Loud and Proud Tourists: A Botswana Safari with My Parents
“Please tell me that’s not what you’re wearing.”
“What? The guide books said all khaki. Don’t we look stylish?” my dad shot back with a genuine look of surprise that I would even question his fashion sense.
I groaned and rolled my eyes. I was wearing my usual uniform of a t-shirt and jean shorts, which were looking worse for wear after the last year of hand washing all my clothes.
“Guys, locals don’t wear khaki on safaris. Only tourists do!”
“But we ARE tourists!”
While I was used to long bus rides, sleeping in tents, and making friends with the locals to find the cheapest safari guide, my parents had our entire trip programed.
The line “But we ARE tourists” was a common theme throughout my parents’ visit to Botswana. I was serving in the Peace Corps and had been there for a year already. By then, I felt like I had successfully completed all of the big touristy things. I had done the safaris and boat rides and saw all the important animals. I experienced the culture every day in my tiny village in southern Botswana. I felt like I knew Botswana, and felt closer to the locals than the other tourists who were staying at our hotel.
My parents, on the other hand, were loud and proud tourists. While I was used to long bus rides, sleeping in tents, and making friends with the locals to find the cheapest Botswana safari guide, my parents had our entire trip programed. I went from buses to planes, tents to chateaus, and self-driven safaris to guided walks with lions, riding elephants, and a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls. There wasn’t a tourist trap my dad didn’t willingly dive into, and all of those souvenirs are now displayed in my old bedroom, now called the “Africa Room.”
On our first day of the Botswana safari, my father was determined that we would see lions. I tried to explain to him that we were in a national park. You can’t just will lions into appearing when they have thousands of kilometers to hang out, and probably would rather not be gawked at all day. But my father was adamant: we were going to see lions.
As we entered Chobe National Park, we were immediately greeted by an enormous elephant. Chobe has over 50,000 elephants in its 11,700 km, so you’re bound to run into a few. No matter how many safaris you’ve been on, when you’re right next to a gigantic elephant, you cannot help but be amazed and in awe. My mother stared at it happily, soaking in the experience while my father took a more proactive approach and started taking pictures, trying to find the best possible shot. I think he got about 3,000 pictures out of that two-week trip; which is lucky for me since I’m horrible at remembering to take pictures.
As we continued on our game drive, my father was impatient to see the cats. At every new elephant, gazelle, kudu, springbok, warthog, hippo, or baboon, he would snap 50 photos and say, “Okay, now we need to see a lion.” I think he must have a connection to the universe, because not only did we see lions, but we saw lions with their cubs. We were congratulating ourselves on our fortunate sighting when we stumbled upon a leopard with her cub!
You know that you’re seeing something special when your guide is excited, and our guide was ecstatic, whispering enthusiastically about how rare this experience was. The excitement was infectious and nothing could bring us down for the rest of the day, not even the odd renditions of Johnny Cash songs the local band played during dinner, because they wanted the Americans to feel at home.
Of course, the safari couldn’t last forever. After a week of adventures and a much needed pedicure, my parents and I traveled back to my tiny village of Mokatako in southern Botswana. Mokatako has between 700-1400 people (the last census was pretty lax with the range) and sits right on the border with South Africa. While my mother wasn’t a fan of my tiny house that I shared with a multitude of bugs, my parents were just as charmed by my fellow villagers, my coworkers at the Primary School, and the children I hung out with each day as they were by Victoria Falls and the lions. At least that’s what they told me.
I think he must have a connection to the universe, because not only did we see lions, but we saw lions with their cubs.
While my everyday life in Botswana wasn’t full of exotic animals and lush wetlands, it was still full of culture. Whether I was teaching the kids a new song in English club, or the kids on my compound were teaching me how to dance like a true Motswana, my parents continued using their tourist eyes to experience my life and my home. It was through their eyes that I remembered that while goats aren’t lions, not much tops the cuteness of a baby goat. And while I wasn’t living next to Victoria Falls, the stars in my unblemished night sky were hard to beat.
Two weeks after our epic vacation began, my parents were back on a plane towards America, ready to be home. After a year of living alone, I was also ready to get back to my normal routine. While our vacation was an epic experience I’ll never forget, I was content in my small village far from the exotic wildlife, because something has to be said about waking up every morning not worried there’s a crocodile in your backyard.
Top photo credit: Martin Heigan
All other photo credit in this article goes to my father and his relentless pursuit for the perfect picture.