I really am surprised how easy it is to travel between many of these African countries. I took a mini bus from Livingstone, Zambia to the border station of Kazungula where I received my exit stamp. From here I boarded a speedboat which whisked me across the Zambezi River in less than 5 minutes to the border post on the Botswana side of the river. The Kazungula border station sits at a kind of confluence, where the corners of 4-countries touch (Botswana, Namibia, Zambia & Zimbabwe), though you cannot officially enter all of these places from this station.
I decided upon a 3-day camping safari in Chobe National Park, which lies in the northeastern part of Botswana. Chobe NP is an 11,700 km2 national park located in the northeastern part of the country and it is here that one of the largest populations of elephants exist, over 60,000; and it did not disappoint. The first day my group (6 of us) took a boat ride down the â€œChobeâ€ river. Although technically it is the â€œChobeâ€ River, at this time of the year it is more Zambezi than it is Chobe. The guide told us that this time of the year the Chobe river is actually dried up and that the water in the river is actually from the Zambezi. You can tell when the river has returned to being the â€œChobeâ€ because the current will change. Currently it is going from east to west and when it is pure Chobe it will be going from west to east. . . During the â€œcruiseâ€ I caught my first glimpse of a wild elephant, standing on the side of the river trumpeting. Almost as if he was welcoming us, though he was probably more annoyed with our presence than than anything else. There were also numerous hipposâ€™ in the water and one of them tried to charge the boat. Fact: Did you know that the hippo is THE most dangerous animal in Africa, killing more people each year than any other animal. Itâ€™s not that they want to â€œeatâ€ you its just that you are a threat to them and if you get between them and their safety zoneÂ (water) than you are likely to die. Also if you get to close to them in the water they will charge you.
The afternoon on the first day was filled with a game drive, with which we saw so many elephants. Along with baboons, sable antelope, impala, water buck, cape buffalo, giraffes, kudu and about 10 species of birds. The night we slept in tents in the middle of the bush, it was quite unnerving and during the night we could hear the sounds of lions roaring, hyenaâ€™s laughing â€“ they really do sound like people, itâ€™s kind of funny, as well as a hippo and impala.
The second day was spent game driving. Again we saw so many elephants, giraffes, mongooses (mongeese?), baboons, kudu, impala, and the tracks of a lioness and her cub. The 6 of us became 4, as 2 people had left as a result of only being on an overnight. The second night was much more exiting. Right after dinner as we were looking at the stars (you can see the southern cross, milky way, orion, etc so clearly under the night sky) a herd of elephants decided to join us. We turned our lights on and there they were standing right next to our tents looking in. Thankfully they tend to be very respectful animals and simply noted our campsite and went around. It was a different story later on, around 2 am I was up to use the toilet and flashed my light into the bushes and came face to face with a cape buffalo â€“ never a good thing. He was on the other side of our camp. I found a tree, made use of it and high tailed it back to my tent. They are known to be very aggressive creatures.
The drive from Kasane (the town on the edge of Chobe) to Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta was a very painful journey. The road is not very well maintained and at one point the bus actually drove on the shoulder on the other side of the road just to make it through. Pot holes actually became craters at one point. Fortunately it was not the entire way and soon we were back on smooth road.
The second part of my journey in Botswana is into the Okavango Delta, which is the worlds largest inland delta. The area was once a part of Lake Makgadikgadi, an ancient lake that had mostly dried up by the early Holocene era. Today the Okavango River has no outlet into the sea but instead empties onto the sands of the Kalahari Desert, irrigating some 15,000 km2 of the desert and each year some 11 cubic km of water reach the delta. It also provides a seasonal habitat to numerous species of wildlife, including the African Bush Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Hippo, Lechwe, Topi, Blue Wildebeest, Giraffe, Nile Crocodile, Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Brown & Spotted Hyena, Kudu, Antelope, Rhino, Zebra, Warthog, and over 400 species of birds.
A very unique experience in the delta is to take a mokoro safari. I had planned a 3-day safari which turned out to be an excellent adventure. . . best of all, I spent the 3-days with just me, myself and I â€“ well along with a guide, a cook and a second poler. The â€œdriversâ€ of the mokoro (traditional dugout canoe made from the wood of a sausage tree) are known as polers. They are locals of the delta who guide people in & around the delta region. My polersâ€™names were Hahbama and Keeley; and my cook was Addy.
After 1.5 hours of poling through the delta we arrived at and setup our campsite. Then Hahbama took me for an hourâ€™s nature walk to orient me with our region and to watch the sunset over the delta. . . Night comes early and at 18:00 it is completely dark out.
We started our second day with a nice 4 hour game walk. After some time we walked up over a termite mound (theyâ€™re very large â€“ see website photo gallery) and came upon a herd of zebraâ€™s. Shortly after as we were walking we came upon a bull elephant foraging. It was great. We were about 100 feet from him while he ate, yet we kept our distance so as not to provoke him. As we were walking back to our campsite we ran into another herd of zebraâ€™s at a watering hole as well as a herd of wildebeests. Prachtig.. Later in the day Hahbama took me out and showed me how to pole. It is definitely harder than it looks but after a little while I was doing pretty good. . . it would make a nice skit for Saturday Night Live. Around 17:30 we took the mokoro out to an open waterhole and watched the sunset over the delta. Gorgeous.
Over night we had heard numerous animals, including a group of hippoâ€™s right outside our camp â€“ a little scary. As we were heading to a different island we came upon the 3 hipposâ€™ wading in the water where we had watched the sunset. During our game walk we saw a very large flock of buzzards indicating a kill had occurred, so we took our chances and went in search for the kill. After 4 hours we didnâ€™t find anything and thus I am still alive and no lions ate me. But it was a good experience. The area is really hard to identify the cats because they blend into the surrounding savannah.
Currently I am sitting in Gabarone, the capital of Botswana. Tomorrow I begin the long journey back home. But more about that another time.