Friday@Flore… Africa

Today we are in the Kalahari desert, marveling at the intricate beading and treated skins worn by the nomadic San, once known as the bushmen. This remarkable community has thrived living in some of the most extreme, hostile land on earth. During our stay temperatures have gone from -7 in the morning, up to 27 by afternoon. Today, the San live a modern life style, and dress accordingly, but they are proud to share their traditions and knowledge with visitors, offering guided visits of the bush. These visits hlp them pass their quickly dying heritage on down to the younger generation, teaching us how to find water, build a fire, and dress.








Xarugke (pronounced Gah-rue-Ha) was our tracker in the central Kalahari. He’d sit at the front of our Land Cruiser, perched on a make-shift seat above the passenger side headlight, looking for tracks, and when he found something interesting, he’d hop down and start tracking, following winding lion prints through dense bush. He chose one afternoon to dress in his traditional springbok skin and share some of his culture with us.





Out on the Makgadikgadi salt pans thick woolen blankets protect against the frigid morning air, but they are quickly dropped as the sun rises.









Fashion is not a silly indulgence of the West. San women spend hours embroidering bright, cheerful beads in to their springbok skin outfits, and the men’s wildebeest tops. Steenbok is the preferred leather for the men’s handbags, and they are the only garment not decorated. Perhaps because they exist to tote around poison arrows to the hunt.





I even spotted a Loubou-shman fixing a lady’s antelope skin sandals while the others were digging for scorpion.















And jewelry has an important place, with gorgeous beaded pieces being worn around the head, wrists, fingers and ankles. Anything that can be adorned, without interfering with practical daily life, is made discretely colorful. Men get to wear a jaunty ostrich feather to complete the look.










Modern uniforms have become a status symbol that family members reserve for translators and guides, while their children get practical winter hats and wear sensible, western sneakers. It is nice to dress-up in one’s finest, but practicality rules the day, fashion be damned.

Days of Our Lions

I call it Bush TV: sitting around watching wild life happen. This week I tuned in, completely spellbound by Pata Pata and her pride, first spotted on a tiny peninsula in the Savuti channel, just off the Linyanti river, lying fast asleep with her sisters, children, nieces, nephews and one young cub, Motheleli.


They are grasping whatever warmth is left from the weak winter sun as it sets over the gold tinged veld.



A buffalo herd, several kilometers away, is on the move. They are out of sight but it is clear they are headed towards the pride as Pata Pata and the girls begin stir, noses in the air, sniffing out the arrival of every lions’ favorite treat and greatest enemy. Suddenly, they’re up, stretching and scratching and preparing to hit the road while Motheleli runs playful among the entire group, getting hugs and trying to avoid the swatting paws of annoyed, sleepy aunties.

“Ladies, it is time to hunt.” chides Pata Pata in a low growl.

They parade by, single file: all eleven of them, one after the other, eager the hunt.


As they pass the water’s edge Pata Pata stops with a sister for a quick drink and is spotted by Ali, an ambitious crocodile hungry for a taste of lioness.


Hippos look on as she slips silently into the water, knowing that Ali would loose the battle on land, but stands a chance if she can lure one of the girls into the slippery depths, if only the felines will stay close enough to the river’s edge the time it takes her to arrive…


Motheleli tries to keep up with the group, but her attention is drawn by an enticing stick, which she snatches and begins to toss around. Still in that awkward cub stage, she hits Pata Pata in the hind quarters, earning a quick cuff behind the ears, inadvertently saving her Mom’s life and depriving Ali of a feast fit of a king.

After the commercial break the entire pride is found pacing a wooden bridge.

Trapped!!! Buffalo herds stand menacingly at either end, digging in their hooves, hoping to disembowel a lion with their horns before the day is through. They have the time, it is only 6am. A Range Rover packed with popsice-lized tourists in dark green ponchos arrives, their cameras clicking away furiously in sports mode, unwittingly chasing off the herd at one end of the bridge and allowing for a quick leonine escape. Pata Pata & Co are back in the game.

Heading into the bush the hunters regroup and come up with a fresh new strategy.

“Hey, guys,” purrs Pula, “I know… you think teenagers are useless, but, like, I got this one, really. Like, really, I’m going to lead the chase on this one, ok?”

The lionesses agree reluctantly. They are painfully aware that his mane has started to grow in and he shall soon be forced to leave the pride to fend for himself until he is old enough to win a pride of his own.

“Ok, like, here’s the plan, you guys, like, hide in the bushes while I’ll, like, create some kinda really cool distraction, you know, to isolate a weak calf, and then, like, you circle in for the kill. But, ok, remember, me first, you promised!”

They return to the herd, stalking them the entire day, while remaining upwind to mask their carnivorous smell.

Pula waits patiently, carefully choosing his prey. The moment arrives and he is off, tearing through the bush, dust flying in his wake.

The herd is furious. They are tired of being treated like easy prey. Who does this puny little guy think he is, the King of Beasts? It is time to teach these cats a lesson. They charge back, egrets following in their wake, circling Pula, as Pata Pata and the girls look on helplessly, the stampeding hooves too dangerous to cross.


Pula runs for safety, heading up a termite mound that rises two meters above the ground, a solid tree trunk growing from its side. Buffalo can’t climb and their vicious horns can not reach him from this angle. He is safe; for now.


The girls are hungry and frustrated with their foolish brother. It is time to eat. They head off to find themselves an easy snack: impala. At last, some meat.  Satisfied, with bloody faces they return to Pula and tuck in for the night, staying close by their hapless brother as he plans his next move.

Stay tuned for the next episode…

This time for Africa


People who come to Paris regularly often refer to friends back home who are mystified by all the return visits, “What do you DO there?” they ask. I got a lot of the same about our return trips to Africa and I’ve never known how to reply. This time I took notes;

On an organized safari, your day follows the rhythm of the wildlife, starting at 5h30 with a wake-up call for your 6h breakfast, and perhaps the opportunity to watch a moonset.

A quick bite, and it is time to head for the Land Cruisers, where (in winter) ponchos and hot water bottles make the single digit temperatures bearable as you head off into the wild. On a typical morning, you may spot a pack of wild dogs hunting impala, or a lone hyena trotting along his merry way.

Then it is time for tea. Everyone down from the jeep for a stretch and biscuits are served with hot drinks, including Rooibos, aka bush tea. This is also the time for a “bush break”. If you are lucky, you will not find yourself like Mr French did, alone behind a thorny acacia bush, being stared down by a threatening herd of buffalo. At which point, your guide would firmly order something like, “Everyone back in the jeep. NOW!!!”

Then the radio cackles… “Copy, Bobby, copy, we’ve spotted a leopard by the waterhole.” And you are OFF with blinding speed to reach the leopard before it disappears into the veld. The jeep flies along, throwing you from side to side and you are filled with excitement with the thrill of the chase. Then it all comes to a screeching halt as the Land Cruiser gets stuck in a bog of mud. If you’re like Mr French, you’ll hate sitting there helpless, and get down from the jeep to collect palm fronds and elephant dung with the guide, who is a pro and has you back on the road moments later. You’re not worried, you know you’re going to arrive in time because Harrison Ford promised you’d see a leopard and your guide is singing ‘Don’t stop believing’. And you do, but only just and the cat really does disappear like magic as his spots blend in with the scenery.

Then it is back to the lodge for lunch, followed by “siesta” time. You may be tempted to shower now, as the sun hasrisen and temps have gone from -2°C to 24°. At the lodge, there is plenty of wildlife to watch, books to read, or blog posts to write.

15h30, it has been at least 2 hours since your last meal and lodges encourage constant grazing, so it is tea time, again. 16h… everyone back in the jeep. There are rumours of a lion sighting. The guide points out her paw prints in the road. Animals love to walk along the dirt road created by the Land Cruisers and the guides love to follow their tracks, it is a symbiotic relationship. From her tracks, and her path, it is clear the lioness is on the prowl. She must be very hungry to be hunting alone. This is the Okavanga, where the cars come with snorkels and you may get stuck again, maybe this time in a lake, near a hungry lion. Even Mr French would not be allowed out of the jeep. And the guide will have to get out to jack up the vehicle by himself. It may occur to him that chauffeuring a bunch of tourists around the wild is a pain in the ass. Which gets him to thinking about this part of his anatomy, and wondering if someone is watching it, someone like a crocodile, so in the end, you do get to help out and use your binoculars to keep an eye out for crocodiles.

5 minutes to an hour later, you’re back on track looking for lions, but all you find are the left overs from their dinner. The sun is heavy on the horizon, which can only mean one thing; Sundowner, aka an apéro, as the sky turns a brilliant pink. It gets dark quickly, so everyone clamours back into the Land Cruiser and you head for the lodge, using a hand held flood light to spot nocturnal animals, like ground squirrels, spring hare, African Wild Cats, and owls.

At the lodge there is often a roaring fire. They are concerned about you because it has been at least an hour since your last snack and they ply you with treats and cocktails.

Gin & Tonic (G&T for those in the know) is the traditional safari drink, which is not at all random. Tonic has quinine in it and quinine fights malaria. The earliest colonialists were completely unaware of the medicinal benefits of tonic, so only the serious alcoholics who were downing lots of tonic with their gin, thrived in malarial zones.

Dinner is served early by Paris standards and invariably based on a western diet. If you’re hoping for traditional cuisine, like beef stew with pumpkin or a roaring South African brai, this is not the place, although there maybe a slice of kudu or Okavanga bream and the food is excellent, regardless of the recipe.

The day began before the sun was up, so it is not long after dinner before you’re ready to head for bed. The lodges don’t like to have guests prowling around on their own after sundown so you have to ask for an escort, even Indiana Jones had to be escorted to his room by a local guide!

And there, you fall asleep dreamily under the African sky…

Air so pure, you can see the earth's shadow at sunset....

Africa… absolutely improbable

This time for Africa



Two years ago I was sitting with my friend, Marie-Louise planning a holiday. Smart AND and beautiful, with impeccable taste, the owner of Tselana Travel is one of the most exquisite Parisiennes I know and on that day she had an even more spectacular glow. I asked what was up. Was she pregnant? Did she have a secret?

Non, I have just returned from an absolutely breath-taking place, the Makgadikgadi salt pans. We spent a night out on the pan in the middle of nowhere. It was indescribably magical.”

“BING” at that moment I became a bit more French; I started planning our next vacation before we’d even settled on an itinerary for this one… so many vacation days, so little time.

The Makgadikgadi pan is the size of Switzerland but it is in Botswana. Marie-Louise’s rave reviews are one of the reasons we came here. My love of Africa, Mr French’s passion for the desert, and The No1 Ladies Detective Agency are some of the other reasons.

Our canopy bed, on the deck

Our trip began in the Okavanga Delta, considered to be one of the largest oasis in this world with about 11 cubic kilometers of water per year (its alot of water). One of the unique things about this area is that it floods during the dry season, thanks to a flowing river in Angola that takes its time getting to the region, and this makes for spectacular wildlife viewing and  bird nerd heaven.

A star soaked bath


While in the Okavanga we stayed (with Harrison Ford) at Sanctuary Baines Camp which, in addition to being a very nice place in the middle of the all the action, has some fantastic features. Like the Living with Elephants project, Land Cruisers with snorkels, a canopy bed on wheels that they can roll out on to your private deck if you want to sleep under the stars, or the opportunity to have the bath of a life time under the Africa sky.

We then went to Linyanti, a Delta river, crossed by the Savuti channel that was dry for decades and has recently replenished, creating an absolute paradise for all living things. Including some of the last African Wild dogs on earth and a really adventurous pride of lions that added some fantastic drama to our trip. Our lodge there was Duma Tau, run by the über professional team of Wilderness Safaris. So professional, that we barely noticed when we changed lodges during our stay.


We went out for one of the most remarkable game drives of our lives (a boat ride through the channel, 100’s of elephants, getting charged by an angry hippo and watching a large family of giraffe as they watched us before fleeing single file into a field for a better view) and came back to pristine new lodgings. The original site had been lovely; thatched roofs over green canvas walls with plenty of wood logs. There’d been elephants munching away at branches just an arm’s reach from the dining room, but the new site, with regal white tents, polished wood and gleaming copper, is gorgeous and it won’t belong before the elephants move the 1.5 kilometers up the river for a little human companionship.

a rare to see Wild Dog hunt... even rarer to see the impala get away

After all the running water, it was time for the desert landscape of the Central Kalahari, where we were welcomed by Yaccoub (sp?) and his bushman friend Xaruge (pronounced Gar-U-Hah) at his family’s private lodge. Deception Valley Lodge is about 70 kilometers from where Mark and Delia Owens set up camp before writing about their adoptive family of lions in the fantastic book, Cry of the Kalahari, another reason we were in Botswana, and it provides a unique opportunity to learn about life in Botswana for people like you or me. With a resident porcupine, and Zazu-like hornbill, it was enthralling to sit watching the water hole as giraffe, zebra and a whole range of antelope, including the largest in Africa, the terribly shy eland, came to drink. It was not unusual to come across Kalahari lions during our game drives and it was here, that at last,  Harrison’s prediction came true and I saw a leopard…

Finally, it was time for our inspiration… the salt pans. Owned by aventurier extraordinaire, Ralph Bousfield, San Camp is a particularly special place with a luxuriously simple design, that had us confusing R Bousfield with R Lauren. We were very fortunate that Ralph’s mother Nicky, whose family has been in Africa for over 100 years, was there for a part of our stay, regaling us with stories from her grandfather’s day, about tracking with the bushmen and the countless adventures she shared with her husband, Jack.

A rare, open air museum

Neighbouring Jack’s Camp has Botswana’s third museum, with a rich open-air collection of skulls and body parts that spills over to San Camp. The Makgadikgadi salt pans are low on large wild life during the dry season; only a few elephant, spring hare, aardwolf, jackal and signs of lion were about. But we weren’t in town for the wild life.

No electricity here...


We were in town for a cultural exchange with the San (bushmen), a visit with meerkats, and a whole lot of nothing in pans, where it is so silent, you can hear the blood flowing through your veins. Oh, and the stars. There is nothing more gorgeous than the desert sky and spending a night out there was an absolute dream. I didn’t even feel it when Mr French pinched me.

Africa… absolutely improbable




Okay, he didn't have great breathe, but he was still a great date!!!

Our first adventure is not left to chance. We’ll be having lunch with Jabu, Thembi and Morula, three orphaned elephants who have been adopted by Doug and Sandi Groves of Living with Elephants. Along for the morning are a hand full of other tourists, two handlers and July, a guide with a gun. A gun that shoots live rounds.
“Funny,” comments Mr French, “they didn’t need live rounds when we were stalking rhino in Namibia, this is a tad disconcerting.”
“Just in case any wild animals come around.” He assures us. We were happy to learn that Doug and Sandi recommend nothing stronger than pepper spray. Elephants hate chili peppers.

Nice girl, but she's got a slimey trunk!

Our hosts introduce their adoptive children. We walk with them and learn all about the majestic beast; they show us their teeth, lie down for us, spread their ears, steal our hats and give great hugs, we touch their skin, tickle their tummies, and weigh their trunks.

Doug and Sandi share their adventures, living with three very grown UP ‘children’ has given them a wealth of stories to tell. I am amazed to hear about the time Doug lost their son, Jabu. One day he left his nine year old son alone with his two sisters in front of the house, popping inside for 2 minutes to grab the young elephant’s medication. When he returned, Jabu was gone!!!

Can you imagine coming home, “Hi honey, I’ve lost our elephant”??? They hired trackers, enlisted pilots, rented a helicopter. No one could find Jabu. One week turned to two, then three. Finally, five weeks later, when all hope was lost, someone came knocking at their tent. They had found Jabu, an amazing 50 meters from the camp. Sandi has tried asking Jabu what he was up to all that time. She suspects a little hanky-panky with a breeding herd, but he refuses to kiss and tell. In Doug’s defense, with all the trees and shrubs, you’d be surprised at how hard it can be to spot an elephant in the bush… that elephant who blocked our ride from the airstrip? He’d been just a few feet away before we spotted him.

Over lunch we talk about the future of the African elephant. The Batswana (Not a typo. One person from Botswana is a Motswana, two people from Botswana are Batswana) guides we’ve met are very concerned about the current elephant population in their country. Elephants are not stupid animals, like humans they avoid gunfire, so they’ve taken to avoiding neighboring countries like Angola and Mozambique where civil warfare has led to many unintentionally dead elephants. Peaceful Botswana is a temptingly safe alternative, and since elephants don’t need passports 40% of Africa’s elephants now live in Botswana. Elephants destroy crops, but more disconcertingly, they destroy tress, shaking them for nuts, debarking their trunks or upending them to devour the roots. Deforestation is a serious concern in this arid, sandy environment which will quickly turn to desert without trees.

The imperious Jabu

Today there are far too many elephants in far too small of an area with far too little resources. In an effort to control over-population, elephants have been donated to countries needing them, like Uganda and Tanzania and a lot of effort has been spent coaxing them back over the borders into the countries that are now fairly stable.

Birth control efforts have not yet been successful and culling just seems unthinkably heartless. Its a very difficult discussion and I particularly appreciated Doug and Sandi, candidly honest discussion on the subject.

After lunch our three hosts sing for us, giving a concert of traditional elephants calls, and an original sound invented by Jabu and then we each get a kiss. From an elephant!

Africa… Absolutely improbable


Friday@Flore… Africa

Well, folks, there is fashion here in Africa, too. It is winter in all of southern Africa, so hats are de rigeur for all Jo-berg fashionistas! As are warm, wool coats and the snazzy ankle boots that women around the world can’t seem to get enough of this year…








While in Africa, I spoke to the guides and asked their thoughts on safari fashion. Turns out, they MUST wear khakis, because that is what visitors expect, so it is considered unprofessional to wear jeans, or anything that is not standard-issue safari wear. This is NOT how they dress when out on their own. And this is not an evil corporate plot… the self-employed agree. Sunglasses are highly recommended. The gun, being modeled by our intrepid guide July, is optional and actively discouraged.








Packing for this trip I learned that safari fashion is a tricky affair, with a few key rules and regulations. You bag can not weigh more than 20 pounds, so you must pack light, but it is winter in southern Africa right not, so you must be prepared for the cold. They told us it would go as low as 10°c at night, but we’ve had temps as low as -7° since our arrival!?!

But despite the Antarctic chill, the sun shines brightly and hats are no longer just and accessory, they are a necessity. Scarves help, too, adding warming and protecting against any flying dust, or sand.








Then there are the colors. NO BLACK or dark blue. It attracts tsé tsé flies!!! Whites are discouraged because it may be mistaken for light by insects in the night. Oh, and the dirt. Since you’re packing light, you won’t be changing outfits every day. The lodges offer laundry services, but you’ll still be wearing things more than once, which makes earth-tones the best option. Oh, and those laundry ladies are brutal on clothing, so packing fragile garments is at your own risk.

Of course, the fashion forward Europeans in our crowd simply could not give up their denim, or white t-shirts. Even in the wild, we need a touch of civilization!


It’s an Illusion

We leave Jo-berg for Maun, and are soon escorted to a tiny Cessna four seater with Louis, our South African born 20-something, tatoo-decorated pilot in shorts. Below us stretches the Okavanga Delta; Mopane and palm trees adorn a landscape dotted with faery-castle termite hills and blue-ribbon rivers. We spot a herd of buffalo, two young elephant bulls splashing through a channel, flocks of white egret soaring below. We have arrived.

It takes us a bit longer than the anticipated hour to get to the lodge: an elephant created a traffic jam, blocking our way and insisting we return from where we’d come. You don’t argue with an elephant, you don’t even take the time to turn you Land Cruiser around, you just put it in reverse and hit the gas!!!

At Sanctuary Baines lodge, we are greeted by a fabulous traditional African acapella choir and our hostess, Lara.

I follow Lara to the lounge and there sits Ally McBeal, smiling widely.
“Hello! How are you?”

I stumble over my awkward hiking boots and mumbled a pathetic “hi” back, sit down and start worrying that my doctor has given me the wrong anti-malarials, accidentally prescribing the ones that are known to cause hallucinations.

Lara is briefing us on our stay and I finally collect myself just as Mr. Ally McBeal, aka Harrison Ford enters the lounge. I am not hallucinating! They are here, on safari in the Okavanga Delta as part of his involvement with Conservation International.

That night, Calista and Harrison (this is a first name kind of place) join us around the campfire, acting like regular folk, talking about the animals they’d seen and the adventures they’d had, asking about our experiences and basically doing what everyone does around a post-game drive moment. They’ve seen 5 leopards since their arrival in Botswana. I mention that I have spent more than three months on safari and never had more than a brief glimpse at a leopard.

photo courtesy of Conservation International

“You’ll see leopard” Harrison states with Indiana Jones confidence. I think I am going to swoon. Indy, wearing his iconic glasses, but not the hat, sitting around the campfire, here with us in Africa.
Africa… absolutely improbable

It’s an Illusion

Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World

After ten hours divided between blissful sleep and scratching my (once sunburned, now peeling) back against the plane seat like a desperate bear, we are in Africa. Jo-berg, as it is called by those in the now. A sprawling metropolis founded after a gold strike at the turn of the last century, the skyscraper spiked downtown is something of a ghost town these days, as companies have all virtually moved out for ‘security’ reasons, leaving. behind a desolate no man’s land that few dare to visit.

Soweto housing

We asked about visiting Soweto, the township that played a key role in bringing an end to Apartheid. Like Jo-berg, there are security issues, so we were told we’d need a guide. We ended up with Les from SA Travels, a black South African who had grown up in the neighborhoods we’d be visiting. He gave us a fantastic history lesson of the place and its nearly 4 million residents. We saw middle class neighbors with charming, but heavily protected homes; bars on all the windows and high adobe fences. Below sprawl orderly cinder block housing and chaotic shanty towns where people are living as they have since first being forced into the townships, without electricity or running water, laundry driving on the line, addresses marked in spray paint, port-a-potties gathered in the quartier‘s square.

Live chickens instead of plastic shopping bags....

S Africa has a thing for guns...

There were carefree kids in their school uniforms playing in pristine new playgrounds while young girls walked pass, sacks of produce on their heads, chickens in hand. Adults busy on the roadside recovering discarded garbage, while doctors and nurses flowed in and out of Africa’s largest hospital. The facility specializes in plastic surgery thanks to scars left by gun shot wounds and wild animal attacks.

We explored the very educational Hector Peiterson Memorial, to learn the story of the 13 year old boy killed by South African police during a student protest. The photo of his body being carried by a fellow student is the image that finally got the world to act against a racist government. As we visited, our guide pointed out Hector’s sister from among the crowd. She was also in that historic photo and happened to be visiting that day. Proof that life goes on and grows, even from great tragedy. Thinking of young boys living here reminded me of Tsotsi, an excellent, but painful book that gives a good idea of what life was like for many in this part of the world.

After the memorial we visited the very simple, tiny little brick home that Nelson Mandela had shared with his wife Winnie, she still lives in a modest house just a block away, as does Desmond Tutu. Which is when we realized that two men once lived on the same, inconsequential street in a small, impoverished corner of the world and both rose to become Nobel Peace Prize winners, inspiring the world and bringing incredible good to all.

Africa… absolutely improbable

Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World

Dumela Mma !!!

Elephant trunk Okavanga

That’s Setswana for Bonjour, Madame…Bonjour, Monsieur from the heart of the Kalahari. It is breathtaking here (sometimes quite literally, what with charging elephants, treed lions and hunting wild dogs!!!)
I can’t wait to share it all, but oddly enough,,the local wild life has not invested a ton in online connections, so wifi is slow, or non-existant.
Looking forward to sharing our adventures…
Tsama jacente from Finding Noon

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