Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Journey to Zambia

Our story begins with a long drive from Namutoni at the edge of Etosha National Park to Katima Mullilo, at the north western border of Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. After about 10 hours of driving, the sun had just set and it was 5:55pm. We arrived at the Namibia/Zambia border crossing….it was closed. We inquired to some people at the petrol station who claimed the border closed at 6:00pm. To which we proclaimed…it’s not 6:00 yet! And they gave us a line about the border operating on the South African time zone – winter time – interesting and completely untrue. Regardless, this left us stuck in Namibia one more night and with no place lined up for accommodation for the night. Praise the Lord that I had picked up a “Where to Stay” guidebook when I was perusing the tourist shop at the airport waiting for Amber and Josh’s flight to arrive. We thumbed through and found three options for places to stay in Katima. I called the least expensive option – the Caprivi River Lodge. It turned out to be only 5 minutes drive from where we were. We found it and arrived with all our stuff in tow asking for a place to stay the night. The one camping spot they had to offer was filled and the other option given to us was a bit to steep for our pocket – N$320 per 2 people. But as we stepped aside and discussed what to do, and the manager stepped in and offered us a better deal. (I love Africa). So the 4 of us ended up staying the night in a small cabin with three beds and shared ablutions, in a very luxurious setting right beside the river for N$340. We had coffee out on the porch and played Skipbo all the while keeping our eyes open for crocodiles and hippos. But we had Josh to karate chop anything that might sneak up on us – including logs jumping off the fire pit – so we could rest easy. After two night’s of sleeping on the ground in sleeping bags, the comfy beds in our little cabin provided a great night’s rest. The next morning I awoke early and went to the riverside to enjoy the early morning sun. The birds were cackling and the trees were filled with monkeys swinging from tree to tree.


Caprivi River Lodge

Caprivi River Lodge

Morning in the Caprivi

After a quick breakfast from the cooler we had packed, we were off to the border again. The small wooden shack at the border crossing had a small line up of people by the door, so we joined in and picked up departure forms, filled them out and rejoined the line to get our departure stamps. We jumped back in the car thinking, “that was easy!” and started it up to head across. We were quickly stopped by an officer who asked for our car’s registration paper. After a year and a half in Namibia this was the first time anyone had asked for this paper. In Namibia all the registration information is on the windscreen of the car and therefore the paper is pretty unnecessary. “But”, said the officer, they needed the paper, which of course we did not have. His first suggestion was that we go back home and get it! I explained that this was not an option, seeing as it was 10+ hours’ drive to Okahandja where the paper was. “So…what, then? If we don’t have this paper, we’re just stuck here?” I asked. The reply: “Yes.” I asked if it would be possible to fax the paper, and he agreed that this would work and after talking to two different people I was able to ascertain the fax number. Then I prayed Buddy would answer his phone, as he was the one with the registration paper holding our roadtrip fate. Buddy did answer his phone and thankfully was able to find the paper and fax it to us, after about a hour of waiting at the border, the fax arrived and we were finally allowed to get out of the country. Freedom! A 30-second drive in no man’s land brought us to the Zambian border crossing, complete with a line of even more shady-looking wood shacks that served as the immigration office, and various border-crossing official offices. A taxi driver to pity on us and pointed us to the right place, because nothing was labeled clearly or posted. We found ourselves in the immigration office and filled out the same information we had just written to depart Namibia, now for our entrance into Zambia. $100 per US citizen for a visa!! And of course Maveja got off easy - able to get in for free because she’s a Namibian citizen. I filled out numerous ledgers and forms in order to be allowed to drive in Zambia, paid carbon tax, insurance and something else, (who-knows-what) and finally after about an hour there we were allowed into Zambia. Finally back in the car, we decided we had better floor it and get out of there quick before they thought of something else for which they could take more of our money. Two hour’s drive from there we reached our destination - Livingstone. We checked ourselves into Fawlty Towers Backpacker’s Lodge and got settled. Some lunch at a vegetarian café across the street filled out bellies and then we headed down the road to the Falls to get our bearings. We decided it was too late in the day to make it worth it to check out the Falls on the first day and even though we were all itching to see them, we paced ourselves and decided to wait till the next day when we could spend a good chunk of time. Back at our lodging we decided to post ourselves in the queue for the one computer (advertised as “internet café” in their brochures) so we could check our email. Nearly 2 or more hours later (only 2 very inconsiderate users in this time mind you!) we finally had the chance to connect to the outside world.

Amber’s victory…Finally online!


The lounge/bar at Fawlty Towers

Fawlty Towers

The next day…..THE FALLS!


We packed a lunch and guarded our food from the greedy monkeys, and stuck around to watch the sun set over the falls.

Dinner that night was at Funky Monkey Pizza Bistro. Yum.

funky monkey

We decided to book an activity, something we could all do together. We had perused lists of available activities several times before heading into the booking office and we had not come to a consensus on anything we all wanted to do. We considered doing different activities – everybody doing their own thing – but we saw a pamphlet with a picture of Livingstone Island, and became intrigued. After hearing a little about the Livingstone Island tour we decided we would sign up for the breakfast tour. Livingstone Island is situated in the middle of the Zambezi River right at the edge of the falls. The tour would consist of a sort jet boat ride out to the island a tour of the island and learning more about the falls and Livingstone and then breakfast on the island. Even though none of us had originally given it a second though, something urged us all that this was the thing for us. The next morning we arrived at the Royal Livingstone Hotel sundeck for our pickup.

We arrived at the island, got out of the boat and were greeted with a welcome drink made from maize and milk with a hint of chocolate and a fruity taste. Our guides explained that since Livingstone Island is a world heritage site no permanent structures are allowed to be built, so everything set up there is semi-permanet. We arrived at a beautifully set table with a tented roof with the edge of the falls in full view. Our guides explained that we should take off our shoes, roll up our pant legs and don rainjackets for the rest of the exploration. We started out and very quickly we found our feet on very cold slippery rocks and mushy, muddy ground walking straight to the edge of the falls! I literally stood at the top of Victoria Falls, leaned over the edge and saw the bottom. I stepped on slippery rocks with the knee-deep water of the Zambezi pressing past my legs as I crossed from one place to another.

This is me peering over the edge. No handrails. No harness. No barriers. Just a guy holding my hand.

the edge

Absolutely beautiful. The most exhilarating thing I have ever done in my life.

the edge

Victoria Falls Edge

And did I mention it was wet?!? Check out Josh’s “Falls Face”. It’s our new favorite. This shot describes our experience at the edge.

the experience

After the adventure came the luxury. We made our way back to the table and were seated while the guides washed our feet with wonderfully warm water and we sat down to steaming hot coffee and tea. Breakfast was served – eggs benedict, fresh baked muffins and biscuits. Don't miss Maveja eyeing Josh's food...hilarious!

eggs bendict on the edge

All that flowing water over the falls does tend to make one have to pee, so what would a trip to Livingstone Island be without a trip to the “Loo With A Veiw”…

Loo with a Veiw

The Loo

the loo

The Veiw from the Loo

the veiw

Nothing like peeing and saying hello to Zimbabwe!

After that kind of morning, the adrenaline was flowing and we decided that no matter what we might try to do that afternoon it would pale in comparison to what we experienced at Livingstone Island, so we decided to go check in early at Maramba River Lodge – our splurge accommodation of the trip – and spend the rest of the day chilaxing by the pool reading and playing Skipbo on the deck by the river.

Maramba River Lodge

Along the Zambezi

Look out, Hippos!

Our Safari Tents

Safari Tents at Maramba River Lodge

After dinner we enjoyed some coffee on the deck while watching a huge hippo eat a portion of his 45 kilos-per-day of grass.
(Just couldn’t seem to stop singing the jingle for Hungry Hungry Hippos.)

The next morning it was time to head back. A L-O-N-G 12-hour drive found us back home in Okahandja and crashing quickly into our beds.

more to come later....

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