After the wedding, the Big Five flew to Jo'burg and picked up a safari tour heading into Botswana.
Little did we know how much driving there would be - just the near on 8,000 miles - but with only two other travellers in a minibus, each person had a couple of seats and with the windows open it was pretty comfortable despite 40 degree heat.
The roads are horrendous there for hundreds of miles but our guide, Coenie, did an amazing job and with some local wildlife trundling across our path the first 1000 miles went by and gave everyone a chance to recover from Cape Town.
First stop, the appropriately named Elephant Sands campsite in the middle of the enormous Botswanan salt flats. With elephants and other big game roaming free around us we had our first taste of camping totally unguarded. The sights and sounds during the night were phenomenal. I'd managed to get myself a tent on my own after the horrors of sharing beds and floor space with the others in Cape Town, and with everyone on a mix of hallucinogenic malaria pills sinking in, this worked out well for me later on.
The rest of the trip included a lot of activities amongst the quiet hours dozing, reading and daydreaming in the minibus watching endless miles of savannah blur past. We headed straight up to Victoria Falls and crossed a wreck of a Zambese river ferry into Zambia. This was a brilliant glimpse into Africa; loads of people, mini markets sprung up from nowhere, colour everywhere and nothing working or running to a system - just what I'd come to see. I loved it!
Vic Falls was very touristy eventhough we were still camping but we'd earned a few beers from all the driving so we settled into a cruise on the gigantic river and accepting a challenge to try and drink the booze cruise dry. The swede-ache didn't last long the next day as we plunged into a morning of white water rafting down the Zambezi. With a low river flow, the rapids were giant and managed to tip out Curry and G-man. It was 40 degrees again so ending up in the drink was welcomed at every opportunity.
A quick lunch then we crossed onto Victoria bridge which makes the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe so that most of the group could bungee jump and flying fox across the gorge. Admittedly, this is a fantastic spot to do crazy things like that but I was very happy to curiously watch the steady flow of people crossing to a from Zimbabwe to buy food and materials. Staring at the border patrol I did wonder what the hell was happening in the country that everyone says is the most beautiful in southern Africa.
The next step of our safari was the Okovango Delta, a massive delta system that is as big as Wales. We travelled to our campsite in skinny dug-out canoes, called mokoros, powered by an equally skinny local tribesman with a 12ft pole. They look so precarious but once you relax they are an incredibly peaceful way to get about in the crystal clear and clean water. I took the opportunity to 'pole' one when the others sweated through another walk and alhtough I didn't fall in the locals make it look immensely easy - it isn't!
Walking safaris were the activity for evening and early morning, again led by our amazing local guides, and we got very lucky with what we saw due to their incredible eyesight and talent for spotting movement. The longest walk was 5 hours and the Everestians took the chance to test themselves and settle into a demanding marching pace. I guess it was decent practice fitness wise but a difference of 50 degrees couldn't have been much further away from what we'll experience in April!
Afternoons in the sweltering heat were left to read, sleep or swim in our little watering hole - despite the very real hippos! And they were there as we went to watch them from our mokoros one amazing evening as they settle in for the night. Nights in the delta were an awesome mix of clear huge starry skies, one ferocious lightening storm and distant roars from hunting lions. The only unnatural sounds were Curry getting molested by G-man in the wee hours one night (Iwas safe in my single tent). The team took the chance to fly over the delta, after reemerging, which was a great decision to gain some perspective and a scale of the place we'd been wandering around in. It truly is a spectacular place and the people are so smiley and incredible.
With a quick night's stop in a rhino sanctuary, it was a long drive back to Jo'burg before the team caught their flights and went their separate ways. Here was a chance to buy souvenirs and presents for paople back home but, true to form, the time was spent drinking and reminiscing before heading off round the world.
Africa is an amazing place and I was really pleased to have sampled a range of what the area has to offer from living it up in the bars and restaurants of Cape Town, to the wine growing region and a brilliant wedding, to the wildlife and activities in Botswana and Zambia, some true chaos and a glimpse of 'real Africa'.