84749 kms travelled so far
Make yourself comfortable, this is a monster continent changing blog!
As we travelled along the Caprivi Strip which connects Namibia to Zambia the landscape dramatically changed from endless arid desert to bright green vegetation, blue skies and rivers which flowed randomly and without banks. Half the region is under water at this time and water definitely no attempts at taming it is made! The jungle was broken occasionally by small dusty clearings of round thatched huts made from mud and we could see villagers going about their daily business as they had done for centuries.
We stopped to pick up some locals and an African lady with a rotund derrière sailed down the aisle whilst her backside swung from right to left like an independent creature, bashing me twice in the process. A man stood watching the bus having a full conversation with himself whilst painting his nails pink, there’s one in each village I suppose. The bus stopped again a bit later and a man with a broad smile and a white t-shirt which looked as though it would better suit an obese American walked on board, he swaggered down the bus and as he passed I saw he had an AK-47 slung over his shoulder. Once at the end of the bus, he turned back, satisfied with his thorough inspection and heads back out to sit with his friends again until the next bus comes. Another man tells us police corruption is rife and they’re looking to get some bribes. The next police stop sees everyone getting off and being patted down to search for something or other, and then being allowed back on board. We set off again passing lots of small villages and brightly dressed people with the sun shining brightly. This was more like it! I had finally arrived in the higgledy piggledy Africa I had imagined!
Going back a bit; we started in Cape Town. We arrived and went to Cape Town Backpackers where we quizzed the owner to get some advice on how best to head up to Uganda. “Head up overland? Backpacking?” he says, “you must be mad, people don’t backpack in Africa”, and then proceeds to go on about how we’ll get stuck eating oil and bread in a village in the backend of nowhere. We try to be constructive (and to point out he owns a BACKPACKERS which suggests that some people do backpack) but he rebukes every of our ideas as those of naive idiots who are destined to get eaten by cannibals within a week. We started to get a bit freaked out and think that maybe our plans are a bit stupid, but we don’t really have a choice so instead of going through Zimbabwe (“why would you want to go to Zimbabwe? There’s nothing there”) we opt for Nambia instead. Since setting off we’ve met scores of people who are backpacking and indeed who have been through Zimbabwe and had an excellent time, and we’ve had no major problems or been eaten by cannibals so up yours Mr Capetown Backpackers.
The next day we set off for my baboonathon and spent the next week cavorting with our primate cousins, then we travelled back to Cape Town and met with an old friend Evert who very kindly put us up in his flat and hosted a traditional South African braai for us. From what I can remember we had a great evening and met some nice people. The next few days we travelled into Cape Town where we visited a museum, went to the waterfront and had a cold beer sitting in the sun with a perfect blue sky and checked out the sights. More than anywhere else we’ve been we both felt a massive tension in Cape Town and such an enormous divide between rich and poor, black and white. All of the upper class houses have barbed wire around the walls, security gates and armed security guards on standby. You’ve got it-girls and boys at Camps Bay quaffing expensive wines and discussing the latest Gucci range whilst a few miles away there’s thousands upon thousands of people living in corrugated steel hovels without even basic amenities. We saw it everywhere and it is difficult to see how things are going to get better although I hope they do. On speaking to a local white women on how she thought things could improve she said that she worked with local children at her mission and that they were doing their best to wipe out their odd habits including eating with their fingers and speaking “strangely”, presumably with the aim of creating some kind of McCulture where everyone is the same and does the same things. Clearly not the most sensitive policy for dealing with cultural traits. To be fair this lady also said that she believed that earthquakes occurred because God was shaking the earth in an attempt to move the oil down to South Africa so maybe she wasn’t the most reliable person to get an opinion from and certainly this wasn’t the opinion of most people we spoke to. It does make you wonder if things will improve and most of the locals we spoke to seemed to think things were getting worse. On our last day there we strolled down the main street in town and watched an unconscious man have his wallet stolen which just seemed so incongruous on such a sunny and bright day. We stopped to tell a policeman what had happened, and cunningly he asked “did you steal his wallet?” in an attempt to catch me out. I said that we didn’t so he set off to solve the crime by asking other people whether they stole it or not which I’m sure will find the criminal. Overall we did have a great time in Cape Town and it has amazing potential to be such a perfect city, but this time it seemed to have a bit of a dark cloud hanging over it.
After our brief but pleasant stay we travelled up the country and crossed over into Nambia. The views and scenery on the bus journey was spectacular and we passed through countless miles of desert and wide open spaces where you could see right to the horizon within nothing in sight. We stopped at Windhoek which is the capital city, on arrival at our backpackers the first sign we were greeted by said “Get the real Windhoek experience, go out with your bag and get mugged at knifepoint”, which really made us feel comfortable and safe!!! We explored the city (without bags) and were thankful that everyone actually seemed friendly, smiley and didn’t try to mug us as knife point. So far on our trip we have found the locals very friendly and they always take time to say hello and ask how we are, it is nice being around smiley people. We hit a bit of a rut in Windhoek in that we found out everything touristy is actually crazily expensive in Africa, I think we both had the opinion that it would be dirt cheap but it’s quite the opposite. For example, a 2 day canoe tour costs a shocking $560 (you even have to paddle for that price!!!) and we were beginning to think we would have to sit in a dorm room and eat just bread for a few months. We also discovered Africa Time which is a bit like Alderney Time in that things get done slowly, and sometimes not at all. We spent a whole day trying to call to book a dorm room with no success and we were banging our heads against the wall as the place we were in had no more spaces left and we were going to be turfed out into the street with our luggage.
Luckily a German man called Christian came to the rescue. I got chatting to him and discovered he had just hired a 4x4 so we joined him and another English bloke called Yorkshire Chris on an adventure to Etosha National Park. So, Christian, Christy, Chris and me (Christ?) set off the following morning and travelled up to the park. We did everything on the cheap, camped in his tents (with jackals prowling around trying to steal our food, and when they couldn’t get food they stole Christian’s socks!!), cooked food on a BBQ and guided ourselves around – it was great fun and much more fun than a tour anyway. Christian was the pinnacle of Germanic organisation which helped out no end as whatever we needed could be rustled up on command. As an example compare our medical kits:
Christian: scalpels, 5 types of broad range antibiotics, bandages, ointments, oils, a book demonstrating how to carry out minor operations and much much more.
Mine: 2 small transparent plasters. Say no more.
We spent 3 days in the park and travelled across all of it. The park is on a salt pan and it very arid, during the dry season animals congregate in large numbers around the waterholes and are easy to see, unfortunately we’re in the wet season so they’re spread out all over the shot and much harder to see. Even despite this we did see lots of animals including lion (in the distance!), white rhino, giraffe, warthog, loads of species of antelope and many brightly coloured birds. The park scenery itself was amazing and as impressive to me as the animals we saw, it covers 5000km and at times you could see to the horizon all around with spaces so wide that you could see the curvature of the earth. This was fantastic until you drove over a bump to see 100km in all directions with no signs of any animals!! On the second evening we were treated to a fantastic African sunset which turned the whole sky bright red, we relaxed with a beer and appreciated being there. It was a great few days and we were really lucky to meet Christian and to get the opportunity to do it fairly cheaply.
Our time in the park finished and we said goodbye to Christian and Chris who dropped us off in a small town called Tsumeb where we had an 11 hour wait for the next bus. We sat in Wimpy until we were kicked out and then we moved over to sit in a petrol station for the next 4 hours. I bribed a security guard with a can of Orangina and he sorted us out some chairs which was much better even though 2 white people reading at the edge of a petrol station did attract some attention and a few concerned comments including “are you lost?!”. I’m not quite sure why if we were lost we’d be sitting in a petrol station at 11pm reading books but it was nice that people were concerned anyway!
Finally we caught the overnight bus I described at the start of this blog and ended up in Livingstone in Zambia. The town itself is a fairly small and dusty one, with most things orientated around the main road. From Livingstone we had intended to leave to catch the train to Tanzania within a few days but the next train we could catch was leaving in 8 days so we had a bit of a wait before catching it. Luckily our hostel was nice and had a bar and a pool, we met some interesting people and did a few things so time didn’t drag.
After a few days at the hostel we visited a 5 star hotel called the Royal Livingstone, we had been advised that we could go and sit on their waterside jetty to have some drinks and watch the sunset. On arrival we realised this really wasn’t the kind of place backpackers hung around in, it was very posh and colonial and the staff were all dressed up in smart uniforms (we found out the basic rooms were $700 per night). As we were ushered in you could see waiters eyes sneakily glancing down to our flip flops and filthy feet, register a brief look of disgust and then shake themselves back to pretending we were normal people. We sat and had a few drinks and watched the sunset which was fantastic, it’s certainly a great way to spend some time in Africa but I did wonder whether the people there actually had any idea of what went on outside the complex, and whether they assumed that all Africans had sundowners with Martinis every night.
The following day we visited Victoria Falls. It definitely is something you have to experience as no words do it justice. It’s as much of a sensation as anything because the mist is so thick you can’t see anything but white which is a very surreal feeling, especially when combined with the roaring of the falls. One word that comes to mind is WET, I mean really wet. Luckily a couple of backpackers had warned us and lent us their water proof canoe bag which we put our cameras in which really saved the day. As you approach the waterfall you can see the spray moving vertically upwards and it poured down on us as rain. We were as wet as if we’d jumped in a pool within minutes. We squelched around the falls for an hour, and admire the massiveness of it. Here are a couple of stats which might give you an idea of how wet and big it is: the falls are 1700metres in length, 108 metres high with an output of 560,000,000 cubic litres of water a minute! After the falls we walked down to an area called the boiling pot where the water which has fallen down the falls swirls around. We sat and chatted to some local boys who seemed as interested in eating our sandwiches as being friends. I asked one of the boys the name of a small lizard and he took it upon himself to catch me one, I thought that was fair enough until they all set off on some kind of hunting party throwing rocks and wood at the lizards trying to flatten them so they could bring back a corpse, hopefully in return for another sandwich. Luckily the lizards were faster than they were so they resumed their playing in the water instead. We sat and watched bankpackers throw themselves off a bridge for $150 a pop, later we found out a funny story about the bungee jump from a local taxi driver. Apparently when it opened the locals were invited to have a jump for free, the local (and elderly) chief wanted to try it out too as it was within his area and he wanted to see what the fuss was about and test that it was safe. So the company politely let him jump first and so as not to lose face he bravely hurled himself off the platform. As he plunged a couple of hundred metres his guts not so bravely hurled themselves out of his anus, no doubt leaving a splendid trail of faeces as he shot down the canyon whilst the locals looked on in shock. What an excellent story and certainly a good way to maintain respect within your subjects, I hope Gordon Brown does something similar soon.
The next few days were spent quietly by the pool swimming, drinking beer and chatting with other backpackers. A few conversations stick in my mind, but most of all my chat with a chatty old coloured gentleman from America who told me all about his experiences as a grunt in the Vietnam war, he was a sniper and I now know how to shoot 2 people with the same bullet which will no doubt come in useful over the next few years.
Last Saturday the hostel was very quiet and as we were relaxing, a group of locals came into the ground and stood around by the bar, we realised that they were the am-dram HIV prevention group whose posters we had seen around the hostel and that they were going to perform a short drama for the benefit of the backpackers. The main problem was that the hostel was empty, so we went and hid in our room hoping they wouldn’t see us and make us sit through an embarrassing play by ourselves. Unfortunately they had seen us and we went along and watched a very strange performance in the local dialect about “inter generational sex”, the risk of sugar daddy’s and what one actor called the “eye of the penis” which triggered the eye of the tiger theme tune in my mind which in turn made me want to laugh at the most inappropriate moments. I didn’t learn that much from the play as it was in the local dialect (not sure whose idea that was considering the audience was Western backpackers?!) but the few facts they presented us with were shocking; in Zambia over 30% of people are HIV positive and 6500 people in Africa die every day of AIDS.
On another day we visited the local market which was solely for local people, it was very interesting so walk around and see how the local markets worked and what they sold, which varied from dried fish to spanners. Whilst perusing a very smelly fish section a man with no arms came and attempted to offer me something, I couldn’t even begin to understand the poor sod and pretended I was Dutch to try and make the situation less embarrassing for us both (“no spreken ze inglish”). Christy didn’t realise this and came in saying that yes we were English which made me look like I was a bit mental. After some time we deciphered that he wanted to offer his services in any work we had for him. Unfortunately we couldn’t think of any work for him to do for us and we had to shuffle off. Lots of the local kids were also interested in us, especially in Christy’s blonde hair and we got a few tag alongs as we moved about. One of them grabbed Christy’s wrist, she thought it was a thief and swung her arm forward nearly catapulting the small child across the path, much to the confusion of his father who had been proud of his sons attempt to communicate with the strange foreigners. We apologised and brought the little boy a drink, which thinking about it could have been their plan from the start. As we stood sipping our cold beverage the father eyed up my drink for several moments whilst making small talk, and then requested that he would really like a drink too. After buying drinks for half of the market population we departed and set off for a local curio market which was aimed at tourists. As I looked through the items on one stall I saw a strange doll, I asked the owner what it was and found out it was a spirit doll, something to do with magic and witchcraft which is very powerful and respected in Africa. I picked up the doll and its head promptly fell off, Chirsty shot off trying to conceal that she was laughing and I ended up buying a small elephant out of guilt for destroying his doll.
We moved on and we’re currently in Lusaka which is the capital of Zambia, the lonely planet describes as “not a highlight for tourists” which we definitely concur with. Yesterday we walked about 10km all over the city and found pretty much nothing of interest, but we did manage to arrange our Tanzanian visa which is good news. Tomorrow we finally set off on our train journey to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The time for the journey has in true African style been quoted as being between 40 and 80 hours depending on how many times the train breaks down, which is think is accurate enough considering. Wish us luck!!!