What Did We Do?

Dennis and Jenny Hacker's Year in Africa

Amy and “The Trip”!

February 4, 2018 | Victoria Falls and Singita Ebony Lodge.

Amy Arrives

As previously mentioned, Amy joined us for a safari and Christmas (Festive). We’ve known Amy since we moved to Sunset Pointe in 2002. She and her former husband were members of our book club. When she found out we were moving to South Africa for a year, she asked if she could come and join us. We, of course, agreed!

Being a city gal, Amy wasn’t used to going out to see animals in the wild. If she was coming to Africa, we insisted we would all go on safari together. After coordinating with our late travel agent, Tish, we set up a trip to a lovely lodge in the Sabi Sands area outside Kruger National Park. We figured that she’d like lux accommodations. A few weeks prior to her arriving, she mentioned that she’d like to see Victoria Falls as well. A quick add to the travel plans made that happen.

Amy arrived on the 16th. Her 30 hours of travel left her wiped out, but she arrived in the afternoon and not late at night. We came back to the flat and she rested some. That evening we had martinis and ate dinner in.

The following day, we took a Red Bus® tour around Cape Town to give Amy the “overview” of this lovely area. Along the way, we stopped at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The Cape Bonsai Kai was having their annual show and I wanted Jenny and Amy to see the quality of the trees here. The show was magnificent. I had spent the entirety of the day prior to Amy’s arrival (Thursday) helping to set up the show.  Quite a few Suiseki (viewing stones) as well. After the bus trip, we returned home and packed for our trip which was starting the next morning!!

Royal Chundu Lodge on the Zambezi

Early on the 18th, we left for Cape Town International Airport. We had a little time to spend in the Business Class Lounge prior to boarding for Livingstone, Zambia. After a short stop in Jo’burg, we arrived and were met by a driver, Oliver, who drove us to the Royal Chundu Lodge on the Zambezi River. What a lovely lodge! Kaseem, our host, was very gracious. Sungani, the chef was a master. The rooms were lovely and we were right on the river. Each villa had a wall of foldable doors which opened the cabin to the river. We went out for an evening river cruise for “Sundowners”. In the event I haven’t previously defined a “Sundowner”, it is setting up for cocktails/beer/soft drinks and a small nosh at sundown. We even had a bartender who made fresh martinis. How decadent!

Amy thought this was the way to live.

The next morning, breakfast on the deck of the central building was opulent. There must have been enough food for 12-15 people in the buffet and hot items to order as well. The three of us were the only people at the lodge!

 

This was the cold breakfast: Fresh baked muffins, bread and rolls as well as fresh fruit, cold cuts and 3 types of fresh-squeezed juice!

Oliver picked us up following breakfast and took us to Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke Which Thunders) or Victoria Falls. He escorted us around and helped us see the falls from different vantages.

Oliver, our tour guide

Jenny and I were there in June, 2016. It was high water at that point. Now, it was low water and we could see the rocky surface of the falls.

After viewing the falls, we went to the Livingstone Hotel for a lunch on Livingstone Island. As we were getting ready to go, they made us sign a waiver of liability. Seemed silly for lunch. I mean, what were they going to feed us! Yet as we were going in a motor launch toward the edge of the falls, I figured  what the hell! What if the motor conks out? They need to cover their liability.

We were wearing our bathing suits under our clothes. Once we got to the island, they told us we were to swim to an outcrop of rocks and then get into “Devil’s Pool”. I hadn’t been swimming in at least 8 years! I know how to swim but I’m not a strong swimmer any longer, yet I was game and decided to wear my long-sleeve tee shirt to protect me from the sun. Bad decision! It became a lead apron once wet. I forgot how much wet clothing weighs. I had insisted that Jenny not try this as she was still healing from a broken  wrist bone. The river bed was uneven, slippery, shallow and rocky with a vigorous moving river. All she needed was to slip and re-break her wrist. Thankfully, she agreed.

I struggled to swim out to the rocks whilst the youngsters, who swam like fish, merrily went ahead. I’m really starting(?) to feel my age.  With a lot of effort, I finally reached the rocks. THEN, I looked at Devil’s Pool. Although it had a rock wall at the edge of the drop-off, to get to the water was more than I wanted to do. My left knee was painful and reverse crab-walking down to the water on my butt was more than I needed or really wanted to do. At about this time, a moderate storm erupted upon us. Amy also was reluctant to get into the pool, but as it started to rain and with some encouragement, she acquiesced and got into the pool and sat on the side of the falls. With the rain coming down in huge drops, I was glad I had my shirt, but I still had to get back across the river. Although the staff continually urged me to get into the pool, I flatly demurred. They finally took pictures of me near the water’s edge.

Following more rain and another tough swim to get back to shore, we had a really great lunch in a tent. I had to wring out my shirt to try to dry it. Drinks for all of the guests!

Following lunch, I fulfilled another item on my bucket list: ultralight flight over Victoria Falls and the national park adjacent to it. What a thrill.

Taxiing for takeoff.

As we flew, my clothes dried out within minutes. Seeing giraffe, elephants, cape buffalo, and other wildlife from above was really a different view. There is a new crack developing and the falls will be another fault wider in the next 10,000 years. I don’t guess I’ll get to see that!

Beneath my foot is the new crack developing in the falls.

A ride back to Chundu Lodge and then another “Sundowners” cruise! Oh, the life of an adventure traveler is grueling 😉. Later, at dinner, Sungani developed a “Taste of Zambia” menu. The food was absolutely amazing. Again, maybe just too much.

On our last morning, Amy went for a raft trip. Although Jenny and I were also supposed to do it, we decided to skip the raft and pack. At the end of the raft trip, there would be breakfast in the woods on an island where the Chundu Island Lodge was located. Jenny and I went out in the river boat and join Amy for breakfast. After landing at the lodge, we walked through the woods to the breakfast site. Along the way, we passed a 2000-year-old baobab tree. What a massive tree!

A new trunk is growing from within the bark of the old tree.

Walking further, we came upon a baobab that was at least 3000-years-old! It was about as big around as a small pickup truck. It was massive. Within a split in the trunk, a family of bats had set up house.

This tree is about 6-7  meters in diameter!

Once at the breakfast site, we again found enough food for a small army. Five types of juice, fresh fruits, pastry’s, breakfast meats, muesli, yogurt, and freshly baked breakfast pizzas and calzone! A huge feast. After breakfast, we walked back to the Island Lodge and stopped to get an ogle of one of the rooms. Amazing opulence. We found that Bill Gates and family have been there twice. I can see why.

We headed back to the river lodge and finished packing. Oliver picked us up and, after farewells to Frank, Lawrence and the staff, we were off to Livingstone Airport for a flight to the Mpumalanaga Airport at Kruger located in Neispruit.

Our first real SNAFU in Africa

We arrived at the airport with time to spare. Our flight was to depart at about 1:45. We sat, and sat, and sat. At 2:00, we were told the plane wasn’t there yet. No 💩! At 4:00, same story. At 5:30 the plane finally arrived. Following passengers deplaning, we were subsequently allowed to board at about 6:15. Yeah! We were airborne at about 7:00. The hundred-minute flight took us toward clouds with lightning flashing within them. Beautiful, but worrisome.

At about 8:30, the pilot began the approach to Mpumalanga. Down, down, down we went.  Flaps down. Landing gear down. Down, down, down we went. Then, power up and we were climbing. Landing gear up! I had to pee like crazy so I tried to stand up and go to the lavatory. The flight attendant announced that I couldn’t get up because the seatbelt sign was lighted. No news from the cockpit. A few left turns and the landing gear came down again. I was looking out the window of the aircraft and all I saw was cloud. Down, down, down we went. Gear down. Lower and lower. Then, power up, gear up and finally flaps up. Now the captain came on and told us that he had tried to land twice (again, no 💩) and the runway couldn’t be seen, so we were now going to Jo’burg!!! As the plane climbed, I got out my phone and used the altitude app. Once we got to 10,000 feet, I raced to the lavatory. I didn’t think I’d make it.

Jo’burg?

We landed at Jo’burg at about 9:30. It was a giant kerfuffle! No one from SAA (South African Airways) on the ground seemed to have any idea what to do ith us. We were a bunch of frustrated people who’d retrieved their luggage and bombarded the SAA personnel with questions about the next day’s flight. Amy, Jenny and I were told we’d be on a flight at 2:00 P.M. We told them that was out of the question. We wanted to be on the first flight of the day. And so did almost everyone else. That was okayed by the ladies and we were led out of the terminal.

Now we’ve flown through Jo’burg airport 20 or so times this year. Never have we had to go through customs. There is a line that says: “Nothing to declare” and another with: “Items to declare”. As we never have anything to declare, we always head through the “Nothing to declare” line. Tonight of course, with 3 planeloads of passengers who arrived almost simultaneously, they were screening every bag. Everyone had to have their bags scanned. It took forever.

The Southern Sun a Night from Hell!

After passing customs, we were taken outside to where the hotel shuttles were. SAA was putting us up in the “Southern Sun” hotel. There’s one of those here in Cape Town. WELL, this place was 5 minutes from the airport and was a complete disaster. First, the lines to check in were very long. Second, we were told that the restaurant was closed but we could order food through room service but that closed at 11:30. Amy was given a room and when she entered it, there was already baggage and a charging cellphone in the room! When she told the front desk, they were bewildered. They did give her another room.

Our first room was to be a non-smoking room. As soon as we walked in, even I could smell smoke. Not only that, there was a calking gun and box cutter on the table. I stopped an employee in the hall, gave them the said equipment and stated we wanted a different room.

After the room change, it was almost 11:30. We quickly ordered something to eat from room service. Jenny decided to take a shower whilst awaiting the food. She couldn’t get the closet open to hang up her clothes! The doors were stuck shut. Jenny set the water temperature and got into the shower. Suddenly, the water stopped flowing. Next the handle for the cold water fell off. When water began again, it was scalding hot! With a bum hip and banged up knee, she managed to jump out of the shower and readjusted the water temperature. Same thing happened to me when I took a shower later. Finally, at 12:10 AM, our food arrived. It was neither the best nor the worst food I’ve ever had, but it was edible.  We laid down at 12:30 and had to get up at 4:30. Little sleep for us this night.

As our flight was at 7:30, we had to be at the terminal at 5:30. As we were checking out, Amy was called over to the reception desk. We had been given R200 each for food. Amy wasn’t hungry so she ordered a bottle of water for R35. She put an R18 tip on the bill. The hotel receptionist said the airline didn’t pay for a tip and therefore Amy had to pay the R18! It didn’t seem like they understood that R53 was less than R200, but rules were rules and Amy had to pay the tip.

AH, Africa

When we got to the terminal, we went to the check-in counter and was asked for our boarding pass. We showed them the original paperwork, but that didn’t cut the mustard. The counter person said that we should have been given paperwork the night before and since that didn’t happen, we had to go to the “Help Desk”.

Amy, Jenny, another couple and I went to said desk. No one seemed to know what to do with us. Like they’d never had weather problems previously. Four of the five agents wanted to charge us for the flight. Finally, after a lot of agent-to-agent arguing, and us getting more and more upset, one more senior agent said that they should use some code or other and get on with it. We had had a weather SNAFU, he said,  and no charges should occur. Whew! At last, with said paper in hand, we went back to the original counter, checked in our luggage and got boarding passes for our flight. In all the traveling, we’ve done, this is the first time we’ve had problems. After this, I sincerely hope it is the last.

So, onward and upward! We get to Mpumalanga Airport and were met by a driver who took us the 90-minute drive to Singita Ebony Lodge. All this time, we had been on the phone with Tish, our travel agent. She had arranged for us to stay at the lodge an extra night at no charge and then changed our airline tickets at no charge so that we had a way home on the 24th instead of the 23rd. She did all this on the 22nd and subsequently passed away on the 30th from cancer. A real tragedy and loss of a really dear woman.

Singita Ebony Lodge

Singita had a lovely lunch ready for us when we got there. While eating lunch, a Black-faced Vervet monkey grabbed my roll in a microsecond. He sat on a tree branch and ate it. When I got another, he came back. I tried to shoo him off and he came AT me with teeth bared. No fear! I called the staff over and they said that they used a paintball gun or slingshot to drive them off. After asking for the paintball gun, I stated I’d shoot him between the eyes if he came back. I put the gun on the tabletop and the monkey never returned. (This trivia is important later.)Next, we met our guide, Frank.  As we were scheduled to go out on a game drive at 4:30 PM, we went to your room and unpacked. Just time for a short rest and then off to the main lodge to rendezvous. Frank greeted us and we walked to the Land Rover to meet Lawrence and off we went. This was our “A” Team. Because we’ve posted photo’s of almost everything we ended up seeing, I’m not going to post a lot of repetitious photos. We did see Bushbuck, Hippopotamuses, African Jacana, Impala (the NY pigeons of the bush), common buzzard, Yellow Hornbill, Bachata Zebra, Hoopoe

Thank you Wikipedia

Dwarf mongoose, Wattled lapwing, White-headed vulture with its crop half full,

European roller bird, 

Waterbuck and 4 lions eating the remainder of a warthog.

At the appropriate time, we stopped for “Sundowners”. It was a lovely sundown. After drinks and snacks, we drove back to the lodge for dinner. Following a scrumptious dinner, we headed for our room for a shower and a night’s sleep.

 The next morning after breakfast, Jenny and I headed out for the morning game drive. Amy, poor dear, was exhausted after all this traveling. She decided to sleep in. This morning we saw a forked-tail drongo, a brown-headed parrot, a Crested Barbet

Thanks Wikipedia

 more lions, a leopard on ground with a baby impala carcass in a tree, giraffe, and a Woodland Kingfisher.

Our “A” team had to show other groups where the leopard was located. We sighted more European rollers, Cape Starling, and strangler fig tree. By this time, it was time to return to the lodge for breakfast.

Ornery Little Bugger

We joined Amy for breakfast. Another sumptuous repast. During breakfast, a bull Elephant came to the river outside the main lodge building for a drink. After eating, Jenny joined another guest for a chat while I headed for our room to brush my teeth and rest. I’d just laid down when the phone rang. The receptionist, Bronwyn, informed me that Jenny had been bitten by a monkey and I needed to come down to the main building.

I got dressed trying to figure out how badly she’d been bitten and wondering if we’d need to go to a hospital. Once I got there, I was introduced to the paramedic which Singita kept on premises for just such situations. He’d already cleaned the wound, was ready to dress the wound and was on the telephone to his supervising doctor to get permission to give Jen a tetanus shot. I found out that she and Carl had been chatting when two female Vervet monkeys with babies beneath them had come to the dining area. Jenny wanted to get a photo of the female and baby and approached them, probably too close for the mother’s comfort. The female charged and attacked Jenny and bit her in the calf and wouldn’t let go! Jenny had to shake her loose. Blood all over Jenny’s pants leg.

Nice bruise and deep puncture wounds.

Jenny hobbled back to the room with me and we had some ice and a couple plastic bags delivered. Jen cleaned up and lay down on ice to reduce the swelling in her calf.

We skipped lunch as we were quite full from breakfast.  Along the river, we saw a family of nyala grazing and drinking.  Again, at 4:30, we went on our afternoon game drive. We found drag marks from a leopard dragging a baby impala. Herds of wildebeests and kudu were around. We found a sour plum tree and all of us tried the fruit. It was like chewing a tea bag-very tannic. We came upon a herd of over 100 Cape buffalo and later, two white rhinos were spied. One decided to mark the territory.

After sundowners, we saw two separate herds of Elephants, an Eagle owl, Scrub hare and a Night jar (bird).

Thanks again Wikipedia

We returned to the lodge and had dinner outdoors in a boma (circular corral to keep animals in or out). It was really hot and no air was moving. The chefs had prepared yet another excellent meal. Some of the staff came in native attire and put on a show with native singing and chanting. There were times when these displays used to seem contrived. Now we really appreciate the staff sharing the sounds of their heritage. So much of the heritage is being lost due to industrialization. Finally, to bed.

On our final morning game drive, Jen spotted a Klip Springer male on a rock chewing his cud. We watched the chewed cud going down his esophagus as it swallowed and a few seconds later, new cud came up so it could be processed. This is the first time I’d visualized this process in any ruminant, wild or domestic.

We saw a female leopard on a termite mound, a Senegal lapwing on a termite mound, more Zebras

and a pride of 20 lions (this is rare to have this many lions in one pride) which were spread out over about 50 meters. What an awesome thing to see 20 lions approach you as prey. You’d be, as the saying goes, dead meat!

We also saw a Lilac-breasted roller and a male Elephant in Musth. BUT, the funniest of all had to be two guinea fowl chasing each other around a loop, round-and-round for well over 5 minutes. They never stopped running. It was the funniest thing Jen and I have seen in Africa. Then back for breakfast which was served indoors due to the carnivrous vervet monkeys.

In the afternoon, we saw Bushbucks, more Black-faced Vervet monkeys, a hippopotamus with four turtles on its back,

crowned lapwing, more Guinea fowl, a Blacksmith lapwing, a Brown Snake Eagle, Grey Hornbill, a herd of Wildebeests with babies, more Elephants, two White Rhinoceros, a Kudu on a termite mound, Wahlberg’s Eagle and eight Hyena pups on and in a termite mound.  When termites abandon a nest, many animals colonize it. In this case, a pack of hyenas. Lastly, Amy really wanted to see Giraffes. We had been going around looking for them. Finally, as the day ran out, we made a turn in the road and there were two young males, browsing on acacia trees. Amy was delighted and so were the rest of us.

After Sundowners, we returned to the Lodge. We had arranged a wine tasting that evening and had invited Frank and Lawrence to join us, after checking with the manager to make sure that was okay. We had a lovely tasting of two white and two red wines from South Africa. Then Frank and Lawrence joined us for dinner. It was a lovely last night with these two excellent guides. Again, we ate indoors.

The last morning, we had an early breakfast and then finished packing. We headed out for Skukusa Airport at Kruger. This airport had a direct flight to Cape Town rather than going to Jo’burg again. We arrived in Cape Town about 2:00 PM. Timoth was awaiting us. We arrived home at about 3:30, exhausted. A free-for-all dinner was all we could manage.

Christmas and beyond

Tomorrow is Christmas (Festive). Timoth picked us up at about noon on the 25th. We had reservations at an outstanding winery-Grande Provence Wine Estate in Franschhoek. Again, almost every winery in the wine country has a restaurant associated with them. What a lovely way to celebrate Festive.

The 26th we rested. On the 27th, Gavin, a tour operator we had met one time when Timoth couldn’t take us to a wine taste, planned a day for us to go to Stellenbosch for a wine taste tour and lunch at a grand winery. Again, another lovely day.

 The 28th, we went to the Museum of Contemporary African Art. A really amazing look at artists from all over southern Africa.

Bricks hung by nooses.

This artist took wet, softened animal hides and wrapped them around herself and let them dry to make these haunting pieces.

In the evening, we took Amy to Gold Restaurant for drumming and a taste of Africa dinner. We had a wonderful evening of drumming and dinner.

They even celebrated Jenny and my 49th anniversary along with four couples of newlyweds.

On the 29th, Jenny and Amy went off to have either manicures or pedicures done whilst I stayed home. We rested the remainder of the day.

On the 30th, we rose about 8:00 AM, had some coffee and headed to the Oranjeczk Farmer’s Market where Amy had her first Shokshouka. After coming back home with our market goodies, Amy finished packing. At about 3:00, Timoth picked her up to go to the airport to begin her 30-hour trip home. All-in-all, it was a jam-packed 2 weeks with adventures galore. Jenny and I  sort of collapsed after her departure.

It was sure great having Amy here to celebrate the holiday with us. We are getting quite homesick for our ‘peeps’ in the States. We are looking forward to going back. Next big adventure, Jenny gets a new hip.

FILED IN: Sighting Lists, Travel Notes, This and That

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