Kt's Travels

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Land of the hippos

A few pictures from the Okavango Delta tour. More stories to come soon.

This is the view from the front of the mokoro with the poler in action in front of us.

Heading for the "Hippo pool". Can't you just imagine a hippo sticking his head out from under the lilly pads?

You can see how thick the reeds are around us. This was the view for a good portion of the visit to the "hippo pool" (see the post "Hippo Dodging" for details. )

This is a shot of one of the paths that the hippos make through the reeds and lillies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hippo Dodging

When Jenn and I were small kids, Dad took us on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyworld. We were both so terrified by the mechanical animals that we ended up cowering under the benches. If you've been on that ride, you know that there is abolutely nothing scary about the Jungle Cruise. In fact it's really fairly sedate. But I have a theory that maybe I wasn't actually afraid of the animals. Maybe, just maybe, I was afraid of the boat...

When we went to the Okavango Delta in Botswana as part of my overland tour, we took a trip into the Delta on mokoros. A mokoro is the local transport in the Delta - it's a long, flat-bottomed boat that is just wide enough for one person to sit. They are maneuvered through the reeds and shallow water of the Delta by a poler - one guy standing at the back of the boat with a long pole that he uses to shove the boat through the water. The boats are very narrow, like I mentioned, and as the poler moves around, the mokoro tends to rock back and forth. If any of the passengers shift around, the boat rocks. So it doesn't really feel all that stable.

We started off into the Delta, leaving behind our trusty truck, Janis, with the mokoros loaded down with tents and sleeping bags and our daypacks. For one night, we were going to be truly roughing it, bush camping on a small island in the middle of the Delta. The Okavango has its fair share of African wildlife. Depending on the island, they have lions and elephants. But the most memorable animal in the Delta for me was the hippo. As we were being escorted to our camp site for the night, we maneuvered through many lillipads - and that to me immediately brings up images of hippos sticking their heads out of the water.

Hippos are not very nice animals. They are actually one of the deadliest animals in Africa. They tend to be very territorial and when they attack, they move with surprising speed. And of course, when you are in a small boat in the middle of a shallow lake, you are entirely in their territory. They have a distinct advantage.

Our first evening in the Delta, we set up camp, rested for a while, and then loaded back into the mokoros for a visit to a hippo pool. This was probably not the safest thing I have done in my life, but at the time, it seemed like it would be an adventure and very interesting to see some hippos outside of a zoo.

We could hear them in the area as we set off. They make a very distictive snorting, huffing noise that carries surprisingly far in the still air of the Delta. As we approached the pool, the snorting noises became more frequent and much louder. As we poled through the thick reeds, there were areas where a large animal had waded, pushing the reeds aside so that four-foot wide path had been created through the Delta. The hippos were close by. In my mind, I could imagine them sitting only a few feet away, hidden in the reeds, just waiting for our boat to get a little too close. My heart was in my throat the whole time. The sensation for me was similar to the tension you feel in a haunted house. You know something is about to jump out at you, but you don't know when it's coming. As we poled along, keeping a close lookout for hippos, I recalled the Jungle Cruise and fervently wished that I had a bench to hide under again...

In the end, we heard the hippos everywhere around us and we saw their tracks, but we never saw them from the boat. I was fine with that. That trip through the Delta was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I don't think I have ever been so relieved to be back on dry land, but I wouldn't trade the experience for the world!

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Thunder that Roars

Hi all!
I have returned to Cape Town after an amazing trip to Victoria Falls and a great visit with my college friend Jalle in Zambia. I ended my time in Zambia by taking an ultralight flight over the Falls. The photo is taken from a fixed camera on the wing. You can't take anything loose on the ultralight in case it falls into the propeller - which would not be good! It was an amazing view of the Falls, which are at their full power at this time of year, extending all 1.7 km across and then plummeting into the gorge below. You can see the mist from the falls kilometers away. It's beautiful.

I fly back to Denver tomorrow! :) Can't wait to see everyone and talk to you all soon! More about the trip to come soon!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Just an Update

Hi all!

Just wanted to say hello and let you all know that I am safe and sound! Our tour of southern Africa is coming to an end. Tomorrow we head to Victoria Falls.

Today we are in Chobe National Park in Botswana. This morning was a game drive along the Chobe River. Tonight is a river cruise. We've seen all kinds of animals - lions and elephants at the same watering hole, rhinos, hippos, zebras, wildebeast... I think the main thing we are missing at this point is the leopard, but they tend to be pretty elusive, so you're lucky to see one.

Hopefully I'll have a chance to write more from Vic Falls, and maybe add some pictures, but no promises!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Between the dunes and the deep blue sea

Hello from Namibia!
I am in Swakopmund right now, a lovely little beach town on the Atlantic coast of Africa. We're on the Skeleton Coast right now, which earned its name because many shipwrecks have happened here. If you were unfortunate to wreck along the shore of Namibia back in the day, you were out of luck. There really isn't any water here, just lots of sand dunes.

We drove north from Cape Town last Sunday, through the north half of South Africa, and now we are midway through Namibia. Tomorrow we head north again, and east towards Etosha National Park and some game drives, followed by the Okavango Delta in Botswana. On May 10th, we arrive in Victoria Falls.

This trip is an overland adventure - which is really just a road trip across Africa. We are riding in a lovely truck with huge windows in the back for the passengers. Please note - it is not a bus, it is a truck named Janis. I have spent a LOT of time with Janis, and she is lecker (that's South African for good or great). There are 16 of us on the tour - plus two guides. Walt does the driving plus most of the talking and explaining of things along the way. Lorina is the cook and she is gifted, let me tell you. We are eating well. As for the rest of us - The youngest is 20, the oldest is 78. We have 2 Americans, two Austrians, two Brits, two Dutch, two Danes, one Swede, one Korean, one Israeli, one Japanese, one Australian, and one Argentenian. Quite the mix, eh?

We're all camping in two-man tents for most of the trip. Once we arrive at our camp, we all set up our tents while Lorina gets dinner ready. At this point, we are a well oiled machine.

Namibia is an incredibly beautiful place. Walt swears that it is the most beautiful country in Africa, but he is biased since he is Namibian... I have to agree, though, that this is some of the most amazing scenery I have seen in my life. The basic landscape reminds me of Montana, but on a bigger scale. We stopped and saw the towering red dunes where Brangelina had the photos taken with their kids, and we also went to Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert to see the dead trees set against the red dunes and the white desert floor. Spectacular.

Aside from the scenery, we have also been on many hikes, went canoeing, learned a Namibian dice game, went quad biking and sandboarding. And of course we're learning a lot about the other countries represented in the group. Plus we got up and hiked up a dune to see the sunrise one morning. It was definitely worth it.

Unfortunately I don't have time to load any pictures right now. But never fear, I am taking plenty and I can also get copies from my new friends here. I'll have internet access in Vic Falls on the 10th, but will be out of touch until then. Swakopmund is the last civilization in the northern part of Namibia. So I will be in touch with everyone on the 10th!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

On the Road Again

Tomorrow morning, my time in Muizenberg is over. A taxi is picking me up at 7:15AM and I'm off on my tour of Namibia, Botswana, and Vic Falls. Jalle is meeting me in Livingstone, Zambia on May 11th (which is my sister's birthday!) and I'll spend a few days with her. I am really looking forward to that!

Muizenberg has been fun. As I predicted, I am really sad to leave, but I also know it's for the best. I've been getting bored with the routine and I am definitely ready to see some new stuff.

This week has been crazy from start to finish. On Weds I went to see Cape Point with Ken, the new Irish volunteer. We took the train to Simon's Town, saw the penguins again briefly, and then hopped in a Rikki (van) to the Nature Reserve and Cape Point. It was a beautiful day, but very windy as always at the point. It was definitely worth the visit.

Yesterday I decided that I needed to visit the orphanage where most of the other volunteers at the lodge work. I only stayed for a half day, but I was exhausted. There are children from 2 months to 6 years old there, and there are a lot of them. The volunteers are each assigned to work with one age group - infants, toddlers, or the older kids. I visited all three areas in my 3 hour visit. They are all adorable and very excisted to have any attention they can get. A few of the babies just cry until someone picks them up. So I helped play with them, took lots of photos, and then helped feed the infants before it was time for me to head back to Muizenberg to wrap some things up before I leave tomorrow. I'm really glad I went. I don't know how Steve and Amy and the rest of the volunteers do it every day. It's exhausting, but defnitely worthwhile.

Today was my last day working in the surf shop. So of course it had to be the busiest day we have ever had since I have been here. We had a birthday party of 22 kids first thing, followed by another lesson at 11AM, another at 12PM, and finally one more at 2PM. It was mass insanity from 10AM onwards. And to make things even crazier, it was also a lovely day and the surf was not big, but very clean and glossy. So it was a good day to be at the beach. I spent the day in the shop, taking care of renting boards and wetsuits, making sure the kids could get the wetsuits on, all of that. It was busy, so the day just flew by.

Tonight we are staying in the lodge and grilling out - which is called having a braai here in South Africa. So we're cooking burgers and brats over a wood fire. It just sounds much better when you call is a braai, I think.

I'll update more as soon as I can, but it may be about a week or so! Next time you hear from me, I'll be in Namibia!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Top o' the Mountain

This week we got two new surf school volunteers, Alex and Ken. Alex is from the US and Ken is our representative from Ireland. They arrived right in the middle of several people leaving, so we have been celebrating everyone's last night on a pretty regular basis for the last week. Needless to say, things have been a little crazier than usual. It's tough staying in the Beach Lodge - it's really one big revolving door. Just as you are getting to know someone, they leave! By the time I go, almost everyone will be "new".

I've decided that I need to see more of Africa than just Cape Town and Muizenberg. So I am heading out from the surf school project a bit early. I leave next Sunday to go on a tour up through Namibia and Botswana to Vic Falls. My friend Jalle (from college) is going to meet me in Livingstone, Zambia and then I will go with her to Kalomo, where she is living and working as part of the Peace Corps. I am so excited about this trip! It's 20 days with a group of about 10 people, mostly camping, through lots of desert (including the giant sand dunes in Namibia, just like Brangelina). I will have very limited internet access, so after this week, it'll be a bit harder for me to be in touch with anyone.

Since my time is drawing to a close here in Cape Town, this week is sure to be a whirlwind of sightseeing things that I have been putting off for the last month. It started today with the strenuous hike up Table Mountain. When we started at about noon, the top of the mountain was clear and sunny. When we got there after 2+ hours of huge steps uphill, a cloud had rolled in and we couldn't actually see anything. But it was still fun to hike up and the cablecar down was worth it, too. Here's one picture from the hike up... This is the trail to the top.

Otherwise, this week involved yet another visit to Cape to Cuba for the UK Katie's last night. We got a ride home with a friend of our friend Meshack in the back of his truck. This is classic of the gang here:
Back - Jamie, Alexa, and Katie
Front - Meshak, Sheep, Dana, me

It's not all a big party, though. We did all get up and go to church on Easter Sunday with some of the guys who live here and work in the surf shop with us. We had a gaggle of people from the lodge head to the local church for a very nice service. Easter here is a major holiday. The schools are all off for two weeks and pretty much everything completely closes on Easter Sunday. The music at the service was in both English and native languages. I'm not sure which ones, to be honest, since there are several official languages here.