One the drive back to Kasane from Zimbabwe, I saw even more wildlife from the road: a herd of giraffe, impala and lots more elephants. It quickly started becoming apparent to me why sub-Saharan Africa has so much safari-tourism and nature-based travel appeal. The diversity of landscapes and vegetation and abundance of birds and animals far exceeds other parts of Africa, and there’s something very special about wildlife areas not completely overrun by people or development. Unless you are traveling to a big city in South Africa, a lot of Southern Africa is full of wildlife, both in and outside National Parks/Conservation areas, and because it’s much more sparsely populated than the rest of Africa, the infrastructure for travel (ie. Roads, Public transportation) and other forms of tourism is limited. Overland jeeps, big bus safari’s and self-drive 4×4’s are probably the most popular ways of seeing Botswana, and the most common accommodation type are these multi-functional ‘rest camps’ that are actually a tenting area, RV park, hostel beds and hotel rooms all in one.
The first night in Botswana we stayed at Water Lily Lodge in Kasane, a slight upgrade from these camps since it only offered (twelve) hotel-type rooms for accommodation options. It was designed to look like a traditional round hut with a thatched roof, and was beautifully located on the bank of the Chobe River. I found out later Steve made it to Botswana by flying through Windhoek, but since that flight was delayed, got stuck in Maun overnight. The next morning he somehow convinced a charter flight company (well, an office of very nice Motswana ladies) to sell him a pilot-staff priced ticket for a private, 2 hr, stop-and-go plane ride over the Okavango Delta into Kasane – way more impressive than my free car ride to Vic Falls.
We were meeting up with Chris and Clare, both Berkeley Phd’s in the same department I studied at, and, coincidentally, Steve’s best friends, and Clare was our gracious host and official tour guide since she has spent 4 years in and out of Botswana doing research. She had all the local knowledge we would need, spoke Setswana, and had a reliable 4×4 for all our transportation needs which Chris affectionately named ‘Kubublanco,’ a.k.a. white hippo (a little bit of Spanish in the mix).
Our first touristy matter of business was a sunset cruise on the Chobe river, sighting all sorts of wildlife on the banks of Chobe National Park. Most memorable where the huge kudu males with spiraly horns, a flock of brightly coloured bee-eater birds, cruising right past an underwater herd of big scary hippos and not so scary tiny baby hippos, seeing an entire elephant herd come to drink at the same time, and crocodiles sunbathing with their mouths rested open, jagged teeth shining threateningly. We also saw impala, big lizard things called water-monitors, beached hippos, and one lone male elephant chomping on a tree, literally.
The sunset was spectacular over the river, but brought on the inevitable buzz of potential Malaria carrying mosquitoes. Having to take malarone daily is always annoying, since I almost always forget it at least one or two times (which may or may not render the entire dose ineffective) and it gives me these psychedelic dreams about crazy things like riding horses backwards over the moon. This specific prescription of malarone was also quite expensive, but my moms only words of advice for traveling in Africa was to be careful with malaria, and Clare, who’s had a bout with Malaria, convinced me quite easily that its safer to air on the side of caution.