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Posts from the ‘Botswana’ Category

Wild encounters in Moremi and Chobe

Day: 143

KLMS: 22,105

We made it! Recovering in Kasane after the most intense, exhilarating, exciting, exhausting 5 days of the trip so far. Spectacular scenery and more wildlife than i ever imagined, combined with the hardest 4WDing we’ve ever experienced and very little sleep – it will take a few days to fully process just what an incredible experiences we’ve had!

Driving out of Maun, the road turned to sand almost immediately –it’s straight into it! Our first camp was at Third Bridge, in Moremi, just on the edge of the Okavango delta. As we drove on throughout the day, the sand became deeper and deeper which is hardwork on the driver, but Kylie ploughed through. We spent the day exploring the ‘Moremi tongue’, the sandy tracks around the inner delta before heading to Third Bridge.

As we arrived at camp, we had to wait while a herd of elephants tucked into the trees right around our allocated spot. We waited for them to move on a little further, but as others were already setting up camp, we figured we’d be safe to also start getting the tent up. As we began to set up, there were still around 10 elephants close by, so being out of the car for the first time and being so close to them certainly kept the adrenalin pumping but gradually we began to relax as we realised there were more interested in the trees than us! At one point a young elephant decided to come and investigate us a little closer which had us running for cover, but once he’d sniffed us out he soon returned back to the rest of his family.

Elephant roadblock

Camping with eles

Camping with eles

The first night in the wilds, was a nerve-wracking experience to say the least and as darkness fell we were both on tenterhooks as the sounds around us seemed to grow louder – we were quick to get to bed! Sitting up in the tent, the sounds of Africa took over and the noise was just immense. Elephants crashing around, baboons yelling and screaming, Hyenas calling. hippos grunting and lions roaring in the distance – it was animal mayhem and there was little chance of getting much sleep! We lay there listening to the commotion outside the tent, our hearts beating faster whenever we heard something near the tent. At one point Richard looked out when we heard branches snapping right by us to see that we had a whole family of giraffes right round us! Despite being up in our roof tent our windows were still well below their shoulders!

We were up at daybreak the next morning and headed out on a boat trip across the delta with 4 other German friends we’d met in the camp the night before. (One of which had also just completed an overland drive from Germany to Cape Town, so we got lots of great tips!) We sped off through the long reed beds on the edge of the delta heading towards some of the inner lagoons where we saw crocodiles and a hundred different types of birds from beautiful little kingfishers to great big African Fish Eagles. It was amazing to be out on the water, or in a pompous British accent ‘ We were on the Oko DL, darling’!

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Not going this way!

Not going this way!

 

The afternoon was spent exploring further into the pans, which are an absolute maze of tracks and easy to get lost in. Despite the fact we’re here in the dry season, the Delta is actually in full flood, so as we ventured off down different tracks we found a number of them impassable as the water was so high. Being out by ourselves we were keen to avoiding getting bogged, so anything that was too deep we stayed well clear of. Taking a break that afternoon we discovered another coolant leak, this time the bottom hose looked as though it had begun to perish, so while i was on lion lookout duty, Rich was back under the bonnet fixing up the hose. Becoming accustomed to bush fixes it didn’t take too long to patch up and once sorted we sat back in the car to relax and take in the sight of the delta. Taking in the beautiful surroundings and the stillness of the day we hadn’t noticed the huge African Elephant bull approaching the car, despite being over 5 tonnes in weight, he hadn’t made a sound and the first time we realised he was there, was as his trunk began to come through the window! We calmly panicked and managed to quickly put the windows up, the trunk was quickly retracted. It’s amazing to see how gentle these giants can be and satisfied we had no citrus fruits in our car, he headed off into the bush.

Another night of animal pandemonium and with bleary eyes we were up at dawn again. The night also seemed to have taken its toll on one of the younger elephants who we found fast asleep near our tent! Even after packing up, he didn’t seem in any rush to move off his nice comfy patch of grass, so we left him to his Elephant dreams and headed on towards Savuti.

Log bridges in Moremi

Log bridges in Moremi

 

The drive up to Savuti is notoriously tough, just leaving the camp you drive over the ‘Third log bridge’ which is actually submerged, the last part being so deep the water actually comes over the bonnet! The rest of the tracks are a mix of corrugations, deep sand and gullies which if you drive over at any speed soon turns the car into a bucking bronco. It took 9hours to drive 160kms. Along the way we met a Namibian couple, who stopped us for a beer after a particularly gruelling section. Having been to the park several times, they were incredibly knowledgeable about the area and invited us to their camp that evening.  Savuti used to be a huge sunken lake which dried up thousands of years ago and once the remaining waterways dried up, the surrounding land became a barren desert leaving the lions and hyenas to engage in huge battles over the little that was left and cement blockades had to be built round the ablutions and water taps to stop the elephants from destroying everything to get at the water. Then around 5years ago a seismic shift caused the Savuti channel to flow again, the first time in decades, turning the desert back into green marshland once more.

We spent an amazing evening with Richard and Leez, although the walk back to the tent through the darkness was absolutely terrifying. We walked back to back, scanning for ‘eyes’ with our torches in one hand, the other armed with pepper spray. A comical sight i’m sure, but we both breathed a huge sigh of relief once we were safely back in our tent.

The next day we’d asked if we could go out with them, as they had experience tracking animals. We sound found lion tracks and were off across the marshes. In the distance we the entire horizon was covered with buffalo – the lions favourite food – we just needed to find a way to get to them. We began to reach the water channels, travelling in convoy we felt braver to tackle the water crossings than if by ourselves. But gradually the water began to get deeper and deeper and we were soon wondering what we’d got ourselves into. We’d gone too far to be able to turn back by ourselves, but we were nervous about the car’s ability to go deeper – but that day Kylie redeemed herself. She ploughed through mud, sand and water, despite the water coming well over the bonnet and our feet were starting to get wet. The final crossing lead us back through the Savuti channel itself. Our friends went first, and as we watched their Toyato Landcruiser disappear up to the windows, we knew that Kylie would be practically submerged being such a smaller car – but the only way was forwards. I was terrified. As we drove into the channel the water was so deep it came up over the windscreen and i thought we were done for, but the car kept going and we were soon out the otherside. Shocked and shakey but so relieved to be back on dry land we kissed Kylie the wonder car! After that we decided to call it a day, we still had a long drive ahead to Chobe so we had to leave the Buffalo chase at that point. But what an experience, tracking Buffalo across the Savuti marshes in our little Kylie.

Tea break on the Savuti marshes

Tea break on the Savuti marshes

Camping at Savuti

Camping at Savuti

 

The intensity of the last few days had begun to take it’s toll and our exhaustion had hit new levels, we were feeling pretty broken and keen to get to our next camp for a rest. But as we turned into the Chobe park and drove down the escarpment, before us the river and the flood plains opened up before us in one of the most beautiful sights we’ve ever seen – had we found Eden? The grassy green plains were covered in thousands of animals, zebras, giraffes, antelope and elephants. We thought we’d been lucky to see around 50elephants at Etosha, but we couldn’t quite comprehend that before us we could see over 500! There were elephants for as far as the eye could see. It was simply unbelievable. The numbers of elephants here are quite controversial as they are so destructive, that they have decimated what used to be a wooded waterfront – all that is left of the forest are patches of stumpy ground. However, the amount of elephant dung keeps the soil fertile, so around the river it is lush green grass – is it a bad thing for a landscape to evolve from woodland to grassland? Our camp that night was at Ihaha, right on the water’s edge. Tired beyond belief we went to bed early and shortly afterwards we could hear the approaching footsteps of elephants. Too tired to be scared, we watched as their looming grey shapes passed by in front of our tent – one by one they marched past we think there must have been over 40. A tip we’d learned from our Namibian friends was that elephants don’t like to cross from the darkness into light, so with so many around we were glad we’d left a rooflight on, to create a light boundary round the car.

For the first time that week we had a lie in until 6.30 and sods law, that would be the day that lions walked past our camp only moments earlier. The rangers came to see us asking if we’d seen the lions –  There had been a pride of 6 which had just passed by our tent about 20minutes before! We couldn’t believe that we’d missed our first opportunity to see lions close-up, but in our sleepy haze it was probably a good thing we weren’t up!

Botswana has been a mind-blowing experience. We have loved, loved, loved everything about it and the vibe and the people are just so relaxed. We have spent the last few days recovering at the Chobe Safari lodge, which has a beautiful deck that looks out across the Chobe – perfect for sundowners whilst watching the elephants amble along on the far bank. An absolute must if you are visiting Kasane.

From here, we will now head onto Vic Falls in Zimbabwe!

 

Elephants as far as the eye can see - Chobe

Elephants as far as the eye can see – Chobe

 

Swimming elephants - Chobe

Swimming elephants – Chobe

 

 

Running Buffalo  -Chobe

Running Buffalo -Chobe

 

This baby elephant was only 5days old!

This baby elephant was only 5days old!

 

Sunset at Chobe

Sunset at Chobe

 

 

 

 

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Into Botswana

Day: 137

KLMS 21,957

Our final days in Namibia were spent on the western edge of the Caprivi Strip, at the best camp we’ve stayed at so far, Ngepi.  Nestled on the banks of the Okavango, the camp has been created by someone with a great sense of humour and is known for its unusual open-air toilets and baths scattered throughout the camp. Each camping area has its own quirky ablutions, ranging from ‘The Toilet of Eden’ a lovely little loo set in an oasis of plants & flowers, ‘The Throne’ which is a huge carved wooden throne toilet which looks out across the river, to ‘Poopa Falls’ which is a toilet seated at the top of a telegraph pole. A self-guided ‘Toilet tour’ makes for a hilarious afternoon of discovery as well as an overload of toilet humour and silly photos. After the toilet humour began to wear thin, we went off for a swim in the ‘croc cage’,  a floating steel cage swimming pool in the Okavango river! Despite the protective cage, it was hard to relax in the water knowing that hippos and crocs were all around – a quick dip was enough!

Open-air toilets (thank goodness) Ngepi
Open-air toilets (thank goodness) Ngepi
The bathroom, Ngepi

The bathroom, Ngepi

The croc-cage, Ngepi

The croc-cage, Ngepi

Back at camp, we met a great couple in the site next to us, Jenny & Tony, who were British ex-pats who had retired to South Africa and were currently on holiday. We spent a hilarious evening with them at the bar, enjoying one too many beers. We had to be up early the next day, as we’d booked to go on a fishing trip, but what we hadn’t realised is that although we were still in Namibia, the camp actually worked on Botswana time, GMT +2?? So with sore heads we woke early and got ready to meet our guide, as we were getting the last of our things together we saw the guide walking towards us. ‘Where you been?’ he asked. ‘I waiting you for 1 hour’. It was still too early to compute what he was saying until he pointed to his watch laughing ‘ You guys on Namibia time, it is half past 8!’. Oops! We quickly grabbed our stuff and rushed to the boat, hoping that we hadn’t missed our chance of catching an elusive Tiger Fish. The boat was little more than a platform & engine strapped to a couple of canoes, but we were too focused on the fishing to worry about the sea-worthiness of our boat. We dropped our lines in and began trawling off the side. It was a beautiful morning and out on the river there was so much birdlife, hippos and game up on the banks, it was lovely just to be out on the water, regardless of whether we caught anything or not. But as I sat back to relax, ‘Ziiiiiiiiiiiiiizzzzzzz’, my line was running! I jumped up, yanking the rod back as hard as I could and began to reel in my catch. Just 10minutes in, I was about to land my first Tiger Fish! They’re great fighting fish and as I reeled it in, the fish leapt into the air a number of times, it was an awesome sight and I couldn’t help but be incredibly smug that once again my fishing success was  far exceeding Richard’s! That said, there was no way I was taking the hook out of this thing, it’s got huge razor sharp teeth, so I left this to the skill of our guide. Fortunately for Richard, the Murray River episode wasn’t going to be repeated and shortly afterwards he too caught a Tiger Fish narrowly avoiding being out-fished by a girl again!

Fishing is hard work

Fishing is hard work

Check out the teeth!

Check out the teeth!

Richard's was definitely smaller than mine!

Richard’s was definitely smaller than mine!

 

Namibia has been truly amazing – a land of spectacular & remote landscapes, friendly people and an abundance of wildlife. It’s a very easy place to travel (when your car is working) and as a friend said, ‘It’s still only Africa-Lite’, ‘Africa-proper’ still awaits!

Cheeky local children

Cheeky local children

 

We crossed into Botswana at Mohembo – a very quiet and easy crossing. Brits don’t require visas, just a free entry permit, but you need to buy road tax and insurance (250Pula). We headed through with little fuss, before reaching the Vet fence where we had to queue for awhile. To protect their beef export market into Europe, a fence was erected to prevent domestic cattle from being infected with foot and mouth disease from feral animals. As you cross the fence line, the car is searched for any meat products, the car tyres and all your shoes have to be sprayed with disinfectant. It seems more of a government tick box, than something that actually offers any disease prevention and instead the fence prevents the second largest migration of wildebeest and zebras (after the Serengeti) meaning wildlife numbers are plummeting in the area as these nomadic animal are no longer allowed to continue their traditional migration.

Again the change complete change in everything around us one we crossed the border was amazing.

We drove on through the villages of Botswana – it was a beautiful drive, the villagers all coming out to wave, everyone looking happy, the sun was shining, Kylie was behaving – it felt really good! As a testament to how well the car is running, we even received our first speeding fine! Driving out of a village where the speed is 60km/ph, we were just hitting our cruising speed of 80km/hr when a policeman jumped out in front of us, almost a little too excitedly! Apparently we weren’t out of the village yet and so it was going to be a big fine – 1,000Pula! Richard got out of the car and began chatting with the officer. Talk soon turned to where we were from, where we were going and how many kilometres we needed to do. Rich then turned up the charm levels explaining that we’d been having some troubles and how we wished we had a lovely car like his ‘Powerful and Strong’ Toyota Landcruiser. Not quite done on charm Richard continued with ‘Wow look how shiny and worn your hand-cuffs are, you must be a hard working officer, locking up all these bad criminals’. The magic was beginning to work and the fine was soon reduced to 400Pula, not before some dodgy suggestions of a 200Pula backhander to cancel the fine! Happy to take the legitimate fine and not pay a bribe we were soon on our way – both slightly proud of our ‘penalty notice’ as weeks before we’d barely thought we have a car that worked, not to mention one that could break speed limits!

Our first stop was Tsodilo Hills – this place is truly the Uluru of Botswana. Out of the flat landscape, 4 huge granite hills rise up to 1500m  making it a place of huge importance to different tribes and religions over the years. It’s cultural significance has earned it a World Heritage listing as it also contains the highest concentration of rock paintings in the world – created by the San bushmen over 3,000years ago. A relatively untouched area, the road in has only recently been improved so tourists have only just beginning to discover this area. However, the locals have still got a lot to learn if they are to keep tourists coming. It turns out that back in May the area was handed to the local community to run, which I’m all for, but the prices that they now charge are ridiculous, considering it was all free up until 6months ago. We arrived at the gate and were told we needed to pay 50Pula each to enter, a new fee, but seemed fair enough so we pay the entry fee. When we get to the centre the guide asks for 120Pula and he will take us to see the paintings. Again, more expensive than the guidebook states, but still seems reasonable as it’s a private tour for 2 hours. We walked up over the ‘female hill’ and are shown the beautiful red rock paintings, it’s uncanny how similar they are to the Aboriginal paintings in Australia, even though the continents had long been separated by that point, there are many similarities. The most bizarre thing (apart from our guide who would just suddenly start peeing without warning on more than one occasion) was the depiction of whales and penguins. The nearest coastline is Namibia over 600klms away.

We had a beautiful walk in the late afternoon sun and when we returned we asked if we could camp near to the centre, as the guidebook said camping was free if you’d paid for a guide. The response was no, we had to head back to the community camp by the entrance gate, where the cost was 130Pula EACH! This was more expensive than any of the luxury lodges we’ve camped at, so we hoped with fake optimism that the new camp must be equipped with fantastic ablutions, pool, Jacuzzi, bar……. Was there? NO! We found ourselves in a dusty field with new but broken ablutions. Despite having only opened in May, the toilets didn’t work, the sinks were still unplumbed on the floor and the shower, although with running, hot water had such large sections missing from the wall that taking a shower meant exposing yourself to the rest of the campers – fortunately there were only a few others there. There were a couple of complementary extras – a couple of donkeys which kept bonking loudly close to our tent and the other was a scorpion which had us scarpering for our socks and shoes! We left the camp the next day feeling very disgruntled. It was shocking to see that a new community project was in such ruins already. I tried to have ‘words’ with the woman on the gate, but knowing my efforts were pointless I didn’t waste my breath for too long and we left.

Tsodilo Hills camp

Tsodilo Hills camp

Free scorpion

Free scorpion

After the abysmal camp the night before, we were relieved to arrive in Maun at Sedia Hotel – with fantastic facilities and big camping areas right by the river – all for 50 Pula a night! That’s more like it! We needed a good base to relax in, as the next day was spent running round in circles in what is the parks permit & camping fiasco. The parks decided to privatise the campsites a few years ago, so before you can get a parks permit to enter into Moremi, Savuti and Chobe you have to book your campsites. Of course, all the campsites are owned by different companies and their offices are scattered across Maun, so the circus begins of rushing from office to office working out who has what availability. As we hadn’t booked ahead, we had to rely on cancellations so in all we must have visited each office at least 3 times as we didn’t want to book campsites in the north of the park until we had confirmation our camps in the South had been booked. The most illogical and farcical process I have encountered yet and expensive! Park entry per day is around $50 plus camping fees, which at Savuti is $100USD, that’s almost 80 quid to camp for a night!!!….there better be a free bar, Jacuzzi, pool….!

So here we are, relaxing by the pool at Sedia, Savannah Dry in hand and Swansea City V Spurs on the telly! Tomorrow we head off into the wilds of Botswana, looking forward to some serious off-roading (deep sand and water crossings) elephant dodging and hoping we don’t end up on the Lions’ a la carte menu! If the car, and us, make it through this, then we can get through anything!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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