(Pictures are in the German Blog)
After our first glimpse of the Okavango-Delta we wanted to see more. And the best way to do this is by flying to a lodge somewhere in the Delta. We were lucky and found the “Kanana-Lodge”, Kanana means Paradise, at a “walk-in, low season” rate.
We enjoyed early morning mokoro-trips for bird watching, sunset-cruises and a bush walk. We met people in safari outfits, who walked through the lodge with binoculars around their neck (so-called birders) and others who couldn’t be bothered to know what the country’s currency is, their Lodge-hopping being booked and paid well in advance in US $. The Mokoro is a dugout wooden canoe; you better sit still, because it is very shallow and hippos and crocs are close by.
Maun at the southern end of the Okavango-Delta is the hub for all tourists, whether they travel by car, overlander-bus or arrive at the Int’l. Airport Maun from Joh’burg etc. After some cruising we found the Park Office to pay our entrance fee for the Moremi Game Reserve, because everybody was full of praise for this area north of Maun. Campsites in these parks are normally booked one year in advance through private agencies and are very expensive. This way they try to control the number of tourists going to certain places. It was worth the drive on gravel and sandy roads! So many new animals, great green and grassy landscape and a hippo pool full of action. The action for us started a little bit later, when we tried to find a specific community wilderness campground. One wrong turn (both our new map and our updated GPS did not show the new road we should have taken), one stupid water crossing and afterwards we needed the help of safari guides to find our way out of the maze of tracks and water crossings. But we saw plenty of buffalo and elephants in the evening light, the best time to take photographs. After this wet adventure a warning light came on and gave Stefan quiet a headache – the 4 WD wouldn’t work anymore. So back to Maun, on to Francistown, but the mechanics couldn’t help us, their diagnostic computer is in Gabarone for repair. So we decided to take it easy and stay on the tar roads until our next try in Polokwane/South Africa. Since Stefan later found a solution for the problem (just pull the right fuse and disable the defective ABS) we are now fully operational again. Our next stop was Kasane at the river Chobe, which marks the northern border to Namibia. Along the road a police officer gave us a pamphlet warning about wildlife along the roads – as if we hadn’t noticed all the cows, goats or donkeys grazing on the last green leafs and leaving behind huge amounts of dung everywhere. Shortly before Kasane elephants showed up as well at the road side. Chope NP is home to ca 200 000 elephants and now at the end of the dry season they have to travel very long distances from feeding grounds to the water. We enjoyed yet another early morning boat trip with lots of animals (elelphants, hippos, crocs, buffalo, antelopes and lots of birds), just the two of us and a ranger who explained the special eco system of the Chobe River.
At the campground we met travelers from Switzerland and exchanged important information about the route northbound and southbound alike. All in all people seem to like living in Botswana, feeling safe. But when we read the newspapers, we noticed that they do have political problems as well and start to worry about the economical future of Botswana, i.e. the time after the diamante mines will have run dry. Diamante mining makes up 85% of their export volume.
The following day we started for Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Border crossing was very formal and slow and when we got back onto the road we were stopped by the police for the first, but not the last time: drivers license, car papers, safety equipment, stripes in red, white or yellow, they try to find something to fine you on the spot – or they just wish you a safe journey- we never know what is next, the stops come frequently along all major roads. A Zimbabwean driver told us: Don’t let them get you down, just accept the challenge…
Vic Falls sells the falls and nothing but – at a rather high price in US$.
We jumped into a raft and worked our way down the Zambezi River. In November the river is at its lowest water levels; the rapids are different every month, so William our man at the helm told us in his loud commanding voice. It was a very sportive event, especially the 750 ft vertical climb afterwards to get out of the gorge at 40C; I felt every muscle the next day.
Hwange NP was our next destination. It’s yet another park plagued by an overpopulation of elephants. We were lucky and found 2 families of lions feeding on a kill the next (early) morning.
Meanwhile a croc in the only big waterhole had a feast on one of the dead elephants, one of several we saw - victims of an insufficient rainy season last year and late rains this year.
While we noticed people using donkeys and oxen carts to transport goods in Botswana, we are surprised by the number of bicycles on the road here in Zim. In Vic Falls young men drive downhill to the Zambia border post and push them up the hill loaded high and heavily – with what?? People along the road ask us for shoes, food or empty 5l water jugs, all signs of real poverty, which make us sad and somewhat insecure. We drove past many empty farms where now local villagers barely survive through subsistence agriculture. The National Park facilities are in very poor condition, the money they collect from travelers (international tourist pay 2-3x more) disappears somewhere in Harare, i.e. the park personal in Hangwe hasn’t been paid since 8 months, etc. etc. It was good to meet Zimbabweans in Bulawayo whose families live in this country as long as the Ndebele-tribes coming from South Africa some 150 years ago. We had a long night with discussions about the conditions and the future prospects for Zimbabwe. We admire their community spirit that helped them get through the last 12 years under the Mugabe regime. The situation is improving and Zimbabwe could be back on the tourist map soon – tourists are welcomed warmly everywhere (except by police roadblocks who sometimes consider them as a source of cash).
Bulawayo is a typical African busy town in a colonial setting. We saw some still pretty and many once pretty neglected houses, but the first downpour of rain after 4 weeks made it impossible to take photos. Just 40 km south of the city we spent a day in a beautiful and deserted National Park, called Matopo NP. Matopo Hills are characterized by peaks and rock formations that seem to be performing a balancing trick. It’s the consequence of years of erosion.
An easy hike up the smooth lichen-covered granite yielded in a 360° panorama next to Cecil Rhodes gravesite. “The Farmhouse Lodge” offers a campsite with a fantastic view as well and we had a quiet night under starry skies. Outside the park limits we found one of the best caves with paintings from 1000 years ago – giraffes, rhinos, men hunting etc; just great!
The black and white rhinos and the leopards living in the park where hiding too well for us to see. So we’re still missing the leopard close up (we only saw them far away) to finish off our “big five” count!
The drive to Masvingo and the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, a “UNESCO World heritage site” was again a trip from one police check point to the next, but most of them were in a Sunday mood and waved us through – or was it the heat that made them tired, just like us?
The ruins of a culture long forgotten have survived since the 12th century. The 11 m high and 3-6m wide walls were build without mortar and once were home for about 18 000 inhabitants. It was the most important religious and political capital of Southern Africa until the 15th century when it was left to decay. When the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century the city was virtually deserted, to be re-discovered at the end of the 19th century.
We visited the place in the early morning hours, our guide book mentioned big groups of tourists later in the day. One more couple from Cape Town and us – we had the place to ourselves. Of course, important information about travel conditions in Zim and Zam and Malawi were exchanged and we might re-route our trip – let’s check on the weather forecast…..