23-26 September, 2000
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ROUTE and COUNTRY INFO for Zimbabwe
From Egypt, we actually flew to Johannesburg, South Africa, where we stayed for one week before departing for our Botswana/Zimbabwe safari over land. For the sake of readability, we've gone ahead and skipped that first week in South Africa for the time being. You can read about our first week in South Africa later. For now, let's get on with our Zimbabwe and Botswana safari experience...
In Johannesburg, we joined up with our safari operator, our capable guide Anton, and the thirteen other people we were about to get to know very well over the course of the next two weeks. Our fellow adventurers were: Richard and Yolanda from Holland, Jeremy from England, Matthew from New York City (hey, another American!), Anders from Sweden, Erika and Peter from Austria, Isabelle and Fabien from France, and Hans and Sabine from Germany. We woke up very early in the morning on our first day, and we were off in our transport vehicle for the long, long, long 14-hour drive north to Nata, Botswana. We spent the night at a camping lodge in Nata, where we were briefed on the details of our upcoming two weeks, before loading into our high-clearance 4WD Mercedes safari vehicle for the drive to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, the next morning.
Our safari team...after 10 days on the road)
We had signed up for a two-week long camping safari through Zimbabwe and Botswana. What this amounted to was basically an extended camping trip in the bush. Since we had signed up for a "participatory camping" safari, this meant that our trip wasn't going to be just another walk in the park, so to speak. We had to assist with all camp tasks, including setting up camp, pitching our own tents, and helping with the cooking and cleaning duties. With the exception of our two days in Zimbabwe, the entire 16 days were very much a "roughing it" experience. This really made the adventure (especially in wild Botswana) an even more memorable one, as we were experiencing wild Africa as it should be experienced -- out in the bush, far away from civilization, with few of the comforts of home. We really had blast!
A Quick Introducion to the Country
Zimbabwe is a country full of remarkable wilderness and friendly people. Through much of the 20th century, the country (then called Rhodesia) was, like South Africa, ruled by a white minority. That changed in 1980, when the country gained its independence from Great Britain. Initially, things looked quite bright for the newly independent Zimbabwe. But Robert Mugabe, the man who was elected as the first president of free Zimbabwe and who continues to run the country, has turned out to be a classic example of a post-revolutionary African dictator in a republican president's clothing. He's one of those politicians who is willing to do anything to stay in power, even if that means ruining his country and starving his people in the process. The ongoing murders of white farmers by "war veteran" squatters have been indirectly supported by Mugabe, who has been stirring up racial hatred in an attempt to take all eyes off his own ineptitude. Zimbabwe, once a promising southern African nation, now lies impoverished, the victim of Mugabe's corrupt political machine. Our guess is that Mugabe's days are numbered and that he will soon go the way of Slobodan Milosovic, overthrown by a population that is increasingly weary of the terrible state their leader has placed them in.
Spectacular Victoria Falls
Despite the country's political and economic problems, Zimbabwe remains an outstanding travel destination. It has great stretches of unspoiled wilderness, lots of classic African wildlife, and a bright and friendly culture. Unfortunately, we only had two days here before we had to move on to Botswana. But the two days we spent here, in Victoria Falls, were really fun.
Waterfalls and Whitewater in Africa's Adrenalin CapitalSeptember 23-26
Another View of the Falls
Victoria Falls is a famous place. "Discovered" (for the white man, anyway) by the remarkable African explorer David Livingstone in the 19th century, Victoria Falls was then known by the locals as Mosi-oa-tunya, or the "Smoke that Thunders." One of the world's natural wonders, Victoria Falls is quite a spectacle to behold. The falls lie on Zimbabwe's border with Zambia, where the Zambezi river drops a stunning 100m (320 feet) over a 1.7km-wide basalt precipice. The Zambezi is one of Africa's great rivers and the volume of water that passes over the falls is tremendous. All that water kicks up a perpetual mist which forms around the thundering falls, which in turn has created an isolated rainforest jungle in the middle of otherwise dry savannah woodland. You can walk on pathways above the falls and enjoy incredible views from different vantage points. Above the falls, elephants and crocodiles wallow in the water, reminding you that, although you are at one of Africa's biggest tourist destinations, you are still very much in the middle of a wilderness area.
With the Falls behind us
In addition to having famous waterfalls, the area around Victoria Falls has become known, in recent years, as the "adrenalin capital" of Africa. Here, you can sign up for a number of heart-pounding activities, including whitewater rafting down the mighty Zambezi, bungey-jumping off a ridiculously tall bridge, riverboarding, canoing, ultralight flights over the falls...you name it. If it involves adrenalin sports, you can probably do it in Vic Falls.
We couldn't resist the urge to put ourselves at the mercy of the Zambezi in a flimsy rubber boat, so we signed up for an all-day rafting trip on the river. The "Mighty Z" is one of the world's greatest (and scariest) rafting rivers. Most of the rapids on this 18km-long stretch of river are Class IV or V -- the toughest rapids possible to run commercially. It's easy to get nervous when your river guide yells out the names of upcoming rapids, like "Devil's Toilet Bowl" and "Overland Truck Eater"! Fortunately, the Zambezi is a safe river to run despite its many terror-inducing rapids. There is so much water flowing through the canyon below Vic Falls that the river is actually very deep, so your chances of being dashed into rocks upon falling out is very low. After each set of big rapids, there are usually long stretches of calm water. So when you fall out (and if you go on this river, you almost certainly will go in the drink), your raft will simply pick you up again in the calm water below the rapids. We each fell out of the raft only once, but we watched many others launch (sometimes spectacularly) out of their rafts into the rapids on many occasions. The entire river run was really an exhilerating experience. We would have done it again the next day if we had the time!
Wahoo! Down the Zambezi! (that's us in the rear left side of the raft)
Sunset over Zambia
Hanging out in camp
From Victoria Falls, we doubled back to Botswana, then spent our first night camping on Sikoma Island on the Zambezi River. The island actually belongs to the country of Zambia. Getting to the island involved a one hour boat ride through pretty, reed-lined waterlands. We briefly passed through Namibian territory before finally arriving on the island. That afternoon, we went on a guided walk around the island, where we learned about the native plants and trees before returning to the relative comfort of our camp site, which actually had showers, toilets and even a small bar (!). This was the last time we would have these creature comforts for quite a while. It was on the island that we got our first true taste of African wilderness -- late that evening, while we all (tried to) sleep, we could hear hippos rummaging in the bush just outside our camp site! The hippos were the first of the many nighttime visitors we would have over the course of the next two weeks.
Setting up camp on the island
From the island, we left the next morning once again for Botswana, where the real wilderness adventure began...
Back to Egypt On to Botswana!
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