Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Go to Africa- Become a Trillionaire*

Victoria Falls, Zambia
March 24th, 2009

Our first stop in Zambia was to one of the seven natural wonders of the world- Victoria Falls. We first saw the falls driving from the border post in the direction of Livingstone. The spray we saw was from over 30kms away. Amazing. Arriving in Livingstone we were struck by how untouristy the town is. Besides the addition of several craft stalls and some backpackers the town could pass for any other small African town – I mean there isn’t even a KFC (I know, crazy).

Seeing the falls in the flesh didn’t disappoint. The sound was of thunder, the spray was finer than rain, and the smell was of fresh dew. It is truly spectacular especially as we were lucky enough to see it during it’s finest. The Zambezi River levels are incredibly high at the moment and the famous Victoria Falls rapids are closed to rafting due to the water levels (and will mostly likely be closed until May/June).

Spending the better part of the day at the Falls we wandered around the different paths and admired the views. It was spectacular. And crossing the knife edge bridge was fantastic- walking a few metres we got completely soaked. I mean not just wet totally drenched. Fantastic.

*We also scanned the craft market and picked up a few of the Zimbabwe bills to become instant trillionaires!

Entering into the unknown

Zambia Border Crossing
March 22nd, 2009

Making our way to the Botawana/Zambia border crossing proved to be an experience we’ll never forget. Advised by several fellow travellers and some locals we followed instruction to pass the huge line of semi-trucks waiting for the small ferry, which carries one semi-truck, one vehicle and as many passengers as possible. What we weren’t prepared for though was the amount of trucks waiting to be loaded we counted more than 150 before we gave up. Incredible. These truck drivers set up camps doing their laundry and cooking. We guessed they would probably have to wait at least a week. If anyone has some money to invest may we suggest a toll bridge over the Zambezi.

Waiting for the ferry we were approached by a ton of entrepreneurs wanting to assist us. Assuring them we were fine wasn’t enough and the lovely Karel listened to one man’s business pitch, shall we say for at least twenty minutes. Catching the ferry however wasn’t the exciting point, which was only five minutes long and we luckily were able to catch the first one. What was really exciting was the Zambian immigration malarkey. It took us two hours- and we knew what we needed to do! First we cleared immigration and had our passports stamped for which I needed a $50 visa. Next we had to pay council tax ($3.50) which we paid with some leftover pula (Botswana currency). Second we had to pay for the ferry which was $20 (accepted in American currency). Then we needed to pay carbon tax (about $25) which we weren’t allowed to pay with American dollars. This meant we needed to exchange the money for Zambian currency. After the exchange we went back to pay the carbon tax. Lastly we needed to get third party insurance for the car ($30). All of this business was conducted in a random array of buildings some consisting of little more than a tin roof. One also had a man sleeping on a bench snoring loudly. If this is Africa- I love it.


March 21st, 2009

Our final stop in Botswana was to yet another one of her stunning National Parks. Due to wet conditions we were unable to drive to Chobe through Moremi and Savuti, and had to make a slight several hundred kilometre detour through Nata. What’s in Nata you ask? Well Nada. However it was well worth the detour.

Staying at Kasane we entered the national park gates promptly at six and were the first to arrive. The park had stillness to it and dawn was just beginning to rise. The only fresh tracks on the sandy roads were of animals not of wheels. Heaven. As we winded along the trail we saw a spotted hyena and some giraffe. The complete peacefulness wasn’t to last as it soon became apparent that we weren’t the only ones in the park. The pimp wagons, as Karel fondly refers to them (a.k.a. the game trucks), rolled in- in incredible number. They did prove useful though, as they were the first to spot lion. There were two lioness moving across the thick pale yellow grass into some bush. Luckily one of the lioness sat in a perfect viewing point and we happily watched her for thirty minutes whilst enjoying some peanut butter sammies.

Driving for the better part of the day we mostly enjoyed taking in the incredible scenery. The park is largely based around the Zambezi River, which flows powerfully this time of year (the wet season) and creates one of the seven natural wonders of the world also known as Victoria Falls. We were constantly amazing with how full the river is and how stunning it looks carrying with it large clumps of grass and wood.

We spotted some game during the day, but the really exciting viewings happened around 4pm when all of the animals started making their way to the river to drink. Navigating through a field of elephant was amazing. Literally hundreds of them were on the river banks, on the hillside and bathing in the river. In awe and just starting to process what we had just witnessed, we arrived in the mist of even more elephants. Especially amazing were the little ones. We think we saw around three hundred- three hundred in the space of an hour. Sheer magic. We were also lucky enough to see a huge herd of seventy plus buffalo grazing around and in the water.

p.s. Also had snake sightings four and five- both from the safety of our car. Four was a black mamba making it’s way very quickly across the road. Five was a boa who stopped in the middle of the road and we were able to take a quick snap before it raced into the thick bushes


March 18th & 19th, 2009

After several sunny and rain free days we decided to head to Moremi, a game park based in the Okavango Delta. Meeting up with another couple, Sarah and Michael (who had just travelled from the UK doing the same route we are in reverse order), we decided to brave the various rumours about the muddy and rainy conditions and see what Moremi was like in the flesh. Arriving early in the morning we entered the gate and weren’t exactly sure what we signed up for.

The beauty of the Delta was intense. Imagine scenes of tall grass coloured green and yellow, patches of water clear and shiny blue reflecting the sun, mopane, palm and dead lead trees scattered around sparsely, white tyre track roads and rickety bridges made of mopane. Now add to that picture herds of elephant with babies small enough to walk underneath them, giraffe contently eating leaves, hippos lounging in water, small crocodile soaking up sun, baboons cunningly getting fruit from trees and zebra munching grass.

The road conditions were, well, an adventure. Dry at times, muddy at times, sandy at times and swampy at times. Thanking our lucky stars to be in the company of another equipped vehicle with fantastic drivers we made our way through. Water washed over the bonnet at stages, mud was splashed about gritted by tyres, and sand was treaded through. Feeling braver with every obstacle successfully navigated we decided to make a curious crossing and got stuck. Mud was thrown every where and decorated the stirring wheel and windows. Thankfully our friends in their Land Rover (yep that’s right Cruiser fans) managed to easily pull us out. The next day however it was our turn to even the score and the rescues were tied one-one. Karel eager to use the winch tried it out. It managed to get the vehicle out safe and sound but unfortunately the winch was rolled out too far and the connector snapped. But don’t worry friends, the repair for the winch was 9 pula thanks to our friend Mike the Mechanic (not to be confused with the band).

The most memorable moment however came after our first day in the park. We arrived after a long day of driving and navigating at our campsite Xakanaxa. Braiing a gorgeous feast of meat and potatoes we sat around the fire exchanging stories, laughing and enjoying a cold beer. Just as the sausage was cooking, I went to retrieve a knife from our car. As I was opening the drawer, a huge thunderous sound was coming closer and closer. Turning I saw a huge cloud of dust filled with a huge black shadow, heard ‘oh my God’, noticed everyone running and heard broken glass. Jumping inside the car, the cloud of dust passed. Climbing out again, we realized that a spooked hippo just ran past our camp at speed. Karel had jumped on to the roof of the car, Michael inside the back of their car breaking a glass inside, and Sarah was hiding behind the car ladder. Luckily everyone was safe as the hippo sidestepped our camp as he saw our fire. With the adrenaline pumping we thanked our lucky stars and had a much needed drink.

N click ai Pan *

March 14th & 15th, 2009

Waiting for the puddles to dry before heading North, we decided to go to the famous salt pans which are best seen this time of year as the animals from Makgadikgadi, a pan further south migrate north during the rainy season. Just over a hundred kms from Maun we made our way.

Our first stop was Baines Baobabs, a cluster of trees made famous by a painting made over a hundred years ago. It is stunningly set as it is essentially a tree island in the middle of a flat salty landscape. A definite must-see.

We then headed into the park where game viewing is enhanced by a barren landscape of low grass plains spotted with sparse trees. Numerous elephant were spotted happily munching away on some bushes and grass. A zebra was noticed having a huge gash on his rear looking distinctly like a claw slash nonchalantly snacking. Huge herds of springbok were seen lying on the grass. And amazingly a group of 26 giraffe were counted. These giraffe weren’t too shy and once they got used to the car they continued as if we weren’t even there. They showed us just how flexible they are as they bent down somewhat awkwardly and ate the grass. It was fantastic.

Our big adventure however came at 6:30pm, just as we were heading to set up camp before dark. We drove into a puddle and well, couldn’t drive out. Yikes we were stuck. Out came the shovels. Moving like crazy we shovelled and shovelled. Trying again to move we had no luck. More shovelling, a bit of deflating and some complicated navigating, we got out just as the sun was giving its final light.

Nxai Pan pronounced with a click for the x, yep one of those cool African languages – see if you can say it 