Zambia to Malawi: From Flatdogs Campsite, Overland Trek to Steps Campsite at Lake Malawi

Posted Posted in Round The World Trip, Zambia

The Gang at the Bar at Lake Malawi

Sleeping With The Elephants

At about 4:30AM this morning, Jon got up to go to the loo outside the tent.  He came back in a bit later and said, “There’s something very large tearing branches off trees out there.”  He couldn’t see what is was, and didn’t stick around to find out.  As it turns out, Paul the Russian had  been woken up at 4:00AM by similar noises.  He looked out the tent to see 4 elephants and 1 baby elephant standing around the tents eating the branches off the trees.  By the time we’d all gotten up at 5:00, they were long gone but left plenty of elephant dung as incriminating evidence.

Issues on Zambian Border

The drive to Malawi was a long one.  I twisted my back helping to load the truck in the morning, and took 3 Advil in preparation for the very bumpy roads.  After 20 minutes on the road, Didier the Frenchman gave me a box of French painkillers which I promptly took.  An hour later, I swear I couldn’t feel my cheeks but my back felt much, much better.  🙂  We stopped for a break at 9:00 and my back was much looser.  A few hours later, Didier gave me another one and I fell asleep.  We stopped a little before lunch at Chipata and Jon and I walked through the market there.  Jon found it very amusing that I was so out of it and the Aussies deemed me “Stoned Heidi” for the day which made me laugh.  A lot.

At noon, we stopped at the Zambia-Malawi border and our truck was over-taken by a group of men who were willing to change currency for us.  We were forewarned ahead of time that the rate is less than beneficial, and should wait until we get to a Bureau.  But it was amusing to see these guys clamoring for money changing opportunities.  We all went in to the Zambian office to clear immigration, and this is where the trouble began.

Everyone checked through without incident — except us, of course.  Here’s what the problem was: when we flew into Zimbabwe a week ago, the tour company had arranged an airport transfer for us.  When we crossed the border from Zimbabwe to Zambia to get to the campsite, the driver took our passports and got us through customs.  But apparently, the Zambian entry stamp was dated for only one day’s validity and we had been in Zambia for a week.  At the time, Jon and I were so tired from our flight that we didn’t even notice.  But the woman here at the Zambia-Malawi border certainly noticed , and she wasn’t going to budge an inch.  For a few minutes we tried to explain to her that we didn’t know this had happened and that we didn’t do this to the passports, but she said “you can’t prove it, so too bad”.  So we looked at her blankly and said, “Well, what does this mean for us?”.  She said, “You’ll be charged.”  Now, the first thought through my mind was, “Charged.  I wonder how much this is going to cost us.”  Jon’s first thought was, “Charged.  I wonder how long a sentence we’ll have to serve.”

So the charge was 10,800 Zambian Kwatcha per day of overstay, and this was a week after the stamp on the passport.  We owed 7*10,800 = 75,600 Kwatcha.  We had made a point to spend the last of our Zambian Kwatcha at the Shoprite in Chipata, so we had no more currency other than US Dollars.  We asked if we could pay in US$, and they said yes but they would only give us a rate of 3000Kw/$ (very bad exchange rate).  Obviously, these immigration officers thrive off of making our lives miserable.  Now I, of course, was still under the influence of some strong French painkillers, so I got a little emotional about all this and basically abandoned poor Jon to figure out how to get us out of the this mess.

Jon went out to the street-side currency exchange market to see what kind of rate he could negotiate.  After I had sobered up a bit, I went out to see what he was up to, and was amazed at the whole process.  If there was a Zambian Commodity Exchange, this was it.  It was like something off of Wall Street: they had market makers, traders, runners, currency arbitrage, and price collusion. All they needed were suits to complete the picture.  A large group of them had crowded around Jon, who was standing next to the truck.  Vanessa (our guide) was in the front seat of the truck helping to facilitate the transaction.  Everyone was yelling different exchange rates and they had expanded the market to include US Dollars, Zambian Kwatcha, and Malawi Kwatcha.  There were numbers being quoted left and right and wads of money being waved in the air.  My brain was much too fuzzy to figure out what was what, but Jon and Vanessa were doing just fine.  These guys on the street were basically arbitraging their way from one currency to another.  Not a risk-free arbitrage, but they were all but guaranteed a profit.  After Jon had traded US$ for Zambian Kwatcha and Malawian Kwatcha (I still don’t know how), we went back into the office to pay the penalty.  The officers miscalculated in our favor, which we didn’t bother to correct since they were going to pocket it anyway.  So an hour after the entire trauma began, we passed the Zambian border with our friends joking “$&*#(@# Americans!”.

At the Malawi border, we got through unscathed.  But Didier had some trouble because he didn’t have a Visa.  So we spent another hour on the Malawi border while Vanessa and Brendan wheeled and dealed with the officials for Didier.  In the end, they have him a pass into the country that was valid from 2 days, with the understanding that he would obtain a Visa.  So onward we drove to Lilongwe (capital of Malawi) where we looked and looked for the Immigration Office, but didn’t get there until 4:04.  Of course, it closed at 4:00.  We’ll have to come back tomorrow if we want to take Didier with us when we leave.

Steps Campsite at Lake Malawi

We arrived in Salima at Lake Malawi at the Steps Campsite around 6:45.  It was dark which is always a terrible time to arrive at a campsite because you have to set up the tent, arrange bags, cook dinner, and find the loo in the dark.  It was windy, and we could hear the lake rather than see it.  But we had no trouble finding the bar.  The local beer – Carlsburg – was less than $1 each so we were happy.  The bar closed at 11:00, so we plugged in the laptop and played MP3s until 1:00.  Then I went to bed and the Aussies went swimming.

Brenden and Jason, Lake Malawi bartenders

Zambia: Game Drive at South Luangwa National Park

Posted Posted in Round The World Trip, Zambia

Elephants on the Game Drive – view from the truck

We woke up super early at 4:45 so we could eat and be in the truck at 6:00AM when the park opened.  The game drive was amazing, despite the ungodly wake-up time.  A new pack of animals were only about 2-3 minutes apart, so we were hardly bored.  I kept a running list of what we saw and when, but pardon my butchering of the spelling.  I haven’t had a chance to double-check the game book yet:

6:00AM – 7:00AM: 7:00AM – 8:00AM 8:00AM – 9:00AM 9:00AM – 10:00AM

Fish eagle

Waterbuck

Giraffe

Bushbuck

Waterbuck

Open-billed stork

Lion

Yellow-billed stork

Impala

Female elephants and babies

Kudu

Tons of elephants

Lilac-breasted roller

Stork

Worthogs

Lions (male and female) blocking the road

Fisher’s lovebirds

 

Zebras

Monkeys

Elephants

Warthogs

Impala

Zebras

Vervet Monkeys

Crocodiles

Hippos

Waterbuck

Fish eagle

More crocodiles

More hippos

Baboons

Impalas

Waterbucks

Giraffe

Infinite numbers of zebras and impalas in waterbeds

More waterbucks

 

Zebras

HUGE herd of water buffalo

Crocodiles

Zebras

Baboons

Hippos

 

It was incredible!  We were so close to the animals, and many of them crossed the road right in front of us.  The lions we saw were lazing on the side of the road and we had to slow down to pass them.  We were so close that we could see the female lion was blind in one eye.  They were a bit put out that we had disturbed their nap time.  At one point in the morning, Brendan stopped the truck and said we could get out for a quick loo break.  We all stared at him and someone said, “Uh, Brendan.  There’s an elephant about 100 meters back there.”  This is the way the morning went – animals everywhere we turned!  The herd of water buffalo we saw was like something out of “Dances With Wolves”.  The herd seemed to stretch across the entire skyline.

 

A lion and lioness trying to nap alongside the road

 

At 10:00, we came back to camp and had brunch of eggs and leftovers from last night.  We were all so exhausted that none of us wanted to do an afternoon drive.  I sat in the sun for a while, took a shower, and then fell into a very deep sleep for 2 hours.  Jon woke me at 3:30 because our evening game drive was set to leave at 4:00.  The evening game drive wasn’t quite as rewarding as the day drive, but the first two hours while the sun was out were spectacular.

 

4:00PM – 6:00PM 6:00PM – 8:00PM

Puku

Elephant

Crocodile

Zebra

Warthogs

African Ebony Trees (not an animal, but notable)

Bushbuck

Impala

Giraffe

Warthogs

Waterbuck

Crown Cranes (Zambian National Bird)

Puku

Zebra

Warthogs

Baboons

Hermited Ginea Fouls

Impala

Zebra

Cested Barbat

Elephants, elephants, and more elephants

Hippos

 

An incredible sunset that lasted from 5:30 – 6:00!

 

Zebras

Impalas

Giraffe

Kudu with huge horns on the male

Large spotted mongoose-thing

White-tailed mongoose

Elephant Shrew

Elephants

Hippos

Even more zebras and impalas

 

We had hoped to  see a lot more predator-type species (lion and leopards). The park is said to have the highest concentration of leopards in the world.  The other truckload of people saw 2 leopards.  We had no such luck, but they seemed pretty excited by it.

 

For the record, the “big five” of game driving is as follows:

  1. Lion
  2. Buffalo
  3. Elephant
  4. Leopard
  5. Rhino

I think we did pretty well overall!  Now we will make our way to the bar to celebrate.

 

Zambia: Overland trek to Flatdogs Campsite on the Luangwa River

Posted Posted in Round The World Trip, Zambia

Skin Heads

Not to be out-done by the three red-headed Aussies (see June 8) , Jon, Dennis, and our guide Brendan have shaved their heads.  Dennis has a Nike Swoosh on the back of his.  This occurred sometime between my going to bed and the game of “Strip Three Man” they started at about 11:00 last night.  All I know is that at about 2:30AM, the Aussies played football (soccer) for a while and then crashed.  And I woke up to a very bald husband.  (He deserves this for having put up with my various hair colors over the last year).  The good times just keep on coming!  This crowd is such a riot.

Thou Shalt Push The Truck

We set off at 6:00AM to hit the road.  I’ve forgotten to mention that the truck – the fabulous ride that it is – sometimes has a hard time starting.  So we have to push it backwards while Brendan does something to make it start again.  It’s never a problem, and is apparently expected as this was written up in the Kiboko Tour Commandments (“Thou Shalt Push the Truck When It Stalls”).  But it’s funny nonetheless and adds to the flavor of the trip.

Driving In Africa

Driving through Africa is a cool experience.  The roads are sometimes paved although often full of potholes.  Today, 80% of the roads were unpaved and dusty, and therefore even more tricky to maneuver around.  Brendan is a very good driver, but whenever he hits a hole quickly we feel like we’re on a roller coaster and yell accordingly.  That makes him smile – which is important since he’s the one behind the wheel all day.

Occasionally, we’ll pass a mud hut or two and sometimes a group of them, but most of the time we don’t see anything but trees and hills.  Despite the lack of structure and homes, people are constantly walking on the side of the road.  We have no idea where they’ve come from or where they’re going, but they stroll along without a care in the world.  Africans LOVE to wave at us, and we are always very accommodating.  The children are the best.  They’ll come running out to the side of the road from their huts yelling and screaming, and they smile so big when we all wave.  I don’t know whether it’s because they rarely see cars, or if our truck is just different, or if they’re simply being friendly.  But it’s clear that it’s part of the culture.  Today I saw a child of about 1 1/2 years wave at us as if he was conditioned to do it.

It’s not unusual to see brush fires along the way.  In fact, the other night when we were driving in the dark we could look out of the window and see at least 4 burning at one glance.  It’s just nature’s way of rejuvenating itself, and no one seems troubled by it at all.  It’s an interesting comparison to the US, where brush fires make the news because of the close proximity to homes.

We stopped quickly in Chipata, a small town where we could hit the Shop-rite and get ice for the cooler.  There was a little farmers market manned by locals that sold fresh vegetables, dried fish, clothes, shoes, and various bike parts.

We have a new rule: if anyone sings “The Sun Has Got It’s Hat On”, then they get punched.  We’re so sick of hearing it that we’ve digressed to bodily harm to prevent it.

National Anthems

At the end of the trip today, the Aussies kept singing random songs so the Russians decided to contribute with their national anthem (I think that’s what it was).  If you know the movie “The Hunt for Red October”, it’s the song the crew sings as they submerge the sub at the beginning of the movie.  They have very deep baritone voices and it sounded very nice and we all clapped when they were done.  Then we sang the anthems for each nation represented on the truck.  Jon and I had to sing the Star Spangled Banner, Mathilde sang something Dutch, the South Africans reluctantly sang something, Kerry sang “God Save the Queen”, and then the crazy Aussies – standing with their fists clasped on their chests – proudly sang their anthem.  Actually I think “belted out their anthem” would be a more appropriate description.

Flatdog Campsite

We’ve settled into the Flatdog Camp, which has hot showers THANK GOD!  A flatdog is another name for a crocodile, in case you ever get asked.  It’s kind of cool because there are a few platforms in the trees, and Jon and I tried to setup our tent so we could say we slept in a tree.  Unfortunately, the platform wasn’t big enough for the tent and we don’t fancy falling out of the tree in the middle of the night going to the loo.  (Note that I’m getting the hang of the African lingo here – the British origins are obvious).

Flatdog Camp is on the Luangwa River, and there is a large family of very large hippos wallowing just off the bank.  They make the funniest noises when they’re inclined.  It sounds like a very deep snore, although it’s difficult to differentiate between the hippos and the Russians’ snoring at night.  The camp is directly next to the South Luangwa National Park which is hardly fenced in.  At the registration office, there’s a sign that basically reads: “It is very dangerous to leave this campsite on foot.  You must only leave by vehicle.  If you leave by foot, you should take your things with you because we won’t let you back in.  We’re not kidding.”  In other words, ‘if the crocodiles don’t get you, we will’.

Yet another fantastic sunset, as viewed from the campsite

We can’t go on a game drive tonight because it’s too late to get one together, but we’re going to spend all day tomorrow on a drive and probably tomorrow night as well.  Must go to the bar and have a Mosi now (Zambian beer – tres yummy).  We need a guide to accompany us from our campsite to the bar and back in case we run into any hippos or elephants along the way.  Cheery-o!

Zambia: Karibu Campsite and overland trek to Lusaka

Posted Posted in Round The World Trip, Zambia

June 9 – Zambia: Karibu Campsite and overland trek to Lusaka

This morning, we got up bright and early to hit the road.  Our laundry wasn’t dry yet, so Jon and I stuffed the load into garbage bags and hope it doesn’t smell when we get to our next site.  We had to take the same pontoon boat back across the river – the one that crosses the river by hand-turn – and passed through the overpass as well.  (see June 6).  Somehow, someone actually pulled the truck out and towed it away so we cruised by.  At 11:00 we drove into Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, to get some supplies.  I popped into an Internet cafe to send the folks a “hello-we’re-alive” email.  Apparently the hamster powering the modem was taking a break.  So it took me a good 15 minutes just to log in, read 3 emails and send 2.   15 minutes and 8,000 Kwatra (about $3).

Lunch

At lunch, we drove up a bumpy, windy road to the top of a hill with a beautiful view.  There was a satellite tower on top of it, and the man guarding it was uncomfortable letting us park there for lunch.  So we gave him a shot of whiskey, some lunch, and a beer, and he was perfectly happy to let us stay.

Uno

The group has a fierce game of “Uno” established on the truck.  It’s evolved into “Elimination Uno”, where if you lose then you’re out of the game.  Cheating is allowed, and possibly even encouraged.  Pretty cut-throat, but you gotta do what you gotta do around these Aussies!  (Especially now that they’re red-heads).

Camp

We settled into camp after dark, so we didn’t really get to see much of it.  But I can tell you that the showers were even less than what we had in the bush camp.  In fact, my attempt at taking a shower was thwarted by the fact that there wasn’t anything more than a trickle of water coming out of the spigot.  So I had to settle with just washing up a bit and no shower.   Our campsite destination tomorrow night is supposed to be paradise, so I’ll just wait.

There is a bar with a television, which has provided endless entertainment for the group.  They are going to stay up late drinking beer, but I must get to bed early or I’m going to pass out.  And we have to be up at 5:00AM tomorrow because the next site with the game drives is a long drive away.  I’ve left Jon with the Aussies drinking beer, and there’s discussion about head-shaving.  Should make for an interesting evening!

Zambia: Karibu Campsite, Zambezi River, and Buffalo Bean Campsite

Posted Posted in Round The World Trip, Zambia

We woke up in the bush at the Buffalo Bean Campsite singing “The Sun Has Got Its Hat On”, which is really quite an annoying song. We broke camp, loaded up the canoes, and continued down the river.  Lots of hippos out today, but it was very windy and so harder to canoe.

The Village

Jarris took us to another village, but this time there were no cement buildings.  everything was mud and straw, and there was absolutely no electricity at all.  The people in the village made their own beer from yeast and sugar and gave us a bottle to pass around.  Jon was in heaven.  It was actually quite good.  Dennis had his horrible fake teeth in, and the villagers were quite amused with them.  One of the ladies was missing a front tooth and thought that Dennis should give her the teeth.  Again, the children were thrilled to see us and wanted pens.  I really wish I had thought to bring some!

We canoed further downriver for a few more hours but we were all exhausted because the wind was so strong.  Finally, we arrived at our lunch spot and final stop our river trip.  We had lunch and then piled into the pontoon boats to take us back to the Karibu campsite where we started yesterday.  On the way back we saw more hippos and a couple of crocodile.  I sat next to Jarris who has a very good eye and keen knowledge of the river.  He pointed out a lot of wildlife I never would have seen.

Back at the Karibu camp we unloaded the boats, set up camp, showered, did laundry, and relaxed at the bar at a nearby lodge.  Three of the crazy Aussies died their hair red.  It actually turned out very well!  The color reminds me of what color my hair was just a week and a half ago.

It’s an early night for us because we have to get up early to hit the road again.  That, and we’re out of beer so what’s the point in staying up when you can get some good sleep?

Zambia: Karibu Campsite, Zambize River, and Buffalo Bean Campsite

Posted Posted in Round The World Trip, Zambia

Today we woke up and canoed the lower Zambezi River.  The weather was wonderful, although a little windy so the river was kind of rough.  Our guide – Jarris – was going to take us about 15km downriver to where we would camp tonight.

We each got a bucket with a lid to put our stuff in and to take with us on the canoe.  (This little fact is important to later in the story.)  After a few hours, we stopped for lunch at a pretty little beach, where we waited out the worst heat of the day.  This is where Mathilde – from Amsterdam – taught us a ridiculous song she learned at camp:

The sun has got its hat on,

Hip, hip, hip, hip, hooray.

The sun has got its hat on,

It’s coming out to play.

Ever since she sang it, it’s been in our heads and is driving us crazy!

See if you can guess which canoe isn’t with our group

After lunch, we canoed more, saw some hippos and some beautiful birds.  Around 3:00, Jarris pulled us over to a bank and we got out and followed a path into a little village in the Kafue District.  All the buildings were cement, and there was some electricity but most of the buildings were without it.  The children were thrilled to see us and kept asking for pens.  Some of our group had been thoughtful enough to bring crayons and pens, and Jon and I wished we had some.  They wanted sweets, too, but they would rather have had the pens.  At the end of our village tour, all the villagers gathered around a group of boys sang and danced and played the drums for us.  It was like something out of National Geographic.

Russian Capsize

The 4 Russians sound like they are constantly fighting, but I guess it’s just a factor of their dialect.  At any rate, the two who speak English – Vladimir and Paul – shared a canoe together.  Vladimir was in the Russian Army for 20 years, and Paul is some sort of doctor.  They are all extremely stubborn (“We will only cook if there are no women around to do the cooking”), but their hearts are honestly in the right places most of the time.  Vladimir is a plethora of historical information.  Quite impressive, actually, and Paul smiles and jokes a lot.  But the funny thing about their canoe partnership is that Vladimir – the stern colonel – got into the front of the canoe and Paul got into the back.  Just after the trip began, Paul took off his life jacket, lathered on some suntan lotion, and stretched out to get some sun.  Vladimir, on the other hand, was fully suited up with life jacket and shirt and cap and was doing all the paddling work.  Now if you know canoeing, then you know that 80% of the work is done by the person in the back.  So Vlad and Paul were operating at about 20% capacity.  Vladimir would occasionally yell something in Russian at Paul and Paul would do some paddling, but it never lasted for long.  Paul was usually videoing or photographing something with his fancy equipment.  It was quite entertaining to watch.

This is important because, just after we left the village, Jon and I heard a splash and looked over to see Vladimir and Paul in the water and hanging onto the flipped canoe for dear life. Since Jon and I were the closest to them, we canoed over to rescue one of the buckets rapidly floating away.  Paul was very upset about losing his camera and kept trying to leave the overturned canoe to try and find it.  Jarris – our guide – was frustrated because Paul wasn’t listening to him and this is hardly the river to have people splashing about.  After about 15 minutes, Jarris finally got them to a marsh in the middle of the river where they could stand and get back into the canoe.  As we neared the marsh, we couldn’t help but notice the 3 hippos across the way whose curiosity was clearly peaked, but they didn’t come any closer.  After all this was over, we’d lost about 45 minutes and the sun was going down.  So Jarris had us pick up the pace to get to our campsite – Buffalo Bean.

Buffalo Bean Campsite

Our campsite was considered a “bush site”, as we were definitely roughing it.  There was no shower aside from a bucket of river water, no toilet apart from the hole we dug into the ground, and a whole lot of prickly plants to step on.  We had a delicious beef stew for dinner and sat around the campfire drinking beer and laughing at Vladimir and Paul’s recollection of the capsize.  Paul swore he didn’t move at all, but none of really believe that Vladimir was the slacker in the situation.  After all, it was Paul’s bucket that was open and consequently lost in the river – cameras and all.  Clearly, he was fiddling with his bucket and toys and did something to tip the boat.  The look on Vladimir’s face was priceless!  This kept us entertained long after we’d finished our beer supply.

The moon was so bright that we didn’t need a torch to get around the campsite from one tent to another.  And the stars were some of the most amazing I’d ever seen.  I forget that there are stars like this in the sky.  I’m so used  to NYC where you can’t see anything beyond the skyscrapers.

Zambia: Overland trek from Victoria Falls to Zambezi River

Posted Posted in Round The World Trip, Zambia

We got up and – at 6:30AM – went to Victoria Falls.  Beautiful sight.  Even with a rain coat we were completely soaked.  Back to camp, we packed up and loaded the truck.  Then we hit the road to drive to our canoe site.  We were on the road for about 3 hours when we stopped at Choma for lunch at a little museum and park.  Very cute!

Jon at Victoria Falls

Vic Falls

The Truck

The truck we’re riding in seats 22 people comfortably.  There are only 17 of us, so we have plenty of room.  The Aussies call it a “glorified taxi”, but it’s basically a cross between a truck and a large bus – only we’re not allowed to call it a bus.   It’s very efficiently designed – tables hide into random chutes and chairs lift up to store food and gear.  Pretty cool.

The bus-truck (and Matt)

The Overpass

Right now, we’re sitting on a mountain overpass in stopped traffic.  We have 1.5 hours to get to our campsite before the last pontoon boat stops running.  Apparently, a huge truck is blocking the pass and we may be here for a little while.

One Hour Later: So this overpass is renowned for having accidents and stalled trucks.  It’s the only road between this town and a few power plants, so it’s frequented by trucks and tankers, but is also a narrow, windy road.  When a truck breaks down and the driver abandons it, it blocks this little two-lane road.  I suppose this happens a lot.  The solution – naturally – is to push the truck off the road down the hill which of course causes serious mangling and devastation.  That’s what happened this time (3 days ago), but they couldn’t get the truck all the way down the hill and its back was projected over one of the lanes.  For some bizarre reason someone decided to call a tow truck to haul it out of the ravine.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t  get it more than 1/2 way out.  So – after many hours – they just pushed it back to where it was before and we inched our way around it.  All in all, it was very interesting.  We sat on top of the truck on top of a hill and watched this entire mess pan out.  Well, everyone had parked their cars/trucks and had congregated near the truck to offer their advice.  It was all very efficient.

African entertainment

The man-powered ferry that took us to our campsite (literally powered by one man!)

Things can get a little boring on the drive, so having fun with the person that is lucky enough to fall asleep is all part of the trip

Zambia: Victoria Falls

Posted Posted in Africa, Round The World Trip, Zambia

If today is any indication of what the rest of our trip is like, then I may never go home.  The group split up and did different activities today.  Jon and I signed up for the “microlite tour” and the “gorge swing”.  So a group of us got on the shuttle that came at 7:30AM and then we were off on a day of adventure.  Be forewarned – this journal is a long one!

Microlite

A microlight plane is similar to a hang glider, except it’s piloted by a small engine and propeller.  The Microlite can hold two people – the pilot and the passenger.  I got suited up in a crazy orange flight suit and climbed in behind my pilot, Kevin, for a flight over Victoria Falls.  Now, I feel like I need to describe this first: you are way up in the air and wide open to the elements.  Although you’re completely strapped in, this doesn’t really stop the feeling that you could plummet to your death at any second.  Sort of like the beginning of a “falling” nightmare, where you look down and see the depth of the fall just before you actually fall in your dream.

Heidi, ready for takeoff

I was gripping the handlebars so tightly that my knuckles where white.  So my man Kevin started chatting with me over the headset to get me to relax.  And then we were over the falls and I forgot all my worries.  So incredible!  The falls are absolutely huge, and have so much water with such power that there is a perpetual mountain of mist over them.  Niagra has nothing compared to this.  And I can’t imagine seeing them any other way.

As we were flying over them, Kevin used a rainbow that moved with us as a pointer to show me the Zimbabwe side of the falls, the place where Mr. Livingston got out of his canoe just before going over, and the Zambia side of the falls.  When I told him we were doing the Gorge Swing later, he pointed out that area as well.  Yes, it’s a gorge, and yes, it’s high.  But more on this later.

So on our way back, Kev pointed out some hippos, a crocodile, and baboons.  Apparently, baboons are like rats.  I was feeling much better by this point, so Kev did a few minor stunts for my entertainment.  He let the engine stall so we just glided in complete silence for a minute.  After that, he did the “roller coaster” where we ascended steeply and then dropped quickly.  I thought my heart might drop through my stomach at one point, but then it was kind of fun.  I got the impression that he could do these much steeper, but was taking it easy on me.  Still, it was wonderful.  After we landed, Jon took the same flight and then we boarded a shuttle to take us to the Gorge Swing.

Gorge Swing

Let me say first that both Jon and I are very frightened of heights.  I don’t think ours is an unnatural feeling, just one of strong self preservation.  (You know, sweaty palms and a dizzy feeling).  But, for some masochistic reason that we can’t fully explain, we continue to subject ourselves to activities and sights that are located high up.

The Gorge Swing is probably the worst thing we’ve ever done.  There are 3 different things to do at the Gorge: 1) The Zip Wire, 2) The Abseil, and 3) The Swing.  Since we had an all-day pass, they started us the zip wire.  This extends from one side of the gorge to the other.  Paul – the owner – harnessed me to the high wire, and I ran across the platform and zipped across the wire.  When I came to a stop, I was hanging out over the gorge until they pulled me back in.  The first two times, I did it in a sitting position where the harness is attached at my belly and I could hold onto it.  The next few times, I did the “superman” where the harness was attached to my back and I flew across the gorge face down.  It’s quite unnerving to have nothing to hold onto while you’re staring 130m down a gorge.  I had to remind myself to breathe.

Super-Heidi on the zip wire

After the zip wire, we went to the abseil which is a rappelling sort of thing.  We rappelled down 54 meters down the side of the cliff into the gorge.  Jon went first as he knew it was going to be difficult for him because of the height.  I went next and was completely trembling by the time I got to bottom.  There’s something about hanging by a rope on a side of a cliff that’s a bit nerve wracking.  After the rest of our group made it down, we started the hike back up the gorge.  It took about 25 minutes and was incredibly steep.  We were all breathing pretty hard by the time we made it to the top, but it was worth the views.

After that, we did it all again.  Only this time, it was easier.  Some people when down forward (called “rap jumping”) instead of backwards, but Jon and I opted for the latter.  By this point, the crazy Aussies has become quite the entertainment.  Dennis had some fake teeth that look like a dentist’s nightmare.  He insisted on wearing them for every  activity.  It was hysterical to see the reactions of the people that worked around the gorge when he would walk up with these heinous teeth.  So funny!  Anyway, the crazy Aussies decided to do time trials rap jumping.  So we were below when they cam barreling down the cliff.  Dennis was rappelling so quickly that his body started to spin in circles.  Quite funny to watch from below.  Afterwards, we made the trek back up the gorge again.

We sat and ate lunch in front of the gorge swing – something we had heard horror stories about all day.  Basically, it’s one cable stretched from one side of the gorge to the other.  In the middle of the cable is tied a second cable.  The other end of the second cable is pulled back to the platform, although there is plenty of slack in the line.  So, basically, one steps off the platform and free falls until the slack goes taught, and one ends up swinging back and forth over the gorge.  It’s not a bungee jump – there is no bounce back from the cord.  But it’s similar in that the first step to the edge of the platform is the doozy.  Jon and I went tandem together and Paul estimated that we would travel at 180km/hr.  No kidding.  We were completely terrified, but determined to do it.  So we inched our way to the end of the platform, Paul counted three…. two… one… and we stepped… and fell and fell and fell and fell and fell and finally we were swinging back and forth across the gorge.  Thankful, of course, to be alive.  By this point, the harnesses had definitely moved into uncomfortable places and Jon said “Hon, I don’t think we’re going to have kids”.  The Aussies were below us in the gorge and caught this all on video and thought Jon’s comment was the funniest thing they’d heard all day. (For more on the Aussie Video, click here)

The crazy Aussies just before the gorge swing (note the hats taped to all of their heads!)

So we were lowered down to the bottom of the gorge, unharnessed, and we made one last trek up the gorge.  We rested, drank beer, and went to meet the rest of the group on the Booze Cruise.

Booze Cruise

This was a lovely trip on the Zambezi river with unlimited drinks and dinner and wonderful sights.  We saw giraffe, a little crocodile, and gorgeous sunset.  The moon was practically full and at one point we could see the sunset on one side of the boat and the moonrise on the other.  Quite spectacular.  After the sun went down, dinner was served and the elephants came out into the marshes.  I couldn’t get a picture because it was so dark, but they were amazing! I don’t think we would have seen them if the moon hadn’t been so bright.  3 of them crossed the river right in front of us.

Our second sunset in Africa – are they all like this?

As the evening went on, the Aussies drank more and the singing commenced.  Next thing we knew, someone brought out a drum and we the natives on the boat started singing, and we were all dancing around the bar.  Then it was time to go.

Mathilde leads the congo line

Other Interesting Things about Today:

The Aussie Video

My Finger Injury

Zambia: Marambu Campsite in Victoria Falls

Posted Posted in Round The World Trip, Zambia

I am right now sitting on a lounge chair in what can only be described as an oasis of a campsite.  The flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg was long, but uneventful except for the women with very loud voices sitting behind us.  They were fine when they went to sleep, but when they were chatting – ohboy.  We know all about this woman and her husband Cecil and the various property investments they have.  Made their money from RV parks, apparently.  Who knew what a lucrative business that was?

Anyway, we arrived in Johannesburg on time, got to our flight to Zimbabwe, and arrived safe and sound at Victoria Falls around noon.  There are baboons everywhere.  We’d arranged for an airport transfer to the campsite where we’re supposed to meet our safari tour group.  They started in Johannesburg on June 2, and are due here sometime this evening.  The campsite is in Zambia, which means we had to cross the border and – of course – use up a visa I hadn’t planned on using this soon.  But it’s all good, we’ll just get another when we go back to Zimbabwe to see the Falls from the “prettier” side.

Anyway, the Marambu campsite has a lovely little pool that looks like something out of a real estate magazine.  It’s decorated with little rocks and a waterfall, and was nice and cold for my very swollen feet.  (Well, you try flying for 19 total hours and see how your feet react).  So we’ve been sitting here next to the pool for a few hours reading our books.  There’s a little lake/pond/swamp behind us with a sign in front of it with a picture of a crocodile.  It reads, “Be careful.  I live here.”  I can’t vouch for the crocodile, but the three hippopotami seem very happy there.  The little baby (and I use the term “little” loosely) is cute.  I want to call the mom Henrietta, but I’m not sure why.  Is there a children’s storybook with Henrietta Hippo somewhere?  They’re very lazy.  Don’t do much but surface, snort, and go back under.  In the past 5 hours, they’ve moved about 10 feet.  Maybe that’s what I’ll be in my next lifetime.

Poolside in Zambia!

Later…

Our Kiboko Trek Group arrived around 6:30PM.  Once the sun goes down, it gets very cold here because we’re still pretty far south – so it’s wintertime. So we were freezing and ready to book our own tent, shower and sleep.  But luckily they arrived!  We set up our tent in the dark, and got our sleeping bags settled in.  There are 17 people on the trek, plus our two guides.  Here’s the lowdown on the group:

  • 4 crazy Aussie guys – Dennis, Matt, Jason, and Brandon
  • 2 girls named Andrea.  One is from Prague, the other from Austria
  • 1 girl from Amsterdam named Mathilde
  • A lawyer named Juliette from Capetown, South Africa
  • Kerry from London who smashed her knee moments before we met her and was understandably unhappy.
  • A man from France named Didier who owns a chain of hair salons.  Oui, oui!
  • 4 Russian gentlemen, one of whom was in the Russian arm for 20 years.  He (Vladimir) found it notable that “all four superpowers of the world” were represented by our group.
  • Susan, an older women from South Africa
  • Our two guides: Brandon and Vanessa

Our first sunset in Africa

Vanessa and Brandon made dinner.  Apparently, there are two additional people “on duty” each day to assist with cutting veggies, cleaning pots and pans and any other stuff.  Jon and I are at the end of the list, but we’ll come up soon.

We socialized for a while and then went (finally) to shower.  Technically, this is the first shower either of us has had in two days.  The camp showers – while in an enclosed area – is wide open to the air.  So the temp is about 45-50 degrees by now, and the air around the shower  is cold!  I attempted to shave my legs, but the goosebumps caused me to nick myself quite a few times.

We were told to watch out for the hippos in the middle of night as they sometimes get out and walk around.  Lovely – be careful on midnight bathroom breaks!

“How We Almost Didn’t Make It”

Posted Posted in Round The World Trip, Zambia

So it’s 9:30 AM on Sunday morning, and we’re sitting in Atlanta’s International Terminal waiting for our flight to South Africa to begin boarding.  We’ve been up all night, but we managed to catch a few zzzz’s on the flight from NY to GA.

We went to the most fabulous wedding last night.  One of my best friends – Alicia – got married in what was nothing less than a fairytale wedding – with some extra culture to add a twist to the fairytale.  She looked like a princess (and I’m not just saying that).  The wedding was at a beautiful Armenian church, and the reception at a gorgeous old bank-turned-event-hall in Midtown.  The food was divine, the bands were excellent, and there were bellydancers balancing candelabras and swords on their heads.  Enough said.  Brilliant night all around.

So we closed the reception down and said good-bye to our friends at about 2:30AM.  Then Jon and I went home to do one last load of laundry, finish packing, and clean the remainder of the apartment for the sub-letters.  At about 5:00AM, we were completely running late for our 6:30AM flight, not to mention seeing double due to lack of sleep.  So we out into the very foggy weather and tried to hail a cab, which wasn’t working well for us.  Aside from a very small percentage of Wall Street, any sane New Yorker is still in bed at 5:00, so we were completely shocked that we couldn’t get a cab.  Finally, a livery cab drove up (a Lincoln for hire) and we negotiated a price and got in.

This is how we almost didn’t make it:  After we got through the Holland Tunnel, it seemed like the wheel suspension was slightly off, as the car was swerving just a bit – like a few inches at a time.  But the driver would pull it back and we’d continue on.  This isn’t always unusual in cabs, albeit slightly annoying for the passengers in the car as you get a bit of whiplash.  But you learn to deal.  However, it wasn’t until he crossed into another lane and swerved back to his lane that Jon and I looked at each other.  My first thought was “Oh My God.  We’ve hired a drunk driver.”  But Jon realized that the guy was falling asleep at the wheel.  He said, “Hey.  Are you OK?”  And the cabbie woke up and said “Yeah, yeah, fine.”  Yeah.  Right.  I was traumatized as visions of us plowing into a concrete barricade went through my mind.  How ironic that we were going to die on our way to Newark.  But Jon (smart man that I married) proceeded to start a conversation with our narcoleptic cab driver so he would stay awake.  It doesn’t sound so bad now in print, but we really were freaked out by the entire experience.  On the plane to Atlanta, Jon looked at me and said, “Wow.  We could have died this morning”.  But I guess you had to be there.  How funny that our experience began with a nightmare cab ride on the NJ Turnpike!  I can’t wait for what’s next.

Speaking of, we’re off to board our 15 hour flight to Johannesburg now.  Cheers!