Friday, July 20
We got up early for one last look at the Falls. We got there in time to see the sun rise over them. It was very dramatic. The early morning light also provided a great view of the Zambezi Bridge. As we were crossing a small bridge, all the mist created an almost circular rainbow around it.
An almost circular double rainbow
We then began an interesting trip to our next destination.
Our driver, Stephen, picked us up (and delivered my camera). While we were on our way to pick up other passengers, Eva asked an innocent question about the display at the Livingstone Museum, which ended around 2000. The guide responded with a long, heartfelt account of recent Zambian history, starting with independence, after which much of the infrastructure crumbled, including schools, which were viewed with suspicion since they directed girls from their traditional tribal roles. The guide was highly critical of its leadership, including the lionized Kenneth Kaunda (anti-democratic and probably a murderer). His successor, Frederick Chiluba, was no more a democrat than Kaunda (though he pushed for multi-party rule as a way of running for office), and he was corrupt to boot. Only Levy Mwanawasa, the third president, seemed to grasp the importance of political pluralism and honesty. Sadly, he died in office in 2008. Stephen was very concerned about Michael Sata, the current president, who had been a crony of Chiluba’s.
Stephen took us to the point on the Zambezi River where four countries (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia) all meet (Kazungula point). It was a madhouse. Trucks were scattered along the riverside, and people trying to leave, enter, or sell something to those in transit were all milling about. Stephen asked for one person from each party to collect passports and follow him to a small hut. Apparently, our exit visas were stamped because he then took us and our luggage to a small boat, where someone else conducted us across the Zambezi to Botswana, where the atmosphere changed completely. Trucks were neatly parked in a paved parking lot, people politely queued up at the passport control office, and everything happened in a quiet, orderly fashion. One remarkable thing we had to do was to rub the bottom of our shoes on a damp mat to wipe out any hoof-and-mouth viruses we might have brought over. It was sort of like, “Wipe your feet before entering our country!”
Our new driver took us to Kasane Airport, where we caught a 13-seat Cessna Grand Caravan to Kwara Airport, where we dropped off three passengers, and then to Kwara, which is a landing strip, rather than an airport. We were met at what we laughingly called the “arrivals gate” (a table for luggage under a tree by the airstrip) by Bate and Baruchi, our new guides, and taken to the camp for tea (and quiche and brownies – the food routine was pleasantly familiar).
Looking across the airstrip toward the “arrival gate”
Kwara Camp (run by Kwando Safaris) is a bit more rustic than the Zambian camps, with the cabins all on stilts. This is because the government has leased Kwando the land for 15 years rather than sold it, and the lease agreement prohibits Kwando from building permanent structures. Still, our accommodations had all the amenities.
Our “tent” at Kwando
What is most notable about Kwando is the fact that it is run by black Africans. Given our experiences at the border, we take this as a metaphor for the state of the two countries. For all its proclamations of independence and people’s this or that, Zambia has so far been less able to manage its own affairs than Botswana. (More on Botswana’s history later.)
The Kwara Camp is located in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The Okavango is the world’s largest inland delta. We had always thought deltas formed where rivers flowed into the sea. Apparently that used to be the case here, but ancient tectonic shifts caused the Okavango River, which flows down from Angola into Botswana, to become a river to nowhere. The mistiming between the glacial melting in Angola and the rains in November and December has caused a disparity between the “rainy” and “wet” seasons in the Okavango. We arrived during the “wet” – but not “rainy” – season, a fact that caused us no small amount of confusion but made for good animal viewing.
An aerial view of the delta
On our night drive with Bachuri (who, except when he anticipated dangerous animals, sat perched on exposed seat, rather than beside the driver) and Bate, we saw some resting lions, a pair of cheetahs unsuccessfully stalking an impala, and a Giant Eagle Owl.
A cheetah unsuccessfully stalks impala
We think this is the eagle owl
After yet another gourmet dinner (these places should really publish cookbooks!), we were escorted to bed with the same warning not to stir until we were summoned for breakfast. We were also warned to “lock” our doors by pushing down a clasp whenever we left to keep out the baboons. It is even colder here than in Zambia, probably because we are farther south. That is probably why there is no longer any mosquito netting. We had been told that the Okavango was no longer in the malarial zone. We were also each given a hot water bottle before bed and before every morning and evening drive. We were in multiple layers (including sweatshirts and jackets) until at least 10 am each morning and quickly after sundown each night. That helps explain why animals can survive at the Philadelphia Zoo!
Having elevenses with Bachuri and Bate
A note on lists:
“Big-game” hunters often wanted to keep score with one another. One important element was to count how many supposedly dangerous animals one had killed. This gave rise to the “Big Five” – the five supposedly most dangerous African animals to hunt
– Cape Water Buffalo
– (Black) Rhinoceros
Of these, we saw all but the Rhinoceros. For reasons of nomenclature, the Big Five gave rise to the Little Five, which consist of the elephant shrew, ant lion, buffalo weaver (a type of bird), leopard tortoise, and rhinoceros beetle. Apparently, there is also an Ugly Five, which consists of the hyena, marabou stork, vulture, warthog, and wildebeest. Hugh Rockoff is trying to amass a “silly five” and welcomes suggestions.
A Marabou Stork – one of the “ugly five”
Saturday, July 21:
It was up at 6 in 5o (41oF) weather for breakfast and a glimpse of Venus and Jupiter in the sky. If anything, the night (and early morning) sky is even more impressive here, perhaps because it is less heavily forested. We don’t know the southern constellations, but Mike can make out Scorpius.
Our morning ride is a delight. In addition to kudu and parrots, we encounter wild dogs feeding their pups. Apparently, the adults vomit up undigested pieces of meat for them upon returning from a hunt. Wild dogs are an endangered species, and seeing the young feed is a real treat. A Dutch couple has come to Kwara specifically to see the dogs. The husband has started a foundation dedicated to their preservation.
Wild dogs and pups
At lunch, Sean, a visitor from Australia, makes an awkward remark about South African blacks, saying that the black employees at the hospital where he had been working as part of a med school course were lazy and could not be fired. The (hard-working, black) staff went silent at his remarks. Mike also heard him bragging about evading Australian taxes on such purchases as his wedding band, so we kept our distance.
Instead of an evening drive, we had an evening boat ride on which all the guests (now us, the Australian couple, a pleasant German, and a very nice British mathematician – Kwara seems to attract a more eclectic group) went. We saw a number of animals and birds, as well as another beautiful sunset.
One of the most beautiful birds – a lavender breasted roller
Papyrus on our boat ride
Enjoying Sundowners on the boat ride
Sunset on the delta
Sunday, July 22:
We got up a bit later today, at 6:30 (bliss!) and went on a ride in a mokoro, sort of an African canoe. Hope and Eva went with Bachuri in one, and Mike was with Bate in the other. They told us how they learned to pole the boat from their grandfathers. They are both from the area and are not Tswana but Yey. Hugh’s hips would not allow him to sit in the canoe for long, so he did not go. Our ride to a nearby island was the highlight, as we encountered a group of hippos that would not let us past. As a result, we had to sneak by them through some rushes. We walked around the island and saw some antelope and several birds.
Hippos don’t like to be disturbed
Animals and cars follow the same path
We returned to a still more eclectic group, as the camp now consisted of 2 (French-speaking) Swiss, 2 (French-speaking) Belgians, 2 actual French, 2 Japanese, and the 4 of us.
The evening drive started off with a bang. We found a lioness eating a wildebeest she had just killed in a small pool. As she was eating, her cub slowly made its way to the kill, while a jackal (unsuccessfully) stalked the cub. The cub then tried to decide which she disliked more: being hungry or getting wet in order to eat. She had yet to decide when we left.
Nature isn’t always pretty
Even killers can be maternal
We came to a grassy plain in which there were all sorts of antelopes. This gave rise to an amusing incident. A group of impala startled a well-hidden reedbuck, who ran off. This, in turn, spooked the impala, who took off in another direction. A bit after sundown, we encountered two male lions who were just waking up. The proceeded to mark their area (i.e., pee prodigiously) and roar. They are a part of a loose group of 8 lions who are brothers.
Male lions are more roar than bite
Wildebeest in a non-skittish moment
At dinner, we met two new guests, a grandfather and grandson from Tennessee. The grandfather was an odd duck. He spoke of meeting his “white friends,” who happen to be former officers in the old Rhodesian Army. We were relieved when they were placed at the opposite end of the table. We preferred practicing our French with the Swiss couple. Before dinner, we heard a thunderous crack and crash. Apparently, a dead branch broke and fell We could not see anything –recall it is pitch dark at dinner, but the next day revealed that almost half the tree had collapsed. We were very lucky no one was killed. The branch completely blocked the way to the Rockoffs’ tent, so they had to take the scenic route back after dinner.
Monday, July 23:
A day of swings, it starts out with a huge array of animals. We see an otter at play and hyenas at work. The hyenas are finishing off what is left of the wildebeest. Only a skull remains after we see one of them make off with what look like vertebrae. We also see a procession of water buffalo and a herd of skittish wildebeests. (We now know why they’re so skittish!) We get one last look at a saddle-billed crane – one of the more beautiful birds we have seen – and a pride of four lionesses.
A saddle-billed crane
After the morning ride and lunch, we pack and return for the “departures terminal” and a 7-seat plane.
Lunch at Kwando
The departures gate
There was only one passenger besides us. The plane was so small, the pilot pulled it by hand to its final stop after we landed to Maun Airport – the jumping off point to and from the Delta – and a 5:00 pm flight to Gabarone, our last stop. The only problem is that there is no 5:00 flight. We actually saw our flight take off when we landed at 3:00, and it was the day’s last flight to Gabarone. What to do? Our experience is a lesson in the rewards of staying calm. Hope calls Mango tours, while Eva speaks to a representative of Mack Air – the company that flew us to Maun, who leads her to a person from Botswana Airways. Both emphasize that we are neither threatening nor whining. We only want to know, “What happened, and what now?” It turns out that Botswana Airways changed the flight time. A BA representative tried to reach Mack Air, but the usual contact was away, and BA made no follow-up. They acknowledged full responsibility and put us up for the evening in “one of Maun’s best hotels,” while Mango Tours called everyone in Gabarone and rearranged our plans.
We got to see one more city, not that there is much to see or do in Maun. It is very much a jumping off point – not a stick-around-and-enjoy point. Maun has only 17,000 people spread over a very wide area. It is thus no surprise to see cattle crossing at a major intersection – with no one attending them. Our driver assured us that, “they know where they are going.” Still, the hotel grounds are lovely, and we have a nice dinner (paid for by Botswana Air).
Tuesday, July 24
We catch the next morning’s 9:30 am flight to Gabarone, a 30-seat propeller craft that is aloft less than an hour (full beverage service and snack, of course). Two vans are there to meet us (everyone was worried about us). The hotel van takes our bags, while Tendai, who is from (and, we later learn, who is) Maroon Tours takes us. Our stop in Gabarone was inspired by our affection for Alexander McCall Smith’s books about the “Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” (#1LDA) and the HBO series of that name. They are a very gentle series of mysteries that display a very affectionate – if, it turns out, completely fictional – view of Botswana. As we learn from Tendai, McCall Smith was born and raised in Zimbabwe (just like Tendai), and it was his memories of small-town life in Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia at that time) that serve as the basis of his books, not contemporary Gabarone. In fact, contemporary Gabarone is a redundancy. Now Botswana’s capital and largest city, Gabarone was nothing more than a settlement as recently as the early 1960s and is now, for the most part, a modern city. Neither fits the setting of the books.
Our first stop showed us how far the reality was from the books and how our stay in Gabarone was not going to be what we expected. We went directly to the #1LDA main set, which is at the very edge of town and in complete disrepair. The guide attributed much of the damage to animals (and we did see some cattle and baboons in the background), but they did not write the graffiti on the interior walls. According to Tendai, the Botswana government has not seen fit to maintain the set – or to do much to promote tourism in Gabarone, preferring to pour resources into the Delta area. We can see the wisdom of promoting high-end and eco-tourism, but we think this was a real missed opportunity. Tendai says that the follow-up series (there will be a follow-up!) will be filmed in South Africa.
On the set
The reliance on government is the one flaw facing Botswana, which – otherwise – has escaped many of the traps that have ensnared most of its neighbors. In fact, according the Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion (a depressing, if insightful, look at economic development), Botswana has three strikes against it: it is landlocked; it has largely been in a “bad neighborhood” (bordering on South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Zambia), and it relies strongly on a single, natural resource (diamonds). Fortunately, it has good institutions and a history of good leadership.
Back to #1LDA, we drive past Princess Marina Hospital and the University of Botswana, where parts of several episodes were filmed. We stop briefly at the functioning auto repair shop that served as Speedy Motors in the show. It is actually a small part of a much larger operation that specializes in BMWs. We made a longer stop at what had once been the “Go Go Handsome Man’s Bar.” It is now a jazz bar named “Eros”. It was still untidy from the previous evening, but the proprietor was gracious, and the setting was clearly recognizable.
The #1LDA highlight was seeing #5 Zebra Way. That is its actual address. Unlike the house depicted in the book, however, this house is in a very swanky neighborhood. It is actually close to many embassies and ambassadorial residences.
We stopped for lunch at a local eatery and had a genuine African (as opposed to African-style) lunch. Much of it was not particularly appetizing. None of us could choke down the meat dish that was available, a mix of beef and tripe. We contented ourselves with some green leafy vegetable, samp and beans and two sorghum dishes that were close to Wheatena.
A Botswana food court
The top non-#1LDA sight was a plaza that features statues of the three chiefs. These chiefs, leaders of three of the largest tribes in the region, visited England in hopes of convincing Queen Victoria to order Cecil Rhodes, Governor of the Cape Colony, to stay away. At first, they failed, as Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, turned them down flat and then went on vacation. The chiefs did not accept this answer and went on a speaking tour of Great Britain, accompanied by missionary Willowghby who acted as their translator (the missionaries – including David Livingstone – were apparently a more decent group than we had imagined) to seek support of their cause. Chamberlain returned from vacation to find a groundswell of support for the chiefs and – to his credit – reversed his ruling. Botswana became a protectorate rather than a colony, which helped spare it the fates and sad legacies of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. It helps that Botswana had nothing worth seizing. Aside from the delta, the country is essentially a desert. There was so little of interest to the British that they set up the administrative center – essentially Botswana’s capital – in Mafeking, South Africa (hence the need to create a capital city after independence).
Sadly, the tribute to the three chiefs is slightly bizarre. It consists of six markers with inspirational messages flanking a huge statue of the chiefs looking off into the distance. This is all in an open plaza with no shade. It was enough to make Eva think of Stalin, a feeling that only intensified when we learned that the memorial was produced in North Korea!
Entry to the Three Dikgosi Monument
Three of the history markers
With Tendai at the statues of the three chiefs
The remaining historic markers
Our hotel, the Peermont Mondior Botswana, was outstanding, but off the beaten track. Thus, we had dinner at the nearby restaurant, the News Café, which was actually quite good. To the server’s amusement, we split a milkshake four ways for dessert.
Wednesday, July 25
Our last full day in Africa. We started by walking to the University of Botswana – only about 5-10 minutes from the hotel. Naturally, we looked for the Economics Department, and – finding it – dropped in on Professor Nettem Narayana, who happened to be in. He was very gracious to four strangers who barged in on him, and he painted a very favorable picture of the university and its students. From there, we looked for the bookstore and found a “souvenir shop” instead. Afterwards, it was back to our hotel to meet Tendai and begin the day.
The quad at the University of Botswana
Our first stop was the Botswana National Museum and Art Gallery. Sadly, it is small and in some disrepair. Apparently, this, too, reflects the government’s focus on the Delta. It also reflects the lack of private sponsorship and entrepreneurism.
A reconstructed kgotla, a tribal meeting place, inside the plaza of the museum
Our last stop at the museum was a sales exhibit of beautifully woven baskets. Eva and Hope expressed a desire to buy some and thereby hangs a tale. The person who could accept money was not on the premises, but in a ministry organizing an exhibit for London, so the museum put Hope and Eva us a car, along with the person who was watching the baskets, to take them to the ministry to make the payment. They had to pass security and it took several tries for the lady accompanying them to find the right place to pay. They paid and signed a document to take back to the museum to receive the baskets. Eva got not only a basket, but an officially stamped government document allowing her to buy the basket.
Eva shows off our “official” basket at our hotel room.
Tendai then dropped us off at a local mall. Our first order of business was lunch, which took forever. After that, we made our way to Parliament, which we had seen briefly the day before.
Sir Seretse Khame, the first president of Botswana
Parliament consists of an elected assembly and a Council of Chiefs, which functions like Britain’s House of Lords. We were just wandering around, when someone waved us into the Parliament Building, where we got to watch a debate (surprisingly intelligently argued) on a communications bill. It was interesting to see that the hall was set up like Parliament, with two sets of desks facing each other in rows. The Speaker of the House (a woman!) sat at the front of the room, wearing robes and a white wig. Whenever anyone left by the door, which was opposite the speaker, s/he had to turn to face the Speaker and bow.
Botswana’s Parliament building
A Botswanan view of the world
We decided to have dinner at the newest mall in town (one that was the first thing a local tourist information center advised us to see), the Riverside Mall. It was very much like US malls, with restaurants at one end and a large supermarket at the other. Eva and Hope greatly enjoyed the supermarket. We wound up having Italian food (African-style) as our last dinner in Africa.
Thursday, July 26
Mike’s hat made an acquaintance at the airport. He wore a Hamilton College baseball cap (courtesy of Melanie), which prompted a greeting from two Penn medical students who were recent Hamilton graduates. It turns out that one of them vaguely knew Melanie, though they were a few years apart and pre-meds did not generally know Theater majors. The trip home was even longer than it should have been because we had an all-day layover in Johannesburg and arrived in Kennedy on Friday morning. It was a memorable trip, combining wine and wildlife, history and politics.…