Another long day of driving so thought I would write another update. Hard to believe we are now into day 30 of our trip, with only 5 nights left until we are in South Africa! Excitement for the world cup is building everywhere as the warm up matches come to a close. I guess I'll pick up where I left off at Chitimba beach in Malawi. The day after I last wrote, a group of us rose early to climb to the top of the escarpment that rises about 1000m above the lake. It was a fairly decent 15km trek to the top with some very steep sections. The most amazing thing as we struggled up with our daypacks, was being passed by africans carrying everything from sacks of potatoes to clothes on their heads, balancing them even as they negotiated the roughest parts of the track! We also found a drunk guy struggling to make it home from the pub. As we reached the top we were rewarded with amazing views over Lake Malawi and the Mancheri falls. We then continued on to Livingstonia, a mission town established in the 1880's on top of the escarpment; built and named in honour of Dr Livingstone who explored much of central africa, was instrumental in the abolishment of the slave tradeand died in 1873. There, we had a simple lunch in the former house of the missionary largely responsible for the founding of the town which still contains the original and remarkably well constructed hospital, church, school and administrative buildings.
After walking back down, we had organised a soccer match with some of the local teenagers. It goes down as one of my highlights of Africa thus far. On the local school pitch 9 of us and a few locals lined up against what seemed like about 20 malawians intent on running us off our feet. As the game progressed a crowd gathered to watch the action. After about an hour with the scores locked at 3 - 3 at least 40 kids were lining the pitch running onto the field screaming, cartwheeling and high fiving every time a goal was scored. As the sun set, they took to chanting from the sidelines Mzungu (white man) 5, Malawi 3 to reflect the score. At the end of the game all joined in for a celebratory 'Ole Ole' as they fought to hold our hands. An experience I will never forget.
Our next stop was Kande beach, further down the coast of Lake Malawi (which is over 500km long and takes up a quarter of Malawi's area). This was a chilled out camp where we spent 3 nights. On the beach I learnt to play Bao, a local game which uses rocks on a wooden board, albeit with the local's alterior motive of trying to sell the handmade boards. We also had another soccer match with the locals who this time got the better of us on a sandy pitch. On the second day we organised to have a pig on the spit for dinner and we were given the opportunity to watch it be slaughtered in the local village, A guy from our group actually got to plunge the knife into the heart before boiling water was poured over to assist in removing the skin. After carrying the carcass back to camp, it was cooked over the fire for almost 8 hours and the end product was ultimately delicious! This was also the night the other overland group we are travelling with had organised a dress up party which involved shopping for clothes for another group member at the local markets, resulting in a collection of hideous outfits. We joined in the festivities and a few (or more) beers later we were all dancing on the bar to a collection of 90's pop, and after many clothing swaps, wearing a variety of skirts and leopard print tops. A highlight of the night was Eric, a south african truck driver and possibly the biggest guy I have ever seen downing about 3 bottles of jack daniels, calling everyone 'a cheeky prawn' and being convinced to put on a dress, before collapsing on the beach and requiring us to put him in a wheelbarrow to get him back to his room.
The next three days were basically spent in transit, with at least 8 hrs drive each day. The free time we did have at the camps was spent kicking the ball around, playing cards or watching the world cup warm up games over a few beers. Feels like we have known our group forever now and I think we have been really lucky in that we are all very easy going and take things as they come. You learn fairly quickly where to use the phrase 'This is Africa', which sums up much of the African experience. For example...
Being given an extensive menu to browse, then being told when ordering that only 2 things are available, only one of which is on the menu.
Africa time = actual time + or - about 2 hours. We once waited 2 hours for a plate of chips which ended up being boiled.
Being harangued by and bargaining with people hawking anything and everything on the streets
Change never being available for even the smallest note, but sometimes magically appearing when you threaten to walk away from a sale.
Getting used to hearing things like 'That's $7 USD, but we don't take $1 notes' - Umm...do the math!?
The african massage - a result of riding in a truck over the often potholed roads
Being stared at and followed by children begging for money or food.
Every tree, bush or grass having some sort of thorn that will inevitably find it's way into your foot or puncture a ball (we have been through about 6 soccer balls on the trip already!)
Hakuna Matata - the african no worries policy
Anyway, after the long drive it was good to finally arrive in Livingstone, which sits on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. From there I took a microlight flight over the falls, which was incredible. They are over a kilometre wide and currently at full capacity, sending a constant cloud of spray hundreds of metres into the air. It was quite surreal as we flew over, elephants, hippo and giraffe looking minituare below. Back in town, Sam decided to go for a wander, only to discover he couldn't find his way back to the campsite. After a couple of hours he still hadn't arrived back and so we set off in search, drawing arrows with 'this way Sam' in the dirt. We eventually found him getting assistance from a local after walking several k's down the wrong road. Hilarious. We made it back just in time for the 'booze cruise' along the zambezi. The sunset over the river provided an amazing setting to enjoy the open bar which we made the most of. Partying on back at camp, I woke up in a hammock.
On the way to the zimbabwean side of the falls we stopped off for a closer look. Up close the sheer amount and power of water going over the falls becomes apparent. At it's peak over 450 million litres of water per minute flow over, standing 30 - 40m away on the other side of the gorge, you are saturated by the spray. It is like torrential rain, but it comes from below and then falls down again from every direction. The falls are often barely visible through it. From our campsite about 5km away we could fall asleep to the roar of the falls in the distance.
We also got our first glimpse of the Victoria falls bridge, which spans the gorge 111m above the Zambezi about 100m downstream from the falls. It was here that we were to return the next day to, for some reason, jump off it. As part of the package we took a leisurely flying fox ride over the gorge toward the bungy platform. This was the first time I had bungied and I was more than slightly packing it. In any case, I found myself with toes over the edge of the drop, arms up and with a 3, 2, 1 bungy! took the leap. The first couple of seconds was breathtaking. All I could do was whisper somethingl like 'oh man'. Four seconds seems a long time when freefalling towards the ground. After the initial adrenaline rush, the feeling of freedom and exhiliration as the cord bounces you almost 40m back up is amazing. Head spinning, spray from the falls on your face. Awesome. On a high, we lined up for the bridge swing, which involved jumping feet first this time on a static rope suspended about 20m from the platform. This was actually probably more terrifying than the bungy; freefall is longer and you are only about 20m above the water when the swing kicks in. Sam's jump was hilarious. Taking a running jump, he got about two metres out from the platform before he shat himself, let go of the rope and proceeded to do the crazy running man all the way down. Will try to get the video up at some point!
Back in Vic falls town we went for a walk through town to the massive souvenir markets, stopping to watch a few warthogs walk down the street along the way. That night we all went to a restaurant in town as it was time for a few of the group to say goodbye. We had a smorgasbord which included warthog among many other things. The next day began early as we headed out to a private game reserve for a 'Big 5 experience'. The first activity was an elephant ride. Sam and I got the dominant male of the group which at times had a mind of it's own, leaving the path to tear half a tree down every time it wanted a snack. Afterwards we got to feed and get some great photos with them. After a cooked breakfast we then headed off to meet some lions. The three cubs were all about a year old but still a fair size. They have been raised and trained by humans and are very playful although with 5cm claws you don't want to play rough with them. It was an amazing experience to be able to sit and play with them, and have those big yellow eyes staring you down.
This brings us to yesterday, when we drove over the border into Botswana. Arriving early, we left immediately for a game drive in Chobe national park which stretches along the Chobe river and Namibian border. Here we saw hippos out of water for the first time, giraffe and baboon fighting (not each other) and several crocs. In the afteroon we went on a river cruise, chilling with some drinks and cheese as the sun set. We saw over 150 elephants drinking and playing in mud on the water's edge as well as numerous hippos and crocs. Not a bad day.
We are now on the home stretch of the tour, heading toward the okavango delta which is our last major stop before South Africa. Has been an amazing time. Am pumped for the World Cup. Hope all is well for you wherever you are.