Monday, 11 July 2011

More Namibia, back to Botswana and into Zimbabwe

Namibia still.....

Tuesday 5th July and Wednesday 6th July

After a couple of nights at Ngepi we have headed across the Caprivi strip in Namibia along the super Highway for several hundred kilometres. We voted it even more boring than the Geelong Road (is that possible I hear you ask?!). Although there are some subtle differences: here they have burned a strip of the bush on either side of the road to deter elephants crossing or deciding to use it as an easy trail. Every few kilometres there are HUGE signs saying : ELEPHANTS - 80 kms /hour. I haven't quite worked out if that means us or the speed at which the elephants travel!

They have some very nice reststops under the shade so we stopped and made a cup of tea, which I drank standing in the middle of the highway, just for the hell of it. No other traffic at all!

If you can be bothered have a look at the map of Africa and you will see a strip of land to the north of Botswana that actually belongs to Namibia. That's where we are. The story goes that Germany and the Brits, who 'owned' Botswana then (Bechuanaland province in those days) did a deal The Germans wanted access to Zimbabwe and Mozambique and the west, so they swapped Zanzibar, a port town in Tanzania which they 'owned', for this narrow strip of land. (I think that's the right way around but I"m not sure!) Don't you love foreigners just bargaining with significant portions of the continents they colonise as if they were chess pieces?

One of the craft shops
We stopped at a Craft Centre much to Erin and my delight, and even Ewan enjoyed it. The conversation went like this: "Ooh, I love this ...... (insert necklace/statue/bag/carving/ etc). Do you think we would get it through Customs?" Almost invariably the answer is no as everything is made from seeds, reeds, wood or plants. The baskets are truly superb workmanship - the OT in me was very impressed. We did buy a few bits and pieces and we'll see what Australian Customs thinks! ( We'll just hope Border Security isn't filming at the time!)

After another few kilometres on yet another dirt road we arrived at Camp Kwando where we stayed for 2 nights. We passed lots of villages with round and square mud huts with thatched rooves. And lots of children on their way home from school clutching empty plastic bowls : I think that's because the schools have food programs. Life is extremely hard here so I can imagine that food would be scarce. The children are always smiling and happy to see us: probably because they expect 'sweeties'. It's very hard to not give them anything but tourists are requested not to give them money or lollies as it teaches them to beg. We saw a couple of schools out in the open air today: one teacher , one book and a crowd of children in dusty shabby clothes, happy to be distracted by weird foreigners. After we drove away I rememebered that I had a copy of Animalia whcih they woulld have liked I'm sure. There are some charities which we will donate to, to help out.

The deck at Camp Kwando
The Kwando Camp had fabulous riverside campsites, lots of grass ( to counter the effects of the endless African dust) and a beautiful bar, sun deck, restaurant area: the total opposite to the local villages. Even just camping we are living in a different world.

It was good to upload the blog so far and to see that someone is actually reading it. Sorry for the crappy spelling and the poor grammar, but I don't always have time to edit it! Too busy doing nothing really!

Thursday 7th July: Camp Kwando, Namibia.

We headed off to search for yet more animals at Horseshoe Lagoon , and later in the day at Mudumu National Park.

Before you go you have to buy a park permit from the Rangers office, but the paperwork was a bit challenging. Obviously Australian tourists aren't common as both times they asked us if Australia was in Europe, and in the end classified us as 'Others' on the form!
Chilling out in the bar

We saw 3 hippos out of the water which was exciting, especially as they allowed us to get very close. They sleep with their chins on the ground and barely raised an eyebrow when we appeared. They seem to be in every estuary/lagoon/pond/lake and they really are HUGE. As they are short-sighted they don't see us very well I think! We saw lots of amazing birds, even a vulture too. And warthogs, elephants, impalas and a new sort of buck, a PUKU, which has ears like a kangaroo.

The best times to search for game are early in the morning and late in the afternoon. But it is always a rush to get out of the park before nightfall as the sunsets are stunning but seem to occur very quickly.

The BIG NEWS was that some of the others went back to Horseshoe Lagoon that evening (too far and bone-shaking for us to go twice in one day) and they saw two leopards. They were all very excited as leopards are difficult to find and two of them just walked across the road in front of their cars! Apparently lions and leopards are the big ones to see, but we just think every animal is fabulous!

Friday 8th July: Katima Mulilo (Moo-lee-loo), Namibia

Carving a traditional canoe: mokoro
After seeing hundreds of traditional villages along the roads we visited the Lizauli village which is designed for tourista like us to explain the traditional way of life. It was great to see the mud huts and brush fences up close, and to be able to ask lots of questions about their way of life. It was fascinating really: much as I am keen to see the animals I am much more interested to see how people live and spend their time. The poverty by our standards and the subsistence level of survival is overwhelming. Wealth is dependent on the ownership of cattle ( good thing we haven't hit any on the road!) and perhaps a job. As in lots of other third world countries employment seems to overtake efficiency: if there's a job that a couple of people could do there seems to be 10 people around, most of them watching. Better than depending on social security though.
Weaving a basket:
Botswana is famous for it's finely woven baskets

The locals survive on a diet of mealie ( white maize) which is used for porridge, flour etc and has minimal nutritional value. They eat it as white stodge with any available meat and little or no vegetables. In times gone past the meat would have been the game that we tourists want to see, but now there are various schemes to preserve the wildlife, such as the  villagers being paid to not kill the wildlife and to breed other domestic animals, thus the goats and cattle we have been dodging on the roads!

Apparently an American woman recently paid the Namibian government 150,00 namibian dollars ( more than AUS$20,000) to kill a hippopotamus to take the head home for a trophy. The rangers distributed the meat to the local villagers.

Can't say we've seen any american tourists at all: that's no loss!!

But last night when we arrived at Katimo Mulilo and set up camp on the banks of the Zambesi River, there were a couple of people riding pushbikes with helmets on ( very rare occurrence here - both the bike-riding and the helmet-wearing)! They were camped in the same camp at the zambesi River Lodge at the Protea Hotel. Turned out they live in North Fitzroy! He's a New Zealander and she was originally an american and they met in Mexico. He is about to turn 30 and will be fulfilling his dream to work on every continent before he turns 30. They are in Katimo Mulilo for 2 months to work on bikes donated from Australia to be repaired for use by the locals. They are awaiting a container of 400 old pushbikes, then they will train the locals to repair them, set up a small business and then sell them cheaply. It's a great idea: if any of you have any old bikes that you'de like to donate we have number! We were wondering where some of the bikes came from and apparently a container load arrived at a town near our last campsite so that must be the source. They clearly don't come with helmets though. Today we saw somene with a construction helmet balanced precariously on his head with no strap to hold it on, pedalling furiously along the super highway!

Katima Mulilo is quite a large town and very busy and dusty. Erin and I were on a mission to buy thongs - oooops! flip-flops here - so we had a great time perusing the shops and enjoying the sights and the people. We had to bypass the opportunity to buy fake Quiksilver flip-flops as they didn't have our size and eventually tracked down some truly ghastly patterned ones that did fit. There are queues in every shop which makes for interesting observations as long as you have a lot of time. People are a bit wary but very friendly when you say hello. The children are ususally interested as apparently there are only 150 whites in the town.

I tracked down the Post office to try again to send postcards, and this time there was a whole queuing etiquette which I seemed to have missed entirely. The PO had barbed wire around it and security guards on the doors. Lots of people do their banking and bill-paying there, which meant the queue moved very slowly. Still I was pleasantly surprised to see only 12 people in the queue with a few more sitting on seats at the edge of the queue. I shouldn't have been so confident as the security guard  came in and announced something loudly, at which point all of the people resting their weary bones on the seats jumped up and joined the queue ahead of me: I gather that every person in the queue was minding a spot for at least 2 or 3 others!! Just when I was about to give up all hope the security guard went to the front of the queue and said "STAMP!!!". I hurried forward and managed to purchase the required stamps quickly ( tree frogs of Namibia for those interested) and headed for the door. Which was locked of course, as the security guard was organising the queues! Finally he came to let me out and I, and the postcards, were on our way!

The campsite looked out over the Zambesi River and into Zambia on the other side. We spent a pleasant night eating out at the restaurant at the Hotel: food good, but service based on Africa time!

Saturday 9th July: Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane, Botswana

With great anticipation we headed off for the delights of the Chobe Safari Lodge for 3 nights: the anticipation is due to the fact that we are booked into the lodge for a bit of luxury: hurray!! It's not that I don't like camping but it will be heaven to be able to get into bed without climbing a ladder. It's worth a look at their website as this place is so stunning it's impossible to describe. If you check out the vidoe on their website you'll see a few shots of a warthog in front of a 2 storey building: we're staying in the Lechwe ( type of buck) Suite in that building. We seem to have two rooms with 2 double beds and two single beds for the 3 of us. Erin was THRILLED that she had her own room and could finally escape my snoring!  What snoring I ask??!!

I was particularly delighted with the idea of someone else doing the washing as I had just realised that an egg ( which I had carefully stored in a plastic container whose lid must have been dislodged by one of the many potholes!) had broken in my clothese bag and most of my supposedly clean clothes had egg on them. Straight to the laundry with that lot and hang the expense!

We all trooped off to savour the delights of the buffet for dinner. I was brave and tried roast warthog with mustard sauce ( tasted like soft lamb) AND crocodile in peppercorn sauce ( tastes like chicken: how does such a nasty looking animal become such nice meat?). We all appreciated the ease with which we could obtain a meal instead of the usual braii: find /buy wood, find kindling, light fire, negotiate with the others about the heat of the fire you need to cook, etc etc. We all went a bit wild and the desserts were a real treat.

In the middle of the meal a dance troupe arrived and performed local native dances: contagious rhythms and enthusiastic singing and dancing. I was mesmerised, whilst the others seemed rather bored - but I guess they have seen it all before. Some of the men had hides wrapped around their lower legs and created a drum beat by jumping and hitting the hides together: very skilful and impressive.

The decor and design is very african and very tasteful: superb statues, lots of local wood etc. Four year old Meike took me by the hand to show me the wash basins in the loos which have a different african bird glazed into the porcelain. She was impressed!

Sunday 10th July: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

With only 75kms to Victoria Falls the convoy set off early this morning, just for a day trip. As it meant negotiating the border posts for departure from Botswana and then entry into Zimbabwe, and then the reverse to return, we decided that the fewer cars that went, the cheaper it would be (as it is quite dear to move cars across different countries here). As foreigners we had to pay $US30 each to get a visa for Zimbabwe, which none of the South Africans had to pay. Funnily enough noone wanted to come in the Land Rover with us so we went in the Prada with Colin and Moira, her sister Louisa and her 2 children Lou-lou and Hugo. The kids sat in the back of the car and noone puts on their seat belts, all of which seems strange to us. It certainly was a smoother quieter ride than Gobi, the Land Rover.

The border post process to get into Zimbabwe was like a John Cleese movie. It was as if someone tried to concoct the most confusing and long-winded method to get people through. There were lots of different queues in a very small office, so after we had sorted out who went where and how much to pay, we found ourselves instructing all the new arrivals in the process. It was very comical really, but we did emerge triumphant eventually. When we were discussing the need for some electronic rather than manual processes the guy ahead of us in the queue said he'd been at a border post where the computer screen had solitaire on it whilst the staff filled out all of the paperwork by hand! It's progress of sorts I guess!

When we arrived at the Falls we thought that we could walk over the bridge into Zambia without too much trouble. In the end it would have cost us foreigners $US50 each so we decided to just do the river walk on the Zimbabwean side of the Falls instead and the others went into Zambia. There was a horrific bungy jump in the middle of the bridge which just confirmed my belief that I will never do it - and it was only half as high as the one Erin did!
Looking down into Rainbow Gorge

Before we got too close and soaking wet!
Erin and I donned our rain jackets and Ewan hired a long raincoat before we set off to get up close to the Falls - and boy! we needed the rain wear. There are no words to describe these Falls: they are every bit as amazing as the photos you see of them. The Zambesi is a wide and shallow river until it hits the enormous gorges that are the reason for the Falls - then the water tumbles down with great force for hundreds of metres, creating a mist that turns into the equivalent of pouring rain along the paths.

We ended up soaked through : pants and shoes dripping wet. And backpacks wet through too, so soggy tissues and damp everything!  We spent some time sitting in the sun and out of the mist to try and do some drying. A monkey stole a mandarin whilst everything was spread out on the grass!

The one thing I really wanted to do was go to the Victoria Falls Hotel and see if it had changed in the 30 years since my last visit in 1978. We took the short cut along the river to get there and a police woman escorted us to ensure that we weren't set upon by the local louts and craft sellers.

In front of the Terrace prior to High Tea
The Hotel has been fully renovated and is superb. Despite our bedraggled appearance we decided to indulge in high tea on the terrace overlooking the Bridge, with the Falls in the background. Very nice it was too.

Tired and weary after our big day we returned to the creature comforts of Chobe Safari Lodge to find the washing done and ironed. What a great day all round!

Your correspondent in luxury


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