Elephant Sands – Nata, Botswana, Africa 2017 – Day 6

12/05/17

Botswana info

-2 million population

  • -It is one of the least corrupt countries

-Tourism is the 2nd biggest industry

-Botswana people are more reserved but friendly

-Kasane and Okavango Delta are the last areas where elephants can migrate and run freely

-The Zebra is the national animal – unifying with it’s black and white

  • -The death penalty still exists

-One of the only countries in Africa not colonized by England because 75% is desert and very dry

-In 1966, Botswana gained independence and just celebrated their 50th anniversary

-The 1st President Sir Seretse Khama married a white woman named Ruth Williams. It was illegal for black and white to marry and they were exiled to England. They returned after the Apartheid as the 1st president.

-The blue in the flag is water which means wealth.

-Beef production is one of the main commodity in Botswana

-Mining production was the fastest growing production in the whole world back in 70’s & 80’s along with diamond, iron and copper

Setswana is their main language. Here are some phrases:

Du mella ma (female) ra (male) – hello

LA guy – how are you

GA taing – I’m fine

Kea la bogaa ma – thank you

Kea rata – I love you

Muntle – beautiful

Muna – single man

Buna – 2 or more men

 

Our wake up time was for 8AM and it was actually quite mild outside. We had cereal, baked beans and sandwiches for breakfast. All packed up and from Chobe to Nata we went. On the road side, we were able to spot elephants and giraffes. Very unusual for us to see these animals alongside the road and having to stop as they cross the road. We played Bananagrams, spot it and Yuker (still can’t fully get the grasp of it).

Our accommodation for the night in Nata was Elephant sands. At Elephant Sands, you can upgrade your lodging for an extra 40USD to a cabin with a balcony facing the watering hole in the centre. We set up our tents right by the barrier near the bathroom facility and were ready to hit the pool until we saw elephants start appearing and walked through the camp to the watering hole. Elephants sands pumps water into this man-made watering hole to attract the elephants. There are triangle cement rock/shards barriers around the campsite as there are elephants only zone where we aren’t allowed to walk.

At the time we arrived, the sun was strong and our kitchen was outdoors with no shade cover. I was on cooking duty and we made leftover rice with pologna (similar to spam), green peas, cheese in the hot hot heat. We ate under the one big tree nearby.

After lunch, Lulu and myself decided it was prime opportunity to do laundry and what boggled our minds was the fact that we were doing laundry while the elephants were walking past. We did eventually dip our feet in the pool but it didn’t seem the cleanest. Lulu and myself peppered with the volleyball for a bit before we had to leave for our game drive.

We booked the evening Elephant Sands game drive for $25USD. Unlike the game drive we did the day before, this game drive wasn’t done in a game park but just in the wilderness. There are camps with anti-poaching units in the area we went through. The girls, Will, Frans, Lisa, Katie and Stephanie joined us. 2 drinks are also included – Hunters Cider & Iron Bru were my drinks. The drive was nice and we were able to spot many elephants and giraffes, impala, thigpin steinbach and also a jackel. The giraffes run so gracefully and silently. Elephants walk and run like their feet are marshmallows – so so soft and quiet. Unfortunately, the sky was cloudy so we didn’t have quite an intense sunset but the sky was still a nice with its subdued hazy pink and purple colours.

Since we were going from wild to designated non wildlife areas, we needed to go through the border patrol to do the shoe dip to prevent foot and mouth disease.

We arrived back to an elephant sands but had a delay as there was a large journey of giraffes crossing the road. The road to enter Elephant Sands is bumpy yet on our way back, we got caught up with an elephant trying to cross us to get to the watering hole. Once parked, there was a huge swarm of elephants around the watering hole. Before we left at 3PM, there were only 4 or so but in the evening there were so many! Average 40-50.

Clive had dinner ready for us right at 7PM. He made a more authentic African meal – maize that resembled a mix of mashed potatoes and mochi which you pull apart with your hands and it becomes the wrapper that you use to pick up the beef stew he made and spinach. Delicious but super hot. The trick Clive showed us was to quickly pull the maize into small balls to let them cool down before molding as a wrapper to eat with.

During dinner, we looked behind us and there was a giant elephant that stood silently meters away. It stood still and stayed for a few minutes before making its way to the watering hole. By the time dinner was done, the sun was completely down and we were able to just sit by the pool side in chairs to watch these elephants so closely. They were about a volleyball court length away but sometimes they got closer as some elephants would become alpha and nudge other elephants out. We went to shower around 830PM as they shut off the water at 9PM so the elephants don’t go after the water pipes. After Lulu and myself left the showers, we noticed 2 elephants heading there.

The elephants would push out the medium sized ones but the babies would just sneak through or go with their mothers to the other watering hole. The main watering hole where the larger ones went to had a pipe to refill the watering hole so majority of the elephants kept going to the main source. We sat for hours just watching the interactions between the elephants and seeing different families coming in and out taking turns becoming alpha and overtaking the drinking spots.

This went on all night long and you could see large shadows from your tent at the hole a day walking to and from all night long. Sarah mentioned she would have loved to stay up and watch them all night until the last one left.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – Chobe River, Botswana, Africa 2017 – Day 4-5

12/03/17

We woke for 6AM and took our time to get ready. We went into the main area with Will to visit the grocery store and get breakfast. After grabbing breakfast, we walked back a bit the way we came to rent bikes for the day. Very difficult to find 5 bikes where the seats could be adjusted, had both pedals, chain didn’t fall off and had brakes but we managed to. $25USD originally was what the man asked for but we bargained for $20USD for about 5 hours. We rode up the dirt road to get to the baobab tree and continued towards the river that leads to Victoria Falls.

We ended up biking to Victoria Falls where we asked security if we could leave our bikes inside. The entry fee of $30USD is included with our tour price. The falls are lovely with many viewpoints along the way. You can also see the Devil’s Inkpot that is on the Zambia side where you can feel the rush and sit on the edge of the waterfall. At I think viewpoint 13, Lulu and Jin decided to climb over the short branch barrier to get a closer look over the edge but that was short lived as they got whistled to come back because it’s not safe being so wet (felt like it was raining in that area) and possible snakes hidden in the grass.

What made it even better was the fact that there was a vivid rainbow that formed at the bottom. We walked around to all the viewpoints and then decided we needed to rest and sat at the cafe – Shearwater Cafe where we ate our “picnic” and I got an energizer smoothie $5USD (ginger & orange etc). Will left us from here but told us the route to take to get back.

We continued on bike to the bridge border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. We asked if we could go through with border patrol and they just waved us through. On the bridge the joins the two countries, they offer bungee jumping but we didn’t partake. We decided to head back and came back to the gate where we were told we needed a letter of some sort get back into the country but they let us through anyways.

We biked back and returned the bikes and decided to hit the pool because it was just so hot too do anything else and biking for half the day deserved a dip. Shearwater seems to be the spot where the safari tours start and end off so there was a mix of people beginning, ending and continuing their travels on-site. 5 of the people that joined our 12-day tour were continuing and joined from a tour that went to the Serengeti.

We grabbed a late lunch poolside from the restaurant on-site – Panini and a nice cider. We met Erik from the Netherlands who had just finished a tour and he filled us in on what he did and saw on his tour that was the reverse of what our tour was minus Cape Town. We all hung out by the pool and talk for a few hours but then realized we needed to switch tents so we rushed off, showered and packed up and moved over to our new tents. The tents we stayed in that night became our designated tent for the rest of the tour. Lulu and myself shared Timon as our tent. The tent is quite large. You need to bring your own sleeping bag and a lock but the tour company provides sleeping mats. After we moved in, the rain began to pour and all four of us stayed in our tent until to died down about 20 minutes later. We grabbed what we needed for the night and the next morning and threw our luggage into the truck. We went to Shearwater Café on the main road with Lisa and Katie which has the best wifi signal. I got the prefixed – $15USD – tomato soup, steak and frites and carrot cake.

12/04/17

I had a horrible time getting to sleep as my mind wouldn’t shut off and my nose was stuffy. Finally was able to sleep around 3AM – the wifi signal was strong around that time. We woke up for 6AM and packed, took down our tents, packed the truck and had breakfast. Off we went with the crew. First things first, the truck has storage below. The very front passenger side is cooking supplies, driver side front are tents, the 2 back tops on both sides are luggage’s and lower passenger side is chairs and tables. You need to climb a ladder (a little help from a step ladder) to enter the top seating compartment). In the seating compartment, the very back has shelves for the sleeping mat. The very front has sideways seating for about 8 people with a table, a 4-seater with a table then 10 more double seats. We get a combination cooler and the 2 giants chests go on board.

Once we hit the road, Will stated his speech on the breakdown of the tour as ATC brings together multiple tour companies like on the go tours and others to run the tour and not ask the information shared is the same. Once that got sorted, he broke down the day for us and told us the optional excursions. He also posted on the door our schedule along with our shared duties. This is a budget tour so everyone has responsibilities including buying ice for the cooler each day to security and bus cleaning duties to helping with keeping meals etc.

Info about Zimbabwe

-14 million population

-The House of Stone in Masvingo is the 2nd largest African civilization to the pyramids.

-Zimbabwe in the shona dialect means House of stone

-The British came and colonized Southern Rhodesia – They made a railway to promote trading from Europe to Africa.

-In 1980 Zimbabwe  gained democracy.

-The tobacco industry deflated so the currency Inflated – For Eg – eggs could cost 10,000 rand one week then 20,000 the next.

-They adopted USD as currency but almost adopted Chinese yuan because of the trading and building.

-Zimbabweans are very well spoken (English ruling a different education) and very polite.

-Victoria Falls is the largest sheet of water and highest bridge bungee jump.

-Government officials weren’t really being paid and hospitals were expensive.

 

We drove to the border of Zimbabwe and Botswana and had 2 check points. The first, we departed Zimbabwe and the second to enter Botswana. At the Botswana border, where we needed to bring all our footwear with us to dip the bottoms to “clean them” to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. I was welcomed with a warthog. Also quick note – no photos at the border.

Our first pitstop was an hour-hour and half stop to pick-up groceries, alcohol and exchange money for local currency of Pula. You should get Pula for tipping money. 10 Pula is 1 USD. The bureau Centre didn’t open until 9AM so we bought groceries at the grocery store Spar. At the Bureau Centre, you can change currency and purchase cheaper ice (Lulu’s responsibility for day 1). Note – The block of ice lasts longer than the cubes but needs to be broken up. We all threw in $20USD each and the Pula equivalent together became our tipping money.

In Botswana, you CANNOT DRINK the tap water. We all purchased 5L jugs for about $1.65USD. The tour stops every 2 days or so at grocery stores so you can pick up snacks and water etc.

We found Erik (our new friend we met the day before) at the grocery store as 2 other tour trucks were also doing the same thing loading up. Erik finished 1 tour and joined another. At one point, they were sitting in our bus as their bus disappeared and we all thought they left without them but that tour only consisted of 9 people. Turns out the bus was getting gas around the corner and off they went.

We also found out from Will that the information we got from Sarah was completely wrong in terms of clothing because she told us we needed to dress conservatively covering shoulders and knees.  It turns out, on her last Africa trip, she was in northern Africa where there are more Muslims thus dressing more conservatively but on this trip, clothing didn’t matter as you can wear whatever you want. For safari however, neutral colour clothing. That meant all 4 of us packed clothing we didn’t need and could have been replaced with summer clothing such as more shorts.

We thought our ride to the next campsite was far but it was just up the street – Thebes Safari campsite. We setup our tents and then ate lunch – self serve sandwich station. We have 2 showers and 2 toilets on our campsite but if your walk further into the site closer to the pool area, there is a much nicer shower and toilet setup with hot water. The main hotel (upgrade is available) had free wifi in the lobby and 2 single toilets.

After eating, Stephanie, Susan and the girls and myself we went on the Chobe game drive in a safari truck and off we went (optional excursion for $70USD for 3 hours in the park). Our driver was very knowledgeable and had an amazing eye finding animals of all sizes for us. Usually noon is the hottest time of day so many animals are in hiding but we got lucky and spotted a good variety of animals. Impala, kudu, hippos, lionesses (one sleeping and one heading for a nap), baboons, zebras, eagles, vultures and so many beautiful birds as well as a leopard tortoise. I learned that elephants don’t have sweat glands so they overheat which is why they roll in the mud to cool down. We didn’t get to see a live elephant but we saw a 2-day old dead young elephant who overheated and was trying to get to the water to cool down but once it made it there, it was too late. You could smell the stench from where we were in the truck 300M away. Giant vultures circled and were eating the elephant. The lions like fresh meat so they probably had first dibs one day 1 before we saw it. The guide stopped by the sleeping lioness so it awoke briefly then turned over to return to slumber.

We finished this lovely game drive and was driven straight to our next excursion (included) of a sunset boat cruise on the Chobe River. The river separates Namibia and Botswana border. Shimmy was our guide. This is where our cooler of ice and alcohol purchased earlier in the day was present. The boat cruise had seats for everyone and a drop toilet in the back. Once they started up the boat sailing, you were free to roam around to spot animals and the boat driver found them and we got closer views of them. Tons of hippos, crocodiles, baboons, water buffalo etc. Definitely the highlight were the hippos.

We cruised down the river spotting animals and a cold drink which ended up with a lovely sunset. Near the end of the cruising, there were 2 hippos in a certain area where the water levels were lower and you can see them running right into the water. With the water level lower, the hippo kept bobbing up and down and eventually running and jumping up similar to a dolphin. We kept trying to follow where they would surface and one of the hippos decided to rush our boat and came up right under the metal guard in the front where  Sarah was sitting and she flew back. The sunset was intense with lovely colours however all of us felt disgusting as we were all very sticky from being out all day in the sun.

We got back to the campsite and Clive had dinner waiting for us – chicken stroganoff and a salad. Will went over itinerary with us and call time.

We were told the pool seemed murky and we couldn’t find it in the dark so we showered and sat near the inner courtyard on the hotel and charged our phones. Finished off the night trying to journal and we thought the truck would be a good place as any to write and charge but turns out Clive and Frans sleep in there so we decided to journal in our tent. Hard to fall asleep when you haven’t really done much physical activity in a day when you are so use to walking everywhere.