‘Welcome to Namibia’, said my phone as I entered Zimbabwe

I thought my phone had gone completely mad: within a minute or possibly two I got the following messages: ‘Welcome to Zambia’, ‘Welcome to Angola’, ‘Welcome to Zimbabwe’ and ‘Welcome to Namibia’.

The thing was that I wasn’t in any of these countries – I was in Botswana. In fact I had already been in Botswana for a few days, without any welcoming messages at all from my phone. But now I was in the north, on my way from Chobe National Park near Kasane to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

A look on the map explains the total network provider confusion: Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana converge in Kasane, and Angola certainly isn’t far away (but still a bit too far to be welcomed into, in my opinion).

But I was on my way to fulfil a dream. Victoria Falls had been a mythical destination for me since I was a child and now I was on my way there. People talk about bucket lists these days. I don’t like to tick boxes on a list, unless it is a shopping list or similar; I like to have dreams and see some of them come true. What is life without dreams?

And magical it was. And fun, especially the helicopter ride I decided to take.

This was in January, so the water level wasn’t at all at its highest, but oh did I get splashed! Normally I’m terrified of heights, but for some obscure reason here I wasn’t. I stepped out as far as it was allowed to look down at the falling water masses.

On the way back to the lodge in Chobe the same messages were repeated. ‘Welcome to Zambia’, ‘Welcome to Zimbabwe’ (which I had just left), ‘Welcome to Namibia’, ‘Welcome to Angola’. But this time the correct one also appeared: ‘Welcome to Botswana’.

Kalahari miracles

If you lose your mobile phone during a game drive in the Kalahari wilderness, where you have been driving off track most of the time, what are the odds that it will ever be found again? One of my fellow travellers lost his phone under such circumstances, but he took it very philosophically, simply resigning himself to the fact that it had happened.

One of our guides, Dabi, insisted on going looking for the phone, in spite of everyone saying that it would be pointless. But he wouldn’t listen and just took off in the jeep. We couldn’t believe our eyes when he came back after a couple of hours with the phone in his hand. This highly skilled animal tracker had now proven to be an equally skilled phone tracker. Unbelievable. This was the first miracle.

Before coming to the Kalahari, our group of photo enthusiasts had visited the Okavango delta. We had been very lucky there: we had seen one little leopard cub and six lion cubs in two litters of three (see previous blog posts). With so much luck, could we really hope for more cub spotting? Not really.

Close to our camp, Camp Kalahari, a brown hyena, a rare animal, an endangered species, had been seen. The brown hyena is a cute animal (yes, hyenas can also be cute), with thick longish fur and striped legs. We set out for the afternoon game drive to try to find this hyena, all a little excited. And after a few minutes, there it was! Right in front of the jeep! I gasped for air as I saw a female getting a cub out of the den!

We stayed put watching  as the sun was setting: the cub had its meal, it played with its mother, annoying her a little at times, and it started exploring the neighbourhood, watching us, coming closer, surely wondering what the excitement in those two jeeps was all about.

Witnessing all this was the second miracle.

The brown hyena is now one of my favourite animals. How is it possible not to love a creature with striped legs?

On the suricate’s tail

When you are in the Kalahari desert in Botswana, what makes you jump out of bed before sunrise, hop into a jeep and lie on prickly grass holding your camera in an awkward position? The correct reply is “The prospect of getting close encounters with suricates”. (Yes, I’m aware that suricates are also known as meerkats, but since I have to choose one of the two, I opted for suricate.)

You all have seen photos like this:

But I can assure you that the moments they stand still are few and very brief indeed. Well, as the first scout comes out of the family den, just before sunrise, it does sit quite still for a little while, mostly turning its head to survey the surroundings and make sure no dangers are nearby. Other clan members soon join in as the sun rays start warming the air.

The quest for breakfast begins, and I’m having a hard time keeping up with these speedy animals, while trying to get some good shots (very difficult) and avoiding tripping over little mounds or getting my foot into a hole (which might be inhabited).

Mmm, nice smell here, maybe a frog? Or a scorpion?

They do work hard for their breakfast! I can’t say that I have the same energy before my first meal of the day …

In the meantime, some of them have discovered an interesting hole. They look in, jump back, and peep in again. Is there something dangerous …? Or something edible?

It was just a feather.