This is part three of a three part series on Kayaking in Maun, while I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana. Part one is here. Part two is here. My experiences and thoughts are my own and do not represent the governments of The United States or Botswana.
I felt like I was finally getting the hang of things. I could set up and break down my own tent. Again, we took another trek into the wilds of Botswana. Right out of the thicket of our campsite we saw a herd of wildebeest. There must have been over one hundred of them! They stared at us suspiciously, questioning why we were there. We watched from afar for several minutes before Cedric decided to move us closer. Several of the smaller ones started moving around like they were spooked, but the rest held their ground, watching us with great interest.
Now is probably a good time to mention that I had gotten wildebeest and water buffalo mixed up in my head and thought for sure these guys were all about two minutes away from stampeding us to death. Though, along the lines of the Lion King, this would have still been relatively accurate.
Instead, as we circled to the other side of the herd, they decided to run off in the opposite direction. My friends who were there walking along, taking their own pictures I’m sure became tired of my constant muttering to myself. “I hate this. I hate this. This is scary. I want to go home.” It’s a very vulnerable feeling, walking out into the high grass, never sure what is hiding in the thickets. I don’t like feeling vulnerable. As soon as we made it back to camp, I was fine.
Well, until we went out on the water again.
We kayaked 30km for this last bit of the trek, and about 67km all together, if you’re counting. Our tour guide thought he would save us some extra time by going through some smaller channels, thicker reeds, and shallower water.
It was like playing bumper cars, only knowing at any point it could be game busters because of a crocodile. A couple of us got lost from the rest of the group, hoping we were going along the right way, and having to figure out a way through the reeds. The reeds closeted in all sides until they started scratching me with their sharp stems. The water splashing from the oars provided sweet relief from the heat, but burned the open wounds on my forearms.
We stopped for lunch and my poor sore body ached with every step, every movement. I just wanted to get back and shower. The day before many of the girls hopped into the river to cool off and clean up a bit. I did not join them. Washing in dirty water is dirty.
Lunch was closer to settlements. We were just a few hours now from where we started just a few days before. Hiding in the trees, a few bana came to join us at the end of our meal. Our tour guide gave them a few leftover sandwiches. They were very shy but thankful and giggled as they took their food and headed back to into the thicket.
The last half of heading back to Maun was definitely the hardest.
There was more boat traffic that we had to be aware of. Avoiding the wake of these boats is impossible, and I felt every time it happened, I was being rushed back several feet that I would then have to re-paddle. Of course, there were less hippos now, and more cows and donkeys that wouldn’t be giving us any sort of trouble. You know that feeling of going home? How the trip to your original destination always feels longer than it does returning from it? That was the opposite of how this trip felt. Each stretch of water became more and more familiar, and I knew we must be getting close, but my arms were tired and I just wanted it to end. Floating along just ended me in the bush. The breeze was not taking me down stream. Each stroke became a battle of wills with the muscles seizing in my weak and over worked arms. There was no strength left in my arms, but I had to keep pushing on.
Finally, we turned a corner, and the surroundings looked less like The Lion King and more like rural sprawl. Houses and hotels littered the banks of the river. The new bridge stood out, like a beacon. All we had to do was pass under it, pass under the old bridge, and the Old Bridge Backpackers Inn would be majestically laid out before us. I felt a new wind, inside and finally started pushing.
But it was not to last. Moments into my deep push, a boat pulled up and the wake knocked me off course. I waited for the waves to ebb, before starting again, but it was no use. John, our tour guide pulled over to the boat, shaking hands, being friendly and taking up a good bit of my extra-summoned energy. But since we were having a break imposed on us, I thought, why not enjoy it?
Looking over at the boat, I noticed a few things.
One, it was chock-a-block full of dudes (and even though I’m not given to any sort of vanities, I did wish I had at least dipped my hair in the water the night before. I had been wearing the same clothes for three days. Even though I couldn’t smell my own stink, I knew it was there. Between the copious layers of bug spray and sunscreen, and the dust and dead skin cells clumping together in random places, you could have run your fingers down my cheeks and left near white streaks of fresh skin beneath. Needless to say, there hasn’t been a time that I’ve been possibly more disgusting.)
Another thing I noticed was that one of the guys had the sweetest dreadlocks I’d ever seen. They were tight and looked as though they’d been shaved on the side or something. It was hard to describe, but I was enchanted. Knowing they had probably just come back from a trip that had to be at least half as dirty as ours, considering they were in a boat and not in kayaks, and all I could think was, “How did he do it? Why do his dreads look so nice and mine look like shit?”
There was another guy, standing near the front of the boat with sunglasses and a hat on. He smiled kind of flirty-like and nodded at us women folk, floating along, as we were trying to understand what was happening. To be fair, as John is kind of a fixture on the Okavango these last five years, he kind of knows everyone. We stopped a lot during this trip so he could say hello to his friends as we passed by.
As I floated along behind one of the non PCV’s, she looked back at me as asked, “Do you recognize him? Do you recognize him?”
“Which one?” I asked in return, glancing back at the boat and trying to be discreet (which is nearly in possible when you’re in a kayak and well, me).
She didn’t point, just kind of gestured with her head. I looked back at the guy with the dreadlocks. To myself I thought, “I guess he kind of looks like the guy from The Counting Crows. Hm. Fancy.”
We continued to float as John said his farewells, and then finally the boat pulled off. As he paddled back over to us someone asked, “So who was that?”
“Oh, that was Prince Harry. He’s in town for a wedding. They’ve just come back from the stag.”
Lynne yelped in surprise. “Which one was he?” she asked. We all asked. Upon further discussion, only the one girl asking if “I recognized him” did actually recognize Prince Harry. She tried her best at hinting while trying to be subtle. I know I must have looked right at him, but dammit if I could tell you. The rest of us didn’t see anything past the guy with the dreadlocks.
The dreadlocks were that mesmerizing.
As we paddled past the hotel the boat pulled up to, we tried to get another glimpse. But as John is a boy he couldn’t rightly point out what the Prince was wearing. Something about sunglasses and a hat, sitting behind the guy with the dreadlocks. Maybe. We didn’t get a concise answer after that, and before we knew it we were back at the hostel in Maun, laying down on the outside couches and feeling elated and embarrassed by the whole last hour.
I could have at least washed my hair. But no matter. Off to the shower I went, and it was the most glorious 20 minutes of hot water I’d ever experienced.
Honestly, after months of cold showers it was like a miracle.
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