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Botswana and a Cheetah

by - October 11 2010

Botswana is a really nice place. If one expects all of Africa to be poverty, danger, and disorder, then Botswana is a very pleasant surprise. Botswana is fortunate enough to have excellent diamond formations and wildlife reserves that bring in lots of money, a good government that actually spends the money on its people, and a small population to divide the income across. The result is that Botswana has arguably the best standard of living in Sub-Saharan Africa. While Botswana isn't as wealthy as South Africa, it doesn't have South Africa's angst, and it feels like a nicer place.

Botswana plays the role of Canada to South Africa's America. It is the large country to the north that has a small population situated largely on the border. It is less rich, but has less social problems, and the shops and brands are largely the same ones that one gets in South Africa. Like South Africa, there are a lot of British products around. The shops even sell Iron Brew - the first time I've seen it outside the UK. I had a steak and onion pie for lunch.

After exploring the downtown area, my first mission was to climb Mt Kgale which I had heard gives a great view of Botswana. Mt Kgale is reportedly one of the highest points in Botswana, but that is less impressive than it sounds. Botswana is pretty flat and "Mt" Kgale is only about a hundred metres high. I started off by following what looked like a path, but had to divert after a tribe of baboons decided to locate all the cute baby baboons on one side and all the fierce adult baboons on the other. The baboons weren't the only animals around. At one point I saw a large snake slithering away from where I was about to tread and resolved to walk slowly and loudly. Having left the path it became a challenge to find a route through the thorn bushes to get to the top, but at the top the view was indeed impressive.

My second task was to play with a Cheetah. A local game reserve has a cheetah that was bottle-fed as a cub and so allows humans to pet it. The cheetah was great fun to pet. As I stroked it, it made a loud low purring sound like a large motorcycle being revved. The sound was both calming and alarming. It seemed to say "I am a happy cat and I like you, but I am also very large and potentially dangerous".

I caught a ride back to the city in the back of a pickup truck. I'd seen people riding in pickup trucks in Africa before and assumed it would be much less pleasant than a bus, but I actually preferred it. Being outside with the wind rushing past you feels like being in a convertible, and I was able to get more comfortable than I usually manage in a bus.

In the downtown area I met a refugee from Zimbabwe who sold me a one hundred trillion dollar note (sadly Zimbabwean dollars) as a souvenir, for around a dollar. Even though he was a refugee, he still supported land redistribution in principle and just thought it had been carried out ineptly.