Reflections on Botswana

   Lucy We went to the Okavango Delta and we enjoyed it very, very, very much. So much that I didn't want to leave. I liked it because I liked the people and the animals.  On the first day on the night trip we had a wonderful view of a lion and then we saw a hyena with something in it's mouth that reflected, we thought it was a torch. The next day we got up and we had hot water bottles in the car to keep us cozy, it was a very cold start. We were lucky that day because we saw a leopard called the "Sufferer" because she was abandoned by her mother too early and nearly died. But she didn't die as she got good at hunting. Then we saw lions and wild dogs. A couple of days later we saw their puppies, I named them, there were 13. The bravest one was called Hunter and the second most brave one was called Growler. We found 2 female lions who had just eaten a meal of lovely meat, they were sitting in the sunshine with big fat tummies.        Alisha I liked going to the Okavango Delta. The mokoro rides were fun and I liked camping in the bush but it was quite luxurious because we had a cook. I wanted to put up a tent but they had already done it so I helped KG, our guide, do his. Elephants came in the night, they banged their heads on the palms just behind our tent (this must give them a headache!) to shake the palm nuts down. Mummy and Daddy were a bit freaked out but I didn't even wake up. I liked seeing the leopards, lions and wild dogs. They had lots of little puppies, Lucy gave them all names.  When we went to the Chobe river we saw lots of little baby elephants, they were on an island eating. One of them was suckling from its mother. Then they had to cross over to the mainland and the babies had to hold on to their mother's tails so they didn't get lost. One of the babies got stuck in some mud and and all the mummy elephants tried to push it out, they got it out in the end.  When we came back to Botswana I spent the day climbing a tree in our camp, I got almost all the way to the top.     Gilly I think that Botswana has some of the best wildlife viewing places on the continent. Booking last minute in Maun for the Okavango Delta, we hoped the places that were available would be very good. Especially as, even with the last minute discount, it was a couple of months travelling money. However our expectations were totally exceeded, especially at Chitabe - the girl's glowing recollections above show how amazing it was. I hope they realise, when they get older, how privileged they were to see so many rare species close up. Steve and I kept on pinching ourselves when we were there at what we had seen and how special it was.  Out of all the countries we've visited in the last few months in Africa, I think Botswana is the one that we could most live in (not that we are looking for a home base just yet). The standard of living and education standards are high, the people are friendly, it's politically stable and the population density is low. It has amazing wildlife and the government is determined to protect it: with a total ban on hunting and the army heavily involved in anti-poaching work. I know their "high cost, low frequency" tourist policy doesn't make it an easy or cheap destination for overlanding but I respect what they are doing to preserve their unique natural heritage.     Steve When I remember our time in Botswana I will always remember the fantastic wildlife viewing we had in the Okavango Delta. The Delta is a truly magical place and we were very privileged to see the wildlife we saw and at such close quarters. I have been travelling to Africa to do safaris for over 20 years and the wildlife viewing we had was probably the best ever. To see leopard so close on each of three consecutive days was really special.   It's true that Botswana's policy of high cost low volume means it does not work for everyone. In fact when we were in Kasane and went into Chobe, it felt much more commercialised and high volume and we did not enjoy this so much. Mind you we had just been spoilt in the Delta. I think I like to see wildlife on my own terms. I am happy self driving and just experiencing it by ourselves. Although I could get used to my own private guide who can drive anywhere and has an amazing ability to spot the animals! To me Botswana was the most relaxed of the African countries we have visited in this trip. The people we met were very friendly and clearly well educated and the town's we visited seemed friendly and unthreatening. I agree with Gilly that if we had to live somewhere in Africa Botswana would probably suit us best. Mind you it is all about the wildlife, the rest of the country is mainly desert and dry habitats. Still the wildlife is so fantastic. Now just how do I persuade her?        

We got back in!!

Sometimes on a trip like this (even with Steve's meticulous planning) your route ends up being decided by forces totally outside your control. As we bumped along the gravel road heading for the remote South African border post we were keeping our fingers crossed. We had been stressing about it for months, even before we arrived on the continent. Stamped out of Botswana we made away down to the Limpopo River bed; the causeway across its bed was just slightly wider than the truck. With just a few inches each side of the tyres, I kept my head sticking out of the window the whole time to check we stayed absolutely straight. Just metres on the other side our fate lay in the hands of just one lady with a stamp. Just how long would she let us in for? Her stern face didn't look promising, as she asked us about our plans. I tried to distract her with the children's birth certificate, another newly required border entry requirement that had also caused us a headache. Then out came the stamp..."thwack"....a quick scribble and she was done - our fate decided. With poker faces we thanked her and rushed out......... YES!!! We had the 60 days we needed to continue the journey we want to do, heading south to Durban to ship to Australia. If she had given us just the 7 days she was supposed to, it probably would have meant that we would have had to dramatically alter our plans: head north to wait to try again in January?; abandon our Australian plans and ship straight to Malaysia later?; drive through Africa to Port Sudan and ship to Saudi Arabi, then Iran and go that way to Asia?......the possibilities were endless (and had been endlessly debated over the last few months).     Why all this stress you might ask? Unfortunately for us South Africa changed its visa rules last year so if you are entering their country for a second time without returning to your home country first, you are only entitled to a 7 day visa. For 99% of travellers, especially if they are flying in, this isn't a problem. But we had heard other overland travellers whose whole journey had been dramatically altered because of it. Our Swiss biker friends, who are also in the same boat, had even been to the South African Embassy in Harare to ask about it and they had been told if they explained their situation they might be able to get longer but it was up to the border guards discretion. There is a big border crossing at Beitbridge between Zimbabwe and South Africa but as lots of trucks pass though, it is known as being stressful and very busy. We thought a quieter border would give us a better chance. Hence the detour to Botswana. There are several tiny border crossings across the Limpopo River either driving through the dry river bed or a concrete causeway. The added advantage for us is that is that if we were offered just 7 days we could turn around and re-enter Botswana, where as if we had crossed from Zimbabwe we would need another visa to get back in.  Leaving Bulawayo we headed west to the Botswana border, where we turned south to Francistown. That night the clouds and cold came in, we set off towards the wilderness area known as the Tuli Block. We spent a couple of nights on the banks of the Limpopo, with South Africa just across the other side. At this time of the year there was nothing in the sandy river bed apart from a couple of green pools, we were told they were full of crocs so didn't go too close. With no fences, we listened to the elephants crash around the bushes in the dark just beyond where we could see with our torches.           After our successful crossing we spent a couple of nights on the other side of the Limpopo in Mapungubwe National Park. Impressive remains from the Iron Age have been discovered in the park. The museum explaining their huge cultural significance of such a find, is made of beautiful domes made of compressed mud. The structure is hugely impressive, as is the golden rhino they dug up. In addition there is a lovely drive that culminates in an overlook of the confluence of two rivers. Here South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana all meet at a point.                      The campsite is on the western unconnected side of the park. We had to drive through huge orange and tomato farms to get in. I can only imagine the problems they have with elephants with such tasty foods just outside the park. This side has far fewer roads but the campsite was lovely. After squeezing under some trees to get in we decided to save our game driving till our time in the Kruger in a couple of days. We had plenty of game in the unfenced camp anyway, we all fell in love with the doe-eyed bushbuck pair who were completely unafraid of us.        Our friendly South African campsite neighbours were kind enough to show us some of the best of what their country has to offer for supper that night. With delightful company round a proper South African-sized fire, they fed us delicious prawns and sent us away with homemade jams and fruit.   

Bashing through the Bushes

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 4x4 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, 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.imageimageimage imageimage imageDriving 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. image 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. image 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.image image image image 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 4x4 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.... imageimageimageimageimage