Distance travelled: Approx 3,900 kilometres
Safari dates: 22nd May 2011 – 4th June 2011
Written by: John Laing
Czapka Diaries followed six Polish Explorers and an African boy from a tame South Africa into a wild Zimbabwe, a cold Botswana, the fourteenth day marked the last drive and all the fun was suddenly over; we have driven up close and personnel with Elephant and Rhino, slept under an star studded African sky in wild Zimbabwean bush areas and negotiated many kilometres of pot holed dirt roads, testimony to a neglected Zimbabwe.
The preceding wet seasons rains seem to have at last stopped, good rains however has meant long grass, not easy for game viewing purposes. Good rains of course means the animals are fat and in fantastic condition, the smaller water holes are now drying up and more and more animals are drawn to fewer and fewer watering holes.
Southern Africa’s sky has been an ever-changing canvas of colour and shape, the sunrises and sunsets, splashed with reds and oranges, by day deep blue skies enhance this magical continent.
The trip highlight, well there were many, but two that definitely get mention, getting lost in the community area just outside Khama Rhino Sanctuary, the bush track over grown and the trees overhanging our path, the bush was looking its best, quite literally beautiful. The second having a sundowner on the Zambezi River listening to the hippo calling nearby.
22nd May – I arrived at Linga Longa Guest House and met with six sleepy Polish people having breakfast. It was quite early I guess, 06:00, well not early by African times but after arriving late the evening before.
I always ask that bags are kept small; when I saw what came out I nearly had a heart attack!! What did everyone have in their bags?! All would become clear during the course of the Safari, the bags were stocked full of Vodka!!
Lunch was eaten in Nelspruit, seven of us, we all had the same thing, 7 x Windhoek draft, 7 x rump steak (all medium), 7 x French fries, 1 x salad.
We arrived into the Kruger it was a little quiet in terms of animals, but we did see elephant in the late evening. The gates closed at 05:30 and we were just on time…just outside the Pretoriuskop gate we spotted a leopard high in a tree. What a fantastic sighting.
Dinner this evening was beef stew.
23rd May – Today is our first full day in the Kruger, this evening we will be staying in a camp up in the northern part of the park, Letaba. Yesterday we spotted ourselves a leopard and elephant so today we are looking for the other three members of the big five. At this time of the year there are numerous elephants which is always fantastic to see, bulls in small herd and larger breading herds with loan bulls following intently.
Getting closer to Letaba we found a herd of buffalo and way off in the distance we found two rhino, well the rhino was a tick in the box but definitely not a great photographic opportunity, we would have to do better.
At 16:45 we stopped on a bridge and got out to stretch our legs. This for most was the highlight of the trip…it was nothing overtly special, just a beautiful evening with magic colours and at last we all felt we had left the pressures of work behind, we were now all on holiday.
In the evening we met, well a man walked into camp, he had recognised the Polish language, and wanted to say hello, he was from Peru. Poor guy, he toasted each person individually which meant that for every one drink we all had he had seven – enough said he was broken!! I hope that one of the luggage bags weighs a little less now…
This evening we had a braai, on the menu was t-bone steaks.
24th May – We got up early as today we need to cross the Beitbridge border post, we were out of the Kruger a little after 08:00 and at the crossing a little after 14:00, the crossing was not too problematic but it did take a couple hours to cross meaning we only arrived into the Valencia Guest house around 18:00…we had not seen any lions today.
We were welcomed by Patty Bristow, had a couple drinks whilst everyone showered and changed out of their dusty clothes and listening to the Bristow lions roaring, they may not be wild but at least tomorrow we will get to see lions on the trip.
To end the evening we sat down to a huge dinner spread, which was venison from the farm and beef stew with all the trimmings. I think it is fair to say that this dinner will stick in everyone’s minds for a long time to come.
25th May – In the morning we were met by Mark Bristow who took us all on a tour of the farm, first up was meeting the pet giraffe, followed by a tour of the citrus orchid, then the packing factory. Mark is a brilliant speaker and was able to engage his guests, not only was everyone impressed by his knowledge but particularly by his passion for everything Mark spoke about.
We returned to Valencia for a hearty breakfast and packed up all our belongings before setting off towards the Bubi Village where we would later stop and purchase meat provisions for our next two days in Gona-re-zhou, we bought additional t-bones and boerewors to see us through.
The journey was a longer than I had anticipated as the GPS estimated mileage had been taken on the most direct route, which was not possible, as the Lundi Bridge had been washed away in the 2000 cyclone. So instead of arriving at 15:00 we arrived at 16:00, just enough time to sign in and register with Parks and make it to the lookout point and a magnificent sun set over a very beautiful Africa.
Dinner this evening was lamb chops and beef steaks, oh I nearly forgot I had purchased some Mopane worms and cooked them up for everyone to have as a snack – to be honest I did not expect any to be eaten but everyone had at least one and whilst no one enjoyed them, it was a case of “we are in Africa, lets try them!”… How nice is it to have such an enthusiastic group.
26th May – Today we got up early and walked down to the Chipinda Pools waterfall, our walk was probably 3 hours long but we took it easy and just enjoyed ourselves, no pressure of having to get anywhere by anytime. Lukasz, Wojciech and I swam above the waterfalls in a small pool that we were sure was not inhabited by a crocodile.
When we got back to camp we cooked up a massive breakfast and then headed on our way to Chilojo Cliffs where we would be spending the night. We arrived probably around 14:00, time was not important at this point and we sat and watched a pod of hippos in the Lundi, initially they had been basking on the sand but as soon as we arrived they got up and headed for the water.
We found our camp, set up what we needed and went in search of some firewood for this evenings fire. In the afternoon an Elephant wondered up to camp and decided that he did not like us looking at him so much. We all sat in the river bed watching him for a couple hours before the sun set and we eventually made our fire and cooked up a storm of t-bones, sadza (A traditional maize meal dish) with a good gravy.
During the course of the evening Wojciech required the use of the “Szpadle” spade, as he was scared to go into the bush by himself he thought a good idea would be to dig a hole in the riverbed directly in front of our camp…when we all teased him I guess stage fright took over.
In the middle of the night the wind got up and blew one of the camp chairs in the fire, a second one had actually been blown in two but I managed to save that one before it got burned.
27th May – In the morning we were all up early and went for a walk, we saw in the distance many animals some of which included, impala, kudu, waterbuck, bushbuck and warthog. There was fresh dung from elephant but we did not see any. At one point we found fresh leopard tracks, which was good to see.
On our return to camp we again cooked up a good breakfast and then headed back towards Chipinda Pools.
On leaving the park I lowered the pressure of the tyres and noted that there was oil leaking from the rear left hand side oil seal. This would be a pain to replace if it had been broken or damaged, good luck though…Mark Saunders from Malilangwe was in camp and he very kindly had one of his mechanics assist us. The problem was not infact the oil seal but rather the hug lock nuts were loose, we tightened them and were able to carry on our way.
This had set us back a little but we managed to get into Masvingo at 18:30 just in time to purchase some supplies and USD 4, 70 “Harare Quality Brandy!!” we arrived at the Great Zimbabwe campsite, built a fire and had a delicious dinner, all well earned after our long day.
28th May – We all got up early, had a shower and were at the Great Zimbabwe entrance gate by 06:00. It had been a cold night with ice on the tents. Well okay one tent – Wojciech & Piotr had decided to sleep under canvas despite my efforts to get them to sleep under the stars. “Wojciech has two children so he does not want to die too young”.
We spent a good few hours looking at the ruins, the sun was shining and the sky was blue so taking photographs was just perfect.
After the ruins we went onto have a good cooked breakfast accompanied by a few shots of “Harare Special Brandy”, if we had run out of diesel for the cars I would have been able to use this stuff, not good!!
On our way to Bulawayo now, we arrived into Falcon College, Esigodini where I showed off my old boarding school, there was the under 21 Zimbabwe rugby trials going on so the group got to watch a little school boy rugby and we had a gin and tonic at the Bushtick pub. We ambled around the dormitories and school buildings for a little bit showing everyone what a Zimbabwean private school looks like, I am not sure what the feeling was but I think everyone was impressed with what they saw, and equally or more impressed by the fact that Falcon supports the surrounding community.
We left Falcon at a little to four, drove the remaining 50km to Bulawayo where we pulled into my dad’s (Andy Laing) house for a beer and later dinner…before dinner I introduced everyone to Martin Sanderson, Martin has been given the nick name of “Indiana Jones” as his collection of everything old is very impressive. The group kept saying how much they had enjoyed spending some time looking everything…before we went up to dad’s for dinner Martin gave us a drink and we listened to a very old cylindrical record which set the mood for our days action tomorrow.
Dinner was a roast beef with fresh salad.
29th May – Daria has had her light on all night, this was because little bugs similar to a cockroach but not one had fallen on her in the night from the ceiling. Dad fumigated the room during the day and whilst we were all out at the Matopos.
I had been awake for a while and had washed both cars so we were all ready to go in clean vehicles.
We left a little later than we had wanted to and were stopped at a police roadblock just outside Bulawayo; Wojciech had forgotten the vehicle paperwork at Martin’s house so I drove back to get it as quickly as I could. We eventually did get out to the Matopos, we spent sometime at the MOTH (Memorable Order of Tin Hats) Shrine, followed by purple tea at Gordon Park (Cub Scouts Camp), the purple is thought to be iron from the rusting iron pipes mixing with the tannin of the tea…it all tasted good.
Next was Rhodes grave, Martin gave us several stories here, the first was about the burial of Rhodes and the second was the story of the “35 Brave Men”, I am always fascinated at how Martin can tell a story, when he does you feel as though you are actually there…thank you so much Martin, amazing!
This brought up time for lunch, which was cold meats and salads, fresh bread and a whole host of other little nibbles, superb. After lunch we went on to Malemi dam and then Nswatugi cave followed by a sunset drinks over looking the Matopos, this is indeed a very special park.
We drove back to Bulawayo where we had a braai at dad’s house.
30th May – We were all up and having breakfast by 07:00 and at the Bulawayo railway museum by 08:00 back on the road again, our destination, Victoria Falls by 09:30. We stopped at the Halfway House for a lunch of burger and chips and were driving into Victoria Falls town at 15:30…I was caught speeding, doing 74km in an 80km zone – work that one out!! The police officer pointed out that I had crossed the 80km sign but that I could see the 60km sign and that if I can see the sign then that meant that was the speed limit. Okay so I paid five bucks but I also had to sign an admission of guilt.
I had booked the sunset cruise for us which we made at 16:00 and had a very pleasant and relaxing evening cruising on the Zambezi, too wonderful for words. Once we had been taken back to the cars, we drove off and had dinner at Mama Africa’s restaurant followed by a drive close to the falls, we jumped out and spent a little time in the dark just listening to the sound of the water racing over Devils Cataract.
This evening we stayed at the Boat Club, this is not a registered camp site but I have used it before and it is always nice to be close to the waters edge.
31st May – Today I had wanted to spend white water rafting but the water was just too high and therefore dangerous. The group went on a helicopter ride over the Falls which they loved, from there we drove to the Victoria Falls hotel, walked through and gazed upon the bridge linking Zimbabwe with Zambia. We walked to the rainforest and signed in…at this point Lukasz realised that he had left Daria’s jacket with passports inside at the hotel…he ran back to find it only to later discover that he had placed the jacket in Wojciech water tight bag, panic for nothing in the end and relief all around.
So we went on and walked to the various viewpoints along the canyons edge, the water was incredibly high, no wonder we could not raft today. The spray was torrential and we all got soaked through.
From the rainforest we went back to the hotel, had a lunch accompanied by a gin and tonic…I had explained that not to have a G ’n’ T here was criminal. From lunch we went Jay’s Spar where I met up with Chetan Gopal, whom owns and runs the Spar, he quite literally gave us the best rump steaks in town, which we would later cook up for dinner.
To finish off our day we went for a walk on the Victoria Falls bridge, we were hassled by numerous touts selling copper bangles but this is just part of the experience, African is a fascinating place.
No one wanted to do the bungee jump. Wojciech has two kids in Poland and he did not want to die early!!!
1st June – In the morning we broke camp and went off to have a breakfast at a new café in town, infact it was a little coffee house but served a fabulous full cooked breakfast.
After breakfast everyone went for a walk looking for curios from the local artists and sculptors. What was supposed to be an hour turned into a couple of hours. Not a problem as we do not have a massive distance to go this afternoon, we will be stopping over at Elephant Sands in Botswana.
We left a little before lunch and set off towards Pandamatenga border post. The road was not too bad. Our vehicles were searched on the Zimbabwean border side by two plain-clothes policemen, on the Botswana side we did not have to pay the road tax, “When was this rule brought in the ladies said in surprise”…so we did not pay anything. The veterinary lady found our steak for dinner this evening and said that because it was late we could just go.
We still had 150km to go on a very bad detour road, about 15km from Elephant Sands we came across an accident, I had to assist the driver out of the vehicle, he had been squashed between the seat and the steering wheel, but lucky for him he only had a small cut above his left eye.
Tired and cold we arrived into Elephant Sands a little after 18:30 and set about setting up camp and cooking a beef soup for our evening meal.
2nd June – Today is quite a long days drive, we had lunch in Francistown but it is a public holiday so whilst we can stop and re-supply there is no alcohol on sale, we were after a couple of beers.
It has been well received on other similar trips so I decided that we would take a detour through some villages which with a bit of luck would almost have us at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary gate…the road, not sure we can call it a road, more like bush track was very over grown and in places extremely corrugated. What should have been a short cut ended up taking us a couple of additional hours, yet this is Africa (TIA), this is what it is all about, sometime a bad dirt road just adds to the overall experience, this is what people remember for a long way to come, when ever I can I get off the beaten trail.
Pushing on we arrived into Khama Rhino Sanctuary a little after 17:00; we decided that we did not want to go on a game drive this evening. We decided to set up camp and make a fire for dinner, game drive tomorrow.
This evening we had a dinner of beef stew.
3rd June – Today is our last day and I have not been able to find any decent rhino sightings yet, today is my last chance. We were up early and off on a drive, I am stopping at every opportunity to see if I can spot one of these magnificent animals…nothing. Eventually and very reluctantly we gave up and went back to the campsite to break camp and have breakfast, shower and wash. Nothing…but I cannot accept this, so after we are done I took everyone on our last drive, again things were not so good for us…
Eventually I spotted what I was looking for, excitedly I drove a little faster that I had been doing, and off we went to where I thought I had seen the rhino, brilliant I have managed to find four white rhino, right in the open and feeding. I have managed to keep to my guarantee and provided my group with a fantastic photograph opportunity.
Now that my work has been done, Piotr says to me “knowing our luck we will now see more”…we did on our way back to towards the entrance gate we found at a water hole, mother and calf. Infact that this water hole was actually something very special…we saw, Oryx, Eland, Rhino, Ostrich, Black-backed Jackal, Springbok, Impala, Wildebeest, Red-Hartebeest, Tsessebe, Zebra, Waterbuck and Warthog. Wow such diversity.
From there we drove towards the South African border post Martins Drift, this is not such a long drive but around 30km from the Rhino Sanctuary I felt that there was a problem with my breaks, I had non! I toped up the reservoir and off we pushed, later that evening and after driving 250km with no breaks we pulled into Martins Drift petrol station where I got a local bush mechanic to block off the rear breaks, this would at least get us back to Johannesburg safely.
4th June – Up early we went through to the border post; we were through in a record time, around 30 minutes in total. We drove onto Johannesburg only stopping for lunch after 14:00…we eventually arrived into JHB after 16:00. We had a shower at my local squash club, then went to do a little shopping for biltong and wine.
For dinner we all went out to the DROS restaurant where we all had a steak of some sort.
Our time together came to an end at the Johannesburg OR Tambo airport a little after 20:00. This has been a fantastic trip and so much fun. Wojciech has two kids in Poland and he did not want to die early, my track record has remained in tact, I put Wojciech on his flight back home very much alive!!!