Surviving a Sandstorm On the Makgadikgadi Pans and Other Botswana Tales

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Africa » Botswana
February 6th 2012
Published: February 6th 2012
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Mon and Our TruckMon and Our TruckMon and Our Truck

Our Chariot Awaits
Ok, so it was actually on the Ntwetwe Pan (see:, not quite like a desert sandstorm and was shortly quashed by a driving rainstorm but . . . you get the picture (if not see pics below).

We last left our intrepid travellers relaxing in Lusaka and taking in the local sights. Wednesday (25 January 2012) we boarded a comfy coach bus for the trip to the home of Victoria Falls, Livingstone and arrived 6 and a half hours later in the mid afternoon at our backpackers hostel, a local institution named Jollyboys.

But this stop was a quick one. Immediately the next morning (26 January 2012) we were picked up for our 7 day camping tour of Botswana. Here we met our amiable and good humoured travelling companion Lucas from Switzerland. The three of us were taken to the Zambia/Botswana border and crossed the Chobe River by ferry, getting stamped out of one country and into another. Over the river we met up with our driver/guide Kaiser and our truck. As Mon wrote in her previous post, this was an open, 'tricked-out' Land Rover pulling a trailer with all our camping gear - sort of a cross between a convertible and a tank. 'This should be interesting' I thought as we set out. After a brief stop in Kazungula for cash (Pula), water and of course beer, we made our way to a lodge and picked up our cook K.B. Now we had everyone and everything we needed and headed out on the road.

Our trip was to take us in a loop to Chobe National Park, Moremi Game Reserve, the edge of the Okavango Delta and the Makgadikgadi Pans - a full itinerary with lots of driving!

The first day was spent game driving along the meandering Chobe River (great encounters with Giraffe, Elephants, Impala, Hippos and various birds) and then we made camp down in the middle of the forest in the park. After a good dinner, we bedded down and listened to the sounds of the raindrops falling on the tents and Hyenas yipping in the nite. Talk about atmosphere!

The next morning after an early morning game drive (groan; don't these animals ever sleep in?) we ate a quick breakfast, broke camp (KB did most of the work while we were out driving) and set out for our second Chobe site at a place named Savuti. Driving along what cannot be called roads (again, see Mon's post for details), we were constantly 'bashed' by side-swiping Acacia with their deadly thorns and other foliage. It was about this time that Kaiser started referring to Mon as 'Mqueen' or simply 'Queen' as in 'watch out Queen'! By the time we reached our campsite at Savuti and settled in after dealing with our truck transmission failure (bless the beauty of cell phones in the middle of nowhere) that the joke grew to Mon being referred to as 'the Queen of Savuti.' For the rest of the trip, this was her moniker and despite my warning that she may get a swelled head, the nickname stuck.

Savuti provided a spectacular sunrise (and oh goody, we were up to see it), not-yet-seen Kudus and best of all, not one but two Leopards! The first was spotted in an open marshy area adjacent to the Savuti River where a number of carp were trapped in pools as the water levels lowered. We spent the better part of an hour watching and snapping pics of this big male brute 'fishing' and eating 3-4 carp. Hardly an
Chobe Elephant 2Chobe Elephant 2Chobe Elephant 2

Mon and Chobe Eli
effort on his part; he just peaked in a pool, picked out a fish and sat down to munch out 5 or 6 good bites and then went back for another. Kaiser said in his 9 years guiding he had never seen a Leopard eat a fish.

I am quite proud of our second Leopard siting as I was the one who spotted him/her. Driving along the track, I spotted this one high up in a tree where they are most often found and are well disguised. Another stop, another photo op another ooo-ing and ahh-ing session. Then back to camp and on the 'road' to the Moremi Game Reserve.

Moremi provided us the most beautiful campsite yet as it was situated in the shade of tall Acacias but open so we could view distant Impala and Zebras from the convenience of camp. Here we also 'tried' a night game drive. While not allowed in national parks, these are permitted in reserves and other quasi private spots. We set out in late afternoon and drove around spotting among other things hippos out of the water for their nightly feeding. But things got a bit ugly as we nervously
Chobe Elephant 3Chobe Elephant 3Chobe Elephant 3

Wee Sweet Baby
watched approaching dark storm clouds (ok, only Mon and I were nervous; Lucas and Kaiser seemed oblivious to this threat).

Then all at once the wind came up in a violent burst (a feature we came to recognize as regular for rainstorms at this time of year) and the skies burst open with rain. Kaiser (with mostly Mon's help) lowered and lashed down canvas/see-through vinyl sides and we kept going with Lucas holding the nite light and Mon and I jostling and bouncing around in the back, unable to see a thing in the increasing dark and wet. It never ceases to amaze me how our local guides know their way around tracks and mud holes, never losing their way back to camp and this time was no exception. We gratefully got back and under cover of our dining tent and ate dinner (mostly standing) and looking out to see that both our shower and toilet tents had blown over in the storm. Now we progressed to the most basic of camping maneuvers (especially for girls) - peeing out in the open while trying for a modicum of privacy. It shocked me to recall that the last time I
Chobe TreeChobe TreeChobe Tree

did this maneuver with any regularity was 20 years ago on a 3 week paddling trip on the Nahanni River in the North West Territories. How time flies when you have a toilet.

This led me to the next most memorable experience of my Africa trip to date. I awoke in the middle of the night with an unbearable urge to pee again. Darn; technically I should wake Kaiser to ensure no predators were about and to escort me to - where? The toilet was still overturned! I lay in my cot in agony for an unknown period but was also serenaded by the most incredible sounds of elephants walking close by and tearing at and chewing grass, 2 hyenas (one really close by) calling to each other, hippos snorting to each other and lions roaring. I also heard a series of unearthly screams and racket that I believed was a kill going down somewhere out there but we did not locate it the next day so who knows. OK, so not going out there . . . Finally Mon woke up with the same urge and qualm of modesty so we took turns poking our heads out and scanning the perimeter with the flashlight while the other scooched out and peed just outside the tent door. Never had I felt so exposed (in more ways than one). But also hugely relieved; now I could listen to the night time cacophony in comfort and it was, in a word, thrilling!

All too soon our 'it feels like we are the only ones on the planet' camping days ended (briefly) and we headed for 2 days to Maun to a campground (with showers and toilets, a dubious looking pool, a bar and big screen TV on which we watched the Zambia Chipolopolos (the Copper bullets - as copper is one of the nation's main exports) win their game to advance in the Africa Cup.

After supper we were once again blown about and pelted with another rainstorm. We came to dread Lucas' deadpan prediction of 'this isn't going to end well'; each time he made this pronouncement, it came true. I got stuck in our tent and so picked everything up off the ground and took a cramped snooze on top of it all. Lucas got stuck at the bar (lucky sod), KB in his tent and Mon
Chobe Elephant 4Chobe Elephant 4Chobe Elephant 4

In Repose At Dusk
under the dining tent. Sigh, now I remember why I don't like camping anymore . . .

A quick shout out to Lucas. I have to credit him with expanding my 'photographic eye.' That nite as we reviewed each other's pics to date, I could see the wonderful results of his continual pointing and shooting his camera at the less obvious - especially at trees and sky. While I have done a few 'sunset shots', the Africa sky and landscape is too spectacular at all times not to try to capture it. And many of Lucas' tree pics are truly artful and I have included some of his best (with credit of course); thanks Lucas - I am trying to point and shoot at more than just animals!

The next day (again starting out in rain), we took a drive to partake in a Morkoro boat ride at the edge of the Okavango Delta (see: ). Originally built of wood (now of fibreglass as wood is banned to protect the dwindling forests), these flat bottomed boats seat 2 and are poled by a local expert. Much of the Delta is very shallow and covered with reeds and
Sunset Sky At ChobeSunset Sky At ChobeSunset Sky At Chobe

Sunset Sky At Chobe (Photo by Lucas)
lily plants, making this the premier mode of transportation. Words cannot describe how lovely this area is and you must look to the pics which do them far more justice. After we were done it was back for a rest afternoon and second nite at the campground.

The following day, we endured a long drive down to the Makgadikgadi Pans (see above). With flat, sandy and shallow lakebed terrain, this area is covered with a few inches of rain for only a few months of the year and it truly feels like the end of the world (or something out of a Max Max movie). Here we set up only the dining tent, cots and the toilet; we were really sleeping out under the stars. Just as we finished, we started watching (with increasing trepidation yet again) as ever enlarging dark clouds approached. Mon started urging us to repack our cots, stow all bedding and luggage back in the truck and batten down the hatches. No sooner did we finish this than we saw a sandstorm heading straight for us. Again, Lucas deadpans ' this is not going to end well'; 3 of us scrambled into the truck out
Chobe Elephant 5Chobe Elephant 5Chobe Elephant 5

Lucas Looking At Lucas Photographing Eli (Photo by Lucas)
of harm's way, Kaiser dove into the trailer and dropped the lid down on top of himself and KB amused us by running and dancing in the sand clouds (for a few minutes only until the stinging sand got worse) until he took cover with us. It was another occurrence of the fierce wind that precedes a thunderstorm and with the vast expanse of dry, sandy pan before us the sand just got picked by the wind and went along for the ride. We actually wished for the rain so the sand would stop. And, of course our wishes were granted and the rain came pelting down. Yikes.

But as with all storms at this time of year, this one blew itself out and left us with a magnificent sunset, a warm and calm night's sleep out on the pan on our cots watching the stars and (yawn) a lovely sunrise.

As always, all good things come to an end. After a grueling 5 hour drive back up to the border and crossing the ferry back to Zambia, we were dropped back to Jollyboys to welcome hot showers, countless great photos and memories and a new friend in
Sunrise At SavutiSunrise At SavutiSunrise At Savuti

Morning Beauty
Lucas. Whew - what a trip!


Additional photos below
Photos: 44, Displayed: 29


Kudu At SavutiKudu At Savuti
Kudu At Savuti

Please Please Turn Around. Not
Savuti BaobobSavuti Baobob
Savuti Baobob

Baobob In The Morning (Photo by Lucas)
Our TeamOur Team
Our Team

Our Driver/Guide Kaiser and Cook K.B. (Photo by Lucas)
Savuti Impending Storm 1Savuti Impending Storm 1
Savuti Impending Storm 1

'I don't think this will end well' (Photo by Lucas)
Savuti Hippos at DuskSavuti Hippos at Dusk
Savuti Hippos at Dusk

Out For Dinner (Photo by Lucas)
Savuti Impending Storm 2Savuti Impending Storm 2
Savuti Impending Storm 2

Oh, Oh (Photo by Lucas)
Tree LeopardTree Leopard
Tree Leopard

My Proud Spot

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