-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.
We had a 6AM wake up call before hitting the road once again for a long haul drive. We switched up the seating in the truck. We traded and took over the smaller 4 person table and played cards. First time playing gin rummy for me. We literally played for 7-8 hours with only 2 stops. Frans needed to open the cabin and fix the the pipe as it became exposed. Our last pitstop was at a gas station with a newly opened Nando’s.
Arriving in Palapye, we stayed at Camp Itumela which probably had the best wifi spanning the entire campsite. The main reception area had a courtyard that held the main pool, tree top like patio and further in, the bar and more lounging areas as well as a playground.
This campsite also features a pig and 2 goats as well as roaming dogs, cats, chickens and peacocks. There are 2 outdoor toilets and showers but also an indoor toilet and shower facility. There is also a volleyball court mind you the size was more of a badminton court and had metal poles as the court and middle line. The net was also really floppy and low. After dinner we played a few rounds. Word of advice, don’t chase after it outside the court as immediately or if the perimeters, the ground is less cared for and rocks and other jagged things await. Clive was telling us that in his 2 years with ATC, he has never seen anyone actually use the volleyball courts that are available.
Majority of the other people on the campsite work in the nearby energy plant as engineers building turbines. These engineers come from around the world – Netherlands, South Africa, Thailand etc.
Sarah had heard from Will that there was a local club nearby which she wanted to check out so we decided to go. Clive was originally going to accompany us but it was getting late so we made arrangements with two of the bar staff – G and Benny who were willing to take us. Benny’s fiance Charity also joined us.
We ended up walking to Wamzito night club which is the only club in town. All ages it seemed for only 20 Pula entry fee. The bars in Palapye close at 11PM everyday are aren’t allowed to serve alcohol past that time so they all come from the bar to the club. The club opens at 11PM which is the time we arrived. Pretty dead for the first hour but then the crowd slowly but surely filled out. The music playing was house music (not really my cup of tea) and we stayed on the couch for a little while. We were definitely the minority in the club and had many people come up to us just to shake our hands. We danced for a bit and we wanted to walk back but G kept telling us we shouldn’t. Luckily enough Benny and Charity hadn’t left yet and drove us back. I can definitely say Sarah was the life of the party that night with her dance moves and got her photo and video taken by/with the locals. There was a row of food being sold on the side of the road but the rules of the road were out the door with 3-4 lanes trying to find parking at the club leaving us stuck just outside the club for a long period of time. We got back to the camp and showered around 130-2AM and went to bed.
Another 5 hours in the truck to get to our next destination in South Africa. We crossed the Botswana border to enter South Africa. Pretty quick and easy. The river divides the Botswana and South Africa but also two other countries.
South Africa info
-Population of 56 Billion
-South Africa is still under dictatorship.
-There are 11 official languages – 9 that are African
-SA in the Iron age was gold trading with China
-In the 1400’s Europeans & Portuguese wanted to use Africa as a route to trade with China
-The Dutch came in the 1600’s in persecution.
-The French came down and brought wine and formed the African culture of wine
-The British came and colonized and pushed the Dutch inland in 1820s
-Union of South Africa Cape created the Orange free state and Transvaal where the Dutch inherited the apartheid with white segregation 50-70s
-Cape Town was the first to be explored.
-Johannesburg was a gold mining town and is the largest city in the world not sitting near water
-The Blacks, Indians and Chinese were categorized and segregated by race
-These ethnicities lives in the township of Soweto which meant South West township
-They were issued a dog pass that they had to use to get into the city with curfews and segregated in all walks of life (bathrooms, buses etc)
-Mixed race people would be put into prison as black and white weren’t allowed to procreate
-1976 massacre saw 176 students killed as students from the Soweto township protested against the Apartheid.
-In schools, students must learn Afrikaans languages.
-With the Soweto uprising – The English, Canadians and Australians shut down trading with South Africa
-Only by 1980’s the trading started again.
-In 1994, South Africa became a democracy and Nelson Mandela became the first president of South Africa.
-South Africa holds the Guinness World Records for having 2 Nobel peace prize awarded
-The population is comprised of 80% black and 20% white
-Gay marriage was put into law early on
-South Africa is slowly balancing it out with the government giving more incentive for Black owned companies
-The 1995 movie Invictus shows us how two South African men – Nelson Mandela & Francois Pienaar united a country using Soccer / Rugby.
-The South African flag features a sideways Y which represents people coming together – The rainbow nation.
-South Africa is the largest producers of platinum in the world. They also mine Chromium and Angston
-80% of the country is run on coal
-East coast cities like Durban have warm tropical beaches
-West coast cities have cold climate linked by deserts
-Cape Town rainy climate
-South Africa has so many different ecosystems within it’s country
-It has the 2nd largest population of Indian outside of india
-Unemployment is high
-The language of Afrikaans is a mix of Dutch, Belgian, German, French & Flemish
After 5 hours of travelling, we arrived in Polokwane, South Africa. We stopped by the mall for an hour lunch so the staff could go grocery shopping for the next few days. The girls and myself shared 4 pies from King Pie. NOTE – The bureau and alcohol stores are closed on Sundays. Unlike many places I’ve visited, it is very strange to be in a place where black and white people and some Indian are the norm however being an Asian person is a rarity. The staring is not subtle at all. We hopped back into the truck and stayed the night at Boma in the Bush. The camping property is quite large but no wifi and the bar is situated in the house of the owner. The water pressure for the showers was the best thus far of the trip.
It was my day to do cooking prep in the rotation. The sky started turning darker as we prepped and the temperature dropped significantly. Rain was coming. After prepping, we did a little bit of a yoga session lead by Lisa pre-dinner before it started to rain. We had free time and I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. The girls ended up by the pool reading and catching up on their journaling and the rest were napping or at the bar.
For dinner, we had beef stroganoff and vegetables. The kitchen had covered grounds with a fridge and outlets so we just hung out there into the night as one by one we all went to shower. We ended up staying up until 11PM chatting away after dinner with Alberto about life and the tour itself and how expensive it was to fly out of Costa Rica.
There was a crazy amount of lightning and thunder overnight. The clothes I was regretting to have brought (long sleeves and pants) came in handy in that moment.
-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.
My friend Sarah originally asked me to go to Africa with her about 2.5 years ago but unfortunately timing didn’t work out back then. I did promise her that the next time she wanted to return, that I would join her and that I did.
Travelling with 4 in total (Sarah, Lulu & Jin), we arrived at the airport (YYZ) and checked in together with a lovely lady who called out Sarah for being in her own time zone. She scolded me for how small my signature was but first time in probably 3 years that I have checked a bag. We booked with Ethiopian Airlines, which is affiliated with Air Canada. The system isn’t 100% connected, as we needed to check in at CDG for the rest of our connecting flights. Our luggage however would meet us in Zimbabwe. We had 2 connecting flights – YYZ->CDG; CDG->ADD; ADD->VGA.
We got through security no problem with time to spare and grabbed burgers, fries and a shake before boarding. We didn’t check but our flight also included 2 meals (oops). We all sat together and watched Girls Trip simultaneously. Sarah on the other hand, had deep conversations with the passenger beside her for more than 3 hours with no breaks of silence. Usually I can fall asleep no problem but that flight, I was restless.
We arrived at CDG to temperatures outside of 2-4C degrees. We walked over to terminal 2 to catch the RER B train into town. You need to line up to purchase RER tickets at the machines. A 2-way ticket was 20,60 euro – single 10,30 euro. Arriving at Chatelet des Halles, we walked over to Centre Pompidou Museum (Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France) but only walked the perimeters and surrounding area. For only 5 euros, you can get the panoramic ticket, which allows you to take the escalator to the top of the building to get a scenic panoramic view of the city. The fountain was turned off but there was a large golden thumb statue called The Thumb of Caesar. A little chilled to the bone, we stopped to rest and eat lunch at Le Cafe Rive Droite (2 Rue Berger, 75001 Paris, France) where I ordered the croque monsieur – 7,80 euro.
The goal for this roughly 10-hour layover was to see a good chunk of Paris (parts I haven’t seen in my past travels too) for as cheap as possible and spend some money on food before heading back to the airport. I am a huge fan of alleyways or hidden streets because they create wonderful vignettes unbeknownst to the rest of the surrounding area for that moment in time. I had looked up a few galerie & passages before coming to get a little glimpse of old Paris with its eclectic style and architecture that is still preserved.
We unfortunately didn’t have time to make it to L’ardoise (28 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, France) for a meal – It is a Michelin starred restaurant I had looked up nearby with a prefixed menu for 38 euro but lunch service ended at 3PM. After the Louvre, we decided we wanted to sit indoors somewhere because the cold was getting to us especially with Sarah in her Birkenstocks (which a I think a German man noticed while we were getting crepes and commented “are you mad?!”. We decided to stay near the Seine river and stopped by Coffee Crepes (24 Quai du Louvre, 75001 Paris, France). We all ordered a nice After Eight minty hot chocolates then took a quick glimpse of La Seine river with faraway views of the Eiffel Tower.
We hopped on the train around 6PM and at one point, we had to transfer trains because someone got sick but luckily a local man saw we didn’t get off and lead the way for us to the new train. Once back in terminal 2, we saw line to check-in was incredibly long and luckily enough, we were able to check-in online to avoid that line. Before we boarded the flight from CDG to Addis Ababa, the flight attendant came up to us and asked for our passports. Since the system wasn’t 100% connected before, our luggage was brought to their attention but not connected to a boarding pass until they fixed it in the system. The flight was much better with more rest. 2 more meals (yay).
The flight was still a long haul. But the last flight felt even longer with these 3 guys sitting around myself and the girls, who kept getting up, brought tons of snacks. Way too fidgety for me and they were really rude to the staff thinking they could leave their stuff everywhere and walk anywhere they wanted. We finally arrived and beat the line to customs where we got our single entry visa for $75USD. On the Go Tours arranged airport pickup and away we went. The 30-minute van ride was the best sleep I had in the past 24 hours.
We stayed at the Shearwater Explorer Village (Adam Stander Dr, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe) where our accommodations where in tents on-site with a cot. *DOUBLE CHECK the cots for bed bugs before using it. Apparently the 2 cots in my domed tent had bed bugs as Lulu and myself woke up with these bug bites on our legs that did not resemble mosquito bites. The facility has 4 separate campsite tent areas with shared showers and toilet areas (hot water and toilet paper included) with a main building that has a infinity pool, spa and restaurant along with lodges you can upgrade to. The tents with the cots are the holding area as the 3 other campsite areas are where you are grouped by your tour.
The first night they provide you with a lock for the tent however, the second night, we got moved to another tent (which will be our tents for our trip). These tents, you will be required your own lock. We used my luggage lock. Once we settled into our tent, off we went to the pool to relax. We showered and by the time we were finished, we had a group meeting. On the Go Tours teams up with ATC (African tour company) a local tour company. This meeting is a debriefing of the tour and also where you share with your guides your insurance information and also get to meet one another. Clive was our cook, Frans our driver and Will our guide. Will went over an updated list of all the stops along the way as sometimes the information on the website isn’t 100% up to date. He also listed almost all the excursions that are included and optional add-ons. He also told us that we should save our physical money to pay for tours as they include a 11% inflation rate on credit cards but for normal day to day meals and whatnot to use credit cards like we do back home. Also to save local currency for tips.
Our group for this tour consisted of 13 people plus the 3 staff. Lisa the Yoga Teacher and Katie the Paramedic (Katherine) from Toronto/Calgary and Hamilton, Gordon & Margaret and David and Marianne all retired teachers and nurses from Hope, BC, Susan the Mental Health Administrator from Australia, Stephanie the Electrical Engineer from Dublin (who is working in Cape Town) and Alberto the Lawyer / Events Production company / Farmer etc from Costa Rica.
Also note that although first night accommodation is included in price, meals are not included until the Monday morning when you leave Zimbabwe for Botswana. The currency they use in Zimbabwe is USD.
We decided to go check out the market just outside the gate of our accommodations and just looking at possible souvenirs but the men the market are very pushy always approaching you “sister, take a look at my store, I give your sunset deal”. A little too aggressive for my taste. In terms of being on a tour, this was the only time we had to check out markets for souvenirs and because we had just arrived and we hadn’t even seen any animals we couldn’t justify purchasing anything – a big regret on our part. Zimbabwe is known for their precious stones and there were many beautiful stone sculptures of the big five amongst other things. The average for these stone statues asking price was $25USD but you need to haggle with them. Some other statues could be haggled for cheaper like $5USD. We had arranged to go for dinner with the group with our tour at the nearby restaurant The Three Monkeys and we walked over together. The food is great. We were recommended to get “The Dude burger” or in matter of fact, any burger or pizza – all American sized portions.
The girls and myself sat with Frans and Will and got to know them better. Both have been with ATC for about 1.5-2 years a abs both are from Joburg. Frans is 28 with a young baby at home (taking time off after this tour) Clive is 31 with 4 children and Will is 30 and has a younger sister who is working to save the endangered animals and their environments.
For those who wish to walk with lions, check out Lion Encounter. My friend was working with this organization however we both dropped the ball and didn’t connect or follow-up with one another and missed re-connecting in the short period of time that both of us would have been in Vic Falls.