Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Watching tortoises duel in Botswana

When I woke up yesterday, I found out that Kim Jong Il had died, which is a bit coincidental after my dream on Sunday night of his death. It felt almost surreal. I’ve been feeling so removed from everything these days, traveling around southern Africa, while back at home young people are occupying Wall Street and back at the homeland people are wondering how North Korean relations are going to change. Meanwhile, I’m here trying to figure out how to avoid baboons.

We got up right after dawn to drive to Botswana. We were piled into a minibus full of girls (Joseph is always stuck with the girls) and drove to that unique part of land where Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia all meet.

Once we left Zambia, our minibus left us and we found ourselves in an interesting no man’s land that involved us having to cross the river in a little tin boat that made me feel a bit more like I was going fishing on a lake rather than crossing the border as a tourist.

She asks, “Is this seriously what we’re taking to cross the border?”

The border guards also made us wash our shoes in order to stop the spread of foot and mouth disease. Washing our shoes, however, consisted of standing on a really muddy mat. I have no idea how that cleaned my shoes but I hope it worked.

On the other side, the Botswana border crossing was hectic, but not in any way that, say, the Canadian-American border is hectic. There were trucks parked on the side of the road for kilometers, waiting to get over the border. There were chickens and goats wandering around everywhere, and our minibus continuously had to keep honking to get them out of the way. Various truck drivers engaged in shouting matches with officers, who kept telling them to return the next day. As we approached the border control building, we were swarmed by half a dozen vendors trying to sell us bracelets that all looked the same. Meanwhile, baboons watched from the trees. I held my handbag tight.

The streets of Botswana

Once we made it out in one piece, we had lovely little safari trucks waiting for us which took us deeper into Botswana….

..and on to another boat. I had wanted to do this particular trip into Botswana’s famous Chobe National Park because it was a very different kind of safari than the one I’d gone on in Etosha. This one involved going along the Chobe River in a boat, looking at animals that like the water, like hippos. Hippos!

It’s a hippo party! Or as I like to call it, a hippoPARTYmus

Another hippopartymus

And other animals.

Scary crocodile!

Scary crocodile approaching a boat…watch out!


In the afternoon, we loaded back into the safari truck and went on a game drive through the land part of Chobe National Park. It was a neat landscape, very green but full of dead trees that animals had stripped bare, leaving the place looking a bit like a Tim Burton film set.

We saw lions!

And so many birds.


And other animals.


Crossing in front of our truck!


More hippos! More impalas!


These warthogs are dirty.

This warthog is suckling.

A waterbuck. Looks like he has the mark of a toilet seat on his butt.

We also saw an epic tortoise battle. Actually, it started off more like a tortoise date, with a tortoise couple having a romantic date, when another jealous male decided to interrupt. The two males then engaged in the most fascinating display of male tortoise aggression, slowly charging at each other and headbutting each other’s shells at a glacial pace. One of the males eventually retreated, but instead of claiming the prize (the female), the victor continued to pursue the loser, chasing him away (if you can call a tortoise crawl a “chase”). It was actually probably the most fascinating thing I’d seen that day.

I guess we could call it a torgy?

Chobe National Park