On our way from Gaborone, Botswana to Maun
On Tuesday morning we were up at 6 am so we could make it to the bus at 7. We checked out the buses going to Maun the night before by going down to the bus area to chat with them. The first thing you need to know, that in Botswana there are no bus terminals as there are in most places in the world. All the buses go to a common parking area near the Casino Hotel in Gaborone and line up. It's a huge parking lot of combi-vans (the local buses), people selling food and rows of shack like venders around the outside. You must find the correct bus and they will tell you how much the fare is and when the bus is scheduled to leave. (fare from Gaborone to Maun is about 250 Pula or about $35) There may or not be a kiosk for information. Tickets are actually purchased and paid for once you are on the bus and you are moving down the highway. Our friend Stella, who only lives about a mile from the buses and travels on them frequently, was very uncomfortable in the area. It was just getting light and she was concerned that we could be easily ripped off. Perhaps I was a bit naïve, but it didn't seem to be a great concern for me.
Once on a bus you realize that the seating is 5 across, 2 on one side of the aisle, 3 on the other side. This makes for some very narrow seats and a very crowded feeling, especially when the bus is full and there are 15 or more people standing and someone's elbow is in your face for more than an hour. Everybody takes it all in stride, easy going, friendly and usually with a big smile on their face. The closeness may even have helped us meet people and have conversations. The young guy sitting across the aisle from me was a 24 year old software engineer who had just graduated and was going home to Maun to "do nothing" for a week and the young woman sitting next to Louis was a teacher who was working another 4 hours by bus north of Maun. We did have some wonderful conversations and arrived in Maun about 5 pm after 8 hours of what I thought to be some of the most crowded traveling I have ever done. We were happy that the roads in Botswana were quite good and not full of holes.
Maun, the launching spot for Okavango Delta and the Moremi Game Reserve
We got off the bus and called the Okavango River Lodge which we had booked from Gaborone to check how was the best way to get there. We stopped one taxi to negotiate fare to the Lodge. He wanted too much and we found the next taxi more to our budget (40 Pula or about $5). In Botswana, we are using a Lonely Planet Guide for information and the River Lodge was listed as inexpensive (300 Pula or about $40, staying in the "dorm" can reduce your cost to 100 Pula each), down to earth, lovely setting on the river and with "lots of independent information". It was perfect. We found ourselves in our own thatched cabin a short walk from the riverfront bar and restaurant area. During our stay, we spent hours sitting in the sunshine, enjoying drinks and dinner, just watching the flooded delta and the flow of the river and the boats and the birds.
We spent Wednesday morning working out a plan which included an overnight camping trip into the Moremi Game Reserve and a day trip out into the Okavanga Delta, which is currently at an almost record flood level. Botswana is one of the more expensive countries in Africa. We found the 2 day overnight trip was going to cost us 3500 Pula or about $450 for both of us, and also included tent and mattresses. Also, the top priority of the dat was to find web access so I could "build" the SGN online edition on Friday. Web access here is slow. Well it is good to love to sit around the bar, drink beer and be chatty. Through the Lodge owner Neil, I was given the name of the owner of an internet provider for the town and found myself at his office on Saturday morning with perhaps the best internet connection in town.
Off camping in the middle of the impalas, giraffes, zebras, elephants, warthogs, wildebeests, hyenas, leopards, monkeys, baboons, even badgers and the list goes on.
Thursday morning "Number" arrived with his friend and an old Toyota 4x4 in a Safari configuration (the top fabric would fold back and we could stand and stick our heads out the top of the roof to watch the animals). We were off down the dusty, oh so washboardy road to animal bliss. Wasn't long until we found a large herd of impalas, then 5 giraffes and finally the elephants, and we weren't even to the game reserve yet. We spent the day "4 wheeling" through the Moremi Game Reserve, traveling over "bridges" of poles that the river was flooding over with water nearly up to the floor boards of the 4x4. I was sure we were going to be stuck and never make it through. We spent about an hour just watching a spotted leopard and her two kittens. Everywhere we went was huge balls of elephant dung. I never thought there could be so much wildlife in one area. And so few tourists&
Then it was time to return to our campsite, make dinner and sit by the fire for an hour, listening to all the animal sounds, the elephants, the hyenas. Louis was so totally sure he wasn't going to sleep that night with only the fabric of the tent between him and all those animals. "Don't leave your shoes outside of the tent " Number told us. "The hyenas will take them away". The hyenas did come, dumping over the garbage and making our hearts race a little before we found ourselves falling back to sleep. Moremi was great. Few tourists and just the four of us, the animals and the birds. It's winter here in Africa and that too has its advantages. First&no malaria concerns like in the summer, it's the perfect temperature, around 23C or about 75F, not scorching hot and it is nice and dry, but a tad chilly at night.
Off to explore the Okavango Delta
On Sunday morning it was off in the boat, up the flooded delta for an hour ride. From there we got into a Mokoros, which is a shallow draft, dugout canoe which is propelled through the reeds and up the river with a pole. Again we felt so fortunate. There were only a father and daughter from Spain, Louis and I and the two polers, a young guy and a slightly older woman. After about an hour of a most relaxing, almost dreamlike ride through the reeds and lily pads we beached the canoes and went for a couple hour hike looking for elephants, hippos, lions and crocodiles. Wasn't long until, almost hidden behind the trees were four elephants. We slowly walked in a big circle around them, quite amazed that here we were, just on foot walking around wild elephants. Our guide was only too happy to tell us how defensive the female elephant could be with her young and could charge us. The fact that it would be possible to run into and watch a lion seemed both truly exciting and at the same time quite scary. Well, seeing lions would have to wait until another day, but we did see many more elephants and two boa constrictors and lots of hippo tracks. There were lots of birds including the African Fish Eagle, which has a wing span of over 6 feet.
Our week felt more like two. It was like all those childhood fantasies you have of Africa, suddenly becoming real and then more so. There were the wonderful conversations with the people, (yes, including politics and such) no matter what we were doing. Gliding along in a Mokoros, or riding in the combi-van that we would flag over to pick us up as we would go into town to buy groceries, everything seemed like an adventure.
Traveling "with limited funds" has its advantages
I am sure I will mention more about this in the future. I hope to encourage all of you who are reading our story of traveling in Africa, even if money is not something you have a lot of, don't let that stop you from the experience. For some reason we have a fear of "Africa". Perhaps it is all the stories you hear in the news. Because of this fear, the more wealthy travelers are seen traveling together on their preplanned "safaris". They travel from location to location in their large trucks, only with each other for company. They check into their truly wondrous and amazing luxury accommodation, accommodation like I have never seen other places in the world with rates sometimes easily exceeding $1200 per night. Guess what, when you are "poorer", you have to "become more like the locals" and eat, sleep and travel more like them. It may be a challenge to figure out the buses, but meeting the locals is an experience that is even greater for me than the "animal safari". Finding and then going to the store to buy groceries, is to learn more what it is like to live here. How they live here is though somewhat of a mystery to me. Food is more expensive than Seattle, yet our guide poling our Mokoros was paid 160 Pulus or around $20 (plus tips) for his hard days work floating us through the delta. Flag down a combi-van, already filled with people and climb in. Squeezing your way to find a seat other "locals" with all your groceries, to me is really the travel experience. The people are so willing to chat and laugh, so ready to help you "figure it out". They are willing to talk about their lives and where they come from. It is actually a wonderful feeling to get on a bus and realize you are the only tourists there. And most helpful is the fact that in all the countries we plan to visit, except for Mozambique, they all speak English!
Next week: It is off to Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls and then back to Gaborone to meet some friends and find the local "Gay" dance bar for some fun.
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