06.10.2016 - 11.10.2016
Thursday, 6 October
Today we left Malawi and crossed the border into Zambia. This border crossing was smooth and easy: we got our exit and entry stamps without any problems and quickly drove on to our campsite for the next two nights.
The campsite was on a river overlook; the river is known for its high population of hippos and crocodiles. The manager of the site greeted us and showed us all around the grounds, which were quite nice. We were warned that animals frequently came through the camp at night, especially elephants and hippos. The elephants would routinely break into the rooms looking for food. The hippos would always walk through the camp, past the bathrooms and tents (their regular path). Thankfully the camp had guards that patrolled throughout the night to scare the animals away and to escort us around.
To our surprise, they had permanent tents (enough to accommodate six people) and a dormitory (enough for eight people). Max, Jane and I decided to take the tents and gave the dorm to the rest of the camping group.
Larry threw a bitch fit when we told him to take the last available dorm bed. I wasn’t having any of his attitude (he always liked to have things his way; no one could tell him otherwise; everything had to be his very particular and picky way). I snipped at him that we’ll do whatever he wanted, which ended up being exactly what Max and I said: that he should stay in the dorm so he could use his oxygen mask while sleeping.
The tent that Max and I shared was AMAZING! Being a permanent tent, it was outfitted with actual beds with sheets and a bedside table. They were right next to the river overlook as well, giving us an amazing view. Max and I left the front flap open each night so we could look out through the netting to see if any animals came by.
The afternoon was spent hanging out in a small bungalow near the tents and also by the pool. I did quite a bit of reading before rejoining the regular card group for another night of 5,000. This time Larry decided to join us. The game was all over the place throughout the evening, with everyone staying near one another. Max and I struggled the most, which was frustrating, but it was still a lot of fun. We wrapped up the game shortly before 22:00 so we could head to bed.
Before we could leave the bar area, the guards told us that there were several elephants around and we had to wait. To our surprise, the five elephants were right next to the restaurant, walking around the huts; I was really surprised by how quickly they walked through the camp. We didn’t have to wait for too long before we were escorted to the tents.
As we were settling in to bed, we could hear the noises of the hippos, which were amazingly loud! They were still quite far away, but the sound echoed all around us. It didn’t take too long to drift off to sleep; the bed in the tent was the best bed I’ve slept in on my entire trip.
Friday, 7 October
To my surprise, I woke up around 07:15 – I actually got to sleep in! We had nothing planned until the late afternoon; it was amazing to get to rest us. I had the best night of sleep of my entire trip; I sincerely wish that I could take the bed with me! There was something relaxing, exciting and fun about camping like that.
Breakfast was very simple: just cereal, coffee and tea. Several people went on an optional morning game drive in the South Luangwa National Park; we had a late morning brunch planned for when they got back. I opted to skip the game drive for a few reasons: (1) we’d seen all of the same animals already in there Serengeti (that park spoiled all future game drives for us!); and, (2) we were going on a late afternoon and evening game drive in the park (this was included with the tour).
I spent the morning back in the bungalow-gazebo, reading quite a bit in “Atlas Shrugged” (I read about 10% of the book – Who is John Galt?).
Brunch was served around 11:00 and it was truly spectacular! We had sausage with onions, pasta salad, and BACON! Yes, we had delicious bacon; Nyka made enough for us to have a second round and I took full advantage of the bacon. One of the monkeys brazenly jumped onto a table and took two apples: he shoved one in his mouth, stared at us and quickly grabbed the second before running off! The guards chased him off and shot rocks at him in the trees using a sling-shot.
I spent much of the afternoon reading, but the heat began to set in. I was sweating profusely just sitting in the shade (and without a shirt on!). I eventually took a quick dip in the pool to cool off, which was quite refreshing. After roasting in the sun for a while, I headed over to the bar area to continue the game of 5,000 from the night before.
The luck of the game changed dramatically that afternoon: Max and I began to fall further and further behind (especially me – I had five rounds of negative points!). We had quite a few good laughs throughout the game though; I loved getting to play cards with them (we’ve become known as the card playing group among the others on the tour!). We ate all of the snacks that we had bought as we played as dinner wasn’t until around 21:00.
At 16:00 we set off on our afternoon game drive in the South Luangwa National Park. Once again, Team Rhino Max grouped up and Emma joined us. The tour jeep had no roof, which actually made viewing the animals easier. Since there was no roof, we couldn’t stand up though: standing up would allow the animals to differentiate between the truck and a human; while we were sitting, we appeared as one giant animal with the truck.
We didn’t see many animals during the afternoon game drive, but the drivers did their best to find some for us. We saw lots of impalas and zebras, as well as some giraffes.
We made a stop at a beautiful river overlook for the sunset, which was truly stunning. We were given a refreshment drink while we hung out and took pictures. Larry went around taking pictures with everyone, including several with all of the girls (he gave Joana a hug after taking some Titanic-esque pictures that seemed to last too long…).
After the sun went down, we started the second half of the game drive – in the dark! We had a guy at the front of the car with the light that he would use to scan for animals. It was really peaceful and exciting to be driving through the park in the dark. We saw a few interesting animals, including a hyena who walked right next to the jeep; a honey badger; a vulture perched on a tree; and zebras.
The greatest sight was two lions crossing the road right in front of the truck. The male lion stopped in the road and looked right over at us, quite alert, before moving on around some trees. We followed them around and watched the male lion lay down, while the lioness walked into a field to lay down.
The rest of the game drive was uneventful and we didn’t see very much. Several areas smelled terribly and the driver mentioned that the smells were dead animals that were nearby. We made it back to camp around 20:30 and soon after had dinner.
We didn’t play cards after dinner as we were all exhausted, so we sat around to chat for a little bit. Max, Jane and I called it an early night and went to bed in the tents. We found out the next morning that several hippos came through the camp around 23:00 and one of them was literally right next to my tent – maybe one or two feet away! Those who remained in the bar saw it all, but I saw nothing. I had woken up in the night and heard the hippos making noise; the noise was very loud, but I didn’t think that there was anything nearby. Reflecting back, I did hear some noise of something moving around and it is highly possible that I heard the hippo walking around.
Saturday, 8 October
We left our campsite today, but thankfully the start wasn’t until 08:30, giving us time to sleep in once again. Max got up around 05:00 to check for animals down near the river, but he came back to bed not long after, having not seen anything. We woke shortly after 07:00 and I again felt very rested. The bed and the tent was truly amazing!
We drove for about 45 minutes to a local textile factory, where we were given a short tour. They make all of the textiles by hand, painting all of the designs and mixing the colors by hand. The process was really remarkable to see; the talent and skills of the workers was amazing. We were given some time to shop around after the tour. I didn’t expect to buy anything, but they had a kid’s section and I found two wall hangings that I bought: one for my nephew Jack and one for my niece Jane. Each one had four panels with cartoon animals on them.
We then drove on towards out campsite for the night in Petauke. I read quite a bit on the drive and listened to music as well. The campsite is rather nice, with great showers and bathrooms. My first priority, after getting the tents setup, was to take a nice, warm shower (perhaps I should have taken a cold shower since it was so hot, but the warm water felt so good). Sadly, the campsite didn’t have wifi, extending our wifi drought to over a week now; everyone is craving wifi access!
Sunday, 9 October
Today was another one of the long drives, nearly 500km, as we drove to the capital of Zambia, Lusaka. We made excellent time on the road and reached Lusaka by lunchtime. We made a quick stop at a local mall to get some shopping done at the supermarket. Jane, Linda and I grabbed a few candy bars and drinks before heading to a coffee shop to relax. I had a “Frappuccino” which turned out to be a coffee and chocolate milkshake, which was delicious!! Jane noticed the sign out front of the store and we both got quite a laugh out of it.
Jane is a really fun and great person. She’s from Hong Kong, but has British citizenship and currently lives in the UK. She is the same age as me (and Max as well) and she had a similar sense of humor as me. We’d constantly make “That’s what she/he said” comments, which went right over the heads of the others (much to our amusement). Sadly, Jane is splitting from our group in Victoria Falls and not continuing all the way to Cape Town.
We reached the final campsite for the tour around 13:00 and hurriedly setup our tents so that we could have lunch. After lunch I went to the bar to access the wifi, post a blog entry and get some work done. The bar sold internet access by the megabyte and I bought 200MB, which ran out after about an hour or two. After that I joined Max, Jane, Linda and Larry for a few minutes before the entire group gathered to take a final group photo.
Once the group photo was finished, we all pulled out our sleeping mats and sat on the grass, chatting, taking photos, and relaxing. This was our last official night together and we wanted to spend some quality time together as a group. It was really amazing and I am so glad that we were able to do that.
While we were all sitting around chatting, several zebras wandered into our campsite. Jane, Max and I walked over to where they were to take some pictures. To our surprise, they didn't run away as we got closer; we were able to get quite close to them as they grazed and ate their own dinner.
Dinner was one of Nyika’s best of the trip and consisted of several main dishes and, best of all, ice cream for dessert! After dinner we presented Nyika and TK with the tips we’d gathered as a group. I bought some envelopes at the supermarket and organized the effort to gather the tip on the bus, but we had Mika present the tip to them and give the “thank you” speech.
After dinner we all went back to the bar to have some drinks. Dennis, Jane, Tim and I played a game of pool; Jane and I were on one team, with Dennis and Tim on another. They barely beat us, which was surprising because Jane and I weren’t that good (she was far better than me!).
Joana took over the role of DJ and played music from her iPhone over the speakers while she sat on the bar. She played several songs by the Backstreet Boys, including “I Want It That Way” and “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and we all (Jane, Max, Linda and me… along with the other girls) sang along to them.
After playing pool we played a game called Heads Up, which is an app that Jane had on her iPhone. One person holds the phone up to their forehead and different words are displayed; the other players must describe the word and get the player to say it. There are several categories, including animals, movies, songs, and “act it out”. Finally, we all played one final game of 5,000 to finish out the evening. We played just five quick rounds and didn’t bother keeping score.
I went to bed around 22:30, but several people stayed up until well after midnight.
Monday, 10 October
We were up around 04:00 this morning so we could hit the road early; we had a drive of around 400km to reach Victoria Falls and we wanted to get there as early as possible. Hana only had the afternoon to see the falls, so we all wanted to make sure that she had enough time to really explore the falls.
We all said goodbye to Larry and set off down the road. We opted to skip breakfast before leaving, choosing to stop along the side of the road around 08:00 for a quick breakfast of coffee, tea and cereal. The border crossing into Zimbabwe was quick and easy. This was the one country that I needed to buy a visa at the border as I wasn’t able to get one in advance; thankfully the visa only cost $30 and was quite simple.
We made a quick stop in town at the Shearwater Tour office so we could book any option activities we wanted to do the following day. Several people opted to visit the Devil’s Pool (an area right on the edge of the Falls where one can swim); the price was rather high ($150), so I decided to just do the sunset booze cruise the following evening. The entire group (except for Dennis, Cynthia, and Hana) signed up for the booze cruise as well, making it the final group event that we would have.
Our arrival at the hotel in Victoria Falls was rather chaotic though. The truck arrived and we all piled out, grabbing our luggage, and rushing to check in. The first half of the tour officially ended when we arrived at the hotel, so we were now on our own. To my dismay, they did not have me registered to stay at the hotel that evening – despite the night being listed on the official voucher that I received from Nomad! They needed some time to sort things out, so Max let me take my bags to his room while I waited. I got to shave, cut my hair, and shower in his room as well, which was really nice and refreshing.
Finally, Nomad called the hotel to speak with me. The hotel was fully booked, so they booked me in a different hotel on the other side of town (about a 10-15 minute walk from the current hotel). They also arranged for a shuttle to come take me to the new hotel. I wasn’t too happy about the arrangement, but there was nothing else to be done. Max, Jane and Linda accompanied me over to the new hotel as we were planning to explore the town before dinner.
The new hotel turned out to be truly amazing! It was the Ilala Lodge and it was a palace compared to the Rainbow Lodge where I was supposed to stay. The lobby was incredibly nice with a huge restaurant/bar area overlooking the Falls. My room was on the ground floor, with a massive bed and an even bigger bathroom; I even had French doors opening onto the back lawn of the hotel. When we arrived, we were served complimentary juices while waiting to check in.
After basking in the luxury of the hotel, we headed out into the town to do some exploring (and to get a cold drink – the heat was insane!). We passed by a few souvenir shops and even found a restaurant that advertised zebra burgers and giraffe ribs for dinner (I wanted to go eat there for dinner, but TK told us that they would be ripping us off; since we wouldn’t know the difference between the meats, they’d really serve us something cheaper and claim it was zebra). We finally made our way to the Shearwater Café, where we had some iced coffees and cold beers while playing a few rounds of Uno – the perfect way to relax on a hot day!
The group had planned to have dinner at the Rainbow Lodge restaurant; they prepared a buffet dinner, but I decided to skip eating because it was quite expensive ($30 per person!). I relaxed with a few beers and chatted with people during the meal. TK and Nyika joined us for dinner, which was really great; I was glad to get to see them one more time before setting off on the second half of the tour.
Nyika and TK truly made the first half of this African trip amazing. They were always smiling, friendly, and fun to be around. They would joke around with us and put up with our ridiculousness all the time. We were all truly sad to have to say goodbye to them; I wish they were able to continue on to Cape Town with us!
After dinner, Max, Jane, and Linda all walked me back to my hotel, which I really appreciated. The town wasn’t dangerous or anything; it was just nice to have the company during the walk. I settled into my room and turned on CNN to catch up on the news and get some work done – I finally had a good wifi connection and I had a lot to catch up on! I finally went to bed shortly after midnight.
Tuesday, 11 October
I wasn’t able to sleep in at the hotel as the shuttle taking me back to the Rainbow Lodge was due to arrive around 07:00. Thankfully I was able to get some breakfast before heading out. The cold spread was buffet style and there was a full menu of hot dishes to choose from; I grabbed some pastries and ordered pancakes as well. The pancakes were served with fresh cream and berries – delicious!!
I met up with Max back at the Rainbow Lodge and sat with him while he had breakfast. At 08:00 we met up with our new tour guide, Norman, and driver, Captain Fadz. They both seem like good guys; not quite as relaxed and fun-loving as Nyika and TK, but still very nice. Some of the group was at the Devil’s Pool in the morning and so we didn’t get a full briefing, but we did get to meet a German couple who was on our tour (Christian/Chris and Svenja); they were very friendly. Included with the second tour was an entrance ticket to Victoria Falls; Max and I opted to do the Falls without our group as we’d planned to visit the falls with people from our first tour group (we weren’t aware that our new group would be going together when we made the original plans). Thankfully Norman said that we just needed to give him our ticket receipts and he’d reimburse us.
Max and I met up with Jane after her new tour briefing; she was starting a 9-day tour that mirrors our tour as well for the first few days, before heading to Johannesburg. Linda met us in the lobby, along with Fritz and Mika. Together we all walked through town and over to the Victoria Falls park entrance, which only took us about 20 minutes. By the time we reached the Falls, we were all quite hot and sweaty from the heat and humidity.
We made our way through the park, following the path around to the various lookout points. The first one was the Devil’s Cataract, which I found to be stunning and the best part of the Falls. The force of the water was incredible.
As we were walking along we met up with Chris and Svenja, who joined us as we walked along the path. It was fun getting to chat, getting to know them better. Max wasted no time in showing them the tattoo of Germany on my left arm – such a good first impression to make! Thankfully they weren’t put off by my inexplicable love and devotion to Germany! LOL
One area of the path let us through an area that seemed like it was raining – the mist from the falls was so intense that it got us quite wet. There were about 17 lookout points for us to stop along and take some pictures.
The final lookout point was called Danger Point and it was aptly named: it was a series of rocks right on the edge of the canyon without any guard rail to stop one from falling over. This area of the falls was quite dry and there were only a few tiny falls coming down, but this also made the Point safer as the rocks weren’t wet from the mist. I didn’t get too close to the edge, but I got close enough that I could look over and see down.
We then retraced our steps and made our way to the final lookout point near the entrance, which also had a statue of David Livingstone, the first European to see the Falls and who named them.
We met up with the rest of our first tour group at the café near the entrance; I had a milkshake to help cool down with. Then we all took our new Nomad truck back to the Rainbow Lodge so we could pick up our tour t-shirts. The day before a man came to our truck to sell us some custom t-shirts for our tour; we could pick from a variety of prints on the front and sleeves, as well as put the map of our tour on the back of the shirt. I ordered a green shirt, with a map of Africa on the front that was made up of different animals, the flags of the countries we visited on the right sleeve, the map of the full tour on the back, and a rhino on the left sleeve with “Rhino Max” written beneath it.
After collecting our shirts, which were amazing, Max, Linda and I headed back into town to meet up with Jane at the Shearwater Café for lunch. I had my heart set on pizza, so Jane and I split a pizza. I ordered another iced coffee and then a beer with my meal. After eating we headed out to do some shopping at the local shops. There were tons of tiny shops around and everyone kept approaching us to have us buy something; they were rather pushy and quite annoying. I found a wooden rhino that I liked and I managed to haggle the guy down 50% from the price he stated. Max bought an amazing tablecloth that was hand-made.
We went back to the Rainbow Hotel so we could all catch the sunset cruise at 16:10. The cruise had a few people besides our group, but we went to the top floor of the boat to party and relax. I grabbed a Fanta and water to start the night off, but quickly graduated to beer (though I only had three beers throughout the 3-hour tour). Everyone else went with a gin and tonic, which became the staple drink for the evening (the bar ran out of tonic by the end of the night). Snack food was also served during the cruise, which was quite nice.
During the cruise we saw several hippos in the water, quite a few crocodiles, and some elephants. Throughout the entire cruise we were busy taking tons of photographs with everyone. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves and show how much fun we all had on the boat. It was an amazing final night with everyone – the best way to say goodbye to everyone.
ME, JANE, MAX, LINDA
MAITE, JOANA, RAFA, EMMA
ME AND "MI AMORS" - MAITE, JOANA, RAFA
When we got back from the cruise, we headed over to the Shearwater Café again, this time for our first group dinner with the new tour group. Rafa and Joana stayed at the hotel, but Max and I went to the dinner. Norman told us that it would just be nine of us for the first week or so of the tour (Joana, Rafa, Max, Chris, Svenja, Maitsie, plus two German girls, Siri and Jamine), which was fantastic – plus our new tour truck, Miles, has USB charging stations at every seat! This is going to be a luxury tour in comparison to East Africa!
We spent dinner getting to know one another and spent some time after dinner was over chatting. I immediately felt at ease with everyone and knew that we’d all have a great time together. Jane was at her new tour group’s dinner at the same café, but headed back to the hotel for their briefing. Max and I went back to the hotel to get our things together for departure the next day. As we were leaving, everyone from our first group arrived at the café to have dinner. Mika came by to say goodbye to us, which was really touching. She gave me a big hug and mentioned how much she enjoyed getting to spend time with me on the tour. I truly enjoyed getting to know her and Fritz; being in their 70s, I hadn’t expected them to keep up with everyone, but they were always right there with us. I hope I’m like them when I reach their age.
We didn’t stay, but said that we would come back. We went back to the hotel to get ready to depart in the morning. While packing we turned on the TV and watched “Spectre” for a little while. Around 21:30 we decided to head back to the café so we could say goodbye to everyone.
It was great to see Tim and Linda one last time. We arrived just as they were paying their bill and we all walked over to a nearby hostel bar, but we didn’t end up staying with everyone. Max, Linda and I said goodbye to everyone before walking back to the hotel. Max and I said goodbye to Linda at her room, which was rather sad. I really felt that we’d made a good connection and I consider Linda to be a good friend; I wish that she was able to come with us on the rest of the tour.