You have to take Sand Ridge Road to travel north from Savuti to Kasane. It is deep sand but nowhere near as bumpy as the road into Savuti. You also get an added bonus of having lots of wildlife to view on the way – we saw elephants, giraffe, zebra and an incredible sable. It took about 4 hours to get to Kasane.
We had planned to camp at Chobe Safari Lodge but they were completely booked. Our second choice – Thebe Lodge was also full. We had to go 7km out of town to Kubu Lodge to find a place that had available campsites. Because the Chobe river was overflowing the banks, many of the campsites had flooded, leaving a shortage of accommodations. I was overall surprised at how busy Kasane was for the end of April which is normally low season, but Kasane has become a majorly booming tourist destination year round – so make sure you book far in advance.
April 30, Garrett’s birthday fell on our first night in Kasane. We celebrated with a feast at an Indian restaurant he discovered on his last visit to Kasane. Although we couldn’t stay at Chobe Safari Lodge as planned, the next morning we had a nice brunch buffet there and mainly enjoyed using their speedy internet.
Our next stop was supposed to be Ihaha Camp which is the only public camp site within Chobe National Park. However, the car had been struggling quite a bit and it seemed like we really needed to get the shocks/springs replaced before heading out to Namibia. Kasane does not have any good land rover mechanics, so we either needed to cross the border to Zim or wait for parts to get couriered to Kasane. Since we had toyed around with the idea of visiting Vic Falls anyway, this was a good excuse to just do it. So we made an impromptu afternoon departure and arrived to Vic Falls town at sunset.
We camped at N1 Hotel which is our favorite place to stay in Vic Falls Town. Absolutely the best value for your money. The name makes it sound like a dumpy motel but it is clean, comfortable, right next to the local markets and walking distance to everything you need in town. They have even done some upgrades and remodeling since our last visit to make it even nicer. The campsite facilities are excellent. They have a large ablution hall with individual rooms with showers and sinks. They have a nice pool, their own tourist booking agency and most importantly good wifi that works in the campsite.
Its been about a year since we were in Vic Falls and so much has changed. I am not sure if it is because of Mugabe’s ousting but there were a ton more tourists and a lot of new businesses. Most exciting was a new brewery right across from our campsite called River Brewery. The beers were tasty and they had pretty good food (except half of the things on the menu were out of stock). We also ate at 3 Monkeys, a new restaurant built over the train tracks. Food not as good but a cute venue.
The next morning Garrett took the car in to start the repairs and I did some serious shopping. We haven’t bought much on the trip which is kind of disappointing. I was expecting to have a collection of some amazing finds from exotic locales. But we have been in such non-touristy areas that there hasn’t really been much to buy….or we have just not been in the mood to shop. Also…we just don’t have room for anything!
I had originally planned to do a lot of shopping in Zim because they do excellent woodworking and everything is cheap. But we didn’t find any good markets in Lake Kariba, Mana Pools, Bulawayo, Hwange or the area of Harare we were in. So our last minute return trip to Vic Falls was a great opportunity to make some big purchases. In the past I have done some great bargaining and trading here. I brought all sorts of items to trade in anticipation of shopping in Zim. However, it seems like things have changed. The sellers were not so interested in bargaining or trading. They just wanted the trade items I was offering on top of cash. I had to work for hours and make multiple visits to break down some of them into selling me what I wanted at a reasonable price.
I had my eye on getting some large wooden items. It was my goal to have a whole wooden hippo family to add to the larger hippo we bought on our last trip to Zim. I succeeded in finding a tiny hippo and a medium sized one but what I really needed was a massive one. I searched for hours and finally found the perfect hippo made of natural teak that was not too obscenely large. It took 4 visits to bargain him down from over $200. We wanted to pay $80 but finally broke down and gave him $100. What a great deal!
Garrett had to strap the hippo (who we named Mr Kubu) on top of the fridge in the back seat. To get him across the border, we just put an empty box over him. Then we shipped him and his two friends home via a courier to a friends’s office in Gabs. We ended up just telling him we had a few “minor” items to ship because we thought it would be hilarious for him to randomly receive these large hippo packages 🙂
After my shopping expedition, Garrett and I went on an elephant back safari with Shearwater Safaris. This had been a major bucket-list item of ours. We have ridden Asian elephants but that really doesn’t compare to an African elephant. We visited Abu Camp which used to be famous for elephant back safaris, but they had just stopped allowing guests ride their elephants when we stayed.
Riding elephants is very controversial and there is always a lot of bad press surrounding this topic. I can see where people are coming from and respect their opinion but I think making broad statements that no elephant riding should be allowed anywhere is narrow minded. It is important to understand the company you are working with, how/why they acquired their elephants, how they are being treated and what would be the alternative for these elephants if the company didn’t exist.
All of the elephants at Shearwater were orphaned in Hwange NP during a drought. Elephants are heavily water dependent and must have water to drink daily. If an area runs out of water, they have to travel very long distances everyday to keep looking for fresh water. If there are small babies in the herd, they often can’t keep up the pace and get left. The moms can’t bear to leave their babies so they stay behind, but they have to keep nursing to feed the baby. When there are no sources for water they slowly die of dehydration. This leaves the baby to fend for itself and a lone baby elephant really has no chance for survival.
During the last big drought, numerous orphaned elephants were found in the park and rescued by the Shearwater Program. They were raised in captivity to give them a chance to live. The idea came up to do elephant back safaris to give them a way to fund their care and increase awareness for elephant protection. It is incredibly expensive to care for elephants. What people don’t realize is that without a source of income from tourist activities like elephant riding, these elephants would just be killed because they cannot survive in the wild anymore and no one is going to independently fund the care of elephants long term.
The same goes in Asia. After the logging industry banned use of elephants for labor, there were thousands of domesticated elephants that could no longer survive in the wild. These elephants would all have been killed without tourism. Of course there are companies abuse and overwork their elephants, but most do not. Most treat the elephants as if they were their own children. Especially in Africa – the elephant handlers are incredibly attached to and would do anything for these elephants.
There were only 3 of us on the tour, so Garrett and I got our own elephants to ride. I had Datemma and Garrett had Luduma. Our guides rode along with us to help guide elephants. I learned so much from my guide. Their elephant herd is free to roam around during the day but they always come back at night on their own because they love to be fed. I asked a lot of questions about if the elephants are happy and if they are forced to do tours. My guide laughed and said they LOVE it and even fight with each other to be chosen for riding. The elephants are rotated to allow half to rest every other day. I was surprised they liked doing the rides so much and he said its no big surprise because they get extra food after the ride from the guests. So of course they want to do what gets them extra treats and attention. He said that elephants are 100% focused on food and they will do whatever they can to be in a situation to give themselves better access to food and water. Of course it would be nice if no elephant was ever put in danger and no elephant ever got orphaned or taken into captivity against their will, but that just isn’t reality. You either accept that these elephants would be dead or that they have a nice cushy life getting fed and given lots of attention. Unfortunately there isn’t a solution that is perfect.
Some other cool elephant facts we learned:
- Elephants dig for salt in the ground and can often get cracks in their tusks when they dig. Over time as the dirt and rocks pushes up into the cracks via pressure it can split the tusks. If the split extends too high up it can reach nerves and get infected. If the infection spreads it can go into the CNS and kill the elephant!
- Elephants can hold 9 liters of water in their trunks! They drink 120L of water a day = to half a 50 gallon drum.
- Elephants regurgitate water into their trunk to cool themselves off.
- Only 40% of what they eat gets digested so they have to eat 200 kg of food to fuel their bodies.
- They can’t gallop because they move both feet on one side at a time. But they can run up to 21 km/hour.
- They are born with only 6 sets of teeth. Initially the teeth are shed at 6 years and then every 10 years there after. So at about 60 year old they die of starvation because they have no teeth to eat anymore.
We rode our elephants through the reserve for about 45 minutes. We didn’t see anything besides birds in the area. I thought it was funny how the elephants were trying to grab everything in sight to eat with their trunk. Like a kid in a candy store just grabbing everything they see. They really do just live for food.
After the ride we visited with the elephants in an open area where we could feed and pet them. We fed them food pellets made up of corn and molasses – man did they love these! Unlike our elephant feeding experience at Abu Camp, we could only feed these ellies through their trunks.
These elephants also paint by making footprint designs. We purchased one that looks like a cool abstract design. Proceeds go to support the care of the elephants. There was also a photographer who goes along on the ride to take pictures of everyone. She charges $20 for a cd. The pictures were nice but we decided not to get it. The ride itself cost $150 so not cheap. They serve drinks and some snacks after the ride. We enjoyed the experience but not something everyone would want to do.
We spent the afternoon at the Vic Falls Hotel – one of my favorite places to visit in Vic Falls town. It wisks you back in time with elegant colonial architecture, nostalgic art and a grand view to the falls. I highly recommend high tea on the deck.
The next morning we visited the falls. Like dummies we forgot our rain jackets! May is high water so we knew there was no hope of staying dry. The viewpoints get progressively more steamy as you head to the higher numbers. From the Zim side you can see where the Zambezi flows over the edge and it was really pumping! A much different view than my prior visits during the dry season. At first I was like “oh this isn’t so wet”….then we moved further along and it started feeling like I was walking through a hurricane! It was hard to even stand up straight with gusts of wind pelting water at you from all directions. We got 100% drenched. I had a plastic phone case that I was trying to use to take pictures/videos. That was really the only way you could photograph. I got a few snaps. We also used the gopro to take some really poor quality videos.
There was a massive group of 50+ local high school kids visiting at the same time as us. They would take over each viewpoint with endless selfie-ing. It was annoying but I was glad to see the local kids taking interest in their own country’s landmarks.
After Vic Falls, we went back to the mechanic – John at Hispan Motors. We got a recommendation for John from our friend Maurice who helped us with defender parts/repairs in Harare. Both super nice guys. John runs a family business with his wife and son. I enjoyed talking with his wife and learning about their experiences in Zim. What crazy times they have endured. She was telling me about how inflation got so bad that their accounting system couldn’t even run the numbers because it wouldn’t go up into the trillions! Crazy!
Boomie ended up needing a new set of front shocks, rear springs, greased prop shaft, a new thermostat for the AC and we also got a few spare parts. The springs had dislodged out of the top mounting and got compressed 2 in on one side and 1.5 in on the other. No wonder they weren’t doing any good on the bumpy roads! It was like night and day after the repairs. We could go over pop holes without bottoming out and rattling all over the place.
So it was a great side trip – allowed us to do some fun things to celebrate Garrett’s birthday, ride elephants and see Vic Falls at high water. Unfortunately, we would find out later that John’s crew installed the new shocks incorrectly…..leading to more trouble to come in Namibia.