Africa Adventures, Day 13: Chobe Game Park and River Trip

Friday, March 18, 2011
Today is all about animal spotting. Rather than describe what we did, let's just illustrate with pictures.


Africa Adventures, Day 12: Victoria Falls

Wednesday, March 16, 2011
There are always people who tell you not to visit third world countries like Botswana because of the stereotype of instantly coming down with the trots. This is utterly ridiculous, as plenty of people have come and gone without coming down with the trots. So I looked forward to my stay.

Unfortunately it seems as soon as I arrived in Botswana I instantly came down with a case of the trots. I don't know if it was the water or the food (I had some bread with dinner which I later found had sesame in it, which I am allergic to), but it was with me the rest of the trip. The first night was particularly bad, as I felt like I had a fever and was just sick in general. Still, I had to perservere - Victoria Falls was coming up!

Victoria Falls is the world's largest waterfall (in width). It resides on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border, and you can see it from either side. We chose the Zimbabwe side on the advice of the hotel people (that and the fact that the visa was cheaper). We took a quick bus ride to the Zimbabwe border, went through immigration, and then on another 45 minute bus ride to the city (also called Victoria Falls). Zimbabwe seems to be even more poor than Botswana, but they put on their best show for their main tourist attraction.

Admission to the falls is slightly biased: $5 if you are a Zimbabwe resident, $10 if you're a southern Africa resident, $25 if you are neither. We coughed up our money and went inside. It was a very sunny and hot day, and the heat was not helping my sickness at all. I ended up watching maybe 20 minutes of the falls at a time then returning back for pit stops. The falls were very impressive, and they thundered down so hard that it would be "raining" from all the mist. And this was on the other side of the gorge!

One fun thing about Africa is that a lot of the safety precautions that saddle down civilized placed aren't bothered with her. Most of the cliff edges only had "fencing" consisting of a few branches throw along the side. In some places there was no fencing at all, allowing you to possibly walk right off the side of the cliff. They allow for some fantastic views - if you dare. With my fear of heights - I didn't dare. But others did. I couldn't watch.

After spending several hours at the falls we walked back into town. People all over the place would try to badger us into buying their silly wood giraffe figurines or whatever. It was a bit annoying, but eventually a uniformed guy wearing a "Tourist Police" badge came to our rescue. He walked with us and chatted, eventually walking us to the hotel where we would meet our bus back to the border. After arriving at the hotel he shook my hand (indicating that he was ready for a tip) - I gave him a few bucks for his "protection". That's Africa!

We hopped on the bus back to the border, and about 15 minutes from the border it overheated. Apparently it had been leaking coolant the entire way and the radiator was bone dry. We had some bottles of water for consumption, so we dumped a bunch of them in, hoping to limp it along. Luckily another bus by the same company happened to be driving along and saw us struggling, so we were able to transfer to them and get back home safely.

More Victoria Falls photos can be found here.

Africa Adventures, Day 11: Flight to Kasane, Botswana

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
We were up at 4am to get to the airport in time for our 7am flight to Johannesburg. From there we checked in with Air Botswana for our flight to Kasane, which is in the far northeast corner of Botswana. We arrived at the gate at our appointed time, only to find the pilot was completely missing. Nobody could figure out where he was. We waited around and he eventually showed up an hour and a half late. We were bussed to the plane, which was a scary-looking death trap that seemed to be on its last legs. Combine that with bad turbulence and it adds to being one of the scariest flights I've ever had.

At some point the cockpit door was opened and left open for the remainder of the flight, allowing us to watch the pilots land the plane. It's a bit nerve-wracking to watch yourself approach the airport - I was certain we were going to miss the runway or descend too fast right until the last second where they dropped the plane down perfectly.

I hadn't lined up a place to stay the first night, but there was a driver there for a resort that sounded nice. We hopped into his shuttle to check it out, and it turns out the place was INCREDIBLE. It's called the Mowana Safari Lodge, and it claimed to only be a four star lodge, but I see no reason why it shouldn't have a full five. It gets its name from the mowana tree which is a huuuuge tree that lives for very long periods of time. The lodge was originally built around a tree estimated to be around 1,500 years old. A fire during construction of the lodge destroyed about a fourth of the lodge, plus the tree. A replacement tree was brought in (this one being at the spry young age of around 300 years) and the rest of the lodge was built around it.

In 1992, then President Bill Clinton and family stayed at this lodge for a three day visit. There is a room named after him - and of course it's the most expensive room in the place. I found out about it after we left, otherwise I would have gone to check it out.

The drive to the lodge was very educational. Botswana is obviously very poor, but I felt incredibly safe. I don't think I'd have any issue walking along any of the steets in town by myself. The driver instructed me not to walk at night however - not because of crime, but because hippos tend to roam the area at night due to the proximity of the river. Seeing as hippos are one of the most aggressive animals of the area we chose to heed his advice.

We lined up some activities for the next few days with the office and had a lovely dinner at the lodge (with an excellent waiter named Pono - we would kidnap him home if possible), then off to bed for an early start tomorrow!

Africa Adventures, Day 10: Stellenbosch

Friday, March 11, 2011
Time for a day of rest! We had had a busy week and I was in desperate need of some clean clothes, so I took half a day to do laundry and wrap up loose ends here and there. I finished mid-afternoon which left us plenty of time to drive up to Stellenbosch! Stellenbosch is in the middle of wine country, and has the feel of a small European town. There were plenty of cute shops and cafes, the obligatory church, and plenty of German tourists. We stopped and ate a place called "No. 5", which is now the second place I have eaten at with that name (the first being an ex-pat bar in Singapore).

I ordered a springbok steak - springbok is a variety of antelope here. I was quite pleased, and even more pleased at the South African melktert I had for dessert!

We dropped off the GPS on the way to the airport because we would have a way early start tomorrow. A quick walk to the beach to catch the last sunset we'd see over the ocean capped a perfect evening!

Africa Adventures, Day 9: Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope

Friday, March 4, 2011
Today was one of the busiest days of the whole trip! On the docket: Table Mountain, driving along the west coast to the Cape of Good Hope, then back up the other side for penguin spotting until we turn home.

Table Mountain is a tall mountain behind one side of Cape Town. It's completely flat up top (hence like a table), and you can take a cable car ride to the top if you are gutsy. I am not gutsy so I let Saskia go up for herself while I took a few cityscape shots and filled out postcards.

On the other side of Table Mountain is the rest of the western cape, with some of the nicest beaches on earth! We decided to drive along the entire western cape.

At the far end of the cape is the most southwestern point in Africa, the Cape of Good Hope! The weather was incredible until you about about half a mile from the cape, at which point it turned into pure fog.

Continuing along the other side of the cape, what can you see? Penguins! You can find them roaming about naturally in the area, and we stopped in for a visit.

The day was exhausting and we arrived back to town starving. We popped into a local pizza chain called "Debonairs. There was a bit of a wait (since it was a holiday most places were closed), and while we were waiting we were graced by some speeches and singing by a guy hanging outside the restaurant. He appeared to be homeless and either drunk, high, mentally impaired, or possibly all of the above. He was ranting and rambling, saying not to let the white man keep you down, among other things. We were slightly uncomfortable at first, being the only caucasians in the place, but I was relieved to see everybody else amused at his rantings. Eventually he broke in to some R. Kelly, singing "I Believe I Can Fly" at the top of his lungs. At some point he was escorted off the premises, but continued his tirade a half a block down. We were sure to cross the street to the other side on our way home.

More pictures can be found here.