Tanzania: The Tarangire Edition.

It was a long drive in. As we got closer to our turn off point, we realized we needed to stop for petrol because we wouldn’t be able to get any for a couple days. The problem… There was not a petrol station anywhere in sight. We had to turn back. At this point, we were ready to kill each other. It was just one of those days… I felt Brad didn’t listen to me or think things through, so here we were rerouting, wasting time, etc. It was nothing short of classic marital nonsense.

So with our journey slightly rerouted, we searched for a petrol. We found a spot, but they didn’t accept credit cards, so we decided to check one more station… …and, naturally, they didn’t accept credit cards either.. We were at a loss and just decided to bite the bullet and fork over more of our cash. We didn’t have a choice. We were burning through our cash faster than we knew was possible. This was a major unexpected problem we were having in Tanzania.

Back on track, we followed the long dirt road back to the Wildlife Management Area which was further back than the GPS made it seem. We wondered if we were on the wrong road, but decided to press on because we had no idea where else it could be. Our perseverance paid off, and we got there around 3PM, but we were not ready for the headache that we were about to experience. Brad got out to speak to the guard who insisted that we were supposed to get our permit back in Arusha. He refused to take payment there, and told us the only way for us to get through was for us to go back to Arusha for the permit. We were flabbergasted, given our experience at Lake Moshi, where the man took our cash without hesitation. NOTE: I wonder if the man at Lake Moshi, just pocketed it…  We wondered, could this day get anymore frustrating?

Young WarriorWe waited patiently as possible, and Brad insisted the man call our hotel to work out the details. After constant back and forth phone calls, the manager of our next hotel worked out a deal wit the guard that the hotel would pay for the permit, and it would be delivered the following day by a colleague in Arusha, but the guard had to let us through. He agreed. NOTE: Thankfully, this time wasn’t totally in vain; the silver lining to this mess of a situation was the pictures I was able to get of the Young Maasai boy dressed in his warrior costume. I was able to trade these photos for a bottle of water 1000 Tanzanian Shillings.

Finally past the gate, feeling agitated and simultaneously relieved, we pressed on. We thought we made it through all the obstacles for the day, and were finally ready to dropped our bags, relax, and unwind so that we could enjoy tomorrow. Unfortunately, an even bigger obstacle lay in our way. A river. IMG_1871-2I wish it were a joke, but it’s not. At this point, swear words were flying from my mouth, and we were feelng defeated and disheartened. We could literally see our hotel on top of the cliff across the river. We were envisioning the worst, such as a night without dinner and breakfast and sleeping in our car. Quickly, I tried to pull it together and plan. We got out of the car to try to examine the depth, thinking it might not be as bad as it looked. I was throwing in rocks the size of my head and sure enough it was a hard plop and they were gone… Brad volunteered to wade in and see how deep it was, but I was strongly advising against it because if I lost him to the river, there was absolutely nothing I could do. I had seen a sign for a hotel a little ways back and decided we should head there to try to call our hotel. We did just that, however, we hit another snag. IMG_1874When we pulled into the parking lot, we were dumbfounded. The place had burned down (I am cracking up while I write this, by the way). Was this situation real, we were wondering. It was straight out of bad dream. Brad took the lead, and headed to speak to the workers who were working on rebuilding the place. They sent for the manager, while Brad and I waited restlessly for about 15 minutes. We still hadn’t heard from anyone so Brad wandered off in search of someone who could help us. Finally, two people came over, and we were able to explain our dilemma. They tried to call our hotel, and while this was going on some of the construction workers ran off to the river to check the depth. We followed along in our 4×4 with the hotel management in the back seat.

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When we pulled back up to the river side, one of the workers was wading his way across the river. He was able to navigate all the way across on foot, and it never went past his hips, so we knew we would probably be fine. Our path was determined.

Once that man was back on our side, a car came charging down the hill to the water, and pushed its way through to us. A British chap hopped out of the vehicle and gave us the run down. He was the manager of our hotel, and came to our aid. He informed us that they had been yelling to us from the hotel, but we were never able to hear them.  Brad and I thanked the locals & hopped back in the vehicle, and followed our new guide across the river, to be led to our next restful location.  As we wandered up the hill and into the tall grass we were delighted to see elephants right by our hotel… NOTE: This meant there were rules… like, don’t walk anywhere alone at night. Stick with your Maasai guide. 

When we got there, the Tarangire River Camp, we followed our rescuer to the lobby area. We had a good chat about the river (it had appeared just a couple of days earlier because of all the rain), Tanzanian politics and tourism, and how difficult it is to do your own self-drive tour in that country,  then filled out our forms…and, next, we were ushered to our tent. The Maasai carried our bags for us, and led us down the dirt path to our little piece of heaven. We unpacked a bit and got ourselves organized before we went to wander the grounds.

IMG_1884We found our way to the viewing deck which overlooked the river we had to cross. We couldn’t believe the day we had. We were so grateful to be at camp and be able to let loose. We wanted drinks with dinner to help take the edge off, but with our cash situation being slightly dyer we kept it light. We enjoyed the incredible meal, and turned in early.

It was a great night’s sleep followed by an early morning. We were eager to get a jump-start on our day. We got our bags back to the car, and enjoyed a simple breakfast. We had to pay cash (cards weren’t accepted) for the remainder of tab which included our fee for the WMA gate and our beverages with dinner.

With everything loaded and ready to go, we were ready to cross the river again, and take on the challenges of the day. Thankfully the water level of the river had lowered over night, so navigating the water wasn’t quite as challenging.

DSC_0214.jpgWithin 20 minutes we were back at the WMA gate. Brad got out to see if we were okay to exit, but sure enough the guard would not let us through. We were beyoooond frustrated. Brad had the guard call the hotel and speak to the manager, who assured the guard that his guy was on the way with the permit. …but that still wasn’t enough. We were required to wait until the man with the permit arrived, despite showing him the proof that we paid the hotel for the permit. We discussed just going around the barrier and taking off, but we didn’t. We waited about 30 minutes, Brad kept going in and out of the office hoping the man would cave, but he was resistant. Brad contacted the man with the permit who assured him he was on his way and would be there soon… but “soon” seemed to be a loosely used term in this country. Finally, Brad called the hotel manager himself to see what his take was. His advice was exactly what we wanted to hear… just go… haha. So, we did. Brad told the guard we were leaving, quickly got back in the car, and we took off around the barrier. We were not going to keep playing the games. We had shown proof of payment and he had assurance, from multiple people, that it had been taken care of. It was out of our hands; we had to get on with our day.

Luckily, it was a short drive to Tarangire National Park. We got out of the car, had one last bathroom break, filed our paperwork, and paid the fees (they took card). We took the map and high spirits, got back in the car and went through the gate.

DSC_0543Tarangire took us completely by surprise. We were in the park for several hours. We took turns driving, and went down many differentroads in search of lions and leopards and cheetahs. That portion was all standard, but what got us was the insane amount of elephants. We saw hundreds!!! That is pretty much the only thing I even remember seeing in Tarangire: elephants. Old elephants, baby elephants, bulls, females, families, pachyderms… it was absurd. Several hours of our life were spent invading herds of elephants. I would stand out the sunroof filling, photographing, and of course, speaking to these beautiful, powerful, majestic animals.  There was one time we were even threatened by an elephant to back off. Don’t worry, we did.

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Thanks to you pictures, I can tell you that in addition to the elephants, we saw zebra, antelope, springbok, a variety of birds, giraffe, vervet monkeys and more. But, elephants were the only animal in the Big 5 group that we saw. Aside from the quantity of elephants we encounter, Tarangire wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, but we were, also only there for maybe 6 hours. I think with the right amount of time, we could of tracked more.  Here are additional images from the park:

We eventually decided that it was crucial for us to make our way out of the park, and get back on the road. We had to make our way to our next overnight location Gibb’s Farm, which sat on the exterior mountainside of Ngorongoro Crater.  It was about a 3 hour drive, and we wanted to make it in time to relax before the sun went down.

…to be continued.

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Victoria Falls: The Road Trip Edition (Part 2).

 Day 14:

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iphone update 1385With a game plan in mind, we were going to Zambia, we started our day off right. Breakfast first… then we parked our car in the lot just outside of customs and across from the Victoria Falls National Park entrance & made the walk to the Zimbabwe customs office. Getting our of Zimbabwe was a cinch. We paid our fees, got our stamps, and crossed. We made the walk across the Victoria Falls Bridge. We were able to take in the breathtaking view of the “smoke” rising up from the water crashing below. It’s a view that would never get old. Within minutes, we were greeted by a couple of Zambian men who were curious about us. They asked us all about our homeland, how long we were visiting for, what we were doing that day. It was fun, until they relentlessly tried to sell us jewelry that we didn’t want. NOTE: The key is to just be as gracious as possible in turning them down. Sometimes, even when you tell them that you have no money, they keep pushing because they know that you could just get more money… Their selling strategy: wear you down, but the key is that once you buy one thing, they will try to get you to buy another.

When we were almost to the Zambian customs office, we were greeted by another man… He would get us a taxi. He was so persistent on getting us a taxi, that he followed us into the customs office and watched us until we were done. At that point, he just kept on talking to us and telling us that it was a long way into Livingstone and that we needed a taxi. We agreed on a price, and he took us over to one of the drives who then drove us into the town. We were dropped off in front of a cafe, and proceeded on foot. We followed the main road passed many shops and even saw an event happening in a parking lot, that appeared to be the national soccer team doing some contests and entertaining the “commoners”. It was interesting, and it seemed like everyone was having a great time.

iphone update 1389We continued on. We ended up at a Mukuni Park Curio Market that lines one block and had a covered walkway. It was great. There were several shops (most of which sell the same stuff), but they had far better things to offer on this side of the border. I had my eye on a few things, but we knew that we would need more cash. So, with goals in mind, we continued on. We ended up wandering through a shopping area that was definitely for the local people. There were shoe shops, mattress shops, and home supply shops.

NOTE: It was one of those moments, where I looked around and realize how blessed we are to be American citizens because the shops were very small and crammed full of simple things, and the shops were mostly dirty and so poorly lit that some of them seemed dark. It was a truly humbling moment. If these people saw how we live here, with our large shopping malls that are so immaculate, they wouldn’t even know what to do.

Brad told me a story about a couple of Congolese that were brought to the US for training. One of the first places they were brought was Walmart. Apparently, they were completely overwhelmed, but at one point brought back two overflowing shopping carts full of alcohol. What we take for granted, our living in absolute excess, to them is like sweet manna from heaven because they are so used to living with the bare minimum. Sometimes, I think we lose track of reality here, I know I do at times.

We ended up near their large market which had produce, tech products, clothing, textile.. it was interesting, but it wasn’t for us because it was clearly for the locals. We ended up turning back toward where we started. Brad was thirsty and needed some caffeine to help him gear up for the negotiating ahead. After fueling up at Cafe au Lait Limited, it was time to find the ATM, so we headed across the street to Barclay’s (a large banking institution). The ATM line was pretty long, and I ended up in an awkward situation when a drunk Zambian guy came up to me and was trying to give me his keys. He kept telling me that I had to drive him because he was too drunk to drive. He then continued to make some unkind remarks, and was telling Brad that he wouldn’t say what he was thinking because it wouldn’t be appropriate… It was really uncomfortable & I was really happy when it was our turn to make our way up the steps to use the ATM. By the time we came back down, the guy was gone. NOTE: we didn’t want any trouble because of being in a third world country, where the people look out for each other not necessarily visitors, so we did our bests to just let him do what he needed, and just minded our own business as best we could. 

iphone update 1394.JPGWith relief, we made our way back to the curio market. We passed several booths before getting to the first one that I wanted to see. We negotiated hard here. I ended up with a beautiful tribal mask. Then we went down a little further where we negotiated the price down for 3 paintings. …we were ready to go… but on our way out, we were stopped. One of the shop keepers really liked Brad’s sunglasses. He told us that he would trade Brad’s sunglasses for any three things in his shop. We were on board since Brad’s sunglasses were not expensive. However, the shop keeper, and now his brother, were then telling us that we couldn’t have any three items and that if we wanted what we had chosen (a large carved out bowl, a carved ironwood elephant, and a mask) then we would have to pay them extra. They wanted a lot, and it took a lot of effort to get them where we wanted them. We weren’t messing around because they intentionally tried to trick us. We were ready to walk (reluctantly) if they didn’t give us what we wanted. We settled on the three items traded for Brad’s sunglasses and 100 Kwacha (their currency- when I looked up the exchange rate, it was wildly inaccurate. I think it was about, 1 Kwacha to 10 cents when we got it).

iphone update 1393.JPGWith our hands full of Zambian treasures, we headed back toward the border. We were dead-set on finding a place for lunch and ended up at Kubu Cafe. They had a fairly well diversified menu, so we ended up getting a sandwich and a burger. The food was pretty good, and the service was wonderful. It was a pleasant place where you could sit on the patio without being hassled. We felt ridiculous with our large pile of loot sitting on the table next to us, but we also, had a great deal of pride in our stack of finds.  With lunch over, we still had some Kwancha to get rid of, so I headed next door to the grocery store to buy some food to take back. They didn’t have as good of options on the other side of the border, surprisingly. Here, I was able to grab another pack of Oreos and Kips.

We felt so alive, and felt as though we were finally starting to find our stride in this part of Africa. We wandered back toward the street wher we grabbed a taxi to take us back to the border. When the price was agreed upon, we loaded up and climbed in. The drive back was short, but we had an unplanned stop along the way. Our driver was stopped by an officer that was in the middle of the road. Our driver, then, pulled over and got out of the car and was talking to the officer for a while, and then was over by the police car. Brad and I were concerned about the situation and were quite confused. Frustration was setting in because we had no clue what was going on. Were we going to have to walk back?? haha.

Finally, our driver returned to us and shared that they were looking for someone, and that he had told the officer that he would take us to the border first since he had committed to that, and then return to help in the search. It was peculiar, but we said ‘okay’ and continued our journey.

At the border, as soon as we were out of the cars, the locals around the customs building began talking to us. I had one man telling me to make sure I kept my food up high because the baboons would try to steal it. I wasn’t entirely sure how true this was, but I figured he must know from experience. I was going to be dammed to let some monkey steal my precious Oreos, so up into my large trough like bowl they went.

Going back through Zambian customs was, once again, a breeze. We just got in the short line, and waited our turn for our stamp. We then proceeded back toward the bridge. A man came up to us on his bike with a small pull-cart attached. He begged us to let him give us a ride to the Zimbabwe customs office. We had to continually decline. I think he was frustrated that we wouldn’t say ‘yes’, as he started to get a little snippy with us. It wasn’t long before our friends from earlier showed up, claiming that we had said we would buy jewelry. The guy that had talked to me was far more accepting when I declined his offer. Brad, on the other hand, had a very persistent Zambian who did not want to take ‘no’ for an answer (I’m cracking up as I am writing this). While Brad was continually trying to rid himself of the persistent salesman, I ended up with another guy begging me to trade my food for his trinkets. I continued to politely say ‘no’, as I looked straight ahead and increased the speed of my walk. Brad was finally able to catch up, and the guy trying to peer-pressure him began to back off. Finally, we reached the office.

Getting back into Zimbabwe was, as usual, a pain. Although, it was far more organized than when we were coming from Botswana, we still were dealing with silly problems. We waited in line as the officers took their time processing each person in front of us. Thankfully, we had beat the rush of a tourist group, that somehow seemed to pass us by. We filled out our necessary forms, and handed the man our card (we were purchasing double entry visas this time – which sadly, we were never told about the first time we crossed over). Naturally, despite several efforts, our Chase Visa card wasn’t working – the irony, it worked fine everywhere else before & after. Both of our cards were continually declined, so we ended up using most of the cash that we had. We were so frustrated, but did our best to shake it off because there was nothing more we could do.

With everything finalized, we felt rather silly walking back to the car with our stockpile of goodies, but we were so excited to have found such great items. We headed back to the hotel to unload & unwind. We decided it would be a good night to go to The Boma for dinner & a show. …and we did just that.

We showed up without a reservation & were given a sarong to wrap around us and tie over our right shoulder. We were just in time to be greeted by the greeting committee. A group of Zimbabwean men and women dressed in tribal garb with faces painted, all while singing us a fantastic greeting. It was slightly overwhelming to the point that I had a ridiculous large smile on my face and couldn’t help but laugh with pure joy. I was so excited, like a kid at Christmas.

iphone update 1404.JPGWe were led to our table  off to the side in a quiet area near a stock pile of drums (when we figured that they prefer you to have a reservation). They took our drink order, and then proceeded to bring us an appetizer with some exotic meats (such as crocodile & kudu), and some not-so exotic things like a vegetable samosa and something else. Everything was delicious. We then, were able to hit the buffet. Each of us started with a bowl of soup, that I remember was fairly sweet but definitely delicious. It was then time to move on. It was time to get serious. We were hitting up the big buffet, a buffet of meats and stews!

I wasn’t feeling bold enough to go wild and try everything, so I made it a point to make my main food source the chicken skewers. I ended up having a nice chat with a guy from Australia, and was talked into trying the peanut (butter) spinach by an American. I grabbed a bit of the guinea fowl stew, and a white grain like-substance that resembled mashed potatoes, but had a consistency more similar to couscous.  I also, ended up grabbing the tiniest scoop of mini-fish because I couldn’t tell what it was when I was in the line… The low down: the chicken was chicken, the peanut-butter spinach was not my fave (turns out I’m just not a huge peanut butter fan), the white stuff was bland but went well with other dishes, I didn’t even bother trying the tiny fish because they still looked like tiny fish, and the guinea fowl stew was BOMB!! Sadly, my guinea fowl was mostly bone and skin & not a lot of meat, but I was so glad I got to sample it. While sitting there, Brad gave me some warthog from the stew to try, and it’s safe to say it was, hands down, the best thing at the table. The flavor was amazing, and it was incredibly tender. I would have thought that it would be gamy and maybe fatty, but I guess it makes sense… I’m a pork-lover!

While we were eating a team of drummers and dancers took the stage to enlighten us with their talents, and give us a little sample of Zimbabwean culture. It was so fun! It was loud, but fun! They had festive costumes and their dancing was crazy as they went along with the overwhelming rhythm of the large drums. I LOVED IT!  ….a little bit later on, after dessert, they passed around smaller drums to all the guests to join in and did small competitions between each section of the room. At one point, they had everyone up in a circle on the main floor competing in a dance off. Brad & I stood there for a while before we tried to escape in fear of getting picked because we are your stereotypical white people that are terrible dancers and have no musical rhythm.. or just rhythm in general.  As the majority of patrons danced on, Brad & I decided we were ready to go back. We wanted to explore the National Parks the next day, and were tired from our grueling border-crossing journey earlier that day.

Day 15:

We woke up at a normal hour, and decided that it was a good day to head back to The Lookout Cafe for breakfast. The weather was beautiful. It wasn’t quite as good this time. Brad got what I will call a “deli plate” (because it was meats & cheeses), and I have no remembrance of what I got… Probably just eggs and toast. Sometimes, less is more…

With some slight disappointment in our hearts (over the food, never the view), we headed back tot he car. The plan was to head south toward Hwange National Park. We took the detour that was in place because of a road closure. We weaved our way through part of the town, and back to the main road. Dead ahead was another police stop. Brad’s immediate reaction was to just turn the car around. He didn’t have it in him to be hassled again over the car. I think he was on a short fuse at this point. I was frustrated now too, because it was another plan that we had to scrap. We just decided, instead, to go try to enter into the Zambezi National Park that sits just down the street from the hotel.

We had tried to get in a couple days before (or maybe after Zambia), but they would not let us because they didn’t think our vehicle could handle the terrain, nor did they think our car was actually four wheel drive… (makes sense, it kind of looks like a mom car).  Today though, we succeeded. The lady at the desk told us to take caution, stay on the main road, avoid flood areas, and that if anything happened to us we were on our own. We paid our fee, got our pass, and headed into the park. We reached the gate keeper who verified our documents and let us through. It was all dirt road from here. We didn’t think it was nearly as bad, as the lady had made it seem. There were definite rough spots, but we didn’t feel doomed from the start.

ipad update 1881.jpgWe were incredibly eager to see some more wildlife. We spent many hours in the park driving up and down roads as far as we thought possible. At one point, we attempted a mud spot along the main road, and ended up having to back out because we were not getting enough traction. We were disappointed because we hadn’t seen anything other than birds, springbok, and monkeys. We ended up turning back with the intention to start exploring side roads.  Things started to improve. Small crocodiles had beached themselves along the stream near one of the bridges in attempt to warm up. We began to see larger types antelope grazing or lying in the grass… and as we took on one of the large hills, we saw zebra and wildebeest sticking together.

ipad update 2128.jpgWe made our way back down and unsure of what to do, headed back toward the entrance with the goal to explore more of the side roads. We drove up and down a couple with nothing exciting to share, but then, as we began our descent down one of them, on our left hand side, stood a large bull elephant snacking on the tall grass. He was so handsome, but didn’t have much interest in us, so began to wander away, and as did we.. As we headed further down we came across a group of warthogs that spooked as soon as we got to close. We decided we wanted to trek on a little further, but our journey was cut short by a deep mud hole. We were stuck.ipad update 6205 Thankfully, not too stuck. Brad hopped out, and was able to give us enough of a shove while I pressed the gas pedal to get us out. We ended up finding another way around, but it just led to a dead end and no other sightings. We were wearing down fast, and losing hope. It was too hot for many animals to be out, and the grass was way too tall to see anything resting below. Before we headed out we decided to head back a little ways so that we could do one final check because the elephant had renewed our spirits. We ended up heading down by the river to see what else we could find. We were hoping to see some animals getting a drink, but that was not the case. As we continued along the path, a bathroom break was required. Once again, I was vulnerable to the elements, but my bladder was feeling so much relief.

ipad update 6129We continued driving along the river for a little while, and we got pretty lucky. We ended up running into a mash up of zebra and giraffe, and we had the pleasure of watching them for a little while before we all decided to part ways. The sun was sweltering, and we knew it was time to go… but before we did, we headed back the opposite direction  along the river where we had seen another random driver. From there you could see a narrow strip in the middle of the water. A small group of hippos rested along its bank, and a crocodile laid upon it. We were really excited about this because the crocodile looked quite large and well-fed. It was the first time we had seen one this large in the wild.

We were 3/4 of the way back to the exit when we snuck up on a tower of giraffes. FUN FACT: A tower is what you call a group of giraffes. We watched them for close to ten minutes before parting ways once again. Giraffes are such fun animals to watch with their excessively long limbs. (A Zambezi NP Gallery is at the bottom)

We finally made it back to the hotel, where we dropped off our gear, and cleaned ourselves up. We hung out for a little bit longer while I did a little bit of laundry in the sink.

iphone update 1452.JPGWith dinner on our minds, after not having a proper lunch (it was Kips & granola bars again in the car), we headed to Shearwater Cafe just along the main road that takes you through town towards the falls, the bridge, and Zambia. We were ready for a really good meal. We ordered our drinks, a pizza for me, and pasta for Brad, and enjoyed the warm African air.  I continually had issues with my sparkling water, as it was clear that the manufacturer wasn’t probably sealing the bottles. Thankfully, the restaurant was willing to take care of the issue without any trouble and even comped our drinks. The food was really good! It was nice to be eating something more familiar and more substantial.

We wanted to do a sunrise game drive the next morning, and were eager to get back to the hotel to get rest so that we could be up by 5 AM. We discussed going to Chobe National Park, but decided to just go back to Zambezi NP. We had heard amazing things about Chobe, but because we were wanting to do a sunrise drive, we thought it best to stay closer so that we didn’t have to be up as early, or deal with customs that morning.

Day 16:

iphone update 1455First, we stopped at the office & took care of fees & paperwork before setting off on our journey once again. It was a fun drive, and it started off with a couple of guinea fowl running up and along the road ahead of us before spastically jumping off into the grasses.  We were continually hoping to see some lions crossing to the river for morning drink, or to see a leopard in a tree with a fresh kill, but we got nothing. No dogs or cats on this trip. We followed the main path as we did the day before. We followed behind a troop of baboons for a while until they cleared the road. ipad update 5973We tried again to make it past the large mud pit, but it was too risky. We ended up turning back. This time with a photo of the map, we headed in search of new trails. First we made our way back up the large hill from the day before, but saw nothing on the way up. As we made our way back down, and as we approached the main road… There in the trees, shaded in mystery were a couple of Cape buffalo. It was the high point, thus far. The biggest thing we had seen that day. We wandered back down some of the smaller roads in hopes of finding a new trail. We had success. We found a small road that was quite overgrown most of the way that led us further baipad update 6064ck into the park. We did not see a thing. It took us across a river, and over a large outcropping of rocks.

Eventually, we decided to turn back because it didn’t seem like there was much hope for sightings if we continued on this road. We found a spot to turn back, and crossed through the river, and attempted to make the climb over the outcropping of rocks, but had a very difficult time. We were getting stuck. The front of the car was bumping the ground below  and our front right tire was up in the air.  I had to get out of the car in attempt to help guide Brad through this section. It was far more helpful to have a set of eyes on the road outside of the car, than two sets inside. From here, getting back was a breeze. We cruised right along, and seems like we spent less time going back than we did going in.

ipad update 6096When we reached the main road in the park. We continued on a little ways, and decided to head down another small road. On our way up, we ran into yet another group of giraffe and zebra. We watched the towering giants slowly meander through the area, while the zebra took off in pure fear. We followed the small road as far as we possibly could, back through large trees that looked like elephant land. The path we were on came to an abrupt end at the paved main road that leads you from Botswana into Victoria Falls (the one we had driven through on our way into town the first night). We were baffled that it was so easy to get into the park. It seems like easy access for poachers, as there was no fence or any other protection, but I guess elephants could just break it down anyways. We also, found it funny that we had just paid $30 dollars to get in to the park, when we could have just entered through a random dirt road off of Kazungula Road. Ahhhh, Zimbabwe!!!

Our sights were few and far between that day. With nothing truly exciting to report. It was all the usual, but this time Cape buffalo instead of elephants. (Don’t forget the photo gallery below!)

Since breakfast had been a stock pile of granola bars, and the remaining Kips… We knew that we needed to get some food, and clean up. We head back to the hotel, and upon arrival, I noticed that we had actually done some slight damage to the vehicle around the front left wheel-well, but it was able to be repaired. Thankfully, a couple of the men from the hotel, came over & helped us pop things back into place. We were incredibly grateful for their willingness to go above and beyond.

iphone update 1242After getting ourselves a bit more put together, and changing our clothes, we headed into town, and back to The Lookout Cafe. We decided we wanted to enjoy that gorgeous view one last time before we left.  We scarfed down our delicious food, while we watched the place fill up with other patrons who were equally as enthralled with their surroundings.

When we were done & the check was paid we decided to walk down the hill a little ways in search of the nature walk, but I think we missed our turn because we just ended up near the train tracks where the local guys try to sell you the fake currency and carved items.  We spent some time down there photographing the baboons that had walked down with us from the top of the hill, and then decided to turn back because we began getting frustrated, so we decided to turn back.

We headed for the hotel, so that we could start getting organized, but I just felt like going back into town and browsing the shops one more time. There wasn’t really anything that I needed, but I thought one of the flat woven baskets would be fun to hang on the wall. We ended up in the handcrafted market down the street and across the train tracks. This time we went to an area where there was suppose to be no hassling, but that wasn’t the case. I, also, remembered that there was a specific printed fabric that I wanted, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. When I communicated what I wanted to one of the shop keepers he was determined to find it for me…. however, he just continually showed me patterns and color schemes that I didn’t want and were nothing like what I showed him. While we were waiting for him to check elsewhere, we wandered into one of the shops, where we found a woven bowl that we could agree on. Brad got the price to what he thought was reasonable, and we left. We were almost to the car, when the shop keeper who was looking for the fabric found us. He brought us down the road back toward the market we had visited a few days prior. He brought inside of the women’s building, and they all proceeded to completely overwhelm me by showing me tons and tons of fabrics that were nothing at all like what I wanted. …not even close. They were trying to guilt us into buying just about anything at this point too. I was so over it and burned out because everywhere you look there was a woman with fabric or keychains or some nonsense trying to get you to buy it and they all talk over each other in attempt to get your attention, so Brad and I just turned around and left while turning them down one by one from start to finish. We said we may come back the next day, but the danger with that is that they try to get you to commit to a time, a day, a place. Its insane.

iphone update 1478.JPGSo we got back in the car and drove a very short distance to The Three Monkeys, a fun outdoor restaurant with a big “I ❤ VIC FALLS” sign in the yard. We were excited because we had driven past it several times, and were curious. When we got seated, our awesome waiter took our drink order. While we sat perusing the menu Brad notice that the shop keeper that was on a fabric hunt, was at the restaurant entrance being kept out by the restaurant staff. They had more fabric in hand. We thought the situation was taken care of until we noticed that they found their way around, and into the yard. They came up to the railing (we were on an elevated platform sitting maybe four feet off the ground), and started lifting up the fabrics that they had found. I was dying on the inside. I didn’t know whether to laugh or yell, at this point. Nothing, was even close to what I wanted, and their scheming to get past the entrance was hilarious. You just have to admire their commitment to trying to close a sale.

Brad and I enjoyed our dinner. I got a chicken wrap and a salad (both were huge), and Brad ordered a pizza. Brad’s pizza was really salty, and my wrap had a lot of dressing, and my salad wasn’t quite what I expected… But, overall it was pretty good. I would go back! It was fun atmosphere, and would be a great place to go with a group. We didn’t stay too long after because it was time to head back and start packing.  So when we got back to the hotel we did just that. We did our best to get organized, and had fun watching the reality shows on Discovery Channel.  We just enjoyed each other on our last night.

Day 17:

We were up somewhat early, and headed to breakfast. We decided to eat at the hotel for convenience reasons, and I just found myself frustrated while we were there. We ordered from the menu for obvious reasons: it was the cheapest option. The food was fair, and I could not wait to get out of there, so that we could focus on other things.

Our Britz rep was meeting us that morning so that we could drop the car off. We ran into him in the parking lot, and he let us know that he needed our paperwork from the border crossings. Thankfully, I had held onto every piece of paper through out our journey, so it was just a matter of going back to the room and sorting through it.  He looked over the car, and we were good to go. Brad & I followed him back by his house, where we met a couple of guys that were responsible for driving the vehicle back to South Africa. Once all the details were sorted (which meant our rep was keeping the African in check by stating that he didn’t want his customers hassled over details, and they needed to figure it out), our rep drove us back to the hotel.  He told us that he had been trying to work with the government to instate laws or actions that prevent police from constantly harassing or bribing tourists. NOTE: I was thankful for that effort because we had definitely experienced it, and it is just frustrating. I can’t imagine how terrifying it for people who don’t understand how those things work. 

Brad & I worked to get everything packed up, and then met our taxi driver out front. We got checked out, and were on our way. It was a beautiful drive and a bit long.  When we got to the airport, a man came and got our bags for us & brought us to the ticket counter. Getting through security and customs was a breeze as it was a very nice new and small airport with a couple of cafes & shops.

The flight back to Johannesburg was easy and short. When we got there, I had four hours until my next flight, so after dropping off my checked luggage again, I headed back to Brads hotel, so that we could hang out together for a while.

Eventually, it was time for me to head back to my terminal. Brad walked me to security… and for the first time in a long time, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I was not ready to let him go this time. But it was time for me to head to Spain to meet my sister.  So finally, I let go, and tried to make us laugh to ease the pain.

I was through security and it was time for the next chaper.

Zambezi National Park Photo Collection:

Botswana: The Road Trip Edition.

 iphone update 1147Day 9 (continued):

When we reached the customs building we began filling out our forms, but then realized that we needed to register the car. All the information needed had been provided by Britz, so that made it easy. Once we had everything finalized & had paid all the necessary fees, we were on our way. We were probably in & out of in less than 10 minutes. It was great!

ipad update 4857.jpgImmediately, once we crossed into town: donkeys. We thought it was fun, and they seemed so out of place to us. When we think of donkeys, we think of North & South America. I mean, we have donkeys (a.k.a. burros) that roam wild here in Arizona near Lake Pleasant. None the less, we were entertained. As we passed through the town, and out toward the middle of nowhere, the donkeys did not seem to disappear. Donkeys lined the streets and occasionally blocked the streets. NOTE: One thing that Brad’s co-workers had warned us about was donkeys. Brad was told that there were going to be tons of donkeys. We learned quickly that the best way to get them to move was to honk the horn and do your best to not stop…. They will move… I preferred a more gently approach. Roll down the window, and ask nicely. Both methods were effective. 

The other thing we noticed very rapidly were the potholes… and the size. Some looked as if they could swallow a car. The potholes, much like donkeys, never disappeared. They, too, were everywhere and constantly slowing us down. There were several points that we had to attempt to veer off the road to avoid a pothole or several. Sometimes, off road was the only way around the potholes… Kind of defeats the purpose of the road. 

We were astonished that Namibia’s roads were so pristine, and yet right across the border, Botswana was a different story. I’ve never seen roads in such poor condition. …and as Brad would say, “as soon as you start getting comfortable, and thinking you are in the clear, they pop back up”. There were a few big potholes that we had hit, and the scary thing for us was, that with no phone service, and being in the middle of nowhere, if we popped 2 tires, we were screwed. 

ipad update 4830.jpgAnyways, back to the journey itself. Botswana (aside from the roads) was beautiful.. It was very lush and green, and there were many massive termite mounds to be seen. ….and donkeys. haha.  There were also, large numbers of goats and cattle, as well. About half way through our drive, the weather began to change drastically, and surprise (not surprised), we were in a massive down-pour. This had us a little on edge. With the amount of rain that was falling (basically like driving through a waterfall), and the number of potholes on the road…. We were driving at snail speed in attempt not to die and/or be stranded.  Eventually, though, as they always do, the storm cleared, and we were back in the sun.

The time did eventually come for a bathroom break…. Note: That’s the other thing… On the drive from Rundu to Maun, there were almost no places to stop and eat or use the restroom. We were really surprised. It was mostly small villages & townships. Because of the lack of amenities, we ended up having to find an area where we could pull over. Sure enough, being a guy… This was no issue for Brad. For me on the other hand, it’s a slightly different story. It requires balance and willingness to bare my “goodies”, as Ciara would call them, to the elements.  When I was out of the car, I found that the muggy air was almost too much to bear while I wandered off into the bushes while simultaneously studying the ground for snakes or anything else that might have wanted a bite of my derriere. All that I could see were ants… a decent sized beetle, a spider that I was keeping an eye on, and a millipede that had wandered off in search of some privacy. Me on the other hand, that was the best I was going to get. So, I did my business as quickly as possible and made my way back to my car, which in a sense felt a little but like a walk of shame.

We turned back on the main road continuing our journey to Maun. It was another day without lunch, and surviving on granola bars, and other snacks, but it wasn’t too bad considering the most strenuous activity of day so far had been putting my luggage in the car and squatting in the bushes.

We arrived to Maun that evening. We were on the city outskirts as the sun was setting, and by the time we reached our hotel (which I think I had to find off memory again), Rivernest Boutique Cottages,  it was dark. We checked in & took our times getting our bags to our spacious suite (it had a small kitchen & a living room). Once we were settled, it was time to find dinner. Because our hotel was not serving, and thank God for that, the hotel receptionist directed us to Sedia Riverside Hotel which was only a few minutes back up the road towards town.

Finding our way back to Sedia was a little difficult because part of the road was flooded & Brad was convinced that we were going the wrong way…. I, however, was persistent about following the road we were on because of the street-side sign. I think he thought I was nuts, but the key is that I was right. Within a minute or so, we were there. We told the man at the gate that we were there for dinner & had no issues getting in to park. iphone update 1157We walked into the beautifully decorated hotel, and headed toward the restaurant which was out on the patio. We got a table with no issue, and our server was kind enough to walk us through our options: Buffet (which was mostly picked over) or the Menu.
The menu was a no brainer, and I ordered a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables which was to die for. As simple as it was, after not having a real satisfying meal since Walvis Bay, it truly entertained my tastebuds! I finished it off with a hot fudge sundae in order to satisfy my sweet tooth. We, also, had a couple of enchanting dinner guests… A couple of cats that I’m assuming live on the property. They were hoping for a handout!

We were back in the car, when I realized that I had left my purse on the chair next me. As I started to head back in, our waiter was coming out after me to deliver it. I was really nervous because that bag had all of our money, my passport… everything. So it was a real delight & a testament to the integrity level of the hotel & the staff when I learned that nothing was missing. It was a big part of why I was thinking I may want to stay there the next time I return; that and because the food was so good!

When we got back to the hotel, I made it a priority to start washing my underwear, so that I wouldn’t be bogged down with it when I got to Victoria Falls. We then spent a little time watching Planet Earth on my iPad, before we called it a night.

Day 10:

The next morning we were up bright and early for another big adventure. A mokoro ride on the Okavango Delta (through Delta Rain). NOTE: I was interested in using another company, but had no way of getting a hold of them, it seemed as if they went out of business or their middle man did. Delta Rain’s prices seem to be pretty reasonable & they were prompt in their reply. A lot of company’s seem to respond in Africa time, which is slower than a Mexico minute, and sometimes they just don’t reply at all. But first breakfast, we headed into the dining portion of our hotel. The lady took our order of eggs and bacon (which also came with beans & tomatoes). We were able to take our time eating because he had plenty of time until we were to be picked up. However, our driver ended up arriving a bit early, so we did our best to get ready a few minutes prior. Our driver gave us a run down of the plan before Brad & I loaded up into the back of the massive 4×4 vehicle before we headed out toward the delta.ipad update 1433.jpg

The road was incredibly rough and bumpy, and many parts were flooded. Even our driver struggled a couple times getting us through, but he did. We passed by marsh lands that seemed to be a hang out for some local donkeys, small farm lands, and through a village. Once we were unloaded we waited a little bit before our driver introduced us to iphone update 1168our mokoro guide. I cannot tell you what his name was, I couldn’t pronounce it there, and I can’t even remember it here from home, but I remember his smile. Our guide loaded up his mokoro with our massive cooler of lunch food, and our chairs for sitting in. Once we were ready to go, he instructed me to sit in the middle and Brad to sit in the front. I was incredibly jealous because part of my beautiful view included Brad’s head… Once we were both seated our guide pulled the boat back into the deeper water and began to push us along with the pole. We were off.

ipad update 1453.jpgThe delta was stunning! The grasses that emerged from the water were close to 2 feet tall, and the thousands of waterlilies were scattered throughout the water. We were pushed through clearings where motor boats would pass through, or our guide would take us down incredibly narrow paths which meant you would occasionally get smacked in the face with the reeds.

After about an hour or so of floating, we were beached. Our guide led us under a large tree where a clearing had been made by previous visitors. Here, we dropped our belongings & took a minute to cool off before heading out on foot.

I was completely unaware that we would be trekking through the wilderness on foot, and was unprepared. I was in flipflops, and some of the grasses were up to my waste. We stayed on the trampled paths, and wove through the grasslands as a small herd of three. Occasionally, ipad update 4913I feel the sharp grass roughly scrape my shins and the tops of my feet, but I kept going with an enthusiastic spirit in hopes of seeing something grand.

In the distance our guide pointed out zebra, wildebeest, and antelope that had been grazing. We watched them as they watched us, unsure of whether or not they should move on. We kept searching for larger animals like elephants or giraffes, but none could be seen in the heat of the day. We saw a crane in the far off distance & a beautiful bee-eater, but nothing else. We had been walking for near a half hour, and there was no cloud cover or breeze to break the searing sun from our skin. We decided to turn back at the lack of wildlife to be seen.

iphone update 1169When we returned to the tree, we set up our lunch. There were chicken legs (I opted out, in fear of food poisoning), pasta salad, rolls, and a bean mix concoction. Everything tasted so good, and cold food and water were a refreshing option in the shade.

Eventually, other groups began to show up. We started speaking with a Dutch couple who had been driving from Victoria Falls. (They had our same route, just about, but were just going the opposite direction.) We had a good chat about our experiences, and they had warned of what was to come. They told us that the road up to Victoria Falls was in bad shape. They told us that the potholes were terrible, and that there was awful flooding for close to two kilometers at one point. They told us that we would probably need a snorkel to get through. This news made us a little uncertain of our future because our vehicle did not have a snorkel! Aside from that, It was nice to have a little bit of a social visit.

iphone update 1170With our lunch finished, and conversation beginning to dwindle, we decided we were ready to head back. We asked our guide to take us back a little bit early. What caught us off guard was how brutal the ride back would be. It seemed as if there were no clouds left in the sky, not a single breeze left to grace us with its presence. The sun was beating down on us, and it was almost unbearable. Brad was wearing his jacket at this point in an attempt to keep his fair freckled skin from burning, and I was using mine to keep the sun off my legs. I felt as if I couldn’t win. I had to pull my jacket on. It almost felt as though my skin were going to begin melting off my bones.  At one point we had to stop so that our guide could rinse off his face in the cold delta water. About halfway along our journey back, our guide pulled us up into a clearing and pointed out the small cluster of hippos at the other end. It felt bold to be coming up behind the hippos, and you never know if one may come up behind you and capsize your boat. I prefer a death that excludes hippos…

iphone update 1178When we got back to the main shore, we were glad to see our driver waiting for us. He was early. He was willing to snap a cute picture of Brad and I together before we all loaded up into the vehicle to head back.  The journey back was once again rough, but this time I was very sunburned & doing all that I could to stay away from the sun, which included moving into the middle seat. I, also, had a full bladder & could not wait to get back to the room.

That evening, before heading out for dinner, we made it a point to wash away the filth that had set in our our boat ride and wash a few more clothes before our departure the next day as it began to pour rain (thankfully, it came after our mokoro ride, but a light rain would have been enjoyed on the boat). While I showered, Brad took the car up the street to fill the back tire back up with air because we didn’t want it to get any lower over night since we had an activity planned the next morning.

Dinner ended up being a big cheesy pizza from Debonair’s Pizza. This was the same place we had eaten at in Kruger the year prior, but this time it was one thousand times better. NOTE: Maybe it was just because we were craving pizza, or maybe it’s because quality control isn’t as big of a deal in Africa as it is in the states.  The other thing I have to say about Debonair’s in Maun is that the service was impeccable. The gentleman there that acted as our server was great. He was incredibly friendly, and on top of his game. I was really impressed. He was better than a lot of American servers, and I’m sure he will make it far with Debonair’s if he stays with the company.

After dinner, we ran over to the super market next door to grab a sweet treat. The debate was more oreos or to mix it up. We mixed it up. We each got ourselves and ice cream bar… and Brad chose better. Do I remember what I got? Not particularly (an ice cream version of an American candy bar… not a Snickers, otherwise there’d be no regrets), but I remember that Brad’s was better.

We wandered to the car and drove back to the hotel. We were in for the night. I finalized some things for my sister-trip to Spain, and then we ended up watching a movie again, and began to get organized for our early departure the next morning.

Day 11:

We were up with the sun again. We made sure our bags were completely packed up & that was nothing was left behind before loading up the car & heading to grab some breakfast. We ordered the same as the day before, but today it seemed harder to eat, especially for Brad who was having some minor stomach issues. Our appetites just were not their usual selves. Being as it was, we dropped our key at the front desk and drove towards Maun International Airport for our helicopter ride with Helicopter Horizons. We were meeting at 8:00 AM, and had a take off time arranged for 8:30 AM for a 45 minute ride.

iphone update 1186When we arrived at the office, we were given our tickets to get us through airport security, and made our payment. We were then instructed to head to the airport, and pass through security.  So we did just that. We showed the man at the screening area our tickets and our passports. From there, another man met with us and put us in the back of his sedan along with one of our pilots. It was a short drive over to the landing pad. There, we then met our other pilot. We watched as the two arranged the helicopter for our door-less excursion, and admired the surrounding areas. We were then briefed on safety precautions and instructed on how the head sets worked. It was easy.  With in minutes, we were strapped in and ready for our very first helicopter ride, which happened to be over the Okavango Delta.

ipad update 1577With clearance from traffic control (which you could hear taking place through the headphones), we began our ascent into the moist Botswana air in search of the swampy delta & all that reside there. We passed over the township, and the fence (which is intended to help reduce the issues had with foot and mouth disease), and after about five minutes or so, you could begin to see the tall grasses and vast openness. Within minutes we began to spot the giraffe and zebra and antelope. …and after a few more minutes, the elephants began to reveal themselves. We were finally seeing elephants!!! It was what we had been waiting for. Not too far below we could see herds of elephants scattered within the trees, and giraffes eating, and antelope leaving a dark trail in the grass-filled waters. It was beautiful.

In that moment, I was jealous of God’s view. I wish I could always see the world that way.  It makes me wonder how it feels to take in the views from Mount Kilimanjaro or Mount Nyirangongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m sure it’s far more satisfying the beautiful view I can have here at home from the McDowell mountains which over look the valley of the northeast Sonoran Desert.

The flight went quick, and I was sad for it to end, but it was an incredible start to our day. We had a long one ahead of us. On our way back to the car, we stopped into the gift shop, but found nothing for us. Instead, we headed to the gas station. We had an 8 hour drive ahead of us, and needed to make sure we were prepared. We got gas & Brad had confirmed that our tire was still good from the fill the day before.

ipad update 1706It was on: an eight hour drive first to the east and then North & into Zimbabwe for our final stop at Victoria Falls.  The drive was interesting.  A little ways outside of Maun we experience another road stop (we experienced several on this trip, many that haven’t been mentioned), but this one was slightly more intense. For some reason, they had us get out of the car while they asked us what we had in it. All we had was luggage, and that’s what we said; they didn’t even inspect our vehicle. They were looking for any type of animals or foods they may have been of any cause for concern. Naturally, we don’t just pick up stray steenbok, and tote them around in our vehicle. So we were told we could go. NOTE: They had several veterinary check-points through our road trip where they could check livestock for traces of diseases. We were often stopped at these, and then quickly waved through, usually after verifying Brad’s drivers license.

ipad update 5096Road conditions were pretty much the same, many potholes & many donkeys…  For a while, we had a “spotter”, as Brad calls them. A driver in front of who has to dodge the potholes first. This, in my opinion, also made things a little more interesting and entertaining.  Eventually things began to improve as we neared Motopi, and headed into Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. This is where we had our first free-roaming elephant sightings. We were able to get a few pictures of big beauty playing shy behind a tree.

Once we were out of the National Park, the road began to be flooded. (If it wasn’t one thing in Botswana, it was another.) When the Dutch people had told us of flooded roads, they made them seem impassible, and like there was only one spot. However, there were several spots that we passed through where water was flying up and away from the car as wheels went crashing through. My immediate assumption was that the flooding had probably subsided & that we wouldn’t have to worry about any impassible flooding. iphone update 1209I thought we would be fine since the other couple had driven through a couple days prior… What I didn’t realize was that the worst was still ahead. Finally, we reached the extremely flooded area. We were hesitant. There was a medical vehicle ahead of us that seemed to sit a little lower and, also, did not have a snorkel. The driver fearlessly charged into the water at a mellow speed. Our only option was to follow with no one behind us. The water was probably a little over knee-deep (granted I’m 5’6″) and did probably go on for at least a mile. Brad did his best to stay just behind the vehicle in attempt to avoid his wake. The water was lower this way, and the last thing we wanted was to flood the engine.

It was a stressful time in the drive. I took video and pictures, and did my best to encourage Brad and remind him to stay close enough the car ahead so that the water stayed low. Eventually, we all made it through. …and I had to laugh as we reached the end where many vehicles sat debating or waiting to tow out other bold drivers. We did it.

After that the drive became a breeze. We stopped in Nata for fuel & hoped for snacks but we decided to opt out because it didn’t seem like they had great options, and instead just took advantage of a bathroom break.  As we headed further north we went through a few national parks, and from there we began to see more of the free roaming elephants. We had one large bull try to intimidate us into fleeing by throwing his head up and down while simultaneously flapping his large ears in unison. He was magnificent: a beautiful reminder of the intelligence and majestic nature of the largest earth-roaming mammal.

ipad update 5324During our drive, we got hit with a few rain storms, some heavier than others. We also stopped at the gas station in Pandamatenga for snacks, which was really just water & a KitKat because we were trying to use our Botswana Pula (the currency).  As we drove further north we passed through beautiful fields of flowers full of large birds. Brad won’t admit to it, but I think he refused to stop for photos… I think he was burnt out on being in the car.

ipad update 5307Eventually we made our way into Kasane, the Northern city of Botswana. From here, we headed to the Customs office to fill out paperwork and get our passports stamped so that we could leave the country. Little did we know about the “fun” that was about to unfold once we crossed the border.

It was Bye, Bye Botswana. Hello, chaos.

…to be continued.