Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Botswana - Chobe National Park

(Elephants - including a tiny baby elephant walk across the grasslands and waters of Chobe National Park.)

After Zimbabwe, going into Botswana was like going to a different continent.

Immediately the roads were better and there were new shops and petrol stations.

It seemed that everyone was better dressed, and I noticed in particular how people had new-ish leather shoes whereas I remembered that most people in Zimbabwe had poor shoes or none at all.

It was also noticeable how people seemed to walk around with some kind of purpose while a lot of people in Zimbabwe didn't seem to have anywhere to go to, or anything to do. Not surprising given that unemployment in that country is 80% in some areas, whilst Botswana's economy has been one of the best performing in Africa in recent years.

This wasn't an entirely new sensation. Going from Bolivia to Chile in January was quite a culture-shock, but though this felt similar, it was a much bigger change and left me with a really strange feeling. After looking forward to Botswana so much, I now had a feeling of disappointment, as if I'd left part of the real Africa behind...

For once, I decided to leave my camera behind so that I might better enjoy the cruise. This turned out to be a big mistake as the wildlife was amazing. Both of our tour leaders - Chris and Nancy - said that it was miles better than any time they had done the cruise in the past. Luckily Alex had his camera and got some great shots (he's got a great eye for a beautiful photo) - some of which you can see here. And anyway, I didn't feel as bad as the other half of the group who didn't go at all!

Chobe National Park is a spectacular game reserve close to Botswana’s borders with Zimbabwe and Zambia. The key feature of the park is the Chobe River which flows through one corner of the park and provides a huge number of drinking and bathing options for discerning elephants, hippos and water buffalo.

The park has the highest concentration of elephants in Africa, with an incredible 120,000 in the park. As you can see from the photos, we didn’t have any trouble spotting elephants.

Amazingly, we didn’t have any problems spotting hippos out of the water either. We had seen hippos a number of times in Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe, but always just a tantalising glimpse of their eyes, the rest of the hippo being hidden in the water. Now we were treated to the sight of a herd of about 30 walking around out of the water, drinking and yawning, as if posing for photographs. There were also some very young baby rhinos which were an absolute joy to watch.

Hippos are famous for being the most dangerous animal in Africa, responsible for the most number of deaths each year. Although they looked docile for most of the time, we did see a couple of fights.

Charging hippos are quite a pulse-quickening sight – they can definitely outrun humans. The hippos always seemed to keep some distance from elephants and water buffalo, all of which seem to treat each other with a lot of respect.

As well as those big three animals, we saw some other big game, including a huge crocodile and beautiful Kudu, of which there are pictures of a male (above) and female (below) here.
The absolute highlight of the cruise was saved for last.

Just as we were heading back up the river, we were lucky enough to see an elephant wade across the river right in front of the boat. The water was never quite deep enough that the elephant had to swim, but watching it wade across, using its trunk as a snorkel, was spectacular. You can see photos here of the elephant in the water and emerging at the other side.

Another of those ‘tearful’ moments that I’ve had quite a few of on this trip! (Embarrassing, heh heh heh!)

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