For the second part of my parents’ trip they headed down to Cape Town – an essential part of any visit to southern Africa! They spent 4 days touring around the Cape – visiting Boulders Beach, Cape Point, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Table Mountain. A nice relaxing change to action packed safari life!
The following Friday we met them in Kasane to start the last part of their trip. Kasane is a very small town in Botswana that sits at the convergence point of 4 countries – Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe. It is thus a border town and mainly a base for visiting Chobe National Park and crossing over to Victoria Falls. We spent the afternoon on a river cruise into Chobe National Park. Chobe was Botswana’s first national park and it has one of the largest concentrations of game in Africa. It has 4 distinct ecosystems of swamps, floodplains and woodlands– the Chobe Riverfront, the Savuit Marsh Area, the Linyati Marsh area and the Ngwenzumba Pans.
Cruising down the Chobe River is the most relaxing way to view game here because all the animals come to you as they concentrate around the riverbanks to drink! We saw crocodiles, elephants, buffalos, zebras, red lechwe, waterbuck, sable, impala, hippos and tons of birds. Chobe is most famous for its huge herds of elephants that often swim across the channel at sunset. Indeed the sunset was beautiful and we did see many elephants drinking, playing and swimming in the water.
Most memorably we watched a 3 month old baby ellie who was trying to drink with the rest of his family. However, elephants don’t gain muscle tone in their trunks until 4 months so he was just flapping around his trunk and not sure how to make it work. Finally he gave up and just shoved his whole head in the water to drink!
We stayed at the Kubu Lodge which sits on the edge of the Chobe River a bit farther north of town. The rooms are private thatched roof chalets with ensuite bathrooms which sit on lovely wooded grounds. They had a nice restaurant with a beautiful deck overlooking the river. Dinner and breakfast had a good range of tasty options. All lodging in this area is quite expensive so I felt lucky to have found this budget option.
The next day we headed over the border to Victoria Falls town. On my prior visit to Vic Falls I stayed in Livingstone, Zambia so this was my first visit to this area. It is a very cute town – a lot smaller and quieter than I expected. Although we were there in low season – I still expected a decent amount of tourist but was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t feel that way. We stayed at the N1 Hotel – which is basically the African equivalent of a Motel 6. Aside from camping or bunk style hostels – this is the cheapest it gets for around Vic Falls! However, I was very happy with the hotel. Everything was clean, the room was comfortable with good A/C, they had good wifi, there was a helpful tour information desk and best of all the location was perfect – right next to the markets and less than 10 min walk to the falls.
We spent one day walking around Victoria Falls National Park where there are about 15 viewing sites to see each part of the falls. From August to December when water levels are at their lowest, you can only see the flowing parts of the falls from the Zim side. Other times of the year there is so much water that you can get a good view from either side – but often there is so much spray it is hard to see anything!
We did a dinner boat cruise on the Zamezi with http://www.africabushcuisine.com/river-cruises. It was wonderful and I would totally say this is a must for anyone visiting the area. This boat was especially nice because it catered to couples/small groups and the meal was 4 courses as opposed to buffet. The scenery is beautiful along the river and we enjoyed an incredible sunset next to a huge herd of elephants and buffalo playing along the water’s edge.
The next day we went shopping in the local markets which was an interesting and exhausting experience. Zimbabwe is an incredibly poor country so everyone is desperate to sell you anything they can for whatever price. I have seen some aggressive selling in Asia but this ranks up there as some of the most non stop, in your face, heartbreaking and tiresome selling practices of any market I have been to. Many people were more interested in bartering than accepting money. They begged us for socks, batteries, pens and insect spray to trade for items. Prices ranged all over the place – some asked outrageous rates of $60 while others would ask $5 for the same exact item. You really have to be a tough bargainer to get out of here without getting totally ripped off (and luckily for my parents – I am the toughest bargainer!). I am a very avid believer that you should pay what things cost and not over pay just because you have more money. When people come into foreign countries and start throwing around money, it ruins the market for everyone in the future and also drives up prices for poor local people. I would much rather donate a few dollar or other items to people in need than overpay them and inflate the cost of goods. My biggest success of the day was the purchase of a large wooden hippo for the price of $15 and a pen! I have been wanting a big hippo so I was quite pleased to be able to take this guy home with us. His name is Leopold and he lives in our living room now!
We spent an afternoon at the Outlook Café where I ziplined across the gorge! There are a ton of adventure activities in and around Vic Falls – and they are all very pricey. On my last visit I did micro-lighting, white water rafting, walking with lions and swimming in Devil’s pool. I hope to be able to add one more activity on each trip – the gorge swing, a helicopter ride, jet boat tour or bungee jumping are next on the list!
Next we visited the Victoria Falls Hotel for high tea. I absolutely loved this place – it makes you feel like you are walking back into colonial Africa. I hope to stay there at some point. It is full of artifacts and pictures of the area in the early 1900s showing how British high society used to visit and get carted down to the falls in rickshaws. We enjoyed our tea on the deck with a great view out over the Victoria Falls Gorge. The high tea doesn’t compare with the spread at the Brown Palace in Denver….but the ambience makes up for it!
Then we spent our last night together at The Boma. This place is legendary and I would say that it is basically the Case Bonita of Zimbabwe. Some people hate this kind of stuff – but we loved it! You show up and they dress you in traditional fabric togas, paint your faces and make you feel like you are part of a tribe. Of course Garrett and I were pumped to get our faces painted. Garrett asked the face painter to give him something scary and what he came up with was nothing short of amazing… I believe he was trying to make Garrett into a lion – but the result was more of a terrifying clown. Everyone in the restaurant was dying with laughter at how ridiculous he looked! It was so great!
The food is traditional fare with various grilled game meats – and of course the delicacy of grilled mopane worms. If you eat a mopane worm you get a special certificate – and yes we all did it! They roasted a lamb over a fire pit in the center of the dining room. A witchdoctor was available in a small tent to read your fortune in bones. In the center of the room traditional dancers performed, followed by drummers and an a capella group. Everyone in the audience was given their own drum and we were taught how to play traditional beats with the group. Then everyone was invited to the center for a dance party. The best part was the overly excited groups of Japanese and Chinese tourists that were really getting into the dancing and singing.
We said farewell to my parents the next morning over a lovely breakfast at the Africa Café in the Elephant Walk Shopping Center (awesome food and drinks!). What a great trip for all of us! More than anyone I know – my parents deserve a wonderful vacation and I loved getting to show them the best of our new home!