Monday, August 23, 2010

Worth every Pula….

August 22, 2010 2:33 PM

So if you're reading these online and you haven't read one or more of the previous posts, go back and read 'em in chronological order. Seriously I just posted like four days worth of posts. So go back! It's more fun that way I promise. And I'll add pictures later on.

Currently I'm sitting at the "terminal" for the Kasane Airport, hoping that the 45 minute delay doesn't turn into longer. I've gotta make it to Mass by 6 PM! But let's not get ahead of ourselves now…

August 21, 2010

One of my two cell phone alarms woke me up successfully on Saturday morning…I'm not sure which. However, somehow while lying in bed watching TV I had managed to fall asleep with the lights on. Later in the course of the night, I noticed said lights, and got up to turn them off. However, the one on the desk next to the bed, about a meter (they tell me that's about a yard plus a bit) from my head was one whose operation I could not figure out in my sleepy state. Therefore, I slept all night long with that bad boy on. It made it easier to not trip and fall when getting out of bed in the morning at least, because the sun sure wasn't up.

I quickly dressed, packed everything that had been taken out of the bag, plus free shampoo and soap (I am determined not to buy more here and I am running low on the latter), checked my room, double-checked my room, noticed a pair of boxers hanging on the back of the bathroom door, shoved 'em in, downed a cup of coffee, and ran downstairs, hoping not to be late for the shuttle even though it was a few minutes past.

Ha! We waited until about 6:30 before our shuttle arrived. It did not sit well with the Australian family (children appropriately named Izzy, Millie, and George of course). Almost everyone was complaining about something: one ordered breakfast for quarter after 5 and it didn't come till ten till six (and it was cold! Imagine!), one asked for a wake-up call that was late, etc. I was simply upset that when I went to check out the receptionist told me that I owed 25 pula for tips. I asked and the woman said the airline did not cover these "tips."

So okay, I was very nice about the whole deal. I didn't get mad at the nice guy at the airport the day before, I paid for my own internet, the delay would eventually make me miss out on Victoria falls, etc. But I'm sorry, when you say you're covering accommodations and food, I assume that this means that if I don't buy anything you told me not to, that I pay ZERO. Air Botswana will be getting a letter from me (and it will do no good, but I'll feel better). At the time it didn't bother me too much, as it's really like 4 bucks. But in retrospect…it's a little more perturbing.

Things went off without a hitch at the airport though. We didn't board until seven, but as I sat typing on my netbook to catch up before the trip (haha) a woman from the UK who had ordered breakfasts for her family at the hotel (and brought them packed in to-go boxes) came over and told me they had been given one extra, and would I like to have some breakfast. I must give off a helpless look, or maybe it's just because I was the only one traveling alone. In any case, I enthusiastically accepted and thanked her very much, and dove into my build-your-own egg sandwich with sausage (yes I ate it and I know maybe I shouldn't have) and an orange. Just as I was stuffing the last bits into my mouth, it was boarding time. We walked out onto the tarmac, up the stairs, and we were on or way.

I was excited that it was actually happening, but a little concerned that the phone numbers given to me by the Travel Woman who was supposed to help me arrange both transport from the airport and activities for the day did not work. I asked around, and everyone already had arranged transport via the lodges at which they were staying. I didn't worry too much, but still I kinda wondered what I'd do as I typed during the flight. Though the arrival time was supposed to be two hours after the scheduled departure, we were on the ground thirty minutes early. I suppose maybe that they allot so much time because they seem to be always delayed.

As we got off the plane, I laughed at the airport, tiny as it was, and the fact that there were two simple signs: one stating "International Arrivals" and the other "Domestic Arrivals" The two signs were MAYBE 200 feet apart. Nonetheless, we surely were in front of the "Domestic Arrivals" sign. I walked through the airport, which took about 20 steps, and out to the parking lot, looking around for a taxi, as I still had not heard back from the Travel Woman.

Then I met one of the nicest ladies I've met on this trip. I asked her about taxis and if she knew how much they would cost. She told me no more than 30 pula, at which I laughed and said the Travel Woman was going to charge 100 pula for transfer from the airport. She thought that was ridiculous, and gave me a number for a local taxi. Then as I was getting ready to call, she introduced me to her husband, who lived extensively in Kasane and used to manage the Chobe Safari Lodge. As we were talking about how I was a medical student working at the Pediatric HIV clinic in Gabs, she said she had done work in that area and had also gone to Baylor (I didn't really tell her that I never went to Baylor and that the two schools weren't affiliated, but the opportunity didn't present itself ideally). The conversation was coming to a close since the shuttle from Chobe had arrived, but she stopped and told me that I should just get on with them and get a ride into town that way. I was more than eager to accept, not knowing when or if I'd get a taxi. As we got onto the shuttle, the driver checked off party names and numbers. As I prepared to get caught and left at the airport, the woman gave her name and then said, "Three. No no, there are three of us." The driver didn't skip a beat, and I was on the shuttle, mouthing a heartfelt "Thank you!" to the lady as I took my seat.

We took a short ride through terrain that was obviously different from Gabs, with taller trees, hills, and eventually the Chobe River sparkling in the distance. As we approached it by going down into the valley below, we came to a fork in the road and Chobe Safari Lodge was to our immediate left. As we got out of the shuttle, the lady invited me to walk into the lobby to see it if I'd like. By this point in time I had already decided that I would ask to see if this place had any rooms available, thinking how nice it'd be to have someone REMOTELY familiar to ask questions of…and the difference in price would have been no different than if I'd spent two nights in the budget place like I had planned anyway. I thought I was a longshot, as I'd called before and been told only Friday was open and not Saturday. In any case, I proceeded, partly hoping that there had been a true cancellation, and partly hoping that this lady could somehow pull some strings and get me in. As I waited in line to ask, I overheard her talking to someone from the place that she knew. Then after the conversation, she walked away, then turned back and I heard her talking about me and asking if there were any rooms. Nope, all full. Unfortunately, this string of luck had just run out. She came up and told me what I'd already heard, but suggested that I try the Chobe Marina Lodge just down the road a few hundred meters. I said okay and thanked her and she wished me a good trip. I realized later that it was kind of a quick conversation and that I wished I had been able to thank her more properly, but I did not want to overstay my welcome, so I split:-P.

Down the road I passed a grocery store, the small hospital for Kasane, and came upon a wall covered in bright flowers of various sections of vivid colors. Following this was the entrance to Chobe Marina Lodge. I asked the man at the gate if I could go ask about any open rooms, and fortunately he allowed me in. I walked up to the receptionist desk and was probably staring all around, because this place was pretty. In any case, I focused myself enough to ask if there were available rooms. There were, as it turned out. Then I asked how much. See, I had looked online and noticed that the "special" there was a room with two activities, breakfast, lunch, and dinner for something like $500. Seeing that online made me not even look into the place. The woman at the counter answered my question saying 1100 pula for the room and breakfast. Now, I paused and stood there for a second thinking, even telling her that I wasn't sure. It was about $150. I really had not planned on spending that much on a hotel night.

However, I justified it to myself this way. It was the same I'd have spent on two nights, and since this was my only night, I wanted to stay somewhere I knew was comfortable. The place I at which I had held a room for Saturday had somewhat iffy reviews online, was much farther down the road, and was not as nice I was sure. Further, I had already saved about 100 pula not getting the transfer to the other place. Also, staying here would have allowed me to book activities right away, including a sunset boat ride that I was not about to miss again (and the prices were the exact same as the Travel Woman had stated). I paced back and forth in place, and finally decided I REALLY wanted to stay there and not worry about anything further going wrong. Done and done, and I had a room for the night. But check-in was not until 2.

In the meantime, I figured I'd schedule my activities and then head into town to kill time till 2. From what I understood, all the game drives left at 6 and there wasn't anything to do until after check-in. I waited a bit at the scheduling office, set up a boat ride and then a game drive in the morning, and was about to head out to town. I took a moment though to notice how pretty the place was. Wood decks, a layout for the main lodge in an L-shape, with a small pool of water leading to the river below and trees above towering next to the thatched roof on the 2 story building. As I walked around, however, I noticed a boat sitting at the dock down on the river, and a line of people standing waiting for something. I put two and two together and realized there was a morning boat ride that still had not departed!

I quickly walked over to the scheduling office, manners aside, and asked the woman there, who was on the phone waiting for someone, if there was any way I could get on that boat. Two boat rides would be better than one, I figured (I'd turn out to be right). She said yes and then kinda didn't say anything, resuming her waiting on the phone. I waited about thirty seconds, asked if I could just go and get in line to get on, and she said yes. I was off and super pumped to be less than an hour from leaving the airport and going on a boat ride/game ride. I really figured it'd be the afternoon before I got to do anything.

After waiting about a minute, the line moved down the dock and onto the boat, and I grabbed a seat at the front facing south. The river was beautiful by itself, and I was ready to go. The guide had everyone sign their names on a list, and without any questions I signed and it was official. We were off!

We made our way down the Chobe past the other lodge I had been at with Super-Nice Lady to our left. I looked to see if I could see her, then realized it was unlikely given we were out in the middle of the river about two football fields away. After stopping at the "Entrance" (read a shack on the side of the river where the guides have to drop off a list of people entering on the boat) to the National Park, we continued on. I really don't know how to describe adequately the scene. The River parted into two channels around a large island whose end we could not see from where our journey began. Along the way we noticed so many different birds I can't even tell you. Off in the distance, though could be seen two grey boulder-ish things. Eventually, we'd get closer and realize they were elephants. I was done…I had figured there would be no way I could go home without seeing an elephant, and now I had. However, this was only the beginning. We made our way somewhat near the two elephants, but passed them and continued down, passing a group of impala eating on the island, and a group on the riverbank. We sailed (loosely used because I can't think of a better verb and don't want to keep using "continued') by what I think are called waterbuffalo…but I'm not sure and I'm probably wrong. In any case, they were big, dark, and looked like bulls. Oh, maybe they are called water bulls. Whatever.

Next was the BEST part of the entire ride. It wasn't enough to see the vegetation, the couple distant elephants, and the other creatures. We next came upon a group of about 7 elephants standing at the edge of the island. It looked like they were all getting ready to cross over…and the river was at least 100 yards wide at that point. As a few smaller boats and two larger ones sat there, it was looking like a stalemate. The boats didn't want to leave before the elephants crossed, but the elephants were wary of the boats. I didn't care. We were sitting so close that I could have just stayed there all day. I wasn't even in my seat anymore. I was on the floor of the boat, sitting trying to get as close as possible to the edge to get better pictures/better view. I had my legs out on front of me, and even slid my head underneath the front rail a couple times (there were about 18" of space in front of the rail…it wasn't like I was dangling over the edge of the boat…and since we were just sitting, it was safe…plus the guide didn't say anything about it.) Eventually we noticed another group of elephants on the other side of the river coming our way. Four in all, they came to a stop across from the group on the island. One elephant on the island side took a step forward, and then stopped as the group of four from the bank side began moving into the water. In a perfect line, three larger elephants and a smaller baby elephant began to cross! They got lower and lower and lower as they took about 2-3 minutes for their cross. However, the baby elephant wasn't tall enough and disappeared under the water completely! To our comfort, he eventually reappeared on the other side gradually about 2 minutes later with his friends, still all in a line. It was AWESOME. At that point in time I knew I had made the right call in staying at this lodge.

So this post is getting super long, so I'll summarize briefly. We made our way around the end of the island, noticing more waterbulls and starting the trek back. Along the way we came across two great groups of hippos, sitting soaking in the water like you'd expect a hippo to do I guess. They poked their heads out long enough for some pictures and to give us a slight worry that we'd gotten too close. We kept on, eventually making it past the start of the island, up the river past the lodges and to our lodge. All told us "passengers set sail that day for a three hour-cruise, a three-hour cruise"…anyone? Anyone?

Back at the lodge, we de-boated and walked up the ramp to the main part of the lodge. Almost immediately Victor, one of the bellhops (for lack of a better word) said that my room was ready and that he'd been looking for me. I apologized and told him I thought they'd let him know where I had gone. It was only 12:30. At any rate (this rate being 1100 pula I guess), he showed me to my room, which was just about as great as the main lodge itself. It was on the top floor, which meant my roof was a "grass" roof, but vaulted. The bed was nice and large, loomed over by a frame from which a tied up mosquito net hung. The lighting fixtures looked like hollowed out tusks (surely they weren't actually) and the décor from the bathroom to the sink in the room were all very appropriate. Out the French doors at the far end of the room was a small balcony with two chairs that faced tall trees and the river below. It was an AWESOME view. I thanked Victor for showing me everything and set my bag down in awe. It was a good decision to stay there! I decided to say late Morning Prayer on my balcony, and realized in doing so that I had almost forgotten to take my malaria prophylaxis. I guess that's why I stored the pills inside my Liturgy of the Hours coverJ

Feeling a bit guilty about how many pula the room was, I decided to walk down to town to buy some food and drinks in order to save money and not eat at the lodge restaurant for lunch and dinner. It was only about half a mile to the shopping center, if that. As I arrived at what must have been the Kasane mall, I headed straight for the Spar…I knew that meant groceries. Just across from there was the brand new "KFC Kasane" that distracted me with it's advertisement: Free Soccer Ball with purchase of a "Streetwise Two" combo. Basically, it was a six dollar combo. Skeptical, I walked in just really wanting the ball. I asked how big the ball was, and the woman showed me a regular sized soccer ball in red and white with the Colonel's image on it. Somehow I decided that I was going to have to get this ball. I asked if I could just buy the ball. They lady gave me the impression that the meal was required, so the question of lunch (and subsequently dinner) was answered. A few minutes later, bag and ball in hand, I walked across to Spar. I was there for about two minutes and bought nothing. My chicken would be enough, I had decided.

However, in the event that I wanted an adult beverage in the evening, I stepped into "Tops" to buy a couple local bottled drinks. What would have cost about 20 pula at the lodge was now 6. "Bargain shopper, and sneaky too," I congratulated myself in my mind. I walked back to the lodge, holding the bags of food carefully like they were contraband or something, expecting the guard at the entrance to stop me and tell me I wasn't allowed to bring cheap food in. No such nonsense, and I headed to my room for lunch. After eating, exploring the room a bit, and relaxing with a bit of TV, it was just about time for another boat ride. This one was the one I really wanted to do…and it would be worth it!

So by now you're sick of reading and I'm tired of typing. I'll say this. The sun on the water as it was setting was beautiful, we took a slightly different route this time around, running into a group of 13 elephants, then stopping at a group of hippos (among whom was a baby hippo…cute) and not even really paying much attention to the 7 elephants on the other side. It was okay, however, when we eventually noticed and came upon a huge group of FORTY-SEVEN ELEPHANTS at least. I counted. And we got up close, and elephants are surely my favorites. They ate grass like spaghetti, sprayed themselves with water, and were just awesome. We rounded the turn, noticing more impala (who look so out of place on an island in the middle of a river (how did they get there?!), bird birds birds, a crocodile, some giraffes out in the distance (who were hard to spot as they looked like trees from far away), and capping the trip off with an elephant who swam across the river, gliding along his way, then ending up under water for about a minute as the river was too deep. Successful and exhausted I am sure, he made it finally to the edge.

Finally, we came to a stop where the river forked around the island to watch the sunset. It was just incredible. I kept trying to take pictures, but eventually just gave up once I noticed the colors on my camera weren't doing the purple sky and the blazing red sun justice. The BEST way to see Chobe is on a boat in the afternoon/evening/sunset. Incredible and worth EVERY single pula the trip cost. And I would have said that even after the morning ride!

As we pulled into the lodge dock in the dwindling light, we were greeted by chants and singing in Setswana. At first I thought maybe it was just a continuation of the "Lion King" soundtrack that had been playing in my head the whole evening. As we walked up the ramp, we noticed some local dancers dressed in traditional garb looking over the deck above waiting for us to arrive back. Low on battery power and out of memory on my camera, I quickly deleted some of the blurry pics and unnecessary video and made a little room, using the actual viewfinder to save power. The teenage dancers performed for about 15 minutes, singing different songs while dancing. I recognized one song's main word "Dumelang" meaning "Hello everyone", which made sense since they were dancing and waving at us as the main portion of the more complicated dance. As the performance finished, they danced their way up and across the lodges decks and out the front door. Again, this was the right place to stay.

As I made it back to my room, I felt like wanting to dance like a local in the shower…okay, whatever, you'd have felt the same after that. When I got there, the lights were low, the bed covers pulled back, and the mosquito nets lowered, making my bed like a little square tent. Turn-down service again, I thoughtJ.

I cracked open a drink (using a soda can as a bottle opener as I had seen the bartender on the boat do) to go with my refridgerated leftover chicken, and dinner was set. After finishing up, I tried to walk around with my drink to see what was going on, but the place was actually very quiet. I stopped at the deck overlooking the river to look at the stars for a bit. They looked so different from the southern hemisphere, but they were definitely out for the viewing.

There were some visitors watching Chelsea beat the every living tar out of Wigan in soccer at the Riverside Bar, but otherwise the only activity was upstairs at the restaurant. I tried to figure out if there might be some way to make it to Victoria falls after all, but after talking to the receptionist and mulling it over I decided that it wouldn't be the best to try to force it. Another time, I figured…hopefully. Thinking it had been a long day anyway, I was content to finish my drink and head back to my room. I showered (no dancing…by that time the urge to had passed), made some decaf coffee, and slid under the nets into my bed. Though it had been a long day, somehow I managed to stay up AFTER MIDNIGHT watching TV, even though the game drive in the morning was at 6 AM. But I got to watch TV, and it was exciting…and also worth every pula, I thought. Some things never change…

(Now for a behind the scenes look! The following is what the post looked like when I was in Kasane just jotting things down. I give you "Marley & Me" list #1)

"Things to remember for this post.

Almost being late

The late vans

The british lady who gave me breakfast

The flight here and not being able to reach my transfer lady

The deplaning and the nice Baylor lady who told me not to pay 100 pula for transfer, got me on the Chobe bus, said there were three, etc

The chobe arrival, her asking for a room for me, etc, and pointing out chobe marina

The decision to stay at chobe marina

The booking of activities

Noticing the 930 boat

Getting on the boat free?

The trip, the animals, the crossing, the video, the pictures.

The arrival back and Victor

The posh room

The walk to the spar after asking security

The KFC and the soccer ball

The Spar

The Tops

The sneakiness getting back in

The Afternoon ride: 13 then 7 by the hippos then 47, the hippos, the swimmers, the baby hippo

The Arrival back, the dancers, the no battery power.

Coming back to recharge and turndown again…with mosquito nets down…evening prayer and starting the stash.

Wanting to dance like the dancersin the shower.

Eating leftover cold chicken

Walking out to see the stars

Shower and the mosquito nets

Debating vic falls

The end"

Aren't you glad I didn't just give you that list. Really, without the video montage in "Marley & Me," you'd have been bored then too:-P


  1. read them all chris. and now it's on to mom's bday gift. She's gonna be 50, about as many years as elephants you saw on the second ride. love dad

  2. I really loved and enjoyed every bit of your narration on your trip to Chobe. Very well said, very engaging in deed. I felt like I was back home, you have made me miss home very much.
    To find your blog I had searched for KFC Kasane since I heard that they have opened a new shop there, and wolah! there was Kasane KFC on your blog.
    I should say keep on writing you got talent, you really make someone long go there and want to do the same thing you did.
    I loved the dancing drive that those evening dancers put in you. Actually I too didnt know how to dance that traditional way but had always wished I could, until one day when at university in Melbourne back in 2003; we were walking on campus with a friend when I just felt my feet moving and wanting to dance, and right there i asked my friend to hold my school bag cos I wanted to dance.

    He couldnt believe it cos he knew that I could not dance, and to both our surprise I really moved to the pattern that its normally done.

    Hah! I know! I could not stop dancing, it was like learning how to ice skate or ride a bike for the first time. wooooo.... I was swinging..

    So you could have also done it that day had you not shied away in the shower.

    Look at me going on and on...

    Sorry for that, but I really enjoyed taking the Chobe trip with you on your blog, cant wait to see the pictures.

    take care

    student at UCT Cape Town.