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Road Report #2

BOTSWANA


Sunday, May-27

Waking up in Mokolodi Steve had a closer look at the shower set up.

A rustic setup. We would need to build a fire under a barrel of water then pump it into the overhead, outdoor shower.

Considering how cold it was that morning – no idea on the actual temp but we had our warmest gear on we, decided we’d hope for a better option this evening. So after a relaxed breakfast we headed back up the bumpy Shower at Mokolodidirt track.

The reason places like Mokolodi Game Reserve are so expensive to camp in ($300 pula a night = $45 Cdn) is because staying there also entitles you to spend the day driving throughout the reserve and viewing the wildlife. But we have a 2 WD that is likely to get stuck and a long drive ahead of us today so we head for the gate.

Enroute we have our first bit of magic for the day, a troop of vervet monkeys hopping and skipping across the road in front of us, jumping into the trees at the edge, peering curiously out of the branches to see what we were up to.

Next we came on a huge troop of baboons at the Baboons near Gabaroneside of the highway to Gabarone. It was all we could do not to screech to a stop in the middle of the road. Steve did find a place to pull over so we watched them playing around on the verge; 30 to 40 baboons from huge males to tiny babies clinging to Mom’s back.

One of the little baboons posed himself against a termite mound. These are everywhere to be seen.The story with these is that during the life of a termite colony they will have three queens. Each queen lives for about 25 years. So the really humongous mounds we see are probably about 75 years old. You never see the termites because they live and work in tunnels underground – a whole warren of them underfoot, apparently. The only time they do come out is at night. Anteaters and other animals do sometimes break into the termite mound. When this Termite mound with baby baboonhappens the colony will throw thousands of soldiers at the anteater, satiating his appetite. Once he leaves the workers will then get busy and have the damage to the mound repaired in quick order. The queen is always kept in the center of the mound, far from harm. Her one and only job is to lay eggs, billions of them in her lifetime.

At the edge of Gabarone we stopped at a small shopping mall to get some petrol and groceries. The first thing we noticed was that there were no lot boys looking for pulas to guard our car, no hanger-ons lurking around the edges. It was a clean, tidy shopping mall with everyone going about their business, period. No one looking for handouts.

We are also noticing that residential homes along the highway do not sport the imposing compound walls with barbed and electrified wire common in South Africa. Occasionally we see one but most either have no fence at all or a simple chicken wire/ chain link to keep animals/kids in.

According to what we are reading, the politics and economics of Botswana are very different from most other African nations. It is a genuinely democratic country, although the president also happens to be the hereditary chief, an import asset for him politically. The country has a rich diamond mining industry. Contrary to what happens in most of these countries, where the profits are removed to the Swiss bank accounts of the elite, the profits here have been ploughed right back into the needs of the country and its people: health care, education, and infrastructure like good paved roads. It shows.

The road, as we drove towards Serowe is beautiful – paved and no potholes. Rest areas are placed frequently – a pull off and picnic area under a big shady tree. As we turn west from Palanaye the terrain is beginning to roll. It is still a burned out winter landscape but the green is still peeking through in many fields.

donkeys at rest areaWe see a lot of donkeys, pulling carts and just grazing. They are all over the highway, as are the goats and cows. Mostly they seem savvy to the dangers of the road but we did see one hit. Sitting off to the side, awaiting their turn at the carcass, a gaggle of vultures - ugly creatures.

Drivers here are crazy fast – like Europeans. The courier trucks, particularly, are always in a big hurry. They speed up behind you then dart out, pulling in so quickly at times it seems certain they’ll nick your front quarter panel. We are driving a moderate 90 kph – just about right for this little 4-vulturesbanger bakkie. No wonder everyone passes us.

By late afternoon we arrive at our destination, the Khama Rhino Sanctuary and have no trouble securing a campsite. The sites are about 2.5 km from the main gate, inside the sanctuary. They are huge and level sand with a braii pit. Each site is under a giant monkongwa tree which is a lot like a baobob but smaller. The ablution block is lovely – rustic in style but the water is endlessly hot and the shower is absolutely lovely. We take the opportunity to do some laundry and hang it up outside.

Hookbill at Khama Rhino SanctuaryThe magic in this site are the birds. Just spectacular – they surround us as soon as we arrive. I have to get a bird and mammal book soon so I can more properly identify them. Here we saw a magnificent red breasted bird, some lovely white and black, speckled pea hens feffing around in the dried leaves and a spectacular hook-billed bird. He was elusive, until I brought a plate of grapes out to enjoy – for myself. He flew in beside me and was quite brazen about helping himself to the grapes. So note to self – keep grapes in the fridge to attract the more exotic birds.

If you stay here longer, there is a restaurant and pool. And if you have a 4WD or Tree over campsite at Khama Rhino Sanctuarylightweight bakkie you can drive around the reserve and look at the animals. There are rustic chalets too. The Khamo Rhino Sanctuary lies 25 km north of Serowe on the road to Orapa. There are 4300 acres of Kalahari sandveld – lots of sand, nothing but sand although there is also lots of scrubby vegetation.

The sanctuary was chosen due to its excellent habitat for the endangered rhinos, central location and proximity to Botswana Defence Force base which provides 24 hour protection. This is important because poaching continues to be a major problem in Africa. Men in Asia are convinced that the rhino horns hold the secret to lifelong erections and as we all know, there is big, big money in keeping old men in the game.
It has gotten to the point that some of the game reserves are sedating their rhinos and removing their horns, just to preserve their lives. It is a very sad sight, seeing these rhinos without their pride and joy but I guess, if it keeps them alive. These magnificent beasts live up to about 40 years and can regrow their horns in about 5 years.

Monday, May-28
MAUN

Another long day of driving ahead, we awoke at 6 am and left the Khama Rhino Reserve headed for Maun. With the exception of about 10 km of serious potholes, the roads were very good asphalt. It is interesting to see the mix of housing styles; a modern home and right beside it a thatch-roofed traditional rondaavel. In other areas, Hwy to Maunwhole villages of traditional thatched homes.

Today we saw a LOT of donkeys – absolutely everywhere – thousands of them in this area. They seem to roam free. As do goats, huge herds of them. Cannot figure out if they are being farmed or wild. This is also cattle country and those are obviously being grazed out. When we stopped at a rest area to have lunch we were entertained by the cowboys tearing around on horses herding the cows into groups and moving them into corrals. interesting to watch as the cowboys definitely have their own style here, wearing hats of every description but could not help noticing that many wore a dapper Frank Sinatra-style hat; definitely no Stetsons.

Around Rakops we came on the Kalahari salt pans – miles and miles of dusty and deadly dry white pans as far as the eye can see. With the wind kicking up the dry sand into a fog of flying dust it looks like one of the most miserable places in the world to live. You can take ATV tours out onto them but I cannot figure out why you would. Originally we thought we’d need to stay here somewhere for the night. Thank goodness the roads are so excellent that is not necessary.

ostriches near the salt pans The open grasslands nearby presented us with a huge herd of ostriches. Lovely creatures to look at – moving like ballet dancers. Skittish though. They would be unconcernedly wandering the verges of the highway while traffic zoomed by but as soon as we slowed down or stopped to take their photo they danced off.

Arrived in Maun about 4 pm and went straight to the Wilderness Safaris office where we enquired into trips into the Okavango Delta. This is the company that has been recommended to us but when I looked at their website before leaving home I nearly choked on the prices. THAT was not going to happen.

However, always the optimists we popped in and discovered that if you are IN Botswana and booking the trip to leave WITHIN the next 14 days you are eligible for a 70% discount. Holy cow! The delta is now affordable again. So we have booked 2 days each in two camps – Xigera and Kwetsane. Everything included, and that means three flights over the delta, is about $1100 each. Very cheap for what we will be getting / experiencing.

One of our camping neighbours booked a flightseeing trip over the delta – just the one hour flight cost him $300 Cdn per person. We will have 1.5 hours of flying time Audi campover the delta included while we get to and from the two camps.

Our trips don’t leave till My 31 so we settle in at Audi Camp about 10 km from Maun. The price is $140 pula (less than $20 Cdn) for the campsite, an additional $70 pula if we want electricity. The shower block is unique – a round rondaavel style building with a thatched roof that covers all but the edges. The showers are on the edges so there I was, showering under the stars – just lovely. They make good use of the sun here - there are solar-panels everywhere and the water in the showers is very hot, feeding directly off solar-heated units beside the ablution block.

relaxing at Audi CampThe grounds of Audi Camp are really lovely. There is a large pool and relaxation area off the bar / restaurant with large lounge areas of comfy sofas and chairs. I try one out and it is nice. If you want to see where we are: www.okavangocamp.com

Steve took a walk down to the river and had a great talk with a local fisherman and his wife who was doing her washing in the river while watching the cows wade in and out of the river. This is the same river that they seem to be pumping our water out of. Hope it is being treated. We are buying drinking water and pouring a little bleach into the tank of the camper so that our washing up water is at least chlorinated. fishing at Audi Camp

There is a great bar and for 45 pula ($6) I purchased 30 days worth of internet so I can get some stuff done here. All of these camps also have a variety of accommodations available to travelers with no camping gear of their own. For example, here at Audi you could book a simple tent on a raised platform with 2 cots and mattresses. Or you could book a deluxe ensuite tent with all the luxuries. They also have a self-catering house for rent.

There are not a lot of us at Audi Camp but those neighbours we have are amiable. Directly beside us are a couple of youngish blokes from Capetown. They are driving a big 4WD LandRover that has been decked out with enough equipment to make it every man’s fantasy. The night before they had camped in the wilds just outside Moremi NP and spent the whole night trying to keep the brown hyaenas from destroying their camp. They were exhausted and shaken by the experience.

They had chosen not to camp in the park itself because the Botswana Wildlife Department had just raised the camping fees to $2100 pulas per person/ per night. That is $300 Cdn per person / per night. Crazy. The Wildlife minister seemed to think that tourists would pay ANYTHING to park in a field with an outhouse.

We mentioned this to a Botswana guide we met and he confirmed the story as absolutely true. He said the safari companies are absolutely livid because the rate was raised astronomically overnight and they were supposed to notify their clients, most of whom booked months and months ago that they now had to come up with these huge fees. So there is lots of protesting going on and hopefully that will be changed. Fortunately, because we don’t have a 4WD we cannot actually drive into most of these parks ourselves and will be depending on daytrips that don’t carry those kinds of fees.

Tuesday, May-29

Maun is a very walkable town – not very big. The tourists just seem to fly in to the airport, change planes to get out to the lodges and fly back out again. There is not a lot in the way of cafes or tourist concessions. So the shops are completely geared to the local needs. I found them very interesting to poke through.Bird

Some stuff is similar in price to home, others are much cheaper. For example, a couch is about $1000. A pair of children’s shoes is $3. Steve got his plug situation sorted for $3 at a local electronics shop. The same adapter had been $15 in a large shop in South Africa. We’ve been having a problem trying to marry up extension cords and wall plugs and appliances. We brought what were supposed to be the correct adapters from the travel shop at home. But here, everything seems to have a different plug pattern. Even within the same country. You would not believe the series of connectors we have plugged into each other, one on top of the other just to make this computer work.

I am not sure what the current exchange rate is with Canadian dollars but somewhere around 7-8 pula per Cdn $. So examples of food costs:

can of Fanta orange 5.45p (less than a dollar)
small bottle bleach 13.95p (about $2)
Halls lozenges 5.45p (less than a dollar each)
plastic bag for grocery shopping .30p (.04 each)
cheese slices 9 small pkg 10.95p ($1.50)
1 lt UV milk 13.95p ($2)
loaf of brown bread 5.95p (less than a dollar)

Bird on butt in MokolodiWe had a great lunch at a local place. Chicken kebabs – mild peri with salad and chips for me, chicken burger for Steve. The bill was a total of less than $10. “peri” refers to spiciness. I decided I’d start with mild and see how it goes. Last time we were in Africa I ordered Very Peri at my first meal and that was a mistake. For the record, Mild Peri was lovely and I may try Medium Peri next time.

Back at the campsite we booked an electrical site for the next 2 nights so we can recharge things and I can work on the computer. We also sent a laundry basket of clothes off to be laundered – 20 p for the whole basket. Cheaper than Mexico where we were paying up to $8 for a basket of clothes.

So, tomorrow we are flying off to our luxury lodge on the spectacular Okavanago Delta. That will be an interesting change of pace for us. Stay tuned.

Carolyn Usher