Friday, October 19, 2007
Ihaha, Chobe National Park, to Kasane, Botswana

Overnight, we heard all kinds of animals tramping around right outside the camper, warthogs and baboons for sure, and who knows what else!  We could also hear lions in the distance to the east.  This is one time I was glad I didn't have to get up in the night to pee.  We were awakened to the sound of baboons invading our camp, so we got an early start and were out game driving by 5:45 a.m.  After four nights in the parks, we'd yet to see any cats, so we were hoping they'd be out in the cool air of the early morning. 



Zebras in the Chobe River floodplain

We drove east, hugging the river bank, and soon came across a spotted hyena drinking from then river, and then we saw two more.  A rare daytime sighting!  They took off in a run, but we captured them anyway (via camera, of course). 



Spotted hyena

Later in our drive we rounded a curve and encountered a herd of African, or Cape, buffalo.  Turning around was an option, but I hate to backtrack.  The buffalo looked like overgrown cows to me.  I'm from Oklahoma, and I'm not going to be intimidated by cows, at least not when I'm in a vehicle.  Tom was apprehensive, but I told him, "Just drive through them; they're just stupid cows."  Tom gingerly picked our way through the herd, inching forward when he had the chance, and we soon made it past the buffaloes and continued on our way.  Only later did we learn that buffalo are known as Africa's most dangerous animal, killing dozens of people per year.  Oops!  I think their fearsome reputation must be exaggerated, although they are aggressive enough to fend off lion attacks.  All the people who warned me to be careful, and no one even mentioned to look out for the killer cows!



African buffalo - They look like stupid cows to me

The Serondela Picnic Site is located on what used to be Serondela Campsite until the new campsite was established at Ihaha.  Serondela had to be closed to campers because it became overrun by elephants.  Personally, I think Ihaha is a better spot because it's further from the town of Kasane, 30km away, and thus too far for day trippers.  The eastern entrance to Chobe National Park is only 4km from Kasane, and the first dozen or so kilometers of the park is frequented by big safari trucks full of tourists coming in for the day on wildlife drives from the lodges.  It's still not crowded, by any means, but compared to the seclusion we've enjoyed these past four days, the tracks approaching the eastern gate are just teeming with people.  We stopped and made our morning coffee at Serondela and found the site nice but not extraordinary.



Look at all the babies!

Our early start was rewarded with sightings of elephants, zebras, antelopes, hyenas, African buffalo, and even a honey badger, but still no cats.  Eventually, I gave up hope of seeing any cats at all.  I didn't give up looking, but I did give up hoping.  Then, finally, just a few kilometers from exiting the park, LIONS!  There were two of them just sitting under a tree next to the road, waiting for us to come by and take their picture.  How cooperative!



Yes!  Cats!  Two lazy lions



I don't like the way she's looking at me

Our quest for cats finally satisfied, at 9:30 we left Chobe via Sidudu Gate, signing out and showing our previous paperwork, then traveled 4km to Kasane.  Back in civilization for the first time in days, we had a lot of errands to run, but the first thing was gas.  We went straight to the only filling station in Kasane, which had recently burned down!  We were so low on fuel this would have totally freaked me out if I hadn't had a heads-up about it from my Internet buddy Bruce, who had traveled through here a month before.  There is another filling station 8km up the road in the tiny town of Kazungula, thank goodness.  We were down to our last 15 liters.

Next, back in Kasane, we went to an auto parts store, and Tom bought a temporary taillight for 60 pula ($10).  He didn't hook it up, but at least we had something that could be jerry-rigged in the event we got stuck in the no-man's-land between countries during a border crossing.  In case we were denied entry due to the missing taillight, this was our insurance policy.  We inquired at the auto parts store about a nut and bolt for our stairs, but no luck.

After that, we wanted to book a sundowner cruise on the Chobe River for this evening, something Kasane is famous for, and we needed to find a campsite for tonight.  Hopefully, we would be able to book the cruise wherever we found lodging, and if the cruises were in walking distance of the camping, that would be perfect.  Then we could set up camp before the cruise and not have to mess with it afterwards.  

Chobe Safari Lodge met all our requirements.  It's a very nice lodge with good facilities, and they run cruises that leave from their own private jetty.  It couldn't have been more convenient!  It was no problem booking a three-hour river trip for that same evening, 180 pula per person, including park entrance fees.  And they had a little gift shop selling postcards and would mail them for you from the lodge.

The campsites, unlike the rest of Chobe Safari Lodge's nice facilities, are pretty poor - dusty and cramped and full of large overlander groups.  The self-drivers like us just get crammed in anywhere between the bigger groups.  Camping was 55 pula per person, so 110 for the two of us.  There's an electric fence topped with razor wire enclosing the grounds to keep out the wildlife and a guard walking the perimeter 24 hours a day armed with a slingshot to keep the monkeys at bay.  The lodge campsite personnel gave us a couple of choices of small pitches.  From our pitch, there was a nice view of the river through the fence.  We set out our table and chairs to claim our spot and went to run more errands.  

We stopped at an ATM for pula, did a bit of grocery and beer shopping, and finally, on our ninth day in Africa, got an opportunity to use the Internet.  When I sat down at the computer, a warning popped up on the screen stating that the computer was not running a genuine copy of Microsoft Windows.  We considered this sketchy for an Internet facility open to the public, so we didn't check our email, which could possibly contain private information, but simply sent out one brief note to our family and friends from an alternate email address just to check in.



Marry [sic] Christmas

Back at our campsite, we found a large group of Italians had set up camp in the pitch next to us and were totally encroaching on our little piece of turf.  They even had their crap lying across our chairs, which were supposedly safeguarding our space.  Eventually they moved the majority of their stuff off of our site and onto theirs, but they felt free to walk across our territory at will.  I miss the seclusion of the parks!

It was a short walk to the pier to catch our cruise at 3:30.  I was vexed to see our Italian neighbors heading over at the same time we were, but it turned out that there were two boats, and they were on the other one.  Yes!

 

Chobe Safari Lodge from the Chobe River, Kasane, Botswana

The cruise boat held about 40 passengers and had a cash bar.  An announcement was made that every currency was accepted at the bar except Zimbabwean dollars and Zambian kwacha.  Yeah, I'll bet.  I wish I'd brought some pesos or bolivianos just to test them!  Anyway, we had pula, so we were all set.  At one point I bought a bottle of water for 6.50 pula.  An older couple asked me how much it cost and then spent some considerable effort between themselves trying to do the currency conversion.  Just before their heads exploded, Tom and I told them it was about a dollar.

The main activity when visiting Kasane is a sundowner cruise.  It would be ludicrous to come here and not do this!  Late afternoon and evening is the time of day many animals come down to the water to drink, so the variety and number of game is superb, and you've got a great view, capped off with an amazing African sunset.  It was perfect.



More dumb cows a/k/a African buffalo a/k/a Cape buffalo



What a croc!

The boat didn't go very far upriver, but it really didn't need to, there's such an abundance of wildlife nearby.  We got some great crocodile photos, the first close-up crocs of the trip.  The rest of the game we'd seen pretty well from land, but it was a completely different perspective seeing them from the water, the hippos especially, who were obviously agitated by our presence.



That is a LOT of hippos



Aren't they cute?

Most of the cruise was spent in the area of Sedudu Island.  Sedudu Island is a low, flat island in the Chobe River, the river that forms the boundary between Namibia and Botswana.  The border is defined as the deepest channel, but in the Chobe River that definition is imprecise and changes over time.  Both countries have claimed the island over the years, but in 1996 an international tribunal ruled the island belongs to Botswana.  The flag of Botswana flies prominently over the 5-square-kilometer island, and a lonely Botswanan military plane flew back and forth along the river patrolling the border for the three hours we spent there.



Good one!

It was a short walk back to our campsite from the boat jetty after the cruise, and it was nice not having to set up camp after dark.  Our truck was parked in our tiny campsite such that the camper door was dangerously close to the electric boundary fence, so we had to be careful not electrocute ourselves as we were entering and exiting.  

For dinner tonight I diced and fried a good cut of steak we'd bought earlier in the day, threw in a can of "mild & spicy" chakalaka, which was still pretty hot, and added a can of kidney beans.  It was mmm-mmm good.

What do you get when you cross and elephant with a rhino?  Elephino.

64 kilometers Ihaha to Kasane to Kazungula to Kasane, with game drives.

Continue to October 20

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