Victoria Falls

Another day, another country! This time we are in for a day trip to Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls. The land of Robert Mugabe welcomes visitors, but imposes some hefty sums of money on travellers to enter the country and to visit the Victoria Falls National Park.

We booked a day trip to VF from the lodge, which is just transportation to and from the falls. We get picked up from the Lodge, be driven 15 minutes to the border where we get help with the Botswana Immigration Office to get out of the country. We then get back on our transport and drive through no mans land to the Zimbabwean border, where we get help with the Zimbabwe formalities of buying a visa ($30 per person, payable in cash and cash only) and getting our passports stamped. We then proceed into another vehicle to drive us through the gate and an hour further to the town of Victoria Falls.

Where Botswana and Namibia are considered to be fairly wealthy, Zimbabwe is actually really poor. This is almost completely hidden from view though, as the majority of people we encounter today are either government employees from the border, or from the National Park. The real poor people are trying to sell us a plethora of stuff, like old Zimbabwean currency (a 10 billion dollar bill!) or figurines of the animals comprising the big 5. Everything is done in US dollars, and nobody has change. These guys are pretty obnoxious and very persistent, constantly vying for your attention by making noise and shouting. This is the part of the trip we certainly do not like. If it weren’t for the pestering of these guys, it would also be for the very present and huge gap in net worth that sets the tourists apart from the locals. They usually earn very little, and that is pretty confronting. We have seen similar sights on this trip, but over here the situation gets up close and personal really quickly.

With that out of the way, I can tell you the trip is worthwhile. We are just our of the wet season over here, which means that the falls have swollen to huge proportions. And they are really big! Water everywhere, and it is simply not possible to walk in the park without getting wet. Therefore, we rented a couple of ponchos from the locals, but got soaked anyway all the while looking like idiots. Oh, the joy of holidays!

The river flows into a large canyon after dropping down from the falls, and this canyon has a bridge spanning it from Zimbabwe to the Zambian border. The view from the bridge is really good, so we decided to get a Bridge Pass from immigration. That meant we had to get our passports out, ask for a bridge pass at the Zimbabwe border, walk out of the country and into the no mans land between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and get it stamped at the border. The way back is similar: walk across the border, get your bridge pass checked and stamped, get your passports checked for a valid visa and proceed back into Zimbabwe. Oh yes, we entered the country twice today!

After all the border formalities going back to Botswana (stamps, walk, stamps, clean your shoes, proceed through gate into Botswana) we even encountered a large herd of Elephants walking towards the Zambezi river, right in the town of Kasane! This was a truly magnificent sight, elephants everywhere!

Chobe!

We have heard so manual good things about Chobe National Park, and now we are here to see whether till hold up to those stories. Today, we are booked on the half day Game Drive with our lodge into the National Park to see all the animals that present themselves to us.

We started off at 6 AM, which meant we had to be at the reception at 05:45, which is early by all standards. The Activity was also booked by one other couple, which meant that we had a very quiet car today with only 4 of the available 9 seats occupied. This is a good thing: more room is always favourable.

Our drive started off really cold and actually quite boring: for the first 4 hours of the drive, we didn’t see a lot of animals, and of those more common ones we did see we only saw a few. We did not even get to see any Elephant during that time! Luckily for us, it changed after this time, and we started to get some more interesting sightings. A few Giraffe, a small herd of Elephants, some Puku (this antelope was new for us!) and eventually the best of it all, right at the end of the drive: a pack of Lions, hunting for a Warthog. They were everywhere! Behind us, in front of us, and actually right next to the car. This was an amazing sighting!

Later that day, we also were booked on the afternoon boat trip on the Chobe River, to explore the Chobe National Park via the water. We were hoping for a small boat, but were quite disappointed when we saw that it was a huge boat even equipped with its own bar. Oh well. The boat ride itself actually proved to be really good: it gave us everything we had hoped for. Lots of aquatic birds, Hippos and even Elephant feeding on the semi submerged grass of the Sedundu Island (which is a huge floodplain in the middle of the two channels which make up the Chobe River).

Tomorrow, we visit the Victoria Falls, which means crossing over to Zimbabwe. That’ll be something else!

Crossing borders

This is the day we go from Namibia into Botswana, and borders are always a source of ‘stuff’. They usually are busy, hectic, unfamiliar, unclear and if you add the factor Africa into the mix, they also are dirty, crowded and very strict.

The process is quite simple: go out of Namibia by filling in a form and getting your passport stamped, move through the border gate into no mans land, go to the next office on Botswana side and get even more stamps. Also get you car papers checked, pay for the car, go to the border gate, get more car papers checked and stamped, and you are in Botswana.

We arrived soon after in Chobe National Park, and the Chobe Safari Lodge, which by the way is far too large for us. This is mass tourism, and this is also what we don’t like. But, we’re going to play along here, and enjoy it nevertheless. We’ll be here for three nights, and both days will be action packed! πŸ™‚

Halfway there

This is our fourteenth day in Namibia, and we are thus halfway our vacation. Today is our day off, and the only full day we have here at the Kwando River. We spent it by waking up late, having a nice relaxed breakfast, taking pictures of the resident rodents and small birds, getting our tan on in the sun next to the swimming pool and in hammocks, and going on the PM Safari tour into Mudumu National Park.

This is also one of the places where almost all wildlife had vanished, but is now slowly returning. On the tour we have spotted loads of Common Impala (Etosha has Black-faced Impala), some Kudu, a nice pack of Roan Deer and even some Elephants! All animals are returning now, but it’ll take a while for everything to be back to what is was.

We have a border to cross tomorrow, and this is our last sunset in Namibia. The other side of the river already is Botswana, and that is where we’ll be heading. And I finally got my hands on the elusive Weizen beer from Namibia: Camelthorn! This has been kindly provided by our new found friends Tim & Rosalinde, who happen to have the exact same itinerary from now on. The only difference is that they travel with a large 4×4 with a tent on the roof, where we have our humble Duster to navigate the roads.

Between borders

The Caprivi Strip is a weird thing, and has a very strange and colonial history. Right now, it is a small strip of land of what used to be Botswana, which is now Namibia and which borders on Angola. This strip is thus sandwiched between Angola in the North and Botswana in the South, and does not resemble any other landscape in Namibia. It even lives on Botswana time, which is an hour ahead of the east of the country.

Where Namibia is dry, arid and mostly empty except for the large number of Euphorbia plants, the Caprivi Strip is brimming with both flora and fauna, mostly because it is bordered by two large rivers. Due to the quite recent civil war in Angola spilling over into this part of the country, the wildlife had been all but eradicated by poachers due to unlawfulness and the insane prices that are being paid for ivory and other products on the world market. Slowly but surely, the animals are returning, and can be spotted in quite a few places already.

Our day consisted of yet another long drive from Rundu to Kongola which is about 450kms, and is proving to be butt-clenching for us as our trusty Duster only has a 40 litre tank for the diesel. That lasts us about 550kms, but we do not dare to empty the tank any further than the second to last mark in the gage. And the final kilometers are always a little tense so to speak. πŸ˜‰ Luckily, there is a gas station every 200km or so, which means the next one is always around the corner. Sort of.

As we arrived early today, (the road is tarred!) we have found time to embark on the evening boat ride on the Kwando river. We found lots of birds (bee-eaters and Kingfishers mostly), crocodiles and some hippos. As the river is very narrow and our boat not very big, the guide put the pedal to the metal and raced past them, as they are very aggressive around here and even charge the boat!

We are staying 2 nights in Camp Kwando, and will not have to move for a day. Nice!

Leaving Etosha

There is not much to tell about today, we drove 440km on tarred roads and have seen the scenery change from arid and dry to green and probably fertile. Also, we found that driving on the B8 (Trans Caprivi Highway) feels like driving in Africa, as there are hundreds of small compounds built right along the highway, with people everywhere.

This is the poor part of the country, and we feel kind of guilty driving past.

The lodge were staying is is built on the rivers edge, and overlooks the river and Angola on the other side. It is about 100 metres wide, so this is the nearest we’ll come to being in Angola, although I’d like to avoid going there. πŸ˜‰

All the way to the other side of the park

With our spare tire on the car, and the flat one in the back, we set off this morning to drive the now familiar 90km road to Outjo and Jan of Outjo Highway Services to get it fixed. Jan even recognised us, but welcomed our arrival with the mentioning that the tire was beyond fixing and needed replacement. So, there we go. Tire number 2. With both new tires fitted in the front of the car, and about half an hour later, we drove back to the gate of Etosha for a slow but steady drive through the park.

We decided to let even more air out of the tires, and go with a very low pressure to avoid another flat. We fuelled up at the first camp, got rid of the unwanted air, and away we were.

As Etosha is really vast, water holes are the place to be to see animals, and therefore we were sad that our time constraint would not allow us to go to all the water holes we wanted to visit today. So we chose the ones we thought would prove to be good, and went with it. Today, no amazing sightings of Lion or other big cats, but we found a massive herd of Elephant crossing a plain straight in our direction. Naturally, we stopped and just waited for the leader of the herd to choose the way across the field and eventually the road. Seeing a large herd of 25 animals pass by is just very soothing. πŸ™‚

We are staying at Onguma Tree Top, which is a small luxurious camp of 4 elevated rooms surrounding a water hole in the Onguma Game Reserve. This is a gated reserve neighbouring Etosha NP, and they accommodate 4 black rhinos from Etosha to guard them from poaching. This reserve does not have Elephant, but there are two males who regularly push over the fences to cross into the National Park during mating season and go back afterwards. They are not supposed to, but as they are big Bulls, who’s going to stop them?

We only stay here one night, and are destined to drive a long way to Rundu on the Okavango River and the Angolese border tomorrow. No flat tires today, so this was a good day!

A full day in Etosha

We have a total of three nights around Etosha National Park, of which we just had the first. That means that we only have today as a full day to explore the park and to get back out of the same gate as we came through before it closes. A full day of Safari at Etosha is what we are in for!

Etosha has proven to be vast, and mostly empty, as the drought of the past year has driven most animal activity to the water holes dotted around the park. But at over 22.000 square kilometers, it is huge. Big on a scale us Dutchies are finding hard to understand, so here goes. Historically, only the east half of the park is ​available to the general public, and that half has a road going in and out through three camps. That road leads from Anderson’s Gate to the first camp Okaukuejo (17km) to the middle camp Halali (75km) to the third camp Namutoni (75km) to the Von Lindquist Gate (15km) totalling just under 190km. And that is just the eastern half.

As most activity is around the well marked water holes, animal viewing is generally good to excellent, and the animals are plentiful. There are a lot of Zebra, Springbok, Oryx, Black Faced Impala, Giraffe, And even a good amount of Elephant in the park. It also supports healthy populations of Lion, Leopard and Cheetah, but they are much harder to find as stealth is their ‘thing’. πŸ˜‰

As the day approached its end, we decided it was time to take a last look at a water hole called Olifantsbad, where we have been lucky to find Elephant before. And this time it did not disappoint either, as both roads leading towards it were blocked by Elephants. There was a massive herd of about 60 animals just taking over the water hole, and we had to wait our turn to be able to use a road again. When we saw the chance, we drove towards the hole, only to find that the animals were still drinking and having a bath, while small groups started leaving the scene to go somewhere else. Wow!

As we needed to be outside of the NP gate at sundown, and we still had some distance to cover, we had to leave this scene of animals drinking in zen like fashion, so we slowly made our way back to the main road. Unfortunately, some of the leaving groups decided that the road was far easier to walk on, we we were trapped behind them. Moving forward at a leasurely pace, this went on for about 10 minutes, after which the animals stopped and started to feed. That out us in quite a predicament, as other groups of elephant had taken the same road, and now had us cornered; in a squeeze between several of the largest land animals alive today. And with that, I had accomplished what I always want to avoid: I acted like a tourist, getting ourselves stuck in between elephant. Ouch. Luckily, this didn’t last long, as the elephants behind us did not seem to be in a hurry and laid back a bit, while the animals in front slowly moved away from the road. I could pass them, and the crisis was averted!

Going back to the gate, we stumbled upon a small cluster of cars, pointing at things behind bushes. We decided that we couldn’t look behind them, and I turned the car around to go back. At that moment, I saw something moving towards the road, and was about to pass right in front of our car. Yes! Lions! A male and a female who had been mating behind the bushes before and who decided that that road needed to be passed by them. That was an awesome sighting!

As a desert, we found out that we have gotten ourselves a second flat tire! This time a tire in the back, but it is flat nonetheless. We quickly changed it over with the help of the local policemen, and now have an extra trip to Outjo and Jan to get that fixed. After that we have to drive the entirety of the park to the other gate, and try to see the animals somewhere in between. Now, that’s a long day again!

Going to Etosha NP

We have a long day ahead of us, and it is not one I particularly looked forward to. As we don’t have a spare tire, we have to go 270kms without one to the nearest (!) location where we can get a fresh tire. Wow. Oh, and as its Namibia, we probably don’t have cellphone reception everywhere.

The latter actually didn’t prove to be right, as we had great reception during the drive, so that was a good thing. The not so good thing was that the first 120km were not the best of roads, and progress was slow. But it was steady, and we made it through arriving at Kamanjab to find the tarred road. As promised by the maps. From here on, it was only 150km on a fairly new and very straight black two lane road where the speed limit was a whopping 120km/h, so progress was good there!

Around 11:30 we found the place selling tires, and Jan made sure that our new tire was fitted in a flash. The spare tire which had gotten rather dirty on the gravel roads even was meticulously cleaned by his guys and looked brand new when it was put back in the trunk. So, 2250 Namib Dollars poorer but a new tire richer, we were confident that the rest of our day would go swimmingly. And so it did!

We drove the last 120km to Andersons Gate of Etosha National Park and have spent the remainder of our day in the park. Straight off the bat, we’ve seen Giraffe, Elephant, Springbok, Zebras and Black Faced Impala, so we were off to a great start. And right at the end, when we were driving back to the gate as it closed at 17:30, we found ourselves a Black Rhino! So cool!

On the weird list, we also ticked off the Cory Bustard, the Northern Black Korhaan and the Spotted Thick-knee. I’m a happy camper right now!

A day in Damaraland

A full day of Safari is what we have in store for us today, as we have booked a full day trip in Damaraland. That means spending the day carrying cameras scanning the scenery for animals from an open vehicle.

This time, it did have a roof, which was rather convenient as the sun is relentless around here. The main goal was to find the elephant and rhinos living in this desert, but we failed spectacularly at that. We did find loads of Oryx, Hartmans Mountain Zebra, Springbok, Kudu and Giraffes, so it was a good day after all.

We spent the rest of the afternoon arranging for our tire to be swapped, which can only be done in Outjo. That is 120km on gravel road + 150km on a tarred road; otherwise known as a long trip. More on that tomorrow!