Africa Recap

Wow – what an incredible seven weeks overlanding in south and east Africa! An infinite number of wildlife, sand dunes as red as blood, domesticated cheetahs, boat rides, hiking up Table Mountain, wine tastings, African night clubs, swimming on top of a waterfall, and snorkeling in the Indian Ocean only begins to sum up the things we saw and did over the past seven weeks. We are thankful for each and every experience. The past month and a half has flown by and we can’t believe it’s already over. A few trip stats, favorite moments and places from our time in Africa:

  • Days in Africa: 48
  • Countries visited: 8 (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya)
  • Miles traveled: 6,197 miles  or 9,973 kms
  • Nights camping: 35 nights (73% of our time in Africa)
  • Nights of rain on our overland safari: 2
  • # of Game Drives: 12  – Etosha National Park (3), Chobe National Park (4), Ngorongoro Crater (1), Serengeti (2), Nairobi National Park (2)

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Favorite Country: Botswana and Tanzania tie for our favorite countries in Africa and were also the countries where we spent the most time. In Botswana, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Okavanga Delta and camping in the bush in the middle of Chobe National Park. Tanzania was gorgeous. From the beautiful white sandy beaches of Zanzibar to the surreal landscapes of the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti, Tanzania has a lot to offer. We hope to return someday to see the Great Migration of wildebeests and to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.S S

Favorite Place:  We loved exploring the Okavanga Delta by air, boat and foot. We had a blast camping on a remote island, swimming in watering holes, learning traditional African song and dance and seeing hippos just yards away while we took photos from our mokoros. We forgot to mention it earlier, but a huge thanks to the Brannon’s for the Okavanga Delta wedding honeyfund!S

Favorite Activity: White water rafting down the Zambezi River was absolutely insane and an unforgettable time. We had a blast getting beaten down by the wrath of the rapids. I’ve never been so close to drowning in my life and it’s moments like those when you feel the most alive.IMG_2334

Hardest Moment: Realizing we were robbed the night before our overland trip departed was the most difficult time for us. We were devastated that we had lost all of our pre-trip photos and our morale was low. Settling our insurance claim in Africa has been challenging and an overall pain. On the bright side, the experience has made us grateful for everything we still have…including each other. Thanks to everyone who reached out to us in support and have helped us sort everything out!

Favorite Accommodation: Nairobi Tented Camp wins this distinction hands down! Granted we were camping for the majority of the time, we still were very impressed with the level of service and overall ambiance of NTC.  The campsites are the only accommodations within Nairobi National Park and offer a unique, intimate experience with the African bush. Two great game drives within the park allowed us to see more lions, giraffe, and a white rhino (an animal we had yet to see)! The whole experience is second to none.SONY DSC

Best Game Park: Before we entered Tanzania, Chobe National Park would have taken the prize for our favorite game park. The park has a dense population of elephants, wildebeests, hippos and lions, open plains and the Chobe River which creates a surreal atmosphere.  It was amazing to camp in the middle of the park and listen to the animals move around and howl in the middle of the night. Plus, it’s where we spotted our first (and second) leopard. However, the Serengeti was amazing and takes the cake. The vast plains and overall landscape are breathtaking. It looked just how we imagined Africa to look in our heads. When we entered the park we had already seen all of the animals we’d hope to spot so our expectations were low. But it was in the Seregenti where we saw countless lions and our first kill…by a leopard nonetheless. There are only a few game parks where you can see the Big Five in one day and the Serengeti is one of them. Our expectations were completely met and it was a great way to end our 42 day overland tour.S

We originally thought camping in a tent for so long would take its toll on us but luckily it hasn’t. We’ve learned that we can sleep almost anywhere on almost anything. And the food…who would have thought you could gain weight in Africa? Well we did and will be traveling with a few extra pounds from eating three hearty and delicious meals a day.

African weather has been incredibly kind to us. Although some days were extremely hot, we had only two nights of rain on our entire overland tour. It’s very common this time of year to experience at least a few down pours but we have been very fortunate to stay as dry as we have.

I know we’ve said it before, but we are incredibly lucky to travel with the group of people we’ve met. After traveling for three and a half months on our own through South America, it was refreshing to hang out in a group and to meet such amazing people. They are our African travel family and it will be weird not to travel with them anymore. We love you guys – you know who you are!SIt’s been nearly five months since we started our around the world adventure. We are still going strong and are so excited for our next continent. But first, we need to make it through an epic two days of traveling. From Nairobi, we fly to Qatar and connect in Bangkok before we arrive in OZ nearly 40 hours later. We are looking forward to returning to a westernized country and spending time with our family-friends in Melbourne!

It’s been fun Africa, now it’s on to the next…

S

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Zimbabwe to Zambia

We received another visa and passport stamp as we crossed into Zimbabwe…our fourth African country. Once rich in agriculture, the country’s leader gave away the lands as payment to his rebel fighters for keeping him in power. The lands were destroyed after generations of successful farming and the country’s lack of exports led to the beginning of their financial crisis. The country continued to print more and more money to make up for their deficit which quickly inflated their currency. Zimbabwe now uses the U.S. dollar but you can still come across the old currency. The largest note that was printed before the currency was completely dissolved was the 100 trillion note.

We drove from the border to the town of Victoria Falls where we stayed for the next three nights. Our campsite was situated in the middle of town and was frequently visited by monkeys, baboons and warthogs.

The town of Vic Falls is home to adrenaline sports and the Victoria Falls waterfalls which create a natural border with Zambia. A group of us decided to spend a few hours exploring the falls. There are three ways to measure a waterfall: height, width and volume. If you combine these factors, the three largest in the world are Niagra Falls, Iguacu Falls (which we visited in Argentina) and Victoria Falls. However, Victoria Falls is the only of the three to be named one of the as Seven Natural Wonders of the World. A big hug to Mary Tom for the lovely Vic Falls wedding honeyfund, it was beautiful to see!

A group of eight of us who have been traveling together since Cape Town signed up for a white water rafting trip down the Zambezi River. Rapids are rated from Class 1 to Class 6 depending on their difficulty. Our rafting course included 19 notable rapids, including one Class 6 rapid that we had to get out and walk around because Class 6 rapids are considered to be so dangerous that they are unnavigable on a reliably safe basis. Traversing a Class 6 rapid “has a dramatically increased likelihood of ending in serious injury or death.”

The Zambezi River is renowned for its world class rafting and is home to one of the greatest stretches of Class 5 rapids. After some research, we learned Class 5 rapids require “advanced whitewater experience,” but this is Africa and our rafting company could care less that the majority of us had never previously been on a rafting trip. A few people we were with, including Chris, have rafted before, but no one was prepared for what was in store.

Our first rapid was a Class 3 and our raft flipped and trapped a few of us underneath leaving us gasping for air that wasn’t available. The second rapid busted our friend’s lip. We were off to a poor start and a few of us started to become uneasy about what we’d signed up for. The rapids were huge, a few included 10-12 foot drops, the current was incredibly strong and there were whirlpools that could suck you underwater for up to 15 seconds before spitting you back out. Two of the Class 5 rapids had a 95% chance of the raft flipping. We flipped often. The second to last rapid, another Class 5, was appropriately named The Oblivion. It consists of three rapids in quick succession where the last rapid completely tears you apart. The chances of getting through unscathed is slim to none. We watched as three rafts in front of us immediately capsized after hitting the third rapid. When it was our turn, we paddled hard into the current. We hit the first and second rapids without any problems. As we approached the final rapid, we became stuck in a pocket of swirling water that held us there for about 15 seconds while we were violtenly shaken around until we finally flipped. The guides from the other boats were so excited and impressed that we “surfed” the rapids for so long. They said we looked like popcorn being thrown out of the pan as we all struggled to stay on the raft.

After two and a half hours, we were completely exhausted, battered and water-logged. Chris had an absolutely amazing time. He was hit in the head by the raft when it flipped but that couldnt break his spirit as he relished in the experience. Me? Well I can check this off the ol’ bucket list but will likely not ever being doing it again. Many thanks to the Michuda’s for the white water rafting honeyfund.  It was for truly unforgettable memory and (for me) a once in a lifetime experience!

We had one more day in Vic Falls before we had to say goodbye to several people in our group and the crew we’ve been overlanding with for the past three weeks. We’ll miss our trip leader, Bruce, who is incredibly generous and passionate about his job, wildlife and Africa. Our driver, Servius, who has a heart of gold and Onary, our cook, who is responsible for our 5 lb. weight gain. It was a sad goodbye and we’ll miss our new friends.  We have a new crew and there are now 11 of us traveling on our new truck, seven of whom we’ve been with since the start of our trip in Cape Town.

Our trip itinerary had us backtrack to Chobe National Park in Botswana. This was a bit redundant for us since we had already bush camped in the park just a few days ago, but it provided another opportunity for some spectacular game sightings before we were to loop back to Zambia to visit the other side of Victoria Falls. Within a few hours, we saw nearly a dozen different lions. One was feasting on a freshly killed warthog, others were laying along the river, two were shagging, one sat blocking our road ahead and a couple were hunting in the plains.

We also spotted our second leopard. We followed it for some time as it elegantly walked through the brush.

The next morning, we drove out of the park and made our way to the border where we crossed by ferry to Zambia. Since Chris and I first planned our trip to Africa, we knew there was one thing we had to do in Zambia – swim in Devil’s Pool. Our friend had visited the pool on his trip to Africa last year and it looked like an amazing and unique experience (thanks J-dub)! As soon as we arrived in Livingstone (home to Victoria Falls on the Zambian side), I quickly beelined to the nearest hostel to book a boat to take us to the pool. Chris and I have been campaigning for a trip to Devil’s Pool for several weeks so it didn’t take much to convince a few of our friends to come along. We were incredibly lucky to secure the last five spots available for the day.

So what is Devil’s Pool? At the top of the Victoria Falls waterfalls is a natural rock pool. The pool sits right at the point where the river water cascades down the cliff to the rocks below. You can swim, sit and play in the pool which is protected by a thick rock ledge.

To get there, a small motorboat picked us up from a five star hotel on the river and took us just above the falls to a small island called Livingstone Island. From the island, we swam and climbed our way to a rocky outcrop right above the pool and falls. Our guide pointed to the pool and the surrounding currents indicating to us where we could jump in without getting swept over. Once we jumped in, the current pushed us toward the natural rock ledge which stopped us from being swept over to our certain death. There aren’t any ropes, safety harnesses or barriers protecting you from getting swept over the edge…just your own common sense.

After jumping in, we sat in the pool and watched as the water washed over us and proceeded down the falls.  We took turns holding each other’s legs as we peered over the rock ledge and admired the incredible view.

We could have sat their for hours but were coaxed out of the pool by our guide. We spent some time exploring the falls from the Zambian side and took a few more photos hanging over the cliffs.

        After downing a few cocktails on Livingstone Island, our boat picked us up to take us back to the five star hotel. The five of us sat on the patio and drank a few beers while taking in the lovely views of the falls where we had just swam. The boys had to pry us away from the immaculate hotel property to get us back to our campsite in time for dinner.            We are more than half way done with our trip through Africa. These past three weeks have been extremely memorable and we look forward to what’s in store for our last three weeks as we start making our way up to Malawi and East Africa!

Disclosure: We are traveling on an overland safari with Africa Travel Co. and have received a trip discount in exchange for sharing our experience. These thoughts and opinions are completely our own.

I Shall Never Forget Beautiful Botswana

Once we entered Botswana, we made our way to the southern region of the Okavango Delta. The Okavango Delta is a large expanse of water, which has traveled from the Angolan highlands, spreading out to form the largest inland delta in the world.

We decided to splurge for a 45 minute scenic flight over the delta. When in Botswana, right? We hopped on a tiny six seater airplane and were given a short safety briefing (which consisted of gestures towards the emergency doors, mentions of a five liter bottle of water and a few band-aids) before taking off. Within minutes, the landscape changed from huts and cows to lush waterways. It wasn’t long before we were flying 500 feet above hundreds of hippos, wildebeests and herds of elephants who were all seeking refuge in the delta. Seeing so many animals from a bird’s eye view was so surreal and these pictures don’t do justice to the experience. We spent the next two days bush camping within the Okavango Delta. Our truck drove us to the Mokoro poler’s station where we met delta locals who poled us in mokoros (dugout canoes) to an uninhabited island. Our poler, Oracle Miracle, loaded up our mokoro with our camping gear and navigated us through the delta’s waterways. The waterways were filled with reeds, lily pads, beautiful flowers and… hippos!Each day, we would go for at least one game walk. The delta is known for their prime wildlife viewing but because we were on foot, we could only cover a short distance. We were still able to see zebra, elephants and other wildlife without barriers or fences.

The afternoons were spent playing cards and swimming in the island’s watering hole. Chris tried to learn how to pole a mokoro and the boys picked water flowers for us.On our last evening in the delta, all of the poler’s treated us to a night of traditional African song and dance. They danced and sang with so much heart and happiness that it gave me chill bumps to witness. We all joined in on their last few dances and they taught us one of their native songs which was so fitting for days we spent in the delta and in Botswana. Even now, Chris and I continue to sing the song in hopes that we never forget spending time with those amazing people in the delta.

Beautiful People (People)
Beautiful People (People)
I shall never forget beautiful People.

Beautiful Delta (Delta)
Beautiful Delta (Delta)
I shall never forget beautiful Delta.

Beautiful Botswana (Botswana)
Beautiful Botswana (Botswana)
I shall never forget beautiful Botswana.

Beautiful Africa (Africa)
Beautiful Africa (Africa)
I shall never forget beautiful Africa.

Our next stop was Chobe National Park. The group hopped on an open air 4×4 vehicle to take us through the park for the afternoon. We gave our driver an assignment to find us cape water buffalo and a leopard (the remaining animals in our search for the Big Five). Within a few minutes, we pulled up along the Chobe River and there they were… tons of cape water buffalo grazing just a few feet away.We continued until we saw a large gathering of baboons, many of which were caring for their young.As the sun began its descent for the day, we happened to pass by two large female lions. They seemed completely uninterested in our truck full of tourists and set off to hunt for the night. We drove along the river and our group had only one thing on our minds…to find a leopard. Leopards often lay in tree branches close to the river so they can stalk their prey drinking by the water. Once they make their kill, they drag their meal up into the trees to eat their dinner. As we searched the branches, we started to approach several other safari vehicles parked by a nearby tree. We pulled up and hidden in the branches and brush was a leopard.We could smell its recent kill and could also see the remains of a previous antelope dinner. It wasn’t long before the leopard climbed down the tree and walked around the corner. Our guide drove us to the other side of the trees where we could get a better view.That evening, we were the only people in Chobe to bush camp inside the national park. Our tents were setup in a circle to create the illusion of a barrier to protect us from the surrounding wildlife. The lions we spotted just an hour before were only 200 yards away so we spent the evening around the campfire listening for animals. In the middle of the night we could hear the screams of hyenas and movement from elephants and other wildlife. It was an incredible experience to camp inside the park.

The next morning, we packed our camp and started our morning game drive to take us back out of the park. We told our guide that his new assignment was to find us a a full grown male lion. It must have been luck or our good fortune because not long after we started our drive, we came across what we were looking for.The lion was quickly joined by a lioness. We watched them intently and it wasn’t long before they started shagging. Our trip leader informed us that lions breed by doing it all day long. The male lion mounts the lioness and they go at it for a half a minute. They stop for a few minutes and start the process all over again…for the entire day. We felt like we were intruding as we took photos and listened to the lion’s low growl.We continued on our drive and were about to pass by another safari vehicle filled with tourists. We started to wave to them when we noticed another large male lion running after their truck. The presence of our approaching truck scared him off and he retreated into nearby brush to hide. The tourists and driver in the other vehicle had no idea they were being chased down.

That evening, we went for a sunset river cruise down the Chobe River which separates the border of Botswana and Namibia. The views were incredible. Crocodiles, birds, herds of cape water buffalo, rafts of hippos and elephants roamed as far as we could see. The sun was bright red and the silhouettes of the grazing animals over the plains was incredible to see.The Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park did not disappoint. This completes our search for the Big Five, but we still have a lot of game viewing to come. For now, we head to the border to cross into Zimbabwe!

Disclosure: We are traveling on an overland safari with Africa Travel Co. and have received a trip discount in exchange for sharing our experience. These thoughts and opinions are completely our own.