Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas?

A belated Merry Christmas everyone! And a happy and prosperous New Years to you as well. I am finally back in Gaborone finished with my travel adventures for the summer break and it's been wild!

Leaving Gaborone I yet again got stuck for hours on the side of the road as my Intercape bus broke down mid-way to Johannesburg. Luckily for me, I didn't have to be there precisely on time! Although, I am a bit tired of the Intercape buses. Too bad they're the only real service between Gabs and Jburg!

The morning of Dec 7th we set off on a tour to Victoria Falls and Botswana with Bundu Safaris. What a great trip! The rain threatened the entire time, but somehow it only rained when we weren't doing anything anyway. Now, because it is the rainy season there is less potential for viewing wildlife (they don't have to congregate around the water holes) but we still had a pretty good sampling! Elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, all sorts of antelope, wild dogs, hippopotamus, secretary birds, warthogs and more. It was my first time seeing any of these animals in the wild so I was pretty excited. Some of my friends who had been on Safari before weren't quite as stoked about it, but we all ended up having a good time anyway.

Our first stop on the tour was actually Victoria Falls in Zambia. I wanted to go over and see it from the Zimbabwe side as well, but that would have cost a lot of money and it happened to be raining that afternoon, so we only saw the Zambian side. But don't get the wrong impression, it was still a beautiful sight! Apparently it's one of the seven natural Wonders of the World.... and I have to agree with whoever decide that. It is so beautiful!! Even in the "low-water" season it was spectacular. I would post photos now but I will have to wait for my next internet session, but remember to check back!

The next day we went white water rafting on the Zambezi (Class 5 rapids). I've never been rafting before and this experience was both thrilling and really fun! Apparently this is the best time of year to raft the Zambezi, even though it isn't the best time to view the falls. When the water is too high or low the rapids get pretty dangerous and the rafting companies close down, so I'm glad we went when we did! The water was warm, the rapids were exciting, and there weren't many rocks to hit by accident when you flipped the raft. Five out of six contact lenses survived the trip (both of mine survived... barely), we only flipped once (unfortunately... that was the best part!), and there were free drinks on the ride back. Man... what a great time! The only drawback was the intense hikes in and out of the canyon to get to and from the river. I'm surprised that no-one got injured on some of these spots! but overall, that rafting trip is one of my highlights from the tour. I didn't have any "near-death" moments like some of my raft-mates, but there were certainly a few where I wasn't sure we'd be coming out the other side in one piece. I can't wait to try rafting on other rivers!

That was all for our time in Livingstone and at the falls, but I also found Zambia to be a really interesting place in general. The overall level of development in Zambia is much lower than in either South Africa or Botswana and the landscape is different as well. The border was much more like what you would expect from an African country. The dirtiness and sketchiness of the immigration office was complemented by litter and exhaust fumes, trampled ground, and a huuuuuge queue of trucks waiting to cross the Zambezi on the ferry. Supposedly there is a bridge being planned, but in the meantime the truck drivers simply have to wait three or four days in a line before crossing the river. Seeing Zambia made me fall in love with the landscape and the people there... I am really hoping that I'll be able to travel there on my Watson. There is a significant marimba culture in part of the country, so I'll have to start pursuing my contacts there :).

From Zambia we recrossed the Zambezi River into Botswana and headed towards Chobe National Park. Now, the Chobe is one of the great rivers of Botswana (if such a dry place can have great rivers) and the park is situated on the edge of the Okavango Delta. It is an absolutely beautiful park, and the beauty is only increased by the amazing wildlife roaming the shores of the river. We arrived mid-day and spent an absolutely miserable hour getting camp set up in the pouring rain... which luckily tailed off in time for our cruise on the river. The cruise took us from the campsite into the Chobe park, where we could see Namibian shores as well as Batswana. But the exciting thing wasn't looking at two identical stretches of land that officially spoke different languages, it was, of course, the wildlife viewing from the boat. Now, what is so great about a game cruise rather than a game drive? Well, the best part is that the boat is so quiet. Really, it's amazing. Because the animals aren't looking for predators in the water, they basically completely ignore the boats... especially when the driver turns off the motor and just lets the boat drift. We saw the most amazing elephants bathing in the river, playing with each other, and spraying water everywhere! We also saw some pretty amazing hippopotami (that just seems like the wrong plural...) and crocodiles both in and out of the water. Overall, a pretty amazing cruise. That's not even to mention the birds and antelope, or the other animals that we got glimpses of from the river. But it's not so much what we saw that was so incredible (none of these animals are very amazing sightings), but the things we saw them doing and our proximity to them. The next morning we set off on a game drive through the park, but it wasn't really that much better than the cruise. We did see some warthogs, giraffe, lion tracks, hyena, and wild dogs... and a very cool situation where the hyena was hiding downwind of the dogs, just waiting for them to leave their kill. And LOTS of hornbills (aka Zazu from the Lion King). My only regret is that we couldn't spend more time in the park!

Next our day long drive brought us from Kasane to Maun, home of the famous Maun Carnival and the launching point for the Okavango Delta. If you take a look at a map of Botswana, the Delta is both deceptively small and large at the same time. Looking at the size of the country you'd say it was pretty small. But if you instead think about the size of the Delta relative to, say, any other natural feature in Southern Africa, it looks huge! And I tend to agree more with the huge part after seeing it firsthand. We spent three days actually in the Delta itself, which was an amazing experience. On the first morning we met our "polers" or guides, who poled us into the delta on their mokoros (sort of shallow wooden canoes). The water in the Delta was so amazingly clear that the polers would just lean down and take a drink when they got thirsty. We boiled our water in camp just to be safe, but it turns out that the water probably wouldn't make you sick anyway, it's just that clean. The mokoro trip took the better part of two hours, and halfway through we even saw a lonely elephant grazing on a tiny island not more than 50 meters away (and it was an interesting experience trying to stand up in the mokoro to see over the reeds!). Once we arrived on our more substantial island, we set up camp and made lunch. This was our roughest camping the whole trip. Water came from the Delta, the toilet was a hole in the dirt, and anything in the coolers went warm after the ice melted on the first day. But somehow we had a wonderful time anyway :).

The best part of our Delta experience was, well, everything! We got to swim in the channels of the Delta where the water was never more than a few meters deep (and luckily wasn't home to any crocs or hippos), take bushwalks around the island looking at plants, tracks, and whatever animals we happened to find, learn to make woven bracelets from reeds, play cards with our polers, and just generally have a great time. On the second night we went out on a "sunset cruise" on the mokoros, and about fifteen minutes into the trip the weather turned into a huge storm! We had to stop the boats, brace for the storm, and then speed back to camp in the calm period just before the storm hit. We got soaked, of course, despite the umbrellas and raincoats, and spent the next few hours huddling around the fire sharing umbrellas and trading songs and stories with our hosts. I think it was more fun than what was planned!

After returning to civilization in Maun, four of my fellows and I went on a scenic flight over the Delta in a little 6-seater plane. We had a great time, it was absolutely gorgeous from above! And for once we could really see animals when they couldn't see us. The only fly in the ointment was that my friends seated in the back got really motion-sick, so I don't think they enjoyed it as much as they might have.

The last stop on our itinerary was the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, which we arrived at late in the afternoon after yet another long day of driving. By this point we were all pretty tired of the big yellow truck... but after setting up our tents for what should have been the last time we hopped back into the truck for a "game drive" through the sanctuary to see some Rhinos. Now, if you don't know the history of the Rhinoceros in Southern Africa, the short version is that they were poached to such a large extent that extinction was a real danger for both the Black and White Rhino. The government of Botswana thought that this was unacceptable, so instead of just watching the last of the Rhinoceros fade into children's stories and history books Sir Seretse Khama created the Khama Rhino Sanctuary and had the entire country's remaining animals transported there for safekeeping. The fence around the sanctuary was more to keep out the poachers than to keep in the Rhinos, but it meant that there were enough rhinos protected for the population to start to recover. At this point they have started resettling some of the animals into the wild because the population of White Rhinos has recovered quite well, but it was a near thing!

So on our little trip through the sanctuary we were lucky enough to see a whole family of White Rhinos as well as a lonely old Black Rhino (the names really mean nothing.... 'White' was actually a Dutch misinterpretation of the word "wide" after the shape of its lip and 'Black' refers to the name of the place where the Black Rhino was first seen). That was pretty exciting, but upon return to camp we discovered an army of arrogant South African families running amok in our campsite. Naturally, our response is "what the hell?" and we try to talk to them. Now, apparently the army of South Africans was instructed to use this campsite and didn't bother to go talk to reception when they found it already occupied. Instead, they had taken it upon themselves to simply move our tents out of their way and continue assembling their armada of campervans and other luxury travel devices. SO what are we to do when the arrogant Afrikaaner says he won't move? We go to reception ourselves. And get told that we'll have to find a new place to camp because the other group had a booking and yada, yada, yada. Well, we weren't so psyched to take our tents down in what fading sunlight remained, so instead we yelled at the receptionist enough to get everyone angry, and in the end we opted to not stay at the Sanctuary at all. So off we went, packed up our tents, and traveled down the road another hour to Palapye. The only problem with this scenario is the massive amount of animals on the road after dark. Not interesting animals, but domestic herds of cattle, goats, and donkeys. Yes, donkeys. But that story will have to wait for another time. Aside from all the anger though, we did get to enjoy the amazing DJ services of one of the Australians on the tour... involving an ipod, earphones, and the truck's microphone. You see, the truck didn't have any other way of playing music than holding earphones up to the speaking mic :). And we all felt much better once we finally had some dinner in us!

And so we arrived back in Johannesburg ten days after we left with some really strange stories to tell! And with over 3000 pictures in total. You'll understand, then, if it takes me a few more days to sort all those photos and get a few posted online!

But was there any time to rest? Of course not! Because the following day was just enough for laundry and some necessary shopping (and haircut, thank god) before I took off for Maseru, Lesotho to meet up with two friends from Grinnell: Katie Jares and Megan Straughn. But you'll have to excuse me if I leave that story to tell tomorrow! Tonight it is time for bed.

1 comment:

EvaCatHerder said...

Sounds like some amazing adventures! I will now always think of you when we sing about the Zambezi river in Mhondoro.

We will be getting the smallest taste of your experience because we are playing for the Buckman Family Dance and Loveness will be dancing and singing with us for Mhondoro. Should be interesting. I am really excited to perform with a Zimbabwean, even though it will push me way out of my comfort zone.

I am also really glad the stories are back. I was missing the updates and my life is just too boring!