September 10, 2012
The night before our trip to Botswana, Oliver and I were packing. I was making neat piles of clothing on the bed—shirts, pants, skirts, socks, everything grouped together so I knew exactly what I was packing. I was doing this, mostly because I was trying to pack light. Peace Corps has taught me to travel as lightly as possible in case I get stuck walking for part of the trip. One leg of our journey would also involve a riding in a bush plane, and I remembered that we were only allowed so many bags in that small of a plane. I can only assume that Oliver was trying to pack light as well because of these reasons, but it was a bit less systematic. He just pulled clothes out of the closet—without even checking what matched! Once we got everything laid out however, we decided to check and see exactly what the bag limit was. And, in doing so, saw that Yellow Fever shots, were a must on the packing list, which we had forgotten about entirely. We both had had our shots but the documentation is always kept at the Peace Corps office. A brief panic ensued, be we decided we had time to stop by the office the next day to pick up our cards. I put a big sign out in our living room that said “YELLOW FEVER” in yellow marker so we would be sure not to forget.
And suddenly, we were mostly ready for the trip that I’ve been waiting for since arriving in Africa!
The next morning, we walked out to meet the 7:30 bus on the road and went straight to the office to get our yellow fever cards. I kept asking Oliver “What if the office is closed today? What if we can’t get them?” and then when we finally got them “We got the cards right? They’re in that bag?” Once it was determined that, yes, indeed, we had our documentation, passports, money, and we still had all of the clothes that we packed, we could finally begin vacation for real.
We spent the night at a backpackers because we had an early flight out the next morning. At 5:15 AM, we were on the road again in a khumbi to get to the airport. It was still dark out. We passed a group of people drinking next to the road, not quite done with their night of partying, but most people we saw were women setting up their vending stands for the day.
We flew from Swaziland, to Johannesburg, South Africa and then finally to Maun, Botswana. Through the trip, we just kept reminding each other, “We just have to get to Botswana. Then it doesn’t matter what happens.” It’s great to look forward to a trip but at some point, you cross over into an anxious state of being, worried that every flight is going to be delayed and that all of your reservations will suddenly disappear.
And all that worry for nothing—not a single bad thing happened until the end of the trip, when it was ok, it wouldn’t affect anything but our return to Swaziland, and let’s face it, we had all the time in the world as far as that was concerned. However, if we hadn’t finally relaxed enough by that end of the trip and taken on a c’est la vie attitude, it would have been quite stressful. If anyone reading this is ever going to travel to Botswana—don’t fly Air Botswana. Just don’t do it.
But anyways, as our flight landed in Maun, I looked out the window and could see one of the rivers. This area of Botswana, the Okavango Delta, is amazing because it is in the middle of a gigantic desert but every year, it floods with rain water from Angola and it suddenly is lush, and green, and the only reliable water source for animals for miles around. The river had green trees and bushes on its banks and reeds growing right in the water, but just a short distance out, the earth looked brown and sandy and all of the trees were barren.
We were picked up at the airport by the Royal Tree Lodge where we would stay for one night. The driver asked where our bags were, Oliver and I both had on a backpack. We looked at each other for a minute as if we would suddenly discover a suitcase that the other had secretly brought and then told him that was all we had. He seemed surprised and gave us a funny look, one we had received already when checking in for our initial flight and would continue to get for every leg of our trip. I guess packing light is a skill not everyone has.
Maun is a cute town, very small, very hot, and very sandy. We drove in an open air vehicle out of town. I saw children swimming in the river, a ton of donkeys, and some homesteads that used soda cans to reinforce their mud walls instead of stones.
The Royal Tree Lodge is actually a game farm on the edge of the delta, it seemed like most people use it as a starting point for their journey. We only stayed at the lodge for one night, but that night in itself was almost worth the trip. We stayed in a safari tent but this wasn’t camping. Our tent was equipped with running water (I got to take a hot bath for the first time in over a year), a gigantic wonderful bed, and a porch to watch for birds.
We went to the lodge for tea time and took our drinks out on the verandah. It was really peaceful but I thought I heard something stirring under the wood porch. I kept looking down through the cracks, something about the way it was moving made me feel like it wasn’t just a mouse. Oliver got up to get another cookie and I heard rustling again. I peered down through the cracks and saw a snake slithering through the leaves. I didn’t panic because it was under floor boards and also I wanted to show Oliver how cool and collected I could be when faced with a snake (he said once that I would scream). Oliver came back and I filled him in on the snake situation but then it occurred to me that I was seated near the edge of the porch. And then we confirmed that the snake was leaving it’s hiding place, I backed off a bit while Oliver moved forward a bit and we saw a long tan snake with bars up and down its neck move off towards the pool area. And then it was gone.
After tea time in the lodge, Oliver and I went for a hike and saw gemsbok, giraffe, zebra, ostrich, and a ton of other antelope and bird life. That evening, everyone staying at the lodge had dinner together on the verandah and we spotted a genet in the tree branches over us, just watching. A genet is a small, wild cat with a long tail and lots of spots. The food was delicious and we checked on the genet often. Some of the other guests told us the president of Botswana had been staying at the lodge the night before and we had a good time comparing travel notes.
In the morning, the lodge drove us back to the airport to be picked up by Sango Safari Camp, which would take us into the Okavango Delta for four of the most exciting days I’ve ever had.
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