You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2010.

Another 200 mile plus drive to Gaborone. Got going early, so we landed in the capital  just after lunch. Here for a day or two before crossing into South Africa.

Feezing cold this morning. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on the road so we have left the tropics and entered the southern hemisphere for proper now. Morning temperatures are down to 7c, until it warms up by 9am and it get’s up to 26-27c. We had the remains of  last nights fire to get us warmed up. No hot water in the showers, just when we really needed one! If it gets really cold in South Africa, we might have to bolt it to Namibia which we have saved so we can visit on our way north.

Bun found a good place to stay at Mokolodi Backpackers belonging to a South African. Impossible to locate when we first tried but we found it on a google map after we stopped to use the internet quickly. Might be the only option in Gaborone.

We caught up with some of the blogs of people we have met along the way. We also on a mission to find out about Visas etc. for travelling up the west coast of Africa. Some Visas are expensive and take a long time to issue. We had several ideas before we started for when we got down here. Shipping the Landcruiser back to the UK is another option, but it is almost equal to the cost of driving back.

22/05/2010 – Deception Valley to The Kharma Rhino Sanctuary (near Serowe)

Headed out of the Kalahari. Sad to leave what might possibly be the last wildnerness before we hit South Africa. It was great just to relax in the afternoons and watch all the birds including our pest, the yellow hornbill, that we see all the time.

It took an hour to get back to the tarmac and from there it was a flat, unexciting drive to get to the Kharma Rhino Sanctuary so we could split up our journey to the capital, Gaborone. We avoided the large storm clouds brewing to our west. We were hoping to get a free wash for the Landcruiser after all the adventures in the north of Botswana over the last few weeks.

We got in a short drive at the sanctuary and spotted some of the rhino protected within the park, after residents banded togehter to protect the remaining population in Botswana.

21/05/2010 – Pipers Pan to Deception Valley / Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Two hours in the Landcruiser today, driving between camps. Lots of stopping, checking out all the small creatures that were near the track. Loads more gemsbok. We’re still on a mission to see a cheetah. We explored Leopard and Sunday Pan after we had found our next spot for the night. We headed north and did a loop before heading back and cooking up another storm over the fire.

20/05/2010 Passarge Pan to Pipers Pan / Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Good chance to take it easy, moving onto the next camp. We had a really good site last night and a rest in the morning. Nice! All the camp sites are quite far from each other so you get to have the site to yourself and they are miles from anywhere. We passed one couple on holiday from Namibia. They stopped and chatted to us for a while. They were coming from the site we were heading for – it was the only vehicle we passed all day. Pipers Pan is meant to be the last stop in the park before the conditions get horribly worse. We had contemplated leaving the park from an exit at Xade, but things didn’t work out for us when we booked the last available camp sites at the Wildlife office in Maun

19/05/2010 – Maun to Passarge Pan / Central Kalahari Game Reserve

Took it easy at Backpackers in the morning. Grabbed our washing and had some breakfast. They do a mean breakfast bap. Just a few things to get in Maun before heading off. There is no chance of getting anything in the park, so we had to make sure we had enough firewood, food, water and fuel. On the road, we had to double back trying to find a way over the Bateti river. We followed the GPS, but it took us to some water. After the problems with the radiator fan over the last week, we drive back to the tarmac to take the road near to Rakops.

From there we got to the main gate to the park at Maganga. It was four by the time we signed into the park. We were told it would take a further two hours to get to our first camp. No chance, It was just after dark when we got there. Bun had a rest from driving and I zipped through the narrow sandveld tracks. At one of the junctions we got to see our first gemsbok and one lone jackal. We got the fire going when we arrived and cooked over it with the new braai grill we had bought in Maun. Now our food doesn’t drop into the hot fire!

We can’t get enough of the game reserves, so we are making another trip, this time into the Central Kalahari. We had breakfast at the Old Bridge and I got in an early run before we left. Bun got chatting to a interesting guy from Sweden who had travelled from Europe to West Africa before getting a plane to East Africa to continue his journey to South Africa.

I highly recommend the Old Bridge. Some interesting characters who come and go and always a buzz of activity as they prepare for safari trips in the morning. We will also miss the two sheep dogs, who we played football with.

Maun has become the centre of our universe. Everything seems to get done here and it is a good base between all the Reserves and Game Parks in this part of Botswana. In a country the size of France and a population of 1.8 million, Botswana has some serious free space.

The fake Toyota blade didn’t fit properly for some reason so we had to get the expensive genuine fan blade, which cost three time as much. We also reckon that the damage was caused by going through water and not rocks and sticks getting in underneath the vehicle, which was our original idea. A few people  gave us different reasons, but water seemed to come out on top. One former Safari driver said he had seen it quite often on Landcruisers.

The radiator was fixed by mid-day. They pressure tested it and found a leak, so they filled in the damaged area. We headed to the Wildlife to get our tickets for the Central Kalahari Reserve. We thought Moremi and Chobi were hard going, but Central Kalahri is meant to to be harder and more remote. We are there for three days, leaving the Reserve on the 22nd. Our idea from here is to head into South Africa. Wow, almost there – we can almost see the Atlantic Ocean!

Could this be the worse day of the whole trip? It’s definitely a contender. We got stuck in a stretch of black cotton soil shortly after leaving the camp this morning.

The track followed the river Khwai and it was deep and muddy in places. We tried to get out by locking the diffs and reversing to try and power out, but there was no way we could move. We were properly stuck! We knew there were vehicles at the camp, 2 miles away, so I started walking back with the GPS to get help. Not long after, I heard a safari vehicle approaching. Once they got to me, I asked for help, but they seemed reluctant to break up their journey with the tourists to come and help.

They gave me a lift back to where we camped at least and I asked the group of South African’s to come and pull us out. They didn’t hang around and before long, I was in the back with another three vehicles in convoy. It was funny to hear them talking over their cb radios to make sure the route ahead was OK. As we got near to where we had got stuck, I noticed a Land Rover parked quite close. The owner was inside and his wife had gone to see Bun. He offered to help first and got his recovery straps out.

We gave him our recovery strap  and he joined the two together. His Defender had no chance at getting us out. It couldn’t pull the weight of our heavy Landcruiser. Then stepped up the new V8 Landcruiser with it’s heavy duty recovery strap. We were out in seconds. It took another go to get us properly out and back on the grass. On our way again we were unsure which way to go. We didn’t fancy loads more water and mud crossings, so we headed back to the main track to the north gate. That was all well, but we hit a few deep sections of water that came just up over the bonnet. We were told there would be a few sections like this, so knew we would be OK.

We got through and reached the north gate. There was a new bridge over the river Khwai, saving us going over the old battered bridge. I checked under the bonnet to see if everything was ok after we signed into the Park. All of the fan blades had broken off and there was some damage to the inside of the radiator. We were 20 kms from the other entrance and then another 50kms to Maun, where we could get it fixed.

It looked like the radiator was leaking, so we had a safari driver look at it at the south gate. He said, we should be OK till we get to Maun, but just take extra water in case it starts overheating. Still, we were thinking it looked pretty bad when we first saw it. As soon as we got to Maun, we got a price for the fan blade, so we were ok to find a replacement for that. We also got a contact for a small company that specialises in fixing radiators and they said they would be able to fix it the next morning for £50.

We got a fake Toyota blade and went back to The Old bridge. I got a run in, and we didn’t cook again and had ox-tail and mash from the restaurant. It tasted fantastic after all that had happened today.

Not as urgent to get going early today. We had less mileage to cover, but still had to take the same track back to the Mababe gate of Chobi. We had time to pick up some lunch in Kasane and some mixers for the gin. Always well needed after a long day.

Once we hit the sand, we were bombing along trying to keep to the 40kmp speed limit that the park sets. The sand is great to drive in. It turns the day into a safari rally, as we try and make up time. Time seemed to go quickly and before we knew it, we were at Savuti for lunch before cracking onto Khwai.

A couple of deep water sections and we arrivred at the river to camp at Magotho. A great spot. there were some other vehicles that had made it there and we found a spot to ourselves. Some elephants came nearby as we were setting up camp.

A massive drive today. A bit crazy considering it was all off-road and through sand, but it was some of the best driving we’ve had on the trip. Bun drove the first three hours then I took over. Almost the perfect environment to travel in. Sand tracks that are as straight as an arrow. Set amongst dense Mopane forest, it took us over six hours travelling like this to get to Kasane. We didn’t see much game but got a treat of a male lion mating! Also a short distance away was a female with some cubs. Great to see and a first. We would have liked to have watched them for longer but we had to move on. We stopped once in the Chobi Forest Reserve for some lunch.

We wanted to get to the Chobi riverfront to do a game drive to Kasane. Our wish of seeing large herds of elephants came true. We must have seen over a hundred ele’s in the 20km’s it took to drive along the riverfront. A few herds slowed us down as they blocked the track. Bun told me to rev the engine for a while to scare them off after we saw a local do it on a track in Moremi. It worked after a while and we were off again. I’ve still not overcome my fear of elephants. Something that is bigger than the  Landcruiser we were sitting in is something to fear, in my eyes. Bun says that’s silly and they won’t do us any harm. Yer, right!

We met the Aussie couple, who were travelling on a large overland truck, that night. We first met them in Uganda, so we spent a while chatting to them and catching up. We were too tired to cook so we ate at the restaurant at the camp.

We sorted out our additional Chobi tickets after finding a place to camp with the Khwai River Trust, a community based organisation that has a camp just outside of the Moremi.

We headed to the third bridge camp site inside the reserve. We had to cover the sixty or so miles to get to the main gate. The road turned bad on the journey up but we still managed to get a good speed of 80kmp, so made ground quickly.

Inside the south gate, we hit the sand. Some of the routes were still impassable, so we took the middle route to the third bridge. Some quality driving. Muddy pools and long stretches of thick sand. We scared off a herd of elephants, seeing their backsides as they scurried off into the bush!

We still really want to see large herds of elephants and cheetah. They’ve eluded us so far, but here or Chobi might supply the goods. We got lost near Xakanaxa and it took us down one minor track. I saw something in the bushes along this track and couldn’t make out what it was. Next, a lion pops its head out from the grass. We then counted another seven male lions all lying down in the grass. They were larger than we had seen before and healthier, without scars or wounds. We got lucky with the lions again.

Fifteen kilometers from the camp, we got stuck behind a convoy of vehicles all heading to the same campsite. We took up the rear. They stopped and walked through some long stretches of water. We all got through, then we had to beep down the Toyota in front when its spare wheel came off. After we got settled at the camp site, we got a fire going. There was a lone elephant eating nearby which was gradually getting closer. It ventured off after a while whilst we were cooking over the fire. In the night we heard lions and hyenas in the distance. A wild night’s sleep right in the middle of the reserve.

We got up early to take in a safari drive on our way to the Mboma Boat Station. We wanted to take a Mokoro ( A traditional dug-out canoe design, made of fibre glass in the reserve) trip through the delta for two hours. It offered a totally different experience. Thinking we wouldn’t see any game, we saw a large bull elephant eating amongst the reeds. It stayed away from us for a while, then came closer and crossed the narrow channel right in form of us. Bun seems to have no fear when it comes to elephants but for me it’s the one animal that I want to keep well away from. I’ve heard too many stories of angry elephants! As well as wildlife, we saw the night and day lilies that are everywhere on the delta.

We stopped for lunch near the airstrip and then went off on many loops trying to find cheetahs. No luck, so we headed to south gate camp. We BBQ some meat over the fire. When we were done with the bones we chucked them into the  bush behind us. We had a feeling that this would attract some wild beast and it did. Bun had dropped off in the tent and I was using the laptop when I heard some loud sniffing nearby and shook Bun to wake up. It had to be a hyenna and it was. It spent ages walking about sniffing and finding our bones! Bun then got her headtorch and unzipped her window to see if she could see it. It was in the bush nearby before it ran off. Bun then asked me to climb down the steps and get some toilet paper. I had to climb down the ladder naked to get it whilst knowing that the hyena was nearby, probably checking us out!

We headed from Kubu Island to Planet Baobab, a really good lodge near the Naxi Pan. It had been suggested by Ben and Shan, a couple on their honeymoon heading north who we met in Uganda. After the long drive to get from Kubu, to the main road, we didn’t see much game aside from birds, but did see a group of ostriches on the salt pans in the distance.

Screeching sound coming from the brakes after the Kubu route and it got gradually worse. We reached Planet Baobab pretty early and took it easy for the rest of the day.

We decided to take a day off the nest day, catching up on washing and just relaxing around the lodge. We attempted to clean the brakes, so spent a while taking the back wheels off and cleaning the discs and pads.

Flat road to Maun on Tuesday – a dead straight road which Bun covered in a few hours. Daytime tempratures are hot this time of year, which only get hotter until September when the rains return.

We took Landcrusier to Toyota to look into the brakes a bit more. We got it back to them after a lunch stop near the airport. We stayed at the Old Bridge Backpackers, outside of town on the Moremi road. Another good spot to stay.

The next morning we took the Landcrusier back to Toyota to finish off the job. Six hours later, we got the vehicle back! Not sure why it took so long and we got two massive stones back that had been stuck in the brakes somewhere. They annoyed us for taking so long, but labour costs are cheap here, so it only came to about £20 to get it sorted.

It delayed our next mission of sorting out the rest of the week. We had a rush around sorting out our Okavango trip, to the Moremi Game Reserve. It’s an easy enough job booking the entry to the park, but the accommodation once inside the park is a different story. Most of the lodges and camps have been privatised. The wildlife authority only own a few sites, and they had been booked out. We sorted out the other options by heading off to a few companies to book somewhere to stay whilst we are in the reserve.

We also wanted to combine a trip to Chobi National Park. Having missed this as we came through Zimbabwe, we decided that we could do a long trip over the next four days to get north to Kasane near the Zambian border to see the best of Chobi. Sounded a crazy thing to do, but we didn’t want to miss out on seeing it whilst we were here.

That meant we needed full supplies of water and food. We got the firewood from Planet Baobab the day before and that was on the roof rack.

Maun is different from other game reserve towns. Here there are many independant travellers in 4×4, on their way to Chobi and the Kalahari. Everyone is in town to book tickets and organise lodges and campsites. They are mainly coming from South Africa and Namibia.

We set off for Kubu Island at a respectable time, not our usual six in the morning get away. Amazingly Alan let me drive, he must have been tired from all the supermarket shopping. We headed from Francistown towards Oparta, the main town which is south of the Sua and Makgadimakgdi pans. Our idea was to follow the tarmac till we reached a turn off towards Kubu Island. From the turn off it was a gravel track as there was a new road being constructed.

We reached Mmatshumo, and stopped as there was a young guy waving madly at us. He was wearing skinny jeans!! The first pair I have seen, apart from Alan’s, and a Nike t-shirt, and looked totally out of place considering the out the way location. Not the usual Safari outfit worn by guides. He introduced himself as Whiskey and while chatting to him and it became apparent that he was waiting for a group of cars From South Africa – they had requested a guide to take them to the island.

He gave us the low-down on which tracks to take and said if we got stuck he would be following with his group and could pull us out! To our dismay he said it would take three hours to do 40 kms. The numerous pans we would cross were of varying conditions, some were still wet and were dangerous to drive over in a heavy overland vehicle.

We left him, driving into the maze of gravel/sand tracks that snaked their way through the acacia bush. This eventually opened out onto a pan and we got excited thinking we could bomb cross the pan leaving a cloud of dust as we went. Instead we got a flooded pan that was almost impossible to determine the clear track through the mud. Somehow we got through, Bun driving like a demon (Alan’s words not mine), whilst  he was hanging out of the window taking pictures of the pans.

We hit a vetinary fence at the other side of the pan, a dividing line between local livestock and wild animals to stop the spread of disease. These are common in Botswana due to a foot and mouth outbreak in 2007 that massively affected one of the country’s main incomes, the export of beef. The landscape changed after the fence and turned into marsh land reminding me of the scenery in Norfolk, with lots of bird life including a pair of majestic Secretary birds. The track was completely submerged in water so much so that at some points you could not tell if you were driving through a lake or on the track. One of these stretches of water lasted for about a kilometre but I ploughed on creating large bough waves, proving that our car is a real cruiser!!

We then began to see signs of life (groups of huts) in the distance. As the reeds thinned out into acacia bush plains again,  the swimming turned into weaving in and out of the hardy thorn bushes, causing me to grit my teeth hearing them scrape down the side of the car, like nails on a black board. The track led us through a large spread out village and I was wondering how these people survive in this remote location during the rainy season, when a large tractor came into view pulling a trailer full of people.

We continued to follow the track round the bushes and through the flooded pools for about another hour, when finely the spiny bushes gave way to flat open spaces. This stretched as far as the eye could see, except for a group of mounds,  fabulous smoothed rounded  rocks and fat baobab trees looming ahead of us. I sped off across the pan leaving a cloud of dust in our wake.

Anyone who saw the ‘Top Gear, Botswana’ special will know and recognise this image. They stripped their vehicle to save weight and got away with it at the driest time of year. I think they should have attempted it in the wet season which would have been a real challenge, as we discovered.

Close up the Island looked incredible, the white boulders glowing in the evening light with the contrast of the eeire black silhouettes of the massive thick trunked  baobabs. Plus we arrived just in time for a breathtakingly beautiful sunset streaking the sky with apricot, orange and pinks.

Al and I then decided to set up camp under a baobab tree on a flatter grassy part of the Island. We got out of the car, stretched our legs and within a couple of minutes were infested by thousands of mosquitoes – the air was humming with the size of the swarms. We retreated back to the pans to escape their bites and wait for the group hoping that the guide we had met earlier would let us camp there.

The group arrived in no time at all led by the guide who was in the back of an old Toyota pick-up with several friends in equally surprising outfits.  Thankfully he said that as a one off we could camp on the pans. We set up camp and I made risotto, my first in ages, and we had wine and smoked bacon and luckilly the winds were strong for a while which kept the mozies away.

May 2010