A Travellerspoint blog

Chapter 33 – Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 25 °C


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….

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:

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


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!

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.

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....

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.

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.


Tribal textiles

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


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.

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

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


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.


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.

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!


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!

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

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.

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

The falls were named by this bloke:

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!


Botswana – Visit One

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

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!

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.

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…

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…..


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!


So Namibia now looks like this:

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).


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:

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:

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….

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

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.

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

Sunset cruises.

Lots of beer to be found, but no revelations.

Flowers! Innit!


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

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.

The inevitable toe shot!

A Praying Mantis:

The smallest praying mantis we have ever seen!

And a grinning Cookie!

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

And that will be a hippo skull!

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!

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.

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!


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:

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.

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.

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

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

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:

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.

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.

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.


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.



Once again, let’s include a map:

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.

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.



Lordy! Lordy! Lordy! This moron:

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!

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.

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?


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.



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….



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:

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:

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:

The memorial centre in Windhoek.

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


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.

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

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


The number of infections are reducing :


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


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


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.


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…


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!


Posted by capetocape2017 10:06 Archived in Botswana Tagged zambia namibia zimbabwe botswana

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Loving it. Enjoy the LAST FEW DAYS! Now, you two have seen some pretty special places - but none of them can compete with Frankston!

by Geoff Silagy

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