Canoeing down the Zambezi

After spending time on the river boat seeing the many hippos and crocs, we were ready to canoe down the Zambezi. The lead up is nerve-wracking as the intensive safety briefing goes over the things that can go very wrong. Hippo flipping a canoe, crocs getting you, hitting a hidden tree stump…Anyways lots of things to get your adrenaline up.

Once we got in the canoes though I felt fairly relieved as our guide leading the trip had canoed the river over 2500 times over the past 20 years. We would not encounter any hippos but we knew they were around. After 6km of paddling, we would stop to watch the stunning sunset while sipping on a cold gin and tonic with a hippo family nearby. A very enjoyable experience.

Heading to Sapi Springs

Today we headed inland where we had the opportunity to experience a different area. Located away from the river looking on a spring, the camp is small and intimate with only 3 rooms. The beds are on the roof, only covered by a net, making for a very unique stay and a very neat experience as you look up at the stars while falling asleep, listening to the hyenas calling.

Meals at the camp were cooked over the bush fire, including margarita pizza which was fantastic! The eggs benedict was a treat as well.

Walking the Sapi River we stopped to play sausage throw, which you win by getting the sausage from the sausage tree closest to the target. Several rounds later, it came down to Alex and I in the championship playoffs.

Chikwenya

After a quick 15min flight I would land in a place called Chikwenya…a legendary safari area that has been revitalized after a 15-year hiatus. The area is known for its exceptional wildlife thanks to a natural floodplain and its location on the river. On a private concession, the area is exclusive to the camp giving you your own private safari.

After some time at Chikwenya, I would meet 5 other agents from around the world to experience the newly opened Great Plains camps Sapi Explores and Sapi Springs Camps. Our guide for the trip was Humphrey Gumbo… a legend in the Zimbabwe guiding industry as he is one of the youngest to get his guiding licence and is known as one of the top guides in Zimbabwe.

The journey would start with a history lesson on the area including some of the Baobab trees (my favorite) which are estimated to be over 1500 years old. Some say the gods planted the tree upside down as the branches look like a bunch of roots. One of the trees we saw had pots said to hold the remains of Chief Chikweyna (who was a lady). After passing by the baobabs, we headed for the river where we enjoyed a cold gin and tonic taking in the classic African sunset. We drove back to camp using a spotlight to try and spot animals. The light gives a reflection (similar to red eye in photos) of the animal’s eyes. We would see a small serval cat and an unidentified snake slither across the road. On arrival to camp, it was magical with oil lamps lighting up the paths and the staff singing a welcome song. The sky was stunning with millions of stars and the only thing lighting up the camp was lanterns. For dinner, the chef was preparing a beautiful meal using only traditional cooking methods – fire! We would have full chickens cooked in the ground. A fine meal paired with fine South African wines followed by a delicious desert.

Arriving in Zimbabwe

After 36 hours, 21 hours which were flying (4 different flights) I would land in Mana Pools. I spent 1 night at the beautiful Ruckomechi Camp located on the Zambezi River. Almost immediately, on our way from the airstrip to camp, I was rewarded with my first lion sighting of the trip. A female lion was resting, as lions do, with a full belly. The guides figured she’d just feasted on an impala. Even with my little to no sleep I was excited to be back in the bush! Once at camp, I would enjoy an ice-cold beer taking in the sunset.

Kylan’s Off to Zimbabwe!

Mana Pools is located in the northern part of Zimbabwe on the Zambezi River, it has been highly talked about as one of the best wildlife areas in the world in terms of both numbers and how WILD it truly is. Due to intense training programs and the diversity of activities offered in Zimbabwe – game drives, true walking safaris, canoeing and river boating – many of the best guides in Africa are from this incredible country. The area of Mana Pools I will be exploring is so wildlife rich in fact that Mugabe (past President) had reserved the area for himself. It is special due to its remoteness and plains as well as a natural spring that attracts wildlife. The area has recently welcomed 4 new camps that I will be inspecting.

After Mana Pools I’ll head to Victoria Falls for a couple of days, before spending 5 days in the beautiful Cape Town where I’ll meet with our local partners and lodge owners/operators from all over Africa.

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.