A Travellerspoint blog

August 2011

Zambia- A River Runs Through It

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We left Livingstone and headed to Zambia’s capital Lusaka via bus. Lusaka is pretty hard to avoid as all roads in Zambia lead to it. After spending some time there I have to say it wasn’t my favorite city. Lusaka is a melting pot of rich and poor, rough in places, with not much in the way of sights. We visited the National Museum, which had an interesting display on witchcraft (still practiced by some Zambians), and had lunch at Subway. The food tasted pretty much as expected and provided us with a little taste of home :)
IMG_4935.jpg Photos from our Bus ride; ladies selling goods at a "bus stop"
IMG_4947a.jpg Women getting water from a water pump
IMG_4949.jpg Man carrying a bundle of firewood
From Lusaka, we made our way towards the Lower Zambezi National Park. We took a taxi to the combi station, then a combi to Chirundu (the closest town), followed by a taxi to a waiting boat, and finally a boat to our lodge (always a process). We camped out for two nights in a tent provided by the lodge which was in a great location. The campsite was situated above the river and included a bar with satellite TV (so Jeff could watch the US Open), deck overlooking the river, hot showers, and a pool. We spent several hours relaxing by the pool. On our first night, we enjoyed a “sundowner” cruise along the river and saw lots of hippos, a few elephants, and one crocodile. The next afternoon we decided to participate in one of Jeff’s favorite pastimes - fishing. We set out with Tobias, our guide, who took us out for four hours to see if we could catch a tiger fish, Zambia’s best known game fish. The long and short of it was that I caught two fish and Jeff did not catch anything (ironic, I know). The first fish looked like an enormous catfish and made a burping noise. The second fish was a tiger fish (so named for its impressive teeth). It put up a good fight and jumped from the water several times.
IMG_4973.jpg Hippos with their impressive jaws on display
IMG_5037.jpg The view of the Zambezi River from our camp lookout
IMG_5048.jpg Me and Tobias proudly holding the first catch of the day (the "burping fish")
IMG_5056a.jpg Check out those chompers on the Tiger Fish-appropriate name!
IMG_5059.jpg Jeff taking a crack at fishing
The next morning, we left the lodge by boat at 5:40am and reversed the whole process back to Lusaka. We made good time back to Lusaka, so we decided to catch a bus to Chipata, our next stop on a whim. It turned out to be one of our toughest travel days. We were put on a bus that was supposed to leave around 10:30 am, but operated on a “leave when full” policy and it didn’t fill up until 1:30 pm. While we waited, droves of people marched up and down the aisles selling everything imaginable. It was hot and our patience was wearing thin when the bus finally left; even the locals were getting irritated. Eight hours later we finally arrived in Chipata; we were tired, dehydrated and hungry. Moreover, since it was a last minute decision to head to Chipata, we did not have a room booked, so we hired a taxi to take us to one of the hostels recommended in our guide book. It took us two tries to find a place that had rooms available. Given that it was dark, late at night, and we had to go to two different hostels, the taxi driver charged us an arm and a leg (meters are a rarity in African taxis). Generally, I have an understanding that since we are foreign tourists, we will get charged slightly more for things, which I’m ok with. Most of the people here are very poor and it’s usually a few bucks we’re talking about, but in this instance, we were really swindled. So, that was extremely irritating but you learn for next time. In the end, we just shrugged it off and headed to bed for a good night’s sleep.
There’s really not much to do or see in Chipata, but it is a good stopover when trying to get to Malawi and/or South Luangwa National Park. So after a day of rest in Chipata, we travelled via combi to Mfuwe Village, the gateway to South Luangwa National Park, Zambia’s premiere game park. The trip took three hours on mostly dirt roads.
We stayed just outside the park at Croc Valley. Not wanting to repeat Chipata, we called ahead and reserved two dorm beds. Fortunately for us, however, the dorm beds were full when we arrived, so we were upgraded to a private cottage free of charge … one of the nicest places we’ve stayed since starting the trip :)
We went on two game drives in South Luangwa National Park, one day and one night. The day drive sets off at 6:00 am (the best time to see animals is at dawn and dusk) and we saw lots of animals, including giraffes fighting (see below video link) and two female lionesses with cubs. The cubs were about three months old and adorable- we hadn’t seen any cubs up to this point so it was exciting. The night drive set off at 4:00pm (it is winter here, so it is dark around 5:30pm). The night drive was amazing though because we saw two leopards fairly close up, one at dusk and the other in the dark with a spot light. Our safari vehicle also got a flat tire and we all had to unload in the dark so that it could be fixed. It is definitely unnerving when you leave the safety of your vehicle in lion and leopard territory (and even more so at night) so we all had our headlamps pointed in the general direction of the bush hoping to not see eyes staring back at us.
Video of the Fighting Giraffes
IMG_5091.jpg Hungry hippo out of the water (they only come out of the water towards evening to eat because their skin burns too easily during the day)
IMG_5152a.jpg Mom and cubs- they were georgous
IMG_5201.jpg Warthog (aka Pumba :))
IMG_5267.jpg Up Close with a Leopard
IMG_5274.jpg Just after sunset in South Luangwa
South Luangwa was our last stop in Zambia, so the next day we set off for Malawi. Public transport is very limited leaving South Luangwa and combis leave the village between 10 and 11 at night (not the safest drive in my opinion given the dark, bad roads, wild animals, and tired/drunk drivers). As a result, we were planning to hitchhike during the day back to Chipata, but then by a stroke of luck one of the owners of Croc Valley was driving not only to town, but to the Malawi border as well - so we got a lift with him all the way to the border! It was amazingly more comfortable than a combi and he was officially my hero that day.
We’ll write more from Malawi soon!

Posted by geldere 07:22 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Travelling Zimbabwe and Vic Falls Part II

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Man oh man. Getting around Africa has been interesting (and very tough at times). Unless you want to pay a small fortune for private transfers, you are stuck with local transportation, which can inexplicably range from easy-peasy to mind-numbingly painful. “Well, this is Africa”. You have to say it to yourself like a mantra.
We left Maun, Botswana for Zimbabwe with a stopover in Francistown, Botswana to change from a combi to a bus. Our bus was an extremely shady and rundown old school bus. A lot of buses/combis leave on a “when full” schedule. We had to wait almost two hours for it to overflow with passengers and luggage before it left. While we waited dozens of men and women marched up and down the aisle selling ice cream, fried chicken, wallets, passport covers, socks, belts, CDs, DVDs, you name it. We were the only foreigners on the bus, which will always get you a few second glances. Twelve hours after we left Maun, we arrived in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
While in Bulawayo, we took a day trip to visit Motobo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unlike most parks in Southern Africa, it is known more for its scenery than its wild life and is considered to have some of the best granite scenery in the world. Given all of the granite surfaces (ancient canvases), it is also dense with Rock Art left behind by the San people thousands of years ago. The landscape here is so impressive that John Cecil Rhodes (wealthy entrepreneur who created Rhodesia) chose to be buried here. His grave is located at a spot called “World’s View” – the top of a hill which provides a 360 degree view of the park. The landscape is unique and beautiful. It makes you wonder how all of these gigantic boulders ended up in one spot – it almost seems unnatural.
IMG_4639.jpg Granite Scenery in Motobo Park
IMG_4641.jpg Rock Art
IMG_4651a.jpg On top of World's View
IMG_4656a.jpg It's a tough job...
After Bulawayo, we travelled on three bone crunching combis (even Jeff complained about the squeeze) to Great Zimbabwe National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Great Zimbabwe consists of stone ruins from a city occupied between the 11th and 14th centuries. It was a powerful religious and political center, but due to overcrowding and the exploitation of local resources, the city was eventually abandoned. The ruins are the oldest surviving structures in Africa after the Pyramids. We had never heard of Great Zimbabwe before, but several locals recommended it. I was impressed by how much of the site is still intact, especially given that the walls were made without mortar - just stone stacked on stone. We stayed inside the park for two nights in rondavels (small circular huts) and spent the evenings relaxing by campfires. It was a cool site to see and if you’re ever in Zim (next month, I know), we would definitely recommend a visit.
IMG_4726.jpg View of the Great Enclosure
IMG_4788.jpg The Hilltop complex
IMG_4807.jpg The walls of Great Zimbabwe
IMG_4824.jpg Jeff relaxing by the campfire
IMG_4828.jpg The moon that night...I was just impressed at the detail Jeff got with the camera
To conclude our tour of Zimbabwe, we traveled back to Bulawayo and caught an overnight train to Victoria Falls in order to see the falls from the Zim side. It was noted in our guide book and by fellow travelers that we should get 1st class/sleeper car tickets for the train as the economy cars were sketchy and overcrowded. Well, as luck would have it, there was only one 1st class/sleeper car ticket left, so Jeff opted for an economy ticket and I took the 1st class/sleeper car ticket. When we got to the train platform, we realized that the economy cars were going to be crazy because the masses started to run- like full sprint- to claim seats (no assigned seating). When I say that economy was crowded, I mean like “combi” crowded - some people didn’t even have seats, they were sitting in the aisles and standing in between cars, it was insane. After we found Jeff a seat (e.g., a spot on a wooden bench), I walked leisurely to my 1st class/sleeper car, a small compartment with seats that convert to beds. It was decent by western standards, but amazing in comparison to economy. Surprisingly, no one else showed up in my compartment. So after the train departed, I found a conductor who was willing to upgrade Jeff in exchange for the difference in fares. I ambled my way through four train cars, stepping over people in the aisles and pushing through drunks in the dining car, to find Jeff scrunched between several locals, his bags on his lap and his head down. “You’ve been upgraded…let’s get the heck out of here” I said. He looked at me like I was the Messiah. We now refer to this as the “rescue mission”. We paid the difference (from $6 to $8…crazy, right) and the conductor even upgraded us to a private sleeper. Jeff said it was by far the best $2 we’d ever spent. It was a much more pleasant evening knowing we were both in the same place and that Jeff could go to the bathroom without losing his seat. This is Africa!
Our train arrived in the morning, so after taking a hot shower at our hostel (one of life’s simple pleasures), we headed out to see the falls. In the end, we found Victoria Falls to be more impressive from the Zimbabwe side than the Zambia side. The views are broader and, as a result, grander. The town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe was nicer than Livingston, Zambia as well. It was designed to be walkable, so we made our own way to the falls and enjoyed lots of nice views. Since we were further back from the falls, we also did not get as wet as we did on the Zam side. The water is unseasonably high right now, so the falls are really gushing. We also stopped by the “Big Tree”, an enormous Balboa Tree that was once a trading point between Zim and Zam. Our guide book indicated that high tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel was a must-not-miss experience and having such a positive experience on the Zambia side we had to try it out. High tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel was delicious and provided us a few minutes in luxury, with a beautiful view, but we agreed that high tea at the Royal Livingstone was the winner between the two.
IMG_4851.jpg Downriver from the Falls- nice views of the canyon
IMG_4886.jpg Vic Falls on the Zimbabwe side
IMG_4897.jpg High Tea!!!
Interestingly, Zimbabwe recently made the US Dollar its official currency which made it very easy for us to restock our supply. Unfortunately, the US Dollars available in Zim are old and beat up. We even received two dollar bills as change a few times (that must be where all of our two dollar bills went). But, strangely there is a short supply of US coins. As a result, people use South African coins instead of US coins.
We are waking up early tomorrow morning to cross back into Zambia and catch a bus to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. We will write again soon! Thank you for reading and staying in touch with us!

Posted by geldere 11:52 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Victoria Falls (Part 1 – “Zam”) and Botswana

We arrived in Livingstone, Zambia via overnight bus from Windhoek, Namibia to see the world famous Victoria Falls. Since we arrived late in the day, we walked directly to our hostel, Jollyboys Camp, to rest.

The next day we headed out to see the falls. Victoria Falls sits on the border between Zambia (“Zam”) and Zimbabwe (“Zim”). It is one of the world’s three largest waterfalls (along with Niagara and Iguassu) and is considered one of the seven wonders of the natural world. The Zambezi River feeds the falls and, shockingly, during the dry season, you can walk across the top of the falls (the warning signs say to watch out for “surges” that could sweep you over). Safety standards are not first world! We viewed the falls from several points, including the “Knife Edge”, where you get drenched from the spray. We also hiked down to the “Boiling Point” on the Zambezi River - a large whirlpool created by the falls and also a spot under the bridge between Zim and Zam where you can watch bungee jumpers. The falls were impressive to say the least. We are looking forward to seeing them from the Zim side as well in a few days.
IMG_4119.jpg Our 1st view of the Falls
IMG_4188.jpg Standing in front of the Boiling Point
Our guide book recommended grabbing a drink at the Royal Livingstone Hotel which sits on the Zambezi River just above the falls. We headed over for what we thought would be a late lunch but, unexpectedly, stumbled upon high tea (which I had never been to before). The hotel is luxurious and the grounds are pristine. It was by far the nicest hotel we have been to since our wedding. Between the hotel and the fancy high tea, I was in heaven. Even Jeff was overly excited. After two months of backpacking, we almost…almost forgot what luxury felt like. Quiche, cucumber sandwiches, and a million desserts, buffet style. We enjoyed it way too much!
7IMG_4195.jpg Enjoying High Tea
Victoria Falls is near the border of several countries, including Botswana. Botswana is famous for Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta. Unfortunately, there are few if any public buses in Botswana, yet alone connecting Victoria Falls to Botswana. As a result, we decided to try out combis and shared taxis. Combis and shared taxis are the primary means of transportation for Africans who do not have their own vehicles and they are therefore cheap (but you get what you pay for). After a short hike towards the combi “stop”, we were picked up on the way by a shared taxi. The way it works here is that when the bus or taxi is full, they leave (and I mean max capacity – i.e. 16 seats = 20+ passengers plus bags). There is no schedule. So in our shared taxi, I was squished in the back with our backpacks, a man with a child on his lap, and a breastfeeding woman. We eventually made it to the border and were greeted by one of several money changers: “Howzit, my sister and brother from another mother…you need Pula?” Long story short, we crossed into Botswana on a sketchy ferry and stomped our shoes in a chemical laden puddle (supposed to help control foot and mouth disease). Another shared taxi later, we were in Kasane, the town located on the edge of Chobe National Park.
Chobe was a cool experience. It was our first “tour” of a game park (not self driving) and we had a genuine tracker as our guide. He found a leopard in a tree by looking at footprints on the dirt road: “Do you see the fresh foot prints, leopard, and the drag mark, an impala? The leopard must be in a nearby tree eating the impala.” Sure enough, he was. I was impressed. We also chased after a pack of wild dogs that were stalking and eventually killed an impala. We didn’t see the kill, but five minutes after we lost the dogs, they came running by us with blood all over their coats. Pretty insane! That night we took a river cruise through Chobe and got a nice view of hungry hippos and huge crocodiles. Both good and bad, Chobe has over 50,000 elephants, but, due to their enormous vegetarian appetites, they have destroyed a lot of the habitat. As a result, they are discussing culling 10,000 to 20,000 of them.
IMG_4269.jpg Wild Dog Post Hunt
IMG_4283.jpg Leopard Hanging Out in a Tree
IMG_4302.jpg Baboons- I always think they have the most hilarious look on their faces
IMG_4324.jpg Hippos on the Riverbank enjoying the sun
IMG_4390.jpg Riverboat Cruise in ChobeIMG_4407.jpg Water Buffalo stare down
Having been in Kasane for three days, we then headed to Maun, Botswana. We based ourselves at The Old Bridge Backpackers which has a fantastic location right along the Okavango River. We heard that one of the best ways to see the Delta was by mokoro, a traditional dugout canoe, so we signed up for an overnight tour. After a 45-minute boat ride up the river into the Delta, we arrived at a local village where we met our “polers”, the people who would be showing us the Delta. The Delta is created by the Okavango River spilling out into the Kalahari Desert (think massive, shallow lake covered with reeds). The makoro moves similar to a punt in England or gondola in Venice. It was incredibly peaceful out on the Delta and we managed to see elephants, zebras, warthogs, wildebeests, impalas and buffalos. We camped one night on an island and spent the evening by the campfire drinking hot chocolate and educating the non-Americans on smores (they thought a smore was just an expression for a roasted marshmallow). Jeff also tried his hand at poling; he managed not to fall in. It was a really unique experience and a nice way to interact with locals.
IMG_4539.jpg Enjoying the Okavango
IMG_4499.jpg An elephant wandered into our camp- literally. This photo is not zoomed very far.
IMG_4519.jpg Jeff attempting "Poling"
IMG_4580.jpg Just after sunset
IMG_4603.jpg Enjoying the View
After returning from our mokoro trip, we took a day off. We were in desperate need of clean laundry. We also spent the day just relaxing by the riverbank and going into town for groceries. Though our time in Botswana was short, it was packed with a lot of fun. We are now heading to Zimbabwe, considered the second biggest failed country after Somalia in 2008. Should be interesting!

Posted by geldere 11:44 Archived in Botswana Tagged waterfalls elephants wild dogs chobe okavango combi Comments (0)

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