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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Creative Traveling

Day 62 - 69 

Windhoek, a very small town, had very little to offer. They had a city bus tour that was extremely overpriced ($30) Antonia and I ended up just going around by foot. Gogz also took me to see the new State House which was very beautiful and grandiose, its perimeters lined with black and gold fencing going up along the hillside, stretching for at least 1km (would be my guess)…or at least that's how impressive it appeared to be. Gogz also treated me to some local specialties including, but not limited to, Steph and Dan's favorite champagnes: Pongratz and Simonsig. I am not sure but immediately after having the Pongratz, I started to have a very adverse reaction and ended up getting really sick but Gogz, Aiesha and Elike took very good care of me and even cancelled their dinner plans to see to it that I was okay. Talk about incredibly genuine people! Anyway, there's more to this story if you're interested…I can go into detail on other reasons that Gogz and I boiled it down to but it's just too much to write here, too many factors…

That night, was Antonia's last night and we were supposed to have dinner together but because I fell ill, I ended up getting back to the backpackers a little late (10PM). I think a lot of it was fatigue and I just went to sleep. Antonia was departing early the next morning. I woke up with her at 3:30AM to see her off at 4:00AM. She had an early morning flight to Johannesburg in time to catch her flight out to Paris. Too bad she couldn't have stayed longer as it's always fun (and cheaper) to have a travel buddy!

Iroquois Point Elementary t-shirt!
The tent ended up working to our benefit and we slept in it each night! Even when we got to Windhoek, we camped at the (unhelpful) backpackers. It was a good thing too because for some reason their dorms were full along with the other backpackers in town. The only creepy thing was that the creepy guy had put up a tent next to mine! He must have known that I wasn't fond of him because he would talk to himself and many others around him but not me; I wonder if he remembers me from Etosha?

So, now that I was on my own, I needed to figure out how and when I was leaving. I was ready to be on my way and after walking around the town, felt that I had seen it all. Steph says that I should have gone out but I was there from Sunday and being a single girl, couldn't really go out…I suppose Antonia and I could have tried to go out on Sunday with the rest of the tour, after our final group dinner together, but no one was down for it so Antonia and I ended up getting back rather early…Even though Steph's friends were there they were all working (responsible people do this) so I was hoping to leave as soon as I possibly could. But there were no busses to Botswana or at least I couldn't find any! Silvester had helped me locate a company that had busses but they didn't leave until Friday. Seriously? I couldn't possibly stay here for another week just to wait for a bus. So I started to think about my options. These were the places I wanted to go before returning to South Africa in order of preference: Victoria Falls (Zambia or Zimbabwe), Okavango Delta (Botswana), and Chobe National Park (Botswana).

While walking into town on Monday, I had noticed the Zambia Express and stopped to ask questions. Yes, the bus goes to Zambia and will make a stop in Livingstone; this could be an option? Gogz also had a friend that would often bring cars to Botswana so I could possibly ride with him if he were going. So I had options…but very little time. As each day passed, I had less places to go. I also still hadn't seen Joburg because I had avoided it when I first arrived in South Africa; I wanted to give myself at the very least 2 days to see the Apartheid Museum and Soweto. Since I was just sitting around in Windhoek and spending my days at the coffee shop for free wi-fi, I discussed with Gogz the practicality of going from Windhoek to Livingstone to see the Falls first and then to make my way down to Botswana and then from there back to Johannesburg. He agreed that if I could leave even a day earlier, that made sense. So I got creative, figured out what I needed to do to get my ticket and how much the visa would cost me and decided to book it. At first I thought that it was a smarter decision to go to Zambia instead of Zimbabwe because the visa fee was cheaper but I later learned that going to Zimbabwe would have been $20 cheaper ($50 for Zambia vs. $30 for Zimbabwe). Oh well, I needed to be on my way.

The day that I finally decided to leave Windhoek, I found out that two other Canadian guys at the backpackers were also leaving that day to go to Bostwana. They said that they wouldn't mind having me go along with them but they wouldn't be going to the Delta or the Falls. But I did mention that if it worked out, I'd hope that maybe I could catch a ride back with them from Botswana to Johannesburg. We exchanged emails and I was on my way to the bus stop. Elike was sooo nice to bring me a 5L jug of water (I needed water for the 18 hour bus ride and couldn't carry it with my entire luggage now with: tent, big backpack, day pack, and bag of food!). Also his family originally from Ghana, he brought me a traditional jewelry set as a parting gift! I told you Steph's friends were so generous to me! He also drove me to the bus stop (even though it was literally a 5 minute walk down the road) during his lunch break. Thank you Elike! Those guys really took care of me, not to mention treating me generously to food and drinks on my last night there; I had to be careful because I didn't want to get sick again! Elike, the responsible one, got me home at a reasonable hour.

Elike dropping me off at the bus stop with 5L of water!
So I was off. I got to the bus station and met a friendly Zambian guy on the bus. He was very friendly and nice and he even gave me a SIM card for Botswana…only problem was that later I learned that he didn't give me the code to turn on the phone! So I ended up having to buy a new one anyway. But many of the fellow passengers (mostly Zambian) were really nice and really looked out for me on the bus. One of two girls that I met (not sure if they were girlfriends or sisters) was really nice and almost got into an argument for me because she wanted to make sure that I got the best deal when exchanging my money into Zambian Kwacha. The ride was really one of the worst bus rides I have ever been on. Mainly because it was cramped, no room to put my bags underneath the chair in front of me, the ladies chips and bag were pretty much on my lap, and if the person in front of you reclined back, you only had about 6" in front of your face to the back of their chair. But hey, for N$350 ($50), I guess you can't really complain. I had no choice but to force myself to fall asleep so I wouldn't notice how cramped and uncomfortable I was.

We actually made it into Zambia in good time. I think we crossed the border around 6:00AM. Getting out of Namibia was no problem and then we had to walk over to the Zambian border. There we had to get cleared in and I had to pay US$50 (they accept USD and Namibian money but, USD ends up being cheaper with the exchange rate) to get my visa. After we cleared immigration, we waited over an hour or so for them to clear our luggage. Apparently many go over to Namibia to buy goods (cheaper) and bring them into Zambia so customs inspects their bags to see if any duty needs to be accessed. I met this young lady with a cute little girl; I was saddened to learn that she lost her fiancé, the father of her child, in a car accident. I would later learn that this was a common fate for many.

Walking over to Zambian border from Namibia
As soon as I arrived in Livingstone, the guy who gave me his SIM card (I ended up giving him my Coast to Coast thinking I'd pick up another one along the way) showed me the way to wear the Red Cross was. The place I had picked out of Coast to Coast was located right around the corner from the Red Cross. After getting there though, I was disoriented and had no idea which way I should go. The locals that I spoke to said they didn't know what the Red Cross was; I tried to explain that it's the place that helps people but that didn't mean anything to them. I ended up just walking around with my entire luggage hoping that I'd see some signs or something soon. Luckily after walking about 300 meters and turning the corner, I did see signs. The place that I settled on Livingstone Backpackers had camping available for $5. I had already missed the free shuttle to Victoria Falls but I managed to get information on how I could ride a shared taxi for $1.25. After pitching my tent (I was getting really good at this!), I made my way to the Falls.

The people that I shared the taxi with were very nice and one of the girls got off at the same place that I did and showed me the way. I spent the entire day about 5 hours here at the Falls. It was amazingly beautiful and its beauty is difficult to put into words. I've never been to Niagara Falls (yet) so it's hard to compare but it was truly breathtaking. There is much debate on which side is better to view the Falls but I was happy with seeing it from the Zambia side which holds claim to having a larger portion of the Falls. Victoria Falls is sometimes noted for being the largest falls because it has the longest 'curtain' and the greatest volume of water. There was definitely a lot of water that there was no way that you could avoid getting soaked! They also nicknamed the Falls 'the Smoke that Thunders' because of the mist that comes up with great force. There, I even saw someone wearing this!...
I'd be interested to know how that shirt found its way to Zambia!

Iroquois Point Elementary School, Ewa Beach, Hawaii
My new objective is to meet someone from Hawaii! Born and raised there! If they're Hawaiian and grew up on our food, even better! But with a population with slightly over 1 million people, this will be an incredible challenge. I have seen a lot of t-shirts from Hawaii and people with connections to Hawaii but no true kama'aina! So if you're out there, get in touch with me and let me know where you are! You will have an entire blog dedicated to you and why you are living where you are living…

I walked around the Falls and met some interesting locals;  I even tagged along with some young 15-16 years olds. They teenagers took me down to the Boiling Pot and I felt bad because one of the girls asked me to keep an eye on her bag but as I was having someone take my photo, a large baboon came by and snatched the cookies from her bag! Then, to add insult to injury, the baboon just sits on the side quietly enjoying YOUR food as if it was his that he purchased with his own money! You really need to be careful of these hungry creatures! 


Eventually, I walked out of the park and wanted to see the Zimbabwe side even though I couldn't leave Zambia because I had only purchased a one-time entry visa so if I left, I couldn't come back (or pay again). I ended up walking out to the point where they run their bungee jumps, in an area considered no man's land, halfway between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Honestly, the bungee seemed a bit lame because it's nowhere near the Falls and it's not even that long of a jump. I say this as if I've done bungee jumping before but from where I was standing, it didn't look like it was worth it. I ended up meeting more locals and one guy professed his love to me and offered to take me to the Zimbabwe border. We got up to the sign but I was afraid that I would cross the line and not be able to come back so I didn't walk as far as he said I could, just enough to get a photo by the sign. Later we walked back and on the way back, I met a Zimbabwean, Peter, who lived and worked in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. He was an accountant and was there doing a presentation at a conference. A well-educated man, I felt that he was harmless and I agreed to have him take me back into town (so I didn't have to pay for a cab). Peter told me that he just welcomed his newest addition to his family, his 3rd son, just a week before and shared with me stories about his family and his feelings on Zimbabwe politics.

Peter had also mentioned that there was a closing event going on at the resort they were staying at and he asked if I wanted to go. I would have loved to go and eat all that good fancy food that I can no longer afford, that my taste buds know all too well, but I kindly declined; I didn't even have anything to wear anyway! So I had Peter drop me off in the town's center. We exchanged contact information and a few days later already wrote me. I ended up going to the bakery because I saw the 'wi-fi' sign but it turned out to be nothing as I couldn't get a connection. Instead though, I got some really good milk bread for $1 Yum! I ate that whole loaf of bread within a day; I did share though, I didn't eat it all by myself!

Then I remembered that my backpackers had said that I could go to their sister hotel, Fawlty Towers, and use their internet for free. So I ended up walking there and the place was very nice! It looked almost like a boutique hotel; at least their lounge/bar area appeared that way. Immediately upon walking in, I discovered that they had wi-fi! I asked Bob, the staff there how much it would be to put a tent there. He said $6…I was paying $5 at their other location and although they had free wi-fi here, my tent was already set up. Well, I told him, I'd use the internet quickly then I'll go back and see what I'll do…I may or may not come back. I ended up walking back (it was within walking distance), but it was pitch black! When I got back to my place, it was also pitch black! When I asked what happened to the electricity, they said that they didn't have any! WHAT?! That made my decision so easy. I asked the guy if he could call Bob and let him know that I would be coming back. But that meant that I had to take down my tent and gather my things in the dark. Livingstone seemed to be a small enough town that it would be safe enough to walk back but I had too much luggage and it was dark and the road was not paved but dusty. And even though I was moving further away from where I needed to go the next morning, I thought it was a worthwhile move. So I called a cab and paid $5 to have him drive me down the street.

I got back to Fawlty Towers, equipped with electricity, and set up my tent. Bob was really kind to me and didn't make me leave a deposit for the towel or the cooking equipment; I was so glad that I made the move to this place. I also met some locals, one guy really cute…half Italian, half Zambian. While I was hanging out in the bar, I also watched a video of Victoria Falls. The video was amazing; it looked as if the footage came straight from National Geographic! I found out that one of the guys staying there had taken the helicopter ride over the Falls. So I asked if it was something that I could do as well. Bob said he'd check for me. It was $130 for only 12 minutes but it seemed like such an amazing experience…I had also never been on a helicopter ride before. I had originally wanted to leave Zambia at 8AM to make it to Botswana sooner but decided to do the helicopter ride if they had availability. I also found out that Chobe, where I wanted to go was much closer than I had thought. 

Fortunately, there was a seat available and so they picked me up at 10:00AM. I got to the site and quickly signed my life away. Helicopters kind of freak me out because crashes are so common in Hawaii. But, I was there and I was going to do it. What kind of sucked about the ride though was that there was a family of 3 that I got matched up with. So they placed the daughter in the front (prime seat), the father in the back left, other on the back right and good 'ole me, right in the dead center! I felt bad leaning over trying to take photos but heck, I paid $130 for this too! They were going to have 3 sources of great footage and I'd struggle to get just one…I wish I had anticipated them doing this to me but I didn't realize any of this until we were brought out to the heliport with voices inaudible over the blaring motor of the helicopter…

My 12 minutes on the helicopter was amazing though! From where I was sitting, the view was exponentially more beautiful than what I saw on land. You could see the cliffs and where the water falls, we could even see elephants from where were were! Nothing could hide from our view! Everything was exposed. I started to feel a little queasy though with the sharp turns the helicopter was making but yes, definitely worth it. I even paid the additional $30 for the National Geographic footage that my fellow boarder had…

View from my helicopter ride over Victoria Falls


After making it back to Fawlty Towers, I bid farewell and thanked Bob. They got me in a cab and I went to the meeting point where I could find a shared taxi who would then take me to Kazungula where I would take a ferry over to the Botswana border. Contrary to my original thought that by moving to Fawtly Towers I was moving away from where I needed to go, I was actually closer to a different meeting point. So within minutes, I was at the meeting point and to my relief, there was another foreigner there. Garrreth (yes, 3 Rs!) was South African so he was foreign local, if that makes sense and it was nice to be traveling with an inside, outsider…we waited about 15 minutes until the car was full and we made our way about 60km to Kazangula. After we got there, Garrreth and I found our way to the ferry. We also wanted to exchange money here since we knew that as soon as we'd get off the ferry, we were in Botswana. But for the life of us, we couldn't figure out what the rate was and what was considered a good rate. Finally, Garrreth exchanged some money and I decided that I would change after I crossed over.

We missed the first ferry that came along; I think it was because we didn't get on it fast enough and because it's less than a 5 minute ride across the Zambezi River, the ferries are in and out. It's amazing though because these ferries, or rather barges will actually transport semis over! It was quite amazing and scary at the same time. We finally managed to get on the second barge and there was a young (26) pastor who was there. I immediately felt the sense that we could trust him.


This is the ferry we were riding to get to Botswana

Within 5 minutes, we were in Bostwana. Immigration was easy and painless (free)! After we got stamped in, we needed to find a ride to the town. Luckily we were with the pastor and we were able to find a minibus ride over to the town about 10km away. I was wrong to think that I could exchange money here because unlike the border between Namibia and Zambia, Zambia and Botswana, there was no one here offering to exchange money! It was going to cost us P3 ($0.45) for the ride. The pastor ended up offering to pay for both me and Garrreth. So, I felt like I should pay him and took out my remaining Kwacha. I offered him the equivalent for the ride, and maybe slightly more of ZK3,000 but my brain couldn't compute fast enough and I asked him if instead I should give him ZK10,000 ($2) and the pastor told me that it's better for me to give him the ZK10,000. Okay, I don't want to sound cheap because it was only $2 but honestly, I was very disappointed in the pastor. I know, I know many people will think that I am too stingy and question my own character for not being generous and why am I bitching about $2 but in that moment, I really do think it was a test of the pastor's honesty and I just felt disappointed when my brain finally calculated the 350% difference. I would have felt much better about him and would have given him all of my remaining money if he was just honest. Okay, I will end here because I know that this statement has led many to judge my character and paint myself to be a stingy person but it was really the principle. I just ended it with he probably needed the money more than I did.

So we got to the end of the line and we got dropped at Chobe Safari Lodge. These two Kiwis (New Zealanders) had given me so much helpful information that really helped my trip go much smoother than I could have imagined; they cut all the information gathering time. So they had recommended that I go and stay at the Chobe Safari Lodge. I had even emailed the Lodge the day before to reserve a spot for my small tent. I was not happy to go there and find out that they were full; they didn't even have the decency to email me back to tell me that they don't take reservations over email. So I was not happy. In Botswana, there are many wild animals that roam the street apparently (though I never saw anything more than a cow), that you really can't go anywhere! You need to find somewhere that is secured and the gates will keep out the wild animals.

Garrreth suggested that we try to find another camping site and said that he saw many along the way and didn't think it was far. We were approached by some Zimbabweans and I was inclined to go with them; I trusted Zimbabweans because all the people that I had met (including my two Nomad guides) were so nice but apparently word on the street is that they couldn't be trusted. Still, I trusted these guys and they were offering us a place to camp and were willing to take us to discuss with their landlord. At the same time, we had met some other locals who were at another lodge who discouraged us to go with them. In the end, they sent the Zimbabweans on their way and one of the guys from the lodge took us to another camping site that was very close to the ferry port! He charged us P20 ($3) which we thought was a good deal but we later learned that we could have gotten a much cheaper ride. Goes to show you…who do you trust?

On the short ride there, we passed a Nomad van along the way. It wasn't Morrison, my van but the accommodated tour, Elvis (the names of the trucks are written on the doors of the van) and I got excited! I thought the tour had ended up but was excited that I may actually meet up with the guides! We checked into our place, Thebe River Safaris for P69 ($10, $0,15 cheaper than the nicer Chobe Safari Lodge). After we pitched our tents, Elvis passed us so I went to talk to them to see where Morrison was. I was told that they were camping right behind! So I excitedly ran to find my group. There was Norman, our chef/guide and I was so excited to see him! Apparently the group was out on the sunset cruise and would be back later. So Garrreth and I decided to make our way back into town to have a drink at the Safari Lodge. I actually wanted to do the sunset cruise too but apparently I had missed it by 30 minutes and after they were rude to us, was not too inclined to spend any extra money there. I was also on the fence on whether or not I should go into the park because honestly, I was all wild-animal-out but realized that it may not be possible anyway. If I wanted to do a one night overnight on the Delta, I would need to leave the next morning on the first bus to Maun at 6AM and the morning game ride was from 6-9AM. Maybe I could have still done both but at the time, just decided to make my life simpler and leave on the first available bus. I regret it a bit because everyone who has visited Chobe has said it was the best game parks they have gone to because the number of animals that they see…I guess I will save that for my next trip.

After our sunset drinks at the upscale Lodge for $5, we made our way back to our campsite. Shortly after driving in, I decided to go back there to see if the group was back. This time, it really had been a while, about a week, since I last saw them. This was really the last time I would be seeing them because they would spend the following day in Zimbabwe, ending their tour at Victoria Falls. We caught up and had a few drinks. The biggest news now was that my friend Jolanda had acquired a new tent mate…so it seemed as if their relationship was now out in the open. Still awkward though, just because the boy was on a family trip! To each his own…I still love her and think she's an amazing woman! The funny thing, as if by some kind of premonition, she had joked that she wanted to go back to the UK after this trip, lose weight (though she already looks incredible) and get a guy 14 years younger than her! 18 years was close enough! We said our good-byes and I had to be up the next morning to be picked up at 5:30AM.

Bumped into my friend Yolanda from our African tour!

Yolanda and the Belgian brothers...
Garrreth was moving on to Francistown and decided to take the early bus too because otherwise he would have to pay for a taxi on his own and because it was Sunday, didn't know when the next bus would be. We got to the bus early and it was about 3 hours to Nata. Along the way, we had to get off the bus at least twice. Each time to go through border control; in order to contain foot and mouth disease, Botswana had checkpoints throughout and each time you'd have to get off the bus, walk through a small puddle of water and wait for the bus to drive through a bigger puddle of while and then you'd get back on 'on the other side'. Luckily I had read a little about it but when it first happened, I was so confused. Finally pulled into Nata around 9AM and then I needed to find a way to Maun which is where the Okavango Delta Tours started from. I met another nice Zimbabwean who couldn't really help me but advised me to ask the guy working at the gas station. I decided I'd use the bathroom first and then I would try to get some information. Again, by the grace of God, when I came out and asked the first gas attendant I saw, he looked a little confused then turned to the guy in front of him who had just finished filling up his car. My guess on their conversation was something like:

Gas Attendant: Hey, aren't you going to Maun?
Driver: Maun? Yeah, Maun
Gas Attendant: Maun!
Looks at me and points "Maun!"

So that's how I hitched my way to Maun. It was a van with 4 people and I thought they were all friends but I would later learn that the other couple sitting in the back was also hitching a ride. They were really nice and within another 3 hours or so, for P50 ($7 which is the actual price) I was in Maun. It turns out that one of my good friends from high school, Blake's girlfriend, Sophia's brother, Camilio, was now living in Botswana working for the Peace Corps. I had asked Camilio before I came out to Africa that I was hoping that I could come out and stay with him for a day or two. Turned out that he was now living in Maun so it was perfect! I would need a place to sleep before going out on the Delta tour anyway. So the couple dropped me at Camilio's house and I'd be staying with my friend's girlfriend's brother, whom I'd never met, for my first night in Maun.

My ride to Maun
It was now Sunday and I was shooting to be back in Johannesburg by the latest Thursday so that I could spend a few days there before flying out on Saturday…it was tight but I was going to make it happen!


  1. I check in here ever so often and all I ever see is "creative travelling". I'm dying to read all about your travels since you left my neck of the woods! Happy Traveling!

  2. Ha ha! Thanks for keeping me in check! I just added a new one...I am having a hard time posting photos though...I guess I will try to upload photos if I can but if I can't, will just upload stories...and get back to it to post photos...Sorry! Calling it a night now but check again tomorrow! Thanks for following! R