OnSafari: The Pig

OnSafari: The Pig

I’m supposed to be on safari now, filing my “OnSafari” reports back to you. Neither Kathleen or I can remember a March in our past when I wasn’t in Africa writing diaries before blogs, and try as I have with the overwhelming work cleaning up the mess of mass cancellations, I just can’t shake thinking I’m on safari.

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OnSafari with Hurricanes

OnSafari with Hurricanes

Cyclone Kenneth was the strongest hurricane ever to hit Africa and only the fourth on record. It plowed into Mozambique on April 21 with 143 mph winds.

Then, just three weeks later Cyclone Ida crashed into the same place! With winds of 127 mph it refused to move like Kenneth or normal hurricanes. It sat over Mozambique for more than three weeks wrecking untold destruction.

Like drunken gluttons these two disasters seemed to have sucked away Africa’s moisture for years to come. Terrible unpredicted droughts have popped up all over the subcontinent. My safari just ended in Botswana, a thousand kilometers west of where the hurricanes struck. It was a mess, an utter drought.

African agriculture has tumbled. Local currencies have tanked. Mozambique and surrounding areas of Zambia and Tanzania have been utterly destroyed. Millions remain displaced.

This is not the screenplay for an apocalyptic movie. It happened six months ago. The two hurricanes are the worst natural disaster in the history of Africa but unfortunately that record is not expected to stand very long.

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OnSafari: Drought Strategies

OnSafari: Drought Strategies

We spent seven days game viewing in one of the most brutal droughts Botswana has ever seen. First-timers thought it was wonderful, because the cats are having a heyday. There was blood everywhere.

There are few pools of water left in Chobe or the Makgadikgadi that aren’t artificial. Elephant dug a few tiny pools in parched river bottoms, but it was only the drainage from camps and national park boreholes (wells) that have kept total disaster at bay.

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OnSafari: Wifi?

OnSafari: Wifi?

Friends, it’s been years since I’ve been cut off for a week from the internet, regardless of where in Africa I might have been.

The three camps we used last week all advertised internet then apologized when we arrived that it wasn’t working. Not having something — especially something promised and expected — is really hard. My blogs were written and will post starting next week. Stay tuned!

OnSafari: Mokala NP

OnSafari: Mokala NP

Yesterday I saw more endangered big game species in four hours than I usually see in a decade of safaris in Africa. Add to that a manipulated zebra species but frankly, I’m going to have to work on having enjoyed this.

Mokala National Park is South Africa’s newest national park. It’s a massive big game wilderness laboratory. Fifteen years ago there was nothing here. Today it contains the largest concentration of near extinct big game on earth.

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OnSafari: The Cape +

OnSafari: The Cape +

I got a real kick when Sam Epstein, one of our non-veteran travelers, got so excited seeing his first ostrich when we entered West Coast National Park! It’s so much fun to feel fellow travelers’ excitement on this trip, because these folks are so incredibly enthusiastic!

We finished the 5-day flower tour totally amazed at the friendliness and engagement of local South Africans traveling and hosting us. I’d actually missed anticipating this jewel of the trip, concentrating on the earth’s ridiculously explosive bouquet. But as wonderful as the flowers were, the South Africans stole the show!

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OnSafari: Darkness

OnSafari: Darkness

It’s night in Africa. As guide I’m responsible not just for keeping all the parts of a tour going smoothly and interpreting everything we see, but I’m equally responsible for keeping my clients happy, respecting the idiosyncracies of their lives that they have turned over to our 24×7 communal experience.

That’s hard and particularly when three of my ten clients are from Texas with family and friends now worried about their every day lives, miffed by the irony that they are safer and calmer in Africa than Texas.

It’s been a long time since an African safari was cut off from the news of the day. Shielding my clients from the news is not possible and something that I wouldn’t accept if it were. The evil and misery of the world is omnipresent. There is more darkness in our souls than in the heart of Africa.

OnSafari: Great Drive!

OnSafari: Great Drive!

I asked our guide how rare were some of these flowers? He almost whispered, “There are only 8 plants left on earth of our rarest.”

And no, we couldn’t be shown that. The location of the plants is a state secret. But he would show us his second rarest, only 382 left, the euryops virgatus. Compared to all the other beauties it wasn’t memorable: a kind of scraggly yellow dot-flower weed.

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OnSafari: Flowers

OnSafari: Flowers

Extremeley few Americans come to South Africa to do what my nine travelers and I are doing right now in Clanwilliam in the Cedarberg Mountains. Most Americans believe “Africa” means “lion” and little else.

Lions are one of my principal passions, but particularly when pursued in southern Africa I actually think there are other kinds of attractions that are more interesting and exciting. Like …flowers.

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OnSafari: Win for Eles!

OnSafari: Win for Eles!

Our safari ended in Tarangire, Africa’s greatest elephant park, with an exciting surprise! I’ve been coming to Tarangire regularly multiple times annually for the last two decades. This is the first time I noticed that elephant tusks are getting bigger!

Whoa nelly. There’s no tonic that makes elephant tusks grow larger – it’s completely genetic. Nor did the 40-year old male that stared me in the face, or the 60-year grand dame who almost brushed the side of our vehicle, each with tusks easily 50% bigger than the norm recently visit a stretching spa. Bigger tusks are a genetic imperative, and there has now been enough non-poaching time for big tusks to begin expressing themselves again noticeably in random populations.

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OnSafari: The Crater

OnSafari: The Crater

We were among the first at dawn onto the crater floor and were headed up the Mugai River to see the old Boer homestead when right there in the road in front of us was a mating pair of lion!

Lion have been observed by safari guests for generations, and crater animals in particular are unusually tame, so neither Tumaini or I had much reluctance to interrupt the romance for a better view. Until we got closer.

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OnSafari: So Dry

OnSafari: So Dry

I have to constantly remind myself how wonderful – especially for first-timers – the dry season seems. To me it’s worse than the worst ever winter in Chicago; it’s earth challenging its own creation. What I see through the billows of dust are all the battles being lost to survive.

But the battles won are by the cats as they pick off the sick and wounded like turtles. For the cats it’s their heyday. That’s why the visitors love it so.

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