I completed a 14 day tour In South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, sleeping in a native hut, or tents in the wilderness.
On day 1 of the tour, I had to be woken at 5.20am by the tour guide at the backpackers lodge — one of the rare occassions I slept late, no doubt due to having little sleep for the previous two nights on flights from New York to London, and London to Johannesburg. Little did I know that 5am was to be a frequent wake up time during the next 14 days, often packing tents in the dark.
My companions for the tour were the white South African tour guide, a group of 4 people from the UK, and two couples from Germany, all of whom proved to be great fun and company.
Our first night was spent in a native village. After eating dinner with the villagers, a meal of chicken, vegetables and pap (corn powder cooked like heavy mashed potato) prepared on an open fire, we were entertained by them singing and dancing. That night we slept in the village huts with thatched roofs, and a floor covered in liquefied cow dung spread across the floor and left to dry hard. Apparently it wards off mosquitoes. Fortunately, there wasn't any odour.
The following morning we visited a centre for the protection and breeding of endangered animals, particularly cheetahs. Then we entered Kruger National Park, and within minutes saw herds of impala deer and zebras. As the day progressed, we saw a magnificent giraffe, water buffalo, Kudu and Waterbuck (large deer) and so many impala they didn't rate a mention when more were spotted. Coincidentally, that night we had impala stew for dinner. Delicious !
Next morning, we discovered monkeys had attacked our food, and one had climbed into our van and stolen my banana. During the day we saw two herds of up to 8 elephants, giraffe, zebras, three white rhino, three kudu and numerous birds. Incredible to see them up close in the wild !
Over the following days, we sighted more impala, hippos, rhinos, elephants, crocodiles, baboons, monkeys and birds.
Finally, we came to Victoria Falls. Not as picturesque as Iguassu, but impressive because of the size. Viewed across a comparitively narrow valley, the falls are massive. It's fascinating to see the broad, calm, peaceful expanse of the Zambesi River suddenly collapse into turbulent torrents raging at the bottom of the chasm far below.
That night we enjoyed dinner and drinks on a pleasant cruise on the upper calm waters of the river, followed next morning by an incredibly exciting white water rafting trip consisting of 25 rapids down 28 kms of the river. Three of the rapids were grade 5, the highest grade for tourists. There was one grade 6, which we had to land and walk around, while the rafts were sent down empty. A few of the guides risked and survived the frightening descent solo, while we stood on the banks to clap and cheer their success and survival. There were 8 rafts, supported by crews in Kayaks ready to help anybody in trouble when their raft capsized. And capsize they did, frequently !
The rapids had names like "Devil's Toilet Bowl", "Gnashing Jaws of Death", "The Terminator", "Commercial Suicide", which all seemed appropriate.
Approaching one challenging rapid, our guide instructed us to all move to the left side. The three on the right were so enthusiastic, they knocked we three on the right into the raging waters. When I finally surfaced, the guide was yelling "swim to the raft". The fool ! All I wanted to do was swim to the surface every time I was forced under by the turbulance.
On a calm stretch of water, the guide instructed us to all stand and balance on the edge of the raft, holding hands. By the time we managed this feat, he advised us we were now going down the next rapid in this position. What a disaster ! What a laugh ! On another occassion, he instructed us to all pile to the back of the raft, which caused it to rear up and flip over backwards.
You haven't lived 'til you raft the Zambesi River. Everybody should do it at least once in their life.
While most participants had to carry their gear back up a steep cliff at the end of the trip, I had the good fortune to have booked a helicopter ride out, flying low over some of the rapids, tipping over as we followed the bends in the river's course, and then up and over Victoria Falls to get a birds eye view of this fantastic display of nature.
Next afternoon, we cruised the Chobe River and saw crocodiles, a massive herd of buffalos, several pods of hippos, lots of deer, and several herds of elephants, including one group which SWAM across the river. (Did you know that elephants can swim ?) All of this up close ! And as we cruised back to camp, the whole effect was enhanced by a superb sunset.
Next day's sightings included mongeese, kudus, a sable antelope, a white onyx (gembock) and a skimmer bird which flies across the surface of the water with the point of its open beak in the water skimming up insects and small fish.
The following morning after rising early, AGAIN, we were transported into the Okavango Delta in mokoros (shallow dug out canoes) by local Africans. I tried poling a canoe by myself next day, but after a short journey (mostly backwards) with a strong case of jitters trying to balance standing upright, I gave up.
While trekking across the delta, we saw various animals in the distance, not close up as in Kruger and Chobe, except for a group of elephants which crossed the river about 100m metres from our camp. Another ride in the dug-outs, poled by the Africans — not me, took us to a large pool where there was a family of hippos. After observing them for a while, the Africans noticed that they were becoming restless and agressive, and had us skimming across the water at a rapid rate as we made a hasty retreat.
More singing and dancing around the camp fire after dinner. As the only Australian, I had to sing Waltzing Matilda solo, but fortunately, several of the others joined me in the chorus.
A flight low over the Delta in a small plane gave us the opportunity to observe many of the animals seen before, including a huge osterich, massive herds of elephants, a large crocodile floating on the surface of a lagoon, more pods of hippos, buffalo, zebra and giraffe.
Our last night camping was spent on the edge of the Kalahari dessert beside a lake which wasn't much more than a huge dust bowl, but among other sightings we did see one herd of about eight rhinos crossing the path in front of us. Fearsome looking creatures with the huge pointed horns on the front of their heads.
And back to Johannesburg at the end of a superb tour on which I saw and did more than I had anticipated. Thanks to a great guide and companions.
PS: That night I enjoyed a long hot bath to commence removing the ingrained dirt and grime.
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