Rundu to Etosha and Etosha National Park

Drying of the environment is evident as we travelled south to Etosha National Park – Long walks to water for villagers. Many villagers are wood carvers in the agricultural communities. The Lodge we stayed at supports the local village school, social services etc. Like many lodges in Africa.

Stayed at Large lodges in middle of Etosha National Park- for three nights – on way in visited two water holes – giraffe, zebra and a pride of lions under a tree. 50 degree heat – even the breeze is like an oven. White rhinos, black faced impala, kudu, Oryx, zebra, impala, wildebeest, elephants and numerous birds have crossed our path. It is difficult to believe so much life is in this desert. The heat is stifling. Etosha Salt Pan desert dominates the park, roughly 130 km long and as wide as 50 km in places. The hypersaline conditions of the pan limit the species that can permanently inhabit the pan itself. The salt pan fills with water briefly in the summer, when it attracts pelicans and flamingos in particular that feed on the small brine shrimp which are found in the water. The shrimp eggs hibernate in the dry mud until the rainy season when they hatch and emerge. There are some perennial springs in the park and animals as well as birds stay in the park year round. Game is found around the water holes so is easy to locate. Two game drives each day  No gunshots or noxious insects in the rooms. Millions of moths though – they are everywhere, along with 99% of the worlds sugar ant population.

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Okavango to Rundu

Vegetation is getting sparser as we move south deeper into Namibia. We are breaking our trip to the Etosha Pan with an overnight stay at a lodge on the Okavango River at the Namibian/Angola border. There is a thunderstorm currently raging over Angola. Seems suitable based on the violent past of that country. I am getting a little tired of the dusty towns that follow the highway south and looking forward to getting into the Etosha Pan and the Namib desert.

The lodge we are at is a charming mixture of the Hobbit and The Wild Wild West. I keep expecting Bilbo Baggins to materialize wearing a cowboy hat….. German lady bought it in the late 80’s- hard times during the Angolan civil war – 30 months without any guests. They stayed at the lodge to prevent it from being destroyed and looted. Hard times again now with the economic troubles in Europe where most of their guests come from.

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We just heard a lot of yelling from the Angola side of the river followed by a gunshot – all is quiet now so guess the problem is resolved.

Our dinner began with a traditional welcome dance, drumming and songs performed by the local villagers. Their skirts were made from sections of bamboo ending with bottle tops which made the rattling noise that accompanied the drumming. Dinner was an open air buffet watching the sunset and enjoying the excellent kudu curry.

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Okavango Delta – Day 2

After the focus on large mammals it was a nice change of pace to look at things from the ground point of view. Our morning started with a ride in a Mokoro- a traditional canoe – through some of the channels of the delta. Experiencing the delta water ways at ground level was amazing. We learned about the Delta and the useful plants in it. The main one we utilized was the papyrus. In addition to paper and fabric making the base is an excellent source of water and food. It tasted like a cross between lettuce and a radish. Our polers picked one whenever they got thirsty. We had a few as well

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A member of a local tribe took us on a enthnobotany walk in the area following the Mokoro ride. He found us plants to make alcohol with, use as insecticides, brush your teeth with and get water from. Even found us a plant we could use as a hat. Mother Nature’s convenience store.

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Following the walk he took us to his own village – the Xhau tribe – where we got a tour. Until a few months ago the women of the village had a long walk each day to get water from the river. The government has just put in piped water to a large central tank in the village. It has made a huge change in their lives. The village is not electrified. Villagers raise goats to sell to raise money for solar panels to charge their cell phones and run radios. Africa is a land of contrast…..

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Okavango Delta (Botswana) Day 1

We have a new frog to add to our collection – the dripping tap frog. He sang most of the night…… Dawn broke at around 5:30 – and I was greeted by a scorpion on the inside of my mosquito net. Better than a double shot of espresso. Once it had been sent to arthropod heaven courtesy of my shoe, we got going with the day – travelling to the Okavango Delta. Along the way we stopped at a Walmart type supermarket in a roadside town. Herds of cows wandered freely through the parking lot and chickens checked out the grills of parked cars for dead bugs. I thought that was a nice extra service in the lot 🙂 A 1 1/2 hr boat trip took us to our houseboat where we will be staying for a couple of days. The Delta is stunningly beautiful. It is one of three inland deltas in Africa. The water never reaches the sea but soaks into the Kalahari well before the Atlantic Ocean. During the rainy season the Delta increases in size and attracts a huge concentration of wildlife. We hope to see some of that tomorrow during our hike and canoe ride. There is a heron here that catches a large insect and drops it in the water as a lure for fish. He then waits patiently until one arrives and nails it. Hope to see this bird tomorrow.

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We are now drifting without power in the Okavango Delta – the starter apparently has gone in the houseboat motor. Our group must have a starter jinx on it 🙂 It is a lovely evening and I will keep you posted on how far we drift before we are rescued…… OK – the rescuers have arrived. We have had a very pleasant drift – quiet, just few fish jumping and crocodiles splashing. Engine started – just died again and we are drifting agin – enjoying a gorgeous sunset. Finally gave up on the engine – it will get fixed tomorrow. The crew lassoed a palm tree on the shore and tied up the houseboat. Dinner was spaghetti which I don’t care for. The crew kindly asked me to join them in their traditional dinner of white maize polenta and beef done a la Botswana simmered with tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices. We ate with our hands, African style, on deck as the Okavango sunset darkened to purple and then black with millions of stars. Magic.

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Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) to Chobe National Park (Botswana)

Amazing, Amazing – that is Victoria Falls. Called the “Smoke that Thunders” in local dialect. First “discovered” by Dr David Livingston. When Carol was here 20 years ago the atmosphere towards whites in Zimbabwe was very different than it is now. Now they have recognized us for the cash cows that we are and are quite polite – except at the airport 🙂 It pours with rain by the falls due to the spray – the ponchos came in handy.

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After Victoria Falls we quickly crossed into Botswana. Hoof and mouth disease is a big concern in Botswana as they sell a lot of beef to Europe. We had to dip all our shoes in bactericide of some kind before completing border formalities. The males can get by with one pair of shoes. As the border guards do not believe that women have only one pair of shoes we had to dig in our luggage and find another pair of shoes (or borrow them) to take with us to customs. There we were straggling up the road after the shoe dip, passports in hand towards Botswana immigration. Wish I had a picture….

Our first exposure to Botswana has been the Chobe National Park via river cruise and a late afternoon game drive. The highlight of the river cruise was a very large female hippo who took a dislike to us and charged – some great close ups (some a little too close) before our guide hit the throttle. Chobe is famous for the elephant population living within the park. It didn’t disappoint. Stunning! Hippo’s, elephants, birds, gorgeous scenery, no trash – this place is outstanding! Although the big animals and birds were awesome – the highlight for us was a dung beetle (about 3 inches across) rolling his big ball of dung plus girlfriend (hanging on for dear life) down the middle of the road. Chobe NP allows a few groups to camp in bush camps each night. We were lucky enough to be one of those groups. Our camp was tents in the bush, with camp minders to prepare dinner and take care of us. After spending a night watching the stars and listening to birds, frogs and lions we were woken up at 5 am with warm water for washing, hot coffee and a cooked breakfast. Our early morning game drive followed. We head to the Okavango Delta tomorrow for our houseboat stay

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On the way more adventures – I stayed in the Safari vehicle while the driver used it to get some permits – everyone else went shopping. The starter has gone kaput – so we are stuck in the middle of no-where with a dead engine – the search is on for a new starter wire. Will let you all know what happens….. There is water and chocolate in the cooler so the immediate outlook is OK. After a wander around we located a nice young girl who said she could help us – she turned out to be a first rate mechanic and got us going again in no time (girl power!) We picked up the rest of the group and the rest of the trip was uneventful and we arrived at our Namibian lodge on the river in time to enjoy a stunning African sunset.

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Zimbabwe

Johannesburg airport is something out of the Twilight Zone – the worst airport signage in the world, no organization, people crashing lines – total chaos. We got there early on Carol’s advice and am sure glad we did. If I ever go through that airport again I will get my boarding pass at my previous check in and check my bags right through to their final destination.

After check in and security we de-stressed with some excellent coffee and shopping 🙂 We left the grey skies and rain behind and our flight to Zimbabwe went smoothly. Immigration on the other hand was staffed by two female relatives of Atilla the Hun. One of them tried to give Carol some trouble. Carol had her sliced, diced and on the barbecue before she knew what was happening. I highly recommend Carol’s border crossing services to anyone planning an African trip 🙂

We are now at the Victoria Falls Safari lodge in a lovely room overlooking a water hole in Zambezi National Park. Veranda doors need to be tightly closed or baboons and monkeys will come in the rooms and steal your stuff. We are headed off to the Boma restaurant for an authentic Zimbabwe dinner and entertainment. The dinner was excellent. South African ranchers farm eland, warthog, and buffalo so we got to try all three. The warthog and buffalo were really tasty. We all got drumming lessons as well and the evening finished with a community dance. When getting ready to go to bed Carol discovered a big green bug in her bed – a wack with a shoe and a squirt of raid dealt with the bug and we had a good sleep.

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Zanzibar

The eastern shore of Zanzibar is populated by luxury resorts. Our drive to our resort took us through residential areas and small centres on the island. A good proportion of the island residents are muslim. The heat and humidity are stifling. How the women in full black burkahs manage I have no idea. They probably look at us with equal incomprehension.

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The resort is nice but not my idea of Africa. Many Italians and Germans come here for an all inclusive 2 week package – similar to canadians going to Mexico. It was OK to be here for a couple of nights but was glad to move to a wonderful 120 year old hotel on the beach in the middle of old Stone town for our final day. The architecture was a mixture of Middle east and Africa.

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Carol and I hired a car and driver and took a day to explore Stone town markets and streets, as well as the old slave market. Our afternoon was spent in the spice plantations trying to figure out what spice came from what plant.

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On to Johannesburg tomorrow.