Hitchhiking, Hippos and Other Misadventures: A student’s trek across Africa – Maun to Livingstone, Africa

I wake up early, bright eyed and ready to embark on my trek across Botswana. After months of living in the heart of the African wilderness, I am confident I can do anything, a little too confident.

I start off in the dusty little town of Maun at the gateway to the Okavango Delta. It is knows as the "drinking town with a safari problem", and well lives up to its name. In the bustling community of Maun, you are sure to find friendly smiles, excess khaki, and one too many dopey looking donkeys. My plan is to travel from Maun to Livingstone, to see Victoria Falls. Piece of cake!

I hop on a bus. I am the only Caucasian, my curly blonde hair standing out just a little. Someone offers to sell me some mystery meat in a bucket; it looks suspiciously like donkey. I decline. We carry on and a few hours later, arrive in an even smaller, more desolate town called Nata. Here I am told I can catch another bus to Kasane, a town in the north of Botswana. No bus comes. I am given no choice but to find another means of transportation. My confidence is shaken slightly.

Eventually I am able to get a ride with a Zimbabwean man in his huge semi truck carrying Telecom parts. A Zambian woman and her two young children climb in as well. I am squished in between them. We drive for awhile, and the heat of the day, combined with the African beats on the crackling radio puts me to sleep. By the end of the day I am exhausted, but have arrived in Kasane safely. I tell myself tomorrow will surely be easier.

The next day I plan on taking the Kazungula ferry over the Zambezi River, crossing the border into Zambia. I wake up with a rush of nausea and chills, but brush it off. I tell myself it must have been those couple Savannah Dry's I consumed the night before.

Arriving at the Kazungula ferry port, I catch my first glimpse of the mighty Zambezi River. Lush jungle stretches out on either side. I can only imagine how many hippos and crocs are lurking beneath the surface ready to engulf whoever happens to fall in.

The small ferry eases slowly across the water, bringing one truck over at a time. I count the trucks waiting to board. There are at least twenty. I have already experienced "Africa time" and smile. I am waiting to be picked up by a truck that will take me to Jungle Junction, a backpacker's paradise on a secluded island in the middle of the Zambezi. The plan is to stay a few nights before continuing on my journey.

Two hours, and a couple marriage proposals later, I am still waiting. Feeling worse since the morning, I put my hand to my forehead and sigh. A fever has come along. "Perfect timing", I think to myself. Not wanting to turn back, I muster the strength to carry on alone. I reach Livingstone by dusk. From there, Jungle Junction staff takes me by car to the waiting mokoros' (dugout canoes). We opt for the short ride to the island. I can not be more relieved to have a few days to rest. The island is a tropical piece of heaven; a favorite for tired backpackers and burnt out safari guides.

I spend the next few days lazing in hammocks and reading while recovering from the flu. Feeling much better, I head out in a mokoro with a local fisherman named Alfred. He is quiet and kind. We head out on the open water.

The Zambezi is powerful and I know it can easily turn our boat with its rapids in a second. Just around a bend I hear the familiar call of the hippos, and again feel very small and insignificant. Alfred has a silent confidence about him though, so I am not afraid. He helps me catch a bream and a tiger fish. Together we are satisfied with our luck. We head back down the river and Alfred shows me how to cut and prepare the fish for dinner.

When I am well and rested, I decide it is time to continue on, although I could easily stay forever. Heading into Livingstone, I am met with the hustle and bustle of city life. It is a pleasant surprise to see such a funky little place. The streets are busy with friendly, smiling people, and there are plenty of activities to do. With the current economic and political struggle in Zimbabwe, Livingstone has transformed into a Mecca for tourists not wanting to head over the border to the town of Victoria Falls.

Upon arrival and in high spirits, I head to Jollyboys Backpackers to check in for the night. With the great luck I have had thus far, I am not surprised it is full. I am given directions to a guesthouse 200 meters up the road. It is getting dark so I hurry along.

When I arrive I discover that the guesthouse also happens to be a Chinese food restaurant; the only Chinese food restaurant in Livingstone. The sign reads, "The Laughing Dragon". I am not amused enough to laugh. It is empty, and a man is doing construction outside. I walk in and the bright fuchsia walls blind me. Looking around me, the tables are cracking plastic. There is a lovely faded picture of a fruit bowl on the wall. It looks like your typical favorite Chinese food restaurant down the street, except I am not normally offered a bed after the meal!

It is dark now so I book in for the night. I don't think it can get any worse than this, but I make the best of it and order some wonton soup. Luckily, Chinese food tastes the same wherever you go in the world! I retire early, and drift off to the smell of chow mein and the clanking of pipes being repaired in a nearby bathroom.

The next day life is looking up. There is a bed for me at Jolly Boys hostel. Finally, I will head to Victoria Falls, seven days after departing from Maun. I climb into a mini bus and cannot contain my excitement as we take the short ride to the falls.

Victoria Falls takes my breathe away. I have made it! They are more impressive and magnificent than I imagined; all the struggles in the last week seem well worth it. I lean over the railing and the mist billows up, tickling my face. The sound is forceful as the water pounds against the rocks below. I am suddenly aware of how far away I am from home, and how lucky I am to see this natural wonder. I breathe in deeply, smile, and let the falls take me away.

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