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Dragoman - Livingstone and Cape Town (ZLC) 2010

27th May - into Botswana

Nice late start and headed for the border with Botswana. The border is the Zambezi so we had to take the ferry across. We'd been warned that there could be a lot of waiting around, but the border was quiet and we were through everything in less than an hour.

We're staying for two nights in Chobe NP at the Chobe Safari Lodge. It's a grand place on the banks of the Chobe River, absolutely beautiful. Overnight in the campsite there were lots of animal noises, elephants on one side hippos on the other and some sort of dogs howling away. Kim said that last time she stayed here she saw a hippo on the path as she did for a late night trip to the toilets.

28th May - Chobe National Park

Chobe spans 10,566 square kilometres and was Botswana's first National Park. It is estimated that there are 120,000 elephants at the peak of the dry season.

In the morning we did an early (and bloody cold) game drive. We headed into the park and drove around for ages. We saw some impala, warthogs and some birds but bugger all else. 120,000 elephants and we saw nothing but some fresh dung. We stopped for a cup of tea and set off back towards home. The drive back was far better. Maybe because it's cold the animals decided there was no mid-day heat to avoid and took a lie in.

On the way back we saw more of the same plus kudu (a sort of big deer, a bit like a tapir I think), banded mongooses (or is it geese?), a giraffe and finally a decent sized herd of elephant down at the river drinking,

After a lazy day and it finally warming up we jumped on a boat and headed up the Chobe river. What a great trip. Along the riverbank we saw monitor lizards and crocodiles, buffalo and all types of deer. We saw hippos in the water and out, herds of elephants and some shagging baboons :-) The river is huge although judging by the hippos standing in the middle it isn't that deep for the most part. The sun was setting, we had Savana Drys in hand, lovely. (Hopefully from now on cider will be available everywhere.)

Being on the boat the animals take no notice and just carry on basking, drinking and playing as normal as we look on and take thousands of photos.

29th May - Bagani

Today we headed into the Namibian Caprivi Strip. The Strip is a classic example of how the former colonial powers shaped the boundaries of modern Africa. The strip is 500km long, with the game reserve only 32 kms wide, at the eastern end it opens up to almost 100kms wide before narrowing to a point on the Zambezi River where the boundaries of Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana meet.

After another easy border crossing we drove to Ngepi Camp. Actually that's not the whole truth. It was easy for 15 of us but the South Koreans didn't know that we go into Namibia twice and had only got single entry visas. After a lot of hanging around trying to convince the border guys to issue a multiple entry visa (they wouldn't) we head off. Ray and Duun will not be heading onto Botswana for the Okavanga Delta.

Another quirky eco-camp with open-air toilets and showers hidden in the bush. One great thing from now on it looks like Savana Dry will be available everywhere. Cider rather than the pissy lager we've had in the bars so far.

Today is Will's birthday so before we hit camp we stopped at a clothes market (jumble sale on the roadside), drew names from a hat and had to buy fancy dress for that person spending a maximum of $5. On the right are the outfits the crew ended up in. (Dougie, Arthur, Will and Kim.)

30th May - Okavango Delta

Back into Botswana and into the Okavango Delta. This intricate network of channels began life as the Okavango River in Angola. The river finishes its journey as an inland delta unlike anything else in the world and creates 16,000 sq km maze of wetlands. The Delta is formed by the Okavango River, which flows into a basin on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. The river has no outlet from the desert and spreads out into thousands of small streams to form a wilderness that is totally unspoilt. It is a wonderland of meandering clear waterways, green islands, lush plains and prolific wildlife."

In our small dugout styled canoes (mokoros) we were poled out into the reed beds of the Delta. Reeds and lily pads, birds and lots of insects. Punting along, the peace of the Delta is only shattered by the grunting of hippos.

31st May - Okavango Delta

On day 2 in the Delta we headed across to another island and bush camped completely open to the wild. On the island there were hippos and elephants, thankfully none decided to join us in the camp. In the afternoon we headed off to another island and did a walking safari. Tracking animals through the bush, real explorer style. Lots of tracks and lots of dung, then we here what sounds like an elephant. Next we see a tree rocking far more than it should. We walk as quietly as 17 people can around the back of where the elephant is and we see that it's a small group of males. We get to about 25 yards from them then stand and watch them chomping their way through the trees.

On the way back in the mokoros we get a beautiful sunset over the reed beds. A lovely Dougie meal around the camp fire and an all round great day.

1st June - Back across the Okavanga River

Back on the mokoros at sunrise for an hour through the delta back to the truck. It's great floating along at water level with the the reeds and lilly pads all around. King fishers hovering and diving, an African sea eagle circling. Again we hear the grunts of the hippos but being at such a low level we can not see them. Being in tiny canoes we don't want to be going anywhere near them. On the truck we take the ferry back across the Okavanga Rivier and head back out of Botswana for the last time and into Namibia again. We are soon back at the Ngepi Camp for an afternoon lazing in the sun.

2nd June - San Bushman

Travel day, with a couple of hours in Rundu for internet, hair cuts and a bit of civilization. Internet for the first time in 6 days and Hungry Lion for lunch (basically a down market KFC, but declicious).

3rd June - San Bushman

Spent today with the San Bushmen the original inhabitants of Southern Africa. Now they are only found in very small pockets in 'Living Museums'. Around 30,000 San live in Namibia, but only 2,000 of them still follow a traditional way of life.

We bush camped over night and then went for a 'cultural walk' with a 'topless' tribes women who acted as a translator. The San people were true hunter gatherers until 10 years ago. But now they are not allowed to kill animals but in return they are allowed to live their lives and invite in tourists in order to buy the meat etc that they require to live.

After the walk I showed the girl some photos of places I had been. Snow capped mountains, big beaches, the sea, a stadium full of people and the Hong Kong skyline. She was so excited to see these amazing things.

4th June - Etosha National Park

Headed into Etosha National Park, which proclaims itself as one of the world's most pre-eminent wildlife areas. It's certainly well looked after. All the tracks through the park are of a solid hard surface, so good they let people drive around in 2WD vehicles.

Our game drives here will be in the truck with Will or Kim driving. Not ideal I'm sure in land cruisers with professionals we'd see more but it still provides very good drives. The park is a lot drier than the other parks we'd been to and so is more focused around the water holes.

On our afternoon drive we saw, zebras, impala, kudu, springboks and hyenas. But the best thing was watching giraffes drinking at the water hole. They are so funny. A little factoid or two before we go any further. Giraffes have the largest hearts proportionally of any mammals as it needs to pump blood all the way up its neck it's brain. Also it can not drink for more than a minute at a time because all the blood rushes to its head.

But the funniest thing is that its legs are longer than its neck. So to drink it has to stand with its front legs wide apart and then lean down between them. They know they are at their most vulnerable whilst drinking so are very nervously looking around before stooping down. When finished they snap their legs together and are bolt upright again. In the even the rest of the group came over to the camps floodlit waterhole but all had gone within half any hour, part-timers the lot of them. So I sat, me and my bottle wine wine and waited and waited and got my lap-top out and wrote some emails and updated this blog and waited. Saw nothing maybe the others had the right idea!

The wine ran out and I got quite cold. In Namibia in the dry season the sky is very clear. At night there are more stars to be seem than you can imagine. During the day it is very hot, but at night the temperature drops right off and is definitely in single digits, later in the desert we're told it could be sub-zero. I have bought a blanket just in case.

5th June - Etosha National Park

Etosha is quite different to Chobe and The Serengeti. Both of those had plenty of water when we were there so the vegetation was green and the animals could find water whenever they liked. In Etosha things are browning up and the water holes are more important. So there is a good chance to see the animals at certain points. The vegetation is mainly lowish scrub although it is still quite thick. In the middle of the park is the world's 3rd largest salt pan. It goes on for ever. When you look towards the horizon in all directions you get the illusion of water from the heat haze. An amazing baron landscape.

Today I think we were quite lucky. We saw three rhino including one quite close up at a water hole. We saw a huge herd of elephants, maybe 40 or even 50 in total with many young. We saw a few lions mostly at distance. There were also springbok, impala, kudu, onyx and dik dik. There are lots of hyenas including quite a few walking around the camp site.

6th June - Spitzkoppe

In the morning I headed down to the fantastic water hole at the lodge where we camped. Last night we had rhino, elephants and a brief visit from some young lions. This morning it was an impala which was scared of by a hyena and then a herd of zebra.

After breakfast we set off on a longish (nothing is long after the whole of Zambia day) drive to Spitzkoppe. Bush camp around the mountain of Spitzkoppe, 'the Matterhorn of Namibia'. The mountain, which is 700 million years old, is 1987 metres (5857 feet) high. After arriving we climbed quite a large rock to get the sunset over the Spitzkoppe. We didn't quite make it in time but got a great African view over the Ayres Rock type landscape and flat barren plains. Up until now Africa has been green, very green. Lush grass, bushes and trees, basically not very African! But now we are heading into the Namib Desert so we should be getting barren landscapes and sand.

7th June - Cape Cross

Today's another day with quite a bit of driving but a great stop off around lunchtime. Cape Cross.

In this part of Namibia, officially just south of the Skeleton Coast the desert runs all the way to the sea. But at Cape Cross there is a rocky peninsula which houses a huge colony of Cape Fur Seals. It's estimated there are 200,000 of them. They were lying, basking of the rocks, suckling their pups and sometimes fighting. The whole area was black with seals and the sea despite the crashing waves full of them too.

I could have stayed all day. But the cold and the smell (like a pretty tame chicken farm) drove the rest back to the truck within 30 minutes. But bugger the rest of them we were told 45 minutes to an hour and I've waited many times for them when they are late for meet-ups so I took the full allocated time. But of course I was careful to arrive back on time to keep the moral high-ground.

8th June - Swakopmund

Next the old German colonial town of Swakopmund the adrenaline capital of Namibia. Sand boarding, quad biking, sky diving and much more. I decided to spend the first day doing some normal stuff. Bit of a wander, some internet, some shopping and a hair cut. After more than 5 weeks the normal is quite exciting!

I've decided I could settle down in Namibia. It's quite German so everything is organised and sanitised. The roads are straight and clean and every 50km or so there are properly looked after picnic areas. The scenery is great and people friendly. But much, much more importantly the bars all serve Savanna Dry (cider) and game meat with German portion sizes. Tonight a game platter, 500g (that's more than a pound!) of Oryx and Kudu. I also tried someone else's Springbok. My recommendation is go for the kudu cooked rare. Marvellous.

9th June - Swakopmund

Having done nothing for 2 days as the others have been throwing themselves down sand dunes, around sand dunes and from a plane over sand dunes I decided I ought to do something so I did the aerobatic flight.

So other to the airfield and strapped into an ex-Chinese Military Trainer. A 2-seater, single prop which sounded its age when he fired it up. But once it had warmed up we were away. First up to 3000ft, I had the controls for most of this and then the slow circle over the sea and the dunes. He then took the controls back and the fun started.

Left barrel roll, right barrel roll and a loop-the-loop to make sure I wasn't going to be sick. Then he started to mix them up throwing it this way and that, sea, sand, sky, sand, sky, sea, ... It was amazing, all too soon the time was up and a scenic flight back over the dunes and the town back to the airfield. Quite an experience and all the better as my lunch stayed where it was, unlike Simon's on his fishing trip!

10th June - Sesriem

All day drive from Swakopmund to Sesriem, our base for exploring the Namib Desert.

The Namib Desert stretches for about 2000 km from Southern Angola in the north to Olifants River in the Cape, South Africa. It is squeezed into an area less than 200 kms wide between the South Atlantic Ocean and the Great Western Escarpment. The area is comprised of four different types of desert, remote costal, the Namib dunes, large flat plains with inselbergs (isolated mountains surrounded by gravel plains) and a desert escarpment. The desert has some stunning flora and fauna.

The scenery as we drive along is stunning. Scrubby desert, rocky hills and smooth red sand dunes. The sky is pure blue and the light and shadow on the rocks stunning.

It's approaching winter but it is still getting hot during the day, but it's bloody freezing at night. I need a thicker sleeping bag!

11th June - Dunes

The most famous part of the Namib Desert is its vast dune fields, the most spectacular of which are found near the Sesriem Canyon. This canyon through the mountains, was formed when the Tsauchab River carved a gorge 30m deep into the gravel deposits, about 15 million years ago. It is thought that this river once flowed to the Atlantic Ocean but its course was blocked by the encroaching sand dunes. Now the river flows out to the dune fields that stretch for hundreds of miles up the coast, and dries up in a clay pan at Soussusvlei. The dunes are stunning, with magnificent red/orange tones from the brightly coloured sand.

We went on a walk through the dunes with a local guide. He was good fun, telling us stories some more believable than others and showing us some plants and animals. The funniest was digging for a trap door spider, then opening its trap door and waiting for it to scramble out and close it again.

12th June - Quiver Tree Forest

Some long driving days broken up by an overnight in the Keetmanshoop area. The main things to see here are the Quiver Tree Forest and the Giants' Playground. The dolorites in the Giants Playground are estimated to be between 160 and 180 million years old, scattered and piled, often somewhat precariously, over approximately 180,000 square kilometres. These curiously shaped magma formations formed just beneath the ground surface have been gradually revealed by erosion of the earth surface over millions of years.

The whole area looks totally unfeasible, as if the rocks have been stacked using JCBs. Another part of the amazing scenery of Namibia.

Tonight is England v USA and we are at a campsite with no TV :-( But we didn't let that deter us. Dougie thought he knew someone in a local village would had a TV so we set off into the dark. We found the village but not the guy Dougie knew so we just knocked on the door of a shack with a satellite dish and asked if it was OK if we came in to watch the England game. No problems. So there was 5 of them and 9 of us huddled in a small room around a tiny portable TV to watch the game. They shared our beer, crisps and sweet, we saw the game. Everyone's a winner, except maybe Robert Green.

But imagine if one night a group of 9 black guys turned up to your place wanting to watch a game on your TV! Travelling really makes you see the world in a different light.

The Quiver Tree Forests derive their name from the ancient San bushmen tradition of hollowing out the branches and using the tough outer bark as a means of carrying their arrows. The Quiver Tree Forest 'trees' are in fact aloe plants like the ones we saw in Zanzibar but here they are fully grown and unusually are growing in groups.

13th June - Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon is one of the great natural wonders of Africa. It is one of the largest canyons in the world almost ranking with the Colca Canyon in Peru and the Grand Canyon in the U.S.A. It's an impressive sight standing at the top looking down and along the canyon. But I'm sure the best way to see it would be by helicopter.

Stunning cheetah picture. But I have to admit it is a bit of a cheat. At the campsite where we stayed they have 4 cheetah which were rescued and are now 'fairly' tame. 3 of them are still a little wary but one came right over and drank milk from a dish whilst we all had our photos taken stoking it.

From here we continue our march south. Through more stunning landscapes. Namibia is one of the least populated countries and it is easy it see why, it's a barren, barren place.

Then we turned a corner and there was a huge town / city of grass and galvanise huts and just after this the Orange River and the Orange River Vineyards. They looked so out of place. Brown, scorched earth all around and this green oasis along the valley.

Tonight we stayed on the banks of the Orange River looking across into South Africa. Tomorrow we cross our last border and really are in the home straight.

And we've have finally found a way to shut up the Aussie Cheese Boys. Germany 4, Australia 0. ☺

14th June - Citrusdal

Driving day today across the border and into South Africa. Then south, south, south from dry Namibia into the cold and wet. Towards the end of the day we stopped at a winery for an hour to load up during the wine tasting and buy some very cheap wine to take to Cape Town.

15th June - Cape of Good Hope

Our last day on the road. Down through the Cape Province through beautiful scenery with rolling plains stretching from the foot of the Cedarberg Mountains.

Before hitting Cape Town we headed to the southernmost part of our trip , Cape of Good Hope. Time for pictures of the two oceans meeting.

We then headed into Cape Town aiming to get in by 4pm for the Portugal Ivory Coast game and a last night with the group ... a meal and a very late night.

So that's it, the organised part of the trip is over. Travelling by truck is a great way to see Africa but 6½ weeks on the truck is a long time. There are many things that I will not be sad to see the end of. Arriving at camp site, unloading the kitchen, bags and tents. Put the tents up, cold shower and group meal. Wash up and flap the dishes dry as the temperature plummets. Sleeping on a camping mat, freezing middle of the night trips to the toilet , taking the tent down at 5:30am, fingers burning from the cold metal and trying to roll it tightly enough to get it back into its bag. Bum numbing days on the road, hip-hop on the truck stereo and every couple of minutes someone seeing something 'awesome' or 'amazing' even if it is only a cow in a field.

But I'd recommend this trip to anybody and everybody. Africa is so much more than desert and safari. The scenery is so varied, the wildlife numerous, the people so friendly and food really good (especially the kudu). This has been a great trip. Now for Cape Town ...

Next part of the trip: Cape Town and The World Cup