Monday, 31 December 2018

Hip Hip Hippos!

A 0515 start was just what everyone needed…we downed our tea and toast, and navigated through the fog of sleepiness to set out on the early morning game drive. It was a slow morning, most likely due to the rains. The elephants, giraffes and zebras which were all in abundance the previous day had vanished. We saw many smaller creatures like the slender mongoose, a huge troupe of baboons as well as a spotted hyena for good measure. There had to be slim pickings at some point, but at least we were able to tick a couple of new creatures off the list. Having the lists really helped because the kids started to take an interest in birds, trees and other less exciting things. We were glad to be back at the lodge by 0830 for breakfast.

Included as part of our stay, a full day game excursion was included so of course, we had to go! We were back heading towards Kasane by 930. After the 1 hour drive, the group hopped on to 2 boats to cruise around the Chobe River. The Chobe River has the unusual feature of flowing in both directions! In low water, it would flow into the Zambezi River and when waters are high, the Zambezi would backflow into the Chobe River. Chobe National Park also boasts a phenomenal array of birdlife. Elliot was kept busy ticking off his personal checklist whilst Ali named as many birds as he could see and Uncle Euhan took photos of them! It was a bird spotting paradise.

Breakfast upon our return from the early morning game drive. Communal dining like at dinner

Slender mongoose

Getting ready to go on our cruise

Chobe River

Birds birds everywhere!

Time to eat

We got really close to this fellow...
It wasn’t long after we started on our cruise that we spotted our first hippopotamus. Our 534,943 shots of the hippocampus turned out to be a waste of time as we saw plenty more at much closer range! Babies included! Our relaxing cruise included a simple lunch before we headed back on shore to begin our drive back to the lodge via the water front within the Chobe National Park. On our way back we saw baby crocs shuffling towards a lake to eat frogs, but then it started to rain, the ponchos came out and it felt like the guide was going through the motions with no animals left to see. We were wondering when he was going to call it and then everything turned around and it ended up being our most productive drive to date!

It all started with a toilet. A slowly building level of discomfort and anxiety was relieved by the cleanest toilet in Botswana. After that, the cookies and drinks came out, the sun started to shine and all the elephants that had supposedly run to greener pastures were now found around every corner. We drove in amongst a massive herd of buffalo that rearranged themselves into a wall of horns upon hearing a lion raw. We followed the roar and saw impalas and kudus scampering. Our guide mentioned that the impalas were giving out their warning calls which meant a lion was likely nearby. The two safari jeeps set out on parallel paths hoping for one to at least find it but it was not to be. What we found instead was far more exciting…the very rarely seen brown hyena with an impala in its mouth. Nearby were jackals from which the hyena likely stole the kill. Even Ali was excited and asked for Eu Han’s photos. The last saw one in the parks two years ago and some of the guides had never seen one. Either that or it is a conspiracy to make us very excited and give them a bigger tip!
Again, a nature break proved to be a sign of good fortune. Were it not for the break, we would have driven ahead of a very large and also uncommonly seen pack of wild dogs (painted dogs). They were racing across the hills and Ali put the pedal to the medal to keep up with them. The children were shrieking with excitement. It felt like we were in a scene from Lord of The Rings where the Warg were running chasing the hobbits. The pack were being led to a kill that one of the members had made. And just like that they disappeared.

By now, it was dark. We were wet, we were tired and we were very glad to be back at the lodge. The lovely staff had organised a birthday cake for Elliot for all the guests to share! The lucky child had a third birthday celebration Botswana style! Their singing was joyful and very different in style to the Namibian’s. The owners of the lodge were also very generous in giving Elliot a small gift.

SO many hippos


THE stop that changed everything...

Huh? You talking to me?!

Buffalo relaxing until the lion roared

The pack of wild dogs!

Here's one that actually stood still...

The rarely spotted brown hyena

A very happy Elliot with his scarf!

Sunday, 30 December 2018


It was time to move to move on to Botswana today. Unfortunately, it was a shaky start to the day. There’s a bit of a rant so skip forward if you wish…

 We had moved our transfer time to 0830 from 1115 to so we didn’t waste the morning at Victoria Falls. After waiting for 30 minutes, we discovered that Wild Horizons (the company &Beyond booked the transfers with) had our pick-up time wrong and thought we were to be picked up at 930. After a few phone calls, we were seemingly on our way at 0915. The driver made a phone call to make sure that the driver and van on the Botswana side was ready. We arrived at the Zimbabwe-Botswana border crossing where our driver instructed us on where to go. The border crossing between Zimbabwe and Botswana was quick and seamless. Going through the Zimbabwean side merely involved a stamping of passports after which we walked through no man’s land. Once there we and our luggage got into the Botswana side van where a new driver awaited us. He drove us 1 minute to the Botswana immigration checkpoint. We had to exit the van, and go into the immigration building where we were asked a few simple questions, had our passports stamped and we were off. The only unusual thing of note was that we had to walk through a tray of what looked like rags wet with dirty water…apparently that disinfected our shoes. The hardest part of the crossing was trying to quieten the children’s protests of having to put their feet in something that looked even dirtier than the surrounding ground and their questions of how that could possibly achieve anything! We hopped back into our van and the drive continued on to Kasane Airport where we were supposed to be picked up by the Muchenje Lodge vehicle. We arrived at the airport at 1045. There was a lot of frantic conversations and phone calls as we waited patiently in the van. 15 minutes later, we were told that somehow Muchenje Lodge had us slated at arriving at 1220. Not happy Jan. The van was scheduled to take other passengers who were also getting irate waiting in the hot parking lot while we waited in the cool van. At one stage it looked like we may have been left at the airport to fend for ourselves. In the end, we were taken to Marina Lodge where we waited and were given complimentary drinks and wifi for the inconvenience. On the positives, the view of the Chobe River was beautiful. At 12:15 we were taken back to Kasane Airport where the Muchenje Lodge vans were waiting for us.
If one had to be "stuck" this was not a bad place to wait...The beautiful Chobe River

Waiting for lunch at Muchenje Lodge

One of our chalets

Superior excited to see a loft!

With 2 beds to choose from!

Our second bathroom

&Beyond have to vet their contractors more carefully. The drive to Muchenje Lodge took another hour. By the time we were checked in and had lunch it was 1:30pm! In the scheme of things, these were minor setbacks but the reason we paid a premium price with &Beyond was because of their reputation as one of the best providers of a luxury African experience. We did not pay to get stressed in a foreign country. Ok rant over…

With the minor dramas behind us, we set out for the first safari drive in Chobe National Park which turned out to be absolutely amazing. On our way in, our guide, Ali, spotted a baby zebra which had been recently killed. He commented on the lion tracks and said that she would return later in the evening to eat. True to his word, on our way out of the park, she was there feeding on her kill. Prior to that we finally saw big herds of elephants, lots of them! There were also It was so pleasant being in a green environment, seeing the same animals in a different in a tropical savannah rather than in a desert gave them a different look!  The lush environment also meant that numbers were big. Giraffes, zebras, impalas, kudus, buffalos were in big numbers.

The lush tropical savanna

So much space!

Have you ever seen a giraffe drink?

A VERY big water monitor lizard

A mother looking on with baby nursing

Cheeky little baboon

Elephants! So many of them

We got quite close to them!

Leopard tortoise

As the sun was setting, we came across the lioness rolling around with zebra carcass to the left

She started to drag her kill and proceeded to eat

Photo courtesy of Euhan

The spotted hyena

I neglected to mention that the reason we chose Chobe was that Chobe National Park has the world’s largest concentration of elephants. It was nice to tick off the last of our big 5! Chobe National Park also has a bigger number and variety of animals compared to the more popular Okavango Delta. As we were short of time (and funds!) our planner suggested Chobe to get more bang for our buck considering that it was not the ideal time to visit the Okavango Delta.

Dinner at Muchenje Lodge was done in a communal style with 2 big tables. The owners and guides joined us for dinner which was actually very nice and gave us an opportunity to get to know them as well as other guests better. The food was simple home style cooking with lots of vegetables served buffet style. It was somewhat of a relief not to feel pressured to overeat because it was all inclusive! We retired early as we had a big day ahead of us.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Victoria Falls & The Mighty Zambezi

Victoria Falls is found on the Zambezi River, is the largest sheet of falling curtain in the world. We were picked up for our private tour of Victoria Falls right on 0825. The less than 2 minute drive took us to the entry gate where our guide took care of park fees, followed by a session of going through the information boards at the entrance. We started "touring" the Falls from Victoria Falls Bridge (built in 1905) where the border crossing to Zambia was and followed the falls along stopping at multiple view points along the way. We were there at low water as this was the end of their dry season and the beginning of the wet. This had pros and cons. The biggest downside was that you don’t the full appreciation of the sheer size of the falls and might of the falls but the biggest plus side was that you could actually “see” the falls. When the Zambezi River is full, there is so much water going down that the mist and spray created make it virtually impossible to see the falls well. And directly as a result, you get wet…very wet. There were only “shower” sections at about half our stops and we got wet plenty as it was! The low water level however did not take away the magnificence of the walls. It was still a rather amazing natural wonder and now off our tick list! To be honest, the private tour wasn’t worth the money, even the children noted that the guide only regurgitated information that we could read on the boards ourselves and that although friendly, he wasn’t particularly passionate. I would highly recommend getting there early though as the numbers increased exponentially with time and it gets hot!

The very airy and very colonial breakfast room

Doughnuts for breakfast. Yes...

Followed by pancakes. Why not?

The border crossing bridge. Single lane...and where people bungee jump

Can we do a selfie with 9? Yes we can

The driest at the moment. The waters will continue to increase as the rainy season starts

These would all be gushing with water the whole length during high water levels

An advantage visiting during low water levels is the lack of mist/spray so you can actually see the falls!

Getting progressively wetter and wetter....

A statue of Dr Livingstone, erected in 1955, 100 years after the "discovery" of Victoria Falls

The gardens outside the hotel restaurant

Nice place to enjoy lunch

For once, something that was NOT overpriced in Zimbabwe!
Our afternoon was spent lazing by the pool side for lunch while the Chins took a scenic helicopter flight over the Falls. Our intention was to swim but the heavens opened up and it bucketed down. Fortunately, that stopped in time for our evening cruise of the Zambezi River. We were picked up at 4pm for the Ra-ikane cruise. We picked the smaller boat with a capacity of 12 as we thought it would be nicer and more intimate. Fortunately, as a result of our numbers, we got one whole boat to ourselves! It was supposed to be a sunset cruise and thus all drinks and snacks were included. However, the storm clouds prevented any real sunset viewing. The trip up and down the river was relaxing with much wildlife on the banks as well as in the river to look at. We finally saw the hippos much to everyone’s delight! It was a wonderful way to end our short time in Zimbabwe.

Our ra-ikane cruise down the mighty Zambezi

Private boat! Yeah!

Some of the snacks provided

Apparently it was that cold,,,

Reading up on Dr Livingstone's life and expeditions

SO many these in the river