A Travellerspoint blog

Okavango

Owning a piece of the panhandle

Franklin_C..006_514.jpgThe notion of a houseboat on the Panhandle of the Okavango Delta may be unusual, but we did it.

Driving with our AfriFriends guide from Vic Falls through Chobe and the Caprivi Strip took us six hours. Lots of elephants, sable antelope and even a pride of lions made this a true safari.

As a newly qualified expert, I am proud to share a couple of valuable travel tips. One: make sure you have lots of water. Game viewing is thirsty work.

Two: Make sure you have enough pens. Four people times six immigration forms divided by one pen equals more time trying not to look at the immigration official and be questioned about that case of beer you have stashed.

Three: wear proper boots, not flip-flops and don`t tell anybody that you have more than one pair of foot ware. You are going to have to stick your feet (and any other foot ware) into a scary, indescribable sludge to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. Thank god you don`t have to stick your mouth in it too!

After we passed these and other tests of African travel, we arrived at our houseboat. According to everything I`d heard, it is the most luxurious boat on this part of the river. What I hadn`t heard is that it is also the only boat on this part of the Okavango River.

Great, just us, the boat and the river. The captain cast off from the steaming shore and the day went from blistering hot to magic as we forged sturdily up the river and the cool breeze refreshed us. The Okavango River was all ours. Now what?

Well, we fished for tiger and barbel, drifted up to elephants that have come to bathe and crossed the river to look at water lilies. Hippos visited us and crocodiles reminded us that swimming was out of the question. We had cocktails as the sky turned pink and the fish eagle called. We ate. Slept with the sounds of Africa and the river. Woke to fresh mornings and coffee and started all over again.

The river was hushed, hurrying downstream almost soundlessly, giving a gurgle every now and again as it met our boat to remind us that we`re floating. Baby breezes teased the languid air and is was bliss in Africa...

Posted by AfriFriend 08:19 Archived in Botswana Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

Richtersveld

The garden that pretends to be a desert

West Coast 042.jpgWe landed at Upington Airport from O. R .Tambo International in Johannesburg. Hot is not the word, more like scorching hot at midday. Our guides awaited us and what a relief to discover that the four wheel drive vehicles in the parking lot were air-conditioned. There were five of us, all friends from the UK. We are on our way to the Richtersveld National Park.
The Richtersveld, in the Northern Cape Province, consist of 800,000 hectares of hot, dry and hostile country for the unprepared visitor. We where prepared... sun block, hats, the necessities we could fit into a carry-on and our guides in their equipped vehicles.

Our first overnight stop - the Augrabies Falls on the Orange River. The Orange first accelerates through a series of cataracts before plunging 65m into a pool. Over millions of years the river has gorged a ravine 250m deep into the rock. When in flood the volume of water exceeds that of the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We viewed this spectacle from vantage points called Arrow Head, Moon Rock, Oranjekom and Ararat.

Day two saw us on the way to Springbok, our last 'town' before we entered the moonscape of the Richtersveld National Park. This was our last chance to stock-up on what we didn't think of when packing - batteries, extra sun block, etc. From here we headed for Lekkersing (singing with enjoyment) to meet some of the Nomadic Pastoralists for an evening of singing and dancing.

On day three we entered the park at Sendelingsdrift (missionaries drift). The park takes up only 20 percent of the Richtersveld and is an alluring place for anyone with pioneer inklings. The rugged and remote terrain presents a challenge to both off-roading and survivalist skills: food, water and fuel have to be brought into the park. Lucky for us we had our guides who thought of everything: food, drinks, ice and lemons for the G&T's.

We camped at Pooitjiespram (this one you'll have to ask about when you get there) on the Orange, or Gariep, River. Here the contrast between riverine vegetation and the stark desert around us was startling. Life on the banks of the river was bountiful. Egyptian Geese, Cormorants, Herons and Kingfishers fed in the shallows. Water birds weren't the only creatures with whom we shared the rivers edge. Petrus the Nama goatherd, his two dogs and his 400 goats provided local interaction.

For the next couple of days we bounced along corrugated dirt tracks with many stops to explore. Stark and hostile as it seems, the Richtersveld is a garden of great floral diversity and is considered to have more endemic species of succulents than any other place in the world. We soon realized that our air-conditioned 4X4's was no place to appreciate this desert garden.

Donning hats and copious amounts of sun-block we braved the scorching sun. There, on bended knees, we discovered the garden that pretends to be a desert. Hidden between stones and tucked beneath spiny shrubs were marvels of creation. Some hug the ground while others are a little bigger but stay low to conserve energy - it's easier when you're little.

There was also the Halfmens (half human) resembling an old Nama: weathered and bristly, stooping towards the sun, wise and obstinate who took a different approach to survive - see me, I'm big. Planting its roots on shady slopes and extending its trunk, covered in a fountain of leaves, to the sunny north to photosynthesize the winter rays or the Quiver Tree that have learnt to throw all its seeds into one thunderstorm. The seeds are programmed to germinate only when rains are good. Even then - not all its seeds will germinate at once, some stay dormant for many years until the time of 'plenty' comes again.

By the end of our week's trip, it seemed as though we had acclimatized to the Richtersveld. What wonderful creatures human beings are. We settle well into new environments and unlike the succulents of the Richtersveld who had evolved over thousands of years, we had transformed in one week; succulents had invented ultra-violet protection, we bought ours from the pharmacy; and where the plants have developed waxy layers, we wear hats and scarves. Smart things, humans.

Maybe not so smart? Sometimes all we want to do is go to those wonderful and glamorous places we see in brochures. Little do we realize that they are just man-made and that what nature has to offer does so much more for the soul. Camping in the wild opens the mind and brings rest to the inner person. Oh, and let it be known, dining under the stars at a well set table, with white linen and a three course meal prepared on an open fire, brings the day to a perfect end. Not to mention the stories and fun around the fire.

Posted by AfriFriend 08:09 Archived in South Africa Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Central Kalahari

A memorable sense of Wild Africa

Trip (58).jpg

The pack were laid up for the day and our arrival, to set up camp, caused inquisitive heads to pop up all over.

Cool drink in hand, our elated guests relaxed and watched as more dogs joined. Greetings and grooming where exchanged as the pack woke to prepare for the hunt.

With the sun touching the tree tops, the dogs set off with us in the vehicles close behind. We followed them on their hunt until darkness made it impossible.

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Traveling to these remote places in Southern Africa is by far the best experience one can have... no shops, TV, people or fences. Here things have not changed for thousands of years.

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Every thing has to be carried in, water, food, fuel, camping equipment. So, one might as well do it in style while keeping a watchfull eye not to become part of the food chain!

Posted by AfriFriend 04:46 Archived in Botswana Tagged ecotourism Comments (1)

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