A Travellerspoint blog

Chapter 35 - Cape to Cape - The Final Blog

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Introduction

As I start writing this on the plane back to Australia, I still find it hard to believe that we’ve done it!

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On 26th December 2016 we left Adelaide airport in South Australia. On 29th December 2016 we reached Cape Horn, at the bottom of South America, the official start of our trip. On 4th January 2018 we finally reached the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of South Africa, the end of this amazing trip!

And this is what the whole thing looked like on a map….

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The map of our little trip!

The statistics

The statistics are just a little bit of fun:

The trip was 378 days.

We travelled on 212 of these days, which means that we were on the road 56% of the time, in other words more than every second day!

We travelled a total of 151,591 kilometres (8,411 km by boat, 15,048 km by train, 44,501 km by road (car, truck, bus), 81,231 km by plane, and we’ve walked 2,400 km (3,852,600 steps)!) – Oh, In case you are wondering, the circumference of the earth is 38,400 km, so we’ve travelled the equivalent of 3.95 times around the earth!!

We went to 49 countries (New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, French Guiana, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Cuba, USA, Canada, China, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, UAE, Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa!).

We stopped in 32 capital cities.

Some of the countries we entered and left more than once, so we’ve had 69 border crossings.

We stopped in 19 different time zones.

We slept in 157 different beds.

We travelled in 29 planes, 16 boats, 52 buses, 12 cars, 25 trains and 3 trucks (although we spent a collective 57 days on these 3 trucks!)

We went to 61 UNESCO world heritage areas (Valparaiso, Iguazu National Park, Colonia de Sacramento, Olinda, Salvador de Bahia, Central Amazon, Rio de Janeiro, Cartagena, Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, Old Habana, Trinidad, Leon Cathedral, Antigua, Tikal National Park, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Mexico City and Xochimilco, Oaxaca, Palenque, Redwood Parks, Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing, The Great Wall, St. Petersburg, Kremlin and Red Square, White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal, Laike Baikal, Volcanoes of Kamchatka, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Berlin, Bordeaux, Vienna, Prague, Krakow, Auschwitz Birkenau, Wielicska and Bothnia Royal Salt Mines, Budapest, Sighisoara, Thessaloniki, Acropolis in Athens, Mystras, Meteora, Delphi, Delos, Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Land of the Vines and Olives in Palestine, Hebron, Old City of Jerusalem and Walls, Wadi Rum Protected Areas, Baptism Site, Petra, Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley, Ngorongoro Conservation Park, Serengeti National Park, Stone Town of Zanzibar, Victoria Falls, Okavango Delta, Namib Sand Sea, Robben Island and the Cape Floral Region).

We read over 90 books (Neil 32 and Nikki 60)

We each only had to take stomach antibiotics once (Neil in Cuba, Nik in Guatemala)

We only had 1 visit to a doctor (Nik for Bronchitis in Greece)

And we met more amazing people than we can possibly count!

The most common questions we’ve had about the trip

378 Days! How come you haven’t killed each other?

Prior to the Big Trip, we read quite a few travel books and, if it was a couple who were travelling together, they would without fail split up in Chapter 3! So, why didn’t we kill each other?

Neil:

“I reckon you can’t be doing the same things. Sounds ridiculous when you’re travelling together for a year BUT! What I mean is we had different jobs during the year; mine was to write and research the blogs and get it ready for review by Nik. You thought the blogs that got published went off on tangents!? You should have read them before Nikki reviewed them! Each blog took about 40 hours to research, write, and, once reviewed, upload it to the Travellers Point web portal.

Nikki was, surprise surprise, the organiser, the researcher into accommodation, the person with the aps on the phone (we’ll get to that later), and generally made stuff happen. I joke that, if it wasn’t for Nikki, I’d still be in Chile!”

Nikki:

“The first three months were by far the hardest! Suddenly in each other’s company 24/7, always in unfamiliar places, sometimes in stressful circumstances. I can honestly see why the chapter 3 breakup is such a common occurrence! It certainly took some patience and some very honest conversations. But what we learnt was a new way to respond when the other one of us wasn’t coping. Instead of taking it personally and escalating the situation, we learnt to tell each other (sometimes through hand gestures and monosyllables) that we weren’t coping and for the other person to step in and to help. This honesty and compassion made us closer and better able to respond when things were going pear shaped. All the difficulties of the first three months and learnings of the second three months, really paid off in the second half of the year, which was so much easier.

Not to say we didn’t occasionally loose our sh*t, but we were better at dealing with it when we did and at least we never seemed to do it at the same time!”

How much of the trip did we organise before we left?

We only booked the parts of the trip that needed pre-booking or may have booked out before we left, such as tours and cruises. So, before we left we booked:

- Our flights from Australia to Ushuaia, Argentina, where we started the trip (we didn’t book our flights home from South Africa until about half way through the trip)
- The 4-day cruise that took us from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, Chile via Cape Horn.
- The two-week cruise on the expedition ship in the Russian Far East that left from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
- The two overland truck trips in Africa; one from Nairobi to Rwanda and Uganda (16 days) and the other from Nairobi to Cape Town (41 days).
- The house in Franschhoek, South Africa, where we stayed for a week at the end of the trip.

You’ll see that that is about 83 of the 378 days of the trip, so a little less than one quarter of the trip.

So what about the rest? How did you decide where to go? How did you book it?

We did a lot of reading beforehand. The rough route was drawn on a paper placemat in 2009. But really we’d only got as far as, for example in Chile, of deciding that the Atacama Desert looked cool, and maybe Valparaiso, before we left. The rest we worked out as we went by researching online, reading the Lonely Planet and chatting with fellow travellers and locals.

The Lonely Planet guides were very useful. We had a paper copy for South America, but then moved onto electronic copies for the rest of the trip. The Lonely Planets gave us some history of the country, the top 10 or 20 ‘must-dos’ and some useful details about what to expect on arrival (especially useful for those late-night arrivals into seedy bus stations!).

Nikki booked most of the hotels, buses, etc. We booked nearly everything online (a booking criterion for accommodation on the trip was free wifi, and we had it at nearly every place we stayed on the trip), and mostly used ‘Booking.com’, ‘Hostelworld’ and ‘Airbnb’. Most buses were booked online, although we found that sometimes it was easier to just pick the tickets up at the station. Interestingly, all of the Eurail train tickets had to be purchased in person. We got to know how to ask for tickets in many different languages – including sign language!

We normally booked about 3 to 7 days ahead of our arrival, depending upon how locked in our future engagements were.

All of the flights were booked on the road (including the flight home!). We normally booked these between 2 and 6 months before we flew, but some were last minute decisions like northern Brazil and Colombia where we chose to fly instead of bus. Sometimes it was cheaper to book a flight the week before travelling than a bus ticket!

How did you afford it?!

Nikki set up a Big Trip savings account about 5 years ago and saved the entirety of the money she needed for the trip. I was fortunate enough to have some long service leave (and other benefits) up my sleeve from work and so was on half pay for most of the year. This, along with some savings and rent from our house in Melbourne (which we let out for the year), got me through the trip.

We set the budget based on previous holidays that we’d done. It was a careful budget, but not the budget we were on when we travelled in our twenties. We always booked private rooms and, wherever possible, ensuite bathrooms. We made allowances for eating decent food, and occasionally splashing out on a special meal. It was all very civilised!

The wonders of the regular debit card with the MasterCard logo and letting our bank know where we were meant we were able to withdraw money from ATM’s in every country we went to. If we had too much when we left, we simply exchanged it at the border. We didn’t take travellers cards or cheques, nor rely on credit cards. It was amazing how well it worked! We each had US$1,000 in the money belt as “Oh, Shit” money, but barely used it. We took out money in lumps of AU$200 to AU$400 so we could pay cash for almost everything, thereby minimising the establishments where we put our card through their EFTPOS machines.

Our cards were a safe effective way of travelling and at no time were we scammed or hacked.

And yes, at the end of the trip, we were on budget. Yes, it was a healthy budget.

How did you pack for the trip?

Strangely enough, Nik and I are both seasoned travellers and therefore packers. However, with travelling for a year, we thought really carefully about reducing the amount of stuff we took. The first step in this was to buy smaller backpacks. Nik’s was 55 litres and mine was 40 litres. Then we were in the great position of, if it didn’t fit, it didn’t go!

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Us with our backpacks, frontpacks and my guitar on a street corner in Lamia, Greece.

We needed winter stuff for Cape Horn but, by the time we got to St Pedro de Atacama in the north of Chile it was hot. So we packed it up and posted it to Nik’s aunt who lives north of San Francisco.

There were laundries everywhere and about once every 6 days we’d put a load in. Clothes and shoes, by the way, last about 7 months. When they wore out, we replaced them. The rule was, throw one out, buy one. The size of our backpacks didn’t increase – in fact over time as we found we had surplus gear, it decreased!

We met up with Nik’s parents in Bordeaux and they took home the winter clothes we had picked up in San Fransisco. So by the end of the trip, we both had 2 or 3 pairs of shorts, 6 or 7 t-shirts and some underwear! It’s amazing how little you actually need to survive.

Even though we thought we travelled light, we sent home a couple of items along the way that we realised we just weren’t going to use, such as portable speakers and some clothes.

The most useful item that we bought before we left? The UV water steriliser. Put it in a bottle of water for 45 seconds and Bob’s your Uncle! Sterilised water. This amazing tool helped keep us healthy the world over (we used it every country) and helped save the environment (just imagine how many plastic bottles we didn’t buy in that year!)

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UV water steriliser that saved the environment and our health during our travels. Just don’t carry it in your hand luggage. It gets some interesting looks from the security officers!

What devices did you take?

Nik loves the iPad. I prefer the Microsoft Surface. We took one of each. My phone is a work phone and got left in my locker at work for the year. Nik took hers but it was on airplane mode for the entire trip. We used free wifi for all of our online activities and communicated using Skype, email, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook. It worked really well.

There were some really useful apps that we used throughout the entire trip and that we often recommended to other travellers. The most important factor was the app working offline as very often we would not have wifi precisely when we needed it, whether it was to find our accommodation, negotiation an exchange rate or amuse ourselves during a long trip!

Halfway through the trip we moved from Google Maps to Maps.me. Both had offline capability, but maps.me was more flexible and allowed us to pin our trip in greater detail. And now we have a great memento of the trip!

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The offline exchange app by XE was also a lifesaver at those border crossing exchange posts, as well as just getting our head around the new currency in each country (and there were a few….).

One of the best internet apps for the trip was called ‘Pocket’. Pocket allows you to download pages from the internet for reading offline, for example on a bus, truck, boat, etc. The blogs involved lots of research and if was great to be able to be able to work on the road, with a little bit of forethought.

Wasn’t it dangerous?

It was something that many people said. “Aren’t you worried about your safety?”

No, not really. We did a lot of research as to how careful we should be. Hands down, the most dangerous place on the trip we stayed was Brazil. We didn’t wear watches, didn’t carry a phone, and Nik carried our money in her bra. Left the money belt in the safe in the hotel room. Didn’t stay out late. But really, it was all about being sensible.

And no, we didn’t have anything stolen. Didn’t lose anything significant. Nor break anything important. We were not threatened during the trip and didn’t have any unsafe encounters. Any illness was commonplace and we didn’t catch anything from poor water and only once from food (those dodgy Cuban prawns)!

It really was quite amazing!

What did we learn about each other?

Neil:

“Nik’s attention to detail on organising the trip was amazing. We stayed in better accommodation, with better facilities, in better locations than if I’d have booked it.

We saw more of the interesting sites because Nikki did the organising.

The views that Nikki had on Human Rights, Refugees, and the United Nations were spot on and after we’d done the volunteering in Columbia and Greece, and visited the United Nation Office in Geneva, we now have two soap boxes to stand on; one for me and one for Nik.
Everybody loves Nik. Her ability to get on with everyone in a non-judgemental, always respectful way is fantastic.

Nikki really, really, REALLY doesn’t like spiders…..”

Nikki:

“In the same way that I put my time and effort into booking our travels, Neil dedicated all of his spare time researching and writing the permanent record of our trip. Neil has always been very ‘in’ to everything he does, whether it be his exercise regime or work, but his dedication to the blog was amazing. Buses, trains, planes, hotel rooms – he worked on it everywhere and did such a fabulous job on it. It was really inspiring to watch, as well listen to all of the incredible facts he was digging up!

I’m like everyone else, I cant wait to see the book!”

What did we learn about ourselves and have we changed?

Neil:

“I learnt that I really like learning; learning about the places that we travel, the history, the politics, and the people in the places we travel to. I learnt that I love to write, love to research. I love getting feedback on the writing.

I learnt Spanish, plus a bit of Russian, and a little Greek on the trip.

I learnt that I want to focus on putting more back into society through more mentoring, more time with refugees, and more lobbying of Australian politicians about Human Rights and the plight of Refugees.

I learnt that I really don’t like the way that Israel is treating Palestinians and I want to see what I can do peacefully to improve the situation."

“I think I must have changed. I’m more motivated to put back into society and do what I can to help. "

Nikki:

“I learnt to stop ‘doing’. Just to stop, be where I was, and enjoy it. It took me about 2 months to stop thinking I needed to be doing something all the time. It’s a skill I hope not to loose!

I also learnt to respond better to unusual or unexpected situations. Constant challenges meant constant practice and I have just found I am more relaxed about what is happening around me, I make less assumptions and I am better at listening to others.

I feel that I am a better person for having been on the trip...”

What was the best thing that happened on the trip?

There are many, many fabulous things that happened on the trip. So many beautiful people. Such a lot of fantastic times. However, to pick the best thing that happened on the trip? It has to be volunteering in Greece and in Colombia. Berenice in Colombia and Alaa in Greece are people whose goodness is, well, it fills me with awe.

What was the worst thing that happened on the trip?

You know what? If I have to pick something, maybe it would be getting food poisoning in Cuba? But nothing bad did happen. Lots of experiences that were not a bowl of cherries (just ask Nik about the 12 hour day on a truck after we’d been on a truck for 40 days..), but really bad? No.

Well maybe leaving the refugee kids in Greece. We cried….

How do you feel about coming home?

Neil:

“I missed my sons. I missed my friends. I missed Apollo Bay. It’s nice sleeping in the same bed!

One of the other questions has been “How on earth do you feel coming back to work?”. To that my response has been the one said by my friend and esteemed work colleague, Bruce Bennett. His pearl of wisdom was “you can’t take a holiday from a holiday”, i.e. how can a holiday be fun if it’s not balanced out by something else, i.e. work. I’m really lucky. I love my job. The people I work with are great. It’s been a pleasure coming back to work. I loved the year away, but it’s nice to be home.”

Nikki:

“Its still early days for me coming back. Its been a real adjustment. The house seems huge and we have so much stuff. I packed everything from my backpack into one draw and am still wearing those clothes! And it feels like nothing has changed. The same house, the same furniture, the same city. Sometimes I pinch myself to make sure we really did it!

But the upside, which balances out any adjustment, has definitely been seeing all our amazing family and friends again. We missed everyone a lot. We have been so loved by everyone and already had a dinner party for some of our nearest and dearest! There are many more of those to come – cooking is our favourite way of telling people we love them!”

The Top 12

Here it is. The Top 12 countries, places or experiences that we had on the trip – in chronological order, as it was hard enough to chose 12, let alone rank them in order of preference!

1. Cape Horn

This is where it all started. 29 December 2016. It was hit and miss as to whether we would actually get to set foot on the Cape. But come rain and hail, we still managed to kick off the trip by setting foot on this historic and treacherous isle!

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2. French Guiana

I reckon I was about 14 years old when I first read Papillon by Henri Charriere. A magnificent story of imprisonment and escape from the French penal colony on the Isle de Salut (The Salvation Islands) French Guiana, north of Brazil in South America. I just had to go! Excitingly enough, it also happened to be the launch site for the European Space Agency!

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3. Volunteering in Columbia with Manos Amigas

It is really easy to get focussed on our work, ourselves, our travel, our friends and families. Volunteering made us focus on others and their needs, and it gave us so much. Berenice Prieto, who runs Manos Amigas is an inspiration. The objective of this grassroots organisation is to keep local kids in school and off the streets. It provides them with support in their education, a safe and loving environment to come to when not in school and a good meal. Berenice and her team of teachers, volunteers and administrator really make a difference to these children’s’ lives every single day and it was an honour to be part of this amazing place.

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4. Guatemala

Semana Santa (Easter Week) in Antigua, the absolutely stunning Lake Atitlan, spectacular Mayan ruins in Tikal and, of course, the fabulous fabrics. Not to mention the amazing people, art and food. Guatemala was a highlight for so many reasons and a country that we both agree we would go back to in a heartbeat.

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5. British Columbia, Canada

Crikey, it seems really unfair to not include Mexico, the Frida Kahlo museums, hanging out with friends and family in the USA, but…..
British Columbia. It is, quite simply, stunning. Another country we saw way too little of and would love to go back and spend some time. We hiked, sailed, drove and flew up British Colombia but still didn’t see anywhere near what it had to offer.

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6. The Russian Far East – The Kamchatka Peninsula and Chukotka.

It started with an erupting volcano, and then it just got better from there. Our two weeks on the expedition ship in the Russian Far East was filled with one after another sightings of brilliant plants, birds, and animals, including a hunt for the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper. Nik even got to have a personal encounter with an arctic fox! The Far East is a photographers delight and we also met a great group of people on the ship to share a few warming whiskeys with, and a sea shanty or two.

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7. Going to the United Nations in Geneva and the Headquarters of the International Red Cross/ Red Crescent Society.

Ok, Nik might have had a bit of a girly swot (her phrase!) moment finally going to the UN headquarters and Red Cross Museum in Geneva. Studying humanitarian aid and working with refugees means that these two organisations have a lot of special meaning to her. However, what surprised me was how much I got out of visiting these sites as well. You would have taken away from my blogs how I feel about addressing the human rights abuses that are happening all over the world. These two places really bought home for me the amazing work being done to try and achieve this.

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8. Volunteering in Greece

There is no question that for both Nikki and me the volunteering, both in Colombia and in Greece was the highlight of our entire year. The purpose of the Big Trip was to get us out of our comfort zones, to meet fantastic people, experience amazing things, and also to put back into this wonderful, and sometimes not so wonderful, world in which we live.

The founder of the Happy Caravan charity that we volunteered with, is Alaa Jnaid. He set up Happy Caravan to provide much needed English, Maths, art and dance lessons to the children in one of the refugee camps that have been set up in central Greece. Alaa himself is a refugee from Syria and is a truly inspirational person. What he’s been through, what he’s done, is brilliant! The Happy Caravan charity started with nothing and there is now a classroom, volunteers, and it is having a really important beneficial effect on the kids.

The effect it had on us was, is, and will continue to be massive.

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9. Visiting Israel and Palestine.

I wanted to go back to Israel, but it was Nikki who insisted spend equal time in Palestine as well and it was one of the most gut-wrenching parts of the trip. It was enlightening and yet immeasurably sad. The blog was one of the hardest to write of the entire trip. If you read only two of the blogs of the trip I’d suggest the one on Israel and Palestine (Chapter 28), and the one on Volunteering in Greece (Chapter 26).

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10. Visiting Jacob and Anne in Cameroon

I’ve known Jacob since 1991, from when I was working in Cameroon for Guinness. Back then, Jacob took my mate Dave and I to his village (Ngyen Muwah) and His Royal Highness, Fon Teche made us nobles of the village. Going back there again 26 years later to introduce Nikki to Jacob and Anne, as well as Cameroon, was so cool.

Jacob and Anne took us back to the village and we were again invited to meet His Royal Highness, Fon Teche at his palace. We went to a church service, visited with Jacob and Anne’s family and also spent time on the coast enjoying this vastly underrated but beautiful country. It was a wonderful, joyful time in Cameroon. We experienced some real Cameroonian hospitality and it was special to share the sense of community, caring, and fun that is life in Jacob and Anne’s family!

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11. Getting to the Cape of Good Hope

My Lord. I still can’t believe it. We made it! 4 January 2018, 371 days after we stood at Cape Horn, we finally made it to the Cape of Good Hope. The journey of a life time completed!

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12. The people and friends

Yes, you can count. There is one more experience of the trip that makes the top 12, and indeed made the trip itself the most amazing experience of our lives.

The people. How many friends we met and made was amazing. And we hope to see many of them again, whether in Oz or when we travel next overseas.

You know who you are. And we hope you know what you mean to us. From the strangers that fed us on the train, to the families that opened their homes to us. From the crew that made carnival the best party we have ever been to, to those that joined us for some hire car fun. From the mutual experience of volunteering, to old friends that hold a special place in our hearts. We don’t have photos of most of you, but we have the most amazing memories and want you to know that it is you that made this trip so special.

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So, from both of us here at Cape to Cape 2017, a fond and fabulous ‘til next time’. Please look us up on our personal Facebook pages or feel free to contact us by any our Cape to Cape details. We will use the page again for future travels don’t fear, but we would love to stay in touch!

Stay well and keep travelling!

Love Neil and Nikki

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Posted by capetocape2017 00:54 Archived in Australia Tagged capehorn capeofgoodhope traveltheworld Comments (1)

Chapter 34 - Namibia, South Africa, and The Finale

By Neil and Nikki

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View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

Introduction

What an amazing trip! There’s a desire to start talking about the trip in the past tense, but we’re still on it and we’re building up to the end! The next blog will talk about the trip in its entirety but, just to refresh, we’re on an overland truck trip from Nairobi, Kenya to Cape Town, South Africa.

Of course, the highlight of our final leg is the Finishing Line! The Cape of Good Hope!

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Hoorahhh!!!!

However, before getting to the Cape of Good Hope, we had to get to Cape Town. Here is the map showing the overland route from Nairobi to Cape Town:

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This chapter of our blog takes you from Spitzkoppe, Namibia (just below the Etosha National Park) to Cape Town, and then onto our time in Cape Town, our stay in Franschhoek, our visit to our end point (the Cape of Good Hope), and our return to Melbourne.

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Southern Namibia – Spitzkoppe and the Himba

Spitzkoppe (meaning ‘pointed dome’) is a granite outcrop in the middle of the Namib desert.

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The Namib Desert stretches 2,000 kilometres from Angola to South Africa. The Namib Desert is one of the oldest deserts in the world, at about 55 to 80 million years old. Its rainfall is between 2 mm and 200 mm per year, which makes it about as dry as the Atacama desert in Chile, which we visited earlier on in the Big Trip.

The weather is interesting. Why is it so dry? On the west coast of South America there is a cold-water current that flows up from Antarctica called the Humboldt Current. On the west coast of Southern Africa there is a cold-water current that flows up from Antarctica called the Benguela Current. This, and the descent of dry air from 10 to 15 km up in the atmosphere (called the Hadley Cell), results in very arid conditions.

Spitzkoppe has some great San (the ‘Bushman’ referred to in the last blog) cave paintings that are between 2,000 and 4,000 years old. These paintings were like a notice board to other San people. Telling them how many people had been at the cave, what animals had been sighted and what to be wary of.

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Rhino cave painting by the San people, indicating a rhino had been seen nearby recently.

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The area was used for the filming of ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’. In the far distance near the rounded hill you can see our truck!

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It was so nice to be off the truck and going for a walk. It was a little hot that day though and we underestimated the water! It is a desert after all!

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Fortunately, we met up with Mark and Benny on the trip who allowed us to use some of Mark’s excellent photos with his posh camera…. (courtesy of Mark Small).

The Himba

The Himba are an indigenous people living in southern Namibia. They are trying to maintain their way of life and, whilst most of the tribe do not welcome the visit of tourists, they have set up one village to educate tourists.

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Himba village.

It is always a difficult concept to visit these villages. As with the Masai village in Tanzania, it can feel like one is imposing or interfering with their lifestyle, or that the visit is being done to get money. On the other hand, one comes out with more knowledge at the end of the visit than at the beginning. It was incredibly interesting to visit this village but upon further questioning we found that it was set up by volunteers from a number of villages, each willing to move here in order to access the tourist market. Not exactly a bonefide experience. To visit, or not to visit? It’s up to you.

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Mark Small did take this fantastic photo in the village though….

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A Milestone! – The Atlantic Ocean!

Well, this was a bit of a “Bloody Hell!” moment. On 17th December 2017 we arrived at the Atlantic Ocean. Yeah, Yeah, I hear you say, BUT, as we looked out at the Atlantic Ocean, we were in fact looking back towards where we were on the 13 February 2017, Rio de Janeiro!

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So, we were in Namibia (the orangey-red country towards to the bottom left hand side of Southern Africa), looking out towards Rio de Janeiro (which is at the same latitude as where we stood on the beach in the photo below. We were looking out at the same ocean as we’d looked out at from Rio, just on the other side. However, to get to Namibia, we’ve travelled all the up South, Central, and North America, through Russia, Eastern Europe, and Arabia, and down through Africa. Plus, we’d travelled from eastern side of Africa (the Indian Ocean) to the western side of Africa (the Atlantic) – By Land……

I also like this world map because it shows the difference in Latitude between Cape Horn (at 56 degrees south) and the Cape of Good Hope (at 34 degrees South).

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Our first view of the Atlantic Ocean after 50 days on an overland truck….. Yes, that is a shipwreck on the coast…

The coast, by the way, is called the Skeleton Coast because if you were shipwrecked, the land was so dry that, well, your future did not look too good.

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Swakopmund

Swakopmund. It has a population of 25,000 and is the 3rd biggest metropolis in Namibia.

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It’s, er, on the edge of the desert. We hung out, had lunch, and said goodbye to some of our fantastic truck travellers, and said hello a fabulous new addition from South Africa, who joined us on the way to Cape Town. It was a welcome relief from being on the truck constantly and had amazing thing like supermarkets, restaurants and traffic lights!

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The Namib Naukluft National Park

From Swakopmund it was time to enter the biggest game park in Africa, the 49,768 km2 Namib Naukluft National Park.

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View from the road of the Namib Naukluft National Park. It’s barren. It’s harsh. It’s between 55 and 80 million years old. And its spectacular.

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It was also quite like Australia.

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Ever had a throwing competition using your ‘non-dominant’ arm? What else are you going to do on a break from a 12-hour overland truck drive.

On the way to the wonderful Hammerstein Lodge we stopped off to see ‘Boesman’ (or Bushman), a bloke who gave talks on the desert. The land is desert but there is life. He taught us a he amount of information we didn’t know, including the damage caused to dune systems by rain (we thought rain would be a good thing!), how some animals survive without ever drinking a drop of liquid water (they get all of their hydration from plants) and that you can survive in the desert just be eating live lizards! If you see one throw your hat in the air, the lizard burrows into the sand, you can then dig it up and eat it (head first evidently)! Then there was the Gemsbok that were all over the place but you gotta watch out for those horns!

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You can eat and drink lots of bits of the Gemsbok, but you’ve got to catch it first!

One of the most disturbing parts of the stories from the ‘Boesman’ concerned the Bushman of the Namib Desert. Until 1953 they were not considered human and hunting them was permitted! Imagine it was not only permitted, but encouraged to hunt and create trophies of these people. They were in fact permitted to live in the Etosha National Park until 1953, but when their ‘status’ changed, they were forced to move as only animals were allowed to live in the park.

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Cactus trees at ‘Boesman’s’ place.

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A view of the desert which has changed significantly since 2011 when it rained more than the 5 years average in one month. It changed the landscape completely and in the months afterwards this landscape was flowing with green grass. This rain has permanently altered the desert system, creating small plants (the black dots you can see on the sand), trapping the sand and making the ground hard, and changing the ecosystem for small animals such as lizards, spiders and scorpions which are now almost impossible to find.

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Cactus in flower in the Namib Desert.

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Namib Naukluft Park - Sossusvlei

The origin of the word ‘Sossusvlei’ is mixed. Vlei means ‘marsh’ in Afrikaans, and ‘sossus’ means ‘dead end’ in Nama. It is a salt and clay pan surrounded by massive dunes. The marsh reference to the water that would flow between the major path between the dunes creating an oasis of greenery and trees at the end.

It is absolutely spectacular.

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The shadow of the overland truck as the sun rose.

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The 325 metre ‘Dune 5’ (courtesy Mark Small)

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The startling colours of the dunes at sunrise (courtesy of Mark Small)

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Yeah. Climbing up soft sand. That’ll make ya puff…

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And coming down!

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And it’s done!

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It is was pretty hard work but we made it – up at sunrise and a hike up the dunes to see the spectacular scenery….

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The Deadvlei

When it rains trees grow in the marshy grounds of Sossosvlei. However, as the dune ecosystem changes and the dunes grow, the water was blocked from the marsh and moves back behind the last dune. This creates a “dead” vlei where the trees slowly die. However as there is no moisture they don’t rot and a white salt pans with the stark skeletons of trees remain. This repeated process produces numerous graveyards of trees and salt.

The effect of the red dunes, the salt pan, the dead trees, and the blue sky is a photographers paradise.

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The trees in Deadvlei are about 900 years old and extraordinarily well preserved!

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Beautiful preserved wood in Deadvlei.

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The sand dunes can grow to over 800m in height, quite something to climb up.

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But even more fun to run down!

And a couple of amazing photos courtesy of Mark Small…

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Courtesy of Mark Small

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Courtesy of Mark Small

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The Post-Apocalyptic World

Ah! The Mad Max franchise! The story of Mad Max is that the nuclear apocalypse has happened and the world in virtually uninhabitable. The first three films were filmed outside of Broken Hill in Australia. When the fourth film in the franchise was due to be filmed, it rained in Broken Hill. The desert bloomed. So, the filming went off to the Namib Naukluft National Park….

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It won lots of praise….

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Charlize Theron with a truck.

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Heading down to Fish Canyon via the Namibian Outback

The characters you get in both the Australian Outback and the Namibian Outback are amazing. These are pictures from a stop we made between Sossusvlei and Fish Canyon.

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An old, very old Austin… (courtesy of Mark Small).

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Need a planter box?

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That’ll be the Namibian Outback.. (courtesy of Mark Small).

We also passed the Tropic of Capricorn, the southern most point where the sun is directly overhead at the summer solstice (23.5 degrees south).

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The last time we passed the Tropic of Capricorn was in Brazil travelling by bus from Barra de Lagoa to Rio de Janeiro!

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Fish River Canyon and the Ai Ais Hot Springs

When is a valley a canyon? When it’s bloody big!

The Fish River Canyon is 160 km’s long up to 27 km’s wide and 550 metres deep. It’s the second biggest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon in the US. It’s rather spectacular.

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View into the Fish River Canyon, Nambia

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That’ll be our cook, J.P. on the edge then…

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And the obligatory shot to prove we were there!

My view is that to fully understand the scale of the canyon, one should do the 5 day walk through the canyon. Maybe at another time.

Then again there is the 100 km ultra-marathon which someone did in under 7 hours in 2016. Yeah, Nah!

The Ai Ais Hot Springs were our last stop in Namibia and it was all very civilised.

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Ai Ais Hot Springs, Namibia.

It was a night of hot Springs, great food and dancing, well at least out guide, cooks and one South African fellow tourist showing us what dancing really looks like. Kind of embarrassing for us actually….

The following day we headed down to the border between Namibia and South Africa which is demarcated by the Orange River.

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Looking out from Namibia across the Orange River to South Africa.

It was a beautiful spot where we took in some books and blogging while others decided to swim in the river and go canoeing. It was getting progressively hotter as we were heading south though and it harder and harder to spend much time out in the sun. A beer and shade appeared to be the only option!

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Thoughts on Namibia

Namibia was a complete surprise. Before arriving it was just a place we had to travel through to get from Nairobi to Cape Town.

However, having spent 2 weeks in the country it has incredible parks (Etosha), striking deserts, great culture, and Fish River Canyon. All in all, we’d thoroughly recommend it!

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South Africa – Country 49 – The last country!

Wow! Where to start? It has to be with arguably the greatest human being of the last 100 years, Nelson Mandela. Nik picked up from a hostel in Brazil, volume 1 of this book:

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The brilliant, inspirational autobiography of Nelson Mandela.

She read it. I read it. We got to San Diego and Nik bought volume 2. She read it. I read it. Nik has now read over 60 books on the trip and I’ve read over 30, and for both of us, it is our favourite book of the Big Trip. Why?

Apartheid is an abhorrent concept. That it was the law in South Africa from 1948 to 1991 beggars belief. The story of Nelson Mandela’s life, the story told so eloquently in his autobiography, is the story of apartheid, and the battle against apartheid. Nelson Mandela to me embodies all of the best qualities of humankind that we, as a human race, should strive towards:

- Persistence. Mandela started the battle against apartheid in his 20’s. He intelligently worked within the African National Congress against apartheid for the rest of his life including his time in prison, mostly on Robben Island, an island off Cape Town.
- Respect. Mandela wrote “There is a universal respect and even admiration for those who are humble and simple by nature, and who have absolute confidence in all human beings irrespective of their social status”.
- Communication/ Negotiation/ Intelligence. He said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”. During his time in prison, he learnt Afrikaans, the language of his jailer and oppressor. When it came time to negotiate with the government, he could speak their language.
- Humble. He said “Lead from the back – and let others believe they are in front”.
- Without bitterness and hate. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hate behind, I’d still be in prison”.
- And Equality: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all person live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”

Mandela is particularly important to me because of the personal connection. He was imprisoned in the year I was born, 1964. On April 16th, 1990 I attended the ‘International Tribute for a Free South Africa’ charity concert at Wembley Stadium that Nelson Mandela attended 2 months after his release from prison after 26 years.

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Nelson Mandela – April 16th, 1990 – 2 months after his release.

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Wembley Stadium, London at the concert to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s freedom after 26 years in prison. At that stage, all of my life….

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South Africa – first impressions
Archbishop Desmond Tutu called South Africa “the Rainbow Nation”. And it is. In Cameroon we saw 3 white faces in 10 days. In South Africa we saw 3 white faces in 10 minutes. South Africa is 1.2 million square km. 56 million people. 9% white. 9% coloured. 3% Asian. 80% black. But! There are 11 official languages, 9 of them from the black population. Everyone in South Africa speaks at least 4 or 5 languages.

Land. Particularly after what happened in Zimbabwe with the farms being taken from the white farmers, land tenure is a hot topic. However, whilst land tenure is an issue, the productivity of the land is extremely high. Large broad acre farms growing wheat, grapes, barley, etc look immaculately looked after. The best data I can find indicates that 67% of the land in South Africa is “white” controlled.

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Opinion on Land

My view is that what happened in Zimbabwe was obviously not the right way to go. It can, however, be viewed as an extreme position – one end of the solutions, if you will.

The other side is the status quo, which can be taken as the other end of the spectrum.

These two positions can be marked as the ‘Black’ and ‘White’ views. My view is that the solutions to complex issues are never ‘Black’ or ‘White’, they are always in the grey area. Complicating factors are that some land has now been in the same white family for over 100 years. On the other side, the farm ownership skills of the black indigenous people needs to be improved (often the actual faming has been done by the black farm managers for decades).

I reckon that, as with most complex situations, there is not one solution that can be implemented immediately, but many solutions that can be implemented over a few decades.
1. Land Tenure Mechanism: Ensure that the land tenure laws and offices are incorrupt and are working. If white people can get (and have) land tenure to land and blacks can’t, then that is wrong. The situation in Cameroon where someone can work but does not have land tenure because the land tenure office doesn’t work or is corrupt, is untenable.
2. Agricultural Skills and Farm ownership skills training: Running a successful business is not solely about how hard one works, or the education one has, or the opportunities one has. It is often about the training one has. Earning money. Steadily building wealth. Managing the risk. Using debt wisely. In the UK, if one considers the movement from massive income inequality in, say, the 1880’s, to now, home ownership, security of land tenure have been extremely important factors.
3. Get state owned land back to the original owners. If there is land owned by the state that was appropriated from the indigenous owners, it should be returned, ie, if it is a national park, an area that is being held by the state and not used.
4. Discuss and implement a process whereby a proportion of productive land can become under black control: Life on the land can be hard. Physically hard. High risk during floods and droughts. The kids of farmers often don’t want to work on the land. Farms get sold. There could be a process of preferential purchase for blacks with the appropriate skills and expertise, maybe at preferential loan interest rates, with perhaps a sharing of the cost of the farm with a State Fund. But this process would need to be agreed with the white farmers and the land would need to remain productive.

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The Rainbow Nation.

We were extremely fortunate that at Swakopmund, Namibia, the Fabulous Connie, a black South African from Johannesburg joined the overland truck. We also had J.P., a white South African bloke from Cape Town as our cook on the truck. The irrelevance of colour within their discussions and laughter, and yet their obvious pride in being South African was striking and heart-warming. But was not unique. Nowhere did we see animosity. We saw a nation pulling in the same direction. Where people were/ are just people.

On the safety side, we did the same as on all of our trip, we were careful, didn’t go to bad areas, didn’t stay out late at night, didn’t drink too much outside of the apartment, didn’t keep our passports/ cards in a knapsack, didn’t wear a bumbag outside of our clothes with everything in it. We were careful. But not as careful as Brazil!

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Cape Town

We’d heard that Cape Town was a great city and it is. It also marked the end of our truck trip with this fantastic group.

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The first view of Cape Town was a little emotional. After 364 days on the road, we’d made it to Cape Town and nearly to the Cape to Good Hope!

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After 364 days we arrived in Cape Town. Looking towards Cape Town and the iconic Table Mountain. We’d made it!

We got an apartment in Bantry Bay, a suburb of Cape Town for 6 days of rest and recuperation.

Christmas was simple and quiet. After 57 days on the overland truck, we didn’t want to move.

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Christmas Lunch….

Boxing Day at the Bungalow Restaurant to celebrate one whole year on the road.

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Looking out towards the Bungalow restaurant.

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365 days on the road….

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And still holding hands….

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Robben Island

Much of Nelson Mandela’s time in prison was spent in the Robben Island prison.

Of course, we wanted to visit and pay our respects.

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The board at the entrance to Robben Island. ‘Freedom cannot be manacled”.

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Nelson Mandela’s cell.

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The Quarry on Robben Island where Mandela and other South African political prisoners had forced labour. The prison stayed open until 1995 when it was closed and there was a meeting of political prisoners following the fall of the Apartheid regime. Whilst only black men were imprisoned on Robben Island – women and white men were imprisoned elsewhere – the reunion in 1995 was for all political prisoners.

On visiting the Quarry, Mandela placed a rock at the entrance to show respect for those people who died during the struggle. Other formal political prisoners followed his example and you can see the pile of rocks in the middle of the entrance to the quarry.

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Looking from Robben Island towards Cape Town and Table Mountain.

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The Last Hurrah!

My mate Dave and I had been discussing that we wanted to be together for the Last Hurrah and Dave had found us a nice shack to rent for a week in Franschhoek, a town in the middle of the wine growing region outside of Cape Town.

Maybe a little geography to start…..

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Cape Town is in the bottom left-hand corner of South Africa and Franschhoek is north-east of Cape Town, adjacent to Stellenbosch.

Nik’s parents, Jan and John made the long haul from Adelaide to Cape Town for the event.

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Celebrating the arrival of mumsi and dadsi with oysters and champagne!

The Shack was quite nice….

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The house Dave and I rented in Franschhoek!

We had a fantastic group of 13 for the week with people coming from near and far, including some intrepid travellers we met along the way on our trip!

New Years Eve went off like a frog in a sock, with a big cook up and of course a swim in the pool.

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New Years Eve preparations

Franschhoek (meaning French Corner) has a selection of fantastic wineries and, with the mountainous backdrop, is very picturesque, and we had a delicious lunch at La Petite Ferme (the little farm) to celebrate our time with all our fabulous friends and family.

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Nikki looking fabulous in a frock!

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Love this photo of John and Jan!

And me and Davey!

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There was also great hiking in the hills around Franschhoek. On one of the days John, Malcolm, Anne and I went for a great walk in the hills!

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And saw a Large Protea

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And more flowers!

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We also explored the local wineries using the fabulous wine tram system! The tram took us to 8 different wineries of which we were able to choose 4 to get off at for tastings, nibbles and general revelry!

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We enjoyed a picnic lunch at Mont Rochelle!

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It was a great day and a wonderful last week to end our journey.

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The End Of The Odyssey!

It all started with a chat on the Eurostar train from London to Paris in September 2009.

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The original 2009 map of the trip. The aim? To travel from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope, By Land. Mostly….

And then over the next 8 yeas it turned into this reality:

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The map of our actual trip!

And now it was time to go the last point of our trip, The Cape of Good Hope!

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The final approach to the Cape of Good Hope in the far distance

And here we are! 376 days. 151,519 km’s in total. The next, and final, blog will have all of the statistics of the trip, but how do we feel? Pretty emotional. Sad to leave the adventure behind, balanced with happy to be going back to Australia to see our friends and family. So pleased to have met so many fantastic people and to have had so many amazing experiences. We have a lot of absorbing to do, and of course the adventure of settling back into Melbourne and our new life there! It will never be quite the same again - it will be better!

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At the end of the Odyssey! Great to celebrate it with friends and family. Notice the hip flasks given to us by our lovely Melbourne neighbours, Trish and Dave. The flasks have made the whole trip. One with whisky in it. One with gin!

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Lovely photo of Nikki, John, and Jan

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And me young mate, Davey!

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The final hoorah!

Thank you everyone for love and support!

It's been a blast!

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Posted by capetocape2017 23:38 Archived in South Africa Tagged town south africa namibia nelson cape mandela spitzkoppe Comments (1)

Chapter 33 – Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 25 °C

Introduction

If you want to see the huge variation in language, culture and politics in Africa, then this 16-day segment of our Nairobi to Cape Town trip, supplied a view in technicolour. Travelling west from East Africa to Southern Africa, the change is quite stark, but all of it is stunning.

One of the greatest highlights of the Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and (half of) Namibia was sunset at the waterhole in the Etosha National Park in Namibia….

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The waterhole at Camp Okaukuejo which hosts animals from across Etosha National Park both day and night. In the evening, thousands of birds fly backwards and forwards between the water and trees for over an hour. And then the low-lit flood lights come on and you can sit there the entire night watching elephants, lions, giraffes, leopards and numerous other beautiful animals come to drink.

Apart from hanging out with all of the beautiful people we’ve met on the Big Trip, the second most enjoyable aspect of the trip has been learning about this big old world we live in. And these countries provide that in spades. But more of that later on……

Just as a refresher, here is the map of our trip:

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This chapter of our travels starts at the South Luangwe National Park in Zambia and goes on to the Etosha National Park in Namibia.

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Zambia – Hippo country

Crossing over from Malawi, the second poorest country in the world, to Zambia was a stark difference. Yes, Zambia is blessed with the 15th and 17th biggest copper mines in the world, but it also is much less corrupt than Malawi (Zambia is 87th on the Transparency International corruption index (with the 1st being Denmark as the least corrupt) versus Malawi at 120th). Zambia also has a GDP per capita of US$1,230 per year, versus US$295 per capita per annum for Malawi. Interestingly the literacy rate in Malawi (66%) is higher than Namibia (64%), but is improving.

Zambia was, however, Hippo central. We stayed on the South Luangwa river which has LOTS of Hippos. Each night we could hear them grunting as they climbed up onto the river bank and headed into the foliage to eat. We had to be driven the 500m from the campfire to our accommodation after dark to avoid any inadvertent meetings!

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Hippos are really quite big… And the noises at night coming from just outside of our cabin were, er, disconcerting! Here is a footprint in the mud outside our cabin which we took the next morning.

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Later that night on a game drive we managed to spot some of the culprits who had been keeping us awake the night before! They stay underwater in the river and mudpools during the day so it is relatively rare to see them out of the water.

In South Luangwa National Park we went out both in the morning and afternoon to spot wildlife. There were wild dogs, hyenas and elephants during the afternoon....

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There were lots of baby elephants in South Luangwa National Park.

But after sunset the real treat came as two male lions wandered out of the trees on the side of the road, prowling towards a herd of Impala.

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Two male lions, brothers, wandering out of the gloom at dusk.

They evidently wanted to let their pride know where they were hunting that night and one gave a low roar which went on for about half a minute. Using its stomach muscles to squeeze its diaphragm it gave a grunting roar which can evidently be heard over 5 km away. If you want to hear it, Nikki has posted a video on Facebook. It was absolutely amazing.

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Tribal textiles

Travelling west towards the Zambian capital, Lusaka, we stopped off at ‘Tribal Textiles’ where they hand make batik fabric and prints.

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A gentleman putting the pattern onto a piece of cloth using a flour-water mixture.

It is a four-step process involving the application of the pattern using a flour and water mixture which is later washed out. Dye is then applied to the fabric and it is then baked in an industrial oven. Lastly the mixture is washed off and the fabric emerges with beautiful patterns and motifs.

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A woman painting on the dye over the flour water pattern.

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Nikki was particularly enamoured with the Singer sewing machines, both electric and manual (for use during the frequent power outages).

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On our last night in Zambia we stayed in the Eureka Camp and Lodge and were greeted by a herd of zebras where the tents were to be set up! It was incredibly idyllic.

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As mentioned in Chapter 32, our 41-day trip down to Cape Town was in fact two overland trips combined and Lusaka was our last night with the ‘first crew’ before joining a new group at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We’d met, as we do on each overland truck, many beautiful people and we were particularly lucky to have our driver, Casper, and guide/cook, Prosper, taking care of us on the trip.

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Our fantastic Nairobi, Kenya to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Nomad group. The people on the trip changed a couple of times along the way, but it was always a great mix and we had some amazing times!

But we had to say “Au Revoir!” and prepare ourselves for the final leg. The Last Hurrah! The last 20 days down to Cape Town; Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and onto South Africa!

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Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls

We were in a bar in Zanzibar with our first Nomad guide Prosper (who is Zimbabwean), when it was announced on TV that Robert Mugabe had, after a 37-year dictatorship, resigned as president of Zimbabwe. There was jubilation, back slapping, and hugs all round! Prosper, who is 33, had never known another leader of his country! It was a very special moment to be in Africa for. I’ll write lots more on that later on in this chapter. It is a fascinating, tragic, and appalling story, that hopefully, hopefully, will move in the right direction.

We made a long and hot crossing into Zimbabwe from Zambia in order to spend two nights at Victoria Falls, which straddles the border of these two countries.

Victoria Falls are an immense spectacle. They are one of the biggest waterfalls in the world, along with Iguazu in Argentina/Brazil, and Niagara Falls in Canada/USA. However, arriving in the dry season one can only appreciate what it must be like in the wet season as only half the canyon face has water flowing over it!

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The first view of the falls from the devils throat, looking down the length of the falls.

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The view of the falls from the first half which has water flowing over it even in the dry season. Further downstream the flow over the top ceases and there is an amazing view of the bottom of the canyon, which is normally covered by an impenetrable water spray.

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Another special selfie moment at Victoria Falls. Unfortunately, it seems to be either us or the scenery….

The falls were named by this bloke:

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Livingstone was the first European to see the falls in November 1855. He named them after Queen Victoria.

Similarly to Lake Baikal in Siberia which we would love to see in a different season (winter when it is frozen), our thoughts were that we’d love to see Victoria Falls at the end of the wet season. 500 m3/second were flowing over it when we saw it at the end of the dry season. In the wet season the flow increases to 5,000 m3/ second!

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Botswana – Visit One

It’s worth, I reckon, putting in a map of Botswana to allow a bit of orientation of the country.

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Here is a map of the borders between Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. We crossed through the very top corner of Zimbabwe for one night in Botswana before heading into Namibia. We repeated this process a couple of times!

On the first day we drove from Victoria Falls down to the Chobe National Park (adjacent to Kasane, right in the north-east corner of Botswana). We were really fortunate that it was a cloudy day and this meant that the hippos, instead of staying in the waters of the Chobe River to keep cool, came out. It made an amazing sight!

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Hippos out of water in daylight. A really rare sight!

But, for Nikki, there is no question that the highlight was during the sunset cruise when the elephants came down to have a drink.

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Elephants coming down to the river to have a drink at sunset. There must have been over 20 of them milling about in two different groups. You can see the matriarch of one group off to the left, calling them to join her. They soon wandered off in search of something to eat.

But the cutest, and I’ll do a close up so you can see, was the infant elephant, only about 2 – 3 months old…

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The baby elephant was so young that it hadn’t learnt how to suck water up through it’s trunk and so had to kneel down and put its head down into the water to drink…..

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Namibia – Visit One

“Righto!” said a German bloke in 1890, “I want to have access to my colony, Tanganyika (modern day Tanzania) from South West Africa (which is now Namibia), and most importantly the Atlantic Ocean”.

The German bloke was the Chancellor of Germany. Why an Italian called Leo von Caprivi de Caprera de Montecuccoli was made the Chancellor or Germany, I’m not quite sure but, hey…..

“I can just run boats along the Zambezi all the way from Namibia to Tanzania”.

So the Brits said “Righto then, you can have a tract of Botswana through to Zimbabwe, but you must relinquish all of your claims to Zanzibar in return”. So it was all agreed and signed.

What the Brits didn’t mention was the small impediment of Victoria Falls…..

How I bet the Brits laughed! You can just imagine them in the club in London with a cigar and a whisky!

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So Namibia now looks like this:

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The Caprivi Strip is the thin strip of Namibia that stretches out over Northern Botswana…..

This tract of rather useless land became known as the Caprivi Strip and stands out like, well, it stands out quite a lot….

It did, however, have a good road and was excellent to get from the Chobe River to one of the most striking river features in the world. An Inland Delta. The Okavango Delta. (Its at the top left corner of Botswana).

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Botswana - Visit Two – The Okavango Delta

My first thought when looking at the delta was that it must be unique. But it’s not. There are two other inland delta’s of a similar size in Africa alone; the Sud, off the Nile in South Sudan and another off the Niger.

BUT! Let’s talk about water. Its estimated that 11,000,000,000,000 litres of water flow into the Delta each year (11 trillion litres). (Did you know, by the way, that 11 trillion litres flows out of the Amazon in 18 hours? Just to give a sense of scale.) 60% of the water is used in plant transpiration, 36% is lost to evaporation, 2% goes to Lake Ngami, and 2% goes to the aquifer. The result is, in effect, a humungous waterhole(s). It supports 530 species of birds, 160 species of mammals, etc. Where does the water come from? Here is its catchment area:

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The catchment area for the Okavango Delta. The water comes mostly from Angola.

Why is it there then? Well, thanks for asking! In simple terms, there’s a river and it doesn’t flow to the sea (hence an Inland Delta). But why?

It’s due to land rising in the east that stops the water flowing to the Linyanti and Zambezi rivers. The water is forced instead, by two fault lines under the Great Rift Valley, to flow towards the Kalahari….

The difference between the extent of the water in the dry and wet seasons is really stark:

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Variations in the area covered by water in the Okavango Delta.

Now our visit to the Okavango was a bit of a special surprise. We didn’t realise that the people who had paid to be accommodated (as opposed to camping) were to be taken to a different lodge for two nights and then flown back out of the delta! Flying over the Delta was in fact something both of us had wanted to do, but had not been organised enough to arrange.

So we turned up in the Delta to a little bit of this….

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No, No! Really! It is a tent! Taking glamping to a whole new level. Permanent tents at Mopiri Lodge.

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I know. I haven’t seen a bath tub in a tent before either. Or his and her sinks….

And the food was very good. And a free laundry service. And swimming pools.

There were boat trips through the Delta.

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Lots of papyrus smacked us in the face, but Moses was nowhere to be found…

Sunset cruises.

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Lots of beer to be found, but no revelations.

Flowers! Innit!

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Going past the Hippo guards on the creek back to the “tent”.

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Bit blurry because I’ve blown up the photo, but that’s a hippo on the right-hand side going “Bloody Hell! What was that?”. There was one stretch of water where you had to get the boat past 4 hippo sentinels, and they would jump out at the boat as you zoomed past. It was more than a little hairy!

Being poled along in a Matatu.

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The inevitable toe shot!

A Praying Mantis:

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The smallest praying mantis we have ever seen!

And a grinning Cookie!

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Neil at the prospect of a flight out of the Okavango Delta…

And that will be a hippo skull!

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On our bush walk into the Delta there were plenty of animal skeletons to attest to the wide array of wildlife that stalks the plains. We didn’t see any live ones on our walk due to the dry hot conditions.

It was all rather fabulous! And finished off with a 10-seater flight over the Delta!

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One excited guy after our flight out of the Delta. Our photos are still stuck on the GoPro but hopefully one day they will make it to light!

After flying out of the Okavango we had one more day in Botswana in a place called Ghanzi where we stayed in the Kalahari Desert before making our crossing back to Namibia. That night some of the local San people of the Kalahari Desert joined to share their music and singing. The San people are better known in the West as the “Bushmen”. A tribe of nomads discovered in the Kalahari Desert in the mid 1800’s and made famous by the movie, “The Gods must be Crazy”. The reality of their history is that they were the consummate bushmen and women, able to track any animals and survive in one of the harshest environments on earth. They were also hunted like animals and now only number 30,000, spread across Namibia and Botswana.

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A performance of song and dance by the San people of the Kalahari Desert. The women sat around the fire, kept time with clapping, while singing. The men performed various dances.

I just happened to have the guitar there and, once they were finished, the San asked us for a couple of songs in return. If you go to visit the San people and they’re singing “Lei La Lei!” that’ll be from my performance of ‘The Boxer’! Ooops!

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Namibia – Part Two – Windhoek, Etosha, and the DPRK (The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea - aka North Korea)

Heading across into Namibia ‘proper’ (as opposed to the Caprivi Strip) memories started coming back to me of watching a conflict on tv when I was a lad. Something about South Africa. Fortunately, the Lonely Planet had a bit of information and the Interweb provided a bit more. But more of that later…

Namibia is about the size of New South Wales in Australia - 875,000 square kilometres. But it only has a population of 2.4 million people. The capital,
Windhoek, is a large country town. Suffice to say, there aren’t many people…

The main draw card for the north of Namibia is the Etosha National Park. And the highlight of the highlight was the rhino’s:

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A very exciting moment as we managed to see the final large African animal on our list, and one of the big 5. We had seen rhinos in Uganda and Ngorongoro, but only from a great distance. Here it was a real encounter. This is a black rhino, identifiable by its overhanging top lip.

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And contrary to first impressions this is also a black rhino, covered in white mud. The white rhino is in fact a mispronunciation of “wide”, which describes the defining feature of their wide top lip. Both the black and white rhinos are in fact grey in colour….

23% of the Etosha National Park is a massive salt pan where no animals live, but is spectacular scenery.

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The salt pan of the Etosha National Park. In midsummer it is stiflingly hot.

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After 350 odd days on the road we still speak to each other and everything!

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We saw zebras with different stripes!

A unique feature about Etosha National Park is that it has many manmade waterholes to keep the animals in the park, as well as ensure they are visible for all of the tourists. As you can see from the salt pan, Etosha is an incredibly dry environment in summer. Without bore water, all of the waterholes dry up and the animals leave the park. However, it is increasingly unsafe for the animals to venture outside of the park, both due to poaching and encroachment on local farms. For this reason, there are many manmade waterholes that are kept full year around to supplement the natural sources of water.

This meant that even in summer we were able to have some very special moments at Etosha:

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A solo male elephant who joined us at the waterhole, along with a multitude of zebra, oryx and springbok. We stayed for half an hour and watched different groups of animals troupe in and out, looking for water. At one stage a thirsty hyena threatened the tranquillity of the other animals but was eventually forced away by sheer numbers.

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Another of the manmade watering holes inundated with zebra, springbok and a giraffe.

While in Etosha we were lucky enough to stay at two amazing lodges which had waterholes that were accessible day and night, lit by dim spotlights that allowed us to view the animals at any time. The sunset in the first photo is from one of these waterholes, as is the following of a beautiful elephant that came to drink with us on our last night.

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A special night waterside watching animals wander in for a late-night drink. There were a couple of lions wandering around in the background, but they decided not to come forward.

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The Political, Economic, and People aspects to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia.

The Capitalist-Communist battle for Africa.

Way back when we were travelling through South and Central America I wrote quite a bit about the century long battle for influence and control between Capitalism (in the Red, White, and Blue Corner – represented by the USA), and Communism (in the Red Corner – represented by the USSR). I didn’t fully understand that South and Central America was just one theatre of operations for Russia and America. A similar battle was being fought in Africa.

Most countries in Africa gained independence in the 1960’s, and it was often a socialist leader that got in. I’m sure a factor in this was the desire for equality after a century of colonialism. I was talking with a young bloke called Matt in a bar in Botswana and he threw in a profound comment. He said that the first leaders in Africa after countries gained independence had been focussed on gaining independence and maybe not so much on running a country. They became corrupt and bled the countries dry. They also generally didn’t believe so much in democracy and freedom and therefore stayed in the top jobs for 2 to 3 decades. The new leaders succeeding these, Matt noted, had lived in corrupt countries for decades and knew that it was not good, and so are better leaders. Interesting, I thought and absolutely true for most of the countries in this blog.

Firstly Zambia. They got independence in 1964 and Kenneth Kaunda, the first president was a poster child for this battle.

Then let’s move on to, as Archbishop Tutu called him, “a cartoon figure of an archetypal African dictator”, the former (Hoorah!) president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe. He got into power in 1980 after a freedom struggle that was backed by communist powers. He leaned, as intimated above, towards a socialist system. I’ll describe the Zimbabwe catastrophe in further detail below.

Botswana, it can be said, is the ‘successful developing country’ poster child for sub-Saharan Africa, Africa as a whole, and quite possibly the world. I’ve mentioned before the corruption index of the organisation ‘Transparency International’. Botswana is at the same level as Portugal, i.e. not very corrupt at all.

When diamonds were discovered in Botswana in 1967 the government cut a deal with the massive South African diamond house, De Beers, for them to develop the diamond fields with Botswana keeping 75% of the profits. And you know what? The Botswana leaders put those profits not into Swiss bank accounts, but into the country, avoiding both the ‘communist trap’ and the megalomaniacal dictator syndrome.

Namibia was, without doubt, the forefront of the communist/ capitalist battlefield. In 1966 the UN said that South West Africa (as it was then called), was not a colony of South Africa. South Africa said South West Africa was a colony, and so began a 2.5-decade long battle to obtain this county as its own. The Peoples Liberation Army for Namibia (PLAN), the militant wing of the South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) were backed by 19,000 Cuban soldiers (Cuba at the time was funded by the USSR) stationed in Angola to the north. North Korea was also a big supporter. And this is when I had a bit of a Eureka! moment. How did South Africa survive with an abhorrent apartheid system for so long? South Africa was capitalist and vehemently anti-communist. To the West (the UK and USA etc.) therefore, this ideology was more important than the human rights violations that were being committed and the apartheid system. It was not until the worldwide tide of public opinion turned against apartheid in South Africa and, arguably, the USSR had failed, that South Africa relinquished its claim on Namibia.

Namibia finally got its independence in 1990.

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Zambia

Once again, let’s include a map:

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Map of Zambia, bordering some of the more unstable countries in the Africa, and yet benefitting from the wealth of the southern African countries.

As you know, I love graphs. Take a look at this one.

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Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah… But look at it. Gross Domestic Product is a measure of the growth rate of an economy. Look at it since 1997. Above 5%? That is a TIGER economy.

Yes, it is a poor country, but it is moving in the right direction. And at a rapid rate of knots.

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Zimbabawe

Lordy! Lordy! Lordy! This moron:

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Robert Mugabe

He is right up there on the list of the worst leaders an African country, or any country in the world has had ever.

Where would you like to start? Murder? Destroying a country? Let’s kick off with murder.

Mugabe got into power in 1980. There was a group of Zimbabweans in Matabeleland. Mugabe ordered the murder, or maybe genocide would be a better word, of up to 80,000 Matabele’s by his Fifth brigade – trained, by the way, in North Korea. No, he has never been called to account.

To destroy (hopefully not irrevocably) a country takes a long time and a lot of effort. Let’s look at the statistics:

- Overall GDP of Zimbabwe is US$ 17.1 billion.
- GDP/ capita is US$ 970/ capita/ year.

How did he do it?

By using quite innovative methods of ruining a country:

- Number 1 – steal money from the country for his own pocket. That is standard African Dictator behaviour.
- In the 1980’s and 1990’s the economy did actually quite well then, due to mismanagement and corruption by the government and the eviction of 4,000 white farmers, the economy declined at a rate of 6.1% per year from 1999 and 2009.

Zimbabweans in 2005 had the same purchasing power as 1953!

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Zimbabwe is the blue line. That’ll be a country going into the toilet then. Note Zambia’s increase starting in about the year 2000.

The disaster of the Zimbabwean economy continued with it getting involved in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1999 and 2002.

Zimbabwe’s lack of “democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law” led the world to action. The USA in 2001 passed the ‘Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001’. This imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. Hyperinflation occurred, and the inflation rate reached 11,200,000% per year. The currency was cancelled in 2009 and Zimbabwe now uses the US dollar.

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Zimbabwean dollars are still available for purchase by tourists (the only people interested) at a nominal value. These are our Russian friends holding up a $1,000,000,000,000 note. Yes, a 1 trillion dollar note.

The country is destroyed. Mugabe, you’re an idiot! I really hope Mnangagwa does a better job. But who knows?

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The propaganda machine worked very well for Mugabe. One of our guides, who was born during Mugabe’s reign, was very pleased Mugabe had resigned but was very appreciative of what he’d done. I didn’t comment because I hadn’t done the research. Now I have……

I should say, however, that the literacy rate is 89%. Fantastic! But the unemployment rate is 90, yes NINETY percent.

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Botswana

The poster child for African and world good governance. Similar to many African countries, Botswana received independence in the 1960’s. As I wrote earlier, diamonds were discovered in 1967 and Botswana cut a deal with the South African diamond house that Botswana was to keep 75% of all profits from this industry. Protecting their interests by way of agreement was ground breaking. And then the government didn’t steal it! They put it into roads, tourism, education, etc! Their statistics are:

- GDP is US$ 15.3 billion
- GDP/ capita is US$6,788

What have they done? As I wrote in the previous chapter, if you want the wealth of a country to increase:

1. Don’t blow up your, or other peoples, countries. Tick.
2. Don’t put the country’s wealth in Swiss Bank Accounts. Tick. Corruption rating is about 40th out of 176. About the same level of corruption as Portugal.
3. Focus on ploughing the money back into the country; infrastructure, education, and health. Tick, but….

The stain on Botswana’s record? The HIV/ AIDS rate of 21% (versus about 6% for most of the other countries we’ve been through). More on that later….

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Namibia

Wow. Big country. Only 2.5 million people. About half the population density of New South Wales in Australia.

What was I saying before? Don’t blow up the country? Yeah. Nah. Namibia bombed/got bombed/ was a pawn in a bigger battle, up to 1990. But since then GDP has been doing this:

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A table of the growth in Namibia. It’s not good, and not bad.

Overall, it appears to be moving in the right direction:

GDP of the country is now US$11.8 billion
GDP per capita is now US$5,078

The ties to Kim Jong Un, he’s the manager of this North Korean Girl Band:

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The Moranbong band from North Korea. Set up and managed by Kim Jong Un.

The ties were very strong including, maybe for a bit of Uranium. However, the latest lot of sanctions have put paid to that.

North Korea did build a few nice buildings including this:

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The memorial centre in Windhoek.

Overall, Namibia is doing really well. It’s 54 out of 176 on the corruption index.

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The HIV/ AIDS epidemic

I mentioned earlier that, whilst the HIV/ AIDS rate in the countries that we’d been to was about 6% (in Australia it is less than 1%), in Botswana it is 21% which is hideous! Yes, there is free retroviral drugs but it got me thinking, why is Botswana’s (and many Africans countries) HIV/ AIDS rate so much higher than that in the West?

In Australia the Grim Reaper advertising campaign ran on TV from 1987 and was very effective in reducing the HIV/ AIDS rate in Australia.

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Not having safe sex will bring around the Grim Reaper….

The HIV/ AIDS death rate around the world is shown below:

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The number of infections are reducing :

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And the number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment is increasing.

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In our last chapter I put down a graph of the Life Expectancy for Africa and it was a happy scene:

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What didn’t click in the last chapter, however, was the flat line that you can see from around 1990 to about 2005 for the life expectancy for Africa as a whole. A bit more digging, however, shows this graph for life expectancy.

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Do you see the line for Zimbabwe? It dropped from 61 in 1987 to 43 years in 2003 and has now recovered to 58 now.

So why is it so bad in Africa? Fortunately, Martina Morris, Professor of Sociology and Statistics at the University of Washington in Seattle has asked the same question. She came up with some absolutely fascinating results:

1. It is common in Southern Africa for both men and women to have more than one sexual partner during the same time period, i.e. for men and women to have long term relationships with 3 or more people at the same time.
2. The risk of HIV infection is comparatively low from a single sexual encounter with an HIV person; between 1 in a 100 and 1 in a 1,000. But from repeated sexual contact with an HIV infected partner, the risk is much higher.
3. The chance of condom use continuing with a long term partner is much reduced.

The HIV/ AIDS infection rate, and death rate are now dropping in pretty much every African country

Of course, comments by certain African Presidents about showering to reduce the chance of HIV infection don’t help the case…

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The Finishing line is in sight!

We’re down to the last 3.5 weeks! A bit more of Namibia to go, and then we’ll arrive in South Africa, the last country of our trip, and country 49!

Thank you for reading the blogs. There aren’t many to go! Happy Christmas!

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Posted by capetocape2017 10:06 Archived in Botswana Tagged zambia namibia zimbabwe botswana Comments (1)

Chapter 32 – South through Tanzania and Malawi

By Nikki and Neil

sunny 25 °C

Introduction

Oh My God! We’re down to the last part of the trip. The 41 day truck trip from Nairobi to Cape Town! 33 degrees of latitude. About 10,000 km’s. 9 countries.

Whereas we booked one continuous trip from Nairobi to Cape Town with the African overland company Nomad, it is in fact from their perspective actually 3 or 4 tours joined together. This means the people on our tour change at different junctures. The first leg of the trip was from Nairobi to Zanzibar, about 10 days, where 5 of the ten people on our tour left and we picked up another 14! This group stays together until Victoria Falls, when we join a new truck and group heading south to Cape Town.

This chapter covers our trip from Nairobi, through the game parks of Tanzania to Malawi.

A big call out needs to be made to the rather fabulous, should be professional photographers, Amber and Alina, who have provided us with some of their wildlife photos for this part of the trip. It was that, or play “identify the blob” in our iPhone photos!

As I write this, the highlight of the first leg of the overland trip was this:

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When a lion is this close to the car, and is as handsome as this Lion, who can resist? This photo was taken in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where there were so many lions lolling in the sun, mating or just generally waiting for dinner that even the iPhone had a chance!

This is the route we are taking overland through eastern and southern Africa:

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The route of the 41 day truck trip from Nairobi to Cape Town. This blog covers the first 16 days; from Nairobi through Tanzania (including Zanzibar) and Malawi.

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The Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area

These two wildlife areas in Tanzania are amongst the best in Africa. The Serengeti is 14,763 square kilometres. What makes it particularly special is that, due to the plain having impenetrable volcanic rock under the surface, trees are rare which makes the wildlife viewing fantastic.

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The concentration of animals in and around the Ngorongoro and Serengeti are among the highest in Africa. It was a very slow 4WD ride into the park as there were so many animals to stop and photograph. Credit: The Fantabulous Amber.

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I’ve been on a few game drives in my time and to see a leopard is rare. To see one with it’s kill in a tree is even more lucky. On our first evening in the Serengeti, we saw two leopards in two different trees, both with a kill from a recent hunt. One was feeding on a warthog and the other an Impala. The one above had had it’s fill of meat and was having a rest….

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Not being one for skins or furs, we had never appreciated how stunning the coat of the leopard is. This one lazed on the branch above us in the sunset, showing off her gorgeous colours. Credit: Amber.

This one, however, was in the middle of munching her way through an impala….

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It is amazing how a leopard could drag such a heavy carcass into a tree. They are incredibly strong! I hadn’t noticed this before posting this picture, but in the middle of the bottom is the deceased impala’s head. Credit: Amber

We were in the Serengeti for 1 whole day and 2 half days, and so spent many hours out on the plains spotting the animals. There was an absolute overabundance of impalas, antelope, buffalo and wildebeest, but it was the leopards, cheetahs and lions that were the highlight of the Serengeti.

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These beautiful cheetahs were sitting under the shade of a tree in the middle of the road. Despite 6 or 7 vehicles sitting around watching them, they were completely unfazed and out lasted our curiosity! Credit - Amber.

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Mother and baby elephant sharing a moment as the herd moved across the plains in the afternoon towards their watering hole. Credit: Amber.

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I think this is a Marsh Eagle. Credit: Amber.

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An appropriately smug looking lizard! If I had his colours, I’d be pretty happy too. Credit: Amber

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We saw both solo and packs of hyenas though out the Serengeti, at one stage having a stand off with a herd of zebras over a waterhole. Credit: Amber

As we said though, the lions were the stars of the show. We saw large family groups with lots of young cubs:

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The cubs were so playful and the adults so patient! This mother and cub were sitting in a group of around 15 enjoying the sunset near a waterhole. Credit: Amber.

And solo male lions...

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A very special sunset moment with this beautiful guy. Credit: Amber.

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And this cheeky fellow! Credit: Amber.

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This little one was sitting on a rock near a pride basking in the sun, watched over by 2 male lions.

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Here is the group of female lions, adolescents and cubs, snuggled up on the rocks.

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And this is us, watching the wildlife!

One of Nik’s favourite moments on the trip was when we were heading out of the Serengeti and a herd of giraffes decided at that moment to wander across the road!

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On our way from the Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater a herd of giraffes crossed in front of the car, gracefully wandering into the distance.

The Masai Mara people live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They have been given special dispensation to live in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation area so as to allow them to continue to live in their traditional nomadic way of life. We visited a Masai village while travelling through the area. It was fascinating to see how little their way of life has changed in hundreds of years. Whereas they now purchase water in the dry season, they do not have electricity or sanitation and their houses are incredibly basic (woven wood and mud, with dirt floors). They are very fiercely proud of their culture and independence. We enjoyed being able to see this culture first hand, but did not really enjoy the experience as it was (as we feared) an exercise aimed more blatantly at extracting money than sharing the culture. I am sure there are much better ways to do this and we would recommend a better planned visit to the Masai should the opportunity arise.

However, we still had fun:

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I don’t think I’ll give up the day job! Credit: Amber

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The female and male Masai sing and jump for us in front of the village. If you look carefully you will see my hat making a guest appearance on the head of one of the Masai. I think I was lucky to get it back!

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We’d noticed a few of the young men with the white painting of their faces. It turns out that they’d recently been circumcised. This happens around the age of 12 or 13. The young men go out into a camp in the bush together for a month for this ceremony and when they return they are considered men. Credit: Amber

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Sunset over the Serengeti from our final night. Credit: Amber

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Ngorongoro Crater

About 2.5 million years ago a massive volcano cone collapsed and formed what is now the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater is 19 km wide and is one of the biggest unbroken calderas in the world that isn’t a lake. It really is a “Bloody Hell! That’s amazing!” sight. We camped on the lip of the caldera for one night before descending into the crater for a game drive the next morning.

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View of the Ngorongoro Crater, created millions of years ago when the volcano collapsed in on its magma chamber, creating this incredible reserve which is fed by natural springs. As it never lacks for water, the crater is also never short of wildlife, who migrate here throughout the year looking to food and water.

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And a view of us and the Ngorongoro Crater!

Sometimes on this trip things have happened when we’ve said “Crikey! That was lucky!”. Like when we were in the Toyota Landcruiser going down the very steep dirt road into the Ngorongoro Crater and this happened:

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I’m not a car expert but I don’t think this should happen. Witson, who was driving, noticed immediately and managed to steer the car into the drainage gulley and not over the cliff. In his slightly understated way he just said “I think something is wrong….”.

We got out of the car to survey the damage. Other 4WDs stopped and the drivers said in Swahili “Bloody hell Witson! Never seen that happen before!”. While we were standing around watching these discussions we noticed an elephant and buffalo standing on the hill above us. Then we heard the guides all yelling “Get back here! Run! Get back in the car!”. A guy had climbed out of one of the cars stopped behind us a wandered back up the road without telling his driver. What he hadn’t realised was that there were 2 lions also on the hillside above us and one had walked down the hill to look at this tasty morsel! He clearly forgot that we were in the middle of a game park!

Watched over by 3 of the big 5, we waited for another 4WD which came to pick us up and drive us around the crater.

It was as spectacular as we’d been hoping.

We learnt about how lions shag. Did you know they shag for 7 days! Crikey!

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Post-coital bliss. Despite a distinct lack of privacy, these two were sharing a personal moment on one of the roads through the crater.

So a lioness gets on heat and picks out a lion as the “shag buddy”. Then about every 20 minutes they get down to business for about 1 minute. Then rest and repeat. For seven days. As I said. Crikey!

Having written about the birds and the bees, this is a bird…

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A Superb Starling. Credit: Amber.

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And a Blue Starling. Credit: Amber.

There were also hippos, zebras, buffalo, impalas and antelope in abundance:

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The hippo pool was such a contrast to the dry plain around it, full of both hippos and birds enjoying the cool water.

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This is a juvenile zebra. You can tell by it’s mane which has more brown than the adult zebra.

The Ngorongoro is also the home to 36 rare black rhinos, which are critically endangered. Whereas we technically did see one, it was on the side of hill a few kilometres away and cold only been seen (kind of) through binoculars. So there are no photos and hopefully we will be lucky enough to have a closer sighting as we head south.

Now, I’ve never had the wheel fall of my car before, but if it did happen I reckon it would take a few week to fix back in Australia. But not in Africa. The wheel fell off at 8am due to, we found out, the pins holding the wheel bearing shearing off (did I hear someone say “lack of maintenance”?).

We met up with Witson back in the camp at 6 pm. So the car must have been fixed by 3 pm. 7 hours to fix that problem and it was repaired in situ….

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Witson with the repaired car. A true African experience!

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Zanzibar

We’d been on the road for about 320 days and apart from the San Blas islands off Panama, we hadn’t seen beaches as good as Australia’s. Then we arrived in Zanzibar. My Lord! White powder fine sand. Turquoise water. Great bar/ restaurant on the waters edge. It was sublime!

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A much needed beverage to wash away the dust of the Serengeti!

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The pearly white beach at Nangwe on the north coast of Zanzibar island. Our haven for 2 days.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Great rooms. Air conditioning. Sleeping in. Restaurant for descent food! Fantastic!

Slavery and the Omani empire

It was the Brits who, having built much wealth and much of the British Empire off the backs of slaves and the slave trade, outlawed it in 1833.

Zanzibar had been the centre of the east African slave trade since the 12th century, as well as an important centre for the trade in ivory, wood, and spices, and was a powerful city state. After a brief interlude of Portuguese control in the early 1500’s, the Omani Arabs took over in the mid 1500’s. Zanzibar was so prosperous that in 1840 this bloke moved his court from Oman to Zanzibar and ruled both Oman and Zanzibar from Stone Town.

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Said bin Sultan.

In 1862 Zanzibar became a British protectorate, although it remained under Omani rule. This eventually helped in the banning of slavery. The slavery memorial in Stone Town, the old sector of Zanzibar city, is very powerful.

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An evocative sculpture in the Slave Market memorial in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It is estimated that between 1830 and 1863 600,000 slaves were sold in Zanzibar.

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Farrokh Bulsara

Another event that happened in Zanzibar that I think is of note was the birth on 5th September 1946 of Farrokh Bulsara.

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Photo of Farrokh Bulsara in his school uniform

He was the son of a Parsi family from India, his family having moved from Gujarat to Stone Town, Zanzibar because his father had a job with the British Colonial Office. At age 8, he went to St Peters Boarding School near Bombay, India and was noted to have great skill on the piano, being able to listen to a tune and play it back immediately.

Forward 16 years to 1970 in London when he met up with some blokes Brian May, Roger Taylor, and a little later, John Deacon and formed a rock band. That band has now sold over 150 million records.

Farrokh Bulsara is arguably the greatest rock band leader of all time. He is, of course, better known as Freddie Mercury. The band is Queen. The outfits they wore were very dodgy.

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Freddie Mercury in one of his more conservative outfits.

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David Livingstone

One of the giants of exploration of Africa by Europeans is this bloke:

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Dr David Livingstone, born 19th March 1813 in Blantyre, Scotland.

He was the son of tea salesman and the second of seven children. He went to work in the local cotton mill at the age of 10, working 12 hours a day until he was 25 years old. At the age of 21 he read the appeal for medical missionaries in China and started saving to study Greek and Theology at Andersons College in Glasgow, before going on to Charing Cross Hospital Medical School from 1838 to 1840. At the age of 27, he was ready to go….

In 1840 that Livingstone met London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary Robert Moffat who was on leave from Kurunam, a missionary outpost in South Africa. He was excited by Moffat’s vision of expanding missionary work northwards. Another major influence of Livingstone was T.F Buxtons arguments that the slave trade might be destroyed through the influence of legitimate trade and the spread of Christianity.

After trying missionary work from about 1845 to 1851 in and around Botswana, Livingstone became convinced, after three trips far north of Kolobeng, that the best chance for successful evangelising was to open up Africa to European traders by mapping and navigating its rivers which might then become “Highways” into the interior.

As I sit on the edge of the South Langwe river in Zambia writing this, I find it difficult to comprehend that it was only 160 years ago that this was the map of Africa.

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Map of Africa from 1840. Notice the interesting location and expanse of Ethiopia.

It was a deep, dark, unknown entity.

In 1852 Livingstone headed out on the first of his African journey (see the red line on the map below). It was on 16th November 1855 Livingstone became the first European to see what is now called Victoria Falls. On this first trip he was also the first recorded European person to make a trans-African crossing at such a southern latitude.

It was on his second trip (in green on the map below) from 1858 to 1863 he was the first European to see Lake Malawi.

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A map taken from the information at Victoria Falls showing Livingstone’s extensive journeys across Africa.

In 1866 Livingstone headed out another trip to try to ascertain the source of the Nile.

On this trip there has been wi-fi virtually everywhere and we’ve been skyping with our families roughly once per week. It seems virtually incomprehensible, therefore, that Livingstone was “lost” for 6 years! The last that was heard from him was in 1867, and then it all went quiet.

In 1870 the New York Herald engaged Henry Stanley to go and look for Livingstone.

It was on the 10th November 1871 that Henry Stanley, in Ujiji, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, after a journey of almost a year, uttered the immortal words “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”. By the way, Livingstone replied “Yes. And I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you”.

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The meeting on 10th November 1871 between David Livingstone and Henry Stanley.

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Livingstone and slavery

One of Livingstone’s great passions was the abolition of slavery. His efforts raised the profile of the slave trade and helped the world move towards ending slavery.

After all of his work, he unfortunately died on 1st May 1873 in Chief Chitomba Village, close to Ilala, Lake Bangweulu, in what is now Zambia, a month before slavery was abolished in Zanzibar. His heart was buried under a tree:

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And a wooden cross placed above it. The cross is now in the cathedral in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

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His body was preserved and carried the 1,600 km to Zanzibar, and then transferred to London. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

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Travelling to Lake Malawi

It’s long way from Zanzibar to Lake Malawi. The ferry rider from Zanzibar to Dar es Salam (a thoroughly unnoteworthy city) takes about 2 hours and was pretty uneventful apart from absolutely torrential rain. We then had an overland drive to reach the Mikumi Game Park, where we stayed for 1 night, through the highland town of Iringa, and then over the border into Malawi.

Mikumi was a completely different park to the Serengeti. Full of trees and wallowing ponds, it was harder to spot the animals, but they seemed more concentrated in a small area.

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Our safari truck, ready to start looking for animals in the Mikumi National Park.

We had an amazing encounter with a herd of elephants that crossed the road in front of our car…

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That’ll be an elephant then!

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An unexpected encounter as a herd of elephants crossed in front of the car and walked past. We all held our breath and didn’t make a noise!

As well as Zebras.

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The zebras in the south are a different type, with clearer markings and colours. They were incredibly striking. Credit: Alina (another wonderful Nomad traveller!)

And naughty monkeys! Don’t leave a ketchup bottle on the table!

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Caught in the act! This sneaky monkey had managed to steal a bottle of sauce and made his way to the bar for a drink! The monkeys were a real issue everywhere we went. It was important to keep tents, the truck and rooms closed at all times as they would sneak in to steal anything they could get their hands on. Credit: The Splendiferous Alina

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Lake Malawi, Livingstone, and the great rivers of southern Africa

Livingstone spent much of his life searching for the source of the Nile and, whilst he found the primary source in 1855 and named it Lake Victoria, after Queen Victoria, there was still conjecture about what fed Lake Victoria. When he found Lake Malawi it took some time to discover that it drained into the Zambezi River system. As I was a little foggy about which lake drained into which river system, I thought I’d include this:

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Lake Malawi is one of the major fresh water lakes of southern Africa, but also of the world. It is 576 Km long and about 70 km wide at its widest point.

On the way to Lake Malawi we visited a Baobab tree forest:

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Then onto Lake Malawi…

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The inevitable toe shot….

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This is the view from the Ngala Lodge, Lake Malawi.

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A great place to hang out and relax……

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Malawi, Tanzania, PJ O’Rourke, and Corruption

The Gross Domestic Product per person in Malawi is US$ 295/ person per year. There is one country that has a lower GDP/ person, South Sudan. Malawi is, by that measure, the second poorest country in the world.

It was about 15 to 20 years ago that I read this book:

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Why PJ O’Rourke called the book “Eat The Rich”, I don’t know. The premise of the book? “Why are rich countries rich and poor countries poor?”.

Of course, money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy health care. And roads. Etc.

PJ O’Rourke was a writer for the music magazine ‘The Rolling Stone’ before moving onto ‘The Economist’. Each chapter in the book was on a particular country. For example, one chapter was called ‘Tanzania – How to make nothing from everything’. Another was called ‘Hong Kong – How to make everything from nothing’.

It was in 1969, under the rule of the President Julius Nyerere, a policy of the ujamaa (or familyhood) village was set up. An agricultural collective whereby tools were commonly owned and everyone worked on the land. Virtually communism. O’Rourke’s view was that Tanzania, a country with everything, lots of fertile and well-watered land, minerals, a significant workforce, was impossibly poor.

Hong Kong, on the other hand, had nothing; no land, no minerals, but also had a significant workforce, and was rich. Why the difference?

He put it down to a number of factors (which I have added to and maybe altered….):

1. The rule of law. There needs to be an incorrupt police force and judiciary. This wasn’t (and isn’t) the case in Tanzania and was, and is, the case in Hong Kong.
2. Education has to have a high priority in the country and be good.
3. The government needs incorrupt and focussed on building the living standards of the citizens
4. A country shouldn’t destroy stuff in internal conflict or external wars.
5. Capitalism, whilst it has its faults, is better than communism (although a slightly middle ground like there is in Scandinavian countries is, in my view, the ideal).

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There is on our trip, a lady of the Baha’I faith and, when you’re on a 41 day trip from Nairobi to Cape Town by land, you get a bit of time to converse about life, the universe, and everything. She explained that one of the basic principles of the Baha’i fiath is that humankind has moved from the Judeo-Christian view of the Time of Prophecy to the Time of Fulfillment. i.e we’re in the time when humankind will/ has started to work together for the common good. And, if you know me, you’ll know that I am, to the core of my soul, an optimist. I’ve had a look at the improvements in the lot of humankind over the past 700 years and we have made giant strides. Some of them are in the graphs below:

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Life expectancy is getting better!

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Colours are good! Look at this! There are now NO countries with a life expectancy below 40. And VIRTUALLY no countries with a life expectancy under 50. And VERY FEW countries with a life expectancy below 60 years!

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And kids that die under the age of 5 years. Africa is the red line! This also has the effect, over time, of lowering the birth rate.

Even armed conflicts are killing as lower a percentage of humankind as at any time in the past 700 years:

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Now look at this! So on the left hand axis is the rate of deaths from conflicts per 100,000 people between 1400 and now. It is now as low as at any point in the past 700 years.

But after armed conflict, Corruption is the biggest scourge in the world today. I’m a numbers person (in case you hadn’t guessed!). As we’ve been going through Africa, I’ve had the lists of GDP by country, GDP/ capita by country, and the Transparency International corruption ranking open on my computer. Then I thought “I wonder if there’s a correlation between GDP/ capita and the level of corruption?”. And do you know what? Someone else has thought the same question before and put the result on-line.

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So, as expected, there is a strong correlation between the level of corruption (on the horizontal axis with 1 being very corrupt and 10 being not corrupt at all) in a country and the GDP/ capita (on the vertical axis).

Hmmmm….. Then I thought “Why?”. Some of it is intuitive. If someone is stealing a countries wealth, then the virtuous circle of wealth creation (more wealth = better education = better educated people = more productive people = more wealth), is broken, or at least, diminished.

Once again, I mention that this is not about money or wealth per se. It’s that, as our Bhutanese friends with their focus on ‘Gross National Happiness (GNH)’ have known for many decades, two of the four pillars of GNH are education and healthcare, and they both need dough. So does money/ wealth buy happiness? Well, No. And Yes.

I mentioned earlier, investment confidence, whether it be from a shop keeper or a multinational is immensely important to an economy. If the factors mentioned by O’Rourke (and added to by me) are not there, investors will either not invest, or will take their money (and jobs, and wealth) elsewhere.

Fortunately, my thoughts about corruption is not unique or new. And, in a similar way to the strides taken to improve infant mortality, the world has been taking well, maybe not strides but certainly steps to address the corruption issue.

In 1977 The US senate passed the Foreign Corrupt Practises Act that made it an offence in America for an American to bribe someone overseas. This was a massive step and one for which the US lawmakers and citizens should be proud. This was followed by the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997. My best mate was involved in rolling out the anti-corruption message across a humongous multi-national company and now that company doesn’t pay bribes. So this is a massive step.

There is reason to be hopeful. China is carrying out massive ant-corruption purges and it is only a question of time before that ethical stance is rolled out overseas.

Overall, I’m very optimistic about Africa as a whole. Massive steps have been taken in the past 100 years and, in my view, the rate of improvement is increasing!

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We’re nearly there!

Blimey we’re getting close. It’s onto Zambia now before Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and on to South Africa! Down to the last 38 days of the trip!

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Posted by capetocape2017 07:41 Archived in Tanzania Tagged zanzibar malawi slavery livignstone Comments (1)

Chapter 31 - Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda, plus Uganda & Kenya

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 26 °C

Introduction

Trekking up to see the highly endangered gorillas of northern Rwanda has been an absolute highlight of our trip. We spent an incredible 1 hour sitting with the Amhora family, that included one huge silverback, about eight female gorillas (that we saw) and the most adorable and playful baby. To see a family of Gorillas from a distance of a few metres (when they weren’t rolling over the ground toward you!) is to have an ancient connection with our humanity. And, yes, that bundle of curly black fuzz was the star of the visit! She was so playful and full of energy. So cute!

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The beautiful baby gorilla, about 5 months old, stole the show jumping on this elders, rollicking around and putting on a show for the tourists.

After a fantastic time with Jacob and Anne in Cameroon, we jumped onto a 16 day truck trip run by Intrepid to Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.

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A map of our overland trip from Nairobi to the National Parque de Volcanes in northern Rwanda.

Intrepid, and various other companies, run overland trips around various parts of the world using vehicles like this:

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That’ll be Reah with the truck then! Twenty’ish seats, internal lockers for backpacks and external compartments for tents, cooking equipment, tables, chairs, food, etc.

The group can be up to 22 people but fortunately in our case it was only 15, which was the perfect number, and a great group of people.

We booked two overland trips in Africa before we left home. One through Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda to visit the mountain gorillas and the other from Nairobi to Cape Town via Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The tours ended up being compromise between myself and Nik. I originally wanted to do an overland camping trip all the way to Cape Town. Nik gave me a look. The look said we will have been on the road for 10.5 months by that stage, we will be quite tired, and you want me to put up a tent for 57 nights. The look promised death. So, the compromise was to do a 16 day camping trip to Rwanda and then an accommodated tour (i.e. budget lodges and rooms in camp grounds) to Cape Town. We would camp at the beginning and have some luxury at the end….

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The Intrepid travellers on our Rwanda gorillas trip, including our cook, OT (middle front), guide Edwin (middle back) and driver Ben (sitting in the truck!)

The first thing that got me when we started the Intrepid tour was the high elevation of East Africa. Having come from Douala which is at sea level, I didn’t understand that East Africa is on a massively high plain. This means cooler weather and less humidity, which made the whole trip much more bearable, particularly when we had to camp in tents. Take a look at this elevation map of East Africa.

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An elevation map of Africa. As you can see East Africa is quite high and therefore, thankfully, cooler than we anticipated.

The next thing is that we noticed was the lack of humidity which had a huge impact on the appearance of buildings and infrastructure in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. The entire time we were in these countries we didn’t go below 1000m in elevation. What we saw in Cameroon, also on the equator where land was at sea level, was a losing battle against mould and damp. After only 12 months all of the buildings would start turn black, even where they had been painted. It is amazing the difference that the lack of humidity made to the presentation of the buildings in these countries. They just looked better maintained and hence there was certainly the appearance of greater wealth.

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Kenya

How’s your geology knowledge then? Seldom is geology as stark as it is when you look down at the Great Rift Valley just north of Nairobi.

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Our second view of the Great Rift Valley, about an hour north east of Nairobi. Our first view was of course from Palestine looking over the Dead Sea.

What happened? Well, I’m glad you asked! It started about 22 – 25 million years ago when the Somali and Nubian plates started to move apart. It is estimated that in another 100 million years, the African continent will split apart completely! For now, it is a truly stunning natural wonder of the world.
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A diagram showing the extent of the Rift Valley within Africa. It actually extends all the way up to Syria. We are following it from Nairobi to the Okavango Delta.

After the Rift Valley we headed off to Lake Nakuru National Park. It’s Kenya’s second most visited National Park and for good reason. Take a look…

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Looking out onto Lake Nakuru. If you have x-ray eyes you be able to see three blobs to the right of the lake. They are two adult White Rhinos and a baby Rhino.

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No, honestly! There are White Rhinos in this photo!

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And a mother and juvenile zebra!

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And giraffes!

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And Antelopey things!

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And other wildlife!

After a rather fabulous game drive we reached our first camp site of the trip. We knew it was going to be basic, but that night the generator and water didn’t work, so things were a little more basic than we expected, especially the whole needing to go to the loo in the middle of the night! The up side of staying in a game park is that you are surrounded by wild animals such a buffalo, baboons, hyenas, lions and rhino who will come and explore your camp during the night. The downside is that you are surrounded by wild animals who will come and explore your camp during the night when you wish to go to the toilet. We held on…..

I also rediscovered the joy of camping again, a thin mattress, cold tent, no shower. Yup, we lasted one night before I snapped and went for the upgrade. Out of the 16 nights on tour, we camped two. It turns out we are not such intrepid travellers….

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The next stop was the Kalinzu Forest Reserve to have a look for some chimpanzees.

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We got up at 5.30am to do a walking tour in the forest to find some of the families of chimps that live there. It turns out that they find the chimps on most tours. What they didn’t tell us beforehand was that you would wander in circles in the hot and humid forest for 3 hours in order to find them and that they would then be at the very top of some high trees. You know we like to play spot the animal in our photos, but these were not even worth the effort. So here is a chimp hand print instead….

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That’s a chimpanzee hand print. Its about as good as it got. Moving right along…

We then had a bit of a drive for a couple of days to the Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda, via overnight stops in Eldoret in Kenya and Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

Political situation in Kenya

Last time I was in Kenya with my sons Alex and Michael, the election process resulted in bloody conflict between the two major tribes in Kenya.

Once again with my superb timing we managed to arrive in the country again at election time. However, while the process was once again contested and for the first time in African history a Supreme Court annulled an election result, the second election came out with a clear decision that Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent, had been re-elected President. The process was to a large extent peaceful (there were riots leading up to the first election in which some people were killed, but not after the second) and certainly we saw no conflict during our stay in Kenya.

How is life for the average Kenyan?

- HIV/ AIDS infection rate is 6.3%
- Life Expectancy = 55 years
- Literacy Rate = 61%
- Doctors/ 5,000 people = 0.8 (Cameroon = 1 doctor/ 5,000 people)
- GDP = US$75 billion (Cameroon = US$29 billion, Australia = US$1,260 billion)
- GDP/ person = US$1,610/ person/ year (Cameroon = US$1,240, Australia = US$51,000).
- Corruption rating = 144th out of 176 countries (Cameroon = 144th, Australia = 12th)

Uganda

Uganda wins the prize for having had probably the loopiest, most violent, most xenophobic of African dictators (I know there is a line up for this, but bear with me). This psychopath:

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Psychopath Idi Amin or, to refer to him as he preferred people to refer to him:

“His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa and in Uganda in Particular”.

Those of you who’ve read or seen the fictionalised work “The Last King of Scotland” will know what I mean. He led the first of Uganda’s reigns of terror. An estimated 300,000 people were murdered over between 1971 and 1979, often in really terrible ways. In 1972 the 70,000 citizens of Indian ancestry were given 90 days to leave the country. Inflation ran at 1000%. People left he country in droves. Animals in the wildlife parks were slaughtered. Eventually he attacked Tanzania and that was his downfall. The Tanzanians invaded Uganda and deposed Idi Amin who retired to Saudi Arabia until his death in 2003.

HOWEVER! After a decade of hideousness Yoweni Musuveni got into power and Uganda has been going from strength to strength ever since, notwithstanding that his rule can best be described as a “benevolent dictatorship”. Looking at the important statistics, here they are:

- HIV/ AIDS infection rate is 6.8% (down from 30% in the 1980’s)
- Life Expectancy = 53 years
- Literacy Rate = 67%
- Doctors/ 5,000 people = 0.4 (Cameroon = 1 doctor/ 5,000 people)
- GDP = US$26 billion (Cameroon = US$29 billion, Australia = US$1,260 billion)
- GDP/ person = US$640/ person/ year (Cameroon = US$1,240, Australia = US$51,000).
- Corruption rating = 151st out of 176 countries (Cameroon = 144th, Australia = 12th)

Once again, and extraordinarily disappointingly, there is vast amount of money going into the pockets of corrupt people.

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Our first tourist stop in Uganda was the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

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Looking over Queen Elizabeth National Park, Western Uganda

QE National Park is located in the south-west of Uganda, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC - formerly Zaire). The conflict in the DRC makes the conflict in the Central African Republic look like a minor disagreement in a kindergarten.

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Here is a map of Uganda showing QENP, bottom left, the capital Kampala, as well as Mbarara and Jinja that we visited on our return trip.

The wildlife in Queen Elizabeth NP was wonderful and startling up close and personal:

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Elephant crossing! We sat in awe watching him wander across the road, stopping for a munch and drink from the puddles.

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And this beautiful guy (the male bulls tend to live a solitary life) who sat next to our truck and had lunch for 10 minutes before moving on.

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A cheeky black baboon who had stolen some watermelon and was hiding from his friends. Every time we vacated a camp site families of baboons would turn up and start to scavenge anything that had been left behind. We were very careful!

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And hippos in Lake Edward….

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But the weather looked to be closing in and is that a tornado?

How about a spot of lunch?

What about food I hear you ask? Generally, we’d stop somewhere on the roadside to have lunch involving sandwiches or salad. We were on a roster and each day you would help cook, wash the utensils, wash the pots and pans or clean the truck. It was a great way for everyone to contribute and make our lunch and dinner stops much quicker. Here we are at a random road stop:

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With our big white truck, we were quite the spectacle and the kids could see us coming from miles away…

Sometimes the guitar would come out when we stopped, which would encourage the local kids to come for a sing and a dance.

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I think we might have created a new category of crimes against humanity as we have only one kids song with actions and we have now indoctrinated children across Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda with the Wiggles!

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Although looking a little shy here, the kids came up afterwards to each have a turn on the guitar. They also sang a little song for us too.

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And wanted to pose for the camera. They loved to see themselves on the screen. We had lots of school children in uniforms wander passed when we were with this group in their mismatched clothing. It made us wonder why they were not in school but we had problems communicating with them in order to ask. They were beautiful and friendly though.

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Rwanda

This country is beautiful. The laws around safety and littering are the most stringent in Africa and it has repeatedly won the cleanest country in Africa award for the last few years. Everyone leaves whatever they are doing every Thursday morning, whether they are at work or home or school, and cleans their local area. There is no litter. It is cleaner than Australia.

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However, it is the events of the 100 days after 7th April 1994 that are at the front of everyone’s mind when Rwanda is mentioned. It is very sad that such a beautiful country is synonymous with such appalling events. Our first visit after we arrived in the country was to the genocide museum in the capital Kigali.

Rwandan Genocide – A Million Tutsis and moderate Hutus murdered in 100 days.

I mentioned in Chapter 23 of this Blog “Riga to Berlin” that, despite the genocidal murder of 6 million Jews during the Second World War, there have been between 1956 and 2016 Forty-three, yes 43 further genocides resulting in the murder 50 million people! One of these is the Rwandan genocide where in the 100 days after 7th April 1994 one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered by Interahamwe militias – gangs of youths armed with machetes, guns and other weapons.

The Rwanda Genocide was extraordinarily brutal; churches full of people – men, women, and children burnt to death, men, women and children hacked apart with machetes by rampaging mobs. Rape, torture, humiliation.

It was beyond my comprehension.

What was so sad about watching the testimonials from survivors and the hope they had about heling prevent this happening again was the fact that the front of the newspapers is currently covered with the genocide currently happening in Myanmar.

Here is a view of one of the mass graves at the Rwandan Genocide Museum where TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND – 250,000 people who were murdered in the genocide were buried. Most are unidentified

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The gardens of the Rwanda Genocide Museum. A sobering experience…

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The Gorillas!

However, as I said, Rwanda is a beautiful country and much has been done to rehabilitate both the community and country since 1994. The biggest drawcard for tourists into the country is by far the mountain gorillas. First discovered in 1906, and later made famous by Dian Fossey, the mountain gorillas extend across the highland mountains of the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda. You can visit the gorillas in both Uganda and Rwanda, although the latter has a reputation of a greater experience, probably due to the ongoing research and facilities enabled by Fossey’s legacy.

Visiting with our gorilla family was absolutely the highlight of the trip. There are less than 400 mountain gorillas living in the Parc National des Volcans, and only 800 remaining in the wild. Each day up to 10 groups of 8 people are allowed into the park to visit with a one family of gorillas each. There are 22 gorilla families, with the remaining 12 only kept under remote surveillance, with no interaction with tourists or guides.

Each trekking group has two guides, a group of optional porters for those with heavy bags and a team of 2 - 4 of trackers. The trackers are permanent trackers for each of the gorilla families and each day they track their movements from afar and record their observations. As the gorillas do not move at night, the trackers follow the gorillas to their sleeping point each day and then go back and find them in the morning to keep an eye on their movements. When there are tourist groups assigned to their gorilla family, the trackers phone through the location to the guides.

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This elevation map shows the mountainous highlands in the west of Rwanda. The gorillas live in the mountains at the very north of the country where it intersects with Uganda and the DRC.

There is the option of doing a short, medium or long walk in order to visit with the gorillas. We chose the medium walk which was supposed to be about 3 to 4 hours long. As there had been rain every afternoon, we thought this would be the best chance for us to see the gorillas and get back before the daily inundation. The short group expected a walk of 1 – 2 hours and the long group 5 -6 hours.

For us it was a 45 minute drive from the guide headquarters to the trek start point. We started the hike from about 2500m elevation and then walked for about 2 hour walk up through the forest. It was a muddy and slippery hike up. We were looking for a group called:

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We were looking for the Amahoro group of Gorillas

It was a good hike and at times a bit challenging due to the mud and the stinging nettles. We had been warned about the nettles but nothing quite prepares you for the first sting, which can make it through trousers, shoes and shirts! Long trousers were definitely necessary and I would have worn thicker ones had I known.

However, it was completely worth it as the first sight of the gorillas was wonderful.

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The silverback of the Amohoro group watching over the female and baby gorillas in his family.

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This little one completely stole the show!

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They were happy to simply lounge and roll around with each other for about half an hour before they decided to move off to eat.

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We were meant to stay about 7 meters away from the family although at times this was not possible as they moved and there was little room in among the bamboo. But one look from the silverback and you would quietly move back as far as possible to give them space!

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The guides communicated our presence to the gorillas using grunts and other noises. They seemed very comfortable with us being there as we huddled at one end of the clearing to simply watch and take photos. I have to say the videos were the best, as they capture the movement and fun of the group. We will try post some up soon!

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This was our tracker that sat with us while we watched the family. He communicated our peaceful intent to the silverback and, as you can see, was rather relaxed about the whole situation….

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And our guides who led us up to have this great experience...

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I don’t know how these clowns made it into the group!

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And Nik and me after we came down the mountain. You can probably see from the look on our faces what an amazing experience it was…

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Rwanda – The Statistics

And just in case you were wondering, here are those statistics for Rwanda….

- HIV/ AIDS infection rate is unknown.
- Life Expectancy = 60 years
- Literacy Rate = 71%
- Doctors/ 5,000 people = 1.3 (Cameroon = 1 doctor/ 5,000 people)
- GDP = US$8.4 billion (Cameroon = US$29 billion, Australia = US$1,260 billion)
- GDP/ person = US$730/ person/ year (Cameroon = US$1,240, Australia = US$51,000).
- Corruption rating = 55th out of 176 countries (Cameroon = 144th, Australia = 12th) - HOOORRRAHHH!!!

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The Intrepid trip and the way back.

Nik and I have both been on overland truck trips run by Intrepid before and there is no question they run a tight ship.

The truck is as comfortable as it can be and spacious. There was a locker for our backpack and, importantly nowadays, lots of power points for computers, phones, etc. The hygiene procedures; hand washing before eating, as you get on the bus, before food preparation, washing food in sterilising water before preparation, washing of dishes in soapy water, rinsing, then rinsing in boiling water and “flapping dry”, is excellent.

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The crew making lunch at one of our many pitstops along the way. On such a long overland trip, these breaks from the truck were a blessing.

We were lucky on our trip to have a particularly good group of people. A mix of Aussies, an American, some POMs, and a Kiwi. As you’d expect there were some of the group that you “click” with. For us the first day was a crack up. I’d been working in Queensland with a great bloke called Stu. He and his wife Kylie had come down to Melbourne for a weekend and we’d had a great time.

Day one and we’re sat next to a couple from Brisbane. It took about two hours of chatting away before Justine says to us “Are you ‘Cape to cape’?!?!” It turns out they are best mates with Stu and Kylie and had heard about this crazy couple traveling from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope! What were the chances we would be on the same tour?!

The rest of the group were great too! On these trips you meet so many interesting people. Knowledgeable. Intelligent. Fun. And my advice is, if there is someone you don’t get on with you just focus on the people with whom you get on with better!

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Our intrepid group of travellers enjoying a well earned beverage at the end of a long driving day in the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Of course, with all the driving we were doing, we saw a lot of road action. In fact, we saw countless trucks which had rolled off the roads, nearly all of them petroleum tankers! Which of the 6 accidents we saw should I write about? The one where a car tried to overtake us and had a head on collision with a truck right next to us?! That really was a shock and all of us had our seatbelts on after that one.

Our driver Ben was really good. Careful. Not too fast, not too slow. Plus it also helps being in a truck. If you do hit something, or something hits you, the truck is rather big! In all it wasn’t nerve wracking but we would never drive there ourselves!

We crossed the equator 4 times on the trip, as well as making 4 border crossings! Uganda was country 41 and Rwanda country 42!

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Hamming it up on the second equator crossing in Uganda.

On the way back we had a full days stop in a place called Jinja, famous for white water rafting and bungee jumping. We decided to take this as a down day.

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The obligatory toe shot….

However Jinja is also located on the Nile and there was a cruise and walk that you could do to the source of the Nile. We were going to go on a sunset cruise but the heavens opened and it absolutely TIPPED down with rain!

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Down there is the Nile!

So we decided it was best to stick with the Gin & Tonic and the Guinness and leave the source of the Nile till next time…

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A bonfire, cheese, olives and a little bit of guitar for our last night together.

Safe and sound back in Nairobi, we had a day off before starting our LAST HURRAHH! After 323 days it was time to head down to Cape Town! 41 days on a truck! Cant wait…..

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Posted by capetocape2017 10:02 Archived in Rwanda Tagged kenya rwanda gorillas uganda amin idi Comments (1)

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