CHAPTER 13 – OUT OF AFRICA
We have been privileged to travel to Africa on 3 occasions. Just love that place, you never realize how fascinating it is until you go on your first game viewing drive, and you are hooked, and just cannot wait for the next one to see how many different animals in the wild you can spot.
STOP PRESS: I was very pleased that my friend Nia Carras from Travel Directors is involved with the “SAVE THE RHINO” foundation. Bravo.
AFRICAN WILDLIFESAFARI 1995
My first trip to Africa was on an African Wildlife Safaris Kenyan educational in 1995, lead by Ms Susan Nash. It was only a small group of people namely Paul Lacey, Lorraine Della, Dianne Evans, Tania Micic, Sharyl Featherstone, Merilyn Heslop, Mary Anne Rossi and myself. We flew into Harare, then connected through on a flight to Nairobi.
You fly into the beautiful city of Nairobi over wide green Savannah, and can sense the excitement of the place straight away. Nairobi, is a bustling city, with dirt pot-holed roads and puddles and mud everywhere, markets and people, lots of people, colourfully dressed. The trees are very interesting there, with their broad spread. We stayed at the very English Mayfair Court Hotel, once housing a University Campus, and like a lot of hotels in Nairobi, is very English. I mean Mayfair, Norfolk, Windsor Country Club, all stemming from the colonial influence of the past.
Well, “I had a farm, at the foot of the Ngong hills”,or so Karen Blixen stated at the start of the book “Out of Africa”. So, it was with this in mind that a visit to Karen Blixen’s house “Mbogani” was, such a thrilling adventure. It is just like you imagined, from the book and the movie and one could just see the characters that Robert Redford and Meryl Streep portrayed, sitting out in the garden, and on the veranda watching the workers in the coffee plantation, before it went bankrupt owing to a succession of natural disasters. That was one of those places, when walking around amongst the trees and fields behind the house, you could poignantly feel the spirit of the past lingering, hear the voices in the field, sense the era of the 1920’s, when Karen and her lover Denys Finch-Hatton lived there. Call me a romantic, but sometimes the past becomes succinctly present. Oh, if only those walls could talk!
Our first “port of call” on our Kenyan itinerary was heading for the Aberdare Country Club at Mweiga, and after three hours drive in a northerly direction, we arrived at this delightful destination. Distance is measured in hours over there, not kilometres or miles, as can take an hour to cover 20 kms, depending on the number of pot-holes to be transcended. The gardens were just delightful with flowering bougainvillea of every colour imaginable, on a sloping landscape overlooking the open reserves where giraffe grazed in the distance. All of the cottages had spectacular views out over the whole valley toward Mt. Kenya. Once again very English architecture, and even had a nine hole golf course, in theory anyway there were many more holes where the warthogs had dug their little contribution.
Aberdare National Park is at an altitude of remarkably, 9,000 ft, as you do not seem to be so high, and even though right on the equator, is quite cool, because of the altitude, especially at night. It was so named in honour of Lord Aberdare a past President of the Royal Geographical Society by the early explorer of that area Joseph Thomson (from Thomson’s Gazelle fame)
Right in the park is the well known “Ark” right in the middle of Aberdare National Park, opened for guests in 1969, situated right on its own ‘salt lick’ where the animals come to watch the animals watching the animals!
It is quite fascinating, as on arrival and check-in to your cabins (it is treated just like a real Noah’s Ark, they went in “two by two”, and so they did, flocks of tourists, from India, Europe, America and us) You have two bells for dinner, you are locked in for the night, because there is no downtown Aberdare to swan around in, and for your own protection, but are rewarded by receiving the nice surprise of, when climbing into your bunk bed at night, a hot water bottle. You can also list your name for a call if particular animals are sited at the flood-lit salt lick, then all of those pyjama clad apparitions flock down the gangways at once, rollers in hair, grease-paint on – animals!
On dusk you all take your posts and sit quietly waiting. It is quite exciting when the first elephant makes its way down the well beaten track. This experience, of sitting behind glass and watching animals parade by, is only recommended as a “curtain raiser” to an African safari visit, because I found it quite artificial without the stimulation of going out in search of animals doing their natural thing. But as this was at the very start of our Kenyan safari, and this was our first elephant, it does give you a thrill. We saw about 6 elephants, including an old bull and one baby, and one Bush Buck which sent the watchers into orgasmic oohs and ahhs.
From the Ark, our safari took us up to Samburu National Reserve. It was a favourite, as to me just had everything that Kenya had to offer. I really loved the feeling of staying right down on the River Ewaso Ng’iro at Samburu Lodge. You really got the feel of Africa, as from about 4.30 each morning the chorus of animal and bird sounds began. A little frightening at first, from underneath your mandatory green mosquito netting hearing loud animal noises, there are baboons and crocodiles making shrill and stark and deadly sounds amidst shrieking bird cries.
The game drives through the reserve and Buffalo Springs are just the best, straight away seeing herds of elephant eating their way through the dense foliage along the river, there were reticulated Giraffe and Gerenuk craning their long necks up to the Tortilis Acacias to try to reach every piece of foliage to the top. We saw bat-eared fox, mongoose, tiny rock hyrax which remarkably are related to the elephant, we happened across a pride of 9 lions walking majestically along to water, quite oblivious to the four or so vehicles that had pulled up to see this memorable vision. I was thrilled to be the first person to spot a Cheetah wandering quite oblivious to our vehicle.
We spotted a leopard lying in a tree, like it was just put there for the perfect camera shot. Their spots blend in so well with the foliage, that they are difficult to spot! And you just never know, what you are going to see around that next bend, by keeping alert, as just like a miracle, were two stalking cheetah, looking for their breakfast, a majestic sight. There were Impala a-plenty, dik-dik genet, guinea-fowl and more. We then saw a tribe of lion walking along in single file.
The lodges over there, and the buffet meals they provide are unbelievably good. All have lovely swimming pools where you just lie around and relax between the morning and afternoon game drives. They rate so highly, and of all the places we looked at, I liked ‘Intrepid’ best which was like a big tree-house with luxury tents, all with en-suites right on the river. The sign there, told all “Beware of the crocodiles”, so if you go out for that early morning stroll, you either return for breakfast or are!
After your evening meal, you sat and watched the local leopard being fed in a tree across the river, sipped your Sambucca, made conversation with your newly acquired friends, then made the very unusual journey back to your room via a pathway riddled with baboons, and goodness knows what else lurking in the trees, just a little daunting on your own.
MORNING ON THE EWASO NG’IRO, SAMBURU
The animal sounds of African night,
Mingled with the cries of terror and fright,
Of creatures, frogs, crocodile, Primates…
Before, in a burst as if by Divine dictates
Came forth the chorus of bird chimes,
Piping, shrilling, calling a thousand times,
To herald forth a newborn day,
Along Ewaso Ng’iro, down Samburu way.
C.Woodward © copyright
After a lasting impression of Samburu, driving across the dirty brown flooded Ewaso Ng’iro river it was off to Sweetwaters Game Reserve which was located on a privately owned property of 22,000 acres. We passed through herds of Zebra, to arrive at our en-suited tents, all in a semi-circle, and very salubrious around a flood-lit water hole and salt lick. The lighting came from generators which cut-out at 10.00pm, so if you weren’t zipped up in your tent by then, it was just too bad. The hot water for showers came from coal heated drums which was quite adequate. It was quite a treat but a bit daunting to unzip your tent in the morning and see animals roaming quite close. We were treated ti a real live African storm whilst at Sweetwaters,
sitting out on our tented verandas. It was quite a show, with the wildest blue cloud mass approaching, highlighted by lightning, and I can to this day still hear the sound of the rain approaching with the storm, across the plain, like a drum getting closer and closer, to finally come in and drench us. After an hour it was all over, to reveal a glorious sunset as a grand finale. Who needs theatre?
We had a night drive whilst there, out over bumpy roads with a spot light to see Bush Baby cuddled in their trees, striped hyena on the prowl and a jackal. Also at Sweetwater, they have their own pet Rhino which we trepiditiously fed, and a pet warthog named Flo, as ugly as sin. Open range, we saw water buck, eland, oryx, ostrich, suni and Thomson’s gazelle.
It was just a short drive down to Lake Nakuru National Park, which is totally different again. Each place visited had its own allure, and own speciality of animal breed. This place, right on the Lake with fabulous views, is famous for its flocks of pink Flamingo.
I recalled reading of those flamingo in Beryl Markham’s ‘West with the Night’ where she relates that “as long as the day lasts Nakuru is no lake at all, but a crucible of pink and crimson fire – each of its flames, its million flames, struck from the wings of a flamingo. Ten thousand birds of such exorbitant hue, caught in the scope of an eye…………..on Lake Nakuru would be a number startling in its insignificance, and a hundred thousand would barely begin the count”. So it was with this mental picture in my mind, that I approached the Lake at the foot of Menegai Crater, an extinct volcano. This volcanic mud surrounding the shallow lake makes a stark background for the pink flamingo which are in somewhat diminished number to those as reported in the 1930’s.
Rhinoceros roam freely on the grassed fore-shores of the lake, alongside buffalo and ostrich. We also saw a lioness with her cubs, playing of a slope close to the Lodge. There was even a close encounter with the resident Rhino.
We then had a long day’s drive down through the Kenyan tea growing area, to the Masai Mara where those red coated Masai, tending their cattle along the road are the first sign of being in that particular part of Kenya. The Great Rift Valley has to be travelled through, to feel its magnitude and size. It actually goes from Ethiopia in the north and snakes its way down through Kenya and past Lake Victoria, through the Serengeti plain, Tanzania, through Lake Malawi to end in Mozambique.
The Rift is a real enigma, and scientists searching for evidence of the emergence of Man have concentrated on this area, and its well preserved fossilised records. The Rift started to form 20-15 million years ago, as the continents drifted and extended, a strip of East Africa began to tug away from the East African plate. This left the long geographical fault, enclosing a system of stream-fed lake basins, that are still so evident and are the source of the Nile.
Arriving at the Masai Mara, is likened to, a place in the plains that offers hope to the people, of a promised land of plenty. Here the Keekorok Lodge stands, high on a hill overlooking the Serengeti, and just teaming with wild-life. It is through here every year that the Wildebeest makes its annual migration, in droves, hell-bent and suicidal about reaching their herding destination.
There were lots of baby elephant, Zebra by the thousands, Giraffe in fours and fives, lots of Ostrich, herds of Thomson’s Gazelle, all seemed to be in herds.
Along with the Masai warriors, and herds-men, that race of people that are famous for their high-jumping techniques, – “how high”, of course was the question asked. To which, following, an immediate demonstration, came the added retort “can’t you jump higher”? I’m sorry there’s a bit of false advertising here, I can jump that high myself after three margaritas!
One of the luxurious tent-sited camps we visited was at Siana Springs, a very up-market one, obviously patronised by the Europeans in general. It had a very warm and welcoming feel about the place, with lovely open-air dining, taking in the atmosphere of the Mara. I would like to stay there if I returned to Kenya.
Another place that looked inviting as we flew over it on our way down to Mombasa, was ‘Finch Hattons’ in Tsavo at the foot of the Chyulu Hills. This place set on 35 acres where the game comes and goes as it pleases, making it a highly adrenalin booster, because one does not know when they will come face to face with a “local”. One does not wander back to their tent for forgotten cigarettes without one of the armed guards, as one unlucky tourist found, and was devoured by lion for their forgetfulness, or perhaps it was “smoking is a health hazard”. Finch Hattons is Mozart and cut crystal dining, elegant and stylish with every detail seen to, even to gold tap fittings in the slate floored tent en-suites. The main lodge overlooks one of three Hippopotamus pools. Dinner is of course, a dress affair, and afterwards, port in the library. Very luxurious. This place is 55 minutes by light aircraft from either Nairobi or Mombasa.
Now down Mombasa way is very interesting, it has a wonderful mix of African, Indian and European culture and architecture. Very Moorish and more-ish. The Indian Ocean is really strange to swim in, as is full of sea-weed and the water so hot, and like swimming in a salty hot bath with camel dung in it, not a bit refreshing, and one needs to plunge into one of the many cool resort pools on exiting. That is having fought your way past the camels and camel tenders and handicraft peddlers that stomp along the beach in great number, in their colourful attire.
There is a feeling of Arabian nights, as you sit on the ocean-side with the warm trade winds blowing over you and your gin sling, and bending the myriads of palm trees around in waving fashion. We checked out the local night club which played incessant reggae music with an African beat.
Mombasa town, is very colourful, watched over from Fort Jesus and sitting on a wide lazy estuary. There are dozens of very nice resorts there, we stayed at Mombasa White Sands which was quite huge, but I did prefer the quieter ambiance of Serena Beach Hotel, and The Indian Ocean Beach Club, which was really romantic, with “love” bungalows dotted all around the various pools beach side. I just loved the ceilings which have sticks of wood implanted in straight lines in limestone. Down there you see the interesting Baobab tree, which stands as an ancient sentinel, usually as a centre-piece to a location.
Whilst in Mombasa, we got the good news that we were to extend for two unexpected days in Amboseli National Park, which of course was to become a highlight of the whole trip. We were transported from Nairobi airport south, by the company Cheli and Peacock, and were chauffeured by Stefano’s father who sported a beautiful Italian Tenor voice which he gave vent to, on the journey down with renditions of Volare, and O Sole a Mio, along with other enchanting Italian melodies. And this was the exciting anachronistic reality of Tortilis camp, a dream of the same Cheli family brought from their homeland Italy to this very picturesque part of Kenya. Here at this beautiful camp-site perched high on a hill, named after the Tortilis Acacia trees that abound, and looking out at the magnificent sight of a snow-capped Mt. Kilamanjaro in the distance, you do not expect to be served the most delectable Italian cuisine imaginable, complete with “home-made” Italian noodles, for the best Ravioli and Gnocchi.
Luxury tents we were in luck to be allocated, were perched up two slate steps with a slate floor, comfortable bed and furniture, are situated at the base of the main eating and office area, attainable from a long winding footpath, and separated from the wildlife by a fence fortunately. You passed the swimming pool half-way, and spread out, so that each tent had its own privacy.
Coming back down the hill one night after a few “Sherberts”, when the generator had cut-out in the dark, and my torch only had a slim light, was a bit tricky and on trying to un-zip what I thought was my tent, and hearing a male voice ask “is that you darling’? meant quick thinking, and scarpering to my tent, two tents away, with a rather red face, but I couldn’t stop giggling, thinking of the consequences. Could have ended in right pickle!
Our game drives at Tortilis early in the brisk morning were simply memorable. Who could ever forget that sight of elephant herd, feeding on undergrowth beneath the Tortilis Acacia trees with Kilimanjaro looming as a backdrop. Actually elephant are in a situation of over-population down there at the time we were there, so too was Cynthia Moss, an American elephant expert, debating the proposals to save the Amboseli elephant, be it culling or transference to other regions, which does not usually work, as elephant are territorial, and fret and even die when transported elsewhere. It is a sad fact of life. And in fact as I write this in 2013 I hear that owing to drought years there are not a lot of elephants left in Amboseli National Park, so just how things can change in nature. As luck would have it we were privileged to have Ms Cynthia Moss actually on our ten seater plane from Amboseli back to Nairobi.
We saw more bird-life there than anywhere else on the trip, buffalo, swamp hippopotamus, gazelle, dik-dik, giraffe, wildebeest, ostrich etc. After our morning safari, and a cooling swim, we had some hours to ourselves.
Just sitting underneath the cool splayed span of a huge Acacia I drank in the whole ambiance and wrote in my diary ‘Sitting here at the foot of Kilimanjaro feeling as Ernest Hemingway must have felt, with only the cooing of the doves and whistling of the weavers,a rare but momentous happening. In our lives, we get to experience some pretty wonderful things, but this moment was very special. The air is so still, you can almost reach out and touch that ‘sacred mountain’ Kilimanjaro
Perhaps it is the animals that make Kenya stand out as a country set-apart. Nowhere else in the world can you see such a preponderance of all the animals that, as kids, we only saw pictures and drawings on nursery walls and heard about in nursery rhymes. To see the Kings and Queens of the Animal Kingdom just standing and walking in their own realm, is just a magnificent sight, and one feels very humbled by the sheer majesty of this almost staged spectacle taking place before your very eyes. I thank African Wildlife Safaris for affording me this unforgettable experience.’
AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK
From on top Observatory Hill,
We viewed all life below.
The reflection across the water
Gave forth translucent glow.
Then before our very eyes,
Darkening, falling into dusk,
A herd of elephants marched their way,
Striding majestically tusk to tusk.
A big thankyou to African Wildlife Safaris and Susan Nash for this opportunity and for arranging the group below. Whenever I was offered an educational by a wholesaler, we then took a group to this destination with that wholesaler.
1996 COWRA GROUP TO ZIMBABWE BOTSWANA & SOUTH AFRICA
The second trip to Africa was one of two groups we put together for Harvey World Travel Cowra the first one of these being to Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa on 11th April, 1996. Virtually everywhere I was taken on an educational, we then took a group back to say thank you to the wholesaler taking us on the educational, and in this instance to show as many people as possible how wonderful it is to see God’s own creatures roaming in the wild’s of Africa.
We had gathered a lovely little group to take off on Qantas/Air Zimbabwe for Harare. We had a short transit stop in Perth, where we stocked up on Akubras and reading materials. Flying in over Harare, you can see the balancing boulders which differentiate this region, and the open spaces, where one peels their eyes for the first glimpse of wild animals, perhaps?
Our lovely Cowra ‘groupies’ most all are repeats. l to r. Joyce Hogan, Jan Munday, Nancy, Robyn Hogan, Alma from Mudgee, June and Ron Fisher, Stan Munday, Ernie Idiens, front row kneeling Colleen and my dear old mate Tom Kindon, who I am sure will still be travelling somewhere in the universe with his sister Phyllis God bless them, and all of you for being such loyal, accommodating beautiful clients.
The first “wild thing” we struck, was the customs man at Harare airport! He was big, and he was mean. We actually had about ten cartons of books and clothing that had been donated and collected by the school children of Cowra to give to Mr. Charles Nduna at the Victoria Falls Baobab School, which got through OK, but the much sought after second-hand computer and keyboard, was another issue. Mr. Customs man kept saying it was new and attacked it with a screw driver, getting everything out of the cartons, and demolishing it, probably looking for drugs. I became very angry and asked if this was the thanks we got for kindly donating goods to their country, to which he stood seven foot tall and demanded “have you got a problem ma’am” I meekly replied “No Sir”! Anyhow a half hour an later, having put our equipment back together, we were out of there and on the road to town.
Harare is a large, very clean, spread out city. It fairly bustles with markets and new buildings. The roads are in excellent repair and very safe to walk around even at night. Hotels are a-plenty and comfortable by western world standards.
We stayed at Meikles Hotel which rates as one of the best in Harare, the free morning cup of tea brought to your room every morning without even being ordered, is most acceptable. The main foyer is large and welcoming, along with the down-stairs bar, the Explorer’s Bar where locals meet for a Tusker beer, and a little dalliance, and exploring on the side.
We happened to be on the same flight and staying at same hotel as a friend from Harvey World Travel Booragoon Perth, Russell Jahn and his wife Pat who insisted we go out with them after we had a group safely tucked in their beds.
Evidently Thursday night in Harare is boys night out on the town and best place to be is at ‘Harpers’ nightclub. What an atmosphere there, with dim lit rooms and annexes surrounding a sunken dance floor, where a five piece jazz/rock/regae band beats out a rhythm, that only an African band can. Here, well dressed coloured gentlemen, mingle with whites, and openly court the courtesans. Sometimes it appears, just one is not enough as one very happy reveller had a woman draped on each arm, and it was clearly evident that the local girls of the night were “going to sleep on the job”. It seemed, a curtain-raiser to the viewing we were to do later, with the stalker after its prey and out for “the kill”. The drinking, joking and camaraderie is very evident, and we, as obviously tourists, fitted in very well.
The doorman at Harper’s night club named “Wellington” made us very welcome and it came as quite a shock a few months later, to receive a phone call from the same Wellington. John and I were actually playing a round of golf at Cowra on the twelfth hole to be precise, when the mobile phone rang and a voice said “this is Wellington from Harare”! He was phoning for a cheap airfare to Australia as jolly John had given him a business card as he always did everywhere. Worth a try I suppose.
LAKE KARIBA – FOTHERGILL ISLAND
From Harare we flew Air Zimbabwe up to Lake Kariba. Now this Lake is huge, a vast inland sea where not far out in our ferry launch on our way to Fothergill Island, no land can be seen at all. Fothergill, thanks to the long drought in Zimbabwe was a little more than a mere island, as stretched for miles down to the lake’s side, making it like a huge game park where usually just fish swim up to the resorts fenced perimeter. Normally a fence is not required when water laps right up, but now is most necessitous, so the guests don’t end up being dinner.
We had to catch a boat across to Fothergill island and it was amazing to see the local boys lift our cases on their heads to transport them as well as that heavy old computer!
The thatch and stone bungalows on the island were just delightful. Most especially the out-doors bathroom with its shower under the trees filled with birds and baboons. A person felt completely at one with nature whilst showering and toileting in this unusual ablution area. I guess if it was raining you could have a shower under the provided umbrellas!
Game viewing was really good there, and our guide Brad was an exceptionally perceptive driver and pursuer of wild animals that inhabit that beautiful part of Zimbabwe. He would search for “spors” which were paw marks in the dry dusty tracks seeking out the elusive lions. We saw small groups of elephants in the fore-ground of a glistening Lake Kariba, and were alarmed at the sight of trunk paralysis in the male elephants, making it almost difficult for them to lift up feed to their mouths, and watching them kick their trunks along with their front feet in order to move, was really heart wrenching.
We saw lots of game, and bird-life, and happened across a pride of lions lying in a sandy zone. There were 2 males, 5 females and about half a dozen lion cubs, not caring one bit that human beings were so close. Because they were just lying and not moving our driver took us to the edge of the lake for ‘Sundowners’ to watch the magnificent sight of the sun sinking into it’s vast, behind dead tree stumps left high and dry by the recessing waters. Here we were offered gin and tonics, beer or wine along with the obligatory beef jerky.
Meanwhile the other members of our group in a different game-viewing vehicle had stayed longer near the group of lions to be rewarded with a “so close you could hear them breath” experience, which they relayed to us with great gusto and supremacy, that they had seen something we hadn’t. So next day we said to our driver Brad, “O.K. today is our turn to see something special” so after driving down every ditch and drain and gully in the Lake Kariba vicinity to no avail, we stood on a grassed knoll, to watch the sun sink again to once again have ‘Sundowners’ with glasses in hand, watching the impala grazing peacefully below. Then all at once, all hell broke loose, Brad yelled out frantically “Danger, back on the truck fast,”, in a frenzy he grabbed for his rifle as lions scattered in all directions near us for the kill. They had been stalking the impala below, as they hadn’t eaten for three days. On Brad’s command I did an Olympic record leap to the back of the truck, two metres in one step! Meantime I looked over to see Lesley still sipping on her chardonnay and watching the scene unfold. Lesley was going “Ooh, Ooh, Ooh” at the sight of a male lion approaching her at very close proximity seemingly not at all perturbed. But on another more guttural shout “quick back on the truck” from Brad and an alarmed begging from me, she slowly ambled over and crawled up the ladder into the safety of the vehicle.
I can remember having an empty beer bottle clenched in my sweating fist ready to throw at the approaching lion if necessary, but goodness knows what good that would have done, although my record of being a “safe” tour escort had to be protected at all costs! We all stood, with beating hearts back in the vehicle, watching the drama of “the kill” unfold. Those impala were pretty slippery though, and managed to slip through the circling lions without loss. Although at some stage during that night, hunger must have proved the greater necessity as a kill did eventuate, evidenced by our next morning safari.
Funny one from Lesley Mason, next day Brad asked if any of us were scared of anything, to which Lesley replied “Ooh. Yes I’m scared of snakes”! I guess that is what led to gentler game viewing, with spotting of kingfishers and the beautiful lilac breasted and purple rollers.
John and I took an optional offer to go fishing on the Lake rather than a morning of game viewing. Now this was my kind of fishing, as setting out pre dawn with our guide into a beautiful scarlet dawn, promised to be a real fishing experience. Rex Hunt eat your heart out. The local guide even brought the worms with him, freshly dug, placed them on our hooks and slipped the fish, (bream) off as we caught them. Now, a breakfast feed for everyone was not forth-coming as some of our catch were so tiny they should have been thrown back, but we wanted to play a prank on our Ernie. We put a squirming, live bream on a covered breakfast platter, which Ernie thought was fried eggs and fish…..
Then later that day, we were offered the option of ‘a boat trip up the mountain’. This description belied common sense, so had to be taken just to see how this could be done. It was in fact by two really fast out-board motored vessels heading out past Spurwing island for the Matusadona mountain range, and in through the entrance to the steep sided SanyatiGorge. Here we cruised for miles viewing teeming masses of baboon frolicking on the sides with in the fore-ground pods of hippo amongst the water hyacinth.
We were all sad to leave our home of two days, packed off with a carton lunch enough to feed an army, on our one hour boat journey back to the Kariba airport. Next stop was to be Hwange National Park.
HWANGE NATIONAL PARK
Game viewing was totally different there. Different animals viewed from road-sides rather than out in the open. There was a lot of ground cover and high grass here, which made game viewing difficult. But of course those Giraffe could stand out well, reaching up to trim the acacia trees. We saw a mating couple and baby giraffe. Hyena strutted their ground. Elephants were there more in herd, and after much searching, on an evening drive, we found two lions lying just off a back track, lazily basking in the moonlight and not a bit phased by our spot-light. An after-supper laze in their “drawing-room”.
Benign as they seemed, it was a little disconcerting when the guide/driver kept backing the vehicle with me in the rear-right hand seat right into their camp, close enough to see the pupils in their shining eyes. One really does feel slightly vulnerable in these open vehicles. But as the guides are so carefree, you do have to trust them. After all they can’t lose any tourists here, because you have to sign in to get into the Park, and sign out again! You can hardly sign your name inside a lion’s belly.
It was at Hwange National Park that we sighted our only leopard of that trip, lying only as leopards can on a leopard branch, in a leopard tree. You find yourselves looking for this shaped form, for the elusive leopard all the time after a sighting. Funny one, John asked our local tour guide Jackson if he could walk to the fence and get a bit closer to the leopard to video it, and Jackson answered only if you give me your video camera. John said “Why”, Jackson replied so I can film you getting chased by the leopard!
Prior to the leopard find, we had tracked down Wally Wafter Way seeking the elusive animals, down tracks you wouldn’t believe, and some places where there weren’t even any tracks at all, running down whole trees and having them spring back up at us in our four wheel drive vehicle, and dodging branches which had nasty thorns.
There is nothing more magic, than sitting up in the back of a game-drive vehicle, be it in the cold of the pre-dawn, or cold of the sun-set, with a rug over one’s legs, looking with eyes peeled searching, searching for that glimpse of an animal in the wild. Any animal, large or small, even a dung beatle has its own allure and speciality. Baboons playing and swinging along a dirt track, guinea fowl running along the road-side, water Buffalo grazing, Elephants drinking at a water-hole, Zebra running across an open area, ostrich ungainly in their gait, all nature’s creatures just waiting to be spied.
I find it much more exciting to go searching for animals on a game-drive rather than sit at places like the Ark or Treetops in Kenya, waiting for animals to come to you. This latter way seems so artificial, as the animals are sure to come to the salt-licks and water-holes taking out that elusive element.
It was at Hwange we sighted those nasty Bustards – red-crested and black bellied.. Bird life was prolific there with Egyptian and Spurwing Geese, sacred Ibis, hooded Vultures, and those beautiful red-billed Hornbills and long tailed Shrikes. Binoculars are a must to spot the bird-life in particular.
From Hwange we boarded our flight, loaded up with wooden carvings which you have to stagger over to get through to any airline terminal in Zimbabwe, and headed for Victoria Falls. Of course you are only about ten minutes in the air when you start craning your neck for that first glimpse of the mist rising from the “waters that thunder”. And you can actually see it as you begin your descent into Victoria Falls airport which is about ten miles from the township. We actually flew in over the Chidobe rural school that we were later to visit.
Victoria Falls is a strange town, if it did not have its main attraction, I doubt if many people would visit it. It is sprawling, a little untidy, and as it is such a draw-card to tourists from all over the world, the government should spend more money in making it more attractive to tourists. Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft buzz incessantly over the falls all day, bungy jumpers jump into its ravine, and strollers walk its facade taking in a scenic wonder of the world, getting thoroughly soaked for their efforts. That soggy statue of Dr. Livingstone, I presume chuckles away at all those drenched tourists every day.
The ‘”flight of the Angels” as the locals call it, is a must do, and when you fly over the length of this mighty spill-over, you realize the enormity of this abyss, and what it must have meant to the early explorers, and the surprise it held for the natives canoe-ing down the Zambezi river. It is one nature’s magnificent creations for man to behold.
It is actually more breath-taking when standing facing the facade of thundering water racing with such might to send up myriads of spray and rainbow creations. It is one of these times, when you are confronted by such majesty, that you have to pinch yourself to make sure you are actually there at that place that you read about in history lessons at school and never dreamed you would see right there before your very eyes.
We all had yellow rain-coats, make-shift rain hats (shower caps from the hotel), and umbrellas and became extremely wet, whereas our delightful guide, Precious, just carried an umbrella high above her head, and was totally dry at the end of the walk. The spray from these falls has even created a rain forest environment right out there in the middle of plain.
Our hotel was actually a gambling casino the ‘Makasa Sun’ which was interesting watching the locals put their large Zimbabwe coins through slot machines in the middle of the day. I put in one coin and got a fist full of dollar coins, enough to pay the battered up Cortina taxi that had to make three trips with our mob to get from our Hotel up to our luncheon date with Mr. Nduna and his wife Sithembiso and daughter and all their friends and all the staff from the Baobab School. Their hospitality was unforgettable. A crate of carbonised cordials was at our disposal, plus lovingly made eats of anchovy paste on bread, and meat balls and other unusual snacks.
We all walked in ‘brown cow file” to Mr. Nduna’s Baobab School, where even though it was school holidays, all the children came back to show their appreciation for our visit and our donations, by putting on a concert. This was very entertaining, with songs and poems from a smiling, giggling bunch of happy children, quite content with their lot in life. Though in that “lot” there is not a lot, in western terms, and just a square meal, roof over their head and a bed to sleep in is sometimes a luxury. This school actually had desks and chairs and books, but when we rented a mini bus to take us 35kms out to Mr. Nduna’s old school near the airport at Chidobe, this was another story.
As we drove up about 40 children had been waiting six hours to greet us. We walked through the dirt yard, punctuated by rows of stones for line-ups, to the Head-master’s office, who was obviously elated to see us and receive some out-dated text books from home. The only books they had. There were only bare floors, these with huge rubble holes in them, no glass panes in the windows, and a black board was a rare item. No play equipment, just a large tree, under which they sang to us, of peace and joy and their love of Jesus.
It is very heart rending and brings you back to the harshness of reality, seeing the way these children live. But they accept it, and are happy with it, because obviously they know no other way of life. It is so simplistic it is humbling. There, but for the grace of God, go I.
It was by a chance day trip, of some of our clients Jan and Stan, some years back that they stumbled on the plight of the Chidobe School and its children. Ever since then they have been unstinting in their donations to the area, and made a second trip back with us, to give even more support. They were instrumental in bringing Mr. Nduna out, and Air Zimbabwe, who on being approached, gave a free ticket for him to take part in a teaching programme in Cowra as part of the town’s Festival of International Understanding programme. I actually travelled back with Charles on my first visit into Harare.
Of course, where there is poverty, there is that juxtaposition of sheer wealth and there, over-looking the Falls, is The Victoria Falls Hotel, that famous place that has played host to so many of the rich and famous over the years. It stands, in all its glory, as an elegant reminder of colonial days gone by, where high teas on the veranda to the music of brass bands still is a happening event. Locals just do not go to the Victoria Falls Hotel, not unless it is a momentous and unusual circumstance. A meal here costs about 4 weeks of their average wages.
The sunset cruise on the Zambezi River was an unforgettable experience, watching the elephants have their evening bath, at the river’s side, and the sun sinking down behind tall palm and other trees, even giraffe could be seen, out enjoying the evening. All this while we cruised, sipping away a champagne.
After two days in Victoria Falls, we were coached across the border to Botswana, having left all passenger details at length at the border crossing, to be meticulously cross-checked on our return, and put our feet through the foot bath for quarantine purposes.
Botswana, immediately gave the impression of being more intent on primary production, with the drive through banana, and pineapple and cereal crop plantings, all along the very fertile flood plains of the mighty Chobe River.
Our next stay for two nights was the Chobe Game Lodge, which on arrival after a sand-bog and tug out by a tractor on a very hot day with menacing looking elephants flapping their ears. But the Lodge was very welcoming with its breezy, attractive cloistered hallways. It was of Moorish architecture, and very aesthetic, perched right over-looking the quiet Chobe River, with sloping lawns clipped by ugly resident warthogs. This is the property chosen for the second time around honeymoon by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and our group were lucky enough to be shown through the “honeymoon bungalow” which was just delightful, with its own swimming pool, and very tasteful African furnishings.
This property proved to be the favourite of our group, as was a very relaxed life-style, with delectable buffet meals, and the game drives were different, mainly because of the influence of the river. There was a preponderance of wild-life, with lots of elephants, lion, greater kudu, baboon water buffalo, impala, etc, and lots of wonderful bird-life. The best viewing, was the boat safari, where gliding up the Chobe you saw the elephants feeding in the tall reeds, and cruised right up to hippopotamus, in a pod, so close you could see the warts on their skin. It is a little disconcerting when you see a hippo, up close, then all of a sudden it dives, and you don’t know where it is going to come up next. The saying goes over there that there are more people killed each year by hippo’s than by the double-decker red buses in London! I don’t quite know how that comparison came to be.
It was hard to leave this lovely area, We managed to get through the feet deep sand without a tow out, with the escort of guinea fowl, and elephants flapping their large ears menacingly. They really were quite threatening, alongside the track, and past the scrutiny of the border staff, and to the airport for our next sector.
That was on to South Africa and Capetown. We said good-bye to Victoria Falls and its still visible spray from the air, and headed south over, at first very barren country, the Kalahari desert, then patterned fields rounded by centre-pivot irrigation, over a jagged mountain range and the green of Stellenbosch and False Bay and Capetown’s shanty town, to land in that splendid capital.
We were met at the airport and whisked off to Signal Hill to get a magnificent vista of Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head, the city of Capetown, across to Robben Island where once Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. We stayed at Arthur’s Seat in the lovely seaside suburb of Sea point, and caught the local bus up to Victoria and Alfred, a delightful harbour side area at the foot of Table Mountain. It has atmosphere plus, with seafood restaurants and live music everywhere.
I met up with my friend Michelle’s mother Nikki who lived there, and I took a walk in the area to see where she lived, and although we were told Capetown was a “safe” city,although I must say, there was an element of unease walking around on my own.
It is one of the saddest things, that her life was cut short a year later taken by a coloured man in her apartment. This should not have happened to such a beautiful, vibrant, caring person.
Our full day tour, was very interesting following the coast road, through Hout Bay and on to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southerly point of the African continent where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, then on up to Simon’s Town a Naval town with a lot of history and quite quaint, and a visit to the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which are designed to spread aesthetically at the base of Table Mountain.
Our flight home, actually gave us half a day in Johannesburg, which we made the most of by hiring a coach and driver to take us around the sights. This city has to be seen to be believed, it is an extremely violent one, which one senses from the moment of entry. We saw an armed man running around the corner of a building, pointing his rifle anywhere, and running behind cars, he actually caught sight of us videoing, and I thought for a minute we were going to “get our comeuppance”. It was a bit daunting to have a bus with a slipped clutch and every now and then it would appear we were there for the duration, which in the middle of Soweto would not have been the most desired result. This area is the sprawling slum area, which seems to be holding its head up a little, and people seem to be taking care of their meagre dwellings and surroundings. We passed Nelson Mandela’s house where Winnie lived behind high broken glass covered walls, across from the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the school where bedlam and riots broke out at Orlando West some years back. It is amazing to think that two of South Africa’s most influential men, came from the same street, growing up in the decadence of Soweto.
Once again, the sight of a total anachronism, with urban slums and a BMW car agency, right in the middle, which made one wonder, who would be buying a BMW there in that pit of human civilization. There would not be one white person within this South West area of Johannesburg. Also on the other side of Johannesburg, through the embassy homes and wealthy area, every home has a tennis court, by local government ordinance a necessity, even though they look like they have not seen any tennis for a long, long time. Now seemingly the people in those large homes with large surrounds, are finding it difficult to finance the hefty rates charged, and employ the security required to be able to live safely.
SECOND COWRA GROUP TO KENYA, TANZANIA & ZANZIBAR SEPT 1998- ARRANGED BY ADVENTURE WORLD
Our very congenial group to Kenya and Tanzania pictured in Ngorongoro Crater in September 1998 where the chimpanzees were swinging into our safari vehicle. Pictured left to right front Caroline Foster, a regular, Lyn Fitler, me, Gail Blowes (would get the prize for the most of our group tours) back Bwana John, Ron & June Fisher (regulars, I don’t think they missed a tour) also Robyn Hogan, Margaret Nobes, Jan Winters, Alma from Mudgee and Lesley Mason.
We flew into Harare staying one night before connecting through to Nairobi to begin the tour of Kenya. We first visited Karen Blixen’s house the famous author of “Out of Africa” and nearby “Giraffe Manor” where we were privileged to hand feed some giraffe and thus realize just how tall they really are, they do have funny tongues.
We had a most delightful evening meal at ‘Macushla’ which had all the ambience of a Kenyan place with the finer qualities of life evident. We had a lovely dinner their in the elegant dining room painted a nutmeg color. It would be a nice place to stay at in Nairobi.
TANZANIA – NGORONGORO CRATER
The next day we were picked up by a mini-bus organized by Adventure World and driven down the pot holed roads across the border into Tanzania and on up through Arusha to the rim of the Ngorongoro crater where we stayed for 2 nights right on the rim in the lovely Sopa lodge. From here we had a majestic view across the huge open crater where there was an unbelievable amount of wildlife roaming free in this natural enclave.
We witnessed at very close range, elephant, lion, pink flamingo, hyeana, ostrich, migrating wildebeest, zebra, baboon, and water buffalo, along with rhino and hippo in the distance, so virtually the “Big 5”.
Game viewing was fascinating in the Crater, plenty of wild life to see, it is just like a huge open natural zoo. And right in the middle was like an oasis with acacia trees full of chimpanzees that kept leaping into our safari vehicles. We stopped here for lunch.
AMBOSELI NATIONAL PARK
From here we travelled most of the day to get to Amboseli National Park staying at lovely old Ol Tukai Lodge right at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro standing majestic, at 9,340 ft above sea level, still covered by snow from the winter. At these foothills, herds of elephant are seen roaming along with all the other wildlife. Not much has changed here since white man discovered it in 1883.
We then drove to the Masai Mara and stayed at lovely old Keekorok Lodge. John and I were lucky enough to be given a suite where we were told the Pope had stayed, so had Prince Charles, and many notables.
There was an added extra of an evening lecture/talk by one of the Masai warriors Oltambo on his life in general. He spoke perfect “Oxford English”, dressed in his red Masai gear, told how he still lives in one of the typical villages, where he now teaches the children, having done a teacher’s course up at Kericho. This is not an ordinary teaching job, as the children of the village do not have pens, or chalk boards and the only writing that is done is scratched lines in the dung covered dirt. I always advocate, any one travelling over to Africa to take lots of cheap biros and scribble paper. I did send back a big pack of boards that you can write on, then by pulling up the plastic flap, can re-write time and time again, which I thought might have been helpful.
He was telling us how most Masai people have a gap in their teeth, this because in their childhood one front tooth is removed so that if tetanus is caught which is common over there, they can get something between the teeth to lever the locked jaw open. He was also telling us how he was sponsored by Rotary in USA to travel there and lecture on the Masai ways. So he traveled in this traditional wrap around red blanket, not knowing that when he arrived in Chicago it was freezing cold so they had to wrap an aircraft blanket around him as well to stop him from freezing. Also told how his first day was spent in a very nice American home and the residents had to go out, leaving him home alone, he tried to cook something to eat which burnt and set the fire alarm off which he attacked with his spear.
We also traveled to Victoria Falls on this trip visiting the Victoria Falls for dinner one night. Before then flying to Zanzibar via Dar es Salaam.
Above some our lovely Cowra group at the Victoria Falls Hotel for dinner, left to right …. Margaret Nobes, Lyn Fittler, Caroline Foster, John, Alma, Lesley Mason, Jan Winters, Gail Blowes, June Fisher, and Ron Fisher below with group.
Fitting that I finish with Z for Zanzibar. Now this is one fabulous island in the Indian Ocean with its fascinating Stone Town, huge brass studded doors, little changed in 200 years with its labyrinth of narrow winding streets, and bazaars. We saw Dr Livingstone’s house, the old Arab fort etc. We stayed at the Dhow Palace hotel in Stone town.
There is a darker side to Zanzibar’s history where the slave trade market took place and where the dungeons housed East Africans to be sold for plantation work. It was Livingstone’s dying wish to have slave trade abolished.
We went out to Prison Island, home to some giant land tortoises, once a quarantine station and slave prison island, and had a swim in the beautiful blue crystal clear waters, and visited a spice plantation which yielded many surprises as to where so many spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, vanilla, etc. we take for granted come from.
We saw Dhows being made in the traditional way deployed for ages. Before leaving, on our last evening there we had a delightful dinner in the Blues Café looking out at the bright golden setting sun.
There’s a zing in the air, in zany Zanzibar
Where bars blare with zing, and abuzz is the bizaar.
Zunsets are the best there, besides the azure bay,
Someone’s zinging Zanadu inside the Bluez café.
Before we zip to Zimbabwe, we’ll go for zwim,
In crystal clear waterz, wearing our zinc cream!
ADVENTURE WORLD EDUCATIONAL MAURITIUS 2001
I was invited on an Adventure World educational to Mauritius, and we flew Air Mauritius from Melbourne to Perth to Mauritius on 20 March 2001. Our small group consisted of Mr Mark Orlandi (AW escort) Alisa Brown and Kaye Rosengreen (AW Sydney) Emma Welfare, Sally Davies, Kerri Jones, Louise Campbell, Debbie Hammon, Angela D’Ettorre, and me.
Mauritius has an interesting history, it was discovered by the Portuguese in 1507 who found no indigenous people, only a Dodo bird. Guess what after 80 years the poor old Dodo bird was eaten out to 0 population, hence the saying “dead as a Dodo bird”. The Dutch settled here first, but not for long, as was taken over by France and renamed ‘Isle de France’ until 1810 during the Napoleonic wars the Brits took control until 1992 when Mauritius became a Republic.
It is a pretty place to fly into over the southern resorts, and on our arrival we were transported through sugar cane country to our very lovely Hotel the Sugar Beach Resort.
This was 5 star luxury through and through. It had everything, clear blue waters, white, white sand fringed with palm trees, sprawling green lawns and large swimming pools. It even had its own Rummery because of the connection with the sugar growing and the best fun was trying the different flavoured rums, my favourite vanilla.
After trying about 8 different rum flavours, I was piggy-backed back up the beach to the hotel by our lovely young Adventure World sales representative Mark Orlandi, watched on by a giggling Alisa Brown from AW’s Sydney office. Oh! What a night, no more rum please. Have you still got that photo Alisa?
We did lots of hotel inspections to the lovely Maritim, the St.Geran where we had a lovely hosted lunch, and the hotel I really liked was Le Toueserok.
Each day we did touring to the very lovely Botanical gardens with its giant water lilies (lotus flowers), we went to the Mauritius race track where some Australian jockeys visit and ride on occasion.
And when it came time to say goodbye to beautiful Mauritius, we left knowing we had been somewhere different from everywhere in the world.
A big thankyou to Adventure World for your memorable arrangements. Whenever I was offered an educational by a wholesaler, we then took a group to this destination with that wholesaler.