Botswana safari part I: Camping out in Chobe

7 09 2011

We said dumela to everyone we met. We shopped at Choppies and Spar and drove past Wimpy and Bimbos. We loved Botswana for whole two weeks.

Greetings everyone! ZsaZsa is back from safari and ready to share tales of lions, flood waters and pula, pula, pula (aka currency, rain, and raised glass salutations. Isn’t it easy to learn a new language when one word has so many meanings?) Our traveling group consisted of two British girls, one French guy, and ZsaZsa – the lone representative of Team America. Names have been withheld to protect the innocent.

Part I

kick back and watch the zebras roll on by

My Botswana adventure began when my plane touched down in Gaborone, the capital city. Two of the things I knew about the country before arriving were that the people are ridiculously nice and things move at a slower pace.

This was mostly true in my experience as an outsider. However, to some of the locals who live in the more rural northern part of the country, Gabs is as fast past and unlivable as Johannesburg (aka The Big Bad City).

When people would say this to the girls from London and NYC we would just nod…yes, Gaborone…so fast.

I spent one day in the city before taking two night buses to Kasane. The first leg of the journey was about five hours and dropped us off in the Francistown bus station near a large sign that said “We are ghetto fabulous.” I never figured out the story behind it. The only place open to eat was KFC (it also won the distinction of being my only Botswana meal to require a Pepto-Bismol chaser).

After some confusion, we ended up on our second bus towards Kasane. It didn’t leave until after midnight when our driver arrived on a connecting bus. An energetic passenger offered up a loud prayer and we were off into the night.

At around 2am we went through our first veterinary checkpoint where we all got off the bus to walk through foot and mouth disinfectant before getting back on. By dawn we reached our destination and I had finally begun to master the art of sleeping while sitting up straight on public transportation.

hazardous cargo + explosives at the border in Kasane

After enjoying the luxury of using flush toilets one last time before entering the bush, our guide and cook picked us up in our jeep. Cue the adventure music of your safari dreams.

We took a short detour to visit hot mineral springs we could drink from and to get our jeep stuck in the mud until we dug and pushed it out.

Our first real introduction to the animals was by way of a boat cruise. We pulled up close to a crocodile on the river bank with a large hunk of meat in its mouth. The flesh was unidentifiable and the smell was strong.

The most memorable thing I learned on the boat cruise was that elephants have ginormous dicks. Apparently the American zoos I was raised on only stocked female elephants because on first sight the animal looked like it had a deformity. The joke for the tourists is that it’s a fifth leg.

One nature lesson was followed by another as we left the boat and boarded our jeep for Chobe National Park (with a quick detour to stock up on Windhoek lager at the liquor store).

count the elephant legs

I didn’t really have any clear ideas about what I’d see on safari but the amount and variety of animals we saw, and how close we were able to get to them exceeded my vague expectations.

Our first game drive was the most exciting. We saw elephants and exotic birds everywhere. The first person in our group to spot a giraffe yelled “Giraffe!” with a Beatlemania level of excitement. It was a great rush for all of us, except maybe for our guide and cook who were having just another day in the office.

When we stopped for lunch, another tourist came over to our table to tell us his group had seen lions near a buffalo kill on the river bank. Then the Frenchman in our group told us a story about two people who had accidentally walked in on lions in a park bathroom and were mulled to death while their helpless friends watched.

So my feelings about seeing lions at this point in the trip were mixed. (Spoiler alert: we saw them eventually! And they can act as lazy as house cats when they’re in the right mood.)

After driving past more giraffes, zebras and impalas, we arrived at our camp site for the night. We set up tents, dug a pit for our toilet (with the nicest view you ever did see) and strung up the camp shower.

At our first dinner we had fried whole fish that we’d bought earlier that day. For dessert there was custard and fruit. I made a big fuss about loving the custard and the pleased cook opened another box for me, which was more than one petite girl can comfortably eat. Then we had custard, with a different type of fruit, every night for the rest of our trip. That’s the last time I praise a single food so highly.

We got up early the next morning to—surprise!—go on a lion hunt. Our guide said there were paw prints in our camp site, meaning the lions were there last night, and we could all hear the deep purring nearby, so there was a good chance we’d see them.

After driving in circles for a bit with the taste of toothpaste still in my mouth from the rushed departure, we gave up on lion hunting and returned to camp for a hearty breakfast before breaking down camp and moving on.

It was a long drive to Savute and on the way we passed a Chinese workers camp for the highway construction crew.

When we arrived at Savute our moods were low. We were tried from the long, hot drive and the dry brush landscape looked barren compared with the lush, animal filled Chobe. In my head, I kept wanting to ask the guide “Why did you bring us to this hell hole?” It seemed that we spent less than 24 hrs. in Chobe and saw so many animals that it left us longing for more. We’d hoped the next site would build on that, but it didn’t yet.

Not to worry, things soon got better. That was the thing about our safari, there were highs and lows and they always arrived as a surprise.

Keep reading Part II.

we roam and roam so far from home


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18 09 2011
Botswana safari part II: Cat watching in Savute and getting stuck in Moremi « The ZsaZsa Balza Column

[…] Continued from Part I. when you come to a fork in the road…just follow the sign, no deep thought required […]

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