5:30 am and it’s 22 degrees. By 3pm it will be 39 degrees. I leave Kasane past fleets of safari jeeps with 3 or 4 rows of seating on raised rear decks, each seat occupied by a German tourist dressed head to toe in brand new khaki trousers and photographer’s vests fresh from the camping & outdoors shops.
Past endless worn out old trucks straining to pull double trailers overloaded with bales of god knows what, lining up for the Kasane border crossing into Zimbabwe. They all spew thick clouds of soot that hang in the air like the dust from the scorched earth that hasn’t seen rain in months.
It’s a relief to get back out onto the open road and away from the town and population. It’s the journey that I enjoy the most, the changing scenery, geology, geography, the flora and fauna, the natural Africa, not the people or the concrete in the towns, even if I am seeing it all thanks to the man-made roads and trails that scar that natural landscape.
But Botswana isn’t being as good to me as Namibia, which spoiled me. The scenery is not attractive, the road through Botswana’s agricultural heartland is featureless. There’s little to look at apart from more of the devil crows. I don’t know what they are but they look like crows except with a big red beak and they are about the size of a pig. They look like an evil Jim Henson animatronic character.
Today is just a day for getting into position for the Delta, so I’m not expecting much. I occasionally have to slow to let things cross the road. Giraffe. Goat. Ostrich.
I also have to stop to once again pass through the animal disease control fence that stretches across the entire continent, separating the foot-and-mouth disease free south from the wilder north. Yet again, the Botswana official tries, clumsily, to extract a bribe, but goes quiet when I suggest that she wouldn’t want to found guilty of something like that, with the emphasis on guilty.
When you’ve faced corrupt officials in the stans and dodgy cops in eastern Europe, a bottom-rung gate-opener from the “department veterinary safety” or something can’t really hope to intimidate you.
Then into Maun, gateway town for activities in the Okavango Delta. Namibia was so good that nothing would compare favourably, but Botswana is really not proving to be easy. Still being given the run around for my campsite booking so I still don’t know if I will be able to visit the game reserve. You aren’t allowed in on a self-drive unless you have a booking at the campsite.
That means running around trying to find a back up plan, but it’s hard to find a game drive that already has others booked, that I might join and only pay my share, leaving just the option to pay for the entire thing myself. Not only pricy, it’s turning out to be a challenge because I’ve accidentally arrived in town on the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s independence, and nobody is at work. They’re all out having a party. The very friendly staff at the Okavango River Lodge campsite are trying to find something for me, so fingers crossed.
I’ve booked a scenic flight, having to pay the entire cost myself, so at least I’ll get to see something. Not sure I’ll be able to show it to you though, because an aeroplane means photos taken through windows, but the photographers preference of doors-off low-level helicopter would have cost 3 times an already extravagant outlay.
Namibia was stunning. If Botswana fails in all aspects it won’t matter too much, but here’s hoping I can make something of it. Two full days here to do something, before heading on to Swaziland and the final leg of the trip back along South Africa’s south coast.
PS It’s pronounced ma-oon…
Namibia massively exceeded my expectations for the entire trip, but Vic Falls was a big disappointment. Instead of staying there another night I decided to get the border crossing back into Botswana out of the way, to have an easier drive down to the Okavango Delta for the next phase of the trip.
Thankfully brief border procedures, except for the Zimbabwean cop on the approach to the border who wanted $20 because The Beast doesn’t have reflective stickers on the front, until I pointed out the reflective stickers on the front…, and the customs officer at the Botswana side who made me open up the back of the truck and asked “something for me?” a couple of times until giving up after I used the “play dumb” technique.
Arrived at some nondescript lodge campsite type place in kasane, where I’ve been trying to make plans for the Okavango.
It was much harder to book things independently online before the trip than it was for Namibia, and also I wanted to allow flexibility from here in case of delays earlier. Still not getting anywhere with arranging a scenic flight or a game drive, and the campsite I booked in the Moremi Game Reserve sent a hard to decipher message about vouchers and “reserve lists”, which makes me think that plan might get ballsed up.
I’ll have to arrange things in Maun when I arrive. Hopefully it won’t be a total loss but it’s always a bit pot luck when you don’t have concrete plans. Hopefully I’ve allowed enough time in that area to achieve something, but probably not with the same pace and efficiency with which I sailed through the Namibian attractions.
I most want to do the scenic flight, but with a minimum passenger count of 4 I’ll need some luck joining another booking or I’ll have to open the wallet very wide indeed…
PS I really would not recommend making plans to visit vic falls. Go to Toronto and Niagara falls instead.
PPS I once again find myself surrounded by rude and loud Germans. Two in particular sitting at opposite corners of the room and shouting to each other in complete ignorance of the presence of other people. Everywhere on this trip has been slightly spoiled by loud Germans.
This is more like it. A sunset cruise on the Zambezi. Barman making sure my Martini doesn’t run dry, comfy arm chair, “Signature Deck” at the top, away from the plebs, elephants, crocodiles, and hippos in the water, and a waitress bringing me delicious canapés (such as crocodile on a stick), with dinner still to come.
Bush camping is awesome, but a little peaceful luxury with undertones of colonialism is also very nice, from time to time.
Spot the elephants in the centre of this pic. There were plenty of cross and hippos in the water too, but they’re mostly under the water so don’t make a good photo.
Carpaccio of beef and ostrich. Prime fillet of Zimbabwean beef. A sensational tiramisu flavoured Amarula. Nom nom nom. Honestly, if you ever visit vic falls, take the signature deck sunset cruise on the Zambezi Explorer. You will love it.
Maybe I should be taking National Geographic-style photos of ethnic people in colourful traditional dress and mud huts, but instead here’s a photo of my Mojito on the top deck of the Zambezi Explorer after dark.
A too-long walk in 38 degree heat across the Victoria Falls Bridge for a quick visit to the Zambian side of the falls, a purchase in the gift shop, and a tick in the Zambia box. Based on what I saw, I’m not missing much by not exploring further, and I earned that tick with the bloody walk, pestered every step of the way by the hawkers.
The view from Zambian side of the falls is even more laughably pathetic thanks to the recent drought.
In Zimbabwe, even getting a ticket to enter the falls requires waiting for someone to complete a form by hand, in triplicate, using carbon paper.
Then you make your way to the falls. I just expected it to be flat and empty at the top, like grass or a carpark, but there’s a little rainforest sustained by the spray.
You can hear the falls but can’t see it, and there’s a little bit of excitement as you approach the first viewing area, feeling a bit like Livingstone about to see it for the first time.
Disappointing. Still, it’s 7km long so let’s wander further up.
A bit better. Let’s go the next bit.
Oh. Someone’s turned it off.
It’s been so dry lately, the falls are not in full swing. Oh well.
Here’s a little tip. If you’re the first one down the path in the morning, your face will be the first one to break through all the strands of cobweb between the trees.
Hawkers and scam artists everywhere.(Always called Moses. Always have a brother with diabetes who hasn’t eaten today. Always with a cellphone and gold studs in their teeth and a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses but still too poor to feed their 15 children…)
Quite unpleasant. (Although I do understand that most of them have very little income, this isn’t the way to solve it.)
On the other hand I struck an astounding deal and I believe I am now extraordinarily wealthy.
I could have had a 50 billion dollars note but that would just be ostentatious.
I thought I’d head to the falls for sunset photos. Didn’t realise they close the gates at 6. (Apparently, although in this place you learn quickly to distrust everything you hear because everyone has an angle) Arse. Tomorrow then. First real planning failure on this trip so far, and the reserve option was a mojito at the pool so mustn’t grumble.
I’ve been through many border crossings, and plenty of them more expensive, tedious, slow, or intimidating, but none quite so chaotic.
Today required two crossings. First the exit procedures from Namibia and entry into Botswana, then later exiting Botswana and entering Zimbabwe.
Botswana entry was slow because I arrived just behind one of the stupid “adventure tour” busses and had to queue behind 3 dozen clueless tourists who don’t know that you need your passport to clear immigration.
Trying to get ahead of them, I didn’t stop to take photos of the dozens and dozens of elephants in the trees along the short stretch of Botswana’s Chobe national park that forms the route to Zimbabwe.
The process was crowded and chaotic. Crowded because off all the “customs clearance agents” who you first take to be scammers as they offer assistance you didn’t ask for, but then later you discover that the officials on the other side of the desks require you to get papers from these agents. They’re all in on it together, and just like every other border, all these bits of paper you have to buy for insurance and customs guarantees and temporary import permits are worthless if you do get into an accident.
And the whole thing was so slow because all the forms had to be done in two copies using carbon paper.
There was one piece of carbon paper.
For the whole building.
So we all stood around waiting for our turn with it.
Then you proceed to the next desk, discover another form you have to do, and go back to queuing for the carbon paper.
Anyway, I got in, and arrived at the rather nice Kingdom Hotel.
I had planned to spend 2 nights here then a night in Zambia, but I can’t face that customs procedure again on the morning of departure when I have a very long drive into Botswana to follow, so instead, in order to still tick Zambia off the list, I’m just going to cross the border on foot, visit the Zambian side of the falls, then return for an extra night at the Kingdom Hotel.
Now to go and see the falls. The good news is that uploading photos should be easy because Zimbabwe seems to have super fast Internet!