Alberto Soriano and Evelyn Johnson looking at a painting from Evelyn’s new music series.
For the month of November, Evelyn was invited to participate in a group show of 8 artists at one of Cuenca’s newest fine arts galleries, Cuenca Visual Arts (CVA) that opened early 2018. Garry Kaulitz and Janda Grove created the gallery, and have been putting on a new show monthly.
There is a variety of art styles ranging from Realism, Expressionism, Impressionism to Abstract. All eight artists have a different style and work in different mediums from oil paintings, acrylic abstracts, print making and more.
Other artists in the group show included Patricia Daugherty, Linda Wooten-Green, Garry Kaulitz, Boris Ordoñez, Alberto Soriano, Maité Eusebio, and Janda Grove.
Our final campsite was in the Okavango Delta, a rich swampy inland delta produced by seasonal flooding. The waters evaporate and transpire, but do not empty into the sea. This wetlands area, including the Moremi Reserve, has been designated as a Unesco World Heritage site. During the wet season, much of the area we drove is under water. In October, thousands of zebras populate this area. The temperatures frequently exceed 40 degrees centigrade (105 deg fahrenheit) during this period.
In order to reach that camp, we needed to fly in small planes reminiscent of those we owned and flew ourselves in the 1980s. We were warned that we might be in planes with as few as 6 seats, including the pilot, and that our luggage would be severely restricted to no more than 1o" X 14" X 22" in size, and no more than 35 pounds per person, which included the camera bags. The camera bags themselves each weighed more than 20 pounds each, leaving very little for clothes. That luggage restriction was the driving force for our buying new luggage (we didn't have anything that small !), and then cutting and cutting contents until we fit within those limits.
We survived five weeks in Africa in three countries within those limits, even hauling two cameras each plus tripods, all lenses, and other photographic accessories. This was the "tough love" of travel packing, but we were both surprised how well we actually managed with so little. Of course, one of the things we had to leave behind was a shaver, so Burt ended up growing a beard. That beard remained after returning home, so maybe even that was a positive...?
While we were waiting for our plane to arrive, we noticed a couple of zebras on the airstrip (middle left). We were told that the small planes always buzzed the field first to ensure there were no animals on the runway. Our jeeps also strategically placed themselves halfway down the air strip to drive off any animals that wandered into the airplane's path.
As we flew from our Moremi Private Reserve camp to our final camp, we had a splendid view of the Okavango Delta from the air, as seen above. We were a little disappointed to not see more herds of animals on the inlets below, but even at our low altitude, those that were visible were too small to really make out (lower right).
Normally we try to shoot a fair amount of "behind the scenes" images while we are traveling. As we arrived in our last Botswana camp, we realized that we had been so enthralled by the wildlife around us that we had neglected to do much of that this time, so we made a concerted effort to correct that oversight here. We were served on tables with white table cloth, metal utensils, wine, "candlelight" at every meal (lower right). While we were eating, we had our beds turned down with a hot water bottle in our beds.
Our Land Cruiser 4-wheel drive was a workhorse, as they always are in Africa. There were many places that we would have turned around had either of us been driving, but our guides just kept on going. The marsh (upper left) and rickety wooden bridge (upper right) are only two small examples.
The Land Cruiser has a seat for a wildlife-spotter on the front bumper that allows a tracker to help follow game or use the flood light to locate the game (middle left).
Sam (middle right) has been our driver and guide from the moment he picked us up on first day from Victoria Falls. His immense knowledge of the animal behavior, plants, general landscape, and his knowledge of photography, combined with his infectious humor has helped make this a very enjoyable week.
We knew that we were signing up for a camping trip (lodges are astronomically expensive, so this was a way to see the country without breaking the bank). Not entirely sure what to expect in camping, we were very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food cooked on a camp stove (lower left), and totally astonished at the luxurious accomodations (lower right) that were available in the wild. Note though, that all the light is by kerosene lamp. The only electricity we had during the week was an inverter on the car battery -- just barely enough to keep the camera batteries charged, and sometimes kept the computer alive long enough to download the images at night. Our tent nightstand lights were powered by batteries that were solar-driven.
Sam had heard there was a female leopard with a new born baby, so we began tracking them the first day that we arrived. Just about when we had decided we would not see them in the wild, Sam and Equator (our spotter) found tracks in the sand and started to follow them. Not long later, we stopped, turned off the engine, and listened. We heard a sound in the distance that Sam identified as a leopard call (a low pitch, deep breathing moise, which sounded like a wart hog to our ears), and we were off on a chase to find it.
Turned out to be the female we were looking for. She apparently had lost a baby just a few days before, so was on the prowl again. After almost 2 days of searching, we found her partway up on a termite hill scanning the horizon for signs of her target. After a few minutes, she left her mount and started walking towards some unknown destination, where we quickly lost her in the brush (lower right).
This was the second camp area rich in zebra, which are always a delight to see in the wild. We also saw some warthogs here. I heard a splashing sound while working on my laptop after lunch, when everyone else was taking a siesta. A warthog had walked out from the marshy water to within a few feet of me, and ran quickly away. Usually when warthogs run, their tails are held straight up. For some reason, this pair ran with their tails pointed straight behind them instead (lower left). Of course, as soon as they were out of camera range, the tails went vertical...
Being a marshland, we had a chance to see some of the watery canals in the delta. It is never possible to predict what wildlife will be visible at any time or place, and we happened to be out during a time with almost no animals visible, leaving us with only the images of the plant life rampant in the canals. Papyrus plants, historically used for making paper, lined the canal. We were told that elephants and hippos generally kept these canals clear. We did have two sightings of the rare Sitatunga Antelope, which is one of the Okavango Delta's most elusive inhabitants, and Sam told us we were extremely lucky.
Singing 4 Okovango - YouTube
As we left camp, the staff (Equador, Kay, Vincent and Mutengo) gathered with a farewell song. This particular camp was also our farewell to Botswana, as we departed Okavango Delta to fly to Johannesburg, and then the long (much longer than expected, due to delayed flights...) route back home to Cuenca, Ecuador.
After four game drives in Chobe camp, we were driven to our second camp. Savuti is located along the Savuti Channel on the western side of Chobe National Park and is a private camp of &Beyond. Savuti is known for its exceptional wildlife viewing. We also realized what the pattern of our week would look like. We always arrived at each new camp just after lunch, where the camp support staff serenaded us with a welcome song (upper-left and video at end of this post), handed us a glass of fresh lemonade and a warm towel. After putting our luggage in the tent, we would head out for an afternoon game drive around 4:00 pm, returning back to camp shortly after sundown. The next day would involve two game drives, with breakfast, lunch, a hot shower and a superb dinner. The third day (after two nights in the tents of the current camp), we would do a morning drive in the area, have lunch on the road, and then drive to the next camp, where we would have an afternoon game drive, and start the process anew.
There was no marshland around this camp, so all driving was in our Land Cruiser that we used for most of the week. We are not "birders" and thus do not take very many images of birds. There were so many yellow billed hornbill birds (lower-left) that came close to our lunch stops, looking for dropped crumbs, that we made an exception.
Zebras were more plentiful in this part of Chobe National Park, so spent some time watching several small dazzles.
There was more variety among the antelope in this part of the park, and kudu became more common.
We also saw groups of wildebeests, which are called an implausibility of wildebeest, grazing on the dry grass or just walking casually to their next feeding area.
We had our first sighting of a leopard today. We were lucky enough to first spot it lying down on sand in a relatively open area (upper). We waited for awhile to see what would happen, and soon he got up to start to hunt. The image lower-right shows the leopard no more than maybe 50 yards away. Notice how hard he is to see among the grass. His rosette spots on this skin help him to approach his prey more closely before being detected.
By the way, if we had seen a group of leopards, they would have been called a leap. Seems that almost every animal on this continent has odd names when referring to them in large numbers.
There were also massive herds of elephants (yeah, kinda boring to be called a "herd" after all those exotic names...). We particularly struck it rich while waiting at two natural water holes. More than 100 elephants approached, drank, bathed, and left, while we watched and photographed. The youngest baby elephants were still trying to get control of their trunks to drink from, and they stood in the pool near their mother and tried to mimic the motions.
We also saw a couple more prides of lions. At one point, we saw a female lion walking purposely forward, with three cubs in her wake. We followed them at enough of a distance to not disturb their actions. Not long later, she arrived where a male lion (top row) was guarding a fresh giraffe kill.
The kill had been dragged into the brush to hide it from scavengers, while the mother retrieved her cubs. We then watched the cubs eating the giraffe... or at least trying to. The cub teeth were not strong enough to pierce the tough hide of the giraffe neck (lower-right), so there was a lot of frustrated biting and pulling, and then trying elsewhere on the body, until they finally found a spot they could gain access through.
This part of Botswana is desert, with almost no annual rainfall. Thus, most of the plants are barely more than scrub brush. However, the baobab and acacia trees do find root throughout this region, and are representative of Africa.
Singing 2 Savuti - YouTube
We were again greeted by the camp staff singing a welcome song to us. Note that there are five support staff shown, plus our driver/guide, for a total of six. (Boesi, Bonno, Charlie, Obi, Kopana, and Sam Kudomo at this camp) We were the only two on this tour, meaning we had up to six people waiting on just the two of us. Always friendly, often laughing, we certainly received exceptional service while in Botswana! Each night, we had a treat -- when the beds were turned down, a hot water bottle awaited us in bed. In the mornings, someone would do a wake up call at 6:00 AM, pour us a bucket of hot water to wash up, and when we went on our morning drives, we would have "bush babies" (hot water bottles) for our laps.
We visited Victoria Falls in December 1997 for our 25th anniversary. Unfortunately, that was their dry season and there had been a drought. There was less water running down this famed waterfall during that visit than we have seen in Yosemite Park in California numerous times. It was a rather large letdown.
This time, we flew into Victoria Falls (name of both the waterfall and town) and had one free afternoon, before joining our expected group in Botswana. The 10-minute short path from the hotel to the Falls was closed because of encroachments of elephants and cape buffalo. The hotel and we both agreed that it was safer to let them have the trail, so we took a short taxi to the waterfalls instead.
The Falls this time lived up to their reputation. Lots of water plummeting down a major cliff face. As we had heard before, it is really hard to get a photograph of the impressiveness of this waterfall from the ground, since mist rises up so thick as to make visibility only a few yards.
Also, the mist around the falls is really closer to a moderate rain shower. Vendors across the street from the park rent rain gear for $3, and you would be foolish to walk the path without wearing such gear. Above, you can see Evelyn as she approaches the falls in her yellow rain slicker.
As it happens, Wild About Africa put us up in the same hotel we stayed at 20 years ago for our 25th anniversary. The elegant old hotel has all the charms you expect from turn-of-the-20th-century luxurious lodges, including its family of wart hogs.
As we left, this sign kinda said it all...
Victoria Falls - YouTube
Here is a short 39 second video that attempts to give a feel for the power of the waterfall.