Botswana safari part III: Axing night on the Okavango Delta

9 09 2011

Continued from Part II.

in case you forgot what country you were reading about, it's Botswana

We’d spent a week in the bush seeing the sights and getting as dark a tan as we could. Our clothes were dirty, we were happy and the time had come to wrap up this part of the adventure.

The company we’d booked our safari with ran a camping lodge with a pool and restaurant, and we were scheduled to spend a night there before embarking on a two day, one night mokoro camping trip in the Okavango Delta. As much as we loved nature, as soon as we saw the swimming pool, bar and real beds in our new, large tents we axed the camping trip in favor of a day trip.

Once the new plans were finalized, we headed for the pool. It was beautiful, but the water was freezing despite day time temperatures reaching into the 90’s. This didn’t stop us from jumping in, not even the person who was forced to substitute Union Jack boxers in lieu of a bathing suit. But I promised not to tell those stories.

After swimming we grabbed a quick shower and I swear I heard the Hallelujah chorus singing when I turned on the water.

We’d had showers ever night in the bush (which was unexpected and great) but we’d dunk our hair in the camp sink to wash it then spend maybe 3 minutes under the bucket shower. You kinda had to pick one body part to wash each night. And when I broke down and decided to shave one day, I did it sitting on the ground and dunking my hot pink razor into a stainless steel mug to rinse it.

Having a long hot shower under a thatched roof was miraculous. You could even see the rising moon in the space between where the wall ended and the roof began.

At dinner, we were surrounded by other tourists, the largest collection of people we’d seen in a while. It was a novelty to order anything we wanted off of the menu. But, as I found out, in Botswana it’s best to stick to the menu. The country may have some of the nicest citizens in the world, but they’re pretty crap when it comes to food service.

For a post-dinner cocktail I tried ordering a Kahlua with milk and ice. I saw Kahlua on the menu and I knew they had milk and ice in the kitchen. The rest of the group (intelligent people) simply ordered Bob’s chocolate pudding for dessert.

show us a bar, and we'll show you a canceled camping reservation

When the waitress got to me, my order stumped her. She asked me to point to it and I thought she just didn’t understand how I was pronouncing Kahlua, so I pointed to the first place I saw it listed, in a coffee cocktail. Then I repeated my order several times. Then she left. Then backup arrived and I repeated my order to waitress number two several times. Then she left.

Then the people at the table who’d been living in Botswana for a while pointed out my mistake. Ordering off the menu puts the ultimate wrench in the works. You’ll never get what you want and you’ll confuse the hell out of everyone. Multiple reasons why this was true were offered (some which began with the semi-politically correct disclaimer, “I know it’s wrong to say, but…”). In the end, the lesson is just don’t do it.

How could a drink with three basic ingredients be so complicated? A triple order of Bob’s chocolate pudding was delivered and ate and I wished I’d just ordered off the menu.

One person in the group correctly guessed that my drink would be delivered warm because I’d pointed to the Kahlua listing on the coffee page (even though I’d specified ice cubes!). I saw something steaming from the kitchen counter. After a long wait, I was delivered a large glass of warm milk and Kahlua by a waitress holding it in one hand and in her other hand she held a tong with ice cubes which she put in my drink tableside.

She said she hoped it turned out ok because it was her first time making it. I told her it was perfect.

are you relaxed yet? WATCH OUT FOR SPIDERS

The next morning we bid adieu to the Frenchman who was heading back to Gaborone for work and us three girls got on a jeep bound for the mokoro boat pickup point. Apparently it was also the pickup point for all senior citizens in a fifty-mile radius dressed from head-to-toe in kaki safari gear because that’s what it looked like. I guess the mokoro trips have been well advertised in the guide books.

Once we pulled away from the shore, our group was the only one in sight. I was in my own fiberglass mokoro boat with a driver, and the other girls and their driver shared a more traditional, hollowed tree boat with straw for padding.

Gliding through the lily pad-dotted waters while our drivers steered us gondola-like was as relaxing as a yoga session. Until we got to the tall reeds which we drove head first into, sending spiders large and small all over us. This went on for a while. Then it was back to tranquility and spotting cute frogs as large as your thumbnail. And trying to avoid the part of the shoreline where elephant hunting is legal. Like I said, highs and lows the whole goddamn trip.

We stopped off on shore for lunch and a nature walk. Hanging at eyelevel in a tree near the picnic site was what looked like an impala kill. If you haven’t been on exotic vacations, just imagine what it would be like to have lunch next to a deer roadkill.

We were worried whatever killed it would come back to finish eating it. One of our guides said it’d been there for a while, so that was unlikely. It was so charming for them to bring us to a place where they knew dead animals would be.

Anyway, before lunch was our much touted nature walk. We put our polite pants on and walked through dirt and elephant dung under the blazing sun while our guide told us stories about animals we’d just spent a week seeing close up. We didn’t see any animals on our walk, but that was ok with us since we didn’t have the jeep to protect us.

We wrapped up lunch and took the express route back to our waiting jeep. The senior citizens were nowhere in sight, and I was wondering what excitements they were having on their trips.

cute little frog (even if the photo's out of focus)

Back at camp we repeated our pool, shower, dinner routine and I obediently ordered everything exactly as it was written on the menu.

The next day we decided to have a shopping trip in Maun. The first stop was a newly opened arts and craft center just across the long dirt road from our camp. One of the camp employees (I promised not to mention names, but let’s just say he’s got some famous chocolate pudding named after him) gave us directions for a short cut. We got lost.

We stopped a man and asked for directions to the two-story art center. It was the only two-story building around, but he didn’t know what we were talking about from our description. (Really, dude?)

Eventually he asked us if it was on the tar road, and when we confirmed, he knew exactly what we meant and pointed us in the right direction. And I learned that in Botswana, even when you’re in a town that’s considered pretty big, it’s still helpful to know if your destination is on a paved or dirt road when you’re asking for directions.

let me tell you, those cows were sooo pumped about the exciting new commercial development

After shopping, we flagged down a combie to take us into the center of town. The ride was full of the stereotypical juxtapositions you can find while traveling. We were packed into an overcrowded van with no seatbelts, dodging donkeys in the road, and the driver was checking Facebook on his BlackBerry while he steered.

In town, we stood out like never before. Three white girls walking down the road wearing bookbags, carrying shopping bags and reading a guidebook for directions to the next souvenir shop. But bartering isn’t big in Botswana, so even if we looked like the tourists we were, we weren’t getting ripped off for it, and in the end, everyone’s politeness prevails.

Before heading back for some extended afternoon pool time, we hit up the grocery store for snacks and baby wipes to bathe with for our upcoming camping trip. The minibreak was good, but it was time to move on to the makgadikgadi pans and back to the sleeping bags.

Read the final section, Part IV.


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20 09 2011
Botswana safari part II: Cat watching in Savuti and getting stuck in Moremi « The ZsaZsa Balza Column

[…] Read more in Part III. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

24 09 2011

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