Day 21: Welcome to Zimbabwe
First off, thanks to all of you who have emailed me about the crisis brewing in Egypt. Rest assured that we are monitoring the situation, and we will make sure it is safe before we get there in 3 months. I’m still a LONG way from Cairo… trust me, I know – we have just reached Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, which is 5165 miles from Cairo…
We’ve spent the last two weeks trekking through northern Namibia and Botswana. The harsh dry desert of central Namibia has given way to an endless savannah and bush climate. It’s still incredibly hot, but much more humid and lush, like what one imagines descending upon the heart of darkness in central Africa.
Africa overpowers the senses. It has a very distinct smell; smoky and stifling, but invigorating and clean at the same time. The sunsets and sunrises are absolutely unreal, without any interference from air pollution.
You can see a thousand stars at night, including the Milky Way. The noise from the bush is incessant. In the early morning and afternoon, it’s a symphony of bird calls: egrets, geese, the go-away bird (whose scream sounds like “go away!”), African jacanda birds (aka the Jesus bird because it walks on water) – every bird plays an instrument that together sounds like a symphony of nature, something that is totally unavailable in the urban west. In the evening, the birds are quiet, but the crickets and frogs come out to chirp in full force. Plus all the other bugs of the night, and there are LOTS of bugs here in the bush. It’s never quiet in Africa, and you’re never alone, as I found out one night…
On our first night bush camping in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, I had an unexpected encounter with a few wild creatures in the middle of the night. I woke up at 2am and I really had to go to the bathroom (#1). The bush toilet was far, and I wasn’t about to trek through the bush to get there in the dark, in case I ran into some hippos, which I could hear all around my tent since we were right next to the river. So I decided I would just go outside my tent and do my business quietly. As I was about to open my tent zipper, I suddenly saw three sets of eyes glow in the dark and walk towards my tent. I freaked out a bit and quickly reached for my red light headlamp to see better, but the eyes just kept getting brighter and closer. Scared to go pee outside in the presence of unknown animals, I decided to do the only sensible thing I could. I peed in a small water bottle. In the dark. Trust me, it’s hard! I only stopped because I got scared when I heard a lizard rustle somewhere in my tent! In the middle of the night, I surely wasn’t about to go walking in my sleep!
The Okavango Delta in Botswana is the largest inland river delta in the world and a World Heritage Site. It’s an amazing place to see hippos, crocodiles and other large game. We went for a bush walk in the delta, but the monsoons had drenched the delta, so we had to take makaro canoes to wade through the delta, then wade through 6 feet high grass to search for game. Our bush ranger told us not to worry about the cobra snakes which live in the delta, because the black mamba is much more lethal and we should watch out for those instead – it’s poison kills you in 8 seconds! Great…
One afternoon after our morning bush walk, it suddenly started pouring. I got in a hammock under a veranda at the camp bar, drink in hand, listening to Shakira’s famous
song “Waka Waka, This Time for Africa” (theme song for the 2010 World Cup), and thinking, “Wow, this is Africa.” It was probably the best moment of the entire trip to date and a memory that I will cherish. There aren’t enough moments in life to slow down and eavesdrop on the torrential raindrops hitting a tin roof. Try it as much as you can.
I’ve totally lost track of days, I have no idea what day of the week it is unless I ask someone. It’s a remarkably liberating experience. All I think about is what I’m doing that day, and my biggest dilemma is when to eat my next meal, how I can get online, and whether I should nap before lunch or after. Although I will admit that after camping in the bush seven days in a row, I was incredibly happy a few days ago to go to a proper grocery store in Rundu, a Namibian town on the Angolan border. It’s such a great feeling to get access to modernity and shopping after having to cook our own food and wash our own clothes by hand.
Thank god for modernity, but there are a lot of people out in Africa without access to modern conveniences and it makes one grateful for having the easy comforts of basic civilization that we take for granted.
Everyday involves lots of driving in Africa. The distances are vast, and the roads not altogether good, or even paved for that matter, so driving can be an exhausting experience. The summer rains started coming down hard a few days ago, washing out many roads and flooding plains. A trip that would ordinarily take 2 hours is now taking 6 hours. Of course, it hasn’t helped that our trusty truck Claudia has broken down several times and we’ve had to push it free from the mud on numerous occasions. Some roads have been so inundated that we’ve had to get off the truck and take canoes to reach our destination.
Over the last week, we’ve gone to Etosha National Park in northern Namibia and Chobe National Park in northern Botswana to see wildlife. The scenery has been absolutely stunning and picture postcard perfect.
The highlight of the game drives has been seeing a dead hippo on the side of the road, being fought over by a lion and a pride of hyenas. This hippo had its tusk cut off, along with its 4 feet, so we guess that it was the unfortunate victim of poaching. The lion and hyenas had come in for the dead meet and when we pulled up, the lion was tearing off the hippo’s head and eating away. A couple hyenas came up for a nibble, but the lion wouldn’t have any of it and jumped on top of the hyena to scare them away. The hyenas started laughing in unison to scare the lion off, but she was bigger and won the right to eat away. In the bush, might makes right, and natural selection is the name of the game.
I’m looking forward to more adventures in Zimbabwe!