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Published: August 1st 2015
Southern Africa Part II: Botswana
July 5 - 31, 2015 YOU CAN CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE IT, THEN GO BACK TO THE BLOG OR GO THROUGH THE PHOTOS (73 TOTAL - CLICK ON THE NUMBERS AT THE BOTTOM OR ARROWS IN TOP CORNERS) IN THAT ENLARGED FORMAT. I PUT LOTS OF INFORMATION IN THE PHOTO CAPTIONS SO YOU CAN SKIP THE NARRATIVE, JUST LOOK AT THE ENLARGED PHOTOS AND CAPTIONS AND YOU'LL STILL GET MORE INFORMATION THAT YOU EVER WANTED. TO RETURN TO THE BLOG ENTRY, JUST CLICK YOUR BACK BUTTON OR ON THE NAME OF THE BLOG, BELOW THE NUMBERS ON THE LEFT.
As you have probably figured out, these travel blogs are a way for Bernard and me to keep track of our adventures. I can't tell you how many times we've referred back to one of our over 60 travel blogs looking for various details, maps, dates, etc. That said, feel free to enjoy the photos and just skim the text - I've highlighted a few interesting events, so look for those in bold.
July 5 - 11. Kgalagadi Trans-Frontier Park on the South Africa/Botswana Border New Animals (for us on this trip) seen in Botswana: Antelope: red lechwe, tsessebe, gemsbok/oryx and sable antelope; honey badger, bat-eared fox, African hunting dogs, ground hornbills (many other birds too), leguan/African monitor lizard, African wild cat, slender & dwarf mongoose
Even though the park is on the border, I'm putting it in the Botswana section. It was a wonderful park, but the logistics were strange
Gemsbok aka Oryx
The park on the border w/SA & Botswana was originally called Gemsbok park because of the number of these beautiful animals roamed there
in that as a trans-frontier park, we were going over the border between the countries constantly. One of our GPS devices notified us every time we crossed the border - got tedious.
Entering the park was amusing - you had a 'South Africa' door and a 'Botswana' door right next to each other; the SA officials on one side of the room; Botswana customs and immigration on the other side. We checked out of SA, walked a couple of yards/meters and checked into Botswana. We then went back into SA for camping, crossed in Botswana as we drove - you get the idea.
Kgalagadi is one of the largest national parks in the world, and definitely one of the most remote. It was 4WD mostly - soft sand tracks. We had lovely campsites; big, removed from other sites and with A-frame structures. Bernard and I pitched our tents in the A-frames for a bit of extra protection from lions - theoretically they saw a very large structure rather than our puny tent. July 5/Twee Rivieren.
Actually our first night (July 5) in Kgalagadi was spent near the entrance and we had
normal campsites there as it is an enclosed compound with all the amenities - store, restaurant, service station. July 6 - 8/Rooiputs
was our second camp in Kgalagadi and where we were kept awake all night with the roaring of lions surrounding us
. Seriously, they were VERY close, so close you could hear the after-roars as the lion was walking away. Hard to describe, but scary as hell. The next day the South African family in the next campsite assured us they were at least 3-4 kilometers (2 miles) away. All I can say to that is: if they'd been any nearer, I'd have soiled my night clothes.
We should have known we'd be serenaded by lions in Rooiputs because when folks asked us which campsite we were in and we said "Rooiputs" they all, without exception, laughed and mentioned lions, as in "have fun with all the lions," or "you'll enjoy the lion songs at night.” A few days later in the park we were talking to a SA family, Jacobe, et al., who stayed at Rooiputs one night when we were there and the night after. They had a
Hard to get photos of these fast, evasive creatures, but a ball to follow down the road - they'd stop, stand and look at us, then scurry away with their tails up, then stop again - this went on for awhile before they disappeared into a burrow
very close encounter with lions their second morning. About 7 a.m. one of the children had to use the **outhouse, so Grandpa was taking her there when a lion stepped out of the outhouse. The lioness was VERY interested in the little girl and started advancing. Grandpa kept his wits, held the girl close and stepped behind a bush; the lioness lost interest. Could have been because Jacobe walked outside his tent - whatever, the lioness wandered off, far they hoped. That evening as they sat around the campfire they heard a sneeze, spotlighted the area and saw three lionesses walking through the camp. **The outhouse had a view hole behind the toilet so you could look for snakes, lions, whatever, before entering.
Jacobe and family also told us we’d been visited by hyenas
as they’d spot-lighted them in the wee hours of the a.m. the night we overlapped with them. We’d wondered who had dragged off the cover of our camp table - we found it far from camp sticky with saliva. Turns out the hyenas likely smelled food/oil residue on the bag and had a nice time licking it off. They also
We only saw these to sable antelopes - they are shy
tore it a bit so in addition to cleaning it, we had to duct tape the many holes made by claws/teeth. July 9
we spent the night at Kieliekrankie Wilderness Camp
in two lovely cottages - the views over the red sand dunes were stunning. We'd tried to get two nights at Kieliekrankie, but they booked up full as we were on-line booking one night. We can understand the draw - there are only 6 cottages in a breathtakingly beautiful location. There were also hot showers - hooray!! July 10 - 11
. Our next camp, Polentswa,
was very much like Rooiputs (we pitched our tent in the A-frame; Jack & Sherri always used the tent on top of the vehicle), but with fewer lion serenades, unfortunately.
We had amazing animal sightings in Kgalagadi - to give you an example, on our last day as we drove out we saw: three spotted hyena, two huge herds of eland, several black-backed jackals, a family of meerkats; more than a dozen kori bustards (large land birds that hunt and eat snakes), a springbok herd of 1000+ and many were pronking HIGH into the air;
Rooiputs Camp in Central Kalahari Game Reserve
This is the camp where we first heard the 'song of Africa' up close and personal; where the SA family had to face down a lioness as they went to the outhouse. This is where a hyena stole our camp table cover and slicked it clean. Here a ranger is lecturing us on staying near camp - duh!!
over 20 steenbok, large herds of red hartebeests, large flocks of ostrich, herds of wildebeest, hundreds of gemsbok (oryx), not to mention the birds: crimson-breasted shrike, an African hoopoe. July 11, Kang
. Leaving Kagalagadi was a long day on slow sand tracks. We drove into the small settlement of Kang after dark with no accommodation reservations, but managed to find a couple of rooms at a true oasis. We were grateful for the bed (Sherri was getting a cold), hot showers, good restaurant and fast internet connection. July 12 - 13, Thakadu Bush Camp near Ghanzi.
The cold on Sherri had truly taken hold, so we tried to get two nights in cottages or permanent tents (en suite); managed one night in a permanent tent and the second night camping. There was a restaurant at the bush camp situated around a pond where eland, kudu, wildebeest and ostrich (plus all the normal ground and perching birds) came to drink. It was a lovely setting and while we were ‘camping,’ we ate at the restaurant, had nice restroom and showering facilities, plus wi-fi, so pretty much ‘camping light.’ July 14 -19
Hornbill, grey, female
There are many different kinds of hornbills in SA
Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). The largest game reserve in the world with over 21,000 sq. miles (54,280 sq. kilometers). This reserve is about as remote as one can get. All sand tracks - took us four hours to drive 45 miles (70 kilometers) one day.
We had the coldest nights of the trip thus far in CKGR - one night it was barely above freezing. The days were warm and sunny and we had some amazing sunsets, but we did have on many layers, hats and even gloves one morning when packing up. If it hadn’t been a moving day, we’d have stayed snug in our sleeping bags. July 14.
Our first campsite in CKGR was at Xade, t
he entrance to the park and since it took us five hours on sand tracks to get there, we were glad we’d planned to camp there. The following day to our next campsite, Piper Pan, was the four-hours-for-45-miles day - going inside the park got slower and slower the deeper we went. The highlight of Xade was sitting at the waterhole near sunset and watching the dove flocks coming and going, all under the watchful
eye of two Bataleur Eagles. July 15-16/Piper Pan.
This campsite overlooks a waterhole and yet again we are the only campers here. We saw nobody in Xade, not a single other vehicle on our four-hour drive, and there were no other campers in this campsite either.
We drove around the grassland/thorn veld area for two days or sat overlooking the pan where the usual suspects were spotted: springbok, wildebeest, black-backed jackal, kori bustards, secretary birds, but no lions, leopards or cheetah, which we’d hoped to see. July 17-18/Motopi Camp.
Another isolated campsite, seriously they have only a handful of campsites that are kilometers apart in each area and each camping area is a good day’s drive from the other. No other campers in the other two spots, although they are so far from us we’d not know if someone came in late.
We did meet a group of Norwegians at the water hole one morning. We got there early, but they’d been there for an hour already - looking for the six to eight lions that “are always at the water hole all day long.” Right. NOT. July 19-22/Maun.
The town of Maun is the fourth largest ‘city’ in Botswana aftr Gaborone, the capital, Francistown and Lobatse - they are all towns really. Maun is the closest town to the Okavango Delta and the many parks that are within the Delta, so definitely the place to replenish supplies.
We’d been six days in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve with only water we could carry, so were desperate for showers, laundry, well, just water in general. We found a hotel with a lovely garden, full restaurant, decent rooms with balconies overlooking the garden, not to mention bathtubs as good long soaks were the order of the day. July 22 - 30/The Okavango Delta
The Delta originally formed part of a huge, ancient lake. At full capacity it was estimated to be between 23,000 - 30,000 square miles (60,000 - 80,000 square kilometers). The lake gradually dried up and only the Okavango Delta and salt pans remained. The Okavango Delta is fed by the Okavango River, which originates on the Benguela plain in Angola from where it flows through the Kalahari sands for about 810 miles (1,300 km).
It enters Botswana at Mohembo from where it is guided by two parallel faults of about 50 miles (80 km), which forms the ‘panhandle.’ The Gumare fault is at a 90˚ angle and forms the Selinda spillway. This fault causes a reduction in slope and causes the water to spread out in a fan-shaped delta. The river that runs through Maun, the Thamalekana, represents another fault that runs parallel to the Gumare fault. It transports the water via the Boleti river to the Makgadikagadi pans. Some of the water is diverted to Lake Ngami. An estimated 11 billion cubic meters of water is brought down the Okavango river every year and of this only about 3% reaches Maun. This is enough to carry away most of the salts, rendering the Delta a fresh water paradise supporting a wealth of fauna and flora. Some of the salts are deposited on the islands, where it crystalizes to form a white powdery soil but most of it ends up in the Makgadikgadi salt pans.
We visited in the dry season as in the wet it is very difficult to get around by car - boat being the better mode of
These birds stand about 3-4 ft. (approx. 1 meter) and we generally saw them on the ground stalking snakes. They are really good fliers too.
transportation. Having said that, the Okavango River runs all year and supports and amazing amount of animal and bird life - some of the best in Africa.
It was interesting coming from the Kalahari Desert, which is incredibly dry, into the Delta - we started immediately seeing many of the animals we hadn’t seen for awhile: impala, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, kudu, elephants, giraffe, hippos, and new animals: red lechwe, tsessebe, with the promise of seeing some rare antelope such as the puku, sable and roan antelope and sitatunga. July 22-26/Moremi Game Reserve (within the Okavango Delta) July 22-24, Third Bridge Camp
. Our first night in Moremi we were treated to another night filled with the ‘song of Africa.’ The next morning we asked the folks in a nearby campsite how close they thought the lions were and their response was “Weren’t they in your tent?” Yeah, it did sound that close to me too - the term ‘curdle your blood’ would be an accurate description of what I felt that night. It was worse because we’d forgotten to bring in our ‘indoor elimination devices,’ aka our personal pissoir,
which was REALLY stupid because we’d spent a good part of the day sitting and watching a pride of lions (eight females) lounging in the shade. Fortunately we didn’t need to ‘use the facilities,’ and only the one time, until much later and the lion roars were off in the distance by then. We shined our lights all around before getting out and, as it turns out, didn’t see any lions or hippos.
The ‘as it turns out’ part is that Jack and Sherri watched five hippos eating and meandering around our tent for a good part of the early morning hours.
They didn’t take any photos because they’d have had to use a flash, which they thought might spook the giant creatures and get us trampled. Poor Sherri worried the rest of the night if they should warn us not to come out of our tent, but again was afraid that shouting would start a stampede.
As for Bernard and me sleeping peacefully, we’d heard something around our tent eating grass, but assumed it was warthogs. Awww, ignorance can be bliss. While we’d felt brave enough to come out
of our tents when the lions’ roars seemed distance, that was surely folly in that the next morning there was a young male and a lioness near the camp entrance. The male was too small to have been one of the ones vocalizing the night before; those males had undoubtedly moved off, but just because those lions were gone it was obvious that danger still lurked.
We moved our tent farther from the river the next night, away from any discernible hippo trails and made damn sure we had our ‘indoor elimination devices’ (our personal pissoir) inside the tent.
On our day drive from Third Bridge we saw our first red lechwe
- a herd of 20 or more. This antelope is larger than an impala, but has similar coloration. We also drove through a herd of about 300 buffalo,
sometime a bit close for comfort. We had a similar experience with elephants - several families
- we had to wait as they munched on trees from the road. One family we surprised as they were bathing in a marsh - startled them and they came out before we could get any photos, probably
Mongoose often take over termite mounds (abandoned; termites forced to abandon?) because they are cool in summer and warm in winter.
because they had what looked to be a newborn calf with them. They are even more cautious and protective when a young one is in the mix.
We had a nice boat ride
that day too - out through the channels into the river. It was midday and so not the best time for animals or birds, but we did see a new bird, Meyers Parrot, but mostly we just had a wonderful two hours on the river with a guide, Emex, who answered all of our questions and was most congenial.
On our drive between camping areas we had another nice sighting: two waddled crane,
beautiful, rare and endangered birds that breed in the Okavango Delta. July 24-26/Khwai Camp.
This campsites was right on the river, so lots of hippo songs throughout the night. We’d made sure our tent wasn’t pitched near a hippo trail, so no wandering hippos in the camp, but we did have hyena checking us out - lots of hyena tracks around camp in the morning.
A big thrill came in the evening, just before sundown, as we were have a
A troop of these ripped our tent, opened my bag and made quite a mess. Fortunately Sherri mended the tent and nothing major of mine was damaged
drink before starting dinner. As casually and quietly as you can possibly image a huge elephant walked through our camp
, passed our tent, skirted the next campsite and made its way to the river. The folks in the other campsite never heard or saw a thing. We only noticed because of our position - our stealthy ellie never made a sound. We watched him in the water for a bit before he disappeared into the bush again farther away from us.
The only downside to the camping in Moremi National Park were the baboons - big, aggressive and not scared off easily.
The vervet monkeys, while smaller, were still a pain in the butt.
One morning in Third Bridge Camp when we were packing up I had both sides of our tent open to deflate and roll up our air pads. A baboon took the opportunity to check it out, ran right in, scoped it out in a split second, and ran out the back. Had there been anything other than just pads and sleeping bags, it would have been hooked and gone.
We were amused by the baboon running through
the tent, but in Khwai Camp we lost our humor. We’d asked about the baboons and if they’d get into our tent if we left it set up while out on a day drive. The camp staff’s answer was, “We can’t know what is in a baboon’s mind.” We had gotten advice from other camps and in literature that it was sufficient to secure the tent zippers with zip-ties or wire. Turns out, NOT good advice.
One afternoon upon our return from a game drive we saw two camp attendants in our site with very glum faces. Turns out the local baboon troop had ripped open our tent and gotten into the **bag closest to the door - mine. They had torn everything apart, including my clothes containers, every zip-lock and tried to open every bottle of shampoo, toothpaste, etc.
Fortunately for us the camp attendants came upon the scene early on so the damage was minimal. Seriously it could have been so much worse if they’d dumped all my liquids out. Whenever I’d say “it could have been so much worse” Sherri would add, “Yeah, they could have defecated and urinated on your bags and
We saw so many wonderful birds and many cooperated for a 'photo shoot,' alas most didn't.
everything!!” I know she is right; I got off easy being able to just clean off everything and repack.
**All of our bags were in the tent - Sherri’s and Jack’s too - so we didn’t have to tie them on top of the vehicle for the day outing.
I had to throw away many of the plastic containers because they’d punctured them or mangled them trying to get them open.
The worst damage was to the tent - torn completely across just above the zipper.
But even in that we were lucky because Sherri, an accomplished seamstress, was able to sew it up (it took her an hour), then we used Gorilla tape on both sides. I think it is stronger now than it was before the baboon visit, albeit not as pretty.
The tent was borrowed from JJ. Actually it was our tent (same one we used in our 2006 three-month South African camping trip), but we gave it to JJ since we use our VW van for camping now. For this trip JJ brought it down from Alaska with her when she visited in April.
Motopi Camp in CKGR
This was one of the coldest nights of the trip; the early morning was around zero and we had to find the gloves and hats we'd packed; striking camp was miserable; the fabulous sunset the night before made up for it though
Bernard asked me if I thought JJ would want it back now and I said of course she will - she is going to love to tell the story of how the tent got damaged.
The next morning as we were packing up to leave Moremi NP and head to Chobe NP, we had a rare treat. First a female impala came streaking through the campsite, followed closely by an African Hunting dog
. Within a few seconds a second dog, then a third, fourth, fifth and finally the sixth came running through. The sixth dog was loping, saving his strength for the take-down most likely - he/she even had time for a good look at me standing there with my coffee in my hand and a delighted expression on my face. Sherri was still in the vehicle-top tent, but managed to have a nice view through the screen - said she quite liked game viewing from the comfort of her sleeping bag. Chobe National Park (still within the Okavango Delta), July 26 - 30.
Chobe National Park is still in the Okavango Delta (north-east corner of Botswana) and has the highest
This guy was just taking it easy in the early morning - probably recuperating from the night's hunting
rainfall in Botswana, reaching 25 - 26 inches (600-650 mm) per year in the Chobe river-front area.
The Chobe river forms the northern boundary with Namibia and Moremi National Park on the south-east. It is 4,000 square miles (10,700 square kilometers) and is the third largest park or reserve in Botswana. The Central Kalahari Game Reserve being the largest and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park the second largest. July 26-27/Savuti Camp.
Chobe NP has a huge concentration of elephants: 120,000 when last counted, but undoubtedly more like 200,000 now as Botswana beefed up its anti-poaching squads with shoot-on-sight and shoot-to-kill poachers. Discerning a potential poacher was made easier as Botswana has also banned all hunting. So, if the anti-poaching troops see anyone with a gun - they shoot first and ask questions later. One of the rangers told us that as recently as two months ago a poacher had been shot and killed in the park.
We had a lovely camp spot in Savuti and one evening a hyena ran through it - just checking for any unwatched food no doubt. We saw two lions, albeit resting under a tree. This couple
Never got tired of seeing these colorful birds. When they flew they were stunning, but I never managed a good shot of that
had been mating every 15 minutes for three weeks (no, that isn’t normal), so were understandably exhausted.
We had drinks around the camp fire one night with a very nice couple from Belgium. We exchanged baboon stories: we told her about them tearing our tent and wrecking my bag; she told about preparing dinner and having an entire box of food torn right out of her hands by a huge male baboon. Good times, good times. July 28 - 29/Ihaha Camp.
This had to have been our favorite camping area/park to-date. Driving into the park the Chobe river delta is wide, flat and grassy. We saw hundreds of elephants grazing on the plain; scores of kudu, and large herds of impala. In the morning we awoke to see a herd of about 500 African buffalo spread out on both sides of the river, many very close to camp.
Our first night in camp just at dusk, after we had a nice dinner and were enjoying the fire, an African wildcat
came sauntering down the road, hesitated a bit when it saw us, but then kept walking along the edge of the
Pale Chanting Goshawk
We saw so many of these wonderful fliers - they perch hunt and we got to see them flying and hunting too.
grass looking for mice no doubt. That was a rare treat as these small cats that resemble house cats but with longer legs are mostly nocturnal, but (lucikly for us) crepuscular at times. The next afternoon around 14:00 as we sat digesting lunch, hundreds of elephants started materializing out of the veld all around us - the next camp over, just outside our camp, all along our side of the river. They moved quickly away from the humans and then slowly grazed their way toward the river. It took over three hours from them all to swim across the river, where they again took their sweet time ripping up grass with their trunks, then kicking off the dirt (or loosening the dirt by thrashing it on the ground) before munching away. We sat in our camp chairs with cold drinks (it was a hot day) and watched elephants for as far as the eye could see along the river in both directions. We watched the young ones trying to master that pesky trunk or playing with siblings; many covering each other with mud, but mostly grazing.
Earlier in the morning, before lunch,
These 2-3 ft. (1 meter) 'ground birds' that can fly as well. They eat mostly snakes, so are constantly on the move through the grass - we must have seen over 100
Bernard and I went bird watching in a marshy area. We saw a few new birds and also a leguan,
which is also called an Egyptian monitor lizard
Unlike some of the busier parks/reserves (Kruger for example), our fellow game watchers and safari drivers (from the many high-end resorts in the park) were friendly and eager to share sightings. In the morning we were told of two lions that we asleep under a tree - never did find them, but we had been warned that the ‘visuals weren’t great.’ Another person told us that 12 lions had been sighted near our camp a few nights before. That bit of info insured that our ‘personal pissoir’ was put to use again that night. Note
: I am typing this as we all site in the Ihaha campsite looking out into Namibia (Chobe on our side of the river; Namibia on the other) at the elephants we’ve been watching all afternoon have spread out along the river bank still playing in the water, drinking and eating; trumpeting and vocalizing; several have appeared to fight, but most likely it is just juvenile playing. It is as idyllic a
These rare and endangered birds breed in the Okavango Delta
scene as one could imagine.
Next stop is Kasane, still in Botswana, for a night before crossing into Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls for two nights. We’ll return to Botswana briefly and then our Namibia adventure begins. Stay tuned for Southern Africa Part III - Zimbabwe and Namibia.
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