And Then…

I am one of those people who arrives at the airport about five hours in advance. I like to avoid stress whenever it is possible to do so. Hence, I leave with plenty of time in case of traffic, in case I’ve forgotten something critical, in case the driver takes me to the wrong terminal, in case I can’t get my phone to produce my reservation code, in case the airline can’t find the reservation code, or in case of multiple glitches, even minor ones – all of which have happened to me at one time or another.

I arrived at the Johannesburg airport, O.R. Tambo Airport, at about 5:30 a.m. for my 10:00 a.m. flight to Ivato International Airport, in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

O.R. Tambo Airport is a reasonably nice airport. The Emerald Guesthouse where I was staying is near the airport (but not under the flight path, except for one daily flight) and ran a regular shuttle to drop off and retrieve guests. The airport had restaurants and a decent, small Woolworths grocery store, so it was handy for me to hop on the shuttle and get dinner in the early evening during the few nights I was in Johannesburg. The Guesthouse area was otherwise residential, and, while the people were very nice, their food was not great.

The idea of spending four hours in the airport was fine with me. There were shops and restaurants and a bookstore (always good for an hour or two,) so I arrived early. I took care of changing my extra rand (the South African currency) into U.S. dollars, checking on my flight (on schedule,) and then stopped in the restroom before proceeding to the local coffee shop serving espresso.

It was when I started going through my daypack to find my wallet that I noticed my phone was not there. I looked through it twice more, finally taking everything out and putting it on the table until the bag was visibly empty. I had my wallet, I had my camera, I had everything – except my phone.

I shoved my wallet, camera, etc., back into my pack, grabbed my suitcase, and walked quickly straight to the restroom where I had been. I realized that when I checked my mail on my phone, I set it down on top of the TP holder, and then washed my hands and walked away without it.

I edged through the cluster of housekeeping staff at the entrance to the restroom and checked the stall where I had been. Nothing. I checked all the other stalls, but still nothing. I could hardly believe it. I had had that phone for about five years (I don’t upgrade instantly) and had never left it anyplace before, except one time in Upstate New York. I asked the staff if they had seen my phone, but the people still standing there said they hadn’t seen it.

I spent the next couple of hours reporting the phone lost to the information desk, talking with the airport police, and checking and re-checking the airport’s lost and found. I kept hoping some good person had found it and would turn it in. Everyone I talked with was very nice, but no one turned my phone in.

Eventually, I had to get on the plane to Madagascar. I was coping, but it was hard. It was my iPhone, and it had my contacts list. I used it to check emails and What’s App messages. Sometimes it was a handier camera than my DSLR, so there were photos on it. Because of the unreliability of African internet service, not all of the photos were backed up to iCloud, or even to my iPad.

I still had my iPad. I had gotten into the habit of downloading my camera’s memory card to my iPad each evening, so I had those photos. They had not all backed up to the cloud, either, but I had the iPad and my memory card. The missing photos were the more spontaneous kind, the selfies, the “quick before they disappear” animal shots, photos from museums that didn’t allow DSLR cameras, but allowed mobile phone cameras because how could they stop them, and at least two photos I had promised to email to fellow travelers.

Luck was just not with me that day. The flight I was on had taken off, then about twenty minutes later it had to return to O.R. Tambo because of a problem with the emergency exit door. Apparently the seal around the door was leaking. I was sitting two rows back from it, and I could see the flight attendants looking closely at a gauge on the door. I assume it was a pressure reading of some kind. They moved the people in those first two rows to seats in the back of the plane. Okay, then. If the door blows, will I have time to brace myself?

We landed without incident, however, and it was unknown when we would be taking off again, so no one was allowed to leave the gate area. I sat down with my iPad and realized that I had a “Find My Phone” app. I should have thought of it before, but I’d never had to use it. I entered all of the information, and waited.

It took a few minutes, but it came up with a location! Technology is amazing. In another few minutes, it had the street address. It was close to the airport, too. This made me suspect the housekeeping staff, but, in fairness, who knows? I emailed the information to the policewoman to whom I had reported the missing phone.

She and I stayed in touch by email, even after I arrived in Antananarivo, because I would be returning to Johannesburg after my visit to Madagascar. She said that she did go to the address, and the address belonged to three apartment buildings with twenty units each. It was then that I knew I was never going to get the phone back. I used the “erase” feature in the Find My Phone app, and wiped it clean.

I sent a message thanking her for her efforts, but I understood that it was a dead end, thanks anyway, have a nice life. The police officer then emailed me to see if I was interested in writing about her life story. I allowed as how I was mainly a travel writer, and someone else would be better suited to writing about her adventures. I may have passed up a best-seller, you never know, but I wanted to put the whole episode behind me.

Forward, into Madagascar.

The Last Roundup

Viewing wildlife was my prime reason to visit Africa. I don’t know how anyone can resist after watching National Geographic nature series, especially those narrated by David Attenborough. So when my last 24 hours of Kruger NP came around, it was with some sadness that I watched the elephants, giraffes, zebras, kudu, lions, hyenas, and all the animals that had become familiar sights during my time in Africa. This would not be the end of wildlife, but this chapter was getting ready to close.

After visiting the rehabilitation center, we returned to Marc’s Treehouse Lodge. Late in the afternoon, we were invited to an evening game drive around their private reserve, one of a couple dozen reserves that give Kruger NP a larger area for animals to roam.

We boarded a game drive vehicle. These are ubiquitous in the parks of Africa – usually a ten-seater with benches or seats arranged in tiers that allowed the people in the rear to see over the heads of people in the front. Once settled, we went off to see who was out for an evening meal.

A young-ish female giraffe, out browsing the trees before nightfall.
Giraffes seem to prefer viewing humans in their rear-view mirrors. The Giraffe Center near Nairobi is the only place where giraffes get friendly – because, of course, you have food for them.
We came upon a mother rhino nursing her young one.

Photographing animals is challenging. I counted twenty-eight photos of this mother and baby rhinoceros in my photo collection, and that doesn’t even count the ones I had already deleted because of blurry focus or just bad photos. Of the twenty-eight I kept, a lot of them look very much like this one, except the mother is in front of the baby, the mother is behind the baby, the baby is further away, the photo is darker because the sun was sinking, or other variations. I was always driven to keep pressing the shutter because animals move, sometimes suddenly, and I always hoped I would get that “National Geo shot.”

Like all baby animals, baby rhinos are cute! The mother was cautious about us, but remained calm.

I learned along the way from an actual NG photographer I met in Botswana, that those shots are often staged by crews who locate the animals, can get closer than the average tourist, of course have all the equipment in their vehicle(s), and know from experience how to approach the animals to (generally) get a good setup for a professional photographer or high-paying amateur. Plus, because they are not part of a tour, they can be patient for opportunities.

Still, the photos I have been able to collect give me a lot of pleasure, looking back over the places I have been and things I have seen, and they jog my memory. I am able to play the scene again in my head, and that’s the best part.

Enough of the humans, time to move on.
Sunsets are always beautiful.

Photographing in the dark and around nine other people also trying to photograph the subject was challenging, but I came out with “genuine” photos of a leopard searching through the dark for a meal.

It was exciting – the closest I ever got to a leopard in the wild.

After following the leopard for about twenty minutes, he disappeared into an area where our vehicle couldn’t follow, and we called it a night and returned to the lodge. I never had any trouble sleeping. Riding in the vehicles over rough ground and the excitement of spotting the animals took up a surprising amount of energy, and made for a good night’s rest.

Early the next morning, we were off to a game viewing drive in Kruger NP, the final drive.

Elephants on the move, looking for a good place to browse.
Wildebeest looking for a good spot.
You can call them wildebeests or you can call them gnus, either one is correct. They are members of the antelope family.
Giraffes browsing for breakfast.
I believe these were females. Both sexes have “horns” on their head. The males horns are solid and are used for the occasional fight, whereas the females horns are mainly tufts of stiff hairs that look like horns. Females don’t fight.
As one could predict, they walked away after a few minutes because they are giraffes.
This time, the mud hole was occupied by a couple of Cape buffalo, using it to cool off and to protect against parasites and stinging insects.
The elephants are on the bank of the river that feeds a large watering hole. It turned out they were here because the watering hole was occupied by a group of Cape buffalo, who were in turn, quietly fending off a lion pride on the hunt.
Here are the Cape buffalo. Notice how they are clustered, a common defense strategy for herd animals. These are no ordinary herd animals, however. These are Cape buffalo, not wildebeest. They are dangerous because of their horns, which can be lethal to lion or human. Lions are usually after baby buffalo, which are not apparent in this photo.
The buffalo are hanging around the water hole, aware that on the other side of the road (which was bumper to bumper vehicles watching to see what would happen) is a lion pride on the hunt, and so they are naturally cautious.
The lions are not after the buffalo, but are interested in something else. Generally, lions are not anxious to mix it up with buffalo if there is other prey available. We never saw what the lions were focused on.
The bigger females move out first, and appear to be calling for the younger ones to come along.
The younger lions don’t seem very anxious about following, but they aren’t happy at the prospect of being left behind, either.
The juveniles finally decide to follow. The whole pride was about twenty members. I used my telephoto lens to get this close, but the telephoto unfortunately narrows the field of vision, so you don’t see all of the lions.
Not after the Cape buffalo today.
Zebras sticking together.
Wildebeest resting in the late morning sun.
Elephants traveling, probably on their way to a water hole.

HOW DO YOU SPOT A LEOPARD? With difficulty. This was one of my two favorite leopard finds. In my travels, I was lucky (and my guides were good) in seeing a leopard twice in Kenya, and once in Kruger NP in South Africa.

Do you see it? Guides develop intuition and eyesight. On the right side of the tree, what looks like branches from a distance, are his/her legs hanging down.
We moved. Now we are on the other side, and so is the leopard. If you can enlarge the photo, you will see him/her looking at you from the tree branch..
Silhouetted on the branch.
Then, the leopard starts to move. They can literally walk down the trunk of a tree.
The leopard is near the center of the photo. Make it bigger, and you can see the spots.
One last zebra photo, and then we are on our way back to Johannesburg.
Along the way, we visit the Three Rondevals. The geological formation is named after the traditional round mud house with the pointed thatched roof.

We arrived in Johannesburg where I spent a couple of days before flying away. I was sad to leave South Africa, but I was excited to be going to Madagascar, which was a decision I made in Rwanda.

Birds and Beasts

Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre was on the program. I was leary of this destination because, in my travels, I have been to some “wildlife centers” that were uninteresting and sometimes sad.

Moholoholo was different. We were welcomed by our guide, Moses, into a small classroom building, and given an introduction to the center. It was clear that Moses enjoyed his work – he was organized, knowledgeable, and smiled easily and often. He explained the rehabilitation work provided by the Centre, but told us that we would not see any of the animals that they planned to release back into the wild. Animals that were able to be released were kept away from humans so that they would stay wild.

Moses explained that they had failed with one particular bird who had come to the Centre as a fledgling. He said the ground hornbill had “imprinted” on humans, meaning that the bird thought he was one of the humans rather than a bird. Nonetheless, if he (the bird) thought you might be a suitable mate, he would try to offer you some food as a way of courting you. “Ground hornbills mate for life, so, consider that before you decide whether or not to accept!” he joked.

Africa is filled with wildlife, familiar yet different, and the birds of Africa are no exception. Eagles, hawks, storks, flamingos, and dozens of smaller birds populate the parks. Some tourists come with seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the varieties, but I am not one of them. The photographs below that are not labeled are the ones “that got away,” meaning I didn’t catch their names. The birds are still interesting, still familiar yet different, and part of the colorful weaving that is Africa.

Black eagle or Verreauxs eagle
Southern ground hornbill, eyeing the visitors. Those “eyelashes” are very fine, delicate feathers, rather than hair.

Southern ground hornbills live throughout southern Africa, are about three feet tall, weigh between five and seven pounds, and have a wing span of about four feet. They can fly up to 18 miles per hour. Males have a wattled neck that is all red; females are red with a patch of violet-blue. Males will inflate their wattle when trying to attract females, and can emit “booming” calls that are often mistaken for a lion’s roar.

These birds are carnivores who live in groups of between two to nine birds. They hunt for food by walking slowly through the grass and brush, eating seeds and fruits, insects, toads, rats, squirrels, and even small monkeys.

Only the dominant male and dominant female breed. They are monogamous and pair for life. In captivity, they can live up to 70 years. The other members of the group are mostly male, and caring for the chicks is their responsibility. The female lays one to three eggs, but usually only one survives.

Southern ground hornbills are, like so many animals, losing habitat, and this threat has classed them as “vulnerable.” They can live in woodlands, grasslands, and savannas, as long as there are trees around to roost in and build their nests in.

Humans are also a threat in other ways. The hornbills attack their reflection in windows of houses and businesses, asserting territory or dominance, and are big enough to break the glass. They can be injured in that way, or simply killed by the people to get rid of the “pests.” Hornbills are used in rituals and traditional medicine, and yet a third human threat comes from land mines. Hornbills are big enough that as they poke the ground looking for rats or squirrels, they detonate land mines left from past rebellions and conflicts.

He is turning toward his collection of dead chicks.
After carefully decapitating the chick, he walked over and held it out to me. I’m flattered?
The Bateleur eagle. I thought he was nervous with all the people, but he wasn’t.
The Bateleur eagle is being patient while Moses explains about these birds.
At last! Moses rubs his head.
A beautiful and happy Bateleur eagle
Long-crested eagle
African fish eagles (white heads,) found throughout eastern Africa. I saw them in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and southern Kenya.

Africa has eleven species of vultures. Eight of them have declined by about 62% in the last thirty years. Globally, vultures are the most endangered bird species.

Vultures can strip a large carcass in just a few hours, which helps keep the environment clean and disease-free, not to mention recycling nutrients.

Threats to vultures include:

Power lines: Vultures’ large wing span makes it difficult to turn quickly and avoid power lines. Loss of food supply: Humans have encroached on wildlife areas, resulting in a diminished food supply for vultures (and others.) Direct poisoning: Poachers poison vultures to prevent them from alerting rangers to the location of a poaching victim.
Indirect poisoning: Farmers poison the predators who prey on their livestock, and vultures die when they consume these carcasses.
Traditional medicine: Some believe that some diseases can be cured with vulture body parts, or that consuming vulture body parts will give them paranormal visions.

White-headed vulture pair
The White-backed vulture “at ease”
White-headed vulture alerted
Lappet-faced vulture
Hooded vulture
Juvenile white-headed vulture.

There are several lions that spend their days at Moholoholo. They don’t seem to mind, and Moses is at ease, but careful, feeding the lions through the fence so we can get a better look. Lions, even these comparatively tame ones, reek of power. Their muscles ripple through their bodies. The male lion’s paws are huge. It’s easy to imagine that a single blow from an angered lion could kill a person.

The guy with the bucket of red meat is always popular with the predatory cats.
Even in a rehabilitation center, the feeding order is male lions first, then female lions. Lions, who must hunt for the pride and defend the pride, honor muscle and strength.
It is tempting to scratch his head as he leans into the fence, just like your cat at home, but I wanted to keep all of my fingers.
Leopards are beautiful, and it’s easy to see why they were hunted, but they are so much more beautiful alive and just being leopards.
Moses threw a piece of meat into the tree. I had my camera up and ready. By the time I snapped the photo, he had gotten the meat caught on the branch, he was that fast.
Wild dogs are vicious hunters. Once they get a hold on their victim, the dogs crowd in and start eating the animal, even still alive.
The cheetahs were relaxing in the sun, but they did get up to nab some snacks from the bucket Moses was carrying.
Hyenas rank just below lions in the hierarchy of predators. They travel in packs and can overcome a lone lion, and often challenge a small pride for their kill. They also hunt for their own meals when necessary.
Caracals are medium-sized cats, with long legs, short faces, and long, tufted ears. They live in Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, and India.
A serval cat was napping in the shade until we showed up.
Not much is known about honey badgers because they are nomadic, solitary, and secretive, hunting mainly at night. They eat rodents, birds, eggs, and snakes, but also roots and tubers. They can be found in moderate climates from Africa to India.
This was our last stop with Moses. Along with the collection of skulls and other bones from animals, there is a large collection of tangled wire on the wall. These are snares and other traps that are used by poachers and other hunters, even though hunting requires a permit on specific terms. Poverty in Africa makes hunting wildlife an attractive alternative.

Marc’s Tree House Lodge and Kruger NP

Marc’s Tree House Lodge, located near Kruger NP, sits along a small river running through their reserve. The lodge has built their breakfast area beside this pond, which attracts a lot of birds and animals to entertain the guests early in the morning.

In particular, there was this African Giant Kingfisher, who fished over the pond. She would swoop over the water, and when she spotted something, she would hover, flapping her wings furiously, until the moment she dove into the water. Several times she came up without anything, but she persisted, and finally nabbed breakfast.

Breakfast was so big, however, that she had a real struggle trying to eat it! The fish looked to be fully half the size of her. She tried several times to fit it into her mouth, but it just wasn’t going to fit down her throat. It looked for a while like she was trying to bite it into pieces, but of course, she doesn’t have real teeth. Then she took to hitting it on the branch. As if just catching it wasn’t hard enough! In the end, the fish finally broke apart and she got a good mouthful. Makes me glad to be a human, though.

Giant-sized breakfast!
The monkeys who hung around the pond were very quick to spy unguarded food.

A troop of monkeys danced in the tree branches. They were very fast, and one morning, I lost an apple I’d planned to take with me. Someone asked if I had any mosquito repellant. I took things out of my day pack to reach the repellant, one of them was my apple, which I placed on the table where I was sitting. I was sitting, right there! One of the monkeys dashed right down, picked it up, and bounced off to a tree branch by the pond. It was over in seconds! And, of course, he took a couple of minutes to look at me and gloat before he ate it….

Vervet monkeys like these are “Old World” monkeys like the Golden monkeys we saw in Rwanda. It’s a large label as Old World monkeys are found from Africa to Asia, although Vervets were introduced to Florida sometime in recent (500 years) history, so now they are there, too.

Watching for the next lapse of human attention.

Vervets in particular, as nonhuman primate models, are used to study genetic and social behaviors of humans. These monkeys display human-like characteristics such as hypertension, anxiety, and alcohol dependency. And I can add apple-thievery to that list.

Antelopes might be interested in eating apples, but I don’t think apples are on their menu, and they aren’t clever enough, anyway. There are seventy-one species of antelope in Africa. Twenty-one of them live in Kruger NP. Because there are no fences between the NP and the reserves, animals wander into the lodges’ reserves, and sometimes into the lodges’ grounds. Luckily, this rarely includes predatory animals, although one should always pay attention when walking around, especially at night. But less aggressive animals, such as these Nyala, often come by and are welcomed as peaceful visitors. Nyala are part of the antelope family.

A male Nyala
And female Nyala.

Banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) are found from the Sahel (the transitional area between the Sahara Desert and the Sudanese savanna) to South Africa. They live in savannas, open forests, and grasslands, eating mostly beetles and millipedes. However, they are carnivores, so their diet also includes small birds, snakes, and their eggs, rats, and sometimes fallen fruit. Banded mongoose are a very social species, and live in packs of up to twenty animals.

Banded mongoose came to visit and to check the ground for possible food. They feel safe here, so no one was playing sentry or sounding alarms.

Mongoose are well-known for their ability to kill snakes, but they can also be killed by snakes such as the black mamba or cobras. Those snakes generally kill in self-defense and do not eat mongoose. Larger snakes, such as pythons, can kill and will eat mongoose. Other predators are hawks, marabou storks, leopards, and jackals.

Banded mongoose making their way up from the stream running by the lodge, looking for beetles and millipedes.

Game-viewing was the order of the day. We were assigned by the lodge to vehicles according to our destination, and today I was going to visit Kruger NP. Africa is all about wildlife for most tourists. During my year in Africa, I have seen a lot of wildlife, but I always get caught up in the excitement of those who are seeing these animals for the first time.

When you go on a game drive, it is always exciting to spot the first “really African” animal!
Blue-headed guinea fowl lack the attitude of lions and elephants, but they are fun to watch. As you can see, the group has its outliers, yet the central cluster moves in relative synchronicity.
The giraffes paused from eating to look at us.
But, as we are no threat to them, they immediately returned to their more important business of eating.
A mother-daughter pair checks out the humans, one out of caution, one out of curiosity.
These elephants were part of a larger line walking on the other side of the stream. The baby is not very old, probably under a half year.
“Greater kudu,” or “Ghost of the Africa bush” to some. You can distinguish them by their gray hide and spiraling horns on the males. Antelope horns are all hollow. Females do not have horns.
Elephants love a mud bath! It helps keep them cool and cuts down on flies and other airborne pests.

The big cats – lions, leopards, and cheetahs are the most popular animals to spot. You can rely on your driver and guide to put a lot of effort into finding these because it means bigger tips. If they don’t find these, it’s not because they didn’t try!

The unidentified glob hanging from the tree is a leopard’s aging kill that he or she stashed in the tree so other animals wouldn’t steal it. Finding a kill like this often means the leopard is also in the tree. We waited and waited, but no leopard appeared. We went off to search for other animals (including a leopard,) and re-visited this tree twice during the day. Nothing. We discovered later from another driver that the leopard was at the base of the tree, resting against the edge of the small ravine where the tree was. We couldn’t see him or her from the road. I am not sure how he knew this, but our driver believed him.

No definite idea what the animal was, but the consensus was that it was a small species of antelope – a pretty safe guess.

This is a saddle-billed stork, a bird I was becoming familiar with since first seeing it in Amboseli NP in Kenya. The way they stand in the water and fish reminds me of the blue herons that I would see on Whidbey Island.

Water is a reliable animal magnet. On the other side of the bank, a small herd of zebras crossed paths with a small herd of gazelles. I found the comings and goings of the animals interesting from a social point of view. Predators were always viewed with caution by the animals that they hunted, although, if the predators were not hungry, the others were comparatively safe.

A random giraffe walking through. Probably a barely mature male.

Baboons here, where they have not been fed by tourists, are not the nuisance that they were in the parks near Cape Town. They are still dangerous, however – they are very strong and have big teeth, and they can become very excited if they feel threatened. But, they are fun to watch because of the way they interact. Younger, older, male or female, they aren’t above snatching another’s food or plaything, and sibling-style arguments ensue. Their babies are especially cute and animated.

When we spotted a group of lionesses, things got exciting. It appeared that they were stalking an animal that we couldn’t see, probably an impala, the “fast food for lions,” according to our driver. There were several female lions spread out, but not randomly.

We watched them, along with several other vehicles, for some while, but eventually they stopped stalking. Their posture relaxed, and the pride gathered up together, so we knew it was over.

The photo below was taken with my telephoto lens maxed out. They were too far away to try and capture the whole group. When lion prides hunt, they are successful about forty percent of the time, but this hunt fell into the sixty percent remainder.

Water bucks are another species of antelope, recognizable by their horns and especially by the white ring around their hind ends. They are pretty large, bulls being about 1.4 meters tall, females a little smaller. Water bucks are gregarious, living in herds of about thirty animals, although the herds are fluid – individuals float in and out frequently. They are grazers, but when the ground cover is too thin, they will also browse on the bushes. Water is important to them, they live near permanent water sources, and when danger comes around, they use their strong swimming skills to take refuge in the water. Predators are who you would expect – lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, and wild dogs.

Female water buck.

Elephants are always fun to watch, and these were very close by.

It was the end of the day, but we stopped to watch a small drama at this artificial water hole. The zebra, understandably wary of the hyena, is waiting patiently near the water hole, but out of reach for the hyena, who is standing in the water getting a good, long drink.

Finally, the hyena walks away, and the zebra can get a drink in peace. As the hyena gets closer, we were able to see that she is very pregnant.

A Night at Tremisana Lodge

From my first day in Africa, I had been hearing about Kruger National Park, one of the most famous African parks, renowned for its size – nearly two million hectares (7,700 square miles) of wild area, made larger by an additional two or three dozen privately owned wildlife reserves that border the national park – and the relative ease of wildlife viewing.

Kruger NP began as the Sabi Game Reserve established March 26, 1898, by South African Republic President Paul Kruger, to protect the wildlife of the South African Lowveld. Over time, it morphed into Kruger NP, named for President Kruger who helped create it. The size of the park was made more by the private reserves that grew up around it, and there were no fences between to restrict animal movements.

South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique made big plans in 2000 to join their parks together into the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Even though progress has been made, the parks have not yet become one officially, although there is much cooperation and coordination. Hopefully, the project will come to fruition because it would provide one of the largest wildlife preserves.

I joined a group driving up from Johannesburg for a visit to Kruger NP. Tourism has been established for a long, long time at Kruger NP, and it shows in their organization. We spent the first night in a lovely little lodge called “Tremisana,” located on one of the reserves at the edge of Kruger NP.

South Africans involved in tourism see the long-term value of conservation.

We had an early evening game drive, and then dinner outside. A hyena came by to see what was going on, and probably to see if she could get anything, but didn’t bother us. The wildlife in Africa, at least where tourists frequent, seems to have adapted to humans, or maybe they behave as they always have, being dangerous only when hungry, scared, or defending their young. Just like humans. The trouble for humans is being able to predict when predators will be hungry, to avoid surprising animals, and resisting baby animals. Even baby crocodiles are “so cute.” It’s why visitors are generally confined to their vehicles.


MoAfrika Tours was the company that I traveled to Kruger NP with, but they subcontracted to other operators. Viva Safaris was the company that coordinated our game drives and other transportation. This morning, we boarded our vehicle to ride to a place where we would go on a game walk. After the game walk, we would transfer to Marc’s Treehouse Lodge for the duration of our trip.

The game drives and the game walks begin very early, just as dawn breaks, a schedule dictated by the wildlife. They feed early in the morning, and late in the afternoon. Our group consisted of eight guests, a guard who carried a rifle and drove, and our guide, who was also armed. On our way to the starting point, animals began to appear.

As I said, visitors have to stay in the vehicles, but even so, everyone was excited when we got this close to a male lion! I noticed that the driver kept the engine slightly revved, just in case.

The closest I’ve been to a lion. I was still in the vehicle.

Elephants travel in groups, the females and their young ones. We never ceased to be fascinated by them, and I often wished I could stay longer, just to watch the interaction among the elephants, and between the elephants and other animals.

An elephant’s trunk has remarkable dexterity.

We were a lot more excited about being close than she was – she was entirely engrossed in eating the bush – but we managed to stay still. Elephants are pretty smart, and she probably identified us quickly as a group of harmless tourists in our vehicle as opposed to poachers. Full grown elephants aren’t threatened by much else. Luckily, she was browsing slightly away from the others, but after sitting for a few minutes, we drove quietly on, putting some space between us and her anyway.

Eventually, we got out of the vehicle and walked around the reserve. Our guide pointed out some plants that are used in traditional medical care, even today, although modern medicine is making inroads. Modern medicine costs money, however, and that has kept traditional medicine in the mainstream.

A lone giraffe wandered close by.
Hippopotamus in the river!

I wonder if many people come to Africa, and see only the eyes and ears of hippos, never the whole thing. Hippos rarely come out of the water during daylight. At night, they come up on land and graze. On land, they are remarkably fast over short distances, and it’s best to be attentive if you wander around at night.

Our guide showed us a traditional method of clearing your sinuses if you had a head cold. He chose a piece of dry elephant dung, and set it on fire with a match. It didn’t burn brightly, rather, it put out a good amount of smoke. The trick was to inhale the smoke to clear your sinuses. It works….

I tried it. The smoke is sharp, and traveled right through my sinuses. I can’t say that I would recommend it, but it does perform as advertised.

As we returned, we found this guy warming up in the sun on the road. Lions, and especially male lions because they don’t watch over the cubs, aren’t afraid of much.

He was not bothered at all by us!

There was a male lion, sleeping in the road. He didn’t pay any attention to us at first, but when we didn’t go away, he did finally raise his head.

When you’re a 500 pound apex predator, you don’t get excited easily.

Back at Tremisana, we gathered up our things and headed to Marc’s Tree House Lodge, a short distance away.

These vehicles are everywhere where there is wildlife viewing! They carry ten passengers, 3-3-4 in the top row. They do pretty well at allowing everyone to see, but trying to photograph through the heads can be challenging if you’re on the “wrong side.”

Kigali, On My Own

The gorilla trek tour was over. I planned to stay around a little longer in Rwanda to see what Kigali was like from a different perspective, so I ended up being an official “wave-good-bye-er” for the others as they departed for their various destinations.

Headed home!

I walked up the hill to a local grocery store, which turned out to have a little cafe in it. I sat down and a waitress brought a menu. Fortunately, the menu had pictures, because the menu was written in Kenyrwanda. She and I figured out what I wanted to order, and then I sat back to watch the people.

The local grocery store, one of them, is by the base of the tall building in the middle of the photo.

Watching people in Kigali revealed that there are many people in Rwanda’s “middle class.” Rwanda has businesses that are starting up, and businesses that are established. It reminded me of Botswana, which a taxi driver described to me as “a middle income” country. Yes, there are poor people. Many. But there are also many students who can afford to go to university, people who can afford to dress in a “middle income” way, and who can afford a car or a motorbike. Their downtown was growing, not in desperate need of repairs.

I passed the district government offices, and was curious about the “pointy thing” that was on top of their building. I discovered that the thing was a representation of a traditional Rwandan basket. When a woman is married, she carries a basket that looks like this, with a pointed lid, which is supposed to carry the wisdom, traditions, and “secrets” of her family to her new family and home. So, I suppose that the district government had this representation on their building to signify a cultural tradition that they were carrying on.

The “pointy thing” on top of the building represents a traditional Rwandan basket that is carried by the bride at her wedding.

I visited the memorial built by the Belgians to remember their soldiers that were lost during the 1994 Genocide. It was a sad loss of young men, who were told to surrender their weapons and they would come to no harm, and were then attacked. They defended their place, but were outnumbered and unable to communicate their need for help.

The memorial built by Belgium for the ten soldiers lost.

There is a pillar for each man. The lines carved into the granite pillars are one for each year of their life, ranging from 18 to 32. There are further details on each pillar so that their families could identify them each.

Twenty-nine years old.
“In memory of” ten young men, “killed in Kigali, April 7, 1994, on a mission for the country of Rwanda. Honored by the Belgian government, April 7, 2000.”
The building where they defended themselves.

I found one of my favorite things – a coffee house, “Beautiful Coffee!” The coffee beans are grown around Lake Kivu, where we had been, and the coffee drinks here were wonderful.

A latte cost 2,500 Rwandan francs, or $2.67 in US currency.

They also had food, served by a co-located but separate business, Kijamii Table. It is a wonderful place, very “Rwandan” – friendly, growing, blooming – and I hope they are doing well. Business is tough to start anywhere. Rwanda is ripe for new business, but fragile as well.

This is from their lunch buffet. Lentil soup, vegetables, and a beef stew.
The view of Kigali from the Beautiful Coffee/Kijamii Table balcony.
The friendly staff of Kijamii Table.

It was time for me to move on soon enough. As always, part of me was anxious to see more, and still sorry to leave where I was.

Musanze Celebrates Culture

After we left the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International museum, music drew us across the road, where there was a cultural center.

The gate to the Musanze Cultural Center.

For centuries, African villages were the center of life. Children grew up learning not just skills for daily living, but music, dancing, and other arts. As modern, city life drew people away from their village lives, people realized that their traditional culture was in danger of fading away, and so these centers were organized to showcase and teach traditional culture. For the rest of us, it simply looked like fun!

Everyone enjoyed watching this young man improvising on the front lawn.
A sculpture made of forks and spoons!

Artists displayed their works inside the center, and outside when the materials were weatherproof. I was particularly drawn to this painting.

The artist is Godfrey Kalungi. He’s exhibited across Africa, in the United States and Canada, and in Europe. He works in other mediums as well – sculpture was mentioned in his bio – and he is working on a book about African art. The biography did not mention a publication date.

We stopped at the coffee house after the cultural center, enjoyed a really good espresso drink, and then headed back to the Best View to rendezvous with our cohorts and celebrate Jacob’s birthday! It was a great way to spend the last evening out. In the next morning, we would be heading back to Kigali.

Tonight, we celebrate! From L to R, Patrina, Rosemary, Suzanne, Lynda, Shelley, Jacob, Nancy, Lily.