From Cape Town we flew to Victoria Falls. For our first activity, Paul had booked us to do a hike down to the base of the falls and swim under a water fall. A spectacular experience. Although the lower age limit was listed as 16, we weren’t questioned about Thea’s age (as she is taller than Lori and Rachelle) and now we feel there should actually be a maximum not a minimum age given how strenuous it was. Between my fear of cliff edges and the steepness of the climb up and down, I barely coped. It was fantastic but humbling, especially seeing our guides carry several life jackets and paddles back up and prepare to do the whole trip again an hour later. That afternoon we wandered along the top of the falls in 38-degree heat. In the evening we had a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River followed by a short concert from Mick Thomas and Wally. It was very strange travelling around with the musicians. I discovered Mick Thomas and I have similar taste in fiction. There were 13 other people on the tour – a British couple (concidentally a friend of theirs married a woman from my home town a couple of years ago and they attended the wedding at Castle Mountain) and the rest are Aussies, all in our age demographic. Thea and Rachelle were the only kids so became mascots in a way and were quite comfortable sitting with other people by the end of the tour. Everyone was very easy to get along with to the point that Rachelle was putting Snapchat filters on Mick’s face to transform him into a drag queen and a deer (and showing him). The highlight of the concert that evening for me was the excellent version of Four Strong Winds – almost made me cry as we are so far from home.
On Saturday we were driven and boated around part of Chobe National park in Botswana. Botswana was a British protectorate and gained its independence peacefully 50 years ago. There are only 2 million citizens in a country the size of France. Chobe Park itself is massive and the safari experience exceeded my expectations. First off we saw two leopards, which is apparently a fortunate sighting. This was followed by close-up views of literally hundreds of elephants (70,000 roam around Chobe, up to twice that many in the whole country), cape buffalo, kudu, tsessebe, giraffes, impala, sable, hippos, crocodiles, and fish eagles plus scores of other birds. Botswana banned hunting 2 years ago and our guide said poaching has dropped since then. That evening we abandoned the girls to room service and went with the group to a magical meal outdoors on a heli-pad followed by a 2-hour concert from Mick and Wally. (A few people were nodding off by the end because it had been such a long day but the mosquitos seemed energized rather than soothed by the music, esp. Saturday Night in Halifax.)
We passed through Zambia briefly so Paul and Rachelle could swim in the Devil’s Pool on the Zambian side of Vic Falls and we could fly out from Livingstone to Nairobi. Thea and I stayed back with a few of the others sipping drinks at the Livingstone Hotel and listening to the hippos.
Apart from seeing the Rift Valley, the drive from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara was disheartening because of the stark poverty and also because of all the garbage along the side of the highway. It is sad that modernization has introduced so many disposables yet garbage disposal and recycling systems are low on the priority list. There needs to be more accountability from industry and government. We know that in Rwanda a monthly citizen pitch-in day has been instituted. Similar programs could be introduced elsewhere if people could have food security first. After a jarring 3 hours on unpaved roads (I felt like a piece of shake and bake – shaken from side to side, hot and sweaty and topped off with a fine coating of red dust), we arrived at the Maasai Mara Park. Just on the short drive through the park to our lodge we saw many animals.
The Mara Loyk lodge is a series of luxury tents just outside the park. Our first real drive in the park was an animal smorgasbord and, as in Chobe, we had a very knowledgeable guide. The wildebeest and zebra were just beginning their annual migration to Tanzania. We again got to see leopards and were thrilled to spend time watching lions both in the morning and towards evening when the cubs were more active. We saw our first hippo on land and several birds we had not seen before. The concert that evening took place around the campfire. Mick played our favourite song ‘If You Were a Cloud’, but forgot some of the words! (cue Stephen and Paul).
Wednesday we went on a nature walk with several of the Maasai who work at the lodge and learned a bit more about some of the animals (if you surprise the notoriously aggressive cape buffalo, lie flat on your stomach and play dead even if approached or licked) and about how some of the trees and shrubs are used by the Maasai. Later in the day, Rachelle and Paul joined the group visit to a Maasai village. Paul said it was interesting but it felt voyeuristic and somewhat contrived; after the welcome and the tour we had to exit via the “market” to be offered various items to buy. It was upsetting to learn female circumcision is still the traditional practice. One of the Australians on the music tour is a lawyer and ex-politician and is involved in combatting female genital mutilation in Somalialand. Rather sobering social studies lesson for Rachelle and Thea that day (other schoolwork is not getting done at present because of inconsistent internet).
The concert that evening was a potluck from various audience members including those in our safari truck. Our guide David taught us a traditional welcome song so ‘David and the Wifis’ performed that; the English guy Neil performed two numbers on our ukulele; Paul, other Paul, and Neil performed a song about the group to the tune of Hotel California that Aussie Paul wrote; the Mackeys performed the Arrogant Worm song Canada’s Really Big; and two women sang back up while Mick and Wally sang Step In Step Out.
Our final day in the park we spent driving further afield and by this time I had seen enough animals. It was thrilling to see a massive crocodile though. The final concert was short as some people had an early morning. For the second time on our adventure, we have felt uneasy about our accommodation. When we tried to use the Visa card to pay for our extras, the transaction would not go through. When we called Visa in Canada to find out why, the service agent said it was because the merchant was coming through as an off-shore on-line gambling syndicate. We had to have the tour guide pay and reimburse him. I knew it was very unlikely the lodge was owned by a Kenyan and that any profits would be plowed back into the economy but now we are really suspicious that it is even worse than just foreign ownership and that the Russian mafia or other profiteers own the lodge.
Our visit to the Maasai Mara ended with Rachelle receiving a second proposal, from a Maasai man, just after our final breakfast (the first proposal was at the Botswana border). Trish, one of the other Aussies, wanted to see the kitchen at the lodge and dragged Rachelle along. We were still sitting at breakfast and heard a big commotion and Rachelle came barreling back into the dining area unable to talk. Apparently the Maasai chef told her she was beautiful, was looking for another wife, and offered Trish two cows for her; Trish countered with 22 cows. Rachelle is still traveling with us……