Here is the second installment of my daily travel journaling and photos from my grand African adventure – this time from Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe! Read the first installment from Namibia here. I want to apologize for this writing being a bit less than professional – but I kept it journal-style and how it would be if I was just writing solely for my own personal remembrance (which I am, really!). Hope you enjoy my personal notes and/or my photos from this amazing journey.
Day 12: Namibia to Ghanzi, Botswana
We arrived at our camp and had a bit of free time before our activity of the day – a walk with the San Bushmen, indigenous to the area. We were thinking it might be like our ‘bushman walk’ a few days ago in Spitzkoppe, where we walked to some rock paintings and learned about the history of the fascinating bushmen. But, we were very wrong! This time we were in for a far more immersive experience.
We found this out when we saw two men approaching the campsite dressed in loincloths made of animal skins. One was carrying a big bag on his back, almost reminiscent of a quiver, but with different lengths and sharpnesses of sticks inside it. We all looked up in silence, confusion, and awe, wondering what we were to do.
I covered this entire day and experience in this blog post right here! It was a full-on day experiencing traditional bushman life and learning all about how they used to live, and what they still do today.
At night we got to see a fascinating traditional dance that they do as well; this was one of the most interesting parts for me because we learned that they partake in these dances from sundown to sunrise, and many enter a state of trance that they use to summon a higher power to heal someone or help with hunting. Pretty crazy – read it in the post!
Day 13: Ghanzi to Maun
Today was not the best – I woke up to find that my computer, for some reason, would not turn on. I charged it all day at the other camp, but now it seemed totally and terrifyingly dead.
After trying a few plugs at one of our snack stops to no avail at all, and after a brief panic attack in the shopping center, a lovely lady came over to me when she saw I was upset. She directed me to a repair shop across the street, to which I took my computer with haste.
The guys there (a tiny little shack-type shop) did a test on my charger and found that power was not making it to the end… thinking that my charger was the problem and that my computer was just completely out of power. This was good news, at least hoping that the problem isn’t my actual computer (haven’t backed my photos up yet, tried and failed yesterday and planned to do it today. Classic.)
I was itching my foot like crazy, only to discover over 12 closely-knit mosquito bites on each heel. I had gotten bitten all over my feet even after using bug spray, and mozzies had found a way to bite me through my athletic pants two nights prior – over 10 times. These are very harsh mosquito bites too, that keep me up at night and itch more than I can ever remember before.
I took a Benadryl and passed out for the rest of the drive, not wanting to confront reality. But when we arrived I got yet another text saying that the zoom lens had ordered before my trip that got messed up and sent to the wrong address, would cost more to send to Zambia that it cost me to ship it from the USA. GREAT. Yet another thing to deal with, when the lens I do have doesn’t even zoom farther than my eye can see and gets terrible photos of any animals we do see.
So I basically moped around today, trying to stay positive but feeling pretty defeated. After sitting on my phone at wifi for a while, I did a quick workout and took a nice refreshing shower, rebirthing into a happy positive human whose computer will get fixed, bug bites will heal, and lens WILL arrive… hopefully in time for at least the last few game drives. ✨
Day 14: Maun to Okavango Delta
Since this was such an incredible, enriching, and multi-layer experience, I have actually made it into its own blog post as well! Read Here: A night at the Okavango Delta in Botswana, covering this whole day and half of the next 🙂 See the photos as well!
Delta to Maun
Again, see my blog post (link above) for this morning’s happenings and sunrise bush walk!
I was able to catch some sleep (somehow) on our bumpy car ride back to camp. It was a free afternoon, so after lunch a few of us decided to get a cab to take us 20k to explore the town of Maun. We did a bit of shopping and walking around – nothing too crazy. We did however stumble upon a cell phone shop with a glowing apple symbol inside – and luckily I brought my dead computer with me!!
I was stoked to talk to a vey professional guy who took a look at my computer and said he would be able to fix it for me in a few hours for $90. Desperate and so happy to actually find someone here to help, I agreed. He said there was lots of dust stuck in the computer, but he opened it up and gave it a great clean and service, and to my happiness it worked…..
I was on top of the world coming back to camp and jumping right back into where I left off with all my blog posts and photos. I had so much to do!! When dinner time arrived, I closed my screen about half way as to allow some photos to finish uploading to my blog, and because I hadn’t gone back to the truck to get my hard drive to back it up yet.
But when I opened it up again to plug in my headphones……..
I pressed all buttons and wound the charger around every which way. It was dead again, in the same exact way that it was before. Totally dead. Blinking charger, no signs of life, no nothing.
I was devastated. Had I just wasted $90 on this crap, not to even finish one post or back it up? I sent the guy who fixed it an email, and went back to the truck to sit for a while before joining my group at dinner. I wasn’t hungry. I was feeling so defeated.
I had a few bites of dinner, and my group could all tell what was going on. Not having a computer is far more devastating to me than it would be for anyone else, simply given my passion and dedication to my blog. I had JUST gotten my pageviews back after it was broken for 2 months during my peak season of summer, and I struggled for months while working more than full time in Australia, and now right when I am on such a great blogging track, it shits out on me in the middle of rural Botswana. WHY?!? And now I had wasted $90 on a fix that lasted an hour. I sat for a while and decided to retire to my tent, managing a few emails before calling it a day.
Maun to Elephant Sands
After breakfast, we stopped in Maun for a brief moment so I could see if I could get my money back for the computer. Only a young boy was there at the time, unable to reach his uncle who had fixed it yesterday. I was adamant about a refund, reaching him, or getting him here, and the boy was very sincere and was saying they would fix it if I left it, or to come back in a few hours, and that he would be here at 11. I told him that was simply impossible; I was leaving and never coming back. He assured me that his uncle would not do a cheap fix especially for white people (interesting I guess) and had me leave my email and details for him to forward on. A slim chance of hope, but a chance nonetheless.
After hearing some more history of Botswana from Pete, we actually encountered lots of elephants not too far from the road!! There was a mother and daughter playing, and then a group of 5 or 6 as well – beautiful, healthy, wild animals with long white tusks. It was pretty incredible and lifted my mood a great deal.
It’s currently right In the midst of wet season, and although we haven’t personally had too much rain (and it’s still SO hot), the plains leading to our next camp (Elephant Sands) were totally flooded. We came up to a submerged stretch of road with tow trucks lifting and carrying small cars across, and nearly sailed the truck across about a kilometer of wet road. Ben did well!
Our camp today was super cute, with a nice bar and pool area and nice ‘glamping’ type cabins to rent out. We had a free afternoon after lunch. I fell asleep for a bit on an extremely comfortable couch near the pool, swam a bit, tanned a bit, walked around the campsite (although we weren’t allowed to walk far because of animals) and even did a bit of free flow yoga in the shade. I gave myself a pep talk and a good few mediation sessions and got my mind back in the right place to enjoy my incredible journey – computer or not!
After an open-air shower, watching the sunset from the top of the truck, and a lovely dinner, we all headed to the bar area to observe the watering hole for a bit in hopes of some elephants.
This camp is not fenced – meaning wild animals could literally walk though at any time!! Pretty crazy. Pete told us to always use our flashlights in the night and to stay aware of our surroundings because, of course, wild animals are unpredictable. No one wants to be attacked by an elephant!
We all sat and talked at the watering hole over a drink or two, and just as a few of us left to get ready for bed, the guest we had all been waiting for decided to finally make an appearance!! Toothbrush still in my mouth, we ran out to the rest of our group just in time to see a big, tusked, grey elephant meandering her way up to the water to take a few drinks. We attempted a few photos in the dark night, as the beautiful, patient, massive animal repeatedly poured water from the hole into her mouth and looked around a bit. It was amazing!!
I retreated to my tent afterwards, which I set up to face the watering hole as well. After some music and nightly stargazing, it was time for sleep – just hoping no elephants decided to wake me in the night!!
Elephant Sands to Chobe NP
I awoke to a gorgeous cotton candy sunrise just outside my tent, which helped me wake up rather quickly. Today we drove to Chobe National Park; we packed our lunches at breakfast because we had to be there by noon for a scheduled game drive and boat ride.
As soon as we set up our tents at our new campsite and got ready, we climbed into an open safari vehicle which was pretty much exactly what you would picture going on a safari in. Chobe was just a few minutes away, and we were in for the best game drive yet.
As soon as we entered the gates we saw lots of impalas and antelopes. It wasn’t long before we were gushing over some adorable warthogs grazing by the road and surprised by some massive giraffes nibbling from the treetops right behind it. This was the closest we had come to them!!
There were tons more ‘pumba’ warthogs running around the park, with some adorable little babies. We spotted our first few hippos in the Chobe river as well, soon to be seeing dozens of then popping their little eyes out of the water before becoming submerged again. We saw some beady crododile eyes sticking out the water, a massive water monitor lizard, loads of birds, herds of impalas and kudu prancing around, and dozens of elephants wading their way through the shallow water. It was magical!!
The best part was when our guide took us to a place he had seen lions mating earlier – and they were still there!!! This was such a surreal moment to see the animal we had all been waiting for. The lioness was taking a cozy little catnap in the shade of a bush, and the lion appeared with a bit of a roar a few minutes later. We gazed wide-eyed at the two of them, like a true African dream come true.
After our game drive it was time for a boat cruise that came as part of our tour. We had filled our cooler with some drinks from earlier, and brought it on a pretty nice double-decker barge with folding chairs set out for us.
The river cruise was lovely – we saw an African Fish Eagle catching some prey, and ticked off #4 of the big five – a water buffalo!! We enjoyed some laughs and drinks as we cruised along the picturesque river, gazing at wild hippos and elephants in their natural habitat. The cruise ended with a bang with a spectacular sunset, on par with the rest of the tour really😝
We had an amazing dinner ready for us when we got back, and even some chocolate mousse! Thanks Pete. After attempting to scrape up some dodgy wifi, it was time to rest before an early wake up tomorrow.
Chobe to Livingstone
We were up at half 5 to get ready to cross the river into Zambia. Interestingly enough, this point is the intersection of four countries – Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia! We got on a ferry to exit Botswana, and got our $50 visa fee ready for Pete to take. After an obnoxiously long (standard) wait, we were in – and I had a cool new Zambia-Zimbabwe univisa page in my passport to prove it!
After stopping in a shopping center to exchange our money for Zambian Kwacha, our first stop was Victoria Falls themselves!! So, the Falls were ‘discovered’ by (the first white person to see them) British explorer David Livingstone, and named after Queen Victoria. But, the local tribes had their own name for the falls as well, Mosi Oa Tunya – ‘the smoke that thunders.’ We quickly discovered how fitting this name was when we entered the park. It’s wet season now, meaning the water levels are high- VERY high. There is so much water going over Victoria Falls at the moment that when it hits the bottom of the waterfall the spray comes right back up so powerfully that clouds of it can be seen billowing up over 20km away!! We saw these clouds of spray as we drove up to the site; it was incredible.
We walked in and had to rent raincoats for $1 if we wanted to stay remotely dry. I wasn’t sure how wet we would get, but I quickly found out that I needed to put my backpack underneath my raincoat as well because this was like a literal monsoon!! I took most photos with my Go Pro as we wandered around, when the spray occasionally cleared enough to provide us with better views of this 2km-long waterfall. It was such a raw, powerful force of nature, and watching the millions of liters of water fall over 100m to the depths of the river to curve back and forth through the rest of the Zambezi river was unforgettable.
I found a little hiking trail to get to the bottom under the Victoria Falls bridge, where there was a churning pot of water called the ‘boiling pot.’ This turning rapid was caused by resistance of the surrounding rocks to water erosion. You can see it in my video!
After running around on different trails for the full 2 hours, I returned my raincoat and the guy threw in a necklace for me for $1 because he was desperate not to have to give me change for the equivalent of $2. I’m actually pretty happy with it, though – its a ‘nyami nyami,’ which I soon discovered that they sell absolutely everywhere here because it’s the spirit/god of the Zambezi river.
When we returned, I was ready to go into town and locate the very first computer repair shop I possibly could. I talked to the front dest and they said they would call their IT guy, which ended up being a great idea. My new best friend, Chris, came down to have a look at my computer, and then we took a taxi to one of his friends’ repair shops in town. After quickly popping out and replacing the battery and rams… it turned on. What?!?! I didn’t know what was wrong (it just needed a reset I suppose) but I was so ecstatic to give these guys some money and go happily on my way. I closed and opened it many times and checked everything – yep, it seemed ok!! I happily left to wander around town a bit before heading back to the hotel.
Livingstone quickly became my favorite town we have visited so far. It’s the first bustling town center where I was really thought to myself, ‘ THIS is AFRICA.”
The town is absolutely bustling, with little tables and tarps set up everywhere with people hustling different kinds of items – from fruit and veggies to second hand clothes to all sorts of electronics to sunglasses to little sweets.
Imagine the brightest colors you can, and add them to all the most angular and eccentric tribal patterns you can think of. Now imagine all the beautiful Zambian women walking about the streets in long sarongs of these patterns, with equally colorful tops and head wraps, often carrying something on their head as they walk (like a basket of potatoes or a carton of soft drink) or a little baby on their back wrapped in another sarong.
I went to one market and it was a hilarious experience being personally greeted and talked up by each and every stall owner. “How are you? what is your name? Where are you from? It’s free to look! Try it on. Look at these. You will love this.” I actually didn’t bring money with me because I planned to look at everything and come back the next day… and I told the stall owners this as I went by. I must have promised about 10 people I would remember their stall number and return the next day. But, the thing is, they don’t forget!! I have never felt like such a celebrity than I did returning to the same market as I had already been to, hearing calls of “Kim!” And “California!” As I walked by! So funny; you honestly feel like a celebrity.
Livingstone is what would be considered a touristy town, but I get the impression that the kinds of tourists who come here tend to be the type to remain at their resorts through their stay. I got the feeling that people in town didn’t tend to see many tourists, and I was warmly greeting and smiling with nearly everyone I passed by on the street. I had so many genuine and funny conversations with people as I walked along solo, so much my face hurt from smiling so much.
Since Livingstone is the end destination of this leg of the tour (most people in my group are finished here), it’s time for Min and I to jump on another truck bound for Johannesburg (where I will jump on yet another one just before, to return to Cape Town.) So tonight was the ‘pre-departure meeting’ for this new tour, which we joined at the hotel at 6. We were just a group of 6 – Min (South korea) and I, two Americans from Iowa, and Aussie, and a Brazillian. Our tour guide Justin seems like a legend as well. Funnily enough, this leg of the tour is bookable as an accommodated tour, as we stay at hotels with camping options the entire time to Joburg (7 days). And, every other person booked it as accommodated!! So Min and I can either pay a bit to upgrade to real rooms (very tempting) or will be the only ones in tents!
After one final family dinner with our other group and a few drinks (I bought three little flask-sized alcohol bottles for $2 at a market, and after confirming with Pete they wouldn’t kill us we had a few laughs passing them around to try) it was time to call it a night.
Livingstone Day 2
We were up at 7 for brekkie, and after some computer work (finally got a new post out, yeeeeow!) it was time for the only tour I booked in Livingstone – a tour of the ‘Angel’s Pool.’ If you have been following my blog you already know how this one went!!
Read all about my experience swimming on the edge of a 350ft tall waterfall here.
After we got off the tour, we went straight into town, where I took Francois and Min to the markets I had been to a day earlier. Today, I was really buying things, and was ready to bargain my brains out for some cool African souvenirs. This was honestly the first really good market we had been to, so souvenirs were feeling a bit overdue. A few people legitimately remembered me, and I remembered a few names as well. We spent such a long time wandering through, being roped into stores, conversing with people, bartering, walking away, coming back, and bartering again.
Here they will start up to FOUR times as much as they will actually take for items, so it’s really important to negotiate. This market had SO many amazing prints and colors for all types of clothes, with lots of patchwork items as well. I have dubbed this place the ‘party shirt heaven,’ with button-up’s in only the most epic of colors and prints all over the place. Long story short, I ended up with a patchwork skirt, two scrunchies, a little zip wallet, a headband, and a few necklaces. I tried on some of the most hilarious pants I have ever seen, and one of the highlights of my travels is when I traded a guy two rubber bands, a keychain, and the equivalent of $2 for a traditional necklace!!! Hahahah, how funny is that? That’s African bartering in a nutshell.
When Francois and Min went to go bungee jumping (for $160… sigh, nah). I set out to wander the town alone. I honestly love this town so much. Like I said before, people are all SO nice. I don’t think many tourists make it to town, so when people see you they smile and often talk to you. This is sometimes because they are nice, and sometimes because they plan to eventually pull something out of their pocket that they want to sell you (like copper bracelets of little carved wooden animals). Another classic African occurrence 😛
I ended up with a cool sarong for $2 and had so many laughs and random conversations with people on the road and inside their shops. I felt so alive and happy, experiencing a different country, culture, and people first hand who would so openly engage and share stories. I waved at so many adorable little babies and shared smiles with so many strangers. Ah, Zambia, why only two days?!
I must have wandered through all the possible shops and back streets and markets when I finally settled into a coffee shop for some wifi. To my delight and surprise, the wifi (at the second shop I tried :P) was fantastic. I lapped up the connection like a dehydrated cat with a bowl of milk, before heading breifly back to camp.
I moved all the stuff over to my new truck, sad to leave my old one! I grabbed a cider from the bar and watched the sunset from a little pool near the river, feeling content as can be. Francois agreed to share a taxi back to get dinner at that place with good wifi, and we went there to catch up on on some things until it closed.
Day 21: Livingstone to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
This was our first day on the new tour, and the camping peasants (Min and I) joined our far-fancier counterparts at their included hotel breakfast… paid for by Justin because it would be silly to prepare a camp breakfast for just two!! This was a luxurious breakfast as well – all sorts of tins of nice hot food prepared to order. As usual, we indulged in the good food a bit too much (way too many pieces of juicy banana bread) before taking in some last sights of the gradiose waterfall spray over a cup of coffee.
We had a fairly painless crossing into Zimbabwe, and were briefed on some of the countries’ fairly rocky political history an current situation. Basically, Zimbabwe is under the control of a 93-year old dictator and a very, very corrupt government. It faced a very rough time in the mid-2000’s when the economy completely crashed and became unable to depend on itself, leading to massive inflation, crime rates, and up to 90% (yes, nine-zero) unemployment. Damn. They never fell into war because the people were hungry and are apparently innately peaceful, and at this point in time it seems as if they are merely waiting for Robert Mugabe to either die or will elect someone new at the election next year… assuming it isn’t rigged, which is probable. This is my current and brief understanding of it from a long conversation with Justin, but he told us never to talk politics here because it’s a sore subject. Good to know!
Today is a looooooong driving day, and I am actually sitting here on my (happily alive) computer writing away. The landscape has changed SO much throughout our trip. Here in Zimbabwe, now, it is green… but not green and bushy like Botswana and northern Namibia. It is green and very foresty, with tall trees everywhere and rolling hills in the distance. It’s very beautiful, really!
After the long drive and learning a new card game on the bus, we arrived in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s ‘second’ capital. We had a bit of time exploring the city before heading to our camp. Although the unemployment is absolutely staggering, you can tell that people do what they can to make a buck. The street was lined with people selling things, from bananas to electronics to piles and piles of used clothes.
Because of the high inflation a few years back (things costed up to ONE TRILLION Zimbabwe dollars – they kept having to drop zeros on their currency. Apparently prices would as much as double in one day back in ’05-‘08), they now use the US dollar here. But there is also a shortage of USD. I went to three ATM’s without being able to get money out. They introduced these Zimbabwe ‘bond notes’ a few years back, which are equal to USD and were meant to help the shortage of cash, but are also proving problematic for inflation. So… lots of issues.
Our camp was at a lovely family property just outside the city. I upgraded to a private room for $10/night – I couldn’t refuse because there was a strong wifi signal, and the ability to sit on a (real) bed working, with my computer plugged into a (real) wall, was incredibly luxurious!! So, that’s what the rest of my day entailed – photo editing and writing in bed, stopping to have dinner and wash up, and then back to the same thing. A real bed was lovely!!
Day 22: Matobo and Bulawayo
We had a massive lie-in today – breakfast was at 8, the latest we have had yet!! This morning it was time to meet with our extremely knowledgabe guide to to a rhino game walk in Matobo National Park, just outside the city. Ian, the guide, talked to us for a long while about the massive poaching problem rhinos are faced with, which will lead them to be extinct in 2-5 years if nothing is done!
In an open-topped safari vehicle, we drove about a half hour through the green hills of southern Zimbabwe. After speaking with some heavily armed guards who are hired to protect the rhinos at all hours of the day (see my post!), he learned about the location of some of the rhinos. We had signed our life away, and Ian gave us a safety speech before we left. These ARE wild animals, who can charge 0-60in less than 4 seconds. So follow his lead, stay quiet, crouch when he crouches, listen to him if he says ‘freeze’ or ‘run,’ and stay together!!
We set out through the bush to find the magical creatures. After a mere 5 minutes we were able to see the dark shadow of an adult female resting under a tree, and upon closer inspection, her little tiny baby at her side!
We slowly moved closer, with Ian making interesting animal sounds that are meant to signify a greeting to the rhinos, sort of like a ‘we come in peace.’ We crouched down less than 5 meters away from them, observing in silence.
There’s something humbling and even a bit freeing about being in the presence of a completely wild animal. Sort of like a ‘there’s no going back now’ moment, where you are an outsider in their home and natural habitat, and if they wanted to make a move we would be totally and utterly helpless. But as fellow animal species of this world, it was amazing to be able to connect so closely with the massive creatures.
Luckily these were some ‘white’ rhinos, which are less aggressive than black rhinos. They acknowledged us peacefully, and even allowed us to get a bit closer to take photos. The little baby got up and wandered around, as did the mother eventually. We quietly followed them as they walked over to another young male, also relaxing in the shadows. It was incredible!
After another short drive and talking to one of the heroic guards for a bit, we were able to find another group of FIVE rhinos relaxing in the shade. Like large boulders in the shade of the tree, they sat motionless in the heat of the Zimbabwean sun. We came around to get closer to one male, who also looked up at us peacefully but maybe a bit annoyed we disrupted his rest! One of our group members sneezed, causing the rhino to get up – probably one of the scariest moments! We all froze and looked at each other, but the rhino was simply looking for a more comfortable resting position.
We decided to leave the beasts to rest, which was the end of our little rhino tour. The rest of my day was spent with one of my good friends from tour guiding in Croatia, who is from Bulawayo! He ever-so-kindly offered to pick Min and I up and take us around to some points of interest in the area, teaching us some more history of the place from a local’s perspective. It was so cool to hang out with him in his ‘natural habitat’ in Zim rather than loud Crotaian bars, and to hear about his personal experience with all that the country has gone through.
He took us through more of town and to a church his school used to go to when he was growing up. Zimbabwe was a British colony, and it was very apparent in a lot of the architecture. We went to one of the most beautiful castles I have seen, which was apparently created by a Scottish couple back in the settlement days and fairly recently reconstructed into a venue. It was like a gorgeous classic Scottish castle but nestled within a much more tropical flora and fauna; it was surrounded by leafy trees, flowers, and vines which made for a really exotic setting for such a classically British looking castle! If there’s one place that would be perfect to get married – it would be here.
He then took us to the ‘hillside dams’ for some adventuring before sunset. This is a big, scenic area of little lakes and dams with trails throughout. It was so cool to be within such a leafy and tropical area – it seems as if the landscape is different on each day of our tour! We did some trail exploring before sitting down for a $1.80 beer at a restaurant overlooking a lake. We set up a shisha and watched the sunset over the lake, listening to a tribal song coming from somewhere across the lake. Pretty cool!
After some dinner back at camp and rallying the troops, Pana (my Zimbabwean friend) graciously came with some mates of his to take us out to a few bars in town! I hadn’t had a night out the whole trip, so it was really cool to be with some locals out on the town. The first bar we went to was a new, beautifully decorated shisha bar, and my group mingled with Pana’s friends and learned about each other’s cultures. I came to realize we had someone from every continent (besides Antarctica) sitting around the table- some Americans and I, the Zimbabweans, Min from South Korea, a backpacker from the hostel from the Netherlands, and Ricardo from Brazil! I don’t think that’s something I have been able to say before.
After a beautiful bar overlooking the city, we went to one more bar. I was quickly able to observe a big different at this bar than the others – everyone was white. I didn’t want to comment on anything at first, but the boys quickly explained that there was no particular reason for this place to be any different besides the music being played. White people tend to like the music more here as opposed to the other bars – it was more pop and house compared to R&B and rap. Interesting!
After it closed at 2, I thanked the boys profusely for showing us such kind-hearted Zimbabwean hospitality, and promised to host Pana in CA one day! Someday I will find out how to pay it forward to all the amazing people who have helped me out on my travels!