The Children in the Wilderness

We are fortunate to be able to spend a few days at the beautiful Toka Leya Camp on the banks of the Zambezi River (Zambia) before the conference begins in Cape Town. We took a nice boat trip on the Zambezi and visited a village where Wilderness Safaris has done a lot of work with “The Children in the Wilderness” program.  They have a school set up, education programs, as well as community programs that we were able to see. The children and the community are doing well with the water that’s now available and the education provided. They will soon be a self-sustaining community which will be wonderful.

Snorkeling from Rocktail Lodge

We finished off the other day with some nice cheetah and lion sightings then carried on to Wilderness Safaris property, Rocktail Lodge.  This is an adventure camp within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in Kwa-Zulu Natal.  A bit more rustic, this tented camp has beautiful views to the ocean, good snorkeling and great scuba diving. Being one of the top 15 dive locations in the world we were surprised that there was hardly anyone around! It’s a very isolated and special spot.

We carried on past sugar cane fields, cashew trees, and eucalyptus trees that are grown and harvested for paper. Now in Durban, our big Africa conference starts tomorrow!

Phinda Private Game Reserve

We arrived in Phinda at the beautiful Mountain Lodge.  We are in northern KwaZulu-Natal not far from the Indian Ocean coastline and the famous iSimangaliso/Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park.  The lodge has a lovely view of the surrounding area, covered in trees and vegetation. Thanks to its coastal rainfall pattern, &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve enjoys a lush green environment that contains seven distinct ecosystems. The grounds here are full of warthog families, Nyala antelope, and water-bucks as well as monkeys looking to steal food and goodies left laying around!

The game drives have been good – beautiful weather and we have a fun and engaging guide. Today, we were fortunate to catch a baby giraffe a week or two old!  We are still searching for the mama leopard with her 2 young cubs that has been seen in the area so will let you know what we find!

Tomorrow we move to the Phinda Forest Lodge which is about an hours drive.  The forest lodge is one of the worlds first eco-designed luxury lodges with floor to ceiling windows surrounding the villas, giving you a breathtaking view of the beautiful sand forest and its own unique ecosystem!

Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla trekking is something I have always wanted to do and today was the day. I started with a Ugandan coffee, watching the sun come up prior to breakfast. After, we would walk to the park gate to be assigned a gorilla group or family. I was assigned the Rushegura Group which consisted of 16 members plus 3 little ones. The trek started out easy for the first hour and then we turned into the think jungle of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Our Guide would be in contact with the trackers as they were sent ahead to track the gorillas and communicate back to the ranger for us to find them. We trekked for another hour before getting the sign from our ranger that we were close. Walking down a steep hill, we saw a female and her little one under the tree. After snapping several photos, the guide shouted for us to follow him to even more gorillas. I stayed back as I had a feeling this mother and her little one were going to do something exciting. Eventually they got up and walked right by me with the little one doing a somersault down the hill. As they left I started walking to catch up to the group but looked up to see the “Black Back” which is the male, second in command. I started taking photos and saw him start moving towards me. I stood still, petrified, not knowing what he was going to do. He came closer at a good speed and as he trekked by, he threw his butt into me as if he were body checking me. I was thrown into the bush and the gorilla continued on to the rest of his family. I was fine and brushed myself off before catching up to the rest of my group.

Here we were lucky enough to see the baby gorillas who were very playful. They were wrestling around and pounding on their chests which made for a great time. Near the end, 3 of the babies got curious and started approaching one of the guests. It started curiously with a little lick and a one finger poke. The other babies saw this and decided to wrestle right in front of us, which I related to wrestling with my brother when I was boy. We would end our time with the guide saying “believe it or not the hour is up”. It was one of the quickest hours I have ever enjoyed and can suggest this experience to everyone!

Chimp Trekking

I started the day with a 5:30am wakeup call as I was ready and excited to go trekking with chimps today. At the park gate of Kibale National Park, I was assigned to a ranger who would assist the group during the trek. The Kibale National Park known as one of best places to see primates, is 795 square km with several species of primates including over 450 chimps. There are a total of 3 chimp communities that are habituated here but only one is used for tourism. Each community consists of roughly 120 chimps.

After about 45 mins of trekking into the forest, we heard this drum like sound and then distinctive call of the chimps. Our guide told us that males will drum on tree roots, which stand 4 -5 tall and 3 feet wide, to show their dominance. As we got closer to the sound, we could see them high up in the trees. After several minutes of watching, a couple of them decided to come down the tree and the trekking part of the day was on. We followed our guide through think forest trying to keep up with the chimps. Eventually we followed the chimps to a much bigger group where some were feeding in the trees and others were grooming each other. We would spend an hour with the chimps watching them as they went along with their day as if we weren’t even there. Seeing the little ones playing in the tree was my favorite part of the experience but all of it was an adventure. After the trek, I would return to the lodge were I had some time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Tomorrow, I fly to Bwindi where I will be trekking with the Gorillas, something I have been wanting to do for a long time.

Chimps

Welcome to Uganda

Today I say good bye to Zanzibar and my driver Michano. On route to the airport, we made a quick stop at our operators’ office to meet all their staff, its always nice to put a face to the name. After a quick visit I was off to the airport for my flight to Entebbe. On arrival, I waited in line patiently as there were few boarder officials to issue visas, the other 6 or 7 agents were watching a soccer match very intensely in the back room. Once through customs, I was greeted by Ya-Ha-Ya, a driver from our local operations who transferred me to the Boma Hotel, with its comfortable country feel.

My time here was short as we left at 6am for my flight to Kasese, where you can go chimpanzee trekking. The flight was very scenic as I flew over Lake Victoria, one of the world’s largest lakes, and mountainous areas covered by lush forest. Closer to Bwindi, you could see the mountains and hills cultivated for farming: mainly corn, coffee, bananas and cotton. Upon landing I met my guide Nelson, who would be with me for the next couple of days. We drove through several smalls towns along the way to Adali Lodge near the Kibale Forest. The drive to was very scenic as we passed through the many villages and farms. One of the cool things I saw was their cows, which have enormous horns. The lodge itself is set on a hill with views of a beautiful lake on one side and the working farm on the other where they produce coffee and cocoa for chocolate. The food here is spectacular and the people are so welcoming. This afternoon, I’ll enjoy the property as I await tomorrow’s chimpanzee trekking so stay tuned!

During my stay I visited the Kyainga Lodge,  another lodge in the area, which was just as nice and set up on a hill looking onto the Ugandan mountains. The owner Steve, originally from the UK, invited me for a sundowner drink where we enjoyed a stunning African sunset. After the sun had gone down, he invited me to the local golf club to meet a few of his friends and see the club (one of the oldest in Uganda). We had dinner at the club and I had a very tasty local chicken stew with fries, which only cost 6000 Ugandan Shilling, about $2 CAD.

Final Day in Zanzibar

My last day on Zanzibar included some down time after seeing and inspecting 21 different hotels in the past 6 days. It was a beautiful day to relax by the pool and enjoy the sun. I would spend my last night in Stone Town, where I made one final stop at the African House Hotel, known for having the best spot to catch the sunset and enjoy sundowners. As the sun was setting in the distance 4 or 5 dolphins came in the bay and performed for us…jumping several times right in front of the hotel. After a beautiful sunset, I went for dinner at this new restaurant, set right on the beach. They had fabulous thin crust pizza and ice-cold beer, a great end to my last night in Zanzibar.

Snorkeling the Reef

Today, Michano (my driver) picked me up early from my hotel and we headed to a town just South of Stone Town for a full day snorkeling trip, with seafood lunch on an secluded Island. The tour started off as we were assigned a captain and dhow. We walked half a km in knee deep water before climbing aboard our dhow called “The Lydia”.

On our way out to the reef, we got to enjoy fresh coconut water and pineapple which was one of the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. As we go to this beautiful reef we jumped in and explored it, surrounded by colorful tropical fish. The water was warm and clear with almost no current, the perfect place for snorkeling. We stopped at 2 different spots as we headed to a private island where staff had prepared a beautiful seafood lunch with lobster and other local dishes. There was a local band that performed African song and dance while we were spoiled with this delicious meal and fresh island fruit for dessert. We were served pineapple, watermelon, oranges (they are green here), mangoes, passion fruit, bananas and my favorite red banana, which is sweeter than the regular yellow kind. After trying all this delicious fruit, we departed to the island lagoon for a swim. It was like stepping into bath water of calm clear turquoise blue. Very picturesque. With the wind in our sail, we continued back to the drop off point where I met Michano and transferred to Essque Zalu, located on the northern tip of Zanzibar.