Monday, October 2, 1995
Elephants Weigh In on Namibia Border Dispute
First stop is Victoria Falls, where we again tour the Zimbabwe side. Edward is not allowed inside with us, as he is not a licensed guide in Zimbabwe. Then on to the border and into Botswana. We arrive at the luxurious Mawana Lodge for lunch. I negotiate phone rates with the front desk manager, and he escorts me into their business office to try and get connected. I am hopeful, as there is a computer and a fax machine, but the physical connectors do not match, I don’t have the right adapters, and again I am foiled. This was the last phone until the end of the Botswana tour, so the web page will remain in it’s infant state until at least Maun. A disappointment, but I am running well behind on the journal anyway.
We float through a herd of over 50 elephants crossing the river. Elephants on both banks, in front of us, behind us, and next to us. They are crossing to an island with an observation deck flying a Botswana flag. Wilson cautions us not to take pictures. This is Sedudu Island, home to a Botswanan military camp, and the object of a border dispute with Namibia. And therein lies a story.
Botswana was a protectorate of Britain until granted independence in 1966. The British, after skillfully drawing the borders of the countries of the Middle East, thereby contributing to the enduring peace and stability of the region, turned their attention to Southern Africa and brought equal skill and foresight into defining the borders of Botswana. One of the interesting artifacts of that exercise, is something called the Caprivi Strip.
The Caprivi Strip is long, narrow protrusion of Namibian land extending east from Namibia and sandwiched between Botswana and Angola. Here, the Chobe river is the border. On the Botswana side you have a National Game Park. Hunting is structly prohibited, tourists may view the wildlife only from vehicles, and vehicles must stay on the roads. Wildlife abounds as we were already experiencing. On the Namibia side of the Chobe, there are subsistence farmers and no restriciton on subsistence hunting by the native residents. Any wildlife finding its way across the river is immediately shot. There is little or no game living on the Namibia side of the river. With the continuing drought, the river is running low, and several of the islands in the river have become easily reachable and significant feeding grounds for the wildlife.
A few years ago, Namibia sent a small force onto the uninhabited island of Sedudu and claimed it as Namibian land. Botswana immediately retook the island, and now maintains a military presence there. The border between Namibia and Botswana is defined as the deepest part of the Chobe River. On the Botswana side, the massive elephant herd is continually breaking down the the banks of the river as they come down to drink and bathe. As a result, the Botswana side of the river is wider and shallower than the Namibia side of the river, where no comparable elephant herd exists. Since the deepest part of the Chobe river now runs completely through the Namibia side of Sidudu island, the island belongs to Botswana. So we were watching the elephants freely wade over to Sidudu, where they feed, and drink, and bathe, protected against poachers by Botswana guns, a safe haven within the border that the animals themselves created.
As the boat tour continues, we see hippos, cape buffalo, crocs, and a houseboat listing from the tourists standing and staring off one side of the boat. Cathy spots the object of their attention, a leopard, which immediately runs up the bank and disappears. I missed it, but Sigrid claims to have seen it’s tail. I am not acknowledging this tail flick as a verified Big Five sighting. Sigrid disputes my ruling.
Edward picks us up, and takes us for short game drive on our way to the camp. We see more cape buffalo, more elephants, and our first sighting of lion (Number Four of the Big Five). As the sun sets we watch a pride of six lionesses walking up from the river, across the road, through a guantlet of five safari trucks, and into the bush.
The Tent and Toilet
Then, the first sight of our new home, the mobile camp. Three sleeping tents, one for each couple, a dining room tent, and a bar tent. Each sleeping tent has a private shower (canvas bucket feeding a shower head suspended over a one meter square tent) and a private toilet tent (also about a meter square) complete with flush toilet. Real camping. Except, of course, there is a staff of seven who set up and maintain the camp, and do all the work, including the cooking and cleaning, and serving drinks. Serving drinks. That would be Paul, serving drinks that is. . . I wander over to make his acquaintance.
Afro-Ventures promotes this tour as Botswana a la Hemingway . Paul’s Bar has a small paperback library of Hemingway books. I think the only thing I have ever read of Hemingway’s is "The Old Man and The Sea", which was an assignment in Mrs. Bobera’s seventh grade English class. This seems a good time to correct this literary gap in my education. I also hope to find some quotes to sprinkle through the journal to provide a thin veneer of literary quality, and, as a side benefit, to irritate Harlan, who hates Hemingway. While sipping a Red Label over ice, I select "The Green Hills of Africa" as my reading material.
Special Note to Lee Evans - It's the fifth bottle from the left.
NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: This is a back-post / cross-post from my first on-line journal/blogging effort - a journal of our Southern Africa Tour in 1995. Originally posted to an abandoned domain (NetSnake.com), the term "blog" had not yet entered the parlance. I am migrating the original posts to this blog. Links to the original journal Date Index or Africa Tour Home Page will likely eventually disappear. The images from the original post were screen caps from video which I am leaving as is for historical integrity. My intent is to also add some of Sigrid's higher quality scanned photos to these blog back-posts. The difference should be obvious.
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