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Published: January 19th 2010
Not going on this trip
We have just returned from frigid Manitoba, having spent Christmas at West Hawk Lake-BRRRR.
We are now into full packing/planning mode for our trip to Africa-we will leave on the 15th and expect to visit South Africa, Namibia.Zimbabwe,Zambia and Swaziland. We may also be able to visit Botswana. We have 2 organized tours with one being a 4 day canoe trip on the Zambezi and the other a 4 day hike on the Garden Route along the coast. We have lots to do before the 15th............
Countdown continues-It is now the 9th of January and we are slowly getting ready.As usual we have multi-activity considerations but are still trying to last for a month with one checked bag (MEC backpack/suitcase) and a small carry on backpack. To lower the profile I am leaving my old backpack with the 34 country flag crests home (sob)
We have new passports as the old ones apparently did not have enough blank pages-new program in some countries (South Africa) is to refuse entry unless you have enough blank pages ((and they have to be facing pages)in your passport. Our new ones have 48 pages and hopefully will last for 5 years
versus the 2 years I got out of my old one.
We are in the midst of a bit of minor angst over our self drive plan for Zimbabwe and expect to decide in the next 2-3 days. If we took the State department warnings seriously, then it would be a no go to almost everywhere. They are somewhat pessimistic about every country including the two I have just visited (Georgia and Armenia)
As of Jan 12th we have decided to go with the Zimbabwe option-Apparently the country is well worth seeing and things have really improved in the last few months.
I am starting off the Africa trip with a pre-made bowel/stomach issue that is a carry forward from Armenia- a water based infection and I am on antibiotics for the the next few days. I guess the over proof vodka didnt work.....
We have friends coming from Glenboro to help the dog look after the house. They will arrive tomorrow at 6.00 if they make the ferry turn around. AS usual the dog knows we are leaving and is staying right on my heels.
Thursday will be packing day for
One of our hosts 14 vintage Land Cruisers
me.I subscribe to the last minute theory of packing so you have a good idea of what you have packed-Jan likes to start well in advance (4 weeks) which I think results in several repacks to check what you have etc. I finished packing the day we left. (Friday January 15th)
It is now Tuesday Jan 19/10 and we are more or less acclimatized and settled in a superb guesthouse in Windhoek in Namibia.We had a good flight from Vancouver to Amsterdam on KLM and spent Saturday night rediscovering Amsterdam in the rain. We stayed in the Keizershoff Hotel (circa 1600) which is owned by a Dutch lady (circa 75) who prides herself on being a little crazy. Her son who owns a theatre costume company was there helping -very interesting and helpful. The room was quiet and clean-on our list for future trips. We had dinner in an Indonesian restaurant in which we had dined the last time we were in Holland.
On Sunday we flew from A to Johannesburg-11 hours plus- will forgo comments as there is little positive that can be said about long plane rides.
We had a short overnight stay
view from the back yard
at a friends place in Joburg and then on Windhoek on SA-very jet lagged and tired by then and so we had to have an afternoon sleep. We had dinner out at a German restaurant and I tried the game sampler-ace
I am still on antibiotics so dining has been a dry experience-one more day.........
Today we are going to visit our hosts ranch (Claus Bergman) to see what we can do to help with his abattoir idea,-more on that later
Everyone here is very security conscious and Claus insisted on driving us to the restaurant and then picking us up.
Today we will also get our car so we can drive to Swakopmund on Wednesday morning-Our plan is to spend 2-3 days on the coast.
So far we have seen a giraffe and heard a jackal calling in the city which Claus says is unusual.
People so far have been friendly and very helpful.
Jan 19.2010 Today we toured the ranch and did a game drive with Claus- Spectacular amount of wildlife including Oryx,Springbok,Blessbuck,Roan.Eland,Wildebeast (Blue and Black) Zebra,Warthog,Baboon, Ostrich,Cobra, Heart and Sable Antelopes,Steembuck,Kudu,Red Hartebeast.Tree Meerkat and a Jackal. We also saw lots of new birds and
got an idea of what ranching in Namibia is all about-a la Wilbur Smith
We also got fairly close to the Cobra.
After leaving Claus and Windhoek behind we drove to Swakopmund which is on the coast west of Namibia-As you go to the west it gets drier and is a real desert with huge sand dunes when you get to the coast. Ambre (Claus's partner) booked us into a nice guest house (Pension d Avigne) and we stayed there for 2 nights. Lots of German spoken in the town and we had no problems walking around after dark- however the guest house was walled in and had 2 large white German Shepherds patrolling the parking lot. (not sure what that means)
We ended up buying a hand woven carpet there which is 3.2 meters by about 1 metre for the hallway in SSI--now we get to carry it around Africa.....
We went on a very interesting desert tour there. There is a lot more life in the desert than meets the untrained eye. Animals out there such as the Clipspringer which is a small deer exist without ever drinking water.
We drove back to Windhoek friday morning.
On the way there and back we stopped at a couple of African markets and ended up buying some small carvings. The vendors are semi-aggressive but shrinking violets compared to the Cancun variety. One of the markets was in a field near a small town and was obviously a means of livelihood for the families. This was a stone and crystal market and the men are not present-it is run by women and you cant help but be moved when you see the little kids.We ended up buying some stones and paid to take some pictures of the kids.
We managed to get the right hand drive car back in one piece to Pegasus and the lady drove us to the Airport. Uneventful trip except we saw an apparently rare Aardwolf on the way to the airport.
We arrived in Johannesburg and stayed in a modest hotel near the Airport so we could fly out to George this morning (Saturday) We have finally figured the tipping system as suggested by the desk clerk at the hotel -between 5 and 10 rand for airport porters.
We are now in a bed and breakfast in Wilderness,SA which is on
the coast near George in what is called the Garden Route area. We would highly recommend this B and B -I am sitting in the LR overlooking the Indian Ocean ,having a glass of wine and listening to Jazz as I type this update. The couple who own it moved here from the USA. Highly Recommended -The Mount Fleur Bed and Breakfast
Tomorrow we start on our guided 4 day hike along the coast-It is called a slack packing trip and will be quite luxurious in comparison to our West Coast Trail adventure.
Finally back to Blog on Thursday January 28/10 after our hiking/nature walk. We went with a company called Garden Route Tours and it was a great experience. It was fully supported and included a bit of canoeing plus about 70Km of hiking, mostly along the best beach we have ever seen.It was virtually deserted and the longest day was about 23 km-we came off the beach each day covered in sand stuck on to sunscreen.
Our accomadation was varied including 2 bush lodges and a hotel type place- Our guide Judy cooked the meals and poured the wine-all in all it was quite decadent.
We saw a fair amount of wildlife some of which was dead (seal,penguin,etc) and I added 48 new life birds to my list. We didnt encounter any snakes but got quite a lecture on Puffadders and what not to do if we saw one.GRT prides itself on its expertise in explaining what you are seeing.
Another highlight was the incredible number of African Black Oystercatchers we saw on beach-They are an endangered species here as in Canada.
After about 70 km we finished the trip at Brenton on Sea after having walked from Wilderness.We had a celebratory beer and then Mark of GRT drove us to George.....The Garden Route group is known for its attention to natural history right to the scientific name of the most obscure plant-perhaps a bit too much detail for me (except for the bird life part) We did learn a lot about South African life and attitudes.
In any case we went on to the Acorn B and B in George which was another nice place and handy to some nearby restaurants. We slept reasonably well except for the incessant ringing of church bells at the adjacent Dutch Reform Church (
the Boer Church of choice?) However we would recommend the Acorn and actually ended up referring 2 Canadians we met on the street to it.
The next day we got a the B and B owner give us a ride to the Outeniqua train station where we caught the train to Mossel Bay along the Cape coast. Nice ride on a vintage train. We then had Lex the taxi guy take us back to the the George Airport for our flight to Joburg. The rug is still riding with us. Security at Airports in Africa is a bit inconsistent-in George the scanner person was completely asleep when we went through.
We arrived in Joburg shortly after Jan And John Markowsky and picked up our Safari Car - a Nissan 4 by 4 and then went to Mark Cockcrofts for a night of food,drink and repacking for the next phase.
The next day we headed off early down the freeway to enter Zimbabwe (Bobland) at Breitbridge. This was easily the most entertaining part of the trip and it took close to 4 hours to cross the border. Bob has got things really operating at peak efficiency at the
border and it only cost $75 USF to experience chaos at its best. The are several lineups to experience and a bewildering array of forms and special fees, all done the old fashioned way with carbon sets - no computers to go down here. After meeting all the wonderful border staff you then go back out to your vehicle.
The line is very safe from a traffic movement perspective as it barely moves -in 3 hours they processed 3 to 4 vehicles. Finally after a long wait the amassed crowd seemed to be getting restless so the alert staff basically cancelled the inspection process, got out the checkered flag and waved everyone through. We then headed off down the road to Bulowayo which we needed to reach before dark" to avoid certain death on the highway" (according to various sources)
This was not possible thanks to the time lost at the border and we had to cover the last 80 km in the dark.Night driving involves running an obstacle course of roadside humans in dark clothing, itinerant goats and large herds of asphalt loving cattle. There are also large numbers of slow moving minibuses which stop everywhere for pickups.
With the help of Garmin we were able to navigate right to the Cresta Churchill in Bulawayo about an hour after dark without incident (except for a turn on to the wrong side of a 4 lane street which we corrected by driving through the ditch)
The Cresta was a bit run down but the staff were great and we had a top quality dinner and a good sleep. The female staff all have great names like Precious, Beauty, etc.
The next day we spent a bit of time on the street in the centre of town - big African style flea market. We then headed off to Hwange and a drive through the park - The girls went on top as per the photo-highly illegal but a great view.
On the way we stopped at some crafts places and went through 2 uneventful police checks as well as some toll booths ($1 per car) Everyone is very friendly.
On our park drive we saw 12 elephants,15 giraffe,10 hippos,30 warthogs, 15 zebra,lots of deer and some jackals. I got to 67 life birds during this drive.
We arrived at Sinamentela at about 7.00 and checked into
the guesthouse (AKA the ant farm) It was not the best accomadation of the trip. (The Bob effect)
We arose early and bolted for Victoria Falls where we checked into a much better hotel (the Rainbow Falls Hotel )where we had an excellent breakfast while waiting for our rooms. We then headed out for one of the best parts of the trip-The Walk with Lions. The lion walk is part of what is described as lion rehab-apparently these lions will be introduced back into the wild through a multi-step process.The lions are quite large as they are about 18 months old and you get to walk through the bush with them (and pat them) The guide contingent included one person with a very large gun!!!
After the lion experience we de-compressed by going shopping and visiting the falls. very misty....
Then it was back to the hotel for pool side gin and tonics as a prelude to a very interesting cruise on the Zambesi complete with FREE booze and live entertainment. Lots of wildlife on the river-hit 80 LBDs
To cap off the day we went back to the hotel and had dinner c/w entertainment. We had the
entertainment all to ourselves as we probably were the only guests in the hotel.A bit of a minor power outage occurred. Bob soon had it fixed-what a guy...
The next day we crossed into Zambia and drove to the Caribe Resort which is back on the Zim side-Hello Bob...We had to exit Zim and then come back in - a bit of anxiety as the boys were trying to make us pay for another visa at $75 each. Luckily the woman in charge vetoed that and made them stand down their receipt book.Same day entries are free.
The Caribe Hotel has had better days-I ended up fixing a window in our room which the staff tells me was damaged by a band of marauding baboons (apparently protesting the election results) We had dinner and turned in early. Lake Caribe is a huge impoundment lake and apparently hippos and elephants are frequent beach users.
In the morning our Nature Tour guides (Bono and Tebo) arrived at about 8.30 to lead us to the start point for the canoe trip. After they got over the shock of discovering 4 people instead of 2, we went shopping for extra food, water
and beer(we are carrying ice in a cooler) in a nearby town-excellent experience. Cell phone cards cost $0.23 per minute. We got to go shopping with the locals including a big fresh bread line.
After a bit of a drive we launched at Chirundu-This river is really moving. We saw 75 hippos in the first 10 km before stopping for lunch. We did another 5 km after lunch and then stopped for the night on an island.
The guides did an excellent job of explaining all the potential dangers of the trip which primarily relate to the propensity of the predominant animals to kill you if you disobey the guides. Hippos are large aquatic herbivores which are about the size of a D7 bulldozer- They make excellent security guards as they are very territorial but tend to sleep during the day IN THE RIVER. According to Bono and Tebo running your canoe on to a sleeping hippo is a good way to end the trip early. They also said there were a lot of forms to fill out if they lost a guest to the hippos.
They also advised against trailing legs and arms in the water as
lots of deer like animals
there is one crocodile for every 10 square meters of river. Not many crocs are larger than 20 feet long.......
Bono suggested we stay behind him when paddling - he also said we should listen when he said to paddle fast. We set several paddling speed records during the trip.
We were under the impression that bug infestations (mosquitos,tetse flies,etc) would be severe and life threatening. Most nights we could have slept without the tent zipped up.
The campsites were all great -sand bars with nice breezes. During the night we had animals wandering through including hippos-We also heard lions and elephants.
Another highlight was a minor altercation with a rogue buffalo which required John and girls to have to make a run for it back to camp-Bono didn't have to use his gun but he was thinking about it. Probably wouldn't have shot the girls...
We did 30 km on day 2 , 20 on day 3 and 6 on day 4.It was an exciting experience and the guides were great-We wouldn't have lasted an hour on the river without them.Bono knew exactly where the Hippos were and we did a lot of zigging
and zagging to miss them. At one point we had to hug the bank and then do a right turn into another channel to miss a pod of Hippos-worked fine except John and Jan ran aground. Pretty exciting for a few moments.
When we pulled out of the river,the guides told us some good stories of previous trip disasters. The best one involved a Hippo biting Bono's canoe in half. An equally exciting one was a crocodile diving off the bank on to his canoe and getting stuck in the cargo netting.
We came off the river early on the 7th and shuttled back to the car-long dusty trip c/w tetse flies.We then drove to Harare to the Cresta hotel and enjoyed a night in Bobland -power went off at 7.00 and was out until 10.00-made dinner a bit of challenge for the staff.
Internet in Southern Africa is not the best-no free internet and half the time it doesnt work.
Also most places dont/cant take visa or mastercard so had to watch our cash positions. ATMs give USF and are readily available.
Beer price check - $1.00
The next day
we did a 1000 km drive to Kruger via the Beitbridge exit (highlighted by a handcuffed spitting lunatic laying on the floor in the customs exit line-might be a new Bob tourist attraction).
Long day to Punda Maria-after arrival we did a night drive and saw a Buffalo up close plus some rabbit/kangaroo/rat thingys. Dinner was takeaway in room plus beer.
We did a long slow game drive the next day from Punda Maria to Satara bush lodge - All in all our drive through the park took 2 days and covered about 500 kms. Lots more wildlife including close elephants( right on the road) and lots of giraffes and impala. We wanted to see the big cats and a rhino but no luck
until last day when we spotted a rhino within 15 feet of the road.
After leaving the park via the Crocodile River gate we drove to Swaziland which is quite a scenic and relaxed place in comparison to the somewhat tense atmosphere in South Africa. We had lunch and did some shopping (hippo port glasses) and then headed back into SA to Ermelio to the Hawks Nest B and B.Good
place and highly recommended. BB people gave us tense instructions about street safety when we went out to dinner but it didn't seem that bad to me...
We spent the next day and night in Lesotho and then went back to Johannesburg to pack up for our trip home on the 12th. We felt much safer on the Zambezi in the canoe than we did driving on the Joburg freeway system.
We had a meat extravaganza (Braai) Thursday night and then spent the night packing to come home.Jan and I bought a number 28 tin foot locker in Lesotho (about $40) which we completely filled with various African works of art,carvings,glassware etc.
Finally the passport page issue turned out to be a non-issue- I am trying to hunt down the idiot who posted that you need extra pages to enter and leave SA. We were in and out several times and the stamps all went on the same page.
All in all a great trip
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