I spent this past weekend at the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in northern Botswana. It was overall by far the best weekend I’ve had here so far and one I know I will remember forever. We left Friday morning bright and early at 6am for a ten-hour bus ride. That was definitely my least favorite part. I enjoyed the sleep, but my butt was killing me by the time we arrived. On the way there, we stopped in Francistown, a city similar to Gabs, for lunch. Once we arrived, we decided to just chill for the night. We stayed at a lodge called Planet Baobab and I was completely surprised by the how nice the accommodations were. There was a full-sized bar, a dining room, bathrooms with showers, and even a pool! We spent Friday night swimming in the pool (so refreshing!) and enjoying an absolutely delicious dinner. One of the CIEE kids bought a board game in Francistown, so we played that and bonded even more. We slept in tents, which was a new experience for me. I can’t say I necessarily loved the hard ground, but it was fun to try something new. And on the plus side, I only got five bug bites!
Saturday morning we had a delicious breakfast and we even got to order omelets. We set out for a bush walk around 9, where we were able to see the area surrounding the lodge. It was nothing mind-blowing, but I did enjoying seeing the various plants and animals, especially the beautiful baobab trees and some adorable baby goats. I got to try the baobab fruit, but it was tart and not my favorite. We spent the afternoon lounging by the pool and then set out for the Salt Pans via safari truck around 2. The very first thing we did was quad bike. The bikes are basically just large four-wheelers. Look it up if you can’t picture what I’m talking about. My friend Wendi drove first and I sat behind her. It was actually pretty scary! We all were riding in a straight line following a tour guide, but the bike was still fast and kind of felt like we would tip over at any minute. Wendi had some trouble figuring out the gears, so our bike kept making gunshot noises and was emitting extremely painful heat onto my legs. When it was my turn to drive, I got extremely nervous. I didn’t even really want to try, but I knew I would regret it later. I’m so thankful I did because it was SO MUCH FUN. It wasn’t as hard as I expected to steer and control. The only bad part was the sand that flew into my eyes and mouth, despite the sunglasses and head wrap I wore. Sometimes there was so much sand that I couldn’t see the bike in front of me. By the time we arrived at our destination, tears were pouring down my face and my eyes were in a lot of pain. I actually scratched my eyeball and it’s just now starting to heal. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so dirty. Despite this struggle, it was definitely one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. At times, it felt like Wendi and I were alone in the world and I just felt so incredibly happy. It felt like we were on the moon because the sand around us seemed to go on forever.
After that adventure, we got to spend some time with some adorable baby meerkats. We were close enough to touch them! Check out my Facebook album for pictures. We also saw some ostriches. We then quad biked back to our campsite and had another wonderful dinner around the campfire. There was no water in the Salt Pans, so it was interesting to see how they adapted their methods of cooking. The staff constructed a pit latrine in the middle of the sand. We spent the night out in the open under the stars on small roll-up beds the staff provided. It was possibly the best night’s sleep I have ever had. Part of this was because of how exhausted I was, but it was also because of the incredible view and the wonderful feeling of sleeping out in the open. It was one of those surreal moments and possibly the happiest I’ve been while here. We headed back to Gabs early on Sunday. I wasn’t quite ready to come back.
My school week has been a little stressful, but I’m happy to have made it through the week. I had two tests, a presentation, and a ten-page paper. I did extremely well on my Setswana oral final and according to my teacher, tested into the Advanced High level. I’m actually a little sad that Setswana is finished. My psychology test was extremely easy as well. The surprising event of the week was almost getting arrested (well, not quite). On my way to school Monday, some police officers pulled our combi over and asked to see everyone’s passports. When I handed them the copy I had, they claimed it wasn’t certified and made me get out of the combi. I explained my circumstances and the officers carefully pondered the situation. They ended up just giving me a warning, but said I would be arrested if it happened again. According to my host sister, in the 18 years she has been riding the combis, one has never been pulled over like that. Just my luck! It was a little bit of a scare and definitely an inconvenience, but not a big deal overall.
Otherwise, we had a homestay meeting to discuss the struggles we are all dealing with and it was comforting to be reassured that I am not alone. I also finally received a package from my mom that has actually been sitting in UB’s mailroom for over three weeks. I’m not even surprised. I got some delicious American foods, which made me so incredibly happy. My favorite would have to be the cinnamon toast crunch cereal. The regional director of CIEE programs came to visit Gaborone today and we spent some time reflecting on the program, which I really enjoyed. We finished the night off with some delicious Indian food. I’m leaving tomorrow for my fall break trip and won’t be returning for 10 days! I’m traveling with 7 other CIEE people to Namibia and Cape Town, South Africa. I am so excited and ready for the break! I can’t wait for some good food and a lot of fun. I’m sure I’ll have loads to share upon returning.