Known for its elephants, Chobe National Park boasts 60,000 of these amazing animals. At this time of year, the park could actually rename itself “Chobe Maternity Ward for Elephants”. We have seen hundreds of these lumbering giants and most of them have very newly born babies. We watched these elephant mothers bathe their babies in mud and chase them down when they drifted too far from the herd. The Chobe River, which provides the border with neighboring Namibia, is the main attraction for these elephants, as well as hippos, crocodiles and any other animal that wants a beautiful place to find a drink of water.
At our lodge at Chobe, one of the rules is that you cannot walk to and from your room to the main lodge at night without an escort. The two male members of my family had a very difficult time accepting that it was necessary for an escort to walk with us only 100 feet, especially when one has a perfectly good flashlight, but I insisted. One evening, our escort, also with a very bright flashlight, stopped us, and together we watched a black mamba snake cross the path in front of us. After that, no one said another word about walking alone…
You can tell a lot about a country when you cross its border. In Bostwana, cattle are just as important as currency. At the border crossing (from Zimbabwe) each person in our vehicle had to get out and walk across a towel soaked with a chemical to prevent the spread of hoof and mouth disease. Our vehicle had to be driven through the chemical as well. Second, Botswana is visibly more affluent than many of its neighbors. A large majority of the houses we passed in the town of Kasane have satellite TV dishes and the roads are very well maintained. Botswana’s wealth comes from 1) diamonds, 2) tourism, and 3) cattle (exported to the EU). About 40% of the inhabitants of this country make their living from tourism and they have definitely learned to do it right. Botswana gets very high marks in making sure you feel comfortable and welcomed.
It is hard to give the whole picture…but Victoria Falls is in much better shape than the rest of the country. The sign to the Victoria Falls Park says it all: Entry Fee $20 USD, UK 15 Pounds Sterling, 20 Euro, and $40,000,000,000 Zimbabwean dollars. At the border crossings, we saw people from Zimbabwe going into Zambia and Bostwana to buy food. The local people we met asked wistfully about the US presidential election and how it is that the US (and even neighboring Zambia) can change presidents without violence. We often complain about the election system in the US, however, we also can forget to value what we have.
As we were driving from Zimbabwe to Botswana, we stopped at a police check point, which is not uncommon in the other African nations that I have visited. Our driver asked if we had these kinds of check points in the US. I told him that during certain holidays, the police have stops to see if people in vehicles are drunk. Our driver thought this was the funniest thing he had ever heard and couldn’t stop laughing. He told us that in Zimbabwe, drivers are so bad that if you drive straight, the police will think you are drunk.
We drove back to Victoria Falls today to catch our flight and I am so grateful to have been able to be in Zimbabwe and meet such wonderful people there. Meeting people is the best part of my travels.
And now, on to Capetown.