Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lost in Botswana

The internet in Africa is slow and unreliable at best and compared to South East Asia it's costing me a small fortune at a very rarely found cyber cafe to write this blog. So please enjoy it and write me lots of comments!

I've spent the last week on a rapid journey across Botswana. As we (me and my group) crossed into the country from Zambia we were held up at the border. There's a river separating the two countries that you have to cross by ferry. It's probably a total of 200 meters in distance, but in traditional Africa fashion, things went wrong and it ended up taking all day. The ferry 'ramp' was actually an uneven piece of dirt that extended out into the river. It was somewhat amusing to watch the vehicles attempt to cross onto the boat, bumping and jostling and almost tipping until they would just sneak over the rise. It was just a matter of time before someone didn't make it. I watched as a large bus got stuck as it's back wheels dropped into a dip in the bank and the rear end got wedged on a higher piece of land. Great. While people tried to free the bus we stood for hours in the simmering sun trying to hide behind vehicles to steal any inch of shade. People came by selling snacks and carvings and other random stuff and most were friendly enough but there was this one guy. . . .I think he was drunk and he was begging for pretty much everything from food to clothes to money. The worst part was he had somehow sliced his hand open and was dripping blood all down his front. In his drunken stupor he waved his hands about as he expressed himself and flung blood everywhere, a droplet even landing on my tour companions white shirt. It was nauseating. I looked hopelessly at the bus stranded on the river bank and tried to keep my distance from Drunk Bleeding Man. And so I stood in the searing midday sun in a dusty lot waiting hours for a ferry ride that would take ten minutes. As you do in Africa.

1% were successful photos, like this one
 We did, however, eventually make it to Botswana. Botswana is a land locked country composed primarily of the Kalahari Desert. It has a high concentration of wildlife and a low concentration of people, with only 2 million in an area the size of France (population 66 million according to Wikipedia). The people that are here are doing pretty good for themselves, Botswana boasts a strong and growing economy. Even health care is free! Our first stop was at Chobe National Park. After a long day at the border we pitched our tents and went to bed early for our 5:45am game drive and afternoon Chobe River cruise. The only word I can use to describe the experience is epic. We saw almost everything you could hope to see including elephants, buffalo, crocodiles, warthogs, hippo, jackal, and even lions, although they were quite far away. What was NOT epic was my camera lens (55-200mm zoom) which was broken. It was a lesson in frustration as perfect, once in a lifetime photo opportunities presented themselves and I failed to capture them knowing all the while that if my lens was working properly it would have been so easy.  I would say 80% of my pictures turned out blurry and another 19% were poorly composed because I was too stressed about focusing to think about composure. The remaining 1% are the ones you are seeing here. It was all I could do to keep myself from ripping my lens off and throwing it in the dirt and jumping up and down on it until it was a million tiny little bits. Since this tour is 99% camping and takes place mostly in the middle of nowhere, I won't be able to replace or repair it until Cape Town when the tour is already half over. This reality has been an extremely hard pill to swallow.

Anna, one of our mokoro pollers
So with a slight chip on my shoulder me and my group moved on to the Okavango Delta. The Okavango Delta is the largest inland delta (not flowing into the ocean but out onto the land) in the world. Very little water actually falls in Botswana. Heavy rains in Angola surge southeast and spread out over the Kalahari Desert turning otherwise parched land into a fertile and green oasis. It also attracts lots of wildlife. We spent several hours by 4x4 and mokoro (dug out canoe) to reach our remote camp site located directly between a hippo pond and a baboon family tree. We were greeted with the standard safety advisories from our guide:
     1. Don't go out into the bush alone, or a lion might eat you
     2. Don't leave your tent unzipped or a venomous snake, spider, or scorpion may crawl in
     3. Don't swim in the Delta without asking first, as there may be crocodiles and hippos lurking
     4. Do wear mosquito repellent, as there are lots of them and they do carry malaria

Our group on foot safari
 Is there anything out here that won't kill you? The best part of this trip is that all the safaris take place on foot, so instead of having a jeep between you and some of the most dangerous animals on the planet, you are down there on the ground on an entirely even footing. Now this is my kind of trip! I must say our guides went out of their way to keep us safe and no one perished while on the delta. We did have a close encounter with a male hippo, however, who didn't like us trespassing around his pond. His posturing was enough to send us all running, except the guides, who watched us laughing. We also saw herds of zebra and elephants in the grasslands surrounding the Delta. A solitary giraffe peaked at us from behind the shrubs. The baboons played next to our campsite. The sky is big here and the sunset didn't just come to the horizon, there was 360 degrees of pinks and oranges and yellows and blues. At night we were serenaded to sleep by chirping frogs and bellowing hippos. It was slightly terrifying to get up in the night to pee not knowing for sure what was lurking in the shadows.

On our final day in Botswana the plan was to take the morkoros then the 4x4 back to civilization where we would drive the bus to the Namibia border THEN set up camp once we crossed. As usual, it went wrong. As the sun dipped below the horizon we had yet to make it to the border. Our driver couldn't see the dilapidated road signs in the dark and before we knew it we were lost, winding our way through a maze of tall shrubs and sandy gravel roads. It soon became clear that the border was beyond our reach for that evening and once we figured out where we were we'd have to bush camp. Damn. . . .Guess that's day # 4 without shower access and with all toilet business taking place behind a tree. We eventually found a spot on the side of the road to camp which was basically a semi-bare patch of sand. We set up camp in the dark and collapsed into our sleeping bags. The next morning we awoke to a stray cow with a very loud bell that had wandered into our campsite. We fumbled in the pitch black to tear down our tents, eat some food, and pack up camp. Finally, just as the the sun was creeping back into the sky we made it to the Botswana-Namibia border and safely crossed.

The next blog will be about Namibia.

Bonus Photos:

Frog in the reeds

Guide and mokoro poller, Rogers

Me trying to drive the mokoro...Not that easy!


  1. Jordan,

    Your blog is amazing. You’ve definitely got a gift for the written word. I absolutely love reading all about your adventures and escapades (and will even admit to being totally and completely jealous too!).

    Can’t wait for the next instalment.

  2. Finally! I was starting to have blog withdrawal. I love the picture of the foot safari - the African sky behind you is beautiful. That is a 100% croc-free river you're test driving the mokoro on, right?

    You're going to have to continue this when you get home Jordan. I'll bet you could make waking up and getting ready for work sound fascinating!


  3. I agree with your mom Jordan, you have a way with describing things (good or bad) that everyone can feel the words. I think you could be travelling for free and all you would have to do is write about your experiences...... tough life?