27 Weeks of Travelling……

and not shaving once, this is what happens!!!!

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Cape Town – the final countdown!

Once the alcohol wore off, Jamie had the hangover from hell. Luckily, South Africa is home to Maccas, so after the truck pulled up at our hotel & we’d unloaded all our worldly possessions, Katie, Jamie & I hightailed it to the golden arches, where our hangovers were soothed & the night pieced together over big macs & nuggets. We couldn’t check into our rooms until after 2pm, so we spent a few hours wandering the streets, trying to find something to take Jamie’s mind off his hangover. Cape Town is quite pretty, but it doesn’t feel like Africa at all. It sort of feels like Sydney’s cousin twice removed, you know, the one with the gammy leg & twitch that no one wants to sit next to at weddings…hang on, I may have been getting Cape Town & Jamie mixed up at that point….needless to say, it was quite nice, nothing too gobsmacking apart from Table Mountain which looms above you like a big…well…table…

When we finally got to check in (after 2 room switches, I don’t get how hotels can send you to a room, then call you and say, opps, wrong one, come back down again – did they not see the great hairy bear with a sore head I had with me?!?! That man needed a shower & a nap stat!) and fiiinally made it to our room on the 9th floor, which they sort of implied was an upgrade, but really it was just a room with 2 extra beds in it & no air-con & a dirty bath, we set about reviving the senses. Showers, naps & copious amounts of water saw us revived enough to head on out again & we wandered down to Waterfront – sort of like Darling Harbour or Docklands, but with people in it. We were still trying to get our heads around the trip being over. I can’t believe we’ll be going home in 6 days. It feels like we’ve only been away 6 weeks, China feels like a completely different trip. I have to remind myself that Jamie isn’t usually this hairy & it isn’t normal to be on the road all the time. Cape Town will be the first place we’ve stayed at longer than 3 days since Berlin, but travelling just feels so normal, it’s not hard or strange to not have a base. I think I could keep doing this forever! Luckily the cats, family, friends & the house tug at my heartstrings, so there is something pulling me towards home!

The next few days were spent walking up to the Table Mountain cable car – only to find the cable car closed due to high winds, so we couldn’t go up. Walking down to Camps Bay where we’d spend the last few days of the trip by the sea-side. Shopping – I love travelling with Jamie for many, many reasons, one of which being that when he’s OS, he likes to go shopping for things that don’t just come from Bunnings! Harbouring a freeloader on our hotel room floor (the third switch of our 3 night stay, grrr, Cape Diamond Hotel ain’t winning any friends with us – especially when you add the fact that they charge a billion bucks for interwebing, bastards!). Poor Katie was due to spend New Years in Cape Town & fly up to Port Elizabeth to volunteer on a lion project on the 1st – only problem was that she didn’t organise any accommodation for the last 2 nights till we arrived in Cape Town – by which time there were no rooms available anywhere – from backpackers to 5 stars, no room at the inn for our Katie. So she camped out on our floor, much to her distress at doing something naughty. I think this influenced our New Years as much as the bender 2 nights ago. Too fearful to leave the room for fear of getting us in trouble, too scared of alcohol on Jamie’s part, and truth be told, too damn lazy on my part to go out, we ate takeaway in our room, then watched the worst movie I’ve ever seen (Hot Tub Time Machine, I know, I know, the title reeeaaaalllyy should have tipped us off), then promptly went to sleep around 10pm. See ya 2011, you really have been one of the best years of my life, sorry to send you off in such a poor manner!

New Years day saw us say farewell to Katie, who really had become a great friend & a highly amusing salvation over our last few weeks. Despite the fact that we kept getting confused for her parents (I KNEW the grey hairs were getting worse!), we had a ball hanging out with the cheeky Gen Y’er & learnt several new phrases along the way as well! Left to our own devices for the first time in months, we decided to continue the tradition of going up a mountain on New Years Day (thankfully all proposals & weddings are done, so no surprises this time!) & headed back up to Table Mountain when we saw the cable car was working. It really is a breathtaking mountain & we spent several hours wandering around the top, taking some of the last pictures of the trip & reminiscing about the last 6 months of awesomeness.

We moved to our Camps Bay resort for the final 3 days & I must say, it is rather spiffy here! Bit odd to see Ferraris tooling down the promenade when there is a slum of 1.5 million not 10kms away, but I guess that’s what makes South Africa such a funny lil’ place. Complete opulence on one hand, very western & thinks itself quite grand, but behind the shiny veneer lies a very poor, very troubled African heart that doesn’t seem to be getting a slice of the money pie… The beach here is incredible though, such violent waves – even if the water temp wasn’t 10 degrees (yup – T.E.N) I still wouldn’t venture in for fear of a spinal injury! The waves crash down, sweeping anybody that has dared to venture in above their knees up onto the sand. We spent ages watching people get creamed, marvelling at how water safety is really something we take for granted!

We really tried to relax these last days, knowing that we’d have to hit the ground running when we got home, moving everything back into the house, catching up with everybody – looking for a job – eeek! We got one day poolside in, but couldn’t resist the temptation of a shark dive for our final day! We ummed & ahhed the whole trip about whether seeing the great whites would turn us off diving & wondering if we should risk the imprint of a breaching killer into our minds & in the end we decided it was worth the risk! And I am thankful to report that I don’t think seeing them has turned me off the water or diving (remind me of that when I’m refusing to jump into the bay next time!). They are pretty magnificent & really, you don’t see much when you’re in the cage – being on the boat gives you a must better view – and provides plenty of “EEEK” factor! Also amusing was watching half the people not care that a 3mtre great white is cruising in front of them coz they were too busy chucking up! Only funny because it wasn’t me – bless you Travel Calm! The swell was pretty full on – only about 3/4mtrs – but we were slammed around a bit in the cage, felt very washing machine like (or is that just my obsession with laundry again…). We saw 4 different sharks, all juveniles at around 3-3.5mtrs. They are soooo quick, when they wanted to slam the bait, you had no idea they were coming till they were there! Other times they’d cruise around & you’d see this massive shadow circling the boat & they’d slowly approach the bait dangling in front of the cage & the captain would yell “GET DOWN” and everyone in the cage would take a breath & stick their heads under hoping to get a glimpse of it despite the 3mtr visibility. They are definitely scarier on the surface…or that could have been the big metal cage making me feel all tough! Actually it was a little scary in the cage when you were waiting for the shark to appear. There was nowhere for your legs to go really & I was petrified of linking them through the bars to keep my balance as I didn’t want ANY part of me outside the cage! Jamie freaked himself out at one point, thinking he had a great position, feeling all comfy, till he stuck his head under & realised his back leg was half sticking out of the cage into the open water! Thankfully the sharkies didn’t find him potentially tasty & we survived the experience with all limbs (and lunch) in tact. It was a great way to finish the trip – another awesome African wildlife encounter! I’m knackered as I write this, but I realise that I better get it written & posted as this is the last night! We fly out tomorrow, in 48hours we’ll be home. I can’t wait to see everybody to get some real hugs – hugs from people who know you & have missed you (well, I hope you have!) I get to meet Hazel, to see how big Marley has gotten & see if Sibby still looks like a kid or has morphed into a tweenager! Our parents, our friends, the puddies – oh, I’ve lost all my end of trip blues at the thought of seeing you all so soon!

We’ve still got a few things to post, so I won’t say bye yet, but I will say thank you for the first of many times. Thanks for reading & commenting & making us feel like you’ve been with us the whole way. Your comments made logging onto the internet so exciting, we couldn’t wait to see who’d posted! Hopefully we haven’t bored you too much & hopefully we’ve saved a few stories & pics to show y’all when we’re face to face. It’s been so much fun to write the blog & take you guys with us. It’s been the best 6 months ever – heck, the best year ever! Here’s to 2012, may it be as actioned packed as this one – but with more hugs, dinners, catch-ups & celebrations. Thanks for listening, night.

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Ho Ho Ho it’s Christmas

We spent Christmas day in the Namibian desert known as Sossusvlei (try saying that with a lisp). We spent Christmas Eve getting there, and I spent the time we spent getting there feeling very teary & homesick! First time in the six months I had a true ache for coming home – but I think it was more a want to be around family & friends & not stuck on the boring truck from annoyingville! Perhaps listening to John Lennon’s Happy Christmas over & over didn’t help, but it was the only Christmasy song on my iPod! Thank god for Katie, who was equally homesick (as you would expect a 19 year old on her first trip away from her family!) & allowed me to channel my inner Martha Stewart into making sure she was having a good time. I’d brought Christmas decorations the day before & raced onto the truck before we left to decorate it to make it at least look like there were some fun people on the trip 🙂 & thought about how much fun it was going to be to see all our friends & family when we did finally make it home!

After a steamy 5 hours in the truck, we eventually made it to camp – and immediately set ourselves up by the pool to while away the remaining hours till Santa arrived (FYI Santa, I think you missed me on your rounds, I was in the Namibian desert, next year, you owe me TWO lots of pressies ha!). When Christmas Day did finally dawn, we’d already been up for 2 hours – but not in the usual opening of presents kinda way. Oh no, we’d spent the morning of the baby Jesus’ birth (AKA pressie & eat too much day) climbing up a freakin’ sand dune to watch the stupid sun rise over the other dumb arse dunes….ah, yeah, I’m a little unfit at the moment & having to do sand climbing before the sun was even up sorta sucked the will to live out of me! I swear my lungs popped a little & I may have felt like I was gunna spew as my legs cramped into oblivion. Merry-&##@$$-Christmas I was thinking by the time I finally made it to the top. It took me about half an hour to recover before we happily ran down the side of the stupid dune!
Breakky was waiting for us at the end of the torture & after satisfying our hunger (and my still burning lungs) with scrambled eggs, we set off for the next stop of the day – a guided walk through the dunes. It was pretty fun, but it was heating up BIG time by the time we got to the petrified trees at the heart of the Sossusvlei national park. A few pictures & we were back to the truck to head onto site number 3 of the day, sorry, morning, the Sesriem Canyon. Here, Alan told us to steer clear of the sides of the canyon, as horned adders liked to hang out there & he’d seen several on his last trip. Great, what a terrific Christmas Day this was – nearly killed by walking up a sand dune, scorched to death in the middle of the desert, then thrown into an adder pit – all before lunch!!!! OK, so I’m exaggerating a teensy tiny little bit 🙂 it was a pretty cool way to spend Christmas Day, and we did get to keep one tradition alive – sleeping for the rest of the afternoon! Dinner was a traditional Zimbabwean chicken & rice dish & after a few glasses of wine, we were more than ready to hit the hay, absolutely exhausted, and only 10 hours till we had to wake up, pack up the tents & keep on truckin’!

The next few days were spent heading down to Cape Town. We stopped off at Fish River Canyon, which is supposedly the second largest canyon in the world – and the least visited! We spent a few hours walking along the rim of the canyon, before settling in to watch another of Africa’s amazing sunsets over it. The camp site we were staying at was meant to have the best showers in Africa, so I spent a good half an hour in there, making sure the claim could be validated!

The next day we crossed the border to South Africa – our final border crossing of the entire trip! Border crossings in Africa are an absolute breeze – we’ve not had one over an hour – a shock to the system after Central Asia! We spent our first night in South Africa on the banks of the Orange River. We did absolutely nothing special once we arrived. Riveting blogging I know, but it can’t all be go-go-go! You need an arvo of reading, chilling & napping every now & again.

Our final camp night of the trip was at Highlanders winery in the Cederberg Region. You can imagine how the all included wine tasting ended up :-). As our last camp night & last meal together on the trip (we doubted there’d be the traditional last night dinner with this group, where we all go out to dinner & we buy the crew a meal & reminisce on how great the trip was. These guys couldn’t even help with the dishes or food prep every night – there was no way they’d go in for ‘the helps’ dinner!) it was a biggie. I think that’s what happens when you go wine tasting at the place where you’re staying…and they keep the bar open after you’ve finished tasting all the wines…and they only cost 40 Rand ($5) a bottle… Needless to say it got a bit messy & it has been vowed that alcohol will never again pass Jamie’s lips. He’s going teetoling he reckons. I lost most of my alcohol before I went to bed (eeewwww) so I didn’t feel too bad the next day when we had to be up at 6AM to pack up our tents & be on our way. Normally this day is a relaxed one, late start etc, but the english muppets had booked their flights for tomorrow, so they wanted us to be on the way early so they’d get a half day extra in Cape Town. Oh the pain of a hangover 2 days before New Years…think it’ll be a quite welcoming of 2012 at this rate! Can’t believe the trip is pretty much over. Our last truck day after living on one for 56 days. Holy Moley, that is a long time to be travelling down Africa when I think about it – no wonder I’m bloody tired!

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Spitzkoppe & Swakopmund, no i’m not swearing at you, promise

The deserts of Namibia take on many different forms. Spitzkoppe, our first stop, is a crazy array of rocks, not unlike central Australia in its starkness & colours. It’s the first time we’ve seen a landscape that really reminded us of home. Maybe it was the landscape, maybe it was just that it was Christmas time, or maybe it was just that we only had 2 weeks to go, but the first pangs of home-lusting started here!
The most hilarious thing about Spitzkoppe, was that it was a wild camp & there was an option of sleeping out under the stars in a sheltered cave. Now, maybe because it reminded us of home & we know how many things can kill you, sting you, bite you or just plain scare the pants off you as it crawls across you in the middle of the night when you aren’t in a swag or tent, we opted out of the open sleeping arrangement, and set up our trusty tent instead. The english on the other hand, have nothing that can kill you in their own country, so were a bit oblivious to the dangers in Africa. We passed a highly amusing few hours watching them freak out about all manner of things, till one guy cottoned onto the fact that the aussies were sleeping in a tent, so maybe that was a good idea too! The bird watching veggos were introduced to wasp stings which was also amusing – they don’t have them in England & didn’t realise that a) they could sting you and b) you shouldn’t stand too close to their nest. They were in a bit of panic, not to mention pain, and i seriously had to stifle a laugh as I tried to explain to them what they should do to ease the pain. A little bit of ice on the stings & you’d think i’d given him a million dollars, hilarious! Not so hilarious was the 2 boys’ obsession with seeing a snake. They even went off on their own to try & find one, which would have been a worry if they’d have had the first clue of how to be quiet when looking for animals! Despite mine, Jamie & Thinkwell’s subtle suggestions that a) seeing a poisonous snake in the middle of nowhere isn’t a great idea and b) maybe tone down the snake obsession when I was around, they carried on oblivious. I don’t quite think they understood phobias – thank god we didn’t end up seeing one as I don’t think they’d follow Jamie’s rule of ‘don’t point out the snakes to Jess’!

The rocks around Spitzkoppe were beautiful & we escaped the group & climbed some of them, marvelling at the peace & tranquility. We had a local Bushman come & take us for a guided walk later that afternoon. You know the movie “The God’s must be crazy”? Where the tribes spoke with the click language? Well that’s what the bushmen down south speak like – it’s so amazing to hear! He showed us some of the rock paintings in the area, and again I couldn’t wait to get home & go explore our own country & see even older rock art. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like much is being done to preserve these paintings, people were using flashes on their cameras & when Jamie asked what conservation methods were being under taken to preserve the 20,000 year old paintings the guy looked a little confused. Their culture is thankfully something that is a little easier to preserve & that night we were treated to some singing by our Bushman guide & his team.

The next day we headed out of Spitzkoppe & into Swakopmund, which is an odd little town in between the Namibian coast & the sand dunes. On the way we stopped via a seal colony at Cape Cross and saw the largest colony of cape fur seals in Africa. It was right on birthing season and there were baby seals everywhere including an astonishing number of dead ones (apparently about 25% of the pups don’t make it). It was incredible just how close you could get to the colony with the walk ways built straight through the nursing grounds. The same colony in Australia would have a 500 meter exclusion zone around it or something similar but not here in Zambia. After 45 minutes or so it back on the truck with our clothes still stinking of seal.
It’s funny, the further south we get, the more western Africa becomes. No longer little dirt roads with masses of people about their daily tasks, here it was paved roads – a real resort town, which everyone’s daily tasks was seemingly to spend money like it’s going out of style. We stayed in a lodge with all the trimmings – restaurant, nightclub, laundry (you know how excited I get over laundry!) & a place popular with other overland trucks, so we caught up with a few groups we’d seen along the way. So did our crew and when we arrived back from dinner (of various game meat, yum yum!) on our first night they were well & truly in the land of pissed! Of course, we had no other option but to join them :-). The night got a little messy – especially after Jamie was befriended by a rather amorous young man who seemed to think him the answer to all his prayers. Despite Jamie attempting to hide from his new admirer – even his attempt to dis way him by pashing me on the dance floor was useless – the guy simply ripped Jamie off me & started hugging him instead! I don’t know whether alcohol helped or hindered the situation, but we all thought it extremely funny….except Jamie…he as a little scared & refused to come out of hiding till the guy was dragged out of the club by his friend. We can’t be sure if he wanted more from Jamie than just good old-fashioned bromance, but you just never know in a Namibian nightclub what might come your way!

Needless to say, the next day was a bit of a right off. Thankful we hadn’t planned any activities like sand-boarding or dune-bugging, we wandered the streets, trying to walk off our hangovers, when we hear “JAMIE!” Turning around, who do we see walking towards us but Juan, our driver from our Central Asia trip! It was such a fluke! We knew he was in Africa & when we left we kept saying ‘ha, we’ll see ya in Africa somewhere’ but we never thought we actually would! We arranged to meet later that afternoon & spent the rest of the day nursing our hangovers (indulging in some dirty KFC – only our second lot of fast food on the whole trip!) before catching up that night with Juan, reminiscing about a part of the trip that felt like decades ago. Despite the lure of a foam party at the nightclub upstairs that night, Jamie & I retired early, leaving Juan & some of our group partying in our absence. Such a funny coincidence & a total spin out to see Juan! That was probably the highlight of Swakopmund – that and my oryx game meat pizza of course – a nice break from the rigours of overland camping, and a good introduction back into western society!

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The Cheetah Park & Himba village

On our way to the Cheetah park – a highlight for most of us – we stopped off at a strange little farm, where we got to go visit a Himba Village. The Himba’s are a very traditional tribe, who get to live as traditionally as they possibly can in this day & age, thanks to the help of the Namibian government. Well, thanks is maybe too great a compliment as they don’t have any lands per say, they just get to live on a farmers land & work for them in return for being able to live as they choose. They are still incredibly poor & often have to resort to selling handicrafts by the side of the road & be oggelled by tourists as the anomaly they appear to be in the 21st century. There are strict rules however & the government do enforce harsh penalties on any one, men particularly, who abuse – both verbally or physically – the Himba women (they don’t wear tops you see, so some men get a little odd around naked boobies & aren’t very gentlemanly). So it’s a bit of a catch 22, they get to live as traditionally as they can on the farmers land, but the farmers can then make a bit of extra cash by letting tourists come in & get a tour of the Himba village. It was awesome to see the women & the kids, nowhere near as touristy feeling as the Masai village we visted, but worse in the sense that you could see they didn’t quite want us there – especially in their interactions with the guide from the farm who was taking us around. It was starting to rain as we began the walk, and some of the women didn’t fancy standing around as we took photos of them – especially when the guide man was insistent that they take off the blankets they were using to cover their heads & made them pose for us. Bit awkward to say the least. We ended up walking away from the guide man & tried to get to know the villages on our own. Katie & I started smiling & trying to talk with one woman & her baby & got to hold him – turns out that communicating that someone has a beautiful baby is universal! Jamie made friends with some gorgeous kids & got some great shots of the women by simply asking them first if they minded if he took photos – much to the guide mans disgust as he kept saying ‘just take the photos, they don’t mind’. Though he spoke their language, clearly he didn’t understand them. We were kind of glad that the rain turned into a storm & we got to leave the women in peace. You definitely got the sense that despite the governments ‘all is well, you can live as you please’ stance, something was a little rotten in the state of Namibian Himba ville.

We made a quick dash back into the truck & set off to our final destination for the day. The Otjitotongwe cheetah park is all shades of awesome. Cheetah’s are a pest in Namibia (ha, makes cane toads & rabbits seem a little lame, huh?) & if farmers catch a Cheetah (in a trap, not like, in a game of tag or anything) they either have to release them so they could potentially kill another $20,000 cow (are all cows that expensive I wonder, or just Namibian ones?) or kill them. A few farmers don’t fancy killing the great cats, so they send them over to the Otjitotongwe Cheetah farm, where a crazy family shelter them. I say crazy as they have domesticated 3 of them and as a bit of a money spinner (keeping cheetah’s is expensive – they eat a donkey a day!!), you get to go in & pat them! Yes, that’s right, we got to pat & play with full grown Cheetah’s! It was soo cool – they are just like big lanky puddy cats, and not as scary as walking with lions ANNND, they purr. We were scratching their heads & backs & they were purring, puddy-cat-on-your-lap style! I don’t think I have enough exclamation marks to evoke how exciting & amazing it is to pat a live cheetah. They put on a good show for us too – jumping up trees, playing with the dogs the family has (including a little puppy who must have the biggest kuhunas ever to attempt to chew on a cheetah’s tail!) & one got a bit too up close & personal with my toes – scaring the pants off me!

In addition to the 3 tame cheetah’s (who had been rescued as babies & couldn’t be released into their ‘wild farm’) the family had around 15 wild cheetah’s who had been trapped & given to the farm as a way of keeping them – and the cattle – safe. So as well as being able to pat cheetahs, we could also take part in feeding them! At sunset, we all piled into the back of a ute (yes, standing in the back of a ute as it drove into a wild cheetah enclosure – that is considered safe in Africa) & were taken into the enclosure – which was really about 20 acres of bush, surrounded by a large fence – where we were met by 15 very hungry cheetahs. The slowly stalked us as we made our way through the bush, into a large, open area. They knew the drill & were trying to get closest to the ute in order to get the first lot of meat. Now cheetahs are solitary animals & quite territorial too, so you can imagine that 15 of them in the one spot could cause a few tiffs every now & then! A few swipes soon sorted out the strong from the weak & gave us an amazing show of cheetah WWF. The most incredible thing was the noise they make – they sound more like birds than cats – they chirp. They don’t growl or roar like lions, or meow like domestic cats – they chirp & tweet like budgies! It was hilarious!
As feeding time grew nearer, the guys came out of the driver’s seat & proceeded to pull out big hunks of meat (donkey – cheetah’s fav) from a big bin in front of us. They then proceeded to throw them at the cheetahs, who gratefully jumped up to catch their flying take-away meals & trotted off to gnaw at them. We stayed around for about another 20 minutes or so whilst they finished their donkey bones & stalked off back into the bushes, completely in awe.

That night after a steak meal, (turns out watching carnivores tear apart a chunk of meat, really inspires you to eat a steak…well, some of us…bird-watching veggos could barely contain their disgust, which maybe added to our enjoyment a little…maybe…teehee), Thinkwell finally told us the story of his Okavanga Delta ‘incident’. Turns out he was dozing in the mokoro, and just as he was nodding off, the poler disturbed a sleeping hippo. The hippo did not wake up happy & to cut a long story short, Thinkwell ended up alone in the mokoro as the poler had bailed out & swum to shore, and just as he went to jump out, the hippo reared up again & Thinkwell ended up jumping onto the hippos back! Thankfully this must have startled the hippo as Thinkwell was thrown clear & managed to swim to shore, after which he had to be treated for shock & never went into the Delta or a mokoro again! Yes, very glad we didn’t hear that story before we went into the Delta!

After a night of scary animal story telling, we surprisingly slept well & headed off early the following morning to our next stop – the deserts of Namibia, where we would spend some time in a town (i.e. no camping!) & spend Christmas climbing sand dunes.

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Etosha, the ‘meh’ park!

After a night on the banks of the Okavango from the Namibian side, we headed out to Etosha National Park. We weren’t expecting that much as it wasn’t the best time of year for safari’s. Water was plentiful so the animals could scatter far & wide & weren’t reliant on water-holes for their liquid needs. Someone probably should have FYI’d the English on that fact though, as the lack-of-animal-whingeing was pretty consistent. Far from annoying though (well, maybe it was a little annoying) we would openly fall about laughing every time they started to complain at how stereotypically english they were & how, well, kinda stupid to book a trip to Southern Africa to see animals when there weren’t going to be any around. OK, we may have rubbed it in a bit when we’d ‘reminisce’ about how awesome our lion fight was, or how cool it was to see a leopard in a tree eating an antelope, hehehehe… but it was a way to pass the time as Etosha didn’t have toooo much to offer otherwise.

We saw a really cool lion family, including 3 teenage boys – who at 7-10 years old were absolutely massive – and still had a good 5 years growth to go. We stalked them for almost an hour as they woke up & started playing. There were lots of baby giraffe, springbok & zebra. There were some salt flats which were a highlight not because of the salt-flatly goodness, but because these 3 young muppets had gone & got their BMW stuck in the mud whilst being stupid & needed us to pull them out – then take them to the camp site to get a replacement tyre for their spare wheel. We got up-close to some banded mongoose in the camp-site (up there with my all time fav animals – they are not only super cute, but they kill snakes, how freakin’ awesome are they? Is it really wrong to illegally import animals back to Australia when they do the world a favour by killing evil snakes? I think not…), We had to stop our tents from being blown away as a ridiculously big storm front passed through just as we’d finished putting the bastards up!

At one camp site (they are all fenced sites in Etosha, so no big animals walking between the tents in the middle of the night which is a bugger!) we purposefully camped away from the others as the girl who had never camped before had decided that instead of taking up our offers of help in putting up & taking down her tent as she was on her own, she’d get up two hours before breakfast to do it on her own. That would be acceptable behaviour if breakfast was at say, 10am. When breakfast is at 6AM, that means she would be getting up at 4AM to start her day – waking us up in the process! It was hideous. So as I said, we purposefully camped a long way away so we wouldn’t be woken up to the sound of tent poles clanking at 4am (which would then last until 5am as for some strange reason it’d take her an hour). All was going well, 3:30am came & we weren’t woken up by her shuffling around, still sleeping soundly till around 3:50am when the resident campsite jackals decided that the ropes holding our fly up looked tasty – so they started to gnaw through them! D’OH! I awoke to our tent almost collapsing around us & Jamie hissing at the cheeky buggers as they hissed back. He had to get up & tie knots in our gnawed through ropes, whilst trying not to get contaminated by their potentially rabid saliva (we’d had a big safety talk by Alan, our guide, the day before on how dangerous they could be!) We were well & truly awake by the time old early bird started her tent packing up process – though it was amusing to watch her walking around, completely oblivious to the Jackals lurking in the shadows! Turns out they had also gnawed through the ropes on the 2 English boys tent, much to our crews amusement as they explained the jackals are attracted to the smell of bad feet & always picked the boy tents to target!

That was about as exciting as it got in Etosha animal wise, though the english bird watching couple kept getting our hopes up. Every time they’d see some boring arse bird they couldn’t identify they’d go all “oh my god, quick, over there, what’s that?!?!?!” & jump up & down so excited that we’d – all normal non birdy people – think there was a leopard eating a cheetah eating a warthog or something. They were so birdy they would look bored when we’d see any lions! So besides the glorious skies & amazing storm fronts, Etosha is definitely a park to visit in the dry season. Still, no complaining here chopper, I’ll leave that to our English friends teehee!

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Okavango Delta – you don’t mind hippos in your boat do you?

The Okavango Delta is spectacular. It was a bitch to get there – up at 04:00, 55kms in the truck before getting out, crossing the border from Botswana to Namibia, driving for 350kms, getting out, crossing back from Namibia to Botswana, driving another 3 hours. H.E.L.L

But anyhoo, once we finally got to the Delta, we transferred alllll our stuff – from tents to food & water for 3 days, to our little backpacks & an esky full of beer – into a teeny little boat, which gave us serious doubts about its floating ability. We tootled along for about an hour & a half in a very packed boat, not very high above the water (maybe 30 centimetres), past hippos (one popped up – his head was about half the size of the boat!) and a billion crocs – big crocs at that! We were very, veeeery glad to see land at the end! I think the fear of your boat being over turned makes this place even more exciting than it already is. Once we were on terra firma, we proceeded to unpack allllll our suff from said tiny boat & load it onto an open-backed truck. Up down, up down, it was beginning to feel very yo-yo-esque. After driving another 20 minutes or so, we came to a little deserted campsite/lodge place & proceeded to unpack alllll our stuff for what felt like the 12 billionth time that day! Finally, after setting up the tent, we grabbed a bevy & headed down to the marshy looking paddock at the base of the lodge. There we watched the most magnificent sunset – along with a few ‘friendly’ hippos – absolutely bowled over by the amount of colours one sky can have. I may have mentioned this before, so do forgive for waxing lyrical again, but the skies in Africa are absolutely amazing. The sky feels so much bigger than anywhere else, the clouds have so many different formations I don’t even think meteorologists could name them all! And the colours…oh my… especially here in the Delta, the colours make you wonder how nature can ever create anything nasty, it’s that all encompassing beauty, like Bing Crosby is serenading you with a bit of ‘grey skies are gunna clear up, put on a happpppy faaaace’ you really do feel like the sky is singing to you, it is that awe-inspiring. ‘Eh, but I ramble, apologies. I can’t think of how to describe it with words, maybe when we get home & I can gesticulate wildly and jump up & down, I can get close to conveying how nuts it is – oh wait, that’s why I bring my handy photographer husband along – isn’t it?!?!?! He can show you better than I can rabbit on!

Anyhoooo – again, after watching a glorious sunset & chatting more with our new travel buddies, we sat down to one of Benson’s meals – which are becoming a little too good (seriously, it’s getting worrying – two months of sitting on a truck, getting cooked for 3 times a day, hellloooo extra chin…no, seriously, take this as a warning so y’all don’t do that awkward double take when you see us again, that ‘oh!…oh, you guys look like you had..fun’…whilst staring at our new chins & bellies. Least this way you’ll be prepared, so do arrange your facial features accordingly when you go in for the welcome home hug, and resist the temptation to grab the extra handfuls of flesh…). So beef stroganoff by the camp fire (our first one of the trip!) a few beers & we were content to hit the hay…or maybe it was the massive white spiders that look like they were extras in Alien 1,2 & 3 that expedited the bed time hightail…

The next day we were back on the truck with all our possessions (minus a few beers of course) & heading off to meet our mokoro’s – basically teensy tiny narrow dug out canoes. Again, everything was piled into these little boats & off we set, 2 in each boat, plus our poler (the man who stands up the back and uses a pole to guide the mokoro along, sort of like the gondolas of Venice…except in the wilds of Africa…with things that can kill you…everywhere you look…and no stripy tops or pretty hats…or deodorant…). I have no idea how they navigate through the reeds & narrow estuaries that make up the delta. There are so many twists & turns, it’s like the ultimate maze…on water…with things that can kill you…everywhere. We were given strict instructions: 1) Don’t try & balance the boat yourself, just relax & let the poler do all the work – all fine in theory, except as soon as someone tells me to relax & sit still, I can’t. I fidget at the best of times, when told not to, I fidget on turbo drive. It took all my strength not to cross or uncross my legs, or shift my butt an inch or two! The fact that the boat tipped dangerously close to the water everytime I scratched my nose sort of helped the self restraint though! 2) Don’t touch the water, keep all extremities inside the boat. If you’d like to feel the water, ask the poler, he’ll tell you if it’s ok, they know where the safest places are – the ones not above hippos, crocs or water snakes. They didn’t have to worry about me sticking a hand into the water, but I could see Jamie twitching to stick his hand in! He kept asking the poler “here?”, “what about here?” The Poler (SB was our dude’s name) was obliging most of the time, but I can assure you when someone whose grown up along the delta tells you not to put you hands anywhere near the water in particularly deep bits, your hands stay in the boat (and you nearly wee your pants in fear!). We made it to a little island where we would be spending the night wild camping & proceeded to set up our tents, then we whiled away the few hours till lunch reading (for those whose stupid eReaders were charged, d’oh!) chatting (well, some of us chatted, a few of the new team are a bit..odd) & dozing in our chairs. It was bloody hot in the delta, that searing burning sun hot, so after lunch, when we were all feeling so washed out & tired, the polers decided it was a good time to go for a swim & let us try to pole the mokoros, so they all raced down to the water & splashed around. We thought they were just having fun, but no, they were scaring away the hippos & crocs so we could all get in the water! It was so bloody hot that Jamie, Katie & I decided to hell with it, we were getting in as well. Katie was first to try out the mokoros & did a splendid job, though was a bit rattled after asking SB “so why aren’t there any hippos or crocs here?” and him replying casually “oh, they usually don’t like open water like this” We all had a bit of a ‘Hang on – usually??!?! And this wasn’t that open – and they do like open water – and deep water – what the?!?!?!’ moment after that. But that tells you how hot it was – the risk of hippos, snakes & crocs didn’t keep us out of the water! Well, again, most of us, a few of the new team didn’t even bring bathers with them & the others were a bit too chicken to get in beyond their knees. We had a ball tough, splashing about (pushing that voice in the back of your head away, the one that says, ‘hang on, aren’t crocs attracted to splashing’) we played a game of water tag with the polers – which we sucked at! They could swim under water for ages & you couldn’t see them when they were under there – unlike us & our lily-white skin standing out like beacons! After feeling nice & refreshed we all climbed out (well, as soon as the polers started out of the water, we shot out like bullets – if they’re getting out, I’M getting out!) & got ready for our afternoon game walk.

Game walks with ammeters like us are never really that good. The English were all boo-hooing that we didn’t see anything, but they all walked like tanks through the bush – anything that might have been hanging around would have taken off for sure with the sound of us all clomping towards them! It was nice to be out & about on land though – and really, the threat of lions lurking near by wasn’t anywhere near as scary as being in the mokoros! On the way to the inlet we would be walking around, the first mokoro in the line startled a hippo which charged off into the reeds (hippos are extremely fast on land & in water – when you here one crashing through reeds not 3 metres away, you shit your pants basically). Then we passed a mother hippos with two babies – which was quite rare & she let us know we weren’t that welcome! We’d been quite close to hippos before – but that was on much muuuuuch bigger boats. In the teeny tiny mokoros, where you’re not 10cm above the water hippos cease to be cute, kinda chubby animals supposedly responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other animal, and become holy-@@$##%$-big-arse-scary-killers-about-to-rip-through-the-boat-and-kill-me-most-dangerous-animal-in-the-world-damn-@#$%$#%-scary-$$$#@@%. They are B.I.G their heads are the size of me curled up into a ball. Their bodies are about 5-6 times bigger than their heads. Their teeth are probably the size of 2 handspans & their personalities are anything but docile & cute. It didn’t help that the previous day we’d seen a hippo chase – one hippos charging the other, running across land faster than any human can run (seriously), running into a river, and a minute later running out the other side of the river, still being chased by the other hippo. These bastards mean business when they’re pissed off. And we were hanging out about 20mtrs in front of a territorial mother & her two hippo babies….um, eeeeeek.
After a lacklustre walk, we got back into our mokoros & headed off to watch the sunset, which at any other time, in any other situation would have been a beautiful relaxing experience. In a mokoro, in a channel, at a time when hippos were waking up & coming out onto land to graze, it was a little tense. One minute your marvelling at the colours in the sky (almost unnatural colours, soooo glorious) the next your suppressing a squeal as a hippo has just grunted about 10mtres away & you’re between it & the shore. Poor Katie was in the first boat as we poled towards our sunset – right in the path of the mama hippo. Her poler’s idea of a safe distance, and Katie’s idea of a safe distance were too veeery different things & after a few too many grunts from ol’ mama bear, Katie’s yelps of fear could be heard by us about 30 mtrs away! We had to cut our sunset viewing short as we got in the way of one too many hippos making a beeline for the grass buffet on offer. When a poler says “oh f-word” and starts to pole real quick, you know you’re in a place you shouldn’t be! It was seriously scary stuff & if I wasn’t running wildly up the bank as we got out of the mokoros, I would have got down on my knees & kissed the ground I was so relieved to have made it out of the water! It must have been so funny to watch us all scramble out of the boats & make a beeline to our alcohol esky to try & calm the nerves, before squawking to each other how scary/cool that just was. Benson had dinner ready, so we sat down to spaghetti bol by a roaring fire (no, it wasn’t cold, that was to keep the hippos away) & had a raucously fun night – the kind you have after a near death experience! Our polers sang & danced for us, then made us sing and dance for them, which would have been fine had we been singers & dancers. The best we could do was Katie & I singing our national anthem (the only song we both new the words too), Jamie doing his notorious belly roll & to save face after the English refused to do anything, we congo lined around the fire till we were exhausted. It was here we should have guessed this trip was full of duds – especially when Jamie discovered they’d drunk all his beer (a grudge he would hold till the end of the trip!) – just no fun & the archetypical whinging poms! Oh well, we had fun & went to bed a little worse for wear, but sedated enough not to fear a hippo charge in the middle of the night!

The next day we headed back into the mokoros (Katie rather reluctantly) and got poled back to the village, where we made our way (via truck & speedboat) to a houseboat where we’d spend that night. After almost 2 months of camping, to be in a bed – even if it was a teeny cabin you couldn’t stand sideways in – was luxury. It was here we found out one of the women on the trip had never camped before – what makes someone book a camping holiday in Africa on their own when they have never put up a tent before is a little beyond me, but she wasn’t complaining too much…actually she wasn’t doing much of anything besides sitting there looking miserable…so we didn’t think much of it. After enjoying a shower for the first time in a few days, Jamie, Katie & the two english boys went fishing in the tender boat (the bird watching couple refused to go in the same boat as the fishers as they were vegetarian, so they sat on the boat & sulked) & I finished off another book (once i’d charged it 🙂 ), relaxing in the sun, chatting to the crew, it really was a heavenly way to spend the afternoon (even if I was the only passenger on board who thought so!).

Our delta trip finished the next day as we piled all our luggage back into the speedboat (though thankfully we’d eaten & drunk everything so it was a considerably lighter boat than the first time) & headed back to land to be reunited with our overland truck & our driver, Thinkwell (who refuses to go into the Delta anymore after an ‘incident’ a few years ago, though he wouldn’t tell us what happened before we went there…) & set off to Namibia, leaving the beauty of the Delta behind. This little side trip has been one of the best we’ve had in Africa, close encounters of the hippo kind + the best sunsets i’ve ever seen + the beauty of a river system so complex & intriguing, Botswana sure knows how to dazzle.

Posted in Botswana | 2 Comments