Safari time! Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho

Wow, what an amazing three weeks spent traveling around southern Africa! It felt so great going to the airport to leave Angola.  Once again, I had good luck getting through the Luanda airport and soon I was heading towards Johannesburg.  Once there, I spent only one night, and immediately grabbed a bus to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana.  From Gaborone went to Francistown, and decided to stop there for the night as well (and had to share the last hotel room with a guy from my bus!).  Finally, the next day, I bused from Francistown to the Botswana/ Zimbabwe border.  Without too much trouble, I was able to hitchhike from the border crossing into the little town of Victoria Falls, where my adventures were to begin (a huge thank you to the border guard, who very kindly waited until just the right vehicle came along- a Wild Horizons employee- to help me find a ride).

When I checked into my hostel in Vic Falls, ahead of me were two girls, Sonja and Steffani.  They were from Germany and just arriving as well.  We wound up going out for a walk to check out the town, and we signed up to go rafting together the next day, which was AWESOME!  Definitely worth the money and a great adventure activity.  That night, Sonja and Steffani and I, plus Rob and Dave, two other guys from our rafting adventure, headed up to the Wild Horizons office to watch the dvd of our rafting trip.  After the viewing, two of the Zimbabweans who work for Wild Horizons, Victor and Future, took us to get some wine and beers and then we went up to the “Hippo Pool”, which technically was closed (due to the likelihood of hippos being there at night), but the moon was full and we were dying to see the falls up close and we had a lot of fun.

The next day we ventured over to the actual Victoria Falls National Park, and got to see the falls in all their glory. Pretty impressive.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to get the full scope from a picture, it’s so massive!  While at the park I ran into Morton and Jasper, two Danish guys who were leaving the next day.  We made plans to travel to Botswana together the next morning.  That night we all went over to another hostel for some wood-fired pizzas and drank at their bar there. The hostel and restaurant owners all have to shop for food in Botswana, because the grocery stores in Zimbabwe are so bare, due to inflation. I brought a pack full of dried noodles to keep me fed for the few days I was here, and I wound up giving the rest of it to the cleaner at the hostel when I left. I also gave my old Teva sandals to Victor, our rafting guide, and he gave me a Zambezi-god stone necklace. I was also able to secure a Zimbabwean hundred million dollar bill so now I’m a millionaire!!

After a couple of taxi rides and some nice people who gave us lifts, Morton and Jasper and I made it over to Botswana, where we stayed a night at Chobe River National Park.  We camped in luxury tents, which make camping pretty damn nice, and it was there that I met Henrietta, who as luck had it, was going to the Okavanga Delta the next day (as was I).  The four of us went on a sunset river cruise that night and watched all the wild animals such as elephants, hippos, and buffaloes that came down to the river to drink.

Henrietta and I had to suffer through a really, really, long bus ride to get to the Okavanga Delta the next day.  At that point, I was pretty damn tired of busing, so I made arrangements to stay in Maun (gateway to the delta) a few extra days and take a flight straight from there to Jo’Burg later in the week when Chris was flying to meet me.  Henrietta and I stayed in the delta for three days, and for two days we took a mokoro safari into the interior parts, which was really cool.  Mokoros are these flat-bottomed canoes that are poled through the shallow delta waters.  The hostel we stayed at gave us tents and cookware, and we got a guide, and we went and spent a night camping way out there.  The next morning we got up early and our guide took us on a bush hike and we saw tons of animals, like zebras, giraffes, elephants, wildebeest, etc.  Definitely fun, although we both got bad sunburns from riding around in the mokoro!

Finally my last day in Botswana, and I flew back to Jo’Burg via Gaborone.  Much faster this time!  I arrived soon after Chris did, and we grabbed a rental car and headed toward our hotel.  The next morning, we drove to Hazyview, which is a small town outside of Kruger National Park.  We based ourselves from there for the next few days.  That’s where our hot air balloon ride was.  We really enjoyed the ride- although the best part was the landing!  At the last minute the winds changed and we ended up landing on a tree, then bumping down to another tree, then landing on the ground.  Then it took over 3 hours to get the balloon and the basket onto the trailer and get us out of the area we landed in.  Not the best landing our pilot had ever made but it was pretty fun!

After the balloon ride, we were all pretty hungry, and we got to have a champagne brunch with our pilot at a lodge.  Then Chris and I spent the rest of the day driving around Kruger National Park.  Still no lion sightings though!

We spent a day going to Swaziland, which was really interesting, as it is an independent country inside of South Africa.  They have a king there, who has 13 wives!  And his father had 70 wives!  It’s a very pretty little country, full of valleys and hills and small mountains.  We visited a candle making factory and a glass factory and watched the workers and bought souvenirs.  When we got back to our hotel, we had a fabulous buffet dinner. Yum.

Happy 40 Years Your Majesty and the Nation Sign Swaziland
Welcome to Swaziland

After Swaziland, we drove over to Lesotho, another country inside South Africa. They have a king also.  We stayed in this little mountain lodge that reminded us both of staying at Monica and Andy’s mountain house.  There we sat on the porch at night, drinking Cape wines and looking at the amazingly bright stars.  The weather at night was nice and crisp and cool, but warm during the day.  We spent one day going on a pony trek around the area, and then later hiked up to the top of a hill where you can see pterodactyl footprints.  Again, a very picturesque country to visit.

Finally, it was time for Chris to go back to work and for me to go home and look for work.  After enduring a 22 hour plane ride, I arrived back home the day after Thanksgiving.  In the last week, my sister had gone into premature labor and delivered Nicholas Paul, my new nephew!  He’s still in the NICU, but he’s doing fine, and I’ve been able to go up and see him and hold him.  He should be able to come home from the hospital in two or three weeks.

It was a great vacation and I definitely recommend some backpacking around Southern Africa for anyone who is interested- there is tons to see and it’s pretty cheap. And you’ll meet a lot of really friendly travellers!