Saturday, July 18, 2009

July 18, 2009 reflections on the whole trip

All in all, an unbelievable vacation. We have talked about Africa for 3 years and could never quite figure out exactly what we wanted to do. This trip, offered by Orvis International Travel, provided a perfect blend of sightseeing and safari adventure while maintaining upscale accommodations every step of the way. We added an extra day in Capetown for the wine country tour and upgraded our accommodations on the train, otherwise we booked the standard package. Kudos to the Orvis staff, and particularly Jodi Pratt the trip coordinator here in the US who helped us select and arrange the little extras that made the trip ours. The day we arrived in Africa I was contacted by the coordinator in Johannesburg, reviewed some detail and was assured to call her any time day or night if any issues arose, to our pleasure none were encountered.

The order in which the trip occurred was ideal in many ways as well. After several exhausting days touring in Cape Town we relaxed on the Rovos train as we made our way into safari country, then after another flat out on the go 5 days in the Okavango Delta we relaxed in the comfort of the Royal Livingstone before returning home.

The amazing thing was how each leg of the journey we were looked after and handed off to the next leg without any issues or concerns about how to get to the next location. My hats off to Orvis and the coordinators in Africa each and every transfer was flawless. This was one of my concerns about the trip which became unfounded as we made our way some 2,200 kilometers along our journey.

If you are reading this Blog for the first time make sure you click “older posts” at the bottom to see all the postings for this trip.

Well, onto plan the next adventure.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 14 Victoria Falls, Zambia

What a way to top off a wonderful trip. Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River are certainly African Gems.

After some interesting negotiating I arranged for a 30 minute helicopter ride over the falls and down the gorge for several kilometers. Here, not like the Grand Canyon, they still fly just above the water down at the bottom of the gorge, breath taking.

Our pilot circled the falls 6 times allowing me many great opportunities for photos and several capturing the rainbow from the mist above the falls. I asked; how close can we go? He said not much closer than this by regulation but stated get your camera ready for the last pass. As we turned the corner for the last pass he dropped right down and swung out allowing me the photo you see above, great stuff.

We had our first encounter with the monkeys here at the Royal Livingstone Hotel. At tea this afternoon a little devil came up in front of us and passed on the right, we thought he went through. Not so, the little devil did an end run around us and made off with the sugar from our table. We thought it was funny, the staff wasn’t amused.

Bad news, Devils Pool was closed. The water was too high and no one was permitted in the water. You can imagine how disappointed Linda was, NOT.

We are both so exhausted, such hard work being on vacation. Tomorrow we head back to Johannesburg for our flight home. Later I will post a recap about the fantastic organization of the trip that Orvis International did.

July 11-13 Little Vumbura Camp

Our next stop was Little Vumbura camp. We were collected by another bush plane and transferred 10 minutes to the east. It’s amazing how different this camp is. Little Vumbura has more water and a lot of the activities center around boating. The trip from the landing strip involves about a 20 minute boat ride through the reeds of the Delta wetlands.

To the North of the camp there is dry land and we did two game drives there. Our other adventures were with a power boat and with a Mokoro boat, a hollowed out wooden boat which is polled in the water, of course today they might be fiberglass.

After seeing the spectacular sights at Duba it was hard to believe we could do much better. Well our experiences here came in a close second if not better. We spent around 20 hours gaming and at one point came across one of Africa’s endangered species, a Sable Antelope. It really didn’t look real it is such an unusual and beautiful animal. We spent long periods watching the Fish Eagles, then wow, one dives into the water and up with a catfish in its talons. It’s not the best photo technically, but you can see the whiskers of the catfish hanging as it took off out of the lake, what a moment, what a shot.

Everywhere you turn there is a photo opportunity after opportunity, the reflection in the pool was at sun down when we stop and have our “sun downers” that’s whatever you prefer to drink as you watch the sun go down in the Delta. Of course we went back and forth between champagne and chardonnay.

OK it’s getting late and we need to return to camp. We have been spotting in the dark for about two hours, then Rain our guide says hold on, I can’t believe it, it’s a Leopard in that tree. Very difficult to find Leopards they are nocturnal and mostly spotted only at night. He radioed to the other car from the camp what we spotted; they came in around 15 minutes later as we sat there and watched. He wouldn’t shin the light on the Leopard directly as it might hurt its eyes. He only shown the light near the Leopard which made taking a photo almost impossible. I have to thank the folks at Canon. I struggled for almost 100 shots with really no results, then I cranked the ISO to 6,400 an aperture of 5.6 with around a second exposure and after another 100 more shots managed to get this one of the Leopard, amazing thank you Canon.

July 9-11 Duba Plains Safari Camp

Pride of 6 lions attacking a buffalo

She rolls onto the pair on the left as the two on the right come on, some bulls came and chased the lions away and the buffalo ran off for another day

Wow, I don’t think there are words created yet that can describe the experience we have had at this camp. The people and facilities are wonderful, everyone wants to make sure you are taken care of and that your experience is what you expected. We spent a total of 22 hours out in the Delta tracking and watching the animals and scenery.

We have been very fortunate in several ways. First; our guide for the 3 days was James Pisetu who is a recognized guide for National Geographic and is often booked months in advance. I can’t even begin to describe all the animals we saw. I am only showing the lions here the rest will be found on our web site later. At Duba we saw Antelope, Kudu, Red Lechwe, Tsessbe, Buffalo, Elephants, Hippopotamus, Warthogs, African Wild Cat, Side Stripped Jackal, Civet, Lions, Baboons, African Rock Python, Crocodiles and I’m sure some I forgot and I didn’t mention all the birds.

But, the ABSOULT highlight of Duba was following a pride of lions and buffalo over two days and finally seeing the pride take down a buffalo. The strategizing that went on before the lions attacked was amazing. The buffalo bulls are big and strong animals and can often kill the lions. So it’s not easy for the lions to take down a buffalo, they have to employ many tactics to cut off the heard and separate a calf or a small female from the heard and take them down and hold off the bulls. This event is something that the guests only see once or twice a month because the area is large and you have to track them for many miles before seeing anything happen and quite frequently it happens at night.

Each camp in the Delta is very different. This camp is the only camp where they drive in such deep water; I was amazed at how the Land Rovers could handle the terrain. Most of the other areas South of here are dryer and the vegetation is different. I was also amazed at how Linda held up to the bouncing around we had, one night we broke down just at sunset, it took several hours before the rescue vehicle showed up to take us back. The stars are so bright down here, the Milky Way is clearly visible, something I don’t think we see at home.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July 8 Last day of Rovos Rail

On the platform after switching engines

Coming into Pretoria Station

Flamingos everywhere
The Rovos train was a real pleasure. We enjoyed the slow ride through the landscape and dining in fine Victorian style. Taking a shower while the train was moving was a bit of an experience but all and all the trip was most enjoyable.

The stop at Kimberley was interesting and the whole history of Diamond mining in the world is interesting. John Rhodes was one smart man when he created the DeBeers company, who still today controls the grading and pricing of 65% of the worlds diamonds. The history was interesting but the exhibit was so so.

Back on the train and shortly after Kimberley, only ten more minutes, we reached a lake area where there are claimed to be over 23,000 Flamingos. We didn’t count every one, but there were a lot of Flamingos. The sun was also going down and we were facing into it, I caught several shots right into the sunset as we passed along. One of those chance in a lifetime shots. The one I posted is an example; I have about 10 more just as interesting, I took 303 shots of the Flamingos. Total I just past the 3,000 mark for the trip.

20 kilometers outside of Pretoria we changed from an electric engine to a 1854 steam locomotive. We had a chance to climb all over the engine before pulling out. We made our grand entrance into Pretoria station under full steam power.

At the station we were met by another representative who helped transfer us to a beautiful hotel in Johannesburg for the night before we head to the airport tomorrow. We fly from Johannesburg to Mann, Botswana where we take a bush plane into the Okavango delta for one of our first of two camps.

July 7 Rovos Rail

Vineyards along the way

Beautiful landscapes along the way

Being pulled by electric at this point

One of the many township areas

Our Cabin with full bath and shower

The Rovos Rail has been a welcomed change of pace after our three intense days of sightseeing in Cape Town. The Rovos Rail is a private company started in the 1988. It currently operates up to 4 trains with 50 cars each and up to 72 passengers.

We started the trip at a private station in Cape Town with a reception which included live music, very nice. Our room is marvelous with plenty of space and full facilities including a bath tub and shower. All the cars are restored cars from the early 1900’s. When we approach our destination of Pretoria we will switch engines and be pulled in the last 20 kilometers by live steam.

The food has been wonderful and plentiful. I was a little concerned about the motion, but Linda and I have done well and the journey overnight was relaxing, the motion and sounds of the train kind of rock you to sleep. The train did layover from 3:00am to 6:00am but if you weren’t asleep by then you weren’t going to sleep. We have met some wonderful couples traveling, only one other couple from the USA.

The landscape is very similar to our Western States, beautiful mountains and long stretching plains where cattle and sheep are free ranged. Latter today we stop in Kimberly to see the diamond mines.

Unfortunately we have seen some more township areas; this photo was shortly after leaving Cape Town. Now that we are out of the metropolitan area we see fewer shacks and no large township areas.

Our time is passed by watching the landscape, reading, adjusting photos and conversing with the other passengers.

July 6 Reflections on Cape Town

So many things struck me about Cape Town that I don’t know in what order to describe them. First; it is a beautiful metropolitan city with all the class of the best cities in the world. I think the thing that struck me the most was how clean the city is. No graffiti and I mean close to none as you can imagine. This amongst a city filled with unemployed and homeless people everywhere. Now don’t say we didn’t go to the right places, we were at the train station, the waterfront, the township areas and nowhere was there graffiti. I commented to our guide and she said everybody who visits mentions this fact. Townships are the areas that people make shanties to live in; they go on for miles and miles in some areas. Along the road to the airport they stretch for 14 kilometers. Sad, but from the pictures I’ve seen they paint and furnish these little havens and make a home from them, most being 12 feet square.
But it is a city of have and have not. Our guide said that unemployment in the area was 40%, I didn’t have time to check that fact but there were plenty of people standing on the streets begging. It is estimated that the townships in and around Cape Town hold over a million people. On the other side we saw a reality paper with ads that had no houses under a million dollars.
The citizens are concerned since the new government was elected. The current President is allowing any and all refugees from Zimbabwe free access for 3 months without papers. How they expect to get these people out of the country after three months is anyone’s guess.
The food was my next surprise. The crustaceans along the Western edge of South Africa are to die for. I’ve eaten in so many restaurants along the Mediterranean and now I have had several dinners of Western African cold water lobster, prawns, langoustines, oysters and other fresh fish that I’m not convinced it’s better than the Mediterranean. I also had Zebra and Warthog last night and was surprised how good it was.
Enough for today, we have boarded the Rovos train and have begun what seems like another incredible journey, more on that later.