Holding it as if my life depended on it

Trip Start Jun 25, 2003
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Trip End Sep 2004


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Saturday, May 22, 2004

Leaving Johannesburg we flew to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe where we would catch an overland truck to take us up through Southern and into Eastern Africa. The massive Victoria Falls are known locally as "The smoke that thunders" and it is easy to see and hear why. The mighty Zambezi river crashes down into a large gorge creating a towering mist visible for miles around and a constant roar audible from anywhere in the town. As it was the tail end of rainy season the swollen river created an even larger cloud than usual and Jan and I were advised to take rain jackets, umbrellas, even scuba masks. The mist first rises as a soaking rain that "falls up" from the gorge which drenched us by getting under our rain coats, then it wet us a second time as it came plummeting back down. We walked around trying to take pictures through the sheets of water, and laughing with the other travellers at how wet we were.

After drying off and finishing our sight-seeing we joined the overland truck that would be our home for the next two weeks on our way North and East. For those not familiar with them, overland trucks are designed to carry passengers instead of cargo self sufficiently along the notoriously bad African roads. Instead of cargo space behind the cab they have a passenger compartment with a storage area below for everything we would need along the way ie. tents, cooking equipment, potable water. We met our drivers, who seemed nice in a roady-for-Metallica sort of way, and the other travellers we would be on the truck with and headed over the border into Zambia.

Arriving in Livingstone, Zambia we were very happily lounging around the campsite when some fellow travelers asked if we would like join them to see the falls that night. As the falls weren't floodlit I thought viewing the falls at night must be a joke played on naive tourists, like snipe hunting in the States. But they quickly explained that the falls would be lit up dramatically by the full moon and that the moonlight shinning through the mist would create a rare lunar rainbow. So that night, after a dinner of crocodile curry, I found myself squeezed into the back of a pickup truck heading toward the falls and hoping not to get too wet as I was sure the full moon wouldn't dry out my clothes the way the sun had earlier. We arrived to one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen, the falls were well lit by the full moon and hovering just above was a lunar rainbow. Seeing such a powerful thing as a waterfall lit so serenely by moonlight was amazing and I stood staring transfixed at the lunar rainbow trying to memorize the subtle color shifts that differentiated it from a typical solar rainbow. The whole experience was magnificent and Jan and I sat quietly in awe with all the others who ventured to the falls that night. After some time though I noticed many people were no longer looking out over the falls but up at the moon instead. I looked up and noticed it a bit obscured by a cloud and no longer a complete circle, but didn't think much of it and turned back around. After a while I noticed even more people were looking back at the moon, turning around again I noticed even more of the moon was missing and that there were no clouds in the sky. Jan and I began to hear some murmuring at this point as everyone gathered at the falls began to realize we were seeing a lunar eclipse. If only I was in a small village in the bush I could have told them I had magically caused the eclipse and become chief, married the virgins all that good stuff - maybe next eclipse. Eventually we all had our backs to the falls and were watching as the moon slowly disappeared behind a shadow. The effect on the falls was beautiful, though the rainbow was more muted it was now surrounded by stars that were previously hidden by the moonlight. The whole experience was very moving and we all dealt with it in our own way. Personally, I tried to remember it by staring hard at everything to imprint it in my mind's eye. Some of the guys we were with decided the best way to mark the occasion was to strip naked and run around the edge of the falls in and out of the mist.

Next morning we were off on the truck traveling through Zambia, bypassing Lusaka (African names rock) along a series of pot holes strung together and called a road on our way to South Luangwa National Park. We spent the next two days bumping along, either waving at kids as they came running out of the small huts around the subsistence farms we passed or trying to play cards while getting thrown around the back of the truck. Despite my sore bum I was excited as South Luangwa is renown for it's large leopard population and Jan and I hadn't seen any as yet. Upon arrival we pitched camp and were eating dinner around the campfire when one of the game wardens came by to make sure no one had any food in their tent. Unlike other game parks we were not fenced in and the animals had free range of our campsite, so any food in the tents was likely to bring "visitors" in the night. He then spent the next half hour or so telling us stories about elephants destroying a tent trying to get a single orange, or hyenas stalking around to eat hiking boots. Jan immediately stopped drinking water so as not to have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but I figured he was just trying to scare us and had another beer. An hour after going to bed I heard a roar, followed by other large animal sounds, and I found myself "holding it" until morning as if my life depended on it.

Once day broke, after a much needed run to the bathroom, we were off on a game drive. We spent all morning driving around looking at the animals, most of which I was surprised were awake after spending all night outside my tent waiting to eat me. It was great but I have to admit I was a bit disappointed not to see any leopards. That evening though we were off for a night game drive, leopards hunt at night and our guide told us this would be our best opportunity to spot one (no pun intended). Just before dusk we got really lucky, we saw a lioness and her three cubs, our guide guessed each was about six weeks old. The lioness had just killed an impala and was keeping watch as the cubs tore into their dinner, stopping occasionally to look up at us furiously snapping pictures. We stayed for a short time not wanting to disturb them and then headed off to continue our search for leopards. After another hour we were rewarded with a gruesome sight, impala legs hanging from a branch high up in a tree. After leopards kill their prey they drag them into trees so they don't have to share. We didn't see the leopard but his left overs were hanging limp, and our guide was getting excited. We spent the next hour driving around in the darkness shinning our spotlight into the bush looking for the tell tale red eyes of a leopard when we finally saw one, stalking another impala (hereafter referred to as cat food). We watched as he stalked his prey but eventually he gave up and left. Even though we didn't see a kill we were all very happy as we headed back to our camp. In my excitement at seeing the leopard I decided to celebrate with a couple beers forgetting my previous nights experience. Once again about an hour after going to bed I heard large animal noises outside the tent and found myself trying not to think of Victoria Falls. Eventually though I couldn't wait any longer and decided to leave the tent. I made it about ten feet before I saw an enormous grey shape, a hippo eating grass less than 30 feet from me. I then noticed a couple other enormous grey shapes along side the first, remembering that Hippos kill the most travelers in Africa I decided the spot I stood on was as good as any, took care of business and ran back to the tent.

We were then back on the truck and bumping our way out of Zambia and toward Malawi. Crossing the border we spent one night in Lilongwe and then headed for Lake Malawi, an incredibly large freshwater lake dramatically framed by the Tanzanian mountains in the distance. We spent several days lounging on the beach glad to be away from the truck and horrible roads. Many of the tropical freshwater fish I have always kept in an aquarium at home come from Lake Malawi and I decided to go for a dive to see my fish in their natural environment away from all the pink plastic plants and bubbling treasure chests. Plus the dive master assured me there was a cool wreck, so it promised to be a good dive. Jan opted out, saying something about small fish, brown water, and what kind of wreck would be in a fresh water lake in the middle of Africa? But I figured she was just being a dive snob and headed out. I descended through the brownish water thinking, "So what not everywhere can be as clear as Thailand". Then I looked at the small pale fish not much bigger than what I have at home and thought "So what not everywhere can have manta rays and whale sharks like the Maldives". Then I saw the wreck, a car that had been sunk just to lure divers out with the promise of a wreck and thought, "Jan was right, I'm surfacing".

Back on the truck again, we left Malawi and headed across the border into Tanzania. The roads were a bit better and I was no longer being jounced around and was starting to enjoy the view, we were travelling through an area called Baobab valley full of trees straight out of Dr. Seuss, when we all noticed steam coming from the truck. Soon all the guys on the truck were standing around the engine offering unwanted opinions to the drivers who were under the truck trying to fix it. Knowing nothing about trucks, I just hung around waiting for one of them to hurt themselves so I could prove my usefulness. Fortunately we were off in a matter of hours and once again headed through the beautiful Tanzanian country side to Dar Es Salaam.

Once in Dar Es Salaam we said goodbye to the truck, it would continue North to Nairobi, and caught the ferry over to Zanzibar. Zanzibar is famous not only for it's beautiful white sand beaches and world class diving but also as a spice island. On our first day on the Island we took a "spice tour" during which we were taken to spice plantations to see, smell and taste all the different spices we use all the time before they are dried, ground, and put in little glass bottles in the grocery store. From the plantations we journeyed to the Northern tip of the island to relax on the beautiful white sand beaches overlooking the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, eat fantastic food cooked with local spices and make some fantastic dives. Though I was a bit disappointed there were no wrecks to rival Lake Malawi.

After a week we tore ourselves away from the beaches and got a ride back to Stone Town where we are now hanging out. Stone Town is an atmospheric little place with winding narrow streets, beautiful terraced buildings and a fantastic night fish market where Jan and I have been eating every night. Zanzibar is heavenly, one of my favorite places in Africa. There is only one problem, after all this sitting around on beautiful beaches and eating wonderfully spiced food there is no way I'll make it to the top of Kilimanjaro, our next stop.
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