Friday, June 19, 2009

Best of Africa - Botswana

(May 25th - 30th, 2009)

4. Botswana

Before putting my Africa itinerary together, the only thing I knew was that I had to go to Botswana and Namibia. For some reason, because I really did not know much about these two countries, I felt that they would definitely be the highlights of my whole trip. While spending 2 weeks travelling around Botswana and Namibia I could not stop thinking that I was completely right!

In Botswana, we went game driving and game boating in the Chobe National Park. I must confess I was not too crazy about the game drive. I guess that besides the fact I was very sick on that morning I also have done more than 10 game drives throughout this trip and it got to the point that it started getting old. However; the game boating was just SUPERB. Beautiful scenery, animals everywhere and very close by, and just before ending the ride we were also able to witness one more magical African sunset.

After Chobe we headed to Maun, the little city very close to the Okavango Delta. Ok, here is the painful truth: It does not matter how precisely I try to describe my experience there, you will never be able to really get it. You must go there to see, feel, and live that place for yourself. It is really spectacular.

We got to one of the “shores” of the Delta and met with the guides that were going to take us on a mokoro (little wooden canoe) to the middle of it. After one and a half hours ride, we arrived at the place that we were going to be bush-camping for 2 days/nights. While we were there we enjoyed the surrounds to the fullest. We went swimming, enjoyed several game walks, took mokoro lessons, and during the evenings we just relaxed by the camp fire and listened to the locals singing for us.

I was lucky enough to have the best guide ever there. K.T. is a young guy from Botswana with so much passion for his country and his work and an incredible willingness to make your experience in Okavango Delta unforgettable. On the second day there, during a very relaxing afternoon, he took me for a mokoro ride. Everybody else stayed in the camp. We were talking non-stop while going through the Delta exquisite water channels. He told me about his family, religion, traditions, government, passions, dreams, and plans for the future. I guess I shared all the same topics with him but the plans for the future :)… It was just so cool to see how much both of us were learning from our completely different backgrounds.

After riding for more than one hour, he stopped the mokoro in the middle of one “pool” and asked me if I was going to be able to stand up without turning the canoe over (it is really the least stable thing you can be in). Without knowing why he asked me that, I said yes and started standing up and turning around to see what was going on. For my surprise, or maybe I should not be that surprised since we were in the Delta, there was this massive Hippopotamus right in front of us. Seriously less than 3m/9ft away… I could barely breathe. I was paralyzed and astonished by the beauty of that moment. Once the Hippo went under the water and we could not see where he was anymore, we came to a consensus that the best thing to do was to leave right away and we did. On the way back he stopped in the middle of the channel and got some water lilies. Not even 3 minutes later I had around my neck this beautiful necklace made out of them. During our ride back to the camp we continued with our conversations and it was a lot of fun.

Once we got to the camp, almost sunset time, everybody was around the fire having some drinks. We all thought that it could be a good night to have more drinks but unfortunately we also realized we did not have a good supply of it with us in the camp. Not even thinking twice, I went to K.T. and asked him if he could take me to the village to buy some drinks and without hesitation he surely said yes.

Since we just had little time left before it got dark, he literally flew the mokoro through the channels and took us only 30 minutes to do the same route we had done in one and a half hours the day before. At the village the drinks were very expensive and I did not have enough money to get what we would need for that night. I ended up spending ALL of our daylight time negotiating with the locals in order to get what I was looking for. I was indeed able to convince them to sell me everything at cost price and all seemed to be going very well till I realized that the sun had set and that we had a long way to go back to the camp site.

Not even 2 minutes after we started our mokoro ride back to the camp, we were stopped by a Hippo right in front of us. Do not ask me how K.T. saw him, but I’m so glad he did. We had to back off, wait a little, and then try to find an alternative way to cross to the other side. At that point I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best. Luckily, K.T. found a way to pass the hippo and we continued with our journey. During the entire ride back to the camp I seriously thought I would die being eaten by a hippo. I guess since this is the most common death in Africa, people would not be that shocked…

But honestly, even though it was probably the scariest moment of my life, it was indeed one of the most amusing ones. After we passed the hippo and I opened my eyes again, I was mesmerized by the magnificence of my surroundings - the red and orange colors in the horizon, the incredible light from a crescent moon, the massive amount of stars covering the sky, the beautiful flora that helped forming the fascinating water channels, and the incredible natural soundtrack from the Delta. It was indeed surreal and definitely a moment I will never forget. Thanks to K.T.’s evident confidence that he would take me back to the camp safe and sound I was able to “relax” and enjoy the ride…

Opps, I almost forgot to mention that during our last day in Maun we also went for a 45 minutes flight over the Delta at sunset time. It was pretty nice and a great way to really get a good and real picture of the whole place.

Here are some photos from this part of the trip. Enjoy it!

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