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It’s the Best Decision You’ll Ever Make, Bru: Spring Break

Spring Break has (already) come and gone at UCT, and I must say that I earned every minute of my incredible get away. The week before we left, I shut down the library nearly every night working on not one, not two, but three research papers for my courses. Luckily, several of my friends were in the same boat, so we turned what we call “that week” into the most enjoyable experience possible, keeping each other laughing throughout the all-nighters. I love how even the most painful experiences can become cherished memories. Despite the acquired inside jokes from that week, we’re already planning ahead so we NEVER have to go through that again—gotta embrace those learning experiences.

For our week long mid-term break at UCT, I chose to go with an on-campus travel agency (2 Way Travel) on a ten day camping safari through Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In my group, there were several close interstudy friends along with some new faces from the CIEE study abroad program, and we were led by the fabulous Ruth from 2 Way Travel. My experience with this safari is so unparalleled to any other opportunity I’ve had thus far in my life. It was such a good time, and I felt like I was living in my own little African world for the ten days I was gone. I could honestly gush forever.

Our adventure started with a rough 4:45 am pick up for our plane ride to Johannesburg. Due to some difficulties with the bus, we barely made our flight, but we luckily landed in Jo’burg safely and on time. Once we landed, the safari staff met us at the airport with our beloved truck that would house our lives for the next ten days. The truck is an “Inspector-Gadget” type vehicle which seemingly magically managed to house plenty of seating room for all 21 of us, all of our tents, mattresses, a full set of kitchen supplies, and lockers for our luggage. Everyone would always refer to the vehicle as a bus, but we were constantly reminded that “it’s not a bus, its’ a TRUCK!” Along with the truck came Albert, our cook, and Gordon, our driver. We all grew to love Albert and Gordon very much. Albert’s cooking was so incredible, we never had a bad meal, and he even managed to cook for us while suffering from malaria. Gordon was quite the character. He kept us all laughing with his demeanor as a middle aged man with the hippie spirit at heart.

For the first few days, we spent a long time traveling into Botswana, heading towards the Okavango Delta. Our travels were quite the wake-up call, as we’d jokingly say, “This is the REAL Africa.” The lifestyle of people outside of Cape Town is so vastly different. We’d see huts along the side of the road, with animals grazing all over the place, donkeys pulling carts, and children playing soccer outside. It was just like looking at the African villages in movies, which I never actually thought existed.

After one night staying at Camp Itumela in Palapye, we made it to the mouth of the Okavango Delta in Maun, Botswana. Once we got there, we had the opportunity to fly over the delta in a five-seater, tiny airplane, which was so fun. The Okavango Delta is the world’s largest in-land delta and can be seen from space. It’s also on the list of the top ten places to visit before you die. (Check that one off the list!) Flying over the delta was so scenic and really indescribable. We’d look out of our windows and see herds of elephants or buffalo amidst this sprawling body of water with islands everywhere. I’m not sure my pictures can even do it justice. After our flight, we went back to Sitatunga Camp in Maun for a good night’s rest before heading into the delta.

Since the delta is…well, a delta… the only way to get to our campsite was via traditional African canoe, or mokoro. We broke off into groups of two and a man or woman from the nearby villages would push us, along with all of our belongings for the next three days, into our campsite. The mokoro is most closely comparable to a gondola in Venice. It’s a small canoe-like boat which the polers stand at the back of and push with a giant stick, which is shoved into the mud of the delta’s floor. It’s such a romantic image— parting the reeds of the delta with the boat, with the huge African sun in the sky and animals naturally living all around you. In actuality, the two inch spiders crawling all over your boat, and consequently you as well, put a damper on the image, but the experience is still absolutely unforgettable. About two hours into the ride, we landed at the island which we were camping at. I’ve been camping before, but living in the delta is really roughing it. We had no running water, leading to a lovely hole-in-the-ground toilet and no showers for our time there. When I think of the delta, I think natural. The delta is absolutely natural.

Our mornings and evenings would be spent on game viewing walks or mokoro rides, but the afternoons were too unbearably hot to do anything, even sleep. Luckily, there was a swimming hole that we would jump into. Of course, our guides would check for hippos before we got in—it’s so weird to think of that as an everyday thing to do. As I said before, it was such a natural experience. We’d just jump into the muddy water for the afternoon and hang out in the sun, making necklaces out of the water lilies and squirting each other with the buds of the lilies. When we weren’t in the water, we’d all sit around the campsite playing card games. I’ve never felt so secluded from society before, and it was wonderful.

On the last night in the delta, we had a sort-of talent show with our local guides from the village. They performed songs and dances for us, and in exchange we had to perform for them. Naturally, my African dance friends and I showed the natives our moves. As a group, we also sang the American National Anthem (which was rough hitting all of the notes… so funny and not so pretty), the Hokey-Pokey, and Lean on Me, along with a few others. Maybe it’s just me, but I think we summed up American culture pretty well with our music selection (haha).

We LOVED our time in the delta, but after our two nights were up, we were very ready to head back to showers and toilets. We were spoiled after the delta with one night at Planet Baobab in Gweta. Especially after the delta, Planet Baobab felt like a luxury camping facility. At this campsite there were, literally, the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. The diameter of the trunk was probably 15 to 20 feet. We had tons of fun hanging in the hammocks of these trees, swimming in the nice pool, and enjoying the available soda and juice we’d been missing the last few days.

From Planet Baobab, it was on to Chobe National Park, which is right in the corner of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. There are tons of animals in Chobe, so it was only fitting that we saw some on our safari. We started off with a sunset game viewing cruise, which was so relaxing. Our boat floated right past (and right next to) elephants, crocodiles, buffalo, hippo, giraffes, and more. All of these animals we fondly named Eric. Ruth told us that at the major guide training schools, they name all animals Eric, hence the many “Eric sightings” we had on our trip. The next morning we went on a game viewing drive, where we saw Eric many times, including an Eric in the form of an Egyptian Cobra. I’d been anxiously waiting for an inevitable snake sighting, given my immense fear of snakes. Of course, the snake we saw was venomous, so I was very glad to be in a car, far above the looming danger.

Our departure from Chobe led us to our final stop on the safari—Waterfront Campsite in Livingstone, Zambia. Livingstone is the nearest city in Zambia to Victoria Falls, which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Victoria Falls is truly something that cannot be captured in a camera, only something that can be saved by the mental snapshots which the visitors take there. It’s so beautiful and incredibly huge, as it spans both Zambian and Zimbabwean borders. Some of my peers hired a guide to take them to “The Devil’s Pool” which is a pool of water which is right by the edge of the falls. To the relief of my mom, I settled for playing in the water leading to the falls, which is not quite as close to the edge.

The final two days of our trip were spent doing optional activities of our choice in the Victoria Falls area. A bunch of people went whitewater rafting along the Zambezi River, but I chose a few animal encounters instead. One afternoon, my friend Rachel and I went elephant riding, which is one of my fondest memories of the trip. Rachel and I chose to ride Medinda, which was the problem-child, free-spirited elephant of the group. Medinda loved to run outside of the pack and did everything in his power to avoid crossing the water when he was supposed to, which made for a good time for Rachel and me. After the ride, we got to sit in Medinda’s lap and feed him. He was definitely a hungry boy, and he reminded me of a huge version of my wild-child, bottomless stomached two year old nephew in the states. Medinda’s trunk would be back in my hand begging for food even before I could reach my hand back in his food bag!

The next day, we woke up early for a lion-encounter in a game reserve which was transitioning domesticated lions back into the wild. This program took wild lions for research and breeding, and then had a program to return them and their offspring into the wild as naturally behaving lions. We went on a walk with guides where we got to pet the lions. They felt like giant dogs, despite their classification in the feline family. Even though, with all logic, it is insane to think about petting a lion, this experience was only a little bit scary. One time we were petting the lions and the guides quickly told us to stand up because the lions were getting restless. Despite these swift warnings, everyone managed to make it out alive and well.

I also chose to head into Zimbabwe for an afternoon to do some shopping at a local market. I managed to buy tons and tons of souvenirs via trading. Shopping in these markets is quite the experience and not for the faint-hearted. People are constantly trying to talk you into going into their ‘shop’, saying “Sister, I want to give you a gift… sister, I like your water bottle, we will trade,” etc. It takes a lot of bargaining and will power to get through a day in the market, but I feel like I managed to do pretty well trading with minimal cash, a couple t-shirts, some pencils, and a bag.

Our trip ended with a sunset cruise along the Zambezi River, which was a perfect, relaxing, ending to our incredible week in the brush. A Katie vacation, however, can never go perfectly as planned. A trip would not fit my style if nothing went wrong. As a result, I managed to catch the stomach flu on our last night, which carried on throughout our 14 hours of travel back to Cape Town. I was fortunate enough to be “that girl” throwing up in trash cans in the airport. All in all, though I was very glad that I was sick after all of our fun events throughout the week so that I didn’t miss out on anything.

After ten days of roughing it over my much-needed Spring Break, I’m back in Mowbray and very happy to see my bed once again. I’m sure it will take weeks to catch up on my rest, but it was so worth it. I can honestly say that my spring break trip will go down in my book as one of the most amazing opportunities of my lifetime. A week later, it already makes me nostalgic just thinking about my time on this safari! Its experiences like these that truly make Africa a place of wonder and make me feel so lucky to be here. As our safari group would say, “It’s the best decision you’ll ever make, bru!”

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