Adventure Blog: Botswana, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania & Zambia
Text and photos by P. Haskins - August 2007
Africa! What an incredible month it was! Each week surpassed the prior one. One of my travel mates, Christine said it best day after day: "just when you thought it couldn't get any better"... and it just kept getting better!
|South African Coast
The first week, spent in Cape Town
, was lovely. Four of us met there and rented two townhouses from where we took day trips: to Robben Island, a powerful experience where the guides are former political prisoners; the Cape of Good Hope, stopping in Simon's Town along the way to see the African penguins; Hermanus, a town much like Mendocino, on the Indian Ocean where we got to see Right Whales romping in their breeding grounds; a visit to a township where the poverty is breathtaking; and much, much more...
|Through the Okavango Delta by dugout canoe!
From there, the full six of us joined up to travel for a week in Botswana
. We had taken the name Emang Basadi
(in Setswana, the name of this women's empowerment organization translates to "Stand Up Women"), and Peggy had buttons made which we wore and gave away. And they were a hit. Women responded with great enthusiasm; most of the men did too. The buttons provided a great basis of connecting with many different people. We started in the Okavango Delta, at Pom Pom (tented) Camp, which was exquisite in every way. It was remote, small, personal and fabulous. Our bird and animal encounters were very high quality with small numbers of animals, and included a ride in a dugout canoe on the delta. From there we went to Chobe National Park and experienced much larger groups of animals, and again quite close up and personal. We also had a visit to a native village in Namibia.
|Leopard near our tented camp
The six of us concluded our time together with a two day visit to Victoria Falls
in Zambia. Even though the falls were at their lowest water flow, they were quite incredible. Each of us engaged in some adventurous exploration of the falls, some quite daring! We stayed at a lovely lodge, a great ending for the six of us.
Five of us then went to Tanzania
for a week, where we were joined by two others from Boston. They had spent the last week on the island of Zanzibar
. The seven of us began our time at a very nice tented camp at Lake Eyasi, with most of that time being a cultural experience, interacting with local tribes and bushmen. We stopped by the Oldupai (the natives tell us the archeologists got it wrong with Olduvai) Gorge to tap our roots, on the way to the Ngorongoro Crater where we got to see a large number of Wildebeests alongside other animals and birds. Our week ended at a penultimate tented camp in the heart of migration region of the Serengeti. The Serengeti is an impressively vast area with many animals; in particular, we saw thousands of zebra.
|Visiting with Namibian villagers under the Baobob Tree
Christine and I said farewell to the other five women and went on to Rwanda
. We were each immensely impressed with Rwanda - with the people, the land, and of course, the gorillas. I will dwell a little more on it than I have about the other countries. The people of Rwanda are resolute in their determination to move past the genocide and their efforts are inspirational. People talked to us of leaving their differences behind, including those of Tutsi and Hutu, race and sex, and seeing their commonality, not differences. This included our driver/guide (who was with us through the whole trip); his father and sister were killed in the genocide. The Kigali Genocide Memorial devoted about half of its space to their Genocide and the other half to the other genocides of the last century. Very powerful. The country has 27 genocide memorials, in villages everywhere, to help them never forget. Also, they devote the last Saturday of the month to cleaning the country in the morning, and having discussions in the afternoon about the genocide and how to bridge differences. They also have a system of repatriating repentant "genocidaires" to the community and a tribunal system of trying and imprisoning the nonrepentant ones. It's an amazing model. And the country is having to work really long and hard to regain the ground that was lost with the genocide.
|Victoria Falls, Zambia
Rwanda is called the land of a thousand hills, and it truly is. It's very fertile and green, and people have planted those hills from top to bottom with crops. We saw colorfully dressed folks walking everywhere, almost always carrying something: women carrying their tools and supplies for the fields (often on their heads), and women and men and children carrying water, crops, groceries and building materials. They were on the roads and on every pathway leading into the hills. We saw very few private vehicles. Men often use bicycles for transporting huge loads, mostly walking those loaded bikes up and down incredible hills. And the people were warm and kind, friendly and good humored; they are truly amazing and beautiful. There is much more to Rwanda, with beautiful lakes, other wildlife and countryside. We met a couple that was staying in Rwanda for the full two weeks of their vacation and Christine and I were each able to imagine doing that in an instant.
|Gorillas in the Mist - the Amahoro Family
And then, of course, there were the gorillas. Being in their presence was extraordinary. On the first day of trekking to see them, the gorillas kept moving uphill, and we kept following them. It took three hours to get to the gorillas, the third hour being straight uphill, with the guides hacking our way through the jungle with machetes; there was no path, and we ended up on top of the forest, on top of the vines (often more than earth), with the gorillas. The trek took a total of seven hours and had exhausted and thrilled me.
We were signed up for two days of trekking, and as I was doing the first trek, I couldn't imagine going for the second day. But when I felt ok the next morning, I decided to go for it. We were assigned to a really easy group (that didn't move uphill.) Our guide, Francois, has worked with the gorillas for 27 years, including 6 years with Dian Fossey. The gorilla family we visited, Sabyinyo, is headed by a 35 year old silverback named Guhonda. Guhonda was a juvenile when Francois started working with him, and they know each other so well, it was lovely to see their interactions; they were gentle old men together.
|Guhonda, the Sabyinyo family leader
Guhonda is the largest silverback alive (at 485 lbs.) and one of the oldest and it was just incredible to be in his presence. His family group had seven others in it, including six and eighteen month old toddlers. Guhonda joined us from a tree above, as Francois said to Christine "Excuse me, madam, but there is a silverback gorilla directly over your head." We used the hour (that is the amount of time allowed for observing the gorillas) following them as they moved from feeding area to feeding area. Even though the recommended distance is 20 feet, the gorillas don't always observe that and we often were three to five feet away from them; it was awesome.
|Sunset in Chobe National Park
Christine and I returned to Nairobi where she headed home and I ended the trip with four days at a country inn built 60 years ago that is now an oasis in the middle of the city. It has lovely grounds with beautiful gardens and waterfalls, four restaurants, and was an easy place to settle into until my flight home. And, it was good to have time to rest before the long trip home. I also wasn't tempted to fill that time with much in the way of activities because Nairobi was having unseasonable rains, which, at an altitude of 5500 feet, cooled it off enough that I had to wear my sweats...90 miles from the equator!
I returned home Tuesday night and found myself to be very open and energized. I am very grateful to Davies who took such good care of my home and cat in my absence and to all the others who offered so much love and support to help get me to Africa.
I send my love to you all,
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