Sunday, May 14, 2006

Africa Part 3

Okay. Almost done!

When we last left our hero (me!), she was drinking gin and tonic in the hotel bar, then heading to bed.

Got up the next day to a relaxing morning. We were supposed to go jet-boating in the white-water part of the river, but the boat's engines were on the fritz so we got to be leisurely instead. They scheduled massages for us, which were given in tents with open walls to the Mighty Zambezi River. Spectacular setting with the river peacefully flowing in front of me while the nice lady worked the kinks out of my back. (Of which there were many.) Met in the lobby at 11 and headed to Botswana.

The border is actually the MIGHTY Zambezi, so you have to take a ferry across. It's a small ferry, so trucks passing between the two line up for days to wait for entrance. There are lots of stands selling food and drink along the approach. You enter the fenced in customs area, and you make your way across the red dirt parking area, which is riddled with erosion trenches and dusty and wild. You go into a hot, sweaty cinderblock building and wait in line with the locals for a custom stamp. Several of the windows for agents can't actually be used, because there are stacks of yellowing documents blocking them that are at least two feet high. When you get to the window they interrogate you about your stay, then reluctantly stamp you. On your way out, you have to walk through this manky liquid that kills potential hoof-and-mouth disease bacteria on your shoes. Then you make your way down to the river, where you wait under a tree with the other passengers. Kids come to try to sell you things. We had a separate little boat to take us across, so we didn't wait for the ferry. Instead, our luggage and we were loaded, we were given tiny little life jackets, and went across the river to Botswana. We were loaded into open-air Land Rovers, luggage was dumped in a trailer, and we headed into Chobe. Chobe is a huge game reserve, and we were staying at a lodge in the park. Once you're in, the roads aren't paved and have gullies and washout places, so it's like four-wheeling. Within two minutes of entering the park we saw elephants at the road, and as we made our way through we saw impala and some antelope-looking thing and lots of birds and hyenas. The lodge was set along the Chobe River, and was surrounded by electric barbed wire to keep out the animals. There was a family of warthogs roaming the grounds. We had lunch in the open air restaurant, then headed to our rooms to clean up.

At 430 we met for a sunset cruise on the river, which is the perfect time to see game because they come to the river to drink. We had a covered pontoon, and drove amongst the reeds. We saw hippos, crocodiles, herons, cool little birds that walked on the lilypads, and all sorts of other birds in trees and flying above. We couldn't get to the shore because it was the end of the rainy season and the floodplains were too shallow for a boat. But from the distance we saw herds of elephants and giraffes along the shore, which was totally surreal. Unfortunately, about half way through the cruise our engine conked out. We could only go in reverse. So we floated for awhile and then ended up waiting for a new boat, which arrived around sundown. But we had lots of fin and tonic along and a plate of canapes to boot, so we had a little cocktail party while we waited. Once back at the hotel, we changed for dinner and met in the torch-lit boma along the river, where we feasted on local foods and listened to a marimba band under the stars. After dinner, we went to the roof to the star-deck, which was above the lights of the hotel and gave us spectacular views of the night sky. The hotel's astronomer gave us a tour of the sky, pointing out the Southern Cross, Cirius, all the visible planets, and constellations like the scorpion and Orion. The sky looks very different in the southern hemisphere, which surprised me. I guess I didn't think that I knew much about the stars, even though I have spent my share of time looking at them lying in fields or on the hood of my car.

Went to bed in a spectacular bed, and slept soundly. Got my wakeup call at 530, and met in the lobby at 6AM for our morning game drive. Spent two hours in the park, and saw lots of game, though the lion was hidden in the bush. (He was roaring something crazy and we saw his tail, but the greenery from the rainy season obscured most of him.) Never a morning person, I admit that I took a little nap part way through, but I woke up for the 15 hippos playing in the shallows and the baboons that practically crawled onto our Land Rover. Game drives are really cool, and I am excited to go back during peak season when the bush is down and you can see more.

Had a quick breakfast, then left the park and headed to the river crossing. Saw giraffes AND elephants on the way out of the park. Stopped to look at two hotels, one of which was one of the coolest I've seen in my career. It had individual houses, all with giant beds surrounded with mosquito netting, fabulous sunken tubs in the giant bathrooms, and outdoor showers in the private courtyard. If I ever marry, I will be going to a hotel like this on my honeymoon. What a great holiday...game drive in the AM, napping and reading and swimming in the afternoon, then a game drive at night and dinner by candlelight. It would ROCK.

The river crossing was much easier this way, and then we headed to Livingstone airport, with a pitstop at another romantic, cool lodge overlooking the river. (The whole side of each villa opened to the river, with clawfoot tubs overlooking the scenery.)

Flight home was AWFUL. The Livingstone flight to Joburg was fine, but the Joburg-LHR leg was cramped beyond explanation. Took a pill to sleep, though, (thanks, Mike,) and so I arrived relatively rested for the drive to MK.

If you've not been there, I'd like to reiterate...Africa ROCKS, and if you've not been you should go. They also price everything to the US dollar, so it's not as expensive as some foreign travel. I'm telling you, this is a magical place.

1 comment:

rahulv said...

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