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Namibia & Botswana Tour Part III: Maun to Livingstone

Maun was fairly uneventful except for the purchase of a new cylinder head (which I’d prefer not to talk about J).  The experiences of our guests in the Okavango Delta are far more interesting however.  For three days they stayed on an island in the middle of the Delta, far away from the rest of the world.  Their rooms were on stilts above the hippos and crocodiles in the water below.  Morning and evening game drives and a couple of boat cruises gave plenty of wildlife-watching opportunity including an incredible leopard sighting.  The leopard was half hiding in the bushes and suddenly leaped out and dashed across the plain in front of their vehicle.  Leopards are so elusive, so to see such action was truly amazing.

In Maun we said good bye to Dennis and Merete.  They are heading back through the Kalahari Desert south to Cape Town.  Dennis wanted some sand driving, so I’m looking forward to hearing about their adventures.  Meanwhile Pia and Henning have come with us to Livingstone, via Chobe National Park.

Elephants, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Elephants on the side of the road

From Maun we travelled east to Nata where we spent the night before continuing the journey north to Kasane.  Along the way we nearly ran into a huge elephant that was hanging out by the side of the highway – that’s what I love about Africa: just driving on the highway and suddenly there’s an elephant!

Nata Lodge, Botswana, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The chalet in Nata

Kasane is the jumping off point for Chobe National Park, the park with the highest density of elephants in the world.  Henning and Pia had been spoilt in the Okavango Delta so Chobe was almost an anti-climax.  While they were enjoying their game drives however, Francis and I discovered that we didn’t have to travel at all to see the wildlife.  About thirty elephants decided the bushes on the other side of the fence near our campsite were the perfect grazing site for the day.  So while we cleaned the van and prepared for the onward journey, the elephant herd munched about 50 metres from us.

Kasane, Botswana, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The elephants near our campsite. They blow dust on themselves to keep cool

Crossing the border from Botswana into Zambia is easier said than done.  The Kazangula ferry is straightforward enough, but entering Zambia is another story.  The customs official wanted Francis to produce a written letter giving him authorisation to drive his own car!  There are three different taxes one must pay on bringing a vehicle into Zambia and rather than streamlining the process, the three offices are scattered throughout the port with one official who may or may not be on a lunch break at any given time.  Nearly two hours later we were signing the final book to be released into Zambia.  The correlation between development and bureaucracy was proven – the less of one, the more of the other.

Livingstone, Zambia, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Cheeky baboons raid the bins in search of food

Now we are in Livingstone.  Yesterday we visited the National Park where there are walking trails to see the mighty Victoria Falls.  At the moment, there is A LOT of water coming over and it is a very wet walk to see the falls.  At the best of times one should wear a raincoat to protect from the spray.  But currently, Victoria Falls simply laughs at a raincoat and you are better off taking your soap and enjoying the bath.  We also walked on the bridge that is the border crossing from Zambia to Zimbabwe.  The middle of the bridge is where the bungee jump happens, but none of us were tempted.  There’s a less drenching view of the falls from the bridge as well, but still too damp to pose for a nice photo.  In the afternoon Henning and Pia went walking with the lions.  Getting up close to these massive cats, seeing their huge teeth, but patting them as if they are sweet little pussy cats was an experience they will never forget.

Bungee jump at Victoria Falls, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Bungee jumping in the Zambezi Gorge

We have a day or two more in Livingstone before Henning and Pia fly home and Francis and I start the long drive back to Nairobi.  That will be next week’s tale.

Victoria Falls, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

The Victoria Falls

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Namibia & Botswana Tour Part II: Etosha to the Okavango Delta

From Etosha we headed east to Tsumeb and Grootfontein.  After a brief stop at the Hobas Meteorite, the largest to ever hit the earth, we continued to Roy’s Rest Camp.  After an overnight stop we headed north to Divundu.  River Dance Lodge was our overnight stop, one of the nicest campsites I have ever been to!  It sits right on the Kavango River on the north side of the highway that runs through the Caprivi Strip, meaning that you are looking across the river at Angola.  Lovely big couches on the balcony give a wonderfully comfortable place to utilise the free wireless internet – something we had all been missing for a while.

From Divundu we went south into Botswana, driving through Bwabwata National Park.  Unfortunately all the animals were sheltering from the heat of the day so we didn’t get to see anything as we passed by.  We crossed over the border and on to Shakawe in Botswana’s remote northwest.

The main attraction in this corner of the world is the ancient rock art of Tsodilo Hills.  Ranging between 3000 and 10,000 years old, the cave paintings are fantastically well-preserved.  At Twyfelfontein, we had been surprised to see engravings of seals and penguins which indicated those people had travelled all the way to the coast.  But now in Tsodilo Hills, even further from the sea, we saw the same motifs!  Like Twyfelfontein, these paintings were used for communication about what had been seen and hunted in the area … except for the penguins, which must have been a tale from a weary traveller.

Tsodilo Hills, Botswana, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Ancient rock paintings at Tsodilo Hills

There was a huge cave where the San Bushmen must have sought shelter during the rains.  Evidence of fire smoke on the roof and other clues indicate this.  Our guide showed us a popular game the women used to play while the men were out hunting.  It required far too much hand-eye coordination for me, but Dennis, Henning and Francis all gave it a go with mixed success.

Tsodilo Hills, Botswana, OTA - Overland Travel Adventures www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Learning to play traditional games

From Shakawe we continued south to Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta.  Dennis, Merete, Henning and Pia have abandoned Francis and I to enjoy three days in the beautiful Delta.  I am sure they are seeing such wonderful sights – the Delta teems with wildlife and there are so many ways to enjoy the sights from scenic flights, to dugout canoes, to walking safaris.

When they return we will say farewell to Dennis and Merete as they head back to Cape Town, and we will travel with Henning and Pia to Livingstone via Chobe National Park.  If you want to hear about that installment  click the Follow button below and you will be able to keep track of all our adventures.

I cannot believe how much stuff we have managed to stuff into our van!  Now it's clean, we just have to repack now .....

I cannot believe how much stuff we have managed to stuff into our van! Now it’s clean, we just have to repack now …..

Nairobi to Kigali Tour Part 3 – Lake Bunyoni to Kigali

Chris and I took a canoe out on Lake Bunyonyi for a couple of hours.  It was so serene… until the thunderclouds rolled over.  Plans for an afternoon hike disappeared as the rain came down.

Fortunately we awoke to clear skies (albeit still dark) the next morning as we set off before dawn to the meeting point for gorilla trekking.  We climbed up to Ruhija, through the fog, watching the sun rise over the mountains.  Tom and Chris trekked the Bitukura family of mountain gorillas, although saying ”trekked” might be a bit of a stretch.  The gorillas were only a few hundred metres from the road!  Regardless of how long you trek though, it’s still an amazing experience to sit in such close proximity to these animals and observe their interactions with each other.  You can really see how we are related to the gorillas and there is something profound about sitting in the forest with such close kin.

From Lake Bunyoni we wound our way through the mountains into Rwanda, to Ruhengeri (or Musanze as it is also called).  We spent half a day with John, a local guide who showed us the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo from the magnificent vantage point of Virunga Lodge.  We enjoyed lunch on the lake shore, dreaming of buying land and having a holiday house in this stunning corner of the world.

Early the next morning Chris and I headed to the Parc National des Volcans to trek the Golden Monkeys.  Like the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, the Volcanoes National Park is dense bush.  And like the mountain gorillas in Bwindi, the Golden Monkeys do not care for paths to make it easy for us to get to them.  But there’s a real feeling of adventure as you beat your way through what seems to be uncharted territory to find these rare creatures.

We decided to change our itinerary a bit and head to Lake Kivu instead of spend an extra night in Ruhengeri.  The main tourist town on the lake is called Gisenyi and comes highly recommended.  However it is right on the Congolese border with Goma only a few kilometres away and that very day, M23 rebels marched into Goma and seized it.  On learning the rebels were nearly on Goma, we decided to avoid Gisenyi (it was just a bit too close for comfort) and instead went to Kibuye.  To get to Kibuye, the most direct route again would be to go to Gisenyi and head south along the lake shore.  But we felt safer taking a different route and ended up travelling through the most beautiful landscapes imaginable, well worth the detour.  Our guesthouse, Hotel de Sainte Bethanie, was set right on the lake shore and our rooms looked out over the water.

We took a boat ride on the lake in the morning, landing on Napoleon Island for what we were told was to be a bird watching walk.  Not a bird to be seen, but thousands and thousands of bats circling overhead.  The island was actually a rather tall mountain jutting out of the lake, which we hiked to the top.  From the top we could look out over the lake to the Democratic Republic of Congo, closer to Rwanda, as well as all the small islands dotting Lake Kivu.

Kigali was our last stop, where we visited the Genocide Memorial.  It is a powerful exhibition, but it’s challenging to comment further without sounding trite or waffling for pages.  Our final dinner was at Hotel des Mille Collines, with pre-dinner cocktails by the pool before heading upstairs to the Panorama fine-dining restaurant.  What a way to cap off a fantastic trip.  Thank you Tom and Chris for being such awesome travel buddies, and great first clients!

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