A Travellerspoint blog

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6. I'm Hip into Mozambique


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Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Monday, November 15, 2010

Alfred arrived, as promised at 5:30. Today, rather than being alone, I am joined by a couple from South Africa and their adult son. It's more fun with company.

We enter the park and are soon upon zebra, elephant and buffalo. Today, the animal sightings are few but of high quality. Alfred keeps talking about how yesterday’s rain has been the cause of fewer animals near the roadways. I don’t understand it but I accept it. Kruger is a "drive on the roads only" park. In some places I have earlier experienced game drives (Kenya and Tanzania), the guides are not restricted to roads because, well, there aren’t any. Here, the roadways are highly developed with half being asphalt and the rest being dirt. Both are of high quality. Add to that the fact that the parts of Kruger where we drove are not savannah or open plain but pure 'bush.” They are filled with scrub brush, small to medium to large trees, grass and rocks. You can’t see very far through all of that. The end result is if the animals aren’t near the road, you can’t see them. What we saw was great but we didn’t see too much.

Highlights would begin with a herd of about fifteen elephants crossing the road in front of us. I could easily sit and watch elephants for hours. Here, that is not possible because, as they move, they leave you behind. Again, that is a function of the roadway restriction. We saw more lions, more giraffe, more of everything including hundreds of impala and a few monkeys, warthogs and one crocodile. The impala are thick being the most common creature in the park.

Hippo are plentiful here. A trivia fact that you will never use is this: more people in Africa are killed by hippo than any other animal. Hippo are vegetarians so that doesn’t make sense if you compare them to, say, lions. It becomes more clear, however, when you understand that the “death by hippo” event occurs when a person gets between a hippo and water, which is its sanctuary, or between a hippo and its baby. Sarah Palen has it all wrong: she should be talking about momma hippos rather than momma grizzlies...except for the fact that the girth factor is unappealing and would cause Ms Palen to be even more reviled than she already is.

For food, the Kruger Park Lodge has packed me a “safari breakfast.” It includes a ham and cheese sandwich, two apples, four packets of strawberry jam, a chocolate muffin, some yoghurt and a KitKat Bar. That is enough food that when we take a break for lunch at one of the many restaurant/oasis type places inside Kruger National Park, I don’t eat.large_c875c490-2fec-11ea-80b6-ff8396a47c0d.jpglarge_c7d258a0-2fec-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_c7ed33a0-2fec-11ea-b889-1f2fcd691c22.jpglarge_c7cf2450-2fec-11ea-b889-1f2fcd691c22.jpglarge_c7c4c410-2fec-11ea-86e7-3f1d5cba98a5.jpg

One trip highlight is that Alfred tells us at one point that we actually crossed the border from South Africa into Mozambique. That’s illegal. I don’t know whether or not that means I get to count that as a country I have visited. What’s your opinion?

Upon arrival back at the Kruger Park Lodge I am again greeted by solitude. Literally, there may be ten couples here and no other single people. It’s nice and it’s not nice. I skip the non-bar and pull up a chair on the dining room terrace to view photographs of the day and write this. I think I’ll sit right here and ask for a menu to see what I ought to have for dinner. The noise of a waterfall is in the background and a Neil Diamond pan flute cover CD plays over and over and over again. It was on last night too.

Posted by paulej4 14:09 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

7. I Know Rhino


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Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Up early again, having packed last night, I was picked up a bit after 5:30. This time, my guide is not friendly and difficult to understand. He fits in nicely with the three other people on my game drive. Today, I will be entertained and uplifted by animals, not people.

The sky is blue and the air is crisp and the animals are nowhere to be found. For the first hour, it is just us humans. Then, things come alive. We see rhino aplenty. Lions are dozing here and there but, sadly, both here and there are far from the roadside. Elephant start appearing.

My guide doesn't understand that the guy in the back seat (me) doesn’t have the same view through the brush as he does in the front of the vehicle. That’s because the brush in Kruger is dense and the ten foot distance between him and me defines a clear view or a blocked view. He got the clear view more often than not.

He drives fast. The roads are bumpy.

The custom here is that after a photo stop, the guide asks, "OK?" The people are supposed to reply, “OK.” That means all are finished with photos and all are ready to move on. I learned how this works from both Chadrack on Sunday and Alfred on Monday. My unnamed guide on this Tuesday asks, “OK?” and throws the vehicle into gear and away we go. I got used to him after a while but, sadly, I cannot recommend his services to you.

large_2538de60-2fed-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpglarge_17fca790-2fed-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpglarge_17623c50-2fed-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_1761a010-2fed-11ea-b889-1f2fcd691c22.jpglarge_175a9b30-2fed-11ea-80b6-ff8396a47c0d.jpgThe services of one of the bull elephants we spotted this morning could be wholeheartedly recommended to the cows. But, chances are, since he is young he won’t get the opportunity to relieve his frustration soon. Only the dominant males—and they are older, bigger and stronger than this guy—are worthy of mating. The bulls, both young and old, dominant or not, are ostracized by the matriarch and not allowed to stay with the herd except during mating. So, all of these lone elephants—the ones we have seen foraging by themselves—are males. I have nicknamed them all Paul in honor of me.

In Kenya, we saw a few rhino. In Tanzania, we saw a few rhino. Here in South Africa at Kruger we see rhino after rhino after rhino. Poachers are doing their best to kill these rhino so the Chinese can have their horns as an aphrodisiac but Kruger seems to be winning. Rhino are, comparatively speaking, all over the place.

Mostly, this morning’s drive is a let down from the adventures here during the last two days.

I am back at Kruger Park Lodge by 12:15. My schedule says I should expect to be “fetched” at 12:45. That gives me time to pen this prior to my 16:40 South African Airways flight to Johannesburg. I arrive at 17:30 and make my way to the Airport Grand Hotel, five minutes from the airport, to spend the night.

My adventure continues tomorrow with a flight from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls where I stay at the Kingdom Hotel on the Zimbabwe side. But, I am getting ahead of myself. More to come tomorrow.

Posted by paulej4 07:27 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

8. Do You Know the Way to Zimbabwe?


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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Airport hotels are much the same the world over. The "Airport Grand" at Johannesburg's International Airport is no exception. Oh, wait. There is one feature of note. I asked the front desk to show me the way to what my literature says: “the hotel has a health club.” I have a strong need to get on a treadmill for an hour because I haven’t been getting my four-miles-per-day walk/jog in. Getting up at 5:00am to be ready for a 5:30am game drive and arriving home at dark meant no road work. You’re not supposed to be out at night in Africa near Kruger; too many predators about. Anyway, they’ve closed the health club here so they could install a business center. My alternative is to “wait until dawn and walk circles around the building.” The front desk, oops, sorry, “reception” person told me that “walk circles” with a great smile and I took him up on it. I needed a walk. But, the parking lot is not a health club. Having said that however, had I needed it, the new business center looks very nice.

The hotel has, to redeem itself, complimentary 24-hour in-room WiFi for internet connections. That is worth more than a business center, health club and room service combined...for me, at least. I highly value my connection with the world when I am away from it.

Today, I am off for Victoria Falls. I fly to Zimbabwe from South Africa. Yesterday’s Johannesburg newspaper, The Star, has this news story on Zimbabwe:

(President) Mugabe planning to tighten grip on the media: The Zimbabwean government is planning to block public access to state information like court judgments, legislation, official notices and public registers, a press freedom watchdog warned yesterday.

Everything I write here about my three nights in Zimbabwe will be an unofficial notice.

After watching Fox News for a bit, I’ll bet the Obama Administration wishes it could pull a Mugabe on Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, Fred Phelps and Karl Rove; I’d love to never hear from any of the three again but I must and I will. None of them will sway me much, however.

The British Airways flight was routine. The landing, however, was only successful on the third bounce. The first thing one notices about Zimbabwe is that it could use a management consultant. The line for obtaining a visa could be improved slightly to save each traveler an hour or so. Or more.

It is so nice, in a third world country, to be greeted after you are through immigration and customs by someone with a sign with your name on it. Carl had my sign. The Matthews were the last ones through the visa line so I got a chance to assess the cola wars. Coke is winning but at least Pepsi is in the game.

The Kingdom Hotel is a ten minute walk from Victoria Falls. Even though I am scheduled for a full-blown tour tomorrow, I cannot resist. Off I go. Thirty dollars later (the “park” entry costs extra if you are from the U.S.) I see what all the fuss is about. This is pretty amazing. Again, a management consultant would help. If they would trim a bush here and there, even the most untalented tourist could take an award winning photograph. However, trim they don’t so many fabulous vistas are blocked.large_68ddc360-2fed-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_688f7c50-2fed-11ea-86e7-3f1d5cba98a5.jpglarge_6890dbe0-2fed-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpglarge_688f2e30-2fed-11ea-80b6-ff8396a47c0d.jpglarge_6877ae90-2fed-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpg

As I write this, the electricity in the Kingdom Hotel just went off.

As I returned from the Falls to my Kingdom, I was satisfied that I had just seen one of the seven wonders of the natural world and even with poor management, it is pretty special.

I am off to dinner; soon if the power doesn’t come back on, later if it does.

And, in case you are reading the newspapers, no, I am not in nor am I going to Madagascar. I had wanted to but it wouldn't work out right with flights, happily.

Posted by paulej4 14:09 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

9. Devil's Pool; Paul's a Fool


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Victoria Falls, Zambia
Thursday, November 18, 2010

Today was a big day.

After a full and hearty breakfast at the Kingdom Hotel, I was picked up by Jacob for my official trip to Victoria Falls (the one I jumped the gun on yesterday). The Matthews were in the bus and I wasted no time in telling Mr. Matthews that the U.S. Government had recovered half of its General Motors "bailout" money from a stock sale and he was a happier man than the day before. Actually, Jerry and Patty became good friends during the morning walk on Victoria Falls. I saw that pool across the gorge again; the one where people were swimming yesterday. It beckoned to me. I asked Jacob to set it up.

I was taken across the border to Zambia for the opportunity of a lifetime. I was headed for The Devil's Pool. Leaving in Captain Vinny’s speedboat up river from the falls, we headed in the direction of the current...toward the Falls. Hippos wallowed nearby but I was not concentrating on them this trip. The surface of the water seemed calm but, beneath the surface and inside my chest, a great current beat. We reached Livingstone Island and disembarked. This, I am told, is where Dr. Livingstone first viewed the Falls. It was good news to hear that this was not where Dr. Livingstone last viewed the Falls. This island can only be visited during the dry season because it is innundated by the raging waters during the rainy months. In other words, the rocks upon which we stepped when we left Vinny’s speedboat would be underwater...under rapids actually.

The roar of the falls is clear here. Victoria Falls is named, in the local language, Mosi oa Tunya which means “the smoke that thunders.” I have seen the smoke but, until now, I had not really heard the thunder. Immense streams of water gush by and plummet over the cliffs splashing into pools far, far below. It is a one hundred yard drop if it is an inch. Humbling is the word that comes to mind.

There is here a rocky ledge on the very lip of Victoria Falls where a small natural pool of water exists. You’d miss it if you weren’t being guided there because it appears that the water sweeps to its drop the same way there as it does farther out into the falls. But, Collins, my guide, knows the drill.

We carefully walk over the rocks and find a spot, upstream of the falls, to gently enter the water. It becomes deeper in this area which is, in actuality, an eddy created by rocks. We swim...upstream a bit to arrive at our waypoint due to the current. Next, we walk over rocks, some smooth but most sharp beneath my feet. I am cautious here for more reasons than I can relate to you here. The thunder of the water pounds my ears. We reach an apex and Collins says, “Here, you jump.” He doesn’t add, “to your death.” It appears that he should have. But, he leaps. He survives.

Me? Having leapt from an airplane and leapt from a bridge; well, I leapt. The water in Devil’s Pool is calm but, ten feet from where I leap, over a protecting wall of rocks, the water washes over and down. Somehow, it is more quiet here; the noise, if it is still there, now recedes into the background. Across the gorge on the Zimbabwe side, people gawk much as I had the day before. I laugh. I wave. I stop and contemplate where I am. I’m crazy. But, more craziness awaits. Collins “drifts” over to the protecting wall itself and, well, he stands on it. This is nuts. He waves me over so, I go. I am no more than five feet from the edge of The Victoria Falls, in the water.

Collins asks if I would like to peer over the edge. OK. I’ve come this far. My dear friend Andy Sears would probably not have done this part. On my belly, on top of the protective wall of rocks, worn smooth by the centuries of water washing over them, I can peer, believe it or not, straight down. The sight makes the view from every other precipice in my life seem like gazing down at your feet. This is not only a drop, it is a drop being flooded with gushing, roaring, falling white swirling foamy water. The mist is clear. From here you see how it is created. Looking left and right and down and across the gorge provide for me a moment of startling clarity: I am nuts. Easing back into the pool, I follow Collins and swim to the other side. Against the current now, it is an effort to move forward but we do. The thought of easing my swimming strokes here seems to me to represent surrender to the water. That would not be a good idea. I reach the far side of Devil’s Pool and provide to a rock there a death grip that may be discovered by another tourist in a hundred years. I am, at last, out of the current, and soon, out of the pool. Now, all that is left is to climb out and swim back to the safety of Livingstone Island.large_5f13b370-2fee-11ea-a99c-d7e826842ec3.jpglarge_5f0386d0-2fee-11ea-810c-5f0d7db9a6ea.jpglarge_5e6fab40-2fee-11ea-80b6-ff8396a47c0d.jpglarge_5e70bcb0-2fee-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpglarge_5e6aa230-2fee-11ea-a829-c9017a1fc49f.jpg

I am, upon arrival at dry land, invigorated, breathless and aware of my willingness to take risks. I feel fifty again.

Served a fine lunch I am later transferred back across the border to Zimbabwe and then to the banks of the Zambezi River far upriver from the falls. The Zambezi is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and is the source of the tumult that becomes the flow over the Falls. I board the Ra-Ikane, a small but luxurious boat set for twelve guests and two crew. I am the only guest. This happens to me a lot when I travel; I cannot explain it. Perhaps nobody else in the world wishes to go where I go in the world.

Here Oscar and Sam cast off the lines and we take a leisurely cruise up river. Ten minutes into our journey, we spot elephant on the Zimbabwe side. The herd is drinking and washing and it is a tranquil moment to counterbalance an adrenaline filled day. We see hippos and crocodiles and I know: we are in wild Africa, a place where the animals go where they wish and people take care to not come into conflict with them. If one has not been to an environment such as this, one cannot imagine what it means. We humans are not prey; except here.

I am exhausted. It is time to return to the Kingdom to capture this day “on paper.” By reading this, I hope you can live it vicariously through me...unless you can find a way to live it for yourself. Sky diving, bungy jumping, glider soaring, shark swimming, zip lining, NASCAR auto racing; none of these gave me this adrenaline rush.

For calmer news, one major story in the South African Press: Panel to probe Wal-Mart’s bid for Massmart: “The government has set up a panel to investigate the effects of Wal-Mart Stores’ proposal to buy a controlling stake in Massmart Holdings, the country’s biggest food and general goods wholesaler. The government would consider the transaction’s effect on local manufacturing, competition, food security, labour relations and exchange rates. Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel said yesterday. He said the panel would “identify the relevant policy issues and implications of the proposed acquisition, particularly from and economic development perspective.”

“The panel’s findings will inform any submission Mr. Patel makes to the Competition Tribunal in public hearings over Wal-Mart’s planned purchase of the owner of Game, Makro and Builders Warehouse. Unions—which have launched a broad Anti-Wal-Mart Coalition to prevent the job losses they fear will come if the acquisition succeeds—hope the panel’s work will boost the chance that the tribunal will attach conditions guaranteeing jobs and other conditions to the merger.”

Now, for those of you who are fans of Ayn Rand’s book, Atlas Shrugged, please know that I brought that weighty 1000+ page tome as my reading material for this trip. I have recently re-read two of her other books, The Fountainhead and We the Living. Ms. Rand was over-the-top in her writings about the evils of government, particularly government involvement in economic matters of any kind. She was an unapologetic cheerleader for free enterprise, free markets, unfettered entrepreneurship and the power of profit, wealth and hard work for selfish motives. She did not see, nor would she acknowledge, that there might be a dark side of unregulated capitalism. She said, “My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

The juxtaposition of the news here (plus the history and economy of the entire African continent) and the book is eerie. As with most philosophers, politicians and pontificators, I agree with much of what they have to say but firmly disagree with some of what they have to say; Rand is no different.

Interestingly enough, the name of the South African currency: the Rand.

If these few paragraphs confuse you and you have a lot of time on your hands, read Atlas Shrugged and we’ll talk about it. So, you have guessed that I spent some time reading last night.

The Internet here is intermittent. So, it seems, is the electricity. The bureaucracy of getting and using a password to get onto the hotels Internet Service Provider Wireless system is cumbersome, requiring frequent trips to reception, much signing of your name and considerable checking with, “my supervisor.” All that and, guess what: use of the internet for one hour a day is free. Ah, bureaucracy. Ayn Rand would slam it and damn it and knowingly nod at my frustration while my fellow travelers would simply say, “African Time,” meaning “accept it or perish.” Acceptance of it has caused much to perish here, I’d say.

Fortunately, today, nobody perished. Upon arrival back at my hotel, I am told that people have died at The Devil’s Pool. Most recently, they tell me, a guide died last year while saving a tourist.

Tomorrow: Botswana.

Posted by paulej4 11:05 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

10. Botswana? That's a Croc


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Chobe National Park, Botswana
Friday, November 19, 2010

I was up early and got a thirty minute fast walk in before breakfast and my 7:30am drive from Victoria Falls to the Botswana border. George drove; it took one hour exactly. Actually, it is fun to cross an international border between two third-world countries way out in the sticks. There is much formality and filling out of forms (that will never be looked at again) and stamping; yes, there is much stamping. Stamping at third world border crossings must be done with vigor, with grace and with authority. I'd say it was a tie between the official from Zimbabwe and the official from Botswana. Both were spectacularly vigorous, graceful and authoritarian. The Botswanaian was friendlier.

A side note: when you drive from Zimbabwe into Botswana you must drive your vehicle through a pool of disinfectant and all passengers and the driver must exit the vehicle and walk over a piece of carpet that has been drenched in disinfectant. I don’t know why and nobody is telling.

George drops me at the border and Elliot picks me up. Elliot and I are soon joined by Morgan, a French businessman from Paris who has a couple of days to kill before his meetings in Harare and by Leonard, an elderly, obese South African recovering from spinal surgery who may be one of the most obnoxious people I’ve ever met. A loud talker, Leonard (pronounced Leo-Nerd with the accent on the Leo), was married for fourteen years but has been divorced for thirty-one years and, he says, will never marry again. I am sure that is true because I doubt anyone would have him.

Elliot drives us to the Chobe, Botswana, National Park gate adjacent to the Chobe River. We handle admission formalities and are delivered to Elliot’s boat. We cast off and begin a sublime trip up the Chobe seeing lots and lots and lots of elephant, hippo, cape buffalo, and a few crocodiles, elands, monitor lizards, storks, turtles, vultures; oh, and lots of other tourists on other boats. Twenty-four Koreans make an amazing sight with their hats and kerchiefs and surgical face masks and cameras and scurrying about on their double-decker scenic barge/cruiser. Being with Leonard is looking better than I thought.

This extreme Northern part of Botswana (Namibia is on the other bank of the Chobe) is described as "one of the finest undisturbed natural areas on the African continent." Eliot says there are 60,000 elephants here, doubling the “brochure” claim of 30,000. We see several hundred, forty in one herd. The cruise is wonderful. We stop for lunch at a riverside lodge which is welcoming a busload of Japanese tourists. The Koreans dock their boat and the two groups deliberately avoid one another as they pass through the giant open air lobby. I wonder if the United Nations has an easier time than the Botswana hotel employees have with this sort of thing.

Leonard is a pig. He harasses Helgah, our server and I finally tell him off. He will not make eye contact with me for the rest of the day and, thankfully, is silent from that moment onward. (Eliot and Morgan thank me later)

After lunch of eland stew (some pieces of meat are amazingly tender and others cannot be chewed), we pile into Eliot’s Toyota pickup truck that is outfitted with three elevated rows of viewing seats over the bed (Leonard sits in the cab because he cannot make it into the elevated seats) and away we go. Morgan and I smile at having the back of the vehicle all to ourselves. Eliot can deal with Leonard.

The landscape here is very, very dry. We are in a four-wheel-drive mode of transportation and we need each wheel to dig in the deep dust which fills the rutted tracks upon which we navigate. The elephants are plentiful and many stand only twenty or so feet from the path upon which we drive. Several times, we stop, turn off the engine and just sit...a way to “be” with the elephants. They rumble in an amazingly low pitch but are otherwise completely silent. They can walk ten feet past you and you hear nothing. There are many calves, one nursing. The calves, when tired, simply plop on the ground and fall asleep, moving not a single muscle. The first one we saw do this caused Morgan to say that the animal had died and I thought Morgan was right. But, after about ten minutes, the calf abruptly awoke, got clumsily to its feet and headed to its mother for a snack.large_b5abab70-2fee-11ea-80b6-ff8396a47c0d.jpglarge_b544d350-2fee-11ea-810c-5f0d7db9a6ea.jpglarge_b5445e20-2fee-11ea-b9cb-83295e312673.jpglarge_b546a810-2fee-11ea-80b6-ff8396a47c0d.jpglarge_b5456f90-2fee-11ea-a99c-d7e826842ec3.jpg

It is “family” time in Chobe. We saw baby hippo, baby warthog, baby elephant (of course) and came across a baby impala that was still wet from emerging from its mom only moments before we saw it. Wobbly to say the least, the young one lurched forward and back, left and right but still was able to follow along after its mother who seemed none the worse for wear from the event.

It is important to note here that we saw not a single lion or leopard or cheetah today. The newborns are more thankful for that than we are regretful.

What a day. I have seen more elephant and hippo today than any other safari day in my life. I love it.

We drive back to the border, re-do the formalities, I pay for another Zimbabwe double entry visa ($45 more) and greet George who delivers me one hour later back at the Kingdom hotel. I doze for half the trip. The power at the Kingdom is out for air conditioning but the power is on for lights and ceiling fans and everything else. I don’t understand but, then, I don’t have to understand. One could say, with apologies to Heidi Peterson and Jeff Clayton that mine is the Kingdom without power or glory for tonight. Amen.

It is time to shower the dust off, wash my hair, get the last of the sunscreen residue out of my completely gray beard and write my blog entry for the day. It will be fun to see if the internet runs on air conditioning power or other power. I am at peace with the world, looking forward to the circus that is dinner.

Tomorrow: off to Namibia, the 65th country I will have visited in my lifetime global trek. I’ll keep you posted.

Posted by paulej4 14:08 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

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