Botswana is a real 4×4 country, we have been here before, but then we only had a two wheel drive car, and we were very limited as to what we could do. This time crossing the border from Namibia we are straight into Chobe National Park. We tried to change some money in the bank at Katima Mulilo, in Namibia, without luck, and then we hoped to change some at the border, again no joy. Here we are at the park gate and we have no acceptable dosh, and they are unable to take card. After a phone call or two we will pay in town after leaving the park.
We started off being stuck behind a convoy of four cars, two South African and two Namibian, while I was watching their antics I was wondering, have they ever driven in Africa before? Admittedly the track had a lot of deep sand, and was not too easy to drive. One by one I managed to sneak passed them. With my all-wheel drive gear box there are two gear levers, one to go through the gears, and one to from two wheels to four wheels (high) and four wheels (low) racing along (sort of) on firm ground we are in 2wd and suddenly boofff, deep sand, 4wd(L) quick. As we travel along, eyes glued to the track, trying to spot the hard or soft sand, gripping the wheel for dear life, and also fumbling about with two gear sticks, up and down the box, and up and down the 2wd 4wd high and low. This is really hard work, and by the time we got to a camp, one hundred and ten kms./70miles later, I was knackered. A full two hours after us the convoy of locals turned up. And me, I am used to driving on English roads. But I bet they all had fridges.
Our plan was to have two days here, but we had a very low opinion of the camp, and at one hundred US dollars a night, was more than we could bear. Leaving we continued on the same sand road, after a while we turned off to a marsh area that was game laden, it also turns out that we can continue this way to the exit, it is a lot longer but so much nicer and easier.
On the way out the woman at the gate started laying into me, about what I had done wrong, by not paying, and for the second time in almost a year I lost my cool, the African mentality is a real wind up, nice people but a wind up. So I gave her my opinion on how they should operate and actually do some work, and what they should do.
In Maun we paid for our visit to Chobe, and booked and paid to go to Mabuasehube, but we needed to tell them the dates we wanted. For the last year (maybe a lot longer) I have not known what the date, day or time is; now I need all my fingers and a lot of help to try and work out when we will be there.
Ultimately when we are driving there, our map shows we need to go to Tshane and then there is a trail to Mabuasehube. In Tshane I ask someone the way, and he tells me “straight down, straight down the road” we get to the end of the tar then it is sand, deep sand, four wheel drive, low range, and we are struggling, there is ninety miles to go, and after fifteen metres I am giving up. On our way back the man I asked flagged us down to query as to why we are going back, “sand “ I said “too much sand” “ah yes” he says “there is too much sand that way, you should go to Lokhwabe (another village) there is a better road that way” “thhaannk yoouu”
On our way there we saw a Parks office, we went in and asked if they could tell us where the road to the park is, after four of them had a conflab they suggested we went to Lokhwabe and ask there.
We found the road, and it was quite good, but a bit hard work in places. When we got to the park and presented our papers, the man in reception was totally confused, we had been allocated campsite KTENG-03, this he did not understand, but after half an hour and phone calls going backwards and forwards to and from HQ, I think the person at the other end asked our man where he was calling from, as I heard him say “gate three” I then suspect this person at the other end, said something like “if you look out of your window, you can see camp KTENG, and site 03 three is there. Fifty metres from his office, and he had never heard of it.
As it so happens Botswana is at present in the middle of the longest, driest, dry season for many years, I have seen many photos of things like lions sleeping in the shade of, or even in people’s tents, I had great expectations. But with the pans (water holes) all dry, I think the lion food has wandered off to wetter places, and the lions have gone with them. So we did not stay as long as planned. Even, after all the hard work getting there.
Today has not been a good day, in Botswana a lot of roads go seemingly endlessly through the Kalahari desert, on one of these roads in one place in the middle of the desert, the speed limit dropped from 120kph. to 60kph. unnoticed by me, by I was noticed by the speed trap doing 72kph. resulting in reams of paperwork and a £20-00 fine. Later in the day Helen popped out to the shops, and at some point she reversed into a tree, denting the driver’s door, and bending the running board/step. I think I got that right she reversed into a tree and hit the side of the car near the front, must be a woman thing, it has lost me. During the day I noticed a bit of a problem that was getting worse. In the evening after trying to make a start on the damage Helen did, I crawled under the car to find the prop shaft is knackered. I hope tomorrow is going to be better.
Undaunted, we have just had the prop shaft repaired so I suppose we should not be all that daunted, we head for Moremi. This park is in the Okavango Delta, this is the only river delta in the world that does not empty into the sea, instead this one empties into the Kalahari Desert, and here lions abound. Our first morning there I got up early, sat outside with my tea and book and watched sun come up. Later talking to a couple of rangers they told that while I was reading my book two lions walk along the edge of campsites 5 and 6 and then through 7. We are in camp six, I am sitting slurping tea and two lions are prancing about behind my back.
Then next morning I set my chair the other way round, but I still saw nothing. A little while later we noticed that there were lion paw prints in the sand around the tent and the car, it would seem that this time when the lions visited not only were we facing the wrong way, but we were also asleep.
Although we never saw any lions, on our game drives we saw a lot of elephants, zebra, giraffes and other things, even a leopard. As we were driving along a leopard came out of the bush, I stopped, the leopard came within almost arms reach of me, it stopped by the back of the car for a couple of minutes, then carried on along the track. We turned round sharpish to follow it, he (or she) then turned into the bush again, we drove along a bit and waited, then turned back and carried on very excited.
From a place called Gweta we took the opportunity to go and drive on the Makgadikgadi salt pans. This is a vast wilderness, and we have about sixty miles to go to get to our destination, we have the GPS coordinates set in, and we are off. This is the area where if you saw Top Gear, which Clarkson says “if you run out of fuel you die” “if you break down you die”…..”if you do not have the vast resources of the BBC planning, backup, and rescue services, and mobile canteen, you die” I have Helen with the GPS, we should be alright. After about thirty of this hostile environment, and following the GPS seemingly to the edge of the world, I think Helen’s enthusiasm was starting to wane. Then we come to a vast area of tussocks of grass, driving over this shakes the car a huge amount, giving Helen a large dose of motion sickness, this is now on top of her large dose of worry. But we reached one salt pan which I had a drive about on, but we need to cross some more rough ground to progress. With due deference to my little navigator we turn back, and leave this amazing, desolate and hostile wilderness, and another long-time dream of mine is nipped in the bud.
The next morning I find that my dream drive, although incomplete had not only made Helen car sick, but it also made, the car sick, we now have a broken the torsion bar on the front near side suspension. In about four days’ time we hope to put the car up for sale, but now we have a mega problem.
Leaving Gweta we limp along, luckily we are on tarmac all the way now, as we head North we stopped for the night (early) at a place called Elephant Sands, it is a couple of kilometres up a very sandy track, we came across some South Africans stuck in the sand, so we had to tow them out. It seems every time I have broken suspension I have to tow somebody out of trouble.
There are elephants galore here; twenty four hours a day elephants visit a water hole that is just a few metres from the bar and patio, in the morning prior to leaving we went for one last look at the jumbos, while we were there a pack of wild dogs turned up, these are also known as painted dogs, this was the cherry on the top for us, we have been to a lot of game parks in six countries hoping to see these animals, this is not even a game park it is just a camp site in the bush. Woweee.
Last stop, Kasane, here I asked if there was anywhere I could get my suspension fixed, the workshop in the camp was very helpful, they phoned around, and in no hurry whatsoever they laid their hands on a torsion bar. When I was in trouble trying to get the main bolt undone, they sent a strong but incompetent fool to help me. Unfortunately the difficult, and specialised bolt broke, following this, my unable assistant tried to fit the replacement parts, usually with a big hammer. I had to dispense with his help in a bit of a hurry.
We took an afternoon boat trip on the Chobe River, for a bit of relaxation, and try to calm down while waiting for a bolt to turn up. The following morning the bolt arrived, so it was back under the car to finish the job. Our carnet de passage totally expires today so I have to get a bit of a hustle on so we can leave the country while it is still in existence.
Job done, we are up and bouncing again, so it is off to Zambia where we hope we can sell the car, and go home.
Botswana is a fabulous country; I hope we can come back some day. Possibly with a stronger car.
Photos on http://picasaweb.google.com/mickhelen99
Map markers on http://www.zeemaps.com/map?group=468852.