Monday, May 12, 2008

The Magical Mystery Tour

Did I mention I didn’t like spiders and snakes????
Just before our long awaited holiday, I hadn’t been feeling great – in fact, it felt like I had been run over by a herd of elephants, and I discovered a nasty looking blister under my arm. On the way to Gaborone a couple of days before the holiday was to begin, we stopped by to see the Saber camp medic who thought it was a spider bite and gave me allergy pills to counteract the venom. He said if I still felt lousy to go to the private hospital in Gaborone which I ended up doing. I was treated very quickly in Emergency and had blood tests taken to see if it was a spider or tick bite. The doctor said it was clear I had an infection, and regardless of the outcome of the tests (I never did find out) he prescribed antibiotics and within a few days I began to feel better.

They arrived!

Weary after 37 hours of traveling, Brad and Anette arrived in Gaborone! We spent the day hanging out by the pool to let them recuperate before a very busy Magical Mystery Tour kicked into high gear. We had sworn everyone involved in the planning of the trip to secrecy, which added to the anticipation. Here is just a taste of some of the 1000+ pictures the four of us took over the 2 weeks.

Madikwe Game Reserve, S. Africa

A funny thing happened while crossing the border from Botswana to S. Africa. Turns out when I arrived in Botswana on February 1st, the immigration officer’s stamp had 2007 on it instead of 2008..... Incredibly, no one caught the mistake until I tried to leave the country! Fortunately we received our residency/work permits the day before (no one at Immigration noticed the mistake) and I was able to leave (the government is very strict about only being allowed to stay 90 days in a year).
We arrived at Thakadu River Camp, a co-operative eco-tourism venture between a nearby village and the Madikwe Collection of safari lodges. There we stayed for 2 nights in beautiful tents with decadent bathrooms perched over a river where we enjoyed seeing elephants and monkeys coming down for water.

We went on game drives at 4 p.m. and 6 a.m. each day and saw lions, elephants, Cape Buffalo, white rhino, giraffes, wildebeest, zebras, hyenas, warthogs and numerous varieties of antelopes and birds – in fact, we saw everything but the elusive leopards and wild dogs.

The game tracker always found wonderful vantage points to stop and serve cocktails while the sun set – one evening we saw an amazing storm over the veld where the lightning was actually horizontal – a phenomenon we had never seen before.

While we were at Thakadu, we had a dinner by the boma (fire) and it was beautiful to be surrounded by only lantern and candle light.

On the morning we were to leave Thakadu to go to another Madikwe lodge, one of the owners came up to our table and said, “’re going to Victoria Falls”. Up until then, we had managed to keep the itinerary a secret and Brad said he wished he had taken my picture at that moment. My usual “poker face” gave way to shock as I cautiously said yes, and then he proceeded to tell us our travel agent had called to tell him that Nationwide Airlines (the airline we were using to go from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg) had ceased operation. We found out that problems surfaced last November when there was an “engine separation” while taking off from Cape Town amongst other things that led to the airline’s demise. So, the cat was out of the bag, but fortunately, after a few calls back and forth, we got confirmed on a British Airways flight so our plans were able to continue after all.

To enable us to catch a morning flight from Gabs to Kasane in Northern Botswana, we spent our final night at the beautiful Motswiri Lodge in Madikwe which was closer to the border.

Roger and I really wanted Brad and Anette to meet Obert, so since he was on a week off and couldn’t go back home to Zimbabwe because of the unrest, we gave him money to meet us at the airport. We had a wonderful visit and Brad, Anette and Obert were happy to finally meet each other. We discussed what was happening in Zimbabwe and the horrific conditions caused by Mogabe in the last decade. Obert touched our hearts when he said, “you can handle suffering – as long as you are free”.

Victoria Falls - Livingstone, Zambia
When we arrived in Kasane, we were met by a driver who thankfully guided us through the throngs of people and trucks to a motorboat that took us across the river that separated Botswana from Zambia. We passed about 75 semi-trucks who were waiting for the ferry – and with the ferry only holding 2 trucks at a time, we knew they would be there for hours – if not days.

Once we got through the Zambian border (passing guards that held machine guns), we were driven to the Zambezi Sun – our hotel which was just a short walk to Victoria Falls. The hotel is on a nature reserve, and so it was not unusual to see zebras, giraffes and baboons meandering about. The monkeys were particularly fun to watch – as they seemed to taunt the guards that used sling shots to keep them away from the restaurants!

There is no wonder that Victoria Falls is one of the 7 wonders of the world. The power of the water – the expanse – well, it is incredible. We hiked down several paths to see it from various vantage points and got soaked in the process.

Brad and Anette treated us to a helicopter ride over the falls and it was fantastic to see it from the air.

We also took a boat ride on the Zambezi River one evening and although clouds covered up the sunset, we did see 5 elephants swim across the channel to an island where we had a great view of them.

Cape Town, S. Africa

The last leg of the tour was a week in Cape Town. We returned to the Portswood Hotel, and were welcomed by Brian the bellman who remembered us from our visit in September. The hotel is close to the V&A Waterfront and we loved being a stone’s throw from amazing restaurants, great shopping – and of course, boats.
One morning we went on a tour of the Townships which taught us what happened during the forced removal of blacks and coloreds from District 6 during the apartheid era and what life is like today in the shanty towns we saw from the freeway. We expected to be depressed, but instead, we were again heartened by the resiliency of people.

We met women who started day care centres and pre-schools so children have a safe place to go while their parents are at work; women that have started B&Bs in preparation for the influx of tourists expected for the World Cup in 2010; a woman, despite being HIV positive, that has taught more than 100 women and children to sew, and a man who has a business making flowers from pop cans. They each had a vision and a spirit that inspired us.

A trip to South Africa wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the wine country. The hotel set us up with a private guide who took us on a fabulous day trip to Paarl, Franschoek and Stellenbosch. We first went to a large winery called KVW where we had a tour of how wine is made and a wine tasting. Then we went to Graham Beck’s – a very modern facility, and then to a small winery, Warwick Estate, which is owned by a Canadian. At each winery we learned something about wines, and sampled at least 5 different varieties – thank goodness we had a driver!

The best part of the day was when we stopped for lunch at Boshendahl’s vineyard for lunch.
There we ordered a picnic basket which we ate at beautiful tables set out on the lawn with the mountains serving as a backdrop. The basket had everything from pates, baguettes, salads, cold meats, cheeses, dessert and a bottle of wine! It was the best lunch we’ve ever had and has definitely raised the bar for future picnics.
We walked up and down Cape Town’s famous Long Street and ate at the famous Mama Africa restaurant.

Another tour that we took was a half day trip to the Cape where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. The rugged coastline was made even more dramatic with the low hanging clouds and stormy seas.

Our last evening was spent at Newlands Stadium where we saw a professional rugby game. The crowds were boisterous but not rowdy as liquor is not sold in the stadium and we were searched before entering. The game was played in torrential rains, but we were fortunate to have seats under cover and so thoroughly enjoyed it.
It was hard to do, but we all came up with our favourite moments of the trip:
Brad – the first game drive when he saw lions close up
Anette – staying at Thakadu River Camp – she loved the tents!
Roger – on one of the night game drives, we were traveling down a trail to avoid a herd of elephants that were blocking another road (elephants are most dangerous at night because they don’t see well). In the pitch darkness, an elephant loudly trumpeted just a few feet from us and startled the daylights out of those of us who hadn’t seen him!
Heather – the picnic lunch at Boschendahl winery.
Of course, there were so many other moments: the helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, laughing at the monkeys and baboons, getting soaked while walking by the Falls, crossing the border into Zambia, fantastic meals, getting an insider look into the townships, drinking great wines, the rugby game.....
May 11th came quickly and we all went our separate ways. Roger and I back to Botswana, Brad to Edmonton, and Anette to Norway where she is joining her mom and brother and will visit her Norwegian relatives.
We are so lucky that Brad and Anette are not only family – but they are good friends as well. It might not have turned out to be a Magical Mystery Tour --- but it was magical.


Anonymous said...

Sooo cool, I wish we were there. I was in Texas last week and we did a winery tour west of Austin in the hill country, but I think the wine would have been of a much better quality in South Africa.

I can't believe it was already a year ago that we shared in the Kinley wedding adventure in St. Lucia. I had such a good time and it was because our best friends were there including our kids. I know just what you mean.

Hugs to all, love H.

Heather Christie said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful trip! We are just in the planning stages right now for what will happen after school is over in mid-June. We might take some tips from you folks! At this point, it looks like driving the wild coast and the garden route to cape town, flying to Lusaka, then busing it through Vic Falls through Botswana to Joberg, where my flight leaves at the end of July. Might be seeing you sometime soon then!
Love, Heather