Saturday, June 20, 2009

give me nature

I've realized that I would love to live somewhere untouched. Where I can wake up and smell water, see trees and greenery and revel in it. Bath in the light and gaze upon the colors of sunrises and sunsets. Lay in a canoe or raft and see nothing for miles around me.

Of course you've got to give me some internet access. But I think I can live without Target and tons of people around and cars. All I'd really need is internet and probably TV and I'd be a happy girl and of course the dog's coming along.

Anyone care to join me?

My first Africa experience - pt. 1

I've always said I'd want to visit Africa, I thought it would first be through Morocco or Egypt, instead it turned out to be through Zimbabwe and Botswana. What an introduction to the continent that was! Absolutely amazing, breath taking, and refreshing. Granted we were on a luxury safari and staying in 4/5 star places (even at the bush camps), but hey...a girl can spoil herself once in awhile.

I knew we were in for long flights, SFO-JFK (6 hours and 3 hour layover), JFK to Johannesburg (12.5 hour flight and another 3 hour layover), Johannesburg to Victoria Falls aka Vic Falls (2.5 hour flight). So yeah, 30 hours later we were there, sitting that long and not sleeping much created so much pain in the lower half of my body, I was in tears from the pain by the time we got there. Thank goodness for Advil and some icy/hot type of patches.

We were the last ones through immigration, you have to pay $30 for a visa to be in Zimbabwe. Luckily our chartered ride didn't leave without us, they almost did! We were the last ones to be dropped off at Victoria Falls Hotel. A hotel rich with history and stories, animal heads, hides and skulls (complete with antlers) adorn the walls alongside photos of the hotel and residents from different time periods.

It was built in 1904, a simple wood building that looked like an old school train station. Today it's a grand hotel with a new wing and a spectacular view of the falls. We were greeted warmly, porters immediately picked up our bags, check-in was quick and we were given welcome drinks, some kind of citrus juice with grenadine and a cool, sweetly perfumed cool towel. It was a welcome refreshment after the long trip and the heat. We took quick showers and headed out to see the falls, it was about 3pm by the time we left.

We got lucky, our guide told us later that the time we went was the best time of day to go. Early afternoon, because in the morning and at sunset the mist is so high that you can't see any part of the falls and the rainy season typicall ends in May (typically...more to come about rain later). As it was, I was covered in water pretty much the entire time (because in my tired state, I didn't think I'd need my waterproof windbreaker).

We headed back to the hotel and had dinner on the veranda, exhausted we could barely keep our eyes open. I had a burger and it was delicious, the meat was very fresh, local beef. My friends tried some of the ostrich and beef steak - would have been good if it was more tender. Then it was off to bed, I fell into a quick, dreamless sleep. The next morning I realized I set the alarm wrong and we raced to breakfast because we were supposed to be picked up at 7:30 for our overnight camping/canoeing trip...

They were an hour late, I was worried and we quickly found out it is the luck of the draw to try and call out of the country. All the numbers I had for our service providers were for offices in South Africa, out of the 8 calls we made to three different numbers, only 1 made it. Zimbabwe is a country and has gone from being an up-to-date country to one that is starting over due to political unrest. At one point their currency was facing such awful inflation that while waiting for lunch, the price would go up between the time it took to order to when it was received. Bills in the hundreds of billions were printed - with EXPIRATION dates on them!

The company finally called the hotel and said they'd be late, they were already 45 minutes late. African time, we quickly learned works a lot like Asian time. :) We got everything ready, changed clothes for canoeing and were driven into Zambezi National Park. We were so excited and passed some impala, waterbuck, elephants, and baboons on our way to the launch site. We didn't realize we'd see these animals again and in a closer setting so we were snapping photos like crazy.

We stopped at our launch site, the guides inflated the canoes and off we went! We had to watch out for hippos and they told us not to stick our hands in the water for too long or crocs would come. There's supposedly 1 crocodile every 300 feet. We canoed for over 10 miles (I like to include the times where we paddled in circles trying to get the canoe in the right direction). There were small rapids and lots of beautiful scenery. 2/3 of the way through we stopped for lunch consisting of crocodile, potato salad, bread rolls, eggs, salad, sausage and soda/beer. So delicious after canoeing all that way.. it's a lot harder than it looks!

After canoeing we got driven to our camp site and the guides and other staff set up the entire thing for us - complete with cots, bed rolls, blankets, sleeping bags, and a satin pillow. Granted everything smelled like camp and it was so freaking freezing we slept in every piece of clothing we could put on. There was an outhouse but it smelled so bad and was so dark, I ended up peeing outside like the animals anyway. Dinner was some yummy Chicken curry, rice, and butternut squash (we had our own cook too!). Life's good on a luxury camping trip - they even heated up water next to the fire and we had warm showers to take! After bedding down, we put our lamps outside the tents so the hippos could see us and wouldn't attack the tent if they accidentally ran into it. It was still so cold, we woke up every few hours and finally just got up to see the sun rise..

After a yummy breakfast of eggs, bacon, corn fritters, toast, and roasted tomatoes we headed back into Victoria Falls. One more night at the Falls and then it was off to Botswana - that'll be part 2.