Accomodation : Bakwena lodge, Chobe
Transport : Wild Horizon
Today started off casually as we departed Gorges Lodge to a new country and a new lodging. We were headed for Botswana and Chobe Bakwena lodge. Ever trusty Blacksie was at the gate ready to collect us and take us to the Wild Horizon depot. From here we waited a while, viewing the tourists coming and going and making decisions more on the cost of things than actually what they would like to do. Patient drivers would wait in the wings, pondering when they would be able to depart and leave these indecisive tourists to their own devices. We have found the Zimbabweans in general to be pleasant, accomodating and affable people, much more so than their South African counterparts over the border. The country also has a safer feel about it, despite the numerous people who want to sell you the complete collection of redundant Zimbabwean currency (all the way up to a 500 billion note!)
Side note: Philip did buy the set arguing that it was good for school to teach the students about inflation
After waiting half an hour or so (African time), a mini van collected us and our belongings and then proceeded to pick up other travellers at various hotels around Vic Falls. It was then about an hours drive to the border travelling through scrubby terrain and being mindful that in this country you have more to worry about than being hit by a kangaroo. Elephants can make an even greater mess of you and there were numerous sightings along the way.
At each border crossing there is in actual fact two check points and then a no man’s land in between. At one checkpoint you leave a country such as Zimbabwe; the other checkpoint some 200 metres down the road, you get your visa stamped to say that you have arrived in a country. This didn’t change for these two countries although what did change was that there was no cost to enter Botswana contrary to what we had been told (our driver Opi said nonchalantly that they tried it but it didn’t work)
Now the distance between the two countries may have only been 200 metres but you could immediately sense a difference. The houses were much more rectangular, brick structures with tin rooves – little if any thatch, and lights flashed on and off from oncoming traffic to alert people about the presence of police, which immediately saw our driver put on his seat belt (this happened a couple of times). There’s also construction work being undertaken by companies such as Daiwoo who are building a bridge from Botswana to Zambia, basically cutting off the need to travel through Zimbabwe (I wonder if that’s because of the cut they’ve previously had to pay the government of Zimbabwe every time they drive through) Oh and to top it all off Kasane has KFC’s and a drive through Nandos; go figure!
The lodge was only about 12 kilometres from the border so it took us no time at all to get there. It exists behind a gated wall and is right on the Chobe River which separates Botswana from Namibia. There are only 15 rooms; 12 on the river front and three on stilts but further back with no view. We were met with cold towels, juice and a very loud Botswanian lady, trilling in a tribal tone to indicate a welcome to us. Whilst it was interesting, it was also a little off putting and definitely unexpected.
After having brunch, we were taken to our room which happened to be one of the stilted versions. We were a little disappointed as we had really hoped to have one facing the river. Not wanting to make a fuss we ventured inside and spent the next half an hour wondering why we didn’t say something given that we had four nights at this accomodation. In the end, Philip went and spoke with key people who indicated that they could move us tomorrow just not tonight – no problems a chance to sample both of them.
At 3:30, we met our safari guide and driver Max. He’s a cheeky Botswanian who informed the German group that we were going to be sharing with the ‘surprise he too was from Munich’. Unsure the guests started to speak to him only to be told that ‘no he wasn’t really from Munich’. Max was a nuggety kind of Botswanian, big round black face with white teeth that shone as he laughed. He has the kind of short beard that blends into a black face and only adds to the roundness of his facial features. He wore a trendy kind of T-shirt with the work SMAX on the back so that I guess none of us in the rear of the jeep would forget his name?? At home you’d say he’s the typical Aussie larrikin in a Botswanian body.
Max informed us and the two Munchens behind us that it was a fifteen minute drive to the park gate and to keep our eyes open for animals along the way. Let’s say we didn’t have to try real hard when a dirty great big herd of elephants is filling the nature strip along the side of the road.
It’s hard to describe our first safari into Chobe. You enter through the Sududu park gate and must be out before 7pm, otherwise the gates are locked and you’re in there for the night. You then drive over the same kind of Kalahari sand as we’ve seen in Hwange but once getting over a ridge you see the Chobe river stretching out across the landscape in front of you. Along the way there are an abundance of elephants of all different sizes-way more than we have seen anywhere else. Whilst Chobe doesn’t have cheetahs or rhinos, it is well known for most other animals although even the guide Max had to declare that the chances of seeing a leopard was remote.
As we traversed down the sandy path towards the river, we could see hippopotamus everywhere. Some were in the water, whilst others were grazing on an island created by the dividing of the river into two and then reuniting again (Sududu island). Buffalo joined the hippos on the island along with a few crocodile and copious birds.
The day before two lioness had pulled down a baby giraffe, killing it and providing food for the pride. Therefore we headed in that direction. In Chobe you have to stay on the road so even though we could see a couple of lions through the lens of the camera, it was not close enough to take in the view as a onlooker. As we were looking in the distance, other lions meandered out from amongst the bushes onto the sandy road. They then decided to make themselves at home.
With no where to go; one lioness on one side of the jeep and three others on the other side road, blocking our path, Max suggested that this location was as good as any to take our break and enjoy a sundowner. Good call Max.
After finishing our ‘sundowner’ and making our way around the lions, we proceeded to explore other parts of the national park. Elephants of all sizes were in abundance much more than Hwange which seemed odd given that that was what Hwange is famous for. With 45,000 elephants at Hwange, I’m sure they were there in force, we just didn’t see that many.
After three and a half hours, it was time to depart just before the gates shut. Not far from the park gates, two more lionesses darted out from the bushes and ran towards a third lion waiting up the hill – that made for a total of twelve lions in one safari which wasn’t a bad way to start the Chobe experience.
On the way back to Bakwena we were accompanied by many other elephants, impala and even a warthog or two. The same high pitched trill from Opi welcomed us back followed by the workers of the lodge presenting us with an evening of song and dance in the Boma (meeting place) followed by an enjoyable dinner. Early to bed as 5am welcome call is on the cards for tomorrow.