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Clare’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 15 Nov 2007

Location: Magadikigadi Pans, Botswana

MapWell I can only apologise that its been sooo long since I last updated... the crappy internet connections combined with the truck timetable meant that we hardly ever had any real time sat at a decent terminal and when we did we were scrabbling around doing admin. Anyway I'll try to give a flavour of all the things we've done since Maputo. God that feels like ages ago!

Mozmabique is definitely a place to come back to - we had a blissful 9 days going up the coast and lazing on the beaches, which are spectacular and EMPTY! Well I didn't actually do tons of lazing as I was diving, swimming, shopping and sleeping off the odd hangover but it was a welcome breath of fresh sea air after our rubbish day in Maputo spent trying to sort out US Dollars cash for Zimbabwe...currently the only currency worth spending there.

Our first stop was Tofo near the gorgeously Art Deco town of Inhambane - Mozambique was a Portuguese colony and lots of the towns and cities are beautifully preserved in pastel art deco, Inhambane being one of them. Tofo is a big, curved, white sand bay with crystal blue waters, a couple campsites and a dive shop - it is stunning and at no point was there more than about 30 people on the beach. We had a cocktail party on the beach on the first evening which all the local random dogs seemed to attend (actual dogs, not ugly women!) and after a couple of us did our diving refresher course we also ran into the Norwegians who had been shadowing our route (we'd met them in Dundee & Maputo) so we drank and chatted into the night preparing for our hugely anticpated morning dive at the Manta ray cleaning station which we had all been talking about since we heard about it in Maputo..... sadly the dive shop screwed up and told us the wrong muster time so we couldn't go but it did mean we had a couple more hours to laze on the beach!

A couple of hours up the coast is Vilankulos the jumping off point for the Bazaruto Archipelago (how's that for exotic?) which is about as close as I can imagine to perfect desert island bliss. The beach itself is a working one so not as picturesque as Tofo, but the islands are just amazing. We took a Dhow trip out to Marguela to swim in the lagoon, snorkel the reef and wander about the island where our hosts cooked up a storming lunch of Kingfish and rice before we passed a couple hours drifting back to mainland reality on the dhow. Next day was diving - 2 mile reef out beyond the islands in the Indian Ocean.... a bit of hairy buoyant entry as the swell was pretty big but great dives to make it all worthwhile, turtles, rays, nudibranchs, Clownfish, Crayfish, Anenomes, beautiful corals, nice surge and a landmark for me in that I was the last one up... I usually crack through my air but I made it last this time and knocked off a solid hour underwater!!

Mozambique is still recovering from a protracted guerila civil war but there is still a decent amount of tourist infrastructure and its been on the map for South African tourists for a while... get there while you can, cos its going to be big! After we burned up the Mozambique equivalent of the M1 (check out the picture) we stocked up before heading into Zimbabwe.

Its probably the most attractive country we went through, it seems to have everything and after the parched landscape of Mozambique was really, really green! True there are police checkpoints every 10kms where they try it on for a bit of cash or a cold drink and all the shops are empty and the cars are all either 30 yrs old or brand spanking new pick-ups but it definitely has charm and you can see what it should be like as you drive through. We went straight to Masvingo to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, a hilltop fortress built by the Shona people in the medieval period. Again we had a brilliant local guide who really brought it to life for us and all enjoyed our day wandering around the ruins.

Onto Bulawayo and our Rhino walking safari - this was just great, we went into the Matobo Nat. park with a local guide called Ian who really knew his stuff - good job too cos we got within 2 metres of MAHOOOOOSIVE Rhino! In total we saw about 12 Rhino that day and came within sniffing distance of 5-6. Ian was a great guide and took us to more San Bushman paintings as well as to a local Ndebele village where we were greeted with music and dancing.

We then headed off for a couple days R&R at Antelope Park near Gweru. Its a lovely park maintained mainly to breed lions for release into Game parks around africa with the aim of re-building depleted populations. They breed the lions which means there are cubs who are habituated to humans and you can walk with them while they are young and learning how to be in the Bush. Its amazing though - I was thinking cute little baby lioncubs awwww, but when we saw them bounding towards us!!!!!!!!!!! AARGGGHhHHH!!!!!!!!! Yes, they are actually quite bloody big! Anyway look at the pics - they are great! I also opted to sit on the back of an elephant while it went for a swim - hilairious! all you can really see is me and the Mahout trying to stay on and the elephant having a whale of a time! The highlight however was the Night Hunt with the older lions. Once they are too old for walking, the park starts trying to build a pride for release and lets the lions practise stalking, obviously the pride needs to be able to hunt successfully before it can be released. This is where the name of the park comes in. They have tons of Antelope because they are lion food.... and you can go out in the jeeps to stalk with the Lions. Our lions were Narla and Narnia - sisters who happen to have a relatively high strike rate on these stalks, and they did us proud, three hours driving around the Bush in the dark rewarded us with three proper tense stalks (2 duiker and a Steembok) and one kill! Narnia got a Spring hare which she didn't share with her sister - the whole thing was like watching a real-life
Attenborough film....brilliant!

We were done with Zim for bit and headed into Botswana to the Magadikigadi Pans and the Kalahari. We stayed at a great place called Planet Baobab surrounded with, yep you guessed it, Baobab trees and bliss upon bliss, A POOL!!!! Very much needed as it was scorchio. It also has a great little bar area with Cowhide seat covers and chandeliers made of tons of green beer bottles! We did a great early morning trip out onto the Pans where we sat with a Meerkat colony for about an hour while we watched the Vultures soaring in the thermals overhead. There are massive herds of Zebra on the pans and we saw a small group of about 50 gallop off the pans into the scrub where they joined up with a bigger herd making about 300 in all, really spectacular.

On the way back to Planet Baobab we dropped by Chapman's Baobab on the edge of the Pans. Its a gargantuan Baobab which served as a landmark for the early Pioneer columns to help them navigate across the empty landscape, its reckoned to be in excess of 3000 yrs old and the biggest tree in Southern Africa. We all got in some much needed floating in the pool time and Louise and I opted to upgrade from our tents to a wicked little Bushman hut made of a wood frame and rushes. Sadly we forgot to take any pictures so you'll just have to trust me that it was brill!