Malawian Rice Vendor

Thursday, 29 September 2011

visa issues

When we re entered South Africa at the trans frontier park, we encountered a bit of an unexpected issue. A custom official would only give us a visa for 7 days. We aren't exactly sure why as we had been told that 30 days was the norm. Since we were leaving South Africa in about 11 days, we had to extend our visa for just 4 extra days. Despite trying to rationalize with him and tell him that the advice we had received before that it would not be a problem to receive 30 days, he would not relent. Not only could we prove that we had sufficient funds and a return ticket home, it didn't seem to matter. He informed us that we would have to go to the home affairs office in Pretoria. We arrived Monday morning at the home affairs office only to find a long line! When we finally got to the front of the line an hour later, we were told that they were not exactly sure of the procedure. The lady at the front desk told us to wait so that she could ask her supervisor. After waiting for more than a half hour she finally returned only to realize that she forgot to ask her supervisor. When she finally did get around to asking him, he had no answer. He told us that we should come back the following day and talk to HIS boss. Needless to say, with most of the day wasted, it was very frustrating indeed. We came back the following day and were told that sure enough the only two options were to A. extend our visa at a cost of over $30 a day each or B. leave the country and return again. At this point we were so angry with South African immigration, we decided to leave the country. They did not make it easy on us even though we were ready to spend our hard earned money in their country. We rented a car and headed to Swaziland where we find ourselves, now and we will stay here until our current visa runs out and then return back to South Africa and hope they let us in....

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Traveling with strangers.... a journey in itself...

We woke up on morning number two of our journey with high hopes. We new that it was not too far to the beautiful dunes of Soussoslvei. It was very cold the night before and the chill seemed to stay for a good portion of the morning. We pack the van and loaded up for the short journey to Sessriem the gateway to the dunes. The gravel road wound its way through the desolate desert passing through the jagged peaks of stark brown mountains of the central Namibian plains. The beautiful peaks cast huge shadows over the yellow savannah as we went further into desolation. We passed several large groups of animals including many springbok and Oryx. We did not see any predators though as it was probably to late in the morning and we knew they would be sleeping. After only about a three hour drive we were at the small campsite/settlement called Sessriem. Another minute outpost in the middle of nowhere. We were assigned a campsite and settled in. That is to say that Erika and I set up our now dusty tent. Our two type A travel companions had other ideas. Both were chomping at the bit to get out to see the dunes. We decided to let them go on their own with the promise that they would return in the mid afternoon so we could go out and enjoy the area also. It was becoming way too hot too quickly and we had been on the road for so long the past few day that we needed some down time just to give our aching bodies some well needed rest. Immediately upon their return they were ready to go back out and explore. Nervous energy was prevalent between these two. We all hopped in to the van and venture along a beautiful paved tarmac toward our end destination, Soussoslvei. 60km later we hit the last 5k and were now off onto a deep sandy road which was for 4x4 only. We slogged through the sand and hit the end of the trail. Immediately our two type A's were out of the van and halfway up a dune before we even had a chance to put our shoes on! The wind had picked up and so as we slowly slogged our way up we were repeatedly blasted with the stinging sand. By the time we reached the top our companions were already down and trying to climb the next one. We on the other hand decided to stay on top and take full advantage of the incredible 360 panorama of these incredible red hued dunes that sprawled out in every direction. We watched as the sun slowly dropped over the horizon in sheer awe of this amazing landscape. We made our way down to the car and waited patiently for our travel mates to return. We knew that the park closed at 6:45 and that it was a certain hour to get back to the gate. We were cutting it close. They finally returned and we set off through the first 5km of sand at one point getting stuck to the point we all had to get out and push. We made it to the tarmac and set off toward the gate as darkness was setting in. Colin did not seem to sense that we needed to hurry back as he drove at a pace that would make a 90 year old proud. Slowing along the way in the dark to look at the various lizards that crossed the road. At one point turning the car around to search for a little 3 inch creature that certainly ran off into the nearby grass. All the other cars had long since passed us back to the gate and here we were trying to find reptiles in the dark. Sure enough we arrived 15 minutes late to the gate. Of course it was locked and no one was in sight. We sat for quite a while before a guard appeared. We explained that we got stuck in the sand for a long time knowing that the truth would not be a reasonable excuse. After much persuasion Silas, the watchman finally relented, mumbling under his breath his dissatisfaction. We were lucky as we could have been locked in all night. We decided to get up early the next day so we could see the sun rise over the dunes. We got to the gate a little late and were about 25 cars back in the Que so that we had to wait a while to be processed. We did make it to Dead Vlei and started to make our way up a dune of course the other two had long since disappeared on a mission. The Deadvlei was amazing as the intense contrast in colors of the dunes and the sky sat beautifully against the backdrop of the dead trees. We wandered around for a couple of hours until our type a's finally appeared. We wanted to stay longer at this enchanted place but they seemed bored and were ready to move on. Reluctantly we obliged. I am not sure where they wanted to go but we ended up basically making a slow drive back to camp where we spent the remainder of the afternoon. We had a nice nights sleep and made our way the next morning towards the south of Namibia. Neither of our mates seemed to have a clue on how to read a map, yet they did not want to listen to our suggestions on how to proceed forward. We ended up heading toward the south on roads that made the others look like super highways. Eventually we were starting to run out of real estate as we neared the South African border. Nightfall was soon upon us and there did not seem to be any type of civilization least wise campsites!! As luck would have it only 14kms from the border we found somewhere to camp. The two others were vacillating on whether we should do it when finally Erika and I put our foot down and said lets DO IT! They reluctantly agreed. I am not sure where they were thinking (big term for these two) but we had found a place. Needless to say we were the only campers. The following day we made it to Namibian customs and breezed through. We entered a kind of no mans land that was a HUGE game park in the middle of the Kalahari. South African customs was on the other side of the park. We booked a campsite, again Erika and I decided to book along the way as opposed to their suggestion of driving to the other side of the park and doing drives from that site. We did not realize that as soon as we entered the park Our driver Colin would slow his speed to about 5km an hour in search of the hidden animals that were all hiding in the heat of the day. SLOWLY we proceeded toward the first camp as he tried in vain to find anything moving. Not that we are experienced wildlife enthusiasts, but even we knew that most if not all animals take a break from the mid day heat. A few birds aside we saw NOTHING along the whole slow road to our first camp. When we finally arrived some 7 hours later (it was only 135km) we were all prepared to set up camp but our other two had other plans. They wanted to get out and search for animals right away. Our butts needed some respite so we convinced them to hold off for an hour. This was hard for Colin as he kept pacing around the tent site like a caged lion. We were able to get out and see a few animals though we were a bit disappointed by the sheer lack of numbers. I guess we were spoiled from Etosha. The next day Colin wanted to get up early so we could be first in line when the gates opened. The next morning we heard the engine come to life at 5:15! This despite the fact that the gate did not open until 6:30. When we made it to the car with a few minutes to spare to find that we were the only idiots at the gate at that time. What a shock. We spent the ENTIRE day driving up and around the parched Kalahari desert. We did manage to see many animals though not the numbers we had witnessed in Etosha. It seemed our driver was more interested in the limited bird and reptile life that existed. Towards the end of a VERY long day we finally were able to see a couple of male lions sleeping about 50 meters from the roadway. We stopped and watched for only a couple of minutes before Colin decided that we should pull about 300 meters forward for some unknown reason. We sat there for 25 minutes far away from the animals while the two woke from their slumber. Finally Jeff spoke up and asked if maybe we could move a little closer to the action. Colin put the car in reverse and literally moved less than 10 feet! Then stopped again and started talking to Kathy about our exit strategy from the park. This all the while as the 2 huge Cats proceeded to start looking for dinner!Unbelievable. As the sun set, and time was running short because the gates again closed at 6:30pm, we slowly made our way back to camp. We had literally about 10 minutes to go 15 km's in a 50 km/hr. zone. We thought for sure that we would have another situation on our hands. Of course this did not stop Colin from doing a u turn to take photos of a bird. We were both in shock having thought that he might have learned his lesson from before. We did make it through the gate not a minute too soon. We packed the car and got ready for the next morning's drive which we knew would be long since we had to get all the way to Pretoria, some 1100 km's away. Both Erika and I woke up early ready to go while the other two seemed to nonchalantly take their time even though they were the ones who wanted to make good time to Pretoria. The following morning after going through customs we drove virtually non stop except to fill up for gas which we seemed to be going through rapidly because Colin, even though he had his window rolled down, was blasting the air conditioning the whole way. The temperature during the day barely got above 70 degrees so we were a little perplexed. As stated, he did not want to stop at all, not bothering to ask whether Erika or I needed a break or to stop for a bite to eat. The journey itself passed quickly though the scenery was not much to write about. We got turned around several times as our navigator and pilot were not able to read maps nor road signs very well. Erika and I just sat in the back and laughed knowing that even if we wanted to give an opinion, it would have been disregarded straight out. We finally arrived in Pretoria around 9pm that evening and ended up finding a backpackers that we could settle into. We were thankful to finally be rid of these two (and maybe them us)...

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Another day, another adventure

We were able to return our rental car early Sunday morning with relatively little hassle. Golf ball size rock chip in the windscreen aside, the car was in damn good shape considering that we traveled on some pretty bad gravel roads. We decided after such a long journey that we would take it easy and hang out in Windhoek for a couple of days. Giving us some time alone to relax and re-energize from the journey up North. Chameleon seemed like just the place. We spent the better part of the day trying to get the brown, red dust removed from not only every piece of clothing and our now, near unrecognizable backpacks but from our hair and bodies including about a pound in each ear. We, unfortunately, had to wash and re-wash our filthy clothes many times over because the water kept turning milky brown. Our next mission was to figure out how we were to get down to Soussesvlei, Namibia's number 1 attraction. It is an enormous series of red sand dunes stretching for hundreds of kilometers along what is known as the skeleton coast. The problem, once again, is that there is absolutely no public transportation so we needed to figure out a way to visit. The stress of driving on those gravel roads was almost too much. As luck would have it, that very same day, we met a couple of other Americans. A researcher and his intern who just happened to be planning a trip down to Soussesvlei the very next day. They kindly invited us along for the ride on the condition that we would split the costs. At the time it seemed like a no brain er for us, even though we had wanted to stay an extra day or so in Windhoek we just didn't want to pass up this opportunity. The following morning, we packed and loaded up the old VW van and set off West for the dunes. On our way we made one quick detour to pick up a couple of foam pads since both of our air mattresses had "expired". Despite repeated attempts at patching and re-patching, they were as flat as Swedish pancakes. Sleeping on the hard ground had finally taken it's toll on our ravaged backs so we needed something, anything! The 1/2 inch foam seemed better than nothing. We spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon driving south and west from Windhoek leaving the comfy confines of the tarmac about an hour outside the city. The bumpy, gravel road undulated like an old wooden roller coaster through the barren, rocky hills. Occasionally, opening up to large swaths of bright yellow savannah grasslands. Fortunately the van is a 4x4 as we had to cross several clear blue streams. There was quite a bit of wildlife strewn about the parched landscape. At one point we came upon a huge troop of baboons and their young. We stopped to take a quick peek as many of them scampered toward the tree line for safety. As soon as they felt they were a comfortable range, they turned back and peered at us wondering if we had any provisions that they could possibly pilfer. But before they could make a move back towards the van, we took off knowing how ferocious and relentless these beasts can be. As we ventured further down the windy road through the stark yellow and brown landscape, we finally reached the aptly named settlement of Solitaire. Calling Solitaire a town would be quite an exaggeration. There are only 4 little buildings and a petrol station. We decided it would be as good a place as any to camp for the night since it was isolated and empty. After settling in, Erika and I decided to take a little stroll out into the Savannah as the sun was beginning to set. The 360 degree panoramic view of the yellow grasses growing in the desert wind contrasted with the brown mountains in the far off distance. The sun had never looked so big as it dropped down towards the Craggie hills turning the sky ablaze in oranges and reds slowly turning to maroon and purple. After walking back we made a hearty dinner by campfire and settled in as the heat of the day rapidly dissipated. Soon it was getting so cold that we retired to our little tent to the warmth of our well used sleeping bags. As we looked up the sky seemed to be filled with a million stars as we fell fast asleep to the stillness of the Namibian desert.....

Sunday, 18 September 2011

North of Namibia

Well... we finally were able to get a car sorted here in Windhoek. Took a little bit of doing but in the end we were able to get everything settled. After some indecisiveness, Robyn (the Aussie girl) decided to come along with us. Our guest house promised that Budget rental car would not give our car away so we were off. We woke up early Sunday morning, packed and picked up a car. We got insurance coverage that included EVERYTHING because we knew that two main road ways that bisect were all that were paved, the rest is gravel. This of course can cause problems with rock chips on the windscreen. Total coverage in Namibia does not mean everything. For example, the undercarriage, wheels, tires, and water and sand damage along with excessive dirt (whatever that means) are all not covered. We packed up and were about to set off when a Welsh Guy Chris (after vascillating for the better part of 36 hours finally decided he would join us)... The drive out of town turned into a pretty straight shot due North. The road made only a few gradual turns the first 200 km's as we zipped past the flat desert landscape. We were making good time as many cars seemed to breeze by us when suddenly off in the distance a policeman appeared in the middle of the road. He flagged us down and when we pulled over, he informed Jeff, who at the time was driving, that he had been speeding. Even though seemingly many cars had passed us , WE got pulled over. He asked Jeff to exit the vehicle and walk to the other side of the highway where his radar sat perched and showed that we were going about 9 kms (5 miles) over the speed limit. The officer opened a ticket book showing that the fine could be up to 2000 Namibian dollars (approx. 300 US) OUCH!!!! At that point, Jeff asked the cop if there was anything he could do to avoid paying such a stiff penalty. The cop himmed and hawed and said "probably not", Jeff said isn't there some way we can take care of this here in Branard? (Fargo reference)... The cop played dumb and said what do you mean and Jeff pulled out a 100 dollar note (Namibian) and said maybe this will take care of it. The cop took the money, thanked Jeff and once again we were off. After a couple more hours we found our way into Etosha National Park. Erika went into reception and tried to secure us a campsite spot. At first she was told the site was completely full, but after some sweet talking she was able to procure us a nice site for the night. Etosha is unlike many game parks. First it is extremely flat, as it is set flush against the Etosha pan. A dried salt lake that only fills during the rainy season. The main attraction to Etosha is the fact that there are many water holes set throughout the park. One only has to park the car next to one of these water holes and wait...... Eventually the animals show up... and boy do they ever!!! We saw amazing amounts of zebras, springbok, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and even huge prides of lions. We spent hours just sitting by the various local holes just watching in amazement as one group of animals after another came slowly, cautiously up to the water. Many knew that the predators lurked somewhere out in the bush. Sure enough there were many jackals, cheetah and lions waiting for the right moment. Four full days of watching these incredible interactions went way too quickly. We were fortunate enough to see lions not only hunt but kill several animals. Gruesome to watch but a definite part of the life cycle. After leaving Etosha we headed toward Damaraland. A very interesting part of Namibia. Extremely desolate and with little or no water it is amazing to think that people can actually live out in this harsh environment. We spent a couple of days around an area called Kamanjab. Sleeping under a million stars with the only sounds being the occasional bird or stray jackal howl. After a couple of days we headed south toward the coast along a very rocky and bumpy gravel road. There was little sign of life aside from the occasional patchwork shack alongside the roadway. Usually these had a few people trying to sell various souveniers. Many were manned by a curios tribe called the Himba. These people are what one may imagine when they think of "African tribes" The woman wear only a small loin cloth covering their privates. They are all bare chested, with an orange ochre covering their bodies. Their hair is braided with the orange tint also. The children also only wear a small g-string type outfit. It is quite fascinating. These people are so very primitive and poor. Seeing them along side the road in the middle of nowhere is disheartening. We purchased a small bracelet so they could make probably their one sale of the week as there did not seem to be too many if any cars on the road. Of course the last 20 k before we reached the coastal road we passed a group of 4 motorcycles, one which shot up a huge rock and of course it hit the wind screen... Thank goodness for insurance!! Luckily we made it to the Town of Swapkomund. A strange German town straight from Hansel and Gretel set on the coast of Africa. Replete with German bakeries and shops it was like a time warp. The town along with most of the coast was covered in a fog so it seemed like we were back at home except for the Konditeri!! After a week we were able to make it back in one piece, one chipped window, and a bribe later at least we were safe!! We are now planning somehow to get to the huge sand dunes that are south of Windhoek. Not sure of how we are going to get there since there is NO public transport but we will figure out a way. We will let you know.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Best laid plans

We made it to Windhoek, found one of the better backpackers we have stayed in right in central city, our next mission was to try to organize a car so that we could explore the country as Namibia is similar to Botswana in the fact that there are no real public transport options to get you to places of interest. Car rental is exceedingly expensive so our mission was to find one or two people to share. As luck would have it a girl that we had spent much time with at Butterfly in Malawi was heading into Windhoek. We had previously discussed with her sharing options and we knew she was keen. While chatting to various people at the backpackers we also met an Aussie guy who wanted to come along. He was a bit younger but seemed to be more or less on the same wave length which is good when you are going to spend 24/7 with a complete stranger. We spent the better part of a day and a half researching via internet various car companies trying to find a suitable ride that would not only be economical but that would be able to survive the wear and tear of the Namibian desert. We found a number of places that were totally booked out but a couple had posted on their websites to come visit the office. So, we set out on foot to check out what was available. We ended up finding two companies that were within the price range and car type that we wanted. One of which happened to be through the travel agency located at our backpackers lodge. We decided after much discussion to with them. It was getting late in the afternoon and they told us that we could book the car and that we could settle up first thing in the morning. This is important because we also needed to make sure we have reservations for a campsite at Etosha National Park as they book up quickly. This, being high season, we realized that we were reduced to certain days only. The four of us met late in the afternoon to do some serious planning and to go shopping all together. We decided that we would wake up for breakfast at 7am and pick up our car by 8am so that we could be on the road as early as possible. We woke up before first light, packed our gear, and headed for breakfast. Our first clue that things were amiss was that the Aussie was nowhere to be found by 7:45am. Finally, Erika went to search for him and found him in his room nonchalantly mucking about. She, in her best political way, said "we need to get a move on". He responded OK and she went to find Jeff who was on the computer making sure that there was enough money in the checking account. About 15 minutes later, the Aussie came out and asked if he could speak with Erika at which point he asked her if she worries a lot and then proceeded to ask her if she was controlling. This took Erika aback as she is anything but controlling. Right then she had a bitter taste in her mouth but she controlled her ego and let it slide. By 8am we went to the rental office where we were informed that the car we had booked had been given away and that there were no other vehicles available at the time. We were stunned. We had specifically asked if we should pay a security deposit the night before and were told that it was not necessary. We were very upset needless to say. We tried to call Robin, the other Aussie from Butterfly to inform her not to pay for the park reservations since we did not have a car. Luckily we were able to catch her on the phone as she was standing at the office, money in hand. She came back to the guest house and we tried to re-group. The three of us decided, no problem we will figure out a way to go the next day. It was then the young Aussie boy appeared and upon hearing the news decided that he was going to bail out. It was obvious to us that he had made up his mind the night before as we saw him gallivanting around the backpackers trying to chat up all the single Europeans that were around. He did not want to wait even 24 hours more. At that point, a representative from the rental agency appeared and said they could have a car for us at 10:30am but we knew, having been here in Africa, that 10:30 could mean 4pm or later. This obviously would not give us enough time to drive the 500 km + distance to make it to the park before nightfall before they close the gates. So now, we are at square one again and we will try to sort everything out and get on the road. In the meantime we are in Windhoek which is a very modern city. The bright side is that we could be stuck somewhere a lot worse. We will let you know as soon as we know....

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Where are we going today?

Maun is a strange place. Located in the center north of Botswana. The town is smack dab in the middle of the Kalahari desert.We stopped at a place called Audi camp, a nice oasis swathed in African colors. The area itself is very interesting because of the combination of the gray desert sand interspersed with tropical shrubbery sprouting up from the parched soil. Huge herds of goats seem to roam the streets unattended munching on the dessert scrub. Wild donkeys are seen also throughout the entire region. We have no idea who these gray animals belong to as they wander about along the side of the road. Its as if they have free reign of the dusty town. Our initial plan was to go on a mokoro ride (a dug out canoe) through the Okavango Delta but after talking to a number of people at Audi camp, none of them seemed super enthusiastic about the trip so we decided to fore go a journey. Not one person was able to see ANY wildlife since the delta was flooded more so than in over 30 years. People said that for the money it just was not worth the effort. Our thinking then was that if we could go North from Maun towards the Caprivi Strip along the Okavango Delta we might have better luck. After a lot of research, both on the web and asking locals and tourists alike, it seemed doable, though not easy. Unfortunately the deciding factor was that a bridge only 30 kms outside of Maun was washed out. Making the journey incredibly long if not impossible. As luck would have it we met a Namibian who informed us that various Angolan rebels were known to be hiding up in the hills. Erika was picturing us trying to hitch rides with our huge packs and suddenly being picked up by a truck load of Angolan rebels. It was then we decided maybe heading west to Windhoek would be the prudent option. Our luck was with us because that same morning we made that fateful decision a Namibian pastor of German descent living in South Africa happened to be leaving for Windhoek that very morning. The night before we had made plans to catch a ride into town with 3 Spaniards we had met to give us a ride to the bus station. So we were once again caught in a good situation by being flexible. Robert, a Lutheran pastor was able to fit us and our mobile homes/backpacks into his little VW Golf. We were off before 8am. I wish I could say that the drive through the Kalahari was scenic but I would be lying. We headed Southwest through the gray/beige sands with scrub brush as far as the eye could see. Robert, our driver had the peddle to the metal averaging about a 160 km/hour (100 mph). We made one pit stop in a town called Ganzi, a secluded barren Botswanan outpost with only a few shops, government offices and a petrol station. We continued through the Kalahari passing the few small roadside villages toward the Namibian frontier. The border post was literally in the middle of nowhere. Immigration was a breeze at both sides. We made even better time in Namibia as Robert kept up the speed as the mid-day sun beat down up on us. We stopped at the only town called Gobabis for lunch, an interesting one road town. Ladies dressed in ornate, Victorian era dresses belonging to the Herero tribe wandering the streets. Namibia is an old German colony so most streets, shops and restaurants have German names. Lunch was typical German fare, Bratwurst, meat balls, and other gray meats along with potato salad a great change from the rice and nshima we've had over the past several months. We continued full speed ahead toward Windhoek. The flat, barren landscape finally gave way to some rolling hills, some 150 km East of the capital. Robert was able to get us into Windhoek around 5pm, he was kind enough to drop us off in the city center where we caught a taxi to Chameleon Backpackers. The 9 hour journey was finally finished. Thanks to Erika, as we were both lucky to catch a lift, otherwise it might have taken us days if not weeks to make it through the Kalahari via public transport or hitching...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

On to Maun

We enjoyed our time at Chobe immensely. Our campsite is located close to the river so we were able to fall asleep to the sounds of laughing hippos each night. At times it sounded like several were lurking just outside our tent. Erika was awake early in dire need of a cup of coffee. She befriended a German couple that were on a private safari with a driver and cook in tow at the next campsite over. We ended up spending the better part of the morning with them listening to their tales of various adventures through Africa and enjoying a nice cup of jo. They were scheduled to leave that afternoon and the driver told Erika that he and his cook were headed back to Maun via the national park later that day. Brazenly, Erika thought to herself "what the hell" and asked if we might be able to hitch a ride with the two of them. The driver, Kilo, was more than generous and said after he dropped off his clients at the airport he would return to pick us up. We asked Kilo approximately how much the ride would cost, he responded that he would figure it out on his way back from the airport and he would let us know. We just wanted a rough estimate so that we could make sure we had enough Pula. This would be a great opportunity if it worked out. Public transport is virtually nonexistent in northern Botswana. We did find out that there was one bus a day that could take us to a town called Nata. From there we would need to change buses for the remainder of the journey to Maun. The bus left at 5am which would mean getting up before 4am to break down our tent and find a taxi to the bus station. It went without saying that we were hoping that Kilo would come back with a fair price. Kilo finally made it back a few hours later, he told us we could have a lift through the park to Maun and give him whatever WE thought was fair. We loaded our packs in the truck and took off. The first 40km w through this part of Chobe was great!
A freshly laid piece of tarmac afforded us the opportunity to make good time. even having left shortly after noon time we thought, at this pace we could cover the 350 kms and be able to set up our tent well before dark. Suddenly the car lurched as we veered off the beautiful asphalt. We left the pavement for what appeared to be a sandy one lane track, heading straight into the Botswana desert. Almost immediately kilo stopped the truck and proceeded to change the wheels to accommodate the deep sandy track. What we first thought would be an easy drive turned out to be quite an adventure. We drove along the dust strewn trail bisecting the parched park. We passed several large herds of elephants and giraffes that were hiding in the shade along the way. The occasional warthog would also scamper across the road. It was quite stunning as we slowly traversed the dry landscape. We drove for what would be several hours across the sands of the Kalahari. It was amazing as we only encountered about a half a dozen vehicles coming the other direction for the entire journey. Finally, we came to the end of the park just as the sun was sinking in the African sky. Immediately outside the park gates a huge herd of elephants strolled lazily alongside the road as if to bid us farewell. Shortly after the park gates the road turned to gravel and we were able to make better time. The final stop we made was at the buffalo fence. This is the fence that is several hundreds of KM's long separating the wild animals from the domestic ones. The gate guards wanted to make sure we were not carrying any meat for fear of foot and mouth disease. Naturally, we weren't. The final hour and a half of the drive was illuminated by the streaks of intense red and orange turning to darkness as we passed several villages along the way. Kilo was kind enough to take us all the way to Audi camp where we were able to pitch our tent. He was such an amazingly kind man, going out of his way to help us out. We have found such hospitality throughout our entire time on this incredible continent.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


We ended up spending a couple of extra days in Livingstone.. This was due to Erika not feeling well. Jollyboys was as good a place as any to lay low and help her recover. The town of Livingstone is quite modern and a far cry from what we had been used to in Nkhata Bay. They even had a FULLY stocked supermarket replete with milk products, a bakery and a meat counter. We were in HEAVEN! After a number of days of resting we finally decided to try and make a move. The next destination was going to be Kasane, Botswana, the gateway to Chobe National Park. There was a bus to take us to the border town of Kasungula scheduled to leave at 12:30pm. Naturally the bus did not show up until just before 2pm. We were able to change our remaining kwacha into Botswana Pula at the 5th and final bank that we went in to as none of the others had any pula. We bordered the near empty bus (it was just us and 2 other people along with 3 bus employees), the ride took only about an hour to the border post. Just before the border we passed what seemed like a couple of km's que of trucks lined up on the side of the road. It turns out that these trucks can wait up to a month to cross the river to the other side. We breezed through Zambian customs then made the 200 meter walk down to the river front. We boarded a "ferry" along with one semi and a couple of cars for the 5 minute crossing to Botswana. We grabbed our now engorged packs and in the mid day sun made our way towards the immigration post. Not knowing exactly where to go, we followed the crowd of locals for a couple of hundred meters, each step became more cumbersome between the weight on our backs and the intense heat. We must have looked absolutely spent, because a car pulled along side of us and offered us a lift to immigration. Good thing they did because it was at least another 700 meters to passport control. We exited the car, bags in hand, the driver said we could store our bags in the boot while we went through immigration. We hesitated knowing that THAT was rule number one (never lose sight of one's backpacks). On instinct and with the driver assuring us that he would follow us inside we took a leap of faith. It only took us 5 minutes to fill in the proper forms and get our entry stamps. Luckily, the car and our packs were still there. The two people offered to give us a ride all the way into Kasane (about 15km away), it turned out that one lady worked for the anti-poaching office. The short drive in was great as we passed several elephants and warthogs crossing the roadway. We were fascinated at this sight but to the two locals it was like passing by a traffic light (ho hum...) She took us directly to a lodge that had been recommended to us by a couple of peace corp. volunteers that we had befriended in Livingstone. As we pulled up to the entrance both of us thought that they brought us to the wrong place. The lodge was quite ornate with all the amenities and luxuries of a 5 star hotel. We meekly entered in our shabby clothes and asked at reception if indeed we were in the right spot. They assured us that we were and escorted us past the luxury villas and rondvels to a dusty area about 50 meters from the river that was there campsite. We found our designated spot, set up our tent under the only two trees available. As soon as we set up camp we made our way down the main road towards town. We wanted to book a game drive for the next morning. Our peace corp. friends had given us a rough idea of costs so we could shop and compare the different offerings. We split up and shopped a couple of different tour offices. We reconvened about 30 minutes later to compare notes. We decided to go with the booking agency called NKWE. Tebs, the manager seemed friendly, straight forward and honest. We woke up the next morning around 5:30am, got dressed and made our way to reception. We were greated by Lungo, our guide for the morning. We picked up two more people, a father and daughter who happened to be from Rhode Island and made our way into Chobe. The first half of the 3.5 hour drive was rather unspectacular. Chobe has been devastated by the over 100,000 elephants that call it home. Most of the entry area has been turned into a sandy desert with only a few thorny bushes remaining. However, as we moved further into the park we were able to see much more animal life. Giraffes, hippos, baboons and lots of elephants. Finally we came upon a small pride of lions that were munching on a baby elephant they had killed during the night. By the time we arrived the mama lions had seemed to have eaten their share while the younger cubs were fighting over the scraps. We watched for a very long time as the younger ones ripped effortlessly through the flesh like a hot knife going through butter. It was incredible! At one point, one of the lions approached the vehicle coming only a few feet away. We took a short rest after that along the riverfront. Afterwards we returned to the pride to find all of them in food coma as the heat coming off the savannah looked to take it's toll. On the way out of the park we passed several more animals including a large herd of elephants chomping their way toward the town. We wandered back to our camp and took a short nap until our tent became as hot as a Swedish sauna. Then we ventured into town to do some shopping and have some lunch. The afternoon portion of our excursion was by boat along the Chobe River. This trip on a small 8 seat boat was by far our favorite to date. Again, we were paired with the two Americans along with our guide Vincent. Vincent proved to be extremely knowledgable in the various animal, reptile, and bird life that clung to the banks and inhabited the river. Hundreds of hippos lay partly submerged in the shallow depths avoiding the afternoon heat. Massive crocodiles swam undisturbed in the murky waters while several other crocs lay on the banks. Several of these crocs were MASSIVE measuring more than 5 meters long from snout to tail. Needless to say, even though we were extremely hot, swimming in the river was not an option. We saw several colorful bird species including storks, fish eagles, and egyptian geese. The highlight was as we made our return journey back towards the campsite's jetty. By this time the sun was slowly setting towards the far reaches of Namibia, several huge herds of elephants were slowly making their way towards the river bank to make the nightly crossing to the Namibian side of the river. We were able to circle around the small grassy island as the HUGE red globe filled the sky. With dark silouettes of hundreds of elephants stretched out before us, it was magic!