Day 8 – Camping and Canoe Safari

At 4pm we were met in the hotel lobby by Casper, who was to be our guide for the next two days. Out front was a Safari vehicle, complete with rafts on the roof for our canoe trip. We climbed in the back, and headed to the Zambezi National Park, a short drive out of Victoria Falls, right on the banks of the Zambezi River.

Casper told us the park had 4 of the big 5 animals within its borders, but reminded us this was the wild, and it was a big park so there were no guarantees.

We had to drive into the camp site, and this was our first Safari Drive. We weren’t all that far into the park before we spotted Warthog, Impala’s and Waterbuck. We also spotted loads and loads of birds and Guinea Fowl. As we drove deeper into the park, we seen more and more.

About half way between the entry and our campsite, Casper spotted a Giraffe. We stopped the vehicle and spent a few moments just staring at the tall creature, as well as spotting a few more from its journey. (Journey is a group of Giraffes)

About 30k’s into the park, we reached our campsite. Right on the banks of the Zambezi River, there were two tents for our family (a boy tent and girl tent we elected), and another for the guide. There was also a bush shower and toilet, as well as a dining room table, fully set for dinner.

A few meters away, there was another tent and a bush kitchen for the “staff”- where they were busily preparing dinner. It was quite the setting, and we felt quite at home.

As we stared out into the river, we noticed something move. A closer looked revealed a real live hippo, in the water right in front of our table, not 20m from the bank, and less than 50m from us. Went down to the waters edge to get a close look.

Casper gave us the warning to stay well clear and remember we were in a wild place, with Lions and Cheetahs, and just because we cant see them, doesn’t mean there not there.

It was about this time realised we were actually in the wild – for real. It was a surreal feeling.

Day 8 – Victoria Falls (and getting Hustled)

Today we check out of the Kingdom hotel, to start our two night Camp and River Canoe Safari. We weren’t getting picked up until 4pm, so we checked out of our room, and dropped our backpacks (we are only allowed a small day pack on the safari) at out next Hotel. And I was hustled at least 3 times.

We took a cab from the Kingdom to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge (approx 5 mins) to drop our bags off. Before taking them out of the cab, I went to reception and told them we were checking in a few days and asked if it would be ok to drop our bags for storage early. We were really worried as they contained not only the bulk of our clothes, but also our Laptops and iPads.

The reception said it would be fine, as long as we had our names on them. I grabbed the bags from the cab to check, and as I did, two Africans approached, grabbed our bags and assured me they would be safe. Even as I was trying to check if our names were on them, they two gentlemen continued to assure me then carried our bags off.

I have to admit, at this time, I felt completely assured that the bags would be safe, because both men had smiled at me, and nodded together and told me they were safe. It was only once we left the hotel and headed back to town, I realised that I had taken the absolute word, of two complete strangers, who I was not even sure worked at the hotel.

Hustle number 1.

We took the cab back to town and the cabbie told us the fare was $20, $10 each way. Since there was no meter (well there was but he never bothered to turn it on) and we had no idea of the cost of the fare, we just took his word for it, and paid.

I’m sure that was another hustle. Hustle number 2.

When we were in the cab, the driver was talking to us about Crazy Money, and the people walking up to us on the street to sell us Crazy Money. As we hadn’t really been on the street, we hadn’t experienced this so we had no idea what he was referring too.

We were only out of the car for about 30 seconds when we were first approached. A local man with a fist full of Zimbabwe notes (the local currently was abandoned a few years ago due to HyperInflation – and after printing a 100 Trillion Dollar note that was still worthless, they shifted to the US$). He had a collection on Billion dollar notes which he agreed to sell to me for US$7 (he started at US$20). No sooner had I completed the transaction and I was surrounded by others trying to sell me their notes. One so intimidating, that I had actually purchased another pile before I realised what I had done.

Hustle number 3.

By this stage I was a wake up to what was going on, and felt game enough to venture into the street markets for a good game of barter with the local store holders. But this was short lived. With more Crazy Money on offer, by more crazy people, and everyone trying to trade our hat, shoes and thongs, after two stalls, we decided to call it a day, and retreat to the safety of our hotel.

 

 

 

Day 7 – Victoria Falls

After traveling for most of the day, on the afternoon of arrival into Zimbabwe we had a guided tour of Victoria Falls.

Recognised as one of the largest falls in the world, based on its width of 1.7km the actual drop is only between 87 and 107m. As we are here toward the end of the flow season, only about half the width of the falls had flow, (the lower end) but we did get the chance to appreciate the power and the beauty of the falls. The spray that lifts from the bottom made a refreshing mist in the Zimbabwe heat.There is even a rain forest, along the edge of the gorge – getting its moisture from the mist – quite a contrast in the harsh African parkland.

Across the gorge was Zambia and again, as an Aussie used to a long distance international flight to visit another country, it was odd to think they we were literally a stones throw away.

There were some people swimming on the edge of the falls, right where the water passes over the edge in whats called “devils pool”. I dont know how close it actually was, but from where we were sitting (on the Zimbabwe side), it looked too close the the edge. Particularly with the guides walking right along the edge of the falls. One slip and there’s no coming back. We agreed to stay in the safety of the Zim side and out of the Devil Pool.

We are staying at the Kingdom hotel, which is a themed hotel (and Casino) with a natural river running through the middle. We were warned at check in the keep the doors and windows closed, as the Baboons and Monkeys get in and turn the rooms upside down. Just walking around the grounds you can see wild monkeys (or baboons, I cant tell the difference between to two), and there are warning signs not to swim in the river as it contains small fresh water crocodiles.

I guess were getting closer to the real Africa, and its a little bit too real for my liking.

Day 7 – Cape Town to Victoria Falls

Day 7 was a travel day, with most of it spent in Airports and planes.

We had a 3am start in Cape Town, to check in by 4 for a 5am flight, and travelled up to Johannesburg.

Josh lost his sunglasses on the diving trip, so when we came across a Sunglasses Hut at the J-burg airport we thought we should replace them. Found a pair, paid the money and was told we could claim the VAT back on the other side of border control.

We cleared border control and security and with not much else to do, Josh and I set off to reclaim our VAT. The Tax Back Station we as allusive as you might expect the government to make it.

Each time we got directions they appeared to tell us to go in the opposite direction to that that we had been traveling. After to-ing and fro-ing and asking for directions like lost tourist for 10 minutes or more (and getting more and more determined each time), we finally just headed off in one direction until we found a station. And eventually we did.

We claimed the VAT back – about $30, which took ten minutes, required no less that 55 signatures, and a mobile phone number and was paid by cheque. They sent us to the bank next door to cash it – where they charged about $12 for the cashing service. Which yes, means we spent 30 minutes running around like idiots to get $18 back – which the kids then took and spent on Gummy Bears anyway.

Regardless, it killed some time between flights and gave me something to blog about today – and in case your interested, there are actually two tax back stations at Johannesburg International Airport – one on either side of the border control station – hence the mixed directions.

Flight to Victoria Falls, was a little early and arrived in Zimbabwe a bit after lunch.

Victoria Falls Airport and Zimbabwe was exactly what we were expecting of Africa. The Airport itself was old and “colonial” looking and about the same size as Emerald Airport before the upgrade.

Border control was a couple of blokes hand writing receipts for the visa fee (US$30 – paid in cash). The arrival hall was small, with a bench as a physical barrier between the tarmac and us arrivals. The baggage crew (1 man – the oldest and most frail looking of all the airport staff) was unloading the bags from the cart – putting a few bags on the bench – then jumping the bench and putting the bags on the floor in the middle of the arrival hall – making room for more bags, then jumping the bench again to start the process over. A few passengers started to help clearing the bench to speed the process.

Customs was an old baggage x-ray machine, which it appeared optional to use. You simply collected your bags and exited the arrival hall into the airport proper. We elected to use the x-ray just to be safe.

There were some local dancers outside the airport singing and dancing and greeting us in full costume. We quickly realised – this was going to be a different experience to Cape Town.

Cape Town Wrap Up

Well we are finished in Cape Town and en route to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe).

Overall we were very impressed with Cape Town and all it had to offer. A wonderful modern city (for the most part – or the most part that we were in anyway). The people were warm and friendly and everyone went out of their way to make us feel warm and welcome.

The weather was mixed, with grey overcast and drizzle most of the time we were there, but we had a near perfect day for the cage diving and suitable weather for our Robben Island and Table Mountain trips. In all, the weather was not enough to put a dampener on our trip.

Food was most certainly edible and I didn’t struggle to find anything to eat. Coffee on the other hand…. although once I learned what to order (on the last evening) I did managed to get a couple of good coffee’s in. Price of food was comparable with home, which was a shock, as we thought it would have been cheaper.

With tourism as one of its biggest industries, everything was well set up for tourists, and we found the infrastructure to be excellent. History was as you’d expect mixed, varied and interesting, and the ability to look at post apartheid Cape Town was appreciated and the significance not something lost on me.

The highlight for me had to be meeting with the guides who were part of the apartheid period, and hearing their stories first hand. Its rare you get the chance to meet first hand people who have been involved in or lived through such significant times and it was a real privilege to hear their stories.

In terms of business opportunities in Cape Town – I am told tourism is the big deal. There may also be some opportunities in business coaching/consulting and education. I feel there are opportunities in basic manufacturing (skills base is quite low), but outside of security infrastructure, I’m not sure what you might manufacture. For now, I don’t see any immediate opportunity for me or my group worth exploring.

I hope to return to Cape Town and next time hire a car and get out into the provinces and coastal villages, particularly on the road to Klienbaii. A beautiful modern city, with a twist of modern history and well worth consideration as a holiday destination.

Day 6 – Cape Town Tour

Today we did a tour of Cape Town, from Past to Present.

We started in the Malay Quarter and looked at the history of the Dutch, the Slaves and Muslims. We visited District 6, where 60 000 people were forcibly removed from their homes, and their homes bulldozed, and Langa, the town a large number of the District 6 population were moved to. We also visited Khayelitsha a shanty town on the outskirts of Cape Town.

We learned about Apartheid and what it meant, as well as how the “blacks”, “coloured” and “white” folkes were treated under the system. We were told that for example, 3 people doing the same job like washing a car, the “whites” might be paid $10, the “coloured” $5 and the “blacks” $2. All for the same job. All based on race.

We also learned that blacks were the original Africans – mostly here as slaves and workers, and the coloured were mixed race folk. They would put a pencil in a persons hair, and if it fell out, they were coloured. If it stayed in (the tight knitted hair) they were black – a very scientific way of racial discrimination. Of course, white folk were always white. No pencil treatment for them.

For me, as a modern Australian in my 30’s, I must confess the whole racial thing is quite alarming. Its common place in Africa and I guess a hang over from Apartheid, but the label applied to each section on the population, “white”, “coloured” and “black”, no mater how often I heard it, or how common place just didn’t sit easy with me.

I met with Craig, one of my OTrain Team Members who is based here in Cape Town after our tour, and we were discussing this very thing. He mentioned that for the locals, being white, coloured or black was as common as being Australian, Italian or English. It was the label that people grew up with, so its how they associate themselves. Its not discriminatory, its just the label they are used to using to describe themselves. – Still, doesn’t fit right for me.

At Langa, (the home of the displaced District 6 residents) we seen some of the houses which people were living in and that people had extended and renovated. We also visited a community centre where they were teaching residents crafts and arts. The people there were painting plates and bowls and selling them to tourists like us as a source of income.

We visited the old jail and court house, where the black folk would be charged and face court if they lost their “Dompass” (meaning Dum pass – because black folk were stupid) which was their government issued id. So strict was the law, that the police would even attend the Sunday church session, interrupting the sermon and service and request all people show their Dompass. If it couldn’t be produced, they would be arrested and moved across the road to the cell and court house.

Failure to have your Dompass, resulted in a 90 day jail period – or a large fine. There was even a law that said if a black person pleaded not-guilty to any charge, they would automatically be given 60 days jail time.

Its hard to imagine this was only 18 years ago, and in my lifetime.

After Langa, we moved on to Khayelitsha, which is a shanty town of more than 2 million people on the outskirts of Cape Town. The houses were made from sheets of tin and tarps and whatever scrap could be scrapped together, and there were whole families living in homes smaller than our pool shed. It really did give us an indication of just how well we have in back home in Australia.

Here we visited a project where women were weaving rugs and painting cushion covers etc. We spoke with a number of them, and they were as interested in us as we were them. We purchased a weaved rug of the South African flag. Our first souvenir from the trip.

We had heard a little of the story from our “white” tour guide earlier in the week, and it was interesting the hear the same story from a “coloured” man. I got a sense of resentment, and possibly jealousy from our guides on how much support the “black” folk have been receiving from government, including free (and heavily discounted homes). It will be interesting to see how South Africa deals with this divide in the years to come.

Today was a great day and a chance for us to see a piece of the “real” Africa. It certainly was different to De Waterkant where we are staying in our two bedroom apartment.

Tomorrow we head to Victoria Falls and Zimbabwe, to further explore Africa and hopefully see a lion.

Current Location – Cape Town
Next Stop – Victoria Falls

Day 6 – Jet Lag Update

Ok, we’ve been in country from 4 days and the body clocks still not aligned yet.

This morning we were all up at 3am and by 4 we’d given up trying to sleep, so we hoped up and had breakfast, checked our emails, updated the blogs and called home. I just chose to take my “awakeness” out on the office, calling each person to see what had been happening in our absence.

I can only imagine what the neighbours must be thinking.

On the upside, we leave Cape Town tomorrow on an early morning flight, and need to be up by 4.So by my reckoning, that will be the day everything aligns and we will be looking for our first sleep in.

Current Location – Cape Town
Next Location – Victoria Falls

Day 5 – Shark Diving

Today I scrubbed another from my bucket list. I swam (in a cage) with Great White Sharks. It was amazing. I always find it incredible how humbling and exciting it is to see natural animals in their own habitat. Particularly Apex predators.

We woke early this morning, (still struggling with time zones), and headed out to Kleinbaai, about a two hour coastal drive from Cape Town. Our hosts for the day were Marine Dynamics, a leading Shark Diving and conservation company in the area.

Thankfully for me (and most of the family) they operate one of the biggest and most stable boats on the bay. And it was needed, there was a large swell – certainly more than I can normally handle.

Upon arrival we were greeted by a happy team and a hardy breakfast. Although we’d had some grub at home, we all agreed a little more in our stomach would help when getting sea sick a little later in the day.

After a video presentation on safety, the boat and and of course the sharks themselves, we received our life jackets and spray jackets and headed to the harbour. The boat was a multi level, 14m aluminum cat, powered by 4 – 300hp outboards. As we left the harbour the captain open it up, and it was impressive. It glided over the big swell, and you could feel all 4 outboards pushing it along.

When we arrived at the dive site, our cage was already in the water and tied to a mooring. You could feel the excitement lift on the boat as someone pointed out there was a shark in the water, at the cage already – our first sighting. A 3+m dark coloured great white.

The smile and excitement from Josh alone was worth the 14hr flight to South Africa.

The boat scared the shark off, and the crew moored up, attached the cage and begun working the chum to bring the sharks in. 7 people at a time went in the cage as the crew worked the chum, tuna heads and decoy to attract the shark and get them near the cage.

From the boat you could see the dark shadows in the water appear, turn into sharks, sniff around the decoy and the bait, bite, hang a round a bit then disappear back into the swell. Every shark sighting was as exciting as the first.

From light coloured 3+m to an enormous 5+m dark one, there were plenty of sharks, and enough down time between sightings to keep you interested when they did arrive.

We were the last group to enter the water, and by that stage, most of us were feeling the effects of spending the morning on the swell. It was actually nice to get into the water, even though it was freezing. It was quite rough and the cage and boat were bouncing around a lot.

It was kinda scary and exciting. As we rolled around in the cage, we were all panicked to make sure our hands and feet didn’t leave the cage and become part of the food chain. In reality, it was actually quite safe, but at water level, with big sharks swimming by, we weren’t taking any chances.

We seen a few sharks swim by, some up close and others a little away, then came a lull, without much action. Ros, Josh Mikeala and I were all chatting and laughing and decided to splash the water to see if we could attract a few more sharks. The handlers above thought it quite amusing and started to laugh and joke with us, and said be careful what you wish for…..

The next shark that came past they decided to do a “5 second pull” where they let the shark actually attach to the tuna heads for 5 seconds – whilst pulling the bait towards the cage. This was the only time of the day they did it, and they pulled the shark right into the corner of the cage I was standing. The shark ended right up against the cage, mouth open, and eye to eye with me.

If you ask me, I’ll tell you that I stared that beast eye to eye, man to man, and given half the chance, would have punched it right on the nose….. however, the photo’s and videos clearly show me moving about 5 places back in the cage and putting as much distance between me and the fish as possible. And all in record time. (images to follow once they arrive)

The final shark encounter was almost identical, with the shark attacking the decoy and hitting the cage right in front of Josh. Mikeala and Ros were either side of him and I’m sure all three let out a scream. I’m still unsure if it was excitement or sheer terror.

But either way, it really was a great experience.

We re-boarded the boat and dried down while the crew pulled anchor and detached the cage. Once set, we headed home, via an island with a large seal colony.

There were thousands of seals, some in the water, some on the land all doing their thing. It was pretty amazing to see so many animals in their natural habitat. Unfortunately all those wet animals smelt like all those wet animals and atop my brewing seasickness, as exciting as it was, it was not a pleasant experience. I have to admit, if it smells that bad, I’m now having second thoughts on the Galapagos Island.

Of course, whilst watching all these seals in their natural environment, I still had one eye on the water, waiting to see that Great White again, this time getting the bait for real.

Fortunately for the seals, It didn’t happen.

It was a great day, and a great experience. Originally Josh’s inclusion for the holiday, we all had a blast and enjoyed getting into the water. Josh got a chance to get up close and personal with one of his favourite animals, I crossed another from my bucket list, and we all made it home with fingers, toes, arms and legs intact. Even the girls rated it as a great experience.

Current Location – Cape Town
Next Stop – Cape Town Cultural Tour (Cape Town)

If you were thinking of diving with the Great Whites, I highly recommend the professional team at Marine Dynamics. www.sharkwatchsa.com

Day 4 – Table Mountain and Town Tour

In the afternoon we had a private tour of the city, including Table Mountain.

When we got to the Mountain, we rode the cable cart to the top. That in itself was exciting. As we lifted more than 1000m to the top we have an incredible view of Cape Town, including the bay and Robben Island.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the ride, without my usual fear of the cable breaking, floor collapsing or a myriad of other dreadful (and most unlikely) outcomes.

The view from the top would have been spectacular except the cloud had rolled in, so we could barely see anything. That didn’t spoil the experience. It was something special up on top of that hill.

The terrain was interesting, a sort of desert like, mostly rocky with shrubs growing in the gaps and crevasses. There were these small, rabbit like animals up there (Josh said they were over feed meerkats) that were everywhere. When we got back to the ground, our guide told us their name (cant recall sorry) but explained that they are the closely related to elephants. Didnt look anything like Elephants to me, but he assured us the skull and feet as almost identical (only smaller).

We toured around the rest of the town and learned loads about the history of South Africa and Cape Town. We even stopped by a Diamond shop “to use the toilet” according to the guide – and they tried to sell us some Diamonds. Josh was all set to purchase a 1 carat piece until the assistant told him it would be just over US$18k. I guess Ros has another year or so to wait for that elusive Engagement ring.

That pretty much brought day 4 to a close. We headed back to the apartment for some dinner, a shower and bed.

Tomorrow we go shark diving. We’re all very excited, and a little scared.

Current Location – Cape Town
Next Stop – Shark Diving

Day 4 – Robben Island

Status

We woke this morning to a magical day. The clouds had cleared and from our apartment we could clearly see Table Mountain and into the bay.

It was the first chance to have a good look at the apartment from the outside, and we found a roof top terrace, complete with pool and BBQ areas, as well as panoramic views over Cape Town and the V and A Waterfront. It really was (is) something special.

First excursion for the day was to Robben Island. A 15 minute walk to the marina, then a 30 minute ferry ride out to the island. I knew we were in trouble when we left the marina and quickly entered about a 3 meter swell. I closed my eyes and hoped for the best while Ros and the kids didn’t fare so well. By the time we reached the island, we were all feeling queezy, but had managed to keep our breakfast down.

First up was a bus tour of the island, pointing our a number of features. It was all very interesting, and a bit over grown. Josh was kept amused by the small land turtles (tortoises) that were running all over the island. Every time the bus pulled up, there was one outside the window, chewing on the yellow flowers and grass that covered the island.

Following the bus tour, we entered the Maximum Security Prison where Spark was our guide. He took us into F Wing and a large group cell and explained that he had actually been a prisoner on the island, and had spent 7 years in that very cell.

Spark was a political prisoner and had been incarcerated for sabotage, as well as having weapons and explosives. He explained that he was a political prisoner and and had been involved in recruiting people to the ANC military wing, as well as training them.  It was all very interesting, and certainly a different to the way politics is done back home.

We then visited a couple of exercise yards and finally D block, including cell 7, which was home to Nelson Mandela. A 2m x 3m cell, it had no comforts.

The most interesting thing to me from the trip was Stark explaining that in spite of the conditions and the treatment, the prisoners harbored no ill feelings towards the island or the guards, and a number of both prisoners and guards had returned to live on the island and work as tour guides. In a lot of cases they were now even friends.

The boat ride back to the mainland was better, with the swell dropping considerably, plus we managed to get a seat outside in the air. I had a great chat with an American tourist who gave us a few “must sees” for our venture to the US later in the year.

Current Location – Cape Town
Next Stop – Table Mountain and Cape Town Town Tour