Chobe River, Victoria Falls and Kruger National Park.
11.08.2014 - 11.18.2014 90 °F
The second half of our South African safari was spent on the Chobe River in Botswana, at in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls and at the Kruger National Park in north eastern South Africa. This trip would, sadly, conclude our African travels for now.
From the Okavango Delta we headed north into Chobe National Park. On arrival, we embarked on a sunset cruise on the Chobe river, the river separating Namibia and Botswana. The Chobe River is teeming with wildlife. On the river buffalo, hippopotamus, crocodile and elephants can all be found.
The most abundant animals we saw on the river were herds of hippopotamus lurking in the river or grazing on the island which splits the river. The hippopotamus sit with their eyes and ears above water, silently watching the tour boats pass by. At first they appear to be harmless, somewhat awkward creatures, that is, until they do a hippopotamus yawn. This is when they open their bear trap jaws to reveal four large dagger like teeth.
Hippos are incredibly fast on land given their mis-proportioned bodies. They can easily out run a human and their preferred method of dispatching a person is to bite them completely in half. Hippos cause more human fatalities in Africa than any other animal. They are also completely herbivorous, meaning they kill only for sport, leaving their victims for the crocodiles. Another fun fact about hippos is that they are poor swimmers and spend most of their time in water that is just deep enough to stand in, fully submerged.
Nile Crocodiles can be found lining both banks at regular intervals. Nile Crocodiles are fresh water crocodiles and not as large as their saltwater brethren. Our boat captain joked that their favorite meal was domesticated dogs that occasionally make their way down to the river banks. The only natural predator of the crocodile is the boa constrictor which are also found in the area. Crocodiles and boas are evenly matched; large crocs will eat boas and larger boas will eat crocs.
There is an island in the center of the Chobe River who’s ownership is disputed between Botswana and Zambia. It is a small spit of land with no human development on it what so ever. On the island only grass, and the buffalo and hippos which graze on it are found. At the end of our cruise we were lucky enough to experience an amazing sunset before heading back to our accommodations.
The next morning, from Chobe, we headed off to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls arriving early enough to beat the crowds. Being that it was the low water season, the falls were beautiful if not a bit underwhelming. The pictures that you see in National Geographic are definitely shot during the high season. We spent the morning taking photos around the falls and soaking up the beauty.
Around noon we headed off to our accommodations which were some of the nicest we had experienced on this safari so far. They had two swimming pools, a hair salon on site and in room WIFI (joy!). Here I experienced my first Zimbabwean haircut. I must say it came out quite well and only cost $5 USD!
Zimbabwe no longer has their own currency due to hyper-inflation during the late aughts. Restaurants had trouble keeping patrons because the price of a meal would double before the meal was over. The result is that the government stopped printing Zimbabwean dollars and began depending on foreign currencies instead. Stores in Zimbabwe accept Euros, Pounds, Rand and, especially, USD. It is common to receive a barely legible, 30 year old US dollar bill as change for a purchase.
We spent the afternoon sitting by the pool and relaxing. At one point a family of warthogs strolled up to the pool for a drink. I, of course, jumped out of my lounge chair and assumed a defensive position, thinking warthogs were as dangerous as every other animal on the continent. The pool attendant laugh and assured me that they weren’t dangerous. They are, however, one of the most unattractive animals I’ve ever seen.
Monkeys were also a problem around the pool. They would watch as a hotel guest would order a fruity, well garnished drink and settle in to their lounge chair. Once the monkey was convinced the guest was dozing off, they would sneak up, grab all the fruit off the top of the drink and run off before anyone could stop them. As far as I could tell, the hotel had one employee who’s sole purpose was to stand guard with a slingshot and keep the garnish stealing monkeys at bay.
Sadly we had to leave the pool area early as we had signed up for another cruise that evening. Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in and there was no sunset on the water that evening. Later that night we had dinner out and said goodbye to everyone from our tour who was headed north to Kenya.
The next morning, the few of us who were headed back to Johannesburg boarded a different truck (named ‘Luther’) for the two day trip back to South Africa. Aboard Luther, we met a few people who would be joining us for the last portion of our safari. The first day’s drive was rough. It was an 11 hour drive all the way through Botswana ending just before the South African border. Our nights accommodations were the same place we had stayed the first night of our safari. This was the place we had given an SPF (SPider Factor) rating of 9, the highest of any of our lodging to date. To say that we weren’t looking forward to our accommodations that night was an understatement. Of course, everything worked out for the best, as they often do. Our room was in a different part of the camp and had a much more acceptable SPF rating of 4. It also gave us a chance to get to know our new safari friends over dinner. The next day we rolled into Joburg early enough to relax before dinner and prepare for our trip to Kruger National Park the next day.
We headed out for our fortuitous trip to Kruger in the morning. We were able to see the big five animals in our first 24 hours at the park. The big five include lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and rhinoceros. We were also lucky in that our new guide, Norman, happened to be an excellent cook. We went from eating polony (some sort of french preserved meat loaf) and butter sandwiches, to eating spaghetti with home made sauce, bacon and eggs and all other sorts of delicious meals.
Our first day in the park, we went for an all day game drive. We were lucky to see a leopard and a cheetah at close range. Both of these animals are exceedingly rare to see in Kruger. We also spotted a hyena sitting by the side of the road, his jaws still stained with blood.
The following morning we set out early for a morning bush walk. Sensibly, in South Africa, guides are required to carry loaded rifles in the bush, making Shawna and I feel much more confident. Sadly the largest animal we saw that morning was the dung beetle, which is quite large, but not large enough to necessitate a firearm. Deciding that I had seen enough animals, I optioned to stay behind for the days game drive. Shawna, who decided to go, was lucky enough to see a mother rhino suckling her young.
Rhinoceros have had some tough luck in recent years. Rhino poaching in Kruger has skyrocketed due to demand in asian markets. It seems that certain cultures believe that ground rhino horn makes them more virile. The horn is composed of the same material as human hair and fingernails; consuming rhino horn will make you as virile as bitting your nails. Poachers, who are highly organized and well funded, can fetch half a million USD for a single horn. As a result up to 10% (estimated 1,000 this year) Kruger’s rhino population is killed every year and there is little the park services can do to stop them.
That night we went on a night time game drive. A night game drive consists of driving around in an open air jeep, the driver shining a light into the bush looking for animals while simultaneously trying to keep the jeep on the road. Seeing an animal’s glowing eyes shining back at you from the pitch black is a little unnerving and I was glad to be in the jeep and not on foot. We started our game drive with sherry, amarula and potato chips on a mountain top while watching the sun go down, an odd combination but delightful none the less. Side note: it turns out I like sherry, does that make me a grandma?
We spent the last night having dinner with the group that we had been on safari with for the last two weeks. It was bittersweet, some people were going home, some were continuing to travel in Africa. We were flying to the Maldives to unwind after safari life. The next day we said our goodbyes and headed to the Joburg airport hotel. Our flight wasn’t until the evening of the following day so we had plenty of time to do laundry and enjoy the abundant hotel WIFI. Next stop, paradise!
Driving back to Joburg on the Panorama Route:
HUGE spider Shawna stepped on
Johannesburg has a violent crime problem. Presumably this is where citizens can check their weapons before a flight.