Aim: Drive north east from Windhoek (the capital), through the Caprivi-Strip, through Botswana then arriving at the Victoria falls on the Zimbabwe side. 1 week there and 1 week back.
Transport: A 1985 Toyota Hilux with no air-conditioning or music player.
Accommodation: A mixture of camping, lodges and a hostel.
Sleep deprived but excited, we (3 men and 1 woman) set off on our road trip the day after our arrival in Namibia. Setting off early on the Monday morning there were a couple of things that needed to be kept in mind.
1- We needed to make good time and cover long hours in the hilux to make our Vic Falls booking
2- No driving in the dark as its too dangerous.
Our first night was spent in a lodge on the Okavango River. Two of us in one very large 2 story number and the other two on the river in a floating house. All told It was a nice relaxing introduction to Africa.
Having said that, on the first morning we were woken at 6.00 am with several loud, shuddering bangs. So loud in fact that it shook the house. My flat mate shot out of bed with a “Ross…Ross!!! What the fuck is that??”
Like me he was thinking, first night balls deep in Africa and we wake up to someone going tits with a shotgun?? Holy fuck we are all going to die!!! Or get raped!! Or both!! I’m too young for Aids!
Remaining calm, I respond “Ah they’re just shooting our breakfast”
Ah yes. Possibly the most idiotic thing I have ever said!
Long story short, it turns out it was just some birds flying into the windows…
Literally a wake up call to my African naivety and ignorance.
Moving on, we made good ground. There is a certain culture shock when you visit certain parts of Africa for the first time. Driving along vast, straight roads we got to see the essence of Namibia.
Eye opening were the Mud-huts and small farms in the country side where children walk for hours every morning and night in crippling heat, in the territory of some of the worlds most apex predators to fetch water for the family. This is a far cry from me complaining about no air-conditioning and asking the driver to wind his window down because my testicles were sticking to my leg. I could be disingenuous like many and say that it made me realize how lucky I am. However, I already knew how facile Western life is. Instead, what I would say is that it opened up my eyes to an entirely different world, a way of life that I could only fathom if I was to live and experience for myself. My testicles were sticking to my leg! It was bloody hot!
Our first experience with the African wild life was a serious one. A real serious one.
Driving along we came across a Matriarchal Herd of Elephants who were crossing the road in-front. We stopped the car and turned the engine off at a distance that some would say was stupidly close…others (the driver) safe as pie. I watched in wonder as they went about their business with goosebumps and the hair on my neck standing. Elephants are huge but act with a strange wild elegance that you can watch and absorb for hours.
Out of the blue, the quiet grace of these magnificent creatures turned into bubbling, wild fury. One of the baby Elephants decided to trip and fall (all of its own accord) which induced a protective panic across the herd and typically, WE GOT THE BLAME!!
The Elephants turned to face us with some loud trumpeting and a disconcerting aura of “We are gona fuck you up”!
Many people will know that the worst thing you could do would be to turn the engine on and hall ass down the road. So we were sensible and decided to play chicken with the giant Herd of Elephants…
With my arse twitching like a Rabbits nose , we stayed completely still while the Elephants looked us up and down. Eventually, the Matriarch decided to slowly walk directly towards us. We all kept our composure remarkably well even if I did begin to weigh up the structural integrity a 1985, upside down Toyota Hilux has under an Elephants foot. With the Elephant still walking my arse went into overdrive and I started to wonder if I had wiped properly after my last toilet excursion. The pouring sweat was now causing an incomprehensible itch that only my index finger could address while no-one was looking. Sadly that’s how my mind works, everyone else in the car is thinking FIGHT OR FLIGHT!! I’m going through my mind the step by step progress of the last time I wiped my arse!
The Elephant eventually stopped and thank god was just testing us. One more foot the driver said and It was engine on, foot down and a life or death Wacky race. However it didn’t. Instead it turned and walked away happy to let us off with a warning because Elephants are quality and our sense of fear probably appealed to its good nature or something. (I don’t know,I’m not fucking Davie Attenborough)
The next few nights were spent in another lodge again right on the river. We got to see hippos, crocodiles etc and just generally experience Namibia in all it’s glory.
Finally, after a short drive through Botswana and what seemed like years in arduous Border Crossings we arrived in Zimbabwe and the Victoria falls not long after. The falls itself is one of those few places in the world that lives up to the expectation and genuinely takes your breath away.
I cant really add much else to that other than you should go and experience it for your self so you can truly appreciate it. It’s beyond words.
The area itself is full of other things to do in and around the falls, namely the world famous bungee jump. With the falls in the backdrop the bungee is situated on the bridge connecting Zimbabwe with Zambia. Why is it world famous?? Well it’s one of the highest in the world and an Australian woman last year had the cord snap, sending her plummeting into the ferocious rapids below, somehow surviving and making news headlines across the globe.
I had decided long before the start of the trip that I was going to do the jump so the moment had been building slowly over several months. I wouldn’t say I have Vertigo but I do have a sickening fear of falling off something high.
The morning of the jump I was crippled with nerves to the point I barely said a word until we arrived at the bridge.A friend and I both signed up to do it and sadly for me I was unable to watch anyone jump before hand so my sub-conscious couldn’t see how easy it was. Luckily Zimbabwe and Zambia are renowned for their strict health and safety protocols not to mention their amour for Westerners.
Standing like a young, nervous, homosexual about to vigorously lose his virginity to an over zealous black man, I prepped myself to Jump. Most people try and focus on their motivation or find their happy place. Instead, I started to reflect on the step by step process of the last time I …
Somehow, I managed to launch myself head first off a bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe in the backdrop of the Victoria Falls (Boom!). Due to my far from regular starting position I began to spin wildly like one of those clover thingies that fall off trees. The ones that you can pick up and they spin like helicopters. Like a beige, brown colour. Jesus, I’ve not seen them in ages.
With dehydrated piss filling up my 8 quid, Matalan Union Flag shorts bought at the height of British Olympic hysteria, I finally came to a stop. I had survived. The post bungee feeling is very bizarre, a mixture of relief and euphoria. In the end though, Numero 1 on the bucket list had been ticked off and I had sort of conquered a fear.
Next on the list was the infamous Zambezi white water rafting. Known as the most dangerous commercial water raft in the world, there were no nerves just excitement. We would start under the falls in the early morning then raft well into the afternoon. The river was infested with Crocodiles and the rafting came with a guarantee that you WOULD fall in. Apparently only small crocodiles can survive falling the falls therefore don’t possess a threat. Seemingly crocodiles never grow up! I went overboard a grand total of 3 times and possibly spent more time underwater than I did on the water. I can say though, that it was one of the best experiences of my life. Grade 5 rapids and helicopters flying full speed though the gorge were just a couple of highlights.
Zimbabwe was rounded off with a farewell drinking session where I met the most inspiring and caring person of my life. I’m not one for serendipity so I will leave it at that. Zimbabwe had left its mark.
Now we were on our way home and luxury lodges were now replaced with good old fashioned camping…in the wild…next to rivers…and hippos and stuff. At one point I went for a simple midday slash behind the tent only to look up and have a sunbathing hippo staring back at me. Not since I mistook that Glasgow tanning booth for a portalloo had I encountered such a large and fierce bathing creature.
Men often get stage fright, for some reason I had the opposite. Staring back at the most dangerous animal in Africa not only did I not turn and run…I started pissing towards his face while I gazed back into his eyes. What was I playing at?? Most prostitutes will draw the line at that. Anyway, we found out that Hippo always sunbathes their and is used to people. We were assured it was the same hippo, it must put its towel down in the morning or something.
The trip continued with more camping and wild animal encounters. We must have seen in excess of 1000 Elephants. There was Elephant shit everywhere! That’s all fine and dandy but people just pick it up. It’s like the African version of snow. “Oh look love, this Elephant shit is perfect, grab the kids we can make an Igloo!”
I won’t do Africa a dis-justice though. We encountered Lions in Botswana as well as Namibia let alone the Rhino, Giraffe and plethora of other majestic animals the roam the lands of Africa. Simply put, I could go on and on about the experiences of that single 2 week road trip but I would be writing a novel. If you haven’t been you have to go! The Victoria Falls will leave you mesmerized, the wildlife is what makes Africa and I wont even get started with the landscape, the food or the beer.
That 2 weeks set up the next 2 years of travelling for me. It literally changed my life. Without being overly profound or lucid, the experience is nearly indescribable. I’ve tried my best.
People often say the line “remember how lucky you are.” However that’s not human nature. All you can do is appreciate what you have and put yourself in desirable situations!
Don’t believe me??? Go to AFRICA!