Africa 2005

My African journey began on Friday 25th November, 2005. Two months of no mobile phone, emails or work. I couldn’t wait for my big adventure. It had been a tough year with the death of my mother, which took an emotional toll on me. This seemed like the perfect time to “run away” to Africa. I was hoping Africa could fill my spirit and soul again!

I wasn’t too sure what to expect while traveling Africa in a wheelchair. When organising my trip, I basically choose where I wanted to go, emailed accommodation and tour places and booked what seemed the most appropriate. There were limited wheelchair accessible options. I traveled to Africa with the understanding that I would find things difficult, however I was looking forward to the challenge.

During my long flight from Townville to Johannesburg, I made a deal with myself to expect things will go wrong, and that that will be all part of the adventure. I just didn’t think it would happen straight away!

I arrived in Johannesburg to discover my backpack and wheelchair were missing. The South African Airways staff were not concerned with my missing luggage as they advise it was on their next flight. My thoughts were I could go without clothes, however not having a wheelchair left me without any mobility. I was quietly concerned but not stressed yet.

After a lot of discussions, the staff decided to carry me off the plane and sit me on a carton of vodka to wait for the next flight to arrive with my luggage. It was a very surreal experience, sitting on the tarmac under the plane on a carton of vodka discussing Australia’s cricket team antics with the staff to pass the time (Luckily I am a sports nut and could keep up with the conversation). I couldn’t quite believe what was happening, but figured my adventure had just started!

Finally after the sun had gone down, I was mobile again and ventured into the Johannesburg airport to re-organise my transfer to my accommodation. The driver had left hours ago, thinking I didn’t make my flight! While waiting for my driver to return, I thought I would head to the bathroom. An airport staff member directed me to the woman’s toilets. Fantastic or so I thought! To my surprise, shock and horror I opened the door to find a ceramic hole in the ground. What on earth am I going to do? How am I going to manage traveling around Africa with this type of toilet set up? I really should have done more research for this trip! Then before completely panicking, I checked out the other cubicles and found a “western” toilet to use. Oh boy! I have so much to learn about Africa! I have never traveled to a country with a completely different culture, so I really had no idea what to expect. This is going to open my eyes to other parts of the world.

I stayed at the In Africa Backpackers in Johannesburg for a few days. Strangely it was more like I was staying at someone’s house rather than an aussie style backpacker complex that I was expecting. My “dorm” room had its’ own bathroom, making it a comfortable place to stay. Surrounding the house was a 6 foot high steel bar picket fence topped with barb wire. It was a little concerning as I had never seen anything like this before. I was also told that it wasn’t safe to go outside the gates on my own as this is “Johannesburg”!

I booked on a tour to get a small glimpse of the town. My driver for the day was a black African guy by the name of Joe. On our way to collect other tourists, Joe asked permission for him to take a drink from his water bottle. I felt very awkward and a little saddened that this man felt he had to ask my permission for a drink. He said it was polite to ask. I was shocked. Do people still live like this in South Africa? This was my first encounter of black versus white.

Soweto, Johannesburg South Africa

Joe drove us through the infamous shanty town of Soweto. Soweto is a township containing cardboard and tin shacks as homes to many Johannesburg families. There was no plumbing, limited access to electricity, surrounded by rubbish and yet the smiles on the children’s faces were priceless. The conditions made me reflect on how lucky I was to grow up in Australia.

I knew the general story of Nielsen Mandela; however I wish I had read his book “A Long Walk to Freedom” before my travels, so as to appreciate how South Africa suffered under the Apartheid. Hearing Joe’s first hand stories of the raise and fall of the Apartheid and then visiting the Apartheid museum and the Hector Pieterson Memorial was a sorrowful experience. What a nightmare for all these people. The images were quite disturbing, but one not to be missed.

The tour concluded with visits to Nielsen Mandela’s old house – the one that he and wife Winnie lived in on his release from prison and then a visit to his new home in an up market suburb of Johannesburg.

My plan was to spend only a few weeks in South Africa. I organised to travel throughout South Africa on the BazBus. It is “South Africa’s convenient hop-on hop-off door-to-door backpacker bus service”. Before leaving Australia, I contacted the company asking if I could travel with them. They did not hesitate in allowing me to travel. They were happy to lift me on and off at each destination and happy to pack the wheelchair in the back each time. They made traveling from Johannesburg to Cape Town very easy!

From Johannesburg I traveled to Swaziland. My reason for wanting to go to Swaziland was simply because I loved the name of the country and secondly I might get my first look at a hippo! My only goal for the entire trip was to see one hippo….anything else would be a bonus.

My first impression of Swaziland was of their beautiful scenery with the rolling green hills with huts on top. The huts have tins roofs with rocks and old car tyres holding it down. There were people walking everywhere, even when you didn’t see huts for miles.

I was booked in at the Sondzela Backpackers Lodge. It was situated in the Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary on a hill overlooking the Ezulwini Valley. It was spectacular! I stayed in the main house which had just a few steps at the entrance but otherwise was very wheelchair friendly. The only tricky things were trying to keep out of the way of the ostrich and crazy warthogs that loved to drink water from the swimming pool.

Breakfast and dinner were by the campfire. The food was delicious, however I just couldn’t eat the impala stew mainly because I could see them grazing in the valley below along with the zebra. It was a great time to turn vegetarian.

Very dirty!

The weather was very hot however I was on a mission to trek to the next camp in search of hippos. This sounded like a great idea at the time! I kind of miss judged the time it would take to wheel to the main camp. I also didn’t realise how bumpy and not so wheelchair friendly the dirt track was and the intensity of the heat was incredible. My hour trek turned into an all day event, resulting with blisters on my hands, being covered in red dirt and when finally arriving at the hippo lagoon, there were no hippos to be seen. All was not lost as I did manage to negotiate a rickety old wooden bridge without falling in the creek and I stumbled across two African guys singing in beautiful harmony while cleaning out a ditch. I also came across lots of zebra, warthogs and impala in my misguided adventure. This was my first glimpse of Africa. It was a very exhausting day but simply amazing to see the wildlife!

While in Swaziland you must experience their traditional cultural evening. It is full of colour, energy, dance and song. I really enjoyed my few days in Swaziland despite having blisters and not seeing any hippos!

My next stop on the BazBus was Durban. My intention was to spend only two days there before traveling to Port Elizabeth. Unfortunately the bus was full so I had to stay a few extra days at the Tekweni Backpackers in Durban. I requested a quieter room in the hostel as it has a reputation for being festive. This didn’t really help. I don’t think anyone slept. I know I couldn’t!
There were just a few steps here and there going into different parts of the hostel, but once in my dorm room it was easy to wheel around on the wooden floors. There was always someone around to help get up and down the steps.

I booked on the Zululand Tour. What a great day. I visited the Zulu Village with 7 other backpackers. The scenery was just gorgeous with lush green hills and a blue lake at the bottom. Most of the homes were made of mud or bricks. Our van drove as far as it could go up the mountain and we had to walk the rest of the way. It was crazy. I couldn’t stop to rest on the mountain as the wheelchair just slid sideways back down the hill again. A hot young Swedish guy pushed me up the hill from behind, while a Zulu guy pulled me up the hill using the front frame of the wheelchair. What a sight! It was 100% more difficult than my Swazi adventure. After about a half hour of being pushed and dragged up the mountain in the blazing sun, we made it to the top and was greeted by a “Sangoma”. A Sangoma is a lady who talks to ancestral spirits to find out why those on earth are sick. She then tells the sick person what is wrong with them and they can then go and buy medicine from the witch doctor. Very cool!

As we were sitting listening to the Sangoma speak in her hut (which smelt like cow dung) chickens and goats walked freely in and out. And bizarrely, outside a young girl wired up a radio to an old battery so she could listen to Madonna’s’ new song Hung-Up on Americans Top 40. It felt very surreal. Modern technology meets traditional Zulu village.

The children were very intrigued with me. I doubt that have seen many people in wheelchairs before. They just stood and stared and would run away when I made eye contact with them. They were very cute!

Before we left, the Sangoma handed me a small gin bottle containing “ash”. She made me a potion that would help me walk again and then charged me 5 rand! I never did try it as I didn’t quite believe the “ash” could make my spinal cord grow again! And it didn’t look appealing either!

I thought the trip down the mountain would be easier but it was harder. I pretty much just slide sideways most of way down the hill with no control. Bit scary….but heaps of fun. We met up with the van and drove down to a sacred spot by the river. Traditionally this is where the Zulu boys proposed to the girls. The boys would make grass bracelets to give to the girls if they accept their proposal. Very sweet!

We then drove up a smaller mountain to have a traditional lunch. Once again the terrain wasn’t wheelchair friendly so I offered to stay in the van while the others trekked up the hill for lunch. A young girl bought me and the driver a plate of traditional foods to eat. The cuisine was local vegetables; sweet potato, pumpkin, spinach, tomato mixed with wonderful spices. The only trouble was that I was expected to eat the meal with my hands. You could image the state of my hands after wheeling up and down the mountain. Not having any way to wash my hands, I just had to eat up so as to not insult the village elders. It was good.

Zulu Village, Durban South Africa

Slowly kids began to surround our van. They started to sing & dance for us. They have beautiful voices and dance with so much energy. They were so happy, it was awesome and very infectious! They laid out handmade beaded bracelets that they make for all the tourists. Naturally I couldn’t leave without buying some of the very colourful bracelets. They made perfect gifts for people at home. It was another long hot day but so worth it!

Since I needed to stay another day in Durban I asked the staff at the backpackers if they could book me a day tour to St Lucia as I heard from other travelers that it was a great place to see Hippos. However, the very unhelpful staff forgot and so I was left just hanging around Durban for my last few days. I didn’t like Durban itself and couldn’t wait to leave.

It was a full days’ travel from Durban to Port Elizabeth and I arrived at the Wet Hippo Backpackers very late that evening. I was kindly greeted by Carla the owner and had the place to myself. She and her partner Matthew really made me feel like I was at home. I was staying just a few nights but wishing I could stay longer. There was the odd step here and there but otherwise the house was very wheelchair friendly. I didn’t have any problems accessing their bathroom. I just needed a plastic chair to be put in the shower.

I loved Port Elizabeth. I did a half day tour of Seaview Lion Park and a half day tour of Addo Elephant Park. As soon as we drove into the Lion Park we saw 3 giraffe standing tall amongst the acacia trees. I fell in love – they were so cool and so close. Also grazing in the grounds were zebra and wildebeests. We stopped to view some lions and tigers in a cage. I was a bit scared wheeling next to the cages. I was keen to get back into the van.

We drove up to see the lion cubs. They put one on my lap but it was scared of the wheelchair, so it clawed my shoulder blade before jumping off. They were only 13 weeks old but were very heavy. All the cubs ran away from me and hide together in their pen. We went down to the pen to take some photos of them playing together – very cute I must say. They were play fighting with each other, biting and pouncing. Very neat indeed! One eventually fell asleep so they put her on my lap so I could hold her and get some photos taken. It was such a warming experience. This is what I came to Africa for!

 

Addo Elephant Park, Port Elizabeth South Africa

After the lion cubs we drove to Addo Elephant Game Park. We saw zebra, impala, giraffe and lots of elephants. I didn’t expect to see the animals so close to the road. They were at a watering hole throwing mud on themselves. They looked like they were having heaps of fun! What a brilliant day.

The people I met and the beautiful beaches made it very hard to leave Port Elizabeth. However I was also looking forward to Cape Town.

It was a very long journey from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, but I got to see many smaller coastal towns in-between. So if I ever went back to South Africa I would definitely like to visit those places like Geoffrey’s Bay.

It was a common sight to see people walking along the road side carrying water, fire wood, veggies etc on their heads and a kid attached to their backs in a wrap. I saw one child with a mask on its face. Apparently that was mud used as a substitute sunscreen protection. The houses were made out of mud and cow dung and are all very tiny. I really don’t know how so many families members are able to fit in them. Their roofs are held down with rocks or old car tyres. Just amazing really.

I was booked into the Cape Town Deco Lodge Backpackers which was located centrally to the city and not far from Table Mountain. There were a few steps at the entrance of the accommodation and then heaps of steps up to the bar and restaurant area. I found my room and the bathroom very easy to negotiate. Again I requested a plastic chair for the shower. The staff was eager to help at all times day and night making this a very enjoyable place to stay.

I like to fill my days with all those touristy things. My first day in Cape Town involved visiting the Green Square Markets and then the Wharf. I found the markets very claustrophobic so I didn’t stay too long. I bought some jewellery at the markets, actually I felt like I was forced to. I couldn’t handle the people trying to sell me everything, so I left. I caught a taxi to the very busy wharf.

I was surprised to see so many fancy shops and yachts at The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. I had the best calamari and salad for lunch before going over the swing bridge to catch the ferry to Robben Island. The ferry took about 40mins to the island where I was introduced to our tour guide who had himself been in this jail for 10 years. I found wheeling around the island quite easy. It was just a little bumpy on the paths; otherwise I didn’t have any problems at all getting around the jail.

We were taken into the food hall, where our guide proceeded to tell us some very harrowing stories that had most people in tears! His private parts were burnt with cigarettes, guards urinated in his mouth and one day his father was coming to visit and for no reason the guards shot him 7 or 8 times. His father is now in a wheelchair. But after being counseled by the ANC leaders i.e. Nelson Mandela, he harbors no ill feelings towards the guards “as they were just doing their jobs”. What an amazing and very forgiving man!

Nelson Mandelas’ cell, Robben Island South Africa

We were taken to see Nelsen Mandela’s cell. It was a small cell with just a mat on the floor and a bucket in the corner for the toilet. It seemed quite cold and eerie. Not a place you would like to stay for 25 years.

On the drive back to the ferry we saw the officer houses where the guards lived. They were beautifully made of stone due to the many man hours of the prisoners I suspect. There was also heaps of spring bok roaming the vegetation which was pretty neat and they had a great view of Cape Town. It would have been so miserable digging for 12 hours a day in these quarries and looking over to the view of Cape Town praying that one day you may be free again.

Before traveling to Africa I had all my needles and was given malaria tablets to take. Everything was going well until one morning things started to go terribly wrong. I was on a one day tour of the Peninsular. I was so looking forward to seeing Penguins in real life. We drove along the most beautiful coastline but I couldn’t really enjoy the view because my hands started to burn. In between my fingers and thumbs on the whiter parts, they started to turn sunburn red and felt like they were on fire. I had no idea what was happening. Another backpacker suggested that I was having an allergic reaction to the malaria tables. On our drive from the penguins to Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve I had to hang my hands out the window so the cold air could give me a little relief. A ranger at the reserve gave me cream that eased the pain a little, but by the time we went to the top of Cape Point and while driving back to the backpackers I was almost in tears in pain! My memories of visiting Cape Point, where the two oceans meet, became my worst day ever. I didn’t envisage needing to visit a hospital in Cape Town to get treatment for my allergic reaction.

Table Mountain, Cape Town South Africa

I couldn’t leave Cape Town without a visit to Table Mountain. I was very impressed with the wheelchair access. The cable car and the tracks over the mountain were fully accessible. The views of Cape Town were fantastic but it was very cold and very windy! I wasn’t able to stay too long as the clouds were starting to close in meaning the cable car is out of action until it clears again. I was there long enough to get some great photos!

South Africa reminded me a lot of Australia. A lot of the flora consisted of Eucalyptus trees that were imported years ago. My reason for wanting to visit Africa was to see animals. I was so excited to be heading to Kenya. I was in search of the “real” African experience, which to me meant seeing animals running wild in the bush.

I arrived in Nairobi with all my luggage and wheelchair which was surprising! I was met at the airport and driven to my very luxurious accommodation at Safari Park Hotel. The transfer was a hairy experience. There seems to be no road rules in Nairobi. There are lines on the roads; however people waived in and out of the traffic in all different directions. Added to that were people with their donkeys and carts carrying produce. The round a-bouts were an adventure all on their own. I have no idea how we didn’t have an accident. I was a chicken though; I had to pull my cap down over my eyes so I couldn’t see what was happening. I needn’t have worried as we made it in one piece.

My room was incredible. It contained a marble en-suite bathroom, wooden floors with antique African themed four posted bed and furniture. It was very swish! Although it wasn’t classed wheelchair accessible, I had no problems with access.

My driver for my Kenya Classic Safari was Albert. He arrived in a rickety old white mini van with two other people who had booked on the same tour. Brian & Marie were a retired couple from Australia out spending their children’s inheritance money! They were a great couple and it was fantastic that we got along well together.

Our first destination was the Masai Mara National Reserve. Now I’m in Africa! As far as the eye can see are the brown plains of the Great Rift Valley. Along the side of the road is a sea of people walking and carrying things on their heads. Some people had donkeys carrying their load, while others had fire wood, veggies and water bottles piled high on the back of a very 60s looking push bike. As we drove past doing 120kms on the very bumpy roads, I was sure we would blow them over off their bikes!

There were a lot of people dressed in red. These people belong to the Masi Mara tribe, the famous semi-nomadic tribe of East Africa. They are very distinctive from other tribes as they wear a red shuka (shoulder cloaks) carry a stick and are covered in colorfully beaded jewellery around their wrists, necks & ear lobes.

We drove past a few shops along the way to our accommodation. Nothing like I have every seen before. One shop (tin shed) had clothes for sale with goats, cows and donkeys waiting out the front. Another tin shed that looked like it was about to fall down had Hotel written on it. I was a little worried about what my accommodation was going to be like. I needn’t have worried.

We drove up to our very grand accommodation at the Mara Soper Lodge. It is situated on a hill overlooking the Masi Mara National Park. Apart from the millions of steps everywhere the place was very luxurious. My room had 2 giant queen size beds that, of an evening, the staff would turn down my bedding and put mozzie nets over them. Very Cool! However it did make me feel quite lonely in such a giant room.

The smorgasbord meals were delicious and plentiful. I mainly stuck to the vegetarian meals just to be safe as I couldn’t afford to get sick while away. It all seemed a little decadent since outside the grounds there were starving tribes.

Before heading to Africa I purchased a camera with a long zoom so I wouldn’t miss out on getting those “national geographic” animal shots. Driving into the Masi Mara National Reserve took my breath away. This is what I imagined Africa to look like – dirt tracks, flat brown plains, acacia trees and animals roaming free! In the first 2 minutes of being in the reserve we saw loads of wildebeest, impala, thompson gazelles & topi. The gazelles I’m sure have ADD as their tails didn’t stop moving from side to side and boy can they run fast and bounce so high.

 

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

With all the open plains it did make me wonder how we were going to find any animals. In our first 20 minutes of being in the reserve we got a radio call from another safari guide letting us know they had sighted lions. In a gully we watched 3 female lions and all their cubs feeding on a warthog. It was the coolest thing I have ever seen.

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Not far from the gully we saw more lions & cubs eating another beast in the trees, some elephant and 7 giraffe or Twiga which is Swahili for giraffe. Who knew giraffe sat on the ground. It was the coolest sight watching a tall male eating an acacia tree. I have fallen in love with the giraffe.

I was amazed at how close the animals were to us. They didn’t care that we were even there. They continued to eat, sleep and play. It was very cool to see the lion cubs jumping all over each other to get some milk. What a day! This beats all of my expectations.

The evening entertainment at the Lodge was impressive. They had a performance by the Masi Mara Tribesmen. The warriors are famous for their jumping. Man they can jump high. Between their jumping and their trademark humming I can see how it could be very intimidating to others.

After that we went to watch the hyenas feed. It was so dark you couldn’t see them very well, but you could hear them laughing when they got the food. It was pretty funny. I didn’t stay very long as I was pretty tired after my exciting first day on safari. It was the best!

Getting up in the morning was very difficult. My body ached all over from the Kenyan roads! I was greeted by two lovely African boys Kool & John. They were sent to carry me up and down the millions of steps at the Lodge.

We went for an early morning game drive in the Masi Mara National Park. Apart from the usual impala, zebra, thompson gazelle and wildebeest, we came across some vultures feeding on a carcass. I didn’t realise how huge theses creatures were!

Further along the track we saw a herd of elephant. As Brian and Marie said “They just look like people dressed in elephant costumes!” It was amazing how the zebra, wildebeest and elephants can all hang out together. I didn’t really expect that. Nor did I expect to see them so close.

Masai Mara Tribe, Kenya

After our game drive, we visited the traditional Masi Mara people to see how they live in their tribe. We were greeted with the men humming/chanting their song and jumping towards us. It was quite intimidating having a wall of red men with spears, chanting and standing over you!

We were swamped by the curious children. I doubt they have ever seen a wheelchair before! I’m not sure if they were a little shy or scared of me. As I wheeled through the village I would turn around and find the children and adults starring at me, then scatter once I made eye contact. It was pretty funny.

Masai Mara Tribe, Kenya

There were 10 huts made of cow dung in their village, containing about 20 families. Their culture is to have multiple wives hence the 54 plus children in this village. It is up to the women to gather the sticks that stand upright to make the frame of the hut. The women then mix the cow dung with water and throw it on the sticks to make the walls. Basically the men do nothing!

The huts are very tiny. We were given the chance to go inside. Maree is 6 foot tall and was unable stand up in there. The doorway was too skinny so I wasn’t able to go inside. Surprisingly in their tiny huts with only one small door as an opening, they have a fire in the centre of the hut filling the place with thick smoke. The smell of smoke and the cow dung was pretty overpowering even outside. They have another small room near the entrance which sleeps baby cows at night. Unbelievable!

All the huts are built in a circle. The inner circular area is where they keep their cows at night and on special occasions when boys turn 15 they get circumcised. Not exactly hygienic!

The huts are surrounded by a stick fence. This is to keep the animals out.

The boys at the age of 5 herd the cows and sheep out to find some grass to feed on. These boys and their stock can walk up to 25kms per day. Two 5 year old boys with all that stock under control – totally amazing. Apparently they know exactly how to kill a lion or any other animal that might confront them. Imagine 5 year old Aussie kids doing this? I don’t think so!

Their red shuka/cloaks are to scare the animals away, their trademark stick is to herd the animals and kill any potential threats and their shoes are made out of old car tyres. Both men and women wear loads of beaded jewellery around their wrists, necks & ear lobs. Once again the women do all the work making all the jewellery, yet they have no rights in general.

The children go to school from the age of 6 but once the boys turn 15 it is tradition that they are sent out into the bush for 3 months to eat meat and drink blood. This is where they become a man. It is so amazing these people can still follow such a traditional life when the western world is on their doorstep!

Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

It was sad to be leaving the Masi Mara National Reserve. I can’t believe how close the animals were. There was a secretary bird walking along the track with some elephants cruising past also. In the distance we saw a cheetah and her cubs. My lasting memory of the National Reserve is driving out of the park watching a herd of elephants as the sun began to set in the distance. Very spectacular and a vision forever etched in my memory! I have loved the Masi Mara National Reserve.

Our next destination was Lake Nakuru. Lake Nakuru is located in central Kenya. The roads from the Masi Mara to the lake were unbelievable. They are nothing like any roads you would see in Australia. You can’t really call them roads; rather dirt tracks would be more suitable. True to form Albert drove at 120kms along this “highway” crazily swerving to miss all the huge “craters” in the road. It was a very scary trip. I ended up with a very sore head not just from hitting it on the roof with every bump, but with also the stress!

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

It took 4 hours to reach Lake Nakuru National Park. Driving though the park on our way to the lake, we came across a different type of giraffe. These Rothschild giraffes looked like they were wearing white knee length socks on their feet. And in the distance we saw a white rhino walking past herds of zebra and wildebeest on its way to the water hole.

Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Lake Nakuru is famous for its pink flamingos. This is due to the abundance of algae. Surprisingly up close these so called pink flamingos actually looked more white than pink. It wasn’t until we drove to a lookout point to view the lake from above that we were blessed with the awesome sight of a sea of pink covering the lake. It was a beautiful sight!

Our accommodation was the very posh at Lake Naivasha Sopo Lodge. We were escorted to and from our room by guards which I initially thought was a little strange. I soon discovered why this was so. The hippos graze at night in the grounds of the Lodge. When a hippo is spotted, everyone must remain in their room until the guards give you the all clear to come out. On our way back from dinner my guard saw a hippo a few doors down from my room grazing in the dark. I was very excited to see my very first hippo even though I could only see its butt! The guard very swiftly shoved me into my room and closed the door.

The following morning we stopped at the nearby “marina” and hired canoes to paddle around the lake. The canoe was more of a dug out timber log than one of those plastic things that you would paddle around in Australia. In the middle of the lake there were pods of hippos all huddled together. They looked like they were all standing on each other as you could really only see their tiny pink ears and snouts sticking out of the water. We were also a fair distance from them since they are the deadliest animal in the world.

I couldn’t contain my excitement of seeing and hearing grunting hippos for the first time. This was so fantastic. This was my only real “must do” thing in Africa. I had this fascination with hippos and here I was in the water near them. Very cool indeed! What a different Safari….hippos and pelicans.

After our very relaxing morning water safari, we hit the torturous roads headed for Amboseli National Park via Nairobi. The roads were congested with stinky fumes coming out of very old dodgy vehicles. Nairobi was simply dirty, suffocating smelly and crazily jammed with people and cattle. It put me in a grumpy mood. We had traveled for hours and hours in this sticking hot van, with only crappy warm water to drink. (I know I’m lucky to live in Australia!).

We pulled up to a petrol station to refuel. This petrol station was a half erected brick shop front. Much to our surprise they had coke for sale. 20 Kenyan shillings for a coldish coke. Bargain! It was so refreshing! I was just sipping it in delight hoping it would last me the next few hours. We were about to drive off when we were confronted by the “shop boy” with a gun. He ordered me to give back the bottle. We weren’t allowed to leave without returning the bottle. As Aussies we thought that was the funniest thing we had ever heard! Needless to say I skulled my drink and gave the scrawny boy his bottle back. I would hate for him to loose money because I took his bottle.

Amboseli National Park, Kenya

Finally we made it to Amboseli National Park. Amboseli is the second most popular national park behind the Maasai National Reserve. It also has the best view of Mount Kilimanjaro. On our way to our accommodation at the Amboseli Sopa Lodge we had the privilege of seeing a crown crane which is also Uganda’s official bird and is now one of my favorite animals. But seeing giraffe walking in front of Mt Kilimanjaro was the ultimate.

After a long day, dinner and bed couldn’t come quick enough. I had a 7 foot tall Maasai tribesman carry my bags to my room. My room was pretty cool. It had an elephant painted on the wall. I asked him for a plastic chair to put in the shower. I thought he understood, however he returned 20mins later with a bucket. So as he stood there looking blankly at me, I tried to described a plastic chair again. I pointed to the beautifully handcrafted chair with the comfortable cushions in the corner. He went and picked up the chair ready to place in the shower. Oh gosh I didn’t have the patients for this, not today. In vain I tried explaining again. He then asked me to write it down on a bit of paper. After going back up to the reception again, he returned with a wooden stool. I could make do with anything at this point just to have a shower. And what a wonderful shower it was. Even though I had to hold myself against the walls so I wouldn’t fall off the wooden stool.

As usual at dinner it was time to debrief with Brian and Maree. They always got a good laugh out of my wheelchair misadventures!

I awoke very grumpy and very sore. I wasn’t looking forward to sitting in that bloody van again. I did think seriously about not going on our morning game drive but how could I not. I’m in Africa!

I’m please I did go as I got some brilliant photos of giraffes looking like they are walking at the base Mt Killimanjaro! We also came across a herd of elephants & heaps of hippos in the water. There was a hippo out of the water but still too far away to see what he really looked like. Damn it!

After falling blissfully asleep for 3 hours I was awoken by Maree for our afternoon game drive. This will be our last game drive in Kenya. The vegetation in the Amboseli was much more green and lush compared to the Maasai Mara. We found female lions amongst the long grass in the swamp like landscape with elephants hanging out in the distance. Not a bad way to finish in Kenya.

On our drive back to our accommodation, Brian wanted to take a photo of Maree standing up in the view area of our van with a giraffe in the background. To do this he was out of the car and walking on the opposite side of the track. The funniest thing was because the giraffe kept walking forward, Albert had to keep driving forward and therefore Brian had to speed walk forward also to keep in sync. It did work out to be a great photo. Even more so since he didn’t get eaten by a lion!

It was such a beautiful drive back to our lodge. Mt Kilimanjaro under a full moon. Simply picturesque! What a great lasting impression of Kenya.

Our final day in Kenya with Albert & his crazy driving! I can’t wait to get to Tanzania. As we left the park we were graced with 3 gangly giraffe and impala coming to say goodbye. I have some pretty special pictures of these guys with Mt Kilimanjaro in the background with snow on its top. I have loved Kenya.

Albert drove us to the border and took us through the check point. Instead of me having to get out of the van he took my passport into Immigration. Because I didn’t have a Tanzanian visa, I handed Albert a $100.00 US dollar bill for him to buy me a visa. He thought I was giving him a tip. You should have seen his face. I felt so bad trying to explain that it wasn’t meant for him!

While waiting in the van for Brian & Maree to clear immigration, I was surrounded by people trying to sell me things. I was also confronted by a young girl with her blind father asking for money. Albert advised me not to give them any. It was so sad. I saw so much poverty it was overwhelming. I don’t think I will forget their sad faces.

Tanzania was completely different to Kenya. For one they actually had bitumen roads. What a relief! Also there were houses on the roadside that were made of mud, had tin roofs and seemed so much cleaner then their Kenyan neighbours.

Our drive through Arusha was great. We were back to following road rules! The buildings were a very western style, however there were still people with their donkeys and women carrying children on their backs and produce on their heads. But there wasn’t the madness like in Kenya.

We drove to the Ranger Safari depot where we were transferred into our brand new safari truck. It was very luxurious. It was what I imagined a safari vehicle to look like. It had comfy seats with a pop up top at the back so you can stand up and see the animals. Richard was our new driver. He was such a friendly guy.

Our first destination was Lake Manyara. Our accommodation was at Lake Manyara Serena Lodge. It is perched on the edge of cliffs with panoramic views of the lake. It was breathtaking. My African style room was huge. Richard had already organised a plastic chair for my shower. He also suggested applying mozzie repellant as Lake Manyara is known as the malaria capital. I found this lodge mostly wheelchair friendly.

I followed the beat of the drums to the pool area. Wow. What a view. I sat listening to these drums, watched the sun go down, all while sitting by the pool that was situated right on the very edge of the cliff. Fantastic! I was carried up the stairs to the restaurant area where I met up with Brian & Maree for dinner. As with our previous accommodations, the food was delicious. It was someone’s birthday at the next table. All the staff started singing and dancing around the room. They sounded like angels were singing. It was so beautiful. I love Africa. This is why I had to come to Africa.

Entering Lake Manyara National Park was quite different to any of our previous game drives. It was like entering into a jungle with troops of lounging baboons on the trackside. The vegetation was pretty thick making it somewhat difficult to see animals at times. We were lucky enough to see the butts of a few elephant, some curious giraffe and heaps of baboons. It was pretty funny watching these guys playing around like naughty school kids and how they love to groom each other.

Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania

In contrast with this forest was the grassy floodplain across the alkaline lake. Here we saw many zebra & large water buffalo crossing in the lake while the hippos just hung out in the water undisturbed. As we watched this amazing sight, two bull hippos decided to charge each other. What a sight. They had dust flying and there was grunting but that was it. I’m not sure what they were fighting over or even who one! Hippos. I love these guys.

After Lake Manyara we traveled to the Serengeti. To me this is the heart of Africa. I have always said I wanted to see the Serengeti. My favourite pastime is to watch David Attenborough documentaries. The animals and the landscape have always fascinated me. Now I’m here. Unbelievable! This is my dream come true. How special.

Driving into the Serengeti was just as I imagined it to be and more. The waving golden grasses across the vast majestic plains as far as the eye could see. It was breathtaking. Although, it did seem eerily empty. It reminded me of a time when I was scuba diving with some dive instructor mates. They wanted to show me a special dive site. As we were diving we were caught in a strong current. Hand in hand we battled against the current in the big blue ocean until finally we decided to signal for a dingy to come and collect us. Back on board I was talking to the chef and he asked what fish I saw. I told him that I didn’t see anything and his response was “But I wonder how many fish saw you!”

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

We were traveling down the track, taking in the views when Richard spotted a female cheetah far in the distance. We couldn’t see anything but he saw her sitting on a small mound. What a brilliant eye. He reversed the vehicle and there we sat for about 15minutes and you wouldn’t believe it a mother and her cubs were about to walk across the track. What an introduction to the Serengeti.

Once again our accommodation was luxurious. We stayed at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge. The lodge is set amongst the infamous Acacia trees overlooking the plains of the south-western Serengeti National Park. The lobby was amazing. The wonderful chairs made of driftwood, the exposed beams and pillars really showed off their craftsmanship. My room contained 2 queen size beds with an en-suite. There wasn’t enough room to put a chair in the bathtub for a shower so I had to make do with getting myself in and out of the bath. It is amazing what you can manage when you are desperate for a wash! Over my balcony were buffalo feeding and while lying in bed at night I could hear the hyenas laughing. What a way to fall asleep.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

My first day in the Serengeti was breathtaking. The animals were in abundance. We saw another Cheetah with her cubs and the very crazy warthogs scurrying through the brown grass. I was amazed at how close the animals were once again. I really didn’t expect to see so much wildlife and so closely! And who knew that lions climbed trees? I took a great photo of an Acacia tree that had 2 lions sitting in the tree, lions laying in the shade under the tree and a herd of Elephants walking in the back ground. Wow!

We followed a herd of zebra down to a water hole. It was so funny to watch them drinking from the water hole. If one was spooked they would all back peddle out of the water for safer ground. Tentatively they would all return once they realised it was a false alarm & there was no danger. However this happened many times.

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Driving along the tracks with giraffe striding past and impala and thompson gazelles leaping through the golden brown plains is an image that will always be etched in my mind. Over the radio we heard that a Cheetah was chasing an imapala not far from where we were. We arrived at the spot just in time to see her as she caught her prey. Watching her devour this helpless beast was amazing.

Richard our driver was brilliant at spotting the animals big or small. We stopped along one track to view a beautiful Lilac Breasted Rollar. It had the brightest blue feathers I have ever seen on a bird. We stopped on another track to watch a herd of elephants feed on an acacia bush. One of the elephants decided to go for the bush closest to our van. His butt wasn’t that far away from my window. Listening to him crunching on that bush was unbelievable.

I have this image of the Serengeti were the male lions are roaming the plains. I was really hoping to see a male lion but didn’t think I would be so lucky. We came across a male lion sitting by a rock not far from the track we were on. I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I have dreamt about this moment for many years lying in a hospital bed wishing to one day experience this. This was a long time dream to come true!

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

In the distance behind this male lion, there were two other lions a male and a female “play fighting”. Richard said that they were mating. We sat there watching these lions for over an hour. The lion closest to us just sat there soaking up the sun, while the other two continued messing about. What a precious moment. I will never forget this!

As we traveled to different parts of the Serengeti, we came across a family of lions sunning themselves on top of huge boulders. There seemed to be 2 male lions and 5 females lying about. There was also a leopard sleeping in the shade of another boulder not far from the lions. Simply spectacular! The Serengeti lived up to what I imagined it to be. I LOVE the Serengeti. I really didn’t want to leave the Serengeti. This is the highlight of my trip.

Our next destination was the world heritage listed Ngorongoro Crater. Sitting on the rim of the crater, it is hard to image that there is an abundance of animals down there. We stayed at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge which sits on the rim overlooking the crater. My spacious room contained a huge queen size bed with wall length windows that captured a stunning sunset over the crater. Beautiful!

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

As we drove to the floor of the crater, we were inundated with wildebeest and buffalo grazing. There was a family of lions strolling along the track and warthogs frolicking in the mud. With the overnight rains small puddles formed on the crater floor providing great entertainment for the animals. In one puddle we saw wildebeest, zebra, warthogs, sacred ibis, the majestic golden crown cranes and a hyena all having a great time.

We had lunch sitting by a waterhole known as the Hippo Pool. It was home to pods of hippos & flamingo birds. The grunting of the hippos and the line of pink from the flamingos, wow what a view.

On the way back to our accommodation we were lucky enough to see a rare black rhino. It was really far from the track and walking amongst fallen trees making it hard to get a good look. This is where my new camera with the big zoom came in handy to get a good shot.

I was really sad to be leaving Tanzania. I thoroughly enjoyed my time. I felt like I experienced the “true Africa”; the red soil, brown plains, wonderful people and all the animals. I wish I was staying longer. If only I could figure out how I could manage working and living here? I’ll keep thinking!

I flew in the world’s smallest plane from Nairobi, Kenya to Zambia. It had just 6 seats and no windows. I was a little nervous however I figured I would die a happy person after my amazing time in Kenya and Tanzania if the plane went down.

On arrival at Mfwue airport in Zambia, there was a fire truck (more like a tiny ute) with 5 very skinny firemen and a local village nurse waiting on the tarmac for our flight. I thought the plane was on fire but no they were there to carry me off the plane. They came aboard and asked if I was sick. When I said no they turned around and started to leave the plane without me. So I had to say yes I was sick just so I could get off the plane. I tried to explain how to carry me. They didn’t understand. I had one person holding each limb and a guy holding my neck. They were holding me around my wrists and ankles so when going down the stairs I’m sure my bum was hitting every step all the way. Fortunately I found the funny side of this picture.

I was carried inside the terminal and placed on a seat. I waited and waited for my wheelchair. My wheelchair was placed on the wrong flight and went to Ethiopia. They kept telling me not to worry that they will have my wheelchair sent back to Australia for me. They really didn’t get it and I was starting to panic. Fortunately there was an English doctor waiting in the terminal who came to my rescue.

The English doctor finally convinced the airline staff to arrange for my wheelchair to be sent on the next flight. The trouble with this was that the next flight was 2 days later.

I was booked into the backpackers Flatdog Camp in South Luangwa National Park. The English doctor and his “Life partner” worked and lived in a nearby village. They drove me to the camp in their rusted out jeep. I had to hold my legs to one side otherwise they would fall through the car floor to the road.

Flatdog Camp in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Flatdog Camp is situated on the banks of the Luangwa River. I stayed in a chalet that contained a queen bed, an amazing pebbled en-suite and a comfy couch under a window that had tree branches as the frame and a mozzie net as a screen. My chalet had 3 steep steps leading into it. The staff made me a temporary ramp so I could access my room. It was so steep that I needed someone to help me up and down it at all times. This was no trouble as the staff were wonderful and always readily available.

Esma was my house lady who helped me around until my wheelchair arrived. She was lovely, bringing me food, helping me from bed to the bathroom to the couch. Stressing wasn’t going to help the situation, so I looked at this as a forced relaxation time. It was wonderful to take this time to relax and recharge after my non stop traveling to date.

Bridge, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

There is a bridge crossing the Luangwa River. It was Christmas Eve & every year all the villages’ men, women and children gather on the bridge from both sides north and south to sing Christmas carols. They sang all the old favorites like Silent Night, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, The First Noel, Away in the Manger etc in their angel like Zambian voices. I sang along in English. It was magical. And to top it off under the bridge there were pods of hippos in the water and a herd of Elephant drinking. It was so special.

On Christmas Day all the people in the camp gathered for a Christmas lunch. We had a huge feast and there were even some Christmas decorations on the tables. This really made it feel like Christmas. After lunch I went on a safari. This safari was so different from those in Kenya and Tanzania. The South Luangwa National Park was so green and lush. There was an abundance of zebra, warthog and elephant. We saw an elephant that’s leg had been caught in a trap. It was very sad that poaching still exists.

Later that evening I went on my first night Safari. We came across a pack of lions feeding on an impala & saw a hippo walking down the river bank. Very cool. What a wonderful Christmas. One I won’t ever forget!

I caught the same small plane from Mfuwe to Livingstone in Zambia. There on the tarmac were the same firemen and nurse. The nurse asked me if I was over my sickness. I had to say no otherwise they wouldn’t have carried me onto the plane. Gotta love the innocence of Zambia!

My last destination in Africa was Zimbabwe. I had always wanted to canoe down the Zambezi River, so it was a must to travel to Zimbabwe despite all the troubles that were going on with the Robert Mugabe government. I wheeled across the boarder from Zambia to the township of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls is a very touristy spot. I felt completely safe. I had a room to myself at the Victoria Falls Backpackers. This accommodation wasn’t classed wheelchair accessible but I had no troubles getting into my room, the bathrooms or around the property. They put a plastic chair in the shower for me, so all was good.

I wasn’t aware that I couldn’t withdraw money from the bank in Zimbabwe, so I had to organise a day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana. We went on a boat cruise up the Chobe River. The vegetation was very lushly green and home to elephant, impala & grazing hippos. The river contained heaps of hippos and in the trees we saw the African fish eagle and a red billed horn bird. I even managed to catch a photo of a tree squirrel. I had never seen a squirrel before.

Warthogs playing in the mud, Botswana

Lunch was provided at the Chobe Game Lodge which is where I could withdraw my cash. The lodge had baboons and warthogs roaming free in the grounds. It was very funny to watch the warthogs rolling around in a small puddle of mud they found in the garden.

On our drive back across the boarder to Zimbabwe I asked why there were lots of cars left abandoned on the roadside? There were two reasons for this. One was due to the government not allowing people to leave the country with their vehicle if it had a Zimbabwean license plate. And the second reason was that Zimbabwe had run out of petrol for the people and the government wouldn’t restock the petrol stations. There were many odd rules that Robert Mugabe dictated at the time, like it was illegal for more than 3 people to congregate in a street, no celebrating New Years Eve and there was very little food available in the grocery shop. I found this all very sad as it is such a beautiful country. However despite all this I was safe in Victoria Falls as long as I didn’t venture out of the area on my own.

I had an action packed 10 days in Zimbabwe. I purchased a great value for money adventure package. The package included a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River, fly in an ultra light plane over the Victoria Falls, Canoe the Zambezi River and experience an Elephant safari.

I needed to be carried onto the river cruise boat, however once on board it was flat making it easy to get around. We cruised up and down the Zambezi watching the sun go down. What a spectacular sight. There were pods of hippos in the water, an elephant by the bank, flocks of birds flying overhead and the perfect sound of African singing on board the cruise boat as entertainment. A great way to experience the Zambezi!

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

My last day for 2005 was spent wheeling around viewing the Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke that Thunders). I didn’t realise this world heritage listed fall was the largest in the world. Most parts of the falls were wheelchair accessible, however be warned you will get pretty wet from the spray of the falls. Very neat though! I took a wonderful photo of the falls with a rainbow reflection. I felt like I was the gold at the end of the rainbow. Very special!

I spent New Years Eve night at the backpackers with other travelers. There weren’t any big celebrations as I was planning an early night. I booked on a half day canoe safari down the Zambezi River for first thing in the morning. This had always been a goal of mine and I didn’t want to ruin my first day of the New Year hung-over and not able to fulfill my dream.

Canoeing Zambezi River, Zimbabwe

I had the option of either going white water rafting on the Zambezi or canoeing. Unlike all the others on the tour I choose canoeing one because I had dreamt of doing this and secondly I thought whitewater rafting was too dangerous since hippos occupied the waters where they were rafting. I figured I was much safer in a canoe. Famous last words!

The canoes were more like the traditional dug out canoes which was pretty cool. My guide and I were in one canoe and the other guide paddled with my wheelchair in a second canoe. We had just paddled out to the middle of the river when a rogue bull hippo began to chase us. Shear panic set in! My guide was paddling so fast that I was falling all over the canoe as I don’t have great balance. I couldn’t even help to paddle. My guide kept screaming at me to tell him where the hippo was. This was frightening cause one minute he was up on the surface roaring at us and the next he was under the water. He just kept popping his head up and roaring……terrifying. We made it to a tiny island in the middle of the river. My guide was so exhausted from all the paddling that he was vomiting. I was just shaking and in shock. We were only chased for a few minutes but boy it took us all, hours to recover and relax.

We had to wait until we were sure the hippo had finally left the area before getting back in the canoe to paddle across to the other side of the river bank so we could join the other group for lunch. We told our story at lunch. One of the other guides commented that the hippo must have been playing with us otherwise we would have had no chance at getting away! The others were disappointed that they didn’t get to see any hippos while rafting.

So really I only got to paddle a few meters down the river but I came out of it with a great story. What a way to bring in the New Year. My dream was to travel to Africa, see a hippo and to canoe the Zambezi River. Dream came true although it nearly ended up being my last dream ever!

Elephant Safari, Zimbabwe

I have ridden a horse before but never an elephant. I was so excited to go on my first elephant safari. I got to choose my elephant, so of course I chose the biggest elephant named Doma. I was carried up a set of stairs to the platform where I was lifted onto Doma. I sat behind the guide and I had another tourist sitting behind me. For someone with little balance, I felt quite secure however I did ask the tourist guy to stay close so I didn’t fall. I love traveling on my own. I get to meet so many awesome people. We only saw a few impala and bush bucks. Never mind, just riding on an elephant was very awesome.

As a way of raising funds for the elephants, you can purchase a foot print of your elephant and also buy a DVD of your safari. Of course I purchased both; however one of the guides advised that he will need to edit the footage and drop the DVD over to me at my accommodation once it was completed.

The owner of my backpackers was a white Zimbabwean man who lived and worked at the property. I didn’t realise how terribly racist he was. I was on my way out the front gate when I noticed Paul the guide sitting by the fence with my footprint and DVD in hand. He had been there for many hours waiting in the hot sun for me. The white owner refused to let him on his land. I asked the owner why he didn’t tell me that someone was waiting for me and his response was purely disgraceful & not worth repeating. I was so annoyed, ashamed and felt sorry for this nice black guy being treated that way. The divide between black and white was still well and truly alive. Naively I was surprised. I was so disgusted with the owner. If I wasn’t leaving in a few days I would have changed accommodation places.

Since I didn’t get to complete my canoe safari, I couldn’t leave “Zim” without experiencing the wonderful flora and fauna of the Zambezi River, so I went on my river safari in a boat. I certainly fell in love with the birdlife. There was an abundance of open-billed storks, yellow billed storks, and sacred Ibis. There was a cattle egret perched on a tree branch with it’s wings outstretched catching the breeze and viewing the impressive nesting areas of Africa’s exquisite bird the white-faced bee eater was breathtaking. It was nice to see the crocodiles & hippos from the comfort of the safari boat! It was very peaceful and a little magical watching the spray of the falls on the Zambezi River.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

I rose early for my last day in Zimbabwe. I headed to the airstrip (a very bumpy dirt track) to go on my flight in an ultra light over the Victoria Falls. The ultra light looked quite flimsy but I couldn’t wait to have a go. They lifted me into the seat behind the pilot and off we flew. You are completely exposed with the wind in your hair. It was a little noisy but fantastic. I was in the air for 30mins following the gorges to the magnificence Victoria Falls. It was very impressive. What a wonderful way to see the falls. I took some awesome photos. What a memory to finish with of Zimbabwe.

I wheeled across the border back into Zambia. I stayed at the Jollyboys Backpackers in Livingstone. I had a private room with an en-suite for one night. Again this wasn’t actually wheelchair accessible; however it was all on one level therefore I didn’t have any problems with getting around the property. I would recommend a visit to the Royal Livingstone Hotel. It is a very extravagant hotel situated on the banks of the Zambezi River. There were baboons and meerkats roaming the gardens. I had a massage at the resort from a “big bosomed African mamma” before catching my flight. I thought she was going to squash my through the table with every rub!

I flew from Livingstone to Johannesburg where I caught my connecting flight back to Australia. It was a long trip home.

How to describe backpacking in Africa? It was so incredibly rewarding, emotionally fulfilling, and a highly intrepid experience. I went there not expecting to be able to see or do as much as I did. The people are wonderful and give you a renewed look at the world. I returned home with my soul whole again.

Be prepared for limited wheelchair access. You may need to become very creative in order to manage each obstacle, be careful, travel safe and you will have a wonderful time.

Dreams can come true. You just need to make it happen!

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