Category Archives: General

The Living Desert

Photos: The Living Desert

November 2, 2011

The goal of the day was to get out into the sand dunes of the Namibian desert and learn more about this fascinating ecosystem. We arranged for a tour with Living Desert Adventures. Our guide, Chris, though a bit quirky, was excellent.

The tour provided a great mix of not only seeing the dunes, but also the creatures that live there. Chris was able to track down sidewinder snakes, shovel lizards, beetles, spiders, geckos and even a chameleon for us all to see and photograph. We also had a great drive through the dunes and the magical scenery that comes along with it.

We were also quite impressed with Chris’ consideration for the environmental impact on the dunes and desert. He explained and showed photographs demonstrating how many of the tourist activities in Namibia have everlasting impact on the land. His biggest pet-peeve was clearly quad bikes and the inconsiderate actions of their drivers leave tire tracks throughout the desert that can be seen for years to come. Driving on the dunes themselves does not cause the same damage as the dunes are constantly changing and reforming daily with the wind. The tour is also very careful to use set tracks to go from one dune or desert area to the next to greatly minimize the impact on the environment.

After the tour, we spent the remainder of the afternoon heading north of town along the beachfront path. Despite being a gray day along the coast, it was still a nice walk. We ended the day with a light dinner at The Garden Cafe – our second visit there this week.

Walvis Bay

Photos: Walvis Bay

November 1, 2011

The day started with an early wakeup followed by a 30 km drive to Walvis Bay to go sea kayaking. Our guide’s name was Craig. He was originally born in Scotland but grew up in Botswana and South Africa. He was very knowledgable of the surroundings and provided a good mix of facts while also allowing us lots of time to explore on our own.

After arriving in Walvis Bay and picking up the kayak trailer, we headed out around the bay along a sand spit out towards the lighthouse. Along the way, we drove through the local salt mine. The colour of the water varied from gray to blue to red in different parts of the salt pans. This is apparently due to bacteria in the water that change depending on the stage of the mining process. The bacteria is rinsed from the salt prior to export.

We also passed a few flamingos on our way out. Craig told us that there are usually an estimated 90,000 flamingos at this time of year. However, due to more rain than usual this year 1, the flamingos did not migrate from the other salt pans in Namibia and Botswana to Walvis Bay. The counts for this year estimate only 1300 flamingos so they are much harder to come across relatively speaking from last year.

We launched our kayaks at the end of the sand spit and found a few dolphins out in the ocean. They did not get too close to us, but we did see them jump in the distance.

The highlight of the kayaking trip was paddling through the fur seal colony. There are 15 – 20,000 seals in the area and the younger seals love to play in the water with the kayaks. They would often sneak up behind the boats, occasionally nibble on the paddles, jump out of the water all around the boats, and if they really liked you, they would give you a big splash! Great fun!

We spent the afternoon exploring some of the street vendors in town, and had a great home style meal at a local restaurant. Delicious lamb curry!

  1. Usual rainfall for the year is 5 mm. This year, Walvis Bay got over 80 mm. 

Swakopmund, Namibia

Photos: Swakopmund

October 29, 2011

Today was mostly a travel day. We left on a 7 am flight out of Gaborone to Johannesburg which meant an early morning wakeup.

While going through airport security, there was a new screening machine we have never seen before. People were asked to stand on the footprints and bursts of air were shot at Them After a few seconds, the light turns green and they are allowed to proceed. Amanda asked for clarification on what the machine was actually doing and was told that it “searches for drugs”. Amanda asked for further clarification that no radiation was involved1 and we were told no, so we went through the machine. Not sure how it works but luckily we passed and were allowed to board the plane. Anyone else ever have this? Have we been away so long that this became the new thing and we just haven’t see it yet?

After a lengthy layover in Johannesburg including a delay with Air Namibia, we finally arrived in Windhoek. Unfortunately, it was very late in the afternoon which left no time to explore the city. We settled into a great room at the Chameleon Guesthouse and then caught a cab to a restaurant called Gourmet that had excellent food.

We decided to go with the flow a bit on this trip. As such, we don’t have a firm itinerary or plan for the week yet. One option was to possibly rent a car and drive to some of the sights in the dessert. We have been a bit hesitant about this since we haven’t driven at all on Africa yet. Not only are they on the wrong side of the road here, but the drivers can be a bit unpredictable. We realized though that this decision would be an easy one since I left my driver’s license back in Gaborone. 2 No worries though, it is still shaping up to be a great week in Namibia.

October 30, 2011

After a light breakfast, we headed took a shuttle from Windhoek to Swakopmund. It was a comfortable ride and took about four hours.

Swakopmund, as the name would suggest, is a town heavily influenced by Germans. It is situated on the Atlantic Ocean. The drive was interesting since the land becomes more and more desert with less and less vegetation until the last 20 km heading down to the ocean. The temperature then drops, it was 30 degrees in Windhoek compared to 17 degrees in Swakopmund, and the extra humidity from the ocean means more plants and the streets are lined with palm trees.

Since it was Sunday, many of the shops were closed, but we still found one of the many cafes open for lunch, and walked down to the beach for an afternoon stroll. We ended the afternoon with a short run along the beach before heading out to a local pub for dinner.

October 31, 2011

Halloween in Swakopmund! 3

We started the day with a run in the fresh air along the Namibian ocean side. We had a fairly low key day overall spending the morning trying to make some arrangements for later in the week. This afternoon, we packed a picnic lunch and walked just south of Swakopmund to the local sand dunes. They are only about a kilometer from where we are staying but we felt like we were definitely starting to get into the true desert. We circled back around to the ocean and headed back into town. A nice Italian dinner and the day was done. Not really sure where the day went, but it was another good one!

  1. We have been here long enough to know that Botswana standards may not be the same as they are back home. So even if they would have told us that there was radiation but at safe levels, we would have been skeptical at best! 
  2. As a general rule, we have been purposely separating our passports from our driver’s license so that if one piece of photo ID goes missing, we will still have the other. This means when traveling, we have only been bringing our passports and leaving the license back in Gaborone. I did the same this time out of habit forgetting the possibility of driving on this holiday. I haven’t driven at all in Africa yet so I guess it’s bit surprising that I didn’t think of this. 
  3. Apparently some of the ex-pats in Namibia do celebrate Halloween, but we were told that people do not go door to door as they do in North America. We dressed up as two traveling Canadians. 

Victoria Falls – Videos

Here are some videos we shot while at Victoria Falls. While both the pictures and the videos don’t really do the falls justice, I think the videos give a slightly better idea of how spectacular the falls really are.

Devil’s Cataract

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Main Falls

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Horseshoe Falls

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Rainbow Falls

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Victoria Falls

October 13, 2011

The journey from Kasane to Victoria Falls is quite short, only 85 km or so. However, that does not account for the border crossing into Zimbabwe. We have started to get used to the inefficiencies of traveling between countries in Africa, but I think Amanda and her mom were ready ton lose it on somebody! I’m sure Amanda will write about it in more detail, so I’ll just recap what is involved at the border crossing. First, you need to leave Botswana which involves filling in a form, waiting in line and getting your passport stamped. Then you move on to the Zimbabwe border. At this point, you join a line with all the other tourists going to visit Victoria Falls. They have two people working to accomplish this. The first fills out a paper receipt after you pay him for your visa. He then passes the form to the second person who fills out the visa sticker and places it in your passport. Seems simple enough but with so many steps, it is no surprise that we spent over an hour at the border and this isn’t even high season!

We spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool and headed into the Victoria Falls Park after dinner. Three nights a month, they open the park in the evening to see the Falls at night. They choose the three nights based on the full moon since the moonlight creates a rainbow with the mist from the Falls – the lunar rainbow. We purposely planned to arrive the day we did in Victoria Falls as it was the last night of the moonlight tour for October. It was really amazing to see one of the wonders of the world lit up by only moonlight as well as see the lunar rainbow.

October 14, 2011

We went back to Victoria Falls Park to see it in the daylight and we are certainly glad we did. While it was great to see it at night under the full moon, the full scale of Victoria Falls cannot be appreciated until seeing it during the day. We went in the morning to try and beat the heat which was somewhat successful.

The volume of the water of the falls varies greatly with the time of year. May has the highest water levels and November has the lowest. Being October, we are approaching the lowest but that doesn’t mean the amount if water flowing is disappointing at all. In fact, we have heard that the mist can be so great at times during the high water season that you get very wet and pictures are difficult. Although we are probably biased, I would say we were here at the perfect time of year. The falls are not yet at their lowest, and the amount of mist is low enough that we were able to get some decent pictures.

The park itself is very well done. There are lots of viewing points so it never felt overcrowded. There also isn’t a tacky feel to Victoria Falls Park that people sometimes talk about when discussing a certain falls in Canada.

In the afternoon, we went to the Victoria Falls Hotel. It is the oldest hotel in Zimbabwe and while it is predominantly Victorian in style, there are definitely nice touches of Africa in the decor. We treated Amanda’s mom to high tea as part of a belated birthday present. We also had time to explore the inside of the hotel and the grounds before heading back to our accommodation.

I haven’t mentioned anything yet about where we are staying. It is called Victoria Falls Rest Camp. It is by far the most basic of the three places we have stayed this week. We are in a small two bedroom self-catering lodge. All I will say is that it is very simple and we don’t spend much time in the room. The property is clean, it has a reasonably nice pool and restaurant1, and it leaves us more money to spend on activities.

October 15, 2011

Our last full day in Victoria Falls and what better way to spend it than whitewater rafting on the Mighty Zambezi River! It was an early start as we were picked up just before 7 am. After picking up a few other guests and stopping for a brief safety lesson, including signing our lives away, we hiked down a steep path into the gorge and onto the river. JB was our guide and he did an excellent job of directing and steering.

We started the day at Rapid No. 1 just near the Victoria Fall bridge and ended the trip at Rapid No. 19. We did skip Rapid No. 9 since it is a Class 6 rapid and as JB put it, “It’s not good for business.” We did have the chance to do many Class 5 rapids though which were very exhilarating.

There were a few moments that were quite exciting, although I think Amanda found them to be a little too much so. During one of the rapids, our entire boat flipped leaving everyone floating through the remainder of the rapid, and on two other occasions, I ended up in the river. In all three cases, I was quickly and safely helped back into the boat without harm. In talking with the guides afterwards, people ending up in the river is a very common occurrence. (I know I have said this a few times lately, but even I am looking forward to Amanda’s take on these events as I’m sure we will be treated to a different, yet magnificent story!)

All good things do come to an end, and unfortunately the end of the rapids on the Zambezi means a steep and steady climb back out if the gorge. Lunch was waiting at the top though giving us a last bit of incentive to finish strong.

We obviously couldn’t bring our camera so the only picture we have is of our survival certificate which includes a map of the rapids. It’s too bad because the scenery down in the gorge was spectacular.

For our last evening in Victoria Falls, we went to The Boma restaurant. While it is definitely geared towards tourists, its aim is to provide a cultural experience in addition to the meal. Guests are provided with a traditional wrap to wear over their clothes and face painting at the entrance. Dinner is a buffet with many selections of African game meats. I had the warthog and the eland. They also give you a certificate if you eat a Mopani worm. I’m happy to say, I did earn the certificate!

During dinner, there is African singing and dancing. When the meal is completed, each guest is given a drum and the whole place erupts into an African drumming session. It was a good time for everyone and a nice way to end our trip.

Victoria Falls Photos

Victoria Falls Hotel Photos

Boma Restaurant Photos

  1. I had the crocodile steak our first night and the ostrich burger the second night. They were both tasty. 

Kasane & Chobe National Park

October 11, 2011

After spending a couple of hours at the Maun airport after our departure from Oddballs, we took another short flight from Maun to Kasane.

Kasane is the gateway to Chobe National Park. While it obviously still has a tourist-feel to it, so far after one afternoon, it feels less so than Maun. That being said, we didn’t do any of the game activities today, so this early opinion may change.

We are staying at a small family run place, The Old House on the Chobe River that has quite a bit of character. I took some pictures around the place and posted them in a separate album here.

We had a relaxing afternoon wandering into town to check out some of the shops and pick up a few snacks. We returned in time to watch the sunset over the Chobe River, and grab a light meal at the on site restaurant. An early night as we have a game drive scheduled tomorrow morning and a river cruise in the late afternoon.

October 12, 2011

The roosters were the first ones awake this morning which meant we were up not that long after. We headed into Chobe National Park this morning for a three hour game drive.

The park is home to over 65,000 elephants! We could only cover a very small segment of the park and we did see quite a few of them including stopping for an elephant crossing. We also saw plenty on antelope and birds. The highlight of the morning was coming across a leopard feasting on an impala under the shade of a tree. While it was quite sheltered and the pictures won’t turn out at all 1, we were probably within 5-10 meters of the dining activities. The leopard is supposed to be the hardest of the Big 5 2 to see as they usually hide in trees, so seeing one on the ground eating definitely seems like a rare event.

In the afternoon, Amanda and I again headed into the main part of Kasane (which is very small). When we were walking the day before, there were some kids sitting in a field who smiled and waved to us as we walked by. We thought it would be a nice gesture to buy a soccer ball at the local store and bring it to the field. The same kids weren’t there when we arrived, but we did see a group of other children walking home in school uniforms. After they waved to us, I held out the ball at which point the whole group of them rushed over to us. One of the boys wanted to run away with the ball, but we convinced him to stay and play at least for a little while. At one point, an adult approached one of the children and then some of them walked away. One of the girls told us, “She said we are not allowed to play with the white people.” When I asked her why not, she said, “because people with think we are asking you for money.”

We let the kids run off with the ball knowing it would get some good use. It reminded us though how complicated something as simple as giving a ball to kids can be in tourist parts of Africa.

In the late afternoon, we headed out for a boat cruise on the Chobe River. It was definitely a highlight of the trip so far. Since it was later in the afternoon, many animals had made the way down to the river. In additional to the numerous species of antelope and birds, we saw many elephants, buffalo, hippos and crocodiles including a baby crocodile on a log near the shore. The trip was capped off with another gorgeous African sunset over the river.

Amanda’s Chobe Post

Photos of the Old House

Photos from Chobe National Park

  1. I am not even going to post the pictures of the leopard since all it looks like is a bush and if you squint, you can maybe see some of its spots. But all three of us will attest that we were there and did in fact see a leopard! 
  2. The Big 5 – lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard. 

Okavango Delta – Mokoro Video

Thought I would try something new and post a video of one of our rides in the mokoro in the Okavango Delta. If you are having trouble playing the video above, try one of the direct links below.

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Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta in Botswana is the world’s largest inland delta. The water originates from flooding in Angola, and months later makes its way to Botswana. As a result, this area of Botswana attracts animals and creates greenery that isn’t seen elsewhere in the country.

I wrote notes each day of our trip and I will post them here as is.

For our photos from the Okavango Delta, click here.

October 9, 2011

This week is a special week for a couple of reasons. It is the first week we are taking off work as holiday since being in Botswana and Amanda’s mom Leslie is here with us on our latest adventure.

We woke up bright and early to catch a 7 am flight from Gaborone to Maun. From there, we flew on a fixed wing aircraft into Oddballs Camp in the Inner Delta and part of the Moremi Game Reserve. This flight was only 20 mins but provided spectacular scenery as the delta expanded for as far as we could see.

Once at camp, we were given a quick briefing and shown to our tents. Luxury camping with mattresses and outdoor ensuites are our home for two nights.

We had some time to sit and enjoy the camp as activities didn’t start until after lunch. The scenery at camp is spectacular and elephants wandered through the water out back.

A quick aside: As most of you know, we got a new camera for this trip an are pretty thrilled with it. Turns out there is a photography camp/tour here at this camp currently which means there are 14 American tourists here who all seem to be trying to one up each other with camera lenses that appear longer than my arms! I’m sure they are secretly laughing at out camera but based on our pictures today, we still love it!

After lunch we headed out on our first ever mokoro trip. These are traditional dug out canoes steered by polers. There are two people to each boat so between the three of us, we had KG and Lee as our polers/guides. We had a short trip in the mokoro followed by a game walk on a nearby island. We saw many antelope but also a heard of zebra that we were able to get surprisingly close to.

When we arrived back at camp before dinner, we were greeted by one of the elephants making its way through camp! While we were able to get reasonably close to it, some of the photography crowd got even closer which led to a couple close calls as the elephant charged a couple of times. Amanda and Leslie also had an incident of getting closer to the elephant than they had planned when coming back from their tent for dinner. (I will leave more of that for Amanda to discuss on her post.)

Dinner was great – butterbean soup and oxtail stew.

October 10, 2011

Wake up call was 6 am today. After a quick cup of coffee and a couple of muffins, we were back out in the mokoro. We crossed over the main channel and took the hippo trail1 to Baobab Island2.

Once on the island, we did a walking loop of approximately 3.5 km according to our guide. We saw plenty of impala and kudu, some more zebra and a wildebeest. There was fresh elephant dung at times along the path we took, but no sightings of the large animals this morning. It didn’t matter though as it was very peaceful to be out in such untouched nature in both the mokoro and on foot.

After a rest and then lunch, we headed out to another island in the mokoro. We saw many more antelopes and an elephant across the way on a distant island.

When we returned to camp, we went up to a balcony above the common sitting area to watch the sunset. The hippos were out at that time and we watched and heard them make their way down the channel towards camp. We did not have any close encounters like we did with the elephants last night, but considering hippos are nocturnal and spend most of their daylight hours submerged, it was great to see them at all.

Another great dinner – tomato soup, chicken and potatoes, and apple crumble for dessert.

October 11, 2011

Another early wakeup call and the hippos were still in the main channel to put on a bit of a show at breakfast. An elephant had made its way through camp again overnight as evidenced by more elephant dung on the walkway. I didn’t hear it overnight as I must have been sleeping too well. I did wake up to the sounds of hippos overnight though.

We headed out in the mokoro again this morning. Since the hippos were in the main channel, it made for a difficult start. Although we couldn’t tell due to the high reeds, our guide seemed to think that the hippos were about five meters away at one point!

We saw footprints of lions, leopards and giraffe on our walk but no official spottings. Again, it didn’t matter as it was nice to be able to explore nature on foot.

We just had time to pack up and have a quick breakfast before it was time to say goodbye to our guides and all the helpful people at Oddballs before boarding a small charter plane and heading back to Maun and onwards to Kasane.

A special thanks to KG and Lee, our mokoro guides, Pony for keeping us all organized and to all the cooking and housekeeping staff. We will always remember these days in the Okavango Delta!

If you missed the link to the photos at the top, click here.

Amanda’s post is here.

More posts coming soon for Chobe National Park and Victoria Falls!

  1. It is called the hippo trail since it is a channel through the high reeds created by the hippos moving through the water and grazing at night.  ↩

  2. This is one of the few islands in the area with a large baobab tree.  ↩

Cape Town – Hoerikwaggo Trail

Last weekend, Amanda and I traveled to Cape Town. We are proud to say that we successfully completed the 5 day, 4 night Hoerikwaggo Trail from Cape Point to the top of Table Mountain. The whole trail was just over 70 km. We stayed in wonderful tented camps along the way which are run by the South Africa National Parks.

While hiking, we worked on the blog post together each night, and Amanda has posted the full recap of the trip so I will leave it at that for all the details.

Amanda’s full post can be found here.

All the photos from the trip are posted here.

UPDATE: We have also decided to release the full, unedited details of the trip (our notes we took each night). Anyone who is interested in more details can find them here.

Soweto & Johannesburg

Two weekends ago we had a departure from our nature-style of weekend and headed to Johannesburg for two nights. We stayed in one of the townships outside the city centre called Soweto. This is short for south west township and played a vital role in the end of apartheid in South Africa. I have to admit, we were a little nervous about Johannesburg in general as we had heard many different stories from a personal safety standpoint. On top of that, we were not sure what to expect from Soweto, especially since we would be participating in a bicycle tour through some of the poorer areas.

Maybe we are still a bit naive about the whole thing, but looking back at the weekend, I cannot think of a time I was worried about being safe. The bus station in Johannesburg was overwhelming at first, but I’m not sure it was any different a feeling that that of an unfamiliar bus station in any other large city. Once we arrived in Soweto, the main thing we noticed was how welcoming the people were. It honestly felt like everyone there was happy to see us and happy that we were wanting to explore Soweto and learn more about the people and culture. (This is not to say that all parts of Johannesburg and South Africa are safe, just that where we were for weekend felt welcoming and comfortable.)

The bicycle tour was not strenuous from a physical standpoint, but it definitely generated a lot of mental thought. It was unbelievable to see the contrast in living conditions in the different parts of the township with some people living in what look like five star bed and breakfasts to those living with ten other people in a shack without any electricity or running water. I know we only saw the people for a short snapshot in time, but everyone seemed to have a smile on their face regardless of the living conditions.

We also had time to visit some of museums in Soweto and Johannesburg:

Hector Pieterson Museum – This museum is located in Soweto and provides excellent information about the events leading up to the protests in Soweto which led to numerous children being killed by police during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest against introducing Afrikaans in the schools. Hector Pieterson was a 13 year old boy who was killed that day in 1976.

Apartheid Museum – A great look at life before, during and after apartheid in South Africa. When tickets are purchased to the museum, it is randomly printed as “whites” or “non-whites”. Based on your ticket, there are different doors to enter the museum and you are separated from the others as you walk through the first exhibit. Even during that exercise, it led to a sense of either feeling exclusive or excluded as you were constantly left to question what you were missing on the other side. Again, just a small glimpse of day to day life during apartheid.

Constitution Hill – Aside from begin able to step inside the South African Constitutional Court, this is also the previous site of prisons in Johannesburg. Exhibits are setup to highlight the differences faced by white and coloured prisoners. The conditions were once again shocking with up to sixty coloured people sharing a cell at times.

Overall, the weekend provided a great way to experience Soweto and Johannesburg as well as learn something about the not so distant past. After all, it was just seventeen years ago that apartheid ended.

The pictures from the weekend are here.

Amanda’s post from the weekend is here.

Kgaswane Mountain Park

This post is a bit later than usual for our weekend excursions. It’s been a busy week so I haven’t had as much time to write. We are heading to Johannessburg tomorrow for a couple of nights, so I at least wanted to post something. As such, this will be a “quick recap”.

We headed down into South Africa to Kgaswane Mountain Park. It is just outside Rustenburg which is the first city of any size in South Africa when traveling from Gaborone. We had great company for the trip as a colleague from work, Matt, and his wife Kathleen joined us. We were also very fortunate to have another colleague lend us a car for the weekend which made transportation very easy.

Kgaswane is a bit different than some of the other parks we went to as there are no predators in the park (aside from maybe leopards, but as I mentioned last week, they usually stay away from humans anyways.) This meant that hiking was possible and it was nice to be able to get some physical activity in. The main hike we did was a 5.5 km trail with ups and downs through the mountains. You will see the varied and scenic terrain in the photos. I actually woke up the following morning and “ran” the trail. (I say “ran” since it consisted of power-hiking the ups, moving gingerly on the downs, and jogging the flats.)

As the sun was setting, we did a short “game drive” on the paved road in the park. There is a breeding group of sable antelope that we spotted in the distance just before we lost daylight. The lighting was spectacular!

In the evening, we setup camp and then used the braai (the word for barbecue in Africa) to cook up a feast of steaks, chicken kabobs, potatoes and veggies. Of course, there were also marshmallows around the campfire. There are no pictures of this feast since it was quite dark by the time we got around to eating.

We packed up camp the next morning and headed back to Gaborone. Thanks Matt and Kathleen for a fun weekend and to Jon and Liz for the use of their car!

Pictures can be seen here.


I definitely haven’t seen anything quite like this back home:

I still can’t believe it escaped the wrath of my broom!

(Special thanks to Amanda for the photography while I tried to dispose of our new friend.)


We spent this past weekend at Tau Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve. It was a great opportunity for us to spend some more time with our new friends Dave and Lidija. It was also very nice since it meant that we would be able to get a ride there with them and not have to brave the bus or other forms of transportation.

Madikwe is just over the border from Gaborone in South Africa. It is a relatively short drive that is made longer by the rather inefficient border crossings. When leaving Botswana, one has to go through customs and immigration in Botswana, then drive another 100 metres or so, then go through customs and immigration in South Africa. Despite this being a rather simple process and virtually no lines this weekend, it still was quite remarkable how long it can take for someone to stamp your passport. We made it through both ways without any major hiccups though, which I guess is really all we can ask for.

Tau Lodge is definitely the nicest place we have stayed at so far in Africa. As such, we decided to try something different with the pictures this time and post one set with details about the lodge followed by another set with details of the game reserve. We will see how it works out.

For those not familiar with the Big 5, these are the animals that everyone wants to see in Africa and all of them can be see at Madikwe if you are lucky. We were fortunate enough to see four out of the 5 in one weekend so we are quite happy with that. We saw elephants, buffalo, rhinoceros (but too far away for good pictures) and lions during our game drives. Only the leopard remains on “our list” now, but in general, leopards are the hardest of the Big 5 to see. In addition, we also saw giraffe, warthogs, springbok, kudo, zebra, wildebeests, and many different species of birds. (Hopefully I didn’t forget any.)

I think I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking this time!

Tau Lodge Photos

Madikwe Game Drive Photos

UPDATE: Amanda’s take on the weekend is here.

Dawn Patrol

When I was in high school and played a lot of golf, I often enjoyed getting up early in the morning and standing on the first tee waiting for it to be light enough to see the fairway. Then we would tee off and often finish the round before many people were even out of bed. We called this “Dawn Patrol”.

This morning, dawn patrol was re-born! Instead of golf, four of us woke up early and went for a run well before the sun came up. I needed my head lamp for footing at first, but by the end of the run, I remembered why I like doing things like this so early in the day. There is something fun about being up before a lot of other people. It is also very satisfying to have some “me time” before going to work as I didn’t spend the day wondering if I would be home on time to fit in a run before dinner. It sounds like the other three do this on a fairly regular basis and I hope to continue joining them when I can.

If you need some inspiration, check out this video from the recent Ultra Tour Mont Blanc: click here.

Kgale Hill

At the risk of becoming “safari’d out”, we decided to stay in Gaborone this weekend. There aren’t too many places to “hike” in Gaborone, but there is Kgale Hill. It is the highest point in Gaborone but it is no means a mountain. It was still a great opportunity to get outside with some friends, get a great view of the Gaborone Dam, and have a great breakfast afterwards at a local cafe. Total hiking time was about two hours but that included lots of stops to take in the views and some extra time at the top.

(We didn’t bring our good camera since we were advised that muggings often happen at Kgale Hill since it is one of the few areas that may be considered a tourist attraction in Gaborone. Dave and Lidija brought their small camera though so we did get the above picture.)

Khutse: Vast

It didn’t take long into our journey into the Kalahari this past weekend for me to turn to Amanda and say, “If I could sum up Khutse in one word, that word would be: Vast”.

The Khutse Game Reserve is in the Kalahari desert and is connected with the
Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Both are national parks and are protected. We spent most of our time in Khutse, but did drive through the Central Reserve at one point on our game drive.

Getting to and staying in Khutse is not that difficult provided you have the following: 4×4 vehicle, lion-proof tent, extra fuel, plenty of food, and experience driving in sand. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any of those things with us at the German Guest House (although we could probably come up with the food), so we decided to go into the desert with a company called Africa Insight. They provided everything, including Leonard our guide, and made the trip very hassle-free. As a bonus, the “group” for this trip consisted of three people: myself, Amanda and Leonard. It was our own private tour.

We left at 8 am on Saturday morning. After a couple of hours, I was thinking that the drive to Khutse is not that bad as we had been on paved roads up until that point. That’s when the road quickly changed to dirt and gravel and was a loud, bumpy ride for the next few hours. Conversation was at a minimum due to the noise, but it was still exciting knowing that we were heading into the dessert.

We finally arrived and setup camp. We knew that Africa Insight was providing everything, but we still thought we would bring our sleeping bags, thermarest sleep pads and some other camping necessities. None of these things were necessary. We stayed in dome tents measuring 3 metres by 3 metres with military style stretcher beds, mattresses, sheets, comforters, and pillows! It was the biggest tent I have ever slept in and the only one I have ever been able to stand up inside. The next surprise was the “kitchen” setup including tables, chairs, table cloths and even an apron for whoever was doing the dishes. We were definitely impressed!

When we lived out in Calgary, people would often ask us about seeing grizzly bears. I lived there for 7 years and we did quite a bit of hiking and camping. We never did see a grizzly in the wild though. Some would say we were lucky, others unlucky depending on your point of view. We found the experience in Khutse to be similar but instead of grizzlies, most people want to see lions. We knew it would the luck of the draw so we were not disappointed when we didn’t see one. We did see lots of oryx, ostrich, springbok and many other birds.

The coolest part about the weekend was the scenery. As I said above, everything felt huge and vast. When we went on game drives, there was so much land and surroundings that it truly felt like we were seeing animals in their natural habitat. The pictures don’t capture how huge it felt, but we still think we got some good ones.

A great weekend was had by all! If you haven’t seen the pictures yet, click here.

UPDATE: Click here for Amanda’s post from the weekend.

Khutse Pictures

We are back from our weekend at the Khutse Game Reserve in the Kalahari. I was planning on doing a full post tonight about the weekend, but we were invited to dinner with friends, so it will have to wait until tomorrow.

The pictures from the weekend are posted so you can either click on the image above or here.

Photic Sneeze Reflex

When I heard about the photic sneeze reflex when I was in medical school, I was pretty sure that I had it. It has been reported to affect about one quarter of the world’s population and it is simply a reflex that makes you sneeze when you look at the sun or a bright light. The reasons for it occurring are not known.

We have had sunshine every day so far here in Botswana. We are in the dry season, so there hasn’t even been a drop of rain and there have been very few moments when we have even been able to see a hint of a cloud in the sky.

As a result, it now seems like every time I go outside during the day, the bright sun hits my eye, and I let out a loud “achoo”! There is now no doubt in my mind that I am included in the 25%.

For more info on the Photic Sneeze Reflex, a good start is here.

Hospital First Impressions

It may seem a bit odd that I’m doing a “First Impressions” post 3 weeks into my stay in Botswana. I think it’s taken me this much time to actually develop first impressions. I will be having a few different roles while working here and each has led to different impressions and insights.

For the first three weeks, I have been focusing most of my attention on a gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea) study. It was my plan before coming here to be involved with this research, but it has worked out ever better since we are currently in the middle of a gastroenteritis outbreak. In Canada, when children get gastroenteritis, most of them are managed at home or in the emergency department and sent home. In developing countries, gastroenteritis can be a very serious illness accounting for a great deal of mortality and morbidity.

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time helping to recruit new patients to the study and testing stool samples looking for viruses that are known to cause vomiting and diarrhea. It is a good opportunity to meet some of the families whose children will be included in the study as well as to get a feel for the work and resources that are required to do research in a setting where resources are at a minimum.

In addition to helping with the study, I have also had a chance to work in the pediatric HIV clinic. Botswana has one of the highest prevalence of HIV infection in the world, so it is a great opportunity to learn more about this illness since the number of children that come through clinic here is on a totally different scale than what we see in Canada. Throughout my stay, I will continue to be involved with the HIV program and will be doing a block of 3-4 weeks where I will be in HIV clinic each day.

Today was the start of my pediatric ward rotation for the next month. The research I have been doing has involved recruiting patients from the ward, so I knew a little bit about what to expect. At CHEO in Ottawa, each child either has their own room or will usually share with just one other child as long as neither child has a contagious condition. It is very different at the hospital here. The ward is divided up into different cubicles all within one large room. Each cubicle officially contains approximately 8 “beds”, but when the wards are busy, it can go well above this. I put beds in quotes above, since many of the children and their families stay on a foam mattress covered with a sheet on the floor. These are often between the official beds when more room is needed. The children are not divided based on their illness, so a child with diarrhea may be next to a child with pneumonia, and they are often seen playing together! (The infection control team at CHEO would not be happy!)

The most eye-opening experience for me came at a meeting they have here once a month where all the admissions for the month are summarized. At this meeting, it was shared that approximately 9-10% of all children admitted to the ward that month died in hospital. I have been told that this number is quite typical for a given month and is not actually that high for African countries. Still, it definitely hit me hard. At CHEO, we have very few deaths in hospital, so few in fact that most people working in the hospital will hear about children who die since it is still a relatively rare event. Some of the kids here are dying of serious illnesses or complications of HIV infection, but it is hardest to hear about deaths that would be considered completely preventable in countries like Canada with a much greater access to medical resources. I think it is safe to say that it is the goal of each doctor working at the hospital to prevent these cases despite the fact that there often isn’t much to work with.

Sorry for the long post. I know lots of people have been asking me about my work and research and I hope this provides a glimpse of my day to day activities. After all, while it is fun to post pictures of safaris and the other “fun stuff”, it’s also important to remember that first and foremost, I am here to hopefully lend a helping hand and learn about the difficulties of health care in resource limited settings. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer!