Wednesday, October 6, 2010
I mostly survived.
So, our trip to the pans was many things--awesome, boundary-expanding, educational--but primarily, uncomfortable. You aren't allowed to hike in the national parks because you might get eaten or trampled, so we were basically in a Land Rover for four days straight. Temperatures reached about 100 degrees during the afternoon, and the only way to cool the car was rolling down the windows, which let the dust in. In between, we slept on the ground. Also, the last two days of the trip, I had a bad headcold and my throat was killing me. It was primal.
So back to Thursday. We left Gabs around 9 am and headed north on the A1 highway, which runs from Gaborone to Francistown, another major city. The first site we passed was the Tropic of Capricorn. It means we're closer to the equator than you:
It's good we saw one sight early on because that was pretty much the only thing we saw for the next Nine Hours. The scenery basically did not change the entire day, except for a quick stop at the nicest gas station bathroom I've ever seen and a stop for peanut butter sandwiches in the parking lot of a grocery store in Francistown.
We did discover that the sunsets in the region are unreal. The sun was unbelievably round and huge.
When we finally got to Planet Baobab, our digs for the night, we were all extremely relieved to get out of the car. Planet Baobab is this bizarre, hip campground and lodge in the middle of nowhere. They had a great restaurant, bar, and a huge swimming pool.
Baobab trees are these weird Dr. Seuss creations that look like they are growing upside-down, with huge trunks and weenie little branches. According to Joe, our driver, guide, and source of all wisdom, the local legend is that God was really pissed and threw some trees down upside-down, which I guess makes sense.
They're also big!
As we ate a lovely breakfast of oatmeal, canned peaches, and tea, we kept one eye on the giant ants crawling over our campsite. Joe explained they were "meat-eating ants," which I assumed meant they should be avioided. After breakfast, we drove to the Nxai Pan National Park.
Once we got to Nxai Pan it quickly became clear that this was the real outdoors. This is what a salt pan looks like.
It's basically a big flat, white expanse of nothingness. It's also salty.
We dropped off our trailer on the edge of a pan at our campsite, and headed over to the waterhole to track some animals. On our first drive, we saw lots of kinds of antelope (kudu, springbok, steenbok, impala, oryx), elephants, jackals, ostriches, and lots of kinds of birds. We drove around looking for lions for a couple of hours, with no success.
That night, we camped in an isolated spot. It was pitch black. For the first time on the trip, I started to feel nervous. It didn't help that our guide kept saying things like "Sleeping in Nxai Pan with the lions...what a rush" and "When you enter the National Park, you become part of the food chain." He warned us that lions or hyenas might enter our camp at night, and not to wander even a few feet away from camp on your own without a flashlight. He did Not warn us about scorpions, so when I found a big black scorpion as we were setting up tents, I was taken by surprise. We shooed it out of camp, and that was when I decided that maybe if I took my wise mother and aunt's advice and took a Klonopin, I could enjoy the gorgeous stars and dinner cooked over an open fire a bit more.
It was the right decision.
In the middle of the night, I heard something pawing around the flap of our tent. Appropriately, I flipped out, but after a few minutes, it scampered off. In the morning, I asked Joe about it and he said it was probably a mongoose.
I wasn't warned about mongooses!
I thought that was pretty lame because since I had already survived it, it might as well have been a lion.
We watched the sunrise as we drove toward the water hole for an early morning animal viewing. This time, we did see a huge male lion in the distance. He sat near the water hole and a few antelope kept lookout nearby. As soon as the lion got up and walked away, tons of animals came to the water hole, including antelope and zebras.
As we drove out of the Nxai Pan toward our next stop, Khama Rhino Sanctuary, we stopped suddenly. On the side of the road, outside the park, was a giraffe.
Definitely my favorite animal of the trip. Very weird. We spent the rest of Saturday driving to Khama, which took about six and a half hours. At Khama, we were back in a populated camping ground. I was in charge of dinner that night and I made rice and (unintentionally) smoky beans and chakalaka, this weird curry tomato sauce that comes in a can (I made it by opening the can). Sunday we did a rhino drive, saw four rhinos way in the distance, another giraffe (I'll spare you the photos), a bunch more antelope, ostriches, and birds, and then headed home to Gabs.
This is embarrassing.
I still think animals are boring.
Driving around, stopping to look at every steenbok and yellow-beaked hornbill, this does not get my pulse racing. The giraffes were cool, but we looked at giraffes for like all of 20 minutes of the entire trip. We spent most of our time looking at grass or the sun or a rhino that was so far away you could barely see it with binoculars. I got really, really bored.
I actually enjoyed the camping elements a lot more than I expected--cooking on the fire, looking at the stars, waking up early while it was cool and beautiful out. But looking at animals seemed somehow manufactured. There was always this barrier of the car between us and animals, which on some level made it feel like we were watching a program on television. It may have been The Wild, but it didn't feel like it. It felt like an organized, on-road, human-arranged viewing of animals placed there for that purpose.
It's sort of disheartening because I had this suspicion that safari, which is the main thing people do for vacation in Botswana, was not my thing, and it turns out safari is not my thing.
On the plus side, this trip was fun in other ways, and it got me excited for taking more trips in the region and seeing other parts of the country.
Also, I look great in a Land Rover.