At the end of October a friend of mine (Kelly) from University finished up 3 years of Peace Corps service in Benin and came to visit!
I had to go pick her up at the airport in Johannesburg. It was my first time to the city; Peace Corps strictly limits travel there. So I arrived on the outskirts of the city (Kempton Park), and got off a public taxi. I had planned to call a private taxi to take me to my hotel, but upon calling the taxi service I found that they didn’t operate in the city I was in. I was a little nervous, as none of the taxi drivers seemed to know the street I was talking about (most backpackers/ hostels are located in middle or upperclass residential neighborhoods, aka where public taxis don’t drive). Luckily a nice woman grabbed me by the arm and told me she was going to help me out. She dragged me to a McDonalds, talked to the driver at the hostel, and left me. I was scared simply because I was in the vicinity of Jo’Burg, but after waiting about an hour and a few more phone calls to the hostel I was picked up safely!
Less than 48 hours after arriving in South Africa, Kelly, Jess (a PCV friend of mine from SA), and I were on a bus to Botswana! The drive was really long, and unfortunately the “movie” they played was mostly Afrikaaner religious propaganda, but we made it to Gaborone alive! We had some trouble crossing the border, because one of the women said we needed a physical address to where we were going. We ended up just saying we were going to the Holiday Inn…whatever.
We met some of the Botswana PCVs, and the next day went to see one girls site. We lounged around in Palaype for a day, and then traveled to Serowe to see another volunteer. We went to a rhino sanctuary and went on a safari. We saw a ton of rhino, giraffes, wildebeest, impala, several kinds of bok (think antelope), and the butt of a zebra. It was amazing! We met some really great people, and had a lot of fun.
We got up at about 5:30 the next morning so we could head to Kasane, in far northern Botswana. We got to Francistown, and there was no bus to Kasane. We were advised that we could get on a bus to Maun, and get off in Natha from which we could find further transport to Kasane. WE waited for awhile, b ut everything was going to Maun. Locals advised us that there was probably transport coming, but we were still nervous. After waiting at the gas station about 3 hours, a bus pulled up. .
The road between Natha and Kasane bisects a part of the world with one of the highest elephant populations in the world. We were lucky enough to see a lot of single elephants near the side of the road for the first hour, and then we started seeing large herds after awhile. It was amazing!
Our spectacular ride was somewhat marred because we had not found accommodation in Kasane. Jess and I had assumed that Bots would be like ZA; this was the low season, so we didn’t need to be worried. Oh were we wrong! Everywhere we called was completely booked, and we didn’t have our own tent. Luckily we found somewhere just in time. It was more expensive than we wanted to pay, but we decided beggars really couldn’t be choosers. We ate an expensive meal at the resort (The Toro Safari Lodge) and fell into bed, exhausted. We ate our breakfast looking out at the Chobe river. Unfortunately the hotel didn’t have room for us for a second night, so we were back on the prowl for accommodation once again. Jess called a place that had tents on a first some first some first serve basis, so we packed up as quickly as possible, and hoped into a taxi. We arrived at the Chobe Safari Lodge, and pretended that there were only 2 of us, so we wouldn’t have to buy 2 tents. The Chobe Safari Lodge is gorgeous, with thatched roofs, and a beautiful view of the Chobe River and Namibia. Our tent turned out to be really nice. It was canvas siding on a wood platform. It had two beds and a table inside, with plenty of room for the third person to crash on the floor (we were smart enough to have brought sleeping bags). The camping section was on the far side of the grounds, and baboons constantly ran though, trying to get scraps of food from the trash.
We wanted to go on safari, and the cheapest way to do it was to take a boat cruise down the Chobe River into the Chobe Game Reserve. The boat was big, with a viewing platform on the roof. We saw a ton of hippos (I think they are the most boring safari animal…if only they would do something!!), a few crocs sunning themselves, and then cool things started happening. A herd of some-type-of-bok came down to the river to drink. Unfortunately for them, our boat scared them off. The we came across a few herds of elephants drinking around the waters edge. I got some good videos of elephants drinking. AS we continued down the river we came upon a huge herd of cape buffalo, definitely numbering into the thousands. There were clusters of elephants sprinkled in with the buffalo. The animals kicked up a lot of dust, and the setting sun turned the dust a reddish color. It was like I Was watching the opening scene of Lion King in real life! Heaven!
The next morning we went to a lion sanctuary, where they breed lions, and even let you pet them. The first two we hung out with were about 6 months. They were “small,” as in, probably couldn’t have killed me, and I may have even been able to kick one off. The second two were something like 16 months. Oh man! They were huge! The male was sprouting a mane, and I was a little bit afraid to walk right up to them. But it was wonderful to seem them up close. To see their jaunty walk, and their shoulder blades moving under their fur. That night (Halloween) we watched Poltergeist at the backpacker and passed out early.
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch transport from Kasane straight to Gaborone, so we found a ride to Natha. By the time we pulled back into Natha it was pouring. We were back in the aforementioned gas station that was so hard for us to get out of previously. I saw a bus in the parking lot and leapt out of the bed of the truck before it even stopped to go ask where it was going. It wasn’t going south to Francistown. Luckily, the driver that had picked us up outside Kasane was the nicest man alive, and pointed us to a much smaller bus that was going to where we wanted to go. Luckily he had room for the three of us. I made friends with the woman on the seat next to me. She was going to Gaborone that night, which is where we wanted to get to. She said she would help us get on a bus.
Luckily we made friends with her, because we were told to get on a certain bus. We had been sitting there for at least an hour when someone told her that it was not in fact the bus to Gaborone, so all four of us quickly got off the bus, grabbed our luggage and ran around the taxi rank until we found the proper bus. The original bus we had been on left about 10 minutes later.
We arrived in Gaborone at about 9PM. We asked for a private taxi to take us to what we had heard was a cheap place to stay. Turns out it wasn’t cheap at all, but it was too late to argue and we were exhausted. We had been up since 6:30, and had been traveling almost non-stop since 7 AM. The next morning we woke before 5AM, because we needed to catch a bus to Pretoria. Another 8 hours traveling. But we made it from Kasane…really far North…all the way to Gabs in a day!!
From Pretoria I stopped in Nelspruit to get some groceries, and then made a fatal error in my travel-exhausted brain. I decided that Kelly and I would go to my site rather than stop over in Nhlazatshe (closer to Nelspruit) and spend the night with the volunteers there (I really wanted to sleep in my own bed!). We were slow getting out of Nelpsruit, and just barely missed a taxi leaving at 2. Our taxi didn’t leave until 4, so we should have arrived in Ermelo by 6PM. But the driver was a jerk, and stopped just outside a toll booth and waited for his taxi driver friend to come pick us up so he wouldn’t have to pay a toll. Ugh. And to make matters worse, my wallet was stolen while I was trying to do some quick grocery shopping before our taxi left. Double ugh.
So, we didn’t get into Ermelo until about 7:30. There are no taxis that operate that late. I called my supervisor (whose mother owns a car), in the hopes that she would come get us. But Ishe didn’t catch the hint that I wanted a ride. I heard a girl mutter the word “Fernie” and yelled that I was going there. She pointed at a man and I desperately ran over to him. Luckily, he was really nice and said he would take Kelly and I to Fernie, plus some other stranded people to Amsterdam.
Kelly and I didn’t get to my house until 9:30. We pretty much brushed our teeth and fell into my bed. We had been traveling for almost 2 weeks straight, with the past 3 days full of really intense travel. Needless to say, we slept very well!
Despite a lot of stress, everything worked out wonderfully!