One of my most memorable encounters in Botswana was watching three young bull elephants splashing around in the Chobe River like children. They would get out of the water with the best intentions of heading off into the undergrowth – presumably heading “home” – then one would change his mind, break away and head straight back to the water to play some more, with the others in hot pursuit. The horseplay carried on for about 15 minutes with stamping and splashing, entwining of trunks, staring down and jostling both in and out of the water. The result was that they are all slate coloured rather than grey from being soaked from top to toe.
Finally one grew bored of the other two’s antics and went off for a good scratch on a nearby tree.
Botswana in the dry season can be grim. Devoid of colour, dusty and excruciatingly hot. As a proud cattle farming nation, the scattering of scrawny beasts clinging to the roadside vegetation as we travelled from Windhoek to Maun bore testimony to what the Botswana government has described as the worst drought the country has experienced in five years. All too often the scent of decay would burst through the open truck windows as we passed corpses of cattle that died of either thirst or starvation.
But still, there were also heartwarming scenes reinforcing my belief that Africa’s inhabitants are undeniably resilient and resourceful. And often reliant on the humble donkey ….
Meet the “Botswana 4×4” :-)
And then there was the interesting interaction between a dog looking for trouble and a donkey who was having none of it! Things might have got a little messy in the midday heat, but the donkey’s owner appeared from nowhere, clicked his tongue and the donkey followed, while the dog slunk off to find some shade.
Spending two glorious (but scorching) days in a hotel* that hugs the banks of the Zambezi was a fitting end to a whirlwind trek across Botswana that had taken us to arguably some of the most spectacular wildlife spots on the planet.
Perhaps it was the overland tour company’s way of letting us down slowly after the high of flying into the Okavango Delta on a 6 seater aircraft, mokoro trips that took us into the stomping grounds of cantankerous hippos and then the lush paradise teeming with wildlife that is Chobe. It was time to rest and recalibrate while still surrounded by Africa.
It’s easy to become intoxicated by this continent and even as I took a last gaze over the Zambezi river before heading home, a longing set in. The Portuguese call it saudade, that melancholic, aching type of longing for something gone that may or may not return in the future.
I miss the elusive banded mongoose troop who scurried across the lawns hoping to go unnoticed.
And Mama Warthog and her brood feeding on the lawns in the late afternoons.
Even the cheeky vervet monkey who hissed at me when I went to retrieve my camera bag.
I even miss the cacophony of frogs drowning out our conversations in the evenings – a din that grew more deafening as the night dragged on.
But the mosquitos and the cost of living in Zimbabwe? Not so much :-) But I will be back.
In Botswana you get used to your Overland driver slowing down, often even stopping completely. More often than not it’s for cattle – the ubiquitous “Botswana Policeman”, named as such ‘because they’re always on the road’ our guide Gertie told us laughingly. Or goats, donkeys or horses.
But on the stretch between the Kazungula border post and Victoria Falls it’s more likely to be my favourite pachyderm that’s holding up the traffic. How lucky were we?
Victoria Falls – David Livingston’s Smoke that Thunders – remains one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. Little has changed about the Falls themselves since my last visit in the 1970’s – apart from becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1989.
Vic Falls town on the other hand has changed drastically. Commercial adventure activities have taken over and you get very little for your precious US$ in what was once little more than a small settlement. A can of Coke Light that would cost R7 in South Africa costs the equivalent of R16 here. In a hotel, the price is triple that and at US$35 per person, the buffet at the hotel where we stayed was beyond my means. Or should I say I couldn’t justify R577.50 for one meal. For one person. Without drinks.
You can’t not visit the Falls, get sopping wet in the Rainforest and take a photo or two as you peer through the mist at the spectacular sight, but it was the ordinary people around the falls who commute across Victoria Falls Bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe that made me realise how hard life must be for the locals who live in these parts.
Africa as a continent is full of resilient people who accept their lot with a shrug and get on with it. This post celebrates these ordinary people, rather than the beauty of the Zambezi River from every conceivable angle, dropping to astonishing depths below.
Chobe has been atop my Bucket List since the start of my brazen love affair with elephants. This southern African wonderland lived up to my expectations and some. My only regrets were only spending one day there and that my encounters with baby elephants – those adorable drunken-sailor cuties that melt my heart – were from quite far away.* (see footnote)
Chobe teems with wildlife and there’s no shortage of elephants, hippo and buffalo.
A fish eagle close to the water’s edge was a particular treat.
* Although I would have loved to see baby elephants – especially newborns – so up close and personal that I could photograph their trunk hairs, I was delighted to see the Chobe boat operators keep a respectable distance from herds with very young calves. We only came across one herd with a new addition, which they were constantly protecting. Every time the youngster moved, the mother and other senior females would rally around providing a protective barrier. So my photographs of this newbie aren’t great but I did manage to get a few of him in the open :-)
Mrs Hippopotamus is in my personal Top 5, along with the big cats and other pachyderms. She may look a tad slow and – dare I suggest? – packing a few extra pounds, but I’ve seen her sort move faster than the speed of light, particularly around their young and their ‘hood.
Hippos are extremely territorial, but I sense all the animals in the Chobe River are quite used to boats full of noisy, brightly dressed people waving cameras. In comparison, the pods we encountered in the Okavango Delta made no secret of their objection to our presence, with displays of splashing and grumbling and the ever vigilant pair of eyes just above the surface of the water.
In Chobe though this mom and baby seemed comfortable having us around and we spent quite a bit of time quietly watching them interact.
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