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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Botswana (and Zimbabwe) Express

Hurry or you'll be broke...

After our second night in Botswana, we realized that this was not a place for people on a mid-range budget. You either went on the cheap by bringing your own camping gear or eco-lodge luxurious (read: expensive safari tents with beds and outdoor showers – in the freezing winter.) A more or less affordable lodge explained the tourism objective – low impact, high income. In their attempt to preserve their natural attractions, they tried to avoid mass tourism by catering to only those who could afford to stay in exclusive accommodations. Even well equipped campers complained of exorbitant prices. So, we went through the country with the mindset that we weren’t staying long.

My fantasies of paddling through the placid Okavango Delta in a traditional mokoro dried up as soon as we realized that we would have to be dishing out thousands of dollars for a simple ride. The aerial images in my head of the largest inland delta in the world were staying right there for this trip. Instead we started in the more accessible (to the long-term and independent traveler) panhandle area. As was the case in all our attempts in Botswana for accommodation, the lodge we chose first was full of government workers traveling throughout the country for conferences. What a cushy job, civil servants put up in luxury lodges usually reserved for tourists ready to lay out some hard cash! As an alternative, the lodge owner arranged for us to take a boat to a more remote safari tent lodge along the river. We were able to relax for a few days in the deceivingly tranquil banks of the Okavango. Our nights were spent waiting to see hippos grazing on grass outside our tent. Unfortunately, we heard them close-by but didn’t get a sighting. Marc got lucky on a walk at sunset and scared a hippo grazing more inland in the bush.

We skirted around the less accessible (at least financially) parts of the Delta to where the water and greenery from the river disappears and the blindingly white and lifeless salt pans of the Mkgadigadi begin. We followed tire and zebra tracks to make our own imprints.

At Gweta Lodge, near the pans, we were convinced by a few guest as well as our hosts not to skip the Chobe river and a side trip to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The falls lived up to their hype and the Victoria Falls Hotel lunch (ostrich thai salad and crocodile pesto pasta) and setting were an additional treat. As good (and as clean-looking) as that meal was, I suffered slight food poisoning the following day and missed the sunset boat safari full of animals calling the Chobe home.

Our last stop was through the Tuli Block with impressively thick dolorite wall rocks that formerly ran through a river bank. We barely made it through the sand with our Subaru!

Quick, out of here! (But we still loved you Botswana.)

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