7:25 a.m., Livingstone, Zambia.
My brother and I eagerly await our 7:30 a.m. ride to the safari company HQ for our two-day camping trip in Chobe National Park, Botswana. This morning’s destination is a car trip, a boarder, a river crossing, and another boarder away.
7:40 a.m., concern sets in that our driver is not coming.
We were told by the safari company that someone would pick us up. I inquire at the front desk of our hostel. The hostel woman doesn’t know anything about our pickup, she says, “We do business with dem all da time, but I cannot call dem. It’s international.” My iPhone with pre-paid Skype credit finally pays off! On the phone, the safari company tells me they arranged for our hostel to take us to the boarder, and they would pick us up from there. Our hostel has never heard of this arrangement. DAMMIT! OK. Doesn’t matter. Moving on. How do we get there now? Taxi? Shuttle? If we’re late, we’re going to miss the pickup for the safari. The hostel arranges for a taxi. The best driver they know. He will drop us off at the boarder. Wait! What do we do at the boarder? How will we find the safari guy? Don’t worry, the hostel woman says. ”A man will be dare. E will meet you at da boa-da.” There’s no time, or hope, for more detailed information. Let’s go! The taxi picks us up. Two minutes into the trip, he stops for gas. COME ON! OK, now we’re off. It’s a nice 45-minute ride to the boarder, just a few swerves around potholes that could swallow our small car whole, not a big deal. The taxi drops us off at the Zambian/Botswana boarder and drives away. There are hundreds of people around. They are selling goods, exchanging money, and calling to us for a taxi. We just got out of a taxi. We don’t need a taxi, we need to find the safari guy! We look around, not really seeing anyone that looks like our guy. OK, we figure that we need to at least leave Zambia and enter the no man’s land between the Zambia and Botswana boarder. Boarder crossing, no problems, we are now in no man’s land. A river separates the two countries, and we need to get to the other side. Well, we think. Sometimes when traveling you try to “blend in”, well, how can two tall white guys really blend in in Africa, more like, try to pretend like you know what you’re doing. And, sometimes, you intentionally look like you have no idea what’s going on to attract attention. We choose the latter, hoping to attract our guy. We walk toward the approaching ferry, shuttling trucks, cars, and people between the countries, still not knowing if our guy was on the Zambia, or Botswana, side of the river. Our “not knowing what we were doing” look pays off, and many men approach us asking if we need help, if we need to exchange money, or if we want to buy the artisanal trinkets made in their home villages. We dismiss about fourteen men and the fifteenth one mumbles something. He unzips his black jacket to reveal his shirt with the safari company’s logo on it. Yes! OK, anxiety, and fear subsiding. Looks like we’re in someone’s hands now. He leads us to a small motorboat down the shore, away from the ferry, and shuttles us across to the Botswana side of the river. We meet another man who immediately asks us, “Why are you late?” Because you didn’t pick us up! Of course, we don’t say that, we say something… It doesn’t really matter, we’re hurrying towards immigration. Our newest handler walks us to the front of the Botswana immigration line (sorry!), our passports are stamped, and we’re officially in Botswana. Wait! When entering Botswana, you have to step on the chemical rug to disinfect your shoes of potential foot and mouth disease. OK, now we’re in Botswana. We climb into our handler’s jeep and we’re on our way. We make it to the safari just fine.
I love this stuff.