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Alison's Trip Report - Victoria Falls and Chobe

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Following on my report from Duma Tau, this is the report for the final leg of our trip for those who are interested -

15th OCTOBER 2006 - DUMA TAU TO VICTORIA FALLS
We slept in as we were leaving mid morning and had to pack and organise our things. It was lovely not be woken in the dark and to enjoy the room and it's outlook as it was cool and very pleasant. The room faces west and is very hot in the afternoons. I woke to hear a lot of crashing, hands clapping and voices shouting. An elephant was destroying the boardwalk right next to our tent! This was probably Dennis again! Earlier on I hear a lion roar and hippos were honking - it was a cacaphony of noise!

Ban drove us to the airstrip - it was so hot and dusty and sitting in the open vehicle in the midday sun is no joke - animal sightings were few but we did see a mother giraffe and her baby - the youngest we have seen so far - and impala and warthog. Our plane circled overhead but we had to drive down the airstrip to chase away a herd of zebra that had decided to congregate in the middle of the strip! This is a first for me and was a great camera opportunity!

The plane, a single engine Cessna, landed and we met our pilot, Matthew. Our fellow passenger was Gordon, a staff member from Duma Tau who was returning to Kasane and his home village for some leave. The flight to Kasane took 50 minutes over mopane tree country and along the Linyanti river. There were herds of elephants around waterholes and eventually the landscape changed to much drier country.

Kasane is a small airport and in no time we were in the vehicle heading for the border to Zimbabawe.

The drive to Victoria Falls took 45 minutes but first we had to buy visas at the border - US$45 for a double entry - the border post was antiquated and there was a lot of paperwork so it took some time but fortunately our guide handled the formalities and we got through reasonably quickly and without fuss. Unlike some poor travellers who were going it alone and having all sorts of problems.

Zimbabawe does not accept local currency from foreigners and all tourists have to pay for all purchases including hotel bills in either US dollars, Rand or Pula. Victoria Falls itself is a tourist town and most amenities are here but the people all seem "defeated" - there is no joy in their faces and the atmosphere is quite different to Botswana where people were happy, friendly and smiling. It is sad to see this country in the economic state it is in.

We are staying at Victoria Falls Hotel which in itself is a piece of history. I love it - it is very colonial, parquet floors, deep sofas, lovely lounges, fringed lampshades and the Stanley Room, a lounge overlooking the terrace, has two larger than life portraits of King George V and Queen Mary. The walls and the corridors
have photographs of the royal tour of 1947 and other historical moments and I spend hours just browsing through all that history. It is wonderful and you get the feeling that you have just stepped back in time. Having grown up in the colonial Far East, this was heaven for me!

We sat on the terrace and had a cooling drink watching striped mongoose running around the lawn and even a warthog appeared. The hotel has a private walking track to the Falls which goes through woodland where elephants and other animals are often seen. We can see a faint spray from the Falls and decide to walk there in the morning.

Dinner is in the Livingstone Room and was supposed to be "formal" whatever that means here. It was far from that but it was nice to wear something other than safari gear for a change! The bar was "out of stock" of a lot of wines and spirits which indicates that there is no money to restock. However, the service made up for anything lacking in the food and wine department. These people are lovely.

16th OCTOBER 2006 - VICTORIA FALLS
We got up early for our walk to the Falls and were accompanied along the way by the hotel Security guard who attached himself to us uninvited but was keen to show us the way, even making a time to meet us after the walk to accompany us back! As far as security went, he carried only a catapault to scare the baboons!

The Falls themselves were disappointing as it is so dry everywhere - only three falls were actually running and the long wall of water that you see in photos and postcards was just a dry cliff! Nevertheless we had a good walk for 1 1/2 hours and then went in the small information centre where the maps and photos describing the area need a lot of renovation. It was badly maintained and would have been interesting if only we could have read the historical remarks - they were in such bad repair that many were undecipherable. It is actually expensive to go withing the park - US$20 per person - so we wanted to maximise our visit as we would not be coming back on this trip!

After breakfast we went to the curio market and shops near the hotel which is very conveniently located. There are hundreds of wooden and stone carvings and other souvenirs, some are really good quality but impossible for us to carry especially considering how harsh Australian customs are. We did, however, buy a wooden salad bowl with zebra stripes and stone carvings of a hippo and elephant plus a couple of fabric lengths and traditional cloth. I also found a divine elephant hair bracelet encased in silver.

Dinner was a BBQ buffet with African music and dancing which was very similar to an Australian corroboree.

17th OCTOBER 2006 - CHOBE - MUCHENJE LODGE

We drove to Kasane airport early and had to wait an our for our pick up transfer to Muchenje Lodge which is about an hour's drive from the airport.

The lodge is in the Chobe Forest Reserve on the edge of the Chobe National Park and the view is breathtaking - high on a hill overlooking the Namibian plains along the Chobe River. The drive was along a straight bitumen road and we began to realise that this location is altogether different to both the Okavango Delta and the Linyanti. For a start, we were no longer in the "wilderness" but on a main road with other vehicles driving to various destinations. We saw no wildlife at all - hardly surprising given the area we were in plus the fact that it was almost midday.

The Lodge is also very different. Here we are in little bungalows made of stone with thatched roofs. We even have town electricity, hot water and a hair dryer! The main building is thatched and decorated in an African style. It is very open and rustic with deep sofas, leather chairs and an upstairs observation deck.

The Manager, "JJ", welcomed us, showed us around and then we had lunch during which another group of four Swiss people arrived.

Our afternoon drive left at 3.30pm and our guide is "LT" - a tall, slim, good looking African born in Botswana. He seemed slightly shy but soon opened up. Two other Australians joined us on the drive and at first I felt we were on an "urban safari" as we took the bitumen road to the park entrance, driving at some speed in the open vehicle - fortunately it had a roof this time! At the park gates we signed in and then took off on a track that was well graded and where again, speeds could be reached - they call this a "Ferrari safari" and we saw little wildlife apart from giraffes, warthogs, impala, kudu and hundreds of baboons, the tiny babies clinging to their mothers' tummies and almost scraping the ground! There were lots of birds including the fish eagle which was waiting to chase some leopard cubs.

LT found the cubs under a bush together with an impala kill - they were very shy and it was hard to see them and then a cub darted from the bush and ran like lightening to another cover to hide from the eagle. That was exciting!

Dinner was at the Lodge with the other guests and the amazing thing is that I discovered the Swiss couple are relatives of a friend of mine in France. They gave me news of her - in the middle of Botswana. It is indeed a small world!

ANIMALS WE SAW TODAY: Giraffe, zebra, warthog, imapala, kudu, baboons, leopard cubs, fish eagle.

18th OCTOBER 2006 - CHOBE
We drove into a nearby village this morning and visited the primary school at Mapala. The kids are all so appealing and every one of them was eager to have their photo taken - the boys more so than the girls. The classroom was large and they are taught in two languages - English and Setswana. They all wear uniforms and look very neat and tidy even though many of them have to walk about 6kms and more to get to and from school - along dusty roads and through the bush. The school is well equipped and depends a lot on charity, often from guests at Muchenje. One of our party is an retired school teacher and he is organising a shipment of books and pencils from Adelaide.

LT asked if we would like to visit a local home, so we went to a small house nearby and met Precious, the daughter of the house, who was "unwell" - it turned out that she was lonely and bored as everyone had gone for the day. She just sat on a log and stared into space making no attempt to talk to us or to show us around. It was sad - no amount of encouragement, even from LT, would draw her out of her torpor.

Back to the lodge we went for morning tea and then we were off on our "day safari". LT drove us for about an hour and a half to a picnic spot by the river for a slap up salad lunch. This was right in the Chobe National Park and the area is obviously a popular picnic venue for self drive as well as safari vehicles. We sat in the shade and watched a baby croc come out of the water and plant itself on a rock at the edge where it proceeded to sun itself and no doubt keep an eye open for a catch of some sort! There were some beautiful birds and an elephant wandered across the path and down the bank to drink. It is amazing how such large animals can be so sure footed on such a steep river bank but he didn't slide or slip at all.

We drove a couple of kilometres down river to meet our boat for the river safari. Isaac was the skipper and the boat was an aluminum tinny with five seats, a back bench and a canopy. It was very hot so we chose a shady side and set off - the first problem was that the motor sounded very sick. "Don't worry" said Isaac so we settled back and cruised up the Chobe river to watch the elephants coming down to drink and bathe. There were about 100 of them in one herd and I felt quite vulnerable watching them from the water - a totally different perspective to what we had been experiencing. The elephants frolicked in the water and played together, some totally submerging themselves and using their trunks as snorkels, the babies were rolling over and over and some were wallowing in the mud nearby. Then they blew dust all over themselves which rids their bodies of ticks. We came very close to them but they were happier to play than worry about us. Isaac cut the motor and we drifted in closer until we could feel the spray of the water on ourselves, that was when I asked him if we could move on!

We cruised down the river and saw lots of cattle on the Namibian side. The farmers had placed netting fence around small areas along the river so the cattle could come and drink without fear of being taken by crocodiles, of which there are many here. Some floated past our boat, some were on banks and we stopped within a metre of one which which stayed quite motionless.

Isaac said he knew where there were a couple of lions so we proceeded further down the river and he nosed the boat onto a sandy beach where in front of us was a low bush. Under the bush were two young male lions which were quite hard to see at first because they were camouflaged. We sat watching them for a while and then a crocodile emerged and settled on a rock nearby - one glassy eye staring at us and blood on the protruding tooth. That quite unnerved me when suddenly a hippo and a young one swam quite close and there were elephants frolicking in the water behind us. Feeling very vulnerable we told Isaac we would like to move on so he attempted to start the motor but it just coughed and died. This happened several times after which Richard suggested he use the handpull. Looking quite sheepish Isaac replied "I left it in the car, don't worry, the terminals are just dirty." Oh my God, I thought, hippos one side of the boat, a crocodile the other and elephants behind us plus two lions on the riverbank - how do we get out of here? My adrenalin was really pumping when five minutes later (which seemed much longer) the motor came to life very sluggishly.

"Do you want to go to the hippo pool?" asked Isaac - not if the boat stops in the middle of them, I thought - but we went in search of hippos. We saw lots of them, both in and out of the water, kudu, waterbuck and warthogs and many more elephants. Apart from the hippos - "the most dangerous animal in Africa" - I began to feel relaxed.

The highlight of our day was observing lions - we came across a pride of 7 females, 1 male and 2 cubs on the plains. Being so close to these big cats was a thrill, the cubs were so sweet and very curious, the mother growled a warning and other lionesses walked past the vehicle quite unconcerned that we were there. Meanwhile the large male with his magnificent mane just watched us. Somehow I felt more comfortable in the presence of these predators than I do in the midst of a herd of elephants. Suddenly one of the lions let out a roar and thunder rolled in the distance. LT told us that lions know when the rain is coming and sure enough, we had a heavy shower about ten minutes later. There were localised storms in the area.

On the way back to camp we saw lots of zebra - in fact a line of them crossing the river into Namibia - that sight was a true "zebra crossing"! Great photo as well. Check it out on the photo page.

ANIMALS SEEN TODAY: Sable antelope, waterbuck, crocodiles, elephants, hippos, warthogs, impala, baboons, kudu, 7 female lions, 3 male lions, 2 cubs, zebra, eagles, bee eaters, rollers, grouse, many other birds

I posted photos before and these can be seen at: http://www.tropicalgal.shutterfly.com

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