Month: August 2016

Just another elephant


Never thought we would write those words, Just another elephant. But on our recent trip to the Okavango Delta, we did get pretty blase about seeing elephants. Let’s backtrack a bit

It has been close to a month since we last wrote. We both had the  month of July off from official work and until the end of it, really didn’t do much although we were busy all the time- go figure.  The first week was spent with the Botswana Book Project, receiving the shipment from the US and getting it distributed to schools and libraries throughout Botswana. Our house is currently housing about 40 boxes of books waiting to be picked up by Peace Corps Volunteers who couldn’t arrange transport.

We then had several rounds of visiting Volunteers which gave us an excuse to cook and bake. Teresa is really perfecting her tortillas and bagels.

Then on July 18 we set off on our grand adventure. We rented a car and picked it up at the airport. On the plus side it was a national holiday so learning to drive a manual car on the “wrong” side of the road was much easier with no traffic.  Never quite got used to having the steering on the right, Gary said his right hand would drop to shift and hit the door.The down side is we decided to save money and get as close to the airport as we could before getting a taxi. This meant two combis to Airport Junction which is about 8k from the airport and as close as you can get with public transportation. However, arriving at a mall on a holiday at 8 am- not so smart. A nearby hotel eventually called a taxi for us (Teresa’s phone wouldn’t work and Gary forgot his) and we got a taxi for the bargain rate of P60. So, including combis, we saved a grand total of P26 which is about $2.60.  Lesson learned!

We then gave a ride to a fellow volunteer to Molepolole. According to the map at home there is a paved road from there to Kang where it meets up with the road we needed to get to Ghanzi which was our first stop. but, on the map we had in the car, it showed as dirt most of the way. No dates on the map. so, ask someone you say. What you have to understand about Botswana and directions is that you will get the answer they think you want and not necessarily reality. It isn’t out of meanness, just a desire to be “helpful”. We considered calling a volunteer who lives along that route but the alternate didn’t add too much time so we opted for the safer route.

We rarely saw a car on our 7 hour drive to Ghanzi but had to stop quite often for cows, goats, donkeys and horses to cross the road. They are actually quite used to cars and after a few go, much of the herd will stop and let you go through- just as if there were a stop light they were obeying. We did see some ostriches but that was our only “wildlife” viewing.

cows crossing

In the course of the first day we also went through 3 police checkpoints. Made us think about what is going on in the States but we felt no fear. Picture this- a two lane road and you haven’t seen a car for the last half hour. You approach a checkpoint- maybe there’s a stop sign, maybe not. So, you pull up to where the person is seated. Then you get a lecture on stopping at the sometimes non-existent stop sign and waiting to be called forward. Or, the one officer who said we were going 122k/hour. Last speed limit sign we saw said the limit was 120k/hour- really? but no tickets- just warnings. One time, after presenting his Arizona license, the question was- where was it issued?Phoenix?  Arizona? United States? (US is the correct answer in case you were wondering)

In Ghanzi we stayed with Peggy Flynn, for those Santa Cruzans reading this- some of you will know her. She had a US friend visiting so the 4 of us had a lovely two day visit. Peggy took us to a quarry that had an underground spring so is now an oasis of water- used to allow swimming but no longer- it’s called the Gat (pronounced Hut). We went to a restaurant that serves game meat and looks over a watering hole. Gary had Gemsbok. Teresa tasted but couldn’t get herself to order a full plate of it. It was actually quite tender and good. Wednesday we went to a local San art studio and shop that Peggy works closely with. We also introduced Peggy and her friend, Laura, to Pass the Pigs. They loved it. We also played several rounds of Phase 10 and watched a strange but captivating movie-

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Thursday was off to Maun and our 3 day boat safari in the Okavango Delta. We didn’t leave until Saturday so on Friday we explored Maun- went to a basket weaving cooperative that offers classes- maybe next time. Of course, we bought a basket. In the afternoon we went horseback riding for which we have now determined we are too old and out of shape. Better to stick to basket weaving. The horses were beautiful and we went along the river and through the “woods”- thank goodness we had helmets- low hanging trees with thorns, cantering, you get the picture. On our ride with us was a 13 year old Italian girl. Her family was in Maun for the wedding of her stepsister to a local.

We were both staying at a place called Old Bridge Backpackers where you can camp but we stayed in a permanent tent with bed and our own bathroom for about $26 US per  night.There is a self catering kitchen where we made some of our meals but they also have a restaurant that is very reasonably priced and the food was good. (Teresa ended up having pizza 3 times in 8 days at 3 different places- each was very good!). Not sure what happened to the pictures of our tent/chalet but this was  very industrious pair of   golden weavers who spent the 2 days we were there making this nest.

Looking at the guest register, there were people from all over and actually very few Americans. At the next table they were speaking Spanish, will get to the French in a minute and lots of Dutch. Really takes you out of your America focused bubble. BTW- the whole rest of the world knows about Trump and they are not happy- if that’s any consolation to us- we do have sympathy for our potential plight.

So, Saturday morning we left for our 3 day boat safari. Turns out there is only one other couple- a young French couple- Yves and Barbara. The third couple apparently had a car accident on the way there so did not make it (they were not hurt so not making it is not a euphemism). That meant four of us and our guide- KK.  We heard later about other volunteers who did a trip that promised no more than 16 and ended up with 40!

boat with kk

It was a very relaxing, informative and beautiful trip. We camped two nights on an island (nice tents with cots, mattress, linens, shower, good food). This is the time of year for NEW WATER in the Delta. This means it’s when the water comes in from Angola and floods the Delta, making many new channels that will be gone in a few months. This meant the animals are more spread out rather than gathering at water holes but we still saw plenty.  Imagine you are at Disneyland and are on the jungle cruise-elephants, hippos and crocs jump out of you and bellow or whatever the sound is that hippos make is called- we now know that Disney imagineers must have gone on this boat safari and been inspired. We took over 200 pictures so these are just the highlights.

  • Elephants (and livestock before we crossed the barrier that keeps livestock out of the wildnerness area) like to stand in the water and eat the new tall grass. Never have seen land animals spend so much time in the water. In addition, elephants grab the grass with their trunk then swish it around in the water to clean off the rocks and sand (makes sense to us) and then eat. They are very inefficient though and only digest 60% of what they eat- the rest- you got it- passes through- more on scat later.  In some cases the boat goes right by them- so close you could touch them. Some of them are rather uninterested but others are a bit peeved and let you know it- they bellow, flap their ears and stamp their feet pretty much all at the same time.
  • Hippos- this time of year spend a lot of time in side pools with only their two eyes and two ears showing. A few were in the channel and if they got too close then the guide guns the boat as fast as he can and off you go. Watching the hippos in the pools, you can see them moving very slowly closer and closer to you.  Several seem to charge at us but it was hard to tell because they would go underwater and come up much closer.  If it looked dicey then the guide would say kodak moment is over and off we would go.   Hippos are considered the most dangerous animal here.  You have some animals that would attack for food or because they felt threatened but a hippo will just do it because they are grumpy although they are usually feeling threatened as well.  Fathers are known to kill their own sons to eliminate them as a rival as shown in the picture of the dead hippo.
  • Crocodiles: It was amazing how still they lie until they don’t and all of a sudden they are in the water. We thought the first one we saw was dead until it opened its mouth after a good 5 minutes of us just watching him/her.  But, this baby actually moved slowly- we didn’t realize it was moving forward until we saw the pictures. The “fat” one appears to be sleeping off his binge eating as he/she looks very full.

  • Monitor lizards- these are huge and very shy- we saw several but never for very long except one we got a good shot of.
  • monitor lizard
  • The hamerkop bird makes a huge nest- sometimes several to throw off predators then the unused nests may get used by other animals such as snakes. This has led to a myth that the bird is a witch because it shares its nest with snakes. Witchraft is widely believed in here.
  • hamerkop nest
  • Giraffes- so beautiful and graceful. Several babies and one mother to be- unfortunately she didn’t give birth while we were there but it had to be close.

In our camp there were baboons and during the night an elephant came and shook the palm tree they were sleeping in because he wanted the nuts that grow on the tree. Baboons can be very loud and apparently they need to talk about what happened. An elephant shaking a tree is pretty loud too. Not much sleep going on unless you are Gary who can’t hear anything anyway. In the morning, we had a warthog come visit.

baboons in camp

We did a short mokoro ride.  A mokoro is a wooden canoe that sits very low in the water and is poled like the boats in Venice. Notice the hippo damage to the front of Yves and Barbara’s mokoro- luckily not on our watch! From the mokoro and the last morning we did bush walks on islands that are actually quite large. It was our hunt for lions and other animals. We did see several giraffes, warthogs and red lechwe (a kind of antelope/deer) but apparently the zebra were scared away by a lion whose scat we found complete with hair and bones in it.  There are buffalo as well but they were also running from something so we saw their dust and their scat. (At this point, let’s pause and say that all our guides really know their shit- and we mean literally. They can look at scat and prints and say there were X number of (fill in the animal) going in Y direction about Z hours ago.  Did you know you can tell the difference between a male and female giraffe by the shape of their excrement- the females is pointed and the males is flat. Now that is some serious trivia.

We did see some zebra from the boat and a variety of antelope/deer (various types of “bok”such as steenbok. The variety of birds is also absolutely amazing. We have never been birders but Botswana could change that. Lots of fish eagles which look a lot like the bald eagle. We didn’t write down names of each at the time but took pictures so we could identify later- probably not for this blog post so just enjoy the pictures.

The ride home was 10 hours and uneventful other than coming through Gabs in rush hour in the dark. Our favorite was this roadside picnic site with the sign about not littering (we didn’t stay).   And actually I think an animal dumped the trash can because most sites were very nice,  Only one wildlife sighting- a kudu- surprised both of us.

On Wednesday morning we had to return the car and Gary made Teresa drive (her turn in morning rush hour traffic). Let’s just say they both got a greater appreciation for what it was like to be both driver and passenger.

And, a few miscellaneous pictures from the trip:

We left the US one year ago- hard to believe.The new cohort is now here. If this coming year goes as quickly, we will be home before you know it. But,there is still time to experience the beauty of this country with us.