Boma Braai, Zambezi Sunset Cocktail Cruise,
Rhino Tracking, and San Rock Art.
The hippos in the Okavango Delta lagoon gave us a send-off with grunts and bellows. Our fleet of Mekoros rustled the grasses with a sweeping gesture, a hand pushing back the drapes. The small trails of open water branched out and I wondered how Nature knew which one to pick.
To get back to the truck we did our route in reverse and soon were on our way to the Drifters Maun Camp along the Butethi River, a tributary of the Delta. Maun was basically a party stop, with a full staff that cooked all the meals and kept the beer flowing. The small pool near the river was clean, only filled with leaves because the deciduous trees were shedding their foliage, it was autumn.
We pitched our tents at Driftsrs Maun camp.
Another brief stopover the next night found us at a private resort called Nata, after our drive through the immense Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, the largest in the world. We camped in a cluster of tents on both sides of the truck at Nata. Dinner was on our own at the resort restaurant, service was slow, and Jo, our camp connoisseur, would have been a better chef in the kitchen, shoeless of course.
The next day we drove north through the Chobe forest lands to the border town of Kasane and entered the Chobe National Park on a private game truck. Chobe is well known for the wildlife along the river, and it was the only place on the entire trip we saw lions, resting in the camouflaging yellow grass.
A hippo bloat in the Chobe River.
A huge bloat of hippos (over 50) bunched up in the middle of the river on a sand bar. Impalas trotted everywhere in complacency. Chobe is known for its elephant herds, and in 2013 a new underground game hide opened up for photographers to get up close and personal with the pachyderms.
Later in the afternoon we crossed the border into Zimbabwe and the hilly terrain was noticeably different than the flat Botswana. No photos are allowed at the border or it is a 5,000 rand fine, paid in U.S. dollars, the official currency of the country.
The outstanding Drifters Victoria Falls Lodge.
The hill country road twisted and turned but we soon were at the Drifters Victoria Falls Lodge, where clothes could be laundered, but only in U.S. dollars. Most of the double occupancy rooms shared showers and baths. In a separate building I gloated over my private room and ensuite shower and toilet.
A braai of game meat and sausage was in progress when I sidled over to the Lodge dining hall. After our sumptuous dinner traditional Shanga dancers and singers came to the lodge for entertainment.
Simon braised an evening braai.
The mighty Zambezi Rivers spills over an Rift canyon escarpment twice as wide (the largest sheet of falling water in the world at First Gorge) and twice as high as Niagara Falls, forming the misty Victoria Falls, also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya (Tokaleya Tonga: the Smoke that Thunders) The river is the largest to flow into the Indian Ocean,and the fourth largest watercourse in Africa.
We hooked up with the Wild Horizons activity directors at the Lodge to plan our activities over the next two days. I was disappointed that the jet boat and whitewater rafting trips were closed due to a high volume of water in the Zambezi highlands where the rises in a black marshy dambo in northwest Zambia.
Drifters owns Wild Horizons Tours, which includes their own sunset cruise boat on the Zambezi. The all-you-can-drink booze cruise was popular, and not just for us Drifters. Hippos and elephants were within a low zoom range.
Drifters enjoyed the Zambezi River sunset cruise.
Other activities offered in the Vic Falls area are canoe safaris, elephant back safaris, lion encounters, helicopter flights, and zip lines; the Vikings took the challenge for the Gorge Swing, and they have it on video.
I met up with Ernest, who I had met on the Orange River, who also guides for Wild Horizons, and we pumped some petrol in the tank and took a slow drive around the quaint town of Victoria Falls, and then toured the Crocodile Farm and the largest Baobab Tree in the area. At lunch I noticed my change was in old and torn U.S. $2 bills.
The rare slender-snouted crocodile.
The next evening we had an awesome dining experience: a braai barbecue buffet and bongos at a restaurant called Boma. At the entrance to the thatched dining hall we were each adorned with traditional African robes.
Expect the unexpected on a Drifters Tour because fried Mopane worms was the starting appetizer. The crowd at the enclosed restaurant was huge but the servers had the routine down and took our orders for the starters of kudu, warthog, tender springbok, crocodile, and guinea fowl; I ordered the bird which I never had before, and it didn’t taste like chicken. After a beer or two we were led off to the chow line starting at the enormous salad stand, I passed on the Mopane worms table. The entrée bins held larger portions of the starters. I tried the succulent warthog, the gamy crocodile, the braised Voor sausage, the tender kudu, and the awesome eland . . . need I say more? Yeah, slap on some pap with the stir fry.
During dinner native artists came out and painted an African scene on each of our cheeks. They were so beautiful and brilliant in colors no one wanted to wash them off for the rest of the trip. We were each given a bongo and instructed in the traditional tribal rhythms. After a few miscues, we were in sort of a harmony. The action continued with a massive group dance.
The dining hall at Drifters Victoria Falls Lodge.
Back at camp Jo rolled out a tanned hide in the dining hallwith different Drifters stenciled tour scenes and we all agreed on an image for our Drifters T-shirt. Order a size or two larger for shrinkage. Then we chose my motto for each stop on the trip: “This Place Is Alrrright.” The shirts were ready the next day, and by the end of the tour we had driven over 9,000 kilometers, which was also displayed on our wearable souvenirs.
In the morning we took the self-guided walking tour of Victoria Falls. The first European to view the falls was Stanley Livingstone in 1855, and he named them after Queen Victoria.
The $30 U.S. entrance fee was on our own, but only MasterCard or U.S. currency is accepted. Raincoats can be rented for about $3 if you don’t want to venture into the rain zone, which kept the lips of the magnificent falls verdant and green, but a few steps off the paved trail was dry bushlands. I noticed a baboon shadowing us. Maybe he had a deal on raincoats.
The First Gorge falls are the widest in the world.
With only three more nights left on our 24-day adventure we packed in the activities. A short distance from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, was the Hwange National Park, which teemed with wildlife. On the afternoon game drive a bull elephant charged within feet of the truck, the closest any of had been to such a large wild animal.
The next night we camped near the Matobo National Park, surrounded by unusual rock pinnacles and bald outcropping formations where the baboons hid out.
The rhino tracking hike was the most exciting of all.
Our private guide, Andy, picked us up in a game wagon and soon we were out hiking the bush looking for Rhino spoor, which we found heaps of. Andy carried a high powered rifle and we pushed deeper into the bush. Although we found no rhino to photograph, all the Millenniums agree it was the most exciting safari of the trip.
We crossed back into South Africa in the Limpopo Province. I am now proud to say I have been in all nine provinces of South Africa on a Drifters tour. Our last night in the bush was in a spiritual locale, a World Heritage Site, called Machete. Large herd of elephants a renown to roam here. In the late afternoon, after our tents were pitched, Jo led us off to a large outcropping where over the eons San Bushmen had painted the rock with animal and human images of their day.
Ancient San rock art paintings seem fresh even today.
Around the evening camp fire before the moon rose the Milky Way burst open with white phosphorous light surround by a deep yellow nougat of stars. It was the clearest I had ever seen the center of our galaxy in my entire life. Jo sleep in the bush away from our little village of tents because he had discovered that all the Drifters snore.
Once back in Joburg it was one last fond farewell at the Drifters Lodge restaurant. I had made a complete circle around southern Africa on Drifters’ exciting adventure tours. Over the farewell dinner gifts and tips were given to Jo for the outstanding adventure he had presented us. We had packed so much in I felt I had been gone a year, and was willing to go again. In Swahili safari means, “Long Journey”. Someday I hope to drift back this way.
Drifters Adventures Overland Tours is the best!.
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.