Flashback Friday: African Sunsets

Flashback Friday is a picture series where we “flashback” to some of our favorite memories- from either our prior travel or from home. We hope you’ll enjoy some of our remembrances!

One of the many things we miss from our time in Africa was the amazing sunsets. Every single night of our self drive safari would serve up an absolutely gorgeous, colorful sky.

So, we decided to dish up some of that sunset porn just for you on a new photo post.

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Khumaga Camp, Botswana

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Sunset over the Okavango, Savuti Camp, Botswana

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Sunset over the Okavango, Chobe Safari Lodge, Botswana

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Sunset over the Halali Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia

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Sunset over the Halali Waterhole, Etosha National Park, Namibia

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Namibia

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Solitaire, Namibia

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Solitaire, Namibia

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Solitaire, Namibia

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Quiver Tree Forest, Namibia

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Bushlore Review

Probably the biggest decision we had to make for our self-drive safari was which company to rent our truck from. The truck would be our transportation and accommodation for 25 days so we definitely wanted something reliable. We ended up going with Bushlore based on their price point and a few reviews we were able to find. Hopefully our review will help anyone trying to make a similar decision in the future!

Truck
The truck itself was a Toyota Hilux (like seemingly every other truck we saw out there). We think it was relatively new – only 27000 km (about 16000 miles) on the odometer when we picked it up. The tires were new as well.

We didn’t have any complaints at all about the truck over the course of the trip. It performed quite well and didn’t have any issues that required maintenance.

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Camping Setup
The bed of the truck was setup with all the supplies and a tent on top. This performed as advertised, with some complaints. Bushlore forgot to fill up the 40 gallon water tank so we had to figure that out on our own. Also, one morning the rope-strap combination that held down the tent travel cover just came apart. We were able to improvise a solution to get it back together using a tent pole, rope and duct tape.

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Accommodation
Bushlore provided a service that helped us pre-book our camp sites along the way. This was the part of their services that we were least impressed with. Twice along the way we showed up at a camp where they had pre-booked us and we were told they had no record of the booking. Luckily we were able to still stay, but it was frustrating to have to deal with this after having paid Bushlore to handle this for us.

We also noticed that maybe it wasn’t even necessary to have booked as much ahead of the time as Bushlore had us do. The national parks were definitely full, but other locations had plenty of empty space. So we’d recommend only booking a limited number of sites.

Final Review
It seemed like in general the issues with Bushlore stemmed from the fact that there are a large company, and we didn’t have the personal touch that we might have liked. The truck was really nice, but the service aspect was lacking, which we would have liked since we were so nervous. We’d probably say that if it’s your first time on safari, maybe look for a smaller company to give you a little more attention. But if you have experience, their equipment will definitely do a good job for you.

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Roads of the Self-Drive Safari

We talked a lot about the roads of our safari, so we wanted to give you an idea of those as well. Here is a photo essay of the roads we drove while on safari.

Roads of South Africa

There were many big regular highways in South Africa, but our first campsite took us off of them!

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Why did the Kudu cross the road?

Roads of Botswana

There were of course long stretches of tar highways here too. The hardest part was watching for the many many cows and donkeys that constantly decided to cross the road in front of you. There were warthogs leaping out on the road every now and then as well. As we made our way into the parks, the roads became deep sand.

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Why did the springbok cross the road?

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The impalas needed to cross the road as well!

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Here is the road where we got stuck. It was purely accident that we got this picture. We just took it, continued driving and picked the wrong road. It is hard to see how deep the sand was down there… but it was bad!

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We had to drive INTO the river about 15 feet to actually get ONTO this ferry.

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Always watch out for the donkeys!

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This was called third bridge. Not much of a bridge… as you can see.

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Luckily, 4th bridge was a little more bridge like.

Roads of Namibia

After Botswana, Namibia felt like a breeze. No more deep sand, but lots and lots of gravel.

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And why did the elephants cross the road? No… I still don’t have an answer…

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We had to drive into the sun sometimes. This evening was particularly difficult cause there was a lot of dust in the air… we could hardly see!

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Don’t forget to watch out for giraffes!

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And zebra of course!

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It did get a little hilly in Namibia.

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The blind hills were the hardest!

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IMG_0736 The Skeleton Coast felt like we were on another world.

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There were some windy roads!

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IMG_9592_edt We enjoyed the southern African version of waysides or picnic areas. We would see a sign for a table under a tree… and then you’d always see the table under the tree!

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Watch out for the above sign. They meant you were about to cross a river… most likely a dry one. But it was good for a big dip!

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Namibia

The second country that we visited on our self-drive safari was Nambia. We had heard a lot of great things about the wildlife and natural beauty to be found in the country!

Safari Night 11 – Camp Kwando, On The Kwando River near Kongola

Getting There

Our exit from Botswana and into Namibia was almost shockingly easy. The border at Ngoma was very sleepy – we were the only ones crossing at the time so we didn’t have to wait in any lines. We gave one of the final guards some water, so I guess that was a bribe?

Most of the roads we drove on were paved, so no stress there.

Campsite

Camp Kwando felt almost like a resort. We were the only ones camping in the main public campground so we got to pick the best spot. The site itself was covered with nice grass and had a lot of trees.

Ablutions

There was a small rondavel near the site we picked that had a (flush) toilet and sink. There was a communal ablutions with showers a short walk away. The furnishings were pretty fancy and the water was hot.

Amenities

This camp was clearly catering to a fancy crowd. It had a very nice open-air reception, bar and restaurant that overlooked the river. We spent time here reading and admiring the views.

Safari Night 12 – Ngepi Camp, On The Okavango River near Divundu

Getting There

We had an easy day of driving down the Trans-Caprivi highway. We could tell this camp was going to have a different spirit based on some of the humorous signs that marked the way into camp.

Campsite

We had a nice site with our own private area for looking out over the river. There was grass in the site, but we had to park our car on dirt and thus set up our tent there. During dinner, we really enjoyed watching a family of elephants across the river.

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Definitely fit in with the funky vibe. All facilities were outdoors and with no coverings. We didn’t take a shower since they didn’t look very nice. We heard that other bathrooms in the campground had different themes, but we didn’t investigate.

Amenities

This definitely had a hostel vibe to it. There was a communal hang-out area with a fireplace and a bar. We stayed up later normal at night by this fire, conversing with some of the other guests and the staff running the place, who were all males who were in their 20s. The bar became quite the scene later in the evening when a group of American college students on an overland tour decided to order a ton of drinks and behave pretty crazily.

There was also a few nice patios out over the water where we spent a lot of time reading, relaxing and looking for hippos.

Safari Night 13 – n’Kwazi Lodge, On The Okavango River near Rundu

Getting There

Another easy day of driving on the Trans-Caprivi

Campsite

Most of the campground was pretty unattractive, mostly a big grassy area, but we did get our own walled-off area to ourselves.

Ablutions

A large building with only lukewarm water

Amenities

There was a nice lodge with comfortable chairs, good shade, and most importantly… free, fast wi-fi!

Activities

We attended a nice dance performance put on by a group of local villagers.

Safari Night 14, 15, 16 – Halali Camp, Etosha National Park

Getting There

We took a Google-recommended shortcut and had our first experience with Namibian gravel roads. It wasn’t that bad actually! And we stopped at a monument for a giant baobab tree.

Campsite

The site was pretty unattractive. There were just large patches of dirt which were split off into different camps. Not much privacy from the neighbors! We did enjoy the provided table and light though.

Ablutions

Nice, hot water with good water pressure for showers.

Amenities

There was a restaurant which we decided to eat at twice – once for lunch and once for a buffet dinner (we decided to splurge). There was also a small convenience store. There was also a swimming pool, but we never took the plunge.

Activities

By far the coolest thing to do here was to walk to the waterhole they had set up for viewing. Compared to the Botswana parks, this felt very different! The park had made an artificial pool, then set up a large tiered viewing area with benches and shade where we could watch the animals come drink. And it was floodlit, so it was open 24 hours! We spent a lot of time just relaxing and watching animals here.

Also, one morning we took a trail up the small hill behind camp, which afforded great views of the area.

Probably the most popular activity, and for good reason, was to do a game drive – you are in the middle of the National Park after all. We did multiple and were amazed by how many different animals we saw – and how much easier it was to see them here than in Botswana. The roads were much nicer as well.

Safari Night 17 – Abu-Huab Camp, near Twyfelfontein

Getting There

We had heard about cheetah farms in the area and were interesting in investigating, since we hadn’t yet seen a cheetah and it sounded pretty neat. One of the original ones we were considering would be a significant detour, so we weren’t sure what to do. So when we saw a small camp right off the road that offered cheetah feedings, we decided to do just that. We got a chance to feed two cheetahs, which was pretty fun.

The last stretch of driving to the camp switched to a dirt road that went into some hills. It got a little twisty, but not the worst road we’ve ever been on. Got pretty scenic too.

We got a little lucky finding the camp: we had a map that showed its location as being on a road that didn’t exist, but luckily we spotted the camp just off the road on the way to Twyfelfontein.

Campsite

On the bank of the Abu Huab river – but with no water! We found that in Namibia they had a lot of rivers listed on maps that only rarely flow. We were able to pick a nice spot with a big tree and river access. When it was windy in the afternoon we even read books down in the river.

Ablutions

In a random building somewhat far from the sites. The hot water was heated by a wood-fired burner, so we decided not to test the temperature for showers.

Amenities

There was a small bar, pool table and even a sitting area that looked like it could have served as a restaurant. It all seemed pretty dead though, so we didn’t test any of these out.

Activities

See Tywfelfontein post

Safari Night 18 – Alte Brucke Campground, Swakopmund

Getting There

See Skeleton Coast post for the drive to Swakopmund

Within Swakopmund, we had an interesting adventure. Eric had written down some basic directions from Google Maps, and we had a map of the town from the 1999 Lonely Planet. However, as we were driving into town, we realized that the street names had almost all changed since 1999! We spent some panicky moments trying to orient ourselves (exacerbated by the fact that we hadn’t really driven in an urban environment since day 1). Eventually, we found a road that had the same name as on the 1999 map, and we made our way to the campground.

Campsite

This was a new setup for us: each site had its own patch of grass with a its own structure attached.

Ablutions

Inside this structure was our own private ablutions area! We definitely enjoyed the showers that we took here.

Amenities

There was wi-fi in the sites… but we had to pay almost $5 US dollars to use it. The signal would go in and out too, which was frustrating.

Activities

The campground was within walking distance of the central parts of Swakopmund. We enjoyed walking out on the jetty, and walking through town spotting the historic German buildings.

Safari Night 19 – Solitaire Guest Farm Desert Ranch, Solitaire

Getting There

The first section of the road went by some pretty dunes. It was pretty windy though, so there was lots of blowing sand.

As we got away from the coast, we went back into some mountainous terrain and crossed two passes (not quite as hard as Colorado passes). We also passed a sign for the Tropic of Capricorn.

Campsite

This seemed like a higher-end facility and had mostly lodge rooms. There were only three campsites, and all were pretty fancy. They were large sites with a fence around each.

Ablutions

Again, we got our own ablutions block! This one even had enough space inside that we decided to cook and eat dinner in it to get out of the wind.

Amenities

There was a bar, two swimming pools and free wi-fi.

Activities

The was a small hill within walking distance of the camp that made for an excellent place to view the sunset.

Safari Night 20,21 – Sesriem Campground, Namib Nakluft National Park

Getting There

This was only about an hour’s drive from Solitaire, so probably our easiest driving day of the entire trip.

Campsite

Each site was surrounded by a low stone wall and had a large tree in it.

Ablutions

Not the prettiest inside or out, but nice hot water.

Amenities

There was a bar with a large indoor seating area that we used one afternoon, and also a convenience store.

Activities

See Sossusvlei post

Safari Night 22 – Quivertree Forest Reserve, Outside Keetmanshoop

Getting There

The safari was basically over at this point, and this was the first of three long days of driving to get back to Johannesburg.

Campsite

This was a large campground with a lot of sites to choose from. We didn’t know if it was just a low season or if this place had seen better days. Scarred from the previous windy nights, we spent a while trying to find a site that seemed to have good wind protection. There wasn’t a lot of privacy between the small sites, but it didn’t matter since it was so empty.

Ablutions

There were a lot of little ablutions scattered around. There was nice hot water so we enjoyed our showers.

Amenities

Not much to speak of that we used.

Activities

We spent some time exploring the Quivertree Forest that the camp is set right next too. We definitely enjoyed exploring these very strange looking trees – they felt like something out of Dr. Seuss! We also had fun spotting all of the rock hyraxes that lived in the forest.

Also, the manager of the camp had a (free!) viewing of him feeding cheetahs in the afternoon.

 

 

Animals of the Self-Drive Safari

So, you might have been wondering what animals we actually saw while on safari. We thought we’d answer that question with a little photo essay. Keep in mind that we did not (unfortunately) have a great camera. Only our little point-and-shoot. We did try to edit some of the photos to see the animals better. Hopefully you’ll get the idea anyway!

So, here they are… in alphabetical order!

Baboons

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Cheetah (Unfortunately, we did not see these in the wild…)

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Chobe Chicken (Helmeted Guinea Fowl)

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Elephant

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Giraffe

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Hippo

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Honey Badger

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Hyrax

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Impala

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Jackal

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Kudu

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Lion

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Mongoose

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Monkey

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Oryx

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Ostrich

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Rhino

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Sable

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Springbok

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Warthog

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Wildebeest

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Zebra

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There were some other animals that we saw that we simply didn’t get a great picture of. These were the hyena, African buffalo, a roan antelope, and several other kinds of antelope. There were also a few notable things that we didn’t see that we really would have liked to… a leopard and an eland.

Botswana

The first half of our self-drive safari was spent in the country of Botswana. We really enjoyed our time in the country, and thought we’d share some observations about the places we visited.

Safari Night 2: Khama Rhino Sanctuary, outside Serowe

Our first stop was at the campground at this haven for rhinos and other game.

Getting There

We were still adjusting to camping rhythms, and we left from our previous night’s camp in South Africa later than we should have. Crossing the border took a long time as well, with multiple lines to wait in. We were still a little way away from the site as the sun was getting pretty low in the sky, so we were getting nervous. Luckily, we made it to the site before it got dark.

Campsite

Nice and secluded with a sandy base. Each site has its own nice big tree.

Ablutions

They felt a bit rustic, but the water was nice and warm

Activities

You can do a game drive within the sanctuary with hopes of seeing the rhinos,but we arrived too late at night to do this. Instead, we woke up early the next morning and drove around the park. We didn’t see the rhinos but did get our first views of some other game.

 

Safari Night 3: Khumaga Campsite, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park

Getting There

We left early enough from the Rhino Sanctuary that we were able to make it here a little earlier. What we didn’t realize until we got there was that to actually get to the campsite you have to take a ferry across a river! This ferry costs 130 pula (almost $15) per one-way trip too!

Campsite

More out in the open than we would have liked, with a lot of exposure to other camps,

Ablutions

The first of what we learned was the standard model in Botswana parks. Nice interior furnishings. Only so-so for hot water.

Activities

We had time to do an evening game drive, but boy were we not prepared, This was our first introduction to sandy roads, and there was a big learning curve for figuring out how to navigate them. We gave up after almost getting stuck a couple of times, so we can’t really comment about what you will see! (We later figured some things out that we’ll put in a separate post)

Safari Night 4 & 5: Third Bridge Campsite, Moremi Game Reserve

Getting There

We had to cross back over on the ferry to leave Khumaga, then we had to drive through the town of Maun. Here we wanted to see if we could modify our reservations to get extra nights at some camps inside the park – we hadn’t been able to reserve these ahead of times. However, this got confusing because Botswana has privatized its campsites inside the parks, so you have to visit a different office than the National Parks Office (where we had to pay park fees). To make it even more confusing, different campsites are run by different companies! So, in Maun, we visited: the parks office (to figure out what to do), Xomae Camps, SKL Camps and then back to the parks office (because we couldn’t pay our fees until we had proof of our sites). Phew!

The road to Moremi itself switched to gravel, and then in the park back to sand. Uh oh we thought! But we deflated our tires (a big key) and switched into H4 and had no troubles.

Campsite

We stayed here two nights and actually stayed in two different sites. The first night we had to share a sight because of some confusion in the office (even at $100 a night they rely on paper records…). Luckily, the three guys (a South African, Namibian and Englishman) we ended up sharing with the first night turned out to be very helpful. They shared their fire with us and provided a lot of valuable advice about the different parks and route. It was almost sad to move to our own site the next day.

The sites themselves had nice shade trees over a sandy base. The edge of the sites was the water of the Okavongo Delta, so at night you would hear hippos pretty close to the tent.

Ablutions

The standard Botswana parks setup.We followed our neighbor’s advice and tried the showers in the middle of the day (the water is heated by solar), and it was pretty warm.

Activities

You are in the middle of Moremi, so go on a game drive! If you are brave enough to cross the “bridge” the site is named after…

Safari Night 6: Khwai Campsite, Moremi Game Reserve

Getting There

From Third Bridge to Khwai is basically a game drive in itself. A must-stop along the way was the hippo pools.

Campsite

The site itself was a little less nice than Third Bridge in terms of layout. There was a road right through the site basically but luckily no one ever drove down it. This was where we had a late night visitor. The back of the site was the Khwai River, so we also heard hippos again.

Ablutions

Standard Botswana parks setup again. Our shower was pretty hot here.

Activities

You could do a game drive in the area, but since we had driven from Third Bridge we didn’t partake.

Safari Night 7: Savuti Camp, Chobe National Park

Getting There

The drive from Khwai to Savuti was for the most part the standard sandy roads. There was one tricky water crossing to get out of Khwai Village, but someone was kind enough to show us the way.

Campsite

Our site itself was pretty paltry – just a patch of sand with a tree (but we were afraid to get too close to the tree because we were told an elephant might come through and they like those trees). There was a small store in the camp where we purchased a couple of cold beers while we relaxed in the afternoon.

Ablutions

The building was the standard setup, but what was unique here was that the building was surrounded by a reinforced circular fence with a gate. We think this was for the elephant worry mentioned before.

Activities

We did an afternoon game drive and saw our first lion of the trip! There were plenty of other places to explore that we didn’t get around to.

Safari Night 8, 9, 10: Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane

Getting There

The drive to Kasane was boring… for the most part. We knew it was going to switch to a hard “tar” road at some point, so when it got to be hard gravel we decided to re-inflate the tires. Of course then it turned back to sand around the next corner so we re-deflated.

Then, when we knew we were almost to the tar road, we came upon a hill with deep sand… and got stuck! We were trying to figure out how to use the rubber mats and shovel when a truck of safari drivers came by. One hopped in the car, put it in L4 reverse, and got out. We were definitely grateful!

The tar road was a nice relief after multiple days of sandy roads.

Campsite

This campsite was attached to a fancy lodge, so we were definitely impressed with the reception desk and the lodge itself. The campsite… didn’t have that much going for it. Our space was a patch of dirt just wide enough for our truck, surrounded by thornbushes. The sites were packed pretty tightly together. The one saving grace was that within 100 feet they had a bar overlooking the river, where we spent multiple afternoons drinking beers and watching elephants graze.

Ablutions

Substandard, for sure. Felt outdated. Water for the shower could barely be called warm.

Activities

As this was a lodge, you could pay to do all sorts of things. Kasane itself is a town full of potential activities. This was the base for our Victoria Falls trip. We also paid to take one of the lodge’s morning game drives through the riverfront section of Chobe.

 

Final Thoughts

We definitely enjoyed our time in Botswana and all of the game-watching opportunities it provided. The people of the country were all very kind and also very proud of the country. We did get a little frustrated by how expensive everything associated with the parks seemed to be – park fees, campsite rates, and so on. But that didn’t keep us from having a great time!