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Trip Report Trip Report: Rwanda, Tanzania, Vic Falls, Botswana

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Part 1: RWANDA AND GORILLA TREKKING (JUNE 22-26)
My travel companion (TC) and I flew from Nairobi to Kigali on June 23. We had spent one short night there after (in my case) a 28+ hour flight from SFO via DFW/London. We left early the next AM for Kigali where we were met by our Primate Safaris driver/guide Hussein, a delightful companion with a ready smile! Our arrival was complicated by the fact that my TC's bag did not arrive on our plane which was a real problem since we were scheduled to trek the gorillas the next day and she had no clothes/boots. Primate guys managed to handle the later pick-up but it was nerve-wracking for a while. That day we drove around Kigali with Hussein and spent about 90 minutes at the Genocide Center. What an experience that was! It has been only 18 years since tens of thousands of people were slaughtered in that short but vicious explosion of hatred. The exhibit was very informative but also managed to convey the enormity of the event -- and the tremendous challenge of reconciliation that the Rwandan people have undertaken. It is so difficult to comprehend the trauma to individuals and also to the collective consciousness. Imagine living next door to the person who murdered your family, raped your wife or maimed you with a machete. Incomprehensible hardly covers it.
After that sobering visit we ate lunch (Chez Robert, and don't make a special trip) and then went back to the airport and picked up TC's bag. Much celebration! Then on the road to Ruhengeri and the green splendor of the Volcanoes National Park. I was so tired I could hardly think and more than a little nauseous from the stupid Diamox pills so it was not a pleasant 2.5 hour ride for me.
We arrived at the beautiful Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge late in the afternoon. The walk up to the lodge has been much written about -- and no one exaggerated. The altitude + the exhaustion = quite a challenge! Lovely welcome by South African hosts Tracy and Nelis. The lodge is beautiful, with gorgeous vistas of the mountains. The rooms have big fireplaces to ward off the AM/PM chill. There is a local village right down the hill and you can hear the sounds of the kids at school and the villagers going about their business.
We were trekking the next AM so after the usual wake-up at the usual ungodly hour we were off. The hotel staff outfit you in gaiters and gloves so you do not need to bring those if this is the only lodge from which you are trekking. And when you get back they take off your shoes and give you sandals then whisk your muddy (or worse) boots away -- and return them the next morning looking like new! The food at the Lodge is good (Tracy is a chef) and wine/spirits are all included -- except if you order French champagne I guess. There is free wi-fi but only at the main lodge. Everyone gathers at about 7 to have a drink and exchange stories of their gorilla sightings.

Our First Trek: I hate the overuse of OMG, but it is certainly appropriate to describe this day. We had requested a fairly easy climb for our first day and thankfully had a 76-year-old man in our group who set a doable pace. We drove over the most awful "road" I have ever experienced (literally boulders and rocks) and got to the drop off place. Our walk started through a potato field with the forest on the near horizon. Our guides were Patrick (not the fabled Fossey Patrick, unfortunately) and Beck, both knowledgeable. We each hired a porter and were very glad of it. The trek up to the rock wall boundary of the forest was about half hour, but by then it had started to rain so we pulled on our rain jackets/ponchos/rain pants. (I was very glad to have both the rubber rain pants and the anti-fog spray for my glasses because it rained on our second trek as well.) We had about a 50-minute trek through very thick jungle (much of it uncut) with slippery vines and mud. About 10 minutes before we reached the gorillas, we left walking sticks (also incredibly helpful) and backpacks with the porters. Ten minutes later a gorilla appeared literally about 3 feet from us in the bushes: heart-stopping moment!
We were with the Kwitonda Group which has 23 members and 4 silverbacks. They were in dense brush so photo taking was a bit difficult, but we did indeed get "up close and personal". I watched a blackback who was 3 feet away groom himself then munch those luscious critters. Next to him was a baby-carrying mother who after a few moments slung the little one on her back and calmly walked away. The most exciting part for me was when a juvenile walked past me, touched my pants -- and looked up at me. We had a MOMENT! Then the guide shooed the youngster away. Yes I understand why but still drats and double drats!
So many other things: another mom with 4-month old baby who did let us glimpse it, juveniles playing and finally the #1 silverback (they say he is about 50) sitting in a small beaten down area like the king he is with his arms crossed. We all got to have our photos taken with him and my TC managed to keel over flat on her back in the slippery vines about 2-3 feet from him, looking like a large cotton candy in her pink poncho. After an initial gasp of fear, we all collapsed in laughter. Mr. Big did not seem amused but did not move either. We arrived back to our waiting vehicles very wet, muddy and very tired. Also thoroughly gob smacked by the encounters with the wonderful/intelligent/beautiful creatures who are our nearest relatives.
If you do go to the Volcanoes NP for the trekking, be sure to stop in the coop center next to the parking lot HQ. The local women make some of the most beautiful baskets around and the men carve the little wooden gorillas you see everywhere as well as nice sturdy walking sticks -- also emblazoned with gorilla heads of course. The women weavers sit out front, many with their babies. I asked one with a little one on her back if I could take a photo and she took him off her back, dressed him and then set him on her lap proudly for the photo....lovely.

Day Off/Local Market: We were not able to get two consecutive dates so had a day off between our treks. We asked Hussein to take us to a local market (in Musanze) and we had a wonderful time there. Our digital images of the kids soon gathered a big crowd with lots of people wanting us to take their photos. The same three kids followed us around the entire time we were there. The little one offered us the fish he clutched in his hand and while we did not partake, he clearly thought they were delicious. A teenager approached us speaking very good English and asked to have his photo taken and to have us send it to him -- even providing an email address. We sent the photos as promised I am pleased to say, though we never heard back from him.

Second Gorilla Trek: We could not get a room for the third night at Sabyinyo, so moved to the Virungas Safari Lodge. Set high on a mountain, the lodge has breathtaking views of volcanoes and their lakes from almost all sides. It is more "rustic" than Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge -- and the walk up to the main building not as daunting! We had reserved a twin-bed room and when we got there the manager commented that we had arrived "late" (no schedule was ever made and it was 4PM) and that the only room had a king bed. Not acceptable to two women friends traveling together. He then said that they could put a smaller second bed in the room if that was acceptable. Well it wasn't but there was not much we could do at that stage. We were told to go up and watch in dancers (where it was freezing) and 20 minutes later they came to tell us they had "found" a twin room for us. Magic apparently. For gorilla trekkers this is not as convenient as other places, given that it takes about one hour to arrive at the park and trekking already requires a very early rising. But it is a lovely place, and the food (loved the soup) is very good.
Next AM, we rose at 5 and then took the long drive to the park for check-in. This time we were assigned to the Sabyinyo Group: about 18 members with two silverbacks (Guhonda the #1 is at some 200+ kilos the largest one in the Virungas they told us) and several babies.
Unfortunately we were not as lucky this day in terms of our trek companions. One young woman and her husband were camera fanatics and hogged all the space near the animals -- or at least tried to. My TC was having some issues with her ankle (shattered years before) during part of the steep climb and the woman scolded her saying that she was holding others up and that she should not have come if she couldn't keep up. She needed to be in a different group and clearly was unhappy all the way. At the end she lied and said they had an appointment in Kigali and needed to make their way out of the park by themselves. The guide could not allow that so he left us with the trackers to escort them out! Bad on his part but totally unacceptable on their part.
That did not ruin the day, however. We came upon Guhonda in his full glory just after leaving our sticks. Boy he is a big guy! We stood about 6 feet from him and took pictures for a long time until he finally turned his back on his -- and proceeded to poop. Big poop. Lovely. There was a female a few yards from him trying to attract his attention -- alas, to no avail. He finally moved and the others moved with him, including us of course. They went into an open area, though one still very heavily covered in slippery vines. Much time there spent chewing on yummy greenery. One of the females was holding a smallish baby which she finally put on her back and then sauntered off, right by us. Oh glorious experience!
Time was up all too soon and the trip down an anticlimax as the rain had once again made things very muddy and slippery. I managed to fall into a bunch of stinging nettles but only got a temporary ouch. An hour back to the lodge, getting boots cleaned, having lovely soup/quiche for lunch -- and then a 2.5 hour trip back to Kigali. A splendid day. Except that when we arrived at the Kigali Serena and were shown to our room, it was outfitted with a king bed. Sense a trend here? The porter said it was easy to change out the king and that he would handle it. So I got into the shower to get the mud off, only to have them come tell us that we needed to move. By this time our stuff was strewn all over the room so no dice. We stayed where we were and it only took about an hour and three requests to get the beds set up properly. Perhaps a bit more training in customer service needed.....

Thoughts on Rwanda: I am no expert (to say the least) but these thoughts occurred to me while I was there...

• What a clean country: no litter, people outside painting black/white stripes on all the curbs the day we arrived (prepping for July 1 liberation Day. We were told that years ago Kagame proclaiamed clean up day and they still have one day a month when folks go out and clean up everything!
•Very green! Terraced hillsides in the north, very fertile land that is planted as far as they eye can see.
•In the north obvious poverty but kids all along the roadside waving (and some asking for money). Some adults look less pleased to see us though the official word from guide is that tourism/gorilla conservation has brought many benefits (e.g. money) so they are happy to see foreigners.
•Incredible use of bicycles: carrying literally kilos and kilos of potatoes in huge sacks, tons of cassava leaves, furniture, long aluminum pipes, loads of lumber, etc -- and usually walking uphill -- amazing!
•Genocide/remembrance "altars" all around the country: "never again genocide".
•A small park near the NP where they had naming ceremonies for newborn gorillas!! My kinda folks....
•In the north almost all the women in traditional dress, many with babies snugly tied on their backs.
•We saw large congregations of Seventh Day Adventists on Saturday in small towns around the NP. We were told that many people turned away from the Catholic Church because of its participation in the genocide. Don't know if that is a fact. A large Muslim population in Musanze.
•It is almost impossible to believe the tragedy that happened here only 18 years ago. I am sure there are deep scars -- there would have to be -- but the people smile and laugh still.
See the photos at: https://picasaweb.google.com/103591574518901571465/Rwanda2012?authkey=Gv1sRgCNmeq63F-7TOaA

Part 2: TANZANIA -- AND GAME DRIVES! June 26-July 5)
Very long day traveling from Kigali through Nairobi to Kilimanjaro where at about 8PM we were greeted African Horizons personnel, including Harry who was to be our driver for our 9 days in TNZ. He is from the Chagga tribe and a knowledgeable naturalist and cultural informant. We had long conversations about the Maasai who were all along the road with their animals on our drive to Tarangire NP. He seemed a bit miffed that they get all the publicity! The drive from Lake Duluti where we stayed overnight is 175 km to NP main gate then another 75 to Oliver's Camp (which we loved). It made for a long day in the car.
Upon entry into the NP we began our first game drive spotting large herds of eles and zebras as well as wildebeest, impalas, dik diks, mongoose, rock hyrax and many bird species. The park is large and very diverse in terms of both wildlife and habitat. We never had more than one other vehicle near us during animal viewing. I guess this national park is something of a well kept secret?!
The next day we did a 6+ hour drive in Tarangire. Lots and lots of animal sightings but the two best were a black back jackal we followed for several miles on his way to two lionesses munching on a steaming wildebeest carcass (good for us, not the gnu). We ate our picnic breakfast in the Silale area, with superb starlings and weavers begging for crumbs. Upon arrival home I had my very first bucket shower in the cool breeze -- and facing a long week of frizzy hair due to lack of hair dryer. A small price to pay for the eco-consciousness of the lodge (no plastic water bottles, solar heating, etc.) In the afternoon we did a walking safari, one of Oliver's specialties. No big animal sightings but a very interesting close-up look at spoor, spider webs and the like with our very young guide, park ranger and Maasai.

Gibb's Farm/Ngorongoro to the Serengeti: We had two nights at Gibb's and what an oasis it is, especially after the long drive up on the very dusty red dirt road. Loved the "family" suite (Deutch) we had with two bedrooms/bathrooms and a large sitting room with fireplace. Also loved the abundant fresh produce which is grown on the farm -- delicious!

The trip to the Ngorongoro Crater from Gibb's is about 45 minutes, via Karatu town. Unfortunately I had acquired traveler's stomach and that made the long day (7AM-6PM) feel even longer as the search for facilities occupied way too much time! But the animals did not disappoint: "dazzles" of zebras, many wildebeest, 3 black rhino (including juvenile), hyenas, 9 lions (3 black-maned males), jackals, Grant's gazelles, hartebeest, baboons and monkeys, buffalo, hippos etc + many birds (flamingos, crowned cranes, kites, vultures, fish eagles, kori bustards, sacred ibis, blue herons and egrets among others). We ate our lunch at the lake watching the hippos in the sun. Lovely and peaceful. As I was waiting in the car a vervet monkey jumped on the hood and tried to get in to snatch a snack. No luck but not for lack of trying!
The next day we left Gibb's for the trek back through the Crater rim and the Serengeti road. We ate our box lunches at Seronera and had a couple of close encounters there with rock hyrax, those cuties! Then took quite a long -- but very worth it -- detour to see two leopards Harry heard about on the radio. They were both treed with their kills and gave us a lot of viewing pleasure by moving about the tree some to get snacks. Leopard are always such a find and to see these two on our first day in the Serengeti was delightful. Along the way we also saw many gazelles (Tommies and Grant's), waterbuck, savannah baboons, zebras, Maasai giraffes, kori bustards, etc. We arrived at the Soroi Serengeti (where we stayed for 3 nights) at about 5:45, so a long ten-hour day in the car but lots of great viewing during our entire stay.
The next morning my companions rose at 4am for the balloon ride to discover that the site was about 1.5-2 hours away. It ended up taking most of the day to get there and back given distance and the number of migration animals on the roads. I had done a balloon ride in the Mara so elected not to go and instead had a lovely lazy morning reading and taking a hot shower overlooking the spectacular plain. (OK In confess, I also did email....) There was controlled burning on the plain so the sky was a lovely color at sunset, but the smoke did hang over everything during the day.
On our Independence Day we drove along the western corridor past the Grumeti and Orangi rivers to the Retima Hippo Pool where there were lots of people jockeying for camera position and LOTS of hippos of all sizes in the shallow water! The pool residents were quite talkative and there was a very strong smell that drove us away after about 15 minutes of picture taking. Still it was amazing to see so many of them in one place. This day was zebra day for us with huge herds of them all around us. We were in the midst of a group at one point and were treated the yip/bark/bray sound they make. Anyone know what it's called? We had lunch at a lovely picnic area on a hill overlooking the Seronera Plains. After lunch we had our second leopard sighting with a Tommy carcass in the tree. In the afternoon we saw more wildebeest and impalas (of course), several hippos, tawny eagles, vultures in trees and pretty Egyptian geese, wearing their natural eyeliner!
The next day we drove to the Seronera airstrip for the 55 minute flight to Arusha, then the short ride to Kilimanjaro and a three hour wait for the flight to NBO. There must have been a shorter way!? Unfortunately we arrived in Nairobi at rush hour (is there any other hour there?) so it took us forever to get to the Norfolk Hotel. Since we were parting ways the next day, we splurged and ate at Tatu in the hotel. Wonderful food, but very pricey. My companions were off to Kenya (where I had been last August) and I was off solo to Vic Falls and three camps in Botswana.
See the photos at: https://picasaweb.google.com/103591574518901571465/Tanzania2012?authkey=Gv1sRgCJCCtZHjmrLlWA

Part 3: VICTORIA FALLS/BOTSWANA (July 6-17)
Up at 3:45AM for the early flight to Joburg. I was a bit worried about my bag making the transfer because of the short timeframe, but it made it to the Falls. There was a very long wait there for Zim visas ($30) but finally arrived at 3PM at the Vic Falls Hotel, my only colonial era indulgence. I took the Zambezi "booze cruise" that afternoon which was relaxing though we did not see many animals save some distant hippos. On board as color was King George, a local man outfitted in real lion skins. Ick. The next day I did the walk to the Falls and got drenched -- having pooh-poohed the guy who said I needed a full-length poncho. Ah well, it was worth it and I dried fast. At one point as I was gazing at the magnificent view a young African woman walked by me and said: "You see God all around here, don't you?" A lovely sentiment even for a non-believer. That afternoon I did the helicopter ride over the Falls and it was spectacular -- great photos with rainbows! A must do IMHO. I liked staying at the VFH. I love history and the place positively reeks of the past with the old photos, oil paintings, etc. Could have done without the stuffed heads, however. I could hear the "thunder" of the Falls from my room which provided relaxing background music to my visit. And there are animals on the grounds -- a bevy of warthogs always munching on the lush green grass plus baboon troops running all around which I loved. The next day I took a light aircraft with Wilderness Safaris on the 25-minute flight to Kasane, though when I arrived there was no one to let me into the country. Much running around and someone finally found a key and let me in. (BTW getting out of Zim costs a fortune given the $50 airport tax for international destinations.)

Duma Tau Camp:
A 40-minute flight brought me to Chobe airstrip where I was met by a Duma Tau guide and taken about 30 minutes to the camp. On the way we came upon a large troop of chacma baboons, bushbuck, an ostrich pair and a lone bull elephant. The camp is small (five tents) and the staff was very friendly. My wonderful guide Name (always introduced as "His name is Name") is a young guy from Maun with fancy corn-rowed hair swept back into a kind of pony tail. The other camp staff were also a lot of fun: the manager KG, Mr. B, two Abbie and Abby, Ona, Taps, DK etc. I loved the camp! Dinner was taken communally at a big table which was nice for the solo traveler. I had planned on being able to stay at the new camp but (surprise, surprise) it was not close to being ready by the time I arrived. I did a tour of the new facility, however, and it looks like it will be beautiful.
My first game drive at Duma Tau was a roaring success. After a slow start, we found three hippos on land scarfing up on yummy grass -- and then a pride of about 14 lionesses and a rambunctious cub. They were all sprawled out napping, then grooming each other and playing with the cub who was pouncing on all of them. Very cool! We had our sundowner in the car watching them and it was a grand show. Less happily we also saw the carcass of a dead elephant, still pretty much intact. No one knows how it died but it was a sad scene. We also spotted red lechwe -- which I had not seen before -- as well as lots of eles, warthogs, and many interesting birds (among them ostrich, guinea fowl, various kinds of hornbills, kingfishers, hooded vultures, bee-eaters, go away and secretary birds, red-crested korhaan, jacanas, black-necked plover, fish eagles, hammerkops, hadeda ibis, burchell's starlings....)
The second game drive took off in bitter cold weather: 38 degrees in an open vehicle. Thank goodness for the warm ponchos and the "bushbabies" on our seats. I did not bring gloves but bought some asap in the curio shop. But summary of the drive (cold aside) is: wow wow wow! My #1 hope was to see wild dogs and did we ever see wild dogs! Name kept on the phone with other guides and we (two cars) finally went off-road for a long stretch and there they were -- a pack of about 12, several with bloody muzzles. They were "mobiling fast" for sure but stopped by our truck for a few minutes then we followed them another bit until they stopped totally. In the near distance we could see a lot of dirt flying so the speculation was that they were digging a den for the alpha female who was pregnant. It was a thrilling sighting {see attached photos} No one knew if she had already had the pups but to be safe they closed off the area to vehicles so as not to endanger the little ones.
Other sightings in that drive included: several southern giraffes, steenbok, kudu, adult and baby tsessebe, lots of wonderful birds such as black necked plovers, lilac breasted roller, Bradfield's hornbills, hammerkops, grand hornbills (endangered), oxpeckers and many others. As I was resting that afternoon 2 eles walked about 3 feet from my deck. The first one shocked me when I looked up at the rustle of leaves. The next one sauntered by about 15 minutes later, quite nonchalantly. Our afternoon drive was less eventful though we did see a group of bachelor bull eles as well as several mongoose and three hippos (one baby) on land that hightailed it away when they saw our vehicle. The evening dinner was held in the kgotla (Seswana for "boma") and we served ourselves from big iron pots cooking over the fire.
On day three's AM drive we came upon a sleeping hippo right by the road. He looked very surprised to see us (we likely looked the same) and after eyeing us for a bit, he slowly rose and stood and stood and stood before moving very cautiously away. We later came upon a troop of baboons and loved one older male who had separated himself from the others and found a sunny place down by the channel where he fell asleep. When we returned 20 minutes later he was still sitting in the same position -- hands in his lap -- soaking up the rays. Ah solid comfort!

Kwetsani Camp -- Okavango Delta
Kwetsani is located in the Jao Concession along the Moremi Game Reserve -- some 600 sq.km in the heart of the Delta. The owners are allowed to keep only 48 beds in the entire reserve so it feels quite uncrowded. The camp has 5 "tree chalets", thatched with hardwood floors, canvas sides, glass and wood door. The tents are raised about 4 meters off the ground and have lovely views of the grassland out front and the riverine trees in the distance. The rooms are very comfortable with large beds, desks, indoor/outdoor showers and separate room for the commode. The camp works off a generator most of the time though water is heated by solar power. My guide was MT, a large, genial man who clearly knows his way around the Delta byways! I arrived at the airstrip in Jao (after 25 minute flight from Chobe, a stop in Vumbura, then a 10 minute flight) and got on a power/motor boat for a very fast (25 minutes) ride thorough the waterways to the camp. I was greeted by the S. African managers (William and wife Angie) and camp staff who greeted me with a welcome song -- a nice touch. My stomach was bothering me again and I feared for a bit that I would have to break out the Cipro again -- getting caught with diarrhea in a boat?!
I felt better after a rest and was glad I had gone on the drive to Hynda Island. We ended up tracking mother and daughter leopards. Mom finally sat down and started attending to a wound on her flank but junior was eager to get to a nearby kudu kill. We watched her under the palm bushes as she munched and tore at the carcass. It was quite a different experience to take the motorboat to the game drives...a total maze of small waterways, boat going very fast, cold wind blowing. Everyone wears masks over the faces and sunglasses and hats pulled down low because of the midges that get into everything. I bought a scarf and joined the crowd and was so glad I had, especially on the return trip through midge-heavy territory! MT came and picked me up at 7 to go to dinner, but not before my tent got a very good shaking from a big ele pulling down a tree next to the deck. The food at Kewtsani is very nice and the cook even made us leopard shaped bread (so good) in honor of our sighting!
My second day we motored to Jao Island (where the airstrip is) to find the resident lions. We did locate the male who was lying under a palm bush trying to stay awake, his head constantly falling onto his chest. We then tried to find the two females but after almost 2 hours following tracks this way and that, we had to give up.
William the camp manager (new to this job) joined us for my 3rd game drive and we had two really nice sightings:
•A hyena pup in a den who, when he heard the vehicle, whimpered and went looking for his mom who was same ways away dispatching a carcass with some other females.
•The daughter leopard we had seen the day before jumped down from a comfy tree, walked toward us, right past another vehicle and off to sleep on a termite mound. Lovely sight they are! Other sightings included a "dazzle" of zebras + a "tower" of giraffes (much lighter in color than what I have seen before) + lots of the usual eles, impalas etc So jaded!
On my last morning in the Delta (July 13) I took my first and only mokoro ride. I was underwhelmed, though I probably should not admit that. We went out first thing in the morning and it was very peaceful. We saw tiny long reed frogs and spotted reed frogs (ditto) plus birds. At one point the poler backed the boat into the reeds (he was naturally behind me) and I could hear him zipping and peeing off the side of the mokoro. Don't know if they charge extra for that. I left for Chitabe later that morning via Mombo camp (7 minute flight) and the to Chitabe (about 18 minutes), then a 30-minute vehicle trip to Chitabe Lediba.

Chitabe Lediba Camp -- July 13-16
Lediba means "small stream/channel" and sure enough there was just that in front of the camp which is located on the Citabe Concession in the SE of the Okavango Delta. It borders the Moremi Game Reserve and sits between two rivers. There are Illala palms on the floodplains but also open savanna and acacia woodlands. The logo of Chitabe is the wild dog but those have apparently gone, at least for the time being. The guides believe the alpha female was killed and the survivors had not been seen in several months. Does anyone have more recent information?
Chitabe Lediba has 5 tents, all in the "Meru" style with peaked plasticized canvas roofs. Like other camps it is built on elevated wooden decks and is set among large trees. The rooms are very lovely and have indoor/outdoor showers, hardwood floors, two large porcelain above-countertop sinks and luscious big fluffy towels. The dining area/bar is thatched and also built on raised platforms to provide good viewing of the grassland outside. Animals go by with regularity, especially eles. The rooms are nicely decorated, with interesting African pots, animal photos, maps and art. Next to sinks there are two places for suitcases, shelves and hangers -- plenty of place to put your unpacked duffel. There is also a noisy troop of baboons who appear to make this something of a permanent home. There was abundant hot (almost boiling) water which was a lifesaver because it was VERY cold when I was there -- high 30s in the AM and 42 degrees during our last dinner in the open lounge area. We all ate with blankets wrapped around us. One couple even took some of the decorations off their room chairs and wound them around their heads. On drives we all wore fleeces, hats, gloves, plus ponchos and cuddled bushbabies. The wind was also blowing rather badly which only increased the discomfort. I never wanted to get out of the shower! The manager Shaa (filling in for the regular manager) said it was unusual and even she walked around in a blanket! Note to self: bring long underwear if I go again at this time of year!
We saw a wide variety of birds/raptors: hooded vulture, ground hornbill (endangered), francolin, goshawks, etc martial and bateleur eagles, fish eagles, wattled cranes, bee eaters, hoopoes, wattled cranes, and many others. One thing I had not seen before was a male warthog standing at the entrance to his burrow. He ran off after trying to stare us down and two others then emerged after him, glaring at us for disturbing them at home I guess. Those two finally backed back down into the burrow and left just their tusks and noses out looking at us. So cute! That night we did the kgotla dinner as we had at Duma Tau and the food was very nice. I also managed to fall in love with S. Africa pinotage and the camp managers called ahead to make sure the next camp had some in stock which was very thoughtful.
I was not feeling well the next morning so decided to try to sleep in. That plan was thwarted by the troop of baboons outside and on top of my tent who were screaming and leaping and generally making quite a ruckus.
The next two days produced some nice sightings:
•A bull ele trying to shake fruit out of a palm tree by putting his tusks on either side then bashing his head against the tree trunk. Worked quite well but there must be an easier way, no? We stopped for our sundowner some ways away from his group and the biggest one started slowly moving toward us. When he was about 50 feet Luke told us to get back into the vehicle...didn't have to tell us twice.
•We were heading back with the red light when we heard a lion's roar and decided to follow. I thought Luke was going the wrong way, off-roading madly, and then there they were: a mating pair! The male had a head as big as a Fiat 500 and was looking directly at us from about 10 feet away. He was apparently tired from the frenzied mating and kept looking like he was falling asleep. Then the female awoke and raised her head and the male gave 5-6 full-throated roars which came from somewhere so deeply wild that they actually raised the hair on the back of my neck. The noise felt like rumbles in my own body, a strange, wonderful and more than a bit unnerving experience.
•On the way back we saw a gorgeous genet on a tree branch with her luxurious tail spread out behind her, and then a civet cat caught by the light quite close to the road.
•Way up in what looked like an uncomfortable tree we spied another leopard. She was one they all knew, easily identifiable because she has two different color eyes. She surveyed the territory from her perch for about 20 minutes, then came down the tree and walked away. We followed her and as she posed nicely on a nearby termite mound, we heard our right front tire POP -- we had hit a tree stump! Luke got out of the vehicle and changed the tire while we kept watch -- a bit nerve-wracking for all of us!
•A group of lionesses with two 6-month old cubs. They were all sunning and napping, except one of the little ones who was enthralled as she played with a large ball of ele dung. The other cub was sleeping, rolling back and forth on his back with his paws in the air - so cute. One of the cubs kept trying to nurse from his auntie, who put up with it for just so long, then cuffed him and walked away. A wonderful sighting for my last game drive in Africa!
I flew to Joburg via Maun and overnighted at the D'Oreale Grande, an over-decorated hotel near the casino. Not my speed but comfortable. Got to the airport at 6:15 the next morning to be told by BA that my reservation had not "been ticketed" and that I could not fly. Very long story but basically American had not taken the miles out of my account. I had to get a day room at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel and spend 2 hours on the phone with AA. No dice. No flight home without spending the initial 100,000 miles + another 75K for the "last-minute" purchase. I was furious but twelve hours later I did get on the plane and, via London, home to SFO. My detailed customer service letter to AA produced a $300 voucher. The change (their problem) had cost me about $600. Gggrrr!
Despite the last day upsets, it was a wonderful trip. I was so pleased to have seen both my "must sees" (gorillas and wild dogs) and to have met so many wonderful people along the way. Don't know if I will get back there but I sure hope so!
See photos at: https://picasaweb.google.com/103591574518901571465/VictoriaFallsBotswana2012?authkey=Gv1sRgCPbJx9aTl5XX1wE

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