Living in South Africa has opened the door for many adventures, most of which include hitchhiking in Southern Africa. Of the countries that I have gotten to visit, none have provide quite as much excitement or feeling of a true African adventure like the 10 days I spent traveling Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Armed with a travel guide, a few casual suggestions and a list of people to visit I left South Africa with my two friends and began a 7 hour trip to Botswana. First stop, Gaborone to meet of with a group of fellow Peace Corps volunteers. We were a little weary after the long bus ride, but we got to spend the night at a hotel (as there are no backpackers in Gaborone) which is always a treat for Peace Corps volunteers. There wasn’t too much to see in Gaborone, so we headed out early the next morning with a fellow volunteer to Palapye.
Palapye is a small town, mostly used as a stop over for travel between the larger towns in Botswana. It is a hot and dusty little town, but also a free place to stay before our adventure really began with a trip to Serowe and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. The Khama Rhino Sanctuary is a community based wildlife project, established in 1992 to assist in saving the vanishing rhino, restore an area formerly teeming with wildlife to its previous natural state. It’s a wonderful place to start a trip and get close to the wild animals of Botswana.
We viewed the Khama Sancturay from the back of a pick-up truck, giving us a full access of our surroundings. We drove around stopping to get a closer view of black rhinos, white rhinos, the back-side of a zebra, and a few giraffe checking us out over the tops of the trees. With help of a local friend we drove as close as we dared and covered a lot of ground. At the end of our trip we pulled over at a drinking hole and took a look around. At first we couldn’t figure out why we had stopped there, but within a few minutes we could see rhino making their way towards us across the dusty plain. Sure enough within 20 minutes two families of rhino and a few guinea fowl were all settled in by the drinking hole. We were just getting comfortable when a few of the rhino started moving our way, so we jumped back into the truck and drove out for dinner of our own.
After spending the night in Serowe, we were up early to try and make our way to Kasane in the north of Botswana. Things didn’t go exactly as planned and thus began the first great adventure of our trip. From Serowe we made our way to Francistown hoping to catch a bus to Kasane. When we arrived in Francistown we were told that the bus had already left, but that another bus would be coming. The problem was that no one seemed to know when the bus would be coming.
If you look at a map of Botswana, as you travel north the main road splits at a little town called Nata. To the west is Maun and to the northeast is Kasane. Both towns are on the edge of Chobe National Park (one of Botswana’s main attractions), but the majority of travelers go west to Maun instead of north to Kasane. Of course we were trying to go north! Worried that the bus may never come and urged on by the guys working at the bus rank we decided to take the bus to Maun and get off in Nata, hoping to catch a ride with someone continuing on to Kasane. We were assured that this would be easy and that we should not be concerned that hitchhiking was the only way out of Nata.
Nata is a tiny little strip of a town. Just a gas station with two fast food restaurants, a small hotel and the hitching spot. So many people hitch from here, because there is no public transport, that there is an official hitching point where we were told to stand. On what felt to be the hottest day since we arrived we attempted to get a ride to Kasane. A few cars pulled over, mostly to figure out why three young girls were standing on the side of the rode. We saw two cars filled with people working for Africare, but not only did they not stop, they took pictures of us standing in the sun. After two hours and many liters of water, we gave up and headed back to the gas station to get something to eat and hopefully run into someone who might take us with them. Finally after making a few back-up plans, which included spending the night in Nata, the women who worked at the gas station told us that there was a car of guys heading to Kasane and that we should try and ride with them. We had made a pact that we would not be riding in the back of pick-up truck with men, but we were starting to get desperate. We loaded our stuff in and just as we were about to leave a kombi (a kind of public transport van) pulled up behind us. IT WAS GOING TO KASANE!! I have never jumped out of a truck so fast!