Botswana.

A short 45 minute drive from Victoria Falls and we were crossing the border into Botswana and the town of Kasane, which was to be our base for the next couple of days.

In Victoria Falls we had picked up a few new passengers, including four Italian guys, who were in fact two couples and who looked like they were going to be a lot of fun.

Our campsite was on the banks of The Choebe River and was pretty good. The facilities were decent, plus it had a fantastic restaurant and bar which was showing The Rugby World Cup. A big step up from Zimbabwe.

The plan here was to do a game drive the following day and a river cruise on either the first or second evenings. We were cook group that day so chose to do it the following evening.

Cook group is always a hectic time. Planning on what you are going to cook for up to 28 people isn’t easy. Plus you have to be flexible, as when you get to the supermarket or market the ingredients you need are not always available. Then on the day there is invariably a lot of chopping and other preparation before the cooking actually starts.

It looks like we’re having fajitas tonight.

We generally cook once a week and on the other days you rotate between, truck cleaning, truck security and washing up, with the latter being the only real time consuming job. You also have a day off thrown in here and there, plus there are days when no-one cooks and you have to fend for yourself. This usually happens in bigger towns. Since the start we have been in a cook group with a girl called Ana. She is 24 years old, lives in Australia but is half Croatian. She is lovely and always happy and bubbly. We were joined in the cook group after Victoria Falls by a Swedish guy, who needs a little or sometimes a lot of encouragement to get involved. But unfortunately for him Steve is quite happy to give him all the encouragement he needs.

When the group returned from the evening river cruise, they seemed happy but not overly so and were a little disappointed that they hadn’t seen any elephants, who had been billed as the main attraction. However they were soon lifted by our super delicious chicken and vegetable stir fry!!

Later in the evening we went to the great bar and watched England play in the Rugby World Cup Quater Final. It was packed and noisy with a great atmosphere and several different nationalities watching. Not many supporting England though. It was very easy to forget where exactly in The World we were.

The next day brought another game drive in the now familiar 4×4 safari jeeps. Each country seems to have its own slight difference in design but they are all essentially the same. For this game drive there was no ‘Spotter Seat’ like in Zimbabwe, which initially Steve was disappointed about, but he soon changed his mind we we bumped into a pride of Lions on the prowl.

That is just about near enough. Thankyou.

The highlight of our day came in the evening when we went on the river cruise along The Choebe River. We were hoping we might get to see some elephants, but in the end we saw so much more. It turned out to be one of the best parts of the entire Africa trip.

Drifting down The Choebe River.

After cruising along the river for about half an hour spotting a few crocodiles lazing on the banks catching the last of the evening sun, we saw what looked like quite a big hippo ahead of us.

Its always dinner time for some!

It was mostly submerged but it was moving towards some grass and reeds near the bank. We were able to get pretty close as it munched away and slowly emerged from the water.

He was a biggie.

He was huge. The biggest hippo we had seen so far. We watched him for quite some time, until he decided it was toilet time. Now Hippos have an unusual way of going to the toilet, as they expel the days leftovers there little tail spins around like a propeller spreading the poo far and wide. We were just and only just out of range as the S#!t really hit the fan!

Almost immediately after we said goodbye to the hippo we spotted a small group of elephants away in the distance. We made our way towards them and as we did, more and more elephants emerged from the trees.

This was a great sight.

They gathered together on the river bank drinking and playing, and we counted 30 in total. We then noticed one of the bigger females wandered into the water a little and then a little bit more, then more, soon she was half submerged and being followed inline by a few others. They were preparing to cross the river to the other bank.

It was a fantastic sight made even more special when a really small baby followed its mother into the water and very soon got out of its depth. It quickly wrapped its trunk around its mother’s tail and settled in for a tow as mother started to swim across.

We probably won’t see this again.

After reluctantly leaving the elephants we made our way back along the river as the sun started to set on what had been a fabulous evening. Capped off in the bar with a beer and more rugby.

A long days drive across Botswana brought us to our next stop in the town of Maun, gateway to the much touted Okavango Delta.

This was something we were really looking forward to, and had been for a long time. We were heading out into the Delta in mokoro, which are traditional dug out canoes, we were going to be camping in a peaceful remote part of the Delta for two nights and we were going to be doing safaris in the morokos and also on foot. It sounded great.

Unfortunately it ended up being a little bit disappointing. It was surprisingly very touristy, more so than most things we have done so far. We drove to the moroko station, which was quite chaotic, with several other groups both large and small all arriving at the same time. We were loaded along with our gear into a moroko which turned out to be a mass produced fibre glass affair. We were assigned a poleman/polewoman, and all set off in convoy, to our section of ‘remote isolation’.

Off not so deep into The Okavango Delta. But it was still very scenic.

Our alloted camping area was very small and we were all quite close to one another, which didn’t make for a good night’s sleep. There are some serious snorers in the group!

Our illustrious tour leader was doing the cooking for the first time and he had also done the shopping himself. Were we in for a culinary treat? Oh no we weren’t, both nights were a disaster. Over cooked pasta and a tomato paste was served up on the first night and then a bland chicken dish was planned for the second night. However with no fridge and being in 35 degree heat for two days, the chicken looked the worst for wear. Maybe doing the meals the other way around might have been a better option. At least we had plenty of bread, an open fire and a big tub of peanut butter, so Steve was happy enough.

Our campsite.

We did several walking safaris, day and evening. Which were a change from the 4×4 safaris we had been doing. However for safety reasons we were limited to how near we were allowed to get to any wildlife. So having being used to seeing elephants giraffe, zebra etc from just a few metres, it had much less off an impact seeing them through binoculars a hundred metres away.

Taking a break on a waking safari.

We have unfortunately been totally and utterly spoilt on this trip. The saving grace was that we hooked up in a group with The Italiens and they were hilarious, they had Steve’s sense of humour and we had so many laughs with them.

Steve being an idiot!

We also did an evening trip in a mokoro, but animals were pretty thin on the ground, in fact when an elephant appeared in one of the waterways, we quickly turned and headed back where we had come from. The sunset however was pretty special.

A stunning sunset in Botswana.

We will just mention the toilet arrangements before we finish on the Okavango Delta. As a group we were provided with a home made folding metal frame, which had a toilet seat attached to it. A hole was then dug in the bush a few metres out from the camp, the metal frame was placed over the hole and a toilet roll hung on a nearby branch. When you had finished the idea was to use a shovel to throw some dirt on top until the hole was almost full again, whereupon a new hole was dug!

It was quite an experience to sit there as the sun went down watching a couple of giraffe stroll by on the horizon!

So that was Botswana almost over. The Okanvango Delta had not quite lived up to the expectations but The Choebe River had by far exceeded them.

One other exciting thing that happened in Botswana is that we changed trucks. The one we had been travelling in was apparently not allowed into Namibia and South Africa. All sorts of dubious reasons were given. The canvas windows were not regulation there, the trucks registration documents were not valid there. The truck was the wrong shade of yellow! However not only was the truck changed, but the tour leader and driver were also changed. Steve could be heard shouting and cheering all the way back in Kenya when the news was announced!

“Hey Sarah. It’s your turn to dig the hole”

Zimbabwe

Next up was Zimbabwe. A country with a relatively recent turbulent history and home to the World Famous Victoria Falls, and the whole “Doctor Livingstone I presume?” event.

We entered Zimbabwe by crossing the very impressive Kariba Dam, spanning The Zambezi River.

Welcome to Zimbabwe.

Our first stop was then only a couple of miles into into the country at Lake Kariba. A couple of house boats had been organised for a three day trip on the lake. It was an expensive optional add-on to the trip and we had thought hard as to whether we would do it or not. We were getting to the point where we needed some time on our own. We are so used to travelling independently and we were missing the flexibility. Our minds were quickly made up when we arrived at the dock area. We were naively expecting houseboats similar to the great ones we had seen in Kerala, in Southern India. The cost certainly implied they would be. Oh no, these were two old fibreglass ramshackle vessels, one of which could easily have been a converted fishing boat. This, added to the usual organisational incompetence of our leader, meant there were not enough bedrooms for everyone and we would have to sleep on deck. This made our decision very easy, and what a great decision it turned out to be.

We headed off to a nearby campsite and rented a ‘rustic’ bungalow overlooking the lake. Bed, shower, toilet, fridge, outside seating area and a restaurant on site. In this part of The World it doesn’t get much better, or so we thought.

About 20 metres in front of our bungalow was an electric fence. There was a detachable section at one point, enough to get a car through, and then there was about 100 metres of open bush to the lake. The campsite also had several signs saying ‘Beware of the Hippos and Crocodiles’. This could be an interesting stay we thought.

We had a superb meal on our first evening and sat on our little terrace afterwards as the sun set. Then all of a sudden, right there in front of us munching on the grass, was a hippo. We hadn’t even heard it approach. It slowly made its way across the campsite in front of us having its evening meal. A security guard turned up to tell us that as long as we didn’t get “too close” then we would be OK. There didn’t seem to be a specific distance for ‘too close’, it probably depends on how fast you can run to safety!

Our after dinner visitor

During our stay at the campsite we also had five Zebra, several Kudu and numerous other little animals including mongoose stroll by our bungalow.

We also followed two Sea Eagles as they flew from post to post and, as always, Steve went out running and saw four elephants and dozens of baboons.

However, the highlight of our Lake Kariba stop was when we asked the owner if we were allowed beyond the electric fence. His response was “Yes, but make sure to reconnect the electric fence, be back before dark” and, you guessed it, “Don’t get too close to any animals”.

We were deliberating going into the bush as we sat on our terrace one afternoon when Steve said “Look, there is an elephant”, and sure enough, coming out of the trees, just the other side of the fence was a big old elephant. It was followed shortly by another and another and another. In total nine elephants wandered past in line and in the middle were a couple of babies! Our decision was made.

Here come the elephants

We unhooked the electric fence, remembered to reconnect it, and strolled into the bush, making sure the family of elephants were a good distance ahead of us. At one point, two big juveniles, broke from the main group and wandered down to the lakeside for a drink. We watched the main group for about 30 minutes before they started to retrace their steps. At one point, we got a little too close but the big Matriarch soon let us know, standing up tall and sticking out her big ears. We beat a hasty retreat, back towards the electric fence, and waited for them to wander past.

“Don’t get too close, whatever that means”

However, they took a different route back and popped out of the trees only 15 metres or so in front of us. The electric fence suddenly looked very flimsy, as the Matriarch stopped, turned towards us, and once again stuck out her ears. In her excitement and in a little bit of a panic, Sarah tried to get a photo but ended up with her camera on the wrong setting and missed it. “Don’t worry”, said Steve “She will be so much bigger in our memory than in real life”.

That wasn’t the end of the Elephant Action. We had almost forgotten about the two juveniles when they suddenly appeared back in view and we were treated to a great display of ‘Play Fighting’. It looked pretty serious to us as they charged and headbutted each other for over 10 minutes.

The photo doesn’t do this ‘play fight’ justice.

When we returned back into the campsite the owner was there and he had been watching us. “You might have got a little too close there”. He said, “Those juveniles can come straight through that electric fence when they are fighting”. “At least we know what too close is now”, said Steve. The owner also showed us a video he had taken from a 4×4 a few days before, of a pride of lions chasing down and killing a buffalo. It had been taken less than a couple of miles away from where we were. “Maybe we should stay in the campsite from now on”, we both said.

We rejoined the truck after the houseboat stop and we had seen so much more action than the trip on the lake. However, we guess that was more about relaxing and seeing the lake from a different perspective. But we’re so glad we didn’t miss those elephants.

We made our way South across the centre of Zimbabwe and passed through the capital, Harare. Hyperinflation goes hand in hand with Zimbabwe and its history. It was at its worse in around 2008 when inflation was running at almost 100% per day. This means prices were doubling every 24 hours. It meant cash was effectively worthless and the government was printing huge denomination bank notes. 100 Trillion Dollars was the biggest note, that’s 1 followed by 14 zeros!!. Today the US Dollar is the main currency but Zimbabwean Dollars can and are still used but these huge denomination notes are no longer legal tender and just sold as souvenirs. The notes now are much more sensible with 100,000 being the biggest!!

We were in a supermarket one day and saw a man pushing a trolley. The part of the trolley fitted to carry a child was pushed open and rammed full and high with Zimbabwe currency. The guy was paying for just a few groceries with it.

We made our way on a long drive day and stopped over at The Great Zimbabwe Ruins. We went on a three hour tour with a local guide. As a guide he was really good and very enthusiastic but neither of us were that impressed with the ruins.

Walking around The GZR!

It is obviously very important in the history of Zimbabwe and the country takes its name from the town where it is located. But visually, for us, it ranks way down this list of global historical sites.

The view wasn’t too bad.

Our big loop around Zimbabwe continued on towards its second city of Bulawayo. This was to allow us access to Matobo National Park, and the hope of seeing some Rhino. Our guide for the day came with a big reputation and was built up to be some National Celebrity wildlife/ rhino ‘whisperer’

Even baby rhino’s are cute.

To be honest, we were a little disappointed. We did get to see a mother and baby rhino and we got pretty close for some decent photos, and that was a fabulous thing to see. But that was the extent of the wildlife we saw during the whole four hour trip.

Getting this close, would salvage any tour!

We did get to hear the guide tell us about the things he had done and how good he was. It’s a shame his exploits hadn’t been shared with his assistant who was a little lacking in knowledge and contradicted herself a few times. It was a strange tour but Steve enjoyed the ride through the park as the safari jeep had a spotter seat at the front which he got to sit in.

Steve in ‘The Box Seat’

Up until now the campsites in Africa had been way better than we had expected but, other than Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe brought us back down to earth, with either no facilities at all or super basic, pretty dirty facilities. As we drove out of Bulawayo our feelings about the country were mixed. It had been a fantastic start but for us things had dropped off significantly. We had heard big things about the country before we arrived but it wasn’t living up to its big ticket billing.

We had one more stop so we were hopeful things would turn around at Victoria Falls, ‘The Smoke That Thunders’. Would it be like the commercial over touristic Niagra Falls or would it be like Iguacu Falls, totally awesome?

The answer was, for us, that it was somewhere in between. The town of Victoria Falls was not hugely touristy. Yes, it had souvenir shops, restaurants, bars, and all the activities you would expect including bungy jumping, zip lining, helicopter rides, boat trips etc etc. But it wasn’t overbearing and the town and Falls were not jam packed full.

After a few days of rough camping we took the opportunity to rent a room in a villa in town, get cleaned up, and hopefully get some decent sleep. The villa was superb. It had four bedrooms, a huge living room and a pool. It also came with a maid, or domestic as they are referred to here, called ‘Happy’ and a security guard. Luckily for us, we were the only people staying, so we had the entire place to ourselves for little more than we have paid in the past to pitch a tent in the United States! The owner gave us a run down on the town and things to do, and cautioned us that if we were out after dark to make sure we got a taxi home as elephants roam the town at night. Sure enough in the mornings fresh elephant dung in the streets was evidence of the nocturnal visitors!

This was a real treat!

‘Happy’ was there to prepare food, cook, clean, wash and tidy up after us. We felt particularly uncomfortable with that so we did our own prep, cooking and tidying. And we took advantage of using the washing machine as our clothes were badly in need of a freshen up!

We spent a day at The Falls and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although it was The Dry season, The Falls were still very impressive, especially at the Zimbabwe end.

There was significantly less flow at the Zambia side though. Sarah took millions of photos and with it being Africa, Health and Safety was not so heavily enforced as it might be elsewhere, which gave Steve the opportunity for some close to the edge views.

Steve grabs a selfie with the Zambezi below!

Our other full day there was spent wandering the town and its outskirts. We found some amazing cafés to have a cold drink with unbelievable views.

A table with a view.

We also popped into the Victoria Falls Hotel for tea and cake. It’s a beautiful old, colonial hotel with impeccable service and reminded us very much of Raffles in Singapore.

Someone’s happy 😊

Steve managed to get in a couple runs, one of which was worthy of a mention. He ran out of town for about five miles to where the road ran out at a reserve area. He turned around to head back and became aware of a family of baboons on the side of the road. You never know which way baboons are going to react, they can be pretty temperamental, so he crossed to the other side of the road and ran past a bush straight into two warthogs. The startled warthogs sprang up and shot off into the bush, and the startled runner shot off back to the other side of the road, only to go straight towards a four metre long crocodile! It was facing away from him and luckily it was the other side of a two metre wide gully, which thankfully was quite deep. But it was still a lot closer than Steve wanted to be to all those teeth. The rest of the run back was a touch faster than he had planned it to be!

We had a great time in Victoria Falls and thoroughly enjoyed it. Did it rescue Zimbabwe for us? Probably yes, it did. But it seemed to us that there were several other places to visit in the country which may have been more to our liking. If we had visited those it may well have been a fantastic country. But that is a downside overland travel on a schedule.

“So then Sarah, where next?”

“Botswana. We’ve been looking forward to this one”

“Get out, it’s my turn”

“No way, I’m staying here until Cape Town”

Zambia.

Neither of us knew very much at all about Zambia. It is another huge country, not quite as large as Tanzania, but still three times the size of The UK. We had two planned stops in the country, one in the capital Lusaka, and our first stop in South Luangwa National Park.

Although we had seen only small numbers of wildlife since leaving Ngorongoro Crater, our time had been more than adequately filled with the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar and the beautiful people of Malawi. In fact, you should never really get bored travelling through Africa as there is always some scene being played out as you look out of the window. But now it was time to get back to some game viewing.

Getting ready for a game drive in Zambia.

In years to come, when we look back at our travels, we are sure that there will be certain places that will standout more than others. Places that we will remember for good reasons and bad. South Luangwa will very much be remembered for the good, it was exceptional.

We did a couple of game drives in the day time and an evening/night one as well. We saw so much and it was hard to take it all in, thank goodness for cameras.

There is an emense amount of wildlife in the continent of Africa, but people talk a lot about ‘The Big 5’, which are the Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Rhino and Leopard. They are so called because years ago they were considered the most dangerous and most difficult to hunt. Now, although hunting and poaching is still a big issue, most people ‘hunt’ The Big 5 for that fantastic photo.

Looking out for ‘The Big 5’.

From our experience, the Leopard is by far the most elusive. Solitary animals who spend most of the day hiding out in trees hidden from view. You have to be observant and lucky to see one. We had a brief glimpse of one from a distance of about 50 metres in The Serengeti but, up until now, that had been our total Leopard exposure. Hopefully South Luangwa would prove more rewarding.

We had arrived after dark. When we got up early for breakfast, before a game drive, the sun was just coming up and Steve wandered over to the edge of the river we had been camped next to and saw three elephants slowly crossing from one side to the other. We had a good feeling about this place.

Early morning in South Luangwa

One of the things we will remember about this particular National Park was how close we were able to get to the animals. As we bobbled about the dirt roads in our open 4×4 safari vehicles we had some great encounters. We had seen many hippo wallowing in the water back in Tanzania and also a few out of the water from a distance. But here in Zambia we drove around one corner and came face to face with a big, old hippo who had ventured out of the water right next to us to have a graze.

He was a big boy!

Then a family of three elephants just wandered across a road, only metres ahead of us. You never get tired of seeing baby elephants.

Cameras at the ready.

We drove along to different sections of the park with the driver and the guide always on the lookout, with our 8 pairs of eyes contributing to the scanning as well.

“Stop!!!”, came the shout from the back of the vehicle. The driver kept going “Stop, stop, stop”, came a much louder shout as Steve almost jumped forward and grabbed the handbrake. “I’m sure I’ve just seen a leopard in that tree”. Sceptically, the driver maneuvered the vehicle into the bush towards the tree Steve was pointing towards. “Whereabouts”, he asked. “It was about halfway up, laying on a branch”. The driver moved forward and there it was, coming into view almost directly above our heads, less than 10 metres away.

The leopard stood up on the branch, observed us for a few seconds, snarled a disapproving look at us, and then gracefully jumped down right next to us and trotted off into the bush and in a few strides it had disappeared from view.

The driver and guide couldn’t believe how Steve had seen it and how close we had got. Steve just sat back and said, “That’s my contribution to this entire trip. I’m done!”

Its the Leopard….not a big snake!

Our fantastic encounters in South Luangwa didn’t end there. The evening drive threw up its own amazing experience. We had been driving for about an hour with very little luck at spotting any animals. The sun was setting, the heat was starting to drift away from what had been a particularly scorching day. In the orange glow, and slightly cooler temperatures, South Luangwa started to take on a different feel. The slow lethargic feeling of the day was disappearing and being replaced by a feeling of impending action. It was a time to hunt.

The sun is going down, expectation builds.

We drove on deeper into The Park with still no signs of the big game, until we rounded a corner and there, lounging and sleeping in the road, was a pride of 13 lions! Several big females and their young of varying ages.

It was a fabulous sight. We parked where the guide said we were a safe distance away, which still seemed very close, and we sat back and watched them.

The cubs were easily the most active, play fighting with one another and annoying their mothers by clambering over them as they tried to sleep. One by one the four big females started to slowly move into action, rolling over, standing and stretching, and all the while keeping one eye or ear on us. They rounded up the cubs and maneuvered them into the long grass near to the side of the road.

Then they wandered away over the brow of a small hill. We drove a large circle around in the direction they were heading and found they had walked to a watering hole. They all lined up and crouched down to drink together. They stayed drinking for several minutes, preparing for a thirsty job ahead. One last check on the cubs and then they strolled off into the bush in search of dinner.

We had been with the lions for well over 30 minutes, during which we had virtually no conversation, we just stood up in the vehicle and watched. We probably will never get this close to this many lions, watching the cubs play and the adults prepare to hunt again, so we just soaked it up.

After South Luangwa we drove across Zambia towards the capital Lusaka. It was clear Zambia was still a relatively poor country but not as poor as Malawi. More cars on the road, more brick buildings, more roadside shops and stalls and when we arrived in Lusaka it was a much more modern city than either of us had expected and not the total chaos as had been the case in Dar Es Salaam. We stopped at a large, modern shopping mall which contained a big supermarket so that we could restock on much depleted provisions. The whole complex would not have been out of place in many European cities. We found a great coffee shop with an espresso machine and sat down with great coffee and cake for the first time in what seemed like an age.

Our campsite on the outskirts of Luangwa was also of a good standard and we treated ourselves to a cheeky upgrade and spent the night in a room, in a bed with a thick mattress and an ensuite toilet and a shower with hot water.

Zambia had been a total hit!

We wouldn’t want to forget Pumba!

Malawi.

We have visited a lot of countries, some of which have been fantastic, some have been not so fantastic. It’s all very subjective, what one person enjoys another can dislike enormously. For example, neither of us are fans of Portugal but we meet many, many people who love it. But in almost every country we have visited we have found something we have enjoyed. It could be an iconic building, a particular geological feature, a buzzing city, amazing wildlife or maybe some sort of thrill seeking adventure you had there. Malawi had non of these in comparison to other countries and yet both of us absolutely loved our time there. The reason? The people are just soooo friendly. Malawi is known as ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’, and having visited, we certainly wouldn’t dispute it.

Probably the friendliest people ever!

OK, we will admit getting through Border ‘Control’ was a slow and frustrating process. It was only after three hours we learned that providing the Immigration staff with a few ice cold Cokes would dramatically speed up the return of our passports. We didn’t figure that out on our own either. The Immigration staff actually told us that it would speed up the process!

Once clear of the border we never looked back as we crossed the Country to what seemed like a never ending line of smiling faces and waving hands. Malawi is a very poor country, even by African standards. We knew we would see more poverty on this trip than we have been witness to in the past. It had been evident as we had travelled through parts of Kenya and Tanzania. Villages comprised of buildings built from wood, mud, and straw. But in Malawi that was all it was. We didn’t visit the capital city Lilongwe, so we can’t comment on how modern or wealthy it is there. But we spent five days crossing the country, driving almost the full length of Lake Malawi before leaving at the border with Zambia and almost all we saw were small, basic villages.

Part of a typical village in Malawi. Where there is always a friendly wave and a smile.

We saw people, often children, walking several kilometres to collect water from the nearest well. Children were walking several kilometres to school and back. The most noticeable thing was that they always had a smile and a wave as we went past. As the truck approached villages, adults and children would run to the roadside to wave. In Africa there always seems to be someone on the side of the road walking, wherever you are, someone will be walking, this is especially so in Malawi.

Small children walk to school in Malawi

We camped for a couple of days in a small village on the shores of Lake Malawi. It was a regular stop for the truck and in the past it stopped there every couple of months or so. However, this was only the second time it had stopped since Covid-19.

Our campsite was on the shores of Lake Malawi.

We were invited on a tour around the village where we would visit several places including a birthing unit and the local school. It was done on a free basis with donations gratefully accepted. Tourism isn’t off the ground in Malawi, there are only faint glimpses of it along the lake, with most places having not reopened since the pandemic. They have bigger things to worry about here.

Even on an Overland trip in Africa, Steve was managing to get a bit of fitness done. Cycling was impossible as there were no bikes to hire, and swimming was all but impossible without taking unnecessary health risks. But you can run almost anywhere. He was out one evening on the tracks around the village when a young boy aged about 11 years old, in school uniform, started running alongside him. This happens quite regularly around the World but usually only lasts a few seconds, but the young boy kept running and running. Steve wasn’t hanging around, but the young boy just kept going. His name was Emmanuel and he was telling Steve how he had been playing football with his friends on the way home from school and he lived near the campsite. They ran together for well over a mile, Steve in his lycra, and Emmanuel in his school uniform. Bizarre!

The following day we did the village tour. It was both heart warming and sad at the same time. We went to the village well which had been funded by an EU charity and we spoke to locals. We visited the guide’s house which was so sparse and dark, but he was emensely proud of it. We visited the hospital/birthing unit where Florence Nightingale would have been at home with old, torn mattresses and really old and basic equipment. Malaria is a massive problem in Malawi and this is especially dangerous in infants which contributes to the high infant mortality rate.

Sarah with a new friend.

The final stop was the school. We walked into the grounds and were immediately surrounded by hundreds of children, all wanting to touch us and hold our hands. It was an unbelievable experience.

A great welcome at the village school.

Steve became aware of one child making a real effort to stay close to him and when he looked it was Emmanuel. “Hi Emmanuel, are you running home again this evening”, he said. Suddenly Emmanuel’s ‘Street Cred’ sky rocketed as he knew one of the visitors. He stuck tightly by Steve’s side for the whole visit.

We went into one of the classrooms with the school principal. There were 141 children in that one class that day. It was noisy but the children were so disciplined.

A pretty busy classrom

The village tour had been fantastic. It was not just a highlight of Malawi, or Africa, but a highlight of all our travels so far.

On the way back to the campsite Steve got talking to one of the older boys in the village who was football mad. He said his grandfather was the only person in the nearest three villages who had access to Premier League football. No running water or sewage system though. Priorities? He invited Steve to watch a game the following afternoon which was an opportunity he wasn’t going to turn down. He turned up the next day, a couple of minutes before kick off, and walked into the dark, crudely built one room home to find the most comfortable chair reserved for him at the front in a room which was packed full of the boy’s friends. These are the things that make travel amazing.

Another great experience happened while we were walking along the sandy shores of Lake Malawi and wandered past a cluster of houses effectively built from twigs and branches. The young girls and women were washing clothes and sheets in the lake and drying them in the sand. The girls were fascinated by our white skin and began giggling and then putting soap suds on their legs and arms to make themselves white. Steve went over and put soap suds on one of their faces and they burst into hysterical laughter. We then joined in, wringing out the sheets and clothes and putting them out to dry.

We could write for hours about our experiences in Malawi and its wonderful people. We had such a happy experience there and as we moved on to the border with Zambia it was definitely with a certain amount of sadness.

Tanzania.

Tanzania is a big country. At almost a million square kilometres, it is four times the size of The UK. As such, it is extremely varied and we were about to find out just how varied it is.

We crossed the land border from Kenya into Tanzania with relative ease, picked up a local SIM card, fended off a few of the hawkers, and headed to the town of Arusha.

Arusha is a busy, little town, mainly because it is the gateway to the Serengeti National Park, which is one of the most famous safari spots in Africa. It is huge and we planned to spend 3 days and 2 nights exploring the Park and the adjoining Ngorongoro Crater. Access to some areas of The Park were not practical in the big truck so we split into smaller 4×4 traditional safari jeeps for the trip.

Our transport in The Serengeti

It turned out to be 3 days of unbelievable game viewing. We were certainly thrown in at the deep end. From start to finish we had a fantastic time. There were animals everywhere.

Buffalo gather on the plains.

Zebra having fun.

To be honest we didn’t really know what to expect. We had done a safari before on one of the much smaller, private reserves in South Africa and we had seen a few animals there. At the time it had been a thrilling experience, but The Serengeti was on a whole different level. Herds of elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo roamed the plains. We saw a cheetah, a pride of a dozen lions, hippo and a few hyena, prowling around for scraps.

Never been a hyena fan since The Lion King

The time just flew by. Ten hours in the jeep was gone in a flash. At night we camped in the park, with strict instructions on how to listen and scan with a torch for eyes if we had to get up in the night for a pee.

Adjoining the vast plains of The Serengeti is another fabulous location, the 12 miles wide and 2000 feet deep caldera known as The Ngorongoro Crater. It has a strong water supply in the form of Lake Magadi and lush vegetation compared to the dry, arid plains of The Serengeti. Although the Serengeti was fantastic, Ngorongoro Crater was probably a little higher up the spectacular scale, if only for the scenery and the sheer numbers of animals.


Thousands and thousands of wildebeest, buffalo, impala and zebra were wandering along to the lake, keeping a careful eye out for the predatory lions in the long grass.
It was particularly scenic in the morning as the thick cloud cleared to reveal the blue sky and any remaining cloud rolled gently over the rim of the crater like a huge, long waterfall. It was easy to feel that you were in some sort of Wildlife documentary.

Pretty well disguised.

After being in The Crater for a few hours, it was obvious at some point a comfort break would be needed. There is a safe area in the Crater but when that isn’t in range and you have got to go it makes for a very careful and super observant time. Steve said he can now definitely relate a little to how the impala feel, being out there and very vulnerable, always on the look out.

We did make the ‘safe haven’ in The Crater and were surprised to find a guy parked up with an espresso machine and a selection of cakes in a trailer behind his 4×4. He also had a fold out table and 4 chairs. We took advantage drinking coffee and eating cake while watching hippos in the water.

Very civilised.

The Ngorongoro Crater would definitely make it into The Top 10 of places we have ever visited. This had been a great start and we hadn’t even been in Africa a week.

This guy is a biggie!

We now had a couple of long drive days, East across Northern Tanzania towards Mount Kilimanjaro. We weren’t going to be able to climb the mountain as that is a 5 day plus hike and we only had a couple of days there, so we would have to make do with the foothills.

We camped in the small village of Marangu, which is the starting point for one of the several routes up the mountain. Steve found us a guide from the village who, for a couple of pounds, would take us on a hike around the base of the mountain, through a couple of villages and to a waterfall. We were joined by an Aussie couple and we had a great day.

Our guide was getting on a bit, but he was still sprightly and obviously knew everyone in the area. As we walked through the heavily wooded area, we came across a group of villagers working to clear a pathway to create a road wide enough for vehicles to access. This was going to improve their ability to get supplies in and out of the village.

A few of the men were taking turns on a big two person saw, working their way through a tree blocking the way. Sarah was straight in there to take a turn and started sawing away, to much clapping from the locals.

Sarah lends a hand.

We were learning fast, that in Africa many things are run on a cooperative basis on big and small scales. On our walk we passed several immaculately kept allotments which the villagers worked to produce food for everyone and also to sell at local markets.

We eventually arrived at the waterfall, where, if the cloud had broken, we would have had a good view of the mountain. Unfortunately, it didn’t, so our chance of seeing snow in Africa melted away.

Walking on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro.

On the way back to Marangu we visited a couple of our guide’s friends. One had a small coffee plantation in his garden and he produced his own coffee beans. Coffee is obviously big business in Tanzania and we had been surprised by the standard and availability of coffee shops in Arusha. We thought it might be like Guatemala where 99% of the good stuff is exported and only the sludge is left behind to drink domestically.

We also visited a woman who had a small holding, keeping mainly goats. She used them as currency, trading goats with the local school for an education for her daughter. It is great travelling the world seeing all the famous sights and discovering some amazing not so famous places. But the interaction with local people and seeing their lives is equally if not more rewarding.

So we left Kilimanjaro behind. Perhaps it was there, perhaps not! We set off at 5am for what would be a huge 14 hour driving day South to the capital city of Dar es Salaam.

There was no getting away from it, no sugar coating it, and no pretending it was an alright day. It was hard going, baking hot, sometimes rough roads, slow traffic, smelly traffic, bad driving …. no, … terrible driving. Seeing overturned HGV trucks in a ditch by the side of the road was becoming a daily occurrence. Plus, all the time our progress was slowed by the ridiculous number of road blocks where Police Officer wanted to see relevant paperwork. The relevant paperwork was nearly always a note that had 5000 Schillings printed on it!

The road to Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam was a hell hole. We hit the city outskirts at 4pm and squeezed, bumped, and inched our way across the city until at 7pm when we rolled into our campsite, had a buffet evening meal, and headed off to bed. Sleep was impossible as deafening music blasted out until the early hours. What a day. But as they say here, many, many, many times a day T.I.A. This Is Africa!

The next morning we were once again up early, and although we were pretty tired it didn’t bother us as we were off to catch the ferry to The Spice Island of Zanzibar. Even the name itself sounds exotic.

This was effectively a four day break from the trip, where your time was your own. Almost everyone opted for Zanzibar, only one person stayed in Dar, why? I have no idea! Most people were heading to a company recommended hotel on the North of the island. Steve and Sarah headed East to the town of Paje as it seemed a better location to us.

The tour leader had organised the ferry tickets and, as with most other things up until now, he managed to mess that up as well. Once we docked in Zanzibar we were on our own and we were out, off the ferry, through the weird, chaotic Zanzibar immigration procedure, even though it’s still Tanzania, in a taxi and off to Paje before any of the rest of the group were out of their seats.

Pajè was fantastic with blinding white sand, ans the sea had a ridiculous number of shades of blue and green. The small town was rough around the edges but contained everything we needed and our little thatched cottage by the sea was perfect.

We really enjoyed Zanzibar

Steve managed to rent a fatbike for three days and explored the Southern part of the island. We spent a few hours walking along the seemingly endless, wide beach where there was always something going on. Kite surfing and full on 11 a side football matches were the most common. The food was good and the people were friendly. We loved it and could have stayed much longer. Although group overland travel has its advantages in certain parts of the world, it does have its draw backs and lack of flexibility is probably the biggest one. The lack of ability to stay longer in a place or move on earlier is something we do miss.

It’s hard to leave this behind.

After 3 nights in Pajè we moved across the island to its capital Stone Town for a night. We were surprised by Stone Town and it had more to offer than we had anticipated. A big, old Moor built fort, a myriad of alleyways to explore, and of course it has a strong connection to Queen singer Freddy Mercury, who grew up here. His house has been converted to a small museum and we made the almost obligatory visit.

Our time in Zanzibar was over way to quickly. We met back up with everyone to catch the ferry back to Dar and, you guessed it, the Tour Leader had messed up the tickets, this time so much so that it was a last second dash to get on board.

The truck was waiting for us at the port and with several people leaving after Zanzibar, we were now down to 14 passengers. With the seating situation and a few other things sorted out, hopefully a more comfortable trip lay ahead as we rolled on to the border with Malawi.