traveling

Kaokoveld – a pathway into another world

Kaokoveld - A pathway into another world

Voor de Nederlandse versie - Klik hier

Lars

Silence… No cars moving in the distance, no chirping sounds of birds, not even a touch of wind. Complete silence… It truly can be deafening, as they say. We were parked on top of a mountain pass, lying in our rooftop tent with all the blinds open. We had crawled into our sleeping bags, looking like big cocoons with only our heads sticking out, the only parts exposed to the chilly night air. Above us was the night sky in its full glory, the Milky Way stretching from one side of the horizon to the other. What a night, what a place!  

Our beautiful view on the mountain top!

Three days earlier we entered the region called Kaokoveld, which lies in the north-west of Namibia. It is believed to be one of the true remaining wildernesses of southern Africa and we were there to test this statement. It is known for its rough terrain and roads, the beautiful landscapes and the local tribe called the Himba. You have probably seen them on the telly or a magazine. The Himba, especially the women, still hold on to their traditions by “dressing” as they have done for who knows how long. As the quotation mark implies the Himba women live in a fairly naked state; their boobs can freely enjoy the wild outdoors (no cloth to hold them back from encroaching on lower regions), as is most of the rest of their body except (luckily) their mid-level private parts. To accent their features, and protect them from the sun, they cover themselves with oker, which gives their skin a beautiful dark red colour.    

 

Two Himba woman and Kellie

The unofficial capital of the Himba is Opuwo. Driving into this city felt other-worldly, almost like entering a Star Wars movie. In addition to the Himba, the Herero people also call the Koakoveld region their home. Almost to compensate for the cloths that the Himba lack, the Herero women wear long dresses in any colour imaginable as bright as they get (imagine bright pink or fluorescent green) and they finish their style with a hat that would even make our former queen, princes Beatrix, very jealous. The hats have two cool features: firstly, they always seem to match the dress and secondly, they protect the wearer from the scorching sun with a very interesting cap that has the shape of a triangle. Can you imagine that? Now imagine these beautiful people living side-by-side in a small city in the middle of a desert world, kinda begins to feel like Star Wars, huh? Very cool!!

The funny thing is that when arriving in Opuwo, you don’t really have time to adjust to this very different culture. The reason for our visit to this city was partly to prepare for the upcoming trip to the wilderness of Kaokoveld; we had to fuel up the car and get enough provisions to last us at least five days. The first thing we did was a visit to the fuel station where we were immediately bombarded by Himba ladies. Now, you have to know that I am very loyal to Kellie and I think it is very disrespectful to look at a woman’s “Tha-Thas!”, but… When they stand right in front of you to offer you their goodies (here, I mean other type of merchandize 😉) it is very hard not to have a peek. Luckily for me, Kellie agreed.  

Even though we had to get used to it and might make it sound like we're making fun of it, it was pretty obvious how proud these woman are of their heritage, and you can't do anything else than respect that. It is amazing how much royalty they radiate and I felt a vicarious pride for them!

A real African sunset!

The other reason why we were in Opuwo is because we wanted to visit an organization that supports local communities in setting up a conservancy. This organization is called Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (thankfully in short, IRDNC). Read more about IRDNC and our visit on the Projects Page, here (not yet published).

After we finished with the pre-trip prep we stayed the night at IRDNC’s camp and left for Kaokoveld the next morning. Now, the previous blog ended with us breaking our rear shocks in Etosha NP (read about it here). Although we fixed some new shocks we didn’t have the chance to thoroughly test them out. With the reputation of Kaokoveld, the knowledge that we need to cross and drive in some riverbeds and the information that it rained a few weeks ago in mind, we were slightly nervous whether we would be able to make it (even besides considering the new shocks). What did not help was that we came across a guy that got stuck in the mud (took him 5 hours to recover the motorhome!) and I saw a 4x4 car like ours getting towed back to civilisation (didn’t tell Kellie this at the time). (Red. aka Kellie: This is the first time I heard/read about it!) Nevertheless, we decided to go anyway! Only one way of finding out if you got what it takes right?

Our goals were to make it to the dots on the map called Orumpembe and Puros. These were two of the handful of named places where people live in Kaokoveld. Our interest in these places was that they were both the “capitals” of Orumpembe and Puros Conservancy. We wanted to know if the local people benefit from setting up a Conservancy, how they do it, what resources they use and if they use those resources sustainably. We already visited a Conservancy (called Mayuni, read about it here) in the Zambezi (former Caprivi) region, which worked surprisingly well. It would be interesting to see if their performance is shared with more Conservancies in Namibia or that it was special.

The first night we wanted to sleep at a campsite about 15 kilometers north of Orumpembe, it was called The House on the Hill. We had to drive about 150 kilometers that day to reach it. Doesn’t sound like that great of a distance, right? Well, it took us close to the whole day to reach it. The first section of road from Opuwo was still okay, relatively speaking. We could drive about 40 kilometers in the first hour/hour-and-a-half. From there on the road got narrower, rockier and hillier (including river bed crossings, which luckily were dry). Can’t imagine we drove faster than 20 kilometers per hour on average. We weren’t bored or frustrated for a second though, because the scenery was nothing less than spectacular (like New-Zealand spectacular, but then dry)! Slowly, as we proceeded, the landscape began to change; the trees and shrubs started to disappear, the mountains became higher and valleys in between flatter. It became more arid. For us this meant that the closer we got to our campsite the more we had to stop to enjoy the landscape and take some photographs. This probably contributed a lot to why it took us the whole day to reach the campsite .

With about 10 kilometres to go we noticed something strange in the distance. It looked like the dust trail of a car, but than huge. At a certain moment Kellie shouted: “it is a sand storm!” Now this is of course really cool, but according to our GPS the sand storm seemed to be in the exact location of our campsite! We drove on, we could always camp somewhere in the wild if necessary. The sand storm had a Namibian desert style orange colour, and as we got closer we could begin to see how the strong westerly ocean winds picked up the sand that was lying on a big plain. Luckily for us, we noticed now that our campsite was positioned just behind the sand storm, on the other side of a hill. We had to go through it though to get there. Just before we entered the storm we closed the windows and drove through. From a far it looked a lot more impressive and we past the sandy plain unharmed.

The small sandstorm!

The campsite was set against a hill (yes, with a house on it) and next to a dry riverbed. We had a lovely braai that night including portobello’s with goat cheese, puffed sweet potatoes and roasted corn. A local dog must have smelled our feast as he paid us a visit to search for scraps. He looked starved and Kellie gave him some bread, a can of salmon and lots of water. I think she made friends for life! (Red. one of the sweetest dogs we’ve come across!)

View on the sunset from the campsite!

The next morning, we talked with a guy called Exit (awesome nickname!) from the Conservancy (read about it here) and afterwards we left for the next destination, Puros. We noticed that in Kaokoveld you have always two options in going somewhere: through the riverbed or next to it. These roads are often connected every few kilometers, which meant that we could get out of the riverbed at any time if the riverbed was getting muddy or worse. Again, we felt empowered by the Tracks4Africa app which showed every little road there was with such accuracy! So, we decided to just give it a try! We deflated the tyres and drove right in. What a great decision that was! For a whole day we drove through a dry but green riverbed with on both sides stunning mountains. We found oryx, ostriches, giraffe and… a donkey?! From a distance it looked like the donkey was hopping strangely, but when we got closer we noticed that its front legs were tight by a rope. Who does such a thing?! We stopped and had a closer look. The rope was burning through its skin and the donkey clearly was struggling to move around. We decided to do something about it. We first tried to gain the donkeys trust by giving it some bread, but it didn’t want any of it. Maybe some water than? Nope, no interest. It was still hopping away from us. The donkey left us without options, we needed to corner him. On a ridge next to riverbed we sparred with the donkey; we tried to get close, the donkey turned its bottom to us as if to kick us and we had to retreat. This went on for about 10 minutes until the donkey finally surrendered and stood still. I talked to him with my soothing voice to keep him calm (red. Yeah right), while Kellie cut the rope. And we succeeded! The rope gave way and the donkey walked away as if nothing has happened. Good for you donkey!

Not long after that we left the riverbed and went up a mountain pass. The plan was to go down the mountain on the other side to another riverbed. When we made it to the top of the pass though, we decided to stop there and set up camp on the highest point, the view was simply too good to drive on. The wind was relentless up there and for about three hours we just sat in the wind (and sun) shade behind the car. With the sun almost setting we positioned ourselves for the show and waited…

With the sun dropping behind the mountains, the wind steadily ceased until it was completely quiet. In the beginning it is kind of unnerving (especially in the darkness), as if something can jump at you in any second. But you quickly get used to it and it is quite special! That night we set the alarm at 2.30 AM (we were sure that the moon would be gone by then) to learn how to make photographs of the night sky. When we woke up, the stars were magnificent!

To get a sense of how desolate this place is. The Kaokoveld is about 45 thousand square kilometres (the Netherlands is about 41 thousand square kilometres) and only a couple of thousand people live in it (excluding Opuwo). We didn’t come across another car while driving for two days straight. I think it is something very special that such places still exist, and we should cherish it as much as we can. And some of you might think that this is dangerous; what if the car breaks down!? If calamity strikes, and we get bogged or have a break down, we could always live with the Himba for a week or so until someone rescued us!

Nothing of the kind happened though! Sisi could take anything that Kaokoveld had to offer. With our confidence boosting we drove off down the other side of the mountain a couple hours after sunrise. Closing up on the next valley we drove around a part of the mountain and saw the next riverbed in the distance. Absolutely stunning! It looked like a piece of the Sahara with a riverbed oasis (including palm trees), but then with orange sand and placed between two mountain ridges. The vegetation was surprisingly lush, and we had the whole valley to ourselves. Well, besides the few giraffes and oryx of course! 

Just after lunch we arrived in Puros and set up camp, and cleaned out the car (dust was accumulating) after which we had a very short talk with a guy from the Puros Conservancy. We did some relaxing in the hammock and had a nice braai and the following morning we moved on to the next place, through, again, a different landscape. The Ongongo hotspring, this is a natural spring and the waterfall coming down was warm water! Here we camped and relaxed some more (Lars by playing around with the camera). This was our last stop in Kaokoveld and unfortunately we only found a lot of dung and no desert elephants. But! They also hang out in the next area we’re going; Damaraland. You can read more about this in our next blog!

Lars playing around with the camera, making pictures of the weavers above the pool!

Posted by bylifeconnected in Blog, 1 comment

Etosha National Park – The Arid Eden

Voor de Nederlandse versie – Klik Hier

Two days, 2200 Namibian dollar (±€130), two new shocks and 650 km’s in total, and we’re back at Etosha National Park western gate. Because this is where we took off with a dancing car, and when your car is dancing over every tiny bump, you know that something is not right! This is what happened: we had to drive down the worst road in the entire history of the world. Okay, maybe that’s not true, but it was the worst road we have ever been on!! Imagine those little “slow-down” bumps they put on roads sometimes for which you don’t actually have to slow down that much (80 k/h is perfect!). Now imagine about a thousand of those right after each other for about 40 km’s on stretch. HORRIBLE!! Depending on how fast you drive, you either stay sort of on top of them, meaning you won’t have any control of where you’re steering, because there is no friction with the road. Or the other option, drive real slow and feel e-v-e-r-y bump. We tried the first option first, driving about 40 km/h, and a madly focus on the road to be sure not to oversteer. And then faith hit and there was one bigger bump, we heard a big PANG, the back of the car drifted, and we were almost sideways on the road. Now luckily, 40 km/h is still quite slow, and nothing bad happened. But we had heard that noise, so we stopped the car, looked around if there were any lions, and then got out to check the car. Oh, we had to look around for lions, because this road happened to be inside Etosha National Park, a NP that is known for its good roads!!! WHAT?! Well, not the one going to the west, that’s for sure. Anyway, looking under the car, we saw oil dripping all over the back bottom and the tires, and a little smoke as well. We still don’t know anything about cars, so we had no idea what could’ve happened. Then a big truck came driving up and the guys were sweet enough to step out and have a look. I must say, they were a lot more worried about the possible lions in the vicinity, but that aside. They had a look at the oil, but also weren’t sure what happened. The engine seemed to be doing well. We checked all the oils and the brake fluid, double checked if it was the gasoline leaking. It seemed to be nothing like that, so we decided to drive on very slowly, hoping very much that we would make it to the next camp. Our initial plan was to leave the park, but we had chucked that one in the bin as soon as we heard that the next 40 km would be the same as this. And to not break our car further, we drove between 15 and 20 km/h! Now you think, that isn’t so bad when you’re in a game reserve, right? Find some animals? But this game reserve is very, very dry, and thus collects its animals around water holes. And we didn’t come across any waterholes, so there were no animals, just that endless number of bumps without relieve. And then a light turned on… the ABS.. Now what the hell does that mean?! (I told you we don’t know anything about cars). But, we are a bit prepared, or Lars was anyway, and he had bought an overlanding book. This mentioned something about an ABS, couldn’t find what it was exactly, something with the brakes. But I did find that we would be able to keep driving. That’s all we needed to know! Later Lars his brains worked again, and he remembered it stands for Automatic Brake System, whatever that is!

Anyway, we finally made it to the camp, called Olifantrus (I’ll spare you the dirty details of why it was named like this), and here we met a wonderful Dutch couple that got us easily out of our bad mood. When we entered the camp, there was a single bump and here we realized that the thing that had broken might have been our shocks, because our car danced after hitting the bump. Lars went to ask our neighbours, the ones with a beautiful, camperlike overlanding vehicle, to see if they might know a bit more. Marco (as tall as a Dutchman can be) came to have a look and confirmed our suspicion that one of the shocks had broken. This shock wasn’t even two months old! As always, we look at the bright sight of a bad thing and this time it was the fact that we had to stop at this camp. First of all, there was a beautiful waterhole with a hide next to it, so we saw a lot of owls and drinking black rhinos that night. Secondly, we got to know Yvonne and Marco. They had been traveling for six years!! What an amazing way to live. They are absolutely diehard travellers, and we could learn a lot from them. Not just for traveling, but also when we want to start our project, with their vast amount of experience. We heard a lot of stories, and if you would like to check out what they’re doing, you can find their facebook. They’ve been to Kafue NP and Yvonne told us that when we’re at our starting point, they would come visit and help us!

If you’ve read our blogs so far, you might have noticed that normally something good happens after something bad. Besides our meeting with Yvonne and Marco (which was very good), this time it was the other way around. A lot of amazing things had happened at Etosha National Park (and before the NP) before the car incident. This incident was to balance it out. But wait, let me start at the beginning.

And this time, the beginning is not exactly in a game reserve. Instead (before Etosha), we went to an area where we could hike, called the Waterberg Plateau. It was time to use our legs again, just like in Tsodilo hills (read about it here). We decided to stay there for two nights and the first morning we slept in (7.30 am) and took it slow before we finally made it up the mountain. It was a short, but beautiful hike, but because we were a bit late, we decided to head back to the pool and cool down! In the afternoon we had planned to go on a game drive. Apparently, the top of the plateau is a game reserve. Oh sorry, so we did go to a game reserve again. Anyway, after chilling at the pool, we went on the game drive with a local ranger. We wanted to do this drive mainly because we wanted to go on top of the plateau!! He told us that, besides being a NP, the plateau was also used as a breeding area; there are no predators (accept the occasional leopard) and the edges of the plateau are natural boundaries for everything (including poachers!). We had our beautiful view and we saw a lot of buffalo’s and we made some friends (Belgian/Dutch, right on the border?! Still not entirely sure). They were going home the next day, but hadn’t seen a rhino yet. So, your wish will be fulfilled and just before we got back to camp, when all hope seemed lost, there was the rhino! A white rhino, right next to the road! He was curious and came pretty close to the car before taking off grazing again. Satisfied with our drive we went to bed.

The next morning we woke before the crack of dawn (5.30 am), because we wanted to see the sun rise from the top of the plateau. We were a bit late (couldn’t get out of bed, go figure), so I think we set down a record time sprinting up the plateau. They normally suggest it takes 40 minutes, now took us 20, WITH some pictures in between. We weren’t exactly on top when the sun touched the horizon, but it was close enough! And it was beautiful! We had an amazing view on a misty country and the colour of the rocks couldn’t have been more mesmerizing. Now that’s what you call, a good morning wake-up hike, plus we had some fun making pictures and using the tripod! By the time we got back to the car it wasn’t even eight ‘o clock! In the Netherlands, that’s when I get up! We had enough time to get to a nice guesthouse with proper WiFi and a swimming pool and sort pictures, and post some blogs on the website.

Our jumping jacks that morning!

After some shopping the next morning, we set out for the next NP, Etosha! This is supposed to be the Kruger of Namibia, where even sedans can get everywhere (remember the first paragraph of this blog……). We entered Etosha NP, and the drive to the camp was about 90 km and indeed this road was very good. As we had an early morning we went straight to the camp, no detours to waterholes. The next day we got up early (again) and did a drive to some waterholes before coming back to the campsite for lunch. This morning drive we didn’t have a lot of luck, but another chance that afternoon! I was kind of tired of driving the whole time, so I tried to convince Lars to take it easy just one afternoon. He thought it was a waste (which of course it was), so we compromised: we chilled at the pool for half an hour and left around 4 pm so we could catch the best hours of the day. We went straight to an area that had three waterholes close to each other. Lars and I had discussed that morning what we still wanted to see. I mentioned that I had never seen a cheetah drink… And Lars just wanted to see a cheetah, because that was the only cat we hadn’t seen yet. So we set out to find it, and find it we did! Or Lars did, he saw something stalking through the high grass and seeing a group of Hartebeest all looking in the same direction, we knew it must be a cat. We followed it, and there he was, an old male cheetah!! And a cheetah with a purpose, although a little distracted by some springbokkies that were running away, the cheetah went straight to the waterhole to drink! There you go Kellie, handed over on a platter, your drinking cheetah. As the good people we are, we stopped two other cars, so they could enjoy the view with us. The cheetah even walked by on the road, and we were a very, very happy couple on our drive back to camp. We stopped at one more waterhole and there we saw a white ánd a black rhino drinking! Wauw, could this day get any better. We had to rush back to make it in time before the camping gate closed.

That afternoon we had met our German neighbour, Dominik, a guy traveling on his own. He liked the company and so did we and after our dinner (very sophisticated according to Dominik with his peanut butter sandwich), we all went together to the waterhole next to the camp. This waterhole had a tribune for the crowd and a light so that we could see the animals that visit at night. What an amazing concept, a lot of animals you just won’t see during the day. The night before, Lars had seen hyena’s and two black rhinos fighting and expectations were high! It didn’t let us down, again we saw hyena’s, five of them. And we saw a black rhino with a young, and four other ones. As we heard a leopard in the vicinity, we couldn’t help ourselves and stayed a lot longer than intended in the hope it would come visit. It didn’t. No fuss, more chances the next day!

And so we rose with the sun again! We went to the same waterholes where we had found the cheetah, see if it was still around. And we were not disappointed! Although, now we found four cats. And it wasn’t cheetah, but lions! How about that! Now we only needed to find a leopard and we would’ve seen all cats in Etosha!

I should tell you that I had absolutely no image of Etosha before we arrived, not about the landscape, not about what to expect of the animals, just that it would be busier with cars than any place we’ve been so far. That’s what Eddie and Vera had told us. It turns out Etosha mainly consists of a huge saltpan which ones used to be a lake, surrounded by marsh land. Now everything is dry, but it is beautiful! There are huge stretches of edible grass and they are filled with so many different animal species; zebra’s (both mountain and Burchell’s zebra), kudu, springbok, black-faced impala (endemic and endangered), wildebeest, Red hartebeest, ostriches, giraffes, steenbok, elephants and eland. And then there are the waterholes, especially during the dry season, these waterholes attract animals. We had one particularly amazing sighting after we left the lions to their daytime-naps. We went to a waterhole and had seen a lot of zebra following the same road as us. We knew they must be heading for the water. We had parked the car at this waterhole, an especially beautiful waterhole I may say, and waited. After about five minutes the zebras came pouring out of the bushes all heading towards the water! I tried counting and there were at least 150 zebras! And as soon as the zebra’s thought it was safe enough to drink, the wildebeest finally found the courage to approach the waterhole as well. A group of about 50 wildebeest joined the zebras at the waterhole. I have never seen such big herds, and it is impressive!!

The beautiful sighting at the waterhole, with the biggest herd of zebra we have seen!

Now, I mentioned before that there were supposed to be a lot more cars in this park, Eddie and Vera even felt like they were in the zoo at times. At this waterhole we were the first to park, and thus had the best spot in tha house, but overall about six cars had appeared. I never actually realized they were there, because I was so taken by this beautiful sight. And the rest of this day and the day before we were baffled by Eddie and Vera’s judgement, it wasn’t busy at all! Turns out, this might had to do something with good timing, aka, the waking up early part! And then during the afternoon, we are not on the road as animals are not on the road; it is too HOT! That’s when you should chill at the pool. And so we did 😊, this time at Okaukuejo, the main camp in this NP. After some tanning, we headed back out and had some more wonderful sightings at the waterholes.

A few pictures to get a feeling of the amazing characteristics of this park. Both the animals and the landscape!

We ran into Dominik, he was so kind to have taken two dutchies with him on the game drive! We tried to find the lions again, but they had moved on. And so did we, however, at a much slower pace than Dominik. And lucky for us, because of this pace we happened to spot something with the shape of a cat sitting in a field. When we spot a cat in the field, we generally assume it is a cheetah. But looking through the binoculars, we realized it is a leopard! Damn! Etosha made sure we saw everything, didn’t it!! And to have a really good sighting, most of the time you need to be patient. We waited for the leopard to start moving. And finally, she did. In the meantime, (only) two other cars had joined us. And one ranger stopped for a little bit before moving on, he told us he drove this road every day twice and it been months since he saw a leopard! I can’t believe we were that lucky. Anyway, the leopard started moving and we slowly followed. There is an unwritten rule that the one who starts the sighting, owns the sighting, so can claim the best spot. As we were the first car, that was our place and we claimed it! We followed the leopard and finally we could make a turn and if she kept that pace up, she would cross the road in front of us. We saw her through the bush moving closer and stopped the car. I was sitting on the edge to try and make pictures of her through the bush. And then she decided that where we were standing, was where she would cross the road!! She stalked out of the bush, looking right at us! It was amazing, I had adrenalin rushing through me! I could see her so clearly, also through the lens of the camera. Then I heard some whispers behind me from the other car, and I realized that maybe I should get back in the car! Actually, by then it was a little late, and the adrenalin rushing through me had nothing to do with the idea that I might have been doing something dangerous. It had to do with this beautiful, beautiful animal that allowed me to look at her from so close by!

After this, she disappeared into the bushes and we went back to camp (again making it only just before the gate closed, which is at sunset). We had another campfire meal and a good night at the waterhole (though a bit shorter) and the next day we decided to sleep in a little bit, get all our stuff, including the laundry we had done the day before, and leave at a decent hour. Which, in this case, meant we left around ten. And now did we finally experience what Eddie and Vera probably had experienced; a huge number of cars on the road. At the place we had found the leopard the night before, we saw about four cars parked. We stopped and asked what they saw, it was the same leopard hiding in a tree!! But you couldn’t really see her, plus we had to share the experience with a dozen other cars that arrived after us. So naturally, we moved on, we wanted to get to the western gate that afternoon. Now you might think, wait, the western gate… isn’t that the one she mentioned in the first paragraph. Oh yes it is. This is where we get back to where I began, that HORRIBLE road!

I want to end with a positive note though, when we left the park the last morning with our dancing car, we had stopped at one last waterhole. We saw a herd of elephants here, with one enormous female. And we are not entirely sure if it’s true, but we think this might have been a famous Desert Elephant. Hopefully, we will find out more about this animal in our next adventure, our drive to the beautiful but inhospitable Kaokoveld to visit a several conservancies (after we fix the car).

And of course if there is a salt pan, we’ll take the opportunity to have some camera fun!!

Posted by bylifeconnected in Blog

Mayuni Conservancy Namibia – And a way to build up some good karma!

Mayuni Conservancy - Some "good karma"-building

A blog about our adventures ánd a conservancy project!

Voor de Nederlandse versie - Klik Hier

After our beautiful wildlife trip in the Okavango (read about it here), we went for a cultural experience. From Maun, we traveled the long distance to the deserted area of the Tsodilo hills. An area also known as the Mountain of the Gods. We drove up around sunset and we could feel why this area is and has been a sacred area for many different cultures over thousands of years. The mountains arise out of nowhere in an else-wise flat and dry country. In these mountains, there are about 4500 different rock art paintings of which many are over 3000 years old!!

Sun was setting behind the Mountain of the Gods when we arrived. Beautiful!

We arrived at the campsite where we met Craig, a South-African bloke who had been travelling on his own for a while. He and we were happy with the company. We enjoyed a beautiful chatty, star-gazing night together and the next morning we woke up early to hike the hills in the cool of the dawn. We were guided by two local men, Tshebe and Phetolo, who told us everything about the paintings and the area. Besides visiting the paintings, we also did some rock climbing and caving. Okay, I might make it sound a little bigger than it was, but it was very nice for a change to do some active things instead of sitting in a car the whole day! During the hike, and in one of the caves they showed marks in the rocks. These marks in the shape of holes, were made by the many, many tools that were sharpened so long ago. It was very weird and at the same time impressive to see something so touchable and real like the paintings and these marks, and then realize it was made thousands of years ago by people so alike and yet so different from us. Nowadays, however, they still use the holes in the rocks, only not for tool sharpening, but for a game! It’s called Diketo, and works like this: you repeatedly throw a rock up in the air, and while the rock is in the air, you scoop several smaller rocks out of the hole, after which you try and put them back in one by one. Phetolo showed us and made it sound and look very, very easy. But this hand-eye coordination is a lot harder than you might imagine! Lars and Craig both tried, but were failing miserably, throwing rocks in all directions except into the hole! It was kind of dangerous! And I guess, after that, I was afraid to even try. Plus, I might have been a bit more interested in exploring the cave (even though we were told there might be snakes…). By the time we finally got back from our supposed-to-be-2-hour-walk, it was very hot and we took a refreshing shower before we hit the road. As Craig planned to go in the same general direction, we convinced him to join us to the campsite we booked. What we didn’t know was that it was only for 4x4 cars…

When we arrived at the gate, the guy told us we still had to drive about 13 km on a road with a lot of soft sand. And looking at Craig’s car All-Wheel Drive Sabaru, the guy said he probably wouldn’t make it. I suggested he could pack his gear in our car, but with an uncanny amount of faith in his car, Craig said the car could do it! It was sort of a 4x4 after all! The gate guy looked at us sceptically, but let us in anyway... All right, we figured to just give it a try then! And it worked!!! His car kept going, even at the parts I really thought he wouldn’t manage.  But then, about halfway to the campsite we had to drive uphill in deep sand, and the clearance of Craig’s car simply wasn’t high enough. So instead of reaching the top of the hill, he ended up on top of the sand just before the top, without any grip with his wheels whatsoever. As this was the third car (and the fifth time) we had to dig out someone else’s car, we were, what you would call, experts. We knew the problem was the clearance and that we had to remove the sand under the car. We knew we had to get some sticks to put under the wheels for some grip. And we knew that if we would push hard enough, while he kept hitting the gas, we would probably be able to get it out. Of course, Craig didn’t know all this, so he was in a bit of a worry, walking around his car frantically, while we were digging the sand from under his car. Then we told him to hit the gas while we pushed. At first, he hit the gas, stopped and hit it again. If you let go of the gas, you just roll back in the hole. We started shouting loudly at him to keep it going and very slowly we pushed the car out and on to the side of the road. As we were only halfway there, we decided to get his gear and leave the car behind. You should know that all of this happened while we were within a game area, were wildlife roams freely. I was explaining to Craig that our experience is that after a shitty ride (or a stuck car) something good is bound to happen here in Africa, especially in game areas. And not even a minute later we almost drove into a pack of wild dogs! And this is a very, very rare sighting, especially as this was a group of about four adults with nine pups! And there they were, right in front of us on the road. The pups were fighting over a kill that had just been brought over by one of the adults! Beautiful! And there is so much interaction amongst wild dogs, we saw one adult arrive and the pups went running towards her and just jumped on top so she rolled over by the force of the pups. After that, she gave them the kill and they ran off and five of them started pulling it in different directions. Lars and I were so happy and excited! At first, Craig was still with his head in worry mode for his car, but he got dragged in by the wild dog’s behaviour and our enthusiasm. And only after we arrived at camp and the staff told us how few wild dogs they saw, and how envious they were, he finally realized how rare this sighting was (even though we had told him). And it hit him (and us) how much luck we had that his car got stuck; we might have missed them if we would’ve been able to continue!

By the time we did arrive at the campsite, it was already dark, but we were lucky enough that the manager had not given our spot away. Again, we had the best spot of the whole campsite right on the edge, next to the river, and some other people kept on insisting they wanted to move there! I don’t know why we are so lucky with these things, but I am really happy we are. We went to put up the tent when Craig finally realized he had forgotten to take the box with his tent in it! It was so funny, and luckily the managers saw the humor as well when we walked back over to the lodge and he booked one of the luxury tents there. After that, we just got a beer at the boma (fireplace) and called it a day. The next morning, we went on a game drive with a local game ranger named Justus who had been working in the conservancy area since 1992. Besides the regular impala, lechwe and hippo, there was not a lot of game that morning, but we almost found lions! And even more important, Justus told us everything about the area. Which was one of the reasons we wanted to visit Nambwa and the Mayuni Conservancy in the first place. We wanted to know more about how this conservancy was set up, and the fact that, in part of it, hunting is allowed.

 

Our beautiful campsite with a deck looking out the river. We heard the hippo's and saw some lechwe's right across from us!

This is what we learned. First, let me just say it is a very successful cooperation between community and lodge owners with the aim of conserving nature so they can benefit from tourism. We had not realized this before we visited, so that was a very interesting finding. Mayuni conservancy was the third community conservancy set up in this region, after Salambala conservancy in the East and Wuparo conservancy in the South. It was started by IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation), an NGO which works in Namibia and has pioneered one of Africa’s leading models of community-based natural resource management. This is apparent from the successes of the conservancies we have seen in the Caprivi strip region (now called Zambezi-region). Hopefully we will be able to meet with someone from this organization, as we haven’t been able to get in touch yet, but we will try visit their office in the coming month 😊.

Anyway, back to the Mayuni conservancy, the area where we saw the wild dogs (yaay!). When IRDNC came in, people were skeptical and suspicious of these people and their plans. However, four volunteers started with demarcating the conservancy area, thereby patrolling the border sort of as anti-poachers. However, in the beginning, they did not have any ammunition besides their hands. Locals just laughed at them. But over time, they received ammunition and even a vehicle and the community came to respect them. In the meantime, a meeting was organized, one with food and beers to make it attractive. And a lot of people showed up and the community came to understand what the conservancy would be all about. For example, if someone has a good well-substantiated idea to start a project, e.g. farming or small craft business or whatever, they can ask money from the conservancy. But they can also ask money for a guiding education, where the conservancy will see it as a way of investing in them. So, the money from the conservancy is coming back into the community. Take for example the campsite we were staying at, Nwambwa. This is a community owned campsite of which the profits all went to the community. Three years ago it was expanded with a lodge, which is partly owned by the community and partly by a British-Namibian investor. But besides the managers and a few game rangers, the rest of the employers are from the community.

Then another part of this conservancy is used for professional hunting. However, oppositely to how they do it around Kafue NP (read it in this blog), here they hunt sustainably. Hunters are not allowed to go without a guide and they can only kill old males; old elephant bulls, kudu’s or old hippo’s. If you ‘accidently’ shoot a female, you’ll have to pay a fine. And if you kill two instead of one animal, you must pay double the amount. And the beautiful thing here is that the conservancies in this area work together: at the end of the year each area does an animal count and if it turns out that for example no elephants are in one area, they will refer to the neighbor. Smart!

Justus, who worked for the hunting company in this area for a few years, told us that he thinks in this region they will probably stop hunting within two years, even though they earn money from it. He says enough money will come in from ‘plain’ tourism just like in Botswana. The main reason however, is that if they continue, they will enter a difficult relationship with their neighbors. In Botswana, hunting is not allowed and without fences separating Namibia and Botswana, the Namibian people are killing the animals that wander across the border. And for Botswana this feels like they are killing ‘their animals’, which makes sense. Furthermore, Justus mentioned that lodges are not the only thing that can provide money or the community. The area also needs for example a fresh vegetable garden, a restaurant, a shopping center and even a bakery. So, there will be enough jobs coming around when tourism picks up! And to show that this model has worked, I can quote Justus: ‘People from the village let lechwe and impala walk in their house and don’t see them as meat, but as a way to earn money from tourism.’ And that is a very good way to preserve nature!!

- Kellie -

Posted by bylifeconnected in Blog, Projects, 4 comments

The Okavango Delta – Another check off the bucketlist!

The Okavango Delta - Another check off the bucketlist!

Part II of the elephant paradise, and much, much more!

Voor de Nederlandse versie - Klik Hier

Where did we left off in the last blog… Oh right, Savuti in Chobe NP, and Sisi’s not so slowly and very steadily draining fuel tank due to the deep sand (if you missed it, read it here). Depending on how you look at it, Lars would say her bottom is too big (like a real African woman). I would say it is too small (like a Japanese woman, which, as you know, she is). Her bottom, also known as the fuel tank, is the lowest part of Sisi. Thus it is the part that drags on deep-sand roads. It slows us down, causing more fuel use. However, compared to other 4x4 cars her tank is much smaller, only 70 litres, which is what limits the amount of kilometres!

Anyway, one unsolved discussion later, we are still in Savuti and we know that we are not even half way. We are not sure what the road conditions will be in the Okavango, so we’re a bit nervous. Would we be able to drive another 2,5 days in Okavango? Would we even be able to make it in one go to Maun, in case we need extra fuel? We simply didn’t have a clue and decided to gamble a bit. YOLO!

The little hornbill (aka Zazoo) that frowned upon our YOLO attitude!

We set off and by the time we finally reached the gate, we still weren’t sure. So we made use of our "amazing" math skills, after which we could make the educated guess that we would definitely not be able to make it back to Maun if we went into the Okavango straight away. That was decided, we had to go back to Maun, and we had to be fast because we needed to call the booking office to cancel our campsite. We made it in time, or actually Lars did, with insane driving skills and a lot of major ass bumping that might have popped anyone else’s tyre but Sisi’s. We called, but.. the booking office did not pick up. Unfortunate, but not unsolvable, we stayed at Maun for the night at a campsite, picking one with WiFi so we could turn this bad luck in some good use; we downloaded an app called Tracks4Africa. It is a navigation app which can be used offline with aaaallll the roads on it (well almost all), including the small 4x4 tracks you can’t even call roads in, for example, the National Parks. Vera and Eddie had used it their whole trip and told us it was definitely worth the price. We agreed after only one day, and are even more convinced by now. It really gives us a sense of freedom as now we  always know where are and how long it will take us to arrive at our destination.

The next morning we drove back those 130 km’s, thereby passing through the south gate of Moremi NP, so we could watch some wildlife around the so-called Black Pools. But we had to be in Khwai village before 16.30, because that’s when the booking office would close. So we arrived there around 16.00… And only then did we find out it was Sunday…. Somehow, it seems to be Sunday everyday here, or at least, always when we need something! And of course, on Sunday they are closed. What to do! Okay, we just went to the campsite. Thank God, we downloaded that app so now we were able to find it! And we took a detour along the river, because it looked interesting. And interesting it was, it made us find out that the whole Khwai area, even though not officially a National Park, is as much a wildlife area as Moremi or Chobe. In fact, it is the connection between the two parks. So it was beautiful! We drove along the river, and every 50 meters we saw an elephant drinking or grazing. By the time we finally got to our campsite, we were so happy! And then it turned out we had the best campsite, again!! We were on the edge with on one side a plain and on the other side the river. Wauw, it was the best place we’ve stayed so far. Because we had some time before sundown, we did a little tour, where I sat on top of the car (ssshh don’t tell anyone), and it was soooo much fun! And then we watched the sun set from our rooftoptent. It was just perfect, not even changed by the fact that a mouse bit my toe when I was hugging Lars.

A beautiful view on the river and the setting sun as an elephant passes by to elevate the beauty to a whole new level!

When we sleep in a wildlife area, our ears always seem to attune to the sounds of the animals. That night we heard many; hippos, elephants, baboons and even lions and a leopard. We heard them in the morning, both not too far away. Excited as we were, we left without breakfast to find these animals. Even though we were unsuccessful, it was a good drive through a beautiful water rich area. In the afternoon, we finally made it to the booking office and were told we could stay the night we missed, without paying extra! So nice! We also made a booking to go with a mokoro that afternoon. This is a small, traditional boat used for hundreds of years by the locals. Imagine the boats in Venice, but then one size smaller, they do include a gondolier as well! Because we had some time before the Mokoro would leave, we thought we should try and find the place. So, we arrived there early and were greeted by the manager of a camp and also, supposedly, a trained guide… We thought to just put our chairs under a tree and relax a bit, make our lunch whatever. That was all good, but this guy joined us… As well as the elephants we mentioned in the previous blog (read it here). And so, as well-raised as we are, we talked with the guy even though it was quite awkward. He talked a lot about himself, and maybe he thought we were some naive, credulous tourists, but he tried to convince us that elephants live about 15 years. 15? We double-checked, making sure we heard right, that he hadn’t said 50... No, 15 years, sometimes a little bit older…. Which is simply not true. Elephants, and hippos as well, they can become as old as 50, and elephants even 60 years old. I don’t know if he realized his lie, or if he simply didn’t know any better. But it was clear he was definitely not a trained guide... And he would be the one taking us on the mokoro?? But just as we were about to leave, a game vehicle with a lot of people arrived. Lucky for us, because it included the official mokoro guide. Even though he smelled a bit like alcohol (and the rest of the group acted like insane drunks), he didn’t act like it and he showed a lot of knowledge and breathed an air of peace. Which is perfect if you go on a mokoro ride, I assure you.

The ride itself was beautiful, we slowly floated forward, surrounded by gorgeous waterlilies, meanwhile enjoying the peace and quiet and the sounds of the birds. We also stopped to stretch our legs. The guide showed us a Hamerkop nest (full-on villa!), and he also explained that they use the clay from termite mounds to pave their houses. This is a very old tradition done by many, many generations before this guide. The people from Khwai village are part of the San people (bushman) and used to live in Moremi Game Reserve, way further into the Okavango delta, for hundreds of years. They were relocated to the Khwai area, on the edge of the Okavango, were they actively participate in the conservation of the environment. And what a beautiful area it is, full with wildlife!

After our relaxing mokoro tour we went back to the campsite. It was a bit after sunset, so we started cooking in the dark. We hadn’t seen a shop for a while, so it was time to break open one of the cans with salmon in it. Now, you think, what has our dinner to do with the story?! Let me tell you! Lars had emptied the extra fluids from the can about five meters from where we were sitting. He had just finished his dinner and I was still eating, when he heard something behind him. He turned around… then turned back to me and said: “Kellie, hyena!” WTF! The hyena was just within our light circle at about five meters, and we saw him sniffing around, not even seeming to notice us. He was definitely trying to find that salmon! And when he couldn’t, he just walked away into the dark… We got our big torch out and tried to find him, but he had disappeared. It should have been scary, because I know hyena’s are dangerous. But at that moment it was more exciting than scary, mainly because its absolute lack of interest in us! I think Lars felt the same way, although… after the hyena left he did keep walking around with the torch, shining into every bush. And then of course another important part of this story… Both me and Lars had to go to the toilet for a number two, so to say… And this was after we had seen the hyena in our camp. At this campsite, this would be your toilet: dig a hole in the ground, do your business, cover it up. Now normally, I would do that a little bit away from the camp.. but this time though, I couldn’t give a shit about privacy, Lars had to be near! But the circumstances made it absolutely the hardest shit (not literally, luckily) I have taken in my life.

Let’s get back to some civil conversation. The following morning we had to say goodbye to the area, but not after another morning drive. This was our last chance to find that leopard in a tree, you know, the one that had been on our bucketlist since we set foot in Africa three years ago, and which we had hoped to find in this area! The highest chance of finding carnivores is during the early morning hours, and as these hours were fading, our hope faded as well. Even though we had a beautiful game drive, we couldn't escape that touch of disappointment.

Just when we were about to move on, we saw the game drive vehicle with the people we had met the day before. Out of good manners we didn’t just drive by, but stopped to say goodbye. And I’m soooooo happy we did, because believe it or not, they had seen a leopard in a tree not even fifteen minutes ago. They were sure she would still be there and so the game driver was so kind to take us there. It was so close, but the drive there felt like hours to us (five minutes tops). When we rounded a corner, and saw another game vehicle, we knew she was still there! We looked up in the tree, and there she was, a very young female looking at everything going on below her. Beautiful! We couldn’t believe our luck. What an amazing goodbye. Or so we thought…

Finally, there she was, waiting for us to find her! What a beautiful animal, so elegant!

The leopard wasn’t our only goodbye! We had decided to take the scenic route back, so we followed the river area a little further. When we rounded a corner we were overwhelmed by a valley full of elephants! There must have been at least 500 within our sight, and probably a lot more in the surrounding bushes. And as this was obviously a road not well driven, we were the only ones there. It was amazing. We parked the car under a tree, climbed on the roof and just enjoyed. There were males and females of all ages, some grazing, some bathing, some fighting and we even saw two little ones playing with each other. There was so much to watch, and so much interaction. Luckily, we had gotten to know how to move around elephants by now, because we had to manoeuvre through this valley filled with elephants to get to the other side! There was only one point where it got a little bit excited, because on the track we had to take, were three elephants with a younger one.. and they didn’t seem inclined at all to move for us. We tried to push them very slowly, but then two big bulls decided to put their trunks in someone else’s business; they came at us with their ears wide, trumpeting! Even though we knew it was a mock charge, it is still scary, because these animals are huge!! And because we were surrounded by them, so we did not want them to infect the rest with their excitement. So instead of following the track, I decided it was okay to just move a bit around it for this time. I’m pretty sure people will understand.

Botswana had shown us one last time that they are the perfect elephant paradise. And this whole morning had been the perfect ending to the most amazing wildlife experiences in our lives. Now we can move on to the next stop, a cultural one this time; Tsodilo Hills (read it here).

-Kellie-

Posted by bylifeconnected in Blog, 4 comments
Chobe National Park – An Elephant Paradise

Chobe National Park – An Elephant Paradise

Chobe National Park - An Elephant Paradise

Part one of our beautiful wildlife adventure in the North of Botswana

Voor de Nederlandse versie - Klik Hier

While writing this story, outside on a chair, we are looking at an elephant heading our way... wondering if he will come closer (also wondering if we would like it if he would). He is relaxed, casually browsing with his 5th leg slapping against his underbelly. Show-off! No match to be found here, even our local ‘guide’ (more on him later) looks impressed. Anyway, while the elephant walks slowly around us we are astounded by the huge number of elephants here in Botswana. Five days ago, we entered Chobe National Park and travelled all the way down through Savuti and on to Khwai/Moremi NP where we are now. Our adventure started in Kasane for what we hoped was going to be the best wildlife experience of the trip! Expectations were high and we were excited to start our journey through the African wilderness. Before we entered Chobe with our car, we decided to book a boat tour over the Chobe river. Around 15.30 we boarded the boat which could just as well have been a German retirement home on the water; except for us and a young German couple, the remaining 40 persons were probably using up their pension. Luckily, they did not spoil the experience, which was a refreshing experience after driving so many kilometres. For about three hours they navigated and parked us close to hippos, elephants, crocs, antelopes and birds that lived in and along the river. While having the pleasure of sipping a cold cider, we had some wonderful sightings.

The following morning, we arrived at the entrance gate of Chobe National Park at 7am precisely (opening time for self-drivers) to be ahead of the others. The plan for the day was to drive along the Chobe Riverfront (a route of about 50 kilometres). The best sightings were a lion and lioness (a bit hidden in the bushes), a baby baboon riding on the back of her mother (Jiihaa!), a lot of fish eagles and a huge herd of about 200 elephants. The last one took our breath away. We entered a viewpoint that provided us an overview of a cleared area next to the water that was filled with elephants. Later, we found out that many small herds of elephants come together at places where water or/and food is plentiful. Here they’ll form mega herds of hundreds to even a thousand elephants. However, they are only able to do this in this region, because Botswana houses about 250.000 elephants. This is about 25% of the world’s population! An absolute elephant paradise!

Later that afternoon we arrived at Muchenje where we filled the petrol tank for the last time and stayed at Muchenje campsite for the night. While sitting on the deck with our dinner, we had a beautiful view of the sunset. One of the owners joined us, a former British man (he left the UK about 40 years ago), and we talked about the area, Botswana and it’s presidents. The next morning we relaxed a bit at the pool and then left for the remaining part of Chobe (Linyanti and Savuti).

Before entering the park there was a sign “engage 4x4, deep sand ahead”. We have been told to do this before where we didn't listen and everything was fine, so we ignored this sign as well, Sisi would be able to handle anything. But the sand got deeper and deeper and after a few kilometers we did decide to stop and deflate the tires for more traction. That did the trick and we drove on until we stumbled onto a vehicle that was stuck in the deep sand. The main problem with the sand is that in between the tracks of tires the sand is elevated. Vehicles with relatively low clearance level will drag there bottoms on the sand, creating more friction, until… they come… to a stop. This happened with the Australian (Eddie) and Norwegian (Vera) couple we run into. As good citizens we got out of the car and walked towards them, equipped with our spade, and a big smile on our faces. They responded in kind. You know those people that take everything as it is and try to make the best out of it? Meet Eddie and Vera. What happened was that they had stopped without thinking about the sand, because there were elephants next to the road! As soon as the elephants left, they hit the gas, but nothing happened… They were stuck. And that’s when we came in. We started to recover the car together and while reaching under their car we learned that it is actually really fun to dig someone else’s car out of the sand. Eddie told us about reading that “this road swallows cars for breakfast”. An exciting prospect, considering we are lying under a car right at the beginning of this road. After a few tries and pushes the car was out. Now it was our turn… Kellie took a sprint and went through this bit in one go! On the other side we met up with Eddie and Vera who thanked us with a cold beer. We learned that they were heading the same way as us and left in convoy together.

Our sunset view dinner from the deck at Muchenje campsite.

Only a few kilometres further we had to stop again. Not for Eddie and Vera, but for a car filled with four Dutchies. This makes it sound like there are loads of cars on this road, but actually these were the only cars we came across. And all of them got stuck in the sand. The Dutchies told us that this was the third time (!) that day that they got stuck. And in the following 5 km, we helped them recover their car three more times… Welcome to the African bush! We finally told them to keep the car in low gear, try to drive on the side of the road instead of in the tracks to remain a high clearance, and just keep hitting the gas no matter how much noise your car makes. Plus, we drove ahead to find the best parts of the road and clear some of the deepest sand. And that’s when they finally managed to get through the last 8 km.

Our car was fine and we made it to Linyanti with our confidence skyrocketing. Noticing that our 98’, self-bought and fitted, Landcruiser could take on all that Africa has to offer better than many of the far newer, and much more expensive, rental cars made us feel really good. In addition, we got the best campsite of the camp, with a great overview of a small river. At arrival we saw elephants grazing and enjoying the water down in the river in the light of the setting sun. It doesn’t get any better than this! Because of the amazing view we invited Eddie and Vera to stay at our campsite. They willingly accepted and we had the most wonderful braai. A true African feast; with beetroot salad, potato salad, capsicum, corncobs with butter, chicken and boereworst. The rest of the night we spent talking and laughing around the campfire; the perfect ending of an exciting day!

Our camping spot at Linyanti. If you look closely, you can find the elephants on this picture!

The next morning we decided to wake early to search for wildlife with Eddie and Vera. We took some of the loops in search of the lions we had heard that night, and the tracks we found that almost moved into our camp. All the campsites we booked in game areas, are not fenced, so any animal can walk through, which makes camping a lot more exciting! We didn’t find the lions, but we found some elephants and a roan antelope. From there on we took the road that, we thought, lead us to Savuti (in the middle of Chobe). After a few kilometres we found a huge dead elephant skull along the road. We stepped out of the car to stretch our legs and make some pictures of it. At the same moment a helicopter flew over us and started to circle the area around us. We waved like well-behaved tourists, to show that we are not poachers. What poacher would wave at a helicopter, right? But we were pretty nervous. Even more so when the helicopter started to land on the same road we were parked! At that moment I thought we were in a whole lot of trouble. Pretending confidence though, we walked towards the helicopter from which three game guards, one with a big rifle, exited. Even more nervous. Once cleared from the helicopter they asked us what we were doing here. We answered that we were interested in the elephant skull . Then they asked us if we weren’t scared of lions. We answered that we weren’t. Luckily, this broke the ice and they followed us to the skull. They began to explain how you can see if an elephant died of natural causes or poaching, as this was the reason they landed in the first place. We just happened to be there... Afterwards, they stressed that we shouldn’t leave the safety of the car while in the park and they pointed us in the right direction. We, of course, waited for the helicopter to ascend before turning around and driving off. Another experience added to the list!

Along the road we stopped next to a big elephant bull. We think he was curious as he kept coming closer to the car. He didn’t send any warning signals to us so we stayed put and waited for him to pass… but he didn’t. He came even closer and at a certain moment I could have touched his trunk if I wanted to. At that moment though he got too close for comfort, and I decided to move the car slowly forward. My heart was pounding like crazy while I watched how he would respond to revving of the engine. He stayed relaxed though and just crossed the road behind us. With big eyes Eddie and Vera looked at us (they were in front), and we exchanged how exciting that was. After this experience the road got worse; deep sand for kilometres in one stretch. At this moment we started to notice that our fuel was going a lot faster than normal, which worried us a lot because we had a long way to go! We calculated that the car was consuming 1 litre for every 4 kilometres, which is ridiculously inefficient; normally it is about 1 litre for every 8 kilometres (also not great). We did not even think of driving back to Muchenje though; we had an expensive reservation at Savuti that evening. This created some uncertainty as we were not sure if would be able to make it to the other side (about 250 kilometres further). For us though, the only option was forward, deeper into the wilderness…

Arriving at the entrance gate in Savuti we heard that a lion pride had killed an elephant. We drove around but couldn’t find any signs of the kill, which should have been only 300 meters from the gate... Hunger won from curiosity, and we first made a quick lunch. With our bellies filled we continued the search. Kellie and I eventually found the lions by tracking the tracks of other cars into the bush. They were lying under a bush, their bellies even thicker than ours. We never found the elephant. From there we had an afternoon game drive through the Savuti Marsh, a supposedly wet area but at this time of year no water drop to be found. Nevertheless, the plains were stunning with cumulus clouds in the background. And to stretch our legs we even climbed a small hill to visit some rock art.

Overall, the wildlife on this drive was a bit scarce, which we hadn’t expected after reading the Lonely Planet (expectations are always bad). So we were kind of disappointed when we drove back towards camp. Suddenly, we saw a big dust cloud ahead of us; the sign of a big herd (buffalo or elephant) on the move. It were about a hundred buffalo’s and they were heading for the waterhole that was very close to the lions we had found earlier! All the buffalo’s gathered around the waterhole, a hole way too small to accommodate them all. Then an elephant tried to push through the herd of buffalo’s to get to the water, which was already occupied by two hippo’s as well. Just before it reached the water, it got scared of something and ran away, trumpeting. Then, out of nowhere, the lions suddenly appeared! They were after the buffalo’s and the herd started to move. Not chaotically, as one might expect, but very organized. We could feel and hear the enormous amount of hoofs smashing against the ground as a big cloud of dust covered the area. After a few moments the dust settled and a battleground between prey and predator emerged; the leaders of the buffalo’s and lions were facing each other. In turn they charged one another, measuring the strength and confidence of their opponent. One bull buffalo charged! The lions retreated, afraid of the massive horns of the buffalo. They only stayed put for a bit, and then the lions set in the chase again. The lions made several attempts to brake the formation of the buffalo herd to seclude one from the rest. And this went on and on right in front of us. It felt like we were in a National Geographic documentary! The only thing we missed was the voice of David Attenborough. The hunting lions were with five lionesses and a one young male, the adult males were being typical lions. We found them lying about 50 metres away; watching the spectacle just like us. The kings of the savanna do not hunt, they get fed. Unfortunately, it was getting really dark as the lions continued the hunt. We knew we had to go back to camp, even though we did not see the conclusion of the battle. Without a choice, we decided to look for any signs of who won in the early morning the next day. At the campfire, we talked the day and especially the evening over with Eddie and Vera while preparing another feast. What a sighting!! We slept like babies (didn’t even wake when a small herd of elephants walked through our camp).

The next morning we said goodbye to Eddie and Vera (we had an amazing time with you guys!!), and headed to where the battle had taken place the previous night. And we couldn’t believe our eyes! We found a carcass surrounded by lions, however, it was not a buffalo! Apparently, the buffalo’s had won the battle and instead the lions had killed a medium-sized elephant! Because of the huge population of elephants in the region, the local lions had become elephant hunting experts, very cool! We stayed at the kill for a couple of hours, watching them feed in turns and walk to the waterhole to drink. After a while though it got too hot for them to stay in the open and one by one they found a place in the shade. For us this was a sign that we could move on, on towards the largest inland delta in the world: the Okavango Delta. Read about this exciting adventure in our next blog.  

- Lars -

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The Cheshire Orphanage and Farm Development Project

The Cheshire Orphanage and Farm Development Project

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From Kafue National Park our next destination was Kaoma where we would visit an orphanage. We didn’t know however, that on that particular day it was Zambians Independence Day (from the British, as usual). As in every country, people go into town to drink, dance and ignore as much rules as they can! Luckily though, Africans are really careful around cars (probably for a good reason) so most of the time they were already out of our way when we passed. Cows and goats should learn something from that. Even though we were a little bit delayed, it was a lot of fun to see how the Zambians party!

We arrived at the Cheshire Orphanage Guesthouse around dark (which is around 18.30). The profits of this guesthouse are invested in the orphanage, a good way to spend your money! For the first time in a long time we slept in an actual bed, but I can tell you that I missed the rooftop tent. This had little to do with the awesomeness of our rooftop tent and more with the quality of the bed (it felt like sleeping in a bathtub, Kellie and me rolling towards each other all night, nice and cosy).

The wonderful ladies running this orphanage, explaining us how everything works here.

The next morning we would become very inspired. We were guided to the orphanage where we met with Sister Mary, an Irish immigrant. This  wonderful lady left Ireland about 39 years ago to set up the Cheshire Orphanage and provide orphaned children with a family. 39 years!! I think most people reading this, weren’t even close to being born (as Mary emphasized when we asked her when she came here!). Most of the children had lost their parents because of an HIV/AIDS epidemic or other diseases. Mary told us that there used to be no orphans in Zambia because everyone is family. However, after an epidemic, not all orphaned children can be adopted by their closest relatives. One family has always at least two children and most of the time more. As relatives are preoccupied with sustaining their own children, a whole new family is too much. This makes an orphanage, like the Cheshire Orphanage, a crucial facility in any region of Zambia or Africa.

Sister Mary (from Ireland) and Ruth (from Zambia). They have invested their lives in helping these children.

The original strategy of the orphanage was to take in the babies, who couldn’t take care of themselves, and provide for them until they are old enough to walk around on their own. Then they would be able to go back to their family, because family is the most important thing in Zambia. However, their family would not return to adopt the orphans. They spent a lot of time finding the families of as many orphans as possible. However, some children remained with them and now regard the orphanage as their home. After this story, we weren’t that surprised when Mary told us that the Orphanage, that at times provided a home for up to 60 babies, isn’t taking in anymore children. The reason, as almost always, seems to be the lack of funds. Ruth, the woman who has taken over charge from sister Mary, and has worked there for over 25 years, she told us that right now they only have about 40% of the income they need. Here’s what they need it for: The 23 children that live there, are currently at an age where they go to school/college and as any parent hopes to provide for its children, the Orphanage pays their tuition in full. Eight of the children go to college to learn traits such as nursing, mechanics, environmental engineering or school teacher, the remaining children go to a primary or secondary school.

A very happy picture of the children from the orphanage. As we were not allowed to take pictures due to privacy reasons, they gave us this picture!

The tuition costs in Zambia are very high. Primary school is basically only payment of the uniforms, books, etc. However, for secondary school you pay about €300 a year tuition fee and for college around €1000 a year. And this does not include costs for books, clothes, food or extras. What it means is that if you want highly educated children in Zambia, parents have to pay a  fortune. Especially if you have a lot of children, like most have. The orphanage funds it all though. They have chosen for a strategy that sustains the children until they can provide in their own livelihood.

Another big part of the orphanage is the farm. It is the vision of the orphanage to be fully self-sufficient. This is their aim, so they won’t have to depend on the irregularity of funds, because it can put the education of the children at risk. As a result, the orphanage started the Farm Development Project. By making nshima (corn meal or pap), peanut butter, farming Moringa trees and potatoes, and having chickens, pigs and ducks, the farm contributes as much as possible to the funds for the orphanage. In addition, this project learns the kids to be self-sufficient.

Do you want to know more about this project? Contact us, or visit the website; click here.

The bags prepared to take in the seeds of the Moringa trees. After some time investment, these will provide a lot of profits for the orphans.

Posted by bylifeconnected in Projects, 5 comments

Kafue National Park – A place with Potential

Kafue National Park – A Place with Potential!

After the inspiring meetings with the people from VisionZambia and their projects (read about it here), we went on our way to Kafue National Park. This national park is the largest park in the country and one of the biggest in the world. And with the size of 22,500 sq km, it is almost as big as Belgium! Lonely planet mentioned that the northern plains resembled the Serengeti; showing a vast number of grazing animals and that it is a great place to spot leopards. You can imagine our excitement to get there. We stayed at a place called Roy’s campsite, a camp just outside the entrance of the park, right next to the Kafue river. Hippo’s floated around in the water at about 20 meters from our tent and we learnt that these animals are actually quite noisy! When one starts grunting (which happens regularly), the whole group grunts in response. Really funny!

Elephants crossing the Kafue River right next to our camp!

We had planned to stay in this area for several days, partly for tourist reasons, but also because we thought it might be a good place to start a project. And boy, were we right! Coincidently, we happened to camp at exactly the right place to start our research of the area. Roy turned out to be one of the most important figures in the area concerning conservation. He is in a governmental council that decides about encroachers in the park, plus he was one of only two people sent from Zambia to a southern Africa ivory trade convention in Namibia. Besides having Roy there to answer a lot of our questions, there was also another camp placed a few meters from our campsite. This was a Panthera research camp, home for over two years to Kim (cheetah project director), her husband Jake and their kids. Jake wasn’t there at the time, as he was on an anti-poaching patrol in Angola. However, we got to meet Kim (New Zealand), Rico (New Zealand/Dutch) and Anna (United States) with whom we spent a brilliant night around the campfire. Kim showed us her amazing guitar skills and tried to convince Lars to play. He had to promise her that he wouldn’t come back before he could play at least one song! That’s one thing he’ll need to be doing back home!

Sunset over the Kafue river, the view from our campsite!

Anyway, Kim also provided us with a lot of information about the area and the research they do. Plus, she gave us the contact details of other people in the area. Firstly, we went to meet Lyndon and Ruth. A couple from the UK who had been in Malawi for several years working for an anti-poaching NGO. They decided to leave and start their own business, because the money in that NGO went to the wrong people. They lived in Nalusanga (the entrance village of Kafue) for half a year, while setting up a lodge. This is 18 months ago, and the lodge they have built looks great. As soon as they start making profits, they will spend it on anti-poaching measures.

Secondly, we received the contact details of Jeni from Game Rangers International, who we will have to meet some other time unfortunately. But one of the things she has set up is a Women Empowerment Group, where the women use garbage and make it into beautiful ornaments to sell.

Then finally we spent a day with Mulyo, a very enthusiastic and opportunistic man with a vast amount of knowledge which he loves to share (read, he talks a lot!). He offered to come all the way from Lusaka (about a 4 hour drive) to answer all the questions about the region of Kafue NP we could think of. Very kind of him! Before he arrived we sent him a long list of questions and the following day we addressed them all. I didn’t know a person can talk that much without taking a break or taking a sip of water. Must have had a lot of practice. On the receiving end we listened and wrote down as much as we could. At the end of the day we not only acquired a lot of information, but also a deep respect for this man. Apparently he worked himself all the way up from a child in a poor rural family to the head of a resource management department for a whole province and more. As you can imagine we will cherish our relationship.

Roy's campsite was a beautiful place in the wilderness with only basic facilities, but the most amazing view right next to Kafue River!

Let me tell you what we have learned from all of these people combined. First of all, Kafue National Park is surrounded by Game Management Areas which supposed to function like a buffer zone. Here, the main activities are game hunting, fishing, lodges, and some photographic safari opportunities. For all these activities permits are necessary and there is no farming allowed. The main difference with the actual park is that there is no hunting allowed in Kafue NP. After these so-called GMA’s there are the Open Areas. This is where villagers live and are allowed to do farming etc. Now, one of the first problems we heard about are encroachers. People from outside sneaking into the GMA’s and setting up major farms, thereby slashing and burning a lot of woodland, and scaring animals away. This encroachment is illegal, but because it is in the GMA and not in the park, the responsibility of law enforcement is unclear. They need approval from the highest director in the government to evict these people and a lot of time passes before this actually happens. In the meantime, the original inhabitants of the GMA’s, the ones that were removed and placed on the edges, they are angry. “If the government doesn’t punish these people, why shouldn’t we just move back in?” One of the originally nine GMA’s has already disappeared because of this problem. And the GMA we visited is quickly moving to this point as well.

This is one of the problems. Then another problem is, as usual, money. There were several money stories to be heard, all connected to the role of the government. We heard about the game fee the hunting concessioners need to pay, which is high. But it has become so high, that the hunting operators cannot afford to hunt sustainably, where, for example only old/sick animals are shot. Now they will hunt everything, thereby depleting the resources. Secondly, this game fee money is not distributed properly. Let’s say a hundred people work in a hunting GMA of which 25% is government employed and the rest is from the local community. The game fee is distributed the other way around; 75% goes to the government and only 25% to the community people... So that’s one part of it.

Then inside the national park, a lot of things are needed to manage such a giant park, e.g. fire management, animal count, anti-poaching units, research etc. But first and foremost a comprehensive management plan and as far as we heard (from several sources) this is lacking, for the plain reason that the management team lacks the education and resources to change this. Their vehicles are broken, or they simply don’t have the money to buy fuel. The rangers wear backpacks and clothes that are falling apart. It is so sad and the solution needs to come from a government that is not really trustworthy, to say the least.

On our way back to camp, all the trees were filled with pelicans! We had noooo idea where they were coming from!

All these elements combined have resulted in a depleted park. But there is so much potential for conservation and development here, you can really feel it! It is just smothered by human failure. We noticed this as we went into the park on our second day there. To get to Busanga plains (the Zambian Serengeti), we had to drive over 130 km’s inside the park. The nearest affordable campsite from Busanga, though, was three hours driving back the way we came from… So there is not even a place for budget-travellers to stay near the main attraction of the park. There were lodges of course, but these were for those people that are flown into the park. So anyway, that is one major missed opportunity and a very frustrating one for us. Now besides this fact, normally driving 130 km’s through a game reserve takes us, well.. two days? Because we stop for every single animal we come across, including birds! In this park however, it ‘only’ took us about six hours. Because, there basically weren’t any animals besides a few puku’s and impala. And that while driving past a river, and thus a constant water source, the whole way through a lot of different habitat types. It just seemed wrong! How is that possible? When we finally got to the plains, which I should mention, were majestic just for its expanse, there was one small herd of wildebeest and one small herd of puku’s. Now afterwards we heard we were a bit unlucky, because normally you can find buffalo herds as well, but it was definitely not what we were promised. Luckily, we saw a lioness with a cub on our way down there, and on our way back she was joined by two other lionesses. So that made our day.

The lioness who made our day!! Here she was on the lookout for her dinner!

The people, this place and its potential inspired us to start drafting a conceptual plan. What do we propose to do in and around Kafue NP if we end up starting a project in this area? We want to act as a catalyst to a situation where local people will benefit from the park. We believe that if they benefit, they do not have to use the resources of the park unsustainably (poaching and farming). And even more, they will be the first ones that want to protect its resources. Probably, our main task will be to provide the communities with as many creative and sustainable economic incentives as possible. Our ambitions though extend a lot further of course. If you really want more detail about this, just contact us :).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet! We still have two months of travelling left through Zambia, Botswana and Namibia to gain more inspiration, other perspectives, learn or even find a better location to start a project! Maybe this blog has inspired some ideas in you as well? Some ideas or suggestions you would like to share? For example, how will we give these people a better live?? Or maybe you would just like to comment on our adventures :D? Let us know in the comment section below.

What else can you expect, this cute little cub made our day at Kafue NP!

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Zambia, a double-edged welcome

Zambia, a double-edged welcome

Zambia, a double-edged welcome

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Lars

Our next stop was the Botswana-Zambian border, Kazungula, where you take the ferry to Zambia. At arrival, we were immediately bombarded with local guys that wanted to help us with the crossing. We accepted one of them, but got the whole group. They were all waiting for us after we were cleared by Botswana immigration, waiving at us that we needed to hurry. Then they went ahead and ran in front of the car like a herd of pouncing antelope. The ferry however, was on the other side of the Zambezi, so we couldn’t really determine why we had to hurry! I guess it will remain one of the many mysteries in Africa. It is never boring here, I can assure you.

The ferry crossing went smoothly with the help of our troop, but we knew the hardest part was still to come: the Zambian side of the border. Normally when crossing a border you have to enter just one building, show your passport, maybe write down some info and voila, but in Zambia they do it different. Radically different.

Kellie

If you ever cross the Botswana border into Zambia with a car, this is the information you will need to make it a little easier. The first few things you will absolutely need to get your car and yourselves across the border into Zambia: Kwacha (Zambian money), US dollars and all the right paperwork for your car (see www.zambiatourism.com). If you have the currencies before crossing, it will save you a whole lot of money, because you can’t get them from an ATM or office within the border area. But there is always a way, as the troops are there with spare dollars and kwacha’s. First up, the visa can only be paid in USD (weird as fuck, I know), and for a single-entry costs 50 USD and double-entry 80 USD. If you want to visit Victoria falls on the Zimbabwe side when you are in Zambia, you should definitely get the double-entry, or lose money and time on it. Then we went to the next counter which was for… well I’m not entirely sure.. We showed our papers of the car; got another paper; had to go around the building; enter on the other side (we could see the counter we were before through the panel of this counter, it was in the same room) and got another stamp on our papers from a guy who was taking an, apparently very funny, phone call at the same time. After this we had to go back around to the first counter, the woman there wanted to check our car. Apparently, the engine number on our blue book, didn’t match the engine number it the car, or at least the one we could find. But everything else was fine, so we could pass through anyway. If you drive in Zambia, you need to have reflecting bumper stickers, red at the back white in the front. They try to sell those to you at the border for a huge price (200 pula). In our experience, she didn’t even check this and you should just stop at the first shop when you are in Zambia and find them there, saves you money!

(Btw, don’t stop reading here, we’ll eventually get to the fun part of Zambia!)

Then we took all of the papers we had collected with us to an adjoining building to get a CIP number, which is a Customs Importation Permit. First, we showed our papers at one desk after waiting a while, this guy looked at it and didn’t do anything else, but told us to go to the woman at the desk next to him. She filled in all of our information and gave us the CIP number. My efficient Dutch brain was already in overdrive, but this double-desk thing seemed even more useless than what we’d been through so far. The next thing she tells us, go to that counter outside to pay for what she just gave us… My brain decided to stop working.

So here we paid for carbon taxes, 275 Kwacha, with our environmental background we could appreciate this. Next up was paying the toll fees, which again, can only be paid in USD and was 48 USD for our car. Oh btw, even the ferry crossing could not be paid in Pula (Botswana money) and was 150 Kwacha. Anyway, after that we went to a cute, and compared to everything else, deserted building where we had to pay for some kind of Council fee, whatever that is, no one could explain! This was 30 Kwacha per person. Finally, we could pass the gate into Zambia. But we weren’t finished yet. Even though we had insurance that covered Zambia, by law you need to buy a Third-Party insurance in Zambia. And thus 162 Kwacha for a month was our final money leacher. Or so we thought, because we still had to pay back the guys that helped us. The only money we had was Pula, where would we have gotten Kwacha or USD? We didn’t try, but I suggest trying some banks in Kasane or Kazungula on the Botswana side and see if you’re lucky they have either one of that. For us, our helping man had paid for everything. We had to pay him back with Pula. But how would they make money from us if they didn’t get it back with a huge interest. So we advise you to find the exact buying rates for USD and Kwacha to Pula, because they will tell you whatever. And then discuss everything in advance, so the won’t take advantage of you. We wanted to pay the guy who helped us separately, but they wanted about a 1000 pula more than we had calculated, so we didn’t pay more. It did not feel like a very good welcome I can tell you, we were happy to get out of there… 2,5 hours later and 330 euro poorer… Which was 80 euro more than we had calculated. I really hope he will spread this money amongst the whole group that ran with us.

Livingstone

For that day we had taken into account the option that it could take a whole day, but it was only 2,5 hours! Now we arrived in Livingstone around noon. And after we treated ourselves on a beautiful and lekker lunch, we checked-in at Jollyboy’s Backpackers and relaxed at the pool the rest of the day! We loved Jollyboys, it is a backpackers right up our alley as they do recycling and use solar panels etc.

Lars chilling at the Zambezi River after our visit to the Zambian side of the falls.

The next day we went to see Victoria falls. Lonely planet had told us that this month would still be a very good month to go. However, as soon as we drove up to the border, we were told the Zambian side was all but dried up. It was not worth to pay the 20 USD per person to get in. So we didn’t and instead were taken by a very drunk, but very funny Zambian to cross the Zimbabwe border onto the bridge. Simon (his name) told us everything he knew about the falls and some other, more irrelevant stuff, like how to take care of your wife (as he assumed we were married). He tried to convince us the money we gave him would go to his education… sure..!

Our cute an drunk "guide" Simon, telling us about the falls, wanting to take pictures of us. But we don't trust him with the camera on a bridge!

The next day however, we went to the Zimbabwe side. Along with us, three other people from Jollyboys went; Marcela from The Netherlands (cousin of Marc, the Dutch fish farmer in Zambia from Boer zoekt Vrouw, sorry Marcela, had to mention it!), Morgan from California and Dave from Virginia (he was my dad’s age!). As soon as we entered the park, we felt the cool wind from the falls. Then we went around a corner and were undeniably overwhelmed by what we saw! It is amazing what nature can create, all that water crashing down!! It looked absolutely stunning and every lookout was a little different and as pretty or prettier than the one before! After a few hours we got hungry, so we went inside Victoria Falls town and had a local lunch, eaten the way it is supposed to be eaten, with our hands! Then we went back to Jollyboys, and after a good cooling down dive in the swimming pool, we had a few beers to toast the day. But the day wasn’t over yet, it was Friday night! We met two German volunteers, a Zambian and a Welsh guy who were working at a school in Livingstone. The Welsh guy convinced us, and a group of about twelve Canadians, to go to a local club. This club had a great mix of tourists and locals. And damn, those Africans can dance! You know those dance battles in movies where people form a circle around a dance off, well that’s what happened in this club. It was great entertainment!

Livingstone had taken the hard edge of our welcome in Zambia. And this day was the perfect ending to our stay in Livingstone. The next morning we were up early (considered) and on our way to Lusaka where we met with Sue and Jeff from VisionZambia. You can read about the amazing work they do in this blog,

Did you like reading this blog? Or do you have any questions or comments, please don’t be shy to give a comment in the section below.

Marcela, Morgan and Me! With a beautiful rainbow in the background.

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