- Travel Topics
Hence, we opted for a 8 day South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe organized group tour (after which we joked we could even buy a timeshare there if we loved it so much), which my cousin from Canada joined us on!
We had never taken a formal week long group tour so this seemed like the proper occasion to also mix and mingle with a group of 20 strangers, soon to become the best of friends (well, close acquaintances at least!).
And now on to the trip highlights day by day!
This was the orientation day in Johannesburg.
We met the whole group of 22, 9 Brits, 6 Americans, 2 Canadians, 3 Germans, 2 Norwegians, luckily for us there were a lot of native English speakers – always a plus (although we were outnumbered by Brits)! After a brief meeting where we were told to bring our expectation levels down to the ground and understand that this being Africa after all we would have to stay calm and easy going (had I been able to dig a well, I would have put my expectations there). Broken tents were to be expected (happy birthday!).
We proceeded on to our first group dinner which was organized in a somewhat unusual fashion with each person weighing their plate 2 separate times, first for their protein price and then for the carbs price (I love knowing exactly how many calories I’m consuming – don’t you?). 22 people x 4 mathematical calculations sans an excel spreadsheet makes for an interesting way to calculate dinner payment.
For our trip the mode of transportation was the Lando – a bus truck hybrid, which we were forbidden from calling either a bus or a truck with threats of forced push ups if we made the mistake (seriously though – it was a bus).
At first glance this beast of a vehicle looked spacious, sparkling and comfortable (and a lot like a bus), in reality it quickly turned into a total mess with sweatshirts, fruits, etc dangling from all over the place with an average inside temperature of 100 degrees. This is Africa we were warned, literal translation being, there will be no functioning air conditioning on the Lando.
Up bright an early and ready for our first day of adventure, slash what in reality turned into a day of getting to know the Lando. After 4 hours of driving with the heat acting as a tranquilizer I could barely keep my head up.
We did get to stop in a local grocery store for lunch, where we were warned to try to fit in and not look like tourists – a statement I first took to be pure sarcasm considering we were 22 foreigners hopping off an enormous purple submarine all clad in REI hiking gear with our money belts strapped around our waist (so inconspicuous!).
Fit in we did not.
When we finally arrived at our first campsite of the trip our tent set up debriefing was interrupted by the clattering of pots and pans at the neighboring camp site (a bear?).
Turns out this is the preferred technique for deterring a vicious Rhino from feasting on your dinner. After hearing the word rhino our entire group ran over immediately, selfies being snapped every which way you looked, as we watched the rhino inching over to the tour group’s dinner table set up. The throwing of apples and cherry tomatoes did not stop the rhino, though one of the tour participants did get dangerously close as the rhino broke into a sprint, chasing the guy in a circle for a good few seconds (yes it was as comical as it sounds).
Eventually the rhino trotted off and we headed for the dreaded tent set up. By the looks on the faces of a few members in our group it was clear the set up and tear down of the tent was not expected to be part of the daily responsibilities (not an ideal timeshare opportunity).
As one of the Brits shared with us later on she had only seen photos of the tents already set up, and assumed that the work would be done for us.
Not the case.
And these were some pretty heavy duty tents. Once the set up was done we gathered around the campfire in anticipation of dinner – ground meat bolognese made over a camp fire (yummy!). What can be a quick 30 minute meal when made at home, in the wilderness easily turns into a 3 hour preparation – turns out it’s not so easy to cook 4 pounds of ground meat over a camp fire. With the first day successfully behind us and with one epic animal sighting under our belt we were ready for bed (I can’t way to hear how long we get to sleep!).
Day 3: Our day started with a drive over to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary for our first ever game drive – essentially you hop into a high open SUV and get to drive around looking for animals.
Spotted a few rhino behinds, as well as zebras, impalas, springboks, and even got to sniff some rhino poo – smells like grass as promised to us.
From there the animal viewing continued, but from a different angle (no more rhino behinds!) – a scenic flight over the Okavango delta – one of Africa’s last remaining great wildlife habitats. We were all a bit nervous about jumping into a tiny 4 seater plane, but overall loved being able to view the wildlife – mainly huge herds of elephants from such a different angle (above…). If not for the massive motion sickness suffered by almost everyone in the group (aka, except the pilot) it would have been an absolutely pleasant experience.
Good thing there was a vendor selling ice cold Cokes right outside the local airport.
Day 4: This day we were actually heading into the Okavango delta for a night of bush camping. Our method of transportation to get there – a Mokoro, a thin and narrow canoe made out of fiber glass (but we weren’t allowed to call it a canoe). Each set of two people had their own canoe as well as their Polar – the man maneuvering the canoe with grace, balance, and a super long pole.
We wasted no time and got to know just about everything about Luke, including all the exam questions he was required to answer before getting his license, one of which was how long can a hippo submerge for? (answer 5-7 minutes).
And a hippo we did see, as it almost charged into our string of mokoros as we were trying to cross the lagoon.
Good thing these guys know how to reverse!
Rhino and hippo sighting up close – check, check.
We arrived in the basic bush camp with lots of free time to relax, and learn how to use our toilet for the night – a concealed bushy bushy better described as a hole dug in the ground with a toilet seat chair placed directly over it (this is Africa!).
It seems the majority of the group kept themselves fully dehydrated this day to minimize their toilet trips. With the lack of a door, the only indication that the toilet was occupied was the absence of the shovel and the roll of tp on a nearby tree. (occupado)
We spent the afternoon on a bush walk, a guided walking tour of the area where we got to spot elephants up close, galloping zebras running laps and termite mountains. The evening was complete with a round of singing and dancing by the enthusiastic polars (though not all of them seemed to be enjoying the performance) and a round of game playing in which each participant picked an animal and had to call out a different person’s animal (I was…asleep).
Without electricity anywhere we all truly felt like we were in the wilderness (the ‘toilet’ didn’t give that away?), and were reminded of this by the polars who specifically instructed us not to leave our tents alone during the night, explaining that there could be an elephant or hyena directly outside.
Let’s just say going to the bathroom in the middle of the night gave me the biggest adrenaline rush of my life (guess I wasted a lot of money on those skydiving tickets).
Day 5: Highlight of this day was our accommodation spot – Planet Baobob (seriously, can I buy a timeshare here?) home to dozens of these amazingly beautiful and unique trees. There was even a huge pool here where the boys in the group put on quite the acrobatic comedy show. Even our little sit down talk by our tour guide where we were scolded and accused on not doing our daily chores couldn’t spoil everyone’s jolly mood.
A fully round of boozy punch over dinner helped keep the laughter going. Though this was the most beautiful place we stayed it provided the worst nights’ sleep for anyone without earplugs as all night there were packs of wild dogs or hyenas. They were howling, they were growling they were viciously fighting all night (ah the sweet sound of nature). I was terrified to even think about leaving the tent to make the long trek to the bathroom.
Day 6: With a 3:30am wake up, and a morning cup of coffee with a view of a fully lit night sky, this was our earliest morning yet (is 330am even truly morning?).
We were in store for a long morning of driving before we got to our second game drive. We all had our fingers crossed for lions and leopards though the closest we got was to the beginning of a murder investigation.
The victim: a small and innocent impala. No witnesses to be seen, but we were confident the leopard murderer was hiding nearby. (Someone call CSI!)
On the game drive we also saw big herds of elephant families, with one getting a bit upset with how close our vehicle was getting to the babies. You do not want to upset an elephant. We wisely, took the long route around. Our evening finished off with a wildlife sunset cruise where we spotted elephants, crocodiles, hippos and buffalo.
Day 7: Short driving day as we crossed over into Zimbabwe from Botswana. The main attraction was the iconic Victoria Falls waterfall, which truly is impressive and magnificent. Though, before we got to the waterfall we needed to tick off one adventure activity before Dave finally turned 30 – a bungee swing off the bridge overlooking the gorge in Zambia (the outside toilet at night wasn’t enough adrenaline?).
We easily strolled over into our 4th African country in a week to get harnessed in and walk off the platform into the air. I must say, hands down the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. The adrenaline rush was unreal and I had a blast for all 10 seconds that this lasted. When we were falling it truly felt like we were in some weird time warp where time slowed down to a halt and I could almost process the entire experience outside of time. It was amazing. The best $120 I’ve ever spent, and then being able to view the footage, and confirm that Dave does not know how to follow directions – they told us to keep our legs tightly together – and Dave’s were swinging all around like a rag doll, was truly priceless (this video has been long since deleted).
An amazing day made even more complete with a walk around the Victoria Falls park, a sunset food and drinks cruise, a farewell dinner and bday drinks for Dave.
Day 8: Departure day! (Yay, no more bushy bushy!). We headed to the airport in the morning for our flight to Cape Town, where the group adventures were to continue as we were able to meet up with the German and British couples from our trip for drinks and tons of laughs over the memories!
Overall the tour and trip was absolutely amazing. We met some great people, camped under starlit skies, saw wild animals in their natural habitats and shared tons of laughs.
Although, the tour wasn’t perfect – there were complaints from many along the way about long driving days, hot temperature in the Lando, unacceptable lunches of sad uncooked hot dogs with even sadder untoasted buns, but as our guide said on day 1, This is Africa, so all things considered overall it was a great time with memories to last a life time. And we might have to start thinking about how to buy a timeshare in Africa!
While we do love Europe, Africa might currently be our favorite continent!