Africa: Safari Day 1

Cam and I were driven to the Zambia-Botswana border to catch the ferry across intoBotswana.  We arrived at the water port and there were people, cars and trucks everywhere!  Our driver told us that some of these trucks would be waiting for days to cross the border, as there were only two ferries and each ferry could only fit one truck and a few cars on at a time.  And further to that, more often than not there was only one ferry in operation as the other had broken down!   We were shown where to buy our tickets, and at 8,000 Kwatcha it equaled about $2.60 each, and we walked down to wait for the ferry.  It was quite a monumental location I thought, as I was standing on the waters edge where four African countries intersected in the middle of the river.  I was currently standing inZambia, and directly across from me wasBotswana.  To my left wasZimbabwe, and to my right wasNamibia.  There were no signs or formal recognition of the borders; it was just generally known that the borders were there.   I guess I was a little fascinated as Australia is so isolated compared to places like Africa and Europe, as we don’t have the whole crossing country borders option.  This was just like crossing a state border back home, it was that informal.

While we waited for the ferry we were approached by an African guy trying to sell us some wooden carvings. Camwas very quick to say no and keep walking, but the guy kept following us.  WhenCamcontinued to ignore him he started on me, “My sister, would you help me and buy some of my things?”  I said no, but he wouldn’t let up. Camsaid he’d buy the guy’s cool hat but he didn’t want to sell it.  He continued to follow us for a short while, until he got the picture that we were going to continue to ignore him.  I was grateful thatCamwas with me as it was my first experience with the pushy, in your face Africans who would try to sell you anything, and it was a shock to the system.  I’m not used to people ignoring me when I say no, but it was obvious you had to be really definite in your answer and not feel rude by just walking away and ignoring them.  They are very good at continually pestering and harassing you until you buy something, as I discovered when I went shopping at the markets back in Livingstone inZambia, but for now I just wanted to enjoy myself and not get hassled by anyone.  Granted I stood out like a sore thumb, being the only white woman in sight, so I was gladCamwas there, even though he was white too, they took him more seriously as he was a guy.

We waited a while for the ferry, and walked on with the other passengers when it finally arrived.  No one came to check our tickets, although we did get a few stares being the only white skinned people on board.  I was starting to relax and enjoy the experience, though not enough to take my eyes off my bag.  You couldn’t help but be taken as a tourist there, not only from your skin colour, but with your bags, your passports clutched in hand, and your wide eyes soaking up every little detail, you were an easy mark.  Even our clothes gave us away as foreigners, as everyone else was in mismatched items of clothes or cloth wrappings on the women.  The operators of the boat were not even easily distinguished from the passengers as there did not appear to be any sort of uniformity amongst the workers.  Everyone just wore their own thing, so you weren’t sure who was who.  A police boat went past as we were waiting, and the uniform (or lack there of) was plain for all to see.  There were three African guys on the boat, it was painted blue and had ‘POLICE MARINE’ printed in white on the side, but for all I could tell it was just three guys who had a mock police boat.  One guy was wearing a red t-shirt, one a grey t-shirt and the other guy had a cream and white coloured polo shirt on.  Strange.

Once we’d reached theBotswanaside of the river every person and vehicle departed the ferry in a very disorderly fashion, basically every person for his or herself.  If you made it safely to the shore in one piece you were doing well!  We were met by a member of staff from the Elephant Valley Lodge, where we were staying.  Even this was a novelty for me, as I’d not had to do anything organisational since booking the trip a few months prior.  Since I usually travel fairly independently and do everything at minimal cost, I was a new comer to the organised tour operations and having people ready to transport and pick you up was an interesting experience.  It was great, I can see how one could become accustomed to the lifestyle, for it required very little thought on my part.  I marveled at Cam though, as he’d been the one who’d not only successfully run our trip on the river, he’d also booked and organised the safari part of my trip all while taking out other trips in the lead up to mine.  I was impressed that a guy was so good at doing what I usually do.  I’m sorry guys, I know some of you are good organisers and would be able to do just as good a job, but I hadn’t had anyone do it all for me before so I was suitably impressed.  I could also seeCambegin to visibly relax, as everything went to plan and he could now enjoy his two days off the river and away from being the guide.  He could now be the customer who was pampered and waited on.  We stopped at the border control building to produce our passports and our entry slips to a very sour faced big black woman.  She stared at our pictures and then at us, and asked how long we were staying, before whacking the entry stamp down in each passport and sending us on our way.  I was excited, I had another stamp!  I’d collected a few in the last few weeks, and it’s a sign of prestige in any traveler’s eyes. Cam’s passport was to die for; he had heaps of pages filled up.  I was slightly jealous!

As we were driven to the lodge, we passed probably nearly one hundred trucks waiting to cross the border.  I was extremely excited when I saw a red truck with the company name of ‘Hakuna Matata’.  Anyone who has seen the movie ‘The Lion King’ will know what I’m talking about – Hakuna Matata is the name of one of the songs, and is translated to mean “Live life, no worries”. Camlooked at me strangely when I got so excited about the company name on a truck, until I explained it to him.  I thought it was a one off sighting, until I quickly realised that there were many of these trucks lined up and my first sighting was not so rare! It still made me laugh though!  We followed the border betweenBotswanaandZimbabweto get to the lodge, and again, there was no formal sign or fence or anything other than a dirt track to signify the location where the two countries joined.

Upon arrival at the lodge I was captivated once again with the attention to detail around the place.  There was an elephant head carved into the thatch roof at the reception desk, and the interior of the place (considering that there never seemed to be floor to ceiling walls inAfricaand everything was quite open) was cool and dark.  Almost like they’d shut up shop and gone home, except it was the middle of the day and there were no doors to shut!  We were allocated tent number 16 – but when I say tent I don’t mean a little two man dome tent; I’m talking a huge tent raised off the ground, with a verandah and a rear partition for the bathroom, which even included a toilet and shower!  In all honesty I would describe it more as a canvas cabin.  You had to walk up three steps onto the verandah to reach the wooden fly screen sliding doors.  Once through the doors you entered another high quality, exceptionally African, accommodation.  I was captivated by the originality of each place we stayed, and this was no exception.  We had dark wooden floorboards, two huge king single beds with the thickest and most comfortable mattress I’ve ever slept on, with layers of soft sheets and blankets for warmth, bedside tables with lamps, a dark wooden dresser with tea and coffee condiments, and a bathroom in a separate zippered section at the rear of the cabin.

The only resemblance to an actual tent was the entrance to the bathroom, and the windows, which were the usual Velcro and fly wire set up.  You had to unzip a fly wire layer and a canvas layer to get to the toilet, sink and shower, so any time you heard a zipping noise you knew where that person was headed!  The floorboards in the rear section were sagging slightly in the centre, so you sat on the toilet with one knee higher than the other, but I liked this oddity – it offset the rest of the perfectness.  I was enthralled by the shower here too.  I’d noticed a trend with the showers in all the places we stayed – they were all essentially open air, and extremely unique.  I’d had the waterfall shower at the Bushfront Lodge on the first night, then the view over the river shower at Songwe Point Lodge on the last night of the rafting trip, and now the Elephant Valley Lodge shower.  A tree branch.  I kid you not, the corner of the bathroom allocated to the shower was completely open, and had a base made from bamboo slats, with a tree branch approximately 15 centimeters in diameter standing vertically on the side opposite the canvas wall.  The taps for the shower were attached to the branch, and the shower head was located on the top of the branch, facing the wall.  The water was as hot or cold as you desired, and would fall through the small gaps in the bamboo slats and drain away.  Simple, elegant and astounding.  I loved it all!

While I was exploring my newest abodeCamhad made a beeline for the coffee and was sitting on the verandah, unwinding.  I went to talk to him outside and my jaw dropped again – we faced directly towards a large water hole and elephants were coming to drink and play.  Wow!  They were less than 100 meters from us!!  I never got tired of watching these huge animals interact – they were mesmerizing creatures.

We had a buffet lunch, and met some other Aussies; one lady picked my nationality from my accent, so she said.  I didn’t know I even had an accent, and when I stated the sameCamassured me that I did, and it came with a particular twang too I was told.  Interesting, I have an accent?!  I felt like it was something I’d just acquired on this trip – obviously not – yet no one points it out to you at home, so it was a new revelation for me.  I quite liked the idea that I came with an identifying feature such as an accent, and even more interesting was the fact that others could place my home country just from my speech.  Hmm, I had a unique distinguishing characteristic that wasn’t really unique at all!  Ha ha, I love these little quirks of life.  The food served for lunch was amazing, and plentiful, and I ate my fill.  We had some time to explore the rest of the lodge before we went on the drive safari, and I took my time looking around.  There was a large covered, yet open area adjacent to the bar where you could relax in a comfortable chair, read a book, have a drink (or two!), or simply sit and watch the elephants.  There was a large aqua blue swimming pool that was common to many of these lodges, yet didn’t appear to get used.  Not while we were there anyway.  But there was always one attendant diligently cleaning the pool, scraping away any leaves and other debris that accumulated during the night.

After my exploration of the lodge, we went on the first safari.  This was a drive safari through theChobeNational Park.  We were driven to the park in these huge Landrover open air vehicles, very authentically “safari” like.  We saw an amazing array of animals, giraffes, elephants, gazelles, water buffalo, hippopotamus, warthogs, vultures, and a few other bird species.  I was enthralled by the size of the elephants when they were close to us.  They were so big!  And their tales sounded like wire bristles as they swished them past their huge bums and slapped on their sides.  I was still on a mission to get a good photo of a hippo, but all I managed on that safari was a picture of three standing on land but at a fair distance away, and the occasional ears and nose out of the water.  While I was filming – or rather, attempting to film – the hippos, I saw the most amazing sunset over the marshy flats of the park. Camgot a photo of the scene I filmed, and it was a photo that I’d expect to see in National Geographic – it was simply transfixing.  The scene was bursting with bright red, orange and yellows, emanating from the burning white ball in the centre that was the sun. The colours creating a brilliant radiance around the sun then faded into the smoky haze of the rest of the sky, before being reflected back from the mirror flat waters of the river and swamp.  There were two elephants standing near the water, eating their fill and oblivious to the magic surrounding them.  The water was still, not a ripple dared break the surface, and the reflection of the elephants was perfect.  As I sat spellbound by the view, I became aware of the symphony of bird calls, filling the air, louder and louder, joining with the colours of the sunset to create a soul stirring moment in time.  I was wakened from my reverie by the choke and splutter of our vehicle growling to life, and we moved on.

As we left the park that night we saw a hyena.  The light was quickly disappearing, and I only managed to get one good photo of the animal, but it was exactly as depicted in The Lion King.  Slinking out of the darkness, towards the scent of humans, and stopping at the edge of the clearing to assess his options.  Our party moved on before I could observe any more, and the hyena disappeared out of sight.  We headed back to the lodge for a dinner outside, at tables lit by soft lights and overlooking the elephant swimming hole.  I ate kudo chops (similar to lamb chops, but finished with a slightly nutty flavour), and listened to a South African couple talk about their move fromJohannesburgtoZambiato start a business.  I was exhausted, although relaxed and content, and soon went to bed.  Those mattresses were wonderfully comfortable, and I slept like a baby that night.

I was nearing the end of my trip, I had one more day inBotswana, then two more inZambiabefore I left.  I’ll send another update as soon as I can.

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