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Published: January 1st 2014
The Okavango flight, Botswana
A belated very happy Christmas to everyone. As ever, we hope this finds you all well and enjoying some festive goodwill and merriment.
We have been lucky enough to have spent the last few days in the Western desert of Egypt with Justin, Rosi and the boys after leaving Southern Africa a week ago.
It has been the perfect ending to our year away and a great place to celebrate our first anniversary.
Since our last blog entry in Northern Namibia and the loss of our camera we cheered ourselves up with the purchase of an even better camera in Maun, in northern Botswana.
We decided to treat ourselves to a "once in a lifetime" scenic flight over the Okavango Delta in a seven seater plane. Just before we embarked, a fellow passenger asked if we were prone to air sickness as he had heard that these small planes were notorious. Needless to say, we reassured him that were hardened travellers with stomachs of steel.... As we circled above herds of elephants and abundant waterways on a beautiful afternoon, his words played in my mind and I convinced myself that I
was actually feeling a little queezy. I glanced over at Jo who was white as a sheet, staring transfixed at the horizon, unable to turn her head to talk to me lest she vomit. As I felt worse and worse I dealt with the overwhelming nausea by closing my eyes and drifting into a uneasy sleep. I awoke to the sound of laughter from the other passengers, back on the tarmac, covered in dribble, with a green gilled Jo hurrying me off the plane. So much for the intrepid African travellers!
Embarking on a prolonged period of self drive safari and loaded up with food, water and fuel we set off for Moremi from Maun. Arriving at the park gate two hours later, Jo was concerned she could smell oil burning and that she could see a liquid leaking from under the car. Falling back on our extensive mechanic experience, we eventually concluded that the liquid was from the air conditioning unit and posed no concern. However, the smell persisted, the bonnet was raised, oil was seen where it shouldn't be and the outcome of Jo's acute sense of smell was a ride back to Maun on
the back of a lorry. One new breather valve later we were off!
In Moremi there was fantastic lightening which started forest fires all around us. We were glad when it started to pour with rain! However this necessitated the first outing of the tarpaulin, which was rigged up with such a mesh of Heath-Robinson esque ropes that Jo was worried a wandering elephant may trip up on one. So we then put the warning triangles from the car on the longest guys to avoid injury to wildlife, but soon realised this was ridiculous and so took down the whole thing.
Jo excelled herself in the leopard spotting stakes in Savuti: difficult to spot at the best of times, Jo suddenly instructed me to stop the car because she had seen an Impala acting "strangely". She followed the gaze of said impala and waited. Minutes passed before a leopard lying in the long grass suddenly rose before our eyes and loped away. Smug didn't come close!
We paid a brief visit to Zimbabwe to experience Victoria falls and to raft the Zambezi. The river was, apparently, in "excellent" conditions for rafting
and Jo overcame her considerable fears regarding drowning after befriending an even more scared woman on our raft. We were not the most dynamic team of paddlers and flipped at almost rapid for the true white water experience!
Returning to Botswana, we crossed the Mgadigadi Pans and spent some time in the Kalahari literally falling asleep to the sound of lions roaring. I've never seen Jo climb the ladder into the roof tent so quickly!
Crossing back into South Africa, we stayed, by pure chance, at a farmstead in the Soutpanberg mountains that, unbeknownst to us, kept its own rhinos. As we drove slowly through the grounds, we were surprised, to say the least, at the appearance of three white rhinos in the road. As we stopped at a safe distance to allow them to move away, they looked up from their eating and began rumbling at a trot towards us. Having not experienced this before, in a blind state of panic, we did the most logical thing in the circumstances, which was to lock the doors.... The rhinos stopped short of the vehicle by a couple of metres and stood looking at us.
Having regained composure, we began to enjoy the novelty of the situation, thinking how brave we were and that we were some sort of rhino whisperers. Seconds later an identical white Hillux carrying hay bales to supplement their food pulled up. The rhinos, realising their mistake, trotted over to the other vehicle and whilst the "farmer" waited, his five year old son jumped out, gave the rhinos their food, then they sped off.
Crossing into Mozambique after the briefest ever visit to the Kruger national park, (forty seven minutes) in order to make it to the border before it closed, we were again faced with the navigational situation of taking which ever road went the most East and shouting "Vilanculo?" at every person we passed. One old man, in remarkable English, told us to just follow the electricity line which we did, and after nine hours of unpromisingly small dirt tracks, we arrived! We have learnt never to ask for actual distances or times when asking directions as most rural Africans are not familiar with kilometers or minutes. We were impressed one time when told " the distance you have come is far, the distance you must
Some of the 70000 elephants in chobe
Japanese tourists appeared wearing SARS facemasks....
go is not so far" and we had indeed, in hindsight, just passed halfway.
Mozambique is another country with a history of a recent civil war, this one fueled by the previous SA apartheid government to stop black nationalism spreading. There are still undercurrents of civil unrest with the Renamo opposition staging violence to upset the Frelimo ruling party. This was all to the north of where we visited, but due to tourist uncertainty and the rumour network, all the hotels were empty and the tourist industry was facing collapse. A wonderful time to visit for us, but sad for people trying to move their lives on after the 1994 ceasefire. The same is happening in Egypt, where I am writing from now. They are two years into a "revolution" with " at least another three to go" according our desert guide. There is some sporadic violence in Cairo, but the tourist industry hundreds of miles away has been crippled.
The highlight of our time in Mozambique was diving with the Manta Rays and Whale sharks in Zavora. Floating just off the bottom whilst these enormous, graceful creatures glided past, gently flying through the
water was a humbling experience. We did the same dive three times and it didn't disappoint.
Crossing back into South Africa we visited Dr Josien and Bart (whom we took over from in Sierra Leone) in Manguzi hospital, a rural DGH in KwaZuluNatal. We spent a morning back in hospital reminiscing about Masanga, which compared to even the poorest hospitals in SA, was so far behind. The challenges in Manguzi were totally different to Masanga and the expectations so much higher. This visit coincided with the death of Nelson Mandela which made our last few days in SA especially memorable.
We followed a well trodden path back to Cape Town, detouring off to visit the Drakensberg mountains, possibly the most dramatic landscapes we have seen, with the towers and pinnacles so striking and the cliff edges off the high plateaus so sheer. After descending 1600m vertically we were then literally struck down with muscle soreness (not an understatement, Jo needed help to get into any sitting position). An uncomfortable reminder that we have deconditioned a fair bit this year! Nothing a few strenuous days on Dartmoor won't fix.....
We had a
few more wonderful experiences on the way back to the Cape, not least walking with Cheetahs, watching ostrich racing, and watching meerkats emerge from their burrows, not to mention a few stunning B&B's (the honeymoon started eventually) and finally we finished where we started drinking wine with Richard and Kerry in the shadow of Table Mountain.
I had to return to the UK for the funeral of my Grandmother, aged 101, who had been following our blog with interest, but rejoined Jo in Cairo for Christmas.
So, the end of the journey and the end of the blog! From Plymouth to Masanga to Cape Town to Cairo. We have been so lucky to have had this opportunity and have learnt so much about all aspects of life. Whilst we are sad to be heading home, we are really looking forward to seeing family and friends. Jo has been fortunate enough to be offered a job in Plymouth, so we will be living together until I deploy for the last Afghan in July.
The main purpose of the trip was to deliver a vehicle to Masanga and we thank everyone on the
blog who helped us raise the money to buy Rubes back in August 2012. We hope she proves to be a reliable and robust servant to the hospital and we will continue to support the hospital by meeting her maintainence costs.
So finally, thank you for supporting us and thank you for taking an interest in our year in Africa. We look forward to seeing you all soon.
Very best wishes for 2014
Love David and Jo x
P.s. Pottering around ............. is now being planned. We are open to suggestions and team membership.
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