Pack pack…quick quick - that's the joy of timeshare - too easy. We are headed to a place we have never been before, the Magoebaskloof area…wherever that is? Leaving Hazyview we head back through Hoedspruit and then on towards Tzaneen and then to Magoebaskloof.
As we ascend the Magoebaskloof pass the weather begins to change rapidly. “Wow. Look at that. It's 19 degrees,” we say looking at the temperature gauge. Then it's 18…17…16…15…14. A thick mist hangs over everything as we drive through a transformed world. What a contrast to what we are used to.
There is an air of excitement. It feels like we are arriving in Europe. We’re staying at my cousin Susan and Don’s home, and we’ve been told to wait for them at pre-determined spot so they can lead us to their home, because “there are no signposts or road names”. Sounds interesting. We follow them in their Jeep along a gravel road, past a dam, through forests…
“My hat,” I say as we wind along, “how did they find this house?”
The mist is thick as we pass sheep roaming in the road before finally arriving at a beautiful home set above a stunning dam. We have stepped out of Africa and arrived in Scotland, made even more authentic as we sip whiskey next to a roaring log fire, while outside the mist wraps in cold wisps around the house.
Arising in the morn, in this wee bit ‘o the Scottish highlands, we ease into the day chatting over a cuppa tea while a log fire crackles warmly away in the hearth. “Let's go and look at the village,” Susan suggests, and so we leap into our cars and are soon winding our way along the misty gravel roads. Haenertsberg is a tiny little village set at the top of the Magoebaskloof pass.
The quaint little shops and pub are like a small version of Franschhoek. We wander along the street in the light mist, which creates a surreal feel, looking at the shops. “This is the cannon the Boers blew up when they were retreating from the British,” Don says as we stare at the remains of a large Long Tom cannon. There's even a small museum with more about the fascinating local history.
After our stroll we stop at the pub for some lunch before following Don on a different route back, through a lovely forest where the mist hangs like a bridal veil in between massive pine trees that reach heavenwards like silent sentinels in silky garments.
“Ask Don about the bikes.” Susan whispers to us conspiratorially. “If you don't get him moving it will be too late.” And so we raise the topic of the quad bikes - much to the glee of he children. Soon Don has taken the four bikes out of the garage and kids, Don and dog are off on a quad adventure.
After a while, the kids arrive back with coat hanger grins stuck to their faces. “This is so amazing,” they gush, “there are so many cool roads to ride on.” It's the parents turn and so Nicky and I head out. We wind our way along gravel roads, dirt tracks, through dark forests, past ponds and grazing sheep.
It's a stunning ride in beautiful surroundings. I can see why the kids enjoyed it so much.
Returning home we're in time to catch sunset over the lake and the somewhat disappointing exit of the Scottish rugby team. However, as the log fire crackles away again, I raise my glass in toast to a grand display of rugby and a beautiful country - Scotland….in South Africa!
We are leaving the wilds…"farewell wild beasts, its been amazing." But as Arnold always says, “I’ll be back.” However, we are not leaving the adventures. Leaving Kruger we head to Hazyview where we are staying at a timeshare called Waterberry Hill just outside the town.
After settling in, toasting the sun that dips into the valley below us where a pair of rogue elephants, as we find out later, have escaped for a drink too, I retire for the night. I’m in the shower…and it’s attached to our accommodation, that’s a treat, and I look down at my feet. They tell a story.
The soles are dirty brown and the heels are cracked and dry. I've tried occasionally to put Ingram's lotion on them - I've tried to scrub them, yet they remain irresolutely the same - dirty, cracked, and dry. They are testimony to our months of adventure - wild outdoors - no shoes - no calendars - no worries! The modern conveniences are great, but I still love the great outdoors more.
🍻 Here's to dirty feet! 🍻
Today we have an adventure of a different kind planned - not wildlife, but wild times!
“Hi I'm Dirk, and this is Richard.” We have arrived at a farm near Hazyview in excited anticipation of our first off-road Segway experience. We've seen these self-balancing scooters in shopping centers - in movies - on the beachfront - and always wanted to try them. But what really appeals to us is doing it off-road.
Six alien looking contraptions are lined up awaiting their pilots and soon Richard is explaining how they operate. “They balance themselves,” he says standing atop one of the two-wheeled contraptions. He demonstrates how to operate the Segway. “Who's up first?” he asks. I quickly volunteer, keen to get as much time possible in this experience.
“Whoa…that's so weird,” I say as I navigate my Segway tentatively for the first time. It just has two wheels - it shouldn't stay upright - but it does. Lean forward and it goes faster. Lean back and it slows down. Tilt the handle and you turn on the spot. Soon we are all turning and twisting and scooting around like some alien dance scene.
“OK, follow me,” Richard says, as we wave farewell to Dirk and head down the farm road. It's the most amazing feeling. There's no roar of an engine, there's no effort required, yet you're flying along the road. In fact these machines can get up to 30km/h, but at the moment we're just gliding along slowly.
“These are Macadamia trees,” Richard says as we stop next to some small trees. He then goes on to explain the workings of this farm and the fascinating story behind the macadamia plantations. But the strange part is that we're just gliding along as though we're perched on some invisible conveyer belt. We pass through plantations, past lakes, beehives - “Those are for pollinating the nuts,” Richard says a safe distance from the busy hive. I never realized you needed bees to pollinate these trees.
We've done a lot of amazing experiences on our travels - paragliding, swimming on the edge of waterfalls, mokoro trips with hippos - and there's one thing I've learned and that is it's always more than the activity itself, it's the experience. The same applies today. It's not just the strange, effortless, flying feeling of being on the Segway, it's the experience - the beauty of this lovely area and learning about the plantation and farming.
“Ok everyone, on this straight portion you can all go as fast as you want,” Richard says. Aah..finally we are set free. Josh and I lead the pack as we fly along the road. It truly feels like skiing. You're standing upright and you can sway your legs from side to side to create a weaving motion. The trees rush past me. “Yeehii,” I shout as I soak up the thrill of my “African bush ski experience”. Epic.
We stop next to a dam for a short break and while sipping bottles of water Richard explains how he's been swimming in this dam for ages and now discovers there's a crocodile living here. Gotta love Africa.
“There's two options here,” Richard says, “the easy route or this more technical but interesting route. Which one do you want to do?” Come on…what a question. We want to do the trickier, technical route. Bring it on!
It is amazing what these segways can do as we maneuver them over ruts and rocks and beneath low hanging trees. Soon we are back on the normal track and skiing along around the final block and down towards Dirk and the end. “Wow!”'I say as we arrive, “this is truly amazing Dirk. Skiing in the African bushveld. That's what this is. Epic!”
Dirk's Segway Africa Tours just recently started and I'm convinced it's going to be a huge success, especially as he goes on to explain his future plans - Segway safaris in a game reserve, moonlight tours, sundowner tours. It's amazing as it is - imagine doing this in a game reserve watching wild animals and finishing it off with snacks by a waterhole.
“We definitely will be back!” we all chorus together as we bid Dirk and Richard farewell. “Definitely!” I mean, who wouldn’t want to ski effortlessly along the stunning, wild roads of Africa?
Leaving Kruger we are headed for a farm outside of Hoedspruit, “Little Cathage” in the Ndlovumzi Nature Reserve. Turning off the easy-driving tar road we hit a rugged gravel road that apparently will lead us to where we are staying. As we are bounced around and the road continues our anxiousness increases and we prepare ourselves for another rustic experience.
Heather, our hostess meets us and leads us up a short path to where we are staying. All our qualms and reservations instantly vanish. Two cottages connect to an outside dining area and kitchen before flowing on to a huge deck with sunken pool giving way finally to a river below, made even more majestic by the setting sun. It's a stunning setting and we are now excited to be spending several days here. Time to work, read, write, learn, reflect…experience. Africa…always surprisingly amazing.
While our accommodation is tucked away deep in the bush, at the end of a fun 30 minutes of bouncy gravel road, there is lots to see around here. So we find ourselves bouncing along the road towards Hoedspruit in search of places to explore. “There's the sign,” I say pointing at a small sign on the side of the road saying “Jessica Hippo” which Heather had recommended. It's another 10km gravel road to reach Jessica Hippo and I recall that once before we abandoned the idea of traveling so far just to see a hippo. However this time, as hardened travelers, we persist, and its going to turn out to be a good decision.
We are greeted by a small hippo just behind a low wooden pole fence. “Wow, cool. Jessica the hippo,” we say in excitement at seeing a small hippo up so close. It turns out we're wrong. This ain't Jess…Heading down towards the river a video presentation has just begun. It's a video made about the world famous Jessica the hippo by an Australian TV channel. We learn how Jessica was discovered by the farmer/game-ranger and his wife. She was premature and washed up in a flood. They then cared for her and an amazing, unique bond developed. They swim with Jessica, ride on her, play with her. She comes into the house, wanders around the garden…but in all this she is still free and wild. She goes out and visits other hippo pods in the river but always returns to her home with them. It truly is remarkable.
Soon we have a chance for an up-close encounter with her. Jessica is massive. She is now 15 years old. We are standing on a floating pont and Jessica rises out of the water and places her huge head on the side of the pont causing it to tilt. “All you do,” explains Tonie, Jessicas dad, “is grab some sweet potatoes, stroke Jessica's snout and then drop the food inside.” It sounds simple until you see how huge “inside” is.
Kneeling down I grab a handful of tasty hippo treats and then stroke Jessica's massive hairy snout. It feels like a broom. She opens her mouth as her eyes languidly consider me. It's a massive cavern. As the TV presenter said, “it's like feeding a dinosaur.” Large tusks protrude menacingly from the massive open maw before me. I toss the snacks into the depths and Jessica closes her mouth, as I quickly withdraw my hand.
It truly is amazing to be up close to such an incredible animal. It's referred to as “Africa's biggest killer” yet amazingly she is so content and peaceful with humans. Later the girls get a chance to kiss the hippo on her hairy snout…I suppose to make them appreciate the smooth kisses of boyfriends and husbands. The other hippo we saw earlier turns out to be a recent rescue. This one, called “seun” was also rescued and is to be released into the wild soon.
After a visit to one of the world's oldest baobabs followed by delicious craft beer, a mega burger and spectacular rugby at The Gap pub - with a good Springbok victory thrown in too - we head homeward bouncing once more along the dirt track - but somehow in the dark and with the glow of victory the road flies by and soon we're back ensconced in our aircon room ready to dream of hippos and springboks.
“One, two, three, four….all the limbs are still there.” I peer over to the inert form of Nicky next to me in the tent, I think she's all there although she is still wrapped in her sheet. That's good news no lions…and no lie ins. The birds have woken me before sunrise to a new day, our final day at Tuli Camp in Botswana.
It's been an unbelievable experience through Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana, and now two months later we are leaving and going back to South Africa. With efficiency honed from so many pack-ups, we have our site miraculously spirited away into and onto Pajey within an hour and a half - that seems to be the new standard. It's our last tent pack up, and although we loved it, looking around I'm not seeing tears in the family's eyes. I think the girls are tented out and keen on some sophistication - although they'll have to wait a bit for that.
We leave Tuli camp and head along the dirt 4x4 track towards the Pont Drift border post which is the northern most border in South Africa. It's also the most fun border as there's no one there. We sail through a friendly Botswana border and then drive through a dry river bed to get to South Africa where we are welcomed with friendly smiles into SA.
“Aah, it feels good to be home.” Even though we are just on the tip of SA, there is something about home - even with all its problems. This is my country. Here I'm not a foreigner. These are my people - black, white, striped…whatever.
We’re headed to Mopane camp in northern Kruger Park. It's a short drive and we arrive at the Punda Maria gate - one of the most northern gates of Kruger. One of the things we have had to do countless times on our trips through other countries is have our car searched. This normally involves opening the back and in most cases opening the fridge or having them scratch through our drawers.
We thought this was behind us. But Kruger has decided to get in on the act too and so once again they want to see the back of the car…“Eish!” he says when we open it and he sees how packed it is. He gives up but pokes his head inside the car, there discovering kids. Not sure if he was expecting to discover hunting rifles, tanks, severed animal heads sitting packed on our seats…but we are waved through.
We spot elephant, buffalo, and various buck as we make our way towards Mopani Camp. We stop a few times en route and also once again cross the Tropic of Capricorn. The last time was driving in Namibia from Sossusvlei to Ludertitz. It's fun passing these landmarks and we all leap out again to take the requisite photos.
“What's with all the people?” I ask as we pull up at Mopani camp. “Oh yea. It's holidays!” We don't like it when it's holiday time as people appear. They should stay at school and not clutter up our holiday spots….but there is one benefit of lots of people…rugby atmosphere.
Rugby is one interesting theme of our travels. It's not that we have seen a lot but we have been able to “watch” games in some unusual places. We watched the boks get hammered by New Zealand while sitting freezing outdoors at a pub at night in Franschhoek - thanks to load shedding. We watched Twitter and Whatsapp updates as Japan beat the boks in their opening World Cup game while seated outdoors on the banks of the Chobe river in Namibia with elephants just across from us. We watched the boks beat Samoa in a hotel room in Botswana just after an incredible sunset boat cruise. Today we're packed into a pub at Mopani camp in Kruger preparing to watch the boks play Scotland while outside the sun sets over a dam packed with elephants, crocs and various buck. This is how rugby should be enjoyed…even when it goes bad. Now for a beer!
What a game! What an atmosphere. The boks manage to pull off a great win. The highly vocal Afrikaans crowd created a great atmosphere as about one hundred people sweated, literally, as we packed in together to enjoy the action.
The stars are sprinkled liberally across the ebony night sky as we walk back to our unit. It's a stunning evening and as we enjoy our meal outside soaking up the remnants of the day, the hippos grunt in agreement. I love South Africa.
We’re slowly heading south, having left the incredible adventure of Elephant Sands behind, passed through Nata and are now headed to Tuli game reserve, not far from the SA border and about 400km from Nata.
Finally at 5pm we arrive at Molema Bush Camp in Tuli after the road slowly gets smaller and smaller before turning to gravel and then into a 4x4 track. The sun is rapidly heading toward the horizon as we setup our tents under a bug tree - a keep trying to type “big tree” but for some reason this phone changes it…must be a warning? Hopefully, the tree will give us some shade because at the moment we are sweltering.
As hardened campers we have become quite efficient and soon our campsite is set up and Josh is busy preparing homemade burgers for us. As we sip a cold beer I say, “This will be fun guys. Wild beasts everywhere, and just us alone in the bush.”
There’s only one other group at a nearby campsite. “We can handle the wild family!” I say. But little do I know there’s one beast we’re not that good at handling!
“There!” Nicky shouts pointing at something fast and dark scuttling across the floor as darkness settles over our camp and we prepare our evening meal.
“A scorpion or spider. Kill it!”
It's a call to arms and I respond with valor, grabbing a shoe and chasing the beast in the darkness. The last thing we want is a spider running into our tent. It's fast and dexterous but ultimately no match for me and soon it has been dispatched. Peace reigns.
Me:1 - Spider:0
The heat is oppressive. It's now 7pm and it's still in the high 30s and doesn't seem to be abating. “How on earth will we sleep in…”
“Spider!” shouts someone. And sure enough there is another large spider running across our eating area. Like synchronized swimmers we all raise our feet in unison as the beast scuttles past. Didn't I just kill that spider?
“Another one!” screeches a kid, pointing at yet another large arachnid making its way across our eating area.
“OK, spiders. If it's war you want it's war you'll get. We are prepared for this!” I dig out the bug spray. I knew there was a reason we had carried this around for so long. Soon I have sprayed a protective barrier around our eating spot and all around our tents. That will put and end to any more forays by scuttling beasties.
Me:2 - Spiders:0
Bliss reigns…The food is sizzling away, and we’re relaxing (with our feet off the floor).
“Spider!” sounds the shrill cry again. These beasts are immune to the poison and there seems to be no end to them. Are we camped on their house. They're scuttling all over the place and have us on the run.
It's one too many! The family retreats. For a while I try valiantly to hold the fort, much like Don Quixote, I'm armed with a broom attempting to joust with my furry foes. It's a nimble dance as I have to balance keeping my feet briefly on the ground while attempting to wield my ungainly and inappropriate weapon. The family looks on from the safety of the car, faces pressed to the windows.
After a near encounter with one of the beasties…which scuttles through my legs and into our toiletry bag…I realize I'm losing this battle. Discarding my weapon I run for the car feeling the hot breath of my pursuers behind me…or it could just be the hot wind…but either way the battle is over.
Me:2 - Spiders:2many!
It’s 8pm and we're all seated inside the car - the aircon on, our phones plugged in for charge, and the doors shut to protect us from the attack. We laugh as we think of where we are. This is adventure…who knows what else the night will bring. Giant spiders gnawing through our tents, elephants...Oh, forgot about those…
Dawn...There were no spider or elephants in the night…however there were lions. Thankfully after my exhaustion after my gallant display of chivalry while jousting the furry beasties - which are apparently called Solifugids or Red Romans - I snoozed through the roaring. With dawn comes our awaking as the cacophony of bush sounds rudely brings you back from sleep. The bark of baboons, the serenade of doves, the shrill cry of some nameless bird. The bush, it's awake…and so I crawl out and soon have coffee and mealie meal brewing away.
We're camped under a huge Nyalaberry tree which provides beautiful and much-needed shade in this hot part of Africa. We've quickly learned what's important for camping - shade, grass, electricity, water…and the bonus, our own ablutions. Our campsite here has the first and last of this list, and the bonus ablutions.
We can't walk away from the campsite as we're in a game park - hence the roaring - so we spend the day under our shady tree reading, working, relaxing…soaking up Africa.
“Hi, I'm Sakeo,” our guide says. Sakeo is key to the operations at the camp and has been very attentive to ensure our stay here has been comfortable. This afternoon we are going on a game drive wth him.
We wend our way through the bush on the landrover while Sakeo shares his fascinating bush knowledge with us. It's amazing that I've been on many bush drives yet there are still so many things I don't know.
“It's easy to tell which is the male zebra,” Sakeo says as we watch a herd nearby. “It's normally the one at the back as he protects the herd.” Now surely I should have known that by now. However as it turns out there is still plenty I need to learn as Sakeo tells us about the different animals we see.
After stopping to enjoy some sundowners near a dry river bed we head back sweeping the search light in search of animals. The leopard - as usual - are elusive although we do come across a herd of elephants, some bush babies perched in trees and a lone Wildebeest sentinel. Here too I learn how the males remain alone in their territory while the females move around.
“I’m glad I’m not a wildebeest,” I think to myself as sleep slowly draws me away while the night sounds reverberate all around our small tent. I’d far rather be in my tent with my female…Note to self: Don’t become a wildebeest.
We have spent most of the past 11 months travelling around South Africa, and we couldn't agree more with Buzfeed, who awarded South Africa the "Most Beautiful Country in the World" award, ahead of stunning places like the USA, New Zealand, Switzerland, and others. This award was given for a host of reasons, because there is not doubt that many countries have stunning mountains, or incredible wildlife, or amazing deserts. However, as they conclude in their article:
Unsurpassed wildlife and mountains, whales and waterfalls, architecture and antiquity, the world’s most beautiful city, and the world’s most stunning Spring, plus a host of natural treasures make South Africa “The Most Beautiful Country In The World”, and a must-see traveller’s dream.
South Africa truly has it all - from wildlife, to mountains, from waterfalls, to flowers, from beautiful cities to ancient fossils. It's a country of divesity, beauty, colour, and splendour that is unparalled anwyhere in the world.
Still unsure? Well here are a few facts that earned South Africa this prestigious honour:
Now that was a great night's sleep. Aircon. King-sized bed. Blissful. We awake to a new day and a new journey from Kasane and begin our southward bound travels back towards South Africa. We bid farewell to this oasis and the unmistakable smell of African luxury - polish and thatch.
It's an easy drive on great roads as we head from Kasane towards Elephant Sands, just outside Nata, about 300km away. We hit one road stop and are worried we might lose our meat, but thankfully they don't search the car and we just have to do the requisite “stand on the mat” thing….to kill bugs…we seem to have done this enough times.
We spot the turnoff to Elephant Sands wondering what it will be like. The road is sandy so we quickly engage four wheel drive so as not to have a repeat of yesterday. As we approach the lodge we see that the name is given for a good reason. A herd of elephant are drinking from the waterhole right in the center of the lodge. It's amazing. This is really up-close-and-personal…but it’s about to get even closer!
We are standing about 5m from the herd as they drink. All that separates us is open space and a slightly raised pool deck area. The African sun is doing its thing and soon we are cooling in the pool, sipping a beer and watching the herd drink right in front of us. Our chalet has a great view of the waterhole so we decide to sit there and enjoy our sundowners as the sun dips towards the horizon. We put our chairs in the shade on the side of our chalet and I decide I'll use this time to do some podcast recording. Soon I have my laptop setup up in this blissful environment and am busy recording a scene when suddenly a sixth sense causes me to turn around.
A massive elephant is making its way silently to the waterhole from behind us and is only a couple of meters behind us. With a yelp Nicky and I leap up and make a mad dash for the safety of our verandah while the large dusty grey elephant saunters by. Eish…Africa is crazy.
Soon I'm settled down again and all is good. I'm midway through another scene when I hear someone clapping on the verandah. I look up with irritation to see who has messed up my recording to see that I'm being warned of several elephant heading my way from the waterhole in front of me. A hasty retreat to safety is necessary. It seems my idyllic position is not really ideal for video recording as I'm on the elephants' path.
After rustling up a mince and nachos dinner we decide to stroll back to the pool area to watch the herd drinking at night. More and more elephants arrive. We see their huge dark forms silhouetted by the full moon as they emerge out of the bush. The waterhole is a hive of activity. Slurping, rumbling, stomping and the occasional trumpet of warning. Thick dust hangs in the air mingling with the wet earthy smell of the elephants.
Seated just meters from them it feels like we are in the middle of the herd. Every now and then one of them walks towards us causing a hasty retreat as their massive forms loom too close for comfort. Their thirst seems insatiable as they spend hours slurping the water while more elephant arrive. It's a spectacular scene lit by the dull light of the full moon.
However there is one big challenge. Getting back to our chalet. There is a constant stream of elephants appearing out of the darkness from all directions and leaving the waterhole again. Our chalet is in the path of on one of their main routes. We huddle together standing by the edge of the restaurant peering out into the silvery darkness looking for a safe path. Several large elephant are too close for us to walk and are looking at us. We retreat.
“Ok, family,” I say after five minutes, “this is our chance.” There are several groans of objection from the kids citing their youth and non-preparedness for an early demise as reasons to wait longer. However, we push on. Most of the herd is now on our left near the waterhole. They are at least 5 meters away! Several others have walked off towards our right but are off our direct path.
We scuttle quickly in the light of the moon toward a log, using it as some form of cover. A dark shape looks ahead. We freeze. It moves silently off. We dash and with several elephant coming up from our left we just make the safety of our chalet in time. The children will get to live another day - and more than that, celebrate the amazing invigoration of having lived that day in the incredible majesty and adventure of Africa.
We’ve left the excitement of Zambia’s Devil’s Pool and the majesty of Victoria Falls behind and headed back into Botswana in search of adventure. We’ve lived in some quite rustic spots lately, and so we are doing a civilization reset with a couple of days staying at the Mowani hotel in Kasane…Eish! Hotel! That’s a first for us on our trip. Electricity, own bathroom…with running water…aircon…paradise.
“I think we should go to Chobe,” Nicky wakes me up dissolving my vision of a sedate day at the lodge. She's right. We are all the way here, let's do it. The girls opt for aircon and pools and Nicky, Josh and I head out to explore Chobe. After parting with about R400 - that's costly for just three people - we enter the park in search of the big game. However, it's not the big game we're expecting that we will find. We see lots of kudu, elephant and some amazing bird sightings. However the “big game” is avoiding getting stuck. The roads are Mozambique-style roads - thick and crazy sandy. We spend more time plotting routes and approaches than looking for animals.
After engaging everything including low range and diff lock we decide to take a direct road back. This turns out to not be a good idea. We had thought because the road was not along the river, like that previous road we had been driving, it would be better. We are wrong. It's worse. Very thick sand and hilly.
Nicky closes her eyes as we approach a particularly daunting hill ahead. I put foot giving Pajey full torque. We slide and slither up the thick sand. “Oh no!” I say, which causes Nicky to open her eyes. A vehicle is coming down the track in the opposite way. “You don't move,” Nicky yells. So I hold my course refusing to budge off the road in the hope that he will try and drive off to the side into the even thicker sand. He's going nowhere either. He knows he will be stuck. Eventually as we are nearly on top of him and he's fishtailing towards me I pull to the right…and immediately come to a grinding halt.
To say that Nicky is not particularly enamoured with me is an understatement. However all is not lost. I am able to slowly reverse backwards down the track while Nicky gesticulates furiously at the other vehicle making it clear they must move aside. Eventually, he decides to move aside rather than face the glaring Nicky, and with a lot of scary sliding he manages to get slightly off the track. Giving Pajey full throttle again we slither and slug past him finally making it up the hill.
It's a long drive…or at least it feels that way with us not relishing the thought of getting stuck and having to dig ourselves out in 40c heat with wild beasts everywhere. Thankfully we make it and are soon cruising back homeward bound on a tar road again. Josh has loved the whole experience and wants to do it again…but I fear his mom is not that much into 4x4 adventures.
We have decided to do a cruise on the Chobe because it is famous for its amazing elephant sightings. Grabbing our snacks we are soon seated on the boat by 3:30, grateful that it has a roof to protect us from the sun. The river is glass smooth and we enjoy some magnificent sightings of elephant - close up. As they beach the boat, so we can watch an elephant close by on an island, it decides to walk right up to the boat and then into the water. It's magnificent being so close to them. Later we see more elephant crossing the river with a small baby in tow. The baby literally vanishes under the water, with its trunk popping out of the surface every now and then for air. Somehow it makes it, cooled down and faithfully following mom.
After witnessing another unforgettable sunset over the river, we finally return home. The boks are playing again, and this is one of the few occasions we have a TV - in our own room. They had better not let us down. Thankfully they don't as they hammer Samoa. Now that was fun. Lying in the cold aircon room we let the sweet call of sleep claim us. It's our final night of luxury. Aah, enjoy, tomorrow we're on the move again as we begin to head south, towards home.
Today we swim…like we never have, we’re headed to swim in Devil’s Pool, on the very edge of the mighty Victoria Falls! We arise early and soon have bidden two of our kids farewell as Nicky, myself and Sarah head across the river and to Zambia for the ultimate in crazy adventure. Here’s hoping we make it back…thankfully the kids have a few dollars to sustain them. Our plan is to walk to the Royal Livingstone Hotel in Zambia from Zimbabwe, as it's cheaper and hopefully faster than bringing a car through customs. It feels strange walking across a border - and is definitely a first for us.
We are through the Zim border in minutes. Painless. And then we get to enjoy the amazing walk across the bridge that spans the canyon. It's a slightly scary feeling both because this bridge was built in 1905, over a hundred years ago, and because there's a sign than warns that only one car at a time is allowed. The river roars in the canyon way below, an epic sight from this vantage point.
It's quite a walk to reach the Zambia border but finally we arrive there. Eish! Two buses have arrived and there is a long line of people waiting to enter. Oh well, we are still early, it's only 7:45am and we only have to be at our meeting point at 10. So we wait. We are well entertained by the antics of the baboons which are all over the area. They obviously get food because they are very aggressive and often cause people to scuttle away from them. After about 30 minutes we reach the front of the line. Nicky and Sarah are stamped and just before the border official takes my passport he decides it's time for a break, and promptly heads out of the building. We are left staring at an empty cubicle. Patience…patience.
We were planning to walk, what we think is 5km to the hotel, but succumb to the offer of R50 for a taxi ride. As it turns out, once we are dropped off, its only about 1km. Oh well, at least we arrived feeling important. We step back in time and arrive in the colonial era. We are at the Royal Livingstone hotel. A regal hotel with opulent buildings flows across lush green grass to the Zambezi River. We seat ourselves on the deck and soak in the splendour of this place.
“Welcome everyone," says Captain Harry as we board the boat to Livingstone Island. We've been told there are many parts to our adventure - not just the swim in the pool, and this is our first part. Soon we are gliding expertly along the river towards the "smoke that thunders”. A plume of spray rises ahead of us signaling the huge drop of the mighty Vic Falls. It seems crazy that we are on a boat heading towards this spot.
We arrive at Livingstone Island, so named because this is where David Livingstone first viewed Vic Falls from. “Ok everyone,” says Nyama, our guide, “follow me to the view site.” The day is warming up quickly. It's just 10:30 and it's already well over 30 degrees. But all of this is meaningless when we look at the view before us. A yawning gap opens before us and is painted by the stunning colors of a massive rainbow that crowns the spray rising from the falls. The cameras whirr as we try to condense this immense vista into a single scene. Impossible.
“Right everyone,” Nyama says as we stand on the edge of the water. “This is where we swim. We swim out towards the middle,” he says pointing towards the river that flows directly over the falls, “and then we go left.” I'm sure he's joking. But he isn't and soon we have plunged into the very welcome coolness of the Zambezi and are swimming towards the falls which plummet hundreds of meters down, just meters ahead of us.
It gets shallower and we're instructed to stand and link hands as we move in a chain through the water. I'm wondering if this is for safety or so that if one gets swept over we all go leaving no witnesses. However, we are soon on another rocky outcrop. Before us is the famed Devil’s Pool. It's a small rock enclave right on the very edge of the Victoria Falls. I am convinced there is no other country in the world that would ever allow a tourist attraction to be made out of such a crazy spot. This is why I love Africa.
“You climb in here,” Nyama says “and then swim to the edge.” And this is the edge. The very edge. There is nothing between this edge and hundreds of meters of waterfall. My heart is racing. It's an incredible adrenalin high. I'm swimming on the edge of a waterfall - not just any waterfall, but Vic Falls. I reach the edge. “Climb up here,” Nyama says beckoning me to join him on the ledge that is the final barrier between me and oblivion. A small film of water flows over this ledge before plummeting into the abyss.
Soon all three of us are perched on the very edge of Vic Falls. It's exhilarating. I'm relaxed and pumped. I'm floating and flying. It's epic…until…
“Eish!” I yelp as I fling my leg up into the air…which is not really a good idea when you're perched on the edge of an abyss. But I can't help it. Something is biting my feet. This river is infested with crocs and other beasts. “What was that?” I ask now somewhat concerned. “Heh heh,” laughs Nyama, “you have found the baby crocodile.” Well who said this wouldn't be fun! It turns out it's hungry little fish - just like in a foot spa, but I don't want that here.
Far on the other side visitors in Zim look at us - as we did yesterday - in shock. The view from there is stunning. But seeing people right on the edge of the waterfall defies all reason. Yet here we are, enjoying the thrill of swimming in the mighty Zambezi on the edge of Victori Falls.
Mention must be made of the photographer. While our hearts are thumping at the craziness of this entire experience - what he does is beyond crazy. He runs up and down the edge carrying various cameras taking photos from every conceivable angle. He literally is standing on the water that cascades over the falls, millimeters from the edge. Crazy, but not only does this add to the drama of the moment but it results in incredible photos.
Leaving the pool, firmly resolving to do it again, we swim back to the island. The epicness of the experience is not yet over. Set under a canvas tent is a beautiful white tablecloth covered table. “What can I offer you to drink?” our host asks as we arrive. And soon we are sipping juice and tucking into exquisitely presented poached eggs and bacon, accompanied by warm scones and bran muffins. And all this on an island in the Zambezi River on the edge of Victoria Falls.
“This is the best scone I've ever had,” Sarah says as my teeth bite through the warm, crisp outside into the soft middle. She's right. This entire breakfast is truly superb…no, this entire experience is more than that - it's without doubt a BL (Bucket List) must..for anyone who loves a little adventure in life!
Book your final bucket list experience at Devil's Pool here ;-)
She rises once more in spectacular fashion over the river in front of our tent. It's our last day in Namibia. It's been an incredible time here. A land of contrasts, a land of beauty, a land of vast openness, a land where we must certainly return. But as for now it's time to move on. Soon we are off, through two borders and driving through the Chobe Game Park in Botswana.
Screech. “What?” says Nicky as I come to a sudden halt. “There, elephant,” I say pointing out the window. A large herd with midget elephant too is on both sides of the road. It's amazing, but while we are enjoying the sighting most of the other cars just fly by. We soon discover why. After snapping the photos we are off. “Eles!” I shout. “Eles!” I shout again…and again…and again. Ok, so that is why people don't stop. There are gazillions of elephant in this area. It's really amazing. They are crossing the road all the time.
However up ahead we notice two vehicles stopped. It can't be elephant, it must be something else. “Wow,” Nicky says pointing off to the left just on the edge of the road, “wild dog!” Or Painted Dog as they are now called. They've made a kill. A large kudu is lying in the road and the wild dog are all over the place. The trees are thick with vultures awaiting their turn. The wild dog are full, judging by their satiated postures and the vultures are hungry. Every now and then the vultures swoop in for a snack and the wild dogs go crazy chasing them.
Soon we are leaving Botswana, which is painless, and entering Zim. Eish! This is the most costly border crossing of all. It's all in U.S. Dollars. Crazy. And I just keep on paying. And of course I need to use cash - dwindling supplies. After about R900 on road taxes and I think I'm done. Only to be met by another dude outside who says all cars need reflector stickers - which they sell…and we need to pay the road toll too. So it's off to another office and another R250. Crazy!
Feeling fleeced we are finally through all the borders and headed to Vic Falls. We have low expectations of Vic Falls Rest Camp, where we are staying. The TripAdvisor reviews we have read have been bleak - “basic”, “poorly maintained” etc. Eish! However, we are pleasantly surprised. I think it's all about expectations and comparisons. We have come from 14 days of tents, outdoor ablutions and toilets, often no electricity, etc. For us this basic hut with communal ablutions is wonderful. Plus there are trees and grass. Aah, how we have come to appreciate the simple things.
After a quick reconnaissance of Vic Falls, which seems to be more modern than when we were here over ten years ago, we settle down for our first night under a real (thatch) roof for several weeks.
I awake. It seems dark. In wonder what time it is. I click the light on my watch. 5:40am. Excellent. The alarm was set for 5:45am. We’re going to Vic Falls today and we want to be there early, not in the heat of the day. By 6:10 am we are at Vic Falls. I think we might be the first people here. Amazing.
The scenery is incredible. As we race from view site to view site we are blown away. What's really amazing is the beautiful rainbow created by the rising sun. Each viewpoint we stop at looks more incredible than the previous one. While the falls are low, the volume of water and the scenery is still truly epic.
“Look there!” Nicky says pointing to people walking along the edge of the waterfall on the Zambia side. We look and see a group of crazy people walking across the top of the falls. It's madness. And then they get into the water. It looks like they could be swept over at any stage. A guy taking photos is literally running one the edge. We are sure he is going to fall. And what's even more crazy is we are planning on doing this tomorrow. It's called Devil's Pool.
At the end of the falls we watch a group way down in the valley below preparing to head out on their rafting adventure. It looks like fun as they plunge yelping through the first rapids. As we're leaving the falls the crowds begin to pour in as the tour groups arrive. We've spent close to four hours here and had most of the view points to ourselves. Definitely the time to come.
We've decided to finish off our day with a sunset river cruise. It's expensive but we need to experience some of the amazing parts of Zim…especially having come so far to be here. Nicky has managed to negotiate us a decent price from a roadside seller. Everyone here sells everything. This lady is setup in a little hut and sells the cruises. We finally get it for $35 per person. Apparently they will pick us up at our lodge, and so they do.
At 4:15 a comfy 7-seater car pulls up and soon we are delivered to a jetty inside the national park. A lovely double decker boat is moored there and no sooner do we board than she is off. This is efficient. What's really great is there are only about 10 other people on the boat - so it's not crowded.
What attracted us to this cruise was not just the excitement of watching sunset over the Zambezi- but that it apparently includes snacks and as many drinks as you want.
We seat ourselves on the upper deck and a lady arrives with three plates of snacks and a choice of drinks. I was dubious about the “free drinks” part, but it's true - beer, wine, whiskey, gin and tonic etc. it's all available. Not only is it available they keep coming and asking us if they can get us anything else. We are very impressed.
But that's only the part of it. What's ridiculous is the scenery. We cruise sedately along the river. It's like a game drive as we see Bush Buck, crocodile, hippo and elephant. And then of course there is the sunset. It's not possible to describe the sunset over the Zambezi. It's a huge molten ball of lava, red and fiery, slowly sinking over the distant trees across the Zambezi. Wow! A warm air blows in our faces as we soak up the tranquility, the epic beauty of this moment.
Smooth. Whiskey. Rich. Smokey.
That's how this feels. There is a resonance between the rich, smooth taste of the whiskey and the rich, smooth, smokey sojourn of the sun towards the horizon. Africa at its best. The sky turns red, orange, gold. The hippos snort. A pair of elephant pick at the trees on the river's edge. Africa, Zimbabwe, beyond words. Zwow!