Botswana

Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
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Trip End Apr 13, 2011


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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sometimes, whilst scraping burnt food from the bottom of saucepans, sitting on the bus for an 8 hour stretch or mopping mud from the floor of the bus, I question what I am doing on this trip. And then I have a few days like I have had in Botswana and all the crap seems more than worthwhile.

The first stop in Botswana was Chobe National Park, where we camped at at luxury safari lodge and got to use their facilities – ie, swimming pool, bar and riverside terrace, mixing with the obese and be-thonged German tourists there.

One of the best days on the trip so far started with an early morning game drive through the park. This park is hilly and full of head-high bushes, which makes spotting animals a lot harder than in Serengeti. We drove in the freezing cold morning air through the scrubland for half an hour and didn't even see an antelope arse sticking out of the bushes.  Just as my patience was running out, we saw a large group of hippos standing by the river getting ready for another hard day of yawning and farting in the water.

We then spotted a whole pride of lions well camouflaged in the bushes, a magnificent specimen of a male with a huge mane and wise looking eyes, two females and a cub. They sat and posed for photos for 15 minutes before getting bored and vanishing off into the bush. It is disturbing just how well camouflaged and undetectable lions can make themselves, even when you are within a few metres of them.

That afternoon provided one of the highlights of the trip – a river cruise down the Chobe river, which separates Botswana and Namibia. The river is a seemingly still, swampy archipelago and is absolutely crammed with wildlife. Our boat didn’t scare any of the animals away as we cruised past large herds of elephants drinking the river water, showering themselves, and munching away on the reeds. The female elephants wandered along the riverbanks with their trunks draped over their babies. The incredible array of wildlife included many more hippos, a few herds of grazing buffalo, antelopes, and some fearsome looking crocodiles lying on the shore baring their teeth. It was an amazing afternoon, helped along by some of the local beers and a perfectly cloudless sky.

The Okavango delta was the other highlight of my time in Botswana. This is a vast expanse of wetland formed when the Okavango river gives up trying to get to the sea and just stops at this area, slowly sinking into the ground. We had three days here, the best bits of which were spent in a dug-out canoe (a 'mokoro’) being poled along like a venetian gondola.

Our guide, Tomte, was from a local tribe who earn their living from fishing in the delta and farming. He had been ‘poling’ since he was 7, and told us about when his people used to shoot and eat elephants to keep them off their farms until this practice was banned.  I actually fell asleep a few times in the mokoro as we glided through the reeds as the sun started to go down. We emerged at a large area of open water which was thronged with short tempered hippos, which actually kill more humans than any other large mammal in Africa.  

The hippos were getting ready to leave the water for the evening and spend their night foraging for plants to eat, and constantly barked and grunted at one another.  They were mostly swimming under the water, occasionally sticking their heads up to breathe. It was amazing for me to sit there at water-level amongst these hugely dangerous but peaceful creatures as they went about their evenings business.

That evening we camped on one of the islands in the delta, which had no facilities at all, other than a deck chair with a strategically cut hole in the seat, perched over a deep pit. We were treated to a hilarious song and dance display from the local tribe, which involved transvestism and dubious appendages waving about. Festivities were halted briefly as a snake emerged from the firewood next to my feet – the locals seemed a bit freaked out by this and used a long branch to move it into the trees. I was more concerned with getting a few photos.

The camp was not fenced off, so there were hippos and elephants wandering around all night, not to mention even more snakes. If the ‘toilet’ was required, we were supposed to wake our tent-mate up to stand guard next to the deck chair with a torch to scare animals away whilst business was being conducted. I was lucky enough not to have to make any calls of nature that night!

As well as the mokoro rides, we had a few fruitless ‘nature walks’ on the delta islands. These involved trudging through waist high yellow grass which concealed deep potholes, one of which I fell down -  much to the amusement of my group. We would then be shown some elephant or hippo shite, and trudge back to our mokoro having not seen a solitary animal. 

Botswana is a real step up in prosperity from the previous countries on this trip. We stopped at Western style, well stocked supermarkets and a modern shopping plaza to stock up on food and booze. Even the mud huts have satellite dishes on their roofs!

Namibia up next!
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