Category Archives: Africa

The mind-growing effect of living abroad

I’ve lived abroad a few times in my life.  The first time was when I was 21 years old and worked in New York for a year as an intern.  The second time, I went to live in Agadir, Morocco, for three months.  And the most recent time was in Costa Rica for six months.

The locations and experiences were very different, but there was one thing they all had in common.  The level of personal growth I experienced was phenomenal.  I changed and grew in so many ways that I never would have experienced if I stayed settled and working in the UK.  I’m grateful for all of these experiences that in some way shaped the person I am today.

Having lived in London already, the transition to New York was quite easy.  Especially because everyone spoke English.  Looking back, I realise the largest part of why this experience was so much fun was having a large group of intern friends who were just as curious and eager to explore and enjoy NY as I was.  Having friends to share adventures with is a wonderful thing.  I loved the buzz of life, and knowing my time was limited meant I made the effort to do as much as I could as quickly as possible.  Having to start a new life in another country somehow made me very assertive.  I wasn’t so worried about what others thought of me as before.

Morocco was a completely different experience.  It felt very ‘foreign’.  I didn’t understand any Arabic and I was forced to make use of my school French and develop my language skills.  I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of a less modern world, like buying all of your fresh fruit and veg from a market stall, and appreciated how everyone took the time to relax.  Agadir is based by the beach, a beautiful place, and it’s where I learned the importance of enjoying life, remembering to take things slowly once in a while and enjoy the beautiful views.

Costa Rica is a very beautiful country, and the experience of living there was nothing like what I expected.  Funnily enough, it’s where I learned to enjoy relaxing at the beach properly with friends.  I used to find sitting at the beach quite boring before, but I finally understood the joy of spending hours in and near the sea.  I loved living in Quepos, a little village near Manuel Antonio on the coast, for six weeks.  I adored being surrounded by tropical forests, humming birds and I even had a tear in my eye when I saw a flock of wild scarlet macaws near my home.  It makes me feel so awful when I think of how these beautiful red parrots are only seen in cages around the world.  Being immersed in nature was an amazing experience, as were the horrific thunderstorms I witnessed (from the balcony) in rainy season.  Truly magnificent!

Moving to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, made me appreciate all the things I’d taken for granted about living in London.  I kind of assumed that all capitals across the world were similar to London – international, full of work opportunities and great restaurants!  It turns out that’s not the case.  I found the language barrier to be a barrier in getting to know the locals, another reason to improve my Spanish skills.  I also enjoyed the opportunity to visit rainforests, waterfalls, beaches and volcanoes around Costa Rica.  One of the highlights was visiting Tortuguero and going kayaking for the first time… by myself… with a random dog that insisted on joining me!  It was amazing and I loved ‘adventure dog’, he was awesome.

I learned a lot from my time living abroad.  Living somewhere is completely different to just visiting a place for a weekend or a week.  You get a different feel for the place and understanding of the culture.  I learned that people are kind and helpful, but most of all, I learned that I can rely on myself.  That gave me a lot of confidence in myself – knowing that in a foreign situation you can and will always find a solution for what you need.

I also learned and realised that sometimes you can’t control everything.  Things happen in life, and you just have to go with the flow.  I learned to let go of a lot of my life expectations, and sometimes the distance from ‘home’ also helped me to accept and let go of the past.  Making the effort to step away from your everyday life helps you to see life from a different perspective.  Somehow, travelling and living abroad really helped me to grow spiritually and accept everyone and everything more than before.

Going to new places makes your senses come to life as you have to pay attention to everything around you.  It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and experience different ways of living.

I’m grateful that I’ve had these opportunities to experience personal growth, and I’m aware that this kind of growth would have been very limited if I hadn’t travelled and lived abroad.

I realise that living abroad is usually a huge step, but I highly recommend it to anyone who is considering it.  Most people actively manage their career growth, but I think personal growth is just as important in life, if not more.

 

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Filed under Costa Rica, Morocco, New York, Travel, Wildlife

Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park

MARCH 2015

Continued from Botswana

THURSDAY – Kasane to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

I finally had a ‘lie-in’ on my holiday and woke up at 8 am to complete my packing, have breakfast at 9 am (English breakfast) and be picked up at 10 am.  I was picked up by a friendly driver from Wild Horizons.  The first stop was about 20 minutes’ drive away at an immigration office (I think) where they stamped my passport on the Botswana side.  Then we stopped at another office where I paid US $55 in cash for a visa to Zimbabwe (this is the fee for British citizens, may be different for other nationalities).  I had to switch vehicles here, but there were two gentlemen from Wild Horizons there to help.  One was my next driver, the other was solely there to help!  They guided me on which form to complete, which queue to stand in, and transferred my luggage to the next vehicle.  It was a smooth transition.  After that it was a friendly air-conditioned ride to Victoria Falls where I was dropped off at the Rainbow Hotel.

http://www.victoria-falls-rainbow-hotel.com/

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g293761-d299677-Reviews-Rainbow_Hotel_Victoria_Falls-Victoria_Falls_Matabeleland_North_Province.html

This is quite a nice big hotel.  I had a lovely room with a balcony… and TV!  It was quite charming but also quite standard.  I was able to take the hotel’s free shuttle to the Victoria Falls – the shuttle times were posted near the entrance.  This was very short, only 10 or 15 minutes away.  The driver did point out that I could buy a waterproof cape at the stalls where he dropped me off – just across the road from the Falls’ entrance.  I thought it looked a bit scammy so thought I’d wait until I get inside.  It was US $30 entrance fee to enter a big park that has multiple viewing points of the waterfalls.  It turned out there weren’t any capes being sold inside, so far as I could tell, but that was fine – at the first viewing point I could feel a fine spray which was fine for me and my camera, quite refreshing, in fact.  While there, a lovely couple from the US (Michelle and Johnny, and their GoPro camcorder) who had been at the Old House called out to me– what a coincidence!  We wandered around together and I ended up joining them for the whole Victoria Falls adventure.  We saw the statue, and worked our way down the path.  The further we got, the more we understood the advice to get a cape.  The spray was getting stronger and stronger with each viewing point, and by the last few we were literally being rained on continuously!  I’m glad I had a big zip lock bag to cover my camera in anticipation of this.  I had not anticipated that I would be completely drenched by the falls! 🙂  It was fun though, especially because we were having a good laugh about it.  The Falls are in fact magnificent.  I think either the first or second viewing point had the best view and the weather was lovely so we got some wonderful postcard shots.

**TIP: Buy the cape!  This is from the stands opposite the Victoria Falls entrance.  Also take a waterproof/ziplock bag to keep you camera/phone dry.**

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Tourism-g293761-Victoria_Falls_Matabeleland_North_Province-Vacations.html

I went back to my hotel and met Michelle and Johnny in the evening at the Victoria Falls Hotel for cocktails and dinner.  Rainbow Hotel called me a taxi which took about 5 minutes and cost US $5.  The Victoria Falls Hotel is such a glamorous and beautiful place.  Very elegant and refined, I’m glad I managed to visit it.  The cocktails were delicious (especially the Cape to Cairo which is a creamy Kahlua concoction) and for dinner I has the crocodile masala tagliatelle.  I can’t remember if I’d had crocodile before, and if I had, it obviously wasn’t very memorable.  I’d say it tastes like chewy chicken.  And this was a memorable meal because I enjoyed the evening so much!

http://www.victoriafallshotel.co/index.html

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g293761-d305395-Reviews-The_Victoria_Falls_Hotel-Victoria_Falls_Matabeleland_North_Province.html

FRIDAY – Victoria Falls to Sable Sands

One night only at Victoria Falls felt quite short, but I had done everything I wanted to do (Victoria Falls and Victoria Falls Hotel) so I was OK with leaving.  Another driver from Wild Horizons (who I was learning managed a lot of the transfers and activities in the area) picked me up to take me to the Painted Dog Centre, where I would be picked up by someone from Sable Sands.  This time there were a few other people on the ride, one going to Victoria Falls airport and a couple from Australia, Laurie and Michael. The airport was not far, and after that it was a couple of hours’ drive to our next stops.

The Painted Dog Centre provides information about Wild Dog conservation in Africa.  Wild Dogs are endangered and rare.  Apparently there is a tour you can take where you can see some of the Wild Dogs kept there.  I didn’t have time to do this, but did have a look around the information room and bought a couple of things from the shop before Brian from Sable Sands came to pick me up.

http://www.painteddog.org/

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g298094-d2348376-Reviews-Painted_Dog_Conservation-Hwange_Matabeleland_North_Province.html

Brian is fabulous.  He is one of the owners of the Sable Sands lodge, along with his partner Marlene.  He was warm and friendly from the start and told me about himself and the history of the lodge on the way there.  It is located within the wilderness (not in town) amongst the trees and wildlife.  I was greeted by Marlene in the communal dining/sitting area with a drink and a wet towel to freshen up, and we sat down and had a little chat before I was shown to my room and had lunch.

There are 11 ‘rondovels’ (I think) which are round buildings with thatched roofs.  Mine was lovely with a nice double bed and ensuite bathroom, I think they are all roughly the same set up.  I did notice the interesting shade of toilet/sink (like olive green mixed with mushy peas) but let’s face it, this is not important at all!  The bathroom was clean and the shower was good.

After lunch and a bit of vegging out, Marlene took me out for a drive around the local estate.  The lodge is literally within the wilderness – surrounded by trees with a local waterhole.  Beyond the trees there are some more open grassy areas (the ‘flay’) followed by more trees and I was able to take photos of some birds like larks and European rollers, and some elephants in the distance.  We stopped under some trees for a drink (good local beers) and following some advice to ‘always be prepared’ with my camera, I took it out with me too.  And I’m glad I did!  Mid-beer, a whole herd of elephants came through the trees and dusky red sunlight towards us.  It was wonderful.  We moved closer to the car so that we were not too exposed, and the elephants seemed very comfortable to get very close to us.  My impression was that they were friendly, I didn’t feel scared – well, maybe a little.  In a very respectful way!  They took their time in moseying-through our patch of trees, there were around 35 in total.

That evening, I joined the other guests at the lodge for dinner – a group of ten people travelling from the US who were in their sixties and beyond!  I happen to really like older people, especially the cool ones who enjoy travelling.  They are an inspiration to me.  This bunch was lovely and very friendly.

That night as I got ready for bed… I noticed the hugest friggin’ spider on the wall above my bed.  He was almost as big as the flask of water by my bed.  (This may be a slight exaggeration)

I think all animals and insects are amazing in their own special way – but for some reason spiders really freak me out.  There was no AC so it was already kind of warm, but I was really sweating now.  I guess a small blessing is that it was outside the mosquito net and not inside.  Fortunately the spider didn’t like the sound of my book bouncing on the mattress and ran away… in to the bathroom.  Great.  I made sure the net was tucked securely under the mattress thus creating a formidable spider/human barrier before I finally fell asleep.

I decided to call that spider Fred in the hope that giving it a name would make him less scary.  I do still wonder if Fred was freaking out as much as I was about about the huge human in his rondovel.

SATURDAY

I had a morning and afternoon game drive lined up with Roy who picked me up at 5.30 am.  Roy’s a nice guy and very knowledgeable.  He told me about the lion and elephant tracks that we saw on the sandy paths.   These drives were on the private concession land – between the lodge and Hwange National Park.  One of the differences, compared to being in the National Park itself, is that there is no requirement to stay on the paths.  So if we spotted buffalo in the distance that happened to be on the other side of the flay, Roy would just turn off the path and drive into the grass to get to the right place.

That afternoon was memorable for me.  After watching a herd of around 40 elephants by one of the water holes, Roy drove under some nearby trees and parked.  Soon after, the elephants turned towards the trees and headed straight towards us.  Roy explained that the elephants really like to eat the fallen pods.  What surprised me was how close they came, within a metre of us.  Roy pointed out how trusting they were to come so near, especially given there were also some very small baby elephants within the herd.  What surprised me even more was that some of the elephants faced us and seemed to raise their trunks to us, like they were greeting us.  I asked Roy about this later, he told me that this is also what elephants do with each other – to smell each other and in greeting.  I was really impressed by how friendly, inquisitive and intelligent these elephants were, to want to interact with us.  I think animals are much more intelligent than we humans give them credit for and I was really touched to experience this with wild elephants.  Obviously these elephants had built up trust with the local people to be so trusting and friendly.  They are by no means tame, they are wild herds that roam the lands and are not fed or helped by people.

That evening, Brian and Marlene invited me and a couple of other girls who’d arrived in the morning to join them at a ‘braii’ barbecue with some of their friends.  We took some drinks with us and had a great time!  I was also grateful for the opportunity to meet more people who lived locally, especially the researchers as I love listening to biology chat.  One of them assured me that wall spiders are not poisonous.  We got back at about midnight.

SUNDAY

The pick up for Sunday morning was considerately planned for 6.30 am given the late night.  The morning drive was with a different safari guide in to Hwange National Park.  This guide was friendly and professional, but not especially enthusiastic or jovial. Or a joy to be with.  As I’m not a fan of slating nice people in a public forum, let’s call him ‘T’.  T drove us in to Hwange National Park, which was about 30 minutes away.

This was a spectacularly uneventful game drive.  No interesting animals on the way there, some birds while there, a few zebra, and lion tracks but no lions.  I’ve heard this happens sometimes – game drives with no game.  I wasn’t sure if it was actually bad luck or T.  Or both.  Hmph!  We saw two elephants on the drive back to the lodge.  This was also not very exciting after all the wonderful elephants I’d already seen.  I felt quite disappointed with this drive – for the lack of game and the lack of good company!

I was relieved that my afternoon drive was with Roy again – proven to be good guide and good company. We headed off and drove around… and saw nothing.  We headed towards the forest and drove around by the ponds… and saw nothing!  Hm!  We did stop for a beer and admired the lack of animals.  So it really can happen, days with no interesting wild animal sightings.  I was relieved that this wasn’t my only day of safari on this holiday as that would have been very unfortunate!

As we headed back we went to one of the waterholes where there are often elephants.  We found a group of people, including Brian and Marlene, tracking a collared lion.  We also saw there was a lone buffalo sitting by the waterhole.  This was very odd behaviour as they are usually in a herd and stay together.  We guessed the buffalo was wounded and we knew there were lions nearby, perhaps the perfect formula to watch a lion kill?  Unfortunately nothing happened and it was getting dark, so we decided to go back to the lodge and check in the morning.

But we couldn’t wait that long.  So on my last night at the lodge I was thrilled to go on a night drive!  Brian and Marlene took me and a few others staying at the lodge in their car to track down the lions.  It was pitch black, so we relied on the headlights and a strong torch.  The buffalo was nowhere to be seen, but we drove a little further and found a group of lions – one male and a few females.  It was so exciting to be so close to them in the dark.  We parked about five metres away and watched them for about twenty minutes.  This certainly made up for the lack of animals throughout the day!

Back at my room, Fred the spider made an appearance – in the shower.  He didn’t seem so scary this time.  I set up my tripod, which I had lugged all the way from London and not used once yet, and took a proper photo of him/her.

Fred

What a beauty!

MONDAY

I was up very early for a final short drive with Roy before I headed to the airport.  We headed straight to the waterhole.  Still no buffalo to be seen, but we did find the lions up close by the light of day.  To be honest, lions are pretty boring.  They veg out a lot and move occasionally.  One of the lady lions was in heat – it’s only biology!  I felt very satisfied with the end to my trip in Zimbabwe.

A big thumbs up to Roy for being an excellent guide throughout my trip, I’m glad I got to know him and really enjoyed the drives with him.

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g298094-d5612011-Reviews-Wild_Walks-Hwange_Matabeleland_North_Province.html

I was pleased with my choice of staying at Sable Sands.  This is not your typical hotel set up, which is what I am used to.  I was a little disappointed at first (no TV or air con!) but soon realised that this stay is wonderful as an experience.  By the end of my stay I was thrilled to be there and also appreciated the concept of sustainability a little more, and how I don’t really need air con or electricity 24/7.  The water is heated using wood burners and the wood is collected from the surrounding forest.  And, it’s not camping with ‘bush ablutions’!!

Hot water was only available around mid-morning and early evening.  Electricity, including mains lights, was available from 6.30 pm to 10.30 pm or so.  I was also provided with two portable solar powered ‘desk’ lights in the room which worked really well and the staff arrange for the cells to be out in the sun and also put them back in the lights each day.  There was no air conditioning but the room was always nice and cool compared to the hot weather outside.  There is also a mosquito net in place that the staff set up daily.  The cleaning staff were like stealth ninjas.  I never saw them in my room but my solar lights, bed and mosquito net were seen to twice a day.

The meals were included with my stay and are not at set times.  I was advised to let the staff know when I wanted meals, or just roll up to the dining area to request something.  I found this a little strange at first, but it really wasn’t that complicated!  I would let the staff know at the end of each meal what time I wanted the next one, so my need for a plan was met.  The food was delicious and fresh every time.  There was a basic range of cereals and tea/coffee available for the very early mornings – pre-game drive (that usually started at 5.30 or 6 am) and I either had a breakfast meal when I got back (like omelette) or waited until lunch time.

The winning feature of this lodge by far was the hospitality shown by Brian and Marlene.  They welcomed me to their home and took care of me as their guest.  I was travelling on my own and I felt taken care of – it was above and beyond for them to invite me (and other guests) to a barbecue with their friends and to go on a spontaneous night drive, clearly experiences I would not have had if I was staying in a large hotel.

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g477977-d3850151-Reviews-Sable_Sands-Hwange_National_Park_Matabeleland_North_Province.html

Brian dropped me off at the Painted Dog Centre, which was the pick up point for Wild Horizons to take me to Victoria Falls airport.  Brian was straight on the phone with them as their driver was late, and offered to take me to the airport in case they didn’t turn up – another example of an exceptionally caring host.  The driver did arrive soon afterwards and I said my goodbyes to Brian and the other guests I’d made friends with who were also being dropped off.

The drive to the airport was smooth and I felt quite sad and wistful to be leaving Africa.  I bought a couple of souvenirs – a wooden giraffe and a heavy stone kudu figure – and spent a lot of time waiting in the airport lounge as my flight was delayed.  While waiting, I said hi to a couple of guys who had been staying at The Old House in Kasane, as well as Laurie and Michael who I had met on a Wild Horizons journey – small world.

Another wonderful trip to Africa.

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Filed under Africa, Safari, Travel, Wildlife, Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe

Wow! What an exhilarating experience!! I had heard you should buy a cape so you don’t get soaked – and I thought ‘pah’! However, by the end of the path it all made sense – I was soaked.

Totally worth it, it was a beautiful view and wonderful to behold.

IMG_2426

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Filed under Africa, Travel, Wildlife

Botswana – Kasane and Chobe

March 2015

The highlight of all my holidays last year was the two days I spent on safari in Etosha wildlife park in Namibia.  I decided I’d love to do more safari one day.  I happened to read a magazine article where a wildlife photographer said that the Chobe river is the best place for taking photos – and so the decision was made: I would visit the Chobe river one day.  And even more recently, I remembered to stop saying ‘one day’ and start doing, so I looked into booking this safari.

DSC_3724-SK.JPG

There are a lot of tours available with set itineraries.  I was quite keen to do one of these as a group, but there was always something not quite right – like camping with ‘bush ablutions’ or the itinerary included two days at Victoria Falls (too long for me) or the dates/budget were not ideal.  I came across Safari Specialists and made an enquiry about one of their set itineraries.  Sadly, the dates were not perfect, but the lady who contacted me, Nadine, started asking questions about what I wanted and what kind of budget I had.  I wasn’t really interested in booking things separately and I wasn’t sure I’d get what I want for the budget I was looking at.  As she was asking though, I told her, and she started putting some potential itineraries together and said she could change anything.  And so my itinerary began to take form!  We settled on the following:

4 nights at the Old House in Kasane, Botswana (including breakfast and some game drives)

1 night at the Rainbow Hotel in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (including breakfast)

3 nights at Sable Sands in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (all inclusive – meals and game drives)

Correspondence with Nadine was friendly and efficient, and she was always encouraging me to get the itinerary exactly how I wanted it.  I asked many questions and switched things around and everything was OK with her!  I recommend them highly:

http://www.safarispecialists.net/

https://www.safaribookings.com/p185

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTopic-g293766-i9284-k7096336-Safari_Specialists_in_Maun_Erica_and_Nadine-Botswana.html

After finalising a plan, I booked my flights using Ebookers.  I booked this about five weeks before I was set to fly at the beginning of March.  The other advantage of booking through an agent was the peace of mind in having a set itinerary that includes transfers between all locations.  Particularly as a female travelling alone, it helped to know everything was sorted out so I was free to enjoy my holiday!

I took some Botswana Pula for Botswana and US dollars for Zimbabwe.  I also ordered a ‘South Africa’ plug adaptor from Amazon.co.uk as I remembered from last year it was really tough trying to find this in UK airports or Namibia itself.  I did later discover they have them at Johannesburg airport for a significantly higher price.

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY

London to Botswana

I took the tube to Heathrow airport for the flight to Kasane, Botswana via Johannesburg, South Africa.  I chose the option for a four hour stop over as opposed to the option for a one hour stop over – the latter is far too tight for my liking!  However, I do have a paranoia about missing flights so often arrive ridiculously early.

London to Johannesburg was about 11 hours, followed by a four hour stop over then Johannesberg to Kasane took about four hours.  My flight started at 6 pm in London on a Saturday and I arrived the following day at 1 pm local time.

Everything went fine, the South African Airways flight was fine – the meals were even OK!  One thing to note – I was going to buy some booze from Heathrow airport – they pointed out that it may get taken away at Johannesburg airport.  I rarely take connecting flights, so I had forgotten/didn’t realise this might be an issue.  So I didn’t buy any booze from London, and there WAS another security check at Johannesburg to take a connecting flight where they confiscated my bottle of water.  I would have been very upset if they had taken my booze away, so I’m glad I didn’t buy any!

Next step was trying to buy some booze in Johannesburg duty free to take to Kasane.  It turns out this is very limited and I was only allowed to take South African wines!  Apparently anything that had been imported was not an option for British citizens – unless I am a diplomat.  Which I’m not.  What an odd perk!!  So I did purchase some wine which I was happy to try out.

A chap called Sox came to pick me up from the airport as well as another lady who was on the same flight as me.  The lodge The Old House is charming and lovely.   I was pleased with my room, a nice double bed with a sofa and a kettle with teas/coffees.  Nice and clean, good sized bathroom with a shower.  The shower was not my favourite – it sprays all over the place (yes, I know this is what a shower is supposed to do, but this was in a very disorganised manner!) – this is a really minor point, overall it’s all good.  It did take me a few minutes to notice there is no TV in the room – but obviously TV is not the reason I came to Africa🙂

Wifi was sporadic – but free and included.  Fine for holiday purposes.

http://www.oldhousekasane.com/

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g297318-d2367668-Reviews-The_Old_House-Kasane_North_West_District.html

The restaurant at the lodge is good – open air under a thatched roof, reasonably priced, friendly staff and good grub.  I had lunch and dinner there.  I was really pleased to see warthogs and mongoose hanging around outside my room.  The restaurant has a good view of the river, which is just a few minutes walk away.  I took it easy that evening so I could recover from the long flight and be ready for a 5.30 am pick up the next day.

MONDAY

http://www.pangolinphoto.com/

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g297318-d2482605-Reviews-Pangolin_Photo_Safaris_Day_Tours-Kasane_North_West_District.html

I signed up with Pangolin Photo Safari for a morning game drive and afternoon river cruise.  I had read so many great reviews on TripAdvisor, and I liked the idea of learning from wildlife photographers.  This is like your normal safari, but with wonderful Nikon D7000 cameras + Sigma 150-500mm lenses provided so you can take amazing pictures with the guidance of a professional photographer who is also onboard.  The game drive at Chobe National Park is located about 20 minutes drive away from the lodge.  I had the good fortune of meeting Guts and Killer who are both wonderful, friendly and experts at what they do.  They are both very patient – Guts provided excellent teaching on the move and Killer was great at getting us to the right place at the right time.

We saw elephants, hippos, giraffes, as well as wild dogs that are endangered and very rare.  There were only two of us on the safari that morning as a group of five had pulled out at the last minute.  This actually worked really nicely as we both got quite a lot of attention.  I appreciated that Guts catered for all levels of photography.  I’ve had my DSLR for nearly a year and a half so although I know and understand the basics, I still have to think to put it into action.  The other chap had never used a DSLR before, so Guts explained the basics of how to use the D7000 as well as some of the basic concepts like shutter speed, aperture and ISO.  He also spent time with both of us to cover anything else that was useful to us.  We had a good laugh throughout and enjoyed a cup of tea and biscuits by the riverside – before having to rush off to follow up on the wild dog sighting.

It was a great morning, we saw lots of animals and our guides were very knowledgeable.  The vehicle was cool, very open and there are bean bags lined up on the frame so you can rest your camera.  I was dropped back off at the Old House for 10 am, in time to have breakfast.  I later had lunch at the Old House restaurant and visited the nearby shopping area with the lady who was picked up from the airport with me, who is also my neighbour.  There is a Spar for grocery shopping as well as clothes shops and… KFC.

In the afternoon I went on a boat trip on the Chobe river with the same company.  They have a special boat that is designed for photography.  There are swivel chairs in single file, each with a specially designed camera holder.  I admit I felt very spoilt on a boat trip after this – and I felt it more on the following boat trips I went on in standard passenger boats!  A lady called Lynn guided us in taking photos and pointing out the animals and birds.  We saw lots of elephants along the river, hippos, crocodiles, fish eagles, pied kingfishers, bee eaters and a whole range of other birds.  Lynn was really helpful in checking our camera settings, and it seems keeping an eye on the ISO was very important as the lighting was changing continuously.  The boat was amazing because the camera + lens is quite a heavy combination so the camera holder was very helpful in staying steady for shots over three hours or so.  We were also offered coke, beer or water throughout the trip.  It was a fun and cheerful afternoon full of animals, birds and photography!  It ended at around sunset, so we were able to get some great photos over the river.

I was dropped back at the Old House at about 6.30 pm.  That evening I had a drink on the jetty with a new friend who was also staying at the lodge.  This was beautiful with the remainder of the sunset, but painful because all the mosquitoes seemed to think it was party time – despite the insect repellant I had just applied.  We headed back and had dinner at the Old House restaurant.  I had the venison carpaccio (apparently kudu) which was really delicious, and the meat pizza.  And a couple of ciders.  Bizarrely, for some reason we were watching female WWF wrestling on the TV – strange but very amusing!!

TUESDAY

I had the opportunity to join Pangolin for another boat trip as they had space available, which I happily took!  It was a 6 am pick up from the jetty.  I ended up being locked in my room :-\ unfortunately I wasn’t able to unlock my room from the inside!!  I had to call the reception from my mobile and someone came to let me out!!  In that time Lynn had also come to find me, just in time for my release!

This time there were five other people on the trip too.  I enjoyed this trip a lot, largely because I felt more comfortable having done it once before and felt more confident in using the equipment.  Plus I think the others were pretty much beginners, so I was happy to get on with my thing.  I found I was more selective in what I was taking pictures of, so I was a lot more relaxed and enjoyed the actual boat ride a lot and absorbed the wonderful atmosphere and the fact that I was on a boat trip on the Chobe river in Botswana.  It was fantastic.

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So following three trips with Pangolin, I would certainly recommend them to anyone who is interested in the photography aspect of safari.  I learned a lot while having fun – and that’s special!  I’m glad that, as planned, I had the photography guidance at the beginning of my trip so I could make use of these tips for the rest of the safaris planned!  Guts and Lynn are both so personable, good and patient teachers, and a pleasure to spend time with.

My lodge neighbour friend (Carolyn) and I decided to venture out and had lunch at a restaurant called Hunter.  It wasn’t thrilling – so I won’t go into it!  After lunch we walked a little further and came across the Chobe Marina Lodge, which looks amazing!  They had a really nice restaurant too.  It took about 10-15 minutes to walk back to our lodge.  And we saw some warthogs on the way back!  I love that they hang out in the street.  It was pretty hot walking in the early afternoon heat, I wouldn’t recommend it for long periods.

That afternoon, I went on my first activity arranged by the Old House, a boat ride with Sox.  This was different to the Pangolin trip, in the sense that there was no photography aspect e.g. no advice, no cameras provided and it was a little harder to take photos as there were bars in the way (yes, I was photographically spoilt with Pangolin), but it was very enjoyable for exactly what it was – a boat trip on the Chobe river.  We saw lots of animals, including a herd of around 50 elephants rushing to the river side to drink – that was amazing.  Sox is also a very knowledgeable and friendly guide.

WEDNESDAY

The following day I went on a morning game drive and afternoon boat trip, both with Sox.

In the evening I had dinner with a couple of hotel friends (Carolyn and Mike) at theChobe Marina lodge.  It was a nice set up, and to my surprise we were led to an outside veranda to dine.  We chose a table with a view over the river, which was beautiful.  I ordered a medium-rare steak with peppercorn sauce, rice and veg on the side.  My friends had the fish dish and a well done steak with mashed potatoes.  And it all went down hill from there.  There were flies and bugs all over the place, on us and our plates.  Then they completely mixed up the order, so my steak was well done with rice and Mike got the medium rare with mashed potatoes.  By the time Mike and I figured out the mix up and switched the remaining half of our steaks, I don’t know… it wasn’t great!  And Mike got all my peppercorn sauce which he said was delicious.  It was a quick meal, we didn’t stick around to savour the fly ambience or dessert.  I was disappointed with the meal, however, I’m not writing this place off.  I accept that Botswana is not to the same culinary standard as London when it comes to dining out.  They did try, service was friendly, food presentation was good and next time I would definitely sit indoors!!  I’d also be happy to stay here, as accommodation it does look amazing.

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g297318-d502026-Reviews-Chobe_Marina_Lodge-Kasane_North_West_District.html

This was my last night in Kasane.  I left with a heavy heart, I really enjoyed my stay and I would have happily stayed longer for the lodge, the nice vibe in the area and the wonderful viewing on the game drives and on the river.

Overall, I enjoyed my stay at the Old House for the friendly staff, the good restaurant service and the comfy feel of the place.  I don’t know how to describe it – it wasn’t sterile like a chain hotel, it felt nice and homely and it was easy to chat to other guests.  I also enjoyed the food there (especially the daily special ‘venison carpaccio’ which was springbok the second time, or maybe it was just mystery meat?) and the fact that the restaurant was 30 seconds from my room so I could roll up at any time.  And, I did love the local warthogs and mongoose that liked to hang around.

The trips I went on by both Pangolin and the Old House were great, and I highly recommend Pangolin if you are interested in photography, using a mega lens or improving existing photography skills – this was really enjoyable.

Game drives and boat trips were both good.  The boat is great for bird photos and close up hippos/elephants in the water, I don’t think this is always so easy to find.  If you can only do one or the other, I’d recommend an afternoon boat trip so you can also view the sunset. 

After Botswana, I continued my trip to Zimbabwe to visit Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park

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The Old House – Kasane, Botswana

Checked in yesterday to this wonderful lodge and loving it so far! Welcoming staff and good restaurant food. Also enjoying the local warthogs and mongoose outside my room!

http://www.oldhousekasane.com

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g297318-d2367668-Reviews-The_Old_House-Kasane_North_West_District.html

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Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary – volunteering in Namibia

June 2014 

Namibia: N/a’an ku se Wildlife Sanctuary

Namibia was my big AWESOME trip of 2014.  I planned to go for two weeks to do some volunteer work with the N/a’an ku se Foundation wildlife sanctuary.

http://www.naankuse.com

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/at-a-namibian-sanctuary-you-dont-just-see-the-wildlife-you-care-for-them/2014/10/09/076ff67c-4e4b-11e4-aa5e-7153e466a02d_story.html

I chose this trip as I was travelling alone and wanted to have something to do and people to meet.  I also wanted to be able to get close to some animals rather than looking at them from afar.  AND cheetahs are my favourite animals!  I heard Namibia is Cheetah country.

The flight from London to Windhoek was good with a little stop over in Frankfurt.  I was picked up by a friendly driver who took me over to the sanctuary – and kind of dumped me with a bunch of people who were all having breakfast.  They were all nice, so it was fine, and you learn there will be plenty of others who join in the same way!

The staff were all very friendly and helpful and there was a whole variety of other volunteers there – young, old and from all different backgrounds.

Weather

It was winter in Nambia – the days were quite lovely and warm, I’d say 22-28 degrees.  It was generally sunny everyday, some days more windy than others.  The nights were bitterly cold.  BITTERLY COLD.

Accommodation and food

Well, the accommodation wasn’t anything to write home about, but that’s not what I went for!  The room I had was basic and shared with two other girls, one of whom I have since met up with in London.  The shared bathroom was also very basic.  Certainly not luxury accommodation, but absolutely fine for a volunteer project.  It was REALLY cold at night and there was no heating.  I’m really glad I took a good-ish sleeping bag and plenty of layers are required.

It did help to figure out when there was hot water.  As most of the hot water was solar powered and I was there in winter, the best times to go for a shower was straight after lunch or straight after all activities had ended.  If left too late, you’d be heading for a cold shower!

I was pleasantly surprised by the range of food they provided.  It was always hearty and good, and enough for everyone.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner was provided.  These were eaten at the communal area near the big fire place, especially nice in the evenings to gather around the lit fire and catch up with the group.

There was also a shop that was open a couple of days a week for all of your essentials like dirt cheap cider (drink it!), wine, soft drinks, chocolates, and probably some actual essentials too.

Tasks

All the volunteers were placed in groups and part of a rota each day.  There were a number of various tasks that ranged from preparing food (chopping up fruit, veg and meat for the animals) to walking with baboons.  Some of the tasks were more fun than others!  At the end of the day, the aim of volunteering is to help maintain the sanctuary – the real part – as well as spending time with the animals – the fun part.  This included taking care of horses, carnivore feeds, cheetah runs and walking with with the baboons.

Samira

One of my favourite creatures from the trip is a beautiful cheetah called Samira.  From my understanding, she had been kept as a pet and for whatever reason her owners gave her up.  Probably because the cute kitten grew too big??  Anyhow, she is friendly and good natured, and I think she was around 16/17 years old when I met her.  She does enjoy some human company, but I think she likes her own space too.  I have a lot of respect for this big cat.  As you can see, she’s a bit like a big pussy cat.

I know it would be lovely to see Samira in the wild, but realistically it’s unlikely she would survive as she didn’t learn to hunt or fend for herself.  Also, she’s very old now and certainly wouldn’t survive on her own.  I think she’s about as happy as a lovely old cheetah can be.

Samira Cheetah
Samira

Carnivore feed

There’s something amazing about being driven around on the back of an open pick up truck around Africa.  It’s open and beautiful and natural, the wind’s in your hair and you’re keeping an eye out for all the random wild animals that you know are out there.  This was part of the journey towards the carnivore feed as well as a number of other activities away from the main project.

The carnivore feed was taking huge chunks of meat to feed the ‘wild’ animals, like cheetahs and leopards, that could not be released in the wild (at least not yet in some cases) and were kept in large enclosures, further out from the sanctuary itself.  We went out with our groups and all helped to throw the meat over the fences.  They would normally come to the fence to get their food then run away, but human contact is kept to a minimum.

Cheetah run

One of the enclosures is for three cheetahs – Lucky the three legged cheetah, Arrow and Shadow.  Lucky’s foot had been caught in a horrible trap as a youngster that meant her leg had to be amputated.  Arrow and Shadow were both quite young, and both very beautiful.  The Cheetah run consisted of setting up a running course with four corners and a rope that was attached to a motor so that it whizzed around the corners.  There was a cloth attached to the rope for the cheetahs to chase.  The aim of this was to get Arrow and Shadow running to chase the cloth.  And after a good run they would be fed some meat.

Barkie the aardvark

Barkie is a cutie who was a delight to meet.  He is an aardvark and was less than a year old when I was at Naankuse.  His mother had been killed when he was very young, maybe around three months old, when he still needed his mother’s milk to survive.  He also wasn’t strong enough to break termite mounds himself to find food.  Fortunately he made his way into the hands of the sanctuary.

Barkie aardvark

One of the activities is an ‘aardvark walk’ – taking Barkie on a walk around the sanctuary and taking him out to a field and helping him find some yummy ants and termites.  Baby aardvarks are surprisingly strong and hard to steer!

(UPDATE: Sadly I heard that Barkie passed away in early 2015 from pneumonia)

Watch tower

An optional task was the watch tower.  This maintains a presence to deter poachers, and also means that you look out for any cars or people in the vicinity over night.  I chose to do this because I really wanted to watch the sunrise one day, and it made sense to do the tower as then I’d have to stay up the whole night!  My room mate and I volunteered to do this together on a Friday note.

First note – IT WAS FREEZING!!!!   I am forever grateful to my room mate for having an extra pair of gloves.  Luckily I’d gathered some advice beforehand and took as many layers as I could wear in one go, took my sleeping bag, and the sanctuary also provided an additional sleeping bag and heavy ‘fireman’ jacket.  It wasn’t quite what I expected.  One of the staff dropped us off… at the wooden watch tower, with a vertical ladder made of uneven wood.  It was pretty tough (for me) to climb up!  And once at the top, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d get back down again (before I carry on, I confirm that I did get down again).  It was also very small, just about enough space for two people to lie down comfortably.

We had a torch, and then the plan was to stay up all night!  I think we stayed up chatting for a while, and then I was reading on my iPad.  It was really really cold, chilling.  However, it was really cool to really be in the wilderness and hear all the wild animal noises.  There are four side flaps that can be opened, and you can lock the door.  It was quite an experience, and worth it to see the sunrise.  One thing that surprised me was the sunrise itself.  It was bright outside for a really long time – I was really worried I had somehow missed the sunrise!  Maybe it was behind the side flap that was still closed… it was probably about 30 minutes before the sun peeped over the horizon, and we had the perfect viewing point!

There is a leopard enclosure right at the bottom of the watch tower, so it was great to see them emerge in the morning, and I’m pretty sure we’d been listening to them throughout the night too.  And being picked up in the morning was also a great feeling!

I know it doesn’t sound like the most wonderful experience.  The two words that sum it up for me are: cold & sunrise.  I’m glad I did it, and I think it would be worth giving it a go – when else would you have such an opportunity??

Four day tour with Chameleon Safari – Etosha, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay

I decided to join a four day tour in addition to my work at the sanctuary.  One of the reasons I chose Namibia is because my favourite exhibition EVER is the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and I’d noticed that there are often photos from Etosha wildlife park, so it was my intention to visit there one day.  For some reason, I hadn’t intended to go to Etosha this time around, I thought I’d be back another time to do this.  But… since I was already there, it made a lot of sense to get this big thing checked off of my to-do list.  I’m glad I did, as it was fabulous.

You can find out more about that on the Etosha & Tour page:

Peacocks

While packing up to leave the sanctuary, I was thinking it was a shame that I hadn’t taken many photos of birds.  So with a spare half hour before I was leaving, I headed out to take some pictures of birdies.  I really loved  the glossy starlings, they were my favourite.  I bumped into another volunteer and as we walked past one of the bird pens we noticed there was a peacock displaying… to a baby ostrich.  Even if that peacock was a little confused, I got some great photos…

Peacock display

Conservation

This holiday was really eye-opening from a conservation point of view – the impact that us humans have on the beautiful wildlife around us and their lives, which we play with without a second thought.

I know a lot of people have issues with zoos, but this was far from a zoo.  Most of these animals cannot be released back in to the wild, either due to legal reasons or because they do not have the skills to survive – like Samira who had been raised as a pet or Lucky the three-legged cheetah.  In one sense their lack of freedom is a very sad thing, in another sense they are lucky to be looked after.

This is just a summary of my trip, there were a lot of other things that I haven’t gone into, like the fun Saturday parties, movie nights and the day we went to put a collar on a brown hyena.  It was definitely a trip of a lifetime and a meaningful experience.

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Etosha National Park and tour – Namibia

June 2014 

Namibia: Etosha wildlife park, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay tour 

In addition to the wildlife sanctuary, I decided to go on a four day tour withChameleon Safaris.  This included two days in Etosha wildlife park (safari) as well as visiting Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.

http://www.chameleonsafaris.com/namibia_safari_04_day_etosha_swakopmund.asp

This was actually the highlight of my holiday, and that’s saying a lot given I was already doing something amazing on the sanctuary.

I joined with a couple of volunteers I met at the sanctuary and shared a room with one of the girls.  Naankuse dropped us off at the office for Chameleon Safari.  We had breakfast and tea/coffee before a little introduction and someone talked us through the tour and showed us the route on the map.  We met our tour guides who seemed really nice, and we loaded our stuff onto the vehicle – like a cross between a people carrier and a safari truck.  I think there were only 8 of us in total, we all got our own window seat so that worked out really nicely.

We were on the road a lot – it’s a big country and we covered a lot of ground.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with the ‘accommodated’ safari, particularly as I knew a tent was on the cards and I’d never stayed in a tent before.  The tour guides were really friendly, chatty and informative.  They prepared all of our meals and kept the journey interesting.

We arrived at Etosha on the first day and started straight away with a safari trip.  I wouldn’t dare try doing this safari without someone knowledgeable – I would have no idea where to go, where to look for animals or what they were.  In fact, I imagine myself ending up lost and stranded in the park while it’s locked up at night… definitely do a tour with guides if you haven’t done it before!!

It was so amazing to see wild animals in their natural habitat.  Over two days of safari, I was fortunate enough to see elephants, leopards and rhinos.  Apparently leopards are quite hard to spot, so I was lucky to see one right by the roadside after a kill.

The accommodation felt like a god send after the basic accommodation at the sanctuary.  HOT water and comfortable beds!  Amazing!  The first night’s accommodation was in a terraced bungalow, very nice and comfortable with a nice bathroom.  The second night was in a tent.  I was a bit apprehensive about this as I’d never stayed in a tent before… but this tent was awesome.  It had a double bed, separate toilet, shower and kitchen area, even a barbecue area!!  I’m pretty sure I was ‘glamping’.  I’d like to think camping is always like this, but I’m pretty sure it’s not!

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Filed under Africa, Namibia, Safari, Travel, Wildlife