Detour: Botswana

Authored By Brian

Not on our itinerary, yesterday’s flight from Nelspruit via Johannesburg included an unscheduled stop in Gabarone, Botswana. Why you might ask? The “light rain” in Jo’burg became “Thundershowers” which became “We don’t have enough reserve fuel to circle so we’re flying to Botswana to resupply” due to “The entire JNB airport is closed due to weather”. Awesome. The two hours we spent on the tarmac in Botswana clearly meant that we would miss our flight to Nelspruit at 4PM and while we hoped for salvation in that the weather may have delayed our outbound flight, instead South African Airways gave us a 1-2 punch by losing Jennifer’s checked luggage. Did I say “Awesome” yet?

We’ve traveled enough to know (and experience) that these things happen and although there is never a good time for an inconvenience, a short two-week honeymoon is one of the worst. Once sorted in Johannesburg, South African Airways put us up for the night in a hotel so we ate some Indian food and drank a few beers at the airport before turning in for the night. We were back at the airport at 7AM and thankfully the airline relocated Jennifer’s bag (along with our malaria medication…) and we checked in and on our way. This interruption was stressful because this morning at 4:30AM we were supposed to be picked up for the pièce de résistance of our honeymoon: a hot air balloon ride over the lowveld (low-lying rolling hills). This was going to be our cherry on top but due to the same weather that delayed our flight, the balloon ride was also canceled today. Before we had confirmed the cancellation, we were considering a redux of consuming copious Red Bull and driving all night like in 2007 when we missed a connecting flight from the Baillie’s wedding in Mexico. We would have arrived at Nelspruit around 11PM which wouldn’t have left much time for sleeping but would have been worth it for the (non-refundable…) ride. Sadly/thankfully we didn’t have to pull the trigger.

We’re disappointed of course but filled our afternoon by visiting a Jane Goodall facility called Chimp Eden today where they take in abused or injured chimpanzees for rehabilitation. We had a fantastic guide who spoke almost non-stop for about 75 minutes explaining how the animals arrived here, their backgrounds and how they were getting on and improving their situation. Sadly most of the animals come from poor conditions like circuses, exotic pet owners who don’t know what they’re getting themselves into or even being chained in front of restaurants or made to pose for pictures with tourists. Our experience was much more tame – it was feeding time so the chimps responded to our guide’s call and were playing with each other and running around. There was only a brief moment of uncertainty where an unhappy chimp ran by and tried to throw a big branch at us! The sanctuary has about 100 hectares (220 acres) and have built three enclosures for 31 animals in the three years since they began. Chimps share 98% of our DNA so not only are they eerily similar to humans in their behaviors and interactions but they are also succeptible to the same sicknesses and diseases! Because these animals have been handled by humans, they unfortunately can’t be released back to the wild as they would either be killed by wild chimps for not fitting in or pose a threat in terms of what they could spread.

Back to where we started in Knysna; our Friday market experience was nice – there was a bewildering carnival like selection of foods plus mediocre live music and kids running out of control for a fun atmosphere. It was about 99.8% white people. We ate everything from Indian samosas to Thai Chicken Satay to Mexican corn fritters with guacamole to African Bushpig. While eating the pig we chatted with a woman who had just moved to Knysna and had lived in Pacific Heights in San Francisco for a few years as a teenager – small world. We finished our gastronomic tour with an Italian canoli for dessert. Where else can you get such a ridiculous collection? There were big bonfires around the market with a handful of vendors and we zeroed in on a handmade wire-and-bead Lion made by a Zimbabwean. Earlier in the day at the Heads, I watched another guy making these crafts for a few minutes. He basically has thin wire and a pair of pliers and his hands to create all kinds of cool-looking animals like lions, giraffes and rhinos. Jennifer and I discussed how we might import 1000 of these and sell them to Cost Plus because we think people would buy them like hotcakes.

Tonight the Seringa Lodge operator is going to cook us dinner and tomorrow morning we leave on a “Panorama Tour” that will eventually drop us off at our safari lodge Tanda Tula in Timbavati game reserve. Craig, the guide who picked us up at the airport as well as took us to the Chimp Eden, is one of the owners of Rythym Africa Tours. Like with Shandy in Cape Town we had a good chat with him about the conditions here, how things have changed, what the outlook is like and so forth. Craig and his wife have been lodge and tour operators in some very cool places like Botswana and Belize before returning to South Africa where they grew up and their nomadic life has a romantic sound to it. The weather is still a bit gray so we’re playing the itinerary by ear but 24 hours from now we should be sitting in the back of an open 4×4 taking an afternoon game tour! Can’t wait!

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