Most things in Africa are, nobody rushes!
15.06.2009 - 04.07.2009 20 °C
As landed in Johannesburg in knew that things were going to be vastly different to India! I had flown in via Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). Though only saw it as we landed, Addis Ababa looked very much like a small farming town rather than a capital city. The main change I noticed was the Ethiopian men dressed in their white and suits, looking very dapper!!
After I arrived in Africa I quickly realise what India had done to my faith in the human race, it had virtually shattered it! South Africa & Botswana are very much like England, usually the price the person says behind the till is the price you pay no matter what you say or how much you haggle!! In India you could always get 50-80% off the original price, this included taxis, food, accommodation and just about every other conceivable item you can buy there! You couldn't trust anybody! Even nearly a month later I still have a little version of my Dad in my mind saying 'are you sure you are not getting ripped off Jamie?' and I still cannot seem to shake it, maybe its not a bad thing because there is the odd unscrupulous person out there and it does keep you on your toes! Though I think I am going to have to work hard on fixing whatever India broke in me....
Jo'burg was much colder than India and I soon found myself putting on socks, trainers, trousers & a hoodie, most of these items of clothing I had not worn for months! Not really got much to say about Jo'burg (watch this space I will visit it again before I leave Africa) at the moment other than it doesn't feel a particularly safe place to be, especially at night. All the houses and business have electric fences, shutters, big ass locks and usually a couple of pretty large dogs guarding! Though one unexpected bonus was whilst in Jo'burg I got chance to watch the World cup 2010 hosting nation play in confederation cup and was lucky enough to see South Africa whoop New Zealand in Rustenburg, which is one of the stadiums that they will be using for the world cup. It reminded me of when my friend Danny and I went to Nurnberg to see Ghana beat USA in the 2006 world cup, would love to come out this time next year and see it in full swing! I will have to try and make some South African mates! Its not hard, these guys were my best mates after the bus journey...
The next day I got a bus (7 hours) to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. One of the first things I noticed about Botswana was how much they loved their churches, seemed to be one on every street corner! The churches in Botswana are nothing like our churches and are mainly constructed out of wood and have the look and feel of American churches that you tend to see in the movies. To further convince me that they are a nation of church lovers I switched on the TV that evening to find endless channels dedicated to worship and then the final nail in the coffin when I looked in the yellow pages (or their equivalent, the whole country's pages and phone directory were a quarter of the Leeds Yellow Pages) the first page that I opened it on was Churches! Had I travelled to a nation of bible bashers????
Africa is much more expensive for everything than India and though is probably similar to England, its certainly a far more expensive than I thought I was going to be! For example one nights accommodation in Gaborone it cost me 25 pounds, whilst you could argue I did have more God TV than I could watch in a lifetime and air conditioning, I would spend my whole Southern Africa budget in 3 weeks at that rate! Drastic times caused for drastic measures, I bought myself a tent and would have to live on beans on toast!
I then spent a couple of days working my way upto a place called Maun in the north of the country and staying in some really lush campsites, granted it was all a bit cosy with my backpack fully loaded but it looked like the tent was going to do the trick! It was just like living in a mini version of Bertha and managed to position things and layout the tent so both the tent and I could get along just fine.
As in India when you were on buses people would come round and try and sell you things, in India it was cucumber, in Africa its fried chicken & chips. After living on rice for 2 months this was a welcome change and also tasted great. Things were looking good! One thing that does bamboozle me it their obsession with cling film, especially over hot things! Answers on a postcard....
In Maun I joined a 13 day trip that would explore the Okavango Delta, driving safari in Africa's best National Parks and end in Victoria Falls. I would have loved to have done Botswana on the cheap, but unfortunately they work on a low volume, high price structure for tourism, that said in hindsight if I had hired a 4x4 and got a few people to join me I wouldn't have seen half of the wildlife that we did! The trip itself involved you doing all your own cooking & camping, all they do is give you all the camping equipment, 2 guides, one local guide and our main guide that would be with us for the whole trip from South Africa!! Here is our main guide Octarvis doing a TNT at the bar in Maun and a Botswana guide and his fellow polers from the Okavango Delta.
The group consisted of 5 people, a guy from Perth, 2 ladies (who I am pretty sure were on the other bus) from Germany and 1 retired school teacher from Austria. Whilst to look at we probably looked an odd group of people, we actually got on well and I always attract oddballs, so nothing changes there!
The Okavango Delta involved entering the delta by Mokoro, this is basically a wooden boat carved out of a sausage tree that fits in two people, a few bits of luggage and the poler at the back. Whilst it was really nice the novelty wore off after about 30 minutes and it took us over 2 hours to reach the camp!! I would have preferred to be doing the poling, I did actually suggest I took over at one point! They didn't seem that keen on the idea!
We setup camp, lit a fire (see my work below), dug a toilet and started making dinner! They also made a bush shower that consisted of a big icing bag thing full of water, some people did have a shower and said they were good, I didn't even entertain the idea, afterall I was meant to be roughing it! If I could do 3 days at a festival I could certainly do 3 days in the bush! Talking about roughing it I actually drank the water out of the Delta for the 3 days and was as right as rain! Bear Grylls eat your heart out!
Though the day temperatures were really pleasant, but in the evenings things got cold, I did regret sending my jacket home from India on a number of occasions. We spent three nights in the Delta and mainly did game walks where we saw Elephants, Hippos, Giraffes, Zebra and even followed fresh lion tracks, but no unfortunately with no reward. The hilight of the trip was one afternoon in a Mokoro looking for wildlife, whilst onroute back to camp a lone Hippo bull charged for us. It must have been only about 10 meters away, our poler actually crashed into another Mokoro he was trying to get away so fast! Even the polers commented on that it was a close shave! I just couldn't stop laughing! Even with my laughter I managed to capture the moment pretty well.
After a boozy night in Maun we were up early the next morning to spend 4 nights in Botwana's national parks, each night we would spend in a different camp in a differnet area. Before I went on this trip I had it in my mind that these camps would be surrounded by electric fences and that our guide would have a gun, oh how I was wrong. We got very close to many of the animals, in fact we were so close to a Elephant one day that I could not zoom out far enough and only managed to photograph his head!! Whilst at the campsite I would quite often wake up to a Lions raw, a Hippo grunting, an Elephant crushing everything in its way or an African Wild Dog barking, all worrying close to the camp. The guides have many stories of such animals coming through the camps and even the odd Hippo mauling a human, the bush is a dangerous place!
We went though and did game drives in Moremi, Savuti and Chobe and saw all the above plus Lions, Lizards, Eagles, Buffalo, Snakes, Crocs and many more, I have also uploaded a few (I could have posted 100's) photo's here on top of the small selection below http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=281549&id=650820432&l=5b17e3ba41. (Sorry for anybody who is read this at work as they are on Facebook and Websense will block it!!)
Botwana is renowned for the ruggedness of its national parks and is vastly different from the likes of the famous Kruger Park in South Africa, the main difference is that all the parks I went through are literally sand roads made purely by 4x4's, Kruger has many tar roads. All this can come at a price and we did get stuck on a couple of occasions, though all this adds to the fun. Here we are stuck in a river, the trailer was virtually under water at one point, in fact we stored the cooking pans in the lower part of the trailer and that evening we found them full to the brim with water.
Since I have been in Africa every single sunset has been a jaw dropper, some are obviously better than others but every single evening its enough to make you stop and gaze. Though this does come at a price and whilst England can enjoy 18 hours of good daylight in the summer, Africa gets pretty much 11 hours all year round. As much as I love English summers I would probably sacrifice our extra few hours for a more consistent number of hours in the day all year round. Nothing worse than going to work in the dark and coming home from work in the dark in our winter! Who needs doctors? There you have it a cure for S.A.D, move to Africa! As Africa is in the Southern hemisphere it also benefits from many more stars in the sky, I remember Australia been very similar when I visited a number of years back, though it does help the only light pollution been from a raging fire and the odd person switching their headlamp on to go to the toilet. Just a few examples of the sunsets and rises, many more on my computer for any of you people lucky enough to be subjected to it;
I ate very well on the trip, those who know me are well aware that I like my food. It did help the two ladies being vegetarian and therefore the meat eaters had oodles of meat. You can be assured I made sure that I got my monies worth. The food was good too, some nights we would have a traditional braai (Afrikaans term for a BBQ featuring lots of meat grilled on a special stand called a braaiveis) over the fire, usually cooking up Boerewors (Afrikaner farmer's sauage) along with pap (maize mielie, tastes like a more rubbery mash potato) or spaghetti bolognese, pasta or something equally as scrumptious. All the meals had one thing in common, loads of meat and always seconds, just like been at home! I think I had maybe lost a bit of weight since I left at Christmas, Africa is certainly helping me to reverse that, lets just hope that I am not at Rick Waller levels by the time I get back.
Whilst we were in the national parks we not only saw animals, we saw lots of trees and plants, one of the most impressive is the Baobab Tree. These are huge and can be found all over the parks.
We then drove into Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe's economy is in turmoil and its still fairly evident in Vic Falls. We stayed at the Drifters Inn and I enjoyed 3 nights in a very comfortable en-suite room with double bed, a welcoming sight after over 2 weeks camping.
Early next morning a few of us got up nice and early to go white water rafting on the Zambezi, the worlds number one location for rafting. The route we would take would have two grade 5 rapids, which is as extreme as it gets! It is definitely one of the best adrenalin activities that I have ever done. We even managed to get a flip on rapid 13 (unlucky for some hey). It sent us all flying and we all rode the rest of the rapids minus the raft.
I obviously went to see the falls which are breath taking and also wet, the water is pretty high at the moment so its not so good for photographs. At one point the spray from the falls were so much that it was just like been in a massive downpour, reminded me of England. You can see the spray from the falls on the picture of the gorge, we were about 10km away!
On that same night we went on a booze cruise, basically on all you can drink on the upper Zambezi. As you can imagine I made sure I got my monies worth again, some people said that the adrenalin makes you get drunk twice as fast!! Not if you English and its 'free' it doesn't. Fact!! I even made sure that I upheld the good English reputation we have and encouraged most the people on the cruise pull moonies at a passing boat.... or was it just me and the guide...... We also walked back (against the advise from the guide who actually walked with us) to the lodge that evening keeping a very close eye out for any elephants or hippos that often frequent the roads around around Vic Falls, I imagined if a elephant were to walk into a group after kicking out time at my local, not so sure who would have the upper hand...
Surprisingly Botswana has got one of the highest percentage of people infected with HIV and AIDS, looking at the country everybody lives a good life and the people are nowhere near as poor as some of its nearest African countries or India for that matter! I find it hard to believe that according to current statistics probability would have us believe that if you were to sit on a bus in Botswana close to 50% of the people sitting on that bus could have the virus!! Mind blowing really!
To summarise I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Botswana and Victoria Falls and has certainly been a hilight of my trip so far. It really gave me chance to photograph things that I love, animals and I am more than happy with the results! Whilst I enjoyed photographing the large animals, surprisingly found myself getting much more pleasure out of photographing the birds (feathered variety that is, as the non feathered Homo sapient variety seem almost distinct in these areas.....). Watch this space, maybe this time next year I will be twitching all over England, I am 30 after all maybe its about time I got some more adult hobbies???
Next stop Namibia...