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