By the second day of our cruise, we knew all of our fellow passengers on our AMA Waterways tour/cruise by name, as we had started as a group in Cape Town for 3 nights. With only 14 cabins, the Zambezi Queen felt like our own private yacht! It’s really an amazing voyage along the Chobe River – passing elephants and other wildlife and interesting vegetation along the way. Different than other AMA Waterways cruises where you sail from port to port, this cruise sails back and forth along the narrow Chobe River, offering spectacular views along the way, as well as daily off-ship excursions, all of which are included.
We sailed along the river at a point of land where four countries meet: Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. It made for a rather inconvenient, though fairly quick immigration procedure a couple of days and embarkation/debarkation days. On embarkation day, we first cleared immigration at the Kahane Airport, where we had just flown into. We were then transferred to a bus which took us to a small boat. Before boarding the boat, however, we had to go thru exit immigration from Botswana at the small riverside immigration office there. (Hey we just got here, and now we’re leaving Botswana!)
After going thru the river-side Botswana immigration office, we took the same small boat down the river to the immigration office in Namibia. After walking off the boat on a tiny ramp (basically you just pull up to the shoreline), you then walk to the immigration office in Namibia along a dirt pathway, to get your passport stamped and turn in the immigration card. We repeated this procedure a couple times on our Zambezi Queen river sailing, and will have to tomorrow when we debark as well. It’s mainly a formality, but did take at least 20 minutes or so at each immigration stop, plus the boat travel time each way. Literally one side of the river is Namibia, and the other Botswana. If we were doing this on our own we would be clueless as far as where and when to go to immigration; it’s not like there are signs along the river telling you which country you are in! If we had stayed at a lodge along the river, we would be staying in a single country, and wouldn’t need to complete the immigration formalities each day, but there was something cool about going to so many countries so we didn’t mind – we got lots of passport stamps! Indeed AMA Waterways told us to have at least six blank pages left in our passports prior to the trip.
and here is a photo taken from our tender boat as we are approaching the Zambezi Queen. Our cabin was the aft cabin on the second deck, with the balcony overlooking the Namibia flag. The shutters were closed when the photo was taken, but they easily slide over to afford spectacular views. The window to the left of the shutters was our bathroom, just to give you a size of the cabin; not huge, but a comfortable 235 square feet or so, plus balcony. We kept the shutters closed when we were off the ship due to the hot sun, even though it was winter-time in Africa.
Our daily activity ‘newspaper’ consisted of a dry-erase board providing the details of the day.
All our meals were included aboard the ship (as well as several on the pre and post cruise tours), and the food and service have been excellent. Dinner is casual and open seating with our fellow cruise passenger friends. We would normally socialize with our cruise friends in the lounge before dinner, then change clothes (business casual) before adjourning over to the adjacent dining room at 7:30pm each night.
All drinks were complimentary as well, with plenty of free-flowing wine, beer, soft drinks , bottled water and house liquors. There was a small triangular shaped pool in the front with a small sun deck. While it was a bit cool for swimming (mid 60’s F), some of the passengers waded their feet in it.
The daily excursions were complimentary and varied in activities offered. We especially enjoyed the full day Safari thru the Chobe National Park. DOS took loads of photos with his new Sony camera, while I took loads of video with my new Sony 4k video camera. So much video in fact, that my MacBook 500 Gig drive is full! Another one of Steve’s travel tips: Take an external 2 Terabyte or larger drive to offload the photos and videos; I debated bringing one on the trip but instead brought only 64 gig flash drives, which was not enough.
Our safari vehicles sat nine passengers, but AMA only loaded six passengers in each vehicle which made for a very comfortable three rows of two passengers each, with a raised cabin providing excellent views for everyone.
As this link on wikipedia shows, The Chobe National Park is enormous!
Our guide Isaac spoke very good English, although he apologized if we could not understand him sometimes, as English is his fourth language! Issac drove us around the park for the day pointing out the various animals and plants along the way. We followed the designated pathway, which varied from a firm dirt road, to a ride thru swamp lands along the river. Since the park is open to the public, we did see quite a few vehicles, but nothing overwhelming. I cant’ imagine trying to navigate the massive park on our own as some vehicles were doing – getting stuck somewhere for one, lost for two, and fear of the animal encounters up close and personal!
We saw elephants fighting with each other, baby elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, birds, geese and gigantic termite mounds! (Disney even has a recreation of the termite mounds in their Animal Kingdom park on their safari tour.) The different species of birds was amazing, many with colorful feathers and beaks.
It was a taste of what was to come later in our trip when we would stay at the Makanyi Lodge for the safari portion of our trip. We saw herds of elephants grazing in the fields or lapping up water, along with other animals, plants, birds, as well as watering holes and beautiful blue skies, and the remnants of a large animal skull left in its tracks.
We even had a picnic lunch in the park – all out in the wild, careful not to let the monkeys steal our food – some of which they cleverly did! How cool was it to have a picnic lunch with African wine and beer while on a Safari in the middle of Chobe National Park!
The Chobe river is very narrow and only a few kilometers long, so the Zambezi Queen sailed slowly back and forth along the river, providing constantly changing views from every direction. Our first sighting of elephants was just as exciting as our next, and then next, and so on – it seemed surreal that this was the ‘real thing’; not some zoo or Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
(I must say though that Disney did a great job with its Animal Kingdom park and Lodge in Florida, and we see many things here no doubt inspired their recreation of the African continent. We passed a lodge along the river that looked very similar to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, as seen from the exterior).
Sailing along the Chobe River, we saw very few other boats; mainly small boats to transport passengers from Lodges or the Zambezi Queen and its two smaller sister’s: Chobe Princess 1 and 2, which made for a ‘private river-like’ feel – so amazingly calm and peaceful. The evening sunsets were like something out of the Disney movie the Lion King, although this was Chobe and not the Serengeti.
On another excursion we took a double decker river (booze!) sunset cruise. Well it was actually a nature-viewing cruise, but with a full and complimentary bar on board, there was no shortage of fun to be had.
We saw several other tour boats out for a sightseeing excursion, including the one below that had some mega-expensive looking camera equipment mounted, along with swivel seats for the couple of camera-buff passengers.
On our last day, we had a morning tour of an AMA Waterways sponsored village. By that I mean it’s a living/working village of some 270 residents, and AMA thru it’s visit provides financial support via tourism dollars (via their craft market) and school supplies.
Like on our AMA tour in Cambodia to a remote village school, people brought school supplies, along with AMA Waterways itself, which were delivered to the village for the children’s use. I didn’t think about it until I returned from lunch, but next time I do something like this I would like to donate some of my huge travel T-shirt collection I’ve accumulated over the years. Many of my T-shirts are in great shape and some never even worn, but would be great for some of the teenaged kids. I noticed one male wearing a USA t-shirt, so I’m sure they would be glad to have some from various places around the world. We chatted with the children in English, and they loved having their photos taken and then immediately shown back to them; the modern day version of the Polaroid Camera, but via iPhone!
Our hearts really go out to the people in this poor village, who literally invited us into their single room homes. By the grace of God, we could have been born here instead of our lives of luxury at home, and it is truly something to ponder and be thankful for. The children were so precious, and we got our picture taken with some of them. We were guided thru the village by a local Village man named Abbot who showed spoke English, and showed us in his small home, where his 93 year old grandmother still lives, and who was making a fish net out of some strings.
We walked around the village for quite awhile before finishing up at the craft section, where we could hear some locals singing and playing drums. It was inside a fenced area, and at first I thought it was a local ceremony of sorts, before Abbot showed us inside the opened door. There was a beautiful tree that shaded the entire performance area and craft market inside, and it looked like most of the village’s children were sitting patiently watching the singing and dancing of the other villagers, most likely their parents and older siblings.
We watched the song and dance for quite awhile before they asked for volunteers to dance, which I, Sharon, and Monika decided to do. One of the village ladies put a beaded gown of sorts around us, and we danced thru one of the numbers. The gown was actually heavier than it looked, and those ladies sure had a lot of energy as they danced continuously for a good 20 minutes or so, while the men played the drums. It was quite a neat and authentic show for us, and after they were done singing and dancing, DOS and I shopped at their craft market. The items were made by the villagers there, and we bought several things – everything it seemed was $15 US, except for this drum DOS bought for $20.
It was nice to help the village out, and we also provided some dollars in their donation box. The local chief elder of the village spoke to our group (via our tour guide translator) and thanked us for coming to his village and for our support. His words were truly heart-warming and we thanked him and the others for letting us visit them.
Now I’m wrapping up the text portion of this post, while I skipped the final 3:30pm game cruise excursion that left a little while ago. I enjoy writing about the blog and downloading photos and editing videos too, but have been so busy having fun I haven’t had time to do much of any of these things. Plus as it’s such a beautiful day, it’s nice to just sit back and relax a bit. For now, I guess that will wrap up the Reader’s Digest version of our sailing so far on the beautiful Zambezi Queen. Tomorrow we will disembark and head to Victoria Falls. In the meantime, be happy, and oh what’s that saying: “Dance like no one is watching”. (Because I sure can’t dance!)