Tuesday 1st February/day 120. Matopos – Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Odometer: 95637.
A new month and a new country.
Sarah’s excitement was barely contained as we approached the Zimbabwe/Botswana border. Having spent three months in Botswana back in 1990 with Raleigh International (then Operation Raleigh) Sarah was looking forward to returning, and possibly visiting Phuduhudu where she made bricks and learnt to brick-lay in order to build a clinic for the village.
The border crossings went well – all over in under an hour. The only hic-cup leaving Zim was that we didn’t get the vital tiny slip of paper signed despite already having it stamped and asking the customs guys whether we had done everything. So we were refused at the exit gate and had to return to customs.
Botswana are very strict about allowing meat into the country and for the first time since Egypt the Land Rover was searched. There was also a Foot and Mouth control at the border for both feet (ours and any other shoes we had) and Alfie. Rob was left to sort this out as Sarah had been sent through passport control by the official and then sent back again to the dip as they didn’t actually see Sarah put her feet in the first time!
Within a few Kms from the border, the difference to Zim was noticeable. Brick houses sat aside the mud huts, people were at shops buying goods. Even the Chinese road builders were here!
We headed onto Khama Rhino Sanctuary, Serowe, where again we were the only ones there, apart from a family of Hornbills. The campsite was therefore very very quiet and we weren’t too sure how close the Rhinos were.
Wednesday 2nd February/day 121. Rhino Sanctuary – Drifters Campsite, Maun. Odometer: 96038
Team Alfie were driving around searching for Rhino and we weren’t to be disappointed.
A couple of hours later and just in time – as we were leaving we passed four safari vehicles crammed solid with Chinese.
Animals seen: Giraffe, Birchall’s Zebra, Warthog, Blue Wilderbeest, Impala, and Rhino so we have now seen the ‘Big Five’. Very happy.
The good thing about Botswana’s roads is that they are in excellent condition (so far) but the drive north is not very exciting. We had planned to stop at Rakops to break the journey up, but the Motel/campsite was in a terrible state so we decided to drive another two hours north to Maun.
It was now hot again, back into 48-50 degree area. Lots of drink was needed to try and stay hydrated.
We found Drifters which was approx 30 Kms south of Maun and pulled in for the night. A lovely spot overlooking the Boteti River. Just us again, but it didn’t matter as we were able to have a lovely chat with Olivia the current manager.
Thursday 3rd February/day 122. Drifters Camp, Maun – The Old Bridge Backpackers, Maun.
Blow…one mouthfull of cereal and Sarah’s teeth disintegrate again. Not painful, thank goodness, but may just need another visit to another dentist.
Maun has changed dramatically in 20 years, as one would expect and the town is now a modern sprawling place with plenty of shops to choose from, but the town had a lovely feel to it all the same.
We decided to head for Backpackers as the campsite advertised a TV and we want to watch the rugby on Friday night! Pitched and in place by early afternoon, the rest of the day was spent reading and cooking beef n beer for dinner, delicious.
We also caught up on emails and news and didn’t realise how bad the political situation was in Egypt. When we were there we didn’t get a hint of any trouble. Thankfully, we went when we did.
A great night talking to a whole host of different people from a range of countries followed. It wasn’t a very late night as the bar closed at 10pm.
Frogs were very loud.
Friday 5th February/day 123. Old Bridge Back-packers, Maun.
A lovely day of nothingness. Books, internet, emails, updating the web site and realising how much we had written and seem to be writing more each day. Hope it’s keeping everyone updated and amused with our travels.
Sarah also complained a lot about her mosi bites. Another batch this morning.
The time has also come to start our plans for our return so emails were sent off to source information for shipping plus a check on flights from Cape Town to LHR. Boo.
We are also in the process of working out where to visit within Botswana. The short list is: Okavango Delta, Moremi, Chobe and Baines’ Baobabs. Oh, and a search for Phuduhudu. However, we are hearing some hairy stories about the level of flooding and cars/trucks/tractors getting stuck, so we will head down to the tourist office in the morning to see where we can get to.
Rob was given some netting from a bunch of Isreali overlanders to put in front of the radiator to avoid a build up of grass etc when driving through any of the pans. Otherwise, there would be a good chance of the radiator clogging up, overheating and Alfie catching fire. There are a few stories out there of this happening and even waypoints in T4A where burnt out Toyotas and Land Rovers can be found!
A great evening was spent watching the rugby and a good win for England. Fingers crossed they will maintain the winning streak and end up with the championship.
Kms travelled: 0 kms.
Saturday 5th February/day 124. Old Bridge Back-packers, Maun.
Great intentions today…just didn’t get much done! After some discussion with people, the advice was probably not to head out to Moremi alone as the waters were high and there is a good chance of sinking.
Therefore, the plan was to go to Baines’ Baobabs and Nxai Pan, camp overnight at one of the campsites, however, after an impressive few hours of team faffing we didn’t get packed up and away from the Bridge until late morning.
We ventured into Maun to refuel, buy some food, and find the ‘Dept of Wildlife and National Parks’ which we needed to do in order to advance book the campsite near to the Baobabs. No longer can you roll up to campsites in Botswana as the rules have changed and pre-booking needs to be done, even in low season which we found to be crazy.
Anyway, having found the porta-cabin situated behind the police station and courts, we were able to check the access to the Pans and Baines’ Baobabs but low and behold were sent off to another place in town to check the camping. A prime example of where Botswana has privatised many of their campsites. Having then found the safari company we discovered that the campsite fee was over four times the amount we were spending at the Bridge so we abandoned the overnight plan, decided to hit the Baobabs tomorrow and headed back to the Bridge for a beer and the hope that our shady pitch was still free…which is was!
Just before that beer, Sarah persuaded Rob to drive out to Island Safari Lodge in Maun which is where Operation Raleigh based their HQ, and where Sarah camped for the last few days before heading home. All much the same, but seemed a lot more overgrown than it was some 20 years ago and Sarah can’t remember there being swimming pools!
Kms travelled: 41kms.
Sunday 6th February/125. Old Bridge Back-packers, Maun – Baines’ Baobabs (Nxai Pan), Phuduhudu, Old Bridge Back-packers, Maun.
A day out!
This morning we were up and away by 8am heading on the very straight road to Nxai Pan National Park. Can’t say the drive was that exciting apart from the constant need to dodge cows, goats and donkeys who are determined to graze in the middle of the road.
After parting with the park fee and a chat with the guides so Sarah could once again check the state of the Pans and gain reassurance that we were not going to get stuck, we headed off down the sandy track towards the Baobabs.
As it was still the rainy season the grass was high, but we were lucky enough to see plenty of Giraffe and a mother and baby elephant. Ahh.
Once piece of advice the guide did give us was to take the ‘high’ road or loop (rather than the lower turning) when we had to turn right off the main track towards the Baobabs which was better for access. Well, all we could find was one right turning so off we went thinking it was only a matter of time before we got stuck! But we were in luck and as it hadn’t rained for the last few days, the track was pretty good and we arrived at the edge of the Pan in good time.
Next stage of driving involved scouting around the edge of the Pan until we could just about see the island where the Baobabs were. As we were new to this Pan driving experience we left it until the last moment before turning left to cross the Pan. A few crunching moments but we made it to the other side with no problems and arrived at Baines’ Baobabs with the place to ourselves.
The views across the Pans from Baines’ Baobabs was terrific and likewise, a short walk onto the Pans and looking back over the baobabs was also a lovely picture. It was all so quiet as well. (see pics) We also found some massive elephant foot prints and just hoped he or she wasn’t too close!
For the route back we were much much braver and Rob headed for the shortest distance over the Pan to get back to the track. This time it did involve mud and the need to just keep moving otherwise we would have definitely got stuck! With Alfie having a few slippery side moves with mud flying everywhere we made it across – great fun!
On the way back to the main gate we were again in luck and saw a herd of Oryx or Gemsbok which was our first sighting of these. We also came across a very very shy bull elephant, who wanted to try and hide behind a bush and play peek-a-boo with us. Sadly the tusks sticking out to the front and a very round bottom protruding from the rear of the bush gave him away! (see photo)
Next stop Phudududu, where Sarah made bricks. The village was vast compared to what Sarah remembers and with many more brick buildings together with a new brick-built school. We had a drive up and down a fair few tracks looking at a whole host of buildings but nothing resembled the clinic. It was such a pity as Sarah had such high hopes of having a picture taken outside the clinic. Never mind, the exploratory excursion was just as good fun.
Back to the Bridge for one last night and a quick check of emails. We are receiving some wonderful emails from people. Today, Sarah heard from Chris who was also a venturer with Raleigh and who also made bricks in Phudududu. Chris – great to hear from you and glad to see you have found the site. Maun and Phuduhudu has changed loads!
Kms travelled: 380kms.
Monday 7th February/day 126. Maun – Swamp Stop Campsite, Sepupa. Odometer: 97105.
Old Bridge Back-Packers:
An excellent campsite and one we would highly recommend. The pitches are a good size and swept clean each day. The ablutions are all open-air but are spotless and the showers have steaming hot water. Stevie the bar-man is a star and ensures everyone has a drink in their hand at all times. Helena and David who run the place are extremely helpful, welcoming and offer a whole range of activities. If you are arriving late or visiting during high season we would suggest that you ring to book as there are only 3 or 4 overland pitches and probably space for approx six to eight ground tents.
We also left with a pair of shoes we retrieved for Andy and Diane, two bikers who we had first met in Cairo and who had been at the Bridge a week before us. We will meet up with them again in Cape Town to hand the shoes back to Diane!
Maun – also greatly different compared to 1990, but no real great surprise there. Maun is awash with safari companies arranging trips into the Okavango Delta or Moremi or further afield. But a good base to spend a few days. Plenty of shops, banks etc.
We started to head north today en-route to the Tsodilo Hills. The roads are very straight in Botswana, the shrub-land goes on for ever and it is very flat, but we soon woke up when we came across and bull-elephant sauntering across the road. What a fantastic sight.
We arrived at Swamp Stop late afternoon and having just come from a great campsite in Maun, we were a little disappointed with Swamp Stop. The pitches were a good size, but untidy, the shower blocks were in need of some repair (the gents had completely collapsed so Rob was told to use the ladies) and what’s more, it was more expensive. Oh, and the electric hook-up at the pitch didn’t work. We were the only ones there as well so all a bit quiet. Not to mention creepy as the electricity is turned off from 11pm – 5am so no lights and lots of odd noises from the other side of the wall.
We overcame all this by cooking up a scrumptious meal in the big pot on the braai.
Kms travelled: 355kms.
Tuesday 8th February/day 127 – Swamp Stop, Sepupa – Tsodilo Hills – Drotskys Cabins, Shakawe.
“The only is way is up” (Yaz, 1988ish)
Why oh why oh why are all the interesting things to see at the top of hills!
The approach is along 40kms of gravel track all of sudden the hills come into sight, rising above the flat land.
We arranged a local San guide from the village to take us around the rock-paintings and caves. The circular route takes two hours and the first hour is mostly on flat ground but at about the half-way point, we clambered up the rocks which was great fun but also a bit hot. The views and rock art higher up the hills were well worth the effort though.
The descent was also as entertaining as the ascent with moments where we had to slide down the rocks on our bottoms to get down (Ahem, not everyone did. Some of us continued to use our feet). It’s a wonderful place to go but not ideal if you are not up for a bit of rock scrambling.
Arriving back at the car-park we saw that Alfie was surrounded by cows, but looking more closely we realised that the cows were licking Aflie! It must be the salt they are after. They even licked parts clean. A hilarious sight and sound.
By now we were in need of showers. There was a campsite at the Tsodilo Hills which was also free, a bonus, but we had been told to find a place called Drotsky’s Cabins, which is apparently excellent and was only 45 mins up the road so we headed off.
Wow, within minutes of arriving at Drotsky’s and with Alfie parked up in the largest pitch we have had so far, on the edge of the Panhandle of the Okavango, Sarah had made a sortie to the loos and showers to discover a perfect white-tiled shower room. Bliss.
Vet Fences – confession time:
There are three between Maun and Drotskys. The aim of which is to control the movement of cattle and red meat in particular.
Now, we left Maun with another stock up of food which did indeed include some steak and chicken. We were stopped at the first one and the back of the Land Rover and the fridge was searched. Sarah had packed the chicken on top of the steak, both wrapped in a bag, at the very top of the fridge. The lady looked in the fridge, opened the bag and saw the chicken and even commented on it but didn’t notice the steak below it. Not really sure how she missed the stuff but we weren’t going to bring it to her attention. Phew, we drove on…
Second stop and third stop….just before each of these, the meat was wrapped in newspaper and hidden in Alfie. Bad bad team Alfie…we did feel a bit guilty.
The T-bone steak was cooked this evening on the open braai (fire) and was just perfect. Our moments of guilt wafted over us once more, especially as the meat only cost the equivalent of £1.24!
We had a great fire this evening, sat along side the Okavango River listening to another pod of hippos grunting and farting the night away.
Kms travelled: 144kms.
Wednesday 9th February/day 128. Drotsky’s Cabins.
A morning of reading up on Namibia as we are only a handful of kilometres from the border for our penultimate country. Panic! Where’s the time gone!
Camp staff arrived and the pitch was swept, bins were emptied to avoid the monkeys helping themselves to leftovers, and new wood was delivered. What a good service. If only the managers of the Zambezi Waterfront in Livingstone had such a work ethic, then they wouldn’t have the monkey problem that they do….. anyway.
During the afternoon we took a walk to the main site of the lodge. Wow. The new and huge thatched restaurant and bar is are set on stilts overlooking a swimming pool, lush green grass and the Panhandle of Delta.
The great thing about what we are doing is that you can spend relatively small amounts on a campsite, albeit in this case, a super duper one, and then enjoy the 5 star facilities.
Tonight we have opted to eat at the main lodge. We will be picked up and delivered back from the camping/bar area by boat. Can’t wait.
7.15pm: As promised by the owners, there was a small speedboat waiting for us at the bar area to take us up stream to the main lodge. We had time just to have a couple of pre-dinner drinks with the Mr Drotsky, his son and three guys from Cape Town University who were researching and/or working with local communities to further fishing within the area.
The meal was a ‘help yourself to as much as you can eat buffet’. Approx 9ish our chariot awaited to take us back down to the campsite.
NB: We learnt from the owners, that Drotskys is being put up for sale/tender early April so if you have a few spare million, put your bid in, its a wonderful retreat.
Kms travelled: 0.