Sunday Morning Coffee — September 11, 2022 — “…There’s A Damn Elephant On Our Porch!”

September 11, 2022 Travel 21 Comments

Sometimes you’re wrong; sometimes you’re right.

I was wrong to bet the Pittsburgh Pirates over 64 wins this season. They are terrible.

However, I was 100% right about returning to Africa.

Andi and I went to Southern Africa in 2016 for our 25th wedding anniversary. Impressed, we pledged to do it again in 2021 for our 30th. However, Covid had other ideas. But, once we thought the virus risk was minimized we quickly booked that 30th anniversary trip for our 31st which was the week before last. Same itinerary as the first time with hopes for a deeper appreciation of our surroundings and to see what we might have missed. And holy hyenas, did we get our monies worth.

Martin, one of our safari game guides, described his home continent as “Indescribable and unpredictable.” He’s been around long enough to know.

This journey was nine nights, a quick few hours to sleep in Johannesburg and then on to four safari camps of two nights each: one in Zambia and three in beautiful Botswana. One of the days we had meals in three different countries- breakfast in Zambia, lunch in Zimbabwe and dinner in Botswana. Other than a lot of food, there was also incessant immigration, passport control and vax authorizations over eight hours. Also, throw in Namibia which we touched while cruising on the Zambezi River watching elephants cross.

Just another day in the African bush: rhinos, elephants, a female baboon with her offspring and a very pregnant rhino. (All wildlife photos by Andi)

We saw the big five of the African bush: lions, Cape, now known as African buffalo, rhinos, hippos and leopards. Throw in cheetahs, elephants, hyenas, zebras, wildebeests, warthogs, monkeys, baboons, kudus, crocs, a few snakes and more birds of every color than in a Hartz Mountain catalogue. Oh, and then there were the impalas. Loads of impalas. More plentiful than hippies charging down the hill at Woodstock. The poor impalas, so many that they become easy prey for predators, earning their nickname as the “McDonald’s of the bush.”

We were an eclectic group of twelve on the tour. Andi and I were joined by Mike Labanowski, a friend of mine through our fantasy baseball. Labs’ wife decided she’d rather enjoy the comfort of their Tampa home without him; something I certainly understand, so he came solo. There was a retired former high powered DC lawyer and his 35 year-old-son. A couple from Philadelphia who take at least two exotic destination tours a year. The duo from Nashville on their first safari. The thirtysomethings from Cleveland: she a travel writer and photojournalist and he an emergency room doc. And a newly hired travel consultant from our tour company, Abercrombie and Kent (A&K) in Chicago, on a familiarization trip. One primary guide, native Botswanan Kebbe Arabang , accompanied us the entire trip and we were joined by resident guides in each camp. The quarters were impressive, stand-alone upscale tents, opening up to the plains with no limitations on how close the game can get to joining you for breakfast or a nap or as I found out in the middle of the night. We hopped from camp to camp on our tiny single-engine Mack Air charters, some seat eight or the 12 seat jumbo model. With a group of 13, including Kebbe, we always had two planes, landing on a dirt airstrips to get to our camps.

“Roy, I hear something outside,” Andi said with a stage whisper at 11:15 on night six. I was just entering much coveted deep sleep. “ Go the sleep, it’s just some critters outside,” I think I mumbled back. She wasn’t convinced.

She opens the drapes and yells, “OMG, there’s an elephant on our porch!” Well, that was an exaggeration as our porch was too small for a whole elephant, instead just its head and trunk were planted next to the lounge chairs.

Panicked, I jumped up. “Where’s the radio?” I got on the hand radio and called nighttime security. “This is cabin number four and there’s an elephant on our porch,” I yelled at the lady who answered it. “Calm down sir,” she told me. “It’s only grazing.” Grazing? Grazing for what, my kishkes? “You don’t understand,” my voice raised, “there’s a damn elephant on our porch.”

Peeking carefully through the curtains, damn it was elephant. Probably a juvenile, not fully grown, but enough to scare those kishkes out of me. Not really sure if it was male or female but I wasn’t checking. It was hungry and eating bark from the trees surrounding the tent. Leaving the porch, the big guy or gal went to the side of our cabin, trunk about two feet from our bedroom window. Andi talks to it. “Oh, what a sweet baby.” If that sweet baby wanted to put us on its trunk and flip us, we would have done heights the Flying Wallendas could only dream about. If that sweet baby wanted to charge, we would have been smashed quicker than a ‘72 Monte Carlo in a compactor. Finally, maybe five, ten minutes later it meandered off but not before leaving a huge sample behind on our walkway. We thought we had a unique story for breakfast. With only a dozen tents in camp, virtually everyone else had a nighttime visitor, too.

But that’s the way it goes on safari. People who never experienced it will say it’s a total exaggeration when you tell them how close you get to the wildlife. We were within ten yards of a male lion protecting a buffalo kill. Maybe fifteen yards from a family of cheetahs. Zebras are the jumpiest and tend to run when a Land Cruiser of six snapping lenses gets too close. Monkeys are the bravest. Labs had one jump on his backpack and try to unzip it as he was walking. And I thought with him tagging along that I was the one with the monkey on my back.

Six of our nights were in Botswana, our favorite place. It’s a country the size of Texas, with a population of 2.3 million, same as the Houston city limits. Most live in poverty. The government does provide healthcare, though substandard. There’s no retirement or pension unless you work for the government. Nevertheless, this is what the people know and can’t be any nicer or welcoming. The Okavango Delta stretches for thousands of miles populated exclusively by wildlife. We spent four days on drives through the Delta and you can be just about guaranteed never to see the same scenario twice.

Clockwise: Male lion casts a wary eye on other predators with false designs on his buffalo; a leopard feeding on an Impala; a female lion munching on a zebra before trying to drag it to the shade so her cubs can feast too.

What we didn’t see on our trip six years ago was a kill. It sounds gruesome but it’s part of the lifecycle in the bush. It controls population and is a means of nutrition and survival for the breeds declining in numbers. We didn’t see a kill this time either because most happen at night when predators can surprise their prey. What we did see however was three post-kill feasts. There was the male lion that took down a 1600 pound buffalo and savored the remains for three days while vultures and the nasty hyenas waited for him to move on so they could get the scraps. We went back two days in a row to see the progress. The lion remained guarded. All that was left on the carcass were ribs and Mr. Lion was feasting on that like all-you-can-eat night at Tony Roma’s. We saw a leopard with impala remains, the entire stomach was gone, and the leopard tried to carry the impala up a tree for safety from others that also might be hungry for McDonalds. And there was the pride of lions that killed a zebra. We watched mom and one of her cubs drag the zebra to a shady landing spot as the vultures unsuccessfully circled. Then there was the fascinating close encounter of a buffalo surrounded by four female lions looking for an attack opening. When the buffalo charged, the lions ran. Same thing that happens to the Lions on a typical NFL Sunday.

Clockwise: A typical, breathtaking Botswanan sundown. Notice the reflection of elephants from the water; a safari camp tent; the three of us celebrating a great trip and Andi leading the natives on the Botswanan dance floor.

Labs and I took a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. After seeing it a second time, I’m still wondering why. It’s water falling over rocks, like in centerfield at a Kansas City Royals home game. Big deal. The sunsets in Africa are breathtaking and that’s understated. Most times during dinners in the camps a picky eater can find something familiar on the daily custom menu. Then there were specialty dishes: Impala burgers, grilled kudu, fried worms and other local dishes. No thank you. At one of the lodges, on our registration forms, it had my second language listed as Yiddish. I have no idea how or why. Almost everyone in Africa speaks understandable English. The official language in Botswana is Setswana and despite me taking two college semesters, I was surprised what little recall I had. If only they spoke Yiddish.

Clockwise: Labs passes out baseball cards to kids in a Zambian village who display them with ear to ear grin; a typical outdoor kitchen in village homes; Andi helps the natives pump their well water.

Wildlife aside, one of the very touching mornings for me was visiting Nakatindi, a village in Zambia. The village has 5,000 residents and is as dirt poor as the dusty roads throughout. It’s supported in part by the philanthropic arm of A&K, teaching people trades they can use in the commercial Livingston, Zambia marketplace. The people, especially the kids, are as friendly to visitors as they can be. Most houses don’t have indoor plumbing. Water is pumped manually through a well into buckets. There’s a health clinic on the grounds with a doc flown in every Wednesday. Pregnancy is common with midwives delivering. One kid wanted to show me his house and kitchen, outside the main home, and I gave him a five dollar bill. It might as well have been a thousand. He grinned wide as could be and asked me for a hug. Labs on the other hand may have been the favorite American ever in Nakatindi. For a still unexplained reason, he brought with him a stack of his Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers fantasy camp baseball cards. He passed them to a group of kids who cherished them like the 1952 Mickey Mantle that sold the day before for $12.6 million. They held them tight, smiled, and followed Labs wherever he went. Then word got around the village and Labs was flooded by kids who wanted a card. Soon the supply was gone. The kids who didn’t get one had no idea the eBay value of what they didn’t have was just as great as the kids who got a Mike Labanowski card.

A phenomenal trip. Not sure we will ever get back but glad we got to experience twice one of the greatest places on earth. The only thing that could have been better was a full night’s sleep if there wasn’t a damn elephant on our porch.


  • Ken Rich says:

    My favorite blog/post by far. Andi, thank you for the wonderful photos, and Roy, thanks for the details. Great adventure.


  • Linda /Lifetime says:

    Enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks for sharing your experience and pictures. What an amazing adventure.

  • Dave Pokress says:

    Roy, great read. I was telling my girlfriend about your trip last night and how I’ve always wanted to go there since I was a young teen. I gave my girlfriend a new nickname last night after her reply. Nike. She looked at me and said”you’re retired. Just Do It.”

  • Roy Berger says:

    DP- don’t wait too long. It’s the trip of a lifetime especially with your lense. When Nike is ready, I have the itinerary for you.

  • Michael Lewis says:

    Roy, Great stuff as usual.

    I went on a safari in South Africa in 2006 and I thought it was a trip of a lifetime. But nothing like your adventure. Glad you returned in one piece LOL

  • Fran says:

    Loved reading about this adventure. Great pictures

  • Fred Porsche says:

    Thank you for sharing your trip stories and pictures. Very interesting.

  • Herb Shainker says:

    Roy, it’s a shame you didn’t get to play Safari golf. I didn’t know why I needed an armed caddy till I got to the first hole and I was swinging under a tree, when
    his rifle went off. A cougar was about to pounce. 2nd hole once again… Bang!!!! A snake in the deep rough. Third hole, my ball is at the edge of the water,
    when a crocodile grabs my club. I scream to my caddy “Use your rifle!!” He yells back “Sorry, it’s a par 3. You don’t get a shot here!!”

    An old joke…might be as bad as your Pirates!!!!

  • david moses says:

    Welcome back…you always paint a great picture but this was by far your best so far! Glad all three of you got back in one piece, even Labs.

  • Eric wilson says:

    Great story Roy, your prose is fantastic, also enjoyed your first story about the prior trip, but the “robot” minder wouldn’t’ let me in. Andi’s photos are wonderful.

  • herb greenberg says:

    Incredible trip, Roy. A certain person I travel with won’t do the small planes, so that’s not on our schedule. We had an Africa-light planned and booked a few years back, before Covid killed our plans. Did you have to get the Yellow Fever shot?

  • Roy Berger says:

    Yes, yellow fever, hepatitis and malaria pills though surprisingly half our group didn’t.

  • AMY VERAS says:

    Love all the pics; looks amazing my friend. Hope to see you soon. Welcome back.

  • Wally says:

    Glad y’all had another wonderful trip to Africa. Can’t wait to hear more stories and see more of Andi’s pictures!

  • Roy Abrams says:

    One incredible blog. Andi’s pictures are incredible.

  • Ralph says:

    Although I have only been to South Africa and safaris once I still shared the excitement of seeing the animals within an arms length
    Very well written thank you

  • Jerry Otelsberg says:

    Fabulous Roy. This trip is on our bucket list and we gotta do it soon. Can’t wait to see all of Andi’s pictures.

  • Karen Sandell-Stern says:

    Roy – we have also been on 2 different safaris, and they were amazing, probably my favorite trips ever. Everything you wrote is true, though I imagine there will be some non-believers! I DID try some of the exotic (for us) dishes, and have to admit that I very much enjoyed the grilled kudu. The grilled ostrich was just ok. But when in Rome….

    Your lovely descriptions brought me right back to Tanzania and Botswana, Zambia and Capetown. I love your writing style! Our second visit was during the Great Migration in the Serengeti- the sight of thousands of wildebeest crossing the plain was something I’ll never forget. We took a hot balloon ride at 4:30 am and realized the hundreds of large rocks in the water were actually hippos. Should’ve realized it from the smell!

    Thanks for a reminder of how travelling can broaden and enrich one’s life. My #1 bucket list destination is the Galapagos…hopefully, the third time will be a charm, as covid forced 2 postponements already. March 2023 will be our trip, come hell or high water! I’m expecting it to be a safari on the sea!

    Glad you’re home safely – thanks for the wonderful travelogue!

  • Marc G says:

    Awesome, the photos are only extra icing on the cake!

  • Lew Matusow says:

    Wow, a shot at a Monte Carlo, Labs and the Lions all in one blog, RB. You make have outdone yourself with this classic.

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