Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Kasane and a Brief Safari on Chobe Waterfront

I’m on the bus to Francistown today. I think the guys are worried about me. You know you might be stuck in Francistown tonight, one says. Yep, I say, that’s fine. It’s good to be white, says Herbert, to chuckles all round. Apparently unplanned open travel is not something that comes easily to the black psyche. Anyway, the bus leaves almost straight away, and a couple of hours later I’m in Francistown, where there are no more buses to Kasane or Maun today. I wander over to the mall, where I bump into someone from Gabs. She remembers my name, of course.

So where to stay tonight? Thabiso gives his friend at Cresta a call, she can book me in at a discount there, or I’ve found a quite smart modern lodge across the road which is nice. I eat at Spur whilst this gets sorted out, sending Malebogo some photos from the night before with the free wifi I’ve picked up (only lets me get to google sites though), then across to Cresta to check in and sleep. I’m sooo tired! Later I head out and join Cabello for a few drinks, before retiring again. I need sleeeep!

Next morning I have breakfast, and meet Fatima, who asks whether I’m flirting with her. No, just trying to check out! I text Thabiso to tell him this (he’s on air at the moment), and a few minutes later he chuckles and tells those who are sending him silly messages to stop as he’s trying to be serious! Down at the bus station, I find the kasane bus, and get out. It’s a long one – about 7 hours, and there’s no leg room whatsoever. Fun. We set off, and I spend the day in a cramped and uncomfortable seat, only occasionally getting off for ID checks and the Foot and Mouth dips that they make all cars go through on the long distance roads. They even make us step across a carpet soaked in the chemical. We pass through some heavy rain as we get further north, which I’m acutely aware of as the window I’m next to leaks. Nice.

In Kasane, I’m off and walk round the corner to the Waterlily Lodge that I spotted as we passed it on the bus. It’s a small place, a round two story thatched building. Beauty, Cabello’s friend, checks me in, and I note with interest that the special discount I have been given is… the rack rate quoted on the board. Great! It’s 370 pula per night, or about 30 pounds. This is way too expensive for me to do on a regular basis on my travels, but the problem is that there is nothing cheaper in Botswana, they don’t really have backpacker places, it’s either stay with friends or fork out these sorts of rates.

After dumping my bags, Walter, the owner, gives me a lift round to the Chobe Safar Lodge – they have a boat trip leaving in a couple of minutes. For 180 pula, you get a 3-4 hour trip on the waterfront which runs at the edge of the Zambezi along the Chobe national park. I wasn’t expecting much, but this turned out to be quite a fantastic trip – I think I was quite lucky with what I saw, having spoken to others subsequently. Walter had lowered my expectations by telling me that we wouldn’t see much, as it had been raining. When there’s no rain, game, elephants and all sorts come down to the river to drink. After rain though, there are pools of water inland, so you see a lot less.

This sign is not just for show

Because I’m slightly late, I’m taken round in a small power boat to catch the main one. I assumed it would have moved on a fair way, but in fact it was about 15 metres round the corner, registering at the national park authority office. On board, I took my seat and we drifted off.

The boat

The format of the area is several water channels running between grassy meadow areas, whilst at the edge there is a bushy slope leading up into the park. This is where game comes down to drink. The area is known for a fantastic variety of bird life.

Almost immediately we pull up by the bank in front of a crocodile. I thought it was plastic at first, it seemed too convenient that we came across it so fast, but this was the first of many!

Almost a smile

In addition to the crocs, the area does not lack for hippopotamuses! Most of them are paddling about in the water, but we find a mother with child having a wallow in a mud bath.

After having had their wash, they amble out, and I worry the baby will be squashed if mother falls backwards trying to get out of the bath, but they make it, and slip into the water for a swim.

Behind, a pride of lions sits, watching the baby for any chance it might be separated from Mum.

One of the pride creeps off along the trees. He’s spotted a herd of cebu antelopes coming down to drink. It’s fantastic to watch him creep along, then just pause, and watch for minutes at a time.

After perhaps ten minutes, he seizes his chance and goes for the herd.

He charges about, and it seems like they’ve all got away, but one runs in the wrong direction, straight into the pride. He’s captured, and once pinned down seems to give up the fight immediately. Dinner commences! Vultures start circling in the sky, waiting for their moment.

The excitement over, we head back into the water. Not a place to swim:

Up in the trees, beautiful eagles keep an eye on the whole scene.

Further along, we find a hippo disco party going on.

Hippos are actually the most dangerous animal about, not through malice, more just that once they start running, they don’t tend to stop for much. It’s an oft-quoted piece of advice that one should never camp in open spaces by rivers, as these are often “hippo runs”, which get regular trampling!

There doesn’t seem to be much activity going on with the crocs, perhaps because it’s not sunny today. Stretching their jaws menacingly seems to be the most they’re up to.

Next we come across a hippo territorial dispute. A smaller hippo is standing up on a piece of grass, bellowing repeatedly at a larger hippo in the water who wants to come up. Our guides think the defensive one is nervous, as he’s smaller than the one in the water, who occasionally also sends a hippo-esque blast back at the small guy. Eventually he gives up and swims off. Crisis over.

Higher up, the surviving antelope amble off back into the bush.

As the sun sets, we head back to the pier. What a fantastic trip!

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