THE AFRICA DIARIES: 10 DAYS IN BOTSWANA
At this point you're probably not surprised that we did indeed leave Lucas's phone in the first private shuttle on the Zimbabwean side of the border. And no, we really didn't notice until we got to Kasane on the Botswana (Botswanian?) side.
According to our driver (he was right), there was only one backpackers in Kasane. Since we needed a place to wait for the phone we asked them to send it there, to Bananyana Backpackers.
Our new home was about 20 minutes drive out of town on some questionable roads. It looked like they had had no guests in a while. The showers were pretty standard, but then again they tried to bring us water since the actual water didn't run? We were confused too. Also I'm fairly positive it was built on an anthill. I don't make this stuff up, we just make terrible choices more often than most people.
Uneventfully, and unsurprisingly, we ate snacks for supper and watched Netflix until it was a socially acceptable time for sleep.
When the phone arrived we decided to upgrade and went to a self catering unit that had a kitchen, complimentary sherry and cookies on our arrival, and a heavenly shower.
We aren't the perfect budget travellers. Sue us.
In the morning we went on another safari, this time into Chobe National Park. Compared to our other safaris, Chobe was a relaxed drive along to see mostly grazing animals (with a guest appearance from a sleepy lion).
The real highlight came later, when taking a game cruise along the Chobe River banks. We got to see hippos, crocodiles, water monitors, and a herd of elephants playing on the river bank while also witnessing beautiful dusk on the water.
Without much else to do in Kasane, we made the most of our kitchen— and to be honest the sherry— and then we moved on to Maun, the starting point of the Okavango Delta which is in turn the heart of Botswana.
The prices for an authentic mokoro trip were insanely reasonable after so much time on safari in Kenya and Tanzania and even the higher prices of the touristy Victoria Falls. So, instead of doing a day trip we opted for a three day experience.
We rented camping gear since we had left ours back home, and spent time picking out food that would last three days without refrigeration, did not need to be cooked in any way, and didn't taste like ass.
We pretty much lived off bread, nutella, peanut butter, and a few other luxuries such as sandwich meat and canned chicken. Mmmmm.
Our guide and mokoro poler (think of a gondolier) was named Nike.
In addition to poling us around the watery channels of the Okavango Delta, he also took us out on walking safaris, ensuring we had completed the trifecta of safaris: in a vehicle, on a boat, and by foot.
A safari on foot is by far the most exhilarating, the animals viewed even from a distance seem more wild, more intense.
While showing us giraffes warily eyeing us down far off in the distance, Nike pointed out an elephant so far away it could scarcely be seen. As we took photos and focused our attention on the much more visible giraffes, the elephant was approaching.
Within minutes, the nearly invisible elephant was an impossible-to-miss male elephant.
Nike held out his hand, "Don't move."
Our hearts were pounding, less out of fear than anticipation and adrenaline.
When compared to the lumbering families of elephants we had witnessed from the comfort of vehicles and boats previously, this came with a sense of apprehension. We quickly realized how little protection our shrubs really offered.
He asked us to quickly follow him as he darted through small shrubbery. And then, finally downwind of the elephant, we were able to stop and appreciate the huge and intimidating animal standing only 20 meters in front of us.
When we were ready, Nike guided us swiftly out of the elephant's path, constantly looking back to ensure we had no followers.
We eased up the more time we spent outside of the elephant's path, outside of a lion's jaw, and away from any immediate danger.
On that first day Nike also showed us zebras, wildebeests, and all manner of impala-type animals (only African guides could possibly distinguish them all).
At night he lit a fire as a warning to the animals, but insisted we also shine a flashlight outside should we need to use the washroom (did I mention he also dug us a toilet?) in the middle of the night. We wouldn't want to surprise a hippo, would we?
During our routine preparation for bed we were brushing our teeth and ensuring we wouldn't have to wake up during the night to use the toilet. The kittens' growls caught Lucas midstream.
Between the cursing and immediate fear that sparked in our chests at the sound of those kittens, our thoughts focused on the mother who we knew would be nearby her cubs.
Paralyzed I stared at the tree as the spotted kitten ran up the trunk directly in front of me.
Since I'm writing this, I'm sure you know we survived, which makes it hard to describe the complete fear coursing through us. I was already imagining someone having to tell my mother we died in a leopard attack and a part of her thinking "Well, I told them not to go to Africa!"
We literally shouted for Nike to wake up, unsure of whether we should move and unable to do so even if we wanted to. Our shouts caused the kittens to run into the brush and after a few moments of confusion Nike came over and we explained emphatically about the leopard kittens and our near death experience.
He nodded and calmly assured us that we were not crazy we had just seen a large, spotted cat.
We went to bed, our nerves frayed, but with Nike seemingly unconcerned.
In the morning, after I again reminded Nike that we almost died, we continued with our walking safari like we hadn't come toe to toe with our own mortality.
It was a great safari, we saw buffaloes, although Nike wouldn't get too close to them as they are territorial and aggressive and therefore very dangerous on foot (like anything could touch us after our leopard encounter!). We saw an extraordinary number of giraffes, more zebras and wildebeests and impalas, and we finished at the hippo pool, watching the hippos cooling down in their little swimming hole.
While we watched the hippos, Nike grew very excited and pointed into the tall grass, "Your large, spotted cat!"
We eagerly watched as our cat and kittens came out of the brush.
And, instead, we saw a raccoon-looking cat hybrid covered in spots. Right size...right color...wrong species.
Apparently, the large, spotted cat Nike referred to was not the leopard we had imagined, but instead was the large, spotted Genet.
I feel like we can't be faulted for our misunderstanding since we had literally never heard of such a thing.
It was pretty cute though.
Definitely not a going-to-rip-out-your-throat type of animal.
After a relaxing evening watching the sunset over the Okavango Delta and not questioning whether our lives were in danger, we spent our last night getting to know our protector, Nike.
In the morning, we had to return to the lily pad filled water for one last mokoro ride on the Okavango Delta, and one last night in Botswana before we left to continue our journey into Namibia (which will only take two buses, a taxi, walking across the border, hitchhiking in the desert, and another cab).