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: X is for Xai-Xai

26 06 2009


Dhow 2 mw


Xai-Xai, Mozambique is a bustling town on the banks of the Limpopo River, just 12 kilometres from Praia do Xai-Xai and its massive coral reef. Although this long, sweeping beach and its safe waters have been popular with tourists since Mozambique re-emerged onto the international scene after years of brutal civil war, like much of the country it is blissfully free of mass tourism and commercialism.


After almost 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule, Mozambique gained its independence in 1975 but fell into civil war just two years later. It was only in 1992 that the fighting ended and the country began to rebuild itself from the devastating violence. With little infrastructure for its own citizens let alone international visitors, only the most intrepid of travellers ventured to Mozambique during its early years. The one exception to this being some of the country’s islands located in the Indian Ocean along its pristine coastline which quickly attracted visitors looking for world class fishing, snorkelling and diving.


Located in south-east Africa and bordered by South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi amongst other countries, Mozambique is not a country to visit in search of wildlife. Much of the game the country had was destroyed or migrated to neighbouring countries during the independence struggle and civil war that followed. However, the advent of peace and the recent opening of the Transfrontier Peace Park which spans Mozambique and its neighbours has seen a steady and healthy increase in game. Although still not on a par with other southern African countries, Mozambique’s advantage is the lack of tourists who visit the country and the unique experiences that this still-emerging country offers to visitors.


Mozambique’s greatest draw is undoubtedly its coastline, however.  The country offers some of the most beautiful, pristine and picturesque coastline in Africa or indeed the world. Unspoiled by mass tourism, the coast still offers many idyllic resorts, usually small and luxurious rather than enormous and overblown. Think thatched roofs, hammocks in the sea breeze and excellent food. For those on a tighter budget there is far simpler accommodation that is still clean, safe and inexpensive enough to suit anyone’s budget. Regardless of the style of travel, the crystal clear waters offer superb snorkelling and scuba diving on the reefs, swimming or sea kayaking. There are lazy cruises on traditional dhows, or simply beach-flopping on the wide uncrowded stretches of sand.


Perhaps not the best destination for a first visit to Africa, Mozambique is a great extension to a longer tour or the perfect place for a second visit. If you have a sense of adventure, want to be amongst the first to explore a rebounding nation…or crave unspoiled beaches and crystal clear water, have a cool drink on the soft sand of Praia do Xai-Xai.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

A to Z of Adventure Travel: M is for Malawi

9 04 2009


“If we hide here long enough, perhaps Angelina Jolie will find us first.”  (Nyika Plateau)


Until Madonna started visiting orphanages there, Malawi was relatively unknown to many people. This small South-east African country is bordered by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia and offers some of the most picturesque scenery in southern Africa.


Although not a great destination for the Big Five, Malawi is a wonderful addition to any classic safari or for anyone seeking somewhere a little different. The country’s most popular attraction is Lake Malawi, a crystal clear freshwater lake that teems with tropical fish and is lined by pristine beaches, unspoiled wilderness, small villages, farmers’ fields and a few rustic lodges and luxurious resorts. Although not as safe as the government sometimes like to suggest thanks largely to the presence of bilharzia, Lake Nyasa as it is also known is still a perfect place to fish, relax and swim. Resting on the shoreline at sunset, sipping a cool drink and listening to the haunting call of African fish eagles is just about as good as Africa gets!


To the country’s north sits Nyika Plateau, a beautiful montane highland plateau that’s more reminiscent of Scotland or northern Europe than Africa. At over 2,000 metres altitude, the park offers great hiking and horseback riding amid rolling plains and thick forests. Immortalised by Laurens van der Post’s classic “Venture to the Interior”, the park has likely changed little since the great South African author visited more than half a century ago. Although looking like Europe, the plateau is home to plenty of wildlife including hyena, zebra, roan and eland and one of the highest populations of leopard in all of central Africa. Sitting around a campfire in a pine forest clearing on a cool evening and hearing the ‘sawing’ sound of a leopard is a surreal yet unforgettable African experience. Nyika offers few amenities so trips need to be properly planned.


Although not exactly a shopper’s paradise, Malawi is famed its wooden carvings that include small tables with interlocking legs carved from a single piece of wood and intricately detailed chairs. Although often also found in neighbouring countries, Malawi offers the highest quality – and best prices – and it’s often possible to purchase them in small markets from the actual artisan who made them.


Amongst Africa’s least developed countries, Malawi has a limited tourist infrastructure but no shortage of warmth and friendliness for those who visit this beautiful and largely undiscovered country.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

A to Z of Adventure Travel: B is for Botswana

20 01 2009





“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

Should I Stay Or Should I Angola Now?

9 12 2008



Adventure tour operators constantly seek new destinations for intrepid travellers. A new destination may be somewhere that has never been open to commercial tourism before, or somewhere that used to be a popular destination but was made inaccessible for a period by war, disaster or simply government rule. There has always been a certain cache amongst voyageurs to be amongst the first to visit or return to a new destination. A few years ago, Mozambique would have fallen into that category. Not long before that it would have been Zimbabwe, Namibia, Nicaragua or El Salvador.


One country on the threshold of such status is the southern African country of Angola – a country long ravaged by civil war but now enjoying peace and reconstruction. The infrastructure is still rather basic and the tourist facilities almost non-existent, but travellers heading there now get the reward of seeing a beautiful country untrammelled by tourists and inhabited by a warm, friendly and welcoming people.


So, for our first Adventure Blogger poll, we ask:



For more information on visiting Angola, contact your nearest Adventure Travel Company.