Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An amazing spring break: Botswana, Zambia Zimbabwe

So it's been awhile. Since I last blogged Mom and Dani came to visit for 10 days. I am not going to go into that trip, you can just ask them about it. I then had a week off before it was time for Easter break here. I went with a company called 2way travel. About 30 kids from my program went along with 30 or so more other Americans. We were headed to Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 
We met to get on the bus in Mowbray at 4:45 to go to the airport. We flew to Johanesburg, which is just a 2 hour flight. From there we boarded these trucks. There were 22 of us on my  truck (19 of us were from interstudy - my program - and only 3 were rando americans.) I felt bad for them, but 2 of them ended up being pretty cool. So I was expecting this sprawling coach bus since that was going to be where most of our trip took place. Oh how wrong I was. These trucks were hilarious, massive behemoths. There were seats facing each other, facing backwards and forwards and tables in between some seats. It was interesting to say the least. So the first day consisted of a full day of driving. We were first headed to Botswana. Luckily I was told before the trip that the first 2 days kinda sucked because you were on the bus the entire time but not to get upset because after those 2 days the whole trip is worth it. We passed the time by sleeping and playing stupid card games. We got very lost on our first day so we didnt arrive at our first campsite until 11:00 that night. We quickly ate dinner, rolled out our sleeping mats and slept with 25 people to a large room. Seriously uncomfortable. 
The next morning we woke up at 5:30, packed up our stuff, had tea, coffee and rusks (yummy biscuits) and got back on the road. My goal for the day was to not sleep as much and to look outside of the bus to see cool things. I was successful in the morning before we stopped for breakfast on the side of the road. During that stop we all went into the bush to pee. After this trip i am seriously able to go to the bathroom anywhere. I thought i was good before but this was a test...the bushes of Africa and I are best friends. Driving through Botswana I noticed that an American thinking about what Africa looks like would think of this place. It was totally desolate but beautiful woods. There were a ton of donkeys and cows along the road as well as randomly dispersed people and shacks. I was happy I could see another part of Africa besides the westernized, commercialized Cape Town.  That morning we were told to bring any pair of shoes we had in our suitcases onto the bus because we were going to be sprayed for foot and mouth disease once we hit the botswana border. We didnt have to do it on the way in apparently because we blew past the stopping point. If someone is to contract this disease you could potentially kill of their entire cattle and then their population so its serious stuff. We made a lot of pit stops, one including a stop at a supermarket to get 5 liters of water each because we would be camping out for 3 days with no running water. We were going to be thirsty... We used the Botswana currency Pula to buy our waters. We made it to the campsite around 6:00, showered, set up our tents (Nicole was my tent buddy for the night) and listened to this Australian guy talk about the Ocavango Delta that we were going to be in for the next 3 days. He informed us that the ground gets very dewey. BUt with his silly accent it sounded like he said, "the tents and the ground get very jewey." This confused me for a bit because I thought he was trying to make a stab at the chosen peeps. I was wrong, it was just the accent. We all passed out early.
Monday we woke up 5:45 to pack up our tents and get our day packs ready for roughing it in the Delta. We left our truck behind at the campsite and jumped onto another beast of a truck to head into the Delta. Once we got to literally the middle of nowhere, we had made it! We were then taken in these boats called makaros. Basically there are 2 people to each makaro and your poula or your leader, who is standing and uses a long stick to move the boat. You are just supposed to lay there. Laura and I were makaro buddies. So heres how we learned the name of our leader: Laura got to our leader first while I was still getting off of the truck. Laura introduced herself first and while she was asking our leader her name she was saying it at the same time and said im your poula. So Laura thought her name was pula, but that didnt make much sense since the currency in Botswana was pula...that didn't seem right. So Laura said what? and she answered is this your pashna? She was pointing at our friend mike which made Laura even more confused. So then she thought her name was pashna for a bit. THen she figured out that she was asking if Mike was Laura's pashna (aka PARTNER), So she ruled out pashna as the name and was stuck with pula. So it was up to me to figure out her name. Throughout the hour and a half makaro ride I tried to ask once what her name was but every time I spoke she thought I was talking to Laura, so I never got her name. Once we got to the campsite all of the leaders were introducing themselves. Our leader came up...her name was Bridgitte. For each meal there was a group of 4 or 5 people that had to help out. Thankfully, for everyones pleasure, Laura was on lunch duty. It really brought on some great laughs watching her attempt to help out with cooking. Everyone else was slicing and dicing...Laura cleaned the pots. She was really top notch at it. We all hung out for the afternoon and waited until 5:00 to go on our bush walk. My group was Katrina, Jill, Julie, Laura, and I (a really perfect group.) We werent expecting to see much since the animals don't really hang out in the sun when it is beating down on them. Our guides were Joe and Shelly. Before we began our bush walk, Joe informed us that if we see a lion we must stand upwind so it can't smell us. If we see an elephant, run up a tree. And some more absurd things like that. We were serioulsy vulnerable. Just as I thought we didn;t see anything but got some hilarious laughs from Jill and Laura who were both have bowl movement issues. The walk only lasted an hour and a half because we obvi couldnt walk once it got dark. We had some dinner then passed out at 9:00 for the night.
Next morning we woke up at 5:15 to go on our morning bush walk. We had the same group walking. We saw a zebra, wildabeast, giraffes and a steembok, which laura thought was a wild dog...wild dogs are absurdly hard to see, so it was funny when she really thought we saw one. After our 4 hour walk, we were all dead tired at camp and laid out in the sun, played cards, swam in the watering hole and passed out for the afternoon until our makaro sunset ride. Laur, Bridgitte and I were makaro buddies again. It was a gorgeous sunset and a peaceful ride with everyone. That night all of our leaders put on a performance of singing and dancing which was awesome. Us Americans then had to get up and return the treat. We kept it classy and sang some build me up buttercup, ain't no mountain high enough and backstreet was terible and random but I guess they enjoyed it. 
Wednesday we all woke up for another hour bush walk. We saw a jackal, giraffe and hippos in the distance. Nothing too exciting. We got back to the campsite and packed everything up then headed back on our makaros, our truck and got back to the original campsite. We had a couple hours to shower and eat lunch before our 4 hour drive to the next campsite. I decided to be an intelligent human being and shower where there was running warm water because hey, im in Africa and you never know what could happen. Most people opted out of showering (ew, it had been 3 days) and wanted to wait until we got to the next campsite because we were going to be on gross and sweaty on the bus for hours. We arrive at the campsite and what do you know? The water is shut off. HA! I am smart. I guess the water randomly shuts off and on and on this particular night it was off. We were informed at this campsite that elephants freely roam around because it is not gated and just that morning a couple girls went to the bathroom and when they walked out there was a pride of lions outside. I don't know what happened, I do know they lived though. They told us to walk with buddies...I told Laura I would be her buddy but what the hell would I have done if there was a pride of lions in front of me....?
We left the elephants and lions early the next morning to get on the road to Chobe National Park. We got to our next campsite EARLY! That was unheard of seeing as we got lost every single day and didn't arrive at campsites until at least an hour after our ETA. We left to go on our sunset booze cruise at 3:30. Our boat was awesome and had all the people I wanted on it. Chobe is home to the most elephants in all of Africa so  on the cruise we saw tons and tons of them as well as hippos (one actually got out of the h2o for us, which is unusual), baby crocs, an many impala. We also drank a lot of wine. We got back to our site after sunset and had dinner, drank some more then everyone passed out by 9:30...late night.
Next morning we had an optional game drive at Chobe national park that we could go on for $25. I was told to not go on it because we wouldnt see much and I had been on safaris before. I contracted a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out) though since everyone else was going. I jumped in and saw nothing really at all. I passed out for the last 30 mins of the ride. I told our guide, Walter, that if we didn't see lions I was going to kick him out of the car and take over. We didn't see lions, but I fell asleep so he was home free. We packed up our tents once again and boarded the truck to get to the ferry to get to the border of Zambia. I thought this was going to take around 30 mins but 2 and a half hours later (i have NO clue what was going on) we finally departed from the border. We were sitting on the bus the entire time just waiting for the okay to move along. We passed the time with catch phrase and this new, intellectually stimulating game called contact. We got to our campsite a couple hours later, quickly put on our cossies (bathing suits) and headed to Victoria Falls. We got to walk through the falls, which right now is at the highest it has been since 1958. You can't visibly make out the falls because the water is so high and intense. You get absolutley drenched just trying to get a was like nothing I had ever seen before...I was smiling from ear to ear the entire time. 
The next morning we actually got to sleep in until 6:30! Today was my extreme, adrenaline packed day. In the morning a big group of us went to go abseiling which is basically repelling. But we repelled down a gorge, whcih was sweet. Then we got to do this superman zipline thing across the gorges which was just fun (not really scary at all.) And finally we did the gorge swing. Laura and I went tandem because we were both too scared to go alone. They connect your feet together and have you hold onto each others backs. You then have your back to the gorges so you can't see your ultimate doom, tell you to bend your knees, stick your butt out and roll backward. I was freaking out (Laura has never seen me so scared before.) It was a 4 second free fall then the swing caught you and pulled up into a swinging position, it was freaking awesome. We left the gorges and 4 of us (Laura, Katrina, Owen and I) headed to our next adrenaline moment. We went to go bungee jump off a bridge over victoria falls. Holy shit. THat was by far the scariest thing I have ever done in my entire life. The initial jump is obviously scary and then you bungee and drop, bungee and drop, so on and so forth. I don't know how many times I got dropped but I do know that once the guy came down to sit me up right I told him I needed to be on solid ground. I got back up to the bridge and said that was one of the coolest and scariest things I have ever done and I dont think I ever want to do it again. Now it is 4 days later and I may want to do it again....
On our last full day there (Sunday) Laura, Mike, Nicole and I all went horseback riding. I dont think I have ever been on a horse before and it was fun. My ass and thighs hurt a lot after though so it make take me another 20 years to go again...we'll see. We walked through the bush though and it was peaceful and calm. Only one time did our horses get rowdy, in a full gallop and almost throw us off. No big deal. That afternoon Mike, Laura and I headed to the Zimbabwe border, which is a 10 mins walk from the Zambia border, to go to the open trade craft market. You basically bring anything and everything and get a ton of crafts in return for your stuff. For some really cool pieces I traded: single tampons, advil, socks, t-shirts, a bandana, band-aids and other random stuff. They loved it and really needed anything you could give them though. That was just a totally different experience than anything I have ever seen. Very cool. That night all of the Americans went to the bar at the campsite for our last night and we had a good time. We had to get up at 7:00 the next morning to head out and get back to Cape Town. WE left from the Zim airport and flew into Jo'berg then connected to Cape Town. It was another long day but we got back to the mansions around 9:30. 
So it was an absolutely crazy and busy trip but I loved every minute of it. Sorry this post was so long, I tried to keep the details minimal. When I talk to you more I can give you some more entertaining stories and elaborate on more things. Until next time. Love you all!