Listening to the stories that my home tells me: Victoria Falls

Now in March/April 2020, the virus stopped me from being on the road. I am at home. After all, I am 65+…

My home tells me stories – I just have to listen: In my latest blog I have talked about the the Schefflera plant that reminds me of having climbed the Kilimanjaro with Ernst and the ebony wood bowls that remind me of the safaris in Tanzania.

Let me now talk about the story that this photo gallery in my guest room has to tell: In April/March 2008, Ernst and I visited the Victoria Falls, Botswana and Namibia.

This was a GORGEOUS journey.  I love to look at these photos. Let us start with the prolog and the Victoria Falls.


Prolog: Organizing the journey

Mid March 2008, Ernst has reserved flights to Africa: Frankfurt – Windhoek – Victoria Falls, then Maun – Windhoek, and Windhoek – Frankfurt. With a few leaflets from travel offices in his hands, Ernst mumbles: “Now we have the flights, would you be so  kind to fill the gaps?” Oh, yes, I will, wonderful!

I write to three travel offices in Botswana. Immediately, Susan from Phakawe answers. She offers a fly-in safari in Botswana and confirms that the lodges still have rooms available. I book her offer, pay on March 20th, but the money will only appear on her bank account in Botswana shortly before our departure on April 19th. The travel documents make it just in time. Susan cares for us sending various emails: “Take enough warm clothes, the nights are cold.” Or: “Do not take more than 20kgs of luggage, the bush airplanes are small.” Today, I do no longer find this excellent travel agency in the Internet. What a pity! The organization was perfect!

At Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, I book a luxury room (with partial view of the falls) in THE hotel, the Victoria Falls Hotel. We had debated, whether to go to Zimbabwe at all, as elections were going on, but a friend at work told me that usually the touristy area around the Victoria Falls remains quiet. He also recommended the Victoria Falls Hotel (he grew up Rhodesia).

In additon, I reserve a four wheel drive camper from Britz to tour through Namibia. Ernst buys a small Garmin and loads it with Tracks of Africa. He transfers all the tracks to a small laptop that I have acquired to make planning the routes easier and to write my diary. Now we are ready for our adventure.


Victoria Falls and the posh Victoria Falls Hotel

After a night flight on 19/20th April to Windhoek, then continuing to Maun and finally to Victoria Falls, we have our late afternoon tea in the posh Victoria Falls Hotel, built in 1904. I believe that I am daydreaming sitting under the colonial arcades, but it is true.

This is the view from the terrace to the falls and the railway bridge. As a matter of fact, there is no view of the falls as such. What we see, is just this spray rising and the railway bridge (built by the English in 1905).

The postcard showing the view of the falls from above makes it clear: The Zambesi – 1.7km large – falls into a ditch – about 100m deep. From the ditch, the river converges into a canyon that is crossed by the railway bridge. The Victoria Falls Hotel near the bridge gives the view of the spray, and this is, what they call “the view of the Victoria Falls”. This is somewhat unexpected for me, but nevertheless spectacular.

We have dinner at the Jungle Junction: The buffet with entries (antipasti, salad, soups, fish), main dishes (fish, meat, vegetables) and desserts is delicious.

The location of our hotel is very convenient: It is only a short foot-walk to the falls. After having paid the entry fee, we walk along the rim into the direction of the railway bridge.

It is all over wet from the spray – we put on our rain jackets… the locals are clever, they sell umbrellas at the entry gate (which we did not need, as we had our jackets).

Across the Devil Fall, 72 steps lead down into the ditch…

… where we can look at the falls from below.

The spray makes rainbows. Ernst and I start our (usual) discussion about what can be found at the point, where the rainbow touches the ground – is it a treasure chest (my idea) or a small bucket of gold (this is what Ernst has learnt from his mother) ;-)? The place seems to be so near… but we cannot check our hypotheses – too dangerous here.

After a siesta and some swimming in the hotel pool, we join the lions’ walk. We meet young lions (still dotted) that are raised to later move to a reservation area. We have mixed feelings about this tourist event.

At full moon, we enjoy the rich evening buffet at the Jungle Junction. We retreat to our luxury room with the “partial view of the falls” (the spray is partially hidden by a tree), enjoy the Belgian chocolate “Bettmümpfeli” (goodnight snack found on the pillow) and sleep well, looking forward to our safaris in Botswana and Namibia.

In the early morning, I take this last photo from the Victoria Falls spray sparkling in the rising sun.

After the rich breakfast buffet at the Jungle Junction, we are picked up by Wild Horizon. Our target today: Cross the border to Botswana and get to the Chobe River Front Lodge.


Some geological background information about the Victoria Falls

Brett Hilton-Barber and Lee R. Berger(2010) explain the geology behind the Victoria Falls. In a nutshell, this is, what I understood: There is a volcanic basalt layer here, about 300m thick, that cracked, when ancient Gondwanaland broke up. A series of giant cracks emerged – north-south and east-west. It is a grid of cracks. The cracks were filled with (softer) sediments. Later central Zimbabwe was lifted up and a large lake appeared. At that time, the Zambesi river flew into the Limpopo river system that has its source in nowadays Botswana. More tectonic movements lead the Zambesi river to change its flow to directly reach the Indian Ocean. The Zambesi now crossed the basalt area with the grid of cracks and created the first Victoria Falls at the end. By eroding the sediments, the falls wandered upstream forming five falls over time. The existing fall is the fifth fall, the authors say. After this fifth fall, the Zambesi zigzags through the system of gorges that it has carved into the grid of cracks. Thank you for this explanation.


Sources: Paula Hardy et alii, “Botswana & Namibia”, Lonely Planet 2007; Daniela Schetar et alii, “Namibia”, Reise Know-How, Markgröningen 2007; Duncan Butchart, “Wildlife of the Okavango, Struik Nature 2000; my own travel report, “Südwestafrika – Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia”.

Listening to the stories that my home tells me: Safari in Tanzania

Now in March/April 2020, the virus stopped me from being on the road. I am at home. After all, I am 65+…

My home tells me stories – I just have to listen: In my latest blog I have talked about the the Schefflera plant that reminds me of having climbed the Kilimanjaro with Ernst.

Let me continue with the Kilimanjaro tour of February 2006 that was topped off with two safaris. These bowls remind me of them. They are made from ebony wood. I often use them, when serving apéro snacks to guests. And I love to have guests – I hope that will be possible sometimes soon again.

Let me tell you about the first two Africa safaris I have experienced in my life.


After the ascent to the Kilimanjaro we recover visiting the Ngorongoro Crater and the Tarangire Park

These are the destinations we visited in Tanzania in February 2006: After having climbed the Kilimanjaro, we visit the Ngorongoro Crater and the Tarangire Park.

Source: Google Maps


Ngorongoro Crater – we sit in the cage (the safari car) and are surrounded by so many animals

The Ngorongoro Crater is a collapsed volcano in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The crater or caldera is at 1700m, 400-600m deep and 17×20 km large.

We stay at the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge at the rim of the crater and look north to the Lake Makat and to the Olmoti mountains, if I get that right from the guidebook we have bought.

The handsome and tall Maasai (about 50’000) share the Ngorongoro Conservation Area with the animals. The crater as such is reserved for the animals.

We enter the crater in our safari car. Our driver is called Jahaia.

When I notice the first zebras, I am so happy – my first wildlife experience! I want to take a photo… but Jahaia – he does everything for his guests – shakes his head: “I am not going to stop for a few zebras.” Hm, yes, he is right, we see many more zebras in the crater. We wonder, whether they are “white with black stripes” or “black with white stripes”. Jahaia solves the question: “Look, their noses are black, therefore zebras are black and have white stripes.” Okay, right, the noses are black, this is a way of looking at it.

Very soon we reach a wildlife traffic jam (we are at the Lerai Forest now): About six safari cars have stopped and the binoculars of the tourists are directed towards some dead wood under the trees. I hear that a rhino is resting in the dead wood. “Yes, there it is, I can see it!” voices say around me. Hm, I cannot see any rhino. But then a vivid monkey jumps into the dead wood and disturbs the “siesta” of the rhino. It stands up and leaves the dead wood. Angrily it drops a few large pieces of brown dung, paws them away and moves on majestically.

Our driver is happy to have shown this rhino to us… we will not see another rhino on our two safaris. At the time, about 15 black rhinos  (Spitzmaulnashörner) still live in the crater (in 1965 there were about 100 of them). The rhinos are being protected carefully and my guidebook warns: “do not disturb rhinos… You can be fined… for doing so” (p. 37). Well – I asume, the cheeky monkey will not be fined and we are happy that it has disturbed “our” rhino.

We continue our tour and see gnus that graze not far away from two lions resting in the shade.

One female lion is desperately looking for shade and finds it under the car of our friends.

The buffalo looks frightening with these huge horns.

The warthogs love the mud – they have a special charm.

The marabou stork belongs to the family of storks (as the English name indicates). It looks peculiar to us with its short legs, the compact body, the huge pink sac and the bold head. It is a scavenger that lives from dead animals.

Wildlife is abundant in the crater; Elephants, hippos (at the hippo pool), various kinds of antelopes and gazelles, a gepard and a variety of birds such as eagles, vultures, flamingos, ducks, geese, storks, ibis, egrets, herons, kites (“Milane” in German), just no giraffes (too steep for them to get down to the crater). I have the feeling, I am in a zoo, whereby WE are in the cage and the animals walk around freely; they may look at us, strange creatures that humans are in those strange cages that safari cars are…

While taking a good-bye photo of the Ngorongoro crater, I am told by the more experienced Africa travellers that I should not expect to always see that many animals in Africa.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is part of an ecosystem of crater highlands at the border of the Serengeti National Park which reminds me of Bernhard and Michael Grzimek and their film “Die Serengeti darf nicht sterben” (Serengeti shall not die, 1959). The Grzimeks and their films were very present, when I was a child. Yes, I agree, the Serengeti shall not die. The Ngorongoro Crater is has been an overwhelming experience (see my post scriptum about the Grzimeks and their successors).


Tarangire National Park

The Tarangire National Park stretches along the river Tarangire. We live in luxurious tents with a sleeping room, a bath room and an outside sitting area bordering the river. Our tent has just a small problem: The zippers of the “doors” to the bathroom and to the sitting area do not glide well – they always get stuck. Ernst, my engineer, gives his best to open and close them (he is so kind to take over this task, because it needs a lot of patience which is not exactly one of my strengths). On the last day, even Ernst can no longer open the zipper and we crawl out of the tent. Nevertheless it is wonderful to fall asleep in the tent with all the noise of the jungle around us and to wake up with all that noise in the morning. From the sitting area in front of our tent we can watch elephants and giraffes drink water in the river.

Though the animals are not as close to one another as in the Ngorongoro Crater, we see a lot of them: Lions,…

… elephants, …

… more elephants, …

… giraffes – this one keeps the overview -, …

… more giraffes, …

… and another giraffe waving its tail, …

… baboon monkeys, …

… and impala.

In addition Jahaia can show us a leopard sitting high up on the branch of a tree. And again we enjoy the rich bird life.

Near a large baobab we get out of the car. The baobab reminds me of Saint Exupéry: Le Petit Prince said that, on his small Asteroide 612, he would root out each of the Baobab germ buds carefully, as a large baobab tree would make his asteroide explode.

When leaving the Tarangire Park, we stop at a souvenir shop. This is where I buy the bowls for the snacks that I have included to start this blog about our safaris.


Chale Island – just relaxing 

We round off our tour to Africa by relaxing on Chale island in Nairobi. Looking up Chale Island in the internet, I find that it must have been refurbished since our staying there in 2006.

In 2006, the hotel offers tents and in addition two penthouses. After the experience with the zippers in the tent of the Tarangire Park, Ernst wants to stay in the penthouse. Okay for me, as he wants that so clearly. And we find a place like a fairy tale: A large living room, a large sleeping room with a canopy bed, a huge balcony and even a second floor with more beds. On the canopy bed there are three cushions, two normal ones and in the middle a pink cushion shaped like a heart. Wonderful. When going to sleep, we remove the heart shaped cushion in the middle, it is in the way…

For two days, our program now comprises activities such as eating, resting, reading, swimming, taking a mud-bath, drinking tea with our friends on the balcony of our penthouse – solving the problem of the 36 legs of dancing elephants and ostriches – how many elephants and how many ostriches? Solution: 6 elephants and 6 ostriches.

We walk along the coast line, where we can see that this island is a cliff that rose from the sea.

On Monday, 27th of February 2006 we return home. On our flight, we can see the Kilimanjaro from above. When we arrive in Zurich, we find Switzerland covered with snow – it is winter and it is cold at home.

Thank you, Hans-Ueli und Lise, for having invited us to join you and your family in Africa.


Post Scriptum: The pandemic may endanger financing the preservation of the Serengeti and other wildlife refugees in Africa

When thinking about father and son Grzimek and googling their film, I find “die Serengeti darf nicht sterben – die Erben“. It is about the Swiss Markus Borner that continued the project of the Grzimeks for the Zoogesellschaft Frankfurt, assisted by his son Felix. Markus Borner saw Grzimek at the television, when he was a child (as I did). Markus Borner then worked for the Serengeti for more than 30 years and retired in 2017. I am impressed by the film of the Borners, in particular, when they follow the migrating gnu herds in their plane. The Serengeti is an ecosystem, where one and a half million (!) Gnus migrate, as they follow water and food – and the predators follow them. Now climate change endangers this ecosystem. As the rain tracks are shifting, the animals looking for water are colliding with civilization – however, the Borners found ways to vaccinate the population and their animals against rabies that are a danger for the wild animals.

On top of the climate changes, the tourists do no longer come due to the virus and, I believe that endangers the financing of the indispensable infrastructure for the Serengeti and other wildlife refugees (just think of prohibiting poaching!)… I do hope, we will overcome this virus such that tourists return to the Serengeti. It is not only about us people and the economy… it is about much more that is in danger – it is our planet with the last ecologic reserves such as he Serengeti! We have to preserve the Serengeti and the wild life refugees of Africa for the next generations, following the Grzimeks and the Borners – both father and son.

Sources: Jeanette Hanby and David Bygott, “Ngorongoro Conservation Area”, A Kibuyu guidebook, Regal Press 2004; Mary Fitzpatrick, “Tanzania”, Lonely Planet 2002.

Listening to the stories that my home tells me: The Schefflera and the Kilimanjaro

Now in March/April 2020, the virus stopped me from being on the road. I am at home. After all, I am 65+ and I feel, this is required for solidarity.

My home tells me stories – I just have to listen: The furniture in my office is of my great grandfather – a teacher at the grammar school and the university of Basel. The dining table reminds me of my father’s mother – I called her “Omi”. All over are the paintings of my mother’s father – he was an artist and he made some beautiful portraits of his wife, my second grand-mother. There are woodcuts of my mother (being the daughter of an artist) and some souvenirs that she brought home from her journeys. The photo gallery in my guest room and the huge Schefflera plant allow me to travel to Africa with Ernst, my husband. And much more. My home is full of stories and I will now pick up some of them.


The Schefflera and the plush monkey in my living room tell about our ascent to the Kilimanjaro

Let me start with the story that this Schefflera…

… with the small plush monkey has to tell us.

On March 6th 2006, the Schefflera (Fingeraralie) was my birthday gift for Ernst, my husband. The monkey was one of the plush animals that I had played with as a child. I gave the Schefflera with the plush monkey to Ernst as a souvenir of the ascent to the Kilimanjaro that we had just completed, in February 2006. We had seen Schefflera plants there and we had also observed mantled guereza monkeys (Mantelaffe) wearing a white “coat” and a white tail tuft; they are vivid animals jumping from branch to branch and difficult to capture.

My (much used) brown plush monkey is a very, very rough approximation of the guereza monkeys, and Ernst liked my idea.

Now that Ernst has become a star guarding over me, the Schefflera in my living room still reminds me of our Kilimanjaro adventures in Tanzania.


How the idea of the Kilimanjaro came up

Ernst’s best friend had already climbed the Kilimanjaro 30 years ago, when he was almost 30 years old. Now soon about to complete 60 years, he wanted to go back, and he invited his family and close friends to join him. Ernst asked me, what I would think of climbing the Kilimanjaro. I was all for it! This mountain had been a dream of mine, since having listened to the song of Jean-Claude Pascal, “les neiges du Kilimanjaro” (I was a teenager then).


Yes, we made it to the Uhuru peak of the Kilimanjaro – on the so-called Coca-Cola trail

We made it to the top, the Uhuru peak, at 5895m. The whole group, about 15 participants. Here I am with Ernst. It was around 8:30 in the morning, and it was cold.


Walking up “pole, pole” is the secret for reaching the top across the vegetation zones

We have booked our tour with Aktivferien AG that hires local guides, porters and cooks to take us up. The local guides permanently warn us to advance “pole, pole” which means “slowly, slowly” in Kisuaheli. We were the slowest of all the groups, already, when leaving Marangu at 1800m.

We walk through the tropical rain forest first…

… and then reach the giant heather about half an hour before arriving at the Mandara hut. The  heather is covered by bearded lichen.

The heather plants are huge and I feel like Hänschen in the empire of the Blueberry Man – a book that I loved as a child (“Hänschen im Blaubeerenland”).

It is 900ms up from Marangu to the Manadara hut on 2700m (called after Mandara, a local chieftain in the late 19th century, known for being a tough warrior and for taking gifts from the early explorers of that time).

On the second day, we walk in the moorland above the tree level. Outstanding are Lobelia (deckenii) and Senecio (kilimanjaro or giant groundsel). This is the Senecio plant.

We reach the Horombo hut at 3650m altitude. This complex of huts was called “Petershütte” before, and yes, a distant ancestor of mine, Dr. Carl Peters, has founded the colony of Ostafrika/East Africa which is about Tansania today. I have mixed feelings about my ancestor, because I cannot not agree with his ruthless attitude towards the indigenous population.

We stay in the Horombo-Peters hut for two nights. To adapt to the altitude, we walk to the saddle separating the Kibo mountain from its “partner”, in the east, the Mawenzi, which is a volcano that is no longer active. Its name means “the dark mountain” in Kisuaheli.

We look at the path leading from the Kibo hut to the crater rim (Gillman’s point) which we will climb up in two days from now.

The way from the Horombo hut at 3650m to the Kibo hut at 4750m takes us through barren terrain and the water supply ends on the way. No water above this point. Our porters tank water here.

Our night in the Kibo hut is very short. We get up at eleven pm and at midnight, we start to walk up along the winded path to the crater rim, “pole, pole” – zig-zag, zig-zag, zig-zag – endlessly. At the beginning, we are overtaken by others, but then the other groups sit down more and more and we overtake them, pole – pole. The local guides take care of each of us, even carrying some of our rucksacks. They do a great job motivating us to continue. At 5200m we reach the Meyer’s cave, named after Hans Meyer who was the first to reach the top of the Kilimanjaro in 1889; he called the highest point after Emperor William II of Germany (it is now called Uhuru peak, uhuru=freedom). Hans Meyer picked a stone from the very top, brought it home to Germany and gave half of it to his emperor William II. The emperor integrated this stone in the decoration of Das Neue Palais in the Sansouci castle and park complex in Potsdam – here it is.

At about six o’clock, we have reached the crater rim, signposted “Gillman’s Point” (5685m). Less than 1000m ascent in six hours, this is my record in “slowness”. That WAS “pole, pole”. It is very cold. I use my red rain cape as a “tent” insulating me from the cold temperatures and warming me up. Then I hand the cape on. After a rest, we tackle the last 200m along the rim to the Uhuru peak, the highest point of the Kilimanjaro or Kibo.

At the top, we share the birthday cake – after all this ascent to the Kilimanjaro was the birthday wish of Ernst’s friend. It is around 8:30. About half an hour later, we start our descent. The idea is to get back to  “more human” altitudes as fast as possible. The couloir that we had zig-zagged up before is full of ash and we can glide down on it like on snow. From the Kibo hut, we continue our way down to the Horombo hut, where we stay overnight. The next day, we take an early start at six in the morning to walk down to Marangu, where we are invited to church in the early afternoon. Ernst sighed: “Nie han i so frie uffschtah miesse für z’Predigt z’go” – “Never have I had to get up so early to go to church.”

Marangu – Mandara hut – Horombo hut – Kibo hut – Uhuru peak – this was our route up to the Kilimanjaro, and because this seems to be the most comfortable route (with all the huts on the way), it is called Coca Cola trail. But – the altitude is nevertheless a challenge, and from the Kibo hut, we were the only group that made it to the top. The last ascent to the Uhuru peak IS demanding, also on this trail.


At the church – the safari service and the banquet

After having gotten up so early this morning to run down from the Horombo hut to Marangu, we make it in time to the church.

The church bell rings for us. The priest talks about the Israelites returning from Egypt to their homeland, just as we have safely returned from our tour (or safari) to the Kilimanjaro. After the service, we are invited to a delicious banquet with the highlight being a roasted goat. The Lutheran faith of the community shows that the Germans have evangelized Tanzania – the first missionary was Johannes Rebmann in the middle of the 19th century.


Good-bye guides, porters and cooks and good-bye Kilimanjaro, you are large mountain giving life, but also being a potential danger 

After our descent, we say good-bye to the guides, the porters and the cooks that have cared for us. Together, we sing the Kilimanjaro song:

” Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro, Kilimanjaro,
Kilimanjaro -mlima mrefu sana
Na Mawenzi, na Mawenzi, na Mawenzi,
na Mawenzi – mlima mrefu sana
Ewe nyoka – ewe nyoka, ewe nyoka,
ewe nyoka – mbona wanizungukaa
Wanizungukaa, wanizungukaa, wanizungukaa;
wanizungukaa – wataka kunila nyama”

The words say:

“Kilimanjaro…  is a very high mountain,
and Mawenzi… is a very high mountain.
You snake…, why do you surround me.
You want to eat my flesh”.

The people living around the Kilimanjaro are aware of the fact that this volcano is resting and could explode one day destroying all the life around it that now benefits from the fertile volcanic ground and the mountain as an obstacle in the landscape generating rain. It is very probable that a lava plug is lurking under the convexely shaped mountain.

On the next day, we drive to the Ngorongoro Crater. We look back to the Kilimanjaro with its white coat or “blanc manteau”, as Jean-Claude Pascal sung in the 1960-s.

Now our wild-life safari adventure starts; we will see animals such as zebras, gnus, elefants, giraffes, lions, antilopes, warthogs, marabus and even a rhinoceros.


Sources: P. Werner Lange, “Kilimandscharo – der weisse Berg Afrikas”, AS Verlag Zürich 2005; Henry Stedman, “Kilimanjaro – a trekking guide to Africa’s highest mountain”, Trailblazer Publications 2003.