As Botswana is the least densely populated country on the planet, it is immediately apparent after crossing the border to leave South Africa that we are in a different place. Where all wildlife in South Africa is enclosed in national parks, in Botswana the wildlife roams free. We pass signs warning of elephants crossing, and warthogs graze on the side of the road as we navigate the numerous potholes on the way to Francistown. We drive through open fields, rarely passing a person, house, gas station, or restaurant. In Botswana, the cattle outnumber the inhabitants three to one, and we occasionally have to stop for cows, goats, donkeys, or even baboons to cross the road. The people we do pass are camped out in the grassy fields, cutting the tall native grasses to use for thatched roofs or fencing.
The climate in Botswana is very dry, as most of the country is made up of the Kalahari Desert. There local currency is called the Pula, which means rain in the native language of Setswana. Water is valuable here, and hard to come by in some communities. Many of the houses we pass have large tanks of water on their roofs, which must be refilled frequently at public water pumps provided by the government.
We drive most of the day before reaching our destination – the Elephant Sands Safari Lodge. The sun is getting ready to set as we pull up, and before getting settled in we head to the center of the lodge, a natural watering hole, to see if any wildlife have come to drink. Four wild elephants stand in the center of a collection of small wooden huts where we will be spending the next two nights. Guests at the lodge are standing in silence as we listen to the elephants slurp up the water with their trunks. We all grab a drink and sit and watch the elephants until they slowly walk just past our cabins back into the bush.