After a week of fun filled adventures, we’ve returned to the village in anticipation of the Taos’ arrival. They’ll be here in 2 days and it’s so hard for me to believe how quickly these first four months have gone by.
Anyway, I’m sure you’re just dying to know what we did on the first leg of our holiday, eh? Well, Victoria Falls was absolutely wonderful and impressive (as expected!). We took a very long bus out to the Falls with Tomas, Tiela, Wesley, and Wesley’s Mom (other volunteers from our program). The bus ride was approximately 15 hours and it was not exactly what I would call fun, but once we got there my frustrations over the bus quickly dissipated.
We spent our first full day there hiking around the Falls. I think my Aunt Liz would’ve been proud of what a trooper I was! I had worn flip flops and it made for quite a difficult and interesting hiking experience, but I survived so no harm, no foul—right? The Falls were at high water so they were barely visible from many places—there was so much mist that it just blanketed the Falls in a mysterious shroud.
This made having a clear view quite difficult from many places, but it was still possible!
One really cool thing about Victoria Falls is that it’s situated right where Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia all join. This made it possible for us to do plenty of country-hopping in our time there. We took a trip to Zimbabwe the second day– I know, we’re a little crazy, but things haven’t completely deteriorated there, and China’s arms shipment had yet to arrive (I know, terrible joke, but we can all laugh about it now because China has apparently recalled the shipment…). We went over for something called “The Lion Walk,” which we were led to believe would be us walking around with cute, tiny lion cubs. Not so. They were “cubs”… 15 month old, gigantic cubs, equipped with razor sharp teeth and claws. Somehow we went through with it, and we can now say that we’ve actually petted real lions and have literally sat right next to them. I think there’s no more to say because the pictures say it all:
Our third day there brought us up close and personal with another of the Big Five—ELEPHANTS! We took a day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana, which is renowned for its huge elephant population (our guide actually told us that the area should only support 135,000 elephants and the current estimate is over 185,000!). Dan and I agreed that we were never quite aware of the enormity of these creatures until seeing them, literally, inches away. The highlight of the tour was when our vehicle came between a baby elephant and its mother, resulting in the mother beginning to storm the car. After kicking up lots of dust and scaring us all half to death, the mother retreated back into the bush and we lived to tell the tale. At one point we were by the Chobe River and we were able to watch two entire herds of elephants just hanging out in the water, playing and even swimming. We also got to see hippos, crocodiles, and the elusive puku (apparently it’s incredibly rare, but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds—it just sort of looks like a deer!). The game drive was absolutely wonderful, and I really enjoyed seeing Botswana. The park is right along the Chobe river, which makes the surroundings lush, green, and absolutely stunning. I should also take this moment to thank my Aunt Liz for the awesome binoculars she got us for our year in Africa. They were incredibly useful and made our experience even more enjoyable!
The day after Chobe we headed back to Namibia. We spent a day in Tsumeb, which is a touristy/Afrikaaner sort of town. We rented a nice hotel room and just relished having hot water and a TV to watch. There wasn’t really too much to do in town, but they did have restaurants and an open air museum called the “Tsumeb Cultural Village” that we visited. The Museum consisted of the homesteads of different tribes of Namibia, which was cool to see and probably would have been really informative if we had a guide who actually worked at the museum! We got there and the man at the desk said, “I don’t work here, let me see if I can find someone.” He came back a minute later and informed us that he would be our guide. It turns out he was just a construction worker who was renovating some of the huts, so most of our questions went unanswered, but he was a really nice man and was able to tell us a lot about the Kavango tribe (his tribe, which is actually closely related to the Owambo people, which is the tribe that we live with). Because we live in Owamboland I often forget that we’re only experiencing a slice of Namibian culture, and it was interesting to see how differently some of the other tribes live. The only other notable anecdote from the cultural village is that we noticed, as we were walking around the “exhibits,” that some of the huts looked quite lived in. We then began seeing women sitting under trees, making marula juice or pounding mahangu (the grain that their porridge is made from). It turns out that some homeless people approached the owner of the museum and they were granted permission to actually live in the village, which was odd to see but is admittedly a good use of the space!
The next morning we hiked back up to the village, and it’s funny how it really does feel like home now. There is a division of the land in Namibia called the “Red Line,” which essentially separates the affluent white farmers from the Owambo subsistence farmers in the North. The Red Line exists to ensure that no meat from the North “contaminates” the superior meat from below the Red Line, but it also seems to separate two very different ways of living. Below the red line, there are modern looking towns and things like cinemas and country clubs. Once you pass the Red Line, you’re greeted with roaming livestock and Owambo huts. The first time I crossed the Red Line was a few weeks after we arrived here, when we were on our way up for practice teaching. It was such a stark contrast once we passed the Line and it was at that point that it really began to hit me that I would be living in an African village for a year. At the time the landscape made me fret and second guess my decision, but yesterday was a much different experience. Upon crossing the Red Line, I felt like I was home. Driving past herds of cattle and goats, and the boys watching them, was such a comforting sight. Looking out at the homesteads was familiar and it felt really nice to be close to home. One sight that I didn’t expect to see was an elephant, which I had never seen in the North and am still a bit perplexed by. Before I came, I pictured Africa as this wild land of lions and giraffes, and in many places it certainly is like that, but where we live the only animals we generally see are cows, goats, and chickens. I’m still not sure if I’m excited or frightened by learning that elephants roam so close to home, but I guess it just goes to show that there is so much I still have to learn.