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African Solar Eclipse Expedition

June 21, 2001

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Our reason for visiting Africa was to see the total solar eclipse on June 21, 2001 at Chirundu, Zimbabwe, but as usual we spent more time seeing other natural phenomena and places of interest. This page portrays the highlights of our trip, and includes forty-six pictures that are viewed by clicking on the highlighted text.

Our travel experiences were divided into four main activities and locations; taking safaris in Botswana, seeing the sights at Victoria Falls and Livingstone, cruising on a houseboat on Lake Kariba, and viewing a solar eclipse at a farm north of Kariba.

As we motored by bus from the airport at Kasane, Botswana to the Mowana Safari Lodge on the Chobe river in Botswana, we had our first view of the savanna type landscape as depicted in the first photogragh at the top of this report. The season was winter, but nearly all trees and shrubs still had leaves. The grass in the savanna plains is green in summer, but was a nice yellow color during our winter visit. Approaching the Mowana Safari Lodge, we saw several small modern homes with solar panels on top of the roofs. We were told they were homes of the workers at the Lodge.

The reception and lobby area of the Mowana Safari Lodge was striking, and connected seamlessly to an inner garden, with a large baobab tree in the middle. We were to see many of these amazing trees, stark-looking in the winter since they sported no leaves. All our meals, buffet-style, were taken together with our group of about 100 members in a beautiful dining room overlooking the Chobe River. Our room was exceptional. We entered it from a serpentine veranda overlooking another colorful garden, and immediately were drawn to look out the French door and windows overlooking the Chobe River. Mosquito nets adorned our beds (did not have to use them)and elephants were the preferred decorative motif. The bathroom was especially well appointed with a gorgeous large sink made of pottery and an amazing array of little bottles including sunscreen and insect repellant!

Mowana Safari Lodge also had a small attractive pool area. Of course Tahleen got in the pool and swam a few laps, but it was a little cold. After all, we were there in their winter.

During the two days at the Mowana Safari Lodge we took three safaris, the first one early in the morning by safari jeeps (about 9 passengers to a jeep), and two by boat (about 20 passengers) on the Chobe river. We were lucky in that we saw many animals, unlucky that we never got to see a lion. Baboons, impalas, Cape buffalo, hippopotamus, warthogs, and elephants were all over the place, in some cases they seemed to be posing for us. We saw a few of the elusive kudu and puka, many birds, and a large lizard. Some of our group saw a lion or two when they went out in the jeeps in the afternoon. We saw a giraffe and several zebras at a later time in another country. The animals seemed unafraid of people, and we were impressed with how much more attractive they are in their natural habitat than in a zoo.

Sunday, June 17, after our morning boat safari, we traveled East towards Zimbabwe, more specifically to Victoria Falls. The border crossing was uneventful, unlike later border crossings. We could see the spray shooting up in front of us from the Victoria Falls while driving down the main street through the town to our hotel, the Kingdom Hotel. We arrived shortly after noon at the Kingdom Hotel, and walked past statues of tribal men and a wall of waterfalls in to the lobby. The Kingdom Hotel is probably the largest modern hotel in Victoria Falls. However, the oldest and most famous Hotel is the Victoria Falls Hotel next door to the Kingdom Hotel. On our last day at Victoria Falls, we had high tea on their terrace that has a beautiful view of the bridge crossing the Victoria Falls gorge.

We could hardly wait to get to visit the real Victoria Falls, but had to plan our few days there judiciously in order to fit in our desired activities. So, after getting installed in the hotel, there was still enough daylight remaining to take the tethered balloon ride. It is located just south and west of the Falls. We were on the balloon ride at about 3:30 PM, perfect time to see Victoria Falls with a huge rainbow arching all the way from the Devil's Cataract over the Main, Horseshoe and Rainbow Falls: a glorious, colorful display. There was also a good aerial view of our Hotel.

The next morning we took the Royal Tea Train Ride from Victoria Falls to the Town of Livingstone. You are probably familiar with the story of Stanley and Livingstone. Stanley was the reporter sent to search Africa for the missionary/explorer Dr. Livingstone. You know the famous saying when Stanley finally found Livingstone, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" The train is an old refurbished train made up of the engine, a lounge car and two dining cars. It leaves from the Edwardian-style Victoria Falls Railroad Station, and crosses the Zambezi border over the old Victoria Falls Bridge. We were treated to a view of the falls on our left and the gorge on our right as we entered into Zambia. The train chugs along several miles up past Livingstone and several primitive-looking African villages through a game preserve where we actually saw a giraffe. Children would run beside the train and wave or talk with us if the train stopped for a few minutes. After we talked with one of the runners and took his picture, we gave him a dollar even though he did not ask for money. On the way back we stopped at a Railroad Museum, filled with relics of the past. They served a nice lunch of sandwich and salad on our return crossing of the Zambezi border. The train stopped on the Bridge to let us out and see the Falls closer, toasting the view with champagne.

That afternoon we decided to hire a taxi to ride us up to the "Big Tree," a large 1,500 year old baobab. We also saw the Zambezi river before it plunges over the cliffs and into the chasms.

We were scheduled for an outdoor banquet that evening. So, in due time, off we went by bus to some place on the river. It was dark. The chefs were busy preparing the food. The tables were set outdoors with candles and lanterns for light. Each table had seating for 10, and we had an enjoyable time with fellow eclipse chasers. They served us soup, and we helped ourselves to the many course buffet, including kudu, ostrich, and who knows what else. We were also regaled with some "tribal dancing." Young men dressed in pseudo leopard skins and carrying sticks leapt about, sang, stomped, and "danced." We had seen the same group performing at several localities, and already had a picture of one of the dancers. The picture we took at the banquet did not have enough light to show the dancers adequately.

Finally, on the third day at Victoria Falls, we put on our ponchos and entered the Victoria Falls National Park. We walked the famous trail in the rain forest all along the top of the chasm on the opposite side from where the water of the Zambezi river plunges down over the cliffs. The falls extend more than a mile in length and are 355 feet high. They are named from west to east: Devil's Cataract, Main, Horseshoe, Rainbow and Eastern. The spray was incredible and often obscured the view of the actual falls, making it impossible to see down the full length of the gorge. We had to be patient and wait for the wind to move the spray around in order to see each section. Rainbows can be seen in the gorge as well as above the gorge as we had seen in the balloon ride. We walked all the way down to the Danger Point. This is where all that water is squeezed into this incredible gorge. To the right, spanning the gorge, was the Victoria Falls Bridge where we had crossed the day before, and from which the brave bungee jumpers were leaping toward the churning water.

The next day we said a sad goodbye to the Falls, and proceeded North, Northeast out of Zimbabwe and into Zambia to Kariba Lake by chartered bus. All day long we traversed savanna landscape and African outcroppings of village huts. Box lunches were provided, but for bathroom stops "women went to the right and men to the left" of the road in the bushes, a real safari adventure!

We arrived at Kariba Lake after dark, boarded the three houseboats, and entered our rooms through a curtained opening from the main hallway. Our room in the largest houseboats had a little bathroom with shower, two single beds, and three hooks on the wall. Fortunately, we had packed really light and managed fine. The outside "wall" was a railing and a canvas curtain. It was an adventure, and not too uncomfortable. Meals were on board, and we had two sunrise cruises. While cruising on the lake, we saw a fish farm and a small hotel in the harbor area.

To reach the eclipse site the morning of the 21st, we boarded the bus that brought us from Victoria Falls. The landscape was prettier, more hilly and colorful than what we had seen in the daylight coming through Zambia. This time we went North from Kariba up to Chirundu. We had been invited to a private "farm" and as soon as we arrived it was about time for setting up and lunch. Some people rested while others set up their equipment, and everyone was taking peeks at the sun as it became partially eclipsed. The eclipse started at 13:42, but totality was from 15:11:03 to 15:12:14. The day was radiant and cloudless. We actually saw three diamond rings at the beginning, a large one and two smaller ones at the same time and at the end one huge one!

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All in all, a most satisfying eclipse and worth all the effort of getting there!

Getting back home was another adventure, fraught with long waits everywhere, in line, on planes, etc. We got home (a good 36 hours from the time we left Kariba Airport to the time we got home) quite tired and beat! It will take a while to recover the six hours difference. But we have added another successful eclipse to our lexicon, the seventh one!

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Report by Robert and Tahleen Nabors