Joy to the World ...
and Heaven and Nature Sing

December 24, 2005
Happy Happy Birthday Wendy!! We love you!!

Here it is Christmas Eve already! Our morning started very early with a 5:30 wake-up call. We had a light breakfast and were off on our morning game drive by 6:30.

Made in the shadeIn keeping with the season, nature was truly singing this morning. We had seen only general game until about 9:00 when we came upon 2 male cheetahs. They were absolutely gorgeous! After 10 minutes, they got up from the termite mound that they were perched on and started across the plain. They had only gone a few yards when the pair was spotted by a trio of jackals. One of the jackals immediately started to raise the alarm call. It was amazing! This jackal followed behind the cheetahs and was alerting everybody in the area to their presence - so much for their day of hunting! The jackal was still at it when we left the cheetahs in peace - the poor thing couldn't have had much of a voice left.

Coitus interruptusWe had a short tea break (well away from the cheetahs) and headed along the Marsh Road. We had gone about 5 kilometers and rounded a corner and were greeted by 2 lions, just 10 feet from the road. Our guide said that they were most likely a breeding pair - the male was a bit upset with us for disturbing them. He did eventually lay down again, but he kept a keen watch on us.

What a fantastic Christmas present - seeing so many of God's magnificent creatures!

We returned to the lodge for brunch. It was really yummy with salads, fish casserole, eggs and fruit. A truly perfect Christmas Eve morning.

After brunch, we were on our own once again - this time toward the northern end of the park near Kasane. Just as we left the Savute gate, a Botswana man asked us for a ride. At first, we said we didn't have room, but I started to feel bad about refusing him on Christmas Eve, so we loaded up the back of the truck as much as we could to make some room and went back to pick him up. He works for a camping safari operator in Maun and was trying to get home to Kasane for the holidays. We weren't going all the way to Kasane, but we took him as far as the Ngoma gate. He was very familiar with the roads and was a big help in navigating. Also, we stopped at the Ghoha gate (unmanned), so that I could use the toilet, however, there were two elephants blocking the way and he was gracious enough to get them to move out of the way.

Today's journey was 140 kilometers (85 miles), which took us 4 hours. The tract wasn't nearly as wet, so we were able to maintain a faster speed. It was still a fairly difficult drive though - very rough! Our entire trip from Maun to Kasane consisted of 360 miles of off- road driving through the sand, mud, ruts and elephant enlarged water holes; sometimes making our own path through the bush around obstacles with not an inch of pavement in sight.

We arrived at the Ihaha campsite around 4:00. The ranger there told us to be alert as people from Namibia come across the river at night and steal from the campers. They had even stolen the solar panels from the ablutions block - so no lights or hot water!

Christmas in the bushWe got settled in for the afternoon and I decorated our Christmas tree while Markus got the fire going. On the Christmas Eve menu were steaks and baked potatoes. Not bad for "roughing it".

Wildlife Spotted: Cheetah!, Lion!, Wildebeest, Elephant, Giraffe, Hippo, Warthog, Waterbuck, Baboon, Impala, Bat-eared Fox, Tsessebbee, Jackal, Kudu, Tortoise, Klipspringer, African Buffalo, Zebra, Mongoose
Birds: Fish Eagle, Wooly-necked Stork

December 25, 2005
Merry Christmas!! We are wishing you all a wonderful Christmas celebration - may God bless you on this Holy Day.
Ellie and babyWe decided to start out early this morning for our game drive, leaving the campsite at about 6:00. I found some Christmas music on the radio (we were picking up a signal from across the river in Namibia). We drove along the Chobe River and into the Simwanza Valley. The valley was beautiful with green rolling hills. There were a couple of water holes and we stopped to watch a family of elephants and a herd of 7 giraffe. One elephant was very intent on digging a hole within the hole. I guess he was just trying to deepen it, for what purpose, I don't know.

We returned to the camp around 10:00 and I made French toast for breakfast. After the dishes were washed, we tackled the laundry - we hadn't done laundry at the lodge, so we had quite a bit to catch up on. In the afternoon, we sat and watched the local warthogs (2 adults and 6 babies) playing in the mud holes. The campsites are right on the river, so we also watched a hippo. It's truly the ultimate in Imax (panoramic large-screen) viewing!

A few thunder showers moved in around 5:00 PM. Fortunately, by 6:00, the storms had gone, but the rain continued fairly steady for the rest of the night. Because of the rain, I wasn't able to put the Christmas tree up tonight, but the rain did let up enough that Markus was able to build a fire and we enjoyed it until about 9:00 when the rain picked up and we scurried for the tent.

Certainly the most unique Christmas for us ever, and definitely unforgettable.

Wildlife Spotted: Elephant, Impala, Giraffe, Hippo, Warthog (with babies), Baboon, Kudu

December 26, 2005
It was still misting with rain this morning, so we didn't linger long around the camp. We took our time going through the park one last time - don't know if it's the rain or what, but it was a really poor morning for spotting game. We stopped for a quick break at the Chobe Game Lodge and I bought a few items in their gift shop. The lodge is really nice - we might stay there next time. After all, if it's good enough for Elizabeth Taylor's and Richard Burton's honeymoon (not sure which one), it's probably good enough for us!

We left the park about 10:15 and headed into Kasane. We found the Shell station, and as luck would have it, they were just receiving their fuel delivery. It can sometimes be difficult to get fuel in Kasane, particularly with their proximity to the border with Zimbabwe, where everything, including fuel is in a crisis situation due to the corruption and greed of their leader, Mugabe. But, I digress. We waited about 20 minutes for the fuel delivery to be complete then we made a quick stop at the Spar supermarket. We weren't sure it was going to be open today as it is the Boxing Day holiday, but they were open for business as usual.

We arrived at the Chobe Safari Lodge and wouldn't you know it, they did not have our booking. Fortunately though, a room was available for Pula 547 (about $108), so we took it. It was still raining and we didn't relish the thought of another night camping in the damp. We went to the pool side terrace and had a light lunch and a beer. After lunch, we basically crashed - I think the constant pace is catching up with us. It's nice to have a breather every now and then!

Wildlife Spotted: Hippo, Giraffe, Impala, Baboon, Warthog

December 27, 2005
Today was a long travel day - almost 500 kilometers. At least about 95% was on paved roads, so our journey time was about 6 hours. And, we even had a bit of excitement along the way, although it's the type of excitement we would rather do without. The battery to the refrigerator shorted out causing it to overheat and leak acid. It just so happens that it is stored under my seat - soon after we left Kasane, we started to smell something that we thought was fuel fumes and I could feel the heat being generated on my legs. We stopped in Nata to investigate further and thankfully, Markus found the problem immediately. After letting it cool down for a few minutes, he disconnected the battery and we were underway again - this time with no fumes and a much cooler seat for me!

We arrived at Nxai Pan around 4:00 and were told that the North Campsite was closed due to high water - we were scheduled to camp there tomorrow night and the next night. The South Campsite, where we are camping tonight, was also quite wet. The Ranger suggested that we take a look at it and decide if we wanted to stay. We found a fairly dry spot and decided to stick it out for one night. There were several other campers in the area. Nobody was really camping in the sites themselves, but in any dry spot that could be found in the vicinity.

Zebras at sunsetNxai Pan is the smallest of the campsites thus far, with only 4 in the south and 3 in the north. Also, there is an ablution block, but it is not functioning as there is no water supply. It appears that the water tank either collapsed or was demolished a couple of years ago. The stand pipes have also been removed but nothing else was cleaned up - the whole site was a bit of a mess.

Day is done, gone the sunWe drove out to the plain just before sunset and saw large herds of zebra and springbok as well as a few gemsbok. There was a female springbok with a baby - the baby was practicing its "springing". It was so incredibly cute!! But, the sunset stole the show - it was the most spectacular we have seen in Africa! A fantastic conclusion to the day.

Wildlife Spotted: Elephant, Giraffe, Duiker, Ostrich, Warthog, Baboon, Springbok (w/ baby), Gemsbok, Impala, Zebra


December 28, 2005
It rained lightly a couple of times during the night. This morning, it looked as if the on-again/off-again rain would continue for most of the day. So, we loaded up the truck and went for a game drive. We saw only the usual suspects - even the animals didn't want to be out in the rain!! We left the park at 10:00 and drove to Maun, arriving at noon. We stopped at Riley's Hotel, where fortunately, there was a room available for an extra two nights (we were already booked into the hotel for the 30th).

The hotel is very quiet - maybe a dozen rooms are occupied. We were even able to get the same room that we had the last time we stayed here on the 19th! It is a nice big room with a separate sitting area and refrigerator.

We had lunch at the terrace by the pool. It was still raining lightly, but the tables are protected by large, thatched umbrellas. We then spent the balance of the afternoon and evening rejuvenating in our air-conditioned room! I didn't even do any laundry as I am sending it out in the morning for somebody else to do!!

Wildlife Spotted: Springbok, Zebra, Jackal, Wildebeest, Gemsbok, Duiker, Steenbok, African Buffalo, Ostrich

December 29, 2005 and December 30, 2005
Two more days at Riley's with nothing exciting to write about. Thursday morning at breakfast, we met a group of four Americans - they are the first Americans we have met in Africa. We've met several people from Australia, the U.K. and Germany, but I guess Africa is quite a long way for most Americans to travel over the holiday season. The group that we met were part of a flight crew - commercial or charter, we're not sure.

We walked over to the internet cafe a couple of times and we drove to the filling station to fill up with diesel. The rain continues and we have pretty much become recluses in our room, whiling away the day with a couple of good books!