Africa 2017: Our final phase - Victoria Falls (part 1)

I didn't forget that I had an African adventure to finish. Apologies for the delay in posting, but it has been a very busy several weeks! Coming back to my African memories, and rereading my other posts, makes me so happy, yet sad at the same time. So much has changed since coming home. I love allowing myself to travel back through the memories of such an amazing experience!

We're headed to our Victoria Falls portion of the trip. I call it Victoria Falls, verses Zimbabwe and Zambia, because that was what I thought would be the "main event" for this, our third and final phase (sad face). I was drastically wrong, and as I share the next few days adventures with you, you will understand why. 

The adventure began with our friends at Mack Air, once again, and for the final time. Everyone was in good spirits and feeling well, however to be safe we passed Marta all of the puke bags on the plane, since she has had a tough time in the air before (ha)!

We flew from Maun to Kasane, Botswana where we would catch our transport to the boarder and obtain our Zimbabwe Visa. Our transport when we arrived in Kasane was a huge upgrade! If you remember our transport from the Meno blog, we were pretty crammed together. Not the case as we head to the Zimbabwe boarder in style! 

Getting from the airport to our hotel was a bit of an adventure in itself. We had to check out of Botswana at one office, and then we had to check in with Customs at the Zimbabwe boarder. It was a longer process than we anticipated, and our charter was unable to cross over the boarder into Zimbabwe, so we had to unload and reload onto another charter bus on the other side of the Zimbabwe gate. Once we had our passports back with our Visa page (yes, that's right, they TAKE your passport and you get it back once the process is complete), we were on our way to our hotel, Batonka Lodge.

We were all pretty excited to be back in civilization (somewhat), and have a gated lodge where we could walk around at all hours safely. Our rooms were simple and clean with huge bathrooms with walk-in tiled showers and huge garden tubs. The linen was all white and the beds had beautiful netting drawn back during the day, and was pulled around the bed at turndown in the evening. The staff welcomed us with fresh juice, which was needed after our long journey to get there.

After we all received our room assignments, we met with our tour company to go over our itinerary for next few days. We worked with Pure Africa and they made our time in Zimbabwe so easy and, although very action packed, so special.

After getting settled in our rooms, getting a real shower, and actually being able to blow-dry our hair for the first time during the trip, we met up in the Batonka lobby to meet our driver and head to our first activity - Zambezi River Boat Dinner Cruise! This cruise was a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river followed by a four course dinner and plenty of adult beverages! The breeze on the river cruise was amazing, and we even saw some Hippopotamus hanging out in the current. It was really the first time that everyone got to dress up, make-up and hair done (for the ladies), and we had fun with it!

After a long day of travel, you'd think we would be so exhausted that we would want to go straight to bed once back to Batonka, after the dinner cruise. That was not the case! We enjoyed the night air out on the patio while popping bottles of champagne and wine to the wee hours of the morning. This was becoming a trend the first night that we arrive...we were celebrating our new location and our next journey! Batonka had such a nice porch, too. They have great daybed sized couches that were (almost too) comfortable (as they welcomed some shut-eye a couple nights), plenty of additional seating to accommodate our large group, and fans to keep the air moving.

The next morning, we were up early and headed to Victoria Falls! We had a tour guide take us through the falls, however if you're trying to find ways to save money, don't even bother getting a guide. There are plenty of posted pictures with history of the falls when you first come through the main gate. Take a few moments there to read about the falls before you head out to the scenic areas. In April, and due to the amount of rain they had, the falls were at their highest. Due to the amount of rushing water, the sound of the falls, and the spray was more than usual. It was actually pretty difficult to get a good view of the full enormity of the falls because of the amount of spray, and in some areas the spray was so heavy that it felt like it was pouring rain. The water was pretty cold, too, but it was welcome, due to the heat being retained under our rain ponchos. As we were walking through the paths, connecting the different scenic overlooks, there were lots of baboons in the trees. One even almost ran into Jenni and I as it darted across the path in front of us (I pulled Jenni back away from the baboon, although she will tell you I used her as a shield...not true, Jenni, not true...I saved your life! ha!). Victoria Falls are beautiful, but I would definitely recommend going during a dryer season if you really want to be able to experience the wider view of the falls, or swim out to the edge of the falls at Devil's Pool, which was closed while we were there due to the high waters. 

If you're looking for souvenirs, there are plenty and you have a choice between the store inside the gates at Victoria Falls, or at the market that is set up out in the parking lot. Be careful what you pay, because most vendors will have different pricing and try to get you for as much as they can. 

As always, my favorite way to share is through video clips...originally, the Victoria Falls clip was to Toto's Africa, however they have very strict copyright on that song, so a local gospel song that we heard during one of our transports in Africa is featured in this video. It's called Wa Mpona Na? and is by I.P.C.C., if you like it as much as I do you can purchase it through iTunes. 

Since we have a very full schedule today, we only have time to stop for a smoothie at the Vic Falls cafe on our way out, and a quick look through the souvenir market before we load back onto the bus and head to our next activity - the Lion Encounter!

We headed into town and back to the Pure Africa storefront to pick up our bus for the ride out to the lion sanctuary and encounter. On the way out we were provided an overview of how the conservation efforts were started and a little bit of background on what we would be experiencing today. Started by a man that was seeing the impact that the conflict between the lions and local farmers were having on the lion population, he first started taking in cubs that had become orphaned due to human encounter. From what I can remember, he raised the cubs with the intention to reintroduce them into their natural environment. However, they don't stay small and easy to manage for long and soon, the cubs were too big to manage on his own and play time became a danger to his safety. He actually ended up losing his arm, to no fault of the lion, because what the cub thought was play became a life-threatening situation. From that point, he knew he could not do this alone and decided to bring in help and develop a phased approach for the lion cubs. 

Lion Encounter has three phases that the lions go through as part of their conservation efforts. As cubs and through age 17 months, they participate in the program that our squad will be experiencing - Walk with Lions. We will have the opportunity for an up close and personal experience with the lion cubs including being able to interact with the lions, walk with them, and learn more about the overall lion conservation efforts throughout Africa from our educated and experienced guides. Once the cubs are 17 months, they are too old to interact with people in such a way, especially if they are to be introduced back into a Pride in the wild. They move on to the hunting phase of the program, where they are released into a semi-wild sanctuary and learn how to hunt on their own and fine tune their wild instincts. Once the lions are surviving on their own, they are introduced to a Pride and are able to live out their days as any other wild lion. 

Before heading out to meet our lions, we were provided a security briefing, and each of us were required to carry sticks (that would apparently protect us if the lion became overly interested in us...um, yeah, ok). We then headed out into the bush. We stopped on a dirt road and our guide went into more detail about safety and how to distract the lion if it comes toward you, and is less than two meters away...point the stick at the lions mouth and give a firm, "NO" (what did I get myself into?). They instructed us not to touch the head, or the tail, as that can agitate them (noted!). While the briefing was finishing up, two lion came into view to the left of our group. They were walking freely toward us with two other staff members following on either side of them. My stomach dropped, my throat became tight...they were much bigger than I anticipated they would be and I started to freak out a bit (ha!).

Throughout the three hours that we were at the Lion Encounter, we were able to sit and pet the lions, walk with them and pet them as they walked, and we also learned a great deal about the unfortunate situation they are in, due to the continued conflict with farmers and overall growth in Africa. They are losing their habitat, which forces them to adapt to their environment, sometimes killing and eating livestock...and becoming hunted by farmers who rely on the livestock for their livelihood. 

The experience is like nothing that I can describe. I personally had a very hard time, and think I may now know first hand what a panic attack feels like! One of the things that made me so nervous is that I felt like our group had a false sense of safety, due to having our guides with us. Some people were too comfortable (in my opinion only) and lost appreciation for the animal and what could happen if they didn't pay attention to the rules we'd been provided. I mean, have you seen "When Animals Attack"? Thankfully, we all made it out with all of our fingers and toes!

We finished the experience with a light snack and a conservation video. If you are interested in learning more about the efforts or donating to the cause, please check out @LionEncounter on Facebook for more information. If you go to Zimbabwe, I would definitely recommend this experience...although I was extremely anxious during the experience, these animals are amazing and I am so fortunate to have been able to have such an emotional connection and appreciation for these exquisite creatures.

This is one video that just does not do justice to what we were experiencing. Part of why I love Africa so much is the feeling...a feeling that can not be explained or shown...you have to experience it. But, the video is still pretty cool...after all, I got to pet lions! 

After the lions we headed back into the town to have lunch and wait for our next transport. We'll be headed to the Stanley and Livingston reserve in hopes to check the final of the African Big 5, the Rhino! 

To be continued...I'll post the continuation of this day's adventures, including the Rhino safari and Boma drum and dinner, as well as our final day at Batonka, including the elephant sanctuary and Victoria Falls bridge jumping!

Stay tuned and don't forget to pop a comment in below!

An African Love Story

People often say that when you go to Africa, it gets in your soul. I believe that the people with whom I recently traveled can attest to this sentiment. The land is beautiful, the animals are amazing. But the people...the people are what stay in your heart. 

One of the amazing people we met on our trip to Botswana is Mpaphi Dikaelo. He was born in a small village in the middle of the salt pans called Mopipi. Mpaphi is one of 38 children. He is a safari guide, the owner of a guinea fowl farm, a pastor at a local church, a volunteer who teaches chess to school children at the village school inMorematao, and perhaps the kindest, most gentle soul I have personally met. He is the man in his extended family everyone goes to for guidance and help. He is a well-respected member of his community, which was apparent by the outpouring of warmth and respect he received while carting us around his village.

Mpaphi has been in a relationship with Betty Bolekanye since 2001. They have 5 children and live together in Morematao. Mpaphi is currently building a new home on his land for he and Betty. He is doing so in his spare times with his own hands, cinder block by cinder block. He is a hard-working, enlightening, intelligent, kind man. 

In the culture of Botswana, couples get married once the prospective husband has the money to pay a dowry to the bride’s family and pay for the wedding - this is about $5,000. This can take quite a long time to save for as in the village where Mpaphi lives, the average income is about $50 a month. 

We were so touched and moved by Mpaphi – his life, his story, his warmth, compassion and generosity toward his family and village - that we (our traveling group of 21 friends!) are hoping to help pay for his wedding. This man looks at his marriage to Betty as a gift. When I asked him if we could help pay for his dowry and wedding, he told me he and Betty aim to be role models to other people in their community, and they hope that by being bound in marriage they can demonstrate to others the gift of goodness that marriage brings. 

Help us help Mpaphi and Betty achieve this great goal of marriage that they are seeking. These 2 friends will pass along your goodness and generosity in the example they set for those around them.

Link to YouCaring.com donation page for Mpaphi and Betty.

Post written by Mandy French.

Africa 2017 - Meno a Kwena

So far, we've had an amazing time in Africa. We saw more Wild Dogs than we ever expected (based on how little we saw them in 2015 and their endangered status). We saw Machaba female (the pregnant leopard), and plenty of elephant, giraffe, and warthog. It was great to be reunited with Chris and the rest of the Machaba Safari staff. And, as travel will do to people, our travel-squad of 21 is becoming more like family. Those of us that knew each other at the start of the trip are tightening our bond, and those that just met have become quick friends. Traveling with people expedites the "get to know you" process. It's exciting...and we are not done yet!

If you remember where we left off from my last entry, we loaded up into two vehicles to head from Maun to our next camp: Meno a Kwena. I was in the van with 12 of our travel-squad. It was a very tight fit and since I was one of the last to get in, I got the pleasure of climbing past everyone to the very back. On the way we stopped at a beer and liquor store to pick up drinks for our time in Meno (yeah, we did!). It was strange to see such a commercial area after being out in the middle of nowhere at Machaba for the past several days. 

The drive was hot, and due to celebrating our last night at Machaba the night before, several of us were pretty fragile. I welcomed the required foot-cleansing station, where we all had to get out of the van and step on a "cleansing pad" that was suppose to prevent "Hoof and Mouth" disease from crossing over into the farmlands. The cleansing pad really just looked like a welcome mat that was saturated with water. 

We arrived at Meno and were greeted by TT and Matilda, who manage the camp. Mom and I were assigned tent 1, at the far right end of camp. There are 10 tents in total at Meno. The camp sits on a river at the top of a steep cliff. The sun was already starting to set and the view with the sparkling of the water was so beautiful. There is a large gathering area at Meno. They have several sitting areas centered by a large campfire, surrounded by chairs and benches. The main area sits under a roof supported by tree logs turned into support beams. In this area is the dining area for breakfast and lunch service, as well as a living area for lounging and where tea is served daily. It is cozy and dressed in dark wood and leather. The ceiling is covered by a parachute, and the camp decor has a 1920s safari camp feel. It was warm and comfortable, and we felt right at home. The bar area is out toward the river to the left. It is the honor system - you take what you want but keep track by ticking off on a paper. Even further toward the river about 10 steps is the pool and lounge area. Along the overlook there are three sitting areas that include chairs and lounges used to watch for animals along the river below, and all the way to the right there are steep stairs that take you down to the river and the boat used for the river cruise. 

Check out the videos and pictures below of Meno a Kwena.

Since the sun would begin setting soon, we no time to rest before the bushmen began arriving at camp. We had two options our first night in camp: we could go on a river cruise, or we could go on the bushmen walk. Since we were the second group to arrive at camp, the river cruise was already full. However, I was excited to do the bushmen walk and it was one of the things I had most looked forward to when reviewing the activities available at Meno a Kwena.

The bushmen did introductions, however the way they speak is so different from our language that I had a hard time moving my mouth the in a way that remotely sounded close to what they were asking me to repeat. A combination of Setswana, ohs, and clicks is the best way that I can describe it. It's really neat to hear.

We didn't walk long before the bushmen stopped and performed a ritual that provided guidance from the Gods on the outcome of their walkabout - whether they would be safe and successful. A member of their tribe that spoke English translated for us and explained the ritual. They assured us we would have a safe journey and it was time to walk on.

We stopped a few times along the way to learn about the plants and how they survive out in the Bush. We passed under a huge spider web that they told us was very poisonous (I think they may have been kidding us)...well, most of us passed under it. Kevin actually took the thing out...running from it, thinking it had attached to his backpack, about knocking me off the side of the mountain. The bushmen got a big kick out of it and were laughing AT us. I only wish I had my GoPro running when it happened. Nope, Kevin will never live that one down. Maureen has a thing for spiders and did not want to get anywhere near the thing. She did amazing and was able to make it through, after help from one of the bushmen to pull the web (what was left of it) out of the way, and continue on with the walk.

We stopped one last time and the men of the tribe started a fire, while the women sat on the outskirts. Once they got the fire going, the men danced and sang around the fire while the women clapped and sang. It was AMAZING! I really enjoyed it, and they were very good! 

We were all exhausted by the end of our walk, and the sun was now almost set. We didn't have much time between finishing the bushmen walk and dinner under the stars for our first night at Meno a Kwena.

On Sunday we did our first game drive at Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. On our way we passed over a river by using a "ferry". The ferry was basically a small floating barge and it was operated by the farmer that lived on the land. By "operated" I mean that it had a small lawnmower sized motor on either end, that I am surprised had enough power to get us from one side of the river to the other. The life-rings that were on the sides in case of an emergency were completely falling apart (they definitely wouldn't pass inspection at the pool, right Kathy?!). Who knows when (or even if) they had an engineer check this "ferry". We felt perfectly safe (I say in sarcasm). But, we made it across and we were on to the park!

We were on a mission to find the Tao (lion) since we had not yet seen one during our safari drives. Makgadikgadi Pans National Park has seen a lot of rain this season. Due to that, the grasses were very high making it very difficult for us to see anything that might be lurking around in the bush. We soon stopped for tea and there was a zebra and wildebeest hanging out under a large tree. In addition to all kinds of animal that we don't see in America, there are interesting bugs as well. We found a huge grasshopper that looked almost prehistoric. He had thorns on his back that looked like he was wearing a armored vest. We also saw a small beetle that had markings like he was wearing a tuxedo. 

After tea, it was time to get serious about finding some lion. It didn't take long before we were on the trail of the local Pride. The Pride is a group of 10 and they were spotted just in the last few days in the area. The guides were on their trail, and we drove looking for them for what seemed like ages! Their trail was visible in the long grass, as well as in the sand (when we found patches amongst the grass). You could see where they had walked in single file and then split off into their own paths, based on where the grass had been pushed down by their giant paws and heavy weight. The day was very hot, and although we figure they were close by, we had no luck. They were too well camouflaged. We decided to give our eyes a break around 2 (and we were pretty hungry at that point) to go set up for lunch. We drove down by the river where there were probably 50 or so elephant playing in the water and mud. They were amazing and are one of my favorites to see. They never get boring. We went up to the top of the ridge for lunch where the guides put down blankets for us to sit on and a great lunch spread including tuna quiche, pasta salad, ham, and bean salad. It was nice to sit in the shade and enjoy the breeze with a cold beverage. After lunch we went back down to the elephants before heading back to camp. 

Monday we got up and drove to a local village. Mpahpe (pronounced Mmmm-Papi), one of our guides at Meno a Kwena, is from the village and we stopped to meet his fiancé and see where he lives on our way to the village center. We parked at the library and walked through the village to school. The Principal of the school was going to be giving us our tour. As soon as we walked through the gates of the school, the children started peeking out of the windows and doors of their classrooms. It is not common for them to see foreigners. They were waving at our group and yelling something in Setswana, the local language. I learned from the Principal that the children were yelling "Makgowa", or "white people".

The first classroom we went in were the 5-6 year olds. They greeted us at the door with smiles and high-fives! Lots and lots of high-fives. It was very emotional...much like most of the trip. I was amazed by their vocabulary words on the classroom wall. They all must speak English when in school, as displayed by the rules hanging on several of the classroom walls. We visited 4 other classrooms of different ages. Many of the children were orphans, and we all found it interesting how open they were about calling the orphans out in the classrooms. Towards the end of the tour, the youngest class had moved outside and were sitting under the shade of a large tree in the main yard. Sherry and I went and sat with them while they had a lunch of black beans. They were all so sweet and well behaved. They all wanted to get as close to us as they could. Several of them picking up their plates and relocating to be nearer, as soon as we sat down. The teacher had them sing us a song. It was all very overwhelming and we were all so glad we were able to come visit the school and bring some supplies and treats for the children.

After finishing at the school by thanking the head master on our way out, we began our walk back to the library. On the way, we passed the post office and there was a small gathering. We stopped for some pictures and some of the local woman even started dancing with us. They are very happy people. 

After a short tour of the library (which we learned had been donated by a man, who like us, had fallen in love with Botswana and this village), we went out to the stage where the local women had gathered. Mpahpe (remember how to say it? Mmm-Papi!) told us that the ladies were going to do a dance for us. It was much more than we anticipated. They had shaker-skirts that moved when they shook their booty at us and used garden tools as instruments to bang as they sung. Me, katie, and Mo got up and danced with them. Afterwards, Katie and I discussed we would have bought the shakers had we seen them for sale, and when we told Mpahpe he relayed the information to the woman (who he said had a meeting about how to begin doing that, immediately after we left). We tipped the woman for their generosity, and after counting it they said it was more than 2,000 local currency. They were so overjoyed and gave us a traditional holler - using their index and thumb they squeeze and slide their fingers down their cheeks to their mouth and holler with rounded lips. It was a cheer for how happy they are with our kindness to them...however we couldn't express to them how happy we were for the kindness they showed us by allowing us to visit their village and by showing us their customs. The whole village sent us off with high-fives and hugs. It was an amazing experience that none of us will forget. We look forward to keeping up with the village to see how their new small business works out, and perhaps we will visit again one day. 

After the village we rode back to camp for lunch and a rest. It was our last day and we had the choice between going on Safari to hunt for the lions, doing the bushman walk, or the boat ride down the river. Mom decided she would stay and do the river cruise. Although I was exhausted, I decided to go out on the hunt for the lions. We had lunch and quickly after loaded up to head back to the national park. We instructed our drivers that we couldn't stop for anything but Lion or Hyena, since we had not seen thouse yet and they were now our priority. I had a very good feeling...I just knew we had to find the lions on this (our last) game drive. We drove very quickly through the dust behind the first truck, "the boring truck" (per Jake, lol). We crossed back over the river using the "ferry" that we had used the day prior (we're increasing our chances that this thing may just dump us off into the river!!). We made a quick stop at the office to sign in and use the loo, and we were off on our lion hunt. 

We were going pretty fast when we first came into the park. Fast enough that it would have been very difficult to see much of anything. I thought to myself, KBL (our guide) must have heard where the lions are hiding. I was right! They had been heard earlier that day calling to each other in a particular area. We went there with speed, hoping to find them straight away. Soon, we caught up to the other vehicle, who had entered the park before us bc there is only one vehicle allowed at a time on the ferry boat (I can't imagine why). THEY HAD THEM! They had spotted two one-year old lion cubs! How exciting! As our truck was approaching the lions the other truck had spotted, we found TWO MORE, even younger cubs sleeping in the bushes. It is like nothing that I can even describe to see these animals in the wild. I actually get teary eyes just thinking about how amazing it is. Marta was so moved when she saw the cubs that she started sobbing. Not a abnormal thing to happen when you are wanting with all your being to find these wild animals, and then you finally find and see them in person. It is indescribable, emotional, moving...you have to experience it for yourself. After watching for a while we moved up and the two older lions actually came out from under their hiding place, likely thinking we were a larger predator. 

They walked away from us and watched, knowing their younger siblings could be in trouble. We circled around the area, and went back to see the smaller cubs again, when they moved as well and came into the open to get closer to their brothers. The older brothers welcomed and comforted the babies and they all laid down in the grass and completely disappeared. They are so well camouflaged. It is truly amazing. We decided to let them be bc they were getting a bit nervous with us and they are still wild animals, after-all. We drove around looking for the older lions for a while (with no luck...although, they were surely watching us!) and then headed back to the river to check on the elephants. Coming down the hill, we spotted giraffe down river to the right. We took the high road as not to scare them away. When we cut back around, we had a great view of the giraffe drinking water. We drove along the river back to the other side and passed a grumpy elephant on the way. He was flapping his ears and shaking his head and stomping his feet. KBL told us to make sure we stayed still, as he was worried if he felt threatened enough he would charge us. Thankfully, that did not happen and we continued back to the hippo pool where the other truck in our group waited. We got out and had drinks and took photos at the hippo pool. It is such a beautiful setting with the water sparkling against the sun. We loaded up and it was time to start heading back to camp.

We got stuck behind some people from another camp on the dirt road going out of the park. They were stopping to photograph every bird and landscape they saw (we thought to ourselves, "they must be on their first day"). Emilie shouted for them to move along. Lol. I don't think they appreciated that, but the park was closing and that meant our "ferry" would also be closing. Not somewhere you want to get stuck! Plus, we were all giddy and on a safari-high from finally finding our Tao!

We headed back across the river and the sun began to set. As soon as it did, the bugs came out and the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. It was a chilly ride back, and we had to keep our sunglasses on and our scarves over our mouths as bug screens. We made it back to camp around 7, and it was time for our final dinner together at Meno a Kwena- which, by the way, means teeth of the crocodile. 

But, the drama of the day can't stop there!! Before dinner we were having snacks and a drink and chatting it up in the family area. We shared pictures of our adventures of the day. Mom and the group that stayed behind for the boat cruise told us about their birds and elephants, and we told them and showed pictures and video of the lion cubs. All of the sudden, I felt a bit like I was having vertigo or motion distortion. I looked up at the chandelier and they were swaying. We were having an earthquake!! It was getting stronger and I hollered to everyone that we were having an earthquake. It was almost like a dream, and it took me yelling at least three times before anyone actually paid attention to what I was saying. It must have been the excitement of the day! The staff instructed us to come out to the open area near the fire pit bc there was no structure above that could fall. How crazy to have had the day that we had already and then an earthquake to happen?! Wild! We were all fine and no damage was done at the camp. We later found out that the earthquake was centered near where we were and that it was a 6.5, the largest ever in Botswana.

Dinner was again out under the stars. We had white fish and vegetables. All the food has been so amazing. After the main course we asked everyone to go around the table and say who they were, who they knew, and what their favorite experience of the trip so far has been. It was actually super nice to already have known people as they were having their turn bc we had an emotional connection to them. Sitting under the canopy of stars, with these amazing people, in this amazing setting was so emotional for several people (yeah, me, so what!). 

After our turns around the table the staff came out with a birthday cake for Jake who would turn 6 the next day (Happy birthday, Jake!). We all sung to him and then the staff put on a little song and dance show. It was unexpected and amazing. One of the songs, "Beautiful Africa" was one we had heard before and tried to sing along. 

It was an early night for me and Mom, and the rest of the group actually went to bed pretty early that night as well. Everyone was so exhausted from the non stop action of our trip so far. 

In the morning we packed our things and had breakfast. We said goodbye to our guides and told them to keep us posted on how the village does through their FB page. We piled back into our two vehicles and headed back to Maun for our flights to Kasane. We got a few things at the store in Maun as memorabilia from our time in Botswana. I wrote my notes for this entry while sitting on our charter plane. We were soon in Kasane and started our transfer to Victoria Falls. I was sad to leave the bush, however was looking forward to having a bit more civilization and to get some Internet to let people know we were OK after the earthquake last night. 

We lost some of our group for the next portion of our trip, where we headed to Victoria Falls. The French family headed down to Cape Town, and Paula and Theresa headed home. Our travel-squad of 21 will now be 15. We'll miss them!

On to Vic Falls!

Don't forget to comment below!! :) Thanks for reading.

Africa 2017: Machaba camp (wild dog sightings and lion tracking)

Sunrise over camp with porridge on the fire.

Sunrise over camp with porridge on the fire.

Good morning Machaba! Today is the first official day of "safari". It's day one at our first camp in Botswana in the Okavango Delta. We arrived at camp last night, and it was definitely celebrated with lots of chatter (and drinks) by the fire pit after dinner. Dinner was served out under the night sky and the large tree, adorned with glowing lanterns, in the center of the outside common area. The indoor common area consists of a long, ranch style tent with a foyer to welcome guests in the middle, and a large open area on each side. One side is the dining room, and houses a long, family style table used for breakfast and lunch. The opposite side is a family gathering room. Lots of comfortable couches and seating areas are flanked by soft table lamps and elegant hanging sconces that warm the room at night (take a virtual tour). During the day, tea can be set up in the foyer - two of our favorite tea time recipes included mushroom bruschetta, and the chocolate taquitos with white chocolate sauce. The fire pit sits outside just in front of the family room and overlooks the river. After dark, it has a perfect view, with the stars above and the water of the river, glistening from the lights of camp and the night stars. It's easy to get lost in time when you're sitting outside, chatting with friends (new and old)...and, your cup remains full each time you look (seriously, the staff at Machaba are like service ninjas)! Shenanigans!

Wake up call (which happens at 5:30 a.m.) was difficult in the morning for many (eh hem, no names).

Photos below show views of the common areas, thanks to Mandy French and Machaba Safaris.

The first day was the perfect day to be on the water. Six members of the squad had decided the night before to go on the mokoros - a long canoe that is propelled by standing in the stern (back) and pushing with a pole. Traditionally, the mokoro were made by digging out the trunk of a straight tree. The mokoro crew consisted of me, momma Warfle, Jenni, Channing, Theresa and Paula (check previous post for introductions). We loaded up into the rover with Leopard and he took us to the water where we met up with our mokoro guides - the rest of the travel-squad headed out on safari.

The sun was shining on the water, giving the impression we were gliding through dancing stars. The sound of the water as the pole went to work pushing us forward was relaxing. The breeze blowing the long grass on the banks and against our faces, keeping us cool from the hot sun. We saw lots of little critters, like the tiny frog hanging on the reed (above), several different types of birds, and hippo peeking out, only their eyes and ears in view, like the tip of an iceberg (only a tiny bit exposed, but below the water there's a whole lot more you don't see). All of those things we expected, but what we did not expect was certainly the main event. Two elephant were playing in the water just in front of us. Like children, they were splashing with their trunks and seemed to be having the time of their lives. The playfulness of it all made you forget how dangerous these beautiful animals can be if you get too close and had us wishing we could hop in the water with them! In the wild, elephants can live up to 70 years. They are herbivorous and prefer to stay near water. They communicate via sight, touch, smell and sound; they even use seismic communication over long distances. Elephant intelligence can be compared to that of primates or cetaceans (whale, dolphin, porpoise) and appear to have self-awareness and show empathy for dying or dead individuals of their kind (Wiki).

Of course, after all the excitement and before we headed back to shore, we had to find a spot to pull up the mokoros and have tea. The guys flipped one of the mokoro over on it's belly to use the flat bottom as a table for our tea break. We were all so happy with our decision to do the morning mokoro ride, and we couldn't have asked for a better day or better sightings. 

As we were pulling up to the bank at the end of our ride, Leopard was there waving us in. He informed us that there was a leopard sighting and that we needed to hurry. Everyone rushed to the rover and Leopard floored it out of there, a stark conflict to our relaxing cruise on the mokoro, but it was well worth it. 

We arrived and joined the rest of our squad at the base of a tree that basically divided an open field to the right and the high bush landscape to the left. At the base of the tree, resting in it's shade were a couple of wild dogs. Up in the tree, on a branch was Machaba female - the pregnant female leopard known in the area. There were probably about 10 other wild dogs mixed in the bushes working on an impala. The impala take-down was not witnessed, however the group arrived not long after. When they arrived, the two dogs were having their fill, while the leopard looked on panting (either from the heat, or a chase). There are two possible situations: the leopard took down the impala and the dogs came in and stole the trophy, or the dogs took down the impala and the leopard was waiting for her chance to take advantage of their work. After the dogs got their fill, they ran off to share the news with the rest of their pack. The leopard went to work, knowing she had limited time to get her fill. The group watched as the leopard dined on the ultimate "fresh catch", until she heard the dogs returning, and cautiously took her place in the tree.

As if the day couldn't get more exciting, there were two elephant across the river from our tent (tent 3) when we returned from our morning drive, and then I got a massage after lunch. The Machaba masseuse set up her station right on my front patio, over looking the river and surrounded by all the sounds of the bush around us: the river slowly carrying it's current by the tent, the bird chatter, hippos grunting in the distance. It was honestly the best massage I've ever had. 

The afternoon game drive had another successful wild dog showing. I honestly can't believe how much we've seen these amazing (endangered) animals, that seemed to elude us at every turn in 2015. We set up in a wide open field for our "sundowner" - having a drink to toast the day, at sundown. Once again, the Machaba team set up tables, and snacks and transformed into bartenders as we all celebrated such an amazing day! We took a moment to gather together before the light was lost for a group photo, with our travel-squad of 21. How could it get any better than this?

How can it get any better? That was the question I asked...and Machaba answered. After the most amazing day beginning with the mokoro ride, to the leopard and wild dogs, my massage, more wild dogs, then (what we thought was) wrapping up with a group social sundowner, but on our way back to camp we took a left that we had not taken before and entered into a candle-lit dream. Machaba had set up an entire dining area in an open field, lit by campfire and candle light. They parked the rovers and as you walked into the space the campfire was to the left where the Chef (who was also Leopard's fiance) was barbecuing three kinds of meat over the open fire. Beyond the fire was a full bar, the glasses reflecting the dancing candle light, and to the right was a long family style table adorned in white linen and set with lanterns as centerpieces. The team even had a "bathroom" set up...down a path was a tent structure that inside housed an actual toilet set with toilet paper and a washing sink to use on exit. Since this was so unexpected, some of the squad felt that they needed to go back to their tents for warmer clothing (as the temperature drops after sundown, and they are wimps - haha, just kidding guys!), however several of us were prepared and happy to stay in this dream place and have a before dinner cocktail and reminisce about our most amazing day. 

Dinner always started with a soup while we were in Africa, which I loved! The meat that the Chef cooked over the open fire included pulled Kudu (a type of antelope), and was amazing! Appropriate for the amount of wild dogs we've seen on this trip, the wine paired for the evening was called "the den" and had wild dog artwork on the label. Due to the open space, you couldn't miss out on taking a moment to look up at the stars. After dinner, Leopard used a laser pointer and pointed out several constellations and planets. The group had many questions, and Leopard was knowledgeable and patient to answer each of them pointing out anything within our view. The time and care that it took to set up such a special evening for our group was so appreciated, and honestly unbelievable. Even now, talking about it and replaying the setting in my mind, I find it hard to believe it was a day in my life and not a dream. Truly blessed.

The next morning was Friday, and Leopard was on a mission to head out on a Tao (lion) hunt. They had information that the lion had been spotted in a camp area a bit further away than we've gone before, so Leopard warned us that it was a longer drive and that we wouldn't want to stop for every animal, if we've already seen them, to save time. It was a longer drive, but some of the scenery I recognized from our time there in 2015. We arrived at an area that is common for the lions. It's a wide open area with trees scattered throughout, some of which have been stripped of any leaves from the elephants rubbing against them. It was a beautiful scene, however a bit wetter than it typically is and we ended up getting stuck while trying to avoid water that was on the normal path. As we sat and waited, another truck (not with us) got stuck on the main path, however instead of being patient, they spun their tires over and over again, only causing them to sink further and further into the mud. We couldn't help but laugh at the entertainment, and it was a welcome distraction as we waited for one of our Machaba rovers to come and save us. We didn't have to wait long for Moreri's rover, including Sherry, Kathy, the French and Matheson families, to come and rescue us. We were out in a jiffy! Moreri also tried to help the other truck that had spun their tires, however they had gotten themselves so deep in the mud, that they did not budge even an inch when the tow line tightened. We had to leave them there to their own devices. Leopard explained that they would have to use a lift, along with branches and logs to get traction on the tires and work their way out. We, on the other hand, were off to continue our hunt for the Tao. 

We drove to the campsite where we had heard that the lion had been spotted the day prior. The information we received was that there were several female, two male, and cubs. No luck yet, so we pulled off to set up for afternoon tea. While stopped for tea, there were monkeys in the trees. One in particular was curious about our group and jumped from tree to tree to get a closer look until he ended up in the large tree branches just above our heads. Kevin grabbed his camera handing me his coffee, to try and get a good picture of the monkey up close and (robin egg blue) personal. However, I looked through our pictures and I don't see one, so we may have missed that moment for your viewing pleasure! ha. I'll update if I find we have one. ;) 

We continued the hunt for the lion for a bit longer, but then it was time to head back to camp. On the way back, my mom decided it was her turn to get up in the spotter seat on the front of the rover. The spotter seat is used for tracking, so you can see the ground and any tracks before the rover runs them over and they're lost. It's an amazing feeling to sit up in the front of the rover with the wind in your face and have nothing distracting your view. Mom instantly turned into a kid, smiling and laughing simply because of how awesome she felt out in the open air without modern distractions. She rode up front the entire ride back to camp, which included another spotting of "zeal" or "dazzle" (group) of zebra, and other wildlife. 

As we passed over a river, we stopped on the bridge to look at the hippos in the water. While we were stopped, the guides noticed that one of the rovers had a flat. We pulled off the side of the road so that the guides could change the tire. It was a beautiful place to be stuck, and it didn't take long. 

While we were stopped, I found tracks and Moreri confirmed they were hyena. However, we would not spot any hyena or lion on this drive and we headed back to camp for our afternoon break and lunch. 

During our lunch break, several of us shopped in the small store that they have at camp, while others enjoyed time in the pool. Yes, Machaba has a pool! It's a welcome break from the hot days and safari drives. The kids loved it (both young and old)!

After lunch, shopping, and the pool, we headed back out for our afternoon game drive. Paula was excited to start off up on the spotter seat this time, although it was not too long before she had to come into the main seating due to wild dog being in the area (dangling feet are not great when predators are around). We rolled up on the wild dog pack again (this is the same pack that we keep seeing). This time they are all lounging in the shade, laying on each other, and before we left they playfully called to each other, bouncing around and performing what Leopard called a mating ritual (I know one of the other guides said it was a different ritual, but going with what Leopard said). 

Continuing on with our drive, it was Kevin's turn to pop up into the spotter seat. We saw lots of zebra on our way to the same open area where we had our sundowner the evening before. As we entered the clearing, we came upon a large male elephant giving himself a dust bath directly in front of us, and off in the distance a large giraffe. We decided to hang out with the elephant for a while, and as we were watching him Moreri and some of our squad showed up. We headed down to check out the giraffe, who was curious about what was going on around him. He stood very still for us and we were able to get pretty close to him, eventually deciding he had enough he, in "slow motion", ran off.

The sun was starting to set and we needed to find a spot to have our sundowner. We decided to attempt to go across the river to the hippo pond. Leopard and Moreri took their shoes off and waded out into the river to check the depth and feel the bottom to make certain we'd be okay crossing. We also came across two bush-people from the local village, just walking out in the bush with their five dogs. A strange site to see, for sure. The locals walk everywhere, so although we were not close by a village, it didn't seem like any big deal to our guides that they were out on a walkabout at dusk.

We made it across the river, however were quickly disappointed when there was a large tree down on the path that we would have needed to take to get to the hippo pond for our sundowner. Due to the time of the day, and how dark it was getting, the guides decided to turn around and head back to the open area to get set up before dark. The spot, although in the same general area as our sundowner before, was closer to water and this caused it to be much more mosquito infested than any of the spots we had stopped at before. We tried to enjoy the sunset, but the bugs were just too much and we didn't stay long. We were ready to get back to camp and have another night sitting around the campfire and stargazing. 

Our last morning at Machaba, we got to "sleep in" a bit since we wouldn't have time for an actual game drive. We would take our time, have breakfast, and head out for the drive back to the airstrip. We didn't see much on the way however when we arrived, the end of the strip was saturated with a herd of elephants of all ages. They put on a show, flapping their ears and trumpeting. It was as if they were there to send us off in style. We were all a bit sad to be leaving Machaba, and are already looking forward to going back in 2019. 

We said our goodbyes to our guides and took pictures with them on the trucks. I got to drive the Safari truck that had our bags in it down to the end of the airstrip, something I had been asking to do since our visit in 2015! I don't know why I was so obsessed about it, haha! The safari rovers have the driver seat on the right side, so you shift the manual transmission with your left hand (same as when I lived in U.K.). I let the other vehicles get far enough ahead of us that I was able to get up to a pretty good speed on the open stretch, although you can't go too fast because it is not a true road and there are plenty of bumps and dips. 

When our plane arrived, Bastian from Mack Air was our pilot - he was also our pilot on the way here however this time he was flying solo, which was my chance...I asked if I could sit in the cockpit with him and he said I could! Whoop! On takeoff, we could see the herd of elephant that were now migrating off the front end of the airstrip. From the air I could see other elephants and the most beautiful landscape connected by greenery and rivers.

When we landed at the Maun airport, Chris met us inside with Kaylyn and a friend of hers. Kaylyn is Chris' daughter and we met when she came and spent time with us at Machaba in 2015. She's grown so much and has become a beautiful young lady. It was fun to see her again.

It took a while for our other group to come inside (we had two planes again, due to our size). Chris was actually getting very worried and didn't understand where the second plane had gone. Come to find out George W. Bush and his wife Laura were at the airport for a scheduled meeting with the president of Botswana and he saw the kids waving and called the group over to meet and take pictures with him and Laura. What a cool ending to an amazing Machaba adventure!

After everyone was together, we walked over to Cabellas the restaurant across from the airport for lunch and to pay our Mack Air flights. The Mack Air office is in the same strip as the restaurant so it made it easy for all of us to go in groups to pay for our three bush flights (we've taken two so far). Cabellas was surprisingly good. They have an aggressive menu and I was certain that due to that, it would lack in quality, however I was pleasantly surprised. Kevin and I shared nachos to start, which according to him were made correctly because they only had cheese and jalapeños on them. In his opinion, that is how nachos are intended, not with all the other "junk" people put on them these days. I also had a chicken sandwich, and it was delicious. Everyone's food looked great and Marta said that the pizza was some of the best she'd ever had. So, go there, if you're in Maun and find yourself needing to kill some time and with a bit of a hunger pain.

While waiting for our food and for the first time in a while, we were able to get on a strong internet connection. Dad was able to call us from home, in Florida, through WhatsApp so that we could check in and let him know that we were okay and on our way to our next camp, Meno a Kwena. 

We said our sad goodbyes to Chris, and divided into two groups for our drive to our next camp. It would take about 1.50 hours to get to the camp, and we would be canned sardines in the van. But, I'll get to that in my next entry. :) 

In closing, for our time at Machaba, we couldn't have asked for a more spectacular way to begin our African adventure. Machaba sets the bar extremely high and it will forever be hard to beat the experience that they provide to their guests. However, that is what will have us coming back for years to come (as much as Elcke likely just cringed at the thought of the Hyena pack returning AGAIN, lol). The squad has already talked about going back to Africa in 2019 and we just may have to, once again, kick off the adventure with a visit to our African home - Machaba. 

Thanks to the WHOLE Machaba Safari team, especially Elcke, Chris and Rachel, for an amazing experience and taking such care with our time with you. Also, to all of our amazing guides, especially Leopard, Moreri, and Kitso for your amazing tracking and guide knowledge! We miss you all!

Don't forget to comment below and feel free to share with your friends and family! :) 

Africa 2017 - let the journey begin!

There are places that you go that no matter how good a story teller you are, you can do no justice. The photos you come back with, the videos you have capturing snippets of your days, or a journal capturing many of the moments...they just can't fully compare to the feeling you get when you are in the moment and in a place that almost feels like you've come home. Africa has been that place for me from the first moment I stepped foot on her great earth. To have the opportunity to return, feels as though I have back the piece of me that I left behind here two years ago. It's a crazy, amazing feeling. 

Here's some highlights from the 2015 trip - two amazing weeks with three girlfriends on safari in Botswana and roaming the coast and wine country of Cape Town...oh, and diving with Great White Sharks (cue JAWS music)! More pictures and videos in the album.

Different from my time in Africa in 2015, this trip consists of a "travel-squad" of 21. In addition to the size difference, we changed up the itinerary since the last visit. We returned to one of the safari camps (our favorite, due to our close ties to the camp and staff) - Machaba. Machaba is the Setswana name for the Sycamore Fig Tree, or the "tree of life". A new camp this year for us was Meno a Kwena, or teeth of the crocodile. The trip wrapped with Zimbabwe, the home of one of the natural wonders of the world - Victoria Falls. 

I had always been a traveler that vowed to never return to the same places I've already been. I want to explore all that this great earth has to offer - between all four points, and using all five senses (hence, the blog name). However, I anticipate that I will return to Africa several more times in my lifetime, exploring more deeply with each visit (BIG thanks to Sherry Lowe for introducing me to Africa).

So, lets get started! I am going to break the blog entries up into trip segments.

Charlotte -> Johannesburg: Squad-up!

One of my favorite feelings is taking off from the jetway in a plane. It pushes you down in your seat as you rise above the ground. It also signifies the start of your trip and as you feel gravity taking over, and the heavy weight of life's stresses leaving...at least for now. It is time to look ahead to this journey - back to Africa!

Charlotte doesn't have a nonstop flight to Johannesburg so I had to pop down to Atlanta. My friend Mary K stayed at my house while I was gone to watch my six month old fluffy pup, Malbec (or Beck for short). She drove me to the airport and Malbec came along for the ride. It was not until I was walking into the airport and the sliding doors were closing that I heard Beck crying in the car. :( I knew he was in good hands, though.

Inside, I immediately ran into our fearless leader, coordinator of this trip, and herder of our travel-squad, Sherry. Sherry and I met through work and have traveled a lot together, including the Africa 2015 trip. Once through security we met up with Marta, another friend I met through work and avid traveler. The flight from Charlotte to Atlanta is super short. They don't even have time for beverage service. Once in Atlanta, we met up with two more - Channing and Kat. Channing, I met first through a sand volleyball league and then continued to know through work and friends. Kat is a new friend to me, but has known Sherry for many years from Sherry's time spent in Atlanta in her early 20s. The four girls sat at a cool restaurant and had sushi, champagne and wine during our layover. Channing was off somewhere trying to finish up some work so that he could completely disconnect. Heading on to the flight to Johannesburg, we're up to 5 squad members. 

The flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg is a much different story than the short hop to Atlanta. 15 hours. We flew Delta, which is not typically my airline of choice (although, is leaps and bounds above United based on the multiple news headlines they're in lately), but it's what worked for our schedules. I had a hard time sleeping. I watched some not so great movies (I don't get the hype with LaLa Land...really, an Oscar? SMH), and my tailbone (which has been bruised since before the new year) was not loving those coach class seats. Sherry seemed to do better than I did. She was able to get comfortable laying across two seats and sleep some (I tried that for a while too, but had no luck). 

We picked up one more of the squad on our flight over to Johannesburg, so we were a squad of 6 when we landed around 5:30 p.m. local time. After customs and waiting for those who checked their bags, I met up with my mom (who had already been in Africa for a week) at our hotel, Southern Sun O.R. Tambo. If you're ever in Johannesburg for an overnight, it's convenient, clean, comfortable, and the restaurant is amazing. Mom and I had the salad bar for dinner, which also included soup and some great grilled veggie and meat options. They also had a great assortment of local wines available. Breakfast in the morning was an unbelievable spread of breakfast breads, muffins, and a Belgian waffle and omelet station. We grabbed the shuttle over to the airport and and soon met up with the full travel-squad at our gate. Our group is now complete with 21 and includes: Me, Sherry (fearless leader), Marta, Channing, Kat, and my Mom - who I introduced already. We also have Kevin (who likes to be first): who I had only briefly met before this trip but brought so much positive and fun energy (and is Mensa! lol), there's Paula: who I know through work and travel, Paula's sister Theresa: who I met in person for the first time but have been Facebook friends with and felt like I already knew, the French family (4): a stellar family example, the Matheson family (3): who I just met but kept us all laughing (all 3 of the kids on the trip were amazing and so well behaved), Jenni from LA: who I went to college with in Florida brought her sister-in-law Katie, Emily from London: who is Kristin's (from Africa 2015) step daughter, Kathy: Sherry's neighbor who has known her for most of her life, and Kim: one of Sherry's best friends and avid traveler. That's everyone! Now you've met the Africa 2017 travel-squad.

Uploaded by Lisa Warfle on 2017-04-15.

 

Johannesburg -> Maun: We're going camping!

It's off to Maun, Botswana where we'll catch our first of three chartered bush flights and head to safari camp one, Machaba. Maun is the fifth largest town in Botswana - which is hard to believe having been there and seeing it's city center. It is also the "tourism capital" of Botswana and headquarters to several safari and air-charters that run trips into the Okavango Delta - one of the seven natural wonders of Africa (Feb. 11, 2013). 

We didn't spend much time in Maun. It was basically a transfer from our Air Botswana flight to our chartered bush planes. We had two twin propeller planes due to the size of our group. The flight from Maun to the air strip (basically a dirt clearing) was 1.25 hours. Even before landing and marking the official start of our safari we began spotting animals. On approach to the airfield, once we got low enough to differentiate the animals from the bushes and trees, we saw Giraffe, Elephant, and Wildebeest! A good sign at the start of our adventure!

Machaba Tented Safaris: Machaba camp

Botswana was just out of the rainy season when we arrived. The landscape is thick and green this time of year. The rain had actually flooded the airstrip we would normally use for Machaba, so where we landed was two hours from camp. Our guides from Machaba were there to greet us with the open-air safari trucks, and coolers with cold water, soda and beer. They stopped at the "main terminal", which basically just looked like a carport, and allowed us to use the bathroom...and by bathroom, I mean go find a bush. Ladies to the left and men to the right! 

We watched the bush planes take off back to Maun before heading out on our trek to camp, which basically turned in to a 2 hour safari drive where we saw Elephant and Giraffe practically right after pulling into the bush off the airstrip. We also had a very exciting run-in after our tea stop with a pack of wild (or painted) dogs, which are considered endangered and only estimated to have about 6,600 remaining in population; their decline is ongoing. When we were there in 2015, we only saw the dogs from afar and only one time. We were super lucky to see them at all. Not on this trip, though! The dogs were the star of the safari show and we encounter them several times throughout our adventure, that you'll hear about later.

I mentioned that we stopped for tea. Nothing done at Machaba is done without thoughtful planning, and that "wow factor". Our location during tea was a beautiful lush water view. Leopard (my rover's guide) and his crew set up tables with white linens and a spread of egg rolls, pineapple cake, fudge, cookies, jerky, and drinks. All of the food is home made from scratch right at Machaba, and was amazing!

Tea break on our way to Machaba with a beautiful view.

Tea break on our way to Machaba with a beautiful view.

Elcke and Shaun who manage Machaba camp (meet the Malan family), and Chris who runs operations for Machaba Safaris and is a friend through Sherry, met us as we pulled into camp. After many hugs and greetings from those of us who had met them before, as well as introductions of the newbies, they gave tent assignments. Mom and I were in tent three, which was the same tent that I was in back in 2015 (with Paula as my tent-mate, shout out!). 

I'm not sure what comes to your mind when I say "tent", but I assure you these tents are not it. Our accommodations for the next several nights are more like the Ritz in the middle of the Okavango Delta (middle of nowhere). Tent three, where my mom and I stayed, had two double beds, a writing desk that had fresh cold bottles of water daily, a sitting chair, double sinks in the dressing area and full ensuite bathroom with two showers...because you may get tired of taking your shower inside and choose to take it outside under the tree canopy with the sun shining and listening to the sounds of the hippos grunt in the distance. Heaven.

The common area was of similar decor and it's hard to believe that with all of the furnishings of home, we're out in the bush. Machaba runs on a dual system of solar and generator power. We had electricity (enough to charge a phone, not enough to use a blow dryer) and running water. This camp is amazing and we are so fortunate to have their hospitality. If ever you have the opportunity to go to Botswana and stay at a safari camp, I cannot recommend Machaba Safaris enough. 5 stars, all the way!

The evening brought about a family style dinner under the stars. Each night, we sat around the camp fire until the Chef and Sommelier came to explain to us the menu for the evening and the wine pairings. Once the menu was announced, we were offered to find our seats at our dining table. Once we've sat down and the wine was poured, we were asked to take our napkins with us for the hot plates we'd be handed to start the service line. Always, it was children first, then ladies, followed by the men and any of our friendly staff that would be dining with us.

The food throughout the entire trip was amazing, but especially at Machaba. I told Elcke (manager) that they should have a cookbook with their recipes in it that they sell at the camp shop...or a booklet at the end of your stay with them that includes the bedtime stories (they leave at turn-down) and the recipes that you had during your stay. My mouth is watering just thinking about all the great dishes we had while we were there. MmmMmm.  

After dinner, still on a first-night-in-camp high, much of the squad stayed up around the camp fire getting to know each other better, listening to the night frogs chime, and looking at stars that had blanketed the sky with an abundance that you just don't see at home. Additionally, since we were in another part of the hemisphere we were able to star gaze at different constellations than we see at home. 

I'd say that already our trip is off to a great start! I look forward to telling you more about Machaba and our days there in my next entry. Please feel free to comment and share!

Links:
Southern Sun Hotel - Johannesburg airport, where Mom and I stayed
Mac Air - charter planes out of Maun, Botswana to the Okavango Delta
Machaba Safaris - best tented safari camps in the Okavango Delta! :) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countdown to Africa - three sleeps until takeoff!

Today is FRI-YAY! Not only is it Friday, and the kick-off to the weekend (which is exciting in itself), but it was also the last WORK day before I head to Africa on Monday! It is starting to feel real, y'all!

We left off leaving Johannesburg (check the prior blog post) and heading to Maun, Botswana to the first of our two tented safari camps. Once in Maun, we'll take a quick bush flight to an airstrip closer to our camp. It is not uncommon to see animals from the air, and have to hold off on landing due to elephants (or other animals) on the landing strip.

Photo: Machaba Camp

Photo: Machaba Camp

We dropped our new friends off at the air strip for their bush flight, from our 2015 trip.

We dropped our new friends off at the air strip for their bush flight, from our 2015 trip.

We had the pleasure of staying at Machaba Safari Camp during our 2015 Africa trip and are excited to get back there this trip. Machaba is situated in the Okavango Delta. The scale and magnificence of the Okavango Delta helped it secure a position as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa in 2013.

Where's the Okavango Delta in Africa?

Where's the Okavango Delta in Africa?

Now, we head to camp...and by "camp" I do not mean that we're pitching a tent and finding a bush when we have to "go". Machaba Camp is a 2016 World Luxury Hotel Award winner, and has several other awards under their belt. The camp boasts 10 luxury tents and holds up to 24 people. Our group, at 17 people, will "take over" the camp in its entirety. This camp has all the bells and whistles. Electricity is run on a hybrid system - solar and generator. So, although we're out in the middle of the delta, we'll feel all the comforts of home. Machaba also has a swimming pool, library, main tented area with fire pit, and spa therapist! This is my kind of camping!

Photo: Machaba Camp Main tented area on the river.

Photo: Machaba Camp

Main tented area on the river.

Photo: Machaba Camp Luxury tented room.

Photo: Machaba Camp

Luxury tented room.

Tent front porch with elephants in view.

Now that we're here, what is there to do? Plenty! Here's what a day at Machaba is like:

05h30    Wake up call at the room
06h00    Light breakfast in the main area
06h30    Depart for your morning activity: game drive, nature walk, mokoro (type of canoe) 
10h30     Return from morning activity
11h00      Brunch

Afternoon at leisure – possible activities: Swimming pool, curio shop, spa

15h30     Afternoon tea
16h00     Depart on afternoon game drive
19h30     Return from game drive
20h00    Dinner under the stars (weather permitting)

After dinner: optional night drive

During the game drives, it is aways your hope to see one of Africa's "Big Five" - African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros. We saw all but the rhinoceros on our 2015 trip, so I am looking forward to making sure we see the rhino this trip. My parents are in South Africa now and have reported they had a rhino sighting! I was super excited for them, but jealous at the same time. ha! 

Game drives are so amazing. It is a hard experience to describe, really. There is nothing like it and until you experience it for yourself, you just won't know. Cheers to all my safari club members who know what I'm talking about!

Safari Land Rover

Safari Land Rover

Enjoying a "sundowner" and snacks with elephants in the background on our first game drive in 2015.

Enjoying a "sundowner" and snacks with elephants in the background on our first game drive in 2015.

During the game drives, you will see some of the most amazing scenery and most beautiful animals in their natural habitat. You'll see the sun rise in the morning over the river at the camp, and quite possibly start the day with elephants right outside your front door (like my front porch picture above), and you'll watch the sun set in the evening with Zebra or Impala dancing through the most beautiful sunset colors you've ever experienced! If you're lucky, in between you will see a plethora of animals including lion, elephant, warthog, kudu, and much more!

Our first lion sighting was Tomohawk and one of his ladies.

Our first lion sighting was Tomohawk and one of his ladies.

In addition to the game drives, I am looking forward to another mokoro ride down the river. Mokoro are like canoe and use to be made by hollowing out the inside of a tree trunk.

Mokoro ride! Beautiful scenery and so calming to be on the water.

Mokoro ride! Beautiful scenery and so calming to be on the water.

After our time at Machaba camp, we'll be heading to Meno a Kwena another tented safari camp. It will be the first time any of us have visited this particular camp, however looking at their website and Facebook page, I know we won't be disappointed. I am looking forward to sharing my experience at Meno with you all when I return!

I plan on logging on one more time before we depart on Monday to give you a peek into what we'll be doing while we're in Zambia / Zimbabwe, the second half of our trip. Our itinerary is jammed full of amazing activities!

Until then, you can follow me on Instagram @Clt_queencity!

 

 

 

Count down to Africa

Almost two years ago, I was prepping to go to Africa for the first time. While we were in Botswana at Machaba Safari Camp, we were already talking about when we'd be back. I remember thinking, when we decided we'd return in 2017, how disappointed I was that it seemed so far away. Now, just like that, in what seems like a blink of an eye...it's here. One week from Monday, I'll be headed back to Africa.

Safari at sunset with Machaba Safari, Botswana.

Safari at sunset with Machaba Safari, Botswana.

I never thought I'd be one of those travelers that returns to places they've already been. There is so much to see in this world and in the short time we're given here, that I didn't want to "waste time" experiencing something that I've already ticked off my list. That perspective changed the moment we got to Maun in 2015 and took a two hour truck ride with Chris Kruger (Machaba Safari's and friend) from the airport to camp. We had not even begun our "safari", and on our drive we spotted Zebra, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, and scenery like I've never seen before. I was already hooked, and if I am fortunate enough, I expect I'll be back several times more in my lifetime.

Safari picnic was set up for us, including lunch with a full bar, oriental rugs and pillows to sit/lay on. "Glamping" on a whole new level.

Safari picnic was set up for us, including lunch with a full bar, oriental rugs and pillows to sit/lay on. "Glamping" on a whole new level.

What better way to reminisce about our trip in 2015 than while I am prepping for Africa 2.0? :) I've checked for my passport about 30 times over the last 6 months. I've started a pile of items on my pack list. I've made arrangements for place and pets. I've tested WhatsApp. I'm ready! Over the next week, I'll pop in and share a bit about our upcoming trip and itinerary. While in Africa, I'll keep close tabs, take lots of photos, and GoPro videos. We'll have extremely limited internet, so don't expect a lot of live updates. Keep an eye on the Instagram account feed @Clt_queencity. I'll try and post updates as I can.

Monday, March 27, we'll depart from Charlotte to Atlanta and after a pit stop we'll settle in for the 15+ hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. 

What's different this year than our 2015 trip? A lot. We have 17 (I think) people for the first week, safari portion of the trip. One of which is my Momma! I am overjoyed that I get to share this adventure with her! Last time, there was just four of us (Sherry, Paula, Kristen and me). We will return to safari at Machaba Camp for a few nights, but we'll then change locations to a camp we've not visited before, Meno a Kwena. However, after stalking their website and Facebook page, I am quite sure that we're going to have to pinch ourselves, as we're living a dream. Where before (in 2015), we popped down to Cape Town, South Africa after our Safari, we'll pop up to Zambia/Zimbabwe to visit Victoria Falls (and much more). Some of the larger group will join us for this "side trip" to Vic Falls, and I am excited for the jam packed itinerary we've set up. I'll share more about that later this week.

Today, I'll share a bit about our first stop outside of the United States - Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg is a fairly young city. Officially settled in 1886 as a gold mining town. Joburg or Jozie, as some prefer to call it, is the second largest city in Africa, with more than 3 million people (average are between 19 - 39) calling this bustling metropolis home. It's land size is compared to Los Angeles, making it larger than other large cities including Sydney, London, and New York. Despite it's size, it is home to the largest man-made forest in the world. City Parks already has over 10 million trees and plans to plant another 200,000, helping the city's noise level and greenhouse effect.

  • The city of Johannesburg enjoys an average of 12 hours of sunlight a day.
  • Up to Forty percent of the population is under the age of 24.
  • An amazing 40% of all the world’s human ancestor fossils have been found in areas close to Johannesburg.
  • The city of Johannesburg has about 150 heritage sites, half of which are national monuments.
  • The city of Johannesburg houses the only two polar bears in Africa, at the Johannesburg Zoo.
  • There are 550 buses, which operate on 80 routes and transport about 20-million passengers each year.
  • There are 100 water towers and reservoirs. There are 8 000km of water pipes. There are 8 149km of sewerage pipes.
  • There are 180 000 street lights within the city f Johannesburg. There are 1 780 traffic lights in the city.
  • There are 35 cemeteries, which cover 626ha.
  • There are 106 dams.
  • There are 394 public sports facilities.
  • There are 98 public recreation centers.
  • There are 59 public swimming pools.
  • There are 126 community health clinics and 10 environmental health clinics.
  • The city of Johannesburg has 7 519km of roads.
  • The city has two active power stations, capable of generating 600mw (megawatts).
  • There are 63ha of bird sanctuaries in and around Johannesburg.
  • There are 1 000ha of green space in and around Johannesburg. The Botanical Gardens in Emmarentia are 81ha.

Read more: http://buzzsouthafrica.com/city-of-johannesburg/

We're only in Johannesburg for a day and a sleep, so we'll have limited time to enjoy all of it's offerings. We're staying right at the airport, for convenience for our morning flight to Maun. Anyone been before and have suggestions for markets and food? Any "must do" spots we should pop over to? I found a good list on Lonely Planet, including: Apartheid museum, Joziburg lane (market), and others but would love other travelers opinions! Share away!

After a good nights rest (hopefully) in Jozie, we'll be off to Maun in the morning! Once we arrive in Maun we'll take a "bush flight" to our first camp - Machaba. We'll land at a small "air strip" - no lights, no control tower, in the middle of nowhere, and hop on our open-air Land Rovers for a short ride to camp. Back in 2015, when we dropped Thomas Happe and son (our safari friend's from Germany) off at the air stip, there were elephants just off in the distance at the runway! I am hopeful we'll be so lucky again, with my Momma in tow. :) 

Saying goodbye to the Happes! We really enjoyed having Safari friends that put up with our silliness! :) 

Saying goodbye to the Happes! We really enjoyed having Safari friends that put up with our silliness! :) 

Looking forward to sharing more with you about my upcoming Safari trip, as well as the itinerary for Zambia / Zimbabwe - it is surly going to be the most epic trip of my life...although, I look forward to attempting to top it! 

 

 

 

 

 

Prepping for Africa - Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe March/April 2017

I can hardly believe that it has already been two years since my first trip to Africa. In 2015 I went to Africa with three girlfriends. We flew from JFK (New York City) to Johannesburg where we caught a flight to Maun, Botswana. Chris, from Machaba Camp (and also a friend), picked us up and drove us in the jeep to camp. It was raining when we got there and I was terrified that we were about to spend the entire trip soaked. 

During approx. two hour drive from Maun to camp we saw hippopotamus, giraffe, and zebra! We weren't even technically ON safari yet (in my mind). I was so excited and found myself starring into the bush and straining my eyes trying to will a animal to come into focus!

Last trip we stayed at Machaba camp the entire safari portion of our trip (here is also their Facebook page). This camp and the staff are amazing. So much so, we are headed back in our upcoming trip. We'll be splitting our time this trip between Machaba camp and Meno camp (we have not visited this one before - here's their FB page) - both located in the Okavango Delta. 

I am so fortunate to be sharing this experience with my Momma this year. She really wants to visit an authentic village African village. I know that Chris and his Machaba team will be able to accommodate.

After our time in Botswana we're headed to Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe (last trip to Africa we went to Cape Town - separate blog entry, coming soon). This will be the first time either of us visit Victoria Falls, and I can't be more excited. We have a packed itinerary, including: dinner cruise, walk with Lions safari, Rhino safari, Victoria Falls giant freefall and swing, and more! 

I am looking forward to sharing this experience with all of you! I'll be taking several photos and videos while we're there. Follow my Instagram (@Clt_queencity) for live photo updates as I can make them.

Have suggestions or questions about my upcoming trip to Africa?! I'd love to hear them!

Girls Trip! Playa Del Carmen, Mexico - May 2016

Sometimes, there's nothing better than getting a group of friends and heading to the beach for some relaxation. And by relaxation, I mean...starting the day with a walk around the local area, before the shops even open to get morning coffee, walking along the beach to the beach cafe down from our villa and starting the day with mimosa's, and floating in the warm water without watching the clock for your next meeting - no plans, no itinerary. A dream. :) 

We had 10 girls for a friend's birthday celebration and shared two condos right on the beach in the heart of Playa Del Carmen - we could walk most places. We didn't go through a resort or travel agent for our booking...you can find some great options on sites like VRBO.com.

This is the view from the patio of our condo. 

This is the view from the patio of our condo. 

The picture above is the view from our condo patio. We were located right on the beach and we had a team of locals that would come and set up their massage tent each day. We took full advantage of their location! They gave great massages and they were very inexpensive! 

Beyond the massage tents is the ocean. It was amazing to wake up and have coffee on the patio with the site, smell and sound of the ocean to welcome your day. The water was warm and welcoming, but very salty (making it easy to float).

The majority of our days were spent just down the beach at one of the resort/restaurants that host a bounty of lounge chairs and umbrellas. Fair warning - most of them don't open until around noon (even though they have breakfast on their menu). We typically got there before they opened and counted down until we could order food and our daily dose of champagne!

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Playa has some great food options. We loved being in walking distance to so many. We had a great time at Ula Gula. The server was very attentive and fun, and they had a DJ by the time we were leaving, who was also a lot of fun. The food was pretty good, but atmosphere is what you go for. Make sure you get a table on the patio so you can sit in the open air and people watch as the crowds walk by. We also went to Aldea Corazon, and although the place was beautiful (we ate in a beautiful jungle courtyard), the food alright and the service didn't compare to Ula Gula. One restaurant we had to drive to and I have mixed reviews - Alux. It's in a cave. I think you have to experience it if you go to Playa, but I would go there patient. The food was good, not great. The service was okay...a bit slow and not as attentive as some of the others we had been to already. However, the restaurant itself and the fact that you're in a cave is all very cool. My favorite restaurant of the trip, I'm looking for the name and will have to add it as an update later. :) 

What else do you do when you're in paradise besides go to the beach and great restaurants at night? You have to enjoy the water activities, and check out some nightlife!

I was set on getting over to Akumal Bay to swim with the sea turtles. A few of the girls decided that it was something they wanted to do as well, so we went for it. We hired a taxi by popping into one of the local hotels. The taxi driver was really great and he gave recommendations on what else we should do if we were already going out to Akumal. We decided to hire him for the day and he would take us to swim with the sea turtles and then we'd go check out the Mayan Ruins of Tulum. I was so happy that we made that decision and this was definitely one of the best days we had while in Playa Del Carmen (in my opinion). 

HAHA! Trying to get a selfie with this many people is an art...and we do not have it! 

HAHA! Trying to get a selfie with this many people is an art...and we do not have it! 

In terms of nightlife, there is plenty. There are open air clubs all over the place! They don't really get busy until later in the evening. The clubs are really not our speed any longer (we'd prefer a nice 3-4 hour dinner with drinks and then home), but we did check out the clubs near our condo one night because a few of us wanted to dance!

My group did not do Xterra or any of the adventure parks, but I'd definitely like to do that the next time I go. This trip was all about relaxation and no stress. We had a lot of fun and I'd love to be back on that beach with a coconut drink in hand right now!

 

 

Ocean City, Maryland in August 2016

I am late posting about my trip to Ocean City, Maryland. There's nothing like powerful events happening in your life to get your mind going and looking for ways to release emotions and memories. I recently lost my Grandmother, "Nanny". She is now back with her love, my Grandfather, "Pop-pop" or "Pops" (as I called him in my adult years). It was their house in Berlin, across the bay from Ocean City, Maryland that I first think of whenever I think of Ocean City. 

Ocean City is a vault of wonderful memories of both my grandparents, my siblings, my cousins. Due to the amount we moved (military family), it is the only place that I have memories from each stage of my life. It is where, when I close my eyes, I can see in perfect detail. I can hear the lapping of the water against the dock or the birds as they fly over the water back to the trees on land at sunset. I swear I can even smell the salt air.

I will always hold a special place in my heart for our house on Wood Duck Drive and the memories we had there. Rest in peace, my sweet Nanny and our Lucky Buck (Pops).

View from our backyard in Berlin, looking across the bay at Ocean City.

View from our backyard in Berlin, looking across the bay at Ocean City.

Ocean City in August is hot! I flew on a direct flight from Charlotte Douglas International on a two prop (yes, they are still around) puddle jumper to Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional Airport. It's a super small, yet easy airport. They even still allow folks to park right out front! Ocean City is about a 30 min drive from the Salisbury airport. They do have Uber in the area now, if you're not interested in renting a car.

Ocean City has done a lot of updating in the last several years. It's really cleaned up and is a beautiful beach community. There are still too many putt-putt places as you drive down the strip, however people can only have so many beach days while on vacation so it's a great thing for families looking for something else to do.

My favorite area is down, closer to the inlet. There are plenty of things to do, and most are in walking distance. In the morning, before 11 AM, you can rent bikes (or bring your own) and ride them along the boards. Go early because it gets pretty crowded! It's also really nice just to walk the boards. There are lots of little shops to pop into and food options. If families are looking for other things to do off the beach, there is also a Ripley's Believe it or Not, Trimper's and Jolly Roger's rides.

We're walking the boards in Ocean City, Maryland in front of Ripley's Believe it or Not!

We're walking the boards in Ocean City, Maryland in front of Ripley's Believe it or Not!

We had a great day on the boards and riding the rides! Check out our video!

One of the reasons we like to go to Ocean City in August is because the annual White Marlin Open Tournament (large fishing tournament - think Shark, White and Blue Marlin, etc). It is the first week of August and it is always a great time watching the boats (of all sizes) heading out in the early morning, or coming in at sunset. You can go over to Harbour Island (14th Street and the Bay) and watch the boats as they back up to the scale to weigh-in their catch. It's a lot of fun to see the fish up close, but you need to get there very early to claim a spot close to the scale if you want to be able to see anything...or, if you're a big fan, rent a condo right in the marina if you can find one!

If you don't care so much about seeing the weigh-in but love to watch the boats...the best location (in my opinion) is on the inlet! The boats fly the flag of the type of fish they have caught on their way to the weigh-in. Tip: get a reservation on the windows at Harrison's Harbor Watch restaurant. It over looks the inlet, so you have a great view of the parade of boats as they come through! They also have cards on their tables that tell you what each of the flags are, and always have great fresh fish options. Tell Lori Kelly or Reagan at the Raw Bar I sent you and have them make you some Oyster Stew before you head to your table! 

After you're done with dinner, there are plenty of dive bars along the boardwalk...there are actually multiple bars on every corner! It's a great time to walk off the great meal you just had at Harrison's and check out multiple spots - Cork Bar, The Bearded Clam, Purple Moose...just pop your head in and eventually you'll find a few that suite you.

You can't go to Ocean City without stopping at a beach bar. Two of our favorites are de Lazy Lizard and Fish Tales. We like them because you still have the beach bar feel, but it is much less crowded (typically) than the mega beach bar, I'll talk about next. You can take your boat over, however they have limited docking, so you need to make sure you time your visit just right if you're planning on boating over. You can drive as well, they both have a decent size parking lot. 

The next spot is a must hit. If people have been to Ocean City before, they know it well. Seacrets - Jamaica USA. Their tag line is "find us and get lost"...and that is exactly what you might do in this mega beach bar. You can also arrive by boat to Seacrets - which, I highly recommend if you can, especially during busy hours. The line to get in can stretch around the block if you're in high season. This bar is right on the bay and transports you to Jamaica, without leaving the US. It is all sandy beaches, palm trees, reggae music, Red Stripe beer and loads of frozen drink options. Our standard when visiting is the Pain in de Ass. It's basically Rum Runner and Pina Colada layered and is oh so good...but watch out...they sneak up on you!

In addition to all of the great restaurants and bars, Ocean City has some other great activities. There are loads of jetski and boat rental options. There are also large touring jet boats that take you out to the ocean. It's a great chance that you'll spot some wildlife - wild ponies at Assateague Island as you leave the Inlet, and dolphin love to jump in the waves and boat wake.

Have you been to Ocean City? What are your favorite things to do and/or places to go while you're there?

What's in a name...

I am not sure where to start. A blog is a big commitment, especially with having a full time "adulting" job and big travel goals. However, I read a blog recently by a a truly inspiring young man who has traveled to most of our 197 countries, and the kicker? He earned over a million dollars doing it, by blogging. This discovery first sent me into shock and awe that his passion for travel and exploration of cultures led him to become a millionaire, and I became abundantly jealous of his lifestyle at his age...as I sit at my corporate job waiting for my next corporate meeting, that will likely result in a follow-up meeting about the meeting, about the meeting we will surly have next week to talk about next steps...all the while dreaming of my next passport adventure. I lost you after I mentioned that he earned a million dollars by blogging, didn't I? Here's his blog.

I guess before I get into it, I should introduce myself. I am currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina. I've lived all over the U.S., and had short-term living stints in the United Kingdom and Spain. And many other travel adventures, that I'll get into in a later blog. I work for one of the largest global financial institutions, headquartered here in Charlotte, in our Marketing and Communications organization and am very fortunate to love my job (most of the time), and the people I work with (much of the time), and the business partners that I support (...yep). Apart from loving my job, teammates and business partners (wink), my job affords me the life-style that I love and the travel that I crave.

Friends and family have told me to start a blog for some time now. Capturing travel experiences through photography and video has become an expectation from me, even on short weekend jaunts. So, here we go...

Lets start with the name. As I mentioned before, I love to travel. But I do. I love love love to travel. I love everything about it. Researching destinations all over the world. Planning. Airports. The excitement of the countdown. Trying to make the custom agent smile (ha!), the sound of the passport stamp, the feel of newly exchanged money, sites I've never witnessed with my own eyes, and the smell and taste of food that are unfamiliar. When I was brainstorming what I wanted the name of my blog to be, I jotted down things that I love about travel...here's part of my list: passports, adventure, wide-eyed, exploration, compass, map, senses. I started playing around with them. I looked up pictures of the compass: North, South, East, West - 4 points. I was also told not to be too specific...well, talking about everything that stimulates the 5 senses certainly does not limit my blogging topics. So, there it is. Welcome. This is 4Points5Senses for the places I want to go, and the things I want to experience - no limitations.

I hope you'll come along on my journey. I am still learning and look forward to improving my site, and posting my past adventures...as we count down to the next adventure. First in May - Playa del Carmen, then in April 2017 - back to Africa!

On top of Table Top Mountain, South Africa - Cheers to loving life, and it loving you right back!

On top of Table Top Mountain, South Africa - Cheers to loving life, and it loving you right back!