Edit Blog Post
Published: April 7th 2013
I've put off writing this entry as I've had a hard time finding the perfect way to describe my time spent in the African bush of Southern Botswana. Where do I even begin? Do I start with the ever-present sounds of monkeys and birds, the smell of dead elephants, or the sunsets that truly took my breath away? Some of the aspects are amazing, some are less than desirable, but they mixed together to form a priceless week. I left Botswana feeling accomplished, proud, at peace, and completely unready for my time to be over. But I suppose the best place to start is, in fact, the beginning.
We arrived at the teeny airport of Polokwane in the afternoon of November 30th. In typical African style, our driver was MIA upon our arrival, but we targeted a young man wearing a Projects Abroad t-shirt (our program). It turns out that he had been at the camp for two months and was now waiting for his flight to Cape Town. We spent the better part of an hour grilling him about what to expect. After he boarded his flight and left us with our boredom, I learned a little something about myself. I can sleep anywhere. I kid you not, I was sprawled across a freezing cold metal bench, in the middle of the airport with all of our luggage surrounding me and I slept like a baby. Finally the driver and two of the other volunteers showed up! As it turns out, alcohol is not permitted on the reserve where the camp is located, so being girls of my own heart, Laurie and Carol (the two French-speaking volunteers), requested that we pick up beer for the drive across the border. After making our purchases, we took off in the pickup truck and made good time to the South African-Botswanian border. We were met by a program staff member, Dave, in a big safari jeep. We loaded up and drove the hour and a half drive through the bush to our camp. The staff is in the middle of building a new camp and because of this, we were in between locations. This was fairly lucky on our part, for we allowed to temporarily stay at "Island Camp", a tourist camp set up to be slightly more posh than what we would have otherwise gotten.
When we arrived at camp, we were immediately faced with the cliche outdoor adventure scenario, to cross a rickety wooden bridge hung over a crocodile infested pond. In order to be perfectly honest, my first thought was "Hell no." But somehow I managed to get myself and my luggage across. Once safely on the island, we met our fellow volunteers and the staff members. Due to the fact that it was nearing the holidays, not many campers were left, so we were two of seven or so girls. Also at Island Camp were the three tour guide staff members: a couple named Dave and Tess, and a guy named Ali. Once introductions were made, we got situated in our tent that we shared with Caroline, a German girl whom we had actually met on the Garden Route tour. Our first night only consisted of eating dinner in the lodge, a large open air room, with a thatched roof and a connected kitchen, and settling in to sleep. There is solar powered energy in the lodge, which means at night, it gets dark, for there is no electricity. I rather liked that, because it meant that I was able to fall asleep every night at promptly nine o'clock.
The next day was Saturday, which means that we didn't have any work to do, so we were able to do a fun activity. We went on a group walk all along the river, crossing over rocks and logs, scoping out animal tracks, and relaxing on the stone ledges once we reached our destination of the water gorge. That night we got the opportunity to go into one of the nearby villages of Mathathane. We spent some time at the village bar, talking with locals and drinking til evening. I loved seeing some of the village kids riding in a donkey-drawn wagon and smiling brightly when they saw me taking pictures. As night fell, we made the hour or so drive through the bush to the border, where there was a party and cookout. We sat around, eating what I assume to be Impala meat and watching the locals dance to the peppy African music. A few hours later we returned to camp, although we needed to make a few roadside bathroom breaks.
If I continue at this pace, of writing down every day's events in Botswana, I'll never get done, so I'll choose a few of my highlighted stories to share! I got a chance to don all of my incredible outdoorsy apparel daily. To put it simply, I was made fun of by even the people who work and spend everyday in the African bush. I was even told at one point that my hat "looked like one of the tents". But, as my father's daughter, I stayed safely protected from the sun's harmful rays. Being in direct contact with nature every day for a week provided great opportunities to see some of Africa's animals. We spotted tones of impala, kudu, and wildabeasts, but the best experience took place during our failed camp out. One of the evenings we were there we headed to what is called a "hideout", basically a raised platform that we laid out our sleeping bags on. Things started off very dull, with not an animal in sight. But within a half hour we were hearing the crunching of branches and the stomping of feet as an enormous family of elephants moved in towards the watering hole, situated not 100 feet from us. Now, I had been growing used to seeing elephants after having been in Africa for two and a half months, but I was not prepared for the shock and awe that I would feel watching thirty plus elephants have their evening drink DIRECTLY in front of us. They ranged from tiny babies to huge matriarchal female leaders. We sat in complete silence for over an hour watching their interactions. Once they made their way off into the bush, we sprawled out on our "beds" to wait for our supper to arrive. It was to be brought for us by Tess and another volunteer, but they were so late that soon everyone was asleep. Everyone but Katie and I; we couldn't seem to sleep, for we were starving, so we watched the gorgeous night sky and happened to see the most incredible shooting star I've ever seen. After our amazement passed, we watched the threatening lightning approach us. We were both very wary of the oncoming storm, but waited until the thunder started clapping to wake the others, for we thought it might pass. Boy, did it not pass. That had to be the biggest downpour that I have ever seen. I wish I could say we packed up and left quick enough, but no we were very much soaked and it turned in to an all out race to get back to camp. It was the most terrifying and exciting car ride of my life. You don't know fear until you're swerving on a dirt path caked with mud, hoping you don't slam into an elephant or kudu. But we made it back, somehow.
That week in Botswana feels like a dream to me now. Not because it was several months ago, but because of the sheer unlikelihood I had that I would ever do something like that in my life. I was not outdoorsy before that. On the contrary, in fact. But I still find myself longing for the days where nothing mattered but avoiding bug bites and I could fall asleep to Africa's signature noises all around me. I will go back someday to stay for a longer period of time, because that way of life cannot be compared to anything else.
Tot: 0.042s; Tpl: 0.015s; cc: 9; qc: 53; dbt: 0.0114s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb