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Dennis's Trip Report: Caprivi Strip, Vic Falls and Hwange Park, Zimbabwe

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Nov 18th, 2006, 06:22 PM
  #101
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The All Day Hunt For Rhino
We agreed at dinner that we would stay out all day and hunt for the rhino. Tom also wanted to find an ostrich so we were on a quest. It rained most of the night and the temperature went from ninety-nine degrees to fifty eight overnight. To make matters worse, Bobby had to take “Willy” to pick up some guests and we’d be stuck doing an all day game drive in the Land Cruiser. After a breakfast of cereal, fruit and toast, we set off. It was cold and the most annoying rain I have ever seen. Not like rain, not like sprinkles, just drops of water falling from the sky at random. Strangest thing I’ve seen and after hours of being in this rain, we weren’t wet. We drove to the first waterhole in the park where the rhinos allegedly drank daily. We got there at eight and asked the pump boys if the rhino had come today. “Not today.” Foster decided if the rhino would not come to us, we’d go to the rhino, so we parked the car and went on a two hour rhino walk. I was thinking if a rhino charged and gored Foster, I’d never find my way out of this bush. No luck with the rhino though, so we headed up into the hills and met some researchers who hadn’t seen the rhino today either. We drove on and there to the right was Tom’s ostrich...one of us was happy, and it wasn’t me! And of course Foster said “Oh my God, an ostrich!” We pulled into another waterhole for lunch. The lodge made about twelve sandwiches and muffins to tide us over. Foster called to one of the pump boys who came over to the car and was talking to Foster about the rhino. I offered the kid a sandwich and muffin and he devoured them in one bite each. Next time I come here, I’m going to bring some granola bars or something for these poor kids to eat. Had a nice conversation and off to the first waterhole and wait for the rhino. By this time the rain had stopped and the sun was bright. Near the pond there was a Giant Kingfisher, the first Foster had seen in Zimbabwe and a crocodile. I went and tried to antagonize the croc but he just laid there and I was less than six feet from him and nothing! We all fell asleep by the pond and asked some researchers to wake us if rhino came down. After an hour, nothing so we continued our quest for the elusive rhino. As the sun was setting and I was getting hungry, we stopped by another waterhole to watch the animals come to drink and have sundowners. Tonights finger food was chocolate brownies and leftover date cake. The date cake was most excellent with dinner, even better at sundowners. We were having a lively conversation when all of a sudden Foster got the most serious look on his face and said:
“I have some very bad news for you Dennis”
Not knowing what was going on, I said “What?”
Foster, with a deadpan expression said “The rhinos have gone to Angola!”
We all laughed ourselves sick and went back to camp. We had two new guests, so the camp was no longer just ours. An interesting couple, she a travel agent who does specialized African safaris to places like Cameroon, Gabon and Angola(!) and had some interesting stories to tell. I think he was her boy-toy and just had fun while he could. Dinner was lamb chops, couscous, veggies and chocolate pudding. Had an amarula, watched the elephants drink from the pool and went to bed...it was freezing in the tent that night!

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Nov 18th, 2006, 06:53 PM
  #102
 
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Dennis - Foster sounds wonderful - I love his Angola comment! Really enjoying your report - thanks!

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Nov 19th, 2006, 05:17 AM
  #103
 
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How wonderful - so many fantastic experiences and Foster does indeed sound like a GEM!
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Nov 19th, 2006, 05:47 AM
  #104
 
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I've never before had so many laughs on the topic of Angola!

I doubt I'll be able to view wildlife again without at least thinking, "Oh my God!"

I'm glad Tom saw his "Oh my God" ostrich.
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Nov 19th, 2006, 07:24 AM
  #105
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The Elephant Whisperer
On the way back to camp the day of the rhino hunt, Foster stopped the car near a big, old bull elephant and said “Do you want to get some good pictures?” “Sure.” Tom, being the smart one stayed in the car . Foster grabbed his rifle and off we went to see this old elephant. Foster knew him by name and pulled two sticks off a tree and now he was camoflaged and I wasn’t...hmmm, something wrong with this picture! We got about 20 feet from this thing and I stepped on a stick “SNAP!” and the elephant came at us. Foster raised his sticks and the elephant stopped. He said, “Take a picture, take a picture” So I was taking pictures and for some reason the flash went off and the elephant took three more steps towards us. Foster said “Take a picture, take a picture” I said “Foster, I’m trying not to crap my pants, I can’t take a picture!” The elephant came closer until he was I swear ten feet from Foster, I took some pictures, shaking and looking for an exit if the thing trampled Foster. Then Foster threw up his arms, shouted something in Zimbabwean and the elephant walked backwards twenty steps and disappeared into the bush. “Ah, that was exciting wasn’t it?” It really was, my heart was racing, I was bone white, yet we laughed all the way back to the car. Tom said he heard yelling and was about to drive off. When we got to the car Foster said, “I know that elephant and as long as you didn’t run, you were safe.” “I like to do that with Americans and Japanese, they appreciate being so close, but the French, that’s another story, the French really do crap their pants.”

Sad to Leave Somalisa
Got up this morning and had a good breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast and fruit and said our good-byes to Bobby and Melina. It was sad leaving here but knowing we’d be back. Our plane wasn’t until eleven, but Foster insisted we leave no later than seven so that we could continue our hunt for rhino, just in case they came back from Angola in the night. So our last day we still get a four hour game drive. Stopped at the ponds and said our good-byes to the giraffes, wildebeests, bat-eared foxes and anything else we saw along the way. We spent some time at the “rhino” pool, but still no rhinos. Foster said “Next time for sure, Oh my God, next time for sure!” There’s a Painted Dog Conservancy just outside of the airport at Hwange and I told Foster I’d like to visit there on our way since we didn’t see any wild dogs this time. “No problem, we’ll go there” Drove through the park gates and headed for the Conservancy and we saw some kudu on the side of the road. We stopped and watched them for awhile and I noticed something just ahead on the side of the road. I said “Oh My God, wild dogs” Foster looked and sure enough, there were eight dogs along the road. Five adults and three pups, one of the adults wearing a collar. We drove up and parked watching these fantastic animals. We were there about twenty minutes when some people walking on the road scared the dogs and off they went. We went to the Painted Dog Conservancy, met a nice man who was in charge, “Xmas” (Don’t you just love African names?) who told us all about the project, how they took in and released the dogs. Very interesting. They had eight dogs there in three seperate cages and two stages of release. A great project funded by a grant and donations.. The dogs were so beautiful up close, even seperated by a fence, they had that wild, far off look in their eyes. Another incredible experience!

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Nov 19th, 2006, 07:28 AM
  #106
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Thoughts on Somalisa
Everything about Somalisa was magical, beautiful and an amazing place to stay! The hosts Bobby and Melina were a lot of fun. We talked about everything even filling them in on the latest Hollywood gossip that they missed living out in the bush. Such class for such young people, they will get whatever they wish for in life. Not enough good things can be said about Foster, he made the whole trip. Incredible guy! Willy the jeep, what a way to safari! We lucked out by being the only ones in camp, otherwise we may have been stuck in a Land Cruiser. The setting of the camp, the tents, the bucket showers and scoop water, Gossie’s cooking, Naomi’s smile, the elephants and lions....everything about Somalisa was exceptional and I miss being there already. I will go back...

Back To The Falls
After the Painted Dog Conservancy we went to the airport and waited for the plane. It was sad leaving Foster, but promised we’d be back to see him and his new project. With heavy hearts we boarded the plane and waved good-bye to Foster. Our pilot from Sefofane was a nice young guy who informed us that it would not be good to crash on the way to Vic Falls as there are only two villages on the way. I told him since I paid to fly, if we crashed, he’d have to carry me as I wasn’t walking. We didn’t crash and arrived in Vic Falls in about fourty five minutes. We were met at the airport and taken to the Victoria Falls Hotel. The Victoria Falls Hotel is very beautiful, old style colonial and pretty darn stuffy! We waited for our room to be prepared and had lunch in the restaurant. The staff all in their black jackets and ties, the A&K crowd in their Banana Republic matching outfits...too much for my taste! Lunch was o.k. Large rather tasteless Monte Cristo Sandwich. Got our room and since Tom didn’t go to the falls on our first stop, we went to see the falls again. We took the back way in and didn’t get hassled too much but on the way out we were bombarded by people selling elephants, wanting our shoes, our pants, our shirts, anything. I gave one guy a hat and told him the same as I told Handsome, but he didn’t do much to keep the others away. Finally I asked one if they take money from Finland. “Helsinki?” he asked. Crap, I wasn’t sure where Helsinki was but this Zimbabwean guy did so I said “Yes, all we have is Helsinki dollars.” Well, they are useless in Zimbabwe (if they even exist) so that got the majority of them off of us. We made it to the hotel and decided to just stay in for dinner. Too exhausted to get dressed for dinner so ordered room service. Nice steak, very well cooked and cheaper than ordering at the restaurant.

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Nov 19th, 2006, 07:34 AM
  #107
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Tomorrow I’ll Be A Star
You could not go to a shop in the Victoria Falls Hotel and buy a coke and bring it back to your room, everything had to be by room service. This was getting old fast so I decided to go find a store and buy a bottle of rum and some cokes and just chill out in the room. I went down and asked the doorman at the hotel where I could find some rum.
He said, “the bottle shop at the market was closed.”
“How can it be closed, it’s not even time for sundowners yet?”
“The bottle shop closes at four thirty.”
“Where can I get some rum?”
“Room service”
“No, I want my own. Do you have another suggestion?”
“You can take a taxi farther than the market to the bottle shop that doesn’t close at four thirty”
“Fine, call me a cab.’
He called a cab and told the guy he was to charge me not more than five dollars each way, that I was to be brought back in one piece, with all my money and a bottle of rum or he would hunt him down.
The cabbie agreed and off we went. He was a very nice guy, interesting and fun to talk to and when the first bottle shop didn’t have rum, he said for five dollars more, he would take me to the bottle shop in his township. We pulled up to the bottle shop in the township and all the locals were drinking their beer in the parking lot. Everyone stared at me and the cab driver and we went into the shop and there was rum! Everyone in the shop shook my hand, told me hello, asked about America and if I loved Zimbabwe and please come back. Another nice experience. I asked for some Coke to go with the rum, but they didn’t sell their Coke as take out, but the lady would find a jar to put some in. I declined and said I’d get some Coke elsewhere. On the way back to the hotel, the cab driver (wish I remembered his name, he was great!) said:
“Tomorrow I will be a star!”
“How come?”
“I brought a white man to the township....all the way from America. I will be the star!”
“Cool”, I thought, helping someone by just searching for a bottle of rum. Got back to the hotel and the cabbie said:
“Fifteen dollars for the ride and fourty dollars for the rum” Fifty five dollars for a bottle of rum and we still had to get room service to bring the Cokes! It was the best fifty five dollars (plus tip) I’ve ever spent, got to see a piece of Zimbabwe that most people don’t...rum hunting in a township, most excellent!

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Nov 19th, 2006, 07:54 AM
  #108
 
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Dennis,
This just keeps getting better and better!
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Nov 19th, 2006, 08:31 AM
  #109
 
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I am loving your report Soooo much, I dont want it to end (I am sure that it is the way you felt about the trip)
!
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Nov 19th, 2006, 12:07 PM
  #110
 
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What a fantastic report Dennis!!! Ellies drinking from the pool on MORE than one occasion AND wild dogs.... fantastic!!! AND no trip to Burundi OR ost luggage !! Sorry to hear about your bad guiding experience with Beaven though but I'm very glad that Foster made up for it - he sounds like quite a character .... gone to Angora indeed

Imelda
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Nov 19th, 2006, 12:10 PM
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oops, that should have been 'lost' and 'Angola' not 'ost' and 'Angora' !!

Imelda
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Nov 19th, 2006, 12:41 PM
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The elephant whisperer and rum hunting installments were hilarious.
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Nov 19th, 2006, 01:12 PM
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Dennis,
I was sure you were going to say "all the rum was in Angola!"

Lily
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Nov 20th, 2006, 05:54 AM
  #114
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That’s Why They Put Those Signs Out...
I had carried a bag of peanuts all the way from Hawaii, through California, London, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe and decided I wasn’t going to bring them back. When we woke up this morning, I saw a bunch of baboons on the lawn in front of our room and thought I’d give the peanuts to them. Tom said, “There’s a sign that says DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS” and of course I said “They don’t mean us” so threw some peanuts to the baboon nearest to the hotel. WHOOSH! Twenty more baboons were under our second story window waiting for peanuts. “Check this out, this is cool!” Tom grabbed some peanuts and he threw some out his window. Quicker than anything the baboons were on the balcony next to my window. I said “Oh, SH*T!” and ran into the bathroom. There were baboons trying to get into the room! Tom managed to dump the bag of peanuts on the lawn, shut the windows and we were stared at by all these baboons hanging on the ledge trying to get into the room. Quite a scary experience. Finally they jumped down and I came out of the bathroom and got ready to go on the Lion Encounter.

Walking With Lions
The van from Safari Par Excellence picked us up at six thirty to take us to the Lion Encounter. We were shown a short video, signed waivers and told of the dangers we would face, then off to see the lions! Some of you reading this think it’s politically incorrect or whatever to be doing this, I saw it as a chance of a lifetime, didn’t know all the answers as to right or wrong, but I wanted to do it and I did. It was an incredible time and I enjoyed every minute spent with the lions, don’t regret it and would do it again. There are four stages in this rehabilitation/release program. First stage is breeding and the Lion Encounter walks where they get the money for to support the program. Second stage is the lions go to an area with game and human contact and are taught to hunt. Third stage is the lions are put in a ten thousand acre area with game and no human contact. Fourth stage is the release. They currently have fourteen lions ready to be released. Seven into Zambia and seven into Zimbabwe are scheduled in the near future. CITES is watching the release program and if successful will offer grants to keep the program going. Any area or country that then needs lions will be offered them. The lions who don’t make it past stage two are sent back to the breeding program. They said they don’t sell to zoos or canned hunts, but I didn’t understand what happens if they have too many that don’t make it past stage one. Anyway, it was great! Came upon our first three lions aged twelve to fourteen months old. We all got to pet them, hug them and take our pictures with them. We spent about a half hour with them, then walked around (holding their tails) for awhile. Most of the time the lions were laying down trying to sleep as they do in the wild, and as most house cats do too. Then to the other part of the compound where there were two cubs four months old. They were the cutest things! Just like house kittens, playing with each other and full of mischief! We got to play with them, take pictures and enjoy watching their antics! Their fur is rougher than I thought it would be and they purr. Cute, cute, cute! They walked with us for a short time, then to the lodge for breakfast and back to the hotel. It was fun, exciting and I can say I petted lions, one of the highlights of this trip. Such beautiful animals, I hope the program is successful so more of these creatures can be released back into the wilds of Africa.
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Nov 20th, 2006, 12:01 PM
  #115
 
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Dennis - Thank you for this trip report. About the lions (not to stir up anything) but somewhere in this report you said that the managers of Somalisa had worked with the program? Did they have anything further to add? I've booked the walk for March and your description has made me excited. I too hope that this is a well run breeding/reintroduction program. Can't wait to see photos of you and the lions.
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Nov 20th, 2006, 02:36 PM
  #116
 
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Hi Dennis, what a wonderful trip report - full of humor, mystery, highs, lows - makes me want to visit another African country and we just got back last night from Zambia! Well done! Mandy
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Nov 20th, 2006, 02:50 PM
  #117
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Dennis:
Glad that you had such a good time at Somalisa. I enjoyed your rum story.
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Nov 20th, 2006, 02:51 PM
  #118
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Vee-yes we talked about the Lion Program while at Somalisa, and from what they said, it sounded on the up and up and a worthwhile project. Hopefully this is true. I did enjoy every minute spent with the lions, you will too! Shouldn't be too long before they release the 14 into the wild and see how effective the program is.
Mandy-Welcome back! Nice seeing you in London, i sent you an email, let me know how you liked LRL!!
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Nov 20th, 2006, 03:34 PM
  #119
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It Can’t Be Over So Soon
We were picked up at the hotel, back through Zimbabwe immigration, into Zambia (three year visa stamp) and to Livingstone Airport. Had an hour and a half wait then boarded Nationwide for our flight back to Johannesburg. Another sandwich and juice on the plane and soon we were in Joburg. Checked in, got our boarding passes and had pizza in one of the shops, then souvenir shopping at Out of Africa, a great shop at the airport. I always wondered how come all the carved wooden animals always looked the same, and how they made so many of them. Tom saw an employee come out of the side door of the shop on the way to the trash bin carrying all these boxes marked “MADE IN CHINA” Hmmmm.....not hand carved in Africa after all!. Boarded our plane, took an Ambien, woke up in London, short layover and back to San Francisco. The worst part of the whole trip was the two hour commute from SFO to the East Bay! Take me back to Hwange! Spent a few days with family and then home to Hawaii. The dog and cats were glad I was home, I sure wasn’t!

Comments on the Present and Future of Zimbabwe
I am in no way political. I study the issues and vote, that’s all. But from comments from everyone I spoke to on the political and social status of Zimbabwe, this is what I learned. Don’t judge a country by it’s goverment. Zimbabwe is a beautiful country, the people were friendly, helpful and kind. Other than the hawkers hounding you to buy their souvenirs at Victoria Falls, I felt safe the whole time, even in the township. The people are hungry for tourism and go out of their way to ensure you have a good time and return. From talking to many people, from Handsome and boys on the street, to taxi drivers, lodge workers, security guards, shopowners to businessmen, all feel that their country will be right again and things are getting better and will continue to get better in the future. They say Mugabe will not be in power forever and when he is out, Zimbabwe will be reborn, even better than it was. Tourism is picking up, Ilala Lodge had a ninety-five percent occupancy rate while we were there. There are stores, lodges, camps and businesses opening up. Hwange National Park is run by grants and donations, not the government, and probably other game parks do the same. The markets and stores are continuing to have more and more food to sell, the main shortages are flour and rice. They do have gas supplies there, the problem is to buy gas, it has to be in foreign currency. All the companies have foreign currency accounts which when making purchases such as gas, has to be approved by the government. It used to take three or four days to get approved, it’s now taking ten to fourteen days, which is making a crunch on the people dependent on gas. Inflation is high, poverty is high but all the people I talked with had dreams of a better future. Hopefully, their dreams will come true.


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Nov 20th, 2006, 03:38 PM
  #120
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The End
Well all good things must come to an end, wish this trip to Africa didn’t have to end...it was the best and the worst and now the bad is funny, and the good is great. I saw a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot. This trip has only deepened my desire to keep returning to Africa and soaking in all it has to give. Some definite highlights in my life were done on this trip and that makes me want to go back for even more life moments. Foster will stay in my thoughts and heart for a long time to come. On the way to work the other day I saw a mongoose cross the road. I said to myself, “Oh My God, a mongoose!” Thanks for reading my report, hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Next trip will be back to Hwange, Mana Pools and Foster’s project in the Jerera district....and of course a few nights in Angola!
Aloha and a hui hou!
Dennis
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