My Uganda Itinerary Comes to Life

Planning was complete. All my work to get in shape for the gorilla trek was done. I’d gone over the itinerary online and in booklet form at least a dozen times and had sought insight from a friend who had done a similar trip several years ago. Still, I know from experience, that there is no way to totally prepare. There’s excitement and, yes, a little fear. It was finally here.

After three flights, I located my bags and officially entered Uganda. It’s always a relief to arrive at an unfamiliar destination, find all your luggage has arrived and know someone is there to provide safe transportation to your lodging. I’d arrived several days before the official tour began so I could get over my jet lag and add some wonderful solo adventures on the front end. The Boma in Entebbe provided lodging for the first few days. My room was elegant and comfortable. I settled in for what I hoped would be some decent sleep.

I was up early and had a wonderful breakfast, with bacon. Yum!

Uganda Breakfast

I studied my map so I’d know where I was going prior to leaving the hotel, hoping I wouldn’t look so touristy. Ha! As if being the only person dressed in safari gear carrying a sling bag didn’t scream tourist. Still, I was confident in my direction and plan. Today’s adventure included a visit to UWEC, the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre. The roadway was very busy with lots of motorbikes and cars. Motorbikes seem to be the primary mode of transportation and function as taxis. After watching all the near misses, I was really glad to be on foot.

I crossed the street to continue on my way and ended up walking near a group of children, one who immediately ran up and took my hand. She was about eight years old with a big smile on her face. We didn’t speak the same language but we laughed and walked together for a block or two. It was one of the special moments of my first day in Uganda. Not long after, a young man named Patrick joined me, hoping to be my tour guide. He was very friendly and knowledgable. Patrick works at the local golf club and is an amateur golfer.

The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre was established to provide a home for animals who have been confiscated from the pet trade or are otherwise unable to go back to the wild. Samuel volunteered to show Patrick and I around the property. He is fascinating and so passionate about the organization and each of the animals who make it home. The Centre received help from the Bronx Zoo in setting up the yards so that they were as animal friendly as possible. Samuel helped with some of the construction and volunteers his time to educate visitors. He knows the animals by name and they respond to him.

Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

Not only did Samuel have a way with the animals, but the children loved him as well.

Samuel at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

Samuel had thrown this chimpanzee some food and the chimp used a stick to get the food close enough to grab out of the water.

Uganda Wildlife Education Centre

I enjoyed visiting the centre. Samuel was such a great example of how a guide can enhance a visitor’s experience. As a volunteer guide at the Denver Zoo myself, I learned so much from him. Thanks Samuel!

Just as I was getting ready to leave, three small children entered the zoo with their mom. They ran right up to me and held my hand with big smiles on their faces. I was so touched, it brought tears to my eyes. They were beautiful and so happy.

Uganda children

Patrick made sure I made it back to my hotel safely, with more good conversation along the way. If you are interested in a guide to see you around Entebbe, he’s the one.

My first day in Uganda far exceeded expectations. As you all know, I love wildlife and new adventures, but I find that the people make it extra special. From the smiling children to my knowledgable and friendly guides, I had hit the jackpot. And…after 19,000+ steps, I enjoyed my gin and tonic (an African tradition), a steak and a good night’s sleep.

Cruising on Walvis Bay

Swakopmund
We spent the afternoon wandering around Swakopmund and then out for dinner at The Tug which is a former boat. The salmon was fabulous! I enjoyed wandering around the town with the wonderful shops. Keeping in mind that I had no luggage space to speak of, I limited my souvenir shopping.

We stayed at the Hansa Hotel, which was originally built in the very early 1900’s. It was a beautiful place and very comfortable. After another good night’s sleep (it seems as if we are exhausted every day so I was sleeping great) we set off for our Walvis Bay harbor cruise.

Walvis Bay is just a few miles from Swakopmund and one of the main seaports in Africa. About 50,000 people live here, primarily working in harbor related industries. It doesn’t feel like the city is that large. Most people live along the shoreline.

Walvis Bay Cruise

We arrived at the harbor and climbed onto a catamaran style boat. There were probably 20-30 people aboard, but it didn’t feel crowded and we had a great view. Once we were out on the water, the special cruise features began. The birds were amazing. I’ve never been up close and personal with pelicans or seagulls. I’ve seen them before, just not within reach. It was incredible.

seagull walvis bay

Here is where I get carried away with seagull pictures.

seagulls walvis bay

seagull walvis bay

They are huge!

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Crystal was the trained profession. I just watched in awe.

pelicans walvis bay

Gorgeous! I was fascinated by these two birds.

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And then, after having their fishy snacks, they flew off.

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And then, lest we get bored, here came Bronzy the cape fur seal.

seal walvis bay

See the knee in the bottom left corner? That was me. I just wanted to reach out and hug this little guy. He was a bit shy so Crystal asked us to stay quiet and still. Wendy, my sister, would have loved this. She has been fascinated by seals since she was a kid.

cape fur seal Walvis Bay

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cape fur seal Walvis Bay

He was beautiful!

This was another jaw dropping moment on my trip. I never expected to see birds and seals so close. It was so special.

Then we left the area and made our way around the rest of the harbor.

Cape Fur Seals Walvis Bay

Here the seals were “checking out the chicks”.

Pelican Point lighthouse

This is the Pelican Point Lighthouse and next to it is a lodge where travelers can stay. That might be fun for my next trip to Namibia.

Hey Wendy, want to go see some seals?

Cape Fur Seals

As we made our way around the rest of the bay, we headed inside because the seas were a bit rough and it was windy. That’s when I started to get a little nauseous. So, I spent my time looking at the horizon. I’m sure the tour guides had some very interesting things to say, but I missed all of them.

Despite a few stomach issues, I loved this cruise. The sea life was stunning and I enjoyed every moment of the first half of the trip. I highly recommend adding this to the itinerary if you are heading to this part of the world.

 

Call of Deadvlei Namibia

Single grains of sand
blowing, building,
Nature’s monuments that reach to the sky

Trees outlasting lifetimes
dead, dry
Strokes of dark brown against a vibrant background of color

Travelers climbing
stepping, sinking,
Trying to conquer what nature has created

Languages of the world
appreciating, celebrating
Still failing to capture indescribable beauty

Footprints in the sand
filling, erasing
All evidence we were here

Memories of moments
breathing, thinking
Surrounded by monuments built of single grains of sand.


This was one of the reasons I came to Namibia, to stand in the pan of Deadvlei and see the beauty of the dunes and the trees. 

Deadvlei Namibia

We began by climbing a portion of Big Daddy, one of the largest dunes in the area.

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While I only climbed a short way, it was still an amazing experience. I climbed to the section just above the travelers in the below photo.

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Looking down to the right, it seemed as though the side was straight down.

Toni, our guide, was with me and asked if I was ready to head down. 

“You mean straight down?”

I thought maybe I’d be walking back the way I came.

“Yes, put your camera inside your shirt and grab my hand.”

“Okay…”

I was very hesitant, but trusted Toni. So I grabbed her hand, leaned back and took my first step. My foot slid down and I took another step. It was a hot day but the sand was delightfully cool as my feet sunk down. Then finally I sat down and slid the rest of the way. It was so much fun. I laughed the whole way.

Then we walked over a small hill, and there it was.

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It’s hard to describe what a beautiful place it is. The pan is made up of cream colored dried clay. The trees died after the dunes blocked the water source hundreds of years ago. They are estimated to be 900+ years old.

Deadvlei Namibia

Here is a photo of people walking across the pan and people coming down the side of Big Daddy. The mirage created by the heat reflecting off the sand is amazing. Yes…this captures some of the vastness of the area.

I had time to sit down beside one of the trees and to take in the beauty and spirit of this unique place on Earth. Seeing, listening, feeling…I will never forget.

There are some grasses and short bushes that have sprung up in a few places- survivors in an area where most things cannot live. It was hot, but the slight breeze helped cool me down a bit.BlogDeadvlei11

Because it is such a large space, it’s easy to find solitude. It was a spiritual experience that touched my heart.

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Once again, the shadows and textures helped set the stage.

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Deadvlei Namibia called and I’m so glad I answered.

Namibia on Safari

One of the best things about an organized safari is stepping off the plane in a country where you’ve never been before, and seeing a friendly person holding a sign with your name on it. Phew!

I was finally in Namibia and Barnabas, from Wilderness Safaris, loaded my luggage into the car and took me to my hotel. I stayed at the Galton House in Windhoek. It was a nice place, but frankly, I was so tired I checked my email and went to bed. I’d had such a busy day, I’d forgotten to keep hydrated and wasn’t feeling up to par. I should know better…

The hotel agreed to store my large suitcase and so I packed my safari clothing into a small duffle bag. I was a bit worried the zipper was going to break, but at least the camera gear was safely stowed in my backpack. There was some good and some bad news. My safari pants? After losing 20 pounds in the months prior to the trip, they were WAY TOO BIG. I looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy with all the extra fabric. I tightened the belt and did my best to evenly distribute the rest of the waistband.

So, while I made a fashion statement on my trip, it was probably “what not to wear” or worthy of the worst dressed list in safari attire. 

Toni, our guide with lovely bright red hair, picked me up and after adding Aravind, another traveler originally from India, we hit the road. Both of them were very friendly and interesting people. Our first day together included hours on the road, much of it on gravel roads. The main roads are very well kept, although dusty.

It had been a long time since I’d relieved myself behind a bush…but…heck, I was in for the whole adventure. It was a bit of a challenge with my oversized pants. I added the used toilet paper to the trash bag and we were back on our way to Sossusvlei and the Kulala Desert Lodge.

Namibia Road Trip

We had lunch at the Khomas Hochland escarpment. The views were incredible!

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I still wasn’t feeling too great, so I tried to drink as much water as possible and to eat what I could. The drive was long and I’m sure I was very quiet. Still, I enjoyed the company.

We did see ostrich and our first Oryx. The oryx is the national animal of Namibia and is represented on the Namibia Coat of Arms.

Namibia Oryx Antelope

After we were welcomed at camp, I headed to my free standing suite where I unpacked and took a quick nap. The accommodations were fabulous and very comfortable. We ate dinner and I fell back into bed for a good night’s sleep.

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It’s cool in the evening at this time of year, perfect sleeping weather. And…the hot water bottle at my feet was an added treat.

Plethora of Penguins – Betty’s Bay, South Africa

I left the Mosaic Sanctuary early the next morning so that I could take Marcelino’s advice and visit the penguin colony at Betty’s Bay. It was worth every minute. The last time I visited South Africa ten years ago, I saw the penguins at Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town. I do love penguins.

After paying an entrance fee of 10 South African Rand, or about 1 US dollar, I stepped onto the raised wooden path. Penguins always put a smile on my face.

Betty's Bay Penguins

Betty's Bay penguins

Betty's Bay Penguins

Please excuse the rough video skills. I’m still working on it.

This little guy lives in Unit 53. He’s got beachfront property. We should be so lucky…

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Betty’s Bay was beautiful and I’m glad I had a chance to visit.

Betty's Bay

Then it was off to the airport and on my flight to Namibia.

A visit to the penguin colony at Betty’s Bay and/or Boulder’s Beach comes highly recommended.

Three Days in South Africa

Recap: It was time to go to Africa, again, and Namibia was my first choice. My travel agent, Ian, from the Africa Adventure Company helped with the arrangements for the 16 Day Great Namibian Journey. It was originally scheduled for May and I got sick, so I after receiving my refund from Travel Guard Insurance, I was able to reschedule in August of this year.  As a change to the trip, I had the option to include three days in South Africa. After Ian suggested a cage dive with the great white sharks, it was confirmed.

I arrived in Cape Town and picked up my Budget rental car which had been upgraded to an Audi. NICE!

This was my first time driving a vehicle on the other side of the road and I’d been doing my best to think the process through. In other words, I was a nervous. I had spent a long time worrying about something that wasn’t such a big deal. I’m sure the rush of adrenaline that hit after I climbed off the airplane in Cape Town helped. I couldn’t stop smiling as I followed the other cars down Highway N2. I did get a bit lost as I turned off onto the dirt road, but I turned perfectly into the “other” lane.

This milk wood tree graces the entrance of the Mosaic Sanctuary lodge area. It was a welcome and beautiful sight.

Milkwood Tree at Mosaic Sanctuary South Africa

I loved everything about the lodge including my suite, the food and the people who made my stay so special.

Here is how Simone describes the Mosaic Santuary in one of her poems. She and her husband Marcelino are the sanctuary managers who live there.

” At Mosaic the sun rise can set your soul on fire, the mountains witness to a life time past, the Milk wood leaves moving to the rhythm of the wind. At Mosaic the fish eagle will call your heart to listen, your senses coming alive, at Mosaic a smile cross borders, at Mosaic the nightjar sings to the symphony in the sky. MOSAIC is a place of majestic beauty.”

I saw the fish eagles and the incredible beauty. It was a perfect place to begin my travels. I stepped off the deck of my suite to see this view of the Hermanus Lagoon.

Mosaic Sanctuary Panoramic Photo

My biggest disappointment was that the cage dive with the great white sharks had been cancelled due to weather. The wind was blowing and it was raining on and off. Still, I couldn’t have been happier with the location and the activities. Another trip back to South Africa for my appointment with the sharks doesn’t break my heart. I think I’ll probably be back a number of times, God willing.

So, instead I quad-biked with Vitalis. What a blast!

I’d never done it before, so it was a great adventure and I saw more really beautiful sights.

Mosaic Sanctuary, South Africa

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What’s a visit to South Africa without a wine tasting?

Creation Wines

So the next day, I was treated to a tasting at a local vineyard. Creation Wines had some fabulous options and treats to go with each of them. If I could have added a few bottles to my luggage, I’d be sipping on a glass right now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find it locally.

HRCreationsWine2

Then it was a quick trip to Hermanus. I’ve shared some photos already, but I needed to add one more for good measure.

Hermanus, South Africa

The crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean were magnificent. There was still one final visit to make and that was the beach near the Mosaic Sanctuary. I needed to step into the ocean just like the first time when I visited South Africa in 2004.

Atlantic Ocean

The wind was blowing and it was chilly, but still amazingly beautiful.

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The ocean was C-O-L-D! I was freezing and trying to keep the hair out of my face. Vitalis and I were laughing so hard, it’s amazing that we got a photo. Just looking at it makes me giggle.

While I was looking forward to leaving for the airport the next day and beginning my journey to Namibia, I was still sad at leaving such a magical place and the wonderful people I’d met along the way. I had another great dinner, joined by Marcelino. He’s originally from Namibia, so it was good to talk to him about what to expect.

Marcelino told me that with all the contrasts in Namibia, I couldn’t take a bad picture. I wasn’t sure that was true, especially in my case, but I was still excited to test out his theory.

I headed back to my suite and on my last night at the Mosaic Sanctuary, dreamed about Africa.

Abstract Travel Quiz – Answers

Thanks to those of you who played along on the quiz, both on Facebook and here on the blog. Check it out if you missed it yesterday.

Abstract Travel Quiz

Photo 1:

The first photo is a picture of flamingos from the air just south of Walvis Bay. Here is a closer look in a second photo I took in the same area, although they are still far away. Here’s a link to a National Geographic post about the flocks of flamingos.

travel quiz

Photo 2:

I confused a couple of people who thought the second photo was from Maine based on my opening paragraph. It is actually taken in an area not too far from the flamingos in Namibia, but from the ground. The area is called Sandwich Harbor and we took a tour of the dunes on in a 4 x 4. The dunes rise up right next to the Atlantic Ocean. It was a wonderful surprise.

Here’s a picture of me standing on the dune near where I took the second photo. It was incredibly beautiful.

travel quiz

Selecting Namibia for My Travel Destination

travel destination deadvlei in Namibia
Thank you for sharing this photo, Aravind.

When I told my friends and family members I was traveling to Namibia, the normal response was, “What?”, then “Where?” They had never heard of the country which is north of South Africa on the Atlantic Ocean side of the African continent. Then, people would ask me to spell it for them. “N-A-M-I-B-I-A”.

If you would have asked me a couple years ago, I would have probably said the exact same thing. So, why did I travel to Namibia?

With so many destinations in the world, how did I narrow down the choices to this special country? That’s easy. I was looking at photos on National Geographic online and did a double-triple-quadruple take on one of them. Yes, I was looking at a photo and no, it was not a painting. I had to look at it so many times because I couldn’t believe this place actually existed. So, one amazing photograph was all it took to entice me to fly 12,000+ miles to visit Deadvlei in Namibia.

Thank you Frans Lanting!

Click here for the original photo by Frans Lanting.

Here are a few of mine inspired by Mr. Lanting.

deadvlei in sossusvlei, Namibia

deadvlei in sossusvlei, namibia

That’s why I traveled to Namibia. Not only did I get to see, experience and photograph Deadvlei, my adventure included a lot more unexpected surprises. 

Why did you choose your last travel destination?

Waiting for Whales – Hermanus, South Africa

There is something about whales that I find amazing. The only opportunity I’ve had to see them in person is when I traveled to Antarctica in 2009. So, it was a delight to see a Southern Right Whale just off the shores of Hermanus, South Africa on my trip last month.

I imagine if I lived in or near Hermanus, my butt print would permanently be etched on one or more of these rocks.

Wait for it…

Hermanus, South Africa

Sometimes nature just takes my breath away.

Hermanus, South Africa

Dipping My Toe into the Solo Travel Waters

The freedom of solo travel

The first time I ever traveled solo was the day I stepped off the train into Salzburg, Austria in the fall of 2000. I broke the first rule of solo travel safety by demonstrating that I was an obviously lost tourist as I opened the large noisy map and studied it closely. Thankfully, a small older woman quickly pointed me in the right direction and I was on my way. I loved Salzburg. I had a wonderful time viewing areas I’d been long admiring in the movie The Sound of Music. I returned to Munich and reunited with my friends later that night.

While I’m not quite a solo travel virgin, my upcoming trip will challenge my ability to travel without anyone I know. My first few days, I’ll be on my own just outside of Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve been to the Cape Town area before. It’s a beautiful city where people are very friendly. This is where I have scheduled the cage diving with the great white sharks. There is a BIG smile on my face just thinking about it.

Then, I head to Namibia where I’ll meet up with fellow travelers I’ve never met who are joining me on the safari. There will be a maximum of eight people and our guide. So, my first solo trip isn’t really solo. It was a good compromise to help me begin the adjustment.

My love of travel has taken me to many exotic places, some of them are locations where very few people I know want to go. The trips are usually about two weeks long and can be expensive. I save and plan my vacations around these opportunities to travel. For me, the choice is to learn to travel on my own for those times when my travel buddies can’t come, or to just not go. I don’t consider delaying or missing an opportunity to travel a good option, so I’m on the path for solo travel.

I’m not someone who minds being alone, as a matter of fact, I’m an introvert so I need this time to recharge. I’m also single, so I’m used to doing things alone at times, like eating out and going to the movies. Still, I am a bit nervous about not having someone else to rely on when traveling in other countries.

Luckily, there are women who have already traveled this road and are very happy they did. Here are just a couple of my favorite solo travelers who inspire me and provide great information for those of us on the same path.

Journey Woman

Solo Travel

This trip is an adventure in many ways and I’m excited to get started. Let the countdown continue…

Is solo travel something you’ve ever considered? Any tips?