Tour de Botswana, Part II

Wednesday: Shakawe to Maun via Etsha 6 and Gumare

After a whirlwind day in Etsha 6 on Tuesday, we woke up and had breakfast at Drotsky’s Lodge on the Okavango River near Shakawe. As previously mentioned, we stayed at some pretty great places along our adventure. This beautiful lodge was no exception. As I walked down to the river’s edge and stood on it’s floating dock, I could have sworn I was on Wabedo Lake in northern Minnesota.  (It was truly the African version of “the Land”—if you’ve been to the Land, you know what I’m talking about!) It was peaceful and serene. Andddddd, I only accumulated 16 mosquito bites. Because Jobe and Ednah had to drive back to Mohembo village to fuel up (and unfortunately, were hit with a minor setback as power went out) we had the morning to ourselves. I casually strolled back to my thatched lodge and immediately went back to bed. After resting my eyes for some time, I sat on my private balcony that overlooks the impressive Drotsky grounds and read my travel book on Botswana and Namibia.  Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I am a TYPE-A, OCD, CRAZY travel planner. You know, the kind that includes 37-page itineraries with all possible details mapped out? I love it. I definitely inherited it from my parents. (True fact: my best friends, Neili and Royce even let me plan their honeymoon in Antigua and as the kids say, IT WAS LIT! So, if you’re looking for a travel agent–I got you!) Because we had plenty of time to spare, I quietly reflected on the trip I’m planning on taking with my best friends after my program ends in May. As I was imagining and reading about driving a 4×4 jeep through Namibia, monkeys were swinging from tree limb to tree limb right off my deck. How is this real life?

After finally getting fueled up, we were back on the road. As we had told the basket-weaving ladies from Etsha 6 that we’d stop by and purchase some baskets the following day, we did just that. This seemed to be a theme for our day: buying things. Actually, buying LOTS of things. We not only bought from the ladies of Etsha 6 but as we drove south, we stopped at a few different basket cooperatives. My favorite was in Gumare, a larger village on the way to Maun. It had so many different items and they were incredibly priced. I might have went a little crazy which explains the numerous google searches related to  “DHL locations in Gaborone” and “How much to ship from Gaborone to Minnesota” on my phone. Before we went on our shopping spree, we had some business to take care of. One of the women from Etsha 6 asked us for a ride to her house in Gumare. Her house in Gumare? But, she has a small rondavel in Etsha 6. How many homes does this lady have? This is something that continues to amaze me and something my friend, Mavis, told me Americans don’t understand. So often, it is assumed that people are barely scraping by in Africa. And while that is definitely true, many people in Botswana have multiple dwellings. So, while I thought she only lived in a clean, simple and beautifully-fenced rondavel, she also had a large home in Gumare and another small place on her farm. I’m not sure why I should have been surprised by this as many hardworking people have more than one property. Still, she was extremely gracious for the ride to her house, and was excited for us to meet her grandchildren and see her home. We minorly (OK, majorly) got stuck in some sand and I was useless. I told everyone that if it were snow, I’d be able to help. (Actually, that’s probably not true either—I’m pretty useless with any car issues no matter the weather conditions).

After getting unstuck, we helped the economy of Gumare by purchasing numerous baskets and set off for Maun.

Shakawe to Maun!

Maun is a major village and the jumping off point for the Okavango Delta, one of the most pristine wilderness areas in all of Africa, and probably the world. After dodging and darting the usual cows, donkeys and goats on the road, we finally strolled into Maun on Wednesday evening. After freshening up, we ate at the lodge’s restaurant. After another long day, it was time for this grandma to go to bed!

Thursday: Maun to Francistown via the Nxai Pan

Like all great travelers, food becomes a big part of your journey (this is true for other travelers, right???) This trip was no exception. While we often scooted into the local grocery store to grab things from the deli for lunch (THANK GOD FOR FATCAKES!) we also ate most breakfasts and dinners at the various lodges we stayed at along the way. I must say, Maun Lodge had one of the most impressive breakfast lineups I had seen. (#Notanad #Ijustreallylikedtheirbreakfast) After a solid foundation, we set off for what would be our longest day of the trip. First, we visited a local backpacker’s lodge in Maun to see the average set-up for lodges in Maun on the Okavango river. Next, we hit up the local museum. It was a tiny museum, but I appreciated the fact that they included great descriptions of their various artifacts and paintings. We had to make our museum trip a short one as Jobe had something special planned for us that afternoon–a game drive!

Game drives have become synonymous with Africa and for good reason. Tourism has benefitted (and yes, also harmed) many African countries. I may be biased, but southern Africa has some of the best wildlife viewing in the world. Actually, that’s not a biased statement–that’s the dang truth. After driving for a number of hours, we reached the Nxai Pan.

Maun to Nxai Pan!

I had heard of the salt pans from my Peace Corp friend, Emily, who said it was one of the most underrated areas in Botswana. Most people skip it and head to Chobe National Park or the Delta when on safari so I was pretty pumped to be able to experience another game drive in an area I didn’t think I’d make it to. This one would also be quite different than the others I have done as it was self-driven with Jobe at the helm. After driving nearly an hour into the pans, we came to a rest camp. This is where park patrol units are housed as well as some wildlife documentary makers, campers, etc. From the camp, we spent another two hours making a large loop where we saw the following:

-a Tortoise
-36 elephants
-two steenbok
-66 giraffes (18 in one group!!)
-a million zebras
-6 male springbok
-lots of wildebeest
-2 jackals
-a Korry bustard

And yes, I was the nerd who kept track of every animal sighting in her notes section on her phone (well, as best I could–giraffes were freaking EVERYWHERE!) I am still in awe that people can just drive through areas of this country and that these majestic creatures are there, just staring at you. It’s amazing. By the time we finally ventured out of the pan, it was nearing 6:30. 6:30=darkness. 6:30=challenging to dart cows, donkeys and goats. 6:30=a reallllly long drive to Francistown, our next stop. Still–we persevered. We had heard that the road from the pans to Francistown was washed out but that there were trucks helping to ferry smaller vehicles across. Around 7:30ish/8, we finally hit the river. Now, I know I exaggerate ALOT, but I’m not kidding when I say a river. The heavy rains had caused the whole area to flood and there we were, in total darkness, watching the last ferry drive away. WHAT THE HECK WERE WE GOING TO DO?!?!?!?!!! I totally trusted Jobe, who thought we should do it but I was also very nervous. It was difficult to see just how deep it was. What happened if we got stuck? There was no cell phone service or a soul in sight. After what seemed like 25 minutes of thinking (but was probably 4), two large semi trucks pull up behind us. We agreed to follow in the middle and as their lights guided us, we could see the depths of the flooding. It was no joke. I could feel the water rushing under my seat and it went on for nearly 10 km! The road was just washed away. I will include some video clips of the craziness in the photo album, you have to check it out. Thankfully, we made it through and began the longgggg drive to Francistown.

Nxai Pan to Francistown!

By the time we reached our hotel, it was nearly 11:30pm. We had driven some 10 hours that day. Like I said, this trip was not for the weak-bottomed. I went straight to bed as we had to be up early to head to our next destination, Serowe.

Friday: Serowe to Gaborone

After another great breakfast in Francistown, we headed to the village of Serowe.

Francistown to Serowe!

I have read a lot about Serowe over the last few months, as it is the home to three out of the four presidents of Botswana including its first, Seretse Khama. For lack of a better example, the Khama family is to Botswana what the Kennedy’s are to the United States. Khama the III, Seretse’s grandfather, went to England in 1895 with two other chiefs to beg the Queen to not be incorporated into Cecil Rhodes’ British South African Company. The three chiefs were successful and Bechuanaland avoided becoming a part of South Africa. Khama III had an interesting relationship with the British (one I will write about at another time). The British liked him and so, many people in Botswana believed Serowe has benefited from this relationship. Eventually, his grandson Seretse, who would study law in England and marry a white woman, would become one of the greatest figures in Botswana history. A man who is respected greatly—not because he married a white woman but because he stood up for what he believed in and helped usher his country (for better or worse) into independence from the British. Was he perfect? No. But, most great leaders aren’t. His son, Ian, is the current president of Botswana and is finishing up the last two years of his presidency.

When we arrived in Serowe, we went straight to the Khama Museum. The largest of the museums we visited on our trip, we went on a wonderful guided tour and peeked into their massive archives. They even gave me permission to use their artifacts in my teaching! I find the Khama family very fascinating and am intrigued about their place in Botswana’s history. After the museum visit, we went to the kgotla. Kgotla’s are defined as “large tribal assemblies that were used by Tswana chiefs to discuss important issues, policies and legislation with their subjects.” Kgotla’s are places where all three branches–legislative, judicial and executive, intersect. Botswana has a unique government in which they have a parliament, but they also have a house of chiefs. Systematically, chiefs are supposed to advise parliament members on affairs/laws/etc. To me, kgotla’s represent the traditional aspect of Botswana. They also have very traditional rules. As the president of Botswana is technically the kgosi (chief) of Serowe and the next in line is one of his advisors, we met some deputy chiefs (men related to the President/part of the royal family) that day. After brief introductions, it was decided that we must come back for another visit next week to meet with the elders. After our meeting, we were led by one of the kgosi to the royal cemetery. Here, he told us about each and every person buried on the hill above the kgolta. A hill, that Khama III decided every kgosi in Serowe would be buried.

Serowe to Gaborone! Finally home!

A hill that is the final resting home of some of the major players in Botswana’s history. It was a special moment and viewing the grave sites of Khama III, his second wife, their son–Tshekedi (who also played a pivotal role in the history of Botswana), his wife and finally, Seretse Khama and his wife, Ruth was quite an experience. Following the royal cemetery, we toured the kgotla sites and eventually made our way back to Gaborone. We finally arrived home around 9pm.

It was to say the least, a journey. Experiential learning is my absolute favorite and this trip not only made me appreciate the fabric of Botswana with its varied landscapes, peoples and cultures but it yet again, made me wish that all of my kids in Moose Lake were here to enjoy it with me.

Check out the road trip album here (Updated: captions are there!): https://goo.gl/photos/x6xAzsAxdP175WtLA

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