Sunday Morning ~ Rotterdam

Sunday Morning ~ Rotterdam

August 26, 2018

Hi Everyone,

The travel goddesses had been so good to us. We went over 12,000 kilometers with hardly a problem. We had two slow leaks in tires that got repaired before they became flats, and that was it. We were so lucky considering some of the gravel roads we traveled for miles on end.  And aside from the expected bureaucracy at borders, we really didn’t have many hassles, until we got back to the Malawian border post, later than we’d wanted on Thursday afternoon.  

We always plan an hour at the border, never knowing exactly how long the lines will be or what forms and fees will have to be paid. We’d driven from Lusaka, Zambia where we stayed with friends on Wednesday night. It took an hour getting through the city when we set off and since we had 700 kilometers to cover we were hoping our luck held. The road was good and we made it to the border in nine hours. George wasn’t feeling well, we think having something to do with the ribs he ate the night before, so I did all the driving that day. We figured since we were reentering Malawi, it might be smooth and we’d be through in thirty minutes or so, but when I handed over my passport, I was told my visa had expired and I needed a new one. For some reason, a mistake was made with my work permit, which is supposed to be good for two months after the contract is finished. George’s was good until August 30th, but mine expired on June 30th. I never even gave it a thought. I told them I was only going back into the country in order to fly out again, but they didn’t care. They let me get a transient visa for $50 instead of the 30 day one for $75, but that took some time. Then George discovered when he was clearing the car to cross into Malawi that they changed the rules about the temporary export permit you have to get in order to bring a car out of the country. When George got the original permit it was for 90 days, but they changed it to 30 days while we were gone. That meant we had to pay a fine, which also took some time. No amount of making the point that the rule was not in existence when we left made any difference to the woman behind the counter.  She didn’t give a shit about what the rules were then. This is what they are now and we had to pay if we wanted to cross. I had a plane to catch the next day, George was sick, I was tired from driving, it was getting dark, we just wanted to get to Lilongwe, so we paid the bloody fine. It was expensive coming back.

And the road! For two months we’d been driving on vacant roads. Many were rough, and some had huge potholes, but they were people-less. The minute we got back into Malawi we remembered how difficult it is to drive with hundreds of people all over the roads, many carrying huge loads on the back of bikes. Swerving around them is dangerous as the roads are narrow with no shoulder and there is constant oncoming traffic. It’s stressful. And it was getting dark. I glanced at the last of my African sunsets in the side mirror as we drove due east, wishing I was sitting and savoring instead of trying not to get killed. We were another 100 kilometers to Lilongwe and it felt like 1,000 as I passed pedestrians and bicyclists with a millimeter to spare.  Oncoming headlights appearing to be in our lane did not make it easier.  We finally made it to the city and could not see a thing and didn’t know what road we were on. We passed signs but couldn’t read them in the pitch dark. By sheer luck we ended up on the road to our hotel. It was a miracle. 

We checked in and George went straight to bed feeling sicker and sicker. I went straight to the bar and ordered a gin and tonic.  “Ah, sorry, we have no tonic water”, was the waiter’s reply. Yup. We were back. I ordered a salad. “Ah, sorry, we have no lettuce”, was the response. I just started laughing and said, “Ok, let’s save some time here and just tell me what you do have.”  Cider and noodle soup was it and then a sleepless night of worrying about fitting everything into my bags.

My flight on Friday was at 2 p.m. so it seemed like there was time to pack in the morning and collect the stuff I’d left at the Peace Corps office. George left the hotel to walk to the office as he had some errands to do on the way. I packed up what I needed and drove over to the office. We’d planned to go through the stuff in the car and organize what we were giving away and what George would take home in his luggage. We had a couple of hours to do this before I headed to the airport and he headed back to Blantyre to sell the car. I pulled into a parking space and didn’t see the cement culvert that I rammed into, cracking the gear box (I think that’s what it was) that leaked all the transmission fluid out and prevented me from shifting the car into reverse. I freaked as I watched this stuff pouring out from underneath the car.  I must say, George took it well. This car is his baby and I expected him to have a conniption, thinking this was totaled or something. The Peace Corps mechanic reassured me it was repairable and by the time I’d gotten my bags out of the car, they already had it up on blocks discussing how to fix it. I couldn’t watch. I reorganized my stuff, left a bunch of stuff I couldn’t fit, and got a taxi to the airport. And after being together 24/7 for the past two months I barely got to say goodbye to George as he was running around buying stuff to fix the car. I felt terrible. Plus I was leaving him with a mess. We’d been living out of the car and there was a lot to clean out. I left the car full of dirty camping equipment, maps, dirty clothes, empty water bottles, and other stuff I didn’t even want to look at, up on blocks with fluid leaking and engine parts strewn about. I should have taken a photo but couldn’t even look at it. George, still not feeling well, had to deal with it then drive five more hours to Blantyre. The taxi came, I got dropped at the airport, and I boarded a plane for Addis Ababa then Amsterdam. 

So here I am in a comfy hotel in Rotterdam getting ready to present tomorrow about the midwifery ward at the International Confederation for Nurses in Advanced Practice. It’s a mental shift. Ursula is here as well and we’ve managed to get a night’s sleep, revise the presentation, practice it, and register for the meeting. The internet works, the toilets flush, the showers have hot water, and the entire population of this country look like the picture of health. I did a ten mile run this morning and must have passed a hundred tall skinny people running rings around me. 

The car is fixed and will be handed over tomorrow to it’s new owner. A new chapter is beginning.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~ Kasane, Botswana

Sunday Morning ~ Kasane, Botswana

August 19, 2018

Hi Everyone,

When George and I first got together three years ago, every time he sneezed he asked me, “Did that bother you?” This puzzled me, because I’d think, why would it bother me if he sneezed? I’d reply, “Of course not! Why?” He told me his ex-wife hated the way he sneezed. She thought it was too loud. Then I started paying attention to it, and thought, well, yes, he does sneeze louder than most, but it really didn’t bother me. Plenty of other things did, but not the way he sneezed. It finally started irritating me that he kept asking if it bothered me. I said, “How many times do I have to tell you it doesn’t bother me?! The fact that you keep asking me is bothering me!” And he finally let that go. Tuck this tidbit away for later.

Back to last Sunday at Chitabe Camp in the Okavango Delta. We were heading out for our early morning game drive, and it was cold before we even started and driving in an open vehicle, even if it’s not going fast, is really cold. We’d dressed with all the warm stuff we had, but I was still a little worried about freezing before the sun came up. We were in the vehicles by 6:30 a.m. after tea and a light breakfast buffet. The sky was just starting to get light with that rosy glow on the horizon I’ve come to love almost as much as the sunsets. Our new BFFs from Scotland, Alistair, Laura, and their son Angus were in our vehicle. We’d been sharing the five hour morning drives, the three hour evening drives, and all meals and drinks by the campfire for four whole days. It was bonding. We were about to pile into the Land Rover when Ebs, our guide, handed us each a poncho. This was not just any poncho. This was a heavy poncho. A hard to lift it was so heavy poncho. It was flannel lined, oiled canvas and there was one for each of us. Glorious. It was like having a personal tent around you. As we were getting them on and settling into our seats, having negotiated who would sit where, Ebs handed each of us a flannel-covered hot water bottle to put under the poncho. Did I say they do tourism well here? I decided the minute we returned to camp I would see if I could get a job there. I never wanted to leave.

Not long after we set off we saw a mother rhino and her baby with blunt, shortened horns. They had cut the horns off to try to prevent them from being poached. What’s happening to the rhinos is tragic. They are being wiped out for a supposed Chinese aphrodisiac and the money that brings in is astronomical. The risks and the money put into saving them is also astronomical. The poachers are armed with AK47s, they helicopter in, kill the rhino and remove the horn in less than five minutes. It’s insane. In Malawi they were wiped out all together, but there is an effort to enforce stricter penalties for poaching. Since the rhinos were reintroduced a tremendous amount of money is put into protecting them. In Namibia, there is a shoot to kill policy for poaching and it has made a difference. No trial, no questions asked, if you are caught poaching or even being off the main road, the rangers can shoot you. One of our guides told us a tourist was killed a while ago. He ventured off the road and, bam. There are signs everywhere telling you to stay on the main roads in the park. And not to get out of your car for that matter. Cutting the horn off the rhino makes it less attractive for the poachers, but sometimes they will kill the rhino anyway because they don’t want to spend time tracking an animal they can’t use. The horns will grow back and there is a lot of controversy about the practice. They are such incredible animals. We saw one in Malawi and one in Etosha, but to see this one with a baby was great. We then went back to see the lions munching away on the zebra. Ebs told us he wasn’t sure if it’d still be there because hyenas may have came during the night and chase the lions away. They would finish off that carcass in no time. I said, “Really? A hyena can chase away a lion?” Ebs said, “No. Not one hyena. But they can come in large packs and thirty hyenas can take down a lion. And these lions are protecting their cubs, so if hyenas came, the lions would leave.” I never knew all this. So many metaphors, so little time.

The lions were still there so we watched them for awhile, then drove around and stopped for coffee in some beautiful spot where we watched herds of zebra and wildebeests. The sun was up and it had gotten much warmer, so we put the ponchos away and tucked the hot water bottles into the seat pockets. The landscape: open savannah and marshy grasses where all kinds of birds were congregating. Just gorgeous. We came to one spot and really, I thought it was too beautiful to even take a photo. I just wanted to hold the vision of that calm, pristine pond with the acacia trees in the background, and elephants milling around on the other side. I couldn’t stop sighing at the sight. We were coming around a corner of the sandy track and we asked Ebs to stop so we could take it in. As he brought the vehicle to a stop we heard people singing and around a copse of trees was the entire staff from the camp, with a long table set for brunch with colorful napkins and tablecloths. The chef was barbecuing meat, and a staff person was holding a tray of Campari and sodas, handing us each one as we descended from the vehicle. Did I already say I never wanted to leave? It was out of one of those magazines where you say, “Ya right, like this really happens.” Just a gourmet brunch out in the wilderness with cheerful staff and amicable companions. There was a camp toilet set up an appropriate distance away with a standing screen and basin and pitcher for hand washing. We had a little wait for the other group from the second vehicle, so that made enough time for three Campari and sodas, which, went down easy was indulgent at noon on a Sunday. Especially since I had to run six miles that afternoon. I suffered through it. Oh, and the food was amazing, too. I asked how often they surprise their guests with this impromptu wilderness brunch? They only do it when no guests are coming or leaving, so another lucky break for us. And right in the spot where I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! Eden. That’s all I have to say.

Since I am now in full training mode for the marathon, I needed to run six miles that day. That’s the longest run for me in about three years. We weren’t allowed to walk at all in the camp with all the predators and elephants roaming around so I thought I was going to have to run in place in our chalet. That was going to be unpleasant. Alistair, who has run several marathons including New York, suggested I ask if there was a treadmill at the sister camp which was a bit more upscale than the one we were at. I did and there was, so after we returned from our bush brunch I got driven 100 meters to the other camp and got on the treadmill for seventy minutes. It was a slog. The three Campari and sodas didn’t help. But I did it and finished in time for an outdoor shower and high tea. I hydrated myself with water and a glass of wine before the evening drive. 

The evening drive was a different from all the others in that we saw the wild dogs. Ebs got a message on the radio from another guide who’d seen them leaving their den for a hunt, so we zoomed through the bush hanging onto the bars to stay in our seats (that ride itself was worth it) to follow them as they set off. I didn’t even realize wild dogs existed but they are flourishing there and are fascinating to watch. They looked to me like a soccer team fanning out and looking for prey. A part of me thought it would be neat to see them catch something, but in reality, the gruesomeness of that would have been traumatic, and I was happy just to see how they work together. When lions or leopards hunt they kill their prey instantly, but we heard that the wild dogs are eating it before it’s even dead and it’s a disturbing sight. They eat all of it then go back to their den to regurgitate it for the pups. They do this twice a day. We followed them for an hour or so before Ebs said we should not stress them and we left for sundowners even though the sun had already set. 

We’d wanted to spend three nights at that camp, but when we booked there were only two available, so we prepared to leave on Monday. When we got back to camp for cocktails before another gourmet meal, we asked the manager if there was a possibility of staying a third night. Had anyone cancelled per chance? He said he would work on it. Monday morning we were wakened for the morning drive so we thought maybe we scored and could stay, and though they had to move us to a different chalet, a third night was arranged for us. We have been so lucky! I would have been happy to sleep on the floor in the common area, but with a little shuffling of gear, we were in another equally comfortable chalet. The Scottish family wanted to do a walking safari so asked if we could do that Tuesday morning. A special “walking-trained guide” has to be available for that, so that got investigated, and Phinley was booked to take the five of us on a walk early Tuesday morning before our afternoon flight out. He was a bit more serious than Ebs. At first he seemed like he didn’t want to do the walk and that made me skeptical. We’d seen so many lions and two leopards and I didn’t want our stay there to end badly (obviously they don’t either). They are very careful about the rules. He didn’t say anything about panicking, but he did remind us to do exactly what he says, stay in single file, talk in low voices, and don’t make any quick movements. We drove away from the camp a few kilometers and he parked the vehicle. We got out and watched him prepare his rifle, reminding us again of the rules. Then he stopped and said, “Hear that?” We could hear all kinds of noises, the birds, baboons, elephants in the distance, so I wasn’t sure which sound he was talking about. Then again, he said, “Hear that? That’s a lion and it is very near.” We all reached for the rails of the vehicle at the same time and were in it in less than a second. We drove to another location and I was about to say, “You know, I don’t really need to take a walk here. I’m fine to drive.” but didn’t want to seem like a wuss. I found out later everyone else was thinking the same thing.  Well, I’m not sure what Phinley was thinking. He just drove to another spot and got his gun out again. 

The new spot was deemed safe enough to get out and walk, so we did for over an hour and it was thrilling. We saw a few giraffe close up but mostly we looked at footprints and vegetation and learned about the changing landscape there. Phinley was incredibly knowledgable and though his manner was a little gruff, it was a great experience. I was relieved when we all made it back to the vehicle though. When we got there another vehicle was going by and told us about a pride of lions feasting on a giraffe, so on our way back to the lodge we swung around to see that. The giraffe was a healthy female that had fallen when she was crossing a marsh the day before. Phinley told us he saw her in the morning struggling to get up. I asked if he couldn’t help pull her out? He said no, that would either kill him or destroy the vehicle and fatally injure her. The only thing to do was to wait until she had drown. When a giraffe falls down it can’t get up. Another thing I didn’t know. So Phinley and some other guides waited until she died, then got a tractor and pulled her out so her carcass wouldn’t contaminate the water. He said he knew it would not be long before either lions or hyena took care of her. Wow. The harsh side of nature. When we got there a pride of nine lions had done quite a number on the huge animal. They were lying around guarding the remains as loads of vultures circled around. We watched for awhile as some of the lions surrounded the animal and others sauntered over to a shady spot under a tree. Phinley moved the vehicle closer to the ones under the tree and we parked there, no more than fifteen feet from these incredible animals. I mean, they are enormous! It’s astonishing how close you can get if you are in a vehicle as long as no one stands up. They all had their eyes focused on the vultures and were looking around for anything else that might come to share the giraffe…and then…George sneezed. One of his really loud sneezes. The ones that don’t usually bother me, but I will admit, that sneeze made me think, “What the fuck?” He was sitting on the lion side, and I was next to him. The male lion closest to us turned his massive head and looked at George with a curiosity that, frankly, I found terrifying. I whispered, “George, he’s looking right at you.” Those big amber eyes did not move from little George sitting fifteen (or was it twelve? maybe ten) feet away. It seemed a lot closer now. George was looking down at the seat between us and said, “I know. Is he still?” I said, “Yup. Do not move.” And I started nervous-laughing, and was having a hard time controlling it. I looked back at the lion but that stare was scary. I stopped laughing. He wasn’t Aslan. I sat motionless looking at my phone wanting to take a photo but afraid to move. Phinley, never taking his eyes off the lion said quietly, “No movement in the vehicle.” That scared me more. We were all frozen, and George whispered into the seat between us, the funniest thing he has ever said, “If he gets me, take a picture of it.” I have holes in my tongue from biting it. And all I could think of was, “Jeepers. What a satisfying end for the ex-wife. Killed by a lion for sneezing.”  After about five frozen minutes the lion turned his gaze back to the vultures, Phinley turned on the engine and slowly drove away. Holy Shit. What an ending to our stay there.

Later that afternoon, Phinley took us to the airstrip and we said goodby to that magical place. We had to drive up and down the airstrip to clear it of giraffes and kudu. As the plane approached, the giraffe started coming near again and Phinley got out of the vehicle and started chasing them on foot. They finally turned and ran into the bush. The plane landed and a group of eight Americans got off and into the vehicle to take them to what I thought of as my personal camp. I really loved it there. We got on their plane and took off for Maun where we spent the night trying to decide what to do with our last week of this odyssey. I felt like nothing could top that and was prepared for everything being downhill from there.

We needed to head north to Zambia and the most direct route was through Savuti in Chobe National Park, but we’d heard the road was deep sand and I had no desire to get stuck for God knows how long. The other option was to drive 300 kilometers to Nata, then another 300 north to Kasane, and that’s what we decided to do. 

Wednesday we drove to a place called Planet Baobab, a campground on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans and National Park. Again, we were warned it was deep sand into the park, so opted to stay outside the park and take an organized trip in a proper safari vehicle the next morning. About three minutes into the drive I was saying, “Thank God we didn’t try this ourselves.” Our car is great but the clearance isn’t super and we would have been anxious at best and marooned at worst. Plus all the roads were unmarked and looked alike and we would have been hopelessly lost. Our skeletons would have been found years later. The safari took us into the largest salt pan in the world, which extends for miles. You wouldn’t think a flat endless white landscape would be impressive, but it was breath-taking. You cannot see the end of it anywhere. These pans are the remnants of a huge inland lake that existed a half a million years ago. It’s possible to camp there in the middle of this vastness, but I don’t think I’d do that without a group and someone who knows the place. Though I guess people do. The night sky must be amazing.

From there we went another 100 kilometers on Thursday to a place called Nata, where there is another pan filled with water where there is a huge flamingo and pelican population. We camped in the community campsite, run by the local village, and were the only ones there. Horses and wildebeest walked around our tent at night. We drove down to the pan in the morning with a guide and watched the astonishing number of birds in the lagoons and in the pan. The flamingos were only visible with binoculars, but there were thousands of them. Joy, our guide, told us when other places dry out, there are sometimes half a million flamingos there. At sunset they fly in groups to a closer lagoon. We decided on the spot to stay another night and be there for sunset. It was nice that afternoon lolling about at the campsite. We’d been on the go so much we haven’t had as much unscheduled time as I thought we would. It is definitely getting hotter and I needed to do a run and was trying to figure out how to go about that. There were no predators there, so I could run on the hard salt road and incredible flat landscape. There were only grazers around and zillions of birds, but it was baking sun and too hot during the day so we read. A little before five we drove the seven kilometers down to the pan and I decided to do a run from there and be back to the spot where George was before the sun went down. There was a loop around one of the lagoons and it’s so flat it’s easy to see the way back. That scenery was so spectacular. The setting sun in the background with huge flocks of flamingoes taking off and coming toward us. I just run out of superlatives. I’m sure in George’s blog he has a list of all the different species of birds, but I’m not capable of listing them all. Maybe I’ll just add a link to his blog (after I read it). I always find it interesting to see how he describes the same things I do or what he decides to write about. It’s often different from me. 

Yesterday we arrived in Kasane, the gateway to Chobe National Park and got a campsite at one of the nice lodges here. I just love traveling in on this continent! For ten dollars a night we get a campsite with a fireplace and power source, on the river, and we can use all the amenities at the lodge! It’s fabulous! Right now I’m sitting at the campsite bar overlooking the river and herds of elephant are walking by. Last night we watched two lions stalk a buffalo. They were at a bit of a distance, maybe fifty meters, on the riverbank. We’d seen the buffalo all alone about an hour before and the guide told us he was old and kicked out of the herd. Again, nature can be so cruel. He was facing the lions who were on each side of him and I thought, “Oh my God, we are going to see a kill.” which, seems like it would be a cool thing to see, but I really don’t want to see it. Anyway, the buffalo charged at the lion, and she turned around and sat down again, still watching him. He stood still for awhile, then slowly turned and walked about twenty yards before he started running. The lions just watched. They can smell fear the guides say. They let him go.

Tomorrow we head north into Zambia and spend two nights on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, then Wednesday to Lusaka, then Thursday to Lilongwe. Friday I fly to Rotterdam. I have a little sadness about the trip coming to an end, but mostly am so incredibly grateful to have been able to do this.

Next week from Rotterdam then back to real life…

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~ Chitabe Camp, Botswana

Sunday Morning ~ Chitabe Camp, Botswana 

August 12, 2018

Hi Everyone,

“Don’t panic until I do.” That’s what our guide Stuart told us as we set off on a walking safari on Wednesday. His English wasn’t that great and he seemed a little low on energy, so I was a little apprehensive as we started off. This was part of our mokoro camping trip into the Okavango Delta. We’ve been camping all along at campgrounds where there is running water and fireplaces. This was sort of a sub-camping trip where we had to carry all our stuff on a mokoro and make camp on a little deserted island with absolutely no amenities. A mokoro is a small boat that looks like a dug-out canoe but is made of fiberglass. It’s a bit tippy. The poler, who was also our guide, stands at the back with a big pole he uses to move us along the waterway. It’s like punting with crocodiles. After we got to the island where we set up camp, we took the mokoro to a bigger island for our safari. That’s where we got the instructions to stay in single file, speak in quiet voices, and don’t panic until Stuart does. 

Getting to Botswana was simple from Windhoek. Crossing the border was cake, and the only thing we had to watch out for was cattle on the road. They are everywhere. We got to Maun and found a place to camp right on the river at a backpackers lodge where they can arrange all sorts of activities. On a chalkboard behind the bar was a list of prices for mokoro trips and it was really cheap! We thought that would be a good start to seeing some of the inner delta.  Certainly no problem with availability; you sign up, pay your money, and a forty-five minute speed boat ride takes you to a village where the mokoro station is. There, you put all your camping equipment, food, and anything else you need for the trip into one of these little boats and your poler/guide takes you along peaceful, spectacular waterways another hour and a half to a camping spot. You are completely at his mercy as he poles along the crocodile-laden waters humming to himself. Not being such a big boat person, I thought I was heroic by not flipping out about this. His instructions as we got into this thin craft with all our gear was, “Act like a sack of potatoes and don’t move.”  The water isn’t deep or cold so I wasn’t worried about drowning this time, but I was not eager to lose a limb to Charlie the croc if we tipped over. I murmured to George, “Did you hear that? Don’t move!”  I was worried he’d try to stand up or something to try to take a picture.

Stuart’s job was to get us there, keep us alive, and get us back to the village where the speed boat would collect us on Friday. It was up to us to cook for ourselves and look after our stuff, etc. Another couple from UK was camping near us with a different guide who was a bit livelier. Stuart seemed a little depressed. The other guide dug a hole which was to be our toilet for the three days then showed us some necklaces he’d made, took out his guitar, and sang. Stuart asked us if we’d brought toilet paper. We said we had and his only response was, “good”. He was making me nervous. He didn’t have a tent with him so ended up sleeping in the other guide’s tiny tent. He also didn’t bring any food. We weren’t supposed to have to feed him, but we ended up sharing some of what we’d brought because he looked hungry and it was awkward to eat with him sitting there. Like I said, this little activity was cheap. It ended up being really wonderful though, and by the end of the three days, I was quite fond of Stuart. He would pole us over to these other islands and we’d walk for hours seeing various antelope and zebra in the distance. There are supposedly lions around there but we didn’t come across any, for which I was grateful in this circumstance. Especially after his “don’t panic until I do” comment.  We’d get up at six, pole over to another island and walk for two or three hours, go back to camp and have several hours to read, paint, or talk, then around five we’d go off in the mokoro again to watch the hippos while the sun set. It was so peaceful and laid back and since we’ve been moving so much, it felt good to sit for awhile and just take it all in. 

My focus had been on Namibia but George had really wanted to spend some time in the Okavango, so we planned the route back to Malawi through Botswana. I’m not sure I even knew what a delta was. I certainly didn’t have a good picture of this place in my mind, but had heard raves from people who’d been here. I’d heard prince Harry loved it and brought Megan camping here before he proposed. I asked the couple (Tom and Anna) from UK if they knew where the royal couple had camped? Tom said, “No, Harry and I don’t talk much anymore since he met Megan.”  Tom was not a big fan of the royals and said his idea was to sell them to the Americans and use the money to pay off the national debt. I found Tom endlessly amusing. 

Botswana, like Namibia, does a fantastic job with tourism and the Okavango is a very popular destination. Since we’d not made advanced plans we weren’t sure what we’d do. Everyone told us we’d have to make reservations at least a year in advance to get into one of the remote lodges you have to fly into, but knowing they are super expensive, we weren’t planning on staying at one anyway. We thought we might take one of the hour-long scenic flights. But then we started talking about it and thought, hey, we’re probably never going to be here again, so lets just check it out. So the day before we left on the mokoro trip we went into the office in Maun that manages the lodges run by a company called Wilderness Safaris. We thought we’d just see if there was a chance there was an opening for a couple of nights. We didn’t care which camp it was. Well, it turns out that not only was there an opening, but since we’d worked in Africa we got a very reduced rate (like a third of the standard rate) so we signed up. The price included the flight, all the activities, and even drinks!  Woohoo! So knowing we were booked for some luxury, we went off with Stuart and enjoyed, what we now know was, the other extreme.

By the time we got back to Maun on Friday we had layers of sunscreen, bug repellent, sweat, and dirt, about an inch thick over just about all of us. I thought I might just throw my clothes away instead of trying to wash them. But it was a good kind of dirty. A satisfying dirty. The kind of dirty that makes showering a religious experience. 

Saturday morning we were up bright and early to break down the tent and pack up for our ten o’clock flight. Every time I think this trip can’t get any better, we stay at a place that makes me pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. I see why Harry loves it here. I mean, really. Oh Em Gee.

We left the car at the Wilderness Safaris office and crossed the street to the tiny airport where we boarded the tiny plane that flies fortunate people like us into these camps. The camps are scattered throughout the delta which covers an area the size of Denmark. Our flight was short, only twenty minutes, and we were the only people on it. We landed on the dusty airstrip with a giraffe standing by the windsock and as we taxied toward the waiting land rover an ostrich ran in front of us. This was really cool.  We thanked our young pilot and got into the waiting vehicle with a driver, named Tank, who greeted us like we were long lost relatives. We hadn’t even left the airstrip and I already thought it was worth the price of the trip. It took about thirty five minutes to drive from there to the camp and the animals we saw on the way were phenomenal! Herds of impala, elephants, zebra, birds, all over the place. It was unbelievable! We pull up to the camp and five staff members are at the entrance singing a welcome to us. They helped us down from the vehicle as they introduced themselves and shook our hands. They didn’t let us carry a thing. We followed them into the main thatched room where an gorgeous brunch was laid out. We got ourselves a plate of food and the manager got one for himself and sat and ate with us while he explained how everything works and what the schedule would be. After lunch we would be free until 3:30 when they served high tea. Then we would leave for the evening game drive and return around seven for dinner. After brunch he walked us to our chalet and gave us an orientation. He explained the in and outdoor showers, that they prefer we use their eco-friendly products for bathing, showed us how the lights work, where to leave any laundry we want washed, etc. etc. then left us to rest until tea. We both burst out laughing thinking a few days before our guide made sure we’d brought our own toilet paper.

I went onto the porch to soak my feet (which were still dirty after the holy shower) and read while George sat inside at the desk to write. I heard some rustling of branches, looked up and hissed, “George! Get out here! Look at this!” and George comes out of the chalet with his binoculars around his neck. I said, “Uh, you won’t need those.”  Ten feet from the edge of the porch was a mother and baby elephant browsing away on the tree next to us. They didn’t pay any attention to us, munched for awhile, and moved on. We kept saying, “Oh my God, we just got here!”

I was still full from lunch but that didn’t stop me from eating some of the savory pastries at tea before we got into a safari vehicle with a Scottish family to head out for the evening game drive. Before we left, Ebs, our guide for the duration of our stay, asked what I’d like to drink for sundowners. I told him I’d have red wine since it was rather chilly, and he asked (I swear to God) “Would you like a full bodied or medium bodied?” Since I’ve gotten used to a Malawian waiter asking, “Red? Uh, let me check if we have any.” And if they do, it comes out of a box. I couldn’t stop laughing.

The amount of game here is staggering! Seriously! A herd of five hundred buffalo! But the most exciting thing we saw last night was two lionesses and six cubs dining on a zebra. I am very glad I didn’t see the actual kill which had happened the night before, as I love zebra. But to see these powerful creatures eating and guarding their food with their cubs was amazing. The cubs would nurse, then frolick, then lick the zebra meat or pull at it. The lionesses would eat some, then lie down and sleep while the cubs suckled. It was incredible. We watched that for quite a while before finding a place to stop for wine and the gorgeous red sunset I never get tired of. We saw more animals on the way back to camp as it got colder and colder, and as we arrived in the dark and descended from the vehicle, a staff person was there to hand us a warm washcloth for our hands and face. I’m like, are you kidding? Then we walk into the dining area where we were handed a glass of sparkling wine to sip while we waited for dinner to be served.

I never want to leave this place. 

…to be continued….

Love to all,


Sunday Morning ~ Windhoek, Namibia

Sunday Morning ~ Windhoek, Namibia

August 5, 2018

Hi Everyone,

We’re in the capital city and have WiFi! Yay! It’s ridiculous how dependent we’ve gotten on this technology. Most of the places we’ve been have been so remote that even when it is supposedly available, it doesn’t work. When we tell the proprietor the wifi isn’t working they just shrug. But here it seems to be functioning, so hopefully this will get out today.

Our time in Namibia is about to come to a close. We’ll be leaving after breakfast to head east to Botswana, about a three hour drive from here. From there we will either push on to Maun, the center of all adventures in Botswana, or stay somewhere in the Kalahari on the way there. We’re still up in the air and are going to see what it’s like when we get there. Plus I don’t know how long it will take to cross the border so not sure if we’ll make it all the way to Maun which I think is about 700 kilometers.

We’ve been pampered more this week than during the whole trip combined. Last Sunday we were at the chalet at Ai-Ais and after George tripped and fell into the pool, fortunately without his cell phone, we had a nice swim as the sun came up on the canyon walls.The pool was heated by the hot spring there and though it wasn’t bathwater, it was lovely and we were the only two in the pool. The actual hot spring is too hot to get into, about 150 degrees. It has a stone wall around it and warning signs about how hot it is. After breakfast we walked into the canyon as far as we were allowed (6km) and were swarmed by little bugs the whole way. It made walking in the sand along the Fish River exceedingly unpleasant. We had to tie handkerchiefs over our nose and mouth to keep the bugs out. It brought home the reality of doing that whole five day hike. There’s no path; we were either navigating stones or walking in sand and it wasn’t super easy. Beautiful with the canyon walls around us, but we had to be continually swatting the bugs. Carrying a big pack would have been really hard. We were quite happy with the day hike and our cold beer and comfortable bed at the end of it.

I thought the canyon was situated like the grand canyon with a north and south rim, but it’s not. It’s an east and west rim. So on Monday morning we drove from Ai-Ais at the southern point, up the eastern rim to where I thought the lodge we’d booked was located. The lodge is not part of the National Park, it’s on private land, so hiking down into the canyon for a day is possible with a guide. That’s not allowed in the National Park unless you re one of the lucky ones who got permission to go down and do the five day hike out the other end. This may all sound confusing, and it is. We didn’t understand it and we’ve been reading books about it for a year and we were actually there. We still didn’t get it.  The canyon is deep at the northern end and gradually drops off toward the south, so you hike down into it then five days later walk out of it. You don’t have to hike back up. As we drove along what we thought was the rim, we couldn’t see anything. Turns out the gravel road along the canyon is far from the rim, a 12 km drive down another road (only one) to the lookout point and the point where hikers descend. I thought the lodge was somewhere around there. It took us about an hour and a half to get there and when we got to the lookout point we actually could see the lodge. On the other side of the canyon, about 5km away as the bird flies and 300km away by road. George had said he didn’t think we could get to it from where we were, but I was sure there had to be a road to it, but no, turns out there isn’t. You can’t drive across the canyon. We had to go 130km north, 70km west, and 104km south. What I thought would take us thirty minutes took us five hours on gravel roads, BUT, oh, so worth it.

We pulled into this lodge just as the sun was setting after a 19km winding driveway to the canyon rim. The guidebook had said it was “84km from the main road, then 19km after a left turn to the lodge. With a two wheel drive vehicle this will take about an hour.” I took that to mean an hour from the main road but we soon realized they meant an hour after the turn onto the driveway. It was a winding gravely path with loose stones, and it was hard to go more then 20km/hr. But pretty. Very, very, pretty with quiver trees all along the road and the late afternoon sun giving their bark a beautiful golden glow. The lodge doesn’t look like much as you approach it. The main building is rectangular with an aluminum roof and the twenty chalets look like little square bunkers all in a row. You have to enter the main lodge through a large wooden door with two huge antlers for door handles and once you enter, in front of you is the canyon spread out before you. The scene is spectacular. It was designed this way, to have the guests see the view only after you enter the lodge. It is situated right on the rim, I mean closer than the viewpoint was on the other side. All the chalets are situated the same way, with the porch about two feet from the edge of the canyon. (I would not bring kids to this place) The chalets are made from local rocks and look almost as if they grew there. Unbelievable. There were guests sitting around on the deck having wine and two fires were burning in the central fireplaces in the big open room with a bar and sitting area at one end, and dining area at the other end. The canyon side was a huge wall of windows. It’s a brilliant design. The man who welcomed us looked surprised and said, “You are just arriving now?”  I said, “Yes, it took a little longer than we thought, like five hours longer.” He laughed like he’d heard that before. We heard the next day that often a GPS will direct people to the lookout point (where we’d been on the other side) and they call the lodge to say, “Where are you? We’re here at the lookout and can’t see the lodge.” Then they are told to drive another 300km and they’ll see it. Anyway, we went to our chalet and both of us instantly said, “Let’s stay here an extra night.”  Meals were all included and served by the fire (it was cold!) and the food was fabulous. I asked how they get all the supplies in there, and was told once a week a truck comes with the order of food, wine, and supplies. George asked if the owners lived on the premises and our waiter told us that, no, the owners were American. I said, really? What is their name? He said, “A family named Rockefeller.”  Two farms that had been located on the edge of this canyon were acquired and made into a nature reserve and this lodge was built. I have to look into the history, but it is magnificent. There are platforms on the porch of each of the 20 chalets for yoga. They give you a mat at the reception along with a flashlight and earplugs in case the wind gets too loud. No water after the generator is turned off and the water is all solar heated. The electricity is also by generator, but they are planning to make it all solar powered. 

Tuesday we walked a trail for ten miles along the rim of the canyon. At one place we stopped to rest and watched some hikers from Brazil ascend from the canyon with a guide. We were considering doing this but weren’t sure how grueling it would be. We watched them come up, all of them in their 30’s and 40’s looking like they just stepped out of a Patagonia ad and they were dragging. They hauled themselves up the steep part, hanging onto the ropes bolted into the rocks and I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea or not. We really want to hike down to the river even though we’d walked along it at the other end, but didn’t want to kill ourselves. We had a choice of half day to a plateau above the river, or full day down to the river. This group had done the half day hike and looked so beat we decided not to try the full day. We signed up for the half day hike and even that I was a little nervous about.

Wednesday at our early breakfast, Desi, our guide, brought us our bag lunch and three bottles of water each. We told him we didn’t need that much water but he said, “Take it. There’s no need to die.”  A safari vehicle took us to the trailhead and Desi made us stand at the top and look down and agree we still wanted to do it. We also had to sign a waiver. It was making me a little more nervous, but I thought if we go slow, we can do it. Well, it turns out that Mt. Mulanje is way harder than this was. We were down to our destination in less than two hours. Desi entertaining us the whole way. When we got there he said this is where we eat our lunch. I said, “It’s only 9:30! I’m not even hungry yet!” I had stuffed my face at breakfast anticipating some marathon-like physical feat and while it took some effort and care, it wasn’t that hard. We talked and drank water at his insistence since he told us story after story of taking people down into the canyon and having them get sick from dehydration. We asked if anyone had ever gotten hurt and he told us about one Dutch guy two years ago slipped and fell a long way onto the rocks. Desi had to carry him out on his back and radio for help. I asked if a helicopter came to get him? He  laughed and said, “A helicopter? In Namibia?” A small airplane came from Windhoek and took him the three hour flight to the hospital. He survived with multiple broken bones and internal bleeding, but he and his wife came back two years later to do the hike again. Desi said that was an emotional event to take the guy down again.  

As we hiked out of the canyon, which I thought was easier than going down, he told us stories about learning to be a guide and what he had to go through. He talked about camping without a tent, training to come face to face with lions, facing elephants on horseback, and tracking leopards, all of it fascinating. I asked him what DO you do if you come face to face with a lion? He said, “Do not run.  First of all, you are already dead. Do not run.” I laughed. I asked, “If you just stand there will they attack?” He said, “Yes, they will test you. Stand your ground. Don’t move. They will come at you three times. They will shove sand at you. Stand your ground. Do not move. After three times, they will walk away. When they walk away, do not move. When they lie down and look at you, move slowly away, but never turn your back.” I told him what I’d been told to do if you come upon a grizzly when hiking in Alaska, lie down and play dead, but he said, “Don’t do that with a lion. They will eat you if they see you move. And then they will get used to eating humans because they are so easy. No tough hide to chew through.”  We were back at the top in two hours and I said, “Those people yesterday made it look so hard! I wish we’d gone to the bottom.”  I wasn’t even tired! It was only 12:30. The vehicle came to pick us up and Desi said to the driver, “We didn’t even eat lunch. These people are killing me.”

We did another rim walk that afternoon, had another gorgeous dinner by the fire, and on Thursday morning we packed up to leave. It was one of the highlights of the trip, really.  We were undecided about where to go next but had plenty of time to discuss it on the drive back to the main road. We considered going into South Africa to the Kgaladi Transfrontier Park, which is supposedly incredible, but you must have two nights reservation to even be allowed into the park. George called and they had one night available, so we took that and hoped for a cancellation, but when we called later there hadn’t been one, so we bagged that idea and headed north toward Windhoek.

That night we got as far as Rehoboth a funky town where a group of people, called Basters, made a settlement. The word “Basters” is refined from “bastards”.  These are people who descend from European fathers and indigenous South African mothers and being mixed race were accepted by neither. In 1868 they lost their right to own farmland in South Africa so moved with their herds over the Orange River into Namibia and migrated further north. This happened over a three year period and during that time they wrote their own constitution, elected a leader, and finally settled in the highlands south of Windhoek. The name Rehoboth is from the bible and means a land where everyone is accepted (or something like that). This is all stuff we learned at the little museum in the town. Everyone there is light skinned and incredibly sweet and friendly. It is a strange place though. We stayed at the one hotel in town which was very basic and the proprietors looked a tiny bit inbred. (The woman at the museum definitely did.) As we were checking out, amidst sincere thanks and goodbyes, we told the older women at the hotel we’d love to visit again. They said, “Yes! And bring some boyfriends!” And the young women in the kitchen were all looking out at us nodding their heads.

We left there and drove to Windhoek, the capital, and checked into another funky little guesthouse, all painted different shades of purple. We walked all over the city, visited craft markets, the botanical garden, and Joe’s Beer House. There is a biltong festival going on outside the city, but we passed on that, enjoying being out of the car for a couple of days.  Now we will head east, into the Kalahari Desert, which, I learned isn’t a desert at all because it gets too much rainfall. We’ll learn more about that I guess as we immerse in it.

In less than a month we’ll be home. I’m looking forward to being home, but also a little sad to think of ending this great adventure. It’s been so much fun to be loose and free. I’m so grateful. George is such a great traveling companion. We’re on the same page most of the time with desire for activity and excitement about the next day’s discoveries. And we’re keeping it simple. So much is good.

Now to see if I can post this and maybe get some photos on Facebook….

Love to all,