Sunday, 25 November 2012

Quicksand and Sinkholes

Hi everyone! This is Wandering Is again. About a year and a half after our trip to Botswana, I'm finally posting my last few entries. If anyone is still reading, I hope you enjoy. 

August 21, 2011
I like to think of myself as hardcore. And in many ways, this trip proved that I am; or at least, I can be. I have walked across a waterfall and jumped into a pool on top of Vic Falls. I have jumped headfirst off a bridge 111mietres in the air. I have watched a pride of lions take down a kill mere feet away. I have sat in awe an arms-reach away from the world’s largest land mammal. I have camped every weekend, made hitchhiking my preferred method of transport, and been impressively unclean. I have ridden in the back of, on top of, and on the bumper of moving vehicles. But a lot of that pales in comparison to my last weekend in Bots. Chloe and I, and our 50km hike across the Sowa Salt Pan – some of the country’s most unforgiving landscape.

Thomas and Bettina walking in the distance
Friday saw Thomas, Chloe, Bettina and I heading to Nata. We didn’t really have any definite plans – just a rough idea of visiting the Bird Sanctuary and then hiking a little onto and camping on the Pans. When asking for directions in the lodge by the filling station, the man mentioned in passing that you could really walk all the way from Nata to Sowa. And so the seed was planted.

The result of Thomas hijacking my camera 
After a hitch in the back of a Landy pick-up (God bless Toyota!) we arrived at the Sanctuary. The prices were fairly extortionate so we decided to just pay the entrance fee and then sneakily (coughillegallycough) camp on the Pan. From the gate it was an 8km walk to the lookout bird-hide on the edge of the main Pan, and after about 3 hours of hiking we were greeted by the sight of the water which we had been told was no longer there. It was the perfect backdrop for many photo-shoots in the varying light, and we took full advantage. We decided it was the perfect place to set up camp and spent hours really just relaxing and lazing about.

The whole afternoon Chloe and I had been talking about continuing on to Sowa and whether it would even be possible. After going through the list of food several times we rationed it out and figured we would have enough. Start walking early Saturday morning, do about 35km, camp on the Pan, and continue on to finish in Sowa on Sunday. Easy! Thomas seemed more than a little concerned with our resolve and total lack of real planning. But we pacified him the best we could with fervent reassurances that we would be fine and knew exactly what we were doing.

Chloe and Bettina

Up is down, and down is up.
Uncensored joy

With sunset we rushed back out onto the water for some more photo-shoots. At one point the horizon totally faded away between layers of blues, purples and greys; creating a mirror image on the water where it was hard to tell up from down. Dark dropped swiftly after dinner and before we knew it we were smacked by a torrent of bugs attracted to our firelight. I was too slow on the reaction and ended up pulling bugs out of everywhere under my clothing for the rest of the night. The stars rivalled Khama, once again enclosing us in a glittering dome. I had a snowglobe moment as the immensity of the universe pushed down on me. Laying side-by-side on our sleeping bags in the sand, we sang everything from Christmas songs (O Come all Ye Faithful, Silent Night) to school church songs (Children of the Light) to Setswana hymns. Our night was spent under the stars as we opted to leave the fly off and embrace the cold for the full experience. I was proud of Bettina – we managed to sway the city diva into a Camping Queen!

No fly = a cold night!

On the pan again
Morning came early and around 7:30 (after a breakfast of peanut butter and bread, of course) we parted ways and Chloe and I started on our massive undertaking. I can only imagine what I looked like to Thomas and Bettina, a mere speck on the vastness of the Pans, weighed down by my 60 litre pack carrying (amongst other things) all 10 litres of our water. It’s pretty impossible to describe what it feels like walking on the Pans. I got a taste of it at Kubu, but this time the distance added a new twist. Lonely Planet warns against driving on Pans, and here we were walking on them. With only a hand drawn map, no compass, and no real measure of our path or the distance to our destination. In hindsight, fairly reckless. But once again we were utterly emboldened by our surroundings and just didn’t even consider the possibility of failure. When we got to Maureen’s house in Sowa we found out that our trek was even more dangerous than we had imagined. Quicksand and sinkholes that have claimed cars were one thing. Wildlife was another. Whoops!

Keep calm, and hike on.
The walk itself was filled with our voices and laughter, and at times the heavy silence of the emptiness surrounding us. By no means was it easy, and our moods sank at the low points. At one point walking along the vet fence through savanna, no longer able to seen the Pan, worrying about snakes, and not really knowing where we were I felt a heaviness on my boots and resolve that almost couldn’t be ignored. Lunch was eaten crouched in the savanna with us quiet, dehydrated, and depressed. But the high points of the walk outweighed the lows and re-energised us almost as much as our beloved dried dates. Making the decision to ditch the vet fence (our only clue to our location) and head for the Pan was a turning point. Rounding a bend and seeing wide-open white vastness and water with flamingos as far as the eye could see renewed our faith in our strength and ourselves. Better yet, the Sowa Salt Mine in the distance served as a much better guide than the vet fence ever had. Setting up our tent in the middle of the Pan, becoming a stark bump in the vastness, ushered in a quiet dinner and some time for reflection before we finally crawled into our sleeping bags and texted Thomas “goodnight” at 6pm.

World's quietest campsite.
Leaving on Sunday morning was hard. At our 4am alarm we decided another hour of sleep would do us good, and at 5 that hour stretched further to just before 6. Walking along a set of tire tracks and watching the sunrise we walked slower and slower, realising that when we reached the edge of the Pan our escape from reality would be over. And it came too soon. Before I knew it we were sitting on Maureen’s couch, than in her car on her way back to Francistown, then in the Chinese restaurant (which finally opened!!!) having lunch before heading back to our respective homes.

The weekend was many things. Laughter. Friends. Sunsets and rises. Silence. Doubt and weakness. Resolve and strength. And, of course, yet another challenge annihilated.   

Friday, 26 August 2011

Mosi oa Thunya

Every weekend adventure has been hard to describe. I feel like all I ever write is that there are no words that are enough to represent the feelings and experiences. By this point I must sound like a broken record. But the truth is I have never been as lost for words as I have been this summer.

Kelly G. This is for you!!!

If I try really hard to think of words to describe our time in Zambia and Zimbabwe two weekends ago I am left with a hectic and uncoordinated list. Beautiful. Other worldly. Crazy. Insane. Adrenaline. Rush. Jump. Accept. New. Challenge. Poor. Desperate. Hot. Money. Laugh. Not exactly poetry. But every small word holds a world of emotions and thoughts with it.

Mekoro in motion
For me it was a weekend of testing myself. Of seeing how I have grown in the past two and a half months. How far I can push myself and how much stronger I am now. And of how insane I really am.

First glimpse of Victoria Falls
On Saturday early, early morning me, Chloe, Thomas and Lyndsay headed to Zambia. We took the 6:30am Kazungula ferry and watched the sunrise a fleet of mekoro heading towards us from the opposite shore. After blustering though customs - getting the wrong visa in a rush to spend less money- we jumped in a taxi and headed to the Falls. Right away there was a drastic change in the landscape. Green took over from brown and flat moved into rolling hills. Livingstone was wide boulevards with lush trees decorating medians. Going further we moved towards Mosi oa Thunya – the Smoke that Thunders. Mist bellowed in the distance. Entering the Park we confirmed our plan with a green clad soldier and watched baboons casually swing onto the hood of our car. Walking through the UNESCO funded paths we caught our first glimpse of the Falls. All plans of walking to our final destination without stopping were abandoned. Once again we were witness to the pure power of nature.

Derek and Jerry, our amazing guides
What we did next was a little crazy. Linked in an “African Chain” with our guides Derek and Jerry the adventure started as we prepared to make our way to Angel’s Armchair on the lip of the Falls. Walking side-by-side, hands grasping each others, we inched sideways across a 5 inch wide wall of concrete below the water, spanning the first channel in our path. Barefoot, the edges cut into our feet as the current pushed against our shins; eager to sweep away a foot which turned to the side. 50 feet behind us the water disappeared over the edge of one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Laden with packs, sleeping bags, and hiking boots it seemed to take forever to get to the other side. The fear of falling added extra weight on my shoulders. My camera bag has never felt so heavy. My trusty Nikon 3100 has survived a lot this summer, but I knew that a dip in the Zambezi would end its life quickly.  Minutes feeling like hours later we reached the other side. Adrenaline pumping we walked though a passage in the trees and emerged on the other side to be faced with the real challenge: walking across and wading through the long section of falls that separated us from the Armchair. Ditching the non- essentials on a grassy knoll with a random Rasta we passed our cameras to Derek and the safety of a backpack.

Up to my waist in the Zambezi
Stones were slippery, sharp, rough, big and small. Water levels varied from ankle to chest deep. For one section Lyndsay was taken a shallower route. We reached the Eastern Cataract without mishap, and in awe we walked up to the very edge of the Falls. Such assholes, we waved eagerly and energetically to the people walking on a bricked path all the way on the other side of the gorge. “This would be a really bad time to fall!” Two feet from the edge. Water roaring and crashing. Mist rising. Smiles shining. Double rainbows with raging rapids at their ends.

Sitting on the edge of the Eastern Cataract

First view of Angel's Armchair
After continuing on after a photo shoot on the edge of the world, we arrived at our final destination. This is why I just walked across a waterfall. To jump 10 metres off another waterfall into a swimming hole on TOP of the first waterfall! Insanity for the purpose of insanity. Laughing in the face of mortality and reason. Convincing all natural survival mechanisms that I wouldn't be swept away by the current. That an eddy would catch me from my fall and pull me around to safety. Jump! Fall. Thunder traded for the pure quiet of the underwater world.  Ears pop. Feet hit the bottom – legs not tucked as they are supposed to me. Push back up towards the waiting world. And repeat.

My favourite swimming hole in the world
Since we were the first group to cross the falls in the morning we were privileged enough to have the Armchair to ourselves. So beautiful that, as Livingstone said, angels passed it in flight. I could have stayed forever, but a pressing schedule led us back across the Falls to where we started that morning. This time we conquered the underwater concrete wall with ease – racing across in no time.

I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself. I have never really been a huge fan of cliff jumping – yet there I was jumping off one with the edge of Victoria Falls less than ten metres away from me, with no hesitation. Emboldened by the beauty and power of my surroundings. Life must at all times be lived to the fullest. Take opportunities as they are given. Let the joy of living enter your mind, body, and soul. And never let the fear of the unknown stop you from making the most of every moment. If you aren’t living life on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.
My own flight of angels
That last paragraph might just be a bunch of clichés; but hey, clichés are popular for a reason!

Team in love 
Sunday in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe saw Team Bots parting ways again. Boys rafting, girls bungee jumping. But before we hurled ourselves off of a bridge, Chloe and I went to a Pentecostal service with the owner of Victoria Falls Backpackers (our home for the weekend). It was really nice, with such beautiful and fun music. Lower, lower, higher, higher was a favourite of mine. Chloe, if you’re reading this, I need to know that actual name!!! The nanas (babies) and mamas definitely thought that our dancing was amusing, turning to openly smile and laugh at us. I could take all the dance classes on the earth and still not be able to dance well enough to fit in at a church service like that! Unfortunately it’s a natural talent I just don’t have.         

Picking up Lyndsay at the backpackers we headed towards our afternoon activity: jumping off a bridge with only a glorified elastic band to save us. I’m not just saying this, but in the week leading up to the weekend I really wasn’t that nervous. I was excited, but not really nervous. That all changed walking towards the bridge. Slowly the anticipation built and I started questioning the sanity of what we were about to do. Reaching the bridge didn’t help, as we saw exactly how far we were going to fall. After stalling for as long as possible, watching person after person jump and plummet down, we went to sign our lives away. Chloe: Bungee. Is: Bungee. Lynds: Gorge Swing. To be honest, the scariest part of the whole process was stepping on the scale and having my weight written in big, blue, block numbers on my arm. At that moment pap was no longer my friend.
5. 4. 3. 2. 1. Bungee!
Bungee was UNREAL amazing. Chloe went first. Completing her first head-first dive with flying colours; dropping to the ground with her eyes closed and not a single sound. Lynds was next, jumping feet first and falling like a stone to the end of her rope where she then swung like a “really intense Tarzan”. Going last, without Chloe and Lyndsay back up on the platform, there was barely even time to be nervous. Bungee! Jump. Fall. Flip. A feral scream escaping my lips five seconds after freefall started; completely unplanned and uncontrollable. Bounce. Rebound. Fall. Repeat. Until suddenly the bounces slowed and it was almost peaceful, just gentle extensions of the cord. Peaceful is an odd word to describe anything to do with bungee, but that’s what it felt like to me. Winching back up to the bridge I had a great conversation with the spotter. “Nice office!” “More than 300 jumps.” Getting back up to the Bridge I just wanted to do it all again. Seeing Chloe and Lynds in the distance I literally jumped for joy. Celebratory Mosi beers were had in the cafe overlooking the gorge as we waited for our pictures and movies to process. Challenge. Annihilated. 
Bots girls are so epic

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Total Freedom

"Wilderness appealed to those bored or disgusted with man and his works. It not only offered an escape from society but also was an ideal stage for the Romantic individual to exercise the cult that he frequently made his own soul. The solitude and total freedom of the wilderness created a perfect setting gor either melancholy or exultation." -- Roderick Nash Wilderness and the American Mind

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Circle of Life

“Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful. I looked with awe at the ground I trod on, to see what the Powers had made there, the form and fashion and material of their work. This was the Earth we have heard of, made out of Chaos and Old Night. Here was no man’s garden, but the unhandselled globe.” Henry David Thoreau “Ktaadn”

This past weekend Fais, Thomas and I returned back to Kasane to venture back into Chobe National Park. With Chloe, we planned to do a full 12 hour day game drive, camp in the park, and then go for an early morning drive before leaving on Sunday. In a hitch driving North through the afternoon and early evening, I couldn’t help but feel that somehow we were coming full circle. Our first weekend in Botswana was spent in Chobe National Park; and now we were coming back on the last weekend that we will all be together. Passing by two ostriches on the side of the ride, I mentioned to the boys that it would be amazing if we came totally full circle and saw the same animals that we did on the first drive to Kasane. Ostriches. Elephants. Giraffe. Kudu. Fais calculated and the odds of seeing them in that exact order were 1/36. And that’s assuming that we would see them at all. Never the less, in under an hour from when I had first mentioned it we saw them. Ostriches. Elephants. Giraffe. Kudu. I settled back in my seat and watched the sun set; secure in my knowledge that this was going to be a good weekend.

The next morning Fais, Thomas, Chloe and I were out the door early; walking in the pre-dawn light to the Spar where we were to meet our guide Godfrey at 6:30am. The Team Bots traditional breakfast of peanut butter and bread was dished out sitting on the curb in the parking lot. When Godfrey rolled up in a closed sided refurbished safari truck we looked at each other and rolled our eyes; disappointed to not be in an open car and thinking ourselves safari experts. Obviously we had no idea what we were talking about. Most of the roof was made of canvas and could be rolled back, and we spent much of the weekend perched on top of the moving car, sitting on the frame. 

Two juvenile male giraffes fighting.
"You can not hunt a giraffe. It's like you
shoot a baby. You can see the tears. The
lips moving and saying 'You have done
something bad.'" -Godfrey
Driving into the park Godfrey chatted to us; telling us about his company “Fun Fun Safaris”, his family, his guiding history, what he did before guiding, basically everything. Right away we knew we were in the presence of the real deal. “Bush Master” as he called himself. I have never met anyone as knowledgeable about the African bush and wildlife as Godfrey was. His instincts were so sharp that it was almost hard to believe. While most guides use radios to communicate with each other and talk about where big game sightings can be found, Godfrey relies on what he calls "Bush Telegraph". But what really made him such an amazing guide was his obvious passion and connection to what he does.

This next bit is hard to write. Talking with Tom and Fais as I wrote this, I said that out of all the blog posts we have written so far, this one will be the most difficult to get out, because whatever I write will just seem like a list of sightings. Which I’m sure people will read and think, “Wow! That’s really cool!” Which it was. But it wasn’t just “really cool”. It was moments throughout the day where we witnessed and were essentially part of the great circle of life. The fight for continued existence at its fiercest and most raw, and the beauty of the earth at its most unspoiled.

A wild dog waving its white tipped tail
in the air is body language that signals
to other dogs that a kill has been made.
"The kill has been made- run!"-Godfrey
Our first sighting of the day was three wild dogs ripping apart a fresh killed impala. If you read my Okavango Delta post you know how rare wild dog sightings are. Now, out of the approximately 550 wild dogs in the whole of Botswana, we have seen four. We sat in our jeep, less than 100 metres away, with our cameras clicking and our energized monologues overlapping. This, we thought, is it. We cannot get luckier. Everything else is just icing on the cake. Minutes later, the wild dogs suddenly abandoned their kill; running off swiftly and smoothly. After a brief intermission of vultures swooping in, we understood the reason for the abrupt exit of the dogs. A giant leopard paced evenly towards the kill, camouflaging so well that if you took your eyes of him for a moment you needed someone else to tell you where he was. The leopard stood protectively over the kill, grapping it by the neck and dragging it between his legs until he was well out of our sight. ”Now you can see how nature works. It’s symbiotic...You guys,” laughed Godfrey, “You guys are lucky.” Fais and I looked at each other and shared huge grins; unable to say anything to describe how we were feeling except muffled screams of excitement.

"The mortality rate for lion cubs is very, very high."- Godfrey
Hyenas and snakes pose a big threat, and if there is not
enough food the mother will abandon her cubs.
Moving on, we headed down the track towards the Serondela picnic site overlooking the Chobe. Several hundred metres before reaching it, Godfrey hastily stopped the jeep. “Lions!” We rushed to the left side of the car, hanging out the windows as we frantically tried to capture the two lion cubs fattening themselves on a fresh looking baby elephant kill. Their mother, or a female from the pride charged with their safekeeping, lazily watched us from the shade of a small hill 100 feet away. “He’s trying to rip off the trunk! What a cutie!” Fais gushed. It was a strange moment for me. On one hand, the lion cubs were incredibly adorable. On the other hand, that baby elephant could have been one of the many that we saw during our first visit to Chobe. Elephant gestation period is 22 months long. And in a second, that life, that potential, was snuffed out. This was all before 8:45am.

10:00am. Pride of lions lying in the shade of scrub trees down by the river. In the middle of the pack, a young male lion dwarfed the females; at only 5 years of age his mane was still only starting to come in. Godfrey: Why do male lions have a mane?
Chloe: I feel like this is a joke...

1:17pm. Three female lions snoozing in the shade. We sat watching them in silence for what seemed like an endless amount of peaceful time. Glaring, we stared at the other trucks and jeeps that stayed only for a few brief moments; both interrupting our calm and not valuing the moment like we did.

"There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found."
3:20pm. Elephant encounter. This one different from the others of the day. Walking slowly by us, the big female turned her head towards our car and stopped. She stared at us sitting on the roof, and as I made eye contact with her I felt and saw a light of recognition in her eyes. I have no doubt that this was the same female who we took pictures with and wondered at on our first trip to Chobe all those weeks ago. A peaceful intelligence radiated from her, as if she was both greeting me and saying goodbye at the same time.    

3:38pm. A single Chobe bushbuck darted past our car. Godfrey explained that the bushbuck is the most dangerous and aggressive of all the antelope species in Botswana. Now we know why the bushbucks by our camp in Molema did not run      away from our accusing headlamps and flashlights in the dark.

4:09om. Three roan antelopes grazing in the distance. The only species of antelope I have now not seen are the elusive, water dwelling, and nocturnal sitatunga and the southern reedbuck.

Buffaloes crossing the flood plains at sunset. 
The inescapable Golden Eyes.
Sunset. Godfrey drove us back down to the river where we had seen the pride of lions earlier in the day. “They will come down behind us to hunt.” Trusting him completely after a full day of what seemed like miracles, we relaxed on the roof of the car. Talking and laughing and sun tanning. A guide passing by questioned Godfrey, “What’s wrong with your guests? They look so happy not doing anything and they aren’t even looking at the animals!” (The animals in question were a massive herd of impala. Not exactly thrilling after the day we had had so far). Cars passed by us, stopping to check out why we were stopped and moving on when they learned that there was actually nothing there. All of a sudden, Godfrey announced their presence and backed up. There they were. The same pride, sitting just behind us like Godfrey knew they would. Watching in awe, we waited to see what would next unfold. A cub got up and trotted away from us, towards the herd of impala. “She is smart. She will be a good hunter.” Soon after some females followed, leaving behind the male and the Old Mama; a old female who is blind in one eye. In the distance we saw the herd start and start running further onto the flood plains of the Chobe. All of a sudden a one horned buck started running straight towards us. “What the hell is he doing?” We all quivered with anticipation at what was about to go down. He saw the trap too late. Trying to change his direction in mid-air he was no match for the waiting lions. A plume of dust enveloped them and the next thing we saw was the pride lying in a circle eating; every now and then an impala leg sticking straight up out of the centre. Tensions were high as we watched them growl and swipe at each other when someone came to close to their “plate”. Talking about it later we questioned the sanity of the doomed impala. All I could think about was how he felt when he realised his fate; staring into the golden eyes and waiting claws of death.
"From the day we arrive on the planet
and blinking step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done."
Leaving the lions behind as the sky transformed from the bright orange and pink glow of sunset to the waiting purples and blues, we slowly made our way back to our campsite. The colours were the most dazzling that I have seen so far; the perfect ending to a magical day. Arriving at BOGA Site No. 5 we went to quick work starting the fire and preparing dinner. Top Chef Botswana: Chobe was to decide the winner of the competition. Since we were only going to be there for one night, we had decided that we would each cook a smaller than usual portion of dinner. Chloe and I prepared marinated and grilled chicken in a tomato chutney sauce over a fresh tropical salad of tomato, avocado and papaya. The boys made a traditional dish of pap (phaletshe and chakalaka with cabbage. Godfrey was to play the part of our impartial judge, but in the end we declared no winner, deciding that both dishes were great and just this once we could put aside the competition. Sitting around the fire during and after dinner we traded stories with Godfrey. We talked about the work that we have been doing here, the other places we have travelled to in Bots, and our plans to come back in the future. Godfrey told us stories about other trips he had done, his own belief in the energies and balancing powers of the universe and the intelligence of animals, and how lucky we were. We have all been advised to buy lottery tickets upon our return home, and our laughter was silenced by his insistence and story of another group who he had told to buy lottery tickets that had actually won millions. While Godfrey maintained that we are an extremely lucky group, I believe that it was a perfect mix of our luck and Godfrey’s luck that came together to create an epic and unmatched day.   

Godfrey's canvas tent in the background.
Our Game tent in the foreground which
can be pushed over with one finger.
Heading to bed we were given the safety talk. I should mention that this site was in the middle of the bush. No firepit, no running water, no toilets and definitely no help nearby. We were in the animals’ territory now. Don’t worry about rustling noises right by the tent; it’s just the honey badger. If you hear big noises nearby, don’t leave the tent and be quiet. The elephants know you are there and will leave the tent alone. Most important: do not leave the perimeter of the camp. Anywhere beyond that you are fair game to the golden eyes and other predators of the night. With these “reassurances” in mind we headed to bed in our usual order: Fais, me, Chloe, and Thomas from left to right. I was so exhausted from the excitement of the day I fell right to sleep and didn’t wake up at all in the night. Time to get up: Elephants are walking by! Before our alarm even went off at 5:30am, I was awoken by the combination of a herd of elephants moving through the bush by our camp, snapping branches and rustling the fallen leaves, and the others talking about it. For once, Fais was not the last one up! Surprisingly, I was. Disoriented, I asked for the time (thinking it was still night) and Fais told me it was 5:20. Calling out quietly for Godfrey, we were greeted by his good morning and rushed to break camp.

6:15am (ish). Rushing through the still dark park we headed back to where we had seen the kill the night before, hoping to see the same pride again. Coming around a corner we found the road blocked by a sleeping elephant; front legs curled up to her chest with mouth hanging slightly open and tongue sticking out. “That’s how I sleep!” Waiting for several minutes it became apparent that she wasn’t moving anytime soon. So we inched forward until like that repetitive buzz of an alarm clock we became too obnoxious and she got up and started her day.
"Keeps the great and small on an endless round."

6:30am (ish). Arriving at “our” lion spot, we were disappointed to find nothing there. But never fear, Bush Master Godfrey is here! We raced back to where we had found the baby elephant kill the day before. Two female lions and two cubs were there to meet us, still working on the elephant carcass. As more and more jeeps and trucks started to park and watch, we moved on.

Graceful, beautiful, and deadly.
Passing cars coming into the park on our way out, a guide mentioned to Godfrey a leopard sighting right off the road. Joining the other cars parked facing a tree, we turned off the engine and waited. We were not disappointed. Soon after a chunk of flesh fell from the upper reaches of the tree, a female leopard gracefully bounded to the ground. Staring at the cars surrounding her she evaluated the situation and called her cub to her. Winding through the cars she walked right in front of us, pausing to pose on a log and put on a show that seemed almost to be only for our eyes. This is all before 8:33am.

I have just taken up more than two Word pages talking about what we saw. And that was only the big game. Throughout the day we watched countless impala, kudu, vervet monkeys, chacma baboons, elephants, warthogs, giraffes, crocs, hippos, buffalo, and birds. It is easy for it to be read as a list.

But it’s not just a list. It has meaning beyond the actual sightings of the animals themselves. Trying to comprehend everything we saw was difficult for me. What made us so lucky that we were able to witness all we did? How was it possible for us to be in the right place, at the right time, so many times in one day? Was this some kind of reward after surviving the toughest week of Bots yet? Was it proof of some kind of great balance? Or was it just a glimpse into the perfect beauty and harmony of the world? Everything happens for a reason. This has become my Bots mantra. We are all part of the Great Circle of Life.

Talking about coming full circle again at the end of the trip, Chloe pointed out the sadness of it; that it was a sign of our time here coming to an end. Fais was quick to correct her, “No, no. A circle never ends.”
Bush Family. Ma-naga.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Every Teardrop is a Waterfall: BOTSified

If you don't know what the original sounds like scroll down and watch the epic music video!
I know that not all of it rhymes or works out perfectly but I think it turned out pretty good and it definitely is BOTSified to the best of my ability!

Every Teardrop is a Waterfall: BOTSified

I turn the iPod up, I got my headphones on
I shut the camp outside, until the sun comes up
Maybe the stars are bright, maybe the clouds are gone
I feel my smile keep spreading til my cheeks feel wrong

And the baboons they roar, the baboons all night
Until Thomas fears, fears for his own life 
I turn the other way
I keep my faith this time
And Bots it is all mine

I pull the tent zip down, I get my hikers on
From across the Salt Pans comes a glowing sun
Can'[t wait to walk so far that a pure silence drops
I'd rather be at Khama than a desk job

Trying to find the chief, the chief of Bobonong
Trying to keep the peace, Delta knows few wrongs I
Have my home of Ghetto, and my new Nam stamp
The places in my heart

As we roam oh this land I swear we, become blissfully free
Trusting that there's a plan
As we learn more, every moment is a magnitude
And every tear's a waterfall
Is a waterfall
Is a waterfall
Oh oh oh
Is a is a waterfall
Every tear
Is a waterfall
Oh oh oh

So you can drag, drag me back
But Bots still has my soul

It was a wa wa wa wa waterfall
A wa wa wa wa waterfall

Every tear
Every tear
Every teardrop is a waterfall

"Karma moves in two directions. If we act virtuously, the seed we plant will result in happiness. If we act non-virtuously, suffering results." -- Sakyong Mipham

Male dancer using a traditional whistle
Saturday July 30th, 2011 - Sunday July 31st, 2011

"We got up early and walked to Ditshwanelo to meet Mr. Kashweka at 7:00am. Today he was running on Botswana time and didn't turn up until a couple hours later. We spent the time chatting about future trips and current, planned, and future tattoos. With his arrival we squeezed into the donkey of the day - a small sedan - and started on our journey. Driving through Chobe National Park to the Ngoma Bridge crossing I was caught unaware and not camera ready by the sudden bound of a huge male sable antelope two metres away from our car. Double checking the name with Mr.Kashweka I was buzzing with excitement at seeing something rare and new but Chloe and Lyndsay seemed unfazed. I guess they have become used to the drive through the park. That was it for animal sightings though, the rest of the drive only producing the usuals: elephants, warthogs, impala and baboons.

Layers and layers of colourful petticoats
"Border crossing was very easy. A customs form and new stamp in my passport on each side of Ngoma Bridge and we were officially in Namibia. I was intrigued by the small villages that we rushed past. The usual mud and thatch round huts but all surrounded by fences made of straw. I thought that the fences were reassuringly clean cut; no big bad wolf would be able to blow these down. After driving for about thirty or forty minutes we arrived in Bidaku for the "national cultural celebration" that Mr.Kashweka had been invited to. I could spend hours describing the colours and dresses and dances but I know that I will not be able to do them justice. This time the pictures will have to speak for themselves. I will say that I feel extremely lucky to have been able to watch the celebrations. Spending less than 24 hours in Namibia we were able to look through a window into some of the essence of the culture, and really appreciate the difference from Botswana.  It was more evidence of the unfair homogenisation that people brush across Africa. Less than 5km apart, separated only by the Chobe flood plains, North east Botswana and the Caprivi Strip of Nambia proudly display their unique cultures, traditions and beliefs.

Singing Loud and Proud 
"Heading towards Katima Mulilo we managed to flag down a hitch before even getting all of our bags out of Mr.Kashweka's donkey - surprising him with our female prowess. In Katima we fell on Shoprite like hungry vultures, grabbing way too much food for just the three of us. We then gracefully repelled the advances of a sketchy duo of young male backpackers to join them at their campsite. While Chloe and I persistently haggled with a cab driver to bring his price down from N$50 to N$45, Lyndsay played the voice of reason and pointed out that there was no point in turning down a ride for a difference of 50 cents Canadian. Namwi Island Campsite was...too much for me. Words used to describe it over the weekend: clinical, sterile, manicured. Big patches of lush green grass were separated by brick paths and lit by lampposts. But I did enjoy and take full advantage of the real, standing up, hot showers! We chose a site right in the corner, as far away from everything else as possible, and pitched the tent with the door opening up to a view of the Zambezi River which was priceless.

The muscles they used to dance..unreal
"Cooking was back to over an open fire. Four flavours of ramen noodles, four types of beans, lentils, tomatoes, onion, green pepper and chakalaka were thrown into the cast iron pot and proved to be a delicious mix. The sunset was quick and the colours left behind beautiful. The night was cold. Without a sweater and with the moisture from the river I froze without a sweater and was ready to get up much earlier than 5:00am. Blissful 6:00am showers were cut short after 40 minutes when we realised our ride out was expected in 10 minutes. Our quick exodus proved unnecessary though, as Joseph the cab driver failed to show up. Katima Karma for plotting to steal a steak the night before. We started walking the 14km into town with no other choice. About 1km down the road our knights in dirty safari jeep showed up. The Namibian guides who we had been talking with the night before drove up behind us and questioned our sanity. You could literally see the gears turning in their heads. On one side of the road: Us. Packs, sleeping bags, and tent. On the other side: Their jeep. Filled with every piece of equipment possible for their upcoming trip to Livingstone, with zero room for us. "Want to hang onto the back?" So on we got. The three of us, side by side, packs on, bare hands with a death grip on the roll cage and feet balancing on about three inches of bumper. They went slow of course, no faster than 50km/h, and we laughed the whole 13km to town at the insanity and adrenaline of the whole situation.      

View of the Zambezi from our tent
"Walking through town trying to find the bus stop I found myself repeating every couple hundred feet "I hope the bus is still there", which I'm sure annoyed Chloe and Lyndsay. Turned out it was, but there were no more seats. After being yelled at in turns by the taxi and combi drivers that surrounded us, we were finally swayed by an official looking paper into the the waiting seats of a combi to the border. Two customs forms, two stamps, and lots of getting in and out of the van with all out bags we were back in Bots. But I still had a long way to travel back to Francistown and wasn't out of the water yet. A rude South African couple turned our plead for a ride to Kasane down with an "It's impossible", but Karma played the part of great equalizer once again and we later overtook the couple on the road.

View while cooking dinner after sunset.
"In Shashake, outside Kazungula on the Nata road, Chloe and I waited for a hitch for me. Talking with a solo Swiss backpacker I learned that he was going to Nata with a Journalist from The Voice and figured I might as well start my trip and go with them. The Swiss guy and I squeezed in the front seat; me straddling the gear shift but with my legs in the passenger side so I wouldn't get in the way of the clutch. The driver - the Journalist - had some very strong opinions about white people, the government, and the state of Botswana on a whole. It was interesting to hear his thoughts, and only got uncomfortable the few times the conversation swayed towards marrying a white girl. At the veterinary gate outside of Nata the Journalist left us, saying that the Architect from Gabarone would take over driving and go all the way to Francistown. And that I should pay now. At this point I should have been suspicious, but I just gave him my 90 pula and was happy to have a ride all the way home. Spoke. Too. Soon. No further than 500 metres outside of Nata we were pulled over by a policeman and the vehicle was impounded on the spot. Apparently it was under a rent contract up until Friday, at which point the Journalist just hadn't returned it to the owner. Whoops!

Lyndsay's fear pre-Bots: being eaten by a hippo. Now: NO BIG!
"So there I was in Nata with less than an hour until sundown and no ride for the rest of the 2 1/2 hour trip to Francistown. I started walking back to the rest stop and was happily greeted by the last bus of the evening coming from Maun and headed straight to Ghetto! The Architect from Gabarone and his wife also got onto the bus. I rolled into Francistown just after 7:00pm and the boys were there waiting for me with Amantle; slow motion running towards me in fact. Driving home we eagerly spoke over each other trying to talk about our own weekends and ask questions about the others', and the 5 minute drive was extended as we chatted parked in front of my house."

Because the hippo danger wasn't enough
What started out as a plan for the girls to get to Namibia and add a stamp to my passport turned out to be a learning experience and weekend of firsts. First time to Namibia. Learning about cultural differences. New way to ride in (outside of, to be more accurate) a car. First girls only trip of the summer. First time hitching by myself. And first time having car I'm in be involved in roadside seizure.