Our Southern African Adventure, Part 9: Botswana – Maun & Chobe

After our time in the hot and humid climate of the Okavango, I was ready for cooler temperatures and a bit of R&R. Though we certainly had much cooler temperatures the next few days, I can’t say that I received the kind of rest I was hoping for.

Day 21

Six of us had decided that we wouldn’t be spending our morning relaxing by the pool at the Maun campsite today. Instead, the group of us would be heading back into town and to the airport. We had decided to take a scenic flight that would take us over the Okavango in an attempt to view the wildlife from a new perspective.

Gathering at the airport and moving through passport control (even though we would be landing back at the same airport) we were driven out onto the airport tarmac. Out on the tarmac we met with the Mack Air pilot and the plane that would be taking us up for the next hour.

Lis in front of the plane for our scenic flight

Lis in front of the plane for our scenic flight

The plane was tiny and built for only six passengers plus the pilot. One of the seats was up front and next to the pilot. This seat came complete with steering capabilities, though we were assured that all controls on that side of the plane had been disabled. One of the Brits took this front seat, while Rich and I clamoured into the next row of seats, with the two Kiwis and the German sitting behind us.

After we had received our safety briefing and had buckled up in our seats as tightly as we could, the plane took off. We only flew about 500 meters above the Delta, but that altitude was more than enough. It was a spectacular sight to behold. Even without the animals, it felt like US$80 very well spent. From where we were we could see how the waters of the Okavango twisted and turned through constantly changing desert and lush green landscapes.

A view of the Okavango from above

A view of the Okavango from above

The icing on the cake though really was the animals. Below us were huge herds of elephants, masses of water buffalo (we had now seen all of the Big 5 animals!), lots of giraffes, plenty of zebras and antelopes, as well as hippos moving through the waters. To everyone’s delight, including the pilot who started happily shouting at us all to look while fist pumping, we flew above a very rare sight – two adults and one baby rhino walking through the bush.

Being above this scene as well was a bit of a relief, because for the first time I didn’t feel like we were disturbing the animals. Most of the time when we were out on bush walks or game drives it seemed like the animals we encountered were on edge. Now, as we were watching them from above it didn’t seem like we were hindering their movements at all. Even the birds took no notice of us as they soared beneath the plane, great goliath herons swooping around with no fear.

below

A herd of water buffalo gather below

As a whole, the flight would have been perfect had we all not gotten a bit air sick. In order to get the best possible view of everything, our pilot had to keep tilting the plane on what felt like pretty extreme angles. As we rocked from side to side each one of us slowly started to turn green in the face. The speed of the plane combined with this constant swaying unfortunately also made it quite difficult to take photos.

Despite how beautiful it all had been, landing was a bit of a relief. It took about three hours for the air sickness to dissipate and for everyone to feel normal once more. I’m not sure that the four hour truck ride to our next campsite (a little resort with plenty of wi-fi, bad food, and a single tent for the group of us) helped us either.

Day 22

On this morning we drove to Chobe National Park, near the Botswanan border with Zimbabwe. Chobe is meant to have the highest concentration of animals of any game reserve and we were all really excited to see what we could find here.

Even before we reached Chobe we encountered something remarkable (along with possible evidence of my deliriousness). Driving along the main highway to Chobe nearly everyone in the truck suddenly let out a long and high gasp, waking me from my slumber. Shaking myself awake to see what all the commotion was about I saw a beautiful leopard walking steadily along the side of the road. It was stunning. I was so pleased to have finally gotten my wish to for once see a big cat instead of yet another herd of elephants.

Waiting for the bus to come to a stop I was confused when we drove straight by the leopard, and instead stopped near a waterhole on the side of the road. Here a herd of approximately seventy elephants were enjoying an early morning drink. Completely perplexed at how we could have driven past a leopard in favour of some more elephants, I whirled around to see where the leopard had gone to, but it was nowhere to be seen. Tearing Rich momentarily away from his camera I asked him what was going on. It seems that I was the only person who had seen the leopard. I was probably seeing things as I had not slept well the past few nights, but the leopard had looked pretty real to me.

Elephants gather at on waterhole on the side of the road.

Elephants gather at a waterhole on the side of the road.

With that sense of disappointment lurking in the back of my head, it was hard for me to feel enthusiastic about the massive herd outside the truck. However, even in my disillusioned state, I have to admit that seeing all these elephants hanging out on the side of one of Botswana’s most heavily used roadways was pretty amazing.

The elephants

The elephants

After the elephants disappeared into the bush, we continued onwards, road signs warning us of dangerous animals roaming the area becoming more and more frequent.

By the time that we arrived, the sun had fully risen making any possible sighting of big cats highly unlikely as they’d be hiding from the heat of the day by now. Regardless, we all piled into a 4X4 not far from the park entrance and turned in.

It was absolutely astounding how many animals there were roaming about, completely uninterested in the approaching humans. Along a river within the park there seemed to be animals for miles. Impala, baboons, water buffalo, hippos, warthogs, elephants, crocodiles, and all sorts of birds seemed to have come down to this river in mass. It was like a scene straight out of the lion king – except without the lions.

Pumba!

Pumbaa!

At one point, having turned up into the bush, we encountered a herd of nearly fifty elephants walking down to the river. Our guide being much more daring than myself drove directly in the path of these elephants, blocking their way. We were so close to some of them that I felt certain that they could easily yank us out of the Jeep one by one with their trunks. I spent much of the next ten to fifteen minutes on the brink of panic. Surely, by getting this close to the elephants they’d see us as a threat to them and their little ones. They certainly seemed agitated too as they shook their massive heads at us.

Blocking the elephants' path

Blocking the elephants’ path

As even more jeeps came to join us and get up close and personal with the elephants, our guide finally decided that it was time to move on. Driving back, I was starting to get desperate to see a lion and kept watching the undersides of bushes to see if anything was hiding. The most I saw though was a quick flash of a honey badger’s tail as it scurried into a hole.

We were dropped off back at the truck and from there headed east for the Zimbabwean border crossing. It might be wrong of me, but I was thrilled to find that even with my American passport I was not going to be paying an excessive fee to get into the country. Instead, it was the Brits that were getting the raw end of the deal with a US$55 charge – and goodness, I was happy not to be Canadian. Canadians wanting to enter into Zimbabwe have to pay a very steep US$75 fee. Americans, Australians and most other countries happily only have to pay the standard fare of US$30.

What did the Canadians do to get charged so heavily?

After a bit of jostling with cash and visas, and some very unhappy Brits we crossed through. What was waiting for us there was absolutely astonishing.

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