Saturday, October 6, 2012

Trip to Maun, Kasane, and Chobe National Park


We just got back from a wonderful, weeklong trip up to the northern part of Botswana. The first part of the trip was a series of work consultations for me, the purpose of which was to introduce myself to some of our contacts outside the capital and become more familiar with the issues that concern them.
Our first destination, Maun, is a launch-off point for tourists visiting the Okavango Delta, which is accessible via chartered flights of about one to two hours from Maun. The Delta is probably one of the most famous safari destinations in Botswana, and is known for its swanky, elegant camps located right there in the park amongst all of the wildlife you would ever want to see. We didn’t make it to the Delta this time, but I did spend two very interesting days in consultations in Maun. The town is very small and dusty, with a couple of surprisingly good restaurants and not a whole lot else other than many tourist shops and travel agencies. The highlight of my stay there was meeting the several Peace Corps volunteers posted in Maun and visiting each of their projects, including a rehabilitation center for the disabled and an AIDS counseling center focused on youth. It was very inspiring to see this group of intelligent and motivated Americans working on such meaningful projects and making a difference in the community. I also visited a non-profit counseling and safe haven center called Women Against Rape, learned about water conservation efforts in the Delta area, and paid a courtesy call on the local government officials.

After two days in Maun, we flew one hour to the northwest to Kasane, another tourist spot because of its proximity of Chobe National Park, a second extremely popular tourist destination. Again, the first two days we spent in Kasane were for work consultations. Along with several colleagues who joined us in Kasane, we learned about conservation and resource management, as well as environmental challenges in the region through meetings with a variety of organizations, including the Botswana Defense Force anti-poaching unit; a Peace Corps volunteer; a non-profit called Elephants Without Borders; and the community based natural resource management organizer Chobe Enclave. The meetings were very informative, and I especially enjoyed learning about the wildlife populations surveys and elephant-focused studies conducted by Elephants Without Borders.
Finally, we’re getting to the fun part! Conveniently I managed to work in this business trip the week before Botswana National Day, a four-day weekend holiday. When my meetings in Kasane were finished on Friday, we transferred to the Chobe Safari Lodge and enjoyed three lovely days there. The hotel was gorgeous with a nice pool, fun African-style rooms to get you in the safari spirit, and warthogs and monekys roaming the grounds. One mischievous little monkey stole my pina colada from right next to my lounge chair and ate the pineapple garnish!

On Saturday we took a trip across the border to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.  We spent some time hiking around the falls and then had a beautiful lunch at the Victoria Falls Hotel, a colonially elegant place where Queen Elizabeth once stayed. Sunday morning we had our first safari game drive through Chobe National Park, followed by an amazing river cruise that afternoon and one more game drive the following morning before heading back to Gaborone.
The safari activities – boat cruise and game drives- were absolutely spectacular! There is so much to see in the park, and it seemed that around every corner there was more wildlife to be admired. We saw elephants, hippos, crocodiles, lions, giraffes, water buffalo, warthogs, impala, kudu and tons of lovely birds. My favorites were the elephants! I thought it very sweet how protective the adult elephants were of their children. Each time our driver pulled up alongside a pack (pod? herd? ) of elephants, the adults immediately formed a barrier between us and the young elephants in the group, waving their trunks and flapping their ears at us. The babies of course were curious and wanted to come closer to take a look, but the parents weren’t having any of that! At one point on our boat cruise, we saw a group of 15 or so elephants come jauntily running down to the water and start playing in the river. The only thing that stood in the way of their fun was a crocodile lurking just off the shore, but the large male elephants quickly chased him away by stamping their feet threateningly in his direction. Even a croc would’ve been no match for those strong men.

Other highlights were the lions – we saw five of them on our second game drive! We even had what might be called a close encounter with one lioness. During a stretch break, another guide came running up and told us all to quickly get back into the van because a lion had been spotted in the area and was coming towards us. To help us get a closer look, our guide drove us around back of the rest stop area behind the bathrooms (where Scott and I had just been not five minutes before) and there was the lioness, in the bushes right behind the bathroom! As if that weren’t scary enough, the lioness locked eyes with me when our (open-sided!) van pulled up next to her, and charged directly towards me at full speed while glaring at me with those fierce lion eyes! Fortunately for me she veered off at the last minute and retreated back into the bushes… or I would not be here writing this blog entry!
Actually, I’m exaggerating a bit – it wasn’t quite as dire as all that. Apparently the lions cannot distinguish between individual people when they are all one unit piled into a vehicle; all they see is the size and shape of the vehicle itself and therefore, unless provoked, would not attempt to attack a creature so much larger than themselves. At least that’s what the guide told us to make us feel better, who knows?!

Photos from the trip are here: http://www​.facebook.​com/media/​set/?set=a​.101023268​03713553.3​400535.524​3964&type=​1&l=694f57​ed60

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