We had been warned about long queues, being hassled by fixers, money changers and souvenir salesmen, and general African bureaucratic border bollocks when entering Botswana on the ferry from Zambia. Having some time to kill as we didn’t need to be at work the next day we thought we would risk it. About the only problem we had was having to put the soles of our shoes in dirty water to kill any Zambian bugs and throw away a half used lettuce before we were through. No problems.
Botswana seems to be paranoid about foot and mouth disease with funny water things to step in, water troughs to drive through to clean your tyres and regular veterinary lines with check-points to make sure you aren’t taking contraband meat from one side of the line to the other. If you haven’t been quick enough to hide your steak in your laundry bag it gets confiscated. That is the only negative thing I have to say about this country.
We went to Chobe National Park to see if we could spot an elephant, staying at a place called Chobe Safari Lodge where vervet monkeys are pests and you lose your lunch if you turn your back for one second. They then climb the tree above your car and drop a giant wet turd full of green things on the bonnet. You then wait for it to dry a bit so you can scrape instead of smearing. You wait a bit longer. You then realise that he didn’t take a dump on your car he dropped a melted slab of mint chocolate.
At the campsite we bumped into a Dutch family, Robert, Tamara, Sem and Tess, who we had met briefly when leaving Rwanda (4opreis.nl). We went on a boat trip along the river, seeing plenty of animals and amazing bird life, including the African Skimmer, with chicks. For those of you who aren’t in the know, this is a big thing in bird-watching land (although all you need to do to see them is go there). Suitably impressed for people who until then weren’t in the know, we also saw our first Sable Antelope of the trip.
Having not seen enough on the boat we drove through the park the next day – if you haven’t guessed yet, Jules and I love the bush. Whenever we enter a game reserve we feel like we have landed in the equivalent of Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. To add to the magic, there haven’t been any grown-ups around trying to make us do things like eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch when we could be eating things like biltong and chips.
Along with the TIA (This Is Africa) acronym, when in the bush we have TIB (slow on the uptake? This Is Bush). TIB comes with its own special rules – there aren’t any. Would you like to eat biltong for breakfast? TIB. Would you like a Niknak and boerewors salad? TIB. Would you like a G&T at a time frowned upon by most people? TIB. Would you like a beer at a time frowned upon by most people? TIB. Would you like pasta instead of a braai for dinner? TIDefinitelyNB.
Seeing animals in a game reserve is exciting, but for some reason seeing them in the “wild” wild is even better – elephants walking around the outskirts of a town, warning signs with pictures of elephants on them on a highway. Even animals you don’t bother stopping for in parks get “ZEBRA” exclamations and frantic pointing when outside a park. We saw an ostrich and were really excited until we got a bit closer to watch him stand up and pull up his trousers after having had a side of the road bos kuck before getting back into his truck.
In Zambia we had met a couple who told us about a place called Elephant Sands. Apparently the ground water is salty so the owner has been unable to get fresh water for the elephants in the area. As a result he brings in a tanker of water every day and fills up a small trough for them. The elephants come bounding in to get to the water like puppies greeting their owners when they get home from work – about 3 metres away from where you sit enjoying your beer safely behind a foot-high wall. I put my camera on the wall to film them and then spent a few tense moments waiting for it to be squashed after an inquisitive elephant came to have a look at it and dropped it on the ground with its trunk. We spent the afternoon and sat up late into the evening watching them coming and going before retiring to the safety of our tent just around the corner. To think that in Zambia we had been worried about a peanut in the car and were now sleeping near about 50 elephants without any concerns – until Jules woke up in the middle of the night convinced that one was next to the car. She leant forward and felt my leg under the sleeping bag and not so quietly shat herself when she thought it was the elephant’s trunk inside the tent.
Next stop was a campsite called Planet Baobab for a “weekend” lying around the pool and reading before heading into the pans. On the way we found a butcher and got our first proper taste of Botswana beef. Who needs to go to church on a Sunday when you are already in Heaven? Fillet is half the price of fillet in South Africa, but I’m not trying to shock South Africans. I’m trying to shock my friends in the UK. Luvic, Bag, Alex and Chris Way go to your favourite currency conversion website and convert 58.95 Pula into Pounds to see what fillet costs per kg and then let beef fomo kick in – and it isn’t emaciated British beef injected with saline solution and oestrogen to grow your man boobs. Can you spell Meat Sweats?
The Dutch family have been doing roughly the same route, so we decided to go in convoy to spend a night at a place called Kubu island – a rocky outcrop full of amazing baobabs with a sea of salt pan stretching to the horizon. After all the obligatory close/far/tall/short pictures in the pans we went back via Chapman’s Baobab, acknowledged to be the third largest tree in Africa with a circumference of 25 metres, estimated to be between 4,000 and 6,000 years old, and was used as a campsite by explorers such as David Livingstone.
Because of time constraints we have decided to save the southern part of Botswana for another trip so headed up to Maun to have a look at the Delta. In Maun we found a butcher called Beef Boys (Where you’ll have fun fun fun until the checkpoint takes your t-bone away). Jules gave me some allowance and then went back to the car. TIB.
Along with the great migration, a flight over the delta has been on the list of things to do this trip, so off we went for an hour long scenic flight. The scenery was incredible with elephants and other animals dotted around the delta and paths in the water from hippos and other animals – amazing. Amazing too that “Scenic Flight” sounds so innocuous – the sort of thing you would do on your honeymoon. Not quite so romantic when you are both viewing the amazing scenery by peeping over your barf bags for the duration of the flight. Okavango Delta Chunder Bucket List Item – Tick.
From Maun we went up towards the Caprivi, staying at a place near Shakawe where we spent a day Tiger Fishing on a strictly catch-and-release basis, releasing 5 before we caught them. No tigers in the boat, but a barbell does count – my first fish of the trip – and something I would always rather catch than pay. While we were on the boat a spectacular fire swept through the area. We were up at 3 in the morning ready to move in case the fire jumped across the river into the camp.
Botswana is an amazing country and I can’t wait to come back.