African Safari

An African Safari – Day 16 -Victoria Falls

Sorry for the delay in this last post about Africa guys!  Life has been a bit hectic of late.  Anyway, getting back to the last day of my safari through Africa…

After the morning’s tumultuous and hectic white water rafting, I arrived back at my hotel pretty exhausted, not to mention rather soggy, so it was a quick change before getting a taxi the short distance to the Falls which are in their own protected area and national park.  There is a fee of around $30 per person to get into the park and once through the gate you are free to roam the pathways at your leisure as well as the souvenir stalls.


We arrived late afternoon when the sun was beginning to descend towards the horizon and, if completely honest, this was the best time to go as the intense heat of midday was waning making the walk around the pathways and dense foliage much more enjoyable and more relaxed.


You hear the falls before you can see them and a fine spray of fresh water lands upon your skin and hair letting you know you are close.  Ambling along the pathways you get peeks through the trees of the spectacle to come and eventually you arrive at various viewing points along the way allowing you to fully absorb the views of one of the world’s seven wonders.



The noise from the water crashing down below is thunderous and we were visiting at ‘low season’ too when the water is by no means at it’s fastest or wildest.  The spray from the water creates a sheen on everything it touches, including you, and also forms one heck of  a rainbow.





I was trying desperately to keep my camera and lens dry but alas, I failed at this point as you can see specks of water droplets on the image below.


I guess with it being dry season you can appreciate the enormity of the ravine below you and see just how deep the water travels, I can imagine that at ‘high’ season the noise and movement of the water must be remarkable.


The low water showed the riverbed and its rocks like those we had to clamber over earlier in the day for our white water rafting – quite tricky when all you have on your feet is a pair of converse lows.


I dared to creep ever closer to the edge and lay on my front to get this view looking down towards the water.  You can just see tiny coloured specks at the edge of the water which is more rafters clambering down for white water river fun.




I’d say two hours is all that’s needed to wander around the pathways at the Falls and take ample photographs.  We were there later in the day when it was pretty quiet but I’d imagine at peak season it would get busy through the day and you’d have to fight for a spot at the viewpoints.  Might be an idea to take along something waterproof to protect your camera also and remember to bargain with the guys who want to sell you bottled water at the souvenir stalls.  Our taxi driver was also very  reliable and appeared again 2 hours later at the time we stated to pick us up and take us back to our hotel.  Just give him a decent tip!

Does anyone else have any tips on visiting Victoria Falls?  Who has ever been and would you go back?


An African safari – Day 16 – White Water Rafting


The last full day of our trip in Africa was another early start despite it being ‘at leisure’.  Our safari tour had officially ended and we were now free to do as we pleased in the small town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  For my second activity after the previous night’s ‘booze cruise’, I had decided to tackle something rather wild which was white water rafting down the lower Zambezi.  Having watched the video for rafting the afternoon prior, Laura (our fellow traveller from the US) had convinced me and others of our group to face our fears and get stuck in to something adventurous.

The previous afternoon I had booked the rafting along with Laura, Melyn, Anne, Pei San, Freddie and Manuela whom I had spent the past 2 weeks with as part of our travelling group.  We wanted to try something different and outrageous since it would be our last day together before some of us travelled home and others began new tours around other parts of Africa.

Unbeknown to me at the time of booking, the Zambezi is probably one of the most, if not the most, wildest rivers in the world for white water rafting. I’ve done canoeing, hiking up fjords in Norway and other outdoorsy pursuits but nothing quite like rafting.  When we watched the video at the booking office there seemed to be a suspicious number of the rafts turning upside down in the rapids and tipping everyone out.  We’d been for our last meal together the night before, and a few drinks, so there were a few slightly sensitive heads but we were being picked up at 7am so there wasn’t time to think about it.  We were bundled into the mini bus and taken the short distance to the meeting place at The Lookout Café which was precariously balanced on the very edge of the Batoka gorge overlooking the river below and towards the bridge where all the bungees jump from.  We were given a safety briefing, as well as a chance to back out now if we wanted, and split into groups.  We were then assigned a guide who would be in our boat with us for the remainder of the day and accompany us through each of the 19 rapids we were to tackle along 28km of the Zambezi.  We were given our kit (helmet and life jacket) and then guided towards the entrance to the gorge where we would descend towards the water and have to clamber across the rocks to our rafts.


Getting down to the water wasn’t too much to handle, it was mainly climbing down a very steep ladder backwards whilst consciously holding on to the rail and not falling on those in front of you.  At the bottom it was a slow and steady scramble over the huge rocks that line the borders of the river.  It was dry or ‘low’ season so ordinarily these rocks are covered by much deeper water.  Due to this, they have been smoothed over by strong currents over time and were actually quite slippery despite being dry.  The local guys and guides hopped across them of course without even wearing any shoes making the rest of us feel rather awkward and ungainly.  We eventually arrived at our rafts and bounced in eager to get started on the river.


It must’ve been about 9am by this point and the sun was starting to get hot.  Even Freddie, who is from Namibia and well acquainted with the heat and sun, was plastering on the sunscreen.  Our guide showed us the basic instructions and made sure we understood his directions as we were to listen to him closely at all times.  We had to remember to work together to make the raft go in the direction we wanted and picking up speed is key to make it through the stronger, fiercer rapids.  The rapids are graded depending on their intensity with 1 being the weakest and 5 the strongest/fastest.  We were off!  It started slowly and leisurely but it wasn’t long before we hit our first rapid which was like bobbing about on a small rollercoaster, however, our guide excitedly informed us that a grade 5 was coming up next – nothing like being eased into it.  We paddled as fast as we could and faced it head on each one of us apprehensive about if we’d end up in the water or not.  The water came thundering over us and hit us all in the face which makes it difficult to remember to keep paddling.  Before you make the dip over the edge you see other rafts in the distance disappear into the deep rumbling and metres high spray of the water ahead.  It’s not long before you’re spat out the other side though and carried down river at quite some pace.  The water was cool but not cold and most definitely not for ingesting.  There were screams and whoops as each raft made it through and sailed down to the next one.






Over the next 6 hours we sailed down 28km of the lower Zambezi, staring in awe at the huge cliff faces on either side of us in-between the 19 different rapids.  We even spotted a few crocs at the side of the water…! The sun beat down on us fiercely so the constant splashes were rather welcome and when we came to a slow moving area of water a few of us jumped in to cool off.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention – any clothes or shoes that you wear will of course get absolutely soaked through so you are allowed no valuables (the guides take care of that and someone meets you with them at the very end) and most definitely do not wear your best clothing.  I had a bikini, old denim shorts and a vest top on along with a pair of these which were perfect for being in the raft.





Everything was going well for our raft since we had not been capsized yet.  A few of us, excluding myself (I think I was the only one!) had fallen in.  That is, until rapid number 18 called ‘Oblivion’.  Let’s just say this one did its namesake justice.  I politely enquired with our guide as to how many rafts had made it through this one unscathed and still the right way up over the course of his many years working the river.  His answer?  One.  We knew we were in for it then and just had to accept the fact that the churning mass of water ahead would be like being in a thunderous washing machine.  It was exactly that – we had 3 main areas of strong current to try and get through and we failed on the second hurdle with the raft turning upside down, chucking us all out and dragged under the water with no idea which way was up.  I had a slight intense moment of panic but remembered that I had my lifejacket on and that I would, eventually, come out the other side.  This is all easier said than done when you’re being turfed around underwater like yesterday’s pants on a high speed cycle.  But, we made it and were spat out the other side of the crazy rapid before pinging about like a pin ball across the river.




The only word I can think to describe traversing such intense rapids is exhilarating with a feeling reminiscent to being at the top of a rollercoaster just before you make a massive dip.  Your heart beats rapidly in your chest; you look around nervously at the others for reassurance before the sudden realisation that you have nowhere to go takes hold.  It is at once terrifying yet thrilling…and also fun!  If in doubt, do it.  You won’t regret it.  We booked ours through Wild Horizons which is in the little town centre of Victoria Falls.  Rafting such as this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that is definitely not to be missed…if you’re brave enough…

An African Safari Day 13 & 14 – Bulawayo and Arrival at Hwange National Park


Day 13

At breakfast on day 13 of our African safari Kathy and Dave, our fellow travellers from Canada, were delighted to hear of my midnight encounter the previous evening of one of Antelope Park’s resident elephants waking me up in my sleep by feeding right next to our tent.  They only wished they had heard her for themselves and shared in the experience.  It must’ve been one of the only times I was glad to be a light sleeper and was wakened by her so close.

On day 13 we had a relaxed, lazy breakfast taking advantage of the fact that our next destination, Bulawayo, was only a couple of hours away.  We didn’t leave camp till around 9am but it was a sad farewell to our couple of nights at Antelope Park as we had all had such a fantastic experience there getting up close with the wildlife that we only wished we could stay longer.  As we boarded the truck again it was time to set off for Bulawayo for what was really only a stop over for one night.  We arrived at hostel type accommodation which was set in the grounds of someone’s garden called ‘Burke’s Paradise’.  I can assure you, a paradise it was not…The room we had can only be described as a brick room with a corrugated tin roof with not even a working lamp next to two beds that were squashed into the tiny room that was in the garden.  It was clean but the heat made it so stifling that I foresaw no chance of a good night’s sleep..turns out I was right, staying at this so called paradise was one of the worse night’s sleep of my life!

At least lunch with the group was enjoyable as we sat out on the grass and the owner’s dog bounded over to say hello.  We spent the afternoon at leisure so I decided to read my book whilst sunbathing.  Even this wasn’t as enjoyable as it should have been given the rusty old sun loungers and dusty, 70’s looking cushions.  I didn’t even merit the place with a photo as I disliked it that much!  We just had to suck it up though so I lounged in the sun reading my book taking a rest and trying to top up the suntan.  The evening was very uneventful and after another dinner with our fellow travellers we retired to our iron shack in an attempt to get sleep.  I awoke the next day after a fitful sleep incredibly grumpy.  The only thing I could so was try and enjoy breakfast and look forward to a nap on the truck…

Day 14

As we continued on our journey, we were headed towards Hwange National Park (pronounced ‘wan-gay’), the largest game reserve in Zimbabwe and one of the few parks that is not fenced around its perimeter.  It wasn’t too long a journey and only took 2-3 hours to get there.  Day 14 was incredibly hot and as we travelled more inland towards the park this only became more apparent.  By the time we arrived in the afternoon the temperature was soaring towards the 40s easily and were were all feeling a bit exhausted from it having no AC at all on the truck, only open windows.  There had never been any AC in any of the accommodation so far either and it’s funny how quickly you become accustomed to it and can tell when the heat gets really intense.  The day we went to Hwange was most definitely one of those days.  Nevertheless, we were excited for a new location and another chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat.  A trip to an African national park is always an adventure to be enjoyed…despite the heat!



As we approached the entrance with the temperature rising, we spied a herd of elephants searching for water amongst a rather dried up looking water hole.  The evidence of the difficulties the elephants face in times of the dry season was plain to see, the waterhole being a dried up muddy puddle rather than an actual watering hole.  The advantage of the dry season though is that the animals gather round these holes and provide great viewing opportunities for spectators such as ourselves.

We arrived at our accommodation where the campers set up their usual 2 man tents and mum, myself and Kathy and Dave were shown to our lodges which were a round hut with 2 beds inside and a bathroom.  As with the rest of the trip there was no AC but this day was most definitely the hardest in terms of feeling the heat, I couldn’t tell when I was breathing out as the air was the same temperature…in the shade!  It was stifling.  The heat got the better of everyone and after a quick lunch from Freddie we all napped before our afternoon game drive.  We were due to set off at 430pm which we were all relieved of given the temperature.  As with the game drive at Kruger, we bundled ourselves into 2 safari jeeps and headed off with our guides in search of as much wildlife as we could possibly find.  Along the way, we made many stops to look at spoor (tracks) and observe various birds.  Our guide was informative sharing his in depth knowledge of the bush and spotting animals far quicker than we ever could.  There was also an abundance of damaged trees meaning elephants were nearby.  Apparently Hwange is home to some 60-70,000 elephants which is an enormous number.  However, given recent events such as the shooting of Cecil the lion, numbers do not equal safety.  As previously mentioned, Hwange does not have a fence around its perimeter meaning it is, sadly, more susceptible to the horror that is poaching.

We soon encountered some adult male giraffe bones that, according to our guide, had been killed by a pride of lions and then finished by hyenas leaving the bones to dry out and be bleached by the sun.  We also spotted yellow billed hornbill eating termites found in elephant dung (mmm, yum) as well as a small herd of zebra casually grazing at the side of the sandy road.




We then spotted a herd of young male elephants known as a ‘bachelor herd’.  Males stay with their female family until around the age of 14 after which they leave to find their independence and occasionally form these herds of bachelors.  Impala and steenbok could also be seen all around us grazing and nibbling their way through what was left of the dry grass.



The sun was beginning to come down about an hour into our game drive casting long shadows across the trees and bush.  Our guide was taking us to a viewing point next to a well used watering hole in the hope that we would see plentiful amounts of elephants enjoying the freshness of the water amidst the lower temperatures of sunset.  We were not disappointed…

In the distance we saw many other game vehicles but folks had left the jeeps to climb the stairs up to the viewing deck which overlooked the watering hole.  As we approached we could see some ostriches to our right who also had 2 jackals running past them towards the elephants and elephants there most definitely were, at least 50 of them.  Some were playfully flopping in the water, others taking a drink with their trunks and more than one family congregated  relieved to find precious water after a day in the heat.  They were everywhere!  We all gasped in excitement and couldn’t believe there were so many in one place which will remain in my memory as one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever witnessed.  Yep, I felt like I was participating in an Attenborough documentary.  It was everything we had all hoped for and more.  We stayed for at least half an hour but to be honest, I could’ve stayed there till darkness fully descended as it was just fascinating and totally absorbing watching the elephants go about their business drinking, swimming and trumpeting at one another all in their natural habitat as they should be.  Beautiful.





As I gazed on at the herd in front of me, one old adult male left his friends and walked right across my shot I was taking of the most dazzling sunset.  What perfect timing!  He was headed towards a nearby tree for a good old scratch. Needs must!  It was obviously a well used scratching post given the very lopsided appearance of the tree.



These adults looked very much to me as if they were having some sort of elephant conference, debating the topics of the day and sharing the news with their counterparts.  The children’s tv show ‘Babar‘ comes to mind…Also, look at the size of that baby – absolutely tiny!  Apparently, baby elephants only fit under their mothers belly until the age of 2 years old.  After that, they’re just too big to make it under the safety of mum.




There is one sight that I will never tire of and that is an African sunset.  They are absolutely incredible imbued with the most wonderful pastel shades of pink, orange and lilac which saturate the landscape in their fuzzy warmth.  They also create a wonderful backdrop for silhouetted trees and wildlife giving great photo opportunities.  The locals may think nothing of this daily scene but coming from a country where the sun and its heat are not so frequent views like this one take the biscuit.  I miss it terribly!  Our sunsets here in Scotland can be pretty spectacular but none beat those of Africa…we’re also pretty short on elephants but hey-ho, can’t have it all I guess…



Whilst in Africa, and as mentioned in previous posts, patience is key.  Not only is it a virtue when at visa crossings at country borders but also for crossings of a different variety – elephant traffic!  Only in Africa :)  The family of elephants trotting across the road in front of our vehicle was a pleasant surprise and end to a very productive game drive.  After, it was back to camp for dinner and bed before we left the next day to journey on to Victoria Falls.



An African Safari – Day 12 – Antelope Park – Part 2 – Walking with Lions


Following on from my last post where we met elephants at Antelope Park in Zimbabwe, later that day we had encounters with the most majestic of beasts – the mighty lion.  We bid farewell to the elephants for the moment and were driven to the lion enclosure to see the adult lions that Antelope Park keep as part of their ALERT program.  The first thing that struck me was the smell of a rotting carcass…which is not something I particularly want to smell ever again.  The males and females are kept separately and for good reason, it would be catfights galore with all those feline hormones raging.  The males are monstrous in size with thick, bushy manes of sandy shades, some being darker than others and almost black in places.  As with most animals, their eyes are the point of fascination for me and a lion’s are no different.  They are deep amber in colour marbled with gold creating a penetrating stare.  They can make you feel as if they are either looking directly through you or that you are the only thing on their menu.  Their glare is a testament to their beautiful ferocity.  What other animal can make you feel that way I wonder?  It’s easy to feel intimidated by this knowing that behind those eyes is over 200kg of raw muscle designed for killing creatures far larger than you.


As we approached the fence of where 3 males resided I lay my backpack down on the ground next to my feet to get my camera out and take some shots.  However, one had other ideas and must’ve thought the backpack was food as he jumped straight down from his perch and strode over to us snarling and growling behind the fence.  I ended up having to hide my rucksack in a nearby tree to distract him.  It’s hard not be awestruck yet feel equally vulnerable when faced with such a creature.  Their muscles can be seen rippling beneath their sandy-coloured hide and with paws the size of dinner plates they are not to be under estimated.  At no point did I ever feel unsafe though, only transfixed and completely absorbed by the animal in front of me as he paced the fence in front of us baring his large teeth.



After we had a half hour walk around the lion enclosure viewing various adults of all sizes it was back to camp briefly before we were due back with the lions again to see their ferocity in all its glory during feeding time…

A group of us patiently waited at the fence.  In front of us, the carcass of an entire donkey, innards and all, displayed for all to see.  In the distance, behind a gate, were the adult male lions eagerly pacing back and forth awaiting their meal and for the gate to lift.  After a whistle from the keeper, the gate lifted.  Each of us almost held our breath in anticipation as we waited for the lions to run towards us and the dead donkey…4 sandy brown huge masses came thundering towards us where the first to reach the donkey lifted it with his jaws like it was a feather and dragged the whole thing away from the others not wanting to share.  He clamped on with his teeth and for the next half an hour would not let go.  The others made a swift attempt to recover it from him but only one managed to succeed in getting hold and for the next half an hour the two remained firmly attached to the carcass, their bodies heaving in the searing sun but reluctant to relinquish their prize.  The other 2 males had to make do with what was left of the innards growling their dissatisfaction and eventual acceptance that they weren’t getting a look in.  A battle of patience and strength continued with the other 2 as we watched on in amazement.  The thunderous growling of the lions as they approached their food reverberates through your entire being; there is no mistaking its intent!



As we left the lion enclosure and returned to camp the heat of the day was steadily increasing.  However, this was abated by the presence of the bar and the lush surroundings of Antelope Park which seems like an oasis in an otherwise very dry, arid African bush. Green grass and foliage is in abundance where hoopoes coo their unusual call and vervet monkeys bounce around the trees scurrying along the branches.  Mongoose also roam across the pathways and the 3 resident mules are accompanied by one lone zebra who tags along like one late to the party perfectly aware he is different to the others.  Never you mind Mr Zebra, your stripes are what make you unique!  Mum and I enjoyed some downtime at the bar overlooking the water and bought some waffles from the café shop whilst the staff and local guys played some football out on the grass on their break.  We met up with Kathy, Dave, Mel and Laura for our late afternoon activity which was to go walking with 2 of the park’s lion cubs.




We were guided out a small distance from the camp to the bush and asked to wait under the shade of a nearby tree.  Two keepers fetched 2 of the adolescent lion cubs from their enclosure and brought them over to us.  As they padded past the door and up the small hill towards us everyone felt a little nervous but as soon as they approached they head-butted Mel and I affectionately on the legs before both promptly flopping down on the ground in the heat and pawing each other.  One was a young male and the other his sister, both equally playful and both equally impressive.  We walked on a bit so that they joined us.  Whilst walking, the height of them was almost at my hip where my hand fell naturally on their back with their coarse, sandy hair beneath my fingers.  They have a slight musky odour, one I wouldn’t immediately associate with such an animal.  We each took a turn at being photographed with the cubs, careful only to pet their back and never the head or neck as instructed.  However, I soon found myself giving the male, Afrika, a belly rub as he turned over when being petted.  It’s very hard at this point not to cuddle them like a dog!  In many ways they are so similar to their domestic cousins but you have to remember it’s an actual lion.  His huge paws were upturned towards me where tufts could be seen hiding each claw.






Afrika’s sister (again, I forget her name but it also began with ‘A’) seemed more independent as she walked ahead although she did provide us with fantastic photo opportunities.  I’m really happy with my shots of her, even if the light wasn’t ideal.  She soon clambered up a tree giving us yet more ideal shots.  As we walked, the keepers were very knowledgeable about each lion informing us of how they are kept and fed.  They are only fed twice a week as apparently lions do not chew their food so it takes them a long time to digest it hence not eating often.  I guess in the wild they eat when they can as there is no consistency or regularity to their meals, it’s just as and when they catch it!  Although how any animal chases another to eat it in that heat amazes me, really quite astonishing.  As we reluctantly said goodbye to the lions it dawned on me how unforgettable this experience was and that there are very few people in the world who have done the same.  Antelope Park was the first place in the world where you could do this so I felt privileged to have met these great creatures and see them so very close.


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We had a bit of time before dinner so it was back to our tent to get changed and freshen up for dinner.  We sat sipping gins watching the sun dip behind the trees and joined the rest of the group for another tasty meal a la Freddie and sat around the campfire afterwards catching up on the day’s activities.  We soon retired for the evening and I slept quit soundly for the first couple of hours of the night.  However, around 1230am I was awoken by the snapping of branches, rustling and a groan.  It sounded so close, right next to my head in fact and it wasn’t long before I realised it was one of the elephants.  With a crunch, snap and a thwap she was feeding on some of the trees adjacent to our tent busily munching her way through the foliage.  She was so close that I could hear her teeth grinding whilst she chewed and her belly rumble! She exhaled deeply a few times and I recognised the gentle thwack of her flapping her giant ears against her head having already heard it when we were at Kruger.  Truly amazing.  Never in my life did I imagine that I would be woken up by an elephant feeding next to me but there she was.  She stayed for half an hour before wandering off to roam around the rest of the park.  I drifted off again but not for long as around 4am the lions started their pre-dawn calls and when one begins, the others soon follow suit.  It’s a deep, guttural sound that resonates for a long distance – they sounded extremely close even though I knew they were safely in their enclosures across the river.  Just before the sun rises the monkeys come out to play amidst a cacophony of crickets and birds.  I was initially irritated having had a broken sleep but I reminded myself that where else in the world would I hear this?  I’d say earplugs are a must if you want to get some sleep in the bush.  What an end to a spectacular day though.



An African Safari – Day 12 – Antelope Park – Part 1 – Meeting Elephants



After our arrival at Antelope Park in the evening the day before, today meant that we had that rarest of things on a safari, a lie in. Yippee!  We woke up excited as today was the day of our trip where we finally got to meet some of Africa’s finest wildlife, not before breakfast with Freddie and the gang first though of course.  Our first activity that Mum and I chose to do, along with some of the others of our group, was interacting with the elephants.  Antelope Park rescued 4 adult elephants, 3 females and one male, from drought who now reside amongst the park’s 6000 hectares and when not interacting for a short time with human visitors are free to roam this area at their leisure.  Each has a keeper ensuring they are well fed and looked after and whilst staying at the park guests can get to meet these wonderful creatures.

Our activity began at 9am where we bundled ourselves into a safari vehicle with our friendly member of staff who drove us the short distance to where the elephants were waiting for us.  As we approached we could see each elephant in a wooden pen patiently awaiting our arrival.  Both myself, Mum, Kathy and Dave brimmed with excitement and couldn’t wait to get better acquainted with these most intriguing of mammals.




We hopped off the jeep and sat down whilst each keeper explained about the elephant they looked after, their age, temperament etc. and they showed us a little of their abilities.  Elephants are incredibly intelligent, emotional beings and very akin to humans in that respect.  Perhaps that’s why we find them so fascinating?  Each elephant was thrown a football which they kicked back to their keeper and also threw back with their trunks.  Did you know that elephants are either right or left footed, just like we are with our hands?  Amazing.  One was left footed and when she kicked the ball across to her counterpart, she was right-footed.  The action of kicking the ball mimics the digging they do searching for water during the dry season.



After their short display of skills, we were allowed to choose an elephant that we wanted to interact with.  We chose one of the females who was almost as old as me at 28 years.  We were  given a generous handful of some sort of maize pellets to which there was no doubt in her mind of what we had.  Her trunk was straight over investigating greedily and searching for those crunchy snacks!  As we deposited the pellets into the end of her trunk, we petted her and got a feel of what her skin was like which was very thick and pretty rough with sparse, coarse dark hairs protruding from it all over.  However, on the front of her trunk it felt smooth despite the ridged appearance.  The end of the trunk, as you can imagine, is pretty snotty!  What a weird and wonderful thing it is though, it seems to have a mind of its own and be a separate entity from the large mass of grey body and head that it is attached to.  How odd!  I couldn’t help but wonder what elephants think about being as intelligent as they are:  how does she see me, as a friend?  As a foe?  Does she feel the searing African sun on her skin as intensely as I do?  Does she have family somewhere that were perhaps killed by the drought and that she now misses?  The answers lie behind those beautiful amber eyes framed by thick velvety lashes and wrinkly grey skin.

One of my favourite shots from the entire trip, look at those lashes!

One of my favourite shots from the entire trip, look at those lashes!



elephant ear

elephant ear

It’s important to remember the weight and strength of an adult elephant.  If she wanted to, she could easily cause me considerable injury or worse, flatten me.  However, unperturbed, we carried on completely fascinated and in awe of this colossal yet mesmerising being.  For both Mum and I this was a dream come to fruition.  After years and years of watching documentaries, we finally got to meet one of our favourite animals in the most up close and personal manner possible.  Better yet, we were about to go for a ride on her back!  And so started the second activity of our day, an elephant ride…


We drove a couple of hundred metres towards a tree that had a wooden staircase adjacent to it.  We were informed that in order to help us get onto the elephant we would climb the staircase and ‘board’ from there.  Just as well, elephants are bloody high up!  The keeper goes on first at the front, Mum went in the middle (after much shunting from me and grunting from Mum) then I was at the back armed with my ever-present SLR camera and iPhone for snaps and videos, naturally.


Being atop an elephant is like being atop a horse – albeit a very wide and very tall one!  The best thing to do is to wedge her spine between your cheeks..! and relax your body, moving in time with the motion and try not to get too hung up on hanging on.  We were off and ambled around the surrounding area for almost an hour taking in the dry, savannah like environment and neighbouring herds of impala.




I should also note here that the elephants are not subject to any forms of cruelty from their keepers.  If they were, this is not an activity that I would have willingly participated in especially after seeing so many distressing videos online of the poor elephants in places like Thailand who are used and abused.  These elephants only interact with humans for a very short time and the rest they are allowed to roam freely around the large expanse that is Antelope Park (you will see this in a future post).  The  elephant gets a slight tap on either side of her to indicate the direction we wanted to go…not that she needed much convincing as she trotted along at one point to catch up with the others.  When they pick up speed it’s an idea to hold on!  Also, our elephant (I, frustratingly, have totally forgotten her name) was particularly greedy and her keeper informed us that she always walks at the back in the event that her friends drop any of their snacks she would then recover them.  Greedy indeed!  She also presented us with a couple of stones that she picked up off the ground in exchange for treats .  Food, it would seem, is at the forefront of an elephant’s mind.  Well, they are rather large and have a big belly to fill…no wonder they eat for 18 hours a day…Wouldn’t it be great if we could eat for 18 hours a day and not pile on the pounds?!  Anyway, I digress…



So after the elephant ride it was time to head back to the main camp area and catch up with the others and take a quick rest before we started our second round of activities for the day.  This time, with the one animal we probably associate most with the great continent that is Africa – lions.

Keep reading to find out what it was like to walk with lions and watch the adult males at feeding time…

An African Safari – Day 9 – Vilanculos Town, Mozambique


Day 9 was a much more leisurely day.  We had a lie in before taking a stroll along the beach as the tide went out in the early morning sun heading for the town centre of Vilanculos.  The tide goes so far out, for almost as far as the eye can see, leaving rippled sand flats.  The boats not already out on the water look deserted and slightly morose, as if they’ve been long forgotten about and are longing for the sea to sweep them up again.  The walk from the beach towards the town centre was a hot one with us all sweating in very unattractive places…!  It didn’t make me appreciate the sand in my shoes either despite having rinsed them off after coming off the beach.  Hey-ho, there’s not much you can do to avoid sand in Africa – it’s everywhere!



The town centre itself was very basic and pretty run-down.  There are no signs of affluence in Mozambique and it is an extremely poor country.   It’s hard not to feel the evidence of this disparity being a tourist in a country where its people have so little, it always nags at the back of your mind.  But, it opens your eyes to what life is like for some people of this world and it makes you appreciate what you have at home all the more.  The local kids are delighted if you hand them a chocolate bar or even a pen.  It is a humbling experience and one not readily forgotten.

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As we approached the town centre, the buzz of it became apparent with the locals in their colourful dress.  Apparently the women here don’t wear wedding rings but instead, their marital status is marked by the style in which they wear their wraps around their bodies.  I gazed around taking in my surroundings whilst the locals were equally fascinated by us staring in wonderment and intrigue at the foreigners.  We dipped into a small, very hot market full of pungent unusual smells and tried to identify to our best ability some of the items on offer.  We came to the conclusion that we knew little of what they eat here but would be keen to learn more.  However, we had limited time and had to meet up with the rest of the group before making the walk back to the beach.  With no purchases made, Mum and I went in search of water and were soon swarmed by the locals having heard us mention it.  Some young lads fetched us a freezing cold bottle, much to my delight, for which we paid well over the recommended asking price and were given the wrong change back.  Given my earlier observations of the poverty here I was not going to argue with them over a dollar or so.





On our return walk towards the beach we stopped in past Baobab backpackers as I noticed they had a cocktail bar, how convenient!  I made my desire for a refreshing fruity alcoholic beverage known and it wasn’t long before the others joined me.  It was only around 11am…anyone would’ve thought we were on holiday!  I tried an ‘Electric Smurf’ and an ‘Orange Dinghy’.  We relaxed for a while taking a seat and rest before making our way back along the beach, past the colourful boats, and back to our camp for lunch with Freddie, Manda and Matt.  We had the remainder of the afternoon to ourselves so we had a little siesta.  I started on the sofa reading a magazine but I was finding it hard to keep my eyes open so I ended up having a kip on my bed with the soft breeze wafting through the net covered windows listening to the palm trees sway.  It didn’t take long for me to drift off…

After a nap and a refresh it was time for dinner again.  This time, a chicken pie with bean salad – so, so tasty!  We had a few glasses of white and played ‘Never Have I Ever’ with a set of playing cards.  Such a good laugh and it was great to see everyone relaxed and enjoying themselves, even the crew.  We didn’t stay up late though as the next day was an early start to continue our journey to yet another location.

An African Safari – Day 7 – Vilanculos, Mozambique


Day 7 of our adventure in Africa meant we were back into our truck, Wasabi, to travel to our next location which was Vilanculos.  Here, we were to spend 3 nights at Chibububo Lodge.  I think we were all relieved to spend a bit more time in one location as constantly packing and unpacking your bag can get tiresome, one of the downsides to so much travelling around.  The journey was long again with another “African massage” on the final stretch including a large hill that the truck had to traverse down.  I had visions of us all having to get out and walk!  However, we managed down the hill without sinking into the sand and arrived in the afternoon to a row of spacious palapa style lodges raised high off the ground on wooden stilts overlooking the ocean.  What a view!  It extended as far as the eye could see in either direction along the coast flanked by lush jungle foliage and smooth white sand, the local fisherman colourfully dotted the horizon in their dhows.  They were beginning to come ashore with the fruits of their labours hustling and bustling along the beach before retiring home for the day.

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We loaded our bags up the steep stairs into our lodge and enjoyed the breeze flowing through the property which was very ‘open’ with walls made of bamboo and wood and no ceiling.  The only roof was the large thatched palapa that was open to birds fluttering in and settling along the wooden beams above.  Mum and I had a bedroom each whilst we shared with Kathy and Dave for the first time, who also had their own room on the other side of the open plan living/kitchen area.  The living room doors opened out onto a large wooden terrace that gave us ample space and opportunity to enjoy that sea view and nosy at the fisherman walking by with their goodies.  We had the good sense to locate a bottle of white before sitting on the terrace which was swiftly sipped whilst waiting for Freddie to prepare our dinner.





After our meal, I was on dishwashing duty then we chatted for a short time before I headed the few steps back to our palapa to enjoy that terrace again and read my book.  As darkness clouded over I headed to bed to read amidst the mosquito nets whilst the lads at the truck blasted their tunes as they tidied up and got ready for bed.  It really doesn’t take long to get to sleep at night on a safari touring holiday, not when you’re up so early each morning – your pillow is always a welcome prospect.  The next day we had all agreed to do an ocean safari and looked forward to a tour out on that azure coloured ocean we had been admiring so much.

An african safari – Day 6 – Relaxing in Mozambique


After a decent sleep I had a lie in and woke at 730am to the sound of the waves soothing the sand on the beach below.  We got dressed and instead of breakfasting with the campers Mum and I headed to the modest bar restaurant at Zavora.  Since this was the only day we got to ourselves of the entire trip I treated myself and ordered 2 breakfasts!  Scrambled eggs, bacon and toast followed by passionfruit yoghurt and fruit marbled with granola in a giant bowl.  Amazing!  As I looked out to sea in the morning light I could see humpback wales breach the horizon in the distance.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a more perfect breakfast so far removed from my daily routine back at home in Scotland.

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After breakfast we took advantage of the low tide and headed to a rocky outcrop peppered with barnacles and smothered in slimy, green seaweed.  I wanted to see what the young local lads were up to hopping about all over the rock pools, the sun reflecting off their shiny sea-soaked skin.  They had snorkel masks on their heads and were dipping in and out of pools to spear their catch of the day.




After a slow walk across the crunchy surface of the rocks I got closer and found a large, round expanse of water that seemed shallow and had a reef – perfect for snorkelling.  Under the water was akin to Disney’s Finding Nemo with fish of all shapes, sizes and bright colours darting everywhere and anemone swaying in the currents.  The coral was a rainbow of green, grey, purple, orange and yellow. I stayed clear of the black sea urchins with the long spindly spikes and glided along the surface casting my shadow on the life below.  I would have stayed for longer but the tide only gave us an hour or so at this small oasis.  Once back in, the tide would engulf it in its depths and it would be lost again until the following morning.



We scampered back to the long stretch of beach and relaxed for the remainder of the day in the sun watching the locals pass us by with huge loads atop their heads and colourful dress.  We eventually had to move as the tide was coming in and my book I was reading, Zambezi, was nearly consumed by the sea.  So, it was back to our room to shower, freshen up and enjoy rum whilst sitting outside on the terrace watching the sun cast shadows on the water before dinner.

In the evening we joined everyone else for our camp meal, as usual, then hit Zavora’s small bar for drinks.  I was glad to get a top up of my favourite gin and tonic.  We gathered on nearby sofas where Kiel got out his guitar again for another sing along.  The staff of Zavora must’ve found great amusement in our karaoke session as they videoed us on their phones!  We stayed for a couple of hours enjoying the refreshing drinks and each other’s company.  Afterwards, bed.

An African Safari – Day 1 and 2 – Arrival in Jo-Burg

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Last month I had the privilege of visiting one of my dream destinations – Africa.  I left on the 8th of October for the holiday of a lifetime to safari for 17 days across South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.  Myself and my mum were to join a group of intrepid travellers all eager to see what this mighty continent had to offer and to see her wildlife that we have watched on so many nature documentaries over the years.  Now was the time for our dream to come true and see them in their natural habit unaffected, wild and free.

After a long, lazy flight spent dozing for most of the 10 hours we arrived in Jo-burg on the morning of Friday the 9th.  The warmth and sight of the sun was a welcome change from home at this time of year and made us excited for the days to come on our trip.  We quickly unpacked some items and headed straight down to the pool to make the most of the afternoon sun and bask in the haze and heat of the city centre.  The hotel’s main reception was 13 floors above ground level which gave us a sprawling panoramic view of Sandton’s nearby buildings and sandy, bustling roads.

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Being able to relax at the pool and cool off in the water really helped us to refresh after a long 24 hours of travelling.  We stayed put for the afternoon and patiently awaited food from our seemingly non-existent waiter.  My burger eventually arrived which I greedily wolfed down watching the sunset and the first lights of twilight twinkle on the horizon.  After, it was back to our hotel room to shower and get ready for bed.  The next day we were heading to Mufasa Backpacker’s in Benoni to meet the rest of our group and crew who would accompany us for the next 16 days.

Day 2

After having a long sleep at the Radisson we made our way downstairs for breakfast which can only be described as a veritable feast of sweet and savoury delights to tempt you into starting your day the right way i.e. with a full stomach.  There were cooked breakfasts, eggs of all varieties, sushi, dumplings, pakoras, cold meats, cheeses, nuts, seeds, cereals, pastries – it was all there.  The hardest part was choosing what to eat first!  I plumped for melon and yoghurt with goji berries and seeds followed by scrambled eggs, bacon and beans.  Mum had her usual toast and coffee after negotiating the mechanics of the freshly ground coffee machine.

Once breakfast was over, we got the hotel shuttle bus to the nearby Nelson Mandela Square.  The shopping complex is a myriad of escalators and levels with very few signs to guide you.  But, as Gandalf once said: “If in doubt, always follow your nose”.  With this in mind we were led outside by the fresh breeze and throngs of shoppers coming from one particular direction once I had enjoyed 2 scoops of Haagen Dazs’ finest with sprinkles, naturally.  The square outside was abuzz with varying nationalities all eager to snap a photo with the Mandela statue.  In the centre were fountains which a little girl used to cool down in the afternoon heat.  I browsed a nearby gourmet deli and butcher to pick up some spices to take home for Dad to add to his ever-expanding smorgasbord of cupboard delicacies.  Let’s see how he fares with ‘mother-in-law masala’…I’ll be guinea pig no doubt, not that I’m complaining…

Once back at the hotel we packed up our bags and had one of the hotel drivers take us to Mufasa Backpackers in Benoni after much confusion as to our destination and much reassurance from me that yes, we were in fact heading to a backpacking hostel after being at the Radisson.  Bonga, our driver, remained unconvinced but thankfully persevered with our journey. Upon arrival at the gate, various dust-covered dogs barked in greeting and ran over to us.  The place was in stark contrast to our hotel and I must admit the smile fell from my face when I saw the inside.  However, I remained open-minded and remembered we were only here for 1 night.  My trepidation waned when we got chatting to the folks who would be joining us on our tour and I cracked open a Savannah cider and sipped away in the shade of the dining area.  At 5pm our welcome meeting started where we were greeted by Manda, our guide from Zimbabwe, as well as Freddie our cook from Namibia and Matt our driver from South Africa.  All 3 are well practiced at these tours with years of experience between them.  Freddie was the youngest at 27 with a boyish bounce to him that I found endearing.  Matt is very much a seasoned traveller proclaiming his love for the road at any given opportunity asserting that he doesn’t like to stay in one place for more than a few nights.  He’s also a huge rum fan evident through his almost constant presence at the hostel bar and passionate discussion of the dark spirit. I gladly offered up my own patter of my love of gin but it seemed Matt was not a fan of the good stuff.  It’s hard to find someone that enjoys both white and dark spirits; it’s always one or the other.  Why is that I wonder?

Anyway, we chatted over a few more rum and gins along with the rest of the group before retiring to bed early in anticipation of the start of our tour the next day.  Unfortunately, both Mum and I had a very broken sleep due to lack of air conditioning and the dogs waking me at 1am.  Hey-ho, backpacker life!  In the morning it was a quick, plain breakfast before we loaded the truck up and set off for the start of our journey.  How the truck moves with so much stuff to carry I’ll never know.  We had almost an entire kitchen, chairs, all guests and all our luggage on board too.

There were 13 of us in the group from all over the world:  Hailey and Kiel from Brisbane, Melyn from Brisbane, Laura from Washington DC (friends with Melyn), Kathy and Dave from Vancouver Island, Pam and Pete from Orkney, Manuella from Brazil and Anne and Pei San from London as well as Mum and myself.  We were all relieved the group wasn’t too large, it made it more personal and easier to get to know everyone.  We would be spending every day together from now until the end of the tour after all.  Everyone seemed friendly and happy to mingle whilst being hopeful and excited for the days ahead.  Each of us was assigned to a small group who would then assist Freddie with either making meals or doing dishes on alternate days.  With safari tours it’s very much a ‘get involved’ attitude which is adopted for the entire time you are together.