After returning late Thursday evening (October 8) from Swaziland, I only had Friday morning at the orphanage before it was time to say goodbye (for now) and head off for a new adventure. Marian and I would be picked up and spend the night in the hostel before flying out the next day. We spent the morning in the nursery as usual, then I finished packing and we hung out until Thabo (from Awesome Travel) arrived with the newest volunteer, Amber from New Zealand. I gave her a tour of the orphanage and then we convinced her to go back to the hostel and spend the afternoon with us. It was also Magda’s last day, but she was getting a ride directly to the airport from the orphanage, so we had to say goodbye to her as we were all heading to the hostel. It was sad as she’s such a sweet girl and we really enjoyed spending time with her.
So off to the hostel we went, then headed to the mall to meet the others and do some shopping and have lunch. Then it was time to say goodbye again and then it was just Marian and I. We headed back to the hostel and there was another volunteer there, as well as Harry and Pietr (Awesome Travel employees). We ended up playing this crazy game with a cardboard box, or more accurately, the side of a cardboard box. You stand it on the floor and you have to pick it up with just your mouth and your hands can’t touch the floor. Once everyone has picked it up, you tear a piece off and try again, until you can’t do it anymore. We ended up getting down to pretty much just a flat piece of cardboard on the floor. It was SO much fun, you end up in all kinds of crazy yoga positions trying to pick it up! You don’t realize how flexible you can be until you’re in a competition and determined to win!
The next morning Harry drove me to the airport and I flew from Joburg to the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I knew I needed a visa, but I completely forgot that you had to pay it in American dollars and I had forgotten to get some before I left. (Side note: I didn’t know it at the time, but Zimbabwe uses American money as its currency. It no longer has its own currency, since it had been so hyper-inflated and devalued. You could have a $100 trillion banknote, which sounds like so much money, but it was basically worthless). I got to the counter and they told me there was an ATM on the other side, so off I went. Except the ATM wouldn’t accept my debit card. Or my credit card. And then I started to panic. But then a nice security guard came over to help me and told me that I could borrow the $75 from a cab driver and then he would drive me to my hostel and stop at an ATM on the way. Since I didn’t have any other options, I went with it, and he called a cab driver over. The cab driver didn’t actually have enough money on him, so he ended up borrowing the money from a store clerk to give to me, and that is how I paid for my tourist visa! Kind of a crazy system, but it works, and it totally saved me! Of course it was more expensive to get the cab into town than the bus, but it’s not like I had much of a choice at that point. Checked into Shoestrings Backpackers and went for a walk around town and man, was it ever HOT! I was happy to come back to the hostel, take a shower and just chill for the evening with some girls I met in my dorm room. The hostel was pretty good, there was a really good bar there, so a lot of local people would come and hang out on the weekends, which is fun.
The next morning I headed down the road to the Rainbow Hotel, which was the departure for my 8 day tour with Nomad Africa Adventure Tours. I checked in and filled out my paperwork and met our guide, Norman, and the rest of the group as they arrived. We were only 11 people, which was nice. Other than me, there were 2 German couples, 2 other Germans, 2 French girls and an older Australian couple. There was also a driver named Floyd and a German translator named Ruth. After we finished all the paperwork it was time to head out to see the actual Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world! It is actually pretty incredible, even in the dry season (when I was there) when some sections are almost dry. Apparently in the rainy season the spray is so strong that you get completely soaked and you can’t really take pictures. Even at the end of the dry season the spray in some sections was strong enough that we could feel it. I’d love to go back when it’s at full peak and see what it looks like, it must be really incredible. It’s crazy long, so you have to walk a lot to get from one end to the other and there are different sections for different falls, so you can’t really see all of the falls at once (unless you do a scenic flight). There are lots of activities you can do in and around the falls, like white water-rafting, zip-lining, bungee-jumping, scenic flights and many more. Unfortunately, the ones I was interested in doing (white-water rafting and Devil’s Pool) were all-day activities and so I never had time since I was only there for half a day before the tour started. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to go back one day!
Afterwards we went back to the hotel and relaxed in the pool and at the swim-up bar. I ended up having a little run-in with the Australian lady in the pool (when she butted into a conversation that I was having with the German translator), and that set the tone for the rest of my interactions with her, which kind of sucked, especially since her husband was pretty cool, but whatever. Then we went for a group dinner to get to know each other, which was nice. I was hanging out with the French girls at the hotel bar later on and we started talking to this guy from the States who was sitting next to us. We ended up bonding over how sad we were about the lack of Nyquil and Pepto Bismol in South Africa and that we’d forgotten ours at home, lol! But you know what you CAN get there instead of Nyquil? Benylin with codeine! It worked really well, lol. Wait, can you get that in Canada? Maybe you can and I just never knew, since I’ve never had to ask the pharmacist for cold medicine before.
Ok, enough medicine questions, back to the trip! We left Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe the next morning and headed to Botswana (did you know that Botswana was never really colonized? It was only ever a British Protectorate). 30 min into our drive, we’d already spotted some lions by the side of the road (as well as their fresh kill), some buffalo and a herd of elephants, so we were off to a good start having already spotted 3 of the Big 5!
After lunch at the campsite we went for a 2 hour drive in Chobe National Park. It’s really nice and has one of the biggest concentrations of animals in Africa. And because it was dry season, we got to see a LOT of animals, as they are all concentrated around the few areas with water (during the wet season they disappear into the bush, so you’re less likely to see them). After the game drive, we did a 3 hour sunset cruise in the park, which was so beautiful. We got to see the animals up close and personal and watch a gorgeous sunset, while chilling on the boat. It was a perfect way to end the day.
Tuesday we left Botswana and crossed the border into Namibia. We spent the entire day driving to get to our next campsite. Not much happened that day, but there was a group of really drunk Afrikaner guys who taught us how to do a springbokkie shot, which was pretty fun! I tried to find a video to show you the dance, but I couldn’t find a good one.
Wednesday we drove back into Botswana, then took a speedboat to head to Jumbo Junction. From there our group split up, the people camping staying at that campsite and the three of us in accommodated as well as Ruth the German translator drove to our campsite Kana Kara, doing a game drive along the way. It was pretty amazing as we saw elephants, ostriches, zebras, warthogs, a hippo and best of all, a pride of 9 lions!!! A male, two lionesses and 6 cubs, it was pretty surreal. They were all just laying there, resting in the grass, not caring that we were just a few feet away (they see the truck as one elephant-sized animal, and the smell of the diesel helps to mask our smell). We sat there for a good ten minutes just watching them and taking pictures (of course this is when my camera battery decided to die, so I only have iPhone pics). Then the guide went to start the truck to continue the journey, only to discover that the truck wouldn’t start. He kept trying and trying but it just wouldn’t start. Ruth kind of started to panic at this point, but I wasn’t too worried, I figured as long as we were out of there before it started getting dark we’d be okay. Unfortunately since we were next to 9 lions, it’s not like the guide could get out of the truck to check the engine and see what the problem was! So he radioed the other truck to come and get us, but it turned out that truck was also stuck somewhere on the grounds with some tourists, so they couldn’t help us. At this point, everyone was starting to panic, lol. But the guide kept trying and he eventually got the truck to start and we made it to our camp safe and sound.
The camp was amazing, it was definitely “glamping” (glamourous camping). Each tent had 3 rooms, the bedroom section, the toilet section (fully functioning) and the Bucket-shower section. It was really nice! And we had 3 course meals and dessert, our food was cooked for us and we were waited on, I highly recommend it! We also had a great bonfire every evening. The camp has no fences, so when you are ready to go to bed, one of the guides must bring you, as sometimes there can be animals in the camp such as elephants or hippos, so you can’t walk around in the dark without a guide. You can hear the animals walking around at night, it’s really cool! The first night I could hear a hippo munching on the grass not far from my tent (he was a very loud chewer). Apparently there is an elephant that often likes to sleep next to the tree in front of my tent, but he never did while I was there. The guides also wake you up in the morning and let you know that it is safe to leave the tent. It sounds kind of scary, but the campsite is very safe and it is really beautiful and the staff are lovely. The only other people there with us was a French family, the parents who were in their 70s and their son who was in his late 40s. They were really nice, although the mom only spoke French, the dad spoke a bit of English and some German, and only the son could really speak English. We also had 3 course meals for dinner plus dessert, which was a nice change from having to help prepare and clean up after our meals when we were with the rest of the tour group. The food was so yummy (freshly baked bread!) although the dinner conversation was a bit stilted with the 3 French, the 2 Germans, me and Ruth (the translator) in the middle and then the guides who spoke English and various African languages, but we managed!
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