On the home straight

April 21, 2009 - Swakopmund, Namibia

Hello again,

Has been I while since I have subjected you to my wafflings which I apologise for. A combination of hectic days, long periods of driving and numerous bush camps has provided very little free time. We last said goodbye when I arrived in the late afternoon near Victoria Falls, on the Zambian/Zimbabwe border. The following morning I stuck my head out the tent to be greeted with clear blue skies, sunshine...and drizzle. In my half asleep state it took me a while to realise that the the drizzle was in fact spray from the falls about 5 miles away! We had a short video presentation detailing all the activities we could participate in during our 4 days at the falls, but since I'm not one to throw myself from a perfectly good aeroplane or bridge entrusting my life to a glorified bedsheet/elastic band, not many appealed to me. Therefore after lunch a small group of us set of to the border to walk around the Zambian side of the falls. Crossing the border on foot, we soon encountered more spray and the sound of the water crashing into the river below, before arriving half an hour later at the entrance to the falls. The path around the falls was spectacular in itself, but the highlight was the bridge over the Lower Zambezi river, just downstream of the falls themselves (where the water has come from the Upper Zambezi, obviously). Although only about 50 metres long, the bridge was suspended 100 metres over the torrent of the river, and the walk over it was made difficult by the spray from the falls being buffeted into you at high speeds. The force of the water was incredible and it was all set against the backdrop of the falls towering over your head and the roar of the Mosi-Oa-Tunya (Smoke That Thunders). After a day of R&R we went to the falls on the Zimbabwean side - which had yet more spectacular views and more opportunities to get drenched. That evening we had a nice leisurely cruise down the Zambezi at sunset, then returned to the campsite for our lesson in African Drumming. Our success with the wooden, skin-covered "Djembe" was varied, and our sore hands gave testament to the skill of the musicians who played them for a living.

Leaving the falls we crossed into Botswana and stopped in a town called Kasane for lunch and to stock up on drinks and snacks before heading to Chobe National Park; our home for one night. That evening we took a cruise down the Chobe River, and saw plenty of hippo, antelope and bird life before the highlight on the way back was a family of elephants coming down to the waters edge for a dusk drink. The next morning was an early start as we took a game drive into the National Park itself, seeing plenty of wildlife including elephant, buffalo, a family of lions, hippo, antelope and my old Physics teacher from school!!!! What a small world and all that. Later that day we left Chobe and pulled into Maun, a large town where we were to buy supplies to prepare for going into the Okavango Delta. The Delta itself is the largest in the World, and comprises of 15,000 square kilometres of Kalahari desert which is a maze of canals and islands. We arrived at the edge of the delta and transferred everything into a flotilla of Mokoro (dugout canoes) to be poled by our guides for 2 hours into the heart of the delta. Upon reaching the centre, we set up camp and were immediately struck by the unspoilt magic of the place. Other than us, there was no other sight or sound of human existence at all. That evening and the next morning we went for walks around the plains in the middle of the delta, and occasionally saw animals who had made their way there in preparation for the upcoming wet season and the plentiful vegetation it brings. During the day we spent the time swimming in the waters of the delta and a couple of us tried our hand at poling the Mokoros, which is most definately not as easy as it looks. After one more night we piled back into the Mokoros and headed back through the reeds to civilisation.

We then had one more night in Maun before crossing the border the next day into Namibia, a contrast on our journey since it was a German colony in the early 20th Century - and it retains Germanic influences in culture and language to this day. After a couple of bush camps we arrived at Etosha National Park, and the campsite at which we stayed - on the outskirts of the park itself - had the benefit of a floodlit watering hole, so we could view the animals at night when they came to drink. We went into the park that afternoon for a game drive, where as well as seeing all the usual animals, we stumbled across one of the incredibly rare Black Rhino. Classified as Critically Endangered, there are only approximately 3600 left in the world due to poaching, and even though we could only see it from a distance, we still felt very lucky to see one at all and thought we probably wouldn't again. How wrong we were. That very evening, a group of us were seated looking over the watering hole when out of the undergrowth came not one, but two black rhino. Barely 30 metres away, we looked on in silence as the 2 animals drank their fill before wandering away into the night.

Our next stop was Cheetah Park near Otjitotongwe, where we spent the afternoon playing with 3 adult cheetahs and the one baby cheetah (3 weeks old and looking like a wobbly ball of fluff with eyes) and watching the rest of the adults being fed. In the morning, we were on our way out the gates when we spotted the young giraffe they looked after at the park, and of course had to stop for some photos. Despite being only 18 months old, she was still around 9 feet tall! The rest of that day was spent on the road heading towards Spitzkoppe, an area famed for its spectacular rock formations. On the way I was having a turn riding in the cab with the driver of the truck - a big, simple, charasmatic Australian called Benny - when driving through the miles and miles of Namib Desert, we hit a stretch of road which went through some creek beds which are usually firm, but due to the wet season not yet arriving, were rather sandy. We made it through the first couple with the help of a the low-range gearbox when I turned to Benny and asked, in a polite, conversational way "Have you ever been stuck in the sand out here?" "Nope, not in the truck" came his reply. Of course, you can all guess what happened next. We came upon a creek bed about 100 metres wide and full of soft, deep sand. We got stuck immediately. Out came the sand mats and the next hour was spent inching the truck across the sand in the blazing desert sun. We made it across eventually and after a few friendly exchanges between myself and Benny about tempting fate, we continued on our way to Spitzkoppe.

We could see the rock formations from the road about 10 miles away, and the closer we got the more awe-inspiring they became. A massive area covered with piles of rocks stretching hundreds of feet into the sky, it really was on of the unknown gems of the trip. We spent an hour clambering as high as we could before the arrival of sunset meant a few final photos and descent to terra firma. Walking back from the rocks to the campsite, we came upon our first wild snake sighting. About 5 feet long coloured in dark brown and black, we had no idea if it was poisonous or not, but nevertheless we ensured our tents would be securely closed that evening.

Leaving Spitzkoppe the next morning we headed towards Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast and the Atlantic Ocean, where we would abandon the tents for 3 nights and embrace dorms and proper beds for once! The second adventure playground after the Victoria Falls, our first full day started with a short ride into the desert for a session of sandboarding. The recipe is simple; strap a bog-standard snowboard to your feet, stand at the top of a 200m high sand dune, and try and get the bottom without dying. Despite a couple of hefty falls and knocks, I made it through the session relatively unscathed due to a combination of bravery, stupidity and recklessness. After an hour back at the lodge, we were straight out again to go quad biking. This was an absolute thrill being able to ride across the desert and up and down dunes at full pelt, with nothing but sand stretching in every direction.

That was yesterday and today has been spent doing very little except for letting my poor aching body recuperate in an Internet Cafe which serves possibly the best cakes I have ever encountered. As travelling is all about experiencing new things I believe it's only fair I should try all they have available. Life is tough.

My next and final blog will be coming from Cape Town if I'm not too busy. If not, then I look forward to seeing you all next week when I get home.

Much love

Jon x


Fighting Eland + Impala


April 21, 2009
Hi there, absolutely delighted to hear from you. Sounds as though you are having all kinds of fun and adventure - black rhino, how lucky was that as so rare to see them. I have to say you seem to have lots of stops for drinks and snacks, nothing changes there then! Say hello to Cape Town for me and take care there. Look forward to seeing you on the 30th for your short stay at home before you are off again. Lots of love xxxxxxxxx
ann brĂ¼derli:
April 24, 2009
Hi Jonathan - have just read your latest entry and I'm dizzy from all the information, the amazing animal sightings you have experienced, the incredible landscapes, the desert - the kind of stuff most people just get to dream about. Enjoy the remainder of your trip -
Linda Steele:
April 27, 2009
I have loved reading your blog and am now passing on to Becky who is going to be so jealous of everything you have seen and done. Have a safe journey home and get all that washing ready for Janet to do before your next exciting adventure. LINDA
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