Botswana - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 50
Chobe National Park
Thursday 1st May
As promised, today was a very long drive but we are now settled at our camp-site here in Chobe National Park. I find myself hastening the end of this overland trip. It has been a great trip but not without its problems. The constant early starts and long drives are certainly affecting Sandy’s ability to relax and enjoy herself. If we had more than a day or two in any given location, this would definitely help but we are constantly on the move. Given the vast distances that we’ve covered, we certainly would not have been able to make this journey independently as we would probably have killed each other by now. For the remainder of our time in Africa, we will try to arrange more time at a given location and less percentage of the time actually travelling around.
Having said all that, I’ve enjoyed myself immensely so far. The one major critique of the overland tour that I would have is that there have been several occasions where the evening meal was not included as a part of the tour. In and of itself, this is not a problem and was expected but almost each time that this has happened, it has coincided with us being at a location where there are extremely limited and only very expensive eating options. Tomorrow night, for example, we are supposed to fend for ourselves but the only option is to eat at the buffet here at the lodge, as there are no restaurants anywhere within transport distance. The buffet is 85 Pula per person, which is almost $20 each. On the surface, this does not sound like a lot but as we are on a long-term travel budget, this is actually quite expensive and several orders of magnitude more expensive than we have been accustomed to so far. We will not last very long if we have to regularly spend this much money on a single meal.
Another irritation that has been bothering me over the past week or so has been my interaction with our tour guide, Theron (which is pronounced Tron, incidentally). He seems to take it personally when I voice concerns about the growing costs of the trip and such. It’s gotten to a point now that there is a tension in the air between us. Our two trainee guides are apparently also having some problems with him. This overland trip will be completed in a couple of nights so I will try my best to hold out till then.
Our trip concludes with tonight and tomorrow night here in Chobe National Park before driving the last little bit into Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls where we will spend the last night with the group. Chobe is our last chance to get to see some game animals before we head up North. Chobe is a huge place. Although it has a defined perimeter, there is no physical boundary such as a fence or river. During our drive in, we saw Elephants several times. At one point, Theron had to stop the truck to allow a small herd of them, including a couple of babies, to cross the road just in front of us. It was quite a sight. In fact, we also saw an Elephant just up the road from the entrance to our camp-site. It was easily within walking distance of where our tents are currently situated. In retrospect to my run in with an angry Elephant yesterday morning, this is actually quite a sobering thought.
The drive up here from Maun was long and uninteresting with one obvious exception. The other day, we stopped alongside the road, as we often do for various reasons, and Theron had the two guides take all the meat out of the freezer to hide elsewhere in the truck. You are not allowed to bring fresh meat into Botswana from other countries (a vane attempt to stimulate the local meat economy more than anything else) so we had to hide our meat to prevent it from being found and confiscated. As it happened, the expected border checks did not take place and so hiding the meat turned out not to be necessary. About two hours after leaving Maun, today, we reached what looked like a country border crossing but was actually a county line border. A huge sing next to the barrier seemed to imply that it was not legal to transport fresh meat across the county line. This was something new that Theron was unaware of and was apparently some kind of attempt to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease. The border guard and Theron didn’t get off to a good start and the guard found our freezer full of meat, as it always is, and became quite irate. We all had to get out of the truck to present our passports for inspection and we were told that we could not proceed with the meat and that it had to be confiscated. The relationship and communication between Theron and the border guard had by now pretty much deteriorated to a pissing contest with the guard demanding that Theron hand over the meat to him. It seemed obvious even to us that the guard was simply after the meat and had designs on a huge cook-up later on this evening. It was clear to anyone that this meat was for our own consumption after all. Determined not to let the power hungry guard away with this, Theron siphoned a litre of diesel fuel from the tank and promptly took the meat to the side of the road and set it alight, much to his annoyance and our delight. These types of border guards are either always looking for bribes or are otherwise looking to simply exercise their authority and this particular guide was a classic example. Although we were deprived of our meat, we at least were able to prevent the Bugger from getting away with anything this time.
Sandy received an e-mail the other day from Liana. Liana and Anton’s newborn baby, Calvin, will be christened soon. Since Sandy is the child’s godmother, it is quite important that we get back to Europe in time for the christening so that Sandy can be present. In all honesty, I think that this is the excuse that Sandy has been waiting for to hasten the end of this Africa leg of our world tour. Accordingly, I have been looking at our schedule and what we want to do and see before leaving the continent. I have another Word document that I use to tentatively plan the coming weeks. The contents of this document change every time I open it. In playing around with the dates and locations, it seems that we can be back to Europe by the last week in June although this will require us taking a few internal flights. When we get to Vic Falls, we will learn if the christening can wait until then. We should also be able to finalise much of the remainder of our trip once in Vic Falls.