Author: Gary and Teresa Landers

Nearing the finish line

It is hard to believe that we will be leaving Botswana 10 weeks from today. We will then be traveling until November 10 when we arrive back in Phoenix.  Peace Corps Botswana is doing something different this year to prevent the congestion of 57 people trying to leave at the same time 80 more are swearing in and starting their service. Thus, we were given a month prior to the new group coming to their sites, to leave. We picked September 22 as the next week is a school break so no sense sitting around. We had reservations starting October 14 so what do you do when you can go anywhere and do anything (within budget constraints of course).

After much discussion and thought, and a little dose of reality (we are getting old and carrying heavy packs, moving every day or two is just too much for us) we opted for 10 days in Greece (7 days on Skiathos) followed by 10 days in Portugal (with a short stop in Madrid) then pick up our original trip of a little over 2 weeks in Spain then cooking school in France for 4 days then a few days in Paris, just because, and home.  We will have washing machines, a car for a lot of it, ability to understand the language (except Greece) and explore new places. A dear friend of ours from the US is joining us from October 21 on. We are so excited to see her and begin the voyage home.

Enough of the future and surely our travel plans are not the reason you are reading this blog (or maybe it is?).  Since we started with the future, we will just work backwards.

We are in the winding down stage. Peace Corps has a two page checklist and 13 pages of forms and instructions related to leaving. It is almost harder than getting in to PC in the first place. We are slowly working through the PC issues while finishing up projects at our sites.  We still have two sessions left for Grassroot Soccer and unfortunately will not have time to do another one during the next school term which starts on August 1. (Winter break starts today for two weeks). But we will have reached 105 teens with HIV Prevention and decision-making training by the time we are done.

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We have a Kids Club this Saturday and one more in August paid for by a grant then there will be one our last Saturday- September 16 but we will have turned it over to the local staff by then.

We have two more parenting skills workshops scheduled for July 26 and August 12. By the end we will have reached close to 500 parents.

Teresa’s organization is celebrating 20 years this year so there is a big event on September 9.

Teresa is also being replaced and is looking forward to meeting her replacement September 4-16 so she can pass on 2 years’ worth of information.

We do worry sometimes about the projects we started continuing after we leave but we console ourselves with knowing that even if the projects don’t continue, we have touched many lives and hopefully made a small difference for a few.  And, what else would we have done with these two years of our lives?

Moving back from our last post, the major event was our Close of Service Conference and subsequent last Botswana vacation. Our group, now down to 57, convened in Kasane at Chobe Marina Lodge (up north, on the Chobe River- your tax dollars at work- thank you very much- better than spending it on a wall) for 3 days. We learned what we need to do to close our service, tips on re-entry including how to make our Peace Corps experience relevant to the workplace (like we care much about that- ha ha), and most important of all- celebrating making it through the two years. It was not always easy especially for the single folks living by themselves, but we did it and can be proud of what we did.

During the conference, we went on two game drives- one a river cruise on the Chobe and the other a land game drive. More of all the wonderful animals Botswana has to offer (other than the cats). Seeing elephants swimming was a real treat.

When the conference ended we took advantage of where we were to join two fellow volunteers and one of their friends from Germany for our last vacation in Botswana. We started by going to Livingstone, Zambia for the express purpose of rafting the Zambezi river below Victoria Falls. We visited a fabric market where we bought material to make tablecloths and possibly a skirt for Teresa. The rafting the next day was amazing- a bit chilly but given it is the dead of winter, pretty darn nice. The one picture is not anyone we know (although we met them first at the Zambia border crossing and then again on the river) but it is the only shot we have of the death defying walk down to the water We also got to pick up last minute trinkets at a local craft market (don’t have much of that in Bots).

 

After leaving Zambia we made our way to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary since Teresa refused to leave Afria without seeing a rhino. She was not disappointed. On a night drive we came across one gentleman white rhino who got spooked by something so thought he might take it out on us but when he saw the size of our vehicle, he veered off. I think that brings the total to about 5 near misses/charges- leopard, several elephants and now  rhino. The next day we saw mom and baby white rhinos. Fortunately she did not see us (they have lousy eyesight) and we must have been downwind. Relaxing after lunch in the restaurant, we were visited by a black rhino (only about 15 in the whole reserve while there are about 50 white rhinos) who comes regularly to drink from the pool. Apparently in summer he doesn’t mind if people are swimming- he drinks anyway.   We also saw lots of other animals and got closer to various species of antelope and deer than we have ever before. Every game drive experience we had, added something new and different. Saw leopard tracks but couldn’t find him/her. As we’ve said before the birds here are amazing. We watched this fellow for quite a while- We are pretty sure it is a crimson breasted shrike.

 

 

This may well be our last blog post from Botswana. Looking forward to seeing many of you when we get home. We will be visiting family for much of November and December. Next summer, who knows- probably a road trip somewhere- will need to escape that Arizona heat. And for those of you who are in or can find your way to Phoenix-we are planning a pizza party in, what is to us, our brand new 2 year old pizza oven on Saturday December 2. Just bring your favorite topping.  Alisha and her Josh bought a house so we have our house to ourselves with two spare bedrooms- anyone is welcome any time!

Tsamaya Sentle

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Our Neighbor Namibia

5 Cape Cross Seal Reserve hanging out

Never thought we would say the words- Going on a road trip to Namibia. Ok- before PC, we probably couldn’t have told you where Namibia was, much less what we might find there. But, many other volunteers have gone and told us how wonderful it was so off we went during the Easter holiday. Two PC friends joined us- Bethany and Joiwyn- they were also part of our Tuli Block adventure last September. Took way less pictures (except of Seals) as Teresa is learning that too many pictures makes blog posting hard and long with slow Internet for uploading)

We rented a car from a person who works a lot with PCVs and has a travel business. Gary is getting really good at driving on the “wrong” side. Not sure what is going to happen when we get home.  We divided our time between camping and Airbnb. Camping is ok but we greatly preferred the “bed” experiences. This is our second campsite- no picture of the first. Hard to believe but there is actually a giraffe in one of these pictures. Where’s Waldo anyone?

First night was Upington, South Africa which was basically a stopping point on our way to Fish River Canyon (FRC). FRC is the largest canyon in Africa and all the guide books said it was a must do.  We thought it the second largest in the world after the Grand Canyon but researching canyons when we got back, it gets very confusing with no definitive answers- Let’s just say it is up there with the “most breathtaking” in the world: https://10mosttoday.com/10-most-breathtaking-canyons-in-the-world/

In any case, we were not able to hike down into it- that is only possible if you do the whole thing over at least 5 days. From our campsite we were able to walk a little bit up into it and then had to settle for going to the other end where there were various overlooks. We were most impressed with the lack of people which made it very nice. Our campground had a large swimming pool which was actually a hot spring so it was more like a giant hot tub. We got in before Gary and he asked us if it was cold and we said- it’s not bad. The look on his face was priceless when he put his foot in.  Unfortunately, we were in the pool so no camera.

Our next stop was Sessriem Canyon and the Sossuslvei Sand Dunes.  But getting there a semi had jack knifed and his bed was blocking the road. Going to steal from Bethany’s  blog as she described how they solved the problem. There is no AAA, Highway Patrol or cell service!

“A pickup truck was backed up to the back of the flatbed with a pole running from       the tow hitch to the side of the flatbed, and the flatbed was raised on a crank and some rocks. The pickup would slowly back up until the flatbed shifted enough it was pushed off the rocks and stopped. Then they would set up again and start over. The flatbed moved about 6 inches at a time and a little over an hour later, enough room was made for the (now 6) cars to pass through.”

Gary, of course, is doing what he does best.

We were behind a tour bus full of German tourists. We ran into them in every place we went after that. But we did learn from their tour guide that the nests on the poles that we saw everywhere are Social Weaver nests.  Some of these were bigger complexes than condos on Miami Beach.Notice there is a second utility pole. The weavers’ nest must have made the original one unusable as we saw this a lot. How they keep them from doing it all over again on the new pole, is beyond us.

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Teresa and Bethany climbed one of the dunes- part way- it was SOOOOO windy and was narrowing out so much we were (at least Teresa was) scared to go any higher.

One of the highlights was a short hike into Sessriem Canyon itself. Reminds us of slot canyons in the US West.

After two nights there, on to Swakopmund with a stop in Walvis Bay on our way. This leg had its own excitement. About 30k from Walvis Bay- middle of nowwhere- about 95 degrees Fahrenheit and no cell coverage, a warning indicator light came on. So, Gary pulled over and turned off the car. When he tried to turn it on again- nothing- absolutely nothing. We looked and didn’t see anything. So, we took stock- we had tents, food and water so knew we were not in any imminent danger. We put the hood up and flagged down the next car which came which was actually very soon. A very nice Namibian man (did not get his name) stopped and looked. He didn’t see anything at first but then noticed that one of the battery leads was not attached to the battery. The washboard dirt road (all but a couple of roads in Namibia are dirt- usually very nice packed dirt but still…). We reattached the wire, he tightened it with a wrench he had and we were back in business.

Had lunch in Walvis Bay then went to see the large flock of flamingos that hang out there.  We learned flamingos don’t photograph well- they seem to wash out, all the pink/whitish dots are flamingos- trust us! (and there really was a giraffe at the campsite- yes- off in the distance but there nonetheless)

On to Swakopmund where we had a beautiful apartment with a WASHING MACHINE- the highlight of the trip. (The dryer broke the first day but that didn’t stop us-oh no- not at all- we WASHED EVERYTHING we had with us- blankets, towels, etc. And there was a dishwasher- we used dishes just so we could fill the dishwasher.  Had great food in Swakopmund and found a delightful German bakery. (Namibia’s history is German and Afrikaans- South Africa as well as British in addition to the native tribes which did not fare so well in the  days of  colonialism).

The first day we walked around Swakopmund and did some shopping at the outdoor market. The next day we went for a 2 hour quad bike tour of the sand dunes- not one of us brought a camera or phone along so no pictures. Probably just as well because at the very end, the person in front of Teresa slowed down going up a little hill so she went to the side and at the top of the little hill, there was a drop off- no hill- she went airborne and did stop, drop and roll. Luckily helmets were required and she was no more sore than anyone else the next day or two. Oh- the quad bike was fine- thanks for asking. The guide, however, got several new grey hairs that day.  But, it was fun! This is sunset from our restaurant the first night, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean where we waved to America.

The following day, Bethany, Gary and Teresa ventured about an hour north to Cape Cross Seal Reserve. While the stench made Teresa gag and she had to breathe through her mouth with a pile of kleenex over her nose- seeing 100,000 seals with probably a third of them 3-4 month old babies was amazing. Lucky for Gary he has a limited sense of smell so he was just fine.

On the way there we stopped at a shipwreck. They call it the Skeleton Coast because it is famous for ships wrecking. Most of the wrecks are inaccessible to the public. We spoke to some friends when we got back to Botswana and the consensus is they placed the wreck conveniently where tourists could access it. Very enterprising if you ask us and the birds sure love it.

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On to Windhoek on one of the two paved roads.  We committed genocide on corn crickets- a very large black bug that looks like a dung beetle on steroids. Thought we had a picture but it didn’t come out. We are sure they inspired some Star Wars creature. They hang out on this particular road and get killed. Guess they aren’t the most intelligent species in the animal kingdom.  Windhoek is a very clean, well laid out city. Pictures are of Christ Church (famous for its mix of architectural styles with the result it looks like a gingerbread house and the National Museum with its hours not posted anywhere and the guide books were wrong so we only got a half hour to spend in it)

We visited several craft markets and had dinner at a famous tourist restaurant- Joe’s. It is famous for the game meat it serves. Two people had game, one had fish/seafood and one had neither. We’re sure you can all figure out who did not partake in either of the local delicacies.

The last night in Namibia we had dinner at the national culinary school called NICE (Namibia Institute of Culinary Excellence). It lived up to its name. The food and presentation were wonderful and it was a perfect ending to very relaxing and fun trip.

As soon as we entered Botswana we were welcomed by cows, donkeys and chickens in the road-  ah- to be home. We stayed the night with a fellow PCV who lives about 60k from the Namibian border and drove home the next day. The highlight for Teresa was that the PCV was taking care of another PCV’s dog and both Kyra and Charlie (the dog) needed to get to Kang the next day- we were going through Kang and despite being packed to the gills we pretended we were a combi. Charlie sat on Teresa’s lap the whole way so she got her dog fix that will need to last for several more months.

We got lots of stamps in our passports. We highly recommend traveling with young women. They make the border crossings a lot easier and way more fun. One border agent (coming from South Africa to Namibia) asked if it was ok if he courted one of our “daughters.” Fine by us.

Only one trip to go before our big trip after we close our service. Rafting the Zambezi and visiting a rhino sanctuary- that’s end of June/July so only one travelogue to go. Now it’s back to work for the last 5 months of service- lots to do and not much time to do it.

The Grand Safari Tour

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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.

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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.

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First Giraffe

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.

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fish eagle chobe
Fish Eagle drying its wings

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)

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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.

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A peaceful evening watching our elephant parade.

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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.

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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.P1020303

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Good Day

At the end of each term school gets pretty loose.  The students are pretty much done and the teachers are trying to get all the exams graded.  Basically the Kids just hang out.  This year our Guidance and Counseling teacher brought in a couple of programs and they were great.  However, I was asked by a class for some HIV facts they could use for their skit.  I asked what skit and they said they were doing one on Thursday afternoon.  I asked around for who was setting this up so I could see if I could help and couldn’t find any teachers who knew anything about it.  Finally found out the SRC (Student Representative Council) had set it up and each class was supposed to do something.  Thursday afternoon came and most of the students brought their chairs to the hall and each class did present something.

The younger Form 1s (8th grade) did ok and the Form 2s did even better but the Form 3s were just absolutely awesome.  All of this was in Setswana so I didn’t understand a word but totally got most of what they were trying to say.  One was where the girl was fighting with her parents and then she left, went to a party, went to the clinic and got her diagnosis for HIV and of course was devastated.  Dad kicked her out.

Another was when the teacher was lecturing the class on HIV and the students acted out about how they’ve heard all of this and threatened to leave the class.  The inevitable party and then the visit to the Clinic where the girl got her diagnosis and was again devastated by now being HIV positive.  Involved male, when told, pretty much blew her off. I think, can’t be sure since I really don’t know what they said.

They were amazing performances created by the students for the students.  The only real sad part was that there two other staff and I attending, none of the teachers saw the performances.

Oh yeah- we do some work too

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While we prepare to post another travel log, we thought maybe we should make it clear that our Peace Corps experience is not one safari after another. We actually do work and earn vacation days which we then use to our advantage. This specimen was in our house and we can’t have a post without SOME animal pictures.

So here are some pictures to show some of the people we work with and places we work. One set of shots is from a visit by one of our donors- the UK Anglican Sisters who contribute on a monthly basis to support staff allowances. Their photographer Nick Clarke, captured some beautiful pictures of beautiful people.

Gary is next door at a Junior Secondary School where we run an 11 session program called Grass Roots Soccer. We have talked about this before but here are some pictures. This is a program that teaches about good decision making as well as HIV Prevention. For our UU friends it’s kind of the OWL program for HIV/AIDS. Part of the program is giving “kilos” when good stuff happens- we are mid kilo in one picture. In another we are visiting various “football” stadiums around the world. At the end, based on who you talked to while at the stadiums, there is a demo about the effect of multiple partners on increasing the chances of getting HIV/AIDS. Graduation day with certificates, performing a skit based on a risky situation scenario and last is one of our groups participating in the 16 days campaign against gender based violence. They completed the line, Because of Education I can……

Lastly are our two big initiatives- Kids’Club and Strengthening Our Families parenting workshops. Can’t show pictures from Kids’ Club as they are all OVC (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) and can’t post pictures of them on Facebook. But, we meet monthly and do a variety of activities meant to build self-confidence and self-esteem. Gary is in charge of cooking lunch with a rotating crew of kids. They made pizza last month and this month is spaghetti. We can post a picture of the pizza.

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The pictures from Parenting Skills aren’t very exciting as these are one day workshops for parents in a classroom setting. We cover topics such as respect, trust, communication, family time, positive discipline and success in school. We have done two so far and will do 12 more by August plus one where we train local people to facilitate the workshops so they can continue after we are gone. Both these projects are funded by a Peace Corps grant. Hopefully ongoing funding will be identified for after we leave which could be as early as 6 months from now.

 

Stay tuned for our next post which will chronicle the amazing trip we had with Alisha and her Josh…

What we did on our summer vacation, literally

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If you mention this blog post, you will be excused from some of the slide show when we get home. As we have said before, we are using the blog as a public journal and a safe place to store pictures, in case computers and hard drives get stolen/ruined. So, this is basically a travelogue but it does have some interesting moments (being charged by an elephant being the highlight but now you have to keep reading to get to that part).

We left Gabs on Christmas Eve to spend the week in Durban, South Africa, including our birthday. While not the best vacation we’ve ever had, there were some good moments.

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A very busy Gabs airport

Teresa got upgraded on the flight from Joburg to Durban due to someone else’s seat mixup   through a domino effect including kids not being allowed in exit rows, (including dibs on an aisle seat- They couldn’t move her to a middle seat), she got business class for the one hour flight. While short, it included a full dinner (chicken tiki masala) while poor Gary got a simple sandwich but it was enough for dinner. We arrived in Durban, well actually, Uhmlanga which is between the airport and Durban. It is a small touristy town on the Indian Ocean. We picked it for our two free hotel nights coming to us as IHG members. Of course, as was to become the recurring theme of this trip, we got lost finding the hotel. Let’s just say google maps was a great disappointment this entire trip and with no cell phone data or gps we were lost A LOT. Directions is one area that let’s just say, is not the strongest part of our marriage.

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View of Indian Ocean from hotel room

Sunday was Christmas Day so we didn’t expect much to be open. We decided to find our hotel in Durban as we were due to check in on the 26th but were going to St Lucia for the day and wouldn’t actually be back in Durban until 2 or 3 in the morning.. We first got hopelessly lost after checking out a bird sanctuary that was closed. We were given “shortcut”directions. We still don’t know where we ended up (we think we were way way west,  probably half way to Joburg)) but some guy in a gas station led us out and gave us vague directions to follow something or other to Durban City Center. We did fine at first but promptly got lost again. Somehow we made our way into Durban and followed signs to The uShaka Marine World which we knew was near our hotel.  What we eventually learned is that streets in Durban change names every kilometre or two and only a few streets go through and street names are often overshadowed by their Highway Name (M4, M12, etc). Our hotel in Durban was on the waterfront so how hard could it be? It was on what should have been a main street. Well, this part of Durban literally shuts down for the full two weeks of The Festive Season. This means most of the streets are blocked off with concrete barricades. After wandering for about an hour we finally found our hotel. What should have been a 30 minute trip, had now taken several hours. Now remember, we aren’t actually checking in and it is Christmas Day so after confirming that they will hold our reservation no matter what time we arrive, we set out for some sightseeing and hopefully a visit to a another nearby bird sanctuary- if it’s not open, at least it will be a pretty drive. First though we decide to practice getting to the hotel so when we come in the next night in the middle of the night we can go straight there. The hotel is actually on the main street but with the detours we had to make 10 turns and 2 roundabouts to get to it. It is a miracle we did not get arrested for cruising-we are now on a first name basis with the security folks at the various barricades. One other comment on the hotel.  All of this area is being rebuilt with some of the original buildings being saved but not many. This hotel left the original walls up around the parking lot so they act as a wall.  They look like bombed out ruins, very cool. We forgot to take pictures.

You guessed it, hopelessly lost again and now hungry. Don’t find the sanctuary but  manage to find a mall (there are several very big malls in Durban we eventually discover). Some of the restaurants in the food court are open. Of course, none of the ones that are more local and therefore different. We try one Italian place but they are closing because they have too much business (as we were leaving they were once again seating people so we did take it personally). Christmas lunch was at a Nando’s which is a grilled chicken fast food place we also have (and like) in Botswana. Given the other option was McDonalds, we were pretty happy. Thought we’d top it off with Italian ice cream but by the time we were done at about 3:00, they had closed down too. Closed and lost are two words that well describe this trip.

We made our way back to Uhmlanga, with several wrong turns- par for the course at this point.  Then, Teresa wised up and started calling places to see who might be open on Christmas night. One place said they were open on their web site but phone rang busy. Sent a text but no answer. Decided to head into “town” and try to find this one place. We parked on the street where we thought it was (sort of a main drag). Went into another mall type place and not sure now how we actually got there but discovered an Indian restaurant off a parking garage. Turns out they had only been open a week and we were the only non-Indians in there- always a good sign. Food was incredibly good. We had this amazing chicken dish topped with creamed spinach (recipes online say Saag but the name was longer than that although it did have Saa in it).  Durban is known for its Indian food so we ate it about 3 different times.

Boxing Day- December 26th and another public holiday. But, today we have reservations for a 5pm turtle tour in St Lucia, about 3 hours north of Durban. This is where you go out on the beach and look for nesting and newborn Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles. This time of year, you are almost assured of seeing some but we get ahead of ourselves. Actually, only got slightly lost finding the right highway north. Would have been uneventful but Gary got a speeding ticket. Totally unfair- he had been right on the speed limit but they were waiting at the bottom of a long hill and our number was up. No problem, we can pay at the Durban police station or at a grocery store (2 chains- Spar or Pick N Pay) except that it takes two weeks to be assigned the reference number needed to do this. We can backtrack and try to find the police station in the closest town and pay there (officer can’t give us directions and our track record on finding anything has not been good).  As it turns out we have until March 3 to pay and we are going To Capetown in February.  So that is our plan. Sure beats being arrested on the spot with me not on the rental car agreement.

We make it to St Lucia in good (within speed limits) time and stop at the office for our tour. Turns out there is a boat cruise on Lake St. Lucia (an estuary) leaving in a half hour for two hours which is perfect. There are hippos and crocs to be seen so off we go.

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Yes, there’s a crocodile there

After lunch at a seafood place- Gary got his seafood- Teresa had a great salad, we walked around St Lucia until it was time for our turtle tour. We were the last of 10 to be picked up so Teresa sat in the front seat with the driver. We were the only native English speakers besides the guide. This is what we are loving about this experience. As Americans, you feel like you are the only ones in the world but on these trips we have taken, we have yet to encounter other Americans. Actually, on one of our flights there was a family originally from Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) who now live in Boulder, CO. There was a very nice couple from Denmark and a group of 6 from what sounded like German but not too sure. The folks from Denmark did talk to us about Trump. The whole world is worried, if that’s any consolation.

Cut to the chase- we were in the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park which is comprised of 5 different ecosystems. On the way to the beach we saw an abundance of wildlife with some highlights below. (Hang in there, almost to the elephants).

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Cape Buffalo- that leaves only Rhino on our Big 5 list

So, we arrive at the beach and spend a couple of hours looking for turtles- nothing, nada, bubkas. About 9 pm we start the 2 hour drive (depending on animal sightings) back to St Lucia. We are all pretty bummed but hey, thems the breaks. We are barreling along (10-15k/hr) when the driver/guide stops and backs up. He has spied something in a tree (pitch black remember). The driver did use a spot light as he drove.  We wondered why, if it was just to look for animals that might jump on the road (major cause of accidents in Africa especially at night) or if he was trying to find animals for us to see. (He did need to redeem himself after failing to find any turtles).This dwarf chameleon was sitting there, two inches. Hard to see but then it wouldn’t be a chameleon if it were easy. Totally redeemed himself.  What an eye.  It has been a theme, we have been on several game drives now and I can’t believe what these guides see as they are driving along, probably the animals are assigned a place on the map so they know where to look but even after we stop we have trouble seeing what they saw while on the move.

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Dwarf Chameleon

Now we are really going back when we are stopped dead by a looming figure ahead. It is the body and rear end of a young male bachelor elephant. He is half in the road. Then he moves more into the road and we now see his head and another elephant. They are head butting/playing and in no hurry to leave. Apparently they were there the night before and are quite aggressive. They don’t like lights so we cut our spotlight and only have our headlights which we need in case they start charging like they have done before. We are not allowed to take pictures as the flash could spook them. So, we sit. And we sit. Then we hear branches breaking right next to us. The driver backs up.  Three more elephants appear. It’s an early New Years Eve Party. So, we sit. And we sit. They move off to the side every now and then but the guide knows they can turn on a dime- don’t let their size fool you. So we sit. And we sit. All told we sit for about an hour when another safari vehicle pulls up next to us. We inch forward very slowly as the elephants move down the road in front of us. We make sure we know where all 5 are because we don’t want to get caught between them- unable to reverse or go forward. There is no other way out. We are finally left with just one in front of us and believe the others have moved off to the side at a safe distance. With one last protest, the one elephant turns around, flaps his ears and trumpets. He takes one step forward, our hearts are in our throats (and the guide’s is on the reverse shift) and then he realizes that while one vehicle would be a fair fight, two together is too big a threat and he backs off and moves into the bush. We quickly speed up and get past. We finally arrive in St Lucia about midnight and begin a 3 hour drive back to Durban. Remember that opening picture- Hippo Crossing 3k- Hippos are active at night. We drive very carefully and finally start breathing about 5k in. We get back to Durban and check in at our hotel at about 3:15 am.

Being the old fogies we are, Tuesday was a kick back day to recover from the late night. We were going to stop by the dive shop to find out what was happening on Wednesday and then Teresa needed a new bathing suit. Surprise! Tuesday was a public holiday and EVERYONE, and we do mean EVERYONE in Durban was headed to the beach.

Given the road blocks, this meant we would have had to wait for 2 hours in traffic to go the 5 minutes from our hotel to the dive shop so we decided to stop on our way home as we had no choice on routes if we wanted to get back to the hotel (Think of a maze of one way streets with barricades wherever you want to go). So we headed to the closest mall which should have been about 15 minutes away. About 1.5 hours later- yep we got major lost again- we found it and got the suit. So now it’s lunch time but on the way to the mall we did manage to go by where we had planned to go for lunch- either closed for the holiday or no longer in existence. We made it back to the hotel and went back out on foot to a little cafe nearby where we tried Tramezzinis. They are like paninis. Very tasty. Went to the dive shop and were told the dive probably wouldn’t happen due to weather and since we haven’t dived in 3 years, we would need a 3 hour refresher which we could do on Wednesday and dive on Thursday. Neither of us wanted to spend our birthday in SCUBA skills hell so we bagged it. We tried to book snorkeling but everything was booked until Friday and we were leaving on Friday.  Took a walk along the beach and back to our hotel. Went to a local brewpub for dinner that was also very close to the hotel.

Wednesday December 28- our birthday- should be a public holiday but isn’t. By now Teresa has really wised up and in addition to the mediocre maps we have, she has started taking pictures of google maps close ups for possible destinations. Doesn’t mean we stop getting lost but it does improve our chances. We head out to the Phezulu Safari Park to see crocs and snakes and Zulu dancing. Then the plan is pizza at a place nearby then off to a nature reserve for a nice hike then back to town through The Valley Of 1000 Hills and out to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. So much for plans. We do get lost getting to the Park (totally googlemaps fault) but get there with enough time to see the snakes and crocs, watch the dancing then be back for croc feeding/snake demonstration . Croc feeding is a sight to behold. They throw in whole dead chickens. Not every croc gets one but that’s ok because they don’t need to eat very often. If one lands behind their head, they have no idea it’s there and wait to get one in front of them- maybe. They literally crawl over each other to get a chicken-like a scene from Animal House.  Gary had the camera and we had a perfect shot of one facing us with a whole chicken sidewise in his/her mouth but he was so mesmerized by the sight, he missed the shot. It started to rain during the snake demo so Teresa missed getting her picture taken holding a Boa Constrictor (She did it once years ago in Seattle and has never been afraid of snakes since.)

So, ready to go on with our day. Not so fast. At the end of the snake demo Gary got violently nauseous and all he wanted was to get back to the hotel. He had to drive- remember we didn’t make Teresa a driver on the rental.  So, lunch was a grilled cheese with bacon sandwich for Teresa and a Sprite for Gary from the petrol station near the hotel that had a fast food chain in it. Happy Birthday! Gary slept all afternoon and felt better by evening so we headed out for Ethiopian. Found it fine but it was closed- looks like for good. Teresa thought she remembered a place from her list that wasn’t too far and we managed to get in the neighborhood when we found another Indian place. Food was very good once again. After dinner we got a shake at a nearby restaurant and saw this poster which got us to talking with some folks there. You just can’t get away from Trump.

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Our last full day in Durban we headed to the Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve with promises of game to watch while you hiked. Yes, we got lost again-  really beginning to hate googlemaps and composing a letter to google in my head. We were also out of gas but thankfully at the 11th hour found a gas station and discovered we were on the right road to the reserve. Also spied a place to get bunny chow for lunch. The reserve was beautiful- forest and meadow and a castle to boot. Our 5.2k trail should not have taken us by the castle but you got it, the one place on the trail that was not well marked and we ended up on a different trail. But, got to see the castle and vervet monkeys. Saw several other animals but no chance for pictures- one was a deer type and the other was most likely a mongoose.  All the snakes we had learned about the day before are present in the reserve but we saw none of them- just as well. Knowing us, we would have gotten lost on the way to the hospital to get the antivenom.

Stopped for bunny chow for lunch- a Durban Indian staple. It Is basically a hollowed out loaf of very soft white bread (1/4, 1/3, 1/2 a loaf) filled with your choice of meat in a sauce. We opted for the deboned chicken. Mutton seems to be the most popular. We also got roti which ended up being like a burrito as the filling was the same as for the bunny chow.  OK but don’t think we’d go out of our way again to have it.

Dinner was at a very trendy Italian place in the Berea neighborhood. Teresa finally felt like she might be getting the hang of Durban streets.

Friday was travel back home and in our usual style we messed up and took a detour getting to the airport but we had left plenty of time so we eventually got there and the rest of the trip home was uneventful. At least the pilots have a better sense of direction.

Two last comments. Our hotel had an amazing buffet breakfast (both hotels actually). At one of them we actually learned there is a right and a wrong way to place the silverware. The waiter actually removed the “wrong”one and brought us a new correct one.

And, for our Phoenix friends and family- you are never as far away as you think unless it’s us trying to get to you and then it will take a few extra turns… See you in November!

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HAPPY HOLIDAYS

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Right outside our front door this morning were 4 female donkeys, 3 babies and dear old dad  (who is a bit of a bully but today was protecting his harem ).  This shot is of the youngest baby- we are guessing less than a day old  (and you can see dad in upper left- the dirty white one with 2 birds on his back. )   Unfortunately, the whole family did not cooperate for a Christmas/ Hanukkah portrait.

Wishing everyone peace and happiness this  Christmas/ Hanukkah eve.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD

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Our friend,  Tumelo, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on  December 14.  Her name is  Melissa  Rethabile  Nkwe.  We got to see her when she was 1 week old.  This is very unusual in  Botswana.

Botswana tradition dictates that, after giving birth, the mother goes into seclusion for 3 months.  She is attended by female relatives.  Even the father is not allowed to visit.  Typically a big party is held when mom and baby are ready to come out of seclusion. Tumelo is not following this tradition and allowed us to visit yesterday.

While there are probably good reasons for this practice just as many traditions are rooted in what was once common sense  (no pork for  Jews and  Muslims for instance ), times change and cultures change.  There is nothing inherently wrong with giving a new mother time to rest, recover and bond with her child.   However, we now accept the importance of the father in bonding and child rearing as well .

In public hospitals in  Botswana the father is not allowed to be present at his child’s birth.  This is really a logistical issue- there is simply no room on the wards for a bunch of expectant fathers.  In private hospitals, fathers can be present.

Another big change is that the law now allows the father’s name on the birth certificate if the parents are not married, but only if he agrees to such.   While not perfect it is better than the past when his name could not appear.

Getting married in Botswana is no easy feat.  If you do not have a traditional wedding  many families do not recognize the wedding.  A traditional wedding is expensive as lebola must be paid  (usually 8 cows or their value- about  P2000  each (US$200 ) and a lavish party with food for the entire village and many related gifts from one family to the other.  Many simply cannot afford to get married.

Life as A PCV

We decided to keep track of some of the things that amuse us and will share them from time to time.

You know It’s  Summertime when…

– You want to do laundry because it is a chance to get wet

–   You linger just a little longer than necessary when looking for something in the freezer

–  It’s time to defrost the freezer and you are looking forward to it

–  You get to share what’s left of your cooltime  (icee ) with the cute baby on the combi

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Gary sharing his melted cool time icee

Exercise

-Doing laundry counts as hand exercise

-Clearing all vestiges of grass from yard doubles for  a rowing machine

New Perspectives

Gave Gary dessert in a plastic container leftover from an event. His first comment is did they serve all of these in individual plastic containers? Yes they did. Wow- great containers. (Watch for us on a future season of HOARDERS)

– Teresa: What can we use this broken ice cube tray for

Gary: Not sure but maybe something

Teresa: Ok let’s keep it. You never know

(Now this same conversation any time in the past 37 years of marriage before Peace Corps)

Teresa: Name 3 uses for this broken ice cube tray

Gary: Uh, um, not sure, but you never know

Teresa: It’s out of here !

 Strange  Conversations and  Pastimes :

Talking to chickens : Particularly  Mama  One  (who has adopted us )-  How many chicks this time ?  There were 5 yesterday- Today there are 4- what happened  Mama  One ?

 Talking to  Goats :  You can stay in the yard as long as you eat the thorny plants and not the fig tree.  That’s it- out of here-  We told you- leave the fig tree alone.

 Our  Idea of  Adventure

Use a  Saturday morning medical appointment  as an excuse to take a new combi to two new malls  (new to us that is ), find little of interest except this poor car, and end up walking 5k because we are sure that  OUR combi should come along any time soon.

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Saturday adventure excitement

 We wish you all a very  Happy  Holiday  Season and  New  Year !  Looking forward to seeing many of you in 2017.  Expected date to arrive back in  Phoenix is  November 10 after a 4-6 week trip mostly in southern  Spain and  France including 4 days at a cooking school.

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Mall Santa Botswana style

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Sunset Over Gaborone Dam

Tuli Block AKA Tuli Wilderness

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We had a week off from school for a mid term break so we planned a trip to Tuli Block which is a game reserve in the central (north and south) region and right on the eastern border next to Zimbabwe and South Africa.  It could be described as a dry game park because there is very little water and at this time of year the trees are bare and look dead.  The trees actually look like it is after a forest fire. They are black with no leaves and many branches gone because the elephants walk through stripping them.  The beauty of this place is that it is truly wilderness, we hardly saw anyone else our entire 5 days there. This does make the animals a bit more skittish but that is part of the beauty and attraction of it.

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They will get green after the first rains which could be soon but possibly not until November and then much more in December and January when it is super hot, remember reversed seasons. We  have a hard time with that, still talk about this being Fall when it is actually Spring.

Our vacation started Monday afternoon when two Peace Corps Volunteers from Lesoto arrived to join us on our trek.  They are a couple, Joan and Pat, from Colorado and started about four months before we did so are a little further along in their service.  We met Joni when we went to Gúatamala in 2014.  We did meet a guy who was a Santa, with a beard very similar to Gary’s and length of hair. They looked a lot alike.  During a correspondence for something concerning Rotary, Teresa mentioned she was joining the PC and going to Botswana and the person she was writing said she had a friend who knew a couple who was just leaving for Lesoto who we might have met because they were in Rotary as well and in Guatemala when we were.  Anyway we corresponded and turns out Joni was there, Pat was not and someone else (Jeff) was the Santa. We got confused and thought Joni and Jeff were a couple. Sorry Pat!  Great couple, about our age and had lots of interesting stories about their service in Lesoto.  We know that our service is called Posh Corps and it is really true.  They live without half of the luxuries that we have, like electricity, water, refrigeration, ease of travel and shopping.  Lesoto is all mountain, has a ski resort and is much poorer that Botswana.  They work and live in an orphanage.  They were a great example of how to accept and enjoy what you do have.  Made us feel very humble and thankful that we have what we have (which is pretty much everything we could possibly need, if not want).  They also run a rafting business, or did, in Colorado and since we do go to Colorado fairly frequently we will definitely be seeing them again.  A little more digression, we also hosted a couple headed for Cape Town for the week so we had a full house Monday night.

Tuesday morning we went shopping with the four of us meeting up with the other four people that were going with us.  Two from our Peace Corps group and two friends of one of them who have been  backpacking all over the world for the past year.  We met our driver and loaded everything into the combi and headed off. Left about 10:30 and (long trip) got to our bush camp about 7:30.  You could take public transportation and get as far as Bobonong but that still leaves you about 80 kilometers to figure out.  Our driver drove us, stayed with us and then drove us back.  Her name was Thuso and she was absolutely fantastic. It was a very wise decision and really worked out for the best.

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(Pat, Joni, Gary, Teresa, Thuso, Bethany, Joiwyn, Nicole. Phino took the picture)

We stayed in four small chalets, each with their own bathroom.  There is no electricity but with solar lanterns, gas stove and freezer/fridge you didn’t miss it. No computers or cell service- heavenly. We cooked all of our own meals and they were great.  We did go to a “bush dinner” on Friday night which was appropriate because that was September 30th and Botswana’s fiftieth anniversary and so it was kind of a celebration.  We did miss the celebration in our village which is too bad because it would have been fun and interesting to see how the village celebrated as a village.  Although talking to people afterwards, don’t know anyone who did go to the village celebration at the kgotla. We did get in on some celebrations (see blogs on torch carrying and beauty contest).

 

Of course the highlight of the trip was seeing the animals, we added several new ones to our list and lots of repeats.  We saw lions although not too exciting, visited a hyena den complete with baby, saw a leopard which was cool, actually ran toward our vehicle and we drove away and then he/she laid down and watched us from a distance.  A couple of crocodiles in the water hole next to our camp (a couple hundred meters away) so we  decided against swimming.  A spotted genet came to visit at night, elephants walked through our camp and we saw lots more including several babies and one that was nursing, definitely cool.  Impossible to describe them all and you can see some of the pictures.  The bird flying above us is a black eagle and we were standing on Eagle rock so he was a bit concerned.  The rock we were on looks remarkably like the cliff in Lion King, but it wasn’t actually filmed there.

View  from Eagle Rock  including dry Limpopo River

We left Saturday morning and drove back, actually went through a couple of brief rain showers, first of the year.  Some people reported a fair amount of rain and some on the 30th which is hopeful that this will be the year the drought ends.