Okavango Delta to Victoria Falls
02.03.2011 - 06.03.2011 30 °C
Our longest drive of the trip was from the Okavango Delta to Kasane (just over 600km mainly on tarmac roads, fortunately!) Driving in Botswana involves negotiating herds of goats, cattle and countless donkeys which graze by the roadside and often wander onto the road itself. The road to Kasane runs through a huge conservation area and we stopped several times to look at elephants by the side of the road, including one herd that were having a mud bath – incredible!
Kasane is at a meeting point for four countries – Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – and is also the northern gateway to Chobe National Park. The game parks we’ve been visiting are huge (Chobe is 11,000 sq km, Etosha is about 23,000 sq km) which means that you can’t guarantee seeing all animals, particularly in the rainy season as it is at the moment because the animals don’t need to visit the water holes each day. Part of the park is bordered by the Chobe River, hence the name. There are 40,000 to 140,000 elephants in the park depending on the time of year. Most of the animals are able to move in and out of the park freely because the boundaries aren’t all fenced.
Botswana has a huge population of elephants, as many as the rest of Africa put together. Even so, there are only 1% of the number of elephants in Africa that there were 100 years ago – they were almost hunted to extinction because of the ivory trade.
A very early start for a game drive in Chobe, travelling in a safari truck which was open on all sides. We saw several groups of elephants at close quarters, only a few metres away including some babies. We were sat at the back of the truck and at one point, an elephant came a bit too close for comfort! We also saw a pack of African Wild Dogs (or Painted Dogs) which our guide said were rare to see, they’re only spotted every 3 to 4 months. The dogs looked pretty menacing, and soon they were all on the move, stalking an impala. We followed in the truck to see how things would develop, happily for the impala it managed to escape that time, running away with it’s legs straight out behind it almost like a cartoon! Later, it rained and we passed the entire pack huddled around the base of a tree trying to keep dry.
We always see a huge variety of birds on game drives, and spotted African Fish Eagles, Marabou Storks, Black Egrets and Lilac Breasted Rollers to name but a few!
In the afternoon, we went on a sunset river safari down the Chobe River. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable trip and again we saw a great deal of animal and bird life. Being a few metres away from elephants who've just come down to the river for their evening drink and bath was an amazing experience. We also saw some big groups of hippos that were mainly in the water with their heads and eyes looking out and one hippo on the river bank spraying his territory! Hippos are nocturnal so they spend the day wallowing in the water and at night they can wander 4 or 5 km to eat. We saw a crocodile in the water, several monkeys on the river bank and a moniter lizard in a tree....and did we mention lots of elephants?!
We woke up to the sound of Honore our chef making breakfast. He seemed to be making more noise than usual, then we realised that we’d all moved our tents under the thatched kitcen area at the campsite, the previous day, when it’d poured with rain. Most of the tents leak, some more than others! We were relieved that it was our last night under canvas and also that the hippos in the Chobe river a few metres away hadn’t tried to come into the camp. To be fair there was an electric fence but we weren’t quite sure if it was switched on or not! (Well Nick wasn’t !!)
Honore the chef and Zeph , the driver, have worked really hard on the trip. Honore seems to be able to rustle up tasty meals at a moment’s notice (the bacon and eggs after the morning game drive were much appreciated!). Zeph relishes the 400 or 500 km drives, possibly because he has a girlfiend waiting at each town or campsite that we visit!
By 9 ish we were at the border with Zimbabwe where we duly paid our 55 US dollars each for the tourist visas. Most nationalities pay 30 dollars, but Brits pay 55 apparently because that's what we charge Zimbabweans to come to the UK! An hour later we arrived in Vic Falls town where we were immediately accosted by guys desperate to sell us souvenir Zim dollars, including Z100 trillion dollar notes (Dollarization happened at Vic Falls well before the rest of the country). We could hear the sound of the falls from the campsite but not see them. We upgraded to a chalet for the end of the trip. In the afternoon we explored the town and were amused to see warthogs grazing outside the banks. They have to bend down on their front legs to eat as their snouts are too high off the ground. The town has a very down at heel feel after the difficulties in the country in recent years. And the street sellers are very pushy trying to sell their wares. For adventurous tourists there are plenty of high adrenaline activities to do, such as bungee jumping from Vic Falls bridge and of course, in the dry season, white water rafting.
We visited the Falls in the afternoon – another astouding site and a truly fantastic experience!! On the Zimbabwean side you view the Falls from a national park. There is so much spray that the area is pretty much a tropical rainforest. There are about 15 or so viewing points whuich are just below the level of the top of the Falls (107 metres). The sun shines through the spray creating beautiful rainbows which are so close that you can actually see where they begin and end. The best part is that as you get closer the spray falls like rain showers so you get completely soaked. We’re seeing the Falls at their most impressive due to the exceptional volume of rain that has already fallen this year. About 500 million litres of water cascade over the top of the Falls each minute (enough to supply New York with water for three and a half days!) so it’s easy to see why the Falls are known as ‘the smoke that thunders’. It must’ve been an awesome sight for Dr Livingstone, the first colonialist to discover the Falls in 1855, during his famous expedition by boat down the Zambezi river.
After a chance conversation and invitation from a tourism police officer on Saturday, we found ourselves at the Victory Tabernacle church on Sunday morning! The service lasted 2 and a half hours, consisting of loud singing, energetic dancing and enthusiastic praying. We didn't understand much of what was going on, including the 45 minute sermon(!) but really enjoyed the service and received a very warm welcome.
After 2 nights in our slightly grubby, rundown chalet, we decided to celebrate Claire's birthday a week early by checking into the swanky Victoria Falls Hotel for our last night in Zimbabwe. It's an old colonial building, and we took high tea at 3pm (a bit of an institution) on the terrace overlooking manicured lawns, and the bridge over the gorge between Zambia and Zimbabwe. After an hour looking at the bridge, we decided to walk over it. We were actually in Zambia and had a coke in a cafe that side of the river, but technically hadn't left Zimbabwe because we were between the border posts. It was great to see the Falls from another angle, and we ended up soaking wet from the spray again.
Tomorrow we fly to Johannesburg and start the final stage of our trip, travelling back through South Africa to Cape Town. Watch this space!