“There is nothing to do here but get drunk. You should have stayed in Livingstone”, was not the first thing we wanted to hear as we embarked on our long weekend adventure. Living in the tourist hub of Livingstone, Zambia it was quite easy to get dragged into the multitude of activities available based around the Zambezi. The only problem is you’ll find yourself in this amazing African setting surrounded by tourists each forking out big dollars for their slice of controlled adventure. Travelling with fellow adventure traveler Martin, we wanted to break the shackles and coming back with something unique, something new, and something that perhaps only the true Zambians would understand.
Our destination for this epic 3 day journey was Sesheke, a small border town linking Zambia with Namibia. Border towns aren’t always the best place for an African adventure. They can often be a collective of opportunist Nomads looking for their next opportunity. But for us Sesheke was accessible, recommended by other Zambians, on the Zambezi, and maybe gave us a chance to cross into Namibia illegally.
After a bumpy 3 hour local mini bus ride filled with roadside sausage, crying babies, and catching people’s heads as they drifted into a deep sleep, we finally found our accommodation at Brenda’s Baobab. Excited for what laid ahead the guards welcoming words of wisdom immediately deflated our spirits. He showed us to our campground and we pitched our 2 man tent only to realise it was perhaps appropriate for 2 children with our knees by our ears while trying to sleep. Surely a walk around town would reenergise us only to realise this African border town was exactly that – a dusty African border town with lots of men walking around looking disheveled.
After a sleep filled with leg cramps and the tent eventually braking, we unzipped to see this beautiful paradise at our feet. Green grass, fruit trees, and a steady Zambezi stream was unobstructed from our view as we felt as if we’d been picked up and transported somewhere else overnight. We were the only guests at the campsite as we were greeted by the owners. Brenda was a welcoming Zambian woman partnered by her Dutch husband who resembled Doc Brown from Back to the Future. They gave us advice on where to go and what to see around town while also offering us free use of their kayaks at our leisure.
The town itself didn’t hold much charm. It served its purpose but had little to offer in the way of adventure in the town itself. A club a few doors down from Brenda’s was welcoming with Chicken and beer but apart from that Sesheke was a quiet place. The nights were peaceful with low lighting, a sky full of stars, and the sound of the flowing Zambezi in the background. We cooked our own food, played some cars, had some beers, and tried to avoid going back to the tent at all costs. We toyed with the idea of upgrading to a room but being the stout independent travelers we are we toughed it out.
The next day we set ourselves for a day on the water and our attempt to enter Namibia illegally. We had already raided the markets for food and loaded the kayaks as we awkwardly pushed off from the banks of the Zambezi. Rowing along with not another soul in sight, the mighty river was dotted with Islands. Doc Brown had told us about this amazing sand island providing the perfect spot for relaxing. We passed an island covered in small bushes that after a lengthy discussion we decided to bypass and explore on the journey home. The sandy paradise was our first goal.
Golden sands appeared in the distance as the rowing became more laborious. We had finally made it and celebrated with boiled eggs and oranges as we laid back welcoming the sun. Curious kids crept towards us as fisherman tried to sell us their fresh catches. This was more of the Africa we had missed. Livingstone is a travel Mecca but living in such a hustle-bustle transient town can be tiring. This was the break we both needed.
After a few hours of building sand turtles and pushing kids into the water, it was time to push on. Our next goal wasn’t hard to achieve. Basically all that separated Zambia and Namibia was the Zambezi. All we had to do was row to the other side and have a little walk around. Having said that we can now say we have entered Namibia illegally but that isn’t the story at hand. As we approached the first bushy island Martin turned to me and said, “Do you remember those rocks being there”. These big boulders stood out making us both even more curious to what this island held. Martin lead on towards the island before all of a sudden he stopped rowing. “Shit, they aren’t rocks. They’re Hippos”, he yelled. As soon as he dipped his oar back into the water to backtrack the hippos rose as one and took off to the other side of the island. We heard the loud splash as they entered the Zambezi.
Two stranded kayakers in the middle of the Zambezi with a group of Hippos in the vicinity but not within eyesight. The island was blocking our view of the Hippos with home on the other side of the Hippos. We saw that they had a calf with them meaning they were bound to be protective. A choice awaited us – not knowing where the Hippos were we could either go left or right of the island. Saying somewhat of a goodbye to one another we chose right for the sole reason that it was the Zambian side. Rowing furiously while trying not to dip our oars too deep into the water we kept a firm focus trying to shield the butterflies in our stomachs. A loud splash came on the left side of the island as the Hippos reared the heads only to duck back under and start making their way towards us. We now dug deeper only looking back on occasion to see the Hippos keeping the same 50 metre distance the whole way.
Arriving to our launch point I quickly docked and got onto land while Martin’s attempt to dock saw him land straight back into the Hippo infested Zambezi River. He quickly crawled his way onto the banks as we looked out to see the Hippos staring straight back at us loudly growling as if we had interrupted their day out. Even when we returned to the safety of our tent the growls continued to sound out.
This was our near death experience with Africa’s most dangerous animal. What looked like a letdown of a weekend turned out to be an African adventure and I haven’t even mentioned the listening to James Blunt – Goodbye My Lover on repeat for 50 minutes in our tent or the abusive drunk who continued to steal our books while slugging Rose from the bottle on our 3 hour journey, that turned into a 7 hour journey home.
LOCATION: Almost Everywhere!
COST: Great Value
RECOMMENDATION: Highly Recommended
Volunteer travel is not exactly a new craze but is continuing to go from strength to strength all over the continent. One of the leading organisations is African Impact. Since 2004 African Impact has been providing a range of volunteering options throughout Southern Africa to cater for travelers of all backgrounds.
African Impact offers a variety of projects with great flexibility in lengths. You have the option of a half day community volunteering session through to a 6 month Internship. Depending on your time, budget, and interest, there is an option to suit you.
Popular projects include Community Development in Moshi or Zanzibar (Tanzania), Education in Cape Town (South Africa), or Lion Research in Livingstone (Zambia).
Questions are commonly raised around why it is necessary to pay for volunteering and African Impact is quite open in where their money goes:
Volunteering provides the unique opportunity to experience genuine local living, mix with like-minded travelers, and have a sense of achievement at the end of your experience. African Impact also operates in amazing locations where you will have the chance to experience once in a lifetime adventures – bungy jumping, safari, diving…..
If you want to travel and make an impact be sure to visit the African Impact website and chat to the team about a volunteer experience to suit you.
With yours bags all packed and a myriad of Southern African shoestring adventures ahead of you, it’s important to make sure you fit in with the backpacking scene. You’ll feel right at home by sticking to the below commandments of backpacking:
One of the most iconic images of Southern Africa, the African Elephant is one of the major drawcards to the region. Nothing can quite prepare you for your first encounter as a herd meanders across your path. As you traverse the continent you’ll have no shortage of options ahead of you for spotting Elephants but the vast difference in size and behaviour will keep you encapsulated wherever your journey takes you.
Etosha National Park – Namibia
Etosha rates highly for all game viewing due to it’s dry desert like environment. With the highest congregation of Elephants in Namibia, the Elephants are known as the Great White Ghosts due to their pale appearance generated from the white clay.
Chobe National Park – Botswana
With one of the largest congregations of Elephants in Africa, Chobe is prime viewing. Herds migrate from the Okavango Delta to the Chobe River providing opportunities to witness herds make the river crossing. Chobe’s Elephants are also said to be the largest in body size.
Addo Elephant Park – South Africa
Crammed into a small park accessible from Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, Addo Elephant Park provides prime opportunity to view Elephants in a short trip. Partner this Park with the Garden Route.
South Luangwa National Park – Zambia
Zambia’s premier National Park is home to over 10,000 Elephants but the main point of difference is the size of it’s herds. With numbers up to 70 strolling through, walking safaris and treetop stays offer an up close and personal experience with the giants of Africa.
Kruger National Park – South Africa
The most visited of all the National Parks has no shortage of elephants with numbers over 15,000. Not promoting this as a positive, Elephants are quite accustomed to tourist interactions allowing for great photo opportunities and a closer approach.
Mozambique is a journey within itself. Beautiful beaches, colonial towns, wildlife, lakes, and a strong Portuguese heritage. Your biggest struggle will be trying to fit everything in. Our advice is to give Mozambique plenty of time, allow a slow journey, and don’t leave until you’ve at least visited the following 5 places!
Sometimes spelled Vilanculos, the seaside town is essential for all those who love diving. Pushing North of Maputo and Tofo, Vilankulos is nicely laid-back with bamboo huts and cruisey bars. The town is also the gateway to the Bazaruto Archipelago.
Once the epicenter of all Portuguese East African activity, this tiny island is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. With warm Indian Ocean waters providing the back drop to colonial churches, take the time to explore and dream of days gone by.
Ever popular with the Backpacker scene, Tofo is calm by day and lively by night. Catch waves and cool off in the waters while you inspect the fisherman’s catch of the day on the sandy beaches. A must-see for those looking for the party scene and to connect with travelers.
Quirimbas National Park
Dugongs one side and Leopards the other. Where else in the world but the Quirimbas National Park will you have the opportunity to mix tranquil waters with land safaris? Explore inland by day then cool off as the sun drops.
Narrow Islands dotted throughout the Indian Ocean providing the perfect destination to relax with a rum in hand after a long journey through Mozambique. Take your pick of secluded Islands and choose between luxury or budget relaxation.
As soon as you set foot on the continent, the drumbeats will fill the air, and an urgency to dance will come over you. To make sure you know exactly what to have in your playlist for the plane trip to Jo’burg or those long bus rides, here is a must-listen to artist in each country.
George Swabi (Botswana)
George Swabi is the artist behind the song Bagammangato which is appreciated by young and old country wide. Utilising traditional folk sounds, Swabi is yet to release an album but his sound is well known.
The Black Missionaries (Malawi)
Reggae is king in Malawi and the Black Missionaries are heroes throughout the lakeside country. In a country that sticks to its roots music, you’ll be sure to win plenty of fans talking about the much acclaimed band.
Fany Pfuno (Mozambique)
Marrabenta is the best known form of Mozambican music drawing influence from European sounds with a distinct dance beat. Fany Pfuno was the early influence behind this sound inspiring artists all over the country.
Jackson Kaujeua (Namibia)
Bringing traditional Namibian folk and blending it with reggae, soul, jazz, and many other genres, Jackson Kaujeua mixes a range of languages to bring out an unmistakable sound from the largely unknown Namibian music scene.
Miriam Makeba (South Africa)
Mama Africa, as she is affectionately known, is recognised beyond her homeland as a renowned and inspiring artist. Born in the times of Economic Depression, Makeba was the driving force behind African Jazz and was a strong opponent of Apartheid.
Macky 2 (Zambia)
Moving away from tradition, Zambia has a tendency for popular music including rap and hip hop. Macky 2 is one of the leading proponents of this even going on to appear in Big Brother Africa.
Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi (Zimbabwe)
Essential listening for any trip through Africa, Tuku is internationally renowned and has been providing the music of the people for decades. Neria is a hit while the lesser known Ghetto Boy will be stuck in your head for a lifetime.
A front seat, no bags of fish under my feet, and the music play at a reasonable volume! I couldn’t believe my luck compared to the previous bus trips I had taken on my journeys through Southern Africa. Surely this would prove to be too good to be true.
After sunning ourselves on the beaches of Tofo and Vilanculos, it was now time to head inland towards Malawi to get a taste of lake life. An early morning wake up with low expectations is how I arrived to the bus station. My experiences with African public transport was vast and comfortable wasn’t the first word that came into mind. Even worse was my experience with the pot-holed Mozambique roads that had greeted us at every turn.
We were departing Vilanculos aiming for the town of Chimoio before attempting to cross the border the next day. Our bags were hurled onto the roof as we handed over our tickets. I was the last to board and after a quick inspection there were no spare seats in sight. Expecting to be told to squeeze in somewhere between the petrol cans and chickens, I turned back to look at the ticket inspector who said, “You can ride up front sir”. I had a comfortable seat with mass leg room for what was expected to be an 8 hour drive.
Wide views of greenery surrounded me as I shared jokes and broken English with the Driver and his Co-Pilot (straddling the gearbox). All was going smoothly until we started to slow. With the bus still moving the Driver and his Co-Pilot maneuvered a seat change before we bunny hopped off towards a police check point. Once we had our papers searched we bunny hopped off again until the reverse seat change happened once more and we roared into the distance.
After a few more hours on the road we slowed again while the Driver jumped out of his seat for our second driver change of the day. Sure enough we awkwardly rolled up to the police checkpoint before jumping off again. I had finally worked the system out. Our Driver, who actually knew how to drive a bus, didn’t have a licence whereas our Co Pilot who couldn’t drive a bus was a licensed driver.
6 hours into the trip and we slowed once more. Only problem this time was I couldn’t see a police checkpoint in sight. We came to a complete halt as lots of yelling started. Men came from everywhere to look under the bus and start fiddling around with wires. Something was amiss with the bus so we did the only thing we could do in a time like this – play football. After much more yelling the Driver finally went to the back and grabbed a Jerry Can. We had run out of fuel. A group of men walked off into the distance with not a word said.
The sky grew dark before the heavens opened wide. We sort refuge in the bus as a solid 45 minutes of rain poured down. Just as it cleared we still had no sign of the men with the magical fuel supply. Time was ticking away and our chances of making it to Chimoio before nightfall were slim. A decision was made to hitch-hike our way as we went to grab our bags. Sure enough they were still on the roof soaked through from the rain.
After 20 minutes of sitting by the side of the road with our thumbs out, a truck finally came to a stop. Half of the group jumped into the tray of the truck where the other half jumped into the cab. The driver had no windscreen so we took off again with the wind belting into our faces.
With insects between our teeth and our hair stood high we came into a village just on the outside of Chimoio. This was end of the line until we found another truck heading into town. The back was packed with people as we held babies driving along the bumpy rides. The sun had well and truly set as we finally made our way into town. A sense of relief came upon us as we checked into the Pink Papaya hotel. We had well and truly earned our beer that night (which we enjoyed as we hung all our belongings out to dry). Mozambique transport will always hold a special place in my heart.