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    North America Travel

    Favorite Hiking & Cycling Trails in Puget Sound

    My Summer in Washington State USA

    Location: Puget Sound, Washington State, USA

    I’ve spent ten weeks in the beautiful state of Washington in the north-western United States.  This is where I grew up and where my family is.  It was fun being back, if only for a little while.  There were so many things I wanted to do and see, and I didn’t get it all done.  But I did manage to spend time enjoying my favorite hiking and cycling trails in Puget Sound.

    Favorite Hiking and Cycling trails in Puget Sound

    On top of Buckhorn pass

    I absolutely love cycling, and even though I started this sport rather late in life (48), I have embraced it.  I ride a road bike (‘Specialized’ brand) but prefer to ride on paved trails rather than out in traffic.  And there are two of my favorite trails less than an hour from where I have been staying;

    1. The Chehalis Western Trail is a fantastic trail on an old railroad bed, well maintained and very beautiful.  It is located south of Tacoma Washington beginning in Lacey.  You can start or stop at several locations along this 50-plus mile trail.  You can make the ride even longer by continuing
      Favorite Hiking and Cycling trails in Puget Sound

      Lunch break on the Chehalis Western Trail

      on the Yelm-Tenino Trail.  If you do the entire length of both these trails it’s more than 80 miles of paved bike path (with the small exception of about 100 yards of gravel). The trail includes views of Mount Rainier, bucolic farmland, the city of Olympia, and the Deschutes River. I was able to ride the Chehalis Western Trail three times while I was in Washington.

    2. The Olympic Discovery Trail is a spectacular trail on the Olympic Peninsula.  You can ride more than fifty miles round trip on this trial, including a newly added section to Discovery Bay.  There are a few sections of the trail that take you out to
      Favorite Hiking and Cycling trails in Puget Sound

      The Olympic Discovery Trail

      ride short distances on the highway, but for the most part the trail runs along the old highway and well maintained paved trails and bridges.  Highlights of this trail include crossing Dungeness River at the historic Railroad Bridge Park, riding through beautiful lavender fields in Sequim, enjoying views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and more bucolic farmland.  Simply spectacular and my favorite by far.  Unfortunately I only made it up to ride this trail once, but it was a beautiful day and I loved it.

    Both of these trails are for non-motorized vehicles only, and walkers are also encouraged.

    Speaking of walking, that is another of my favorite pastimes.  Last year when we walked the 486 mile Camino de Santiago from France to Spain we trained for more than a year.  Three months from now we plan to walk the 250 mile Camino de Santiago from Portugal to Spain and we have barely started our training!  So during these ten weeks here in

    Favorite Hiking and Cycling trails in Puget Sound

    Hiking on the Big Quilcene Trail

    Washington we have tried to get out and do urban hikes as well as two beautiful hikes on two of my favorite trails in the Olympic Mountains;

    1. Upper Big Quilcene / Marmot Pass Trail has a lot of elevation gain, but if you take it slow most anyone can do it.  And what does elevation gain mean?  Well of course it means spectacular views when you get to the top.  It’s about five miles to Marmot Pass and another steep scramble if you want to reach Buckhorn Ridge.  On a clear day you can see Seattle, all the Cascade mountains and for miles of the Olympic range as well.  The trail is well maintained, although you will need to walk through a rocky section where a slide has taken place.  This hike round trip if you go all the way to Buckhorn Ridge is 14 miles.  Or to Marmot Pass about 11 miles.  Be sure to have a Northwest Forest Pass (purchase ahead of time at many area locations).
    2. Lower Skokomish River Trail is one of my favorites.  We usually do a ten-mile round trip on this trail, but you can go further.  This well maintained trail takes you through
      Favorite Hiking and Cycling trails in Puget Sound

      Our lunch spot on the Skokomish River

      beautiful old growth forests and then along the Skokomish River for miles upstream.  There are a couple of places where you can get down to the river bed for a picnic or to camp.  The start of this trail is pretty steep, but once you get through the first mile it flattens out into a beautiful meandering trail where you hike through forests and cross creeks.  There is another climb but its easy and then again a flat and Favorite hiking and cycling trails in Puget Soundenjoyable walk from there.  This trail is rarely busy and I feel safe enough to walk this trail alone.

    So there you go, some of my favorite active pastimes in the Pacific Northwest where I have been since May.  We are now just days away from parting the USA again.  We will return to Washington for another visit next June.  Hopefully I’ll have more free time then, to cycle and hike around this spectacular state.

    Departing in T minus 11 days.

    Oceania Travel

    The Great Barrier Reef Australia

    Just Keep Swimming

    Location: The Great Barrier Reef Australia

    “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills… When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” – Dory the Fish from Disney’s Finding Nemo

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Nemo

    Finding Nemo is one of my favorite Disney/Pixar movies, and this past week I have had endless Finding Nemo moments and quotes running through my head.  Being

    in Australia and finally snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, my thoughts have wandered to the

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Reef and fish

    adventures of that movie and I have smiled to myself underwater and thought “Just keep swimming.”

    Although going out on a snorkel trip on The Great Barrier Reef took us way over our Grand Adventure daily budget (actually everything in Australia is

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Birdseye view

    taking us over budget), we could not come here to beautiful Cairns and not see the reef.  It’s another one of those “I don’t have a bucket list” bucket list items.  I love snorkeling and I wanted to have that once in a lifetime opportunity.

    The weather on the day we went wasn’t great – grey and overcast and we even saw some rain.  I am in constant worry about my motion sickness

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Colorful

    problem, so I stood outside and watched the horizon the entire hour and half boat trip out to the reef, even when the rain started to come down.  Hey I was gonna get wet anyway right?  Luckily, thanks to massive amounts of drugs, my sea sickness problem did not materialize while on the boat.  That was a good sign!

    “You got a problem, buddy? Huh? Huh? Do ya, do ya, do ya?” Dory

    We booked our reef tour with Reef Magic out of

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Marine World of Reef Magic

    Cairns which took us to the outer reef and a pontoon platform stationed there called Marine World.  We disembarked the boat to the pontoon and here we were outfitted with our snorkels, fins, masks and Lycra “stinger” suits to protect us from

    Great Barriee Reef

    Jellyfish

    jellyfish.

    “I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy.” Dory

    Reef Magic offers many options from the pontoon, all at an additional charge including snorkel safari, snuba, scuba, glass bottom boat, semi-submersible boat and helicopter rides.  But since

    Great Barriee Reef

    That’s us!

    we had already exceeded our budget (for two of us we paid $426 Australian about $330 US), we were just interested in snorkeling.  We were dressed and ready to go pretty quickly and one of the first people in the water.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Us with Wally

    We immediately encountered “Wally”, one of the biggest fish on the reef.  Luckily Reef Magic’s professional photographer was on hand as we entered the water and she got some amazing shots of us with Wally.  All the photos in this blog are from Reef Magic’s professional photographer.  Since we don’t have an underwater camera we have never gotten underwater photos on any of our snorkel trips on the Grand Adventure.  So, despite the fact my husband almost wet his pants when I told him the price, we bit the bullet and bought the photos for an additional $75 (about

    Great Barrier Reef

    Hey Wally

    $60 US).

    “Ahh you guys made me ink.” Pearl

    Wally is a resident fish of this part of the reef.  He is an amazing species called Maori Wrasse.  This fish is a female for the first eight years of its life.  And then poof.  It’s a male.  I know – what the heck?  Isn’t that nuts?  Some times I think Mother Nature is menopausal!

    Great Barrier Reef

    Coral

    After our encounter with Wally we began to explore the reef.  Marine World has a cordoned off section of the reef for its guests to enjoy.  Within this area there was a huge variety of corals; big, small, blue, green, orange, white.  Some are soft and rounded, others spikey and dangerous looking.  In all the

    Great Barriee Reef

    Coral

    snorkeling I have done, I had never seen coral that waved in the current like it did here.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.  Most of the coral we see in our lives is dead.  And while its pretty even when it is dead and dry, the beauty of live coral is spectacular.  Yes this is an incredible living

    Great Barriee Reef

    Coral

    creature and we surely must protect it.

    “Righteous! Righteous! ” Crush

    So I loved the corals and kept going back for more of that but of course there were the fish. Many, many fish.  I don’t know all their names, but they really are beautiful to watch.  Some of the fish are very solitary, just going along and doing their

    Great Barrier Reef

    Fish!

    business, feeding and swimming and doing what fish do.  Other fish keep in groups, large schools that move together almost as one, weaving above and around the coral mountains.  There are some fish that are so tiny you don’t even see them until you are swimming right through them, while others

    Great Barrier Reef

    Giant Clam

    are so big that they freak you out a bit.  Many fish are shy and you need to look inside the coral to find them.  There are also beautiful giant clams, sea slugs, squid, eels and rays.  And no we did not see any sharks.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Ray

    From this moment on, you shall now be known as Sharkbait.” Gill

    We swam to the outer edge of the roped off area and we were alone in this section just as a beautiful turtle swam by on the surface.  We

    Great Barrier Reef

    Turtle

    almost missed him because we were looking down and he was swimming right next to us on the surface.  But then he dived and we watched him swim to the bottom looking for a snack.  I believe this was a loggerhead turtle.  We had seen this kind in Sri Lanka. Beautiful brown bodies and not too large.  We watched him swim away beyond the area we were confined to and into the great wide ocean.

    “Saw the whole thing, dude. First you were all like “whoa”, and we were like “whoa”, and you were like “whoa…” Crush

    After about an hour we went back to the pontoon to have a rest.  Reef Magic served a buffet lunch

    Great Barrier Reef

    Pontoon

    that included salads and fruit, bread, chicken, sushi, lasagna, curry and roast beef.  But I only ate a little cause I continued to worry about my motion sickness.  Arne ate my share.  It all looked good.  Great Barrier ReefCoffee, tea and water was also available and a bar on the boat was open when we weren’t underway.  Clearly they have had motion sensitive passengers before and they were well stocked with ginger beer (like ginger ale, non-alcoholic). My beverage of choice.

    “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.” Bruce the Great White Shark

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Fish in all sizes

    We headed back out to snorkel more after lunch.  The water seemed a bit calmer but it was also more cloudy so not as easy to see – but that was okay.  We tried to swim to all the areas and to the far-reaching parts of the swimming area.  We noticed most snorkelers stayed very close to the boat.  Understandably if you are an inexperienced snorkeler or not comfortable in the water.  Reef Magic had life jackets as well as float noodles and other devices for anyone looking for a little more reassurance.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Some are shy

    We snorkeled for about 30 minutes and then decided to call it a day.  We went back on the pontoon and stretched out on a lounge chair for the next hour and a half.  Surprisingly, despite the overcast sky, it was warm and we both got a bit of a sunburn.

    Great Barrier Reef

    My Fab Fifties Life!

    Finally it was time to turn in our gear and make our way off the pontoon and back to the vessel for the hour and half ride back.  Once again I stood and watched the horizon the entire way, including during a deluge about half way home.

    But I did it.  I did not get sick.  I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.  I can check that off the “I don’t have a bucket list”

    Great Barrier Reef

    Dory

    bucket list.  And remembered to just keep swimming.

    “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.” Dory

    Thanks goes to the wonderful photography of Reef Magic!

    Read more of our Australia adventure here

     

     

    This post includes affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you buy any of these products.  Any money earned goes to help support the cost of the blog.

     

    Adventure Travel  --  Africa Travel

    Namibia Part II

    Oh The Places You’ll Go

    Location: Namibia

    Namib Desert

    Namibia quickly became one of my favorite countries for its varied landscape, colorful cultures and interesting history.  So although I did not see the entire country, Namibia Part II is an opportunity for me to share a bit about what I saw and learned during my fascinating ten days touring with Wild Wind Safaris.  Namibia Part II – Oh the Places You’ll Go.

    Only a few years ago Namibia never showed up in articles or blogs about travel destinations.  But then all of the sudden there it was – stunning photos of dunes and mountains, animals and oceans.  Article after article listing it as a must see destination of 2017 or an out of the way place to see before the crowds of tourists discover it.

    The furthest south latitude at which the sun is directly overhead at the solstice.

    And so, I wanted to be there.  I wanted to see what few people had yet seen.  Namibia was high on my list.

    Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of tourists, and plenty of tour operators and companies to help you find your way (check out the company we used and were so happy with: Wild Wind Safaris).  But we didn’t meet any other Americans, and 99% of the tourists we met were German.  Germans know about this place and flock here, partly because German is spoken here as is English, Afrikaans and tribal languages.

    Most visitors come to go on safari in Etosha

    Magnificent

    National Park and it is a must of any visit to Namibia (see blog here).  Etosha is not even remotely as crowded as the safari I did seven years ago in the Serengeti with about a million other people.  Etosha was quiet and beautiful and amazing.

    Sociable Weaver nest can House up to 200 birds

    But a trip to Namibia really needs to include time to see and experience more than Etosha.  I’ve come away from the country with an even greater appreciation of the remarkable geology of our earth, and an incredible insight to the importance of preserving cultures and not just objects and nature.

    Our guide explains to Arne

    Until 1990 Namibia was part of South Africa (and from 1884 until after WWI it was a German colony).  Gaining its independence the country has embraced tourism but being such a new country it still has its share of problems.  Like many places we have been, government corruption takes much away from the average person and tribal cultures suffer.  But the roads were remarkably good (even though Namibia has the highest car accident death rate in the world) and the people we met (mostly in the service industry) were incredibly friendly both with each other and us.  In fact some of the friendliest and most genuine people we have met anywhere in our travels are the Namibians.  That really hit home.  We never felt like we were unsafe or being cheated in anyway – although warnings of pick pockets we took seriously.

    Himba women with mud hut

    Namibia has 13 ethnic groups scattered about the country and the native people identify with an ancestral tribe even if they no longer live in the region where that group is.  Our amazing tour guide “Seven” explained to us some of the differences and he could look at nearly every person and know immediately what ethnic group they were from.  Since we didn’t see the entire country we missed learning about most tribes, including the Owambo of the north, the tribe Seven is from.

    We did get to learn about two distinctive tribes – the Himba and the Damara as well as a little bit about the Herero, an offshoot of the Himba.

    Little Himba girl

    Using smoke to “wash” hair

    One of my favorite experiences of the entire ten days was our short visit to a special Himba village where we were able to meet Himba women and children.  Note the photos of these remarkable people.  These are not costumes.  This is the way they dress everyday.  The hair style is really remarkable, and a female Himba begins wearing this hairstyle at puberty.  The adornments are made partially of their real hair and animal hair and are updated every three months.  Because of the shortage of water in the north of Namibia where the Himba people are found, they do not bath with water.  Instead they daily “wash” their hair with smoke – literally holding their head as well as their underarms over a special perfumed smoke (similar to incense) that keeps bugs and (most) odor away.  They also cover their bodies daily with a mixture of butter and ochre as a cleanser and repellant, this is what lends the red tone to their skin.

    Me with ten-year old girl

    The village we visited was a special place because all the children here are orphans.  This is a place where Himba orphans are brought to be raised in the culture of their parents rather than being adopted out of the culture.  The women here care for these children as if they are their own and there is a school here too.  The people are sustained by raising goats and cattle and they have access to a well so water is available but their bathing customs remain the same.

    Damara village

    As we visited the women let us take photos and then they wanted to look at the photos on our phones.  They seem to very much like to see themselves in a photo.  The women’s first question to us was if we had children.  When we said we had grown sons they wanted to know if we had grandchildren.  When I said not yet they wanted to know why not?  Why had we not yet chosen wives for our sons?  My answer that our sons would hopefully marry someday and have kids didn’t seem to satisfy them.  Their entire existence and culture is wrapped around family, child-bearing and daily survival.

    Once again I am reminded of how many people live every day hand to mouth.

    Dancers at Damara village

    We did not visit a Herero village but these people endured near genocide by the Germans who wanted their land and intended to eliminate the Herero race to have it and the 1904 Battle of Waterberg ensued.  Half of the total Herero population was

    Herero Women

    killed. Luckily not all were massacred and today the women have developed a very unique dress that is a unique mix of Victorian gown and petticoat and a unique cloth headpiece that is designed to resemble the horns of a cow.  Today the Herero people continue a battle in court with the German government for retribution for all they lost during the genocide period.

    Damara man building fire

    Swakopmund pier

    The Damara people, the other tribe we learned about, are the oldest tribe in Namibia.  They came from the East and settled in the middle region of the country.   This tribe was primarily hunter gatherers and pastoral, raising cattle and sheep and living off the land. The Damara have an incredibly unique language known as “click” language.  The language uses a complicated system of mouth and tongue clicks and is very musical and fun to hear. The village we visited was a reproduction of how a village would have looked hundreds of years ago.  Where the Himba live in huts made from wood, mud and cow dung, the Damara live in huts made of wood and thatch.  The Damara dress was tied to the animals they raised creating clothing from

    Damara Medicine Woman

    sheepskins.  The women use ochre on their cheeks much like we use blush today.  Music and dance and making ornamental jewelry and carvings were a big part of their culture, where the women did domestic chores and the men tended the livestock.

    Cape Cross Fur Seal colony

    Pink Flamingoes in Walvis Bay

    The geology and scenery of Namibia is as diverse as its ancient people.  The incredibly beautiful red sand dunes of the Sossusvlei region are the oldest dunes in the world and the stark beauty of these dunes is remarkable.  The turquoise blue water of the Atlantic Ocean at Swakopmund in contrast provides visitors and locals a cool get-away from the heat of the interior.  Here on the Atlantic the fog settles every day and so do thousands and thousands of fur seals, flamingoes and other shore birds.  Local seafood is a treat including the KingKlip and Kabaljou two of the most popular and most delicious fish caught locally and served everywhere.

    Welwitschia plant

    Dolerite Dike

    From the ocean heading east within minutes you are back in the arid desert where the welwitschia plant grows – the only region in the world this unusual plant is found and growing as big as ten feet across and living as much as 2000 years I was reminded of Audrey Two in Little Shop of Horrors.  The inhospitable environment has little greenery and almost no animals except birds.  The valley of the moon and eroding  mountain range are desolate yet beautiful in their own way – especially the interesting dolerite dike a natural phenomenon of black sunburnt rock that runs along the ridge of the mountains like the spine of a dragon.  This area is home to the largest Uranium mine in the world.

    Ancient rock etchings

    ANcient rock etchings

    Namibia’s storage hunter-gatherers and Bushman (San) people were nomadic and traveled the country wherever the animals were.  Their history is written on stones in several regions and we visited two fascinating sights to learn more.  The Twyfelfontein site is today a UNESCO Heritage site in the Kuene region. Guides take visitors on a walking tour of the hundreds of rock etchings estimated to be several thousands of years old.  The etchings depict animals as well as human footprints and tell a story of the nomad life and the animals they followed for substenance.  It is thought this place was both a message board and a spiritual gathering place for thousands of years.

    “The White Lady” is the pale figure on the left

    More paintings

    Even more amazing though was the preserved painting of “The White Lady” estimated to be 6000 years old.  This painting is located in a very remote region of the Brandberg Mountain, Namibia’s highest mountain.  It is a two mile hike to visit it.  Not as many people see The White Lady because the trek and the heat make it difficult.  I’m glad we endured it however in 100 degree temperatures.  Very different than the rock etchings, these paintings are preserved because they are inside a cave and out of direct sunlight.  Discovered in 1918 and now a protected heritage site, the White Lady is actually not a lady at all.  Early anthropologists believed it to be an Egyptian women, but today archeologist know it is a local tribal shaman, painted with the traditional white a shaman would have on his legs and body from dust and mud.  The painting includes other human figures and many animals all painted with ochre (red), egg, animals oils, charcoal and blood.  The painting has luckily withstood the test of time, although since its discovery humans have touched it and thrown liquid on it to try and see it better and this has deteriorated it.  Today though it is protected and can only be reached with a guide who makes sure no one does any damage to it.  It was a beautiful and remarkable world heritage site to enjoy.

    Moon landscape

    The Namibian people have a great deal to be proud of and I hope this beautiful country overcomes its problems and finds its strength in the world.  It has so much to offer, charm and beauty, history and culture.  I will never forget my time here and I can say with all seriousness it is by far my favorite African country of the seven I have been to.

    Thank you Namibia.  Thank you Wild Wind Safaris.  Thank you Seven for showing us your remarkable home.

    Adventure Travel  --  Africa Travel

    Namibia Part I

    The Lion Sleeps Tonight

    Location: Namibia

    Once again I am astounded.  Astounded by a place I knew so little about.  I am so thankful we came to Namibia.  Incredible

    Good morning

    Namibia.

    I know only three people who have been to this country.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was open to the adventure I thought it would provide.  And I was not disappointed.  Only lightly touched by tourism, Namibia is an astonishingly beautiful place and if you have the means you should see it now – because it will change.  It always does.

    This is an Oryx

    There is so much to share about our ten days here, so I’ve decided two blogs are in order and I am starting with the most obvious and most well-known topic of Namibia – the Etosha National Park and the safari we did there.

    Why did the giraffe cross the road?

    I did a safari seven years ago in Tanzania with my son and sister, but this was a first for Arne and I really worried he might not get to see all the “big game” safaris are known for; elephants, zebras, lions, giraffes, rhinoceros.  I needn’t have worried.  Yes, we saw all of those and much, much more.

    I booked our tour of Namibia with Wild Wind Safaris about six months ago.  The tour was $4500 for the two of us for ten days.  We could have seen Namibia on our own without a tour guide, the roads (although often gravel) are very good and easy to get around.  But our guide “Seven” (a childhood nickname from his football number) provided us with what we learned to call “African eyes”, and the value of that can not be understated.  He knew the answer to all of my endless questions and if he didn’t, he found the answer and got back to me within in minutes.  He described

    With our guide Seven

    plants and geology, politics and population, and of course knew facts about animals and wildlife I would never possibly have known.  I highly recommend both Seven and Wild Wind Safaris if you want a great experience in Namibia.

    So this tour was an anniversary gift to ourselves and although definitely more than our usual $200 a day budget, it was worth every penny.

    At the watering hole

    The animals in Etosha National Park are varied and abundant.  The park has  supplemented the natural watering holes around Etosha with some manmade ones, providing constant water in this arid and hot environment.  This way the animals stay within the park boundaries and are protected and visible to the guests.

    There are still problems with poachers, who specifically target both the black and white rhinoceros in the park.  They kill the animals and then cut off their

    The beautiful and endangered black Rhinoceros

    horns which are then smuggled and sold in the Chinese market.  Although this is entirely illegal it is still a problem Namibia struggles with.  In fact park officials regularly sedate and cut off the horns of the animals to keep the poachers from killing them.  The horns grow back and are made of a material similar to fingernails so it doesn’t cause the animal pain.

    Hunting is against the law throughout Namibia (except on some private game hunting reserves), which has changed the culture of many hunter-gatherer tribes and some of the people are extremely poor.  But game is also farmed in Namibia and you will often find farmed

    Springbok are abundant

    game on the menu.  Oryx is very popular and tastes just like beef.

    With Seven’s guidance we spent our early morning searching for animals – a great time of day for successful sightings.  We then would return to the lodge and relax, maybe take a nap or lay around the pool, before heading out again for a late afternoon game drive.  You are not allowed to get out of the vehicle for any reason within the park, so having just Arne and I in the vehicle with Seven gave us lots of ability to view the wildlife and go everywhere in the park.

    Zebra is the favorite meal for the lions

    My photos tell the story of all the incredible creatures we encountered – but only to a point.  It’s hard to describe the thrill of moment and how sudden and spontaneous and unplanned it all can be.  So often it would just take your breath away.  Let me tell you about a few of my favorite moments;

    Our first early morning drive we set out with Seven feeling confident we would find lions.  We had been out for about two hours and with his “African Eyes” he spotted the three “boys” he knew were often in the area.  These lions cubs were about five months old, still young and cub-like but looking full-grown.  We watched them from a distance of about 200 yards trot and gallop purposefully across a field,

    Lion reunion

    ignoring all the animals they usually hunt in the area.  They were intent on one thing.  Mom.  She lay about 30 yards ahead of us on the road.  We positioned ourselves and watched in anticipation as the playful and loving reunion took place.  The boys happy to be back from whatever adventure they had been on – back with mommy.

    This same family we saw several times after that with the magnificent full-maned father (shown in the title photo) proudly watching over his pride.  We watched the mating process (in fact got it on video) and these animals truly seemed like a family.

    One of the five month old boys

    We saw many lions during the rest of our visit but other “cats” were elusive, until one afternoon.

    We were exploring several of the water holes in the car but hadn’t seen very many animals.  But we noticed that at one water hole the giraffes seemed a bit on alert, staring off into the brush.  We watched for a long time but nothing happened so just as we were rolling forward to turn around and leave I spotted a rhino coming out of the trees.  So Seven parked the car at an angle where I could get some good photos and we watched.  The rhino walked down to the water hole, but never drank – he turned and walked back to the woods.  This seemed curious and just then I noticed a lion alone on the other side of the waterhole.  “Seven there is a lion” I said.  He looked and nearly jumped for

    Hard to see from a distance but this is our leopard

    joy!  “That’s a leopard!” he nearly yelled.  “Oh my god a leopard and we are the only ones here at the watering hole!”  What a great moment that was.  The leopard, though too far to get a really good photo of, was so well camouflaged I couldn’t believe it.  He took his time drinking his fill and then quietly disappeared back into the brush.  Only then did the rhino return to enjoy his own cool drink.  A very rare sighting indeed.

    Spotting the endangered Black Rhino was one of my goals as this animal had eluded me when I was in Tanzania.  We actually saw many rhinos during our time in Etosha and they are huge, magnificent and very pre-historic looking creatures.  But two special moments stand out.

    As we were leaving the watering hole and chatting excitedly about our leopard encounter we came around a corner on the dusty gravel road and startled a lone

    The beautiful black Rhino at the watering hole after dark

    rhino very close to the road.  He didn’t like being surprised and he charged our car.  I’ll never forget the look on that gigantic creatures face as he lowered his head and charged, while Seven put the car in reverse and I fumbled to get my seatbelt on.  He snorted and stared us down but never actually hit the car.  Not an animal you want to mess with.  Seven told us because he had his head down and was feeding as we came around the corner we had frightened him.  Also, because of the poachers these intelligent animals have learned to be wary of vehicles and being snuck up on.

    Later that night Arne and I went to the watering hole near our lodge.  This hole is designed with night vision lighting that does not bother the animals, but allows people to view the animals from seats at a distance.  Every night we went to see what was happening at the watering hole, and on this special night a mama rhino arrived with a teeny little baby.

    Giraffe taking a sip

    Watching the two of them, never more than a few inches from each other, was a special sight.

    For as important as water is to all these animals, watching the effort it takes a giraffe to have a long cool drink is astonishing.  Giraffes cannot hold their head down for very long because it cuts off their blood flow.  It also puts them in a very vulnerable position to predators, so a giraffe takes a long time to consider its surrounding before finally spreading its long and skinny legs wide and dipping its camel-like face into the water.  What a strange and beautiful beast.

    Speaking of strange and beautiful, I have saved my favorite animal for last.  We saw every animal from Impala to Zebra, Ostrich to Wildebeast, Jackal to Hyena, Warthog to

    Ostrich

    Tortoise and hundreds of birds.  But my favorite always is the intelligent, magnificent, domestic and loving elephant.  And we saw so many and have many memorable moments:

    The elephant throws mud on itself in an effort to keep cool and keep off the insects.  This creates what is known either as a white elephant or a black elephant depending on the mud.  We watched as elephants sprayed the mud and played in the water.  We saw elephants nearly pure white amongst the green leaves, we saw

    My favorite photo of this bull at sunset

    white elephants as the sun set looking just like a white concrete statue.

    The younger male elephants (bachelors) roam together while the older males usually are associated with a matriarchal group, but don’t spend time together.  The matriarchal group is made up of females and babies and “teenagers”.  The male teens leave the group at about 15 years. The female elephants spend all their life together.  Once again the watering hole provided us a spectacular venue to witness

    Elephant parade

    these family ties.

    One evening we arrived at the watering hole to find two males – one much older than the other.  We watched as the younger male began vocalizing as the matriarchal group made its way out of the trees.  The older male took this as his cue to exit right, while the younger male greeted both vocally and physically each female as she came near the water hole.  The younger male, clearly part of this family, then left the females and youngsters to enjoy the water as he went on his way.

    Magnificent

    On another evening at the watering  hole we watched a small fox running across the sand directly towards a giant elephant drinking.  As the fox neared the feet of the elephant he reared up and sprayed water all over the fox – clearly showing who is the boss.  The poor little fox scampered away.

    The morning we were leaving the park, we had already checked out of our room and only gone about 100 yards down the road and Seven spotted elephants in the distance – with a brand

    Our final sighting. Perfect.

    new baby in tow.  We turned immediately around and headed back to the lodge and the watering hole where we watched for twenty minutes as this new mother, another small male and this itsy bitsy newborn, no more that two or three days old, drank.  The baby wanted to wallow around and the mama kept him near to her and out of the mud.  Seven told us this was a young female, younger than usually reproduce, probably about ten years old.  But she seemed to have a good maternal instinct and watching this

    A front row seat

    little group was a joyful and satisfying way to end our time in Etosha.

    This blog was long, but we had such a great experience in Etosha and in Namibia.  I hope you enjoyed reading about it.  I’ll be writing more soon, about the people and places of this unique country,  but in the meantime, the lion sleeps tonight.