We had the amazing opportunity to travel for over two weeks with our daughter Alisha and her fiance Josh (known as “her Josh” while our son is either “brother Josh” or “my Josh” unless it is Alisha talking then it’s the opposite but we digress). This post is basically a travelogue for a once in a lifetime adventure. First of all, it rained at some point every day until we left for Capetown which was blue skies the whole time. But, hey- we all know climate change isn’t real. We even had flooding. Botswana has not had this kind of rain for years. The Gaborone Dam is full while last year it was down to about 1%. This did result in it being harder to see some animals but we still got to see plenty.
They arrived in Gabs on a Thursday night and after a bit of a problem with immigration- they were insisting on a street address for us which we don’t have (basically no one does) we finally were able to give them what we believe to be a plot number. Thank goodness Alisha’s phone worked in Botswana! Anyway we floated back to Gabane and spent two nights at our house.
We took them to meet people in the village including a very nice reception at Gary’s school where the pictures of their dogs on their bed created quite the stir. Simply not done here in Botswana- dogs are outside for security- no discussion- that’s it.
Early Saturday morning we left for Elephant Sands, our stop overnight on our way to Kasane. From it’s name, you will know why we picked it. Alisha really wanted elephants and all our Peace Corps friends raved about the elephants being right there outside your chalet at the watering hole. Well, who needs a watering hole when the whole country has turned into one big watering hole. Nice chalet (tent camp) but NO ELEPHANTS. So the highlight of Day One was getting stopped at a routine police stop and getting slapped with a P300 (US $30) fine because Alisha was in the back seat with her seat belt off while we were stopped. We were very careful thereafter as there were several police stops. Instead of patrolling and coming up behind you, in Botswana they are stationary and pull you over based on radar or just because they have roadblocks set up- kind of like our sobriety checkpoints. The concrete pointing things are to prevent elephants from walking there.
Undaunted and with promises about elephants made, we kept heading north and arrived at Senyati Lodge after seeing elephants and giraffes along the side of the road! phew! Was a bit nervous for a while there. We tried to tell Alisha and Josh that by the end of the trip they wouldn’t bother stopping for elephants unless they were doing something interesting. They didn’t believe us at the time but do now. So we don’t have a picture of their first elephant.
Our chalet at Senyati Lodge looked out on an open area where many animals came to graze. We had this hornbill who thought he was a peeping tom but the highlight was the plethora of elephants who marched by regularly on their way to the watering hole in front of the bar area. You could sit up high or low (or on our front stoop) and watch them. Or, you could brave the enclosed dank dark space known as a “blind” and be under the ground looking up at the elephants up close and very personal. Teresa went in once and made her fear of spiders subordinate to her love of elephants.
On our first day at Senyati, we went on a late afternoon river cruise on the Chobe- primarily hippos and crocs but of course, a million birds, and various “deer” types on the side plus cape buffalo. For those of you keeping score- two of the big five so far- elephant and cape buffalo.
When we got back we decided to eat in Kasane not thinking about it getting dark and us not knowing our way back very well. When it gets dark in Africa, it gets VERY dark. The road to our lodge is fine in normal weather (dirt but packed and drive-able) but with all the rain, it was potholed, waterholed (a new word), pitted, washboarded- you name it and very convoluted. So, we are driving along and spot an elephant half in our road. So we stop of course- not wise to mess with the big guys- so we sit there until Mr Elephant decides to turn around and come charging towards us. The three of us YELLED at Gary to step on it as we saw a chance to get by him (he was coming from the side more than from the front). Luckily Gary heard us (he was focused on the rutty road) and reacted quickly and we got by. Then a few feet on our right was an entire heard of female elephants (remember it is pitch black) calmly eating. They let us pass without paying us any attention. We then vowed to not stay out after dark (as PC has warned us numerous times). (obviously no pictures possible so this is a similar encounter but from a safari vehicle with a trained guide)
The next day we went on a game drive in Chobe Park. Pictures attached. Lots of animals but no elephants all day until we were leaving then tons of them (literally and figuratively) actually outside the official park and doing interesting behavior which Josh and Alisha were now beginning to appreciate. Warthogs, zebra, kudu, impalas, giraffes, cape buffalo, etc but no lions or leopards. We knew we wouldn’t see rhinos as there are none left in Chobe.
A peaceful evening watching our elephant parade.
The next day we went to Victoria Falls and had a lovely day on the Zimbabwe side. Lunch overlooking the Falls and tea time/dessert from the Victoria Falls Hotel also looking at the Falls from a different perspective. (Side Note: We will be going to Livingstone on the Zambia side of the Falls in July and will be rafting down the Zambezi for a day- How cool is that?)
Fourth day in Kasane- another game drive on the hunt for lions which was unsuccessful- the rain was keeping them all away from the river- they don’t need to get to the river to drink as there is so much water in the hills they don’t need to show themselves). Got pretty wet on this drive despite the ponchos provided for us but no pain no gain. More amazing elephants, warthogs having a fight (or playing- not sure which), more buffalo, tons of impalas and jackals.
Remember our earlier police stops. Well, the one just outside Kasane took the cake. An army guy in full regalia and weapon and two police officers stopped us and wanted us to open the back of the car which was piled high with stuff. On the very top were wooden napkin rings that we had bought that morning at our lodge. They demanded a receipt which we did not have. I said they could call the lodge which they said they would do (they did not) and said they weren’t accusing us of stealing. If not, then why a receipt. They claimed the wood was illegal and we would have to follow them to the police station. Teresa immediately said she would have to call the Peace Corps Security Officer. They said it wasn’t necessary and she said it was standard procedure per Peace Corps volunteer policy. They accepted that. The security officer is an incredible person with contacts throughout Botswana (he is former police). He talked to the officer in charge on the highway then said he would call back. He did and said to go to the police station. He had spoken to the station commander who is someone he knows. Together, we found a way for everyone to save face. We promised to get an export permit from the Dept of Agriculture
Finally, after about an hour’s delay, on to Maun- a full day’s drive with a stop for lunch at Planet Baobab which we had stayed at last Easter.
Arrived at Old Bridge Backpackers and settled in. Next day went for a mokoro ride in the Delta. Not as wonderful as our boat trip last July but despite the rain, there is not enough water this time of year for a full boat. Only the canoe can go. Very relaxing with a bush walk but few animals seen.
The next day was Moremi Game Reserve and our last chance to see lions. It was about a 2 hour drive from Maun and our guide was making time regardless of the gazillion (yes, we counted) mini lakes we had to pass through/around to get there (remember earlier about the rain). But, it was well worth it. Besides the millions of impala (only slightly less than the gazillion potholes), thousands of elephants and hundreds of giraffee, Cape Buffalo, warthogs, baboons, birds, etc we got to see lions. The tracks on the dirt road were unmistakable (advantage to rain is mud holds footprints better). We followed them and were rewarded by this group hanging out right in the open. Josh then said he would love to see an adult male lion. We told him to be thankful he got this 🙂
Late in the day we were startled when a mature male lion walked out from under a bush right in front of us. No time for a picture. He was startled too and ran back under the trees/thick bush and then we saw what he was up to. There was a female lion in there with him and they were, shall we say, enjoying themselves- at least he was- she vocalized a sound that distinctly sounded like- not now dear, I have a headache. But, he really didn’t care. Pictures aren’t great but Alisha has it on video (as best we could get). Apparently lions can pair up like this for weeks at a time with mating taking place at 15 minute intervals. Josh got his male lion.
Great elephants as well. Throughout the trip there were tons of babies (going to make a “baby” series one of these days). In Moremi, we encountered the tiniest baby elephant of the trip. But, the matriarch was determined we would not get to see it. She gave some command, apparently there is a sound she makes that instructs the other adult females to circle around the baby. This is exactly what they did and every now and then we got a glimpse and finally a picture.
Overall, lots more animals- zebra and wildebeest hanging out together- one has a good sense of sight and the other hearing so they warn each other of impending danger. Baboon playing king of the termite mound and our last giraffes.
Next stop- Ghanzi where we hoped to visit the Kuru Art Centre in D’kar but Teresa didn’t figure in we would get there on a Sunday so it was closed. But we stayed at a San Lodge- we were the only guests. Nicest pool of the trip. Too bad it was pouring rain. The road in is fine for two wheel drive- about 7k of dirt road. No problem. Remember the rain we’ve been having. Well now it was Gary’s turn to drive the one after another potholes/mini lakes except we weren’t in a big 4wd safari vehicle. But, we were in a Subaru- should have been a commercial for Subaru. It was amazing.
At the lodge we went on a bush walk (between storms- sort of) with two San people- husband and wife.They were lovely and informative. We got to sample a “bush potato” freshly dug up from some plant in the middle of the bush. We had a lovely dinner and returned to Gabs the next day.
Back home to Gabane for a night to regroup and repack and to return the car. One last glimpse of wildlife though between Ghanzi and Kang.
On to Capetown where we got hopelessly lost on our way to our Airbnb in Muizenberg but since we made it back, we must have found our way eventually. Teresa seems to have lost the pictures she took of Capetown so will need to get them from Alisha some day.
- Day One: Cable car up (and down) Table Mountain after getting lost getting there but taking a beautiful drive. Then lunch at a Taqueria (may not mean much to most of you but after two years in Bots- most welcome). Then off to see penguins except we got stuck in two hour traffic jam. We did get to see penguins just not at the Cape of Good Hope
- Day Two: Shark Cage Diving- about a 2 hour drive then a relatively short boat ride to Shark Alley but someone told them Teresa was coming so not a shark in site. A very playful seal amused us except that Teresa is not amused when it comes to non-moving boats. All the drugs in the world didn’t help. She spent most of the time in the shark cage sort of watching the seal as it was slightly better than being on the boat. Everyone else went back on board at some point to avoid hypothermia but hypothermia was preferable to the swaying back and forth. We did get a 50% refund. This was the big thing Josh wanted to see and do- here’s hoping the lion encounter made up for it.
- Day Three: Robben Island- probably the most poorly organized museum tour any of us had been on. And, a minor miracle that Teresa agreed to get back on a boat. Despite the poor execution of the tour, it was still a moving experience having just finished reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long walk to freedom.
But despite the disappointments we really enjoyed Capetown- weather was great, food was incredible, and Capetown is just a beautiful city nestled between mountains and ocean.
On our last day, we traveled together to Johannesburg where Josh and Alisha flew home to Phoenix and we flew back to our 2 year home in Botswana. If you made it this far- thank you for reading/watching and you are hereby excused from the endless slide show that will occur when we get home.