Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Botswana

Having finished with our quick look in Zimbabwe, we returned to Botswana for a proper visit. Botswana is known as a very expensive destination for tourists in southern Africa and has some of the best wildlife viewing as well if you can afford it. Botswana actually has an elephant over-population problem with tens of thousands now in and around Chobe National Park. The Okavango delta is also world famous for its profuse wildlife and many amazing documentaries about wildlife and nature highlight the area. Unfortunately for most of us, getting into the heart of these parks involves chartered flights and staying at very expensive lodges (hundreds of dollars/night). Fortunately, and unlike many national parks in other countries, including Etosha, the parks are not fenced off and the surrounding human population density is very low so that it is still quite easy to see wildlife in the surrounding area outside the parks.
After a night in Kasane we opted to pay up and drive through Chobe on route to Maun, rather than drive all the way around. It’s a shorter route but on sandy roads so actually takes much longer. Fees are per day so we decided we’d just transit the park in a single day. It was a long day and we ended up seeing quite a bit of wildlife (elephants, giraffes, buffalo, zebra, lots of birds and plenty of various antelope) but, ironically, most of it was actually spotted outside the park itself.
It was fun to challenge the truck again on something other than tarmac but it was still a very slow going day with many stops in our attempt to identify various birds. Mom has become especially obsessed with this since Etosha where we picked up a little booklet identifying various animals in the region, especially birds. Although we made it out of the park by sunset (barely) we still had over 100km of unpaved road to Maun so we decided to just bush camp a couple of km from the southern gate. Just before we stopped however we could saw a hyena and could hear many more nearby and out of a healthy respect for their ability to eat us (not to mention the lions as well!) we ended up sleeping with 4 people in the truck and the other 5 stretched out on the top. The stars are amazing throughout Botswana and I’d be hard pressed to think of a country where I’ve seen more. We stuck some of the leftover bones in a nearby tree and then used a high-powered flashlight to watch a couple hyenas come over to inspect. They are huge and we were all thankful that we were up so high where they couldn’t reach us. Good fun.
We finally reached Maun the next day and had a couple days of relaxation. It was too expensive for any of us to venture into the park so we just relaxed at our camp beside the little river that passes through town. It was a sad time for us though as Wessel had run out of time and flew back home from Maun. We hope to see him again someday, somewhere, preferably soon. From Maun we just drove quickly through and out of Botswana via the Trans-Kalahari highway and on to Pretoria, the capital of S. Africa, where we are now. I was surprised that there was so much vegetation going through the Kalahari and it actually looked more like the same semi-desert we’ve been in for weeks now. We were able to bush camp once again but most of the time this would be very difficult because of all the fences. Like Namibia, Botswana has a very small population and very low density, but it is mostly cattle ranch country so the land is still in use. We’ve seen numerous cowboys and the beef really is cheap and excellent so far in southern Africa. We have BBQ’s (they call it braai in Afrikaans) every other night it seems.
I know it isn’t funny but to me it seems ironic that there always has to be some tragedy in an African country, no matter how successful it is. Botswana is one of the most stable countries in Africa, has a strong tourism industry geared toward the high-end market, has huge diamond deposits, including the largest producing field presently and generally seems well off. Of course fate has to curse it somehow so Botswana can also lay claim to be the country with the highest HIV rates in the world. It has been estimated that 40% of the adult population is HIV positive. I personally have serious doubts about these numbers (largely stemming from my mistrust of aid organizations and NGOs) but there can still be no doubt it is a problem. There was an article in the paper the other day about a 14 year old girl who died of AIDS after being raped at school 2 years earlier.
As I said before, we are now in Pretoria. It’s a big detour from our goal of Cape Town but we need to get new passports for Kees and Savannah before moving on. It is full blown winter now and we are freezing on a regular basis. Desert weather is strange, we get nothing but blue skies and hot sun but even in the shade in the middle of the day it is cold. We constantly have to switch from hot to cold, sun to shade and from one layer to two throughout the day. Nights go down to just above 0C and even with 4 layers, a light sleeping bag and a big blanket, I’m still cold. The worst part of winter is definitely the shorter daylight hours and having to quit driving early and still ending up setting up camp in the dark. I hope you guys are enjoying summer for me.
Ammon

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