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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Out of Town, Part II: Part 1 - Botswana

...a long day's journey into naught.

UPDATE! new pictures from the illustrious mel - see below!
Mel has most of the pictures from this portion of the adventure, so I will try to illustrate with feeble words what she captured so well with her magickal telephotographickal picture-taking instrument, and update this later with more pics. And for those of you playing along at home, I provide yet another map: Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, here we come!  Sorry, this map is a little hard to read. The black line is our route; the blue stars and numbers indicate which nights we spent where.

click for a bit more visibilty, though not much more.

 Oh, and who is “we”, you ask?
Coincidental to the time that Melanie announced she was visiting, two of my school comrades Bernardo (Portugal) and Sven (Norway) were planning a roadtrip to Botswana and Namibia.
Sven                                                                                Bernardo                   

Melanie had friends in Zambia, Kim and Craig, whom she was hoping to meet somehow also; and as the plan coalesced, Kim and Craig were able to meet us in Livingstone, jumping off point to see Victoria Falls, and approximately the halfway point of the boys’ road trip. This all worked out pretty well, despite the ground we had to cover to get there in time – we couldn’t leave any earlier because we hadn’t gotten the truck until that Sunday, and also owing to the very important Johnny "The White Zulu" Clegg concert that Sven was seeing Sunday night. We know this because approximately 5/6ths of his iPod comprised Johnny Clegg songs, so we all became quite familiar with his work, and Sven’s appreciation of it, over the next two weeks.
Clegg: yeah, he doesn't look Zulu to me, either

Our trusty vehicle was a rented 4x4 Toyota truck with two pop-up tents fastened to the top of it with extendable ladders for entry and egress; it was further replete with built-ins like a pull-out refrigerator, a giant drawer of cooking pots and utensils, blankets, sheets and towels, jerry cans for gas, a 55-litre water reserve, a gas bbq and 4 folding chairs…in short, despite backseats with no recline whatsoever, it was a ridiculously bourgie way to go camping, but many’s the time we were grateful for 4-wheel drive, and cold milk, and a tent that could be set up in 10 minutes or less. We saw quite a few of these on the road – the company that provided ours was Kea, a New Zealand outfit, so perhaps these will be appearing soon at a KOA near you.
truck, en repose

truck, rampant

Day 1: Monday - How many business school students does it take to read a map? Despite leaving within an hour of our planned time of 7 a.m., we otherwise got off to an inauspicious start leaving Cape Town by not being able to actually exit on to the main highway north, after THREE chances, we finally figured it out. The portion of the drive through South Africa was flat, arid, empty, and dull – in short, we had already gotten our fill of that in the Klein Karoo, which was at least relieved by rolling hills, so mostly we slept. And we got it out of the way by driving for 9 hours that first day, all the way to Augrabies Falls, where our campsite was invaded by inquisitive vervet monkeys, one of whom had a wicked cough. I was also awoken by a curiously loud little bird, who was apparently narrating his attempts to drink out of our water tap...or perhaps he was cursing the fact that we hadn't bothered to turn it on the night before? The Falls themselves were pretty, though they proved to be nothing like the goal of our first week: Victoria Falls, in Zambia.

noisy birds, at any rate

Mel & the boys cold chillin' at Augrabie Falls campsite.


this guy woke me up by being VERY chirpy...

..but at least his acrobatics were amusing.

breakfast guests

Augrabies Falls

Day 2: Tuesday - We headed for the Botswanan border, and after a tense afternoon’s drive on gravel road during which we thought we might not make the border closing, we zoomed in to the crossing at McCarthysrus on the dot of 5:00 pm, only to discover the closing was actually at 6. Oh well. With the remaining light, we forged on to the Back of Beyond Campsight in Werda, where we set up camp in the dark, enjoyed a few  St Louis Lagers (authentically African, brewed at Kgaligadi Breweries, yet another SABMiller outfit) at our host's newly erected bar, and patted his three friendly dogs Twiggy, Beauty, and Bob, before collapsing into our tents.

The Bar at the Back of Beyond

Well before dawn, we were woken up by roosters and cows on the neighboring farm. Up we got, and headed into central Botswana, epicenter of the Kalahari Desert.

Day 3: Wednesday – The scenery had changed only a little upon crossing into Botswana  (and, soon after, into malaria territory) - a few scrubby shrubs closer to the road, perhaps, but the Kalahari reaches past political borders, and we’d already been driving through ita vastiness when we crossed over. We’d been hoping to be able to drive through the Central Kalagadi Reserve to start our wildlife viewing, but a quick stop at the National Parks office in Kang convinced us that, owing to the poor roads and slow going, we wouldn’t have enough time in the park to make camping there worthwhile. So we reluctantly shelved that Reserve for another day, consoling ourselves that there wouldn’t be that many animals in there anyway, and continued by skirting the reserve’s western-most edge past the dusty outpost of Ghanzi, staying just beyond it at a crocodile farm (my musings from that morning will follow this post).  Manfully, each of us kept our cool at the crocodile farm despite the intimidating fence that surrounded it, and the gruff, suspicious seeming gentleman who answered our horn and eventually let us in, whereupon we noticed that he was missing a hand. At a crocodile farm. Oh, that's reassuring.  The park proved to be perfectly safe, and had a bar and pool that the boys visited while I curled up in the tent, and tried to figure out what we were doing on the following day.  No wild noises disturbed me that night, but we were once again woken to the raucous birdlife that showed utterly no consideration for the many, many kilometers we had driven up to that point.

Day 4: Thursday.  On to the tourist center of Maun (mah-OON), which sits sandwiched between the Kalagadi Reserve and the wildly popular Okavanga Delta. In Maun we discovered that we could stay the night in Moremi Game Reserve, the southeastern-most reserve section of the Okavanga, and an area loudly touted as the best game watching in Southern Africa.  We arrived in mid-afternoon, and embarked on a couple hours of unbelievable game viewing.

very good camoflage: stand behind another zebra
NOT pleased with us

my, what big eyelashes you have

don't be glum...

...turn that frown upside down!

Sure, the ‘boks became old hat after not very long, foraging roadside by the dozen, and it did start to feel to us like one of each animal had drawn the short straw and been relegated to standing by the roadside to be seen.  ("Ha ha, Harry!  You have to go entertain the tourists AGAIN!" "Aw, guys, I just did this two days ago!")  But there is very little to prepare you for seeing a hippo munching his sunset repast 10 feet from the road, or a giraffe gazing uneasily at you from her vantage of 18 feet off the ground. The elephants we saw sporadically in singles and pairs apparently joined forces at sunset, as we were driving out: at some distance, maybe half a mile away, our resident elephant spotter Svein spied an entire herd of them, maybe 25 in all, emerging from the treeline to drink and cool themselves. It seems impossible that such enormous beasts could be concealed by mere trees, even if the Okavanga created considerably more forest than we had seen previously. But they kept appearing as if stepping directly through a rift in time from a million years ago, one behind the other, lining up in along the edge of a watering hole we were too far to see, facing the setting sun, and resembling nothing so much as a group of worshippers filing in to church to give a communal thanks before enjoying a boisterous Sunday family meal. Whereas we in the truck had turned querulous in the preceeding hours, debating temperamentally about optimal routes and the time we needed to get back to camp, this spectacle stopped us in our tracks in awe. Suddenly, whatever we'd been arguing about didn’t seem that important, anymore.  Incidentally, why herd? Why not an Eruption of Elephants, or an Eructation of Elephants?  or perhaps the more euphonious Elegant of Elephants?
Elephants on Parade

Though we had caught several of the biggest game animals I’d ever seen outside the depressing confines of The Brookfield Zoo, we had yet to see any of the elusive big cats that roam southern Africa – lions, cheetahs, and leopards. That night, though, a couple of hyenas raided our camp, after slouching through it during the twilight hours. One got in to our garbage and we became much more vigilant about closing up the truck and tidying up after ourselves, and tried to drive the creature away with flashlights and stomping and huffing and wild yells. We might have reconsidered this bravado had we known then what we found out later, which is that hyenas can easily crush zebra femurs with their jaws.

Prowly McCrusherjaws

As it was, we went to bed secure in our mastery of the wild dogs, whom we could still hear chattering to each other in their curt, laugh-like barks….only to be awoken hours later by the hair-raising growls of some predatory cat, following by its unearthly full-throated challenge to the hyenas that were evidently still hanging around. It seems I am the only one who heard this that night, and some time before that, from a dead sleep both Melanie and I sat bolt upright in the tent at precisely the same moment. She doesn’t recall that either, but I suspect our lizard brains were in overdrive trying to sort out the dangers that lurked below us, at the other end of 8 feet of aluminum ladder. I was never so glad to be sleeping off the ground as I was that night. Eventually, I got back to sleep, and was greeted in the morning by the amusing spectacle of a vervet monkey sitting on top of an “animal-proof” garbage can, easily opening the weighted lid and then dropping it summarily on his own head when he tried to reach the tempting tidbits inside.

Close your tents, throw away your garbage, and don't try to outsmart a monkey

 He did finally manage to get in, as we headed out of Moremi and the Okavanga, our first real brush with the wild Africa we’d been hearing so much about, and towards Victoria Falls and Livingstone, the town named for the stalwart Scot who braved those wilds a century and a half before us.  And! he probably didn't even have a refrigerator in his 4x4!

Next up: David Livingstone inadvertantly spawns tourism opportunities, lounging, beer; Mel gets flung out of a boat. Stay tuned!


  1. Awesomeness! I love you, Kelly. Glad you slept off the ground, too.