A Travellerspoint blog

The Smoke that Thunders

Adventures in Victoria Falls

sunny 25 °C

What an adrenaline packed few days in Victoria Falls!

We crossed the Zimbabwe border early Friday morning to maximize our time here. Everyone on the trip except me had been planning on doing the bungee jump, which at 111m is the 3rd highest in the world, for ages, but I was definitely NOT planning on doing something so insane. But of course, over the past two weeks peer pressure worked its magic and Friday morning I found myself signing up for the “Big Air Combo”: a zipline over the gorge (which I would have done anyway), plus the bungee jump and the gorge swing, which is pretty much the same thing as the bungee jump except that you‘re attached by a harness rather than by your ankles.

Within an hour we were walking to the bridge. We had to pass through the Zimbabwean border since we were technically going into Zambia. We did the zipline first, and it was so fun, with great views of the gorge and the falls. Then we made our way to the centre of the bridge for the other activities…this is when I started freaking out. 111m is VERY VERY high and we stood on the bridge, looking down at the Zambezi churning over rocks below us. A few of the guys went first and we watched another group do a few bungee jumps. At this point, I realized that I had to go next or I‘d want to back out!

I got strapped into my harness and led out on the bridge platform. They tie two towels around your ankles and attach the harness and rope there. At this point I was fully freaking out…but too stubborn to back out! After a brief chat about what I was supposed to do (jump out away from the bridge, arms out, and enjoy!) I had to walk to the very edge of the platform. They were taping the whole thing and as I stood on the edge, all I could say was “ohmygodohmygodohmygod” I heard the guy holding my harness count down, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, bungee!” and I jumped (he also helped by giving me a slight push). The free fall was terrifying, far scarier than skydiving. When you’re in freefall after skydiving, you have no reference point to see how fast you’re falling so it isn‘t scary at all, just really cool. But when I jumped from the platform I could see the rapids rushing towards me and the walls of the gorge all around me. After what seemed like ages (it was actually only 5 seconds) I felt the rope tense up and I bounced, and then was flung back up under the bridge. At this point I stopped freaking out and started to enjoy the amazing feeling of flying in and out of the rainbows by the falls. It was incredible! They let you swing around for a few minutes and then I heard singing - the man who was coming to bring me back up to the bridge was singing to me! I was strapped to him and then carried back up to the safety of the bridge. My legs were shaking but I’ve never felt more alive!

Then I had to walk back to the middle of the bridge to do my gorge swing. I’d thought that I would be braver the second time around, but I felt my panic come surging back as they were doing up my harness. The procedure is the same - brief instructions on what to do, and then the horrible walk to the edge of the platform. For the gorge swing you don’t jump out, you have to just jump straight down. The fall was actually scarier since I wasn’t upside down so I could see everything that was happening, but once I hit the bottom of the rope, it was really nice swinging back and forth checking out the falls.

After all that adrenaline we had a big team dinner and hit up a local bar.

Saturday was just as adrenaline packed. We did a half day rafting trip on the Zambezi River, which started early in the morning. After a quick safety rundown, we set out for the rapids. Our guide, Colgate, was half camp counselor, half drill sergeant. Once our team was in the raft, he taught us the commands he’d be giving (forward, back, right turn, left turn, and down, which means hit the floor of the raft and hold onto the safety line for dear life!) We then practiced them in drill-form, with Colgate yelling at us to paddle harder and saying things like “What are you doing Canada girl! Move faster English Boy!” Then he got us all chanting and made us jump out of the raft for fun!

We set off down the first rapid, called the Creamy White Bum since lots of people lose their shorts there. We were pretty successful for the first few rapids, but that wasn’t good enough for Colgate. When we passed through the Mother rapid without flipping over he was disappointed! After each successful rapid Colgate had us chanting and singing hooray, we were by far the loudest and most fun boat!

Then we came to rapid 18, the terminator. We hit a huge wave head on and the next thing I knew I was under the raft, being tossed and turned by the rapids. I struggled to find my way out; every time I put my hands on the bottom of the raft to push myself out from under it I was hit by another rapid and had to start over. I started to panic a bit; I was only under the raft for around 30 seconds but it felt much longer. Once I surfaced, I realized that all of us were pretty far from the raft, so we all started swimming. Colgate pulled us all back in except Ricky, who had to be rescued by another raft!

We finished the rest of the rapids very well and even managed to rescue another rafter. After a treacherous hike back up the gorge in the unrelenting midday sun, we got to the top to find lunch ready and cold beers waiting for us! It was such a fun day.

Today is very low key, there isn’t much open since it’s Sunday and we said goodbye to the Australians today. Tonight Ricky, Ryan, Joe, and I are just going to watch the England game and then we all head off in different directions tomorrow!

This overland trip has been such an amazing experience. I’ve been able to meet such fun, cool people, and Laban and Charles were amazing, giving us the history of each country we visited and spotting animals from the road we never would have seen. It’s sad to say goodbye to everyone, but I’m excited for the next part of my adventure: lying on a beach in Mozambique!

Pictures from Okavango, Chobe, and the Falls…bungee pictures to come soon, the only internet café open today doesn’t have a disc drive so I can’t get them yet.

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100862263978007.2561787.13604534&type=1&l=cbeb5fa8db

Posted by meggiep 04:06 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Lions and Hippos and Crocs

Chobe National Park, Botswana

sunny 30 °C

Hello all!!

We've spent the past two nights camped near Kasane, the border town between Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe right on the Chobe river. Yesterday we had a pretty relaxing day after our long drive here, and this morning we woke up before dawn for a sunrise game ride. We had better luck today with spotting animals than we've had all trip!

As we drove along the river, we spotted our first group of hippos. About 20 of them were lying near the river, and a few more were swimming in the water. One was actually right on the road directly in front of us! We saw a few babies and a few of the hippos even snapped at us from the water. We also saw many many elephants, lots of them very young.

We drove through the park, saw several herds of impala and a massive herd of buffalo. Then the real treat - we came across two young male lions eating an elephant carcass! They're the first big cats we've seen so we were all very excited. We were able to drive very very close to them since they were distracted by their meal. The stench from the carcass was pretty foul but it was a cool experience!

We came back to a delicious breakfast of tomato mushroom omelets and corn fritters (thanks Laban!) and spent the morning and early afternoon chilling out by the pool and wandering through the tiny town. This afternoon we set out again, this time for a sunset game cruise along the Chobe River. Once again, we had amazing luck with animals; this has been the best day of the whole trip for animal sightings! We left with our captain and guide, Cherry, steering us along the river banks. Almost immediately we found a couple of young crocodiles sunning themselves on the riverbank, alongside some water monitor lizards and baboons. We saw many large groups of hippos and lots of elephants. One of my favourite moments on the cruise was when we got to see a group of elephants cross the river to get to an island. They were all hanging out in the water, and then they got into a line, each one touching his trunk to the tail of the elephant in front, and ventured into the river. For a while all we could see of them were their trunks sticking out of the water like snorkels! When they all made it safely to the island, they seemed to celebrate: they were rubbing their trunks on each other's heads. It was awesome! We also came across a group with a bunch of young males who were playing and fighting with each other. One was quite a bully - we saw him start fights with two other elephants and shove a bunch of smaller ones as well!

We got to see another beautiful African sunset on the river before heading back to our camp.

Tomorrow morning we head into Zimbabwe where I'll be staying in Victoria Falls until Sunday. In addition to seeing the falls and shopping (of course!) there are many adrenaline-packed activities to do, should be a fun few days! Laban was able to give us a lot of info about Zimbabwe since he and Charles are from there. He really wants us to appreciate that there's a lot more to the country than it's bad image in the press. I'm very excited to spend a few days there!

Posted by meggiep 11:42 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Off the Grid

Into the Botswana wilderness

sunny 30 °C

So far on this overland trip we’ve been roughing it in the sense that we sleep outdoors and cook our own meals, but all our campsites have had showers (some of them have even been hot!), and most have had bars. That all changed when we spent three days smack in the middle of nowhere, in the Okavango delta.

We drove into Botswana on Friday and on Saturday we arrived in Maun (“mah-OON”), a little town perched on the edge of the delta. The Okavango delta is a huge area of wetlands where the Okavango river spreads out over a valley. On Saturday we took a scenic flight over the delta so that we could get an idea of just how massive it is. We saw a lot of elephants, zebras, and antelopes, plus a few sunbathing hippos and one very large crocodile!

Sunday we headed into the delta for 2 nights of bush camping. We were picked up from our campsite and drove 2 hours in the back of an open truck to a little village, where we met our guides for the delta. Then we all got into mokoros, which are narrow canoes made out of the trunk of a tree, and our guides poled us through the reed channels for a few hours to our campsite on one of the many islands in the delta., It was very relaxing drifting along through the reeds. Once we got to our campsite we had a chance to relax some more before our evening nature walk. Our polers took us over to a little place where we could safely swim without worrying about crocs or hippos. In the evening we were poled over to another island, and on way we saw a small herd of elephants snacking right where we’d been swimming a few hours earlier! We had a short nature walk and Marrutzi, our head guide, showed us all kinds of animal tracks. We also saw another, larger herd of elephants eating just 10 feet away from us. It was a very cool experience.

Monday we got up very early for a four hour sunrise walk. We saw more elephants, zebras, and some jackals, as well as hippo and leopard tracks. We spent the day lounging at the campsite playing games and doing crosswords (it’s too hot in the middle of the day to see any animals) and at sunset we were taken out in the mokoros again for a cruise. We came to an open pool and right in front of the setting sun, about 20 feet away from us, was a massive male hippo. We kept our distance and watched the sun go down as he snapped and growled at us. It was amazing!

Tuesday we left the delta, drove for a few hours and all had a well-needed shower (no shower for three days makes for a smelly truck ride!) Driving in Botswana is definitely an interesting experience; the country exports a lot of beef to Europe and are very stringent about keeping foot and mouth disease out, so we had to stop at several veterinary checkpoints, where we all had to get out and walk across a mat soaked in chemicals. They are also doing a lot of road work so it was a bumpy drive!

It was such a great experience to be completely in the middle of nowhere, and get a chance to know some of the local people. Our guides were so nice and made our stay so much more meaningful. But I’ve never been so happy to have a nice hot shower!

Today we drove to Kasane, which is right on the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. We’re camped here for two nights and will be going into Chobe National Park for a few game drives. Then it’s on to Victoria Falls!

Posted by meggiep 06:22 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Into the Wild

Swakopmund to the edge of Namibia

We had a really relaxing few days in Swakopmund; sleeping in beds and not driving on the truck all day kind of felt like a vacation from the overland trip!

Swakopmund is a bit of a strange town. It’s the second biggest in Namibia, but stores close half day on Saturday and all day Sunday (as do most restaurants and bars) and there are rarely any people around. Friday night we all had dinner together and then hit up Swakopmund’s liveliest spot, the karaoke bar. Saturday Celine, Steph, Ryan, and I hit the shops and bought some souvenirs, and had a nice lunch at a German café (the town is VERY German!) We relaxed most of the day and had another night out. Sunday was a much more exciting day - Joe, Ryan, Ricky, Steph, and I went skydiving! It was an amazing experience. We drove out into the desert, had a very brief 5 minute tutorial on what to do, and were strapped into our harnesses and loaded onto the plane! It was a 20 minute flight over the ocean and desert and then before I knew it, my legs were dangling out of the plane 10,000 feet above the ground! I had about a second to take in the view before the instructor attached to me jumped out and I was in free fall. The fall lasted about 35 seconds but it felt like no time at all. Skydiving is amazing, it doesn’t feel like you’re falling but I can’t really explain how it feels. Once the parachute opened we floated down for about 5 minutes, my instructor pulling different cords to make us spin and fly around. It was awesome but so surreal - within an hour we were all back in Swakopmund having grilled cheese for lunch!

Skydiving photos:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100854374947687.2559871.13604534&type=3&l=06cd33f87c

Sunday we also said goodbye to Celine, Brian, and Steph, who finished their trip in Swakopmund, and were joined by the three Aussies - Stephanie, Joey, and James. Monday we had a bit of a sleep-in (we didn’t leave until 10am!) before leaving Swakopmund and setting out north.

We drove a few hours to the Cape Cross seal colony, where 150-300,000 seals live all on one beach. It’s Namibia’s biggest seal colony (there are 23..who knew Namibia had so many seals?!) It was slightly alarming how many seals were crammed on the beach, and the smell was somewhat overpowering. We drove on, the desert slowly changing to savannah, and spent the night at a small campsite just off the road.

Tuesday we drove to the Otjitotongwe cheetah park. It’s a 2000 acre farm owned by one family and it’s kind of a cheetah sanctuary. Cheetahs are seen as pests by farmers in the area since they eat livestock, so when a local farmer catches a wild cheetah, they bring them to the family. We got to ride out with the owner’s two sons while they fed the wild cheetahs, and then go to the farmer’s house, where they have hand-reared three ‘tame’ cheetahs. We got to pet the cheeetahs and watch as they were fed. It was kind of alarming (I don’t think they’re truly tame) so I didn’t pet them for long…it also turns out that I’m allergic to cheetahs!

We left the farm before dawn (all our mornings since Swakopmund have been early) and stopped quickly to get supplies in Outjo before heading into Etosha, Namibia’s biggest national park, Etosha is huge - about the size of Wales - and its most famous feature are the waterholes. They’ve made several waterholes and pump water into them so that they stay full through the dry season to keep the animals in the park. Each campsite has a waterhole nearby and they’re floodlit at night so you can spend the whole night watching and waiting for something to come for a drink!

Our first day in the park was amazing, we saw so many animals. We ate lunch at the most established of the three campsites and watched elephants, oryx, kudu, springbok, giraffes, and zebras stop by the waterhole for a drink. Then we drove through the park, seeing many more animals, before making it to our campsite for the night. After dinner we all brought our sleeping bags out to the waterhole and were really lucky - we saw a black rhino defending his territory from another rhino! It was very cool.

We spent all Thursday on a game drive, saw many more animals, and Thursday night at the waterhole spotted a kudu and heard what we think may have been a lion growling!! Friday we set off even earlier than usual, saw a beautiful sunrise over the savannah, and drove 500km to our last campsite in Namibia. It’s too bad we didn’t see any cats in Etosha, but we still have a chance when we’re in Chobe in Botswana next week!

Today was a very long drive to the edge of Namibia, where we're camped right on the Okavango River, right near the Angolan border. As I'm typing I can hear hippos grunting in the water, it's a gorgeous spot! The landscape changed as we drove once again today, becoming a little bit greener. Little villages of thatched huts dot the sides of the highway, in one we even saw an outdoor school! It was fun to wave at the kids and watch them run alongside the truck for awhile.

Tomorrow we head into Botswana to Maun, our base before heading even deeper into the wilderness and away from civilization - to the Okavango Delta!

Pictures:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100858127856827.2560758.13604534&type=1&l=48994314da

Posted by meggiep 09:37 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Cape Town to Victoria Falls Part 1

Flapping our way to Swakopmund

overcast 20 °C

Hey everyone!

I've started my Cape Town to Victoria Falls journey!!

I spent a few days in Cape Town before I met up with my group, just walking along the coast and checking out the waterfront (and the aquarium of course. I love a good aquarium!) I met up with my group on Saturday night, and it's such a fun group. There are only 7 of us so we have lots f space on the truck as we make our way to Victoria Falls! Laban, our tour leader, and Charles, who drives the truck, take very good care of us.

Overland trips are hard work. We get up very early most mornings (often when it's still dark out) and have a quick breakfast before piling in the truck and driving all day. The roads in South Africa were pretty good but once we hit Namibia it was all gravel and sand, very bumpy! It gets very hot here during the day, but very cold at night, close to freezing. I'm with a great group though, so it's been a lot of fun so far! We have two guys from England, a couple from New York and another girl from New York, and a guy from Joe. It's nice that there aren't that many of us (sometimes overland trips can have up to 20 people!) because we've all gotten to know each other pretty well, and we all get to spread out a bit on the truck!

Sunday was a nice easy start to the trip. We drove about an hour to Stellenbosch and then spent the day on a wine tour. We went to four wineries, sampling at least six wines at each, as well as cheese! By the time we got back to our hostel in Stellenbosch we were all very good friends.

After a night sleeping in real beds in Stellenbosch, the real adventure began. We left early (6am!) and drove all day to Citrusdal to a campsite in an orange orchard. We mostly drove past wineries and farms, but the landscape began to get drier as we headed further north. That's when we had our first night camping, and when I realized just how COLD it gets at night here! I was not prepared and didn't sleep much that night. We left Citrusdal early and drove all day to Springbok, our last stop in South Africa. It was a strange little town in the middle of nowhere, and once we were stocked up on groceries and beer we drove to our campsite on the Orange River in Namibia. It was a gorgeous campsite with a pool overlooking the river (but it's way too cold to swim in it!) The bar was nice though, and we spent the night watching some pretty awful and hilarious Nigerian soap operas.

After a relatively late start (9am!) we drove to the Fish River Canyon. It's the second largest canyon in the world, and we had a chance to walk around before having lunch on the edge of the canyon. We drove on through the dry savannah and desert to our night stop just outside of Namib-Naukluft park. Friday was a very early start so that we could get to the sand dunes on the edge of the park before dawn. We climbed dune 45 (350m high!) just in time to see the sun rise over the desert and the dunes. When we struggled back down the dune (climbing sand dunes is hard work!) Laban and Charles had made us French Toast for breakfast! It was a nice reward after our early morning climb.

After we left the dunes, we headed to Sossusvlei. A vlei is an old wetland that has dried up, and we walked a few kilometers to visit one of the vleis. It made for some very cool pictures and we got to see some springbok and mountain zebras along the way!

After a very bumpy few hours on the truck, we stopped once again to look at the amazing and weird landscape outside of Swakopmund in Namibia. There are many small, rocky hills and it kind of looks like the surface of the moon (it's called the moon landscape). We took a few photos and drove a few more hours to Swakopmund, Namibia's second biggest town (which isn't saying much, only 2 million people live in this country!) It's kind of a strange little place, smack in the middle of nowhere surrounded for miles on all sides by empty desert. It's very clean and very German (they even have a German bakery!) We are staying here until Monday morning in a hostel, so last night I had a glorious sleep on a warm, soft mattress. We spent last night at a karaoke bar (I think it's the only bar in all of Swakompund) and are spending today and tomorrow chilling in town and enjoying the fact that we're not driving all day!

Monday, three of our group finish their trip and we get three new people before we start driving further north to Etosha park, Namibia's biggest national park. This is where we'll start seeing a lot more wildlife, I'm very excited!

Pictures aren't uploading to the blog today, but here's the whole album:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10100853584531687.2559642.13604534&type=1&l=9be92a7b5d

Posted by meggiep 00:59 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

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