Southern Africa Diary - georgeandreou.net

...images from around the world

15 April - 19 May 2002

My flight to Cape Town was delayed so they put me up in a luxury hotel in Johannesburg, where I had my first bath for four months. The next day, the Cape Town flight was delayed by four hours due to fog. When I eventually arrived, I took a shuttle to the Zebra Crossing hostel (90 Rand), a small, cosy friendly place centrally located near Long Street A four bed dorm was 50 Rand per night).

That afternoon I went to the South African Museum, an old fashioned museum most notable for its section on the native people, the giant whale skeletons, and the hundreds of stuffed animals. I didn't feel comfortable in Cape Town, I felt like I had to always be looking over my shoulder. It was even worse as I had just come from Australia, one of the safest countries on the world (the cities at least). I wanted to walk to Signal Hill for sunset but I was advised not to walk alone after dark. Most shops have a locked gate and you have to ring a bell to get in, houses and shops have 'Armed Response' signs on the front. It's a shame because Cape Town is a beautiful city - the beaches, the parks, the mountain in the middle of the city. There was so much to do here and not enough time.

Over the next couple of days I went up Table Mountain and Robben Island. The view from the mountain was excellent, I was lucky as the sky was perfectly clear that day.

On my last day I had planned to do a day trip to Cape Point, but that was cancelled at the last minute because I was the only one. It turned out well because I was then able to go to the places I thought I'd have to miss - the excellent Cultural History Museum (at the former slave lodge), the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (even nicer than the one in Sydney) and the scenic Camps Bay beach. (I won't forget the guy there selling toe rings: 'it's toe time at the beach, the year is toe thousand and toe...') The water was too cold to swim in, but you won't want to swim as you'll be staring at the mountains in awe for most of the time. An excellent day.

I had booked the overland trip to Victoria Falls with Umkulu, based in Cape Town, a few weeks earlier. It was excellent value - 4,000 Rand (about 330 USD) plus 100 USD for the food kitty for a three week trip. There were 21 people on the truck. I was a bit worried about spending three weeks with the same people but it turned out to be one of the best experiences of the whole trip and the three weeks went so quickly.

We travelled quickly up through South Africa, then Namibia, Botswana and Zambia. I loved the whole truck experience; camping out (I slept outside most nights as I hate tents, and in Etosha, I woke one night to see jackals running around me), dinner and drinks around a campfire, driving through deserts and remote African towns, admiring the views from the roof of the truck. We saw many amazing places. Fish River Canyon, the red dunes of the Namib desert at Sossusvlei, Etosha national park, Chobe national park, Victoria Falls. Then there were the activities. I went skydiving and quadbiking in Namibia, sunset game cruises on the Chobe river, white water rafting on the Zambezi (the water was high so it wasn't as exciting as we had hoped). The food was excellent and the guides were both knowledgeable and funny. I should point out the difference between this tour and those in Australia. In Australia, the guides take their job more seriously, they even wear shirts bearing the name of the company. In Africa there was much more of a drinking culture. I though we were loud but our guides said we were a quiet bunch. As well as cooking and washing up teams, there was also a bar team whose job it was to ensure there was a constant supply of booze on the truck. That's not a negative point. The only negative point, which puts a lot of people off overlanding, is the fact that you are taken through the countries like a dog on a leash. I didn't know much about where I was or even where I was sometimes. There wasn't much chance to explore towns and villages, which was one of the best things about my trip to east Africa the year before. But apart from that, I loved it.

On 9 May we arrived at Victoria Falls on the Zambian side (the truck would normally have gone to the Zimbabwe side, but due the situation in Zimbabwe at the time, there was a change to the schedule). Most people took the transfer back down to Cape Town or Pretoria. I went to Livingstone, in two minds whether I should stay in Zambia or go to Zimbabwe. I finally decided on Zimbabwe and I'm glad I did. I felt safer there than in Livingstone and the people were so friendly. There were hardly any tourists there, which is a shame because it's such a beautiful country. There are officially 55 Zimbabwe dollars to 1 USD but at the black market rate I was getting up to 350. But things aren't as cheap as this difference implies; at the official rate prices are extortionate. For example, a bottle of shampoo cost Zim$550. At the official rate that would be US$10!

I originally planned to spend three weeks in Zimbabwe but, because of money problems (lost ATM card and cancelled credit card because someone had the number and tried to use it for a $1,200 transaction in Venezuela), and the fact that I didn't want to push my luck, I only spent a week in Zimbabwe, but I made the most out of it. I spent two days at Vic Falls (the view from the Cataract viewpoint was excellent, it's further from the main falls so the spray doesn't get in the way so much as it did at the Zambian side) then three days at Hwange national park, which was a bit of a let down - no lions, just lots of mopane trees. Then to Bulawayo. I stayed at the Berkley Palace Hotel, which was a bargain at Zim$1,000 including breakfast. From here I booked a day trip to Matopos for US$30.

Matopos is a beautiful park. On the game drive here, the guide let us get out the vehicle and we walked to within 20m of four white rhinos. It was an amazing feeling to be so close. One of them was ready to charge us. From Bulawayo I caught the luxury Blue Arrow bus to Gweru (Zim$1490) for the Antelope Park.

I hadn't heard about this place till I got to Vic Falls, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of my whole trip. I got to feed 4 and 5 week old lion cubs, which had always been a dream of mine, and went walking with four 9 and 18 month old 'cubs'. That was awesome, but scary. They're playful, just like domestic cats, but just a bit bigger and stronger. It costs US$20 for the first lion walk, $10 for any others, $15 for entry and a single room. Meals were about $4 and were excellent. I can't recommend the place enough. In total it cost me about US$80. I also did a horseback safari there (you can get pretty close to antelope and giraffes). Spending my last day walking with my favourite animals was the perfect way to end my 24 weeks on the road.

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