After visiting the people, waterfalls and animals of northern Namibia (see previous post), Mathieu and I crossed the border into Botswana!
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But before entering our fourth African country, or fifth if we count the night we spent in Lesotho, we had an unplanned stop in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. We’d received very sad news that a very good friend of Mathieu’s family had passed away suddenly. So Mathieu returned to Paris for the funeral and I stayed at a backpackers hostel in Windhoek. I spent the week journaling, relaxing, and meeting new people (some of whom I talked into working out with me). I also went to a cultural festival, which was a great celebration of song, dance and food. It was wonderful to see the traditional ritual dance of the San family who were also staying at the hostel (some of whom joined one of my workout sessions). During that week, I also thought about how precious life is and the importance of enjoying it to its fullest.
When Mathieu returned, we started our adventure in Botswana. With a population of 2.2 million people, Botswana is a fairly sparsely populated country. Dominated by the Kalahari Desert, the country is predominantly flat and covered by scrub and tree savanna . And, most of the country’s national parks and game reserves are unfenced, allowing wildlife to roam freely. Cool.
After bush camping along the road, we drove along the border of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, not to visit, but to get to the other side of the huge reserve. After driving for several hours on the small sandy road, we stopped for a break to enjoy the bushy landscape and the solitude. We relaxed a bit then were ready to continue, but Wily was not. Mathieu turned the key but Wily’s engine just made a clicking sound. Crap. You may recall that we’d had the starter cleaned in Namibia and that despite the continuation of the strange noise, the mechanic had assured us repeatedly that all was good. Nope. We’d only passed two other vehicles in a few hours but we had plenty of food and water, so we waited in hopes someone would come our way eventually. Thankfully, after only about 45 minutes, two trucks arrived. They were two Belgium families on holiday. None in the group were mechanically inclined but we’d all seen some potential mechanical solutions in the movies. Ha! We tried rocking the vehicle while trying to start the engine. Nope. We tried banging on the starter with a hammer while trying to start the engine. Nope. [We figured out later we’d been banging on the alternator.] Then we tried clutch starting. The group got behind Wily and pushed. Surprisingly we were able to get enough momentum in the sand to “pop the clutch” in second gear. Success!! We continued our route, being very careful not to stop or stall the engine. After a few more hours driving along the reserve, we finally got to an auto garage in the small town of Rakops. It was nearly 7pm when we arrived and met Lulu, the owner/mechanic. He assured us he could fix the problem and let us set us camp next to his garage.
The next day, Lulu fixed the starter and a few other minor issues, and we were on the road again (this time with the starter making no strange noises). We drove to the Ntwetwe salt pan, an area of the much larger Makgadikgadi Pan in the center of the country. On the way to the pan, we passed through areas of scrub and tall bunchgrass. Other than a few small houses, some locals, lots of cows, and a group of meerkats (finally!) we had the road entirely to ourselves. When we finally crossed onto the salt pan, it was otherworldly. We were on a flat, brilliant white pan that extended as far as the eye could see. It was such an exceptional place we stayed for two days, taking time to relax, fly our kite, bike, workout, and enjoy the beautiful sunrise and sunset over the extensive flats. Only two vehicles passed while we were there (so thank goodness Wily started when it was time to go).
We then continued north across the salt flats then through the scrub, stopping to visit Greens baobab, a national monument protected for its historical significance as a marker for early explorers. Back on the main road to the city of Maun, we passed giraffes, zebra and an elephant on the side of the road. Awesome!
After restocking in Maun, we continued north to Moremi Game Reserve. That night at our bush camp just outside the gate, we heard animals close by. Baboons? Elephants? Lions? We’ll never know for sure but in the wee hours of the morning, I was convinced it was the roar of lions.
We spent the next day driving through the beautiful reserve driving through thick mopane woodlands and acacia forests watching for animals (and breaking a side fender off the truck in the process). We saw many of the animals we’d seen before but also a few new ones, including a spotted hyena who ran across the road then rested nearby. So cool. But our main reason for coming to the reserve was to visit the Okavango Delta, one of the world’s largest inland deltas. We saw only a portion of the extensive swampy delta, but it was beautiful. And with so much water in the reserve, we saw lots of hippos, one of my favorites of the African animals. It was cool to watch a large group amble slowly single-file into a small lake.
That night, as we were enjoying a beer at our bush camp just north of the reserve, we heard crashing noises. As it got closer, we got into the truck and sat absolutely silent as a group of elephants walked out of the bushes and into our camp. One of the elephants stopped to graze about 10 ft (3 m) from my side of the truck. Holy crap. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I had visions of those YouTube videos of stupid tourists getting trampled by angry elephants. Although in our case, there was no one around to film us. Thankfully, the magnificent giants slowly moved on, and I could breathe again.
We continued north to visit Chobe National Park, known for having a high diversity of wildlife. At the entry gate, I noticed something hanging down under the truck. It was the metal ring that covers the rear brakes. Crap. After taking a poll of the few park guards there, we decided it wasn’t necessary and used a hacksaw to remove it (only time will tell if that was a wise choice). We then spent hours driving on the narrow, sandy road but saw only one giraffe and one elephant. Oh well, that’s how it goes sometimes. Just as we were giving up on seeing anything outstanding, we pulled up to a safari truck who’s passengers were looking at something. Lions!! There was one lion surrounded by four sleeping lionesses. He was wonderful to see, so majestic and stately. Later as we were leaving the park, we saw a large group of elephants drinking at a waterhole. It never gets old.
It was late afternoon when we left the park, so we looked for a bush camp along the road. As we came down a small hill, we saw a safari truck stopped at the bottom. Thinking they were looking at something cool, we slowed. Just as we came to a stop, we realized our mistake. The truck was not stopped so it’s passengers could look at some cool animals, in fact it was empty and stuck in the deep sand. And now we were too. Since it was nearly dark and we were tired after a long day of driving, we decided to just camp there and worry about getting out in the morning. Surely someone would come by the next day, at least to rescue the other stuck truck.
The next morning, a truck loaded with about 8 guys came by. They stopped and immediately jumped out to help us dig out of the sand. As they dug, one guy commented “you need to be in 4 wheel drive.” We’d been so tired the night before, we’d forgotten to lock the hubs to engage the 4×4. How embarrassing. We locked the hubs, the guys pushed, and Wily easily made her way up the sandy hill.
Back on the paved road, we drove east to the town of Kasane. We spent two nights at a fancy campground (aka with swimming pool, pool-side bar, and good wifi). We researched the logistics of traveling in Zimbabwe (our next stop), stocked up on food and petrol, and exchanged currency. We also took long overdue showers, chilled and enjoying the views of the beautiful Zambezi River, and reflected on our wonderful two-week adventure in beautiful Botswana.
I’ll let the pictures and videos illustrate the beauty of this wonderful country.
I’ll be in Uganda on Monday. Not as adventurous as you guys – it’s a birding tour- but for me a big departure from my usual haunts in the Neotropics. Rock on!
Have a wonderful time!! Can’t wait to see your pictures!