Craig and Ross in Botswana and Namibia

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August 29th 2017
Published: August 29th 2017
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August 29, 2017

Episode 1:

Victoria Falls; The smoke that thunders.

Dear family, friends and colleagues,

I am thrilled to report that we are back here in Africa, easily my favourite travel destination in the world. Like a chilled glass of Frangelico, Africa is intoxicating and addictive. It never ceases to amaze me with its wonderful people, landscapes and - most of all - its incredible wildlife. This time, I was particularly interested in going to Botswana, home of the legendary Okavango Delta – to spy all sorts of animals - but wild dogs in particular. And then a self-drive in the neighbouring country of Namibia, home of the vast red sand dunes of the Namib desert and incredible Etosha National Park.

Most people traveling from Australia to Africa enter via Johannesburg in South Africa. We flew into Johannesburg 4 days ago. The custom and immigration process at Joburg’s O.R. Tambo airport was painfully slow. I recall this from last time we were here and it hasn’t changed. The lucky dip dealt us a customs official who was relatively unpleasant. He had a cranky manner and a face like a dropped pie. He grudgingly let us into the country and we made a bee line for the onsite airport hotel, there to shower and sleep off the long flight. We then got a flight the next morning to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. As our Botswana safari was starting right nearby, it seemed crazy not to first check out the world famous Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border. It is currently the dry season here, so it is warm and sunny - hooray. Arriving at Victoria Falls airport, one is immediately greeted by a large photo of President Robert Mugabe. A truly venerable and inspirational fellow - not. He once said that gay people are, quote, “worse than pigs, goats and birds”……..Birds?.............! Worse than birds in what way? Their general penchant for bright colours? Their incessant chattering and excessive preening?

Zimbabwe was once one of the most prosperous places in Africa. But thanks to rampant corruption and Mugabe’s breathtaking mismanagement, the country underwent economic collapse and their currency is worthless. (we brought US dollars to cover our entire 4 days here, as there is no money around and ATMs are useless). Today, the country is recovering and tourism has certainly picked up again.

Here in the township of Victoria Falls, we are staying in a beautiful guest lodge featuring lush gardens and thatched-roof bungalows. The town itself is a short taxi ride away, featuring bars, restaurants, curio shops, etc. There are marauding baboons about the place, sticking their heads into bins to seek food scraps, running about on rooftops and generally making a nuisance of themselves. We have eaten at some really nice spots with great food. There was one exception, a place called Lola’s Tapas bar. The food sounded interesting (Spanish tapas with an African twist) but it turned out to be gross. I said to Ross as we tried to swallow sawdust filled meatballs:

“We should have known better. We know not to eat at places where there are no locals eating.” He replied:

“Yeah, you’re right. We should have noticed there weren’t even any baboons dining here.“

Our guesthouse recommended a place for drinks called the Lookout Café, so we caught a cab there. Wow! It is perched on the edge of a cliff with sweeping views of the gorge and Zambezi river below and the famous Victoria Falls Bridge nearby (from which people bungy jump). Furthermore, it had warthogs on the front lawn. It was a fantastic spot - a must if you ever come here. We ate antipasto and drank five dollar cocktails in the late afternoon sun. From this café, it was a short walk through the bush to the grand old historic Victoria Falls Hotel - another “must see” place. Along the short track to the hotel, we came across fresh elephant poo, and felt a little uneasy, and indeed saw two of the beasts in the bush but kept a good distance from them. At the Hotel, we took ourselves to the evening diner and tribal dance show, which featured energetic and interesting Zimbabwean dancers.

And as for Victoria Falls themselves – they were wonderful, truly beautiful. Locally called Mosi-oa-Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”), Victoria Falls boast the world's largest sheet of falling water. (Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America's Niagara Falls.) We walked along the designated track on the cliff directly opposite the falls, affording excellent views. A great thunderous deluge of water pouring constantly down a long gorge that filled our field of view and stretched into the distance. At many view points, gorgeous rainbows framed the falls, generated by the sun hitting the immense clouds of spray coming up. Interestingly, the vegetation that immediately flanks the falls is an oasis of rainforest, fed by the constant fine spray of water from the falls. An amazing micro-climate, but go much beyond that, you hit dry acacia woodlands all around.

It was in this part of the world that the missionary and explorer David Livingstone hung out, though lost to the world until Henry Stanley “found” him in 1871 and uttered those immortal words “Dr Livingstone, I presume?” There is a large statue of Livingstone near the falls, his face gazing sternly towards them. Although the expression on his face looks like he has just been forced to listen to a Britney Spears album.

The next morning, while Ross slept, I caught a cab back to the falls to photograph them at sunrise. This, too, was magnificent. No one else there, except a Japanese dude, who gave me advice on getting good pics. We witnessed an intense orange ball breaking the horizon and bathing the falls in a lovely soft light. Magical. Also, at this time of day (6.30am) the undergrowth was alive with small birds of various colours – a real treat for me. It was a lovely time of day. As I was leaving at 8am, the first of the day’s tourists were arriving, with long queues starting to form at the entrance gate (which can be painfully slow here).

Last night, we cabbed it to another sublime spot – Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, located out of town on a hill overlooking a waterhole and definitely the abode of the well-heeled tourist elite. We had a few sundowners on a perfectly positioned deck as we watched a glorious sunset over the woodlands. I have a fantastic photo of the setting sun behind a tree of roosting maribu storks. My gosh, Africa is stunning.

Unusually for us, today is a relaxing rest day of doing not much. We are currently lying by the hotel pool, I am doing internet stuff and ross is reading the autobiography of Clarissa Dickson Wright – one of the (late) two fat ladies. An extraordinary life and a real amazing read, apparently. Anyway, later on, we are booked on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. This by all accounts is a highly popular activity, not least because of the endless grog on board. (While organising this, I overhead a woman ask the tour operator if the sunset cruise operates in the morning).

We leave tomorrow for our seven-day mobile tented safari in neighbouring Botswana. Not roughing it, but “glamping” somewhat. Just the two of us, our guide and cook in the heart of the African bush. Woo hoo. This will take us through Chobe National Park and the highly anticipated Okavango Delta.

There will be no internet, so the next blog will be several days away.

Bye and love to all our family and friends,

Craig (and Ross).

(more photos below. Click to enlarge, scroll through).

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30th August 2017

Craig and Ross in Botswana and Namibia
Love reading about your travelogue adventures. Keep em' cumming, Boys. Cheers, JG.
10th September 2017

Wandering baboons scared the hell out of me in Africa! Hey so if we do the 'bush salute' in Oz due to pesky flies, what do you do in Africa to fend off pesky baboons?

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