Monday, 27 July 2015

May 26: A mad (and unnecessary?) rush, and a messy end to a day

The day started out with the beautiful serenity of the Delta – and the first clouds we have seen in 2 weeks.

Sunrise, sunrise 
Wow. Clouds.
We were headed to the airport to catch a 9:35 flight. The whole truck opted to start early and do a game drive, and were glad we did. We saw lots of stuff, including elephants (one mock charged us), zebra (including an injured one), hippos (one mock charged us), a big herd of cape buffalo, side striped jackals and more.

A pissed off, one tusked elephant 
Side striped jackal 
Hippo standing his ground
Here's what a pissed off hippo looks like.

During his rant
Hippos doing their water thing 
"I'm watching you" 
Quite cheesed at us, I think 
A Red Lechwe -- an antelope with webbed feet
At times, there was more water than road, just like in northern Australia.

Up to the gunwales 
Yep, that's a road 
We are more boat than truck
The longer the drive went on, the more game we saw.

This elephant cut us off, wanting to cross the track 
Zeebs, and in the middle... 
An injured zeeb . Looks like the lion lost.
Finding us interesting 
My favourite photo from all I took in Africa 
A marbou stork and a heron
And then there was the buffalo herd.

Blocking the road 
The birds really do this 
Mass disorganization
Alas, our plane arrived (about 30 min late) and it was time to head out.

The Caravan coming in for a landing 

The glass cockpit
We asked if we could fly low; our pilot said sure, and kept us at 500’ AGL the whole 35 min flight back. The views were cool, and the folks said we saw more wildlife on the flight than on the scenic tour they each paid $100 for 2 days previous. I just loved the patterns in the marshes.

Overtaking at 500' 
Hippo channels 
Elephant herd 
More gorgeous colours 
Thousands of flamingos
We touched down and learned that "the race was on." We were apparently 30 min late getting in, and we had a 4 PM deadline several hundred kilometres away that we were told we were tight to make. We were told we must hurry as much as possible for the entire day. So we:
  • rushed onto the truck,
  • rushed over to an ATM,
  • raced to pull shoes out of luggage locked up in the truck's lockers, while the truck was barreling along at 100 km/hr (we had to disinfect them at a check point to stop the spread of hoof and mouth disease),
  • raced to lunch,
  • raced though lunch (a whirlwind frenzy of sandwich making and eating and cleaning – I actually never sat down, eating my sandwich while on the move)
...and arrived at 3:45 PM – to the best accommodation so far. On arrival, we had 15 minutes to:

  • check in,
  • get keys,
  • go to our rooms,
  • drop our bags,
  • lock up stuff in the safe,
  • go to the can,
  • pull out warm gear and
  • get back for a drive to the Nata section of the famous Makgadikgadi salt pans.

So we barely had time to see or even experience this, and certainly none in daylight:

The beautiful bed, and behind it... 
The clawfoot tub

We were told dinner was at 7, and raced away to the "salt pans", which it turns out (where we went) are actually not salt pans but the inland sand and clay delta of the Nata River. I was expecting salt pans like the Atacama Desert of Chile, or Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, or the Great Salt Desert in Utah. Nope. Grass, some clay flats, a bit of wildlife and a brine lake that attracts pelicans and flamingoes. The true salt areas themselves are 40-60 km to the south (and are the result of an ancient lake drying up), and the pans occasionally fill with runoff, making them a dull salty clay and not at all like the salt pans I know.

I suspect the reason we go there is that it's a community project 
The clay (not salt) area 
Ostriches & wildebeasts 
Who don't stick around 
In flight 
Heading to the lake 
Just fishing 
This one caught one (note the bill) 
How many pelican can cram onto a small island? 
The flamingos took off when we got within 500 m 
An en-mass exit 
Laggards leaving 
Solo soaring
The "tour" included a beer at sunset.

Pelicans heading home 
And the sun sets 
Fishing never ends
The Nata Pans tour was kind of a “meh”, and a little misrepresented in the description. Our guide was knowledgeable, I think, but he said so little it was hard to tell. He even got the geological history of the pans incorrect, but then again, he only gave it when asked, and only to me and one other person. It was less of a tour than a truck ride of 20 km to see birds at the lake.

Since driving in the dark here is risky at best, we raced home, arriving at 6:45. We were greeted on return by our truck team urging us to dinner, but told them we had essential "stuff" to do (such as peeing). With supposedly 15 min to dinner, Karen and I raced to our room, raced to change and drop cameras, raced to the bathroom, and got to the truck for dinner spot on the prescribed time of 7 PM.

Only we found everyone else already eating and mostly finished. So much for that “dinner at 7” instruction. There was no table; it was “sit around the campfire and eat off your lap” style. We served ourselves dinner, and since others were finished, our leader and guide launched into the nightly “here’s what’s happening tomorrow” talk  - long before we were finished eating. The moment he was done, while Karen and I were still eating, everyone else folded up his or her chairs and left. By 7:15 -- just as I was finishing my first serving, deliberately small so I wouldn't spill on my lap -- the serving dishes were being scraped into the trash (so much for seconds) and the Nomad team were washing dishes. Just two others stayed back with us to enjoy the fire, still burning brightly – and note the strangeness of the day.

We understood we were in a blinding rush all day, and we understood why. The whole truck pitched in to help make the schedule, washing, chopping, or helping set up or tear down, and being efficient at necessary stops.

But there was no reason to rush dinner. There was no reason to start it before the 7 PM announced time (it was stew and boiled potatoes and salad, all of which would happily have held until the scheduled dinner time). In fact, a quiet relaxing dinner would have been quite appropriate given the pace of the rest of the day. I personally thought it rude and offensive of the others to pack up and leave while I was still eating.

It’s one of the things you learn in “truck life”. Our first few weeks as a “truck family” we bonded and did everything together. Since Windhoek? Not so much. Now there is one well-defined “clique” and “everyone else” (it’s just like high school, actually). Dynamics change, and while I may have found tonight’s experience a poor way to treat people, in many ways it was not unexpected given the “new” post-Windhoek “truck family” dynamic. There are those of on the truck who notice it and miss the earlier weeks of camaraderie.

Still, some on the truck have as an absolute priority things other than making sure the truck runs well. Having 11 people in a confined space for 10 hrs a day means that having the truck run well helps the whole truck have a better experience. Some put their need for their experience ahead of the “family”, and tonight was a clear outcome of that.

Such a shame, and such a poor finish to a day that started so well.


Today’s Africa Travel Tip: Visa and Visas

If you’re coming to southern Africa, get a Visa card. Not because “it’s everywhere you want to be,” but because it’s pretty much the only card accepted here.

The odd higher end establishment accepts American Express. Establishments accepting MasterCard are pretty rare, almost rarer than American Express. Most immigration forms (like Zimbabwe’s) ask “how much money do you have?” and the correct answer is "Visa".

Now, actual visas (that paper you need to get into Southern African countries can) be complicated, and you MUST do your research before you come on a safari that crosses borders. 

As an example, take a Canadian entering Zimbabwe. As I write this, the visa costs $75, payable in US$, Pula or Rand. But let’s say you’re visiting Victoria Falls (the town in Zimbabwe) and want to cross the bridge and go into Zambia for the afternoon to see the other side of Victoria Falls (the falls themselves). A Zambia visa costs $50, US$ only. Or you can ask for a Kaza Dual Entry visa at one of 3 Zimbabwe/Zambia border posts in the Vic Falls area. A Kaza visa costs $50, payable in US$ only, that allows you to enter both Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Get a Kaza Visa entering , and you might get a form that you surrender upon exiting Zimbabwe going into Zambia. This allows them to track where you are, and if you try to save money by buying a Kaza visa and NOT go into Zambia, they will catch you when you exit Zimbabwe and charge you the $25 you didn’t pay PLUS fine you for using the wrong visa.

If you don’t have the correct visa and can’t get across a border, your safari truck will just leave you there, and say “too bad, so sad” and move on without you, leaving you to fend for yourself by hitchhiking; our guide has done this twice in 8 years. Our Hong Kong citizen truck-mates travelling on a Hong Kong passport spent quite some time at the Namibian border, because the Chinese need a visa you can’t buy at the border to enter. Hong Kong, however, isn’t China, though it took some convincing and checking for the border guard to confirm that. 

So bring a Visa and get the correct visas.