Breaking All The Rules

After our mokoro trip through the Delta, it was time to hit the road to D’Kar, a san village about 3 hours away from Maun. The original game plan was going to be to take the bus. However, this isn’t a Megabus from Chicago to Madison, these are generally 15-30 seat vans packed to the brim with people who have an affinity for closing the windows instead of opening them. So while I was hesitant to try hitch-hiking for the first time in the smack dab middle of Africa, it was a better option than having my insides showing themselves on a stranger’s lap (have I mentioned my knack for motion sickness?). Once Corey learned about this fun affliction, we headed to the hitchhiking outpost and Corey stuck his arm out and flapped his hand up and down (no hitchhiking thumbs here!).

img_9929 After about 20 minutes of flailing, Corey nabbed us a car. Nearly 10 minutes in we hear this POP! which I know can’t be good. And, to make matters worse, it happened while we were trying to pass someone. We pull over and quickly learn we are down to 3 tires and we are getting nowhere fast. Luckily, the pickup truck we were attempting to pass pulled over. Within 30 seconds our bags were in the back of the pickup and we were back on the road but only going about halfway to where we needed to be.

After an uneventful (but very windy) hour and a half, we ended in Corey’s village of Sehithwa but only to stop at the hitchhiking post to get another ride. While there, the women at the post told us about their children and asked if we could take them back to America. We politely declined, but Corey informed me this is very common and he gets asked to take children home with him all the time in order to give them a life of more opportunity. He also gets heavily propositioned by the women there in hopes that he will propose and take them back to the states.

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Mid-conversation a Choppies (grocery store chain) semi-truck pulls over and offers us a ride for $3 – for the both of us together. We hop on in and spend the next hour or two conversing about bride price, President Obama, life in Africa and working in the states. I would later learn that hitchhiking is okay by Peace Corps standards – with the exception of pickup and semi trucks. After a long, sweaty day we hop out and hike the rest of the way to Sarah’s, a Peace Corps volunteer we’ll be spending the next few days with.

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Corey and Sarah tell me all about D’Kar which draws many parallels to how the Native Americans were/are treated in America. The village of D’Kar is home to a nomadic people with shelters made essentially of sticks and straw with very few possessions to their name as traditionally, they would move from place to place (hence, nomadic). However, the government stepped in, minimized the land available to the san people and began providing a monthly stipend for the land seizure. This causes many problems as severe weather wreaks havoc on the village forcing the people to rebuild from scratch or when the villagers only speak their native tongue and cannot gain employment due to the language barrier (although, for the first time this language has been written down thanks to a 30-year initiative called the Naro Language Project) or due to the depression and lack of access, citizens use their monthly stipends on libations at the local watering hole.

The village as come a very long way and creates beautiful works of art for revenue through the Kuru Art Project which celebrates the people’s history and the gorgeous museum highlighting traditions and also shining light on their burdensome past, but the village still has a long way to go.

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We spend two nights at Dqae Qae San Lodge (there the proceeds go back to the local village) and one night at Sarah’s. Our days are filled with exploring the village of D’Kar and the city of Ghanzi, visiting all the local resorts on an impromptu “lodge crawl,” eating all of the game meat (kudu and eland for starters), inventing drinking games (“Bottle Craps” has now been trademarked) and soaking up each other’s company.

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Together we road trip back to Maun in Sarah’s boyfriend Dale’s rental car and spend the night at backpackers because in the morning, Corey and I head out for our 3-day self-drive safari.

Source: my own (top to bottom: Corey hitchhiking, our sweet ride, Kuru Art Project, culture/history museum, Dqae Qae San Lodge)

Run for Your Lives

As I alluded to briefly before, the first three days of our African journey were going to be spent on a mokoro (traditional canoe) trip through the Okavango Delta. We spent my first night in Maun, Botswana at The Old Bridge Backpackers (ate and drank to our heart’s content), then kicked the morning off with a magical outdoor shower (the first of many) and met up with our bush guide.

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The best and most hilarious part about Africa is that whatever you expect you can almost guarantee it will be the exact opposite. For example…

Expectation: A driver is going to pick us up and bring us to the mokoro site. We’ll canoe a far distance and over the next 3 days camp and canoe our way back.

Reality: We met a driver, then another car of people showed up, then another car of people, then the groceries didn’t fit so another car showed up. That car takes us and remembers we need beer so we stop at several bars along the way, find beer, ice and fat cakes (close to a doughnut), meet at a speed boat with more people we weren’t expecting. They load the boat up with all of our stuff and all of the people. We boat for about 45 minutes on a mini-boat safari and end up at a mokoro village. Eat lunch under a giant tree and learn that we have a chef traveling with us. Not what we expected when we asked for meals to be included, but a nice surprise. Mokoros show up – we think we’re getting one boat for us and our stuff. Nope, four boats. I repeat, four boats take us to the campsite with most of the humans and all of the things including tents, tables, coolers, hand washing stations, pots, pans, etc. We spend 2 nights at the same campsite and canoe and hike everywhere.

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Our guides and travel agents (a.k.a. locals who arranged our trip) were absolutely fantastic and fun to be around. Even the unenthusiastic one learned to deal with us and decipher our sarcasm. It is customary in Tswana culture for Motswana/Batswana (person/people from Botswana) to have a Setswana (language of Botswana) and English name. Therefore, “Jillian” wasn’t cutting it. Our guides lovingly named me “Naledi” (nah-lay-dee) which means “star.” I joked it’s because I am as white as a star, their laughter told me I was spot on.

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The three days we’re in the Delta are three days of Onks (our guide), Kgosi (Corey) and Naledi (that’s me!) on bush walks (hiking by foot) and canoeing. Onks is rip-roaring ready to go but Kgosi (meaning, “chief”) and I have a few questions mostly – are there rules? Things we should/shouldn’t do? No-nonsense Onks shares the following rules:

  1. Walk in a single file line.
  2. Be quite.
  3. Don’t run. And if I say run, run for your lives.
  4. Later, in the canoe, Onks will tell us “I thought of another rule. If a hippo flips our boat, stay underwater as long as possible and swim as far as you can. Once you come up, no good (to which we learned upon expanding, means you will die like the villager the week before).”  

So! Armed with those helpful rules… we went on several bush walks (2-4 hours each) and saw herds of elephant mere yards away, impala, kudu, hippo, zebra, wildebeest, dozens of birds and more. We also had a near-death experience (the first of many) which involved a stand-off with a group of cape buffalo (one of the most dangerous animals in the bush alongside elephants, hippos, crocodiles and lions). Eventually, because we were downwind and unarmed (which I did not realize until this point…), the cape buffalo scurried off into the distance, but not before making it vocally known we were not welcome.

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At night, we slept in a tent and fell asleep to the sounds of the fire dying down, hippos snorting and elephants crunching through the grass – a welcome change from the sirens and horns heard in Chicago.

After our mokoro trip, we had the same hilariously large group of people bring us back to Maun where we began our trek to Ghanzi and the san village of D’Kar.

Frequently Asked Questions:

    1. Where did you go to the bathroom? A hole in the ground, surrounded by a tent-like structure for privacy.
    2. Where did you shower? I didn’t… (there was an option but Corey learned the hard way it was not efficient). I did, however, scrub myself down in a swimming hole in the Delta on the last day.
    3. How was the food? DELICIOUS. Our chef, Beauty, was the best. Our secondary guide, Dreamer, caught fresh tilapia which Beauty fried and it was the absolute best.
    4. How was the heat? Not terrible! I do not bode well in the heat but with a water (x infinity), a good amount of sunscreen, an SPF shirt, hat and roomy shorts and without humidity, I fared pretty well.
    5. Did you ever get sick? Not a once, thankfully.

Some highlights, in photo form:

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Burchelle’s zebras at sunset.

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A selfie with Onks. Turns out, he’s not a fan of selfies. 

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Fish eagle setting off to hunt. 

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The view from the mokoro.

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Tick “photo with wild elephants” off the bucket list. 

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Fresh caught, fire-fried Delta tilapia. Mm, mm. 
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Elephant skeleton (has been there five years).

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Sunset at the hippo pool (ripples to the right are all hippo heads).

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Sharing the waterways with a herd of more than a dozen elephants. 

Source: my own.

 

Dumela, Africa!

My trip of a lifetime may have kicked off in London, but Botswana was the ultimate destination. After an almost 11 hour restless flight of cramping, exhaustion, anxiety and excitement, I finally landed in Africa. Granted, it was South Africa, so I still had a ways to go. Due to some bagging confusion (blaming British Airways for this one), I had to go through immigration and customs in Johannesburg, exit the airport, then go to the international terminal and do it all again – and try to catch my next flight without my luggage.

Luckily, it all panned out, I got an extra passport stamp and I was overjoyed to be in Africa. AFRICA! My third continent in two days. I started snapping pictures of everything in the airport, including the art, animal pelts and this here giraffe – my first “wildlife” sighting!

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I chatted with a bunch of people throughout the airport which was largely white and I was the youngest by at least three decades. But, I met a lot of wonderful people, many of whom were scared for my safety but I assured them I was a-okay (while also convincing myself this was the case) and I was meeting a friend in Botswana.

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Eventually, about 50 of us boarded a smaller propeller plane by walking on the tarmac and hopping on board. The plane landed in Maun, Botswana 2.5 hours later and three planes unload to the one immigration officer – we’re officially on Africa time. After too much time in the sweltering heat and my layers of clothing, I see the door swing open and catch a glimpse of my backpack and let out perhaps too loud of a sigh of relief. A bit later, I’m finally past immigration, scoop my pack up from “baggage claim,” which is a pile of bags on the floor and see Corey! We head across the street and grab a celebratory beer not knowing what kind of adventures we were going to experience the next two weeks…

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Source: my own 

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