This is a description of my experiences during a trip to Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe Saturday, March 2 through Saturday, March 16, 1996.
Entry: Sunday, March 3, 1996, 3:15 p.m. (All times indicated are local time.) Everything was going according to schedule. I left the house as planned just before 3:00 p.m., with all preparations completed. The drive down I95 went smoothly. After a little searching I found a gas station to top off the tank of my rental car. I turned in the car quickly, took the Avis bus to the American Airlines terminal, waited in line to check in, and was directed to Gate D10, arriving there more than two hours ahead of the 7:15 p.m. departure time.
Close to seven o'clock it hit me: the plane at this gate was going to Mexico City, not London! The first thing I did then was panic! I could see my entire Africa adventure disintegrating before me. The next thing I did was find out I should be at Gate E10, and I dashed off in that direction.
The Miami International Airport is very spread out, and it was a hike from D10 to E10, but I got on the plane with minutes to spare. I was irked, however, that my little mistake was almost catastrophic.
The MD-11 aircraft is big and powerful, but American Airlines crams in so many seats (nine across in tourist class), the passengers are pinched nearly motionless in their places. I was on an inside aisle seat and the man next to me had GI problems, so he was popping up unexpectedly and often to climb out of the row and make his way to the lavatory.
The dinner meal was surprisingly good. My steak was hot, tender, and tasty. The movie was bad, which was fine with me, allowing some shut eye.
In the row of seats immediately in front of me were two babies. Just as I would drift uncomfortably off to sleep, there would be screams of protest from one of the tots: "I want my dau-dau!" The demand was piercing and repetitive.
When one little noise maker would relinquish the auditory attack briefly, the other would start in crying like it was some kind of relay race. The racket must have lasted for two to three hundred miles.
At one point after drifting off, I was angered to be awakened by a strange snoring-like sound. What a disappointment to discover I caused it!
The next awakening was for breakfast: hot muffin, OJ, banana, yogurt; quite good. The plane landed, logging 4425 Frequent Flyer miles, at about 9:00 a.m. London time.
I waited at the luggage carrousel after the customs check and watched for my familiar black bag. I waited and I searched, but my black bag did not make an appearance. Well, I thought to myself, I've got all day to sort this out and find my luggage.
Only after the carrousel stopped and the AA056 flight designation vanished from the board did I realize I had changed my mind at the last minute and had packed my brown "Safari-World" bag instead, which I then quickly found. I took mental note, however, that clever little screw-ups like this could doom my trip to disaster!
After a short wait at the bus stop, I made the brief ride here to the Marriott, where I'd reserved a day room. Praises be! The reservation was in order! No screw-ups there.
CNN International had mostly European news - babies stolen in Poland, that sort of thing - so I still don't know who won the South Carolina Republican primary.
A wonderful nap lasted until 2:30 p.m., when I got up and took a marvelous shower. Then after a tasty bite to eat (broccoli soup, garlic bread, tea), I had plenty of time to catch up with this log. I'll catch the 5:40 bus back to the airport terminal to be there two hours before my 8:15 p.m. African Air flight to Johannesburg.
Entry: Monday, March 4, 1996, 7:45 p.m. Here I am at the Johannesburg Park Hyatt Hotel, waiting in the dining room for my dinner order (potato and mushroom roll with mixed vegetables) to appear. Here I have come thousands of miles to enjoy what Africa has to offer, and they're playing Frank Sinatra for dinner music. Here I am at the destination I've been planning for, thinking about, and wildly anticipating for some six months or so, and instead of excitement, anticipation, and delight, I feel let down. Perhaps the long journey here has sapped my spirit. Maybe the seven-hour time difference has dulled my senses. Whatever the cause, the effect right now is anti-climax. Thinking positively, perhaps all this has reset my expectation level so the upcoming adventure will properly impress me.
The dinner was just served and was wonderful! (The mango sorbet and lacy cookie for dessert were also delicious!) Perhaps hunger had been a contributing factor in the production of my malaise. I feel better already!
The ten-hour, 5650-mile flight from London to Johannesburg was long and tedious, and surprisingly bumpy for flying at an altitude of 37,000 feet. I had an aisle seat again, this time next to Steve, who seemed to be playing with somewhat less than a full deck. Heck, he may have been missing an entire suit or two. The African Air 747 seemed to have an inch or two more leg room, but four or five inches less under-the-seat storage space. The dinner ranked a definite second to that served on the American Airlines flight.
During the flight I read from the book I had brought along, Global Bondage, by Cliff Kincaid (excellent, by the way), and then I slowly slipped off into a state of near sleep. At 3:30 a.m. I was wide awake. Airplane noise allowed me to understand only about a third of what was said in the movie, "Assassins" (with Sylvester Stallone), which was playing on the TV screen, and which was about half over anyway when I tuned in.
After the movie I think I was the only one awake in the pitch-black cabin (second deck!). Efforts to doze off were to no avail and it seemed an eternity before light from the rising sun began to invade the cabin through tiny openings in the tightly drawn window shades.
Our first landing attempt was unsuccessful for some unstated reason, and the fly around delayed our already-late arrival time, so the Abercrombie and Kent (A&K) representative had been waiting quite a while when I finally got through the line for customs, retrieved my bag, and met her. She drove me directly here to the Park Hyatt, a very beautiful and new (opened just six months ago) hotel located in the northern Johannesburg suburbs.
I reviewed the A&K vouchers with the rep, checked in, then strolled about the hotel complex, which included a series of nearby stores and shops. Lunch (tomato soup, olive bread) at about 1:30 in the hotel was followed by a nap (really good, sound sleep) until 6:30 and a refreshing, long, hot shower.
So the question now is this: tonight, will I sleep past my 3:30 a.m. benchmark?
Entry: Tuesday, March 5, 1996, 10:15 a.m. The answer is a gratifying: Yes! I stayed up watching mostly CNN on TV (but also some cricket and a movie of some sort) until about 12:30 a.m., hoping to reinforce the time zone readjustment process, and it seemed to work. I awoke abruptly at exactly 5:00 a.m. following a bad nightmare about scraping the roof off my car as I backed out of the garage while the garage door was closing. And in another nightmare I was lost in Highland, New York on my drive to my home in Woodstock (New York). Every time I found a map that would show me the right directions, I would lose my car! Happily, I was able to get back to sleep, without any follow-on nightmares.
The alarm clock buzzed at 7:55 and I was at breakfast before nine. The TV weather report predicted partly cloudy skies and showers, but right now it's clear and the sun is shining brightly. I began videotaping this morning with a view of downtown Johannesburg from a window on the sixth floor of the hotel.
Entry: Tuesday, March 5, 1996, 7:45 p.m. The thrill has returned! I was picked up at the Hyatt at 11:45, driven back to the Jan Smuts Airport, checked in by 12:20, and on the South African Airlink flight by 1:15 p.m. or so. As our small plane was about to land at the Sun City Airport, I spotted a couple of ostriches in the bush below. That was all I needed to get my Africa adrenalin pumped up. On the short bus ride to the Palace Hotel, I saw several other ostriches not more than fifty yards from the road.
I had high expectations for the Palace Hotel, very high, but this incredibly magnificent structure and its extensive surrounding grounds and gardens are absolutely spectacular, far exceeding anything I could have imagined!
I was checked into my room by 2:30. Then immediately, camera in hand, I started out to give the Palace a once-over. I hope the video shows the grandeur, splendor, and stunning beauty of the Palace at Sun City, because mere words seem totally inadequately. It's the most impressive hotel I think I've ever seen! Words from a "Dr. Dolittle" song popped into my heard: "Oh, I've never seen anything like it, never seen anything like it, never seen anything like it in my life."
Getting back to my room a little before 7:00, I realized I had completely missed lunch, so I promptly made reservations for a 7:30 dinner in the Crystal Court Dining Room. And that's where I am right now, having just completed a delicious entree of seared medallions of karoo lamb, tomato risotto, Palace herb salad, plus dessert of mixed fruit, cinnamon ice cream, and two gingerbread cookies (along with a diet Coke to wash it down).
Entry: Wednesday, March 6, 1996, 10:20 a.m. Right now I'm sitting on the veranda adjacent to the Palace Tusk Bar. Up at 7:40 a.m., I showered, dressed, washed a load of clothes (in the bathroom sink), and was at the Crystal Court shortly after 9:00. But all the tables were occupied, so I contented myself by reading the "TimesFax," an eight-to-ten-page news summary faxed around the world by the New York Times.
I would have been better served without the news of Dole's sweep of yesterday's primaries. Such distractions interrupt the peace and pleasure of this place.
Now the sun is shining brightly, there's an occasional breeze, and pleasant sounds of birds and water falls fill the air. When I got here yesterday afternoon it was cloudy; today's bright, warm sun enhances even further the majesty and elegance of Sun City and the marvelous Palace Hotel.
Entry: Wednesday, March 6, 1996, 10:30 p.m. I walked all around the Palace again, taking videos as I went, until 2:30 or so this afternoon, when I ate an apple and some grapes (provided in every room), downed a lemonade (from the Mini-bar), and went to the lobby at 3:45 to join the 4:00 safari drive to nearby Pilanesberg Game Park.
Only then did I discover the pick-up point was the Sun City Hotel, a twenty-minute walk from the Palace. Happily, a hotel bus pulled up to the main entrance at the precise moment I needed it, so I got to the pick-up point in ample time to catch the departing vehicle.
Pilanesberg is the second largest inactive volcano crater in the world (about five times the size of Ngorongoro Crater), with over 500 square miles of terrain and thousands of animals. I was surprised the viewing was as good as it turned out to be, in spite of the fact there were twenty three of us on a big truck-like bus with a canvas top.
We saw elephants, rhinoceroses (maybe two dozen; Pilanesberg has a large supply), giraffes, zebras, one wart hog that scampered out of sight when we approached, ostriches, gazelles, hartebeests, elands, impalas, and several others, but most at quite a distance. Several rhinos, though, were no more than ten to fifteen yards from our vehicle; quite exciting!
When the sun dropped behind the hills, it turned cold, and the wind chill made it quite noticeable. It was after 6:30 when we were returned to the Sun City Hotel, so I looked about immediately for supper and found a nice little restaurant that offered an extensive buffet. I had: pork, rice (two kinds), potatoes, beets, beans, corn, cabbage, mushrooms, cauliflower, a popover...and for dessert: two spice cakes. Plus hot tea with lemon. Yum!
Entry: Thursday, March 7, 1996, 5:45 a.m. Upon my return to the Palace, I found a phone message in addition to a written message from A&K reminding me to be ready for an 8:00 a.m. pick up. I left a request for a 6:00 a.m. wake-up call, but to be safe, fiddled with my travel alarm to signal me at the same time. I say "fiddled," because it shows times in two time zones, but the alarm only works relative to US Eastern Standard. After packing, I got to bed and asleep before midnight.
In my dreams - you're not going to believe this, but honest, it's true - I was arguing about politics! I was frustrated that those I was talking with didn't seem appropriately sensitive to the globalism Clinton and Dole are pushing on us. When the UN directs US troops, when GATT's WTO decides US trade disputes, and when a global government is fully in charge, our sovereignty will be diminished (if not completely lost), our rights will be usurped, our freedoms curtailed, and there will be no recourse. We don't elect any officials at the United Nations!
I awoke abruptly! Then, after tossing about for a while, I checked the clock. The time was 1:30 a.m.
I tossed some more, continued to ruminate on the political destiny of the United States and the world, and took note that my pulse was beating at other than a restful rate. I rearranged my pillows for the umpteenth time, then rechecked the time. It was 3:30.
I continued this little game until my travel alarm buzzed at me. I waited for the hotel wake-up call, but it didn't come. I turned on the TV to check the time. No time was shown on any of the six or eight active channels. Then an inspiration: I checked my video camera! It has a clock built in for time stamping videos, and I had set it for South Africa time. Although my alarm said it was 6:00 a.m., actually the time was shortly after 5:00 a.m. I had assumed an eight-hour time difference, Florida-to-South-Africa, for my alarm clock, so I was an hour off with my alarm setting. Hmm, another one of those little screw-ups I'd prefer not to make on this trip.
After all the fuss, I concluded: the heck with it! I got up, dressed, completed my packing, and wrote here for a while until the 6:00 a.m. hotel wake-up call rang so loudly my pen nearly skipped right off the page!
Entry: Thursday, March 7, 1996, 10:35 a.m. The trip back from Sun City to the Jan Smuts Airport was by car. The driver, Chris, appeared at 7:40 a.m. (twenty minutes early), right after I'd had breakfast and had checked out, so we got an early start. Right now I'm at the airport with an hour and a half before my flight to Victoria Falls.
Chris was an interesting chap. He described a number of points of interest along the drive: uranium mines, geological characteristics, some history. He also related how he had been robbed twice in recent weeks, resulting in the loss of two mobile phones, his wallet, and a gold necklace. Last week's robbery left Chris with a number of bruises plus a stab wound! He said that far more than personal property (valued at over $1000 US) was lost: his peace of mind, his sense of safety walking the familiar streets of Johannesburg, and faith in his fellow man!
Chris predicted that a horrendous, bloody revolution will take place in South Africa when Nelson Mandela leaves office. Hate between the races is growing more and more, he said, and will explode when Mandela's successor begins a white purge, which Chris considers inevitable. His prognostication regarding the race situation in the United States: "You're doomed!"
Entry: Thursday, March 7, 1996, 12:10 p.m. My flight was scheduled to depart ten minutes ago, but a PA announcement said the plane was delayed, causing a new departure time: 1:30. Now, checking the status, I see it's posted as 1:40; not a good omen.
Since this will be an international flight (South Africa to Zimbabwe), I'm in the same terminal building and waiting area where I spent three hours or so before my flight back to the States following my last trip to Africa. At that time I was contending with a major GI disturbance. This time it's drowsiness.
Entry: Thursday, March 7, 1996, 3:00 p.m. I was the first one on the plane when boarding was announced. After all the passengers were seated, we waited some more. It seems the baggage loaders were staging some sort of slow down (maybe the "real" reason for the initial delay, although they said the cause was "fog"). To really test us, they kept the temperature in the cabin at 187 , or so it seemed. The plane took off at 2:20 p.m.
Right now as I write this, the cabin temperature is comfortable, and with a little lunch (roll, rice salad, apple juice), and a little nap (maybe fifteen minutes), my spirits are renewed.
Entry: Thursday, March 7, 1996, 8:30 p.m. It took about an hour and a half to get to the Victoria Falls Airport. We then waited forever for the three slowest customs agents in the world to look at our papers and delay processing. As I've always done, at least for the last five years, I wrote "Writer" in the box designated: Profession. "Oh, you're a writer," the agent exclaimed in a you're-gonna-pay-for-that tone of voice.
"I've written a few magazine articles," I cautiously replied. She sighed, reached for another form and began the questioning: "Where will you stay tonight?" "What are your travel plans for the next week or so?" "When will you be leaving Zimbabwe?"
"The sooner the better," I thought to myself.
The agent had already taken fifteen to twenty minutes to process the half-dozen people in front of me in line. Now everybody behind me was frantic. It was maybe 4:30 by the time I had my bag, met the A&K rep, and was being whisked off to the falls, which are ten kilometers from the airport.
The speed limit is 60 km/hour, or 80 km/hour for "Wide tar," as one sign said. Glancing at the van's speedometer, I noticed we were doing 120. "We don't have much time," the driver said, unnecessarily. Besides, the sky to the west was black. We were going to get dumped on.
Although it was a whirlwind tour - dash to one observation point, take some video, dash to the next - I was very impressed. The falls are 1.7 kilometers (just over a mile) wide and from seventy to one hundred meters (225 to 325 feet) high. With all the recent rain in the area, the falls were roaring.
The mist and rain blew about in such a swirl, I thought I was in a car wash...without a car! The falls are truly awesome. Although belonging to Zambia, Victoria Falls are only visible from the Zimbabwe side of the border, so that country gets all the tourists!
I checked in at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, but not before beholding a spectacular, brilliant, double rainbow. It was even visible on my tiny, black-and-white camera monitor, so I trust I was able to capture the scene on the color video tape!
Since I was drenched (in spite of the fact A&K provided both an umbrella and a slicker; the A&K rep held the umbrella while I took videos), at the top of my priority list was a shower. I hope my clothes and boots dry out before morning. With all the luxury and elegance I had at the Palace Hotel, I'm not entirely ready to "rough it" with mosquito netting on the bed, a smelly bathroom, fears of water contamination (drink and brush only with bottled water), and food concerns. At supper (beef consomme, pork, potatoes, carrots, mini-corn, two rolls) the waiter plopped a roll down on my butter plate and killed a bug that had perched there!
I'm off to Botswana tomorrow at 7:30 a.m., so I'd better be off to sleep right now (about 11:00 p.m.).
Entry: Friday, March 8, 1996, 2:10 p.m. Both the travel alarm and lodge wake-up call were in synchronism and on schedule! Up at 6:15 I was at breakfast (juice, scone, roll, grapefruit, pineapple, tea) about 6:50, I met the A&K driver at 7:20, and we were headed to Botswana at half past.
The early, heavy, morning mist dissipated quickly and it turned into a sunny, warm day. On the drive, before reaching the border, we came across two five-inch millipedes and dozens of baboons. Baboon troops enjoy the heat of the paved road and gather there, only reluctantly giving ground with the approach of each vehicle.
The border crossing was quick and easy, taking no more than a couple of minutes to get my paperwork checked and passport stamped. On the Botswana side we had to drive through a pit of disinfectant as a preventative against spreading hoof and mouth disease. Individuals had to wipe their shoes on a wet disinfectant mat.
The drive from the falls to the Chobe Chilwero Lodge was only about an hour and a half. When I arrived at the camp I was the only guest here, although two had just departed and six or eight more are expected during the day. The entire lodge staff appeared to greet me; a very nice touch.
At 10:00 a.m. we departed for a boat ride on the Chobe River, during which we saw many birds, several hippos, a number of troops of baboons, herds of impala, a couple of water buck, and a lone elephant. Beautiful white clouds, a hot sun, and pleasant breeze, along with the sights and sounds of the river made for an enjoyable and satisfying trip.
Lunch at one o'clock included tomato/lettuce salad, celery salad, vegetable casserole, bread, cheese, tea, and a cookie.
Entry: Saturday, March 9, 1996, 9:40 a.m. Yesterday afternoon I had a chance to sneak in a little nap, maybe forty minutes worth, before starting out on our four o'clock safari drive. There were four of us plus the driver in a topless, four-wheel-drive vehicle. Again the weather was just about perfect: warm sun, gentle breeze, scattered clouds.
For a while the animal viewing was somewhat sparse: impala, puku, a couple of wart hogs, baboons (lots), and of course a bunch of birds. Our driver drove us back and forth repeatedly along one section of road in the Chobe National Park. He had spotted lion tracks and was looking for the perpetrator(s). He finally gave up the search and we headed off in another direction...only to see coming right toward us down the road: a female lion, walking very calmly and casually. We stopped and she passed within a few feet of where I was video taping with much excitement! She paid us no heed whatsoever, which suited the four of us just fine!
We turned around and followed her as she sauntered along the road, then quickly moved off to the right and crouched on the ground when she spotted four impalas up ahead. We watched for ten minutes or so as she eyed the impalas, which leisurely moved further along the road (apparently unaware of the lion), then into the bush. At that point the lion got up and moved into the bush herself.
We had been told Chobe is the home of 65,000 elephants, so were surprised to encounter only one or two, at quite a distance...until we were heading back to the lodge at the end of our drive. We came upon a good-sized elephant maybe ten yards off on our left and were so excited, at first we failed to notice a dozen or so elephants ten yards into the bush on our right. There were some young ones, so the mothers were protective, and one raised its trunk, trumpeted, flapped its ears aggressively, and then made a lunge for us. I got it all on video tape, including the shouts of surprise and fright from the vehicle occupants. It was a very successful drive!
When we got back to the lodge there was just time for a hot shower (solar-heated water) before everyone met for drinks prior to dinner. And a fancy dinner it was: starting off with avocado salad with mussels and olives, then chicken, broccoli casserole, rice, butternut squash, rolls, and an apple-pie-like dessert. Dinner was at 8:00, but with socializing I didn't get to bed until 10:30 or 11:00.
Neatly wrapped in my mosquito-netted cocoon, I awoke in the middle of the night with a sharp pain right between my ribs. Oh no, I thought, the last time I was here in Botswana I had food poisoning; this time it's a heart attack!
I lay there in a semi-conscious state and imagined being taken to the dirty little building that was identified as the hospital during the drive from Victoria Falls yesterday. I imagined trucks taking me to airports, planes taking me to other airports, and arriving back in the United States in about three days...dead!
I shifted my position to one side, then the other. My condition remained unchanged, but the pain wasn't getting any worse. I'd had similar pains before...and had worried before. The doctor told me it was nothing. Now, I wanted another opinion!
However, in view of the static nature of the situation, I waited for my pulse to drop below 500 beats per minute, and then I uneasily drifted back to sleep. When the 5:30 wake-up call was delivered (someone knocked on my door and called out my name), I awoke with no residual effect of the incident whatever (not even a hint of pain), except a most vivid recollection.
Entry: Saturday, March 9, 1996, 3:00 p.m. Our safari drive departed at 6:00 a.m. and was relatively uneventful. There were some herds of impala and a smattering of other animals, but nothing as spectacular as our lion meeting yesterday, even though we came across three lions: two adults and a cub. They ware back in the bush, largely out of sight, and moved even further into the bush shortly after we arrived.
Breakfast (juice, three delicious but strange-shaped muffins, and a cup of tea) was served upon our return. I declined the eggs, bacon, tomatoes, eggplant, and toast prepared over an outside wood fire. I had some time then to write here, but at 10:30 we departed on another drive, the highlights of which were a close-up encounter with buffalos passing close to our vehicle, and another face-to-face meeting with elephants, four or more, some ten to fifteen yards from our clicking and humming cameras.
You know it has been a relatively uneventful game-viewing day if you find yourself (as I did) taking pictures of ants and elephant dung!
Lunch at 1:00 was tomato/cucumber salad, a spicy ground-hamburger dish (topped with cheese), beets, coleslaw, bread, cheese, and a sugar cookie. Then the "gift shop" was open and I bought a couple of wooden hippos, a painted, wooden box, and two hand-painted animal scenes on cloth.
The afternoon break, lasting until 3:30 allowed me to catch up with this running commentary.
Entry: Sunday, March 10, 1996, 10:15 a.m. Right now I'm all packed up and ready to depart Chobe, head for Victoria Falls, catch my flight back to Johannesburg, stay overnight again at the Park Hyatt, and then (tomorrow morning) make connections back at Jan Smuts for my flight to Kruger National Park.
Yesterday afternoon's boat trip had quite a climax. It started out uneventfully, particularly since I'd made the same trip, along the same route, the day before. We stopped at an island to view four or five elephants grazing; we spotted a number of hippos with their heads popping out of the water, their eyes watching our boat; we paused occasionally to look at yellow-breasted throat thrashers (or whatever the names of all those little birds are), which the bird-watching enthusiasts (there were two or three aboard) gawked at lovingly through their binoculars.
When we stopped at our turn-around spot, the front of the boat was nosed up on shore, a cooler was produced, and soda pop was offered to all for refreshment. We were there maybe ten minutes when we heard some rustling sounds and saw movement behind a cluster of trees at the top of the bank maybe a hundred yards from the river. Then slowly an elephant emerged, trotted to the water's edge and took a long drink. After a few moments he was followed by a dozen companions, some of which were tiny babies. They all clustered together to drink, one to march into the river, splash about, and enjoy both a bath and romp in the water.
At about that time another boat approached us and we were informed there were lions at the water's edge just around the bend. We pushed off from shore and, sure enough, saw seven lions making their way slowly in the direction of, but out of sight of, the elephants. As the lions saw the pachyderms, they crouched down, watched intently, then crept forwarded cautiously.
Then there was the moment of confrontation: lions vs. elephants. Without even a hint of shame, the lions relinquished their title of "King of Beasts," turned abruptly, and walked together up the river bank into the bush.
Moments later the elephants charged up the bank after them, formed a protective wall to shield the babies, and apparently intimidated the lions out of the territory. It was a spectacular drama to witness.
We got back to camp after the sun had set. I took a quick shower before dinner (fish casserole appetizer, lamb, potatoes, cauliflower casserole, carrots, roll, and a slice of fancy peach cake for dessert. Then to bed.
Entry: Sunday, March 10, 1996, noon. Once again this morning a voice outside my cabin signaled the 5:30 wake-up call. I was on my last Chobe safari drive at 6:00. Since yesterday's early-morning drive was relatively tame (no pun intended), I expected to see nothing dramatic.
My expectations were met one hundred percent, but it was a pleasant last glimpse of the national reserve nevertheless, in spite of numerous and pesky flies. Again, the weather was great: chilly when we started out, warming quickly as the sun rose.
Back at the camp at 8:30 for breakfast, I then had time to pack and make an entry here. After the drive back to the Victoria Falls Airport, I bought a bunch of post cards, went through customs, and I'm now waiting for my flight to be called. I have two hours for postcard writing. I'll mail them when I get to the Park Hyatt tonight.
Entry: Sunday, March 10, 1996, 6:30 p.m. Now I'm here at the Hyatt waiting for my dinner order (sun-dried tomato soup and a caesar salad, along with black-olive bread, plus a cup of hot tea and a sugar cookie). I almost got into trouble at Victoria Falls. I made the mistake of assuming the big clock on the wall of the airport waiting room was correct. When a flight announcement was made at "12:30," I paid little attention, since my boarding pass said I wouldn't board until 2:00. But because most of the waiting room cleared out, I asked another passenger what flight had been called. It was mine!
The flight was very easy. I finished the postcards, had a snack, and was here at the hotel in no time. It's sort of nice to get back to "familiar" surroundings.
Entry: Monday, March 11, 1996, 8:30 a.m. There must be something funny about this hotel: bad nightmare during my last stay, very strange dreams this stay. I went to bed early (10:30), hoping to catch up on some sleep, but dreams and other disturbances woke me more than a half-dozen times. Three times it was the thermostat on the wall. For some reason, when the temperature changed, it made a loud noise that sounded like a combination alarm clock and machine gun! I didn't know if I should get up...or give up!
In one of my dreams my quartet was showing the Boston Common proper singing technique. Now, that's some dream! (And it would have to wake me!) In another dream I flatly refused when my IBM manager (a woman, but not anyone whom I had actually worked for) demanded that I work eighty-hour weeks. It was another "good" dream.
Right now I'm waiting in the Hyatt lobby for the A&K rep to take me back to the Jan Smuts Airport for my flight to the Skukuza Airport at Kruger National Park. Sadly, I'm over half way through my 1996 Africa adventure.
Entry: Monday, March 11, 1996, 9:45 a.m. Once again I'm seated here in the Jan Smuts Airport waiting room. I have about an hour before my flight. One of the most memorable visions of my trip is going to be this room. It seems I've spent more time here than anywhere else!
The A&K rep who drove me here turned out the be Chris, of robbery and stab fame. The story this time: he was at the airport yesterday, his clients were late, and when they all returned to his car, it was gone. It had been towed away (for parking too long in a waiting area) and he had to pay 150 rand (about thirty-five US dollars) to get it back.
Chris seemed a little hot headed today. He cursed, blew his horn, and gestured forcefully at several drivers on our short trip here. I was a little concerned he might precipitate a real run in.
Entry: Monday, March 11, 1996, 11:45 a.m. The first hint of trouble was the PA announcement that my Comair Flight 501 would depart as planned at 11:10, but there would be a fifteen-minute delay in the boarding time. At 10:55 as promised, we were loaded into the bus that would take us to our plane. But shortly after 11:00, an attendant told us the flight was delayed, so we all unloaded back into the terminal building to wait some more.
Surprisingly, a half-hour later we again loaded onto the bus and were delivered to a forty-four seat, dual-propeller aircraft for our flight to Skukuza. Looking for my seat (12D), I found the last row in the plane was row 11! "Just sit anywhere," the stewardess advised.
Entry: Monday, March 11, 1996, 3:00 p.m. After a little confusion I made contact with the a Conservation Corporation rep and then after a half-hour or so wait, climbed into a twelve-seat, single-engine prop plane for the eight-minute hop to Londolozi Main Camp.
Assigned Cabin #9 at the camp, I freshened up a bit, then went to the dining room (the "veranda") for a 2:30 lunch. The pumpkin soup would have been good if heated, but the hot lamb pie and salads (beet and potato, spinach) and nut/sunflower seed bread were delicious. OJ washed it down.
Entry: Tuesday, March 12, 1996, 5:20 a.m. I only have a few minutes to write here before I'll be collected to head to the veranda for tea, then to be off on our 6:00 a.m. drive.
The drive yesterday afternoon and evening was great. We saw rhinos, elephants, and lions, plus impala, wart hogs, and a few others. I hope the video comes out!
We got back late, 8:40 p.m. (a great lion sighting delayed our eight o'clock expected return), then freshened up for nine o'clock dinner: roasted impala meat with onion appetizer, lamb chop, potatoes, onions, beans, salad, a pie-like delicacy for dessert, and bitter lemon (actually two) to wash it down.
I was back in my cabin about 11:00 (too tired to check the exact time), and was asleep the moment I hit the mosquito-netted bed! The five o'clock wake-up call came much too soon!
Entry: Tuesday, March 12, 1996, 10:30 a.m. I said "collected" to head to the veranda because we must have a guide with us to go anywhere on the grounds when it's dark. Lions have occasionally been in the camp and your guide is your guard. However, when no one appeared at the designated time (5:30 a.m.), I made my way cautiously, with my flashlight scanning the bushes, the fifty yards or so to the reception area and veranda.
I thoroughly enjoyed the morning drive. Buffalo was our objective and after an hour's search, we hit pay dirt. Kathy, our ranger/driver estimated the herd to number 200, but my guess would be half that. In any event it was a massive gathering of massive animals. We spotted what may have been a still-born calf; its mother restlessly moving about it. Kathy suggested that it might have been born alive, but stomped to death by the herd. The hyenas and vultures will quickly clean up the scene.
Yesterday's afternoon/evening drive was memorable for several reasons: we found two rhinos, we found dozens of elephants and we drove right into the middle of the herd, and during the night-drive portion, we saw a lioness with four cubs relaxing in the middle of the dirt road in front of us. With our bright spotlight illuminating them, we watched in amazement as the cubs fed at their mother and played with each other.
This morning we returned from our drive about 9:30. Breakfast followed. Now (10:55) I'll head for "Reception" to join ten others for a short safari walk.
Entry: Tuesday, March 12, 1996, 12:30 p.m. Ranger Kathy (rifle in hand) accompanied us for our hour's walk. We saw wart hogs, water buck, impalas, and got within fifty yards of some zebras and a giraffe, before they darted off into the bush. Then I made my way alone down to the rocky bank of the Sand River to scoop up a sample of sand for my collection.
Entry: Wednesday, March 13, 1996, 10:30 a.m. Yesterday's lunch was a buffet as usual, and very good as usual: pea-like soup (served cold), vegetable pizza, various salads (couscous, beet, potato, and a combination corn/celery/cucumber/tomato/feta cheese), a nut pie with gooseberries (incredibly good), plus cheese and crackers.
After lunch but before our 4:00 p.m. game drive I had a refreshing shower. I also had a wonderful nap, two-plus hours worth.
The drive itself was similar to the others: very good, with some spectacular sightings. The highlight this time was the first sighting (for me this trip) of leopard. It was night, pitch dark except for the land rover's headlights, the tracker's spotlight, and the stars (there was no moon). All of a sudden a leopard leaped up from the tall grass about ten feet to my immediate left and roared. "Leopard," I shouted out. Kathy shushed me silent as she slowed the vehicle to a stop, then repositioned it for all of us to get a good look.
After a brief moment the leopard started off ahead of us down the road in a slow walk. Kathy drove the land rover along behind at a distance of ten or fifteen yards until we encountered a steep, rocky stretch of road. She stopped, shifted the four-wheel drive into "lock," revved the engine, and ran us over the obstacles at quite a clip.
For some reason all the noise caused by the land rover must have spooked the leopard, for it reversed direction and started to run. When we rounded a sharp U-turn in the road, the leopard was heading straight for us at full speed. Then it veered off to its left, and ran headlong into a small clump of trees. Bonk!
It recovered immediately and dashed off out of sight into the darkness. Kathy was upset as she felt she was the cause of the leopard's distress and possible injury, and of course she was! Five minutes or so later we spotted the leopard again and were able to watch as it scratched the ground aggressively and marked its territory. Another leopard was in the immediate area and both animals were busy reinforcing their territorial limits. Kathy thought there might be a confrontation, but none developed. It was an exciting episode to watch, particularly so in the dark of night.
Dinner at nine-ish was again outstanding: impala/onion-on-a-stick appetizers, pate with apples and bread, roast beef (or alternatively: turkey), potatoes, onions, pumpkin squash, with a sinfully delicious brownie and home-made ice cream for dessert. I again imbibed in bitter lemon for liquid refreshment.
Then, accompanied by a guide to watch for lions, I returned to my room and went straight to bed. The end of another exciting and tiring day.
It was a warm night and I opened the drapes so the breeze had access to my room through the screened door. I tucked in the mosquito netting around the edge of the bed, stuffed up the gap at the headboard with four of the six pillows (to discourage any insect interlopers), sprawled out without any covers, and immediately dropped off to sleep.
I slept soundly, but had absolutely astounding dreams: I possessed incredible magical, supernatural powers. I actually dreamed I found lost souls (never had a dream like that before), I inspired frustrated and depressed individuals to have faith, and I even helped miserably unsuccessful people succeed! It must have been something I ate!
Following the 5:00 a.m. wake-up call, we assembled on the veranda for tea and light edibles, then headed off for our early-morning drive, which today was accompanied by light rain, cool temperature, a slightly uncomfortable stomach, and a somewhat tentative intestine. (It must have been something I ate!)
We saw an elephant eating the leaves off a tree it had just knocked over, we again visited the cape buffalo herd, we stopped to view two rhinos, and we came across some mongooses running around on top of an abandoned ant hill they had converted into their own home. Also along the way: zebras, wart hogs, wildebeests, impalas, vultures, and other animals.
Back at camp I packed by bag, took a Pepto-Bismol, cautiously ate a light breakfast (grapefruit juice, croissant, tea with sugar), took another Pepto-Bismol, checked out of my room, settled my account, and proceeded here to the veranda to write in my log as I wait for the 12:55 plane that will fly me north to Ngala Camp. I decided to forego this morning's eleven o'clock walk in the bush.
Entry: Wednesday, March 13, 1996, 3:30 p.m. Just a fast entry before the 3:45 meeting prior to our four o'clock game drive. The plane that brought me here (to Ngala) was about a half hour late, so I had a chance to watch as one of the staff people drove a land rover back and forth along the runway to keep a family of wart hogs from interfering with the plane's imminent landing.
It was a bumpy but brief (fifteen minutes) flight here. The camp doesn't measure up to Londolozi Main Camp. It's quite nice, but not nearly as impressive as Londolozi. It's also a younger camp, and consequently not as well established.
The good news is that my stomach appears to have settled down, so much so that for lunch I had two good servings of beef stroganoff on rice, plus mixed fruit (mostly apples) for dessert. A ginger ale seemed appropriate liquid refreshment.
Entry: Thursday, March 14, 1996, 3:40 p.m. Last night's drive was a cool one, even cold. I was wearing both my sweater and light jacket and was still chilly. The main sighting was two male lions and a female. Our ranger-driver, Craig, is a very friendly guy, but he doesn't seem to be too terribly successful finding game. Perhaps the animals are just in much less abundance here.
Back at the camp by 8:00 p.m. we ate at about 8:45: white bean soup, filet mignon, mashed potato, and a choice of desserts, both of which I passed up.
This morning's drive, following a 5:00 a.m. wake up as usual, was likewise relatively uneventful. The highlight came only about five minutes into the four-hour trip: two hyenas which we got to see close up.
With a still-somewhat-uncooperative stomach, I decided to bypass lunch, opting instead for a nap, but after a half hour or so, I decided a shower was preferable to a nap. It felt very good.
Learning from my stomach experience during my Africa trip two years ago, this time I brought with me Pepto Diarrhea Control tablets, and I tried one with bottled water supplied in my room. When I was at Chobe, one of the visitors (Pat) was having GI disturbances and she said a couple of tablets (which I gave her) proved very effective. I hope I have the same luck.
Entry: Thursday, March 14, 1996, 10:30 p.m. After a rest (not quite a nap) yesterday afternoon, I took another tablet and headed off on the four o'clock drive, which was uneventful except for two male lions we watched for five or ten minutes. The rest of the trip was nearly gameless; so much so that Craig became noticeably uncomfortable. He explained that when it's cold, animals move far into the bush for maximum protection against the wind.
After dinner (curry chicken, cold vegetable platter, heated mixed vegetables, rice, vegetables with cheese, olive bread, and mixed fruits for dessert), the Pepto solution seemed to be working. Very well, in fact.
Entry: Friday, March 15, 1996, 7:30 p.m. It has been a long, long day since the 5:00 a.m. wake-up call, but there's an even longer stretch ahead before I get back home. Once again I'm in the Jan Smuts Airport International Lounge (and it's packed), waiting for my flight (SAA #234) to board, in about an hour.
Praises be to the Pepto Bismol. It turned a potential disaster into a mere inconvenience. There was a day and a half of uncertainty, but compared to the panic of my trip two years ago, it was nothing. I had a couple of stomach twists and turns, but the worst of the incident was the worry of repeating my last trip's agony!
Shortly after we started out on our safari drive this morning, we found two female lions enjoying the remains of a wildebeest kill. When the land rovers got a little too close, one lion dragged the carcass into a thicket, obstructing our view of the feast. Three hyenas were eying the kill expectantly as they circled the lions at a respectable distance.
Ranger Craig headed for a section of Ngala where he thought we could see elephants. On route, however, he heard on the Motorola radio/transmitter that two rhinos had been spotted a short distance behind us, so he turned the vehicle around and raced off to the point of the sighting.
The rhinos, rudely, had not waited for us, so Craig asked if we wanted to track them on foot into the bush. In the absence of objections, we started off: Derrick (the tracker) leading, Craig (with rifle in hand) next, and the rest of us single file behind. As I was the last one out of the land rover, I was the caboose of our procession.
The tracks were very fresh, as were the occasional rhino droppings we encountered. We trudged on through thickets, across grassy patches, over streams, through marshy swampland, around trees, bushes, and termite mounds.
At any moment we could come upon the rhinos, mother and baby, and then the trick would be to avoid being charged. The precise procedure to avoid such a charge wasn't clearly delineated, however. Craig just told us to move as quietly as possible in a single-file line behind him.
It occurred to me that the rhinos might just by chance circle around so that instead of charging Derrick or Craig (who had the rifle), they might instead charge me!
About that time another thought hit me that while Derrick and Craig were tracking rhino, any of all sorts of others animals might be tracking us! Like lions, or leopards, or hyenas, or wild dogs, or... And who would be the easiest of our little procession to pick off? Whoever was at the end of the line, that's who!
I decided I wanted to be third in our little parade, right after Derrick and Craig, so I picked up my pace and passed the others, one by one (a husband and wife originally from England but now living in Geneva, and a husband and wife from India).
After about an hour of trudging through the heavy dew and marshy grass, Derrick and Craig conducted a brief conference atop a termite mound. They descended with the bad news. Since the tracks indicated the rhinos were running, we could spend several more hours in pursuit without ever overtaking them, so the stalking exercise was concluded. Since the wife from Geneva had by then twisted her ankle, that may also have been a factor.
Craig decided to retrace our steps to the land rover, while Derrick led us out of the bush by the shortest route to an Ngala dirt road where Craig (with vehicle) would meet us.
That plan lasted about three minutes, as Ranger Craig got lost, couldn't find the trail we had just made, circled back, and intercepted us before we had gone two hundred yards.
The backup plan, Plan B, was immediately pressed into action: Derrick (the tracker) would retrace our steps back to the land rover, while Craig would lead the rest of us to the road. However, Craig's proven record at that moment for finding his way anywhere didn't comfort us.
After ten or fifteen minutes of walking, Craig commented, "Hmm, I didn't think we were that far from the road." I don't think any of us took that as an encouraging sign. I decided to check our direction relative to the position of the sun. It was a relief to note the rising sun remained at our backs.
Derrick arrived with the land rover following probably a ten minute wait after we finally did reach the road. By then, most of the time allotted for our morning drive had been consumed. I hoped we'd check the wildebeest kill site on the way back to the lodge, but there was no time. There was time, however, for me to collect another sand sample.
I had to repack my bags completely, and when that was accomplished there were only minutes before we were to be at "Reception" for the short drive to the air strip, so I gulped down a small glass of juice and grabbed a croissant to munch on along the way.
Although I've made fun of Craig's difficulties during our rhino tracking, he was a prince of a ranger. A friendlier guy, more gracious host, and more thoughtful driver you couldn't find. As I gave him a tip just before boarding the puddle jumper for the hop back to Londolozi then the jump to Skukuza, he suggested I might want to take the "jump seat" (next to the pilot). I enjoyed being "co-pilot" for the twenty-five minute trip.
During the flight from Skukuza back to Jan Smuts in Johannesburg, malaria questionnaires were distributed to the passengers. One of the questions dealt with the side effects of malaria preventatives, and one of the selections was "strange dreams." Maybe Lariam was the cause of all my nightmares.
I arrived back in Johannesburg and had retrieved my luggage before 3:00 p.m., but my fight (SAA #234) to London didn't depart until 9:30 in the evening! In pursuit of an alternative activity (to avoid waiting in the terminal building for six and a half hours prior to my ten-and-a-half hour flight to Heathrow), I asked at the information desk for suggestions. I thought maybe I had time to visit a diamond mine or gold mine.
The information person pawned me off on Ian, a fellow standing next to the counter, who recommended I spend my time at a nearby (10- kilometers away) flea market. I had heard from other sources that the market had a good selection of African crafts at reasonable prices (even before bickering), so it was decided.
Ian was associated with Flamingo tours (according to his name badge and card), so that gave me some assurance that I wouldn't be hi-jacked, robbed, or worse on my way to or from the market.
The flea market was fun. About the size of a small city block, it had booths selling carvings, clothes, electronics, food, even sneakers, and more. I got some wooden lions, a little carved dish, and two surprisingly inexpensive wooden panels carved with intricate African designs. The panels will be troublesome to cart all the way home, but I think they're pretty nice.
Ian was to pick me up at six o'clock, but I was waiting for him at the main gate at 5:35, as the market booths began to close down at 5:30. I was very pleased and relieved when he arrived at 5:50.
Back at the airport I retrieved the two bags I had checked at temporary storage. The charge, about $5.00 US, was well worth the comfort of carrying only my camera bag with me while at the flea market.
Entry: Friday, March 15, 1996, 10:00 p.m. Since "lunch" on the flight from Skukuza to Johannesburg was inconsequential (two little sandwich sections), I thought I'd be wise to get some food in me. An apple tart and glass of juice were just the ticket.
With still more time to kill in the terminal, I gave all the duty-free shops another three or four examinations and in the process bought a tie for Bob and a set of carved wood monkeys ("hear no evil," "see no evil," "speak no evil") for myself.
Now, high above the continent of Africa, I'm some 400 miles from Johannesburg and my 1996 Africa Adventure is all over but the remaining travel home. I got a real strong dose of safari drives during my stay and I think maybe just a tiny layer of Africa's magic and mystique has worn off. The lions aren't quite so mighty and terrifying as they used to be. The elephants not quite so majestic. The impalas and wildebeests don't run quite so fast or jump quite so high. The buffaloes aren't so menacing, the rhinos not nearly as prehistoric as they seemed before. And it almost seems as though Africa has lost a beat of its wild and romantic rhythm. The haze of mystery has receded ever so slightly. The aura of drama and passion has, I think, perceptively paled.
The call of the continent is still loud and strong, but it doesn't seem to be the overpowering force it once was.
Maybe a long day and the trip's busy itinerary have temporarily tempered my thirst. But maybe, just maybe, Africa's allure isn't totally unquenchable. Maybe the yearning will moderate and one day I'll entertain the idea that a destination other than Africa will top my travel wish list.
Entry: Saturday, March 16, 1996, 8:45 a.m. The flight from Johannesburg here to Heathrow wasn't so bad. The worst aspect: I was in the last row before the smoking section and the clouds I flew through weren't only cumulus and cirrostratus! They were also the Lucky Strike and Chesterfield.
I was fiercely tired (fortunately), so I drifted off to sleep many times, but I was breathing through a handkerchief when the smoke was extra heavy. (Do some smokers smoke all night long?)
The temperature here in London is cold, around 40 degrees F, and a chilly bus ride was required to get me to Terminal 3 for my American Airlines flight (AA57). I've been here for a couple of hours and still have an hour to go before the expected boarding call.
I've been able to put the time to good use: waiting through the lines at passport control, check-in, and the X-ray machine; postcard writing, stamp buying, mailing; enjoying a tasty OJ at the Metro Cafe, followed by a hot tea with lemon (refreshing but expensive: $5.00 US total); now writing here. I also bought a puzzle book to keep me occupied during some of the flight across the Atlantic.
Entry: Saturday, March 16, 1996, 9:45 a.m. I've now made my way to Gate 13, through another grilling ("Has anyone asked you to carry any items on board?"), and into a very cold waiting room. I see through the window that it's raining lightly outside and there's a heavy fog.
What seems to be heightened airport security is a little disconcerting. Airlines and airports are alerted when there are indications of upcoming terrorist activities. It will be good to get to Miami...in one piece.
Entry: Sunday, March 17, 1996, 10:50 a.m. Here I am, back home again, seated comfortably in my big, black easy chair, reflecting on my Africa experience. I'm mostly unpacked, I've listened to my answering machine phone calls, I've partially sorted through the mail (a stack over ten inches high), I've tossed out all the refrigerator items with large accumulations of blue and black mold, and most importantly, I've had more than twelve wonderful hours of sleep!
My flight from Heathrow was quite reasonable. I had another interesting person in the seat beside me. She had the window; I had the aisle. It seemed like every five minutes she had to jump up and go to the bathroom. In tourist class such maneuvers are inconvenient three or four times, but become bothersome seven, eight, ten, and twelve times. Then as we were descending to make our approach to land, she curled up in a little ball and began to make little shrieks and screams.
At first I didn't know if she was laughing, crying, having a seizure or epileptic fit, or just uttering cries of pain. I looked around the cabin and everyone was looking at her. Then everyone was looking at me!
"Shall I call a stewardess?" was all I could come up with, but she was not in any condition to respond. Fortunately, a stewardess walked by at precisely that moment and joined in the excitement. "What is it?" she inquired (a heck of a lot better question than mine).
"My jaw," the woman moaned, "my jaw feels like it's going to explode!"
The stewardess explained the pain was probably caused as a result of the pressure increase due to our descent. After a few yawning actions and a "hold the nose and blow" maneuver, she seemed to regain her composure.
Customs was a mad house. In London and on the plane we were all told to get in one of the green lines, if a green tag had been pasted on the back of our passports. I had a tag, so I got in one of the eight or ten green lines, which were lengthy and rowdy. After waiting there a while, a PA voice said all US citizens should go to the lines to the right, which weren't green at all.
When I tried to be helpful by suggesting to an immigration officer that the airlines should provide the correct information to the passengers, he said, "Who gave you the wrong information?"
"The airlines people," I explained.
"Well," he snapped back, "do I look like an airline?" I guess he had had a long day, too.
My bag was the last one of the entire flight off the conveyer belt. As a matter of fact they had turned the carrousel off and I was just about to begin the paperwork for lost luggage, when the buzzer buzzed, the carrousel began to spin around, and the conveyer spitted out my Safari-World bag.
The drive home in the Avis car was quick, but my eyes were uncomfortable; it felt like a handful of sand was in each. Finally I made it into the Boca Golf and Tennis Club. But a hundred feet before turning into my driveway, a car backed out from a neighbor's driveway. We missed each other by inches.
I've unpacked all the prize purchases I made while in Africa and I'm pleased with my selections. There is one surprise, however. When I got the carved monkeys at Jan Smuts, they were tied tightly together. With the string cut and upon closer inspection, I find I have "hear no evil," "see no evil," and another "hear no evil!"
I have yet to return my rental car (which I'll do shortly), but that will be the last "official act" of my trip. (Well, maybe finishing up the Lariam - once a week for the next four weeks - will really be my last "official act".) Of course I'm anxious to type up this account and also to see how the video came out and prepare an edited version.
The trip was really wonderful! I saw lots of game, had some thrilling experiences, stayed at excellent lodges and facilities, and collected a big bagful of great memories. I also collected two samples of sand for my collection.
Let's see now, where should I go on my next trip to Africa? Well, I'd like to visit Etosha National Park in Namibia. I'd like to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda. It might be fun to visit Mozambique and Malawi. There are still spots in Kenya I'd like to visit, like the Ark and Giraffe Manner. It would be fun to take a balloon ride over the Masai Mara. I'd also like very much to visit Egypt, see the pyramids, and take a cruise up and down the Nile. But perhaps highest on my priority list: an elephant-back safari in Botswana!
I guess if I've been under Africa's spell, this most recent adventure hasn't broken it. I'd really love to go back. Heck, I will go back!