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15 October 2009

Did you know – The Okavango River is approximately 1400km long.  It originates in Central Angola and flows across Namibia before entering Botswana.  The river eventually becomes the 16,000sq km of lagoon and wetland we know as the Delta. You will be able to find most of Africa’s wildlife here, including the Lechwe.  The Lechwe has a semi-aquatic habitat.  It likes water, both to feed and when it feels threatens.  It usually occurs in herds of up to 30 antelope. Most calves are born during Oct-Dec, but can also be dropped at anytime during the year.  The calf weighs approximately 5kg and remains hidden for its first 2-3 weeks, unlike the Tsessebe, whose calves weigh 10-12kg and runs with the herd shortly after birth.

So with the uneventful crossing into Bots, it was time to find a spot for the night.  Louis and Liesl (who we met at Croc Valley) suggested staying at Chobe Safari Lodge.  The place is really nice and right on the river.  The camping area isn’t that great, a bit cramped and dusty.  The rest of the place makes up for it though.  The setting is really nice and they have a great pool where you can cool down during the hot days.  This is also where we very randomly met the manager of the local Spar.  I think he went fishing for the day on his small boat, but didn’t catch anything. Instead he had some beers, as you do, and he offered to take us for a ride on his boat at sunset.  The ride wasn’t long, but it was good fun.

Botswana parks recently changed the way you book for the parks and campsites.  This is making it very difficult for everyone who really wants to go there.  Wayne managed to secure one night for us at Third Bridge in Moremi, but that was it. We wanted to stay longer than one night. In the end, we decided to pay for 4 day-entries at the Kasane gate and see how we get on in the park itself. All they say at the gate is that it is fully booked.  In reality, this isn’t the case.  The camps are empty most of the time.  The big problem with it all is that you can book way in advance and pay a minimal amount or even nothing at all until you get to the park.  So people and operators book out all the spots and don’t show up. Real inconsiderate, if you ask me.

We managed to get a spot at Ihaha camp for the night after some South Africans invited us back to their camp for some breakfast.  We managed to get a reserve site for the night at the camp (which is just an open area). As it turned out, some of the sites were open for the night anyway, and we ended staying in a proper camp spot.

Our next stop was Savuti. We were going to try and stay there for the night too.  We got there at about lunch time and decided we will hang around a bit after lunch to see if we will get a spot.  The camp is ok, also a bit dusty, and probably not as nice as Ihaha which is right on the river.  We did however come across some real giant elephants here (Check out some of the Bots photos with the elephant and the car).  One elephant came into the camp and decided that he wanted a bit of one of the trees.  The tree was massive with a Landrover Discovery parked under it in the shade. We thought for a moment that the branch the elephant was pulling off was going to come down on the car.  The elephant was almost twice the size of the car…quite incredible.

We got talking to some Europeans who had a bit of car trouble with their rented 4-wheel drive (not the first time we’ve seen this).  They offered for us to share their camp spot with them, but the guy in the office didn’t want to know a thing.  He was being a real asshole (I think the bit of ‘power’ he’s got has gone straight to his head).  We tried negotiating with him for about 30 minutes or so, but he was just plain arrogant. In the end (at about 16:30) he said that our only option was to go to the nearest gate, which was about 70km away. He said we would make it if we drive fast (I think he meant about 80km/h).  We did drive fast, our fast at about 40-50 km/hour to get out in time, and it definitely felt a bit reckless at times…well, most of the time actually. No wonder their cars don’t last there. Luckily, the guy at the south gate was not such an idiot – we managed to convince him that it would be best for us if we stay at the gate for the night.  It was just about dark already,and we didn’t feel safe driving at night, and to top it off, there was a river to cross as well.  Some Canadians have been waiting the whole day for their friends who got stuck in the river and decided to take another route to their destination.  We had a very pleasant night at the gate with the Canadians and some Dutch people turned up too, people we met at Savuti who also got turned away.  The pleasant evening came to a very abrupt halt, after some hyenas (probably 5 or so) were getting a bit close for comfort.  They’re obviously used to people in this area and aren’t afraid to get close.  It turned out to be an early night in the end, preferring to look at the wildlife from the safety of our bed.

We’ve seen loads of cars coming out of Moremi all covered in mud and dirt.  We’ve also heard that there are a few water crossings to negotiate. I was looking forward to a bit of a challenge.  We traveled along the Khwai River and entered Moremi at North Gate for our route to Third Bridge camp.  There was a little water around, but nothing major.  The first two crossings we came across were not special.  The water didn’t even cover the wheels.  The third one was a bit different.  Wayne walked the crossing to see what it was like.  We had 3 options – stick to the right, where it was shallower, but with the risk of the left wheel falling into a big hole if you don’t get the line right, or stick to the left where it was a bit deeper (probably about wheel height) or go through the middle, where it was the deepest. Boys will be boys, and in the end we decided to go through the middle.  Wayne wanted to go first and made it through without any problems. His Discovery is a bit lower than Pumbaa, and the water came over the bonnet and up to the windscreen.  It was our turn next – low-range and second gear and off we go (some other European guy crossed in the meantime in a rented 4-wheel drive and he decided to change gears while in the water – not the smartest thing to do…and they wonder why the rented vehicles don’t last).  The entry was good and I had a nice bow wave, but coming out the other side, I felt that something wasn’t quite right.  I thought that the car was starting to miss a bit or the electrics got wet maybe.  It felt a bit odd, and I left it to idle for a bit so that things could dry out if it was wet.  After a couple of minutes I had a look.  It turned out to be the radiator fanblade.  4 of the 8 blades broke off in the water, and that was creating an imbalance on the engine.  We were also very lucky, because the blades didn’t damage the radiator too much.  I could see where it hit it, but it was still in one piece.  I had 2 options to try and fix it.  Either take the whole thing off (which I didn’t really want to do) or ‘trim’ the remaining 4 blades to get the balance right.  I opted for the latter – a small fan would be better than no fan in the hot conditions.  A couple of beers later, we were ready to go again, with the engine balance restored. The only thing was to keep an eye on the temperature to make sure it behaves.  So we made it to Third Bridge without any problems.  I had to stop once after some deep sand, because the temperature was creeping up a bit.  We decided to put the heating on full blast to let some of the hot air escape from the engine bay.  That always seems to help a bit (maybe not for us, because now we were extra hot).

It was the same story at 3rd bridge, a lot of the camps were empty and there wasn’t even a ranger.  It is a nice camp – most of them are very open, but the one we got was surrounded by longish grass.  We saw a pride of lions not too far away from the camp earlier that day.  They must’ve been about 700 meters or so away.  There were 2 males and 9 females in the pride. We decided to do another potjie that night.  We left it a bit late and it only got going at about 6, and sunset was just before 7pm. We didn’t really want to hang around outside too long after dark.  It didn’t take long for a little bit of action.  We knew the lions were getting closer because we heard some very loud roars – they were definitely not happy about something and they were letting everyone know too.  It sounded like they were no more than 400-500 meters away by now.  Wayne was feeling a bit more uncomfortable than us about the whole thing and decided he would feel a lot safer having his dinner on his roof rack.  We obliged to his request, and joined them on their roof…!!!  Wasn’t the most comfortable meal I’ve had, and the pot wasn’t the best either, because I had to take it off the fire earlier than anticipated. I wasn’t going to leave it out there for the lions to enjoy, that’s for sure.

We stayed at the South gate campsite the following night.  We went for a nice drive in the afternoon and had a crack at another long river crossing (almost 100 meters long), not because we had too, but rather because we wanted too.  We also noticed some clouds building up while we were out on our drive.  It didn’t take long for the clouds to open up, but we only noticed it on our way back to the camp.  It was just about dark, just after sunset, and the roads looked completely different.  It was like we were in a different park altogether.  There was loads of water on the road (or rather track) and you weren’t really sure if you driving through new water or older muddy muck.  It was quite fun, and we made it to the camp in one piece.  A good thing we weren’t at the camp when it all came down.  It was a very heavy 30-minute downpour, with real strong winds and hail (not really my favourite).

We managed to make contact with Louis and Liesl and they were also going to be in Maun at the same time. We managed to catch up a bit for a few days at Audi Camp and relax a bit at the poolside after the hot and dusty conditions of the national parks.  I also had to try and fix the fan blade before we head to the Central Kalahari. Luckily there is a Toyota dealer in Maun and they had a replacement fan for me (at a price obviously…not something you want to go and break everyday).  We also had to arrange and pay for our planned trip to the Kalahari – we decided to delay our planned departure by a day or so, which turned out to be a very good thing.  Wayne got malaria somewhere along the way,and wasn’t feeling too great.  He was up the whole of the previous night with upset stomach, and throwing up a bit.  We managed to convince him not to wait until the next day to see if it would clear up, but to rather go and see the docs immediately.  Good thing we did that –the doc said it was in the very early stages and he should be fine after taking some meds for the next 3 days.  I must say, they seem to know what they’re doing there.  It took them about 20 minutes to diagnose it,and they still use the trusted old method of looking at the blood samples through a microscope.

So after all our excitement of the last week or so, it is almost time to tackle some of the saltpans and then on to Central Kalahari to be alone for a bit…only us and nature, what bliss!

22 October 2009
Did you know – The Central Kalahari game reserve is approximately 52,800 sq km and is reported to be the second largest game reserve in the world.  Desert only by name, it supports diverse habitats from salt pans to savannah and bushveld.  The national park is home to at least 46 species of mammals and 278 types of birds.

We decided to travel through some of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans to Kubu Island.  This was the idea, but after speaking to some of the local people who said that they’ve had some rain about 10 days earlier and they weren’t sure if the road is passable.  We decided in the end to take the safer route to Kubu Island.  A muddy salt pan is not really the ideal place to get stuck, with a strong possibility of hardly anyone else using the same route for a few days too.  The road to Kubu Island was pretty ordinary.  We got to the Island before lunchtime and it was already very hot.  It must’ve been at least 40 degrees again.  The place was ok, but not really a place I wanted to hang around too long, especially with those sorts of temperatures.  To top it all off, the wind was howling around us, and we didn’t really have any shade.  We ended up staying the night and decided to head to the Central Kalahari the following day.

We’ve been looking forward to the Kalahari for a while – Wewere going to travel from the north of the park, straight down to come out the south.  It is a long way on sandy roads.  We also wanted to go to the Khamo Rhino Sanctuary to the east.  This was unfortunately not on the way south, so we decided to hang out in the north of the Central Kalahari rather and go out the way we came in.

I’m not sure what exactly we were expecting of the Kalahari.  We both thought it would be more sandy and less vegetation.  This wasn’t the case though.  There were some sandy tracks and some open plains, but majority of it was normal African bush.  We started to see some different animals too– there were loads of Gemsbok and other antelope.  We were even lucky enough to see a Black Mamba of at least 2 meters.  We were in our cars with the snake about 3 or so meters of the track in the open.  I think the snake was looking for some lunch, because it was hangingaround some squirrel burrows.  There wasa ground squirrel in the area too, and it was trying to get the snake away from its burrow.  The squirrel was biting, or trying to bite the snake on its tail to chase it away.  It was the squirrel’s day and he won this round.  The mamba had enough and headed off into the bushy areas.

We managed to book a few nights in the Deception Panarea.  Our first night was fairly uneventful.  We didn’t even hear anything at night.  We decided to move camp the following day and stayed at Sunday Camp in Deception Valley after going for a long drive.  This camp was very nice.  It is on a little hill, so you have a nice view of the lower areas. We’ve had a long day driving around in the park and it was good to get to a pleasant spot.  It was time for a cold beer and a nice braai.  It wasn’t long before we started hearing some of the wildlife, particularly lions again.  They didn’t sounds that close, but they definitely let us know they were around.  With a bit of caution we carried on making dinner and enjoying the cold beers.  We didn’t waste too much time preparing everything.  We were aware of things lurking around in the dark and didn’t want another episode of eating on the roof.

It was getting ‘late’ (after 8pm) and we wanted to get upearly again the following morning for a game drive.  It was the perfect excuse to get into bed early to hide from the big furry cats.  We eventually got into bed after cleaning up a bit.  It didn’t take more than a few minutes after we got into bed before we heard the lions roar again, this time a lot closer. They must’ve been in the area, watching our every move while we were sitting around, oblivious to everything. We fell asleep shortly afterwards, but woke up during the night by the lions again.  Wayne saw them walking around the camp a few times around 1 or 2 in the morning.

We woke up early the following morning, and for some reason Mandy looked out the front window.  I was just about to get out to attend to the morning’s nature call when she said I should rather stay inside for a while because there were a few male lions around the camp.  It turned out to be 2 males with 2 females and 5 cubs, strolling through the camp.  I also noticed in the meantime that my chair was missing.  I had folded it up and left it under the table the previous night, but it was missing now.  We watched the lions walk through the camp, with the little ones in a playful and very inquisitive mood.  I was half hanging out my window to take some photos and they were watching my every move, listening to the snap-snap of my camera.  They eventually moved through the camp and we were ready to get out. Just about to get out, Mandy spotted another 3 females appearing out of the bush, right by the pit toilets (There are some wooden posts around the toilet for a bit of privacy, but anything can come into it at anytime - imagine being in the toilet with the lions there and they decide to have a little look to see what’s going on in there...).  We thought it was a bit strange to see so many cubs with only 2 other females.  The 3 females strolled past us to join up with the others.  It really was the perfect start to the day.

Scanning the area for some more, and not seeing anything, we decided to get out.  I had to look for my chair and we had to pack up.  Wayne spotted my chair lying about 30 meters into the bush.  He said he saw some of the cubs chewing on the chair during the night.  After retrieving the chair from the bush, it was obvious that the cubs had good play with the chair.  The bag was gone and the chair has some bitemarks and holes in it.  To top it off, this was the chair we had to buy not so long ago, because my other one was buggered.  I could at least still use it, but not sure that it will last very long. At least there’s a nice story to the chair now.

We left the camp and decided to have breakfast on some open plain areas rather than the camp.  The lions only moved to the next camp, which is only 100 meters or so away.  We saw them moving into the bushy area next to the camp, so decided its probably not such a bad idea to move along.

Next stop is the rhino sanctuary, before it is time for our last border crossing.  The end is getting closer.  The next challenge is to surprise my mom for her 60th birthday.

Until next time, probably from our beloved country, The Rainbow Nation!!!