Final Days in Africa

Life at Vumbura Plains was pretty plush. There were lots of little touches that contributed. When we first arrived, we were asked during our orientation what drinks we preferred for sundowners. We said gin and tonic, please. Then they asked what sort of gin we’d like! Upon returning from each game drive we were greeted with a cool or warm (depending on the weather), moist, scented towel to wipe the dust from our faces and hands. The service was excellent. The kitchen produced delicious food and we enjoyed having some of our dinners and all of our lunches at private tables. Meals were less time structured than at Chitabe, which was relaxing. They had some delicious house roasted nuts at sundowners which we also found in the mini-bar in our room. In an effort to be more sustainable and cut down on the use of disposable plastic water bottles, Wilderness Safaris gives each guest a stainless steel water bottle to use during their stay, and of course to take home as a souvenir. As at Chitabe, all the buildings and walkways were raised off the ground, and the common areas looked out over the watery plain. The guest bathroom near the “lobby” also faced the view, which you could see quite easily from the throne since there was no wall on that side! The wildlife was everywhere. While being escorted after dark back to our room to freshen up for dinner one evening, our flashlights lit up a hippo grazing in the grass just below us. At night the sounds of the bush were everywhere, including right outside our tent.

On a couple of occasions the elephants made an appearance in camp during the day. Elephants are mezmerizing. They exude a sense of peace and a slow and steady rhythm in everything they do. It’s infectious. I was thrilled when one afternoon, as we were lazing about on our deck, I saw some elephants making their way along the camp heading towards us. They were eating and walking at a leisurely pace and soon they were right in front of us. Not only was it a fun photographic opportunity, but it was exciting to be so close to simply observe them.



Michael viewing the elephants from the comfort of our plunge pool!

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Bath time!

Bath time!

The time of year we visited the Okavango Delta was not the wet season despite the fact that the rains were just starting. The wettest time is from June to August when the waters of the Okavango river flood the delta. There is water in parts of the Delta all year long, but when the floods come, it increases dramatically. Even though it was not flood season, we still travelled through water sometimes in the vehicles and you could get an idea of what it would be like with a lot more water.

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Here are some more of the birds we saw.

Ground hornbill

Ground hornbill

African fish eagle

African fish eagle



Slaty egret

Slaty egret

Helmeted guinea fowl or "bush chicken"

Helmeted guinea fowl or “bush chicken”

Marabou stork. He was hanging around the lions waiting for his turn at the kill.

Marabou stork. He was hanging around the lions waiting for his turn at the kill.

One afternoon we watched a giraffe take a drink. That may not sound like much but it’s a bit of an ordeal for the giraffe. First, because they are very vulnerable with their heads down low, they are very cautious about where and when they drink. This giraffe was constantly looking around for predators. Also, because of their long necks and the blood pressure that builds up when their heads are down, they can’t stay in that position for long. So giraffes tend to take a drink, stand up, take another drink, stand up, etc. They also don’t lower or raise their heads very quickly because that might wreak havoc with their blood pressure as well. The giraffe doesn’t want to pass out because he stood up too quickly!

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We saw more elephants on our game drives, including a mom and her baby and a big bull elephant who we watched methodically eating the bark off some branches.

Mom, looking to see if the coast is clear.

Mom, looking to see if the coast is clear.

Baby peaks out

Baby peaks out



Grabbing branches





Here are some photos of the sausage tree which I described earlier. Salami anyone?!

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On our last visit to see the lion family with their buffalo kill we saw them lounging and playing in a very peaceful scene. The cubs were so playful and tried to engage their uncle, who was really quite patient with them.

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Starting to wake up

Starting to wake up


Everyone wants a good relaxing stretch

Everyone wants a good stretch

The cubs can't resist jumping their uncle

The cubs can’t resist jumping on their uncle

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taking a drink

Taking a drink. She did this about 3 ft. from our vehicle.

All that was left of the carcass.

All that was left of the carcass.

Here is an elephant that came into camp one morning just as we were getting ready to go out on our game drive. We are in the vehicle waiting until it is safe to drive off. It’s amazing that the elephants don’t do more damage to the structures, but they’re pretty good at avoiding them.


On our last game drive we saw a lovely herd of elephants with young in tow.

Notice the baby you can see through her legs.

Notice the baby you can see through her legs.

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I really loved the elephants and could have watched them for hours. Particularly pleasing were the low rumbling noises they made to communicate with each other. It was an incredible sound.

The view from our deck.

The view from our deck.

On our very last morning we opted not to get up at 5:30am and go out on a game drive. We had seen so much already and had a very long journey ahead. So instead, we slept in and packed our things, had brunch and said our farewells. We were driven to the airstrip around 11am to catch our plane to Maun. Here is the pane that took us there. It was the largest of the three we took around the Delta.


On the way to Maun, we stopped off at another camp to exchange a few passengers. Here are a few photos of the flight as well as one of Maun as we were coming in.

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The tiny airport in Maun was crowded and hot as we waited for our flight to Johannesburg. We had retrieved the extra luggage left with Wilderness Safaris without incident and finally boarded the plane for an uneventful flight back to South Africa. During our layover  in Jo’burg we managed to change into some clean clothes for our transatlantic flight and re-packed our bags a bit. We found our gate and boarded the plane for the 16+ hour trip to Atlanta. It was a long flight and a bit of a blur. We watched some movies, tried to sleep, and simply endured. In Atlanta we had plenty of time to catch our flight to Albuquerque, so there was no stress getting through customs, re-checking our bags onwards, and finding a proper breakfast. I think we slept some more on the flight to New Mexico and arrived in early afternoon after about 33 hours of travel. At that point we had to decide if we were going to make the 3 1/2 hour car journey to Durango or get a hotel room and rest up first. We decided to go for it and used our last burst of energy to drive home. Our dog was very happy to see us and our house sitter had kindly left a pot of soup on the stove. Whew! It was a relief to take a hot shower and relax after our travel marathon.

Long journeys by plane are always a bit surreal. Your body is confused about what time it is and you have the sense of being in limbo when you’re on the plane. It is always a bit of a miracle to arrive someplace knowing you woke up that morning somewhere else, very far away. The long journey to Africa was well worth it. What a fantastic time we had. I think about it all the time and try to remember the details and nuances of what we experienced. I’m so glad I have the photos to look over as a reminder, but they are not the whole of it. The sounds and smells and tastes and people are there too in my memory. Thanks for following along as I chronicled our journey. Your encouragement and support has been a real help. I’m not sure what’s on the horizon for my next adventure, but I’ll be sure to let you know.



Lions, Leopards, and Cheetah, Oh My!

Vumbura Plains delivered on the big cats in a big way. Not only did we get to see the lion family with the buffalo carcass on a daily basis, but we saw several leopards, a couple of cheetah, and other lions, including some that were hunting. It was a big cat fest as far as we were concerned, and we realized just how lucky we were when we met an American man stationed in Gabarone, Botswana, who had been on safari numerous times, and still had never seen a leopard, despite his fervent wish to do so.

One of our leopard sightings was a beautiful female lounging in a tree. The light was decent for once, at least until she turned the other way! After watching her for a bit we got to see her climb down the tree and go hide in the bushes. An approaching troupe of baboons was the cause. You would think a leopard in a tree would not have reason to fear a few baboons, but in reality, she was in grave danger as they could easily have overcome her. Baboons can be fierce aggressors and a lone leopard is wise to seek cover. Here are some photos of that gorgeous lady.

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One of my favorite photos from the whole trip.

One of my favorite photos from the whole trip.



On the way down.

On the way down.

Peaking out from her hideaway.

Peaking out from her hideaway.

We also came across two cheetah brothers who were having a siesta on a termite mound. We watched as they stretched and moved off through the grass to a different termite mound in search of more shade. Though they looked very relaxed, it was clear they were keeping a keen eye on their surroundings.

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Shade was the order of the day.

Shade was the order of the day.

Me and my cheetah friends!

Me and my cheetah friends!

There were, of course, other wonderful things to see besides the big cats. We had a lovely experience in a watery plain watching as two male kudu made their way towards us. With the engine off, we sat in silence, listening to the splash, splash of their steps and admiring the reflections of these magnificent beasts in the water. It was very peaceful.



Another favorite photo.

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Another time, while out on the western edge of the concession that is used by Vumbura Plains, we had just spotted a secretary bird, which I was trying to photograph, when a sable antelope dashed out from behind a bush and ran away. I missed the secretary bird, but just managed to catch the sable. They are very rare so I was quite pleased to see one, even if only briefly!


Here is a smattering of other lovely creatures we saw while at Vumbura Plains.

Mongoose living in a termite mound behind our tent.

Banded mongoose living in a termite mound behind our tent.


A bachelor herd of impala.


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A bateleur

A bateleur


A vervet monkey

A yellow-billed kite

A yellow-billed kite

Crocodile amongst the flowers.

Crocodile amongst the flowers.


Cape buffalo


Red-billed oxpecker

Red-billed oxpecker


One morning after transferring our English companions to another vehicle so they could go to the airstrip, we had Ben all to ourselves. He had heard there were some lions who had been following a herd of buffalo for some time, so we went in search of them. First we found the very large herd of buffalo who were accompanied by many birds taking advantage of the bugs stirred up by their passage. Then we found the lions. There were three of them perched on a termite mound keeping an eye on the herd, or more likely the older male stragglers.

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As we sat and watched them, a couple of older male buffalo got closer and closer. Ben told us that if the lions took off in pursuit, we should be ready to hold on tight as he would try to follow. Not long after, the lions got up and started off into the long grass. It was hard to believe the buffalo weren’t aware of their presence as they were so close. We saw them spread out and slink through the grass, incredibly well camouflaged.


The males watch as the female closes in.


Finally, it all happened in a flash. The lions charged, the buffalo took off, and so did we. That was a wild ride! – two hands on the roll bars and big grins on our faces. The lions missed and the buffalo lived to graze another day, but it was very exciting to see first hand.

After the chase.

After the chase.

The next day we came upon yet another male lion waiting out the heat under the shade of a tree. He was a splendid sight and posed quite obligingly.

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Next time I will share some photos of the incredible elephants we saw and heard and other fun things from our time at Vumbura Plains. Until then, be well and thanks for reading.

Variety at Vumbura Plains

Here is what I wrote while at Vumbura:

“Chitabe was lovely, but Vumbura Plains is a step up in luxury and comfort. Our room is huge, with a large deck, plunge pool, indoor and outdoor showers, as well as lounge areas. It’s all done in a somewhat rustic but tasteful manner, with tall screen doors and sweeping views of the waterways.

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The view

The view from our deck.

You definitely feel you are out in the middle of it all as the hippos and elephants graze just outside your room at night. There are LOTS of bush sounds and a constant chorus of birds chirping, or frogs croaking, or insects etc. You often hear the elephants calling to one another or the hippos making their grunting noises right from your room. Warthogs parade through camp and the mongoose are everywhere. Chitabe had very concentrated game and Vumbura is a bit less so, but there have been some pretty dramatic sightings–lots of lions, leopard, cheetahs, large herds of buffalo, many hippos, and plenty of antelope, zebra, giraffe and elephant. The roads are a bit smoother, which is nice as it means less bouncing around in the Land Rover. Lovely trees abound and there is more water here but strangely, we’ve seen fewer birds, or perhaps fewer at one time. I think it’s a matter of concentration. This feels more spread out than Chitabe was.

The food at Vumbura Plains is terrific. The service is excellent and they go out of their way to make you feel pampered. It is truly amazing to be this far out in the wilderness and have this level of luxury. Camping this is not, although you do feel cut off from the rest of the world.

This frog is real. He was perched atop a bottle stopper and I had to look closely to see if he was breathing!

This frog is real. He was perched atop a bottle stopper and I had to look closely to see if he was breathing!

Our guide here is Ben. He is a lovely, gentle giant who has done a nice job of showing us the area. We’ve had various companions including Germans, Brits, and Americans who live in Botswana. I have to say we’ve seen far more Americans in Botswana than we ever did in South Africa. I’m not sure how I feel about that as I didn’t really come all the way to Africa to spend my time with Americans. We’ve really enjoyed meeting people from other countries.

One interesting adventure here at Vumbura involved going out in a mokoro on the water instead of doing the usual game drive. A mokoro is a type of dugout canoe. Traditionally they were made of wood from the local trees, but Wilderness Safaris uses fiberglass ones because it’s more sustainable. They are quite narrow and propelled by a poler. So Michael and I both sat in the mokoro while Johannes stood at the back and used a pole to push us around through shallow waterways filled with reeds and lily pads. It was lovely to have everything so quiet– no engine noise. We enjoyed seeing a herd of elephants crossing the water in the distance ahead of us.

The view from our mokoro

The view from our mokoro

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Tiny frogs at eye level on the reeds. Look closely!

A tiny frog at eye level on the reeds. Look closely!


Little green frog



The view at sundowners that evening.

We also were treated to some entertainment before having a traditional dinner in the Boma one night. The entertainment consisted of singing and dancing and drumming performed by the staff and it was really fun. They are such good singers with nice harmonies. The staff at Vumbura are delightful, friendly, and welcoming. Our first evening here happened to be Michael’s birthday and they brought out a cake to him and sang for him which was all a surprise.

Another fascinating adventure was a walking safari. We were taken out into the bush by a guide to walk around on foot instead of riding in a Land Rover. This allows you to see the small things you don’t see from the vehicle and learn more about the plants, and ecosystem. Lazarus was our guide. He is very experienced and knowledgeable and usually does private guiding for Wilderness Safaris. In between those trips, he fills in at various camps where he is needed. At thirty-two, he is the youngest to qualify for this level of experience and knowledge. Since he works at many different camps around Botswana, he must know the labyrinthine road systems at all of those places, which in itself seems a huge feat. But he also knows all the nuances of the various habitats and the animals that share them. We had a wonderful 3 hour walk in the bush, enjoyed the quiet, and learned a tremendous amount. And we even saw some animals too, such as zebra, impala, giraffe, tsessebe, wildebeest, kudu and water buck. It was a totally different perspective to be on the ground. The animals in this area are mostly accustomed to the shape and sound of the Land Rover and know it is not a threat. However, humans are a different story. They are quite skittish of anyone on foot, so it was gratifying to have the opportunity to quietly observe some of them on their own terms, so to speak.

Heading out with Lazarus leading the way.

Heading out with Lazarus leading the way.


The weather in Botswana has not been nearly as hot as we expected. We had a bit of sun and heat at Chitabe and beautiful sunsets, but also some rain. And here at Vumbura, it’s been cloudy most of the time with a few showers and good breezes. It’s been cool and easy, not sweltering as we expected. The high cloud cover makes all the difference in the temperature, but it also makes the lighting a bit tough for photography.”

One of the first things we encountered on our first game drive at Vumbura was a pride of lions. We discovered a male lion looking very full and panting with a bloody muzzle. Clearly he had eaten very recently.


Look at that fat belly!

While we were looking at him, we heard a loud growl from somewhere in the bushes nearby. When we went to investigate, we discovered the rest of the pride just the other side of some bushes. They were just tucking into a cape buffalo that must have been killed very recently.


There were four lionesses and some young cubs. It was a bit gruesome, but fascinating to watch them beginning the process of devouring the buffalo. Everyone got in on the act, including the cubs. Over the course of the next four days, we were to see the various stages of destruction of the carcass and get a chance to see the pride resting and playing between feedings.

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These lions became a familiar sight. They didn’t move far from the carcass the entire time we were at Vumbura, so it was easy to find them. The cubs, in particular, were adorable and fun to watch. There were six of them from two litters and they nursed at the two lactating females indiscriminately. That’s how it works in lion society. The large male was not their father, but rather more like an uncle. The dominant male of the pride was not with them at that time.

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Sorry if this seems gruesome.

Sorry if this seems gruesome.

nap time for everyone!

nap time for everyone!

Another thing we enjoyed seeing at Vumbura were the baboons. We had not seen as many before and found them fascinating. There was a troop of baboons near the camp that we saw several times, including their baby. Here are some photos of the baboon family.

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With four days and abundant wildlife to view, I have many more photos to share from our time at Vumbura Plains, as you can imagine. Next time I’ll chronicle some of the more memorable sightings and share some more photos.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Chitabe Lions and Onwards

The weather was a mixed bag while we were at Chitabe Camp in the Okavango Delta of       Botswana. We had expected it to be very hot but it really wasn’t so bad. In fact, while we were there, the rains started, so we had a few game drives where we pulled out the raincoats and ponchos. This cooled things down considerably so we never really felt scorched at any time. One morning after following the wild dogs for a while, we went off amidst drizzle and found lions. There was a male and two females who had eaten recently and were lazing about resting with full bellies. They were a bit muddy but otherwise didn’t seem too disturbed by the rain. The male had found himself a very small tree to act as a sort of umbrella for his head.

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Waking up with a yawn

Waking up with a yawn

Cleaning time

Cleaning time


Muddy girl

Muddy girl

After we left these lions, the drizzle let up and not very far down the track we came across some more male lions, also lazing about.

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There were other fun sights on our rainy game drive as well as the usual stop for tea. We even drove past a baby impala that had been “parked” by it’s mother in the remains of a dead tree. This is the preferred method of safe-keeping when they are too small to keep up with the adults. If baby stays very still, predators won’t see it.



A tsessebe


Tea time!

Gordon making tea 



I think these might be pink-backed pelicans

Mom is probably in the background with the herd.

Mom is probably in the background with the herd.

So cute! And he never moved.

So cute! And he never moved.

After the game drive and breakfast on our last day at Chitabe, we were driven to the airstrip to meet a small plane that would fly us north to our next camp – Vumbura Plains. The plane was small but the weather was fine. Our pilot suggested he take the scenic route and fly up the river. It was fantastic! We had the best view of lots and lots of hippos, some with young, and elephants and other animals as we flew over the landscape. It was a smooth flight and when we landed at the Vumbura Plains airstrip, we were met, as per usual, by a cheerful staff member in a land rover.

Our plane coming in to pick us up.

Our plane coming in to pick us up.



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Vumbura Plains is another Wilderness Safaris camp located in the northern part of the Okavango Delta in an area where both land and water based activities are available. There is more water than at Chitabe and the landscape was subtly different. Vumbura Plains was a step up from Chitabe in luxury which seems incredible, but there you have it. As at Chitabe, there was no WiFi or internet so I wrote a bit about our experience without posting. In my next installment I’ll post that passage and more pictures of this amazing place!

Chitabe In Pictures

At Chitabe camp in the Okavango Delta of Botswana we saw so much wonderful wildlife it’s hard to pick only a few photographs to post. There was a huge diversity of animals and birds and it seemed that new and exciting things were around every corner. One morning we came to a water hole where quite a few marabou storks had gathered along with egrets, white pelicans, herons, and other water loving fowl. There was a hippopotamus carcass nearby which probably accounted for the storks as they are scavengers. We also saw many living hippos at the water holes.


Marabou stork



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It was the beginning of baby season in the bush and we saw beautiful wee creatures wobbling around after their mamas. In fact, we happened upon a wildebeest with her newborn calf mere seconds after she had given birth. We watched for about ten minutes as the baby struggled to stand up and take its first steps. That’s all the time it took before they were making their way back to the herd.

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The whiskers on this young warthog are to fool predators into thinking he has big tusks!

The whiskers on this young warthog are to fool predators into thinking he has big tusks!

Tsessebes with youngsters

Tsessebes with youngsters


Giraffes get darker as they age. This young one is quite light colored.

Giraffes get darker as they age. This young one is quite light colored.


On the way back to camp one morning we heard a ruckus in the bushes next to the road. When we went to investigate it turned out there was a python moving about under a tree. A very brave dove was keeping an eye on things! When there is a snake nearby, birds and squirrels will make a lot of noise to let the others (and the snake) know it’s been spotted.


Another morning we spent some time trying to find some lions that had been spotted in a certain area. Having been unsuccessful in finding them and having nearly gotten stuck in the mud in the process, we were headed back to camp for breakfast when we just happened upon two leopards lying in the shade on a termite mound by the side of the road. How convenient! It was a mother and her son. They were panting from the heat and posed very obligingly for us.

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We also saw more wild dogs at Chitabe. On the first occasion they were relaxing in the evening before rousing themselves and setting off on a hunt.


Play time

Play time

Setting off into the bush

Setting off into the bush

The second time we saw them they had just gone for a cooling dunk in the mud at a waterhole and were settling in for a late morning nap. They looked very strange with the mud plastered over parts of their bodies!

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There were many beautiful birds and we were able to see many of them enough times to start to learn their names.

Lilac breasted roller

Lilac breasted roller

One of my favorite birds

One of my favorite birds. So colorful!

Ground hornbills

Ground hornbills

Grey louries, also called the go away bird because it makes a sound like someone saying "Go Away!"

Grey Go-Away-Birds so called because they make a sound like someone saying “Go Away!”


Crested barbet




African fish eagle

African fish eagle

Here are some pictures of our first Baobab tree. They are enormous, but not immune to the damage that elephants can do.

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We also saw more leopards including a female lounging in a tree who decided to come down, and a young male cub also in a tree who was hanging out waiting for his family to come back.

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When I first spotted this young guy he was watching us from the crook of a tree.

When I first spotted this young guy he was watching us from the crook of a tree.

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There were plenty of cape buffalo as well as elephants to provide us with exciting encounters.

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I will leave you here with the spectacular sunrise we saw one morning. Next up will be lions and traveling to our next camp.


The Teaming Wildlife of Chitabe

As I mentioned before, there was no WiFi or internet access at Chitabe. However I did take some time to write about our experience in the moment. Here is what I wrote along with more photographs.

“Our time at Chitabe has been quite peaceful. We have fallen into the rhythm of safari again and appreciate the slight changes in the schedule that Wilderness Safaris uses as opposed to the lodges in South Africa. Wake up is 5am again, with gathering at 5:30. Then we have some coffee and a bite to eat before going out at 6am. Brunch is at 11am and so far we have not come back from morning game drive much before that. We like having brunch and not both breakfast and lunch as you really can’t comfortably eat that often anyway. I have found I have been looking forward to some food or a snack at every opportunity instead of feeling always full. Tea is at 4pm which leaves a nice chunk of time after brunch in which to relax, nap, shower, or do whatever appeals. We depart at 4:30pm for evening game drive, are back around 7:30 or 7:45pm, and dinner is at 8pm. Meals are taken communally at one big table with the other guests. The tradition of morning coffee and evening sundowners while out on game drive continues. The food has been fresh and good and the quantities sufficient without being overwhelming. All this is quite a feat as we are out in the middle of the bush with only weekly and monthly food deliveries.”

Here are some photos of Chitabe camp. All the buildings are raised up off the ground and connected by wooden walkways.

The communal lounge area.

The communal lounge area.


Firepit gathering place

Firepit gathering place

Michael at the gorgeous wooden bar.

Michael at the gorgeous wooden bar.

“Our tented room is certainly bush luxury– two sinks in the bathroom, indoor and outdoor showers, a huge mosquito netted bed, wood floors with rugs, and nice artsy touches. We latch the doors to keep the baboons from ransacking our room while we’re out and there is no AC, only a fan. We do have a view of the savanna woodland in front of our lodge and pretty good privacy. All in all it’s a treat.





The view from our deck.

Our guide is Gordon. At Wilderness Safaris you have a guide only, no tracker. Gordon is Batswana, meaning he is from Botswana, the country. He has been doing this for twenty-five years and seems relaxed and patient. He knows a lot and has a good sense of humor. Since we arrived later than expected we were driven out to join the game drive already in progress on our first afternoon. Our companions are an American couple from Baltimore, Robert and Arlynn.

The game here is plentiful, more abundant than we’ve seen anywhere else, and very concentrated. The landscape is much more open than South Africa was, with sweeping views of the palm studded grassy floodplains, marshy areas, acacia woodland and lovely trees. You can look out and see giraffe, zebra, and impala all at the same time, dotting the landscape. I especially like the trees. We’ve seen Marula, African Ebony or Jackelberry, Baobab, and the aptly named Sausage tree, which has large fibrous pods hanging from it that look, for all the world, like great big whole salamis!

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We’ve seen a laundry list of game, birds, and predators, including a cheetah. Since we hadn’t seen a cheetah yet, I really wanted to tick that off. There are lots of hippos, large herds of buffalo, and elephants. The birding has been extraordinary with storks and cranes and other water birds adding to the raptors, seed eaters, and bug eaters. I’ve been learning to identify many of them and it’s great fun. Another fun thing is that it’s baby season. The rains are just starting and the impala have begun giving birth. Baby impala are adorably cute as are the warthog piglets. We even saw a newborn wildebeest take its first steps. I will tell a few of the game drive stories as I add the pictures.”


A very muddy bull elephant.




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One thing that amazed me about our time on safari in both South Africa and Botswana was the ability of the guides to deliver what we wanted. Perhaps we were just lucky or maybe we have good karma. At any rate, we saw a tremendous amount of wildlife with many spectacular and dramatic sightings. When we got to Chitabe Gordon asked what we wanted to see. I mentioned a cheetah as I hadn’t seen one in South Africa. Cheetah can be a hit or miss proposition but Gordon pulled it off. In fact, in Botswana we saw several over the course of our time there. The lightest of the big cats, they are long and lean and build for speed. They are the only ones whose claws do not retract in order to give them better traction while maneuvering in the chase. Here are some photos of our first encounter.

First spotted in the distance under the tree.

First spotted in the distance under the tree. Look closely!


The termite mound he’s lying on gives him a better view of his surroundings.



Marking his territory by spraying a bush.


He decided to move to another termite mound and we followed.

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The claws.

The claws.


Nap time!

Nap time!

You can see the cheetah on his mound in the background.

You can see the cheetah on his mound in the background.

In my next post I will continue with more photographs and a few stories from our game drives. Thanks for reading!

Botswana Here We Come!

Dear gentle and patient readers,

Sorry for the hiatus in posting. The holidays, winter illness, and life in general have slowed me down. However, I do promise to finish the tale of our journey in Africa.

The day we left Cape Town bound for Botswana we rose early and collected a packed box breakfast from our hotel since we were too early for the served breakfast. The drive to the airport was easy and fast, and the car rental return was both close by and quick. Cape Town’s airport was refurbished and updated when South Africa hosted the World Cup soccer championship in 2010. It is of a good size and modern without being too big. Because we had rather a lot of luggage, a porter helped us into the terminal from the car rental return which is in the parking garage adjacent. He was quite a character! He was the #2 porter at the Cape Town airport and had been working there for at least fifteen years. I am sorry that I did not write down his name. The porters have numbers that are given to them when they start work, so there was only one other porter who had been there longer. With his assistance we found the VAT Refund desk, took care of our business and located the check in counter for our Air Botswana direct flight to Maun, Botswana. The re-packing of our luggage after showing purchases to the VAT desk was a bit comical! I quickly determined that it wasn’t all going to fit in our suitcases. So we found a luggage shop and bought a cheap duffle bag. This solved the space problem but we still spent some time on the floor of the airport with all our bags open rearranging things to protect the fragile stuff. A rather bemused ticket agent looked on. Sometimes when you find yourself in an embarrassing situation when you travel you just have to suck it up and accept it.

Fortunately we had allowed plenty of time to accomplish all this and had no trouble checking in for our flight and finding the gate area. Unfortunately our flight was delayed. They never told us why or for how long. We just sat there until they finally called us for boarding. It turned out they had decided to switch equipment and use a smaller plane. Even so, it wasn’t totally full. The bad part was that after a delay to board the flight, the smaller plane took at least an hour longer to make the journey (prop vs. jet). So in the end, we arrived in Maun, Botswana quite late. Maun is a small town with a tiny airport that serves as a gateway to the Okavango Delta and its safari lodges. The lodges in the Delta are mostly accessed by small plane so Maun is where you pick those up. After clearing customs in Maun we were met by the staff of Wilderness Safaris. They were quick to take our extra luggage for storage, give us bottles of water, and stand in line for us to check in for their flight to Chitabe, one of their lodges in the Delta and our first destination. They hurried us along through security and out to the waiting plane with one other couple. The weather was looking a bit iffy with a thunder shower headed our way and clearly they had been anxious to get us out of there. I sat in the co-pilot’s seat with Michael and the other gentleman behind in two seats and the other woman in the back seat. You couldn’t have fit any others the plane was so small! We taxied and took off just as the rain started. Lightning flashed occasionally and I wondered if little planes ever got struck. To his credit, our pilot did a masterful job and we flew away from the storm and over the flat landscape about 20 minutes to the landing strip near Chitabe.


Do I look nervous?


Tiny plane! We made it!

The landing was smooth, the sun was out, and there was a Land Cruiser waiting to take us to camp. Jonas, a guide in training, welcomed us, handed us the personal, chilled, reusable, stainless steel water bottles we would use during our stay, and drove us to camp. Along the way we had our first taste of safari in Botswana – open plains, savanna woodland, water, and lots of animals! Just on the drive to the camp we saw zebra, giraffe, impala, elephant, and baboons.


Still some clouds nearby.

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When we arrived at camp we were greeted with singing and warm hospitality. We were a good deal later than they had planned, but they still had tea waiting for us and we sat down with one of the camp managers to get oriented and learn the schedule. Then we were shown to our tented “room” to freshen up and urged to return soon to go out and join the afternoon game drive which was already in progress.

Since there was no WiFi or any access to the internet at Chitabe, I was unable to do any posting while there. However I did write a passage about our time and will share that along with more photos in my next post.

The View From the Top

Our last day in Cape Town we spent most of the morning getting organized for our onward journey. We had to repack for more safari and temporary bag storage, and we needed to organize our purchases so that we could request a VAT refund at the airport before flying to Botswana. I looked up the requirements for VAT refunds online and found we needed to present the items along with the receipts for inspection. This meant that we had to have all our purchases separated from our packed luggage, and then after the inspections we would need to pack them away to check our bags for the flight. Because we were headed off on safari with very limited baggage allowances, we couldn’t simply carry them on the plane. One thing I would recommend when traveling abroad to countries that charge a VAT on purchases is to look up the rules and procedures for getting your refund before you get to the last minute. In the case of South Africa, you have to have an official tax receipt and not all vendors automatically provide this. Knowing that ahead of time would have been helpful. Lesson learned. We were debating whether to do our requesting in Cape Town on the way to Botswana, or to wait until our layover in Johannesburg on the way home. We decided on Cape Town which turned out to be much the best idea.

After getting ourselves sorted, we felt free to go off and spend the day at leisure. We found that what little cloud cover there had been in the morning had disappeared. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and perfect weather for a trip up to the top of Table Mountain! We drove ourselves up the hill to the parking area for the Aerial Cableway that provides a scenic and effortless way to the top. The wait was not long and soon we were gliding up the mountain in a gondola with a revolving floor, providing all passengers with a good view.


You can just see the gondola in the very center of the picture.


On the way up we saw there were rock climbers scaling the cliffs and hikers looking like tiny dots on the trails. At the top, the temperature was cooler but still nice, and the wind was not too strong. Sometimes they have to close the Cableway because of bad weather or high winds, so we lucked out with the perfect day. Needless to say, the view was stunning.


Camps Bay

P1020882 P1020886 P1020888 There are a number of trails that wander across the top of Table Mountain giving you a chance to stretch your legs and take in the views from different vantage points. We made the circuit and enjoyed looking into the distance at some of the places we had been the day before. Michael even spotted a whale in the water way down below. Sharp eyes! We also saw people arriving at the top by the more traditional method of hiking up a switchbacked trail. Judging by the sweat on their brows, I’d say they earned their Wheaties!


Notice the people on the trail along the top of Table Mountain


This is where the trail from the bottom comes up

This is where the trail from the bottom comes up


You can see some of the trails zig zagging along the side of the mountain.


The City Bowl laid out below

The City Bowl laid out below

After spending some time soaking it all in and enjoying the magnificent view, we had some refreshment at the mountaintop café and then boarded the Cableway for the ride down. If you like a good view, then going to the top of Table Mountain is definitely an activity I would recommend in Cape Town, assuming the weather cooperates. If you have issues with heights, you can stand near the center of the gondola and be surrounded by people without having to see any real drop-offs. At the top there are areas to take in the view that have walls between you and the cliff’s edge, though there are other areas without this protection. I don’t think I would enjoy it very much if it were extremely windy or the weather was bad, but on the day we went, it was perfect and you could see for miles.

Signal hill with City Bowl and Robben Island in the distance where Nelson Mandela was held in prison.

Lions Head and Signal Hill with City Bowl and Robben Island in the distance where Nelson Mandela was held in prison.


Back at our hotel, we relaxed a little before heading down to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront for sunset and some dinner. We decided to take a taxi so that we wouldn’t have to deal with driving in the city at night or finding parking on our return. It was fun to see yet another side of Cape Town. The V & A Waterfront is a developed area right on the harbor that bears some similarity to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, although it is newer, more modern, and more attractive than its American counterpart. Sorry San Francisco! There are shops, restaurants, hotels and marinas with outdoor areas to stroll and view the activity. It is a working harbor as well, so there are commercial buildings and wharfs and vessels of all sorts in the water.

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On the way there our cabbie had told us about the Volvo Ocean Race which had just arrived to spend a few weeks in Cape Town as one of its ports of call. It brought a lot of people, business, and jobs to the waterfront. When we arrived there were big signs pointing the way to a special area to view the boats etc. We looked around a bit and then decided to wander in that direction. On the way we saw a couple of bands busking.


As it turns out, our timing was impeccable. The Volvo Ocean Race is an around the world sailing race and this year, the first leg was from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa, over 6,000 miles! We actually saw the first two boats arrive in port after more than 25 days at sea! The Abu Dhabi Ocean Team finished first, followed by the Dongfeng Race Team. We saw these two boats being fêted with music and cheering as they backed into their spots on the wharf. They were very high tech looking while also looking quite bare the way true racing boats do. I’m sure the crews must have been very tired after such a long journey, but also relieved.

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We watched the festivities for a bit and then found an Indian restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the waterfront for our dinner. We were joined by lots of other people also enjoying the beautiful evening. After a pleasant dinner we wandered the shops and stopped to see one of the same bands again. Eventually we made our way back to the taxi stand and had some more interesting conversation with a cabbie on the way home. The waterfront was a lively place and it was a fun spot to spend a few hours.


Table Mountain in the late light

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A Botanical Dream

We arrived at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in mid to late afternoon and were feeling quite peckish. So, after paying our admission fee we went straight to a restaurant on the grounds to have a light meal and plan our visit. Kirstenbosch is situated on the eastern side of Table Mountain and the gardens climb the slopes. The Botanical Garden is also part of a Nature Reserve which abuts Table Mountain National Park, so the area is beautiful and pristine well beyond the borders of the Garden and there are numerous hiking trails nearby.


The Botanical Garden was founded in 1913 and is dedicated to preserving and presenting the unique and astonishingly diverse flora of South Africa. For the most part, only indigenous plants are cultivated. Suitably refreshed by our meal we struck out to wander the gardens with only a vague idea of a plan. The late afternoon sun was shining again and it was a beautiful time to be there. We walked past the Dell, visited Colonel Bird’s Bath, and strolled through areas of Cycads, Ericas, Proteas, and Fynbos. The bird life was delightful, the scenery dramatic, and the flowers were stunning. It was very peaceful with lots of benches and secret spots one could imagine returning to. We both agreed that it would be an easy place to come back to and enjoy spending lots of relaxed time. During the summer months they have Sunday afternoon concerts on the lawn which also sounded lovely. We took lots of photos as it was just so beautiful.


Looking up toward Table Mountain


Tree ferns!


Colonel Bird’s Bath

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A sunbird



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At one point in our wanderings we spotted a large bird sitting in a tree. We were very excited to realize it was a Spotted Eagle Owl. As we were getting closer to it, we came upon another one, presumably its mate, sitting on a branch with some owlets on a rock nearby.




An owlet – very fuzzy!



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The Arboretum section of the Botanical Garden had a special tree canopy walkway that allowed you to walk among the tree tops. It was neat to get a different perspective being up high. The walkway was very well constructed and curved through the trees.

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IMG_0630As we wound our way back down toward the entrance we walked along “Camphor Avenue”. This had wonderful mature camphor trees forming a canopy over the walkway.

P1020876 P1020875 IMG_0646At the end of our visit we went into the gift shop. We didn’t have too long as it was almost closing time, but we enjoyed the very nice selection of things at that shop. We loved Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden and would go back in a heartbeat to spend more time there. I would say it’s a must see for anyone visiting Cape Town.

After our visit, we got back in the car and found our way back to An African Villa without too much difficulty. Before we left in the morning we had made reservations for dinner at The Miller’s Thumb, another restaurant near our hotel which had been recommended. On our way back I called the restaurant to push back our reservation so that we’d have a little time to relax before going out to eat. It worked out perfectly. We flopped down in our hotel room after our day’s adventures and enjoyed a drink before walking the ten minutes down the way.

The Miller’s Thumb turned out to be a good choice. Fish was their specialty and we both had some. The atmosphere was lively and the service was quick. I snapped a photo with my phone of their colorful interior.


The Miller’s Thumb

After a delicious dinner we strolled back to our hotel and discussed plans for our final day in Cape Town.

Penguin pictures re-posted

My apologies to anyone who is following this blog on an iPad and not on a computer. Apparently the slideshow of penguins I inserted in my last post required Javascript and therefore is not visible unless you are on a computer. To correct that situation I am posting the pictures individually here so that everyone can see them. I guess I’m still learning what works and doesn’t with this blogging thing!

















A lone penguin heads off into the bushes

Pink eyelids!

Pink eyelids!