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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

View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

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)

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