Swakopmund

Our next stop in Namibia had us driving through even more barren land towards the coast. The landscape got downright otherworldly at points.

We spotted the occasional wildlife, including desert zebras in the distance, some ostriches and a cool hawk-like bird.

Among the strange things encountered on our drives in and out of Swakopmund was a shipwreck…

…and weirder still, the Free Republic of Wlotzkasbaken, a cluster of homes not connected to government systems. Thus, their water is supplied by personal water tanks on the roofs, and their power from generators. Our guide thinks it might be entirely inhabited by white people. What a weird little commune.

And our drive in even took us across the Tropic of Capricorn!

The town of Swakopmund itself is maybe not as exciting as the drives in and out, though it did provide a lovely place for us to do some souvenir shopping and enjoy some fresh seafood (who knew we’d be eating delicious raw oysters in Namibia?). Also, it was much, much cooler – an extremely welcome respite from the heat we’d been enduring so far in Africa.

But the big attraction in Swakopmund seems to be the adventure sports. So, naturally, we set off to check them out. (Alan and I, that is, while Ronnie and Rich enjoyed a more tame boat cruise.) First up was some fun in the sand dunes. Not that adventurous, and figuring our skiing skills might not translate so easily to sand boarding, we opted for the lie down boarding, which is pretty much like sledding, but instead of quickly going down a snowy hill, you fly down a giant sand dune at speeds of up to 72 km/h. (!!!!!!!!!) I know, because they whipped out a speed gun (like the ones that cops use) and tested our speeds and that was Alan’s fastest. That is fast, people. Very fast. Even with the “brakes” (read: dragging my feet in the sand in a semi-futile attempt to control my velocity), I reached a max of 54 km/h. To which our guide responded, “dude, why did you go so slow?” Ha! I may be adventurous, but I am still afraid of nearly everything in the world, so I have my limits.

The boards are pretty much just a piece of laminate board, super smooth on one side. You lie down on it, lift up the front, and WHEEEE! SO MUCH FUN! Not to mention the view of the landscape up there is awesome. Plus, you get a nice workout from climbing up the dunes in between runs.

To top off our day of desert adventure, we tried sand quad-biking. Um, horrible. Maybe I’m scarred from the memory of the time my brother and I rode a quad into a tree as little kids in Virginia, but I could not do it. I totally freaked out. One of the guides stayed behind with me to try to help me figure it out, but I got stuck going up hills that were maybe two feet high, despite his constant encouragement that “it’s so easy, it’s so easy. You just, go…” I wound up ditching my bike in the middle of the desert and riding on the back of his, and it wasn’t that much better. On the bright side, Alan loved it! He tore up those dunes like a sand badass.

Practical Info

Swakopmund is a coastal town with a fair amount of German colonial architecture and many German-speaking residents and visitors. It is the adventure capital of Namibia. There is skydiving, sand-boarding, quad-biking, surfing and more. Plus tamer options like boat trips to view dolphins, birds, a seal colony, etc.

Transportation: We drove from Hoodia Desert Lodge/Sossusvlei via Kuiseb Pass, and we stopped to view Kuiseb Canyon where our guide told us about the two German geologists who hid here during World War II. There is a book and a film called The Sheltering Desert that tells their story. We continued towards the coast and stopped for lunch in Walvis Bay before arriving in Swakopmund. You would not need a car to get around the central part of town, and I believe many of the activity vendors offer free pick-up and drop-off. There is also an airport and a train line. We departed for Doro Nawas/Damaraland, stopping at a shipwreck and for petrol in Uis.

Accommodation: We stayed at Organic Square Guesthouse, which is a few blocks outside the center of town. Decor is modern with concrete floors and such. Breakfast was fine though mostly cold options.

Food and Drinks: We had nice dinners at Tug (in town) and The Wreck (outside town), and we preferred the latter. Thus began our streak of being impressed by the seafood in Namibia (and later South Africa). Calamari and oysters were consistently excellent, and I enjoyed kingklip many times. We did not venture out for nightlife, but a friend mentioned Napolitana.

Activities: Jenni and I did a combo day of sand-boarding and quad-biking. I believe the name of the sand-boarding operation is Alter-Action. Quad-biking was at Desert Explorers. The cost for the package was NAD650/person, which included sand-boarding, a video thereof, an hour on the quad bikes, transportation and lunch. I found this to be excellent value.

My mom and Rich enjoyed their boat trip, which I think included onboard champagne and oysters. The town has plenty of craft shops, cafes, etc. and is nice to walk around. There is an outdoor, informal craft market by the beach. Skydiving is popular here. The aquarium in town is said to be nice. There is also Kristall Galerie, which holds some special crystal formations.

October 20-22, 2014 (Monday-Wednesday)

Sossusvlei

After a rather indirect travel day from Camp Okavango in Botswana via South Africa and into Namibia (including a semi-lost, but later found, piece of luggage (Rich’s) for the first and only time on our year and a half of travels!) we found ourselves in Windhoek preparing to drive to the dunes of Sossusvlei.

The ride from the capital was beautiful. Just a few miles outside of the city we began to see baboons on the roadside, and we eventually made it to the Spreetshoogte Pass, which offered spectacular views of the Namib Desert. Apparently for those adventurous enough, you can camp here. I’d recommend it for one seeking extreme desert isolation.

To my delight, there were also kitschy roadside attractions on the way to Sossusvlei, and we stopped for lunch in the town of Solitaire (population: tiny). This itty-bitty metropolis features a gas station, restaurant, bakery and general store – and the only ones of those for many, many miles around. We stopped for all of the above amenities, including an oryx burger and a slice of their famous apple pie.

We also noticed a few massive sociable weaver nests on the acacia trees. These nests hold up to 300 birds! Sociable is right.

Our final stop on our way into the region was a quick visit to the Sesriem Canyon for a walk around the composite rocks striated from the impact of a long-gone river.

When we finally made it to Hoodia Desert Lodge, we were elated to see how beautiful it was. And the best part – it had air conditioning! But seriously, this is an incredibly gorgeous property with a cozy indoor common area full of leather couches, stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the (then dry) Tsauchab River, and the rooms are luxurious with great outdoor showers.

A quick drive from the lodge brings you to the Sesriem Gate, entrance to Namib-Naukluft National Park and its world famous red sand-dunes of Sossusvlei. We arrived early, as the sun was rising, and the views were incredible.

As you make your way down the long road towards the dunes you see hot air balloon riders floating above the red sands.

We also spotted a bit of wildlife, including some wild ostrich and oryx, Namibia’s national animal, with its huge straight horns.

The dunes, though, take center stage here. They are just spectacular.

Dune 45 is supposedly the most photographed, and it’s easy to see why. This magnificent dune catches the shadows in an artful way.

Bid Daddy, perhaps not surprisingly given the name, is the tallest, stretching up to 325 meters and dwarfing the surrounding dunes. We climbed up to the top of it. It’s a hot, grueling, two-steps-forward-one-step-back walk.

But the reward at the top…

360° views of nothin’ but sand, and down below you can see Deadvlei where we headed afterwards.

This video helps to give some perspective. Look for the people at the bottom of Deadvlei when the camera zooms in below.

But the best part of the trek: going down! While it took over an hour to hike up, we flew down in about 10 minutes. And wee!

Deadvlei is a dried riverbed made of clay, surrounded by Big Daddy and other dunes, and dotted with a forest of old, dead trees.

They have been stagnant for years, decomposition halted because the air is so dry. Deadvlei has not seen rain in a long time.

On our way out we saw a black-backed jackal wandering around the parking lot and walking right up to people eating. Scavengers have it easy when humans come along I suppose.

Practical Info

We traveled in Namibia with my mom and Rich on a private guided tour with Ultimate Safaris. Some folks travel independently to Namibia. We considered a self-drive trip, which means a travel agent would have made all the bookings and provided us with detailed maps and information and a 4WD rental. This does seem manageable, but I am happy we went with a guide. Our itinerary required a lot of driving on bumpy roads, we got a flat tire, and it was nice not to have to worry about getting around and booking activities etc. Later, Jenni and I traveled around South Africa on our own in a rental car, and that was very easy and pleasant.

Our guide Jimmy was very knowledgable on his country’s history, culture, wildlife and geography. Namibia is famed for its vast desert landscapes, sand dunes, animals, starry skies and more.

Perhaps most famous of those desert landscapes and sand dunes is Sossusvlei, which is the name of a specific salt and clay pan but often refers more generally to the Namib-Naukluft National Park and its characteristic large red dunes.

The currency is the Namibian Dollar, and at time of travel the exchange rate was ~ 1 USD = 11 NAD. South African Rand are accepted throughout Namibia (the rate is identical), but not vice versa.

Transportation: We arrived to Windhoek on a South African Airways flight from Johannesburg (having come from Camp Okavango in Botswana earlier in the day). The drive from the airport into the city takes 30-45 minutes. Jimmy was our guide and driver. Our vehicle was a Toyota Land Cruiser. Some ways are paved, but mostly in Namibia we were on reasonably smooth dirt roads. Pretty much everyone has a jeep or pickup truck or the like in this country.

We drove from Windhoek to Sossusvlei via the Spreetshoogte Pass, stopping in Solitaire and visiting Sesriem Canyon before arriving at our lodge. It was a fairly short drive (maybe 15-20 minutes) from the lodge to Sesriem Gate, and from there the paved road runs 60 km toward Sossusvlei (the pan). Where the pavement ends, one may either take a shuttle or drive the remaining 5 km through deep sand if one has the proper vehicle.

Accommodation: In Sossusvlei we stayed at Hoodia Desert Lodge. The property is stunning with stylish decor befitting owner Thomas’ prior profession as an interior designer. There are 11 stand-alone thatched chalets with air conditioning. The common area features a gorgeous lounge and dining room, a spacious deck with views and a small pool. While we have no hesitation recommending this place, we must note that the only way to really see the dunes at sunrise and beat the crowds is to stay inside the park gates.

In Windhoek, we stayed at the Hilton, and it was very nice. Our only complaint is that the free WiFi works only in the lobby, i.e. WiFi in your room is an extra charge.

Food and Drinks: We enjoyed lunch in Solitaire, and yes the apple pie is delicious. Other meals in the area were generally had at Hoodia Desert Lodge, where the food was great. Similar to our experience in South Africa, hotels tend not to gouge you on alcohol, which is delightful as you can enjoy perfectly fine bottles of South African wine for ~$15 even at a high-end property.

Dinner at the Hilton in Windhoek was quite good; the breakfast buffet was outstanding.

Activities: The highlight of the area is clearly visiting the red sand dunes and white pans of Namib-Naukluft National Park. The park gates open at sunrise, and there was a queue well in advance. Jenni and I hiked to the top of Big Daddy, the tallest sand dune around. We took the shorter route and needed an hour for the ascent. The views are glorious. We ran down the dune in about 10 minutes to Deadvlei, which is the white dry clay pan with dead trees you see in National Geographic photos. We never actually explored the pan of Sossusvlei itself, because after the exercise and especially the sun exposure we’d had enough. Note that some protection for your camera is advised as sand gets into everything.

We’re told that Dune 45 (so named because it is 45 km on the road past the Sesriem Gate) is the most photographed dune in the world. You could also hike that, or Big Mama, or probably various others.

On our way into the region on the first day, we stopped for about an hour at Sesriem Canyon. It is neat to see, but I would not be devastated to miss it. Hot air balloon rides are understandably popular around Sossusvlei.

October 17-20, 2014 (Friday-Monday)

Okavango

For the benefit of anyone reading this for advice on planning your own Botswana safari, let me start off by saying that we would not recommend Camp Okavango. While the experience was fine – lovely even – it’s less of a classic safari experience and more of one geared towards “relaxation.” For the amount of money it costs to “relax” here, you could do any one of hundreds of truly relaxing activities. My two cents: spend that money relaxing in Tahiti. My idea of relaxation is not waking up at 5 am for a boat ride or a game viewing walk, nor sleeping in a non-air conditioned semi permanent structure (nice as it is) in the sweltering heat. It is by no means an unpleasant experience, just not the one I envisioned for my six short nights on safari in Botswana.

So what does Camp Okavango offer? Remoteness, for starters. The landing strip here is not even a dirt patch; it’s so infrequently trodden it is still largely covered in grass. Don’t worry, there is a unionized group of red lechwe that graze/mow for maintenance. And you don’t ever set foot in a car/truck/jeep here – even from the airport…you walk to camp. That’s pretty cool. Before we had even dropped our bags, we saw some baboons!

And unlike most safari lodges, you do not sit in a jeep for game viewing activities. Most such activities are water based. And with the water based activities you are not so much focused on game viewing as you are on maybe bird watching, spotting the occasional croc, and relaxing.

Our first night we partook in a fishing trip. It was certainly relaxing to hang out in this place of sublime beauty, knocking back a number of cold ones while we tried (largely in vain) to catch some supper. Alan won the prize of first catch of the day, and what a catch it was!

Rich then stepped in to show him how it’s done, with little improvement.

Then the pro showed up. Who has two thumbs and caught the only keeper among us? This girl. Not to toot my own horn or anything. 😉

Despite the poor performance on the actual fishing part, we enjoyed the spectacular sunset while we chased our afternoon brews with a G&T.

The next day we tried out another type of boating activity: a trip in the mokoro. These are traditional canoe-like vessels commonly used in the Okavango Delta. We floated along peacefully, admiring the millions of birds ranging from slate egrets, to spare wing geese, to malachite kingfishers and practically everything in between.

We particularly enjoyed these tiny reed frogs that change colors like a chameleon.

Our guide, Stagga, enjoyed them in a different way: as a snack. Just kidding, no frogs were harmed in the making of this post.

On our walk back to camp we were lucky to spot a few giraffes. They are even more graceful and impressive when viewed on foot from a distance of a few meters.

When not enjoying the water based activities, there are safari walks to be taken. Our first one was maybe a little underwhelming, kind of more akin to a glorified nature walk, but it was interesting to learn about some of the flora that tends to get ignored when you’re in the jeep searching for big cats. While you (hopefully) do not get as close to the fauna while on foot, the animals are not all that far away. We saw lots of red lechwe, even more birds, impala, baboons, some buffalo and elephants. We also happened upon a lot of warthogs. Fun fact: warthogs’ tails stick straight up in the air when they run. It’s adorable.

We ventured out a bit farther on our second walk in search of the hippo pool. Worth the distance, for sure. We saw a handful of hippos hanging out, and a humongous croc sliding in and out of the water to hang with the fatties.

From there we boarded our last of the tiny planes to fly back to Maun en route to Namibia!

Practical Info

Camp Okavango is in the heart of the Okavango Delta. There are no game drives here, just walking safaris and water based activities like fishing, motorboat rides and mokoro rides. This means that while the camp is relaxing and the staff are friendly, this is not the place to come if you’re after optimal big-game viewing. Please see our post on Savute Safari Lodge for more general info.

Transportation: We arrived on a seven-seat single-engine Cessna from Camp Moremi. The flight took about 15 minutes and we landed on a grass strip. It is a short walk from the landing strip into Camp Okavango.

We departed on an 11-seat Cessna for the half hour flight to Maun. From there, we took a much larger Air Botswana turbo-prop for the ~2 hour flight to Johannesburg, where we nearly missed our connecting flight on South African Airways to Windhoek, Namibia. There is a direct flight from Maun to Windhoek that left much later in the day. I’m not sure why we didn’t take that flight. It could’ve been sold out by the time we finalized our itinerary, or…

Accommodation: There are spacious permanent tents with en-suite facilities. As at Camp Moremi, each tent is on a raised teak platform and has canvas sides, a comfortable bed, etc. There is electricity (from a generator) in each tent during the day, but only battery power at night to provide enough light. So don’t forget to charge those camera batteries during your siesta break!

The property has a grassy lawn with a small pool. All meals are served in a thatch-roofed, open air dining space.

Food and Drinks: Hunger was not an issue. Breakfast is served at 6 am and is mainly cold fare, such as cereal, fruit, yogurt, excellent bread, juices, coffee, etc. Perhaps pancakes or crepes would be added. Brunch is around 11 am, and this includes a lunch buffet plus eggs cooked to order. Afternoon tea is at 3:30 pm, and there are always snacks. During the afternoon water excursion, sundowners are de rigeur. These take place around 6 pm (seasonally variable, I presume), where you imbibe a gin & tonic (or perhaps wine or beer) and have more snacks. Things like biltong (local jerky), cookies, chicken wings, whatever. Back at the lodge, pre-dinner cocktails with snacks are up around 7:30 pm. Dinner is at 8 pm, and this entails a plated appetizer plus a buffet and a plated dessert. In general, the breads were excellent and the food was very good. It was here that we first tasted the genius of Amarula, a cream liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree.

Activities: You can choose among (1) walking safaris on a nearby island, which are almost always done in the morning to avoid the afternoon heat; (2) motorboat rides where you see birds and possibly crocodiles, hippos, etc.; (3) mokoro rides which are punted and very peaceful; or (4) fishing. We did two walking safaris, one mokoro ride and one fishing trip. On the fishing trip, I got nothing to keep while Jenni caught a 6-8” bream that we enjoyed at dinner.

October 15-17, 2014 (Wednesday-Friday)

Moremi

Our next safari stop was Camp Moremi in the Moremi Game Reserve. This time we had to board a seriously small airplane. Six seats. Including the pilot! Our luggage barely fit, not to mention our bodies. I can’t say this leg was as pleasant as the one to Savute. My motion sickness did not jive with the world’s tiniest plane. I suppose our luck on the flight in was somewhat foretelling, as our game viewing at Moremi got off to a very slow start.

Case in point: we were maybe fifteen minutes into our first game drive when Grass, our guide, received a call on his radio from another guide that there was a leopard nearby. We turned around and the search was on. We got the teeniest tiniest glimpse of her, and Grass started maneuvering the jeep trying to get closer.

That’s when we got stuck. In an open-sided jeep, in a giant mud puddle, in the wilderness, with a leopard nearby. And maybe five minutes after we got stuck, another jeep from our camp got stuck just a few feet away from us! We had to wait for another, bigger jeep to come and drag us out of our respective ditches. I was really skeptical it was going to work, but by some miracle we all got out of there! And unmarred by leopards, no less. It wasn’t as scary as it all might sound, though I was legitimately fearful that we were going to miss the chance to spot a wild dog or a cheetah. Anyway, it made for a funny story and only took maybe a half an hour out of our game drive.

From there, however, the game viewing kind of dried up. Our guide supposed our bad luck was likely due to the strange weather we’d been having. Maybe so, because on the next couple of game drives we had hardly any big game sightings. A bit of a bummer, but that said, it gave us lots of time to slow down and really appreciate the scenery and some of the less “glamorous” animals.

There were, of course, the usuals like water buck, wildebeest and impala…

…elephants…

…those beautiful zebras…

…and loads of birds. All sorts like storks, ibises, egrets, herons, geese, ducks, bee-eaters, kingfishers, lilac-breasted rollers, hammerkops, hornbills, guinea fowl, African fish eagle, vultures, owls…

We even spotted an owl with a baby in her nest, and a mama vulture and baby in nest!

Plus, there were a lot of new animals in this area that don’t live near Savute, and thus were first time sightings for us. The biggest: hippos! We never got to see one fully exposed because they kept hiding in the water (again with our luck!), but you can get a sense for how rotund those bodacious babes are.

And the scariest: a big ‘ole crocodile!

One evening, while Ronnie and Rich went on a boat ride, Alan and I wound up getting a jeep all to ourselves and taking a private game drive. It was super relaxing, and – dare I say – maybe even a little romantic. Since there weren’t any cat sightings we saw basically no other humans nor jeeps the entire time we were out. And while the game wasn’t terribly exciting, we did see some kudu, elephants, loads of birds, red lechwe and a number of monitor lizards.

And one thing I haven’t mentioned yet, on all the evening game drives there is a stop near the end where you post up to have a cocktail and some snacks. Having one such sundowner just the two (OK three, including Grass) of us was really lovely. It helped to have a spectacular sunset with red lechwes and elephants roaming around us in the distance. I still find myself craving gin and tonics around sunset each night.

Bonus – there were elephants on the runway when we drove home that night!

Our luck felt like it was going to turn on one of our morning drives. After a really slow start where we saw hardly anything at all, we caught a couple of spotted hyenas quite close to the “road.” These were so much cuter than I expected! They look like dogs!! (Everyone else says these are ugly, but I just can’t see it?!)

While we were stopped taking pictures and admiring the hyenas, we got a call that another jeep had spotted a pair of cheetahs. It was a ways away, and in the opposite direction of camp (where we were headed back for brunch), but we went for it given the disappointment of our first two drives. Talk about a wild-goose chase. We drove around in circles for over an hour trying to find those suckers, but they were nowhere to be seen! It was not for lack of trying. Grass was a bona fide safari detective out there, monitoring the vultures, examining the impala corpses, checking for footprints, and using the binoculars to search for camouflaged cheetahs in the bushes. I like to think we drove by them ten times as they snickered at us from their hideaway in the underbrush.

All in, this ended up being a six and a half hour game drive (not super comfortable on those bumpy jeep rides and in the sweltering heat), but I suppose it worked out for the best because on our (long) drive back to camp we finally spotted some other new animals: baboons and vervet monkeys! And every camper is a happy camper when they get to watch monkeys run around, am I right? Or am I right? (I’m right.)

P.S. If you’re wondering just how bumpy the rides can be, take for example the quality of some of the “bridges.”

Those baboons were way smaller than we expected, and they are much smaller than the baboons we saw in Namibia and South Africa (and stay tuned for those, because we have quite a crazy baboon story from SA!).

Fun fact, you have to hide any food and your medicines in a cupboard at Camp Moremi. The baboons think these are baboon candy, and they’ve learned how to break into the rooms to get them! Crazy, right? We lived in perpetual fear of a baboon in the room.

The monkeys are the best, though. I don’t think anyone can watch monkeys and not feel some sort of human connection. It’s hard not to think of the similarities between us and them as they stare off into the distance or care for their young.

Alan and I were even lucky enough to walk by a group of monkeys at camp as we were headed to leave the next day. We watched a teeny tiny baby monkey (bonkey!) learning to take his first steps. He was so small the blades of grass knocked him over! It was beautiful. I could barely tear myself away in time to catch our flight.

The camp, by the way, was home to a lot of animals. In addition to the monkeys (and the occasional intruding baboon) there are resident bushbucks, and they look just like miniature Bambis with their white spots. They roam around the rooms and pool area and are just too cute.

But the real highlight of our stay at Moremi came at the very end of our very last drive. We found three adult lions. One male, napping in the shade, and nearby, a male and a female lion doing the pre-sexy time dance. Bow chicka-bow wow. We watched for a while as the male checked out the female, sniffing around and making his intentions known.

Apparently, the Mrs. had a bit of a headache and was none too impressed. There was some back and forth roaring, until finally they plopped down for a nap. Solid way to close out our stay at Moremi!

Practical Info

Camp Moremi is in the Xakanaxa area of the Moremi Game Reserve. It offers both game drives and water-based activities. For more general information and background, please see our post on Savute Safari Lodge.

Transportation: We arrived from Savute Safari Lodge on a six-seat single-prop Cessna 206 for the half hour flight to Xakanaka Airstrip. From there, it’s a 10-15 minute drive to Camp Moremi.

Accommodation: There are spacious permanent tents with attached facilities. Each tent is on a raised teak platform and has canvas sides, a comfortable bed, etc. There is electricity (from a generator) in each tent during the day, but only battery power at night to provide enough light to find your way to the bathroom. So don’t forget to charge those camera batteries during your siesta break!

The property has a grassy lawn with a small pool. Breakfast, lunch and tea are served in the boma, while dinner and cocktails are served upstairs in a rather sumptuous space.

Food and Drinks: Hunger was not an issue. Breakfast is served at 6 am and is mainly cold fare, such as cereal, fruit, yogurt, excellent bread, juices, coffee, etc. Perhaps pancakes or crepes would be added. Then the morning game drive often includes a tea break with a light snack. Brunch is around 11 am, and this includes a lunch buffet plus eggs cooked to order. Afternoon tea is at 3:30 pm, and there are always snacks. During the afternoon game drive, sundowners are de rigeur. These take place around 6 pm (seasonally variable, I presume), where you imbibe a gin & tonic (or perhaps wine or beer) and have more snacks. Things like biltong (local jerky), cookies, chicken wings, whatever. Back at the lodge, pre-dinner cocktails with snacks are up around 7:30 pm. Dinner is at 8 pm, and this entails a plated appetizer plus a buffet and a plated dessert. In general, the breads were excellent and the food was very good.

Activities: The primary activity is a game drive, which takes place in the morning (~6:30-11 am) and again in the afternoon (~4-7 pm). Camp Moremi also offers motorboat rides to the nearby lagoon. Game drives are in open-sided Toyota Land Cruisers, and each guest gets a “window” seat.

October 13-15, 2014 (Monday-Wednesday)

Savute

We’re back with Africa posts! Brace yourselves, this is going to be a long one, and loaded with pictures. We had 1400+ photos from the first two days alone. Needless to say, editing and sorting through the 100s of shots of the same animal took us a while! Anyway, let’s get to those animals, shall we?!

Africa. Our final continent (of five visited) on this trip around the world, and the last non-Antarctic continent left for Jenni to cross off her bucket list (Alan had already been to Africa, but none of the countries we visited this time). And something tells me this won’t be our last time on this incredible continent.

After a not-so-quick layover in Johannesburg where we met up with Alan’s mom and Rich who accompanied us on our visit to Botswana and Namibia, we were ready and amped up for some game viewing. To Savute Safari Lodge we went. And wow, did Savute come through with a phenomenal first couple days on safari! (Which, by the way, was my (though not Alan’s) first ever safari, and I walked away after two days saying, “even if that’s all the safari I ever do, I am happy!” Luckily there was even more to come on this trip, and I’m hoping more in my life down the road!!!)

It’s worth noting that just getting to these places is an adventure. After flying to South Africa we had to spend a night in Jo-burg in order to catch the early morning flight up to Maun, Botswana. From there we moved to the tiny planes (too close for missiles, switching to guns). This one was small for sure, but the 11-seater was just getting us prepared for the truly microscopic planes yet to come. Once I got over the initial fear on that tiny plane, I felt like a little kid. I might have had more fun on the plane than I did on the actual game drives. (Not really, but…) You guys, you see ANIMALS FROM THE AIR. It was one of the coolest things ever. As we were nearing the “airport” (read: strip of land with fewer trees and animals) I was yelling out almost every few seconds exclamations like, “Holy shit, an elephant!” “Oh my god oh my god it’s a giraffe!” “Alan! ALAN! That’s a ZEBRA! Do you see that ZEBRA?” The pure, unadulterated, uncontainable excitement of a three year old. And I’m not the least bit ashamed.

Also, the non-animal views were pretty spectacular themselves.

The airport, and I truly use that word lightly, was rustic. No chic to this shabby, folks. Though the animals quite liked it. There were a couple of hornbills to welcome us, hanging out alongside the runway as we unpacked our luggage. We spared no time getting out there to see the animals. Having arrived a bit late due to a delayed flight, we were transferred to a game drive jeep before even visiting the camp, and headed off for our first (land-based) game viewing.

We saw tons of game! Elephants, zebras, giraffes, antelopes, warthogs, galore!

But why hold out any longer. You guys, we saw lions. EATING an ELEPHANT. TONS OF THEM. AND BABY CUBS. Oh my god, if you’ve ever seen me turn into a non-communicative animal-obsessed being around puppies, you can kind of imagine how fixated I was. Granted I had to keep pretty quiet and not, you know, jump out of the jeep and run to cuddle these adorable little fluff ball killing machines, so it was restrained, but oh, was it joyful.

There was a whole family there. Lots of mamas, and a whole litter of oversized kittens.

And then there was papa. And he was a looker. He kind of hung out away from the rest of the family. And when he stood up and walked around it was just breathtaking.

We watched in awe as he downed some water and immediately peed it all out (ha!), and then just ogled him in his royal, powerful presence.

And they are all so unfazed by the presence of humans and these big ole jeeps coming right up to them. They barely bat an eye when the jeeps turn on. Though at one point a mama cat stood up from her catnap and started walking straight towards me, eyes locked. I’m not going to lie; I panicked a little and maybe started to maneuver in my seat so that I could hide behind Alan.

And can we talk about how insanely cool it is that we saw the one documented pride of lions in the world that stalks, kills and eats elephants?! Some of you may have even seen the film coverage (NatGeo or Animal Planet or something?). Well, that was shot here. We even saw a guy who films documentaries on these cats.

Of course lions weren’t the only highlight. We saw tons of elephants, the majestic beasts that they are. Good golly are they big in person.

And everything about them is huge. Sorry to be crude. But their man bits literally drag in the water as the cross!

One of the pleasant surprises was how many bird species we saw. This is the only type of animal I could not even remotely name with confidence or identify when we saw any. There are so many! I clearly don’t have the memory capacity required of a safari guide. So, there goes my back up plan of leaving the world of law for the Serengeti.

Of course, Pumbaa and his cousins showed up. Warthogs are cool little things. Never realized they get down on their elbows (do warthogs have elbows? If they did, that’s what they’d be leaning on) to eat.

Also, how cute are these mongoose? Adorbs.

I adored the giraffes. They may have been my favorite. Because they are weirdly at once graceful and awkward. They’ve got these gangly old limbs and crazy necks, requiring them to spread their front legs open in order to reach down and drink water, but when they run it’s stunning. It’s like watching movement in slow motion. They remind me of ballerinas. You just watch how they move and you have to stop to admire it.

But I also loved the zebras (too hard to really pick a favorite I guess). They are so beautiful and they look fake. It’s hard to believe you’re not looking at a hologram of a mythical creature, and that a rainbow colored unicorn is not going to pop up right next to them. Right? God, they are just beautiful, beautiful creatures.

But nobody is going to disagree that the leopard sightings were a MAJOR highlight. We thought we were lucky when we spotted the first one, off in the distance and lying down, camouflaged by the grasses around him. And when he stood up and walked toward the jeep I was kind of jumping up and down (in my heart, so as not to spook the guy). This was my first leopard sighting in the wild and I was blown away.

But it kept getting better. Later, we saw a leopard – super close up – stalking some guinea fowl! He never did make the move, but it was still neat to see, and the real-life suspense can’t be beat. The leopard even used one of the jeeps to hide behind as he crept up on his prey.

We followed him around for a while as he made his way through the wilderness. Though a freak 10-15 minute hailstorm (seriously!) eventually made us lose him. That was strange. One minute you’re dripping sweat in the 90°+ heat, and the next you’re shivering, struggling to get a poncho on as you’re being pelted by big cold pebbles being flung into your head at a 45-degree angle.

One of the things I hadn’t appreciated about African game is the number and types of antelope. There are practically millions.