Microlights and Mokoro

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Africa » Botswana
March 3rd 2010
Published: July 28th 2010
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Hi all

I can’t quite believe its March already. Time is going so quickly here....since I last wrote from Livingstone we have departed Zambia and crossed into Botswana. Almost immediately we crossed the border again into Namibia - travelling along the Caprivi Strip (the toothpick shaped section of land in the furthest north east tip of the country) and then back into Botswana to visit Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta. Yesterday, we left Botswana for the final time, back out into Namibia. Still with me?? With all this geographical movin’ and shakin’ my passport now has more entry and exit stamps than a philatelist .... evidently philately gets you everywhere! Ho ho ho...

So, here we go again... the last leg of this epic African odyssey is well and truly underway and with a mere 15 days before we arrive in Cape Town, it is starting to feel as though this incredible experience is coming to an end. My friends on the truck are quick to point out - should i slip into any kind of maudlin state about returning to reality - that in fact i have LOADSA tine left - my Overlanding with Intrepid may be finishing in Cape Town but i then have 2 weeks with Mum where we plan to hit the vineyards of South Africa and take in the scenery of the Garden Route....cage diving with sharks anyone? Heck, she did a sky-dive a couple of years ago - so why the devil not Mumski??!

I think i mentioned in my last email that when we arrived in Livingstone, the Group shrunk hugely in size - from 19 to 8 - and its a completely different experience now travelling with such smaller numbers. The dynamic has totally changed and we are now a solidified unit of 1 (on most days!).... its so much calmer now and basic things such as the cooking, cleaning, washing up, tent erection and striking are so much easier. Tranquil is the word which springs to mind....11 less personalities to deal with! That said, its not the same without my most recent tent buddy Nicole, who i shared many adventures with...Romie, Fiona and Alison - you will never be forgotten!

In fact, with so few people on the leg, we have the luxury of tents to ourselves now. We all help each other get them up and down and the additional space is very welcome.... the newby who joined in Zambia is a 59yr old chap from the Gold Coast of Oz - a cross between Robert Redford and Paul Hogan who sounds like Joe Mangel from Neighbours. Strewth! He has slipped into the routine well and when any of us are feeling a bit truck-tastic, he only needs to say in his broad Aussie accent “thats not a knife, this is a knife” (film fans - you get it huh?!) to make us clutch our bellies in hysteria.....its a running gag now!

Anyway, i thought id take the opportunity to tell you tales of lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) , microlight flying over one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, jetboating down the Zambezi and other such adventures which i have been lucky enough to partake in over the past 2 weeks....

Rewinding to Zambia, we spent a number of days in Livingstone - adrenaline capital of the country where you can do all manner of crazy things to get that endorphin fix. Some of the group did a 111m bungi off the wrought iron Victoria Falls Bridge (me, you wonder?? No frickin way!), others went gorge swinging, abseiling, lion tracking, elephant riding and white water rafting. As for me, I did indeed step outside the comfort zone, but as a mature adult who knows fully her pleasure boundaries (ha!! Anyone remember my flying fox experience in Argentina?!), chose my adrenalin activities with care.

None of the afore mentioned come cheaply... in fact as well as being an opportunity to burn some calories, rubber, or brain cells, its very easy in Livingstone to burn the dollars and i was no exception. First up was jet boating on the Zambezi River (http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=jet+boating+on+the+zambezi&form=QBIR&qs=n# ) - For $95 we got a 35 min aquatastic zoom up and down Batoka Gorge - up and down the Grade 3 to 5 rapids, 180 degree skids and up to speeds of 90kph. It was an absolute blast! The setting was just stunning... 220m cliffs reaching down to the gushing , swirling , turbulent high waters of the mighty Zambezi..... as its currently middle of the wet season here the water levels are quite high and with a 45m difference between high and low water, you can imagine the sheer majesty of the gorge. At the deepest point on the Zambezi, the waters go down 120meters! Im sure someone will invent some sort of sub aqua adrenalin fuelled activity next...

The wet season means that Victoria Falls (http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=victoria+falls&FORM=BIFD# ) themselves were in almost full flow - at their peak, in a month or so, 10 MILLION cubic metres of water pound over the precipice every minute....it was an extremely wet day when we visited and we got utterly soaked. I abandoned my poncho as it ceased to be waterproof within minutes and gave myself up to the thunderous rain and spray from the falls. If anything, the grey skies and rain meant the viz wasn’t brilliant and for much of the walk through Mosi oa tunya National Park, where the falls are sited, we had to imagine the size of this great natural wonder...1.7kms wide and 108m high. Being a bit of a waterfall aficionado now (!), i actually would put Vic Falls ahead of Niagara ( a mere bath trickle! Sorry Fi & Ari!) but behind Iguazu which just blew my mind. As Bali said, nowhere else on the planet has she felt as though the hand of god was present - high praise indeed coning from a staunch atheist. I second that. Iguazu takes the waterfall biscuit...having said that, Ive yet to admire the cascades of Angel Falls in Venezuela so i shall hold judgement for the time being.

However, my enduring memory of Vic Falls was an aerial one. As others in the Group took high tea at the Royal Livingstone Hotel, i took to the skies in a microlight. A whopping $140 for 15 mins flying time, i just thought why the hell not. J. Ive always wanted to try paragliding and this seemed kind of similar...ish. The sun was radiant and as we flew up to 1500ft in a matter of minutes, rainbows appeared and disappeared in the spray from the Falls so far beneath me. You can see just how spectacular it is from the photos. (http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=batoka+adventures&form=QBIR&qs=n# ) Looking down onto the upper Zambezi, the pilot pointed out hippos, elephants and crocs - all appearing as miniature creatures from my lofty height. He even let me have a go....now that made my heart race, taking the controls of this motorised hang glider... With no external casing, you feel incredibly vulnerable just sat in a seat with the wind buffeting around you. It was very thrilling but being slight adrenalin averse, has made question whether i should push myself to try skydiving in Namibia... answers on a postcard please!

There were a few things that made my time in Livingstone trying at times....the rains caused the campsite to literally became a quagmire of mud, a tsunami of sludge and other such evocative descriptions. That plus the unfortunate close encounters with the resident (and extremely intimidating) vevert monkeys ,( the ones with the blue testicles) plus the squadrons of ants that invaded the tents (i have never seen ants on such a scale.. i got through a lot of Doom insect spray in 4 days. Arran - remember the hornets in the bus we lived in on The Cook Islands? EEk) meant i wasn’t entirely unhappy to be leaving and heading south west into Botswana and Chobe National Park, an 11000sq km park home to Botswana’s most varied wildlife (http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=chobe+national+park&form=QBIR&qs=n# ). We did some fantastic dawn game driving and as u can see from the pics, i could get quite blaze now about all the game animals ive clocked up ....more lions, hippos, giraffes, elephants, jackals....and lots of beautiful birds - names of which ive completely forgotten apart from the striking malachite kingfisher.

The other highlight of our time in Botswana was the Okavango Delta (http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=okavango+delta%5C&form=QBIR&qs=n# - entering through the north west corner into the area known as the Okavango Pan Holder, we did 100kms in the truck on a sandy road that reminded me of Bolivia - so much bumping, you could get haemorrhoids! It being the wet season here as well, the delta is in full flood and 18.5 billion cubic metres of water spread out like a giant frond like leaf, creating a 16,000sqkm network of channels, lagoons and islands. The waters are home to numerous crocs and hippos which feed on the abundant vegetation - sage grass, papyrus and luxuriant water lilies. The latter open and close with the daily cycle of the sun.

Abandoning the truck we transferred into traditional mokoro - dug out canoes which are steered from a standing position by a poler - think punting on the Cam etc - but here the poler isn’t some public schoolboy with a floppy fringe called Tarquin , rather buff, ripped Botswanan men with hewn bodies and biceps to die for!! Its official - we have jungle fever ! Fnarr Fnarr! My poler was a giant monolith of a man who expertly glided us through the shallow reed beds, the gentlest touch of his pole guiding the bows through the tall grasses, parting them like curtains, disturbing the midges, spiders, and frogs.... suffice to say I have been eaten alive by mosquitoes and other biting creatures in Botswana. My body is covered in red wields which itch like F@@k. 50% DEET seems utterly ineffective t o these little critters. I digress....i was trying to describe the wonderful e delta where we bush camped alongside the giant footprints of elephants (and their dung piles...jeez for vegetarians, elephants sure drop a mean load of poo!)

The polers took us all out at sunset and sunrise - at both times, the light cast a magical quality over the waters. The sounds of grunting hippos pierced the air, birds roosting or awakening for the hot day ahead and splashes from elephants traversing the delta, lumbering through the reed beds. We were also given the opportunity to try the poling ourselves..... blimey, it was hard work and doing it for a mere 10-15mins made me reliase what a skilful thing it is and how fit these guys are. Although i think all of us girls, could see that quite clearly already! . More enjoyable was the swimming and splashing around in the lagoon ( - away from the crocs and hippos you’ll be pleased to hear). It may be the wet season now but we had the most glorious weather with hot hot sunshine. Factor 50 all round.....

We had a very African day today - the truck got bogged down in the Kalahari Sands and we had to dig it out, the ‘ferry’ which takes 1 vehicle at a time across the Okavango River broke down and we had to wait 4 hrs before we could cross the small stretch of water, and our Cook got held up at the Namibian border for some errant paperwork ...but to use a phrase oft used in these parts, Hakuna Matata!

So that brings you up to date with my adventures... Im now in Namibia gearing up for all sorts of more exciting times ahead. We head next to Etosha National Park and will be in the wilderness for a few days. Then its onto Swakapmond (to skivedive Or not to skydive?) and then into the Namid-Naukluft National Park for a dune-tastic time.

Am very very excited as I have heard only great things about Namibia and have always wanted to come here. Yay!

Hoping all is well and enjoy the photos.

Mum - see you in 2 weeks J

Love H x...


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