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Spring Break 2016×2

Spring Break 2016×2

I began writing this a few of weeks ago however, with the university shutdown I have just been able to finish it. So FINALLY here is how I spent my Spring Break here in South Africa (or rather outside of it).

As Summer ends and Fall begins in the States, Spring has just started showing itself after a wet winter in Cape Town. Just like the American universities, the University of Cape Town gives their students a well-deserved mid-term break. One week of no school, no classes, no papers, no tests. A time to relax and enjoy what South Africa has to offer………or get out as fast as you can to go see other sites in the southern part of the African continent. When deciding on whether to stay in Cape Town or experience other countries, I knew that the only option I would be happy with was to leave. So on the first Saturday of break I woke up at 3:30AM and hoped on a bus with 20 other study abroad students and started what was going to be the best Spring Break I have ever had.


Day 1: Livingstone, Zambia

Early mornings seem to be a common occurrence whenever I travel anywhere. Though, to admit 3:30 in the morning was just a little too early for my liking. But not too soon after departing the residence hall my adrenaline kicked in. I kept glancing at my friend Meg who was on the trip with me, as well as two other boys from the IES Program (Aditya and Logan), and we both could not stop smiling. In about 6 hours we were going to land in Zambia and start what was sure to be an amazing experience. Landing around 1:30 PM in Zambia we headed to our accommodation for the night, Livingstone Backpackers (highly recommended for anyone travelling around the area!) It was so quaint and cozy with travelers from around the world all gathered together. No one wanted to stand around to do nothing so we ventured out into town to check out the local market. Masters at sales and negotiation the salesmen and women promoted their goods, statues, bowls, bracelets, shirts, and paintings. After an hour of perusing the stalls we headed back to the backpackers to lounge by the pool. Understandably, it was an early night for everyone after an exhausting day of travelling and the next day was going to be more adventures and exploring.

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Day 2: Livingstone, Zambia and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Out of all the days on this trip, my favorite by far is still this very first day. After a day of travelling getting to sleep in until 9:00AM was quite refreshing. The four of us, Aditya, Logan, Meg, and I, had an absolutely delicious breakfast (probably the best one on the whole trip) at the backpackers. At 11 we were picked up and driven to a very nice resort where we would be relaxing by the pool until our activity of the day began. Right on the edge of the Zambezi the hotel is the launching point for the Devil’s Pool experience. Before our scheduled appointment we had about 4 hours to kill. We were able to relax by the pool, swim, and go for walks around the compound. Our walks were just to explore the area and stretch our legs but we were surprised, and delighted, to find zebras and impala along our way. It was amazing to be so close to wild animals and to just get to watch them do what they do. After the walks and a dip in the pool it was time to set off for the edge. Literally. Devil’s Pool is a small “pool” on the very edge of Victoria Falls. A boat took us from the hotel to a small island known as Livingstone Island. From this location we swam thru the Zambezi to get to the pool. After very slowly and cautiously climbing into the pool, we were able to sit on the edge of one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. My heart was pounding, my palms were sweating, and the words “oh my god” left my mouth about a hundred times. It was an incredibly surreal moment and one that will forever be imprinted in my memory. I could have stayed in the pool for hours but unfortunately, all too quickly we were ushered out and made our way back to Livingstone Island. After a late lunch on the island it was time to go back to the hotel and make our way to Zimbabwe. And what better way to do this but to walk? As the Zim/Zambia border is Victoria Falls it was not far from the hotel. So, the five of us (the IES 4 and our tour guide, Angelica) made our way down the highway towards the border. We crossed just as the sun was setting and made our way thru the national part in the dark with only one headlight guiding our way. We were warned that there were buffalo, elephants, and hippos that we had to be careful about by an overly concerned taxi driver offering us a ride. We decided to venture into the “wilderness” anyway and made it safely to our Rest Camp without being mauled or eaten by anything. This day was not just my favorite because of the activities. What really made this day was the people I was with. Though the activities were amazing and walking across the border was a unique experience the little moments of laughter, joking, lounging, and talking with the four other people I was with made everything so much better. And though, none of the following days topped this one, they definitely came very close.

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Day 3: Hiking Victoria Falls and the Village

After an exciting adventure the day before, today was scheduled to be a little more relaxed. After breakfast at the rest camp our entire group went on a hike of Victoria Falls. The hike takes you to 16 different viewpoints of the amazing falls. Each vantage point was just as beautiful and amazing as the next one. At half of the spots water rained down and turned the scenery into a beautiful amazing forest. The rest of the spots were surrounded by brown foliage. The contrast from forest to desert was quite astonishing to see. After an hour of hiking, pictures, snacks, and more pictures we headed back to the rest camp for a relaxing afternoon by the pool. A couple hours later, our group left to spend the night with an amazing group of children at a local orphanage. We had dinner with the children (where I ate a caterpillar, a Zimbabwean specialty) and then a massive dance party ensued. We were fortunate enough to be there for one of the girl’s birthday; this was the first birthday party this little girl had ever had. It was such an honor to experience it with her and to see the joy on her face when we surprised her. After a few hours of playing and dancing it was time to say goodbye. Hugs went all around and by the end of the night none of us really wanted to leave. Thirty minutes of goodbyes later and our night had finally come to an end. We all needed our rest, for the next day things were going to get crazy!

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Day 4: Rafting the Zambezi

At the end of this particular day my only thought was, “I SURVIVED!” I do not think I have ever been so close to death as I was today. And yet, it was AWESOME!!!!! I wouldn’t consider myself an adrenaline junkie but it was a lot of fun. Today, I went white water rafting on the Zambezi River, the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. There is not much more I can say besides it was thrilling, scary, fantastic, and again, amazing. The pictures bellow pretty much say it all. There are 6 grades of rapids; each grade is more dangerous than the next. Grade 1, you can swim in, Grade 3- be prepared for a bumpy ride, Grade 5- anywhere from a 50-99% chance of flipping, Grade 6- you die (a little dramatic but they are very, very dangerous even professionals do not ride these rapids). In many places in America a person must be certified in order to go on Grade 4 and up rapids. Well, not in Africa! We went all the way up to Grade 5 and we all survived. We got a quick lesson on what to do if the boat flips, hiked down a gorge to get to the river, and after 4 non-stop hours of rafting, hiked back up the gorge. We were lucky that this was the only activity for it was exhausting. The day ended with a nice dinner and relaxing by the pool. It was the perfect ending to such a tiring yet exhilarating day.

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Day 5: Markets and Gorge Swings

Our last day in Zimbabwe was our own. No planned activities, no early morning wake up, and no death defying activities……wait scratch that last one. Since nothing was scheduled we were able to pick and choose different activities that we wanted to partake in. I decided that I wanted to explore the village more and other non-profit organizations like the orphanage. A tour guide took a group of us around the village, showing us different markets, going back to the orphanage, and an old-person care home. The markets were not touristy markets or places to buy souvenirs. These markets were the places where the people living in the area would go to buy clothes, shoes, hair products, etc. They weren’t indoor markets or what one would normally think of. Once the tour was over, our group headed back to the rest camp.  The group I came with (Logan, Meg, Aditya, and I) decided that we were not satisfied with having a lazy day around Victoria Falls. So, what better way to spice things up then by jumping off the gorge and swinging side-to-side? Our last adventure in Zimbabwe was the gorge swing across the Zambezi. If I thought white water rafting was scary, this was terrifying. It was all fine until that moment when you are standing on a wooden platform looking down at the bottom of the gorge. Luckily, Meg and I were doing a tandem jump so I was not alone in my moment of fear. The hardest part is always right before the jump. Fortunately for us the man in charge of the jump didn’t give us much of a choice; after counting down from 5, he pushed us off. I don’t think I have ever been so grateful to someone for pushing me off a cliff. The initial free-fall lasted about 3 seconds and then the swing set in and we were soaring over the gorge. It was so much fun and so beautiful going across the river. After the jump and the climb back up, we headed back to the camp for our last Zimbabwean night.

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Day 6: Chobe National Park, Botswana

Our adventure this morning was to say goodbye to Zimbabwe and hello to Botswana. A couple hours’ drive had us at the border where we switched cars and headed straight into the first activity of the day. The big Jeeps would talk us into Chobe National Park and on a 2-hour Game Drive to see the wildlife. My first safari of in Africa! It was hot and bright out as we made our way through the park to the edge of the Chobe River. Hundreds of elephants grazed around the river and bathed on its banks. Water buffalo stood right beside the elephants minding their own business. The elephants in Chobe are known to be the largest in the world, and that is no lie; they are huge. As we continued on we spotted giraffes, kudu, impala, and other antelope species. Unfortunately, no lions were around for it was too hot for them to come out. To continue our animal adventure, we drove to the bank of the river and hopped onto a boat for a sunset cruise on the river. This was my favorite out of the two. We were able to see crocodiles and more elephants up close. But my favorite animal to see were the hippos swimming in the water and eating on land. Hippos and giraffes are probably my favorite animals so getting to see them in their natural habitat was quite amazing. As the sun began to set, we headed back towards the shore where we would be able to get a better view of the setting sun. I was having a lovely conversation with the boat driver when I jokingly mentioned that he should let me drive the boat back. To my surprise, he let me! I was able to steer the boat to where we were going to watch the sunset. It was such a unique experience and only enhanced how great the day had been so far. Watching the sun set over the Chobe River was breathtaking. The sky lit up in different colors and the sun became a deep orange. Too soon it was over and we were off the boat and back into the Jeeps. Our rest camp was not too far and we were able to have a very comfortable night on extremely comfy beds, before our next adventure was to take place.

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Day 7: Maun, Botswana

This day was nothing but driving. The drive from Chobe to Maun took 8 hours. By the time we reached the rest camp we were exhausted and nobody was in the mood for any activities. Which was perfect because there was none planned. Our accommodation for the night consisted of tents with a padded mattress inside. This was in preparation for our night on the Okavango Delta. A short walk, dinner, a little conversation and then it was off to bed for us all.


Day 8: Mokoro Tour, Okavango Delta

Today was probably the longest day of the entire trip, or at least it felt like it. Most of our day was spent on a boat. First, a speed boat and then a skinny, canoe-looking boat called a mokoro. These boats are the only types of boats that are permitted thru the Okavango Delta. They are small enough where they can fit off the big canals and into the tall grass areas. For 8-hours we paired up and were driven around the Delta by a mokoro driver. Aditya and I shared a mokoro and our driver was a 21-year old women named Michelle. We had a wonderful time talking to her about her life and enjoying the scenery. Our trip allowed us to see hippos, crocodiles, one lone elephant, a herd of zebra, and lots and lots of bugs. We made it to our campsite, where we would be sleeping under the stars on the Okavango, and got a short break. A group of decided to take advantage of our amazing location and go for a swim in the Delta not far from our campsite. I still cannot believe that I can say that I swam in the Okavango Delta in Botswana; it is a little surreal. Once our dip in the Delta was over we dried off. No rest in between, for we hopped back in our mokoros and set off for another island not too far away. On our way we passed a place called Hippo Pool where hippos come and relax, hang out, and sleep. We took a walking tour of the island in search of some animals. We did not find any live animals but we came across an elephant skeleton. It had died a while ago and all that was left were the bones. Its skull was still intact and the femur was massive and so heavy. As we walked back to the mokoros the sun set off in the distance and cast a glow over the island. We continued on our journey back to the mokoros; we made it back to campsite just as the sky turned black. Our last dinner was a happy but solemn one. None of us wanted to leave and yet we were all exhausted and ready to be back. Plans for reunions were already being discussed as our dinner progressed. Our night ended with us gazing at the amazing starts in the sky and discovering constellations. One last “tent talk” between us four IES students and it was off to bed for a good night’s sleep…

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Day 9: Flying home???

After only a few hours of sleep I was up at 5AM and hanging with the cooks and mokoro drivers. They had built a fire since it was still dark out and we talked around the fire for about an hour before the sun started to arise. The rest of the group started emerging to watch the sunrise over the delta. It was the perfect end to an amazing trip. After breakfast and packing, it was back onto the mokoros and back to the rest camp. Logan and I were on a direct flight back to Cape Town while the rest of the group was on an earlier flight thru Jo-burg. Logan and I stayed behind to relax at the rest camp while the other group went ahead to the airport. We said our quick goodbyes and promised to get together that night for dinner back in Cape Town……………or so was the plan……… With comfy couches and two hammocks swaying in the warm breeze, I could not resist the temptation to take a nap. We were being picked up at 1:30pm for our 3:00 flight. Waking up just before 1, Logan and I just sat around the couches waiting for the car to come. Logan decided to look up our flight online to get the details about when we would be landing in Cape Town…. And that was the last calm moment before things hit the fan. Our flight, which we were told was leaving at 3, was actually scheduled to depart at 1:35pm, in 30 minutes. Logan ran to the reception and told them we needed a taxi right away. I called Angelica and told her that we were probably going to miss our flight. She hung up to call the owner of the travel company. The owner messaged Logan and informed us that we had indeed missed our flight and that there were no more flights out of Maun to Cape Town until the next day. We were stuck in Botswana for an extra day. Our tents were pitched again and dinner (and a well- deserved drink) and breakfast were provided for us. It was definitely not how we planned to end the day but overall, an extra day in the Botswana is not the worst thing that could happen to a girl.


Unintentional Day 10: Finally Flying Home

With very little sleep the night before and the unexpected flight mishap, I was in bed and asleep by 9:30pm. A great night sleep was exactly what I needed to endure the flight during the day. I counted every step. Step 1: We got in the taxi. Step 2: We made it to the airport. Step 3: Got our tickets. Step 4: Made it thru security. Step 5: Made it on the plane. And finally, Step 6: The plane took off and we were on it! As much as I loved the trip and it was everything and so much more, I could not wait to be home!

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