While planning my end of year adventure in Southern Africa, I hadn’t included Botswana to the list of the countries to visit due to time constraints. But in the meantime, I was convinced that it would be worthwhile to add Botswana since it’s regarded as the safest and most welcoming country in southern Africa, according to my reliable online sources.
How it unfolded
Initially, I wanted this trip to cover multiple countries as it was to last for a whole month. Besides Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi, I had also hoped to add Mozambique, Swaziland, and Botswana to the itinerary as well. This was on condition that time and resources would permit. Having struck Swaziland and Mozambique off the list whilst in Malawi due to foreseen inconsistent visa systems, I turned back to the west, traveling back to Lusaka from Lilongwe aboard an early morning Kombi.
The Mozambique-Swaziland mission having failed, there was an alternative option – to aim for the world-famous Victoria falls and afterward head to Botswana. Having explored the historical city of Livingstone, and viewed the waterfalls, my next mission would be conquering Botswana for the first time. I felt nervous and a bit held back not because I anticipated issues with the immigration – I knew I would be admitted in – but how the whole process would unfold. A 63 km ride for approx. one hour from Livingstone winded up right at the edge of the mighty River Zambezi where four countries – namely – Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia – almost meet at a spot commonly called the Kazungula quadripoint.
After clearing with the Zambian immigration and exchanging Zambian Kwacha for Botswana Pula, I headed straight for the ferry to cross the Zambezi (a bridge from Botswana to Zambia is nearing completion). The ferry crossing lasted five minutes, we were a few passengers – less than eight – and some South Africa-bound cargo trucks. There is a one and half kilometer distance from the ferry’s docking point to the immigration center on the Botswana side. I was welcomed by the searing sun which tolled down my tiny body as I grappled to walk on the dirt sidewalk as cargo trucks hurtled past while I meandered past stationary cargo trucks a sight am familiar with at African border crossings.
Entering Botswana was indeed life changing to me because I felt one inch closer to South Africa which is the southerly neighbor and my future dream destination. Having studied the history of southern Africa and how the Khoisan migrated northwards to the current Botswana, I discerned that I was going to relate with ‘half-South Africans’. Indeed expected, I encountered situations where I felt as if I am in the northern area of South Africa because the lifestyle, culture, and weather – all resembled what I knew about South Africa. Throughout my entire week’s sojourn in Botswana, I noticed a lot of South African vehicle number plates, supermarkets stuffed with lots of South African made items, and many other South African businesses. So I felt very close to being in South Africa.
Game drive in Chobe National Park
Bearing in mind that I had ten days to my outbound flight back to Nairobi, I asked for six days at the immigration counter. Knowing where to stay was the only condition for admission. My first lodging was at Kwalapye Safari Lodge where I spent two nights amidst the tranquil jungle ambiance in a very well-organized chalet. On my second day, I joined a group of avid sightseers on a 4x4WD tourist vehicle for an early morning game drive in the world-famous Chobe National Park that started at 6:00am. At the Sedudu main gate, as a non-SADC tourist, I paid $7 for park entrance fees plus $10 for the three-hour game drive. There were a lot of other tourist vehicles loaded with adventurers from different lands all keen on uncovering the masterpieces that Chobe National Park awards its visitors. This was my first ever game drive, and it was remarkably incredible!
The colorful rising sun added an excellent tone to the park’s beautiful flora and at times I found myself getting sidetracked a bit from observing wild animals and instead relishing the beautiful spectacle rendered by the radiant sun. The whole morning was cloudless, the animals seemed happy to have us as their guests and would at times pause their grazing session to stand still and gaze at us as we clicked our cameras away for the finest shots. It’s only after we left that they resumed grazing. I was amazed by the impalas and gazelles who never showed any signs of fear towards us getting so close to them. A few would approach us, giving us a rare but up close snap-shooting moment, and we wasted no chances.
Other interesting animals I observed in the national park were the Zebras, Elephants, Waterbucks, Hippos, Monkeys, Impalas, Gazelles, Kudus, Lions, and very many others. The sight was indeed spectacular, knowing that we were not by ourselves in the vast jungle as we were being closely followed by dozens of other full tourist vehicles. We found the majority of animals at the Chobe Riverfront where according to our tour guide, animals come up very early before sunrise to drink water and ready themselves for another scorching day.
Leaving Kasane for Gaborone.
After three days of thrill-filled adventure in the quiet environs of Kasane the gateway to the park, it was time to head far southwards to Gaborone the capital city of Botswana. It was a calm Sunday evening when aboard the PATMO bus I embarked on the 930 km overnight drive that lasted ten hours. By sunrise on Monday, we were already in Gaborone, the farthest south I had ever been, actually the farthest I have ever been from home. Given my longing to visit South Africa, I had hoped to at least have a good view of it from somewhere in Gaborone but this wasn’t possible. But I was softened by the fact that I was indeed very close to the Tlokweng border ten kilometers away that separates Botswana and South Africa. I reassured myself that someday I will be able to cross into South Africa, Africa’s last frontier southwards.
Focusing myself on exploring the best of Gaborone, I didn’t rest on my first day in this small but modern city of around 200,000 inhabitants. Most of the time, I walked around the city center while observing the everyday life of the Batswana. This is the hottest capital city I have been into with temperatures reaching 40 degrees celsius, I had to take a lot of fluids. I also tried familiarizing myself with the local life, buying local stuff, eating local food, etc. Walking around the CBD was relatively obvious than I had presumed as most relevant places are within a short distance from each other. I visited the parliamentary buildings, the main mall, the Gaborone railway station while I walked down some famous streets on foot despite the sweltering heat. Sadly though, the Botswana National Museum was closed for maintenance.
I have to commend the few people I interacted with for their generosity in giving directions, suggesting interesting places to visit, and teaching me something about life in Botswana. I had anticipated visiting the Mokolodi Nature Reserve on the outskirts of the city but due to time constraints, I was unable. Still, I promised myself much more ease the next time I visited to reach as many towns and game parks as possible.
I booked a bus ticket with Seabelo Express for the Gaborone – Bulawayo journey one day in advance. It cost only $15 and the journey lasted eight hours including stopovers in Mahalapye, Palapye, Francistown, and at the immigration point at the Ramokgwebana crossing point. And after a week, I was back in Zimbabwe to prepare for my outbound flight home.