Overland tour part 4: Malawi and Tanzania

Hi Everyone!

We made it to the border of Malawi early in the morning and made it through the formalities surprisingly fast. Immediately after crossing the border I noticed a major change in the scenery. Malawi is incredibly lush and much more mountainous then the other countries we have visited to this point. It made the drive go by quickly as I was enthralled with the scenery.

We continued on to our final destination, Kande Beach, arriving by late afternoon. Kande Beach is located on Lake Malawi which is the third largest lake in Africa. Chris and I headed to the white sand beach to watch the beautiful sunset. It was hard to believe what we were looking at was a lake, it is so massive it really fools you into thinking it is an ocean.

image

image

image

The next day we woke early for a morning village tour with our group. We had a local tour guide who showed us us how they make bricks to construct their houses, gave us a tour of his house, and then we proceeded to the local school. The principal gave us a briefing on the school which goes up to year 8 and has 120 to 200 students per year. Chris and I were happy to see the Canadian Flag on numerous things within the classrooms, we were told 2 Canadians taught at the school for several years and were able to obtain sponsors for things the school required. As soon as we arrived at the school we were mauled by children wanting to hold our hands and climb on our backs. Luckily there was enough members of our group that were keen to indulge them that Chris and I weaseled our way out of engaging them. It just felt too much like they were trained to do this with every group. It caused me to stop and for the millionth time ask myself the age old question of whether traveling does more harm than good. As soon as any members of the group tried to hand out pens or paper they were overwhelmed with grabbing hands from all angles trying to snatch anything and everything. Is that a positive impact or negative? I always think back to what our tour guide Manda said when asked if we could give food to the local children or animals;

If we feed them today, who feeds them tomorrow?

The same applies to giving handouts of any kind. If tourists stop visiting the area, will they suffer from the interruption of the distribution of things from strangers? I haven’t come to any conclusions but I can’t shake the nagging feeling in some way I am negatively impacting the places I visit, even though I am not the one giving the handouts my presence still has an impact. I hope to have a clearer stance on this issue the more I travel.

Back to the tour: while observing the children I noticed one small child with a sweater that read “My roots are in Cape Breton.” What are the chances a child in rural Malawi would be wearing a Cape Breton sweater? I didn’t bring a camera with me but I do wish I had solely for a picture of that sweater.

After the school some people requested to see the church [it was a Sunday], and despite the principal trying to dissuade them as there was a service going on they got their way and we were brought to the church. Chris and I and one other couple kept a major distance from the doors of the church as we could hear the singing from outside which was enough for us. To our absolute disbelief some members of the group marched straight up the stairs of the church and proceeded to stick their DSLR cameras in the door and film the service. It was one of the most disrespectful acts we have witnessed to date. Other members of the group were much more respectful and asked to enter the church to observe the service [not just stick a camera in the door and hit record]. I am all for being a part of the church by attending the entire service, but to just show up and film a few minutes and leave is unimaginable to me. If I was at church at home and a bunch of tourists did that during the service I was attending I would be outraged! For the rest of the tour I spent it wondering how much longer there was left. It finally ended after a brief visit to the local clinic. We headed back to camp for lunch, and then Chris and a few others headed out snorkeling while I opted to stay back and relax on the beach. I did indulge in a swim in the lake even though I had learned in the course of preparing for my travel medicine certification that their is a risk of schistosomiasis by swimming. The water was just too tempting in the scorching afternoon sun. We visited a local pharmacy who provided us with praziquantel tablets to take in 6 weeks to treat ourselves as a precaution. A good experience for my own personal knowledge as a practitioner!

The next day we headed further north to Chitimba campsite which was also on the shores of Lake Malawi. We spent the afternoon browsing the local market where we were very tempted to buy a table and chairs. Unfortunately, it would be an arm and a leg to post them home and we are unable to carry them with us so we didn’t end up buying them. I settled for two bracelets that will perfectly match a necklace I bought in Ecuador. After the markets we had a game of beach volleyball before dinner and an early bedtime as it was one of our biggest driving days the following day.

Breakfast was served at the ungodly hour of 4 am and we left by 4:45 am. We made it to the border of Tanzania by 8:30 and I was happy to put my [very basic] swahili to use. It was a surreal feeling to be back so soon, I always knew I would come back but I expected it to be later in life. We made our way through Tukuyu tea and banana plantations to our campsite for the evening, Iringa Farmhouse. We arrived after dark and were exhausted after such a long day in the truck so we had quick showers, a quick dinner, and then it was bedtime.

The next day was yet another massive driving day as our destination was Dar es Salaam which was 500 km from Iringa. That may not seem that far but the road conditions, corrupt cops who stop you incessantly, and the horrendous traffic in Dar quickly made what would be a 5 hour journey in Canada to a 12+ hour in Tanzania.

I have described my time in Dar at length to Chris in the 4 years since I have visited and I was very excited for him to finally see things for himself. He couldn’t believe how mental it was, and how accurate my descriptions over the years were. We sat in traffic for over 2 hours trying to make it through one intersection. While waiting we witnessed numerous cars driving on the “sidewalk,” blocking the way of an ambulance for over 30 minutes. The hawkers weaved their way through traffic endlessly clinking their change in their hands to attract your attention. That is the one sound that dominates in my memory from my time spent in Dar. I reflected on all that has happened in my life since last being in Dar during our wait in traffic. When I first visited to volunteer at Pasada I had not truly traveled internationally and it was a very overwhelming and challenging experience that definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. I think I grew a lot as a person on that trip and it was part of the ‘spark’ that ignited the fire in me to continue traveling. Now here I am 4 years later, back where it all started in a way. It was a very significant moment for me and I couldn’t help smiling.

We arrived at our campsite and had a quick dinner before a group of us played a very fun game introduced to us by Miss Joy from Ireland. The game is called sardines and works like this; one person hides in a place and everyone else needs to find them, but when you find them you join them in hiding one by one until there is only one person left looking. That person loses the round and is responsible for hiding first in the next round. It is called sardines because inevitably you all end up crammed into one small little space like a tin of sardines. It was absolutely hilarious, a group of adults playing this game and having a total blast. Tiana and I won the best hiding site, we hid in plain site under a table in the bar. It took 15 minutes for anyone to find us, and over 35 minutes for the round to end. The bartenders laughed endlessly at us and probably thought we were a bunch of drunks, when in reality we were all sober!

The next day was yet another early morning as we were making our way to Zanzibar. We had to take the commuter ferry to downtown Dar and then make our way to the Zanzibar ferry terminal. I had taken the commuter ferry last time so I knew what a gongshow it was going to be. It didn’t disappoint and the others were a bit overwhelmed. We then commissioned a local bus to take us to the Zanzibar terminal, kicking all the poor locals off who were trying to make their way to work. When we arrived to the ferry terminal we only had to wait a few minutes before the chaos of Dar truly hit; we had to make it through the entrance gate, clear security and then board the boat. It was typical Africa with everyone trying to push in, butt the line, sell you things, or scam you in one way or another. We all eventually made our way onto the boat but were a little worse for wear. The crossing took an hour and a half and was relatively calm. We were lucky and had been upgraded to business class, meaning we had very luxurious and comfortable seats. Upon arriving to Zanzibar we had to have our luggage checked for plastic bags (they are banned in Zanzibar) and it was even worse mayhem than boarding the boat. I looked at the dismayed and frantic faces of my fellow travelers and was reminded what that feeling was like. At this point in the trip not much frazzles Chris or I, but it is a feeling that is etched in our minds forever so we could relate to our fellow travelers.

Finishing the formalities at the ferry terminal we walked to our hotel for the evening; The Karibu Inn. For $50 USD a night it was incredibly basic, it didn’t even have a sheet on the bed! Nevertheless, it was a bed and a very welcomed change from the tent. The rest of the day was free time, Chris and I opted to do none of the excursions as they were expensive and we really wanted a break from the group to do our own thing. We headed to a restaurant on the beach and ordered a snack platter and beers, sitting back and relishing the view. After a while Michael joined us, having his rubber arm twisted into having a few beers with us.

image

image

After a few hours of relaxing we decided to explore the rest of Stone Town a bit. We had looked up a few things in a lonely planet book in a local bookstore and had read that a place called Jaws Corner had incredible local coffee and was a good place to mingle with the locals. We found it relatively easily and immediately located the guy selling the coffee. He had a simple setup; the used cups were dumped into a bucket of water and immediately refilled from a kettle kept warm over charcoal. Despite the questionable sanitary conditions Chris and I both bought a cup, and a round for the locals playing Dominos. The coffee was incredible, the best we have had in a long time. Michael was not to be persuaded in joining us for a cup, he thought we were absolutely mental. I had to agree after I witnessed the coffee man refilling his kettle from a filthy bucket of pre-made coffee. I still had a second cup.

Chris and I were very happy to be back on our own and interacting with the locals. As much as the tour is convenient it certainly is carried out in opposite manner to our traveling philosophy. It is allowing us to cover a lot of ground and see a ton of the continent, and we are taking note of our favorite places for when we return. When we do come back we will definitely rent or buy a 4×4 and travel on our own.

After Jaws Corner Michael, Chris and I browsed the markets and worked a smoking deal for Michael on a traditional game board. We then went on the hunt for the local spirit, Konyagi, to try before heading to the famous Forodhani Gardens food market. The Konyagi was very similar to gin, and we had fun with the group passing it around before going for a bite. I had oodles of fun bartering over the food price, I was determined not to get Mzungu (Western Person) priced. I was very successful, my best price was 1/4th the price of what the rest of the group paid for the same thing. Our favorite dish of the night was a freshly grilled beef “pizza.” It wasn’t anything resembling what pizza at home was like, but it was delicious. I was hoping to have some seafood but the seafood looked as though it had been caught a few days ago so I stayed clear. It was a really lovely evening, after finishing our dinner we headed to a few of the girls room and sat around chatting and joking for a few hours.

The next day Tiana, Raj and I hit up the local shops. I am proud to say I invested in two paintings – the most I have ever purchased! Chris and I decided we want a few travel mementos for our apartment whenever we return home. After shopping we headed back to the meet the group to leave to the north of the island to Nungwi Beach. The group was staying at one resort called Ammani Lodge, while Chris, Michael, Tiana and I opted for the cheaper option across the road. The price at Ammani was $90 USD per night per room, while ours was $50 USD. Zanzibar is not cheap and we wanted to save money any way we could. Our accommodation was basic but adequate, and even included a decent breakfast in the rate.

We only had an hour before it was time to head out on our booze cruise. 8 members of our group along with our guide and guide in training opted for the booze cruise. We were expecting a boat with a designated bar area, some tables and seating and lots of room to move. What we got was a traditional boat with very limited space considering there was 4 crew members and an entire band. We were skeptical there would be enough booze for all of us but we set sail and started into the Konyagi. We played a few drinking games before the band really kicked things up and we started a dance party. Things very quickly deteriorated as we smashed through 8 bottles of Konyagi (you calculated correctly, that is a bottle each). We had an absolute blast together, at one stage we took over the bands instruments and had our own sing along. The memories may be a bit foggy, but luckily there were lots of pictures taken. A very fun night!
image

image

The next day we had a lazy start before heading to the pristine beach our accommodation was located on. We all had a laugh recounting the previous nights adventure before we decided it was time for a swim. Chris went first to test things out before Michael, Tiana and I joined. He gave us the thumbs up to say the water was nice, but as we entered the water he turned around and gave us two thumbs down. We thought he was kidding but when he reached us he was in rough shape. He had stepped on a rock that cut his foot and when he lifted his foot in pain a wave took him out and he fell onto a sea urchin. He turned around and showed us a massive clump of spikes protruding from his bottom. We quickly made our way back to the room where I attempted to remove them. They are very brittle and broke when I tried to remove them, leaving large pieces embedded under the skin. I realized I wasn’t equipped to deal with this so I ran to find our guide to see if he knew what to do. I couldn’t find him so I asked at our reception what I should do. They answered quickly and without hesitation.

You need a papaya and kerosene.

I was perplexed. I stated the obvious that I had neither of those things and even if I did I lacked the knowledge required to remedy the situation even if I did have them. The receptionist shouted to his friend (who I am confident didn’t even work there) who ushered me to follow him. He plucked a papaya from a tree and went to obtain some kerosene. I showed him to our room and gave him some privacy to work by heading back to the beach to collect our things. As I returned to the room he was leaving with a big smile on his face stating all was good. I asked Chris what happened and he said he stabbed the papaya to get the oil out, rubbed that on, and then poured a cap of kerosene over it. He then coated it again with the oil of the papaya. It was then a waiting game as it could take several days for the spikes to surface. Poor Chris could hardly sit down and spent a lot of the day laying in bed reading. The group, empathetic to his cause, lovingly nicknamed him prickle butt. I spent the afternoon playing volleyball and going for a swim once it was hightide.

image

image

image

image

image

image

That night we had a group candlelight dinner on the beach. The food was acceptable but the setting was perfect. Chris and I had an early night and an early morning as we were departing Nungwi at 9 am. Our journey back to Dar was much easier than our journey getting there and we arrived without issue. My next post will cover the rest of our time in Tanzania!

Cheers!

*We booked our tour through African Overland Safaris, the Adventure Travel Division of Tshokwane Safaris, on behalf of Africa Travel Co. We experienced incredible customer service and were fully satisfied with the price we paid and the information we were provided about the tour. Find more information at: http://www.african-overland-safaris.com OR http://www.tshokwanesafaris.com.

Overland Tour Part 3: Botswana and Zambia

Hi everyone!

As our journey progresses northwards there is a noticeable decline in the quality of internet. I have spent numerous frustrating hours sitting close to a wi-fi router willing my posts to upload to no avail. I have kept on top of writing due to the long truck journeys, but I am at the mercy of the availability of internet. My apologies!

We met for breakfast with our new group bright and early to make our way towards Bostswana. There were several other trucks heading the same way so our guide wanted to make sure we were there ahead of the others. Unlike our last group who instantly gelled and filled the bus with chatter, our new group was ominously quiet, even with the truck being set up better for socialization. Chris and I, and Michael and Tiana (the brother and sister duo from Auz from our last tour) snagged the 4 person card table allowing us to easily pass the drive by playing. We arrived to our destination in Botswana by midday, having encountered no issues at the border and managing to get all of our shopping done in the specified time limit at the grocery store stop. We had a quick lunch before some people headed out to Chobe National Park for a boat cruise game drive, while we stayed behind enjoying the pool and some relaxation. At 3 pm we met up with the people who had gone for the cruise and all headed back into Chobe for a sunset game drive in open landrovers. The park was beautiful, a more lush contrast compared to the other parks we had visited owing to the presence of the river. We spotted tons of elephants, giraffes, various antelope species, hippos and crocodiles. To our dismay many members of our new group gasped and proclaimed the name of whatever animal we came across, successfully scaring the animal away. They had been told by the guide before beginning the drive to be as quiet as possible as we approached the animals at close range, and despite the best efforts of a few other members of the group “shush’ing” these people they continued to make a racket any time we were close to an animal. It was very frustrating for those of us who were sitting quietly wanting the opportunity to snap pictures at close ranges. The other frustrating part of the drive was another landrover with a different ATC truck members kept getting stuck in the sand, necessitating retrieval by our vehicle. Our patience paid off as just as the sun was setting we found a group of young cub lions feeding on the kill of a buffalo. We were able to get alarmingly close to them as they intermittently played with each other and fed on the kill. It was a spectacular sight and we stayed for over half an hour observing them and snapping pictures. Big thanks to Tiana for the pictures with her amazing zoom!

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

We then quickly began to head towards our campsite for the evening; a bush campsite within the park without any type of facilities except a makeshift loo. There were no fences, nothing to stop the animals from paying us a visit. Our tents had been assembled for us and an inviting fire welcomed us to the campsite. Our chef had gone ahead to the campsite and prepared us a delicious spaghetti bolognase. We enjoyed our dinner at the stories of the guide who was spending the night in the bush with us. We [finally] introduced ourselves, having gone two days without any formal introduction process. It was a very early and action packed day so it didn’t take long for the group to retire to bed. The stars were spectacular, viewing was even clearer than when we were in Namibia. Once in our tents for the night we were strongly encouraged to not get out of them as there was a high probability there would be animals passing by the camp. We were lulled to sleep by the sounds of various animals, the reality of the fact we were in the bush with no fences passing through our minds in an almost dreamlike fashion.

It was a very early start the next morning for a sunrise game drive on our way out of the park. It was absolutely freezing; the wind whipped our faces in an unrelenting way. I will be honest, we saw almost nothing on the drive, the most excitement came with the whisperings of a leopard in a bush. The only thing we could see was a shadow moving within the bush, it very easily could have been a warthog for all we could discern.

image

We ended our game drive and quickly boarded the truck to head to Livingstone, Zambia. We were lucky at the border and cleared it in no time. We made it to Livingstone, had a quick lunch and then Michael, Tiana, Chris and I headed to the Royal Livingstone Hotel where we were being picked up for our Angel Pools excursion. ATC strongly recommends against this activity as it is a “high risk” activity, but Brad and ‘Rel had done it and loved it so we went ahead and booked it. We arrived to the Roal Livingstone Hotel and were immediately impressed with the place. It has a perfect view of Livingstone Island and the mist from the falls. It overlooks the water that feeds the falls, and if you didn’t know the falls were a few hundred meters downstream you would think it was simply a calm body of water. We waited a few minutes until our boat arrived to pick us up. We hopped in and immediately the driver took off full speed ahead towards the falls. It was a little unnerving, but before we knew it we had pulled up to Livingstone Island. We disembarked onto the island and quickly made our way to the front of the island closest to the falls. We walked to the edge of the falls and one by one were taken to peer over the edge. I cannot express how magnificent this perspective of the falls was. People rave about the helicopter ride, which certainly would give you the perspective of the span of the falls, but standing on the edge looking over gave you the perspective of the magnitude of the falls. Our guide was fantastic and snapped hundreds of photos of us, all unprovoked. We first entered a small pool facing the curtain of water on the Zambian side for pictures before heading to the Actual Angels Pool which more faces the Zimbabwean side. We all linked hands and walked with trepidation along the edge until we finally entered the pool. We were literally mere inches from the edge, the current, although slight, still feeling dangerously strong considering the circumstances. The guide continued snapping pictures and taking videos as we waved to the dismayed visitors on the opposite side of the falls. One of the people waving comically signaled for us to dive off the edge, to which we signed for her to go first. It was surreal to gingerly peer over the edge, it gave a whole new understanding of the local name for the falls which translates to ‘The smoke that thunders.’ All three of us had a burst of adrenaline as we sat in the seemingly harmless pool. Before we knew it, it was time to link hands again and head back. We had signed up for the high tea visit so after our guide gave our feet a rinse from the mud [we felt like royalty] we were sat at a table overlooking the falls and brought gin and 7’s. The snacks came 15 minutes or so later and were very satisfactory. We were very lucky as it was only the 4 of us for the entire excursion, it was a welcomed respite from the rest of the group.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

We caught our boat back to the hotel and decided to have a sundowner on their deck before heading back to the campsite. It was the perfect end to a highlight of our tour so far.

image

image

While waiting for our cab driver to pick us up we got chatting to one of the workers who drives a golf cart around the hotel, bringing guests to their various rooms. He offered to take us for a spin to see the presidential suite, which we happily accepted. The hotel is definitely impressive, and most definitely way outside of our current budget or any foreseeable future budget. As we were turning around to head back to reception he pointed out 2 giraffes feeding on the trees not even a meter from where we were. I highly recommend visiting Angels Pool, or at the very least going for sundowners at the Royal Livingstone Hotel!

The next day we headed out early to get to South Luangwa National Park. After a very long day in the truck [12 hours] we made it to the park and our campsite for the evening. Shortly after arriving we had an unexpected guest show up to our truck. As the cook and his helpers for the day were busy preparing dinner an elephant showed up, helping himself to generous portions of carrots and corn on the cob. It was absolutely hysterical to see him stuffing as much as he could as quickly as he could into his mouth while the workers hustled to grab their slingshots to scare him away. It was the quick thinking of our driver, Steve, who jumped in the cab and laid on the horn that got the elephant to charge away from our truck. Our cook was hardly phased, he laughed and continued on with his preparations. It just meant we needed an additional grocery shopping stop to restock what the elephant plundered.

The next morning we awoke early for a game drive in the park. Very early into our drive we spotted a lion protecting its kill on the shore of the river; a baby hippo. Several other lions could be spotted napping closeby.

image

We were keen to see a leopard as the parks habitat is perfect for them and our guide said it was more common to see the leopards in the park rather than the lions. Unfortunately our truck didn’t spot one, while the other truck were lucky enough to get a brief glimpse of one as it was chasing a potential meal. It was still a lovely drive and again the park was totally different than any of the parks we had been too, there were many more trees [this is the reason it is good leopard territory].

After our drive we backtracked a bit to a town that was closer to the border of Malawi, where we were heading the next day. Our guide was going for a jog and invited us to join him. Chris and I and 4 others from the group tagged along and were surprised that as we ran the local children, seeming to appear from no where, joined in step with us and ran the whole way with us. At one point two little girls grabbed my hands and we ran hand in hand for several hundred meters. It was a wonderful experience and made the jog much more worthwhile. After our jog we did some exercising before cleaning up for the birthday celebrations of one of the other guests. It was a pleasant evening, but did not compare to the fun we had with our first group!

The next day was yet another very early morning as the Malawian border is notorious for taking a long time. I will cover our adventures in Malawi in my next post!

*We booked our tour through African Overland Safaris, the Adventure Travel Division of Tshokwane Safaris, on behalf of Africa Travel Co. We experienced incredible customer service and were fully satisfied with the price we paid and the information we were provided about the tour. Find more information at: http://www.african-overland-safaris.com OR http://www.tshokwanesafaris.com.

Overland Tour Part 2: Zimbabwe

Our first evening at Antelope Park in Gweru in Zimbabwe was spent learning about what Antelope park does and what activities we were able to do the following day. We learned Antelope Park has a lion breeding program with the aim of releasing the lions into the wild. The program manager was a charismatic chap and explained that releasing captive bred lions in the past has failed miserably and thus their approach is entirely different. The reasons they feel releasing lions has failed in the past is because they release lions that are incapable to hunt for themselves and they have released single lions vs. prides. Their program is structured to breed the most dominant male and female lions and after three weeks of the birth of the cubs to take the cubs away and for the program manager to imprint on the cubs. They then teach those cubs to hunt on their own, and then place those cubs in an enclosure without any further human contact. These lions then breed within the enclosure and it is those cubs that are completely void of any human interaction that they will release as a pride. They are aiming to release their first pride within the next few months and hope to prove their innovative program works. If successful, the program structure can be applied to any predator such as tigers, cheetahs etc. The enthusiasm the program manager displayed for the program was infectious and I am very excited to follow its progress. They also rescue lions and have other activities with the lions that have human interaction. You were able to walk with the lions, go on a night encounter where you go hunting with the lions, or view an adult or cub feeding. There was also some activities with rescue elephants, you could go for a horse ride, go canoeing or a few other things. Chris and I settled on watching the adult feeding and the night encounter as we were keen to see the lions hunt. The lion walk did appeal to me but there is something I don’t like about interacting with a wild animal in an “un-wild” way if I can say that. After booking our activities for the following day we headed back to camp for dinner and a few drinks.

The next day I woke up early and handwashed both Chris and I’s laundry before heading out to watch the feeding at noon. They had two enclosures where they were feeding adult male lions. The first enclosure had an entire deceased donkey and calf. I will guarantee the smell is not one that does you any favors after a few drinks the night before. They released the lions and out of the 4 or 5 only two ran for the ‘prey’ and each selected one. The guide explained they are the dominant males in the group and the other lions let them feed first before going for the food. Both lions dragged their food away and assumed a protective stance. Neither fed, they both just licked the food a bit and whenever we got closer than they wanted they charged the fence and let us know. One of them pulled the intestines very gently out of its prey and licked the outside. Photo cred to Brad and ‘Rel!

image

image

image

image

image

image
image

image

image
image

image

We then moved to the adjacent enclosure to watch the second feeding and this time it was much more action packed. There was pieces of meat this time and no lion had established its dominance yet. They allowed us go crouch down at eye level of the lions and meat (they placed the meat as close to the fence as possible) outside the fence to get the full effect. They released the lions and they came full speed towards us at the fence and the meat. The adrenaline we experienced as the lions charged us was unlike anything else. They had a scuffle over the meat and there was a lot of noise but in the end they each got a piece and again dragged it away from the others and assumed a protective stance. We then had plenty of opportunities for photos and to try to not lose our breakfast from the smells. Thankfully after 15 minutes we headed back to camp. A very exciting experience that I highly recommend!

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

The afternoon was spent playing volleyball and passing the time in the sun. We were treated to elephants walking through the campsite before we started our game!

image

image

image

image

At 5:30 pm seven of our group headed to the open jeeps to head out on the night encounter. There were a lot of other tours at the campsite so it was a big group for the night encounter, 3 jeeps in total. They decided to take 4 lions, each around two and a half years of age, on the hunt as they thought it would increase our chances of seeing a kill. We headed out as the sky continued to darken and were excited to see the lions weaving amongst the vehicles. They teach the lions to think the vehicles are members of their pride so they follow them to the game. Each truck had a spotter with a spotlight who constantly was scanning the bush for a potential meal. The lions playfully weaved in between the vehicles, often falling behind as they practiced their hunting skills on each other. Our ‘pride’ stalked through the night and the anticipation was palpable in the air. The spotters found game several times but the lions were too far behind the vehicles so by the time they caught up the game was gone. At one point the lions found something on their own and ran off in two sets of two in pursuit of their meal, during which time we lost them and spent 15 minutes trying to find them again. Once we found them we all took a break, the lions laying quietly behind the vehicle while we enjoyed delicious hot chocolate. We could tell the crew really wanted us to see a kill, they were prepared to stay out as long as the lions continued to show interest in hunting. We spent a total of 5 hours on the trucks before finally calling it quits without seeing a kill. We were as hungry as the lions by this time as it was 10:00 pm and none of us had had any dinner. Despite not seeing a kill it was still a really incredible experience, there is nothing quite like being in the wild at night with predators capable of taking down big animals. I would definitely recommend it!

image

The next morning we headed to Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. Most of the group headed out on a rhino walk which Chris and I opted out of due to our incredibly close encounters with the rhinos in the Mhkaya Game Reserve in Swaziland. We chose to go for a run through the city, garnering the attention of the locals. They laugh at you as you run past, and laugh even harder when they see you running back the same way. Most of them see running as a mode of transport to get somewhere rather than a form of exercise. We relaxed the rest of the afternoon before an early dinner and evening. We were transiting very early the next morning to Hwange National Park where we had a game drive that afternoon. If you recognize the name of the park that is because it was the home of Cecil, the black maned lion that was lured out of the park and pouched by the [insert your choice of descriptive term here] American big game hunter. For the life of me I cannot understand the mentality of these hunters and how they possibly could derive satisfaction from killing such rare and beautiful animals. The rangers at the park discussed the loss of Cecil with us while on our game drive, pointing out that the Americans argument that he didn’t know that Cecil was wearing a collar was irrelevant as there is no quota for lions in Zimbabwe at all, meaning you can’t kill them at all irregardless if they are collared or not. My hope is this hunter is made an extreme example of, humans are the single greatest threat to the survival of the lions and killing them for trophies is simply unacceptable. While the lions are what has made headlines the past few weeks we didn’t spot any on our afternoon game drive. We were able to see both rona and sable antelope, both rare species of antelope. We then pulled into the watering hole in the soft glow of the late afternoon light and were treated to over 50 elephants from several different herds watering and cooling themselves. There were numerous babies in the herds, some as young as a few months old. We snapped some great shots and I was even able to get a good video of the elephants in the water, at one point one elephant even chased another, giving it a shove with its tusks. A great end to the game drive!

image

image

image

image

image

That evening at camp we were treated to a few visitors around the campfire. Several honey badgers checked us out over the course of the evening, getting increasingly close trying to sniff out any food from our rubbish. Brad and ‘Rel were able to get a few good shots, check them out below! I read an article in a ‘Wild’ magazine in South Africa about honey badgers and ever since have been hoping to see them. They are immune to most venomous animals such as snakes and scorpions as that is their food. They can be ferocious and are known as animals not to mess with. Their called honey badgers because of their love for honey and willingness to do anything to get it. Our cook told us they are delicious to eat!
image

image

The following day we hit the road early to make our way to our final destination of part one of our tour; Victoria Falls. Chris and I, Brad and ‘Rel, and Mr. Clemens (First name Mike but always referenced as Mr. Clemens) had been to Vic Falls before we chose to relax the first day we were there. Chris and I fit a run in before getting ready for our last dinner out as a group. We all went to the restaurant ‘In Da Belly’ (a play on the name of one of their official languages) which was located in our rest camp. Our crew gave a lovely goodbye speech and we had a delicious meal accompanied with traditional music. After dinner our crew began playing a few drinking games as it was our driver, Ian AKA Diamond Dog’s, birthday and our last night together. We had an absolute blast before heading to the local haunt, Shoestrings Bar and Backpackers. We stayed until close before climbing into our luxurious safari tents for the last time on tour.

The next morning we had to gather all our things, bring down the tents, and meet our new crew members for the rest of our journey. It was an ambitious morning for us all after a big night out. The afternoon was spent browsing the local markets where I purchased more souvenirs than ever before! I got a beautiful handbag and wallet that have proven very handy, and two tiny giraffe tree ornaments. The bartering that took place over the ornaments was very entertaining. The lady told me she would give me a very good price, opening with an offer of $20 USD. I almost keeled over from laughing considering I paid $10 for my big handbag. She told me the smaller the item the harder it is to make and thats why the price was what it was. After my continued laughter (and a few chuckles herself) she asked what I wanted to pay. I offered $1 USD. Now, you may think that is harsh but they definitely cost less than $50 cents to make so it was still a good profit. She matched me with $10 USD which made me laugh all over again. She wanted to know what I was willing to pay if it wasn’t $10, and I told her I was serious about $1! There was much back and forth and as I walked out of the shop she shouted $2 was fine. I obliged, despite still thinking it was too much it was a pretty good deal considering her original offer of $20. I enjoy collecting cloth tree ornaments as we travel as they are small and cheap, and I think it will be so fun to reminisce on our travels as we decorate our tree one day.

Later that afternoon our group had made plans to visit our cooks family and village. He was so incredibly proud of his family and home, and being Zimbabwean, so he was eager to share this with us. We picked up a ton of school supplies, balls and other toys to give to the kids and community. We took taxis the 20 km to the small village and arrived at Avels (our cook) home in no time. His wife and kids were so lovely and gave us a tour of their home. They had different rondavels for each component of the home; one for the guest bedroom, one for the main bedroom, one for the kitchen, and one for storage. The 4 huts stood several meters apart and all were enclosed in a fence, make the deconstructed house seem more like 4 houses side by side. There were a ton of other children from the village playing with Avels in the yard and were very pleased with their new toys. There wasn’t one of anything for each child, but without having to be told they distributed the toys amongst themselves and shared everything. I couldn’t help thinking what would happen if the same scenario took place in Canada. I am confident there would be many tears and fighting over the toys. The wife let some of the girls try to carry a bucket of water on their heads to the amusement of the children. Mr. Clemens also had a go at trying to chop down a tree, to which Avels wife said he wouldn’t qualify for a wife [to the amusement of our group this time]. We then walked further into the village where Chris was able to try his hand at pumping the water from the well, and we were able to try the local maze beer in the one shop. We were welcomed by the head of the village upon entering the shop, who was happy to chat with us. To end the afternoon we went to the home of Avels mother and met her, his sister-in-lawn, and his nephews. It was an enriching afternoon and we felt very blessed to have Avel invite us into his home and village.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

We hurried back to town as we had to attend our pre-departure meeting for the second half of the tour. We were late and only caught the tale end of the meeting but found out the necessary information for the following day. We then rushed to grab a bite to eat and then head into the park for the lunar rainbow excursion. It was a full moon so we were able to enter after dark to view the falls and the inverse of a rainbow, the lunar rainbow. The cost for this was $40 USD and I have to admit it was a bit of a let down. The moon was stunning but it was tough to view the falls, and the lunar rainbow was so faint it could hardly be defined as a rainbow. It was neat to be in the park after dark but I think the excursion was too early in the evening, if it had been a bit later the moon would have been brighter and potentially made things more visable. I am still happy we went as otherwise we wouldn’t have known!

image

image

image

image

The following day we met up with Brad and ‘Rel to grab some of their amazing photos and use wifi. Together with Mr. Clemens we then headed to elephant hills to play 9 holes of golf. Brad and ‘Rel had played the last time they had visited the falls and had had a great time. The course is within the national park so the animals are free to roam. After tee’ing off on the first hole we spotted our first wildlife; warthogs happily grazing the course grass. I swear they were the only grounds keepers as the course was in rough shape. None of us had a stellar game but we had a lot of fun doing it and saw tons of impala, kudu and warthogs along the way. Two kudu were even locked horns rassling a few feet from one of the tee’s! We also had the rule that if one of the guys didn’t drive it past the ladies tee they had to drop their pants for their next shot, both of Mr. Clemens and Brad fell victim to this rule!

That evening Brad, ‘Rel, Mr. Clemens and Chris and I met for dinner at a restaurant called Carnivore where we were able to try a ton of game meat. Chris says he is going to cover what we tried in his own post [don’t hold your breath].

The next day we boarded our new truck with our new group to head to Botswana. I will cover the next part of our journey in my next post! Cheers!

*We booked our tour through African Overland Safaris, the Adventure Travel Division of Tshokwane Safaris, on behalf of Africa Travel Co. We experienced incredible customer service and were fully satisfied with the price we paid and the information we were provided about the tour. Find more information at: http://www.african-overland-safaris.com OR http://www.tshokwanesafaris.com.

Overland Tour Part 1: Kruger National Park and Mozambique

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to our Overland Adventure! We met most of our group the evening before our departure for our pre-departure meeting at a backpackers outside of Johannesburg. We met our guide Manda, chef Avel, and driver Ian. We learned there were 12 people on the tour, of which 2 would be doing the entire 49 day tour with us. The others would be leaving us at Victoria Falls and either heading down to Cape Town with another truck or ending their tour there. We filled out all of the necessary forms to protect the company, Africa Travel Company, from any legal responsibility should there be any accident, robbery etc. We had our supper and sat around the fire chatting for a few hours before turning in for the evening as it was an early start the next day.

We had breakfast the next morning early before departing at 7:30. We had a big day of driving as we were going all the way to Kruger, approximately a 5-6 hour drive and we had to stop to have lunch. It wasn’t a very exciting drive as that area was mostly farm land and coal mining. It was nostalgic smelling burning coal as we drove through towns, it reminded me of my trips to visit my grandfather in New Victoria. We arrived to our campsite by late afternoon and had the option to pay for a sunset game drive. We opted out of that as we are going to go on so many game drives on our entire tour we didn’t think it was worth it. Instead Chris and I decided to get a run in while the others went for their drive. We were staying in the National Park but in a fenced in campsite so we ran within the boundries of the electric fence to avoid being “fast food” for a lion. There was a watering hole at one end of the camp site and as we passed by were able to see hippos in the water. After our run we had a shower with a view, as the ablution block was open on the side facing the fence, so any animals passing by we could still see while showering (or using the toilet). Supper that evening was a delicious stew with rice sitting around the camp fire, which is lovingly known as ‘African TV.’

The next day we had two options; pay for a game drive in an open land rover or go on a game drive in our truck for no extra charge. We opted for the game drive in our truck and were very happy with our decision. The truck is massive and you are up quite high so you have an excellent vantage point for spotting game. Our group wanted to see the ‘Big 5’; Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and buffalo. The ‘Big 5’ was started by hunters and was based on the most dangerous or difficult animals to hunt. The only shooting of these animals that goes on now is that from tourists cameras as the ‘Big 5’ is on everyones list to see while in Africa. From my last safari in the Serengeti and our trip to Mkhaya in Swaziland I have already completed the ‘Big 5’ so I was content to see anything and everything. We were able to see giraffes, which were a different species from those that I saw in Tanzania, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, hyenas,a massive eagle feeding on a dead Genet which is a small cat like animal, and of course tons of zebras and species of antelope. Unfortunately all of the cats seemed to be hiding that day as neither our truck or those that upgraded has seen any cats by lunchtime. It wasn’t until we were driving to meet the other group at the end of our day that we were able to spot a male lion who had just eaten a large meal and was sleeping in the shade on a nice sandy spot. Our guide joked the lions are part of the ‘Lazy 5.’ While the group didn’t get the ‘Big 5’ all in one day we did have a great game drive and everyone was happy if not a little sleepy. We drove out of Kruger and continued to our campsite that was on the border of South Africa and Mozambique.

image

The next morning we hit the border early as it is notorious for having massive queue at all hours of the day. Chris and I were very sad to say goodbye to South Africa for the last time. We had the most amazing two months there and cannot speak highly enough about the country. It has overtaken Colombia for my favorite country I have traveled. If you get the chance to visit, do not miss it. We then headed to the Mozambique side of the border and got a small taste of the attitude of the police and military officials. We had been warned beforehand by our guide to not take pictures and be very courteous to the officials. They in turn took every opportunity to assert their authority. It was very comical as one of the military guys looked about 12 but I didn’t dare laugh. We made it through unscathed and proceeded our drive to the coast.

Our guide had warned our driver (who had never visited let alone driven in Mozambique before) to obey the speed limits to the kilometer as the police have tons of speed checks and issue tickets even if you are only a kilometer over the limit. If you don’t want to pay the ticket you can negotiate a price that is more acceptable, but you will not be given a receipt. We got through the first few speed points before being stopped. Our driver was going 87 in an 80 zone and the police wanted 2000 met cash which is about $50 CAD. The driver negotiated this price down to 600 met cash, a much more reasonable price. We continued our drive and not 3 kilometers down the road we were stopped again! This time we were going 63 in a 60 zone. He argued this tooth and nail and it wasn’t until he told them he had just paid off their friends 3 kilometers down the road that they let us go! The drive itself was very interesting as we drove through many small towns with tons of people who looked at the truck as if an alien spacecraft was driving through the town. It was really entertaining as I imagine the looks on their face to be similar to what we will all would look like during an apocalypse. As many people that were dumbfounded were incredibly excited by the truck and would wave with enormous toothy grins. The time passed effortlessly on the drive.

We pulled into our campsite at Zavora Lodge just as the sun was going down. We all felt awful for our driver who had a very stressful drive and were saying he must be happy it was over when we felt the truck sink in the sand. We were stuck. Very stuck. He got out of the truck shaking his head and said we all might as well get our tents up as he would need us out of the truck to get it out. All of the guys gave him a hand and it took an hour of digging and gathering wood, partnered with a tractor to get the beast out. Our driver had a well deserved beer after that hectic day.

One of the guys who worked at the lodge came and spoke to us about excursions the next day. There were two options; snorkeling or diving. Even if you weren’t dive certified they were willing to give some instruction and take you down (the definition of ‘This is Africa’ or T.I.A). Chris and I opted for snorkeling as we thought the first time we dive should be in a more controlled environment with more teaching and opportunity to get comfortable with the principles and the equipment. Two others made the same decision, one opted not to go at all, and the other 9 signed up for diving.

We met at the dive center at 8 am and sat disparingly staring at the beautiful beach and water while the guys who hadn’t dove (or dove only a couple of times before) had their lesson. Perhaps it is the fact I learned all about everything that could go wrong when you dive during my travel medicine certification, or the talk I went to at the ISTM conference on diving, but it is something I wouldn’t undertake lightly. Chris teased me that I was being motherly, but it is an activity that has serious consequences if something goes wrong. You could argue the same of jumping off a bridge, but I would counter that you need education and understanding to complete a dive rather than complete stupidity and a bit of courage to make the leap off something. That is just me though and they all seemed more than ready to get in the water!

After what felt like eternity the guide finally said we were ready to go before repeating the itinerary for the day one final time. The divers would dive first, then we would motor to somewhere else and the snorkelers would get in the water, and then we would look for the humpback whales which were in the area at the time. We took off on a small zodiac and the ride was more than a little choppy. We stopped for the divers to kit up and felt the full force of the water as it rocked the boat noxiously. I scanned the boat and 4-5 people were looking greener and greener. The process to get your gear ready for the dive was interesting to see, but I could also see the less seasoned divers beginning to look a bit apprehensive along with sea sick. They finally flipped backwards into the water and before we knew it they were under. The rough seas and cloudy water meant it took no time at all for them to disappear below us. It made me think of how much is under the surface that you don’t see. After giving one guy a lift to the line as he lost the group we set off to find dolphins. They were easy to find and a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately we spent a lot of the time stopped and just sitting getting smashed by waves while the divers were under, so all of the other 3 snorkelers were feeling quite ill. I am lucky that I don’t get motion sick but I did feel poorly for the others. The divers surfaced earlier than anticipated and we were happy to take off. They told us we were going to look for the whales, and we assumed that afterwards we would snorkel. We luckily found a whale and were treated to seeing it lift its tail out of the water and we saw it jump out of the water from a distance. Once it had left we began heading back to the lodge. It was late as it had taken the divers so long but we assumed at some point we would stop to snorkel. They continued directly back to the lodge and after a very rough beach landing with the boat the snorkelers were more than a little confused. We approached the guide once back to the lodge as to why we didn’t stop to snorkel. His response was absolutely laughable as he said it was because we didn’t want to. After much back and forth he stated that we were on an ocean safari and that if we had gotten cose enough to the whales to snorkel then we would have been able to. The only problem with that being they cut the engines when we were about 200 meters from the whale, so it clearly wasn’t possible. We were not impressed as none of us would have done it if we had known this information beforehand. His prices he told everyone the night before were also lower than what he wanted, but he said he would be nice and give us a ‘discount’ which ended up being the price he had originally told us! Mozambique was really living up to its reputation by this point.

We hit the beach for the rest of the day and Chris and I went for a run on the sand just before sunset. We had sundowners at the lodge bar that was perched on the beach before having a delicious dinner back at camp.

The next day we hit the road bright and early only to get stuck again on the way out of the lodge. We were all muttering about the place by this point and just wanted to leave! It was a quick drive to our next stop and we were very pleased when we arrived as we had a pristine, postcard perfect beach all to ourselves. After spending the day on the beach Chris and I and an Aus/Kiwi (we thought that mix was illegal) couple, Laurelle and Brad headed to the lodge for a game of mini-putt. The course was in pretty rough shape and we had to clear numerous obstacles off each hole but it was great fun. We had dinner and then were treated to our guide singing his national anthem for us and telling us a few African folklore tales. I will share one with you about hippos.

Hippos went to God one day and told him that their skin was so hot from the sun and they wanted to go in the water. God didn’t want them to go in the water as he feared they would eat the fish. They argued that they were vegetarians and only ate grass so they were no threat to the fish. God obliged, but said he would be watching them. He sent birds to check on the hippos and when the hippos saw the birds they would open their mouth wide in a big yawn to show them that there was no fish in their mouths. Now when you see a hippo yawning opening its mouth you will know why!

We played the card game ‘Shithead’ that evening and the loser would need to fetch all the drinks for the rest of the group whenever they wanted until we played again and a new loser was crowned. Brad was the unfortunate loser but somehow got away with most people forgetting his role. The photos below are all of the beach and resort we stayed at and were taken by the lovely Brad and ‘Rel!

image

image

image

image

image

image

The next day we headed to Vilankulo to a campsite that was beachside again. Our first day we spent on the beach playing with a ball in the water and being harrassed by locals who prowled the beach targeting the tourists. That afternoon a guy from the lodge spoke to us about possible snorkeling trips for the following day off of some of the islands. We were very specific with our questions for this snorkel trip such as, “When you say island, do you mean a piece of land that floats in the water or a traffic island?” or “When you say snorkel, do you mean we will get in the water and snorkel no matter what, or only if there are things to see?” The poor guy was a bit confused but we wanted to be perfectly clear as to what we were going to do. We were fooled once and weren’t prepared to let it happen again!

image

image

image

image

That afternoon we went as a group into town to go to a bottle shop and visit the local market. I was a bit apprehensive going as a big group as it draws so much attention and everyone has a different comfort level in those type of situations. My worst nightmares were confirmed when I saw members of our group snapping pictures of people, almost touching their faces with their lenses without asking permission first. Chris and I are on the opposite end of the spectrum that we don’t take enough pictures but I think it is because of our travel experiences so far. It is far better (and more respectful) to experience those things fully and not from behind a lens. Also, what do you do with those types of pictures? They usually aren’t the ones you hang on the wall rather they just sit on your SD card forgotten. For all of these reasons I cringe at the sight of cameras in these settings. This is one of the only downsides of the tour, being such a big group and having different travel styles and experiences.

We made our way back to camp and enjoyed some beers while waiting for dinner. The town surrounding our campsite was alive with music and shouting as it was a Friday Night. I headed to bed early as I wasn’t feeling 100% and unfortunately woke up the next morning with a migraine. I took some pills and slept it off for the day while the others headed snorkeling. The trip wasn’t all the guide had said it would be the evening before, they spent a lot of time on the boat and the island waiting for the tide to go down, but they did actually enter the water and see things this time. The group said the reef and fish were beautiful

We headed to bed early as the next morning was a 7 am wheels turning morning. We had a very long day in the truck and our campsite for the evening had cancelled our reservation so we had to make an ’emergency landing’ at a rather sketchy establishment. It was a “lodge” that appeared to be just the backyard of the local bar, and potentially local brothel. Needless to say we were extra careful with our belongings and headed to bed very early. Our soundtrack for the evening was drunken arguments, lots of yelling, and pounding music. We left very early the following day because we had to cross the border, but also because we all wanted to get out of there. The border with Zimbabwe took several hours due to utter lack of organization on the borders behalf. The border post also didn’t have the Kaza or UniVisa so we had to pay $75 as Canadians for our Visa. The drive to our final campsite, Antelope Park, was longer than anticipated and we didn’t arrive until later in the evening. My next blog will cover what we got up to at Antelope park and the rest of our time in Zim.

Cheers !

**We booked our tour through African Overland Safaris, the Adventure Travel Division of Tshokwane Safaris, on behalf of Africa Travel Co. We experienced incredible customer service and were fully satisfied with the price we paid and the information we were provided about the tour. Find more information at: http://www.african-overland-safaris.com OR http://www.tshokwanesafaris.com.