Africa – The Numbers

Here are some interesting figures from our 2nd continent:

  • 3 – Months we spent in Africa
  • 46 – Number of beds we slept in
  • 8 – Countries Visited (South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya)
  • 39 – Days we spent in South Africa
  • 3 – Hours we spent in Lesotho
  • 7 – Cars we rented in South Africa
  • 5900 – Kilometers we drove in South Africa (3600 miles)
  • 30 – Number of deeply discounted or comp’d hotel nights through Ted’s tourism connections
  • 26 – Days spent with family in Africa
  • 35 – Percentage of nights we paid for accommodation (thanks Moms and Dads, and tourism connections!)
  • 38 – Hours on a bus (nothing compared to the 182.5 in South America)
  • 14 – Beaches visited
  • 45 – Number of game drives
  • 50 – Number of lions seen on game drives
  • 2200 – Photos taken (and kept)
  • 12 – Number of guides and porters assigned only to us for our Kili hike
  • 13,393 – Vertical feet climbed on our summit hike of Kilimanjaro
  • 19,341 – Highest altitude in feet we’ve ever climbed to
  • 6 – Flights on big airplanes
  • 6 – Flights on small airplanes
  • 10 – Visits to the Johannesburg airport
  • 1 – Number of police reports filed

Check out our Best of pics from Southern Africa, East Africa, and African Mega-Fauna for some visual highlights.  Now, on to the Indian Subcontinent…

Southern Africa Wrap-up

We visited a total of 6 countries in Southern Africa – Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique – but some for only a matter of days, and some for only a matter of hours! That being said, we’ve decided to combine them all together for a regional wrap-up. Below, in no particular order, are our Top 10 Highlights, Bottom 5 Bummers, as well as Favorite Food/Drink and Animal Sightings (new category for Africa!) of our two months in Southern Africa. You can also check out our Best of Southern Africa photo album for some more visual highlights (and don’t forget the African Mega-Fauna album for our top animal sightings).

Top 10

  1. Mokoro Ride

    Victoria Falls – What can we say? They are one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World and they are some incredibly impressive falls.

  2. Remoteness of the Botswana bush – A safari in Botswana is a unique experience. You are hundreds of miles into the wilderness away from cities, towns, and other people. There are no power lines or fences or signs of civilization. The only way in and out is via bush plane. It’s just you and the animals in the bush.
  3. Small plane flights between safari lodges – Due to the remoteness of the safari camps in Botswana and seasonal weather conditions, several times our transport between camps was by small plane. One flight was a total of 8 minutes and Ted got to sit shotgun with the pilot.
  4. Mokoro ride – Our safari group in Botswana got treated to traditional Mokoro rides, which are similar to dug-out canoes. Powered only by a long pole, you are gliding just inches above the water and kinda feel like you’re flying.
  5. Family-filled January – How incredible is it that both sets of our parents came all the way across the ocean from the Northern United States to Southern Africa to visit us?!
  6. View from Table Mountain – Nothing quite like it and I think we appreciated it even more due to the energy we expended to get up there!
  7. Morning at Clifton Beaches – Just around the corner from Cape Town’s city center are the most beautiful, tucked-away beaches. We went with the Graces on a weekday and nearly had the place to ourselves.
  8. Cheetah!

    Animal Sighting Good Luck Charms – The Martens saw it all in the animal department – including the much talked about Big 5 (elephants, leopards, rhinos, buffalo and lions) plus cheetahs and lots of other good stuff in a matter of days. Ted and I had not seen a rhino or a cheetah before their visit and we’d been on nearly 30 game drives before they came.

  9. Bush to Beach to Bush – I wrote about this day in a previous post, and it was really quite awesome. Seeing big animals and swimming in the ocean makes for an incredible day.
  10. SCUBA Diving in Moz – We both love being underwater and I wish we got to do it more often. We were very impressed with the coral and the variety of fish in Mozambique.

Bottom 5

  1. Lame NYE – We’d love to have a memorable, exciting story to share about our New Year’s Eve on the trip, but low and behold, we were asleep before midnight.
  2. Theft – At the lodge we stayed at in Cape Town with my parents, we had an issue with some sticky-fingered housekeepers. Wily Ted was able to prove their misdeed. The manager was appalled and immediately and appropriately addressed the situation, including reimbursing us for the small amount taken.
  3. Bad Bus Ride

    Bus to Tofo BeachWe’re wimps. We didn’t take a whole lots of public transportation in Africa, and I’m using this fairly uncomfortable bus ride as justification of why we didn’t do so.

  4. Visa debaclesLet’s just say that in Johannesburg we went to the India Embassy three times (to get a visa), the Mozambique Embassy four times (to get a visa), and the U.S. Embassy once (to get more pages in my passport).
  5. Failing to visit NamibiaWhen we left the US for our trip, we were 100% positive we were going to Namibia. Ted has a travel industry friend and contact living there with his family and we were planning to pay them a visit. Sadly, it didn’t happen.

Favorite Meals and Treats

  1. Sundowners – The idea of having a cocktail while watching the sun go down is a good one. We enjoyed our sundowners on the Zambezi River in Zambia, in the Botswana bush, with city views in Cape Town, throughout the greater Kruger Park area, and the list goes on.
  2. Ostrich Fillet - Mmmmmmm

    Stuffed Crabs – Mmmm. We discovered these stuffed treats in Mozambique and ate them all week.

  3. Unique Game – Never before had we eaten ostrich or impala – and we quite liked it. Other game options included crocodile, kudu (a type of antelope), and warthog!
  4. Ocean Basket – OB is a South African chain restaurant that serves fresh seafood, fish and chips, and sushi. They are everywhere and we ate there many a time including with both sets of parents.
  5. NatHab Safari Meals – When we were on safari in Botswana, we ate entirely too much amazing food. How they got such fabulous fresh food out into the middle of the bush in order to feed us so well is beyond me.

Animal Sighting Highlights

  1. Wild Dog

    Wild Dog – Our one and only sighting of wild dogs was in Botswana. They are endangered and extremely rare to see. Even the guides were excited, that is how we knew we were lucky.

  2. Pursuit of first leopard – Francis, our guide in Botswana, is the man. With his animal tracking know-how, his persistence and determination, his off-road driving and a little bit of luck we spotted our first leopards – a momma and two older cubs. You wouldn’t believe the amount of vegetation we got to drive over just to find them.
  3. Baby animals – Due to the time of year we were visiting, we got the opportunity to see lots of mommas and their babies. There isn’t anything much cuter than baby lions, elephants, and impala.
  4. Elephants – Ted’s favorite animal to see. We saw lots.
  5. Giraffes – Sarah’s favorite. Oh, and to see a giraffe running is incredible – it appears to be happening in slow motion.
  6. Rhinos

    Game drive with Ocean – Ocean was one of our guides with Ted’s parents and he kept things interesting. Within a couple hours we saw 4 of the Big 5 (elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhinos) and evaded an aggressively charging male elephant!

  7. First rhinoceros – Finally! After our Botswana safari and several days in the Kruger Park area we were beginning to think they didn’t exist. But they do!
  8. Cheetah with it’s kill – What an amazing site to come upon. We didn’t realize it had just hunted until the little impala almost got away and the cheetah had to finish it off.
  9. Surprise night-time leopard sighting – Last night in the Kruger Park area and our way back to the lodge we magically came upon a leopard.
  10. Lotsa fish – Between snorkeling with the Martens and SCUBA diving in Moz, we got to see some great underwater animals as well!

Don’t forget to check out the Best Of photo albums here and here.

One of the 7 Wonders of the World

Before we officially went off into the bush on our first safari, Ted and I had the opportunity to visit Victoria Falls with our NatHab group.  Vic Falls is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and it is one of the most visited attractions in Africa, so we were excited to take a look.

The falls did not disappoint.  Just a few miles down the road from Livingstone, Zambia and you are greeted with the sound of rushing water and the mist in the air from millions of gallons of water from the Zambezi River falling over the edge of a cliff.  In fact the local name for the falls, Mosi-o-Tunya, means the smoke that thunders.  It is quite impressive to say the least.  There is a great set of pathways that allow you to walk along the edge of a cliff looking directly at the falls on the other side of the narrow canyon and you can entertain yourself by watching the white-water rafters go by below.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves but in summary the falls are truly awesome.

Victoria Falls, from Zambia

Vic Falls

More falls

We were visiting at a time of the year when the water was running low so though we saw dozens of individual waterfalls, we saw pictures of the falls during wet season when the view is just one giant wall of water.

How we saw it

Vic Falls

And for you close readers of the blog, you may have noticed that prior to coming to Africa the last thing we did in South America was visit Iguazu Falls.  We realize that not too many folks get the chance to visit the two most amazing waterfalls on the planet within one week of each other so we were excited to compare and contrast.  And because we’ve already been asked this exact question, though Vic Falls is incredible and has already earned the distinction as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, we would actually have to give our vote to Iguazu in a head-to-head comparison of spectacular-ness.  But no worries Africa, South America has got nothing on you when it comes to animals!

Industry Bloggin’

As part of our stay at the River Club, we visited a local community, Simonga Village,  that has a very close relationship with the hotel.  It was an interesting experience, though a bit uncomfortable from our perspectives.  I wrote about the visit for World Nomads’ Responsible Tourism Blog, which can be found here, or copied below.

A Beneficial But Uncomfortable Community Visit

Over the past five months, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of rural communities as part of my travels and cultural interests.  Some have been amazing experiences, others have been mediocre encounters.  But in all cases, the hearts of the organizers, communities, and travelers were in the right place, with the end goal of providing benefits to the host community while providing a rich and interactive experience for the traveler.  What I’m coming to realize, however, is that even when the system is set up properly, the experience is only as good as the time you put into it.

The Simonga Village is a small community about 20km outside the border town of Livingstone, Zambia.  The region is home to one of Africa’s premier tourist destinations, Victoria Falls – one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  The Zambian side of the falls has seen a tourism surge in the past decade due to the ongoing political and social turmoil in neighboring Zimbabwe, and tourist infrastructure has quickly developed to meet the increasing demand.  Simonga is situated near a number of hotels and lodges along the Zambezi River above the falls.  One of these properties, The River Club, has sort of “adopted” the village as a way to give back to the surrounding community.

Children welcome tourists with a song

Simonga Village children

Simonga has learned some important lessons from other neighboring communities, and is one of only a handful of villages that has truly embraced tourism as an opportunity for increasing the quality of life for their people.  Traditionally, villages in the region were not interested in welcoming visitors to their homes, believing that tourists would bring bad fortune, and the photos they took would steal their souls.  Simonga’s village elders, however, saw the region’s growth in tourism as a way to bring great benefits to it’s community, and with the help of the River Club and its guests, the community has thrived in relation to its neighbors.

I gotta hand it to Simonga and the River Club – they are working hard to make this a win-win for everyone involved.  The community tours offered to River Club guests attempt to provide some sincere interaction between guests and villagers (which is hard to do in a 30-60 minute visit).  The tours are conducted in a respectful manner, always requesting entry and permission for conversation and photos.  The kids don’t beg for money, and seem interested in talking and playing with the tourists.  As a result, donations from the River Club and its guests have helped the community to renovate their water supply system and school, build a police post and a medical clinic, and pay the tuition for over 50 students to attend high school in the neighboring town.  Additionally, the River Club employs a number of Simonga’s residents on their staff.

Sounds pretty peachy, right?  For some, it certainly is – a few of our fellow guests raved about the experience, how they got to see how rural Africa really lives, and how cute the kids were.  But for me, it was just plain uncomfortable.  A colleague of mine calls these “pet the children” visits – sarcastically comparing the experience to visiting animals in a zoo.  I mean, the idea of a rich foreigner swinging through my neighborhood to see my lifestyle and living conditions is not only awkward, but degrading.  Spending less than an hour with the villagers provides nothing more than surface-level insights about African communities, and little, if any, meaningful interaction.  To me, visiting poor communities without trying to contribute to their well-being is selfish and harmful.

Tourists taking photos of kids

So, if Simonga and the River Club actually have a good system in place to ensure benefits are distributed, and the experience is still detrimental in some respects, then what can be done?  To me, it’s one simply factor – time.  Visiting a community for an hour, or even three, is simply not enough time to demonstrate that you, the visitor, care about the well-being of these villagers.  In order for them to open up to you, they must have some level of trust in you – trust that you actually care and are not just looking to see how poor people live.  If you want to visit a community to experience village life, then take the time to get to know them.  Spend a few nights, share stories, try walking in their shoes for a few days.  The time that you put in will determine the fulfillment that you (and your hosts) will get out of the experience.

Safari Time

Through Ted’s miracle tourism network we had the INCREDIBLE opportunity to go on a 13-day luxury safari with a company out of Boulder – Natural Habitat Adventures (NatHab).  NatHab specializes in trips that get you up close and personal with animals and an African safari does just that.

On the first day of our trip we were picked up from our hostel and taken to a boat launch along the Zambezi River.  Within minutes of being on the river we saw our first hippopotamus.  Woohoo!  Apparently these giant, fat things are the most dangerous animal in Africa, killing more people every year than Africa’s much-talked about Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino) combined.  We definitely saw a bit of their aggression as one charged our boat when we got too close!

Hippos on the Zambezi

Hippo Charging

They are big suckers

The boat eventually got us safely to The River Club – our home for the next couple nights.  The River Club is a beautiful spot sitting right on the banks of the mighty Zambezi, which ultimately becomes Victoria Falls only a few kilometers away.  The rooms were quite possibly the nicest we have ever, or maybe will ever, stay in and we were pinching ourselves with the upgrade from our backpacker hostel to riverfront fanciness.

Sunset at the River Club

River Club Bungalo

Our guides were both from Botswana, where the majority of the safari would be taking place.  Francis has been guiding for years (decades?) and though he was a man of few words around the dinner table, he was so incredibly informative out in the bush that we were nothing but impressed.  Botho was our safari coordinator who was around to help out Francis and make sure we had everything we needed.

We had a good group and we were extremely excited about our next couple weeks!

Zambezi Sunsets

Zambezi Sunsets

We’re Hard to Miss

Livingstone, Zambia sees a lot of international tourists – it is located just down the road from the famous Victoria Falls – one of the 7 natural wonders of the world.  The town of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe had previously dominated the tourist market for waterfall visitors but their current political and economical turmoil has been so upside down that people have started coming in greater numbers to the Zambian side instead.

Unlike many of the cities and towns we have visited throughout our travels, Livingstone does not shout tourist town.  There aren’t loads of restaurants and shops aimed at visitors, there aren’t obvious attractions within the town itself, and there aren’t very many tourists walking around.  In fact, when Ted and I went out our first day in Zambia to have a look, we only saw two other white people (most of the international tourists to Vic Falls are in the Africa Tourist Bubble, a concept we’ll elaborate on in an upcoming post).  Though it seems totally ridiculous to even write this – there aren’t a whole helluva lot of white folks in Africa (save parts of South Africa).  Though Ann Arbor, Michigan (where we grew up) is quite diverse for a town its size, we’ve spent the last few years in diversity-deprived Boulder, Colorado and we can both say in truth that we’ve never felt so aware of our skin color as we did that first day.  We’ve talked about it and we can’t quite articulate what it is but it feels incredibly different to be among the minority in Africa – much more so than when we were among the minority in South America or on Ted’s previous travels to SE Asia.

So though we were hard to miss, it made for some great opportunities to meet people – especially because everyone speaks English.  Amazingly.  There are so many different local languages throughout each town, city, region, country that everyone has learned English to communicate with one another  (certainly makes it easier for us).  Though Zambia felt extremely foreign to us after 4 months in South America, it was quite gratifying for me to finally be able to have a proper conversation with a local.

When we visited the ‘Trading Post’ to check out the crafts and artwork, we could talk with the guys at the shop and ask them who made the sculpture and what it was made out of and if they were from the area and if they had children, etc.  We met some hilarious characters, some pushy salesmen and some phenomenal artists.

One of the fun things about the ‘Trading Post’ (as opposed to a regular market) is that you could trade something of yours for something of theirs instead of exchanging money.  One guy wanted my hair rubberband for his girlfriend so I gave him it (plus a little money) for a cool bracelet.  However, this  international exchange can have its disadvantages too.  Just a few booths down from where I got my bracelet we were disheartened to see one of the stall owners rocking an Ohio State T-shirt.  Obviously a Buckeye had been here before us.  On a positive note, that is one less OSU shirt that we have to look at back home!  :)

By the way, there are no pictures to show of our time wandering in Livingstone because, at the time, we were too nervous to take photos of African street scenes (and really even wander around town with the camera).  Eventually we chilled out, but unfortunately, nothing to share here.  Sorry

Onward to Africa

After a whirlwind couple of days at Iguazu Falls we arrived back in Buenos Aires in time to explore one more neighborhood of the city and eat one more delicious steak dinner at our favorite parilla before heading to the airport for our overnight trans-continental flight to Africa.

Our flight from BA to Cape Town, on Malaysian Airlines, was a surprisingly short 7 hours. And Malaysian Airlines – top notch service and plane.

We had one quick afternoon and night in Cape Town before heading up north to Zambia and Botswana. After some much needed napping, we explored the lovely – though extremely touristy – V&A waterfront. We were treated to some Christmas-themed live music being performed in a band shell near the water and we enjoyed it while eating our first (of many) meals of fish and chips.

Holiday cheer at the Cape Town Waterfront

Santa, made from Coke crates at the waterfront

Cape Town Waterfront

The next day we headed back to the airport and flew via Johannesburg (stop #1 of 10 in this airport) up to Livingstone, Zambia (yes, named after David Livingstone the famous British explorer). Driving from the airport to our hostel was definitely a glimpse into the Africa you might imagine – mommas with babies tied around their backs, women carrying unbelievably large loads balanced effortlessly on their heads, men trying to sell you anything from sunglasses to cell phone SIM cards, barefoot children playing on the side of the road, vans exploding beyond the brim with passengers, and trash along the side of the road.

Zambian kids

Traditional village home

We arrived at our hostel and were welcomed into a little oasis. You would never guess from the street that this place would provide such clean, comfortable rooms and come with fabulous perks such as wireless internet and a fabulous swimming pool.

Great first hostel in Africa!

By the time we arrived, we were pooped. In the previous 7 days we had slept in 7 different places with 3 of those nights spent “sleeping” on public transportation (2 on a bus, 1 on a plane). We were happy to have arrived safe and sound and looked forward to seeing more of Zambia when we had our heads on straight.

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