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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Chobe Park, Botswana: Game drive, daycare & boat cruise

It was another early morning rising. I got up at about 5am and was really looking forward to the morning game drive. The guide said that there are different animals in the mornings than there are in the afternoons. I couldn’t imagine what I would see but I was looking forward to the adventure.

We had tea and a muffin and left about 6am to return at about 9am. We saw some of the ones we saw on the first game drive but this morning we spotted a seven lions – one of which crossed about 50 metres from us. These animals are not tame but the way we were acting, you’d think they couldn’t hurt us. We saw banded mongoose – I know mongoose from Guyana but didn’t even know they had several types. Gamebok, kudu, impala, elephants, giraffes, buffaloes and the two rare finds were a sable which is hard to locate and three painted wild dogs running in the wild. They were the same types that I saw in Ghanzi but those were in a fenced and protected game reserve and these were running wild. Even the guide got excited when he saw tehm. He said he had not seen any of them for years and to find one on a game drive is rare. They started chasing a buffalo and the buffalo started to run but suddenly stopped in its tracks and started charging after the dogs. They ran away and went after another buffalo. The buffaloes are the most dangerous of the animals and will charge at you for no reason and with no warning especially if they are wounded. The dogs did not fare any better with the second buffalo but it was watch them circling the buffalo. They spread out in a triangular formation and worked together to attack the buffalo. They didn’t manage to do anything because the buffalo is vicious. That sighting was worth the morning’s drive.

After breakfast I called Kostis to see if we could visit the daycare at Kubu Lodge. He met us at the hotel and took us by combi to the daycare. Can I just tell you about this combi experience? The vehicle would normally seat 11 people but I counted 19 of us and had one woman moved over like the conductor (I call him that but mosly he is the man hanging out of the combi trying to get additional fares even though the vehicle cannot take one more person. Packed like sardines would be a total understatement. Imagine if they were trying for a world record. They’d probably fit 60 or 70.

We arrived at the daycare and for some reason I thought it was an orphanage but it’s for vulnerable children not orphaned children. I mean that some of them may be orphaned but they are living with a family member. They range in age from 2 ½ to 6. I gave them each a Canadian flag and they were running around in a giant circle waving their flags. It would make a good poster for some CIDA project. CIDA if you want to use the picture, just ask and I’ll send it to you. The little ones go to school for 8am where they are served breakfast for many, there is nothing at home to eat). Then they get some structured play time and activities and then it’s lunch. They leave the centre about 5pm to go home.

Sometimes the parents or guardians forget to pick them up so they have to be taken home. I asked what they would be doing if they didn’t have the daycare to come to and Kostis said that they’d likely be home drunk because it keeps them quiet or sleeping if there is no food to eat. Some of the young girls – as young as 5 - are sexually assaulted and the perpetrators are not punished. You can get some serious jail time for killing an elephant or some other wild animal but for raping a woman or girl, they crime although punishable, is hardly ever investigated. Sad to think that the life of a woman is worth less than the life of an animal. It was indeed shocking to hear that.

Let me describe the daycare such as it is. The space was donated by the lady that owns Kubu Lodge. It’s actually two garages converted into a daycare. The furniture is minimal but the kids have a safe place to go to everyday and at least two meals to eat. They are given clothes when they arrive at the centre but they have to change before going home because the family may take the clothes and sell it for alcohol. The daycare started out with 3 kids a few months ago and they are now up to 21. People in the community hear about the daycare and bring their children. Distribution of wealth is so unequal. It’s the few Have’s and the many Have Nots.

We got a taxi back to the hotel. Not a taxi exactly. We stood at the side of the road and Kostis waved any vehicle that passed. A car finally stopped and gave us a ride into town for 5 pula total (a taxi quoted us the tourist price of 40 pula). I read in a tour book that in Botswana, many people use their cars as personal taxis and it’s perfectly safe to hitchhike as long as you pay the driver – usually the same rate as you would pay in public transport. I gave him 10 pula and told him to have a good day and he had this big grin and said that he was indeed going to have a good day after the 5 pula tip that he got.

In the afternoon we went on a the boat cruise that we missed yesterday. Everyone said that it was better than the game drive but I didn’t think so. I loved the overland one rather than being in the water because I could get closer to the animals. We saw a number of hippos – I estimate about 75. A could of crocodiles thrown in and a water antelope (I thought there was only one type) called a red lechwe (pronounced lee-chee). There were lots of birds and that was pretty. Can I remember all of them? Lets see – open-billed stork, white egret, snakebird (because when it’s swimming in the water, the neck looks like a snake), black egret, francolins, African jancana, Egyptian ducks, starlings, lilac-breasted roller (Botswana’s national bird and it has 7 colours). That was quite a collection of birds but I still prefer the game drive because I could still see the birds mostly because we were driving beside the river.

It was dinner and bed. The fresh air was so invigorating and the day so stimulating that I fell into bed as soon as my head hit the pillow (journal entry written later).

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