A Travellerspoint blog

Truck Trip Week 3

Okavango Delta to Victoria Falls

semi-overcast 30 °C
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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!

Posted by Tinktravel 21:55 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (4)

Truck Trip Weeks 2 to 3

Swakopmund to Okavango Delta

semi-overcast 25 °C
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Monday – Spitzkoppe , Namibia
We camped at the foot of Spitzkoppe, a beautiful red rock which is one of Namibia ’s most well known landmarks, sometimes compared to Ayer’s Rock (although the Aussies on our trip thought there was no comparison). Claire made the climb up the rock to see some 200 year old bush paintings. The stars were incredible that night as there was no light pollution for miles around.

Tuesday – Cheetah Farm , Namibia
Cheetahs are not a protected species in Namibia and are often shot by farmers because they steal their livestock. The Cheetah Farm is run by goat farmers who decided to catch the cheetahs, and have given over a large part of their land to use as a reserve. They have persuaded other local farmers to call them when they have a cheetah problem, and they will go and catch the animal and move it to the reserve. Over the years, they have hand raised cubs who were rejected by their mothers, and now have 3 fully grown cheetahs as house pets! After meeting them, we went to the reserve to see the 17 wild cheetahs at feeding time. It was great to have the opportunity to get so close to animals that it’s unusual to see in the wild.

Wednesday / Thursday – Etosha National Park , Namibia
We spent a day and a half on game drives, and some of our top spots included:
- 3 lion cubs right by the side of the road, and a lioness in the same place when we passed again later.
- Lots of giraffes, in particular, a herd walking on the edge of the Etosha salt pan.
- A black rhino sitting on the plain and rolling in mud as we watched.

Week 3 – Sunday / Monday / Tuesday – Okavango Delta , Botswana
We spent two nights camping in the Okavango Delta, a huge national park criss-crossed with rivers, streams and small islands, which change every year when the rainy season arrives.
We were picked up early by a 4x4 truck which drove us to the Mokoro Station. A mokoro is a shallow canoe, traditionally made by hollowing out a tree, but nowadays made from fiberglass. Justice, our poler, stood in the back using a long pole to punt the boat along, and there was room for the two of us and our gear.
We had a relaxing journey through channels in the reeds and lily pools to our bush camp. We pitched tents, built a fire and the polers dug a hole for the bathroom area!! We were shown the path to our swimming area, a pool just around the shore of the island, but warned not to walk there without one of the polers because it was a popular area for elephants!
After a quiet afternoon of siestas and jokes about bushtucker trials, we crossed in our mokoros to another island and went for a bush walk. We had a safety briefing from Justice which included the classic quote “Elephants very good smelly, very good heary” and then headed off. Only 5 minutes later, we came upon a herd of elephants about 100 metres away. It was a magic moment, and a top highlight of our trip so far. After a few seconds, they realized we were there and turned towards us, trunks raised, smelling us. There was a brief adrenaline rush as they appeared to start walking towards us, moving quite quickly, but we were in good hands and got out of the way. We cut through some bushes and were in time to see them walking past us. We love elephants!
The following afternoon, we went on a mokoro safari. The direction we wanted to go in was blocked by a sleeping hippo in the main channel, so we had to turn round. Instead, we went to a lily pool and encountered another hippo, who was huffing, puffing, ducking under the water and then bursting back to the surface. It was an incredible sight although a little bit scary.
We returned to civilisation on the third morning and have never been so happy to have a shower. That afternoon, we finished off our time at the delta by taking a 45 minute scenic flight over it in a small plane. It was windy and not a very comfortable ride, but still amazing to see herds of elephants, giraffes and lots of hippos grazing next to the water.

Posted by Tinktravel 09:55 Archived in Namibia Comments (4)

Truck Trip Week 1

Cape Town to Swakopmund

sunny 40 °C
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On Saturday evening (12th Feb) we met up with Bjorn, our guide for the next 3 weeks, and the group we are travelling with. We were pleased to discover that there are only 7 of us on a truck for 24 people.

We left Cape Town early on Sunday morning and headed for the Cederberg Mountains where we spent the first night camped in a winery. Our tent is dome shaped and very easy to put up as there are no tent pegs! The first night, we discovered that one section of the roof is netting instead of canvas, so we lay in our sleeping bags looking at the stars and spotting the Southern Cross.

Monday, we drove 600km and crossed the border into Namibia. We camped on the banks of the Orange River looking across at South Africa opposite us. The temperature was around 40 degrees, and our group congregated in and around the pool during the evening, drinking G&T to keep away the mosquitoes (there's something in the tonic they don't like - honestly!) and trying to cool down sufficiently to sleep. Thankfully, we haven't had another day as hot so far.

On Tuesday, we saw our first wildlife, and since then, spotting zebras, springboks, oryxes and ostriches from the truck has become a regular occurrence. In the evening, we watched the sun set over Fish River Canyon, a beautiful setting which rivals the Grand Canyon in scale - 160km in length, 27km wide in places, and 550m in depth.

Most of the way we have been travelling on unmade dirt roads. Because the country is so dry, 90% of the roads have not been tarred. When there is heavy rain (as there has been recently) the water washes over the roads which are not passable in places until a digger comes by to 'rebuild' them. Driving along is fairly comfortable but every now and then, we are all thrown through the air as the truck finds a way through a place where there is water damage.

We had a very early start on Wednesday as there were rumours that the road we needed to take wasn't passable, and the only alternative was a 300km detour! We did manage to get through the 'short' way although at one point we were diverted to drive across the top of a dam because a concrete bridge had collapsed in the rain! That afternoon, we arrived in Sesriem on the edge of the Namib Desert.

Thursday morning found us climbing Dune 45, one of the large red sand dunes in the area, in the dark, ready to watch the sunrise. From there, we drove to the oasis at Sossusvlei and switched to 4x4s for the final 5km. Because of the rain, there was water in the oasis for the first time in 6 years and we saw shrimp and catfish whose eggs lie dormant in the mud for years until the rain brings them to life. Learning about the geology of how an oasis forms and dies when the dunes join together and cut off the water supply was very interesting, and we enjoyed a very hot walk, visiting a deadvlei (a dried up oasis)

After a night in Solitaire, the smallest town in Namibia with 22 inhabitants (you have to have a petrol station, store, post office and accommodation to be classed as a town - that was all there was!) we drove to Swakopmund, the adrenaline centre of Southern Africa! We're enjoying a rest and sleeping in a proper bed, but we could be busy skydiving, quad biking or sandboarding if the mood took us.

We are really enjoying overlanding so far. We are with a nice group of people and although we're all quite different we seem to be getting on well so far. Honore, the cook, seems to magic tasty meals out of nowhere, so we're eating better than we expected!

The adventure resumes on Monday and we will blog again when we can.

Posted by Tinktravel 15:55 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

Final week in Hout Bay

sunny 35 °C
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Yesterday we finished work at Ikhaya le Themba – we really can’t believe how quickly 4 weeks has gone by – and early on Sunday morning we leave Cape Town on a truck, heading for Victoria Falls….the long way!

We’re a bit behind blog-wise, so thought we’d just put on a few highlights of the past week.

Saturday morning
We went on a tour of the township. Although we’ve been walking up the main street every day, we wanted the opportunity to go behind the scenes a little. We spent a very interesting couple of hours picking our way through the alleys and passageways that link Imizamo Yethu together. We saw terrible poverty, but were also struck by the friendliness and strong sense of community.

Sunday afternoon
A windy walk along Muizenburg beach watching ‘learner’ surfers. Surfing looks very cool when you watch someone who knows what their doing. We discovered that reaching that point takes quite a lot of effort. There were boards and people flying through the air in every direction! On the hill above the beach, we saw a shark watcher. They stand at a vantage point looking for sharks, and sound a siren if they see one so that everyone gets out of the water. There had been a siting two days but nothing while we were there. Claire would have to admit to being a tiny bit disappointed!

Monday afternoon.
Swimming in a local pool at Ikhaya le Themba. We quickly discovered that the kids are terrible swimmers, but have absolutely no fear of the water – a scary combination when you’re 3 adults trying to keep 10 children at a time safe in the pool. The children spent most of the time underwater, and it was difficult to tell who was having a lovely time and who was drowning! They all refused to get out at the end of the allotted time, and there was something very joyful about them continuing to throw themselves into the pool even though we’d been trying to chase them out for nearly 20 minutes, and half of them were shaking with cold!

Thursday afternoon.
Fire training with the children and the resurrection of Umfinya who triumphantly lead the children on a practice walk to the Evacuation Point, and demonstrated the ‘Stop, Drop, Roll’ rule of what to do if your clothes are on fire!

Friday afternoon.
Our last day with the children. They sang songs for us and danced, some of the children were chosen to speak on behalf of everyone, and finally they queued up to give us hugs. It was noisy and chaotic, but really lovely to have the opportunity to say goodbye to our 70 new best friends.

Saturday afternoon.
We've just heard that there was a fire in the township last night, and that at least two of our kids lost their homes. One of the staff members found them in the street this morning looking for their parents. As far as we know, nobody lost their life. It feels ironic that we did fire training two days ago! It's a very real risk and problem in the townships and on the mountains.

We will be leaving in the morning and don't know how much access we'll have to the internet while we're travelling through Namibia and Botswana, so forgive us if the blog slows down a bit. We will be back in touch when we can.

Posted by Tinktravel 14:56 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

Winelands and exploring more of Cape Town


sunny 32 °C
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At the weekend we had a break from Cape Town and headed into the Winelands to explore. We drove out through the Cape Flats, the area surrounding the airport where most of the townships are situated. Driving past mile upon mile of shacks made from corrugated iron gave us an insight into the scale of the poverty here. There are 25 to 30,000 people living in our local township alone, and Imizamo Yethu is comparatively small.

We soon reached Stellenbosch, and headed into the wine region, stopping to take in the Tokara winery which is right at the top of the Helshoogte Pass. The scenery was breathtaking. We arrived in Franschhoek mid-afternoon in sweltering heat and after an abandoned attempt to walk around town, headed off to our accommodation – a converted wine worker’s cottage in the middle of a vineyard. It was a treat to have our own space after 3 weeks at the backpacker’s hostel!

Franschhoek is known as the culinary capital of South Africa. That evening, our budget didn’t quite stretch to le Quartier Francais – apparently the fourth best restaurant in the world – but we did have an amazing steak just up the road!

The following morning while driving back to Stellenbosch, we realised that we were only a couple of kilometres away from the Victor Vorster prison in Drakenstein where Nelson Mandela was held for the final two years of his captivity, and where he famously went for a walk with the crowds when he was released. A few years ago, they built a monument to Mandela there, so we made a quick detour to have a look. It really felt like we were visiting a place where history was made.

Back in Stellenbosch, we visited the village museum – 4 houses which have been restored and furnished in the style of different periods of history from 1709 to 1850. It was very interesting, particularly because there’s no written information in the houses, but guides in period dress who answer your questions and explain what you’re looking at. Leaving the heat of the town behind, we headed to the deli at the Spier wine estate where we bought bit and pieces for a picnic on their lawn. It was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, and much nicer than being in the city.

Driving back into Hout Bay felt like coming home after going on holiday, and it was certainly a relief to feel the Southeaster wind again after the heat inland!

On Monday morning we drove into Cape Town and visited the District Six Museum. It’s a fascinating and moving museum dedicated to the people who lived in ‘District Six’, a vibrant multi ethnic community which developed from the mid 1800s. Under apartheid, the area was rezoned as a whites only area, the bulldozers were sent in and the community were forcibly removed.

Nick also visited a school in Hangberg, the other township in Hout Bay, and met with the deputy head teacher there who is very keen to form links with teachers in other countries. The school was built for 500 pupils and there are currently 1500! It’s very run down and there’s a problem with pupils vandalising the building and especially stealing the copper roofing, and even the copper window handles from the classrooms. The township itself is completely different to Imizamo Yethu, there are some flats and houses and less shacks – it doesn’t feel that different to the estates at home. The community have been there much longer and are descended from the ‘Cape Coloureds’, an ethnic group that we were told started 9 months after the Dutch first arrived in Cape Town and ‘mingled’ with the locals in the 1600s!.

On Tuesday morning we visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which are about a 15 minute drive away. It was sunny all morning in Hout Bay but cloudy at the gardens simply because they’re on the other side of the mountains. We were pleased to have some relief from the sun and really enjoyed looking around. A very knowledgeable guide showed us around to begin with. Despite the fact that Cape Town has scorching sunshine, high winds, poor rocky soils and fires which can threaten plants, the area boasts an incredible variety of plants and flowers. There are only 5 plant kingdoms in the world with specific separate plant varieties – one of them encompasses the entire Northern Hemisphere, but the Western Cape is apparently a separate plant kingdom – there are many species here that you don’t find anywhere else in the world. In the oldest part of the garden there are some Cycads. Plants like these grew when the dinosaurs were around and haven’t evolved at all since then. Their thick spiky leaves are what stopped the dinosaurs from eating them to extinction!

The rest of the week has been almost unbearably hot. The Xhosa for ‘it’s hot’ is very pleasing – something like oo-shoo-shoo (my spelling not theirs!) and we made the kids laugh yesterday when we tried to master pronouncing it. I guess it proves our Britishness – one of the first things we learn in an African tribal language is how to comment on the weather!

Posted by Tinktravel 11:56 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

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