A Travellerspoint blog

February 2013

Zanzibar

This is the last entry for my trip through sub-Saharan Africa. Finally! I only left the continent 10 days ago… I have this horrendous fear that I’ll never catch up to the city I’m in and this will be a continuous trend of writing about events which occurred weeks ago. Just to fill you in, I’m writing this entry in Barcelona having already stayed in Amsterdam and Brussels since the Africa leg of the journey concluded.

The seventh and final country we travelled to on the tour was Tanzania, located in East Africa and bordering the Indian Ocean. Officially the United Republic of Tanzania, the nation was established from the union formed between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, shortly after both gained independence from Great Britain in the 1960s. Tanzania is one of the largest countries on the continent, both by population and geographical size, and has Christian and Muslim communities that each constitutes around 40% of the population. Muslims are mostly concentrated on the coast, the archipelago of Zanzibar and the old slave routes through the interior; all regions with historical Arabic influence and presence. So Tanzania has quite an interesting history because across the past 1500 years there has intermittently been Persian, Indian, Portuguese, Arabic, German and British colonial interests in the region.

The first two days of our time in Tanzania happened to be the two longest drive days of the trip, as we travelled from the Malawian border to Dar es Salaam (the largest city and notional capital). The tour leader was scheduled to meet the new clients for the next leg of the tour at Dar es Salaam (I finished at Zanzibar but the tour continued to Nairobi and then Uganda/Rwanda for the gorillas) and consequently we endured insufferably long hours on the road to meet his deadline. With the infamous seat rotation policy tragically having been restored, Dave and I were most unfortunately reserved the foulest seats for the journey; seats with minimal leg space, that were stiflingly hot and isolated from the group. I enjoyed some comic relief at least from the many exacerbated souls that desperately awaited a toilet break on the final stretch of the journey, for no less than 6 hours. For the evening between the drive days, we stayed at a large cattle and tobacco farm managed by a white Tanzanian (supporting my colonial theory) near Iringa in central Tanzania. At the farm’s restaurant and bar we enjoyed a delicious meal of beef and vegetables, all from the farm, and an excellent blend of hot chocolate with amarula (African cream liqueur). After departing at a repulsively early hour the next morning, we spent the entire second day driving until we finally reached Dar es Salaam. Driving into the suburbs of Dar was somewhat of an emotional experience for the group as it was the last time seven of us would be travelling on the truck. It felt like an appropriate destination to conclude the overland journey though, as we had originally departed a big city (Cape Town) to enter the African wilderness for 6 weeks and then finished in another big city.

In Dar es Salaam, we stayed at a campsite on the beach where I resisted the temptation to upgrade and instead begrudgingly chose to endure camping for one last occasion. The conclusion of the Victoria Falls to Dar es Salaam phase of the tour overlapped with the commencement of the Dar es Salaam to Nairobi leg of the tour that 10 new people joined, which resulted in the formation of one super-group of 31 for the Zanzibar excursion. We were introduced to the new people at dinner and discovered that the mysterious code which referred to the nationality of four of them (and had befuddled the group for several days) corresponded to Estonian. It turned out that the new people were far too responsible for the tour as they all went back to their tents at a reasonable time in preparation for the two hour crossing to Zanzibar the following morning, while the rest of us stayed up drinking cheap cocktails.

As you probably anticipated, numerous members of the group had a rather unpleasant experience on the voyage to Zanzibar, especially since there were limited seats available to nurse their hangovers, fatigue or motion sickness. But there’s no need to be concerned! For while some members collapsed on the ferry deck or clang desperately to the railings to minimise their nauseousness, your writer eagerly indulged in the local delicacy offered on-board; some delightful samosa-like morsel that was filled with beef. Nothing gets in the way of Liam and some interesting tucker! For me anyway the journey was thoroughly enjoyable as I departed continental sub-Saharan Africa for the almost mythical-like destination of Zanzibar and once more benefited from thankfully never being affected by motion sickness. There was one disappointing incident however as my cap was blown off by the strong wind when I hoisted myself up from the deck on one occasion. So if you happen upon a black and blue (now closer to grey) cap next time you’re at the beach on the Indian Ocean, that would mine and I expect it to be returned. It was so very irritating, even now I cringe.

The archipelago of Zanzibar is located off the East African coast and comprises a sizeable population of nearly one and a half million. These tropical islands have been a historically valuable region to control for foreign powers, specifically for the spice trade (they are colloquially referred to as the ‘Spice Islands’) and the slave trade (primarily for the Arab, rather than European, market). Arabic control of the islands, which lasted for centuries, has resulted in Zanzibar featuring a culture very much distinct to the mainland as 97% of the population are Muslim, the architecture is distinctly Islamic, the cuisine is a fusion of African and Indian influences and there are many residents of Arab or Indian ancestry. Considering all this and the islands’ famous tropical beaches, Zanzibar is obviously a fascinating destination and an excellent place to conclude a tour across Southern Africa. We spent the last three nights of the tour on the archipelago’s main island, Zanzibar Island, and I subsequently stayed another three nights before departing for Europe.

Our ferry from Dar es Salaam docked on Zanzibar at World Heritage-listed Stonetown, where we stayed for our first evening on the island. Stonetown was once the primary trading post on the island for the old colonial powers and is consequently composed of densely packed old buildings, often with Islamic architectural motifs, and winding alleys. Wandering through the streets and lanes of Stonetown was one of those experiences where you feel as though you have stepped into the past as the urban complexion is very different to what the modern city dweller is accustomed to. The buildings’ facades are dilapidated, the urban layout is obviously not designed for vehicles so they are not present on the narrower lanes, the streets are filled with merchants selling supposedly handcraft goods and cats meander along the footpath. For our evening in Stonetown, the group congregated for ultimately the last occasion as we watched the sunset on the terrace of a hotel. We subsequently splintered into smaller groups to attend the evening fish market, where we ate delectable items including lobster skewers, snapper and Zanzibari pizza with fish (different to pizza in Melbourne but I don’t actually remember what was on it!) and fended off the hungry cats. Our time in Stonetown dramatically contrasted the previous six weeks where we had essentially just travelled to and visited natural sites, which made it particularly memorable as it was a noticeably different experience.

The following morning, a local expert guided the group on a tour of Stonetown’s most significant sites and of a spice farm located just outside the city. Unfortunately I didn’t find the tour of Stonetown particularly interesting, partly because the tour guide wasn’t able to capture my attention (not his fault! I’m not that talented at listening to lectures, unless the orator is particularly captivating like the tour guide I encountered in Barcelona) and because I think the town lacks any individually notable buildings. The church wasn’t that impressive by Christendom’s standards, there was no militaristic brilliance to the design of the fort and there was no opulent palace or castle to admire. That’s not to say Stonetown isn’t an impressive place; collectively the buildings form an interesting urban fabric that is best appreciated by just ambling through the lanes.

The tour of the spice farm though was a much more stimulating experience. We were shown plantations of the various spices grown on the island, such as lemon grass, pepper, chillies, nutmeg, cinnamon and turmeric. Naturally I opted to taste all the samples being offered around by the local guide, including those that everyone else chose just to smell. After the tour of the plantations, our gargantuan group were seated to sample a variety of tropical fruits, teas and nut-based biscuits. Personally I found the tropical fruits of Zanzibar to be one of the highlights of the trip, as fruits such as mangos, pineapple and passionfruit are delicious and cheap and they make some of the best juices I’ve ever tasted. The abundance and quality of tropical fruit was further appreciated from after having spent six weeks without fresh fruit or any juice. The group was then entertained by a local who climbed a towering palm tree while singing the ubiquitous local song, with “Hakuna Matata” being the oft repeated key line. The tour concluded with a “Spice Island wedding” ironically between Dave and Maddie, to form an interesting union.

The final destination of the tour was Nungwi beach, located on the Northern tip of the island. The hour long journey was through a landscape teeming with coconut trees, which made me wonder, why is it that coconut trees only seem to occur in abundance near seawater and specifically on tropical islands and not inland (does anyone have an answer?!). It was also interesting to travel through Muslim communities and see everyone wearing typical Islamic attire; the colourful female clothing in the tropical setting was quite an impressive and unique sight. Nungwi beach proved to be one of the most spectacular beaches I’ve ever seen, with powder white sand, turquoise waters before the reef break and deep blue after. The water was crystal clear and magnificent to swim through, with no pollution to blemish the environment. For the two nights we spent at Nungwi beach, most of the group were content to lazily relax on the beach, swim, drink cocktails, play beach cricket or sleep in, while the more disciplined members joined a snorkelling trip (though I wasn’t one of them). There were many locals in traditional garb roaming the beach (they looked similar to the Masai) and each morning a herd of cattle walked along the beach which made for a bizarre sight. For our final night on Nungwi beach and for Shaun’s birthday, we celebrated with a beach BBQ , cake and drinks, leading to several members of the group, namely Davide and Kayla, to collapse on the sand by midnight.

The final morning of the tour was obviously an emotional one as eight of our finest departed permanently to continue travelling elsewhere or to return home, myself included. The farewells were strewn across the morning as the departees (yes, I know, that isn’t a word but I like the sound of it so I’m using it. If Shakespeare, the man who produced some of the most unreadable pieces of literature in the history of the English language, was allowed to invent words then why shouldn’t I be able to?) all had varying travel arrangements. Sue was the first to leave, directly to the airport from Nungwi beach, while five of us plus Lou (who strangely returned to the tour in Nairobi) left the group after returning to Stonetown. Another two members later departed the group back in Dar es Salaam. It was a bizarre and depressing experience to farewell the group. When the tour commenced, I did not know any other members but after travelling and socialising exclusively with them for six weeks, it felt as though I was a part of a new family or life. So it was very weird saying goodbye, knowing that it was the last time I’d see the group collectively. Hopefully some of the friendships made will continue but it is realistically likely I’ll never see most of them again. Once we had left the tour group, it was then very weird to suddenly release that I’m on my own, there’s no longer any babysitter looking after all the important details, I have to take control from now on. Any depressing thoughts are always quenched by food and so Lou, Anna, Dave and I went and feasted on Indian cuisine at a restaurant overlooking the harbour. Dave then departed at the airport while the three f us travelled to a resort on the eastern coast of the island.

After six weeks of staying in campsites, and driving long distances, I liked the idea of spending three nights at a resort on Zanzibar before I started the next phase of my trip. Admittedly I’ve been a bit melodramatic about the camping ordeal; I denigrated it so intensely because I found it was amusing to write, rather than it being an accurate portrayal of my experience. However, I never liked the early mornings while camping, because not only did you have to persuade yourself to arise at ridiculous hours, you also had to dismantle your tent and pack away the equipment; far too much work for the wee hours of the morning! Staying at a resort on tropical Zanzibar consequently held considerable appeal and so I stayed at the Uroa Bay Beach Resort with Anna and Lou who generously chose to accompany me. The rooms were very spacious and modern, the free wi-fi was appreciated, the buffet breakfast was extensive, the beach was pleasant, the pool was huge and the free evening drinks and snacks were consumed liberally. It featured all the trappings you would expect for a tropical resort. While I was there, it occurred to me that Uroa was the first proper resort I had stayed at in nearly 14 years and I concluded that I was pleased I had not stayed at many others. The luxury of staying at a Western resort was nice for a couple days (especially the last as I was quite ill that day) but I certainly would not have wanted to loiter there for any longer. Staying there completely isolated us from the Zanzibari experience; it just felt like a resort transplanted from the French Riviera and filled with annoying French that think they’re on safari. Its turned me against the French a bit, they have too much concern for their perfect hairdos. Overall it was a nice couple of days and thank you to Anna and Lou for the company.

And thus concludes my trip through sub-Saharan Africa! I’m especially grateful to everyone on the tour who made the experience as memorable as it was. Probably the highlight of the trip was the group interaction and friendships partly because of how unexpected it was. I assumed that I would get along amiably enough with most people and maybe form a few friends as part of a smaller group. I certainly did not expect how harmonious the group proved to be, as it act like one big one family, and was completely surprised that I managed to get along really well with virtually everyone. I’m going to miss all of you; irritating older brother Shaun, not-as-irritating older sister Kayla, caring truck-nurse Ann, crazy Malcolm, lovely Julia, first friend Maddie, last friend Lou, canoe partner Anna, survivors Jerri and Jenny, overlanding girl Becky, quasi-Australians Hamish and Becks, future Australian Nat, returning Australian Sue, departing Australia Timo and Xenia and comic Davide. And of course Dave my best friend on the trip who made me laugh so much, thanks for a great six weeks!

The next phase of my trip has now commenced. Hopefully for most of this year I’ll now be backpacking around Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. I’m currently in Spain and am planning to travel to Portugal, Morocco and Italy next.

That’s all for now (as I arrive in Madrid),

Liam

Posted by Liamps 07:54 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

Malawi

Malawi

Malawiiiiiiii! The sixth country visited during our tour through Southern Africa was the small and I suspect rarely heard of nation of Malawi. Malawi is a landlocked country in Southern Africa located between Zambia and Tanzania on the conventional Cape Town to Nairobi overland route. The nation is peculiarly shaped as it hugs the western shore of Lake Malawi, which constitutes a sixth of Malawi’s surface area. Intriguingly, despite the Malawian territory corresponding to just a slither of neighbouring Zambia or Zimbabwe’s landmass, fractionally more people live in Malawi than they do in the aforementioned countries. Personally, I find this rather perplexing because from the observations I made with my untrained eyes, Malawi did not appear to be significantly more arable or suitable for habitation than Zambia or Zimbabwe. Unfortunately I cannot provide an explanation for this anomaly because as usual for my random thoughts, I haven’t subsequently bothered with any analysis.

The scenery of every country we travelled through seemed to exceed the scenery of the previous country we visited. In Zimbabwe we were introduced to the intense greenery quintessential of the tropics for the first time. This continued in Zambia but the topographical diversity in this country made the setting more interesting. In Malawi, the scenery was more dramatic and lively than Zambia’s with grander mountain ranges, deeper valleys and certainly more people and settlements to watch as we passed through. Agriculture evidently occurs at a considerably higher concentration in Malawi than in Zambia as there was noticeably less undisturbed wilderness and we passed clusters of thatched buildings much more frequently.

One of our group members, impressed by the natural splendour of Malawi, remarked to a local that, “Your country is very beautiful”, to which the local responded poignantly, “To you it is”. This exchange perfectly encapsulates the situation in Malawi as well as most of sub-Saharan Africa. While tourists are mesmerised by dramatic landscapes and spectacular scenery, Malawians have to deal with the harsh realities which come for a nation consistently ranked among the ten poorest on Earth per capita. When travelling on overland tours through Africa as we did, Westerner tourists are not exposed to the poverty experienced throughout the continent. During our tour, we basically retained Western lifestyles and diets while travelling through Southern Africa. Simultaneously, our engagement with the local communities was scarce and education about the local situations was non-existent. Consequently, despite having spent nearly seven weeks in Africa, I still feel very much naive about the issue of poverty on the continent, especially since I’m writing this as I eat pate in a restaurant in Brussels. Travelling to Africa has actually just me made more confused as my immaturely stereotypical imagery of slums and scarcity of food everywhere was obviously unfounded. Discovering that in every town there are supermarkets, shopping malls, petrol stations and convenience stores that are essentially the same as in the West (styles, layouts and products sold) was certainly not what I was expecting. This realisation is pleasing as there is evidently more development than what I may have foolishly anticipated but potentially contorts my perception on the true African reality.

After an arduous full week of camping, the regular upgraders (Australian Malcolm, English Julia, Italian Davide, English Dave and I) returned to rooms joyfully in Malawi. Somewhat miraculously and impressively, we survived the seemingly endless ordeal without physical or mental deterioration, aside from Australian Malcolm’s hallucinating craze one morning when he frenziedly rocked to 1970s and 1980s music. That stretch of camping in Zambia wasn’t that dreadful actually because it featured a couple nights where we occupied a tent that appropriately accommodated my height and crucially because there was limited rain all week. Nevertheless, we had no hesitation in returning to real beds and since it was only $5, we thought we’d play it safe and upgrade in case it was a criminal offence not to. Malawi consequently became the only country where we upgraded each evening and thus avoided camping altogether, although this is primarily because Malawi was the first country we visited that upgrades were available each evening.

Our first stop in Malawi was the capital city, Lilongwe. Unfortunately most of our time there was spent in the campsite and we had no opportunity to explore the city aside from the shopping mall. Australian Kayla, who insisted on being mentioned in the blog probably because of some attention-seeking complex, bought a new backpack there. It was exciting though to have reliable access to internet and this was where the much vaunted hippo-attack article was written (special thanks to all contributors particularly Dave for his eye witness account). Also in Lilongwe, we played a pool game where all participants are discretely given a number corresponding to one of the balls. You’re supposed to only know the identity of your own ball, but obviously this can be manipulated through dubious alliances. The last number that remains on the table wins the game. Unfortunately I narrowly failed to prove my pool prowess by potting my own ball as I sunk the last other ball. Dammit. I did however manage to claim victory for Australia in a contest against the Rest of the World so that was something; but does glory for your nation really exceed glory for yourself?

After Lilongwe we travelled to Kande and stayed in chalets literally on the beach of the World Heritage listed Lake Malawi, one of the Great Lakes of Africa. Lake Malawi is renowned for its crystal-clear freshwater and its internationally famous endemic fish, cichlids. These are small, colourful fish that have become popular in the West to keep in home aquariums. It was quite a shocking experience entering the freshwater lake as its so immense that you subconsciously believe you’re entering a bay (and thus saltwater) and your senses make expectations accordingly. So it was quite bizarre entering water that tastes and feels different to what you’re anticipating.

The group enjoyed an entire day without structure or plans at Kande, something many of us were craving. In the morning, most of the group enjoyed a frolic in the water before four members that were so not easily entertained by silliness sought a challenge and spontaneously decided to swim out to an island 800m offshore. It was a very pleasant experience being able to swim through such a large expanse of undisturbed water in what was the longest open-water swim I can remember doing. We were escorted by a group of Malawian youths no doubt eager for payment or a sale once we had returned to shore but they were amiable enough. Liam ingeniously had purchased goggles the previous day so we were able to view the cichlids once we had reached the island. At the island, we all bravely completed a gargantuan jump from the rocks into the lake before returning back to shore. After much debate, I decided to return to the island in the afternoon on a formal snorkelling excursion with better equipment to appreciate the endemic fish. We circled the island and saw many colourful fish, although the landscape was fairly dull with just rock and some sand underwater. After completing the snorkelling mission, three of us decided to swim back to shore rather than to take the speedboat. This was when I continued the Stevens tradition of rescuing a swimmer out of her depth (pun intended) by towing the swimmer back to shore from half the distance.

On our final evening in Kande, we enjoyed the meat from a pig which was roasted all day and ate many delicious accompaniments with it. To celebrate the occasion, Davina made her one and thankfully only appearance that evening while English Ann daringly ventured to wear a dress.

We spent our final day in Malawi driving to the small town of Chitimba, located on the northern coast of the Lake near the Tanzanian border. Unfortunately Chitimba’s beach was not as captivating as Kande’s and with rumours circulating that a crocodile was lurking in the water, strangely no one was interested in swimming that afternoon. That evening, an unprecedented event occurred where the entire group collectively went to bed by 10pm, leaving me rather bored from their anti-social behaviour! This was probably because of the inane quantities of alcohol that were consumed in Malawi; best demonstrated with the case of English Dave’s intoxication one afternoon at lunchtime when he offered no resistance or even awareness to the group carrying and lying him down to position his head beside a pile of cow excrement.

Hope all is well at home,

Liam

Posted by Liamps 05:18 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

South Luangwa National Park

Greetings all from the shores of Zanzibar! This will be my last night in sub-Saharan Africa, before I fly off to Amsterdam to begin my European journey tomorrow morning. Yet the experience I’ll be discussing in this blog entry occurred nearly two weeks ago, so it would appear that I’ve been a trifle bit lazy! Just to fill you in, the Cape Town to Zanzibar tour finished two days ago, ending undoubtedly the most enjoyable and fulfilling experience of my life. Thank you to everyone who was on the tour for making the trip as brilliant as it was; the friendships made were certainly an integral highlight of the trip.

After the flirtation with disaster on the Zambezi canoe trip, our next destination was the South Luangwa National Park, also in Zambia. The national park’s inclusion on Dragoman’s itinerary was the foremost reason why I extended my tour from Victoria Falls to Zanzibar. South Luangwa boasts vast herds of elephant and buffalo but it is particularly renowned for leopards, easily the most elusive of the Big 5 to see in the wild. It was a destination in Africa I was eager to visit specifically because of the opportunity to spot leopards (pun intended). Dragoman was one of the few overland tour operators I researched that ply the treacherous roads to get to the park and thus the opportunity formed a compelling motive to extend. My enthusiasm to travel to South Luangwa was further reaffirmed with the tour leader often touting that South Luangwa has been his favourite destination on the African continent. Such was his veneration for the park that he pushed us through two gruelling days of driving without stops in order to make an additional night drive. A notable memory from this experience was the repetitive sudden jerks on the bumpy road while English Ann attempted to slice bread and cheese for the hungry passengers.

The tour leader’s tenaciousness to reach the park earlier than scheduled to accommodate an additional game drive certainly paid dividends in the end. After arriving at the campsite, the group was immediately spilt into two open-air safari vehicles to begin the excursion. After just 10 minutes of entering the national park, keen-eyed Maddie spotted our first leopard, a full-sized adult. It was an excellent discovery as the leopard was lying down beside a log surrounded with tall grass and at least 25 metres away. We were fortuitous enough to see the majestic animal eventually stand up and prowl to a tree, giving us a complete perspective of its body. Seeing such a creature in its natural habitat was definitely my highlight wildlife encounter of the trip up until that point. That remained the highlight for all of two minutes however as we drove just 100 metres to discover another full-size adult lying on the branch of a large tree beside the road and facing us, perfectly positioned for photographs. It was so surreal to see the quintessential image of the African leopard, with the cat lazily lying on a branch with tail dangling and scanning its surroundings.

After taking a litany of snapshots, we finally departed the leopard and came to a clearing which revealed a large grassland area which was dotted with elephants, warthogs and herds of impala. When we had visited other national parks, there often been whole hours between seeing single animals. Within just half an hour, the safari through South Luangwa had delivered so many sightings of fauna and ultimately trumped all other activities to be the apex of the trip. Also on the game drive we came across a group of giraffes, several hyenas sleeping right beside our vehicle until we startled them, copious number of impala, numerous elephants including one family which we drove right beside (with the bull subsequently charging at us) and the most spectacular sunset imaginable that exhibited vivid yellows, reds, purples and oranges. We also saw a goose perched high in a tree which we all found hilarious for some reason. Unfortunately we were unable to spot anything significant on the night drive back to camp but that failed to deter our excitement.

The following morning we returned to the national park to continue our safari. Once more we had a tremendous experience as we saw elephants everywhere, including several times beside the vehicle. Previously on the trip, we had seen just one elephant way off in the distance at Etosha, three at Hwange during two separate game drives and four during our three days on the Zambezi. Personally, I had seen around 30 elephants during my flight over the Okavango Delta, but each for less than three seconds and from more than 100 metres above them. At South Luangwa though, we must have sighted elephants (usually in groups of 4 or 5) at least twenty times and often directly beside the road. Also in the morning game drive, we saw buffalo in the light for the first time, which completed our photographic album of the Big 5, waterbuck for the first time, giraffes on the road and more impala. The most impressive scene from the morning was when we came across a two metre crocodile 5 metres away. It was sun-bathing stone-still, beside a small pond which a hippo was stationed in. A group of 5 elephants soon came trumpeting through the thicket and passed the pool, prompting the crocodile to dart into the water. To complete the drive, your much loved writer spotted a leopard!!! That’s correct, I Liam, who spotted absolutely nothing during the first four weeks of the tour, discovered the most prized sighting of all. As we drove along a road lined with thick grass, my gaze happened upon a patch of gold with black spots. The leopard, much smaller than the two we had seen the previous day, was crouched in a positioned that suggested it intended to pounce on the herd of impala around 20 metres away. Stopping the vehicle proved to be too disturbing for the leopard, which ran off into a bush, but we were all delighted to see yet another leopard even without the kill. And I was delighted to have spotted it!

That evening, we went on our third game drive through the South Luangwa National Park. The safari trip was comparatively humdrum for the first hour and hour, with essentially just impala sighted. This changed as we spotted a herd of at least 50 buffalo, a hyena and then our fourth leopard in rapid succession. The leopard was relaxing on a mound beside the road licking its fur and was completely disinterested in the three vehicles surrounding it. After around 10 minutes of watching the leopard (which was noticeably smaller than the two we had first seen), suddenly a puku (similar to an impala) and its offspring came into view around 100m up the road. The leopard instantly and utterly changed its demeanour, darting into an upright position to scan the unexpected opportunity and totally focussed on watching the antelopes. The leopard then prowled to the road, just in front of the vehicles, to assess the situation. It then sprinted after the antelopes, rapidly making up ground. It chased the pukus into the long grass and emerged a moment later with the offspring dangling from its jaws. For the next 15 minutes we followed the leopard as it carried its prize away while the adult puku pranced around wailing, which was a slightly saddening. To see a leopard kill was undoubtedly the highlight of most people’s trip and the tour leader claimed it was the best safari experience he had ever witnessed. What made it particularly special was how random it seemed; we were exceptionally fortunate to even see the leopard but then to have a puku stroll right up to the leopard while we were there was truly unbelievable. The group in the truck ahead of the truck I was in were taking many photographs of our group to capture our reactions to the whole incident. Apparently everyone in our truck appears traumatised and distressed in the images except me, as I’m gleefully waving at the cameras and beaming hysterically while everyone else looks completely dejected for the puku. Such is life.

So if anyone is considering travelling to Africa, I strongly recommend attempting to incorporate South Luangwa in your plans. We saw all those amazing animals in the wet season, so the dry season there must be unreal.

Hope all is well at home,

Amsterdam is freezing

Liam

Posted by Liamps 01:53 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

Zambia

From the shores of Lake Malawi comes my report on Zambia!

I can now proudly gloat I’ve visited the last two nations on the alphabetical list of countries. I know, impressive, you’re probably all self-imploding from jealousy. I’ve also been celebrating the one month anniversary of my trip and have absolutely no aspirations to return home just yet, although needless to say I’m missing everyone immensely (well, most people).

Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe was the concluding destination for our tour from Cape Town and the starting point for the tour through to Zanzibar. This commenced the new leg of the journey through Southern Africa with essentially a new group. Six of our members departed at Victoria Falls and were replaced by four newbies. English Jennie and Jerry joined the trip and were subsequently attacked by a hippo. Malawian/South African/Australian Natalie entrenched herself as the group’s chief sneezer and horrified certain members of the group by negligently disregarding the standard hand-washing protocol. Australian Lulu has been the principal delinquent in labelling my blogging as anti-social but hypocritically uses my lap-top regularly to upload photos. She desires a more complimentary introduction to the blog however so I will say her apparent directionless and relaxed demeanour are endearing qualities and very much contradictory to my compulsive planning.

Collectively the group dynamics remained fundamentally the same. Several members of the group sustained their practice of becoming completely sloshed at every evening opportunity, with an honorary mention to English Dave. Such has been the group’s continued adulation of my insight and knowledge that they elevated yours truly to emperor and strived for places in the ministry. Italian Davide was named Prime Minister and excelled so magnificently in his position that he was consequently also appointed Chief Advisor, Minister for Food (since he’s Italian), Minister for Fashion and Minister for Baboons. His English though is somewhat suspect so Australian Kayla was chosen to be the Minister of Translation (as well as Minister of Sandwich making, Secretary Bird to the Minister of Propaganda and Minister for Hair-pieces) to ensure smooth communication. Her job performance was rather questionable however in an incident when Italian Davide failed to comprehend that piranha is correctly pronounced pi-ra-naa. Australian Anna was posted to the Foreign Affairs department and briefed that her mission was ultimately to eradicate foreign relations altogether by basically conquering all disobedient peoples. This was also the fundamental objective for the Minister of Offense, German Timo. English Dave was granted the Fisheries and Agriculture portfolios and is now colloquially referred to as “Fish n Chips”. English Ann was appointed Minister for Penguins due to her affiliation with the Falkland Islands; an imperative role for an empire where the emperor penguin is the royal seal.

But I digress as always. Officially the tour commenced during our time in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe but it effectively started once we had passed through the border crossing into Zambia. Our first stop was to visit the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. Most members of the group opted only to attend the surrounding “market” (or row of stalls) while a select number of clever cookies embraced the opportunity to see the World Heritage listed Falls from another vantage point. Obviously I was one who visited the Falls and enjoyed views that were vastly superior to that of the Zimbabwean side. The viewing area seemed to be closer to the Falls as we were granted the full perspective from top to bottom (the bottom was not visible from the Zimbabwean side) and were drenched by the spray. All of us were dumbfounded by the majesty of Victoria Falls, which stifled Australian Sue’s rationality as she completed a hand-stand precariously close to the railings to celebrate her awe.

I’m at risk of compromising my credibility by changing opinions so regularly and flippantly, but I’m altering my endorsement of Zimbabwe as my favourite country visited on the tour without hesitation to Zambia. Formerly part of Rhodesia during the colonial era and then separated and known as Northern Rhodesia, Zambia features a population comparative to Zimbabwe (nee Southern Rhodesia) but with noticeably humbler infrastructure. The scenery between the major settlements in Zambia is similar to that of Zimbabwe but with greater topographical diversity. Driving through Zambia involves travelling along winding roads through hilly countryside; substantially different to the interminable flatness of the previous countries we visited. We were consequently treated to ample views of peaks and valleys draped in thick vegetation, crops or grasses and traditional dwellings interspersed throughout (I seem to remember reading that its now politically incorrect to call said dwellings “huts” as it implies inferiority). Zambia was the first country we have travelled through that genuinely felt as though we had reached the romanticised vision of the “real Africa”. Aside from its capital Lusaka, the country generally appears to be absent of the Western-style buildings and facilities more evident in the previous countries visited and instead predominantly features the structures stereotypically associated with African settlements. The landscapes of Zambia and the concentration of mega-fauna in the national parks also more closely resemble the images of Africa I anticipated. Probably the two most momentous experiences of the trip occurred in Zambia, canoeing on the Lower Zambezi River and safari at South Luangwa National Park.

The Lower Zambezi River forms part of the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. After departing Victoria Falls, we travelled to this area for a two day canoe trip through the hippo and crocodile infested waters. Canoeing along the Zambezi was a thrilling experience and a tremendous way to safari in Africa.The canoes featured boy-girl combinations in an attempt to prevent incidents from occurring, such as canoes flipping, purportedly because of the irresponsibility of all-male pairings. Well obviously that endeavour failed epically as a canoe was flipped anyway by a hippo, as discussed in the previous blog entry. Before the incident transpired, it was sensational to canoe along the river as we spotted elephants on the banks (and came within 10m of them) and passed pods of hippos literally around every bend. The dangers posed by the pods of hippos were certainly palpable but we always had some (false) sense of security that no collision would ensue as we were being guided by locals that plied the river regularly. I found the experience of seeing such a massive native animal so frequently and effortlessly in its natural habitat totally unexpected and sort of bizarre; we saw hippos far more easily than I had ever seen kangaroos in anywhere in Australia. It was particularly enjoyable to cease driving for a couple days and travel through unblemished wilderness without the accoutrements of modern civilisation. The pristine Zambezi River and its banks pleasantly contrast the Li River which meanders through a scenic area of China but is depressingly clogged with plastic waste.

Most of the group were thoroughly enjoying the canoe trip before the attack and were in agreement that the Lower Zambezi is vastly superior to visit than the Okavango Delta. English Becky, who was particularly apprehensive about the safety of the journey prior to its commencement, expressed increased confidence and excitement as the day progressed. We all found it befuddling that other overland tour operators skip visiting the area; Dragoman is the only operator I’ve at least noticed to have included the canoe trip in their itineraries. That qualm was dramatically and compellingly answered in the afternoon moments before we arrived at our camping destination with “Mad Max” the hippo capsizing English Jennie and Jerry’s canoe. Fortunately and perhaps remarkably, no injuries were sustained in the collision though it appears that Dragoman has now suspended the activity from upcoming tours. Our campsite for the evening was on a deserted sand island, apparently an area where animals shouldn’t be expected to venture to since there was limited grass. Needless to say though, everyone was on edge that evening as we were constantly startled by the hippo noises originating from much further than what it sounded like. The morale of the group was substantially different the following day as we nervously completed the trip in orderly single file.

I can’t be bothered finishing the blog.

Hope all is well,

Liam

Posted by Liamps 13:45 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]