Dave's Botswana/Namibia

Botswana/Namibia

August 19 - September 4, 2009

I always imagined my next trip back to Africa would be Tanzania, which I would combine with either Uganda or Rwanda (TBD) to see the mountain gorillas, and then ideally end the trip with a visit to the Seychelles. I have determined that the Seychelles part will require the companionship of a girl I'm dating, but who knows what will happen. I think I will also some day go to Ethiopia and Madagascar as well. Anyway, somehow in all the travel planning Namibia entered my radar, and there was an interesting tour group that was going in my "idle" month of August.
I would have less than a week turn around time before leaving for my long planned Asia trip- I knew that would be less than ideal.

I kept looking at it every day, and the airfare was pretty good value. One morning it hit me that Namibia was right next to Botswana (before the trip I would make a few calls trying to procure the Namibia Lonely Planet from a local bookstore- guess what? I already have it, it is combined into the same book as Botswana...), so this was my chance to fulfill my desire to see meerkats in the wild, which I had given up on.
Bingo!
That's what I needed to push me over the edge, and after some meerkat research I pulled the trigger.

19th Wednesday- fly

Wed 19AUG DELTA #906* AUSTIN 355PM AR ATLANTA 716PM *Operated by PINNACLE AIRLINES
Wed 19AUG DELTA #200 ATLANTA 810PM AR JOHANNESBURG 515PM NEXT DAY
$1174 round trip

Tons of comfort food on the way out: egg drop soup in Austin airport, in Atlanta airport Arby's and a Krystal's coney.
Guys next to me on the Joburg flight were going hunting in Namibia. Really, unless it is war, how hard is it to shoot something?

Watched the docufilm "Speed & Angels" which followed two Naval Academy grads through F-14 training.
Interesting fact- can you name the other country that flew F-14s? Iran- we sold them to them in more friendly times. Lucky it didn't bite us in the ass.

20th Thursday- fly and arrive Johannesburg


Tons of excitement and anticipation around the World Cup being held here next year.


Yes! At least I would accomplish something with my Joburg stop- I get to eat at a South African KFC, conveniently located here at the airport.
Got the two piece zinger (spicy) option.

My research found the Lion Park, where you can pet lion cubs and feed giraffes, as something worthwhile to do in Joburg, but it wasn't feasable with very limited time Friday morning.
I'll have to do it next time.

Stayed at Brown Sugar Backpackers
#4 of 28 specialty lodging, free airport pick up, 270 R
They should have been waiting for me, but had to get the info desk to call for my ride.


Pretty chintzy place, and freezing cold at night. If I was traveling with someone else I definitely would have stayed elsewhere- but I wanted to do this night on the cheap.

8 ZAR (South African Rand) = $1
1 ZAR = $.124

21st Friday- fly to Botswana and drive to camp

Breakfast was make it yourself toast.
Split the ride back to the aiport with Ira (gave 100 rand), who was from Tampa but has been living in China teaching English.


Highlight of the trip so far- I get to meet Nelson Mandella outside of the "Out of Africa" souvenier store.
I had quite a bit of time, so got a good breakfast (2 eggs, tomato, avocado, cheese, fries, hashbrown) for 30 rand, and paid 30 rand to use wireless.

Air Botswana 11:30 JNB - 13:50 Kasane, $259

There was a Muslim gentleman sitting next to me in religious dress and reading and chanting from the Koran for most of the flight. I can't manage to get to church once a week. Or perhaps I simply have less to repent for, that's it.

Botswana


I honestly never thought I would be back to Botswana, but 18 months later here I was.

6.8 BWP (pula) = $1
1 pula = .15 dollars


I think my driver looks a little like Don Cheadle.
Long stretches of the road would be really bad with very large pot holes that required slow driving. We were still on the road after dark, which dramatically increased the chances of an accident. Got in maybe around 8pm? It was a long drive and tiring day.


A five-legged elephant
He was actually using it to slap against his underside, apparently swatting at bugs.


I hadn't seen this before, but apparently these giraffes and zebras would hang out together, providing for more awareness and safety, as they did seem to be acting as a team.

Uncharted Africa- Planet Baobab
#3 of 5 specialty lodging


A really nice room, fantastic shower.


I had prepaid for dinner and was arriving so late everyone else had finished up, but I was still able to get served and ate by the bar.


Par the course, a big drinking night early on the trip.
This was a good group of interesting fellow Americans: Sara who was working at a NGO in Botswana, and her friends that had come to visit- Chuck, a lawyer from St. Louis, and two other friends.

Someone that didn't fit into the pic above was Emily, one of those "holy shit" girls- as in holy shit she's interesting.
Works for the CDC so makes multiple trips to Botswana, went to Notre Dame (my top undergrad choice), PhD from Tulane (the other school I applied to for undergrad that I didn't go to), Air Force parents, same age, good sense of humor, laughs easily and willing to sing out loud...

22nd Saturday morning- Ntwetwe day trip to interact with meerkats


Baobab tree outside my duma


Very comfortable bed. Somehow I had messed up the time on my watch, so had to put on some clothes and ran outside to the Spanish tourists already up and taking pics to verify the right time- yes, it was around 6am and not already 9...


The cool pool, but I didn't have a chance to try it.


Two for one shot- here you see a traditional (I think South African) breakfast item that is like a donut hole with honey, and the property manager who was fantastic- helped me with some booking problems, lent me his jacket for the cold nights.
Got some breakfast on the house, then a little before 10am I headed out with my driver on a private excursion to find my meerkats!


Here we drive by Jack's Camp, a VERY exclusive (ie expensive), top level safari camp.
Pretty sure I would want dual incomes before staying here.

After driving for over an hour through the bush there was a man standing by himself on the middle of a field- it was our meerkat tracker, and around him...


Hunting for grubs.


Love how they use their tail to make a tripod.


I remember when I first saw a picture of a meerkat on a person's shoulder my reaction was "Are you freakin' kidding me?! If that is for real, I have GOT to do that." Wow!


He was so comfortable up there he almost wouldn't leave.
I really wonder what goes through their head to make them so comfortable with the deadliest animal on the planet? They weren't being fed, or else they all would have come running up to me. Instead when I got close they would often turn to look at me and note my presence, then continue about their business. To take it to the next level and actually climb up this other animal, and trust not to be damaged in some way, incredible.

MAN, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!
Definitely high on life here.


We stopped and had an excellent lunch of cold chicken and pasta salad.


This herd of zebra was right next to us. They migrate by the thousands through here this time of year.


We were running behind schedule, so he really put the pedal to the metal for the way back.

22nd continued- Ntwetwe overnight w quad bikes

"Drive across the vast grasslands, past lonely baobab sentinels to the edge of Ntwetwe Salt pan. Along the way, your Guide will explain the incredible adaptations of the species that are unique to the Kalahari Desert environment."

"On reaching the lunar landscape of Ntwetwe Salt pan, the bigger of the two Makgadikgadi Salt pans, and after listening to a brief safety chat, zoom off on your quad bike for a lightning tour of the archaeology, geology and zoology of the area. Quad bikes enable us to explore the vast nothingness of the Makgadikgadi in an ecologically correct fashion leaving only a shallow track that will be washed away by summer rains. Breathtaking views of vast expanses of sparkling salt pan extend as far as the eye can see."


We get an intro on how to use the quad bike.

"Go where no man has ventured before - far across the unexplored wilderness of the vast and empty salt pans. Open the throttle; close your eyes and travel, knowing there is nothing to crash into until you fall off the edge of the earth. Search for the stone tools that remain scattered on the surface of the pan, while your Guide gives a comprehensive explanation of the manufacture of stone tools and the evolution of man himself. Remember that these are not your property. Throw them back from whence they came."

"Just when you think you couldn't take any more petrified, salty corpses, or stone-aged antiques, [we didn't see any of the aforementioned] head out into the middle of absolute nowheresville and face up to a 360-degree view of the twinkling stars of the Southern Hemisphere. Enjoy a drink before a barren and beauteous sunset followed by a barbeque dinner cooked to perfection by your ever-talented Guide."


Our group: Molly who works in Botswana for the CDC, Romano ('s Macaroni Grill) from Switzerland, Emily, Romano's slightly annoying Swiss wife, Autumn who works in Botswana for the Peace Corps, and myself.


Dinner was pretty good, but apart from the odd paparatzi flash difficult to actually see.

"At the end of an action-packed day, snuggle into your bedroll under the phenomenal Makgadikgadi skies, your very own star- spangled ceiling.
Think silence, think slumber, dream baobabs…"


Our guide gives advice on how to set up our bed rolls, which were very comfortable even though we were sleeping in the open.
At one point he mentioned concern about a possible dust storm coming at us from the east, but luckily it didn't happen.


Man, the cloud cover from the afternoon disappeared and the stars were brilliant. Here with the fisheye lens I'm able to take a pic of the stars and the Southern Cross before going to bed.


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One of my favorite songs. Although really set in the Tahiti area, Emily and I had this song in our head and would find each other singing it out loud on several occassions, so I thought it would be appropriate for this page.

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