Recently, we travelled to Maun over the Easter Holiday. Maun is a
large tourism-centered village in northern Botswana. It is the seat to
most of the country's Okavango eco-tourism, and while we were there we
made sure to get in some excursions to see the wildlife of Botswana.
We stayed at The Old Bridge Backpackers lodged and paid a small fee to
setup a tent and camp there. The lodge offered bathroom and bathing
facilities so we weren't roughing it too much. There was also a bar
and a restaurant that allowed us to enjoy burgers, wraps, and pizza
most all of the day!
A batch of our fellow Bots11 volunteers joined us at the lodge and it
was fun to see our friends and go on excursions with them. Also,
during our time at the lodge our group became friends with some other
backpackers that were travelling through the area. Cameron and Jake
were a couple of Australian guys that had be travelling through
Namibia, S. Africa, and Botswana on a holiday. We all got along great
and their research of the areas offerings allowed us to do some things
we might not otherwise have known we could do. Firstly, we went with
them on a plane ride over the Okavango where we were able to take in
the vastness of the region and also see some animals (hippos, crocs,
elephants, zebras, impalas, giraffe). The one hour plane flight cost
~P500, which is a little expensive in terms of our meager Peace Corps
allowance, but it was worth it! Later that day we also took a relaxing
boat ride through some of the Okavango tributaries that were near our
lodge which was located on the bank of one of the rivers.
After a day of rest, we embarked on a full day 4x4 trek through the
Moremi game reserve. The Moremi reserve is one of the three major
reserves of Botswana's Okavango region. The drive started at 6am, the
open air truck we were sitting in with 6 other volunteers was pretty
chilly as we drove the hour or so to the reserve. Once we arrived at
the reserve our tour guides setup a cereal and coffee breakfast for us
and after eating we got started with the game drive.
During the drive through the Moremi reserve we first saw a small herd
of zebra and impala grazing only ~10m from the side of the trail! And
then up ahead we were able to spot our first giraffe and elephants.
The animals were generally uninterested in us but would occasionally
watch us closely for a few minutes and then would walk off into the
brush. The impala, giraffe, and zebra were plentiful for most of the
drive, and on the way back through the game reserve at the end of the
day we encountered a lot more elephants that were making their way
from the shade of the trees out into the open areas were they could
get more water and food.
Lunch was setup at the turning-back-point of the game drive in a large
open field. In the distance a large herd of elephants enjoyed their
time at a watering hole and it was the most memorable lunch we have
had in our time here thus far!
After lunch we loaded up in the trucks and made out way back through
the game reserve hoping that some large cats would be out as the day
was beginning to cool down. However, no cats were spotted that day but
the other truck took an alternate route home and happened across a
wildcat which is a species of cat that looks strikingly like a house
cat but is actually 100% pure wild animal (it is not to be confused
with feral cats, which are domesticated varieties that have adapted to
life in the wild). We were told that the wildcat was about twice the
size of a standard house cat and was napping under a bush near the
Instead of seeing a wildcat on our truck's drive back through the
reserve we were treated to an up-close hippo sighting. The hippo was
grazing a little ways away from its waterhole, and as we sat and
watched it grazing it began to make its way back to the water. The
hippo was accompanied by oxpecker birds, or something like them, that
hopped around on its body eating debris and bugs and also picking at a
pretty large gash on the hippos side. The guide said that lone
elephants and hippos are usually male because unless they are breeding
they tend to live solitary lives in their own separate territories.
The hippo was surprisingly graceful in its walk and stopped to stare
us down after sliding back into the water. As many of you might
already know, the hippo is Africa's most dangerous animal in terms of
actual attacks and deaths each year. They are notoriously territorial
and highly aggressive and kill more people than any other large
animals here. But the hippo we saw wasn't too interested in us and
allowed us to go on our way without any fuss.
After the hippo sighting we game across another large herd of impala
and learned that most heard as populated by many females and a single
dominant male. The male is interchangeable and often challenged by
other lone males that are looking for a harem of females to travel
The last major sighting of the trip was a large herd of 20+ elephants
that were making their way across the trail. They were led by the
dominant female elephant and a small calf. And as the female came to
the road about 10m in front of our truck she turned and balked at us
by stomping her foot, flaring her ears, and snorting. After their
gesture the rest of the herd stopped coming our way and turned around
and quickly retreated back into the trees. The instance was very
intimidating, given that the female was about twice the size of our
truck. But, as the guide explained, she was just unsure about what we
were up to and so decided to gesture towards us to make sure we
weren't planning on doing anything threatening to her and her herd.
After checking us out from a distance she and the calf retreated into
the trees again too.
That is all of the stories we have regarding our animal adventures.
The rest of the weekend we were able to relax and enjoy life near the
water. It was shocking how much relief we were able to enjoy was being
near a large body of water. The sounds of the water and its wildlife
along with all of the green vegetation and trees were therapeutic for
us and all of the other volunteers from our group that are stationed
in the desert regions of the country! At out site we rarely see water
outside of our sinks as it only rains about one time a month and
usually for only a short amount of time.
The trip from our village to Maun took us an entire day, and required
us to hitchhike for about half of the journey. But, as we have
mentioned before hitching is an expected part of travel in the remote
regions of the country because the national bus system's coverage is
sparse on the western side of the country. If you live on the Eastern
side, near the larger villages you are able to find taxis, buses, and
combi's (mini-buses and vans) that run regular routes all over the
place). But, when hitching you are usually able to negotiate with the
driver so that you only have to pay the price of the bus fare for your
distance of travel. Although there are some fancier cars in this
country most people either drive beatup Japanese trucks or corollas.
After spending most of my driving life in my own Toyota Corolla, it
was been a strange experience to see so many around and to be riding
around in cars just like the one I used to drive back in the US.
All in all, while travel in Botswana is usually an exhausting day-long
event, the time we had in Maun with the wildlife and our good friends
we well worth the effort! And we are looking forward to seeing more of
the country soon. But for now, school is starting up again and we are
both back at work. However, the maintenance people that have been
slowly working through each of the teachers' houses have finally made
it to our home. They are painting the interiors and also replacing the
kitchen counters and cabinets. To insure the safety and respect of our
property I have stayed home and worked on the computer while the men
went about their business updating our home.
Each day during this maintenance process goes as follows: 8am, the
painter shows up and starts mixing his paint bucket and then
disappears for an hour or two. During his absence the counter and
cabinet replacers may or may not show up. But eventually they will
make an appearance before leaving for 10:30 tea break. Everyone
returns for a flurry of work around 11am and then leaves again for
lunch around 12:30pm. By this time about 1 full hour of work has been
done on any one job. After lunch, the painter really gets going and
usually finishes up a room (our home has a living room, bathroom,
kitchen, bedroom, and short hallway). Needless to say, I will never
ever ever take American work ethic for granted when it comes to
contracting laborers for maintenance jobs. Even if there might be call
for complaint if workers leave a mess or are a little slow in the US,
it is a night and day difference when compared with the efficiency and
thoroughness of work in the US. I am sure this blanket statement
doesn't go for all of the maintenance workers of Botswana, but the
ones that have been contracted at our school leave a lot to be
desired. But, with that complaining aside, we are about a half a week
away from having our place to ourselves again were we will be able to
enjoy a nice fixed-up home.
And to top it off, we have a kitten to share our home with now too! Of
the three kittens we attempted to rescue and hand raise from the time
they were about 3 days old, only one of the kittens has survived. The
first kitten only made it a day or two and passed away. But the second
kitten was the one we had hoped to keep while giving the third to
another volunteer. However, after returning from Maun we collected our
two kittens from the volunteer we had left them with and brought them
home. The one we were going to keep (named Gizmo, after we noted the
similarity in the noises he made with the noises made by the cute
mogwai in the movie Gremlins) was not gaining weight and growing like
the other kitten was. And seemed to be developing some respiratory
issues. We consulted online/email vets and did as much research as we
could online but were never able to find a way that we could do much
to help our kitten get better without veterinary assistance. There are
vets located in Botswana, but they are in the larger villages that are
a days travel from our site. And after a night of labored breathing,
Gizmo died. It was a traumatic experience and after all of the work
and love that we have put into raising these kittens we are pretty
sure that we will never attempt hand-raising orphaned kittens again.
But the experience has been interesting and it has given us a new
distraction from the stresses of service.
The remaining kitten is doing very well and has transitioned into the
learning-to-pounce-and-stalk phase, so we have had a lot of fun
playing with her and trying to not let her get too used to playing
with our hands (as we have heard that too much hand-play can create a
cat that loves to bite and play with hands when they get older). We
are still working on picking out the perfect name for our kitten, but
here are a few of the names we are trying out: beardy, grey beard,
motsomi (hunter in setswana), girlfriend, one tusk, and fang. The list
goes on, but we will eventually settle on whatever seems to fit her
best. But for now, she will just be the kitten with a thousand names.
I will let my rambling account of the past few weeks experiences end
here. We are always available to talk by phone or email so if you have
any other questions or just want to say he, let us know!