A Travellerspoint blog

Johannesburg to Livingstone

semi-overcast 65 °F
View Africa Trip 2010 on pmonahan's travel map.

We arrived in Livingstone, Zambia this morning after a relatively short flight from Johannesburg. At the airport, we were surprised to find that we got a 50% discount on the visa fee because we had a ticket a World Cup game. Who knew?

Livingstone is a bit like stepping back in time about 50-60 years. Most of the old town center has stayed the same since the mid-1950s. They also have not paved many of the roads. It is the first place that we have felt is truly different from any place we have been.

Our hotel is right next to Victoria Falls, which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. We were able to walk to the nearest viewing platform in about five minutes and we can hear the falls from our room.

Our driver suggested that a good evening activity would be a river safari, so we quickly tossed our stuff into the room and headed out again. The river safari was very cool. After plying us with gin and tonics, they took us along the river's edge to see hippos, crocodiles, birds, etc. Because the hippos are so dangerous, we never got very close to them, and the only part you can see out of the water is the top of their heads. By far the coolest thing was when an elephant swam across the river right in front of us to one of the small islands. We were having a snack stop on the island when our guide hustled us back onto the boat because he knew the elephant was headed our way. Surprisingly, elephants are very strong swimmers, and they use their trunks like a snorkel.

Now, we are just hanging out in the hotel enjoying the atmosphere. It has a great outdoor bar area with a band playing American classics, which seems a bit out of place. One neat thing is that they brought out little metal baskets of coals to place near each table for warmth. No gas heaters here. They are very warm but occasionally shoot out sparks that can sting if they hit unprotected skin.

All in all, another great day in Africa!

Tomorrow...elephant safari!

Posted by pmonahan 11:08 Archived in Zambia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Final Day in Mala Mala

Next stop Johannesburg

sunny 74 °F

Our last day at Mala Mala was sad but exciting. We have had an amazing time and I can't imagine that anything else will live up to this but I am interested in new adventures.

We began our day on a morning safari drive knowing we had to come back early to catch our flight. Today we saw the leopard again with her two baby cubs which was so fun to watch. From here we drove through the bush, came around a corner and saw two giraffes. They were two males and were semi-fighting by hitting each other with their horns.

Our final animal sighting was zebra on the way back to camp to gather our things and head out. After staying at such a swank camp it was really interesting to see Wil react to the constant service. Wil waited with me last night for about 20 minutes because he didn't want Lucky to have to walk him to our area and then walk me later. He couldn't believe the laundry service where we put our laundry in a bag in the morning and it was folded back in our room. We both burst out laughing asking how that was different than home for him?

Mala Mala is known as the best big game viewing in South Africa and it certainly lived up to that however I didn't realize how lucky we really were. When we were talking to guests arriving they were talking about how they have been to Mala Mala many times and have never seen a cheetah or a leopard etc. I had no idea we were spoiled with seeing everything there was to see. In the bar there is a board where you get points for what you see based on its prevelance such as a cheetah is 200 points (the most points) and a buffalo, 10 points. The funniest thing is it was written on the board Kobe 200 points for a Kobe Bryant sighting since he was such a wet blanket about being there with the unwashed masses.

Our last drive with Lucky was to the Mala Mala airstrip. Our little charter flight came in, we got a water out of a cooler and got on the 10 seater looking into the cockpit. While pulling up into the air we watched 3 giraffe eat nearby trees. The perfect last sighting while leaving the bush.

A short hour later we landed in Jo-burg, as the locals say. Wil needed a down afternoon so he opted to stay in the hotel room, play on the pc and watch tv. Peter and I headed into Johannesburg to the Apartheid Musuem which was sad and inspiring all at the same time. The real shock came on

our drive back to the hotel when our driver (our age) said to ask him anything about what we saw and I asked him about the 80's. His picture is in the museum as he was arrested as a 14yr old and tortured over 2 weeks. There were a couple of laws that got a lot of kids. 1. There was a curfew from 5:30pm-6:30am and if you were out and caught, you were arrested. 2. You were only allowed to walk with one other kid (or they thought you were conspiring to do bad things). Therefore if three or more kids were out they were arrested. I can't imagine that happening to Wil as he is 14yrs old.

This evening Peter and I went to the hotel bar and had the local beer and some jerky. (Bar snacks are interesting in other countries!) Wil came down later got a burger and we're preparing for our next day heading to Livingstone, Zambia tomorrow. It will be nice to sleep later than 6:30am but I will certainly miss the morning coffee service.

Posted by kshunter 11:46 Archived in South Africa Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Safari - Day 4

This doesn't get old!

sunny 74 °F

This morning started out slowly in terms of finding animals. We have come to joke with Lucky that he calls for animals to be dropped into places, by delivery van, because they are just always there. Not today...we drove quite a bit without easily finding anything. Interestingly we were looking for an elephant. Who knew they could hide!?

A highlight was instead of having breakfast at the lodge we took our breakfast out into the bush. We drove from 7am-9am looking for animals and the only thing we saw was a small group of rhino run across our path. We eventually came to the former airstrip, just a large grassy field, and had our breakfast picnic. It was wonderful, warm and sunny and we all were peeling off layers of fleece and long sleeves. (It gets quite chilly early in the morning especially when driving in an open air Land Rover.)

Tracking did pick up after breakfast and we stayed out quite late on our morning drive tracking a female leopard. She was hunting and Wil is still hoping to see a kill. Sadly (for him) she never chased anything and we headed back in for lunch.

While lunching on the deck overlooking the bush, an elephant walked by. Seriously, a big huge bull (elephant) was walking down the river bed and everyone got up for pictures. The people that work here don't give him a second look but all the guests were up and taking pictures. Elephants just don't walk past our work in MA.

The afternoon was much more successful in terms of animals sightings. We got to see a group of rhinos drinking and they tend to be skittish animals. We drove partially into the river to watch them and when the mama rhino left she called for her kids and they went running after her. If only Wil listened so well....but I guess he doesn't fear being eaten by anything else.

We also followed another pride of lions in hope that they would hunt. They didn't but just moved from one location to another so we moved on.

Finally, we decided to head back to camp and on the way we saw a jackel and a wildebeast on MalaMala's private runway. We had Lucky turn out all the lights on the Land Rover to get a good look at the stars. It was amazing! I have never seen so many stars! The Milky Way looked like a river of stars. It was beautiful! Lucky also taught us to navigate on the southern cross.

It is hard to believe this is our final full day in MalaMala. Tomorrow we are going to go on a short early morning drive before checking out and flying to our next adventure.

Posted by kshunter 12:06 Archived in South Africa Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Safari - Day 3

Lions, lions everywhere!

rain 60 °F
View Africa Trip 2010 on pmonahan's travel map.

Yesterday, Monday, the weather was a bit rainy, but it was still great. We started our day by checking out a herd of 300+ buffalo drinking at the river. Lucky, our ranger, parked our jeep right in the middle of them, and it was amazing to watch them maneuver down the slope to the river. There was lots of jostling for position and some of the younger males were locking horns to establish their positions in the herd. The buffalo will sometimes moo like cows at home and the herd smells like a typical barnyard.

After leaving the buffalo, we started tracking a female leopard and her cubs after Lucky found their tracks in the dirt road. After about 10 minutes of searching, we found the spot where she had taken her cubs to eat the animal that she had caught the night before. It was unbelievable to watch the two small leopard cubs race about and play fight with the mother like common kittens at home. At one point, we were not more than 25 ft away and the mother did not seem concerned at all. According to one of the rangers, the mother leopard was born in the area, and therefore, is familiar with the jeeps and does not see them as a threat. The leopards are incredibly beautiful.

We then heard that another jeep had found a male cheetah, so we left the leopards to go see that. On the way, we picked up a family of newly arrived Australians, who have spent the last couple of days in the same jeep with us. When we finally found it out by the airstrip, Wil happened to notice that the jeep next to us was people that we had not seen before. After further inspection, we discovered that it was Kobe Bryant from the LA Lakers! Wil was very excited and wanted to find a way to get his autograph. Unfortunately, he is staying in another part of the property and does not eat or socialize with any of the other guests.

The coolest thing that we saw yesterday was a pride of 12 lions who went down to the river to drink. It was amazing to see them all lined up on the edge of the water. Just as the first group started to go back to the area where they were sleeping, the big male lion started roaring and the others joined in. We were initially a bit frightened, but Lucky told us that it is one of the ways that the male lion declares its territory. It was unbelievable to hear that roar so close to us!

On the way back to the camp for dinner, we managed to see yet another pride of 5 lions sleeping after a big meal and couple of hyena! It is outrageous how much game is around this place at all times!

Posted by pmonahan 10:47 Archived in South Africa Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Observations and a Day in the Life on Safari

I realized that we were doing so much talking about what we were seeing animal - wise but none about what is happening, what we're experiencing, expectations etc. Here are some general observations about the African bush.

It is winter here and although 40's at night it is quite pleasant (t-shirt weather) during the day in the sun. It is also their dry season so while driving through the bush you see lots firebreaks.

The landscape is not Out of Africa but dry and grassy with tall trees, some cactus, small bushes etc. I guess they call it "the bush" for a reason. The grass is short in some areas and really tall in others, it is hilly and there are some rock outcrops. There is this one bush/tree variation that has long thorns that look like it is covered with white toothpics.

The safari vehicle is a Land Rover and is amazing! It is a 4 row totally open air vehicle that can move over trees, climb sand dunes (coming up out of the dry river bed) and just about navigate anything. At one point I thought we were stuck and while trying to get up a sandy incline had the same sensation as when driving on snow. You can feel yourself slipping but know exactly when the wheels grip and you're not sliding anymore.

There have been zero mosquitos! We're taking malaria pills just to be safe but honestly, I bet it wouldn't matter at all.

There is a time between dusk and nightfall that the bush becomes totally silent. No birds, no crickets - nothing. It remains that way for a minute or two and then all the sounds come back.

Yesterday when the head female lion came over (we saw a pride of 9 lions) to check us out and walked right up to the vehicle my adrenaline spiked. She calmly looked at Wil and I kept thinking...please don't eat him. That would ruin my trip. The whole time Lucky kept saying, "Don't move!"

The first morning when we saw the cheetah chase the impala it was very exciting but I couldn't decide who I was rooting for. I don't like blood and guts (can't even watch CSI) but I've heard a kill is something impressive to see. My feeling is I got the best of both worlds where I saw the exitement of the chase but no blood or guts.

As for our typical day it goes as follows...

We receive drinks to our room just before 6:30am. It is whatever you choose and we get a pot of coffee, pot of tea and an orange juice. We sip on that while we get ready and then head to the breakfast room (in the Main Lodge area) for 7am. We do EVERYTHING with our ranger, Lucky. He meets us at breakfast and eats with us.

From breakfast, we head to our safari vehicle for our morning drive. It is old time tracking where Lucky can tell us what animals are where by tracks and we follow the tracks, drive into the grassy area etc. We drive from about 7:30ish- 11:30/noon. We have some free time until lunch at 1pm, which is served on a large deck overlooking the river and the bush.

After lunch we have more free time until 2pm when tea is served and then we head out on another drive from 2:30pm-6:30/7pm. It may seem like a lot of driving and I was worried about that but it simply flies by, even for Wil.

Cocktail hour in the main lodge is at 7pm (or really any time as the barman is always around). 8pm is dinner and they serve it in the boma which is a round 18ft high wooden stick fence. Mala Mala was originally a hunting lodge and the boma was where they stored their kill. Even though it is chilly, there is a very large fire in the middle, they have blankets on every chair that you can drape over your shoulders and they offer you a hot water bottle for your lap. After dinner people often go back to the bar or down to the Monkey Room which has a satellite tv, a library etc. From here we head back to bed however we aren't allowed at night to walk ourself to our room. Lucky has to walk us back in the event we encounter (and we do!) wild life as there are no fences around camp.

There is so much more but it is lunchtime so I have to go!

Posted by kshunter 03:28 Archived in South Africa Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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