Over the Christmas break, my family and myself with the additional of my brother’s girlfriend went on a 7-day cruise on the Harmony of the Seas with Royal Caribbean. This Cruise marked the first time in 17 years that my family has travelled together since our trip to California back in 2000. This cruise was also to celebrate my father’s retirement. The 7-day Western Caribbean cruise ported in Labadee, Haiti – Falmouth, Jamaica & Cozumel, Mexico. These were the same ports as my previous cruise but this was the only one that worked with the timing of all our schedules. My parents are frequent cruisers so we were able to get on-board credits that we all put towards an excursion together (sort’ve).
The Harmony of the Seas is one of the largest ships in the world soaring over 17 decks high. It offers the fastest and most widespread internet service –Voom over water, The Abyss –giant slide from the 17th deck to the 6th deck, 2 flowriders for surfing and boogie boarding simulations, mini putt, rock climbing, ziplining, an outdoor gym, a spa/gym, outdoor track, 5 pools, 5 jacuzzis, a skating rink, a casino, an entertainment deck, a formal dining area, a promenade and much more.
Online check-in is supposed to help you get boarded faster. You get to print out your seapass and your luggage tags (print in colour). You go through security before boarding. You are allotted 2 bottles of wine to bring on the ship if you like otherwise, all alcohol must be purchased from the boat. Apparently all the early check-in things we did meant nothing, as we had to fill in that information and retake our photo again.
We flew to Fort Lauderdale to board the boat. You can take the Cruise transport, which is $11USD/person OR if you have a group – grab a taxi for cheaper transport to Port Everglades.
You won’t have access to your Stateroom until roughly 1-3PM as they have to clean them from the previous cruise. When the room is ready, you will find your room key/sea pass card in an envelope by your door with your luggage sitting outside your Stateroom. The new passengers can start boarding as of 10AM until 430-5PM before the boat departs.
You have the option to carry your luggage (if it’s small enough or carry on size) or you can choose to check it and just carry your passport, seapass print out and credit card.
You can opt to purchase the WOW wristbands for $5USD to replace or as an addition to the seapass card. The seapass/wristband asks as your credit card, ID and room key on board. You do need your Seapass card when you are at a Port and decide to disembark the ship for security purposes.
The boat uses a App called Royal IQ which you can use on your phone (additional fee if you want on-board chatting). With this app, you can reserve shows (for you and others by name), check your statements and see the program and itinerary for the day.
NOTE – There are hidden gratuity fee of $11-13USD/day which in the end pays the staff.
We got to the airport for around 330AM for our 645AM flight. Funny how a family with the last name U all books tickets together yet my name is the only one that can’t get checked in beforehand. As I went to the kiosk to check-in, my ticket comes out but as I am showing it to get to the first part of security, the lady takes a highlighter to my ticket. Turns out the SSSSS on my ticket means I’ve been randomly selected to be searched – yay….
At the airport, I repacked my personal backpack with a change of clothes, swim suit and flip flops because your luggage gets taken away from you and you won’t have access until 1-3PM.
We went straight for food at Windjammer and then to the solarium to sunbathe for a bit. Windjammer is the main eating establishment at the back of the ship. Buffet style. The Solarium is the adult’s only Jacuzzi section with giant egg nesting loungers. The Solarium also has an eating establishment – The Bistro (not as big as Windjammer and less variety). We walked around the ship to check out our “home” for the next week.
There is a mandatory emergency meeting where we are clustered into musters. The muster is shown in large print on your Seapass card. Our muster station was the gym.
We finally departed around 530PM and since the Harmony of the Sea is one of the largest ships in the world – you don’t actually feel it moving (not that often) as it is a floating island. The cruise was full of families celebrating Christmas and the holidays together. There was 6780 guests in total on the ship.
Dinner at Windjammer and we ended our evening watching the Grease broadway show.
First day cruising so I woke up, went for breakfast (ate way too much) and then decided I was going to workout – good and bad decision. Seeing as we were on a cruise ship over the holidays, everyone was trying to stay in shape especially the day before Christmas. The gym was super crowded and people (including me) were just trying to find a space to get our workouts in. I grabbed some dumbbells and found a spot by the mirror. After doing a half decent workout, I walked the track and came back to stretch.
After my workout session, I found my brothers and Tammy and hung out in the Solarium area to lounge and tan. We eventually got up and ate lunch at the Bistro. We walked through Central park and the Boardwalk then went back to our Statesroom to shower and just relax out of the sun.
We had made reservations to watch the Ice show 1887 in Studio B. Not 100% sure what the storyline was but nonetheless entertaining. The website description describes it as “a magical journey inspired by Jules Verne, legendary author of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. This exhilarating, time-traveling journey blends fantasy with reality“. The cast from Grease put on a special Christmas Carol show in the Opal Theatre.
We had booked a formal family dinner that night at Silk -formal dining. The service is a little slower but the atmosphere is more upscale than say Windjammers. You can order as many apps and entrees as well as desserts as you want. I got the escargot, duck terrine, osso bucco and creme brulee.
After the formal dining, we went back to our rooms to change and went to the Attic on the entertainment deck to watch the comedy show. At 11PM, in the nightclub they held the Hush party – a silent dance party where all guests wear headphones and with a flick of the switch, you were either listening to one DJ or to another DJ. It was a very fun experience but more entertaining when you take the headphones off and hear people singing to the songs.
Our first port of the cruise was in Labadee, Haiti. We woke up early – around 7AM, ate together around 8-830AM at the Bistro. We departed the ship by scanning our Seapass cards. The port of Labadee has been renovated since the last time I was here (back in 2013) due to natural disasters and just expansion. This port is manmade and a private port for Royal Caribbean. It features 2 beaches, an outdoor water obstacle course, a water slide with hidden cabanas into the mountain on one side. There are canopies and ziplining the other side open to the main waters.
The volleyball court moved into the middle beside the kids water park. My full family set up beside each other and just hung out on the beach. Since we were ported and it was a private beach, lunch was a BBQ style buffet beachside.
After lunch, we headed back on board. We tested to see if the gym would be less busy in the afternoon. I got a little arms workout in. After the workout, I found my parents and brother and we just hung out in the Solarium for awhile before heading back to the room to shower and watch some TV and Dreamworks movies.
We met back up with my brother and Tammy to have Christmas dinner together at Windjammers. For once, our family didn’t have to host and cook a turkey and ham which was a nice little break and have other people do it for us. We had reserved the Headliner show for after dinner. The Headliner show starred Ronn Lucas who is a well known ventriloquist. He has entertained royalty to presidents and had his own show back in the day. He was really good. The promenade had 50’s-60’s music night. We called it a night after grabbing a slice of pizza from Sorrento (the only 24 hour food establishment) in the Promenade.
6AM wake up call. Breakfast was a big improvement with hard boiled & fried eggs, bacon, bread, boar sausage. It was the final tear down – bittersweet. The rain had past but the fog hadn’t fully lifted making it eerie but beautiful as we drove. Another round of gin rummy and a few hours later, we made it to our last pitstop at the mall for lunch. (lunch is not included)
Will realized after he purchased a new phone that he had left his pouch with his sim card and passport back at Kruger which was 3-4 back the opposite direction.
Another hour or two and we finally made it to Benoni (roughly 20 minutes drive to airport) to Mufasa Backpackers where we all disembarked from the truck one last time. Earlier in the week Will asked for all our plans and arranged rides for all of us to get to our next destination. It cost 600ZAR to get from Benoni to Rosebank by taxi. Before we all parted ways, we presented Will, Frans and Clive with envelopes containing our collective tips for them.
TIPPING – On the Go Tours
Tipping is all dependent on what you feel comfortable paying. Our guide mentioned to us that it is roughly $5USD/day per staff for the length of the tour. In the end, depending on how long of duration your tour is, it can add up. In the end, we thought it fair for $150USD collectively split amongst the 3 staff. Tipping is a very Westernize custom but USD goes a long way especially in Africa. We (as in Canadians – Torontonians precisely) pay at least 13% back home. Tipping also customarily shows the person you are tipping if their skills were up to par or if they need improvement.
It is not highly recommended to take public transit or walking around especially for foreigners. There is high crime rate in Joburg. Uber is a good alternative to taxis especially for the price.
We booked with Hyde Park Villa (28B – 3rd Road, Sandton) for 2731ZAR for 2 villa rooms with 2 single beds in each room for a night. The bathrooms are just as large as the rooms with a full tub and walk in shower. Rosebank & Sandton are a gated community and this hotel is gated and felt very safe and secure. This hotel is located near a St David’s College. They have an honours bar where you take what you want but write down your room number and pay later.
We got the villa rooms 12 & 14 close to the breakfast room and closest to the pool in the inner courtyard. Room 12 has more natural lighting coming into the room but nonetheless the rooms are nice and cozy and their bathrooms are beautiful and spacious including a open shower and a giant tub with 2 sinks. The only issue we had in room 14 was that the AC/heater unit was giving off a funky smell. The courtyard was very cozy and inviting but unfortunately we didn’t have time to use the pool. The stairs to the units above our room made you feel like you were somewhere in Europe. There is free wifi on the premises via Alwayson provider which allows a complimentary 500MB per day. It is a decent speed.
We got in and settled by 445PM and with lack of time, we opted to goto to Rosebank Mall (15A Cradock Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa). We wanted to Uber to the mall as it is the cheaper option for transportation but we couldn’t get the app to work so luckily Jackie was kind enough to book one for us (Uber updated so you have the option to pay in cash).
Our room key comes with a gate opener that allows us to go in and out without needing to buzz security. Ellet was our driver who was originally from Polokwane and was such a sweet man.
We arrived at the mall and tried to check out the rooftop market but only then realized it is only opened on Sundays so we tried to check out the Arts and Crafts Market on the outside of the mall but they were in the midst of closing at 530PM and we tried to see if they would stay open but majority of the vendors had left. We walked through the mall to search for souvenirs but nothing so we went grocery shopping at Pick n Pay for last minute purchases of snacks and coffee beans. After research, There was high rating for Bean There Coffee, Monate Coffee but I also purchased Terbodore Coffee and E Cafe all for my father.
Unfortunately the mall was closing by the time we finished grocery shopping (everyone told us the mall stays open late into the evening – not true). Luckily there was complimentary wifi and I was able to download Uber and Ubereats. There weren’t any restaurants at the mall so we opted to go back to the hotel and order Ubereats since the mall was closing and our access to free wifi was coming to an end. We had the hardest time trying to make an order on Ubereats. We had made a few selections and had our order ready for 2-4 restaurants but we couldn’t get the app to complete any orders. Luckily Sarah had Skype credits and we ordered pizza from Andiccio 24. I got the Pumpkin Banting (cauliflower crust) with bacon. By the time the pizza’s came and we all showered, it was already 1130PM. Our hotel also gave us complimentary wine but it was just too strong and sweet. We repacked and went to bed in an actual bed.
We got to sleep in until 8AM as complimentary breakfast services finish at 9AM. Not the hottest of mornings like we had days previous so taking a dip in the pool wasn’t an option. Breakfast was great. Cute little eating area with buffet set up of yogurts, pancakes, fruits, bread, smoke salmon and juices/coffees .Jackie is the owner of the bed and breakfast and such a sweet lady. She is very involved including making custom omelettes for us for breakfast. Once seated, Jackie would come over and ask if you wanted any hot food customized. We all got mushroom and cheese omelettes with a side of bacon.
The actual property of Hyde Park Villa feels like being in a private European park that makes you feel secluded and relaxed. Jackie had booked an airport shuttle for us for 550ZAR prior to coming and we had asked her to adjust the time for pickup to 10AM as opposed to the original 11AM as our flight was 210PM. We only were successful in downloading Uber late the night before (it would’ve been 225ZAR) so it was too late to cancel the airport shuttle. We wandered the property until our taxi came for us. We played with Jackie’s dog Mishka who is also a delight and so sweet with it’s spot on the lawn near the swimming pool.
Once we got to O R Tambo, the line for Ethiopian Airlines was enormous and somehow was 3 lines funnelling into 1. We spent an hour at the Made in SA store outside the gates to get souvenirs. We really wished we picked up souvenirs before in Zimbabwe and Botswana but the only opportunity in the trip to do so was realistically in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe at the very beginning before we started our tour.
We made it through security and spent more time in Duty Free and the Out of Africa store (has a much bigger selection than the store outside) still pricier than markets outside of the airport but last minute buys, not bad. Our flight home was long but with Emergency seats, you can’t complain too much. We went from Joburg to Dublin (we didn’t get off but cabin crew changed and plane re-fueled) then Dublin to Toronto. Halfway through the flight, our personal media units (the ones that you unfold from the armrest) stopped standing up on its own and kept falling down. It felt like we were on the plane forever consuming 7 meals and periodically sleeping. One thing I don’t understand when being on planes is the sheer laziness of people who goto the washroom barefoot or in their socks – disgusting.
-Blyde River Canyon is the largest green canyon in the world.
-The Blyde river was used to find a passage from Johannesburg to Malawi to the ocean to transport gold.
-Blyde in dutch means happy. They name the river Blyde as Hendrik Potgieter and crew returned safely from their expedition from Delagoa Bay in 1844 as they had left behind women and children who had considered Potgieter and crew dead after not returning for such a long period of time. It turned out, they took a wrong turn and followed the wrong river to get home.
-The Treur river means “mourning” in Dutch. This river nearby their encampment was named Treur to mourn what they had thought they had lost.
-Pine trees are grown and used to produce paper
-Eucalyptus trees aka gum trees are grown to be used as power poles and they are good for building foundations as they suck up a lot of waters
Different from the travel days previous, this day had multiple stops along the way with multiple view points and locations within Blyde River Canyon.
The Three Rondavels was the first viewpoint of the day. Rondavels are homes or shelters that made circular because snakes try to hide in corners thus – snakes would stay away. The Three Rondavels are similar to Australia’s Three Sisters in Blue Mountain, Sydney. There is a market there but Will told us that at Bourkes Luck Pothole has a market and the same stuff and we should wait to keep on time with our driving times.
Bourkes Luck Potholes was our stop for lunch. As Clive the cook set up lunch, we ventured the Bourkes Potholes by climbing and jumping on rocks then crossed the bridge where the water was flowing and dipped our feet into the water. We had about 20-30 minutes free time to explore and shop before we had to go back to the picnic table area for lunch. Lunch was a little lacklustre with the appearance of that rice with polagna (spam substance) with peas and cheese yet again (lacking flavour) but at least we had oranges. Alberto did speak up on behalf of our group to talk to the cook about the quality of meals and just to have our voices heard.
Back on the truck we went and next stop – God’s window. Will mentioned that we only had 20 minutes so if we were to walk, we would have to either choose the very top of God’s Window with the tropical rainforest ecosystem or goto all the viewpoints. Luckily for this day in particular they told us to wear sneakers. We started running and rushed to the viewpoints. One viewpoint had a great view as the clouds started to set in but there was a rather large group or family of 20 that also wanted to take over the viewpoint and very rambunctious. We scurried along quickly and at the next viewpoint, we saw nothing. We started to run up towards God’s Window in hopes of fantastic views. Looking back on the steps we took up, the vastness of the landscape around us, it looked beautiful. Once you enter the rainforest, you can feel the difference with the drop in temperature and the change on ecosystem once you get in. We made it to the rock landing to find our view as a blanket of white with the clouds overthrowing and concealing the views this vantage point would have given us. Once we caught our breathe and took what we could in from that area, we bolted back down to continue with our day.
We had one more scheduled stop along the way before we made it to Hazyview – Kruger National Park area and that little area was a pitstop that had a restaurant Will our guide kept telling us about called Harrie’s Pancake House. We unfortunately didn’t have time to even order takeaway but we did have the chance to use the ATM at the bank to withdraw ZAR as we needed actual cash for tipping. We had thought about taking about roughly $300CAD worth of ZAR before we left Canada but didn’t think we would use that much but we obviously never realized the real value of ZAR to CAD. You need to calculate cash for tipping and other expenses.
Kruger National Park & Animal Info
-Kruger National Park was created in 1900 by Paul Kruger to prevent hunting. It is famous for inhabiting the big five – Elephants, Rhinos, Leopards, Lions & Buffaloes.
-It is 19000SQ KM. 600KM from North to South.
-Kruger is in a shape of a boot
-Elephants are the only animals that will die of starvation over age when their 6 sets of molars wear down. A group is called a herd.
-Giraffes have no structure in their family structure. A group is called a journey
-Spotted Hyena have female alpha matriarch. It regurgitates for their young. More successful hunters than lions and can run consistent speed for a few km and toys out their prey. A group is called a clan
-Bilatong – dried meat
Our final campsite for the tour was Nkambeni Safari Camp (Numbi Gate, Kruger National Park, 1350, South Africa) situated by Numbi Gate (West side) just outside Kruger National Park. You can upgrade to a lodge for $80USD. Nkambeni has an electric fence outside the perimeter as the campsite is built around the wilderness of Kruger National Park.The showers and toilet are open toward the electric fence so you can view nature while showering. We were rushed to the camp to set up our tents before rushing off into another truck (smaller to drive on the non-paved roads) for our night game drive through Kruger.
Rick was our guide for the day. It was already hot so I decided not to bring long sleeve and pants (I was in a tank top and shorts) and boy was that a mistake. The driver sits lower and the rest of the cabin is higher up where we the guests could get a vantage point. Driving and sitting in the front without the sun gets chilly quickly. Gordon luckily packed a windbreaker and lent it to me so I could survive but holy it was still cold.
We took 2 trucks out and drove through but unfortunately during our 2-3 hour drive, we were only able to spot kudu, impala, waterbucks, water Buffaloes (1 of the big 5) and hippopotamuses. During our game drive, we took one break where we were able to step out of the jeep on a road by a pond. They brought some light snacks and gave us some Amarula. Amarula is a fruit tree which elephants absolutely love to eat. The guides are quite skilled at multi-tasking. They are driving, trying to spot animals in the bush, trying to answer our questions and at night, they add on a high powered flashlight to try to spot more animals.
We got back to probably the best meal of the trip – grilled pork, boar sausage, veggies, potatoes, beans and for dessert apple and banana slices with a custard sauce.
We took a quick shower (good water pressure but the hooks are too high). The stalls are illuminated by lights above but not evenly split above all showers. The facilities are unisex toilet and showers. The main reception building and bar is all the way at the back of the site. They offer 20 minutes free wifi at reception (not the best).
Our final full day with the tour had us back in the trucks for our final day game drive. We made packed sandwiches for this game drive. After our first stop, it was already 10AM and the temperature got warmer with the sun beating down, none of the animals were out except for the impalas. The drive was quiet and that warm heat combination with wind made it the perfect napping scenario but of course we didn’t want to since we were on the drive.
We had stopped earlier at one of the main areas to grab a snack and souvenirs if you like (overpriced) but I did purchase bilatong and some sweets. Luckily we made a second stop for lunch at Skukuza golf club but we had already eaten our sandwiches on the jeep. We wanted to order milkshakes but sadly they told us there were no milkshakes yet 15 minutes later milkshakes we saw mileshakes being brought out for others. I left my purchase of Bilatong and candy in the truck (open concept jeeps) but the jerk monkeys got to the candy and destroyed it but left the bilatong alone. There was also an open bag of Nik Naks in the truck but I guess it was too spicy for them but what a mess they made.
Our last round of the drive we spotted in the distance a leopard sitting in the shade which someone had seen movement of an hour before in that area. We unfortunately were not able to see lions or rhino’s. The drive was truly exhausting and very hard to even keep our eyes open. I have such respect for the guide who has to drive in the heat in the same conditions where we constantly kept falling in and out of sleep during the drive. Little lacklustre to end the last game drive.
After a long day in the heat, we took a dip in the pool. The pool bar was empty so Alberto made it his nest to do work and journaling. The pool was really relaxing. I stayed on the bar to tan and relax. We stayed at the pool for a few hours and met a wonderful family originally from Zimbabwe. Kudzai (kood-zay) 33, a mother and a psychologist and within the first 5 minutes of meeting Will, she figured out his character/personality down to the T. She was on vacation with her family (2 daughters) and husband who is a software engineer. Her sister 24, had a scholarship to attend Yale and now teaches intelligent rich kids in a private school. We relaxed by the poolside until the sun started to set before heading back to our camping area to shower and change for our group farewell dinner.
We all had decided earlier in this trip that we would all opt for the buffet dinner the night so we sat down to buffet at 7PM for $20USD. A really nice day to end a trip with thank you’s going around. 12 days past way too quickly. We hung out on the couches in the main building until the winds picked up and we knew a storm was brewing as the sky was lit up with lighting for a few hours and what one was a crisp clear sky where all the stars were present disappeared.
Our morning wake up call was for 6AM with it raining a little through the night. When we came out of the tent, the watering hole had finally been emptied with 1 elephant approaching from the distance as we ate breakfast. We had to pre-pack our lunch as this day was our first long-haul drive where we would not stop for a lunch pitstop. We drove from Nata to Maun.
On our drive, we spotted ostriches and zebras.
Okavango Delta info
-The delta is a UNESCO sight because the tectonic plates shifted and use to be dry but now it’s wet. It is one of the very few major interior delta systems that do not flow into a sea or ocean, with a wetland system that is almost intact.
-May-July is when water levels are high. The rainy season brings nutrients down for the animals. The water is low season is about a meter deep.
-Mokoro are traditional boats that are made of jackelberry, sausage or sycamore trees dug out to make it hollow and push it with a pole. Polers use large staffs to push through the river.
-Fishermans turned to tourism to create more income.
– The Okavango Delta is 15000KM depending on water levels.
-Antelope/Impala that live in the delta have their hooves jut out so they can adapt and not sink into the mud.
-The Delta is made up of different channels.
Our day was made up of driving to Maun. We arrived at Sitatunga Camp – Delta Rain – our campsite for the night. We set up our tents right outside the wooden columns so we were closest to the bar to get better wifi reception. There is a pool (murky waters) and a volleyball court (not up to par but decent enough with soft sand). Good thing I brought a volleyball. The girls and myself played but it was sure hot. Will, Clive and the other guide from another tour joined us before we had to stop for dinner.
After dinner, the sun had set and back to Volleyball we went. The rallies got more intense as Shaw also joined and Will had gotten some tips for Lulu and his form improved. Alberto also joined. The lights seem to be on timer going off every 5 minutes or so and back on after 3 or something like that. We played into the night but finished so we could go shower.
The showers were quite glamourous from what we’ve had. Overhead shower head but the stalls are much larger and have a shelf and towel rack with a level you could sit if you’d like.
After the relaxing shower, we met Shaw at the bar where to offered us homemade rosmalai (Indian dessert) and pistachio coconut ice cream. Absolutely delicious and a real treat after playing volleyball. The pistachio ice cream is made with condensed milk, cream, nestle milk powder, cooked down then add Coconut cream, coconut flakes, pistachio, almond.
Shaw is originally from Pakistan. His father was a banker who opened banks around the world and moved around and settled down in Botswana. Shaw studied in Cape Town – culinary. He recently took ownership of the food and drink of Sitatunga camp about 2 months and has big ideas such as an open concept outdoor kitchen. His side business is security systems for the big resorts. He lives in Kasane and Francistown (4-5 hours away).
NOTE – This overnight portion of the trip is when you should pack neutral colours (no bright colours, blue and whites) not to scare animals and pack sneakers and pants to avoid getting scratched up on your bushwalks.
I woke up and repacked 1 bag for the overnight stay with swim suit, a change of clothes, camera and whatever else you need for overnight.
We had french toast for breakfast. It was my turn to purchase a block of ice for 20 Pula and packed it into the smaller cooler that we would be taking with us.
We all got on the safari truck and off we drove to the delta. It got a little bumpy entering into the village surrounding our entry point to the delta channel for the mokoros (old fashioned boats you pole to get you around). Sarah and myself had Simon as our poler. In your mokoro before you step in, the poler places your sleeping mats (2) opened and creates seating with a back rest using your backpack, 5L waters and sleeping bags. The ride was 1.5-2 hours and was very smooth and relaxing. As we were entering into our campsite, there were 6-8 elephants walking past just meters away.
When we all finally arrived to the campsite, we met Xtra – the head of the polers and Phil & Litos the bushmen. They gave us the rundown about the general campsite and gave us strict rules about asking permission and requiring a person to escort us if we wanted to venture as we were in the wild. Since Clive and Frans stayed back and ran errands, Will became one of the polers and the cook for this portion of the trip. For lunch, we had tuna pasta and oranges.
It was way too hot to do anything in the sun until 3PM but at least we had a nice view of the elephants from our site. At 3PM, Will took us out and we tried our hand at poling and swimming in the same river. The water is orange in colour due to vegetation but clean and refreshing nonetheless.
Poling is more difficult than it looks especially with wind and going against the current. Similar to stand-up paddleboard and kayaking but you only pole on your dominant side then use the stick as a rutter to help steer. We made it down a bit and parked the mokoro to dunk into the river. Summer months are when the river water levels are lower so standing was not an issue and you would still be above the water standing in your knees. The water is very refreshing with little fishes swimming around. As you are standing up, you can peak over the grass and see on-land where elephants are just roaming free.
We had to pole our mokoros back and got ready for our afternoon/evening bushwalk. We split off into 2 group and had to walk single-file. The evening walk was nice but we only were able to spot zebras, herons, wilderbeasts and buffaloes.
We came back famished to a candlelit (a little too windy) dinner of roasted chicken, coleslaw, rice and squash courtesy of chef Will.
After dinner since all of us were still sitting around the table, we played werewolves (similar to mafia). Will chose his werewolves (he chose the 4 of us) and after 2 rounds, Katie accused us 4 being the “canasian werewolves” as Stephanie was the doctor and Lisa the seeer but both unfortunately had been killed off early in the game. Thus the name Canasian Werewolves came to be.
Our game was short lived as we all migrated over towards the campfire. The polers did a special performance for us with traditional songs and dance which finished off with group mental thinking riddles. We ended the night watching the stars (cloudy) and fireflies with the girls until the fireflies glimmer started to disappear and the clouds rolled over.
We woke up at 5AM for our morning bushwalk. To be honest, nothing special but the sunrise was lovely. Unfortunately we weren’t able to spot any other animals minus zebras and elephants in the distance during this walk. We returned to breakfast of baked beans, hardboiled eggs, toast and bacon. Packed up and back we went in the mokoro leaving the delta behind.
Simon our poler poles part time but is also a overland/safari tour guide in Maun. He and his girlfriend are expecting their 1st child in 4 months and he plays soccer. His sister met us on the river to collect the bag of jewelry and carvings that they make and try to sell to us tourists. Majority of the times, the women make the jewellery or the sculptures but the men are the faces that try to sell it.
On the mokoro ride back, I pumped the soccer balls I brought with me and gave them away to the kids in the village. I also brought a bag with 2 t-shirts, a pair of pants and another ball. The children are so lovely. I walked towards the soccer field where a large group of children were all of a sudden, all the children ran over to me, swarmed and took the whole bag out of my hands. Madness. I’m happy I was able to give the soccer balls to these nice kids before the mob.
Back at Sitatunga for lunch of chicken burgers with a relaxing do whatever afternoon. A few opted to do the additional flight over the delta excursion while a few went back to town to do some shopping. I stayed behind and just relaxed with the 2 dogs on site.
We had spaghetti with beef bolognese for dinner. Shaw ended up taking us down the road to see the crocodile farm with Shaw. Once again, we finished off our night playing some volleyball with Shaw and Will but we the intensity wasn’t the same as the last volleyball night and we all seemed drained. We showered and met back up with Shaw at the bar where he had prepped homemade pistachio ice cream for us and made a huge portion that we demolished.
-Kasane and Okavango Delta are the last areas where elephants can migrate and run freely
-The Zebra is the national animal – unifying with it’s black and white
-The death penalty still exists
-One of the only countries in Africa not colonized by England because 75% is desert and very dry
-In 1966, Botswana gained independence and just celebrated their 50th anniversary
-The 1st President Sir Seretse Khama married a white woman named Ruth Williams. It was illegal for black and white to marry and they were exiled to England. They returned after the Apartheid as the 1st president.
-The blue in the flag is water which means wealth.
-Beef production is one of the main commodity in Botswana
-Mining production was the fastest growing production in the whole world back in 70’s & 80’s along with diamond, iron and copper
Setswana is their main language. Here are some phrases:
Du mella ma (female) ra (male) – hello
LA guy – how are you
GA taing – I’m fine
Kea la bogaa ma – thank you
Kea rata – I love you
Muntle – beautiful
Muna – single man
Buna – 2 or more men
Our wake up time was for 8AM and it was actually quite mild outside. We had cereal, baked beans and sandwiches for breakfast. All packed up and from Chobe to Nata we went. On the road side, we were able to spot elephants and giraffes. Very unusual for us to see these animals alongside the road and having to stop as they cross the road. We played Bananagrams, spot it and Yuker (still can’t fully get the grasp of it).
Our accommodation for the night in Nata was Elephant sands. At Elephant Sands, you can upgrade your lodging for an extra 40USD to a cabin with a balcony facing the watering hole in the centre. We set up our tents right by the barrier near the bathroom facility and were ready to hit the pool until we saw elephants start appearing and walked through the camp to the watering hole. Elephants sands pumps water into this man-made watering hole to attract the elephants. There are triangle cement rock/shards barriers around the campsite as there are elephants only zone where we aren’t allowed to walk.
At the time we arrived, the sun was strong and our kitchen was outdoors with no shade cover. I was on cooking duty and we made leftover rice with pologna (similar to spam), green peas, cheese in the hot hot heat. We ate under the one big tree nearby.
After lunch, Lulu and myself decided it was prime opportunity to do laundry and what boggled our minds was the fact that we were doing laundry while the elephants were walking past. We did eventually dip our feet in the pool but it didn’t seem the cleanest. Lulu and myself peppered with the volleyball for a bit before we had to leave for our game drive.
We booked the evening Elephant Sands game drive for $25USD. Unlike the game drive we did the day before, this game drive wasn’t done in a game park but just in the wilderness. There are camps with anti-poaching units in the area we went through. The girls, Will, Frans, Lisa, Katie and Stephanie joined us. 2 drinks are also included – Hunters Cider & Iron Bru were my drinks. The drive was nice and we were able to spot many elephants and giraffes, impala, thigpin steinbach and also a jackel. The giraffes run so gracefully and silently. Elephants walk and run like their feet are marshmallows – so so soft and quiet. Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy so we didn’t have quite an intense sunset but the sky was still a nice with its subdued hazy pink and purple colours.
Since we were going from wild to designated non wildlife areas, we needed to go through the border patrol to do the shoe dip to prevent foot and mouth disease.
We arrived back to an elephant sands but had a delay as there was a large journey of giraffes crossing the road. The road to enter Elephant Sands is bumpy yet on our way back, we got caught up with an elephant trying to cross us to get to the watering hole. Once parked, there was a huge swarm of elephants around the watering hole. Before we left at 3PM, there were only 4 or so but in the evening there were so many! Average 40-50.
Clive had dinner ready for us right at 7PM. He made a more authentic African meal – maize that resembled a mix of mashed potatoes and mochi which you pull apart with your hands and it becomes the wrapper that you use to pick up the beef stew he made and spinach. Delicious but super hot. The trick Clive showed us was to quickly pull the maize into small balls to let them cool down before molding as a wrapper to eat with.
During dinner, we looked behind us and there was a giant elephant that stood silently meters away. It stood still and stayed for a few minutes before making its way to the watering hole. By the time dinner was done, the sun was completely down and we were able to just sit by the pool side in chairs to watch these elephants so closely. They were about a volleyball court length away but sometimes they got closer as some elephants would become alpha and nudge other elephants out. We went to shower around 830PM as they shut off the water at 9PM so the elephants don’t go after the water pipes. After Lulu and myself left the showers, we noticed 2 elephants heading there.
The elephants would push out the medium sized ones but the babies would just sneak through or go with their mothers to the other watering hole. The main watering hole where the larger ones went to had a pipe to refill the watering hole so majority of the elephants kept going to the main source. We sat for hours just watching the interactions between the elephants and seeing different families coming in and out taking turns becoming alpha and overtaking the drinking spots.
This went on all night long and you could see large shadows from your tent at the hole a day walking to and from all night long. Sarah mentioned she would have loved to stay up and watch them all night until the last one left.
We woke for 6AM and took our time to get ready. We went into the main area with Will to visit the grocery store and get breakfast. After grabbing breakfast, we walked back a bit the way we came to rent bikes for the day. Very difficult to find 5 bikes where the seats could be adjusted, had both pedals, chain didn’t fall off and had brakes but we managed to. $25USD originally was what the man asked for but we bargained for $20USD for about 5 hours. We rode up the dirt road to get to the baobab tree and continued towards the river that leads to Victoria Falls.
We ended up biking to Victoria Falls where we asked security if we could leave our bikes inside. The entry fee of $30USD is included with our tour price. The falls are lovely with many viewpoints along the way. You can also see the Devil’s Inkpot that is on the Zambia side where you can feel the rush and sit on the edge of the waterfall. At I think viewpoint 13, Lulu and Jin decided to climb over the short branch barrier to get a closer look over the edge but that was short lived as they got whistled to come back because it’s not safe being so wet (felt like it was raining in that area) and possible snakes hidden in the grass.
What made it even better was the fact that there was a vivid rainbow that formed at the bottom. We walked around to all the viewpoints and then decided we needed to rest and sat at the cafe – Shearwater Cafe where we ate our “picnic” and I got an energizer smoothie $5USD (ginger & orange etc). Will left us from here but told us the route to take to get back.
We continued on bike to the bridge border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. We asked if we could go through with border patrol and they just waved us through. On the bridge the joins the two countries, they offer bungee jumping but we didn’t partake. We decided to head back and came back to the gate where we were told we needed a letter of some sort get back into the country but they let us through anyways.
We biked back and returned the bikes and decided to hit the pool because it was just so hot too do anything else and biking for half the day deserved a dip. Shearwater seems to be the spot where the safari tours start and end off so there was a mix of people beginning, ending and continuing their travels on-site. 5 of the people that joined our 12-day tour were continuing and joined from a tour that went to the Serengeti.
We grabbed a late lunch poolside from the restaurant on-site – Panini and a nice cider. We met Erik from the Netherlands who had just finished a tour and he filled us in on what he did and saw on his tour that was the reverse of what our tour was minus Cape Town. We all hung out by the pool and talk for a few hours but then realized we needed to switch tents so we rushed off, showered and packed up and moved over to our new tents. The tents we stayed in that night became our designated tent for the rest of the tour. Lulu and myself shared Timon as our tent. The tent is quite large. You need to bring your own sleeping bag and a lock but the tour company provides sleeping mats. After we moved in, the rain began to pour and all four of us stayed in our tent until to died down about 20 minutes later. We grabbed what we needed for the night and the next morning and threw our luggage into the truck. We went to Shearwater Café on the main road with Lisa and Katie which has the best wifi signal. I got the prefixed – $15USD – tomato soup, steak and frites and carrot cake.
I had a horrible time getting to sleep as my mind wouldn’t shut off and my nose was stuffy. Finally was able to sleep around 3AM – the wifi signal was strong around that time. We woke up for 6AM and packed, took down our tents, packed the truck and had breakfast. Off we went with the crew. First things first, the truck has storage below. The very front passenger side is cooking supplies, driver side front are tents, the 2 back tops on both sides are luggage’s and lower passenger side is chairs and tables. You need to climb a ladder (a little help from a step ladder) to enter the top seating compartment). In the seating compartment, the very back has shelves for the sleeping mat. The very front has sideways seating for about 8 people with a table, a 4-seater with a table then 10 more double seats. We get a combination cooler and the 2 giants chests go on board.
Once we hit the road, Will stated his speech on the breakdown of the tour as ATC brings together multiple tour companies like on the go tours and others to run the tour and not ask the information shared is the same. Once that got sorted, he broke down the day for us and told us the optional excursions. He also posted on the door our schedule along with our shared duties. This is a budget tour so everyone has responsibilities including buying ice for the cooler each day to security and bus cleaning duties to helping with keeping meals etc.
Info about Zimbabwe
-14 million population
-The House of Stone in Masvingo is the 2nd largest African civilization to the pyramids.
-Zimbabwe in the shona dialect means House of stone
-The British came and colonized Southern Rhodesia – They made a railway to promote trading from Europe to Africa.
-In 1980 Zimbabwe gained democracy.
-The tobacco industry deflated so the currency Inflated – For Eg – eggs could cost 10,000 rand one week then 20,000 the next.
-They adopted USD as currency but almost adopted Chinese yuan because of the trading and building.
-Zimbabweans are very well spoken (English ruling a different education) and very polite.
-Victoria Falls is the largest sheet of water and highest bridge bungee jump.
-Government officials weren’t really being paid and hospitals were expensive.
We drove to the border of Zimbabwe and Botswana and had 2 check points. The first, we departed Zimbabwe and the second to enter Botswana. At the Botswana border, where we needed to bring all our footwear with us to dip the bottoms to “clean them” to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. I was welcomed with a warthog. Also quick note – no photos at the border.
Our first pitstop was an hour-hour and half stop to pick-up groceries, alcohol and exchange money for local currency of Pula. You should get Pula for tipping money. 10 Pula is 1 USD. The bureau Centre didn’t open until 9AM so we bought groceries at the grocery store Spar. At the Bureau Centre, you can change currency and purchase cheaper ice (Lulu’s responsibility for day 1). Note – The block of ice lasts longer than the cubes but needs to be broken up. We all threw in $20USD each and the Pula equivalent together became our tipping money.
In Botswana, you CANNOT DRINK the tap water. We all purchased 5L jugs for about $1.65USD. The tour stops every 2 days or so at grocery stores so you can pick up snacks and water etc.
We found Erik (our new friend we met the day before) at the grocery store as 2 other tour trucks were also doing the same thing loading up. Erik finished 1 tour and joined another. At one point, they were sitting in our bus as their bus disappeared and we all thought they left without them but that tour only consisted of 9 people. Turns out the bus was getting gas around the corner and off they went.
We also found out from Will that the information we got from Sarah was completely wrong in terms of clothing because she told us we needed to dress conservatively covering shoulders and knees. It turns out, on her last Africa trip, she was in northern Africa where there are more Muslims thus dressing more conservatively but on this trip, clothing didn’t matter as you can wear whatever you want. For safari however, neutral colour clothing. That meant all 4 of us packed clothing we didn’t need and could have been replaced with summer clothing such as more shorts.
We thought our ride to the next campsite was far but it was just up the street – Thebes Safari campsite. We setup our tents and then ate lunch – self serve sandwich station. We have 2 showers and 2 toilets on our campsite but if your walk further into the site closer to the pool area, there is a much nicer shower and toilet setup with hot water. The main hotel (upgrade is available) had free wifi in the lobby and 2 single toilets.
After eating, Stephanie, Susan and the girls and myself we went on the Chobe game drive in a safari truck and off we went (optional excursion for $70USD for 3 hours in the park). Our driver was very knowledgeable and had an amazing eye finding animals of all sizes for us. Usually noon is the hottest time of day so many animals are in hiding but we got lucky and spotted a good variety of animals. Impala, kudu, hippos, lionesses (one sleeping and one heading for a nap), baboons, zebras, eagles, vultures and so many beautiful birds as well as a leopard tortoise. I learned that elephants don’t have sweat glands so they overheat which is why they roll in the mud to cool down. We didn’t get to see a live elephant but we saw a 2-day old dead young elephant who overheated and was trying to get to the water to cool down but once it made it there, it was too late. You could smell the stench from where we were in the truck 300M away. Giant vultures circled and were eating the elephant. The lions like fresh meat so they probably had first dibs one day 1 before we saw it. The guide stopped by the sleeping lioness so it awoke briefly then turned over to return to slumber.
We finished this lovely game drive and was driven straight to our next excursion (included) of a sunset boat cruise on the Chobe River. The river separates Namibia and Botswana border. Shimmy was our guide. This is where our cooler of ice and alcohol purchased earlier in the day was present. The boat cruise had seats for everyone and a drop toilet in the back. Once they started up the boat sailing, you were free to roam around to spot animals and the boat driver found them and we got closer views of them. Tons of hippos, crocodiles, baboons, water buffalo etc. Definitely the highlight were the hippos.
We cruised down the river spotting animals and a cold drink which ended up with a lovely sunset. Near the end of the cruising, there were 2 hippos in a certain area where the water levels were lower and you can see them running right into the water. With the water level lower, the hippo kept bobbing up and down and eventually running and jumping up similar to a dolphin. We kept trying to follow where they would surface and one of the hippos decided to rush our boat and came up right under the metal guard in the front where Sarah was sitting and she flew back. The sunset was intense with lovely colours however all of us felt disgusting as we were all very sticky from being out all day in the sun.
We got back to the campsite and Clive had dinner waiting for us – chicken stroganoff and a salad. Will went over itinerary with us and call time.
We were told the pool seemed murky and we couldn’t find it in the dark so we showered and sat near the inner courtyard on the hotel and charged our phones. Finished off the night trying to journal and we thought the truck would be a good place as any to write and charge but turns out Clive and Frans sleep in there so we decided to journal in our tent. Hard to fall asleep when you haven’t really done much physical activity in a day when you are so use to walking everywhere.