Monthly Recap: Month 1

We have now been on the road for 1 month! It is hard to believe, at times feeling like way more than a month and at times feeling like way less. We plan to do a recap every month to summarize and then reflect.

Countries visited: 5 (Egypt, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia) – though two of those countries were visited for less than a day (12 hour layover in Cairo and Victoria Falls).

*Countries looked at: 2 (We stood across the border and reached our hands into Zambia on our Vic Falls trip, and we looked across the river into Angola at N’kwazi camp in the Caprivi Strip, Namibia)

Beds Slept In: 3 (One of those was our Self-Drive Safari tent which we set up 18 times!!)

Top Moments:

~We both agree that our first top moment was coming across the “Hippo Pool” in Moremi Game Reserve on our way to Khwai campsite. We had been stressing about the deep sandy roads we had been driving, but when we found this secluded spot and climbed into the blind to observe a large pool with many hippos sleeping and feeding, all the stress melted away. We were also thrilled to see the hippos!

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~We were so thrilled that our plan to visit Victoria Falls came together smoothly and that we were taken in by a large family of South Africans during the day.

~We both loved Etosha National Park! One of our favorite times was our afternoon game drive there where we came across a waterhole where we observed several elephants drinking, bathing, and playing. When we arrived, one elephant was in the middle of the pool, up to his head, and he was rolling around, clearly reveling in the water. As we watched, another elephant joined the first and they played with each other, climbing on each other’s backs and entwining trunks. At first we thought that they were mating? But a little later a third, much smaller elephant joined in so we weren’t sure.

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Runners up for Top Moments:

~Despite being exhausted after hours of deep sand driving, we decided to go out for an evening game drive at Savuti camp in Chobe National Park. We were so glad we did. We turned onto a side road which would take us to some rock paintings and we saw a car stopped ahead of us. They were observing a lion sleeping under a tree right next to the road! We were so thrilled to see our very first lion!

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~After a week in the wilds of Botswana staying at wild campsites, driving on deep sandy roads, and meeting hyenas, we were excited to finally make it to Kasane, where we stayed at Chobe Safari Lodge. First we were so happy to have access to internet to be in contact with family and friends, but we also loved their riverside bar. We would sit there with our St. Louis Exports (a Botswana beer) and watch the sunset over the Chobe River. What made this extra special was the elephants feeding in the water on the other side.

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~After two windy, miserable nights leading up to our camp at Sesriem in Namibia and a horrible, windy morning, we finally made it to Dead Vlei (see upcoming post) which was exactly what we had been waiting for the whole trip. Phew.

Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

1. Eric’s watch is broken. The battery died. He is very sad.
2. Eric’s camera is almost broken. There was an unfortunate incident where it fell out of the car in the deep sand. Luckily, it was not on this list as lost which it was very nearly. But since that time, it hasn’t worked quite right.
3. New bar of soap purchased!

Packing Update:

We have not made any changes to our bag contents. We only wish that we had some more warm clothing for this safari portion of the trip.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read The Covenant by James Michener, Adrenaline by John Bendict, Adrift by Erica Conroy, The Advocate by Teresa Burrell
Eric had read The Stand by Stephan King and Starfish by Peter Watts
Eric and Della have BOTH read Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell, Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane, Born Free by Joy Adamson, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, Morality for Beautiful Girls (the 3rd book in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series) by Alexander McCall Smith, and The Kalahari Typing School For Men (the 4th book!) by Alexander McCall Smith. (We read the No. 1 Ladies’ books out loud to each other while we drove across Botswana – very appropriate!)

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Planning Our Self-Drive Safari

Why Self-Drive?

When setting out our overall itinerary, we decided that we wanted our first stop to be South Africa.We also know we wanted to do some sort of safari to see some of the amazing wildlife and sights that Africa has to offer. But what kind of safari should we do?

First, we had to figure out where we wanted to go. Some people just go out to Kruger National Park in South Africa. While that sounded like an excellent destination, once we saw pictures of places like Sossusvlei and Victoria Falls, we decided to focus on getting to both Botswana and Namibia out of Johannesburg.

A quick glance at the prices or the luxury guided safaris let us know that was a no-go. Another option that a lot of “backpackers” do is to do a group “overland” tours through a large tour operator. This would have allowed us to see a lot the highlights, but the downside seemed to be to us that we wouldn’t be able to set our own pace.

Then, we stumbled across a blog by Traveling 9 to 5 about a self-drive safari. Intrigued, we looked into this further and thought it sounded pretty cool. You rent a truck with camping equipment and drive yourself on your own itinerary. This seemed like it would allow us to see exactly what we wanted while not breaking the bank. So, we started planning for this option.

Picking a Truck

There are many operators in Johannesburg that will rent you the standard self-drive safari vehicle: a four-wheel-drive pickup (always white for some reason) with a tent mounted on top and camping supplies included. We wanted to find a good deal, but also wanted to go with someone that seemed responsive to our concerns.

We got quotes from a few different places, then made a spreadsheet to compare their daily costs, insurance options and other fees. In the end, we went with Bushlore. Their costs were on the lower end of the spectrum, and they were very responsive in answering questions. From their selection of trucks, we chose the Toyota Hilux with Safari Camper.

Choosing the Route

The next step was to figure out where the truck was going to take us. July is part of the high season for safaris, so we couldn’t afford to dawdle. Conveniently, Bushlore offers a service to help plan the itinerary and book accommodations along the way. So, we got in touch with the booking department and started making plans.

The agent came up with a day-by-day plan and quoted us a price to book the whole thing. However, we felt like we needed a little more information. First, we mapped out the itinerary ourselves to see if the number of days could be condensed. Then, we researched all of the proposed campsites (cross-referencing against Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor, of course) to see if any of them could be booked by us directly.

Our first attempt at mapping out the destinations

Our first attempt at mapping out the destinations

It required a little back and forth, but eventually we settled on a route and cost with the agent. We came up with a 25 day itinerary, which doesn’t allow for a lot of downtime but hopefully won’t be too hard to get done. It turned out that it was easier and almost as cheap for Bushlore to book the campsites for all but one of the destinations…

The Time We Wired Money to Africa

The website for Etosha National Park in Namibia seemed petty straightforward, and the price they were requesting for a campsite was about half of what Bushlore quoted. So,we decided to try and book it on our own. Things seemed to be going pretty smoothly until it got to the whole payment part of it.

We had thought we could pay by credit card, but it turned out the only option was to wire money. We hadn’t really done that before, so it took a little figuring out how to even do that. It was tough to even figure out if we were sending it the right place – the way it was supposed to work was that we wired to an account in the US that is associated with a foreign exchange company that would then send the appropriate Namibian dollars to Etosha.

We were a little scared that somehow this was a scam (and trying to explain that we were attempting to wire money to Africa while talking to representatives of our bank felt a little silly), but by this point we were in deep enough that we decided to just send the money anyway. If we ended up losing it, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world and would be a good lesson learned. We were getting a little nervous because it took Etosha quite a while to email that they received the payment… but they finally did (after close to 3 weeks)! Hopefully when we show up there, they will still remember that…

 

After telling everyone how flexible we want to be on our trip, it feels strange to have planned out the first month in such detail! We’re just hoping that all of this up-front planning will help make this self-drive safari go as smooth as possible. Look forward to more posts in the future about how close we can stick to this plan 😉

Fast Forward Friday: Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei is part of the Namib Desert. It is filled with sand dunes with very little life. I imagine it will be a little like visiting the Great Sand Dunes here in Colorado. Though, check out those trees. So dead yet so beautiful. I think this is one of the places in Africa that I am most excited about.

Learning Something New Everyday!

Did you know that a braai is a BBQ grill?

Did you know that an ablutions block is a bathroom?

I didn’t. But now I do! At least they are in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.

We’re getting close to having our plan put in place for our self-drive safari! (More details to come)