So far, our African adventures have been pretty mild, so we’re about to kick it up a notch. Who doesn’t love a few near-death experience stories?
For three days, Kgosi/Corey and I we’re taking a 4×4 truck (rented by the company him and some Peace Corps buddies met “on set” with National Geographic Wild, which makes perfect sense…) across Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park ending at the border of Botswana. The truck came packed with essentially everything you could ever need (fridge, drawers, tools, water, etc.) and had a pop-up tent attached to the top for quick and easy set-up, resulting in this:
Day one we learned some valuable lessons. Namely, that there aren’t any real roads in the parks, mostly sand, dirt or rock piles that resemble pathways, and that these “road” conditions will result in a dozen broken eggs, an explosion of beer and puncturing of juice cartons despite being stored away and strapped down.
We also learn what is like to get stuck in said sand. Turns out it’s not easy to get an ever-sinking truck out of sand and that’s coming from a girl who has survived the polar vortex and digging her car out from an icy blizzard. This thing was not going anywhere despite searching the bush for branches for some traction (which is frowned upon due to the wildlife lurking around) and digging the wheels out with a shovel. Eventually, as we’ve run out of profanity and faith, two trucks drive by and end up helping us. They let some air out of our tires, furiously dig at the sand and casually tell us about their various treks around the world (last time via motorcycle, this time via 4×4 – what a life). We are saved from what would have been a very long night stuck in the absolute middle of nowhere.
Driving around we see what seems to be an infinite amount of wildlife including elephants, giraffe, several species of antelope, zebra, cape buffalo, birds, wildebeest and my favorite, a giant eagle owl which looks like it’s wearing eye shadow (full list of creatures spotted, here).
As we’re driving, we come across some cape buffalo and continue winding down the path until we realize we are surrounded by a giant herd. Not our first run-in and still not a welcome encounter. We realize there are a few females with young and one is really giving us the stink-eye. After some careful maneuvering we eventually made it out unscathed, the second escape of the day.
Notice the angry buffalo on the left.
Sunset is quickly approaching and we have to be in camp at Third Bridge before dark. After a long day, we build a fire which is quite difficult to do without the giant logs that us Midwesterners are used to. After some work, we build a fire, cut up all of our vegetables, cook up some meat and make a mean stir fry. By the time we’ve pitched the tent and cooked dinner, it’s pitch black.
Luckily, we had the foresight to bring headlamps. So, we’re sitting at the fire with full bellies and tired bodies when all of a sudden we hear a branch snap close by.
Me: “Holy [expletive]. That’s big.”
[Both of us look around with our red headlamps and see these HUGE beady red eyes staring back at us from across the fire. We quickly turn our headlamps to “spotlight” mode.]
Corey (in a harsh whisper): “THAT’S AN [EXPLETIVE] HYENA”
Me: “I KNOW it’s an [expletive] hyena.”
There we sit with zero protection mere yards away from a giant spotted hyena. Not a welcoming creature to see even in the middle of the day. This thing is HUGE. Ugly. Hunch-backed. And is coming closer and closer with every step – it’s now just across the fire pit.
Corey: Get outta here! Get! Go!
Me: That’s not working.
Corey: I KNOW IT’S NOT WORKING.
[Awkwardly sit in silence and wait for imminent death.]
Corey (starts clapping his hands): GET! GO! GET!
Apparently clapping works wonders in the bush. The hyena scampers off into the darkness and Corey and I both exclaim “That’s it!” We throw everything remotely flammable on the fire, making it as large as possible to thwart off any more creatures. We’re banging pots and pans with our heads on swivels, making sure we aren’t being stalked as we shove all of our belongings in the truck. Climbing up the ladder, we finally zip ourselves into the tent on the roof. We have outwitted death once again!
Not too long later, the hyena comes back with backup and we spend the night listening to hyenas laugh which is a menacing sound, especially when right outside your tent.
That night is filled with “Did you hear that?” “What’s that?” “Are you awake?” between the two of us. We hear baboons and monkeys roaming, hyenas laughing and lions roaring along with some other unidentifiable sounds. By 6 a.m. we’re packed up and hitting the road to go find a leopard. Spoiler alert: We will never find one.
Some highlights from the other two days we didn’t die on our self-drive safari:
Unsuccessfully searched for bushman cave paintings.
Huge hippo pool with 50+ hippos.
Large group of elephants in a watering hole interacting with a severely injured cape buffalo.
Almost having our car flip on the “road” to the exit of Chobe National Park.
Going airborne in our truck thanks to some unexpected bumps.
A terribly bumpy four hours of going 50-60 mph over the most terrible sand pits in order not to sink and get stuck and losing a side mirror from a rogue branch in the process.
Amazingly, we survived that portion of the trip and ended at Senyati Safari Camp on the border of Botswana and Zimbabwe where we met up with a Peace Corps volunteer, Caitlin, and her parents. Next up, Victoria Falls!
In the two weeks I spent in Africa, I saw thousands of animals and attempted to keep track of all the various species. Unsurprisingly, most animals we saw were antelope but the most species of animal we saw were birds. And, I’ve got to say, I am not a bird fan. Or, I should say, was not a bird fan. This trip completely changed my mindset on birds. Once scary flying dinosaur relatives that poop on you on purpose were now beautiful bee-eaters, nest builders and ecosystem controllers. Cheers to you, birds.
Below is a full list of species (and some extras) spotted over the two weeks and some highlights of my favorites:
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)