A New Decade Begins

On the first day of the new decade, we met up with our friends to kickoff 2020 together.   We had a nice al fresco lunch at Nolu’s followed by a few glasses of Champagne back at the Samuel’s place.  It was nice to hear how everyone had spent their Christmas holidays.

Ladies looking good

Gents not looking too bad either

Laurie’s dad arrived later that month and Spence and I were invited to join them for a round at the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.  There are two 18-hole Greg Norman designed courses there, Fire and Earth, and I finally got to play the Earth course that hosts the DP World Tour Championship every November.

Bec was also happy to make the journey to Dubai to meet up with a friend who happened to be passing through town on a quick business trip.

The fellas on Jumeirah Golf Estates Earth course

The last highlight of the month was an adventure in Oman.  Rebecca had a voucher to use up and we set our sights on the mountain area of Jebel Akhdar.  Neither of us had been up Jebel Akhdar, but you could say it’s always been on the list.  We left after work on Thursday, January 23rd, making the drive to Ibri, Oman where we spent the night at the Ibri Oasis.  We left early the next morning, stopping in at the Jabreen Castle, a historic landmark built in the 17th century, before continuing on to Akhdar.  We had to pass a police checkpoint at the base of the mountain where they ensure that only 4x4s get past.  They also highlighted the importance of engine braking for the return back down the steep mountain road.  We arrived at the top around 12:30 pm and set out on another one of Oman’s official trekking routes, the W18b or “Villages Hike”.  It is described as “an interesting walk through mountain villages with terraced farms and ancient falaj irrigation systems; with magnificent views over Wadi Muhaydin.  Look out for fossilized coral, and a chance to see a rose water distillery”.  It took us about 1.5 hours to do the there-and-back scenic hike.  We jumped into the Jeep and set off for the Alila Jabal Akhdar hotel.  Driving up to the resort, we were amazed at how it was literally built on the top of a cliff and resembles the stone, mountain houses of Oman’s past.  We still had a little energy so we did the Butterfly Walk around the hotel’s property that provides some information on the mountain’s floral and fauna.  We then sat down in the Rose Lounge for a sundowner just as the fog was rolling in.  We went for the Omani set menu that evening for dinner featuring the national dish of shuwa – meat marinated in Omani spices, wrapped in leaves and cooked in an underground sand oven.

Bec on top of Jabreen Castle near Bahla

Dan on the Villages Hike

Bec in Al Ayn village

Terraced farms

Bec on the Butterfly Walk near Alila

All this hiking is making Dan thirsty

A look back at the Alila Jebel Akhdar resort

Dan at cocktail hour

The next day, we had breakfast followed by some pool time.  It was a little chilly up there so we had to make a few runs to the hot pool to warm up.  Checking out, we put all of our luggage in the Jeep and set out for another hike – Mirage in the Mountains.  Although it’s not an official Oman trekking route, the map and trail markers are done in the same fashion as the official routes.  I believe Alila was instrumental in establishing several of these hikes in the area.  The hike followed a wadi up to a picturesque dam, through the abandoned stone village of As Sarab, and back down to Alila.  We did the 6.5 km’s in about 2.5 hours.  After a quick refresh in the hotel, we hit the road around 3:30 pm.  We shared the drive home and were back in AD by 10:00 pm. A great weekend trip to ring in the new decade!

Donkey on the trail

The dam on the Mirage in the Mountains hike

Stone house in the village of As Sarab

Bec hiking on Jebel Akhdar

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2019 Year in Review

The numbers are in for 2019. Overall, we saw a reduction in site traffic with views down by 26% from the prior year along with corresponding decreases in visitors, likes and comments. That being said, we did have the lowest year in terms of posts published so there may be some correlation.

  • Views: 2,511
  • Visitors: 1,521
  • Comments: 64
  • Posts published: 22

Top 3 posts (by total views)

It is interesting to note that the most views in 2019 were all hiking or trekking related posts! This means Dan’s views exceeded mine … I guess I should do more hiking. Our Albanian related posts still have the highest all time views.

  1.  Trekking in Leshan and Emeishan
  2.  Trekking Through the Borneo Rainforest
  3.  Jebel Qatar

Of our 22 posts published in the year, the top 3 viewed were Jack and Zack in Oman and the UAE, Team AD on a Swiss Road Trip, and another hiking related one Wadi Mistall Solo Hike. Our readership came mainly from the US, Canada, and the UAE. A shout out to our top commentors including Uncle Dale, Judy, and Barry & Carole.

We hope you are still enjoying reading our blogs as much as we enjoy writing them for you.

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December Festivities in Canada

After Jen and Steven’s visit in AD, we decided that I would head back to Canada on Friday, December 6th to help out at home leading up to Christmas. My first weekend back I stayed at Scott’s, did a little Christmas shopping, and caught one of Wyatt’s hockey games before heading out to Strathmore. Back in AD, Bec joined up with some friends at the Swiss Christmas Market, had a girls spa day out in the desert, and went to a Christmas outdoor movie night at a friends.

That week, I helped Mom get to her treatments in Calgary and we had some nice meals with the fireplace going in the evenings.  There were also a few winter snow storms to ensure we would have a white Christmas.

The following week, I spent some time back in Calgary. I helped Dad get his woodworking vacuum set up, went to the Flames-Penguins match with Wyatt courtesy of Scott, and manged to get a ski day in at Sunshine before attending Emery’s Christmas Performance. That Thursday evening December 19th, Rebecca arrived from Abu Dhabi. That weekend, we squeezed in a bit more shopping, met Jen and Steven for pizza and wine at their place, and had a delicious pork crown roast at Barry and Carole’s on Saturday evening.  I then made the drive out to Strathmore to attend Chrit’s Christmas party. On Sunday, I was lucky enough to be in town for Rogers Hometown Hockey where there were all kinds of hockey related entertainment, games, pros signing autographs, etc.  The Flames-Stars game that evening was hosted by Ron MacLean and Tara Slone from the Sportsnet Mobile Studio which included a half hour feature on Strathmore before the game.

Dan on Goat’s Eye

Hometown Hockey at Mom’s

Strathmore Celebration of Lights

The lead-up to Christmas saw us getting in a few more visits around Strathmore and Calgary.  Christmas Eve was steak and lobster at Bev’s and an afternoon turkey dinner on Christmas Day.  We had to eat and run though as there was another turkey roasting over at Scott and Jenelle’s.  Dad hosted Boxing Day with an enormous paella and both my brothers came with their families.  With the Christmas festivities wrapped up, Bec and I were on our way back to AD on the 27th.

Turkey dinner at Bev’s

Turkey dinner at Scott and Jenelle’s

Uncle Dan with the kids

Sous-chef Dan and Chef Doug

Boxing Day dinner

The Erickson Bros

Back in AD, we spent New Year’s Eve at home with fondue for two, Champagne, and fireworks to ring in 2020.

Ringing in the New Year

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Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Our friends Jennifer and Steven visited us in late November 2019 to partake in the final Formula 1 race of the season. They were traveling to the UK from Canada and squeezed in a short trip to Abu Dhabi in the middle. They arrived on the evening of Wednesday, November 27th and we were there to pick them up at the airport. Dan had the top off his Jeep so Steven hopped in with him and Jen joined me in the Infiniti. We met back at the apartment for some drinks and a meat/cheese platter before finally hitting the hay.

The next day the F1 activities began. Jen and Steven had a lazy morning, then lunch at Catch, before Dan picked them up after work to head to the Pit Lane Walk open to the public until 3:30 pm. I left work early to try and join them but with parking and the slow bus I missed the pit lane walk by precisely one minute. But don’t worry, I met them at the beer garden after their walk. We then made our way back to Yas Mall where we had parked the cars and did a little last-minute shopping. The Black Friday sale had started and Dan and I needed new outfits for our 40th Birthday Brunch Party on Friday. Dan got a stellar new jacket and Jen helped me picked out a new outfit. We soon arrived back at the apartment for a home cooked dinner of moussaka and rocket salad. I believe this is when the puzzling first began… Dan had bought me a 2000 piece Christmas puzzle a couple of years back which Dan and I had started on before our guests had arrived. We all started picking away at it piece by piece. We stayed up again till at least 1:00 am catching up over puzzling. Did I mention the previous weekend we had gone full throttle on the Christmas decorating in the apartment? It was full on Christmas spirit in there!

Steven and Jen on Pit Lane

The next day was also F1 but we had planned to skip this day as Jen and Steven wanted to do a brunch. Dan and I hadn’t yet celebrated our recent 40th birthday’s together so we had arranged a brunch for eight at The Market Brunch at Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas. Our friends Jen, Spence, Amanda, and Laurie joined us for a combined birthday celebration. We were seated out in the garden and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. For those of you who have not experienced a Friday Brunch in the UAE it is a momentous occasion. It is all inclusive food and beverages and most of us went for the premium package which included caviar, oysters, and champagne, along with some other premium beverages. We enjoyed the weather and double downed on the grilled lobster. Everyone hopped in their respective taxi’s home after one last post brunch beverage and when we got back we couldn’t resist puzzling some more.

The gang at Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas

Steven, Jen, Rebecca, and Dan

Girly Time

On Saturday, we had a nice breakfast and then headed up to Yas Island to spend the day at the F1 track. Steven had a friend working there who was able to hook us up with VIP passes – this meant I got to check out the pit lane after all, but VIP style. We hung out on Pit Lane and then walked along the Yas Marina, where the huge yachts and party boats are moored. Dan and I had been to F1 before but we had never experienced the pit lane or marina access so this was an eye-opening experience for us. It was only 8:00 pm by this point but it was pretty lively – we could only imagine what it would be like at 2:00 am. We then got on the shuttle bus and slowly made it to the du Arena for the first F1 concert we were planning to attend – Lana Del Rey. We decided not to attend Marshmellow and Gucci Mane the previous two nights. We left a bit early, drove back to Abu Dhabi Island, and did a bit more puzzling before getting some zzz’s.

Marina Walk

Checking out the Marina

Sunday was the Big Day – the final race of the F1 season. We were back up at the grounds that afternoon and hit the VIP pit lane once again. This time the drivers were doing a parade drive around the track and we got to see them once they returned from the drive. We managed to get back to the north grandstand, waited in line for a beer, and then the Etihad A380 and Dreamliner flyby went past overhead before the race started. Hamilton did win the race as expected (he had already clinched the championship anyways) but it was still a fun race and atmosphere. We then wandered over to the du Arena and grabbed some dinner from the food trucks before The Killers got on stage for the final after-race concert. We stayed for the encore and then made it home for one last night cap (and a few more puzzle pieces). We dropped Jen and Steven the next morning at the airport for their flight back to London where they were connecting onwards to Edinburgh for a few days before heading back to Canada. It was great having them visit and take in the F1 race with us!

VIP Pit Lane Walk

Formula One racers

The F1 Track

The Killers concert

Puzzling addicts

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E35: One Tough Trek

On the afternoon of Thursday, Nov 14th, I hit the highway straight after work.  It was the last weekend in my 30’s and I was off to tackle Oman’s E35 trekking route, a two-day hike traversing the Eastern Hajar Mountains.  It was a seven hour drive through some pretty heavy showers to the Wadi Bani Khalid parking lot.  I arrived after dark and got my camp set up for the night.  I then met a couple locals who offered to lead me to the trailhead so I would know where I was going the next day.

Scary skies near Bahla

I packed up camp in the morning and loaded my backpack.  It was a little heavier than usual as I was packing water for both days, 11L in fact.  It also had my tent, sleeping bag, food, fleece jacket, and windbreaker.  I set out at 6:15am after meeting fellow hiker Patrick who, with four others and two local guides, was planning to hike the same trail as me.  I walked past the pools that make this wadi so popular with tourists, expats, and locals alike.  The trail climbed steadily from 600m and I took it easy with my heavy pack.  The sun was hidden until about 9:00am which allowed me to reach the cooler mountain air in the shade.  I reached the highest point on the trail at 2100m around 12:00pm.  I had a well-deserved break and took in the views where I could see the Wahiba Sands to the south and the Gulf of Oman to the north.  I continued on and set out across the plateau.  I crossed a flat pan and spotted a few donkeys when I was caught by the group of five and their guides.  I learned that their hike had been organized by a meetup group called Trekkup Dubai and that I had previously summitted Jebel Shams with one of the gals, Kathy.  They had started later than me, but were obviously moving faster.  I also learned that they were not carrying as much water or camping supplies as they were being supported by a tour company who were bringing their camp to them from Wadi Bani Khalid.  They were all nice people so I pushed myself to keep their pace and enjoy the company.  We reached a large antenna and road around 3:30pm and the tour company was there waiting in a Landcruiser pickup.  Kathy informed me that the trail is the road we had reached and continues for 11km down to where the trail picks up again and where they’d camp for the night.  They offered me a ride down to the camp site and a hot meal, but I declined as I wanted to complete the trail self-sufficiently.  I reached the T-intersection around 6:30pm, got out of my wet clothes, and set up camp.  I could see the campfire of the Trekkup group, but knew it would be too tough watching them eat a hot meal.  I was exhausted anyways and figured I’d sleep like a baby, so I crawled into my sleeping bag at 7:30pm.  I soon realized there was a problem…I would not be warm enough.  The temperature dropped to 11°C as I was still at 1700m.  I have two sleeping bags, one rated to -15°C and one rated to 5°C.  I had taken the latter and was instantly regretting not packing the former.  I rolled in and out of sleep all night staying mostly in the fetal position to keep warm.

Wadi Bani Khalid swimming pools

On the grind up

Summit cairn with the Wahiba Sands in the far distance

Summit pano

Canada on the E35

Daybreak, and it couldn’t have come sooner!  I packed up camp as fast as I could and hit the trail by 6:30am.  I was finally warm again.  The trail soon begins its winding descent into Wadi Tiwi.  The Trekkup group caught me much sooner than the day before.  Again, I really pushed myself to keep their pace.  We finally stopped for a break at a great lookout and I could see down to the villages of Sooee and Mibam that I had hiked to on a previous adventure.  I asked our guide, Hussein, if he knew the guide we had on that trip, a young petroleum engineering student named Yaser.  Hussein knew him.  I had kept in touch with Yaser for some time, but seemed to have lost his contact information.  We started the grueling final descent into the wadi bottom and back to civilization.  I say grueling because it is steep, relentless switchbacks through loose scree and because I was exhausted, had blisters forming, and was starting to make mistakes with my legs.  We finally reached bottom into the shade of the date palms and beside the cool water flowing in the falaj.  Wadi Tiwi is beautiful and another one of Oman’s top destinations.  I plunged my aching feet into the pools that the guides had led us to and some of the others had a swim.  Hussein commented that he had never seen a group reach the pools before noon, it was 11:30am.  As we walked through the village of Sooee I began to think about another large task in front of me…finding a ride back to the Jeep some 175km away by road.  As we reached the Trekkup’s van in Sooee I looked over and saw none other than my old friend Yaser.  He would be traveling to Muscat in a few hours, but he was instrumental in arranging transportation for me with his friend Hamed.  The price was set and the deal was done.  Hamed didn’t speak English, but I was comfortable enough that he understood the task at hand so I said so long to Yaser and the Trekkup bunch and we were soon heading down the wadi in a car that I believe was nearly as old as me.  We stopped in the coastal village of Tiwi where Hamed got changed into his town clothes and upgraded us to one of his family’s much newer taxi cabs.  And so we were off, headed south down the rugged coastline.  I fell asleep just after Sur and woke as we made the turn off of the 23 for Wadi Bani Khalid.  Hamed dropped me at the Jeep which was now VIP parking as the wadi was full with carloads of day trippers enjoying the cool waters.  I couldn’t resist a dip and was in bad need of a rinse off.  I walked up to the pools, jumped off the bridge, and had a swim in the oasis.  I was on the road by 4:00pm and back on the Abu Dhabi Corniche by 11:00pm.

E35 Breakfast Club

Descending into Wadi Tiwi

Village of Mibam

Village of Sooee

Hitting the falaj in the date palm grove

Patrick’s wikiloc route

I must say I now consider this hike to be the toughest of all of Oman’s official routes.  Maybe I wouldn’t have this opinion had I been supported like the Trekkup team.  The trail map mentions the distance as 28km, but I believe that to be the distance without the 11km road walk.  Patrick’s GPS showed the total distance of 42.75km.  Couple that with 1774m of elevation gain and you’ve got yourself a very big weekend.  Thanks to Trekkup Dubai for the company and encouragement and to their Omani guides, Hussein and Ali. And to my old friend Yaser and my new friend Hamed!

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Entering Another Era

We had two more milestones to celebrate in 2019…we were both turning Forty. Not only in the same year but in the same month!

We returned together from Canada on November 6th and my birthday weekend was only a few days later. Despite the jet lag, we rallied and went out for dinner at an Indian restaurant I had been eyeing up called Tamba and our friends Jenn and Spence joined us for a nice al-fresco dinner.

Ready to enter a new era

Team selfie post Tamba

Our usual AD tradition has been to do a beach club and this year proved no different so off we went to Saadiyat Island, where we had a lovely al-fresco brunch with our friends Laurie and Amanda with some beach time in the afternoon. That evening, we had dinner in enjoying the bottle of champagne my mom had given us for the occasion.

Espresso martini’s and beach time

Champagne cheers!

The following weekend, Dan went to Oman to do a solo hike for “his last weekend in his thirties.”

Then it was Dan’s turn to celebrate. To start the weekend off, we opened the bottle of Krug Grande Cuveé we had been saving for the big day. I had researched up some pairings to go with so we had foie gras along with a meat and cheese platter. The next morning started with an avocado on toast breaky and in the afternoon we had a massage at the Sense Spa in the Rosewood. Before going out that evening, Dan suggested we have a “spot of whiskey”. I tried to keep him at bay but he was very insistent. So I had to make him open his present first, which was a Baccarat Harcourt 1841 whiskey decanter, along with a bottle of Glenmorangie. We met up with our friends Jenn, Spence, Laurie and Amanda that evening for a wine tasting and canapes at La Cava.

Let’s open this puppy

7ATE9 at la Cava

Baccarat Harcourt 1841 Whiskey decanter

Champagne, good food, and great company was the perfect way for us to both enter a new era!

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Home to Help

Returning from our trip to Africa, Rebecca and I received a call from a very special family member and learned that they had been diagnosed with cancer.  With support from Rebecca and my employer, I was able to head home to help on September 21st, 2019.  Rebecca was also able to join a few weeks later just in time for Thanksgiving.

There are so many things that I enjoyed about being back in Calgary and Strathmore.  I drafted a long list of the highlights but I’m going to keep that list to myself and close to my heart.  I was happy to help out where I could and do the drives into Calgary.  I am so grateful for the time, generosity, hospitality, and love I was shown from my family and friends while I was back.  It was the most time I’ve spent at home since leaving Canada in 2010, and man, I really loved it.  Rebecca and I said our goodbyes and returned to Abu Dhabi together on Nov 5th.

Kyle with his newborn son, Kellen

Uncle Dan with Soren and Ada

Thanksgiving at Mom’s

Uncle Steve pays us a visit

Meeting Jen and Steven for a beer at Origin

Bec and Dan on a hike in Kananaskis Country

A quick visit with Uncle Dale and Auntie Pat

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Chobe National Park

On Saturday, August 10th, Rebecca and I touched down in the heart of Botswana’s Chobe National Park, Savuti.  I even got to co-pilot from the front seat on the short charter flight from the Okavango Delta.  It took about 20 minutes to reach Savuti Safari Lodge by road, but the game viewing through the expansive savannah wilderness set the tone for the next two days.  We were shown a warm welcome and had made it in time for a spot of lunch.  Our guide Isak introduced himself and we chatted about Chobe.  The lodge is situated on the winding waterways of the Savuti Channel that stretches from the Linyanti River all the way to the Savuti Marsh.  It has a fascinating history of flooding and drying up, but does have permanent pools that bring in the game from far and wide so there is always something to see there.  He asked what animals we wanted to see and I told him that the elusive leopard was on the top of my list.  We got settled in our timber thatched chalet and relaxed before afternoon tea.  We started our drive with Isak at 3:30pm and met two couples that would be with us in the Landrover for the next two days.  The afternoon drive proved abundant with wildlife spotting two jackals, lion, dwarf mongoose, warthog, giraffe, blue wildebeest, impala, kudu, steenbok, spur-winged goose, and Verreaux’s Eagle Owl.  Isak heard talk over the radio about two leopards with a kill in a tree so we raced off to the location.  Sure enough, there was a male leopard with an impala hanging by its horns in a big dead tree.  The fact that the tree was dead and bare with no leaves made for great viewing.  The male fed while a female lay on the ground hoping for a snack to fall from above.  The sun was setting and all vehicles must be out of the park by 6:00pm so off we went.  We spotted three old buffalo bulls on the way back to the lodge and one of them charged the truck.  Isak punched the gas and got us the heck out of there.  We had drinks by the campfire followed by a communal dinner while being amazed at the hoards of resident elephants coming to drink, bathe, and play at the local watering hole.

First game drive in Chobe

Impala munching on some tender leaves

Marsh Pride male lion

Dwarf mongoose

First sighting of the elusive leopard

Sunset in Chobe

Charging buffalo

Morning wake up call was at 6:00am and we were in the 4×4 by 7:00am.  Isak thought it would be good to head straight back to the leopard kill to see if they were still around.  To our surprise, there were now three leopards there; the male, the female, and her cub.  Being solitary animals, Isak figured the only way the male would tolerate this gathering was if he had sired the cub.  The female made her way up to eat, then, after some nervous attempts, the cub got up there and Bec and I were sure he was going to make it fall to the ground.  After seeing enough of his prize disappear, the male climbed up and, with a not so playful swipe of a paw, got the youngster quickly looking for the ground.  It was an amazing encounter.  When the guides all have their cameras out and are busy snapping away, you know you are seeing something special.  A call came across the radio for another rare spotting.  The two resident cheetah brothers were sleeping off the previous night’s kill near the marsh.  We left the leopards and were soon watching the two brothers lounging around.  They seemed to take turns keeping an eye out for any lions.  The last wildlife stop of the morning was to visit the Marsh Pride, a group of lions that are very well filmed and documented.  Isak told us that the two dominant brothers have ruled for a number of years longer than the average male would, and that his sons have been sending some serious threats their way.  We stopped to visit the ancient San rock paintings at Gubatsa Hills and then it was back to the lodge for the usual lunch, siesta, and tea.  The afternoon drive was a little quieter with the leopards having moved on.  We went down to the marsh and watched a huge herd of elephants before visiting the Marsh Pride once again and were lucky to see a litter of newborn cubs.

Male leopard advising the cub to step aside

Down he goes

Cheetah brother

Marsh Pride cub

Baobab tree

Marsh Pride male

Monday was our last day in Chobe, and Africa for that matter, but that didn’t mean Desert & Delta did’t squeeze one last drive in for us.  We were off with Isak again in the early morning and he told us that the guides had heard much commotion from lions in the hours just before sunrise.  We found a lone female lion who seemed to be looking for something, so we tailed her for a bit.  She then turned into some trees and found the cubs she was looking for.  There were calls on the radio that a leopard had been seen crossing a road, but disappeared into the thick bush.  Isak was also gathering an interesting story over the radio.  The Marsh Pride had come into the North Pride’s territory (sons of Marsh Pride) and had killed a buffalo bull.  The North Pride had skirmished with the Marsh Pride and had successfully chased them off and this was what the guides had heard.  We soon found the North Pride and watched them until it was time to go.  On our way to the airstrip, the buffalo kill lay in the middle of the road seemingly yet undiscovered by the North Pride.  The lives and goings-on of the animals really pulled in Bec and I in such a short period of time.

Lioness searching for her cubs

In need of some rain

Lilac-breasted roller

North Pride male

Southern yellow-billed hornbill or “flying banana”

North Pride male on the lookout

Cruising in Chobe

The winding Savuti Channel from the Cessna

We flew out on the Safari Air Cessna Caravan 12-seater aircraft to the largest centre in the Delta, Maun, dropping off passengers on the way.  We picked up our large suitcases that were in storage and came to learn that our Air Botswana flight to Jo’burg was delayed, thankfully not enough though to cause any problems with the overnight flight back to AD.  It was an unforgettable journey through Southern Africa and the perfect way to celebrate our 10 years of marriage.

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Okavango Delta

After breakfast on Thursday, August 8th, we said goodbye to the lovely people at Tongabezi who had treated us so well.  We were starting on the last leg of our journey that we had booked with Desert & Delta Safaris – a two night stay in the Okavango Delta and two nights in Savuti – Chobe National Park. We transferred by car heading west to the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers.  This area is an interesting place as it is the meeting point of four countries’ borders; Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.  We crossed the river on a passenger ferry in the shadow of a massive new bridge currently under construction.  We were told that the existing Kazungula Ferry often leaves transport truck drivers waiting for days on end to get across.  The completion of the bridge is expected to boost trade and the economy once finished.

We arrived at the Kasane International Airport around 10:30am and checked in for our flight.  As limited baggage is allowed on the small aircraft we would be using, we had planned to send our big suitcase ahead of us to Maun for pickup later.  Our 5-seater Gippsland Aeronautics Airvan GA8 Safari Air flight eventually departed around 1:00pm and flew west over Chobe National Park and the dry sands of the Kalahari Desert.  The arid landscape gave way to green grass and shallow waters.  We had arrived in the world’s largest inland delta, the Okavango, a World Heritage Site.  We touched down on Xakanaxa Island to drop another couple off and were soon airborne again to make the 15 min flight to our home for the next two nights, Xugana Island Lodge.  Side note: the X in these names is actually that popping noise made with your tongue…I can’t do it!  We jumped onto a boat near the airstrip and were soon racing through the narrow channels lined with tall reeds.  We received a warm welcome at the lodge and had made it in time for afternoon tea.  During tea time, one of the guides gave an interesting talk on the geography of the region’s flooding process.  After tea, we got back on the water in what is known as a “mokoro” or traditional dug out canoe.  Our guide, Vee, poled us through the small channels where we got a close-up view of the water and reeds.  The wildlife was bountiful seeing elephant, hippo, frog, great white egret, African darter cormorant, reed cormorants, African fish eagle, crocodile, water monitor, hooded vulture, Egyptian goose, saddle billed stork, marabou stork, and glossy ibis.  We had a quick sundowner on the water before heading back to the lodge.  We freshened up in the room before heading down to sit by the fire.  We had a communal dinner and got to meet some of the people staying at the lodge.

Flying into the Delta

Arriving in the Okavango Delta

Our Gippsland Aeronautics Airvan GA8

Resident croc at the lodge

Collen poling a mokoro through the reeds

Dan standing in the mokoro

Reeded waterlogged oasis

The morning wake-up call came at 6:00am followed by a quick continental breakfast.  I realized I hadn’t been as diligent with the mosquito spray as Rebecca had been the night before and I was soon tallying up the numerous bites.  We were back on the water at 7:00am heading to Sausage Island named for the trees of the same name found there.  We would be doing a wilderness bush walk with our guides Flame and Vee.  The knowledge of the guides is remarkable, most of whom were born and raised in the area.  The walk focused on the tracks and droppings left by the animals and the vegetation, but we still saw many animals including elephant, red lechwe, reed buck, baboon, kudu, common tsessebe, squirrel, white faced duck, bush buck, roan antelope, sable antelope, and the biggest hippo skeleton our guide had ever seen.  We headed back to the lodge to have our brunch and had some quiet time in the room before afternoon tea.

Little bee eaters keeping warm

Dan, Flame, and Rebecca

Dan & Bec on Sausage Island

We set out with Flame on our afternoon game drive around 3:30pm.  We soon found a herd of male buffalo and were entertained by a pair of bull elephants showing off their dominance to one another.  We found the resident pride of lions and stayed with them until sunset.  On our drive back to the lodge in the dark, Flame showed us how the light reflected from a herbivore’s eyes is a greenish blue while that from a carnivore is red.  We used this technique to spot a leopard which was the perfect ending to our drive.  We had another communal meal and turned in for the night.

Buffalo on Xugana Island

Female ostrich

We had heard some branches crunching through the night and came to learn that the lodge had been visited by hippos overnight.  Escorted down to breakfast, we could see the big hippo prints on the path.  Another game drive with Flame would be our last activity on Xugana Island and we were on the road at 7:00am.  Flame almost immediately picked up the tracks of a lone male lion.  Bec and I were amazed as Flame was able to follow the spore, even off the road across the grasslands.  We stopped and could hear his moan and zeroed in on his location.  Then, there he was and Flame did not recognize him as a local lion.  We watched as he sadly moaned staring off into the distance.  He was on the move again and we slowly tailed him until he arrived under a tree on a mound.  We could then see his focus; the resident pride lay on another mound in the distance.  Flame mentioned that the pair of dominant resident males had not been seen for a few days and were maybe away patrolling the pride’s territory.  Otherwise, this young lone male would never have ventured so close to the pride.  We watched and photographed the lions in the soft morning light.  It would have been interesting to see how this encounter played out.  We toured the island a little more before being dropped at the airstrip from which we had arrived two days before.  The density of the game had been much more than we had expected and loved every minute in the Delta.  We were airborne at 10:30am and first stopped at Camp Okavango to pick up more passengers before flying to Savuti in Chobe National Park.

Elephant in the morning light

Lone male lion

Resident pride not sure what to make of the interloper

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A Stay on the Zambezi River

After departing Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, our road transfer picked us up from the Victoria Falls Hotel to take us to our next destination on the Zambezi River in Zambia. The place we were staying was called Tongabezi and was the initial inspiration behind this 10th anniversary trip (which was supposed to be a long weekend until Dan got a hold of the itinerary). Due to the Rovos Rail timings, we were not able to stay in the main lodge for the full four nights we had booked, but rather we had to split them between their two properties, Sindabezi Island and Tongabezi Lodge. Initially, this did not sound ideal, but I must say, it ended up being fantastic.

Two nights on Sindabezi Island

We arrived in the late afternoon on August 4th and were ferried to Sindabezi Island, a 10 minute ride downstream from the main lodge, passing some hippos and crocodiles along the way. We got settled into our amazing open-air chalet and had a light lunch before heading out on the water again for a sunset cruise. We were lucky enough to spot a herd of elephants on the Zimbabwe riverbank who were pretty interactive, many birds, and some hippos. The colors of the sky on the river were terrific. Dinner followed and then communal drinks around the fire pit.

The first hippo sighting

Can you spot the croc?

Bird life

Dan relaxing on Sindabezi

The next day, we decided to have a relaxed morning on the island, spotting Wallace the local hippo and a land monitor. We were soon off again on the water for an island picnic lunch. That evening was sadly our last on Sindabezi so we enjoyed the fireside drinks and dinner in the tree-house.

Island picnic lunch

Is that a hippo behind me in the water?

Locals crossing the river at sunset

Zambezi River sunset

The next morning, we awoke early for a sunrise cruise. It was brisk, but we were lucky to have warm coffee and blankets on board. It was a beautiful sunrise over the water and we saw more hippos, impala, monkeys, great kingfisher and white egret birds. We then had to say goodbye to Sindabezi to make our transfer over to Tongabezi Lodge.

Zambezi River sunrise cruise

Hippo popping up for some air

The white egret

Two nights in Tongabezi Lodge

We got settled into our River Cottage and were soon off for lunch. Always changing the dining spot, this time they had set up our lunch on a boat. Once we finished, we took the boat out for a short ride. Dan wanted to go fishing that afternoon so, after a short nap, we were out on the river again. Unfortunately, he didn’t catch any tigerfish but it was lovely just being out on the water. We stopped for drinks at the Sandbar with some fellow guests and then we headed back for another delicious dinner.

Tongabezi River Cottage

Dan looks ready for some fishing

Sandbar happy hour

On our last day, we had a relaxing morning and a nice lunch and then were soon strolling along the Zambian edge of Victoria falls. We decided we had to see it from the other side as well. We did manage to squeeze in a bit of shopping afterwards at the local market. Back in our cottage, we were enjoying a glass of wine on the deck when we heard a hippo approaching to chow down on the vegetation below. He even showed us his amazing chompers. We had one last fireside G&T and a fabulous meal in the “Lookout” overlooking the water to end our stay on the Zambezi River, the 4th largest river in Africa.

Vic Falls from the Zambia side

If you look closely, you can see those chompers

View of Tongabezi from the water

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