Botswana: Joy of Crossing Chobe River

| July 27, 2016

The dark water appears like a silent sea, save for waves that appear every other second in this colossal of a natural phenomenon known as the Chobe or Zambezi River.

It lies wide, ostensibly like a sea for those who have only had the opportunity of seeing smaller rivers and dams without the benefit of a real ocean.

For those in this north western part of the country, this river has been part of their lives from time immemorial, with generation after generation passing on myths, facts and legendary tales about it.

It forms the core source of some of the preferred food for the Chobe inhabitants, who like any other people living next to a river, would not pass a moment to indulge in the different types of fish and water lilies as well as edible foods offered.

Situated in the heart of the country's tourism pride and heritage, this river is just so lovely, attracting all sorts of wildlife to its banks to quench their thirst, while tourists, mostly from European, Asian and American countries pay a fortune to watch this natural occurrence.

For many centuries, locals used dug-out canoes to cross and travel in this river, shared by Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana. Modern developments have given birth to motorised boats and pontoons to cross the river or just travel along for transport or leisure purposes.

Tourists, both local and foreign, never miss out an opportunity to brag to those back home about their experiences on boat cruises and pontoon climbs crossing the river.

The experience is often inexplicable, needing one to have been there to be able to tell how it feels and in the process marketing this mammoth tourism point by word of mouth.

For years, cross border transporters and travellers from either side of Botswana and Zambia have relied heavily on the pontoon to cross the river in Kazungula, giving rise to this small village to hastily reach the status to become a modern unofficial town.

Truck drivers have for many years taken Kazungula as their home away from home, spending days, weeks or even months waiting to cross over to both sides during peak periods.

Such delays are reportedly often caused by either one of the two pontoons owned by Botswana and Zambian governments not operating due to mechanical faults, and the cross-over occurs at a snail's pace.

This second home for the truck drivers has attracted other social ills such as prostitution, with some women and young girls reportedly frequenting the trucks parking bays to offer sexual services in return for money.

With the multi-million Pula construction of the Kazungula Bridge, which is hoped to ease movement between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries, an influx of people to Kazungula looking for jobs has added to the already existing problems.

However, many frequent the place to cross for pleasure over to the Zambian side for a moment, using a pontoon and the experience is often exhilarating.

While such visit often excites, the moment one reaches the edge of the river and about to ascend the pontoon needs a bit of a deep breathe in.

In fact, some have decided not to try the cross over fearing the unknown as stories abound, whether true or false, is a matter for another day, that at one point a pontoon capsized with trucks and the usual cross border travellers on board.

That story alone can send a shiver down the spine of a Chobe/Zambezi pontoon first time user and would need much courage and bravery to embark on such a less than 10 minutes cross to and from.

When one has finally made that difficult decision, with a little prayer a must, the cross-over is as smooth as the water flowing down to the great Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

Save for the sound of the two engines on both sides of the pontoon, and the huge trucks aboard and relying heavily on such a modern day mode of transport, the ride is in itself quiet and exciting.

The pontoon driver, perched on a towering control area looks oblivious to the thoughts of the people he is carrying over the river, as it is a daily occurrence that must now fell more of a routine for him.

Engines roar with such noise when the pontoon starts the journey to cross-over and then carries on running smoothly with the sound now reduced, but the same loud roar of engine returns moments later as the pontoon completes the cross-over and comes to a stop.

Those brave decide to jump from the pontoon with a few metres left before reaching the dry land on the river bank, as if indicating their impatience with the snail's pace of this mechanical creation.

Small cars and large trucks then slowly make their way out of the pontoon as well as the pedestrian crossers, and it then waits to load another batch to the other side of the river.

Amid all this process, the waters remain quite and one gets to understand the adage that still waters run deep and it is a clear indication of how this river conceals its depth.

Once one is over to the other side, half the cross-over journey is done and then gets to prepare the mind again for the return leg, but this time the heart palpitations would have subsided.

Chobe River is such a natural phenomena and developments are soon going to up the stakes as the pontoons watch in jealousy, the development of the much touted Kazungula bridge just a stone throw away from the cross-over site.

Whether crossing the river on the new bridge would be a more exciting adventure than the use of the pontoon is a matter still to be experienced and decided upon.

Source: Botswana Daily News.

Category: Governance

Comments are closed.