August 3, 2011
It used to be that I could get up in the middle of the night to pee without first scanning the area for leopards. That is not the case anymore.
I am writing from inside my tent, pitched somewhere in central Botswana. A few days after arriving in Africa (aided by the fact that our original safari plans had to be postponed due to our Frankfurt adventure), I decided to extend my trip to go on a longer safari. I rebooked my flight for the evening of the 13th (my birthday!) and scheduled a ten-day safari to the Okavango Delta and Kruger National Park. This is quite a step up from the original trip (a three-day safari in KNP), but I may never be in this part of the world again, and so really want to do this right. Also, in some ridiculously skewed way of thinking, it somehow makes sense to me that, since I spent a bazillion dollars to get here, I might as well spend a bazillion more while I'm here. It's Monopoly money, anyway... pretty, bright colored bills with animals on them... they are practically begging me to forget that they have any correlation whatsoever with my bank account.
Which I why I now find myself in Botswana, about to ride a canoe into the middle of the Okavango Delta to camp with the wildlife for a few days.
So far, on our drive from Johannesburg, South Africa to Nata, Botwana, I have seen:
Once we get into the delta, I can expect to see things like:
...all from the safety and comfort of my own two feet...
there are no vehicles where we're going...
You're supposed to do something that challenges you every day, right? (She says smiling weakly, listening for the soft padding of leopard feet outside her tent... where she is sleeping alone...)
I was picked up this morning by David, a tall, thin man with glasses, a missing front tooth, and a really warm and genuine smile. David is Swana, but fluently speaks all eleven South African languages. He arrived at the hostel at 5am, so we were initially both a bit quiet due to the quiet time of day, but it wasn't too long until I got him talking. David has a wife and three children in Hoedspruit, a village northeast of Johannesburg. He guides tours for one or two weeks at a time, and then has between four to seven days to see his family. He said he loves his job, that he is always on holiday, but when he speaks about his kids, I sense that this is also hard work for him. Many people in this country travel to where the work is and then send money home, seeing their families only occasionally (David has, relatively, a lot of time to spend with his family... many people can only go home once every month or two.)
After David picked me up, it was a twenty minute drive to fetch the only other two people on this trip. Kathy and Nick, originally from South Africa and Zimbabwe, are now American citizens, living in Dallas. They are both in their sixties, but the first thing that Kathy said to me upon climbing into the van was "Good morning! I'm Kathy. I'm not an old fart." To which Nick replied, "Yes you are." After which Kathy hit him.
I've only known them for a day now, but they are both very warm, friendly, and adventurous. At first I thought it might be weird to be on a group safari with only two other travelers, but it's actually shaping up to be nice so far. We'll drop off Kathy and Nick before we go to KNP and pick up some others, so cross your fingers that that turns out to be a nice group too.
On our long drive today, we chatted, napped, and looked out of the window. Northern South Africa and Botswana are definitely more closer aligned with my mental image of this continent: flat and sandy savanna with low bushes and scrub brush. It is all very brown and yellow and beautiful. Also here are people who live in more traditional villages... thatch-roofed circular huts, livestock corrals made of found sticks and branches, brightly colored clothing on the line. I am fascinated with the people who live here, and asked David many questions: How do these people survive? Do they use money very much, and if so, how do they make it? Where do the children go to school? How much tribal tradition is maintained? We had many good conversations in which David had the time to answer just a few of my million questions. I hope to learn more over the next few days. South Africa and Botswana are both an interesting combination of first-world and third-world, and the intersect of these two realities is of huge interest to me. So many questions.
Wow, I really hope I'm not eaten by a leopard tonight.