At long last, the blog is back! We are finally somewhere (Maputo, Mozambique) where Internet is affordable (75 cents an hour) rather than the $3 to $8 an hour places were charging in most of South Africa. Let the frenzy of updating begin!
So, Botswana. We spent about six days there about a month ago. That's six countries ago, now...but I will try to dredge up the memories.
For starters, if you wanna go to Botswana, start saving your pennies, because it ain't cheap. We learned this the hard way when we rolled into Kasane, the town near the Zimbabwe border (and the gateway to Chobe National Park) and couldn't find a hotel room for less than $100 US a night. We ended up getting two dorm beds at the only hotel in town with a dorm--that cost us $50 and came with the bonus of a dried puddle of vomit between our beds that it took management two hours to come and clean.
Actually, it was a pretty nice place other than that. Just too expensive. Luckily, safaris into the national park were quite affordable, and we went on a morning game drive and afternoon river cruise the next day.
A quick shout-out to Bryan and Michelle, the two terrific Chicagoans who shared our safari truck in Chobe! We had a little friendly animal-spotting competition, and Chicago kicked New York's butt--no cheppards spotted, but still, nice job, guys.
Anyway, after seeing a hyena dart across the dark road outside of the park, the first animals we spotted were a whole lot of hippos. Andy and I have seen hippos before, but never so many in one place, and out of the water, too!
This amazing bird is some kind of cool stork. I think. Anyway, check out that bill!
By the water's edge, there were also large troupes of Chacma baboons and impala antelope, but we liked these close-up shots the best.
Guinea fowl always look so meaty, but then you eat one and realize that the bulk must all be in the feathers...
I think that the sky alone at sunrise would have made this safari rewarding.
But under that sky, we soon spotted a few thousand buffalo taking a walk.
And, as our guide excitedly informed us, where there are thousands of buffalo, there are usually lions to be found! Sure enough, a few minutes later he found them--our first lion encounter of Africa.
Rawwwwr, I am even closer now!
You can see how close the male came to our truck!
A little further off were the females, grouping up for the hunt.
We hung around for a long time watching, as it really looked like they were going to go take a buffalo down, but maybe they decided to wait until there were fewer humans watching them.
How great were those lion pictures? Good job, Andy!
OK, on to antelope. Check out these kudu's beautiful horns. (Kudu is also very tasty, I would later learn.)
In the afternoon, we took a boat trip on the Chobe River and started off by viewing some fantastic birds. I told Andy that I definitely want some of these bee-eaters for my future aviary.
These malachite kingfishers aren't too bad, either.
The Chobe River separates Botswana from Namibia, and there is an island in the middle that was apparently disputed for some time. The international courts awarded it to Botswana, which now has a flag flying on the island and maintains a regiment nearby to protect it from Namibian vandals who apparently like to paddle out in the night and replace it with a Namibian flag. Oh, territorial disputes! In any case, the only creatures who actually ever use the island are these elephants.
Some other fun riverside creatures included this monitor lizard...
...and some crocs. I tried to get Andy to put his head in its mouth, but he wouldn't.
A few more buffalo in the river--guess the lions didn't get these guys.
More hippos! Rawr!
The highlight of the boat trip, though, was seeing elephants up close along the riverbank. Here is a little family of them.
And you can see how close the boat got to them.
I wrote previously that Madagascar has the best sunsets in the world, but Botswana also has to be a serious contender. This is what sunset looked like off the river boat.
Throw in an elephant silhouette for good measure, and that's pretty tough to beat.
Back in Kasane town, the warthogs roam free. It's pretty funny to see a couple of warthogs lounging out on the pavement in front of the supermarket and the locals all passing by, giving them no mind. These ones were hanging out by our boat landing site.
Our next destination was Nata, a few hours south. Most travelers just change buses there and head straight for the Okavango Delta, but we stayed a night, along with our friend Ben, to visit the nearby salt pans. The "sunset safari" we ended up booking ended up to be mostly a bird-watching trip, but that was fine with me and Andy since we love birding. Sometimes you blindly book a tour and get a good surprise.
Anyway, I forget what this guy is. Andy says it's some sort of goose.
And here is a springbok antelope. Which I also later ate (not this exact one). Andy and I are trying to become as good at identifying antelopes by sight as we are at identifying fried balls of food, but it's slow going.
This is the kori bustard, which I later learned is the heaviest flying bird in the world. It is really quite big in person.
At the salt pan, flamingos! I think these are lesser flamingos, which I assume are a little smaller than greater? I know we learned that day, but cut me some slack, this was a month ago.
You can't see too well, but in this tree is a secretary bird. Also a very large bird, and rare to see in its nest like this.
Shadows on the salt pans. We are so tall!
Sunset over the salt pan--a worthy competitor for the "best sunset in Botswana" prize.
A sign in downtown Maun, the next town we visited en route to the delta. I told you Botswana was expensive.
Outside of Maun, we stayed at The Old Bridge Backpackers, which I'd recommend--great riverside setting, good kitchen, bonfire at night...plus, they were full when we arrived but were nice enough to set up tents for us to sleep in. (At a price, of course, but it was actually the best price we got on lodging anywhere in Botswana.) They also organized a great overnight trip for us into the Okavango Delta.
So, the Okavango Delta is the world's largest inland delta--it's where the Okavango River fans out and terminates in the Kalahari desert, creating a huge wetlands area that's rich in animal life (and, as I was soon to learn, spiders). Richer tourists tend to fly into the "inner delta," which is more remote and has more animals, but is uber expensive to get to and stay in. Budget travelers like us make do with the eastern part of the delta, accessed by boat from Maun, and camp out.
But either way, you spend the bulk of your time exploring the delta by mekoro (plural mokoro), a dugout canoe that is piloted through the reeds by an expert "poler," i.e. a guy with a long pole.
It was very cold the morning we left from the backpackers to head into the delta, so they gave us these stylish ponchos to wear on the motor boat.
A motor boat took us to the mokoro pick-up point, where we met our polers and loaded our canoes. Andy and I had one and Ben had another to himself. It was then two hours of poling through the reeds to get to our campsite. The whole ride pretty much looked like this.
With occasional lovely purple lily pads like this.
Oh, yeah, and there was an elephant.
A word to the wise--if you do not like spiders, don't take the front seat in the mekoro! I made this mistake on the trip in and got showered with spiders of many colors and sizes falling/jumping off the reeds into the boat. And of course, the poler tells you not to freak out and jump around because you could tip the boat over...suffice it to say that Andy sat in the front on all future outings, and I was much calmer.
At the campsite, Andy got a poling lesson. Not surprisingly, he reports that poling is way harder than it looks.
We took a couple of trips to a nearby island in the delta to look for wildlife. On the first day, we didn't see too much, but we did find a terminte mound bigger than Andy.
I look way too happy in this picture considering I am holding a chunk of elephant poo.
After traveling together for over a week, we decided that it was finally time for a group portrait with Ben! Nice setting, methinks.
Hello, pretty delta flower.
There was another beautiful sunset in the delta, but I think this picture is from just before that time. You can see how everything is turning sort of golden.
After a night camping out--during which our polers taught us all important lessons about pitching tents and starting fires that would prove VERY useful later, in Namibia--we returned to the island for more animal-watching. We began with a glimpse of the amazing saddle-billed stork.
And the gorgeous lilac-breasted roller, the national bird of Botswana. This one's definitely going next to the bee-eaters in my aviary...
Now we're going to play a little game. Which of these grazers is not like the other?
If your answer was "the wildebeest on the far right," you are correct! We later learned that zebra, giraffes, antelopes, and wildebeest all tend to hang out together and help warn each other about predators and such, so it's not so strange to see a mix of species grazing together.
Thanks to Ben for getting this shot of Andy, me, and our poler in our mekoro, on the way back to Maun.
And that concludes our pictures from Botswana. Andy and I jumped on a bus the next morning for the Caprivi Strip in the far northeast of Namibia, and Ben hung out an extra day in Maun and then headed straight for Windhoek (Namibia's capital)...but this was actually not the end of our fruitful association with the young Australian. Yes, you will hear of him again on this blog!
Botswana gave us some lovely scenery and amazing wildlife-viewing opportunities--Chobe was probably the best national park we visited in all of southern Africa (those lions earned a lot of points), and the birding and animals in the salt pans and the delta were excellent as well. Getting around by public transit wasn't difficult, either...but the lodging prices are painful. Only Maun really has budget backpacker lodging.
So my best advice for visiting Botswana on a budget is to bring a tent if you at all possibly can, because you'll be able to camp--even on the grounds of fancy lodges--for far, far cheaper than you'll ever be able to get a room. And if you are including Namibia in your trip, you will definitely want that tent, because Namibia is even more freaking expensive than Botswana!