Cornelia & Zimbabwe

Cornelia Rutenbach is one of the nicest women that I know, and we are so lucky to get to stay the next three nights with her and her family. Thank you to the Van Heerden Family that we met in church last Sunday for giving us her contact information. Cornelia is the famous lady on Mormon Message and Mormon Times who brought the church from Zimbabwe to Northern Botswana.

Since traveling to Zambia and Botswana we have learned many new facts about the history of the people in this area. Both the Van Heerdens and Cornelia are from Zimbabwe, their families having moved their from the Cape of South Africa in the early 1900s to claim large areas of farmland. Before that their families moved from Germany to the Cape of Southern Africa in the early 1700s. Both Cornelia and Kathys family lost their farms in the 2000 uprising in Zimbabwe, sending Kathy and her family to Zambia and Cornelia and her family to Botswana.

Hearing Kathy and Cornelia talk about Zimbabwe makes Andrew and I very anxious to go at explore its natural wonders, parks, and met its people. They also promise that Zimbabwe has some of the best food in all of Africa. Unfortunately Zimbabwe is not on our travel plans for this excursion, but we will get their one day (maybe for a couple mission in years to come). My good friend Steven Gay served in Zim and he absolutely loved it. One of our first African cuisine experiences was with him and his wife making Sadza and stew, an authentic Zimbabwean dish.

We woke up early this morning to catch the bus from Livingstone, Zamiba to Gweta, Botswana, home of the famous Kalahari meerkat population (think Timon and Pumba from the lion king). Our journey was composed of a shared taxi ride from Livingstone to the Botswana border (1 hour), a short ferry ride across the Great Zambezi River on a cargo carrier (15 minutes), a combi ride (small bus) from the border town of Kasane to Nata Botswana (4 hours), and then a large bus ride from Nata to Gweta (1 hour). We arrived in Gweta at good time, at about 1pm.

People were right when they said there was absolutely nothing the 8 hours between Kasane and Maun. We found one gas station, one market, and one ATM during our entire journey. When we arrived in Gweta we found two lodges, and a row of 5 women sitting on the roadside selling their vegetables from their gardens. There was no market, no gas station, and very few people. The entire country of Botswana has a population of less than 2 million people, and most of the country is covered in wildlife reserves, deltas, or the Kalahari desert…

We stopped in at Gweta Lodge long enough for us to find out that there were no more meerkat safaris for the next two days, and for me to leave my chacos (my expensive backpacking sandels) in the reception area…never to be seen again. We grabbed our bags and caught the 2pm bus onwards to Maun, making plans to stop back through on Monday to go on a meerkat adventure with the famous Planet Baobab and stay the evening at Gweta Lodge. I hope and pray that by that time they have found my sandals. Chances are in Africa, they are already on the feet of some villager.

We arrived in Maun and Cornelia came to pick us up from the bus station (after we had some time to pick up a few small items that we needed from the market). As I reflect back on our travels, I realize that we have been traveling for a week now and we have yet to pay for a single nights accomodation. We stayed with Colin and Justin in Lusaka, Thwaambo and Betty in Livingstone, and now we are staying with Cornelia and her brother Henry in Maun. We have never met these people before, but in just a few days time we have made lifelong friends that we will visit again and again (whether in Africa or in the United States).

Maun is more developed than any other city I have seen in Botswana, probably because it is the entrance city to many of Botswanas largest natural wonders, the Okangavo Delta, Moremi, Chobe, the Kalahari Desert, and the Mkgadigadi salt pans. Maun actually has a Nandos and a KFC, two very popular restaurant chains in Africa (the only other one I have seen is Subway). Cornelia purchased loads of food from Nandos and we took it home to enjoy with her brother Henry and his girlfriend Kirsten. We talked their ears off about Botswana and Zimbabwe because they know every nook and cranny of both countries. These weekend is going to be fun! Andrew and I are looking forward to our Mokoro overnighter in the delta and wildlife reserves tomorrow as well as attending the small church gathering that Cornelia has set up with 5 other members every sunday. After that we will be returning to Gweta to visit the Kalahari and the desert. Because we have to route back through Gweta (because meerkats is one of the top to do on my list) we will not be able to route through the caprivi strip in Namibia…maybe next time.
(Below: Andrew’s post)

Before the sun was up, my alarm rang signaling to Kylie and I that it was time to make our way to country #7, Botswana. 

We waited for the first rays of light to creep over the horizon before we left Thwaambo and Bettsy who were both getting ready for the day. It was sad to say goodbye to them, but we left cheerfully as we know we’ll see them soon (on outer way back through).

We made it to the shared taxi stand in no time, boarded one that was filling up, and set off for the Zambia, Botswana border. The ride was smooth and we got there in good time. 

At the border we stamped out, changed some cash (they use Pula in Botswana), and boarded a small truck ferry to cross the Zambezi river into Botswana.

I was amazed how smoothly the next part of our journey went. We went into immigration, got our passports stamped by the lady (no border fees, woohoo!) and caught a local bus to Nata right as it pulled up to the border crossing. Within 30 seconds we were zipping down the road to Nata where we would make our transfer to Gweta. By far, our least stressful border experience in Africa. Fast, easy, and free. 

We crammed ourselves between 4 other people in the back seat and set off through the plains of Botswana. It was incredible! Along our drive we saw elephants flapping their ears and waving their trunks as we past them on the road. We even saw giraffes munching on trees in the distance. Even though it was just local transport through Chobe, it felt like a safari!

We made it to Gweta in record time (around noon) and entered Gweta lodge to ask about their meerkat excursions. Gweta lodge was really pretty, they even had a pool! (Albeit the pool had little fish swimming in it and leaves on top and algae growing in the sides…). Unfortunately, Gweta lodge didn’t have any meerkat excursions leaving the next day… Bummer… That was the entire reason we stopped there was so Kylie could have her meerkat encounter. 

We regrouped and changed our plans, we were off to Maun to meet up with Cornelia (friend of the members we had met in Lusaka, am she also is a member). Kylie was pretty frustrated with the situation, she really had hoped to see meerkats the next morning. 

Despite the change in plans, everything worked out alright and we were able to catch a bus within 15 minutes of leaving the lodge. Along the way Kylie and I attempted to contact Old Bridge Backpackers to let them know the plans had changed and that we’d be arriving that evening and we would start our Mokoro boat ride with them the next morning.

Mokoro boat rides are river rides down into the delta among all the wildlife. Typically you see hippos, crocodiles, elephants, etc all from a small little boat on the river. 

On the bus my phone died and I was left wondering how we’d contact Cornelia upon arrival. I decided the best thing I could do was to ask another person on the bus and hope someone’s kindness would enable us to contact Cornelia. 

I asked a lady to my left off could borrow her phone since ours had died. She mumbled a couple things but eventually gave the response that her phone had no signal. I was a little put off by the fact she wasn’t willing to help us since it was clear we wouldn’t steal her phone or anything (I mean, we were on a bus together, confined for the next couple hours). Couple that with the fact that 5 minutes later she pulled out her phone to call her friend… Oh well.

The man sitting behind her proved to be kinder. He was very willing to lend us his phone, for which I am extremely grateful. We contacted Cornelia, arranged our meet up location and said goodbye.

Everything from there went smoothly, we met up with Cornelia, joined her and her brother (and his girlfriend) for dinner (which consisted of Nandos – so expensive! $36 USD for all plus), and called it a night.

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