The past 5 days have by far been my favorite time I've spent here in Botswana so far.
Nxai Pans was absolutely gorgeous. A pan is essentially a shallow depression in the ground that gathers water, and b/c of this has lots of nice grasses around it which leads to lots of animals coming to it to eat and drink. It is the wet season currently, so a lot of these pans are full, meaning that the animals are more spread out now than in the dry season, when only a few pans retain the water, which makes wildlife viewing a bit harder. It also means that some roads that go through these pans and are traversible in the dry season are covered with water and would result in the huge safari vehicle we were in getting stuck. SO...we want to see a grove of baobab trees made famous by Thomas Baines when he painted them, but the road is covered by calf-deep water. So we drove til we could see the baobabs in the distance, and to the edge of the pan and parked. We then took off our shoes and walked 2 km through the pan/water to get to the grove. It was amazing. The feeling of squishy mud between my toes, the feeling of being the only people on Earth in that moment, the image of the HUGE baobabs across the water, and on top of that, there were lightning storms happening off in the distance all around us, and the lightning here is 10x more intense than anywhere in the US, so it created a gorgeous backdrop. I have never been so close to nature in my life. It's a eerie but all consuming feeling to be so isolated from the rest of the world.
While in Nxai Pans we also saw tons of wildlife, hundreds of zebra and springbok, huge secretarybirds and Kori Bustards, and lots of other great birdlife, along with a few elephants and steenbok.
The next day we drove 6 hours to the northern part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, to a area called Deception Valley, known for it's huge herds of gemsbok and springbok, along with the rare Red Hartebeest. Not only were we lucky enough to see all those animals, but we saw a wild cheetah (!!!!) AND a pride of 9 lions, 5 of which were cubs! It was great to see them play and wrestle, even though they were a bit far away. It was so cute and beautiful. Last night, we were on our final game drive, searching for lions, when we got the call from the other car, LIONS! So we turned our car around and went full speed back to where the rest of our group was. We pulled up, wondering where the lion was, when we looked down and saw a MASSIVE male lion sitting in the bushes. He immediately stood up and began walking down the road from the direction we came from. A female lion came out of the bushes behind him and stood staring at us. We turned the car around and followed the male down the road. When we got close, he ran into some bushes, so we went to the other side of them, stopped, and waited for him to emerge. I was up again the side where the bushes were, when he emerged, stopped, and amazingly, made eye contact with me. He held eye contact, walked forward 5 steps (within 10 ft of us!!!), stopped, turned, and walked away. It gave me the shivers like no other. I have never had the feeling before of being so connected to nature, except for 3 days before at the pans. We followed him a bit farther, when out of the blue he began roaring, roaring, roaring. For a solid 5 minutes he stood there turning in a circle roaring, calling out to his mate. Yet again I was overwhelmed with the tingling of excitement and disbelief.
The week could not have been better. It was also a perfect way to relax before coming back to the 5 papers I have due on Saturday and my final on the same day. Starting Sunday I will begin my research back in the North at Kasane. It's amazing that my time here in Bots is drawing to a close in a month, which is both daunting and exciting. I hope everyone is doing well and I hope to post some pics soon from my last bit of time here!