It was day 22 of the tour and I couldn’t believe that we were now over half way in our incredible journey through Africa. Today we were driving from Victoria Falls, Zambia and crossing the border into Kasane, Botswana.
On our drive, our new guide Wellington plied us with information on his home country. Zimbabwe has 16 official languages and is landlocked, with its shape resembling a teapot. In the 1880s, the British arrived into the region of Zambesia, that is now comprised of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Here they obtained mining rights from the King of the Ndebele peoples, who inhabited the area, as they believed that it was rich with precious metals. This appealed hugely to Cecil Rhodes, British businessman and mining magnate (who later gained near-complete domination of the world’s diamond market); he therefore promoted the idea of colonising the territory and it was then called Rhodesia in his honour, with today’s Zambia being Northern Rhodesia and Zimbabwe being known as Southern Rhodesia.
Southern Rhodesia made an attempt to gain independence from the British in 1965 but was unsuccessful and this resulted in a civil war. Eventually though, the country was able to gain official independence and became Zimbabwe on 18th April 1980. This name comes from the Shona language (the Shona tribe are now Zimbabwe’s largest indigenous group with nine million people, which is over half of the country’s population). Zim translates to ‘big’, bab is short for ‘house’ and bwe is short for ‘stone’. Zimbabwe therefore means the Big House of Stone. This is named for the country’s stone ruins which date back to the 11th century and are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Our journey to Botswana saw us driving parallel to the Zambezi river, which flows through Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Angola, Namibia and Mozambique. Interestingly, the Zambezi got its name from the Portuguese, who were the first Europeans to enter Africa and pronounced its original name wrongly. The said name was Kasambabezi and this means ‘only those who know the river can bathe in it’ in the Zimbabwean language of Chitonga.
We were also informed that both Zimbabwe and Botswana have the largest number of elephants in Africa and this is the same number, because the elephants move freely between the borders. Speaking of borders, our own border crossing was an intriguing one, as you must present a second pair of shoes and wash the soles of both pairs in a chemical substance before entering Botswana, and this is to prevent foot and mouth disease from spreading into the country. It was considerably quicker than our other border crossings though and there was no fee to obtain a visa.
Entering through the town of Kasane, it was immediately noticeable that there was a lot of wildlife here and this is partly due to the fact that hunting had been made illegal in the country (though Botswana has now sadly lifted its ban on elephant hunting). We even saw warthogs being shooed away from a shopping area and then gathering in a petrol station!
Like Zimbabwe, Botswana is landlocked; it is 600,000 km² in size and only has a population of 2.5 million people, making it one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. It has also never been colonised, but it was protected by the British until its independence in 1966. Botswana is currently Africa’s oldest continuous democracy. Its currency, the Pula, means “rain” in Tswana (Botswana’s official language alongside English), as rain is so scarce and is therefore valuable in a country where 70% is comprised of the Kalahari Desert. The word is also used as the national motto of the country.
After making the necessary stops for provisions, we set up camp for the night very near to the Chobe River, and that evening we had the opportunity to explore the Chobe National Park via the water, on a sunset boat cruise.
It was fascinating seeing a diverse range of animals from a new perspective and we saw and learnt some information about:
- White-crowned lapwings.
- Pied kingfishers.
- Goliath herons.
- Marabou storks – known for eating animal carcasses.
- Yellow-billed storks.
- African spoonbills.
- Reed cormorants.
- Red lechwe – these are semi-aquatic antelopes.
- A pod of hippos – these animals can stay submerged for up to six minutes at a time and their lips are like lawnmowers in the way they cut grass to eat. Male hippos will often be covered in scars and these are teeth-marks they have gained whilst fighting with other males for territory.
- Freshwater crocodiles – We saw one with its mouth held open and found out that this is called ‘gaping’, which they do for prolonged periods in order to cool down because they are cold-blooded and cannot regulate their own temperature. Gaping also accelerates their digestion. The biting control of crocodiles is twice their body weight, but they have weak release muscles so they cannot actually chew, therefore they spin their prey in order to subdue and eat them. If a crocodile loses a tooth it will grow back again. These crocodiles have a lifespan of around 120 years.
- Many chacma baboons – collectively known as a ‘troop’ or a ‘congress’. These are omnivores and will eat anything (we certainly found this out in Zambia!). Baboons do not compete with other males for their female counterparts as they will happily have multiple mates at any given time. The females carry their babies under their stomachs for easy suckling and safety from predators.
- Guineafowl – baboons and guineafowl search for elephant dung as the elephants only digest 45% of their food and therefore these animals can eat the remains.
- A group of male elephants and around thirteen to fifteen herds of elephants – the females will give birth within the herd and the young elephant then becomes everybody’s baby, with the whole group protecting it from harm. The shape of an African elephant’s forehead has become a way to tell the males and females apart (square for females, circular for males) because they both have tusks and flaps between their legs (both the males and the females have their sexual organs inside their bodies).
- We also saw (and definitely smelt) a dead elephant, which wasn’t particularly pleasant to witness, but reminded us once again of the circle of life out here in this natural environment.
Our guide was exceptionally informative and interesting and as we cruised, we listened to his commentary and watched the sun setting over the river. I felt very tranquil and fortunate to see so much wildlife.
And of course, there’s more tranquillity and beauty to come as my next blog post talks about my experience flying, floating and sleeping in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Don’t miss it!
Click here to view my 360° virtual tour of the Okavango Delta, as a sneak preview of next week’s blog post.