4. First Day, First Night

I left home on Sunday, and here on Wednesday I’m finally in Botswana. 

Unfortunately, I’m not done traveling yet. 

Oh wait, you’re probably wondering what happened to my bags. When I woke in the morning the first I did was look on the Internet to find out the status of the Swiss Air flight from Zurich to Jo-berg. Was it on time? Yes. Good news.

Was my bag on the plane? According to the baggage tracking Web site, probably. I say probably because the status updates didn’t actually say “left Zurich.” It said “scanned for the flight.” 

Because we’re supposed to be checked in with Air Botswana before my bags would officially arrive, my workshop teaching partner Tony and I went over to their counter and checked in. At least once I was assured that I could “add bags” should they actually arrive. Then I waited just outside customs until I saw that the Swiss Air flight had landed, gave it a few minutes, then phoned the agent whose number I had gotten last night. 

Yes, my bags were here. Just meet the agent outside the customs area. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later I was handed my bags, and then rushed back to Air Botswana where I got them added to that flight in time, then rushed back to get through customs to exit South Africa and arrive at my gate. 

So, yes, my bags miraculously made a just-in-time appearance, and as I boarded the Air Botswana plane I could see them in the baggage cart next to the plane. On to Maun.

The flight was uneventful, and as usual I was met at the airport by Shane, who introduced Tony and I to our driver for the pre-workshop portion of our trip: OK. Yes, that’s his name, OK. At least for non-Setswana like me, as his actual name has lots of K’s and X’s and vowels in it that aren’t so easy to pronounce if you can’t click as you speak. So OK is OK with me, unless, of course, he asks if I’m all right, in which case I can’t say that I’m OK unless I want to start an Abbott and Costello routine [I actually tried to explain the Who’s on First routine to OK and how we could do it in Setswana, but unfortunately the concept of baseball is foreign in Botswana ;~].

After transferring some items into one duffel I won’t need until the workshop officially starts, it’s into the Land Cruiser with Tony and OK and off for a long, dusty journey to our first destination, Hyena Pan. There are paved roads in Botswana, but not in the true game areas, so it’s not many kilometers before we’re plowing through the (mostly) packed sand that constitute roads here. 

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Funny thing is, the speed limit signs on the section of road between the end of pavement outside Maun to the Cattle Gate and start of the wild area says 80kmph. I note that we rarely manage to get above 40kmph. 

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The rains came late and light this year in Botswana, and that means the roads didn’t really get their annual “washing.” The sand really only packs with moisture and some selective grading coupled with a lot of use. All they got this year was a lot of use. So the “soft spots” in the sand are more frequent, larger, and deeper. It’s just a long, slow drive, and we’ve got a lot of it to do. Moreover, since this is a main connector road between Maun and the Northeastern park areas and communities, you’re not going to see much in the way of animal life along the way. 

So another day of travel.

We did find a couple of water holes along the way with some wildlife, generally elephants and fish eagles, but we didn’t stop long. The camera gear is out now, though.

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Almost immediately I’ve noticed that my D500 needs AF Fine Tuning with the 200-500mm I brought. Fortunately, nothing spectacular is happening before I get a chance to deal with that.

We arrive at our destination after dark. It’s a pretty interesting destination, too. We’re spending the night on platforms built to observe a water hole. Here’s a picture of one of the platforms during the day:

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First floor ground, second floor bathroom, third floor with no roof: beds and a viewing area. An elephant herd is at the watering hole as we arrive, but short of throwing spotlights on them, we can’t see them. As befitting the name, a pack of hyena makes its appearance around the campfire as we sit down to dinner.

If you’ve never been somewhere with totally dark skies, then you can’t imagine the platforms at night on the night of a new moon. As you lie in bed, you’re looking up at the Milky Way and so many stars that even Carl Sagan would have to modify his descriptor of wonderment. Tony takes some time to photograph them, but I just lie back on the bed and enjoy it. 

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It’s still winter here in Botswana, though it should be warming into some sort of spring soon. With no roof, no walls, sleeping on the platform leaves you a bit exposed to the cold and wind. Personally, I enjoy that. Let’s say it was a brisk night but cozy under the comforter. [Tony claims he was cold because his comforter kept flying off his bed magically onto mine…]


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