Traveling Overland from Livingstone to Capetown for 30 days with a Dozen Strangers
Traveling in Africa solo is difficult so Overland Bus is convenient
Most Meaningful Experience: Learning patience and tolerance with my crew!
Most meaningful experience:
After all the solo traveling I’ve done and my maverick personality, I wasn’t sure that joining a bunch of unknowns for 30 days of travel through Southern Africa was a great idea. A friend had sent me a link to Digital Nomads’ African trip and the prospect of ticking off some of the region’s top sights with a Hollywood-esque guide, Toto, was too good to pass up.
The plan was to travel from Livingstone in Zambia down to Cape Town on a bus lit with Wi-Fi, stopping to do some volunteer work, safari game drives and sightseeing along the way. From the outset, I explained to Toto my reservations about joining the group (and that I sincerely wanted to develop my group skills) and devised a backup plan to take off if things hit the fan.
When I touched down at the Livingstone Airport, Toto was there to meet me and he was just as charming as I’d expected. But as we were walking and chatting, suddenly there was a “smack” as Toto walked straight into a glass door, generating a fair bit of laughter from me. Toto was a curious cat, interested in technology and the digital nomad life, as well as helping people (he’d built an entire orphanage with foreign volunteers as part of his work at Better Me Kenya).
After settling into the Jollyboys Backpackers, I gradually got to meet the other travelers who would be joining our Nomads trip. Liz (a proclaimed sailor from the Northeast U.S.), Laurianna (a marketing exec) and Angus (a 50-something Aussie entrepreneur who was obsessed with rugby). We were also joined by Rick (a retired tech exec that I’d previously met in Ghana), Nadja (a young German who was traveling before starting a new job) and John (an old hippy e-commerce entrepreneur). Finally, there was Shawn (a mid-western, ex-musician turned real estate investor) and Niklas (a college dropout turned nomad travel who had a skilled photographic eye).
Ranging in age from 21 to 71, we were an eclectic bunch of people with a shared desire to NOT be in an office and a belief that the future lies in a completely remote workforce. Living together for a month would be an exercise in patience, tolerance and adaptation. At this point in time, it was unclear what the dynamics would be. So let the journey begin!
Victoria Falls to Namibia
Our first expedition as a group was to Victoria Falls, an awe-inspiring natural wonder that’s known locally as “the smoke that thunders”. While there were plenty of adventure activities to do here, I was more interested inlearning about the development of the city. So I stopped by a tourism office to chat with Harold who wasemployed by the local government.
He explained that they’d received help from the UN World Tourism Organization and the UN General Assembly in developing their tourism services, with the purpose of ensuring safety and ease of travel. He suggested that we recruit an American hotel chain to invest and I agreed! It got me thinking about how tourism initiatives from other countries can help to promote economic growth in these regions and planted a few seeds in my mind.
From Livingstone, we crossed into Zimbabwe to experience the falls from the other side, then continued to Botswana accompanied by drizzling rain (it would rain for the first 15 days of our trip!) It was around this time that the Wi-Fi complaints started rolling in and it didn’t take long for emotions to surface as I got a glimpse into the true personalities of my fellow travelers.
Our first wildlife experience was a cruise along the Chobe River, followed by a game drive through Chobe National Park. It was then on to the Okavango Delta, which we explored first in traditional mokoro canoes while learning about the curing capabilities of native trees. The mokoro cruise was an experience in itself. A crocodile coming within five feet saw me let out a scream while Nadja in the front of the canoe didn’t even flinch. Our quick-witted guide responded with “that’s why all the Germans get eaten”.
We then took to the air for a scenic flight to get a bird’s eye view of this watery wonderland. It was pretty spectacular to gaze down at the mosaic of islands and wetlands of the Okavango Delta as herds of wildlife traversed this UNESCO World Heritage-listed landscape.
Namibia to South Africa
Of all the countries we visited, Namibia was the highlight for me and reminded me of Utah in many ways. As we crossed the border between Botswana and Namibia, a tribe of monkeys stole the food that we’d left in shopping bags outside the immigration office and were happily eating it on the roof before we knew any better.
By this time, our motley crew had dubbed itself the “Freak Family”, with numerous altercations and personality clashes having tried our relationship. We were staying at different camps each night, with Angus being chased down by a jackal at one. I thought with his child-like temperament that he needed to be chased. At another, I was chased down the road and scolded by a security guard after having exited the campground gates to go for a run. “You will get eaten,” he reprimanded me. “There are many lions out here”. I didn’t go running outside the camp again.
Aside from wildlife spotting in Etosha National Park (where the salt pans were completely flooded), we traveled south to Spitzkoppe and the German-inspired town of Swakopmund, then overnighted at the spectacular Fish River Canyon. I was interested to discover that Namibians seemed to really like country music…and that they dished up some good Italian cuisine!
On our morning at Sossusvlei, I decided to run up the “Big Daddy” dune in the 40+ degree heat and was (not surprisingly) the only one up the top. We also spent some time with one of Namibia’s Himba tribes who are renowned for adorning their hair and bodies in ochre. After touring their village, our truck got stuck in the mud and the villagers graciously helped to haul us out in what was a fun (and culturally-bonding) experience.
Crossing into South Africa, we headed into the Karoo National Park and spent a couple of days helping to build a Tree of Life Camp at the AfrikaBurn site, then spent another day planting trees with Greenpop. Of all the things we’d done as a group, this was where webonded the most and I thought how good it would have been to do this at the start of the trip…and wonder whether it would have altered the dynamics along the way.
After wine tasting in Hermanus and spotting penguins in Simons Town, we ended our trip in Cape Town. At our farewell dinner, we each shared the positive things we’d learned about the others and it was a really great way to reflect on the trip.
Throughout the journey, there’d been numerous arguments and tensions simmering to the surface. But when I think back on the overland trip now, I only have wonderful memories about this adventure we embarked on together. As they say, “your memories are only as strong as the difficulties you’ve overcome”. For our overland trip, this couldn’t be truer.