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Oct 20, 2005 - South Africa

Reported by JoMar All rights reserved.

we are "out of Africa" !

Arriving into South Africa was indeed a breath of fresh air.

Zanzibar was truly great but let me tell you it was still very poor and very much a 3rd world environment.

Cape Town, surrounded by mountains, Atlantic and the Indian Ocean was like the western world, with just a hint now and then that we were still in Africa.  We found a very nice B&B that was run by two German guys, and was nestled right below Table Mountain; what a backdrop! Here we lazed for 3 nights and 4 days enjoying the familiar lifestyle we are used to. Cape Town was really a pretty city, with quaint little areas that went from trendy to local.  By the 4th day, we were ready to join our Drifters group to start this once in a lifetime journey through 4 countries in the bottom half of Africa!

Our activities on this 24 day trek would include:

1. overland journeys
2. nature and wildlife
3. history and culture
4. preservation of wildlife...

The countries we would visit are:

1. South Africa
2. Namibia
3. Botswana
4. Zimbabwe

We were pumped and excited to begin and to meet our 15 other travel-mates. So on the 24th of September, 2005 we left the comforts of our historic B&B and collected ourselves among:

Christian & Brigitte ~ Germany
Dana ~ Switzerland
Leigh ~ Switzerland
Beth ~ Canada
Regine & Pascal ~ Switzerland
Donna ~ Canada
Julie ~ Australia
Pam ~ Australia
Franziska ~ Switzerland
Constanze ~ Germany
Rebecca ~ New Zealand
Cheryl ~ Australia
Stephanie ~ Germany
Derrick, our guide ~ South Africa


We received our briefing, signed our lives away (Brigitte!) and left for the first sights of our venture : a drive through beautiful Cape Town along the coast to Hout Bay (Lynn, when I saw this bay, I thought of you, it was so beautiful) and then over to South Africa's most southerly point, Cape Point. Wow... this was spectacular!

We trekked about an hour up to this point where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean. It really was a sight to see. On the hike we came across baboons and they were quite aggressive; if you were carrying any sort of bag or backpack, they would actually try and get it from you for food. One girl, not in our group got jumped on from behind, as she was wearing a small backpack on her back! It was a great day so far! We headed to the countryside to visit a famous winery called Stellenbosch where we got a tour of the facilities and of course some wine tasting!

On the 26th, we left what they call "mother city" (Cape Town) and head 6 hours west to our first "camp" near Springbok on Cozy Mountain... Marc's first night in a REAL tent!

As we got closer to our campsite, the sun was setting fast and by the time got there and got our gear out of TRUDY (the name we gave our bus, OOOPS, sorry Derrick, our TRUCK ! hehehee), it was dark and COLD... once the sun was set, the temperature dropped from a comfortable 23C to about 10 or 12C! Derrick prepared a great meal for dinner and by the time we finished this and set up tents (in the dark, by the way) it was colder, cold enough to see our breath; we all had little to no sleep, literally shivered all night long, not a great first night.

We were only happy to see the sun rise to warm us up, and to leave this "not-so-cozy" mountain and head over the border into scenic Namibia. (Lars, I remember you telling me about Namibia, and how we should visit this country, you were right!)

Orange River Canoe Trip: Can I say F U C K ?

I just did.

It all sounds very exciting on paper, but let me tell you with no experience, it was a complete nightmare. We were two nights and two days on the Orange River. We got very little briefing about safety or how to maneuver this damn canoe.

First problem was they were two man canoes and of course John and I shared one. Both of us very green at being in a canoe (you think this is funny ?) Second problem was we were all given 3 so-called, air-tight bucket for our clothing and valuables, they were NOT water proof...  Third problem, the river was at its lowest in years and the rocks that were normally submerged quite deeply were NOT.

Just a few paddles down the river a very sweet couple, with fearful thoughts right from the beginning had crashed into one of these rocks and toppled into the rapids, scuffed, bruised and very upset. We did not know how to steer, your instincts were opposite and it was stressful thinking about capsizing with our new camera, as we saw the first two go into the treacherous waters. This lasted most of the first day and by the end of it, I (Marc) was bushed to the limit.

I was glad to be done with the first day, thinking it was more than 1/2 done and then next day would be short. (ha, ha!) We camped along the river bank, no tents, just under the African skies. The stars in the heavens were spectacular + two beer, I slept like a babe.

Morning... we found out that we had a long day ahead of us, but the landscape would be worth it.

Here it comes again... Fuck.

We were on this freaking river from 08:30 until after 5pm. John and I had toppled into the water 2 times, got stuck at least two times on huge rocks.  The last time we went in was pretty dangerous, it was in really fast rapids and we both had hit rocks several times. I had a massive bruise on my tailbone that killed for several days, developed tendonitis  in my right forearm that I had to have wrapped for 8 days, it was so sore. John's feet were cut open and the fear in his eyes as we approached rocks and rapids was scary. It was too long for most of us in-experienced canoe-ers... in this river and hot African sun. Exhausted and on the brink of a nervous breakdown!

I could go on day by day, but as you can see it would be a very long read, so "highlights" only from here on in.

Day 6 was Fish River Canyon --  spectacular.

This is the second largest canyon in the world, first being of course the Grand Canyon in the United States. Our guide, Derrick said we could climb down into the canyon if we wanted to, but I wasn't up to it, it was really hot, and I was still recovering from, "you know what"! (and so were you Brigitte!)

But John was enthusiastic about it so he joined Regine, Leigh, Pascal and Dana for the plunge. After they left, we realized from other guides at the top, they were not actually allowed to do this, it was really dangerous for snakes and the terrain had recently been named: dangerous and severe. Now, I was worried!

They did make it back safely, but did not have time to go right to the bottom. Glad you were all OK, and good on you for bravery.

The next highlight along our trip was day 9 after leaving the Namib desert, where we had been in sand for days by now, we had actually spent two nights at the Drifters Desert Camp on a private game reserve. This camp was spectacularly situated against a rock outcrop between the stark mountains and the red dune lands. We now were heading to Sossusvlei - Swakopmund, an early start to the day started at 02:30 AM... but that was OK because heading to see the highest sand dunes in Africa had to be seen at sunrise to appreciate their beauty.

But, unfortunately, that did not happen.  On the way out of the desert camp, we got stuck in the sand. We got stuck for a few hours.  It was cold, 8C, and it was very hard work for most of us, taking turns with shovels, trying desperately to get us out. (I felt really guilty not helping out, due to this damn hernia, tendonitis and badly bruised lower back)  We finally got out, but needless to say, we had not travelled far and now the sun was up and the dunes were still hours away...   but wow, they were so much fun, they were still overwhelmingly beautiful and well worth it! Sand, sand, sand; everywhere, between the toes, in your nose, up your crack!!

That is why, down the road, I forget how far, our next sleep was NOT in a tent, but a BED!  Swakopmund was like an oasis. What a great little town, right on the Atlantic Ocean, cooler, cleaner air, and for 2 glorious nights, well deserved, I think... :-)

Skipping to day 13 and 14, was Etosha Ntl' Park. Incredible wildlife experience during our afternoon game drive and return to the camp and enjoy the evening game viewing at the floodlit waterhole where we saw elephant, giraffe, gazelle, rhino's, and even saw a lioness stalking an innocent springbok getting a drink. Something you really don't want to see, but can't take your eyes off of the moment.

Day 15, we leave the harsh desert landscapes behind us and travel north to the lush Caprivi area, where we camp on the banks of the mighty Okavango River at "Ngepi".
 
This was a real memorable time here.  We settled in, refreshed as best we could and started to do a little overdue partying. The river was stalked with hippo's and crocodiles. The bartender(s) were hotter than a flash flood and the music was gripping.

Drinks were cheap and we drank! We danced, and danced, we started to take off some of these sweaty clothes and there you have it, some tipsy, 1/2 dressed world travellers. Before the night was up, John had alot of us skinny dipping in the hippo/croc infested river, EVEN ME.

There was a section of the river that was caged off, for safe swimming ! hehehehee !

It was soooooooo much fun! But all good things come to an end!

Next stop was crossing into Botswana... where we enjoyed a short flight over to the Okavango Delta area (somewhere Brigitte could not wait to get to!)

It was very cool. We were then transferred to a 4X4 and then to a small dug out canoe, YES canoe... called a mekoro. We did not have to drive this thing at all. (YIPPEE)  We floated along the delta to our remote camp in search of the huge variety of animals that live here. It was amazing. We saw the most incredible birds in swarms, storks, pelicans etc. On the island that we stayed at is where we had to be warned about the large amounts of wildlife and how they could visit our camp while we slept! Like elephants!

Being tired once again, once we settled in and got things unpacked and did the lunch thing, some of us ( not me, but Stephanie, John and Franziska) pulled their mats out of their tents for a snooze outside cuz the tents were way too hot, of course.

As they slept and the rest of us just mingled under some shade, I heard some harsh rustling of leaves just about 100 feet away. Through the thick of the jungle -- like setting, out of nowhere, I saw the biggest freaking elephant ever. This creature was even closer to the three of the mats then it was to us, and I kinda panicked, even though you are not suppose to. I said " John, get up, get up slowly and walk towards me" ... Derrick, our guide said, "move very, very slowly"...  even he looked panicked !

The elephant looked panicked. He started to flap those huge, barndoor-like ears and then gave us a warning "trumpet", holy, it was loud and frightful...  We all were in awe, but pooping too.

He eventually moved away from us and we were all just fine. But wow, that is what I call  'too up-close and personal'!

Sorry this is so long guys, but this is a 24 day safari!

Next highlighted stop was in Zimbabwe, at Victoria Falls. Things here were so expensive.  For example, there was NO postcard from here as it would have cost $6 USD for ONE stamp. Sorry, but...

The falls were very nice, but coming from Ontario, where we have Niagara Falls, these paled in comparison. We had beds here in Victoria Falls, which I don't have to say how much I love beds now and don't really appreciate tents ... ha! ha!

We had a nice time swimming, some did extra excursions like helicopter flights, and Rebecca, our New Zealander, fractured her leg on a rafting venture and had to be put in plaster the last few days of our safari. That really sucked. Hope you are on the mend sweetie; others did riding with elephants, walking with the lions etc.

This was feeling like the end of our "big" safari... we only had a couple of days left and I was now sad to have to prepare to say "so long" to a really amazing set of, what I now call friends.   We ended up in Johannesburg at another Drifters camp and we had to say good bye to our two German girls from Berlin: Stephie, ssssss, and Constanze :-(  with the big heart.

Then we also had to say goodbye to Donna and Beth, the two girls from Nova Scotia, I hate goodbye's...

The rest of us had one more night together where we had a great dinner and a few of us danced and danced (Pam!)

All of a sudden, John and I were on a flight from Johannesburg to Dubai. Guys, it was truly a delight to meet all of you, hope you are all well, we miss you.

We are in Saigon, or more modernly called Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam right now, some 15 hours ahead of you at home in Vancouver, and 12 hours of my loved family in Ontario.

It is hot, humid and crazy busy in this tiny NON air-conditioned internet cafe, that is costing just  78 cents per hour!

I want to reach out and hug all of you so badly, you have no idea. When I get home, be ready for a long weepy hug, not cuz we are not having the time of our lives, just because I want you all to be here with us, seeing our amazing world.

Just 7 more months to go.

love,

Marc and John xo

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