Self-drive through Botswana
Bijgewerkt: 14 jul 2019
We have survived the hardest offroad from Savuti to Kasane!
We survived the toughest route of whole Botswana without a punctered tire or getting stuck. Fortunately, because here you really do not want to have problems with your car as you will not find people for miles and miles and you can not leave the car because of lions, cheetahs and leopards that dare you to go on a walk as you are there perfect snack. Keep in mind that most of the routes in this park is mull sand and you need to set your tire pressure to 1.5 bar, drive in low gear Kilometers For a long time we had to get into the low gear, tire pressure at 1.5, over remote winding routes and 20 kilometers per hour to get to our destination.
We were scared shitless!
But before we go any further, we will first start with our trip. You hold on to it as it id a long story as we have so much to tell you .......... :-)
The border crossing from Namibia to Botswana is easy, 2 friendly men will ask you if we have anything to hide and our answers is of course, NO. After you fill in the necessary forms, we head to Tsodillo Hills. Oh no.....just kidding ... a bit further ahead there is another border post, this time of Botswana. Again we have to fill in the same forms, answer the same questions and all that on a snail's pace. If you want to unwind, I would advise you to visit the border posts of Botswana and Namibia.
After a bumpy gravel road of 1 hour we finally arrive at the Tsodillo Hills. In fact, it is only a few hills (called Male Hill, Female Hill, Child Hill and North Hill) in a flat and arid area. However, approximately 4000 prehistoric wall drawings can be found on these hills that are more than thousands of years old and were made by the San people (nomads). The drawings outline the life of the San people and consist mainly of animals. In the period of the San animals were abundant. The drawings are on the UNESCO world rankings and maybe nice to know that a Dutchman has discovered the drawings.
When we arrive there, in the middle of nowhere, we only find 1 guide. It is apparently the low season and there is no tourist to be seen. The guide will take care of our tour and after taking some water, we walk towards the hills. We take the 2.5 hour Rhino Trail through the mountains where we see ten drawings. Now I do not want to be a culture barbaric, but after 2.5 hours seeing the same drawings over and over in a temperature hitting 36 degrees, you have had it. But the story about the San people the guide told us is definitely interesting.
Back at the campsite, where nobody is, no other camping guests, no manager ..., we first bring the guide home (normally they walk home, which takes him 2 hours). When we arrive at the gate, it turns out that we have to pay for the night and a significant amount. On top of that we also have pay for the entrance of the park and the tour. All in all no bargain. We spontaneously decide to find a new overnight stay. The A3 motorway runs parallel to the Okavango Delta and you often get enough signs along the road with lodges, hotels and campsites. After 70 kilometers on the A3 we finally see a sign for a lodge and since it gets dark here already, we decide to take this lodge. The lodge is called Guma Lodge (Guma lodge is a (luxury) tent camp on the Okovango River where you can participate in bird spotting and fishing). We think that we are coming off with a piece of gravel road, but after 1 km we seem to be wrong. Early in Botswana we get the toughest road of our trip ... ..
13 km through thick, mul and high sand.
The sand comes halfway through our tires, we have no experience how to get through this, nor have we read about tips or tricks, but we are going for it anyway.
Inge has still remembered "keep speed" and takes the road with 40 km per hour in low gear. Normally you should reduce the tire pressure to 1.5 bar, but we drive with a too high tire pressure. Because we try to steer a lot (instead of holding the handlebar very loosely and let the tires follow the track itself) it is getting a lot harder to get a grip and we almost lose the car as we speed toward a tree. We have several moments where we see our lives passing before us, but after half an hour, which seems to take hours, we see light in the distance and we know that the end is in sight. Because the road turns out to be a hell and it is already too dark to set up camp, we spoil ourselves with a lodge, dive into bed and do not wake up until the morning light.
Because we have had the necessary tips on how to drive through this loose sand, the way back to the tar road is a breeze (keep speed means no more than do not stand still). On the way we meet a poor donkey whose legs are tied together so that he can not walk far away. This little creature looked bad, had a lot of scars, and the rope cut in his front legs, to the bleeding. Inge could not stand it and walked to the donkey and carefully cut off the rope. Let's hope he does not go back to his boss anymore ... ..
For Botswana standards, Maun is a big city and fully equipped (supermarkets, shops, petrol stations, banks, etc). Maun is also the gateway to the Okavango Delta and many people stop here before they enter THE park of Botswana.
We stay at The Old Bridge Backpackers Lodge and arrive in HEAVEN. The Lodge is located on the Thamalakane river, it has a large thatched meeting point, with reception, bar, pool table and a large terrace adjacent to the water. The atmosphere is relaxed and attracts super nice people from young to old. Everyone is in for a chat and has something nice to tell. Does this sound link a sale pitch? I guess it does, but to tell you the truth this is one of the best places in Botswana we stayed at. So people who stay in Maun go here.
At the reception we meet Jurgen and Sarah, a Belgian couple who are alsoon their world trip, but for 4 years. They have sold their house and car, stopped their job and just went with the flow. We exchanged stories all evening, while enjoying the necessary alcoholic refreshments, HIK.
PLANET BAOBAB @ GWETA
Today we travel to Gweta. Here we will visit the Ntwetwe Pan and we do not do that by car, but with quads. But before we are there we first have an hour and a half to go to reach the place where the quads are. From here we leave for the salt plains. It is extremely dusty and we must therefore ensure that we keep sufficient distance between the car and the quads. Halfway our route we visit a place where we can see Meerkatten (or Meerkats). Nice to see those little animals up close and especially when our guide points to a newborn meerkat. We like it so much that we actually forget the time to see the sunset at our camp on the salt plains.
We try to make up time by driving hard (YES!), but it is in vain.
When we arrive at our camp, a lovely hot bath is ready where we can freshen up. There is also a nice campfire and the food and drinks is already prepared for us. Sounds like a perfect night, right? At 21:00 the light goes out and we get into our swags and we fall asleep while stargazing.
Early in the morning we are awakened by the sunrise and the heat. On to the lodge to enjoy a delicious breakfast and a refreshing swim in the pool.
Xakanaxa is the most north-western spot of the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta. The landscape is dominated by lush, park-like landscape with roads mainly of sand or gravel. You will mainly encounter animals at the water drink places as it is dry season. A tip for future travelers to this park: Ask at the gate or passersby which routes are good, where there are animals to be seen and what is not worth it. This usually pays off. Likewise for us, because after a tip we see 2 lions (a male and female) slowly walking towards the waterpool.
After a few nice detours (rides through thick sand, through water, over wooden bridges and through grasslands) we arrive at Xakanaxa, which is a 7 hour drive. The campsite consists of 8 large open spaces between the trees with a braai and place to make fire. In the middle there are blocks in which toilets and showers can be found. The camp does not have a fence, so it is an open space where animals can walk around the camp.
We stay here for 2 days, but soon notice that there is nothing to do except make game drives or make a game drive by boat. Because we have a problem with our 2nd tank, we do not dare to make too many game drives. So on day 2 we walk towards the place where trips can be made by boat over the Okovango Delta. A boat is about to leave with 6 guys and we boldly ask if we can come along. "Welcome on board, this is your early Christmas present" is what one of the guys shout back. This man is the owner of 5 clubs in South Africa and with his 5 friends (also working in the company) is on a company trip. I can imagine more annoying company trips.
The boat trip leaves much to be desired in terms of wildlife, but it does show a part of the beautiful area that is called Moremi. And we have made new friends.
Because we have not made game drives after Xakanaxa, we decide to go to Paradise Pool after a tip of other travellers. Here a Leopard seems to have been spotted and we hope that this will not pass us by. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes the tip pays off and sometimes not and this time we unfortunately do not see a Leopard. What is worthwhile though is the place 'Hippo Pools'. Here you will find an abandoned watchtower and when you climb it, you have a beautiful view over a large waterhole where you can find a group of hippos.
The campsite Third Bridge is just as primitive as its neighbor in Xakanaxa, but we do have a nice view of the Khwai River. There is a lot of wildlife here such as baboons, hippos, antelopes, bucks, etc. Because Inge has read that you have to experience the Okavango at least once with a Mokoro (a narrow, long canoe where behind a rower / guide is standing) we decide to take this tour, price $100.00 for 2 hours (yes ... the Okavango Delta is anything but cheap). After a trip of 1 hour we finally come face to face with a group of Cape Buffalo. This animal lives in large herds of 50-500 and is a grass eater. Finally we have spotted number 4 on our list of the BIG 5.
Standing face to face with a group of Cape Buffels (20 meters away) is already breath taken, but even better is when you are making a campfire (which did not really work) and you come face to face with a Hyena ( at a distance of 5 to 7 meters). And it turns out to be a big one at that. The animal shows little interest and continues quietly. Now I thought that this animal was only a scavenger, but it turns out that it is also a predator. Lucky me :)
2 major roads run from Khwai to Savuti. These are the Sandridge road and Marsh road. The Sandridge road is for people who like a challenge and have back-up, the Marsch road is a fantastic route along high grasslands. Based on advice, we drove the Marsch road and are not disappointed at all. Especially at the end of the Marsch road (towards Savuti) you will find a lot of wildlife.
The campsite in Savuti is slightly more luxurious than its predecessors. The blocks for the toilet and shower are more luxurious and there is also a shop where you can buy different drinks. We stayed at camping spot 1 on the river. This place is quite remote from the rest of the campsite (the neighbor is 100 meters away from you). After our usual procedure of setting up tent, preparing food and showering, Inge went to gather wood. Keep in mind that it is better to buy proper fire wood in stead of scrapping wood out in the open. Especially when night falls, it can ben tricky to even walk even more than 1 meter of your car as we experienced first hand.
Just after we went to bed, we heard a sound behind our tent and the sound only came closer ... step by step, branches breaking...this thing came closer. Aiaiaia what are we going to experience now. The sound stops and instead a huge roar comes out of the bushes ... there can be no misunderstandings ... that's a LION.
Fortunately, the lion did not growl to us, but to a passing elephant. This is how our last evening ends in the best park of Botswana.
THE DAY ... yes, we call it THE DAY, because we have, according to insiders, saved the heaviest route for last. This is the route from Savuti to Kasane and consists of thick, mulled sand. This tension was reinforced by stories of people who had to wait 4 hours for another car because they were stuck. There are also stories about a family that has been stuck for 4 days, people who wanted help and were attacked by lions, so you might understand our fear a bit.
It certainly pays to ask other people what the best route is. And after a tip of 2 locals we took a detour, past the airport of Savuti, to avoid a part (1 hour) of the sandy road. Now we have encountered thick and mull sand a few times, but have finally arrived in Kasane without problems. The route isn't so bad if you have already driven the road to Guma Lodge once ;-).
Kasane is a big city located on the Chobe river. From here, various tours can be made by boat on the Chobe river or on land through Chobe National Park. We chose a sunset cruise on the Chobe river. We had read a lot about this on the internet and this had to be fantastic. If you like to go 2.5 hours on a double-decker boat with a large group of elderly people ... well then this is really worth it. If not, ask for the rental of small boats. These get closer to the animals and you see a lot more. Another point is that this piece of river is one big highway to the animals ... in other words you are not the only one on the river, but with 100 boats at the same time.
In Kasane we slept in Chobe Safari Lodge. This lodge offers nice, affordable rooms and is well worth it. Do not eat here unless you like a buffet and like to eat dry, lukewarm meat. Rob de Geus would have the time of his life with his briefcase if he was here.
After 3 weeks of driving ourselves, we are now waiting for our transfer to Vic Falls (Zimbabwe). As we arrive at our hotel we can't check in yet, so we leave our stuff behind and explore the city. There is one street with shops, a supermarket, a market where they all sell the same wooden or stone figurines and a lot of shops that offer the same activities. On the street you will find many street vendors who stick to sell some of their goods to us (wooden statuettes, old Zimbabweans money). But with a little bit of luck you can buy something nice with an old piece of clothing from yourself.
The next day we go to the Vic Falls. What should normally be a phenomenal spectacle is now a dull waterfall. It is not the ideal time to visit the waterfall, because we are at the end of the summer (June seems to be a good time). In the evening we ate at a local tent Mama Africa. While enjoying some nice African music, we risked Crocodile cake and a stew of Eland Antilope.
We have to check out the next day at 10:00. After waiting 3 hours in the lobby, we catch the taxi to the airport, expecting to entertain us there. Instead, we are simply told that our flight has been canceled and the plane is still in Gambia. The next flight would leave on Friday (2 days later). We look at each other in disbelief, what now? This was already the 2nd time that this flight did not go. Fortunately, British Airways appears to have a flight in one hour to Johannesburg and there is still space. We had to pay twice as much for this, but we were so fed up with it, that we didn't care what we had to pay. No sooner said than done, we finally arrived at 23:45 in Cape Town where we sleep in the Atlantic Affair Hotel. Here we have an apartment with a 2.50 meter wide bed, kitchen and a roof terrace.