Note: Two videos follow at the end of the text.
The Africa of our safari is 7,000 miles and a hundred years away from Sarasota. You can easily imagine Gregory Peck traipsing across the daunting mountainside in pursuit of Ava Gardner in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, or even wildlife trapper John Wayne being schooled by photographer Elsa Martinelli in “Hatari!”
While our accommodations range from pleasant to luxurious, a step outside the safari camps of Namibia, Botswana and Zambia puts us right back in the Africa of the golden age of movies. Depending upon the country, we’re either in the midst of towering thousand-year-old sand dunes, unending savannahs or gently flowing delta waters.
In Namibia, we’re off to climb the Sossusvlei sand dunes of the Namib Desert and search out the elusive and endangered Black Rhino. Like its close relative, the White Rhino, the Black Rhino is gray. Since the early English settlers were operating without Google Translate, they misunderstood the Afrikaans term “wyd” (meaning wide) as “white” and anointed the browsing rhinos they found the White Rhino. When they found a slightly different species they named it the Black Rhino to distinguish it from the White. Which makes as much sense as anything.
We’re fortunate to come across a black rhino in the Namib. He never allows us to get very close, but we track him from afar. For such a bulky animal, he moves surprisingly quickly. Rhinos of all stripes are a threatened species. Poaching has reduced their numbers dramatically but Namibia and Botswana, the countries with the greatest populations, have taken aggressive steps to combat it.
We’re on a plane every other day, traveling from camp to camp. Up at 5:00 am for breakfast and off in the truck, back for lunch and a fitful rest (at 105 degrees, nothing really relaxes you), then off for late afternoon cocktails and animal hunt, dinner and sleep. Pack, fly, drive, unpack, eat, sleep, fly, drive. Exhaustion and excitement compete for our attention.
From Namibia, we fly to the Okavango Delta in Botswana to tour the waterway that supports the lush animal life in Northern Botswana. We poll the delta in mokoro canoes. The mokoro were originally made of dugout trees but are now made of fiberglass to “protect the environment.” Hmmm. You can watch as Bwana scours the delta for the elusive Red Angolan Reed Frog in our video which is at the end of the blog.
Botswana is the center of wild animal viewing in Africa with 38% of its land set aside for animal conservation. We head to the Chitabe Concession where the sightings are non-stop. We come upon a Cheetah with three cubs lazing in the sun, male lions lounging under some bushes, female lions again with cubs. At dinner (not OUR dinner), four lionesses are devouring a gazelle. Monkeys and baboons swing from the trees and scamper away. The kudu with their twisty horns shy away as the truck approaches. Large mixed herds of reebok, steenbok, and gazelles burst from the bushes in front of our truck.
Elephants, giraffes and cape buffalo dot the landscape. While you can never see too many elephants, it’s good to be vigilant since the cows are very protective of the calves. Hippos are active in the waterways but mostly out of sight, except for the bulbous eyes, grunting calls and fetid odor. If one picture is worth a thousand words, take a look at our short “Faces of Africa” video here.
For our last night in Botswana, we’re enveloped by a thickening smoke in the night air. The explanation varies, at first, it’s natives making charcoal, then poachers building fires to drive the animals in their direction. Although we’re told it’s safe, we’re glad to be moving on to Zambia and Zimbabwe the next morning.
At the point where Botswana and Zambia converge, we’re starting to return to the real Africa, the one with the river resorts, regular traffic and houses. But first, we board a boat for what will be the most amazing sight of the trip: a herd of over five hundred elephants streaming up the shoreline and fording the river in front of our boat.
Bulls, cows and calves form an unending ribbon that snakes back as far as we can see. They keep coming and coming in a steady beat. Herds of antelope and cape buffalo part to give way to them. We are feet from the shoreline. Protective cows glare at our boat, bat their ears and use their trunks to direct the calves away from the riverbank where we’re idling.
The Chobe River is shallow enough for the bulls and cows to easily ford, but the youngest calves need some help. The adults position the calves between their bulk and lift the little ones through the deepest stretch to the safety of the far shore. It’s quite a sight. Robin is working on that video, so stay tuned.
After three weeks of squeezing into small planes, clambering up the sides of large trucks and futilely attempting to fan away the oppressive heat, we’re ready to return to the US. But we have one last stop before the endless flight back to Atlanta: Victoria Falls.
The falls have low water levels since the rainy season is well over by October. Still, they are spectacular. The pounding waters of the Zambezi River race over the edge of the falls and swirl in frothy eddies thousands of feet below. Rainbows rise over every horizon and the cool mist is a welcome relief from the heat.
One last spate of packing and we’re off to the Livingstone, Zimbabwe airport, on our way to Johannesburg, Atlanta, Tampa and finally, Sarasota. We’ll be sleeping on the plane!
Faces of Africa Video
The Hunt for the Angolan Reed Frog Video