Wednesday, September 30, 2015


After a brief stint in Zambia, we took a ferry across the river to Botswana.  One of the most successful countries in Africa, Botswana has been stable and democratic since its independence from the UK in 1966.  Poor at independence, Botswana has been well-managed and now boasts the highest credit rating in Africa, the highest Human Development Index ranking in Sub-Saharan Africa (not including Mauritius), and the highest Democracy Index score in Africa (again, not including Mauritius).  Like with all countries, problems persist, including income inequality and one of the highest HIV rates in the world, but overall, Botswana isn’t doing too badly, and it definitely showed that Botswana was richer than Zambia.  Mining, beef, and tourism are major pillars of the economy and the government does their best to protect their industries, including quarantine and customs checkpoints to protect cows from disease and strict anti-poaching measures (including a law that states you are free to kill a poacher if you see one) to protect wildlife and keep the tourists coming.  Our main bases were the towns of Kasane and Maun, but we also stopped at Greta and Ghanzi.

A few highlights of my time in Botswana:

Chobe National Park:
Kasane is the jumping off point for wildlife spotting in Chobe National Park – the biggest tourist draw in Botswana.  I had high expectations for Chobe and it absolutely delivered.  We arrived in the afternoon in time for an evening sunset cruise.  Aside from a gorgeous sunset, we saw an abundance of new wildlife, including the animal Chobe is most famous for:  the elephant!  Ok, it wasn’t just one elephant, it was heaps of elephants!  They dotted the land all up and down the Chobe River.  Elephants are the first of the “Big 5” – originally the five most difficult animals for hunters to track and kill, but now a tourist rite of passage – that we saw, but we saw our second – the Cape buffalo – just minutes later.  We saw giraffes, a sable (an elusive, gorgeous black antelope with long curved horns), heaps of impala (a smaller antelope species that reproduces like rabbits), and a bunch of new bird species including the African fish eagle, little egret, yellow-billed egret, and the mighty helmeted guineafowl (which somehow quickly became our trip mascot thanks to a lovely British lad with a bird fetish).

To complement our sunset, we saw the sunrise the next morning on a very early game drive which proved to be rather incredible.  We saw a wide variety of birds including the white-backed vulture, lapet-faced vulture, marabou stork, odd-looking kori bustard, and the absolutely gorgeous lilac-breasted roller, which is very rightly the national bird of Botswana and which you need to Google right now just to see how pretty it is.  Go on, I’ll wait… Ok.  But the big fucking deal was: LIONS!  A whole pride!  First an adult male crossed our path and shortly after we saw several lionesses and juvenile males.  One of the lionesses passed right behind our game drive vehicle.  And by right behind, I mean she was less than about two metres from us. I was sitting in the back corner where she passed and I’m not going to lie: I was quite close to freaking the fuck out.  Our vehicle was open air: no windows, no doors.  Ummm…

In addition to our close encounter with the lion, we also had a line of around thirty or so elephants pass right by us – again, some within just two or three meters of our vehicle.  We also got a lot closer with giraffes, Cape buffalo, and a sable than we did on the sunset cruise.  Finally, we saw our first of many kudu – another species of antelope with curly horns.  For my Jewish friends, I later learned that they use kudu horns to make shofars.  Ooooo!

Baobab trees:
Moving on to Greta, we saw our first zebra and ostriches alongside the road.  We arrived to a campsite full of the odd-looking yet interesting baobab trees.  Cousins to the boab trees of Western Australia, the baobab also grow fat and produce a pod with a delicious powdery interior which reminds me of freeze-dried astronaut food that you can buy at NASA.

Okavango Delta:
Botswana’s next big attraction after Chobe, the Okavango Delta, is the world’s largest inland delta.  I’m a bit of a nerd (ok, I’m a big nerd) but I didn’t even know an inland delta was a thing.  Basically, water from the Okavango River flows into depressed land in Botswana.  With no way of getting to the ocean, the river forms a delta on the land.  The water eventually seeps into the ground, evaporates, or gets drunk by people and animals.  Who knew?

Based in Maun, we took a scenic flight over the delta.  We saw the delta from above and a bit of wildlife, but the plane was tiny, uncomfortable, and hot.  I didn’t really enjoy it and I wish I hadn’t paid the money for it.  Hindsight is 20/20.  The next day, we boarded mokoros – traditional canoes – to head into the delta where we camped for one night.  We witnessed the locals doing traditional song and dance and we did a fantastic game walk.  It was a bit unnerving being without any protection in the middle of nowhere (that was the first time I ever thought that it might be useful to have a gun) but our guides assured us it was safe.  We finally saw some zebra up close (yay!) and we saw a handful of new species too:  wildebeest, great egret, open-billed stork, and the red lechwe.  The red lechwe is an antelope species that has hind legs longer than the front legs to make running in the marshy delta easier.  It may be easier, but it looks absolutely ridiculous.

Khoisan culture:
We spent our final night in Botswana near the town of Ghanzi where we took a tour to learn about traditional Khoisan (bushman) culture.  Some Khoisan youth took us into the bush to show us medicinal leaves, popping seeds, various roots, and how to make fire.  When we asked if that’s how they actually live, it was a resounding “no”.  They are trying to keep the culture alive, but they put their Nike shoes and t-shirts on at the end of the day.

Feed me, Seymour:
Botswana is where I really dug into some local cuisine.  I had my first street food in Africa: a bread dumpling with chicken, spinach, and potato.  Our amazing guide, Jess, also cooked us mieliepap (maize porridge) with potjiekos (a stew which literally translates to “pot food”).  We had magwinya (aka fat cakes!) which are sort of like doughnuts but not sweet and you turn them into sandwiches.  Finally, I had my first of many malva puddings (a South African dessert) while in Botswana.  Yummy!

Botswana put on a show.  Can Namibia compete?  Onward!  But first, let me take an elephant selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Botswana, follow this link:

Thursday, September 17, 2015


After viewing Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side, I figured it would be a good idea to cover all bases and see it from the Zambia side too.  So, I packed up my stuff and walked across the border, as you do, right?  Zambia was also where I was meeting up with Jemma, a lovely Welsh girl I met camping in Australia last year.  It was love at first sight, so we desperately needed a camping reunion!  We also were joined by seven other travellers on our tour – four English, one Welsh, one Kiwi, and one Luxembourgish, as well as our two South African guides.

Zambia is one of the poorer nations in Africa, but one of the more stable nations.  Since the turn of the century, government reforms and diversification have helped the economy grow year after year.  My two days in Zambia were spent in the town of Livingstone – the tourism hub for the Zambian side of Victoria Falls.  Unlike its Zimbabwean counterpart, the town of Livingstone was not built specifically for tourism.  Historically, most tourists viewed the falls from the Zimbabwe side because of the better infrastructure there.  As Zimbabwe spiralled into a complete shit show, more and more tourists opted to stay away from the uncertain situation and head to the Zambian side instead.  Zimbabwe’s woes benefitted this town greatly.  Infrastructure around the tourist areas was quite good, but unlike in Zimbabwe, I did get to see a bit of the real Zambia while in Livingstone.

A few highlights of my time in Zambia:

Victoria Falls:  I read that viewing the falls from the Zimbabwe side was better, but I enjoyed the Zambian side more.  The infrastructure around the park was on par with Zimbabwe, but I think Zambia actually had a better diversity of viewpoints.  It may have also been because of the time of day:  I viewed the falls from Zimbabwe in the morning and from Zambia in the afternoon when the lighting was better.  Rainbows are a common occurrence on the Zambian side, and we got there at the right time to add some colour to our selfies.

Bicycle tour:  While the rest of our group went rafting on the Zambezi River, Jemma and I signed up for a bicycle tour.  We thought we’d be going around town seeing all of the tourist sites and the souvenir market.  We have never been more wrong.  Our tour was a charitable tour sponsoring the Local Cowboy Pre-School and our guides took us and two Dutch travellers on a four hour journey into a bit of real Zambia.  We went off the paved roads to see several villages that dot the outskirts of the town.  We started with the poorest of the villages and worked our way up to some reasonably nice looking houses in town.  Once in town, we visited the local market.  This was not the souvenir market, but the market where locals go to shop for food and other goods.  We sampled some dried mopane worms (caterpillars) while we were there.  They weren’t entirely gross – almost nutty in a way.  We also visited the pre-school, but as it was a Sunday, there weren’t any children about.  That was ok though, because earlier on the tour we had encountered plenty of local children, and they even commandeered my bicycle for a few minutes.  We even saw some wildlife:  a lone crocodile in front of a gas station.  Overall, this was a fantastic experience and one of the best things I did in Africa.

Sunset cruise:  At our guide’s recommendation, our entire group signed up for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River.  There was a buffet dinner and open bar, but the best parts of the tour were the beautiful sunset and all of the hippos!  This was the first large animal we saw in Africa and we saw lots of them!

Onward to Botswana!  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Zambia, follow this link:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Once a relatively prosperous African nation, Zimbabwe’s fortunes have faded rapidly in the last two decades thanks to government corruption and mismanagement.  And when I say “faded rapidly”, I really mean “turned into a complete shit show”.  President Robert Mugabe deserves most of the blame.  He kicked out the white farmers, but nobody else knew how to farm.  Then he kicked out the Chinese store owners, but nobody else knew how to run a business.  So then there was no food and no stores and then hyperinflation made international headlines.  In 2009, Zimbabwe was forced to scrap their currency because they couldn’t fit all of the zeros on the notes.  They now use the US dollar and the South African rand.  Fast forward six years to my visit and every kid on the street was trying to sell me a trillion Zimbabwean dollar note as a souvenir for US$50.  I think toilet paper is worth more, so no.

I only had one day in Zimbabwe, so I can hardly claim to have seen anything of the real Zimbabwe and the effects of the recent past woes.  I visited the town of Victoria Falls which is home to… Victoria Falls.  Obviously.  According to my Lonely Planet guide, infrastructure across the country is still fairly intact from Zimbabwe’s successful past, and Victoria Falls was no exception.  Built specifically as a tourist town, I had no complaints about the infrastructure or services available for tourists.  I even had brunch and a decent coffee at a nice cafe the morning that I was there, which definitely gives Zimbabwe a few points in my little black book.

It’s US$5 for a taxi anywhere – no matter how far it seems.  I don’t think there were any actual taxis – just dudes in cars hollering at tourists to see if they need a lift.  I’m still alive and I wasn’t robbed so I guess it’s legitimate.  The “taxis” came in especially handy after dusk as the town’s streets became unsafe for pedestrians, not because of crime, but because of elephants.  After sundown, elephants and buffalo wander into town night after night only to find that the supermarket and shops have all closed and they’ll have to go food shopping elsewhere.  They never learn.

A few highlights of my day:

Wildlife:  Sadly, it wasn’t the elephants nor the buffalo that were my first wildlife sighting in Africa.  As I wandered over to the tourist market in the morning, I stumbled upon a trio of warthogs roaming around the souvenirs.  I was hoping for a grander animal to be my first, but sometimes dreams don’t come true.  I bought a little warthog souvenir to commemorate the occasion.

Food:  I had my first real African food in Zimbabwe at the recommended (yet overpriced) Mama Africa Eating House.  The dish was called huku nedovi and consisted of chicken with peanut butter sauce.  Yes, please!  It’s a traditional dish of the Shona people which make up 70% of the population of the country.

Victoria Falls:  Saving the best for last, Victoria Falls was the star of my visit to Zimbabwe (and pretty much the only reason I put Zimbabwe on the itinerary).  Its indigenous name is Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders” in the local language.  The “smoke” is the mist that the waterfall creates, which was so thick at times that it obscured the view of the falls (and it wasn’t even the time of year with the heaviest flow… of water.)  While it isn’t the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is generally considered the largest based on its height, width, and volume of water that flows over it in an uninterrupted sheet.  It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of this.  The waterfall straddles the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, and I’ll have more about the Zambian side in the next post.  The first European to lay eyes on the mammoth waterfall was David Livingstone, which we all know from the famous line “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”  You can Google/Wikipedia him if you want to know more.

The walkways around the Zimbabwean side of the waterfall were well-maintained and came with some additional wildlife spotting:  a baboon and a bushbuck (a type of antelope).  Given the immense size of the waterfall, it took me about 90 minutes to tour the site, visiting the various viewpoints along the path.  Let me repeat that:  it took me 90 minutes to view a waterfall.  That’s pretty insane.

After my visit, it was time to walk across the border to Zambia.  But first, let me take a selfie.

To see more photos of my time in Zimbabwe, follow this link:

Monday, September 7, 2015


My first port of call in Africa:  Johannesburg!  Everyone who I spoke to basically said that Johannesburg was dodgy and that Cape Town was the better city and that any time I was going to devote to Joburg should be diverted to Cape Town.  And they were pretty much right.  But due to flight times, I ended up with a full day in Johannesburg, and I’m super glad I did.  My hostel organized a full day tour for me to all the main sights.

A few highlights of my day:

Top of Africa:  The Carlton Centre in downtown Joburg is the tallest building in Africa and has been since 1973.  It’s somewhere between a quarter and a third of the height of the Burj Khalifa, so it’s honestly not that impressive.  Also, the building itself was pretty ugly on the outside… and inside.  The top floor has an observation deck with views of Johannesburg, which is honestly not a pretty city from above.  Five minutes later, we were ready to go.

Soweto:  Soweto is abbreviation of “South Western Townships” and is the most famous and most visited township in all of South Africa.  It is here where Nobel Prize Winners Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu live(d), and it contains many of Joburg’s main attractions.  It is here where my day took a very quick turn toward somber.

Soweto used to be where the black population was forced to live away from the whites in the nice parts of town.  Since the end of apartheid, many blacks who have earned a good living have opted to stay in Soweto and have gentrified parts of it.  Driving around, we saw some very nice homes, some very middle class homes, and some obviously poorer sections.  The worst, however, was what the locals call the “informal settlement”.  The informal settlement is just a nice way of saying shantytown.  A local 20-something who runs a charity for the informal settlement took us around the area on foot.  We got to see where he lives – in a small two-room shack with ten other family members.  It was depressing.

While in Soweto, we also visited Walter Sisulu Square with its 10 Pillars of Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s house, and the Hector Pieterson Memorial, in honour an innocent 13-year old boy who was ruthlessly killed by police during the 1976 Soweto uprising.

Apartheid Museum:  Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any sadder, we went to our final destination:  the Apartheid Museum.  This in-depth look at apartheid was the highlight of the day and the place I had been most looking forward to visiting in Johannesburg.  The museum takes visitors through the entire history of apartheid, including a look at pre-apartheid South Africa and a bit about post-apartheid South Africa.  I spent roughly two hours inside because that is all I was given, but I reckon I could spend an additional two hours easily.  There was a huge amount of information inside.

That night, I met up with a friend of a friend for dinner and drinks.  I got to see another side of Johannesburg: the fancy side. After dinner at a Japanese restaurant, we wandered to a very posh bar for some wine and a bit of dancing.  In retrospect, the whole first day really summed up my impression of South Africa in its entirety:  some really nice parts mixed in with a lot of sad parts.  I will blog more about my experiences in South Africa later on, but first I had four other countries to check off my list.

Proof of Soweto’s gentrification:  a Mexican restaurant.  They knew I was coming.

To see more photos of my time in Johannesburg, follow this link: