The colorful wolf

South Africa 2009

THE PICTURES

The plan

Being bored by our daily life’s jobs and desperate for some crazy adventures, Kamil and I decided to spend some time in Africa this spring/autumn. We had quite some trouble finding a spot in the world that would be interesting and accessible to both of us, as Kamil lives in London and I live in Japan. Africa is not exactly the first choice that springs to mind, but it was so unlikely a choice that we were both quite interested. We didn’t want to spend too much time doing the planning, so we decided to go with a tour, which would take us from Johannesburg South Africa through Botswana until our final destination: Zambia’s side of the Victoria Falls.

The beginning

The flights that I took to get to Johannesburg were nearly empty. It took 7 hours to get to Malaysia, where I had to 4 more hours for my next flight, which would be a 10-hour flight to Johannesburg. At least I had the whole plane to myself and I was able to lie down comfortably.

Arriving in Johannesburg I had to wait for Kamil at the airport. He would arrive two hours later. I entertained myself with what would be the last internet access I would get for a while. When he finally arrived we went straight to our hotel, the Backpackers Ritz. Quite a nice place, and the sunset made for some nice photos. We asked the hotel owner if it was safe to walk around with our cameras, as Joburg is known as one of the most criminal places in SA, but the owner assured us everything was ok in the area around the hotel.

I think we were both quite shocked by the normality of it all. You don’t fly across half the world expecting to see a bunch of white people driving around in the same cars and going to the same supermarkets that you see every day in your own country. Well, that’s South Africa. Johannesburg city center looks like your average western(ized) city. After walking around a bit we got bored, went to the mall, and watched a movie. Note: X-Men Origins is the worst movie I have seen in months. Disgusting.

04-30 Tour Kickoff

Our tour starts! At 5AM… I still remember Kamil telling me in many words how he so enjoyed his tour in Australia because it was such a nice group that he was with. Surprise: our tour did not have any other people! It’s just us two, and our tour guide: Wessel. As we found out later, they do not call him ‘The Wessel’ for nothing. We got out of Joburg and went on our way, heading north, stopping by ‘Middelburg Ultra City’, a road-side mini-mall, for breakfast. As an English speaker that name might not mean anything to you, but Middelburg is the name of a city in the Netherlands. I had a great time finding similar names during our trip through SA. Another good one I saw on a sign somewhere was ‘Onverwacht’, which means unexpected in Dutch 😀

Our first scenic stop was the Blyde Canyon. After that we went to a Cheetah center, where we had another private tour, as there were no other visitors while we were around. Fortunately our cheetah park tour guide was a real sport and treated us like 12-year old children. Shortly after departing from the Cheetah place we got a taste of how close the wildlife actually is in South Africa, as we spotted some giraffes right next to the road, directly followed by a road sign warning us to be careful of elephants.

Coming from Japan, the first thing I noticed was the hugeness of it all. It’s not uncommon to travel 50 kilemeters between two houses, and the roads just stretch on and on, never bending, always straight. This is just unthinkable in Japan, where everything is cramped together on a very small area. This also made me rethink my plan of cycling there, as it would get boring very quickly.IMG_0756

Wessel took us past an impressive phosphate mine into a very crappy narrow road, which took us to our campsite, where we would stay for a couple of days. We set up our tents, ate a huge steak and went to bed.

05-01 /02 Kruger National Park

One of the main attractions of our tour was of course the Kruger park.  Kruger, apparently, is famous online for this video, which shows some animals having fun and killing each other. We both hadn’t seen the video before, and we didn’t expect to see that much action. Still, driving through the park we would sometimes see nothing for more than an hour. I didn’t mind that much, quite enjoying the scenery, but Kamil was waiting to see a lion tear something in half.

We were only allowed out of the car at dedicated camps inside Kruger, which reminded me a lot of Jurassic Park. Fences, lookout posts, the only thing missing was the T-Rex. There were some points outside of the camps where it was ok to get out, like on large wide bridges, where you would be able to spot animals coming towards you. Still, some monkeys managed to sneak up on us while we were at the center of the bridge, cleverly walking at the opposite end of the guard rail. I can’t help but be amazed at nature.

Back at the camp site we learned in very practical terms what was the difference between Europe and South Africa: an elephant stepped on the water supply line, and as a result the entire camp site did not have water for two days. No showers or toilets… Sleeping at the riverside is wonderful, and you can hear the hippos make a lot of noise at night.

05-03 Polokwane game reserve

In the morning we went on a boat trip over the river next to our camp site. Didn’t see that much, but there were some nice elephants and a couple of really fat tourists. Despite it being dry season it started to rain for a while, but it soon cleared up again. There were some American tourists on board, who told us that they got robbed at gun-point in Johannesburg just a few days before. They also stayed at the Backpackers Ritz, just like us, and they got robbed in the street right in front of the hotel! o_0 .. So much for safety. We were lucky.

The person who got robbed told me some interesting stories about South Africa. He told me that he lived there 36 years ago, and how much it had changed during the years. Back then, he said, it was still open, and free. These days everything is fenced in, everything is owned by somebody. The feeling of adventure is quite gone, and it’s become just another country. I guess it’s the same thing happening everywhere in the world.

After the boat trip we packed up and headed north for our next camp site. We stopped on the way for lunch at a chain restaurant, which was fully packed with big fat white people. Most of the waiters were black. It’s a pattern that we saw a lot in South Africa.

We  went to the Polokwane game reserve in the afternoon. Wessel told us that it was a much smaller game reserve than Kruger, and you could drive through all of it in a couple of hours. While driving through the game reserve we could see one of the football stadiums being built for SA2010 in the background.

Absolutely the best part of this game reserve was that you were actually allowed to get out of the car and approach the animals. All at your own risk of course, because these are not zoo animals at all, and they will charge and attack you if you come too close. So after some instructions by our tour guide involving running back to the car as fast as we can when we see a rhino charging, we went out to take some photos. I was impressed by the sheer size and beauty of Kruger, but actually getting out of the car and getting close to Rhinos does feel a lot more exciting. Rhinos were the only animal out of the big five that we failed to see at Kruger, so we were both anxious to get some photos. We were rewarded quite nicely. And we didn’t die.

05-04 Botswana

After all the safaris it was time to get going, and drive to Zambia in a day-and-a-half. BeforeIMG_9522setting off we would pick up some new people, and finally our tour group was no longer just Kamil and me. We picked up a Danish couple and one pair of Canadian twins. It was in this group that we crossed the border to Botswana. A fairly easy and unexciting endeavour, which Kamil and I tried to make more enjoyable by doing the entire border crossing barefoot, in solidarity with our tour guide, who had lost his flipflops. Botswana Barefoot Border Crossing. That sounds exciting, but it basically involved getting out of the van, walking into the government building, signing a form, getting a stamp and walking out again.

We stayed at a nice campsite that night, and saw an elephant in the dark. Failed to take a picture of it though, and after Kruger both Kamil and I were beyond being impressed by casual wildlife. By this time, by the way, we were both stung several times already by mosquitos, despite all the bug spray we kept on spraying around. I was really worried about getting malaria while still in Japan, but when we were actually there I somehow could not be so worried. That changed a couple of days later though, when I got sick.

05-05 Zambia

While driving through Botswana the road got worse and worse, and huge potholes caused us a lot of slowdowns, and Wessel had to swerve a lot and even go off-road sometimes to avoid the big holes in the road. The area we were driving through was quite interesting though and kept on changing. Sometimes we would see farmland, which would then change into mountains, and then just pure wild nature. Occasionally an elephant or giraffe could be seen at the side of the road, and sometimes there would be cattle or deer crossing the road, completely ignoring any traffic until the cars got very close and started honking at them.

The border crossing from Botswana to Zambia we did not do barefoot, but despite that it was quite a bit more interesting. We had to take a ferry across the river, and then we had to wait for several hours until Wessel could get his tour group approved for entry into Zambia. Saw some military people with AK47s. I didn’t really have an impression of Zambia at all at this point.

It was only a short time after the border crossing until we arrived at our final destination: the waterfront lodge at the Zambezi river, just a small bit away from where it plunges down the Victoria Falls. We arrived just in time for a sunset cruise and a nice dinner. The waterfront was the final destination for Kamil and I, whereas the rest of the group would travel onwards a couple of days later.

05-06 Activities involving death and dying

So we went ‘abseiling’. That’s what the activity was called. Abseiling does not sound dangerous. It almost sounds fun. Just climbing down a mountain on a rope. Can’t be that difficult, can it? Well it wasn’t, and that’s why there were more activities than just abseiling. Activities that involve throwing yourself off a cliff. I had prepared myself mentally to go skydiving on our last day in Zambia, and I was convinced that skydiving was the most crazy thing I would be doing. I was quite wrong.

The gorge swing. It’s not so much a swing, at first, but more like A FALL TO YOUR DEATH. After you think that you’ve died the actual ‘swing’ part begins. Basically, they span a rope across the canyon, hang a rope down from the center, and let you jump off a cliff. As you fall down the rope tightens and starts to swing you across the canyon towards the other end. Your head narrowly misses the rocks at the cliff wall in the beginning. This is as close to suicide as I will ever get.

DSC_0775

Besides the gorge swing we also did some rap jumping, which is the same as abseiling, but face down. I realized here that I was more afraid of heights than of falling. The first step was quite difficult, and reaching the cliff end and looking down the cliff for the first time was scary as hell, but when I started to climb I quite enjoyed myself. It was more like space-walking than wall-climbing though, and most of the time we were actually in mid-air. Kamil took this opportunity to demonstrate his skills and managed to turn himself up-side-down, and slowly bounced his head three times against the cliff. He had his helmet on and nothing in his brain was damaged as far as we can tell, but it did provide for the best piece of slapstick comedy that I’ve ever seen in my life 😀

Three near-death experiences later we went back to our camp site, and joined the rest of our tour group for a farewell dinner, as we would be left behind the next day. Yet another steak has been devoured.

05-07 Victoria Falls and the Zimbabwe border

‘You might get a little bit wet’. That’s what they told us before we crossed the bridge that would give us the most spectacular view on the Victoria Falls. We got soaked, and I took a video of it. Wrapping my camera in a towel and then a plastic bag was apparently enough to protect it against all the water being sprayed up from the waterfall water’s fall. The spray creates beautiful rainbows everywhere and we took a lot of photos. After our group left we went down into what was called ‘the boiling pot’, which is the point right after the waterfalls where the river starts to flow again, quite violently.

The bridge that forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe is quite famous, and you can do a bungee jump from there. I tried to tempt Kamil to do it (without having any intention of actually doing it myself), but we both had quite enough adrenalin rush for a whileTransaction. We walked across the bridge to take some pictures and went to the Zimbabwe side of the border, but didn’t cross it. On the bridge a lot of people bothered us and tried to sell us a lot of things, like wooden statues that they made in their village, and Zimbabwe dollars, which are worth nothing now but still have a souvenir value for tourists. Even worthless money is worth money. Anything goes in Africa, and we both did some trading.

05-08 Canoeing

Ran out of sunscreen! I didn’t have time to find my spare one in the morning, so for our half-day canoeing adventure only my arms and face were covered. My legs turned bright red in only three hours of exposure to sunlight. I’m like a vampire. Anyway, canoeing was great. We went with this weird Spanish couple who did not seem to fit in a canoeing environment at all. The river was quite calm for the most part, but there were one or two fun parts as well. It was all perfectly safe too, because, as our instructor told us, the rough areas where you are likely to fall out don’t have crocodiles 😀

Kamil wanted to go to town in the afternoon, but I could not manage. Some strange disease had caught up and my favorite place for that day and night was the toilet. It’s fun to get sick in Africa. You keep on wondering whether you got malaria or if it’s just a ‘normal’ disease. Kamil gave me one of his rehydration packs, which I think really helped me a lot. Still, I was bound to the tent and the toilet for the rest of the day…

05-09 Skydiving

But we didn’t go! Well, we wanted to, but they told us the plane was getting fixed… It turns out the gorge swing had become the most crazy thing I did during this trip. I still didn’t feel well so I slept in the morning, while Kamil went off and did quad-biking. By this point you may have gotten a bit of an idea what the place was like. Basically, it’s like a Disneyland for grown-ups. You get to do all the crazy stuff that you can think of. When Kamil returned we asked for a taxi driver to take us to town so we could get some lunch. We ended up renting the guy and the taxi for most of the afternoon, and he took us to a lot of places, including a train museum, a local market and a hotel for filthy-rich people. The hotel was the closest place to the Victoria Falls, and we were basically allowed to just walk in and sit at a riverside terrace, watching the waterfalls. QuiteIMG_3026 entertaining. The taxi driver himself was informative and hilarious, as he told us about how he used to be a tour guide. He gave us a lot of interesting info when we were walking around the local market. When we reached the hotel he was visibly happy and took it easy, telling us about his hobbies, which were fishing and watching American Pro Wrestling on TV 😀

We arrived back at 3PM, and I had an appointment for a microlight flight over the waterfalls. It was only 15 minutes, but it was truly IMG_9750mazing, and the most spectacular thing I’ve seen during the entire trip. I was not allowed to bring my camera though. They offered to take pictures of you which you could buy for $20, but I passed on that. Youtube later confirmed my suspicion that somebody else already put his pictures online and that they all look exactly the same. This was really an amazing experience! Flying a microlight is so easy. I want to learn how to do this myself.

05-10/11 Mal-Asia

This trip had by far the longest journey home of all my trips in my life, and I doubt I will get a much longer journey home in the future. On Sunday we took South Africa airlines back from Livingstone to Johannesburg. Then on Monday I flew back to Malaysia with Malaysia airlines, where I had to wait for 18 hours for the flight back to Japan. In my mind the journey home started on Sunday morning and finally ended on Wednesday morning, when I arrived back safely in my boring room in the youth heim in Japan. After arriving in Malaysia and in Japan we had to fill in a form related to quarantaining people that could possibly have been infected with the swine flu, but it didn’t cause any trouble for me.

Things to do at Kuala Lumpur airport when you’re bored. Reading. Sleeping. Starbucks. Burger King. Walking around the terminal. It’s not a very nice airport. It’s too cold and too empty. Quite unlike the airports in Australia, which are nice and warm and have carpets. There were almost no people there for the whole day. They have this train that connects the two terminals, which officially is called aerotrain. During my 18 hours there I have heard most people refer to it as ‘that train thing’.

Tell me, what would you do if this happened to you? You’re just sitting there at the airport, relaxing in a chair, reading a book. Suddenly a muslim guy with a lot of luggage walks towards you, puts his luggage down next to you and asks you to watch it for him. Before you can say anything he disappears into a Muslim prayer room. I did nothing. Just waited. The guy came back, took back his luggage and thanked me. But all the while I was thinking that this could cause some serious misunderstandings, especially at an airport. Well, glad to be of service, I guess.

Since my stopover was very long I attempted to get a hotel stay out of it. Malaysia airlines includes a hotel stay if your stopover is longer than 6(?) hours, but as I found out this is only valid if you have an expensive ticket, whereas I had the cheapest one. I got referred to the lounge, where I tried to ask for a hotel stay, but the person at the reception kindly told me to go to a certain gate, which I found out after I arrived was the most faraway gate at the airport, and there was nothing there at all. Thank you Malaysia Airlines. You suck. I will never go to Malaysia again. And if I was a dictator, I would bomb your country. Ha!

Reflection

We got the idea for doing this trip because we were looking for something different from our daily lives. For me personally, I was kind of unhappy with my life at the time when we first made plans. Ironically, when the time finally arrived and I had to go to Africa, I was not unhappy at all, and quite happy with my (somewhat boring) life. Africa proved to be a nice kick in the butt though, which will hopefully inspire me to do more trips like this in the future. Hopefully the next trip I do will be with my wife 😀

There’s a certain peace involved in traveling. It’s a great feeling to wake up, knowing that tonight you will be somewhere else. Traveling makes your life go in a certain rhythm that is hard to fight. Everything just comes naturally when you’re traveling. It’s a great feeling.

It’s been by far the most scary trip I ever did, but in quite a different way than I expected. I expected daily life to be full of worries about getting robbed, getting malaria and whatnot. There was none of that at all. The scary part was the ‘jumping off a cliff’ part. When I try to rationally think about why I did that, I can really think of no reason at all. And when I think about it too much, I still remember my last jump, face backwards, feet bounds together, letting myself fall backwards, opening my eyes and then slowly seeing the cliffs fall away from me. It was a moment of true freedom. I am one hundred percent sure that I will be able to recall that moment perfectly even ten years from now. Strangely enough my mind is a complete blank for the first jump. I think I blocked it out >_<;

I did Africa!

Why?

– the end –

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1 Comment »

  1. Hey Randy,

    Kwam je blog tegen en zat een beetje rond te klikken, we hadden elkaar zo ongeveer tegen kunnen komen in Afrika – hoe bizar zou dat zijn geweest?! Ben ook in zuid-afrika en bij de vic falls in zambia geweest dit jaar, maar dan voornamelijk via namibie gereist ipv botswana. Zo te horen heb je iig ook een mooie reis gemaakt, zo te horen moet ik iig nog een keer terug om te gaan ‘abseilen’ 😀

    Comment by Hielko — October 15, 2009 @ 0:21 | Reply


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