Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Leopard in a tree, goat on a roof, zebra in a hotel

This day can really be broken into 3 distinct chunks: our last game drive, the most interesting border crossing ever, and discovering Livingstone.

Trip notes 10 Jun:  Up at 5am for game drive. Freaking COLD and windy!!  Nice guide, good drive. Boring at first since animals were all asleep. Saw two leopards toward the end of the trek so it was a good drive overall. 

The game drive through Chobe was a far cry better than the one we had at Makgadikgadi a few days prior, even though we were in an open air vehicle.  The downside to traveling to Africa in the off-season (winter) is that our early morning game drive started out very cold and very dark.  There were the three of us plus one German lady and one Aussie guy.  (I swear, Aussies were everywhere this trip!!)  The Aussie guy is a musician, so we had some common ground as far as small talk goes.

On the game drive we saw the usual suspects: hippos, elephants, crocodiles, giraffes, impalas, kudu but this time we were joined by baboons, jackals and even a leopard!  The baboons were definitely the highlight for me because there was a very playful baby in the group.  We would get much closer to baboons the next day during our 2nd most interesting border crossing ever.  Enjoy some pictures from the game drive.

Boop!  Igotyounose!
Hi, I'm a giraffe
Jackals and a kudu

What are you looking at?
Me & C trying to stay warm!

Left for Zambia at 10.30. Took an open air safari car abt 20 minutes to the river. Transferred to a dinky boat for a few minutes' ride to Zambia. In the middle of the river, the boat driver stops so we can take pictures of no man's land. (Bot/Nam/Zim/Zam) 

I am very thankful for the planning that SAM & C put into this trip.  Otherwise, we would probably still be waiting to cross the Zambian border!  Upon leaving the lodge, we got in the same open air vehicle we had just used for our safari.  The driver informed us it would be a 15-20 minute ride to the Zambian border and after we crossed the river, 'someone' would be there to pick us up.  Yeah, I'm full of confidence!

Our hosts in Maun told us that semi trucks can spend upwards of two weeks in line to cross into Zambia.  We were about to find out why.  Turns out that there is no bridge over the Kazungula river and the ferry can only hold one semi at a time.  On our way to the banks of the Kazungula river, we passed dozens of trucks waiting in line.  To get around this time constraint, a few enterprising businessmen have taken some 'fishing boats' and turned them into passenger ferries.  I use the term 'fishing boat' lightly.  Our boat had 9 plastic chairs (like the kind found in any middle school band hall or church rec room) bolted to the deck.  The three of us were joined by a lady traveling solo and with the 4 of us and all our bags, that's all that would fit on the dodgy boat of certain doom.  So we started to cross the river, which is bigger than I anticipated.

A new country: Botnamzimzam!
The river crossing skirts four countries.  We had already been processed out of Botswana but had not checked into Zambia yet.  We were in the middle of no man's land between Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia yet in none of those countries.  We were like Schroedinger's travelers; it's not until we reach land again would we know what country we were in.  Our captain stopped in the middle of the river so we could take pictures.  We stepped off the dodgy boat of certain doom, went through immigration and were then officially in Zambia.  We met up with Steve, the taxi driver our next host had arranged to bring us into Livingstone.  An hour, $120 and one goat sighting later, we were in Livingstone.
Yes, the goat is strapped down.
Headed to the Royal Livingstone Hotel for drinks. AMAZING place!  Very high end, colonial, manicured. Drinks were nice and cheaper than we anticipated. Booked in dinner for Mon night.

C was traveling with a Lonely Planet guide book that recommended a great place for drinks.  We pulled up to the Royal Livingstone Hotel and were astonished by the luxury digs.  Now we know why we couldn't afford to stay there.  Thankfully, there was no dress code and we were able to enjoy a happy hour at the top of Victoria Falls.  SAM had something blue to drink while C and I opted for a drink called, "I Presume".  Bonus points if you get the reference!  During our conversation with the bar staff, we learned that the Royal Livingstone Hotel is home to four giraffes and eleven zebras.  They have their very own zebras!? Why yes, indeed.

Mmm...hotel grass.

Doorman for RLH took us to the Zam-side park entrance to Vic Falls. Paid $10pp to enter: doorman saved us 50%.  Walked around Vic Falls until 5p.  Taxi back to town, ate dinner at Zambezi Cafe. Good pizza, beef stew and peri peri chicken + garlic bread. Bill was $32.  Back to hotel by 7, tucked in for the night at 8.30. Long day again but are sleeping in tomorrow!

Me and SAM at the top of Victoria Falls, Zambia

Victoria Falls is best experienced from both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides.  We had just enough time before sunset to enjoy the Zambian side.  We also managed to make a friend in our cab driver, a nice kid by the name of Collings.  Before he dropped us at the B&B for the night, we arranged for him to be our driver the next day.  He was thankful for the work.  After our experience at happy hour, it was a reminder that we were in a developing nation.

Tomorrow brings a day trip to Zimbabwe, walking with lions, the world's best mojito, and a magnificent walk alongside Victoria Falls.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Day 6

Trip notes 9 June - Slept in until 7!!!  Brekky was nice.  Said goodbyes to GC staff.  Flew to Chobe today via Khwai and Kmara.  Took about 2 hours.  Parts of the flight were rough.  9-seater plane. Two bush landings, fertilized a tree.

I never thought I would be so happy about sleeping in until 7 while on vacation.  Our flight to the next camp was around 9.30, so we didn't get a chance to do any excursions that morning.  We had a very nice breakfast and said our good-byes to the staff.

Then it was time to get back in the bush plane.  The pictures below are from the flight.  You can see the airstrip, a view of the delta from the air, and the plane we flew in.  We had two stops between us and Chobe Lodge; one to drop off a couple at Khwai and the other to pick up a couple at Kmara.  The couple that we picked up just happened to be Australian!  We came across more Aussies than Americans on this trip.

The airstrip at Gunn's Camp
A view of the delta

C & Me outside our plane

Arrived Chobe around noon. Checked in with the world, everyone still there. Only 2 e-mails for me; 200+ for SAM.  C & I went shopping at the grocery store. Bought cereal, milk, snacks for the road trip to Livingstone. 90 pula for the groceries. (US$10) Man in front of us could not pay for his groceries, so C gave him her change. (abt 10 pula)

Returned to CSL for boat ride. More touristy than Gunn's but still nice. Loud Aussies on the boat with us. Saw hippos, elephants, impalas and crocs. Got a good pic of two hippos yawning. SAM got some other good shots. 

Chobe Lodge is the main lodge where the tourists go, so it was much bigger and better appointed than the other places we had stayed.  Having modern conveniences was nice but we were only there for one night so I tried to pretend they weren't there.  We booked a 3-hour sunset cruise and got some good pictures of more animals.  I call this the "Yawning Animal Brigade".  Crocs yawn to regulate body temperature and hippos yawn to establish dominance.  You learn something new every day!

Then we saw two elephants up on a hill from the river.  One elephant was no longer alive and the second elephant was keeping guard to chase away scavengers.  It was fairly graphic and it was then I discovered that I much prefer my circle of life in Disney form.

We got to see some more elephants along the river bank, and from the angle of SAM's picture, they looked like Siamese elephants.

Yawning yawning hippo!
Yawning croc
Siamese elephants?
Sunset on the river

My dad would be disappointed in me if I didn't take this opportunity to mention a skit from Mama's Family in which Tim Conway forgot his lines and improvised a skit about seeing Siamese elephants at the circus.  If you've never seen it, it's a hoot!  (skip to the 0:50 mark to forward through the first round of audience laughter)

Then we went back to our room for some wine and then enjoyed a buffet dinner.  The buffet had a lot of local delicacies and different types of game meat.  We ate a traditional lamb roast, as well as some kudu and warthog.  (Yes, we really did eat Tuna Kata this time.) Both were gamey (obviously) but the experience was good.

During dinner we were treated to a show put on by a couple dozen dancers in traditional attire.  I managed to get some of the audio on my iPod but no pictures since we didn't take our camera to dinner.

It was an early night because we knew the next morning would be an early start.  We booked a game drive starting at 6am.  But more on that tomorrow PLUS the most interesting border crossing I have ever done!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Delta Digest - days 4 & 5

I'm going to recap the last two days in the delta as one entry.

Trip notes 7 June:  Woke at 0630 to juice & tea from housekeeping. Could not leave for brekky due to two warthogs nearby on Christina & Astrid's porch. Guide told us later they're not dangerous. Still, it has tusks and can run, so better safe than sorry. 

Is that you, Tuna kata?
The rule in the camp is that you are not allowed outside of your tent while it's dark outside.  This was for our own safety because of all the animals.  Once housekeeping brings the tea & juice, that means it's safe to be outside.  Sometime between 0630 and 0700 we started hearing animals/rustling/fighting  noises.  C came over to our tent while SAM ventured outside to see what was going on.  Two warthogs were having a turf war on the porch of the next tent down.  Now being raised in the suburbs, I'm not all that comfortable around wild animals.  My close encounter with wildlife was limited to a possum getting into our garage when I was about 8 years old.  My dad did a catch & release at the neighborhood park.  I enjoy nature from afar, so being in the wilds of the Okavango Delta is way outside of my comfort zone.  C and I stayed in the tent because we didn't want to get run down by an angry warthog.

The upside of having a schedule at the camp was that if the 5 of us failed to turn up for breakfast on time, someone would notice.  Sure enough, around 0800, a guide came to our tents to see what was going on.  We pointed out the warthog and the guide probably wanted to laugh at us.  Turns out that warthogs have very poor eyesight and pose very little danger to people.  You learn something new every day!
I'm an eagle in a tree
Painted reed frog
Those of you familiar with my travel blogs written in the past few years will remember there are two Universal Truths when Jen travels:  I will always get blisters on my feet and I will always get sick somewhere along the line.  Today I was not dealing with blisters on my feet.  Christina, Astrid, C and SAM geared up for a bush walk while I stayed behind to rest.  The above pictures are some of the animals they encountered along the way.  (If you need a better view, click the picture and it will enlarge.)

That afternoon the 5 of us went on another sunset boat ride and enjoyed some wine.  Then we had another wonderful dinner with the good company of our fellow travelers.  It did seem to feel that in most of the places we went in Africa, we were the only Americans.

Great dinner atmosphere
Trip notes 8 June - Bush walk and boat ride. Out all day. Picnic lunch good. Saw a big ass crocodile. Guides would quiz us on where camp was. C & I were tied 2-2. Got back to camp around 3.30, went for mokoro ride through the weeds. Good dinner again.

We had another warthog sighting on the way to breakfast but felt much better about it.  The warthog was further away and we now knew that it didn't pose a threat to us.  Since I had been sick the previous day and since Christina & Astrid were leaving us that morning, our guide treated us 3 to a longer bush walk, picnic lunch and a boat ride in place of two separate excursions.

The bush walk was very informative.  We saw several herd of impalas, followed some other animal tracks and got to play in an old elephant bath.  When it came time for lunch, we were surprised to see our guides pull a picnic table & chairs out of the boat.  It beat sitting on a picnic blanket!  Lunch was wonderful, even if it meant we traded our made-to-order omlettes back in camp.

After lunch we got back in the boat for a big tour of the delta.  Along the way, we came along a group of 3 boats that had gotten lost.  They were looking for a particular fishing spot and got turned around.  It's pretty easy to get lost in the delta unless you really know your way around.  Our guides asked if we could see the island where we had just picnicked and I was the only one who spotted it correctly.  During the course of the afternoon, our guides would periodically stop the boat and say, "OK, where's camp?" and pretend to be lost.  C and I both guessed correctly twice.  Yes, it's that easy to get turned around in the delta!

This was the afternoon where we also spotted a few hippos and a huge crocodile.  SAM and C missed out on the croc because it was on my side of the boat.  The guide and I estimate that the thing was at least 12 feet long.  I'm very glad the boat kept going; that thing was ugly and mean looking!

On our way back to camp, we were speeding along a straightaway in the channel when we hear a big trumpeting sound from an elephant.  Kenny stopped the boat and we saw a solitary elephant on a small island near the channel.  The advantage to being in a smallish boat in the delta is that Kenny could navigate very close to the animals when we came across them.  We really loved our guides because when it hit the point that C and I felt that we were close enough to the elephant, Kenny stopped the boat.  (It was a nice change of pace from the guide who was more concerned about his truck than us!)  We got back to camp around 3.30, just as the other groups were leaving for their afternoon excursions.  SAM and I were treated to an extra mokoro ride, since I didn't have one the day before.

Our trumpeting elephant
A mokoro through the grass

Mokoro rides are interesting.  It's a canoe that is propelled by the guide who stands in the back of the boat with a long stick.  Instead of paddling the water, you push against the ground with the stick.  (The delta is not that deep.)  It would be a good way to get some exercise!  This mokoro ride was different than the one SAM had the previous morning because we went literally through the grass.  There were a lot of bugs and I couldn't really see where I was going but it was one of those experiences that you have to have when you visit the delta.

 We got back to camp and had another lovely dinner.  Our tents had no electricity, so everyone in camp had to share one power strip in the bar area to charge electronics.  It was quite a sight to see iPods, Kindles and cell phones being charged when you're almost totally off the grid.

Tomorrow brings a bush flight (or three) to the bustling metropolis of Kasane!