Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Chobe National Park

We took a day off to recover from the tough mokoro trip, and then gathered ourselves for the trip up to Kasane, the entry point to Chobe National Park - home to large herds of elephants. I'm sure our departure was much to the relief of the Crocodile Camp people, who must have been wondering whether we would ever leave, as we were still enjoying our "bungalow for the price of a campsite" upgrade.
The combi to town was straightforward, and we found that the bus to Nata left in a few minutes - just enough time to dash into the local Spar (a supermarket chain we have become quite fond of) for a loaf of bread to sustain us. No need really, we were squashed into the bus so tight we could barely breathe, let alone move our arms to make a sandwich. Good thing the trip was only four hours...
Max ended up chatting with a bloke who, it turned out, sat next to him on the bus from Shakawe a few days earlier. He was really keen to get hold of the book Max was reading ("Affluenza" by Oliver James), and since I'd virtually finished it, we gave it to him. He was delighted, and so was I as it's another half a kilo out of my pack.
Nata turned out to be nothing more than a dusty intersection with three competing filling stations (as they're known in this part of the world). We ascertained that the "connecting" bus to Kasane comes through early each morning, is usually full as it departs from Francistown about 100km away, and didn't actually eventuate today. Hmm, not such good news - it also accounted for the large number of locals attempting to hitch a ride. We're not so good with local competition for rides, they definitely have the edge on us. However, we determinedly stood out on the road with the rest of them, vainly waving our hands at every passing vehicle. Nothing stopped. People slowly drifted off to god knows where. We retreated to the shade of one of the filling station cafes and considered our options. Max did a reccy of the surrounding area, and found a satisfactory bit of lawn, and come darkness we erected our tent, trying to be low key and not attract attention. We will be, after all, a little vulnerable during the night. Someone called out to us in the darkness, "watch out for the drains, they've been leaking lately". Ah, thanks. So much for operating under cover of darkness. We were also running low on local currency (the Pula - which is also the Tswana word for "rain", a precious commodity around here), so ended up eating another round of sandwiches for dinner, and having an early night.
The next morning we were, not surprisingly, up and packed early, and cashed in some karma as we got a lift all the way to our campsite in Kasane with Petr. He was returning a rental van, empty apart from himself, after holidaying with friends. Peter is from the Czech Republic and lives in Zambia, and apart from the welcome lift, he also gave us loads of useful info. Before we know it, we were in yet another pleasant camping spot, Thebe River Camp, checking out another Botswana town, Kasane - quite a bit smaller than Maun, but with a Spar supermarket and an internet cafe (with loo!). Can't ask for much more really.
Enough about the logistics - now for the animals. Chobe is known for its herds of elephants, and I was still itching to see large groups of them, of all sizes, playing in the water. We booked for an early morning game drive and a late afternoon cruise the next day. The game drive was really very disappointing - we saw very little, I think maybe it's getting a bit cold early in the morning for the animals (and for me too actually). The outing was only saved by a lioness and her three almost grown cubs which we saw near the end of the drive, and then a "kill" someway off the road, but advertised by half a dozen vultures, a few jackals and a couple of African wild dogs.
The afternoon cruise though made up for any disappointment - we saw the large herds of elephants I'd been hoping to see, including quite small babies. They were drinking, swimming, playing in the mud and generally being very adorable and photogenic.
There were also a couple of large groups of hippos, and I'm not sure, but I think maybe I can say that I've now seen hippo sex. A lot of grunting and splashing anyway. On the way back we saw a couple of young bull elephants playing about in the islands in the middle of the river, as the sun set. They were obviously just young lads larking about, it was great to see them chasing each other around, oblivious to us (and probably to their mothers, who must have been getting worried about them being out after dark!).

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