Monday, 17 October 2016

Botswana 3

With our visa and carnet running out we left Maun laden with food, fuel and more money. It was the last big town for a while so we stocked up, hiding the meat in some boxes. In Botswana and also Namibia, there are a lot of vet fences where they can confiscate meat, if they wish, to prevent the spread of foot and mouth. These are normally placed in the most inappropriate places (normally after a big town where everyone stocks up), and we knew there was one on the road we were headed down. I know it is a bit naughty to hide the meat, but every one does it and 9 times out of 10 we are not asked. Luckily this time we weren't, I think the vet fence checker was eating his lunch, but Charles was asked for his licence (the police officer couldn't read it and was about to fine him for it being out of date..), and we had to get out and stand in the foot bath and then drive through the muddy water. This is filled with disinfectant.. Never mind our tires you should see the whole car! I feel these fences are another example of a great idea at the top of the chain, but on ground level highly inappropriate and poorly managed... Anyway, we managed to get through with our mince, sausage and biltong (a must!) and headed towards Tiaan's Campsite on the edge of the Mkhadihadi pan. 

In Maun we met two Swiss Overlanders, Heiko and Ursi (check their Facebook page: Grounded Ganet. In their words 'you won't understand it but it's got some good photos!), who had done the same trip as us just left a little later. They had some Landrover trouble (no jokes please!), and had ended up staying in Maun with us longer than expected. Over beers, after a hard day at the garage for them, during Happy Hour we made a vague plan to head towards the Mkhadihadi Pan together. We met up with them in Tiann's that evening and had a great braai... Sausage, home made bread and home made dhal made by Ursi which was lovely ( something else for me to try!). The Mkhadihadi Pan National Park was accessed only by boat, which looked fairly unstable! Luckily it got us both across without sinking and we were in the park. We didn't expect to see much at all, maybe some elephants, zebra etc which we saw all of as well as a family of lions as we came around a corner! A male, female and three cubs which were adorable! The sand in the park was deep and churned up, after failing to get up a sandy bank we let out the tyre pressure making it a lot easier.. If we hadn't been lazy and just done it in the first place we wouldn't have got stuck! It wasn't just us landrovers having issues, other cars were also getting stuck especially after a tourist bus churned up the roads more.. we had to help a couple in a rent-a-car out! On a side note I have nothing against rent-a-cars, it's a huge business, but I really feel park wardens should explain to peole in those kinds of cars what the roads are like.. We have come across many now who have never driven on 'roads' like the ones in Botswana and have got stuck. We got to Gweta, a small half way point, and the mosquito ridden camp site and were straight in the pool! We haven't had too many problems with mosquitos since Zambia but that night I got 15 bites from some sneaky ones that made their way into our tent! There is nothing worse than the sound of whining mosquitos in your ear, it fills you with a sense of dread - luckily we are still on the malaria tablets however I am really looking forward to coming off.. Having no crazy dreams or more sensitive skin to the sun will be great! 

(Boat trip into the park)

After reading my Go! Botswana magazine a few times I had seen a photo of the salt pans in the Mkhadihadi where the car was on its own in the middle of white salt and an amazing blue sky! We wanted a photo of this for ourselves so spent the morning driving out to the pans. The dust was insane, grey and like talcompowder, the wind was whipping it up and it was like a blizzard! Dust rained down on the car and obviously managed to get inside the car as well! We reached the pans and got the photo, we managed to get some well posed shots of both of the landrovers and had great fun doing it! Try to get the timer just right on the camera is always a challenge! We had wanted to wild camp in the pan that evening but the wind was too strong and whilst the car was already dusty, we didn't want ourselves and the inside to get worse.. Also swirling dust doesn't make for good camping! Leaving the pan we spent a night at Elephant Sands trying to cure Heiko of his elephant fear (whether it worked I am not sure) and decided to attempt the wild camp the next night! **fun elephant fact: an elephant can hold up to 14 litres each time it goes to suck water with its trunk**

It took a long and hot drive, through a lot of low hanging branches to get to the salt pan before Kukonjo island (not an island at the moment), the route wasn't marked and at times again it was fairly deep sand! We arrived onto the salt pan at 1pm and decided this was a good-a-place as any to camp! Awning out for shade, photos swapped and an afternoon of quiet and nobody! It was very quite throughout the night and no early risers to wake us up! The best nights sleep in a long time! 

(Camping on the pan)

The 11km for Kukonjo Island was fairly simple, despite there being no road there were tracks which at times were slightly squishy! The pan is fairly dry however under the crust in some places it is quite spongy. We let Heiko drive first as they are lighter than us, so if they sank we knew we could judge the ground from where they had been. It was fine however and we arrived, paid and found a site. The island was bizarre, the salt pans surrounding the grassy island, along with the mirage meant it looked like the sea was around us.. You can see how those lost in hot places think there is water on every horizon! The campsites were big with a newly built pit toilet, and some shade as well as lots of flies! It was very remote with little wildlife but beautiful! As the sun went down and the fire was lit loads of scorpions came out, our feet and shoes were kept firmly off the ground! It was out last evening with Heiko and Ursi, it had been great to travel for a few days with them! The company, the sharing food and sharing our experiences with others who had done the same was really nice, something we hadn't realised we had missed until now! They are heading towards the Central Kalahari now whilst us towards South Africa (I have put their blog below).

Our last few days were going to be spent along the road towards Martins Drift where we would cross into South Africa. We had already done this border before so we knew it was fairly quiet, with a place to stop over just before you cross. From Kukonje we headed towards Khama Rhino Sancturary. It is a Sancturary run by a community trust and been running since 1992, with an aim to increase rhino numbers - most of the Moremi rhinos are from the Sancturary. We thought it would be really expensive, however we arrived at lunch time and were told for that day, camping and until 12 the next day would be 480 pula (about £34) so we decided to just bite the bullet and go in! Normally we like arriving at parks early in the morning so were sceptical about seeing anything! Arriving at our camp site it was isolated, with good facilities - I thought it was really good value!  After lunch we headed out to the park, it is very small but we were told there were over 30 rhinos, both black and white. Going through the dense shrub land we saw very little, some birds, Spring bok etc but once we got onto the open pan with the watering hole we were rewarded with 10 white rhino including a baby! We hadn't seen white rhino yet (saw black rhino in Etosha), so it was incredible to see one, let alone 10! They were amazing, graceful and slow, however once they moved they were fairly rapid!  We watched them for an hour or so until the masses of Toyota turned up and we moved onwards! We managed to spot some Eland, which again we hadn't seen much of - huge animals - a whole herd with 17 babies! Animals thrive in this place, I imagine there are very few predators due to it being well fenced in. We had met lots of people who had seen nothing here, I can see why, the next morning we went out again but saw less.. Luck of the draw..  A few rhino, jackles, vultures and obviously Spring bok! I would totally recommend this place, it is a bit of a gem.. Great camping and the possibility of lots of animals!

Between the Khama Rhino Sancturary and the border we had 4 nights, when arriving in Botswana we thought we wouldn't have enough time to see everything however as we have travelled through we have found some places we haven't stayed as long for various reasons. This meant we had to stop for a couple of nights some where, which was needed.. Repairs to the car, tidying bits up and tackling the mountain of washing that had piled up after the few days of wild camping and an increase of exercise being done! We arrived in Palapye where we had arranged on the Friday to see Deepthi who we had met at Elephant Sands the first time. It would give us two nights to sort everything, however her father recognised our car and as we arrived at the camp site she rang us up telling us to come over to her house, rest, shower and use her washing machine! I could have hugged her! On the hottest day in weeks (officially), we got to stay in an air conditioned house, my mountain of washing was washed in a washing machine and we were treated to 5* hospitality and food (beautifully cooked Indian food - I got some hints and tips but I fear mine won't be as good) from Deepthi, her father and her son. We could not have asked for more, they even let us stay over in the house. 

(Mango which has been squeezed and dried in layers - they had 2 mango trees producing 2000 mangos during the right season!)
(Deepthi and myself)

We left the next day to head to Moremi Gorge for the night before returning to see them all again on Friday evening. We weren't sure what to expect with the gorge, but drove the 34km down dirt road to reach it. They were fairly full but managed to find us a spot which again was isolated with each site having its own braai, fire pit, tap area and bathroom.. An outside shower also which was really cool! The price was cheap, £22 for camping, entrance and a guided hike through the gorge. We quickly changed and headed off with Zuma who to get there had to hold onto the back of the car - disadvantages of having only two seats. Zuma was so knowledgable, he know all the birds, trees, insects and flowers, giving information about all of them.. He showed us hyena signalling points, trees that were good for snake bites, flowers that were good for poisons and a foot print that had been imprinted into the rocks years ago when the ground was still soft. We hiked up through the mountain stopping off at 3 small waterfalls, luckily it wasn't too hot and the water was cold! This was the first guided walk where the guide has been part of the price, and official.. He had a uniform, a radio, his own water, and first aid kit and most importantly didn't ask for anything - we did give him a small tip at the end but we really felt he earned it. This place was again another gem, definitely a place to visit, even for a day and a night! 

(Hiking on the gorge)

Back to Palapye on Friday and we got back to Deepthi's around lunch time and were treated to Indian rice, salad and curd (a soured milk based dish). I was able to watch her make it and write down the recipie so I hope at some point to replicate it! We chilled for the afternoon, it wasn't as hot as the previous day so we all felt less hot and bothered! Evening came around and after chatting to Deepthi about what I cook at home we came up with an arrangement, for dinner I would cook macaroni and cheese (she liked it but didn't know how to make it), Charles would sort out the pork and she would sort out the chicken. This arrangement worked out really well and we had a lot of fun in the kitchen making and preparing everything for the braai. As the braai got started Charles and I were convinced there was too much food.. There must have been 2 chickens, 5 pork chops and sausages on top of the macaroni and cheese and bean salad. Deepthi's father, the chef, however was very good at making us eat and at the end only two pieces of chicken were left over, we were so full and luckily managed to prevent him from retrieving a leg of goat out of the freezer to slow cook over the dying embers! It was a great evening sitting outside, chatting, laughing and comparing lives and cultures. Pudding was frozen mango from the previous years crops, how we managed to fit it in I am not sure!! Again we were bowled over by the hospitality shown and left as new friends!

Our last day in Botswana was spent at Kwa Nokeng, a place where we had been before. Due to me having only 76 days left on my 90 day visa I could only cross on the Sunday which we planned to do early in the morning to reach Charles' family in Pretoria. 

What is effectively our third 'stint' in Botswana has been fantastic, and we have come away from the country feeling a lot more positive and less 'done over' that the previous visit to the southern region. Our last visit we were left thinking that the country was hugely expensive, there wasn't much game or wild life and not much to do in between the tourist spots. This trip has changed all of that and I would thoroughly recommend Botswana to anyone (quite possibly over going to Namibia). Yes it is expensive, but not any more than other places.. We averaged £55 per day for the time we were here (3 weeks) and that included a scenic flight and Mokoro trip, so we weren't stingy.. Had we not done those we would have been on budget. There was loads of animals and it was so much greener than Namibia, the scenery just added something else to the experience.. Yes in places it was dry but in the pans for example it was part of the charm! There was lots to do and also cheaper ways to do things.. Take Moremi, we stayed outside in Maun for most of it going in for 1 night at a cheaper camp instead of paying the ridiculous Savauti camp fees of $50. We researched before we went looking for different places to stay in each town and ended up at the cheapest each time which, in Maun was the better option! We wild camped, and were lucky enough to spend two nights at Deepthi's house which always helps the accomodation budget. We were on the move most days, stopping only at Elephant Sands, so to reduce costs even more you could do it all slower.. We were time bound by the carnet so had no choice. What has struck me the most about this country is the people, the locals are so friendly and proud to be Botswanean (the 50th celebration of independence being an example). Everywhere you go they chat to you, are smiling and their hospitality is amazing as I have said already in this blog.. You just can't fault them! The people travelling in Botswana have also been the most friendly; in Elephant Sands where we met the most people who were happy to share food, fires and company.. We met people in Kasane also who I have heard from since. Meeting Heiko and Ursi was also great fun, it made the few days we spent with them even more enjoyable and we did things with them we wouldn't have done other wise.. Sometimes it is good to have new input! To sum it up, Botswana has been up there.. I would advise anyone wanting to take a tour of Southern Africa to spend a considerable amount of time here over any off the other Southern countries we have been to thus far! Roll on South Africa (no pressure!).. 


Heiko and Ursi's blog: (Google should translate it!)

Another blog to check out: Dan was on the Overland Truck which we met coming down. He travels a lot and his blog and photos are really interesting! 

#africa #botswana #khama #mkhadihadi

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Botswana 2 - the land of the elephant

Our distance across the border and into Botswana was going a not so gruelling 63km, without sounding like I repeat myself too much the border was easy and were in Ngoma within 30 mins. The sun was shining and everyone was friendly, the Botswana border had a herd of zebra and Impala 100m from the front door, which, the immigration officer informed, was a pretty nice sight in a Monday morning! I could only agree! Unfortunately our insurance has run out (valid 3 months) as had our road tax (valid the duration stay in a country) so we had to pay those but they were two bad (about 250 pula).

Arriving in Kasane, the self proclaimed HQ of safari, we booked 2 nights at the Chobe Riverfront Lodge, the cheapest camp site in the town, but still really rather swanky! Surprisingly the campsite was fairly cheap (which for Botswana is a shock), and it put us in high spirits to spend our cash else where..! By the time we were settled down in campsite 3 we had decided, after being recommended it by two other people, to go on an evening river cruise into the Chobe. Because you had to pay park fees on top we decided to go the next day after paying park fees to self drive in the morning. We spent the afternoon enquiring about the carnet which was rather fruitless so we settled down with a drink and got a braai going!

(Applying for jobs in Kasane with my new PA)

The alarm went off early to get into Chobe National Park which was 6km away. By 6.30 am we were in, and the animals just kept coming! By the time we left at 1.30pm we had seen all the usually stuff, herds upon herds of elephant, Impala, lechwes, zebra, roan, sable, hippos, crocodiles, heartebeest and buffalo, as well as a male lion eating a buffalo, 2 female lions doing what lions due best (sleeping under the tree), and vultures stripping an old carcass. Move over Etosha, Chobe is definitely the place to go for high concentrations of animals, the landscape was much greener with the river running along the Northern border with Namibia. Our boat cruise left at 3pm from the lodge. The boat and the set up was not as nice as the one we went on along the Zambezi in Zambia (a few more people and no free alcohol or food!), but you couldn't fault the views! We had two very experienced guides who told us about the local land, and knew the names of all the water birds along the banks - always good for me, I know very little! During the 3 hours we went into the park, and around Sedudu Island (meaning a raft of hippos in Tswana the local Botswanean language). The sun set was amazing over the Namibian side of the river and we were thoroughly glad we had spent the money doing it! 

(Self drive around Chobe)
(Boat trip)

Ever since our first visit to Elephant Sands back in July, Charles had been desperate to come back. He loves elephants and it suits us both, he can watch the elephants and I can watch them at intervals whilst reading! It generally seems to be a stop over, with most people staying one night only, however we decided to do 3 nights here - save a bit of cash and get an overdose of elephants! After dinner (and possibly one glass of wine too many), I proclaimed our German neighbours were rude and not at all chatty (they had arrived after us and proceeded to park about 15m away even though they had the whole campsite to park) and proceeded to take our chairs to our next neighbours up. We arrived, asked to sit with them and were promptly given a burger (second dinner is alway good), and got chatting to Max and Werner who were taking customers through Botswana. They were great guys, very intersting, and invited us for breakfast the next morning as they needed to use up their cereal! Non-surprisingly they were South African (always very hospitable)!

Friday rolled around very quickly, our last day at the site, and Botswana's 50th year of independence. Us, as well as most of the other people on the site and the staff had their celebratory tshirts on and there was a good mood all around. As it got busier we were joined by an Indian family who live all around Botswana and were invited to spend the evening with them. We were thoroughly spoiled, an amazing braai and great company from all their family. All this to a backdrop of elephants coming and going. We even had thunder and a bit of rain, apparently this is good luck, fingers crossed then! It was great to see a country so united and proud of their independence, chatting to the owner of Elephant Sands she told me that reading Botswanas history (something I had already done), was a real testament as the handover was peaceful and the circumstances of the first presidents rule very interesting - worth a read. We also were continuously told how good the current Botswanean President is; zero tolerance on poaching (shoot on the spot) which has lead to Botswana having 40% of all Africa's elephants. He is also promoting new business growth and education. It was nice to hear! 

(Matching Botswana 50 tshirts!)

Leaving earlier than expected on the Saturday we popped into Nata Bird Sancturary on the way to  Maun. Sadly we saw very few birds apart from Pelicans, I think we were in the wrong season, but did see a lot of wilderbeest! My advice for here it to check you are in season before parting with your £10. Leaving Nata faster than expected we powered it to Maun to try and get things booked on the Sunday (easier said than done, shops are generally closed which is a bit of a concept to get around coming from Britain!), as it was past lunch time and the shops were closed we checked into Audi camp which was a bit of a rip off (they charged you double for electricity!), but it had a pool which after a very hot drive was very welcome! 

(No birds but lots of wilderbeest in Nata)

Booking Moremi was a mission, especially on a Sunday! You are advised to book your trip at least a year in advance, something we had already failed to do but hey, we like a challenge! The plan was to try and book at least one night in the park so we could do a Mokoro trip on the Tuesday. This is easier said than done as each camp site is run by its own concession with its own offices at different ends of the town, finally we got so fed up we went straight to the Department of Parks where the very helpful lady told us just to turn up on the gate and see whether we could book. Take enough cash she also told us.. Very sensible as again Botswana manages to rip off the tourists.. For me (International) the campsites can be up to 50 US dollars, and for Charles (South African), up to £13.. It drives me mad and is almost worth getting a South African passport (this however, I hear is not so easy either!). Anyway we were planning to fuel the tourist trip and go into the park, so you are stuck between a rock and a hard place! That decided (if it didn't work we would come in and out across the two days), we booked the Mokoro trip and all was pretty much sorted! Food shopping was done, no alcohol though because it's a Sunday, and no bikini (an ongoing saga which has had me looking in every town we get to.. They just don't sell them anywhere). A half successful morning! We moved camp sites to Island View which was 10x nicer - two pools with all added extras included for an afternoon of relaxation before the park the next day! 

The day you go into the park is filled with two emotions.. Oh do I really have to get up (at 4.45am) and yay we are going into the park what will we see! We had a 90km drive to the gate which was at times testing, we had been lulled into a false sense of security about roads with Etosha and Chobe but hit the ground hard navigating the corrugated and deep sandy roads around Moremi - this continued in the park also where they found a new type of corregation that not only go up and down but side to side, granted however it is a good ab work out! Arriving at the gate we were welcomed by 17 wild dogs, with cubs. We had not seen any since Kafue in Zambia where they were very shy, but here they had no problems playing around and sun bathing on the road! Great start! The ranger at the gate told us the reservations lady wouldn't be in till 11am (I mean what! Monday morning when due to offices being closed on a Sunday they probably have the most walk ins), but to just head to the camp and ask if they had any space. This again was fairly idealistic because it would take 3 hours to get there and if they turned around and told us no it would be a mission to get out. It in fact took us 6 or so hours to get to the campsite as we were blocked off by water crossings which were fairly deep and with the likely possibility of crocs. Had we been with others we would have done them but we chickened out! 

We saw some great animals, mainly around the boggy swamp areas - the normal including sable and roan - but very little where it was dry and barron. Arriving at the camp site we were hot and tired, not knowing whether we could stay we just set up camp and waited for the site worker to arrive, 3 hours later he did (claims he missed us coming in ..) and said it was fine to camp. That evening we watched the sun set, a thunder storm in the distance, fire flies dancing and at 10.30 as we were in the tent a female hyena and Cubs raided the bins for dinner. It was quite funny because to begin with we thought it was a lion and were convinced the bin was the lion, it wasn't until we flashed the car lights we realised it was a hyena .. Funny what your eyes see in the dark (bin lions apparently - they go well with Anthillopes and rockopotamuses). They destroyed our neighbours camp, who woke up to pots and pans over the marsh lands and 5 litres of oil gone, why you would have that much oil any way beats me, plus leaving your stuff out in the middle of a National Park, overnight.. Anyway waking up the next morning we headed towards the Mokoro place, it was only a 25km drive but after previous day's fiasco where it took us 6 hours to do 45km we thought we would give ourselves as much time as possible! It turns out the roads was ok, and it took us only 2 hours to get there!

The Mokoro trip was something Charles has been looking forward to. He had done it before with his family in 2007 and had seen loads of elephants and other animals along the river. As we pulled up he exclaimed that the water level was a lot lower than last time but never the less we were still looking forward to heading out. On the Mokoro (fibreglass, as the wooden ones are not used anymore due to termite infestations or becoming too heavy with water), it was so peaceful. It was so nice to sit, relax, hear the wind and the occasional bird chirping across the park. We saw very little game, some lechwears and Impala but the reeds were very high either side. Sadly, our guide told us there had been a fire at the beginning of September so the game was just returning. It was a bit of a shame but still nice. I think Charles felt a little under whelmed about it, it didn't quite live up to expectation but was a great thing to do. 

I think under whelmed was how we felt about the whole of Moremi to be honest, coming from Chobe where we saw so much (and could stay outside the park easily), we had very high expectations. We didn't see as much as we had hoped (which really is luck of the draw, we met some people who load lion and leopard), and the roads were awful in parts which was a shame as Charles (the main spotter) was concentrating more on driving than the animals. As with all of Botswana it was expensive, a luxury which we decided to do, I am glad we went but am glad we didn't book more time in there. This overall feeling was portrayed by others who we also met, I think maybe the park authorities need to think more about their parks and less about ripping off tourists.. However we still had a great time, Mokoro, wild dogs, with one of the highlights being us lending a Toyota our sand ladders to get out of the deep sand! We left tired, dusty, grimy and we glad for a shower! My advice, go to Chobe!!

We had been told by a lot of people we had met to do a flight over the Okavango Delta, initially we nodded and said 'hum maybe' but assumed it would be mega expensive and there would be no chance we could afford it. During a moment of maddness and a wifi connection, I decided to look into prices and phone up some companies. This is something I would suggest booking more than 2 days in advance (unlike Moremi!), as all but one company had a flight on Wednesday morning. Air Shakawe told us they had a flight and then the price, I politely declined saying it was too much for us to which they replied if more people booked on the price would go down. This was on the Sunday and we were heading to the park for two days with no signal the next day. I told them I would ring them up on Tuesday evening and see if they had managed to find anyone else. Whilst in the park, Charles and I got chatting saying we should just go for it, that go for it mentality, we won't be here again so best not to have any regrets! Leaving Moremi I phoned up the office and they said they had filled it with two places left for 2/3s the original price they gave us. BONUS! It made it much easier to swallow and we agreed!

We arrived at Maun airport the next morning at 7.45 for an 8.30 flight, checked in and met the rest of the group who had just found out the flight had been filled and the cost had decreased (they were very happy!). Through the metal detectors and passport control, and we boarded the Cessna, taking off at exactly 8.30 (very un-Africa time!). Our pilot, Charlotte, told us the vague route we would take; over the delta and tributary rivers, across the dry pans and then returning over the forest. The views were incredible, you really got a feel for the landscape and geography of the area. So much water and green, followed by yellow, bare trees and dry salt and sand pans. We saw loads of animals that looked like small plastic toys, herds of elephant, giraffes, zebra and Impala, and also three rhinos and a lion which I spotted (our pilot had been flying for 3 years over the delta and had only seen a lion twice!). We were very lucky, it made up for the lack of animals the previous day! We were flying at 150m, the same height as the fish eagles and vultures and it was funny to be at the same level as them! After our hour was up we landed back down smoothly, all of us in awe of what we had just seen! A great way to end our time in Maun. 

A final small plug.. We were given this magazine by the editor who we met in Katima. It had been fantastic and whilst it is only published in Namibia and South Africa, if you are planning to come to Botswana to look them up. They also have published others on Etosha and other places in Southern Africa! We worth a read, we loved it and have used it a lot! 

From here (tomorrow 6.10.16), we head towards Gweta and the Mkhadihadi Pans - more driving, more fuel and more money! Botswana is great but our bank accounts are certainly not enjoying it!  

#africa #botswana #botswana50 #overland #chobe #moremi #okavangodelta #airshakawe