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Africa part 3 of 6 Etosha National Park and through Botswana

Feb 9, 2012 by     3 Comments    Posted under: Botswana, Brandyn's blogs, Namibia, Uncategorized, Where we've been, Zimbabwe

For part one of my Africa Series please click here
For part two of my Africa Series please click here

Etosha National Park and through Botswana

Contents:
Etosha National Park
Divindu and crossing into Botswana
Okavango Delta
Maun
We stole a Pumbaa!
Chobe National Park

I was a little tired of seeing scenery that reminded me of home and I was ready to see some animals. I was incredibly psyched that we were going to Etosha National Park. My expectations were so low because in all honesty, I hadn’t heard much about it at all. Etosha to the native Owambo people means ‘Great White Place.’ The ground of the park looks dusty and the elephants here are white from the fine dirt.

The thing that I loved about Etosha, which purists have reason to argue about, is that Etosha has dozens of artificial watering holes throughout the park. This gives people a better opportunity to see the wildlife. We arrived in the afternoon and within a few minutes saw a small family of elephants. It was starting to feel much more like Africa now. We were dropped off at a watering hole where we got to look around for a few minutes before going back to the camp site. First we saw a few giraffes drinking, which is really cool to see. It is such an ordeal for them having to bend all the way over making themselves vulnerable while doing so. A young male elephant was drinking when another male came along. The two trumpeted and the young bull charged the other. It was a small confrontation but incredible nonetheless. That night Ray was behind the grill and we ate well.

The next morning we were going out in the truck for a full day game drive going at Christie’s sometimes too fast pace. We saw a few female lions playing the morning. We saw giant herds of springbok, zebra, and a few giraffes littered around the park. The highlight of the day came when we were having lunch and someone motioned for us to go to the watering hole and we found dozens of elephants getting water just meters away from us. My heart split open, this is what I came to Africa to see. Seeing the elephants interact with one another is something to behold. We watched mothers feed their young and others splash and play in the water. The elephants hardly noticed we existed and went about their business just as quickly as they’d come. While watching the elephants walk away, it was incredible that they could disappear as quickly as they did. Then on the way to the campsite we saw a leopard, which brought the big five count to three.

For pictures from Etosha please click HERE

We drove along the Caprivi Strip which at one point was owned by Britain. The Germans did a straight trade with Britain, Zanzibar for the Caprivi Strip . If you look at a map of Namibia it is the thin strip of land in the upper right hand corner. We hovered around the border of Angola for most of the day and that night we could see Angola across the river. We didn’t dare cross go in the river because of crocodiles.

For pictures from Divindu please click HERE

When we arrived in Maun the sun was due to set at any moment so we were all eager to set up the tents so we wouldn’t have to do it in the dark. We pulled into Delta Rain Campground and were greeted by a man who introduced himself as Nick, the Manager. Nick told us that before we could set up our tents we had to hear him give is talk about the optional tours that he had to offer. The first of which was the Okavango Delta trip itself; this was a no brainer and we were definitely going. The next was a flight over the Delta which he said would be great because it was at 5:30PM when the sun was setting so we’d be able to see the animals that go out at night that hide during the hot days. We paid for both, asked for a receipt, and were denied. Nick said that it wasn’t necessary so went about our business. One guy on our tour was told by Nick that he didn’t have change for him so just to drink at the bar en lieu of giving the change. I hope you can see where I’m going with this story and remember it because I’m going to talk about the Okavango Delta first then go back to Nick and Delta Rain afterwards.

The Okavango Delta is located in North Central Botswana and is the largest inland delta in the world. A delta is basically a flooded area which does not drain out to sea. The Okavango Delta is especially cool because of it is home to Africa’s Big Five. The Big Five was named so because they were known as the most dangerous animals for men to hunt; Cori saw that fact on a place mat and was sure to call me out when I mentioned it to someone. The Big Five are elephant, rhino, leopard, buffalo, and lion.

We were visiting the delta in the right season. When the land is somewhat covered in water you’re more likely to see animals. However, unfortunate enough for us, we were there when it was really flooded; one of our guides said that it was the most flooded that it had been in over 50 years which meant that it had too much water and too much of the land was submerged to have many animals around.

We took an open aired Jeep to the launching off point where the makoros were waiting for us. A makoro is a dugout canoe that you lean back in while a ‘poler’ is in the back pushing you along. The makoros aren’t hat comfortable at all, but they are really cool to be in. They scrape across the long grass that grows from the water. Our heads were almost level with the water which gave us a much different perspective on things. We stopped at a midway point so that Ray and some of the others could set up decorations by our camp site for a woman named Lee, whose birthday it was. We saw a bunch of different kinds of animal dung all around. This was a good sign and I was more excited than ever.

Before we left on our trip, I talked with a friend of mine and he said that the Okavango Delta was his favorite place in Africa and that it best Game Park he’d been to. My expectations were set high. We arrived and the tents were already set up for us. Our tent was a little on the outskirts and we were far enough from the snorers that we could get a good night’s sleep. Before going out on our first game walk we were given safety briefing which let us know that these were wild animals, don’t be an idiot, and what to do if we do see dangerous animals. Our guide was the slowest talking person imaginable, the briefing which we could have gotten in 2 minutes took about 15. We. Will. See. Elephant…Elephant…Elephant…We. May. See. Lion…Lion…Lion… and on and on and on.

Long story short, because of the flooding, most animals weren’t able to get to where we were. It turned out to be a poo safari because we just saw so many different types of poo. We saw rhino poo, elephant poo, poo that had been rolled up by a dung beetle, hippo poo, hyena poo (which is white because of all the calcium from the bones they eat), and every other poo imaginable. David summed it up perfectly with his thick Italian accent, “all of dis a sheet and no ahneemals.”

We went back for lunch and had; I’m not kidding here, a few slices of white toast, canned beets, and shredded carrots. We all lost our heads, everyone went mental. After a breakfast with no protein and only grain, we were given absolute garbage. It was appalling to think what she thought was appropriate for us to eat. One night in Solitaire our Danish friend who is a doctor who was going to Victoria Falls to volunteer at their hospital, Cameron, and I were all singing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in the shower. The acoustics carried well and everyone outside could hear us; it became a bit of an anthem for the trip. So that night, our hosts from the Delta sang some traditional songs and we all played some games. They then told us it was our turn to sing a traditional song from where we came from. A good percentage of us were from the UK, Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar, and it is one of the best songs ever…all 20 something of us belted out (poorly) Bohemian Rhapsody to a confused and (I hoped) an appreciative audience for giving it our best shot.

Later that evening I was woken up by a grunting. A primal and intense fear hit me awake. There was a brushing around just a few meters from us. Again I heard a weird guttural vocalization and footsteps. I couldn’t sleep knowing a hippo was so close to me. We’d heard by one of the guides that more people die each year because of hippos than any other animals in the Game Parks. I don’t know if it is true and didn’t care, but it was the first time in my life that I was scared of being hurt by something that wasn’t human.

For pictures from The Okavango Delta please click HERE

We got back to Maun at the Delta Rain and tried to take showers. The camp site didn’t ran out of water mid shower and a few of us were stuck sitting around for ages with shampoo stuck in our hair. We arrived back around lunch time and shortly after our arrival Nick showed up and told us that it was time for us to go on our flight. Now, we had booked the 5:30 flight and that is what we wanted. Charles, who has turned out to be my closest friend from the trip and I flipped out. We paid $65 per person for a 30 minute flight and we were going to be out in the middle of the day, which Nick had said that there would be no animals because they hide during the hot sun. We were furious.

Charles and I demanded our money back and didn’t want to go. Nick said, ‘don’t worry; I’ll get your money back for you.’ We asked him to give it to us in writing, which again he didn’t do. We were lied to in the face by this guy and we were getting shafted. We talked to his boss and she told us that we had to suck it up and that if we didn’t go on the flight everyone else would have to pony up and pay for our portion of the flight we wouldn’t be on. So Nick from Delta Rain in Maun, Botswana lied to us, sold us tickets for a flight that we weren’t going to be on instead we’d be on a flight where we saw no animals, and then lied to us again about getting our money back.

We did the flight, I would give it a strong 2/10.

It was Mama Cinzia’s birthday that night so we all drank a lot of wine and had a great time despite the whole delta flight debacle. After dinner we did what anyone else would do in our position. We stole something from him, because in Africa, contrary to what our mothers told us growing up, two wrongs definitely DO make a right. We continued on from the earlier wine and got really sauced up, drinking our own alcohol at the bar. Demanding to speak with a person whose name rhymes with Nick we were getting sloppy. I felt sorry for the bartender who had to deal with us.

For pictures from Maun please click HERE

In the movie, The Lion King there was a character named Pumbaa which was a warthog. Pumbaa we all thought meant warthog in Swahili so we named all warthogs Pumbaa; it actually means “to be foolish or silly.” So that night we were being very pumbaa. Behind the bar there was a warthog’s head hanging on the wall. That was our trophy. It would soon be ours. Charles’ wife and Cori, I’m sure being sick of our hyjinx went to bed early. The bar had closed and planning begun. It was determined that I would walk in the front door and if there was a person still behind the bar I would order a drink loud enough for Charles and Janus, who would be lurking by the side door to hear. Then one of them would steal the Pumbaa while I would then run to a far corner of the camp site screaming enough to get the security guard to come my way instead of the stumbling across the boys and the Pumbaa head.

Liz, the next morning said that I walked by her tent and said something like, ‘we just did the coolest thing we’ve ever done before.’ We had another starchy breakfast. I told Cori what we did. She urged me to fess up and tell Ray so that he wouldn’t have any repercussions from our awesome stunt the previous night. I told Cori that we would present Pumbaa to everyone as soon as we got outside of the gate. That way we would be close enough to return it if the others thought we had to do so. A jolt of anxiety hit me as they opened up the gates and I could see the office where I was stolen from the day before. The gates closed, and revenge was ours! We showed everyone the Pumbaa and were on the road.

Ray was sleeping when we stole the Pumbaa and said that he had nothing to do with it being gone, we stole it, and it was ours. VICTORY! We drove east towards the border with Zimbabwe to Chobe National Park.

For pictures us stealing a Pumbaa please click HERE

Botswana had an outbreak of foot and mouth disease so we all had to get outside of the truck a few times and walk through a watery solution that would kill it while the truck had to drive through the same kind of liquid. At one of the stops a curious police officer told us that he really wanted the Pumbaa. He kind of insinuated that we may have trouble if we didn’t give it to him because Ray asked us nicely if we would mind parting with it. We told him that he’d have to take his picture with it so we could remember it. The officer said that he wasn’t allowed to have his picture taken in uniform. Then a stroke of genius happened when Jan asked if Ray had asked the officer he could accept stolen merchandise. That the Pumbaa was stolen and it was usually against the rules in any country for a policeman to have stolen goods. We left with the Pumbaa and were on our way to Chobe.

That night Cameron and I had a few drinks and talked with some really friendly locals who were hanging out with their friend who worked behind the bar. They were a friendly and lively bunch. We talked for ages but three things stuck out for me. The first was that one of them said was that Cameron and I were the nicest white people that she’d met and that most of the people who visit the parks look down on the locals and that the whites from around there were particularly racist. I couldn’t grasp why anyone would racist would come to Africa, but who knows? She bought us both drinks and told us about when they went to go see a UB40 concert. There wasn’t supposed to be alcohol allowed in many public events including this one. Their way around it was to soak their shirts in hooch and suck the alcohol from it once inside. I shook their hands as they left and gave the woman a big hug who told me that it was the first time she’d ever touched a white person and was happy, they bought us another round and left us with fond memories.

Chobe National Park is home to some of the largest herds of elephants in Africa. Elephants have always been my favorite African animals so I was jazzed to be going. We took a sunset cruise on a river which separates Botswana from Namibia. The herds of elephant were so amazing. They all seemed to have so little care. We got to see them playing in the water and swimming a bit. It is incredible how massive they are, we saw a family next to a crocodile and the lizard looked so tiny in comparison. We saw many hippos that day as well. They looked too lazy to be dangerous but they were incredibly big. I couldn’t believe how big their heads were.

For pictures from Chobe National Park please click HERE

Zimbabwe has a certain mystique to it. The name rings a little taboo in my ears. A vague fascination had me really excited to see it. Crossing into Zimbabwe was simple but very time consuming. Everyone had to take their passports to the official, pay the Visa fee, and was free to enter. We had another starchy breakfast while waiting in line. The Visa for Zimbabwe is actually really cool. Within hours we’d be seeing one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls!

For part four of my Africa series where we go to Zimbabwe, drive through Zambia, and spend a week in Malawi, please click here

Africa part 1 of 6 To Overland or Not to Overland

An organized tour doesn’t sound like the way to do anything; one travelling more than 10,000 kilometers in a truck full of strangers, camping every night, and having zero flexibility on route or schedule sounds especially tedious and lame. So why did we chose to do an overland trip? Simple answer, we didn’t feel like we had a choice.

The longer answer, we both wanted to see Africa the same way that we saw South America. We traveled overland on our own from Bogota, Colombia to Buenos Aires, Argentina stopping at cities and small villages down the entire continent. Truthfully, we were a little overwhelmed and underprepared for Africa; it is not in our repertoire to plan to far ahead. Having arrived in Cape Town with nothing more than a backpack, a wife, and a vague idea of where we wanted to go. This is the first time that lack of planning seriously bit us on the hind sides. After speaking with a couple who had done the trip from Tanzania through Malawi to Mozambique and another guy who’d done the same and hearing the perils and tales of woe. We gave in and decided that it would be the easiest and most importantly the safest way to see as much of Africa as we could. Shortest answer, we got a half off promotion which sealed the deal. I’m glad we did it this way because stress is no way to spend a vacation and that is what Africa would be if we tried to do it on our own.

Looking back six months from this point, I still have no idea if we did it the right way or not. Also I would say that I do not regret the decision and am happy we did so because I have some of the greatest memories of my life because of the trip. We met many incredible people, saw scenery only previously known from National Geographic, and got to see Africa.

Africa, like I have told many surprised faces is expensive. It is expensive by western standards in that you don’t pay for what you get and it is assumed that if you’re there that you’ve got money. In Africa hostels will be on average a little less expensive than Europe but the quality will be vastly different. We stayed at a hostel in Arusha and paid $20 for a room with no windows, no fans, no sheets, and not enough room between the floor and bed to put our bags. This was the cheapest room available in the city. Everything is imported throughout the continent, so a candy bar in Botswana will cost you more than it would at home, a coloring book and crayons in Malawi will cost around $12; it is bloody expensive in Africa.

We were in Outdshoorn, South Africa and decided to talk with a woman at their official travel desk. She had a recent fax on her desk that was a promotion for Africa Travel Co that said that if we book the first half of the trip (Cape Town, South Africa to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe) we would get the second half (Vic Falls to Nairobi, Kenya) for free.

After doing the budget, we found that overlanding especially because we got the promotion with an organized group would cost us less in stress and money than if we were to rent our own 4×4 vehicle and explore some of the same parts of Africa.

We went from Cape Town, South Africa north into Namibia visiting Etosha National Park, then going east along the Caprivi Strip into Botswana visiting both the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park, we then went to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, made a mad dash through Zambia, spent a week on Lake Malawi, we then went to Zanzibar, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti National Park and finished our overland trip in Arusha before heading back to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar on our own. Here’s an interactive Google map showing where we went, zoom in for more information of specifics. I will try to be as specific as possible about where we went and what we did in the blog. There is a flaw in Google Earth and it thinks that Spitzkuppe, Namibia is in the water.

For part two of my Africa blog which took us from Cape Town up through Namibia, please click here

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