A Tanzanian Road Trip: The Kilimanjaro Region Edition. (Day 1-3)

DSC_0489 copyAfter 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.

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DSC_0372With 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.

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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 IMG_1741our 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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_8176We 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.

IMG_1851When 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.

…to be continued.

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Victoria Falls: The Road Trip Edition (Part 1).

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.

Day 12:

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.

iphone update 1247.JPGWith 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.

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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!).

iphone update 1260.JPGThis 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.

Day 13:

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.

iphone update 1269.jpgOur 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.

iphone update 1329.JPGAs 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.

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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. 

ipad update 5563After 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.

to be continued…

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Botswana: The Road Trip Edition.

 iphone update 1147Day 9 (continued):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 10:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 11:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Bye, Bye Botswana. Hello, chaos.

…to be continued.