Right then, a horrifically overdue update on the trip so far - time and t'internet connections have been against me for most of this last section but now I have both, so here we go...
Last report was from Vic Falls, so might as well continue from there, and go via Botswana to where I am at the moment, which is Swakopmund in south-western Namibia.
We had a few days in Vic Falls to explore the place. To be fair, half an hour would probably have done for the 'town' itself, basically just two streets crammed with tour operators, backpackers lodges, fast food shops and bars, but the main reason for anyone to visit here isn't the town, it's the huge wall of water that you can hear from several km away.
Due to it's size, a flight over the falls is pretty much the only way to get the full impression of the place - it's an expensive option, but with the water being at it's highest at the moment (too dangerous even for any white water options), the spray meant that trying to view the falls from the park itself (at $30 a visit) was hit & miss whether you would actually get to see much from the ground. So I opted for a helicopter ride (a first for me, despite promises of a flight when I was working on HMS Ocean that never happened!), and it was magnificent! 15-20 minutes flying and grabbing lots of photos and videos. Very worth while.
With most of my Vic Falls budget gone there, the rest of the stay was just chilling, taking advantage of the very decent municipal campsite and internet facilities to get things up to date, and make plans for the next country. Vic Falls was also a bit of a change of personnel on the truck, with 4 friends leaving (2 who joined with me at Nairobi & 2 who had been on since the start and the gorilla loop section of the trip), and 6 new people joining, meaning the truck would be full to capacity (24+2 crew) through to Cape Town (with about ½ the group continuing through to Johannesburg).
Final thoughts on Zimbabwe:
Unfortunately, all we tend to hear about Zimbabwe from the media is the bad, with Mugabe and his cosying up to everyone that most of the western world love to hate (the national newspaper here on one day featured separate stories about Mugabe & Zimbabwe dealing with North Korea, Cuba and the state visit to Zimbabwe of President Ahmadinejad of Iran).
The reality is that Zimbabwe is beautiful, and unless you go digging or really searching then you'll struggle to see or hear any mention of any political problems. The only noticeable signs were out in the country where one piece of graffiti was common - the three letters 'MDC' sprayed on road signs and kerbs, showing support for the opposition party in Zimbabwe (despite the coalition government, it's clear from the media that the wide divide remains, with one party or the other not appearing at something that the other party supports).
Speaking to the owners and workers at the camps we stayed at, it's clear that things are a lot better now (and much more stable now the US Dollar has been adopted as the national currency rather than the free-falling / plummeting ZimDollar), but with elections a couple of years away, everyone is scared about the screw being turned again by the dictatorship in an attempt to ensure the support of the nation. Unfortunately it'll be wait and see, which is a shame for the people of the country, who were very kind and helpful wherever we went, and with a stable government Zim could really be successfully marketed as a tourist destination, as the major cities are open and cosmopolitan, with a lot less hassle than other places in Africa we've visited, and the supply chain from Botswana and South Africa means that most of the shops and supermarkets are reasonably well stocked, compared to what we've seen elsewhere. Some people have complained that the influence of South Africa in the development and running of the southern countries in Africa have pushed prices up, but if it's creating more stable environments in return isn't that a good thing?
Anyway, on to the next country...
The plan for the truck was to enter Botswana, take a cruise on the Chobe River, then head to Maun and a three-day trip on canoes into the bush and the Okavango Delta.
However, I had other plans, and after doing the Chobe River cruise and spotting lots of elephants, hippos and other wildlife, and enjoying a very nice sunset, we headed for Maun, and I made arrangements to go off truck to head for the capital Gaborone, enjoying a break from the now crowded truck and a chance to get back driving for myself again (not that I'd minded Colin driving us since Nairobi, some of the roads have been horrible, but Botswana is a reasonably easy place to drive round, especially with a few tips for the trip)
Botswana has an easy to follow circular main road network between the capital Gaborone (Gabs) in the south, Francistown & Gweta in the east, Maun in the north, and Ghanzi in the west, all reasonably equally spaced to be able to be reached with a days steady drive, so that was my plan for the few days while the truck and travellers were up at Maun, including a flying visit to catch up with Sian in Gabs
Plans, however, are there to be screwed up, and after a night at Gweta, and a very nice few hours in Gabs, I headed for the lodge in the Mokolodi park (where I'll be returning to at the beginning of next month). As it was now late, and dark, I didn't spot the tarmac had fallen away from the edge of the road creating a massive pothole (not uncommon in Botswana), and promptly dropped the hire car into the hole with a heck of a bang before rejoining the road. Everything seemed to have held together, and the wheels were pointing in the right direction, so I carried on through to the lodge (about 2km away). It was only when I reached the turn off to the lodge that I started to get a vibration, and by the time I parked up the front left tyre was flat. Closer inspection in the daylight revealed a badly dented rim (which let the air slowly leak from the tyre), and a dent in the left hand side skirt panel (showing me just how large the hole must have been if the car had dropped that far!). Even worse was the fact that the car had no jack or wheel brace (not something I'd thought of checking before leaving Maun), but the hostel owner & staff were great and helped me out with getting it changed and checking the car, which thankfully seemed otherwise undamaged.
Being Saturday meant that I didn't have time to sort out a replacement wheel & tyre, and with a definite deadline to meet back up with the truck and return the car back up north in Maun on Sunday afternoon, I decided to travel back via the same route, but stopping at Francistown instead. Without a spare it was a careful and thankfully uneventful drive back (every pothole I didn't manage to miss (and there are many to avoid here) making me flinch, just in case something else was broken).
So I got to see a lot more of Botswana than the rest of the truck (most people said the Okavango trip wasn't really worth the money because of the high water / low wildlife number / unhelpful guides), so I'm glad I got out & about, even with it's troubles. I have another few days in Gabs at the beginning of June to explore more, so will try to get to Ghanzi then and maybe even something up at the Delta.
After rejoining the truck, we headed towards Namibia. En-route we bumped into the Oasis Overland Trans-Africa truck which was heading north again after negotiating the west of Africa on it's 40-week trip from Gibraltar to Cairo via Cape Town. After nearly two months, I'm pretty sure that that full trip would be just too much (although the west Africa section might be interesting!).
So far, Namibia has proved to be a tale of two halves. In the north, it's all about Etosha National Park, and the flat salt pans and typical safari landscapes. In the south, it's all much more about the mountains, the sand, the Atlantic coast, and the influence of Germany (Namibia previously being a German colony).
Firstly, the north. After driving through Etosha (one of the few parks we get to drive through in the truck), I was bored. Some people like the open wilderness of the pan, but not me. Even the wildlife we spotted didn't inspire me that much. However, after a couple of days in the massive park, we stayed at a campsite with a floodlit watering hole, and it was pretty amazing. The weather was nice, so many people stayed all night in the benches behind the boundary wall about 50-100m away from the hole. In the evening, we had wild elephants, giraffes, jackals and three rhinos drinking at the hole at the same time! I went to get a few hours sleep and returned at 4am, woken by the roar of lions somewhere in the park. About 30 minutes later, two lions arrived for a drink, and shortly after strode back into the bush. I later found out that this was pretty much all that had happened during the night, so I was pretty glad I hadn't stayed up all night!
Next day, we moved onto Cheetah Park, a private site set up to care for, surprisingly enough, cheetahs that have lost their natural environments in Namibia. Also, there were cheetahs that the park had reared from cubs, and some that the owners had reared, and could never be released, so were kept as pets! They were beautiful and elegant cats, and we got the opportunity to take a ride in a flat-bed truck though the park to see them being fed, and also to play and get photos with the pets. Not quite so cute & photogenic as the lion cubs at Antelope Park, but certainly just as playful (and keen to take shoes as presents, despite them usually being worn at the time!).
After Cheetah Park, we had a couple of bush camps (despite camping in unofficial areas not strictly being allowed) in lovely surroundings in the shadows of mountains, and included a guided early morning walk into the hills to see some incredibly preserved cave paintings (thanks to work by Raleigh International and the EU) dating back between 2,000-5,000 years! From there it was off to the Cape Cross seal colony, and the Atlantic coast - our first sight of the sea since leaving Dar Es Salaam and the Indian Ocean in mid-April. It also meant that we have now officially crossed Africa, living up to the Coast-to-Coast name of the trip!
Slightly further down the coast, and to the present day, and here I am in Swakopmund - the adrenalin centre for Namibia, with sea, sand and air all available and used extensively for the various activities on offer. In a few days I'll be having a ride out into the dunes on the Quad Bikes, and am trying to talk myself into sand-boarding (pretty much like snowboarding, but the landing on your backside in the sand is softer and less cold!). Otherwise it'll be exploring this town, a very strange mix of African and German influences. One good thing is the amount of cafés and bars, and well stocked shops and supermarkets. The African influences come with the prices, which are distinctly more African than European. Combined with the heat coming from the sands, tempered by the breeze from the Atlantic makes this a very nice place indeed. Add it to Zimbabwe and Lake Malawi to come back to on the return trip.
From here, the truck heads down the coast towards the massive coastal dunes, the Stellenbosch wine regions of South Africa and into Cape Town. However, I'm jumping off again, taking a different route to Cape Town using the inter-city InterCape tourist buses, with a couple of days in the Namibian capital Windhoek, then an overnight bus down to Cape Town to meet up with the truck for our final get-together and activities before the rest of the trip head off for Jo'burg, and I start the really independent section of my trip (5 more days in Cape Town, then fly back to Gabs for a few days, then to Jo'burg to get the train back to Cape Town for another 8 days, including the start of the World Cup). Then home and Glastonbury (and back to work, ash cloud permitting!).
All good stuff still to come! Next update probably with the initial news from Cape Town next week, and maybe even some photos if I get a decent connection 😊
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