January 18, 2008 - Chobe National Park, Botswana

We left Namibia and crossed the border into Botswana in our purple truck. For the next 10 days we would be roughing it camping. Everything we need is our the purple truck named "Stevie"; tents, mats, food, etc. Jeffery, our South African-native cook gets upset if you call it a "bus". Our leader is Steven, and we have another 10 people in the group that are continuing from a pervious leg. We got the low-down and the rules for the next 10 days. Like, girls eat first, the safe hidden in a panel on the floor of the truck is called "Herbet", not a "safe" (code used for security reasons), everyone sets up and breaks down their own tents and cleans their own dishes, and everyone takes turns cleaning the pots and loading the gear on the truck. This is a "participation adventure tour".

Our first day was all travel. We traveled into the heart of the Kalahari. We rooted at Ghanzi Trail Blazers camp site and learned how to set up our tents, a 5-minute job. We re-arranged our bags for "camping mode" so we could leave the bulk of our gear in the truck. We bought a couple beers and a African cider from the bar at the camp site... Ok, I know it sounds cushy to have a bar at your camp site, but the bar is only a refrigerator with a handful of beers. It opens when we arrive and closes once the beers are gone, which for our group was 10 minutes. So we took our beers and cider to dinner. Terry drank 1/2 of her cider and gave me the rest.

Once the ladies had their food I joined the men and got mine. Then there was a storm of forks clanking on plates and for 10 minutes straight you couldn't hear anything else. Every dinner is like this. Dinner is our best meal; our only hot meal. Breakfast and lunch are basically always be the same. For breakfast we have yogurt, bread, and cereal. Instant coffee, hot cocoa or tea. The instant is so terrible that even Terry refuses to drink it. Terry is having good coffee and eggs withdrawal. I wouldn't have be surprised if she cooked omelets for the group before the tour end. But she did well under the conditions. Lunch is cold sandwiches. We eat dinner at night and even armed with our new N$50 ($7.50 US) head lamps, we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. You see, all the bugs in camp get attracted to your head lamp and half of them end up in your food. But at least you can see them to pick them out! With your light off, you can only hope no bugs have found their way to your plate. That first night Terry and I shoveled it in. Feeling good, I reached down, grabbed the cider, and took a swig. The cider is pretty good. Then I looked in the bottle and saw a moth the size of my watch face floating in the cider. Yum.

Sleeping is a hot, sweaty, tossing and turning event. Mornings are early, 6 am. Our first morning we were taken on a walk by the San bushman. They showed us how they use different plants for medicine. One for bad dreams, back pain, pregnancy prevention, etc. They use plants for water when none is available. They made fire and had a smoke. By the time we finished tromping in the bush, just about everything we owned had sand or mud on it, or was wet by this point. And this was just day two. Seven nights to go. We moved on to Sitatunga camp site. The truck stops at times for goats, horses, or cows in the road. Once for two donkeys "on the job". Sitatunga has power outlets to charge our batteries -- a luxury we will only have every two or three nights. We also had a pool, another rare treat. A big storm came through and we had a lot of rain during the night. This really cooled down the inside of the tent and I got a great night sleep that night. Terry was cold!

Nights 3 and 4 we spent in the Okavango Delta. We took mokoros, a wooden dug-out narrow canoe, two hours into the Okavango Delta (river) to a remote island. No showers, no toilets. Toilets are dig-a-hole style. We packed our mats and personal essentials only into the mokoros, two people and a poler per mokoro. Another two mokoros were used for all the tents, kitchen gear, and food. During our leisurely cruise down the delta we learned how to escape the "Big Dangerous Five" of Botswana. My favorite was the lion. We were told that lion cups being curious, would come close enough to pet. We were instructed to stay still and stare the mother down. The mother would come to about 30 meters and call her babies back. Once regrouped they would be on their way. For the bigger game like Elephants and Rhinos, the stare-down technique doesn't work and the basic plan involved running away and finding a place to hide. Very high-tech. But in the end, we never used any of these escape techniques.

We spent over 6 hours during two game walks on the island and saw hippos, a giraffe, zebra, impala, a crocodile, a jackal, wildebeest, and a pair of ostrich. The cutest was the zebras. Once they got a visual on us they all just stopped and stared at us until they calmly moved on. We were basically camping inside a game park. Another group heard lions. The only thing stopping the lions from coming into our camp site was our fire. Approaching game on foot is very different from approaching them in a vehicle. Prey like Zebra get spooked easily by man on foot and so we never got closer than about 100 meters.

Although we were told the water was safe to drink directly from the river, we brought 7 liters for drinking and brushing our teeth. The boiled tea water we drank was from the delta. And although delta area boasts the highest concentration of mosquitos, neither of us got a single bite. We didn't even need to use Deet. I really hate using Deet so Terry and I wear long pants and long sleeve shirts treated in Permethrin, a human-safe pesticide. The second day I went swimming in the delta and rinsed some clothes. The Africa Spa fish we experienced in Singapore must have come from here because when I stood still the fish would nibble at my body. After the swim I was completely refreshed for the entire day. Between walks and eating we played a lot of Euchre and "shithead", a card game some fellow travelers were nice enough to teach us. We also played with a resident millipede to pass the time.

Dave and I had kitchen duty and had to peel an entire bags of those really small potatoes with two dull and rusty peelers for a shepherds pie for dinner. After we started, a storm swept by and it began to pour so we moved into Dave's tent. Namita held the light while we peeled away. A lot of hard work (and sweat) went into peeling those potatoes in that hot tent. But the shepherds pie was amazing. I think our meals on the remote island were even better than the others. In the morning we had french toast.

Botswana's rainy season goes on until April, and we have been very lucky with the weather. The rain we have had has been at night, cooling our tents down, or while on the truck. We have never needed to setup or break down our tent in anything but beautiful weather. Terry and I did find a poisonous millipede trying to stay dry under our tent one morning. On our last night, the mokoro polers sang and danced for us around the camp fire. Then the next morning we took the two-hour mokoro trip back. We had great cloud cover and so the return trip was nice and cool. Terry and I drug our feet in the water on the way back. Our trip into the Okavango Delta and our two nights there was a major highlight for me.

Next stop Planet Baobab named from the huge baobab trees in the camp site. The camp site lost water and electricity for a while which was interesting. Water came back first and so some us of showered by oil lamps. We were hanging out at the bar (this place had a nice bar -- not just a refrigerator) and the local staff made an entrance and sang and danced for us. Terry learned how to play Morabaraba, a local game, from the bartender at the Planet Baobab camp site.

We had 400 kilometers to Chobe park the next day, about a 5-hour drive. To kill the time on the truck six of us had a Texas Holdem' tourney. We used jelly beans and other candy for chips. We even had a 10 Botswana Pula (about $2 US) buy-in. There were some great hands, some great all-ins, and it really helped to pass the time. Once the game was over, we had arrived at our next destination, Thebe camp site. The activity for the day was a river cruise into the Chobe game park. As soon as we boarded it started raining really hard. It rained for 30 minutes straight and I remembered that I forgot to close the tent windows and take my drying laundry off the top of the tent. I had a bit of clean up to do when we return. But once the rain stopped, we saw some game. impala, hippo, crocodiles, kudu, and lots of birds like eagles and stalks. Although the tour was not over, this was our last prepared meal. Jeffery our cook made us Spring Buck steaks. Not gamey at all but a little tough.


San bushman
San bushman makes fire
San bushman smokes bone pipe
Down the Okavango Delta

1 Comment

Wendy McIlroy:
January 21, 2008
Ah yes, shithead. I'd forgotten about that game!
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