Longstanding subscriber Erik van de Ven embarks on a whirlwind journey through Africa, experiencing everything from Uganda’s mountain gorillas to camping on an island in the middle of Botswana’s Okavango Delta
In 2008 I started leading group tours from Cape Town to Livingstone for a Dutch company. What I remember most is something I saw on my first trip. Strangely enough, this wasn’t Table Mountain, the Namib Desert or even the mighty Victoria Falls; it was a piece of paper left in the overland truck we had hired for a tour. Written on this was the outline of a 56-day trip from Nairobi to Cape Town. Years later, I caught myself thinking often about that itinerary, so much so that one day I looked it up online and booked myself a place. Finally I was going back to Africa to go camping! And the best part was that this time I would be the tourist.
In a surprisingly beautiful Nairobi, I met the group I’d be traveling with for the first two weeks, and we all became instant friends over a couple of Tuskers! Endless hours on the overland truck, cold beers around the nightly campfires, and several excursions helped to strengthen this. Our visit to the Mara was very successful, although I found it quite sad to see the once proud Maasai warriors jumping for tourists.
After several days traveling we reached south-west Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where a highlight was, without a doubt, seeing a family of 23 mountain gorillas. An excursion to Kigali in Rwanda to learn more about the genocide was fascinating too.
On our way back to Nairobi, we rented bikes and explored Hell’s Gate National Park, which is situated close to the picturesque Lake Naivasha. Of course, we also visited Lake Nakuru National Park — what a little paradise this hidden gem turned out to be.
A stunning lake, fringed by lush green hills, filled with flamingos, pelicans and other aquatic birds. We saw more than a dozen white rhino and several other mammal species, including a baboon, which tried to steal our lunch! Near the exit we caught sight of a buffalo carcass, surrounded by vultures and spotted hyenas. All of them were chased away by a group of lionesses.
The next destination was Tanzania. Visiting the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti was a dream come true: rounding the edge of the dormant volcano and seeing the crater floor open up before my eyes was magical. Spending the night camping in the middle of the Serengeti was also a unique experience.
When we arrived in Zanzibar, my group headed north to enjoy the beaches and I stayed in Stone Town, spending my days wandering around the narrow streets, visiting a spice farm, Prison Island and Jozani Forest. The high point was the evening fish market, looking for the best and freshest produce the surrounding waters had to offer.
Our route to Victoria Falls, situated on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border, took us through Malawi and Zambia. Sadly, we didn’t have much time in either of these countries, but I suppose this gives me a good excuse to return!
While my fellow travelers scattered to enjoy the usual touristy stuff, I spent a couple of days with the International Anti-poaching Foundation (IAPF). Established by a former Australian Special Forces officer, the IAPF trains locals in protecting Zimbabwe’s wildlife, especially black rhino.
Next up was Botswana. The sunset cruise on the Chobe River didn’t disappoint: beautiful birds, elephant drinking nearby, hippo yawning. Unfortunately, the game drive the next morning was not as exciting, although we did manage to spot a couple of lions. Camping on an island in the middle of the Okavango Delta is such an incredible experience. No showers, loos or electricity — only nature.
We spent our days walking and taking mokoro trips, and our nights sitting around a campfire.
A few days later, we had made it to my favourite reserve: Namibia’s Etosha National Park. With a pan full of water, it was even more stunning than usual, and so was the abundant wildlife. Camping at Spitzkoppe, on the way to Swakopmund, provided a calming, spiritual interlude to the trip, and a living desert tour in the region — where my guide showed me snakes, the Namaqua gecko and even two Namaqua chameleons — was enthralling. Other stops in this southern African country included the Fish River Canyon and the Namib Desert, where I asked our driver to stop at Solitaire so I could taste Africa’s best apple pie again, and where we climbed Dune 45 and walked to Deadvlei.
Finally, we moved onwards to our last country: South Africa. We spent the first night on the Orange River and our second camping location was even more scenic, overlooking a winery in the Cederberg Mountains. When Table Mountain came into view, it marked the end of an incredible eight-week journey to 10 beautiful, diverse countries. I have collected enough memories to last me a lifetime, but still can’t wait to return and get back on the road.