Saturday, June 16, 2012

Botswana's Tuli Block

We spent a long weekend with Chuck and Mary McGee, PCVs from Bots 9 (about to leave after two years of service) who lived and worked in Selibe Phikwe, not far (relatively) from the Tuli Block Game Reserve.  First, we had to get there from Goodhope.  That meant walking the three kilometers from school into town, catching a combi to Lobatse, catching another bus to Gaborone, where we met up with Mary, for the long trip to Selibe Phikwe. Some of you know this serendipity: Mary's mother was a friend of John's mother years ago, both members of the Tacoma Garden Club! It took us going to Botswana to meet Mary and Charles --- awesome and so fun folks.

Here we are on a few moment stop en route at the Tropic of Capricorn.

Anyone who drives from Portland to Salem, past the marker that is half-way between the equator and the North Pole, knows how exciting these places are.  Still, we may never have another chance to pass this spot again.

We spent the night at the McGees' house, and left for Tuli in the morning. It was another three-hour drive over some very rough roads, to the Limpopo Valley Airfield. Again, not exactly one of the wonders of the world, but our children and grandchildren have heard --- endlessly --- about how the elephant got its....

...trunk, up by the "banks of the Great Grey-Green Greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees."  (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling) 

We didn't see any fever trees, or any river, or any water between Selibe Phikwe and our tent at Mashatu, yet it was a spectacular drive through some remote, very rugged countryside.  Just before Mashatu, we crossed a dry river bed where we saw maribou birds, which, speaking of children's stories, are the ones who helped Celeste and Arthur find Babar, the Elephant.  Remember?

You'll have to click on the photo to see them very well.....

After we freshened up and had tea at Mashatu, we went for an afternoon wildlife drive. 

Our guides were seasoned and intrepid to the max. Giraffe, lions, a leopard and a cheetah were within view and sometimes a little too close for comfort.  We were told by our guides (Chuck and Mary, who have been to Tuli quite a few times, confirmed this) it is uncommon to see all three big cats in one drive. There is something truly awesome about seeing them in their own environment.

This guy was only a few feet from where our jeep stopped.  There was another lion, a female, thirty feet away, sound asleep (better for us that way)!

It was twilight when we saw the leopard.  At least we think this is the leopard.  Cheetahs look a little bit like leopards to the untrained eye.  This one has a skinny tail.  Look at the tail on this one:

We watched the sunset from a ridge not far from this spot.  It was a cloudless evening, took a long time for the sun to set --- the sky is ablaze with oranges and reds.

Next morning's drive, the main thing was to see elephants --- and we did, after quite a bit of searching.  Lots of them, adults and young.

One group of about ten mothers and babies walked across this riverbed up to the other bank, stopping as they went up to face us and all flapped their ears at us.  Elephants, we learned, are in danger in much of Africa, partly because of national borders, that stop the animals from traveling their historic migration routes.  Were happy to make friends with Owen Chase, a wonderful man from Gaborone whose brother founded an ngo,  Elephants Without Borders, to address this issue.  Click on the link for an awesome website.

We had another (very different) adventure in Selibe Phike --- playing golf.  At least John and Chuck played a few holes, with Carol and Mary looking and laughing on. The course is famous (no kidding) as one of the world's worst.  However, the setting is beautiful and John managed to hit some pretty good shots, making him wonder if that bike accident and separated AC shoulder joint cured his slice.

As you can see, the fairways are not well-watered, but then if they were, given the amount of water in Botswana, there would be something, well, wrong.  Golf, like so many other things, can, and should, adapt to its surroundings.  So when it would be nearly impossible to maintain a traditional green, why not make the "green" out of oil-treated sand, and provide a tool for smoothing the path from the ball to the cup? And call it a "brown"!  Takes some of the fear out of putting.

You can see what fun it is to play this course, especially when you have a band of followers as beautiful as we had that day.  Mary and Carol of course were laughing with us and not at us, or were they?

Finally, made it down to the "banks of the Great Grey Green Greasy Limpopo River." Still didn't see any fever trees, perhaps because the guards at the border crossing warned us not to get too close to the river.  Crocodiles! 

The end of a wonderful visit came too soon and we made our long way back to Goodhope with lasting memories and much happiness. As you will read in our next entry, little did we know how much we would need these memories and happiness to fortify us for what was coming next in our adventure in the Peace Corps...

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