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The Crown Jewel

Table Mountain from Bridgett's placeOn a trip like Crackajap and I have experienced it is hard to point to a favorite country, favorite place, favorite day. Well today, I didn't expect to have so much influence as to make this THE BEST day of the trip, but I figured it would at least be memorable.

The day started out like anyother on our trip. We got up whenever we felt like, with no idea what we were going to do, no plan of attack...ahhh, the beauty of travel. However, unlike all the other days, we felt a sense of urgency as we could now count down the days till the end of our trip on one hand. I was a little more anxious about this day than Amy was, or knew about...but that was all part of my master plan.

This plan started in motion about 2 years before when Amy and I decided that she was going on the trip with me, but like all my plans, it was a plan in motion...thought about randomly from time to time and didn't formulate into a plan of action until a day or 2 before action was required. If you are confused now, it should clear up shortly.

Random Picture of beautiful SA countryside...mainly to fill spaceSee about 2 years ago, give or take a month or so, I decided that I would ask Amy to marry me at Cape Agulhas, the geologic point where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Oceans come together. I had no idea how, when we would be there, or any other details, but like all other details, they would work themselves out. My only thinking is that this would be a totally romantic, poetic and symbolic point to propose. Amy loves the ocean and this is one of the few spots in the world where you have 2 in one place. It is poetic in that it symbolizes two lives joining together. Most importantly, I figured one ocean is full of white people and the other is full of Japs (or close enough) thereby symbolic.

I should mention here that like every other DeBeers-brainwashed-western woman, Amy loves diamonds. However, I am adamantly opposed to diamonds. Not only for the obvious ethical (blood-diamond) reasons, but also as a chemical engineer, I can't bring myself to buy a stone that is plentiful, not rare at all and is coveted because of a marketing and monopolizing scam of one rich family. The dilema remained, what could I get for Amy that was as unique as she was, not a moral-sacrificing diamond, and within a traveller's budget?

Then, in July,  we ended up on the spice island of Zanzibar. Amy had been doing some shopping and come across this jewel shop and wanted my opinion on something she thought her mom might like. When I walked into the shop and saw what she wanted to show me, I knew I had found the answer to my jewellessness. Tanzanite.
Not as grand as Cape of Good hope, but it does have a lighthouse
After doing a little research, Tanzanite was the perfect stone for Amy. Touted as 1,000 times more rare than diamonds, Tanzanites are found only in a 2km stretch of land at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro. Spawned during the Pan-African Event, when massive geological activity ripped Africa from India and set Asia adrift from North America (585 million years ago), tanzanite's geology is so unique that it has been described as a geologic phenomenon.

Fast forward, 1.5 months later, mind you - travelling half of the world's second largest continent while keeping this gem secret from the person you spend 23.5 hours a day with (I won't tell you exactly where I kept it, but if you want a hint see Pulp Fiction), to Cape Town. My task is to now get this tanzanite set in a ring setting from a jeweler I trust in a relatively short period of time...all without Amy's knowledge. It was pretty tough constantly coming up with excuses of needing us to split, considering we had no real responsibilities, no time schedule and we had not left eachother's side for more than 30 minutes in the past year. Not only was it hard coming up with excuses of why we had to split up, but Frolicking between oceansthen I was constantly late when we were supposed to join back together.

So far, this whole entry has been about the pre-engagement. This was meant to provide a background for not just my frustration, work and headache in planning this event, but to let women out there know exactly how much effort and planning goes into a typical engagement story.

Now...we are finally to today's entry...August 28, 2007 - We spent the night in Bridgette's family's beach cottage in Simon's Town and got up at 4:00am to take Roman to the airport.  After saying good-bye to Roman and Bridgette, we picked up a rental car and headed down the coast. It was POURING!!! GREAT!!! We got to the town of Hermanus and had breakfast and the weather started to show signs of clearing. Outside Hermanus is famous for the ability to whale watch from the coast, which Amy was all about. When I "accidentily" drove past the turn off for whale-watcCape Aghlus, where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meething, I volunteered to turn-around, if she wanted.

We stopped in Bredasdorp, a small town in route to Cape Aghlus, where we picked up lunch to have a picnic on the Cape. At this point, the weather was, and remained for the rest of the day, absolutely perfect. We got to the Souther Most Tip of Africa, where the INDIAN & ATLANTIC oceans meet and had lunch. After we finished our sandwiches, I told her I had a present for her and handed her a gift wrapped in a newspaper ad for Bushmills Whiskey. She opened the present and noticed it was a book by W.B. Yeates (the name of the Pub we met at in Chapel Hill, NC over 5 years earlier...apparently the guy also was also an author/poet in addition to pub owner). As she opened the book the first poem was written by me and went something like this

A tanzanite is 1,000 times more rare than a diamond,
Platinum is 10 times harder to find than gold;
Anyone can catch themselves a blond,
But a Crackajap is 1 in 6,000,000,000 -
Now THAT is a gem to hold!

After the first couple pages, I had cut a square out of the middle of the next several pages where I had put the ring! I dropped to one knee, as best as I could on the rocks that we were on (we were still on THE southern most part of Africa) and asked her to marry me....All she could say was "CLETUS!", at which point I started looking around for a big black man, but couldn't find any...

Finally, she did say YES, so I guess all it took for us to get married was a RTW ticket, 26 countries, 11 months of constantly being together, and popping the question on the underside of the world (where the blood flows straight to your head - clouding judgement).

Roman Holiday - Starring Bridgette

Roman and BridgetteFor those of you not familiar with the movie Roman Holiday starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, this classic flick is the story of a rich, sheltered princess that sneaks out from her guarded hotel room to see Rome with a lowly civilian reporter. Well, CJ and I could make a movie similar to Roman Holiday, only the opposite. South African Holiday, as it would be titled, would be about 2 grungy backpackers that stumble into this amazing, hospitable and ever so cush world of the Spence's.

Now let's back up a bit, so you don't get confused.

At the beginning of our trip is where we first met up with Roman and Bridgette at the cooking class in Thailand...that's right THAILAND back in October...and we traveled with them/met up with them at various points in Laos and Vietnam (see Happy Day, Happy Shake) and ever since have been looking forward to meeting up with them at the end of our trip in South Africa.

Roman, me and CJ enjoying our wine at WaterfordWell here we are so near the end of our trip and Roman and Bridgette were the best hosts we could have hoped for.

They had finished their travels in February and were pretty settled into the groove of "the real world". Bridgette is working at her family's conference center in Stellenbosch and Roman is back in the financial world working in Johannesburg.

It worked out wonderfully. Roman got a flight from J-burg to Cape Town for the weekend, and Bridgette arranged for us to stay with her at her parents house, located in a most picturesque valley right out side Stellenbosch.

Though Bridgette had to work some of the weekend, Roman took us to see some highlights of the area. Stellenbosch is the heart of South Africa's wine region, very similar to Napa Valley in the US. So our first day, Roman took us to a couple different vineyards where we happily tasted several wines. We started at Bridgette's Uncle's vineyard where we got a personal tour of the vineyard from Roman, who worked there for a while when The Spence's back yardhey first got back. Then we went to the bigger, more commercial Vineyard of Waterford right up the road.

After meeting up with Bridgette for lunch, it was time to get serious for the real day's activities....RUGBY! As one may or may not know, the World Cup of Rugby is set to be played in Sept/October this year in Scotland/France and South Africa takes their rugby VERY SERIOUSLY! The Springboks, as the national team is called, was playing one of their last matches before the big dance started against Scotland.

As we found out, rugby, and the art of watching, is more of a religious expierance than a sporting contest. Indeed, in SA it is all about a bree, biltong and rugby.

Bree -  The US equivalent of a barbecue or cookout
Biltong  - Like beef jerky only not with cows but kudo, springbok or any other variety of game that roams the southern Africa tip

Bridgette's family, Mr Spence, Mrs. Spence, DRichard (B's brother), and B (with Roman in the background)We watched the match with Bridgette's entire family, with Roman and Bridgette's dad leading the cheers and answering all my stupid American questions about the game. It goes without saying that the Springboks pretty much wiped the field with the Scots with a score of 27-3.

Sunday we headed to the quaint little town of Simonstown where we stayed with Roman and Bridgette at their beach house. Because Roman had to leave at the butt-crack of dawn on Monday, we had a low-key evening filled with lots of South African wine.

It was a grand finale of our time in South Africa. It is always so much better seeing the country through locals' eyes rather than through a guidebook. But to have Bridgette and her own family to take us in like we had known them all our lives....well that certainly a South African Holiday we weren't expecting!

CJ enjoying the beauty of the Spence's property

Cross Country “Madness”

Preparing to let the Madness out of the cage I should have known we’d be in for an extraordinary road trip when we signed up to drive cross country (well, cross two-countries, really) with a girl who introduced herself as, “Mad….as in crazy”. We departed from Windhoek, Namibia with the hatchback packed to the brim and Pickett as automatic driver. Mad had rented a manual but had only had one lesson in driving stick, which may not be completely indicative of Mad’s logic but cannot be ignored as an example of the way Mad’s mind works. Mad was riding shot-gun and I was nestled in the back surrounded on all sides by a plethora of grocery bags filled with snacks. I was happy to discover in the pre-departure discussions that Mad and I would get along just fine on a long car trip due to our priority of fitting snack time into the day.

It’s interesting and humorous how quickly people develop a routine when they are in an unfamiliar environment. After a few hours on day one, Pickett told me, “Hey if you want to sit up front at some point, ask Mad to switch with you.” I took a look at Mad’s studio apartment she had created in the front seat, which was stocked with a first aid kit, hand sanitizer, paint brushes, paper and paints, cliff bars, a camel back, and lots more threatening to jump out from the unzippered Pickett successfully changing a tire on the desolate, lonely Skelaton Coast Roadpockets of her Osprey backpack. I decided we might have to find boxes to pack Mad up and move her to the ‘burbs of the back seat, so I said I was happy to hang in the spot I’d carved out in the back. And that’s how we developed our permanent road trip roles.

Pickett was driver and tunes operator. He set us up with the high tech surround sound system created with his ipod and a cheap set of battery operated portable speakers. He also reserved his earphones for when he needed a little alone time with his ipod, primarily when the yappin’ from the girls was annoyingly drowning out the two decibels of sweet tunes pouring out of the baby speakers. Mad was the navigator, prepared with two copies of the same road map, supposedly one for navigating and one to remain pristine for her scrapbook, although the two were used interchangeably depending on which one was lost in the jungle of our car. As for me, I was the snack-maker who assembled salami and cheese sandwiches for distribution at lunchtime, refilled water bottles, and found energy bars sucked into the black hole of the back seat at snack time.

The daytime routine was hours of driving, many stops for sightseeing, and a few Our gas stoves allowed for the transformation of any luxurious room into a ghetto fabulous backpacker resortstops in the middle of nowhere either for roadside pee breaks or to change a flat tire on the side of the gravel road (okay, the flat tire only happened once. It was solved rather quickly by Pickett, perhaps much to Mad’s dismay who might have enjoyed being stranded roadside simply to justify the “emergency supplies” of food and water that were weighing down the hatchback). At nighttime, we pitched our tents at a campsite and cooked a delish meal of tuna casserole on the portable gas stove. Of course, interspersed with the camping nights were “nights off” in a few comfortable hostel rooms or pretty luxurious lodges. But don’t worry – we stuck to the backpacker’s ghetto style even in the lodge by sneakily cooking dinner in our room.

The color of our personalities blended together to make a memorable and entertaining journey all over Namibia and into South Africa. It also might make other Americans avoid travel in Namibia, because our style of traveling might have been mistakenly interpreted as typical American behavior.

The Rainbow Nation

Fields of GoldIt didn't take me long to understand why South Africa is called the Rainbow Nation.  At first I thought it might have to do with the racial diversity of the country, with their blacks, whites and coloureds. Now before you blog readers in the USA go and call the NAACP on me for being a full-blown racist from a couple genarations ago, in South Africa "coloured" refers to someone of mixed race...much like your favorite Crackajap. 

But it was about an hour into our drive from Namibia into South Africa that I started to realize why this nation got it's nickname.

Driving south from Namibia, the first area we passed through Namaqualand. This rugged northwestern corner of the country is mostly known as a wild, untapped void...until the spring when the lunar landscape is suddenly alive with color. The wildflowers that blooms along this area are as vibrant and colorful as anything we've seen yet. It sCrackajap frolickling in the beautiful SA fields of golderiously looked like a plane dropped bombs of highliter colors with massive patches of neon yellows, bright oranges, firey reds and shades of violet dotted as far as the eye could see.  With all this abundance of color one couldn't help but frolicking...in fact these fields outright demanded it, as pictured to the left.

It didn't surprise us to learn that over 20,000 plant species sprout from South African soil - over 10% of the world's total - despite the fact that the country only accounts for less than 1% of the planet's total land area. Furthermore, South Africa is the only country in the world that has at least one species from each the world's six floral kingdoms within it's borders.

But the colorfulness of the country didn't stop with Namaqualand...that was only the beginning

Crackajap and Mad Mardigan with the COGH jetting out into the Atlantic.After a couple days in Cape Town, Team Tittie made our way down the the stunning Cape of Good Hope. Though the Cape of Good Hope is one of the Great Capes of the Southern Ocean (the others being Cape Horn in Argintina and Cape Leeuwin in Austraila) it is not the southern most point in Africa. However, as the first break in the north-south running Atlantic coastline of Africa, rounding the Cape of Good Hope was a huge geographical and psychological milestone that sailors looked forward to. Irregardless of it's maritime importance, the Cape was a spectacular display of color, beauty and nature's rugged, untamed power, as the deep blue Atlantic crashed into the jagged, striped cliffs (as pictured right).

The beauty wasn't limited to just the Cape. The entire drive up and down from Cape Town was filled with beautiful beaches, rugged coastline, lush, fertile fields and even penguins. 
Ahhh to be a penguin in such a beautiful setting...sure beats the hell out of Antartica
Not the most colorful bird (which doesn't really go along with the theme of this entry), the penguins were quite entertaining to watch as they waddled back and forth along the beach, boulders and shrubbery of their reserve.  The penguins were known as the Jackass penguin due to their donkey-like braying. However, since several of their South American cousins make the same sound, the penguins at the reserve are now known as the African Penguin as they are the only example of penguins that breed in Africa...that being said we did get to see some raunchy penguin sex, but due to a strong penguin porn union (or PPU as it's called here), we are unable to post the pics we took at this time.

Looking forward and backward at the same time on the SA coast.I think Mad, an artist by nature, best summed up the colors of South Africa.  As she put it, "...this place is like someone opened up a crayon box and drew the whole thing using only the most bright, brilliant colors to the point that if I didn't see this place with my own eyes, I would think the whole place was photo-shopped."
Vibrant fields of Gold along the SA countryside.
 

Q-Q-Q-Quiver Tree Forest

A quiver treeThe quiver tree of "kokerboom" is one of the most interesting and characteristic plants of the deserts of Namibia. It isn't actually a tree, but an aloe plant. The plant is called kokerboom because Bushmen and Hottentot  tribes used the tough, pliable bark and branches to make quivers for their arrows. "Koker" is the Afrikaans word for quiver.

The quiver tree can get up to 30 feet high and it's smooth barked trunk can get up to 3.5 feet in diameter at ground level. The plants are usually found growing singly but in some areas the plants grow in large groups, giving the effect of a forest.  The tree propagates only by seeds and the first flower when they are about 20 to 30 years old, kinda like me. The bright yellow flowers are branch panicles up to 1 foot tall and come out in the winter months of June and July. Like most desert growing plants, the quiver tree is very slow growing and the big trees in the forest are estimated to be 200-300 years old...even older than my mom.

The quiver tree mostly occurs in black rock formations (called "ysterklip") which absorbs a lot of heat during the hot summer months. The tree is a favorite dwelling of the Crackajap as pictured below.


Once the Crackajap realizes it has been spotted, it will often pose as a quiver tree as a means of "fooling" whatever it is that is bothering it as pictured below.

The ineffective "camelflauge" of a Crackajap

However, with no chameleon-like qualities of color change, the Crackajap still stands out, cause despite what she thinks, she looks nothing like a quiver tree. Often, predators feel so sorry for the Crackajap that they won't harm the Crackajap - which only adds to the Crackajap's misunderstanding that she is actually fooling the predator - hence encouraging the ineffective behavior.

The ol' Desert

The massive sand dunes of the NamibNamibia is most famous for it's deserts...well plural might be a bit of an over-statement as it seems that the entire country is one big desert. Next to Mongolia, it is the second least densely populated country in the world, but despite only 1% of it's land being farmable, nearly half the population is employed in agriculture.

However, the Namib Desert, for which the country is named, is considered the oldest desert in the world. It has endured desert conditions for 80 million years. Talk about a dry spell.

In addition to the oldest desert, the Namib Desert also has the worlds tallest sand dunes in the world, with dunes reaching up to 1000 feet tall.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, "why on earth would you want to see this desert?" Well, oddly, I thought the same thing, until I got there. Crackajap taking a rest in Dead VleiThe colors of this desert were stunning, as you might be able to tell from the pictures.

But the most beautiful feature was the contrast the shadows of dunes and waves of sands played on the desert landscape. In order to experience this, we had to get up mighty early, as our lodging was about 30 minutes from the park gates, which don't open till dawn. Once in the park gates, it is 64km of paved road to the 2WD parking lot. The road proceeds through a "valley" of sand dunes, where you are surrounded onOver the dunes and through the dunes goes Mad Mardigan to Dead Vlei either side by immense sand dunes, which are constantly shifting and changing forms with the wind.

Once to the parking lot, we caught a ride further into the sand and then hiked (see picture of Mad Mardigan (what we call Mad for reasons to be discussed in next blog) hiking to Dead Vlei to right) to Dead Vlei (pictured to left). Dead Vlei is a salt pan with both dead and green trees. The oldest of these trees is over 900 years old!

The Namib was a highlight of the whole trip...who knew you could have so much fun in a desert with your clothes on?

The Boozeless Watering Holes of Etosha

CJ and Mad waiting at the watering hole at our campThe first point of interest on Team Tittie's agenda was Etosha National Park. Admittedly, Etosha was not on Crackajap's and my agenda. Afterall, we had already been on Safari in Kenya and seen plenty of game in our African travels since. Besides that, Etosha is known for it's watering holes, but I heard there was no booze at them....what kind of watering hole doesn't have alcohol?

Turns out the watering holes are for the animals, and we can bring our own beer....so once I heard that, Etosha got my vote. Also, Mad had just got off the plane from New York, we understood her desire to see some African animals in the wild. Besides, it would be a totally different experience scoping the game ourselves instead of a paid guide to do all the work.

Aside from Etosha being a park that is totally "doable" in your own vehicle, it also is set apart from the other parks of Africa in that the campgrounds in the park are situated next to watering holes that they light up at night. Kind of a "Club Africa" for the animals...watering hole by day, pick up bar/night club by night. So all 2 springbok in a bit of a rumble whilst the zebras keep on drinkin;you do is bring a book, set up your camera and wait and watch the action of the night...seems like maybe they could do this with pickup bars back in the USA.

After driving around the park with very little luck spotting any animals, we set up our tent at Halalie Camp and headed to the watering hole. The watering hole is about 200 yards from the camp and just inside the camp's fence there are benches set up so campers can watch the watering hole.

Good thing I brought a book cause it took a while for the animals to show up, but once they did, it was a steady stream. It was funny to me, as most of the time, the water hole was only visited by one kind of animal at a time. While the zebras were there, it was ONLY zebras. Then when they left, a herd of springbok came to get a drink. Then a couple oryx dropped by. But the watering hole was highlighted that night, when about an hour after sundown a rhino and her baby came to get a drink. The waterhole was lit at night by floodlights, but the animals didn't seem to mind as night isFamily of elephants at Elephant Hole when most of the animals came to drink. We stayed at the hole until about 10pm when we went to bed. We got up bright-n-early for the dawn session of animals when it was evident by the massive quantities of elephant shit, that the elephants drank till the wee hours of the morning.

That day we found another watering hole that was riddled with game and was appropriately named Elephant Hole.

We sat at Elephant Hole for about an hour and witnessed 4 different groups of 15-20 elephants each come for bath time. Additionally, we saw loads of springbok, giraffes, zebra and oryx as well. It was interesting watching the dynamics of the elephants. As a group of A giraffe getting a drink with his buddy checking out his ass at the Elephant Hole.elephants were bathing, playing, drinking, etc, at the hole, you could see another pacakderm parade off in the distance coming towards the hole. Once that group arrived at the hole, the group that was at the hole seemed to realize their time was up and all headed out. Then the next group would utilize the water hole for a while before you would see the next group off in the distance and the process would start all over.

Though Etosha wasn't on our original list of things to see in Namibia, I am really glad we went. Driving yourself as well as the watering holes made it totally different than the guided safari we did in Kenya. And it was really cool to just sit and watch at our own pace rather than rushing around trying to find all the animals.
Giraffe, springbok and oryx at Elephant HoleA lineup of giraffes

The Silver Tittie in Na-boobia

The official logo of Team TittieAfter a 14 hour travel day that included 2 busses, a border and 2 hitched rides, we arrived in Windehok, Namibia only to find the hostel we wanted to stay at was full. However, not only did the hostel call around to other places to stay to find us a much needed place to rest, but this allowed us to meet Mad (short for Madaline), a truly MAD New Yorker.

But let me back up a bit.

Public transport isn't exactly easy in Africa, especially in Namibia. You either need to join a tour group or rent your own car. Though Amy and I don't like organized tours for reasons outside the scope of this entry, we are too poor at this point to rent our own car. CJ and Mad with the Silver TittieWe were actually planning on spending the first couple days in Namibia comparing safari companies for prices.

Enter Mad.

Turns out Mad was looking for travel companions to share the cost of her rented car...a Silver Nissan Tiida (pronounced, at least by us, TITTIE - hence this entry's name). Not only was she wanting to see the highlights of Namibia, she also was flying out of Cape Town (as we are) and is an artist/photographer to boot...so she won't mind Crackajap and my frequent stops to take pictures. Working out even better for Amy, she LOVES to eat/snacktime...thus Team Tiitie is born.

What better way to travel Naboobia...I mean NPickett posing with the Silver Tittie on the Skelaton Coastamibia...in a Silver Tittie with 2 women.

Then again, what am I getting myself into? I think this will just be sweet revenge for Amy for all the farts, women jokes, and general hell that Dave and I put her through in our jaunt around New Zealand.

After wondering around Windehook gathering camping gear for Amy and I, we were off to fly around the arid desert land in a silver bullet...err, tittie...

Mo' than Mokoros in this Delta

Our poler JULES bringing our mokoro to us.I won't bore you with another description of a border-crossing-bru-ha-ha, I'll just mention it briefly to emphasize that the effort to get to the Okavango Delta in Botswana was worth it. After two days of travelling from Zambia via ferry, minivan, hitch hiking, and bus, with hours of waiting along the way, we arrived in the town of Maun. The town is super modern, but we were here seeking the opposite of modern comforts. We wanted to ride in a Mokoro, an old school carved wooden canoe-esque boat, on a camping trip to explore the Okavango Delta. Unlike most deltas where the river ends by flowing into the ocean, the Okavango Delta is where a river ends right in the middle of land-locked Botswana.

We booked the trip through our cozy laid-back riverside hostel and hopped on a speed boat at the hostel's dock for an hour ride to a village where our "poler" (in Botswana, that has nothing to do with dancing, but refers to the guide that propels the boat using a pole) was waiting for us. Julius, or "Jules" as Pickett called him after explaining that it was after a character in Pulp Fiction, loaded us in the mokoro. Us means, me, Pickett, a day pack, Murashige-style food supply, water, camping gear, and Jules. Jules paddled us about 20 meters and then took us to another bank, where he explained he was going back to the village by foot to fetch "bigger mokoro". We reloaded in another mokoro, went another 20 meters, and Jules paddled into the bank again. This time he came back with a fiberglass mokoro. So much for the View from the mokoro making our way through the Delta.authentic mokoro experience.

Despite the boat switch, the ride was still peaceful and unusual. The delta looks almost like a flooded marsh, with tall grass poking through the shallow water surrounding a few lagoons. The boat made a soothing swishing sound as it was pushed through the grass blades to glide across the glassy surface. It was so still and quiet, the three of us barely spoke during the 90 minute journey to camp.

Jules pulled over to an island and announced that we would camp there. Pickett and I exchanged uneasy glances as we walked around piles of elephant poo and Jules starting hacking away at the bush to clear a spot for the tent. Pickett asked, "Jules, you think it's cool to camp here, since maybe elephants come up here to eat?". "No problem!", said Jules, "Elephants smell people and they stay away." Alrighty then. Jules hooked us up with a camp fire and dug "the loo" several feet away from camp and expertly hung the toilet paper roll from a tree. He disappeared to another campsite to talk to one of his buddies, and Pickett at our camp, right by elephant shit, no Pickett didn't eat any.suddenly Pickett spotted elephants crossing the river onto the island. We were fascinated but cautious. They kept their distance at first, lazily munching away at the palm bushes, but those guys don't mess around with their eating.....they were through the first bunch of palms within a few minutes and were slowly making their way to our campsite. 

Pickett and I had no qualms about surrendering our spot. We backed up to the water and I started calling for Jules. He rushed back to camp and started stomping and clamping and threw a rock at the elepahnts and told them to scat. Although they outnumbered and outweighed ol' Jules, they obeyed and left the island.

Just before sunrise, Jules took us out in the imposter mokoro to paddle to the lagoon to look at the hippos. Pretty amazing to see them at almost eye level across the water! But of course we stayed a safe distance away from those brutes - they're known for taking a chomp or stomp out of antagonizers.

Amy and Jules in the bushJules helped us boil water over the campfire and make our spaghetti dinner. The campfire was roaring and warm and we just hung out for awhile. I went to bed at about 9pm and Jules announced that a few of his buddies would stay at our campsite and would keep the fire going all night, "to make sure the animals remember we are here." I slept like a baby til about midnight, when I was awakened by the distant grunts of the hippos. I had a hard time falling back asleep; when I finally did, I was awake again within an hour when I heard the grunts of hippos....a bit closer this time. I told myself it was nothing to worry about and was reassured by the sounds of Jules & company voices. I didn't know until morning that Jules had gotten up to scare away a hippo that was at the shore, a little too close for comfort to the campsite.

The next morning we were back in the mokoro to ride to another stretch of land to go on a nature walk. These local guides are just amazing - they really know theJules poling us along at sunset habits of the animals! Jules could spot an elephant from hundreds of feet away, where we could admire its enormity and silhouette along the horizon. We were able to get quite close to a herd of wildebeasts and zebras grazing. They didn't mind us much, they just took a look at all the tourists that eventually gathered and slowly backed into the distance.

It was a rustic camping experience for me, and I was satisfied with the one-night rather than the two or more night option, but it was so remote and beautiful that it is one of the highlights of the entire trip. Plus it provided Pickett with the opportunity to nickname a local, who was happy to hear it was a nickname after SAMUEL L. Jackson, not MICHAEL Jackson.

Pickett: you may be asking your self "Why would you allow you and your girlfriend to be poled from behind by a large blackman named Jules?" Well, that is just the way they do it in Buttswana...I mean Botswana.

The Smoke That Thunders

Victoria Falls from the Zambia side.While travelling, we have come across tons of "Lists". There's the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, and the newly released Updated Seven Wonders of the World as voted by internet users world wide. We have come to conclusion that all these lists really are is a new way to promote places...an over-hyped tourist marketing tool. 

That being said, Victoria Falls - advertised as One of the Seven Natural Wonders - does actually live up to it's billing. The falls is on the Zambezi river, a river that also seperates Zambia from Zimbabwe. And though most of the falls lie on the Zambia side, the better views are on the Zimbabwe side. Because of the high cost of seeing Pickett and Amy at the Boiling Pot with the falls in the back.the falls from the Zimbabwe side ($30 visa to get into Zim and $20 to get into the falls), only I went over. Though you are looking at the same water, you can walk the length of the falls on the Zimbabwe side...and only then do you get an inclination of how big this sucker really is.

The numbers of the falls are staggering: the falls are over 1 mile long, dropping over 120 feet and at full flow over 1,000,000 liters of water per second.  The Zambezi river also happens to be one of the best white-water rafting rivers in the world. So while the falls are more impressive at full flow, the river is better to raft at low flow - when more rocks are exposed.

We were able to arrive at the falls at an ideal time. There was still enough water to make the falls impressive, but the water level was decreasing, so that when we got A small section of the falls from the Zimbabwe side.there, they JUST opened up 3 more rapids.

At prime (low flow) season, they put in right at the base of the falls at a rapid called the Boiling pot. However, the water level was too high when we were there, so we put in 7 rapids down river. Rapid #9 is called Commercial Suicide and it is unraftable by commercial rafting companies...so we had to walk around that one. Rafting was grand, and our boat was quite the international mix: Kye from Wales, D and Eva from Ireland, Tombo (guide) from Zambia, and 2 Dutch. 

An added bonus/difficulty to rafting in Africa is the wildlife present in the river. We thought the guides were just kidding when they said "Don't fall out or you will be Croc Food". But then we saw not one, not two but FOUR crocs sunning themselves on the river! An added incentive to not fall out of the boat.
Elephants along the Zambezi
To celebrate rafting the mighty Zambezi and living to tell the tale, we took a booze cruise that started above the falls and went up river for the sunset. Though we didn't think it would be, it turned out to be quite the safari cruise as we saw more crocs, elephants and hippos right along the river bank (the elephants were even crossing the river).

We actually ended up staying an extra 2 nights in Livingstone so we could see the lunar rainbow on the falls. On full moons, Victoria Falls is one of the few places in the world that you can see a lunar rainbow. And while it was something special, we don't have any digital photos to show you...so it looks like you will have to go see for yourself.

Me, Mike, Jill Amy and Kye celbrating our sucess down the Zambezi