Botswana - 2 to 16 October 2013

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Africa » Botswana
October 20th 2013
Published: October 20th 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

Once again I am afraid it is a rather long blog as we do not get many chances to link up to the internet so this one covers all our travels around Botswana.

It was so much quicker getting out of Namibia than it was to get in and within 20 minutes we were entering Botswana, another new country and people. Botswana is bordered by South Africa to the south and southeast, Namibia to the west and north, and Zimbabwe to the northeast. Its border with Zambia to the north near Kazungula, Zambia is poorly defined but at most is a few hundred meters long which should make for an interesting crossing later in our trip. It is landlocked and extends 1100 km from north to south and 960 km from east to west making it about the same size as France. The country began to push for independence in the early 1960s, and by 1964 Britain accepted their bid for a democratic self-government. The constitution was drafted in 1965, and paved the way for the first general elections and ultimate independence on September 30, 1966 the year Paul and I were married and the year England won the Football World Cup - but Paul told me that as I think it might have been more memorable!!!!!

Most of Botswana lies at an elevation of 1000m, and consists of a vast and nearly level sand-filled basin, characterized mostly by scrub covered savannah. The Kalahari, a semi-arid expanse of sandy desert valleys covers about three quarters of the country, home to a dwindling band of bushman hunter-gatherers, most areas unable to sustain any agriculture other than cattle.

We only have one more day with our Sunways Safari tour group now down to six plus our two Zimbabwe guides, Chris and Albert. We had a long journey of 500 kms ahead of us which in the end took about eight hours in our ‘red fire engine’ as we arrived into the heart of the Kalahari. Most of the way the roads were good, until we turned off onto a sandy track which jolted us back to reality, not that we were dozing that is....... We had a choice tonight to either pitch our tent or stay in a San Bushman’s hut or small cabin. It was very tempting but we decided we would pitch our tent as we did not want to get too soft as we still had a long journey around Africa....... We had a very cold night and in the end wished we had chosen differently, but finally made it to the morning and once the sun came up it was much warmer. Our guides told us that the Kalahari does get extremely cold at night but emerging from our tent in the morning they had lit the fire and all was well. I wandered off to get some photographs of some beautiful Sunbirds that were singing in the trees nearby and heard this rustling behind me only to find a very elderly couple of San speakers, they just smiled as they could not speak any English but I got them to follow me back to our camp. Our guides knew them well and they were part of a group who were going to walk with us to demonstrate their bush skills along with an interrupter.

The San peoples have provided a wealth of information for the fields of anthropology and genetics and are one of fourteen known extant ‘ancestral population clusters’, from which all known modern humans descended. They are considered to be the oldest culture in the world dating back over a hundred thousand years. In the past 2000 years the San were slowly pushed to live in the arid sands of the Kalahari Desert by Bantu tribes and white farmers who took the more fertile land for their crops and livestock. Now there are only about 3000 thousand San that still follow a totally traditional lifestyle of hunting and gathering (out of a population of 95,000). The elderly couple we met were leaving the area and moving to where they had been provided with a home and they were sad to be leaving. Our interpreter who had known them since he was born was also sad as he thought that he would not see them again - civilization had taken hold.......

We learnt so much from the short time we were with these wonderful people. The most important thing in their life is water. Droughts can last many months and waterholes may dry up. When this happens, they use sip wells. To get water this way, a San scrapes a deep hole where the sand is damp. and into this hole is inserted a long hollow grass stem. An empty ostrich egg is used to collect the water - these are really valuable to them. Water is sucked into the straw from the sand, into the mouth, and then travels down another straw into the ostrich egg. The San are expert hunters using just bows and arrows tipped with poison, a slow-acting arrow poison produced by beetle larvae. They hunt antelope particularly common eland, kudu and dik dik. Women gather fruit, berries, tubers, bush onions, and other plant materials for the band's consumption. Insects eaten include grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, moths, butterflies, and termites.Children have no social duties besides playing, and leisure is very important to Bushmen of all ages. They use plants for medicines and showed us several that treated ailments like headache, stomach ache, childbirth and infertility. For most ailments they would cut the skin in small slashes and apply the plant ash to the skin. Most of the people we met had black dotted tattoos where the potions had been applied. So by looking at them you could tell what troubled them most. They showed us the plants twigs they used to treat infertile women and said that they had shown this to a number of tourist who then went on to have babies. One couple who had a baby 9 months after visiting them sent the whole village a supply of blankets as a thank you.

At the end of our time with them they demonstrated how they made fire and within minutes they had a fire going from nothing, a young child who was with them was copying the elderly couple as they produced fire from their surroundings - they were much quicker than all the experts who try to do this on the TV............. It was really sad to leave but we must move on.

We continued our journey stopping for a technical fault with our vehicle when we all could smell smoke but this was sorted and we finally arrive in Maun and said goodbye to our group who were staying in a camp nearby to continue their own journeys. We were having four days R&R at Crocodile Camp nearby and our guides dropped us off there. The camp had a superb setting on the banks of the river and we had a thatched room with a huge bed and mattress - it was so nice to sleep on a mattress again - pure luxury.

We spent the next few days chilling around the camp apart from taking a scenic flight over the Okavango Delta in a small two seater plane as we wanted to see it from the air to put it into perspective.. The Okavango River flows in from Namibia, and soaks into the sands to form the Delta where we were heading in a few days to camp in this wilderness. The fabled Kalahari Desert covers roughly two-thirds of Botswana and the Delta lies at its northern edge and is known as the ’Jewel of the Kalahari‘ - a secret oasis in an otherwise water-starved land It forms as water flows down from the Angolan Highlands over the flat desert thus creating a green oasis for birds and wildlife. It was just magical flying over this huge area with waterholes and grasslands, watching the animals from 500 metres in the air. We saw an array of animals including a group of Hippopotamus wallowing in the water and huge herds of Elephant. Giant eagles were flying beneath us and Giraffe were grazing on the sides of the lagoons. Botswana protects some of Africa's largest areas of wilderness and is extremely sparsely populated, because it is so dry for human habitation. With vast open savannas teeming with wildlife, it is truly the Africa everyone imagines and just as we had pictured it ourselves so spectacular - a real gem and the flight will stay in our memories for a very long time.

At Crocodile Camp we met up with Shaun the co-founder of Sunways who we were using for our Safari trips and it was great to chat with him over breakfast. We also met up with Erica from Maun who we had liaised with to arrange some of our trips and her two children. She was going into town and offered to buy us some shower gel as we had run out - thus saving us a long hot trip into town....... We walked down to the internet cafe to post our blog on Namibia and struggled back along the hot dusty track to Audi Camp to meet up with our old tour group who were arriving back from the Delta before moving on. The guides insisted we had lunch with them before they departed which was really kind and so we said our final goodbye to our first tour group and headed back to Crocodile Camp. That evening in the bar we were visited by a Genet Cat which came down to see if it could find any ‘free treats’! Four days went quickly and we were soon on our last night in a fixed bed with a cosy mattress. That evening we met four American’s who had just arrived and they were good fun giving us some tips on travelling around their country which we hoped to do next year. We sat and chatted to them overlooking the river as the sun went down - such a beautiful setting but we need to pack for our wild camping safari, hope it would not be too wild! It was such a shame the food at Crocodile Camp was really poor as the setting was so idillic, but the resort is seriously in need of some tender love and care..........

We left our comfortable room and decamped to the pool to await our next tour group which we were expecting before midday. We waited all day but no one came to collect us and even when we made enquiries they said that they would be here soon! Early evening we were ‘not amused’ and got the local Sunway agent to take us to Audi Camp, which was only next door but too far to carry our cases along the sandy tracks in the heat. On arrival we found our group who had been there since lunchtime but were not expecting us until that evening! There had been some sort of mix up but we were told, ‘this is Africa - this saying seemed to be repeated through most of our travels here but really is no excuse for bad management. We had a nice greeting though from our new group which was great. The tour was being led by Panganani (Peter) from Zimbabwe and his finance Kim from Australia. Our fellow group members were Claudia and Niels from Germany, Nico from Italy, Guido from Holland and Madeleine from Switzerland. Kim helped us erect our tent, which was most kind and we had dinner in the camp restaurant with all the group members and the food was so much better than Crocodile Camp next door.

The next morning we started our new tour with a drive to a Polers Station and met up with some local guides who took us deep into the heart of the Okavango Delta. We soon arrived at a small village on the waters edge and saw our next means of transport waiting for us - they were called mokoro (dugout canoes) very small and narrow. It was quite a task to unload everyone’s luggage, plus cooking utensils, food, tents, tables etc etc into these small boats. The local guides were being directed by a woman who seemed to get them all organised and our things just vanished from the truck to the boats with many local villagers standing by watching and laughing at the process. They used our mattresses to form seats and we were wedged between these with two to a boat plus a poler who stood at the end and steered the boat. I must say that the experience of being poled into the Okavango Delta is unrivaled and something we will never forget. Our polers were great but it was quite daunting as we were only a few inches above the waterline. We had to stop several times to bail out the water from the boat as it seeped over the sides quite easily. Our boat was one of the older ones which was traditionally made in local wood and seemed to leak more, but our poler said it was much better than the newer ones - we took his word for that though.

The view from the mokoro was great with bird life all around as we passed through tranquil waterlily covered lagoons with the silence only broken by the rustling of reeds and swishing of feathers as we disturbed an Stork or a Jacana. We were lucky that we did not encounter any Hippos or Elephants, but I am sure this will soon come. We really got so close to nature it was pure bliss and about an hour later we arrived at our remote island which was to be our home for the next couple of days. We all helped to unload the boats and carry all the equipment up through the bush away from the water edge and set up camp under the tree canopy. We enjoyed several Bush Walks and it was really great being able to walk and get up close the the animals - we had not appreciated how different this was to watching them from a vehicle. Several times though we had to move quickly as elephants got too close and we also had to retrace our route as we came across a rogue Cape buffalo right in front of us. It was quite daunting but an experience not to be missed but these animals are the most deadly of all the animals in Africa and the guides are very wary of them. We were told that if they are injured by a hunter they will circle and come back to attack!!!!!!

At night you could hear the Hippos, nearby and we hoped that they did not come into camp at night. We had not really appreciated how far these animals wander when they graze out of the water at night until our guide said they can travel 15 to 20 kms and we were only 200 meters from the waters edge! During the heat of the day the polers took us to a small lagoon where we could swim or more like wallow in the crystal clear water with the polers ensuring that no hippos came near - but you could hear them in the distance though! It was surreal chatting with our group and cooling down in these tranquil waters with the current drifting small traces of water lilies down to form another plant. The polers were great and we were able to learn a little bit about their lifestyle and culture and on our last evening they entertained us with some local singing and dancing which was very moving. Although ‘pay time’ came and we also had take a turn, our German colleagues, Claudia and Niels did an excellent demonstration of the Waltz and then they sang ‘rock around the clock’ for us (with a german accent of course) whilst we attempted a jive on the sandy ground - enough said but it was fun......Claudia if you read this your English is perfect! In the heat of the day the polers would fill a bucket and we were able to take a bucket shower in the bush - quite an experience but so nice to try and get clean and cool of course. The time went too quickly and it was soon to pack up and head back. When we arrived back at the village a couple of the polers led us through their village and we met lots of local children carrying water up from the delta in plastic bottles. Some of these small children were carrying really full bottles so we helped them along the track whilst they happily posed for photographs as we carried their bottles for them. The locals all drink the water straight from the delta but we were advised not to of course with our ‘western stomachs’.

Back at Audi Camp we were joined by two other travellers, Jonathan and Andy from Nottingham so we would be nine in our new group. The next morning our 12 seater open window 4WD truck arrived together with a support vehicle for luggage and equipment which did look a bit travel worn. There should have been a fridge on board but we had to make do with cool boxes for all the food we were taking for the next five days - oh dear......... We also met Press from Botswana who was our driver guide and Tim who was going to drive the support truck for us. With guides/driver (4) and us (9) we would be a group of (13) hailing from 8 different countries - Botswana, Zimbabwe, Australia, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Holland a very mixed group.

We headed off to Moremi National Park which ranks as one of the most beautiful reserves in Africa and is also the first reserve that was established by local residents. Concerned about the rapid depletion of wildlife in their ancestral lands – due to uncontrolled hunting and cattle encroachment – the Batawana people under the leadership of the deceased Chief Moremi III’s wife, Mrs. Moremi, took the bold initiative to proclaim Moremi a game reserve in 1963. It is the only officially protected area of the Okavango Delta and as such holds tremendous scientific, environmental and conservation importance. Contained within an area of approximately 3900 sq kms, land and delta meet to create an exceedingly picturesque preserve of floodplains – either seasonally or perennially wet, waterways, lagoons, pools, pans, grasslands and riparian, riverine and morphine forests. This terrain makes driving Moremi’s many loops and trails both delightful and, at times, totally inspiring but at the same time quite back breaking in our open 4WD vehicle. We were ahead of our support vehicle and had not realised it had broken down so we were unable to set up camp and went directly into a Game Drive with Kim feeding us biscuits to keep away the hunger pangs. At the riverside we saw elephants feeding and spraying their bodies with mud and water. Jonathan saw one lying flat in the water and thought it was dead, when a while minutes later it ‘arose from the dead’ and walked off - he was not to live this down for quite a while. The river was a great advantage point and we got saw our first close up glimpse of a herd of Hippopotamus along the river.

In the late afternoon our support vehicle arrived and we were able to set up camp in a forested area but even before we pitched our tents elephants wandered by - hope they do not return at night (they did but Press put the lights on in the vehicle and they passed by without wrecking our campsite! In the night we heard many animals including the Hyena and one night Andy spotted a male and female stalking past our camp (it was to be are only sighting in Botswana). Over the next few days we enjoyed many Games Drives through Moremi with Press driving our truck really close to the animals. So much closer than we had ever dreamed off in fact. At our first encounter with a group of lions we were literally right next to them and could have touched them, they were not in the least interested in us though and just lazied on the grass - obviously very well fed. Jonathan was delighted as he really loved lions so we were happy for him that we had spotted them so soon. Driving on the park tracks we had to ‘duck’ many times as we followed animal tracks as the undergrowth whipped into our vehicle. You could put up with anything though here as we saw so much wildlife in a very short time including seventeen lions from two different prides. It was sad because a lioness had lost two cubs and Press thought that they were probably killed by the other pride - but that is the way of things in Africa. We also saw the carcass of a huge lion which the guides thought had died from an injury to her eye, the next day the Lappet Faced Vultures arrived and finished off the carcass. It was quite surreal seeing the white bones of animals within the parks especially when you came across the huge remains of a bull elephant. We saw Buffalo, Zebra, many different antelopes including Oryx, Sable, Roanas well Storks, Eagles, colourful Bee Eaters, Kites and Vulture - the list is endless, I do love to see all these different birds as well as animals for the first time. In Namibia we had seen many Rhinos, only one lion and a number of Elephant and now we have also seen herds of Buffalo - so already we have seen four of the Big 5 we just needed a leopard..........

Press was a real character and when speaking in his local language kept saying in a very deep voice EEEH (pronounced like hay without the h and which means yes) and this soon became a saying for the group whenever we met other vehicles. In a few years time we think everyone through the region will be using it and it brought a smile from the locals!!!!! As we passed out of Moremi National Park we met a young couple who had driven a van all the way from Bristol in the UK (where both our girls had gone to Boarding School), initially driving to Turkey, a ferry to Egypt and then down through the Sudan. When we met them they were 10 months into their journey hoping to arrive in Cape Town in a couple of months time. They had broken down many times but had managed to get going again. We had a very long uncomfortable journey to our next campsite, particularly with the heat and rough tracks, mainly travelling along loose sand we had not seen any tarmac roads for such a long time. We rotated the seating in the truck with everyone moving forward each day, so that everyone got a chance to sit in all the seats. The back row was the most bumpy that often your bottom leapt right off the seat. There was also not much space as we had all our water bottles stored under our seats but were lucky as there were two spare seats although these which were heavily loaded with day bags etc. We did not see any other vehicles until we came across one broken down on the track - the three lads had been stranded there for 2 days but had just got it working so all was good. Most of the way there was nothing but grasslands and it was like driving through giant cornfields which eventually turned into nothing but dry desert with many dead trees, trodden down by elephants. Elephants and other animals trudged along trying to find what they could to eat but there was not much for anyone as far as you could see. On the track we spotted the young couple from Bristol’s sand grips for getting them out of deep sand which must have fallen off their vehicle. We handed them in at the park entrance to be passed on to them when they arrived - hopefully they did not need them before then though.

The journey continued and eventually things started to turn greener and what an amazing sight we witnessed as we stopped to look out over the marshes disturbing a ‘gang’ of striped Mongoose who all rushed for cover. Huge herds of animals congregated on the marshes, this was Savuti our next stop. An area in the centre of the Chobe National Park it is famous for predators including large prides of Lions and packs of Hyena with the waterhole attracting large Bull Elephants, Giraffe, Buffalo, Antelope and Zebra. We spotted two giraffe sparring, hitting each other with their long necks which reminded us of a nature program we watched where one giraffe actually knocked out another. Peter told us the Savuti Channel flows from the Linyanti River for about 100 kms, carrying water away from the river and releasing it into a vast swampland called the Savuti Marsh. Over the past 100 years it had inexplicably dried up only recommencing its flow several times. However In 2010 the water flowed again into the ‘lost river’ pushing through the Salinda Spillway and arriving on the Savuti marsh, flooding an area which has been dry for so long and a new lifeline for all the animals. Now in 2013 herds of animals gather in this area and once watered they congregate and rest under the few remaining trees. It seemed that every tree had a herd of elephants or antelope beneath its canopy. The irregular water flow explained the numerous dead trees we had seen on our journey which had germinated and grown when the channel was dry and drowned when the channel flowed.

Our campsite at Savuti was dreadful we could not believe it when the truck pulled up after driving through deep deep sand there was yet more, deep deep sand - it was hard to walk let alone pitch tents and ‘live’ here for two days and the flies were dreadful (but this is Africa). Paul was feeling a little poorly so did not come on that evening’s game drive which was a pity as we had our first sighting of a leopard and what one a memorable experience that was. We sat watching this beautiful leopard eat a giant cat fish up a tree only to drop it and have to climb down and return back up again. Once again he dropped it but this time it fell with a splash into the river, we left him there to continue our tracking. Guido was delighted as he particularly wanted to see one but we never got to see a Cheetah which was a shame. We also sat and watched a small pride of lions with a couple of cubs when the mother wandered off to get a drink from a waterhole nearby. As she was drinking a herd of elephants approached the waterhole and did not notice her as they were down wind. They got as close as about 8 metres before they did and quickly circled to guard their young and backed off whilst the lioness kept on drinking - such a amasing experience yet again. Peter and Press were good at tracking animals, highlighted the different prints of each and explaining how they knew how long ago they had passed through as well as in which direction they were going. We also were becoming experienced trackers........with our leopard sighting we had now actually seen the Big 5, in the space of a few weeks, in fact we had seen four on a mornings game drive alone - which was quite astonishing.

The next day we spotted more leopards and Paul was with us this time, one was perched in an open bush with not a care in the world and another sleeping under a tree, only to awake and set off hunting, again we left the animal to go look for his lunch whilst we went to find ours. Peter was such an excellent cook it was always lovely to go back to camp for a hot meal, how he managed to serve up such delicious food in these basic conditions is beyond me - well done Peter and Kim. On our game drives again we saw so many animals and Claudia even spotted a Caracal (Lynx), Press said he had not seen one for five years so we were indeed very lucky with our spotting as we also saw aHoney Badgerwho disappeared quickly into his sett (not sure that is the right term but I am sure someone will let me know!). Once again birds were everywhere and we got to see our first Secretary Bird as well many giant Kori Bustards strutting out over the savannah and the colourful Saddled billed Stork. My Southern African Bird Book I have brought from Dubai was useful for identifying the multitude of species and like me, Nico from Italy was also counting off the animals and birds and we often compared what we had seen for clarification.

Disaster struck just before we left on our next leg with our support vehicle finally giving up, it had not been good all the way but now it was well and truly stuck in this unforgiving area. Peter arranged for us to pick up another group‘s vehicle as they could wait for another backup to come up from Maun as they were here for a while longer. Their vehicle was much more modern than ours and even had a fridge but this proved to be a problem later as it kept running the battery down and we had to continually push the vehicle to start - not easy in deep sand with such heavy vehicles - not sure about the gap between Neils’ hands and the vehicle though - divine intervention perhaps!

We finally got our first glimpse of the Chobe River as we emerged from the dry desert tracks. It was breathtaking, a brilliant, peacock blue ribbon, winding its way through the countryside side forming a natural border between Namibia and Botswana. It was quite a shock to the system when we saw houses again and even a couple of shops in a small hamlet, after so long spent in the wilderness with no one for company apart from ourselves and the animals. The river rises in the northern Angolan highlands, travels enormous distances before it reaches Botswana at Ngoma. Like the Okavango and Zambezi rivers, the Chobe’s course is affected by fault lines that are extensions of the Great Rift Valley. These three mighty rivers carry more water than all other rivers in Southern Africa

Chobe National Park is famous for large herds of elephants and we certainly saw many animals come down to the river to quench their thirst including Waterbuck, Lechwe, Giraffe, Kudu, Roan and Sable (these beautiful animals were once hunted nearly to extinction), Impala, Bushbuck, Monkeys and Baboons and we even spotted a Jackal hunting along the river edge which managed to catch a blacksmith plover in mid air. Everywhere we travelled we saw many Warthogs and Madeleine from Swizterland called them Pumbaa (Lion King film) and so that’s what everyone ended up calling them. On entering the national park we made our way to our campsite only to discover another group camped. Peter called the park and after an age of red tape haggling (this is Africa) we were allocated another site but had to back track which took another half hour and it was now getting late but Press took us all on a evening game drive. When we arrived back delightful Tim had erected our tents again and Peter and Kim had prepared a tasty meal. We were quite pleased that we had to find another site as this one was actually much better than our allocated one with no flies and a lovely river view below us.

As we followed the river out of the park we came across a mother leopard and her cub which was quite magical and a little further on three large male lions were lazing in a bush. We got a little to close for comfort and everyone was shouting stop so that they could get a good view but wisely Press moved the vehicle a safe distance as he had noted that one of the lions was about to pounce. Peter said that these were the largest lions he had seen in a while so we were yet again lucky - it is all about luck and being in the right place at the right time particularly on a game drive. Kim spotted a small wild cat stalking through the bush, another rare sighting. After following the river we finally arrive in Kasane and had our first glimpse of running water, real toilets, showers and even a swimming pool - what bliss and such luxury. We all take for granted having running water but when you do not have access you realise what a luxury it is. We were all so dirty and Madeliene commented that she had never been so dirty in all her life - I think everyone agreed..........

After some relaxation and a welcome shower, our group enjoyed an evening cruise on the Chobe River. It was such a brilliant wildlife experience enabling us to get up close to several grazing Hippopotamus as well as numerous species of birds including Skimmers and the colourful Carmine Bee Eaters which were nesting on the banks. Other species we saw include the Sacred Ibis, Egyptian Geese, Cormorants, Darters, Spur-winged Geese, Fish Eagles, Martial Eagles, Storks, Kingfishers and Rollers. These beautiful brilliant blue birds had accompanied us on most of our journey through Botswana which is not surprising really as they are the national bird of Botswana. We got rather too close to a Crocodile on the bank. Guido posed for a lovely shot, sitting on the front of the boat with the crocodile asleep behind him, only when Jonathan sat down for his turn the crocodile leapt up and jumped into the water, only missing landing on the boat by inches - you can imagine the shock from everyone on board and I was not quick enough to press the shutter button - it would have made a perfect shot and the end to a lovely journey through Botswana! The next morning we head into Zambia - see you there.

Additional photos below
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24th October 2013

Hi Paul and Sheila ...Tracked you down.. at last. I hope your next adventure is as enjoyable as the last one ...I have managed to get Niels, Pumba ( Madeleine), along with Nico and Guido tracked down on face our little gang is re-formed across Europe..I am looking forward to reading more of your blogs.. Take care .. Andy
11th November 2013

Hello from J'Berg
Hi Andy - Great to hear from you and I have added you to my list of subscribers so you will get any blog updates. Currently have good internet connection so will be posting a couple more soon. Cheers, Sheila & Paul

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