The opinions expressed in this blog are mine, and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mini Vacation I: Salt Pans and Planet Baobab

A couple weeks ago, I took a mini vacation with a couple American friends of mine.  Adam attended Brown with me.  He is doing an amazing trip through Africa and Asia before he starts law school in the fall.  Sarah is a chiropractor.  She did a two-month internship in Mahalapye.  We became friends when she came to visit Shoshong Clinic.

Adam stayed at my house for a couple days and we explored Shoshong.  We then met up with Sarah, rented a car from Sarah's organization and drove up North.  Our first stop was Bobonong to visit some volunteers.  Then we drove through Francistown and headed West toward Gweta.  In between Nata and Gweta, there is this great place called Planet Baobab.  If you are coming to Botswana, I recommend it.  We spent one night there camping.  They had a swimming pool which was AMAZING.  As a Rhode Island girl, one of the things I miss most is the ocean.  You can also rent a hut, but we were too cheap to do that.  They have fun outings like hanging out with meerkats (I am sure it is called something else on the website, but that's what I am calling it), tracking the zebra migration, etc.  

Check them out: Planet Baobab Website

First we went on a walking tour of the place.  Our guide was great.  He showed us the vegetation in that part of Botswana, as well as the famous Baobab tree.  And the tour came with a drink, so the four of us sat around, watched the sunset and shared stories.  It was nice and relaxing.

From right to left: Adam, Sarah, our guide, and another traveler who came on the walking tour with us

The Baobab tree in the dry season.  It is quite magnificent.  Our guide told us that the Baobab is a succulent, which means that animals can get water from its trunk.  It also regenerates itself.  Up close we saw pieces taken out of it by elephants.  And if/when a tree dies, there is nothing left of it but little pieces strewn all about the ground.  One can hardly tell there was a tree there at all.

After Planet Baobab, we headed back East toward Nata.  At Nata, there is an entrance to the Sowa Salt Pan, one of the largest salt pans in the world.  During the dry season, you can camp right on the pan.  During the wet season, the pan is covered with a thin layer of water and camping is inadvisable.  I think the pans in Botswana used to be lakes year-round, but I could be wrong about that.

When we first arrived on the pans, we set up our tent, ate some watermelon and took a look around.  Adam also decided to set up the firewood so it would be easier to do later.

At this point, Adam is hopeful about his fire-making abilities.  

After Adam finished setting up the wood, we decided to take a walk and try to find the flamingos.  We could see them way off in the distance.  We had an hour...maybe we could reach them, we thought.

Left to right: Sarah, me and Adam.  Because it is just the beginning of the dry season, parts of the pans are still a bit wet.  We got to walk around in the mud for about a half hour, while we tried to find the flamingos.

Alas, the flamingos were too far so we turned to come back to the car.  We wanted to reach it before dark.  As you can probably tell from the photos, the pans are MASSIVE.  In the dark, it would be pretty easy to lose your way.

They also look like the surface of the moon

Sunset on the pans

When we arrived back at our little campsite, Adam began to try to make the fire.  For about an hour, we thought we would be eating raw potatoes for dinner.  Lucky for us, he succeeded!

How we cooked our yummy beef stew.  We borrowed a pot from the volunteer in Nata, used two bricks and shoveled coals under the pot.  It was validating to know that we could actually do this.

We got to bed early because we wanted to see the sunrise and do some yoga.  It was spectacular.


Before we left to come back to Shoshong, we decided to drive to see the flamingos.  They were a lot farther away than we initially thought, so we figured we'd better drive if we wanted to have enough time to drive back before dark.

I know they are small, but they're there!  Flamingos!

All in all, we had a great trip.  Taking little vacations is amazing.  I came back to Shoshong rejuvenated and happy.  There is a lot more to Botswana than simply elephants, lions, giraffes and rhinos.  It is fun seeing animals, for sure.  But I also love being able to just appreciate the scenery.

I hope you all get a chance to come to Africa.  It is worth it.

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