June started out on a GA8 Airvan plane flying over the famous Okavango Delta in Botswana. We didn’t think life could get much better than that, but it did! June 2016 earned the title of our best travel month to date.
Everything came together relatively smooth all month long. We found ourselves squealing “Oh My God! Oh My God!” and giggling like children numerous times. We went into the month knowing we would visit Botswana and Namibia. On a whim, we added Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa, which looking back, we couldn’t be more pleased with our last minute decisions.
While in Botswana, we took part in five safari type activities in the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park. In the delta, we jumped on a plane with Mack Air to view the beauty of the waterways and were lucky enough to see quite a few animals from above. Our photos were rubbish, but we did get some fun video of our experience.
The highlight of our safaris were the two boat excursions we took with Chobe Cherry Safaris in Chobe National Park. The Chobe River, which divides Botswana and Namibia, provided the ultimate WOW factor moments to our visit in Botswana. We took two sunset tours, and both were spectacular. We saw lots of elephants, crocodiles, monitor lizards, birds, buffaloes, hippopotamuses and the vibrant colors of the sunset were straight out of a painting.
From Botswana, we headed to Zimbabwe and Zambia. In Zimbabwe, we met Blessed, a taxi driver, whom we wish could take us everywhere in the world. He was a wealth of information and if you find yourself in Zimbabwe call him to pick you up at the Botswana/Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe/Zambia border or help you plan your trip. You can contact him at email@example.com or +263-776-436601. In the Z’s, we visited the famous UNESCO Heritage site, Victoria Falls.
The falls were lovely from both the Zimbabwe and the Zambia side, but the better view of the entire falls was from the Zimbabwe side. The swimmable water pools at the top edge of the falls make the Zambia side more preferred by adventurists. Even though the view over the edge of Victoria Falls and the experience of being pounded by the chilly Zambezi River waters was crazy unforgettable, we preferred the view of the entire falls from the Zimbabwe side.
After the Z’s we headed back to Botswana on our way to Namibia, which put our month over the top. Windhoek was not so impressive, but we picked up our 4×4 double cab and headed out on our nine (but really 10) day road trip as quickly as possible. Our first stop was Etosha National Park where within 90 minutes of our self-drive we saw one rhinoceros, three lions, lots of elephants, birds, giraffes, and hundreds of antelopes and buffaloes.
We spent two nights inside Etosha NP. Our second night left us in awe. We spent the night at Halali Resorts located in the middle of the park. After dinner, we walked to the resorts watering hole and within the first thirty minutes we witnessed a mother rhino and her baby. As the duo hung around for about thirty minutes, a large male elephant arrived, and a few hyenas and jackals appeared. We stayed at the watering hole for about three hours and spotted three more rhinos, several more hyenas, and a hyperactive badger.
By the time we left Etosha, we had observed seven rhinoceroses, around fifty elephants, eight lions, around fifty giraffes and hundreds of grazers such as antelope, zebra, buffalo, and oryx. We didn’t see any cheetahs or leopards, but the rhino sitings had put us so high on cloud nine we were ok with the lack of big cats sitings.
From Etosha, we headed west to view the thousands of years old rock engravings in Twyfelfontein and then onto to Skeleton Coast National Park. After we had arrived at our lodge in Damaraland we realized we had lost our passports. We frantically searched our vehicle for around thirty minutes before we were able to get online and found an email from the Halali Resort letting us know they had our passports. The distance between us and our documents was over 400kms/250miles. Kathleen at Halali Lodge suggested a Chameleon Safaris employee pick up our passports and take both to Chameleon Backpackers (our hostel) in Windhoek. Thankfully, Chameleon Safaris and Halali Lodge worked with us, and our passports were waiting for us in Windhoek upon our return. That was the first time either of us has lost our passports, and I have to say it was a horrible thirty minutes of not knowing where or who may have had our books.
After experiencing Twyfelfontein, we packed up and head to Skeleton National Park. The Northern and Central Namibian coastline was famous for sunken ships and plane crashes. At one time (long ago) there were over 1,000 sunken ships, planes, and helicopters stranded amongst the sands of SNP. For some reason, in our research, we missed the “long ago” part. Sand has buried most of the wrecks, they decayed or have since washed away. We spent most of the eight-hour driving wondering what we were doing wrong because we weren’t locating wreck sites. However, we did see two shipwrecks, one small abandoned mine (Toscanini) with a rusty old bus, and a collapsed oil rig. The coastline was beautiful but at times, so desolate it was borderline creepy. We didn’t see another car until at least three hours into our drive.
We stopped in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay before heading to the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia. The red sand dunes, clay pans, and dead trees of Sossusvlei were almost unearthly. The red, orange, brown and yellow colors of the sand against the bright blue sky were surreal. Here we climbed sand dunes, watched sunrises and sunsets and snapped almost two thousand photos.
At this point, it was only mid-month, and we still had what ended up to be our most favorite escapade of our road trip. Surprisingly, an abandoned diamond mine beat out elephants and rhinos as our best time in Namibia. Kolmanskop was first established in the early 1900s and thrived as a diamond mine town for years until the minerals were depleted. The town was officially abandoned in the mid-1950’s and since then all of the buildings were taken over by harsh desert elements.
Several buildings stand in various levels of decay including collapsed walls, doorways, windows, ceilings, and floors. But the actual star of the ghost town was the sand which had encapsulated every aspect of the area. We arrived before sunset and stayed for five hours exploring the structures and taking photos. Photographing Kolmanskop was a dream. As the sun came up each building, nook and cranny changed and exposed colors and details neither of us expected. Abandoned towns may not be for everyone, but we loved it and wished we had returned at sunset to get a whole different point of view.
We ended our month in Cape Town, South Africa where we’ve been taking it easy. Matt’s been able to cook using our host’s kitchen, and we have been able to catch up on editing some photos and attending to the blog. We’ve also been able to spend time with our friend, Simon, whom we met in Malawi. We’ve been lucky, and the winter weather in Cape Town has not been too bad. We’ve had three rainy days, all cold days but mostly sunny. We did get out and took a Street Art tour in the artsy Woodstock neighborhood with Juma Art Tours. In two hours we saw a good sampling of the over one hundred pieces of street art scattered throughout Woodstock. We also took all three (Historical, District 6 and Bo-Kaap) of the ninety-minute free walking tours with Cape Town Free Walking Tours.
We ended the month on a high note, too. For the first time in over a year, we have basic plans laid out for the next five months.
By the way, if you are on Snapchat be sure to add us @Travelationship. We have been posting some unedited daily photos and videos.
Botswana: Maun, Kasane, Chobe National Park, Francistown, Gaborone
Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls, Victoria Falls National Park
Zambia: Victoria Falls, Livingstone, Livingstone Island
Namibia: Windhoek, Etosha National Park, Khorixas, Twyfelfontein, Skeleton Coast National Park, Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, Luderitz, Kolmanskop, Keetmanshoop
South Africa: Cape Town
We took a one-hour air safari with Mack Air in Maun, Botswana over the Okavango Delta. The weather was perfect, and our flight companions were as enthusiastic as us. We saw a ton of wildlife including elephants, buffalos, antelope, hippopotamuses, giraffes, zebras and we think some crocodiles. The views were breathtaking. Our pilot, Christian, was fantastic. He stuck one of the smoothest landings we have experienced in all our flight EVER. We were able to split the price of the plane ride with another couple making our total just under $200 for the both of us. The adventure was worth every penny, but I would recommend an open helicopter for better photos.
Both our water safaris with Chobe Cherry Safaris in Chobe National Park were jaw dropping. To see elephants in the water at sunset was one of the coolest experiences. The elephants swam between the shore and the islands in the middle of the Chobe River, and at times swim all the way across to Namibia. One elephant rolled and played in the water and then stood up and posed for photos for us. Incredible!
There are few things better than road tripping, and road tripping in Namibia was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The diversity in landscapes was breathtaking and kept us surprised the entire time. The animal spotting was more than we had hoped for as well. Seven rhinos within a day and a half were mind blowing. I don’t think either of us will ever stop boasting about Namibia.
We continue to meet people who add charm and good memories to our trip. In Maun, Botswana at the Audi Camp we met Christine and Neals, who we went on the Okavango Delta flight with, eight friends traveling together from Arizona (Matt’s home state) and Helen and her husband from South Africa. In Cape Town, we met three ladies all from the US on our Bo-Kaap walking tour.
We also met several guides and hospitality workers who we loved. Adam from the Sesriem Campsite Restaurant, Blessed our Zimbabwe taxi driver, Cherry from Chobe Cherry Safaris, Juma from Juma Art Tours and Lorato from Kwalape Lodge all were full or personality and provided us with top level service.
Kolmanskop, Namibia was incredible. It is an abandoned diamond mining town found just outside of Luderitz in Southern Namibia. Kolmanskop ended up being better than we had expected. We arrived just before dawn, and the place was an unusual blend of creepy, cool and historical. If you have any interest in photography and abandoned places, this is the spot to go.
In Cape Town, South Africa we took a fantastic street art tour with Juma Mkwela with Township Art Tours. Juma hosted us for an inspiring tour of several of the over 100 art pieces in the Woodstock area. As most of you know by now, we love street art, and we especially love informative, fun tours by locals. Juma has been around since day 1 of Woodstock’s artful transformation. His knowledge of the artists and pieces in the neighborhood is unparallel. He does lead a few different tours in and around Cape Town. Be sure to check out his website for more information.
The Not So Great
Helen, whom we met at Audi Camp in Maun, started traveling Southern Africa in the early 90’s. She painted such a beautiful picture of how her favorite countries used to be. With tears in her eyes and a wavering voice, she explained how South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana have changed not for the better. She and her husband were on their last tour of southern Africa to say goodbye to the areas they had loved so much. Helen’s emotions and impressions were heart breaking as she told us how her beloved places had deteriorated over the years. Her story struck me hard because I constantly wonder how things used to be and how much has been and continues to be destroyed by humans.
We lost our passports. We didn’t realize we were missing either until we reached our destination in Khorixas, Namibia, which is over 400 kms/250 miles away from our previous location. We did get both back and still are unsure if we left them behind in the room or dropped them somewhere at the lodge. ***Huge THANK YOU to Halali Resort and Chameleon Safaris for all you help!***
Namibia is vast which means a lot of drive time when road tripping. We spent at least 5 hours a day on dry, dirt and dusty roads. We love a good road trip, but we admit the conditions did wear on us from time to time. Matt and I don’t always agree on music, so we also had to come up with a song veto system daily. Each day we would rotate iPods and would allow for a different number of songs to be skipped. For the most part, it worked out well.
We slept in our truck for one night in Sossusvlei, Namibia. Within the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia, there are two lodging locations – a lodge with rooms and a camping facility. The lodge was too expensive and full, so it was camping for us. We wanted to stay within the gates of the park because we would then get to drive into the park one hour before sunrise instead of having to wait for dawn to enter the park. It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but that 1-hour jump start gave us over 2 hours in the park with a small number of people and the view of an incredible sunrise. The not so great part was we didn’t have any camping gear, blankets or pillows. It was a cold, long, winter night, but well worth every shivering minute.
The Oops!, WTF?, LOLs – Lessons learned, head scratchers & hilarities
Oops! Let’s not do that again lessons
Of course, losing our passports tops this list! We were diligent about our passports before losing them, and now we are annoyingly diligent.
When a national game park and their lodges tell you gates closed at a particular time – they mean closed specifically at the said time. “Africa time” does not apply in this scenario. We arrived at the Etosha National Park central entrance around 3 pm. We needed to drive another 3 hours in the park to get to our lodge located on the far East side of the park according to the GPS. The park signs clearly state “all gates open at sunrise and close at sunset.” We were told by a lady at the permit counter that we had plenty of time to make it to Namutoni Lodge. Realistically, that was a stretch, and while we did view animals along the way before we knew it we were racing to drive the last stretch to our lodge. We arrived at the gate at 5:56 pm, and it was closed. The gateman gave us a hard time, which we deserved, as it closed at 5:26 pm. Not only was it difficult to drive the park at night, but it was also quite dangerous as the animals get more active at sunset. Now we know to look up the specific time for the specific day and arrive before sunset.
WTF? Did that really just happen?
Matt’s counting ability went to hell in Namibia. We rented our truck for nine days in Namibia. We left on the 15th and should have returned on the 23rd. Matt insists we should have returned on the 24th. He and the rental agent went back and forth debating the definition of a rental day, with the rental agency winning. Also, all our rental paperwork clearly stated the return date of the 23rd. Our day late arrival caused or rental company to stress about our and their trucks safety and cost us an extra day of fees. We should have double checked the dates and didn’t – rookie mistake.
Matt’s phone was stolen – AGAIN! On our first night in Cape Town Matt went out to a club with a local friend of ours and our guest house host. Our guest house host highly suggested he not take his phone with him, but he thought he might need it. As he was out on the dance floor, someone unzipped his zipped coat pocket and stole his phone while he was wearing his jacket. Later we found out two others within the same group of friends had their phones taken, too. Frustrating!
LOLs our laugh out loud hilarious moments
The 2nd bus scheduled to take us to the Botswana/Namibia border was canceled last minute. Instead of waiting for around 6 hours for the next bus, we were driven to a cross road where any number of coaches may or may not pass by headed in the general direction of Namibia. We along with five stranded locals hitched a ride with one of the many semi truck drivers. Hitchhiking in Botswana was quite safe and entertaining. We landed a ride with Francois, who regularly drives between Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa. We had a great time karaoking with Francois to all the best soul and R&B songs of the past.
In Etosha National Park at the Halali Resort where we stayed for our second night, we spent quite a few hours at their watering hole viewing platform. The location stood above the waterhole and was built into the rock and trees behind the water hole. The area was quite dark and quiet. About an hour into our stay we heard scurrying footprints and dry leaves rustling and turned around to barely catch a glimpse of something short and bushy running by behind us. Not sure what it was we, and some of the other visitors were a bit unsure where the animal went and what we should do. In less than five minutes a honey badger appeared at the garbage can located at the top of the main seating area and proceeded to dig and throw the trash all about. The badger was so hyperactive and could care less about any of the people standing around. He reminded us of a grumpy, busy, old man who had no time for distractions and refused to be shooed off the property. During the three hours, he (I call him he but have no idea of it was a male or female) would come and go as he pleased and startled people because he would just appear and then disappear.
Although Kolmanskop was so cool, it was especially creepy before sunrise. We were the only visitors for a good two hours. The initial darkness and stillness were hair-raising. A rabbit scared me once as its shadow caught the corner of my eye. Little noises and scraping sounds could be heard in some of the buildings, and it caused us both to look over our shoulders a few times. The weirdest part was in some of the buildings some of the rooms were really cold upon entering when the rest of the rooms and hallways were the same temperatures or hotter than outside. If the rooms had been in the basements or didn’t have windows or never felt sun because of their position, it would make sense to be colder. But that was not the case, some of the rooms faced the sunrise or were positioned in such a way to get sun at some point during the day. It was one of those weird happenings that get your mind flowing, and you can’t immediately explain. So every time we reached one of the cold rooms, it surprised us and were a bit freaked out for a split second.
Our Ears and Eyes
I started “Out of Africa” by Karen Blixen but haven’t finished it.
“Gone Tomorrow” by Lee Child
Podcasts: The Adam Carolla Show
For the first time in over a year, we have a plan in place. We have about two weeks we need to fill either before or after Indonesia, but other than that the below is set. We may not know exactly where we may go in each country or what we may do, but we do know the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand are confirmed on our itinerary.