Zambia Highlights

October 24, 2011 | Tags: Wildlife, Zambia

Our land program, Zambia: Africa's Best Kept Secret, recently came to an end, and we were lucky enough to receive some phenomenal pictures of the safari. A first for many of our travelers, they had incredible up-close views of lions and much more. Below are pictures and an excerpt from the journal of Lex Hes, our guide and one of Africa's premiere naturalist.

The trip got off to an exciting, if somewhat unusual, start when we discovered that the lions had booked out rooms 4, 5, and 6 at Shumba Camp, meaning that some of us had to share a room! Their presence ensured that we had great lion viewing at Busanga almost every day. It was an absolute highlight, seeing the lioness carry her three cubs on the first afternoon; it’s not often that one gets to see this kind of thing as it only ever takes place in the first month of a cub's life, and usually under cover of darkness. That the lioness also decided to show off by walking in front of camp during the heat of the day and chase puku right in front of us, was a great sight.

Another VERY exciting time was spent on the mighty Lufupa River, getting us up-close and very personal to many hippos. At one point I counted about 60 hippos within extremely close proximity to the boat as we drank our morning coffee.

Apart from the big animals, we had a wonderful vista of the plains from a hot air balloon where we saw herds of puku and red lechwe, as well as a variety of waterbirds including yellow-billed storks, the Goliath heron, ibises, and plovers. The magnificent crowned cranes were seen everywhere, as well as many wattled cranes and the pretty rosy-breasted longclaw.

It was at the Kalamu Camp in South Luangwa National Park that we saw the greatest diversity of mammal species of the trip—a total of 26 species, including special sightings of Sharpe’s grysbok; plenty of bushbuck including the beautifully-marked rams; Thornicroft’s giraffe, unique to the Luangwa Valley; the yellow baboon, a new species of baboon for many of us; the tiny four-toed elephant shrew; and two magnificent porcupines on one of the night drives.

The death of a hippo in the Luangwa River produced one of the great spectacles of the trip with over a hundred Nile crocodiles hanging around in the vicinity of the carcass. And of course there were hippos everywhere, walking on the sandbanks resting in the water, basking in the sun, and standing in the bush.

But the highlight, and very likely dinner-time conversation for some time to come, has to be the walking safaris where both groups encountered lions on foot and were subjected to some aggression from the large male. It has to be one of the most humbling experiences to be threatened by a lion like that! Our walking group also found a leopard after following up on the alarm call of a monkey. The walking trips in these great wilderness areas added a whole new perspective to our safaris.

In  Lower Zambezi National Park we had a variety of activities—cruises up and down the river looking for birds, hippos, crocs, and elephants; fishing trips in search of the impressive tiger fish; game drives with great viewing of lions and elephants, as well as nocturnal mammals including civets, genets, thick-tailed bushbaby, and white-tailed mongoose; and wonderful guided walks.

We ended our safari with a final night viewing, and again in the early morning, of a female leopard and her cub on a kill. What a great way to end a phenomenal journey.

Interested in seeing this incredible wildlife firsthand? Join our 2012 safari, Zambia: Africa’s Best Kept Secret.

On Location: Circumnavigating the Black Sea

October 10, 2011

Our trip began in Istanbul with the Dolmabahce Palace, the Spice Bazaar, and the beautiful tiles of the Rustem Pasha Mosque, built by the vizier of the great sultan, Sulieman the Magnificent. Leaving Istanbul, the setting sun illuminated the minarets of both the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia.

Our first full day touring took us to the fishing village of Amasra, giving us a taste of how people lived along the Turkish Black Sea coast for centuries. A bus ride into the interior of Turkey took us to Amasya, a very ancient city with rock-cut tombs of Pontic kings in the side of the enormous rocky mountain that dominates the city. The Green River flows in elegant curves through Amasya and traditional konak houses are clustered along the riverside. Lunch was at a restaurant so high up it looked like one was flying in a plane over the city, giving an aerial view of the many monuments, which include a mosque by the greatest Ottoman architect, Sinan.

Trabzon was also marvelous; the sensational Sumela Monastery left everyone speechless. Few sites in the world are so impressive, with the remote Monastery seeming to defy gravity hanging on the precipitous cliffs of a mountain!

The Gelati Monastery in Georgia was also lovely, though the real highlight of the country was the young folk musicians and dancers, whose traditional dances are among the most vibrant in the world.

We visited the Livadia Palace in Yalta, where Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill signed treaties at the end of the war, before steaming from Sevastopol to Odessa to exlpore the Crimean peninsula.

Next, we climb the Odessa steps made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s famous film of 1925, The Battleship Potemkin, before finishing up along the Danube River Delta.

 

Have you ever circumnavigated the Black Sea? What were your favorite places? Let us know, below!

On Location: Circumnavigating the Black Sea

October 9, 2011 | Tags: Black Sea

Our trip began in Istanbul with the Dolmabahce Palace, the Spice Bazaar, and the beautiful tiles of the Rustem Pasha Mosque, built by the vizier of the great sultan, Sulieman the Magnificent. Leaving Istanbul, the setting sun illuminated the minarets of both the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia.

Our first full day touring took us to the fishing village of Amasra, giving us a taste of how people lived along the Turkish Black Sea coast for centuries. A bus ride into the interior of Turkey took us to Amasya, a very ancient city with rock-cut tombs of Pontic kings in the side of the enormous rocky mountain that dominates the city. The Green River flows in elegant curves through Amasya and traditional konak houses are clustered along the riverside. Lunch was at a restaurant so high up it looked like one was flying in a plane over the city, giving an aerial view of the many monuments, which include a mosque by the greatest Ottoman architect, Sinan.

Trabzon was also marvelous; the sensational Sumela Monastery left everyone speechless. Few sites in the world are so impressive, with the remote Monastery seeming to defy gravity hanging on the precipitous cliffs of a mountain!

The Gelati Monastery in Georgia was also lovely, though the real highlight of the country was the young folk musicians and dancers, whose traditional dances are among the most vibrant in the world.

We visited the Livadia Palace in Yalta, where Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill signed treaties at the end of the war, before steaming from Sevastopol to Odessa to exlpore the Crimean peninsula.

Next, we climb the Odessa steps made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s famous film of 1925, The Battleship Potemkin, before finishing up along the Danube River Delta.

 

Have you ever circumnavigated the Black Sea? What were your favorite places? Let us know, below!

On Location: The Black Sea

October 7, 2011

A palette of white darkening to slate-grey painted the storm clouds around the ship as we steamed in the direction of Yalta, Ukraine.  As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones caught out in the driving rain and wind on this particular day in the Black Sea.  Some migrant land birds, on their way to wintering grounds far to the south, had found themselves in a bit of a predicament. 

It wasn’t clear if they had made a decision to risk a flight directly across the Black Sea on their way south, or if they had rather overshot land on their travels the previous night.  But either way, the Clipper Odyssey, a ship of steel that would normally be completely uninteresting to any bird, had overnight become an emergency landing-pad oasis surrounded by hundreds of square miles of an otherwise hostile environment. 

The fallout began with a lone pipit perched on a wire near the ship’s stern during breakfast.  But within a few hours, roving bands of chiffchaffs and wagtails flitted around the outer decks, taking shelter in any nooks and crannies they could find, only sallying out to attempt to snatch hawk moths, which were quite abundant in number themselves.

Robins, blackcaps, and even a nightjar rounded out the menagerie of 30+ birds, which was beginning to feel a bit like something out of Noah’s Ark.  By tomorrow, the ship will pull into Yalta, and the birds will no doubt make a B-line for the green forested hillsides for a real meal.  Once their energy is restored, they’ll have to come up with a new and better plan for how to safely get past the Black Sea on their journey south.

On Location: The Black Sea

October 6, 2011 | Tags: Black Sea

A palette of white darkening to slate-grey painted the storm clouds around the ship as we steamed in the direction of Yalta, Ukraine.  As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones caught out in the driving rain and wind on this particular day in the Black Sea.  Some migrant land birds, on their way to wintering grounds far to the south, had found themselves in a bit of a predicament. 

It wasn’t clear if they had made a decision to risk a flight directly across the Black Sea on their way south, or if they had rather overshot land on their travels the previous night.  But either way, the Clipper Odyssey, a ship of steel that would normally be completely uninteresting to any bird, had overnight become an emergency landing-pad oasis surrounded by hundreds of square miles of an otherwise hostile environment. 

The fallout began with a lone pipit perched on a wire near the ship’s stern during breakfast.  But within a few hours, roving bands of chiffchaffs and wagtails flitted around the outer decks, taking shelter in any nooks and crannies they could find, only sallying out to attempt to snatch hawk moths, which were quite abundant in number themselves.

Robins, blackcaps, and even a nightjar rounded out the menagerie of 30+ birds, which was beginning to feel a bit like something out of Noah’s Ark.  By tomorrow, the ship will pull into Yalta, and the birds will no doubt make a B-line for the green forested hillsides for a real meal.  Once their energy is restored, they’ll have to come up with a new and better plan for how to safely get past the Black Sea on their journey south.