The 2018 Taiwan Lantern Festival

Every year in Taiwan, the first full moon of the Chinese New Year is celebrated with the extraordinary Lantern Festival. Learn about the 2018 Lantern Festival in Taiwan!

The Lantern Festival of Taiwan.
The Lantern Festival of Taiwan. Photograph courtesy of Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

Every year in Taiwan, the first full moon of the Chinese New Year is celebrated with the extraordinary Lantern Festival.

The Taiwan Tourism Bureau held the first Lantern Festival in 1990; it was designed to be an event to celebrate local folklore, and planned to coincide with the Ping Xi Sky Lantern festival and the Yanshuei Beehive Fireworks Festival.

The Lantern Festival has grown into an amazing national event in Taiwan. Originally held in the Chiang Chai-Shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, it now moves to a different part of the country each year. Counties all over Taiwan compete for the honor to host the Lantern Festival.

In 2018, the Year of the Dog, the Taiwan Lantern Festival will be celebrated from March 2 through March 11 in Chiayi County. Ten days of scheduled events will bring tourism, culture, art, and technology together in a series of shows that rival some of the most magnificent anywhere in the world.

Taiwan Lantern Festival
The Taiwan Lantern Festival. Photograph courtesy of Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

The Lantern Festival shows in Chiayi will be divided into “water,” “land,” and “air” zones.

The famous Sea of Clouds, along with sunrise, forest railways, and the Alishan cherry blossoms will be just of few of the themes depicted in the water zone. For those unfamiliar with Alishan and the Sea of Clouds this time lapse video below will give you a little glimpse into the extraordinary beauty of this phenomenon.

Each night, lantern shows focused on the “land” will be accompanied by professional dance performances, showcasing the history of Chiayi County while displaying traditional crafts created by local artists. Additionally, the “air” lantern shows will feature high-tech lanterns — made in innovative ways, showing new materials and techniques — creating something never before seen. This year’s Lantern Festival will be the very first technology inspired lantern festival. The combination of traditional culture and the artful incorporation of new technology will be central to the buzz about the 2018 Lantern Festival in Taiwan.

The Taiwan Lantern Festival.
The Taiwan Lantern Festival. Photograph courtesy of Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

Other Places to Celebrate the Lantern Festival

Ping Xi Sky Lantern Festival

Visitors can celebrate the Lantern Festival all over Taiwan, but about one hour’s drive from Taipei, there is a very special small village called Ping Xi that is famous for its sky lanterns.

Ping Xi stages a very special Sky Lantern Festival that coincides with the Lantern Festival. Sky lanterns were first used to send military information during the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-265) and are considered to be the ancient precursor to hot air balloons.

On this special night during the Lantern Festival, thousands of sky lanterns are released, dotting the night sky with the glowing wishes for family and friends. It’s no wonder that National Geographic’s editors selected a visit to see Ping Xi’s sky lanterns as one of their Top Ten Winter Trips.

Ping Xi Sky Lantern Festival
Ping Xi Sky Lantern Festival. Photograph courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

Tainan Yanshuei (Yanshui) Beehive Fireworks Festival

In 1885, at the height of a disastrous cholera epidemic, the panic-stricken citizens of Yanshuei prayed to Guan Di, the god of war to bring an end to the pestilence that was killing so many. And it was on the Lantern Evening General Zhou Cang paraded through the city, with Guan Di’s palanquin at the end of the entourage. The people of Yanshuei followed the palanquin, setting off firecrackers all along the way, continuing to wind their way through the city until dawn to show their devotion. The cholera broke, and the plague ended.

The tradition continues to this day, with palanquins parading around the city, symbolically armed. Thousands of citizens and visitors encircle the palanquins, walking with them, following them as they snake through the streets. There are small “gun walls” set up all over Yanshuei — they each hold thousands of rockets that are ignited at one time as a palanquin passes by — a massive bee-like sound that draws the crowds in excitement to “rush the beehive barricades.” The people of Yanshuei believe that this massive cleansing by fireworks washes away bad luck and helps improve fortune at the beginning of the new year.

Tainan Yanshuei (Yanshui) Beehive Fireworks Festival
Tainan Yanshuei (Yanshui) Beehive Fireworks Festival. Photograph courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

Bombing of Master Han Dan in Taitung City

On the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese New Year, Taitung City celebrates with the annual inspection tour of Master Han Dan, a God of Wealth and guardian of the celestial treasury. It is believed that in life, Han Dan was an actual person called Zhao Gong-ming. His annual inspection tour of the human world is an occasion for throngs of people to celebrate as they pray for the god’s blessing and for good fortune in the New Year.

Bombing of Master Han Dan in Taitung City
Bombing of Master Han Dan in Taitung City. Photograph courtesy of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

On the day of Han Dan’s inspection tour, gods from many temples in Taitung and surrounding towns join the God of Wealth in a great procession. All along the parade’s route, people make offerings of fruit and fresh flowers, and light strings of firecrackers to welcome Master Han Dan. The actual person who plays Han Dan wears only a mask, a scarf, and a pair of red shorts. He must stand calmly in the middle of an ongoing blaze of firecrackers all around him, protected by a single leafy tree branch.

Why to the people throw firecrackers at Han Dan? The most commonly accepted tale is that Master Han Dan is the god of hooligans — and as people throw firecrackers, Han Dan’s power grows and grows from the loudness of all of the explosions. A second, less popular story says that Han Dan dislikes the cold, so people who throw firecrackers keep the god warm, thus winning his blessing.

The 2018 Lantern Festival in Taiwan — an extraordinary time to visit this exciting country

Official poster of the 2018 Taiwan Lantern Festival.
Official poster of the 2018 Taiwan Lantern Festival.

For More information about visiting Taiwan, visit the link below:

Taiwan Tourism official website

Taiwan Lantern Festival website








This post was sponsored by Taiwan: the Heart of Asia.

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Postcards from Royal Clipper: Tall Ship Cruise, Windward and Grenadine Islands

Photographs from back-to-back cruises on the tall ship Royal Clipper to the Windward Islands and then to the Grenadines. What beautiful islands! I love this part of the Caribbean.

Photographs from back-to-back cruises on the tall ship Royal Clipper to the Windward Islands and then to the Grenadines. What beautiful islands! I love this part of the Caribbean.

If you like sailing, and are interested in reading more, you’ll find the full article here: Onboard the Royal Clipper.

Note: As always, I retain full rights to my photographs. Never use my images without my written permission.


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Hippo Highways: Day 2 of our Walking Safari

After a light breakfast and some coffee, we left for our second day of walking. Why do three women from Texas love Hippo Highways? Because in Africa, even flat isn’t flat!

Hippo in the Luangwa River Yawns
In the late afternoons, hippos yawn A LOT. After spending most of the day in the water, they’re having an oxygen deprivation issue. Photograph, Cat Gassiot.
Sausage tree on the banks of a lagoon in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia
A sausage tree on the banks of a lagoon. It won’t be long before this lagoon dries out. Photograph, Ann Fisher

The first night in Luangwa Bush Camp (LBC), a camp that moves location each evening, our tents had been on the banks of the Luangwa river.

After a light breakfast and some coffee, we left for our second day of walking. Before long, we were skirting a lagoon. In South Luangwa, these come and go with the rainy season — and this lagoon was ribboning down to a slender line of green.

By the time August comes around, it will be completely gone until the rains return. At this point though, we still needed the makeshift log bridge Braston had laid across at the beginning of the season.

Log bridge across a lagoon, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
Our guide, Braston, gives Carolyn a hand across the makeshift bridge. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Hippo Highways

All animals make tracks, and many create trails. On our three days of walking safari in the Luangwa Bush Camp with Robin Pope Safaris, we developed a special appreciation for hippos.

When you’re the third largest land mammal in the world, you don’t make trails. Trails are for sissies, um . . . antelope. Hippos — hippos make HIGHWAYS.

Why do three women from Texas love Hippo Highways? Because in Africa, even flat isn’t flat!

Uneven ground in Luangwa National Park caused by elephant tracks
The terrain can be challenging. Even “flat” ground is often heavily pockmarked with deep animal tracks, and you find yourself carefully picking your way through. Good hiking boots with ankle support are a MUST! Photograph, Ann Fisher.

We were not in a mountainous or even hilly part of the continent, but to assume that a flat savannah is indeed flat is to grossly underestimate what a herd of elephant or buffalo can do to a swathe of mud.

Once the rains finish for the season, the mud hardens into fields of deeply pockmarked concrete. Walking across these spaces requires constant concentration and balance.

But when you find a hippo highway through a field like the one above, they have pounded all that stuff flat. Yes, a living, breathing bulldozer of an animal weighing 3,000 to 9,000 pounds (1,360 – 4,082 kilograms) can pretty much flatten anything!

Hippo in a lagoon in South Luangwa National Park.
I may look funny, but I’m BIG, I’m BAD, and I’m just sayin’ — don’t be messing with hippos! Photograph, Cat Gassiot.
Show Us Some Respect! A Few Hippo Facts
Length: 10.8 to 16.5 feet (3.3 to 5 m)

Height: up to 5.2 feet (1.6 m) tall, from hooves to shoulders

Average female weighs 3,000 lbs (1,400 kg)

Males weigh 3,500 to 9,920 lbs. (1600-4,500 kg)

Lifespan: 40 to 50 years

They can remain underwater for up to 6 minutes at a time.

Speed: up to 19 mph (32 kph), on land

Razor sharp tusks

3rd largest mammal on the planet (Elephants & White Rhino are larger)

They live in social groups called “pods” or “bloats,” — average size of 15 hippos, with one dominant male.

In dry periods, pods may be forced to live right next to one another, in groups of up to 40 — causing a lot of fights between males.

They’re aggressive, considered to be the most dangerous animal in Africa. Hippos kill app. 2,900 humans each year.

Hippo highway from the Luangwa river up and over the steep bank.
Hippo highway from the Luangwa river up and over the steep bank. Hippo highways are perfect human trails for traversing steep banks of rivers and oxbow lakes. Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.

Hippos leave the rivers and lagoons each evening, traveling as far as five miles, and spend four to five hours grazing. As they do so, they forge massive trails to get over river banks.

They consume around 80 lbs. of vegetation overnight, which is not much, considering their body mass. Since they live sedentary lives, spending more than 16 hours each day standing in the water and sleeping on river banks, they can get by with this modest quantity.

Often they are far from the river, and because they hold their heads down when they walk, “seeing” their way home doesn’t really work. They mark their trails with droppings — and as an unusual hippo hallmark, they spread their poo out, making a strong scent signal that helps them find their way back to their lagoon or river quickly.

Nile Cabbage in South Luangwa National Park.
Braston shows us some Nile cabbage and other aquatic plants the hippos drag with them. One of the great parts of being on a walking safari is getting to touch and hold things like this. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

As they leave the lagoons, hippos often drag great clumps of Nile cabbages out, trailing their long roots along with them. We watched baboons, puku, and impala enjoying these leave-behinds several times.

Our Day

The early morning was sunny with a cloudless sky, and after leaving the lagoon and following a hippo highway across a field of elephant tracks, we found a troop of baboons underneath ebony trees, playing and feeding.

In the near distance, a small herd of elephants grazed on trees and shrubs. We stood and watched for some time. Two juvenile elephants were near the baboons, much closer to us than the family.

The baboons were occupied with baboon things — grooming, the young playing, the males staying alert for signs of predators. We were content to stay and watch for as long as we could — for as long as we remained downwind of the elephants. Sure enough, when the breeze shifted, and the adult females smelled us, one crossed the small field quickly, concerned for the youngsters. It was time for us to walk on.

Elephants and baboons South Luangwa National Park Zambia.
We stood and watched the baboons and the young elephants until the wind shifted — and the protective mother hurried to find out about the human smell. Photographs, Cat Gassiot
Luangwa Bush Camp Robin Pope Safaris
Our second location for our bush camp was in a grove of large mahogany trees. Here you’re looking toward the dining table and full bar in the background. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

By the time we arrived at our second camp in a grove of mahogany trees, the morning breeze had gone still, and it was warm — we’d had a sweaty end to the walk.

We tossed our day packs around the campaign table and had a look about the new camp.

I dug into the bar’s ice chest and came up with the perfect antidote to hot and sweaty: a Windhoek Lager beer. Cat and Carolyn settled in to visit and review the pictures, then Braston rejoined us after checking that everything was ship-shape with the new camp site.

It wasn’t long before Boniface was ready to serve lunch, which was outstanding as usual.

Windhoek Lager beer from Namibia
Windhoek beer from Namibia. Very good! Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.

After lunch comes siesta time, and my sister, my daughter and I quickly found that this was the best time of day for a shower. What does a shower look like on a walking safari with Robin Pope? Better than anything I’ve had camping!

The shower screen was sturdy and private, and on the ground was a raised platform covered with a bamboo mat so that you weren’t standing in mud. The shower came from an Igloo container attached to a rope and slung over a sturdy branch. The camp team brought heated water and filled the Igloo for each of us, and a great rain water shower head rigged under the Igloo let you control water. I’m SO spoiled now that I may never go back to camping on my own!

I took a long nap after my shower, and woke for afternoon tea ready for the second walk. Clouds had rolled in while we were sleeping, and the afternoon was breezy and cooler.

The afternoon walk took us first along an oxbow lake that was once the main channel of the Luangwa river. We found groups of bachelor hippos in the pockets of water that hadn’t yet disappeared. Our presence startled one of them, and he came charging up the bank and trotted swiftly away. It is startling to see how fast this guy moved!

Catherine got a still sequence of the hippo running, but I’ve chosen instead to show you a video from Johan Vermeulen of a hippo chase he caught a few years ago in South Luangwa National Park that gives you a better idea of how swift and dangerous a motivated hippo can be!

Leaving the oxbow behind, we turned and wove our way in and out of thickets along the high bank of the Luangwa river. We would disappear into trees and dense growth, only to pop out again in a clearing on the riverbank — like windows looking out onto the great river.

We met Isaac and the Range Rover a little way down the Luangwa for sundowners. The clouds had broken up a bit, enough to give us some sunset color reflected on the water . . . a lovely end to our day with cocktails and wine, the sounds of hippos calling, and the gradual fading of light. Braston regaled us with one of his many tales, which proved to rival Kipling’s Just So Stories.

The sun sets on our second evening in Luangwa Bush Camp with Robin Pope Safaris.
The sun sets on our second evening in Luangwa Bush Camp with Robin Pope Safaris. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Braston’s Story of How the Hippo Came to Live in the River

Once upon a time, hippos were covered in long fur and lived on the savannahs of Africa eating grass.

One day, there was a terrible fire. The hippos ran like the wind to escape, but they were caught. Before they could get away, the fire burned away all of their beautiful fur. They ran to the great river and were saved, but without their fur, their skin was delicate, and the fierce African sun scorched them painfully. They decided they would live in the river.

The crocodiles were displeased, and came to hippos saying, “Look, good animals, this will not work. We are happy that you were saved, but there are FAR to many of you, and you are very large. The food on the river — well, there just isn’t enough. We cannot have you eating our meat . . . we will ALL starve!”

And the hippos said, “No, crocodiles you are wrong. You see, we are vegetarians, and we only eat grass and plants. We can make this work — at night we will go ashore and feed, while the sun is down and our skins will not burn.”

The crocodiles eyed the hippos warily, not trusting that they wouldn’t eat all of their food. So the hippos said, “We have an idea, so that you will know we are telling the truth — whenever we go ashore, we will spread out our poo, and that way you can see that all we are eating is plants.”

And to this day, all hippos go ashore to graze, and they spread their poo along their hippo highways.

Hippo mother and child napping next to the Luangwa River.
Hippo mother and child napping next to the Luangwa River. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Elephant in South Luangwa National Park
In her hills and hollows, in her wrinkles, perhaps . . . there is the topography of the whole earth. African Elephant. Photograph, Ann Fisher

If you enjoyed this, head over to
Walking Safari, Day One:

We walked single-file out of the Camp Tena Tena just after dawn on a Sunday morning. There were six of us. In the lead, Chris carried the rifle, followed by Braston our guide. I came next, then my daughter, Catherine, my sister Carolyn, and finally Bishod, guide in training.

To walk the savannah, down, up and over empty oxbow lakes, and then step into the cool shade of a grove of ebony — it’s like that. You feel Africa close. [excerpt]


Walking Safari: Day One

We walked single-file out of the Camp Tena Tena just after dawn on a Sunday morning. There were six of us. In the lead, Chris carried the rifle, followed by Braston our guide. I came next, then my daughter, Catherine, my sister Carolyn, and finally Bishod, guide in training. To walk the savannah, down, up and over empty oxbow lakes, and then step into the cool shade of a grove of ebony — it’s like that. You feel Africa close.

Elephant in South Luangwa National Park
In her hills and hollows, in her wrinkles, perhaps . . . there is the topography of the whole earth. African Elephant. Photograph, Ann Fisher

We walked single-file out of the Camp Tena Tena just after dawn on a Sunday morning. There were six of us. In the lead, Chris carried the rifle, followed by Braston our guide. I came next, then my daughter, Catherine, my sister Carolyn, and finally Bishod, guide in training.

Imagine stretching out your hands and running them over the face of the elephant there, just there in the picture, above.

Feel the smooth tusks, and let your fingers run up across the wide variety of skin, craggy with wrinkles. Hear her breath, and let her ruffle your hair with her trunk. Smell the grassiness of the twigs and leaves she chews.

To walk the savannah, down, up and over empty oxbow lakes, and then step into the cool shade of a grove of ebony — it’s like that. You feel Africa close.

The word safari means an expedition to observe or hunt animals in their natural habitat. “Safari” entered the English language in 1869, from Swahili,  but was originally from the Arabic term safara, meaning to travel. To walk in the bush, to be with the animals on foot is the truest experience of the phrase, “to be on safari.”

We walked from 6:30 until about 10:45 in the morning, when we walked into Luangwa Bush Camp. This temporary, true camp rotates between four camp sites.

Luangwa Bush Camp walking safari Robin Pope Safaris
We stopped for a tea break each morning, and Bishod would prepare tea or coffee for all of us. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

We met our guide Braston at breakfast that morning, and he covered the basics: we walk single file, always single file, with Chris on the lead with the rifle. If there is anything, we hold still, maintain the line.

Was I afraid? That first morning, I admit that I was uncomfortable. I’d just met Braston, Chris, and Bishod, and here we were walking into the bush with them. The night before we’d seen a pride of lions.

We’d barely been walking twenty minutes when we surprised a hippo who then went crashing through the thicket, right past us, to get away. We all froze, just as instructed.

It was wonderful.

Hyena South Luangwa National Park Zambia
The hyena waits, listening, sifting the air for smells, for clues there may be a kill to find, to steal. Photograph, Ann Fisher
Crocodile feeds on hippo carcass
The day before we started our walking safari, I was looking at the geese with my camera when suddenly a crocodile lunged out of the water to feed on the hippo.

We walked around one of the many lagoons, this one where we’d seen  a croc feeding on a dead hippo the day before. The smell of decay was strong and sweet, the body still almost completely intact.

The hippo was too far out in the water for the lion and hyena to get to, and the crocs would not really be able to break into the carcass until decay advances further, softening the tissue.

Rounding the side of another lagoon, we spotted a hyena, walked along near the den — she trotted off, but stayed close. Hyena in different parts of Africa behave differently. In some places, hyenas hunt like other predators.

Hyena Poop
No, they aren’t ping pong balls — it’s hyena poop, white as snow from all the bones they eat. Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.

In South Luangwa, food is plentiful, and the hyena act as scavengers — and rarely take a kill themselves.

Part of a walking safari is tracking — learning about animals and spoor — and quite surprisingly for us, hyena poop is white! They consume so much calcium as they eat bone that the stuff stands out like it’s lit from within, it’s so bright.

Baby Giraffe South Luangwa National Park Zambia
When we first came upon the tower of giraffes, this baby sprinted towards the safety of its mom. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
a Tower of Giraffes
We settled in for tea, and the giraffes returned their focus to breakfasting on leaves. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

We spent thirty minutes or so watching a tower of giraffes — yes, learning the British collective words for animals, great fun! Braston suggested it was time to take a break and have some tea, and we found a spot very close to our long-necked friends. Morning tea and giraffes — what could be better?

Chris walked around several of the bushes in our immediate vicinity, checking to be sure everything was safe, and Braston designated one for our latrine needs. Yes, if you’re going to walk in the bush on a remote African safari, you’re going to poop in the bush, just like the hyena :-).

Crocodile tracks South Luangwa National Park Zambia
The arrows point out the drag line of the crocodile’s tail, the sweeping scratch marks of its claws, and the close-up shows the scale pattern in the tracks. Fascinating stuff!

Following tea, we spent close to another two hours walking, stopping to examine lion tracks, crocodile tracks — which consist of a tail dragging line and scaly foot prints, and porcupine tracks. Braston broke open aardvark dung to show the ant remains speckled inside of it. Our favorite animal path? The hippo highways — trails the hippos make in their nocturnal grazing forays into the bush, as they string necklaces of Nile cabbage out behind them.

Luangwa Bush Camp Tent, Robin Pope Safaris walking safari
Our first tent at Luangwa Bush Camp. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Around 10:30, we paused to watch a “business” of mongoose cross our trail before walking into our camp. After four hours out in the bush, it was lovely to walk to Luangwa Bush Camp (LBC) with everything set up and waiting for us. Braston showed us the layout — our tents, two pit latrines with comfy toilet seats, a bucket shower rig, and a full bar. All just for us. LBC maximum capacity is three tents, a total of six guests, but we had it all to ourselves.

Luangwa Bush Camp Robin Pope Safaris Walking Safari
Catherine reviews photographs — our view at this location? A large pod of hippos on the great Luangwa River. Alternate collective word for hippos: a “bloat” :-). Photographs, Ann Fisher.

Our wonderful young camp cook, Boniface, served lunch at 11:30 on a table looking out on the hippos, and afterwards it was time for siesta.

Catherine sacked out in our tent, finding the beds very comfy — mattresses on the floor of the tent, made up with soft cotton sheets and coverlet. I settled in one of the camp chairs to write and watch the hippo family, who had decided that the morning standing in the river had quite exhausted all of them. It was time for a pod-wide afternoon sunbath-nap combo.

I was working on an account of the day in my journal, when I was surprised to hear an extraordinarily loud snoring. I looked at the hippos, but then realized it was coming from behind me. It was Catherine!

Hippos nap on the river beach of the Luangwa
Siesta for all! The hippos snooze away the warm middle of the day. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Following our afternoon tea we walked back out of camp to explore further. Just before sunset, Isaac met us with the Range Rover at the agreed location near the lagoon. We watched the sun go down, and the lovely fingernail moon begin to show itself, and enjoyed our world of bird song and frogs, and the whooshing blow of a hippo surfacing. It was a good time to be quiet, enjoy our wine, and watch the evening come.

Sunset on a lagoon in South Luangwa National Park
Sunset on the lagoon – magical time. Photograph, Ann Fisher
Female Leopard Luangwa National Park Zambia
Beautiful female leopard on the hunt. Photograph, Cat Gassiot.

When we finally clambered up into the Rover, it was time for a bit of night game-driving. I remember saying to Carolyn, “the day has been perfect. It doesn’t make any difference to me if we see nothing at all.”

The day had one more gift for us, a female leopard on the hunt. We stayed with her only briefly.

We were tired and it was time for everyone to go their own way.

Our first day of the walking safari had been perfect, and we arrived back in camp to find it full of warm kerosene light, and Boniface with dinner nearly ready.

Dinner in Luangwa Bush Camp
Cat, Carolyn, and Braston talk about the day while we wait for dinner. Photograph, Ann Fisher

This is the second in a series of posts reviewing our safari in Zambia. We spent 12 days with Robin Pope Safaris: 8 days on game drives at Tena Tena, Nsefu, and Luangwa River camp.

Read the first installment of safari series here, Our African Safari in Zambia:


Our African Safari in Zambia

Male Leopard in South Luangwa National Park.
Male leopard in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. We spent more than an hour one morning with him and his mate. We were the only people there. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

So, you want to go on safari in Africa. But where?

To say that the continent is vast is a gross understatement. Africa holds more than 20 percent of the Earth’s total land mass. Only Asia outstrips it in size, at 30 percent. In comparison, North America is third, with 16 percent, while Europe is sixth, with just under 7 percent of the world’s land.

Kenya, the Serengeti, the Masai Mara, Mount Kilamanjaro, and Victoria Falls rate as some best-known parts of the continent, but it also makes them some of the most heavily traveled.

I knew one thing.

I did NOT want to spend the money to go to Africa and feel like I was on some domestic game drive in the United States.

ten vehicles and tourists follow a lion in Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania.
Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania. A herd of cars and tourists follow a lion. This is NOT WHAT I WANTED! Photograph from Shutterstock.

Choosing Zambia and Robin Pope Safaris

I was fortunate to know a couple who have traveled many, many times to multiple parts of Africa. Bob and Andrea both recommended we look at Robin Pope Safaris in Zambia for our first trip. I’d subscribed to Robin Pope’s It’s Monday Newsletter several years ago, and have been regularly entertained with their photographs and stories.

Getting our business wasn’t a slam dunk for Robin Pope though — whenever I go someplace new, I do a LOT of research.

Yellow baboon mother and baby near a lagoon, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.
Yellow baboon mother and baby spend the late afternoon with their troop near a lagoon. Photograph, Ann Fisher

When my sister and I started discussing this safari trip we did homework on Abercrombie and Kent, Tauck, Smithsonian Journeys, National Geographic travel, and several African safari operators, one of which was Robin Pope. We read about Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Zambia.

In the end, we chose to book with Robin Pope based on the kind of experience we wanted to have: high end, very small and personal groups, and the kinds of animals we were likely to see — and — for what we found to be competitive price, based on the level of service and accommodations.

If you are thinking about a safari, I’d recommend the same process. Do some reading, watch documentaries of different parts of Africa, make a list of animals that are must-sees for you, choose several potential countries that match your desires, and then dig into the range of tours that are out there. Decide on your budget and trip length. See what fits with your budget and your priorities — and as we all know, this is a very individual thing. Several of our camp hosts also recommended reading the web forum Safari Talk as a much better place to read safari reviews than Trip Advisor.

If you’re looking for the best safari companies in Africa, it’s not unusual that Americans look for either American or at least European tour companies, just out of a sense of comfort. The reality, though, is that you’re going to find the best safaris through local operators — and that’s what the big companies are doing. They put together experiences with local companies, repackage them, and charge you a higher price.

This blog article is the second post of a five part series on our experience on safari in Zambia, and I shall do my best to give you a complete overview of our trip. The first part of the series was Preparing for an African Safari.

Zambia is a landlocked country in southern Africa. Once a colony of the United Kingdom known as Northern Rhodesia, Zambia gained its independence in 1964. Image: Harve Pino, 123RF Stock Photos.

Our Safari Itinerary

Robin Pope  has a list of standard safari packages that should please a wide range of plans. You’ll find thirty-five different options that give lots of combinations — time in the South Luangwa National Park, visits to Victoria Falls, combination safari-beach getaways, and special focuses like honeymoon or family-oriented safaris. They put together a custom itinerary for us. We decided we wanted to stay in the South Luangwa National Park for our entire trip — to focus completely on maximum time with the animals there.

Our itinerary:

The RPS camps each have an outstanding video that will give you a very accurate view of the feel of that camp. You’ll find it on the right on each camp page — see the red arrow.

Our first camp — Tena Tena

Our first home in Zambia was Tena Tena, the flagship camp of the Robin Pope company. Roughly translated, it means “temporary home.”

We arrived around 7:00 p.m. from the small airport in Mfuwe, and were greeted  by our camp hostess, Shannon, with warm cloths to clean off the dust from the road. We stopped at our tents before heading to the bar for a drink and orientation. Of course, it was completely dark. June is winter in Zambia, and the sun goes down around 5:20. We saw our tent-rooms by lamp-light and then one of the night watchmen walked us over to the bar.

Your home at Tena Tena. Photo courtesy of Robin Pope.
Your home at Tena Tena. Photo courtesy of Robin Pope.

Daily Schedule:

  • 5:30 a.m. Wake up knock at your tent flap 🙂
  • 5:45 a.m. Breakfast
  • 6:15 – 6:30 – Leave for morning game drive
  • 8:30 – 8:45 – Stop for morning tea
  • 10:30 Arrive back in camp
  • 11:30 a.m. Lunch
  • Siesta
  • 3:30 p.m. Tea
  • 4:00 p.m. Afternoon game drive
  • Stop at a beautiful location, enjoy sundowners
  • Night game drive
  • Arrive back in camp in time to freshen up, normally 7:15 – 7:30, and go for a drink
  • 8:00 p.m. Dinner

Tena is on the banks of the Luangwa River in an area with multiple hippo pods — and man, do they talk!

When we first arrived, there were so many LOUD noises. We were exhausted from two days of traveling, it was dark, and we were constantly thinking, “what is that?!” and “What was THAT??” The night was full of hippo calls, and then came the lion later, not long after we’d gone to bed.

Hippo Vocalization – hit play!

Frog in the Tena Tena bathroom
This little frog shared our bathroom at Tena Tena. Photograph, Ann Fisher

After one day, we were used to it, and the sounds became a normal part of life, no longer alarming.

We loved our tented homes at Tena Tena. The bathrooms are outdoors, surrounded by a wall that varies in height, and covered by a draped mesh top. There is a lot of space between the tents, and the brush around you creates plenty of privacy. You will have a few bathroom visitors: tree frogs and a preying mantis came to see us.

There are only six tents, which means that the camp has a maximum capacity of 12 people. Small, private, and personal are all good words to describe Tena Tena.

Bathrooms at Robin Pope Safaris Tena Tena camp
My sister, god bless her, captured the bathroom at Tena — wonderful experience, private, yet outdoors. You do need to be okay with a few visitors! You’re looking out of the tent at the sink area, then you can see the sink and the edge of the tent, and then the toilet. The shower is out there, of course, as well. Photographs, Carolyn Fisher.

The design work at Tena is stunning. Natural wood, bark intact, edges the undulating plaster walls. Fabric for bed covers and cushions is cotton or wool in natural colors of dusty greens, greys, creams accented with bright splashes of burnt orange or blue for contrast.

Each afternoon, guests gathered at the bar for tea before heading out on the afternoon game drive. Don’t worry coffee drinkers — which would be me! There’s plenty of good French press coffee as well! As we visited with other guests, our guides would prepare the kit for the game drive: the all important question, “What would you like for sundowners?”

My sister Carolyn and daughter Cat enjoy a cup of coffee before heading out on the afternoon game drive. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Stopping for mid-morning tea (or coffee) break. The Toyota Landcruisers used for the game drives were tough but comfortable.

If you have four people in your group, you will always have your own vehicle. There were three of us in our party, and over twelve days, we had other people join us on just four game drives. Almost all of the RPS game drive vehicles are roofless Toyota Landcruisers. The seats are comfortable, and always covered with a clean fleece blanket. Roofless vehicles — this is VERY important. No photographer wants to have a vehicle roof screwing up shots.

Animals that we saw on the Tena game drives: Many, many impala, puku, elephants, giraffes, hippos, crocodiles, hyena, several types of mongoose, African water buffalo. So many different kinds of birds, I can’t list them all! Big cats: Lion — two evening sightings, and leopard — both by day and at night — this was in just two days of drives at Tena Tena. Over the whole twelve day trip, we saw lions and leopards many times over!

And the biggest thing of all, the most important thing to me, is what we didn’t see. We didn’t see many people, at all. It started in Africa for us: we have fallen in love with safaris — hopelessly, amazingly.

I’ll end here with a video overview of our time at Tena Tena. It was magical!

Nsefu pride of lions on a night game drive from the camp at Tena Tena. South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
On one of our night game drives at Tena Tena, we ran across six members of the Nsefu pride of lions. Amazing to be so close to these mighty cats! Photograph, Ann Fisher

This is the first in a multi-article series on our safari in Zambia. Find the second part, Walking Safari: Day One, here:


The Bestest: My Favorite Travel Bloggers

One of the best things about moving into the travel blogging world is meeting so many wonderful fellow travelers.

I recently spent time in Huntsville, Alabama at the TBEX conference: a place where travel bloggers meet, share information, learn, and network — both with one another, and with travel bureaus, companies, and destinations.

Huntsville, Alabama, really went all out for the travel bloggers at the TBEX conference in May 2017. Swing orchestra, drinks, and dinner under the Apollo rocket at the Davidson Rocket Center. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Huntsville, Alabama, really went all out for the travel bloggers at the TBEX conference in May 2017. Swing orchestra, drinks, and dinner under the Apollo rocket at the Davidson Rocket Center. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I loved TBEX! And who wouldn’t? Meeting other travelers focused on writing and photography was wonderful, and the city of Huntsville rolled out the red carpet for us. One amazing event that week — the reception at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center — with dinner and swing music under the Apollo rocket.


As I get to know more people engaged in travel writing, this article will become a growing, evergreen list of my favorite bloggers, listed in alphabetical order.

Pat Wetzel does the Cancer Road Trip.

Cancer Road Trip

CancerRoadTrip, a mission for health and healing, is part travel blog, part inspiration. As a blog, it explores healing and adventure in different cultures. For inspiration, we plan to give healing journeys to others.

Follow #CancerRoadTrip, and the journey of one woman (and her friends) as they forge forwards, even in the face of cancer. Laugh, explore, cry. Join us: It’s a very human journey.

Great starting point to “hook in” to this blog? Find out about Pat’s cross-country trip with her sail plane Whiskey Oscar by reading Pat’s post on Adventure (summary): I am always up for a bit of adventure. I think it comes from my childhood. I travelled extensively with my parents. I found myself in cities where I didn’t speak the language, sometimes without an adult. 

Pat Wetzel and I are planning a joint Florida road trip for fall 2017. Look out! I see fine times and adventures ahead!

Jenn and Ed Coleman of Coleman Concierge.
Jenn and Ed Coleman of Coleman Concierge.

Coleman Concierge

Hi! We are Jenn and Ed, aka Coleman Concierge. Let us serve as your guide to inspire you to get out, expand your world, and to seek adventure in all its forms. Currently, home is on the beach in Southern California, but we have lived all over the deserts and mountains of the Western United States.  Told with our unique perspective and personality, our site will provide tools and tips for you to experience heightened adventure in your own life. –– Ed and Jennifer Coleman

Just after I met Jenn and Ed, they headed off for a Tennessee adventure, in and around the city of Chattanooga. Start with their trip overview, that has links to focused articles, like their visit to Ruby Falls in Lookout Mountain cave. Loved the cave picts! Chillin’ in Chattanooga – the Guide to Good Times  (summary): Do you know the dixie dynamo city where cotton meets corn that’s the birthplace of tow trucks? It’s none other than Chattanooga Tennessee. Situated on the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s the gateway to the mountains for much of the Southeast.


The Year of Last Holidays

If you were dying, but still felt healthy now, what would you do with the time you had left?
This question is the premise for two films entitled Last Holiday. In 2016, I lived the plot line.

Sunrise, Atlantic Ocean. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Sunrise, Atlantic Ocean. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

If you were dying, but still felt healthy now, what would you do with the time you had left?

This question is the premise for two films entitled Last Holiday.

In the 1950 version of the story, Alec Guinness plays George Bird, a salesperson of modest means and ambitions. During a routine physical, his doctor delivers a terminal diagnosis: he has Lampington’s disease, rare and very deadly — and he will die soon.

Bird wanders into the street in a daze, winds up in a second-hand shop where he purchases a Duke’s wardrobe, then takes himself off to a posh seaside resort. No longer hampered by his “keep-my-head-down attitude,” Bird starts to say exactly what he thinks.

Alec Guinness played George Bird in the original version of Last Holiday (1950).
Alec Guinness played George Bird in the original version of Last Holiday (1950).

The wealthy are charmed. A captain of industry seeks his advice. Bird finds himself the center of attention, and his whole life begins to change. Near the end of the film, his doctor discovers he’s given Bird the wrong diagnosis.

The plot may be familiar to you, even if you haven’t seen the Guinness film. Last Holiday was remade in 2006 with Queen Latifah in the lead role, playing Georgia Byrd, a mild-mannered salesperson selling cookware in a New Orleans department store. Her boss is rude and thoughtless, and he regularly demeans her.

Queen Latifah plays Georgia Byrd in the 2006 re-make of Last Holiday.
Queen Latifah plays Georgia Byrd in the 2006 re-make of Last Holiday.

Georgia spends her evenings cooking complex recipes and dreaming of being a chef. When she receives her terminal diagnosis, she heads off to the Grandhotel Pupp in Czechoslovakia where her hero Chef Didier works. Freed from her regular constraints, Georgia blossoms.

I like both versions of the film. I first saw the original film over thirty years ago; I have to admit, I’ve always thought about it as Obi Wan takes his last holiday . . . since I was twelve when Star Wars came out, Guinness will always live in my imagination that way.

When Latifah’s version of the film came out, I went to see it. I love the re-make. It’s positive, it’s fun — and I love the premise, the “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Little did I know I would get to live the plot line myself.

SO . . . if you were dying, but still felt healthy now, what would you do with the time you had left?

The answer is different for each of us.

I have always dreamed of traveling the world and writing. There were so many years that I couldn’t — no money, then no time, job constraints, a small child at home. But I always thought that one day I would, that I had  to, that I wanted to with a large part of myself, my soul.

Royal Clipper near Soufriere, St. Lucia
Royal Clipper near Soufriere, St. Lucia. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

2016: My Year of Last Holidays

I should mention that my husband Drew, love of my life, died in the summer of 2013 after a 2.5 year fight with terminal cancer. We managed his last holiday — his dream, to go to London and Paris about six months before he passed.

In 2014, I had emergency surgery for a fully obstructed bowel. The Stage III colon cancer had spread to one of eighteen lymph nodes removed along with the tumor.

I started chemo in September 2014, and finished at the end of March 2015. As anyone who has had cancer knows, we live scan to scan.

My oncologist, my surgeon, and I spent the first half of 2016 thinking my cancer had metastasized, but could be cured after two lung surgeries and chemo.

Following a scan in June, things were worse. Based on conversations with my doctors, I expected I might live two years, and none of it was going to be pretty.

In March, I downsized from a large house to a two-bedroom condo; I figured I’d better do it while I still felt strong enough to do the work.

After the bad scan, I quit my job of 24 years.

My daughter and I watch Joe Versus the Volcano that night, another film in keeping with the Last Holiday theme. It’s one of those that people either really, really like or really, really don’t. I kind of love it. Catherine and I kind of loved it together.

Joe Versus the Volcano.

I took five last holidays in 2016.

The first trip was impromptu. I got the bad news, and took my daughter Catherine on a first-class Delta flight to New York for New Year’s Eve. We museumed, and shopped, and walked, and ate amazing food, and saw Broadway shows from the very best seats.

Afterwards came two last holidays before what I expected to be a very bad year of surgery and chemo.

The final two were the last holidays I ever expected to take. Where were these five trips? You know about the Big Apple. Three journeys involved tall ships. One was a trip to Alaska and Puget Sound.

And then something magical happened.

The spots in the pleurae of my lungs disappeared.

In January of 2017, I quit worrying about cancer. I’m staying on my path, to turn my writing and my blog into something bigger.

And you know what? If I hadn’t had the living daylights scared out of me last year, I wouldn’t be here . . . I’d still be sitting in my office, afraid to leave.


Ann in Castolon in Big Bend National Park. Photograph, Jim Stevens

Thank you for visiting! 

I’m writing and traveling full-time now, and if you like my work, please subscribe to my blog via email.




There are two posts having to do with my cancer, you’ll find them here. I’ll post another shortly, for those who want to know more about the scans, etc.

You’ll find four of my “last holidays” here, broken up into six different blog posts:

Royal Clipper sails near Soufriere in St. Lucia.
Article about my cruise in the Caribbean on the Royal Clipper.

Photograph of Royal Clipper
Article about my voyage on Royal Clipper in the Mediterranean.

Classic Fiat in Rome
Visiting Rome in the summer? Tips for seeing the sights while avoiding the crowds.

Screenshot from Inside Passage Alaska, Minus the Cruise Ship
My trip to Juneau, Skagway, Haines, and Sitka using the Alaskan Marine Highway.

Article about my westbound Atlantic crossing on Star Flyer.

Screenshot from Land of Tall Trees and Fat Fish
On Golden Pond on Puget Sound. My daughter joined me for this peaceful time watching the great mountain, Rainier.