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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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