You’re Going To Miss…Southern Africa

You’re Going To Miss…Southern Africa

 

Dear Calvin,

 

I hope this finds you doing well.  I came across your site via CU Class Notes.  I am CC 2010.  I have been inspired by your story and website, and as a fellow lover of travel and medical student, would definitely be keen on learning more about your travels and how it all works out.

 

Also–I saw that you have not yet made it to the African continent (according to the place markers on the website’s map).  [That is mainly where I travel, and my family is also from there.  I would be more than glad to provide you with connections in the countries I have been to/enjoyed, should you make it that side.]

 

Thank you, and I am truly looking forward to hearing back from you.

 

All the best,

 

Nadi Nina Kaonga

Nadi’s first ever e-mail to me, January 29th, 2013

 

Press play. And then start reading.

 

 

 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  – African proverb

 

You’re going to miss the first impressions, the first hugs and handshakes in a random hotel, the jet-lag tempered by an excitement of going on your 2nd (or even 3rd) monsoon with once again the proudly self-proclaimed “worst tour guide ever“, and not having a clue of what could transpire with these familiar friends, co-travelers, and even strangers for the next 16 days.

You’re going to miss setting off on a city that nearly suffocates you with a beautiful chaos, the overwhelming crush of humanity in the world’s oldest outdoor market, trying to find a stolen phone and coming to terms to being forced off the grid for the next few days, the sweet taste of mint lime juice after walking over 12 miles and 20,000 steps with your new travel family, and laughing over the inefficiency of a simple task of getting food at the airport.

 

 

You’re going to miss waking up after 4 hours of sleep in a different capital city, the quiet lazy morning of eating simple — but different — bread and watered down coffee before watching a beautiful sunrise over Nairobi.

 

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You’re going to miss landing in another unfamiliar country although this time with a familiar face waiting for you at arrivals as if you already had family here, being welcomed by the very person who sent an e-mail on January 29, 2013 that first compelled you to organize this very trip to subsaharan Africa, being taken in with open arms by a sister and her grandfather that you wish you’ve always had, and being shown around the warm heart of Africa, but only after waiting more than 2 hours to get your visas (well, you might not miss that).

You’re going to miss the popcorn and water that greeted you in the car that would take you to a most beautiful lake that you felt like you had all to yourself, grabbing drinks and kicking back to a splendid view, before heading back to a home-cooked meal so good that you can’t help to having seconds (or thirds), all the while watching with mischief at a grandfather 4 times your age eat 4 times your amount of pie.

 

 

You’re going to miss the 5am transfer to the airport before a quietly emerging dawn in Malawi to board a lonely plane in a lonely airport, landing in the afternoon at a country infamous for its civil war but now on the cusp of peace, exploring a remarkably diverse capital city that could have mistaken to be on the Mediterranean, hunting for fresh fruit like a local at the municipal market, being the only customers in a huge empty restaurant and getting better-than-expected food, and afterwards exchanging stories and travel advice with fellow backpackers at your hostel.

 

 

You’re going to miss haggling down an entire bus to Swaziland before watching nervously as your bags rattle around outside on a precariously connected trailer, walking through no-man’s land to another country while talking about Donald Trump with fellow transferrers, looking for bathrooms in the chaotic bus terminal of Manzini before settling in at one of the most impressive hostels you’ve ever been.

 

 

You’re going to miss collectively deciding on horseback riding while enjoying a comfortable lunch overlooking pastures in the middle of nowhere, heading towards an unexpectedly beautiful safari all the while your horse does its best to sneak in a mouthful of vegetation while you’re trying to keep up with the group.

You’re going to miss the drinks and dinner at the safari camp, failing to blend in with the chi-chi older crowd, before getting to know the Peace Corps volunteers on the eve of their farewell after they had been staying at your hostel for the past 2 years.

 

 

You’re going to miss the smooth morning bus ride to South Africa, the subsequent quick flight to Lesotho and the warm welcome by the warmest aunt-nephew duo, and the exploration of a nearby lake at sunset before heading off to the nation’s top restaurant on the second floor of a hat-shaped building.

 

 

You’re going to miss grabbing drinks at a sketchy local bodega so you could stay up with the group on our last night together, engaging one final heart-to-heart conversation before waking up to a frigid Lesotho morning.

 

 

You’re going to miss randomly greeting Lesotho’s prime minister on the tarmac as you boarded your flight to Johannesburg, before meeting the rest of the group to begin the second week.

 

 

You’re going to miss going out on the town for a night of mayhem, getting to encounter so many younger locals who took more of an interest in us than we would have expected, and trying to find our way back home inebriated during the middle of the night.

 

 

You’re going to miss the humbling experience at the Apartheid Museum, learning about Mandela’s legacy before truly experiencing a taste of it at the prisons on Constitution Hill, and the serendipitous discovery of a world famous food market after aimlessly strolling back to the scene of the crime of the night before.

 

 

You’re going to miss freaking out over missing 2 people in the group who failed to board the flight with you to Zambia, the mad dash across 4 countries in one day seeing arguably the world’s most beautiful waterfalls from both sides, fending off a rabid baboon, seeing an unreal sunset over the falls, the quiet night drive into Botswana, and the giddiness of seeing an elephant quietly greet you in the backyard of your lodge before you headed to bed.

 

 

You’re going to miss the excitement of going on your first safari, getting to see your first herd of elephants, kudus, giraffes, hippos, and hundreds of other animals that were unafraid to approach your jeep, then quickly getting over seeing your three-hundredth elephant by the end of the day, nodding off on a lazy boat ride on the Chobe waterfront, before staring dumbstruck at a beautiful sunset over the horizon as animals continued to feed, unbothered by our presence.

 

 

You’re going to miss turning down a bad deal for ATVs, and then sitting idly in an airport still under construction with literally nothing to do but watch repeating stories in syndication on CNN International, returning home to Johannesburg where you befriended even more locals at the hostel on your final night there.

You’re going to miss answering a challenge to climb Lion’s Head immediately upon your arrival to Cape Town while another part of the group finally get a Girls’ Night Out, the silent wish you had done more cardio during your climb, and the feeling of redemption when you finally reached to top as the sun was setting over the ocean.

 

 

You’re going to miss trading photos back and forth between the groups, debating on who had a better time as you celebrate conquering a hike that wasn’t supposed to be really done on the first day.

 

 

You’re going to miss making friends on the boat ride to Robben Island, meeting a former prisoner there as he recalls his days with Nelson Mandela, witnessing another gorgeous sunset over a natural wonder of the world at Table Mountain, and then delighting yourself with one of the best meals you ever had alongside your fellow epicureans.

 

 

You’re going to miss the early morning car ride to see African penguins in the midst of their mating season and unbothered by your presence, the feeling of accomplishment by reaching the Cape Of Good Hope on the edge of civilization, the WTF moment of being recognized by a random student who attended one of your travel workshops 2 years ago, and the nail-biting detour to find a fellow traveler’s former school before heading back to the airport.

 

 

You’re going to miss packing your bags in an oversized tank/jeep that you would eventually call home and being led around by a guide you would eventually call a friend as your group headed off into the world’s oldest desert.

 

 

You’re going to miss the heartfelt conversations and sharing of music on the way there, the difficult hike up to the top of Elem Dunes to watch the sunset, the warm fire at your campsite, having one of the best pork-chops you ever had after it was cooked right in front of you, and braving the slumber outside despite the cold.

 

 

You’re going to miss waking up with your mouth open and night filled with so so many stars.

 

 

You’re going to miss putting the final exclamation point to your trip as you finally come upon the surreal landscape to reproduce one of your favorite photographs, then staying longer than expected as you know this probably will be the last time you will ever be here for a very very long time.

 

 

You’re going to miss the relaxing ride back home, with enough time to reflect upon everything you had just seen, but more importantly knowing for a few more moments moment you were surrounded by new lifelong friends who had just shared experiences that you wouldn’t be able to repeat again with anyone else.

And you’re going to miss most of all, each other; a group of unique personalities united by adventure, where we’ll all look back one day and ask ourselves if we did see all that we saw and went as far as we did.

And we certainly did — far, and most importantly, together.

 

An Elephant Symphony Plays In Chobe National Park

An Elephant Symphony Plays In Chobe National Park

A Phanty Procession!
 

 

To do Kasane is to do Chobe. Regarded as one of the top 2 “elite” safari destinations in Africa, Chobe is most famous for being home to the world’s largest and most numerous elephant herds in the world (among other wildlife) covering over 11,000 square kilometers at the confluence of 4 countries: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia. This is also one of the few places to see the “Big 5” (the African lion, the African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros).

2 types of safaris are offerred at Chobe: a game drive at either 6am or 10am in a 4WD jeep and a river cruise on the Chobe waterfront (which should be done at sunset beginning at 3pm). Each 3-hour safari should run at an average of 250 pulas per person.

We got ready at 10am for our first safari in the 4WD:

 

 

It’s about a 5 minute drive from Liya Guest Lodge to the entrance to Chobe National Park, where registration (done by the driver) can take about 10 minutes. Afterwards it’s about another 5-10 minute drive to the riverfront on the upper trail.

 

 

Once you reach where the water is, the wildlife begin to teem in the hundreds to thousands.

 

 

The list of things to see include (and not limited to) the kudus and impalas:

 

 

Birds with spoon-shaped beaks:

 

 

More impalas:

 

 

Elephants — lots and lots of them:

 

 

Zebras:

 

 

Monkeys:

 

 

Giraffes:

 

 

We returned to the lodge at 1pm, a little bummed no lions or leopards came out to greet us. Nevertheless, we still had a river cruise to go to at 3pm.

We took a taxi (20 pulas per vehicle) to one of the docks at 2:30pm for boarding.

 

 

Along the river we saw —

More elephants:

 

 

Baboons:

 

 

Crocodiles:

 

 

Hippos:

 

 

Buffalos:

 

 

And most importantly, the sunset at 6pm:

 

 

Afterwards we grabbed a perfunctory dinner at The Old House within walking distance of our docks, before heading back home for an early evening relaxing at our lodge (where a random elephant happened to be roaming in our backyard!).

 

- At time of posting in Kasane, Botswana, it was 14 °C - Humidity: 49% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

Victoria Falls: 4 Countries In 1 Day

Victoria Falls: 4 Countries In 1 Day

 

Victoria Falls just got served

 

Today I’ve marked visiting the last of the world’s 3 greatest waterfalls: In April 2014 we violated international law crossing Iguazú Falls (the world’s largest waterfalls system) along the intersection of Brazil and Argentina, a year later we pushed a boat upriver and hiked for miles for Angel Falls (the world’s tallest waterfall) in Venezuela, and today we set foot in 4 different countries within 9 hours just to do Victoria Falls the monsoon way.

 


 

It was well worth it.

 

 

For the record — because I could never find this out online until I did it myself today — if you want to do the falls from both Zambia’s and Zimbabwe’s sides on the same day, you definitely:

  1. Have to pay twice for entry ($20 USD/person at Zambia, $30 USD/person at Zimbabwe)
  2. Have to pay twice for visas ($50 USD/person at Zambia, $30 USD/person at Zimbabwe)

At time of posting, the $50 USD Kaza/UNI visa that allows you to freely go in between Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana without having to get another visa was still suspended.

 

South Africa

This morning, the 9 of us packed all that we needed for the next 2 days in a single bag for carry-on only, leaving most of our belongings back at Curiocity Hostel (we planned to return on August 9th). We arrived at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport at around 9am, then splitting up into smaller groups to get breakfast at different places.

Although 7 of us reconvened at the gate for our 11am British Airways flight for Livingstone, Zambia, we all found out the hard way that OR Tambo airport has been notorious for never announcing final calls for missing passengers — 2 others, Mike and Sam, arrived at the gate only a few minutes after we got on the bus that would take us to the plane, where all of us had assumed they had already boarded an earlier bus to the plane (given they had cleared security way before us).

They then waited at the gate until it was too late; by the time the two asked an agent about their flight at 10:56am, we were already on the runway about to take off. Holy shit!

 

 

Zambia

When we landed in Livingstone at 12:45pm, we learned that we had arrived at the newly constructed airport so we were stuck with no wifi, no service, no data, and no way to reach Mike and Sam about missing their flights. Moreover, the visa process to enter Zambia was a nightmare as a garbled mess of tourists lined up in meaningless lines, hopping from line to line in order to wait even longer for entry.

Only by publicly announcing that I was leading a group did I get expedited entry — all 7 of our passports were swiftly taken and stamped immediately in succession without the agent even looking up at us or scanning our passports in a computer. FYI, each visa on arrival costs $50 USD/person and they do not yet take credit cards at the new airport.

Once out of the airport we negotiated taxis to take us directly from the airport to the entrance to the falls. We were able to haggle the price down to $15 USD a car (4 passengers each).

After arriving at the entrance of the Zambian side of the falls, we paid $20 USD/person for entry.

 

 

It’s about another 3 minute walk from the ticket booth to the actual entrance to the park.

 

 

The Zambian side of the falls have 3 major sights: The Eastern Cataract, Knife Edge, and Boiling Pot. When you enter, you begin at the Eastern Cataract, where you’ll get your first glimpse of the falls.

 

 

Then walking more towards the main part of the falls, you’ll walk across a footbridge along a ridge called Knife’s Edge.

 

 

If you’re not busy looking ahead, don’t forget to enjoy the views from the footbridge:

 

 

Along Knife’s Edge, you can get take a quick detour for views of the the adjacent gorge and Victoria Falls Bridge.

 

 

You’ll then reach the end of the Zambian side of the park, which gives you the far view of Danger Point, located on the Zimbabwe Side.

 

 

You can then backtrack to the entrance and take a fork down to the 650m hike downhill to the Boiling Pot.

 

 

Once you reach the Boiling Pot, look for the maelstroms at the bottom of the falls.

 

 

 

Make sure you don’t get your stuff stolen by the curious baboons; one of them made a grab for Linda’s bag here (just like the rascals who took Chris’ bag at Iguazú Falls or the crazy apes at Gibraltar!).

 

 

Make sure you brought enough water for this particular hike as the trek back uphill can be grueling.

JC made some friends along the way.

 

 

We spent approximately a total of 2 hours on the Zambian side of the falls before heading back out the exit and towards the nearby exit border post of Zambia.

 

 

Getting stamped out was pretty quick.

 

 

Afterwards it was a 20 minute walk across no man’s land and Victoria Falls Bridge to Zimbabwe.

 

 

It’s at the middle of Victoria Falls Bridge where you can bungee jump for $150-$200 USD per person.

 

 

Zimbabwe

 

Follow the road past the bridge until you get to the ZImbabwe border offices on your left.

 

 

Once in Zimbabwe, you walk a little more towards the entry border offices to get stamped in, where like Zambia, the process is incredibly inefficient.

Although they do take credit cards here (visa is $30 USD/person), they have to do one transaction at a time to staple in each receipt to each visa application (therefore going in a group will take awhile).

 

 

Our immigration officer actually ran out of receipt paper for the credit card transactions so I gave up and just gave him the rest in US dollars.

 

 

Once you’re stamped in, you then show your visa stamps to another guard outside, and then it’s a quick 5 minute walk from the border offices to the entrance of the Zimbabwe side of the falls.

Entry is $30 USD/person. They do take credit cards!

 

 

Once inside, you begin at the Devil’s Cataract on the west side.

 

 

…from where you can walk south and eastwards towards Danger Point (about 1km away), stopping along various viewpoints along the way as you get back closer to main falls.

 

 

Where Zambia’s side is wild enough for being on top of all the action, you get to see all the action from the Zimbabwe side.

 

 

Once you reach Danger Point, take in the beautiful sunset and make sure you don’t fall down!

 

 

Can’t make this stuff up. All photos in this post have been #nofilter.

After the sun finally set at 6pm we headed the long way back to the exits (the falls officially close at 6pm) and got a $10 van outside to take all 7 of us to the nearby restaurant In Da Belly where our Botswana drivers were waiting for us.

You can reserve drivers to ferry you directly from the falls to your lodgings in Kasane, Botswana for $30 USD/person to save you the headache of running around to find taxis at the falls and then at the border (which will also cost you around $30 USD/person in total). And after about a one hour drive to the Zimbabwe/Botswana border, we barely made it before the border offices closed at 8pm.

 

 

Getting stamped out took a few minutes, with us signing out on a book and getting our passports stamped. Then we got back into the car and drove over for less than a minute to the Botswana offices to be stamped in.

 

Botswana

 

 

Getting stamped in was not only free but immediate as after only a few minutes we were out the door.

 

 

Uniquely about this country (one of the few to have graduated from the UN’s World’s Least Developed Countries list to become one of the most developed countries in Africa), we had to have our car tires and our shoes disinfected for foot and mouth disease.

 

 

Afterwards, it was an another 30 minute drive to our accommodations in Kasane, Liya Guest Lodge by 9:30pm, where random animals such as elephants, lions, warthogs, monkeys and dogs crossed in front of us on multiple roads.

Once we settled in, a few of us headed back out into the city for a take out dinner. Your only other option at this hour is KFC or this local grill. We chose the latter.

 

 

Overall, it’s been a productive day.

And speaking of our missing Mike and Sam — when we arrived at the lodge and finally got data, we were able to communicate with them on their Plan B. In the end, they were able to get another flight tomorrow for Victoria Falls, after which they’ll do both the falls and a safari before reuniting in Cape Town on August 10th and resuming the adventure with us. 

Nothing gets missed and it always works out in the end!

 

- At time of posting in Victoria Falls, it was 17 °C - Humidity: 36% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear