After a relatively short drive we found ourselves inside of Chobe National Park in northeast Botswana, a park famed for its sheer number of elephants. At some point driving in there was an elephant that crossed the road in front of us. As we slowly drove by, it walked up close to the truck, and then started to charge! It got pretty close to the back of the truck before the driver sped off, the elephant still running down the street after us! So that was some excitement to start our time in the park. Our driver said that was the first time in all his years that he’d seen an elephant charge like that!
After setting up tents it already time for a midday game drive, not in our truck, but in the park’s 4x4 jeeps. The park itself is very picturesque, lots of lush green trees with the backdrop of the …. River. There was no shortage of animals. Impalas, baboons, wildebeasts, buffaloes, giraffes, elephants, mongooses (mongeese?) and warthogs. Our only complaint that it was the middle of the day, when we could be doing a game drive early in the morning the next day, which is usually the better time to spot animals (and take photos of them, due to the softer lighting) .
After that we hopped on a big boat and cruised around the waterways for the next few hours, spotting crocs, hippos, herds of buffalo, and the elephants coming down to drink and have a bath. There were elephants everywhere! We had a fantastic sunset to boot, so it really was a splendid boat trip.
Due to the unanimous complaints about the lack of a morning game drive, we were able to organize one ourselves for an extra $40 a person, starting at 5am the next day. Doing only 1 game drive in Chobe is an injustice to the park, and of course another annoying part of overland truck itineraries. But anyway, early morning is the best time to spot big cats, ie lions and leopards. And we were not disappointed. A pack of lions had been spotted in the first few minutes of entering the park. The jeep driving one half of our group found it first and was able to get up really close to the cats, but by the time we got there many other jeeps had already beaten us, and we were relegated to a spot that required some serious body adjusting and head craning to get a decent view past the other safari goers. The rest of the trip was mostly business as usual, plus a hyena, that the other truck got up close to, while we waited in the background. It’s nice having a more aggressive driver!
Once the game drive was over we packed up our tents and drove the last leg of the trip to Victoria Falls. It was weird to think that it was so close to ending already! It took a bit longer than usual to get our visas for Zimbabwe, which cost $30. Zimbabwe uses US dollars across the country, as the former currency was subject to some crazy % of hyperinflation after their president, Robert Mugabe, took away ownership of all of the white owned farms in the late 90's leaving people with no farming experience to run them, with disastrous results. According to Wikipedia in November 2008 the inflation reached 79.6 billion percent! Now you can see street vendors selling 50 billion Zim dollar notes, quite an amusing, but sad part of Zimbabwe's recent history.
So we loaded up on some dollars and headed over to the falls. The water level was high, so it was difficult to get a good photo without being covered by the mist. And the word mist is an understatement. But it did create a nice rainbow effect at some of the further viewpoints. We did some final group photos and headed back to the truck. For our last night (at least for those of us not continuing on back to South Africa) they put us up in the rainbow hotel, which was by far the best accommodation we’d had on the trip. We all rounded up for one last group dinner and farewell. We headed over to Mama Africa, one of the more popular (and surprisingly expensive) restaurants in town.
Only one or two people would actually be leaving the next day, so it wasn’t a true farewell, but we did collect tips for our driver and cook, as well as short speech in gratitude for putting up with us the whole time. We tried to find a bar afterwards, but Vic Falls was surprisingly dead! So some of drank in the hotel, and that was about it.
The next day everyone did their own thing, and then we went out to dinner again as a group. But once again, nothing to do after dinner! Such a boring town! The next morning was the real farewell as that’s when everyone had booked their flights home, or continued on with the truck, or started backpacking independently (me). So it was a somber affair. People were crying. I was not one of them, but it did suck to see all the friends you’d made over the past 3 weeks suddenly disappear. But I suppose that’s the way it goes. As much as I enjoyed the truck, I was also very ready to start my own journey without such a rigid itinerary. And that’s where the next post will start off!