South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe (1994)AFRICA REVISITED
Our destination was South Africa. Our travel plans had been roughed out last April on the back of a napkin in a London pub as Jill and Trevor filled us in on their recent, six month trek across Africa and recommended places for our trip. Our erstwhile travelling companions once again were Ron and Gay Baukol, with whom we've traveled to such far off destinations as Australia, Nepal and East Africa.
Johannesburg. We converged on Johannesburg from different parts of the world . . the Baukols from Singapore and Valerie and I from New York (where we spent a quick but fun overnight layover with Katherine). We met in a Joburg hotel in a scene reminiscent of another such meeting in Africa over 120 years ago between Stanley and Livingston. "Dr. Ackerman, I presume" quipped Ron as we greeted each other in the hotel lobby.
Our three day stay in Johannesburg was made very enjoyable by the hospitality of the 3M people there, who included us in their dinner parties and arranged for sightseeing tours including an underground gold mine and a visit to a parish school and clinic supported by 3M in a nearby black township.
3M was one of the few U.S. companies to remain in South Africa during the long years of economic sanctions and, I feel, vindicated their position (in face of persistent stockholder objections) by maintaining their local employment and carrying out a number of worthwhile, but low visibility, social development programs. We were among the first 3M visitors since the elections and the local 3M people were anxious to share their optimism about the new, democratic, post-Apartheid South Africa, while acknowledging the long road ahead of them to redress the terrible wrongs of apartheid and to achieve true racial equality. It is an exciting moment in the history of South Africa and we came away sharing their hopes and optimism for the future.
Botswana. Our safari adventure in Botswana began with our one hour flight from Maun in a single-engine plane over the Kalahari desert and into our jungle camp in the Okavango Delta. The Okavango Delta is unique in that, unlike other deltas where the river flows into the sea, the Okavango River flows down from Angola and disappears into the arid desert. Our tented camp was located on one of the many islands formed by the delta and was a far cry from my our boy scout camp with private showers, flush toilets and hot tea brought to the tent with the six a.m. wake up call. (Actually, our wake-up call the first night was an elephant, who wandered through camp at night and chose a spot between our two tents to perform his morning ablutions.)
Early each morning, while the temperatures were still moderate, the four of us set off with our guide by boat to one of the other islands for a walking safari. Unlike our previous safari experiences in Land Rovers or on elephant back, we went into the jungle on foot . . hoping to spot the animals before they spotted us. We quickly discovered that walking safaris offer an extra dimension of excitement when you first encounter a lion or elephant or hippo on his own territory and face-to-face. As we approached to with thirty yards or so of these animals, our guide would tell us not to worry. Easy for him to say! I kept thinking of the old joke that I didn't have to run faster than the lion . . just faster than the slowest member of our party.
Walking safari Looking for a lion, while (200 feet away) . . . a lion was looking for us
We came back our tents or went for a swim at mid-day, when the temperatures hit 110 degrees to wait out the heat and then went out again in late afternoon for a second hike. We were usually back in camp by sundown in time for happy hour and dinner served by candlelight in the main tent. By the third day our list of animal sighting had continued to grow and included lion, elephant, hippo, baboon, wild dogs, kudu, springbok, bushbuck, impala, sitatunga, tsessebes and red lechwe along with a few other animals we'd never seen (nor heard of) before.
After three days at Camp Okavango, we flew up to the Chobe river, which forms the border between Botswana and Namibia, in another small plane (with a pilot named Roy of questionable sobriety) swooping down to spot elephant, giraffe and other wildlife from the air. Our destination was the Cresta Mowana Lodge, a newly constructed, thatched roof lodge on the Chobe Rive located just outside the Chobe Game Reserve. Here, our morning and evening game drives were done in Land Rovers . . . better, perhaps, for upclose photography but certainly not as exciting as the walking safaris of the Okavango. An added feature here were the sundowner cruises on the Chobe River, which afforded great opportunities for observing the elephants, hippos, crocodile and other game coming to the river at sunset for a drink. Incidentally, the sunsets in Africa were absolutely spectacular.
Victoria Falls. From Chobe, we drove to nearby Victoria Falls located on the Zambezi at the borders of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia and checked into the venerable Victoria Falls Hotel located a short walk from the spectacular falls. Victoria Falls are twice as high (300 feet) and twice as wide (one mile) as Niagara Falls and are the largest falls in the world. Even though the water flow was somewhat reduced due to the dry season, the Victoria Falls are truly one of the natural wonders of the modern world. Our two days at the Vic Falls Hotel were spent watching the falls, shopping and washing out the safari dust from the preceding week. We even took a short walk across the bridge into Zambia . . just to say we'd been there.
Victoria Falls Mt. Nelson Hotel, Capetown
We took our leave from Ron and Gay at Vic Falls. They flew on to Harare, London and home while we hitched a ride across northern Zimbabwe with a local 3M salesman to Bulaweyo, where we flew back to Johannesburg to catch the Blue Train for our journey across South Africa to Cape Town.
The Blue Train. We've ridden on some wonderful trains in the past - in Europe, Australia and South America - but none compare with the luxury of South Africa's legendary Blue Train. With only three compartments per car, the train carries fewer than seventy passengers and so the individual room service is impeccable from the iced champagne on departure from Joburg to the tea service in bed in the morning . . and the seven course meals in the dining car would rival any five star restaurant. The dress code for dinner is listed as "elegant" so coats and ties are de rigeur.
But the real charm of the ride on the Blue Train is the magnificent scenery, which flashes by the picture windows throughout the course of the one thousand mile, twenty four hour journey . . across the open Transvaal, through the rugged Karoo country, under the Hex River Mountains in a ten mile long tunnel and finally across the wine country of the Cape Province and into Cape Town. We did make a two hour stop enroute in Kimberley, where we took a tour of the world famous Kimberley diamond mines, where diamonds were first discovered in 1869.
Cape Town. Cape Town is considered by many as the most beautiful city in the world . . located on the southern coast of South Africa in the shadow of the distinctive Table Mountain, which overlooks the city. We again stayed in a fine, old, turn-of-the-century hotel - the Mount Nelson - which we used as our base for day trips to the wine country to the north, to the top of Table Mountain via cable car and down the coast to the Cape of Good Hope, at the very tip of the African continent, where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean. I've always promised Valerie that I would take her to the ends of the earth and our drive to Cape Point may have fulfilled that promise.
Our flight home from Cape Town to White Bear Lake via Joburg, the Cape Verde Island and New York City took over thirty hours . . a two meal, two book, two movie and two nap flight . . and brought us back from springtime in South Africa to autumn in Minnesota. We were home only two days when we gathered our friends at the Baukol's home to see our slides and to reminisce on our wonderful return to Africa.
Return to Travelogs