Friday, April 4, 2014

Chobe and Victoria Falls

Tuesday April 1, 2014

We left the Baptist Guest House in Lusaka, Gambia at 5:30 to begin our 6-7 hour bus ride to the Zambezi River. We passed back through the same streets of Lusaka we took to work every day. We passed the work site and the ladies who had not been there got to see the development at the Africa Central Region Training Center. We headed south out of Lusaka and into the hill country. We were already at an elevation of over 4000 feet, but we must have gained even more altitude in the hills because our ears were popping and the sparse wispy clouds looked so close I could have touched them out the bus window. We then headed into a vast plain with round grass roofed huts and corn and sugar cane fields everywhere. Occasionally we passed through villages and past schools full of uniformed children. We started to see termite mounds almost as tall as the bus. The beautiful clear blue Zambian sky was the backdrop for the vast fields of crops and trees firmly rooted in the red Zambian soil. The highway was in very good condition for the most part with the rare construction zone where we had to go off into gravel and dirt to bypass. If not for the speed bumps at every intersection and bus stop zone, we could have slept soundly on the highway to Livingston. A few hours into the ride we stopped at a store complex with a food store, public facilities we could use for 2 kwatcha a piece, and a bar attached to that called Tooters. After a 10 minute stretch at Tooters we re-boarded the bus and headed down the road eating bananas we bought from a street vender by a few hundred speed bump zones back. As we got closer to the Zambezi, the dirt became more sand colored and less like red clay colored. The termites down here make a different type of mound and they were everywhere, huge, and easily much larger than our bus. Many were covered in corn stocks and other vegetation. Soon we noticed that our road was parallel with railroad tracks. Occasionally a red passenger train would pass us and we could see the people riding on trains that appeared to have no glass in the windows.
After about 7 hours we arrived at Livingstone, a city of about 250,000 people. Before we entered the northern city limits we could see the mist rising from Victoria Falls which is located south of the city. We stopped at "Steer", a hamburger place in a shopping center in town. The burgers and fried were good and a little reminder of home. Then we headed south west out of Livingstone down to where we would cross the Zambezi River into Botswana. We went through the exit process with our passports in Zambia and headed down to the river to wait in the blistering sun for our boat. In the meantime we took in the scenery and the realization that we were standing at the border of 4 countries. We were standing in Zambia but looking across the river to the southeast at Zimbabwe, south at Botswana and southwest at Namibia. Our boat pulled in about 15 minute after we arrived, which was enough time for a few team members to get suckered into buying a few more wood carvings from persistent salesmen and for Tim Sharrock to lead one of the ferry boat workers to the Lord.
We all had to walk the plank literally to board the boat. There was a floating plank about a foot wide and stretching about 15 yards out from the shore to the boat. Walking the plank would be enough of a test without luggage, but with carry ons the degree of difficulty was raised a bit, but with a little help from the boat workers everyone was soon safely aboard the boat high and dry. We motored across the Zambezi, right where the Chobe river empties into it. Here at the confluence we were skirting the coast of Namibia our way to the Botswana shoreline. The Zambezi River is about the width of the Ohio River. The difference here is the carnivorous critters that live in the river and the fact that a boat dead in the water could end up eventually going over Victoria Falls if its not careful.

Two safari Range Rovers from Chobe were waiting for us on the Botswana shore. We loaded up these tall open air vehicles and road up to the border station to have our passports stamped into Botswana. Then we headed toward the Chobi Safari Lodge. There was a detour because of a road project which was a blessing. The detour was through some dirt roads that took us right into the path of five elephants, a giraffe, and an assortment of of other smaller creatures.

We were greeted at the Lodge by a smiling staff and non-alcoholic fruit drinks. I only mention the "non-alcoholic" because the guy giving us our drinks repeated that it was non-alcoholic fourteen times as he served us. After our orientation brief we went to our rooms to freshen up for dinner. All our rooms open up to the Chobe River. In the yard between the lodge and the river Warthogs were grazing and playing in mud, while monkeys ran around on the grass roof of this two story lodge.

The dinning area is open air in a large grass roofed area overlooking the pool plaza and the Chobe River. The buffet meals here are prepared by trained chefs and it showed in every dish from the salad bar through the dessert bar. After overeating our late supper a troop of Botswana tribal dancers performed for us. Then we all settled in by 9pm since we had to be at the front desk reading for a game drive at 5:45 the next morning.

Wednesday April 2

We loaded our two Safari vehicles at 6am for our morning game drive. We were out on the highway for the 10 kilometer drive to the Sadudu Gate of Chobe Game reserve before the sun was up. We entered the park as daylight broke. We spent 3 hours in the park taking pictures of all sorts of animals, including some rare finds, like a pair of jackals and a sabu. We did not however see any big cats and that was the primary point of the early morning game drive. We stopped about half way through the drive for tea and coffee along the Chobe River. We had to fight off the monkeys who wanted our bread cakes very badly. After 9am we headed back to the Lodge for brunch. This left plenty of time for everyone to rest and relax however they chose, including shopping, sleeping, swimming until our 3pm boat cruise.
At 3 we gathered at the pool plaza and boarded a large covered pontoon boat to go on our boat safari. For three hours we cruised the Chobi River taking pictures of elephants, giraffe, deer like things, hippos, many kinds of birds, and water buffalo. We were looking for animals all along both the Botswana and Namibia shores of the river.  Will still did not see any big cats, rhinos or zebras. We did however see the rare sight of a giraffe bending down to drink from the river, which is quite a production and something they only do after making perfectly sure there are no predators around.

We watched the sunset as we left the boat back at the Lodge where we started. We had devotions by Jillian and then another amazing buffet dinner in the candlelit open air grass roofed dining room. Then a few of us took advantage of some rare moments of good internet connectivity to Facetime and message loved ones bad home before turning in for the night.

Thursday April 3 started with devotions by Don at 6:45 followed by breakfast and packing. We left the lodge on a bus at 8am for the short few miles to the Chobe River. Once there we went through the Botswana exit process then went on down to the shore to await our ferry boat. We boarded two small boats for the ride back to the Zambian shore. We walked the narrow plank back onto dry ground and headed for the Zambian border entrance station to officially re-enter Zambia. Then we boarded our familiar bus from Lusaka to ride the hour or so to Livingstone to visit Victoria Falls.

We took lots of pictures and video. Words cannot describe the raw power and magnitude of the falls. After viewing Victoria Falls, Billy Graham proclaimed that "Victoria Falls makes Niagara Falls look like the sniffles". I agree. Due to the sheer magnitude of the falls and the mist coming up and down everywhere, the "Smoke That Thunders", the real African name for the falls, it is impossible to see all of it from any one spot on the ground. Only from a helicopter or plane can you see the whole thing.

Some in our party only went as far as they could go and stay dry, which still gave them great vistas from just down inside the gorge and from above the falls on the Zambian side. A few adventurous souls, like me went on into the mist and torrential "rain" that came from below and above to get better glimpses of the falls from deeper into the gorge. This involved getting soaked, especially when crossing the bridge that spans a gap in the gorge wall. On that bridge water hits from every angle as you make way across. Tim and I would wait for moments when the mist would change directions and then pull out cameras to take pictures until the next wall of water made us zip the cameras back into our water proof  bags. Keeping a camera dry at Victoria Falls is a challenge to say the least, but we both managed to get some amazing shots and leave with cameras that were still functional.

After a couple hours of Falls watching, and shopping at the curio shops at the entrance, we all bordered the bus and headed for Steers at the shopping center for lunch and to dry out some more before the long bus ride back to Lusaka. Perfect weather has been our blessing this whole trip and today was no exception. It is sunny and warm (mid 80's), and the refreshing breeze blowing through the bus windows slowly but surely put most of the passengers asleep. Fortunately the bus always has two drivers so they talk to each other in their native tongue and keep each other awake.

We stopped a few hours into the trip for the bus drivers to purchase a new fuel filter. This is routine and about as frequent as oil changes here since the diesel refineries don't do quite as good a job at refining African fuels as they have to in order to meet US standards. So there tends to be sulfur and other unwanted things in the fuel.

I rode with Gary Sidle in his truck the rest of the way back but we didn't make much better time than the bus. The trip was slowed down by semi trucks and detours. After dark the drive was even more of an adventure. So many people walk or ride bikes along the road after dark with no lights. Most of the time there are no lines on the road and every time we passed a car or truck we had to watch for them to swerve our way to avoid people or animals like we were doing. We passed trucks that were broke down and abandoned in the dark right in the middle of the road or at least out into the roadway many times. A couple places we found road construction work where we had to follow "deviations" into the corn fields on dirt paths to get around the construction. Those last two or three hours of traveling in the dark were quite an adventure to say the least.

About 10 pm we were back at the guest house and more than ready to eat the pizza's and KFC the Sidles picked up and delivered to us for our late supper. Connie gave each of the Sidle family members gifts from the team. They said tonight was like Christmas at the Sidle house.

We were tired from the long ride and the excitement of safari and exploring Victoria Falls, and shopping of course. After dinner was all headed to our rooms to pack since we needed to be out of our rooms by 9am Friday. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we were more than ready for a good night's rest.

Friday April 4

Most of us were up and finishing packing by 6 am even though breakfast and devotions wasn't until 8:30. We filled the tubs that carried our food over here full with goodies from Zambia and Botswana and some items the Sidles wanted shipped back to Ohio. We revealed prayer partners and had a good time of fellowship as we waited for the bus to take us back to Arcades shopping center for our final lunch in Zambia.

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