Day 24 – Vic falls to Bulawayo

This morning was a slightly delayed start as some of the new members wrestled with their tents. 

We hit the road and headed south, sadly we didn’t get to cross the famous Victoria Falls bridge and get hit with the spray of the falls. We noticed that as we headed southeast towards Bulawayo, the landscape remained quite scrubby and arid, and the earth was turning a deeper orange. In the middle of the bush we also passed some very large factories with large smoke stacks and flare towers. Mambo explained that this corner of Zimbabwe had several coal mines and processing plants that employ much of the local community. We soon saw the evidence of the plant as the road leading to it was black with coal dust, and our next free toilet stops also left us with sooty shoes.


Our lunch stop today was potentially the worst of the entire trip. We had finally entered the realm of the annoying bush fly. We stopped in a shallow lay-by and almost immediately after stepping out of the truck were surrounded by tiny flies that seemed adament to get to our ears, eyes and noses. Swatting them away achieved nothing as they would return instantly.

 The only techniques that seemed to work was to either face into a strong breeze if you were lucky enough to encounter one, or pass by someone else and hope that they would take a stronger interest in them. We ended up getting our scarves, hats and sunglasses and covering our faces like balaclava to keep them away. The only saving grace was that they didn’t seem interested in our food at all, only the moisture on our faces. It also didn’t help that there was a lot of faeces around, both animal and human, a decent amount more that our other rest stops.


After our quickest bush lunch stop ever, we carried on to Bulawayo, we used this driving time to catch up on a few episodes if GOT which was awesome and really helped pass the time. 

Once we arrived in Bulawayo we were given our options for activities in town. We only had about two hours to explore before we had to be on the way to camp, so we had to choose wisely. We opted to head to the natural history museum, whilst others went to check out either a local art gallery or railroad museum. It was strange to be back in a large city, we hadn’t been in anything this size since Swakopmund, but in contrast to the rather empty streets and closed stores, Bulawayo was your typical bustling African city, with masses of people and hawkers lining and walking the streets, barely any traffic control, dust and plastic bags blowing in the wind, and the incredible heat!

The area around Bulawayo was originally occupied by a tribe called the Ndebele, who had a large and prosperous kingdom. In the late 19th century prospectors from the colonial powers had heard tales of this prosperity and set out to find the source of it. A Boer called Gobbler originally signed a concession with the Ndebele, but Cecil Rhodes with his grand dreams came to the area and offered a better deal. Bulawayo was the seat of the Ndebele kingdom and was where the residence of the king was located. Rhodes’s British South Africa Company believed it was in the best spot for prospecting into the Matobo Hills, where the gold and minerals were thought to be located, and ousted the Ndebele from the area. This began a set of wars between the Ndebele and the BSAC, which the British we’re unable to win, as the Ndebele probed to be excellent guerilla fighters, retreating to the rocks and hills of the Matobo area they knew so well. Rhodes, unable to beat the Ndebele, rode himself into the hills to broker an armistice between the parties, which ended the war, unfortunately with the Ndebele definitely coming out worse off. Their powerful king had died, and they had lost lost almost all of their land to the British. In a cruel twist of irony, the Matobo hills proved to be absent of any valuable minerals, and Rhodes resorted to bringing in farming settlers and industrialists to make something of the settlement. Rhodes brought his railroad through Bulawayo which accelerated it’s development, and as of today Bulawayo remains one of the most industrial and developed areas in Zimbabwe.


We spent the first part of our free time just wandering, a local market street was nearby so we took a look and picked up a wooden spoon to replace the rubber chicken award which was finally won by one of the team who had left us at Vic Falls. We then looked in a few stores and topped up on snacks at a supermarket before heading in the direction of the museum. On the way there was a very good craft shop so we picked up a few souvenirs before continuing, however we had wasted too much time, and by the time we had walked to ten minutes to the museum it was 20 minutes before their closing time, and they said they wouldn’t let anyone else in. Slightly dejected, we started making our way back to the truck, making a few stops on the way. We saw a group of hip hop dancers practicing in the dilapidated Centennial Park we were passing, and thought about approaching them before chickening out. Across the road the park contained a fountain which looked very similar to the one at Mission Bay, however it’s lack of function and green stagnant water suggested it hadn’t been on for a long time. 

Parts​ of the park smelt like urine, which was sad as it was clearly a beautiful place at one point, with various furniture and architecture around. Finally we passed the Bulawayo theatre, which had it’s doors open, so we decided to take a look inside. Inside felt like a 50’s museum, with the old box office, and show start, stop and interval clicks on the wall. A man appeared and asked if we wanted to come into the tea rooms for a tea or coffee, we told him we were just checking out the place.

 No one was paying any attention so we took the corridor into the small theatre, and jumped on stage to snap a few pics before heading back out before we got caught. It was a very cute little theatre!

We hurried back to the bus, only stopping to pick up some airtime for our SIM cards. The street vendor insisted the official shop was closed, but had to run into it to get us the top up cards? There was no commission, things just work differently in Africa! We then headed to our camp for the night, Bruce’s Paradise. This was located in a very upmarket suburb of Bulawayo, where the houses are very large and the grounds even larger. This estate was so large it could handle three overland trucks at once, our team set up tents on the lawn around the swimming pool and pool houses. I spent some time that evening speaking with our host, he was caretaking the house while the white family that owned it spent half the year overseas. 

We talked a while about Mugabe and the economic crisis and he explained about how the banks are getting rich off of the currency shortage, taking part in the black market sale of cash by street vendors, charging premiums to withdraw cash from bank accounts. We talked about the upcoming elections and hopes things might change for the better.

We also briefly met our local guide for tomorrow’s trip into the Matobo National Park, Ian, a white Zimbabwean who was huge in the area of Rhino protection. Mambo had cryptically warned us that we would have an interesting time with Ian, and his absence at the introduction spoke to that. The discussion turned to Rhodes, who Ian clearly idolised, and the conservation of animals, of which his views were very different to Jenna’s. We were spending the entire day with him tomorrow, so went to bed looking forward to an interesting day!

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Mosi-oa-Tunya/Victoria Falls 

Jamie here. After Jen had calmed her nerves with her apple sour daquiri and some food from the lookout cafe, we got our ride back to camp and prepared to walk down to the Vic Falls park to see the falls themselves. The rest of our crew had walked the falls on our first day but we had our unfortunate Devils Pool cancellation so had missed walking with them.


The original Lozi inhabitants of the area called the falls Mosi-Oa-Tunya. When David Livingstone explored (it seems quite insulting to say “discovered”, the awesomeness of the falls had been known about for millennia by local tribes) the site in 1855 and tried to translate this with the locals he determined it meant “The Smoke that Thunders”. It is a fitting name, as even being in the low season the mist from the falls was clearly visible on the horizon well before we arrived in town, and the noise of the falls was constantly present for the three days we were near it. They believed it was the spirits of their ancestors raging and dancing, and it is said that of the 300 natives who accompanied Livingstone through the area, only three were brave enough to approach the falls with him. The falls form a large gorge 1708 metres long, and fall for an average of 108 meres! This gorge is a result of hard volcanic basalt rock forming huge cracks as it solidified 150 million years ago. This basalt was then filled and covered by layers of sand and silt deposits until 5 million years ago when an uplift blocked the course of the Zambezi which pooled, eventually spilling over into another river, the Matesi. This sudden flow cleared all the sediments exposing the huge basalt cracks. As with most falls, their position has changed over time, but unlike falls on softer rocks, the hard basalt resists erosion, so instead over millennia the river will push large stones and boulders downstream and eventually the falls expose another huge basalt crack, leaving behind a huge gorge. The falls are currently on their eighth gorge, the river zig zagging through seven further deep sharp gorges downstream like a set of horizontal switchbacks. It is expected the falls will excavate the next gorge in about 10,000 years, however due to the hardness of the rock the yearly erosion is essentially imperceptible.

The park entry fee for foreigners of USD$30 is included in our trip cost, but since we were exploring at our own leisure we got that cash from Mambo. We were greeted by an area with large panels containing information on the falls and surrounding areas, and a cafe and gift shop.


We had got quite a bit of advice from our group who had already walked the falls on where to go exactly, so after absorbing the info we headed off to the first viewing point. 


There were 13 lookout spots in total from the eastern to the western sides of the falls, the first marked by a larger-than-life sized statue of Livingstone in the spot where he supposedly firstset eyes on the falls themselves. 

This gave a view down to the Devil’s Cataract, a thrashing pool at the very eastern point of the falls. The arguably heaviest point of the falls was in this spot and as we made our way round the first few viewing points we were thoroughly covered by the spray being flung up from below. It was so strong we could barely see the cataract itself.


At this time the edge of the fall is broken in points by rocky outcrops that are covered when the river is higher. Two larger outcrops form islands on the falls edge and back up the river; the first is Cataract island  to the east, then the larger Livingstone island, which we could see had some tent structures, perhaps staging points for the Devil’s Pool, which is on the eastern edge of Livingstone. We jealously couldn’t make the pool out as we only just saw some people in the tents, but others in our group had seen people in the pool dangling over the edge.

As we got past Cataract island there was a viewing point that was periodically being drenched by a heavy spray. The wind was blowing the spray upwards, feeling like rain was ignoring gravity, then the wind would stop and the water would fall back down onto the viewing spot. We didn’t last long but some crazy couple were just standing there, getting soaked by the up and down shower.


As we got further west the fenced viewing points just gave way to bare rock as the path travelled just behind the precipice of the gorge, with nothing but a few small warning signs preventing people from falling into the maelstrom below. Naturally I peeked over for some photos, much to Jenna’s protests, spurred on by the fresh terror of the highwire activities from earlier in the day. Couples were taking photos of each other lying on the ledge as we approached the western point where the river exited the gorge, called Danger Point because of its height and no boundaries. It did make for some spectacular panoramas though.

The last viewing spot looked over the Victoria Falls bridge. Built very quickly in 14 months in 1903/4 under the instruction of Cecil John Rhodes (who will feature strongly in upcoming blogs), originally planned to be several kilometers downstream, Rhodes insisted that vehicles crossing the bridge be covered with the spray of the falls, hence it’s proximity. The bridge enabled real tourism to the falls and really brought attention to this natural wonder, now considered by many to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world. 

We took the rear path back to the park gate, which proved to be a mistake as the long path through the bush had no views and was stinking hot in the height of the afternoon. When we reached the cafe we had to stop for some iced coffee and cider. That evening we had our final dinner with our team at the Shearwater Cafe, as we were departing the next morning. It was sad to say goodbye to many of these people who had become our family in the past 22 days. Luckily we will stay in contact with many of them and have made friends from all around the world, and will catch up with them all again in the future!

Day 23- Traumatic Trio

Yesterday after rafting we had the first opportunity to meet the new people joining our trip for the leg to Zanzibar. We converged for a 4pm meeting where Mambo gave his introductory speech and some general housekeeping rules. 14 people were leaving the group and 8 were joining leaving us with 16 for the next leg. This meant slightly more locker and truck space, but still nowhere near the 9 on the southbound trip we passed in Botswana! After this meeting we all went to dinner at Three Monkeys, a more western style bistro with an amazing food and drink menu. We had a delicious loaded pizza and eggplant parmigiana, and more than a few elaborate cocktails that led to a very good nights sleep.

This morning we woke early to the sound of many Pumba around our tent. We were rather stiff and sore after yesterday’s rafting and hike in and out of the gorge and not overly enthusiastic about moving. Sadly yesterday afternoon when we returned to the campsite we were again greeted by Argy, our tour lady in Vic Falls, who informed us our Devil’s Pool booking for this morning was, again, double booked and we could no longer do the activity. 

We got up at about 7.45 to say farewell to three of the girls from our last tour who were joining another tour heading south to Johannesburg. 


After we saw them off, we had some breakfast and got changed, then made our way to reception. Because Devils pool was cancelled, we booked ourselves in for the high wire trio instead. The high wire trio consists of a zip line, flying fox and canyon swing into the Zambizi gorge, over 100 metres deep! Our pick up was 9.10am from reception.

 The pick up was right on time and we jumped on board then made our way to several other camps and hotels to pick up other crazy people. Once we had collected 7 other people including a 10 year old girl from the US who was doing the gorge swing to the horror of her parents, we made our way to Vic Falls Lookout Cafe where the activities are based. We again signed a waiver and were relocated outside to be fitted with our harness.

First up was the Flying fox. In typical African fashion (and because Jamie is an asshole) it was ladies first. I was suddenly questioning why I had made this ridiculous decision. 

There were two men at the platform, one who waited for me on the top of the platform and another at the entrance to it, he was manning a gate (single rope strung between two twigs) and clipped me to a rope teathered to a tree before he opened the ‘gate’. Once clipped in, I climbed awkwardly onto the platform and up to the second guide who unclipped me from the teather and re clipped me to the flying fox. As he clipped me in, he explained that I would need to run to the end of the platform and simply jump off the edge, simoultaniously my heart and stomach sank!

The guide counted me down from five and then not so gently, pushed my back and instructed me to run. Jamie had at this point positioned himself in great filming position slightly down the cliff away from the platform. 

There was a lot of screaming, swearing and promises of divorce. The actual lunge and fly was quite fun but the dangling in mid air whilst waiting to be pulled back in was not so much fun. This was prime opportunity to continue the onslaught of abuse towards Jamie. 

Then we repeated the entire process again, with Jamie harnessed in this time. He, unlike me, was rather enthusiastic and thoroughly enjoyed his leap off a 100metre high cliff – nuts!

After I had recovered from the horror of what I had just done, we made our way to the next activity, Zip lining! We had the choice to go separately or together. I thought going together would be less scary and if we died, at least we will die together… this sounded logical until our guide explained that the heavier the line, the faster we would go, suddenly Jamie was a lot more eager to go together 🙄

For the zip line, we had to take off our flying fox harness and turn it around so that the clip for the carabiner to clip through was now at our stomach and not at our back. We then walked a little bit down into the gorge to the zip line platform. We made our way out onto the edge and they clipped us both on. He then instructed us to put our arms around one another, Jamie had a rope on my hip to hold and he had a rope on his hip for me. 


But by bit, we had to climb face first down a ladder into the gorge, side by side. We were then told to sit on the edge of the ladder and lift our feet. As we did, we were suspended above the Canyon for a few seconds before we were sent zooming along the tiny line for which I owe my life.

Once we were off the edge the ride was amazing!! We had a spectacular view of the gorge and the water below. We could see right up to the Vic Falls bridge and partially down the Zambizi River to where we started yesterdays Rafting adventure. 


Again, we were suspended above the Canyon whilst we waited for a guide to zip behind us, clip onto us and then drag us back to the platform. We took this time as an opportunity to get some photos, enjoy the view and enjoy the fact that we were still alive!

Once pulled back onto solid ground, it was time for the third and final horror, the Canyon swing 😳

For this one, we were given an additional safety harness ‘just in case’. Ever the gentleman, Jamie let me go first AGAIN. I don’t know why this one frightened me more than the others but I was so so scared. What I felt standing on the edge of this cliff doesn’t compare to anything I’ve ever felt before. I think I now understand the definition of crippling fear. The swing was not really a swing, it was a giant drop into oblivion attached to a stupidly small rope. 


Once strapped in, I clawed my way to the edge and sat down. That platform will forever be marked by the indents of my fingernails holding on for dear life. The guide counted down from five as my life slowly replayed in my mind and then he gave me a not so gentle shove off the edge. 

BLACK, everything went black. I thought I had maybe fainted. Nope, I was just so scared I had forgotten to open my eyes! Once I felt the tension pull on the rope, I guess my conscious knew I wasn’t going to smash on the rocks, so I opened my eyes and enjoyed the second half of my ‘swing’. 

The worst part of this experience was that to get back to solid ground we had to first, be suspended in the air as they slowly pulled us back to the top, then they had to reel us in, close to the edge but the final stage, and most traumatic, was that we had to absail the last 15/20 metres of the cliff face. I didn’t know wether to look up or down as I engaged by the rocks I was sure we’re going to snap me in half. 

Once back up to safety, I was very pale and shaking. I officially have a rediculous fear of heights. Jamie thought this was hilarious. As they fitted him with his second harness, I tried to calm down. Once fitted, Jamie casually strolled over to the platform and starts having a laugh with the guide. Unbeknown to me, Jamie had been told by another traveler that he could handstand on the edge of the cliff, have two men grab his legs and then throw him face first into the gorge, naturally this is how Jamie decided to execute his swing 😱


DISGUSTING!!!

This afternoon we planned to visit the Victoria falls and then meet some of our intrepid friends for dinner.

I’m so glad I can say I have done these stupid activities, so that I NEVER have to do them again!!! 

(Ok maybe just not the swing, the zip line and flying fox were fun once I jumped)

For now, I needed an extremely strong, alcoholic beverage, with a ton of sugar to help me regain colour and use of my legs. 

Day 22- White Water Rafting

We had booked a full day white water rafting trip, so today was entirely based around this activity. Pickup was at 7:10 am, and in our group was me, Jamie, Brodie, and Sasha. After waiting at reception for a short while we were greeted by Anton from Shearwater Rafting, who took us to the truck and gave us the typical safety waiver to sign which listed extensively the gruesome injuries we could sustain on the river; cuts, grazes, falls, concussions, broken bones, drowning, to name a few 😜

We picked up several more clients and after some banter with some Aussies started chatting about rugby to a young British couple on their honeymoon, he had actually grown up in Namibia as his father was hired to create and implement the curriculum for teaching English in schools after independence, when Namibia wanted to move away from Afrikaans as a de jure language. We arrived at the drop off point and were instructed to check our valuables into a dry lockbox, and the rest of our gear would be stuffed into a huge dry sack that I can only assume travelled with us in the safety boat. 

We were given helmets (which we hastily cable-tied our GoPros to), paddles, wetsuit vests and life jackets, and taken to a shack right on the edge of the gorge for our safety briefing. After this it was time to climb down the path on the side of the gorge to our starting point.

When I say path, what I mean is basically a ladder down a cliff wall! The first part of the decent into the gorge was some extremely steep switchback staircases which were almost vertical in some points! When we finally reached the bottom. We walked upstream along the rocks, under the Vic Falls bridge and up past our first rapid, Morning Glory, an immediate grade 5! 

We climbed into our raft with our new English friends and met our boat guide Fundus. Jamie and Brodie took point up the front with me and Sasha in the second row. We were then joined by a Fijian-American couple bringing our raft total to nine, and after a short paddle practice we were off!

The narrow depth of the rocky Zambezi gorge and the huge rush of water makes for some extreme rapids. At low flow during the dry season (which we were in now) the river is slower and lower, but the rapids are more exposed and crazy! At high flow during rainy season the river is much higher and the rapids are much more subdued, but also the flow of the river becomes so fast it is in fact more dangerous to raft as if you fall out getting swept away is almost a certainty. Along with our rafts we were accompanied by a safety raft, a training raft which only had a few guides on board practicing river skills, and a small complement of kayakers who were there to rescue anyone who started drifting away. 

The first few rapids got us absolutely soaked but no one fell out… yet. The day had not heated up yet, and the cool water combined with the breeze through the gorge started to chill us. We also clearly weren’t pleasing Fundus with our paddling efforts as he screamed from the back of the raft: “Forward! Forward! Come on guys paddle together! Forward!”. I think we all had nightmares that night about that!

We went through the first few rapids quite easily and posing for the cameramen on the side of the river. It wasn’t until rapid four that Jamie fell out. Our raft hit a wave and went high up sideways, Brodie slipped and fell down onto Jamie below, knocking him out into the river. He grabbed for the safety line on the raft but the river pulled him away. The raft came right again and Jamie was the only one in the water apart from some of our paddles. Since he wasn’t near the raft he followed the instructions and turned to face downstream with his legs floating in front to absorb any rocks that he might hit. 

Luckily, the rapid calmed slightly after that wave and after a few smaller waves the raft actually started to head towards where Jamie was floating, and he was able to grab the safety line on the raft, and also managed to grab the rest of our lost paddles floating by before Brodie dunked and lifted him back into the boat!

With our full crew we rafted some more rapids until Fundus explained that the next one “Guliver’s Travels” was a grade 5+, and that because of it’s current shallowness combined with length of white water, Shearwater deem it too unsafe to raft, and we would be walking around it. He then told us that other rafting operators do raft this rapid, and we would see them have all the fun as we walked around! The stupid thing is that the rocks we walked around on were so slippery and rough that we probably had a much higher chance injuring ourselves scrambling than if we had just rafted the rapid! We got back in our boats not too happy about that little walk, and after one more rapid we had to get out again as the next rapid “Commercial Suicide” was a grade six, the point at which it’s illegal to raft commercially, hence the name. Fundus told us he had tried it a few times but only in a kayak, and had never made it through unscathed. Luckily the rocks around this rapid were flat and smooth and it was an easy walk. We got to watch the empty rafts smash their way through the rapid, and realized we were quite happy to walk around this one. Getting back into the rafts was a traffic jam as the rocks got narrow and we had merged with another company’s rafts as the overtook us rafting through Guliver’s Travels. 

After a few more rapids we came to rapids 12A, B and C, the “Three Ugly Sisters”, followed closely by rapid 13, “The Mother”. We were warned that the three sisters rapids were very close together and fast, and that the mother was a big finisher, so these would be some of the trickiest, most dangerous rapids we would go through. So of course, as soon as we entered the first sister, after passing the main wave and it’s strong churn,we hit a smaller wave we weren’t really ready for and I slid backwards off the boat! Jamie said he watched me slip over and immediately watched the white water for a sign of my helmet or jacket, but there was only rough white water. What had happened was I had actually been dragged down and underneath the raft, tumbling, not knowing where was up or down, I trusted my lifejacket would lift me above water eventually. I kept my eyes open and could see flashes of the white base of the boat, and then suddenly light as I passed under the raft and popped up on the other side. Brodie saw me as I grabbed the safety line and yelled to a very panicked Jamie that he had me. I felt fine and had not been worried but Jamie was very happy to see me after what felt like several seconds of only seeing white water! The second sister was quickly approaching and Fundus was yelling at us to get back in the boat and ready, so Brodie quickly pulled me back in, and we only just got up in time to hold on as we hit the next rapid. Luckily we got through the rest of the sisters and the mother without losing anyone else!


We rafted several more rapids without losing anyone else and after 19 rapids in total we came to the exit point. Then came the hardest challenge of the day, climbing the path back out of the gorge! We had to climb up about 100M vertical of rickety crumbly broken wooden steps. Unfortunately this is where my asthma kicked in and we had to stop every few steps to catch our breaths (by ‘our’ I mean mine, whilst Jamie very patiently waited). After what felt like forever we finally made it to the top where there was a huge lunch spread laid out and cold beers and drinks waiting for us! An awesome way to end an awesome trip.

On the way back to town we decided to split the very touristy cost of the photo/video package. We also had to stop as the other rafting company’s bus had broken down, so we all squeezed into our bus and headed into town getting back around 3. After eight hours of rafting we were exhausted!

Day 21-Botswana to Zimbabwe

Up bright and early this morning, we were headed for the border and into Zimbabwe. Our truck had a little difficulty getting out of camp and had to very carefully maneuver its way out of our site, in reverse. Once Dan Dan our Driver Man had successfully got us out, we were on the way to the border. The crossing was not far from camp, half an hour at most. 

We got to the border and made our way inside the immigration office to get our visa (Kaza- a double visa for Zimbabwe and Zambia $50US) Jamie and I were first and got through in a few minutes with the immigration officer 👮 being quite cheerful and smiling. The rest of our group however… 😕 We were warned that the officers are not as kind or friendly to Americans, Canadians or Chinese, today they decided to add Australians and Brits to their list of people who receive a stern, stonecold stamp rather than the warm welcome we had received. Jamie and I sat on the truck whilst the rest of our group had their passports taken off them and visas added, this took about half an hour, which is still very lucky for a border crossing, then we were on our way. 

The difference in countries was immediately obvious as soon as we crossed. We went from small brick dwellings, schools, medical centers and shops in Botswana to make-shift corrugated Iron shacks in Zimbabwe. Not but two hundred metres into the country, we were treated by three Giraffe just casually grazing on the side of the road. A further two hundred metres down the road we were stopped by a police check point. This was the first point so far in our trip that I have noticed the police holding rifles. Our truck was fined $10US for a broken park light (it has broken on our squeeze out of camp this morning, after our driver had checked everything was in working order).

We drove for about an hour before we reached Vic Falls. Mambo drove our truck around town, pointing out all the major spots we would need to know (Bank, park entrance, supermarket, local art market, good cafes…) then we stopped at the Wild Horozion Tour Company to make some activity bookings for the next few days. The place was packed and all the agents were crazy busy. Jamie and I inquired about Devils Pool, Rafting and a few other adrenaline activities. Mambo told us to take the brochure and come back later as it was too busy, so we took the brochure and made our way to camp.

After we set up camp, we returned to the tour company to book Devils pool. We were told by Wild Horizions that they were completely booked for the week and that people usually book up to a year in advance. Unfortunately Intrepid don’t let you book in advance or even tell you where you will be staying, their reason for this is that the truck could break down or some unforeseen circumstance may occur and they don’t want to make promises or for us to lose money on unclaimed bookings. Not taking no for an answer, Jamie and I walked up the road to Shearwater, another tour company and tried again, yet again we were told there were no spaces. We tried one more small, independent company after this as a final attempt. SUCCESS!! This company was able to give us three times to choose from and said their spots were available because they access the pool from the Zambian side of the pools, not Zimbabwe. Because we have our Kaza Visa and yellow fever certificate we were allowed to go to Zambia. We booked in for this afternoon at 1pm eeeeeek. Being 11.30 in the morning already, we didn’t have much time to sort our lives out, so we booked, paid and returned to camp for our togs, towels, GoPro and awaited pick up in reception. Pick up time came and went and we were still waiting. After twenty minutes our booking agent arrived at reception and said that unfortunately we had been double booked (in the space of an hour and a half 🙄 TIA) so she begged us to rebook for tomorrow morning. Our Intrepid Guide Mambo was very elated to hear our trip had been cancelled; he called it a suicide mission. Intrepid do not talk about or condone Devils pool because it apparently does not meet Australia’s Health and Safety standards. 

A little annoyed, but still desperate to do the pool, we rebooked for Monday afternoon because we had already agreed to go rafting tomorrow with some others in our group.

We were a little angry that they double booked us, not only because we missed Devils pool today, but also any other afternoon activity we wanted to do, but didn’t because the pool was our priority. So we decided to go for a little explore of the town and maybe check out the local markets. We made our way down through the main town and turned into a small street lined with little art and craft shops. We visited each shop, whilst being followed/harassed by the owner to buy things. We made it all the way to the end of about 20 shops that were all selling the exact same thing and the final two were the most interesting. One was a shop full of amazing stone sculptures, the lady running the shop spoke fluent English and told us that her brother had made all of the work. She gave us web addresses to check out his work online and said they could shop anywhere in the world, his work was stunning. The next was a charity shop with pictures of children on the walls and email/web addresses. There was a large wooden bowl full of foreign currency donations and small crafts for sale with the tag explaining that all proceeds go to a local orphanage. I didn’t want to buy anything and only had $100USD note on me, but I did have a few packets of bubbles and bracelets in my bag. So I offered them as a donation and said I would return tomorrow with our left over Rand and Namibian and Botswanan dollars. The man in the shop took our donation and thanked us. We then left in search of a place to have some lunch. Stopped by another store own a few metres down from the chairs shop, we were stalled for a few minutes. After escaping more consumer harassment, we were surprised to be reunited with the charity shop guy… and what do ya know, HE is wearing all of the children’s bracelets we donated. I told him that the bracelets were for the children, NOT HIM, his response… “I like the colours and I’m the King, so they’re mine” well I won’t be returning there tomorrow to donte all of my foreign currency I will no longer be using. 


“The King”…. of assholes! Wearing the children’s bracelets. 

After a few more minutes of walking we found the Elephant walk arts mall. Here the prices varied considerably to the little shops we had visited. Wooden bowls prices at $130USD 😱 we were clearly in the wrong place. We did manage to stumble upon a cute, well priced cafe amongst the rediculously priced shops. The place was super vibrant and colourful, with beautiful cushions, umbrellas and soft couches like what you would imagine to find in the middle of Bali. There was a permanent surround of mist being sprayed from the second story of the buildings to help keep us cool and after a slushy and a bowl of onion rings, we were very comfortable. 


Right next to the cafe was a small Heritage museum. We spent about half an hour here looking at artifacts and reading about historical tribes of Zimbabwe.

After leaving the Elephant walk, we made our way down to the local market. More of the same stuff that we saw in the shops before lunch, only cheaper; rock art, wood carving and printed fabrics. 


Again, we didn’t want to buy anything here, but the men (most of whom stank of alcohol) were begging Jamie to trade. Trade his three year old jandles, his discoloured Bali cap, sunglasses, pants. We didn’t last long here and decided to just make our way back to camp. On our way back, we bumped into a small group of our Intrepid family at a bar, so we joined them for some  local beer and a cocktail before all heading off back to camp together.


Tonight is our last night with our existing intrepid family. Only 8 of us are carrying on to Zanzibar. As a farewell, Intrepid organized a group of crazy talented, local performing artist to come and visit us before our final dinner. They sang some acapella and had drums and did some very unique dancing as well. Seeing traditional dance and art is something I have really enjoyed on this adventure so far.

Day 25 – Save the Rhino

After a very early morning wake up, we were collected by our local guide Ian Harper in his 17 seater, open top Jeep. We left camp and made a quick stop at the local booze shop to purchase some sundowners for later, then made our way to Matapos NP. The Jeep had a very cool little booster seat right up the front, where the boys each took a turn riding shot gun!

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Ian is a native Zimbabwean whose family was among the first settlers in what was formerly known as Rhodesia. He is a lanky, tan, 40-something guy who could talk about paint drying and make it sound interesting and eventful, he is so passionate about his work, more so than anyone I’ve ever met. His life’s work is the plight of the African Rhino. We stopped at the entrance gate to Matapos, after picking up two men, dressed in Army uniform, carrying AK47s, as we found out shortly after arrival, these men are Rhino trackers/protectors.

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Ian collected our permit to enter the park and then gathered us together in a small, outdoor, info area. As he lit up and puffed on his cigarette, he hypocritically discussed conservation. It was initially hard to respect his opinion when he was continuously puffing away on a cancer stick. He showed us two Rhino skeletons, both killed by poachers and began what was a very controversial and lengthy discussion about the fight to save the endangered African Rhino.

He explained that this species is being decimated due to Chinese demand for Rhino horn, an alleged cure for male impotence in traditional medicine and also a status symbol of wealth – the wealthy Chinese are apparently snorting the horns as a means of displaying their wealth.  The saddest part, which I didn’t know, is that Rhino horn is like a fingernail, you can cut it off, it will grow back, and you don’t need to kill the Rhino to get it. The horn is actually more like matted hair, which is made of keratin, the same stuff as finger nails and human hair, so cutting off the horn is like having a hair cut, or cutting the finger nails, there are no nerves.  But poachers kill them anyway. Ian stated that he is in favor of legalizing the horn trade in order to regulate it and make poaching less financially rewarding. He explained that if the park were to sell the horns, then at least the money would come back into the park for conservation and the surrounding community so that locals could also see benefit in the Rhino remaining ALIVE, instead of all the money flowing into the black market and the Rhino becoming extinct.

Ian’s belief is that if the trade of Rhino horn was legalized we could actually save the Rhino from extinction, rather than speed up the process as most politicians claim. If trade was allowed, reserves and private individuals would feel incentivized to protect and keep Rhinos alive as they would be able to harvest their horns every few years and make a substantial profit. As it stands now, there is minimal incentive to protect Rhinos, as there is no money in it. Those few that do patrol parks to keep poachers out often find themselves in gun battles with said poachers. Additionally, the legalization of the Rhino horn trade would potentially push down prices for the product, making illegal poaching less attractive.

According to Ian, the South African government is currently sitting on a 20-30 year supply of Rhino horn. We wouldn’t even need to remove horns from living Rhinos in order to flood the market. He also said the the U.K. are sitting on twice as much stock, just like their diamond reserves, banking it away, until the price is at its highest.

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I found this discussion hard to swallow as my understanding is that the Rhino need their horns for foraging for food, protecting their territory and fighting for mates it would be like cutting off my left arm, I don’t need it to survive, but I do like having my left arm. Is it ethical for someone else to decide I don’t need it? And what is my quality of life without it? From Ian’s perspective (and he is the professional dealing with these issues EVERYDAY) at least you stay ALIVE without your left arm.

The situation is dire and Rhinoceroses could be extinct in as soon as two years from now.

Each Rhino horn is worth around $500,000 to $1,000,000 on the black market. Ian said Matapo National Park used to have 156 Rhinos, but now only 64. He used to name every single Rhino and they were like his children, now due to the rate of poaching, they are merely given a number, detached from their horn and have a small hope of survival. Ian told us that poachers source Rhino horn from anywhere they can, even in well-secured zoos – so what chance do they have in the wild, where poachers exploit locals living in poverty to do their dirty work for them or use excessive resources such drones and helicopters to spot and kill Rhino from the air.

Matapo NP have introduced the program of cutting off the Rhino horns to save the Rhino, but the poachers still think it is worth killing the animal to get the stump that is left (worth around $300k) This involves hurriedly tranquilising the animal, then cutting off its face to get the rest of the horn and leaving the animal to die in agony.

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At least in Zimbabwe, poachers can be shot. Each Rhino has its own, armed ranger 24/7. If the poachers are not shot and killed on site (as instructed) but they are they are caught, they get 25 years in prison, which is more-or-less a life sentence. In South Africa, the situation is different. It is illegal to shoot poachers and if they happen to get caught, they get a $60 fine for a first offense, and $600 for second. Since each horn is worth up to a million dollars US, that is a joke and obviously not even worth being labeled a deterrent.

Ideally, of course, the Rhinos should be left alone with their horns, but since poaching is such a problem for the valuable horns, something must be done.

 

Ian said that the international community recently got together to decide whether to legalise the trade, and at the last meeting the proposal was voted down by four votes. So the illegal horn trade continues and animals die in the most horrific way. Yes, we might want to end this silly trade completely, but if people are dumb enough to pay big money for something that doesn’t even work, we may as well channel that money to something that will benefit and conserve animals, and the Rhinoceros, into the future. It is not perfect, but Ian’s plan will stop the cruel and illegal trade. The idea is that they can’t stop the demand – ridiculous as it is – so they can cut off the illegitimate and cruel supply by their own ‘ethical’ and humane supply. While the demand is idiotic, stopping people wanting Rhino horns for something that doesn’t work is like stopping the drug trade – there is too much money in it for the suppliers and the demand is probably even stimulated by the scarcity. Marketing really is creating a demand for something you don’t need.

Ian’s discussion really got me thinking and it very quickly became melancholic. He discussed in further detail his support of game hunting, the death of Cecil the Lion and his desire to harvest wild African animals (Elephant, Lion, Rhino, Giraffe…) for supply and sport. He loves and cares for his Rhino so much but in a complete contradiction, expressed an opinion that devalued all animals to the point where they were seen primarily as resources for human entertainment and consumption. Even if all he said about saving the Rhino were factual, true and the only way forward, it was hard for me to trust his words and agree because our values and beliefs were so misaligned.

Much contemplation and research will follow todays discussion with Ian as I feel I am in no way informed enough to have a valid opinion on this subject yet. Once we concluded this very heated discussion, we all jumped back into the jeep and headed off to meet our rangers who had gone on ahead to track the Rhino for us to view.

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Less than ten minutes drive down the road, we were stopped by our rangers who had tracked a 19 year old Mum and her 7 month old calf who were happily resting with a young 3 year old male only 500 metres away from where we were stopped. We hopped out of our jeep and began to follow the rangers, tracking Rhino on foot…AMAZING!!!

As we got closer to the Rhino, there were two more rangers, both armed with AKs. Usually the sight of men with guns would make me feel uncomfortable, but this made me happy that Ian was telling the truth when he said each and every Rhino has its own armed guard. I felt more hopeful about their security.

I have never seen a Rhino up close so this was such a huge privilege and a life experience I will never forget!! As we were observing these great creatures, Ian showed us photos on his phone of the 6 month old baby and how fast she had grown over the past few months. Much like a doting grandfather, his phone was filled with photos of her. We spent another twenty minutes watching these prehistoric creatures (Rhino as a species are over 50 million years old) and as we watched, Ian spoke about the three Rhino we saw.

Mumma was named #134 and had had her horn cut last year, for the third time. Ian went into detail about how often they have to cut the horn and how its difficult because tranquilising Rhino can be detrimental if you don’t get the amount perfectly correct. He showed us that special cuts on their ears symbolise their numbers so that they know which Rhino it is, even if they lose their tags. IMG_9891

The young male was from another family, he was hanging out with this Mum and calf for socialisation. Rhino Mums kick out their older calves when they have a new baby, so this boy had been kicked out and joined a new family. It is expected that when this Mum #134 falls pregnant again, the calf and young male we saw today will both be kicked out and will potentially leave together to form a mating pair.

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I will finish this post here, even though it only sums up one third of our day with the famous Ian Harper and Matapos NP. I will continue to elaborate on the next aspect of our adventure in my following post –  The San Bushmen and the rock painting caves.

 

 

 

Day 20 – Chobe 

This morning we were up SUPER early, AGAIN! But we were immediately rewarded by an exciting drive through Chobe National Park. We were split into two groups of ten and jumped in some open sided 4×4 trucks. It was crazy cold, being 5.30am and so our driver Mischak provided us with some nice scratchy blankets (the kind grandmas keep in their hot water cupboard). The three of us all in the back seat were wearing our Kathmandu jackets which, to be honest, look like trash sacks and then when we threw on the scratchy blankies, we were one large, snugly, warm pile of trash, talking trash, hanging off the back of a truck in search of wild life. 

Jamie and I got the very back seat with our Aussie friend/rival Brodie and Dan our other Aussie buddy joined us up the back end for some nonsense chatter and early morning fun. 


As soon as we got through the gate we were surprised to see a large number of Hippo out of the water grazing, this is apparently quite a rare sight. We were especially lucky to see two babies frumping about also. 
Whilst taking our time photographing the Hippo, a call came through the radio that two female Lions had been spotted just up ahead. Our group slowly made our way to the Lions as we were still rather besotted with the Hippo. Once we got to the Lionesses, there were so many cars that it actually made Jamie and I rather upset. Between all of the cars that were blocking the road and the lions in the distance was a small Giraffe. We were concerned that the Giraffe could not get past the cars to where it wanted to go and it’s only option was to head back toward the Lionesses. I personally felt like this was completely unethical and irresponsible behavior from all of the drivers that were blocking the path and instantly felt disappointed and guilty that we were contributing to this. There were more than 30 cars, all with 10 passengers in them. Whilst it was amazing to see the wildlife, I really don’t think it can be called ‘wild’ anymore and I’m also uncertain if I will ever do a game drive again. 😢 

The Giraffe very swiftly made its way to the end of the line of cars and went across to the other side of the road. The Lionesses passed just in front of our truck, rather unphased about the interuption as if this were a normal occurance (which I guess it has become). So we moved on.

We made our way away from the waters edge and up towards some thicker bush. Here we saw an abundance of Antelope (Waterbuck & Impala mostly) one or two young males with their harem and then a smaller bachelors herd lurking near by. 

We saw several Fish Eagles and a couple of Vultures hovering in the trees above.

Whilst happily making our way through the park, we stopped for tea and coffee and a toilet spot, just for a few minutes. Here we were able to see a few more birds closer up. Then all of a sudden the radio lit up again and the other half of our group had spotted a Leopard 🐆

The Leopard was our last animal to see in order to be able to say we saw the big five. Our driver ordered us back on the truck and we were off. This was the fun part, like mad, we were instantly part of some very crazy off road rally. Our driver pushed the truck to maximum speed and we made it to our other group just in time to see the Leopard appear from under the thicket of a bush, slink past our two vehicles, that were respectful enough to keep their distance and not block the Leopards path. It was in plain sight for at least 30 seconds and we all scrambled to take photos as this beautiful creature walked past. It didn’t really go too far… only a few metres away from its original spot, where it climbed another tree and was again, well hidden from sight. 

We eventually began to make our way back out of the park, viewing more Giraffe, Antelope, Warthog and even a few Hyenna along the way.

Just before the exit, we were blocked in the road by the truck ahead of us, unable to see why they had stopped, we assumed they were just taking photos of some Eagles in the tree to their left, when we got closer however, we were elated to see a gianormous Bull about 20metres from the road. We could tell that he was left handed as his left tusk was pretty much gone (he would have lost it fighting) we waited a few minutes here whilst we all got some really nice photos of him enjoying his breakfast. Happy to have seen this sight as well as our Leopard, we agreed to leave now. Just as we were a few hundred metres from the exit, we were again greeted by another Bull, even closer to our truck this time, not but more than 5 metres away… OMG 😲 


Eventually we dragged ourselves away from this magnificent Ele and made our way back to camp. Once back at camp we made the most of the Wifi and uploaded our last blog and messaged the whanau after a quick stop and shop in the curio shop.  We also booked a sunset cruise for the evening and then made our way to the tents for lunch. 

After lunch, some of us decided to walk to the local village, our guide Mambo had had a very swish haircut whilst we were out, so some of the boys decided to get one too. Vanessa and I joined the boys in the hopes of maybe getting a few braids in our hair and just to have a chance to meet more locals and explore a bit more of the less touristy areas. At the bottom of the stairs to the barber, we stumbled upon a beautition, Ness and I were eager to try some treatments. Unfortunately the lady was unable to do our nails, but we were able to have our lashes done. It was so interesting being able to try something we do so often at home, in a very different country. The lady was really nice but quite quiet so we didn’t really get the opportunity to chat much.

After our lashes were complete, we made our way upstairs to the barber/hair salon where the boys had just finished their hair cuts.

Ness and I waited for about twenty minutes to get our braids. During our wait, we played with the very cute little 2 year old named Patrick, his Mum was getting her weave done and he was obviously bored of waiting. We played peekaboo with him and basically played along as his hyper activity escalated. 

His mum eventually finished and by this time, Ness was shown to her seat. Patrick took Ness’s old seat next to me where he suddenly became curious about my hands and nails. I had taken off my acrylic nails and my fingers were looking rather sad. Patrick was horrified and asked “why did you let a dog eat your finger nails?” 😂😂😂 his mum told him that was not polite. I began to explain fake nails to Patrick and he started to sing as I pointed to my fingers. “Mummy finger, Mummy finger, where are you” 🎶 we sing this song at preschool all the time so I began to sing along with him. Patrick’s face lit up as he realized I knew his song. So so cute!! 

Going to the hair salon was our first real taste of authentic African culture so far, everything else has been animals, scenery and museums, so I was really excited about being able to meet normal people, doing normal daily things and just chat. The ladies were so friendly and curious about our cultures too. I asked about their weaves and braids, they asked about bleached hair. They were super fascinated with Ness’s brows which are feathered (tattooed) and look amazing!!
After we had finished our beauty therapy, we returned to camp. Upon return we found one of our whanau layed out flat on one of the pool chairs surrounded by people. Turns out “his Safari truck had flipped after being attacked by an elephant 🐘 he had pushed the truck back upright, in an effort to help everyone out of the truck but damaged his neck in the process”.  Coughcoughheranintoatreecough 😂 He was awaiting paramedics as we were awaiting our sunset cruise. 

Sunset cruise was beautiful and allowed spectacular views of reasonable sized herds of Elephant. Unfortunately these boats were equally as irresponsible as our game drivers this morning and they interrupted a herd that were trying to cross the channel. It was so sad to see the elephants get half way before they had to turn around and go back to shore and then hide. One Elephant pulled the Ele equivalent of the middle finger before he ran off. 


After sunset we had an early dinner and then went to bed. Another border crossing tomorrow, we are up for another early morning.