Over­land­ing in Zim­babwe

(Part 2)

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Text and pho­tog­ra­phy: Neville Lance

Part 2 of our re­union tour

Neville Lance and his wife Pat have learnt much about over­land travel in the decade since their first trip into South­ern Africa with “no equip­ment what­so­ever other than a pup tent and a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Africa Ad­ven­ture At­las”. This month, Neville con­tin­ues his 10th an­niver­sary trip story, as he and his friends head to Vic­to­ria Falls, Chobe and Savuti.

Iknew as a re­sult of read­ing ev­ery­thing that I could lay my hands on that there was a camp­site at Si­abuwa, but had no fur­ther de­tails. The road from Karoi to Si­abuwa was long and ar­du­ous, and I fig­ured that if we were go­ing to find the camp­site, I’d bet­ter get on with it. Bill’s VW Syn­cro wasn’t de­signed to cope with the pot­holes, mid­del­man­netjies and all of the other anom­alies that this stretch of road had to of­fer, but I knew that Cobus would stick with him so I bar­relled on ahead to lo­cate the camp­site be­fore dark. Just as well. There was noth­ing in Si­abuwa to in­di­cate a camp­site, but as we pulled over to wait for the oth­ers, about 30 chil­dren crowded about the ve­hi­cle and we started to chat. They were in­quis­i­tive, well in­formed, help­ful and just fun to be around. We asked them where we might find a camp­site and they all shouted “Vicki, Vicki”, point­ing up a side road into the gath­er­ing dark. I was re­luc­tant to in­ves­ti­gate in case the oth­ers came past and missed us.

Be­fore we had de­cided what to do, a guy knocked on Pat’s win­dow and in­tro­duced him­self as Jan­uary. He said that he was he was in charge of Vicki’s prop­erty while she was in Jo­han­nes­burg for Easter, and that we could camp there. I ex­plained that we needed to wait for the oth­ers and so he of­fered to un­lock the prop­erty and wait for us. By this stage it was vir­tu­ally dark and I was afraid that I wouldn’t find it, so we asked the kids to please wait and keep an eye out for the other two ve­hi­cles and to wave them down and tell them we would be back soon. We went with Jan­uary to find the camp­site and then re­turned to the road, about 300m away, to find no-one, nada, not a soul.

More than an hour had passed since we had first ar­rived so as­sum­ing that some­one had bro­ken down, we started to back­track down the ‘road’, more aptly de­scribed as a night­mare of pot­holes, ruts and ridges. Af­ter 20km of back­track­ing, we found the oth­ers: Bill gal­lantly bat­tling along with his se­verely chal­lenged ground clear­ance, and Cobus clearly frus­trated by the slow pace. The time has come, the Wal­rus said: “Bill, it’s time to buy a proper 4×4.”

Vicki ap­par­ently runs a mis­sion for un­wed moth­ers and lives in a car­a­van. There’s a long drop toi­let and although Jan­uary said there were show­ers, they weren’t work­ing. Nev­er­the­less, it was a safe and se­cure place to overnight in an area where the kids are fan­tas­tic and en­gag­ing. They in­un­dated us with ques­tions about the equinox, how the GPS works and what con­sti­tutes a good diet. When we an­swered their ques­tions about Pat and my re­spec­tive ages, they laughed and shook their heads in dis­be­lief. The teenagers and youth, on the other hand, were very sullen. Prob­a­bly be­cause of the dire lack of op­por­tu­nity that sur­rounds their ev­ery­day ex­is­tence.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing we made for Vic Falls with a ‘quick’ de­tour to Binga. Don’t bother un­less you plan to stay there. The road from Binga to Cross­roads was cor­ru­gated and pot­holed and has no scenery of value. We continued on to the A8 up to Hwange and Vic­to­ria Falls.

Here we camped at Main Camp in the cen­tre of the town, which was once again, clean, af­ford­able and con­ve­nient. Af­ter a great cooked camp break­fast, we walked down to the falls, spot­ting an ele­phant a lit­tle way off the side of the road just be­fore reach­ing the pay sta­tion. Re­mem­ber to take your pass­port with you to qual­ify for the SADEC rates, which are con­sid­er­ably less than those for overseas vis­i­tors. We had to ne­go­ti­ate a quick taxi ride back to the camp­site to fetch ours in or­der to get the dis­counts, get­ting the driver down from $15 to $5 for the re­turn trip, it’s re­ally im­por­tant to hag­gle.

“The Smoke That Thun­ders’ (the name given to the falls by lo­cals be­fore Liv­ing­stone named them af­ter Bri­tain’s reign­ing monarch at the time) were full to over­flow­ing this year and could re­ally only be ap­pre­ci­ated from the edges. The rain for­est was sat­u­rated with wa­ter and the up­drafts of wind car­ried so much mois­ture that any ef­fort to view the falls from one of the many view­points meant get­ting drenched, but this is still a whole lot bet­ter than see­ing

them dry, I guess. For any first­timer they are an ex­pe­ri­ence never to be for­got­ten and for us, this sec­ond time around was in many ways even bet­ter than the first. If you have never been to Vic Falls, go now.

While you’re there, make sure you visit the Vic­to­ria Falls Ho­tel. Much like the Bu­l­awayo Club, it harks back to a by­gone era. Ev­ery­thing about it is over the top, and the cost of ac­com­mo­da­tion is well be­yond the means of or­di­nary mor­tals such as my­self, but a meal on the ter­race is quite af­ford­able and an ab­so­lute must on a beau­ti­ful au­tumn evening. From here, as we watched the colour of the bridge and the mist from the falls change with the light, it re­minded us of what an im­por­tant in­ter­na­tional tourist stopover this place is.

We crossed back into Botswana at Kasan­gane, where I had a bit of a dust-up with a stout lady who one minute ear­lier had al­lowed Cobus through with all his ba­con, but de­cided that mine was un­cooked meat and needed to be con­fis­cated. When I sug­gested that she en­joy it she be­came quite nasty and threat­ened to send me all the way back to de­stroy it, be­fore hav­ing to do the whole pass­port thing again. All the while she clutched the pork with a real ‘I’m never go­ing to let you go’ look of de­ter­mi­na­tion and in­structed me to pack up and move out.

Good Fri­day in Kasane was much like any other day, and we were able to stock up on diesel, food and booze for the next leg of our trip with­out any trou­ble, be­fore pop­ping in at the Chobe River Lodge for break­fast. De­spite my ad­vance warn­ings, the oth­ers all thought it was a bit ex­pen­sive, but what the hell, Pat and I may never pass that way again so we in­dulged and en­joyed the re­ally amaz­ing spread that they put on of­fer.

We then de­cided to do the river drive to Ngoma with Cobus and Colleen and on to Muchenche, where we would meet Bill and Jules whose VW Syn­cro would never have coped with the mid­del­man­netjies and other ob­sta­cles we had to ne­go­ti­ate to es­cape the wrath of a re­ally cheeky young bull ele­phant. The river drive is a must: you get to ex­pe­ri­ence the pin­na­cle

of Chobe’s beauty with all the an­i­mals, birds and in­cred­i­ble views across the flood­plain. With the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, Pat and I were some­what sad that we had not spent more time in this area in 2013, when in­stead we had rushed through Ngoma on the tar road in search of Caprivi, which aside from the odd high­lights was gen­er­ally a dis­ap­point­ment.

With all of the sto­ries we had heard along the way about the Kh­wai floods, we had tried at Ngoma to book for both Savuti and Linyanti, both were full, but where else were we go­ing to go? Pat and I have always bar­relled ahead, what­ever the odds, and some­how always man­aged. We gave Cobus and Colleen the op­tions: stay with us, go with Bill, or go home. With some trep­i­da­tion (I think), they de­cided to take their chances with us (Maun was a long­took dis­tance op­tion if the worst came to the worst). But we had the night at Muchenche for ev­ery­one to de­cide.

Muchenche was a rev­e­la­tion, right on the banks of the Chobe, it was quite sim­ply the best camp­site we had ever stayed at. The lit­tle pri­vate ablu­tions (shower, WC and HWB) were spot­less, the wa­ter hot, the camp­site raked and the fire­place clean. Bron­wyn, the man­ager­ess the time to come down and in­tro­duce her­self and chat to us about our plans. When we men­tioned Savuti and Kh­wai she took one look at the Syn­cro and said, “Uh uh, that will never make it”. So the fol­low­ing morn­ing we said our good­byes to Bill and Jules and felt con­fi­dent that they would en­joy their plans to go up to Caprivi and round and down to Maun via Shakawe, Se­popa and

Se­hithwa. The time has come the Wal­rus said (again): Bill, it’s time to buy a proper 4×4!

We left with Cobus and Colleen who had de­cided to brave it with us, and took off for who knows where.

We hit the road, lit­er­ally. The sand was deep, there were pud­dles, the mid­del­man­netjie was enor­mous (the Syn­cro would have stopped af­ter 200m), and the bush was thick and green af­ter all the rain. About half­way to Savuti, I saw a big Toy­ota Prado or Land Cruiser ap­proach­ing and pulled off at the first avail­able spot to let them through. It was a cou­ple of more or less our vin­tage, and they stopped to warn us to take the air­port road into Savuti as the nor­mal route was flooded. We ex­changed pleas­antries and I men­tioned that we had not been able to get a book­ing in Savuti or Linyanti. He leant across to his wife and af­ter some words with her, passed me a book­ing form stat­ing that they had booked at Savuti for six nights, but only used three, and that we were wel­come to the other three. Wow! What a break! I thanked him pro­fusely and of­fered to re­im­burse him, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Thank you; we did make a note of your names but some­how man­aged to mis­lay them. If you read this you will know who you are, and may the gods of the bush always be with you.

Three days and nights in Savuti…don’t you just love it when a plan comes to­gether? And what a three days they were, rid­dled with great sight­ings, an old el­lie that died and be­came sus­te­nance for three hand­some young male lions, a beau­ti­ful mar­tial ea­gle that had taken out an Egyp­tian goose (or some­thing sim­i­lar), and was parked in a tree for as long as we wanted to pho­to­graph him. Ele­phants that drank and swam and snorkelled purely for our plea­sure, white­backed vul­tures that gath­ered in the hun­dreds in wait for the ele­phant pick­ings and per­formed the most stun­ning aerial bal­let. Squir­rels, striped mon­gooses, a whole ar­ray of birds that vis­ited us in our camp­site and a leop­ard that lay on a rock play­ing cat and mouse with us, with a bored ex­pres­sion. A for­est of baob­abs. What a wealth of beauty: it was mag­i­cal.

Af­ter leav­ing Savuti, we de­cided to see if Kh­wai (and the co-or­di­nates that Neil had so kindly given us), were ac­ces­si­ble. No dice, we hit deep marsh­land ev­ery way we went, it was wet, wet, wet. We tried head­ing to­wards Kh­wai vil­lage but peo­ple along the way said the en­tire river route was flooded. There was noth­ing to do but turn around

and head for Maun. I re­mem­ber that road from 2007 when we vis­ited Moremi af­ter our jaunt to Kubu Is­land and up through Gweta, it is an aw­ful road.

Ap­proach­ing Maun, we pulled in at Oka­vango River Lodge and set up our tents. We spent two nights there eat­ing and drink­ing on the pleas­ant restau­rant ter­race, and par­tak­ing of their break­fast in the morn­ings. On the one full day that we spent there, we split up to each take a one-hour ride in a four-seater plane which was be­ing pi­loted un­der ob­ser­va­tion by a trainee pi­lot. What a joy. My wife’s Hyundai Atos is faster than this lit­tle plane (and con­sid­er­ably less bumpy), but what a way to see the Oka­vango swamps. Again we say, do it! The same evening we went out on a two-hour sun­set cruise along the wa­ter­ways, watch­ing peo­ple, birds, trees and the most amaz­ing Oka­vango sun­set. Af­ter leav­ing Maun, Cobus and Colleen trav­elled to Jo­han­nes­burg to see their son Tim and we scooted on down to Gabs for an­other cou­ple of nights with the Hunts be­fore wind­ing our way home.

Ten years af­ter and the Ranger is as good and com­fort­able as she was on day one, and de­spite think­ing that this was our last bucket list trip, it turns out it wasn’t. Dur­ing these past 10 years we’ve vis­ited and writ­ten about the Richtersveld, Kol­man­skop and Sos­susvlei, Bavi­aan­skloof and the Be­drog­fontein and the amaz­ing Hemel en Aarde val­ley and Sal­mons­dam. We’re al­ready look­ing for­ward to what we’re go­ing to do next, def­i­nitely Kh­wai next year with Neil, and then who knows? Maybe the Serengeti and the Mara, maybe Goron­gosa, maybe just the old Postal Trail in the Ceder­berg. But there’ll def­i­nitely be some­thing...

Left: Ele­phants we spot­ted along the Chobe River drive from Kasane. From above: Sun­set in the Oka­vango. A young male lion tucks in to a dead ele­phant in Savuti. A herd of ele­phant trek through the Oka­vango swamps.

Far left: Vic­to­ria Falls Rest Camp. Clock­wise from top: “Watch out for hip­pos!” An African white­backed vul­ture awaits its turn at the kill. A wa­ter buf­falo and ox­pecker eye us cau­tiously along the Chobe River drive.

Clock­wise from left: Grab­bing a bite in Savuti. An African Ja­cana tread­ing on the lily pads in the swamps. An African Darter among the lil­lies in the swamp. Be­low: Young Ele­phants snorkelling in Savuti. Far right: A Mokoro mov­ing through the Oka­vango...

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