Once again due to the lack of internet, I have two blogs for you!
Matopos National Park and Victoria Falls
These last few days have been some of the best days of the trip so far! We started with a game drive in Matopos National Park (in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe), a national park famous for its rhinos! What we didn’t know at the time was that this game drive would be far different from any game drive we had previously been on as we’d be tracking the rhinos ourselves. Our guide was very informative and explained how to track the animals and then we were off in search for rhinos! When we came across tracks, we were out of the truck, on foot, and on a mission. After about an hour of trekking through the African bush, we came upon what looked like rocks and sure enough, we found two rhinos–a female and her baby of about three years. We inched closer and closer until we were about ten meters or thirty feet away… wow! They didn’t seem phased that we were around and simply continued with their rhino lives but wow the animals were massive! After our successful first mission, we were off to find more. We ended up finding two more male, grown white rhinos–making for a very successful rhino searching day! We learned a ton during the day–one thing that amazed me was just how different the white and black rhinos are… in fact, they’re almost completely opposite creatures! The white rhino actually got its name from the Dutch who were calling the rhino the “wide mouthed” rhino but when this was heard by the English, they understood the name to be white rhino. Naturally the black colored rhino was named the black rhino for consistency. The black and white rhinos are completely different however! They have different footprints and different demeanors as the black rhino is more dangerous and more likely to attack. White rhinos live in packs and live in grassland territories with others while the black rhinos live in solitude, up on the rocks within the park. Usually the black rhino only appears at night whereas the white rhino grazes all day… who would have known the two animals were so different! The rhinos are also heading towards extinction mostly because of poaching. Rhino horn is not only a status symbol but some believe that rhino horns have special, magical powers. Because of this false belief, the horn can sell for up to $75,000 per kilogram–a rhino’s horn can weigh anywhere from three to ten kilograms meaning that there is a lot of money in the rhino horn business. The park has 50 anti-poaching people working at all times to protect the rhino in the park and Zimbabwe has a shoot to kill policy which means that anyone who is suspected to be a poacher can immediately be shot. There are only about 4,000 rhinos left in all of Southern Africa. Surprisingly it is still legal in South Africa to shoot rhinos if a permit is obtained–so far this year they have lost about 500 rhinos and this number will probably near about 1,000 by the end of the year. I don’t get the reasoning behind to legality of still being able to hunt rhinos in South Africa… but there is likely more to the story that I’m not informed on… either way, it is pretty sad! The day in Matopos National Park was incredible and very informative–I never would have guessed that I’d see four white rhinos, on foot, about thirty feet away… definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Once our time in Bulawayo was through, we headed to Victoria Falls, one of my “temporary homes” two years ago–it was weird being back in a place that I recognize and know so well but also really neat because I was able to play tour guide and show people around the city and such! We explored Victoria Falls, the tallest waterfall in the world with a 107 meter (351 feet) drop. The falls have their own ecosystem which is similar to a tropical rainforest, complete with wildlife and all! We walked the length of the falls which amounted to about a mile as we took lots of pictures and soaked up the beauty of the falls themselves. Last time I visited the falls in June during high season and we got absolutely soaked. What a difference a simple month makes as the water levels were much lower so we stayed dry (for the most part) throughout the walk. After our walk, we treated ourselves to High Tea at one of the nicest hotels in the world… we were a bit out of place in our t-shirts and shorts… but oh well! The food was delicious and the views of the gorge from the hotel made for a very relaxing afternoon. Two years ago when I was here, I visited another very “posh” hotel which was located in the bush itself and I remember marveling over the sunsets from the balcony as they view overlooks the bush with a waterhole and displays a perfect, red African sunset. I’ve been looking forward to returning to this exact location with my friends and reliving the picture perfect sunset… and it didn’t let me down! In fact, we returned each night to watch the sunset–seeing different animals at the waterhole each night. The first night we saw about forty water buffalo, the next night we saw a giraffe, and the last night we saw a herd of elephants visit the watering hole… it was spectacular and made each night so wonderful! I also spent a day rafting on the Zambezi River–a seventeen kilometer course with thirteen rapids. I rafted on the Nile in Jinja, Uganda as well but the two rafting experiences were surprisingly very different. The rafting in Jinja was much more intense as we paddled to the rapid then just held on for dear life while the rafting here in Victoria Falls wasn’t as intense but the beauty of the gorge (in which we rafted) made up for the less intense rapids. I have a fear of crocodiles (as the normal person should) and getting close to crocodiles just isn’t my cup of tea so I asked the guide whether they had crocodiles in the rafting area… he laughed and said yes… I had no idea whether to believe the man or not until sure enough we came across a few crocodiles on the rocks… what in the world! Not going to lie, that freaked me out a little… we were definitely rafting in crocodile infested waters–luckily we didn’t have too close of personal encounters as all limbs were safe. Once again, we had a very successful day of rafting and what fun it was (minus the hike down into the gorge and the hike back up, ha!). We visited The Boma for dinner on our last night in Victoria Falls as the restaurant is known for its game meat and much more! The buffet-style dinner served up food such as impala, crocodile, guinea fowl, warthog, kudu, beef, lamb, and even mopani worms! After starving ourselves all day in anticipation for dinner, we were ready to take on the buffet. Along with the game meat, they had salads, breads, soup, rice, vegetables, pasta, lots of other meat options, and dessert… essentially it was heaven! Although I had The Boma experience two years ago, it was definitely worth doing more than once–especially since the experience is much more than simply delicious food! Upon arrival, you are given traditional fabric to wear, face paint, and seated in a tribal area. Performers such as musicians and dancers keep diners entertained throughout dinner before the festivities begin post-dinner. Festivities consist of each person in the restaurant (sits probably 200 people or so) playing a Jembe drum as we attempted to make music, a dance, fortunetellers, and singing… as I said, it is The Boma experience–not just the delicious buffet!! Despite having a few incredible days in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls, I know I am that much closer to my trip finishing. I have just three days left on the truck before I head to Johannesburg. I can’t believe how fast the time has gone as just two months ago I hadn’t even graduated from college and my fellow passengers and friends were all strangers. Saying goodbye will be very difficult… and that is an understatement to say the least! I’ve made some lifelong friends and I’m blessed to have shared this experience with all of them. Unfortunately I’m only one of two Americans on the truck which means my friends will be scattered elsewhere throughout the world from England and Wales to Australia and New Zealand… on the positive side, I guess that means that there will be some more travel involved in my future to see some of them again! For now, I’m making the most of the next few days and finishing out the trip strong! Best wishes sent to all!
Last Days on the Overland:
The highlight of the last few days was visiting Chobe National Park–a game park in Botswana that is home to more than 50,000 elephants. I actually got to visit Chobe two years ago and Chobe (to date) is probably the best national park that I have ever visited–alright, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for elephants! The scenery is beautiful in the national park as the Chobe River that runs adjacent to the national park making for beautiful views. The park is also full of animals which made the game drive exciting as we were constantly spotting crocodiles, hippos, elephants, giraffes, impala, mongoose, and many other animals. I would consider Chobe to be a must-do on a trip to Southern Africa so it was neat to end the overland portion of the trip with a trip to Chobe! Speaking of ending the trip… Wow, I can’t believe how fast 54 days can go! It seems like just yesterday I was graduating from Creighton University and looking forward to a summer spent abroad in Africa with so many adventures to be had. And now, less than two months later, a significant portion of my trip is complete. There were definitely plenty of adventures and fun along the way as we made our way from Nairobi, around Lake Victoria, and down to Maun, Botswana–our last stop with the truck before heading to Johannesburg where my trip officially finishes. These past six weeks have been spectacular and I surely don’t regret spending my life savings to venture over to Africa once again to explore. Not only was the route wonderful as we were able to see a ton along the way but the people truly made the trip the experience that it was! We began with eight–possibly the best group of eight one could ever ask for. This group increased to eighteen, adding some more fantastic people as made our way around the lake. Once in Tanzania, we said goodbye to most of our fellow passengers as we met up with another truck headed South-bound and met some more people. Luckily five of us continued and we soon became a very close-knit group. Of course we interacted with everyone and the other people were wonderful as well, the five of us became much like a family. I will miss everyone dearly but I am grateful for the time I had with such wonderful people to make countless memories that will last a lifetime. I got especially lucky with my tentmate Olivia–we met the day prior to the trip and within just a few minutes, we knew that we were going to be great friends. Surely enough after spending nearly twenty-four hours a day together for fifty-five days, we were correct. Olivia (along with most of the people on the truck) is headed to Cape Town (via Namibia) but unfortunately because medical school starts in nearly two and a half weeks, I had to finish the trip early. Saying goodbye to Olivia was extremely difficult as she is from New Zealand and I have no idea when I will see her next although I have no doubt that we will stay in contact. Overall, I had such a wonderful experience traveling across Eastern and Southern Africa via an overland with Absolute Africa. Although I wasn’t much of a camper and decided to travel a bit rougher than normal, I really enjoyed the trip and I might even miss my sleeping bag and tent (which has become home!). Luckily my trip here in Africa isn’t quite finished as my mom is currently on to South Africa. We are meeting in Johannesburg and then we will travel to Cape Town, spending a week in each city. Stay tuned for more adventures to come!