Last week we went on our spring break trip in Northern Botswana, and wow. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. Our trip was pushed forward two weeks because the strikes at UB caused our official spring break to be canceled, but I am so thankful we still got to do this trip. We visited the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, and Victoria falls, all gorgeous places and a neat opportunity to also witness the ecotourism industry in Botswana, the country’s main money-maker along with diamond production. Here is my day-by-day account of our adventure:
On Friday morning we got up early and got to the main Gaborone bus station, where we got on a 12 hour bus ride to Maun to begin our adventure. That ride was horrendous. The seats were extremely narrow (much much narrower than any busses I have ever seen in the U.S.) so it was nearly impossible to move your arm without awkwardly jabbing your seatmate. We all naively thought the bus would be empty enough that we could have an open seat next to us, so most of us had strangers very much smooshed up against us for 12 hours. It wasn’t the most comfortable form of transportation, but it got us up to Maun and we were thankful for that.
We were picked up from the bus station by the safari company we were going with, which meant we got off the bus and were immediately loaded into very conspicuous open-aired safari vehicles, which was super awkward at the public bus station, but we realized that for this week at least, we had to fully own our status as tourists. That night we stayed at the base camp for the safari company, in really nice tents with cots and it was great.
The Okavango Delta is where The Okavango River, coming from Angola, dumps out in Botswana and spreads out like a delta that is going into the ocean would (think Mississippi Delta), but instead of dumping into an ocean, it runs into the Kalahari Desert where the water slowly sinks into the ground. It makes for a beautiful marshy area with tons of beautiful plants and animals. Saturday morning we piled in the safari vehicles and drove about an hour over a super bumpy road to get in the mokoro boats (sort of like a canoe, but propelled by digging a pole into the ground, kind of like a gondola) that would take us through a portion of the Delta.
It has been an exceptionally wet rainy season this year in Botswana, so there was a ton of water on the road, which made it more difficult to drive, but rugged roads were a main feature of our whole trip and we got used to it. Camp Audi, the company we were with, employs local polers to guide tourists in the mokoros, so it was super interesting to chat with the people helping us out, cause they were all from a tiny village outside of Maun and only take people out in mokoros about once a month at this time of year.
We saw a hippo as we were approaching the camp for the night, which was a little nerve-wracking because we have been told many times that hippos are the most dangerous animal we will encounter. The picture above shows Zach watching the hippo behind us, though the hippo is hard to see. Even though they are vegetarians (woot woot, good job hippos), they will attack you if you get too close or get between them and the water. It was a little scary being in a tiny, easily flip-able mokoro right near a giant hippo, but everything was fine, even though he opened his mouth and yelled at us a bit. That evening we went on a bush walk looking for animals. Because of all the rain earlier in the day, we didn’t see much, but the sky was beautiful, and towards the end we saw a group of African buffalo which was really cool.
Sunday started way too early for Lauren and me. We woke up around 4am to hear rain falling, so I used my flashlight to check for glowing eyes outside (that’s the safety protocol before you exit your tent in case a hippo or lion or something is lurking outside your tent) and then stepped outside to close the roof flaps on our tent. It seemed like all was well. Then 20 minutes later I felt Lauren tap me on the shoulder. “Hannah, I think we’re in a puddle.” We both looked around and realized that, indeed, our tent was essentially was floating on top of a bunch of water and it felt like we were sleeping on a water bed. Oh well, not a huge problem, right? The tent is pretty waterproof, right? Nope. Within minutes the water had soaked through our tent, pads, and sleeping bags, leaving us drenched at 4:30am. We both sat up on our pillows, but soon those were soaked through as well. Everyone was supposed to wake up at 5:30, so it didn’t seem like too long to wait, so we huddled in the tent, pretty miserable until 5:30, when we were dismayed to discover that no one else was waking up cause it was raining so much. Lauren and I were grumpy. We started semi-intentionally talking loudly and shining our flashlights around, hoping someone else would wake up and maybe provide refuge for us in their tent, but to no avail. After a while we went to sit outside under the main tarp, but our fear of hippos in the dark and a multitude of mosquitos sent us back in our tents very quickly. I won’t bore you with our whole morning of misery, but basically everyone else woke up around 8am to meet a very grumpy Lauren and Hannah.
Luckily the rest of the day made up for a really gross morning. We took the mokoros to another island, where we went on a hike again and this time saw a giraffe, a dazzle of zebra, a herd of wildebeests, and some baboons. We headed back in the afternoon, rode our bumpy road back to the main camp, and relished in having showers and a swimming pool at the camp.
Monday we headed off into Chobe National Park, which meant driving in those bumpy safari vehicles for about 10 hours. It was a little rough, but we saw animals on the road and it was actually pretty entertaining to drive on such an aggressively bumpy road for so long. But rather than talk about it, here are just some of the animals we saw on that drive:
When we arrived at the campsite that night everything was already all set up for us and the cooks (yes, we had actual cooks, it was so bougie) were already making dinner for us. This was definitely glamping if I’ve ever seen it. The evening was super fun, though even in possibly the most remote place I’ve ever been, we still had a long discussion about American politics (we can’t escape it), but I absolutely loved it.
We woke up early, headed out for a game drive and saw two female lions within the first 20 minutes!! It was so awesome! We got really close and followed them for a while, getting lots of chances for cool pictures.
We came back to the camp around 11, ate lunch, and then just lounged around until about 4, when we headed out for another game drive. That night we all went stargazing on top of the safari vehicles and the stars were just incredible.
We packed up our camp Wednesday morning, went on a game drive in our same area, and then moved on to the Chobe River area. Our new location was absolutely gorgeous and sort of reminded me of the view from pride rock in Lion King (sorry, you can’t expect me to go on a safari and not make Lion King references.) We saw so many animals. The pictures will speak for themselves.
That night some of us walked out from the camp a little bit to take pictures with the sunset and some giraffes. We were told not to wander too far from camp or the Botswana military might spot us, think we were poachers from Namibia (just across the river), and shoot us. That was scary enough to keep me real close to camp, but these giraffes were close by.
Thursday morning I took a shower, a shower!!! using the big bucket/ bag thing of water they had set up for us. It was amazing. It was great to be clean and it was super fun to shower in the outdoors, looking out on a big beautiful bunch of trees and keeping an eye out for giraffes. Then we went on a game drive, came back for lunch, had our break time. We played Frisbee and cards, read books, took naps, and just basked in not having responsibilities, and then went for another game drive. It was great, as always.
We packed up the camp and made our way out of Chobe this morning, arriving in Kasane in the late afternoon, where we ate lunch and then headed out for a “river cruise” on the Chobe river, where we got to ride around in a boat and look at a bunch of different animals. Again, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Victoria Falls day!! We crossed the border to Zimbabwe (I now have a really snazzy Zimbabwean day visa in my passport) and headed to Vic Falls. We went to the National Park where we could walk along the falls first, and some of our group managed to walk to Zambia across the bridge! I was really bummed that I missed the group that did that, but it was okay. I was busy sitting on a bench taking in the view by myself, a nice little introvert’s escape in the midst of a week with endless social interaction. We got lunch and spent some time haggling with local vendors in the market area. Zimbabwe uses U.S. dollars as their currency since the Zimbabwe dollar pretty much failed a few years ago, so it was kind of fun to use U.S. currency again for a day.
That evening we got on a bus back to Gaborone and arrived at 5:30 in the morning. We were all tired, but it was a great trip. Will I ever go on a safari again? Probably not, I don’t think I would ever have the desire to spend a lot of money on an elaborate trip like this if it wasn’t already included in my study abroad program, but someday I will show my kids The Lion King and take them to the San Diego Wild Animal Park and have a really great story about this trip of a lifetime.