Jonathan’s African Adventures
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The AAC team would like to welcome a guest blogger to the site, Jonathan Wisner. Jonathan recently spent nearly 6 weeks traveling throughout Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. He also blogs about his travel on his personal blog, Circling the Bucket List. Welcome, Jonathan!
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Manta Resort on Pemba Island
I had the experience of staying in the underwater room at the Manta Resort on Pemba Island. If you are not aware of what the underwater room is, it is a private floating island sitting a few hundred yards out in the Indian Ocean. You are surrounded by coral and fish. There are three floors – the top one is a sky bed where you can soak up the sun and after dusk watch the night sky. If you happen to get hot, just jump off right into the deep water next to the room. The second level is where your shower, bathroom, refrigerator, and couch are. Finally you climb down a ladder that leads to your bedroom, completely underwater with windows all around where you can watch the fish swim by in all their magnitude. I give you fair warning, don’t expect to sleep. You will be too busy watching the fish, or the stars, or plunging into the water to even think about it.
After this, I was off to start my actual safari. I have to admit, I thought the rest of the trip would be a low burn and could not live up to the way the trip started. Enter my guide Fazo. He delightfully proved me wrong yet again and I am going to lump my time with him as one experience because for the next 4 days he was my guide and showed me the wonders of Tarangire, Lake Manyara, and the mind-boggling Ngorongoro Crater. His depth of knowledge and caring just blew me away. I love birds and he seemed to know everything that flew or sang and I cannot nail down one experience during these 4 days that stood out. I think my mouth hung open in surprise and amazement at all of the incredible experiences of each of these places guided by such an expert. He gave me memories which will live forever and saying goodbye to Fazo after our final departure from the Crater was like saying goodbye to a longtime friend.
Next up was the Northern Serengeti and Ubuntu Camp where not only did I see all of the big 5 in under 24 hours, but I saw 6 Mara River crossings of wildebeest. Nothing really prepares you to see them brave the waters in their masses and the heartbreak as the river and the crocodiles claim one after another. But I have to say watching it unfold in front of me so close will always stay in my mind. From there I went to Masai Mara Conservancy that was staffed by the local Maasai tribe who, like every other place I went, bent over backwards to make every moment the best travel experience you will ever have. But Porini Mara Camp went above and beyond. One morning they drove us up high onto a hill where almost all the staff greeted us singing and dancing traditional Maasai dances, then made us breakfast while we overlooked the plains below which teemed with wildlife.
Rwanda is one place that about broke my heart. Visiting the incredible impactful Genocide Memorial Museum will leave you stunned and in tears, but if you don’t go you will be missing something profound. And to miss something like that would be a sad thing indeed. After visiting there you truly do need the uplifting soul-filling experience of a mountain gorilla walk, which no matter how long I have thought about it and no matter how many people I have talked to, there are just no words to describe your hour spent watching these incredible animals in the wild. It is a sense of joy and wonder that nothing else compares to.
Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park
In Zambia and Zimbabwe, I experienced the majesty of Victoria Falls. It was during the low season but the roar it made was still incredible, and being able to sit at the edge of the roaring precipice and look over in the Devil’s Pool was just mind blowing. I also was lucky enough to visit Camelthorn Lodge in Hwange and their elephant blind, which is a camouflaged room next to a water hole where you can watch the elephants and, if you are lucky, see them from mere feet away. This combined with the great hospitality and food made Camelthorn one of my favorite lodges.
In Botswana, I visited three camps and three things stand out from them. One, watching a large herd of elephants circle around a fallen comrade, each of the elephants touching the deceased one with their trunks as they circled and circled then finally headed off into the evening. This was so touching and seems to offer proof that they mourn their dead just like we do. Next, taking a makoro ride through the Okavango Delta and watching the reeds and lilies slip slowly and silently past, hearing hippos “laughing” in the distance, and seeing a tiny green frog hop into the boat, jump across then out again, seemingly not caring at all about my presence. Lastly, in Gunns Camp, a guide named Mike sang a song along with the rest of the staff. It was about when he was a kid and how he wanted to go to school and his family would always say another day, and how he thought he could be so much more if he could just go to school. This was all sung in the native tongue and I know I will mangle this word but “another day” in that language sounded like he was singing ASILAWAY. Mike and his song haunts me even if eventually he did get to school and now is very proud of being a guide.
My last few stops were in Namibia, which was so different than the rest of the trip and its stark beauty was in such contrast that it seared an impression on me like no other place. From climbing the huge dune Big Daddy, then quickly jumping and tumbling down the other side in Sossusvlei on a trip from Little Kulala, or the hot air balloon the next day, the views are just out of this world and almost leaves you feeling you are on a faraway planet and only the desert around you exists. Even though there are almost no big animals here, it is an experience you want to have as it is astounding. I am not saying Namibia has no animals, and the last place I visited was Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp which proved that with desert-adapted elephants, lions, cheetah, and just about everything else. The amount of wildlife is truly surprising given the dry barren beauty of the place, but what sticks with me here is my last night. I was going out on top of a mountain as the sun set watching the colors change on the sandy landscape and being just overwhelmed with the beauty of it. It was truly one of the most stunning sunsets I have ever seen, and then that night almost as if Namibia decided it wanted me to leave with just one more amazing moment, a cheetah killed a jackal not very far from my tent. Hearing those sounds in the pitch-black night was scary, but was also such an amazing experience and reminds you of the struggle of all the animals here in the far ends of the world.
Photos courtesy of Jonathan Wisner