some people too, but not me. The absence on insects makes up for the stinging eyes and smell that some consider offensive. The flying ash on the other hand was a bit much. When I get to post this I hope to post pictures as well. Our tent is good sized With a sort of all in one design. There are curtains to separate the toilet area and the shower. The walls are screens with offer almost no privacy from curious monkeys and passing elephants and hippos. These can be covered with curtains at night so we can only hear the neighbors but can neither see nor be seen. One traveler stepped off his front port yesterday and started a crocodile into jumping into the river. This is a fine lesson to stay in areas we are told are “safe”. Between us and the next tent there are two hippo highways, paths that are very clear headed toward the river. On our way to the tent after lunch we startled a bushbuck into running away.

I’m going to take a break from this soon and go for a dip in the pool. At the last camp the pool was closed and empty. They had made a design error and elephants were able to stand just off the narrow deck and help themselves to the pool water. This was too close to the deck for everyone’s comfort.