Botswana – Day Five

We had booked the elephant experience at Stanley camp while we were still in Zambia.  So instead of getting the usual 6AM wake up call to get us ready for the morning game drives, we got to sleep in until 8AM for our 9AM close ups with the elephants.  However, having been woken up at 6AM daily for the last 3-4 days I still ended up waking up at 6AM on my own.

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Banded mongoose on the camp premise.

Doug, originally from Oregon, and Sandi, from South Africa, have rescued 3 elephants – Jabu, Thembi, and Morula, and the two have dedicated their lives to care for the elephants for the last 28 years.  Jabu and Thembi were siblings rescued at age 2 after they were orphaned from a culling operation in South Africa, and Morula was taken from a private owner who couldn’t care for her after she exhibited some behavioral issues.  Unfortunately, Thembi had suddenly passed away a few months ago from colic at the age of 30.  We were told that Thembi was the peacekeeper as she was Jabu’s sister and Morula’s best friend, and now without her, Jabu and Morula are learning to live side by side without a go between.

Male elephants are usually solitary and female elephants form a tighter knit with other females of the same herd.  Jabu and Morula still get to interact with wild elephants, while Jabu is welcomed by the female elephants, Morula has a harder time because female herds tend to shun outside females.  Luckily, Morula does get invited to join in for a short period of time as a guest.

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Jabu with Doug and Sandi
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Us with Jabu and Morula in the background playing with tree trunks.
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After some introduction and education from Doug and Sandi, we were given the opportunity to get a close up with the elephants.

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Getting a ‘hug’ from Morula

Morula was quite equitable when it came to doling out the hugs as she made sure to give all of us one in turns.

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Walking with Morula

On our walk, Doug stopped to show us a flower mantis.

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Mantis with the purple markings.
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Taking a stroll with the elephants
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Having lunch with Jabu.

Elephants are often described as ‘gentle giants’.  However, with the previous days’ encounters with the wild elephants, ‘gentle’ wouldn’t be the most appropriate description. We had a few close encounters with them while on our game drives that I would describe as ‘harrowing’.  There is nothing gentle about wild elephants.  The Elephant Experience was a rare opportunity for us to get close up and to get a better understanding of these wild elephants.


It was back to camp after lunch with the elephants.  As we were settling in for our siesta before our afternoon game drive, we heard Ice outside the tent.

Ice: Hello?  Hello?  Can you guys get ready to leave now? 

Apparently there was a leopard sighting not far from camp.

We of course leapt out of bed and were at the jeep in less than 5 minutes.

Ice drove us straight to a tree…

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A beautiful leopard!

The leopard was scoping out looking for her next meal.

Making her way down the tree to start the hunt.

I took about 927 photos & videos during the entire trip, and of the 927, a hundred of them were dedicated to this leopard.

An absolutely gorgeous animal…

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We kept following her from tree to tree.  It was as if she knew she was gorgeous, she decided to treated us to a Vogue photoshoot…

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As she was slinking in the high grass, we had lost sight of her for a moment, but Joe’s sharp eyes picked her out again.

As she settled in on another branch in the shade,

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we saw a baboon in front of our jeep.  All of a sudden the baboon looked in the direction of the leopard, stomped its foot against the ground, let out a loud bark, and ran up a tree to warn the rest of the pack.

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It was exhilarating to see nature in action!

Obviously, the leopard did not catch her target.  That was fine by me, as I was just not ready to see any animals get killed on this trip.

Since this was an ad hoc game drive, we returned to camp for the afternoon high tea and headed back out for the regularly scheduled game drive an hour later.  While Joe and I were with the elephants in the morning, the rest of the group had gone out on a game drive and came up to a leopard’s den.  Ice decided to bring the rest of us who missed it to the spot.

So in the beginning of the trip, I was just not that interested in birds, but over time I started to appreciate them.  I think it had a lot to do with how enthusiastic the guides were about the birds, and it certainly didn’t hurt that the birds were all so colorful.

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A saddle-billed stork
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The yellow tear drop shaped waddle on the side of its beak indicates that it’s a male.
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A close up of a Burchell’s starling.
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Black-collared barbets

On our way to the den, we got a flat tire.  While Ice was replacing the tire, the rest of us had to get out of the jeep.  We were basically sitting ducks for predators.

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Luckily, we were only accompanied by some giraffes with their red-billed oxpeckers.

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Fortunately, we survived any potential attacks and made it to the den.

Unfortunately, the leopard was taking her siesta.

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This is about the most action we caught from a sleeping leopard.

But oh my, what a day!

Of course we couldn’t skip our sundowner before heading back to camp.

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Hippos feasting on lily pads.

As Ice was setting up the table, we saw Doug walking Jabu and Morula back to their evening enclosure.

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Another beautiful sunset…

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Botswana – Day Four

After last night’s exciting hyena sighting, I was anxious to start the day so we could see some animals we didn’t get to see in Chobe.  Ice brought us out further from camp hoping to locate the leopards, but the morning was simply uneventful in the sense that we didn’t see anything ‘new’.

Baboons are just everywhere…

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Baby baboon
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Baboon print

However, we did see some interesting things.

A sausage tree…

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Named after the shape of its pods…

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Again, we saw a whole bunch of birds…

We saw some more elephants, warthogs, hippo, and that was the morning.

We returned camp with not much to show for and settled in for siesta after lunch.  As I was trying to get some zzz’s, I heard a loud ruckus outside our tent.  It sounded like chirping from a loud and large bird, and I decided go out to investigate.

Saw this instead…

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Fierce little squirrel atop our tent.

This was also outside on campground…

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Vervet monkey

Ice had us leave camp early because he was going to bring us further from camp to where someone had spotted wild dogs earlier in the morning.

On our way, it was the usual suspects.

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I have to say that by the conclusion of this trip, the warthogs became my favorite animals.  They strut around like they own the place, and on 2 occasions Joe had mistaken them for lions.  One of warthogs even scared off a few cape buffalos sending them running in the opposite direction.  By the end of the trip, they became my ‘mini lions’.

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Baby giraffe…

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Finally, we got to the spot where the wild dogs were.  For some reason, I kept thinking I was looking at hyenas, but wondering why the hyenas look like dogs.  I finally had to ask Joe what we were looking at.

My, what big ears you have!

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No 2 wild dogs have the exact fur pattern.

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These guys had just hunted down an impala this morning, and were basically resting after a large meal.

This was definitely a treat, because according to Ice the last time wild dogs were spotted in the area was 3-4 months ago.

These guys concluded our day with a BANG, just in time for our sundowner

and another amazing African sunset.

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Botswana – Day Three

After a “disappointing” day yesterday I was ready to move on to the Delta, but not before another morning drive at Chobe National Park.  I was still hopeful for a lion sighting.

There were definitely more animals this morning than yesterday, but nothing we hadn’t seen in the last few days.

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Croc and monitor lizards
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Cape Buffalo
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Juvenile bateleur
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Giraffe getting her minerals from the ground.

Someone must have radioed Tony, because he suddenly told us that we would be driving 20 minutes non stop.  However, he didn’t tell us why, and no one asked.

He brought us to a part of the park we had never been to in the last 2 days, and I had an inkling that this was going to be a special sighting of some sort.  Still hoping for a lion.

When we got to the riverbank, there were 2 other jeeps parked facing something I couldn’t tell what, but as we got closer we saw that it was a sleeping lion.

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For those of you with domestic cats, you’ll know that a sleeping cat will sleep forever, which means this is about as good as it gets (for me) in terms of my encounter with a lion.  Apparently, another group had arrived an hour earlier than we did, and when they got to this location, there were 7-8 lions.  By the time we got there, this cat was the only one left sleeping in the grass.

I finally realized that when it comes to animal sightings it all has to do with luck, and I’ve resigned to the fact that this was my fate with the lions this trip.

We were certainly not alone at keeping an eye on the lion.

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These red lechwes were well aware of the sleeping lion, but seemed to be frozen in place.
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Notice the difference in the horn. Males (left) have a fused boss, whereas the females (right) have a split horn.
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Yellow-bellied greenbul


We were dropped off at the Kasane airport at noon for our flight to Stanley’s Camp in the Okavango Delta.

Our flight to Okavango Delta – first time on such a small plane.
That’s how close we were to the ‘cockpit’.
Our flight at the Stanley Camp airstrip.

As we were approaching the airstrip, we saw a family of warthogs just sauntering across the airstrip.  Other travelers had recounted their experience where the landing had to be aborted because a giraffe was in the way!

We were met by our bushman guide, Ice, who we later learned is also a professor in botany, and told that we needed to wait for 2 other travelers coming in from Maun.  While waiting, he set up our picnic table at the end of the airstrip.

After David & Allison from Scotland arrived, Ice wasted no time and brought us on a game drive before we even got the chance to check into the camp.

The difference between Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta, is that in the latter the guides can drive off road, which means we get really close to the animals.

Some of the birds…

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A blacksmith lapwing protecting her nest.
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Wattled Cranes in flight

First stop – dead ellie and the marabou storks.

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Marabou storks picking at what’s left of the dead elephant, whith vultures in the background.
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Stork atop carcass

We were told this elephant had died of natural causes and had already been picked clean by the hyenas and vultures.  Marabou storks are the lowest on the totem pole when it comes to scavenged food, and therefore left with scraps.

One of the hyenas had reportedly dragged an elephant leg back to her den.

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Leg on left, and gorged hyena passed out on full tummy on right.
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A satiated hyena.

We were all ecstatic to see this sleeping hyena, and as we were about to drive off I spotted another hyena coming into view.

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Hyena exiting the den

We were all beside ourselves.  What a treat!

When she started rubbing herself against the elephant leg, the whole jeep let out a collective gasp in surprise and disgust.

After about 10-15 minutes, Ice started the jeep to drive off, but then I saw the cub!

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The cub was joined by another one, and both stayed in the background patiently waiting for mom to finish up before it was their turn.

What a treat for us to see hyena cubs chewing on an elephant leg!

As if that wasn’t enough, an even tinier cub made its appearance.

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Wow!  This more than made up for the lack of lion sighting.  Even Ice said that he’d never seen this before.

The amazing thing was, we were less than 10 feet away from the action, and the hyenas paid us no mind.  One of the cubs did approach the jeep, but quickly loss interest.  We were told that animals see us and the jeep as a whole entity, not as humans inside the truck.  So what they see is an inanimate object making a lot of “oohs and aahs” and clicking sounds (cameras).  As a result animals aren’t afraid and don’t run away.

Finally, after being drunk on hyena cuteness, we headed for camp.

Wildebeasts along the way…

We finally arrived at Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp by nightfall.

With the tent setup, staying at Stanley’s Camp made me feel like I was truly in Africa.


Botswana – Day Two

After the previous night’s ‘lion tease’, I was hopeful I’d get a better view of the lions this morning.  As we trundled down the road there were barely any animals.  Save for a lone elephant in the river…

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a smattering of crocs on the banks…

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A mongoose standing guard…

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all we saw were birds!

Since we are no birders, our enthusiasm was just a bit tepid.  However, I did enjoy seeing the lilac-breasted roller.

Such pretty colors.

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And here it is in flight…

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You certainly don’t see this everyday.

We drove a bit more without seeing much, but then we saw vultures, a lot of vultures…

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And where there are vultures, there’s a kill; and when vultures are perched on a tree not feasting on the kill, that means the predator is on the ground.  Some of the vultures were actually on the ground waiting patiently for whatever was enjoying the meal to finish up.

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However, we couldn’t see anything through all the bushes, and because the rule in the park is no off road driving, we just couldn’t get around the brush.  A few jeeps waited around, but Tony decided it was time for a mid-morning tea!  So instead of stalking the lions, we ended up trying to fend off the vervet monkeys from grabbing a scone off our picnic table.

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As a guide, Tony likely knew that the lions were not going to finish their kill so quickly, so he looped back to where the vultures were after our little picnic.  Still nothing, but one of the people in our jeep suddenly spotted a lion head.

Do you see it?

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This is zoomed in using a 300mm lense.

Here’s the zoomed in photo edited on computer…

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I still would have missed it.

or this one enlarged even more…

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I doubt I would’ve seen this either, but it’s starting to look like a lion head.

We didn’t stay much longer as the other couple in the jeep had to get back to the lodge to catch their ride to the airport.  Later on we heard that one of the jeeps stuck around and the occupants were rewarded with lions walking out onto the road!  Crestfallen is an understatement of how I felt at that very moment, and that disappointment lingered well into the next day for me until my next lion sighting.

The animals started to appear near the riverbanks for their mid-day drinks as we were leaving the park.

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View of the Chobe River from our lunch spot at the lodge.


Instead of a game drive in the afternoon, we went on a river cruise on the Chobe river.

On the way to the dock, I finally got to see a baobab tree, which is indigenous to Madagascar and some parts of southern Africa.

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We managed to see a lot more wildlife, including more birds, but still no lions.

But one can always count on the sunset…

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Botswana – Day One

We were to leave for Botswana on our 3rd day.  Our transfer picked us up at the lodge at 10:30AM, and took us straight to the ferry crossing to the Botswana/Zambia border.  I was sad to leave Zambia because I fell in love with the people there.  Everyone was so nice and friendly, words that fail to truly describe the Zambians.  They are so much more.  Joe described them as ‘gentle’, which is an interesting way of describing a group of people, but they were.  All of them.  I cannot recall another group of people whom I’ve encountered in my life who are as genuinely pleasant to be with as the Zambians.  On our way to the border, we asked our driver, Raphael, why Zambians are such nice people, and he told us that Zambia is made up of 73 different tribes, and the only way to achieve a peaceful coexistence is to be kind to each other.  Wow!  If only the rest of us were to think that way, imagine how different the world would be!

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Picture of us with our guide Junior before we left Sussi & Chuma

With that said, I was eager to get to Botswana because that’s where all the excitement is.

Raphael explained that the only way to cross the Zambezi river/border is by ferry, and as a result, trucks sometimes have to wait 2 weeks at each end of the border to get across to the other side.  Luckily, they are currently building a bridge between Zambia and Botswana to help ease the back up.

After crossing the river by boat, it took only 20 minutes for us to reach Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero.  This place is 3 minutes from Chobe National Park, and tucked away that you’d never know there was a 5-star lodge in the area.  The property is enclosed by electric fencing to prevent predators from entering.  It had a Jurassic Park feel to it.

Our room wasn’t quite ready when we checked in, so we had lunch first.  By the time we were done eating the room was ready to go.

Lion World Travel had booked us a complimentary 30-minute spa treatment, and the staff wasted no time.  After dropping off our bags, we headed over to the spa for a relaxing back massage.

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A common waterbuck roaming the lodge grounds.

Afterwards, we met up with our guide, Tony, who drove us to Chobe National Park for our evening game drive.

Along the way, we saw the usual suspects – impalas (or what Junior had called them, JABIs – just another bloody impala), and other antelopes.

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We expected to see animals from a distance, but we certainly didn’t expect them to be in our face.  At one point, we got so close to an elephant bull, that it started advancing toward our jeep forcing Tony to drive in reverse.

Never mess with a bull in musth…

“JABIs” alongside the road…

Crocs on the riverbank…

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Elephants surrounded by tourists on the river cruise.
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A lilac-breasted roller – my favorite bird on this trip.

We were moving swimmingly, but then all of a sudden a female elephant herd appeared and blocked our way.

Baby elephants are the best…

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We were at a standstill for 10-15 minutes, and ended up backing up as the herd stuck to the road.  Eventually, they moved off to the side and we were able to go on our separate ways.

Next up were the giraffes…

and then more elephants…

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By now, everyone had already told us about the lions causing “traffic jam” the day before, and I was ready to move on to the lions.

But not before our sundowner…

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As the light started to fade, so did my hopes of seeing lions on my first day in Botswana.

All of a sudden Tony started driving very fast for unknown reason.  When we got down to the riverbank, we caught a glimpse of this…

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Three lionesses surrounded by 3-4 jeeps full of people and a boat full of people.

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Next time, I’ll get to see their faces…

Zambia – Day Two

Day 2 in Zambia was our only full day, which was jammed pack with activities.  We hit the falls first thing in the morning.

Victoria Falls, also known by the locals as Mosi-Oa-Tunya (The Smoke that Thunders) isn’t the widest or tallest in the world, but it has the biggest volume of water flowing through.

At one point of the walk the mist from the falls was so dense it felt like we were walking through a rainstorm.  In hindsight, we were way too close to the falls to really get a good view of it.  The best way to view Victoria Falls is probably via helicopter tour, which we didn’t do.

The morning was capped off with a tour of the local Nakatindi village.

The village doesn’t have much infrastructure.  People have to go to the sole water pump and carry buckets of water back to their homes.  The local women carry everything on their heads, and make it look so simple.

One thing that struck us was how innocent and curious the local kids are.  They would come up to us to feel our skin and hold our hands as we walked.  There were 2 little boys jostling to hold Joe’s hands.

After lunch and siesta, we were met by Junior for a sunset boat cruise on the Zambezi river.

Hippos up close…

Elephants were attempting to cross the Zambezi river from Zimbabwe to the Zambia side.  With their bodies submerged, they use their trunks as snorkels as they walk across the bottom of the river.

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Some made it to one of the islands in the middle of the river…

Others were just frolicking along the banks…

I never thought I’d see elephants in the water like that.  I always thought they would just be along the banks drinking water.  It was an amazing sight to see!

Another amazing day, and another amazing sunset.

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Zambia – Day One

oBack in the late 90s early 2000s I remember telling the girls that we should all go on an African safari when we hit 30.  Well that never happened.  Either no one was really interested, or life just got in the way.  Well, life did get in the way in the form of work, children for some, and other obligations – mostly financial.  The trip was never forgotten but always remained in the background.  That was until I read Tess Gerritsen’s novel Die Again, where part of the story was set in Botswana.  The description of the place finally brought it to the foreground, and an African trip was finalized.

We planned our Zambia/Botswana trip through Lion World Travel – a Canadian travel agency that specializes in African vacations – who are, by the way, the most fantastic people to work with.  I found out about Lion World through Costco, my go-to for everything.  If Costco trusts a vendor enough to promote them, then I will trust in the quality and value of that vendor.

Botswana was the main attraction, but I added Zambia because I wanted to see Victoria Falls.  There are 3 major waterfalls in the world – Niagra, Iguazu, and Victoria, and I wanted to see them all.  I don’t know why the fascination with water falls.

The package booked our accommodations through Sanctuary Retreats, which operates luxury lodges in various African countries.  The one in Zambia was Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma – named after the guides who accompanied the explorer Dr. David Livingstone.

There are 12 “tree houses” on property.

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View of the Zambezi river from our deck.

Very nice and romantic, but the only downfall were the bugs that were everywhere, which made me quite uneasy staying in the room.

Fortunately, we spent most of the afternoon with our guide, Junior, who brought us on a rhino walk shortly after we checked in.  We were met by 5-6 rangers with rifles, and instructed to walk in single file in case the rhinos decided to charge at us.

So reassuring.

Luckily, the rhinos paid us no mind, and we walked away unscathed.

Afterwards, Junior brought us on a game drive in the Mosi Oa Tunya National Park, where we saw tons of ‘prey’, thanks to the lack of predators. Apparently, all predators are darted and relocated elsewhere because of the villages nearby in order to protect the locals from being attacked.

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Buffalos in the grass

Every afternoon game drive is capped off with a ‘sundowner’, where the guide parks somewhere andprovides us snacks and drinks while watching the sunset.

Our first day in Africa ended with a beautiful sunset on the Zambezi river.

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