Saturday, 21 September 2013

What can a man's eyes see in a week? (Part 2)

Livingstone is located close to Africa's 'Four Corners', where four countries almost meet:
Chobe river, Kasane.
Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Kasane, on the other side of the borders, is one of Botswana’s most infamous attractions, as it is located on the banks of Chobe River and next to the infamous Chobe National Park. The easiest way to get there from Livingstone is to arrange a private shuttle from your lodge in Livingstone directly to the lodge of your preference in Kasane. It even includes a private motor boat trip across the Zambezi river, which is the natural border between Zambia and Botswana. Very easy and convenient. Apparently too easy and convenient for me. And expensive: 40USD. I took the other option…

23 August 2013 
I woke up early in the morning, bought myself a filter coffee from the bar, brought down and packed the tent and
On the Zambezi river ferry.
all my stuff (except of all the food supplies I had bought the previous day from the super market – I left them in a shelf of the self-catering kitchen of the lodge and only remembered them when I was already far away from it). Travellers had been telling me that hitchhiking is a quite common way of getting transported in Botswana, so I left the lodge, asked the first passer for the way to…the Botswana borders and followed the direction he told me, bringing up the hitchhiking thumb while walking. The first lift I got was by a taxi! He drove me, for free –and was very surprising to me- to the nearby “bus station”, which was just an open space on the national road, where passengers heading to the borders and “special taxis” drivers were arranging shared rides of 3-4 passengers per vehicle. After waiting unsuccessfully, under a burning sun, for almost one hour and a half for a free lift, I also jumped in a shared ride. If you are good in burgaining this should not cost more than 50Kwatcha (1euro=7,12kwatch, at the time).
Chobe river (Botswana)
Tony, who had left Livingstone, earlier in the morning, for Kasane as well, was thankfully wrong about the workers of the river ferry being on a strike, so everything proved to be very easy for me crossing the borders at that morning. Even the exchange of money, which can be quite problematic when crossing borders of Africans countries, turned to be like a piece of cake. One of my co-passengers in that shared taxi, with whom i had a long conversation on the way, took over, made all necessary arrangements and provided me with fresh Botswana pula, with a descent rate! On the other side of Zambezi, I got a dala-dala which drove some 14Km to Thebe lodge, where I would find Tony, again.
For him this would be his second time here, this is where he had spent a couple of nights while his was on his way up to Malawi, almost one month and a half ago. But this time, he came along with a tent he bought in Livingstone – lodging prices are literally extremely high in all the touristic hot spots of this country, with rates going up 50 to 60USD, as minimum in Kasane, for example. While here in Thebe the cost for the camping site is 60K, per person, per night with your own tent. Thebe is located right on Chobe’s bank, and while I was pitching the tent, right before the electric fence, I could see the roars and see the backs of a big group of hippos, some tens of meters away, floating in the river.
I was, already, feeling thrilled. 
Kasane, Botswana, Chobe!
This had been a dream to me for ages.
And now it was coming true! Another dream of mine coming true.
I’ve got to get used to that, I guess…
Chobe National Park
  Tony had arranged a speed boat safari in the river, for that afternoon and I joined. Chobe is the natural border between Botswana and Namimbia and so nobody is allowed to step foot on the many and some of them spacey islands which are formed in the middle of the wide river. Poaching is too risky and for some reason there are no predators on the islands. So, guess what…wildlife is literally thriving. Elephants, African buffalos, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, birds and many-many more species are found in massive populations all around this immense land, which forms the Chobe area. I hope you’ll get a taste out of the pictures.   
Dawn at Chobe
The river scenery was fantastic, the experience with the wildlife was breathtaking, the land views were amazing, and that is where a saw one of the most unforgettable sunrises ever.  
Next morning we arranged with Tony another safari, on a 4-wheel-drive this time, in the park.
I would risk saying that Botswana is probably one of the best choices for doing safari, in the entire continent, due to the diversity and the quite big size of the populations of wildlife and…the relative costs, which appear to be 3 to 4 times lower than for instance…Tanzania. We paid 285K (26euro) for the river safari (3-hours), and we would have paid the same amount for the Game Drive, but we didn’t do it with Thebe Lodge, because they wouldn’t make a drive with only the two of us. The stuff in Thebe’s reception were, in general, indifferent in their best or else…rude. We were kind of warned about it, “if you stay in a tent, you will the most likely be treated like you are not welcome at all, because
My home in Thebe Lodge.
you are not giving enough money”, but I still don’t get it – it’s not me who’s making the rates’ policy, here..! If you also take account of the fact that they provide absolutely nothing to campers –they denied twice to lend or even rent a blanket for the night, as we were freezing- and there is no place to chill (no sofas or even chairs around) and spend some time in the premises of the lodge,.. I would recommend that backpackers should avoid lodging in Thebe. Chobe Lodge offers almost the same rates, while providing at least a descent bar…
On the other hand, I would happily recommend the freelancer with whom we made the Game Drive, as he was just quite nice, and we were absolutely satisfied with him and the safari. That cost 250 instead of 285, but it also included soft drinks and mineral water. His name is Mr Peace(!) and you can contact him here: or here, +(267) 3201903.

Sunday, 25 of August.
For once more, Tony left early in the morning and I followed at about nine thirty. I got out of Thebe on the main road and made the signal for hitchhiking. I arrived to Maun almost nine hours later, after hitching for fifteen minutes, travelling by a shuttle for about four hours and a half and hitching again for another four hours.
‘Old Bridge Backpackers’ in Maun, during the next seven days, proved to be one of the best places I have ever been hosted in. There are many reasons why I say this, but what comes first on my mind is definitely the location. Right on the bank of Thamalkane, one of Okavango’s numerous canals! The landscape comes directly out a tale’s pages! The stuff is as friendly as it can be and I only realized thet this guy, James, is the director of the place on my last day there. Until then I was sure he is a traveller. I definitely recommend it (
One of those days we went on a morning mokoro trip in the Delta! The Okavango Delta (or Okavango Swamp) in Botswana is a large inland delta formed where the Okavango River reaches a tectonic trough in the central part of the endorheic basin of the Kalahari. All the water reaching the Delta is ultimately evaporated and transpired, and does not flow into any sea or ocean. This a worldwide unique phenomenon. We arranged again a day-trip with a local freelancer, who drove us some 20 minutes away from the lodge and there we got on a mokoro –the traditional wooden canoe- and we floated through the canals and the mud-islands of Thamalkane for a couple of hours. Another dream that came true!
Nights are equally enjoyable with days. There is another member added to the club, Tobia, half Italian (Florence) half Belge. He is 22 years old and this is his second time in Africa. Last summer he was working as a Ranger assistant in a Game Reserve in South Africa. He is studying biology and he is passionate with wild life. A couple of days ago he went through a one-month kind of internship with a small English scientific group, which is making a research on the “Human-Elephant Conflict”, and is based far north deep inside the swamps of the Delta. Tobia was the first to cook for us. It was a genuine Carbonara pasta, which, after three months of eating rice with beans, felt like the best chef’s ever dish. Next night was my turn and the night after, Tony’s. We were buying supplies from the town (Maun), cooking in the self-catering kitchen of the lodge and after eating we were making a circle around the fire –there was a big fire burning every night next on the rivers’ bank- and chatting until late at night. Our around-the-fire circle would some nights be fortunately enlarged by Chris and Stephen. Stephen is super friendly and kind, he is working in the lodge. Chris is German. He used to work for many years for an international company, as a product manager, but he quit everything one year and a half ago, he sold his car and is travelling and working random jobs, in Namibia, Zambia, Botswana since then. His plan is to travel the entire world, with Mexico being for some reason the ultimate destination. And when in Mexico, he will pick a spot out of the places he will have visited by then, where he will go and settle down and make his own house with his own hands, grow the crops that will feed him and will be energy-wise self sustained.
I enjoyed so much those  nights.
I still have the same definition of happiness:
Desiring nothing more than what you are presently experiencing.
Jee! What a week!

texts & photos
by Dimitris Mamakos
more about Dimitris, here 
connect with Dimitris on facebook, here

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