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Strikes and Salt Pans

Two months in, there are still new experiences around every corner.

Two weeks ago, after much deliberation, the lecturers at UB finally elected to strike. Starting on a Tuesday, we suddenly had a whole week without class! Fortunately, we used our time well. Throwing my lot in with a few other international students, we embarked on a journey to visit the famous salt pans, the giant remains of dried-up Lake Makgadikgadi that stretch across the savanna to the north.

From Gaborone, we got up at four in the morning to catch a bus heading to Francistown. After a 5-hour journey, we switched buses and got on a bus to Maun. We knew that the village we were looking for, Gweta, was somewhere on the way but we didn’t know where. All we knew was to look for a giant anteater on the side of the road.

Because the bus rides were long and mostly uninteresting, we slept a majority of the time. This eventually led us into trouble. After about three hours on the Maun bus, Diego, one of the Norwegian students, remarked, “Wasn’t that a giant anteater a few kilometers back?”

We ran to the front of the bus to confirm, and sure enough, we had missed our stop. We had no choice to get out of the bus on the side of the road and trek back the few kilometers to the anteater. The walk was pleasant, however. There was a light breeze and the sun was already going down, so it was not nearly as hot as it could have been.

Once we arrived at the anteater, we learned that it was another 1km walk into the bush to find our intended destination, a camp called Planet Baobab. After a small mix-up about our sleeping situation (they thought tents, we thought huts), we were able to relax in the shade of the baobab trees after a long day of traveling.

The next day at about two the real adventure began. We assembled in the camp bar where we met our friendly guide, who was to take us out into the pans. We hopped in his safari truck and spent the next hour and a half bouncing through the wilderness, until we arrived at a small circle of huts, where our quad bikes were to be found. We would drive them across the salt pans, stopping to visit meerkats, before stopping in the middle of the pans to spend the night camping outside and stargazing.

Quad biking is a total blast. I had never ridden one before, but it’s one of the more enjoyable forms of transportation. We roared across the empty desert in search of meerkats.

Our guide took us to a hillock on the side of the pans, where he introduced us to a man who spends all day studying and interacting with a family of meerkats. Best job ever or best job ever? He showed us that these meerkats had become comfortable with humans. They ran around us, stood next to us, sniffed our hands, and generally accepted our presence without hesitation. It was unbelievably adorable.

Then, after about an hour with the meerkats, we were off again into the pans. Driving across them is simply otherworldly. The white salt crust stretches as far as the eye can see, and with the blazing sky above you it feels like the whole world is empty. We arrived at the camp sometime later, though since there were no tents, the camp was essentially a few sleeping bags laid out beside a fire and a truck. We had a delicious dinner by the fireside, were shown the star patterns, and then fell asleep under a sky filled with more stars than I had ever seen in my life. It was a truly beautiful night.

The next morning we turned around and headed for home, although we did stop to greet the meerkats again. We rode the buses home and arrived exhausted but satisfied that night.

The strike did end after a week, but now, as our spring break begins, once again we are free from classes! And I am setting out today on another journey. Destination: Zambia.

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