At the Falls at last

Zambia's flag
Africa » Zambia » Livingstone
November 8th 2014
Published: December 25th 2017
Edit Blog Post

Geo: -17.8573, 25.8429

Maun to Livingston 27 October - 8th November

On the Namibia/Botswana border we stayed at Ghanzi camp in San country. The San people (bushmen) of the desert are fascinating. Their life, like that of most aboriginal people, is changing quickly. It is more difficult if not impossible to remain nomadic as their children have to attend school. However, they want their children to retain the Bushman skills so they go off into the bush whenever they can. They move around the Ghanzi camp area and our guide arranged for a group to take us for a walk and show us some of their skills. Robert from the camp came to interpret as these San do not speak any English. What I really liked was the San spoke to us directly, and we to them asking questions then Robert translated so it felt as if the conversation was with them, rather than just being told about them in an impersonal way.
Their language is a 'click' language which we find difficult usually so they started with the leader introducing them and greeting us by a long arm touch all the way to the shoulder. Then they gave each of us a seed to put under our tongues which they said would help us learn to click. After a couple of seconds the seed exploded with a loud crack much to our surprise and their delight!
It was a strange experience to be with them as physically they are so different, having tiny frames and bone structures, very slim faces and tiny rosettes of hair. It felt as though we had time travelled back thousands of years to meet them.
The older lady said she did not know how old she was as she was born in the bush but she allowed herself to be used as a demonstration of how they cure pain. Early explorers reported that they had tattoos but in fact the marks on their bodies are where they have had pain cured. Someone will use a sharp reed to make a small incision then powder produced from specific plants is rubbed into the skin. She had her shoulder 'treated' and then swaggered around, smiling and rotating the shoulder to show us how well it worked. They had a great sense of fun!
Eventually we reached Maun in Botswana which was amazingly hot and dry. At Audi Camp there we had to wave goodbye to the group( now down to 4 passengers and 2 guides) after they had breakfast. It seemed strange to see them driving away. The group had mixed well and coping with Alexander seemed to help group cohesion, we all became very fond of him and we had a lot of fun and laughter.
At lunch time we collected a vehicle from Avis rentals at the airport in Maun and set off for Planet Baobab, a camp out near the Makgadikgadi Pans. We drove just over 200 kilometres to reach the camp, decidedly more upmarket than our usual stops but unfortunately it was a brief stay. On arrival we went for a short walk to see the vegetation of the area and then enjoyed dinner. The real adventure was to come the next day. A very interesting village tour of nearby Gweta filled the morning where we saw the local school, post office, technical college and houses. About 6,000 people live in the village and work either in animal husbandry, diamond mines or at Planet Baobab.
By now we have come to appreciate more of the character of Botswana. Unlike Namibia it was not colonised but was a British Protectorate (then called Bechuanaland) and it became independent in 1966. Just over a year later the diamonds were found which has made Botswana rich after being one of the poorest countries of Southern Africa. From the little we have seen and been told so far it is a peaceful nation, proud of their history and their culture, united by their Christian beliefs (evenif there are different ways of celebrating those beliefs) and generallycontent.
There was a trauma to start with. It was assumed that Seretse Kharma, son of the most powerful Royal family would become the first President. He had been groomed for this. His name means "clay that binds" as his birth brought reconciliation between his father and grandfather who had previously suffered a rift. He was educated abroad and whilst in England met and married a white woman named Ruth in the 50s. This caused uproar! His uncle called for him to be permanently exiled in the UK. South Africa forbade him to return (of course under Apartheid interracial marriages were illegal) and there was a fear that they might invade the Protectorate if he came home. The then Government of the UK was still in a great deal of debt resulting from the War and felt it needed the South African trade and resources so it supported S Africa's opposition to Seretse Kharma.

Anyway,some time later after the dust settled (and perhaps a change of Government in the UK?) the people decided they wanted Seretse Kharma to come home. They sent representatives to the UK with their request but they were refused initially. They continued to lobby and finally agreement was reached and he did return. In fact when he was originally exiled a report was commissioned into his suitability to lead his country and the recommendation was that he was ideally suited to the role. This report was not released for 30 years.
I think this is a wonderful story because it has a happy ending. Sir Seretse Kharma (as he became after being knighted by the Queen) built the foundation for a very peaceful, settled nation. He established anti-corruption legislation from the start, created tax systems that allowed company's to develop and explore for resources but also benefit the country and people. Having looked up some limited sources and talking to people it seems he made excellent decisions and was really loved and respected by the people. He remained President until his death in 1980. There have been 2 other Presidents since but now his son, Ian Kharma, is in post. The peaceful, settled nature of the country is evident as soon as you cross the border.

Much of the income from diamond and copper mines has filtered down to provide facilities for the Batswana. As our local guide said, in the village they have a new hospital, good schools and a new library and community centre, so what more could they ask for? Much of the housing is very basic with shared toilets perched at the end of dusty plots and communal standpipes for water. However, it now costs a relatively small amount to have a private stand pipe installed and electricity. Gradually more people will be able to do this. In fact we saw some very nice new houses being built and were told these were usually for the people who worked in the mines. Teachers have special houses provided near their schools. If young people obtain good grades and want to go to university the government sponsors them to find places outside the country as they appreciate that university provision within Botswana is limited at present.
At 2.30pm four of us met with the same guide, Jonah, to set out to the Pans. They are a collection of flat dry areas where perhaps some 10,000 years ago a large inland lake dried up leaving salt pans behind. In the dry season there is nothing there, just a vast white plain from horizon to horizon. When the rains come they fill up and attract lots of game until drying out again the next year.
The plan was to sleep out on the pan, without a tent, just on the ground. We were told we did not need to take anything with us so reluctantly left sleeping bags etc behind. We went in a battered old jeep which had little space for the provisions I thought we would need to take, and no sign of bedrolls but I told myself to have faith.
After a long drive of more than 2 hours over very rough scrub we arrived at a cattle post where those who wanted could take a quad bike for the rest of the journey out on to the pan. I opted to stay in the vehicle as our guide was a brilliant bird spotter. Jim took to a bike much to my surprise especially as he had to have a scarf wrapped around his face to help minimise the dust. Obviously some vestiges of a Lawrence of Arabia fantasy must be hidden deep in his psyche (see picture).
So the 3 quad bikers followed us, stopping en route to watch a family of Meer Cats. Despite their cute image they are very fierce when it comes to digging their food, insects, scorpions, lizards etc from the ground.
When we reached the middle of the pan I was surprised to see another vehicle there. Our dinner was being prepared over a lovely camp fire and our bedrolls were in place. Such pampering! We are not used to this when camping. It was a delicious meal of steak, baked potatoes, butternut squash and corn bread.It is a strange sensation to see nothing but the whiteness of the flat pan stretching away in every direction. We went to bed and watched the stars. It was very comfortable until the wind picked up in the middle of the night. Suddenly dust was everywhere and the stars just above the horizon had disappeared in the sand storm. I covered my head with the sheet and eventually managed to get back to sleep. We awoke the next day just before sunrise and retraced our steps back across the pan.
Jim was riding at the back of the 3 quad bikes and half way back from the pan we realised he was no longer following. Jonah took one of the other Quads and went looking for him. His bike had broken down so he could do nothing as he watched the convoy disappear in the distance as they could not hear his shouts over the noise of their bikes. He said it was an eery feeling to be the only person left on the pan. But Jonah soon fixed it and we completed the journey in time to have a quick shower and breakfast before driving back to Audi camp in Maun and returning the vehicle.
Tomorrow afternoon our next group should arrive and we will join them for a tour of the game areas of northern Botswana. Hope they are a good group and that it will not be too difficult to join in as they have already had a few days too get to know each other as they set off from Johannesburg. We will be the newcomers.
27th October
Joined the group (Cecelia and Ulf from Sweden, Bayart & Alexandra from Switzerland and Emily and John from the UK) and went to the Okavango Delta for 3 days. Could not make notes as we had to leave all non essentials behind. All our gear for the two of us including sleeping bags and bed rolls had to fit, together with us and the person poling, in the mekoro, a canoe traditionally made from a hollowed out sausage tree. Nowadays the polers are encouraged to use glass fibre mekoros to save the sausage trees.
Okavango is a large inland delta formed by water from the Angolan highlands flowing over the flat plains of the Kalahari. Because of the water the scenery is a contrast to the rest of the region with lakes and waterways full of water lilies between small ' islands' of slightly higher terrain. We saw plenty of elephants, giraffes, buffalo, blue wildebeest and the ever present zebras, together with lots of water birds.
The polers live in the nearby village and camped with us to take us for walks and generally look after us. The last night they even sang and made us play games. It was fun and we enjoyed it but it did require a big adjustment to our hygiene. The previous trip had been well organised and extremely hygienic, with Pumi sterilising everything moveable each 2 or 3 days. In Okavango the bed rolls were used to line the mekoros for travelling across the water and were walked over as we clambered in. The camp area was small so all the tents were packed close together and the ground was completely covered in dung. I have never seen so much.Without going into too many details I can say standards went downhill from there on. However so far we have all stayed well, hope it continues. It is difficult when rough camping but I think there has to be an effort made which is set by the guide.
From Okavango we returned to Audi Camp in Maun for our 4th night before setting off for Moremi National Park. We have just arrived, set up camp and had lunch and are now waiting for the next game drive when it cools down a little. We are all trying to find a few inches of shade to hide from the scorching sun in temperatures well into the mid 40s.
3rd November
We had 2nights wild camping in Moremi National Reserve and are now on our 2nd night in Savuti Reserve again wild camping. The weather has changed as the last two days have been rainy early in the morning and slightly overcast for most of the day. Before that we struggled to cope with the heat. For a couple of days at Moremi it was unbelievable hot, at least 46 or 47 degrees with very little shade in camp. As we go out early and late afternoon for game drives we 'rest' for 4 or 5 hours in the heat of the day while the animals are in the shade. However rest is difficult as it is impossible to go in the tents so the options are to find the semi shade under the sparse leafless trees and sit on camp seats or climb into the jeep.
Thankfully we were able to have one bucket shower on the hottest days which made life bearable. These consist of water being placed in a bucket which has a tap on the bottom to allow the water to sprinkle out. Honestly, it is hard to describe the absolute bliss of standing under this in a swim suit for 10 seconds. Enough to be wet all over and then cooled down slightly by the evaporation. Of course it is not possible to use soap or wash hair as there is insufficient water to rinse it off.We are now short of water so it is a relief that the weather is changing as the rainy season starts as we now have to get by without the shower.
We are not allowed out of the tents at night as the animals wander around.In fact Jim was in the toilet tent (no door) earlier in the evening when an elephant walked past. It gave him a quite a shock.Given the physical conditions why come here? The game viewing is superb and n the 4 days we have been wild camping and covered a huge area we have seen only a handful of other vehicles, a very different experience from some game viewing parks. We have seen all the expected animals including a pride of lions, a leopard, a wonderful variety of birds including 3 owls, a tortoise and a terrapin. Our guide, Stan, joined us after Okavango and he is excellent. He provides so much information about the geology, history, geography, behaviour and life cycles of all the animals, birds and plants (but always in manageable chunks) that we are able to view the landscape in a completely new way.
I have been really surprised to learn how the animals, from termites to elephants, change the look of the land and even water courses. Most of Botswana was under a huge sea which emptied into the Indian Ocean at one time. As a result of earth movements the exit was blocked forming a huge lake which eventually dried up leaving the pans and desert behind.The water from the Angolan Highlands plus rain in the Botswanan summer are sufficient to enable the animals to survive.
Travelling on through Savuti we watched as a pride of lions enjoyed a meal of their kill, a large buffalo, whilst scavengers, vultures and jackals hung around awaiting their turn at the feast. Eventually the lions were so satiated they could only loll under the shade of bushes while they digested their food.
The African Wild Dogs are endangered but perhaps because of the lack of water which might have attracted them out towards the waterholes we managed to see four different packs on our journey. It was good to see them but perhaps even better was watching our guide, Stan, who was overjoyed as he has rarely seen them previously. He could not believe our luck.
7th November Livingston
We have arrived at Livingston and Victoria Falls. Our last few days were in Chobe, both in the National park and along the Chobe River. It was different game viewing. Because of the River and its flood plain huge herds of animals gather here. Although they are largely species we have seen before the numbers make it a different experience. For instance we saw a herd of buffalo that must have numbered well over a thousand, and zebra in the same numbers. Baboons line the banks in the evening before darkness falls. There were buffalo resting under the bushes at night only 100 metres from our camp which was slightly concerning, again no-one was allowed out of their tents during the night and we could hear animals shuffling around and snorting. Stan told us that the animals ignore the tents but I am not sure we were all convinced. He did say they once had to take a client back to Maun the first night they were due to wild camp. He became hysterical at the thought of spending the night in the bush.
The group has been challenging mainly because the Swedish man is unbelievably difficult. The guides try to manage his behaviour but he is still quite disruptive. Luckily the Swiss couple are very nice and seem able to converse with him very patiently, and they just laugh off his bad behaviour.
He never listens. For example, at one point we were on a very sandy road and became seriously stuck on a bend. We all jumped out to assess what to do. The guides explained that we needed to dig down into the existing track to make it deeper. While we were finding stones and branches to do this the Swede decided he knew better, raced for a big branch, almost knocking me over with it, and filled in the tracks with loose sand even though everyone was telling him to stop. He thinks he always knows best. The result was we then had to dig them out again!
If I give more details we will start to sound like grumpy old people so we will resist the temptation but just say the trip would have been much smoother without him.
We did get out of the sand eventually but it was difficult and finally we had to uncouple the trailer and move the vehicles separately. At one point three men were dangling from the top rear edge of the trailer trying to use their weight to tip it backwards. Unfortunately I was busy digging so did not manage to get a photograph of that. But such incidents all add to the adventure.
Now we are relaxing in camp ten minutes from the Falls. It is the end of the dry season so the water level is low and less spectacular than in the rainy season. However the gorges and rock face over which the water tumbles are still very impressive. It was strange when we arrived in town suddenly seeing shops, people and traffic after being so remote for the last ten days. As you would expect Livingston is more touristy with plenty of activities on offer such as rafting, helicopter, plane and microlight flights, bungee jumping, elephant rides (a new venture which necessitated the introduction of animal trainers from Asia), horse riding, game drives and walks, village tours etc. They all seem a little'Disney' like so we decided to give them a miss. We can always change our minds if we hear good feedback as our next tour starts here and we will have a couple more days if we want to go.
As we have spent 2 weeks or so sleeping on the ground we have upgraded here for our last night with this group. We will have a large tent with twin beds, our last chance to sleep in a bed for another 2 weeks. It will also give us space to sort and repack bags when our washing is done and recharge batteries, both technical and physical, before our next trip.Sent from my iPad

Additional photos below
Photos: 75, Displayed: 36


8th November 2014

8th November 2014

Wonderful cat
8th November 2014

Wonderful view

Tot: 3.101s; Tpl: 0.069s; cc: 13; qc: 54; dbt: 0.0508s; 3; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.5mb