Into Africa, 93

Let the real travel begin. In 19993 my workmate Vince who had been to all the main continents apart from Africa was thinking about it for his next trip. So as i hadn’t been to any of them and after seeing a kids show one Saturday moning on African elephants i decided i would get there before him. So another year of 70 hour work weeks passed by and it was holiday time again. So Africa was decided on but where abouts and who with i had no idea. Eventually i came up with a five week overland truck tour across Zimbabwe, Botswana and namibia. The company was London based Guerba and what a good choice i made. Apart from the first and last night in hotels it was camping out in two person tents all the way.

So on the 21st of August 1993 i arrived at Harare airport having little idea of what to expect. Arriving in Christchuch N.Z. had been exciting but Africa was another thing altogether. I had never seen anything other than first world cultures.

So with eager anticipation and a klittle bit of fear i found a taxi to the hotel where i met up with the three crew and the 19 other travellers.

The following information is based on my diary from then which is now a bit hard to read so apologies for any misinformation.

The first day a few of us walked around the city with extremes of both rich and poor confronting me for the first time. We had been warned it was unsafe especially after dark. Mostly pickpockets we were told. A friendly lady selling oranges beside the road even told us, ” I am sorry but please be careful as my people will rob you.” ” Do not carry any valuables with you” A few of the others had scoffed at this and said “NO WORRIES!”  Alan you worry too much. That afternoon one of them came back to the hotel minus his passport and wallet. The first amazing thing i saw was a big sign in the street. COFFINS FOR SALE.  So naturally we all took photo’s of each other under it. This was new to us. That night we did venture out and ended up at the Sphinx disco where some locals invited us to a party where everybody was just as interested in us as we them.

The next day it was time for the road. Twenty of us piled into the back of a large truck and off we went to the Zimbabwe ruins 306 kilometres away.  It was very wet and cold. Everybody had a permanent job to do everyday and a few others jobs we rotated. My permanent job was to team up with Heather from South Africa and dig a hole to bury all our rubbish. You may well laugh but this was one of the tougher jobs because most of the time the ground was like cement but with pick and shoval Heather and i tried to perfect the perfect hole over the next five weeks. Eventually we achieved this and many photo’s of the perfect hole were taken by all the others. Guido from Belgium was most jealous as he could not perfect any of his tasks. I don’t think i could have got twenty better people together if i tried. The three crew were 11 out of 10 also.  Phil the driver, Heather the cook  both from England and backup driver Kenyandui a Masai from Kenya. Just call me Ken he said so we did. At the age of 39 i wasn’t even the eldest. My tent sharer was Ken from Queensland at 55. The two oldies together i guess.

The next day a local guide took us on a tour of the ruins. Changa was a lovely local who showed us all the interesting ruins. At midday we left for Bulawayo. The thing that i remember the most is the amount of people on the road, walking, riding bycyles or pushing wheel barrows seemingly miles from anywhere. We arrived after dark and had another fabulous camp fire meal of tomato soup and spaghetti in a cream sauce. Spent the next day walking around town and buying souveniers. Drank a Sangria at the Selbourne hotel. In the afternoon we drove to Worlds View and the gravesite of Cecil Rhodes.  The sun setting over Worlds view was simply manificent as the big red orb sunk down. Saw first animals also. Great excitment in the back of the truck as we saw zebra. then Sable antelope, klipsprigers and kadu. Chicken caserole and banana pudding was again a highlight by Heather at Matapos hills where we camped in the bush.

Next day it was into Botswana and on to Francistown. Crossed the border at Plumtree which i now remember as a typical deleloping country border town. I always think of it when i arrive in Poipet on the Thai Cambodia border almost twenty years later.   People with push carts going back and forth with goods to sell.  Finally had a look around Francistown before heading out of town to set up camp for the night. Still amazed by number of people along the roads in the middle of nowhere. Saw three young kids pushing a wheel barrow along the highway and a donkey cart also. But i can distintly remember being on fire with excitment and contentment as we drove out of Francistown with our legs dangling outside the truck.  This was one of the best days of my life  in that regardes.  Vegie curry with popodams was again superb.

Next day it was off to Maun on a long drive. Along the way we saw giraffe, elephants, vultures and ostrich for the first time. Poor villages with a goat or cow surrounded by bare dirt ground was never far away. And they always smiled and waved to us, especially the kids. They seemingly had nothing but knew how to smile. Stayed at a camp ground after we got supplies in Maun. One small supermarket had only packaged and canned food. nothing fresh that i can remember. But they did have beer so all was well. Heather cooked up spaghetti bolognaise and apple crumble with the by now, warm beer at the camp site.

Next day it was on to the Okavango Delta. One of the most amazing places on earth for animals. Firstly by speed boat for an hour before transferring into mororos which are dugout canoes pushed along by pushing a long pole into the bottom. This is not a job for those with bad balance as we were to later find out. Had lunch and rested before a late afternoon walking safari. Came within fifty metres of elephants and wildebeast in spectacular scenery. Another red orb sunset completed the day after a fantastic walk.

28-8-93: Woke up in the delta and went for a five hour walk in very hot conditions. We got within 40 metres of elephants and saw two bills fighting over a female. Saw baboons, setchwe, wildebeast,  and more, by now very boring, zebra. Lion paw prints from the night before also. Later on in the day tried to master the mokoro with limited success. I didn’t fall in though.

Started the following day with a one hour walk. Saw the remains of a cape buffalo killed by lions a week before. One of our group almost stood on a deadly puff adder and we all got within two metres of it. Later on head back to the camp ground in Maun where my diary says “hit my head”. On the truck if i remember. Maybe that was the reason 20 yearrs on.

Next day left Maun at 10.15 a.m. for long,hot and duty drive to a place called ghanzi. A very poor,small, dusty and hot village.  wooded savanna all the way. Stopped at foot and mouth control area and gave the locals some cigarettes which they were delighted to get. Everybody on the road and in towns waves to us. Saw Herero woman sitting on the dusty ground cooking while the kids payed as all kids do with an old tyre and a car wreck. Set up a bush camp after seeing an ostrich and had another great meal in a dusty camp.

Next day heade into Namibia. First a water stop in Kalfontein. a one store town with not much else. Got within 100 kilometres of the capital Windoek after crossing the boder and set up another bush camp as Heather and I slowly perfected our daily chore. Now we had rain and thunder storms to help soften the ground. Had stopped at Gobibas for supplies along the way which i wrote that it was a modern town with good supplies. More pasta (tagliatale) in a cream sauce for dinner. Then nex6t day on to Widoek which was quit rich and modern on what we had seen so far. The one thing i clearly rember about it apart from nearly being robbed until Ken and Tracey saw what was going on and saved the day, Ken was a Jordy detective so i was glad of that, was the number of jewellery shops.  All selling top quality carvings and gems. First time we saw police with guns.

2-9-1993. Next day it we drove to sesirem through some of the best scenery on earth. magnificent mountains of rock and sand.  Arrived in the Namib desert and saw sunset as good as it gets and more magniicent views of the worlds largest sand dunes. Saw Impala,a wild cat, Oryx and more bloody Zebra. A bush camp with warm beer later in the evening  to finish off another almost ,(warm beer?), perfect day.

Next day left camp for the dunes in 38 degrees. Walked up to the top of the dunes where the scenery was again sensational. Then i got lost as i follwed some Oryx trying to get that close up photo. As i kept following them i lost my way and with no water in the heat i eas a tiny bit anxious for a few minutes until i came across Giles who knew where we were. I had also got close up and as i pointed the camer the Oryx turned around and smiled for me. When finally got back to the truck we went to sariem gorge for more oryx and springbok.  Can’t recollect where we camped for the night but wrote in diary” very very tired after a long tiring and will now drink beer until i drop”.

Next it was to the  Atlantic coastal town of Swakopmund. A very hot drive in the desert at 36 degrees before dropping down to only ten on the coast a few hours later. Swakopmund is a very german town where german in the most spoken. By far the wealthiest town we had seen so far and a far cry from the poverty of Zimbabwe and Botswana. The people were no where near as friendly either. Ironic but true. No beer available all day Sunday with i wrote was unbelievable in a town of 23,000 people.

5-9-1993. left  Swakopmund in the cold but didn’t take long until it was hot again. from 10 degrees on the coast to 35 after only twenty kilometres. First stop was the Cape Cross seal colony. An amazing number of seals between 80,000 and 100,00 of them all in a small area on the Atlantic coast. From pups to 300 kilogram males. Later on set up camp at the entrance to the White Lady bushman paintings amid more sensational scenery surrounded by mountains.

Next morning walk to White Lady cave paintings followed by the drive to Khorixas for food and beer. Then went on tocamp at Twefontein where there are more rock paintings.  Our camp was beside a spectacular rocky mountain. The country changes very dramatically from  rocky outcrops to scrub to beautiful savannah grass.

From this camp we travelled to another of the highlights at Etosha national park. Along the way we stopped at a petrified forest and the town of Outto. After arriving at the camp ground we went for a game drive and saw, YES! more bloody zebra’s as well as giraffe, gazelle, ground sqirrel and jackel. After dinner we went to the fenced of waterhole and at 10.30 p.m. we saw 4 rhinoceros and a calf come into drink followed by about 40 elephants. truely amazing scenes as jackel came to drink also.

The next day we did both morning and an afternoon game drives. Saw first lions but not at close range as they slept beside a water hole we parked at. watched with delight as wildebeast, elephants, giraffe,red hartlebeast, kudu, dik dik, springbok, jackels, sqirrels and bustard birds all took turns to take a drink. Saw large elephants herds as we drove also.

The next day we again parked at Goas waterhole and saw all the animals again but this time there were two lioness’ sleeping nearby and this made for a more tense atmosphere especially the giraffe as they were reluctant to come and drink. One of them stood nearby and it really did seem like he was a lookout as they came in one at a time to drink. And who could blame them as we also came across a half eaten giraffe from the night before.

10-9-1993:  Anotherfive hour game drive where we came as close as possible to a big elephant herd (20 metres).  A great number of animals at the waterhole again. Today three lions were asleep and many animals too afraid to come in.

Next up it was a 400 kilometre all day drive to a bush camp near Rundo. Stopped in the town of Tsumeb for supplis and got some souvenirs also at a gift shop where the owner asked me if i had a gun. When i said no he was amazed as he said ” The blacks will try and rob you and you MUST shoot them dead”.  Came across as very racist.  Out on the road it was again small dusty villages with lots of people walking seemingly miles from anywhere. people carrying water in buckets on their heads. Children about ten herding goats as people just sat around their villages waving to us with big smiles.

Next day was a slow one as we drove along the Caprivi strip on the Namibian Angola border with sounds more adventurous than it really was. we also stopped at the Poppa falls which was about as dissapointing as the Mor Paeng waterfall in Pai twenty years later. Both more like water over rocks than actually falling water but scenic enough i suppose, especially Pai in thailand.

From the bush camp on the strip we again entered into Botswana and arrived in the camp ground at Chobe national park which was totally unfenced. On arrival there were many baboons and warthogs where we were set up all roaming freely around. More was to come on this freedom.  Chobe is famous for its elephants and we weren’t dissapointed.  As our afternoon drive saw many along with bush bucks, mongoose,veruet monkeys and sable antelope. Back at camp and still many baboons and wathog casually walking through along with anything else who cared to. Went to sleep in our tents about twenty metres from the filtyhy third world toilet block. as usual during the night i need to go. as i was unlocking the tent Ken woke up and said he’d go also. I walked over and did my buisness beside the tr7uck while Ken walked the other way behind a bush on the dirt road. back to bed and all is well. Next morning we wake up andKen tells us that five lions came through in the middle of the night as their foot prints were plain to see. This was only 5 metres from our tent and exactly where Ken had a pee. This was really scary stuff as i asked Ken what would have happened. Just say hello was his casual response. While having breakfast mongoose, vervet monkeys and warthogs all casually walked by. Word got around from other campers that six lions were eating a baby elephant at a waterhole only a kilometre away. So we loaded up and drove to the waterhole where those same six lions who walked through during the night were indeed enjoying a breakast of bably elephant in the waterhole. we were only metres away and after they finished eating one even layed in the shade under the truck.  Two things eventually came to light after watching them for two hours. Number one was that Tarzan was a fake as he certainly couldn’t fight a lion after we watched one of them, on his own, drag the elephant out of the waterhole. Amazing strength. the second was to come later on back at work  when i was showing some people my photo’s. The dumb,drunk and racist Aussie was stil a long way off but still alive and well. And while this person  wasn’t a drunk or racist she was certainly a bit dim witted. When seeing the photo’s of the lions she commented that’s cruel. I replied that they have to eat. “Why don’t THEY feed them she asked as i broke up in laughter. Yes indeed travel certainly does broaden your mind and your bowells. Later in the day drove back into Zimbabwe and victoria Falls. Along the way a large herd of elephants crossed the road in front of us and Ken stopped the truck. They all crossed and the biggest bull elephant brought up the rear. as he was about to cross we caught his attention. He slowly walked towards us with his ears flapping and trunk in the air. As happened i was one of the hree people whose turn it was to sit in the roof viewing seats we rotated. As the bull got closer my heart started to pump. Quiet we whispere and no camera noise either as we might make him charge we thought. the best chance of great photo’s ten metres away and we thought it wise not to even click the buttom in case it spooked him. One of the girls in the roof seat evened panicked as we were totally in the open and climbed down into the back of the truck. She was berated strongly by the crew as this was very dangerous. Eventually he walked off and unbeknown to us all the others had been clicking away and Ken said if there had of been any danger he would have driven off.  But  it was me in the open seat. This was the only time i was ever anxious on the whole trip until now. More anxiousness was to come though.

Spent all next day looking at the spectacular falls and i can remember thinking how lucky i was to be standing there looking down as i knew nobody who had been there. In the afternoon we went foir a cruise on the chobe Zambezi river where we saw hippo and had a few drinks. that night we ate at the up market Vic Falls hotel for a bit of a treat. All you could eat buffet for A$12.00. Great value i wrote in the diary.

16-9-1993. Another one of those best days of your life today. we all bar one went white water rafting on the Zambezi below the falls. the company was called Shearwater and what a day it was. During briefing we vwere told that after eight seconds the life vest would pop you up if the boat over turned. And that the white nuckle death grip was how you would hold onto the boat. we went in two boats. One boat where everybody had a paddle and one boat where one guy stood up in the middle with two big oars and the rest of us only had to hold on. This one i went on with all the girls hence Guido called me the Aussie coward as i called him the Belgium fool. The hardest part of the day was walking down the bank to get to the boat and then even harder walking out at the finish. the rest of the day was just adrenalin pumping fun. These are some of the biggest rated rapids there is. One of them we had to leave the water and carry the boat around it as it was to dangerous to attempt. Each rapid had it’s own name and the only one i can recall was the overland truck eater.  We had guys in canoes alongside us to pick up anybody who fell out. While it was safe in the rapids there were crocodiles, which we saw in the quiet parts so back in the boat before then. And don’t swallow any water if you fall in was the advice as the raw seweridge from zambia went straight into the river. Along the way it seemed that one boat overturned at each rapid. we later thought that this may have been pre planned. Our turn eventually came as i remember seeing a wall of water hit us and over we went as i was spun as though in a washing machine but still remembered having the pesense to count to eight as i bobbed back up still holding onto the boat with my white nuckle death grip. This was what made the day after we all got back on the uprighted boat. Along the way they have people taking photo’s and videos from the banks which we watched later on at night. This was one of the greatest days i had ever had.

All good things have to come to an end and after buying some more souvenirs at the falls we caught a flight back to Harare for a final night at the hotel. Thanks to everybody involved for the best travel experience and all inclusive tour.  Baktrax was still twenty years away but this trip was to be the idea behind it albeit a totally different product. Simply pay up front with  as much as possible included and get a real travel experience. The up front price was cheap and i needed no other money almost while on tour. 11 out of 10 to Guerba.

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