Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 16 Part 1

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November 18, 2015
I set my phone alarm for 5:00A this morning to be in the hotel lobby by 5:40A.  Our optional excursion is a rhinoceros game drive in Livingstone Private Game Reserve about 25 minutes outside of Victoria Falls.  I am going on this game drive with Dana and Barbara and we are very excited.  We have been told we have an 85% chance of seeing, at least, one rhino.  This will complete my viewings of “The Big Five” as they say here in Africa.

The ride to the game reserve was in an open jeep on a main road.  The sunrise was beautiful but through most of the drive my eyes were closed because of the wind.  I was freezing and wished I had worn my hoodie.  I couldn’t wait to get off the main road and into the game reserve park because, I knew, we would slow down, so the wind wouldn’t feel as cold.  Just as we entered the park we saw baboons.  They crossed the dirt road right in front of us and skittishly took off.  Then we saw five radiant zebras.  They were feeding off the dry grass just a few feet on either side of our jeep.  It was great seeing these animals up so close.  You got a much clearer sense of how striking their alternating white and black stripes are throughout their coat.  So beautiful.

Zebra Eating

Zebra at Livingstone Private Game Reserve in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Impalas at Livingstone

The impalas we saw right after the zebras.

Stork and Egret

Saddle-billed stork and a great egret. Not sure about the name of the smaller grey bird.

We also saw some impala, kudu and egrets but the pinnacle moment was when we encountered a “crush” of five rhinos.  There were three adults and two babies.  The babies were amazingly adorable.  Our guide said the adults were two females and a male.  We pulled the jeep right into the area where they were and our driver shut off the engine.  There we sat, for at least a half hour or more, spellbound as these creatures walked around.  They came so close to the jeep that you could reach out and touch them.  Their eyes are mere slits just barely open but they would walk up to the jeep, lifting their heads and opening their eyes wider to get a good look at us.  All three of us got some great pics and I took some awesome videos, as well.

Livingstone Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros in Livingstone Private Game Reserve.

Rhinoceros

Rhinoceros at Livingstone Private Game Reserve. This one came right up to our jeep.

 

I was amazed that regardless of however close they came to our jeep, I never felt threatened.  There was a moment that one of the females felt the male was getting too close to her young.  She grunted and butted horns with the male.

Rhino Face Off

Male & Female Rhinoceros face-off.

The sun was shining bright and I was finally feeling warm.  There were two stone water troughs permanently placed and the rhinos would mosey on over there for a drink.   I also got some great pics of the mother nursing her baby.  So cool.

Nursing Rhino

Female rhinoceros nursing her young.

Five Rhinos

The five rhino all gathered together for my photo. LOL

The time on this excursion was limited because our guide needed to drive us to the spot where we would start our elephant-back safari.  Sadly, we drove away from the rhinos.  As we continued on, I wondered if we would see any more.  We did see a herd of elands.  The driver took another road that brought us  right behind them and as we drove up from behind they all took off running.  It was so cool to see them in motion.  Beautiful, regal-looking antelopes.

Elands

Elands staring us down before they took off running.

We drove back to the main road and soon, thereafter, we could see the coral where everyone was mounting the elephants.  Our elephant-back safari was to last one hour and then we would be served breakfast.  Kathryn, Aryn, Judy, Nora and Donna were already on their elephants when Dana, Barbara and I arrived.

Elephant Profile

Love this pic. Great shadowy backdrop paired with a detailed close-up.

As I waited my turn to step up onto the elevated mounting stand, I was paired up with a very friendly woman from England.  Her name was Susan.  She had asked if I would take pictures of her and email them to her since her husband had forgotten their camera back at the hotel.  All the elephants were trained from birth to be mounted by humans.  They were all teenagers as after that age they would be released to the wild as they were no longer considered safe for tourists to ride.  Susan and my elephant’s name was Deka.  He was 16-years-old.  Susan sat in the back, me in the middle and in front of me was our guide Benjamin.  He was a local.

Elephant Ride

Susan, Benjamin and I ready to go for a ride on Deka.

Susan was very nervous about riding the elephant.  At first, I was a bit uneasy sitting up so high and feeling unsteady at the same time.  Fortunately, there were stirrups and once I was able to get my feet secured I had a better sense of balance and was able to relax.  Still, I held on fast to the horn of the saddle.  I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of just how wobbly this ride would feel.  I kept remembering our  camel ride along the Giza Plateau on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt and the unbalanced strides of my camel.  Right away, I felt the elephant ride was much more stable.  As my ride continued, I felt comfortable enough to free my hands from the harness to take some photos and videos.  Susan could not get over the fact that I was holding on to nothing while taking pictures.  I was, however, extra careful to keep a tight grip on my camera so I wouldn’t drop it.

Elephant Safari

Look! No Hands!

Our guide, Benjamin, was very informative and shared a lot of information about the elephant’s training, what they were fed and so forth.  I asked if I could pet the top of Deka’s head and he said: “Sure, go head.”   Deka’s skin was so dry and rough.  Benjamin told me to feel behind the elephants ears.  I did and I was amazed how soft and smooth they were – like finely-polished leather.  That part of their skin was also extremely cool to the touch.  Very interesting.

Elephant Caravan

Our caravan of elephants.

We mostly saw birds and impala but the experience of riding an elephant was exciting enough.  We did pass by a crocodile laying in the grass.  About three quarters of the way into the ride our guide pointed out some vultures.  They were gathered together, high up in a tree.  We knew that vultures would often lead you to a cat.  So our caravan of elephants began to head toward the vultures.  As we walked there was a main guide in front of everyone walking along side a cameraman.  I couldn’t believe these two men felt safe walking through the grass on their own.  Especially past the crocodile and now we were searching for a cat (who is able to jump up to six meters to attack).  You couldn’t pay me enough to be walking down in that grass, especially when we spotted a lioness lying in the shade beside her kill (an impala).  Wow!  How cool was this to be on the back of an elephant and watching a lion just a few meters away.  The lioness got up and slowly walked around for a bit.  I think she was getting nervous seeing all these elephants.  The guides had the elephants stop and we all watched the lioness for a while.

Lioness in Grass

Lioness carefully watching as our elephant caravan passes by.

After the ride, our guide motioned for our elephant to kneel down so we could come and sit on his leg and feed it the little pellets.  Deka whisked his trunk over to my hand and took all the pellets up into the nostrils of his trunk.  He then reached the end of his trunk around into his mouth and ate all the pellets.  Benjamin gave me another handful of pellets and Deku’s trunk took those quickly as well.  This went on four times while Susan took pictures of me feeding Deku.  It was so cool.

Feeding Elephant

Me Feeding Deka

Elephant and Me

Me posing with Deka

After this, we walked over to a table that was selling large sheets of paper made out of elephant dung.  Printed on the paper was an elephant footprint and they were each marked to identify which elephant the foot print belonged to.  The souvenir was $20 and I opted out because I really wanted the CD of the photos the professional photographer had captured during our elephant-back safari.   Next we all gathered into a large roof-covered areas with tables.  There was a buffet breakfast prepared for us and by now I was starving.  There was fruit, yogurt, sausage, seasoned ground beef, dry cereal along with coffee, juice, milk and water.  Just outside the canopy was a grill and a man frying up eggs.  The food was delicious and as we ate a video was played of our experience with the elephants.

Safari Breakfast

Serving up breakfast after our elephant-back safari.

After breakfast we all boarded a white minibus and everyone was delivered back to their hotel.  Aryn, Judy, Kathryn, Dana, Barbara, Donna and I, of course, were taken to the Sprayview Hotel.  We hung out in the lobby until a new driver arrived at 10:45A to take us to our next optional excursion:  a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls!  I was so excited!


Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 15 Part 3

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November 17, 2015 cont …

The walk from the Sprayview Hotel into Victoria Falls town center was quick.  I was amazed how friendly people were.  Random locals passing by would smile and say “Hello” or wave and greet me from across the street.  It was such a friendly and open atmosphere.  I loved it.  My first stop was the post office and much to my dismay it had just closed.   An iron gate covered the glass doors of the entrance and through the glass I could see two clerks behind the counter.  As I looked in the slatted windows a woman called out asking if I needed stamps.  I answered “yes, just thirteen post card stamps.”  She asked if they were intended for the United States and I told her they were.  I thought she was going to tell me to come back tomorrow but she said:  “that will be $13.00” and in a minute she came to the window, handed me the stamps through the slatted glass panes.  I, then, gave her the cash and thanked her.  Wow!  What nice people!

Just outside was a red post office box and as soon as I stamped each of the post cards I slipped them inside.  The time was a few minutes after 5P.  From there, I walked across the parking lot and street to check out the strip of shops along the main drag.  The sidewalk was beautifully festooned with vibrant flame trees.

Flame Trees

Beautiful Flame Trees along the strip of shops in the town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The shops were packed full of locally inspired curios all made by local artisans and very reasonably priced.  I was told you could not bargain in these shops but I soon learned otherwise.  All the shop keepers were very friendly.  You’d walk in their store and they’d greet you and ask where you were from.  If you found something of particular interest they’d say “I can give you the sunset discount.”  If you were not interested you could just say “thank you” and walk away with zero harassment.  As you exited their shop they thanked you for stopping in.  These interactions were very refreshing compared to some of the other overseas shopping I have done (particularly the Aswan and Khalili (open-air) Market in Egypt).

Victoria Falls Shops

More shops in downtown Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Shopping and Dining

A small cafe among the shops in Victoria Falls

In one of the shops I was captivated by a beautiful 11×17 pencil sketch of a baobab tree.  I thought what a wonderful representation of Africa to display at home.  The artwork was signed by a Vincent and I asked if he was there in the store.  The young man who helped me quickly went and got the artist (who was outside but somewhere nearby).   Vincent Mathe was a young man from Zimbabwe probably in his late 20’s.  He told me about the piece and said his original asking price was $65.  I explained that I was not prepared to pay that price and I was concerned about getting it home without it being torn or creased.  Vincent said he could make me a cardboard tube to store it.  I agreed that should work and knew I would just have to carry it on the plane myself.  From there, he and I negotiated the price of the artwork down to a final $40.  We shook hands and Vincent signed the back of the artwork and wrote down his contact information.  I told him once I had it framed I would send him a picture of it hanging on my wall.  He was so excited about that.  Then we walked to the back of his shop and he picked up a cardboard box and proceeded to tear it down to the right size to make a sturdy tube.  Then he carefully rolled up the artwork and placed it in the cardboard tube for me to safely take home.  I was so happy with my purchase.

Vincent and I took a quick picture together outside the shop. We shook hands again and then I began my walk back to the hotel.

Vincent & Brian

Vincent and I outside of his shop in Victoria Falls

Across the street from the hotel was a small park with iron statues of horses, cape buffalo and other animals.  There was a “congress” of baboons moving through the park.  I tried to get their picture but they moved quickly and soon disappeared.

Before dinner we all gathered into a small room extended from the hotel lobby.  We sat in chairs surrounding a long table and in came a men’s quartet.  I was extra excited for this because I’m really into music.  The group had a robust and dynamic sound.  They sang their own interpretations of a handful of American doo wop songs.  I was hoping for some local tribal singing but listening to them was very nice and reminded me of some of my High School singing days.

Dinner was served poolside and the main course was one of the best entrees I’ve had this entire trip – roasted warthog.  Yes, you read that correctly – warthog!  I could hardly believe how good it was.  Perfectly cooked.  No fat whatsoever and deliciously seasoned with a nice dark brown gravy.  :)   Too bad we can’t get warthog back in the Ohio.  LOL

After dinner, I sat at a table beside the pool and Facetimed with my mom and dad for a while (they live in Florida).  I was able to catch them up on most of the highlights from this trip and then I went to my room for some air conditioned sleep.  Before dozing off, Aryn and I chatted for a while.  Apparently, that night she had seen a lizard darting around our room.  I warned her she better check inside her shoes before slipping them on in the morning.  I had to be up earlier than her the next morning (5:00A) for my rhino game drive in the Livingston Private Game Reserve.  So excited!  I was told we have an 85% chance of seeing at least one rhino.  I really hope so since it will complete my goal of seeing all five of “The Big Five” (Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Rhinoceros and the Cape Buffalo).  Night Night!

 


Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 15 Part 2

Header2November 17, 2015 cont …

Our minibus drove us from the Sprayview Hotel into the center of Victoria Falls.  Vitalis informed us that if we wanted to go shopping later on or the following day we could either call a cab or walk.  Walking, he said, would only take between 15 and 20 minutes.  Vitalis had already taken our lunch orders for the Rainforest Cafe and we were all very hungry but before going to the restaurant he informed us that there would be a slight detour to see a “surprise.”

We were all excited with anticipation to see what “surprise” Vitalis had in store.  As we drove around the Victoria Falls Park we arrived at an enormous 1,400-year-old baobab tree.  This sucker was enormous.  We all got off the buss to take pictures.

Baobab Tree

1400 Baobab Tree in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

After our stop at the baobab tree, we drove to the Victoria Falls Park entrance where we had  wonderful lunch at the Rainforest Cafe.  

Rainforest Cafe Zimbabwe

Our table at the Rainforest Cafe.

Our meal was delicious but dessert was quite possibly the BEST desserts I’ve ever eaten in my entire life: a scoop of chocolate mouse with a slice of flourless chocolate cake.  (Thank you Donna for not being able to eat sweets which left an extra dessert that I quickly and selfishly volunteered for myself).  As an added bonus, an extra dessert was mistakenly served to our table.  A huge smile swept across Vitalis’s face and he said:  “Brian, the restaurant seems to have overestimated our servings of dessert by one.  Would you like this extra slice of chocolate cake?”   I practically jumped up from my seat and grabbed it.  BONUS!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

The most AMAZING flourless Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Mousse.

What happened next soon came to be known as “the chocolate cake incident.”   As I was about to dive into my THIRD chocolate mouse/cake  dessert I began to feel a little guilty so I offered a bite to Aryn, Kathryn and Judy who said no.  So I asked Cheryl:  “Do you want a bite.”  (stressing the word “bite”).  Well, Cheryl accepted without batting an eye and practically grabbed the plate right from my hands and placed it on the table between her and Norma.  Like vultures, the two of them proceeded to DEVOUR my dessert!  My eyes burst from their sockets and I gasped.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  It was as if these two women hadn’t had a meal in weeks and I had to move quickly if I was going to get any of my dessert back.  “Hey!”  I said, “that’s mine!  I was just offering you a bite.”  Cheryl and Norma looked up with a shocked look of guilt.  “Oh my God,” they said with a laugh.  They thought I was giving them the entire plate.  I, then, took back what little scraps of my dessert were left and “the chocolate cake incident” became a running joke from that moment on.  As Cheryl would say with a hearty laugh:  “It was HILARIOUS.”

During lunch, a young David Livingstone impersonator stood among the tables and told of his life and missionary travels and vision for Africa during the mid 1800’s.   I’m sure many people have heard that famous quote:  “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”  It was interesting to hear his story.

After lunch, we proceeded on our two-hour walking tour through the rainforest trail along the amazing Victoria Falls.  Near the beginning of the rainforest trail was a bronze statue of David Livingstone looking over the falls.  Judy, Aryn, Katheryn and I gathered together for a photo.

Victoria Falls Tour

Me with Kathryn, Judy and Aryn (left to right)

In some of the photos of the falls we saw back around the visitor’s center you could see a rainbow spanning along the falls.  I thought to myself:  Wow!  I hope we get to see one of those today.  Well, I underestimated my expectations because there was a rainbow in almost every view of the falls.  Magical.

Victoria Falls

A view of the beautiful Victoria Falls from one of the lookout points along the rainforest trail. Notice the rainbow my camera captured in this photo.

We walked from the beginning of the trail (just outside the Rainforest Cafe and the gift shop area) all the way to the end that looked across at the Victoria Falls Bridge that connects Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls

Another view of the falls. This pic was taken with my cell phone.

The walk lasted from 2P till 4P.  For most of the walk I stayed with Vitalis and our group.  But later I ventured ahead and just enjoyed the peaceful beauty of the area.  I was able to gather many of my thoughts about the trip as well as sort through some of my experiences throughout the entire year.  It was a really nice experience and in some ways mirrored the peace of my walk back home along the Towpath in Summit County, Ohio.

Rainforest Trail

Rainforest Trail along Victoria Falls

After our walking tour of Victoria Falls, we returned to our hotel and I was anxious to venture, on my own, into the town of Victoria Falls.  I was on a bit of a time crunch because I wanted to mail my post cards and I knew the post office, in town, closed at 5P.  I could have grabbed a taxi for $5 but I chose to hurry on foot instead.  Vitalis had told us it was a safe walk during the daytime, even alone.

My first stop, was the post office.  I needed to buy 13 postcard stamps and get my cards mailed back to the US.

 


Trip of a Lifetime: Ultimate Africa: Day 15 Part 1

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November 17, 2015

9:40P

What a night last night and what a day today.  Wow!

Aryn and I both woke up around 1:30A to these horrific winds and heavy rains pouring down on our canvas roof and blowing in the screened windows behind our bed.  We immediately closed the window flaps to keep out the rain.  The wind was so bad I envisioned trees falling down on us and our canvas roof ripping right off.  I then gathered my wallet, passport, camera, glasses, cell phone, and malaria pills and placed them all in my small bag in case I needed to abandon ship.  Of course, that would present an entirely different host of concerns knowing there had been a leopard outside just a few hours prior.  For the next hour or so, we laid in bed very afraid of how this night was going to turn out.  Finally, when the winds & rain calmed down I was able to fall back asleep.

At breakfast, I was surprised to hear no mention of the storm from anyone on staff.  Apparently, it wasn’t as big a threat as we had felt.  We did, however, hear reports that a lion had been roaming through camp most of the night after the storm subsided.  Thank God Aryn and I followed instructions to not step outside our tent.  I imagine if the storm had been enough of a threat to compromise our tent, then one of the staff members would have come and collected us all and taken us somewhere safe.

After breakfast we said goodbye to Ed, Sally and all the wonderful staff at Kashawe Camp and piled in our two jeeps.  It was about 6:30A.  It was interesting to see the accumulation of rain deposited throughout the area.  The water levels of the rivers had risen and the soil was no longer so devastatingly parched.  About 15 minutes into our 45 minute drive to the boom gate we approached a fairly steep hill.  The first jeep struggled but made it.  We, on the other hand, were hauling the luggage cart and our tow was too heavy for us to make it so we got stuck in the mud.  Although, inconvenient, this experience actually became hilarious.  After many unsuccessful tries of laying on the gas, backing up and forward, Mafuka, our bus driver and Vitalis all got out of the jeep and detached the luggage cart.   Mafuka, then, radioed for help.  With the luggage cart and two passengers removed from the equation, Mafuka was able to get enough traction to get us up the muddy hill.

 

The sky was still overcast, there was a light rain in the air and we were all wearing our ponchos as we sat in the jeep waiting for help.  About a half hour later, a big red tractor arrived and hauled the luggage cart up the hill.   Cold and wet, we happily applauded the tractor driver and were happy to be on our way to the enclosed mini bus waiting for us 30 minutes away at the park entrance.  The guides quickly reattached the luggage cart and off we went.

Stuck in Mud

Luggage cart being hauled up the hill by the tractor in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

When we arrived at the boom gate, the first half of our group was anxious to learn what had happened.  Oh well, nobody was eaten by a lion or injured so there really was nothing to complain about.  I guess Hwange National Park was not going to let us get away that easy.  Haha!

The bus ride to the town of Victoria Falls was an uneventful 2 hours.  Vitalis had our driver take us through some of the residential streets of Victoria Falls so we could see how the locals lived.  Most of the homes were single story and very modest.

Home in Zimbabwe

A typical residence in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

We also stopped along the side of the road to interact with some women selling chickens, guinea fowl and roosters.  This was more of the learning and discovery exposure that we all really enjoyed.

Birds for Sale

Chickens and Roosters for sale along the side of the road in Victoria Falls.

As soon as we reached the Sprayview Hotel I hopped on the Wifi to connect with Aaron, my mom and a few other folks back home.

Sprayview Hotel

Entrance to the beautiful Sprayview Hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Sprayview Lobby

Reception seating area at Sprayview Hotel. It was seated in that chair that I was able to find a solid Wifi connection to send text & Facebook messages back home.

It’s weird to be back in civilization with four walls, a real roof and air conditioning.  The pool area here is simple yet beautiful.

Sprayview Pool

Pool area at Sprayview Hotel.

Our room at the Sprayview Hotel is clean and cozy.  Our OAT luggage bags were on our beds when we arrived in our room.  I have yet to actually carry my bag anywhere on this entire trip.  The service at all the camps and now, so far, this hotel has been on point.

Sprayview Room

Aryn and Brian’s room at the Sprayview Hotel. We did see some monkeys and baboons in these trees during our stay!

After a quick check-in to our rooms, we all gathered back in the hotel lobby to board our minibus which was taking us to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world: Victoria Falls.

 

 


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