Friday, December 09, 2011

Ethiopia Trip: Nov. 24 – Dec. 9, 2011

Destination 1: Arba Minch/Tiya/Nechisar National Park

We arrived in Addis Abba, the capital of Ethiopia at 8:00 in the morning and were met by our guide Yigo and driver Abera. They were to accompany us on our short tour of the Omo Valley to visit the tribes living in the area. After a few formalities at the tour company’s office, we were on our way to Arba Minch. Addis Ababa is growing fast. It took us 45 minutes to leave the hustle and bustle of the capital. Our first stop was Tiya, an UNESCO World Heritage site to visit some ancient stelae dating back to the 4th century AD. There were 36 standing stones carved with symbols, the most notable being swords, to mark a huge prehistoric burial site. The largest stone unfortunately had been broken off and carted to the museum in Addis Ababa .

Figure 1 Stelae at Tiya

We continued on our way leaving the Addis plateau and winding our way down through fertile fields and villages to the town of Sodo for lunch. After our long flight, we were sleepy and napped in the Land Cruiser as Abera sped towards Arba Minch. We arrived just as the sun was setting and checked into the Paradise Lodge. We were amazed at all the construction going on in town and all the road construction we encountered along the way. The Chinese are investing heavily in Ethiopia and Yigo told us there were 100,000 Chinese currently working in the country.

The next morning we were to visit Nechisar National Park right on the outskirts of Arba Minch. It started to rain at 5:00 in the morning and as we headed out it was pouring. I was surprised at all the clouds and rain we were encountering. I thought we were visiting during the dry season. At the Park entrance, the attendant warned us that the road may not be passable and he was right. Abera gave it a gallant try but as we proceeded, the road turned into a running river and we had to turn back. We went to the Tourist Restaurant in Arba Minch for some traditional coffee. A coffee ceremony is performed where the beans are ground and brewed in a small earthen pot. The strong bitter brew is served in a small cup with a twig of rue and incense from the resin of an acacia tree is burned to complete the ceremony. As I was sitting there an animal came running up to the table begging for food. At first I thought it was a cat or dog but it turned out to be a Gray Duiker! The restaurant has a resident mother and baby and we were able to pet them when we returned for lunch.

Figure 2 Marc petting the baby Duiker at the Tourist Restaurant, Arba Minch

Yigo informed us that our trip to South Sudan had been canceled! This threw our trip into a tizzy and we went to the internet shop to try and figure out what was going on. We received an email from Akos that the rains in South Sudan had not stopped and that the roads into Boma National Park were impassable. At this point he had not given up all hope but the chances of seeing the White-eared Kob migration seemed pretty slim.

The rain let up and we decided to visit Lake Chamo first to give the road in Nechisar time to dry out. It was a gray day on Lake Chamo but we did get to see some giant crocodiles, hippos and water birds such as Great White Pelicans, Maribou Stork and Herons. After lunch we made another attempt to reach the Nechisar Plains and we were successful. Nechisar National Park is known for its beautiful scenery but unfortunately the clouds obscured most of the views. As Yigo promised we did find Zebra, Grant’s Gazelle, Kudu and one endemic Swayne Hartebeest grazing on the Plains.

Figure 3 Zebra and Kudu on Nechisar Plains

I was surprised that people and livestock were living inside the Park. Yigo told us they were the Guji People and that they have the grim practice of killing a man and cutting his penis off to prove their manhood to a prospective wife. No wonder the government has chosen to leave them in the National Park, far from other villages and potential victims.

Destination 2: Derashe / Konso /Turmi

At this point our trip to South Sudan had been canceled and we were trying to not let it interfere with our visit to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia. We continued our journey south to the villages of Derashe and Konso. At one time the Derashe and Konso people were in one district but recently they had divided making it easier for the government to administer them but not necessary beneficial to the Derashe and Konso people. We arrived in Konso and chose to visit the Chief’s compound. I was expecting a lavish abode complete with Western amenities but when we arrived we found quite the opposite. We were first taken to the Chief’s cemetery. The Konso are known for their wooden grave totem poles called Waga. Notched wooden poles keep track of the number of generations burred here, in the Chief’s case, 21 generations!

Figure 4 Waga at Chief Kalla Gezahegn’s Compound

Back at the compound we visited the Chief’s kitchen and hut, the huts for his wife and children, the huts for the livestock and funeral huts where the bodies of deceased ancestors were kept . The Chief was educated in Addis Abba and has a degree in Civil Engineering which he practiced for a number of years. When his father passed away, he gave up the modern world and returned to Konso to fulfill his duty as chief. He is responsible for the welfare of 300,000 people and his main role is to settle disputes. I found his story amazing and inspiring.

Figure 5 Chief Kalla Gezahegn with two of his children

We made a quick visit to the old and fortified Konso Village before proceeding to Woito for lunch. We found the short route to Turmi impassable due to all the recent rains so, we took the long way around. Although there’s not much vehicular traffic, the road is used by people and their livestock. Abera made frequent use of his horn to warn people, cows, goats, sheep and dogs to get out of the way of our speeding vehicle. The kids went out of their way to get the attention of passing tourists. This ranged from shouting “Highland, Highland” to get tourists to give away their empty Highland water bottles, wearing body paint, walking on stilts and doing obscene dances.

As we passed through the village of Dimeka the Hamer People were having their weekly market. We stopped for a visit and Yigo took over my camera to photograph the colorful Hamer people. The married women sport dreadlocks with clay and red ochre and adorn their arms and legs with bracelets. The primary wives wear a heavy metal necklace with a protruding post. Their clothes are made from the hides of goats and are decorated with beads and shells.

Figure 6 Hamer women at the market in Dimeka

We arrived in Turmi late in the afternoon and were invited to a Hamer village to witness the aftermath of a bull jumping ceremony. The actual ceremony had taken place the day before but, the young boy, now a Maza since he successfully jumped the bulls, was still celebrating with his family and friends. By the time we arrived most of the dancing had ceased but the Hamar were enjoying a goat barbecue and a pasty mixture of sorghum flour and water and boiled maze. I was intimidated by the Hamer woman who did not want their photos taken. Yigo offered to take them with my camera but I declined. I did feel like I was intruding but the Hamer are used to tourists showing up at their ceremonies.

Figure 8 Hamer people at the post bull jumping ceremony celebration

Destination 3: Omorate

The next stop on our Omo Valley tour was to Omorate to visit the Dassanach people. Enroute we encountered Vulturine Guineafowl, the first time we had ever seen these birds. The males were in their breeding plumage and were doing their courtship dances in the road.

Figure 9 Vulturine Guineafowl

Along the way we also saw five Gerenuks, the first time we’ve seen these antelope since our first trip to Africa in 1990. As we approached Omorate we could see a twisted bridge that did not survive the floods of the Omo river. Fortunately, the river was in a calm state as we crossed by dugout canoe. The canoe was thin and Marc and a hard time squeezing in.

Figure 10 Marc crossing the Omo River in a dugout canoe

Once on the other side the Dassanach people were there to greet us, at least the women as the men were in a meeting with government officials. Photographing the tribes of the Omo Valley is quite a complicated process. You have to pay one bir (the local currency worth about 6 cents) per person per photo. People try and jump into the photo to get a cut of the action and you have to tell them to get out. The women showed us how they grind grain between two stones and how they scrape hides to make their clothes. Their huts were simply constructed from sticks, paper, mosquito nets, USAID box remnants or whatever else was lying around. Sadly the Dassanach people are unaware that a proposed hydroelectric project is soon to alter their traditional way of life forever.

Figure 11 Dassanach Women grinding grain

Destination 4: Jinka / Mago National Park

Jinka is the jumping off spot for Mago National Park and a visit to the Mursi people. We headed out early to visit the Mursi. The road into Mago National Park is being improved to provide access to a large sugar factory being built in the heart of Mago National Park! It started to rain and out of the fog appeared shapes on the road up ahead. Wait! What could they be? A pack of 14 African Wild Dogs! What an unexpected treat! We hadn’t seen wild dogs since 1990 and now we’ve seen them twice in 2011, first in Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe and now here in Mago National Park. Amazingly they were not afraid of us and approached the vehicle scent marking the road with their anal glands.

Figure 12 African Wild Dogs in Mago National Park

We continued on picking up a game scout to protect us from wild animals or so I thought. Later Yigo told us the game scout was to protect us from the Mursi as they are quite aggressive. When we arrived at their village they were still asleep. They we quick to arise and put on their adornments. The women insert clay plates into their lower lips that have been stretched over the years. It’s not clear if the plates are supposed to make them more attractive to their husbands or less attractive to marauders. In any case they were the most extreme form of body decoration that we have ever encountered.

Figure 13 Mursi woman wearing a lip plate

The women adorn themselves with what’s ever available, fruit, metal rings, warthog tusks, and even animal skulls. There are only approximately 7000 Mursi left. They have a high mortality rate due to waterborne diseases and fighting. The men tend to get drunk and shoot off guns. If they accidently kill someone they have to pay the deceased’s family up to 20 cows and a young girl to serve as a slave. I thought the tradition of women wearing a lip plate was extreme but the men have an even more gruesome tradition. According to Yigo, they beat each other often times to the death with heavy wooden sticks to establish dominance. Our photo session was cut short by the rain and we left after taking only a few photos. The game scout told Yigo a story which he translated to us. Back in 2008 an American sociologist came to study the Mursi. He slept with a young girl and unbeknownst to him got her pregnant. After he had left the village, the girl gave birth to a baby boy. Unfortunately, he was white and her secret was out. The elders told her to get rid of the baby. She could not kill her child so she left him on the doorstep of the game scouts’ hut. Unfortunately, they did not discover him in time and he was eaten by wild animals. I don’t know if the incident actually happened but it makes for an incredibly sad story.

We had time for a short game drive in the Park before heading back to Arba Minch. We saw many pairs of Gunther’s Dik- dik , Lesser Kudu and Helmeted Guineafowl along the road to the Park Headquarters.

Figure 14 Gunther’s Dik-dik, Mago National Park

Destination 5: Addis Abba/ Dorze

Our quick trip to the South was coming to an end and it was time to start the long drive back to Addis Abba. We took a detour to visit the Dorze people. Their traditions evolve around the false banana tree. They construct their elephant-shaped houses from the leaves and stems and their main staple is a bread made from the pulp of the false banana tree stem.

Figure 15 Marc and Peggy in front of Dorze House

While we were visiting the village there was a funeral taking place. There was much singing and dancing going on. The Dorze believe in celebrating the deceased ‘s life rather than mourning his death. We continued along our way having to cross a raging river at one point. We arrived in the town of Shashemene created for Jamaicans returning to Ethiopia. I never understood the connection between Jamaica and Ethiopia before Yigo explained it to us. Some Jamaicans believe that Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia, is the messiah. Before becoming emperor, his name was Tafari Makonnen and he was a governor or Ras. Hence the name Rastafarians or followers of Haile Selassie formerly known as Ras Tafari. The Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie is the messiah because he was a descendant of King Solomon, the first black ruler to visit the White House (JFK was president at the time), brought rain to Jamaica after a one year drought and was prophesized by Marcus Garvey a Jamaican freedom fighter. Yigo believes that many Rastafarians are returning to Ethiopia because pot is legal here.

We had lunch at the Sabana Beach Resort a very nice hotel on the shore of Rift Valley Lake Lagano. As we got closer to Addis Abba, the traffic increased and the area became more industrialized with cement factories, greenhouses growing flowers for export to Europe and even a French vineyard. We arrived in the Capital after dark and spent the night at the Dreamliner Hotel.

Destination 6: Deberziet / Senkele Sanctuary / Lake Awassa / Wondogenet

We decided rather than returning home early we’d extend our stay in Ethiopia to visit some of the places we missed on our 1995 trip. We chose to visit Bale Mountains National Park and Axum. Unfortunately, we would have to say goodbye to Yigo as he was already leading another tour and get a new guide, Tes to accompany us. To our delight , Abera was to remain our driver. We left Addis Abba for Deberziet and spent the next night at the Babogaya Resort on the shore of a lake with the same name. The next morning we retraced our route back to Senkele Wildlife Sanctuary to see more endemic Swayne’s Hartebeest. We passed through the town of Ziway again with another Rift Valley lake of the same name. Lake Ziway has five islands with the largest being the home of 3000 Tigre People. These people supposedly brought the Ark of the Covenant from Axum to the island for safe keeping during a war between the Orthodox Christians and the Jews. We stopped to watch cows threshing teff, the grain used to make the Ethiopian bread injera.

Figure 16 Cows threshing Teff

We stopped at the Lilly of the Valley Hotel in Shashemene for lunch. Bob Marley wanted to be buried here but the Jamaican government would not release his body because it had become a major tourist attraction. After lunch we arrived at Senkele and as Yigo promised we saw more Swayne’s Hartebeest as well as Bohor Reedbuck and warthogs.

Figure 17 Swayne’s Hartebeest, Senkele Wildlife Sanctuary

It was a short drive to Wondogenet and the Wabishebellle Hotel. We arrived early and had a chance to walk around the hotel grounds before lunch. A handsome Black and White Colobus monkey was in a tree not far from the restaurant and we were able to get some nice photos.

Figure 18 Black and White Colobus Monkey
After lunch we went to the forests of Wondogenet to do some birding. It was difficult to see the birds in the thick vegetation but we did manage to spot White-cheeked Turaco, Abyssinian Orioles and a barbet. We drove on some back roads to the natural thermal springs. The water was boiling in some spots but cool enough for the local boys to take a swim further out.

Destination 7: Bale Mountains National Park

The next stop on our tour was Bale Mountains National Park, home to several of Ethiopia’s endemic mammals and birds. We stayed at the Dinsho Lodge not far from the Park headquarters. We took a walk in the juniper and Kosso (Hagenia abyssinica) forest around the lodge and spotted our first Mountain Nyala, found only in the Bale Mountains. The number of Mountain Nyala in the Park has increased to around 8000 because the government has imposed fines or imprisonment for killing them. If you hit a male Mountain Nyala with a vehicle and kill it, it will cost you 200,000 bir (almost $12,000). It’s even more for killing a female Mountain Nyala. We also saw another endemic, Menelik’s Bushbuck and warthogs on our walk. The next day we took a walk in open fields to get a better view of the Mountain Nyala. We also saw herds of Bohor Reedbuck, Grey Duiker, warthogs and the endemic Wattled Ibis. The Kosso trees were in bloom with bright red flowers. The locals grind the seeds and mix with water to create a bitter brew that is used to treat tapeworms.

Figure 19 Male and female Mountain Nyala

We ventured up to the Sanetti Plateau to see more of Ethiopia’s endemic birds and animals. The plateau is at an elevation of 4000 m and is an open expanse of heather moorlands interspersed with Giant Lobelia. It was not long before we encountered endemic birds such as Rouget’s Rail, Blue-winged Goose, Black-headed Siskins, White-collared Pigeon and Spot-breasted Plovers.

Figure 20 Spot-breasted Plovers        

The big draw to the Sanetti Plateau is the chance of seeing the World’s rarest canid, the Ethiopian Wolf. We had seen one years ago in the Simien Mountains but were not able to photograph it. This time we were not disappointed. Tes spotted a wolf not far from the road and Marc was able to get some good photographs.

Figure 21 Ethiopian Wolf, Bale Mountains National Park

We continued along the Plateau and decided to take a detour and drive to the top of Tullu Demtu . At 4377 m, Tullu Demtu is the highest peak in the Bale Mountains and the second highest in Ethiopia. The view from the top was somewhat obscured by the clouds and the temperature was a brisk 5 degrees C. We left the Plateau and continued down through the giant heath forest with trees dripping in Old Man’s beard, past the village of Rira with fences constructed of bamboo to the Harrena Forest. We stopped to admire some Black and White Colobus Monkeys that were feeding in the trees along the road. Idris, our local guide, commented “there is another monkey found in these forests but rarely seen, wait there are two right there”. We looked over and sure enough there were two Bale Monkeys in the trees nearby. We had never heard of these monkeys and little is known about them. Apparently, they feed almost exclusively on bamboo.

Figure 22 Bale Monkey, Bale Mountains National Park

After a quick picnic lunch it was time to head back to Goba. On the way back to the Plateau we saw some male klipspringers along the road. We were hoping to spot another Ethiopian Wolf on our way back but, we didn’t see any. I asked if we could take one more pass before returning to Goba and Tes and Indris agreed. We spotted another Wolf trotting along the moorland. He was not as close to the road so we got out of the Land Cruiser and followed him on foot. We couldn’t get very close and returned to the vehicle to watch him. He stopped to sniff at what appeared to be a rock covered in red lichen but it moved. It was another Ethiopian Wolf, most likely a female. We tried to get closer to her on foot but she too trotted away. What luck, to see 3 Ethiopian Wolves in one day!

Destination 8: Awash National Park

Since we had such good luck the day before in seeing the Ethiopian Wolves and other endemic mammals and birds, we decided to take Tes up on his suggestion and leave Goba for Awash National Park. We had visited the Park back in 1995 and were curious to see how much has changed. We arrived in time for an evening game drive. It was good to see that Oryx, Soemmerring’s Gazelles and Salt’s Dik-dik are still common in the Park. Rather than drive to the town of Awash we decided to see if there were any rooms available at the Awash Falls Lodge right inside the park. This lodge was not built back in 1995. Fortunately, there was a room available and we slept to the soothing sound of the Awash Falls.

Figure 23 Oryx, Awash National Park

The next morning we did another game drive and managed to spot a Bat-eared Fox sleeping near his den, some more Oryx, Soemmerring’s Gazelle, Salt’s Dik-dik and Kudu. We visited the Awash Falls and the campground we stayed in 16 years ago and it brought back many fond memories.

Figure 24 Marc and Peggy at Zinjero Campsite, we stayed here 16 years ago!

It was time to head back to Deberziet. Tes received a phone call that was clearly very upsetting to him. I was concerned about his mother since he told us back in Goba that she was in the hospital after what sounded like suffering from a stroke. When we arrived back at the Babogaya Resort Tes confirmed my worst fears, his mother had passed away. It was a quick, teary goodbye as Tes and Abera headed back to Addis Abba.

Destination 9: Axum

The final destination on our trip was Axum in the far North. Abera arrived at 4:00 in the morning to bring us to the Addis Abba airport for our flight to Axum. We finally saw our first live (up until now all the hyenas we saw were dead, hit by cars) Spotted Hyenas. There were three foraging along the road. It took awhile to get to Axum as we had to stop in Gondar and Lalibela first. We visited these cities back in 1995 and noted that the airstrips are now paved. We arrived in Axum around 10:00 and were met by our local guide. We checked into the Yeha Hotel before visiting the Stelae which Axum is famous for. The Stelae were constructed in the 4th Century BC by a pagan culture, the Aksumites. The largest is 33.5 meters tall and weighs 500 tons. It fell in the 10th century AD. It was constructed by King Remhay for his family tomb. The huge granite slabs used to make the stelae were transported from a quarry 7 km away by elephants. We were told that it took 3000 elephants to drag just one stone! A smaller stele was actually brought to Rome for 70 years and only recently, 2007 returned to Ethiopia. The Italians cut into 3 pieces and used chemicals to clean it so it looks lighter that the other stelae.

Figure 25 Stelae, Axum

We went to lunch at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant and had a local dish called mahberawi. It consists of samples of rice, potato, spinach, lentils, ground meat and hard boiled eggs served on injera, the local bread.

Figure 26 Mahberawi

After lunch we visited the Queen of Sheba’s Palace built in the 10th century BC. Not much remains other than some reconstructed stone walls and some of the original floor and steps. We also visited our Lady Mary of Zion Church built by Haile Selassie in 1945 so women would have a place to worship. The church can hold up to 3000 people and has some interesting murals and a 500 year old bible printed on goat skin. The next stop was the Chapel of the Tablet which supposedly houses the Ark of the Covenant. I was told that I could not visit because I was a woman! This is 2011 I argued but some old traditions die hard. Marc refrained from visiting in support of me.

Figure 27 Chapel of the Tablet, Axum

The next morning we flew back to Addis Abba to start the long journey home. Although not the trip we had originally planned, we were happy with our second visit to Ethiopia. We had the opportunity to visit places that we did not see in 1995. The Omo Valley is changing fast and we feel that now is the time to visit the tribes before their traditional way of life is lost forever. We were also happy to see many of Ethiopia’s endemic mammals and birds.


      Ethiopia Mammal List: Nov. 24 - Dec. 9, 2011

 No. Species Scientific Name Notes
  1 Mountain Nyala Tragelaphus buxtoni Bale
  2 Olive Baboon Papio anubis Nechisar, Awash
  3 Swayne’s Hartebeest  Alcelaphus  buselaphus ssp. swaynei  Nechisar, Senkele 
  4 Grant’s Gazelle Nanger granti  Nechisar
  5 Ethiopian Wolf Canis simensis  Bale
  6 Bat-eared Fox Otocyon megalotis  Awash
  7 Bale Monkey Chlorocebus djamdjamensis  Bale
  8 Guenther’s Dik-dik Madoqua guentheri  Nechisar 
  9 Oribi Ourebia ourebi  Senkele
 10 Eastern Black-and-white  Colobus  Colobus guereza Wondogenet
 11 Gerenuk Litocranius walleri Omo 
 12 Northern Greater Kudu Tragelaphus  strepsiceros chora Nechisar 
 13 Common Warthog  Phacochoerus africanus  Nechisar, Bale
 14 Plains Zebra Equus quagga Nechisar 
 15 African Wild Dog Lycaon pictus Mago 
 16 Striped Ground  Squirrel  Xerus erythropus Axum 
 17 Grivet Monkey Chlorocebus aethiops Awasa, Awash
 18 Menelik’s Bushbuck  Tragelaphus seriptus meneliki Bale
 19 Bohor Reedbuck Redunca redunca Bale
 20 Klipspringer  Oreotragus oreotragus   Bale
 21 Ethiopian Meadow Rat Stenocephalemys albocaudata Bale
 22 Beisa Oryx Oryx beisa Awash
 23 Soemmerring’s Gazelle Nanger soemmerringii  Awash
 24 Abyssinian Hare Lepus habessinicus Awash
 25 Salt’s Dik-dik Madoqua saltiana Awash
 26 Lesser Kudu Tragelaphus imberbis Awash 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Southern Africa Trip, Aug. 25 – Sept. 19, 2011

Destination 1: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

It was great being back in Victoria Falls after 21 years! Many changes have taken place. There are more tourist shops and hotels in town including a casino but the Falls remain spectacular as ever. We checked into the Victoria Falls Hotel, a grand old hotel built by the British in 1904. There is much history and nostalgia adorning the walls including portraits of British monarchy and African chiefs, a map of the route of the Royal Mail & Passenger Service to Africa and photos from the heyday of the establishment. We walked from the Hotel to the Falls along a dirt path. Locals were trying to sell us Zimbabwean dollars as souvenirs. We walked along a path high above the gorge with amazing views of the Falls. In spots we were soaked by the spray from the Falls. We even got in our first wildlife viewing, an African elephant was grazing along the Zambia shore and warthogs were rooting in the mud just off the trail. We returned to the Hotel to celebrate Marc’s 54th birthday in the Livingstone Dining room. The head waiter had worked for the hotel for 42 years and had seen a lot of changes both good and bad over the years. The dining room was rather empty and a blind pianist played dinner music, a bit sad. We felt we were in a bygone era.

Figure 1 Marc & Peggy at Victoria Falls

Destination 2: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

It was an early morning flight in a 4-seater Cessna to Hwange National Park. We flew over an arid landscape resembling wrinkled elephant skin with the countless tracks of animals in search of water. We landed at Linkwasha airstrip near a waterhole and were met by Robert from Little Makalolo Camp. We spent 4 nights at Little Makalolo Camp exploring the Park and surrounding area with our guide Livingston. We did two all-day game drives heading out at 6:00in the morning and not returning until 7:00 in the evening. On our first day, we ventured out to Ngweshia and Broken Rifle Pans in the morning in search of animals that visit the waterholes. Hwange has no permanent water source and without the manmade waterholes, the animals would not survive the long dry season. Water is pumped via diesel, solar panels or wind mills to various waterholes throughout the Park. Elephants, zebra, giraffe and Greater Kudu make their way to the holes to drink. Giraffes have to splay their long legs to reach the water, a posture that makes them very vulnerable to predators.
Figure 2 Giraffe and Zebra drinking at Broken Rifle Pan

In the afternoon, we made our way to Back and Ngamo Pans on the east side of the Linkwasha Concession. Back Pans is a magical spot with large herds of buffalo and elephants grazing on a grassy plain dotted with tall palm trees. In the center is a vibrant blue waterhole where elephants line up to drink and scores of buffalo lie in the shade, chewing their cud, waiting for their turn to drink.
Figure 3 Elephants drinking at Back Pans

We watched this peaceful scene until interrupted by an unusual behavior by the elephants. Using their trunks, they’d shake the palm trees to dislodge the palm nuts high above.
On our way back to Little Makalolo, we received word that there was a pride of lions not far from Linkwasha Camp. When we arrived there were 14 lions, females with cubs and young males, sunning themselves on some rocks. The cubs played king of the hill while the females basked in the sun trying to ignore the cubs pulling on their tails and trying to nurse. As the sun set, we drove back to Little Makalolo camp and encountered 2 Bat-eared foxes, a rare sight in the Park and the only leopard we’d see on this trip at Scott’s waterhole.
Figure 4 Lion cub near Linkwasha Camp

The next day we ventured out of the Park to visit the Painted Dog Conservation’s Community Conservation Education Complex. Painted Dogs, also known as Wild Dogs, are becoming increasing rare across the continent. They have been caught in snares meant for bushmeat, poisoned or shot by farmers, or hit by cars while lying on the warm pavement around Hwange National Park. The Complex is an impressive facility complete with a Visitor’s Center housing educational displays about the Painted Dogs and a large enclosure with a boardwalk 20 feet above the ground which leads a half mile to the pens with the 3 resident Painted Dogs at the facility: Dzanga, John and Romain. Due to injuries or inability to hunt, these dogs will never be able to survive in the wild. Although it was great to see these Painted Dogs, we hadn’t seen Painted Dogs since our first trip to Africa in 1990, we were still hoping to see them in the wild. We also met Dr. Gregory Rasmussen, the founder and director of Painted Dog Conservation and were able to speak briefly about his work to protect the dogs and to increase their numbers and habitat.

Figure 5 Road sign outside of Hwange National Park

On our last day in Hwange National Park, we were on our way to Back and Ngamo Pans again when we received a radio call that Wild Dogs were spotted near Makalolo Plains! We were too far away to get there before the dogs moved off. Oh well, that’s the nature of game drives, you have to be at the right place at the right time. When we arrived at Ngamo Pan there was a herd of wildebeest and zebra grazing on the short grass. The acacia trees surrounding the plain were in bloom attracting a large number of giraffe. Hwange National Park was the only place we saw giraffe on this trip.

We opted not to do an all-day drive today and went back to Little Makalolo for lunch. After a brief siesta, we entered the “Hide”. The camp has built a log pile hide next to the waterhole so you can view elephants and buffalo as they come to drink at close range. I must admit that being so close to wild African elephants was a bit unnerving for me. Marc was too busy photographing to notice the inquisitive elephants coming very close to check us out!

Figure 6 Marc photographing elephants from the hide

The afternoon game drive took us to Mbiza Pan on the Northeast boundary of the Park. The Pan is immense with large herds of elephants grazing amongst the palm trees. We headed back to the waterhole at Makalolo Plains for a sundowner. There a large herd of buffalo and elephants had gathered to drink. The buffalo were silhouetted against an orange sky, a sight I will never forget.

Figure 7 Buffalo at sunset, Makalolo Plains

We watched as the animals waited their turn to drink. There’s definitely a pecking order. Elephants get first dibs, while the buffalo come next. A giraffe waited patiently for her turn to drink while the zebras grew tired of waiting and moved off. The resident hippos did their best to guard their waterhole from the throng of intruders. A brazen young hippo chased off the buffalo as they came to drink. What a fitting end to our visit to Hwange National Park!

Destination 3: Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe

The next stop on our Southern African tour was Mana Pools National Park also in Zimbabwe. A short one hour flight by plane took us to Mana West airstrip where we were met and driven to Ruckomechi Camp set high on a bank overlooking the Zambezi River. Wildlife was prolific, spotting elephants, Greater Kudu, Warthogs, Impala, Chacma Baboons, Eland, including one very large bull, and Common Waterbuck on the short drive to camp.        
Figure 8 Eland bull on our way to Ruckomechi Camp

We had lunch with two couples from Florida that we met at Little Makalolo. They convinced us to go on the afternoon canoe trip on the Zambezi. Canoeing is not my thing with having capsized in the Winooski River and getting trapped in the Everglades after dark but how much worse can it be to canoe with Hippos and Crocs! We joined the Florida couples and a brother and sister from Croatia after lunch for our canoeing adventure. Marc and I were given our own canoe but I chickened out and asked to be put with Matthew our guide. We were now in the lead canoe and didn’t have to worry about steering, Matthew did that for us. We could enjoy the ride and not have to worry about ending up in a pod of hippos or in the jaws of a croc. We approached a flock of Carmine Bee-eaters that have recently arrived from Central Africa to breed along the shore of the Zambezi. We had a bit of excitement when we got trapped on a sandbank. Luckily Matthew pushed us out but the others had to get out in the hippo and crocodile-infested waters to get free of the sandbank. Fortunately, we all survived to enjoy a sundowner on the beach.

Figure 9 Canoeing on the Zambezi River

The next few days involved game drives throughout the Ruckomechi concession in search of animals. We were joined by two young couples, Eric and Estelle from New York and Ben and Behara from Dubai. It was fun sharing the experience with folks that had not been to Africa before. There’s nothing like your first encounter with an elephant or lion. We were seeing plenty of animals and birds but no predators. We decided to try our luck with fishing. I haven’t gone fishing since I was a kid but there was a group of fisherman staying at the camp that kept talking about catching Tiger fish that got me intrigued. Ben and Behara joined us and we half heartedly attempted to catch a Tiger Fish. I blame it on not having the right equipment not on my lack of experience as we didn’t catch anything but it was fun trying.

Figure 10 Fishing for Tiger Fish

On our last day we took an all day drive with guide Andrew to see Mana Pools which are inside the National Park. We took a break from the Land Rover and stalked a herd of buffalo. We were able to approach within 50 meters and sit on a termite mound to watch them without disturbing them. We were in search of wild dogs but they continued to elude us. We knew they were in the area having heard reports from others who had seen them. We were seeing many Greater Kudus including some impressive males. One male impressed us with his jumping ability.

Figure 11 Jumping male Greater Kudu

Before we knew it , it was time to leave Mana Pools. We had seen many animals including impressive herds of Elephant, Eland, Greater Kudu, Common Waterbuck, loads of Hippo, Buffalo but sadly no Painted Dogs. We were about ready to get in the Land Rover for the early morning drive to the harbor when Andrew shouted “Wild Dogs on the Plain!”. We jumped into the vehicle and dashed off avoiding an elephant nearby and there they were not far from camp! There was a group of 6 adults trotting along on a hunting foray. We got a good look before they crossed a gully and disappeared on the other side. What a perfect going away present from Mana Pools!!

Figure 12 African Wild Dogs near Ruckomechi Camp

Destination 4: Bangweulu Wetlands, Zambia

The journey from Ruckomechi to the Bangweulu Wetlands involved a one-hour boat trip up the Zambezi River to the border town of Chirundu in Zambia. Crossing the border on a bridge over the Zambezi River was painless for us but not for the many trucks lined up to cross in both directions. They had to wait sometimes up to a day to make the crossing.
We drove for about 3 hours to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. It was strange being in a big city after being out in the bush for a week. We were flown by private charter from Lusaka Airport to Chimbwi Airstrip in the Bangweulu Wetlands, a flight of about one and a half hours. As we approached the airstrip we could see large herds of Black Lechwe, a species of antelope endemic to this area. We were picked up by David, the manager of Shoebill Island and driven a short distance to camp. We were the only visitors staying at the Camp for the next 4 nights. Patson took us for a walk around the area to see the many water birds that make the Bangweulu Swamps home.

The next day we were to meet our friend Hammer Simwinga for lunch at the Camp. Hammer is the Executive Chairman of the Foundation for Wildlife and Habitat Conservation and has been working on community development and conservation projects in the area for years. We met him five years ago on our first visit to Zambia at which time we delivered a laptop computer to help him with his very important work. Hammer drove for 3 hours on his motor bike from Mpika his hometown to meet us for lunch. It was great seeing him again. We were able to deliver another laptop and Blackberry phone which made Hammer very happy.

Figure 13 Hammer with his new laptop computer

The next day was full of excitement as we prepared to search for the elusive Shoebill Stork, a massive grey Dodo like bird. The Bangweulu Swamps are one of the few remaining places in the world to see Shoebill storks in the wild. This time of year they have retreated further into the swamps and finding them is no easy task. We drove for about an hour along a bumpy dirt track winding our way past gray conical termite mounds that dotted the landscape. We finally arrived at the end of the road and had to proceed on foot with our guides Patson and Manual into the swamp. At first the going was fairly easy through ankle deep mud and squishy grass but eventually we had to wade through thigh deep water. The footing was uneven and Marc was having a hard time balancing with his big lens. Patson made him a walking stick from a nearly tree which helped a lot.

Figure 14 Peggy wading through the Bangweulu Swamp

After about an hour and a half we were rewarded with our first sighting of a Shoebill Stork! We had scarred an adult off a nearby nest and she was circling overhead. We approached the nest cautiously but when we arrived only the nestling remained. What an incredible sight, a Shoebill chick sitting motionless in the nest with its big round eye watching us. We took some photos and moved away, not wanting to disturb the chick.

Figure 15 Shoebill chick in the Bangweulu Swamp

We went in search of the adults who were nearby and were able to approach to within 20 meters before they flew off. It was time to head back to camp.

On our last day at Shoebill Island we took a game drive to see the Black Lechwe at close hand. As the swamps dry out, thousands of Black Lechwe congregate on the floodplain to graze on the green grass. Only the males sport horns and their coats grow darker as they age, hence the name Black Lechwe.

Figure 16 Black Lechwe in the Bangweulu Wetlands

We also encountered a flock of 15 graceful Wattled Cranes, the first time we had ever seen these birds in Africa. They were grazing the floodplain along with the Black Lechwe.

Figure 17 Wattled Cranes in the Bangweulu Wetlands

We searched for the elusive Tsessebe, a species of antelope found in the area. We finally spotted 3 resting in the distance. They got up at our approach and loped off. The Bangweulu Wetlands are not a protected area and hunting pressure is high. Most animals are wary of humans and do not allow close encounters. The last stop on our game drive was to visit a hyena den that David knew about. As we drove up a hyena had just emerged from the den ready for a night of hunting.

Figure 18 Spotted Hyena in the Bangweulu Wetlands

Destination 5: Kafue National Park, Zambia

We were able to fly to directly to Kafue National Park from Chimbwi airstrip after a refueling stop in Ndola. Ndola is the capital of Zambia’s Copperbelt and boasts a covered soccer stadium and golf course. As we taxied to the runway, I noticed fuel pouring out of the wing. We returned to the airport and fortunately found only a loose fuel cap. Finally we were on our way to Kafue National Park. We landed at the Busanga airstrip where a female pilot was waiting to take us via helicopter to Busanga Bush Camp. It was a novel experience for us. I sat in the front and could see animals grazing on the Busanga Plains below. We were in time for a late lunch with Ashley, one of the camp managers. During our stay at Busanga Bush Camp, BBC as it is called, we had arranged for a private vehicle and guide. Neddy was to be our guide and took us on our first game drive that afternoon.

The next day we did an all day game drive to explore the Park. We crossed the Busanga Plain encountering herds of elephant and roan antelope. As we entered the tree line on the opposite side we found a host of different animals, Litchenstein’s Hartebeest, Wildebeest, Common Reedbuck, Oribi, Zebra, Defassa Waterbuck and Impala.

I was told that there were 19 species of antelope in Kafue National Park and I was keen on seeing them all. We did our best but only managed to find eleven by the end of the day.

Figure 19 Litchenstein’s Hartebeest in Kafue National Park

The next morning we were treated to a 25th Wedding Anniversary surprise, a hot air balloon ride over the Busanga Plain!! We were joined by Paul, our pilot, a couple from Boston and 3 predator researchers on the 1 hour flight over the Plain. We rose with the sun and glided silently over the landscape below. We could see the remnants of a Puku killed by lions the night before. The lions were still in the vicinity and we watched as they slinked away to sleep their meal off. We saw a lone male elephant sauntering off across the Plain and a herd of Roan Antelope and Red Lechwe.

Figure 20 Red Lechwe from the hot air balloon

After the flight, we were taken to the “Hippo’s Nest” for another surprise, breakfast complete with champagne! We finished up the morning with a trip up to the Papyrus Swamps to look for Sitatunga,
another antelope species that I was hoping to add to the list. We didn’t find the Sitatunga but had a nice sighting of a Rosy-throated Longclaw. Birders come from all over the world to see this bird.

Figure 21 Rosy-throated Longclaw, Kafue National Park

On our last day we took another all day game drive to Lufupa Camp at the confluence of the Lufupa and Kafue Rivers. We saw many animals and birds along the way including our 12th antelope species, a Common Duiker. We arrived at Lufupa Camp around noon for a cool drink and a view of the confluence.

 Figure 22 Peggy at the confluence of the Lufupa and Kafue Rivers

We ran into the predator researchers who had taken the hot air balloon flight with us the day before. They were staking out 2 cheetah. We didn’t want to disrupt the research but they didn’t mind us taking a quick peek. The cheetah were not easy to spot in the thick vegetation but we did get a good view. We did spot a new African mammal for us, a tiny species of antelope called a Sharpe’s Grysbok, bringing our final total to 13. They’re not easy to spot in the thick vegetation but this guy was as curious about us as we were about him and posed for a nice photo.

Figure 23 Sharpe’s Grysbok, Kafue National Park

We started the long drive back to camp. As darkness fell we chose to stay along the tree line for the night drive rather than cross the Plain. We saw many Common Duiker which are actually a nocturnal species and our final feline for the trip, a Serval!

Figure 24 Serval, Kafue National Park

Destination 6: Liwonde National Park, Malawi

It was a long journey to Liwonde National Park in Malawi. We shared the short helicopter flight from BBC to Busanga Airstrip with a couple from Botswana. They were also on the flight from Busanga airstrip back to Lusaka which meant I got the back seat in the 6-seater plane for the 2 and a half hour flight. Back in Lusaka we received a message from ZAWA. They were investigating the Shoebill nest incident and wanted our input. We didn’t have time to access the internet to send them a note so quickly jotted down our responses. Hopefully, they will sort out the situation so that bringing tourists to the nests do not cause their destruction by local villagers. We took our first commercial flight to Mfuwe where we were met by our pilot for the Nyassa Air taxi to Malawi. This was the first time we took a 4-seater plane on an international flight. We had to clear customs in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, before continuing on to Mvuu Wilderness Lodge in Liwonde National Park. We arrived at 4:00 in time for a sunset cruise on the Shire River.

Figure 25 Sunset over the Shire River, Liwonde National Park

We spent the next two days exploring Liwonde National Park with our guides Frank and Patrick. Although a small park, Liwonde has no shortage of animals and birds. The Park was full of Sable Antelope, Elephants, Common Waterbuck, Litchenstein’s Hartebeest, Impala, Hippo, Crocs, Greater Kudu and Zebra.

Figure 26 Common Waterbuck, Liwonde National Park

There is an enclosed Rhino sanctuary inside the Park where 13 Black Rhino reside. We spent many hours looking for them to no avail. We tried searching for them in the Land Rover but did not encounter them. There were a few hides in the sanctuary next to the waterholes that we lay in wait for the secretive rhinos but they did not come. We did get great sightings of all the other animals including a bush pig that was not afraid to visit the waterhole while we were there. We approached him on foot to within 50 feet and he didn’t budge.
Figure 27 Bush Pig, Liwonde National Park

The nocturnal sightings in Liwonde were also good. We encountered several porcupine, some in pairs, Meller’s, Water and White-tailed Mongoose, Large-spotted Genet, and a Thick-tailed Bushbaby.

Figure 28 Meller’s Mongoose, Liwonde National Park

Figure 29 Porcupine, Liwonde National Park

We hadn’t given up on seeing the Rhino. On our last morning we rose at 4:30 in order to be in a hide by 5:30. The first hide we chose was unproductive. The animals could see or hear us and would not approach. We gave up after an hour and went to another hide. This one was built high over the waterhole and the animals could not see us. To my amazement a large Eland bull approached the waterhole and plunged his face in the water! Four more Eland bulls and a bachelor herd of 8 Sable Antelope joined him. Ok, so we didn’t see any Rhino but this was an amazing sight!

Figure 30 Eland and Sable Antelope at the waterhole, Liwonde National Park

We could have watched for hours but we heard our plane arrive and rushed off to the airstrip for our next adventure.

Destination 7: Likoma Island, Lake Malawi

Our final destination on our southern African odyssey was Likoma Island in Lake Malawi for a bit of rest and relaxation. After a quick flight over the Lake we were on Likoma Island where we were met by Richard for the drive to Kaya Mawa where another surprise awaited us. For our 25th Wedding Anniversary, we were upgraded to a deluxe room. Our room, the former dining room, was massive with a 360-degree view over the Lake, a private deck with a pool and a bathroom with a stone tub. I was so touched I started to cry.

Figure 31 Peggy in our room at Kaya Mawa, Likoma Island, Lake Malawi

It would be tough leaving our beautiful room but we had an Island to explore. The next morning we rode mountain bikes to visit the Cathedral of St. Peter. Built in 1903 by Scottish missionaries the Cathedral is still in use today. It’s a massive building of stone and brick with a metal roof. The caretaker took a break from watering the grounds to show us around. He took us up narrow, dark stone steps to the roof with a view over Lake Malawi toward the mountains of Mozambique.
Figure 32 Inside of St. Peter’s Cathedral, Likoma Island, Lake Malawi

We biked back to Kaya Mawa dodging kids along the way to try some kayaking before the wind kicked up. After lunch we walked to Kutundu Textiles, a cooperative where orphaned girls find employment. We couldn’t resist the temptation to buy some linen pillow cases decorated with local shells and seeds in modern patterns. A fitting end to an incredible trip was a romantic dinner on the beach to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. This trip was everything we hoped for and more made special by the staff at the lodges and camps we stayed at.
Figure 33 Peggy & Marc celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary, Kaya Mawa, Lake Malawi