ZAMBIA & BOTSWANA
ITINERARY: Lusaka, Zambezi River canoe/camping, Livingston,
Victoria Falls, Zambezi River whitewater rafting
ZAMBIA July 2005
A 51-hour train/bus trip took us from Tanzania into Zambia - see BUMBLING AROUND AFRICA
CANOE-CAMPING WITH HIPPOS
The Zambezi is the fourth largest river in Africa - after the Congo, Nile and Niger. We went downstream on a two-day canoe/camping trip with guide Evans and two young Dutch women. The river was swift so, although we went about thirty miles, the paddling was easy. Birders would love this place, as there are countless herons, hornbills, bee eaters, rollers and other birds.
Paddling was a bit nerve-wracking at times, because by far the most deaths by animals in Africa are caused by hippos - .which pop up suddenly like those on the Safari Cruise at Disneyland. Although they look like doughy, pink and gray piggies, these are NOT cuddly creatures and they swim very fast. Evans advised, “If one charges you, get out of your canoe quickly, take off your life vest and SWIM for it!” (Theoretically, the hippo would chew on the big canoe, not puny little us.) We spent a lot of time scanning the water ahead, looking for clusters of little pink ears and googly eyes (hippos are herd animals and stick close together) and gave them wide berth!
The campsite was on an island. When we arrived, four camp workers had already put up sleeping tents and a bush toilet tent with wooden toilet seat suspended by a metal frame over a pit. There was even a shower - a bucket in a tree surrounded by canvas. As Evans worked on dinner, we sat around the campfire on folding canvas chairs while the sunset turned the river crimson and night fell.
The night was exciting. First, a herd of elephants that had been grazing on the island decided to swim across to the mainland. We heard them crashing around in the bushes on either side of the camp, sliding down the banks and splashing into the river. An African elephant is a LOT bigger than the Asian elephants we usually see in the U.S. - so the sounds they made were impressive. Meanwhile, we cowered quietly by the fire.
Joan wanted to go to the bush toilet before bed and begged Lou to come along to protect her, as hippos were grunting and snuffling nearby in the darkness. They come on land to graze at night - going as much as 15 miles to find grass. You're not supposed to come between a hippo and the water because they panic and attack. Great - how do you avoid doing that if they can be anywhere between the river and 15 miles away? Just when we reached the toilet enclosure, two hippos REALLY sounded off about 20 feet from us. Lou said, JUST HURRY UP! and Joan almost fell into the pit. We were scared enough to run wild-eyed back to the campfire - to everyone's amusement. That night we lay in the tent and listened to the elephants splash and the hippos snort and finally the excitement wore off and zzzzz.
At this point we’d been in Africa for about three weeks, most of the time out of Internet contact. Our daughter Shanna was so worried about us that she actually Googled "African Rafting Accident"! She probably was right to worry... Just imagine swirling around in The Devil's Toilet Bowl or hurtling headlong down into The Gnashing Jaws of Death! These are two of the 23 rapids our rafts ran for 15 miles in the Zambezi River - much of the time IN the river rather than ON it.
The four Safari Par Excellence rafts put into the Zambezi directly below Victoria Falls and its famous bridge.
Ours was the first group of rafts to go from the top this season. Earlier trips began at the easier rapid 7, but we ran rapids 1 through 23, including several "class 5" rapids. Lucky us!!
Each raft had six paddlers and a rowing guide in the back. One raft flew into the air and capsized in the very first rapid - The Boiling Pot - with seven people flung out in all directions. Another raft went upside down in Morning Glory, with paddlers scrambling to keep their helmeted heads above the roiling waters tumbling them into the pool below - where (according to our charming-but-not-always-believable-guide Vince) a four-meter crocodile resides.
The third raft also had problems. Two of its people catapulted out on Gulliver's Travels, and the guide and three other paddlers rocketed out on Midnight Diner Featuring the Muncher. (Don't you love the names of these rapids?) Our own raft was unbelievably battered and blasted. It nearly flipped a couple of times, and Lou almost launched himself overboard by paddling air with his body leaning into where a wave was supposed to be. But somehow we made it through - soaked and exhausted. It helped that all of us were experienced paddlers, while some of the other rafts had people holding their paddles backwards!
Two people actually drowned in these rapids three months before our trip, but they were kayakers not rafters, and didn't have the six kayaking lifeguards we did. (Rafters only die every other year.) They say this is one of the premier whitewater rafting trips in the world. We are now believers! It was much scarier and more exhilarating than our eight-day rafting trip down the Grand Canyon.
Climbing out of the gorge was hard work - 45 minutes of scrambling up the cliff walls on ladders made of tree branches. Joan says she made it only because cold beer was waiting at the top.
ITINERARY: Kasane, Chobe National Park, Maun, Moreme Reserve, Okavango Delta,
(to Namibia via Kalahari Desert)
BOTSWANA July 2005
CHOBE RIVER CRUISE
Sometimes we just have “dumb tourist luck” (otherwise known as serendipity.) Not knowing which direction we'd go in Botswana, we bused to the Zambian border, ferried the river and took the first mini-bus we saw. It was headed into the town of Kasane on the Chobe River, where we lucked into a just-cancelled room in a riverfront lodge offering sunset cruises. That evening we saw tons (literally) of elephants drinking from and crossing the river in “elephant-infested” Chobe National Park. There are 80,000 elephants in this park, and no one can figure out how to stop the rampant over-population that's destroying a wide swath of wilderness and neighboring farmland.
In a giant safari truck our guide "BK" took us and four other travelers on a three-day camping safari in the Moremi Reserve, where we followed a leopard, watched a skittish giraffe cautiously bend down to drink, and awoke during the night to listen to nearby hyenas and lions – as well as a troop of baboons that raced and chattered through our camp.
The big excitement was watching an enraged mother elephant spear and nearly turn over a safari vehicle driven by a stupid tourist who got too close to her baby. (In the photo, the elephant has already attacked once and is now chasing the departing vehicle.)
BK was indignant at the tourist’s dumb behavior, but then told about a guide in the Moremi Reserve who set up his tent and went to sleep in the middle of an elephant path. Sure enough, an elephant came down the path in the night. Lifting the tent with his tusks, he proceeded down the path into the river - where the tent floor failed and the guide suffered only a good wetting.
Botswana is known for the excellent wildlife in its Okavango Delta - where a major river flowing out of Angola spreads out and eventually disappears in the sand. The Delta is also known for being very expensive, as most of the safari lodges are five-star and must be reached via a bush plane. We splurged on a three-night stay at Kanana Lodge – at a price WAY outside our normal travel budget. We’re proud to have spent only 80 cents for a night in a Nepalese trekking lodge, but (even after negotiating a 65% discount) we’re too embarrassed to say what we spent here.
The luxury lodge was enjoyable, but we didn’t think it was worth the high price. Despite its remoteness, there wasn’t much big game around. The best parts were flying over the Delta, being pampered with good food and service, riding a Land Rover close to a hyena den, being poled around a bird-filled lagoon at sunset (a couple that accompanied us is shown below), and tracking a leopard into the bush on foot with an armed guide. Luckily, we didn’t encounter him!
Other photos of Zambia & Botswana
To make sure all that luxury didn't go to our heads, we hitchhiked from Botswana through the Kalahari Desert to Windhoek, Namibia. It took a full day to cross this deserted area - via some walking plus two private cars and two pickup trucks with local Africans, then in the back of a camper with German tourists. We welcomed this austerity to counter the excessive opulence of the Okavango safari lodge.
From here we went to: NAMIBIA & SOUTH AFRICA
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
GUIDEBOOK: East Africa (Lonely Planet)
BACKGROUND READING: AFRICA BOOK LIST
ZAMBEZI CANOE/CAMPING: The two-day trip was arranged through the Lower Zambezi River Camp, where we spent the night before and after camping. http://www.kiambi.co.za/kiambi_safari_lodge.htm
WHITEWATER RAFTING: Safari Par Excellence: http://www.safpar.com/ (Take a look at Victoria Falls in the photo gallery!)
MOREMI RESERVE: http://www.okavangocamp.com/audi-camp.htm
OKAVANGO DELTA: Kanana Lodge http://lodge.botswana.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=23&Itemid=62
Joan and Lou Rose firstname.lastname@example.org