Start with our kitchen in Nairobi and then follow us off to Mt Kilimanjaro and the annoying ferry in Dar es Salaam that makes you wait hours to cross a 100 yard wide river. Malawi really came across as a beautiful country. Nearly all of our time was spent on the shores of Lake Malawi, but the mountains we drove through look like they are worth a trip all their own. We were surprised by fabulous lightning shows over the water by night and tornados of flies across the lake by day.
Ever in turmoil and perhaps the most currently disturbing country we've visited thanks to the President-for-life Mugabe. The big cities put on a good face and the people keep their heads up, but with inflation running around 1600% and everyday supplies like gas and bread simply not available at times, it's truly a wonder that the country hasn't totally collapsed. In the 12 days we were here, the currency devalued 50%! We visited the capital of Harare, Bulawayo and the ruins of the ancient Great Zimbabwe people. We also spent a few days at a private game reserve outside Gweru called Antelope Park where we made some new friends. Read all about that below.
Antelope Park is a 3000 acre private game reserve in the middle of Zimbabwe. For 20 some years, they have been working to breed genetically strong lions for release in the wild to bolster this increasingly endangered predator. They're actually gearing up for the first release in a few months and we got to take a couple of the 10 month old candidates for an afternoon stroll and then a group of four 5 month old cubs out for a morning play date. They really are just big cats that love to roll around and play, but they do sometimes forget just how big and strong they are. Several times, Mary had to point her stick and give a stern "NO" to cats that were about to pounce her. doesn't work so well on me, though....
Skip these photos if you love fluffy bunnies or are have vegetarian tendencies.
Once every couple weeks, the lions at Antelope Park being prepared for release into the wild are taken out at night for a training hunt to build their skills. We were super lucky and got to join in a chase. Three females and a male were released to hunt in the park and came across a herd of impala. We tagged along in an open jeep. Sometimes we followed, sometimes we led and sometimes were were just surrounded by the beasts. By day they were playful, but their hunting instincts kick in when they smell dinner and our friends were transformed into true predators. What happened? Well, that's not red lipstick on the lioness in the photo...
We also tagged along for a regular daily feeding of the lions and cubs. With the cubs, we actually got to be in the cage while the cute little guys chowed.
As a side treat, we also got to play, ride and swim with a few elephants. Riding is surprisingly comfortable - especially compared to a camel! Swimming with them is just a roller coaster. They love the water and delight in splashing and rolling around regardless of whether you are still on their back or not. Best roller coaster I've been on in years.
Most parks we've come across in Africa don't let you get out and walk around anywhere you please. Matopo is one of the very rare ones that let you walk and without an armed ranger.. We came here specifically to get close to white (wide mouth) rhinos. We entered the bush on foot and tracked our first three. Then we got lucky and found 5 more visible from the road. We got a lot closer than I would have expected thanks to some curious young males who wanted to check us out.
Vic Falls is the a tourist focal point in Southern Africa. People come for the falls and all the adrenaline sports available here. Unfortunately, the water is at an all time high, so we couldn't run the cat-5 rapids of the Zambezi. We also couldn't see much of the falls because there was so much spray raining down. But we did eat well and Steve jumped off the third highest bungy jump in the world.
Some game parks just jump out at you. Within minutes of coming into Chobe, a young leopard ran alongside our jeep chasing after some birds. After watching us, he crept behind a bush and came back out with a rabbit in his mouth. After that excitement, we still got to see hippos and families of elephants playing. After a break, we jumped in a boat and cruised the river to get a little closer to the hippos.
This is a huge park in Namibia consisting of deserts, brushlands and the huge dried lake called the Etosha Pan. We spent two nights in the park meeting the jackals and mongoose that scavenge campsites. During the day, we came across countless lions, a friendly black rhino and a couple new animals to us. Here we saw plenty of oryx, springbok and a serval.
It seems that anyone with some land in Africa can become a big game collector. We met some folks who have amassed quite a set of cheetahs that they saved from the guns of farmers who would otherwise have killed the cats for preying on their cattle herds. This family has 3 tame cats that they keep at home and 30 some more wild cats kept in a nearby reserve. We got to play a bit with the tame cats and then go into the reserve for the wildcat feeding.
In between Cheetahs, Etosha, skydiving and the border, we also met a seal colony at Cape Cross, saw some great sand dunes and dried lake beds at Sousuvlei, Grand Canyon wanna-be Fish River Canyon, and the so-called "Matterhorn of Namibia" Spitzkoppe where I was attacked by a swarm of grouchy hornets who knocked me off my feet and sent me tumbling down a few boulders to a sprained ankle.
This town just doesn't make sense to me. It's the adrenaline capital of Namibia with skydiving, sandboarding, quad biking and so on. But it's also got a huge retired population. We had a couple nice dinners and were the only people under 70 in the restaurant. Twice. Spooky. The common language spoken is German and the food is German. But the rest of Namibia speaks Afrikaans, a mix of German and Dutch. Weird. But who cares, we learned to skydive and had the most amazing time jumping out of a plane - only to find that our chutes didn't fully deploy... good thing we learned what to do about that. We went sandboarding - just like snowboarding but slower and hotter. And then we took quadbikes out for a spin on the dunes.
Our time in South Africa was too short. We spent a couple days in the Napa-esque wine country of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek before finishing off the African continent in Capetown. Once under Table Mountain, we headed out to Robben Island to see how Nelson Mandela and many others spent their time as political prisoners. A former prisoner guided us around and gave us an unnerving account of life under apartheid.
We drove out towards Cape Point to find that a coastline that looks a lot like the Northern California coast. In disappointing news, we have now been within shouting distance of the southernmost points of both the African and South American continents but not made it quite all the way.
South Africa is known for great whites and they're quite willing to take you out in a cage to swim in Shark Alley right next to a seal colony with these eating machines. We spent one disappointing day and one amazing day out in the 54F waters with the sharks. All told, we saw 8 or 9 sharks between about 6 and 13 feet in length. That many not sound all that big, but they sure look huge when they are thrashing around three feet away from you, kept at bay only by a flimsy little cage.