To Shoot Or Not To Shoot

30 06 2009

Kutima Mulilo mw 

 

If I had a dollar for every great photo I’ve missed because my camera was inaccessible, I’d be travelling the world right this moment instead of sitting at my computer! After a few too many ‘ones that got away’, I bought a small point-and-shoot camera. Sometimes, however, knowing what not to photograph is even more important than knowing what to capture!

 

Katima Mulilo is a town in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip: a panhandle of land in the country’s north-east corner that slices between Botswana, Zambia and Angola. We had stopped for supplies during the long drive from Etosha to Chobe National Park. While our truck went for gas, the rest of us headed for the supermarket. The shopping done, we stepped outside and sat on the curb in the shade with a cold bottle of Coke and watched every day life in this sleepy, dusty corner of Africa.

 

Within moments, the silence was split by shouts and roaring engines and a Casspir came tearing around the corner. It slammed to a halt in front of us and police armed with sjambok whips tumbled out and ran in every direction while more vehicles arrived. The Casspir is familiar to anyone who grew up watching news coverage of the Apartheid struggle in neighbouring South Africa. These high-wheeled high-sided armoured personnel carriers raced into Townships during demonstrations, firing teargas and high-powered water from cannons or dispersing police or army riot squads. It suddenly felt as though I was in one of those news reels.

 

The police ran down the side streets and into stores and businesses, knocking over stalls, dragging people out and throwing them in the Casspir or other trucks. Some fled, chased by the police as they thrashed the air with their long whips, others obediently surrendered. A police officer stood atop the armoured vehicle shouting into a radio and directing his men.

 

Amid all the pandemonium, we remained quietly sat on the curb. We didn’t know what was going on, but thought it best to sit still and not draw attention to ourselves. Instead of attempting to walk away or even stand up, we simply slid ourselves further against the wall in an effort to remain inanimate and invisible while all hell let loose.

 

On my belt was my small point-and-shoot camera. I could feel it burning into my side, screaming to be unleashed and record the turmoil surrounding us. While this may not quite have been Pulitzer stuff, it certainly beat sunsets and picnic tables. I told it to be quiet…while I attempted to dissolve into the shadows.

 

People continued to be pushed and dragged to the vehicles and thrown inside. Some of the detainees shouted instructions to others before they were hauled away. Army-booted feet thundered past just metres away. With great relief our truck returned and stopped on the opposite side of the road. An officer strode over and had a word with our driver before leaving again. Our driver gestured for us to quickly bring the shopping and start loading it into our truck, cautioning us not to get in the way. With everyone back on board, we left the mayhem behind and headed out of town.

 

Our driver explained that it was a police raid for illegal immigrants or anyone without ID papers. Not only did relatively-prosperous Namibia have a problem with illegal workers from neighbouring war-ravaged Angola, but at the time there was also a very odd Caprivi secessionist movement seeking independence for the 400 x 35 kilometre sliver of land and which had attacked remote police outposts and other infrastructure. The police weren’t interested in us, he added…unless one of us had tried taking photographs.

 

“That wouldn’t have been good at all” he added.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





A to Z of Adventure Travel: V is for Victoria Falls

12 06 2009

 Vic Falls aerial mw

 

There are lots of spots around the world that have been dubbed ‘Adventure Capitals’ either for the activities available or the rugged wilderness that surround them. The adventure capital of the world is arguably Queenstown, New Zealand. The adventure capital of Australia would be Cairns. And the adventure capital of Africa is definitely Victoria Falls.

 

Not only are the Falls one of the natural wonders of the world, but the area is one of the finest adrenalin capitals and even if you venture there solely for the sights, it’s difficult not to be lured into at least one unforgettable activity!

  

Victoria Falls sits on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia. In past years, the centre of the tourist trade was most definitely the town of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwean side, but due to recent political unrest and economic problems, much of that has shifted to Livingstone, Zambia.

 

The Falls themselves are every bit as magnificent as any photograph suggests. During the rainy season, the cascade of water over the steep precipice is positively breathtaking – if you can actually see it through the billowing clouds of drenching mist. In the dry season, the flood is reduced to a comparable trickle, but this not only allows a less-wet viewing experience but also provides a look at the chiselled rock cliffs that stretch almost as far as the eye can see. Even veterans of Niagara or Angel Falls can’t help but be impressed by Mosi-au-Tunya, or ‘The Smoke That Thunders’, as it is called by the locals.

 

For many visitors, Victoria Falls’ most captivating feature might well be its relative lack of commercialisation. There are no enormous skyscraper hotels towering above it and no neon-strewn casinos crowding its edges. Instead, there is bush stretching in every direction and only the most basic of paths and most rickety of fences preventing visitors from tumbling over the edge and into the frothing maelstrom.

 

This modest development has ensured that the area is still healthy with wildlife and the even the town centre has its baboons, watrthogs, birdlife and occasional stray elephant. Lion tracks are sometimes seen in the early morning in the soft sand that lines the paved road and pedestrians are warned to watch out for buffalo…all this within sight of hotels and curio stands.

 

The two most famous of Victoria Falls’ adventure activities are the whitewater rafting on the Zambezi – regarded as the best one-day rafting in the world – and the 111 metre bungee-jump from the bridge that spans the chasm, both within view of the Falls. However, there are also helicopter and microlight flights over the Falls and surrounding river and bush, sunset boat trips above the drop and game drives in the neighbouring parks and wild areas. You can embark on horseback or elephant back safaris, or take a walk with unleashed domesticated lions. There are night game drives in open-back 4WDs and guided hikes with armed rangers.

 

Both Victoria Falls and Livingstone have international airports and can also be reached overland by vehicle or train from larger centres – if you have the time and spirit of adventure. Both sides of the river offer basic campsites, budget hostels, deluxe riverbank tented safari camps and luxury hotel accommodation.

 

Most visitors today tend to use Zambia as their base and sadly often never venture across the border to its neighbour. Although not immune to the turmoil that has plagued Zimbabwe in recent years, the town of Victoria Falls has remained an island largely isolated from the political violence…if not the rampant inflation and basic shortages.

 

Victoria Falls provides something for everyone from the magnificence of the Falls themselves to wildlife and adventure.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009





A to Z of Adventure Travel: B is for Botswana

20 01 2009

 

 

 

chobe-5-mw

“Don’t call me Big Nose…Big Nose!”                               (Chobe, Botswana)

 

Botswana is one of Africa’s greatest countries for safari. Situated in southern Africa and bordered by Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa, although a popular destination for travellers it offers unique and uncrowded wildlife viewing in its parks and vast wilderness.

 

The Okavango Delta is one of the country’s biggest draws. A sweeping region of more than 15,000 square kilometres, it teems with elephant, hippo, lion and a spectacular variety of birdlife. The great watershed is created as the 1,600 kilometre-long Okavango River dissolves into the sands of the Kalahari desert leaving a vast network of islands and waterways. The region can be explored by vehicle in the dry season, on foot, or from the traditional poled dugout mokoro canoes that silently explore the channels. Accommodation ranges from isolated campsites on secluded islands to luxury tented camps and lodges that offer more than the comforts of home.

 

In the country’s northeast corner sits Chobe National Park which offers one of the largest concentrations of game in all of Africa and is rightly renowned for its elephant viewing. The park is situated along the Chobe River which forms the border with Namibia, and it is this water source that attracts the vast herds. The park also offers great opportunities for viewing lions and wild dogs and its luxury lodges have long been popular with celebrities and jet-setters including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who stayed there on one of their several honeymoons. One of the best ways to explore Chobe is by taking a daily sunset cruise along the river.chobe-6-mw

 

For the more adventurous, it is possible to pack all the necessities of life in a 4WD, leave civilisation well behind and venture deep into the Kalahari desert or to the vast Makgadikgadi Pan. Any possible hardship will be more than compensated for by the very real sense of being alone in blissful isolation amid nothing more than the wonderful sounds of the night, a spectacular ceiling of stars and perhaps a visit by the local San people – or Bushmen.

 

Botswana was the setting for Sir Laurens van der Post’s classic “The Lost World of the Kalahari”, Mark and Delia Owens’ bestselling “Cry of the Kalahari” and the current chart-topping “The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series of books by Alexander McCall Smith. It also has one of the highest per capita GDPs in all of Africa.

 

Although Botswana’s capital Gaborone boasts an international airport, most travellers headed for the game parks start their journey in Maun or cross in by road from Victoria Falls or South Africa. Botswana is a worthy destination on its own, but is often combined with one or more of its neighbours as part of a larger safari.

 

 

Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan





Bloodlust

5 06 2008

WarthogLion

What’s that lion’ in the bushes? – Chobe, Botswana

Humans are rarely satisfied. No sooner has our dinner arrived at a posh restaurant, than we’re busy ogling the food at the next table. We’re happy with our first 28” colour television only until we’ve seen the 44” flat screen that’s on sale down the road. And one week spent on a palm-fringed sun-soaked white sand beach with colourful little drinks is absolutely perfect…until we’ve met the couple who are there for two weeks.

 

Safaris in Africa are much the same – unless you’re only doing it to one-up your annoying next-door neighbour who spent a week braving the perils of Disney’s Animal Kingdom (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

 

You finally see your first elephant. The thrill is almost as massive as the beast itself. You’re bowled-over by it’s immense size, the roughness of its hide, and the silence and grace with which it moves despite its enormous weight. You are drawn in by its huge soulful eyes and captivated by the deft manipulation of its trunk. You are mesmerised by its low gurgles and breaths, could spend the entire day watching it and regard the experience as one of the greatest of your entire life.

 

But moments later you want more.

 

You want a young calf. You want a gigantic bull elephant with huge tusks. You want a family. You want hundreds in a loose herd, traipsing across the savannah or bathing in a river. In other words, your life-fulfilling event of just moments earlier has suddenly failed to satisfy and you simply want…more!

 

I must somewhat ashamedly confess to a similar experience with lions. I still vividly remember seeing my first lion…two, actually:  a young brother and sister in Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, lounging away the midday heat in the park’s semi-desert by reclining in the shade. It was incredibly exciting. My first pride of lions was in the Masai Mara, and my first gigantic male lion with a classic black mane was in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater. All were incredible. In fact, every lion sighting I have ever had has left me completely satisfied…so why did I want to see one savour a poor little semi-defenceless warthog in Chobe, Botswana?

 

An eagle-eye among us had spied the lion hidden deep in a bush. She was sprawled in a lifeless stupor, her face barely visible. We watched her for a moment until someone mentioned that a warthog was coming. We all turned to look. The little Pumba was merrily trotting along, tail ramrod straight like the pole in a bumper-car, seemingly not a care in the world. He was also heading directly for the lion.

 

Our initial reaction was one of fear for the poor little thing…but a darkness soon descended over our group and replaced concern with a vicious and brutal bloodlust that consumed us all…even the rampant vegetarians who had spent the previous week avoiding stepping on the grass! We watched with undisguised and unabashed hunger. The warthog continued along, an accident just waiting to happen. The lion raised its head and watched intently. The distance between the two shortened. Our breath quickened, we were willing carnage just lusting for the warthog to become a platter of sausages, ham and bacon. Soon the gap had disappeared…and the warthog was past the trouble. The lion sank back down. Although as easy as opening the door to a pizza delivery boy, it was clearly too much effort for the lion.

 

The little warthog had no idea how close it had come to being a light afternoon snack. In a nutshell, that little encounter had been life in Africa.

 

We settled back down and our game drive continued. The wanton savagery that had united us minutes earlier had suddenly divided us like an iron curtain. We avoided eye contact and remained silent, each held deep in our shame. We had seen each other in our true light and it wasn’t pretty.

 

The uncomfortable silence continued until we saw a kettle of vultures circling near the river.

 

“Cool,” someone shouted. “Perhaps there’s a kill!” and we were all back on our feet enthusiastically cheering our driver onwards in the hope of some real blood-strewn horror.

 

 

Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2008