Moremi game reserve

The Cat Boys

We get up early with the intention of booking flights home and hitting the “road” deeper into the Okavango Delta en route to Chobe River. There’s just over a week left on the SASS so I expect flight prices aren’t going to look too appealing.

I climb down from the truck. Hmmm empty site and firepit. Whoever came the night before and joined our campsite has already packed up and made off. I grab a “Hi, I’m naked!” shower while the gettins good. Pour myself some instashit coffee and come round the bar to the Old Bridge common area to find the guys in varying degrees of readiness. Might as well do a Full English Breakfast with that tangy hot sauce again.

Mark has his phone out, “You looking at flights?” “Yep, it’s a nightmare.” “Oh nice. Ya, I expected as much.” Soon Jamie and Peter are there to join in the fun as well.

We look at a map and decide that we can probably make it to Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, within the week. This would take us East from Maun through the Okavango Delta to the Chobe River and on to Victoria Falls at the border of Zimbabwe. From there we could go North into Zambia along the Kafue River for a couple days and then further East on to Lusaka. Hopefully with a day to spare to sort out the ditching of the truck and catching of the flights.

Done huddling around the phone map, we’re confident. “Solid plan.” “It’ll go down just like that, I’m sure. No problems.” “Who do we give the truck to?” “Ya, no idea.” “Ok cool.” “Good point. I’ll message them and let em know we’ll be in Lusaka. See what they say.”

Next step before hitting the road out of here is flight bookings. It is indeed a nightmare. That’s the problem with a trip where you only book a flight in and don’t actually know where you’re going to end up. By necessity, the purchase of the flight out is left to the last minute when all the prices are near max.

A couple of other fun factors are adding to the already stressful flight bookings too. We didn’t drive much yesterday so all of our phone batteries are deep in the red. Peter and I are bouncing over to the only available outlet by the coffee stand to swap charging while we look into flights.

Also, the internet at the Old Bridge seems to max out when a certain number of devices are connected and we keep getting inexplicably kicked off mid-browsing or purchase. “Get Mayor fucking Tombob back here to fix this shit!” Then it’s back to the start, browsing to airline sites and their already miserable user experiences and going through it all again. And, of course, upon repeated visits, the prices are jumping up wildly when we finally do get back to where we left off, sending us back out to search other options again, and getting kicked off again and again. We’re trying all the major airlines we can in the area, Ethiopian, Rwandair, Emirates, Qatar. Everything is 2500- 3500. Not ideal.

And to cap off this little stress cocktail that we’re mixing up this morning, there are two kids in the 8-10 range that simply won’t leave us alone. No idea who they are or where the parents are but it’s like they can sense the stress pouring out of us and would like to contribute to it by getting up in our faces to mime being lions and make cat noises at us. So weird. Definitely not helpful.

Just as I’m about to finally purchase something, the little loading circle is spinning towards a credit card payment, I get kicked off the internet and an “Unable to process the request” message comes up. “Fuck sakes!” This is followed by a Cat Boy coming over to emphasize my failure with a “Shizzzzz raaawr!” and a clawing motion. “Thanks man. That really helps.” No confirmation email so now I’m going to my credit card statement to see if something actually went through. Can’t get to that either. Jeeeeeeebuz! “Raaaawwrr!!” “Yep, thanks kid.”

And then the other kid comes by and just slaps Jamie on the back for no reason. Smack! He arches up with a start, eyes wide, and he looks at the kid with his hands raised in the wtf shape. He does a loop motion in the air with his hand, circling the kid’s general area, “What the fuck is this?!” Despite the annoyance of our flight booking experience, this actually cracks me up. “I think Cat Boy likes you.” He’s floating in again and Jamie is brushing him away, “Shoo kids, we’re busy!”

A couple minutes later and one of them comes over with a pool que and pokes Jamie in the shoulder with it. “Ow! Hey that hurts, kid.” The blue chalk from the tip leaves a little dot on Jamie’s Saved by the Bell colors party shirt. He’s licking his thumb and trying to get it off. Smudgy blue everywhere. “Fucking kids!” I’m shaking my head chuckling about it, “Those kids got your number, man.” “Yeah, what the hell?!”

And the morning gets nuked by this Cat Boys / Flight fiasco. It’s been two hours working at something we thought might take twenty minutes. “Well, this sucks.” Mark has already provided a round of stress beers. I take a break to recharge the phone again and get some more beers from Pulvea. I think we’re at that point now, need a de-stressor. She opens a few Windhoeks, “You leave today?” “Yeah, heading towards Chobe I think.” “That will be nice. It is fun with you boys here. You should come back.” “Love to. We like it here. Having a great time.”

I get back and it looks like Mark has caught a fish. “Ok, so if we break up the flights…” We all sync up on this new thread and the internet miraculously holds while our purchases go through. Lusaka to Joburg. Joburg to LAX. 1500 bucks isn’t too bad for a last minute flight to the other side of the planet. And as annoying as it is to struggle through this shit for hours, it sure is a relief to have it done.

Moremi Game Reserve

We get Belinda transformed back to truck mode and roll out of Old Bridge. Peter’s turn to drive. He navigates the deep trough along the river’s edge one last time. Just on the edge of Maun we get to the Moremi Game Reserve road that we were on 2 days ago. Looks like this washerboard rattle-shake bullshit may actually be the best way to get where we think we’re going. Chobe River.

The water tank is empty and we don’t know how this drive is gonna go so we stop at a store and pick up a couple of gallon jugs. Peter is wiping his hands off on his pants, “Did you notice that these Delta spring water jugs always leak?” “Ya. I wonder if they just refill the bottles and sell them again. They never seem sealed, eh?” There’s a moment of clarity and we both start laughing, “Well ya, that’s exactly what they fucking do.” “Probably shouldn’t even drink this shit hahahaha.” “We’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”

We decide to stop and deflate the tires for the dune and board section this time round. A bunch of kids run up in their bare feet and tattered clothes with bracelets and baskets. Shoot. We don’t have any small Pula bills for them. Peter and I contemplate just buying the whole shebang and making their day but we don’t really want to lug around 50 bracelets and baskets either.

They’re pantomiming that they’re hungry. Hmmmm can’t really help there either. Maybe some Biltong. Alright a couple pieces of the good stuff for you boys to share. We finish up with the tires and wish them well. The kids are wide smiles and enthusiastically waving goodbye.

We get back on the road and it sucks just slightly less than the first time. The deflated tires definitely make it more tolerable. Peter pipes up with an important announcement, “Just crossed the 5000 kilometer mark on the truck!”

We’re along the road for almost an hour and some wildlife starts popping up here and there. We scare the shit out of a herd of elephants that were enjoying a mud bath in a watering hole close to the road. Couldn’t even see them through the trees until we were basically on top of them. “Well that could have gone worse!”

They romp off in annoyance.

We come to the Southern Gate of the Moremi Game Reserve. There has been zero vehicles on the road and there are none here at the gate as well. It’s always a little unsettling when you don’t really know where you’re going or how to get there in a place where there isn’t really any reliable maps and there’s no one to follow or talk to either.

We go inside and there are two girls working here. One tall girl with super-red, dyed hair and another that is relentlessly picking her nose while she talks to me. They don’t seem too eager to help. I spot a map and with a motion ask if it’s alright to take a look. “Yes, yes please.” 

We crack it open. Nice. “Ok, this is promising. There’s a camp at the North Gate.” “Sweet. Drive through the reserve and get to camp before sundown. Like it.” Mark turns to Nose Picking Girl, “Do we need a reservation?” She let’s out a loud sigh, “Ahhhhhhh I will call and check.” Peter leans over and whispers sarcastically, “Man, I feel bad putting her out like this. They do seem super busy.”

She gets off the phone and comes back to us, “They have a site available.” She points at the map, “Third Bridge is right on the Delta though. Would be better there. Yes?” “Sounds great, ya let’s try there.” Another huge sigh, “Ahhhhhhhhhh… Ok.” She calls them but there are no sites available.

Meanwhile the other guys are bouncing around the room looking at maps and animal skulls, cracking jokes and generally being silly. This seems to resonate with the girls who are observing it all and smiling. Some life gets brought into the place.

Super Sigh Girl grabs the map and waggle-motions for us to pay attention. She traces a route with her finger, “You could drive through around here and up to Noth Gate to camp, I suppose. Long drive though.” She finger-draws another route, “I think you go here to Xakanaxa. Right on the lagoon. It’s much better. I’ll call them.” Peter’s leaning back in with the running commentary, “That was a quick switch from slouch to absolute boss!”

Indeed the whole atmosphere has changed in here and this girl is taking care of business. “There is a site at Xakanaxa. You are ok.” “YES! Thank-you. It’s pronounced Zah-kah-nah-kah?” “Yes, Xakanaxa.” Try a little faster now, “Zakanaxe-a, love it.” “Xakanaka!” “Zaka…naka?” “Yes, Xakanaxa. There is sunset cruise too. Very special.” “Sounds awesome, thanks so much!” “Welcome welcome.”

Someone comes in and needs a jump in the lot so Peter goes out to get the cables and help them.

Mark and I finish up the business. “Ok so it is one twenty times four for the camp… and fifty for self drive.” She reaches for a calculator. I interject, “That’s 530.” “Is it?” “It is.” Red Girl has a huge smile going. Sigh Sigh goes through it on the calculator anyways, “530 wow!” Basic math for the win. I gather our Pula and fork it over (this works out to about 40 usd). “Thanks for all your help.”

Red Girl pipes up on our way out, “There have been multiple leopard and lion sightings lately. One was just fifteen kilometers back towards Maun.” Mark’s eyes bulge a tad, “We just came through there. Oh, what are those deer-like animals we saw on the way in?” “They are called Puku.” “Puku? Ok thank-you.” “Bye-bye Puku hahaah!”

“Excuse me, do you want a map?” We spin back around and Sigh Sigh is holding out a map. Mark’s turn for the commentary now, “Wow. Outgoing and offering a map. Suck on that NWR.” We get the Moremi and Chobe maps. “Should cover us for the next couple days. Thanks again.” “Welcome welcome.”

Back to Belinda and it seems Peter has gotten some good intel from the folks he jumpstarted. “They said the road to Xakanaxa from Third Bridge is washed out. We’ll need to hang left instead of following signs for Xakanaxa at the fork.” “K, we’ll know it when we see it I guess.” They also said not to take the main road to Khwai if we’re heading North from Xakanaxa. The river road is packed with animals.” “Rad. Alright, it’s coming together.” “Ya, maybe shooting that python was good luck after all.” “Plus jumper karma.” “Plus jumper karma!”

Alright, on to Xakanaxa and hopefully a sunset cruise!

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