Browsed by
Author: Elizabeth

Sand Castles and Camels in Jaisalmer, India

Sand Castles and Camels in Jaisalmer, India

Jaisalmer, India is in the northwest of the country, close to the border with Pakistan. This city was once a major stop on the Silk Road, where caravans of goods-laden camels stopped to trade and rest before moving on through the Thar Desert. The city is built around a fort that rises out of the desert like a life-size sand castle. On our first day there, we walked up to this magnificent structure.

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The narrow streets within the fort are filled with hustle and bustle – merchants, tourists, residents, cows. You get the feeling that it’s not much different than it was in the days of Silk Road traders.

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We visited a magnificent maze of seven interconnected temples.

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The carvings depicted many different scenes, including this battle with a large cat (a lion, perhaps?)

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We visited the palace within the fort as well, where we saw this model of the whole thing.

Jaisalmer India 07 Outside the fort, we visited one of the famous Havelis. A Haveli is a large mansion where a wealthy merchant once lived and did business. This Haveli had many early 20th century items that were found inside, including ledgers and other business items.

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There were many lush living rooms as well, where you can imagine wealthy traders entertaining and relaxing.

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Our trip to Jaisalmer would not be complete without an overnight camel safari in the Thar Desert. Here are our camels, Ricky and Babloo, chilling out after our afternoon trek.

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We relaxed in the dunes as the sun went down.

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We enjoyed an Indian meal cooked over the fire and slept under the stars. Here is Will, contemplating the morning before we trekked back.

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Visiting Jaisalmer was a beautiful trip to another place and time.  It was fascinating to see this piece of history – a place where cultures met and mixed and did business. It reminded us once again of the variety of places in India – so different from the larger cities and Moghul strongholds we visited in other parts.

The Palaces and Temples of Udaipur, India

The Palaces and Temples of Udaipur, India

Udaipur has been described as one of the most romantic cities in India. The sites certainly have a romantic ambience, especially when you dine at one of the many rooftop restaurants after sunset. But romance was merely a bonus for us as we focused on taking in the Rajasthani culture.

Day One: We started our first day in Udaipur walking to the Hindu Temple in the center of the city.

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We were astounded by the carvings that covered the building.

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I especially liked these elephants.

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Then we headed to the City Palace – which is actually a very large complex.

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Here, we got a sense of the grandeur of the Rajput kingdoms. As the audio tour told us, the Rajputs were larger than life. The carrier pigeon room and elephant fight wall assured us of that.

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The elephant wall is still there, but this photo better captures its spirit. There were also several tiger transport cages not pictured here.

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Day Two: We decided to go on a day trip to the Kumbhalgarh Fort and the Ranakpur Jain Temple – both about an hour outside of Udaipur. The Kumbhalgarh Fort includes the second longest wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China.

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Inside the wall, we visited several temples and the palace, all abandoned.

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The palace at the top of the hill was particularly spooky – with no staging furniture, yet painting still on the walls. This base board depicts elephants behaving badly.

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Here you can see the wall stretch on…but it goes much further than we can see. We could have spent a whole day here – apparently if you follow the wall it takes you to the jungle.

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Then we headed to Ranakpur, a town with a particularly spectacular Jain temple.

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The entire building is craved out of white marble, creating a peaceful and awe-inspiring effect.

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There are 1,444 unique pillars in this temple.

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And many beautiful carvings.

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The day trip to Kumblahgarh and Ranakpur was surprisingly cheap – only 2000 rupees (US$30) for a private car all day. The two sites are about 2hours from Udaipur. Our driver also took us to a scenic, reasonably priced restaurant for lunch. It was all set up by our hotel, Mewargarh Palace.

Not pictured here, we also attended a Rajasthani dance performance at Bagore Ki Haveli. Although meant for tourists, the venue is unique and the dancers were very talented. We had dinner at one of the Havelis – which had a beautiful rooftop view of the lake and the palaces. Although our time was short in Udaipur, we were able to do a lot in this small, culture-rich city.

Throwback Thursday: Will and the Dugout Canoe

Throwback Thursday: Will and the Dugout Canoe

This is the story of Will and the dugout canoe. At Mayoka Village, where we stayed on Lake Malawi, there is a dugout canoe challenge. If you can manage to get into a dugout canoe (already a feat), and paddle it around the swimming raft without falling out, you get a free night. On our last day at Mayoka, while waiting for our taxi, Will decided to try the dugout challenge.  Here’s what happened.

Check out our other experiences in Malawi here

How We Traveled Malawi 2015

Charity vs. Solidarity: Creating a Community School in Rural Malawi

Hiking Mt. Mulanje Malawi

Excellence and Inequality: Reflections from an International School in Blantyre, Malawi

A Pride Premature: Lessons from a School in Malawi

 

Throwback Thursday: Google Earth at Machu Picchu

Throwback Thursday: Google Earth at Machu Picchu

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We had just come down from the top of Machu Picchu Mountain and had reentered the ruins.  Just as we were commenting on the remoteness of the Incan city, we spotted these Google Earth guys surveying the area. The 360 camera was originally mounted on one of their backs – we caught up with them just as they took it off to make adjustments.

Will ran over and started taking pictures. “Are you allowed to take pictures of them?” I asked nervously. “They’re taking pictures of everything and everyone,” Will exclaimed. Good point.

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Will tried to joke with the guy without glasses. “If I’d known Machu Picchu would be on the internet, I wouldn’t have come all this way,” he smiled. The Google guy misunderstood. “You’re not on the internet. We’re not recording right now,” he replied. Oh, but we are on the internet, Google guy. We are on the internet.

 

 

 

Responsibility is More than Compliance: Another Lesson from Switzerland

Responsibility is More than Compliance: Another Lesson from Switzerland

 “You should ask them about their apprenticeships” suggested Melissa, the dynamic English teacher who had let us take over her classroom for the period. We had been asking the Swiss students our usual questions. With some shyness, they had just shared that, if they could change anything about their school they would have less homework.

“What type of apprenticeships will you have next year?” we asked. One student, sitting up straighter than before, said he wanted to be a businessman and would be apprenticing at a bank three days a week. The other two days, he would take classes in English, German, and economics. “And how much will you earn?” asked Melissa. We had no idea the apprenticeships were paid. “800 euros per month for the first year,” the student replied with a smile, “but I don’t know how much for the second and third years.”

Other students in the class proceeded to tell us about their apprenticeships. One student will apprentice with city government, another in computer science, many in business. All spoke with confidence and excitement about this next stage of their lives.

There is a marked difference between the type of responsibility expected of students in Switzerland and the United States. In the US, we often mistake compliance for responsibility. Students act “responsibly” when they decide to follow directions – getting to class on time, cleaning up after themselves, doing their homework, etc. While complying with rules does build good habits (rules are there for a reason), it does not actually transition our young people into adult decision making.

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Swiss schools, in contrast, give students responsibilities in preparation for adulthood. They are required to make judgments that will affect not only their present classwork, but their future jobs and economic stability. This seems intimidating, but it’s not if responsibility is released gradually. At The Ruggenacher School, teachers and administrators ready students for the transition to apprenticeship by requiring them to manage 7-8 hours of independent work time each week and plan their own large-scale social events. When students falter, grown-ups provide support. Students are trusted – not only with their behavior, but with preparing for their life paths. This builds confidence, empowerment, and investment in school. It communicates to students that they are about to become contributing members of society and they are trusted to learn, and be strong, and do the right thing.

We also visited Gymnasium Unterstrasse. At this school, most students are preparing for university rather than apprenticeship. Even so, teachers and administrators trust them to make real life judgments. Students plan and attend a week-long ski retreat every year without any adult supervision. “Aren’t you afraid something will happen?” we asked the headmaster.

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He said there is always the risk of an accident, but students have been trained to know what to do. Every four years the adults at the school turn the building over to the students and allow them to run the entire school for three days – including all teaching, administrative tasks, and building management. It has always gone well.

At both schools, teachers and administrators prepare students for their responsibilities. Ruggenacher provides students with apprenticeship application support. They have a special program to prepare students who are not yet fluent in German or are weak in math. At Unterstrasse students receive specific training in the jobs they perform when adults are not present. This gives students confidence that they can handle the responsibilities they are given.

It’s a common teenage-ism in the US to be waiting for real life to begin, to be itching for the real world. Schools have the opportunity to induct students into the “real world” and adulthood earlier, and more gradually, building investment in the lessons they learn today because those lessons will come into swift practice tomorrow. While many of our thirteen year olds are still required to walk in line to lunch, Swiss students of the same age are planning their careers. It is hard to let go of control, especially in today’s climate of high stakes testing. But gradually trust students with more, and we may be surprised at the investment, empowerment, and adult-teenager relationships that develop.

 

Throwback Thursday: Pride Parade in San Francisco

Throwback Thursday: Pride Parade in San Francisco

Throwback Thursday San Francisco

In honor of 2016 we are introducing a new post series! Welcome to Throwback Thursday. There are so many pictures and small stories we want to share about our journey, but that didn’t fit into any other blog post. Here we get to share those tidbits and look back at a magnificent, crazy year.

For our first throwback, we go to the second week of our trip – enjoying the San Francisco Pride Parade just days after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.  It was a day filled with good vibes as we wandered city with our cousin, Miles. Will and I may have been still recovering from too much fun at a friend’s wedding the night before. Here, we’re enjoying Dolores Park and taking a little rest before our trek back to our hotel across the bay in Marin.

On Comfort Zones

On Comfort Zones

No doubt – Africa was an awesome experience. Between the landscape, the people, the wildlife, and the history – it was a travel experience I will never forget. But by the time we were leaving Malawi, headed for Zanzibar, I was feeling homesick. I was sick of the food, the mosquitos and the heat were getting to me, and the Paris attacks had just added an extra melancholy to being far from home. I fantasized about getting on a plane to the US instead of Italy.

Two weeks later, we flew from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to Rome. Upon checking into our hostel and taking a walk through the streets, I felt euphoric. I was back in my comfort zone. We got a cappuccino and a croissant. We took a meandering city walk. We had pasta and wine for dinner. The windows closed and we didn’t need a mosquito net. We could log on to Netflix again. I felt a little guilty to admit it… but being in my comfort zone was AWESOME.

Eastern Africa had me uncomfortable in ways that were both tedious and perspective enhancing. I missed coffee that isn’t instant and milk that needs to be refrigerated. I missed always feeling appropriately dressed. I missed being able to wander city streets and explore without being hassled to buy tourist trinkets. I missed the predictability – of not having to haggle, of reliable electricity, of consistent expectations on public transportation.

Comfort zones get a bad rap when you are doing anything adventurous or challenging – whether it’s traveling or moving ahead in your career or meeting new people. Your comfort zone is where you DON’T want to be if you are looking for an exciting, meaningful, learning-filled life. No one says “yeah, I’m looking to stay in my comfort zone on this next adventure.”

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Just because the magic happens outside your comfort zone doesn’t mean your comfort zone isn’t also magical.

But this makes comfort zones seem like bad places, when really they play an important role in the journey. Your comfort zone is where you regroup. It’s where you process what has been difficult and prepare for the next challenge. It’s hard to be uncomfortable all the time – everybody needs a reprieve once in a while.

Traveling for a year is a huge gift and privilege. But without moments in my comfort zone (for example, the 6+ weeks we spent in western Europe over Christmas) I wouldn’t be able to appreciate and process everything I’ve learned while outside my comfort zone. And I certainly wouldn’t be ready for the next chapter – India and Southeast Asia – if I remained outside a familiar culture straight through the trip.

I guess this all to say: you should definitely get outside your comfort zone and explore things unknown to you. Being uncomfortable is a good thing. It’s also okay to relish feeling at home.

How We Traveled Malawi 2015

How We Traveled Malawi 2015

Traveling in Malawi was definitely outside my comfort zone.  I like lots of information. I like to sort through it, reject some of it, and come to a conclusion about what I can expect and what remains unknown. Unfortunately, you can’t do that in Malawi.  There are a few tidbits of information on the internet, all vague or outdated. We would have to rely on advice from other travelers and hostel bulletin boards.

Of course – considering I’m here writing about it all – we figured things out. Not without hiccups (stories for another day), but by the helpfulness of friends, strangers, and a few taxi drivers, we were able to experience the best of Malawi. In the spirit of paying it forward, I offer the details from our Malawi trip to the internet.  I hope it satisfies a google search or two.

WHAT TO DO IN MALAWI:

There are three main things to see in Malawi: Lake Malawi, Mt. Mulanje, and wildlife. The cities in between are just launch points. We had just come from a safari in Zambia, so we skipped the wildlife.

OUR ITINERARY:

Entered Malawi in Lilongwe

Bus from Lilongwe to Nkhata Bay (via Mzuzu)

Bus from Nkhata Bay to Blantyre (via Mzuzu and Lilongwe)

Mini bus to Mulanje, taxi back to Blantyre from Mulanje

Flight from Blantyre to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (12 hour layover in Lilongwe)

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Lilongwe (arrived from Chipata, Zambia)

We arrived in Lilongwe from our safari in South Luangwa National Park. Lilongwe is the capital of Malawi, and also had the largest airport. We stayed at Mabuya Camp, recommended to us by travelers we met in Zimbabwe, as well as some of our safari compatriots. As most people will tell you, Lilongwe isn’t much. Many of the other travelers at the hostel were volunteers or working for NGOs. The city is a bit spread out, and you have to take a taxi (or bicycle taxi) most places. We did have a delicious dinner at Bombay Palace – an India restaurant downtown. It is expensive for Malawi, but not expensive for fantastic Indian food.

Lilongwe Malawi Travel

 

THE LAKE:

Nkhata Bay

There are a number of places to visit Lake Malawi.  Monkey Bay and Cape McClear are in the south and have sandy beaches.  Nkhata Bay is in the north and has rock cliffs.  There are many places in between as well.

We got to Nkhata Bay from Lilongwe by bus (to Mzuzu) and taxi. While it’s possible to take a mini-bus, we opted for the safer, big-bus option. AXA is really the only game in town when it comes to reliable, safe, timetable buses. Other busses don’t leave until their full; AXA sticks to a schedule. But the AXA bus doesn’t depart from the main bus station. It has a ticket office in City Mall and that is also where the buses arrive and depart. We bought our ticket in person the day before, but you can also buy the day of or on the bus (not recommended). The ticket cost about 6,600 kwatcha ($12) per person.

Malawi Travel AXA Bus

Once in Mzuzu, we took a taxi to Nkhata Bay for 12,000 kwatcha ($32). Again, you can also take a mini-bus for about 900 kwatcha, but it was getting dark and we decided to splurge on door to door service. The taxi ride was quite a trip. Many people walk along the narrow roads, so the taxi swerves around them, honking a warning to watch out.

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Nkhata Bay is a veritable paradise. Situated on Lake Malawi (the world’s largest freshwater lake), we stayed at Mayoka Villiage – a hotel/hostel that consists of a group of wooden chalets, stone cottages, and winding walkways. Mayoka is built into the side of a steep hill that ends in the lake. There are several rocky points to enter the water, and people frequently utilize the kayaks, paddle boards, and canoes. We met up with our friend Rachel there.  It was a blast.

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We considered taking the ilala ferry from Nhkata Bay to Monkey Bay.  It takes 2.5 days and criss crosses the lake. We chose not to because of windy conditions and the fact that we didn’t have a tent. The first class deck is open air (they have mattresses), which is nice, except that it was stormy while we were there.

On our way from Nkhata Bay to Blantyre we spent one night in Mzuzu. The AXA bus from Mzuzu to Blantyre leaves early in the morning. We originally wanted to stay at a hostel called Joy’s Place – but it was booked. We ended up at a place called Mzuzu Zoo. It was quite inexpensive and had a decent restaurant and bar.

Blantyre

After the 10 hour bus ride to Blantyre, we found ourselves at Doogles – a popular accommodation for western travelers. It is next to the bus station (though not the AXA bus station) and has cheap, clean rooms, and a nice restaurant/bar. Blantyre has more of a downtown than Lilongwe, but not much. I was able to find contact solution at the pharmacy on the main drag – a product that had alluded me since South Africa.

Many people walk in Blantyre, though it is not a pedestrian friendly city. We started out taking taxis, but soon switched to walking – especially to our favorite restaurant there, Veg-Delight, a tasty Indian joint. We also prepared to visit Mulanje while we were in Blantyre, stocking up on food and leaving most of our stuff at Doogles while we were on the mountain.

 

MULANJE:

Mt. Mulanje was a highlight of our time in Africa – but we’ve already written about it. You can check it out here. We spent 5 days in Mulanje, 3 nights on the mountain.

Mt. Mulanje path

Blantyre-Lilongwe-Dar Es Salaam

We decided to fly from Blantyre to Dar Es Salaam to save time. The overland travel would have taken several days, cutting down on our time either in Malawi or Tanzania. We had also heard from other travelers that the buses in Tanzania were particularly bad. We ended up having to pay for the plane ticket in person, in cash, at the Malawian Airlines office in downtown Blantyre. All fligths to Dar included an overnight in either Lilongwe or Johannesburg. We spent one more night at Mabuya Camp and had one more dinner at Bombay Palace before saying farewell to Malawi.

 

TIPS:

Cell phone

Malawi has two major cell phone carriers: airtel and TNM. We went with airtel because it was widely recommended by other travelers. In order to use the sim card (which cost 3000 kwatcha, or $6) you have to load it up with “airtime” or “talktime.” You buy these little vouchers for certain denominations of money (from 100 kwatcha to 1000 kwatcha), load them onto your phone using the instructions (you have to dial a number and punch in a code) and then dial a different number to purchase either data GB or voice time. It is confusing at first, but once you figure it out, it becomes easy.

We used the data on our phone a lot, but our voice time would not load correctly onto the phone. We would put a significant number of minutes on the phone and then it would only give us one or two calls. If this happens, I recommend abandoning voice and trying to stick to internet or having the hostel make a call for you.

Internet

Malawi has a national internet service called Skyband. You can buy GB and use Skyband at certain hotspots (some hostels are hotspots.) This is an okay solution, but is not always reliable.

Recommended: Turn your phone into a hotspot if you can. We loaded our iphone 5c up with data (4GB for about $12) and used that. It was great. It was reliable and could handle our internet needs. We even used it to Skype. We did the same thing in Tanzania.  It was not more expensive than Skyband.

Money

Most places in Malawi only take cash. Also, the largest denomination currency equals about $1.80. So, get comfortable making multiple withdrawals at a single ATM stop.

FINAL THOUGHT

If you can, approach Malawi as a camping trip.  Every place we stayed had camp grounds and we saw a few people cooking their own food on camp stoves. None of the hostels had kitchens, so having a camp stove is really the only way to cook for yourself.  You can save a ton of money, plus have all the gear you need for Mt. Mulanje and for taking the ilala ferry in comfort!

Malawi is a beautiful country with wonderful people. We are certainly not experts, but questions are welcome!

Ciao,

Elizabeth

Zambia Safari: The Animals of South Luangwa National Park

Zambia Safari: The Animals of South Luangwa National Park

Our previous game drives were all a precursor to our big Africa treat – a 3-night safari in South Luangwa National Park.  Located in northern Zambia, the park is known for its high density of big cats, among other wildlife.  The end of October is an excellent time to go because animals are easier to spot – the brush is thin and animals all gather at the same, limited water sources.  We went with a safari company called Kiboko, which would drop us off in Malawi at the end of the trip.

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We saw too many animals to picture in one post, so here are the highlights.  These beautiful zebras were a frequent sight. We even caught one scratching it’s butt on a tree stump.

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Impalas are everywhere in the park. They’re quite dainty antelopes with distinct markings.

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These baby warthogs are called piglets.  Moments later they started chasing the antelope in the background.

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Baby baboon hangs on tight.  This arrangement doesn’t deter mama baboon from jumping from limb to limb or trying to steal human food.

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These two waterbucks were best friends a minute ago and will be best friends again several minutes later.

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It’s unusual to see the whole hippo.  Mostly we saw half-submerged hippo heads. Can you tell which ones are babies?

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As the sun gets hotter, animals take naps.  We caught these two baby elephants napping together.  Other elephants were also napping around them, with one elephant standing up to keep guard.

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One of my favorite sightings – the guinea fowl, with a bright blue head and polka dot feathers, runs kind of like a turkey.

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And then there were the lions.  We got word at afternoon tea that there had been a buffalo kill sighted.  On our evening game drive, we headed straight for it.  Most of the lions had finished eating and were lounging about.  These two – a young adult and one of the older lions – were last to eat.

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Here the alpha female tolerates her playful cub.  Later, she swats him away.  Don’t you know Mommy’s digesting?

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Lions in a food coma.

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On our final night drive, we were able to catch this leopard.  Our guide was able to get out in front of his path so we could watch him walk by. Sorry for the blurriness!

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Our Zambia safari was more than we expected.  We saw a remarkable number of animals, had some great times with our fellow travelers, and enjoyed the camp where we ate, slept, and went for afternoon swims between game drives.  There is nothing like seeing animals in their natural habitats.  If you get a chance to go on a safari – you should.

Chobe National Park Day Trip, Botswana

Chobe National Park Day Trip, Botswana

There are many national parks in Africa, and one of the most celebrated is Chobe National Park in Botswana. It’s located at the intersection of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia.  You can visit Chobe from any of these countries, and can spend up to 3 nights camping in the park.  We spent one day there – which included a river tour and game drive.  Given our short time there, we were impressed with the number of animals we saw.

Our morning started with a river tour – where these birds greet us.

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Our guide had to carefully point out this camouflaged baby croc. Baby crocs have to hide because adult crocs will eat them.

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Like this guy… who played dead as our boat pulled up right next to his face.  Our guide assured us that crocs can’t jump (into a boat, for example.)  We were assured he was alive by his slowly blinking eyes.

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While this buffalo chowed down on grass, his bird friend chowed down on the bugs swarming the buffalo’s face.  Will was jealous – he definitely wanted one of those birds for himself.

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This kudu was enjoying a drink at the river.  The kudu’s horns grow another twist every few years.

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We spotted a young male elephant on his own, probably just cast out of the herd as happens to male elephants in early adulthood. Here he is contemplating whether to cross the river.

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The most impressive bird we saw was the fish eagle.  Check out that wingspan!

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There were many hippos in the water, where they spend most of their time. Hippos in the water, however, don’t make good photo subjects. Here, we caught one crossing a river island with his bug birds on his back.

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After lunch we got into the safari truck and started our drive.  There were many, many elephants near the river- some crossing, some cooling off, some heading back to the bush.

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A huge group of mongooses swarmed a tree as we passed.

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We caught a group of elephants running down to the river… this baby tripped a little as it tried to keep up.

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We were hoping to see a lion, even though it was the hot afternoon – the worst time for lion sightings. Our guide took us to the site of a dead elephant, which the lions had fed on earlier.  At first, we didn’t see anything- the elephant carcass was too far into the bush. “I’m going to take a risk,” our guide said and drove the truck into the tall, dry grass.  Sure enough, as we approached the elephant, a lioness came into view. She had a new wound on her shoulder and gave us a glance as we came near. Our guide quickly navigated the truck back to the trail.

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On the way back, we ran into several giraffe and endless impala beating the heat in the bushes.

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Chobe is a breathtaking park both in wildlife and landscape. We could have spent more time here if we hadn’t planned to go to South Luangwa in Zambia for a 3-nighter. More on that soon!