A Travellerspoint blog

Looking back

(what I learned, what I'd do differently)

Overall observations:
1. We never saw Pepsi products. Everything was part of the coke a cola family
2. The boys discovered Fanta Pineapple. And GREEN cream soda (shudder). I much preferred the Ginger Beer.
3. Most tourists are retirees which makes sense given the time of year we were travelling. That said, we saw more young adults in the Chobe Park than anywhere else all together.
4. Tourists are overwhelmingly german with brits, aussies and dutch mixed in. We met one canadian couple (in Cape Town). We saw no one (visibly) of south east asian or asian descent between Cape Town and the Chobe. However, we gathered from our guide that asians are actively hassled in Namibia because of the asian sponsored poaching of rhino and pangolin. We never had anyone search our luggage or even ask if we had anything to declare but our guide said that if he ever has people who are visibly asian, the vehicle is ripped apart.
5. With the exception of Etosha National Park, all of our lodges/camps were run by Germans or dutch people.
6. Botswana appeared the most prosperous with the best infrastructure with notable exceptions being the road leading to the Okavango Delta
7. Buy a SIM card for where you are going. Paul made arrangements for us to have roaming charges with our Bell phones. This worked well in South Africa, Botswana and Vic Falls. Epic fail in Namibia (phones struggled even on wifi) and okay in Zambia. There was a full signal but clearly the Namibian telecomms carrier did not talk to Bell.
8. Everyone in the countries we visited used Whatsapp. No email. No texting. It was Whatsapp. I’m so used to Canada having obscene data charges and my mind was boggled by the reliance on a data-heavy app in a “poor” country. #allisrelative
9. Generally, I packed the right clothes/stuff. I had forgotten to throw in a cream sweater. And I really wish I had a flat laundry hanger to clip wet stuff too. The boys could have used an extra pair of athletic shorts.

A word about border/immigration/visa processes:
- Namibia was the most diligent (the long form birth certificate that had parents names on it was scrutinized in detail)
- Botswana had literal ledgers with hand written processes
- One of the border check points (either Botswana or Namibia) had an official who was cartoon character like in terms of non-stop commentary, arguing with the other official (who was his supervisor), comical errors. I kept wondering what nepotism got him his job (assumed it wasn’t a union protecting him) but kept my inside voice IN my head. At least until I was out of the building.
- Zimbabwe wins for the WORST visa entrance process. Despite two officials working as a “team” (or perhaps because of), the process was excruciating. We never got receipts for the money, the person hand writing out the visas (affixed with a gold sticker) took the top passport off the pile which meant the last person to the window kept being served first.

Food - I am a foodie. I like interesting and “not the usual” food. This was not a trip where I can look back and rave about the amazing food I ate outside of Cape Town or Swakopmund. I read the attached in the flight magazine about Kruger National park on the Airlink flight and felt seen.

It is so true. Food in the camps is okay but not interesting and generally highly repetitive. I don’t know if it is because it is the universal problem (like weddings/conferences) about what do you feed groups of people that will be unoffensive or if this is how they think the tourists like to eat. Even I, a devout carnivore, started wishing for a salad or some fruit. Shearwater Village (the place we stayed near Chobe National Park) had a large buffet so there was selection and more options. We were actually offered blue cheese! In retrospective, our worst meals were the “packed lunches”. With only one exception (the lunch we got from Camp Kwango which was a nice curried chicken pasta salad), the lunch food was either bland and soggy (eg. fish burgers from Guma Lagoon) or meant to be eaten hot (hamburgers from Agama) or absolutely forgettable (everything else).

As well, with few exceptions, we ate our lunches in incredibly make-shift places that were chosen more for the necessity (ie before entering a game park or crossing a border) or because of no options (picnic area by the side of the road). We were grateful for food and a chance to stretch our legs but ideally it would have been nice if our lunch spot had a view or something interesting to explore or was combined with another activity. (the biggest excitement was spotting a barn owl above the door to the men’s bathroom).

We also ate very late and/or at irregular times. My blood sugar levels were not terribly thrilled. So we had “bus” food. Most memorable were the fantastic navel oranges we bought in Solitaire Namibia. Like most food in Namibia, it was imported from South Africa but on a hot desert day, an orange (or 2) hit the spot. Honourable mention to chocolate chip shortbreads that came in a package dubiously labeled “eet-sum-mor”. But I did as instructed. I almost forgot - the South African version of beef jerky is very yummy. I was hoping to bring some home as gifts but we ate it all. Sorry.

No one in my family or our group (as far as I knew) got sick or had digestive issues. We drank almost exclusively bottled water but used tap water for teeth brushing etc and I did have ice cubes in my drinks which I figured was low risk (I was immunized for Hepatitis). I had packed along a full medicine kit to deal with any issues that might arise from food exiting faster or slower than expected (from either end) but needed none of it. We also didn’t eat “street” food although often our lunches were not refrigerated and had bounced along with us for hours. The biggest issue was that, due to a communications error, Paul thought I packed all his painkillers and I thought he was packing them. As we discovered, the drugs available overseas are different than in canada - whodathunk that ibuprofen in family size containers were illegal.

The drama over plastic straws in Canada seems misplaced given the amount of individual water bottles that we were given or were just pervasive where we visited. As a group, we bought large jugs of water which we kept on the bus and used to refill our individual bottles. It was only in Victoria Falls that I saw a water refill station which made me wonder why the various camps/lodges didn’t have a similar set up. Even setting up a water cooler station for people to refill their own water bottles from large jugs would have eliminated all the individual plastic water bottles. And less you wonder if the heat turned me into an eco-warrier, I’m thinking of the inconvenience of all the hauling and disposal as many of the places we were at were remote and bringing in (or removing) supplies must have been a bugger. I get that there are likely supply chain or even repair issues with a refill station but some of the camps we were at were obviously operated quite autonomously as they were off grid with their own water systems.

I was a bit curious (but not curious enough to experiment) if my intestinal system would have coped better with “local” water given I am used to drinking untreated water both at home (from a well) and at the cottage (from a spring). I know problems can arise from having to adapt to “new” bugs and I didn’t want to be the one having to ask for the mini-bus to urgently stop while I squatted on the shoulder with nary a scrubby tree to provide a privacy screen.

We also saw almost no mosquitos. One night in the Caprivi, I slapped a few times on my legs but I have worse exposure to mosquitos on my back deck. Even at Guma Lagoon, we sat around the fire one night but we weren’t bothered. Consequently, I did not do a full course of malaria tablets as I realized the side effects risks were likely greater than my exposure risk. I had done a lot of reading/research about malaria risk and there does appear to be a valid risk depending on where you are and likely the time of year. It was not my experience.

So the question everyone asks - would I do it again.

If you mean, would I go back again to the places I visited for a second look? Not in Africa. While I enjoyed our trip, there was nothing intrinsically that tugged at my heart and said “this is me” (unlike canada’s east coast). I did like the blue skies and heat but that comes at a price given the absence of water. I know I was there in winter/dry season but I need water. I would go back to London (and England); we were only there for 36 hours.

If you mean, would I do it again for the first time OR do I recommend a trip to this part of Africa to other people - yes. But with some changes or caveats
1. Start at Vic Falls and go south. (particularly if you go the time of year when we did - which is actually a good time for animal watching). For two reasons. 1) it must be easier to LEAVE Zimbabwe than go into it and 2) Cape Town in September is better than in August.
2. The time of year we went was good for temps and perfect for animal viewing
3. If you want a shorter trip, use Windhoek (Namibia) vs Cape Town as a jumping off point unless you really really want to see the wineries around Cape Town and/or want to explore the south cape peninsula (see my comments from an earlier post about how I would have enjoyed staying south of Cape Town in a small inn with trips into the city proper).
4. The penguin colony is underwhelming
5. If you are a car camper (vs backpacker camper), there are many Namibia2Go vehicles on the road - and you can drive around Namibia by yourself. Most of the lodges/camps have campsites which allow you to use the other facilities. Namibia is quite safe and accessible. You could then “splurge” on a 3 day house boat-style cruise in Chobe.
6. In looking at your safari itinerary, check a map to see how much doubling back there is and the amount of activity to driving (that said - the one thing I am going to be following up on is that I am sure there were activities on our itinerary that were not done).
7. Our group size (12 people) was about max that you would want. While the varying age ranges worked for us (given the varying abilities between Ben and Paul), the kids and I would have enjoyed a more active/physical trip and less “viewing from a window”. Okay, that’s understating it - hell on earth for me is spending hours inside on a lovely day watching the world roll by.
8. Refuse to stay at a lodge IN Etosha National Park (or only for one night so you can see the waterhole at night). The general inconvenience does not compensate for the upsides. (and yes, I'll be doing TripAdvisor reviews)
9. While we covered a lot of ground (literally) and saw a whole variety of different scenery and topography and animals, we were never in one spot for more than 2 nights (which often meant we were there for maybe 36 hours). Ideally, we could have used a spot more as a base camp (for 3 nights) and done excursions from there.

I failed at a promise. I said I was going to close every blog with a positive or grateful comment. To be honest, I had totally forgotten that I wrote that until I re-read the first entry recently.

But it's not too late to start afresh so... My kids were the true stars of the trip. They were resourceful and accommodating and adapted well. They were comfortable in strange settings and helped navigate through airports and cities. They were socially fluid and interacted well with everyone we met. They took the opportunity to connect and make friends with people we bumped into along the way. Jonathan in particular was at an age where he chatted up other young people and exchanged contact info. (maybe he will hear from Johann in Sweden). They were caring and helpful to others in our group. It also registered for me on the trip that we have been in successful in what we set out to do - raise confident young adults who will be independent and competent at navigating the world. But it means that our days of vacationing together will be limited (parents are much too dull and moderately embarrassing) which is bittersweet as I do really enjoy spending time with them. Yes, I do know how to ruin a happy moment with worry about the future.

Finally, I use this blog as a bit of a photo journal. While it is public, it is written primarily for friends/family to follow my adventures and also serves as a reminder to myself of what I did. What is posted is generally a semi-polished first draft. What I mean is that posts do not go through multiple reviews or revisions which is evident in the typos and sometimes goofs on photos (which pains me as I re-read what I’ve posted). You really are getting the thoughts as they emerge with a quick review for obvious clumsiness or egregious errors. The “public” element did mean that this is a sanitized version - not to say horrible things happened, just I am sparing you from the usual bickering and mini-dramas that inevitably occur on such trips. As interesting (and story-worthy) as my travel companions were, I’ve resisted the temptation to write about them as I genuinely liked them and respect their rights to privacy.

Go adventuring.

Posted by IronladyTravels 00:44 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

The long trip home

Masked and fed horribly

View Trip of the Half Century on IronladyTravels's travel map.

The car ride back to Livingstone was uneventful and we got to the airport before even the Airlink counter was open. So we waited.

I really can’t say enough good things about Airlink. Their counter staff were amazing and checked our luggage through to Pearson and gave us all our boarding passes. So then we had nothing to do for the next 3 hours but browse the quite tempting shops and have a second breakfast. Of course, the food on the airplane was again fantastic.

My eyes popped when I saw for sale a game that my family knows as “cow”. Dad had learned it somewhere and made each of us our own game. We knew it was an african game and here it was in REAL LIFE. It was beautifully crafted and I was only sad that there was no way I was going to be able to stick it in my luggage and transport it through multiple flights and airports.

As I walked across the tarmac under another blue sky and bright sun, I was conscious this was the last time I would enjoy the sun and heat of Africa.

I had purchased a Dragons Pass with enough visits for us to use the lounges in Johannesburg and Frankfurt. Basically, Dragons Pass gets you into any of the exclusive lounges where we discovered to our delight there was unlimited hot and cold food and drinks of all variety. Plus news papers and TVs and wifi. And comfy chairs. I highly recommend getting access - either through your credit card or just buying a membership like I did. We ate supper in J’burg and breakfast in Frankfurt - which compensated for the horrible horrible airline food. We got a repeat of the nasty breakfast “sandwich” on Lufthansa and I am not sure Air Canada could have made pasta any worse. The shower in Frankfurt was a life saver. I was expecting a gym-like shower but instead we got basically a private bathroom with towels and toiletries. It was fantastic.

i managed to grab screenshots of the ridiculous Lufthansa demo of how to exit the plane on the emergency slide.

The flight from Frankfurt seemed endless. It was a 8 hour daytime flight and we left almost an hour late thanks to the connecting flight coming in from India with a 100 passengers being late. I had almost finished watching a documentary on the Queen (done for her jubilee but especially poignant posthumously) before we ever left. I also watched Top Gun and tried to watch Mincemeat (but dozed off). I was behind a family with an infant so I was aware every time the plane changed altitude. If the cabin staff were as diligent about providing snacks and drinks as they were about reminding us that it was a federal rule to wear a mask, I would have been happier.

As we landed, we were instructed to wait on the plane for deplaning instructions. I thought, great - it’s my turn to experience the hell hole of Pearson. But then we got the go ahead and we all surged off the plane. Other than Paul being confused as to his citizenship and having to be retrieved from the wrong line by Ben, we sailed through immigration. Our bags appeared and we exited into a warm humid Canadian summer afternoon after 36 hours of traveling. As we drove past the Sportsworld Value Village (in Kitchener), it was a bit surreal as Amanda and I had been just talking (2 days and 1000s of kilometres away) about how much she missed Value Village.

Posted by IronladyTravels 00:43 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Visiting the relatives

Not the usual tourist crap

sunny 35 °C
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When I started planning my trip to Africa, I was trying to think of who I might know who could be a resource. Despite me having memorized all the countries on the African continent 32 years ago, things were a bit hazy. I knew roughly where countries and land marks were but I did not connect it with other things I knew. I remembered I had a cousin working as a nurse but I was delighted and surprised to discover Amanda was living roughly three hours north of Victoria Falls.

And just a word about mennonites and relatives… technically Amanda is my cousin’s daughter. OR to put it another way, she is the grand daughter of my dad’s oldest brother. My dad has a big family and we haven’t always been the greatest at staying connected. I did feel that it would be incredibly sad/impolite of me to take the time and effort to get within three hours of where Amanda was living and NOT go visit. Frankly, I think she was surprised when we actually showed up as she commented that lots of people mention dropping by but few people do.

I was semi-prepared to figure out a bus from Victoria Falls but Amanda’s husband insisted on picking us up at the border. In retrospect, the logistics of navigating across a border and catching a bus and making the trip to the closest city (Choma) would have given me MANY MORE WORDS to say. The fact I have a short description is because our guide got us out of Zimbabwe and Amanda’s husband got us into Zambia. And we showed our gratefulness by mostly sleeping all the way to Choma. Poor man - he spent hours on the road to pick up his wife’s relatives who then barely can make polite convo. Perhaps it was a relief to be on a road that was smooth. (Aside, the road was actually patrolled by police with radar - shockers.)

Amanda and George live in a town/village (?) about 45 minutes from a quite large city. Compared to the “villages” we saw previously, this one seemed luxurious as it had mostly concrete block buildings. The “roads” are more dirt lane ways and there is livestock roaming everywhere (Amanda complained the goats and pigs are eating any vegetation they can reach by sticking their heads through her fence and that the neighbour chickens were sharing disease with her chickens).

Like many other places in Africa, there is lots of new builds. The limiting factor was waiting for electricity to be installed. Many people just “borrow” from a neighbour pole as it can be years until the official extension is done.

Our time in Macha was much like what you do when you visit relatives - you go for walks, you hold their babies, play games ( Dutch Blitz), you eat, you talk. The boys enjoyed having other “young” people to be with and went cycling with the gardener, played games with Amanda and George’s 11 year old daughter and held their baby daughter.

Amanda had a 3 month baby check up for her daughter at the local hospital (where she was head of the pediatric department) and so we got to tag along to have a tour of the hospital. It is a mission hospital run by the Brethren in Christ Church. I was fascinated. Among other things, the hospital has a nursing and midwifery school. In a throw back to the book series “Cherry Ames”, the nurses wear white caps and have bands that denote their year. Instead of one large building, there are a series of one story long brick buildings where every building has a different purpose - the operating theatre, and surgical ward and chapel - with walk ways and covered verandas outside. Amanda converted the tuberculosis ward into the covid ward. (they had very few cases and the deaths were in the high risk groups with obvious co-morbidities)

The hospital also has a research foundation attached to it which came up with an incredibly effective way of battling malaria. Instead of trying to deal with sick symptomatic people with all the amount of effort and victims (mostly children), they went upstream and decided to do surveillance testing of everyone vs waiting for symptoms. They discovered some people have the parasite but no symptoms - but are obviously are hosts. So they treated the infected people and their malaria patients dropped from hundreds a year to single digit.

The hospital also has accommodations for women who are pregnant but live a distance from the hospital and have been determined to be at risk for home delivery. They arrive weeks in advance of their delivery date (with entourages) and camp out and wait. The hospital provides some meals and very limited facilities but Amanda said it is incredibly popular (perhaps the women appreciate a break from usual routines).

There is also housing for many staff. Amanda had lived there before she was married but said she was never really “off” as there were lots of drop bys.

The second evening, we walked over to watch a local soccer game. It was a very hard pitch (more like a clay court) and incredibly windy (and dusty). The ball got lost in a thicket at one point. We were escorted by Amanda's gardener who had struck up a friendship with Jonathan.

We also experienced the truism that sometimes you have to go far from home to meet people who you live close to. Amanda had invited for supper a couple who had lived and worked at the hospital around 1980s. They have now retired and return for stints to volunteer. I of course had to do the mennonite thing and say “Cober… do you know….” We discovered very shortly that Mr Cober is the son of a couple who went to church with my parents and the nephew of the minister who preached my dad’s funeral.

For supper, we finally got to experience a traditional bantu dish which is called “pap” in Namibia and “nshima” in Zimbabwe or Zambia. It is basically over beaten ground maize meal that is the consistency of stiff oatmeal or sticky mashed potatos. Mrs Cober informed me that I was to take a timbit size amount in my hand, roll it into a a timbit size, stick my thumb in as if I was making thumbprint cookies and then use it to scoop up the gravyish meat. I think I visibly cringed and she made a comment that some people on the spectrum may find this difficult. If the shoe fits… Suffice it to say, both Jonathan and I used a knife and fork. (I am the person who washes my hands obsessively when baking and and never mixes anything by hand and will not eat pudding because of texture issues). Clearly, I would suck at being a missionary and living locally (I also felt no urge to buy yards of the local fabric and wrap myself in them). However, with my western eating utensils, I did enjoy the food and appreciated the massive effort (and arm/shoulder movements) required to beat the nshima into being.

We were only in Macha for 2 nights and Thursday morning found us heading out early to start the first leg of our 3 flights homeward. We had to re pack our luggage to make sure our carry on would pass security. And fit in the treasures we had accumulated along the way.

I did regret that we couldn’t start our trip with Amanda if for no other reason than we could have used our second luggage allowance to bring things for her and her children.

Our last sunset in Africa. These I’ll miss.

Posted by IronladyTravels 00:43 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Thundering water

Victoria Falls

sunny 32 °C
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Our last official day on the organized part of our trip was in Victoria Falls. We left the resort near Chobe and drove a little less than an hour to the Zimbabwe border. We had been warned that the crossing would be laborious as we had to be issued a visa to enter, that it would be manual and that only cash was accepted. I had tried to get a visa via the website several months ago but got scared away by both the “3rd party” status of the website and the fact my computer kept flashing warnings about unsecure sites. I’ve already gone through a stolen email scare and had no desire to become subject to a “dear lady, I’m a prince with 1000s of dollars” scam so I decided to take my chances with the in person option.

We had to go through covid vaxx screening which ended up being insanely easy because the official was good friends with our guide and told us we were lucky to be with him and just waved us on. The actual visa issuing process was beyond painful. Given that Victoria Falls and all the associated tourist-related business is in Zimbabwe (and that was the border crossing we were at), I will simply say that the government apparently doesn’t care about creating a simple process for tourists.

Upon clearing the border, we got to our hotel (we could hear the thundering of the falls from the hotel) but jumped into a different vehicle to be taken to the Falls. After a short detour to a very large and very old Boabab tree (1300 years old?), we arrived in a parking lot/market. Our guide was very determined to explain to us the geography and history of the Falls.

We walked past a statue of David Livingstone which was slightly surreal as we had seen his memorial stone at Westminster Abbey. (and I had to think that the Queen’s funeral was going to be held where we had just walked a month ago).

The Falls are gorgeous. It is nothing like Niagara Falls. The drop is higher and the width is much longer and the gorge is narrower. More importantly, there is none of the commercialization and “vegas” like component. There are almost a dozen viewing points along the length of the falls but in between it feels very jungly. The falls are still spectacular despite a much lower water fall however it means that (a) the mist is refreshing vs deluging and we could actually see the full descent of the water vs having just a thundering mass of water.

We watched people go into the Devil’s Pool on the Zambia side and declared they were all fools. The Devil Pool is a small swimming area literally RIGHT ON THE EDGE of the falls. You have to wade across the lip of the falls from the shore to get to the pool which looks like the size of an 8 person hot tub. There is a ledge and then the drop. It would be a toss up which I prefer less - that or bungee jumping or sky diving.

The walk ended with a view of the bridge across the gorge to Zambia. The bridge was opened in 1907 by Charles Darwin’s son. Apparently engineering feats occurred prior to Elon Musk. :)

Unfortunately, we did not have any time to do the excursion that I had my eye on. I had wanted to do the canopy walk but we were scheduled to do an evening sunset cruise on the Zambezi so we just didn’t have time. To grumble a bit - this was poor itinerary planning as we had just had a evening cruise in Chobe the night before. The Chobe cruise was more of a river game drive whereas the Zambezi Queen was about food an ambiance - although we did see animals. Just like Chobe was full of multiple 4x4 game driver companies, the river had at least 5 different companies running “sunset cruises” on multiple boats. You have your choice of size (double decker), grandeur (Think the 1950s Africa Queen ambiance) or full dinner/snacks. They all take the same route, pause for the same hippos and make sure you get good shots of the sunset - which is stunning. The trick was avoiding getting other tourists in your frame.

There appears to be one company that owned the hotel complex we were at, the tour company for the falls, the stores at the falls, the helicopter ride (which other people in our group did - and whose aerial photo is above). It seemed all a bit incestuous.

A word about the hotel - it was in the heart of the city so it was more classic “hotel” style although all the rooms were in long rows with pavement stone pathways in between that reminded Ben of Florida retirement communities. There was a lovely set of pools (and we managed to sneak in a quick dip between our very late lunch and the cruise - I would have happily stayed by the pool instead of going on the cruise) and an outdoor dining area, fire pit area and a small stream with fish that wound its way around. The english couple from our group had booked an extra day in Victoria Falls and we were jealous that they could lounge about and enjoy the facilities.

I also had the most amazing salad for lunch - it was a chickpea sweet potato salad with feta cheese and sunflower seed and it was amazing. Perhaps it was just such a long time since I had vegetables or a salad. We were all so stuff from the appetizer food on the cruise that no one was hungry for supper. So our final “meal” as a group was drinks and dessert.

There were quite a few shopping options - ranging from a “market” style with individual booths to more traditional stores. My favourite was the “Elephant Walk” - a sort of courtyard style shopping centre. It had lovely shops/galleries around the perimeter, a small coffee/sandwich shop and a tree with steps in the middle. I’m not a big shopper but if you want a 3 foot high elephant for your garden, you could have found it here.

Posted by IronladyTravels 12:20 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

National Geographic photo spread

Chobe National Park

sunny 30 °C
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We spent the evening of the 10th and 11th along the banks of the Chobe River just outside Kasane. If Agama was a camp for the beautiful people, this lodge is a very classically resort/spa set up. The main reception area is built around a huge boabab tree and then there are two “wings” of two story buildings with the individual units off of it. (not to break the mystique, but Travelodges have much the same flow). There are also waterhogs roaming the grounds who seem to play the role of grass cutter - which yes is not typical of Travelodges in middle america.

What upside to this accommodation is its location - it is on the banks of the Chobe River and it is very close to Chobe National Park which is where we spent most of our time.

We got there early enough for the boys and I to have a very quick dip in the infinity pool (cool and large and empty). And then we jumped into vehicles for late afternoon game drive at the Chobe River. The morning of the 11th, we were back in vehicles at 6am hoping to catch the night predators wrapping up their night prowls (they usually find a cool place to sleep for the day). And then on the afternoon, we were on a boat which cruised the banks of the park getting up close and person with crocs and hippos and elephants and buffalo. In between, I parked myself by the infinity pool with my laptop, Kindle and phone and had a lovely few hours reading, catching up on the blog and listening to podcasts - with frequent dips into the pool. Various members from our group joined me at different times. It was truly how I like to spend my day - up early, do something, chill over lunch with access to water and then head out again.

As we were arriving, a very large group of cyclists was arriving. We found out that they were a cycling tour that had biked from Victoria Falls, were going to bike through the National Park on their way to Namibia. At the best of times, I think cyclists are slightly bonkers (I’m not sure I remembered to mention the cyclists we saw on the road inland from Walvis Bay toward Sussvlei - miles of desert road) but the road in the national park had our 4x4 safari truck shifting down and engaged all wheels to get through the hilly sandy bits. I thought of several people I know who probably would find this a dream vacation but I rejoiced in my slothful tendencies.

From a compare and contrast with the game drives in Etosha, in Chobe:
1. The ride was much more comfortable (betters seats and suspension)
2. The guides were better informed. When I mentioned this to our guide, he said that the Etosha guides only needed a drivers license.
3. Instead of driving through flat empty desert from waterhole to waterhole, the paths through the park wound around and went up and down from the rivers edge as the river formed one long water hole. It gave many more options to get closer to animals.
4. There were baboons who are always fun to watch
5. There were literally hundreds of elephants and we got to watch them leave the islands in the middle of the river and splash through the shallow channels to the hills/woods at sundown where they would be warmer and less bothered by mosquitos over night
6. There were some “new” animals (buffalo and an antelope called the puku) and “new” birds (eg fish eagle and the lilac breasted roller which is truly gorgeous) plus water animals like hippos and crocs.

7. We finally saw male lions (two sleeping soundly despite our driver revving his engine on purpose plus one awake but sleepy guy) and a female leopard. The leopards are very elusive and when the one was cited all the radios in all the safari vehicles lit up and there were literally a dozen trucks all jockeying for position to watch her. It wasn’t quite like an intersection in Malaysia but close.

My learnings:
1. Leopards are smaller than I thought
2. Hippos are massive and wiggle their ears like horses (makes sense) and can be as impossible to photograph as whales.
3. Impalas are called “the Macdonalds of the Chobe” because they are everywhere and have an M on their bum
4. There is a multi-country agreement between Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe for the parks at the four corners . One corporation (a german company) runs the parks.
5. The sun sets several degrees above the horizon because of debris in the air. The Botswanians claimed it was Namibian farmers burning their crops but we had just driven through Namibia and we didn’t see that much burning.

6. If you are going to do a self-drive game drive, just look for a logo’d truck and follow it. It will be communicating with other vehicles and will be heading to the action.

The food was decent but not exciting. It was all buffet with quite a varied and tasty set of dishes. Perhaps it was the novelty of being able to both choose what I ate and control the portion size that made wonderful.

But with our visit, we can say we saw the Big Five of Africa - leopard, elephant, rhino, lion, cape buffalo. (I had thought the big 5 included a giraffe and a hippo but apparently not so BONUS).

Posted by IronladyTravels 20:17 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

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