A Travellerspoint blog

Botswana

Day 71 – Living in Luxury

2nd December 2011

overcast 24 °C

Nursing our lumpy bodies we hit another long sand road that traverses north eastern Botswana to a town called Kasane near to the border with no less than three countries: Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Once more we had the pleasure of bumping into some wild dogs. Their mouths and legs still slightly bloodied from their breakfast. (Wild dogs have a nine out of ten kill rate, if they decide you’re dinner, ninety percent of the time, you are. The big cats are more like three to four out of ten at best and rather pleasantly, a cat strangles its dinner before beginning. Dogs prefer to hold their dinner down whilst their kin disembowel it and start tearing chunks of living flesh from their unfortunate quarry.) After the previous night and in fact after over two months of living in a tent the time had come to find more respectable accommodation. We booked into a lodge. Chobe Safari Lodge had come recommended from one Dr. Johnny Cave in Durban and since it was eighty English pounds per night it was slightly more attractive than the similarly named Chobe Game Lodge which pitched itself at six hundred US dollars per night.

We wrote postcards and letters as we watched the river flow by. The pool was vcery nice and it would seem that Lauras’ Zoological observations over the last few weeks were taking their psychological toll. In the pool she was certain she could breath like a hippo, remaining submerged for as long as possible before rising to the surface, nose first, and trying to blow the water out before taking a breath. In the bar I found her trying to eat the peanuts like an elephant, her left arm acting as the trunk. Occasionally she would look over and just when I thought she was about to mutter some tender words of love she would yawn protractedly like a cat. If it hadn’t been so funny I’d have had serious concerns.

Dinner was a buffet and as our host, Lenic, showed us along the counter I couldn’t help but think he was wasting my time with breads, soups, salads and potato dishes. I could see the huge hunk of wildebeest that lay between half a roasted pig and huge fleshy pieces of grilled hake. There would be no starters, there would only be meat. My eyes were almost bigger than my belly but it became a game of mind over matter and as the meat sweats began trickling from my temple, I knuckled down and ate every last forkful of delicious Wildebeest. Some locals performed a traditional tribal dance as we ate and afterwards they came to our table and we bought their CD. God knows why, whether it was because we felt it was a cultured decision, curiosity, some sort of discreet charity or even just material support for their cause. Whatever the reason, if anyone wants to borrow some authentic Botswanan beats then our CD is available. For a small fee.

As the door to our room opened we held onto our rotund and firmly turgid bellies. The air conditioning whirred into life and the sight of two double beds meant our thoughts of getting amorous dissipated quickly. “Which one do you want?” I asked as I flopped onto one of them wondering if that was how it felt to be pregnant.

As a footnote; in order to prove that I have indeed reached a certain age, I have, over the month of November been cultivating a fairly dodgy and definitively ginger moustache and accompanying goatee. If you stare closely at the pictures it may almost be visible. Miss Somers, whilst finding it pleasing on the eye had found it distinctly unpleasing to the touch and so a moratorium on kissing had unintentionally fallen into place. This unwitting moral black mail, combined with the arrival of the end of November, signalled that the time had come for the hair to go. I look sixteen again.

Posted by ibeamish 00:11 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Day 70 – Bastarding Mosquitoes

1st December 2011

sunny 27 °C

The road from Savuti to Linyanti Swamps is, first and foremost, not a road. It is thirty bulldozed kilometres of deep, axle deep, sand, interspersed with roots, stumps and small lakes. It took three hours of maintaining slightly high revs in low ratio third and fourth; or high first and second to get there. As we entered the camp we saw four giraffe, the only discernable wildlife heavier than one hundred grams that we’d seen all morning. We were, and would be, the only ones there that evening. Furthermore, ‘the animals have all gone’ said our camp manager. ‘But the mosquitos are here.’ Superb.

Linyanti camp sat on the Chobe River bank looking out across the wide expanse of water, marshland and marauding hippopotamuses; we could see the trees of the Caprivi Strip of Namibia looming on the far bank. Grunts of hippos unseen and significantly nearer were also obvious but they remained out of view.

Our evening game drive got us out and about and we were soon reinforcing some ‘semi-tracks’ through the bush. I’ve made the phrase ‘semi tracks’ up but they’re the vague tracks you see when a few cars have driven that way before but the tracks aren’t quite consistent and several large shrubs still stand in the way; all be it that they are flexible from repeated running-over. With every car they were becoming more obvious and we were doing our best to make them a little more permanent. We even came across an elephant that thought they provided a nice route too. The wardens had been right. There was very little wildlife about. The rains had arrived; the small pools and puddles that had formed in the bush meant that the creatures didn’t need a river for water anymore and the bushes thick growing iridescent green canopy thickened by the sunlit hour.

As we got back it was dark, the second we got out of the car we were in trouble. The high pitched buzz of a mosquito in flight was angst-inducingly obvious. They flew into your ears, they ate your feet, your face, they got under your clothes and in your mouth and that one shrill buzz soon became a symphony as they multiplied hounding our existence. No wonder hippos have six centimetre thick skin. They were biting us through our clothes. If we sat down they bit through the mesh of the chair, and into the tightly pressed flesh of arse against trousers. Out came the mosquito candles, we’d have been better trying to piss on the little buggers. Out came the spray and we hissed it all over us until it was as repellent to us as we hoped to them. And still they came.

We forfeit dinner, only the corn was ready, and that would have to do until daybreak. We hastily climbed up into the tent, with the laptop, and set about attempting to hermetically seal ourselves from the outside world. With the rains came humidity and we were trapping ourselves into two cubic metres of air space with no fresh air current and just thick the thick chewable air left to breathe and it thickened with every breathe. We lay in just our cotton sleeping bag liners trying to watch a film on the computer. Soon our liners were too sodden to sleep in so we lay there in just our under-scratchers. But the little bastards were still getting in. We’d stop the film repeatedly and begin a torch lit search for the offenders clapping them or squishing them into the afterlife. All too often a slapped hand against the tent wall would be lifted to reveal a two centimetre smear of one our blood types. They were getting so fat they were easier to kill. They were dying in their tens, but always came reinforcements. By ten o’clock I needed a wee. Jumping from the tent I immediately felt them biting me. The only life saving factor was that after years of practice I could wee with no hands. If there had been any light my hands would have been seen as a blur of anti-mosquito karate chops and waves protecting the priceless. Somers jumped out an hour later, she wasn’t so lucky and as she crouched down her bottom became an easy target.

In the tent the air was becoming acrid with our sweat. Our once heavenly feather pillows were flat and sodden. To make matters worse we’d strung up the mosquito net to try and protect us but, given it doesn’t fit our tent properly, it hung on our faces thickening the air even more and creating a distinct claustrophobia. The air became so thick it felt like my airway was collapsing when I took a breath; but to open a window would mean being eaten alive by mosquitoes that were very likely carrying malaria. It was a horrible, uncomfortable and miserable night. We spent most of it trying to squish our would-be attackers. We barely slept and at five o’clock, as light arrived, we got up, packed up and left.

Posted by ibeamish 00:08 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Day 68 to 69 – Game Park of the ‘Rich and Famous’

29th and 30th November 2011

sunny 32 °C

A long old sand and clay road to Savuti. Tourist camp of choice for the rich and famous says Lonely Planet, but most choose to fly in. Redvers was flyin’ and when we got to the camp office we told the ranger about our ivory find. He was a bit disappointed that we hadn’t just brought it to him and said no one would mind if we’d had it in our car...

One of the lodges in Savuti costs over twelve hundred US dollars per person per night. Their cutlery is probably where the ivory goes, either way they saw as much game as we did, elephants in their hundreds and mongoose, and we were in the cheap seats. At one point Somers and I almost ran over a pack of wild dogs. We were looking to our right and they sat at the roads edge on our left. We slid to an abrupt halt and watched them for a while before leaving them behind only to stumble upon another pack. As we watched this second group they ran over to meet the arriving first group. United, their social interactions played out before they fanned out into the bush on a hunt. The road allowed us to drive alongside them for a kilometre or so and just as the last dog was peeling off into the bush the fancy safari group pulled up behind us to see what we were taking pictures of. We high fived as they pointed randomly into the bush and we drove on. As we continued in our park perusal Laura picked out the Lion King Soundtrack on the Ipod and wondered if the expensive lodges played it for their guests.

Posted by ibeamish 00:47 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Day Sixty Six and Sixty Seven – Paradise Found

27th and 28th November 2011

sunny 35 °C

We made our way out of Moremi traversing more pools and some, deeper than 60 centimetres in the middle, were too much to meet head on. Fortunately someone new this already and had bulldozed a new track through the bush for us. Leaving the park we passed through a village called Kwhai, it sits on the river Kwhai and it has a bridge. Passing through the town the tress had been decimated. Their trunks had been snapped clean in half, where trunks were too big the branches had all been snapped off. It was the aftermath of the elephants. It looked peculiarly like a war zone.

We were headed to the Kwhai Development Trust campsite. A local initiative that keeps conserves the park borders, a necessary migration passage, whilst generating and income for the local community. We followed the sat nav until we found ourselves in the middle of a field with three large bull elephants for company. It told us we’d arrived at our destination, we doubted it. A couple of wandering miles later we found a pitched tent that heralded the camp site. There were no signs, no fences and bar the occasional circle of scorched earth where a fire had been lit you’d struggle to believe it was an official camp site. There were pros to this. We and the tent we had just found were the only ones on a strip of land linking Moremi and Chobe game reserves. We were camping next to a river that currently contained both hippos and elephants and was one of the most stunning places we’d ever camped.

As a car appeared next to the pitched tent we introduced ourselves to Rachel and Keith. Rachel was South African born of British descent and is doing a PhD on bats and Keith is an Irish chap, married to Rachel and does volunteer work around Southern Africa. We got chatting, they were trying to spot leopards and wild dogs. I bit my tongue when Keith mentioned that their friends had seen “Tree leopards laast munth.” I wanted to tell him that we’d seen tree elephants on the way in but worried I’d just sound rude.

On one of our excursions Somers spotted an elephant carcass, tusks intact. We jumped out and took pictures with them, all standard stuff really. We debated whether to take them to hand in at the Chobe Gate office or leave them and tell someone where they were. We opted for the formed. “Err, hello officer, no, we were just about to hand this ten kilos of highly illegal ivory in. No really, there’s no need for prison now.” We took the co-ordinates like responsible tourists and very unlike the two that had just posed making elephant noises tusks in hand.

We stayed for two nights and as we sat around the fire on the second night there was the unmistakable sound of a male lions roar somewhere behind us. Five seconds later we were on the roof, bonnet up crouching and listening intently to the crackling of my steak burning on the fire. It came again, and had moved from behind us to our left. We sat on our roof, bemused and a little scared. The third time the roar had moved to our front and left, he’d walked past us. Boldened by our previous close encounters I said “Shall we...” and Laura said “Yes.” Four and half seconds later we were in the car bonnet down and Redvers was hunting lion.

We got one hundred metres along the track to the water front before realising we could only see the tunnel of light ahead of us and were now deafened by the engine. We stopped and listened. An elephant was grumbling away in the river, flood lighted by Redvers. We began to question if it had really been a lion. Maybe it was just an angry elephant. The lion interjected as if to reassure us that his roar was some way scarier than a bellowing elephant. The hunt was back on and another two hundred metres on we found him.

He was lying in one of the two wheels tracks that made up our road and he was huge. His mane looked like you could climb up into it and nestle down to a cosy nights’ sleep. His paws were as big as paving slabs, thick and meaty and his long sand coloured tail gave rise to a chocolate coloured tuft at its end that swooshed the night air. We sat with him for an hour, with a brief interlude to go and wake Keith and Rachel and get my camera from the roof tent. He would stand up walk a hundred metres or so whilst bellowing his deep vibrato before lying back in the road and sleeping in our headlights. We were so close we could smell him. We could see his breathing deepen with his sleep, see a mane in which you could lose your hands and forearms before touching his head, awesome is a word used too frequently, but awesome is exactly what he was.

We couldn’t pester him all night and so after an hour we decided to let him carry on sleeping and tried to start the engine. Ker-kunk-kunk-kunk. Ker-kit-kit-kunk. The battery was dead. Bloody lights. Laura jumped off the seat so that we could get t the batteries and we jump started him from the spare battery, thank God the batteries were in the car. We drove back to camp. Yet another nights’ sleep was interrupted by the loud and very close munching of a hippo. So loud we could hear the grass tearing from the ground and its teeth grinding as it chewed, all through the blind-fold of the night.

Posted by ibeamish 00:45 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Day Sixty Five – Kack-a-nacka Xampsite

26th November 2011

sunny 32 °C

“Many of the animals have moved away from here, for a bit” said the guy running Xakanaxa camp site, “Maybe they’ll come back a little bit.” OK, we thought, half understanding. Our camp site was literally three metres from the wet, grassy start of the marsh and two clear channels emerged from the grasses into our particular campsite. “Is that where the hippos come out?” Laura suggested, pointing to the channels. “Yes,” said our man, “they come out every night to graze.” How long exactly is a little bit? Are hippos not classed as animals? After a leisurely lunch and reading session, we went for a drive to Paradise pools, they were dried out. We came across a hippo skeleton and took photos and tormented a couple of still-living hippos as they yawned fear at us. (A hippos’ mouth looks manufactured from soft foam with the addition of several long sharp sticks stuck, almost randomly into it. The damage that cavity would do to you pales most other beasties into insignificance.)

The campsite was dark when we returned and that now familiar nyctophobia reared its ugly head once more. Splashes could be heard amongst the grass, close splashes. Less than twenty feet away splashes. The fire was now glowing embers, hot and expectant for the steak we had already prepared but, it lay fifteen feet from Redvers and my route to it was lit only by the pathetic 50p torches we had strapped to our heads. In the dark you’d never see the crocodile coming and it’d be too late by the time you realised you were in a hippos path. Laura carried on cooking whilst I scurried around Redvers pausing, listening for splashing, then checking the otherside by peering around the vehicles side before advancing and listening some more; all the time wondering if it’s even possible to run an angry hippo over. I made Laura stop cooking whilst I turned Redvers around and pointed his headlights out onto the marsh. There was nothing there. Suddenly the splashing in the dark to our left grew louder, this time accompanied by dripping noises and then a few minutes later, munching sounds. I persuaded Laura to let me turn the car around again as I switched on the headlights there stood a huge male hippo, at the other side of our fire munching on the weeds. It wasn’t a big fan of the light and it scarpered pretty quickly. That night at least, we’d seen the creature of our fears.

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Day Sixty Four – Lion Awake at Third Bridge

25th November 2011

34 °C

Our time in Maun drew to a close and off we set; jerry cans full, towards Moremi Game Reserve. Moremi is a reserve inside the Delta, so far we’d seen the Okavango from the water and from the air, now it was time to see it on the ground.

We weren’t to be disappointed. An hour through the gates and a lioness crossed our path and sat under the tree that we were parked next to. She lay there for ten minutes about three metres from the car. I took a thousand pictures of the same pose and then she yawned, stood up and gracefully continued into the bush.

The concept of maps and roads I’ve already alluded too and it was here in Moremi that we were learning that a road on a map doesn’t necessarily exist, or whilst it may exist, a marsh and several feet of water may have grown/flooded across it. At times we’d have been better had we been in a flat bottomed boat rather than a long-legged Redvers. We drove through pool after pool along our ‘road’ and several times turned back on discovering our road was now a home to a small family of hippos and a marsh. Still Redvers’ new shoes coped admirably, the decision to fit mud tyres being the best we’ve made yet. We arrived at Third Bridge campsite an hour before dusk, we started a blazing fire and ate steak, chilli sauce and papa.

Probably the most exciting thing about the campsites in Botswana is that no one ever bothers to fence them. They are just sites in national parks where you camp, and this means anything can walk through the camp. How exciting. Our roof tent would come into its’ own, we’d be seven feet above the nasties that might eat us and we joked before bedtime about how a hippo might come for Redvers in the night. Our heads hit our feathered pillows; ear plugs were not installed as we were ‘with nature.’ As we fell asleep we heard hippo grunting in the bushes, birds roosting and cicadas squeaking their evening chorus. We fell asleep.

“Hon! Listen!” screamed Somers in a hushed and anxious tone. A second almighty roar eminated from somewhere about a hundred metres in front of Redvers followed by a series of lesser ‘hurgggh-hurggh-hurgh’ noises. “Jeepers,” I thought still half asleep but rapidly gaining my senses.

It’s difficult to explain how a campsite that seems so innocuous in daylight can become so terrifying in the dark. Only the slightest sliver of moon lit the night, it was not enough to see beyond vague shadows of trees around our camp. The roar came again. We lay on our bellies, resting our elbows on our pillows with our heads in our hands. Peering out into the dark shadows through the thin mesh of the tent door wondering where the lion was. I was already running through the escape plan. I hadn’t put the bonnet up; we’d been told it stops the lion jumping up and on to the roof. The car doors were locked, fumbling for the lock in the dark whilst simultaneously soiling your pants in two separate ways could be fatal. Somers suggested that as well as the mesh door, we zip up the canvas door of the tent, as if it were made of a lion proof fabric. I wondered how I could distract such a beast before jumping down and into the car and trying to run him over. We lay there in the dark. We were crapping ourselves.

A loud crack sounded, we had no idea what it was but we were sure that it was manmade. The lions roar was tempered, only the ‘hurgh-hurgh-hurgh’ remained and it grew steadily fainter as he moved away from us. Sleep came only intermittently for the rest of the night. We rose early, tired and started for Xakanaxa.

Posted by ibeamish 00:39 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Day Sixty Three – Pilots and Basket Cases

24th November 2011

semi-overcast 28 °C

The Lonely Planet was for once exactly right. Our backpackers hostel did have a ‘bar-at-the-end-of-the-world’ feel to it. Propped up by middle aged men who looked like they never left and with ‘pilots and pretty girls chatting each other up.’ It was a nice spot. Hammocks hung from trees at the rivers’ edge, Christmas tree lights provided a dimmed and relaxed hue; drink and laughter flowed whilst Chris De Burgh and Simon and Garfunkel played in the background.

This close up encounter with pilots was amusing. We’d already worked out how to spot one on our campsite-booking expedition. A pilot is the one with a strut and a self confidence like Greta Garbo walking into a bar, cigarette in hand, expecting heads to turn and voices to hush. His, (it’s normally a he though the two females pilots we observed dressed strikingly like the male of the species,) appearance is one of worldly traveller that is a little bit too neat and preened around the edges. Beaded bracelets have been replaced with fancy aviator watches, (what else can a pilot tell the time with?) Ray Ban aviator sunglasses are derigeur and we were lucky enough to spot one guy pull up on his motorbike without helmet; in a scene I assume he felt was reminiscent of Top Gun, before striding into the airport entirely aware of how cool he felt he looked. One guy introduced himself in the bar. He was in his Saturday best; that being a brand new Chelsea top with ‘Torres’ on the back. He was one cool cucumber. It took him two sentences to tell me he was a pilot. The second sentence was his name.

Having hired a plane, (all five seats of it,) and a taxi driver to fly it, we’d left an advert in the backpackers hoping we could find some fellow aviators to help bring the costs down a little. We met our compatriots in the bar on our return from Baines’ Baobabs. Two Dutch brothers doing a whistle stop, two week, Namibia and Botswana tour. Just like that our plane tickets were half price.

We arrived early, brimming with pre-flight excitement, sadly I’d forgotten the sat-phone and compass (in case we went down,) but had the camera. We nipped into the cafe, full of pilots, and had a coffee to settle the nerves. The waitress asked what kind of coffee Laura would like. Clearly overcome with the cosmopolitan atmosphere of a pilots’ cafe Somers said, “I’ll have a latté please.” “One coffee,” was the waitresses reply. The Dutchies ordered double espressos, I had a black coffee, the boys got what they ordered, Laura got one mug of coffee. Latté or not, it would be her downfall.

We walked onto the runway in slow motion, transformed. Laura’s’ long brown hair billowed horizontally, but gently in the wind. The sun shone down reflecting from our designer sunglasses, our strides were long and purposeful across a tarmac that was deep black with ripples of heat rising, flickering up from its surface, our smiles revealed rows of perfectly white teeth as we joked with one another; we’d hired a plane, we were like them, we were cool.

The flight itself was bloody brilliant, a little bit turbulent but our small 6-seater – leather seats may I add – and its one little propeller, soared across the Delta. Herds of elephant grazed beneath us, crocodiles lay on sandy banks, water buffalo swam and giraffe looked on, bemused at another flying taxi. Hippos wallowed and white birds flew across lagoons that reflected the morning sun. It was magical. For an hour we flew out over this supreme wilderness, Attenborough style sentences flew through my head as the scenery beneath changed but never ended, “Here, on the Okavango Delta...”

Laura had been seated behind me: the pilot had mentioned something about weight distribution and I had said something about drinking skinny lattés in future. Fifty minutes into our flight I turned to take a picture of this English (strictly speaking, Welsh) rose, looking down through the planes’ window, onto nature at its most remarkable. She looked a little queasy as I set my camera to rapid fire. She looked right, and green. She looked forward with puffed cheeks and a slow puffing motion to her breathing. Slowly, from below, centre screen, a white paper bag with a plastic sheen emerges, opening as it rises. Laura’s neck extends; cranes and dips into this intriguing bag of delight. The Dutchie sat next to her thought she was eating a croissant. My camera and I saw the bag fill with coffee.

Our pilot, a consummate gentleman, landed us safely and taxied around to the petrol pump. At one stage, he reached up to a switch above his head, I thought he was going to stop the meter and say “That’ll be twelve pound eighty please.” But he didn’t. He got out, helped us out, and, thanking us for flying with Major Blue Air, told Laura that there was a bin fifty metres down the plane parking lot.

After the woozy light-headedness of being cool for an hour we decided that the afternoon would best be spent doing something a little more sedate; learning to weave baskets. There was a lady that ran a community shop, where women from all over the region are able to showcase their wares and make a little dollar. The lady that ran it was called Thitaku Kushonya and she is considered to be one of the best, if not the best weaver in the country. She’s had pieces exhibited around the world and came fourth in a world craft exhibition in the USA. More recently she came sixteenth out of 250 competitors in the same event staged in the UK, she wins the annual Botswanan event each year and her best pieces sell for hundreds of pounds. With funding from the United Nations Development Program she is helping to teach other locals how to weave and create an income for themselves. The world could do with more like her. We sat on her stoep, (the veranda bit outside the house,) and she taught Pinky and Percy how to weave baskets from grass and dyed palm leaves. We were essentially not very good at it, but after three hours we had two small baskets to show for our hard work. Mine was big enough for one pair of small stud earings; Lauras’, a little larger, could have been host to the egg of a small Wren or perhaps even a Robin.

Posted by ibeamish 08:42 Archived in Botswana Comments (1)

Day Sixty One and Sixty Two – Skid Pans and Baobabs

22nd and 23rd November 2011

storm 27 °C

There are two large salt pans just east of Maun called Mgadikgadi Pan and Nxai Pan, pronunciation here withheld. They are contained within one national park but separated by an A road and bounded in the south by the Boteti River. The Boteti had, until 2009, been dry for a good portion of its length for some years. We knew no different and punching in our destination the sat-nav flickered and off we went. Gradually, as is the case with placing your trust in an electric box that thinks it knows best, we became aware that we were on a ‘more-scenic-than-expected-route.’ It wasn’t the old lady waving us back that stopped us, nor the kids laughing at the white guys going the wrong way, it was the sign staked into the middle of the road surface stating that the road ahead was closed. As if to reassure us, just beyond this sign was our road, as it disappeared over bank and into quite a big river. This was a key moment for us, it was the beginning of our understanding that maps and roads in Botswana are a fluid concept.

We re-routed onto a main road that crossed the river before passing through Mgadikgadi, across the dividing A road and into Nxai Pan. There was bound to be a bridge at the river crossing. An hour later our road led us into a field. Ahead of us two dead cows lay at the waters’ edge; one wasn’t quite dead yet, it pawed weakly with one leg, it was just feet from the river. The track again disappeared under several hundred cubic metres of water and at the bank a large floating pontoon bobbed in slow motion under the rivers current. As we crawled closer a well dressed and very pretty lady appeared from behind a tree; her two colleagues, now apparent, remained seated on the grass. Still the cow kicked, with one leg, slowly, silently. Our enquiries led to a price of one hundred Pula for Redvers to become an ocean going vessel for fifty metres across this great gushing (slowly meandering) torrent (he’d have definitely been submerged) of wetness. We purchased one ticket and drove Redvers into the shallows and up onto our very sturdy looking two vehicle ferry. He took to it very nicely and his sea legs clearly come from growing up on the coast in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The 60cc outboard motor propelled us like a cloud bridging the impassable and we pulled off the other side glorious in our conquest.

The gate to the park lay a hundred metres from the waters’ edge. The guard on duty was questioned by Laura as to the welfare situation of the cows on the other side. There is a park veterinarian but he was away. The cow had been hit by a car earlier in the week and the owner had been very angry. No one had the means to kill it and even if they did, the owner would then seek compensation for his loss. It was a messy situation and the cow would come out last.

As we reached the gates of Nxai Pan the distant sky was deep grey and already we could see sheets of rain falling as bolts of lightning rose to the skies and the crack of thunder came an age after the blade of the light. We asked about the roads. We knew that we would need to drive across a pan; the last time we attempted this we got five metres and took three hours to extricate ourselves. The same old blasé ‘The roads are fine’ was this time post scripted with ‘just go around the edge of the pan or you’ll get stuck.’

To say the roads were impassable would be a lie. We did after all reach our destination. However, of the seventeen kilometres of road we travelled on, at least seven kilometres were submerged. Only under about six inches or so; but, like ‘Doctor Foster off to Gloucester,’ the puddles masked potholes and tiger pits. Every now and then we’d slowly sink into a hole that took an entire wheel, only for Redvers to grunt and drive the other three into pushing their sunken friend out. We drove through the last of the storm and when we finally reached the Pan, I lost Redvers’ back end in the slippery clay and we spun out onto the side of the road. It was only Redvers’ awesome weight that stopped us tipping over and this chapter being a different story. As the colour came back to our faces we giggled, started him up again and continued slip sliding our way to our camp site beneath a great Baobab tree. The thunder storm that ensued washed away any chance of sleep; we sat in the back of Redvers, eating, editing photos and chatting before going to bed to lie wide eyed as the thunder got so close it left our ears ringing.

The next morning we were a little apprehensive about our track back. With all that rain we might struggle through the deeper stuff, but our fears were quashed and, whilst the Pan was now deeper under water, the road was somehow drier than the previous evening. We stopped at Baines’ Baobabs, an explorer who painted a rather disappointing picture of a stunning clump of Baobab trees. Apparently, according to LP, only one main branch has fallen off in the 160 years since Mister Baines painted them. We spent the rest of the day 4x4ing around the park through muddied tracks that looked more like a hippos’ wallow than a road and saw a grand total of one disappearing-into-the-bush elephant and a few zebra.

Posted by ibeamish 08:39 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Day Sixty – Campsite Reservations

21st November 2011

overcast 27 °C

In the last two or three years some bright Botswanan spark decided that all government run game parks and nature reserves should have their facilities privatised. The government still controls entry permits, and so gets plenty of park sustaining dosh, but the various campsites and lodges have been sold to the highest bidders; several different highest bidders. This meant at least two things: one, the campsites no longer cost two pounds fifty a night, and, two, each campsite is owned by a different company which each have their own office, most without any signs to guide you to it, somewhere hidden in a little town called Maun.

‘Little town’ is probably a tad condescending given that Maun is the fifth largest ‘city’ in Botswana. It serves as the hub from which tourists plan their trips in and around the Okavango Delta and Chobe Game Reserve. We made straight for the government wildlife office – they’d know how to help. And help they did, in a way. They knew how to tell us that the camps were private, but the pleasant lady smiled kindly as she told us that she had no idea who owned them or where their offices were, she continued to say that unless we had proof of accommodation she couldn’t give us a permit for more than one day in the park. It was making like it would be one of those days. Heading in to town and no further on in our quest we found the singular sign that advertised a camping reservations office. This was a lead and it allowed us to ask where their competitors where; one by one we hunted them and over the course of an entire day we organised two weeks of campsites, park permits and, like Sheiks on tour, we hired a plane to fly us over the delta.

Posted by ibeamish 08:38 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Day Fifty Eight and Fifty Nine – Fishy Morals

19th and 20th November

sunny 30 °C

As we climbed aboard our eighteen foot motorised tin can Somers and I both held vast amounts of anticipation for the day ahead. We had a boat and a skipper and a river. I was anxious to see what we could catch, be it Tiger Fish, Cat Fish or Bream. Somers was anxious as she imagined the rather large hook tearing a hole in the fishes face only for it to be thrown back in the river after we’d had our fun. I explained that we had booked a fishing trip and that some fish pain or even death was to be expected. Somers wasn’t so sure. But she was keen to try it.

We roared along the river, with the wind in our hair and a river flanked by reed beds and crocodiles. Occasionally we would turn towards into what looked like a wall of reeds before at the last minute a narrow gap opened to reveal a channel along which we could wind and dart in and out of pools and interconnecting streams. The fishing went well and despite the absence of the tiger Fish we caught plenty of Catfish the biggest being around five or six pounds. Somers landed a beauty early on and her face at first appeared bemused, leading to a cringe and then a cringe combined with a squint as her face contracted around her nose when the hook was removed. A series of leading questions ensued as the fish lay quietly on the deck. “Is it going to die? Can it breathe? Is its’ mouth OK? Can we throw it back in?” In it went and we continued our fishing. By this point Laura was in the swing of things and had grown very fond of casting and reeling her lure back in, “I could do this all day” she proclaimed. I couldn’t help but notice though that she seemed to be casting in the opposite direction to the run of babbling Catfish at which I was targeting my baited hook. One of those little blighters was destined to be our dinner.

Laura had enquired about seeing the hippos while we were out on the river and our final trip was a little upstream to get close to a local pod. As we sat, quietly moored at the bank, the hippos would surface in a burst of air, blowing water out of their nostrils, before looking directly at us trying to fathom what we were up to. On the opposite bank, hidden from view, women chattered as the sound of a machete hacked the reeds down to be used for roofing materials. Suddenly there was a huge splash and the women fell silent. Gradually, the noise of moving reeds grew louder as the women slowly moved to where the splash had arisen. A gasp, a single sentence spoken, and then the high pitched rapid speech from a group of excited ladies. Our guide translated. The splash was a crocodile and the women had found its nest of eggs and were chatting amongst each other as to their freshness and edibility. The guide decided he too wanted a look and we nipped across the river before disembarking onto the reeded bank from which the mummy croc had just departed. There was indeed a clutch of sixteen eggs. There had been seventeen until a minute previously when one of the ladies had broken it in an attempt to see if the others were edible. The contents had met with her approval and the croc had sadly been outwitted by humans. One by one the ladies collected all sixteen eggs into their upturned t-shirts. They’d be eating eggs for supper.

This little scenario opened up a whole world of whirling thought: Morality, conservation, subsistence living, natures’ innate cruelty and the ethical basis for eating what were most likely a viable clutch of crocodile eggs. Whilst taking the eggs, is from a broader view, lacking in environmental responsibility and certainly unsustainable in the long term on a larger scale, crocodiles are not endangered, in fact there are plenty of them as we had already seen and been told that day. Crocodiles reportedly take children from the waters’ edge and men from their Mokoro canoes on a monthly basis. The remoteness of the nests and carnivorous appetite of the would be baby crocs parents, means that even if they became a sought after delicacy it would be unlikely that too many hunter gatherers would be stepping forward. Whatever the reasoning, it was clear that these particular eggs would not be hatching of their own accord and their fate was inevitable. That was my reasoning for stretching out my hand and saying “Can I have one?”

The lady had produced one from her faded black t-shirt and handed it to me. In taking it I became as culpable and despicable as they. More so, as not only should I know better. I did. And still I took it.

The boat ride home was a sombre one. Our dinner was on the back of the boat and still not dead. The guide had not brought anything to kill it with and weakly reassured us with “Don’t worry, it will die.” Furthermore, we had a crocodile egg and the discussion remained focused solely on the justification of its acquisition. With the admission of guilt and the reality of its chances of survival once found by those ladies, the loose moral justification of the action became sounder. Was there any more responsible way of obtaining a wild crocodiles egg? Shouting at the ladies may have forced them to replace the eggs, but they’d almost certainly be retaken once we left. Perhaps, through our guide, we could have attempted to educate the ladies in the way so many westerners think they hold the moral high ground over other peoples’ ways of living. Had we bought the eggs we’d be encouraging their theft. If we’d been the only ones to stumble upon them, we’d have walked away quickly in fear of their mother making an appearance. Those ova had been doomed the minute their creator left them and tomorrow we’d have omelette for breakfast.

Back at the ranch I set about filleting the Catfish. It was a fair size and it’d provide meat for a day or two at least. It was hard work and I built up a sweat in doing it. After poor Eric our knife had lost its vim and found the bones hard work. I produced four fillets, two from the abdomen and two from the tail. I was imagining the braai when I noticed the first encysted larva curled quietly amongst the muscle fibres of a tail fillet. The fish had worms. As I teased the small globe of worm larva out of the muscle I noticed another, and another, and another. It was riddled. I was put off the instant I’d seen the first larva. Somers held out a little longer and only when we saw the others did we decide that this fish had met its fate without real cause. It would be eaten, of that there was no doubt, but not by us. I gave it a fairly unceremonial burial ‘at river’ as the fish became fish food.

We ate pasta and sauce, creamy pesto flavour, without meat, and went to bed. The thunder and lightning was so close we thought God was taking his revenge.

We rose the next day and had a morning clear out of Redvers. We cracked our ill-gotten egg and our dismay and moral descent were complete when amongst the yolk we saw a tiny crocodile foetus. The egg became monkey food in yet another unceremonious burial, this time into the bush.

As Somers turned to the back of the car another “Oh My Holy Crap” rang from her lips. There was a fairly large vervet monkey sat in the back of the landy tucking into what was left of our loaf of bread. I chased it into the bushes and as I threw sticks at him, he sat watching and eating. He knew my sticks couldn’t hit him in the thick bush.

We said our goodbyes to our hosts and hit the road destined for Maun. The town at the bottom of the Okavango Delta from where we could arrange the permits and accommodation we would need over the next fortnight.

The climate had been hot and humid alongside the delta but as we drove to Maun and briefly left a world supplied by water from the Angolan mountains we had a glimpse at something with which we’d become familiar in Namibia; the arid countryside of a land during dry season. This however seemed all the harsher as we passed a roadside littered with the rotting carcasses of horses, cattle and goats. Vultures sat heavily in the trees, too full to fly and too stuffed, almost, to roost. The pungent aroma of death heralded our entrance to Botswana’s’ ‘Capital of Tourism.’

It was Sunday afternoon. We found a bank machine that would give us money, the DHL office in which our coveted sim-card was held and a back-packers lodge, ‘Back to the Bridge’, where we could stay for four pounds each per night. Oh and Liverpool have just beaten Chelsea on the telly. Ooooh.

Posted by ibeamish 23:17 Archived in Botswana Comments (1)

Day Fifty Seven - Popa ‘Falls’

18th November

sunny 32 °C

Not far from the border with Botswana, at the beginning of the Caprivi Strip, is Popa Falls. This misnomer is actually the name given to a series of rapids as the Kavango river flows south east towards Botswana and the Okavango Delta. It was also the office where we had been told that we could collect a permit for crossing the national park through which the road to the border passes. We stopped and despite a certain apathy for the ‘falls’ we thought we’d better stump up the entrance fee and see them.

To get to them we had to cross a series of streams through thick bush following only the sound of the water to get there. Two minutes in and we were lost. We stumbled upon a local, though I’m certain that stumbling is a euphemism for being preyed upon by him, and he offered to show us to the main section. We took a convoluted path through the bush which eventually opened up onto the falls. At this point our unofficial guide asked us to stay there whilst he went for a swim! As he plunged in head first the Lonely Planets’ words rang in my ears: “The falls is nothing to get steamed up about, though swimming is definitely not safe as there are hungry crocs about.” Our guide jumped out of the other side, a little downstream, and nimbly skipped up stream across the rocks before picking a spot near the start of the rapids and once more diving headlong into them. He disappeared from sight only to surface some distance further down before gingerly breast-stroking/semi-drowning his way to the rocks. “You’re turn next”, Somers challenged.

As our guide got to us I was bare chested, hopping my leg out of my trousers readying me and my purple boxers for a swim. “We’re going again”, I said to John, our guide. My heart was pounding as my feet left the warmth of the rock and I plunged down towards the water. I clambered out of the opposite bank like a spastic frog clutching for hand holds without looking for them and clumsily stepping into deep pools where I thought there was rock. Further up river I stood at the edge, I turned and saw Somers looking on, her camera at the ready, and again I took off. It’s a bizarre feeling, hitting the water and being immediately propulsed forward underwater with only muddied brown vision. As I surfaced I had three things on my mind; breathing, crocodiles and smiling for the camera, in reverse order. Once I was in, the water just had to be ridden and, fancying that the chances of crocs were far higher in the flat pool at the end of the rapids I bailed out pretty quickly as I approached the awaiting Somers.

It turned out that our park permit actually had to be gotten at the park gates, which, despite seeming obvious to most was anything but given the poor advice we were following.

The border was easy. We had no meat and had hidden the cheeses and any tat filed under ‘probable problems’ well away from view. The folk were genuinely lovely and we handed them some dried fish that we’d bought outside the petrol station back in Rundu as a gesture of goodwill. A gesture made easier by the fact that the fish had a certain taste and Somers had picked maggots out of its head earlier on. I hasten to add that there were no maggots by the time the fish became a gift.

We were in Botswana! Ten kilometres down the road we arrived at our first destination, Shakawe. Home to a branch of Barclays that refused my Barclaycard as it had a ‘chip’ and not just a magnetic strip. International banking isn’t always what you see on the adverts.

Our night was to be spent at Drotsky’s Cabins where we would spend the following day hunting for Tiger Fish on the river. We drank through a thunder storm and into the night with three young guys; one from Zambia and one from Jo’burg both of whom had hitched to see the third who was a Botswanan and the son of Drotskys’ owner.

Posted by ibeamish 23:15 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

Day Fifty Six – Crossing the line

17th November

storm 24 °C

A quick spin around a few watering holes and then we hit the road. We travelled out through Tsumeb, home to a cracking museum on ‘ze Germans’ and their eventual expulsion from South West Africa, and on the mineralogical magnificence of a town that is the worlds’ fifth biggest producer of lead. Fact.

The drive continued and Redvers had his first natural shower in a long time. The tarmac was dark with moisture and the rich smell of dried grass made damp by the first rains filled our minds with satisfaction. Little did we know that the best was yet to come.

As we continued along the road north towards Rundu, the town on the River Kavango, two hundred and fifty kilometres from the Botswanan border we drove head first into Police Engagement #5: The Namibian constabulary had been fantastic so far; though we’ve been through numerous police gates they tend towards waving you through as if they’ve bigger fish to fry and hence deserve no such critical mention here. At that point we were fifty kilometres from Rundu when the road signs appeared urging us to slow down. As we approached the well established road block we saw a concrete hut and a few officers sat down, scratching, (you’ll forgive my disdain shortly,) on our left; the road was bedecked with cones leading eventually to a white bordered, red sign with white letters saying ‘STOP,’ just beyond this sign stood the self-important, money grabbing, wanter of Western goods that was already thinking ‘Any excuse.’

So, when Somers crossed the line, literally and not for the first time this trip, and came to a halt next to him, he pounced. “Oh no, you have crossed the stop line,” he said, motioning towards the part of the road where a line may once have existed. “The law says you must stop and the penalty which I must charge you with is fifteen hundred Namibian dollars.” He must have seen the rage building; it wasn’t well hidden and the look of tired disgust I gave him was designed to let him know what and how little I thought of him. I was feeling belligerent, with sensibility my only restraint and Miss Somers being deliberately polite but assertive. Laura found her driving license and explained that she had seen no line and had come to a stop next to him so that she could respect his wishes. “There was no line,” I said. “The line – humph – it has long rubbed away,” he retorted. My blood grew warmer, my patience thinner and my tongue looser. Again, “We stopped for you, there was no line,” I had said only a fraction of what I’d thought. “Look we’re really sorry, we’re just travelling through to Rundu, I didn’t see the line and I’m sorry, but I didn’t try to go past and I stopped here with you,” said Somers diplomatically, it was not for me to speak anymore for fear of writing ‘Day 103 – My Release From Rundu Correctional Facility...’ Somers’ magic was working and she knew it. “Look we won’t do it again, we’ve learnt our lesson, we’re very sorry.” The traditional pause, the sound of our hearts beating but still the pause; “Well maybe this time ees OK. And maybe you have something for me, a cool dreenk maybe.” “I’ve got warm water,” I said urging Somers to start the engine. She couldn’t start it quick enough as suddenly, Grunt #2 appeared at my open window, “What is wrong officer? They crossed the line and must pay the fine” he said as Redvers joined our discussion by engulfing him in a plume of black smoke that arises every time we start his engine. “We’ve dealt with your friend already,” I said, the car already starting to roll, “And he’s told us we can leave” I continued, now shouting over my shoulder, as Somers pulled Redvers away.

We got to the camp site at Rundu and I cracked open a nice cold can of Pepsi and greedily drank down every last drop, I’d have had a second out of sheer malice but I was full from a lot of warm water I’d drunk earlier. Laura reasserted her Britishness by making a pot of tea to match the Chelsea buns she’d acquired earlier in the day at the bakery at Tsumeb.

Once again we watched Angolan life, clearly but again at a distance and this time across the Kavango River. Whilst the men played football in the background, the women came down from their homes to the waters’ edge, washing their brightly coloured t-shirts in the brown water. Water that is heading to the same place as we are. To the Delta.

Posted by ibeamish 23:13 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

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