Friday, June 13, 2014

Trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls (May and June 2014)

Group photo taken at Elephant Hills Hotel after the tour
It was on top of my bucket list for quite some time. That is to travel on an adventure truck overland in Africa. The course that I took was a 20-day overland trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls covering four countries in southern Africa: S. Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The operator company was Nomadtours based in Cape Town. The company assigned three crew members: Gertie, the leader from Zimbabwe, Victor, the driver from Zambia, and Kobus, the assistant from S. Africa. They all were wonderful throughout the trip.

We traveled a total distance of 5,427 km over 20 days on an adventure truck called Sammy.

Tour shirt that shows the tour route

Adventure Truck 'Sammy'

For this trip, I have decided to invite my friends from New York who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro together with me in 2011. Jay Yoon and Jae-sup Choi are they. And their wives also. They all agreed to join. Our six people became one third of 18 people, the maximum number of people to be on the adventure truck. Together, our ages totaled more than 360 years.

The Six Nomads Totaling 360 Years of Age

S. Africa

Day 1 - Cape Town was the starting point and we spent only one night. On the first day, we met and spent time together. The dinner was at a Japanese restaurant located at the Victoria Wharf, a luxurious waterfront shopping mall. The hotel was quite good. A satisfactory start.

At a vineyard for wine tasting

Day 2 - The next day, we traveled north, but an incident took us to delay our departure. One of the travelers got scammed at an ATM when she was trying to withdraw money. Nonetheless, we had a wine tasting and a few die-hard wine drinkers enjoyed it thoroughly. At the accommodation, Wi-Fi is working well. Still good!

Day 3 - We did a mini hike in the Cederberg Mountain region. We saw a little bushmen wall painting on a rock, but not quite impressive. It was a long day to have to drive 550 km and to cross the border to enter into Namibia. Both Gertie and Kobus got stopped by an immigration officer and we felt uneasy about the lack of preparation for the trip. We arrived at Felix Unite Lodge where we all heard soothing river sounds at night. The sky was full of stars and they almost fell over our heads.


Day 4 - The soothing river sounds continued throughout the night. In the morning, we saw a panoramic view of the area. Wow!!! We all felt we should stay here longer. So tranquil and peaceful. But we still had to leave. Kobus was cleared and cooked breakfast, but we quickly found out his cooking will be inadequate for three weeks. Some of the ladies had to step in to help.
I am afraid that this photo will not show you how beautiful it was

On the way to Fish River Canyon, claimed to be the world's second largest after Grand Canyon, we saw a dead Oryx, a big antelope that is Namibia's national animal. It looked like he got caught in a barbed wire fence and died after a long struggle.
An Oryx that died at a wired fence
At the Fish River Canyon

At the Fish River Canyon, we did a short hike along the cliff. This canyon is 580 meter deep and 161 km long. But the river was almost dried and it will be so until the next rainy season arrives. When we arrived at the lunch site, surprise! Gertie was cleared for immigration visa and preparing our food. Hooray! Welcome back, Gertie!

We drove on a dirt road in the afternoon until we arrived at Ai-Ais National Park. This part was located in the middle of no where in a deep rocky valley when we all were feeling we may have been lost. This national park had hot springs and we had a pleasant surprise of dipping our tired and dusted body into the warm water. Ai-Ai means "very hot!" as shouted by a shepherd who long time ago touched the water without knowing it was hot.
Ai-Ais National Park Hot Springs

Day 5 was another long day with a 550 km drive of which 440km will be on dirt roads. No much activity. But we stopped to learn about Quiver Tree and Milk Bush. Quiver tree is common in the desert and milk bush is poisonous, which only Rhino and Kudus can eat. Even dead branches could be deadly when used for fire woods. It is pretty torturous to travel on dirt roads with two major side effects. One is the dust and the other is vibration that your body has to endure. Cold symptoms started with me and later this cold got around to almost everyone. It was pretty nasty with coughs and mucus. We stayed at a German-owned lodge, called Hamastein right outside the Namib Naukluft National Park.
A Quiver Tree

Poisonous Milk Bush

Day 6 - We started really early at 5:30am to drive to the national park and do the activities in the park before it became too hot. This was one of the three highlights that I look forward to in this trip.

We climbed Dune 45, approximately 150 meter high. The orange-colored sand was so fine and soft. Many hiked on bare foot. I came down on bare foot also. It was such a good feeling. Later, we hiked to Deadvlei that was located between sand dunes. Deadvlei used to be Sosussvlei that had a pond full of water thus collecting animals. But due to a sand dune that blocked the water flow into the pond, it dried up and all trees also dried up. The Deadvlei was overlooked by one of the tallest sand dunes, called Big Daddy (220 meter high) and still had acacia tree trunks and branches that are over 900 years old. The harmony among the blue sky, orange sand, white clay floor and dark chocolate color trees was just stunningly beautiful.
Dune 45

Deadvlei... dead acacia trees are 900 years old

On the way back to the same accommodation, we made a short stop at Sessriem Canyon.

Day 7 was another long day with a 450 km drive. After three hours of driving, we stopped at a desert farm and experienced a desert walk with Boe Sman, a Dutch-descendant. He explained to us about the desert life and how insects and animals sustain their lives in the desert. He also explained about the bushman lives. They used small poisoned arrows to kill animals and even people and had the capacity to eat up to 10 kg on site. They have been hunted down by other people and can now be barely found to live the old traditional desert life. Ironically, his name sounds like bushman and he has been victimized by this similar pronunciation. He was articulate and convincing. He married a Japanese woman and had a new baby last year. He was on bare feet. We arrived at one of the best accommodation of the tour: Stay @ Swakopmund owned and run by a German lady. A clean, cute and comfortable facility. Excellent! We dined at a seafood restaurant, called Tug, and the foods were delicious.
Boe Sman explaining about desert life

A town called Solitaire with a population of less than 100

Cute, clean and comfortable guest house
Day 8 was a free activity day. Our group, except Kristin, chose to do the quad-biking on sand dunes and sand-boarding. Quad-biking was fun, but sand-boarding was thrilling, pumping adrenalin. We were sliding on a board at the maximum speed of 80 km/h. We cooked Shin Ramyun for lunch and it was just fantastic! For dinner, we all dined together at a local restaurant. Again, excellent foods.
Hey... we rolled over the dunes

Day 9 - We visited Spitzkoppe where we saw the bushmen wall painting under an over-hanged boulder. Spitzkoppe mountains comprised a couple of mountains that erupted to 1,700 meter above the sea level, covered with granite boulders and rocks. On the way, we saw Brandenberg Mountain in a distance, which had an altitude of 2,500 meter in height. Our accommodation was Gwati Country Hotel in Khorixas, probably one of the worst facilities. A group of high school students sang for us during the dinner time. A beautiful harmony.

A rhino painting on the wall

Desert crickets that were all over

Day 10 - We visited a Petrified Forest that was created out of a sudden flood that swallowed tree logs that floated from DR Congo in dirt, which preserved the tree logs without access to oxygen and bacteria, thus producing the petrified trees. They have begun to excavate them and several logs lay on the ground. The longest one was 30 meters long. We were introduced to Namibia's national flower, but they were quite unimpressive.
A nest for social weavers... it is an apartment complex for them

A petrified tree log

On the way, we stopped by a Himba village. Himba people are still living almost naked, quite diligently preserving their old traditions. They are well known for their unique hair styles. Their naked life, however, looked quite natural and we could not feel any nudity let alone indecency.  We stayed at Oase Guest House in Kamanjab. Free wifi was a bonus.
Himba ladies helping make the hair

Gertie had a toothache that debilitated her. She had to take a pain killer and antibiotic. Our group ladies stepped up to cover her for lunch as well as dinner.

Day 11 - Gertie was up! Thanks to the drugs, she was up. We traveled through the Etosha National Park doing the game drive. Etosha National Park is known for waterholes that attract animals to gather. The accommodation facility at Okaukeujo had a waterhole very close to the facility. During the game drive and at the waterhole, we saw many zebras, springboks, oryxes, impalas, a vulture, giraffes, guinea fowls, wildbeests, jakal, elephants, warthogs. But, after having seen so many animals through the game drives at Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, the types and number of animals we saw at Etosha were disappointing. We stayed at Halali within the national park.
An elephant elegantly appearing at the waterhole by Okaukeujo

Holding the truck Sammy at Etosha Pan

Sparrow weaver nests

Day 12 - From early morning, our game drive continued. We were lucky. We saw a leopard and a lion, but it was quite brief to see the leopard and it was too far to see the lion lying down. We stopped at the Etosha Pan where animals come to lick the salt. We arrived back at Okaukuejo for lunch and the afternoon was a free time. Our group ended up talking about parenting at the pool side. The sunset we saw on top of the tower was breath-taking.

Day 13 - We drove 430 km, but on the paved road. We said 'Good bye!" to the dirt roads and the dusts. We all got hilarious about it. We arrived at the Namibia's capital city Windhoek. This city, clean and well organized under the German influence, has a population of 300,000. We stopped over at a Lutheran church before arrived at Arebbusch Hotel. An excellent facility we all enjoyed very much. Moreover, we had a free wifi also.
German Lutheran Church in Windhoek


Day 14 - Another long day to drive 520 km. Kris got really sick and had to take antibiotic. Defney, a Malaysian lady, Malte and Claudia, a German couple, joined our group, making our group total 18. We had our lunch right before the Namibian border. A truck-side dining is a common scene for this type of adventure traveling. At times, we stopped by the road and dined. Blaming Kristin's illness, we cooked the second Shin Ramyun. Mysteriously, Kris started showing noticeable improvements and others felt better. Food works!

We exited Namibia and entered into Botswana. Botswana is known to be one of the reforming countries in the developing world. The government is relatively clean and well organized. The bachelor president has been using the country's diamond production for improving its infrastructure and well-being. But the first impression was not as positive as I expected. Unlike Namibia where I found a pleasant surprise in the country's cleanness and well organized infrastructure. Botswana has taken a 'High-cost, Low-impact' approach towards tourism because she does not need as much tourism money for the nation's development as other countries, like Namibia.

We unloaded our luggage at Ghanzi Trail Blazers. This accommodation had a limited power supply from 6 - 10 pm, but the surprise was that the shower facility was outside the cabin. Worse, I found a peeping hole on the wall. With the inside bright, yikes! At night, we saw a bushmen dance by the camp fire. I was dragged in to imitate the bushmen dialogues.

Day 15 - Early in the morning, we opted to do the bushman walk. A bushman family showed us how they survive in the desert not only for food but also for organic medicines. They showed us how to make a fire out of rubbing a wooden stick into another wooden stick.
A Bushman Family explaining their desert life

We arrived at Maun, a gateway town to the famous Okavango Delta. We took a scenic flight as an optional activity. It was a wondrous experience to fly over the vast delta that has been created out of the battle between Kavango River and the Makadikadi Desert that erupted and blocked the river flow into Makadikadi Lake. Now the lake has dried up into a white pan. The Okavango Delta covers an area of approximately 18,000 sq. km, larger than Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
Six nomads before the scenic flight

Okavango Delta, a fraction of it

Another shot, still a fraction of the Delta

We stayed at the cabins located in the Delta Rain Campsite. Small cabins were crowded with two beds and many insects were roaming all over the walls and ceiling. But fatigue overpowered any uneasy discomfort.

Day 16 - Early in the morning, we headed to the Maun International Airport and took a small Sesna flight to go into the Okavango Delta. It was the similar route to the one we took yesterday, but we landed on a small airstrip in the middle of no where. Then we took a small speed boat to reach our accommodation facility, called Moremi Crossing. The tented lodge built along the river, called Burrow, was nestled under large trees. The scenery was picturesque, peaceful, tranquil and just beautiful. We all felt like we were in a wonder land. We were welcome by the staff with a song and a welcome drink. The tented lodge was woven together with the essence of the nature. You could see the palm trees from the shower and you go to sleep with the nature sounds. Animals freely come close to your site and you wake up with the harmonious orchestra of the morning birds. It is a natural symphony. Ahhhh. How heavenly it is!

In the afternoon, we rode a mokoro, a small floating vessel pushed with a pole, sliding on the water through the floating hippo grasses and tall papas grasses. The scenery reflected on the water was fantastic and the surrounding was peaceful. After we arrived at a small island, we did the nature walk. We did not get to see many animals, except several impalas, but it was a new experience in the wilderness exposed to wild animals.
Moremi Crossing staff welcoming us with a song

Tented lodge

Just beautiful...

The Yoons riding a mokoro

A sunrise morning scenery... majestic

An elephant showing off

Posing with an elephant grazing the grass
Day 17 - Moremi Crossing's meal schedule was as follows: continental breakfast at 7AM, brunch at 11:30AM, high tea time at 3PM and dinner at 7PM. All the foods were just great and wonderful.

In the morning, we rode a motor boat on the river. We all had a wish to see hippos, elephants and crocodiles. We indeed saw all of them. We were able to get very close to the elephants grazing grasses by the river. We saw dozens of hippos in the water and a crocodile swimming below our own boat. On the way back, the guide was driving the boat at a fast speed, breaking the waves. It was a thrilling experience!

Day 18 - From last night, a scarily strong wind started blowing throughout the night and was still blowing in the morning. The tented lodge was exposed to the outside. So the wind made the bedroom pretty cold. But the concern was if the plane will be able to fly in the wind. The camp manager Lindsey told us not to worry and indeed it was perfectly okay. The airstrip's departure gate was quite humble, but functional.

We gathered at Wimpy coffee shop in Maun and took off. After passing through the Foot and Mouth Disease control point, we branched off the main road and on a side road we had our lunch. It was not easy to eat an adventure truck meal after luxurious meals at Moremi Crossing, but it was still good. On the way, we encountered a large giraffe family crossing the road and also saw an interesting baobab tree that showed a branch that looked like a male symbol. Gertie said that it is the only male baobab tree in Africa. We all laughed.
A giraffe family crossing the road

We unloaded our luggage at Pelican Lodge in Nata, a new facility. The wind subsided but it was still quite cold.

Day 19 - We had our breakfast at the lodge because it was far too cold to eat by the truck. We drove 310 km and arrived at Thebe River Safari Lodge early afternoon. It had a small but cute courtyard.  In the afternoon, we got on a boat for a cruise on the Chobe River. Honestly, I did not have much expectation because the previous game drive experiences were not so impressive. But this cruise ended up being one of the highlights full of pleasant surprises. We saw several crocodiles comfortably lying down all over the places. We saw the water buffaloes for the first time and new creatures, such as water monitor lizards. We also saw a couple of dozens of elephants drinking and bathing by the river and a bunch of hippos in the water and some outside the water as the sun was setting. The river was a sanctuary for many birds. On the returning trip, the sunset was marvelous and its beauty made us all speechless. The colors of the nature and the overall ambiance were just wondrous. Beautiful!
A crocodile bathing under the sun

A deformed water buffalo cautious about the approaching boat

A water monitor lizard climbing up to eat bird eggs

Approximately 20 elephants drinking and bathing at Chobe River

A dozen hippos that are playing and grazing

A magnificent sunset at Chobe River

Gertie and her staff prepared a three-course meal as the last truck meal.


Day 20 - The day to exit Botswana and to enter Zimbabwe. Early in the morning, we crossed the border and arrived in Victoria Falls. This town of Victoria Falls is located in Zimbabwe. But the Zambezi River that forms the Falls flows from Zambia where the town of Livingstone is located. They are close, only 10 km apart, but in two different countries.

Victoria Falls was the last of my three expected highlights of the tour, along with Namib desert's Deadvlei and Botswana's Okavango Delta. Victoria Falls is one of the seven nature wonders of the world. The Zambezi River is as wide as 1.7 km and this entire river drops into a gorge up to 103 meters. This drop creates thick mists that form clouds and fall again as rain. The surrounding area has become a rain forest because of this mist-turned rain. From the beginning, we said "Wow!" several times and this exclamation did not stop. As we moved towards the bridge that links Zimbabwe and Zambia, we all got soaked and thoroughly wet. It was a foolish oversight not to bring the poncho that we have carried all the way without use. I managed to reach the point where I could see people bungi jumping from the top of the bridge. It would be a scary experience. I also saw a rainbow crossing over the bridge. Since the Victoria Falls was so panoramic, it was virtually impossible to take a photo that accurately portrays the entire scene. From the Zimbabwe side, you can see the Victoria Falls in entirety. But the gorge is so narrow, probably 30-40 meters wide, that the mists and rains from the Falls make your view severely challenging.
Victoria Falls

Majestic Vic Falls

Only a fraction of Vic Falls with the mists rising

Rainbow at the bridge with a bungi jumper still hanging

Eating lunch after getting wet from watching the Vic Falls

So we took the helicopter ride. It was a short 13-minute ride, but we were able to see the Victoria Falls with a bird's eye view. Its panoramic view was spectacular and I had no choice but to praise the Creator's wondrous work. We took the scenic flight at Okavango Delta and the helicopter tour at the Victoria Falls. It was made possible because the Yoons and the Chois were so generous that they covered all the costs. I am grateful for their generosity.
Victoria Falls from a helicopter... ahhhhh

After the helicopter flight
The tour company's finishing touch was impressive. They placed us into Elephant Hills Hotel, a five start hotel. It was located by a golf course that overlooked the Victoria Falls. Since it was within the Victoria Falls National Park, you could see warthogs running around and antelopes grazing over the lawns. It was a perfect harmony of the nature and human beings.

We visited an open curio market and we ended up buying a lot of artifacts. We found the craftsmanship was skillful and excellent.

Wooden statue of big fives

After a buffet dinner at Zambezi River Lodge, our group gathered at the hotel bar and reflected on this unforgettable trip. We were grateful that we all were able to finish the trip without major incidents although some of us got sick. We all faced some challenges, but we were happy that we got over them.

We talked about our next possible trips, including a trip to Scandinavian and Baltic countries and the Patagonia National Park in Argentina and Chile. It is always exciting and joyous to keep the dream alive.

With Sammy the truck, Victor, Gertie and Kobus

Three male nomads satisfied after the trip

Three lady nomads relieved after the trip

We also talked about the gospel and I shared a couple of poems that were produced out of the inspiration gained from a few tour highlights.

Day 21 - The last day and the day to part with each other. After early breakfast, we took a taxi and walked on the bridge with a day pass. Some of us saw a round-shape rainbow from the bridge. The Zambezi River was re-organized after the severe drop into the gorge and started flowing again for a long journey.

We departed Victoria Falls airport at around 1PM to arrive at Johannesburg after a short flight. There, we had to say farewell to each other as the Yoons and the Chois had to transit to continue to travel to New York while we had to exit to stay over night in Johannesburg.

It would take quite a while to fully reflect and digest all the trip experiences and memories, but this blog post will help remember them a little better. I am deeply grateful for this travel experience, particularly with two couples of friends: Jay and Yoo Yoon, and Jae and KH Choi.

This type of group tour provides an opportunity to meet fellow nomads. Carey and Rhonda from Sydney, Australia, Chris and Carol from Sydney, Australia, Colin and Juliet from Perth, Australia, Clare from Melbourne, Australia, Defney from Singapore, Rodrigo from Brazil, Sukryu from Turkey and Malte and Claudia from Hamburg, Germany. Particularly, Sukryu claimed to have traveled to 110 countries thus far. His passion for the global traveling was obvious. Five of these people continued their travel further to the East Africa for another three weeks or so. Hopefully, we will stay in touch.

As someone said, "Dream as if you have the eternity; Live as if you have only today."

Well said. I wish to live just like that way as long as I breathe on earth. - Jeffrey

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