Our entry into the park took longer than we anticipated. It was a bit of mayhem. There were different desks to file the paper work and then pay, and lines are not something they use there… It’s more of a mob mentality where you have to push your way through. The last time we had experienced this was at the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe the year before. I didn’t expect this as much in the tourist regions of Tanzania, but I suppose it’s because primarily only Tanzanians were frequenting the “lines”.
Once, we had everything squared away, we passed through the final checkpoint with our car where they verified our documents and then dropped the chain barrier so that we could officially enter the park. We still had quite a ways to our next hotel, which as you know, was an impromptu booking. On the drive in, we were ecstatic to see a hyena bathing in a big muddy puddle right on the side of the road. We were able to stop right next him, and as he got up and began to walk away we were able to move forward side by side. Even though, I have encountered hyenas in person (fed one by hand even!), and just seen them earlier that day in Ngorongoro, I had never been this close to one in the wild. I was electrified.
As we passed through the park “center” we saw a petrol station, and figured it would be a good idea to top off the tank since the park was so vast, and we didn’t want anything stopping us from exploring in the coming days. As it turned out, the petrol station in Serengeti National Park was the only gas station we had found in Tanzania that took credit card. haha. Brad was in utter disbelief, and it allowed us a good laugh.
Once we found our lodge, checked in, unpacked & got settled, we decided to head back out for a little while. The one thing we quickly learned about was the dreadful tsetse fly. They loved our big white SUV. Flocked to it, really. There we were in the African savannah constantly swarmed with massive gnarly flies. ..but it didn’t slow us down. …and it definitely did not stop me from hanging out the sunroof despite their aggressive bites, that had Brad cursing and swearing constantly as they snuck into the car.
That night, we were under strict instruction not to wander off on our own on the hotel grounds. We were to be escorted to our room after dark because of the wildlife. While dinner was good, but not exciting we didn’t linger too long. Instead we headed back to our room to get some rest which was aggressively interrupted in the middle of the night when we were awaken by a ghastly intense screeching roar. I had a feeling what we had heard was a leopard, and it was right outside our room. …no wonder they had the rule. I was accustomed to hearing buffalo or antelope or night, but I was not prepared for that bone trembling sound that I experienced. You know, the kind that even though you just turned 30 (literally, that was the early hours of my birthday) makes you want to hide under the covers and wonder if it could break through the tiny window by the door because it can smell you and your snacks!
That new day was my birthday, but not just any birthday, my 30th! …and I was ready to get the show on the road. I was eager for lions, cheetahs, leopards, anything and everything I could see, but especially the big cats I had never seen before in the wild. So, we loaded our gear back into the car & headed out once again.
With our sightings few and far between, mostly just giraffe, warthogs, baboons, etc… You know, the basics. We decided to call it a day since Brad’s stomach was starting to act up. We raced to get to our hotel in order to beat an incoming rain storm. We were navigating a very rough, and overgrown road, and at this point, the humidity and the bush areas of the park were giving us the royal tsetse treatment. It was the most we had seen, and even our hotel host couldn’t believe the amount of flies that we had brought with us.
As the rain began coming down, we hunkered down in the lobby. Our host told us that on occasion they have a visiting leopard that likes to come into the open air space and take up comfort on the sofa along the wall. I was hoping it was something I could bear witness to, but I did not have the opportunity, unfortunately. Wouldn’t that have been something??? To just wander into to lobby one day, and see a leopard ‘posted up like it ain’t no thang’. I don’t even know what I would do in that situation, but if I had to guess I would say that I’d probably just start talking to it! haha.
When we got to the room, it was clear that Brad was done for the day. He was feeling pretty crappy. He decided to soak in the tub, so I went and walked the grounds hoping to see wildlife. I got nothing, not even a monkey. It just wasn’t my day, which was very disappointing since it was my birthday, after all. My husband was sick, and I had no critter sightings. Romance & adventure were definitely out the window! When I got back to the room, Brad was in bed. I talked to our hotel host, who was kind enough to bring us some tea, ginger ale, and crackers. Their service was top notch which was great since the room cost us nearly 1000 USD a night. …but if you could see our view from our balcony, and feel the beds… It was worth every penny, and definitely the only place where Brad could be sick and comfortable at the same time! The massive tree house-esque tent was pretty luxurious considering we were in the bush!
We had a gorgeous view at dinner again overlooking the Serengeti. We sat on the patio and enjoyed a wonderful meal, until it started to drizzle again. They were kind enough to move us under cover to finish dining. Again, we were waited on hand and foot, and shortly after dinner they surprised me with a birthday cake and song! It was truly special to be treated in such a way in one of the most incredible places I have been. Despite the disturbances in our day with the tsetse flies and Brad’s intestinal troubles, the views and first class treatment were definitely easing my woes!
We finished off a movie before bed that night, and the following morning were packed up again before breakfast. It was a bright new day for wandering the savannah, as well as, Brad’s stomach. We found our way back through the high grasses that covered the rough muddy road, and were headed toward the next hotel which was the opposite direction. We spent the bulk of the day just driving around in hopes of something spotting magnificent.
With the luck we were having, I wasn’t expecting to see much more for the rest of the trip, but I tried to stay positive. We kept trying different roads, and watched where the other vehicles were headed, and sure enough we got lucky a couple hours later. In a new area we stumbled on a long line of cars overlooking a log with 3 lions lounging the day away. They had no interest in the tourists or their snapping cameras; just the cool breeze brushing through their fur and warm sun. It was perfect basking weather for a cat. After a little while, we moved along to let some other people in.
As we continued our journey on the opposite side of the main road, about 30 minutes later we were just doing our thing when we were caught completely off guard by a LEOPARD carefully settled in the middle of the road drinking out of a puddle. He blended so well with the color of the dusty road and the shadowy shades of gold and green behind behind him that we barely even saw him at first. It all happened so quick that at first I couldn’t tell if it was a leopard or a cheetah. Within a couple seconds of us spotting him and him spotting us he was on the move. He played coy for a bit hiding behind the grasses before crossing the street right in front of us and heading for cover in the overgrown pasture. While I stumbled to get my camera and focus in on the leopard I was in complete shock that we had just miraculously encountered this shockingly beautiful creature, whose movements were paced with poise. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that I was just gushing over this animal as we went our separate ways. As I lost sight of the tips of his blackened backs of his ears, it was as if he was waving goodbye with the tip of his tail.
Brad & I continued to traverse around that same area in hopes of seeing other big cats, but no luck was had. There were plenty of buffalo and birds, but then our luck continued to change. As we headed back to the main road, we noticed a group of cars huddled near a tree…. We new that meant only one thing: a sighting! We headed that direction with steep anticipations, and thankfully were towards the front of the pack with an excellent line of sight of a pride of lions, mostly cubs and a couple older females hanging out in a tree. Yes, your read that right. These massive kitties were in a ginormous tree. We were probably there for 20-30 minutes, but because of the nature of this sighting we ended up getting trapped in a massive mob of safari vehicles. Thankfully, because of our excellent position, we were not bothered to be stuck. I was having the best time photographing the sweet youngsters as they rested in the tree, and then one by one followed their mother across the dirt road to a new tree. This was probably one of my favorite and most special safari memories.
It was a good day for cat sightings, and we had our full day of adventure, but with the evening start to creep up, we decided to try to find our next hotel. It proved to be a massive challenge. Probably, the biggest of our trip. We attempted to follow the GPS, but it was of no use. We ended up heading down dirt paths in the completely wrong direction, so we tried a different route, but no luck. At one point, we headed to the Visitors Center to get help, however they were of no help. While they had sent us in the correct general direction, there was no possible way that we could have found the place alone. At this point, tempers were starting to flare as we had no idea what to do. We had passed another tented camp that I thought could have been it but there was no signage, it seemed to be in the wrong spot, and we couldn’t figure out how to get to it (because of roads). Thankfully, at this point after hours of trying to find our way, we met a safari guide on the road who was able to help us. In fact, he was headed to our exact same tented camp with other guests! It was an honest to God miracle! In that moment the Lord was looking out because there was no way we could have found this place on our own. We thought we were pretty far out, but it turned out that we had to go even farther!
We were in the middle of nowhere now & our hosts were telling us about how they had been having lions in the camp hunting… which we never saw, of course. It is safe to say, the tented camp was the least luxurious place we stayed while in Tanzania. It was just us in a giant hot tent with small dim bathroom amenities, but we still had an overwhelming thirst for adventure to compensate. Our dinner was incredible, but followed by a rough night of sleep. The winds were so aggressive as they whipped against our tent that I thought it might start to pull up from the ground or the roof might blow clean off. It was mind boggling!
We had a really early breakfast the next day, and our camp hosts were kind enough to pack us to-go lunches for the road. We spent the day mostly exploring the area closest to us. I loved seeing the large rocky outcroppings where I hoped to see a pride of lions chilling, or cheetahs resting…. but during the first half of the day, we only got one big loner male lion sleeping on top of a stone heap… Just his head was hanging down a bit, as the flies buzzed around his large snout.
Later on in the earlier hours of the afternoon, we were roaming solo on what felt like the southern most parts of the Serengeti. There was no one around. It was quiet and the sun was beating down on us through the windows, but we just kept driving hoping for a sighting while fighting the urge to give up. When we finally saw another vehicle we pulled up behind it, and noticed they were watching something in the far distance barely even noticeable to the naked eye. It was two female lions stalking a family of warthogs. The lions would come up and down from the tops of the waving grass whilst keeping a watchful eye, waiting for the pigs to unsuspectingly inch closer and closer. However, as far as I know things didn’t work out for the lions. Despite their patience and talent for ducking low, the warthogs headed farther away. We were disappointed not to see a mad dash for a meal, but I was, also, relieved for the pig family knowing they probably got another day to stick together. We ended up leaving with the suspicion that the lions were not going to be having warthog for dinner, and felt our time may be best spent elsewhere.
It was crazy how one day we had incredible success, and the next we saw hardly anything. It was hard to stay enthusiastic when all you wanted was to see more leopards, and even a cheetah for the first time. That’s what is crazy about doing a self-drive. It can really be an all or nothing gig. It’s all left to chance!
As Brad was ready to turn back & head to camp for the rest of the afternoon, I wanted to push on a little further as it was still early in the day with nothing waiting for us at camp; and thank God we didn’t! Lady luck was shining down on us after all! As we drove down the windy and very bumpy quiet road with no one even miles near, we stumbled upon a cheetah. One gorgeous cheetah who didn’t really want to give us the time of day, but also was in no rush to get away from us. We stalked her from a safe distance, hoping to respect her boundaries as she sauntered away, but all I wanted to do was leap from the car and walk along side her through the giant field while I stroked her back with admiration.
Feeling lucky again, we pressed on more, but nothing more came to be seen. At one point we lost track of the road, so we decided to stop so that we could figure out where we were at. I climbed on top of the car to get a higher vantage point, but I couldn’t see anything. We had no choice but to do a little mild off-roading. NOTE: Both getting out of your car & going off road are big No No’s in the Serengeti. You can get a big fine like Kristen Bell & Dax Shephard (complete with music video).
Once we found the road again just a short jaunt away, we knew it was time to head back. I was ready to be out of the car since it had been another long day on the road, and I was psyched to clean myself up and have a hot meal again. That night was, also, a rough night of sleep. I didn’t think it could be any noisier than it was the night before, but I was dead wrong. It was so loud, I was actually slightly concerned for our safety.
The next morning we were up early as usual, enjoyed breakfast, packed up our bags, and began making our way out of the Serengeti. The sun had barely risen, but we noticed a little tan head just above the grasses watching some warthogs in the distance. We sat and watched the patient girl for a few minutes, but then passed on figuring that this could go on for hours.
I was sad to leave the Serengeti, but was, also, kind of eager to head home since this trip had very much so had its challenges. That morning began our long journey back toward Arusha. We cruised around some of areas near the main road and actually had some fabulous encounters with elephants, impala, and even a chameleon crossing the street before we officially said goodbye and topped off our fuel.
…to be continued.
Here are some of our other photos from the Serengeti:
Despite the extensive driving, once again, we made good time. We stopped for cash near the turn off for Gibb’s Farm, and then proceeded to the long dirt drive. We followed the signs and were pleasantly surprised by the tailored gardens of the hotel entry when we pulled up. We were greeted with cool towels and iced beverages, and our bags were carried off to our gorgeous suite by the staff.
We were in disbelief over our suite. It was complete with a private garden view, a sitting room, and a fire place in our bedroom that connected to the shower. Yes, the shower had a fireplace. It was extraordinary, and it was our for less than 24 hours.
We were desperate to get out to the hotel terrace that overlooked the plantation and the valley below. We sat in large comfy chairs while we were brought refreshments and snacks: nuts, olives, and popcorn. It was the first time we felt we could really relax, and it didn’t hurt that we were being waited on hand and foot. The temperature dropped with the sun, and while I could have fallen asleep there, I, also, was eager to get to dinner.
We ended up on a private patio for our meal, something Brad had arrange while we briefly separated earlier. We enjoyed an incredible 5 star meal next to a fire on a cool night in Tanzania. …and to top it off, I was serenaded with a birthday song and dessert. We still had a few nights to go, but this was so special.
After an amazing night’s sleep in a chilly room, thanks to the air conditioning, we learned that we could check out late. We spent the morning grazing on the breakfast buffet, and after packing we wandered the grounds. We walked through rows of coffee bushes and found a small but tall cactus garden. Everything seemed just as it should.
Relaxed, we decided not to head into Ngorongoro. It would cost us over $350 USD per day to visit the park, and we didn’t want to keep blowing through money. Instead, we decided to just take our time and continue enjoying our day. However, it ended up being a short lived joy.
We had a hard time finding our next hotel. According to the maps that I had seen and the descriptions I had read, I was under the impression that our next hotel was within the confines of Ngorongoro National Park. However, the people at the gate, had no idea what hotel we were talking about. Everyone was confused, and Brad & I were back to being frustrated. When we figured out where we were going, we got back in the car, and headed a different direction. It took nearly 15 minutes to get to the turn off point toward our hotel, and from there it was probably another 20+ minutes on a rough and narrow dirt road up the mountainside. When we got there I was livid while feeling completely deceived. We found out that we were the only guests staying there, and no other guests had been there in 10 days, which meant that internet was not available. If we wanted internet we had to drive back down to town.
I was floored and ready to have a meltdown. I could not believe that we had hit another speed bump in what had already been a turbulent and trying vacation. It was hot, there was absolutely nothing for us to do at our hotel, and we were literally in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere near where I had planned on us being. So, we drove 30ish minutes back into town to find a place that had internet. We stopped at a small coffee shop run by a very nice man who served us coffee and sprite (the sprite was for me). Once he got the internet working for us, we started looking for hotel options, justifying the change and additional hotel cost with what we had planned on spending on Ngorongoro for two days anyways. We were incredibly limited, but I worked fervently to rework our itinerary. We decided to only stay at our current hotel one night. We decided that tomorrow we would do Ngorongoro for a half day, then drive immediately to the Serengeti and spend the night there. We knew it would take a lot of hustle, but we knew it would be better than staying where we were at.
With a plan in motion, and absolutely nothing left for us to do that day, we headed back to our lodge, and just tried to kill time with conversation and antics. The only saving grace that this lodge had was its dinner. It was absolutely delicious, but it wasn’t enough to change our minds. We headed back to our room, packed everything back up, and made sure our hotel knew that we would be leaving before the sun was even up. We were eager to get into Ngorongoro, and wanted to be in by sunrise.
Checked out after breakfast at an unGodly hour, we headed down the bumpy dirt road in the dark, and headed for the park. It took us a while to get the park permit because of all the other tour groups, but thankfully we were able to pay the hefty fees of over $350 with our card. NOTE: Ngorongoro NP claims you can only enter with a guide. We found this rule to be very lenient. Not only did we get in on our own, but we weren’t even questions until we reached the second gate at the edge of the crater.
We drove up the climbing mountain side into the fog over rough red roads lined with lush jungle trees. I was in heaven. We reached a look out point that gave a glimpse into our future. A green gleaming paradise, and I couldn’t wait any longer. We ran back to the car, and cruised. We reached the second gate at the edge of the crater. Brad jumped out to use the restroom, and I dealt with the guard, whose only question for me was if we had been there before or not, after showing our permits.
Once we had the all clear, we began our descent. The sun was up at this point, but fresh morning light was warm. We escaped the tree line, and were greeted with almost immediate sights of buffalo and zebra. Our eagerness grew as we continued down the road.
It wasn’t long before we were in the flatlands. We had a full 360 view of the massive crater. Animals, appearing as small dots, were everywhere. It was a half day of bliss. We had great sightings as we drove almost the entire span of the crater in many different directions. We saw, hyenas chewing on bones and resting. Jackals. Gazelle. Cranes. Wildebeest. Zebra. Baby animals. Monkeys. Elephants. Lions. Lots of lions. I could not believe how many lion sightings we had We were ecstatic. We had close ups of lions. Lions nuzzling. Lions walking. Lions napping. It was fantastic.
We felt that we had covered the grounds well, and figured we should start our drive, so we found the road that led us out, and we left with slightly heavy hearts. We couldn’t believe how amazing the crater was, but with such unbelievable success here we were curious how the Serengeti would be.
The drive between Ngorongoro & Serengeti, was truly spectacular. The land was littered with migrating Zebra & Wildebeest, and the hills along the outer edge of the crater were visited by loitering Giraffes, and we even a camel sighting.
It took nearly two hours to reach the Serengeti National Park gates, and we were so excited to get to the other side.
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?
We 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. I 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. When 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.
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.
We 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.
Within 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.
Tarangire 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.
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.
After our grueling journey from Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which include nearly 4 hours of layover time in the Nairobi Airport, just enough time for a nap and meal, we were in Tanzania, outside of Arusha. We hit the ATM at the airport to get all the cash we could, because despite setting money aside for the car from day 1, we had to pay $250 USD cash to Tanzania’s immigration department for our Visas. NOTE: when we visited Zanzibar in 2016, we were able to pay with card, but since then their payment terms have changed. With this unexpected issue, we had to visit the airport ATM to get more cash, however it was still not enough for our rental car. When we met up with our car provider, for our rented 4×4 Land Cruiser for this leg of the adventure, we had to strike a deal with him to pay with credit card when we returned the car because even with the ATM withdrawl we did not have enough cash for him and what lie ahead. Thankfully, he was flexible on this issue.
It wasn’t long before Brad was behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car & the opposite side of the road, cruising. We were warned by the owner of our vehicle to not exceed the speed limit because of photo radar (aka a man hiding in the bushes of Tanzania with a radar gun). Well, somehow, despite not speeding, we were pulled over on the side of the road by a Tanzanian officer dressed in all white. He claimed that they had a picture of Brad (it was on the officers cell phone) & that he was exceeding the speed limit. Brad had a choice.. fight it and possibly be taken in and have to fight it in court, or be quiet, pissed, and pay up $15 USD. Well, Brad paid the man… and got his very first speeding ticket… haha. (don’t worry I have a copy)
Anyways, we continued on to Moshi. We stopped in the small town in hope of picking up some snacks, and we did find a small convenience store but the options were very limited, but we were able to get a large pack of water and KitKats. From there, we continued onto our hotel at Lake Chala. On our way down the incredibly rough dirt road, we had to stop at the Wildlife Management Area office to register. Not just register, but pay a fee. My weaselly and stingy husband (who works in the Congo, mind you), who knew about this ahead of time because of my research, was trying to get out of it. He tried every way he could claiming that hotel covered it, the hotel said it was covered, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there so aggravated and slightly taken aback at how far Brad was willing to go to try and get out of giving the Tanzanian government any of our Tanzanian shillings …which they didn’t even want. (They wanted US Dollars.) NOTE: Do I blame Brad for wanting to get out of it, absolutely not. African governments can be astoundingly shifty. …but I was exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to rest. I WANTED TO GO. Finally, Brad had no choice but to surrender more of his hard earned shillings to the man.
With Brad feeling even more irritated and ready to lose it, we got our paperwork, continued on our way & finally arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We were the only guests staying there (now I know why). The place was very clean, and the view over Lake Chala was stunning, but this was easily one of the most poorly run hotels we have ever stayed at (we’ll get more into that later). Before showers & dinner, we decided to take the hike down to the lake since we were already covered in travel grime. It was a bit slippery from the recent rain, but it was a beautiful short jungle trek with gorgeous views over the turquoise water below. We spent a short while on the dock overlooking the deep jewel toned waters & watching the locals a little ways down the water’s edge making a fire.
We headed back to our tent which had a deck that overlooked the lush plains below. We stood there for a little while hoping to spot some wildlife, but there was little to see.
After washing hours of travel grime off of ourselves and changing into clean clothes, we headed over to the “lounge” for dinner. It was basic, not just basic, but dry… It was not the first meal I was hoping for in Tanzania which was a bummer since food in Africa is typically always mind blowingly delicious, and something I always miss. Not only was our meal not great, but the staff was telling us how horrible their boss was which made our meal a little uncomfortable. We were the only ones there for dinner and it began to rain as we ate. We made a game of counting the geckos that had joined us. Itwas their turn to feast. They shut the area down early, before the daylight was even 100% gone because we were the only guests and the rain. We headed back for a quiet nights sleep. It seemed there was no big game in the area, and not even the baboons kept us up.
The next morning we had our bags packed early, and grabbed our breakfast. Then we headed to the main house to pay for our stay. Well, what we found out when we got there was shocking. They didn’t accept credit cards, only accepted cash. We were trying to find ways around this but there was nothing to be done. They had no way to process a credit card, The internet didn’t even work, so wiring funds at that moment proved impossible. We weren’t willing to hand over cash because it was going to take up the vast majority of it, and holding onto cash in this country was already proving to be more challenging than anticipated. So, after probably an hour of dealing with their mess which included bad communication from the time of booking, and Brad trying to help get their internet up and running, we left with an agreement to wire money when we returned to the states.
Once we were back in the car, we headed back through the Wildlife Management gate, and went on towards our next adventure. We stopped back in Moshi for lunch and cash, and were going out of our way to avoid the police. We found the bank, but getting money there was a hassle. Our car had to be inspected, we had to park a certain way, and getting cash naturally was a challenge.
Needing a break, we stopped at the Coffee Union Cafe for lunch to hold us over until we got to our next hotel. The food was decent, and it was nice to have a quick meal that met our expectations, as well as a break from the Tanzanian roads where it felt like anything goes in terms of being pulled over. NOTE: …I got pulled over while driving so that the could inspect the vehicle, and verify our credentials… crazy
We had to face the roads again at some point, and once we were far from the city and reached our off road point we finally felt like we could breathe again. We were in Maasai territory, and I was in heaven. We were headed to the Maasai Lodge, a 5 star heaven in the middle of nowhere. I have nothing but praise for this hotel. For starters, the drive in was a blast! There was so much to take in… Villagers, rock scapes, livestock… I was in my African heaven. When we got there, we were greeted wit dance and song which was enchanting. They got our bags to our room for us, gave us a run down of the place and showed us to our incredible mud hut.
It wasn’t long before we were back outside with a couple of other women who were recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro. They were a riot, and in Maasai costume, and we had a great time talking to them while we all learned about Maasai culture and got to learn spear throwing and experience the Maasai dance and song for hunting (it gives me butterflies). We were all like a bunch of little kids with huge smiles on our face as we raced the rains to the main house. We had to outrun the downpour. It was so fun. A little while later was dinner. ..and it was exceptional. We were fed a wonderful 3 course meal of soup, meat and veggies, and dessert. The perfect African meal and completely worthy of the 5 stars the hotel bares.
We were so lucky because the next day they let us check out at 3PM because they didn’t have anyone coming in after us. We made the most of it. We had breakfast, did a walk through the plains with Jeremiah, our Maasai guide, took in the views and rested. Then after lunch we decided to get out of their hair, but I was definitely sad to go. We were suppose to visit Arusha National Park that day, but because of the number of days we had coming up in National Parks, we opted to take it easy. NOTE: A big part of this decision was also the cost. The planned cost between park fees & conservation area fees was in the thousands, and we thought it would be wise to reduce this a bit, since we just wanted to relax anyways. Our drive back was just as exciting, we had to cross the shallow ponds created by the rains, and wait for herds of cattle to move. We met some of the local kids, and chased by others. We watched a storm move through, and embraced it.
When we got back to Arusha, we went straight to our hotel, Mount Meru Game Lodge. So while the rooms and bathrooms were just alright, the location was AMAZING! The outside was like a giant garden. With towering trees that monkeys going from end of the property to the other in a flash, towering cactus, and water buffalo. Yes, buffalo…. They were on the other side of a low wall, but you could get within feet of these giant beauties. There were also several species of birds. It was awesome! This hotel was far more exciting that I anticipated when booking. Despite the constant light rain & the mob of mosquitos, I couldn’t not keep myself inside. I wanted to be with the animals. Naturally, I was speaking to them constantly.
Eventually, though, I had to give into the idea of dinner, so I ordered a nice piece of Chicken Schnitzel with chips (French fries) which was a funny change of African eating. With bellies full, after the long, but restful day, we decided to retire to our room to prepare for day 4.
After a decent night’s sleep at the game lodge in Arusha we packed up our bags, again, and grabbed breakfast. We hung out a little bit longer so that I could get some additional pictures of the resident animals & then we checked out to head to our next stop…. We stopped and loaded up on snacks and water again for our next drive. It was about 3 hours to the Tarangire area, but we were ready. We are road trip champions after all.
With 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.
We 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.
With 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).
With 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.
We 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.
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.
We 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.
We 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. 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.
We 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.
With 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.
First, 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. We 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 back 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.
When 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.
After 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.
So 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.
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.
I should forewarn you.. Zimbabwe caused us quite a bit of frustration from the start, so prepare yourself for some honesty, and to probably feel some of my inner-rage come through….
Day 11 continued:
As soon as we crossed into Zimbabwe territory (in other words the customs office), it felt like we stepped into another world. The office was a complete mess. There was no sense of order, no lines… It was a shove your way to the front & do your best to make it happen. We were looking all over the counter for forms to fill out, but we could not find them. Thankfully, a representative from Pack Clearing Company was there. He got us the forms from the service counter, and we filled them out quickly. He then directed us to one of the agents and willingly helped keep other nationals, who were trying to push their way forward, at bay. We gave them our visa credit card to pay for our entry visas. The process to run the card took forever, but it may have been because while we were waiting, a massive and thunderous rainstorm began to assault the building.
Funny enough, because running our card was taking so long, the building began to fill up with other people hoping to get through. I don’t know if we beat the crowd or caused the crowd. Finally, with both of our entry visas paid for, we could move onto the car. For some reason, that chair was empty for an extensive period of time. We stood there waiting around, until finally our rep from PCC started to take control into his own hands… (Africa…) He began to fill out the paperwork, and finally had us back on the move, so when the rep showed up, it was just a matter of payment again. Another charge on the credit card, and $50 USD cash for the PCC guy.. and we were back in the car.
When we got the gate, we were not sure who was working. No one seemed overly attentive, but that may have been because of the rain. Finally, a man came up to the car, and decided to just climb in the back seat (Africa…). He was trying to avoid the rain, as he asked for our proof that we had paid our fees and gotten or stamps. However, we didn’t have what he wanted. We showed him all that we had, and without much hesitation, he let us through.
Thankfully the rain had quit as we approached a police stop not even a quarter mile up, just along the Zambezi National Park. The officer asked us how many safety triangles we had, if we had safety vests, and walked all the way around our car. At this point, he had Brad get out of the car to show him that our car didn’t meet their requirements because we did not have two red reflective stickers on the back of the vehicle (instead we had white). He told Brad that he would have to fine us $100 USD. NOTE: The funny thing about this was that there was no paperwork, he just expected us to give him $100 USD, and be on our way. In our eyes, and realistically, he would probably just pocket the money because it was obvious that we were tourists in a South African car, and had no clue about Zimbabwe road rules, not too mention, it wasn’t our car to put stickers on. If Zimbabwe wanted to fine us, they instead need to fine the Britz. We had the money, but we were not going to give it up because we obviously needed it… We were not going to give into what could potentially be organized crime behind the badge (haha). When we told him that we didn’t have it, he tried telling us that the total fine was now $200 USD. (too funny). We told the man that we had 27 Pula (Botswanan currency) & some change from a couple other countries. We had no problem giving it to him, but the funny thing was that at this point, he turned it down. Apparently, it was all or nothing, and he sent us on our way.
Zimbabwe was off to a very rocky start. It was just flat out ridiculous.
As we drove through Zambezi National Park, we were able to see the mist from the rains move through the jungle. It was truly beautiful. As we continued to drive, the sun had set. Traffic was practically non-existent until we got closer to the city, in which case we ended up in a small traffic jam due an elephant blocking the road. We were sitting completely stopped, unsure of what was going on until he walked more into the light. No one was doing anything (because the last thing you want to do is piss off a large elephant) until Brad turned on the brights. The elephant apparently didn’t like the blinding spot light, and decided to clear off the road. Finally, we were in motion again.
When we made our way into town, the small buildings began to slowly turn into a cluster. We did our best to find our way into the hotel, but the car was moving faster than the dot on our iPhone map, but we eventually figured it out. When we reached A’Zambezi River Lodge, we were somewhat shocked to find out that they could not find our reservation, they even called their reservation department (one man) to verify, and nothing. I had obviously booked through Hotels.com (gotta get those free nights), and paid in advance for the room, but they still showed nothing. This required me to log into their wi-fi to dig through my email, and get on the website, just to get them the confirmation information. NOTE: I was frustrated because I had read in the hotels reviews that this had happened a few times before with other guests, and I didn’t think it would happen to me, but that’s probably why it did. When it was all worked out, they put us in a room, but what we realized is that they put us in a garden view room, when we had paid for a river view room.
We figured we would deal with specifics in the morning because we were already frustrated and mentally exhausted. We decided to go grab dinner. We got the menu, and only had a few options to order from because they were out of several ingredients. So, I got the schnitzel and Brad got fried crocodile tail, which is like eating chewy chicken. Dinner was mediocre, and we were wiped out. It was the type of exhaustion that you can see taking over in the eyes, so we just headed to bed.
We had our bags packed and ready to be moved. While, I finished getting ready, Brad went to the front desk to have things sorted out. When he got back, he told me that they wouldn’t have any rooms available until that afternoon because they had to wait to check someone out. They were also unwilling to issue us any credits for the price difference between the two rooms or apparently comp meals, even though they screwed up.
With that slightly out of the way, we headed to The Lookout Cafe. A beautiful cafe/activity venue that overlooks the gorge of the Zambezi River. From here, you can also see the Victoria Falls Bridge, and the mist rising up from the crashing water. It’s absolutely beautiful. We were here for breakfast, and we both ordered a poach egg dish that has had me craving poached eggs ever since! We wanted to sit along the railing, but it was a cool and windy morning so we moved further in behind the partition. We watched the other tourist as they cheered on their friends who were more daring than they, as they jumped off ledges and slid across cables. The Lookout Cafe was the place that makes you want to retire in Victoria Falls.
We had decided that we wanted to head to Zambia, so we ran back to the hotel to grab all the things we thought we may need, and then headed to the border. It was much more orderly there than it had been at our initial crossing into Zimbabwe, but it wasn’t until after the man had stamped our passports that he told us that we would be paying multiple fees to get the car in and out of both Zambia & Zimbabwe and that we would have to get a new entry visa every time (this was not what we were told at the hotel, shocker!).
This felt like a devastating defeat. A true blow. We were frustrated beyond measure, and didn’t know what to do since we didn’t want to spend a couple hundred dollars just to spend the first part of our day in Zambia. We ended up just heading back into town to wander around. We figured that we would check out the shops and grab some lunch. So we did just that. Most of the shops just offered the same old things that did not excite us at all. After wandering aimlessly for a little while, we stopped at Lola’s Tapas & Carnivore Restaurant, which offered exotic game meat like giraffe and zebra to name the weirdest two. FACT: Turns out that Brad loves giraffes so much, that it’s the one game meat that he won’t eat. I opted for pasta (not the best choice), and Brad chowed down on a burger. We enjoyed each others company and tried our best to not let Zimbabwe get us down and rebuild our spirits.
After our refreshing lunch in the warm Zimbabwean air, we headed back down the street to the out door curio market. We were on the hunt for a mask to put with our one from Zanzibar. The market was a decent size, and had a lot of touristy trinkets to take home family, and some fun things for yourself including large carved sculptures. We didn’t buy anything that day, as we figured it was best if we just left it as a browsing day. I think we were both, also, so frustrated that we didn’t feel like haggling with the shop keepers, let alone have them continually follow us trying to get us to buy things that we don’t want.
We stumbled into another shopping center just up the street, The Elephant Walk, that actually had stores where hassling and negotiating was not allowed; everything had a set price. It was just passed the crocodile cage diving facility where you could actually cage dive with crocodiles… It looked about as exciting as it sounds (I didn’t think looked exciting at all).. Basically… It’s a shallow curvy swimming pool that can’t be more than three feet deep with only one or two crocodiles. They put you into a cage & lower you down, and you can use oxygen if you want… but I don’t think you actually need it. Then they use bate to draw the crocodile near. NOTE: When we exited the shops we walked back by, and I touched the crocodiles foot… I was feeling bold.. I ‘m a real wild child! haha.
The shops were really nice, but the one that had real tourist stuff was extremely over priced. We have some of the same stuff here in Arizona, at one of my favorite shops, that is cheaper. It was insane, so naturally, we skipped it.
After that, we headed back to the hotel to hang out for a while, after all… we were supposed to be moving rooms that evening. We just wandered the grounds in attempt to find the river walk that our hotel claims to sit on…. We walked from one end of the grounds to the other, but there was no path… Turns out, it doesn’t sit on the river walk (which makes sense since it is quite a distance from the falls)… just another disappointing blow. All we could find were boat ramps with tour boats, pretty flowers, and bright insects… We didn’t know what else to do, so we decided to sit at the room for a while until they called. I ended up on the patio, and as I sat there waiting I watched the staff. One member walked along the sidewalk opening every room door of the river view building as he walked along. I thought this was kind of strange. As he disappeared, I got up to inspect because I was fearful that it could be a security issue for other guests that may be in those rooms; or if they were empty, I was curious why we weren’t already in one. Sure enough every one of those rooms was empty and I was flaming mad at this point. There was no reason why one of those ready rooms wasn’t provided to us that morning, especially since they weren’t going to reimburse us for the difference, or comp our meals.
Anyways, we finally got transferred to our new room overlooking the central grounds and a “view” of the river. (I would, also, like to note that a big part of why I picked this hotel was for the wildlife that visits.. warthogs, a hippo, and all the monkeys.. We only saw monkeys during our time there.)
We ended up heading back into town for dinner, but for the life of me, I cannot remember where we ate. Neither can Brad. so on that note… After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and proceeded to hang out and watch TV before we fell asleep.
Since we had pretty much seen all that we had seen, we decided that we wanted to try and head to Hwange National Park. We were running behind and didn’t feel like trying to track down breakfast, so we decided to eat at the hotel. This, once again, was a frustrating dilemma (but partially our fault). Prior to being seated, we were offered the option of three breakfast “directions”: the buffet, the continental, or order from the menu. That was all that was said. Not thinking much of it, we chose the buffet. We had our fruit, toast, and omelettes, tea and coffee. ..and tried to relax while caffeinating for the day. When we got the check, we were incredibly shocked that the bill was $70 USD for our breakfast because we go the buffet. We were frustrated that no one or nothing pointed out the extreme price differences, but we also, should have though to ask (lesson learned) .
Once again, we were both in a funk of disbelief, and got in the car to head to the park. There was just one problem. The road was blocked off. We immediately, were feeling the defeat… again. Frustrated, we just turned back around to figure out a plan.
Our plan ended up being to visit Victoria Falls. So, with our water resistant jackets in hand, we drove back toward the border (Victoria Falls is a dividing point for Zimbabwe & Zambia), parked the car, crossed the street & bought two tickets. Brad had heard rumors of people getting drenched, but at the first stop it was just a light mist, and didn’t seem too bad. The sights were so beautiful. Everything was so green. It was like being a rain forest. It was a beautiful walk along the paved paths. It wasn’t very crowded which was great because it made me feel more at peace with nature. This was the first time that I actually began to feel love for Zimbabwe. The paths were lined with giant trees encased in vines and tall grasses and shrubs. At one point a small antelope stood next to railing eating the grass that lined the cliff. We wondered how he found his way there.
As the path progressed, so did the mist. Eventually, as you reach the long line of falls, you begin to get more and more wet. You end up drenched, from head to toe. My water resistant shell was, indeed, not water proof. It had become useless as my tank top began to grow lengthwise. But it was incredible. It was the type of experience that makes you feel more alive. You can’t help but laugh as the water streams down your face as if you are in a rainstorm. We now understood why the locals rent out raincoats across the street from the entrance.
I think it was the first time in Zimbabwe that Brad and I were truly having fun. We were laughing at the situation and at ourselves for once again underestimating the situation, while simultaneously hoping that my Fjallraven Kanken, kept my Nikon from getting wet (it did!) . It was great fun to watch as the mist would clear out to present the beauty of the water collapsing over the cliff’s edge, and then watch it fill back up again as if you are staring a cloud in the face, should a cloud have a face…
We made our way toward Victoria Falls Bridge where we were able to get a beautiful view, and see the people and cars crossing. As we began our departure from the park, the mist/rain began to clear. We could finally see the sun shining through again, and the we were able to enjoy the beauty of the park. We were able to see some fuzzy orange caterpillars, and there were monkeys running amok through the park, as well.
FACT: When the rivers are at their highest and the waterfall is pouring at its most, The intensive level of mist that rises from the falls actually will create rain in the town of Victoria Falls. It creates an environment all of its own for a brief time in the year.
After having a nature shower, it was time for a man-made shower. So we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up. I, also, got to spend some time on the patio, monitoring the monkeys that were running circles on the lawn & rough playing with each other, and jumping into the trees for snacks. All, while Brad waited for hotel maintenance to fix the hot water that went out (If it wasn’t one thing it was another with this hotel. Seriously, I haven’t even mentioned that the toilets in both rooms looked as if they hadn’t been cleaned – thank the Lord for antibacterial wipes, i just did it myself). I had a great time photographing the little lunatics, and was even able to get in a long phone call with my parents before we headed to dinner.
We headed back down by the markets (that I mentioned above), to an Asian restaurant called Nam Took (I’m pretty sure). It was really good. I got a spice chicken & noodle dish, and Brad got some other noodle thing… We enjoyed a little bit of each other’s while we engaged in meaningless chatter & perused social media. For the most part, it had been a really good day, and things were looking up. We even decided, after careful deliberation, and thought, that we would go to Zambia the next day.
After dinner, we needed to get some cash for the next few days, so we went in search of an ATM. We drove around in search of one (which took a while, and a few stops), and there happened to be a few ATMs behind the big grocery store. When we got to the ATM, we were trying to get $100 Zimbabwe Dollars. We tried a few times, and then the security guard told us to try a lower amount. It finally worked, at about $30.00. We ended up having to go to 3 ATMS (all in one area) to get the money we needed, and ended up having to use all of our free international ATM transactions that our bank gives us. (Could Zimbabwe, make life anymore difficult? haha).
Finally, with cash in hand we headed back to the hotel so that we could have our adventure the next day.
Our journey from South Africa had come to a close. As soon as we landed in Windhoek, Namibia we went through customs & grabbed our luggage, which took about 5 minutes because the airport was so tiny. Immediately, we headed out in search of our rental car representative. We were looking all over for a sign with our name or for someone wearing a Britz shirt. Neither were found. We were uncertain of what to do because we had no phone service, and had no clue of who we should ask. Thankfully, one of the locals who I assume was probably a taxi driver stopped to help us. Once he saw Britz on the paperwork, he told us to wait in place. He came back not long after, introduces us to the Brizt guy, and then recommended that we wait while he gathered the other Britz customers before transporting us all to the office.
Upon arrival at the Britz office, we were offered beverages and then set up with a representative. They brought us to their desk where we had to fill out several documents and give them as much information as we possibly could. They were incredibly thorough. In addition to a heap of paperwork, we were shown our car, and our rep walked us through everything on the car & even made sure that all the lights worked, and showed us some of the features… She even made sure that we had all the safety requirements that are required by the countries we were going to visit, such as neon green safety vests & 2 safety triangles.
As we were wrapping up our checks, I watched as one other couple that was there going through the checks of their camping truck.. The kind that has pop up tents attached to the top. I pointed them out to Brad, and that I thought they were more hardcore than we are. However, Brad then shared with me a funny and crazy tip from some of the locals that he knows from working in the DRC. TIP: You don’t want to camp on top of a 4×4 vehicle in Africa because the lions have figured it out. They know how to get you. …and that just doesn’t sound very pleasant to me. I joked about telling the campers, but why freak them out? Why kill their African buzz, you know??? …we never saw them again. haha!
With our vehicle loaded up, we hit the road. Brad was still driving on the opposite side of the car and opposite side of the road. Our first stop was in the actual town of Windhoek. We needed food & water for the road, and we needed to grab lunch. Our first plan of action was to eat. So with not many options in the Windhoek mall we decided to grab a couple burgers from Steers because the last time we had it in SA with Neil (remember, Neil??), it wasn’t half bad. This time, however, it was awful…. Room-temp burgers & soggy fries felt more like a punishment than an actual meal. We didn’t bother trying to finish our food. A swing and a miss. We just decided to move on. So we headed into the cute little market that sat near the parking garage, and decided to grab some grub. We grabbed a couple of apples, salted nuts, oreos, crackers, and I snagged a KitKat for later… Along with this, we grabbed 3 gallons of water for the journey. The goal was to grab things that could last us for about 10 days, and could withstand warmer temperatures if necessary. I’d say we succeeded.
Once the car was loaded up, and the parking was paid… the fun could begin. First, we had to navigate our way out of the city which was slightly tricky, at one point we were going the wrong direction and had to turn back. One thing that Brad & I don’t do… Pay for GPS. We utilize our iPhones as much as possible, which means, we are grabbing wifi at any possible moment to upload our maps, check routes, get addresses, whatever we need to do. This is also why I do as much mapping and routing as possible when I am home, that way I am able to have an idea and mental notes of our locations before our trip even starts. It’s kind of like The Amazing Race training.
We began heading south toward Sossusvlei. That was our fist big sight to stop and see on this road trip. The drive was quite long at approximately 5 hours but the scenery was EXQUISITE! I think we both felt that we were constantly at a loss of words because we took in some truly stunning views. Before the road turned to dirt, we were stopped at a stopping point where the lady asked us where we were going and for Brad’s drivers license, shortly after we passed a troop of baboons, and then… it was dirt. At one point in the beginning of our drive we watched a massive eagle swoop down right in front of us to snatch some road kill out of our path. Our drive was starting off on a high note. The wildlife sightings were on point, but after that there wasn’t much more. We saw a couple other smaller animals such as tortoise, guinea fowl, warthogs, and of course a ton of cattle… We continued on through the valleys admiring the massive nests that were built up on the lines (phone or power, who could know??)… and constantly anticipating the next sighting. We passed through a gorgeous mountainous region where you could see for miles. The terrain was jaw dropping as was the view… We finally were beginning to drop in elevation, and the terrain began to change from grasslands to desert.
The animal sightings vanished as we entered into the sandy vastness of Namibia. The drive was becoming slightly more dull as a sandy and rocky landscape became more constant. Finally, we began to see a bit more wildlife. springbok. We also had the great pleasure of passing over the Tropic of Capricorn. A sign in the middle of nowhere covered in colorful stickers noting that we were in a pretty cool spot!
We finally reached the hardly existent “town” of Solitaire where we filled up on fuel and took advantage of a bathroom break before we continued onto our hotel.
We arrived early that evening at Moon Mountain Lodge. I was so excited about staying here because you feel somewhat exposed to the elements. Each individual room sits segregated on the side of the mountain, and requires 4×4 just to reach your room (otherwise, you park at the bottom and someone has to drive you from there). It was so worth it. Once we were checked in we had a couple hours to kill until dinner time. We wandered the grounds trying to get photos of butterflies, hawks, and whatever else flew our way. With minimal success, we headed back toward the lodge. We ended up grabbing our necessities and walked up to the main house where we sipped on our beers, scrolled through our photos, and watched the sun as it began to set.
NOTE: I should state here that after writing this blog & getting through the first 27, I realized that I am too boring when it comes to food. So, I have been doing my best to try new things when I travel. Now, when I get to China, don’t be expecting me to eat their green fermented eggs… That’s not going to happen.
With the dinner bell rung, everyone grabbed a table. We sat near the entrance and were quite close to the lovely buffet. I wasn’t sure of what to expect when Brad told me that they were serving springbok lasagna & oryx steaks, so I started with a bowl of amazing pea soup (normally I wouldn’t gravitate towards that), and geared up for my next course. I was going to do it! …and I did. I filled my plate with a mixed green salad, rice, mixed veggies, oryx steak, and springbok lasagna. With each bite, I was pleasantly surprised. You see, chicken is my main source of protein… and tuna. (I know, right… tuna, so stinky, but so delicious) I will occasionally go for steak meals, or pulled pork… but nothing too exciting. Anyways, with my plate loaded up…. I took my first bite, and realized that my food problems are mostly mental…. The problem is that unlike with chicken or steak: when I eat oryx I can’t stop picturing an oryx… So as I tried to work that out mentally, I began to realize that I was actually somewhat enjoying something new… I didn’t love it, but I didn’t mind it. I think Brad was proud of me too. Then there was the springbok lasagna… it wasn’t like traditional lasagna, the springbok had a very distinctive seasoning that I wasn’t keen on. But both new meats were tender and lean. I at least knew that what I was eating wouldn’t kill me and it was pretty healthy, fresh, and probably organic given that it was probably hunted off the African plains. Full from new meats, soups, and fresh breads.. dessert was announced. A type of sticky cake with a custard sauce… It was sweet and rich. I was thankful that they only served small pieces, as my stomach took all it could bare.
With full and satisfied tummies, we led ourselves down the dark raw walkway guided by only our iPhone lights. When we reached our room, we realized that our room had become bombarded with insects that seemed to be in a flurry all around us. There was nothing to do…. We were basically in the bush. …and it was the nature of the experience. Our sleeping quarters and our bathroom were separated by an open bridge, which was a little frustrating only because I didn’t want to let in anymore insects. But we made it work. We took turns going back and forth, taking quick showers & prepping ourselves for sleep. Once we were both lying down and ready to sleep, we realized that the flurry of insects would not leave us alone. This is when I realized that my husband is a genius… He turned on a light at the opposite end of the room to draw them away. Thankfully, it wasn’t a bright light. (Thanks, Africa.) We were off to dream land.
I was up sooooo early. I knew breakfast wasn’t being served until 7, but I couldn’t help it. I could sleep no longer. Nature acted as our alarm in the form of a bird sitting outside of our open window chirping us awake. It was both annoying and magical at the same time. I don’t even know how the two can coincide, but it can. As I began to wake, I realized that the sun was beginning to rise over the mountains in the distance, and the view was just as beautiful as the evening before. I escorted myself out the door to the bathroom to start getting cleaned up and ready for the day… There was so much driving to be done, and I didn’t want to be late to breakfast.
All prepared, with bags in the car.. We drove up the hill to the main house & waited until they were ready to serve. Omelettes and toast made from homemade bread… The bread was so soft and so moist… It taste like the homemade bread my mom would make when I was a kid. It was so good that I went back for seconds. We had to get going though… We wrapped up breakfast, checked out, made our way back down the mountain and took on the drive to Sossusvlei.
You could see for miles in all directions, and we had the pleasure on seeing a few groups of oryx on the way into the park. Once we reached the Sossusvlei park we went into the shop to purchase our park permit, and we both took advantage of the bathroom. …and then we were off. We showed our permit to the gatekeeper, and made our way in. Our first destination was the famous Deadvlei. It was the farthest back & also required a 1 kilometer walk in each direction, so we figured the sooner the better, in attempt to do it before the day was at its hottest point which I think was about 40 degrees Celsius, and 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
The drive was overwhelming in a sense. The size and quantity of the orange dunes was absolutely magnificent. ….but that is the thing about sandy desserts, you get thirsty just by looking at them. They just look overbearingly hot. The drive to Deadvlei felt like it was going on forever. It was much farther than it seemed on Google Maps, but when is that not the case??? When we reached the entry for Deadvlei, there was a pick up & drop off for anyone that wanted to take a park shuttle… We, however, had 4×4… but our X-trail even seemed to struggle. The sand was intense… Fine, Shifty, Deep. There were a couple times when we weren’t confident that we could make it either way, even as we were being guided through by one of the local drivers. We could feel the car slip and slide as the sand would shift under and around the tires. Despite the struggle, we made it.
We geared up & made sure we had plenty of water. It was sweltering, but nothing that either of us couldn’t handle as we are both desert dwellers here in AZ. The walk naturally, started off easy, and we were feeling confident that it we could handle it with relative ease. We did for the most part… But the heat definitely slowed us down, and my Toms were constantly filling with searing hot sand… but I would say that it was definitely worth it for the experience, Let alone the view. We spent probably close to 30 minutes in the very small valley, as I snapped many stunning photos of the preserved trees, and towering dunes surrounding the area, while Brad naturally stood in the shade of one of the dead trees.
Once we wrapped things up, we made our way back which was harder than the journey in, probably because of the steep exit, and prolonged time in the overpowering sun. At this point, my shoes were taking in so much sand that my feet felt they were burning, and were completely packed into place. I could not move my toes as they were ever so carefully wrapped in fine sand. By the time we reached the car, the temperature inside had gone up significantly. We had to crank the AC, much as we do at home during the summer. As the car began to cool, I stood under the nearby tree to drain the sand from my faded navy slip-ons (here’s a video). It seemed like it went on forever. Well, I think it took about 9-seconds.
Our car ride back to the main road was a bit tense, as you never know at what point you could get stuck in the sludgy sand. Brad, somewhat calmly, continued to chomp down on his corn nuts as he weaved through the old tracks of other visitors. Meanwhile, I was ready to lose my cool between the stress and Brad’s crunching… #Marriage. Finally, we reached the pavement and we were both relieved. We decided to skip Bid Daddy, because realistically…. All the dunes were big and orange… and it was hot as balls!!! So instead, since we still had to drive to Walvis Bay that day, we turned right back around with the intention of stopping at Dune 45.
At Dune 45 there were only a couple other people there. One guy was having a solo dance party, and Brad & I were cracking up while watching. I had a strong admiration for his commitment to fun in such a desolate place. We watched as one other couple took their individual photos on the dune, and as they left we rotated in. Brad went first. I snapped a few pics of his adorable face on the massive pile of sand and then we switched… However, I didn’t just want to meander up about 30 feet… If I was going to do this I was going to commit. …and I did. I did my best to work my way up to the top of Dune 45 as quickly as possible. It was hard. The hot sand was filling and covering my feet again, it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was steep. I did my best to jog up, but at several points had to stop. I noticed, also that the other couple was waiting around watching me as I made this daring move at midday… As I continued up, it looked like would never end.. I don’t think I truly ever reached the tippy-top, but it definitely looks like I did. It just felt like it kept going and going… but I guess that is the nature of the desert, and Dunes never do stop shifting. Finally, Brad snapped his photos, and I ran down…. I got off that dune as fast as possible, and immediately made my way to the giant tree for shade and to catch my breath. Once I was settled, we were back in the car and on our way out of the park.
We wanted to stop for lunch, and thought that we had seen that there was a restaurant at the reception, but it looked like it was only a bar… and a bread dispensary??? There was a lot of wrapped bread on the table for sale. haha. So we used the restrooms, and headed over the gas station in hopes of something to eat. We grabbed a container of Brie to eat with our crackers, a couple of drinks, and a candy bar, and fueled up again for the drive to Walvis Bay.
It was another extensive drive, at approximately 5 hours, and we departed Sossusvlei around 1 PM. For the most part the views were quite barren but that didn’t keep us from seeing zebra in the distance where they could find grass, a baboon troop running free, and wild horses wandering in search of small patches of grass… In all honesty, I’ve never been so close to a wild horse, nor have I ever seen such skinny horses, but none the less.. They were beautiful. I think the people that drove past me photographing them probably thought I was crazy getting so close, but I couldn’t help myself.
Anyways, the terrain we passed through changed about every 100 km. We past through some grassier plains, rocky hills, areas that seemed to be composed of nothing but canyons, and sandy regions where it looked as if nothing could survive a single day, if even an afternoon. Eventually, it began to turn back into pale dunes… That’s when you know you are approaching Walvis Bay… more dunes. We arrived into the city around 6 PM, and sadly, our phones went grid, which meant we were doing things by my memory. It turned out to be tricky… I just knew we were near the water, our hotel, Protea Hotel by Marriott, was blue and white, and had sea views… At one point we were going the wrong way, and we were getting frustrated. The key was to stay calm and just work it out mentally… Within 20 minutes we were there without any major issues. We got checked in and brought our bags in, which required us to haul them up stairs because there was noooo elevator.
We took about 30 minutes to unwind and get ourselves sorted before we headed down the way for dinner. We figured since we were in Namibia, it would be a good idea to get some German food… So, Brad scouted out Anchors at the Jetty Restaurant which was 3 minutes away, in a boating area right across from the hotel. We got a seat fairly easily inside because it was quite chilly and windy outside. It was a no-brainer with what to order… Schnitzel and chips… Holy Hell… We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. (Brad ordered the same thing). They brought us 2 massive pieces of chicken and a big pile of chips (fries) each!!! It was so much food, and it was incredible. We stuffed our faces like a couple of fat kids at a birthday party. It was so good!
With incredibly full stomachs, we quickly walked back to our hotel in attempt to escape the chill. We had to shower… and I’m glad I did when I did because when I was getting ready to wash my face later on, I learned the water died. I had to have Brad help me rinse my hands with our bottled water, and just left the soap on my face until we could be We were without water for about an hour. We were exhausted, and I had started to fall asleep while we were watching a movie, so with that we wrapped things up in preparation for our early morning the next day.
It was the same old thing the next day, an early call for kayaking with seals with Pelican Point Kayaking. Because the activity interfered with our checkout time, we had to have our bags packed and in the car before our buffet breakfast, so that we could be to the kayaking company (right next to Anchors at the Jetty) by 7:30. It was a slightly stressful morning because even though I am madly in love with my husband, we think and do things differently, especially since we spend more time apart than together, so sometimes things can get a little tense. Like how we got to breakfast, and had to rush… and I didn’t think he was eating fast enough… haha. There are times I want to smother him with a pillow, and times that I’m sure he probably wants to trip me into a pile of crabs.. I don’t know… It’s just marriage woes.
Either way, we had everything in the car, and the main debate was whether or not to bring my Nikon… I decided not to because 1) Brad was pretty against it, 2) it was more gear to bring, 3) there were water concerns… but I really wanted to, and sadly I went against my gut. But I had my iPhone.
We ended up not needing to rush to the kayaking venue because they apparently had issues with another couple and had to get it worked out before we could all leave. But eventually we all loaded up into a big-ass 4×4 vehicle with kayaks in tow, and began our drive through town & on to Pelican Point, a long and skinny strip of sand that is ever-growing out through the Atlantic. We passed along the lagoon filled with pink flamingos, drove through the salt fields, and passed the lighthouse. We saw jackals on the beach which look very similar to our coyotes here in AZ. (I was wishing for my camera at this point.) Also, there were many dead baby seals along the beach which was heart breaking, but when you realized how many seals were living on the beach, it did ease that slight heart ache a bit. Once our guide, Jens, had everything set up, we loaded into our kayaks and hit the water.
We first headed toward open water in hopes of sighting whales and dolphins, but none could be seen, so we switched direction back toward the massive line up of seals of all sizes. Some dried out and beached in their lustrous grey fur suits, and some looking oiled down as they flopped and glided through the water. We spent about an hour or two on the water observing the seals. Some came close and gave us a show, and others would retreat back to the beaches as if we were carrying the plague. It was fun. There were a few surprise splashes… which means I was incredibly upset that I didn’t bring my camera at this point. All I wanted to do was get in and play with them, but the water was freezing (that’s the opinion of an AZ girl though).
Upon a water departure Jens had a table of sandwiches, tea & coffee set up for us.. Nothing fancy… but a satisfying snack after the exercise & fun. We all stood around and talked about Namibian history & the changes that are coming to Africa. It was a great educational time. It was sad to leave, but I knew there was more to see, and Brad & I, again, had another long drive coming. On our way back into town, we pulled over to grab some snaps of the flamingos. Because I didn’t have either of my Nikons, Brad and I ended up grabbing the car & going back for a few more shots after we were dropped off.
From the flamingos, we began our drive to Etosha, making it a point to stop in Swakopmund for lunch. Brad has a co-worker with a flat there, and apparently he raves about how much better it is than Walvis bay. NOTE: However, apparently the two cities have a bit of a rivalry happening. Swakopmund seems slightly more geared to tourism, but I didn’t spend enough time in either to take sides with either. We drove through town in search of a place to find water and lunch! We found the Pick n’ Pay first, so we stopped in for a few gallons of water. Then we were back in the car driving up and down the streets in search of food… We found The Tug. A two story restaurant partially made from an old tug boat. We were able to sit on the balcony patio overlooking the Atlantic. We both ordered our fish dishes, and like most times… Brad was better. Mine was bone-in (a first for me!!), and although mine had a good flavor, I wasn’t crazy about the texture. I like mine a little more meaty and flaky.. and mine was more mushy. We ate all we could before we requested our check. With a need to satisfy our sweet tooth we headed back toward the ice cream shop we had passed by en route to The Tug. We pulled over and parked across the street from Ice & Spice Cafe. There was a short line, but it extended out the door. We new it would be good! We each got chocolate on a cone, and it was as refreshing as it was delicious. In true Natalie fashion it was gone within minutes… I had to eat it fast! It was melting!!!
From ice cream we headed to fuel. We wanted to top off before the journey continued, and it was crucial that we checked one of our tires as it seemed to be continually losing air slowly. We also grabbed a quick bathroom break because after our 40 minute drive into Swakopmund, we had another 4 hours and 45 minutes (approximately) until we reached the outskirts of Etosha National Park. Honestly, this drive was pretty dull. There was no wildlife to be seen partially because once we hit the green plains and hills, we also started hitting massive rain storms. We had to slow down drastically because of traffic, and the rain was pounding the car so hard at some points that you could hardly see more than 15 feet in front of you. ….but as most African storms usually do, it cleared up within 30 minutes.
Our lunch at The Tug had ended up longer than planned, so because of that we also ended up driving in the dark which was a little bit terrifying because we knew at any moment a kudu or a springbok could lunge right in front of the car which would then leave us stranded with no phone service, possibly a totaled car, and/or dead! WOO-HOO! So we both attempted to keep our eyes pealed on the road. This night was rough. We were so exhausted from the early morning, and I was doing all that I could to stay awake & help Brad. Eventually, we arrived safe and sound at Etosha Safari Lodge, and once again we had gone without a meal. Dinner was not an option because we got in too late, but with that tardiness, exhaustion, and food deprivation came crankiness. Our best option was just to go to bed. We (mostly I) did our best to unpack the bare minimum since our belongings would be back in the car in less than 10 hours. Honestly, this lodge was better than expected. It was clean, fairly comfortable, and I loved that our room was a completely separate building so we had no contact with or did not hear any other guests.
We were up early once again… We got ourselves ready, Brad loaded his things into the car, and went down for breakfast first. It was taking me longer to get ready and packed up, so I decided that I would just meet him. About 20 minutes later, I had everything in the car, and for the first time, was driving on the opposite side of the car! I found it to be surprisingly easier than anticipated. I drove down the hill to reception where breakfast was also served. It was once again a buffet. When is it not a buffet??? The buffet was filled with all the typical sorts, but the setting was phenomenal. It was in an outdoor courtyard filled with quirky furniture made with old tires and things… Their were large trees full of interesting bird nests, and the walls were painted with colorful people playing musical instruments. It was an enchanting space that I wish we could have enjoyed at dinner time. With breakfast wrapped up, we checked out & then headed to Etosha which was maybe 15 minutes down the road.
Upon arrival, Brad checked in at the gate and filled out all the necessary paperwork & the pointed us in the direction of the permit office. Down the way was a small shop where I insisted that we get a map. …and like most wives, I was right. Although, the map was somewhat confusing at times… it was definitely helpful, and it had a great animal guide, which I think was the main reason Brad was okay purchasing it.
Etosha served us well. Our first major sighting: a black rhino having a mud bath, literally on the side of the road. It was so beautiful. We watched as it rolled and cooled down, and then rubbed its horn against a dead tree, then crossed the road as if no one was watching. We continued on and didn’t see much… tons and tons and tons of springbok and impala. There is no shortage. We also, got in some great bird sightings, and even saw a chameleon. Brad almost ran it over, and somehow as it was crossing the road ever so slowly, I saw it. I was so excited because a chameleon is one thing that I really wanted to see. Here are some great photos:
NOTE: Within Etosha, there aren’t many rest stops… There was one that we went too because I needed to use the bathroom.. The gate was closed, but we weren’t sure if it was to keep us or wildlife out, so we entered it anyways and closed the gate as instructed. Unfortunately, the “bathroom” area was completely overgrown so I was forced to pop-a-squat over in a random area, and instructed Brad to keep a lookout for big cats. SIDE NOTE: I prefer not to pee in nature, but when you gotta go, you gotta go… What I didn’t realize is that on this trip this would be the first of four times… There just aren’t many bathrooms through Africa’s vastness, and truthfully, looking back, I am surprised it was only 4 times… but I have a large bladder.
We spent probably 6 hours within Etosha driving up and down the dirt roads, most of which were in great condition . Again, Africa’s vastness is greatly downplayed on Google Maps. It took almost that whole time (with one major detour due to a road closure) to get from our starting point to our end point. We drove out to the lookout point of the pan, and it was interesting to see how vast the now dried up body of water once was.
NOTE: The thing with Etosha– We saw no elephants and not cats… We didn’t see any giraffes or zebra until our last hour… BUT!!!!! We did see spotted hyena, and don’t forget the rhino. There two that were walking along the pan, and it was so incredible to see them in person. Also, we got some beautiful photos of Wildebeest and we saw a red hartebeest for the first time ever.
Eventually, we had to leave Etosha National Park in order to move along with our journey… We were headed to Rundu to spend the night. It was another 4 hour drive, and at this point, we had been surviving on granola bars and nuts…. and there was a slim chance of finding a decent meal between there and Rundu. We stopped in Grootfontein to get fuel, and found another small grocery store where we were able to grab another container of brie and a box of Kips spring onion crackers… We were living on them at this point… NOTE: Thanks Kips for keeping us going! Nothing like cheese and crackers for lunner (between lunch and dinner), AGAIN… At some point, we were driving through a gnarly rain storm, once again: an Africa classic on this trip. Because we got out of Etosha a couple hours later than planned (also, the norm for us), we ended up driving in the dark again, but it wasn’t too bad. Thankfully, Rundu was a fairly decent size town, so that eliminated the threat of large animals, however…. getting to our hotel was kind of a pain. When we reached the road for our hotel we were all sorts of confused. The road was supposedly closed off and was all torn up, but there were no signs to redirect traffic. We had no clue how to get to our hotel, Tambuti Lodge, especially because it looked like there were no other roads connecting to it. Brad ended up getting out of the car and moving things out of the way so that we could get through.
We arrived at our hotel a little before 10 PM. The ladies were getting ready to close up shop, and were glad we made it before they left. Again, we missed dinner… but we were welcomed with their hibiscus drink, and shown our room. It was fairly nice considering we were in Rundu. We also had a resident gecko, which gave us fond memories of our time in Zanzibar. FACT: Geckos are welcome guests because they at least eat the insects. …and in mosquito territory, that is always a welcome attribute.
We snacked on a couple Oreos (Thank God, for Oreos in Africa), and then made the short journey to the car in the rain to grab our necessary luggage. At one point, I almost stepped on a millipede, and I had Brad telling me to stay on the path so that I don’t get bit by a mamba or a puff adder (no thank you). FACT: Life in the jungle is so much more intense than it should be… Threats of getting bit by anything venomous, and monkeys stealing your stuff.. It’s just not always a good time!
Finally, we were in bed with the intent to be up at a decent hour the next morning for another drive to Maun.
We woke up, started packing, and then made our walk to breakfast. Breakfast was served on a built out patio overlooking the Cubango River which separates Namibia from Angola, in other words… We could see Angola.
For once we didn’t have a breakfast buffet! But it was still Africa… which means there’s no American pancakes and American bacon awaiting me! I think we both ordered eggs and beans or something. It was decent, and enough to get us through. They also prepared a small serving of one of their traditional meals ( a type of porridge which was sour) for us to try. They also had hibiscus jam for us to try. It was good! Brad wanted to sell it in the US (he’s crazy). While we were there, we ended up having a long conversation with a really nice Aussie couple who was biking through Africa. They were spending several months taking it day by day through the vast African terrain. It sounded amazing, but I just don’t know that I want bike all over the continent… To each their own!
We got everything loaded into the car, and dropped our key off at the front desk. It was time…. time to head to Botswana!
With a 7 hour drive ahead of us (not including our time at customs) and the car loaded, we exited the premises, and in the day light we found the detour to the main road. We didn’t have to move anything out of our way this time! We stopped for fuel where I kept exchanging smiles and giggles with one of the beautiful women who was working there.
We headed in the direction of Caprivi Game Park which was a little under 2 hours away. When we got there, there was a full-figured woman sitting on a balcony with a pad of paper. We quickly registered, and were instructed to drive through. We didn’t have to show any documents this time, just sign on the line basically. Within 5 minutes of entering the park it began to rain. This greatly diminished the odds of us seeing any wildlife. At this point we still had not seen an elephant & it was killing us on the inside. But, we were not giving up hope! On this portion though, we got to see kudu in the bush, and we had beautiful adolescent Roan antelope staring us down in the middle of the road as it rained down around us. Other than that, nothing else was noteworthy.
We eventually reached the Namibian customs building. We filled out the necessary forms and were quickly in and out, and were directed toward Botswana.
…to be continued.
Notes to my Readers:
It was brought to my attention by an acquaintance that it didn’t sound like I enjoyed Namibia. So if it comes across that way… please note, it wasn’t the place. I love Namibia, and i would go back in a heart beat. It was the journey through. I didn’t give us enough time in Namibia. We were on a very tight schedule which meant we were missing meals, and driving constantly. We spent more time in our 4×4 x-trail then out of it, almost. So with a grueling journey, would I do it again?? Absolutely! Namibia is a truly incredibly diverse place that perfectly mix-up of European influence while maintaining the Namibian culture. It was easy to get around, the roads (even the dirt ones) were in great condition, and there are so many jaw-dropping views to take in. We were constantly stopping for photos.