Goat!

Funny that of all the HD video I shot of elephants, penguins, rhinos, warthogs, hippos, crocs and exotic birds, that this would be my favorite video from the trip...


P.S. -- Jenn still wants a goat.

Africa - September 1, 2012

Can't believe we say goodbye to Africa today. Our flight isn't until 8pm, but the lovelies at The Backpack are letting us stow our things in a locked storage room so we can explore Cape Town one last time.

Pastries at Cape Town's Biscuit Mill Market.
First stop: Biscuit Mill Market. This restored mill in an up-and-coming section of town is packed every Saturday morning with dozens of chefs, baristas, and vendors selling every kind of gourmet, organic, fair-trade food imaginable.* We three feasted on breakfast crepes, then wandered from stall to stall drooling over pat├ęs, French pastries, Thai noodle dishes, hearty soups, local honey, and biltong. Bought several delicate, pastel macaroons for the road.**

Cape Town, seen from the Red Bus.
Following our cabbie's advice, we bought tickets for a Red Bus tour so we could spend the day checking out the entire city, hopping on and off whenever we wanted. Worked our way up to Table Mountain, which thankfully had emerged from the previous day's cloud shroud. Took a cable car 3,500 feet to the top,*** where we were rewarded with spectacular views of the city -- and a look at Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.****

Robben Island as seen from Table Mountain.
The diversity of plant life on the mountain is staggering. More then 2,200 species are found here, so many that this small area was named the Cape Floristic Region, one of only six scientifically-recognized floral kingdoms in the world.

After returning to earth, we boarded a bus back to the V&A Waterfront, where we had a final fabulous three-course meal at the 100-year-old Hildebrand Ristorante***** before heading to the airport.
____

After a twelve-hour flight from Cape Town, we have nine hours to play in London before beginning the final leg home. So we've fled Heathrow to walk about and visit the Tate Modern. Our wonderful tourmates Terry and Tamara were on the same flight, and they showed us the best Tube route to the museum. Highlights: Oskar Fischinger's multimedia piece, a canvas by my favorite artist Lee Krasner, and the total sensory overload of the Poetry & Dream gallery. What a fitting way to end our adventure, which so often felt like a dream.

Lee Krasner's "Gothic Landscape" at the Tate Modern.
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Brad's footnotes:
* Columbusites, it was like our Market Days downtown on Saturdays, but on crack -- and with a bent toward exquisitely crafted foods over fresh veggies. Makeshift tables were made of old doors propped on sawhorses, just like in Bibb City!
** Biltong is like what we call jerky, but a bit softer and tangier, as there's vinegar in the curing. It's awesome. Kate talked a nice local man into selling us all of his warthog biltong with a conversation that started thusly:
Kate: Hi. We're from America. 
Man (with complete sarcasm): No! Really?
*** Proud of Jenn, who never puked despite both the car's glass walls and my comment that they should've also made the floor out of glass.
**** And left the prison a man of peace and a champion.
***** Thanks to the Hildrebrand, which fed us on credit despite the fact that stupid CitiBank appeared to put a "suspicious halt" on our MasterCard, despite the fact that we called ahead of the trip to tell them where we'd be. Trust no one on these matters, people.

Africa - August 31, 2012

Toilet Hippo pour la maison. Oh la la.
Uh oh. Brad has come down with a terrible fever. Last night was pretty worrisome, but thanks to three blankets and two boiling hot water bottles,* we made it through. It's rainy, cold, and windy outside, so all sightseeing plans have been thwarted, which is just as well. Brad stayed in bed while Kate and I checked out arts and crafts at the V&A Waterfront for a few hours.** Big score of the day to cheer Brad up: a hippo sculpture made out of aluminum cans so we can have our very own Toilet Hippo at home. He's sassy.

Lovely Kate at Charly's.
Brad's footnotes:
* I'm warm-natured, so this was the first time I needed to use one of these magical devices. Boiling water goes in, and it stayed roasty for, like, six hours.
** I was cranky that they abandoned me for lunch, without money or energy to walk about and find something. But then I remembered I had half of a giant muffin left from Charly's Bakery -- an awesome stop (and another recommendation from Toni at The Backpack) that I'd had enough energy for that morning.

Africa - August 30, 2012

Both cute and obnoxious.
Penguins! Watched a brilliant ocean sunrise, then walked to Boulders Beach to see a protected colony of African penguins. Adorable little critters, especially when they're calling like a pack of disgruntled donkeys.* Inquisitive too, waddling as close to you as they can while rotating their heads left and right, trying to figure you out.

Back to the guesthouse for yet another fabulous breakfast (can't...button...pants...), then drove an hour home to Cape Town proper. With help from our friend Toni at The Backpack, Kate arranged for a Cape Malay cooking tour this afternoon. Cape Malay culture is unique to Cape Town,** its roots going back to the Sumatran slaves taken from their homes by Dutch colonists. The cuisine incorporates a wonderful blend of sweet and savory -- dishes use garlic, ginger, chili, curry, fennel, cumin, coriander seed, bay leaf, cardamom, and lots of turmeric.

Rollin' roti. Yeah, that's right.
Nizaam Peck with Impeckable Travel and Tours took us to the home of Faldela Tolker, who taught us to make falooda, spicy chili bites, roti, chicken curry, tomato & onion sambal, and samosas. I'm glad I didn't know beforehand that cooking with Faldela was listed here as one of the Top 10 Cooking Experiences Around the World; otherwise, I would have been self-conscious as my poorly-rolled roti dough broke over and over again in front of her.***

Faldela was born in District Six, and as we ate together, we learned much about race relations in South Africa, both before and after Mandela's release from prison. It's horrifying to imagine that only twenty years ago, we would have all been arrested for conspiracy, just for eating a meal with friends of mixed races.

After lunch, Nizaam took us to the Atlas Spice Shop, where I bought so many bags of spices that I had to give away some of my clothes to make room in the backpack.**** Pretty sure I have my priorities straight.

Bo Kaap district, known for its Cape Malay cuisine.
We raced to Auwal Mosque, the oldest mosque in Cape Town, right as the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer was being sung. Kate and I quickly wrapped our heads in scarves so we could see the interior before prayers began. A young cleric ran over to where we stood, graciously offering an overview of the building's architecture as well as a brief history of Islam in the region.***** You could tell he was genuinely happy to have the chance to explain his religion to westerners, and I wished more folks at home could see what we've seen today.

Brad's footnotes: 
* It was actually called the Jackass Penguin for a while.
** Definitely unique, but closely related to Indian cuisine (despite the "Malaysia" implication).
*** Faldela told Jenn to let me make the roti in our house. Not a reflection on Jenn's work, which was just fine, so much as an acknowledgement of my mad skillz.
**** The place sells curry, coriander, tarragon -- all the stuff we get in the tiny little glass bottles on the spice rack -- in giant bulk barrels, like trail mix at Fresh Market. It smelled awesome, at least if you didn't feel like crap because you were unknowingly coming down with the African Death Flu.
***** He didn't offer. He saw our guide explaining stuff to us and good-naturedly interrupted and took over. He was very excited to find outsiders curious about his religion, and dude was super-nice. He shook my hand as we left and apologetically kept telling Kate and Jenn, "I'm not allowed to touch you, but it's only because we respect you so much."

Africa - August 29, 2012

Not sure how, but we managed to eat the lovely, complimentary farmhouse breakfast. Then loaded up the Eggmobile and headed south to Hermanus for the Cape's best viewing of right whales.

The coast of Hermanus.
Spectacular two-hour drive along white-knuckle-inducing mountainous curves. (South Africa has yet to discover the benefit of guard rails.)* Shortly after arrival, Kate spotted the first of two right whales we would see in Hermanus. Disappointed that we didn't catch one fully breached out of the water, but it was thrilling just to see fins and know they were there.

Fins to the left, fins to the right...
Drove another two hours to Simon's Town,** where we stayed at the hilltop Whale View Manor.*** The fast pace of the trip was starting to catch up with us, and no one wanted to brave the drizzly, windy night in search of dinner. So the angelic guesthouse staff made us bacon and tomahto sandwiches, lit a fire in the common room, and made us feel at home as we searched for whales through the giant picture window until the sun vanished. Turned in early to the sound of the Atlantic crashing into the rocks below.

Brad's footnotes:
* Kate took the first shift, which I figured would be scenic and easy after the hectic bit of Cape Town I'd done the day before. The narrow hairpins were just as nerve wracking as the congested city, I think, though the views were far better.
** We'd hoped to get far enough east, past Hermanus, to dip our toes in the Indian Ocean for the first time before turning back toward Cape Town, but there wasn't time. Sigh.
*** This place was magical. Fairyland, Part Deux. Waterfall in the backyard, patio with a lovely garden up the mountain behind the rooms, and a ridiculous Mediterranean-style view out the front.

Africa - August 28, 2012

Enjoyed an early breakfast of French toast while staring at Table Mountain from The Backpack's cafe, then rented a tiny Eggmobile to drive around the peninsula for a couple of days.

Klein Waterval estate
The view from our room in Franschhoek.
First stop on the driving tour: Franschhoek.* Upon arrival at the Klein Waterval estate, Kate decided we were actually eaten by lions several days ago, and this is our version of heaven, a la an episode of Lost. Brad's and my room is a suite with an upstairs bedroom loft, clawfoot tub in the ultra-clean bathroom, and French doors that open onto a brick patio overlooking a field of grapevines. The owners' adorable long-leg Jack Russell terriers frolic on the grounds, and black-headed herons hang out in nearby trees. And did I mention the babbling brook behind our room or the wild-growing calla lilies?

Following Toni's advice (co-owner of The Backpack), we lunched at Solm's Delta, the only wine farm here that allows its workers to be part-owners, and they source ingredients locally for the restaurant.** We started off lunch with a sampler of tapas -- bloukaas tert (bleu cheese tart), makataan konfit (melon jam), mini boerewors roll with chakalaka and koolslaai (sausage with veggie relish and cole slaw), marinated olives, mini bokkam salad (smoked, dried mullet) with dried pear and exotic baby leaves, Delta vegetable pancake, Droewors and bees biltong (jerky) with homemade blatjang (chutney).

Kate and Jenn at Solm's Delta.
For the main course, Brad and I each ordered Cape linefish topped with a suurlemoen pelargonium crust, served with a crushed potato and crab meat salad, enhanced with slow-roasted tomato and olive dressing. Kate's gorgeous meal was grilled calamari, shrimp & mullet paella with sauteed aubergine and tomato, served with a sitrus boegoe pesto sauce and tamatiekonfyt.

After lunch, we wandered over to the farm's museum, which had preserved the building's original foundation from the 1600s under a Plexiglas floor. We learned of a nearby cave with petroglyphs (not open to the public, dangit***), and interpretive signs explained how the lineage of a dominant local family is tied to the bastard children of one of their slaves.

Enjoyed a lovely wine tasting at a garden bistro table overlooking the mountains and vineyards. Highlight: bubbly Shiraz. Chatted with the maitre d' before leaving and found out the farm supports the education of ~100 kids, and the other landowners harbor resentment because Solms Delta is raising living standards for farm workers. So very glad we came here.

Back to the hotel to watch the sun set over the vineyards from our cozy living room. Then dinner at Le Quartier Francais****, a restaurant repeatedly voted one of the top 50 in the world. Hands down, this was the best meal I've ever had. EVER. The restaurant itself is completely unpretentious and eclectic, with textured walls, abstract art, and industrial lighting. On the menu:

*A whimsical appetizer in the shape of a campfire
*Beetroot, buttermilk labne, dill and cucumber granita
*Curry dusted cob, yellow dahl, kale, braised spices, confit tomato
*Klein karoo springbok loin, kamut, sorghum, rainbor carrots, celeriac
*Klein rivier gruyere, pressed rusk, mebos custard, currants, pickled onion
*Baobab, coconut, honeybush, caramel
*Cake and spook asem

I might have giggled with joy throughout the meal. Brad will tell you I teared up at the first bite of my coconut-honeybush-caramel dessert, but this can't be proven.***** It was, in a word, ridonkulous.

Waddled back to the car, trying not to explode all over the Eggmobile on the way back to the hotel. Crawled into bed under a down comforter, loosened the mosquito-net canopy, and drifted to sleep gazing at the thatched roof. Kate's right -- this is Fairyland.
Dessert at The Quartier Francais Tasting Room. What happened was this: They brought out what looked like a giant ball of ice cream. It was actually a delicate shell of some sort of coconut compote, which melted when the server poured hot caramel over it to reveal actual ice cream under the shell. Like Jenn said, ridonkulous.


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Brad's footnotes:
* Dutch for "French Town," for a place in South Africa. It was the trifecta of confusion. The best beer we found in all three African nations was Windhoek, also a Dutch word and the name of the capital of Namibia.
** This "let the workers earn the land" mentality doesn't seem to be a universally popular direction, which we found an unsettling example of passive racism that's still present here and there, and more so in the countryside than in the cities.
*** We were totally going to go there, too.
**** Actually, most people know our venue as The Tasting Room, which is inside the Quartier Francais. It's got more limited seating and is spendier, but we found it completely comfortable and unpretentious. And yes, the best meal ever.
***** She and Kate both cried, and I have a photo. I did spontaneously burst into laughter once, too, and harbor no shame or regret for said action.

Africa - August 27, 2012

Proved once again that I am the Magnet for Civil Unrest.* Spent the whole day traveling, flying from Zim to Jo'burg, then Jo'burg to Cape Town, only to discover on arrival that a political strike had shut down the airport. Our airport shuttle driver suggested we find a comfy spot at a restaurant for another hour until police finished clearing the burning tires from the road to Cape Town. Sigh.

Lion's Head, as seen from The Backpack hostel.
Eventually made it to The Backpack without any trouble. If you're ever in Cape Town, go immediately to The Backpack. The hostel staff worked late until we made it through the strike and could register; they're a member of Fair Trade in Tourism; and they collect donations for all sorts of phenomenal community projects.** And they make a mean bowl of soup on a cold, windy night. These are my people.

We three jumped with joy at the sight of our rooms, complete with plush pillows and blankets, hot water bottles***, clean bathrooms, and personal tea kettles. It takes so little to make you feel at home, but most folks don't make the effort. We will definitely stay here again when we return to Cape Town later this week. After eight days of primitive camping, I think I've died and gone to heaven.

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Brad's footnotes:
* Jenn's referring mostly to our Peru trip here, which also had us arriving at an airport to find striking transportation workers and no way out. But I'm also fairly certain she can now be blamed, karmic-ally, for the bomb threat we witnessed at the Charles de Gaulle.
** We soon discovered that co-owner, Toni, was a fellow foodie, which proved rich to us later, you'll see.
*** These became the most valuable to me, after I started fevering (Not malaria. OK, maybe not malaria...) and the weather turned very cold.

Africa - August 26, 2012

Kate and I spent two spectacular hours canoeing on the Zambezi with our guide Casper, an expert on birds and local wildlife. Twenty-two new birds spotted in an hour including the one I wanted to see most on this trip -- a beeeater. Pulled out for breakfast at Hippo Island where we learned to tell the difference between hippo and elephant poo. Handy knowledge on this trip.

While canoeing back to our drop-off point, a 9-foot crocodile slid into the water, maybe 15 feet from the point of our canoe. Casper kept cool, but you could sense his concern as he motioned for the second canoe (carrying our supplies) to quickly move forward. Our two canoes raced over the croc side by side because joined boats intimidate the crocs more than single units.* Disaster averted.

Just in case we thought about relaxing after the croc encounter, hippos emerged 30 feet from out boat and made it clear we were invading their personal space. I love Africa.

Broke down our tents for the last time and made our way to the Shoestring Backpacker Lodge, where we'll spend the evening until tomorrow's flight out of Zim. Lousy, unclean hostel took my credit card down payment on the interwebs, but failed to mention they would only take the remainder in cash, so the three of us used all our remaining funds to pay for the room.** We had no money for food or an airport shuttle, so we hiked down to the Barclay's ATM after dumping our packs in the dirty rooms. The ATMs refused our cards (thanks for that, CB&T***), so we're going to be broke until reaching South Africa tomorrow night. Harrumph.

Not her croc. I shot this photo the next night. Jenn alleges she was "too busy" to take photos to prove her fantastical stories. I quit letting her have the camera thereafter.

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Brad's footnotes: 
* And to think, I'd made fun of them for choosing a quiet little canoe jaunt, what with one of the world's grandest waterfalls right here and the opportunity to whitewater raft below the falls, or bungee jump, or ride an ultralight, etc.
** One of several disappointments with this place. Chief among the others, the website promised us "the world's smartest pig," which we never saw. Either some backbackers got real hungry or the pig is smart enough to stay out of sight.
*** MasterCard did an even better job of hosing us later. Suffice it to say, when you call a credit card company to alert them to traveling out of town, don't count on the fact that they actually did anything to make sure you can still use your card without triggering fraud alert.

Africa - August 25, 2012

Packed up and pulled out of camp at 5:30 a.m. to make our way to the Zimbabwe border. It was a lovely drive filled with sightings of elees, ostrich, baboons, and a tawny eagle.* Set up our tents at the Vic Falls Rest Camp & Lodge, then went down the street to an outfitter to sign up for tomorrow's adventure. Several folks in the group are going whitewater rafting on Class 5 rapids, but Kate and I chose a much more relaxed option - the AM Drift.** We'll be picked up at 7:00 for a guided canoe trip down the Zambezi with a guide noted for his excellent birding skills. Holla!

The entire group also signed up for a two-hour sunset cruise this evening. It's our last shindig together and, even though I'm excited about having privacy and indoor plumbing again, I'm sad to leave these guys behind. Jostling bus rides and toilet hippos are quite the bonding experiences, and it feels like I'm saying goodbye to friends at the end of summer camp.

We saw a double rainbow later!
After paying for our excursions, Gerrit dropped us off at Mosi-oa-Tunya, better known as Victoria Falls. The nagging fear in the back of my mind was that, after years of dreaming, finally seeing the Falls would be anticlimactic. Wrong. I don't know how to put into words what I felt at the first sight of the smoke that thunders, so I'll steal David Livingstone's. "Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight."

You hear the falls long before you see them, and the force of the water is so great that the spray is pushed back up the full 350 feet in the air, covering you with a fine mist every few minutes. It's so wide that you can't see it in its entirety from any one spot, and you can't see the bottom either.*** When the time came, I couldn't bear to leave because I knew I'd never see anything like this again in my life. That hour at the falls was worth the entire price of the trip.

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Brad's footnotes:
* Twan and Natasja, the Dutch couple in our group, saw small giraffes through the trees. Aargh!
** Remember the phrase "much more relaxed option" as you read a later post.
*** And, again, we were seeing the falls when the water is low!

Africa - August 24, 2012 - Part 2

Startled awake shortly after midnight by the sound of a lion right outside our camp. He was so close, Kate could hear him panting as he plopped down near her tent. I lay motionless for the longest time, trying to breathe deeply and stay clam, and I had almost convinced myself it was a dream when....ROAR! It sounds strange, but I relaxed after that second call, realizing there wasn't a thing in the world I could do if kitty wanted a midnight snack. So I decided to lay back and enjoy the sound of his voice, which was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard -- somehow powerful and effortless at the same time. Eventually he wandered off, and I drifted back to sleep.

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Brad's footnote:
I slept soundly through the roar, as, disturbingly, did our tour leader. Jenn woke me up after she heard him the second time, and she didn't say a word but starting drawing lines on my palm. I was never more than half awake, and eventually I fell back asleep. Later she told me she was spelling "L-I-O-N," but if so, it was with the Greek alphabet, I swear.

Africa - August 24, 2012

Broke down camp and drove four hours to Elephant Sands. The main lodge is built around a watering hole where elephants drink literally 30 feet away from you. It's incredible.*

Hopped in an open-air jeep after setting up tents to explore the property for several hours. Wildlife spotted: elephants (including babies), steenbok, ostrich, spotted eagle-owl, and lots of other birds. Pulled off the road to watch a cloud-streaked, brilliant sunset over the desert.

Had a fabulous dinner of maize, tomato gravy, butternut squash, sauteed veggies, potato casserole, cole slaw, and peaches with pink butterscotch sauce (puzzling but tasty).** Since it was our tourmate Wendy's birthday, Gerrit had arranged for a homemade birthday cake.

Click photo to see the sign's sage advice.
After dinner, we all sat on the overlook by the watering hole where eight elephants were drinking. The water was almost gone and you could feel the tension as the dominant bull began asserting his authority to hoard the last of the water.*** We were so close, you could hear the whooshing sound as they sucked up the water with their trunks and blew it into their mouths. Any notion of elees being gentle giants faded as one of the bulls -- annoyed at being forced out of the watering hole -- turned, put his trunk in the air to catch our scent, and walked closer...and closer...and closer...We collectively held our breaths as he came within 15 feet of us, glaring and flapping ears, before finally turning away. Everyone exhaled at the same moment, and I was a bit saddened to think this was probably the last time I'd see big game on the trip. But what a way to end the safari.

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Brad's footnotes: 
* Incredible in terms of proximity, but the man-made, square, water pit did kill the vibe of authenticity of the surroundings. I mean, it was authentic wild game, and, to be fair, most of Botswana's wild game is in parks (albeit huge ones with hectares upon hectares of space), but this was a half step toward SeaWorld, to me.
** One of the best meals we had during the camping phase of the vacation.
*** Travelmate Kate made the very valid point that it's just not right that an animal should have to suck water up its nose in order to then deliver it to its own mouth. "That's nasty."

Africa - August 23, 2012

Broke down camp, then loaded up the makoro for another peaceful ride back to the mainland. There were hugs and chest bumps all around as we said goodbye to our polers. We all wish they could come with us -- camp is more fun when they're around.

Embarking on a final ride with our polers.
Another enjoyably bumpy open-air jeep ride back to Maun. Had a quick dip in the pool to remove the first layer of grime, then took the greatest shower of my entire life.*

Bumbled about for a couple of hours, organizing backpacks for the coming days, then over to the camp restaurant for a viewing of footage filmed earlier that day as some of our tourmates (including Kate) flew over the delta in a helicopter. We were served a buffet dinner that included delicious potato skins, goat, maize, butternut squash, and dessert of trifle. After dinner, the hotel employees put on a show wearing traditional tribal clothes and jewelry, but frankly, after the previous night's program around the campfire with our polers, this one seemed touristy and contrived.**

Went to sleep listening to a chorus of frogs, including the one that was hopping about outside our tent. At least I'm telling myself it was a frog.

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Brad's footnotes:
* We were all grateful. I mean, to have a good shower, not that Jenn finally showered. OK, I mean both.
** Agreed. They kept trying to force us to jump up and join in the dancing -- even making some of our tour group awkwardly shake rumps and other bits in our faces. I mean, this sort of thing is great for someone like Matilda, the beautiful Aussie dance instructor, who quickly joined in. But for Brad, the introverted writer, not so much with the fancyfeet, OK?

Africa - August 22, 2012

Our first zebra, followed shortly by 53 more...
One of the best days of my life. Slept until dawn since we didn't have to break down camp, then went for a morning hike. Not far from camp, we spotted a herd of zebra grazing on the dry grass. Then another herd joined them. Then another. Before it was over, Brad counted 54 zebra at that one spot.* Their call isn't what I expected -- it's a high-pitched whine somewhere between a wild horse and a hyena. While we were enjoying the view, a lone zebra raced over a nearby hill, maybe 10 meters from where we stood, and ran to join the group. Un-freaking-believable.**

As the herds began to move on, there was a heartbreaking moment when we realized one of the young zebra was sick and couldn't stand anymore. It tried a few times to lift its head but eventually gave up and lay down in the grass. Its mother darted nervously between the colt and the ever-moving herd. Our guide said she'll abandon the herd rather than leave her offspring. Judging by the leopard prints we've seen in the sand, there's no way the baby will survive for long,*** and I hope the mother can soon rejoin the others.

Enormous termite mounds dot the landscape, so large and strong that elephants lean against them for support at night while sleeping. And we spotted dozens of maribou storks, about the size of a child, walking upright along the edge of a pond. As we hiked back, a red lechwe lept across the field before us, lightning-fast.

We had a treat waiting when we returned to camp. Gerrit had toasted bread and bacon over the fire and heated a kettle of water for tea, so we had a lovely warm brunch.

After the meal, most of us marched back down to the swimming hole for the closest thing we would get to a bath for a while. Tormented one another with a game of Marco Polo, and Gerrit taught us how to make mud bombs. It was brilliant.

Kate teaches Matilda weaving with palm leaves.
Back to camp for a nap until the evening makoro ride. When I surfaced from the tent, our poler Kate (not to be confused with The Great Kate) was weaving bracelets from palm leaves. Several of us sat with her while she taught us how to boil and dye the leaves, and she let us each take a turn weaving one of the bracelets. It was great fun, but I'm pretty sure she won't be able to sell that sad, unevenly-spaced thing.

Sleepy, sleepy hippo.
Michael was our poler this evening, and he took us to a spot where two hippos were swimming about 50 meters away. We watched them yawn and splash for the longest time before poling to a nearby island to catch the sunset.**** Back to camp for a traditional dinner of samp (maize clumps liks hominy). Then the polers surprised us by singing and dancing around the fire for probably 45 minutes. Their voices were pure joy, and a few tears rolled down my face as they sang the last call-and-response in English so we could participate:

Beautiful Botswana (Botswana), Beautiful Botswana (Botswana), I shall never forget Beautiful Botswana (Botswana)*****

After the singing, we all played games and told riddles around the campfire. Endured more taunting from the Toilet Hippo, then went to sleep once again to the sound of treefrogs and braying zebra.

Firelight dancing and singing at the end of a lovely day.
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Brad's footnotes:
* I had time to count because my camera battery went from fully charged to dead in like 10 shots. I only got one zebra photo. Started carrying one of the spare batteries after this.
** This zebra turned out to have a broken leg. Curiously, it seemed to gallop fine, but when it walked, it wobbled badly.
*** Unless it could muster the strength to run faster than the one with the broken leg, I reckon.
**** We watched them from what I thought was an overly cautious distance, until the hippos got curious about us and our polers poled like hell. By the time we were 50 meters from our stop, the pair of hippos had made it to where we'd been.
***** It's a very pretty song and I was hoping it was a traditional piece that they rewrote in English to share. But Gerrit thinks it was simply written for tourists. In any case, it was funny and sweet. They would interchange the nouns with each verse to express what they were thankful for. Beautiful "fire." Beautiful "Africa." Our favorite verse?: "Oh Beautiful ourselves (ourselves)..."

Africa - August 21, 2012




Jenn and Beauty
Began the day with a brilliant but freezing ride in an open-air truck to the headwaters of the delta. Then loaded up our makoros for a 3-hour boat ride across the clear but tanin-rich water. Thick, hollow reeds slapped our faces,* and frogs and birds called constantly from the banks. Our poler's name is Beauty, and we later discovered that she weaves gorgeous baskets.**

Yes, this close.
Shortly after we arrived, three elephants wandered up so close to our campsite that our polers had to shoo them away.*** Minutes later, our trip leader Gerrit flailed excitedly for us to join him -- a large herd of elephants was less than 1/4 mile from where we stood. Unbelievable.

Set up camp, lunched on sandwiches, then took a nap during the hottest part of the day. Woke up drenched in sweat, so I joined the group for a trek to the swimming hole. A week ago, if you had told me that I'd be swimming neck-high in reeds where crocs, hippos, and snakes live, I would have laughed. But my dirty feet have become far scarier than the threat of crocs.

Fish eagle near camp.
At 5:00, we broke into three groups for an evening hike. Animals sighted: lots of elephants, fish eagle, open-billed storks, red lechwe.**** Hyenas, hippos, and zebra could be heard in the distance.

So the bathroom situation is, let's just say, rustic. Gerrit dug a large hole in the sand down a nearby path, and the shovel was left at the trailhead as a sort of door. If the shovel is gone, you know the loo is occupied. Everyone must have a Bathroom Buddy, and we've been warned to take our headlamps with us after dark to look for eyes in the trees. Oh dear.

Our first hike in the Okavango Delta.
The most exciting part of the bathroom experience is, without a doubt, the Toilet Hippo. By the sound of him, he lives about 50m behind the hole. Clearly the greatest joy in this creature's life is roaring while I'm squatting on the ground with pants around my ankles. The aggravating thing is that I try to outsmart him and wait for him to grunt before pulling down my pants. So I'll wait...and wait...and wait...nothing but silence. As soon as I give up and pull down my pants....ROAR! Evil bugger.

The stars in the delta are spectacular, and I finally saw the Southern Cross for the first time. Went to sleep to the sound of zebra calling nearby.

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Brad's footnotes:
* I kind of think they steer us into the reeds on purpose. Like outsider hazing or something.
** Beauty was a great poler and strong, into her 50s. But unlike most of the polers, she spoke no English. It was a quiet ride, which made the experience even more surreal.
*** Like 40 feet away, for reals.
**** Lechwes are antelopes. Funny thing about the lechwe: When I asked how to spell it, our guide said, "L-E-C-H-double-E." So I wrote "lechee." Figured out what happened there later...

Africa - August 20, 2012

Another early start as we began the drive to Maun. The landscape didn't change much except for the beautiful crossings over the Boteti and Thamalaker Rivers.* Ostrich and elephant were spotted along the way. Stopped in Mokopipi for snacks; otherwise, it was an uneventful trip spent napping on the truck. Once in Maun**, we exchanged dollars for Botswana pula, grabbed a quick bite, then off to the grocery to buy supplies for the Okavango Delta.

Our guide, Gerrit, as we tank up near a huge salt flat.
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Brad's footnotes: 
One downside to a trip like this is it covers a lot of ground in a short time. So there were some 4:30 a.m. wake-up knocks on the tent, followed by a lot of Kalahari Desert views from a jostly bus. On the plus side, we got to see a ton of southern Africa in just a week. We also saw the country's largest platinum mine and a cool salt flat.
** Proud to call itself Donkey Capitol of the World!

Africa - August 19, 2012

Got an early start, loading up the truck and heading out at 5 a.m. The landscape in this section of the desert is the same as far as the eye can see -- gnarled, thorny, barren acacia trees, scrub brush, and tall grasses. Monotonous yet mesmerizing. Staring at it for hours on end from the bus, it's impossible not to drift in and out of sleep so much that you begin to wonder what's real and what is a dream.*

Arrived late afternoon in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary where we quickly set up camp and hopped on an open-air jeep. Animals spotted: white rhino, gemsbok,** springbok, steenbok, impala, kori bustard, red-billed oxpecker, yellow-billed hornbill, and did I mention rhinos? Winner of Today's Most Beautiful Animal Award goes to the gemsbok. Watched the sun set over the Kalahari as a white rhino and her calf drank water from a pond 50m away.***

We had been warned of temperature extremes in the desert, but nothing prepared me for the total and instant loss of heat when the sun vanishes. Upon reaching camp, I put on four layers of clothes and spent the evening sitting around the campfire with our tourmates, all of whom are about 30-40 years old, well-traveled, and lots of fun. Turned in early to rest up for tomorrow's trip to Maun.

The gemsbok (or oryx) ain't scared of no white rhinoceros. We, however, stayed well away.
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Brad's footnotes:
* We actually did better at staying awake than most groups, Gerrit told us later. Most are lights-out in 5 minutes, and many of us chatted for hours. It's a good group.
** I knew this animal by its other name, the oryx. The horns are incredible.
*** Our group split into two for the game drive, and we hear the other group saw zebras and the rarer black rhino. But they didn't get the oryx. So, sucks for them.

Africa - August 18, 2012

Statue at Buckingham Palace.
After 33 butt-numbing hours of travel, we've finally made it to Jo'burg. Had a seven-hour layover in London, during which we fled the airport via a London Connect train to stretch our legs and do a bit of sightseeing. Following Mum Judith's advice, we enjoyed an al fresco lunch at Victoria's near Paddington Station.* Felt like bloated cows after devouring our delicious lamb tagine with prune and apricots (Jenn), steak & ale pie (Brad), and fish & chips (Kate), so we walked a couple of miles to Buckingham Palace. Then raced back to Heathrow for the second leg of our journey.
 ....

Walking out of customs into the noisy sea of Jo'burg locals and cab drivers, it was a relief to see our airport shuttle waiting for us. The economic disparity of the city was immediately apparent as we drove past sheet metal shanty towns on the way to our hotel in the city center.** The crazy-beautiful reception staff graciously allowed us to check in far earlier than we should have, and it was a good thing. Our exhaustion was greater than any of us realized, and our 2-hour nap turned into a 4-1/2 hour coma.

After shaking off the sleepiness and disorientation, we wandered down to Nelson Mandela Square to enjoy the fresh winter air for a couple of hours. Then back to the hotel for our first group meeting, the highlight of which was learning the proper technique for moving your tent in the morning to check for snakes that may have been sleeping under your warm body.*** Useful information.

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Brad's footnotes:
* So many beers on tap at this place. So many beers I'd never even heard of. I might secretly be British.
** I kept thinking of "District 9," sadly. Most awkward moment, as we're cruising past one shanty town, the cabbie asks me, "You have places like this in America?" Yes. I mean, no. I mean, yes. I mean, oh, damn it.
*** Hint: The answer is not to go feeling around under there. 

Zimbabwe!

It's Brad again. Finished our trek through the Kalahari and arrived at Victoria Falls yesterday. Jenn's been good at keeping up her journal, which I think she hopes to type in today, after she's back from a birding canoe trip on the upper Zambezi River this morning.

I'll let her cover all the wonderful details, but I'll say that the view of the falls is the single most spectacular show of the natural world that I've ever seen. The water falls onto the rocks with such force that the mist is propelled hundreds of meters up, back to the top, coating all viewers with a dewy badge of honor. It's a tough call whether to say the trip highlight has been the falls or the two wonderful days relaxing deep in the Okavango Delta.

I have breathtaking photos and video of the falls, but I figure you folks will want to actually see us in the pictures until we're back home. So, for now, all you get is this one snappy, which shows just a tiny fraction of the falls. (They're at low water right now, believe it or not from this...)

Botswana!

Hi all. This is Brad, posting under Jenn's account. (Note to international travelers: Disable Google two-step verification before traveling to countries where phone service MAY not be available. I'm locked out of my Gmail and Blogger until I can get a signal. Which has yet to happen.)

All is wonderful. We spent the last two nights in the Okavango Delta and saw many incredible things, sometimes uncomfortably close. (Three elephants at the campsite, I'm talking to you). So far, rhinos, hippos, red litchee, kudu, zebras, herds and herds of elephants, and countless varieties of bok are among the highlights.

After two days in the bush, we're back where the showers are hot -- at least for the night. On to a place called Elephant Springs tomorrow, then Vic Falls the following day.

More later, when Internets don't charge by the minute. I'll try to upload a photo, but if it's too sluggish, I'll give up quickly. Even where food and beer is cheap, I find I'm cheaper.

But we are alive and well. See everyone soon.

This just in: A photo! Yes, we look rough. This is the best I could find that had both us AND elephants in them -- even if it is just elephant bums. (Look to the left of the top of my head. Click for a larger image.) Cheers.