Richard and Masami recently traveled to Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa with Africa Adventure Consultants (AAC). They were excited to return to a continent where they had strong ties as Richard was born in Zimbabwe and they had met while working in Africa. On their homecoming, they enjoyed celebrating their wedding anniversary, and now they “still talk almost daily” about their trip because it was so full of “remarkable memories.”
We welcome Richard to the blog today where he kindly agreed to share stories of their adventures.
A trip back to Africa, family roots and past endeavors had long been planned, long delayed and finally happened as post pandemic travel became possible. Five years ago, after retiring, the plan was to return Tanzania and Kenya where my wife Masami and I have past family and work ties, but COVID-19 changed our plans. Focus turned to Zimbabwe where I was born, Botswana and Namibia where we had long wanted to visit while working in Zambia and Malawi in the 1980s and South Africa where family had lived.
Sixty-eight years ago, my father was assigned as part of the Kariba Dam consulting engineers’ team, a dam that still provides Zimbabwe (and Zambia) with 70% of its power, and the lake is an important source of economic activity. We last visited the dam with my parents in the 1980s. Moving across or near borders back then was challenging given the tensions throughout the region as the apartheid system in South Africa was in its final throes.
This visit was different – we were warmly welcomed and the appreciation of the role of the dam constructors was well expressed in a special tour of the dam. It was by far my dad’s favorite project; to see how it has endured, albeit with new challenges, is a development practitioner’s aspiration. A highlight was finding the same spot a photo was taken of my mother the day the dam’s floodgates were opened and repeating the photo 67 years on.
From Kariba we flew by bush plane to Victoria Falls, which continues to be a favorite, always living up its wonder-of-the-world reputation. Masami and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary overlooking the awe of the Zambezi. We met in Malawi 40 years ago, both working as volunteers, and the setting back in Africa for celebrating our life journey together was special.
Zimbabwe, once known as the breadbasket of southern Africa, has been through a very difficult period, but everyday folks want to move on from past tensions and blaming, make a huge effort to be educated, work hard and have that reputation in the region. Tourism destinations are generally well managed as are Zimbabwe’s parks. The politics are less self-destructive than before, and there are many signs of hope in my “motherland.”
Crossing the border post into Botswana was an easy 10-minute process, and we headed to an Okavango conservancy camp near the Moremi Game Reserve. The Okavango Delta is something of an oasis in Southern Africa, surrounded by desert and semi-arid landscapes. The nature viewing was up-close and spectacular. Our tracker could hear a leopard cough a kilometer away and figure out the direction, and his skill enabled the closest big cat viewing in the wild I have experienced. Elephants and hippos thrive on the lush vegetation. Most wildlife struggles are over territory and breeding rights. Some camps and lodges in Botswana have a social tradition of asking guests to eat together for dinner at the same long table as a way of honoring and respecting one another. We had some long evenings toasting and respecting each other.
Following the Okavango watershed to the south, we headed into the Kalahari and Tau Pan, in part inspired by the Laurens Van Der Post novels on the Kalahari and the San people. I was expecting a harsh desert environment, but unseasonal rains had turned the bush remarkably green. Oryx and springbok, both well adapted to desert conditions, grazed lazily in large numbers on vast plains, and lions and leopards looked well fed. We were even treated to a rare Kalahari rainbow. Our San tracker showed us the array of plant species used for food, drink, medicine, tools and housing traditionally needed to survive in the Kalahari’s semi-arid environment.
We continued west to Namibia with a self-drive from Windhoek to Sossusvlei in the Namib desert. Geologically, it is the world’s oldest desert and stretches for most of the coastal area of Namibia. I had always thought that striking photographs of the salt and clay pans and red dunes were heavily edited, but that is exactly how they look if you get up at 5am to be in the desert to see the sunrise casting light and creating shadows on the mountainous dunes. The landscape is even more dramatic from the air by hot air balloon but requires a 4am start to avoid an unmanageable balloon being buffeted by desert thermals.
From Sossusvlei we headed up the 300-kilometer desert road to Swakopmund. Hot and sometimes barely visible as a road, its sharp quartz stones shredded a tire. Fortunately, the car was equipped with two spares, and I had checked the tire change gear before setting out. The last time I changed a tire was in Africa more than 30 years ago, so it was either sit in the 40oC heat and wait for a passing vehicle to ask for help or change it. And thank goodness I did, as apparently the Namibians take a dim view of anyone not able to change a tire even on a car hire. Important skills remembered on an African road trip!
Even though we lived in East and Southern Africa for a decade, this was the first time to see the continent’s Atlantic coastline. Coming out of the dunes to see the Atlantic meet the desert and watch the evening fog rolling in is a wonder in itself (and happens for the same reason that mist appears when you open a cold fridge in a hot room). The beach and dune drive 100 km south along the coast from Walvis Bay was not only remarkable because of the skill of the 4×4 guide being able to navigate towering dunes and the narrow strip of drivable beach between ocean waves and dunes, but also to see the life generated by the ocean–dune interactions, including wetlands that are home to flocks of flamingos and Cape seals either lazing on the beach or feeding off the rich fisheries along the coastline. This harsh but beautiful country attracted settlers because of the Atlantic fisheries, diamonds and its natural beauty.
We returned to Cape Town at the end of the superbly curated AAC part of the trip. The adventure surpassed all expectations and was so much easier than our travels there over 30 years ago. A wonderful modern day Africa experience. The final three-week part of the trip was a 4,440km motorcycle ride from Cape Town back to Victoria Falls, arranged separately through a bike adventure company.
I had one last task to do. Shortly after retiring, my mother passed away in the United Kingdom. I had promised to take some of her ashes back to Africa for a ride through places she grew up in and to be closer to her father on a continent she understood well and had huge affinity for. Like myself, she had moved away from Africa for various reasons, but it was always her “motherland.” She had been with me for the duration of the trip and I’m sure she enjoyed every kilometer of her trip home. I spread a sachet of her ashes above Victoria Falls. You can take the person out of Africa, but you can never take Africa out of the person. We were home.
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Photos courtesy AAC Livingstone Club member Richard Bolt