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Lake Nakuru: One final game drive

I have a secret to tell. Something that fills me with immense shame. Here it goes.

By the time we reached Kenya, I was kind of over safaris.

It feels good to finally get that out there. Those of you who’ve been with me from the beginning might remember a certain starry eyed overlander who said she would never tire of seeing elephants up close. I stand by that, because even in Kenya every elephant forced me to have to pause and catch my breath. I guess what I’m saying is I just didn’t have the same level of excitement about going our all day game drive around Lake Nakuru as I did way back in Etosha. I’d been spoilt, plain and simple!

Lake Nakuru National Park is famous for its flamingos, and although my friends back home will smile knowingly upon reading that. However, I’ve somehow managed to log 7 months of travels without alluding to my flamingo obsession. This particular game drive drive also happened to be our last real wildlife spotting opportunity of the trip. So with the promise of vast quantities if flamingos, and a leopard sighting still eluding me, I joined the others in the wee hours of the morning and headed off on our very last game drive.

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Lake Nakuru had experienced some big floods in the lead up to our visit, so a lot of areas were off limits. One of the entrance gates was still actually underwater! But it’s a beautiful park, and well worth a visit no matter how jaded an animal enthusiast you’ve become.

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We didn’t see a leopard, and the flamingos, though plentiful, turned out to be tiny blips on the horizon of my zoom lens. But what we did see was spectacular.

We saw lions, with all their exuding power and pride.

We saw rhino in numbers far greater than we’d been blessed to see this whole trip.

We saw not one, not two, but an entire pack of hyenas. We saw baboons harassing unsuspecting tourists whilst they tried to picnic. We saw some truly unique bird life (we’re all birders these days). We even saw two giraffes, duking it out, crashing their necks together in violent dance. Who needs a leopard when you’ve been lucky enough to see all that?

 

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Kenya dig it?

See what I did there? Eh? Eh?

Crossing the border into Kenya, I had the very really feeling that this would be our last taste of the Africa I’d so fallen in love with. Ethiopia and Sudan would be unlike anywhere we’d been so far, and I felt the desperate need to latch onto and savour this crazy, colourful, chaos that had become my home.

In the lead up to our time in Kenya there were numerous bombings in Nairobi. Suffice it to say there were a few nervous overlanding parents scattered across the globe. The reality of the mood in Kenya, however, was starkly different to the western media’s portrayal. Beyond the odd metal detector and car boot check as we made our way into shopping centres, there was very little to give away what the city had been going through.

I must admit, I was immediately divided in my opinions of Kenya and whether it would have a lasting place in my heart. I struggled with the blatant wealth divide, which was more obvious here than anywhere else on our trip. Later on in our Kenyan travels we would enjoy a $45 meal right across the highway from the largest slum in Africa and that divide would really hit home.

Kenya’s general affluence means that it’s not a cheap place to travel. It is a playground for wealthy tourists, boasting some of Africa’s premium safari offerings – I’m talking glamping on crack, none of this overlanding business. It lacks, I think, some of the make-do charm of its neighbouring countries. The upside, however, is that there is no shortage of things to do and see. There’s a tonne of fun to be had and I could easily have doubled my time in Kenya without managing to cross off everything on my wish list.

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Photo by my dear friend Sonja Haeni

 

Our first campsite may have been one of my all time favourites, had it not been the mosquito camp from hell. It was a sweet little spot called Dunga Hill. The aforementioned hill overlooked Lake Victoria, and was topped with a grand old tree decorated in fairy lights. The perfect spot to take in sunset beers and the Football World Cup. Sadly, it was in fact the mosquito camp from hell, so one beer was enough before I scurried to the relative safety of my tent. A lovely, if somewhat itchy start to our Kenyan adventures.

We were warned that it was quite common for hippos to venture into the campsite at night, something which had Lottie and me a little nervous given our last hippo encounter in Botswana (also known as ‘That time we got charged by a hippo and somehow lived to tell the tale’). Fortunately, this overlander had lost any sense of propriety ages ago and had her undies strung up all over the campsite. If that wasn’t going to scare hippos away, nothing would!

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Rwanda: Mountain Gorillas and memorials

It was not lost on me that anyone I met in Rwanda from about the age of 20 onwards had experienced and survived one of the most unspeakably dark events of the 20th century. Was the man driving my taxi a Hutu or a Tutsi? What was his story? Did he lose loved ones? Did he still think about it each day? What did he see? Did he himself kill anyone? It was impossible not to wonder.

After two days caged in the back of the truck from 5am through until well after dark, finally crossing the border and pulling into our Rwandan campsite was a moment of pure elation. Though possibly not for our poor cook group who had to pull dinner together at 9pm in the freezing cold rain.

Entering Rwanda that morning instantly brought back memories of our early days in Guinea – the people were just so friendly. They could not have made us feel more at home. The big beaming smiles and waving arms were in stark contrast to the welcome I’d expected, given Rwanda’s history.

Making friends and as always, drawing a crowd

We arrived at our campsite at 9pm at night and had our Gorilla trek booked for the crack of dawn the very next morning. We were cutting it a little fine, but we made it. Malaria cases and emergency crew changes be damned!

The gorillas were something we’d been talking about since day one, so we’d had a good six months to build up the experience in our imaginations. Turns out they were every bit as incredible as we’d hoped. We trekked for about two hours to reach Amohoro, our gorilla family, named after the Rwandan word for ‘peace’.

The trek itself was no easy feat. We walked about two hours each way in the intermittent rain, the whole time either ankle deep in mud or pushing our way through stinging nettles. The gorillas are tracked all day every day, so our guide knew exactly where to take us, and before long it was time to leave the trail and head down the mountain. That meant another half hour of trying to balance from tree root to tree root like the graceful gazelles we are not, trying desperately not to slip and break an ankle.

There are few things in this world worth braving stinging nettles for, but seeing an entire family of Mountain Gorillas is definitely one of them! We had 45 precious minutes to sit, observe, and try to pick our jaws back up off the floor, as we watched these beautiful creatures go about their day to day business. We saw a baby tumble turning, up and down the mountain, crawling all over her elders before eventually having a nap on a mate’s belly. We watched as the big silverback, more powerful in person than I could ever capture in my photos, stirred from his sleep and took his place in the middle of the family. We even got a romantic display of…ahem…affection from one of the silverbacks and his lady friend who didn’t seem to mind an audience. Every single moment was incredible.

I left the Amahoro family on a high, breathing a quick sigh of relief that my $900 had been well spent.

Our time in Rwanada was shortlived and after the gorillas we had just one more night before we headed to Rwanda. We headed into town for a long night and morning of dancing in a local club, we discovered a little cafe with real coffee and the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted in my life, and we browsed the local markets delighted to find rosemary among the otherwise standard assortment of African fruit and vegetables. Africa is yet to really truly embrace the herb in its cooking repertoire, so you can understand why a little sprig of rosemary would cause a cook group so much joy.

Our final stop before heading to the border, was the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. A place to learn, to try and understand, and to remember what happened in 1994. What I find truly remarkable about Rwanda is that Rwandans as a whole have not allowed themselves to become victims of their past. Whether it’s in spite of or because of the genocide, Rwanda seemed to me to be a country that doesn’t want to forget, and yet refuses to have their future defined by the past. A country of one people, one nation.

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The Curse of the Tran Africa: a lesson in anti-malarials

When your driver gets recurring malaria driving down West Africa, you think that’s pretty unlucky.

When your TL gets Typhoid with a side of malaria, you think that’s getting really unlucky.

But by the time your East Coast driver gets malaria, it’s almost getting comically unlucky. Though I’m sure poor Nick could thing of a few other choice words to describe the experience.

And so it was, with our third crew victim down and out, that the curse of the Trans Africa 2014 became legend.

We left Snake Park for the Rwandan border like a bus load of excited school kids. And with good reason too, we were off to see the Mountain Gorillas! We only got as far as the Shoprite in Arusha, however, when it became pretty clear that Nick needed to get to a doctor ASAP. He’d been unwell our entire time in Arusha, but had twice been cleared of malaria and had put it down to a bad flu.

Third time tests must be the charm though because this time, not only did he test positive for malaria, but his counts were so high he was told he might not have made it one more day without treatment.

We managed to pin the time of infection down to the dress up party in Lake Malawi, where Nick was coerced into sporting this little number:

Great for showing off those pins. Not so great for mosquito protection.

Great for showing off those pins. Not so great for mosquito protection.

A lot of overlanding crew living in Africa choose not to take anti-malarials because long term use isn’t exactly good for liver and kidneys. But then again, Nick doesn’t exactly walk around dressed like a tramp every night either.

Now being unexpectedly stranded in strange places for days is just a regular part of the Trans, and at any other time we would have welcome the extended visit to Shoprite and free wifi at the ice cream store, but on this particular occasion we had mountain gorillas to see and we only had a few days to get there!

Overlanding family to the rescue! While oasis flew emergency driver Gareth in from Uganda, Acacia Africa lent us one of their own to see us back to Snake Park safely.

With a whole day of travelling lost, we spent two straight days trapped in the back of the truck trying to cover as many miles as possible. We’d wake up well before sunrise, and set up camp well after dark. But we made it!

Poor Gareth. Not only was he thrusted into leadership of our group of riff-raff who’d already been travelling around Africa for over six months, far longer than any of his east coast tour groups. He also copped a never ending barrage of pre-emptive malaria jokes for the two weeks that followed. So imagine how bad we felt when we got word just after he left us that he too was a victim of the Big M. Crew member number 4.

The Trans Africa 2014 curse. Turns out, it’s a thing.

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Arusha: Riding in buses with goats

When you’re standing on the bus, feet straddled either side of a stranger’s knee, your bag of groceries in the care of a Mama Africa you’ve never met so that your hands are free to hang on for dear life, stooped over with no choice but to your head resting on your neighbour’s shoulder, a rogue elbow resting on your own shoulder because personal space schmersonal space, the back of your neck thumping against the roof of the bus with each speed bump (and believe me there are many), and the flustered cluck of a chicken from the seat below you. This my friends, is when you know you’re in Africa.

And such was my daily experience in Arusha.

Arusha is one of Tanzania’s main hubs, where thousands of tourists converge to tackle Mt Kilimanjaro or to try their luck at game spotting in the Serengeti. Having opted to do neither of the two, I found myself with 5 nights to kill here.

We stayed at a campsite called Snake Park, another time-honoured tradition on the African overlanding circuit, and for good reason. Snake Park supports a life saving snake bite clinic which provides free medical care to approximately 1000 Tanzanians a month. Proceeds from the bar go directly to the clinic, so getting drunk here almost feel honourable. Any wonder all the overlanders make themselves at home here!

Being about 20 minutes out of town, I got very well acquainted with the local bus system. The easiest way to get to Arusha from Snake Park is by Dala Dala, essentially a beat up mini bus decorated in either rapper, football teams, or bible quotes. They’re cheap, they’re easy to figure out, and as a tourist you’re a guaranteed novelty so the locals are generally eager to help you out with directions and stops. Sure you might have to share the back seat with a farm animal, but it’s either that or pay $30USD to catch a taxi (I’ll take a goat over that any day)!

Driver Nick tasked us with trying to use up as much of the truck’s food stores as possible during our time at Snake Park, so we decided a party was in order. A surprise, children’s birthday themed, farewell/congratulations party to be exact. We were saying goodbye to Lottie and Carolyn who finished their journey with us in Arusha, as well as celebrating Carolyn and Helen’s mammoth feat of making it all the way to the top of Mt Kili without dying. If they didn’t deserve to eat all our truck reserves of powdered hummus and sweet onion pickle then who did?

We went into full party planning mode and every day was spent busing backwards and forwards into Arusha tracking down party food and decorations. We made streamers, donned party hats, and we even managed to make a cheesecake! I should probably be ashamed to admit that we spent approximately $25USD on cheese so we could have cheese and pineapple sticks, but I’m not. Those cheese and pineapple sticks were good.

The party was a hit, and despite a few bittersweet tears the girls were absolutely stoked. Not as stoked as Nick, the winner of pass-the-parcel, who now had a Mills and Boon to keep them company at night.

As for me, I was just looking forward to riding goat free in the back of the truck again.

 

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Oh Zanzibar, way to steal a girl’s heart

 

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A warm coastal breeze, crystal clear water, and palm fringed beaches. There’s nothing quite like it to inspire a girl to switch off and pretend she’s not an overlander for a few days.

After living on our truck for six whole months, I could think of no more perfect way to escape than lying by the pool, strolling down the beach, and sipping cocktails by sunset each night. It’s not that I didn’t love the truck. I did. It’s just that sometimes you need a real holiday.

Zanzibar was our holiday.

We’d been talking about it since just about day one, how excited we all were, and it didn’t disappoint.

We spent our first three nights at a quiet beach resort in Nungwi, a little beachside village at the northernmost part of the island.

Once we’d been handed our room keys there was nothing else for it but to kick back and relax. We had three nights here and I became quickly proficient in the art of doing absolutely nothing. Floating between the pool, the cocktail bar, my bed, and the beach. It was perfect.

Our final night in Nungwi also happened to coincide with our 200th night of the trip. 200! Can you believe that? It only felt like yesterday that we were celebrating day 100 at the Presbytarian Mission in Cameroon with cold showers and a rather endearingly misshapen campfire cake. How far we’ve come! I have no idea where the time went, but in spite of my concern at such a massive amount of lost time, it was an awesome excuse to get dolled up, leave the comforts of the resort, and head out for dinner with my truck family.

After three nights of pure bliss, we begrudgingly packed our bags and boarded a mini bus back to Stone Town, stopping along the way to do a spice tour. The spice tour was unexpectedly awesome. We learnt about all kinds off spices and tried all sorts of things that I wouldn’t have even though edible. Towards the end one of the local guides showed off his climbing prowess, scaling an entire coconut tree barefoot to retrieve fresh coconuts for us to drink. I was far too anxious about how high we was to truly appreciate the skill involved, but looking back at the pictures…what a DUDE!

Stone Town, with it’s winding alleyways, brought back memories of Morocco. I went for walk hoping to find some tacky souvenir stores and ended up spending an entire afternoon getting lost and navigating my way back to the hotel. That one orienteering class at Uni really paid off! As it turns out I didn’t get anywhere near the souvenir store side of town, but I saw the women nursing babies and playing games with chalk on the stone pavements outside their houses, the men coming and going from hidden away mosques, and the children playing with discarded VHS tape. I felt like I saw the real Stone Town rather than the quaint white washed buildings they chuck up for us tourists, and I loved that.

It wasn’t an easy place to part with. After all, Zanzibar is paradise. But we had safaris and gorillas and all manner of things to look forward to in the coming weeks, and so we took off the bikinis, put our overlanding pants back on, and headed back to the truck with fresh sun tans and a renewed zest. I have a feeling it won’t be my last trip to Zanzibar.

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Welcome to Tanzania! Don’t mind if we rob you first?

In my opinion, nothing says welcome to the country quite so much as a merry band of black market money changers robbing the living day lights out of you and your friends on the border. So as far as welcomes go, I’d say Tanzania’s was tip-top.

I wanted to fall in love with Tanzania immediately, not in the least because two of my favourite west coast passengers hailed from the country, but also because it’s home to Zanzibar, the Serengeti, Mt Kilimanjaro, and all manner of other fun sounding places. Sadly, it was not to be (don’t worry though because things do get better in the next blog instalment).

Driver Nick had warned us prior to the border crossing not to change money on the border because the black market changers there were, and I quote, “dodgy bastards.” We took that with a grain of salt figuring that all money changers are generally dodgy bastards but if you make sure to count everything twice you’re generally okay.

Looking back, I cannot emphasise enough just how high on the Dodgy Bastard Scale the Malawi-Tanzania border money changers really are.

I got off lightly, only losing the equivalent of about $8 when my money changer ran off with my cash. But not before wrestling a much larger sum of my money out his hands. Wanker.

Darren actually came out better than he started when he decided to chase his guy. The money changer had run off with all of Darren’s money. Darren found him hiding behind a bush, crash-tackled the poor unsuspecting crook into said bush, and snatched his euros back, incidentally grabbing more money in the process. He had accidentally come back wearing the money changer’s flip flops (both blue, they’d gotten mixed up mid-fisticuffs), and he was covered in scratches from the bush, but he was pretty smug in the end having just acquired the world’s best exchange rate.

Dennis, at the sprightly young age of 68, also came back covered in scratches after chasing his money changer down the street.

Em was the worst hit though, quite literally losing hundreds of dollars. She’d been changing not only her money, but also food money from our local payment while Driver Nick was sorting out the truck in customs.

The moral of this story, though I’m loathe to admit it, is that sometimes (i.e. most of the tim) your TL tends to be right.

And so, if ever you find yourself at the border from Malawi to Tanzania, slightly bored because let’s face it, African immigration processes tend to be more than tedious, don’t change money. Unless you are prepared to crash tackle a man into a bush and then wear a strange man’s flip flops for the remainder of your journey, just wait until you find a Forex.

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Malawi: woodcarving master by day, stripper Jane by night

Beautiful Malawi. Sandy beaches, blue waters, hammocks swaying in the breeze. What’s not to love? Although just a quick trip, Malawi fast became one of my favourite stops on the Trans African trail. I’m sure I bandy the phrase, “one of my favourites,” around a lot on this blog. I keep finding new places to fall in love with. But Malawi is special.

We started our stretch of R&R at Kande Beach, a gorgeous little place right on the beaches of Lake Malawi. There were hammocks aplenty to while away the days on, a volleyball net, a bar, and a pool table. It was heaven! Unfortunately I spent the whole of the first day and one full day hugging a toilet bowl and heaving my guts up, so although I could appreciate the beauty of Kande Bach, I never really got to enjoy it.

Luckily for me, we had round two at Chitimba. Chitimba is another beach side campsite on Lake Malawi and a bit of an institution on the overland circuit if the number of other overlanding trucks were anything to go by.

We’d been eagerly awaiting Chitimba ever since the promise of a spit roasted pig was thrown out there. we had amends to make with the universe following the rather slow and untimely death of our Christmas pig Nelson at the hands of a local in Sierra Leone, so we were eager for another go.

Earlier in the week we’d picked names out of a hat and were tasked with finding a suitably atrocious dress-up costume for them. After all, one cannot simply wear shorts and a singlet to pig on a spit night! There’s a massive market on the road to Chitimba where a little known tradition has grown between the stall holders and overlanders. As soon as they spotted us ambling towards the markets, they gathered entire garbage bags full of the most ridiculous clothes imaginable. I wish I had the words to truly depict the level of ridiculousness, but I don’t. A mish mash of thrift store goodies chopped, and changed, and sewn together to create dress jumpsuits that only the creator’s mother could love. They were amazing, in that so ugly it’s beautiful kind of way.

The dress-up and spit roast party was a smashing success. Though I must say I had a momentary heart attack (bordering on tantrum) when I discovered my costume was stripper Jane from Tarzan themed and didn’t even cover my nipples! Wonderful what an added singlet and a lot of beer will fix, isn’t it?

You would think that being based on the beach would leave me with little else to do but sunbake and swim, but you’d be wrong.

I signed up for what I thought would be a leisurely wood carving lessons. You know, a couple of hours hanging out with one of the local wood carvers, watching him make a bowl, and chipping in with the occasional chiseling and sanding, or so I thought. Wrong! What I actually signed up for was two full days sweating my arse off in the back of a wood carving store, turning a non-descript lump of wood into what can only be described as a masterpiece. A masterpiece I tells you! It was one of the highlights of my entire trip. My teacher and artistic mentor, know as Fantastic Steve, showed me what to do and then gave me the reigns throughout the entire process, stepping in to rescue me of course when it look as though my arms where about to fall off. I have a bowl now. A slightly lopsided bowl with a questionable attempt at the Big 5, the rhino for example is missing a leg and it’s simpy a matter of opinion as to which is the water buffalo, but I made it, I made every bit of it and I love it!

Between my wood carving master lessons and dress up parties, I barely had a spare moment in Malawi and so I only have a precious few photos. But my memories of Chitimba will forever be among my favourite on this entire African adventure.

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Zimbabwe Pt 2: Antelope Park to Chimanimani

Indulge me with another long Zimbabwe post. You see, Zimbabwe quickly and rather unexpectedly became one of my favourite countries on this Trans African adventure. There is just so much to do.

Antelope Park is one of the more famous of those things, drawing tourists and volunteers from around the globe who want the chance to get cosy with lions. It’s easy, and I mean really easy, to be sceptical of Antelope Park. Ishi had warned us that it’s akin to Disneyland for lions, and to be fair that’s exactly what it is. But she also implored us to look at the bigger picture: that all of the money being made from these warm and fuzzy lion encounter experiences goes towards trying to create a sustainable framework for breeding and introducing lions into the wild.

There a number of steps required to achieve this, and some of the lions at Antelope Park, namely the ones who’ve had a lot of human interaction, will never be released into the wild. But it is the cubs of these lions, the ones who are born and raised and kill without human interference, which hopefully will one day prove the success of the program.

At the end of the day, when all the tourists go home, will this program actually work? Who knows, but at least they are trying.

I went in to Antelope Park thinking I wouldn’t buy into all of the activities on offer. After all, it’s a little cheesy doing an organised lion walk when you can see actual wild lions, in the wild, doing what wild lions do. Right? But then I watched the promotional video and was practically throwing my money at them.

I have cash! I have credit! You take credit? Have all of it! Just lemme see the lions!

I’m a bit of a sucker for good marketing.

Jessica’s Ultimate Tourist Experience started with what was supposed to be an idyllic horse ride through the game park, where we could see all manner of game up close and personal without startling the poor creatures with a car engine. When I say close, I mean close! I could almost have reached out and touched the giraffe as we trundled right through the middle of them. If my horse hadn’t been a slightly unpredictable ex-race horse, I might have taken my hands off the reigns to take a couple of photos. But he was a slightly unpredictable ex-race horse, so it was all I could do to stay on.

Next, and by far my favourite activity, was to accompany some researchers out on one of their daily observation rounds. We drove out to spend a couple of hours watching one family of lions. The adults in this family were hand reared in Antelope Park, but the cubs were all essentially wild lions – the only human interaction they know is that of the research cars watching from a distance. These are the cubs, it is hoped, that will one day be released into the wild. It’s actually a shock, when you see lions up close, just how big they are. Their presence is immense and it’s easy to see how they got the “King of the Jungle” title, or savannah as the title probably should go. We were lucky enough to witness Milo, the big kahuna, standing off with his son over a zebra carcass. The inter-personal relationships and power plays going on in that one family were fascinating and we drew the experience out as long as possible before we lost light.

I signed up for a night walk, where we took some of the younger lions out at night to observe them as they learn to hunt. It was fascinating watching the way their ears prick up to sounds that you or I wouldn’t even hear, and seeing them stalk through the grass before finally making a run at whatever small antelope they had spotted.

My final activity was unashamedly gimmicky – the lion feeding. They place a delightfully scented animal corpse about a metre away from a fence, ferry the camera-ready tourists behind said fence, and then let the lions run at it. Levels of gimmickyness aside, there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for how loud and ferocious the roar of a lion protecting his catch is. It was brilliant!

By the time we finished at Antelope Park I was in desperate need of a break. Zimbabwe had been full on. Chimanimani could not have come at a more perfect time. Tucked away in the mountains and well off the tourist trail, it was just beautiful. We stayed in the Heaven Lodge, a cosy ramshackle house, that I could not recommend more! There was a lawn, perfect for spreading a blanket out and reading on, a fireplace to warm our weary souls in the evening, and a freshly baked homemade chocolate cake for sale every single morning. I loved it here.

With the exception of a day long hike into the Chimanimani Mountains (beautiful, but bloody hard work) I did very little here but read, write, and recuperate. I was loathe to leave once our three nights were up, but I know if I’m ever back in Zimbabwe I will be straight back to this little mountain paradise.

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Zimbabwe: Vic Falls to Bulawayo

Just when you thought I’d exhausted Africa of tall things to jump off I found myself at Victoria Falls, home of the famous 111m bungee jump. In recent years the jump has become more infamous than anything after the rope snapped mid-jump, leaving one poor lady having to swim for safety in the raging waters below.

I’ve always wanted to bungee jump, not because I thought I’d enjoy it. On the contrary, I knew I’d hate every terrifying second. I just wanted to know how it feels.

We’d arrived at Vic Falls mid-afternoon, after a border crossing that was more reminiscent of our West African days than of the smooth efficiency of southern Africa. Three hours of queuing in the sun for no apparent reason. So many kinds of fun.

Our Vic Falls fixer briefed us on all the things we could do (read: spend exorbitant amounts of money on) at Vic Falls and I asked to sign up for the bungee first thing in the morning. I made an off-hand joke about how I’d do it that very minute if it meant I didn’t have all night to panic, and before I knew what was happening she’d called a car and we were being whisked away to the Victoria Falls Bridge in a race to get there before closing time. I somehow managed to convince Nick and Stanley to jump with me, and it all happened so quickly I didn’t have a chance to talk myself out of it. One minute I was sitting at the hostel bar enjoying a beer and watching a marketing video. The next I was standing at the edge of the Victoria Falls Bridge, shaking, with my legs bound, and just praying that I was correctly attached to a rope of some kind.

The guys that worked there had to actually pry my hands from the railings, but I was determined not to hesitate. So when they shouted the countdown: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1. BUNGEE.” I bungeed.

Those few seconds plummeting towards the Zambezi River were the most gut wrenching of my life. I will surely never put myself through it again. But I did it, and I survived!

Visiting the falls is an experience in itself. They don’t call it “the smoke that thunders” for nothing. It’s as though you are walking through a rain storm. I might as well have been swimming, I was that soaked! The falls are 1.7 km wide and there is so much power in them. I was one part in awe, and one part thankful I’d packed my water proof stuff sack!

Once we’d sufficiently emptied our bank accounts on all the adrenaline activites Vic Falls had to offer, we headed to Bulawayo where I opted to do a rhino tracking day. Norm and Andy, our two guides, are probably unique as far as rhino conservationists go in that their background is as hunters. Despite this, they are passionate about educating people on the issue of rhino poaching.

The first activity of the day was the rhino walk itself. We drove into the scrub and hopped out to do the rest on foot. Andy seemed disappointed that we found our first rhino so easily, but we certainly weren’t. He was beautiful! We stood all of 10 or 15 metres away from the gentle giant. In the back of our minds there was the niggling thought that one charge and it would all be over, but the rhino seemed completely unfazed by us and kept eating until he decided he’d given enough of a show and walked away.

Andy took us walking through the bush, pointing out signs of rhino and other animal activity along the way, teaching us about different plants, and showing us how to become the ultimate trackers. Truth be told though, the only thing I wholly absorbed was to do with hyena reproduction. I’ll save on the gory details, but lets just say giving birth for a poor lady hyena would be like birthing a watermelon through a cucumber. OUCH!

We climbed up high up to the top of a granite rock face to see ancient rock paintings done by the San bushmen. The detail in some of them was incredible and so much more sophisticated than you would usually associate with cave paintings.

The most intense and touching part of the day though, was when Andy took us to see the skeleton of a poached rhino. The poachers had taken to the defenceless rhino’s face with a chainsaw, right down to the bone. You can see, in the pictures, a hole where the chainsaw has taken a big chunk out of the bone. It’s horrific, and incredibly confronting to see up close. This poor rhino would have come to, in absolute agony, missing its horn and much of its face. Andy was close to tears while he was talking about having to put the rhino down to ease its pain. It’s so easy to see why they are so passionate about putting an end to poaching.

It was also in Bulawayo that we finally, after 6 months in Africa, went to our first African football game. My first football game ever in fact.Those who know me know what a massive, cough, football fan, cough, that I am. Despite this, I was excited to get amongst it and harassing my friend Darren with all kinds of questions about the rules. Apparently offside is much too complex a subject for us to touch on just yet. Our local team were the Highlanders, and apart from the black and white strips, fans can be identified by the frequent crossing of arms above heads whilst screaming, “HIGHLANDERS,” followed by bumping said arm crosses into the arm crosses of anyone in the vicinity.

The stands erupted in cheers when we walked into the stadium, a reaction I’ve never once gotten walking into Suncorp Stadium at home. I get the impression that tourists don’t frequent Highlander games, so we were a bit of a novelty.

Highlander fans packing out the stadium

Highlander fans packing out the stadium

Our newly adopted Highlanders didn’t just win, they absolutely obliterated the opposition, and every single person in the stadium (except the ones wearing green) went crazy. It was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement, and pretty soon I was among the crazy arm cross bumping supporters screaming “HIGHLANDERS.”

Sadly, the Highlanders are not part of the English premier league and so I shall have to find another team to support when I’m back home, but I’ll never forget my first football game, and will always be a Highlander at heart.