Botswana

Written by on December 3, 2012 in Africa, General with 0 Comments

We woke up early to have breakfast and met our tour group outside the lobby.  Calvin and Albert pulled up in a massive beast of a vehicle/truck and we all hopped in.

Today we were supposed to see the Falls first thing, so we were told we’d be refunded since we’d already seen in, and walked across the bridge to go watch the bungy jumpers. I did not jump today as I’m waiting to jump off the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa, which at 216m was over twice as high as the one in Vic Falls.

It was a lazy morning/early afternoon as the tour left late since the luggage of 2 Korean girls who’d flown in that day from Seoul had not yet arrived.  The Adventure Lodge was actually pretty nice – I should’ve stayed there instead of Shoestrings.  Anyway, we were introduced to how meals were going to go throughout the tour – camping style.  The experienced ones, who’d been on the truck since Nairobi, showed us where to pull out the foldable chairs from, and where to wash our hands.  Everyone lined up for bologna sandwiches.  Yuck.  I think I’m going to have trouble with food on this trip.  Oh well…time to lose a few pounds anyway!

We were finally on our way around 2:30 and were stuck sitting in the back of the truck, which we all have since decided is not going to happen again as it’s like riding in an ejection seat and super-bumpy.  We crossed the border into Botswana about an hour later, where we found a family of wart hogs playing in the mud.  The big ones are pretty ugly, but the little ones were so cute!

We weren’t back in the truck for more than 10 minutes before we passed a herd of elephants hanging out in the bush on the side of the highway.  So cool!  Welcome to Botswana!!

We finally arrived at our destination, a campsite near Karane, which was only a few kilometers from Chobe National Park.  We were soooo happy that we chose the accommodated version of this tour as the campers looked pretty miserable.  It was REALLY HOT and they had to start setting up their tents.  Our rooms at the Thebe River Lodge were nice!  They were very clean and the a/c worked well.  I should have taken a picture.  We met the gang for an unspectacular dinner, sitting around in a circle on those damn folding chairs.  I miss having a table to eat at.  Is that wrong?  I guess I know now that I’m not a fan of eating off of my lap.  Anyway, we got to know some of the gang on the trip at dinner and afterwards at the bar.   We had an Aussie couple, Steve and Bianca, a German family, Carson, Simona and their 22 yr old son Tim, a 40-something dental surgeon from Poland, an older Dutch couple, 2 South Korean 20-somethings, a 20-something Norwegian named Hanna, a 20 yr old American from the Bay Area named Marissa, and Alex, a 30ish veterinarian from Melbourne.  Quite a mix.  Half of us were staying in lodges, and the other half were camping.

The alarm went off bright and early as our game drive was meant to start just before sunrise, which was gorgeous and really red and pink.

Our driver was a bit late, but we were still on our way by 550a and inside Chobe National Park by 6.  The drive started out a bit slow, with the scenery looking a bit like a barren wasteland as there were many burned trees and not much to see.  Our guide pointed out some guinea fowl, aka the “Chobe chicken”, and then we came across several impala followed by a few cape buffalo.  The driver ended up passing by some hippos, but didn’t stop.  Huh?  The drive really had a slow start, but Tim came to the rescue when he spotted a beautiful lioness perched on a small hill about 100 meters away.  Cameras out, we all took a zillion photos as she shifted to sit up, turn around, and then she started walking.  The guide followed in our vehicle and everyone’s hearts started beating a bit faster as our truck was parked directly in her path.  She slowly walked directly behind our truck only a meter away from me! and eventually settled down in a shady spot 25 meters away from us, giving us several nice poses, between licking her paws, her lips, a yawn, and just looking majestic.  Awesome!

Our game drive picked up steam from there.  We saw dozens more buffalo and impala, an elegant giraffe, a few shy antelope, and an elephant herd with a couple babies.  The drive was nearing a close when our guide heard on the radio that there was a leopard spotted near us, so we headed over there and luckily he was still there – awesome!

Leopards are very hard to spot and a lot of times are just lazing away in a tree.  This was one was almost immediately on the move, and very cooperative for us photographers as he walked in a path parallel to our jeep and about 20 meters away that was easy for us to follow and gave us plenty to shoot at.  He was so beautiful!  At one point it looked like he was about ready to pounce at something in the underbrush, but then he relaxed and continued walking slowly.

I could have watched him for hours.  Alas, our driver said he’d get fined if he stayed any longer, so we had to head for the exit.  Boooo!

On our way back, we saw a small herd of elephants in the distance and they were on the move.  We begged for him to stop the truck so we could watch.  He didn’t give us much time and then moved again.  Just before we were about to complain, he pulled up behind another truck and we watched as the 6 or 7 elephants picked up their pace and were coming right for us.  They stopped about 200m away and looked like they were thinking about what their next move would be.  Then they started up in a slightly modified direction and ended up running directly behind our truck.  Amazing!

We went back to the hotel to relax before we headed to town to do some grocery shopping for snacks and drinks and change money into Botswanan pula, which was about 7.5 pula to 1USD$.  We stocked up on wine for dinner for the next few nights and then headed back for more relaxing before our afternoon cruise.  We were picked up around 3 and dropped off on the dock to board a double-decker boat that seemed to hold about 50 people.  We had stocked the cooler with 2 bottles of South African Sauvignon Blanc, which we cracked open immediately.  The Chobe River was beautiful, and although it was hot, once the boat got going, it was bearable.  And once we started seeing animals on the banks, we completely forgot what temperature it was.  Dozens of cape buffalo and elephants were on the shore, as well as several crocodiles.

This croc was kind enough to open wide for the camera 🙂

We saw a couple crocs swimming, but the main attraction in the water was the couple dozen hippos.  They are so cute!

Alisa and I, and probably the entire boat, had their cameras ready for a hippo to open wide and show us a big toothy grin, but it never happened.  Well, at least in the first couple hours.  When everyone had put away their cameras and started just enjoying the surroundings we were in, that was when one of the hippos yawned in spectacular fashion.  His jaws were completely open and all of us looked at each other to see who was getting the shot.  We all missed it!  Oh well…at least we saw it.  And, had a lot of fun with our new friend Tim.

To top off a fantastic day, we had a gorgeous sunset that just kept getting better after the sun fell below the horizon.

Wow – what a day!!!

The next day we had a long 600km drive, which was almost like sitting in an uncomfortable oven for about 8 hours.  I wouldn’t recommend it, although at least the roads weren’t so bumpy, so it could have been worse.  I remember the roads in Tanzania and it could have definitely been a lot worse.  We made it to Maun around 4 and after a brief shopping stop, arrived at the Maun Lodge.  It wasn’t horrible.  In fact, it had a/c, speedy wifi AND a TV…a luxury I haven’t had in months.  Perfect timing, too, as now we could watch things unfold in the election.  We had a decent dinner at the restaurant there – at a table! – and stayed for a couple drinks, but were all pretty exhausted from the long, hot drive and turned in pretty early.

Early to bed and early to rise.  Unfortunately this is the one day we didn’t have an early morning wake up call.  But, my body clock had me up at 6am and I was so curious how the election turned out, I had to flip the TV on.  Great timing as Romney was about to concede and Obama came out to give his speech!  All of us had been worried how the election would go, and woke up happy at the results.  It’s been interesting speaking to people on the tour about what they think and all of them prefer Obama, all for varying reasons.

Anyway, we had a 10am pickup to transfer to the Maun airport where we caught a 5-seater Cessna 206 for a 15 minute flight over and into the Okavango Delta.

I sat up front with the pilot, although the view was really off the side of the plane and down as the nose stuck up quite a bit.  The Delta was barren at first, as it is dry season, but then we flew over some lush and green areas, that looked kind of like a swamp or maybe the Everglades, but without trees.

It was a bouncy ride and we landed on a sketchy dirt airstrip in what seemed the middle of nowhere.  Cool!

We were introduced to our “polers” who helped us with our luggage the 50 meters to Oddballs, a fixed tent hotel/campsite next to the airstrip.

Oddballs is a funky little place with a great common area filled with chairs and lounges to hang out and pass the time. We soon learned why – it was noon and lunch wasn’t too be served til 230.  After a briefing, we were shown where things were, given our agenda for the next couple days, and about the wildlife that sometimes visits the camp (elephants and hippos, mainly).  We were shown to our “rooms”, which were raised tents, each down it’s own little pathway.

They were cute.  It was HOT, but I knew it would cool down enough after sunset to at least be bearable to sleep.  Each of the rooms had a cute bathroom you’d enter through a bamboo curtain outside the tent.  I was surprised to find a flushing toilet, sink, mirror and was told how to use the bucket shower.

Rustic, but definitely not camping.  I thought we’d have to share…or forego showers while out in the “bush”, so was happy with the spot we’d stay for the next 2 nights.

We had a lazy afternoon as it was too hot to do much of anything else.  At 4pm, we met our polers again, and paired up to go for a makoro ride over to an island for our game walk.  Makoros are like a little wooden dugout canoe, seats two, and then the poler uses a wooden pole and digs into the bottom to move the boat through the shallow reeded grasslands, kind of like a gondolier would push a gondola.

The ride was so serene and quiet.  To glide across the water in this setting was amazing, especially as 5 elephants had come in close to the lodge, enabling us to glide past them from only about 50-100m away.  The water is really low at this time of the year, so our 10 minute makoro ride was much shorter than what our polers said would be usual.  I could have honestly stayed out there on the water for hours.

We got off the boat on an island that was only about 400 meters from the lodge, but only accessible by boat.  Bachem, the head guide, led our group single file through some trees into a more open area where we were able to see a herd of impala across the way, about 200 meters from us.  They were instantly aware of us and started moving in the other directions, with their cute white tails flapping continuously.

We then saw a baboon walk into the group of trees to our right, which then became 3, then 6 and eventually an entire troupe passed us…probably 20 or so, some cute little ones, too.   We walked on, with Bachem pointing out different types of trees, flowers and animal poop as we all got more comfortable being out in the bush with the wild animals.  I think we were so comfortable because there really weren’t that many animals.

We went on a similar but much longer makoro ride/walk the next morning where we probably walked 4-5 miles.  This time we saw more elephants, impala and baboons, as well as a couple wart hogs, about 6 giraffe from a distance, a few eland, and some cool birds I can’t remember the names of.

It was getting HOT and we were all out of water, so were happy to be back to the lodge.  We spent another lazy day sitting around, snoozing, eating or blogging, in my case.   We are heading back out again at 4p, will have dinner here tonight and then do another walk in the morning before catching our flight out of the delta.

It is so peaceful here.  Karen likes being unplugged.  I need to find a good book or something, as I’m not so good at sitting still.  But, the air is so thick and it is so hot outside, it’s difficult to keep your eyes open. So, if I get in a couple more naps, it definitely wouldn’t be a bad thing.  This is exactly what I needed after the hectic pace I kept throughout the Middle East.

On our way back in from the afternoon walk/ride, Karen spotted a hippo in the shallow water between the lodge and us.  Our makoro polers did a good job of poling us to safety quickly, although we did hear him grunting for the next few hours.  We went up to the lookout on the roof, but only heard the grunts and saw a couple big splashes about 100m out into the delta.  We all wanted him to make an appearance, but had no so such luck, at least through dinner and drinks.  Just after Karen and Alisa said good night, Tim and I stayed behind to get a glass of water to take back to the tents.  Then all of a sudden, we saw it!  A big bulging brown HIPPO was slowly making his way up the embankment and was headed straight for our bar!  OMFG!!!  A couple people were shining a spotlight on it, and everyone got really quiet as people scrambled to get to higher ground or behind the bar.  It was really amazing!!! The huge and almost cartoonish figure continued at a very slow pace to walk up the little hill by the bar and then turned left into the brush.  We could hear it grunting and snorting, but that was the last we saw of it.  Still!  It was soooo cool!  I can’t believe Karen and Alisa just missed it.  I feel bad b/c Karen REALLY wanted to see one.  Amazing way to end the evening!

We had another makoro ride/walk the next morning before we packed up and headed to the landing strip.  We had to meet up with the campers, but Calvin the guide needed to make a shopping stop first, so we asked him to drop us off at the BMC Sports Club that we’d seen on our drive in.  Luckily we were able to reach the manager by phone who came in and opened up the club so and allowed us to use 2 old rackets and some balls to hit for 30 minutes, just so we could say we all played tennis in Botswana.  We had a lot of fun, but it was still soooo hot, we didn’t last very long.

We eventually met up with the campers and swapped stories.  They looked and sounded miserable.  Again…I am so glad we opted for the accommodated version as I’m sure I would have been going crazy out in the delta if I had to camp for 2 days.

The rest of the trip involved a LOT of driving.  That afternoon it was just 200kms until we arrived at Planet Beobab, a campsite seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  It’s too bad we arrived after dark and the power was out as the place looked really cute.  They had several massive beobab trees that we were told were over 4,000 years old.  We were on the move again by 6am the next day, as we had 600kms to cover and were going to do a drive at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary later that afternoon.

We arrived at the Sanctuary right at 3pm and the skies looked dark and ominous, with lightning strikes off in the distance.  The group split into 2 groups of eight,  hopped into our game drive vehicles and off we went.  I think the rain started within a minute of us leaving.  Light at first, and then with more wind, and then the sky opened up and gave us a torrential downpour.  We did have a cover on the truck, but the sides were open.  Most seemed pretty miserable and cold, but I actually thought it was refreshing after being in so much heat the last few months.  And, as long as the water wasn’t damaging my camera or making the animals hide, then I didn’t mind.

Our first rhino sighting was only 20 or so minutes into the drive, where we saw a cluster of them, with three smaller ones being chased by the larger bull rhino.  Soooo cool!  Their horns are so long!

We drove awhile longer and pulled up next to the other truck that was watching 2 sets of rhinos, one of which was a mom and baby rhino running and playing in the rain.  Soooo cute!

The rest of the drive was enjoyable as the rain stopped, the sun poked through, and we ended up seeing lots of zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, oryx, impala, wart hogs, eland, and of course, a few more rhino for good measure.

We all bought some beer from the store for the 70km ride back to the campsite.  Long, but good day!  Alfred cooked us a nice dinner, and several us went to the bar as it was only 830p.  Some of us were smarter than others and left before the rains came.  OMG – the rain, wind, thunder and lightning was tremendous.  Walking across and through the muddy campsite without a torch (as I’d lost it at the last place) and lighting striking nearby was not so fun.  The campers had been unprepared for the rain and hadn’t put rain covers on their tents, so were flooded out.  I let Hannah, the friendly Norwegian, stay in my room that night as her stuff was completely drenched.  A couple other campers who were so miserable from their delta trip had upgraded into a room that night.  Very bad luck that the room they gave them flooded, soaking all of their stuff too.  Ugh.  Again – very happy we chose the accommodated version.  That said, I think the rain storm was awesome.  A very nice weather change, in my opinion, which also cooled down the temps and made the 500km drive to J’Berg the next day a lot more bearable.

I had an awesome time in Botswana and am so happy that Karen and Alisa joined for this leg as we will be telling stories for years to come.   Am also glad they’ll be with me for the first part of South Africa, too, as we head to Cape Town tomorrow 🙂

But, we couldn’t say goodbye before a farewell drink with our new friends.

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