Having travelled through Africa we have
learnt that when doing a border crossing it is best to plan nothing
else that day as it can often end up providing an entire day's
entertainment in itself. But we had forgotten that we are now in
the civilised, ordered and efficient world of Southern Africa and,
even with an hour change, we were at our next campsite by
The day wasn't entirely uneventful though. We saw giraffe on the
way to the border and then two enormous puff adders doing a strange
little intertwining routine (which apparently is their mating
dance) on the way into the Botswanan border post. That is the kind
of sight that you are happy to say you have seen but seriously hope
that you will never see it again.
We ended up giving one of the border officials a lift to the next
town and giving him some painkillers on the way for his head ache.
He was very grateful but so were we as it meant that we could give
him the money for our vehicle tax once we had been to the bank,
which saved us driving all the way back to the border.
We were camping on the banks of the Okavango River with just birds
for company. That's another sign that we are both embarking on a
new decade – we are getting into bird-watching!
We had another potjie for dinner and then went to sleep with the
sounds of crocodiles and hippos nearby, once again extremely
grateful for our roof tent.
We were at Tsodilo Hills by late
morning after having been woken early by an impressive dawn chorus.
The hills are very beautiful and have deep spiritual significance
for the local San Bushmen. There are lots of bush paintings on the
hills which originate from as far back as 3,000 years ago. The
paintings show images of elephant, rhino and giraffe amongst other
animals. They were painted with a mixture of sand, natural dyes and
blood and, in some cases, are still remarkably clear.
We did a trail with a local guide, which we thoroughly enjoyed,
apart from when he pointed out the tracks of 'a very large snake –
probably a black mamba'. I have already had my fill of snakes in
this country and would be very happy if all the rest would kindly
stay under rocks, or wherever else they like to hide.
When we got back to the camp I was amazed and intrigued by the
impressive looking food that was being prepared by Joe – a local
chef who was with a tour group. He had already roasted a chicken on
the fire and was busy making chips and bread dough. I was
particularly interested in the bread as we have also been given a
bread oven, which you put on the fire, but our first attempt at a
loaf came out very burnt. Joe gave me a few tips and promised to
show me the finished product, which he did a while later. It was a
perfect white loaf which you would never have believed had been
cooked on a wood fire. He kindly gave us half of his loaf and I can
testify that it was delicious! We certainly have a standard to live
up to now.
With a good road we were in Maun by
mid-afternoon, in time to have a quick look around and we fell in
love with the place immediately. It has all the charm and spirit of
Africa with some nice doses of Western civilisation and of course a
prime location, being on the edge of the Okavango Delta. Botswana
certainly is the country in which we feel most at home so far and
we are busy trying to come up with a reason to stay!
We cruised around the town getting some jobs done and then, back at
Audi Camp, got out the potjie pot for some more experimentation. It
has opened up a whole new world of cooking over the fire. Excuse
the detail but we had beef stew with dumplings, all made in one pot
and it was delicious! I tell you – ovens are over-rated, I should
have been a cave woman.
We decided to splash out on what one
must really do when in Maun – take a Mokoro trip out onto the
Delta. A mokoro is like an African version of a punt. It is carved
out of a trunk and is guided along by a ‘poler'. When you sit, or
half lie down in it, you are basically at the level of the water. It
is rustic, not hugely comfortable and you come out with a wet bum,
but all these things somehow contribute to the magic of the
experience. You can take motor boats and planes to see the Delta
but in a mokoro you are in the traditional form of transport and,
more importantly, it is sensitive to the surroundings.
travelled along water channels through banks of reeds and rushes.
Sometimes it would open up into a broader stretch of water and
there would be lilies everywhere. It was completely quiet except
for the sound of the pole in the water, the wind in the reeds and
the birdlife. Oh and the occasional snort of a hippo – just to keep
us on our toes. After an hour or so we landed on an island, just
next to some hippos chilling out in the water.
Our guide then took us on a walk through the bush. After a few
hundred metres he stopped and pointed out a fresh lion paw print in
the sand. Fantastic. Here we were wandering in the bush with lions
at large. Our guide wasn't in the least bit phased, reassuring us
that lions only kill at night. We felt vaguely, sort of, actually
not really at all reassured by this but followed him all the same,
hoping that it wouldn't be a very long walk.
We did see zebra, wildebeest and some other buck and, happily, we
saw no lions. We were very glad to get back to our packed lunch
after an hour and a half.
We had arranged to see Gareth and Jo for dinner, who we met last
week in Windhoek, and we were feeling excited about dinner in a
family home. We had a great time, chatting for hours over a
delicious curry, sharing stories about our respective trips and
adventures. They confirmed something that we had already suspected
– that once you have done a big trip like this you struggle to
settle down permanently into ‘normal' life. They are having a great
time in Maun and their children are clearly benefiting from it
They kindly let us camp in their garden and we crawled into tent
late after a really fun evening.
We enjoyed breakfast with the family
before heading off, with some fresh lemons off their tree, back to
Audi Camp. We took the afternoon to catch up with dull but
necessary jobs. I still can't muster up enthusiasm for hand-washing,
however much I try.
More potjie fun in the evening and we even managed to make a
vaguely successful loaf of bread in our bread oven on the coals. We
made short work of that as you can imagine.
We had intended to move on today but
Neil ended up having to do some impromptu mechanics in the airport
car park. We didn't want to drive in the dark so we decided to stay
another night. The problem is, the longer we stay here the more we
love it and the less we want to leave!
Once the speedo cable was fixed, the next problems occurred – the
fridge broke and the car alarm stopped working. Having a fridge on
a trip like this is a lifeline to eating decent food and we didn't
feel that we could live without it for the next two months so
that's the next thing to get fixed. Looks like we'll be here
tomorrow as well. Oh well.
On the upside: we had the fridge and the alarm fixed, had a
fantastic cooked breakfast and coffee in a little café and met
another English overlanding couple and ended up having a beer with
On the downside: the speedo cable unfixed itself, there is a new
unhappy-sounding creak from the Land Rover and Neil's beloved Tilley hat
got lost/knicked - we cannot be certain.
After all this we felt pretty drained from the relentless practical
issues and problems. It is on days like this that you wish you
could teleport yourself to a sofa with an episode of Eastenders, a
glass of wine and a nice bath. We made do with some leftovers, a
cold beer and our tent.
Finally we managed to leave Maun.
Maybe we'll be back one day but for now its time to move on and we
felt better about things once we were on the road again.
By the time we had arrived in this funky little spot – Planet
Baobab – we were both feeling much more positive and we had a fun
evening over some beers with a South African couple – Brandon and
Tammy – who have driven up from Cape Town.
We liked the spot and the company so
much we decided to spend the day in the campsite and by the pool.
In the evening we had a potjie dinner with Brandon, Tammy,
Inge and Leen (a Dutch couple, based in Maputo, who we had
met and chatted to on our mokoro trip – we were really glad to see
them again.) It was great sitting around the camp fire eating and
chatting. It felt the closest to ‘having people round for dinner'
that we have got on this trip. We hope to stay with Leen and
Inge in Maputo when we pass through Mozambique and will look forward
to catching up with Brandon and Tammy when they get back to Cape
Town at the end of the year.
Our destination today was Kubu Island,
which is a rocky outcrop/island in the middle of the vast, flat Sua salt pan. In
prehistoric times these pans would have been lakes and Kubu island
would have appeared out of the water with its rocks and baobab
trees. Now there is no water and it is completely surreal, like
being at the beach when the tide has gone out so far that you can
no longer see any water.
Normally, adventurous 4x4 drivers can drive across the pans
themselves, making their own tracks and using a compass or GPS to
direct them. This year, due to heavy rainfall, the surface of the
pans has become very treacherous. At first glance it appears dry
and firm but a heavy vehicle would sink straight in. The risk of
getting stuck with no other vehicles around and no available
trees to winch off is just too dangerous so no pan driving for us.
Fortunately, however, there is a road to Kubu Island, which runs
between the pans and is passable now that the water has receded. We
had to go through a couple of hairy water sections, but most of the
track was straightforward.
And it was certainly worth it. It is a magical place. Everywhere
you look out onto the pans there is precisely nothing. Flat, white
salt pan stretches to the horizon. The island itself, with its
baobabs, is beautiful. There are designated camping spots but these
aren't anything more than a number and a cleared area. We were glad
that there was another young German couple camping too as, although
the isolation is part of its charm, it would have felt slightly eery if we had been completely alone.
We walked around the circumference of the island, which takes about
45 minutes, in the late afternoon and then went to bed not long
We made sure that we got up just
before the sun rise so that we could see the day break over the
pan. We walked quite far out on the pan (it is fine on foot
but not as a 3 tonne vehicle!) so that we could look back at the
sun shining on the island.
Back in Nata we enjoyed a traditional lunch of samp a stodgy
carbohydrate made from maize) and beef stew and then found our
sleeping spot at Nata Lodge. The main reason for our choice of
accommodation was the pull of the TV in the bar playing the Super
14 rugby semi-final matches in the evening. We had a little taste
of a Saturday at home as we sat in the bar watching rugby
surrounded by some other fans.
We had to drive back through the town of Nata to get to our road
going north and when we stopped at the petrol station we bumped
into a coach load of South African pensioners out for a ten
day jolly around Botswana. They were so friendly and fascinated by
what we are doing. By the time we are in our 70s we may well have
had to resort to an organised tour but I sincerely hope that, like
all these inspiring folk, we are still up for seeing the world.
the main highway north towards Kasane you would have been forgiven
for thinking that we were driving through a game park. We saw a
lone elephant crossing the road and then a family further on
feeding from the trees. Then we passed an enormous troop of
baboons. Botswana is just one big, wild game park and you have to
be on your guard at all times, which is why we have made the
decision not to bush camp here!
Kasane lies at the point at which four countries meet: Zambia,
Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana. The Chobe and Zambezi rivers act as
the natural borders.
We have come up here to see the Chobe National Park and then to
cross into Zambia on another ferry. We're working on the premise
that the ferry surely can't be as bad as our last ferry experience
between Brazzaville and Kinshasa.
We had a wonderful Africa moment as we drove into the town – an
articulated truck was being pushed by a tractor! It's been a while
since we have been able to chuckle at problem solving methods on
African roads. Why tow a broken-down truck when it can just as
easily be pushed?
We are so glad that we made the trip
up here as our experience in Chobe has been one of the most
memorable so far.
The park is enormous but we are just in one small part of it, in
the far north. The sandy track follows the Chobe River and is only
feasible in a 4x4 vehicle, hence limiting the traffic and making it
feel a lot more wild than Etosha or Kruger. The river is the
natural watering hole so it is the perfect place to spot game –
And we did. We saw between 40 and 50 elephants in our first
couple of hours. They were in big family groups and there were some
very small calves amongst them. We also had our first sightings of
buffalo and saw a whole groups of hippos that looked like they were
having some sort of board meeting in the river, in a big circle
with their heads together. The birdlife here is abundant and we had
fun spotting new species with our new Roberts guidebook (dear me, potjie pots
and bird books we must be nearly 30 or something).
The park warden, at the reception to the park, told us that it
was fine for us to collect firewood as we drove through but we must
just be careful that there are no lions around. You've got to love
the pragmatism. I can't help but think about the risk assessment I
would have to write if I was bringing a school group here. It would
be a tome but the kids would have an awesome time!
To be honest, as much as I love the laid back approach, a few
fences wouldn't have gone amiss, especially around the assigned
picnic spot and the campsite. The sign by the stone picnic table
read ‘Do not feed or harass the animals', which made it sound like
we were dealing with ducks or horses. Lets face it, I didn't have
any intention of enticing a lion with my polony sandwich. I felt
the sign would be more appropriate if it read: ‘Animals - do not
feed on, or harass the humans'. We decided to avoid all potential
harassment and eat our lunch in the car.
The campsite, also, had no fences and as we drove from the gate
to our plot we were relieved that it was only giraffe, buffalo and
warthog that were hanging around. However our slight anxiety about
the fact that we were camping in the middle of a game park was
outweighed by the magic of our camping spot – right on the banks of
the Chobe River. We could hear other campers but couldn't see them
so we were effectively alone with the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen.
As we climbed into the tent, the buffalo we had spotted earlier wandered up and began
to eat the bushes next to the car. We lay in the tent with the
sides open watching him and this probably beat all other game
I went to bed thirsty as this seemed preferable to having to
risk getting out of the tent in the night when you weren't quite
sure what you would come face-to-face with.
We were slightly delayed leaving as
the resident buffalo was back having his breakfast right next to
the car. Fortunately, after about 20 minutes, he decided to wander
up the river and we could finally get out of the tent.
see much game on the way back out of the park, which made us
realise how fortunate we had been yesterday.
We had made the decision a while ago that we would treat
ourselves to a trip down the river and that is what we did this
evening, as something of a birthday present for us both.
Although we have had some game viewing experiences, seeing the
animals and birds from the river was very special and really worth
We ended up in the overflow small motorboat with a guide and a
few other tourists. This turned out to be a mixed blessing. We had
very personal treatment and the guide was extremely knowledgeable
but at the point at which we were no more than 10 metres away from
a large group of hippos, I couldn't help but wish we were on the
enormous boat, well out of harm's way.
We kept seeking reassurance from the guide:
"So what do hippos eat, they are vegetarian right?"
"Yes they eat grass, that's why their teeth are so flat"
"So they're not dangerous then?"
"No, they only kill humans for fun, not to eat"
"So is it actually safe to be this close to them?" ( at which
point I had to check my voice for squeaky undertones of terror)
"No problem, no problem"
" How do you know if you are getting too close?"
" Oh, they let you know. They get very angry and start yawning a
Trying to be helpful he then added:
"Lots of locals were killed in the Delta because they went into
areas they didn't know in mokoros and the hippos just crunched the
boat in two, but never tourists – tourists aren't killed".
We did survive, which means that I will get to see my thirties
In fact the whole thing was an amazing experience. We were on
the river for three hours and saw lots of game and all sorts of
birds. Coming back under the sun set was the icing on the cake.
We are very sad to leave Botswana and haven't dismissed the idea
of coming back sometime. It is a special country and a real African
gem. I don't think that this is the last we will have seen of it.