Skip to main content

Vacation news: Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe or, ZimZamBots!

Whoo hoo!

It's about time, right? I was zooming around southern Africa for the better part of a month.  So, where to start? I met three friends in Pretoria, where we picked up a rental car and drove into Botswana. We stayed near Nata for the night, and drove past the salt pans into Maun to stay at the Old Bridge Backpackers there. The next day we went for a mekoro trip (a kind of traditional dugout canoe, steered by pole) up into the Okavango Delta where we camped for two nights. We went on a couple game walks there at sunset and again the next morning. Just being out in the Delta was itself amazing, and on the second walk we saw a large herd of wildebeest, zebra, and sesebe relaxing near a gigantic baobab tree. I've seen more numerous herds and rarer animals in Kruger and elsewhere, but the fact that we were just out on our own feet and not ensconced in a car made a huge difference. It felt far less like a petting zoo. We also saw an enormous leopard tortoise, giraffes, warthogs and countless birds.
It's kind of gondola-style trip.

After returning to the car we proceeded to Kasane, where we went on a more standard game drive and river cruise in Chobe National Park (that river is the boundary between Botswana and the Namibian panhandle). Chobe is full to bursting with elephant and Cape buffalo, and I got some pretty amazing videos with elephants not ten feet from our truck. The river cruise was pretty cool as well, only marred somewhat by the presence of a dozen drunk Australian teenagers (though they did redeem themselves a bit by constantly declaiming about the presence or absence of various "crocs" in a thick Aussie accent).
Aww, widdle baby elephant!

Botswana is a lovely place. I think I now begin to understand what people mean when they say they've fallen in love with Africa. It is very similar to my corner of South Africa—same people, same language, same type of terrain—yet it is altogether a more wholesome and reasonable place. As far as I can tell, though the country faces some steep problems (mostly an atrocious HIV epidemic), the people are friendlier and happier, the institutions more sound and effective, and the outlook very much more positive. The price-adjusted per capita GDP is, depending on who you ask, between a third and half again as much as South Africa's. The best part from my perspective was that Botswana lacks the miasma of petulant whingeing that permeates the public culture in South Africa. It's a vision (through a glass darkly) of what might have been had Apartheid been avoided, and it's very positive. Definitely worth a visit.
Here's the four of us beginning our walk across the top of Victoria Falls.  You can see its mist in the top right.

Due to miserliness, we decided to leave the car in Botswana and head to Zambia on public transport (as it would cost an extra R2000 to cross the border, in addition to petrol and fees), but since we were only going to Livingstone and Victoria Falls this turned out to be an all-around good decision. There is no bridge to Zambia, only a ferry, and lorries are lined up several kilometers back into each country waiting to cross. The ferry takes one of these and a few passenger vehicles across each time, but if you're on foot, you can jump the queue and hop on. Once on the other side, you buy your visa (which must be purchased in US dollars for some reason, they won't take rand, pula, or even Zambian kwacha), and there are taxis waiting to take you to Livingstone for a reasonable fee.
Jumping into the Devil's Pool.

Once in Livingstone we spent some time doing large multiplication problems (5000 kwacha to the dollar) and went to what my friends, who did Peace Corps in Chad, assured me was a "real" African market. It certainly had the most intense smells of any place I've been. The next day we went to Victoria Falls, which unequivocally lived up to the hype. Staggering is putting it mildly. We spent the morning scrambling across the top of the falls to get to a spot called Devil's Pool, which is a place where you can jump in and swim literally right to the edge of the falls. After that we went across the border into Zimbabwe to look at the falls from the other side. The views were somewhat better but quite a bit more moist from the falls' mist. (That's probably the only time I'll visit a country on The Economist's top ten list of failed states.)
I wasn't kidding, you're right there. The worst part, though, is these damn little fish that nibble on your toes.

The next day we went on a one-day river trip down the Zambezi starting right below the falls. It was huge whitewater, as big as anything in Grand Canyon. There were only a couple rapids I would call hard—mostly we just went straight through and ate the biggest waves in the river—but it was massive. The raft company had sort of a flour-sifter model; our group flipped three boats just getting out of the first eddy. The sweep kayakers were scrambling around fishing people out of the river all day. The gorge was lovely and the river amazing; the only flaw being that we were saddled with several useless Afrikaners on our boat, who were somewhere between "lazy" and "ballast" in terms of paddling horsepower. Even that couldn't spoil it for me though, I've been jonesin for some river since I got here and that was just what I needed. A cold beer for the soul.

YA-HOO! That's me in the yellow helmet.

Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

On Refusing to Vote for Bloomberg

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg is attempting to buy the Democratic nomination. With something like $400 million in personal spending so far, that much is clear — and it appears to be working at least somewhat well, as he is nearing second place in national polls. I would guess that he will quickly into diminishing returns, but on the other hand spending on this level is totally unprecedented. At this burn rate he could easily spend more than the entire 2016 presidential election cost both parties before the primary is over.

I published a piece today outlining why I would not vote for Bloomberg against Trump (I would vote for Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, or Biden), even though I live in a swing state. This got a lot of "vote blue no matter who" people riled up. They scolded me and demanded that I pre-commit to voting for Bloomberg should he win the nomination. The argument as I understand it is to try to make it as likely as possible that whatever Democrat wins the nomi…

Why Did Reality Winner Leak to the Intercept?

So Reality Winner, former NSA contractor, is in federal prison for leaking classified information — for five years and three months, the longest sentence of any whistleblower in history. She gave documents on how Russia had attempted to hack vendors of election machinery and software to The Intercept, which completely bungled basic security procedures (according to a recent New York Times piece from Ben Smith, the main fault lay with Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito), leading to her capture within hours. Winner recently contracted COVID-19 in prison, and is reportedly suffering some lingering aftereffects.
Glenn Greenwald has been furiously denying that he had anything at all to do with the Winner clusterfuck, and I recently got in an argument with him about it on Twitter. I read a New York story about Winner, which clearly implies that she was listening to the Intercepted podcast of March 22, 2017, where Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill expressed skepticism about Russia actually being be…

Varanus albigularis albigularis

That is the Latin name for the white-throated monitor lizard, a large reptile native to southern Africa that can grow up to two meters long (see pictures of one at the Oakland Zoo here). In Setswana, it's called a "gopane." I saw one of these in my village yesterday on the way back from my run. Some kids from school found it in the riverbed and tortured it to death, stabbing out its eyes, cutting off its tail, and gutting it which finally killed it. It seemed to be a female as there were a bunch of round white things I can only imagine were eggs amongst the guts. I only arrived after it was already dead, but they described what had happened with much hilarity and re-enactment.

When I asked why they killed it, they said it was because it would eat their chickens and eggs, which is probably true, and because it sucks blood from people, which is completely ridiculous. It might bite a person, but not unless threatened. It seems roughly the same as killing wolves that e…