A Travellerspoint blog

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)

Safari and Schnitzel?

Exploring Namibia

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After leaving South Africa behind, we made our way to Namibia via overnight bus to its capital, Windhoek. Our main goal in getting to Windhoek was to figure out how to travel around Namibia, either by “car hire” (what we call renting a car) or a tour. Southern Africa’s public transportation system has been one of the biggest departures from South America. Most towns in South America are connected to one another via a surprisingly efficient bus system. In contrast, in Africa, most travel is done by private car, tours, or “combis”, small vans that infrequently and irregularly connect some towns.
Windhoek is in the center of Namibia and is home to 250,000 people. Here’s the real shocker though…Namibia’s population is only 2.1 million- in the whole country! As a result, it one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
We arrived in Windhoek on a Saturday morning and virtually every store was closed and the downtown deserted. We saw the few notable sights in relative silence. It was interesting to discover that Namibia has a palpable German heritage even though Germany only occupied the area for about 25 years. German is actually an official language and there are dozens of German restaurants throughout the country. Sauerkraut, schnitzel, and good old fashioned German chocolate cake were always in reach. German food in Africa- go figure!
IMG_3180.jpg The "Gingerbread" German Church in Windhoek
Based on time and budget we decided to rent a car again to travel around Namibia (tours are shockingly expensive). We set off from Windhoek for Etosha National Park in the north. On our way, we stopped by a field outside of Grootfontein which is home to the “world’s largest meteorite’. Weighing almost 25,000 pounds, it must have made a heck of a thud when it landed 80,000 years ago. We stayed overnight just outside of Etohsa in a small town called Tsumeb.
IMG_3199.jpg The Meteorite
Etosha is known for its density of wildlife and it has the most impressive herds we’ve seen so far. Over two days, we saw giraffes, elephants, kudus, springboks, impalas, monkeys, zebras, warthogs, lions, baboons, rhinos, muskeets, wild dogs, ostriches, wildebeests, rabbits, cheetahs, hyenas, and more. The stars of the show were certainly the elephant herds. As if watching Planet Earth live, we saw elephants migrating northeast in herds of 25 to 35 from three watering holes. Watering holes are the place to be seen in the animal kingdom, but are also potentially dangerous for some animals. Watching wildlife is a lot like fishing; you can go a long time without seeing anything, but when you do it’s usually pretty amazing.
Our camp inside the park had a lit watering hole from which we watched dozens of elephants fighting, drinking, and playing. One pretty cool moment was when a lone rhino came trotting up with a cheetah following closely behind. The cheetah laid in the grass while the rhino drank. A few seconds later, three impalas (big cat food) came to the watering hole and walked right in front of the cheetah. The impalas and the cheetah engaged in an intense staring contest. We thought we just might see a kill (it is very rare to actually see one), but then an elephant came over and broke up the intensity. The elephant basically shooed the impalas off as if saying: “Are you insane? Run away!”. In case you don’t believe us, we caught a portion of the encounter on video (see the link below). It was pretty cool!
Elephant and Cheetah
Elephants Giving Themselves a Bath
We left behind the amazing scenery and wildlife in Etosha to head southwest to the town of Swakopmund. In route, we took a detour to see some “Rock Art” in Philip’s Cave. Rock Art generally consists of paintings made by native Africans and is often found in caves. Some of the Rock Art is thousands of years old. To get to Philip’s Cave we had to drive 20 kilometers along a dirt/sand road and then hike/climb for 30 minutes. It is amazing that people hundreds or thousands of years ago made these images and that they’ve weathered as well as they have and was a pretty cool sight to see.
IMG_3724.jpg Photos of the Rock Art
IMG_3727.jpg The Famous "White Elephant"
IMG_3756.jpg Taking a Break in Philip's Cave
IMG_3774.jpg The View from the Cave
Swakopmund is located on the coast of Namibia and is where the famous Namibian sand dunes begin. Swakopmund is also the adventure sports capital of Namibia and has activities such as sandboarding, skydiving, and quad biking. We decided to try sandboarding as a way to also see the dunes. This basically consists of greasing up a snowboard with floor wax and then sliding down the dunes as if you were actually snowboarding. Probably my favorite part of the activity was the sand-sledding however. When you are at the top of the sand mountain and you can’t see the bottom, you start to rethink the idea. The way down is a blast though and we reached speeds of up to 40 mph! To see video of me screaming my head off and getting sand everywhere click here. PS… There is no ski lift so we had to walk up the dune every time we went down. We were exhausted by the time we were done.
IMG_3826.jpg Jeff sandboarding
Sand Sledding!
Our last stop on our self-driving tour of Namibia was Sossusvlei (pronounced su-se-vlay). Sossusvlei is a park known for its striking red sand dunes. The best time to see the dunes is supposedly at sunrise when the colors hit the peak of their brilliance. In order to make it for sunrise, we “camped” inside the park. When I say “camped”, I mean we slept in our rental car. Hotels in the park charge over $800 USD per night, per room (just in case you were wondering what would possess us to camp in our rental car). Thankfully, Jeff is pretty handy at fire making and the camp had hot showers so it wasn’t a total wash :) We made it to the dunes in time for sunrise, but the sky was overcast, so we settled for the lovely red color they are naturally and hiked to the “dead trees”. The dead trees are located on a dried up lake that is now a salt pan and has a sad/eerie appearance.
IMG_3946.jpg On top of Dune 45 for Sunset
IMG_3998.jpg Sossusvlei Dunes
IMG_4046.jpg The Dead Trees
Having completed our driving tour of Namibia (almost 1,600 miles in 7 days), we headed back to Windhoek. Our drive back was delayed by multiple small creek crossings and one flat tire, but we made it safely. For dinner on our last night in Namibia, we went to Eat at Joe’s…an obligatory stop for tourists, so they say. Joe’s reminded us a lot of The Garlic in New Smyrna Beach (that will only make sense to the Orlando folks), but they specialize in game meats. We partook in some Kudu kabobs which were delicious!
We had a great tour of Namibia and are now heading to Victoria Falls on (you guessed it) an overnight bus! We will write again soon!

Posted by geldere 12:19 Archived in Namibia Tagged art elephants cave sand rock lions sledding sandboarding philip's Comments (0)

Cape Town and Great White Sharks...

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After viewing the Big Five and seeing some sights in Jo’burg, we set out for Cape Town. We had our hearts set on taking what we heard was supposedly a beautiful train ride from Jo'burg to Cape Town, but it was sold out for weeks- so we decided to fly instead. Our first view of Cape Town from the plane was pretty awesome - Cape Town is squeezed between the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain, it makes for a unique and impressive setting. We landed in Cape Town and made our way to our hostel, Atlantic Backpackers. We needed a day to just relax, so we decided to head out to the V&A Waterfront. After a short walk from our hostel, we found ourselves in a huge mall- I was in heaven! Jeff got himself a haircut (much needed after several months), we saw Transformers 3 in 3D at the movies, and ate some Thai food :). It was a splendid day!
IMG_2643.jpg Jeff getting a proper haircut
IMG_3155.jpg V&A Waterfront with Table Mountain in the background
The next day we got ourselves passes for the City Sightseeing Tour of Cape Town. We’d taken similar tours in Europe and always found them to be a great way to get around see the sights. The big red bus took us to the Castle of Good Hope, the District 6 museum, and to Table Mountain. Again, I found myself uncomfortably being transported up a mountain by cable car, but the views were totally worth it. From the top of Table Mountain, we had spectacular views of the city, ocean and surrounding mountains. Table Mountain is so impressive in fact, it is under consideration to be one of the new seven wonders of the natural world. We were fortunate that the “tablecloth” was nowhere in sight - it’s a local expression for the cloud layer that frequently covers the top of Table Mountain. Lastly, we ended our day on the big red bus with a sundowner, which is their expression for sunset, at Camps Bay. South Africa has wonderful sunsets!IMG_2745.jpg Jeff from the top of Table Mountain
IMG_2764.jpg Another view from the top
IMG_2779.jpg Sunset at Camp's Bay
The next day we hopped aboard the big red bus again, but this time we followed a different route. First, we visited the Slave Lodge museum. The building in which the museum is now located use to house slaves, but they’ve turned it into a very well done and informative museum. We also stopped at the Groot Constantia Winery, the oldest vineyard in South Africa. During our wine tasting, the staff was very generous with their pours, so I left in a good mood :) Finally, we finished off the day at Hout Bay (a marina) and checked out the resident sea lions. I have to say, I love Cape Town! Of all the places we’ve been so far, it’s the one place I could live.
IMG_2848.jpg Groot Constantia Vineyard and Winery
IMG_2856.jpg Tasting the local flavors
After our love fest with Cape Town, we rented a car and headed out to the famous Garden Route for some scenery and whale watching. We started in Hermanus, the “whale capital of the world”. During June and July, Right Whales come into the bay to mate and calf. Apparently, if you are there at the right moment, you can see dozens of whales close to shore. Despite our pretty good timing, we only saw two or three whales from afar, cool nonetheless.
The next morning we set out for Gansbaii where we signed up for a Great White Shark dive. It’s been high on Jeff’s list to see one of the world’s biggest predators up close, so it was a must do for us. We set out with White Shark Projects for the afternoon in hopes of seeing some sharks. It was an awesome experience! The tour operator chummed the water to attract the sharks to the boat and then led the sharks over to the viewing cage with a huge fish head. Sometimes, the sharks would hit the cage chasing the fish head (an adrenaline rush for the divers in the cage}. I almost peed my pants, not from fear, but rather the ice cold water temperatures! Even with a 7-mm wet suit on, it was freezing. To check out the sharks in action click here and here.
Having all our fingers and toes intact, we drove to Cape Aghulus, the most southern point of Africa and the place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Next, we stop in Wilderness for two nights, a quaint beach town set right between the mountains and ocean. Our hostel was located just one block from the beach, so it was so nice waking up to the sound of the waves. The owner of the hostel told us about a walk along an abandoned, elevated train track. She also told us about a “hippie” who lives along the track in a small cave and takes immense pride in his seashell creations: “He’s got some problems, but he’s harmless.” So, we of course walked along the track to take in the view and see the hippie’s “house” - he did a nice job decorating by the way. We also stopped at the “Map of Africa”, a small island/land mass near Wilderness that looks like the continent of Africa.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, so we drove back to Cape Town via Route 62, a scenic road that passes through the mountains and semi-arid desert. We stopped along the road for a night in Montagu, a town known for its hot springs. This was our third hot spring in less than two months, you might see a pattern emerging. Our hostel in Montagu was a working farm with a converted barn for backpackers - we slept in “horse stall 4”. I am still amused by this and like to remind Jeff that we slept in a barn.
IMG_2908.jpg Coastal Town of Hermanus
IMG_2947.jpg She was the biggest one we saw that day
IMG_2963.jpg Bait
IMG_2996.jpg The Southern most point of Africa in Cape Agulhus- where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans Meet
IMG_3022.jpg The view from our balcony in Wilderness...not a bad way to start the morning
IMG_3070.jpg The Hippie Man's shell house in Wilderness
We returned to Cape Town for one last night. This time, we stayed in a different part of town, closer to the downtown. Near our hostel was the restaurant “Mama Africa”, a Cape Town institution and we were told it was a “must do”. The restaurant specializes in game meats, so we snacked on ostrich kabobs, Kudu steak, crocodile bites, and more. The restaurant also had a traditional African band that played throughout dinner and really set the atmosphere.
It was great to see several different parts of South Africa over the last two weeks. We had an amazing experience here. We are now headed to Namibia for giant sand dunes and our second safari. We’ll keep you posted!!!

Posted by geldere 07:55 Archived in South Africa Tagged mountain whales vineyard wine sharks waterfront table Comments (0)

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