Buitepos -> Windhoek

By the time I rose in the morning at Eastside Rest Camp, a fine layer of dust coated everything in the room (including yours truly) from the previous night’s sandstorm. Part of the adventure, eh?

I had arranged for a shared taxi to get me the 320 kilometers to Windhoek, and the car had arrived early. Levi, the manager of the Rest Camp and the gentleman who had set up the ride-share, knocked on my door early and said, “Your ride is here!” I had to scramble to get dressed and out of there.

Valentino had four other people in the back seat and we immediately headed off for the hour’s ride to Gobabis, a quaint, clean town on the way to Windhoek. Once in Gobabis, I had to change to another driver’s car – the previous one only went as far as Gobabis.

I got into the car with an elderly couple and we were once again on the road to Windhoek. We arrived in the capital of Windhoek, and the car dropped off the elderly couple, who were on their way to the hospital. As they did not seem to be in distress, it was probably for tests of some sort.

I was then dropped off at my backpackers’ hostel. I spent the rest of the day at a nearby shopping mall looking for an air pump to fill soccer balls. I had agreed to help some friends I met at Jollyboys in Livingstone to deliver some soccer balls to a local orphanage.

I found a pump and made arrangements to deliver the balls the following day.

Maun -> Buitepos

In the morning, I immediately called KB and got a ride to the Bus Rank in town so I could jump on another westward bus. KB is a wonderfully nice, honest gentleman. We hit it off wonderfully, had a number of interesting chats. In the end we exchanged emails.

I climbed aboard the Charles Hill (the name of the farthest western town in Botswana on the way to Windhoek) bus and then waited for two hours until the 1:00 departure time. After all, everything (including myself) operates on Africa time here. I wanted to get in early so I could get a window seat. Important since that allows me some comfort when I nap. As usual, I was the only white person on the bus.

Five hours later, I was in Charles Hill, basically a gas station at a crossroads in the middle of an extremely hot, barren expanse of the Kalahari. The gas station was about eight kilometers from the border. When I got off the bus and asked the driver if there was a shuttle to the border, he said, “No. You can walk.”

I would have walked it earlier in the day, but with less than an hour of daylight, I didn’t want to be hoofing it to the border along a barren stretch of highway after dark.

I asked around the gas station and found someone who was going in that direction (just to the border), so I hitched a ride. When John, my insta-shuttle driver’s name, dropped me off, I gave him 40 Pula against his protestations. My excuse: what else am I going to do with it (since I was leaving Botswana anyway)? He was very appreciative.

I walked to the Botswanan border post and exited immigration.

image

Then another kilometer’s walk toward the Namibian border post, (where I got to see the official countries’ border line and the designation of the Trans-Kalahari Highway dedication monument), and I had my passport stamped for entry.

image

image

I hiked an additional half-kilometer to a very nice guesthouse called the Eastside Rest Camp. They had room for me, a tent-cabin with concrete walls and a canvas top.

All over the Rest Camp there were large beautiful moths endemic to the area. The pattern on their wings looks like eyes and have evolved to fool potential predators into thinking they are a much larger animal, and thus, not to be trifled with.

image

image

After a great dinner, I retired for the night in a loud, windy sandstorm.

 

Nata -> Maun

While on my final night at Elephant Sands, I got to know the owner’s son in law, a heavy, gray haired man named Willem. He spoke with a think Afrikaans accent, even though he is a Botswanan native.

We spent the wee hours of the light drinking beer and talking about life in Botswana and his perspective on the world. Willem chain smoked the entire night, opening beer after beer, and pulling beers out of the bar’s fridge for me as well.

He asked what my plans were, and I told him I was on my way to Windhoek, Namibia the following day. He replied, “My father-in-law and I are going camping in Swakupmund and we leave tomorrow. Come camping with us. You’ll get a free ride over there!” I could hardly turn that offer down, so I agreed. Willem told me that they would be heading out around noon or 1:00 the following day.

I turned in for the night (or, morning, as it was now 2:30 am), and fell into an immediate drunken stupor, having been plied with too much beer by Willem

I woke at 10:00, showered and arrived at the front desk, ready for my journey. According to the woman at the front desk, Willem and Ben were still packing, so I settled in for a wait on the viewing deck, watching the elephants come and go to the watering hole.

Around 1:00, I checked in again and was advised that the guys were still packing. I idled for another couple hours until the owner, Mike, came up to me and said, “Why are you still here?” I replied that I was waiting for Willem to finish packing. Mike then said, “My friend, they already left without you.” When I told him that Willem had promised me a number of times the previous night that he would include me in his trip, Mike said, “My friend, never trust a drunk man.”

I learned that lesson a long time ago, and had already made alternate plans in the event Willem flaked on me. Mike and I had a good laugh, and then I hitched a ride with his wife, who was heading the two and a half hours to Francistown for provisions for the resort. She dropped me off at Nata, a thirty minute drive south of Elephant Sands, at which point she continued east and I picked up a westward bound public bus to Maun.

The coach was sitting in a gas station parking lot with a sign reading “Maun” in the front window. I climbed aboard, found a seat and for 68 Pula (about $6.00 US) was on my way the four hours to Maun.

I arrived in Maun just before sunset and was solicited by a very nice taxi driver named KB. He took me to the Senthaga Guesthouse, a nice, clean, well-run establishment. The girl behind the desk showed me to my room and said goodnight by giving me a hug. That was a first for me in the world of the hospitality industry.

A backpacker lodge named “The Old Bridge” was booked for the night, but I called KB and he took me over there anyway so I could check out the social scene. The place was full of loud, boisterous people, and I ended up running into Patrick, the Mauritian gentleman that Sarah and I had earlier run into in Zimbabwe.

It was a nice reunion. Patrick is a good-looking guy with a bald pate, a clean shaven beard and a twinkle in his eye. His accent sounds British, but he is African. He had continued south through Zimbabwe after we parted ways and I followed a more westerly route.

One of the fantastic things about backpacking is you never know who you will run into again.

We had a great chance to catch up, and by the end of the night we fully expected to run into each other again in Namibia (though we made no formal plans).

I called my new, dear friend KB for a ride back to Senthaga and a well deserved night of sleep.

Elephant Sands

Shaun, Nilay and I ended up staying two nights at Elephant Sands, about 30 kilometers north of Nata. It is a brilliant concept.

The owners of the lodge own 16,000 hectares of land out in the middle of nowhere (nowhere for us humans – home for hundreds of elephants). They built a lodging operation around a watering hole on their property.

My “chalet” was a nice, sturdy structure with a semi-outdoor bathroom facility.

image

My chalet

image

The open-air bathroom in my chalet

But they enhanced the watering hole by creating a concrete in-ground trough that’s about 15 x 1 feet in measurements. The trough had fresh water continuously running through it, thus attracting a lot of elephants for the water’s purity.

image

image

Because the property is in such an arid area, the owners truck in 5,000 gallons of water every day for the guests and elephants. The “ellies” come from miles around to enjoy the fresh, clean water.

The main building of the camp has a viewing deck that comes to about 25 feet of the watering trough, allowing close access to the elephants as they drink and socialize. Sometimes, they will even approach the deck to do some human viewing.

image

Elephants are fascinating creatures, especially when it comes to water. They can smell water up to 30 kilometers (19 miles) away. Last year during a drought, when Elephant Sands ran out of water in the water trough, the elephants, in their desperate search for water, dug up water pipes four meters (12 feet) deep to get to the water in the pipes. They also tore down one of the bathroom structures to get at the water in the pipes.

Now Elephant Sands has to turn off the water to all the chalets and tent cabins at night so the elephants can’t smell the underground water.

They are also quite humorous in their creative ways of drinking. One regular I spoke with said one day he was taking a shower in his cabin’s semi-outdoor shower when the water all of a sudden stopped. He was standing there, his head full of shampoo wondering what happened when he looked up and saw an elephant’s trunk, which had snaked its way under the roof and was drinking the water from the shower head.

The owner, Mike, had an incredible experience with one of the elephants, which they’ve named Bennie. Bennie is a very large male who is approximately 25 years old. One day, he approached Mike as he was standing in the viewing deck and lifted his right foot. Using his trunk, Bennie began pointing at a large gaping wound on his leg, just above his toenails. Mike and a couple of witnesses all swear it’s true.

Mike brought Bennie over to stand on the viewing deck so he could wash off the wound with a garden hose. Upon closer inspection, the wound was in desperate need of a veterinarian. Mike led Bennie back out into the open watering hole space and proceeded to make arrangements with a vet to take care of the wound.

A couple days later, Bennie was tranquillized and the wound addressed. A lot of rotten flesh had to be removed and the wound was then packed with antibiotics. Bennie began to come out of his groggy state, and while most elephants will wake up angry, confused and agitated, Bennie stood up very calmly, looked at the humans from afar and calmly walked away.

Bennie is now a regular at Elephant Sands, but he gets special treatment. He will approach the dining area to the side of the viewing deck and Mike will rush to get the garden hose out.

Bennie then gets as much water as he wants, poured directly into his trunk. Other ellies will try to approach Mike & Bennie for similar treatment, but they are scared off. Mike has developed a very close bond with Bennie.

image

Apologies for the poor quality of the photo – it was dark

One last humorous story – there are four “naughty” elephants who have been known to pass by one of the tent cabins at night as they leave the watering hole. If the cabin occupants have left their window unscreened for the night, one of the elephants will reach into the window and quickly remove the closest bed’s blanket and throw it in the ground as they pass. Imagine the occupant’s shock!

 

Kasane -> Nata

Shaun, Nilay and I left Kasane in order to make our way south through Botswana. While our original plan had been to get all the way down to Maun (pronounced Mao-ooon), Shaun and Nilay had heard about a place to stay called Elephant Sands that was about halfway between Kasane and Maun. They asked if I was up for a detour, and I gamely replied “yes”.

We took a taxi to the bus stop and popped into a Choppee’s for provisions (their list was much longer than mine since they were camping and cooking). Choppee’s is a chain of grocery stores in Botswana that are generally very clean and very well-stocked. Being a marketer, it was fascinating to walk the aisles looking at all the unique brands and ways they merchandise their goods.

image

image

After checking out, we made our way to the bus stop and waited quite a while in the hot Botswanan sun for the bus going to Nata. Eventually one arrived. We paid our 70 Pula each (about $6.00) and settled in for the two-and-a-half hour ride.

We got to the Elephant Sands stop, but the bus would not leave us at the stop alone, as it was out in the middle of nowhere and extremely hot. They did not want us to have an unfortunate encounter with lions or other animals.

image

The bus driver called Elephant Sands and the bus waited until a safari truck came to fetch us. Once our ride arrived, the bus went on its way and we were driven the mile into the bush where the compound was.

Chobe National Park

Nilay, Shaun and I decided to go on safari in Chobe National Park. We ended up negotiating with a man named Lucky (sounds like a more reputable guy than Grubby, eh?), who had two friends who were freelancing for the next couple of days. We agreed to a very good rate and were up and ready to go the following morning.

image

With Nilay & Shaun on the Chobe River.

Chobe National Park is a large swath of land that runs along the northern border of Botswana. The Chobe River is the dividing line between Botswana in the south and Namibia’s panhandle to the north.

We drove into Chobe hoping to see some animals. My God, we saw animals. And more animals. And even more.

Chobe is famous for its high concentration of elephants. Over the course of our six hour game drive, we saw hundreds of elephants. As elephants are my favorite animal, I was in heaven. These beautiful creatures were in groups of 10 to 30 – eating, drinking from the Chobe River, rolling around in the mud. The adolescents were playing with each other.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Other members of the animal kingdom we saw were:

Giraffe

image image

Lion

image

Baboon

image
Fish Eagle

image

image
Hippo

image

image

image

Crocodile

image

image
Water Buffalo

image

image
Impala

image

image
Kudu

image

image

Leopard Tortoise image

Warthogs

image

Monkeys

image

And finally a 2 for 1:

image
We ended the day at a campground in the park, with the still darkness all around us (save the buzz of the insects and the chirps of the frogs).

image

A friend who came here last week said she could hear lions roaring in the night. Would we be so lucky?

Livingstone -> Kasane

I regretfully left Jollyboys in Livingstone so I could continue my trek south. What had originally been planned as three days in Livingstone and Victoria Falls turned into eight.

The vast array of things to do whilst there provided so much enjoyment and fun; however, the people I got to know at the hostel also created such a fun environment, it made it hard to break away and leave. But soon all of the great friends I had made began to embark on the next chapter of their travels, and eventually, there were only a couple of us left. There were new arrivals, but the time had come to move on.

I left for Botswana with two of the last remaining folks, Shaun – a tall, red-headed Australian with a great sense of humor – and Nilay – a beautiful dark-blond Turk. They met in Nicaragua while backpacking and fell in love. Shaun now lives in Turkey with Nilay and they plan to get married in Bali later this year. They are the cutest couple.

We hired a taxi to take us the one-hour drive to the Zambia – Botswana border. Once there, we processed through immigration and boarded a ferry across the Zambezi River.

image

image

However, this form of water transport did not fall into any of our more traditional concepts of a ferry, but more of a floating platform that had a little engine and a pilot’s bridge on top of a pole. The ferry could only take one semi truck and one car at a time, along with a smattering of people standing on the edges. There were three of these ferries running at any given time.

image

We disembarked on the Botswana side, processed through immigration and then caught a quick taxi ride to Kasane, the entry point to Chobe National Park.

I stayed at a quaint little hotel called The Old House, which was a nice little environment to land in. The hotel is right along the bank of the Chobe River, and it’s quite amusing to see signs that say, “Stay away from the water at night. High danger from crocodiles and hippos.”

God, I hope I don’t sleepwalk….

Chipolopolo

The Zambian national soccer team, nicknamed Chipolopolo and meaning “the copper bullets” (copper is one of Zambia’s biggest industries), was one of the participants in the bi-annual Africa Cup tournament. A favored team to win the tournament, Zambia made it deep into the tourney, only to be eliminated by Guinea in the quarterfinals.

I went to a local 7-Eleven to watch the big game. Interestingly, our favorite convenience store stateside is a liquor store operation in Zambia, with a very popular bar in the back.

image

The crowd was spirited and loud. Unfortunately, the Zambians were unable to score in regulation against a vastly inferior team. After an extra period of play, the two teams were still scoreless, forcing the match to penalty kicks. After seven rounds of kicks, Guinea got a goal. The bar emptied out so quickly it was if someone had yelled “fire!”.

I bought a Zambian heart to help root for the team, but it didn’t seem to help.

image

A post-game Springbok shooter with Sarah and Anxious to toast the end of the tourney.

Angel’s Pool


On my last full day in Livingstone, I wanted to do one last activity that had gotten fantastic reviews from fellow guests at Jollyboys.

I took the shuttle to the Falls and then made my way to the Upriver Trail. I ran into a man who was very friendly, asking if I was interested in visiting Angel’s Pool. Ironically, that’s why I had come to the Falls for the day. I replied “yes” and he told me to ask for his brother, Felix, at the end of the trail.

I walked to the end of the path and called out to an island in the middle of the Zambezi River. “Felix”, I yelled. “Felix”, I called again. A man came out of the island bushes and walked across the river to meet me. He introduced himself as Felix and we negotiated a price to visit Angel’s Pool. Once we agreed to an amount, I told him I would pay him extra if he brought me back alive. Good incentive, eh?

We proceeded to work our way across the Zambezi, walking sidestep across a very low concrete curb that had been built under the water by the Zambia power company. The water was a little less than shin deep and was not running too fast, though I could feel a little tug every once in a while. We were about 80 yards upriver from the Falls.

We crossed the 50 yards to the island from a where Felix had originally emerged. A group of men were lazily napping away the hot day under the shoreline trees, hoping for another hire to go to Angel’s Pool.

Over the next 45 minutes, we worked our way across the river, alternately hiking over low, shrubby islands and picking our way through water that varied in depth from ankle high to over my head. The Zambezi is 1.2 miles wide as it deposits its contents over the Victoria Falls. We hiked approximately two-thirds of the way across to get to Angel’s Pool.

image

At one point, Felix told me to wait and then swam downstream about 25 yards. He then motioned for me to follow. While I just thought he was navigating part of the route, he told me later he was judging how good a swimmer I was so he would know for which activities I was qualified in the pool.

We also stopped right at the falls’ edge so we could take a picture. While my feet were in the water, there was hardly any current, so the risk of being swept over the edge was minimal.

image

We also stopped at another rock formation on the edge so Felix could get more shots of me experiencing a unique view of the falls.

image

image

image

We finally reached Angel’s Pool and it was an amazing natural pool that had formed on the edge of Victoria Falls. The pool itself was about 15 feet below the upper part of the Zambezi, and water came cascading down into the pool that has been cut into the rock edge of the falls by years of rushing water. About 20 feet in diameter, the pool then emptied over the opposite edge, yet another beautiful fall in the vast series of falls that comprise Victoria Falls.

image

Felix asked if I wanted to do a high-level jump into the pool from a ledge near the top of the upriver fall. Of course I wanted to jump. He showed me the rock perch from which to launch, stepped back with my camera, and took my picture as I jumped the 15 feet into the pool.

image

image

image

Once in the pool, it was easy to swim over to the edge where Felix was standing. He put my camera down and then motioned me to follow him. We swam to a point under the falls and then shot out from under them and away from the wall. We swam over to the far corner of the pool, where he told me to climb over the submerged rocks and go all the way into the corner.

Following his instructions, I discovered a very deep pocket right at the edge of the falls. Getting into it, I was submerged up to my shoulders. The pocket was no more than two to three feet in diameter, but allowed me to safely peer over the edge and down the 300 feet to the rocks below. It was an incredible perspective.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Even though Felix comes out here every day, I could tell he still loved spending time here.

image

Eventually, we made our way back to the river’s bank and I thanked Felix for an experience of a lifetime. He also got his bonus for not letting me be swept off the edge!