Botswana

The border and Nata

We have been without any contact with the outside world for a number of day, no radio, no internet, no TV and mostly no cell reception…….hmmmmm, never realized I am quite the addict!!

We are now in the delta in Botswana and will be back in Maun tonight where we will try our best to get connected! We had lots of time to think and thought that we will get fancy and try and give a little bit of stats on each country for those of you that are interested!!

Here goes, Botswana is the size of about France or if you want Texas, but there are only 1,7 million people!!! The country only has 2 “cities” , Gabarone the Capital and Francistown (I think it is stretching the meaning of city a bit, but hey, who cares!) Maun is the only other big town and is seen as a “village town” by the locals. There are apparently at least 14 different tribes, but the whole country speaks Tswana as their main language. Enough of that for now!!

We left Magoebaskloof early on the 14th and what stunning scenery, we were traveling at times at 1500m above sea level with morning mist, green green and green plantations, forests etc through Polokwane to the border. Botswana is not our 22nd country as we have been there before, but the 3rd on this trip , if it makes sense! To be honest, both of us approached Botswana with trepidation as we had bad experiences here before, every time we have been here…..true to form, the shit started at the border where the lady at the exchange place would not take my dollars( sounds familiar!!) as she claimed it had a stain!! (TIP TIP, if you EVER travel through Africa, check every note the bank give you in fore with a microscope!)

That sorted, we finally crossed the border with no further hiccups and looking at the countryside, everything came flooding back, all the same as before, I remember Botswana as a country filled with anthills, donkeys, 60km p h zones every 20 kms and roadblocks for no apparent reason……..that was exactly what it was like, again!! All I could think of was “bland”…. Even the roads are bland and boring……could it be that we missed the bad roads in Moz???

      A typical village

We drove to Nata and spend the night at Nata Lodge, a stunning place and we both decided to give the country another chance as it was so great to swim in the pool and their permanent tents are stunning and very well furnished with all the essentials. Only bad thing was that it was time for budget and calculating expenses! We realized that we were totally overspending , so from now on, no restaurants and fancy places to stay.

Arriving at Nata Lodge Our home at Nata Lodge

The pics will follow as will the rest of the story, we just want you all to know we are still alive and well .

Ok back to the time at Nata lodge, if you are planning to stay here, remember that you are allowed to braai and do your own food, we HAD to due to previous overspending, just get some wood from the guard. We had a nice evening, even had some rain…..also bland compared to the hail, thunder and pouring rain of the night before in SA. But ..before Botswana faithfuls get upset with me,” bland” is also good, it is peaceful and slows you down to allow you to appreciate the little beauties in life, it soothes your soul and calms you down which is maybe what we both needed.

The next morning we left for Maun and the Okavango Delta after Stewart COMPLETELY annihilated me in Canasta!!!!!! HELP Anna Maria…. (Sjuut do not tell him, but it is better this way as he is so ultra competitive so better he wins!!)

 

Maun and the Delta

 

We left Nata relatively early as we seem to be getting better with packing and repacking..(if you hate packing, PLEASE do not even consider doing a trip like this!) on our way to Maun and Audi camp. We checked out a few websites whilst we were still in SA and decided theirs looked good. Maun (pronounced “Maaou” by the locals)was also a true surprise in that we got a great rate for changing our dollars…….Halleluja, they had no complaints about our notes, (by the way, the Pula is stronger than the rand so Botswana is NOT a cheap destination) the town also had all the necessary shops like Shoprite, Nando’s etc (you will note that my needs have changed from nice interior /clothing stores to FOOD and PETROL!!!!) We were busy changing our opinion about this country…….

BUT oh my word, when we arrived at Audi camp, we nearly got into our car and turned around…not the look of the place, but the absolute rudeness of the reception staff ..We have been all over traveling, have done budget, done 5 star, done groups , done package, done individual and been in a number of continents, but NEVER have we seen such incompetence and rudeness combined, I do hope that someone will let the owner know as it was horrendous. I do know that the Botswana people are in general very aloof and not as warm and forthcoming as the Zimbabweans, Namibians and Mozambicans, but my goodness this was too much. First we were completely ignored, then we were looked at as if the cat dragged us there through swamps, then we were completely overcharged, no apologies, just “oh yes, here is your refund……” no Welcome, no explanation of the amenities etc!!!

 Our site at Audi

That over, we finally found our campsite (NOTE MOYA……. Camping !!!!!) and to calm and cool down, went for a swim in their stunning pool. The place is VERY well kept , the ablution blocks the best I have seen, nicely decorated and clean, but people, please do something about your reception staff, they are hideous! The eve we were briefed for our Delta/Makoro trip into the bush for 1 night and 2 days by the delightful Bob, one of the managers. He explained that we will leave the camp at 7.30 the next morning and then do a 2 hr bundu bashing trip on our way to the delta,we will then be transported on a Makoro (similar to the Dows of Zanzibar just with a flat bottom)  where we will spend the night in the bush with our guide and polers. A bit of info about the Mokoro’s , every Mokoro is owned by a poler and to become one needs a lot of practice. You can start at any age, but it is easy to tell the difference between an experienced poler and an inexperienced one. The cost of a mokoro is 1500 Pula, about R1800 and they need to be replaced about every 5 to 8 years. It is made out of a single piece of wood/trunk so they mostly made out of Boabab or Sausage Tree stumps.

 Bundu Bashing on our way to the Delta..wonder if Stan would have made it!

We arrived at the village where our polers live after a nightmare trip in one of those open game viewing Toyotas….looks very Hollywood safari style, but bloody windy and cold AND extremely bumpy so early in the morning, and most of all, my back took a bad hammering, can’t win them all. We did come across 2 elephants on our way though, so that made up for  lot.After entering the Delta area which is surrounded by buffalo fencing to keep Foot and Mouth disease out, we collected out poler, Killer Jimmy (so baptized by his parents according to him, but just for the record, he is not the type of person who will allow the truth to stand in the way of a good story!) and Dennis (turned out to be the strongest little man I have seen in my whole life! About Bianca’s size with Zack’s strength!)

 Loading the MokorosStrongman Dennis

We were truly amazed at how these guys managed to get all the stuff for the camp on a little boat like that, tents, fold up chairs, a table, food, pots and pans!! Check the pic. Off we went on the Delta and what a truly amazing experience this was. You are literally part of nature as you are so close to the water with only the sound of the delta surrounding you. Stewart and I were on a mokoro with Killer Jimmy and strongman Dennis took all the camping gear. We met up with an overlanding crowd on the Delta and here we realized how good our polers were, as one of their Mokoros took in water and had to stop to empty the water out. This trip on the river is a photographers dream and I went overboard with pics. At one stage we had to dodge a Hippo as they are very dangerous and if disturbed, will go for the mokoro.

    

Scenes from the Delta                               The famous pair!!                                       The polers(note how close to the water you are)

We arrived at our “campsite” which is just a clearing in the bush and started putting up camp despite the fact that Richard, the cook, gleefully pointed out the hyena tracks all over exactly the spot where our tent was supposed to go……….remember my fear of getting up at night to wee and the hyenas!!!!!!! Nobody seemed too bothered about that though. Other than that it was lovely though and after a rest, we went on a walk with Killer Jimmy(KJ) as out guide. We came across an elephant burial ground and also saw Giraffe (my favourite animals as I find them so graceful) as well as the standard Zebra. Got back to the camp just as the sun was setting and a stunning meal cooked by Richard awaited us. We chatted around the fire for a while, but since this trip our sleeping patterns changed a lot , we seem to be dead tired at about 8.30/9 O’Clock in the eve and are up at least at 5.30 in the morning, so we went to bed (or shall I say tent ) early, needless to say I spend a nervous night as I needed to do my things a few times during  the night and Stewart is a sound sleeper to say the least…….he did go with me once though!

   Killer Jimmy (check the cap)Our Bushcamp

A bit of tree hugging! 

The next morning we had an early breakfast and Stewart left with KJ on another walk, unfortunately I could not join them as my back, due to the previous day's bumpy ride and long walk, was quite painful. I spent the morning finishing my book (need to stock up again soon as i am running out!), whilst Stew had an eventful walk  ... see below.

KJ and I set out early, in search of wildlife, and especially elephant, which I was keen to see on foot. We walked next to one of the many  inland pans, where evidence of elephant, hippo, and other smaller animals was very evident. I asked KJ why the hippo dung close to the water was scattered. He said the hippo did this themselves when returning each morning to the water. He did not know why, but told this tale to explain why:

    “ Long ago Mr Hippo and Mr Fire were good friends. Mr Hippo lived by the dam, and visited Mr Fire  up on the hill. One day Mr Hippo asked Mr Fire to visit him, But Mr Fire warned him that he was very hot, and might burn his home. But Mr Hippo insisted, so Mr Fire came down from the hill and visited Mr and Mrs Hippo. But the heat got too much for them, and they sought the cooling shelter of the dam.  Mr Fisherman was furious, however, as he was certain Mr and Mrs Hippo would eat all his fish. So Mr Hippo agreed they would leave the dam every night, to eat grass, and to prove to the fisherman he had not eaten any fish, before he returned to the water every morning, he would scatter his dung so the fisherman could check  what he had eaten.”

We saw giraffe, some nondescript antelope, but no elephant, until heading back to camp, we spotted 2 elephants. We carefully circled them, both magnificent creatures, lords of the bush. Unbeknown (at that stage) to us, there was a 3rd elephant close by, that is until  we surprised  the 3rd elephant – or was it he that surprised us! We had approached him upwind, so he had not realized  we were there until we saw him. KJ and I quickly backtracked, and skirted around him  and headed back to camp. After a 21/2 hour walk, the elephant had been less than 20 minutes walk from our Camp!

Later that same day, we packed up camp, and headed back to the pickup point  in the mokoros. But our elephant viewing was not over, as we came across another Nellie, casually bathing in the river, and not about to give up his bathroom privileges to us mere mortals. KJ and the others recognized this elephant, which only had one tusk showing, as a particular problem-child.   No amount of shouting, banging of pans and clapping of hands  disturbed  Nellie’s ablutions, until KJ hit on an ingenious plan to set fire to a small reed thicket  upwind of the  elephant. The resulting popping and cracking of the fire  sounded so similar to gunshots that Nellie beat a hasty retreat into the bush! KJ had saved the day, and we were free to resume our  leisurely mokoro trip downstream.

He obviously needs NO gym!What a life!

We arrived back at Audi Camp at about 6 O”Clock,absolutely bushed, but there is nothing that a cold Windhoek (according to Stew their beer is shit) a Savanna as well as a great shower can’t cure!! Stan was all fine after having spent the night away from us. Unfortunately there was no internet connection as we wanted to check e mails, so we went to Maun to find an Internet shop as well as fill up with Diesel and buy the necessary groceries. We found the Internet shop just 15 min before it closed and quickly downloaded some mails and wrote the first part of Botswana just to let you all know we are still alive. Stew discovered to our surprise that the diesel was actually cheaper here than SA (JOKES>>>>we actually turned back at the border between SA and Botswana to fill up as we believed that it will be more expensive here!!) Unfortunately we were too late to get groceries, so we ended up getting Nandos burgers, yummy!  Got back to camp and packed until late ,as we decided to leave early the next morning for my homeland….Namibia. We changed our plans a bit as we had seen  all we wanted to see in Botswana. We therefore had 3 extra days before we are supposed to be in Windhoek ,and as I have never been there, decided to go to the Caprivi. We heard about a nice campsite on the banks of the Kavango River, Ngepi camp, which was close to the border, and decided to go there for 2 nights. (Great minds think alike and just as we decided that this will be our route to Windhoek, we got an sms from Izak telling us al about Ngepi camp!!)

 Rush hour at Maun.....prefer this to the N2!!!

The next morning we left early , but first hit the morning rush hour just outside Maun… as well as a suicide bomber in the form of a Hornbill that flew straight into our windscreen!! What a start to another great day in Africa. We stopped at Mohembo to spend our last Pula at Choppies supermarket (you an even buy the “Rooi Rose” magazine here !!!) and crossed the border ..yeahhhhhh !!!!!!!!!

 

 

Our Final Thoughts

 

Annaliese:

 

Hmmmm, what shall I say….. Botswana is a land-locked country, and that is how it made me feel, land –locked!! I missed the passion and warmth that I got used to in all the other countries I visited and lived in thus far on our great continent. But the sunsets are beautiful and  the Delta experience , specially the Mokoro trip, was great. Not too sure if I will be back though.

 

Stewart:

 

Other than the Delta, a flat, featureless country, with strangely  aloof people. Not somewhere I will come again, when in search of Africa’s soul. For #**#!# sake, even their beer is tasteless! The Delta is amazing though, with the mokoro trip and the bush walks a highlight.

 

A truly stunning sunset

Stats and Helpful Info

The following are some stats as well as some info that might be helpful to future travelers:

 

(Please note that the prices are relevant at the time that we traveled and should  therefore be adjusted. The cost of the accommodation does not include some “freebies” like staying at friends or bushcamping, and the amount reflected is per couple per night)

 

Country :                  Botswana

 

Dates:                        14th April to 17th April 2008

 

Exchange rate:       1 Pula = R1.20

 

Number of Nights:             4

 

Distance traveled: 1854 kms

 

Average distance per day: 463 km

 

Cost of Diesel:        R9.00 per litre

 

Average fuel consumption: 7 kms per litre

 

Diesel used:                        264 litres

 

Worst Road/s:         Road to the Delta from Maun

 

Best Road/s:           All major Roads

 

Favourite new destination:Okavango Delta

 

Average cost of accommodation:R452

 

Number of Bushcamps:   1 night

 

Cheapest Acommodation:Camping at Audi Camp at R330 per site per night

 

Most enjoyable: Nata Lodge between Francistown and Maun