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The Nitty Gritty Nomads visit Great Zimbabwe!

It’s all about great Zimbabwe in this week’s blog post. read up on the archaeological significance of this historical wonder.

We woke at daybreak. The morning was misty and rain threatened. However, our spirits could not be dampened, we were at Great Zimbabwe!

This was an exciting moment of the trip for me, we were visiting the most famous city ever built by the Bantu culture in southern Africa. The site is a testament to the development of stratified, centralized societies in southern Africa and their great wealth acquired through international trade. It has also been at the centre of much political and social debate in Zimbabwe during colonial times. The government were pushing for any archaeologist that would disenfranchise the original creators of Great Zimbabwe, pushing for any information to suggest Great Zimbabwe to be Persian, Arabic or something else in origin. This was disproved by a female archaeologist named Gertrude Caton Thompson where she gave evidence that Great Zimbabwe was in-fact created by a “native civilization”.

Great Zimbabwe was founded by Shona speaking people, it existed and flourished between the 11th and 15th centuries, having risen from the decline of the Mapungubwe civilization in northern South Africa around 1300 AD. Great Zimbabwe covers an area of 800 ha and consists of three separate areas: Hill Complex, the Great Enclosure and the Valley Ruins. It was the Hill complex we made our way to first, it consists of an ancient pathway to the top of the hill lined with impressive and immaculate stonewalling.

Once you ascend this eerie passage to the acropolis on top you get an impression of how impressive this site would have been in its prime. From the photo above you can see the imposing stonewalling built upon the granite cliff. As you walk around you see the vast scale of the stone-walled architecture which dwarfs you as you pass through these walls weighing hundreds of tons.

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The Hill Complex consists of many small courtyards and half hidden pathways flowing with and using the natural features of the granite hill. The Hill Complex is the oldest portion of Great Zimbabwe starting in the 11th century and was the residence of the successive chiefs until the 15th century.

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From the top, you can look down on the remainder of the colossal site and landscape that once housed an estimated 10 000 people. The below photo shows this view of the Great Enclosure and the Valley Ruins where these people would have stayed.

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Thus we made our way down into the valley toward the Great enclosure through the aloes and the Valley Ruins.

Once you reach the Great Enclosure there is a narrow passageway leading off to the right. This passageway would have been the way guests entered when they were visiting the Great Enclosure putting them up close with the magnitude and power of the chief and civilization they were visiting.

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This passageway leads to the famous 9-meter tall conical tower. This tower was thought to be a treasure vault and has been partially deconstructed and subsequently reconstructed. Unfortunately, the centre contained more granite bricks.

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The wall behind the tower is 10 meters high and up to four meters thick, it is so wide at the top of the wall that a car could ride upon it. It is estimated that there are over a million granite bricks that have been individually worked that were used in the construction of the Great Enclosure.

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Around 1450 AD the capital of Great Zimbabwe was abandoned due to the increasing pressure the inhabitants were placing on the environment, the soil that grew crops were exhausted and deforestation also played a role. With the abandonment of Great Zimbabwe power shifted to the lesser known Khami empire. We will be visiting Khami soon and see the part they played in history and the architectural marvels they created.

Cheers

Trent Seiler &

The Nitty Gritty Nomads

 

 

 

Zimbabwe: The Mighty Zambezi, Largest Waterfall and Monumental Archeology!

Digging up the past as we ride through Zimbabwe. Read more about our adventures as we Journey to the north.

We entered Zimbabwe through the Kazungula Border Post from Kasane in Botswana. It was a quick 70 km ride to the falls where we met my (Trent) father and brother that had flown up to meet the nomads on their journey.

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Victoria falls was first discovered by a European in November 1855 by Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingston. He named the falls after Queeen Victoria of Britan, the inndigenous Tonga name is “Mosi-oa-Tunga” which means “The Smoke that Thunders”. Victoria Falls is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, however, it is considered the largest with a width of 1708 meters and a height of 108 meters. It has also been given the status of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

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We had some outings around Victoria falls that included white river rafting on the mighty Zambezi River, a sunset cruise and visiting some vultures.

We stayed at a lovely backpackers in Victoria Falls town named Shoestrings Backpackers. The management was super friendly, welcoming and understanding. We made friends instantly with the staff, management and guests. They have a lovely bar, green grass to camp on, lovely toilets/showers and a blue pool to take a dip in on a hot day.

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After Victoria falls we made our way on 143 km of beautiful dirt roads to the lovely and remote island fishing resort of Msuna. The journey there took us through some seldom visited areas of Zimbabwe following the Zambezi river.

We were Taken in by the lovely couple that manage the fishing island where they very generously did not kick us out but rather gave us a place to stay, with boarding and lodging of a much higher standard than we had become accustomed to.

We managed to hire a barge for a day or two and did some fishing. Mike managed to catch a decent Vundu and Tom a colossal Tiger Fish (below: bottom right)

After the amazing few days at Msuna Fishing Resort we made our way further east upon the shores of the gigantic Lake Kariba to the small town of Binga, spending the night at some hot water springs.

From Binga we made our way South deciding to spend the night at a lovely place near the town Gokwe. We stopped in a local village and approached a chief for permission to sleep on a favorable piece of land we had spied under some trees near a Baobab. It took a good hour before the cheif arrived and very happily gave us permission to camp on his land, offering us dinner and firewood, we consented to the latter cooking our own meal of bully beef and pasta.

The next day we pushed on to Harare to do some bike services and some odds and ends that can only be done in a town once you have spent two weeks in the bush. Once we did what we needed in Harare we raced to Bulowayo to visit some friends of mine as well as the fantastic Khami ruins (which have their own blog-ADD LINK).

On the farm we ended up honing our skills with a throw net as well as shooting a variety of rifles, shotguns, muskets and pistols. We did some target shooting at 20, 200 and 400 meters. We kicked up our legs for  few days on this beautiful farm.

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We obviously needed a photo of Guns and bikes before we departed to Masvingo. At Masvingo we stayed at Great Zimbabwe as well as exploring the ruins, which was an epic experience worthy of it’s own blog (which it has_ADD LINK HERE).

We made our way from Masvingo to the enchanting forests of Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands crossing the mighty Save River. We also managed to make a quick stop in at an epic little archaeological site “Chibvumani National Monument”.

Once we ascended the steep slopes and windy roads, we arrived at a tiny town named Chimanimani. It was here we discovered the gem that is Heaven Lodge/Backpackers, it was like a little slice of home in a foreighn country. We were instantly welcomed and given ice cold beers and great food (life was good).

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It was from Heaven Lodge that we orchestrated our varied and entertaining activities over the next few days. These included hiking in the mountains, epic motorbike offroad trails and a spectacularly bad round of golf topped off with a visit to a local homestead where we stayed for the night.

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Tom managed to find a bushmen depiction of himself while hiking. As well as some beautiful fresh mountain streams.

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We had to say our sad goodbyes to Heaven Lodge and their wonderful little house on the hill (aptly named). Before we left we had to snap some awesome pictures of the bikes and the lovely view.

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We didn’t make it very far because we were invited to the hiking guide’s house. Collin generously slaughtered a chicken and his wife Jannet made a tasty traditional meal. We got to interact and play with the whole family who were so happy to have three dusty bikers in their homestead on the hill.

DSC_0394We departed the next morning for the Mozambiquen border at Espungabera where we would get our fair share of dusty roads and close calls but the time to meet Istene was drawing near and progress had to be made.

Cheers

Trent Seiler &

The Nitty Gritty Nomads.

 

 

Motorcycle Adventure: Challenging Dirt roads to uncover the Apollo 11 caves!

We did some backtracking to go find the Apollo 11 cave, an Archaeological site in the Karas Region approximately 250 km southwest of Keetmanshoop. You need to turn off onto the D463 dirt road on the northern portion of the Fish River Canyon National Park. We hit some rough roads and Istene took a tumble, so we decided to camp right there next to the road to recover, where we witnessed an incredible sunset.

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While travelling the D463 looking for the Apollo 11 cave, we realized it was not a tourist destination. There are no signs or points of access as we expected, luckily we managed to bump into a farmer named Lajos who informed us that the cave was in-fact located on his farm. He was kind enough to take us on the hike to the secluded location of the cave next to the Bosman’s river.

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On the way to the cave, we saw bushmen engravings as well as discovered bushman handprints of red ocher previously undiscovered to science. They were discovered when one of the team popped between/behind some rocks to urinate (archaeological discovery at its finest).

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The cave itself is important for a variety of reasons. As well as having the oldest known rock paintings in Africa the cave contains some of the oldest examples of mobile rock art ever recovered. These were excavated and removed by a German archaeologist in 1969. The tablets with the art were Radiocarbon dated to 22 000 to 25 500 years old through charcoal found next to the slabs. More recently excavations revealed two rib bones with numerous notches engraved into them, these were dated to 80 000 years ago, making it some of the oldest ever homo-sapien evidence ever discovered.

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Next, to the cave, there are remnants of more recent bushman activity with a ladder of sticks wedged into a crevice that leads up to an old beehive. Honey was sacred and extremely valuable to bushmen increasing the importance of the site to surrounding groups.

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After 350 km of epic dirt road, several falls, archaeological discoveries and new friends made we began our journey North toward Windhoek to meet up with Istenes parents and our next opportunity to pick up spares and give the motorcycles a well-earned service.

Botswana, Okavango Delta, Makgadigadi Pan and Kasane

Botswana has been humbling, beautiful and remote. It is a special place with friendly people and some incredible places that need to be explored in southern Africa.

Botswana started off with a few hiccups but soon we were back to our exploratory ways visiting Shakawe. Here we found an old American teacher named Steve with a school named Bana Ba Metsi which takes in troubled youth and incorporates them into a family system assisting to reacclimatize into a community after often turbulent pasts. We spent the night, got a marimba show making a memorable impact on us as I am sure we did on the youth we engaged with.

Headmaster Steve took us out on his boat for a spot of fishing (note Tom’s face at his first tiger fish) and game viewing.

From here, we made residence in Maun and embarked upon another adventure into the Okavango Delta on a double-decker aluminium barge of excellence. The Okavango Delta is the 3rd biggest inland delta in Africa after the Sudd on the Nile and the Inner Niger Delta in Mali, it is also one of The Seven Natural Wonders of Africa as well as a world heritage site.

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Please note the two hammocks hanging below and the army ponchos making our roof on top. This 5-star hotel and an extensive trip into the heart of the delta cost us the construction of a braai (thanks Mike) and the petrol we used.

We had amazing views and incredible fishing! With the monster below being caught on a handline at night.

The braai came in handy for cooking some of the fish we caught. Some fish were sacrificed for action-packed entertainment from the local fish eagles.

After our expedition into the panhandle of the delta, we went back to Maun to plan our next trip to the Makgadikgadi Pans. We used our close friend Danny Thomsons awesome post-apocalyptic looking Hilux for this wilderness exploration. These pans are one of the largest pans in the world and are remnants of the formerly enormous Lake Makgadikgadi which was larger than Switzerland but dried up several thousand years ago.

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The Pans are a whole lot of nothing! Beautiful and humbling in its isolating and desolate persona. The stars, sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking on the incredibly flat expanses. If you undertake this mission please remember that the pans are colossal moisture retainers and the centres are remote and if you get stuck you are unlikely to get out or be found. Stay on recently travelled tracks within view of the grasslands.

Packing the bakkie full of firewood and water we penetrated the depths of the flatlands.

Our time on the pans were some of the most memorable on the trip even though the trip was not undertaken on the bikes. Once we arrived back in Maun we packed our stuff for the bike ride to Kasane.

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On the road we managed to find a Puffadder that had been hit by a car (headshot), yet even though its injuries were beyond repair it was still slithering across the road. Realizing the extent of the injuries we decided to utilize this opportunity to expand our diet to roadkill. Mmmm delicious.

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We found a cell phone tower about 50 km North of Nata, where we decided to bed down for the night. We were able to climb the tower and watch a sunset in a landscape completely devoid of hills.

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The following day we arrived in Kasane, a small town in the northeastern corner of Botswana. The town is a wildlife haven with warthog using the main entrances to upper-class hotels and elephant still migrating through the town, with their own set-aside paths. I managed to slip down one of these elephant paths and throw my line in at a nature reserve in town and behold first cast and a respectable tigerfish smashed my lure and gave me a great fight in a very wild and scenic setting.

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We made camp on the Chobe river 3 km outside town and settled for the night, where we watched the full moon rise over the large river.

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Our camp was simple consisting of a sleeping bag next to our bikes, the morning revealed signs to our complete ignorance to the area we were dealing with, about 25 meters from camp we discovered fresh Lion tracks. They had come to drink at an inlet to the river located just above our camp.

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It looked to be a large male lion and a smaller female. This taught us a lesson about camp formation and the fact that we are hitting more remote areas where foolish humans may still be part of the food chain.

The country is safe, welcoming and the majority of the country has been set aside for game conservation, this makes it a wildlife hotspot! Botswana is a special place with friendly people and some incredible places that need to be explored in southern Africa.

Cheers

Trent Seiler

& The Nitty Gritty Nomads.

Botswana: Bushmen paintings of Tsodilo hills and Istenes crash!

Drama! The dirt road leading towards Tsodilo Hills had a sandy patch that caused Istene to take a rather serious tumble on her motorcycle.

Drama! The dirt road leading towards Tsodilo hills had a sandy patch that caused Istene to take a rather serious tumble on her motorcycle. The crash resulted in her dislocating and breaking her humerus (arm). Not humorous at all.
Luckily we were traveling with friends, and Istene, determined to see Tsodilo Hills jumped in the Landy, whilst a friend rode her motorcycle. After the Hills, we drove straight to the Sapupa Medical Clinic and from there an ambulance to the Gumare Hospital. This lead to Istene being shipped back to South Africa for an operation and recovery period. She will meet up with us in Vilanculos, Mozambique after her recovery.

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Sunrise after a long night in hospital. Camping by the Clinic

Tsodilo Hills is a fantastic archaeological goldmine with huge national and global importance, being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. The hills have been a congregation point for bushmen groups for the past 100 000 years according to some recent archaeological research. The hills are also littered with incredible rock art.

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Our knowledgeable guide, walked us through the hills, showing us some caves and all the rock art, explaining the importance and history. The rock art represents thousands of years of occupation and was created by the san/bushmen during ceremonies asking for assistance or rain.

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Pictured below is a Mankala Board, which is a game that was introduced from Indonesia during inland trade with Bantu groups in the center of southern Africa about 200 years ago. They are a common feature at archaeological sites through southern Africa.

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Tsodillo Hills is a place of intense spiritual and archaeological importance. It is also the only rock art site within 250 km of the site. The men climbed the Male Hill, one of the few mountains in Botswana. Climbing up around 700m, it is a wonderful hike with views that overlook the flat vastness of the surrounding Kalahari shrub.

Located on one of the most drastic natural features in the surrounding flat vastness of the Kalahari shrub. From here we made our base in Maun and did two expeditions, one into the panhandle of the Okavango Delta (the worlds biggest inland delta) and on the Makgadikgadi salt pans.

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A big thanks to the Sapupa Medical Clinic staff for all the help.

Cheers

Trent Seiler

& The Nitty Gritty Nomads!

 

Namibia Adventures: Through the Diamond Fields and Sand Dunes to Luderitz

The road from Aus is the only way to and from the coastal town of Luderitz, with Diamond fields on either side of the 124 km road. Luderitz is a harbour town in the Karas region of southern Namibia, lying on one of the least hospitable coasts in Africa, where the rain fall is less than 17 mm… per annum! The surrounding ocean however is extremely rich in ocean life which led to the founding of this town. The bay was initially discovered by Bartholomew Diaz 1487 where he erected a stone cross. DSC_0218

When we arrived in Luderitz we took a day trip out to Diaz Point and GrossBuch. There is many epic 4×4 trails to explore in this portion of the coastline, which we spent the day zig-zagging.

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Diaz point was beautiful and dilapidated, the bridge that once gave easy access across to the stone monument is now in a state of disrepair (which Istene took full advantage of).

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The sites around Luderitz consisted of old German buildings, an abandoned old diamond town and a large wooden peer that the locals fish off.

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On the way out of Luderitz we stopped at an old abandoned train station to take shelter from an approaching sand storm. The house shook, creaked and squeeked but did not collapse during the storm to our relief. We left the next morning once the storm blew over to find the illusive Apollo 11 cave, where the oldest evidence of human habitation was discovered.

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The next portion of the adventure was one of the most challenging and rewarding dirt roads of the trip.

Cheers

Trent Seiler &

The Nitty Gritty Nomads

Bush Biking through the South of Namibia!

Once we had departed from the incredible Fish River Canyon we made our way to Keetmanshoop to restock for our travels westward. While travelling out of the Fish River Canyon we came upon this old lime oven used during the early 1900’s to provide the building industries of Swakopmund lime for the production of a mortar.

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The desolate feel of Namibia’s southern areas is hard to recreate in southern Africa, this area is not as thoroughly explored by locals and tourists as the northern and coastal portions of the country. This means less tourists and more wilderness, there are dirt roads that criss cross this area to give you (generally) shorter alternatives to the next town. These dirt roads are what we spent the next 2 weeks working our way around the country.

On the way to Keetmanshoop we found water in the middle of the desert once again in the form of the Naute Resevoir. A body of water that is situated in the Kalahari in stark contrast to the surrounding desert landscape.

We slowly made our way across the desert stopping to camp in Aus. I tiny village, with a fuel pump, cheap stewing beef (possibly donkey) and very helpful people. We made our camp on a dirt road turning right at the church as you enter the town, where we found a dry river bed and ample firewood.

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From Aus it is 125 km stretch directly through the desert diamond fields, which are restricted. On the way into Luderitz there is the famous ghost town of Kolmanskop. In Luderitz the wind howls, fish is cheep and buildings are German. But that will all have to wait until our next chat!

Cheers

Trent Seiler &

The Nitty Gritty Nomads