Our Adventure to Chobe and Victoria Falls
The first trimester of the school term ended on Friday April 30th, with the usual amount of waiting around for a few procrastinating teachers to finish writing their reports. I spent the morning visiting with the learners and taking photos of them-since for some reason they all dress up on the last day of school. I learned several interesting things:
On Saturday, May 1st, we began our holiday the way most of our vacations here begin: by walking out to the road with our backpacks and waiting for a lift somewhere. We hadn’t planned anything for the first week of the school holiday since my parents are coming for a visit for the last two weeks. But we decided at the last minute to join our friends on an excursion to Chobe National Park in Botswana and Victoria Falls in Zambia.
Our first destination was Rundu, a town in northern Namibia, on the Okavango river. During the five hour bus ride, we ate apples, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and peanut butter-cinnamon cookies (they started out as oatmeal cookies, but the oatmeal was infested, so mid-recipe, post-cinnamon, they changed to PB cookies. It was an interesting new flavor.) This was our diet for most of the trip. We were hungry a lot.
We arrived in Rundu around dusk, and the “plan” was to meet these Kenyan teachers who were friends-of-friends-of Laura’s, one of the volunteers we were traveling with. We were going to camp in the yard at their school. One of the Kenyan teachers found us where the bus had dropped us, and we went over to a nearby rest-camp and got some refreshments. He was very friendly and easy to talk to. We stayed at the rest camp for about an hour, while more and more Kenyan teachers showed up. After everyone was assembled, we took two taxis out to the school, which was a private catholic senior secondary school, called St. Boniface College. We sat around the teacher’s house, watching TV and doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. We weren’t sure what was happening, exactly, and we were all getting really tired. Unbeknownst to us, our hosts had been preparing a traditional Kenyan meal over at another teacher’s house; as we were preparing for bed they came and invited us to eat. So at 11pm, we all trouped over there, and began to realize that we are living in the wrong part of Africa (a common theme for this trip). Instead of goat and oshithema, we had a tasty meal of macaroni, rice, beef, and kale. Then we retired to our beds. Instead of camping in the sand like we had expected to do, they gave us one of their houses to sleep in (most of the teachers were gone on holiday so there was extra space).
The next morning, we awoke to discover that the school was right on the Okavango river. We took a little walk down to the river and watched the local people fishing, gathering water, and bathing. Then we took a tour of the school, which was older than ours, but still quite nice. Then it was back to the house for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast. I think they were preparing us a more traditional breakfast, but the electricity went out, interrupting their cooking. We sat outside visiting while we waited for our pre-arranged taxi to collect us. 8am turned into 10am. I was impressed with the Kenyans because we had a real discussion with them, about politics in southern Africa, as well as the U.S. (they don’t like Bush). By the end of our stay, we all wanted to be living with Kenyans instead of Owambos.
Our taxi finally did come and take us back to the hike point, where we were lucky to arrange a hike to our next destination: Katima Mulilo, out in the Caprivi Strip (that long arm that sticks out of north eastern Namibia). After another 6 hour, squished, peanut-butter and jelly ride, we arrived at the Zambezi Lodge, where we pitched our tents right up against the Zambezi river for a mere N$20. The lodge itself was beautiful, with a swimming pool and outdoor restaurant. We treated ourselves to supper at the restaurant, where Zac had a delicious Kudu steak and I had a tasty stir-fry over pasta. It was the best meal of the trip.
So far, we had only been traveling with Jacque and Laura, but our friend Nate made the trip out in one day, and joined us around 1am. Monday morning, we planned to cross the border into Botswana, and so we tried to find a place to change our Namibian dollars into pula. No luck (although I traipsed everyone all over town because “I swore I saw a Bureau de Change on our way in”). So we went back to the hitch point, arranged a ride, and walked around the open market while waiting to leave. The lift took us to the Namibian side of the border, where we had to go through customs. We thought we were going to have to walk the 2km to the Botswana border, but a worker from the Zambezi lodge was also crossing, and he agreed to take us all the way through to Kasane.
Our destination in Botswana was the Chobe Safari Lodge, where a volunteer’s counterpart’s cousin worked (we were going to camp at his house). While waiting to meet him, we sat on some benches overlooking the Chobe river and ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It was one of those weird experiences where you think you are all alone, but then discover you are surrounded by hungry Vervet monkeys. We hurriedly consumed our sandwiches, knowing we were being watched. Nate, “just to see what would happen,” put the last bite of his sandwich on top of his head. What happened was a small monkey came up behind him, and with complete poise and self-control, calmly plucked the morsel off his head and put it into his mouth, to the envy of all the other monkeys. Jacque took a picture.
We were starting to give up on Reggie, Robby’s counterpart Vincent’s, cousin. So we paid in plastic and put up our tents near the flooded Chobe river, and walked into town in search of food and a money exchange. We found an ATM and withdrew some pula, then went to the grocery store where we bought Viennas (sausages) and bread for supper, plus more bread and peanut butter for the next day. Since it was dark by now, we took a taxi back to the safari lodge, where the monkeys were sleeping high in the trees, and we ate our sausages in peace. We spent the evening staring at all the rich people at the lodge who could pay the 90 pula to eat the restaurant buffet and joking about how we were too poor to even sit with the rich people.
We noticed that there were people there with expensive video equipment and they appeared to be filming a show. It turns out it was a travel show to promote tourism in Africa, and we almost felt like we were watching TV. We laughed heartily as the host made faces after trying a mopane worm (they’re disgusting) and looked on jealously as he sampled the game steaks and stews (they’re delicious). Later, after they had all moved over to the bar, Laura and Nate decided to pay the 12 pula for the dessert buffet (the rest of us drank water-much to the waiter’s chagrin), so we got to sit with the rich people after all.
We were now observing the bar, and mocking the ego of the host, who was playing a guitar and singing to his TV show groupies, and saying how certainly we wouldn’t be fawning over some TV personality. But, as fate would have it, the host’s audience had dwindled, so he personally invited us to come sit over there, and we obliged. The show had three people. There was the singer guy, the comedian guy (who joked about the experiences one could have by taking malaria pills with alcohol on an empty stomach), and the wrestling woman. She was the last act. She bet these old white British men that she could beat them in wrestling. She removed her shawl to display her extremely large shoulders and biceps, and then promptly defeated a couple of the elderly gents. It was weird.
I wasn’t sure how much more madness we would be subjected to, when Reggie appeared, and rescued us. He apologized for having been gone when we arrived, and he drove us out to Vincent’s house, where we also met Robby. We all planned to meet the next morning, and Reggie would take us on a game drive and a river cruise. I slept well that night, but was occasionally awoken by screaming animals. (Reggie told me later that it was baboons fighting.)
For the game drive, we all sat in one of those safari vehicles with the high seats mounted in the back of a pickup truck. We felt like bona fide tourists. Although, as we had ample opportunity to observe, we didn’t look like the other tourists. We were too young, too thin, and too non-khaki to be mistaken for those real tourists. Reggie did a great job driving (almost as good as Solomo). We got several fake charges from elephants, and he even drove the vehicle right into the water so we could get a better photo of a group of elephants drinking. We also saw water buffalo. In the afternoon, he took us on a river cruise, where we got charged by a hippo and nearly ran into an elephant that was taking a stroll through the river. We also saw crocodiles, more elephants, and even a leopard. The leopard was especially lucky, as Reggie does game drives every day and hasn’t seen one since last year. So now we’ve seen all of the Big Five: elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, and leopard.
That night, we bought a bunch of meat and had a braii (barbeque) at Reggie’s and watched the total eclipse of the full moon. We also bought marshmallows, chocolate and marie biscuits (the closest thing to graham crackers) and introduced our new Botswanan friends to s’mores. Then, just like with the Kenyans, Reggie gave us the keys to his house and said, see you in the morning. So we didn’t camp after all, because Reggie claimed that elephants would come into the yard and trample us. He showed us where his fence was damaged by elephants and he said he used to have a banana tree but they ate it. We’re still not sure if he was telling the truth, although he swore he was.
Wednesday morning, Reggie drove all of us from Kasane to the border, where we took a rudimentary ferry (there used to be two, but one sank) across the Zambezi river. Since the river was flooded, we had to take off our shoes and walk barefoot through the water and were thus baptized onto the Zambian shore. After going through customs, we found a taxi bus to take us into Livingstone. We had been in the bus for only a few seconds when someone came to the window and said, “Do you want grass? I’m selling free grass!” We assured him we didn’t want any marijuana.
In Livingstone, we were staying at Jolly Boys Backpacker’s Hostel, owned by two Canadian women. We each paid US$25 for two night’s accommodation, two dinners, two drinks, a Zambian visa and a free lift to Victoria Falls. It was a good deal. We saw the Israeli guy, whom we had met at the grocery store in Kasane. He said he had the same tent as Nate, and had bought it at Galyans at Easton Town Center just north of Columbus, Ohio when he was at OSU giving a lecture about Israel a year and half ago. How’s that for coincidence?
We walked into town and changed our money into kwatcha. We were instant millionaires. US$1 equals K4,500. It was really funny (sort of) to hear beggars say, “Can you give me a thousand?” We then found a place to eat, and discovered that the food is better in Zambia. For lunch I ate a chicken pie and an ice cream cone and it only set me back six grand. We walked to the tourist market, and bartered for some Zambian souvenirs. Then we went to the real market, and just looked around at everything. It was much better than the markets in Namibia, especially our part of Namibia. They had lots of cloths, fruits, vegetables, etc. Just about everything was there. And the people didn’t freak out to see white people visiting their market (although it clearly wasn’t common). People in Zambia speak a lot better English than in Namibia, probably because they were colonized by England and have had longer to learn it. So it was easy for us to converse with people in the market.
Nate made out the best of any of us. Zac and I found him sitting down in a stall, surrounded by women, and eating out of no less than three pots. I tried some of the food, and it was excellent (once again-we’re living in the wrong part of Africa). Everywhere Nate goes, women feed him. He’s a large football player from Texas who made crop circles in his spare time, and people just like to feed him.
We took a taxi from the market back to our hostel, with four of us in the back, and one up front, like we normally do in Namibia. But apparently that’s not ok in Zambia. At a police check point, the driver got into trouble for “over loading.” Nate, sitting in the front, tried to explain that we were a group and had to stay together and that it wasn’t the driver’s fault, we’d talked him into it, etc. It wasn’t exactly true, because we asked the driver if it was ok to put four in the back and he said it was fine. It was just strange to see police actually doing things. In Namibia, they don’t do anything.
Back at Jolly Boys, Anand (another volunteer) met up with us. He had got his Peace Corps passport stolen a week before the trip, and had to wait for his personal passport to be shipped from home, before he could come to Zambia. We all ate outside together, even although the night was chilly. For supper, there was a buffet of traditional Zambian food. I’m not sure exactly what I ate, but it was good. Their “porridge” is made from maize instead of millet like they do in Namibia. It tastes much better.
On Thursday, we went to Victoria Falls and got wet. The waterfall is enormous (343 feet tall and a kilometer wide), but it is difficult to see because there is so much spray. You can’t see the bottom of it, or even the full length of it. There are four approaches to the falls. First, we hiked down to the “boiling pot” where all the water comes out of the canyon at the bottom. We walked through a beautiful tropical forest, through a muddy stream, over boulders and emerged at the edge of the water. From there, we couldn’t see the falls at all, but we could see the bridge from Zambia to Zimbabwe and watched people bungee jump off of it.
Secondly, we walked to the top view of the falls. We could see the river drop off the cliff and into oblivion at a rate of more than 36,000 cubic feet per second. We also saw baboons eating banana peals out of the trash.
Thirdly, we walked across the “knife edge bridge” which goes across the canyon in front of the falls. We got completely drenched and couldn’t see a thing because there was such a thick cloud of mist and spray. (Imagine walking into a cold shower with your clothes on.) But it was the most fun. On the other side, we walked around and got occasional glimpses of the falls, depending on how the wind was blowing.
Fourthly, we walked across the Zambia-Zimbabwe bridge, which is far enough away to give one a good perspective of how far the falls drops, but again, due to the mist, not a very good view of the actual falls. We walked over and touched Zimbabwean soil, but couldn’t officially go in the country without paying US$30 for an entry visa. On our way back over the bridge, we watched a guy bungee jump. It looked really fun. It was somewhere between the Zambian border post and the bridge that I traded some guy my sunglasses for a carved wooden hippopotamus.
But for me, the best part of the Vic Falls trip was seeing baboon martial arts in the ravine behind the curio shop. There was a whole group of baboons chasing each other and fighting-it was like gang warfare. You never get to see them fight at the zoo. They just sit there passively and try to make humans feel guilty for fighting all the time. But now I know what it’s really like. And of course the winner got to mate with the female at the end of it all.
On Friday, it was time to head back to Namibia. Our friends were staying in Zambia another day, but we had to get home in time to be in Windhoek to meet my parents. We were told a bus left for Sesheke, on the border, at 8 am. It turned out the bus didn’t leave until 10 am, so we booked our seats, dropped off our luggage, and went to the tourist market to spend our remaining 30,000 kwatcha on whatever we could get. Zac spent all the kwatcha plus US$5 on some carved ironwood heads. But it turns out that in Zambia, people like to trade things. I’m not sure why, exactly, because they don’t do it in Namibia. The only thing I had with me was my small backpack with food in it for our trip (apples, bread, peanut butter). So I was just joking with one of the salesmen when I said I would give him apples for something. It turns out that apples are quite popular, because they don’t grow naturally there. I traded three apples for a stone fish necklace, one apple for a small carved mask, 4 apples and a bun for a large wooden warthog, a pen, half a pack of chewing gum and a bun for a wooden elephant and carved bone elephant necklace (he wanted my toothbrush, but I said I needed it). All the salesmen had a nice breakfast that day.
Amazingly, our bus left at exactly 10 am, and arrived Sesheke by 12:30. We got a ride in a bakkie to the Zambian border post, walked 250 meters to the Namibian border post, went through customs, got a taxi and arrived in Katima Mulilo by 2pm. We quickly got in a bus headed for Ondangwa, although after an hour of driving around picking up various things and people, we found ourselves in the exact spot we started. But at 3pm we really left for Ondangwa. The 12 hour ride would have been tolerable if it were not for one loud, drunk, SWAPO* enthusiast who alternated between arguments, speeches, and songs for the entire trip, only ceasing for one hour when he passed out. So we arrived home at the wee hour of 3am, glad to be home and completely exhausted.
*SWAPO is South West African Peoples Organization, the current ruling political party in Namibia.
Sunday we head down to Windhoek to meet my parents. We’ll spend several days in the capital and then head out on a 7 day tour of southern Namibia. Then we go back up north to visit Etosha and the Arcaro Rest Camp. School starts up again on May 26th.
Love, Sera & Zac