Day 12 to Day 21 - June 9th–17th

We spent the last eight days heading northeast to the Cubango River on the border of Angola, then east to Botswana, and finally ending in Livingstone, Zambia.

Small B&B’s are a real experience. You never know what you are going to get, but one thing is sure – you always get excellent conversation with locals. This one was no exception. We discussed with our host the dramatic differences between South Africa and Namibia. He feels South Africa is headed for a problem after Nelson Mandela dies. Although Mandela is largely a figurehead, he has created a culture of racial harmony and forgiveness that may sputter when he is gone.

The unemployment in Namibia is approximately 40%, while in South Africa it is approximately 30%. Both countries have the comparatively low fertility rates of 2.4 children per woman. Some of the countries we will be traveling to have twice that fertility rate!

The growth in gross domestic product in both South Africa and Namibia is approximately 3.5%, which double that of the United States in the past five years. The annual gross domestic product per person is actually higher in Namibia than in South Africa: $7,300 vs. $5,800. Despite the fact that there is a huge disparity of income between the two nations, there appears to be more political stability in Namibia.

As we proceeded northeast, Helge got a flat tire and discovered a sidewall puncture that had gradually worked its way open – undoubtedly from the sharp rocks on the Rhino Camp Road. Tires are tubeless and generally can be patched in a few minutes, but this tear was too large to be patched by inserting a plug into the puncture. It required dismounting the tire, cutting off the inflation valve, and inserting a tube, thereby converting the tubeless tire to a regular tube tire. Thank goodness Helge reminded us to bring inner tubes.

We continued northwest to the Cubango River that creates the border between Angola and Namibia, then east through a tongue that squeezes between Angola, Zambia and Botswana—all on sealed roads.

Along the way we ran across this gentleman who works for a German firm that is still removing the anti-personnel mines that were put in Namibia and Angola during the civil war period. He uses a rotary chain flail on the front of a vehicle to detonate the anti-personnel mines, and then comes in afterward with metal detectors. He says he has been working on this for more than five years and has not had a single accident.

We continued down the “tongue” and stopped at a lodge that was on a rough sandy road.

Check out their clever way of illuminating the road at night – a glass bottle with kerosene and a wick:

They took us on a river tour to see the park:

Anxious looking impalas on the river’s edge – are they afraid of a crocodile or us?

A magnificent fish eagle fishing for dinner. He had at least a four-foot wingspan.

More hippos than we could count. We kept a careful eye on them, as they are one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.

A look at the lodge from the river:

We left the next morning, anxious to meet our wives, my daughter Heather, and my grandchildren at the Kasani Airport in Botswana.

The unimproved roads are very sandy. Notice that this ox cart uses a sled instead of wheels, because it creates less friction. Motorcycling in the sand is proving to be a harrowing experience.

We came across a large steer being slaughtered on the side of the road in a refreshingly crude way. The front legs and hindquarters were greedily removed before the carcass was cleaned. Photos were not permitted (these were taken on the sly).

Check out the fashion choices of the man who claimed the steer was his. He said this was one of thousands he owned.

We made a simple crossing into Botswana. As we passed into Chobe National Park, we were rewarded with seeing the first elephant of many that we saw.

We went to the Chobe Chilwero Lodge and checked in. Over the next day and a half, we took a series of rides into the bush and saw an extraordinary collection of animals up close and personal.

How does the bird know how close he can come to the crocodile?

We traveled by boat and by bush cart. These are caribou storks and vultures awaiting their turn on an elephant carcass.

Here is a pair of lions not interested in the elephant carcass but interested in killing the leopard that has been eating the elephant carcass. If they catch the leopard they will not eat him, they just want to eliminate the competition.

Can you guess which one of these groups is better behaved?

Here is the entourage, ready to take off for the Okavango Delta in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve in Botswana. Leo announced that he would be our pilot, directed us to fasten our seatbelts, no smoking, if we want coffee we have to get it ourselves – otherwise, shut up!

Okavango Delta is a delta in reverse. The Cubango River flows into it, spreading out into a marsh and disappears magically into the ground just north of the Kalahari Desert.

In the delta, we stayed at Chief’s Island Lodge, which was terrific. We had two exceptional days there to see animals, which was the perfect amount of time in one place. The delta was absolutely packed with wildlife.

We saw huge termite mounds, marking the location of millions of termites all underground, which never come to the surface.

I took too many photos to send via email, particularly with the slow and intermittent Internet service here.

This is a fresh tree wound from an elephant inside the camp.

Then are many more elephants than the environment should support. Someone said there are 300,000 elephants in Botswana. There are dead trees everywhere caused by elephants tusking off the bark to eat as roughage.

 

We saw a female leopard catching a squirrel and her aggressive son taking it away from her:

This leopard is carefully watching a pair of lions about 100 yards away – they are mortal enemies.

The lions did not see the leopard.

The Okavango was a wonderful experience where you actually saw animals interacting with one another—hunting and being hunted. With so much game around, initially it seemed like it would be easy for a leopard or lion to make a kill. But it’s not as easy for them as I imagined it would be. The leopards and the lions do not use advanced techniques like killer whales and porpoises do. They rely entirely on surprise and stealth, not by corralling their prey into a stationary member of the hunting party.

We signed up for a walk with a tracker/naturalist named Tony and walked out in the bush with him and an armed guard, in hopes that he would help us to find a rhino, the one animal we had not seen yet.

Instead of a bolt-action hunting rifle, the guard was armed with an AK-47. When I asked Tony why the guard had an AK-47, he said it was for hunting people, not animals! They have an aggressive anti-poaching program and have only lost one rhino to poaching in fourteen years. The tracker was amazing; I could have spent a week with him.

A sexually mature male rhinoceros weighs 3.5 tons and it takes him 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes to mate. The lion on the other hand mates every 20 minutes to half-hour and does so for several days, or, as Tony says, “until the female no longer has interest.” So it takes the rhino 1¼ hrs to do what the lion does for three or four days! The guys who are selling rhino horns as an aphrodisiac should be selling lion scat. The price of a rhino horn is now more per ounce than the price of gold. The horn from one rhino weighs more than 40 pounds.

We tracked a rhinoceros and found a female, a large male and a one-year old baby. Tony said the male was just hanging around waiting for an opportunity to mate, which might come perhaps in a year. He has more patience than a Cleveland Browns fan! We got a lot of photographs until the male rhino got up and started walking toward us. We were instructed not to run and to stay with Tony. The armed guard walked briskly away. In Zambia, they take poaching so seriously that there was a lone armed guard some distance away watching the three rhinos at the same time we were watching.

As with almost anything, the process is more fun than achieving the goal. The rhinos were huge and glorious, but the conversation with Tony was unforgettable.

Part of our tour in Livingstone was a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, noted to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The falls is over one mile long and falls into a gorge, so there is not one point where you can see the entire spectacle. Helicopter is the best way to see it. It does not light a candle to Niagara Falls.

The area is well known for bungee jumping, an activity we did NOT do. The bungee jumping outfit recently had a near-fatality where the bungee line broke and dumped a lady into the crocodile-infested rapids beneath the falls. I read an article about what they are doing to prevent it from happening again. They actually make their own bungee cords and test them periodically for percentage elongation and for strength. I heard a rumor at the lodge that there had been another incident that ended in a fatality, so I decided I will do a bungee jump on my next trip here with Halley’s children. They should have it perfected by then.

Photos of rhinos and the Falls to come!

Namibia to Botswana to Zambia
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