Monday, August 12, 2013



My brother, sister-in-law, and a long time friend were to arrive at the Zambia airport in just a few minutes. I was late because I decided to save money and take a minibus instead of a taxi. I thought I'd stretch my legs and walk a few kilometers from the main road to the airport. Problem was, I got off at the wrong time. I ran into the issue of thinking I was almost there already, but this lasted for what I later found out to be about 16 kilometers. As I watched their plane land, I started flagging down cars, noticing the irritating blisters now forming on my feet where my sandals were rubbing. Turns out a pilot felt bad enough for me to stop. I asked him if he was going to the airport too, and he said yeah, and points to his plane.

The customs line for Chris, Holly, and Adam took well over an hour, so I had no reason to hurry anyway.

Our first night in Lusaka we spent at Lusaka Backpackers, had a few beers, showers, and exchanged stories of the trip. The next day we boarded a night bus headed to Mansa, the capital of my province. This was to be their first real African experience. Crowded bus station, corrupt bus attendants, street vendors (who also come into the bus and bug you about “real zebra leather belts”), delayed departures, traffic jams, and blaring 90's rock music well into the night. But we finally made it to Mansa. Now we sleep.

I arranged a taxi to drive us up north to a series of waterfalls called Ntumbachushi Falls. The driver said he was sick, but he would still be able to drive us the next day. I kindly informed him that we were currently ready to go today. Luckily he came. We hit the grocery store and took off out of town. We were making good time, considering everything, until a loud bang and some uncomfortable vibrations stopped us. Our tire had blown and flown past the window, proceeding to drop the car and catch the front bumper underneath the rim of the once full tire, nearly pulling it off. We stopped to assess the damage. Luckily a spare tire was usable in the trunk, so we got to work fixing that. A group of children came to see what was going on, picking up pieces of the tire on the road along with the chrome strip which normally makes the car look nice. The spare went on, but the bumper wasn't looking so well. Some villagers that head the commotion came to help repair the damage, taking strips of rubber from the broken tire to tie the bumper back into place.

But we made it. Ntumbachushi Falls is a series of 7 or so sets of falls ending with 2 big ones. We built a fire, swam in the icy waters, hiked around, did a bit of stargazing, and tried to relax for a couple days.

The driver was supposed to be fixing the tire the day we were at the falls, so that he could pick us up early in the morning to take us back to Mansa then to my village. A long day of driving. He was 2 hours late.

But we made it. Of course, it was well after dark when we got to my village, and this was after stopping along the road to duct tape the headlight back into place. In the village we greeted most of my neighbors, ate with a few of them, took a long walk across the dambos, watched the newly hatched chicks, played some games, roasted marshmallows, and tried to relax again. All in all it was a great time, that is until our driver was late and wouldn't answer his phone the day we were supposed to leave for Lusaka. I tried calling a number he called me with the day before. It turned out to be his brother who said that the driver was in Mansa and wasn't coming. Uh-oh. Just as I was about to bike into Lubwe and hire a taxi from there, he shows up. Crisis averted.

Apart from almost getting lost in Lusaka, we finally made it to Livingstone to begin the second part of our vacation to see Victoria Falls and go on Safari into Botswana.

Botswana Blitz

Starting from Jollyboys, a hostel in Livingstone, we took off for the Botswana border. After waiting for our ride, (and eating a heaping pile of nachos) we saw the tank of a cruiser we'd be in for the next week. All 12 of us plus a guide and a cook crammed into the tank, bags in the trailer, we took off. The first day was to Chobe National Park, waterfront, along the Namibia border. From there we saw the majority of the wildlife we'd see for the next week, just in the few hours before we set up camp. Included, was a leopard laying right next to the road just a couple yards from us. Each night we'd find a campsite, unload the trailer, set up the tents and tables, then wait for our dinner, which was usually quite delicious.

Day two took us further down the waterfront and out of the park. We reentered at another area of the park to spend the night at Savuti, another campsite within Chobe. After returning from another game drive in the evening, we heard a herd of about 12 elephants just across the river from our campsite. Just after turning off our lights for the night, I heard something walk past the tent. We were at the edge of the camp, so I thought it might be an animal. I poked my head out of the tent, and shined my headlamp around. Just beyond a grouping of bushes, I saw one yellow eye looking back at me. In the morning our guide said yellow typically meany predator, probably a hyena.

Day three we headed out of Chobe and into Moremi Game Reserve. The evening game drive started off quite uneventful, until we noticed some waterbuck off in the distance, stares frozen toward us. Most of the time we'd see impala, kudu, or waterbuck, they'd check us out, and start walking away. This time, we thought something might be different. Stopping just out of some tall grass, about 200 yards away, we saw the first of a group of African wild dog. We started toward it in the cruiser and stopped about half way. In the next few minutes 7 or 8 wild dogs ran within feet of our vehicle. One still had a chunk of meat in it's mouth. Apparently they gorge on meat, then head back to the den to share the puppies.

Day four was to get us to Maun, a city known for it's donkey population. In fact, lots of livestock could be found just walking around the city. Cows in the parking lot, donkeys along the road, etc. We got into a camp with showers. None of us had cleaned ourselves since leaving for Botswana, so we were pretty exited for real showers. We were also able to stop at the grocery store to pick up more water and snacks.

Day five: Okavango Delta. We took off early in the morning to the edge of the Okavango Delta where local mukoro pollers awaited our arrival. Mukoro (or mekoro, for plural) are traditional canoes carved from a single piece of wood. The poller uses a long straight stick to push the mukoro through the grasses along paths cleared by years of mukoro driving. Some mekoro are now made of fiberglass, which seem to leak less. We stopped at an island for a guided walking safari, where a local guide told us about paw prints, trees, droppings, etc. The sun was beating down on us pretty hard, so lunch in the shade was quite welcomed. The night was spent at the fabulous Delta Rain campsite again (the one with showers!)

Day six took us from Maun, leaving behind the donkeys and showers, out into Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, part of the Kalahari Desert. A few kilometers off the main road, we set up camp. As the sun set, the temperature dropped probably 40 degrees. Luckily there was a new moon, so the stars would shine their brightest. This, plus the clear desert air and distance from any cities, gave us a view of the Milky Way I will have to wait a long time to see again. The whole of the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. With binoculars a fuzzy spot became clusters of hundreds of stars. Constellations were hard to find from our star charts because there were so many stars, the bright ones were tough to keep track of. We stayed up late and had trouble getting up in the morning because it was so cold, despite our guide's hyena growl wake up call.

Up next? The legend of the Nyami Nyami at Victoria Falls.