First Botswana tour

 In the year of 2008, a friend of mine casually asked me if we would like to join them to go on a tour to Botswana the following year.  We have never been to Botswana. We went to Namibia or tour local when on holiday but never thought of Botswana. We always thought we cannot or were able to do that. So, when he asked us, we said, well, ahm, yes very cautious and hesitantly. We felt very privileged to be asked along.

Then come the day and we are off! At first, they entertained me by going to the Orange River in the Pella area as I know that fairly well. 2 days later, we crossed the border at McCarthy’s Rest. For us, our first crossing into a new and unknown world. Wide-eyed, we follow the leader. We were 4 vehicles driven by the group leader, an architect, me, the semi-government clerk, the oil dealer and the farmer from the Blue Bulls area, Northern Transvaal, these days the Limpopo province. Every one of them was there before accept us, me and my wife. The architect was there previously with another tour group, the oil dealer and his wife did a couple of Kalahari 1000km rallies and the farmer as he was a well-known cattle grader in Southern Africa. We refueled at Tsabong and take the road to Mabuasehube. It is a fair gravel road but it eventually turned into a thick sand spoor, three of them running parallel. You can choose which one is better. But it is like taking a lane on a highway, the other lane always looks better than the one you are in. Did I say that the sand is thick? It was slow going. Very slow going. Twice we stopped to let the air out of the tyres.

 We reached the gate to enter Mabuasehube. Paperwork and admin done; we follow the road to Mabua no 4. It is a campsite that overlooks a huge pan. In the South corner of the pan, is a waterhole frequented by the wildlife of the area. Everyone is setting up their tents for the evening. What was a first for me, is that one camp on a campsite and there are no fences around you to protect you from the wild lions and hyenas. Very early the following morning, just after 5 o clock, we were awakened by a korhaan. And every morning thereafter when we were there. Previously we have heard of carnivores trolling the campers at the campsites here. None of the carnivores came by or even let us know that they were in the area. Or even show us their beauty at the time we were there. Jackals, yes, and guineafowl, francolins, and hornbills frequented our campsites often looking for scrap. After a couple of days, we traveled further north via Hukuntsi. There we refueled and still further north on a 2-spoor road where we eventually arrived at the tar road and pushed to Ghanzi.

 The next day, we set course for Piper Pan. We were told the road to Central Kalahari was a really bad road. But when we turned off the tar road, we were surprised that it was a wide and hard gravel road. That was coming to an end in a little town, called New Xade. The GPS said we must turn off on a very, very thick sand track.

Some in our group could not believe that, after so many kilometers of good gravel road, we have to give it up for a very thick sandy one! We continued to New Xade. Yes, we were told that is the road to Central Kalahari. One woman came to one of us with a live chicken under her arm and request if we may be interested in buying it. Oddly, we declined. Eventually, after everyone was convinced that the thick sandy road was the real deal, we bumped along to Xade gate. At the gate, we found that the coupler wants to depart from the A-frame of the trailer the farmer was pulling. We put a stop to that by winding a lot of wire around it. In the early hours of one morning, we faintly hear a lion roaring every so often from Piper Pan way. We were camping at Piper 2. Quickly making coffee and the search is on with coffee mugs and binoculars in hand. We got to Piper 1 just at sunrise but we don’t see any lions. In the pan not far from us we saw anthill. No, it is a lion. No man, it is an anthill! Even through our binoculars, we were: it’s a lion, no anthill, lion, anthill! Until the anthill starts to roar! Standing next to the vehicles, coffee mugs in hand, looking at the lion, a 4×4 rental slowly came up to us. Its rooftop tent was hanging to the side like a deflated balloon. Tourists from Europe. Could we please stay until they have put the rooftop tent away? They did not sleep a wink as the lion was in their camp the whole night. Being good neighborly citizens, we stayed until they packed up everything. After a couple of days at Deception, we traveled to Rakops destination Nxai Nxai Pan. Unfortunately, the trailer was not done with its antics and the A-frame broke en route. This time a Mopani tree was sacrificed and the stump was used with more wire looped around the chassis and we were good to go again. Now the farmer was up to here with the trailer that left them in the lurch that when we got to Rakops, we said our goodbyes and they went back to South Africa to get it fixed.

 We arrived at Nxai Pans gate. From there, we again encountered a deep soft sandy road. Turned off to the Baines Baobab trees. WOW!! What a sight to see! And to think nearly 2 hundred years ago they looked about just as they are now. We were supposed to camp somewhere near here. The only thing is the pans are under water and the road that we were supposed to take, runs across the pan. I took the plunge and see how far one can travel along the side of the pan. Arriving at a campsite, it was muddy and tall grass as high as the vehicle. So I went back to give my report. A decision was made, we will proceed to the office at South Camp and ask them where we can camp alternately. By now, the setting sun is on the horizon. I was driving in front. There is a turn-off to the south and I radioed that I will quickly go see what is there. Apparently, my message about the detour was not received by the driver behind me. His radio was broken at that time. There was just a waterhole and nothing else and the detour was so quick that I am now number 2 in the queue.  The broken radio man said he was following me distantly and then suddenly I was gone. Thus, he put foot to catch up. Me, now behind him, also put foot to stay with him. And the group leader, now behind me, is also racing to stay with us. We all thought the rally driver ahead was trying to race the night to be in camp before nightfall. He, being an ex-rally driver, could not fathom how can this rookie drive out under him!  We arrived at South Camp way after dark. Mister office clerk was not impressed and said we must go back and camp at our allotted spot. No way we want to go back. When last were you there? Did you see what the campsites look like there? He then acknowledges that and then gave us a campsite at South Camp. It is truly muddy. We slithered and slid to our camping spot, putting up our tents in the mud in the dark. We did our ablutions in the tent and bushes nearby. Can you imagine the shock and awe we were to see brand spanking ablution blocks just further behind the bush behind us the next morning!!

 A couple of days later, we left Gweta one morning to go to Kubu Island. We left with bags full of trepidation as we were at numerous times have been warned of getting stuck in thick mud en route to Kubu Island. But try we must! We turned off a couple of kilos short of Nata on a track not too sandy and a bit muddy. Which turned into a small waterway. Which turned into a big muddy waterway until we started to dig and churn mud. We then wisely decided to continue is not a good idea and we boated and slide the vehicles back to the hard surface. We then decided we have had enough adventure and we traveled back home.

 What I have learned from this trip. When you set off into the wild unknown wilderness for the first time, you are a pioneer, even if other people were there before you. You don’t have to travel in a group as we met a lot of tourists that were traveling on their own. You do not have to take everything with you as there are decent shops in Botswana.

 Happy traveling

 Peter Rau