Sleeping and Dining in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, Gateway to Tsitsikamma Nat’l Park

September 11, 12 and 18, 2016

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After a short recovery turnaround in Johannesburg we catch a CemAir flight down to Plettenberg Bay (Plett), gateway to Tsitsikamma National Park and the Otter Trail.

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Plett Airport

A small local airline, CemAir has a few flights a week between O.R. Tambo and Plett. They also operate flights between other South African cities.

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Plett is an upscale beach town with reasonably priced B&Bs and restaurants due to the current favorable exchange rate. We’ve been to the area before, click here, and thought it a good place to chill for a day or two before hitting the trail.

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Coastline near the beach

A hilly town, but if you find accommodations near the center you can easily walk to the beach, shops and restaurants. For airport pick-ups or going to the other destinations a bit further out of town such and Robberg Peninsula, Noel offers a fair priced taxi service. Noelharris962@gmail.com  +27 060 419 0061 or +27 078 338 6540. Drop the first 0 when dialing from an out of country phone.

5th House

Centrally located and within walking distance, albeit with some steep climbs, to the beach, shopping and restaurants, this small B&B has just 3 nice rooms. The nicest is just off the common area balcony so we took the room in the back with the private balcony.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreat sea views from the balconies and common areas.

Plettenberg BayRooms are medium sized and not too cramped. Our bathroom was on the small side with a shower in need of updating but the other two rooms have nicer bathrooms.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABreakfast is the SA usual cold buffet of yogurt, cereal, coffee and tea service with a hot breakfast choice of eggs, meat, mushrooms, tomato and toast.

Maryke is the real gem of the establishment, very kind and attentive. She even drove Don to the local clinic to have his knee aspirated before our hike.

Fat Fish

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA fun, smart, casual, modern restaurant with good fish and great service. On a cold evening we had a great table in front of the fire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur server gave us good advice on suggesting the spicy chowder, our favorite dish of the evening. We also tried the fish cakes,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe parmesan crusted king clip with a spicy butter,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand tuna special ordered rare in the middle – lovely and tender.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFabulous meringue with berries for dessert.

Nguni

A little more formal than the Fat Fish, the smallish dining room is in a cozy low ceilinged building with rustic wood floors and zinc tables. One wall is covered in green AstroTurf and red kudu antlers. Service was efficient and food well prepared.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStarted with the roasted butternut squash and feta salad and the salt and pepper calamari.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor mains we tasted the springbok fillet – ordered rare – perfectly cooked and tender

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand the kobo, a fish, served with potatoes and vegies.

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Home Base Johannesburg, South Africa

September to October, 2016

We used Johannesburg as the base for our 7 week trip to southern Africa where we combined a safari in Botswana and Zimbabwe, the Otter Trail trek on South Africa’s southern coast and 2 and half weeks on Madagascar. Johannesburg, centrally located in the region with a good international airport, O.R. Tambo, made a great place to store our luggage and rest up between jaunts.

Arrival at O.R. Tambo

Arriving just after 9PM on a Friday evening from Amsterdam, passport control went quite quickly. Reclaiming our bags took a bit longer than it should have but still not too bad, another 15 minutes or so. The ATM is on the left after you leave the controlled area.

The rental car agencies are in the same building with the cars in the garage just adjacent. Now nearly 10PM, we got our car and headed to a nearby hotel. Driving in Joburg makes me nervous if for no other reason than its reputation for crime and especially car-jackings. We had the short route to the hotel plotted on the Ipad and easily followed the blue dot to the hotel. At this time of night traffic was light and we made it to the hotel’s gate in under 15 minutes.

Avant Garde Lodge

Stayed August 20 and 23, 2016

For those on early or late flights in and out of the airport this makes a convenient stop. It is also on the right side of Joburg if you are continuing on to Kruger National Park or other destinations east or south of the city.

Joburg - Avant Garde Lodge

Rooms are spacious and clean. Amenities include an in-room safe. Wifi in the lobby is faster than in the rooms, but both are adequate.

There isn’t much around the hotel but they have reasonably comfortable grounds around a very small pool with outside tables and a garden. They serve dinner and will make you a sandwich for lunch if you desire. We had a great ham, tomato and cheese.

Inside there is a large common area with a wood burning fireplace, self-service bar and pool table. Armand is hospitable and will store luggage for you. At 1000 Rand this place is a bargain. It works, it’s convenient and it’s reasonably priced.

Joburg - Avant Garde Lodge

Breakfast includes a simple cold buffet and eggs cooked to order.

Joburg - Avant Garde Lodge

Dinner was a chicken curry with bread pudding and custard for dessert. Simple but tasty. Beer and wine are also available.

The Parkwood Boutique Hotel

Stayed September 9-10, 19 and October 8, 2016

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Wanting something a little nicer for our subsequent stays in Johannesburg we move our location to the Parkwood near the Rosebank Shopping Mall. The mall, a 15 minute walk from the hotel, makes a convenient place to shop and dine.

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The Parkwood is a small neighborhood estate turned into a comfortable hotel with pleasant grounds behind a guarded gate, a common practice in Joburg.

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The spacious executive suite with a large dressing area and bathroom is elegantly decorated in soft tones.

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Amenities include a safe, coffee and tea service and an OK Wifi connection. There is also a computer available in the common area.

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The grounds boast pretty indoor / outdoor lounge spaces with sliding glass doors that open completely.

Breakfast includes a great fruit salad along with other cold buffet items, cereals, yogurt, etc.

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The hot breakfast includes a choice of eggs along with grilled mushrooms and/ or tomatoes, bacon and toast.

A limited dinner menu is available certain nights of the week. Dishes are prepared with care and the stylish dining room is a pleasant place to spend a quiet evening.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur first evening we tried the salmon cakes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand the beef filet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur last evening we tasted their salmon filet along with two marvelous desserts, apple crumble and chocolate cake.

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Management is very friendly and accommodating. They happily stored our luggage while we were traveling in other parts and ensured our bags were waiting in our room for us upon our return.

The only downside is that this is a small family run establishment and there is not always someone around to take care of your requirements. They are generally only in the office in the mornings and sometimes in the afternoon.

Dining at the Rosebank Mall

The mall includes a number of restaurants from casual dining to an upscale steakhouse. We ate at Calisto’s Portuguese Restaurant, a casual restaurant with decent fish.

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We started with the grilled sardines.

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For mains we tried the bacalhau, salt cod, served with boiled potatoes and vegies (too salty for my tastes, but Don liked it)

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and the piri-piri chicken – a whole small chicken with a choice of sides – potatoes, rice or salad. While the chicken was too much food for me it was moist, tender and flavorful.

 

 

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Goliath Camp Overview, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

September 6-9, 2016

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Goliath is a more rustic semi-permanent tented camp that is rebuilt every year after the rains. During our stay, it was quite warm during the day and the tents can be stifling during the afternoon.

GoliathIt’s much nicer to hang out in the open common areas.

Goliath

The tents have a sizable but smaller than Kwando main room with a bathroom in the back including an outdoor shower. Lights out at 9PM, but there is a solar lamp in the room. The charging station is under a tree across from the common area.

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The common areas include a nice lounging area, bar, and dining area used for more formal dinners.

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The camp, set right on the river bank. has great river views and frequently elephants roam the camp.

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Goliath-9Stretch is a character and the main attraction of the camp. He works hard to get you up close and personal with the wildlife.

Goliath Day 2-6He went out early one morning before the guest were awake to try and find the lions for us. Problem is wildlife is much more skittish when humans are on foot and therefore more difficult to get close to. You can spend hours walking around the bush tracking wildlife without seeing much.

Meals

Goliath-3A simple breakfast is served by the campfire with views of the river.

Brunch is served buffet style in the common area after you return from the morning safari.

First brunch – Lasagna casserole, focaccia bread, green salad and cheesy cauliflower.

Second brunch – Platter of roasted chicken and beef, vegetable couscous with raisins, potato salad, green salad and bread.

Goliath-6Third brunch – hamburgers with buns, potato salad, cabbage salad, beans.

Goliath-5Dinner is served buffet style at a pretty outdoor table. First course and dessert are served individually.

First dinner – Beef broth to start followed by spicy grilled chicken, roasted potatoes, peas in the pod, green salad and rolls.

Second dinner – Pork in gravy with vegetable pilaf and salad. Apple crumble for dessert.

The third evening was braai night, a southern African BBQ. Stretch grills up some boerewors that is cut up for appetizers, a well-seasoned and tasty delight. We sit in the bar area around the fire pit eating sausage and drinking. This is the last evening for all but one of us.

The main course served in the open air dining area is grilled beef and chicken, moist, tender wonderfully done, accompanied by cooked cabbage and bread.

 

Overall it is great experience to have in the mix of a safari adventure or for those who have done other safari trips, but for first timers you also want to go somewhere you can view the game up close from a vehicle .

When we were there Mana Pools didn’t have the variety of wildlife that some of the other parks had, but lots of elephants and hippos.

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Lions and a Flight Mix-up – The End of Our Safari Adventure

September 9, 2016

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This is the end of our safari trip in Botswana and Zimbabwe. We have just a short flight to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, and then on to Johannesburg. With a 10AM departure Don and I skip the morning hunt for lions and have eggs and toast for breakfast. Bacon is also offered. We pack up at our leisure.

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One last elephant

We’re nearly packed by 8 when Stretch tells us that the maids at a nearby camp have spotted the lions and suggests that we leave early and have a look.

We throw the rest of our thing together and head out.

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Stretch finds the lions lounging in the shade not far from the road. We get out of the vehicle for a better look.

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These are the ones we saw the first evening of the canoe trip and tried to see again on our first night with Stretch. The other guests who are out with Shawn arrive about 20 minutes later.

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We walk deeper into the bush for a better angle, too many bushes in the way at our first location, but still keep our distance.

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After a short visit with the lions Stretch tells Don and I that it’s time to go. We say our good byes again and head to the airstrip.

As we reach the airstrip we pass another vehicle, a manager from another camp who informs us that the plane just left. After a lengthy back and forth with the camp and their point person in Harare it turns out that there was a mix-up in our flight time and we were supposed to leave at 9AM, not 10. Jean admitted to us later that it was a clerical error between him and Paul when Paul had left two days earlier and Jean took over. No one had confirmed our flight even after I had asked the day before to make sure that we would make our connection in Harare for our flight back to Joburg. Stretch and Jean had both assured me that it was all taken care of.

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11AM Flight leaves without us

The next course of action was to try and get us a ride to Harare on the plane that was picking up two other guests at 11. This wouldn’t work according to Pete, the pilot, because he could fly only to Harare, in the north, or south to where the other guests were going. The pilot that had left without us couldn’t be called back because they have no communications with the ground once they are in the air. Pete said that once he was airborne again he would contact the owner, another pilot, and get another pilot to stop for us.

Stretch took us back to camp where he said he would personally straighten everything out for us and get us on a later flight to Joburg.

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Waiting at the airstrip

At lunch he told us we were to be at the airstrip by 2:15. The pilot would be there as soon as he could between then and 2:45. He showed up a t almost 3:30 and got us to Harare at just before 5 for the 18:45 flight to Joburg.

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Harare

Stretch said South Africa Air (SAA) made him pay $500 to change our flight.

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Harare

Once at Harare the pilot walked us to the SAA counter to make sure we were on the flight. From there it was easy, no queues at passport control or security.

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Harare Airport

The small Airlink flight to Joburg was nearly full.

In the end it was a stupid mistake that could have been easily avoided. Stretch, however, did his best to make it right, including having Flo, his point person in Harare, contact our B&B in Joburg to change our airport pickup time.

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Day 3 – Goliath Camp, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Sept 8, 2016

6AM Breakfast.

Goliath Day 3

Jean and Stretch are already back out early this morning trying to find the lions that eluded us the morning before. We leave with Shawn, slowly making our way to where Jean and Stretch are looking and stopping at lesser animal sightings or even scraggy trees. 3 of the guests are pretty new to safari and stop at rather minimal sights.

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Warthog

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Lion track

Stretch was hoping to find the lions before we reached him, but no luck. He tells Shawn over the radio to follow his tracks to his vehicle and then track him on foot. Shawn seems unsure about this suggestion but finds the vehicle without much difficulty.

Goliath Day 3-12Jean meets us at the vehicle and takes us to where we find Stretch in a tree surveying the grassland for the lions.

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Stretch says that the lions have to be in the area. He has Shawn and Jean head off in different directions and we follow Stretch. No lions. The sun is getting higher and hotter. Not much is said. He’s under time pressure as two of the guests have a plane to catch. Finally he is out of time and still no lions. Stretch and Jean leave with the guests. They race to the airstrip just in time to catch their flights.

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Meanwhile we take one more pass through the bush with Shawn. Just as we are near the end of our loop back to the car Jim, one of the guests, spots the lions in the distance.

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We climb a log and see them running away from us. The distant view though the dense grass isn’t much of a photo, but we’re all happy to have finally found them. Stretch was right. They did have to be here. We had been circling around them all morning.

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We have coffee back at the vehicle and drive slowly back to camp. It takes a long time as Shawn is happy to stop for any every request. Lots of minor stops and we don’t get back until after 1PM.

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Just before we reach camp we find the pack of dogs sacked out under the trees next to the road.

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After tea we head out to wait for the dogs to wake up. When we arrive they are still asleep, the pups in one pile and the adults spread out under a neighboring tree. Two other vehicles are already on the scene. A dog or two raise their heads after a loud crash, but then lowers them again.

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After a while one of the pups gets, up walks, stretches, poops and then flops back down again. Another takes his turn following the same routine.

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Then all of a sudden they are all up in a frenzy of greetings, almost a chirp, biting and playing and as fast as it started it ends and they are all down again motionless.

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Awhile later they are up again and repeat the same greeting ritual albeit with less enthusiasm.

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Soon they make their way between the vehicles, now a half a dozen or so, down the road to start the evening hunt, the puppies in a cluster at the back.

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We follow them as best we can but they quickly spread out to confuse their prey and disappear into the forest. One or two can still be seen running past in the distance.

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It’s getting dark too late for sundowners and we head back to camp.

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Day 2 – Goliath Camp, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Sept 7, 2016

Breakfast is served at 6AM – no wakeup call.

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Selection of toast, jam and porridge. Coffee, tea with powdered milk.

We leave around 6:40 or so. Paul has left and Stretch drives our vehicle. The agenda is lions. We search the morning, following tracks.

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Stretch stops now and again to point out nice light in the forest or an interesting animal but the main focus is lions.

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We drive quite a ways before we get out and search on foot. The temperature is rising. No luck with the lions. Stretch is convinced they have gone in the long grass and he assures us that we don’t want to go in there.

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Finally around 10:30 we stop for tea. While we rest Stretch continues to wander the area reading the tracks. After tea we continue the search. The sun is high, very few stops and no lions. A long drive back to camp.

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Just as we near camp one of the staff runs across a clearing and informs Stretch that there are lions just beyond where some baboons are crossing into the shade.

Goliath Day 2-11Goliath Day 2-10They are quite far, maybe 4 adults, just specks under a tree on the horizon. We leave them and head in for lunch.

Lunch – shortly after 1PM

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After lunch an elephant wanders along the shore just below the lounge, totally relaxed, washing and eating the greenery at the edge of the river.

Goliath Day 2-13Goliath Day 2-14OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA3:30 tea – The elephant is back. We watch him tear down branches from the tree into the water. He then climbs the bank and wanders through camp, finally squeezing past the vehicles and a big tree. He then feeds on another high branch, ripping it down. Elephants are one of the most destructive animals in Africa.

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Goliath Day 2-17On the afternoon drive our first stop is a photo-op with an elephant. A little scary with your back to this gigantic beast.

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We head out to see the hippos at Long Pool.

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When we arrive a large pod of hippos is hanging in the pool.

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Stretch has us sit on the hard craggy mud at the bank and wait for the light to get low and the hippos to become active.

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One moves, knocking into the others, they fuss a little and then settle down again. A few good yawns. A baby perches himself on his mother. They never really get as active as Stretch was hoping, but it thrilled the rest of us.

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As the light gets low we have a quick sundowner before heading back. Stretch drives the long ride back to camp, practically in the dark now, with the light off.

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Arrival at Goliath Camp, Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Sept 6, 2016

The last morning of our canoe camping trip with Naturways Safaris we wake up at our leisure.

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Nice breakfast with potatoes, bacon and sausage, scrambled eggs and toast.

We leave at 8AM for the drive to the Goliath camp, our last safari stop. It’s a quiet drive through the bush without much game. We stop to chat with a couple of groups along the way, the local wild dog photographer and the group of tourists that was on the plane with us three days earlier.

We make one tourist stop at a location where the locals used to dwell above the flood plains. Remaining pottery shards are evidence of their inhabitation.

Arrival GoliathArrival Goliath-2The star attraction is climbing inside a large baobab tree that is completely hollowed out.

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Tight squeeze climbing out of the tree

As we approach the main office there’s more game about, such as elephants picking up the acacia pods.

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Craig and Elijah drop us off at Goliath camp where we say our final good byes. Took about 2 and half hours drive with stops.

Arriving at Goliath just after 10AM, we were offered the opportunity to go a game drive, but we decided to hang out and sort our belongings after three days of camping.

Lunch was served at 1:30PM followed by siesta until 3:30. Tea was then served before the afternoon drive.

For the afternoon drive we were 7 guests divided into two vehicles, us and two Australian women in one with Stretch and Paul as our guides, and a single Australian women and an America couple with Jean in the other.

We leave shortly after 4. Stretch first decides we will go find the wild dogs with the 9 pups but then changes his mind after realizing that the new comers have not yet seen the lion cubs.

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Always something interesting along the way

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We drive a short distance to where two female lions have a couple of cubs in the thick vegetation. We get a quick glimpse of one of the adults before making our way single file into the dense bush. As we approach she growls. Stretch assures us it’s alright and has us get down. We can’t see them through the vegetation.

Not happy at all about our presence, her growls become a fearsome roar. At this point Stretch has his back to where the lions are all the while telling us to continue looking straight ahead. She continues to fuss and growl and Stretch decides the situation has become too dicey and has us slowly stand up and start backing away.

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Once we’re out of danger we go back to the vehicle and stop again to watch the elephants before heading off to find the dogs.

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We park the vehicle and head off on foot. Not finding much, Stretch has the two guides head in opposite directions.

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Jean finds the dogs in short order, adults with the pups just starting the evening hunt. Not as playful or as close as we have seen them at other times.

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We follow them, adults up ahead with the pups lagging behind, easily distracted by a stick to chew on or something good to sniff.

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It starts to grow dark. The dogs see a small herd of impalas in front and start the chase. It’s too far and too densely wooded to see much.

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The dogs have spread out. Impalas are running and the puppies are behind watching. We head back to the vehicle.

 

One last stop before camp. Stretch runs across an elephant he knows and brings Dana the American newlywed up close to introduce him. The elephant flaps his ears and does a mock charge. Dana is thrilled.

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It all happens so quickly. No time for good photos. We arrive at camp around 6:30 with just 45 minutes to clean up  before dinner.

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