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Africa Revisited – Africa 2012

Capetown (South Africa) to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe).

It started as a thought…then an action …then a WIN.  It is with thanks to OVERLANDING AFRICA and NOMAD ADVENTURE TOURS in South Africa that it was made possible for me to make this trip after winning their competition.

Stepping onto the tarmac at the airport in Capetown, I could smell the familiar scent of Africa. This would be my third trip to Africa and it felt like home again. A new journey was about to begin and new friends to meet.

One of my intentions was to get my hair braided and I had made an appointment to have this done when I arrived in Capetown. Finding the salon, it was a very long six hours later before I sported my new hairstyle. Four women worked at braided and plaiting extensions to my real hair and there were times when I wanted to get up and walk out….such was the pain. Ahhh..the things we do. Was it worth it ?   Absolutely.

I make it my aim to seek out the new office of Nomad Tours to say Hi again . Its a couple of days before I will join the tour to Victoria Falls and enjoy my prize win. I’m then off to meet the lovely girls at Overlanding Africa and put a face to the names of those who have been organising my trip and to thank them for giving me this opportunity.

Tour begins………

There are 23 of us from all parts of the world.

USA, Holland, Japan, Spain, Cyprus, South Africa, Korea, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Belgium and me from New Zealand. Ages range from 11 to 57 so this will be an interesting journey. I have done these overlanding tours before and they don’t always have the best dynamics when different cultures come together. I will later come to find that, in this case, it gels very well .

This is my 4th tour with the Nomad company but never have I done a camping one. So this will be a new experience for me.

After leaving Capetown we stop briefly to view Table Mountain from across Table Bay. This is followed by a visit to a San museum and a walk to learn about the plants and their medicinal uses. It’s sunny but a bit cool. We arrive late afternoon in the Cederberg and get the rundown from our guide , Zenzo, about how to put up / down our tents and our responsibilites . Ok…so , this does not go too well as I’ve never done this before and I am not sharing a tent ( single supplement courtesy of the prize win …so no helper ). Zenzo can see I’m having issues so he comes to help. Holding a pole in one hand whilst trying to pick up the other off the ground with the other hand and not letting go is virtually impossible I deduce. How Zenzo does it is beyond me.

It’s a 5.30 am get out of tent day. Not much sleep was had as it was freezing….literally. On packing up the tent ( which I get wrong , of course ) there is ice on the top. We’re all in learning mode so packing tents takes longer than anticipated and we leave camp later than planned. We have a stop in the town of Springbok where the crew go off to get supplies. We go off to get blankets !!! We arrive at Fiddlers Creek Campsite…right on the banks of the Orange River. It’s a lovely spot . After dinner around the open fire ( a bonding experience we share most nights camping ) we each tell a little story about ourselves and why we are on this trip. We have a fantastic cook onboard too who we affectionately name “Mama “.

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Luckily we have the morning to relax because I set my alarm wrong and don’t wake up until breakfast is almost finished. Add to the fact that the braiding experience placed trauma on my scalp and the itching is driving me insane. In the dark hours of the night I get up and go to the truck to get my scissors intending on cutting them off to get some relief.Then remember Mama might be sleeping in there so go back to my tent. Hence lack of sleep. She tells me in the morning that I should have been advised to moisturise my scalp to prevent that happening ( I wasn’t told. The first opportunity I get, I buy spray moisturiser and use daily …..BLISS. The braids remain ! ).  Some of the group take the opportunity to go for a canoe ride up the river which they really enjoy.

A problem arises at the border crossing into Namibia in the afternoon. Two of our group are refused entry into the country . All efforts by them and the guide fall on deaf ears and the boys from Cyprus are left with no choice but to make their own way back to Capetown to get visa’s. Hopefully they will pick up the tour in a few days time as they are looking forward to our visit to Etosha. We are now running very late and the plan is to get to Fish River Canyon to see the sunset. I can tell you, it is a very committed drive by Zenzo and we make it with about three minutes to spare. As soon as the truck stops, we leap out and run to the crater rim with cameras in hand just as the sun is setting. Needless to say….pitching tents is done in the dark. While dinner is cooking, we sit around the fire chatting. Mama has written up a roster for helping with meals so along the way, we each take our turn.

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The power generator wakes me at 3.30am and I remain awake. Its going to be a long drive to the Namib-Naukluft NP  which we break with a stop at a huge weavers nest in a quiver tree. Camp is set up on arrival and the group goes off for a visit to Sesriem Canyon. Dinner tonight is pumpkin soup, chicken potjie, rice and garlic bread. YUM !!. It is customary that after dinner we sit around the fire and Zenzo talks about the day just finished and the briefing for the following day. There are jackals howling nearby. The wind is getting up too which often happens, we are told, at this camp site. It’s a busy place as it’s right at the gates to Sossusvlei. There’s also a bar…..bonus !

We are gone by 5.30am to get to the gate for opening at 5.45am. We head off to Dune 45…a popular tourist spot in Sossusvlei. The fit amongst us ( that’s not me ) trek up to the top of the dune to await the rise of the sun on a new day.The sand is rusty red and the shadows created are harsh and spectacular…amazing photographic place.

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Mama has bacon and eggs cooking for breakfast when the group reassembles then we head off to visit Deadvlei.  A local guide gives a talk on how the bushmen survived in the desert and of the ecosystem. It’s a lovely sunny day but the wind is still cold. We drive back out of the park and back to our camp site for lunch. The wind has really got up now and several of the tents have blown away. It’s a major issue trying to get tents folded in the wind. We’re off again and stop at the smallest town you will encounter…Solitaire. It’s cute and it has the BEST bakery you will find anywhere. Make sure to take extras for later.There’s old rusty cars and it has real character. Our camp site tonight is Cha-re and after setting our tents up we climb aboard a truck and are taken across the nearby farm. Our guide for this is a local known as ” Bushman ” He talks about the wildlife and the history of the San people in that region. From a spot up high we watch the sun set before heading back to camp and Mama’s cooking.

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We arrive in Walvis Bay and take a welcome walk along the waters edge to view the flamingoes and pelicans. After a long drive , it’s nice to get out and stretch the legs. Then on to Swakopmund and a short city tour in the truck to acquaint ourselves with where we can explore. We are staying for two nights at Amanpuri Lodge so….no tents !! There is free wi-fi and a laundry service which is much needed by this stage. And a real bed..wooohoooo !! Swakopmund is an adventure capital so we are taken to the centre to organise what we want to do for the following day. Some will quad bike, sandboard and/ or skydive and fishing.

Today I have chosen to go quad biking. I did it on a previous trip and enjoyed it so much have decided to do it again. We are briefed on safety measures then head off into the dunes of the Namib Desert for two hours of FUN. We have a guide at the front who leads the way and I am behind him. I get a bit daring and go high up the dunes. I tell the other group members not to follow me, but they enjoy it too. A few times we have to stop when some of the bikes get bogged down in the sand. But thats all part of the fun.

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On arrival back at the lodge, the other members of the group who went skydiving have just returned and are buzzing with excitement. It’s been a fun-filled day for everyone and it’s nice that we will round off the day with dinner at an Italian restaurant in the city.

We leave the city life behind and head to our next site. On the way we stop  at a road side market that sells all manner of gemstones. It’s an interesting array with beautiful stones. Spitzkoppe is our next camp and it has NO electricity. There are no showers, toilets or any home comforts of any sort. A ‘ donkey toilet ‘ has been erected but the see-through cloth on the outside doesnt provide as much privacy as a nearby bush….so needless to say, it doesn’t get used. We set up camp and are given the much -needed spade for when nature calls. This site is surrounded by enormous granite rocks and it’s strange to climb them and feel like you are batman….they are not slippery and it’s easy to stick to the surface which makes for interesting climbing. The daytime sun has warmed the surface and it’s lovely to just sit up high on the warmth and take in the beautiful scenery .

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One of the marvels of this place is the natural rock arch. There is evidence that rock dassies ( hyrax ) live here as the rock faces are painted with their excrement and there is the tell-all odour. There is plenty of time to explore and go walking.The landscape from on top stretches for miles and eventually the sun sets behind the mountains and another great Nomad day. Although there is no power here, I come to the conclusion that this will be my favourite camping place on tour. It has a real peace about it…a real back to nature experience.

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Our next day takes us to Kamanjab where we camp amongst rocks and trees. Zenzo tells us to keep the truck windows closed as here there is the possibilty of snakes coming down from the trees !! Is he joking ?  Apparently not. Everywhere I walk I am looking down and making sure that the zip to my tent is ALWAYS closed. I HATE snakes !! Luckily I don’t see any.  A local woman from the Himba tribe comes to escort us to the village just along the road. We are met by excited school children who rush to hold our hands. They are friendly and smiling and full of personality. They sing and show us what they know amidst lots of giggling. Then our guide takes us on to the village where the Himba women are going about their business and some are sitting in a circle in anticipation of selling us their wares. All their items are handmade and authentically Himba.At one point the guide taps me on the arm and tells me some of the younger women to the side want to see my hair. I go over to them and they are chatting away in their lingo which, of course, I don’t understand. Translation tells me that they have not seen a white woman with African ( braided )hair and it fascinates them. They ask what country I come from and repeat ” Beautiful woman “. I am taken aback that , in a setting where I feel priviledged to be, this culture would be interested in me. The Himba are one of the most photographed people in the world so I get busy with what I know. I do feel obliged to buy a few little things though before I leave. There is a short talk in one of the huts to learn about the Himba culture. The young ones bring in the goats and sheep to their safe shelter for the evening. There is dust and noise but life goes on regardless of tourists visiting.

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Etosha NP is our next destination. The boys from Cyprus have still not rejoined the tour. We hear that they are making their way after sucessfully being given visas in Capetown and are travelling on another Nomad truck. They will meet up with us in a couple of days. We will be spending two nights in Etosha at two different camp sites. Halali is the first one. It’s very hot and dry today and the cold wind from further south is no longer. One of the beauties of the places we stay in Etosha is the waterholes. They make excellent viewing and it’s another one of those situations where you can just sit and…be. We have time to take a walk to the waterhole before heading off on an afternoon game drive in the truck.

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The waterhole at Halali Camp is a favourite place for tourists to sit at night time. In 2009 I sat there with my dear friend Loes and sitting here now is poignant as she died in 2011. I feel her presence as the breeze suddenly gets up then , just as suddenly, disappears. It is special that tonight two rhinos come to drink, elephants, jackals, impala. The sky is lit with sparkling stars…all is well in the world !

Next morning is a game drive en route to Okaukuejo Camp. It has a great waterhole too for viewing. It’s surrounded by a low stone wall and chairs to sit on. I spend quite some time watching zebras,oryx, impala, giraffes ( the first time I see giraffes drinking ). I’ve been here a while and decide it’s time to leave. At the same time I hear a lot of loud rumbling noises and turn back to the waterhole. Thirty five elephants of all sizes are coming from behind in such a hurry to have a drink. There’s dust and then splashing and trumpeting. It is absolutely awesome ! They stay for maybe ten minutes then off they go again . I decide that after dinner later , I will come back . Whilst eating dinner there are jackals running around behind us…..in the camp.

Back to the waterhole and it’s rather cold now. I’m all rugged up to the chin. By 10pm I’m over this cold and decide to head back to my tent. After a short distance I realise I have come out the wrong gate and am not sure where I am. I THINK I have it sorted so keep walking. Big mistake. I’m looking left and right to try and find our truck or something familiar. Nothing is forthcoming. After some time I realise I’m getting to an area that’s moving away from all the tents ( bearing in mind there are lots of people camping here…not just our group )and  mild panic sets in. I can’t see anyone and it’s dark. What the heck am I going to do now ?  I decide to back track to the waterhole and start again. No can do…..I don’t know what direction to go. Just then a lady comes out of a building. I tell myself I have no option but to ask for her help. My next thought, however, is does she even speak English ? She does AND she’s a NZer. Bless !!  It turns out I have walked the full length of the campground and am in the opposite end to the waterhole. It also turns out that I did, in fact, walk right past our truck and tents. Being in the dark, I was totally disorientated. I can tell you I have never wanted to be inside my tent so much as I did that night !!

Mama has some yummy porridge to warm us this morning for breakfast. If anyone can make porridge taste yummy, Mama can. Then we’re off to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.Three of our group are leaving us here to go their own ways and our Cyprus boys are waiting here for us to pick them up….YAY !!! We check in to our hotel…..real beds tonight …YES. Then off to Joes Beer House for some authentic African fare ( zebra anyone ??? )

We’ve crossed the border now and into Botswana. The Cyprus boys are a little anxious….but all goes well and passports are stamped. Zenzo cranks up the African tunes and we get the beers out of the cooler box as we drive along on our way to Ghanzi. We are staying at Trailblazers Camp and here there is the option to upgrade. I have taken this on board and am presented with a lovely chalet. The bathroom is big enough to hold a football team.It’s actually ourdoors and is only surrounded by a reed fence. Lots of character. I get a bit of aggro from certain members of the group as they think I have been given priviledges and when I explain that anyone can upgrade, it seems to fall on deaf ears .

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There’s a demonstration of a dance by the San people this evening. It takes place around the fire and some of our group are invited to join in. It’s quite hilarious as they mimmick certain animals. Funny how certain ones seem to be rather natural at it. It’s cold tonight and even a heavy blanket found in the closet isn’t enough. I feel a bit sorry for the group outside my door in their tents. Or do I ??

It’s freezing this morning. There’s a layer of ice on top of the washing bowl.There’s also more jibes about my level of accommodation. Get over it !!  Mama has her trade mark hot porridge which we welcome before heading off for Maun. We stop in the town to stock up on snacks , drinks  and pula ( Botswana currency ) then off to the airport for those who have chosen to do the flight over the Okavango Delta. Having done it before, I encourage the others which they thank me for later as they really enjoy it.It’s a beautiful day and the 45 minute flight goes really quick. There’s animals to be seen below and we anticipate camping down there the next day.

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On to Sitatunga Camp where , once again, I am in a chalet. It’s quite some distance from where the tents will be pitched which will later come to be relevant. We have to pack a small bag to take with us into the delta tomorrow. We will be going in by mokoro ( dugout canoe ) so our big bags are not allowed. Bag packed…off to the bar. Dinner ….back to bar. There’s a NZ flag hanging from the ceiling which is a bit nostalgic really. This bar has lots of character which we comment on. There’s other campers here enjoying a drink and the bar staff are very friendly. Off to bed at 10pm.

I haven’t been asleep very long and I hear voices yelling. I perch up on one elbow and look out the curtains. I see a bright light . There had been a car parked near the entrance to the chalets and, for some reason, my first thought was that someone was trying to make off with it…..hence the yelling. The light I deduced was just a night light by the main building. Being some distance away, I couldn’t have a clear view because of bushes and trees. Oh well….back to sleep. All through the night I could randomly hear loud banging noises …a bit like the sound of the ‘guns’ that go off to scare birds in vineyards. I thought…there are no vineyards in these regions and , if so, why have them going off when birds sleep at night. All very strange. Oh well….back to sleep.

The cold light of day brought home the tragic realisation of the night before. The voices had been those of staff and campers…..the light had been that of a raging inferno…..and the bangs that of exploding alcohol bottles. The restaurant/ bar and main building had burnt to the ground. I didn’t believe what I had been told as we had been sitting in there enjoying a drink only hours before, so went to look for myself. Fire was still burning, bottles were still exploding and there was mess everywhere. I noted nearby trees smouldering which indicated how big the fire had been.  The barman came along and I stopped to chat with him. It was clear he had not slept. There had been a time during the early hours of the night that the group had been warned they might have to move camp. The gate to the camp was not an option as the fire was raging right beside it. The camp was surrounded by a high fence so….there was no way out. If the trees had caught fire and the wind had got up…..???? Add to that, no one was exactly sure where I was as,already mentioned, I was some distance away. All the while I was tucked up in my bed sleeping and oblivious to what was happening around me while the rest of the group had a virtual sleepless night.

A truck arrives to collect us for the Delta. We leave Zenzo and our Nomad truck behind until our return in a few days time.We load up our tents and supplies and off we go…..it’s cramped and the air is very cold. Out come the blankets . It’s a 2 and a half hour drive to where the mokoros are waiting on the waters edge. Along with our guides/ polers. It takes time to load our things and sort out whose getting in to which mokoro. 1 and a half hours on the Delta later we arrive at our camp site amongst the trees. The ride itself is very relaxing, just lying back and drifting quietly along. A small herd of hippoes grunts as we go by ( not too closely though ) and some of us take the opportunity to have a little nap. We have help from our guides to unpack the mokoros and set up camp. There is only a clearing in the trees and no electricity once again . There is evidence that elephants have walked by. One of the guides makes a fire and we make a plan re ablutions. A hole is dug behind a tree and the toilet paper is hung on a bush a few metres away. If the spade and paper are not there, that means….respect the privacy of whoever has them. Simple but effective !!

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We have a planned afternoon walking safari. There’s several giraffes, elephants and quite a large herd of nervous zebra’s. Mama delights us with Carbonara , mushroom sauce and broccoli for dinner tonight…YUM again.  Early to sleep….uh oh…..there is a SNORER amongst us !!

We’re up at 6am for cup of tea/coffee and a rusk. I’ve come to quite like these rusks after a while. Another walking safari …this time for 3 hours with little to see in the way of animals. It’s mostly about the nature this time though….the things we see around us , the insects and plants. We stop at a village on the way and meet some of the locals . They don’t speak any English so our guide translates. This is really remote and one has to stop and ponder at their lifestyle. It’s most basic and they seem a bit wary of us. Until we leave, we aren’t told that this guide today lives here and he shows us his house as we walk past. It has an aeriel on top and he tells us he has tv . He is proud and we tell him it’s lovely. He smiles. Such lovely people.

After a scrummy breakfast of bacon, eggs, tomatoes and toast some of the group endeavour to try their hand at steering a mokoro. They are warned that it’s not easy but they actually do very well.

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Is there no end to Mama’s talents ? She has popcorn for us for afternoon tea. And chicken  & vege soup, pork chops and veges for dinner. Bear in mind we are in the middle of nowhere and all she has to cook with is an open fire. Bless her ! At 5pm we board our mokoros and the guides take us on a sunset ride on the Delta. It’s simply divine.

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The local people are around the fire with us this evening and we are treated to singing and dancing. Within the bush, in the remoteness of Botswana….this is just gorgeous. Their beautiful harmonies escape into the canopies above as the sparks from the fire leap around like fireflies.

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There’s SNORING again !!!!!!!!!! ( That man from Belgium shall be nameless )

Morning brings us to another game walk before packing up our tents to put back into the mokoros.It is lunch time when we arrive back at camp and Zenzo is waiting with his big smile. The fire is finally out in the building and it has been roped off. Investigaters apparently are looking into how/ why it started. I wish them luck with renovating and keeping on with business.

We are running a bit behind schedule today and arrive at Planet Baobab in the dark. It’s a quaint place with huge baobab trees lit up with lights. It has a lovely big bar area with light shades made from beer bottles. There are other Nomad groups here tonight too.

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Chobe NP is our next destination. We arrive at Chebe River Camp, quick lunch then afternoon game drive in open vehicles.There are lots of giraffes and elephants.At one point we come across a lioness eyeing up two kudu. They are aware of her so nothing eventuates. It’s my first close up sighting of sable antelope and there are several of them. Near the water there are crocs, hippoes and warthogs. Lots to see today. Later we head to the ramp and board a boat for a sunset river cruise. It’s a different perspective altogether and there is still plenty to see. The elephants are coming to drink and play. There’s also a variety of birds, plus buffalos and hippoes. As the sun sets large in the sky we make our way back to camp after an excellent day of game viewing.

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It’s an early start to get to the border crossing into Zimbabwe. Here the process is done manually so it takes 1 and a half hours. We arrive at Adventure Lodge at Victoria Falls for a briefing on what is on offer for the daring amongst us. Then off to see the mighty Victoria Falls themselves. The water from the Zambezi River thunders over the edge and the spray is wetting. It pays to cover the camera. It’s cool walking along the pathway but very hot in the open. Seeing these falls is a must…they really are mighty.

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Theres’s some really good markets in Victoria Falls so I spend some time browsing and trying not to be influenced by the sellers. They try their best as they all want to make money to survive. I do buy some little things but when I’m hassled, I leave. It’s a nice walk back through the township and up the road to the lodge. I decide to treat myself to some girl stuff and have a massage / pedicure/ manicure . It is soooooo nice after three weeks of travelling. So nice in fact that I have another massage the following day. We are all going out for dinner this evening as it’s our final day on tour together. We’ve chosen a very nice hotel restaurant and have a lovely buffet meal. There’s live entertainment from a zulu group playing drums, dancing and singing. As per expected, they want volunteers to join them. You guessed it….up I go. Lots of laughs. One of our group farewells our crew with a speech on behalf . We leave and some of us try a local bar. It’s the last time we will see our Nomad truck and it’s fantastic crew so we bid them farewell. When we wake in the morning….they will be gone on their next journey.

It has been a fantastic tour. I summarise that , if I am honest, I am not really a camper. Having said that, I am pleased I experienced it and in no better place than Africa with a great company and great people.  I thank again OVERLANDING AFRICA and NOMAD ADVENTURE TOURS for making this possible.

But…..the journey does not end here………………….