28 Oct 2013

A Warm Welcome to Malawi

Border crossing: Zambia to Malawi


Name: Mchinji

No. of officials: 5

Building: 3

Time taken: 1 hour

Other: Crossing was smooth with Customs & Immigration in the same building (one for each Zambia & Malawi).  No Visas needed.  But instead Josi had the first “hassle” of the trip – the official in Malawi Immigration looked at her and said “hmm, I love blonde girls, I don’t know why” while doing the twin handed groping gesture…what a warm welcome!

No Road Tax is needed as the car is less than 3 tons.  The part that took the longest was Third Party Insurance – you had to get touts to exchange your Zambian Kwatcha into Malawian Kwatcha in order to pay the insurance as they apparently “didn’t take any other currencies”.  While we were waiting for this Josi chatted to two local children who would have taken everything she owned if they could – they even asked for the car!

Hassle factor: 3/10

Days in Zambia:11
Days in Africa: 49

25 Oct 2013

Lake Tranquillity v. City Gridlock

Zambia: Lake Kariba & Lusaka

En route to Lusaka we made a detour to the western shores of Lake Kariba.  Straddling the Zambian / Zimbabwean border this immense lake was created artificially by the construction of a dam.  Sitting in the lodge pool beside the choppy lakeshore, we had the impression of being next to the sea, rather than a lake – waves lapped the rocky beach and stretched far into the horizon.  Zimbabwe is only visible as a hazy outline far in the distance.  One attraction is a large island a few kilometres into the water.  This is uninhabited save for a herd of elephants who were stranded when the whole area was flooded by the dam.  The lake’s relaxing properties are marred however by the knowledge that its waters team with hippos and crocodiles.  So the pool remained our respite from the afternoon heat.  The temperatures are steadily climbing each day now – while only a fortnight ago we had been huddling in the tent under blankets during the cool desert nights, at *Lake View Lodge* we lay in a suffocating humidity unable to sleep.  Even with the tent fly sheet folded back, we could only gasp like fish out of water and wait for the dawn.

21 Oct 2013

River Activities & Shenanigans

Zambia: Livingstone

The drive northeast from the border to Livingstone is uneventful.  In the last 5 years smooth tarmac has replaced what was by all accounts a terribly potholed road.  But this development only partially conceals the underlying poverty that still marks out Zambia from its more wealthy southern neighbours.  It is a sobering reality that 64% of the population live on $1 per day. 

Leaving the vast wildernesses of Namibia and Botswana behind us, it is as though a population explosion has occurred overnight.  Sprawling towns are connected almost seamlessly by threads of villages and round huts which stretch monotonously along the roadside.  More than its southern neighbours, Zambia is blighted by HIV and its working age population is hit hardest.  14% of the adult population are HIV positive and average life expectancy is 52 years.  But there is some room for optimism – life expectancy is up from 42 just 10 years ago.  HIV awareness posters are everywhere, including ones urging parents to get their children tested from as early as 6 weeks old.  It’s a stark reminder of something that no longer grabs the headlines at home.

Life is unapologetically laid back here.  The main roads mill with people and animals, none of whom seem in a particular hurry to be anywhere.  Injecting some animation into this scene are the numerous roadside traders who jump to attention at the sight of a foreign vehicle.  They hold out a random assortment of wares, from baskets of charcoal and bowls of fruit to live chickens and even a young goat.  These traders and passers-by merge into one seamless mass as we enter the suburbs of Livingstone.

As well as being one of Zambia’s largest cities Livingstone is also the home of Victoria Falls – the “seventh natural wonder of the world” and also a world heritage site.  Being the adventure sport capital of the country, the menu of activities on offer is almost overwhelming.  These range from white water rafting to swimming in the Devils pool at the top of Victoria Falls.  And of course there are all manner of ways to throw yourself off the bridge – the 111m bungee jump being just one of them.

17 Oct 2013

Boats, Touts & Border Crossings

Border crossing: Botswana to Zambia


Name: Kazangula

No. of officials: 5

Building: 3 buildings – each for different things!

Time taken: 1 hour 30 minutes

Other: A 5 minute ferry crossing followed by going to different buildings for each required item: Visa, Customs, Road tax, Third Party Insurance, Carbon Off-set tax, and the buying of reflective stickers for the front and back of your car.  There are touts trying to exchange money for you and “help” you through the process.

Hassle factor: 5/10

Days in Botswana: 15
Days in Africa: 38

16 Oct 2013

Lions, Leopards & Lechwe

Botswana: Chobe National Park: Savuti, Kasane.

Chobe National Park is a well renowned National Park and its name is synonymous with a vast density of wildlife and enormous herds of elephant…we were expecting good things as we entered the gates from the south and headed towards our first stop – *Savuti Camp*.  We were not to be disappointed as within the first 5 minutes we spotted a lioness just relaxing under a tree. 

The drive to Savuti was very different to the other parks we had been in.  We followed the marshland to our right and dense shrubbery to our left.  The former was the first vast open space we had seen and although the scenery was different to other parks so far, we saw only a handful of animals…we hoped there would be more to Chobe.

12 Oct 2013

Rock Painting: Limited Guided Visits

Botswana: Tsodilo

About 400km Northwest of Maun lies the remote area called the Tsodilo Hills.  This is the only Unesco World Heritage Site in Botswana and evidences the earliest human settlers in the region.  Paintings from the San and Bantu tribes are represented here, the former distinguished by the use of red pigment (the Bantu only painted in white.)  The best preserved of these date from around 2,000 years ago, although it is thought this region has been inhabited for at least 30,000 years.  The Bantu (modern day descendants of whom still live in the area) are relatively recent comers, having been present for only the last about 1,000 years.  Their appearance coincided with the early domestication of animals, which is evidenced by their depiction of domestic herd animals. 

Apart from their archaeological significance, the hills are also imbued with deep spiritual importance for the local people.  Many legends have sprung up around them over the millennia, one of which is that this is where the first human set foot on the earth – there are a number of foot shaped imprints on one of the hilltops.

10 Oct 2013

Moremi Game Reserve & Camping with Elephants

Botswana: Maun & Moremi Game Reserve

Botswanan border post formalities dealt with, we struck out on the sand road towards Nakaneng, a small town which marks the start of the tar road to Maun.  We had expected (and been warned of) deep loose sand as far as the tar road, but this never materialised and we were pleasantly surprised at how easy the going was.  It was still a long slog though often with only sandy ruts and corrugations marking the way.  At the intersection with the tar road we switched from 4 wheel drive to 2 wheel drive and enjoyed the smooth sensation of being back on tarmac.  This is a defining feature of Botswanan highways – whereas even main arterial roads in Namibia are usually gravel, Botswana now has long swathes of asphalt between its major cities. 

Maun is the safari capital of Botswana, with a mind-boggling selection of tour operators and safari agents touting their services.  Of great benefit to them, is the fact that the Botswana National Park system is a complicated affair and enough to put most people off trying to arrange a trip independently.  Basically, access to all National Parks is controlled by Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), but campsite accommodation in the parks is operated by a number of privatised companies, all of which are located in different places in Maun.  So, in order to put together your own itinerary, you have to first visit the office of each company whose campsite you want to visit, check their availability sheets, and then pre-pay the bookings, hoping in the meantime that the office you first enquired at has not sold out by the time you get back to it.  Only then, as you clutch your three or four different campsite reservations, are you ready for the final stage of the process, which is to present them at the office of the DWNP and there prepay the daily National Park entry fee.  But we had time on our hands and limited funds, and so undertook this process rather than deal with the agents and tour companies.  With 4 nights accommodation booked and our entrance fees paid, we were ready to leave town and head to one of the world’s greatest wildlife hotspots – Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta.

The road to the South Gate of Moremi Game Reserve is dusty and uninteresting, although the vegetation becomes thicker and taller as you head towards the delta.  Here the water table gradually rises and the delta itself is a massive convergence of waterways, irrigating the Northwest corner of the Kalahari Desert.  As we were visiting late in the dry season, many of the trees were devoid of leaves but others were lush green, providing a stark contrast to the parched landscape of Etosha.


3 Oct 2013

Traversing Africa 2013 compared to 1870

When Henry Morton Stanley’s epic expedition left Bagamoyo in Tanzania in March 1871, he was not travelling light.  His quarry was David Livingstone – explorer extraordinaire but missing and not heard from for years, somewhere deep in the Heart of Darkness.  Charged with such a mission, Stanley was prepared for anything.

His party number 192 people in total, including over 100 porters, 22 soldiers, a cook, a tailor, an interpreter, 27 donkeys, 2 horses and a dog.  His baggage allowance was generous too – 8.5tons of supplies and equipment were borne along by this menagerie of animals and porters.  Accounting for much of this weight was Stanley’s equivalent of hard currency – a staggering 8,000 yards of fine cloth, with which he hoped to barter and trade his way through the interior.  No traveller’s cheques or ATMs here.  Supplementing his 52 bales of cloth were several porter loads of decorative beads and general haberdashery.

In this respect, life for us is much more straight forward.  Hard currency, VISA and Mastercard take up far less room and seem equally effective.

In terms of personal protection, Stanley was also not taking any chances.  Armed to the hilt, his entourage was packing double barrelled shotguns, Winchester rifles, revolvers, pistols, 24 muskets, 24 hatchets, 24 long knives, 2 swords, 2 daggers, 1 boar spear, 1 battle axe – and, just in case, an elephant gun.  This arsenal, and an apparent willingness to unleash it on Africa’s fauna from time to time, was still not enough to keep Camp Stanley from starvation on more than one occasion. 

In this area too, we have less of a challenge.  More useful these days than boar spears and battle-axes are mosquito repellent, anti-malarials and a well-stocked fridge.  Stanley himself succumbed to both malaria and small-pox during his great traversa, and would have envied the contents of our comprehensive first aid kit.  Sleeping sickness was unknown to him and Tsetse flies plagued his camp mercilessly – against which his regular doses of quinine and rum with lemon juice proved not so effective.

Navigation and communication is of course far easier in the 21st Century as well.  While Stanley’s elegant dispatches took many months to be carried back through the jungle to Bagamoyo, then onwards to Zanzibar and finally by steam ship to New York, today we have the luxury of instant communication.  Cell phone coverage is extensive, even in wildly improbable places, and when that fails we have a satellite phone as back up.  Wi-fi is also prevalent in some of the smarter campsites (although often with frustratingly slow speeds.)  GPS provides us with often ludicrously easy route planning.  Even where the road is no more than two sandy tyre ruts the chances are that our Tracks4Africa software recognises our route.  Gone are the days of wandering through unknown territory for months on end, elephant gun and battle axe at the ready…

By the end of a hard days bushwhacking, Stanley would have been lucky to cover 5 or 10 kilometres.  With Tonka, even in thick sand and corrugations, we are able to cover 200 kilomteres a day in relative comfort (although relative is the operative word.)

And at the end of the day, setting up camp in 2013 is much easier too.  Even in the most rustic of campsites we can have our tent out and fire going in less than 15 minutes.  Things for Stanley’s entourage were not so simple – while Stanley’s private tent (complete with bear-skin rug and chest of drawers) was set up, his men had the daily routine of chopping thorn bushes to build a protective “boma” around the camp, then gathering grasses to use as rudimentary sleeping mats.

So on balance, particularly given Stanley’s regular skirmishes with the locals along his way, we have by far the easier deal.  As we ourselves head towards Livingstone in a few weeks time, we are firmly convinced that what has been lost in terms of Victorian romance is more than made up for by a Toyota Landcruiser and wet wipes.

2 Oct 2013

Humble shack or border crossing?


Border crossing: Namibia to Botswana
Name:               Dobe
No. of officials:   2
Building:            Tin hut
Time taken:       10 minutes
Other:               Wheels sprayed & shoes dipped in anti foot&mouth solution
Hassle factor:     1/10

Days in Namibia: 25
Days in Africa: 25

1 Oct 2013

Josi’s Top Ten: Namibia

We have had so many adventures already just in Namibia and we have really loved it.  It is already hard to imagine what could possibly be our top ten for our whole trip!  Of the things we experienced in Namibia this September, this would be my top ten – in no particular order:
  1. Himba people: Such a beautiful & elegant tribe
  2. Sossusvlei: beautiful dunes at sunrise
  3. Kaokoveld: Van Zyls Pass to Okangwati – a true 4x4 track
  4. The vast wilderness
  5. Rock engravings: from 2,000 to 6,000 years old.  You could see they had drawn maps of waterholes & where to find each animal when hunting.  And they had taught their children spoors so they could track animals. Fascinating.
  6. Etosha National Park: Herds of elephant, pride of lions, five rhino…and that was all in just a few hours.  Such a treat.
  7. Epupa Falls: So much water and greenery after such a long drive through desert is quite striking.
  8. Spotting animals on a “normal” drive – exhilarating and hard to stay calm.  Binoculars were always at the ready.
  9. Friendly people, everywhere!  There was always a smile or a wave for us wherever we went.  It felt like such a welcoming country.
  10. Lodges & Campsites: Rostock Ritz Camp, Aabadi Mountain Camp, Rustig Toko Lodge, Etosha Aoba Lodge.

We loved Namibia – we are sure we will be back soon!