Livingstone, Zambia to Windhoek, Namibia
19.07.2010 - 24.07.2010
In the evening of July 17th, we met with the others who were participating in the Gap Overland trip to Cape Town. Our first encounter with the tour leader, Andre, made me a little nervous about what we were getting into. I had some expectations that she would be quite a bit different from the person in front of me. For one thing, at 24 years old, she was quite a bit younger than I had anticipated, and my first impressions were such that I did not have so much confidence in her being able to lead a trip that I would like. Still, here we were, committed to the trip and we could only wait and see how it would turn out. We had dinner with the other overlanders that evening. Surprisingly, there were five other Canadians, with most of the remainder being Europeans. Our first two nights were spent in Livingstone in a campground on the Zambezi River.
Our first dinner together with everyone was fine, though I felt a bit overwhelmed with the numbers. I found myself much relieved when the large table was full and we had to eat at a smaller table with 6 others. It was clear to me that I was going to have some adjustments to make being in the group. Chris was his usual happy self, adjusting easily to the change in our trip.
Many of the people on our trip were up for the “high adrenaline” activities like bungee jumping and ziplines and so on and also flights over the falls, but we decided on something much more tame, a walking safari. There were only two other Spanish men on the safari, which we were very happy about. We had to drive in the open vehicle for about half an hour to get to the place we began the safari, which was a very chilly experience. Chris naturally sat there in his T Shirt while I had just about everything on and still froze! We were glad to arrive. The two Spanish men were flying back to Spain that day and so had one thing on their minds and that was to see a rhino. We were pretty open to seeing anything and just liked the idea of going on a walking safari. So off we went to find the rhino, which had been spotted the day before. I could not believe that in five minutes flat, they had spotted him and we were able to stand not 15 feet away from him as he grazed on the grass.
We must have spent half an hour with the rhino. It was pretty special. I couldn’t believe that we could be that close, but as long as we were not in his way he was not bothered. The Spanish men were amusing as they spent most of that time posing in front of the rhino with the other one taking photos. It really was very funny. As soon as we left the rhino, they decided their safari was over and asked their hotel to pick them up. So the walking safari continued with just Chris and me which was perfect. We saw giraffes and impala and also some zebra as well as learning a bit about the plants in the area. It was a great experience to be there on foot. There is something very special about standing on the earth with these animals.
Giraffe and baby
Our last night in Zambia, Kalenga took us out to listen to some Zambian folk music and he brought along his niece who spoke beautiful English. We really enjoyed spending time with her that evening.
The next morning we boarded the overland truck for the first time and headed off to Botswana.
It took ages to cross the border as there is a ferry crossing as well. Travelling with a group of eighteen other people was something that we were, or more accurately, I was going to have to get used to. I did enjoy the fact that we were high up so we had a very good view of the scenery as we went by. Our first destination was Chobe National Park which is well known for its variety and also prevalence of game. The first evening we went on a boat trip down the Chobe River for three hours. How delicious that was, with the elephants, hippos, water buffalo and many birds. It was great to experience it all from the river rather than being on land. I would do that experience again for sure! Needless to say a few more photos were taken!
Bird at Chobe
The next morning we went on an early morning game drive, that was not quite as exciting but still we saw some animals and that is always delightful. Both Chris and I felt that the driver was pretty uninspired and really was not looking for game very enthusiastically. Some guides are amazing at their capacity to know where to find animals, but this one was not.
I would have loved to stay another day in the park but the itinerary was to move on to a place called Planet Baobab. The trip took longer than expected so we got there at dusk missing seeing these amazing Baobab trees. Each one is so individual and they really do often look like upside down trees. Luckily there was just enough light the next morning to get a few photographs of these giant trees.
The next morning we got up early to catch a glimpse before we had to head off again. Some things were quickly becoming obvious to us about the trip. One was that we were always hurrying, early in the morning and usually at lunch and some times in the evening as well. When we would stop at shops every couple of days we had no longer than half an hour to do any shopping or getting money that we would like. It was a bit crazy to say the least. Another thing that was obvious was that the most important place to stop was the liquor store. We were totally amazed at just how much was bought and consumed each and every day. As soon as we would stop at the campground, and the tents were up the first glasses of wine were poured and beers opened. It continued until people crawled into bed. I am happy to say that people did not get really drunk, but for us, it did not make for much meaningful conversation. We had been in Africa for over two months and so were very much in Africa. We found that mostly people engaged in talking about their lives and countries and so it didn’t really pull us very much. Still here we were and luckily we had each other. I am not sure I could have done it on my own. We tended to go to bed early, just to have a break from the group and get up early to avoid rushing. We had our great tent that allowed us to see the stars on many nights which really was great fun.
Our next stop was one we had been really looking forward to and that is the Okavanga Delta which is a huge inland delta area. We had a two -night stay actually in the delta and were taken there in these traditional boats called makoros which are flat bottomed dug- out canoes basically. They are propelled by a “poler” who uses a long stick to move the boat through the water much the same as in Venice. The water in the delta is quite shallow and so this form of transport is ideal. The poler who approached us first, was actually drunk, and so I requested to have another poler. I was not going to be in a tippy boat with someone who was drunk knowing that there could be crocodiles and hippos! I was glad that the person in charge of the polers was fine with us changing and we were introduced to our new poler.
What a relief that was. The first poler was very belligerent afterwards so I was very happy that I had spoken up. We had heard that it is very important to have a good poler as they basically are the ones who will show you the delta and teach you about the area.
So we finally headed off in our makoro into the delta which is mostly grasses with multitudes of little lane ways heading every which way. I still have no idea about how they find their way. It was a fabulous experience being in the boat and being poled. The fellow who had instructed us on how to be in the, told us it will be like you are being massaged by the river and I have to say at times I felt like that. I had the luxury of sitting in the front of the makoro and just watching the grasses bend as we made our way through. It really was pretty special.
We did get a bit wet as the boats do have some leaks, but the polers sponge or scoop out the water regularly. It felt very magical to be heading into the Okavanga a place we had only heard about. As we neared our camping place which was about two and a half hours in, we saw our first elephant on the shore. It’s a wonderful thing to experience them in this way. And being in the boat we could watch for some time and really take in the experience. After this we landed on a small island and began to set up camp. The polers helped us set up for the night. There were at least 15 Botswanans who were part of our camp so we were quite a large group. The overland crew commenced with the ritual of pouring the first wine bottle. I had noticed that part of our itinerary was going on a bush walk but when I asked about it Andre said it was too late. So we decided that we wanted to go out in the makoro again and our poler was happy to take us out. Everyone stayed behind. It was really lovely as it was the late afternoon. As he poled we spotted another elephant on a small island and in a few minutes he walked into the water and began to wade across. This for whatever reason is one of my favourite memories of that time. Just seeing the elephant in its totally natural surrounding and us just sitting in awe of it all. Not long after that we spotted another elephant on shore once again, by a huge palm tree. He was not close but we could see him well. With his trunk up he was shaking the palm tree to get the fruit which was perhaps 100 feet up to fall. Apparently elephants love these fruit. It was really great fun to see him shaking this huge tree. We paddled back appreciating the sunset and came back to the camp feeling so delighted. One of the things that never ceased to amaze Chris and I was how our group would miss so many opportunities to experience where they were. It didn’t make a lot of sense as there was an awful lot of driving to the trip and for us we really wanted to take it all in once we arrived. This was to prove a very frustrating feature of the journey, particularly for me.
In the evening a big fire was built and we had our supper which Andre prepared. Margaret, who was perhaps fifty years old, cooked supper for all the Botswanans which consisted of maise meal which looks like semolina porridge and then some other things in pots that I could not identify. We could not believe, how hard Margaret worked. While the men rested, she toiled on. This is the lot of women in Africa we have seen countless times. Sadly, she did not speak hardly any English so we were not able to communicate.
I was quite embarrassed that evening by our group, just the fact that everyone was sitting around drinking. I wondered what the locals though about us. Our group had been told that we should not give the locals an alcohol as they can drink too much and we needed them to be sober. Drinking is a really big problem all over Africa among the men and we have seen many incidences of this. I really did not want to be associated with this so I found myself wanting to sit with the locals rather than our group.
The next morning we had our bush walk which was lead by some of the locals who knew the area well. They showed us tracks and evidence of different animals in the area as well as local plants and grasses. We could see an elephant in the distance, and so we headed over that way hiding behind some bushes so we were camoflauged. Eventually the elephant decided to run across the field not so far from us. How amazing to be standing there safely and seeing this huge animal run across the field.
Later on we spotted a herd of zebra and also a wilderbeeste grazing. We stood for some time watching them learning about how the male zebras are always challenging each other. Some of them get fed up with it and just go off on their own. It’s fascinating to learn about these animals and their ways.
Back at the camp, the women had been busy laying out a number of woven baskets and bracelets that they have woven. Margaret, spent hours making rings for many of the women in our group, and then immediately afterward started making supper. I had my eye on a few things and am bringing them home with me. It was great to able to actually see things being made. And their basketry is beautiful.
In the afternoon some of us headed off in the makoros again to a place where it was safe to swim. Crocodiles will not be in water which has light in it as they need the dark to hide. Eventually the polers took us a place where there was a tiny and I mean tiny piece of land that we could stand on to take off our clothes. I was the last in, but eventually I had a very short dip. Once again I could not get crocodiles out of my head! Chris on the other hand was swimming laps across the open area of water! We were both refreshed after the dip.
The next day we had to organize to leave the camp and make the two hour journey back to where we had started. It would be our last makoro trip, so I totally enjoyed it, though at one point we were totally covered with little midges that seemed to be in the grasses. Still it didn’t take away from the magic of moving through the reeds in the makoro.
Once landed, we had to wait a bit for another boat to take us back to the campground and so we walked around the village where most of the polers live. It was fascinating to see how they construct their mud homes using pop and beer cans in the wall and then applying the mud from termite mounds which are found in many areas of Africa. We have been so impressed with the many ways that recycling happens in Africa.
The next morning we packed up the truck once again and headed off for Ghanzi in the Khalahari desert. It was one of those very long drives that day. I think we got up at 4am with a leaving time of 5:00am. By this time on the trip, I was pretty insistent that we leave early so we actually had time to spend at our destination. I found as the trip went on I got more vocal about the ways we doing things that really did not serve Chris and I at least, and later we found out that others were not so happy either. I have to say that being on the trip was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me often feeling frustrated, irritated and downright angry. Chris as always, was pretty laid back, but there were times that he also felt some irritation. Anyway, back to the Kalahari. We arrived in good time at our destination, which was a bush camp in the middle of nowhere.
There was an optional bushwalk that we signed up for lead by some of the San bushman who live in the area. We didn’t know much about it, but we were always up for a new experience. As we were waiting for them to arrive, a group of young men dressed in loin cloths made from animal skins appeared and started to play soccer in the field beside us. It was quite a sight. Shortly afterward, a number of women also dressed in skins arrived and our bush walk began. It really was a very unstructured wander in the bushes, as they located a number of different plants and roots that they use for medicinal purposes and also for moisture. The Kalahari desert is a formidable place, and one where it is not easy to exist. These people know how to live here. It was fascinating watching the these roots being dug up. They would then explain through sign language and gesture, how they were used. There was also a interpreter who filled us in with the information afterwards. This walk really gave us an appreciation of how the land really does provide everything that is needed even in this very harsh climate.
In the evening we were treated to bushman dances, which again was a very natural and unchoreographed performance. The women mostly sung in a group and the men performed the dances. Apparently, the women also dance, but they were needed for singing on this evening. The men wore leggings, much like the ones used by East Indian dancers, but these were made from large seeds from the camel thorn tree, which are like little shakers. Chris has a favourite seed that he carries around in his pocket like this! I think he is getting into balance seeds, much like his balance stones.
It was a really fantastic performance, most of which was dances which were about animals like the oryx and baboon and so on. It was all done around a fire which of course added to the experience. If felt like we were being invited into experiencing a very ancient tradition.
Later on we heard that in August they have a three day dance festival where different groups of bushman come from all over and apparently it is totally amazing. This is also on our list to do. We both would have loved to have spent more time there as it was possible for us to experience more of this culture. The man who ran the lodge, had a very good relationship with these people and he did invite us to come back any time that we wish to come. Who knows maybe we will do this in the future.
The next morning we headed off for the Namibian border. We will continue our journey in the next entry.