(Photos: Ann McGaw)
By Ann McGaw
Special to Frost Illustrated
In August, it was my privilege and pleasure to return to Africa for the seventh time. This time, the destination included South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Zambia was new to me as I had experienced the other countries in 2007. It has always been a joy to return to the Motherland and visit with the locals. I learn so much each time.
Our first camp, Chapungu, was just outside Kruger National Park in South Africa where we spent three nights. In the first two days, we had seen the “Big Five,” which includes the elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and Cape buffalo. In addition to those, there were cheetah, giraffe, warthog, impala and a variety of birds.
In the camp I met Sandra, a desk clerk from Zimbabwe. I have never seen anyone smile so much in my life; it was infectious. She is a single mother of two girls and only gets to see them every few months when she has enough time and money to take the 16-hour bus ride home. I had taken five Bob Marley CDs along to trade, but decided to give them away instead. We also had a man named Chris, who managed the dining area. I gave both of them a CD and you would have thought it was the best gift ever. It certainly made my day.
As we left camp, Sandra waved goodbye with tears in her eyes. I will miss her. We have since emailed and are keeping in contact.
We flew from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls to meet our trip leader. Arthur Kasekwe is from Zimbabwe and accompanied us on the remainder of the safari. He was extraordinary, delightful and very knowledgeable about culture, animals, history, etc. No topic was taboo, including politics.
Our next camp was in Botswana near Chobe National Park, best known for its thousands of elephants. It was at this camp, named Baobab, that we were able to see “wild dogs” for the first time. A very endangered species, we were astonished to see them on four different occasions. They were at the top of my “to see” list.
While at this camp, three local women brought handmade baskets and jewelry, which they demonstrated how they were made. I watched in amazement at how quickly and easily they worked the wet strands of palms. The last evening at every camp, the staff entertains our group. In return, we are asked to entertain them. After much figuring out, it was decided we would sing “If I had a Hammer;” we were all old enough to remember that song. It was entertaining because the men in the group would do hand movements to the song. The staff enjoyed the comic relief. But, the best part was that we had Dot, a retired opera singer, with us. She followed our song with a different aria at each camp. Dot would explain the meaning before she sang; a number of the women staff members had tears in their eyes and the men applauded loudly. It was a treat.
After dinner, we were accompanied back to our rooms because there are no fences around the area. One evening, we had to wait as our guide scared off a mother elephant and her baby. It would have been very dangerous to have walked any farther. Mommas don’t like you close to their babies!
From Baobab Camp we flew to Wilderness Camp in the Okavango Delta; I had stayed at this camp in 2007 so it was like coming home. Although none of the staff was the same, the ones we met were just as warm and wonderful as before. One of our drivers, Lucas, was awesome. He was able to find animals in very thick bush. We even were treated to lions mating! I had never seen this in any of my previous four safaris. Since he was familiar with Bob Marley, I gave him one of the CDs; he was very happy to have it.
A makoro (a type of canoe) ride on the Delta gave a very different perspective of the land. At water level we enjoyed water lilies and other flowers and birds up close. And, the quiet was a blessing.
Zambia was our next destination. It took most of the day and several different modes of transportation and going through immigration to get there. But, it was well worth it. The camp was situated on the confluence of the Kafue and Lufupa rivers. The main excitement occurred on our second day there. An elephant came into camp and proceeded to chase our guide and one of the travelers back into the lodge. No harm, no foul. Made for a good story and photos.
Our final camp was in Hwange Park in Zimbabwe followed by a trip to a local school and village in Victoria Falls. We met the principal Sefiwe, who also had founded the school. It was great fun to meet the children and hear them sing. In turn, we sang to them; they were much better!
In Victoria Falls we met a man who makes mbiras, a musical instrument we call “finger” pianos here. I purchased one from him for my friend, Tyrone Cato. He told me once that if I ever returned to Africa, he wanted one. I have to say he was shocked when I brought it to him. I was also able to obtain the man’s email address for him.
Our final visit was to Victoria Falls: real name Moise-oa-tunya. That means the smoke that thunders—an extremely appropriate name for such a magnificent falls.
Am I going back to Africa? Many people ask me that. I always say “yes!” It is in my heart and soul.
Ann McGaw is a former Frost Illustrated copy editor who from time to time brings back stories and photos from her many travels across the world.