Week 13: From Ready-to-Leave to Newly Rejuvenated

Huddling Down in Tofo

Our week started in the beachside town of Tofo, Mozambique, where we were hoping to snorkel, surf, and sun worship for a few days but the weather turned from slightly cool to downright cold and rainy.

A few gung-ho surfers played on, but we weren't about to go snorkeling.
A few gung-ho surfers played on, but we weren’t about to go snorkeling.

Instead of frolicking in the sun we were huddled underneath the extra comforters watching movies in our fleeces! It didn’t help that the chalet we were in had reed walls and the windows were nothing more than mosquito nets, so the whole place was windy and everything was damp. At this rate, we’d have preferred to be back in Vancouver with a nice warm fireplace and some delicious shawarma!

When Moreno bundles up in a comforter, you know it's serious.
When Moreno bundles up in a comforter, you know it’s serious.

Whale Sharks and Sunshine

Luckily, the extended forecast promised sun, so we decided to stick it out, eventually wandering out to get to know the town, and we loved it! We’re really bad for comparing every beach experience to our paradise in Mexico, and while it was no Sayulita (scruffier with less atmosphere and more persistent hawkers), it was perfect to hang around for a couple of weeks (warm waters with lots of activities and a small beach town where you could get to know everyone pretty quick).

All Moreno wanted from Mozambique was handfuls of prawns...and NO ONE had them! We did almost end up getting this crayfish to compensate though.
All Moreno wanted from Mozambique was handfuls of prawns…and NO ONE had them! We did almost end up getting this crayfish to compensate though.

The highlight of the whole stay, as expected, came during our ocean safari, where we jumped in the ocean to swim with whale sharks and rays! (Never saw the rays though…they’re too damn quick). It was mind blowing to swim next to such a giant and be able to see it up close.

We don't have a go-pro or an underwater camera (*facepalm) so this is the closest we came to photographing a whale shark :P
We don’t have a go-pro or an underwater camera (*facepalm) so this is the closest we came to photographing a whale shark :P

No Bribes to Speak Of

We left bright and early the next day (4:30am) determined to make it to the South African border and beyond. We were expecting to be stopped several times – we were told by two ladies that had just driven that particular stretch of road that it was notorious for cops stopping tourists for every possible (and often false) infraction to solicit a bribe – but we weren’t stopped once!!

They either ignored us, smiled and waved us through, or flat out motioned us on so they could get to someone behind us! For what we were expecting, it was bizarre but we were definitely relieved.

Craziness on the highway near Maputo, Mozambique's capital. Lots of cops, but none interested in us (phewf!).
Craziness on the highway near Maputo, Mozambique’s capital en route to the border.

The Panorama Route

Eleven hours later we entered the Mpumalanga province in South Africa and it was like night and day. We could finally see why this is considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world! We drove the Panorama route and in the morning headed to Blyde River Canyon which was breathtaking and made us really glad we decided to detour and see it (read: Moreno was glad he listened when I insisted we see it as it was barely out of the way and likely more beautiful than the photos :P).

The "Pinnacle" viewpoint was like looking down into a prehistoric world...
Especially with the morning fog, the “Pinnacle” viewpoint was like looking down into a prehistoric world…

Touring South Africa

Next up: We’re newly rejuvenated and ready to continue our two week ‘tour’ of South Africa. We’ll be heading through Johannesburg to pick up some stuff and then heading to the coast via the Drakensberg Mountains!

Driving the Panorama Route just before a gorgeous rainy sunset.
Driving the Panorama Route just before a gorgeous rainy sunset.

Week 12: Searching for a Beach Paradise

The twelfth week took us from the sick bed on Lake Malawi, through an interesting border crossing into Mozambique, and onto the rainy coast of Tofo.

Leaving Malawi

We were planning on leaving Lake Malawi right at the beginning of the week, but since Moreno fell ill, we knew we’d have to stay another day or so. Well, he did get better, but the next day, I caught a weaker version of the bug and it was my turn to spend the whole day in bed. (For those of you keeping track, the wife of the neighbor that was sick also got sick when I did…strange….We never did figure out what it was).

driving malawi
Driving up the deforested hills of Malawi.

Crossing into Mozambique

We arrived at the Mozambique border a bit hesitant: we weren’t sure about the safety of the roads or whether we’d actually be able to get a visa on arrival, as any guidebook we consulted or other traveler we asked had the same answer: “They don’t. Except sometimes they do.”

driving behind a truck
Children go to school and people are off to work in the early morning drive.

But everything seemed to be going good until I noticed that beside my photo on the visa, bold and in uppercase was MORENO’S full name. The BS and lack of formality in these places, I swear:

“Hi, sorry. This is his name. Not mine.” I walk up and politely point to the visa.

The official that clearly screwed up and forgot to change the name when he took my photo and printed my visa, stared at my passport for a few seconds, then asked to see Moreno’s (yup, that’s him), and then shuffled off to get his supervisor. The supervisor walked up.

“This is fine.” He said after a few seconds of pondering.

“Can you change it?” I ask, hesitant but still polite.

He shakes his head and looks deep in thought. “This is just how our computer works.” He lies.

“You cannot make a new one?” I don’t want to push, but I sure don’t want to take a chance with an incorrect visa.

“No.” He shakes his head. “That is how our system is.”

Right, so from hereonin, everyone that comes in a requests a visa will be named Moreno, till the end of time?

Moreno takes over as I start muttering under my breath. “That is a complete lie!”

“And if the police check, this will be ok?” Moreno asks. We had heard that the police are notorious for fining tourists for whatever they can.

“Yes, they see you together, it’s ok.” Uhhh…

“Can you just print up a new one? Unpeel this one, and stick a new one in?”

Moreno’s logic was just too much. The supervisor, looking defeated but hesitant, gets on the phone.

“My boss will be here soon. He will see. Take a seat.”

In the end, the boss came and disappeared into the back room where we had our photos taken to issue me a new visa like I expected them to do (a Western expectation perhaps) and they managed to peel off the incorrect one and stick in the new one, and that was that. *Phewf!*

Beaches of Bazaruto

boats in vilankulos
The turned over boats, slightly filthy water, and empty beaches of Vilankulos weren’t exactly what we expected paradise to look like.

By mid week, we were finally on the coast (and I’m happy to report we had no scary incidences and only got asked for a cold drink bribe twice). We got to the small town of Vilankulos, where our main task was to take a dhow (a wooden sailboat) around the Bazaruto Archipelago. And while the beaches in town lacked a bit of “come hither-ness,” the unspoiled islands were exactly the sort of beaches we were waiting for. We boated around (more on that later), swam and snorkeled, and came back very sunburned and very pleased.

Vilankulos

But Vilankulos isn’t known as a very safe town, at night anyway, and staying at the lodge we once again felt like we were in a guarded off compound (we technically were), so while the girl that was managing the lodge took us around the town a couple of times and we got to see it, we were ready to move on to somewhere we could actually enjoy.

ordering at casbah
Sarah orders from the menu board during one of our lunches out.

To Tofo

We arrived in Tofo, one of the three main beaches in the Inhambane peninsula and it seemed immediately to be what we were hoping for…with a small caveat: the weather had turned gloomy and no one was on the beach!

chalet view
The view from our chalet: since it’s not considered ‘right on the beach’ Moreno managed to talk the guy down to almost half price. Score!

What’s next: We hang out here for a few days and wait for the sun to come back out. We’ll go from there.

Week 11: Ups & Downs in Hilly Malawi

Leaving Lusaka

We started the week in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. We weren’t there for touristic reasons, but the highway north went right through it, so it was a good place to camp for the night and then run errands in the morning. Africa might be preparing for Christmas, but after struggling in the 40°C heat, we opted to gift ourselves with a fan!

christmas decorations
Lusaka prepares for Christmas in 40°C heat

South Luangwa

We rushed off to Zambia’s most popular park, South Luangwa, where we were told we’d be guaranteed to see leopards. Well, they weren’t quite falling out of the sky but we did see one just as we parked for a quick break.

There we were snacking on popcorn in front of the ranger’s vehicle, when his tracker said something in Nyanja, and the ranger gently suggested we snack on the far side of the vehicle instead – a leopard had come to a waterhole not more than a hundred meters from us and now was running past us back to safety! Ironically, I felt safer than I did around elephants, which we heard more horror stories about from the ranger (under his overarching theme of “Why I Don’t Do Walking Safaris.”)

However, none of the parks in Zambia are fenced so I was able to face my fear one more time as elephants came into our camp just as everyone started falling asleep. We had already locked up our food in the camp’s kitchen (we were told the elephants will smash windows when they smell food) and once I was sure the hum of our fridge didn’t piss the thing off (something I watched on When Animals Attack) I decided I was too tired to wait for it to come close so I could stare at it, and passed out trusting we’d be fine where we slept.

Mixed Feelings in Malawi

The animal sightings were great, but we were aching to get to Malawi to hit the beaches of its beautiful lake, the third largest in Africa, and so big that it looks like the ocean when you’re standing on shore.

We got into Cape Maclear, a teeny tiny backpacker beach town which was right in a village…and immediately wanted to leave. The reality was that as beautiful as the sunset on the lake was, as amazing as the mountains on the lake were, as quaint as the camp right on the beach was with its hawkers selling things to ‘please support their sister,’ we were exhausted, hot, and dirty, and what we really wanted, nay, needed, was a good dose of luxury.

view from Fat Monkey's
I know, I know, it sounds CRAZY to not be in love with this….

Of Peace & Serendipity

Luckily, we found another site a few minutes away that was a bit more private and quiet and opted to stay in a chalet a couple of nights. The owner had been in the South African Special Forces (like our James Finch) and due to his connections was able to give us a lot of useful info on our proximate travel into Mozambique, after which he invited us over for drinks and a braai the next night.

beach swings
*Insert relaxed sigh here*

Catamarans and Panic Attacks

The next day after some time on the beach, we set off for a sunset catamaran cruise on the lake. The lake is beautifully clear, and has some of the best fresh water diving in the world. But while Moreno and some of the other guests went snorkeling, I tried to come to grips with the steady panic I started feeling earlier that day: the potential dangers in Moz (which we always knew were there) all of a sudden terrified me and I could barely breathe, much less think straight. I knew my fear was irrational, but all I could do to not count down the days till we were home was distract myself with watching movies and sleeping.

The Roller Coaster Continues

After some wise words from Finding Nemo (“Just keep swimming…”), I got over it just in time for Moreno to come down with a fever. Nauseous, vomiting, and feeling weak, Moreno spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday in bed while I force fed him Ryvita crackers so he could hold down his malaria pill, and threw on episodes of The Pacific to help us both pass the time.

lake malawi
Children washing and playing on glassy Lake Malawi

We found out later one of our neighbours had also been sick in bed for the past 24 hours and the only thing we could come up with was that both he and Moreno snorkelled that day off the catamaran (me and his wife did not), so perhaps there was something in the mouthpieces, or in the water there. (Note: The lake is known to house bilharzia, but these are not the symptoms we’d expect, nor would they come on so quick).

What Next?

We will hang here until Moreno regains his strength and then we’ll head south into Mozambique for the gorgeous coast we’ve been craving for a few weeks of snorkeling, diving, surfing, and dhow-ing.

As always, thanks for tuning in! :)

In the Crosshairs of a Desert Elephant

MORENO:After visiting Twyfelfontein, we had allotted another day to visit some nearby sites, but bumping into Jan and Jessica, a German couple we met in Sossusvlei, we were convinced that by passing up on some of these sites we wouldn’t be missing much.

We still planned to drive to Namibia’s highest peak, Brandberg, to find camp, but after being asked about our plans by a game driver on the road, we were persuaded to call it a day and find somewhere to sleep nearby.

Of Elephants

We followed him to Aabadi Camp where desert elephants had just been spotted.  We drove the Landy right down into a sandy riverbed in the direction of the elephants’ last known whereabouts.  The sand got deeper and softer and my tire pressure was too high for it while my confidence in sand still somewhat low.  So I decided to turn back before getting stuck.

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Elephants walking in the dry riverbed

Back in Jo’burg, James had warned us about the power and danger that elephants can present.  “The elephant is a sexual animal: if it decides it doesn’t like you, you’re f*#%ed.”  He told us about elephants driving their tusks through the metal bodies of safari jeeps and even knocking over SUV’s and stomping on them. With those ideas in my head, I was happy to head back to the camp’s bar for a beer.

To Walk or Rove

The game driver was still there and asked if we saw the elephants, and I reported that we had not gone that far in the Land Rover for fear of getting stuck but might go on foot.  He warned us definitely not to go on foot, but assured us that we had the right vehicle and to just drop the tire pressure to between 1-2 bar (an unfamiliar unit of measure for me) and “go for it.”

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Namibia’s desert elephant is specially adapted for its environment, with longer legs, a smaller body and a much meaner disposition.

“If you find you’re getting stuck,” he added, “Drop it into low range and go for it.  If you get into more trouble, lock the diff and go for it.”  And then he added, “But, if you still get stuck, you’re f*#%ed. Wait for me in my Land Cruiser.”

Even as a new Land Rover owner, my ears burned at the thought of being rescued by a Toyota. I said that we would go back and give it a try. “You’re going on foot aren’t you?” he asked. It’s as if he could read the hesitation on my face.  I denied the accusation and he smiled knowing that we were not going in the Landy.

First Sightings

So we grabbed a camera and lens and set out on foot over red boulders on the side of the river in search of the beasts, making sure to stay out of the dry riverbed. We were alone and at some point began to feel like there might be any number of predatory cats lurking behind a rock waiting to pounce on us delicious pieces of Canadian bacon. We ventured a bit further and then the fears disappeared when we I spotted a smallish, if you can ever say small when refering to an animal of its’ size, elephant.

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First we saw one in the distance…

We spied them, growing in numbers, from the safety of the rocks for about fifteen minutes before feeling brave and curious enough to climb down and track the herd as it moved along, feeding as it went.

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…and then they were everywhere!

Walking with Elephants

The walk was magical.  We weren’t in our vehicle like in Pilanesburg where we first saw elephants. There was no noisy diesel motor or air conditioner blowing or windows in the way.  It was just us and about twenty giants…and Jan and Jessica who we just sighted scrambling over the rocks coming to our position (we just keep finding eachother).

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Jan and Jessica watch the elephants beside us

Together and in silence we moved along the bank of the riverbed in the direction of the herd, hiding behind trees, careful not to get too close, and keen to keep an eye on the one that would occasionally take notice of our presence and grunt.

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The “mean one” looking at us

Eventually we followed the elephants back to our camp, but now it was getting harder to keep track of not only all the elephants but also Kat’s whereabouts as all were spreading out.

KAT (interjection): At this point, we were very close to them, and the bank was pretty much level with the ground. I was no longer comfortable with following Moreno, but as the elephants were right there, a few meters in front of us, I didn’t want to speak above a whisper and catch their attention. Moreno did not hear or see me go around the bush on the safe side, slowly making my way to a bush further away where Jan and Jessica had joined the rest of the camp in taking photos of the passing elephants from a safe distance.

kat points to elephant
A real live elephant!

As I rounded the bush, I immediately noticed an elephant further off in the river bed but with a very direct view of me. The camp audience looked to me. So did the elephant. I felt so exposed, I didn’t want to move, and was sure that once trampled I’d be a statistic case of ‘tourist that was stupid enough to be in the open with an elephant.’ I proceeded to slowly make my way behind a flimsy tree surrounded by sparse bushes, about ten meters away from the bank. I could see the rest of the camp people another 15 meters off from me, but didn’t feel safe to walk there just yet.

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This one kept hanging back….

MORENO: I had a good idea of where the mean one was. One elephant in particular was the only one to take notice of us and its demeanor was obviously not to be our friend. This elephant was always a ways off to the rear. I had moved closer to the edge of the riverbed and then right in front of me I noticed one behind a bush. Not more than five meters distance and some thin, leafy elephant food separated us.

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…and turning to watch us

My immediate reaction was shock that this five ton creature could be so close without making a sound. You would think something so large would move about with loud, thundering steps, like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, but they can be remarkably quiet. So I stood motionless, but the elephant moved around the bush to reach more clumps of leaves and then made eye contact with me.

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Through the bushes

I was told they have poor vision. Perhaps they do but with me standing there in my jet black shirt against a light background and only a car length away it was obvious that it would see me.  Yet I remained still, praying I was wrong and simultaniously in awe of this up close experience with such a massive and intelligent mammal. Then in my stillness, with its eyes locked on mine, it scoffs, flaps its ears and takes a few aggressive steps in my direction.

KAT: I have no idea where Moreno is, but have everyone else in my view and all of a sudden, as one, they all give out a low panicked “Oooh.” And shuffle away another few meters. I know instinctively Moreno’s pissing off an elephant but can’t see anything just yet.

MORENO: My internal “Oh shit” meter is off the charts.  I take three slow steps backwards, and then it charges at me.  Just as I turn away to begin my sprint I hear the unmistakable sound of it trumpeting and its footsteps now pounding much louder than my heart.

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An elephant close up is always too close for comfort

KAT: And all I hear is a trumpet sound and then the very quick pitter patter of feet somewhere to my left. *facepalm*

MORENO: I run about 50 meters checking over my shoulder to see it still coming, but it does eventually stop after about 15 meters. It’s only when I stop (even further away) that I see that Kat is not where I thought she was, but instead hiding behind a shrub with the elephant standing quite close to her now.

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Moreno reenacting running from the elephant

KAT: It’s silent. I manage to peer through some of the shurbbery and sure enough see an elephant face, bright white tusks, facing up past me towards where the footsteps have gone. Luckily, I don’t actually realize how close it is to me. I know it can’t see me because I’m smartly wearing my blendy safari shirt but I’m terrified of it hearing me crouched there, angry that I’m hiding. I look behind me. The toilet is about twenty meters away, but the walls are made of wooden sticks that even if I would make a run for it, the elephant could trample.

We had just watched Jurassic Park and all I could think was, Oh I am not going down in a toilet stall. I considered making a break for the rest of the camp people, but I couldn’t see them anymore. I did manage to be consious of the fact that they could probably see me and that I probably looked ridiculous, so while stuck for what seemed like ever hiding behind this flimsy tree, terrified the elephant would come after me if I made a run for it, I also attempted to look completely in my element and nonchalant.

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Kat on guard watching the elephants from a distance…

Unfortunately, looking for an escape route, I lost my view of the elephant, and when I turned back, couldn’t see it any longer. Panic set in. Could I just not see it any more or was it slowly making its way in my direction, ever so quietly like I knew it was capable without me knowing? Visions of elephant popping out from behind the tree flooded my brain and I decided to go around the other way to get a better view.

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…and hiding, trying to blend in

MORENO: I didn’t want to shout to Kat, but I could see that she didn’t have a clear site of where the elephant was and wouldn’t know how close danger was.  After a few attempts of hissing and arm waving, further agrivating the beast which maintained its staredown with me, I got her attention when she finally turned around. I signalled her to stay low and move back to keep the shrub between her and the elephant.

KAT: I was relieved to see Moreno, and glad he could guide me somehow, but after telling me to stay down, he just stood there and smiled. I frantically threw my arms in the air, signalling “Now what??” But he just stood there. I looked back on the other side and saw moving elephants, so assumed the path was clear and made my way to Moreno.

MORENO: Our signals got crossed and she started towards me, but it was at the same moment that the elephant turned and made off in the opposite direction.  It didn’t see her.  All were safe, just left with an adrenaline overload and pounding chests.

That called for a cold malted beverage to unwind.

Week 10: Zambia’s Zambezi

We’re in Zambia!

We started off the week with our second border crossing, this time into Zambia. We loved it immediately – it was more like the Africa we had been expecting. After a good hour going from window to window at the check point, and then a good hour driving on completely Swiss cheese potholed roads (another immediate change from Namibia), we rolled into Livingstone.

playing pool
Playing pool with some backpackers we met.

For the Queen

Livingstone – named after the “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” – is the base town for one of the biggest highlights in Zambia: Victoria Falls. There are a number of activities to participate in to experience the Zambezi (which flows into the Falls), so we signed up for a walk to Devil’s Pool (a natural infinity pool!), white water rafting in the gorge, and then a sunset cruise above the falls. Afterwards, we were sore, exhausted, and deliriously pleased with ourselves :P

victoria falls
View onto Vic Falls…The rest of walls of the gorge  are completely covered in water and mist when the Zambezi  is full.

The Decision to Drop Zim

Our next stop was going to be crossing over to Zimbabwe to see the falls from that side (Vic Falls is very much like our Niagara and straddles the border), and then head on to Mana Pools, a national park on that side of the Zambezi to do a three night canoe trip. However, after some more perusing of the guidebooks, we realized that we could do the same canoe trip from the Zam side  (I know it <em>sounds</em> obvious):

Mechanics under Landy
Landy sidebar:  Catastrophe avoided when what we thought was an exhaust-falling-apart disaster was nothing more than a missing nut, quickly replaced by some teenagers at a ‘garage’ on the side of the road. (That’s their legs sticking out from under the car…it’s the best I got).

1. We never planned on visiting Mana Pools per se, only doing the canoe trip on the river, so we weren’t missing out on anything by doing it from Zambia.
2. The camps on the Zam side are cheaper.
3. The camps on the Zam side are open year round (the roads don’t turn to slog in the wet season).
4. We save ourselves the driving time.
5. We avoid the extra Zim visa, road toll, temporary import fee, insurance, etc., etc.

So we scrapped Zimbabwe, but only temporarily.

Canoes, Bush Camps and Elephants

Our canoe trip was amazing, though we shortened that, too, from three nights down to just one. We floated right up to loads of elephants and then slept in the bush listening to lions grumbling somewhere across the river.

Kat with elephant
That’s only one of the ten elephants we were surrounded by….

Through Lusaka

Moreno with watermelon
Everyone in Zambia is selling something on the side of the road. We finally gave in and got some juicy watermelon!

And that brought us to the end of the week, as well as to the capital of the country, Lusaka, where we stumbled on the Sunday Market and were finally able to find ourselves some souvenirs!

It’s ‘Go’ Time

From here on in, we head north to Zambia’s most impressive wildlife park and then into Malawi. Already! The last week was a lot of fun, but as our preferred ‘slow travel’ has inadvertently picked up more of a ‘group adventure tour’ pace, jumping from place to place tasting a tiny bit of everything, honestly? We’re exhausted.

We really love Zambia, but are now seriously craving some beach time, so we’ll probably be in Malawi and Mozambique in no time.

road scene
A typical scene driving past a Zambian town…chicken cars, shacks, you name it.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!!