Thursday, April 23, 2020

Earthiest's Creed

In the words of Edward Abbey…I am not an atheist, I am an Earthiest!

Earthiests are people who literally need to plug into the planet to recharge. Whether sitting on a rock warmed by the sun,
or face planted down on the sand at the beach, standing on a mountain top arms spread with palms up to gather energy, or resting against a tree, I am gathering energy from the earth.

 Some people think nothing is happening when they are sitting still because their minds are too busy to feel anything. But, they are receiving nature’s gift just the same.  An earthiest consciously makes themselves more receptive to the bounty by quieting their minds and will not miss an opportunity to plug into the universal gas pump! 

 I have a host of travel articles on my new site dedicated to travel including my travel memoir, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales 

My  historical fantasy novel,Wai-nani, A Voice from Old Hawai’i and my latest action-adventure novel The Cowgirl Jumped over the Moon  are  

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

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.