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I’ve finally finished compiling the footage I took on our overland trek from Johannesburg to Nairobi. I struggled with this package more than I do with most. I assume one of the reasons is because I am emotionally attached to most of the video, which makes it very difficult to edit pieces out.

I also found that while I wanted to write a script, I couldn’t find the words. I wanted to give the experience the weight it deserved. I wanted to make it poetic. But I found Florence and the Machine’s “All This Heaven Too,” said exactly what I wanted to say while letting the video speak for itself.  I hope you enjoy.

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And since I had so many nice moments left over, I put together some of the pieces which ended up on cutting room floor. Thanks to everyone on our trip who put up with me shooting video while you were sleeping, sweaty, and or just generally ruffled from camping for a month.

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For more stories from our African Adventure, start here.

~ Molly

Day 8

We get up early so we can catch the ferry to cross the Zambezi River into Zambia. The early arrival at the ferry point is critical, Barry and Gideon tell us. It can take anywhere from one hour to all day to get to the other side depending on how many ferries are running. Both Botswana and Zambia have ferries. Some times both run, sometimes one runs. This is Africa.

There’s no line when we arrive at the ferry so we’re able to go straight to the front of the pier. But there’s a problem. A truck gets stuck coming off the Zambia ferry. We quickly get in line for the Botswana ferry coming into port and watch the futile attempts to use an eighteen-wheeler to pull the stuck truck out. Again this is Africa.

Stuck. Photo by Nellu

After the border crossing, we ride into Livingstone where we’ll spend the next couple of days. We have three full days in Livingstone, which seems like at least one day too many. But this is the end of the trek for several of the people in our group. We’ll lose nine of our group and both Barry and Gideon before taking off toward Nairobi.

The big thing to do in Livingstone is go to Victoria Falls. There are all kinds of adventure activities you can do around the falls – helicopter rides, gorge swings, whitewater rafting, and until a few weeks ago – bungee jumping. (They closed down the bungee jump after a woman went plunging into the river. She survived but broke her collar-bone.) I would have liked to whitewater raft but we decided that we’d do the expensive adventure stuff when we have jobs and more robust health insurance.

Instead, Nellu and I and a few others go off into the “city” of Livingstone to look for groceries and check things out. Since we have so much time, we decide to save our visit to the falls for the next day.

After returning from the store, we eat lunch out by the pool. The blue monkeys living at the camp see us and start to surround us. It’s clear they’d like their cut and they’re very aggressive. They’re small but you know they can bite and scratch. As we sit in one of the lawn chairs, the monkeys come close. They look like they’re going to grab what we’re eating right out of our hands. I yell at them the way one would scold a cat that’s climbed up on the counter, “No,” I scold in my deepest, scary, I’m-serious voice. But that doesn’t stop their persistence. One of the braver monkeys makes his move and grabs the orange plastic bag with my Snickers in it and runs up into the trees. They’ve clearly learned from experience that orange plastic bags often have food in it.

Day 9

Victoria Falls. Photo by Nellu

Eleven of us head out for a hike around Victoria Falls today. The falls are very impressive. The force of the river coming over the side of the rocks causes the fallen water to spray back up as if its raining and you get absolutely soaked. It’s a fun way to spend a hot day in Africa.

Thanks to Christina Ungar for the photo. Check out Nellu's lovely CNBC poncho.

We’re walking a path that takes us along some of the prime viewing spots for the falls. I am chatting with someone when I look up and see Nellu standing out toward the edge with our friend Claire taking a picture. It’s clear that he’s gone off the trail and much closer to the rocky drop-off than he probably should. To Nellu, this is a prime picture-taking opportunity. To me, it’s way too close to the edge. My mind starts running a scene on loop where he slips in the wet grass and plunges in the rocky abyss below. “No, no, no,” I start screaming, “That’s too close. Too close.” By the time I get to him, I am fully crying.

“What’s wrong?” Nellu asks in a very innocent voice as if he has no idea. Now firmly imprinted in my psyche is the fear of my husband going over the edge for the sake of a good picture.

Too close! Too close! Thanks to Claire Walton for the photo.

There are a few trails you can follow to see all that Victoria Falls has to offer. Nellu and I and our Canadian friends, Bob and his daughter Christina, head down to what they call the Boiling Pot, a deep pool of swirling water just off the base of the falls. The trail isn’t long but it lined with dozens of baboons – big wild, baboons. We make it down to pool with no issues, snap a few pictures, and head back.

Down by the Boiling Pot

As we climb up the hill, the baboons are now making their way down the path. We very calmly walk by and no one seems to mind, even the mothers with their newborn baboon babies.

They may look cute, but... Photo by Nellu

But when I start to take my raincoat off, I hold out my arms and the orange waterproof bag with my wallet and camera in it.

My bag must have looked like the ones we usually carry food in because this really, really big baboon, certainly one of the biggest in the group at just about three and a half feet tall, runs by and tries to snatch it from me. His momentum spins me around but there’s no way that I am letting him get my bag. If it was food, that would be one thing, but it’s not. We play tug of war with the bag and I scream aggressively in his direction, which is cleary not among my best of ideas. Remember the monkeys from yesterday, this baboon could have eaten them for lunch. I should have learned that wild primates do not respond to NO the way domestic animals do.

The baboon was at least this big...maybe bigger. Photo by Nellu

The baboon lets go of the bag but lurches at me. Bob, who had been right behind me, grabs my elbow pulling me up and out of the way. We both fall to the ground. Nellu rushes behind us, kicking his foot up to scare away our aggressor. This all happens in a matter of seconds but leaves us a little shaken.

But I am happy to report that this was the only attempting mugging during our whole trip.

Day 10

We’ve got some time to kill and after getting in some serious internet for the first time since we left Johannesburg, Nellu and I go take the shuttle from camp back into town. We wanted to hit the markets once more and get food at the grocery store.

The shuttle only runs one way so we start to walk back to our campsite. It’s not far from the center of town but some of the people at the campsite have implied its dangerous to walk, not so much on the well trafficked main road, but the side road. “Just take a cab,” people tell us in the way that makes you unsure if they’re trying to protect you or just cover their own ass.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of fear lately. On this trip, I’ve hated the idea that we’re targets because we’re toursits. I loathe feeling unsafe walking down the street. And I’ve resented cities that we visited that have reputations where petty if not violent crime is tolerated. (I’m talking about you Bogota and Johannesburg.) The baboon was the closest that we’ve come to a mugging but the fact that we’ve traveled for so long without incident has started to unnerve me. It’s the classic – things are too good, we’re due for something bad to happen to us – feeling. I have no idea why I let myself dwell in such scenarioes. The line from the song “Me and Bobby McGee” keeps echoing in my head: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” We may have left most of our possessions behind but I’m clearly holding on too tight to stuff.

We picked up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store for lunch and dinner. On the way back, I let Nellu in on the scheme I was cooking up just in case anyone did try to mug us. “If anyone comes at us, throw the chicken, you got it, throw …the… chicken.”

More to come…

~ Molly

Day 6

I forgot to mention that we’ve crossed the border on Day 5 and we’re now in Botswana. Details, details…

I ride up in the front seat for awhile during our drive to the next campsite with Barry. We chit chat about ourselves. At one point he tells me that both Nellu and I seem to be very comfortable with this camping thing – that we seem “outdoorsy.” If only he saw us trying to set up our tent on Stockton Beach, Australia. But good news, the illusion is complete!

We drive today to a campsite known as Elephant Sands. They tell us that animals have been known to wander in and out of the camp. In fact, if we want to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, Barry says, we should shine our flashlights around first and if we see glowing eyes get back the tent because it could be a leopard. It’s a good thing I missed this piece of advice the first time around and only registered it when I heard a few of our friends talking about it later.

Our campsite at Elephants Sands. Photo by Nellu

There’s also a waterhole in the camp where all kinds of animals, particularly elephants, have been known to wander up to get a drink. After going for a swim in the camp’s saltwater pool, most of our group settles into chairs right in front of the water hole and we wait.

We wait until dinner and then after dinner we wait some more. No animals appear. But we are being particularly loud, telling stories and laughing. Around 11am, the camp manager drops by to tells us at 11:30pm, the generator and all the lights will go off.

I think I need to set the scene a little better here. So far our campsites have us anything but roughing it. The site itself is usually just a little ways off the main road as this one was. That main road is still in the middle of no where so we’re still in the middle of the bush. We pull in and they have various spots for trucks or cars or in our case the overland truckbus and room for about 10 or so tents if not more. All the sites so far have had basic bathroom and shower facilities in huts or simple structures not too far away from where you pitch your tents. At this one, it’s a saltwater shower, which is odd, but you still get the opportunity to get clean. The sites usually have some kind of non-tent accommodations, huts or bungalows, just in case there is anyone looking to upgrade. Most of the time there is a pool and there’s almost always a bar. Elephant Sands has a big bar area that looks like it would fit in just as easily on Caribbean beach as it does here, complete with thatched roof, stone patio and fire pit.

We’re sitting around that fire pit as close as we can get to the watering hole without going past the “Do NOT go beyond this point” sign when the lights go off and we’re dramatically plunged into darkness. Our group – holdouts of about 10 people – decide to stick it out just a few more minutes to see if any animals come by. We’ve been hearing elephants “trumpeting” (no seriously, that’s what the noise they make is called) in the close distance for hours now.

The watering hole and the warning sign. Photo by Nellu

Just when we’re close to giving  up hope, we hear something rustling in the grass 10 feet away from us. Everyone assumes it a snake or something and shines their flashlights toward the ground. Seeing something but not able to make it out clearly, the lights begin to move upward searching for the creature that’s making this very quiet noise. The lights go up and up and up until we see there in the darkness, a fully grown elephant complete with fully grown tusks, staring right back at us.

He was clearly as startled to see us as we were to see him and he high-tailed it out of there.

The elephant in the darkness. Photo by Nellu

The fact that this enormous elephant could sneak up on us was a huge surprise. Mostly because I’d grown up with the idea that elephants walk very loudly.  I can still hear my mother’s saying something like, “Don’t stomp. Am I raising a herd of elephants?” I guess mothers aren’t always right :) (Love you, Mom.)

We stuck around for a little longer, waiting to see if the elephant would come back or if any other members of the herd would join him. We could see one or two elephants in the bushes on the other side of the watering hole but they were holding back waiting for the excitement and the searchlights to stop shining around. Nellu was able to capture this shot above from afar.

Day 7

Many of the plants in Africa from buses to trees have thorns. This particular detail sticks with me because I got a thorn stuck in my head this morning while taking down our tent. (By the way, it took me more than a week to get the thorn out.)

This is one of favorite pictures Nellu has ever taken but I use it here now so you can imagine how painful it was when I got one of these thorns stuck in my head. Photo by Nellu

We’re off to Chobe National Park today, right on the Botswana, Zambia border.

The highlight: A safari river cruise with some quality elephant and hippo viewing.

Photo by Nellu

Photo by Nellu

What are you looking at? Photo by Nellu

To be continued…

~ Molly

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