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Okavango Delta, Botswana 2007

Self drive Photo Safari July/August

ROUNDTRIP - Maun via Moremi and Chobe National Park to Kasane. From here via Namibia and the Caprivi Strip to Popa Falls where we again enter Botswana, via Shakawe to end up in Maun again 3 weeks later.

Check out our Photo Galleries (from the main page) to get high quality pictures from our trip!

 

Fast facts on Botswana

Size: 600,370 sq km
Capital: Gaborone
Population: 1.640.000 (2005)
Currency: Pula
Climate: Subtropical, Summer: 19-33°C, Winter: 5-23°C
Official language: English. Setswana is the national language.
Time: GMT + 2 Hours

Having experienced the fun of self driving in Namibia a couple of years ago we decided to give it another try, this time to Botswana and the interesting area of The Okavango Delta. Our plan was to drive all around the delta, via Namibia and the Caprivi Strip, down the western part of the delta and back to Maun, our starting point.

We booked our trip through the UK based company Safari Drive. They provided us with a fully equipped Landrover Defender 110 including a roof top tent, route maps with gps coordinates, travel books and a complete itinerary with most of the camp sites and chosen lodges pre-booked. For our safety
we also got a GPS and a satellite phone with local emergency numbers just
in case. Otherwise we were all on our own. And I must say, I was a bit excited :-)

 


25.7      Stavanger - Heathrow - Johannesburg, South Africa

We started off from Stavanger, Norway July 25 with a surprise. Champagne breakfast served by SAS Braathens! (Thank you for a wonderful start of our journey, Inger :-) Our first stop was Heathrow. Having 7 ours to kill before our next check-in we took a train trip to Notting Hill for a lovely lunch at the restaurant Churchill Arms and visited Borders to stock up with some (more) books. This time we really had problems with our weight allowance even from the beginning, both of us bringing additional hand luggage stacked with photo gear (between 10-13 kg each..). Packed in nondescript backpacks we were extremely lucky though, nobody asked us to weigh them - at least not in Stavanger...

A bit more problematic was the check-in at Heathrow. We were told that the plane to Jo'burg was cancelled and that we had to be put on a waiting list for the next plane, which was already overbooked. With my non excisting patience for delays I had a hard time shutting my mouth when Ian slowly was charming our way onto the plane, including our photo gear. He must have done something right, because finally the woman was all smiles and we got our boarding passes. I haven't even asked him... :-) We got our stuff onboard and off we went. Next stop Africa - 10,5 hours away.


26.7      Jo'burg - Maun, Botswana

The trip overnight to Jo'burg went smooth. For some reason we got the best economy seats with a divider wall in front of us instead of a seat row, giving us a lot of space for our feet. For the first time ever I slept very well on a plane. The change of planes in Jo'burg went really well too. We found our luggage outside the smaller plane which was going to take us to Maun despite all the horror stories about missing luggage and content in the Jo'burg airport. Another 1,5 hours and we finally landed in Maun, our starting point for our adventure.

Maun is the gateway to the Okavango Delta. Countless safari and air-charter operations have offices here, so the town is busy with people coming and going, especially around the airport where we saw more than 30 smaller aircrafts used for fly-in safaris. Maun has developed rapidly from its early days as a rural frontier town and has spread along the wide Thamalakane River. It now boasts good shopping centers, hotels and lodges as well as car and 4-wheel drive vehicle hire. However, it retains a rural atmosphere and local tribesmen still bring their cattle here to sell. You might see antelopes grazing the river banks. It is a rather interesting little town, now with a population of approx. 40.000.

We were met by Andrew at the airport, one of Safari Drive's local people in Maun. We were then driven to Rileys Hotel (left) where we were going to spend our first night. We spent a couple of hours with Andrew going through the Landrover and all it's equipment, from how to put up the roof top tent to locating spare fuses and tyres and finally going through the basic food supply in the car. Vital when you are going to be self sufficient and the next time you are going to reach civilization is 8 days ahead...

Next on the agenda was therefore shopping for food! There are several supermarkets in Maun, where Shoprite definately became my favourite. One shop not to miss is the small but well equipped butchers just beside the Shell petrol station. They had excellent meat and sausages, both fresh and frozen, and are highly recommendable! After filling up Landy to the brim and then some, we had dinner at Maun Sports Bar, where we tasted our best ever mushroom starter :-)


27.7     Maun - Xakanaxa campsite, Moremi Game Reserve

After a nice breakfast at the hotel we start our trip to Xakanaxa campsite. First on a tar road, but this ends quickly and we continue on a more or less even surfaced gravel road and the trip becomes at once much more interesting.. It takes about 5 hours from Maun to Xakanaxa Campsite, and from the veterinary fence the roads are all sand. We quickly have to change clothes, the temperature is rising from approx. 10 degrees to about 25. Hurrah from cold Norwegians :-)

Moremi Game Reserve supports one of the most diverse habitat and animal populations in Botswana. Resident species include wild dog, cheetah, leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, hyena, zebra, kudu, lechwe, sable and roan antelope.

Game-viewing is excellent year-round but this, however, has not always been the case. Due to various factors, including foot-and-mouth disease in the 1940s and uncontrolled hunting in the early 1960s, wildlife in the area was at serious risk of extinction. With guidance from early conservationists, the Batswana tribe agreed to set aside 4872 sq kilometers (1856 sq miles) between the Khwai and Mogogelo rivers as a wildlife reserve. Named after Chief Moremi III, the Reserve was proclaimed on 15 March 1963 and today boasts a vast array of African wildlife. Moremi Game Reserve combines mopane woodland and acacia forests, flood plains and lagoons. It is the great diversity of plant and animal life that makes Moremi so well known.

We don't see much game the first hours, except from a couple of Giraffes and Impalas. But when we get closer to Xakanaxa we see the first Elephant droppings, and suddenly we meet the herd of about 20 Elephants crossing the road just in front of us. It feels good to be among the animals again! It is easy navigation to Xakanaxa, and the campsite looks nice, situated on the banks of one of the rivers (nb 23 on the map). The ablution block is rather well-worn but have flush toilets and showers. However, if you want a warm shower you have to heat the water yourself.

The campsite is full, but holds no more than 9-10 groups of people. We are not very well organized yet, but find the necessary tools for making our first braai. The wood you'll have to bring yourselves, usually picked up along the road outside the game reserves, or bought from the locals selling along the main roads. Simple menu our first night, - rice and beef with barbeque sauce and some good South African wine :-) Just as we make the dinner a Bushbuck comes out from the bushes along the river and walks slowly past our fire. Not very afraid it seems. And late evening, after we have gone to bed in our roof-top tent the Elephants come for a visit. I zip up the tent, and there they are - just beside our car!

Here is our late evening Xakanaxa campsite - our first tented night in Botswana. Despite the Elephant close-up and the Hippo's "laughing" in the nearby river during the night I sleep well in our new home, feeling rather secure on top of the car.


28.7     Xakanaxa area, Moremi Game Reserve

After a slow start and breakfast about 9:00 we start our morning game-drive. Our destination is Dead Tree Island which apparently can be reached by car this year. The water level in the Okavango Delta varies a lot and you never know from year to year which areas can be reached by car or will be flooded. This year the water level is supposed to be high, but so far we have had no problems.

The delta’s floods are fed from the Angolan rains, which start in October and finish sometime in April. The floods cross the border between Botswana and Namibia in December and will only reach the bottom end of the delta (Maun) sometime in July, taking almost nine months from the source to the bottom. This slow meandering pace of the flood is due to the lack of drop in elevation, which drops a little more than 60 meters over a distance of 450 kilometers. The delta’s water dead ends in the Kalahari – via the Botetle river, with over 95 per cent of the water eventually evaporating.

We head for Dead Tree Island over Nkwe Crossing and haven't come far before we see our first Bushbuck's and Vervet Monkeys followed by Impalas and the Cardinal Woodpecker. To find the Dead Tree Island bridge is another matter... There are a lot of narrow sand roads criss crossing each other, and you really have to trust your inner compass and have a decent map to find your way around. We find the bridge, or what is left of it. After some thinking (and persuading of me) we decide to trust the car tracks which cross the river directly, beside the so-called bridge. Over we go, and despite a deeper trench in the middle, the crossing goes well. (Ok, I have to admit that I for a second or two felt a bit too adventurous :-)

On the island we take a roundtrip out to Dead Tree Pool. We meet Elephant, Waterbuck and the Little Bee-Eater on our way. It's easy to see why they call this island the Dead Tree Island.. The Dead Tree Pool is nice, but we don't see many animals. On our way back we have to cross the river again, and on the other side we find 3 cars with South Africans waiting. They told us afterwards that they wouldn't cross until they had seen somebody else try the river. To get stuck in the mud isn't exactly a walk in the park. Above: here the south africans cross over to the island.

After the South Africans have passed the river we meet this fellow on its way to the island. He obviously gets a little confused when he finds a car in the middle of his Elephant path, so we move to let him pass. Next stop is Lion's Den Pan, and on our way over we meet a herd of lovely Zebra's with foals. The Zebra's here are not so shy as the ones in Etosha (Namibia) and we spend some time watching them grazing and playing around. We also see a lot of Impalas along the road. We don't, however, see any Lions at Lion's Den Pan, but get stuck instead - suddenly surrounded by water everywhere. We play around a bit before we find our dry way out.

Back in camp we have a braai and try the african chicken. Again with some very nice South African wine. Lovely! Definately have to import some! :-) The tent works fine (could do with some thicker mattresses, though) and Landy looks like she can handle both thick sand and higher water levels.

Late afternoon we meet our nearby neighbours in the camp, Amanda and Paddy. Amanda and Paddy are safari guides and run their own safari company Black Pot Safari. They are specializing in fully-supported, privately guided and personally tailored self-drive safaris throughout southern Africa. We get to meet them and their present clients several times during our trip. If you need safari guides that have excellent knowledge about southern Africa, are experts on wildlife and the birds in particular, are very service minded and serves superb food which mainly is prepared in their black pot (Paddy the chef ;-) you have an excellent choice in Black Pot Safaris! Check out their web-site for more information.

While we are having a chat with our neighbours one of the Elephants we had heard earlier gets closer and closer. The Elephant ends up munching leaves from one of the nearby trees, not at all afraid of either us humans or the lights. I still feel safe when I go to bed, amazed by how close we get the wildlife while camping. If it continues like this, it will definately not be my last roof top tent trip!



29.7     Xakanaxa - Khwai Campsite, Moremi Game Reserve

We pack our camp and get up and out early. There has been Lions and Hyenas in the camp this night. We see the Lion tracks both inside and outside the campsite. We work our way through the Elephant herd which is grazing along the road and head for our next stop, Khwai Campsite. Now we need our maps, and the highly recommended ones are the complete set of the Shell Tourist maps with satellite images and GPS co-ordinates which can be bought in Maun. TIP: Do not, however, entirely trust the maps, we found flaws and wrong GPS coordinates too..! We hear that the obvious route between Xakanaxa and Khwai along the Paradise Pools is more or less flooded, so we decide to go 13 kms south east towards Halfway Pan where we then turn east again and head for the Dombo Hippo Pool which lies approx. halfway between Xakanaxa and the Khwai campsite. Good roads, lovely trip! TIP: Always check your planned route with either the camp managers - or even better, check out if other tourists have just come this way. This time of year the water level is rising, and what was ok one week or some days ago may be flooded.

The first we meet at the Dombo Hippo Pool is a 3 m Crocodile swimming, and this smaller Croc (right) suntanning just beside the road. Not at all scared of the sound of the car. Further out in the pool we spot 20-25 Hippo's! We drive to the western end of the pool and find the bird hide. From here we have a lovely view over the pool and the Hippo's with their calves going onshore. It's my first Hippo's and I am thrilled! I see my first cute little(?) Hippo calf and we spend close to an hour in the hide watching the Croc's, Hippo's and the birds. Another group of people drives by and stays for 15 mins, but otherwise we have the birdhide to ourselves.

From Dombo Hippo Pool we follow the road all the way to Khwai. The road is in very good condition here along the river, and we have no problems with the water level. Lovely mopane forest and glimpses of the river between the trees. Just before we reach the campsite we see our first ever Tsessebe, a bit too far to get a proper picture though.

Khwai campsite (called North Gate on the map) is situated in a well-shaded area along the Khwai river. We find an idyllic spot just beside the riverfront and put up our table and chairs. Waterbucks are wading in the river just downstream from us and there are a lot of birds. This is truly a gorgeous place. The ablution block, however, is another matter. The good thing is - it works. You find flush toilets and a shower, but in a very poor condition. And this is the 'new' ablution block at Khwai campsite we're talking about. But hey, I'm not here to spend too much time there anyway :-)

We go out for a short gamedrive, mainly to find wood for our evening braai. There are a lot of Impalas and Elephants in the area around the campsite. When we get back we get both Vervet Monkeys and Warthog in camp, and just before sunset a family of 10 Baboons come down to the river just beside us to drink. We never get pestered by neither the Vervets nor the Baboons though, despite of beeing warned that this campsite more or less is taken over by them. We go to sleep with the charming sound of grazing Hippo's in the river just beside us. When I wake up 4 hours later the sound isn't that charming... ;-)


30.7    Khwai Campsite, Moremi Game Reserve

Up 8 o'clock and out on a gamedrive. We now learn the difference between the Reedbuck and the Lechwe, and we really see a lot of them this early in the morning. To the right, a Lechwe where the characteristical rump is noticeable higher than the shoulders. Next to the Sitatunga (which I would definately like to spot), this is the most water-loving of all African antelope and it takes readily to water to feed or if threatened. The Lechwe has a very limited distributional range and occours only in western Zambia, the eastern Caprivi in Namibia and well watered areas of the northern Botswana. They are not tall, only 80 cm shoulder hight.

Because of the night temperature of about 4-5 degrees C it feels that the animals are not that eager to start early either. Today's morning gamedrive criss cross Kaunga Pan, and Saguni Hippo Pool is our first destination. We find a lot of waterways and smaller pools with water everywhere. This is definately something else than driving between waterholes on tarred roads as we did in Etosha, Namibia. The area is wet, but the roads are still very good and dry. It's beautiful to drive here, no cars (are we just lucky again?) and the serenity and tranquility is total.

When we get to Saguni Hippo Pool we see a Hippo family on a little island very close to the road. Here with the Yellow Billed Oxpecker on its back. These birds peck at their hosts to get ticks to eat and we find the birds, and their red billed cousins the Red Billed Oxpeckers also on Impalas and Buffalos. The Hippo's are considered by many to be Africa's most dangerous animal, as attacks almost invariably result in death for the unfortunate who provokes the animals - especially if you are stupid enough to approach a solitary bull or a cow with a young calf.

A grown up hippo is between 3,4 and 4,2 meters and weigh between 1-2 tonns! They graze selectively and consumes only about 40 kgs each night! Thinking about last night they really have to graze selectively, spending over 4 hours and still wasn't finished... I still don't feel specially safe around these big animals, but as long as we're not between the Hippos and the water I am reasonably calm (at least I hope I appear to be :-) We spend a lot of time with the Hippo's. Our first time up close. On our way to Saguni Hippo Pool we also pass a Hippo grazing in the woods.

From Saguni we cross over to Mopane Road and here we see our first Roan antelopes! In Africa the Roan is surpassed in size only by the two Eland species, so it's quite a big antelope. Unfortunately we don't get any good pictures of them because they flee when we get near them. The trip goes north towards Wild Dog Pan, but this is a dry open pan with no game at all. We see only birds and Lion tracks. It's about 12:00 so it's warm and quiet. We turn and go back via the Hippo pool once again. We meet the same Antelopes, Zebras, Vervet Monkeys and these Baboons having fun in the sun :-)

Somebody has occupied our campsite when we get back, so we have to find somewhere else to put up camp. This is the disadvantage with bringing your tent with you on top of the car... We were advised to not let anything lay around at the campsite too, because of the Vervets and the Baboons. They steal whatever they can. Mr. Khwai Bridge Manager comes for a visit, and it seems that we have had the wrong campsite our first night. We hadn't realized that every campsite is marked with a number or has a name. From now on we know! At this moment Paddy and Amanda with their clients arrive too, and they have no campsite for the night. They haven't booked beforehand. It gets a bit chaotic for a minute. It seems, however, that our new dedicated campsite holds room for everybody, so we put up camp closer to the bridge, together.

We have no gamedrive this afternoon. Instead we have a nice braai and a chat with our neighbours. We spend some time catalogueing and naming our pictures and use Paddy and Amanda for naming some of our unknown bird species. To the left, the big Marabou Stork which normally gets between 1.50 and 1.55 meters high! Later in the evening we hear some noise in the bushes along the bridge, and with some help from Paddy's strong torch we see our first Serval, one of Africa's smaller cats. There is a lot of noise from the baboons this evening, but we begin to get used to the african night choir and sleep well in our tent.


31.7    Khwai - Savute Campsite, Chobe National Park


We get up early next morning 06:30 to start our trip to Savute campsite in the Chobe National Park. We cross North Bridge just outside camp for the first time, an experience in itself. The bridge contains of some vertical pillars which are fastened somehow down in the riverbed, with horizontally placed timber laying on top of the arrangement. Many of these "trees" are just half way fastened so they roll and twist and squeak when we drive over them. And in the river beneath you find the happy Hippos :-) I am glad it's not the rainy season when even the timber is covered by water...

We have a long drive ahead of us. The trip is estimated to take 6 hours, but with all the animals to take photographs of and the scenery to marvel we just know we need at least 10 hours to get to our next campsite. TIP: Always put in a good extra time in addition to what you're told about distances and time. Remember that driving in the dark in the national parks is not allowed. At some stage you will be delayed, either because of too much to see and photograph along the road, an accident with the car, trees blocking the road or herds of Elephants which doesn't move on command. We had it all.

Just on the other side of the Khwai bridge we see fresh Lion tracks, but no Lions are to be seen along the road at least. The route takes us now along the Khwai river, which extends from the Okavango River and forms part of the Northern border of Moremi Game Reserve. This is truly a beautiful stretch of road and gives us the most fantastic view of game, close as the road is to the riverbank. The stretch along the Khwai river shows itself to be the second best place for us for game viewing on the whole trip! And that says a lot, because we had many fantastic days!

With Hippo's in the river - and this early - we get right in the middle of the morning "rush" to the river. We stop to enjoy this, and suddenly - just beside the car window - a Hawk kills a Laughing Dove in an explotion of feathers. The Hawk sits there a couple of minutes, posing, before it flies away with the Dove in its grip.

We spend so much time along the Khwai River that we decide to have our lunch here. We are visited by Blue Hartebeest (Gnu), a lot of Giraffes, a baby Hippo and the rest of its family, Grey Herons and Wattled Cranes. No cars! What a peaceful place! Further along the river we meet a large herd of Elephants wading in the river. We stop at a good distance not to disturb them, when suddenly a Landrover comes very quickly towards us down the sandy road. This panics the Elephants, they make a lot of noise and get really disturbed. We have to wait for a long time to let them calm down again to pass.

After having passed the Mababe Village which holds the primary school of the area we reach Mababe Gate, the southern entrance to the Chobe National Park. The Chobe National Park, which is the second largest national park in Botswana and covers 10,566 square kilometres, has one of the greatest concentrations of game found on the African continent. A major feature of Chobe National Park is its Elephant population. And if you ask me - there are a LOT of elephants!

First of all, the Chobe elephant comprise part of what is probably the largest surviving continuous Elephant population. This population covers most of northern Botswana plus northwestern Zimbabwe. The Botswana's Elephant population is currently estimated at around 120,000! This Elephant population has built up steadily from a few thousand since the early 1900s and has escaped the massive illegal offtake that has decimated other populations in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Chobe Elephant are migratory, making seasonal movements of up to 200 kilometres from the Chobe and Linyanti rivers, where they concentrate in the dry season, to the pans in the southeast of the park, to which they disperse in the rains. The Elephants in this area have the distinction of being the largest in body size of all living elephants though the ivory is brittle.

Our first and only accident

At the beginning of our adventure in the Chobe National Park we have our first and only accident on the trip. We marvel the scenery along the road when suddenly Ian is a bit unattentive and we hit a log and the front tyre practically explodes. In the middle of nowhere, of course.. The sand is deep, the big jack is stuck on our car roof and it's HOT out in the sun. After quite some work Ian gets the jack down from the roof, and a car with helpful South Africans comes by. We have two spare tyres and two extra inner tubes so we don't panic, but it takes some argueing with the main jack before we give it up and try the smaller jack insted, which is packed somewhere in the back of the car. After one hour in the heat we are on our way again, and this time we have the spare jack more ready in case of any other trouble come our way.

We prefer to take the Savute marsh road before the Sandridge road towards Savute campsite. The marsh road isn't recommended during the rainy season, so we just have to check it out to see how it is :-) We have had enough sand for today. Savute features, geologically-speaking, the Savute Marsh, the sand ridge, the Savute channel and some isolated rocky outcrops.  The large number of dead trees is surprising.  Although the Savute Marsh becomes marshy temporarily in the wet season, this is insufficient to explain the wooden graveyard.  In fact, at certain times water has flowed in through the Savute Channel flooding the marsh and killing the trees.  The channel is known to have been dry between about 1888 and 1957.  After that it flowed until 1979, except for 1966-7.  Since then it has been dry, but it continues to support highly nutritious grasses which attract thousands of herbivores.  It is believed that the erratic flow is caused by tectonic plate movements.  The channel has a slope of only 18cm per kilometre, so it takes little movement of the earth to stop, or start, the flow.

Today the marsh road is a boring stretch of road. Very good surface, but we don't see anything but some Ostriches in the far distance. We reach Savute Campsite 17:30 in the evening, the last miles on heavy! sand (I really get to test my driving skills! - whatever you do, do not stop!....), just in time for putting the tent up and make a braai. We have the same Italians as neighbours here as we had at Xakanaxa. A long drive today, 11 hours filled with a lot of new experiences with the stretch along the Khwai river as the ultimate highlight of the day. Just before we go to sleep we meet two Honey Badgers rummaging the trash bins outside the ablution block. Two really hasty nocturnal animals. They are even recorded to attack large mammals such as Elephant, Buffalo and man when threatened! We climb exhausted to bed around 20:30 and fall dead asleep...


1.8    Savute Campsite - Savute Safari Lodge, Chobe National Park

We have a late start today, knowing that we are only going to drive 2,5 kms to the Savute Safari Lodge, just down the road. Here am I looking out of our tent at the campsite, not very willing to get up I admit... No gamedrive this morning. It's time to relax. We spend some time catalogueing our pictures and charge our batteries. Landy isn't very cooperative when it comes to battery charging. Ian has to hot wire the electrical system in the car to make the charger work. And our fridge is more or less useless during stop periods since the battery voltage is low all the time and we have to be sure that the car actually starts when we want it to... There goes our meat...

Just after breakfast a lot of birds are gathering around us, Red Billed Francolins and different kinds of Hornbills and Starlings. We have a great photo session just beside the breakfast table, with the birds eating bread crumbs out of my hands. Here a really photogenic Hornbill, taking a closer look at Ians lens :-)

We leave the Savute Campsite and head for Savute Safari Lodge, eager to check in. We are very welcomed, and one of the first questions the manager ask us is if we have any clothes we need to wash? HEAVEN! :-) We get our own "house" with a private veranda, and there is a swimming pool overlooking two water holes which at all times are visited by Elephants. (Check the link above if you like to get more pictures of this lovely and remote lodge). I go straight to the shower and - bliss - warm, running water! Lovely clean and bright bathroom with big windows facing our own private part of the garden. This is luxury! I have three showers this day...

After the (first) shower it's time for lunch, which is served on the main deck overlooking the biggest waterhole. We get to meet the other guests, South Africans, Americans, some Spanish couples and a younger couple from UK. All of them are fly-in guests. We have a long chat with them beside the pool afterwards. A lot of the guests are very interested in our photo gear beeing hobby photographers themselves and a bit envious that we can bring all our stuff with us on our vacation. The fly-in tourists are limited to a maximum of 12 kgs each, and that barely covers each of our camera bags. A huge advantage to drive yourselves :-) The girl from the UK had her camera stolen in Jo'burg airport the same day, so she was really annoyed. She bought a point-and-shoot camera at the airport, but that is just so frustrating - when you have your lenses, which was not stolen!

We have a little photo session of the animals visiting the waterhole, here a magnificent Kudu male with lovely horns. The average horn length is 120 cm, the record is however 181 cm along the curve!! We also have a trip through the garden watching the smaller animals and birds. We relax in our new home for the day until tea time. Yes, tea time :-) Next on the agenda is the evening game drive. Some of the other guests who have already stayed one night had heard that Leopards were in the area. Since neither Ian nor I have ever seen a "live" Leopard we are really keen on going!

After seeing a lot of Elephants and Impalas we finally hear what we want to hear over the radio. One of the other groups has spotted a Leopard! Thanks to creative driving of our very knowledgeable and interesting guide Gwist and good communication between the guides we see our first Leopard! What a sight! And I just LOVE cats!!! The funny thing is, that the girl with the point-and-shoot camera, get the best shot of the Leopard. There is justice in the world :-)

The Leopard is gorgeous!! It is elegant and powerfully built, with a beautifully marked coat. Although the Leopard has disappeared from some areas and is greatly reduced in others, the Leopard is in fact not threatened within its African range. The Leopard walks just in front of our game drive vehicle so we get a really good look at it. Beau-ti-ful!

After our meeting with the Leopard Gwist decides it is the perfect time for us to have our sundowner drink and celebrate the successful gamedrive. On our way we see our first Giant Eagle Owl relaxing among the trees! This is the largest Owl of the region. Gwist takes us to a lovely spot, where we can strech our legs, have a drink and a snack and enjoy the peace and the colors of a perfect African sunset.

Surprise! When we get back from the gamedrive we find a chilled bottle of champagne waiting in a cooler on the table in our house. The staff had found out that I have my birthday in August, and despite it is one week ahead they wanted to give me the courtesy. Very nice, and adds another touch of welcoming to our stay! We have another long shower and go to the restaurant to relax. Accompanying our apéritif the local choir visits for a mini concert. Wow! They are definately good singers and dancers! This puts us in the right mood for enjoying a superb dinner toghether with the other guests. After the dinner a bonfire is lit just beside the main deck overlooking the floodlit waterhole. We all gather around the fire for a nightcap and just before we go to bed we see our first Brown Hyena! A truly nice conclusion of a perfect day :-)

 

2.8    Savute Safari Lodge - Ihaha Campsite, Chobe National Park

Up 5:45 to pack our stuff, have another lovely warm shower and wait for our guide to bring us to the breakfast table. This is the only annoying thing about the Savute Safari Lodge. Between sunset and 8:00AM you are not allowed to walk on your own on the premises. Despite a big fence around the compound. It feels a bit odd for us who are used to living in a tent among the animals, with just the canvas separating us from the wildlife. Safety first... But since the lodge has visitors who come with the fly-in safari groups with no or very little experience in living among the animals it is understandable. Ian and I are the only ones who have come by car this week, and we definately are among the odd, but interesting ones around the dinner table :-)

It is a cold morning, just over 4 degrees C. It's nice to have warm porridge for breakfast! We clean the car (which is rather messy and of course full of sand), pack down our washed and (again) good smelling clothes and say goodbye to the management staff. They have prepared lunch boxes for us to bring on our todays long trip to Ihaha! A big thank-you to them, because we are definately running out of supplies because of the malfunctional electrical system in our Landy which constantly kills the fridge... We take the recommended, but not on the map marked, sand road from the lodge, via and along Savute Safari Lodge's private airstrip towards Ghoha Gate. It's a bit further in distance, but holds much better surface! Highly recommendable, but ask for directions first... We have 156 kms to go to Kasane, where we have to get more fuel and stock up with food again. We have enough fuel for our trip, despite a lot of additional gamedrives. Reassuring! Even if the fuel gauge not exactly works as described by Andrew...

The road towards Kasane is good, but very little game to see. It seems to be a well travelled, wide road - but we see no cars for a very long time. Through Ghoha Gate we enter the Chobe Forest Reserve. The Chobe Forest Reserve and the two concessions to the north of it, are areas designated for community-managed livestock and hunting. The carefully managed hunting of this is currently administered by a company, Rann Safaris, which has a few small hunting camps here.

We meet an interesting very sandy downhill stretch of road when we get closer to Kachikau. Heavy transport vehicles trying to get up, and us coming down, the road as wide as a normal car.. We barely manage to steer the car past, among the trees without getting stuck. It is very close... From Kachikau we get this lovely view over the Linyanti area. Lots of water, game, umbrella acacia trees and over 1000 years old baobab trees. We even spot palm trees!

The people in Kachikau have farms, and just outside one of the cow farms we see a group of over 30 White Backed Vultures in the trees, probably waiting for their supper... I just have to get a picture of them! They are ugly, and dirty scavengers. The White Backed Vultures are the most common vultures in bushveld game reserves.

At Ngoma Gate we meet the motorway which goes to Kasane. Ngoma Gate is the main entrance to the Chobe National Park for people crossing the border from Namibia. We have 50 kms on tar road, driving at speeds we didn't know existed in Botswana :-) We see both Kudu, Giraffes and Elephants along the motorway to Kasane. Rather strange... When we reach Kasane, there is no diesel! This is, however, nothing extraordinary. We have to continue 10 more kms towards Zambia to another village. There may be diesel there. The gas station in Kazungula actually has diesel - and chaos, to put it mildly. This is the only gas station for miles with fuel. Local trucks with 10-15 jerry cans each able to hold 25 liters are queueing in front of us. This takes time! Cold Coca Cola and patience rules... When it's finally our turn, we find that the gas station doesn't take any cards! No Visa, nothing - even if there is a Visa sign on the front door of the gas station. And we have only a handful of Pula with us. Bummer!!! We fill up for our last money, knowing that we have fuel enough for another two or three days. We can try Kasane again another day, because we will stay at Ihaha campsite for at least 3 days. TIP: Always bring cash! This is Africa.

We go back to Kasane and find the Spar for shopping. Happy surprise! Excellent choice of bread, meat, fruit, tinned food, drinks etc. We fill Landy to the brim, and Ian has hot wired the electrical system again so the fridge works for now, at least until we have to re-charge our photo gear... We stock up with a lot of water! We drink continously during the day even if it's not necessarily too hot. But it's definately dry.. Ihaha campsite next! We enter the Chobe river front via Sidudu Gate to register the car and pay our fees. Inside the gate we prepare our cameras just in case. And wow are we lucky- first thing we see is the Sable Antelope, one of my top listed animals!

The river front is teeming with game! Of all the places we visit on our trip to Botswana, the Chobe river front ends up beeing our definate favourite. This is truly THE place for wildlife spotting accessible for self drive tourists! No more than about 5 minutes after our Sable Antelope, we see our first Buffalos! Right beside the car. With my 500mm lens I barely get the head framed :-) YESS! I have my big five, for what it's worth. Among the new bird species we see along the river front today is the Great White Heron, the Great White Pelican and the Grey Lourie.

Driving along the riverfront on our way to the Ihaha campsite we have a really close-up with a group of 15 Elephants with calves. We just have to stop the car and the engine to let them pass. A bit nerve wrecking for me, the male Elephants are really BIG up close. And this is close! As mentioned, the Botswana's elephant population is currently estimated at around 120,000. I think we missed but a few on our trip ;-)

We struggle to reach the Ihaha camp before sunset, trying to avoid all the Elephants coming down to the river to have their evening drink and fight the pressing need to take photos of everything we see. We are still quite a stretch from the campsite when luckily we again meet our Italien friends. They can confirm that we are heading the right way. Having already stayed there for one night, they are able to guide us around the group of at least 50-60 Elephants which block the main road and take us the back road into camp. We reach it juuust in time for sunset. The evening is magnificent, with all the Elephants wading the river and the African Bullfrogs having a rather loud evening serenade for us. We collapse in the tent after a short braai. Exhausted! Another marvellous day is over.

 

3.8    Ihaha Campsite, Chobe National Park

We wake up early hearing strange noises outside the tent! A Honey Badger is going through the more or less empty bin looking for breakfast! A bit dark to see properly, but you get an idea of the rather lively and differenciated wildlife we live amongst. You can guess I am a bit anxious if I have leave the tent during the night... :-) We enjoy the sunrise when we suddenly hear the sound of bird wings. It ends up beeing over 2500!!!! Pelicans flying past us, following the Chobe river. They fly in single or double lines, one after another. I count them! -, and it takes close to half an hour for them to pass. What a beautiful morning view! We have a late breakfast followed by a photo session of all the birds gathering around our breakfast table. The usual Starlings, Hornbills, Cape Crows, African Pied Wagtails, Heuglins Robins and Boubou's.

This amazingly beautiful, idyllic campsite is very long and spread out along the front of the Chobe River. Every pitch fronts the river and is totally private with only whatever animals wander through to peer at you. The pitches are also very widely spaced apart, so although there are 8 or so pitches, you may only be aware of one or two others. It is one of the most amazingly beautiful, unspoilt, natural campsites I have ever visited. Looking out from our pitch it feels like we have the Chobe River all to ourselves, and the animals we share it with. Luckily we have nights to stay :-)

The ablutions on this campsite are great, albeit a bit far from any of the pitches, so this is definitely a campsite where you need to drive to the ablution block after dark. I dared walking one evening, just before sunset - but I didn't feel too relaxed. Ok, a Kudu and a Warthog aren't the most dangerous animals, but they really scared me when they both suddenly appeared in front of me on my way back...

This morning one of the Warthogs come so close we can touch her. And far too close for my 500mm lens. To avoid changing lenses in a hurry I backed to get a picture of her. She is really not afraid, and become a real nuisance after a while rummaging between our stuff. We have to gently shooo her away.

Today we are dozing in the sun, catalogueing our pictures. We have a quite relaxing day, no hurry at all. This is definately our place to stay! We decide that the diesel in Kasane can wait. We have a shower and go for a long evening gamedrive 13:30. Today we will try the lower road which goes just beside the riverfront. We are keen on getting a proper picture of a Sable Antelope. Instead we see a lot of beautiful birds! The main attraction today is the magnificent African Fish Eagle which we for the first time find relaxed and at peace on top of a tree. We haven't been able to take a proper photo of this bird until now. Ian stops the car some distance away from the tree, and sneaks quietly closer and closer. The bird, however, turns out to be quite at ease on its branch, which gives us the perfect opportunity to finally get a good picture.

On our way back to camp I get a bit nervous. I am driving the car in deep sand when we suddenly again have over 60 Elephants on the road in front of us, all coming towards us on their way to the river. I get my nerves under control, halt the car and stop the engine. I can touch the Elephants through my open car window when they pass us. Wow! This is not for the faint hearted! I don't think I ever will get used to larger groups of these big animals. They really make you feel very small and vulnerable, even if they don't consider to harm you at all. Elephants are some amazing creatures. This evening we have an incredible number of them wading in and crossing the river close to our camp. We count several hundreds of them on the flats nearby. We have a lovely evening beside our campfire accompanied by a huge number of the always noisy African Bull Frogs.

 

4.8    Ihaha Campsite, Chobe National Park

This night we hear a lot of noise and animals in distress and wake up early. We see a cat just outside our tent, but are not sure which of the African cats it is. We decide to start our morning gamedrive 7:30 towards Kasane. It's about time we get some more fuel. This is definately not the place you will run out of petrol... 5 minutes from our camp along the main road we smell dead animals, and around the next bend we suddenly see two Lionesses dozing just beside the road with their stomachs full after the nights feast. It is probably the sound of this Giraffe we heard getting killed during the night. Ian has the perfect view out of his open window, so I decide to go out of the car to get my pictures, again using the cars bonnet as support to my rather heavy camera gear. I quickly get back into the car when another two Lions come walking towards me from behind.. The Lions are however not the least interested in us, and we spend close to an hour watching these beautiful cats. And the best part? No other cars! We have this marvellous hour along the main road with the cats all by ourselves!

We leave the Lions to find a herd of Buffalos just down the road. This morning is amazing! We follow the inner road towards Kasane and see a lot of different animals. Half way down towards the Sidudu Gate we meet Amanda and Paddy with their clients again. They will spend the next evening and night with us at Ihaha Campsite. They tell us where they just spotted Lions with their cubs along the lower road towards the Puku Flats. We decide to take the detour, even though we have had our moment with the Lions earlier.

We don't find the cats, they have probably moved - but instead we get our first, and best, Sable Antelope close up. This must be the loveliest African Antelope! Here a pitch black male, easily distinguished from the reddish-brown female. Both sexes have distinctive black and white facial markings. The Sable Antelope carry some of the most magnificent horns of any African antelope, particularly the bull, sweeping backwards with a pronounced curve, and deeply ringed with transverse ridges. He is lovely!

We reach Kasane and the Shell petrol station. What a surprise - no petrol today either!! They had petrol the day before, but are all empty again... We have to take another trip to Kazungula, and this time we bring cash :-) It's again chaotic at the petrol station in Kazungula, and we spend one hour queing before we are able to fill Landy again. In retrospect I regret that we didn't go to the Victoria Falls when we were so close to the Zimbabwe border. Well, we just have to come back don't we :-)

Back in Kasane we go shopping again, and to the bank to get Namibian dollars. We are leaving Botswana the day after, and need the currency. Be aware! The bank doesn't necessarily have Namibian dollars!!! And this is Saturday, we leave Botswana on a Sunday! We empty the bank for their Namibian currency! It's barely enough, and behind us in the queue are more tourists... TIP: Don't take it for granted, despite the proximity to the Namibian border, that there actually is currency available. Not too long ago, Kasane was a remote and forgotten village despite its stature as administrative center of the Chobe District. However, its strategic location along the main tourist routes at the confluence of the borders of four countries (Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia) has changed all of that. But it's still - from a Europeans point of view - not more than a village.

On our way back towards the Ihaha campsite we find the Lions and their cubs along the outer road along the Puku Flats, now dozing under some bushes. It's still very early afternoon, and we know they will stay in the shade another couple of hours, so we leave them and the other cars. We keep on going "the long way home" - the road closest to the Chobe river front.

We stop across a rather big lodge on the Namibian side and have a late lunch down by the river. Here Ian gets a lovely picture of a hoovering Kingfisher! Beautiful! A White Egret is also very photogenic, of course also on Ians side of the car. You can just forget to leave the car here to take photographs, the birds are accustomed to cars all right, but not people. We try to keep the back seat mostly free of luggage to be able to swap around inside the car to get our pictures, but that's not always as easy as it sounds. How fortunate that we are an athletic couple then...ehh... ;-) Just further down the road we see this absurd sight, a moored house boat which you apparently can rent and go up and down the river when the water level is high enough. Not what I expected in the middle of nowhere :-)

We keep going along the lower road closest to the riverfront. This is an area we haven't explored before. And before we know it, here we are again, me behind the wheel, amidst a larger group of grazing Elephants milling along and across the road. This is the first (and only) time we meet more aggressive Elephants. Having some very small baby Elephants among them, the mothers are very wary and protective. Towards us there comes another car, and the Elephants get "trapped" between the two. One of the females starts flapping her ears and walks towards us on the road. We have nowhere to go, the road is more than narrow...so I stop the engine. What I forget is to close my window, and suddenly a trunk from one of the other Elephants works its way towards me and my open window. The Elephant in front of us luckily doesn't charge, and I am able to close my window. The other car manages to back a bit and turn in the other direction, and it gets calm again. I swear I can hear my heart thumping another five minutes...

After leaving the Elephants I swap with Ian and he drives the car the rest of the trip. I have had enough experience behind the wheel for a day :-) Downstream from the Elephants I get to see an animal I didn't knew existed, the big Monitor Lizard! Monitors are among the oldest living lizards. They are characterized by a long, forked, snakelike tongue, and are able to engulf and swallow large prey whole. They are sleek, fast runners with tapered heads, long necks, strong legs, and long, powerful tails. This rather big Monitor runs along the road, and Ian is able to both drive the car AND take a picture of it with his heavy 300mm lens. Pretty impressive :-)

When we get closer to the Ihaha Campsite we meet a big group of over 200 Baboons! The baby Baboons play and have fun, and they are definately not in a hurry. We stop the car and marvel all the families on the move at the same time. This amazing male Baboon sits by himself in the sunset watching the other ones with a thoughtful human look on his face.

Well back in camp and just before we start our braai for the evening Paddy finds our campsite and comes over to invite us for dinner. We gladly accept, because we know from Amanda and Paddy's clients that he is a fantastic outdoor chef
:-) We have a lovely stew, South African red wine and proper coffee. Hurrahh! We have company of a group of
Baboons which have parked themselves in the nearby tree for the evening. Noisy bunch, but we enjoy the company and dinner under the stars. Did I say that this is my favourite camping spot on earth? ;-) Paddy and Amanda walks us back to our camping area, carrying a huge torch (which we forgot). There is quite a distance between our camping spots, so I appreciate the company. With the use of the torch we spot a Spring Hare and a Hyena on our way back. This is our last night at Ihaha campsite, and I already know I will be back!

 

5.8    Ihaha Campsite, Chobe National Park - Nambwe Campsite, Namibia

We get up 7:30 to start planning the days trip to Namibia and the Nambwe Campsite. The trip is estimated to 5 hours driving. That said, if we do not get hasseled at the border. Sad to go, we pack our Landy before we have a quick shower and leave. We trundle along the Chobe river towards Ngoma Gate and the Ngoma Bridge which crosses the river into Namibia when suddenly a huge Leopard drops out of nowhere just in front of our car. It is probably a male Leopard, and he is certainly on the move. We spend som time trying to catch up with it, but have to give up. Instead we see the largest group of Zebras we have met on our trip on the Namibian side of the river. There must be at least 100-150 of them!

After a rather creative detour (we kind of lost track of the road for a period when we were looing for the Leopard) we reach the border post. And hey, no problems nor waiting at all. You sign out of Botswana on one side of the river, cross the Ngoma Bridge, and sign in at the border post on the Namibian side. The contrast is HUGE! After spending days driving on wiggly windy sandy roads - or no roads at all, we meet tarmac and a perfect straight road which disappears in the distance with the speed limit at 110 km/hour. Talk about sivilization across the border!! Poor Landy gets a shock! She has just begun to fall more and more apart, and now she has to handle the speed too. The back door is now closed by a wooden log, we have again given up on the fridge and live on dry or tinned food, crackers and vegetables. We have enough water, and that is the most important thing.

After crossing the bridge we head for Katimamulilo. The Caprivi Strip is somewhat different from what we expected it to be. Instead of what we thought was a more wild and unhabited area we find a lot of small villages along the road, smaller farms and quite a lot of locals. There are a lot of smaller bushfires here, the locals burning off the dead grass. Some places the fire goes all the way to the tarmac. And the tarmac goes on forever, always straight ahead. There is barely a bend in the road before we reach Katimamulilo, which is the service centre of the Caprivi. Katima lies directly on the banks of the Zambesi river and has its own airport. We stop for some cold Coke and chockolate and head towards the Kwando river just outside Kongola some 111 kms west.

When we get to the river and drive over the bridge we register a big bushfire to the left of us. Black thick smoke and you can smell it in the air. We don't bother too much, and just after the Ngoma Bridge we turn right to register into the Susuwe National Park and pay our fees. Where you have to register is in the complete opposite direction of Nambwe Campsite, and it is some kms down a sandy road. We finally find the registration office and at the same time ask about the bushfire. We get the expected "no problem" answer and head towards the Nambwe Campsite. The nearer we get, the thicker the smoke, and over a little hilltop we see the bushfire just in front of us over the river. A big area is on fire. I get too afraid to continue, and after some argueing we decide to turn back to the main road. For the first time we try to use the satellite phone and contact Safari Drive to make them cancel our booking and recommend another place to stay the night. So much for the safety of a satellite phone - noone answers! And when they finally do, the people in the other end just tells us that the contact people are away for the weekend. Right..!!! Well, we have been out a stormy night before, and manages rather quickly to find another campsite. We decide to spend the night at Bum Hill's, up wind from the fire. The next day we find that this is a very wise decision. The Bum Hill Campsite is rather nice, and every camp spot has its own secluded ablution block with a flush toilet, a shower and a sink - all overlooking the Kwando river. Over the private ablutions there is built a raised platform/deck with a beautiful view over the river. The campsite is built according to ecologically sustainable principles, is situated in the BwaBwata National Park and is run by the Kwando Conservancy. Still a bit shaky, we go to bed early with hopes that everything will be fine in the morning.

 

6.8    Bum Hill, The Caprivi Strip - Nambwa Campsite, Bwabwata National Park

A late start, and the bushfire has calmed down during the night. We head towards Nambwa again, some 23 kms from the main road. We meet a tragic view. Large areas are burnt, and the bushfire jumped the river during the night. I'm glad we weren't there... Closer to the campsite it gets better. The fire never reached Nambwa, but the sour smell of the bushfire is in the air. We learn that uncontrolled bushfires are common and frequent in this region, and that poaching is a serious and widespread problem - even within the protected areas along the Caprivi Strip. This doesn't sound too good...

But the Nambwa Campsite is beautiful, situated on the banks of the Mashi River, south of the eastern gate of Bwabwata National Park. We get the lovely campsite number 5. Nambwa is built according to eco-responsible principles and is managed and developed by the adjacent communities through their respective Conservancy structures. It is the first time in Namibian history that such an agreement has been signed between the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the communities!

We head for an afternoon gamedrive and choose the Horseshoe Drive, which seem to be the most interesting loop, at least on the map. The Horseshoe Lagoon lies about 5km south of Nambwe and is a stunning ox-bow lake where you can have your sundowner with a beautiful view. The sand is however very deep, and you'll need a good car with lots of tracktion to get there. But what Landy doesn't have in grace and luxury, she sure has in willpower. We never get stuck in the sand on the whole trip! We see the usual game, like Hippo's, Dik-Dik, Kudu, Impala, Elephants and Giraffes. But at a considerable lower density than along the Chobe river. On the other hand, we see no cars at all on our 2,5 hours drive, and that is nice.

There is built a very nice and cosy braai area at the waterfront, and we have a lovely and quiet evening down by the river. Just as I am climbing up the ladder to our tent I hear a very close splashing sound and assumes that it is Ian wading in the river or washing some stuff. Big is the surprise when I realise that Ian actually is beside the car, and that it is a Hippo coming up from the river and through our braai area where we sat just seconds ago. Wow! Talk about close up with a Hippo! It starts to graze in our braai area, and Ian doesn't mill around anymore, if I may say so :-)

 

7.8    Nambwa Campsite, Bwabwata National Park

Oh what a lovely morning! We decide to have a day in camp. Wash our clothes, relax by the river, catalogueing a huge amount of pictures and trying to recognize the different bird species. Among our camera gear we have brought a Bird Book and a Mammals of Africa book. It seems we have shot a lot of unrecognizable species :-) But to the right, a Wattled Plover!

It's good to have a relaxing day again. And it's time for a loooong shower. The ablutions here are built on the same idea as the ones at Bum Hill, except that they are not private. The shower has warm water, and we have Hyena tracks beside the sinks... Everything is open, and the wildlife roam free. Amazing experience when you are used to it. We have a gamedrive in the afternoon, again the Horse Shoe Drive, but nothing new to see. We find some Lion tracks on one of the loops around the Horse Shoe Lagoon, but don't spot the Lion.

In the evening we get invited to our nearby German neighbours for a drink. They live in a Nissan Bushcamper. Interesting vehicle, but very petrol consuming! To say it is spacious will be to exaggerate, but I would prefer it for a tent if I had to stay on the ground. What I however wouldn't consider is to drag this thing around the roads of Botswana. A roof top tent is what should be preferred! We get no Hippo this evening, nor the Hyenas. We have a remarkable silent and pleasant night for a change :-)

 

8.8    Nambwa Campsite - N//Goabaca Campsite, Popa Falls

We start early 7:30 today after a very good night sleep. We want to take a last gamedrive around the Horse Shoe Drive. We find some game, but it is a rather quiet and "cold" morning. One of the mornings that I am glad that I brought wool and fleece. It is too cold to start the day with the windows open. Refreshing! The Baboons seem to mean the same, because they look very cold sitting in the sun to get warmed up. A lot of Baboons today, we smell them before we see them. They are really not always gentle with their offspring! The sand around the Horse Shoe Drive is heavy today, and it has been getting worse every time we have taken the trip. I guess there are a few vechicles stranded along this stretch of road..

Since we have packed the car and already had our breakfast we drive directly out of camp towards Popa Falls. The N//Goabaca campsite is situated on the eastern bank of the Okavango River, next to Popa Falls (rapids), about 4 km from the police check point at the Okavango bridge. It is a long and monotonous trip of 190 kms, luckily on tarmac all the way. When we get to Divundu we get a little bit pussled. Where our itinerary says there is a big Shell petrol station we find only the sign and a shed selling luke warm Pepsi.. The Shell has obviously been closed for some time. As we already have found out, the information from Safari Drive on Namibia is somewhat variable... But, further along the road we find a very big, new Engen petrol station and supermarket with excellent choice of food (bear in mind, excellent as in African excellent :-) There is even a bakery!

We find the Campsite, somewhat confusingly signposted, and gets the best site! It has a magnificent view over the Okavango river, which is over 100 meters wide with lots of water. As with the Bum Hill campsite, N//Goabaca has a raised platform/deck above the private ablutions, and we quickly move our table, chairs, books, pc, wine and water up on the viewing platform. We spend the afternoon in the shades overlooking the Okavango river and before dinner we have a shower with hot water! Here we don't have to warm the water ourselves, the manager and his assistant visit every of their occupied campsites and make sure that the fire which warms the water tank is lit and burning. A service we can appreciate after a couple of weeks with cold/luke warm water in the shower. We go to bed with the symphony of gushing water and the familiar grunts of Hippos downstream.

 

9.8    N//Goabaca Campsite, Popa Falls - Xaro Lodge, The Panhandle

Hurrah for me! It's my birthday and nothing feels more natural than to wake up in Africa to another beautiful day. I get served a solid breakfast today, with eggs and baked beans and - cappucino! Everything for the birthday girl! We have a morning walk along the river and take some nice photographs of the falls (coming from Norway we would call this smaller rapids, but ok :-) We even see a fishing Otter! The temperature is nice, but the water in the river is surprisingly cold. Here you can see me under the viewing platform at N//Goabaca, just outside the kitchenette.

We pack our stuff and cross the river and head towards Botswana again. We are now on the northwestern side of the Okavango delta in an area know as The Panhandle. (If you look at a map of the Okavango Delta you'll see that it's shaped like a frying pan, with the main river flowing down the handle, from the northwest. Thus this area gets its name). As we enter The Mahango National Park the game, which has been more or less abundant for days, reappear. A flock of Kudu's cross the road in front of us, and are quicly after followed by no less than 30 Sable Antelopes! Wow! We hadn't expected this!

At the Muhembo Border post (For Paddy & Amanda only: Mahango National Park/Muhembo Border Post ;-) we meet a busload of people so we have to wait to get into Botswana again. Efficiency isn't a slogan at the border posts, but we work our way slowly to the man behind the counter. We're told that the border post sometimes can be closed, or the people operating it go home early before the next shift arrives. The tourists have nothing else to do but wait. This is Africa. On the Namibian side of the border we find this display of animal skulls. But now we're back in Botswana again!

We head for Drotsky's Cabin near Shakawe which functions as the reception desk for Xaro Lodge where we are going to stay the night to celebrate my 42 birthday - in some luxury surroundings again. It feels like a long time since we left the Savute Safari Lodge and our clothes were clean.. :-) The trip to Drotsky's goes quick and easy - 8km on tarmac and then 3km on sand. This long-established camp is run by Jan and Eileen Drotsky, and their family, who have seen the Shakawe area change from a remote outpost to a thriving little town. It is their son who now runs the Xaro Lodge, 8kms downstream.

The Xaro Lodge is usually reached by a 15 mins boattrip, and we wait for the boat to pick us up. We place ourselves on Drotsky's main wooden deck overlooking the Okavango river which here is already several kms wide. Below us is a network of deepwater channels and large beds of papyrus. This is excellent for birdwatching and fishing, though there's known to be little game around except for Hippos and Crocodiles. We get served tea and cakes and have a chat with Eileen while we wait. Nice lady! And the surroundings here are magnificent! The grounds around the reception/main area/bar is made into a lovely, lush garden with a lot of flowers, plants and trees. A great job has been done to build and maintain this fantastic garden. Definately something I didn't expect to find having been surrounded by sand and dryland for over 2 weeks.

The boat pics us up, and on our way to the lodge our boatsman shows us a lot of birds and Crocodiles along the shore. Halfway down the river we meet these two men fishing from their mokoro, the dugout canoe the locals use on the river. We spend more than half an hour down the river before we reach the Xaro Lodge.

The lodge itself is built on an outcrop from the mainland, amidst an old, established grove of knobthorn, mangosteen and jackalberry trees. Once here, it's hard to escape the feeling that this was once an absolutely beautiful, old-style Okavango camp. The accommodation is currently in Meru-style tents built on permanent concrete bases, each with a shaded veranda and a separate toilet and shower. Around the thatched, stone dining area between the tents there is a garden of succulents and cacti, banana trees and even a small baobab tree. Left the view from the dining area towards the river.

We are met by the owners Donovan Drotsky, his wife Yolande and a friend of theirs visiting. There are currently only 7 guests, and the atmosphere is relaxing. We have a long chat with the owners and take a little walk on the premises. Even if there is game here, there are no predators so we can walk freely wherever we want. The only trouble we can get into is Snakes, but this time of year that threat is minimal.

After our little walk I find my book and park myself on the small floating pontoon bridge in the sun. Ian on the other hand place himself rather awkwardly under a tree trying to get a picture of the Malakite Kingfisher. They have a nest just beside the small bridge and fly to and from all the time, but they a so shy and have so quick motions that it is nearly impossible to get a proper picture of them. After 2,5 hours waiting Ian gets rewarded and get some beautiful pictures of the bird. What a patience...

Before dinner Donovan and his South African friend is going on a fishing trip and ask us if we want to come along. Ian isn't exactly difficult to ask... He gets a rod, I bring the camera, and off we go. We drift downstream for nearly 1,5 hours fishing and me relaxing and enjoying life. Can it be better to spend part of my birthday drifting down an African river in a boat with three men? Hardly ;-) The fishing result is on the other hand miserable, with only one Tiger Fish caught and released. But, I did get to see the Tiger Fish and it's strong jaw and teeth. The Tiger Fish is known to take prey 40% larger than themselves. And the Goliath Tiger, which can be up to 40 kgs, do tend to attack swimmers. Impressive! And scary! I think I'll stay in the boat. In addition to the Tiger Fish there are a lot of Crocodiles and Hippos here. A dip in the river will have to wait.

The dinner is enjoyed together with 2 French couples in the dining area outdoors, and I get really surprised when I both get a birthday cake and a bottle of wine as a birthday present from Donovan and Yolande. Thanks! :-) A proper bed awaits in the Meru-style tent, so we go to bed early enjoying the luxury.

 

10.8    Xaro Lodge - Drotsky's Cabin, The Panhandle

After a very good English breakfast we take a long morning walk on the property which is about 30 hektar. We see an amazingly amount of birds, a Bushbok and probably a Montor Lizard which drops itself into the river when we pass by. We only see a dark, big shadow falling from a branch and splashes into the river, not to reappear. There are many walkways on the property, and we follow the one along the river. A baobab tree and especially the lemon trees are particularly beautiful, full of lemons as they are.

The Xaro Lodge is well worth a visit, remote as it is from other people - only reached by boat this time of year. Don't expect a lot of action nor a lot of game though. For us it is a perfect place to start winding down from our hectic journey around the Okavango Delta and prepare ourselves to the difficult task of leaving this amazing country.

After lunch we pack our stuff and leave by boat back to Drotsky's. Here we will spend another two nights before we head for Maun again, our start and ending point for the trip. Drotsky's has 100! guests this night, a huge difference from Xaro Lodge the night before. We had a heavy lunch at Xaro's, so it's an early evening with a book in the tent. This is the first camp evening without a braai..

 

11.8    Drotsky's Cabin, The Panhandle

We have a long breakfast at the campsite photographing all of the birds that appear and want a piece of bread. We still haven't recognized all the species we see here. Then we take a trip to Drotsky's main deck overlooking the river. Here we watch the birds again, and relax. Are we starting to feel the exhausting tempo we had our first two weeks? It's just so lovely not to do anything at all :-) Back in camp there is a rather large group of Vervet Monkeys having their daily raid among the camp sites many garbage bins. If you don't close your bin, or car doors, or tent or leave anything at your table - its gone in seconds. One of the Vervets even tries to put its tiny hands into our car through a miniscular opening in one of our car windows. But they are rather cute to watch, and not scary as the bunch of Baboons which we met at Nambwa. The big males there really had it going for a while, with screams and brushing through the campsite.

When we get to the main deck later in the afternoon we meet some very nice older couples from South Africa, and we spend a lot of time talking to them in the bar. We have our sundowner drink when we hear and vaguely see a Crocodile exploding out of the water and kills probably an Antelope across the river. It is a reminder to the fact that we are still among wild animals.. We have a superb dinner in Drotsky's restaurant and hope to see the elusive Sitatunga before we leave. A rather large male had been in the papyrus swamp just beside the restaurant the night before, when we stayed at our campsite. The Sitatunga has a very distinctive habitat requirement. Dense reedbeds and well-vegetated aquatic environments are essential. The populations of the Sitatunga in West Africa, e.g. in Botswana, are considered to be endangered and it's predicted that they will disappear within the next 20 years.

Lucky as we are, Ian manages to hear and spot the Sitatunga as we are leaving our dinner table. Eileen puts on a floodlight, and juust where the light begins to fade we see the Sitatunga in an open area among the papyrus! Are we happy? We stay another half hour in the bar before we leave the restaurant and find our campsite. This is our very last night in the roof top tent! It's very nice to stay in a luxurious lodge, but both Ian and I much more appreciate the proximity you get to the game and the African wilderness from a tent. Safely placed on top of the car of course :-)

 

12.8    Drotsky's Cabin - Motsentsela Tree Lodge, Maun

This will be a day in the car! From Drotsky's there are 350kms to Maun, and then we'll have to find the Motsentsela Tree Lodge, situated somewhere outside the town centre. We start early after breakfast on our long way back to sivilization. The trip is rather uninteresting, with little game, just a few African Fish Eagles in the distance and a road that goes on forever. Mid way we have to stop to empty and wash our fridge. It really stinks! We cannot turn the car back like this. The Safari Drive will definately be informed about the malfunctional electrical wiring in the car and the car doors, some cannot be opened and the back door is still attached to the car by a wooden log. It's good for them that we are very handy and not fussy people... In the end we reach Maun and stop at the Shoprite for some cold Coke, having lived on luke warm water and crackers the whole day. Health camp... The Coke tastes delicious!!! We have a rather creative handwritten map to find Motsentsela, and I have my doubts when we start looking for it. Extremely lucky (or clever ;-) as we are, we find the lodge on our first try, but not by following the map, more looking for the villages mentioned on the map. After a much longer trip than we thought it was ment to be we finally reach the Motsentsela Tree Lodge.

The main thatched complex consists of a bar, a lounge, an entrance hall and the dining room is very spacious, stylishly furnished with large windows. The front is bordered by a large teak deck which surrounds two large trees, a Leadwood and a Birdplum, from which the Lodge gets its Setswana name. On the deck we find lots and lots of birds, and a specie of the Hornbills we haven't encountered so far on the trip as we can remember - the Grey Hornbill. The managers of the lodge are very friendly, and show us our Meru-tent style accomodation, more or less identical to the one we had at the Xaro lodge, but much more stylish.

There is also a swimming pool, but remembering my shock bath in the Namibian desert a couple of years ago I try the water before I jump in. I do NOT jump in. It's freezing! Intstead Ian has a photo shoot of all the birds, and we are allowed to feed them with bread crumbs. The result is that Squirrels, Guinea Fowls and Hornbills are milling around on the deck. I have finally had enough of taking photos and just watch Ian with his tripod harassing the birds :-)

We are a group of 14-16 people having dinner around the table this evening, and the discussions are many and rather interesting, everybody sharing their experiences from their visit to Botswana so far. No one else but us are alone on a self drive trip and sleep in a roof top tent. We feel rather cool about that :-) Our last night in Botswana we spend in the Meru-tent, not using the curtains, to get the African bush as close as it can get.

 

13.8    Motsentsela Tree Lodge - Maun Airport - Heathrow, London

A bit confused about if we are beeing picked up at the lodge or not (the papers say so, but it doesn't sound very practical) the lodge manager calls Safari Drive to check. Good we don't wait for them, because the idea is to meet us at the airport.. We have our breakfast, leave Motsentsela and head for Maun. We have some time to kill and go shopping in Maun before we head to the airport where we will meet Andrew from Safari Drive. On our way to the airport Landy's backdoor finally gives up, and we have to tie it to the car with a piece of rope! Andrew isn't too surprised when we tell him about all our troubles with the car... I later found out why... After I get home I accidentually read about another couple renting a Landrover Defender from Safari Drive which they have had a lot of troubles with. The surprise is rather big when I realize that they have had our Landy the two weeks before us coming to Botswana. I reacted to one of their pictures of their car, when I suddenly recognized their number plate - same as ours... TIP: If you choose to go on a self drive safari, make sure you know your way around cars. What is defined to be in perfect condition, may not be at all! Well, Landy did her job despite of her rather annoying hormonal periods. She never ever got stuck in the sand! She is after all a La(n)dy!!! :-)

The plane unfortunately arrives on time and we have to leave Botswana. We are not so sad because we just know we will be back! This country has still a lot for us to explore, and we cannot forget the density of game especially in Moremi and even more along the Chobe river. The plane takes us to Jo'burg where we smoothly change plane to London Heathrow. Another amazing holiday in Africa is over. We will be back!

 

14.8    Heathrow, London - Stavanger, Norway

Our photo gear

Cameras: Canon 5D, Canon D1 mark II
Lenses: will be accounted for
Other: Bean bags, several memory sticks, a portable pc, an external disk, 2 pairs of binoculars, tripods, dust cleaning equipment, you name it