There is only one point where four nations come together in one place. We crossed this X today. We drove across the beautiful new, one-year-old Kazungula bridge across the Zambezi River between Zambia and Botswana. From the bridge we could see Zimbabwe on our left and Namibia on our right. The point where all four meet is in the middle of the river, slightly to the east of the bridge.
The bridge curves as it crosses the river. Corrupt Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe wanted the bridge built between Zambia and Zimbabwe, where the river is narrower, insisting that Zimbabwe pay a lower share of the cost. There was some diplomatic clomping around and the bridge ended up with a curved shape so it would bend around, and not cross, Zimbabwe.
The border crossing was easy. Botswana is easily the best run of the three countries on this tour. Another large country with a small population, a bit over 2 million. They have a diamond industry that brings in a lot of revenue and they use the high value, low impact tourism model in which they charge a high cost to a small number of tourists. They have banned trophy hunting, gotten AIDS under control, lots of other good stuff you can look up if you want.
From the border, we drove an hour or so to our lodge adjacent to Chobe National Park. The lodge is built on a ridge overlooking the flood plain of the Chobe river. The plain is maybe five miles wide and runs for miles between Namibia and Botswana. It’s completely flat, covered with a network of interconnected streams and populated with hundreds of zebras and other grazing animals. It is spectacular.
As we drove into our camp, we passed three elephants right next to the narrow dirt track. One of them was blocking our way, so we had to wait for her to pass before we could proceed the remaining 100 feet to the parking area.
Browsers (animals that eat tree leaves vs grazers who eat grass) are having a tough time here at the end of the dry season. The trees are all stripped bare of their leaves and there is still a month or two to go before the rains come. The three elephants we saw were all crying, when they are stressed, they cry tears from a special temporal ducts on their faces a couple of inches behind their eyes. Weak browsers won’t make it.
After we settled into our tents, we had our first short game drive. We went down along the river to watch the birds on their final feeding of the day. Storks and geese, ducks, lots of birds that feed in shallow water. Eight or ten zebras crossed the narrow shallow river from the shore to the huge island formed by some of the many channels. On the island, they are safe from predators, who would have to swim over to get them, then sneak up on the sharp-eyes zebras over the wide open plain. A herd of giraffes, 6 or 7 of the tall animals, were browsing. We got quite close, then got out of the safari vehicles to enjoy sundowner cocktails. We watched the giraffes and a herd of impalas, and were surprised to see a large herd of zebras had come into the large meadow where we were enjoying our gins and tonic. A nice first day in Botswana.
We sound like a COVID ward. Lots of people are suffering from respiratory ailments. Don has a cold. Paul has a chronic cough. Maria caught Don’s cold. Mary Ann is hacking. The dusty, dry, smoky atmosphere is wreaking havoc on our throats and nasal passages. At the beginning of the trip, Berv told us not to worry about COVID, as during the pandemic, these countries locked down tight, vaccinated everyone and had low infections. Combined with the sparse populations of these countries, these measures meant they made it through the pandemic pretty well, fewer than 10,000 deaths in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana all together. Masks are on in places like airports. Berv said on a previous trip, someone took a home test that came up positive, everyone panicked, tested themselves, lots of positive and the whole group had to quarantine. Trip interrupted, when they got to the city, they took PCR tests, only 3 true positives. It was a fiasco, and poor Berv got bad reviews. So, no COVID testing, no worry about the trip getting cancelled. Our group is all rational.