A Travellerspoint blog

October 2010

Its like camping at the zoo

Zambia Highlights

  • We literally had to pull ourselves off the island of Likoma…..we either had to get on the next ferry or wait another week. Since we have just bought our tickets back to the States for November 10th, we are no longer feeling like we have an endless amount of time. The Ilala didn’t disappoint with her excessive tardiness, chaotic loading and being stuffed to the gills.

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More and More cargo is loaded
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Loading, waiting for a lift to the Ilala

Headed south we would again overnight and arrive at sunrise at our port town. Again no jetty, so we pushed and climbed our way on to a boat for the shore. The boat didn’t quite make it all the way to the shore, so wearing jeans we jumped into thigh high water and carried our backpacks on our heads!

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Another sunrise on the Ilala

The rest of the day we found ourselves on a marathon of travel taking overcrowded minibuses and taxis through Malawi and into to Zambia to the border city of Chipata: gate way to South Luangwa National Park. This is Zambia’s premier game park and one of very few National Parks in all of Southern Africa accessible by public transportation. Limited to the private transportation or hiring taxies, most of the big parks of Africa have been unfeasible for us, either by cost or distance. Traveling in a local minibus, that found us after 2 hours of waiting at an intersection for any type of ride, took us over 5 hours to cover 100km of incredibly rough, washboard, and bumpy road.

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My view for the five hour ride

With our butts numb, teeth chattering, and covered head to toe in orange dust we finally arrived and were warmly welcomed by a South African man who ran a camping/bungalow resort just outside the park along a hippo and croc infested river. After a quick briefing about the hippo and elephant in the area we where welcomed to set up our tent in their extensive grounds.

After a quick dinner and a much needed beer for Peter, G and T for Meghan, we cozzied up in our tent and where out quickly after such an exhausting two days of road travel. Sometime after midnight we where both awoken to a loud chomping noise that at first was really hard to place. After contemplation, it dawned on us that it was the hippos grazing on the grass right our side our tent! Neither of us wanted to move and we stayed awake for some time wishing for the 3 ton animals to move on their way. (We where advised that while in the tent, provided you don’t have a food with in, they hippos regard it as a big rock or bush and move quite gracefully around them) Reassuring but still quite scary.

The next day after an early morning trip into town for a bit of internet and provision shopping, we waited the day away reading, completing bucket laundry and elephant dodging.

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A naughty group of three ladies and a young adolescent have become a bit friendly and not afraid of walking through the grounds of the local lodges. We have raccoons and squirrels, Africa has elephants and baboons! Imagine the worlds largest land mammal walking through every day to sample your garden offerings or thatch roof fodder. Needless to say the local village people and Lodge owners are a bit fed up. For the tourist it is complete entertainment and a wonderful experience.

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Ellies cruising by the Chalets

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Ellies making our tent look small

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Ellies chilin by the pool

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Ellies looking for a lift

As if we even needed to go on a game drive given our experience in camp, we really wanted to see Leopard (Africa's most prolific cat but most difficult to spot) we anteed up and went out for a night Safari and again the next morning. No leopard, but we saw many more lion, hippo, giraffe, elephant, impala, kudo. The highlight this time was the pride of lion devouring a cape buffalo carcass. Not much was left by the time we arrived and most of the lions where laying around in the shade stuffed to the gills. Their abdomens where completely distend and if they wore pants, the top button would certainly have popped by now!

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The pride at the kill
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Chow time
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I am Stuffed…We were informed that this was an albino Lion. Notice the lighter Coloration, about the color of Etnie, my parents cat!

We have witnessed lions sleeping, playing, hunting, eating and well, now, mating. The mating ritual is a three day marathon of constant copulation every half hour. We shared notes back at the campsite and everyone we had met got in on the peep show that day.

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First the foreplay
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Then a quick mating
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Followed by a big yawn
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And back to sleep

From South Luangwa National Park we traveled to Livingstone. Gateway to Victoria Falls, Livingstone has grown into a must do stop on the southern Africa circuit. Arriving late we made our way to one of the local backpacker places and again found our selves back in the typical scene.

Victoria falls is shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Much like Niagara falls, each side offers it advantages and disadvantages for viewing. Because we had already ponied up money for the Zambia visa we elected to stay on this side and take the falls in from Zambia’s view. It is currently dry season so the Zambezi river is running low. The falls while not as furious at low water then high, still were quite beautiful and it was a great way to spend the day.

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The biggest advantage of staying on the Zambia side and visiting during the low season is one can hope and skip across the river to several different points that looked right down over the falls 100+ meter drop. There was a wonderful little swimming hole complete with waterfall jump that we visited. Local guys hang around and offer their service as tour guide to direct you to these spots.

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Standing on the lip of the falls
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Our swimming hole with the Victoria bridge in the background
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Looking down the length of the canyon into Zimbabwe.

Posted by pmunson 04:34 Archived in Zambia Comments (3)

Cruising to The Cape

From Zambia to Cape Town, South Africa

From Livingston it was on to Botswana! The two countries share a very small boarder, a single point in the middle of the river! The expanse of the river isn’t so wide, but with out a bridge the only way across ferry, a really small ferry. On foot we quickly boarded a flat barge with a ramp on both sides that lowered to take vehicles across the Chobe river. The Ferry could carry one large truck and one or two smaller cars. For us the crossing was easy but the long line of trucks that had to wait to make the crossing one truck at a time looked painfully slow.
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Crossing the Chobe River one truck at a time

In Botswana, we had been recommended the Chobe Safari lodge by a like minded backpacker as a good place to camp. We showed up in the town of Kasane and we were surprised to find a row of luxurious safari lodges lining the river. It felt almost like we had been transplanted to an African Aspen. The Chobe Safari lodge was no exception. We passed through security gates into a grand entry of the 4 star lodge. We felt a little out of place with our dusty packs and grubby clothes. People walked by in freshly pressed safari costumes. We even saw a chic hairless poodle like dog you might see in Beverly hills… a tasty little treat for one of the big cats living in the adjoining national park. Where we in the right place?
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Chobe Safari Lodge

It was true, while most people pay hundreds of dollars per night while we paid $10 each to put our tent down just out of sight from the luxury chalets. We enjoyed the pool, did not order a thing off the overpriced menu, and took advantage of their afternoon wildlife boat cruise. With nice comfy seats, a viewing platform, beer and cocktail bar and more ice cubes then anywhere elde we have been for the last seven months we where definitely high browing it with the Jones!!! The boat cruise was really nice. We saw an incredible number of Elephants (which were still fun to see even after all of our past experiences with them), hippos (Fully exposing themselves on land), crocodiles (oh so close), and lots of cool birds. Being on the river was different because all the wildlife was active and moving about. The highlight had to be the endless herds of elephants, sometimes lining up fifty plus at a time along the riverbank spraying themselves and drinking constantly.

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I’m on a boat
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Hungry Hungry Hippo’s
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Saddle Billed Stork
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Croks in the front, Ellies in the back
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A smaller boat getting up close and personal with a big bull
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The same bull telling our big boat to back off
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Clive and Ronda in Zambia
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Our own apartment in Pretoria. South African hospitality is second to none.

From this point, our adventure changed dramatically in the fact that we have a car. This brings a world of new options that we just did not have on the busses. It also brings a lot of stress driving around in a foreign country on the wrong or left side of the road with weird street signs and traffic laws. Robots control traffic here! Roxie, our GPS unit, helped things out but at times could be incredibly frustrating. Ding… In 500 meters turn left… turn left… BUT THERE IS NO LEFT TURN!!! We got to know her a little better after a few days and learned how to work together. Our little car, the Kia Picanto, was about the same size as my old Ford Festiva and we had it packed to the gills for the next stage in our adventure.

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Not much Bigger than the Tent. Our little Kia at our fist campsite.

After covering most of the 1,600 KM from Pretoria to Cape Town in two long days, we cut west across the Cederberg wilderness area and hit the Atlantic coast north of Cape town. This took us through some desolate country on dirt roads that may have not been quite smooth enough for our little Kia Picanto (or our rental agreement!) We made it none the less and passed through a lot of beautiful countryside. The Karoo, as they call it, is the arid and desolate heart of South Africa comprising of most of its land. It is similar to the southwest US in color and geography but is surrounded on the west and south by the ocean and a rich layer of biodiversity.

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Heading towards Cederberg
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Looking up at some rocks on Pachuis pass, a popular mountain biking and boldering area.

The Cedarburg wilderness surrounds the last major mountains between the Karoo and the coast and is filled with magnificent rock formations one might expect to find in Arches or Canyonlands National parks in Utah. We headed straight to one of South Africans numerous national parks campgrounds and were quite shocked to be shelling out almost $50 USD for a campsite. We had taken a long diversion to get there and it was late so we had no choice but to stay. The camp site was really nice and had an incredible setting along a stream with views of the Cedarburg mountains. I got out and did a nice hike right from camp up to a waterfall in a narrow and almost vertical canyon, while Meghan got in some quality lounging time by the river making use of the binoculars. There were tons of interesting birds around and it was fun to try and identify them in the books we had. Once again the campground and trails were almost empty. It is springtime in SA and we apparently are here just before it gets busy.

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Cederberg Mountains
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Waterfall
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Cederberg is behind farmland as we make our way to the coast

The following day it was out of the mountains and on to the coast! We passed through a few sleepy old fishing villages where not much had changed over the years and by the amount of activity it didn’t look like anything was changing too quickly. We stopped for lunch in a small seaside resort called Langebaan. Seafood was on the menu as we overlooked the mouth of the beautiful Langebaan lagoon, a long lagoon that directly parallel the west coast. The lagoon is protected by the West Coast National Park as it is an important breading ground for seabirds and a summer stopping point for migratory birds. Needless to say the birding is excellent and Meghan and I, binoculars and bird book in hand, were ready to geek it up! The area is also known for an impressive springtime display of wildflowers which we were just a little to late for. We still got to spot a lot of great flowering plants but not the endless blankets of color found in glossy tourism brochures. A word on plant life if I may to set the tone before I divulge into our birding experience. We had now entered the Cape Floral Kingdom. A magical land filled with Fynbos (fine bush) as far as the eye can see. Almost 8500 endemic plant species are in a small area around the cape peninsula, the most diverse floral plant life anywhere in the world. On all of our walks we were constantly stopping to peep wonderful little plants that we had never seen before. The nature reserve had a few bird hides set on the waters of the lagoon. A long wooden boardwalk would lead out over tidal marshes to an enclosed room with benches and narrow slits were Loony Birds (ourselves) can secretly look out into the life of seabirds. We did see many different birds and were able to identify most of them.

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Spring Flowers
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Old Stone Building at a lookout over the lagoon
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Flamingos in the Lagoon
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Getting looney in the bird hide

We moved on to Cape Town and pulled into the city just as the sun was setting. We found a guest house right in the heart of the city that would allow for us to plop our tent down on there property saving us on the expensive accommodation in this popular destination. Cape town is known worldwide and the setting is stunning. At the top of the Cape Peninsula it is surrounded water and lies at the foot of the picturesque table mountain The west coast is home to super luxury homes in the exclusive neighborhoods of Camps Bay and Clifton beaches. The Harbor on the north side of the city is still a working harbor although it is surrounded by many nice harbor side restaurants, shops, and a fun boardwalk area. All the initial romance was quickly shattered when we woke up the first morning to find our car broken into. Crime is a huge problem in Cape town. Fortunately we had been smart enough not to leave anything in the car other than two folding camp chairs and even those did not get taken. The night watchman heard the alarm, the alarm we both slept through, and scared the would be thieves away. So our first morning in Cape town was spent at the police station filing a report and then at the Tempest Rental Car branch in Cape town sorting out a new vehicle. Same car same color and other than a quick $130 to replace the window (not covered in our insurance) it was fairly painless.

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Break in

We spent the rest of the day wandering around cape town exploring the company gardens, the funky and hip Long Street, and a few nice markets. Meghan’s family friend Taylor Reiser was in cape town on a study abroad program so we battled the afternoon traffic to pick her up and headed out to the western part of the city for sundowners and a nice meal out together. For the first time I watched as the sun set on the Atlantic, an ocean I had watched the sun rise through out childhood on the east coat of the US.
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Company Gardens and Table Mountain
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Long St

The next morning it was up early again and out in the “average” weather to climb Table Mountain. We set out on the Platteklip Gorge trail leading us straight up a skinny slot in the rocks that allowed for a steep approach to the 3000 plus foot summit. There is a cable car that takes you to the top and back but we needed the exercise and to save some Rand after the incident with the window. The views from the top were fantastic. You could see the Cape of Good Hope sticking out to the south, all of the large false bay and beginning of Cape Agulhas (southern most point in Africa) to the east, The city and football stadium to the north, Robben Island were Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, and the Atlantic coast with all its beautiful bays to the west. After exploring the flat trails on the top we decided to walk down as well. We finished the day off at the waterfront. This area is still a working harbor but has shops and restaurants lining the harbor and feel really touristy. This is all magnified by a huge shopping mall with trendy shops and all the conveniences of the modern world. We stopped for a few drinks and some fish and chips at the Quay four bar and grill. They had a harbor side deck with picnic tables, cold beer, and greasy food. We watched boats come and go and then wandered around checking out seals and the view of table mountain and the city center across the harbor.

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Looking Down Platteklip Gorge
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Cape town and Robben Island
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The cable car
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The view down the Cape
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Meghan and her new favorite beverage
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The waterfront and table mountain at dusk

Cape town was really an amazing city. With so many outlets to outdoor activity close by, the beauty of the beaches, and trendy downtown area with all its café’s, restaurants, and bars, Cape Town must be an amazing place to live in Africa. We only stayed 4 nights but could of easily stretched it out to a few weeks. But enough of the city, now we move on to the east on a long tour of the southern beaches.
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Ashanti Lodge, Cape Town
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A loo with a view. Taken from the can… Ashanti Lodge had one of the best bathroom views we have scene the entire trip, complete with binoculars chained to the wall.

Posted by pmunson 08:20 Archived in Botswana Comments (1)

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