Nov 052011
 

So, there’s no easy way from Victoria Falls to Lesotho. One of our missions for our trip to South Africa was to check-off the two small countries surrounded by South Africa: Lesotho and Swaziland. Since some of our best vacation memories have been driving around the countryside, we decided to get a car and see if we could pull this off. Lots of friends, especially South African friends, said they would never do such a trip. Too dangerous, too boring, etc. Of course, that only encouraged us more.

Up early for another game drive, and this was the winner. Early in the drive, our guide got a call on the radio that there was a fresh kill…and we sped towards it just in time. We got there right after the kill, and were treated to this!

Don’t you DARE steal my food:

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Nov 042011
 

Having managed to brave the bungee jump over the Victoria Falls Bridge, you’d think it would be easy to whitewater raft the river.  However, upon getting there, two things conspired against me.   First, I’d seen the river from above, and knew how sheer the cliffs were.  We were going to have to walk down the side of those to get in the river?  Uhhh….on top of that, we learned the Zambezi is considered to be the most difficult commercially-raftable river in the world, and that there were world championship events held here.  Not exactly what you want to hear when you’re already nervous about rafting for the first time.  At least I’m a strong swimmer, so that much is good!

After the mandatory safety briefing, we were divided up into groups.  There were enough people for three rafts, and thankfully the guides were excellent at sizing us up, and got things right.  The “easy” raft would just hang on while the guide did the rowing.  BORING!  The medium raft would be able to row, but the guide would help out….again, BORING!  Thankfully, we got sized up as strong or adventurous, and got put in the “advanced” raft.  There were eight of us plus the guide…and it was a fascinating mix:

The two of us, two absolutely fearless and insane Zimbabwe boys, and equally crazy expat Zimbabwean lady, a slightly less fit South African couple, and an adventurous French intern who was saving the rhinos in Zim.  This was bound to be fun!

The climb down into the gorge was a nonevent…there were some railings, it wasn’t too deep, and we were off.  We paddled around a bit, and went straight into it.  The first few Category 3 and 4 rapids were a good test…and we were confident.  We even managed to stay upright in the first Category 5.  Was awesome!  However, that’s where things began to go tits up when we flipped in one Cat 5, and then again two rapids later.  The south african lady was freaking out at this point, but we managed to keep it together.

We had a choice about 2/3 of the way through.  The rapid had three choices:  go left, and certainly flip and likely die in a Category 5++ rapid.  Go centre to a category 5, and 95% flip.  Go right, and hit it as a Category 3, and almost certainly stay upright.  We voted, and we went middle…made it almost to the end and…yup, third flip.  I think the river pushed us a good 500+ metres downriver, but it was an absolute blast.  I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun…and really want to go back!

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Oct 272011
 

After a quick snack, we headed back to the Victoria Falls Bridge for the bungee jump. I admit it – if we hadn’t paid for it in advance, I’m pretty sure I would have chickened out. I hate heights, and still can’t believe I went through with it. The jump is 111 meters (364 feet) and not actually at the falls, but a few hundred meters downstream. The pics in the previous post give a bit of a sense of perspective.

It’s so nice they tell you HOW to jump:

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Oct 262011
 

It was up at 5am again, for one last 6am safari in Botswana. We were really lucky this morning because it was just slightly warmer, and very early in the drive the guides got quite excited – one of the jeeps had spotted a fresh lion kill and we were all racing there for a look.

Breakfast anyone?

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Oct 242011
 

We waited around for ten minutes, and eventually managed to find our driver. It was a large van with a dozen or so others, but we were to drive to the border and then split into two vehicles. Now, it wasn’t clear when we booked if you could go straight from Zambia to Botswana without crossing into Zimbabwe, but apparently the answer is no. This was a mild concern since while it was easy to get a multi-entry visa to Zambia, Zimbabwe only issued dual-entry…so we had to be careful how many times we went in and out, since a new visa would cost.

Pulled up to the border, exited Zambia no problems, and into Zimbabwe just as easy. While the Zambian immigration was pleasant, the folks on the Zimbabwe side were downright rude. Oh well, at least the Zimbabwe visa was a cool sticker, while Zambia was just a stamp with “multi” written below it, lol. I could have done that myself! Through the border, we had about one hour to drive to the lodge.

We stayed at the Chobe Marina Lodge in Kasane, Botswana. First impressions were pretty good. Check-in was efficient, they walked us to our room without asking for a tip, and overall the property was pretty nice. Certainly not luxury, but clean, comfortable, etc. Can’t ask for too much more. We had to rush, however, because the evening safari cruise was about to leave, and if we wanted to go we had about five minutes to dump things in the room and be out there! We were only there two days, so wanted to be sure that we got in as much as possible!

Last ones on the boat, and away we went. The cruise was a bit over two hours, and a great relaxing intro to things. First off, the obligatory impala shot. It’s the first thing you see on safari, and probably the last. They’re everywhere, and you can tell the people on their first time out because they excitedly snap pictures of them!

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Oct 232011
 

So, this is probably not the most commonly flown route in the world – Philippines to Zambia? It was odd enough there were several stops along the way where agents had to look up three digit airport codes to figure out where it was, lol.

Checked in in Manila at oh-dark-thirty minus an hour, and no trouble. Once again, the airport improvement tax is not included in the ticket, but you can pay in any combination of currencies you want at the ticket window. Got rid of my leftover pesos, spent a few US dollars, and we were through to the Cathay Pacific Lounge. Perhaps the most depressing lounge on the planet. But, it was quiet, and we didn’t have to wait in a gate full of hundreds of people (ok, so we did have to sit with a dozen or more self-important types, but…) but there was Diet Coke, and all was right with the world.

Boarding was right on time, and the crew was pleasant. Not too much more you can ask for on a two hour regional flight!

Manila, Philippines to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific flight 904
Depart 6:20, Arrive 8:20, Flight Time: 2 hours
Airbus A330-300, Registration B-HLH, Manufactured 1995
Seats 15H, 15K

Not much to say on this flight. Breakfast was served with two hot options, the eggs were almost edible, and before we knew it we were landing in Hong Kong. I forgot to say this flight had perhaps the best character we’ve ever seen He was walking with a “pimp cane” with a giant fake diamond on the top of it, and complaining loudly to everyone in site that he was not sitting next to his wife. Two people in a row declined to switch with them, and he only got more obnoxious, waving his cane in the air. It was something out of Las Vegas meets Bollywood meets a Trailer Park…eventually they got to sit together, and he was quiet the rest of the flight.

Immigration in Hong Kong was a bit of a nightmare, and we ended up waiting well over 30 minutes to get through. We hadn’t planned on clearing it, but there were no Lufthansa agents anywhere on the transfers side and we wanted to request the upgrade as soon as possible, so we went to the check-in desk. Quick stop for Starbucks, up to the check-in desks…and SCORE! They upgraded us on the spot. Life was good!

Back through immigration, and first stop was the Singapore lounge. It was adequate (despite there being no washroom in the lounge) but nothing great, so we headed to the Thai lounge, which had a dedicated first class side. Much better, drinks were provided by a waiter, and it was a much better (and lighter) place to wait. The Singapore lounge is in the basement of the terminal, while the Thai lounge is on the top level with a glass roof. Much better! Soon it was time to board…and pray.

See, Matt doesn’t have the best luck with Lufthansa First Class. On two different occasions, he’s had a disaster:

First, flying Dubai to Munich the aircraft went tits up with some sort of mechanical malfunction, and a 3+ hour delay…which would have meant missing connections back to the States. Now, this wasn’t all bad, since due to a bit of quick thinking we begged to be rebooked on Emirates…and did. On the A380. In first. Nonstop to London. Arriving over 30 minutes earlier! That said, Lufthansa was jinxed.

Next, flying London City to Frankfurt to connect to Frankfurt-Baku the incoming flight struck a swan. Well, they said it was a swan, but it was probably just some other sort of large fowl. Regardless, flight canceled, no way to get to Frankfurt in time, and a resulting downgrade to “business’ on Turkish via Istanbul and a nearly 18 hour delay. Fantastic. Something was SURE to go wrong again…right?

Hong Kong to Frankfurt, Germany
Lufthansa flight 739
Depart 12:45, Arrive 18:55, Flight Time: 12:10
Boeing 747-400, Registration D-ABVF, Manufactured 1990
Seats 83A, 83K

Well, everything went fine up until departure and after a couple of glasses of champagne we were airborne. Of course, this meant that we were sure to divert to Kraplakistan or something on the way. Hopefully to a country I hadn’t ticked off the list yet! 😉

Soon after we took off, the crew sprang into service, and soon it was time to set the table and deliver the amuse bouche.

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Sep 292011
 

So, having survived bungee, I was up for whitewater rafting. What they don’t tell you in advance is that the Zambezi is the most technical/difficult commercially-raftable river in the world. Oh well, go big or go home! No point in doing things halfway.

There were three rafts on our trip, and they sorted us out…and I’m pretty sure they did a quick “look and pick” thing, because we ended up in the raft of the most adventurous people on the trip by far. It’s all good – in retrospect we had an amazing adventure, and got…um…up close and personal with the river. The videographer even named our raft the “Zambezi Swim Team” Hah!

There were eight people to a raft (plus one guide) and we definitely had a great group in our raft. So what if every time we were given a choice we went for the more difficult side of the rapid, and more often than not ended up upside down and halfway down the river 😉

There were about 18 rapids in total, and the total trip was nearly four hours with a great BBQ at the end. Unfortunately, about 8-10 rapids in we went down hard and I was under for a good 20-30 seconds and ended up losing my shoes. This was fine, until the end of the trip when we had to walk up the side of the canyon to get out. A 25-30 minute walk straight uphill on rocks which had been baked by the sun. I think my poor foot is still a little burnt and sore!

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Sep 292011
 

Yes, I know I’ve gotten a little more than a bit behind…but the trip was just too much fun, and I was too tired at the end of each day to keep posting. I promise to catch up!

For now, a little teaser! My jump of the Victoria Falls Bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe…I was absolutely terrified! Be sure to watch past the 2 minute mark to really get a perspective of the canyon.

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