Yep, it finally came to pass. I went on my first camping trip and it was amazing. Probably the most amazing part is that I discovered that I CAN sleep on the ground and use a pit toilet. All these years of not camping because I believed those two feats were beyond my capacity! Oh well, at least I found out I could do it before I died! The next time, though, I will have a better, thicker pad to sleep on.
Dot and I took a taxi to Pretoria the day before our flight to Victoria Falls, stayed at our usual Backpackers, and took their shuttle to the airport the next morning. Because we were flying the day after Zimbabwe's runoff election, we were a bit concerned about staying in Vic Falls (which is primarily in Zim) but decided that was the better option since staying in Zambia would have cost about $150 for the visa. It was a good decision; the area was very calm, in fact, deserted. It reminded me of going to Mexico the Christmas after 9-11; just NO tourists and the vendors desperate to make a sale.
I have no idea where my head has been all my life, but I was surprised to see that the falls can only be seen up close...the falls is over a mile wide and falls into a giant chasm, with a great, roaring mist rising all around. One views it only from the Victoria Falls National Park, which is across from the falls. As you can see from the photos, there are many viewing points and it is very spectacular, though not at all what I had expected. I guess I thought it would be like Niagara Falls and be viewable from everywhere, but it is very secretive except for the mist rising like smoke that one can see from afar.
Because the UK and Australia had put travel restrictions in place for Zimbabwe, our fellow travelers, nearly all Brits and Aussies, could not come into Zim. So they were forced to stay in Zambia and those few of us who stayed in Zim were picked up Monday morning to be taken to Botswana to meet our tour bus/truck. We caught up with them at the Chobe River, where we set up our tents for the first time and had lunch. We later went for a river cruise, which was totally enjoyable and very beautiful. Herds of elephants, hippos, buffalo, etc. were all along the river. The sun was setting. The weather was balmy. It was near heaven.
Here comes the hard part - the next morning we were up before dawn (an every morning occurrence) to take down our tents, pack up the bus, have breakfast and hit the road. We had an all day drive from Chobe National Park to Maun, the town at the base of the Okavanga Delta (the largest inland delta in the world...a swamp in the midst of the desert). A little shopping and a chocolate ice cream cone and we were off to our camp site to set up our tents and prepare for dinner. This was a camping tour, there were 18 campers, our guide, a driver and a cook. We had chores each day, from unloading and cleaning the bus, to loading the bus, to helping prepare meals or clean up after. The chores rotated and weren't at all onerous since there were so many of us helping. My friend, Dot (75 yrs. old) and I chose to go to bed shortly after dark but the young folk (all the others except for a woman who had her 9 year old son with her) stayed up drinking till the wee hours. I think the others were a bit concerned when they saw us, thinking we would be a real drag on the group, but they warmed up to us when they saw we could carry our own weight. It was a good group and we jelled pretty well although half of the group had already been together for several weeks before this portion of their trip.
Again, up at dawn to take an open truck about an hour to the place where we got into dugout canoes to continue our trip into the Delta. They are quite fragile looking, hollowed out tree trunks, but, with a poler in the back, quite an efficient way of getting around the swamp. When we arrived at an island (not so in the rainy season), we set up camp for a two day stay. Although it had been freezing that morning and in the trip in the open truck, by now it was blazing hot and we napped a bit in the heat of the afternoon. Late afternoon, we went with a guide on walking game drive. I was most interested in seeing the flora since I have seen the African animals quite a few times. However, I was surprised at how much more fun it is to see them while on foot than when one is in a vehicle. Wandered home at sunset to a great brai (bar-b-q, South African style).
Up before dawn for breakfast and another game drive on foot. We very quickly saw a newly killed zebra with it's organs still fresh; we saw it again about four hours later and it was nearly gone. Really fascinating and something new for me. I had never seen a fresh kill before and was told it is rare to come across them. We walked for five hours and finally came across a herd of zebra but it was a slow day for wildlife. Thank heaven I was most interested in the flora.
Next day we broke camp and left at sunrise to return to Maun...Dot and I chose to upgrade our lodging this night and slept in beds to allow our spines to return to normal alignment. The next several days were spent traveling from north-western Botswana all the way to far eastern South Africa, to Kruger Park. We had a total of four truck/bus breakdowns but it was all part of the adventure. It's amazing how unimportant things like that are when you have no responsibility for them and can just sit and wait for it to be taken care of by others. I loved it! Anyway, we fell a good bit behind schedule, but managed to crowd in most everything. We stopped at the Blyde River Canyon lookout, took pictures, did a little haggling for a couple gifts, and moved on. We had hoped to stop at God's Window but were unable to fit it in. Instead, we spent most of a day in Graskop, waiting for vehicles to come get us and take us to our camp site just outside Kruger while our truck got repaired. Because of another mix-up, the camp site had sold our reservation and so were forced to upgrade us to luxury tents for two nights! And did we care? I don't think so!!! They were gorgeous.
Kruger is South Africa's crowning jewel of a National Park. It is humongous and has enormous herds of everything. I saw both giraffe and elephant closer than I ever have, except locked up in a zoo. We spent our entire second day there on a game drive and saw most everything but big cats. Some of the fellow travelers were disappointed but, having seen many, many cats in Kenya, it was ok with me.
We were allowed to sleep in a little the last morning...not knowing what the future held...and had breakfast at 9:15, loaded the truck and set off for Johannesburg (Joburg). After going about a third of the way there, the clutch on the truck wouldn't engage and we were pulled over again while some mechanics came to look and mess. Finally, a bus was ordered and we waited about three hours at the side of the road for it to show up. It was a great bus after our four-wheel drive camping bus and we all greatly enjoyed the comfort. We got to our back-packers in Joburg at 7PM, rather than early afternoon and people hurried off to airports and other arrangements. Dot and I had snacks for dinner and went to bed early in a dorm room for 12. Neither of us heard anything until the next morning, when we got up, caught a cab to the bus station and caught a bus to Pretoria. We walked about two blocks and were the last two on a taxi to Mafikeng (that is Dot's karma; I nearly always have to wait hours and hours for the taxi to fill before we can leave). We were home by 1:30, I showered, washed my hair, went to the grocery and then didn't leave my flat for the next four days. Sunday evening, my friend, Erin, came with her parents (who are visiting from Cincinnati) and they took me to dinner in exchange for lodging for the night. Great people and I really enjoyed my re-entry into humanity.
See Photo Albums 21 - 25.