Tag Archives: Africa

Navigating Northern Namibia

Yawning Cheetah at AfriCat in OkonjimaAfter an awesome Southern Namibia loop, I linked into a Northern Namibia loop. The 7 Day Northern Adventure tour started with a new group of people and surprisingly the same guide, Tongai. After a quick introduction of the route and highlights we all bundled into the truck and off we went.

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Okonjima

The first stop was an overnight in the AfriCat Nature Reserve in Okonjima. AfriCat is a project set up to rescue cats that have been injured, or raise animals who lost a parent when they were too young to survive on their own. Once animals have been rehabilitated or raised to a point of self-sufficiency they go through a few monitored phases of release back into the wild. Their first period of release also has the animals on a form of contraception so they first learn to hunt and survive, before they begin to breed.

Leopard at AfriCat in Okonjima

A large portion of Namibia land is privately owned farms, with livestock. With free roaming cheetahs and leopards, many farmers lose livestock to the predatorial cats, and as a result often shoot them. The AfriCat foundation assists in cases where these shootings don’t result in death, but they do more than respond retroactively. They proactively work to educate farmers of the hunting habits and behaviours of various predators, so rather than shoot the cats, take alternate measures to protect their livestock so they don’t fall into the hunting patterns of the cats. For example, Leopards typically hunt nocturnally, if livestock are kept in pens at night, they are not easy picking for a leopard and they leopard will hunt on free roaming antelope instead.

The AfriCat Nature reserve is 20,000 acres; while the main focus is on cats such as cheetahs and leopards, you will also find various breeds of antelope, hyena, warthog, and jackals. On a game drive we saw many beautiful animals, the highlights being a leopard and some cheetahs.

Etosha National Park

Zebras in Etosha National ParkTwo days in Etosha National Park was the following activity on our schedule. The name Etosha mean Great White Place, and the size of the park with a huge salt pan is certainly accurate to its name. It is one of the largest national parks in Africa with a size of approximately 22,912km2, roughly the same land size as the country of Belgium. The Etosha salt pan within the park covers 21%, 4,730km2 of the parks area.

Our animal sightings within the park included: elephants, lions, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, kudu, springbok, black faced impala, burchalls zebra, black backed jackals, and three black rhinos. Most sightings were at various waterholes around the park in the early morning or late afternoon.

Animals drinking at the waterhole in Etosha National Park

Otjikandero

When visiting any country it is important to not just see the sights and animals, but also learn about the tradition and culture of the country and its people. As mentioned in the Southern Namibia post, there are X peoples, or tribes, native to Namibia. In the town of Otjikandero we paid a visit to a Himba village. While Himba were traditionally a nomadic people, the Otjikandero site was established as a permanent base with an orphanage and school programs. The lower school grades are offered on site by a teacher from the Ovamba tribe (despite Ovambo people having vastly different traditions than the Himba), higher grades are offered through boarding school programs if the children have the financial support to attend, on-site are also literacy programs for adults offered by a teacher from the Herrero tribe (which is very similar in tradition to the Himba).

Young Himba boy in Otjikandero The village is made up of various huts constructed from Mopani trees. Each hut will house a family of up to 6 or 7 people. Each hut takes approximately 2.5 – 3 weeks to build, and they typically last 5-6 years; though some replastering is done after each rainy season.

The village huts all surround a main kral, where livestock is kept overnight. The main hut in the village is easily identifiable as it is directly opposite the kral entrance, the other thing between the hut and the kral is a holy fire. The leader of the village, who resides in the main hut, always leads the tribe together with his partner.

In regard to traditions growing up, it is still common practice that boys are circumcised, girls are not; and that all children who reach puberty have their four front lower teeth removed over the holy fire. Also polygamy is still an accepted tradition within the Himba people, though if a man wants another wife, the other wife(s) must agree to it, and each family of the man has a separate family hut.

Twyfelfontein 

In 1946 David Levine, the first European settler to the area found a local water spring, in a semi-arid region of the country. The spring was brilliant for his cattle and sheep, though he was never sure if there would be enough water to sustain the farm, and he called the area “doubt fountain” twijfel fontein.

The Lion-Man stone engraving at TwijfelfonteinBefore David settled in this site, drawings/carving were found in 1921. The engravings are believed to be 2000-6000 years old and probably done by the San people. The engravings were made by using quartz to scratch images into the sandstone. As the San people were Nomadic hunter-gatherers, it is believed that the engravings were used as maps to share with fellow people to share and teach what can and cannot be hunted, and what can be found where, such as water sources. Artists often marked their work with an outline of their foot.

A common drawing seen in the area is a Giraffe. The Giraffe is a sacred animal, the bringer of water. The most important icon to be found was the Lion-Man. Each site will only ever have one lion-man, as each tribe only has one leader. The Lion man is depicted with five toes instead of four, and is representative of the Shaman.

While the site offered mostly engravings, there were also some paintings to be found and some natural rock formations. The visit to Twijfelfontein was truly fascinating and beautiful. Our guide Elizabeth did a fantastic job of sharing everything she knew about the site. Her love for the environment and history was made evident in the way she shared her knowledge.

Cape Cross Seal Colony

Cape Cross is a seal reserve on the skeleton coast. It is a protected area, home to the world’s largest fur seal colony. The seal colony is very loud and smelly to visit, but certainly interesting to visit briefly.

Swakopmund 

Sandboarding in Swakopmund

Swakopmund is the northern most city we visited on the coast of Namibia. It is a town with a population around 75,000, a reasonably small city. The old German architecture contrasting the new modern buildings is quite fascinating to see. Swakopmund has several activities on offer if you have the time.

The number one thing on my ‘To Do’ list was to sand board down some dunes! Eben and Christian from Khoi San Sandboarding collected us from the hotel and took us about 15 minutes out of town to the designated dunes. With a big dune hike to start and a quick lesson we were carving up the dunes pretty quickly. It was loads of fun and definitely an activity I would recommend!

Okahandja

The very last stop of the tour was a visit to the craft markets of Okahandja, the best place to haggle over some local souvenirs! Okahandja has the biggest open-air craft market in Namibia. Be prepared to be hassled for your attention and business, but do explore and enjoy the experience.

Northern Namibia

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Scouting around the South of Namibia

Oryx; GemsbokSince my first trip to Africa, a visit to Namibia has been at the top of my wish list. In August as a birthday present to myself I booked a Namibian adventure. With this adventure having time constraints I booked a tour with Wild Dog Safaris, the 14 Day Namibian Adventure.

The reason for my choosing this particular tour was to see Kolmanskop, Deadvlei and Etosha National Park. Kolmanskop is quite a detour from the standard route, so it is not included in many of the Namibian tours.
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Namibia

Namibia is on the west coast of Africa, directly above South Africa. It’s currency, the Namibian Dollar, is equivalent to the South African Rand and within Namibia the currencies can be used interchangeably.

Namibia has a population of around 2.2 million living with a land size of approximately 825,000 square kilometers. According to wikipedia it is the second least densely populated country in the world with roughly 2.7 inhabitants per square kilometer.

The mineral rich earth of Namibia led the main industry to be mining; diamonds, copper, tin, gold, zinc etc.

The traditional peoples of Namibia include the Damara, Nama, San, Himba, Herero, Kavango, Ovambo, Basters, Tswana and Caprivians; each with their own languages, culture and traditions. However, as is the case with so many nations, Namibia was occupied by white Germans for some time, followed by white Afrikaners. Afrikaans, English and German are the common languages you will hear.

7 Day Southern Swing

On starting the tour I discovered that the 14 day tour was actually two tours combined, the 7 day Southern Swing and the 7 Day Northern Adventure. Both tours looped the south/north region respectively, starting and finishing in Windhoek.

Windhoek

Windhoek is the biggest city within Namibia, and unsurprisingly also the capital city, with a population of 250,000. I spent very little time in Windhoek, and was quite happy about that as it seems to be just another city.

For me the best part of Windhoek was a visit to Joe’s Beer House for a meal. It is a spectacular themed pub/restaurant with a wide range of beer and food. The highlight was the game meat on offer! I ordered the Bushman Sosatie which offered a selection of Zebra, Kudu, Springbok, Gemsbok and Crocodile (on this occasion they were out of crocodile and it was replaced with pork). It was delicious, if you visit Windhoek, you must eat at Joe’s!

Bagatelle

Aardvark searching for antsBagatelle is a game ranch in the Kalahari desert. A visit involves driving through rolling plains of yellow-grey, low dry grass broken by intermittent raised ribs of mostly bare glowing ochre dunes.

The ranch is 10,000 hectares with accommodation and camping spots on offer, protected against the animals in the area. Through the fenced boundary of the accommodation it is possible to go on a game drive to see the many animals protected within the fences of the ranch.

In our one hour game drive our local guide David showed us the huge weaver bird nests that appear as matting in the tree branches. We saw an Ostrich sitting on it’s next of eggs. We found an aardvark happily and busily digging in the ground for ants. We also saw Oryx, Springbok, Blue Wildebeest, Giraffe, a Cape Fox, Yellow Mongoose and Meerkats.

To conclude a wonderful evening game drive, we stopped atop a dune to enjoy a sundowner cider and watch as the sky changed through the shades of red into darkness.

Sunset in the Kalahari Desert

Mesosaurus fossil farm

Our second visit on the tour was to a Mesosaurus Fossil Farm, owned and managed by a man by the name of Gil. Gil explained to us how he had come across the fossils on his property and how research began on what was found.

The Mesosaurus is a small crocodile type creature, 35-100cm in length. It had teeth which were long, but weak, that were used to filter food out of the water similar to the method used by many whales. The fossils contain only the prints of these animals, as it is thought that the water had a high acid contain, dissolving the bones. The mesosaurus is estimated to have lived in the region 270 million years ago; the findings support the idea of Gondwana (one large continent) as the mesosaurus fossils found in Namibia are the same as fossils found in South America.

While the fossils were fascinating, they were not my favourite part of the visit. What I found more interesting were the towers of rocks and the quiver trees.

Dolomite rock towers and Quiver treesAround the area were what appeared to be towers built of rock cubes, all neatly stacked.  This volcanic area had experienced periods where the magma bubbled up through the ground and formed pinnacles of Dolomite rock. In the desert one experiences a huge variation in temperatures, hot through the day and often below freezing at night. The extreme changes between hot and cold caused the rocks to crack, splitting vertically and horizontally, forming these towers of cubes.

The quiver trees around the property had a papery yellow-white bark, and am umbrella of interestingly angular branches with structured spiky leaves. People used to hollow out a branch and create a quiver for their bows; though I am unsure what kind of relation the ‘quiver’ tree has to the term ‘quiver’ for arrows, originally.

I found the rock cube towers and sharp lines of the quiver trees to be quite beautiful to look at.

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon is a spectacular spot to visit. It is the second largest canyon in the world, created by water erosion 500 million years ago. The canyon is  27 kilometres wide, 160kilometres long and 550 metres deep. The size and depth of this canyon is truly a wonder to behold.

We arrived at the canyon before sunset to enjoy a stroll around the rim as the sun bathed the canyon in golden light.

The canyon used to be a popular hiking spot, but due to many injuries the canyon hiking has been restricted.  A multi-day hike is still an option for groups of three or more in the winter time, but there is an application process to follow. Reservations can be made via Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR); several sites on the internet claim bookings need to be made a year in advance.

Fish River Canyon

Lüderitz

Lüderitz Train StationLüderitz is a coastal town named after it’s founder, German national Adolf Lüderitz. It’s a quirky town that is several decades behind the times with colonial architecture and Art Nouveau designs. Many of the city’s signs and street names are still in German.

It appears to function primarily as a fishing village and gateway to the popular tourist destination of Kolmanskop.

Kolmanskop

Kolmanskop was named after a transport driver by the name of Johnny Coleman, who was once lost in a sandstorm and abandoned his vehicle opposite a small settlement.

Kolmanskop HospitalIn the settlement lived a railway supervisor August Stauch. In 1908 one of the railway workers showed him a stone he had found in the sand, and when it was determined to be a diamond the settlement quickly became a secured diamond mining town.

The town housed 300 German adults, 44 German school aged children and around 800 Namibian workers. The Namibian workers each signed up for a two year contract, during which time they were not allowed to leave at all.

With mining being done manually and the high value of diamonds, smuggling was a major concern. People used several methods to try smuggle diamonds out of the area including, carrier pigeon, swallowing the diamonds and also cutting their skin and embedding the diamond under the skin. As a result, the hospital had the first x-ray machine in the country in order to scan bodies for diamonds, as opposed to broken bones.

When the Namibian workers came to the end of their contract they were fed cod-liver oil and placed into quarantine for some time where the toilets had strainers to catch any diamonds that workers may have tried to smuggle before leaving.

Kolmanskop, abandoned residenceMining at Kolmanskop continued from the early 1900s through to 1927 (aside from a break during World War I), when more extensive diamond deposits with found at Orange River. At this time the entire township packed up and left Kolmanskop.

This deserted town has since been engulfed by the Namib desert and become a tourist attraction. For me, a visit to Kolmanskop was at the top of my Namibian “Must See” list.

This ghost town is spectacular to explore, eerie and stunning at the same time. On tour my time to explore was very limited, we had an hour tour and then a half hour to explore. If you have the time I’d highly recommend taking a few hours to wander at your leisure.

Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. It is technically one specific pan but the name is typically used to refer to the area and neighbouring vleis (marshes).

The Namib is one of the oldest deserts in the world, it’s sand is grey and weighty, but the lighter, orange sand from the Kalahari desert has blown in from across the land over a period of 80 million years to build up the huge orange dunes found in the Sossusvlei.

The region is a popular tourist destination for the sand dunes and Deadvlei.

We started our visit to Sossusvlei with a sunrise hike up Dune 45. Dune 45 is over 170 metres high and is located at the 45th kilometre of the road from the Sesriem Gate and the Sossusvlei.

At the top of Dune 45

Early access to Sossusvlei is only available to visitors within the the main gated area, such as guests of Sossus Dune Lodge and the NWR campsite. These gates open an hour before sunrise, where the main gates open at sunrise. We were queued at the early entry gate 15 minutes prior to opening and once open we drove straight to Dune 45, where we were the first to start climbing the ridge of the dune to it’s peak for sunrise. The cold morning, high winds and ever shifting sand made for quite a challenging hike, which was 100% worth every bit of effort. The sunrise was stunning and the views spectacular.

Dead trees of Sossusvlei seen through a sandstorm

From Dune 45 it is a short drive to the access point for Deadvlei, from where you can hike in through the dunes for an hour or more; or pay for a short 4wd drive. On arrival we were hit by a sandstorm, which despite feeling unpleasant was actually rather beautiful. After our sunrise hike and with the sandstorm, we were all pretty interested in taking the 4wd option.

From the drop off point it is a 15 minute sand dune hike in to Deadvlei. Many years ago a river ran through the region, but after it dried up the trees began to die. The only surviving trees in the area are Camelthorn Acacia, which have very long roots and are capable of finding small traces of water. This is where the name Deadvlei came from.

Deadvlei is surrounded by large dunes on all sides including the popular to climb, Big Daddy. The sheltering dunes have protected the deadvlei and it’s trees, and the dead trees remain standing. The Deadvlei is a dry, cracked pale salt pan surface; with grey-brown dead trees sprouting out of this; set against glowing ochre sand dunes; and, in our case, crystal clear blue skies.

Deadvlei is an absolutely fascinating place to visit, and is visually spectacular, the colours and structures are truly beautiful.

Deadvlei

Seisreim Canyon

The closing activity of our tour was a short visit to Sesriem Canyon, originally Seisreim canyon for it’s six rims. The canyon was formed 30 million years ago by water flows and is 3 kilometres long.

The canyon is home to many breeds of birds, and probably a large number of other animals species. We enjoyed a short walk through a section of the canyon before the sunset brought our final day to a peaceful close.

Food Costs

Food is Namibia is quite affordable. Most of my meals were included in the tour cost, but based on the few meals I paid for outside of the tour, I would say that breakfast averaged around  NAD$70 (USD$5), a dinner between NAD$115 to $200 (USD$8 – $14) and lunch somewhere in between.

Accommodation

My pre and post tour accommodation was not included in the tour, and I booked an awesome glamping tent at Urban Camp through booking.com.

Airport Transfers

Airport transfers can be arranged through the tour company, the accommodation or online. I found that the tour company and accommodation both offered a one-way transfer for NAD$450, while booking only through city cabs was NAD$300.

Windhoek City Cabs weren’t responsive to the web form, but they were responsive to email, My pickup service was great!

Southern Namibia

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Cape Town, South Africa

The view of Cape Town and Lion's Head form Table MountainAfter all my overlanding adventures. I headed to Cape Town for a few weeks of a slightly more luxurious form of travel ie. hostels as opposed to tents. Cape Town is a city on the western coast of South Africa and is one of the most popular tourist destination in the country, upon arrival I could understand why.

The city of Cape Town is absolutely gorgeous, it is on the coast and has beautiful beaches. It is also overlooked by a huge mountain range called Table Mountain, which to a degree, seems to shelter the city from bad weather. I found the city to be stunning, I also found it to be very welcoming. The city has a very positive vibe to it and wandering around I always felt happy, comfortable and safe (except when I walked through the gardens, where I was terrified of being attacked by squirrels – but that’s just me). Despite my feeling of safety, as a precautionary measure I wouldn’t walk around in poorly lit areas after dark.

During my time in Cape Town I did quite a few different activities, but would definitely like more time there. When I go back the two highest priorities I have are to hike Lion’s Head and do a Street Art walking tour (I say when, because I loved the city so much, I plan to return some day, hopefully soon)

Free Walking Tour

As I like to do with most cities, I started my time in Cape Town with a Free Walking Tour. There are three tours to pick from: Historic Tour, Bo Kaap District and District Six. I did the Historic Tour with Ferne and the Bo Kaap District with Charlie. If I had had more time, I probably would have also liked to do the District Six tour.

High Court in Cape TownThrough the historic tour we got to see the old buildings around the city and learn about their historical significance, such as the High Court where Apartheid laws were established officially in the 1940s and officially abolished in 1990. The court has replica benches out the front that are an indication of the separation enforced on whites and people of colour, and led to a discussion on the sorting and classification processes that all people had to go through to determine their ‘colour’ and appropriate classification they fit into as a result.

You will frequently hear South Africa referred to as the Rainbow Nation. Without getting the explanation for anyone, I assumed that it was due to the ‘colourful’ population of South Africa. By colourful I mean the myriad of cultures that for a variety of reasons ended up in the country, native african people from a variety of regions, British, Dutch, Indian, Sri Lankan, Malay and so on. When I looked it up, this is indeed the reason for the name and the term was coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe post-apartheid South Africa. The country has so many facets, and in addition to the many cultures that originally made up this rainbow nation, it also has 11 national languages and strangely three capital cities. Cape Town is the parliamentary capital; Pretoria is where the Government can be found and Bloemfontein is where the Supreme Courts are.

Bo Kaap DistrictIn the Bo Kaap tour we ventured up the hill to Upper Cape Town (Bo Kaap translates to Upper Cape), which was originally established as a ‘storage’ area for people. In the time of slavery, with the growing population of the city, slaves needed to be housed somewhere. The Bo Kaap district was established with tiny houses for the slaves and it was here that they were relocated. The area is predominantly muslim and was where the first mosque in Cape Town was built.

The people living here are typically Cape Malay, people with Malaysian and slave heritage. The houses were originally bland colours, but some time after the slaves were freed the houses were painted a variety of colours. Since that time the houses have been painted even more brightly and are absolutely spectacular to see, particularly under the South African sun. There are many theories about why the houses have been painted such bright colours, some include being a sign of freedom from slavery, some think it’s to attract the tourists and others say “why not?” Whatever the reason, it’s worth seeing!

Up in this region, at the top of Waal/Wale Street is the oldest Malay restaurant in Cape Town, Biesmiellah where they sell the national dish of South Africa, Bobotie. It isn’t a pleasant looking dish, but it is definitely tasty!

The tours operate at 11am, 2pm and at the peak season 4:15pm from Green Market Square, which is the second oldest public space in South Africa. The site was the original market place for the Dutch East India Company and remains a market place until today where it hosts a daily souvenir market, 7 days per week.

The tours are free but operate on tip basis, 100 Rand or more is a fair amount to pay. The guides do an absolutely fantastic job!!!

City Sightseeing Bus

While a free walking tour is typically my favourite way to orient myself in a new city, the city sightseeing bus in Cape Town is also a brilliant idea. Cape Town is a very big city and to really see it properly, it does require some transport.

Table Mountain viewed from the top of the City BusThe greatest benefit I found in the bus was the ability to get to Table Mountain and Camps Bay. If you were to access these places by taxi it would certainly start adding up very quickly.

I did the Red City Tour and thoroughly enjoyed it. It gave a greater perspective to the layout of the city, as well as showing me more than just the center.

I think with a two day pass it would be awesome to do the Red and Yellow tours on one day, and the Blue mini peninsula tour on the second day.

Lions Head from Camps BayHonestly I ran out of time to make the most of my ticket, but the ticket can be used on any of the coloured routes; you can buy a one day or two day pass. At an additional cost are a few optional additions, such as a sunset bus or harbour cruise (I think you get the cruise for free if you buy a two day pass).

A one day pass is 180 Rand and two days is 280 Rand, both are discounted if you purchase online.

Robben Island

Robben Island is a smallish (574 hecture)  island off the coast of Cape Town that has had a fairly negative history. The island was used as a leper colony for many years, then it was used as a military base during World War II, after which time it was converted to a prison island.

Nelson Mandela's Cell on Robben IslandRobben Island is known to most because it was here that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for eighteen years. After which time he was moved to two other prisons before being released in 1990, after serving 27 years of imprisonment. Robben Island was used as a prison for political prisoners from 1961 to 1996.

The tour of the island has two parts to it, the first part is a bus trip around the island, showing where the prison is, the limestone quarry, the town center and other  historical sights. The bus tour is guided by a local from Robben Island, I was surprised to know that there is an inhabited  township on the island. I didn’t overly enjoy the bus tour as you don’t really get to get out of the bus and experience any of the places, you just whizz by and take photographs out of the windows.

After the bus tour, you are dropped off at the maximum security prison where you are led on a walking tour of the facility led by a former inmate. This gives the tour a very real and very honest perspective of how things really were on the island. This was by far the most fascinating part of the tour.

Tours are 3 hours in duration, they cost 300 Rand and  depart from the Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront. Ideally you should book tickets online in advance, I would suggest well in advance during high season, but a day or two in advance during low season.

View of Cape Town from Robben Island

Cape Peninsula Half Day Tour

Hout BayOne of the things I really wanted to do around the Cape Town area, was to visit the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western point of Africa. Unfortunately for me, it got down to my last day in South Africa, the weather was appalling and I slept in.

Lucky for me I managed to book myself a seat on the Cape Peninsula Half Day tour.  I have two things to say about my half day tour: 1) It was great; but 2) don’t book a half day tour unless you don’t have any other options, full day tours are much better value and more enjoyable.

Cape of Good HopeI was picked up around 1pm by my guide and off we drove via the beautiful coast line through to Hout Bay, where we stopped at a scenic viewpoint for some pictures. We continued through to Boulders Beach to visit the African Penguin colony. Then we continued a little further south to the Cape of Good Hope Nature reserve where we made two beautiful, scenic stops. Firstly we visited thte Cape Point lighthouse and then we actually stopped at the Cape of Good Hope.

After this quick whip around the peninsula we headed back to Cape Town and arrived around 6pm.

The cost for the half day tour is 680 Rand. With a different company, you can book a full day tour including lunch costs for around 700 Rand.

Eating

Food has never and will never be something that rates highly on my to do list. That being said I did come across a few awesome places.

Asoka

Asoka is on Kloof Street, Tamboerskloof and has absolutely phenomenal tapas style food. The beef teriyaki is to die for! The atmosphere and decor is almost like a hidden fairy garden, and is so super chilled. I went there with friends and absolutely loved everything about my evening!

Arnold’s

Game PlatterArnold’s is also on Kloof Street, Tamboerskloof. A friend recommended heading to Arnold’s for breakfast, which I did. Other friends also advised me that they served delicious dinner, so I did that too. While I didn’t think the decor or service were that great, the highlight was the game platter, where I had the opportunity to try Ostrich, Crocodile, Gemsbok and Warthog Ribs.

Truth

Truth is a cafe on Buitenkant Street in District Six. On a rainy day when I planned to go exploring, someone at my hostel recommended grabbing a coffee at Truth, and I was so glad I followed the recommendation!

Truth is a fully themed Steampunk cafe, the staff ‘uniforms’ and the cafe decor all follow theme and it looks fabulous.

I headed to Truth for a coffee, but on seeing the menu I stayed for breakfast and had some of the most amazing french toast I have ever come across. It was delicious! The staff are really friendly and helpful, and it was just so relaxing to sit for a couple of hours enjoying the good coffee food and atmosphere.

I spent a bit of time wandering around the District Six area after my amazing breakfast, as the area has loads of really cool street art!

Accommodation

I stayed in two different hostels during my time in Cape Town, both were in Tamboerskloof, which despite having nothing to compare to, is an area of Cape Town I really like.

From either hostel it was roughly 15minutes walk to the city center.

Amber Tree Lodge

Amber Tree Lodge is a very homely hostel, it is comfortable and clean. Linen is provided, as well as breakfast and wifi. The staff were absolutely brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay.

A bed in a 6-bed dorm room cost AUD$17 per night

Ashanti Lodge Gardens

Ashanti Lodge Gardens was certainly a larger and busier hostel than Amber Tree. I think I was also quite unlucky to be there at the same time as a particularly large and loud tour group. I did find Ahsanti to be a fairly noisy hostel and I certainly had less sleep here. However, I still found it to be a lovely hostel, slightly less cosy, but with equally friendly and helpful staff.

A bed in a 6-bed dorm room cost AUD$17 per night


Getting Around

I mostly walked from place to place, but when distances were too far or it was dark, then I found the best option was to catch an Uber. The ride costs were incredibly affordable, and with so many registered drivers in the city I never waited more than a few minutes for my ride.

Cape Town

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Overlanding Tours (in Africa)

ATC TruckOverlanding is touring a country (or countries) by vehicle. Usually a bus or truck style. If you are considering an overlanding tour, then there are definitely many pros and cons worth considering.

My experiences and comments relate specifically to Africa. I toured Eastern Africa down towards Southern Africa with a company called Nomads, through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. I continued further South with the African Travel Company (ATC), through Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.

The main benefit of doing an overlanding tour is that you get to see so much of your environment. You can see it change as elevation, as well as latitude and longitude change. You drive through local villages and see how people live. You also can spot a great deal of wildlife from the truck.

View from the ATC truckThe truck rides also provide a great opportunity for you to get to know your tour buddies better, play games, chat and sing songs. On my nomads tour we had such a fabulous group of people, there were constantly games being played, we voted on our team name, we had a team tour playlist and you could regularly hear us singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Hakuna Matata”. Even when our truck Morrison got bogged in the mud, we were all outside the truck dancing and singing in the mud as we waited for our tow truck. The camaraderie that you build on this style of tour goes beyond a standard group tour in my opinion.

The camaraderie you develop with your tour buddies is a key factor in enjoying an overlanding tour, because honestly there are many less glamorous aspects to an overlanding tour.

Nomads group photo together with our crew and truck Morrison

Long Drives

A roadside lunch stop on the Nomads tourTravelling by road is time consuming. African roads aren’t often very smooth and are riddled with potholes and speed bumps, some aren’t sealed roads. In addition to the road hazards you have to slow down when passing through villages, and also many roads have restricted speed limits. Larger cities are very densely populated and can over an hour to travel even just a few kilometres.

Many roads have regular police checkpoints which require you to stop. Border crossings between countries can take up to three hours dependent on the country, time of day and level of corruption.

All of this things are in addition to the fact that the travelling distances are large. Be prepared for the occasional 12 hour drive, and often the roadside lunch break.

Camping

My TentYou can typically sign up to the tour as a camper or pay extra to be accommodated.

Camping is obviously cheaper. Putting up and taking down a tent almost every night can be a bit of a chore. The worst case is when you have late arrival or early departure and you are working in the dark. To compound that, you are sometimes working in the rain and mud.

My home away from home, my tentThere were occasions where I upgraded to accommodation for a night here or there (whenever you arrive to a new overnight stay, you can enquire about upgrading to accommodation) some of the cheaper options still had shared bathrooms, and worst case scenario there were a few occasions where the beds had fleas. At least three times I woke up with legs covered in flea bites, which grossed me out completely!

One of the frustrations we experienced on numerous occasions was leaking tents, so be mindful of what you choose to bring into the tent. In the nomads truck we had lockers and could leave most things in the locker overnight, just bringing the necessary items into the tent. In the ATC truck the bags were stored in a compartment under the truck and we had to get our whole bag out at each stop, which I found a little frustrating. Also it takes a huge amount of space in the tent.

Toilets

You will find three kinds of toilet in Africa: a normal western toilet, a squat toilet and a bush toilet. Firstly you can’t assume for any of these that there will be toilet paper, so always carry a roll in your backpack.

The Western Toilet

Often, but not always, when you find a western toilet it’s in a tourist destination that is a bit more up-scale. They often have a toilet seat, toilet paper and can be quite clean. Sometimes they cost money.

The Squat Toilet

The squat toilet is pretty common around Africa. Unfortunately they are often quite dirty and smelly, mostly just because westerners are unfamiliar with how to use them. Finding one that is dirty and smelly is certainly not conducive to wanting to give something new a try.

A squat toilet is much more hygienic than a standard western toilet because you don’t actually touch anything.

The Bush Toilet

The bush toilet can be found literally anywhere and it’s more hygienic than the western or squat toilet. You simply squat behind a bush, tree or even a car. It’s actually rather hilarious when the truck pulls over, everyone gets out and all you can see are girls heads peeking out over the tall grasses on the roadside as everyone squats (you will need to put your modesty aside for this excursion).

The rule of thumb is that any paper you use should be put in the trash can, not thrown on the ground and poop should be buried (personally I’m happy to do a bush wee, but I would personally wait for the nearest western convenience for any pooping)

A number of the campsites are in National Parks or by rivers, places where you are exposed to the wildlife. This means you need to be vigilant, particularly after dark in using your flashlight to scan the area for wild animals before exiting your tent. The bathrooms are often a few minutes walk for the tents, and this can be terrifying. In the Serengeti we had a small pack of hyenas hanging around in the campsite. I can assure you, no matter how badly I needed to pee, I was not getting out of that tent by myself!

Showers

"Bathing" in the Okavango DeltaVery hit and miss, some showers only have cold water, some only hot, some high pressure and some low pressure.Sometimes the only option is to take a quick swim in a nearby river. I would advise you to pack baby wipes for the occasions where showering doesn’t feel like a feasible option. In a month and a half of overlanding, I only had a handful of terrible shower experiences.

Do remember though, everyone else on your tour is in the same position. If showering isn’t an option, you will all just get smelly together.

Laundry

Using the tents as a washing lineYou are on the go so often that you don’t always have the opportunity to get your laundry done or find a laundromat. Hand washing in a sink, plastic tub or dry bag isn’t as bad as it sounds. If you keep up with washing small items every few days then you tend not to run out of clothes in a hurry.

I don’t usually pack much quick dry clothing, so I wear my jeans for up to a couple of weeks and then usually try to find a hostel that will wash them for me at a reasonable cost. But I wash my lighter clothes as I go. Most campsites have a washing line nearby, or you can hang things on the tent. Anything that doesn’t dry before your departure you can often find a spot to hang it in the truck.

Duties

ATC truck and prepping cooking benchesSome of the overland tours have a duties roster for everyone on tour. The duties are things like cooks help, dish washing and cleaning the truck and making sure the windows are shut.

When truck windows aren’t shut, you sometimes get cheeky monkeys and/or baboons sneaking in and wreaking havoc. We had monkeys climb into the truck and eat a bag of rice, they made a huge mess and pooped everywhere.

These duties are not hard and they are not time consuming, just get in and get it done. Overlanding is about working as a team, and this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate some teamwork skills.

Summary…

To go overlanding is a wonderful working adventure. To make the most of this amazing adventure be sure to pack some patience, tolerance and good humour.

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South Africa, the Eastern side…

Leaving Botswana we descended into South Africa, passing through Polokwane. Making scenic stops at the Blyde River Canyon, heading down to Kruger National Park and ending in Johannesburg.

Blyde River Canyon

Bourke's Luck PotholesEntering into South Africa we stopped at three sights in the By;de River Canyon Region. The first stop was the The Rondavels, which are circular mountain and rock formations that look like the traditional circular huts made of dung and thatch, which are called Rondavels. Due to the mist the view wasn’t as spectacular as it could have been but it was still beautiful to see these mountains with a view over the valley and river.

The second stop was to view Bourke’s Luck Potholes. They are at a point in the river where the water flows down a small waterfall into the river below. At various points in the rock path, are some beautifully smooth, round potholes caused by the wind and water swirling through them. In addition to be ing fascinated by the shapes created, the colours and layers of sediment in the stone were beautiful to see.

God’s Window was the last sight we visited in the region, at the higher altitude we were in the clouds and unable to see the view. We did however enjoy a short rainforest walk and thoroughly appreciated the lush green vegetation and fresh mountain air.

Kruger National Park

The main highlight of our visit to Eastern South Africa was a visit to what I think is probably the most well known national park in Africa, Kruger National Park. We did a sunset game drive and a sunrise game drive.

White Rhinoceros

Sunset Game Drive

Late in the afternoon we met our driver Rick, climbed into his jeep and headed into the park. Rick was a really fun guide, who was very knowledgeable. He made the drive and information we learned fascinating and entertaining.

We saw loads of Impala, but that is to be expected since they are everywhere. We also saw Waterbuck, Hippopotamus, Buffalo, Zebra, Waterhog and my personal favourite in Kruger: White Rhinoceros.

BushbuckThe white rhinoceros earned its name, not from its colour, but from a mistranslation of wide mouth. The white rhinoceros is larger than the black rhino and it grazes grasses hence the wide mouth, rather than browse trees for leaves like the black rhino, who has a more narrow, hooked mouth.

We were ridiculously lucky to see a crash of white rhinos, at a distance we believe there to have been five of them: two bulls, two cows and a calf.

As the sun dropped in the sky we found a nice place to stop. Rick set up a little picnic table with nuts and popcorn to nibble or, as well as pouring us each a glass of Amarula liqueur to enjoy as the sun went down.

The Amarula liqueur is made from the fruit of the Marula tree. It is a sweet creamy liqueur which I would say is kind of comparable to Baileys Irish Cream. The Marula trees grow in various places around Africa, when the fruit is ripe it falls to the ground and ferments, at which time many drunk animals can be found stumbling around the national parks.

While we didn’t get drunk on our Amarula sundowners, we were in high spirits as we took off to see a few more animals before retiring for the evening. We managed to spot a Scrub Hare, Blue Duiker (the smallest antelope breed, which is unfortunately almost extinct), Nightjars (which are birds, part of the owl family) and some Kudu.

Sunset in Kruger National Park

Sunrise Game Drive

Hyena and pupWe woke up early, bundled ourselves up in layers of clothing and jumped into our jeep, with the first female driver we had, Nicky. I would love to claim that the female driver was the best game driver of all time, but unfortunately she was actually the worst driver we ever experienced. She took her own photos at each of the animal sightings and then gave us only a few brief moments to take ours before rushing off to the next thing. Also despite having paid extra for the game drive, we were returned to the camp earlier than the scheduled end time.

Despite having a terrible guide we did get to see loads of animals. We saw a number of Elephants, Hyenas with pups, a collution of Cheetahs, Buffalos, Klipspringers, more White Rhino’s, Lions, a Leopard, Hippos, Giraffes, Water Terrapins hanging out on a hippos back, Woolley Neck Storks, Bushbucks, Kudus and a Water Monitor.

Random animal facts…

ZebraMale elephants eat roughly 280kilograms of food per day, females 180Kg. The drink approximately 100 litres of water per day and their trunk contains 100,000 independent muscles.

Lions sleep for approximately 20 hours per day.

Cheetahs can accelerate from 0-96km/h in three seconds, but they need to catch their prey within 500 metres or they will overheat.
Also, a cheetah is the only big cat that doesn’t typically climb trees, due to the fact that it’s claws are not retractable.

A pack of hyenas is led by a female whose clitoris grows so big it looks like a penis. When she gives birth it tears out and then has to re-grow.

Rock Hyrax - known as a Dassie in South AfricaMale vervet monkeys have bright blue balls, the brightness of blue is an indicator of their virility.

Every zebra has its own set of stripes that identify it, like fingerprints.

The Rock Hyrax (or Dassie as it is known in South Africa) looks a bit like a rodent, but surprisingly it’s closest relative is the elephant.

Johannesburg

Soweto TowersWe arrived in Johannesburg in the late afternoon and said goodbye to our fabulous group of new friends, which is always sad.

The following day I met some friends to have a bit of a look around Soweto, visiting the Hector Pieterson Museum and Mandela House. I went out for lunch and a beer and checked out the street art, before heading to the airport for my flight to Cape Town.

Eastern South Africa: Blyde River Canyon, Kruger National Park & Johannesburg

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Okavango Delta, Botswana

Paddling Mokoro's through the DeltaThe Okavango Delta is a beautiful site that is UNESCO world heritage listed, which falls under the Moremi Game Reserve.

The delta receives water it’s  water from Angola, from the river Kavango. The river name changes to Okavango when it crosses into Botswana. Despite the close proximity of Angola to Botswana it takes three months for the water from Angola’s wet season to make it’s way into the Delta.

To get into the Delta some locals, polers, push a traditional Mokoro Canoe through the waterways amongst the reeds into the campsite. The guide of my canoe was Flora, who did a brilliant job. The polers are all people who are local to the area and who have been government trained to work in the industry to guide tourists as well as take care of the Delta.

GiraffeThe lead guide of the excursion was a really fun and knowledgeable guy called Galaxy; he led us for two game walks one sunset, one sunrise, and a sunrise mokoro paddle through the waterways. Due to the heat around Africa, the vast majority of animals sleep through the middle of the day and only become active in the early morning or late afternoon, so outings we did were at the cooler parts of the day.

It was great to spend two nights camping in the Delta, far from any electricity, shops or wifi. The group of local guides and polers who accompanied us made the trip so much fun. Their enthusiasm for the environment and their cheery disposition made a hot an uncomfortable environment an enjoyable place to be.

Swimming in the DeltaDespite having seen several National Parks already, it was nice to see the delta as the environment was quite different to the other places I had been. The wetlands were home to a huge variety of bird life, in the water we were also able to spot some crocodiles and plenty of hippopotamus.

In the dry areas of the delta I was a little disappointed with how little wildlife we saw, but it is called wildlife for a reason. We came across a herd of Zebra, Wildebeest, some Giraffes, and a lone Steenbok bouncing away from us in the long grass.

In the middle of the day, Galaxy sought out a nice quite waterhole that was free from crocodiles and hippopotamus, where we were able to cool off with a quick dip in the water. Despite my nervousness, it was loads of fun and quite the relief from the heat.

Sunset in the DeltaIn addition to seeing some animals in our walk, we learned that the delta has a wild sage growing that works really well as a mosquito repellent. We also learned that the uninhabited and inactive termite mounds are used by the locals to make bricks. The construction of a termite mound is very strong, like concrete. So once a mound has been deserted, the locals will break up the mound, crush the compound into a fine powder, mix it with water and create bricks to use in the house construction.

We spent the last night of our stay in the delta watching a singing and dancing performance by our local crew. It was such a privilege for me to enjoy such a personal performance that gave some insight into the local culture. We followed it up with a bit of a sing-along and some games.

The Okavango Delta Crew

Fives…

In discussions with Galaxy, we talked about the big five, and he went on to mention that there is also a small five, ugly five and pretty five.

Big Five

Elephant, Buffalo, Rhinoceros, Lion and Leopard.

Small Five

Elephant Shrew, Red-Billed Buffalo Weaver, Rhinoceros Beetle, Ant Lion and Leopard Tortoise.

Ugly Five

Blue Wildebeest, Warthog, Maribou Stork ,Baboon and Hyena.

Pretty Five

Lilac Breasted Roller, Giraffe, Zebra, Common Bee Eater and Pied Kingfisher.

Okavango Delta

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Chobe National Park, Botswana

Herd of Elephants walking by the Chobe RiverAfter saying goodbye to my Nomads tour group, and having a few days to enjoy Victoria Falls, I met my new tour family. I booked a tour from Vic Falls to Jo’Burg with On The Go tours, which was provided by ATC (African Tour Company). My new tour crew were guide Will, cook Mama Flo and driver Aaron.

Together with the crew and 12 new travel tour family members we set off for Botswana. The population of Botswana is just over 2 million and the most common language is Swana, though many people speak English.

Sable AntelopeThe Swana people are more reserved and shy than some other African people, but a smile with the greeting “Dumela” is a fantastic ice-breaker.

The first destination in Botswana was the Chobe River and National Park. The Chobe River is a natural border between Botswana & Namibia, alongside which the Chobe National Park can be found.

Chobe River SunsetThe Chobe National Park is around 11.7 square kilometres and has a very high concentration of elephants, most likely due to the year-round availability of water.

In a long afternoon I did both a game drive and sunset cruise in the national park. In addition to see loads of elephants, we saw some Chakma Baboons, Sable Antelope, African Giraffes, Impala, Kudu, Zebras, Crocodiles, Buffalo and a Tawny Eagle.

Visiting the Chobe National Park was a lovely introduction to Botswana.

Chobe River

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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Helicopter view of Victoria FallsVictoria Falls is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. It is a huge, 108 metre waterfall of the Zambezi River, that straddles Zambia and Zimbabwe. I stayed on the Zimbabwe side.

It is a very busy place full of tourists from all over Africa and the whole world. It is also full of locals, touting their wares, which can be quite frustrating at times. One of the things the street sellers regularly approach you with is the Zimbabwean currency. Due to inflation the Zimbabwean currency lost all of it’s value. The money went into bank notes of billions and I believe, even trillions. Since losing its worth, the country switched it’s official currency to something stronger and more reliable, the US dollar. As a result, Zimbabwe, particularly Vic Falls, is quite expensive.

Victoria FallsThe town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side is really quite small and appears to just cater to tourists. Adventure activity booking agencies, souvenir shops and cafe’s line the streets of this tiny town.

I made several activity booking through Shearwater Adventures. I booked a triple package to get the bulk discount. My three activities were a helicopter flight, bungy jump and whitewater rafting for USD$385.

Bungy Jumping at Vic FallsThe Helicopter Flight was a 12-13 minute flight over Victoria Falls. It provided a phenomenal view of the falls, which gave perspective to the flow of the river from above and below. It also gave perspective to the massive size/breadth of the falls themselves. It was a short flight, but had fantastic views.

The Bungy Jump was over the Zambezi River, just outside of the Zimbabwe border crossing, but before the Zambian border crossing. You don’t have to pay an exit fee or worry about multiple entry visa’s to access the bridge, you just need to grab a gate pass (for free) at immigration. The Bungy is 111metres and was absolutely amazing! At the bottom, the spray of the waterfall formed two concentric circle rainbows, which was spectacular!! While it was fun, Bungy Jumping is something I have now done twice and I don’t really plan to do it again. I would highly recommend looking into doing the Gorge Swing at Vic Falls.


Whitewater rafting the mighty Zambezi RiverDue to the ridiculously high water levels, the whitewater rafting could only be done on the lower section of the river. Which for safety reasons, I am very happy with, but it would have been nice to do the upper section. We rafted from Rapid #14, the terminator, down to #24. The Terminator was the only Grade 5 rapid of the day and it was pretty epic!! Despite not having rapids as high a grade as I would have liked, it was still an absolute blast and I would highly recommend doing it.

Our group of raftersAfter all these full-on activities, I took things down a notch, and paid my USD$30 to enter the national park and actually just look at the falls, which are simply stunning! If you head to the falls during high water, make sure you take something protective for any electronics you are carrying, because you will get soaked from head to toe, through all layers of clothing.

Victoria Falls was a hive of activity and it is a place I thoroughly enjoyed visiting! It was also a place where I sadly said Goodbye to one altogether amazing tour group; but said Hello to a new tour group who I hope will be just as much fun!

 

Victoria Falls

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Lake Malawi, Malawi

Lake MalawiMalawi is a fairly small country in south eastern Africa with a very high population. While it is a landlocked country, not bordering an oceans, it does border an enormous lake, Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is half in Malawi and half in Mozambique.

Our tour group spent four nights in Malawi, mostly just relaxing by the lake side.

NB: Lake Malawi contains a parasite commonly known as Bilharzia. While you could potentially get the parasite from swimming anywhere in the lake, it is unlikely you would be at risk from swimming in many of the common regions. I recommend talking to your travel GP about the parasite before travelling, and then making your own decision about the safety of swimming.

Maji Zuwa

The local children love having their photo takenMaji Zuwa was our first lake side accommodation. It is run by an American who facilitates aid organisations to help build up the neighbouring community with education, health care and Women’s rights.

We were given a tour of the local village to see the schools, medical clinics and legal offices. The children in the schools were so excited, they all wanted hugs, high fives and to be photographed.

Livingstonia

The hiking crew at Manchewe Falls, LivingstoniaLivingstonia is a mountain-top town named after the famous explorer David Livingston. The mission in Livingstonia was built in 1884 by Dr Robert Laws. With the towns establishment by people from the United Kingdom, the architecture has a colonial style, which is quite fascinating to see in Africa amongst all the local and traditional style architecture.

A small group of us decided to attempt the hike from the tiny town of Chitimba to Livingstonia town. It was a hot, humid, sweaty, gruelling 11.5kilometres ascent. Three liters of water and three hours later we arrived close to the top at Manchewe Falls, where we stopped to eat our packed lunch and sit in the shade briefly. The falls cascade 125 metres down the mountainside and are really quite beautiful. Behind the falls is a track to a local cave, but visiting it would have added an additional 2 hours to our hike, so despite our curiosity, we decided not to see it.

A chameleonThirty minutes from the falls, we finally arrived in Livingstonia where we restocked our water supplies before enjoying looking at the old buildings and learning a little bit about the towns heritage. Walking along the road, we also found a small chameleon, which I thought was fabulous and enjoyed a ‘cuddle’.

After checking out the town, we paid for a ride down the mountain on the back of a pickup truck. The road down has 20 hairpin bends often on a cliff edge – quite the ride!!

Ngala Lodge

Ngala Lodge, Lake MalawiThe last night in Malawi was spent further south on Lake Malawi, at the beautiful beachside lodge, Ngala Lodge. The managers were really friendly and helpful and spent the evening chatting and drinking at the bar with us.

It was a very relaxing place to spend a night, we throughly enjoyed it and the use of the pool; we were sad our stay was so short.

 

Lake Malawi

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Mikumi National Park, Tanzania

Mikumi National Park

A Leopard walking down the highwayMikumi National Park is the fourth largest National Park in Tanzania. It is 3230 square kilometres and shares a border with one of the biggest game parks in Tanzania.

We did a half day game drive in the National Park with some local guides. Our group was spread across three jeeps, unfortunately only one of the drivers had reasonable English so we didn’t learn any new information about the park and the animals along the way. I will say though that I was happy enough with our non-english speaking driver, as it was a much safer jeep to be in than the one with no brakes!

WildebeestOn the drive into the game park we were all astounded to start our morning off with seeing a leopard strolling down the main highway. Unfortunately it had lost it’s tail, which I am sure affects it’s ability to climb trees, stalk and hunt. Despite this, it still looked quite healthy.

Once in the National Park we were all very interested to note that the vegetation was so much different to both the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, and in fact it was much nicer with a greater variety of landscape.

The park was gorgeous and once again luck was on our side. We saw: a Leopard; Lions; Giraffes; Elephants; Zebras; Impala; Hippos; Bushbucks; Buffalos; Wildebeest; Warthogs; Golden Baboons; and many other smaller animals and birds.

Bull Elephant

Baobab Valley

Hugging a Baobab TreeDeparting the Mikumi National Park on our way to Malawi, we stopped by Baobab Valley to take some photos.

The Baobab Tree is the funny looking tree in Africa (it can also be found in some other countries) that has a really wide trunk and looks kind of like a bottle with leaves on the top. There are nine species in the family and they all look a little bit different, but they all have the very wide trunk to store water in.

Traditionally the tree is viewed as sacred, it has many medicinal uses and when you hug the tree you can make a wish.

The tree’s look really cool and their bark feels lovely – I admit I hugged the tree longer than necessary, because it felt good and I had some very important wishes to make.

Mikumi National Park

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