Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Kasane, Botswana: First game drive – impalas, kudus, elephants, giraffes…

and that was just the beginning.

We left Gaborone this morning at about 11:15am for Kasane. Mitho gave us a ride to the airport and the flight was very uneventful. That’s the way I like to fly – totally uneventful. Kasane airport is small compared to some of the airports I’ve been to – Heathrow. Sao Paulo, Kennedy, Mexico City and Hong Kong. We were supposed to be met by a representative from the Chobe Marina Lodge but after waiting for a few minutes, we realized that no one was meeting much less greeting us. This did not bode well for the next few days. We asked at information and a man overheard us. He said he was supposed to meet some people and they did not arrive so he offered us a ride to the hotel. He was dressed in some kind of safari outfit so of course we thought that was enough to make it safe to go with him. It was indeed safe. You can tell he is used to driving around tourists because he even told us how long it would take to get to the hotel – 12 minutes.

We got to the hotel and checked in about 1:45 if I have to explain the hotel, I would describe it as a piece of paradise I asked the travel agent in Gaborone to get me something reasonable but no tents. This is what she got me. All inclusive at a posh hotel right on the Chobe River with three restaurants, a multi-level pool complete with bar, a cascading waterfall that runs UNDER the hotel, a chalet that sleeps 6 overlooking the river and a gardener’s dream in terms of the grounds. It impressed the heck out of me and it’s a far cry from the tents at Ghanzi. There was a beautiful restaurant called Mokoros (which is actually the name of a dugout canoe used in the Okavanga Delta). They had a huge buffet and I was starving by 2pm. Off to the room which was again huge. Two bedrooms and two bathrooms, a living room with a sofa bed and a nice size apartment sized kitchen.

After a great lunch and dropping off baggage to the room, it was a game drive from 3:30 – just after sunset. I really didn’t know what to expect so I was going with an open mind. Oh MY GOD!!! I could hardly describe the experience. Our driver Gibson took us to the Chobe Park which is about 11,000 square kms. It is the largest park in Botswana and about 5 kms from Kasane. I used to watch TV and see African safaris but I never thought in a million years that I would ever actually experience one and Botswana is one of the few places in Africa that you can still see much of the environment protected from copious amounts of tourists. Of course you couldn’t tell that from the convoy of vehicles that were in the park for the game drive. We looked like we were in the zoo and the animals were looking at us – likely thinking “what are those creatures? Look at them. Look how they have those metal things dangling from their necks and look at the way they are pointing and making strange noises.”

Now for the actual game drive. We got into the park and the first thing you notice is how dry and deforested everything looks. That’s from the elephants looking for food in the dry season (now). They eat as much as 300 kgs of food each day and drink about 200 litres of water.

We saw the first herd of elephants (about 5) and I got so excited that I quickly got out my camera and started clicking away. Little was I to know that it was just the beginning!!! I felt like a kid going to the zoo for the first time but this is no zoo and the animals are not in a cage. They are free to roam and we are the ones needing protection if we get too stupid. Then it was a bachelor herd of impalas. I am now certain that if I ever see another impala anywhere, I’ll be able to recognize by dark tan colour with the black stripes on the behind. There were kudus with the humps and sort of greyish brown. There were lots of buffalos. They are the most dangerous of all the animals in the park, the hippos being the second dangerous. We went down by the river and saw some hippos in the water but we could only see the backs because they were mostly submerged – occasionally spouting jets of water from their heads. There were lots more elephants by the water and the herd had several baby ones. And this part is for Izabel. The baby elephants were not sitting in their mommy’s laps. They were walking beside the mommies but on the inside of the pack because the mommies protect them. The babies have lots of mommies because all the mommies take care of each other’s babies.

The herd usually has one male elephant, which is huge – about 3 ½ meters high and weighs 6000 kgs. Females are about 2 ½ meters and weighs about 3500 kgs. When the male gets too old to take care of the herd, it leaves and there is a fight between the males from the bachelor pack to see who gets to lead the herd. When the old males leave the herd, they go off n their own and will eventually lose their teeth, and die of starvation because they can no longer feed themselves. There are no female herds because the females will never leave their families and by staying together, they help to protect the baby elephants from predators. There were a few male herds, grazing and sometimes fighting among each other but mostly they stay by themselves. The young males from the family herd can stay until they are about a year or two old then they have to leave too and either join another bachelor herd or form their own. The lone male with the females will impregnate all the eligible females but he also has to be strong enough to fight off the other males who may want to take over his herd. The gestation period is about 22 months and the new babies are about 120 kgs. When born. The babies will hold on to the mother’s tail with their trunks so that the mother can protect them. They really are cute to look at especially when they are travelling and the young ones are in between the big ones being well protected by all the other females.

We drove on some more and I really wanted to see a zebra but Gibson said that we won’t see any because they only come when the rainy season starts because they need the grass which is almost non-existent now. We saw some lions but they were so far away that we would need binoculars to see them and them only barely. Disappointing but I could say that I saw some lions. Up close would be better and certainly chasing something would be even more special. We were lucky to see some giraffes. Not some - in fact we saw two. They are huge and they’re not in a zoo!! They were just wandering around and stopped right in front of my camera for a perfect photo opp. I was using Izabel’s call – Psst - and it seemed to work like a charm. I knew that kid was smart. On our way out of the park, guess what? ZEBRAS!!! A small herd but zebras. I called out Psst and they stopped again for a photo opp. It was a perfect ending to the game drive. I was satisfied that if I didn’t see anything else for the rest of the trip, I’d be happy because I saw zebras and giraffes. I can go to Las Vegas to see lions – in cages mind you – but I can see them. Seriously, this place is so amazing that I could hardly believe I’m here.

We went back to the hotel just after dusk with a nice satisfied feeling. It was cold in the vehicle driving back. As soon as the sun sets, the cold air seems to descend as if in waiting. Dinner was at the Commissioner’s restaurant where we could have a buffet dinner with a braai (a BBQ) of chicken, Bream (a bony fish from the Chobe River), kudu and warthog sausage. We could have chosen to eat upstairs where the servers will serve you but we stayed downstairs where it’s outdoors on a beautiful balcony overlooking the Chobe River. If you want a perfect vacation which is part honeymoon/adventure/safari/luxury/family vacation, this is definitely the place (if you can afford it). I may be working for a very long time to pay for these few days but hey, what are credit cards for? You don’t really have to pay the money when you use the card, do you? Robin says that we have never carried a balance on the credit card so that must mean that they don’t charge us. Yeh!! Right!! It’s time for a good night’s sleep after all that fresh air and wild animal sightings. It was a good day altogether.

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