Sunday, April 20, 2008

‘On Assignment in Africa’ – an update from the Original 2AFRIKA, INC.’s Director of Operations, Dominik M. Zakrzewski

SUNDAY, APRIL 20, 2008

This morning I left beautiful Cape Town. I was up by 4:30am in order to be collected in the lobby of my fabulous hotel, Protea Hotel Fire & Ice (their safes actually fit laptops and charge them at the same time! Nowhere else did I see this unique feature). While Cape Town is very modern I still think that arranging your private transfers is way better than asking for a taxi. If I needed a taxi at 5:30am today who would’ve guaranteed that it would come on time? The private transfers are operated by people who do this day in and out so know the currently changing infrastructure of the city and especially the airport.

Having a local driver is also a great way to get to know South Africa more intimately. People here are more than eager to talk and tell you about their country. I’ve found that most regular cab drivers seem to be foreigners from other African countries and know very little about South Africa.

I saw the true beginning of winter today - an annoying drizzle that people were running away from like it burned! Cape Town is misty in the morning, sunny most of the day and windy at night. That’s my interpretation. My flight to Johannesburg was delayed by 20 minutes because they couldn’t find covered stairs to board the passengers in comfort (turns out that we didn’t need them as by the time we were boarding the rain stopped): T.I.A. - This is Africa.

Flying is a great means of transportation here and to combine many places in one region is practical and smart. One might fly a couple of different airlines for sometimes, due to no space being available, you can’t book everything on South African Airways. I flew British Airways to Johannesburg and then had to transfer for my 11:20am international flight to Zambia on another airline. I hurried myself and anxiously waited for my luggage to appear on the conveyor belt. Truth be told, you can show up and hour, perhaps 45 minutes, before your regional flight for once they check you in, the flight cannot leave without you on board and accounted for. I didn’t have to stress. Africa is a place of distances. The distance between the domestic terminal and the international terminal is a brisk 10-15 minute “power” walk.

The more time I spend in Africa the tanner, or rather burned I become. Being the tough guy that I am, I refused to pack the “essentials” however when I thought I left my deodorant in Cape Town today I really felt unnerved . . . of course, that is ridiculous for deodorant is not a rare commodity – particularly at the next point that I was traveling to – and of course, there are many shopping facilities at the O.R. Tambo International Airport concourse. Arrival in Livingstone was effortless. British Airways has more leg room but the seats are kind of narrow and they serve meals on most flights. Nationwide Airlines has wider seats, less leg room, and serves meals on regional flights (on domestic flights you may purchase food). To me, a flight is a flight and it’s not meant to be comfortable (unless you fly a Middle Eastern airline), but simply intended to get you safely from point A to point B.
Immigration in Zambia took all of about 1-minute. The Livingstone International Airport really IS a two hall space. There are only about 4 or 5 flights arriving into Livingstone International daily with each airline carrying approximately 130 passengers. There is a distinct ‘difference’ between the people of Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. People from the countries that border South Africa are more approachable and warmer. Perhaps South African is too First World on the Third World Continent while in Botswana, they have managed to retain their ‘old world charm’. Yes, you do pass through rural towns and villages en-route to Chobe Safari Lodge from Livingstone International. You pass through the town of Livingstone which is merely a rural town and not a metropolis by any means. You drive by farms and see traditional villages (yes, thatched roofs and everything) and your driver acts like an ambassador welcoming you to his part of town. Keep in mind that it’s customary and necessary to tip these people in USD. At your discretion, tipping is usually between US$5 and US$10 for a transfer and when on safari game viewing drives, usually US$20 for your Game Ranger.

The transfer from Zambia to Kasane and Chobe National Park was an hour’s drive from the airport to Kazangula. Kazangula is the border on the Chobe and Zambezi rivers where vehicles, visitors and locals alike make the river crossing from one country to the other. It really is a quick, informal procedure. Along the way I enjoyed the company of Frederick, Wilson, and Blessing with whom I had many political conversations with about the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe (frankly, everyone feels that Zimbabwe is a hindrance to all four bordering countries). Being an anthropologist, of course I was in heaven. I also discovered that I, as an Eastern European, have so much in common with the people here. Our countries were always ruled by a higher authority. Eastern Europe and Southern Africa are mirror images of each another.

Botswana by far is my favorite country. The people here are nonchalant and even though I was oftentimes in rural areas where most people live off the land, not once was I approached nor even stared at let alone asked for money. Here, there is a sense of pride. People here will offer a service if they can help you rather than beg. Chobe Safari Lodge is beautiful. It’s heaven on Earth. I took a last minute private boat cruise and saw elephants, hippos, impala, kudu (which I also had for dinner), and crocodiles. It’s unreal what kind of experience one can get here. The accommodations are beautiful and elephant, hippo and crocodiles are known to often roam the well manicured lawns which lead to the banks of the Chobe River during the night hours. A family of warthogs have mane the property their home. I’ve been told that monkeys are VERY common here too.

Note to self: do not leave your doors open when you leave your room so you can “air-out” the room even with the screen closed in the evening. I’ve spent 15 minutes chasing months and flushing questionable insects down the toilet. This is why all rooms are equipped with air-conditioning. I can’t help but to add that perhaps I like Botswana more than South Africa. I feel more relaxed and relieved here. People here don’t have barbed wire surrounding their property. It is this, the true African Safari experience which always releases my spirit.

Sitting on the lawn, listening to music played by the live band and digesting my kudu, springbok, fish and bread, gazing at the stars I truly felt relaxed, at home, at peace. I’ve re-attained the mythic African liberations - finally. I also need to add that the Chobe River swarms with insects at dusk. The sunset is amazing and Chobe Safari Lodge is equipped with special lighting to keep the property illuminated without attracting many insects.

I’ve been up since 4:00am this morning and am functioning on about 3 ½ hours of sleep. I’m going to crash now as I have a game drive that I need to report to at a quarter to 5 tomorrow morning. Africa has taken me in her arms and once more breathed new life into me. Seeing the majestic elephant herds once more is all it took for me to taste true Africa.

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