After our week of luxury in the Okavango Delta, it was time to return to “real” overlanding. Steve had a route all planned out: southwards around the huge salt pans in the centre of the country and then North-East across them to an isolated island in the middle covered with ancient stone ruins and baobab trees.
The rural villages we passed were small and looked almost unpopulated in the heat of the day, apart from the donkeys snoozing in the middle of the road. Steve is always a conscientious driver (I couldn’t want for a better driver to take us around the world) but in one village the lack of houses meant he didn’t pay attention to the speed signs. Unfortunately even here in the middle of nowhere, there was a police speed trap. The officers were efficient, polite and issued Steve a ticket to be paid in any town in the country, apart from the one down the road, where they came from which was closed due to being part of the diamond mine.
Heading off the tar, we were ready for some off road pan driving “suitable for only fully equipped 4×4 in convoys of at least 3 vehicles” according to our guidebook. What we found was a whole load of trees: scratchy trees. Steve and I winced at every “nails down a blackboard” sound either side of the truck – annoying but not very dangerous. No pan in sight for hours, eventually at the edge of the pan we pulled up for the night. The following morning we set off bravely, only to find the pan was like driving on tar, good tar. I’m sure it’s a different story in the wet season but now after many dry months it was smooth sailing all the way. Soon we made out Kubu Island in the distance and its host of huge baobabs….and something else; all in a row; shiny, square….it was a traffic jam! Nineteen South African off-road vehicles all with caravans or trailers lined up. Thankfully they were heading out, in convoy, of course. The caretaker laughed when we asked about them and said they were happiest squeezed all together in one campsite for the night, not our idea of desert solitude. It turned out that Kubu, although it was in the middle of nowhere, was pretty busy. With absolutely no facilities, bar a couple of long drop toilets, the hefty camping fee of nearly US$50 surprised us away. The friendly caretaker let us off the extra US$25, we should have paid for the kids. We were really pleased we had rough camped the night before. It didn’t take away from the beauty though. The baobab trees were hugely fat, with their gnarled and twisted trunks with the flat grey salt pans around the island made for some lovely walks.
Driving north Steve was hoping for more flat pan driving, only to find we were back in scratchy tree country again. The road was just a small track leading through the bushes and since everyone else who passed through was in smaller 4x4s we were literally ploughing our way through the trees. It was very slow going, we only managed to lose 1 rear sidelight though, which we thought was pretty good. We were cheering after 4 hours we found a sneaky side track through the grass onto the pan.
The photo doesn’t really show quite how narrow the track was.
After a brief night stop outside Nata (where Steve paid his speeding fine) we arrived in the town of Kahane on the Chobe River. The campsite at Chobe River Lodge was ideally located right on the banks of the river with fantastic elephant views, it was busy though and a tight squeeze for everyone even small vehicles. The girls loved the in camp wild game especially the doe eyed bush bucks, enjoying the security of the fenced area.
From the camp we took a sunset riverboat cruise into Chobe national Park. There is an flat, grassy island in the middle of the river, between Botswana and Namibia. It was full of elephants, buffalo, water bucks and hippo. We watched several elephants cross the river, some shorter ones must have been swimming with their trunks held up like snorkels.
As the truck is so heavy there is a hefty charge for taking it into Botswanan parks and as we hadn’t booked months in advance there was little chance of getting a camp spot inside. Pricing it up we decided to take an organised game drive from the lodge one morning. Once in we decided it was a good idea for a truck our size, it is a great self-driving park for a smaller 4×4 but there would have been some low over hanging branches for us. Chobe is famous for its thousands of elephants. They browse in the hills in the heat of the day and come down to drink in the morning and the evening. I decided to give the girls an afternoon off driving but Steve went back to enjoy….