From the banks of the river Zambezi to the Skeleton Coast

Tue, 19 Mar 2002 06:12:10 +0800

On the 8th, we attempted to cross the Zambezi from Zambia into Botswana. It was not to be. Both ferrys were out of order. It seems that they had been cannibalizing one to keep the other running but now there was no action for want of an O-ring.

We talked about going up river to the crossing that goes to Namibia. But, we learned that that ferry was stuck on the rocks. That left the bridge into Zimbabwe. But it was getting late, it was the day before the election and it didn't seem likely that we could reach the border before they closed. We went back to Livingstone.

Few of us put up tents. Many of us just slept on the truck. It was going to be a *very* early start. At 5:00am, our driver went out alone to take the truck across the bridge into Zimbabwe. The rest of us took another vehicle to the ferry crossing and crossed the river via a hired boat. (essentially a motorized fishing boat). Despite election day nervousness, our driver encountered no difficulties and we regrouped on the Botswana side of the Zambezi. We arrived in camp in Maun in the early afternoon.

The next morning, 4 of us went into the Okavango Delta for an overnight trip. Transport was via dugout canoes the locals call mokoros. A local pushed the canoe along by using a long pole. It is sort of like the canals of Venice, only instead bridges, buildings and cobblestone roads, it was a sea of reeds and water lilies (many in bloom). Our endpoint was a small island, which I am told is actually built up from termite mounds.

That evening we and our guide walked around the island looking for animal life. We didn't see a great deal. A few elephants, buffalo, some antelopes. Eagles. No large predators though and most animals were at significant range.

After night fall, things changed. A small herd of elephants walked within 50 feet of our camp site on their way to the water. There were no problems but it did get nervous for a while.

Next morning, we went on another game walk with much the same result as the first. We then returned as we came, on the mokoros through channels in a sea of reeds and lilies. All the while we baked in the tropical sun.

That afternoon, we went out in small planes for an aerial view of the delta. It looks a lot like the everglades, really. Only the Everglades doesn't have elephants, giraffes, and huge termite mounds.

Next stop in our journey was into Namibia. We camped along the Okavango river in the western Caprivi Strip. Now the Caprivi Strip has a reputation for being a dangerous place. There have been many cases of rebels crossing over from Angola. But this is the tame side and our stay was uneventful, albeit quite wet.

Next we went to Etosha. Etosha is essentially a shallow salt lake. Most of the time it is dry or nearly so. Animals congregate around the few available watering holes. But not this time. It rained. It rained a lot. There was little motivation for the animals to go the watering holes. they were spread all over the park. I did get many pictures of Oryx's though. These are stunningly beautiful black and white antelopes. Apparently, they are very common in Etosha. But I never saw them in Kenya or Tanzania.

The rain had another unfortunate effect. It flooded roads in areas that normally get very little rain. Thus, we had to alter course a bit. We lost the rock paintings at Twyfelfontein and Skeleton Coast National Park. The later change meant that the chance of seeing desert elephants slipped from slim to nearly none. And, indeed, we saw none.

Yesterday, we drove down the southern Skeleton Coast to the Cape Cross Seal Colony and then on to Swakopmund. Cape Cross protects a huge colony of, what appears to be, fur seals, though maybe they are just sea lions. Good for an hour, at least.

Swakopmund is heavily German influenced tourist town on the southern Skeleton Coast. Palm trees amongst sand dunes and a stereotypical German village motif.

This morning, 4 of us went parading off on the large dunes near Swakopmund. It's a lot of fun and the sand makes for soft landings when you screw up. Tomorrow is sand boarding. (Sort of like sledding or snow boarding but on the dunes instead of ski slopes)

We get into Cape Town on the 27th. That was to be when I arranged flights to Madagascar and an excursion to great Zimbabwe. But the situation in Madagascar is deteriorating and Zim doesn't seem to be heading for a peaceful resolution either. Yuck. I can find alternatives for Zim, but I really hope I don't have to bug out on a month in Madagascar.