#2 Botswana - Mokolodi to Maun
#3 Okavango Delta
#4 Botswana, Zambia
& Victoria Falls
#5 Caprivi Strip
& ETOSHA NP
& Kgalagadi NP
Garden Route & Addo Elephant Park
Mtns, Battlefields, Kruger NP
& NEW ZEALAND
Road Report #1
Finally, we are on the road in Africa. Over 2.5 months our
little “bakkie” (South African for truck) will take us through
Botswana, Namibia and South Africa – about 15,000 km.
We land in Johannesburg on May 22nd and pick up the truck with its bulbous
camper. It’s small but seems to have everything we need. Over the
hills ahead I expect its little 4-banger heart will falter on the steeps
but we have faith.
The first few days are spent with friends Rudi and Brenda at their gracious
Johannesburg home. Rudi takes us on a Joburg tour. Belying the commonly-held
belief that Johannesburg
is one of the more dangerous cities of the world, we walk the downtown
streets and markets with him.
One of the more intriguing stops was to The Muti Shop which
is a shop which basically wholesales all the herbs and roots and animal
parts required by traditional witchdoctors to practice their craft. The
staff seemed very friendly. I asked Rudi if local whites consulted this
traditional medicine at all, recognizing the wisdom often found in the
traditions of the ancients. He told me he acknowledges the potential in
that wisdom but no, there is no avenue for that kind of interchange.
At the Africa Museum we viewed an exhibit of cartoons which basically
delivered the message that politics is the same the world over –
with the distinction that in SA the prime minister is much ridiculed for
his love life which currently includes 4 wives and 19 children. Polygamy
is legal here, as long as the marriages are conducted “according
to traditional customs”. Which means, I guess, that people like
us would have to convert to something first. Not that Steve is looking
to complicate his life further.
As we drove down the street we could see the newspaper headlines, “South
Africa has lost its Zuma.” This is a play on the word “Zuma”
which is the president’s name and also similar to the word for sense
of humour. What has happened is that an artist painted a picture of President
Zuma with his dangly bits on display. Then other protestors defaced it
. They are now being hauled into court. Thus the headline.
This was particularly interesting to me because the last newspaper I read
before leaving home had an artist on the front page, gaining publicity
for painting a nude of Prime Minister Harper. Why would you do that?
I wondered. Well, Steve told me, “Look at the publicity. She
is on the front page of every paper in the country.”
The world is a small place indeed.
We spent some time at the Constitutional Courts. This is the court that
was set up in 1994 following South Africa’s first democratic, post-apartheid
election. It draws on every element of the population for its judges and
conducts business in all eleven official languages as necessary. The building
with symbolism, built for example, with the bricks from the jail that
once housed revolutionary icons like Mandela.
The building also houses amazing artworks. I’ve started re-reading
some of my South African history and it’s an amazing country, or
perhaps more accurately, an amazing people who have managed their transition
from apartheid to genuine democracy with such grace and inter-racial generousity.
Which is not say there are not tensions and problems. There are. But compared
to the holocaust that could have been unleashed? It is a contemporary
history of which each and every South African can be immensely proud.
That said, the country still has immense problems, probably starting with
its insanely high unemployment rate. The locals live with a level of security
and caution that forcefully illustrates the axiom that a vast gap between
the rich and the poor with no ladder for the poor to climb into the middle
class is a very dangerous situation for both ends of the economic spectrum.
The everyday precuations taken by the locals make Canadians like us a
bit perplexed. For example, they tell us to keep handbags, cellphones,
cameras, etc out of sight in the car. Robbers are known to smash a cars
window while someone is at a stop light, just to grab a cell phone. I
don’t know if this happened once and has just been retold over and
over again or is common. But I keep my stuff on the floor and out of sight.
That said, we walked around with cameras on our shoulders and were not
bothered. Rudi did take us through an area in the car, not on foot, that
he said was a den of iniquity. But most big cities have their dangerous
So the messages are mixed. Not as bad as some would have you believe –
we walked comfortably through Joburg, but then were told to keep everything
out of sight in the car while driving.
Back at their home, Brenda was cooking up amazing meals for us. My favourite
would be bobotie (pronounced bo-boy-tee). This is a meatloaf sweetened
with chutney, apricot jam, sultans, Worcester, turmeric and bay leaves.
I fell in lust with bobotie on our first trip to South Africa ten years
ago. Brenda could not have known, but there it was, our first meal in
South Africa was bobotie and for dessert, another South African favourite,
Milk Tart (pronounced teert). This is a kind of custard pie – but
more fragrant and delicately flavoured than what we make at home.
Thursday, May 24
We had planned to set off first thing this morning but there were a series
of mishaps. First, a flat tire. So Rudi pumped it up and they set off
to get it repaired. Once repaired, Steve tried to fill up the truck with
petrol (not “gas” that only comes out of one’s body,
we are told). Neither Steve nor Rudi nor 5 station attendants or the mechanic
can get the cap off. This won’t work. So we drive the 45 minutes
back to Bobo Campers to get it fixed. They had to break the lock and replace
the cap. Then there is the cupboard door that swings open because it will
not catch. That requires moving the hinges. Grrrrrrrr.
We are really missing our van with its higher quality finishings and built
in conveniences. The camper on this is fairly clever but it has been built
with a focus on the bottom line. That said, it has a sink and two-burner
stove, a toilet, a dinette that makes into a bed, a large fridge, a safe
and more storage than we need.
The bed is a bit of a challenge. You collapse the table and stick an extra
piece of plywood in to make it a double bed. Then you arrange the cushions
over it and add in an extra lengthwise cushion to make it a double bed.
The only problem is that extra cushion has nothing to anchor it so during
the night it slides down and out. I was waking up with my butt on the
hard plywood and the cushion a foot away. We now have it bungee strapped
into place. Thank goodness my handy husband packed a bag of bungees and
a roll of Red ‘n Green tape. Never leave home without ‘em.
Finally we are on the road – first stop the South Africa Parks office
in Pretoria. We had purchased the WILD card which is a national parks
pass online before we left home. It had not arrived. So we plug in the
address on the GPS and go directly to their office to get it in person.
I downloaded the South African maps onto our GPS and it has proved invaluable.
Cannot recommend that highly enough. So we find the WILD office with no
problem, pick up our WILD card and are on our way north by early afternoon.
First destination is Pilanesberg National Park, several hours northwest
of Johannesburg. This close
to the equator the sun sets at 5:30 pm and it was setting as we pulled
closer to the park. Since we did not really know where we were going we
were a bit concerned but we made it to Manyane Gate with the last light.
Our second night in the park we camped at Bakgatla Gate.
What amazing campgrounds. For about $13 Cdn we had our pick of lovely
wide open campsites, electrical hookups and a spotlessly clean and well
equipped ablution block. There was even a pool and playground for the
kids. A little too cold for the pool these days though as it is winter
That said, it is lovely and warm – t-shirt weather during the day,
but need our fleece at night.
Now, to the animals – absolute magic. Pilanesberg National Park
has a paved road straight through it with km after km of dirt roads leading
off and into the countryside. They are all well marked, there is no danger
of getting lost but you MUST stay in your vehicle except at designated,
fenced areas that protect you. WE are the ones in the cage here.
The first night we arrived, we were greeted by Steve’s favourites,
warthogs, rooting around in the dirt at the side of the road. At the reception
office there was a large kudu, one of the largest of the antelope-type
animals. It must stand 6-7 feet high at the shoulders and has long corkscrewed
horns topping its impressive head. What a greeting!
It is rutting season which is kind of cool because it makes the males
very active. So right in the campsite
we were surrounded by impala males (a mid-sized deer-like animal) who
were facing off with each other. They make the most horrifying growling
sounds. If I’d not seen them at it I would have thought we had lions
in the campground. Just amazing.
The next morning we headed out to see what was in the park.
Just 5 minutes onto our first dirt road we came on a small lake. There
was a pretty white egret standing on shore so we stopped to photograph
it and immediately noticed a hippo surfacing nearby. Then another and
We watched and photographed these for a while then moved a little way
down the road where we came to another good viewing area and realized
that our hippos had moved. What’s more, the biggest hippo was trying
to push a smaller hippo up on to the bank – or so it appeared. He
groaned and pushed and pushed. We thought maybe something was wrong with
the smaller one – that he or she needed help getting up on land
and the big guy was in the water behind her pushing her out of the goodness
of his heart. Some heart. With an explosion and humongous roar he jumped
off her, doing a full breech like a bloody whale How I wish I'd captured
that Halelujah! moment. What a start to our wildlife tour through Africa!
It was hard to top that but we also saw white rhinos, millions of zebras
and wildebeest, dozens of giraffes gracefully nibbling the tops of trees,
kudus, klipspringers, a whole mudhole full of cape buffalo, waterbuck,
hartebeest, tsessebe, springbok, tons of warthogs, impala and elands.
By the end of the day I decided that not seeing a lion was okay, but I
REALLY wanted to see an elephant. And so
I did. In the last hour before we had to leave the park (mandatory at
dark), we came on a herd of 16 elephants including quite a few small babies.
They were just walking down the road in front of us. THAT close!
Just a stellar day.
We got up at 6 am today and were on the road from 7 am. We left Bakgatla
gate and continued through the park, looking for more wildlife. We assumed
that early in the morning like that we would see a lot more but honestly,
except for a fleeting look at a leopard before it disappeared into the
brush, we saw a lot more yesterday from 10 till 2, not a time when you
are supposed to see game.
We need to keep moving today as we are heading for Gabarone in Botswana
and there are no campground except, we hope, at a place called Mokolodi
Nature Preserve about 10 km south of Gabs (as they call Gabarone here).
At first the terrain was quite flat and what they call here bushveld –
scrubby bush. But as we neared Zeerust the terrain began to roll, the
trees grew bigger and the grasses were tall and lush. They are now golden
yellow and dried out but you can see how green it must be in the summer
season. Enroute we also saw some really beautiful churches.
The road north was quite attractive – not exactly “scenic”
but not boring either. At one point we saw the hugest nests up in the
power poles. We pulled over to take a photo. As I was doing that a fellow
and his lady walked by. I asked him what the name of the bird making the
nests was. He did not know, did not even seem to understand the question
so I am guessing he could not speak English. He and his lady walked away.
A few minutes later, after I was back in the truck and doing up my seatbelt
I see an altercation between him and the woman. He comes running back
to me, gesturing with his hands and saying, “You no give me
I was not impressed and told him that our interchange had been friendly,
nothing that required compensation.
He walked away, we drove away, bad taste in our mouths.
The requests for money or to purchase something are quite constant. If
we stop the truck to get something out of the camper they are on top of
us in minutes, asking us to buy oranges or give money. We always say no
although I do hand out food when the stated reason for asking is hunger.
One young lad in the grocery store parking lot made the funniest faces
when I gave him a Canadian Kashi bar.
Eventually we get to the South Africa / Botswana border. This became an
exercise in bureaucracy run amok. This was the process:
1. At security gate we answer questions to a security
guard, sign a logbook and get a slip of paper.
2. We go into a building and fill out another logbook with our name,
vehicle reg, passport no, cellphone no, etc. They look at our passports
but do not stamp them. This apparently is customs. We ask if this is
it. No, we are to go now to immigration.
3. We give the customs lady our passports. She fiddles and faddles and
signs them. We leave, happy to have finished.
4. We drive to a gate. The guard asks if we have laptops or cameras.
We say yes. He asks for our stamped declaration. We say, “What?”
5. We have to go back to the first building and get in line again with
our cameras and laptop. We fill out a whole pile of paperwork that includes
recording serial numbers and assigning values. Finally our paperwork
is stamped. Are we done?
6. We drive through that gate and continue towards what we think is
the road to Gabarone. But hold on, that was just South Africa border
7. We are stopped. Where is our Botswana stamp? We thought it was in
the passports. Nope. We have not even begun the Botswana process. That
is another building.
8. So in we go and repeat the process except they have no interest in
our cameras and laptop. But they ARE interested in the vehicle and we
have to buy a road permit for 40 pula and contribute to the “road
fund” for 20 Pula and buy insurance for something for 50 Pula.
Which brings up the subject of Pula – the Botswana currency which
is the ONLY accepted currency. So much so there is a Bureau de Change
right between the two border buildings. By the way, 7-8 Pula = 1 Canadian
dollar more or less.
There are also very big signs warning that taking more than $10,000 in
Pula value – no matter what kind of currency it might be, must be
declared. That would only be about $1400 which had me sweating because
we have more than that between all the different currencies we are carrying.
Then I realized that would be per person. Something to keep in mind, however.
Also, as our time in Botswana continues, you cannot exchange Pula outside
Botswana – it has no value. So we must not exchange too much. Nor
too little, as no other currency can be used. Ugghhhhh.
All of this would have been mildly amusing except that the sun was slowly
setting. It was already 4:45 and we did not know where we were going.
There was some question about the campground still existing and we were
anxious to find it before dark.
So we set out finally, somewhat anxious. We will never do that again –
spend the first half of the day
lollygagging looking for wildlife when we have a long drive ahead of us.
This business of the sun setting at 5:30 has to be respected.
So we got out on the highway and did find the place just before dark –
Mokolodi Nature Preserve. This is a private game reserve and the only
campground nearabouts. Very expensive - $300 P ($45 Cdn) for the two of
us to camp including park entrance. You cannot come into these parks/preserves
without paying the park or vehicle charge, even if you do not want to
drive around the reserve or use any of the facilities. That buys us a
very long drive down an “almost-4WD” dirt road to a campsite
with no electricity or water or hot water or anything!
We would not recommend this place. On the other hand, there is nowhere
else on this road – A1 – near Gabarone. So it is safe and
we are surrounded by wildlife and we have arrived in Botswana. It's all
good and there is much more to come tomorrow!