I wanna, you wanna, Botswana
We leave the ultra-modern Johannesburg airport and fly into Kasanga “International“ airport in Botswana. I’m sure Kasanga (pop. 400) is a lovely place but the airport is pretty basic. We’re last in line and after nearly an hour of processing all of 14 passengers from the flight through immigration we arrive to a parking lot that is pretty much empty. There is one guide left holding a sign up “Stewart” and two Barnetts looking for a guide. No flies on us, we asked if we were looking for each other and concluded we must be. Turns out the hotel had picked up the name of our travel agent as our surname. That combined with referring to me as Gerald (which is my first name as it appears on my passport) and for the next two days, I had to take on the identity of Gerald Stewart. A bit confusing but liberating in a certain kind of way. I could do pretty much anything and people would just say “Oh that’s just Gerald Stewart doing what Gerald Stewart always does”. Anyway, not for the last time on this trip, we jump in the back of an open Land Rover and head down the “road”. I use the word road loosely because after about 10 kms we enter Chobi National Park and in Chobi National Park you need a 4 wheel drive to have any hope of getting from point A to Point B. And actually there is no point A or point B in this savannah type landscape. We travel for almost a half hour to our camp, an oasis in the dessert alongside the Chobe River. Not so much a camp as we might expect. Nice resort style main buildings with a resort kind of feel. As we have our welcome juice/cocktail, sitting on the verandah, our camp counsellor outlines our activities for the next few days. ( Scout camp was never like this. We always had to wait until lights out to get to the juice/cocktail.) We have to scramble because we’re about to go on our first game drive. We check into the room and dig out our safari duds and head down to the front of the camp.
There is a certain similarity among all game drives so before describing our first, I’ll comment on them in general. Because the animals lay low during the heat of the day, the drives are either very early in the morning, usually around 5:30 or late in the afternoon, around 4:00 and generally last from 2 to 3 hours. We go out in open air Land Rover type vehicles in groups of as many as 10 on one occasion to as few as 2 on another. At Chobe we had one driver who used radio contact with other vehicles in the area to find the animals. At other game drives we had both a driver and a tracker. Typically near the end of the drive we would stop and exit the vehicle somewhere out there and have a little picnic. Coffee or tea and snacks on the morning drives and pretty much any beverage you wanted along with hors d’oeuvres on the afternoon ones. Although they were typically land based, we did do two river “safaris” which followed a similar pattern.
Now for our first safari. First let me say how disappointed I was. Before we left home, I had taken down all the pictures and ornaments from over the mantelpiece and in my office. I wanted lots and lots of space to put the trophies from my safaris. I had visions of at least a stuffed lion’s head and who knows what else. But, and you’re not going to believe this, we didn’t get to shoot them at all. All those animals and all we get to do is look at them and oh yeah, “shoot” their pictures. (And I hadn’t even thought to get any film for my new camera.) I felt totally ripped off. Apparently, there’s some kind of conservation rule that discourages shooting any of them. Since I seemed to be the only one that was disturbed by this I let it ride, but I can tell you as soon as I get home I’m writing letters. All that aside, it was still worthwhile. For example, within 15 minutes of leaving the camp we found ourselves surrounded by a herd of nearly 100 elephants. It is impossible to convey the feeling of being near such a wide variety of exotic animals in a natural environment; even if you couldn’t shoot them. So I’m not going to try. I will post some pictures and videos shortly that might give you a small sense of what it was like. Suffice to say over the next few days we saw them all up close and personal. The Big Five (lion, leopard, elephants, water buffalo & rhino, four of the Ugly Five( wart hog, vulture, hyena, wildebeest & marabou stork) and lots more.
In Chobe, for safety reasons there is a legal requirement to be off the park area by sundown (about 7:00). Apparently some of the animals don’t have the same kind of conservation rule about us that we have about them. Our first safari had gone well. We had had our sundowner (the drinks and d’oeuvres thing) and were on the way back to camp when our driver, Lettie got word of a lion sighting. Finding it and observing it caused a little delay so we were already late for our 20 minute drive back when a loud BAM signalled that we had just had a flat tire. As the sun was quickly setting we learned that, of course, we had a spare tire, but we didn’t exactly have a jack. Lettie radioed for assistance and in the next few minutes a couple of other Land Rovers full of safariers found us. I was quietly trying to figure out if having three trucks full of lion food instead of just one was better or worse when a jack was located and we started, um, jacking. After 20 minutes or so the spare was on the vehicle and we were about ready to roll when we discovered that the excellent looking spare didn’t exactly have any air in it. By now it’s long since pitch black. After another 20 minutes or so of taking a spare from one of the other vehicles and finally getting everything to all work we’re ready to go; a solid hour after we were supposed to be back in the compound. I note a certain tension in the air as we all jump back in and convoy our way back to camp. We made it though, and after climbing out from under the seat we hoofed it back to the room to get ready for dinner. By now, not having been eaten, we were ready to eat. An open air braai (bbq) down by the river was waiting for us and a good time was had by all.
Tomorrow morning is going to be our second safari and we make an early night of it.
Strange experience of the day. When our rescue land rovers arrived on the flat tire scene, one of them was coincidentally full of Canadians travelling together. They had been on safari for several days, hadn’t had access to the internet and were curious about outside news. It was slightly surreal standing in the dark waiting to be eaten while being pressed for details around the NHL negotiations and CFL game results. My strange experience of the day.
Question of the day: How effective do you think their little shooting cameras would have been against a herd of elephants, in the dark? I don’t think they were thinking that through do you?