Thursday, April 23, 2009


April 2009

My plans for an Easter vacation in Madagascar were squelched after the young upstart mayor of the capital city of Mad succeeded in getting the current president to step-down at the cost of some riots and deaths. PC evacuated the PC volunteers in the country and closed it for travel. So very hastily, I threw together a trip to Botswana - land of the Kalahari Desert, the Okavango Delta and abundant wildlife throughout Chobe National Park. Friend, Madeline, and I went our separate ways after traveling to Garbarone (Botswana’s capital) together. She went on to visit a friend and I,to a mobile camping safari in northern Botswana. I flew from southern to northern Botswana, across the brush and desert of the Kalahari, home of the San (Bushmen) people. Flying into Maun, at the edge of the Okavango Delta, one enters another ecosystem – a river delta fed by the Okavango River from Angola. This consists of canals, islands and marshlands – think crocs, hippos and an abundance of birds for starters. It is a gorgeous area filled with gigantic trees, flora and birdsong, and the grunts of hippos. The10 day trip was spent with an international group of 7 (Danish, German, French, Australian). We had a superb bush-guide and a wonderful team who put up our tents and cooked tasty dinners. We covered a lot of territory in our open cab Landrover – driving from Maun to Livingston, Zambia in 10 days. Every day was filled with stunning wildlife. The most shocking and Ah-Ha moment was on Day 1 when a giraffe leaped from the bush and onto the road in front of us. That breath-taking vision was when I absolutely realized that I was in Africa. Our various campsites were always charming and remote. The evening we camped next to the hippo pond, we sat around the campfire not only listening to the snorts and grunts of the hippos but also the roar of the lions. It is a primal experience to have ones senses totally alert to the sounds and signs of an approaching predator or aggressor. Hippos have a well-deserved dangerous reputation as they are very territorial, aggressive, and have a record for killing the most tourists. Our Australian newlywed was showering in our outdoor shower tent when she heard a hippo grunt outside the tent. The next thing the whole camp knew was that we had a streaker through the camp, racing for the safety of the fire.

This year has brought a 60 year high of rainfall – good for the wildlife, bad for tourism. This means that the animals have a much broader range of choices for water and therefore aren’t gathered together at the watering holes as much as is the norm. It also means that roads are washed-out, therefore limiting some of the places we could get to. But my experience was as full and rich as I could have hoped for. The safari included 2 half days on the water. One trip was in a traditional dug-out boat, poling through the reeds and water lilies, experiencing the peace and sublime stillness of these back waters. Spotting a Black Mambo snake crawling up a reed was the only adrenaline rush on that excursion. The other water trip was on the Chobe River which is a border between Namibia and Botswana. Again, because of the high waters, land was under water and a few houses flooded. It was so delightful to have the waterside perspective of the elephant families playing in the river next to the hippos.

The final leg of the trip took us across the border into Zambia, the town of Livingston and Victoria Falls. At this point, we lost the camping team and were now in a lovely hotel on the Zambezi River. The infamous country of Zimbabwe is just across the river and has even better views of the falls. But travel in Zim is forbidden by PC. Zambia gets many of the Zim refugees, people trying to survive in an impossible situation. The Zimbabwean money has been devalued so much that it is no longer in use and they have turned to the American dollar. As a tourist curio, vendors tried to sell the worthless Zim money which may have 3 billion or 10 trillion marked value on one bill. I was told that professional women from Zim, former nurses and teachers, come to Zambia as prostitutes to feed their families. I didn’t hear anyone in Zambia hold anything but empathy for the desperation of the people of Zimbabwe.

Vic Falls is Adventureland for the brave – bungee jumping, absailing, white water rafting, lite-flight. My group chose the helicopter flight over the falls and through the canyon. It was spectacularly beautiful and really the only way to see the falls. The “smoke that thunders” is running so heavily this time of year that when I walked around the falls, I received an intense cold shower but almost no views of the falls. The bungee-jumpers-Zimbabwe-border-bridge offered a partial view of the falls along with the thrill of watching the jumpers bravely dive off the bridge platform. I wasn’t the least bit tempted. My final evening was spent on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi. Coincidentally, there were 3 Peace Corps volunteers from S.Africa there, and a few other Americans, so we managed to have a wonderful celebration before leaving our luxurious surroundings.

I flew from Livingston to JoB, and was picked-up at the airport by the B&B in which I was staying. The next day, I took a taxi to the infamous JoB taxi rank. PC has given us plenty of scary stories about the JoB taxi area, so passing through there felt like the biggest obstacle of my entire trip. My driver happened to be a former policeman and body-guard. He dropped me exactly in front of the bus I needed, so I never had to wander the rank and worry about getting robbed. I was safe, secure, and well-taken care of.

I was happy to return to my Mission home and my kitties. I was greeted with hugs and purring and the sounds of crickets…a much tamer version of “wildlife”.