Monday, June 13, and Tuesday, June 14 (photos)

On this OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel) trip we have stayed at four different camps in three different countries (plus Eli and I were in Kwa Zulu Natale in South Africa for five nights beforehand). You might think that it all would begin to look alike and also that we might begin to get a little jaded. But, like crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco (or taking in one City view or another—even coming home from the grocery store or waiting for the eye MD at UCSF)—each tent camp and game ride was a new experience. Remarkably, neither of us has had one back twinge the entire time, which says something about the relaxation factor of this amazing holiday.

First, there was Botswana, and the aforementioned (Elephant in the Room) lodge in Chobe National Park—ravine setting, pontoon boat trip on the nearby river. Then, in the Okavanga Delta, also Botswana, where the reeds and grasses hinted at the delta beyond, but the nocturnal hippo sounds confirmed it; we also road mokoro canoe boats on the delta itself. Lufopo Lodge in Zambia boasted a fabulous view of the confluence of the Lufopo and Kafue Rivers in Kafue National Park. Finally, here in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, it’s an open savannah-like, with tall grasses prevailing over occasional thickets. Very “Out of Africa.” (But where are Robert Redford and Meryl Streep when you need them? The theme music floats through my head all the time!)

Most mornings we set out for a game drive after a 6 or 6:30 am wakeup knock or voice “good morning” greeting. As it is late fall-early winter here in southern Africa, the sun is just rising as we get to breakfast by 7. Then we bundle up to load onto the two- or three-tiered Land Rover vehicles, laden with cameras, field glasses, and backpacks, the latter useful for storing the layers we peel off as the sun gets warmer. The guides/drivers in each country have stood out as professional game trackers, knowledgeable naturalists, and generally genial fellows. Edison, our group leader who came up through the ranks as a safari guide first, is a strapping Zimbabwean who seems to have a great relationship with the local guides and staff at each lodge.

Most days the morning drives have lasted 2-4 hours, followed by brunch or lunch back at the camp. We’ve also had one walking safari, with our driver/guide, Godfrey, carrying a rifle (better safe than sorry, the guides say!)

Many afternoons (starting anywhere from 4 to 5 pm) were the “sundowner” game drives, some punctuated with an outdoor cocktail hour rendezvous of the vehicles at the day’s last light. These provided some of the best game viewing of the hard-to-spot nocturnal animals. In the dark, the drivers shone red lights around, and the eyes of leopards and hyenas that shone in the thicket were incredible. Dinner followed our return to camp. The final nights at each site—at outdoor open fire pits–the staff performed their native songs and dances and gave the group an opportunity to do out thing, too. Not too original, we’ve done the “Hokey Pokey” ad nauseum. “Have Negilah” was suggested (not by us, the only Jews in the group) but rejected. Eli’s suggestion of a parody to the tune of “Old McDonald” is on tap tonight for our final safari night: “OAT Man Edison Led a Safari…”

Food: considering the lack of exercise (though maybe hoisting ourselves up into the vehicles will have worked the arms a bit), it’s been too good (though my safari pants actually feel a little loose, and there’s no forgiving spandex to stretch them!). Though the cuisine could be called universal in general (eggs, cereals for breakfast; pasta casseroles; roasted meats and fowl, etc.), there have been differences. In Botswana and Zambia we got more of an African flavor with the corn maize they call “polenta” used for side dishes and morning porridge. Baked goods were outstanding. One standout was a rosemary cookie wafer served for a tea/coffee break during a game drive. Here in Zimbabwe, where the lodge amenities (including luscious outdoor shower glorious in the mid-afternoon breaks) are the best (last safari stop—that OAT is a smart cookie company), the food is more colonial British (the manager and “senior” staff is also white Zimbabwean, unlike the other places). Nights are also chilly (close to freezing, we hear the next morning)—the chilliest here in Zimbabwe, but the hot water bottles left in during turndown have been welcome lumps in the bed. Talk about layers: last night I even wore gloves to bed.

However cold the beginning and end of the day is, every day has brought clear skies and warming sun by late morning. The afternoons are probably 70-80 F. In short, perfect.

Between camps we’ve traveled by safari vehicle, bus, and plane. Some of the “airports” have been terminal-free airstrips. The planes have generally been 12-seaters, which has meant that that group needed more than one. A couple legs used four –seaters, and volunteers were requested. Eli and I rode one 1.5 hour leg in one, a HUGE challenge conquered for me. (Even the 12-seaters…now I take them in stride, as if they were 747s!). And then there was the “marking of territory” bathroom facilities (gents in one area, ladies behind other bushes) available on most game drives. I’m now a pro!

Our OAT group of 15 has been remarkably congenial, and everyone shows up on time, and no one holds up the group in any way. Of course, there are different “personalities” and a couple of characters, but we’re very lucky. Our guide says our group is “as good as it gets.”

Photos tell it better than words, and we have taken more than 1300 in Africa. (Don’t worry—we don’t intend to bore everyone we know with all of them when we get home.  And, like the much discussed overpopulation of elephants in southern Africa , there is need for culling! Some members of our group are MAJOR photographers with huge lenses (one even with tripod: it’s a wonder they could bring any clothes with 37 lbs of equipment, and the small plane weight allotment of 44, including backpacks). We are not in that league, and our cameras didn’t do as well at night, but, as our guide Edison says, “The best pictures are the ones in your memory.”

Walking safari with guide, Godfrey, and his trust rifle.

Last night at Malolo Lodge, Hwange National Park. Zimbabwe: Eli, the creator and producer of the evening’s “OAT Man Edison Led a Safari” group presentation.

We ran into a pride of about 15 lions en route to the airstrip leaving Zimbabwe.

Speak Your Mind