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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Zimbabwe, Mama Africa

 

As promised from earlier in the day, I leave Victoria Falls, Zambia with a private driver from Zimbabwe and his two guests from China who have just completed a tour with me. I am sort of getting a free local tour guide for which I am grateful.

 

 

IMG_4622From the official Zambia border crossing office it is about a 20-30 minute leisurely walk across no man's land to the Zimbabwe border.

However, we get to walk across the bridge we saw earlier during our tour.

 

 

It is a one way at a time multi-purpose bridge that crosses the gouge of Victoria Falls. Here is where you can do bungee jumping if you still need an adrenaline rush after living life on the edge at Devil's Pool. One fix a day is enough for me so I pass on the generous offers.

 

 

 

SAM_0446Bridge Across Victoria Falls Gouge

 

 

Nonetheless, I do appreciate the views of the falls and the river rapids from the bridge as we compete with semi trucks, cyclists and other pedestrians while making our crossing.

 

 

SAM_0445Add a train going by on the nearby track and this could be quite an experience.

 

 

 

 

 

As we continue our walk to the border I get the opportunity to learn from the driver a bit about Zimbabwe and the struggles it's people face to survive. The once somewhat prosperous country is in shambles because of a corrupt government that kills those that oppose it.

The country does not have it's own currency and it's economy runs on the American Dollar. With an almost 80 percent unemployment rate, given the opportunity many of it's citizens seek work in other nearby countries like South Africa.

Approaching the Zimbabwe border we are welcomed to the country by a few Goodwill Ambassadors, a warthog and her three little kids. Clearing immigration and customs, we wait a few minutes while the driver retrieves his car. It was left at the border due the red tape of import and export regulations at both the Zimbabwe and Zambia border crossing.

It is much easier to just make the 20-30 minute walk between the borders or you can take a regular or bicycle taxi for a few bucks.

 

 

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A less than 10 minute drive from the border and I am dropped off at Mama Africa an “Eating House” in the town of Victoria Falls. An open restaurant with a colorful decor, it is easy to take a quick liking to Mama Africa.

 

 

IMG_4688A browse of the menu and a sip of a cold local beer and I know I have been steered in the right culinary direction. From Pickled Fish, to Elephant Turd T-Bone, Crocodile Tail and various pot stews, Mama Africa offers a nice selection to fit most anyone's taste bud.

 

 

 

 

IMG_4693Traditional Zimbabwe Pot Stew

 

I select the pot stew a traditional Zimbabwe dish which is served with pap (made from maize) and chomollia, “The Green Stuff” which is like spinach.

 

 

IMG_4692For US$14, I have a lunch with two beers that is delicious.

It satisfies one of the reasons I love to travel, the joy of a belly full of local food.

 

 

 

A quick stroll near Mama Africa and I enjoy with nice memories a beautiful Poinciana Tree that was a playful part of my youth growing up in the Bahamas. Under the clear blue sky with a blaring sun it's flowers seem to sparkle like I remember them from many moons ago.

 

 

 

SAM_0443Poinciana Tree

 

Although it is relatively hot, the weather is still nice enough that a walk back to the border seems in order. Leaving the town, I stand inches from a freight train as it crosses a track in front of me. No guard rails or railroad crossing signs just common sense required not to get hit by a train.

I have a little unknown company as I make my way to the border and soon we are crossing over another set of railroad tracks a part of the not so extensive Zimbabwe Railway system. I am not a big souvenirs collector and refuse offers from street vendors along the way.

However, I find two offers interesting. For US$1 I can purchase I think a $5 Million Zimbabwe Note which of course is worthless but is believed to be the highest official country denomination ever printed. Now, I wish I had spent the buck.

The other offer, my pair of shoes which I am wearing for a Rain Stick. Being from South Florida, I would not have much use for a Rain Stick especially in the summer. However, I truly wished that I could have given him my shoes but I don't think I would have survived an hour barefoot walk back to the Zambia border.

Entertaining these offers I have lost pace with my unknown company who is rapidly pulling away. Carrying a huge push cart full of merchandise in 90 degree weather, I admire his stamina as I guess his human spirit has found a way to combat an 80% unemployment rate.

 

 

SAM_0444Although my visit to Zimbabwe was short it did give me the chance to meet new people, taste new foods and experience another way of life.

All good reasons why the time was well spent.

 

 

 

 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Zambia, The Devil's Pool

 

 

IMG_4614As a part of my tour to Victoria Falls and Livingstone Island I get an awesome chance to do something not many mere mortals have had the opportunity to do.

 

 

 

We are told our next stop has been visited by none other than the main man from below. I am sure he has swam here to cool off but I am doing it just for the “Hell” of it and because I want to experience life on the edge!

 

 

IMG_4674A quick change into swim trunks and we are in the Zambezi River on a guided swim towards Devil's Pool.

Fortunately, the water is somewhat clear and refreshing with just a mild current as it flows towards the edge of Victoria Falls.

 

 

 

 

IMG_4665Devil's Pool is an area of about twelve feet deep water located at the edge of the main fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4651Devil’s Pool At Victoria Falls

 

Here only a few feet of a natural rock barrier separates you from a three thousand feet or so (give or take a few inches) plunge to a watery death. A certainty when the Zambezi River is rushing over it in the rainy season.

We are told there are two options to get into Devil's Pool. However, unlike our tour guide who makes a leaping swan dive in, we all opt for the more timid “crawl and jump in” approach.

 

 

IMG_4650Since I am traveling alone I get to watch as our guide takes the other two adventurers to the edge of the pool. I can easily tell that at first it is not a comfortable feeling for them.

I wonder why?

 

 

 

It is then my turn to crawl and jump into one of Satan's playgrounds. The swirling water is refreshingly cool and I can see why he might have enjoyed hanging out here. For a moment, I even lose my sense of the lurking danger nearby. In a few minutes, I am sitting on a wall as the Zambezi River streams by me and continues it's crashing descent to the valley below.

 

 

IMG_4659As I follow our guide's instruction, I erase from my mind that I am lying on my stomach three thousand feet above a gouge at the edge the world's largest waterfall.

I am secured only by his grip on one of my ankles.

 

 

 

 

IMG_4672Somewhat relaxed, I slide my body forward and look down into the watery abyss.

It is a totally awesome sight and a spectacular sensation.

 

 

 

However, I am thankful for “The Smoke That Thunders” as it skews my depth perception and probably saved my heart from popping out of my chest.

 

 

IMG_4666Living Life On The Edge

 

 

My thrill is kicked up a notch when as I am laying on my back my body is further extended over the falls while my one secured (and lucky) leg is held in the air.

I have just truly experienced living life on the edge and I did it at one of the seven wonders of the world, Victoria Falls.

 

 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Zambia, Walking Across Victoria Falls

 

It is another hot and dry morning as I leave Jollyboys Backpacker Hostel headed for the central downtown market. Today, I am in for a treat not just because it is Halloween and I love candy but because I am on my way to experience one of the seven wonders of the world.

Arriving just outside the central outdoor open market I find myself at the local Livingstone transportation hub. Here I hop in a community taxi with three other passengers for a shared ride to Victoria Falls about 10 miles away. My portion of the cab fare, about US$1.25.

Having arranged a tour earlier at Jollyboys for US$55, leaving the taxi drop off point it is a short walk to “The Shop That Thunders” where I register for my tour. As luck would have it, there is a couple from China going on the tour with me who are visiting from Zimbabwe.

They will be returning there after the tour and their private driver has offered to allow me to accompany them. I cannot refuse the offer as he will guide me through the border crossing process and take me to a local Zimbabwe restaurant for lunch. So far, that is already two treats for the day and I haven't even put on a costume.

 

IMG_4614A US$20 entrance fee and our tour to walk across Victoria Falls to Livingstone Island begins around 10am. A few steps from the park's entrance we can see our destination in the far distance with a possible treacherous but beautiful path between us and it.

 

 

IMG_4617We are cautioned to be careful as we begin our journey which can only be accomplished at certain times of the year.

At points along the way our guide provides a helpful hand to prevent us from falling.

 

 

As promised when I signed up for the tour I get my shoes wet but discover that at some points it is actually better to step into the small pools of water. Many of the rocks are slippery from algae growth on them and a few ankles have been sprained or broken along our path.

 

 

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To our left, is the massive gouge that forms Victoria Falls, the largest waterfall in the world. To our right, is a dammed up portion of the Zambezi River which is at a low level this time of the year.

 

 

IMG_4630The river's tranquility disguises it's powerful force that comes in the rainy season.

Beneath my feet are some clues as I step on rocks some of which are as smooth as glass.

 

 

Clear pools of water remain scattered across what is now a part of the fall’s surface. In a few months, this area that was formed by volcanic activity thousands of years ago will become the bottom of Victoria Falls. It will then become covered by almost twenty feet of the Zambezi River.

It is hard for me to image that in January or February if I stood here I would be covered in about twelve feet of rushing water. Wow!

 

IMG_4624A short break and we get a photo opportunity along with a close up glimpse of the gouge.

The waterfall behind us is just a baby compared to what we will see later. Yet, it's sounds and plunging descent is still spectacular.

 

 

 

IMG_4634Approaching Livingstone Island we are given a history lesson of the area and various portions of the falls are pointed out to us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4632

 

From our position we can see Rainbow Falls along with Miner's Rapids which is so fierce that it has only been navigated by one professional kayaker, Still Fisher from South Africa.

Although David Livingstone a British explorer put the area on the map, so to speak, this area has been important and known to local forefathers for a long time. Here human sacrifices where made to the river gods as gold, jewelry and humans where tossed into the gushing river thousands of feet below us.

 

 

IMG_4635Livingstone named the falls after his queen,  Queen Victoria of England. However, to locals it was always known as “Moos-o-tun-ya”.

“The Smoke That Thunders”.

 

 

 

Looking towards the main falls I am inclined to become local and also call here “Moos-o-tun-ya” as I watch towering wet smoke gloriously rises from the river surface below and cut through an arcing rainbow.

 

 

 

IMG_4639

 

 

The pounding water's descent while fierce is also soothing and peaceful. It is goose bump type experience. I take a deep breathe to enjoy it all.

 

 

IMG_4645I guess Livingstone may have had a point in assigning royalty to the falls.

Yes, they are simply majestic!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Botswana, Game Drive Chobe National Park

 

After a satisfying and delicious lunch, I have a few minutes to relax before we begin our afternoon game drive. Since there is only six of us and I am a solo traveler, I call shotgun as we load up in a Toyota Land Cruiser just outside the lodge.

Fifteen minutes later and we are at one of the gate entrances for Chobe National Park. As our driver registers us with the park ranger, a few of us view an interesting exhibition opposite the gate's office.

 

 

IMG_4568On display are some skeletal remains, mostly skulls, of many of the animals found in the park.

I have never seen real skulls so big!

 

 

 

Although Chobe is open for self-drive, I quickly discover that a 4x4 vehicle would be the proper and safe way to do so. Seeing the park by land gives us a different prospective of the area and the animals. Huge areas of the park are void of vegetation but it is still difficult to spot our first animal a kudu that has managed to blend quite well with the barren landscape.

 

 

IMG_4572Next a giraffe is barely visible behind a set of tree leaves as he keeps his head below the top of the tree.

I think he is having an afternoon snack.

 

 

 

As we approach an open area towards the river and a watering hole, we encounter another set of giraffes. It is amazing to watch as one of them quenches his thirst from a pool of water. It seems strange as he bends his front legs to reach the liquid refreshment but what else is a guy suppose to do when he has such a long neck.

 

 

 

IMG_4578Giraffe Getting A Drink

 

 

Along our route we can see Sedudu Island and most of the big animals we had seen earlier from the Zambezi River. However, here I feel much safer from the hippo's and crocodiles. There are enough elephants in Chobe that I am sure we will encounter many of them here on land.

With a landscape covered in elephants our attention turns to finding other animals that also make their homes here.

 

 

IMG_4582A kudu standing on a hill next to clump of bushes becomes easier to spot but then it disappears.

 

 

 

 

I also notice more all the different species of birdies at Chobe, some flying around while others like the Helmeted Guinea fowl scratches along the ground.

 

IMG_4584Around the corner and we come across an interesting surprise.

A pack of wild dogs are harassing a herd of elephants taking a mud bath.

 

 

 

A bull elephant is not too happy about it and his announcement sends the dogs fleeing for cover. The dogs find shelter under the shade of a nearby tree and lay down as if everything is now “cool” with the elephants.

I sense the elephants are questioning, who let the dogs out. With many of their calves around, the elephants seem to know the dogs may be up to no good.

 

IMG_4600A white vulture watching from a nearby tree is also probably a dead give away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4597Elephant Mud Bath

 

 

For a few moments we sit silently and watch the group of elephants enjoy their mud bath. Our observation ends when one of them starts to approach us and our driver thinks it's better that we move on. Great idea as I don't think we would win a confrontation with a few tons of flesh and bones.

This time of the year it is the dry season in Chobe and the Zambezi is a lifesaver for many of animals that travel long distances for drink of refreshing water.

As we cruise the park we can see some of this search for water take place as animals appear from all areas of the park and descend toward the Zambezi River or a nearby watering hole.There is no doubt that during this time of the year being near a water source is a good place to see the animals.

 

IMG_4605However, if you are lucky you may also spot an animal or two resting in one of the shaded areas of vegetation.

 

 

 

 

As our tour comes to an end, one of our final routes gives us an elevated view of the area and the Zambezi River below. From left to right and all around us there are elephants.

However, we have been down by the riverside and know there are a lot more animals there than elephants.

 

 

IMG_4610Looking Down On Zambezi River

 

 

This is a place that has most of what Africa has to offer in terms of wildlife. If you are interested in doing an African safari then I think Chobe National Park should be high up on your list.

 

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Botswana, Live From The Zambezi River, Chobe National Park

 

One of the problems with seeing so many exciting places in a short period of time is the fact that you are hardly left with time to keep updated with sharing your adventures.

 

IMG_4537My trip to Africa has been and will be one of these situations.

 

 

 

 

However, I think to not only see but also hear the sounds of place enriches the sharing experience. For me, reliving my visit to Chobe this way is also like seeing it for the first time over and over again.

 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Botswana, River Safari Chobe National Park

 

My first safari in Africa begins along the Zambezi river in Botswana. Our tour starts around 10am in a ten passenger flat bottom boat that has a canopy cover to protect us from the already scorching sun. We are told Botswana is one of the hottest countries in Africa and for now I do not disagree.

 

 

IMG_4433Leaving the dock area, we pause for a short safety briefing under the silence of the now tranquil river.

I am fixated by the natural beauty of the area and cannot believe I am not on a Hollywood Studio movie set.

 

 

 

An approaching buzzing sound brings me back to reality as a low flying helicopter passes overhead.

Continuing down the river, we approach Sedudu Island a once disputed territory between the countries of Botswana and Namibia. Botswana won the legal battle in The World Court and is proud of it's ownership of this flat mash island covered in grass.

 

 

 

IMG_4434Sedudu Island

 

Sedudu is where many of the animals find their way for feeding because of it's rich resources.

 

 

IMG_4437A pair of eyes stares at us from just above the surface of the water and a warning grunt is heard as we approach a pair of hippo's.

You know what they say about a hippo with a big head, a big body that can be dangerous.

 

 

In fact, of all the animals in the wild, hippo's kill more humans. We keep our distance.

 

 

IMG_4444To our right a trashing sound that produces small white caps draws our attention to the nearby shoreline of Sedudu Island.  It's a huge crocodile feeding on a dead fish.

Again, no need for us to get any closer than necessary.  

 

My first animal thought when thinking about a safari is usually about one of the Big 5. However, there is also a group around here know as the Ugly 5. We spot one of them, a warthog grazing along the main shoreline. Having  watched The Lion King a few times, I am glad we keep upwind of it. I must say “Pumbaa” is a lot cuter than most of his other relatives.

 

 

IMG_4440Snake Bird

 

On the other hand, Zazu could be proud of his family members here although a few of them like the “Snake Bird” are a little weird.

Cut, Cut, Cut! African Safari, River Scene, Take Two. Quiet, Lights, Action, Camera. But wait, I don,t see Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg or Tim Burton around. Where are the lights, the cameras, the actors and actress?

 

 

IMG_4490All I see are a pair of crocodiles cooling off under the shade of a huge tree as baboons freely pass by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4482A few baby baboons hold on for dear life to the belly of their mothers while others get to ride on the backs of their parents like miniature jockeys.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4488Ronald McDonald Impalas

 

 

McDonald's Impalas graze on a patch of grass as there slender bodies shine under the morning sun. No tummy tucks, liposuction or airbrush tricks. This is pure nature at it’s best. Look at the black arches on their rear end and you'll see why they have earned the local name.

 

 

 

IMG_4493Back across the Zambezi river towards Sedudu Island, we land near a herd of Cape Buffalo’s that our oblivious to our presence. I not sure that they are even aware of their white feathered stalkers or bothered by the hundreds of flies around them. I know I would be!

 

 

Many of the animals spend a lot of time on Sedudu Island including birds and monitor lizards. Looking in the distance from the island, groups of one of the Big 5 can be seen. No doubt we will have a closer look at the species that produces the largest mammals on land.

 

 

IMG_4518In the wild some animals are shy (like me) and hide themselves very well.

We are fortunate to find one of them alone in the open. A black antelope!

 

 

 

For some of the animals here it is difficult to estimate their population. For others, like the elephant it is estimated that Chobe has over 100,000 of them, the largest population in Africa.

Although they are cute and cuddly, the elephants here are destructive to the environment. There is a heated debate about a solution to this problem. From allowing hunting of them to relocation and birth control pills for the females, it's a situation that has defenders on all sides of the issue.

 

 

IMG_4546For now, I cannot help but be in awe of them as I watch a herd stand around in a muddy pool of water.

The babies and youthful ones really seem to enjoy it while others seem to question why they are standing there.

 

 

 

 

IMG_4547One of them has his trunk lopsided over a tusk and we are told this is a sign of stress or anxiety. I hope he is just trying out a new trunk trick. As close as we are to the herd, I would hate for him to freak out and to “go elephantal” on us.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4540African Elephant

 

 

Our tour continues around the other side of Sedudu Island where we are just a few hundred yards from the shores of Namibia. A pod of hippo's are floating nearby and we cruise pass them headed for our afternoon lunch break.

To all of our surprise, lunch is at Chobe Safari Lodge an upscale hotel on the Zambezi River. The avocado salad along with the lettuce and ham salad is delicious.

 

 

IMG_4566Oh, did I mention desert?