More pictures than you ever really wanted

Last weekend we went to Livingstone, home of Mosi-oa-tunya, better known as Victoria Falls. (It’s also spelled Mosi-o-tunya.) Mosi-oa-tunya means ‘The Smoke that Thunders,’ which in my mind is an excellent name for a waterfall, and certainly much better than just naming it after the queen.

Chris, Matt and I met up in Choma, where we did some grocery shopping and paid a visit to Immigration. (It turns out, whoops, that we didn’t have a three-month visa, we had a thirty-day visa that could be extended twice. We weren’t trying to be illegal immigrants! Luckily Matt had gone in the day before, figured this out, and gotten the talking-to, so all Chris and I had to do was show up, pay 1,500 kwacha each for photocopies, and fill out a little bit of paperwork. And the guy was nice enough to give us a 60-day extension, rather than the usual 30. Mind you, our work permits have been approved for months, so this shouldn’t be a problem, but they’ve run out of booklets in Lusaka, so we have work permits but don’t have them, we just have photocopies of the receipts with a note that they’ve been approved.)

We met up with Alison on the bus, and after two hours and some crazy in-bus movie, we found ourselves in Livingstone. None of us had any clear idea where we were going, between forgetting to look stuff up on a map and not being able to do so due to lack of power and/or internet. The cab drivers told us which direction our hostel was in, and also that it was an ‘unwalkable distance.’ We were dubious about what constituted ‘unwalkable distance,’ but figured that we had three hours, snacks, and water. After roughly two blocks, we found a sign (or rather, a mural painted on a wall, which is how people do roughly 80% of advertising here) informing us that the place we wanted was 300m in the direction we had come from. Since none of us have a terribly accurate idea of how far 300m is, we wound up at Livingstone Backpackers, rather than Jollyboys Backpackers, but we eventually made our way to Jollyboys, which turned out to be a whole block and a half from the bus station, not in the indicated direction.

While there, we discovered that top bunks in a 16-bed dormitory get really, really warm at the end of the hot season, even if it rains, but mostly we were so exhausted that we didn’t care. The showers were amazing (by which I mean comparable to so-so school showers, but amazing nonetheless), as were the spigots with water coming out of them at the turn of a tap. There was a pool, too. It was almost entirely filled with white people, which we found weird. (And such a variety of people, too!)

Friday night we spent gobs of money (okay, $10, but it felt like a lot) at a really nice Indian restaurant. Saturday the guys went raftinginflatable kayaking, and Alison and I went to Chobe National Park in Botswana. Alison had been thinking of doing both, but decided to just do the river cruise/game drive in Chobe because doing both would cost too much. Me, I had no intention of going down Class 5 rapids in something I couldn’t steer, and hearing the guys talk about it afterwards, I am very confident that I made the correct decision.

Chobe was amazing, though. The trip was door-to-door service from the hostel. I saw a giraffe from the van — my first real, wild giraffe, and I spotted it! I learned that truck drivers may wait three weeks or a month to cross the border; no wonder AIDS is such a problem along truck routes. The line of trucks seemed to stretch on forever, unmoving, most of them apparently unattended.

I stood in Zambia and surveyed Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. The crossing into Botswana was probably the easiest I have ever had; I didn’t need a visa, and the woman could barely stop reading the newspaper long enough to stamp my passport. She didn’t even look at the picture page. After that we were supposed to walk across a carpet with foot-and-mouth-disease-deterrent goo, but we had a hard time figuring out where it was because there was absolutely no one paying any attention to it. I could have tapdanced across, utterly ignoring the carpet, and I don’t think anyone would have noticed.

From the border we were taken to the lodge, where we paid, got refreshments, and used the restrooms, and then we embarked on the river cruise.

I've forgotten what sort of bird this is.

I've forgotten what sort of bird this is.

It was amazing. I don’t know if I have the words to describe how incredible it was.

These are Bee Eaters.  And there's a different bird of the same gorgeous, iridescent blue that hangs out around Macha.

These are Bee Eaters. And there's a different bird of the same gorgeous, iridescent blue that hangs out around Macha.

Mostly I don’t even try to take pictures of birds with my camera. (And mostly, they were terrible, like usual, but these are the good ones.)

Hippo out of the water.

Hippo out of the water.

Alison said at some point on Friday that Lockinvar was pretty lame. I protested, on the grounds that we’d had a great time. She hurried to agree that it was lots of fun, but pointed out that as far as National Parks go, it was terrible, both in terms of animals and maintenance. Which I had to admit was true. All I can say is that it’s a good thing we did it first.

A convocation of elephants!  Does anyone know what the proper word for a group of elephants is?  'Herd' is terribly boring.

A convocation of elephants! Does anyone know what the proper word for a group of elephants is? 'Herd' is terribly boring.

This was a bachelor herd. The next elephants will be from the breeding herd, which is to say females and children (calves?).

Hippoes are one of the most dangerous of all African animals, responsible for the most deaths per year, I think.  It's very unusual to see so many out of the water during the day; the guide said it was because competition for food is so intense.

Hippoes are one of the most dangerous of all African animals, responsible for the most deaths per year, I think. It's very unusual to see so many out of the water during the day; the guide said it was because competition for food is so intense.

We, of course, hoped that some of the hippos we saw in the water would do the classic mouth-opening pose, which is actually very rare, despite it’s prevalence in pictures (probably because hippos in the water with their mouths shut make uninteresting pictures). One of them actually did open its mouth, but that was on the boat ride back into Zambia, the light was awkward, it was some distance away, and none of us had cameras out anymore.

Apparently hippos sunburn very easily.

Apparently hippos sunburn very easily.

We did have some interesting discussion about the “o’clock” terminology: our guide initially thought that you refer to an animal as “such and such o’clock” to indicate how far away it is. I figured out that something was up when he referred to birds on the starboard side as “twelve o’clock,” but didn’t figure out what was wrong until we got to “twenty-four o’clock.” He was using our new system like a pro by the time we finished, though.

These two climbed into the water while we watched.  Unfortunately I was taking pictures from the wrong side of the boat, so most of mine are out of focus.

These two climbed into the water while we watched. Unfortunately I was taking pictures from the wrong side of the boat, so most of mine are out of focus.

Have I mentioned how CLOSE all of these animals were?  I don't think I cropped this photo at all.

Have I mentioned how CLOSE all of these animals were? I don't think I cropped this photo at all.

Cape buffalo.  Another very dangerous animal.

Cape buffalo. Another very dangerous animal.

Monitor lizard.  Also, Namibia.

Monitor lizard. Also, Namibia.

I think that the river cruise was in some ways more impressive than the game drive, because there were animals ALL THE TIME (not pictured: crocodiles, impala, sable antelope, lots of birds), but the game drive was better for pictures, because we were higher, and the animals we did see were very close to the road and not really afraid of people or vehicles.

Impala napping under a tree.  It was REALLY HOT that day.  The rains in Botswana won't start for perhaps another month.

Impala napping under a tree. It was REALLY HOT that day. The rains in Botswana won't start for perhaps another month.

Why did the elephant cross the road?

Why did the elephant cross the road?

Have I mentioned that the lunch they fed us was DELICIOUS? There was ice cream and watermelon for dessert. GOOD ice cream, not watery like most of the stuff here. I hadn’t had ice cream in over two months.

Family of baboons and impala.

Family of baboons and impala.

I don't generally think of baboons as adorable, especially not the TERRIFYING ones at the falls, which will take food, Shoprite bags, water bottles . . . they told us that a guy got in a flight with a baboon at the falls a few months ago and wound up going over the edge.  I do sometimes make exceptions, though.  Note that the little one is nursing, and the medium one grooming mama.

I don't generally think of baboons as adorable, especially not the TERRIFYING ones at the falls, which will take food, Shoprite bags, water bottles . . . they told us that a guy got in a flight with a baboon at the falls a few months ago and wound up going over the edge. I do sometimes make exceptions, though. Note that the little one is nursing, and the medium one grooming mama.

Kudu.  I think that they are absolutely gorgeous animals, and the top of my list for underappreciated African animals.  Giraffes, too, but I could at least picture a giraffe before I came here.

Kudu. I think that they are absolutely gorgeous animals, and the top of my list for underappreciated African animals. Giraffes, too, but I could at least picture a giraffe before I came here.

The guide said that the little guy was less than a month old.  Baby elephants don't learn to use their trunks until about six months old.

The guide said that the little guy was less than a month old. Baby elephants don't learn to use their trunks until about six months old.

Our guide called impala "the MacDonald's of the bush" because of the golden arch on their rear end.

Our guide called impala "the MacDonald's of the bush" because of the golden arch on their rear end.

Those are all elephants.  I think they said that Chobe has a population of something like 800,000 elephants.

Those are all elephants. I think they said that Chobe has a population of something like 800,000 elephants.

I love giraffes.

I love giraffes.

Warthogs!  I think Alison described this look as 'eighties punk warthogs.'

Warthogs! I think Alison described this look as 'eighties punk warthogs.'

No lions, unfortunately, but still an incredible trip.

Remember all those elephants?  The whole drive in looked like this due to overgrazing.  The only plants left was one that was so bitter that no one would eat much of it, and baobab and acacia trees -- and even those were at risk.  Did you know that an elephant can strip the bark from a baobab tree?

Remember all those elephants? The whole drive in looked like this due to overgrazing. The only plants left was one that was so bitter that no one would eat much of it, and baobab and acacia trees -- and even those were at risk. Did you know that an elephant can strip the bark from a baobab tree?

After the drive, they took us back through the border, my photocopied receipt worked excellently as proof-of-residency (meaning that I did not have to pay $50 US to get back into the country), we met up with the rather sunburned guys, and had supper at a Mexican restaurant that may have been the slowest restaurant in the world. I was so exhausted that I was seriously concerned that I would fall asleep before the food came, even after we were joined by a bunch of young people that the guys had met rafting.

Pictures of the falls later. And it’s raining AGAIN!

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “More pictures than you ever really wanted

  1. Dottie Baumgarten

    Spectacular!!!!!! I find your comments about water in the last couple of posts particularly striking because here in Pennsylvania the “water” issue is concerned with fracking to remove natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation deep under the ground. We just found out yesterday that the vote which was scheduled for Monday (and would approve gas drilling in the Delaware watershed) has been postponed – a good sign.

  2. Ken...

    And just so you don’t forget….
    a herd of elephants can also be called a memory. (badum bump!)
    Dad…

  3. R&R

    We also saw a hippo today (albeit a confined one) at the Camden Aquarium. You are having some amazing adventures! Thanks for all the wonderful pictures. I wish I could be a little bird on your shoulder to see it all. You should make your blog into a book after all of this.

  4. Kudus are excellent because they have stripes *and* spirally horns. (I want to have both stripes and spirally horns.)

    • A good ambition.

      (I REALLY don’t understand why kudus are so undervalued. I’d heard of them before I got here, but I had a vague impression that they were little brown things, smaller than impala, and of no particular interest.)

  5. I think the bird is a cormorant of some kind? Great pictures! (horrible article in NYT on fracking in PA, if you need one.)

  6. Animals, birds and more animals. Way cool!

    • We’re talking about going to Namibia at the end of the month (there are meerkats in Namibia), but it’s a 27 hour bus ride that will cost about $100 — each way, and I’m not convinced it’s worth it, even for the meerkats.

  7. Wow! I might do it for the meerkats, but I’m desperately hopeless. I’d come nearer paying the $100, but not wanting to do the 27 hour bus ride. Surely there’d be other things to see besides meerkats.

  8. I recently did Chobe and thought it was amazing. I didn’t have high expectations for a day trip, but like you I came back with a thousand photos. Thanks for sharing.

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