As we've been traveling along the Trans-Kalahari Highway, we've passed through multiple checkpoints where officials are checking for meat and livestock as a means of reducing the spread of 'foot and mouth disease' into and within Botswana. Apparently this is a necessary measure since many European countries are regular importers of Botswana's beef because of it. Well we came to one checkpoint today that had us all shaking our heads after - they were concerned about the spread of disease via soil transported on people's shoes, so we all had to get off the truck, empty out all the luggage to dig out all our shoes, sandals, hiking boots, etc., then take our passports to a control officer who looked at them but wrote nothing down, and then stand for a moment on a chunk of carpet that had been saturated with some sort of solution that came out of a spray canister that was propped up beside the fence. All the shoes we were carrying simply had to be pressed by hand into the carpet. That was it, we were free to go. How ineffective though - shoes have tread, and the solution only touched the bottom surface of the shoes, rendering the whole effort more or less pointless. They should have just sprayed the bottoms with the sprayer they used to soak the mat. Anyway, we carried on.
The scenery ever since we entered Botswana has been pretty much consistent - flat, with green bushes and trees as far as you can see. Most of it must be no man's land, as there are no houses, no side roads, and very few towns. To be honest, there is very little to look at as we drove down the highway for hours on end. But just as Africa has been such a sequence of surprises for us, there was more in store for us. Everyone was just zoned out, reading or sleeping or listening to music, when suddenly someone jumped up and shouted "ELEPHANTS!!!" And as we spun around, sure enough, there were two enormous elephants standing under the shade of a tree that grew to within a few feet of the road. Raymond hadn't even seen them, so we passed the message along as we barreled down the highway so he could keep an eye out for them and try to stop if we see more. Sure enough, a few minutes later, he stepped hard on the brakes and threw it into reverse as five elephants came into view between the bushes, congregating around watering holes on both sides of the road. Two on the right side of the road just stood by the water, already covered with mud, while two on the left pushed each other around aggressively as they both tried to get into the water. It got even better, as a fe minutes down the road, Raymond came onto the intercom and said "elephant crossing!" as seven elephants strolled out of the bushes and across the road right infront of the truck. We weren't even in a game reserve or national park - these elephants are just roaming free, and in less than two hours, we saw 14 elephants on the side of the road. This is definitely what traveling across Africa overland is all about! (p.s. - We still can't help but think that elephants totally look like two people walking around in an elephant costume!)
Our destination for the day was the town of Kasane, at the entrance to Chobe National Park in the extreme northeastern corner of Botswana. Our campsite was outside of the park this time around, so to get in there and see the wildlife (supposedly the most dense and varied in Botswana), we cruised down the Chobe River on a boat for a few hours. Before we could even leave the dock, we were spotting hippos in the water. Far away at first, but later we were pulling right up alongside them. Such adorable creatures - most often just sticking their eyes, ears, and noses out of the water, but sometimes climbing over each other, walking out on dry land, and one even did a perfect big yawn right in front of us for the wide open mouth photo I was hoping to snap. Several herds of elephants meandered the riverbanks, baboons ran around on the grass, crocodiles lazed on the sand bars, and even the occasional water buffalo and wart hog. It was like sailing through a zoo - animals were everywhere! We were even treated to a beautiful sunset as we headed back to the dock.
Tomorrow we leave Botswana and cross into Zambia for one last night with the whole group before 15 of them leave and head home, at which point we will meet the five new people who will continue on with us all the way to Nairobi.