Overland Botswana – Heading up to Lekhubu Island
Having crossed the border into The Tuli Block and excited to continue our Africa travel sabbatical in Botswana, we headed north towards the salt pans, stopping en-route to spend a night at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, or Khama No-Rhino Sanctuary as we came to call it. Camping here is expensive but feeling good about our prospects of seeing rhino, we decided to splash out. Despite our best efforts and a total of six hours spent driving in circles around this small game park we weren’t able to spot a single rhino which left us feeling even more depressed about the current state of the rhino population. Upon our departure we were assured by a park ranger that there are in fact fifty rhino in the sanctuary but that you have to “sweat to see them”, hopefully you have more luck!
The drive to Lekhubu Island is an adventure in itself and by the time we arrived at our destination Jimny had turned a dark shade of dusty grey. This was to be our first experience of bush camping in that there is no available water or power, but if you are prepared to brave a long-drop this unique place is well worth a visit. Strolling through the rocks and baobab forests, we came across a sacred cave and iron age ruins that still hold much ancestral importance to the local community and at midday we settled in the shade to absorb the landscape around us, such as we had never seen before. The salt pan blazes white as far as the eye can see and in the absolute silence, the peaceful energy of this spiritual place is palpable. Sunrise and sunset on the island was the opportune time for us amateur photographers to put our skills to the test although we were unable to fully capture the magnificence of the scenery around us. At night, bathed in bright moonlight, the salt pan takes on an eerie vastness that can be enjoyed over a nightcap.
Relying heavily on wet wipes, we felt a sense of achievement in having made it through two nights on the island but waking up on our second morning feeling a bit too dusty and crusty for comfort, we unzipped our tent to the rather unpleasant sight of a French overlander near our campsite obviously favouring a bush to the longdrop when we knew it was time to pack up, hit the road and continue our overland Botswana adventure. Somewhere between GPS and navigator error we unintentionally found ourselves on the sandtrack heading north and after a three hour drive broke through the bush into the backyard of a house in the town of Gweta, much to the surprise of a rather puzzled looking little boy and his goat. Fortunately we were close to Planet Baobab which we had heard rave reviews about. Given that we had just spent a few days on Lekhubu Island, the offer of a hot shower, electrical points, a dip in the pool, ice cold beer and a few hours spent snoozing on the loungers at the very reasonable price of R100 per person to camp soon earned this location the title of Planet Paradise.
Moremi National Park
Maun is the central hub of Northern Botswana and gateway to the game parks when travelling from the south. This large town provides a chance to fill the water tanker, refuel, restock, repack our Jimny and glean useful information from chatting to fellow travellers staying at the campsites and backpackers. Having learned that the road up to Chobe was in a very bad condition we decided that we would perhaps approach that park from the north at a later stage in our overland Botswana travels and fortunately managed to get three nights in South Gate, Moremi. If you plan to spend time in the parks during the busy season between late August and early September, be sure to book in advance and bare in mind that the camps are all owned by different companies which can frustrate the process.
As the Botswana Parks motto goes – low volume, high price – the park fees certainly paid off as we were able to spend hours watching game, which included two separate prides of lion, without being disturbed by other vehicles. Water levels permitting, driving along the edge of the delta is a must as is navigating the Khwai river and watching the sun set over the southern plains where countless game of all varieties gather at dusk around the waterholes. The camps themselves are not fenced but we would only come to fully appreciate this fact when a bull elephant decided to take a stroll through our campsite. While we had become wise to the stealth-like thievery of the monkeys and baboons, nothing could have prepared us for the visitor that we would receive on our first night at South Gate. Earlier in the evening we had noticed a pair of green eyes reflecting in the torch light from the periphery of our campsite but hadn’t given the observer much thought. A little while later I heard Gary shouting from the braai and glanced down to find a hyena’s snout buried deep in the grocery container next to me. Needless to say, dinner that night was a rushed affair and lying in bed we were only somewhat comforted by the false sense of security that our ground tent provided as every so often we would hear sniffing at the thin material that separated us from that snout.
The roads in Moremi are not to be underestimated and were a reminder of the deep sand tracks that we had come across in the Maputo Elephant Sanctuary. Jimny, the champion, proved his unwavering ability to handle the toughest of sandy sections. We did however come across a few less fortunate travellers including a Dutch family comprising of two bewildered looking teenagers and a wife who appeared less than impressed with her husband’s off-road driving capability while digging through deep sand in the midday heat. It’s not a mere coincidence that most of the vehicles that we passed, axle-deep in the sand, were rented 4×4 double-cab bakkies.
During our time in this area we were surprised by how many travellers of all ages were on the road and more so by their inspiring stories and experiences. Dutch and German travellers in particular seem to embody an adventurous spirit choosing to purchase or hire fully equipped 4x4s and drive their vehicles up or down the length of Africa. We were also somewhat blown away by two Aussie brothers who had been on the road with their motorbikes for two years already, having ridden through Australasia, Europe and Africa, their plans would soon take them to South America as their next destination. It is fantastic to meet people who are in a similar frame of mind to ourselves, affirming our decision to take a sabbatical and broadening our perspective of traveling possibilities.
The Pan-handle and Caprivi Strip
Much to Gary’s excitement, our route took us back down to Maun and then onto the pan-handle for a few weeks spent fishing on the Okavango. Given the amount of years that Drotskys has been going it was imperative to spend a few days at this institution after which we stopped in at the rather quirky Ngepi Camp. Here Gary undertook the challenge of frequenting every novelty bathroom facility on offer, tending to favour the “King’s throne” positioned to provide optimal views out over the river.
Although we arrived early in the season and only caught the first traces of the barbel run, it was evident through chatting to other fishermen that no-one seemed to be having any luck on the fly and that most catches were made using live-bait. The fishing guides explained that locals in the area either purchase cheap Chinese fishing nets or use mosquito nets handed out by NGOs and are attaching same right across the river. The concerns raised by this not only pertain to the decline in the number of fish in the river, but also other species in the area that rely on fish for their own survival in this sensitively balanced ecosystem. Having crossed into the Caprivi strip, this problem was also evident on the upper Zambezi and we were heart sore to learn from the manager of Island View Lodge that many hippos have been killed by locals due to their interfering with the fishing nets.
During our overland Botswana trip we were happy to have witnessed the country celebrating fifty years of independence. Blue and white flags, t-shirts and banners were everywhere, symbolizing progression and reinforcing the message given by President Seretse Khama encouraging people to band together, assist one another and live as the proud people of Botswana. Evidence of this pride could be found throughout the country as we drove through clean towns free of litter and came across amiable and courteous people eager to assist us where ever possible. Having thoroughly enjoyed our time in Bots, the three of us braved the ferry crossing to the Kazungula border, taking time to appreciate this location as the meeting point of four countries and looking forward to our next destination, Zambia!