Thursday, May 15, 2008

5/15/08 Hello from Sunny and HOT California! Yes, we have returned to our RV, which is parked on our lot at Park Sierra, and we are in the process of unpacking and catching up on things such as dealing with mail. Of course, we are feeling the effects of the very long journey home (32 hours), and jet lag, since there was a 10 hour time difference between Southern Africa and here. Since our journey will not be complete until we tell you about the last part of it, that task is high priority for me. Because this is going to be a long recounting of our experiences, I will break it into two so you can cope with it easier.
The last time we were able to write was in Swakopmund and we promised further episodes but alas, the lack of internet places and the fact that they were so very slow when we did find some, prevented us from updating you. In fact, that was one of the frustrating parts of travel in Africa – that we were on the move a lot, so we had very little time for the internet. Then, when we stopped for the night at the hotels where GAP Adventures put us, we were usually located either away from a town or on the edge so we couldn’t get to an internet.
Most of the exciting parts of the second tour we were on between Capetown and Livingstone occurred in the last 10 days. First, we went to a game park in Namibia called Etosha National Park. It was the first time we camped in tents on this trip, but there was a nice toilet and shower block nearby. We saw quite a bit of game on the drive between the park entrance and the campground. Additionally, there was a waterhole which was even lit up at night, right on the edge of the campground where we could sit and watch the animals as they came there for a drink of water. We saw at least 9 giraffes there the first time we went and then 8 rhinos came, 3 of them were mothers with babies. While these animals were drinking, there was a pack of jackals running all around too. Later on, a bull elephant took over the waterhole. When the big animals, such as rhinos and elephants are at the waterhole, the other ones, such as zebras and springboks all stand way back and wait for their turn after the big guys leave. In the night, jackals were running all over our campground and getting into any boxes or gear that had been left out, and one of them grabbed the sleeping bag and foot of Johan, our tour leader and tried to drag him away. That will teach him to sleep outside his tent.
The next morning we watched LOTS of zebras and springboks, and a few wildebeest taking turns at the waterhole. Then, most of our group went out on game drive vehicles while 5 of us used the tour bus to do a game drive in another part of the park. We saw lots more animals than they did, and they had paid a lot of money to be hauled around in the 4 by 4’s and with a guide, so it was very frustrating for them. One of the factors at the park was that there has been a lot of rain this year during the recently ended rainy season so there is still a lot of water in the Etosha Pan and the animals don’t have to depend on the waterholes so not as many of them come. During our second night of camping there was lots of roaring, presumably from the lions that we had seen earlier in the day laying around under an acacia tree.
Windhoek is the capitol of Namibia and we went there next. It is a clean and well organized small city but we were somewhat put off when we noticed that the names of two of the streets were Fidel Castro Blvd. and Robert Mugabe Ave – 2 long term dictators. It was great to be in a hotel with our own bathroom, after 2 nights of camping. There wasn’t a lot to do there, especially as we were there on a Sunday, when lots of things were closed. So we did a little shopping. We also had 2 people in the group head home while we gained 5 new people, all Americans. Our farewell dinner was held at Joe’s where they serve a lot of game meats, so I tried ostrich fillet and it was pretty good. It similar to beef but leaner.
Driving through the Kalahari Desert towards Botswana, it didn’t seem like a desert because there was so much vegetation. But everything is very dry. Crossing the border into Botswana was pretty easy but the first town we stopped in made us aware of how different things are there than in Namibia. Namibia has a lot of German influence and things are pretty well organized and efficient. In Botswana the people are very laid back and it takes forever to get anything done. We spent over an hour in line at the bank just trying to get some money exchanged. Our first night was spent in Maun, which is a small town but has lots of tourists because this is where excursions leave for trips into the Okavango Delta. Our group did some shopping for food while Johan arranged for tents and mattress pads, and then we boarded 4 wheel drive vehicles. These drove us to a place where a bunch of mokoros and native people were waiting to pole us into the Delta for a 2 night camping experience. Mokoros are shallow wooden boats that have been hollowed out of big tree trunks and which are moved through the shallow waters of the Delta by a long pole pushed into the mud. The ride was about 1 ½ hours and was fairly comfortable because they used our mattress pads to form comfy seats for us in the bottom of the mokoros. The waters of the Delta are not very open but instead have reeds and water lilies growing everywhere. There are narrow channels through the vegetation and occasionally larger open areas where the water is deeper and hippos and crocs like to congregate. We set up our camp on an island near a bunch of trees. The native guys dug a big hole to be used as a latrine and put canvas covers around it for privacy. We also had to help with all the cooking and cleanup. There were bush walks led by the native people and on the first one we saw three elephants eating in an area where there were trees and brush. The next day on another bush walk, hardly any game was spotted. Later on we went in the mokoros to the hippo lake to see them. Other than that, this was a rather disappointing experience. We found out later that the polers were supposed to have taken us much further into the Delta where we would have seen a lot more game. Also, the comfort tours usually fly into a tented camp in the middle of the Delta and they have a much better experience. This was really like a wasted 2 days and everybody in our group was unhappy with this camping experience. It didn’t help that our tour leader and bus driver sat around and got drunk every night and did nothing to assist in the dinner prep.

Part Two
The next wildlife experience was at Chobe National Park and it was fabulous. First we took a boat along the Chobe River and saw lots of game along the riverbank, such as monkeys, baboons, several types of antelope, elephants, and crocs, monitor lizards and hippos in the water. Seeing elephants here is practically a given because the estimate is that this park has over 120 thousand of them. The next day we did a game drive in a 4 wheel drive vehicle starting at 5:30 AM and again saw lots of animals. There were huge herds of cape buffalo, springboks, baboons, monkeys, wildebeest, a lone lion, a leopard, lots of birds, giraffes, and for the first time we saw a hyena and a very rare wild dog.
Then it was time to head for the last country and the last stop, Livingstone, Zambia, where Victoria Falls are located. Just crossing the border was an event. To get to the Zambian border we had to cross the Chobe River. Even though South Africa has offered to build a bridge across here free to facilitate the border crossing experience, Zambia has refused because there is so much corruption and then they wouldn’t get a lot of bribes from anyone. They use 2 stupid little ferries which can only hold about 3 large vehicles, so there are sometimes hundreds of trucks and other vehicles waiting to cross. It is even more congested and stupid than the Central American border crossings, and it makes the Mexican border crossing procedures look efficient!! People who want to jump to the front of the line have to pay a bribe, which must have happened for us because we drove up there and were put on the next ferry. Then we had to compete with lots of people who were all trying to get their passports stamped at only 2 open windows at the immigration office. Additionally, we had to get a visa, which took more time and which costs Americans $135 each!! Canadians only had to pay $55. Finally the border chaos was over and we proceeded about 150 km to Livingstone. As we approached, we could see the huge cloud of mist produced by the Victoria Falls from miles away. Our bus went directly to the Falls area and we all paid $10 to enter the area. Then we walked along a ridge across from the Falls and caught our first glimpse of these mighty waters. Incredible!!! These make Niagara and Iguazu Falls in South America look puny. Of course, this is the end of the rainy season so the falls are at their most full. Walking along the falls exposed all of us to the spray so we got absolutely soaked, but it was worth it. There was also a view of the bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe where lots of people bungy jump into the gorge over the Zambezi River.
Because some of our people were leaving early the next day, this night had to be our farewell dinner so Johan arranged for us to join a booze and dinner cruise on the Chobe River, above the Falls. The boat was a fairly large one and there were other people on board too, but we had a good cruise and presented our driver and tour leader with their thank you tips and managed to say a few nice things about them. There was some wildlife along the riverbanks and the highlight of the cruise was watching a family of elephants swim across the river from an island back to the mainland side. They swim underwater and stick their trunks out like a snorkel tube for air. When they reach the bank, the first one up uses his trunk to help pull the others up the steep bank. There was a beautiful sunset and then we docked and headed back to the hotel.
The highlight of the trip occurred the next morning. We flew over the Falls in a helicopter. It was FABULOUS!!! A 22 minute flight cost $180 apiece but it was certainly worth it. We could see the entire huge river heading for the drop, then the Falls and all the mist, and then we flew through the gorge of the Zambezi River below the Falls. Again we saw hippos in the river and a family of elephants on one of the islands. We would highly recommend doing this if you ever get to this place.
Later that day, we repacked, culling out all the stuff we didn’t want to haul back to the USA. Then we took our unwanted things down to an area where there were lots of craft stalls and we traded our stuff for some handicraft items. We had to do lots of hard bartering and I’m sure that these canny salesmen got the best of us, but we were fairly happy with the deals we got. The next day 13 of our group all took the same flight from Livingstone to Johannesburg, and then we all scattered to our home cities.
Overall, our 2 ½ months in southern Africa was an experience we will never forget and which we were happy that we did at this time. Because we can see that crime and corruption seem to be advancing in these countries and there is a huge exodus of educated professionals and trained workers, it looks like there will be a limited time for traveling comfortably here.
Thanks for traveling with us these past few months! Please feel free to e-mail us with your comments, and also to let us know how things are going in your lives. We have been away a long time and we need some news!
Love, Mary & Elaine

3 comments:

Our RV Life said...

I have very much enjoyed your travelogue. Keep up the travel while you can.
gretchen

John & Cathy Robnik said...

Welcome HOME!! and what a fabulous trip you had I enjoyed reading every word.
Cathy

Muftau said...

Hi there,
It sounds as if you indeed had a fantastic trip and trust that there were more positives than negatives to your experience. There are however a couple of remarks that you have made that are incorrect and as such feel I should comment on. The corruption in Zambian is terrible, there is no doubt about it and is unfortunately on the up however the bridge that has been proposed was rejected by the Zimbabwean government as the best landing ( in terms of the bed rock beneath) is infact in Zimbabwe. The funding for the project is to come from the EU but has been found by the Botswana and Zambian Governments. There has recently been an agreement made whereby Zimbabwe has been given the go ahead to the sight so fingers crossed a bridge will infact be erected. well thats it from me, good luck with your next adventure.
modi