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Encounter with an Elephant …

It was hot … 45 C plus humidex ~ it felt like the hottest day ever! We had spent most of  it in and around the pool at a private game lodge in KwaZulu-Natal, and now we were driving through the bush in an open Landrover, hoping to see elephant and other game. There! Stop … go back … what was that? My then 4-year-old daughter had spotted warthog drinking at a waterhole. That earned her an extra portion of dessert! Then we came across a herd of giraffe – there must have been at least 11 or 12 of these graceful and inquisitive creatures. Some were grazing the tops of Acacias (umbrella thorn trees), but some were lying down. I had never seen resting giraffe before. Their high blood pressure doesn’t allow them to lay their elongated necks and heads down, but they had managed to fold those long legs under, so they could sleep. I suppose a ‘giraffe pillow’ would be useless. After seeing Impala, Warthog, Wildebeest, Kudu, a Monitor Lizard and many bird species we suddenly spotted him – Ngani, the bull elephant! He was quietly grazing and hadn’t noticed us, since we were downwind of him, so we cut the engine and settled in to watch quietly for a while. But Ngani had other plans and moved away. We wanted to follow, but the Landrover did not! Now we had to push-start the vehicle with an elephant no more than 100 meters away ~ needless to say, we pushed quickly! Ngani took to the road, so we had a good view of his huge back-end,...
African Bush Safari Experience

African Bush Safari Experience

The drums were not loud, but gentle and persistent. The sun was just rising and it was time to get up and start a day of wildlife encounters. We all met at the campfire for hot drinks and rusks. I had my camera, binoculars, sunglasses, hat and sunscreen – I was ready. As we walked through the bush we encountered many wonders of nature. A perfectly symmetrical spider web, a delicate birds nest, the mating call of an Impala buck. By mid morning we were back at camp and devoured the hearty breakfast, which was set out under the trees overlooking the river. It was getting warmer now and everyone retired to their chalet, or found a cool spot under a tree to relax, read a book, have a nap… The drums announced it was lunch time. Light fare and very tasty with fresh-baked bread, interspersed with bush talk. What we saw and heard and what we hoped to see and hear that afternoon. In the late afternoon we’re all in open Landrovers, ready for our game drive. Luck is on our side and we spot a pride of lion, watch an elephant uproot a tree to get to those fresh green shoots at the top, encounter a herd of buffalo drinking at the waterhole. We take pictures and enjoy a sundowner to end the day. The drive back to camp is in the dark, with the spotlight searching for nocturnal animals. First we see only eyes, then we learn to pick out the shapes of owls, porcupine and some buck. The air is crisp and we’re glad to...
Arctic Expedition – off the Beaten Track!

Arctic Expedition – off the Beaten Track!

When I returned from an Arctic expedition cruise from the Canadian Arctic to Greenland I brought back 1000 pictures and many wonderful memories and stories to share. We embarked in Resolute Bay, Nunavut on the 75th parallel and ended 11 days and 1600 nautical miles later in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland on the Arctic Circle. Zodiac cruises among polar bears, seals & bird colonies, tundra hikes, remote Inuit villages, 8/10th sea ice, Jacobshavn icefjord and colourful Greenland houses – all unforgettable! You should go too! Click here to see our current Polar Expeditions After our zodiacs brought us close up to a Polar Bear in Griffin Bay, our first stop and one of many ‘wet landings’ was on Beechey Island. This gave us an historical perspective on the centuries-long quest to find the Northwest Passage and a new trade route across the top of the world. We hiked to the graves marking the winter camp of the ill-fated 1845 Franklin expedition. In search of the Northwest Passage, all 132 men died after their ships were crushed by the ice. Heading east, we visited Dundas Harbour, cruised along the glacier in Croker Bay, crossed Lancaster Sound – the ‘wildlife highway’ – and hiked in the solitude of beautiful Navy Board Inlet on the north coast of Baffin Island. At Cape Graham Moore we cruised in zodiacs beneath cliffs teeming with birdlife, including thick-billed murres, northern fulmars, black-legged kittiwakes and black guillemots and came across 2 Polar Bears. I made new friends in Pond Inlet, famous for its soapstone carvings. (See below for Lauren’s Nunavut adventure).  After we left Pond we headed south...

Pony Trekking in Lesotho

It was in April that I went Lesotho pony trekking. Set in the Drakensberg Mountains within South Africa, the rugged countryside of the mountain kingdom of Lesotho is dotted with stone villages atop remote hillsides. The local people, called Basotho, live draped in blankets and robes, almost like the ancient Greeks. The Basotho wear the blanket in all kinds of weather in Lesotho, a country of climatic extremes. It has been said by a Mosotho that you should always carry a blanket and a pocket knife with you for then “You can sleep and you can eat.”  Blanket design names like Sandringham, Victoria England or the Prince of Wales Crest are tangible memories to the Basotho of Britain’s involvement in their national and political life. After World War II, motifs such as aeroplanes and bombs appeared on blankets and became symbols of bravery, power and conquest for the Basotho. There are few roads in Lesotho, mostly unpaved. It took us 4 hours to travel about 40 kilometers! So in Lesotho the horse remains chariot of choice and this is how you’ll want to get around as well. Malealea Lodge – a remote trading post – offers horseback treks of varying durations. You can base yourself at the lodge and stay in their simple, but clean huts or ride out for several days, staying in timeless Basotho villages. You’ll ride some of the subcontinent’s steepest terrain, but the Basotho ponies are tough, sure-footed and afraid of nothing. I had taken only a few riding lessons before coming to Lesotho, but felt very safe on the pony’s back, even as we went...

Veracruz – the Real Mexico

In June I had the opportunity to explore the Mexican province of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. This totally unspoiled land gives insight to the real Mexico. Here the American Dollar has yet to play the dominating role it achieved in places like Cancun and Los Cabos. Veracruz has much to offer the curious traveller, such as: 700 kilometers of beaches with great fishing and many coral reefs for the snorkeler and scuba enthusiast. The sand on the beaches is dark like ours here in Vancouver, and the hotels along the coast cater mainly to local families. It’s a great place to have a vacation – without all the frills or the big bills at the end of your stay. White water rafting, rappelling and trekking, especially in the rain forests and mountainous regions in the hinterland of the province. Huge archaeological sites and Anthropology Museums, offering insight to ancient cultures that were very advanced in their knowledge of architecture, art and astrology. Beautifully preserved colonial towns, dating back to when the European Explorers first landed in America. Veracruz and its diversity, from the rain forests of the hinterland to the coastal plains is a wonderful destination with very friendly people. Where else can you spend an evening dancing with the locals to the sound of a ‘Big Band’ in the City Square under the stars? Downtown Veracruz comes alive on Friday and Saturday nights and offers visitors a great opportunity to meet the local folk and join in some of the wonderful traditions that have been kept up through the generations. For me, that’s what travelling is...

River Rhine, Wine & Rüdesheim

Last year we wanted to spend Christmas in Germany. Traditional Christmas Markets beckoned and we were not disappointed.  Also known as Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt, these street markets spring up in many towns and villages all over Germany, Austria and Switzerland during the four weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas. The history of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe and in many parts of the former Holy Roman Empire that includes many eastern regions of France and Switzerland. The Vienna “December market” was a kind of forerunner of the Christmas market and dates back to 1294. Although Düsseldorf has some lovely little markets strewn throughout the Altstadt, Cologne would get my vote if you’re looking for atmosphere.  Located beneath the towering spires of Cologne Cathedral, this market has a huge variety of handicrafts interspersed with just the right amount of Gingerbread hearts, Glühwein and Würstchen stalls, all below an array of twinkling Christmas lights. The sounds and smells of these markets instantly put us into the Christmas spirit. After celebrating a very traditional German Christmas , we were ready to make our escape and travelled along the Autobahn towards the River Rhine.  The Middle Rhine Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site and stretches about 100 kms from Bonn to Bingen. With many castles, historic towns and vineyards we were soon immersed in its history and legends, the inspiration of many writers, artists and composers. The Rhine has served as a transport route and has linked the southern and northern halves of the European continent since prehistoric times, enabling trade...

Taking the Kids on Safari??? Yes – you can!

Today I’ll write about the Okavango Delta in Botswana – stunning scenery and a paradise for wildlife – where I took my then 10 year old daughter on a camping safari. Arriving in Maun, we took a low flight in a small plane into the heart of Moremi Game Reserve. The birds-eye view was spectacular!  Ronald – our guide awaited us in an open safari vehicle and soon we spotted our first Elephants – a family with a little baby, feeding at the side of the road. On our first game drive we also spotted Lechwe antelope, herds of zebra, grazing peacefully amongst some giraffe, a black-backed jackal, impala and wildebeest in the shade of an Umbrella Thorntree (Acacia). At sunset we arrived at the camp – tired and exhilarated.  Our cook, Richard and his crew had set up the tents and served a delicious, healthy meal. Soon afterwards we retired to our canvas accommodation, which was kitted out with comfy mattresses on stretchers, covered with crisp sheets and warm duvets. We even had an en-suite bathroom with a flush toilet and bucket shower, attached to the back of our tent. This is not the sort of camping I was used to as a child… how times have changed! Early in the morning we were off on another game drive. The grass shimmered with dew and the air was crisp and fresh. Not far from our camp we came across more elephants, many bird species, including fish eagle and saddle-billed stork and then we spotted a group of 7 cheetahs. What a thrill to watch these graceful animals interact with each...

Desert Elephants of Namibia’s Damaraland

A Namibian Adventure – Part 3, by Christine Boecker We’re off to look for the elusive Desert Elephants today!  Luckily no other guests wanted to go out, so we had Chris, our ranger and the Landrover all to ourselves – bonus! We set off at sunrise (7am) and travelled through many a Donga (dried out river bed) and traversed beautiful valleys, carpeted with desert grass – in bloom since the recent rains. We saw a family of ostriches, tiny Steenbokkies, beautiful Oryx and many bird species such as lapped-faced Vultures, Hammerkop, Heron, Plover, Mousebirds, Hornbills, Starlings, Cape Turtle Dove, Storks, Egyptian geese, and many LBJ’s – “little brown jobs” which we couldn’t identify!   After hours of driving through the most incredible desert landscape we came across a green oasis fed by spring water. And there they were – a family of 10-12 Desert Elephants, with a 3 month old baby! The matriarch and her baby was surrounded by the ‘aunts’ – the other females of the herd – all forming a protective circle around this precious new life. We watched as the baby used mom as a scratching post, rolled around in the desert sand and played with its trunk. Baby elephants only master this strange appendage at around 8 months of age and this little one was still quite clumsy. In this vast wilderness there is no calling other safari vehicles to a sighting, and so we could spend  many undisturbed hours here, always at a respectful distance so as not to unsettle these incredible pachyderms. We watched in awe as they fed and drank, bathed in the...

Sossusvlei Dunes – from above and below!

A Namibian Adventure – Part 2       -by Christine Boecker 5.30am wake-up call for tea & croissants and an early start for our Sossusvlei Dunes excursion. Slowly daylight was creeping over the mountains around us, shedding new daylight on this ancient landscape. We arrived at the Naukluft National Park entrance just in time for the opening, which happens at sunrise every day. A great way to start the day…There was a long line of vans, 4×4’s, overland trucks and tour busses and we were very grateful for our private vehicle and ranger! The tar road snaked through along a corridor of huge reddish pink dunes, throwing spectacular shadows from the rising sun. We stopped here and there for photo ops and by 8am arrived at the actual vlei (pan) at the end of the road. We stopped under a tree at the Big Mama Dune and went exploring, while Ronnie set up a cooked breakfast for us – bacon & egg ‘skottle braai brekkie’, which we shared with many Cape Sparrows and a pied crow. Does it get any better!?! – Well, how about seeing it from above? The next morning we were up at ‘Sparrow’s Fart’ again, this time heading to the launch site of our hot air balloon – pinch me! We joined 8 other passengers, and were quickly divided into the 4 compartments in the basket. Luckily we had favourable winds and were soon drifting toward the corridor of dunes – Sossusvlei. We climbed to 500m above ground, and then dropped to 20m, while floating along the dry Tsauchab River, spotting jackals, springbok and...

Our Namibian Adventure – can you spot the Jackal?

A Namibian Adventure – Part 1       -by Christine Boecker After a scheduled flight from South Africa we arrived at Namibia’s main airport – Windhoek Eros – which is surprisingly compact!  Even smaller was our Cessna 205, which took us on a scenic hour-long flight to our final destination – Sossusvlei Desert Lodge inside the Namib Rand Nature Reserve. Fly-in safaris are a great way to travel between the vast areas of Namibia. They offer unparalleled opportunities to get perspective on the incredible landscape and are excellent for photography too. We landed on a dirt strip and were immediately greeted by our ranger Ronnie, who drove us to the beautiful lodge. En route we passed the first of many impressive Oryx (aka Gemsbok), a large, desert adapted antelope with huge, straight horns and beautiful colouring. It was incredibly hot at +44°C and we were melting! After check-in we disappeared into our suite, having requested ‘room service’ for lunch. The suite overlooked a vast expanse of rock desert, framed by imposing grey mountains and tinged by the reddish sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the distance. About 500 meters away was a man-made water hole, popular with Oryx, Springbok, Zebra and pied crows. A black-backed jackal took a drink, then slinked towards our chalet and disappeared behind the wall of our outside shower. Can you spot him? Lunch arrived and the patio table was set by our butler, Annah. A nice, fresh salad, foccacia bread, balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil, washed down with my first of many refreshing Windhoek Lagers. Yummmmm! We ‘retired’ to the raised sleeping are for...