African Memories -- Non-hunting African Trip Report -- 1996

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Matt_WY, Feb 18, 2019.

  1. Matt_WY

    Matt_WY AH Veteran

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    As I prepare to go to Africa for my first hunt this fall, I have been thinking of the last time I was there -- Dec 1996 / Jan 1997. Today I pulled out the old journal and had a read. Interesting memories. Non-hunting, but I hope entertaining.

    ******

    Remember...This was back in the dark ages where the internet was at best nascent; pre-trip research was essentially nonexistent, at leas tin the context we think of it today. And pardon the pics, but these were originally Kodachrome. Yes, I'm mean the actual kind that Paul Simon feared his mother would take and that eventually did fade away into technical obscurity. Only brought back to life here via a Nikon slide scanner I used a few years back to 'electrify' my archives.

    ******

    Part 1: Backstory

    I was in the middle of writing my master's thesis and probably more than anything just wanted a break. So maybe it was just a convenient justification, but one day in Oct 1996 I decided that every budding wildlife biologist should make at least one trip to the dark continent.

    My first step was to write a letter to my friend George. I had known George in undergrad and had been told he was working for the World Wildlife Fund in Namibia. I had contact info for him, but not an exact address. Letter was along these lines, 'Headed your way in December. Will you be around? How do I find you?'.

    While awaiting George's response, I booked a ticket to Windhoek through Jo'berg for 2 Dec, returning Jan8. Then time to pack: a single carry-on bag with backpack straps containing only basic necessities: a waterproof bivy sack and thin liner bag, camera gear, toiletries, rain gear, and a couple of changes of clothes. Not much else would fit!

    A couple of weeks before departure, I got a weird call. To this day I am not sure how this worked, but George was connected to an AT&T operator on his HF radio and she was relaying to me. It was a very short call, probably under two minutes (half of which was me trying to understand what was going on!), but it gave me the info I needed: he would be there in Dec; Caprivi strip; dirt road a couple miles before the police checkpoint in Kongola; house is by the river.

    And with plans made, I was off......

    upload_2019-2-18_9-33-39.jpeg
     
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  2. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN AH ENABLER SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR LIFETIME TITANIUM BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    Sounds like directions I have received on more than one occasion.
     

  3. gillettehunter

    gillettehunter AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    Sounds like a real adventure in the making. Looking forward to more.
    Bruce
     

  4. Matt_WY

    Matt_WY AH Veteran

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    Part 2: Finding George

    Flights were uneventful. Seattle to JFK to Jo'Berg. Looking at it now, i had it super easy -- no luggage to worry about getting lost, no rifles to get through customs, etc. Just me and a bag in the overhead bin.

    I had an overnight layover in Jo'berg, so when I arrived there was a little bit of a quandary about what to do. Someone recommended a guest house in Pretoria that had a free shuttle. (Poor college student -- free was a magic word as far as I was concerned!)

    upload_2019-2-18_9-33-39.jpeg

    Met a girl named Rosy on the shuttle bus. She was from England. We cooked steak and salad for dinner when we got there. Met a couple of guys from Toronto and a Frenchman there as well and we all headed out for beers.

    Next day caught my flight to Windhoek. Again uneventful. (Fortunately all my flights were.) My impressions of Windhoek were very positive. Nice weather, nice people, very few hassles, pretty location. I walked from the airport to a hostel called "The Cardboard Box." [I just Googled it. It's still there! Looks pretty sleazy; not the greatest reviews. LOL] Settled in and went to dinner at a chicken franchise called Nando's. Next day the plan was to take a minibus north.

    Well the next day arrived, but the bus didn't. Spent most of the day waiting and talking to a Peace Corps volunteer named Leslie who was on her way back to the States for the holidays. Eventually, we got ahold of the driver and he said he had decided not to go. Plan B was to hitch. It was getting late in the day now and the logical thing to do was to stay another night. However, not to be deterred, I walked to the highway ramp just before dark and stuck out my thumb.

    Much to the chagrin of several other men there who had apparently been trying much longer, I got a ride in about 2 minutes. The gent was a caucasian native Namibian named James who sold pipe and was on his way home from work. The ride up the highway in his beamer was the nicest I had the whole trip for sure. Unfortunately for me, he was only going to Okahandja. He dropped me off a little reluctantly at 8pm in the dark, but first he showing me his driveway outside of town if I needed to find him and also offering for me to stay the night at his place. Not to be deterred, I said my thanks and tried to find a ride at the bus stop.

    Success! After about 1/2 hour I got onto a very full minibus headed to Otjiworongo. Aside from being crowded and uncomfortable and sitting with my bag in my lap the whole time, the ride was uneventful. I also saw my first African wildlife: warthog, hartebeest, and kudu. Of course no pics as I was passing on the highway and it was dark, but exciting nonetheless.

    The ride ended at a gas station, aka another bus stop. It was then like 11:30 or 12. Nobody seemed to really believe me that I wanted a ride into the Caprivi. After fending off advances from multiple solicitous women, I finally was able to get on an extremely crowded mini-bus. Couple drivers and about 15 other people, mostly Zimbabwean women on their way home from Windhoek. Again a cramped but uneventful drive; they were nice enough to let me sit up front with three other people - -at least I could see out the windshield!

    At 10am the next morning we arrived at the police checkpoint outside of Kongola. A couple guys with AK's on each side of the road, a small shelter, and nothing else but bush as far as the eye could see either direction. I said I wanted to get off and everyone looked at me like I had just grown a third eye in the middle of my forehead. but they let me off the bus, and then the police looked at me, totally confused. I told them I was going to go back the way the bus had just come from and I was going to walk. They looked at each other and shrugged and let me on my way.

    Goodbye to my friends on the mini-bus:
    upload_2019-2-18_9-54-45.jpeg


    So off I walked, not really having much idea where I was going. After a couple miles there was a rod on the north side of the road. No signs, no house visible, etc. This must be it, right? So keep walking up this new road. At some point there were cat tracks in the dust in the road. Headed the same way I was. Never saw the cat. Didn't know how to tell if it was a lion or a leopard, but the tracks were BIG! After a while there was a troop of baboons in a tree on the left. They raised cain when I passed; I definitely was thinking that if they wanted to they could tear a person apart -- but I passed without incident.

    Eventually, I did find a house back there. But no George. Decision time.

    upload_2019-2-18_10-5-55.jpeg

    I hadn't really seen a lot else on the drive that looked promising. Plus, it was hot, I had just done a red-eye in the mini-bus, and I was pretty tired. So I decided I would wait. The house was on a river; I watched birds and hippos all afternoon. Cool skulls around the place.

    upload_2019-2-18_10-6-35.jpeg

    upload_2019-2-18_10-6-47.jpeg

    By 8:30p, nobody had shown up, so I made myself at home and crashed for the night.

    upload_2019-2-18_10-7-2.jpeg

    Good night sleep; in the morning I wake up to a truck approaching. Lo and behold, it's George!
     

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  5. Matt_WY

    Matt_WY AH Veteran

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    Part 3: Caprivi

    I was on vacation, but George was not. Over the next few days I filled the times when he had to work with wildlife watching, mostly hippos, monkeys, and birds. Tons of birds.

    One night a bat got into the house and I was able to catch it in a butterfly net. It looked like some type of pippistrelle, but I didn't have a key with me. Carried it outside and let it go.

    One afternoon we took a drive in the West Caprivi Game preserve. George had seen his first cheetah in there the week before. Sadly, we didn't glimpse any more cheetah, but we did see hippos, crocs, impala, baboons, and some small antelope that I think were duiker, and I think some lechwe. At one point we sat in a tree stand by the Kwando River. There was scat in the stand when we got there. Large cat scat, so I can only assume leopard.

    A few pics:
    upload_2019-2-18_11-12-37.jpeg

    upload_2019-2-18_11-12-48.jpeg

    upload_2019-2-18_11-13-1.jpeg

    upload_2019-2-18_11-13-24.jpeg

    upload_2019-2-18_11-13-33.jpeg

    upload_2019-2-18_11-13-39.jpeg



    We found a cool snake while walking to the tree stand as well.
    upload_2019-2-18_11-12-24.jpeg

    Next days included more touring around...Up to the Angola border and back among other places. If my relatively uneducated id's were correct: steinbok, impala, reedbuck, waterbuck. Lots of hippos. My first elephant too, but only got a view of his rear end.

    Then we headed down to Lianshulu Lodge. George knew the owners and so they put us up for a night for free, which was super nice! Lots of wildlife watching right off the deck. Excellent food. Did a tour around the Mudumu National Park there with a couple of their customers. At the end of that day we headed up to Katima Mulilo and stayed at a place that George often rents when he is over that way for work.

    And that was my last night visiting with George. He had to head back to work and I was headed east, out of the Caprivi.
     

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  6. Matt_WY

    Matt_WY AH Veteran

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    Part 4: Through Botswana and into Zimbabwe

    In the morning, George dropped me off at Ngoma Bridge and I headed into Botswana on foot. I walked to the transit route through Chobe National Park, about 1km if I recall. Thumb out once again and I was on a crowded ride to Kasane in the back of a pickup. On the way I got my first good view of a wild bull elephant. WOW!!!!

    In Kasane I hitched another ride to the Zimbabwe border and once again crossed on foot. Last transit for the day was to Vicoria Falls and I got lucky...caught an empty tourist bus. Luxury!

    Once in VF, I rented a dorm bed at the 'town council camping sites'. This is basically barren ground they let you camp on with a small building in the middle that has a bunch of beds in it.

    Dorm building:
    upload_2019-2-18_11-32-2.jpeg
     

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  7. Wheels

    Wheels AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    I'm am loving your trip. Also loving the Kodachrome!
     

  8. PHOENIX PHIL

    PHOENIX PHIL AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    This is great, look forward to more!
     

  9. Matt_WY

    Matt_WY AH Veteran

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    Part 5: Victoria Falls

    Still had plenty of time before dinner, so walked around VF National Park for a while. Gorgeous area. I had planned to have dinner at the Victoria Falls Hotel buffet, but decided against it due to price. Watched a tradition music and dance exposition and then headed back to the dorm for a pb&j.

    Next day I exposed more around the Park. I was unsuccessful in finding any buffalo or crocs, but I did see more impala, warthogs, and kudu. Dinner at Wimpy's and back to the dorm.

    A few Victoria Falls Pics:
    upload_2019-2-18_11-54-58.jpeg

    upload_2019-2-18_11-55-7.jpeg

    upload_2019-2-18_11-55-20.jpeg


    I hadn't really been feeling great all day, but that night it hit me...rocking fever and diarrhea. Suffered the night and by morning was feeling better. No more fever. Gut seems stable. Good to go! Hopefully just a nice bout of viral gastroenteritis.

    Met a Kiwi named Johnathan and we walked around the park some more. Met up with a friend of his named Harold for a few drinks at the Explorers bar. Lots of raft guides there, and that's when it hit me. I wasn't just in Victoria Falls. I was at the put-in for one of the greatest whitewater runs on the planet, the Zambezi; such an opportunity could not go to waste!

    The next day Jonathan and I headed over the bridge to Zambia in the morning. The cool thing about that side is that you can walk right up to the edge of the falls, soak in the water etc right next to the edge!

    The bridge:
    upload_2019-2-18_11-56-16.jpeg

    This is what it looked like walking around above the falls on the Zambia side:
    upload_2019-2-18_11-55-50.jpeg


    In the afternoon, I went to Shearwater, one of the rafting companies and asked if they had space on one fo their trips for a kayaker and if they would rent me a boat. The guy didn't look excited about it. he said come back in a week and he'd see what he could do. Back to the Explorers Bar for cards with Johnathan and Harold.

    A week? Ok, what to do now? How about Hwange National Park?

    So I hired up a driver and a cook and off we went...photo safari in my own personal mini-bus with a lift top.
     

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  10. Matt_WY

    Matt_WY AH Veteran

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    Part 6: Hwange National Park

    Up until now, I had seen wildlife here and there and was pretty excited about it. However, nothing I had seen compared to the diversity and quantity of animals in Hwange!

    My cook was great and kept me well fed. Driver was good as well. Of course, I had no basis for comparison, but they took good care of me, I had a great time, and that's all that mattered.

    I won't do a blow-by-blow int he park because it was just multiple days of driving around looking at animals. I was a little disappointed not to see any cats except the but end of a lion headed away at a couple hundred yards. other than that, very impressed!

    One thing that stood out for me was the zebra. I know that sounds weird. i had seen many of them in zoos, but I swear their stripes are more distinct and far more striking on the wild.

    Anyway, a few pics:
    upload_2019-2-18_12-13-4.jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-13-4 (1).jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-13-25.jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-13-25 (1).jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-13-25 (2).jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-13-25 (3).jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-13-25 (4).jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-13-25 (5).jpeg

    Good fun for sure, but in the end, a week was up and it was time to head back to Victoria Falls and the folks at Shearwater.
     

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  11. Matt_WY

    Matt_WY AH Veteran

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    Part 7: Zambezi and home

    Back in VF after my Hwange tour, I headed back to Shearwater. I think the guy was shocked to see me back. He probably anticipated that he had gotten rid of me, but I am not put off so easily; I re-iterated my request...Do they have a spot on a trip and a boat I can paddle?

    Now keep in mind here, this is a rafting company. You don't generally just show up and ask to kayak one of the world's top-tier whitewater runs. But that day, luck was in my favor.

    They did have a trip going out. 2 rafts full of South African clients, one support raft, and three safety boaters. 5 day trip floating 100 miles of river. Problem was, one of their safety boaters got drunk the night before, fell down a flight of stairs, and broke a couple ribs. So the guy looks at me and says "Are you sure?"

    After that it was full sprint. The trip was about to leave. I ran, quite literally as fast as I could, back to the dorm room, grabbed my stuff, and raced back to Shearwater. They kitted me up with whatever ill-fitting gear they had and we were headed to the put-in. Seriously guys? A Prijon t-slalom with wooden thigh braces? Whatever...at that point I was just too amped and even the potential for masses of splinters on my inner thighs was not going to get me off this rush.

    The rafts were setting up, giving instructions to clients, lashing down camping gear and coolers.....and I stretched the neoprene over my kayak's cockpit rim and am the first one into the mighty Zambezi. Zim on the right, Zambia on the left, countless tons of water underneath, and big blue African sky above. The two other safety boaters quickly follow: Pierre LeFay from France and Wally from good old CA.

    I did not have a waterproof camera with me, so my photo diary is sadly empty of river shots. Suffice it to say the water is big, rafts got flipped here and there, kayakers rolled, and fun was had by all. Day one is the steepest and thus has the biggest rapids. The further you get from the falls, the more the river mellows out and the dangers ..... change......

    One of the most memorable moments came on the second day. We were in a long flat stretch and Pierre and I were hanging onto the side of the support raft -- just resting, floating, shooting the breeze, and enjoying a beautiful day on the river. The raft guide says "Guys, FYI, you might want to pull up on the raft for a while. There's a croc around here that doesn't like kayakers." Pierre and I look at each other like 'yeah right' but we get onto the raft and pull the boats up anyway, glad for a chance to stretch our legs and rest for a while.

    A mile or two later, no sign of any crocs, we get back in the kayaks and paddle on ahead of the rafts. Wally is floating off by himself 50+ yards back and a little to the side. Pierre and I have our boats side by side, facing opposite directions so we can chat, helmets off on the spray skirts in front of us, etc. Totally low key. Pierre is facing upstream and I am facing downstream.

    All of a sudden Pierre's eyes get really big, he lets out a string of expletives in French, slams his helmet on his head and gives me a big push! I turn around and, you guessed it, a big croc is headed our way. The thing is 15+' if it's an inch.

    So my helmet hits my head and I spin and follow Pierre. We have a decent rapid in sight a couple hundred yards ahead and can only hope that this croc doesn't like body surfing class 4 whitewater. We are paddling like our lives depend on it and are getting pretty close to the rapid; I turn around and look for the croc. He has closed most of the gap, but I still stop paddling to turn and watch. Damn the rapid, this could be good entertainment.

    The croc has given up on Pierre and me, but he spotted Wally and iss trying to cut him off before he gets to the rapid! Wally's eyes are bugged out, water is flying off his paddle, and he is MOVING. But the croc iss faster. Wally did make it to the rapid, and the croc did break his chase at that point, but I swear that big old croc head was surfing Wally's wake near the end!

    Compared to that, the rest of the trip was fun but uneventful. More great rapids here and there. A few agitated hippos that we did our best to stay away from. Camping on the banks of the river, great backcountry food and beer, fun people.

    The end of trip was kind of sad. Not only because it was the end of my Zambezi excursion but also because I had run out of time and needed to get home. So once back to VF, having said goodbye to my new friends, I hopped a flight to Windhoek, did one more night in the Cardboard Box, and then back to the states.

    Last pics from the trip....

    Whitewater:
    upload_2019-2-18_12-52-23.jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-52-23 (1).jpeg

    Pierre:
    upload_2019-2-18_12-52-34.jpeg

    Wally:
    upload_2019-2-18_12-52-44.jpeg


    Camps, food, etc:
    upload_2019-2-18_12-52-58.jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-52-58 (1).jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-52-58 (2).jpeg upload_2019-2-18_12-52-58 (3).jpeg



    **************

    I hope you found some entertainment in this old story. It was fun for me to revisit these memories as I prepare go back to Namibia to hunt this fall, over 20 years later! Legit hunt report for 2019 to follow in September!
     

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  12. Chukar

    Chukar SILVER SUPPORTER AH Senior Member

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    What a great adventure!

    Thanks for sharing it.
     

  13. Nyati

    Nyati AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    Congrats, that was really an adventure !
     

  14. Wheels

    Wheels AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    Amazing adventure.

    Thanks for sharing the memories and photos.
     

  15. MAdcox

    MAdcox GOLD SUPPORTER AH Fanatic

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    What a trip, thank you for sharing. Memories for a lifetime there.
     

  16. gillettehunter

    gillettehunter AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    Gotta say you did what few would. Turned out great for you. Quite the trip and lots of interesting memories.... Thanks for sharing.
    Bruce
     

  17. IdaRam

    IdaRam BRONZE SUPPORTER AH Elite

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    That is quite an adventure! And thanks for the telling :)
     

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