Monday, April 6, 2020

Going Solo on Safari

dawn on chobe_1When I told friends I was going on the Ultimate Safari that would take me to Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, their first question was, “Are you going alone?”
Well, yes, but not exactly. I told them that I would join a group of 14 other travelers upon arriving in Johannesburg and that we would be sharing the 17-day adventure that would take us to four different bush camps in vast wildlife preserves.
Don’t you feel uncomfortable being single among a group of couples?
“Nope, not at all. I’m there to experience what can be a dangerous place safely, not to get a date.”
My tent house at Banoka Camp-Delta_1-webThe stats are out. Solo women are the largest travel demographic in the United States. Ladies are not willing to wait for a friend or a reluctant husband to be ready for the adventure their heart desires. They are making the leap on their own.
Whatever their status: widowed, divorced, married, or single, these women are smart, curious, and immensely interested in engaging with local people and cultures.
Overseas Adventure Travel is one of the first outfitters to dispense with the solo traveler supplement that oftentimes makes traveling alone prohibitive.
Forty percent of OAT travelers (up from 27 percent in 2010) are going solo. Of all the solos, 80 percent are women. On my trip were three other solo women: one married with a husband at home and two senior world travelers who had gone to Thailand with OAT in the past.
Land Rover with ellie-Tom SchwabWhile on game drives, we shared tiered seating in open-air land rovers. Traditionally, seating positions are rotated to give everyone a chance at the best viewing.
Everyone was open and eager to meet new friends and to share the day with them. I never felt a sense of exclusion or social unacceptance. In fact, I think the couples relished the opportunity for new conversation.
Table setting on sunset cruiseOur buffet meals were served on long dining tables that encouraged guests to circulate. Each meal provided the opportunity to get to know another guest.
“Sundowners,” as happy hours on the savannah are called, were another fun op for getting to know one another.
Actually, I had a much more stimulating social life on safari than I normally have at home. It was full of fun exchanges with fascinating people.
No, I didn’t feel the least bit alone or uncomfortable in this setting.
At the end of our journey I asked several of the women what they enjoyed the most from our trip.
Walking Leopard-Tom Schwab_1
Courtesy Tom Schwab
One seasoned traveler who had been to Africa seven times, said she loved boating up the Kafue River from our bush camp in Zambia to fish. She needed engagement and was not content to be a passenger. She came back to camp with a mess of tilapia and a big grin on her face.
She became my companion on the Elephant Back Safari offered at the Stanley Livingstone Wildlife Preserve. As we lumbered along on our giant mobile rocking chair behind four other elephants and a gun-toting guide, she kept saying, “This is Crazy.” I knew she was loving it.
Another woman, a retired school teacher, was moved at our visit to a school in Zimbabwe where the kids danced and sang a welcome song for us. We were given time to sit down and interact with them so they could practice their English on us.
Lions are what the married, solo female had come to Africa to see. Thank goodness we came upon a pride of fourteen in Chobe National Park or she would have gone home disappointed. Tracking a pride of five in the Okavango Delta was a highlight for me.
Ellie safari_1Riding shotgun while crashing through the brush on the hunt, reminded me of times with my father in Alaska. Finding a majestic male lion sleeping in tall grasses where he lazed away the day with his mate and their daughters after a night of hunting was an unforgettable thrill.
best mother ellie with twobabies_1All trip guests were wowed by the power and strength of the immense numbers of elephants we saw. Heading back to the comforts of our lodge, we rounded a bend to see a wall of about two hundred of them blocking our path. What a shocking mass to behold! After the initial flurry of snaps, we moved toward crossing the channel where they were drinking.
Wise Guy (our OAT guide) cautiously moved forward with his band of seven guests as our separate band of eight trundled behind in the second land rover. As we made our way, the elephants trumpeted, flapped their ears purposefully, and stamped their “big-boy feet,” threatening to T-bone us as we forged the river.
CUbaby ellie-Tom Schwab_1
Courtesy of Tom Schwab
Wise Guy stopped midstream leaving us facing an enormous matriarch who was furious because we were too close to her baby. Finally, he got us out of the way, and we surged forward as her blasting trumpet followed.
All hearts were pounding as we navigated the gauntlet of gray mountains furious with our intrusion. We left the normally docile creatures shuffling and snuffling the water feeling grateful to be alive.
Our last lunch in the wilds was at Masuma Pan, a watering hole frequented by a thirsty menagerie of animals. A parade of elephants sauntered in for a long draw at the trough, a dazzle of zebra grazed in the distance with a handsome male sable (antelope), a pod of hippo lollygagged in the water all snorting and blowing bubbles, while a rank of impala chuffed a warning sensing a cat in the neighborhood.
shatangi ladies_1A herd of kudus with two striking males, a platoon of baboons, a crocodile, and a trio of giraffes turned up late for the party. This was a fitting finale to the all the game drives we had enjoyed in our time in the bush.
It is customary on the last night of one’s stay at a given camp that hosts build a fire in the boma and invite guests to dance with them to beat of drums.
I would hate to have missed being inside the music and feeling the warm embrace of these lively, extending people with their bright smiles because I was afraid to leave home alone.
Linda Ballou says her mission is to experience as many beautiful places on our planet as she can, before they are no more. “Travel tales relating my experiences while kayaking, horseback riding, sailing, birding and hiking about the globe have appeared in numerous national magazines.
 I had a great deal of fun collecting travel stories, and profiles of people I have met in “naturally high places” for my book, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales, while my latest book, Lost Angel in Paradise is a collection of 32 of my favorite daytrips on the coast of California

For a complete bio as well as published on-line clips with photos go to my website focuses on my travel destinations. Follow my blog, or friend me on Facebook to keep up with my latest adventures.”

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Are There Too Many Elephants in the Room?

By Linda Ballou, NABBW’s Adventure Travel Associate
On my visit to South Africa in 2015, I was surprised to learn that there are too many elephants! With so many environmental groups fighting to prevent the poaching of these emblematic creatures for their ivory tusks, it was ironic to learn that as early as five years ago, the African parks were actually dealing with elephant over-population.  Then, an estimated 120,000 elephants roamed the vast, unfenced preserves of Botswana under the protection of armed, patrolling rangers. Today there are 130,000.
But that’s just the Botswana elephant population. Add in neighboring Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa and the African elephant headcount is estimated at  256,000, or more than half of the total estimated elephant population of Africa.
In response to the growing population Mokgweetsi Masisi, the President of Botswana, lifted the ban on hunting elephants set in place in 2014. Conservationists who have been working for years to find a better answer to the problem are infuriated.
Why Is the Growth of the African Elephant Population a Problem?
Example of an elephant-ravaged dead zone
Elephants graze about 18 hours a day, each taking in about 400 pounds of grasses that the kudu, impala, sable, and other wildlife need to survive. They eat the leaves of the Mopane tree that giraffes and other creatures rely upon.
Dead zones are left in their wake where they have eaten everything down to a nub and killed trees by debarking them with their tusks. This rate of unsustainable devastation will leave animals starving if something is not done to curb damage caused by the growing population of elephants clustered in Southern Africa.
Michael Masukule, leader of a community adjacent to Kruger National Park in South Africa, said, “They destroy our crops, occupy our drinking places, compete with our livestock for food, and are a danger to our people. Whatever decision you take, do not forget us people who encounter elephants every day.
Villagers live in fear of the pachyderms that plunder their crops at night leaving them without enough food for winter. Elephants have killed people living on the edge of and inside national parks when they’ve tried to stop them from eating everything in sight.
On the flight from Chobe, Botswana to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, we gazed upon a seemingly endless green carpet of Mopane forests pocked with the watering holes of thousands of resident elephants. It was hard to believe that there is not enough space to go around. But since 80 percent of Botswana is desert, the remaining 20 percent must be shared by vast herds of zebra, antelope, and elephants – and roughly 2.3 million humans.
Are There Any Viable Solutions to This Elephant Overpopulation?
Several solutions have been suggested, including:
  • Introducing birth control, which has proven to be both too expensive and impractical as the drug has to be re-injected every six months to be effective.
  • Culling the herds is talked about in whispers, but government officials are afraid that approach will alienate visitors and might even trigger economic sanctions from other countries who are not living with the elephants devastation, and do not understand the gravity of the situation.
Culling is particularly problematic because of the legendary intelligence and memory of the elephants. If they see humans killing off family members, they are likely to become aggressive and more dangerous to villagers and tourists alike. The entire family, including babies, would have to be killed at the same time to prevent this type of revenge. It’s not feasible.
  • Installing hives of African bees. There are, however, some smaller steps that can be taken to minimize the effects of elephants on local crops. Elephants are afraid of bees. The installation of hives of African bees at intervals surrounding a field have effectively deterred the elephants and given the villagers income from the honey they produce.
In 2002, researchers found that African elephants stay away from acacia trees with beehives. Later studies revealed that not only do the elephants run away from the sound of buzzing bees, they also emit low-frequency alarm calls to alert family members about the possible threat.
  • Planting a buffering crop of chilies. Just as they don’t like bees, elephants don’t like chilies. Capsaicin, the chemical in chilies that make them hot, is an irritant causing elephants to cough, sneeze, and eventually turn away from crops surrounded by a buffer of chilies. (For more details on this plan, refer to the 2014 BBC article by Shreya Dasgupta.)
  • KAZA – or migrating the elephants elsewhere. Other solutions considered are extending existing parks through more land acquisitions, moving more elephants from overpopulated to underpopulated parks, and opening corridors between parks to allow elephants to resume some of their old migration routes. Enter the Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area also known as KAZA TFCA – which opens up elephant migration routes crossing international borders.
This initiative of the governments of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe was formulated in 2012. It involves the land situated in the Okavango and Zambezi river basins where the borders of the five countries converge.
Sadly, implementing the good intentions of this agreement has proven to be difficult, as the elephants are not co-operating. They are remaining clustered in parks like Hwange in Zimbabwe where there are man-made watering holes able to sustain them throughout the dry season.
KAZA is a wonderful idea whose success will be determined in decades rather than years. This region is a very dry region with and has limited water resources. The elephant is a water-dependent species. Getting elephants to move (migrate) may very well be impossible as they follow the memories of the matriarch(s) who may have never learned a migratory pattern.
“Just because KAZA is implemented doesn’t mean the elephants can take advantage of it. They are at the mercy of the elements and their needs. Shutting down the man-made resources might stimulate elephant movement, but it will also cause tourism to suffer, one of the main reasons for the treaty being created,” according to Mat Dry, Safari Guide, author of This is Africa, and owner of TIA Safaris.
This article is not designed to diminish or minimize the efforts of conservationists fighting to prevent the slaughter of elephants in the Congo by militants who sell the ivory to purchase ammunitions, or in the Selous in Tanzania, a park that has been ravaged by poachers. That horrendous disregard for life must stop.
However, Africa is an enormous continent and what is true in the Congo and other parts of Africa is not the reality in other countries. Outsiders should understand that if culling becomes the only answer to this problem, it will not happen until all else fails.
But, again, this current situation is not sustainable for the other animals in the parks or for the humans living in and/or on the edge of the last great wild places in Africa.
Sadly, instead of ordering culling in a responsible, humane way by rangers, the elephants are to be shot by trophy hunters. Elephants are intelligent creatures with keen memories who protect members of their family.
This approach of killing a single adult member of a family will create angry, vengeful matriarchs, and rogue bulls that will likely terrorize villagers. When I was in Zimbabwe, I could hear the low rumble of the elephants grazing peacefully nearby our tent camp while we were sleeping.  A marauding elephant could easily destroy a wilderness camp. This is a dangerous response to a serious problem that could wreak havoc for the 2-billion tourist industry.
The restriction of flights to Africa to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is giving elephants a reprieve. Hunters can’t enter the country, but, according to a recent article by Antony Squazzin, “Seven hunting packages, of 10 elephants each, were available for auction. Only one (package) was not sold as no bidders met the reserve price of 2 million pula ($181,000),” said Adrian Rass, managing director of Auction It Ltd, of Botswana.
Hopefully, an answer to the elephant conundrum will appear by the time things get back to our “new normal.”
Note: Special thanks to photographer Tom Schwab for the wonderful elephant photos. 
This article first published on the National Association of Baby Boomer Women,
Editor: Anne Holmes, Boomer CEO
Linda Ballou is an adventure travel writer with a host of travel articles on her site You will also find information about her travel memoir, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales from Alaska to New Zealand, and Lost Angel in Paradise where she shares her  favorite  hikes and day trips on the coast of California.
Subscribe to her blog to receive updates on her books, travel destinations and events.

Friday, March 20, 2020

I love these Walking Guides

The best thing you can do for yourself now is Get Outdoors! Cicerone Press offers wonderful collection of walking guides for fantastic tracks around the globe.  I ordered Walking in The Cotswolds and in Walking in Cornwall in England as I hope one fine day to get back to the UK and take a much more up close and personal look. These books provide rich detail of the region, history, geology, and footpath difficulty. Informative, compact print with color images help the reader know what they are getting into.  Each of the books are written by locals with in depth knowledge of the nuances of the places they call home. They share specific instructions on how to get to the trailheads with detailed maps.  In addition, they give you information on the nearest transport, if it is wise to rent a car or to take public transport.  Suggestions for accommodations near the footpaths listed in the books are extremely helpful for the traveler.

With these pocket books that fit easily into my back pack, I feel confident to tackle hiking in the storybook footpaths of the Cotswolds, or the coastal cliff walks of Cornwall on my own. There is information about local guides if I arrive and feel uncertain. However, it looks like it will be a bit like following a buried treasure map with posted landmarks to my daily destination. It is recommended that you stay in a village close to many walking paths and explore a region in depth rather than rushing through all the walks  listed in the books trying to tick off as many as you can in a short time.
Go to the and select you next adventure. Planning your next trip can be as stimulating as the travel itself. If you live in one of the many countries listed in their catalogue you will learn new ways to get out and explore in your own back yard.

P.S. in the U.S. they cover The Grand Canyon, Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail 
For walks along the Coast of California check out my book Lost Angel in Paradise. 
For more about my articles and books go to

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Travel Tips for 2020

The ability to speed through immigration and customs after landing from an international flight without wasting time waiting in line is perhaps one of the greatest modern improvements to travel.” -- AFAR Magazine

Global Entry, long touted as the fastest way to skirt custom lines requires you to check in on a kiosk and charges an annual fee. The mobile passport app allows you to go directly to the exit door security officer, and it is free.  No more standing in a customs conga line for an hour after an exhausting flight. You should set up the app before leaving home to speed up the process when you re-enter the U.S. available on Google Play and in the Apple Store.

Jared Kamrowski, owner of, says that Google Flights is the best source for tracking down the cheapest airfares. Google is intent on making their app better than other third party sites like Expedia and You enter your desired dates of travel and destination, and you will receive alerts as to the best fares for your itinerary. When you decide to purchase, the site will deliver you directly to the airline.  You should always make your flight reservations directly with the airline without third party commissions and the most complete inventory of flight offerings. Download the app for the airline you use so that you get up to date notifications about flight or gate changes. Sign up on his site for more $$ saving tips.

P.S. Southwest Airlines does not participate in Google Flights. Their fairs are always low and that don’t charge baggage fees.

Tips from travel gurus at the  Los Angeles Adventure travel Show. Happy Travels in 2020
Adventure Travel Writer Linda Ballou

Sunday, March 8, 2020

March is Women's History Month.-I salute Ka'ahumanu.

Brave, athletic, strong, passionate, caring and centered in herself, I saw her as a forerunner of the modern woman. It was a tremendous gift to be given the opportunity to visit the cave where she was born. It took the entire crew of six members of the Hana Canoe Club to paddle me to her birthplace.  We pointed the tip of the outrigger into the oncoming waves that sloshed over the bow and paddled through the foaming surf to the protected shallow waters lapping at the lava rocks beneath  the cave where she was born. I climbed the jagged black lava to a path that led to a large opening with two indentations big enough to accommodate a human.  Her mother enjoyed a lovely view of Hana Bay and the green mountains floating on the horizon. Offerings of flowers were placed in front of the openings. Before leaving I floated in the waters at the foot of her cave considered to be healing by those who come here for sacred ceremonies.
Chiefess Ka’ahumanu

. While Ka’ahumanu was still a baby her parents fled from Hana to Hawai’i to the Big Island where they lived in royal comfort. Wai-nani,A Voice from old Hawai’i my historical novel (1750-1819) is inspired by the life of the precocious Chiefess Ka’ahumanu. To some she is remembered as the” loving mother of the people” and to others she is the “flaw that brought down the chiefdom.”

Written With Warm Aloha In the Name of Ka’ahumanu-Linda Ballou

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Suiting up for Great Barrier Reef

 Stinger Suits are required for snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. The stinger and box jellies don't normally come out this far (30 miles off shore)  but, better to be safe than dead, I always say.

Donning Stinger Suits for our day at GBR-Gail Betts Photo
Linda Goldman, Julie Zabilski, Ann Nielsen, Linda Ballou
The busy harbor in Cairns is where tourists board vessels for a day of snorkeling and diving on the reef. It was raining the February morning we left for the 30-mile cruise to our first snorkel stop, Simpsons Reef, but it cleared by the time we reached our destination. Stinger jellies are not this far from the shore, but we suited up in lycra stinger suits just in case some did not get the memo. Half of the 180 passengers on board were celebrating Chinese New Year. Amazingly, we were all fitted with masks and snorkels, and entered the 80-degree water with military precision. Those who didn’t snorkel took a submarine cruise with viewing windows.
Linda in the center of  Simpson Reef snorkel spot
Great Barrier Reef from Below

The reef’s coral heads look like giant pudgy brains in colors ranging from murky brown to emerald green and electric blue in an unending variety of shapes and sizes. Fishes of many colors flit in and out of the crannies and cubbyholes that afford protection from predators. The giant clam that can reach 400 pounds and the giant green turtles are a thrill to spot. I almost walked on water when I spied two 5-foot moray eels slithering through the reef near the ocean floor. The reef which is over 125 miles in length and has over 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands, is endangered. The temperature of the water has been getting warmer each year for the last four years. Climate change is causing acidification, and bleaching of the corals which means death to the reef jeopardizing all the marine creatures that depend upon it to survive.
Great Barrier Reef from Above

Linda Ballou is an adventure travel writer with a host of travel articles on her site You will also find information about her travel memoir, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales from Alaska to New Zealand, and Lost Angel in Paradise where she shares her  favorite  hikes and day trips on the coast of California.
Subscribe to her blog to receive updates on her books, travel destinations and events.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Desert Flower in the Red Center of OZ

Simpson Gorge in MacDonnel Range-Photo Gail Betts

 Alice Springs is a desert flower in the middle of the striking MacDonnell Range. Hundreds of cockatoos dive-bombed the trees by the welcoming pool and spa in our hotel. A refreshing dip under the full moon and dazzling desert sky took the kinks out of a busy travel day. Alice Springs is literally in the red center of Australia. The famous Larapinta Trail across the spine of the MacDonnel  Range  to Sleeping Woman Mountain that calls to trekkers from around the globe begins here.

 At Simpson Gorge, a billabong that has sustained aboriginal people for thousands of years, we learned about the ways of the tribes who call this land home from Lindsey, a local guide, who is also a wonderful artist. The history of the aboriginal people in Australia is a sad, dark affair. From the time of the early colonists the natives were considered savages and treated as sub-human.  But today, steps are being taken towards reconciliation.
Lindsey with Dr. Lorin Rice and wife Charlotte Derenne
Albert Namatjira was the first of the aboriginal artists to capture this world in watercolor landscapes. He became quite famous for his haunting Ghost Gum trees. So much so, that in 1957 he was the first aboriginal to be deemed human, not just fauna in the natural environment with no rights. He was granted restricted Australian citizenship, which allowed him to vote, own land, build a house and buy alcohol.
Albert Namatjira-Western Range

Adventure-travel writer, Linda Ballou’s mission is to get to as many beautiful places she can before they are gone! She shares a host of travel articles on her site, along with information about her travel  stories on 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Deep Dive Down Under

Uluru_Kata Tjuta National Park

Just in from the Ultimate Australian Walkabout with OverseasAdventure Travel.  We explored from Melbourne to Sydney with Alice Springs, Uluru and the Daintree Forest in between. Not to mention a day snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef and a dazzling night at the foot of Uluru. With so many micro-climates it is hard to choose a time to year to take this sort of overview trip, but January is summer down under and your best chance of good weather in all of these locals.

I am happy to report that I did not experience any smoke on the journey even though the bush fires were still raging in New South Wales. Australia is as big as the United States in land mass.  Even though the fires were horrific they did not impact the entire country.
Walk beside the Yarra River - Milbourne
The brunt of the fires was felt about 500 miles outside of Sydney. Still, because the fires were the largest in recent memory and were unable to be contained, there was much talk of going back to the controlled burns practiced for thousands of years by aboriginal people. At this writing the region is being flooded by torrential rains that have put out most of the bush fires.
Opera House Sydney Harbor

What an exhilarating run with a free time to explore between discoveries and talks by local guides. I have so much to share that I will be doing it in several articles, as well as, a spot on Around the World TV
180 Million Year Old Daintree Forest

Please stay with me to learn  more about a diverse land of extremes with vibrant cities, the oldest rain forest on earth, the largest coral reef on the planet and  generous and extending people who are very proud of their country.

Linda Ballou, shares a host of articles and information about her travel books on her site  You will find information about her novels and media offerings at

Subscribe to Linda’s blog to receive updates on books, and travel destinations and events.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Purgatory or Paradise

My mission is to get to as many beautiful places that I can before they are gone! It looks like the climate crisis is putting an even greater urgency on my quest than ever before. I have been working on getting to Australia for a while. Now, that I am booked with Overseas Adventure Travel on their Ultimate Australia tour the place is on fire. I don't know if I'm heading for purgatory or paradise! One thing for certain I'm going! I will give you a full report of what areas are being most heavily impacted and those that are not.
I am touring Tasmania on my own with Air B&B bookings around the Island state. My last stop will be the Blue Mountains which is a two hour train ride out of Sydney. Fires definitely have sullied the air there, but hopefully it will have cleared by the time I arrive in Feb. If so, it will be a great capper to an incredible journey.

Wish me luck! I am wishing you all the best of luck for fabulous New Year!

Linda Ballou, shares a host of articles and information about her travel books on her site  You will find information about her novels and media offerings at

Subscribe to Linda’s blog to receive updates on books, and travel destinations and events.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Kudos for The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon

Take a thrilling ride from the Grand Prix jumping circuit to the wilds of the John Muir Wilderness with Gemcie on her trail to self-discovery.

 In the story Gemcie is on her way to the World Cup when she is injured and has to give up professional riding. She determines to ride solo on the John Muir Trail in an attempt to sort out the confusion in her life. It was quite a leap of faith for me to publish this story.  Writing it was part of my own healing process when I had to give up riding do to my own injury.

 I am so pleased that The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon was a finalist in the Indie Excellence Awards and the Founder's Choice at the Equus Film Fest.  Cowgirl has received numerous 5-Star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads from horse lovers and general readers alike. Here are some of my favorite comments from readers

“Horses. Romance. Adventure - who could need anything more from a book?

“ I could smell the leather and sweat, feel the wind buffeting the flags at the shows, hear the whispers of the trees when Gemcie was out in the trail.”

“ Her writing is so descriptive that you feel you are in the saddle and experiencing everything Gemcie does. The words describing the amazing mountains makes you able to feel the wind and smell the rain.”

“Grand Pix has never been more intriguing! Linda Ballou creates a scenario of charismatic characters, beautiful surroundings, incredible inspiration, and horse adventure. “

The Cowgirl Jumped Over the Moon on   Audible and and

Linda Ballou is an adventure travel writer with a host of travel articles on her site, along with information about her travel memoir, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales; historical novel Wai-nani, A Voice from Old Hawai’i; as well as her novel The Cowgirl Jumped over the Moon

 Subscribe to my blog to receive updates on books, and travel destinations and events.