Tsodillo Hills, Maun, Okavango Delta, Nxai Pan, Maun, Moreni, Chobe National Park (Savuti, Chobe Riverfront) and Kasane.
Border crossing, Okanvanga Pan-handle and Tsodilo Hills
Border crossing and running errands
After crossing the border into Botswana we needed to run some errands, such as getting some money, buy a new sim card for our mobile and groceries (as due to the Red line you are not allowed to bring red meat, fruit and dairy products into Botswana (although since July 2016 you are allowed to bring small quantities… we find out at the border and we were allowed to bring our 2 eggs with us)).
The first town we pass through is Shakawe and luckily it has a bank…maybe it was not so smartly planned by us, as it is again the last weekend of the month and to make things more interesting, only 2 days before Botswana’s 50th independence festivities and the queue for the ATM (and the bank cashier) were insanely long. At least 50 people are standing in line of the ATM with an approximate waiting time of 2 to 3 of hours. We decided to go for the much smaller line for the cashier and only change our Namibia dollars. We however learned from the guy in front of us that he had been waiting there for over 3 hours…
We made (a poor?) decision to drive to the next town (approx. 100km further) and hoping not need to stand in line… the queue in that town only took us 1,5 hours for the ATM and another 30 minutes in line to change our Namibian Dollars into Pula’s (because we could get our number (like at the bakery) for the teller counter before standing in line for the ATM, as most locals do as well…we’re fast leaners).
After our errands we drove 40km back north to the Guma Lagoon Lodge, a nice campsite on the shores of the Okanvango pan-handle. The pan-handle is a narrow strip of swampland that extends for about 100km from the Namibian border to “Etsha 13”.
It is the end of a long hot day and we were tired, just wanting to get settled, have a cold beer and relax. However from the main road we needed to drive 16km through very thick and loose sand and needed to reduce the pressure of the tyres to avoid getting stuck. Our GPS showed many different tracks to get to the campsite, some not passable in the rainy season. After another 45 minutes drive we finally get to the campsite. The scenery was very nice and made up for the long drive, but Wilfred said that if he had known the 16km would take this long he never would have camp there! The view of the sundeck was nice during sunset and we saw some mokoro’s (traditional canoes) and fishing boats passing the lodge on the water.
Early evening while preparing dinner an owl visits our pitch…landing on the chair right next to where Judith was sitting…hence the surprised look on her face.
The next day, we decided to drive another 100km (back North) to Tsodilo Hills, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of rock art, rock shelters, and caves. It gained it’s WHS listing in 2001 because of its unique religious and spiritual significance to local people, as well as its unique record of human settlement over many millennia. UNESCO estimates that there are over 4500 rock paintings at the site. The site consists of a few main hills known as the Child Hill, the Female Hill, and the Male Hill. These hills are of great cultural and spiritual significance to the San people of the Kalahari. We did a guided tour on the Rhino walking track and saw many rock art painting. It was mid day on a very hot day, so we decided to only walk around the base of the hills and not climb to the top knowing that the path would offer no shades. The rock art at Tsodilo Hills consists of two different colour schemes; white and red rock art. The white coloured rock art is associated with the Bantu people and the paintings mostly depict animals (both domestic and wild), as well as human like figures. There is a myriad of red rock art in Tsodilo Hills and these red paintings are attributed to the San people and the hills are of great cultural and spiritual significance to the San peoples of the Kalahari. They believe the hills are a resting place for the spirits of the deceased and that these spirits will cause misfortune and bad luck if anyone hunts or causes death near the hills.
After our visit to Tsodilo Hills we drove towards Maun, a long drive (370km) over a good tar road with the occasional pothole. While driving though a small town we crossed an intersection and a few kilometres down the road we were stopped by police…for speeding !? It appears that speed signs are not repeated after an intersection in Botswana and the officer wanted to fine us for driving 27km too fast (which we indeed did…). After some discussions we finally settled for 15km and paid the fine. Still feels unfair as they only go after tourists as Wilfred noticed only European names in the registration book. Our first impression of Botswana was not as nice as we would have liked !
Maun, Nxai Pan and Moremi Game reserve.
In Maun we got some more supplies for our overnight trip to Nxai Pan and Baines Baobab. On the campsite we ran into some familiar faces…the American couple that was also preparing their Landcruiser Troopy in Cape Town at R&D Offroad. We spent a couple of afternoons and evenings at Old Bridge backpackers, mostly listing to their amazing and extreme travel adventures in Africa.
Nxai Pan and Baines Baobabs
From Maun we visited Nxai Pan and Baines Baobabs. Nxai Pan is a large salt pan topographic depression, which is part of the larger Makgadikgadi Pans in northeastern Botswana, the largest salt pan area in Africa. Nxai pan itself is a fossil lakebed about 40 square km in size. In the park you have a couple of campsites and we booked Baines Baobabs campsite. That campsite lies in the south of the Nxai Pan National Park and is home to the famous Baines' Baobabs, which were immortalised in paintings by the artist and adventurer Thomas Baines in 1862. Today, a comparison with Baines' paintings reveals that in almost 150 years, only one branch has broken off. Baines, a self-taught naturalist, artist and cartographer, had originally been a member of David Livingstone's expedition up the Zambezi, but was mistakenly accused of theft by Livingstone's brother and forced to leave the party. Livingstone's brother later realised his mistake (but never publicly admitted it), yet Baines remained the subject of ridicule in Britain.
We first drove some tracks on the Nxai salt pan for game viewing, seeing elephants, giraffe, kori bustard and lions near one of the waterholes. Whilst watching these animals we were surprised by a ‘sand twister’(?) that came from behind and filled the car with lots of sand and dust. After that we drove to the campsite on a one way track…not exactly one way, but you cannot pass. Halfway we saw a car stuck in the thick sand and learned that they were already stuck for two hours! It turned out to be the most difficult track to the campsite and they were lucky we drove by. If not, they would have had to camp right there. We got our recovery material and 45 minutes later we drove together to the campsite and ended up having dinner with them and enjoying the view of Baines Baobabs early morning during breakfast.
Maun and the Okanvango Delta
As we are heading towards Zambia in a couple of weeks, with its many tsetse (tik-tik) flies (especially in the national parks) we had screens for our front windows custom made by a canvas company to keep the flies out…but how can we than make nice pictures of animals that we will see in the parks…Wilfred came up with the idea to add a zipper in the screen. When the screens are fitted to our car, many employees of Kalahari Canvas came to have a look…they strangely had never made anything like this! We looked at the commotion around our truck and joked that we should have sold the design. Now we only need to find a proper solution for the back door and we will finally be insect proof !
While in Maun we booked two excursions; a full day mokoro trip and a scenic flight above the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve.
The Okavango Delta is one of Botswana premier tourist attractions. It is a very large, swampy inland delta formed where the Okavango River reaches the Delta. All the water reaching the Delta is ultimately evaporated and transpired, and does not flow into any sea or ocean. The Moremi Game Reserve, a National Park, is on the eastern side of the Delta. The scale and magnificence of the Okavango Delta helped it secure a position as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, which were officially declared in 2013.
A mokoro is a traditional dug out canoe that is mostly used for transport and tourist visiting the Okavango Delta. It is propelled through the shallow waters of the delta by standing in the stern and pushing with a pole, in the same manner as punting. Mokoro boats are traditionally made by digging out the trunk of a large straight tree, such as an ebony tree or Kigelia tree. Modern mokoro boats, however, are increasingly made of fibre-glass, one of the advantages of which is the preservation of more of the large endangered trees. On the starting point we saw many of these fiberglass mokoro’s, but ours is a traditional one, made of wood, straw on the bottom and the owner used it the last 15 years to guide tourist on the delta. He is extremely proud of his boat and many other polers are a bit jealous, cause they have a fibre-glass mokoro.
Mokoro safaris are a popular way for most tourists to visit the delta, much of which is in national parks, but the boats are also still a practical means of transport for residents to move around the swamp. The boats are very vulnerable to attack by hippopotamus, which can overturn them with ease. Hippo’s are reputed to have developed this behaviour after the use of mokoro’s and other boats for hunting them. In Qatar we watched some episodes of National Geographic’s Dangerous creatures and one of the stories was that a hippo overturned a boat and one of the tourist died on that trip. So we got a little anxious when we saw some hippo’s really close to our mokoro. After making some pictures (as you do as tourist…) one of the hippo’s moves fast toward our boat…the poler manoeuvred us into the thick reed where the hippo’s don’t go.
After a couple of hours in the mokoro we did a game walk on one of the islands encountering zebra’s, wildebeest, elephants and fish eagles. Afterwards our guide asked if we liked to go for a swim in the delta…yeah, right, where many crocodiles and hippo’s live as well…we skipped that part !
The next day we did a scenic flight above the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve with a small Cessna. The views are to die for…thanks to everyone at our going away party who helped make this flight possible! We really enjoyed it !!!
Moremi game reserve
In Botswane it was still high season and unfortunately we were unable to book any campsite inside Moremi and Chobe national park. Judith contacted a small travel agency in Maun and they booked alternative campsites for us, just outside the gates of these two parks. The next few days we spent game viewing, but also driving on some of the worst roads so far…especially during the long drive from Khwai (Moremi) via Savuti to Muchenje (Chobe).
Moremi game reserve rests on the eastern side of the Okavango Delta and was named after Chief Moremi of the BaTawana tribe. Moremi was designated as a Game Reserve, and not a National Park, when it was created. This designation meant local people, the BaSarwa or Bushmen that lived there were allowed to stay in the reserve. The Moremi Game Reserve covers much of the eastern side of the Okavango Delta and combines permanent water with drier areas, which create some startling and unexpected contrasts.
Our next stop is the Chobe National Park, which borders the Moremi Game Reserve.
Chobe National Park
Chobe National Park can be divided in four different areas and we plan to visit two of the four areas; Chobe riverfront and Savuti.
The Savuti Marsh area constitutes the western stretch of the park (50 km north of Mababe Gate and closest to Moremi). The Savuti Marsh is the relic of a large inland lake whose water supply was cut a long time ago by tectonic movements. Nowadays the marsh is fed by the erratic Savuti Channel, which dries up for long periods then curiously flows again, a consequence of tectonic activity in the area. As a result of this variable flow, there are hundred of (seemingly?) dead trees along the channel's bank. The region is also covered with extensive savannahs and rolling grasslands. During our game drive we followed the river bed of the Savuti Channel and in this part we saw many carcasses of elephants whom either had died from exhaustion or where preyed upon by predators. Besides elephants we saw wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, impalas and several birds. Unfortunately we didn’t see any predators, even though the area is renowned for its large prides of lions.
The drive from Savuti to the Ngoma gate of the Chobe riverfront is the worst road we have ever driven (this might change when we travel to eastern Africa…). It was probably the longest day we ever spent in the car, starting at 9AM and arriving at the campsite at dusk. As mentioned before while driving on a sand roads you kind of get a trampoline effect. In Namibia this was only on the main track in the park, in Chobe NP it is the entire road from Savuti to Ngoma gate, except for the last 10 kilometres. Three hours of jumping up and down in our seats…Wilfred is exhausted of driving at the end of the day.
Our campsite is just 8 kilometres outside the Chobe Riverfront NP and at reception we have good internet. We are curious if the present we shipped to the Netherlands a couple of weeks ago has arrived. And NAMpost and PostNL have done there work. We get a nice picture of Simon wearing the African dirt t-shirt.
The next two days we visited Chobe riverfront, situated in the extreme Northeast of the park, has as its main geographical features lush floodplains and dense woodland of mahogany, teak and other hardwoods now largely reduced by heavy elephant pressure. The Chobe River is a major watering spot, especially in the dry season (May through October) for large breeding herds of elephants, as well as families of giraffe, sable and cape buffalo. And buffalo we saw…a herd of maybe 700-800 of them, just beside one of the tracks!!! Near the riverbed we also saw the roan and sable antelope. The sable antelope was even in a small herd of ten. The flood plains are also the only place in Botswana where the puku antelope can be seen, but so far we were not so lucky…maybe after we return from Victoria Falls we will see a puku. Along the riverbed towards Kasane we saw several large herds of elephant and even a young baby elephant of just a couple of week old.
After our visit to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe we will visit the Chobe riverfront for another two days or so and hope that we are able to get a pitch at the Ihaha campsite inside the park.