And we’re home!

IMG_1808We had 700 kms to do today. The first thing that was evident is how much better the roads are in South Africa to either Botswana or Namibia. The quality of the roads and the general maintenance are in a different league. In order to maintain that though it means people working on the roads all the time and so today was slightly frustrating because of the amount of road works on the way back including numerous stop and go’s.

We left at 8am and arrived home at 4pm with only two main stops to refuel and to buy biltong (at our favorite store in Trawal). The other 2 ‘minor’ stops were made because Michael’s toilet needs didn’t coincide with the other two stops (or he was drinking more than the rest of us). It was a pretty uneventful 700 kms. We are glad to be home (including a nice home cooked meal tonight) but also sad to be home (as we have to be back to reality and work tomorrow). It is incredible how disconnected we have been over the last 2.5 weeks. News updates have been seldom and even getting sports scores have been sporadic. It was like living in another world entirely.

We also really enjoyed the company of the other families. You would have thought that after 2.5 weeks everyone would be tired of each other but it really wasn’t like that at all (or at least we think so!). We will miss the dinner table conversations of the group of 14. One of the families stayed an extra night at Oewerbos and texted this morning to say they were having withdrawal symptoms. It was strange only having 3 cars driving together and not the 4.

As I usually do, here are my random thoughts to summarize the trip:

With hindsight things we would do differently next time

  1. Spend more time in Moremi and ideally sleep overnight there for at least 2-3 nights
  2. Skip Maun altogether (lowlight for many people)
  3. Spend at least another night at Elephant Sands (that’s the pic) and go iIMG_1772nto the Makagagadi Pans
  4. Drive straight from the Caprivi to Etosha and spend a few nights there and then back to SA
  5. Take all our meat for the whole trip from SA with us (with a decent freezer)
  6. Take replacement valves for the tyres (quickest way to let down the tyre is to take out the valve but if you lose it then you’re really in trouble)
  7. Take a full set of cutlery and crockery and proper glasses and mugs

Thoughts on Botswana:

  1. Lovely friendly people, no hint of crime, no hint of corruption. A pleasure to travel through the country.
  2. Poor roads generally with potholes appearing out of nowhere sometimes. Drive carefully and definitely don’t drive at night. The further north you go the worse the roads.
  3. Very poorly stocked shops even in the main towns (including Maun). Don’t expect to find much fresh produce (and as I said rather take your meat with you from SA). I wonder how the locals survive.
  4. Animals everywhere you look. In the ‘town’ areas goats, cattle and donkeys all over the place and regularly on the roads or crossing the roads. Drive carefully. In the outlying areas, warthog, kudu, elephant, steenbok etc on the road side. Drive carefully. I was staggered by seeing elephant on the side of the national road while driving 120 km/h (and not in a national park).
  5. It seems to be poor country and yet it is the wealthiest country in Africa (per capita). I suspect the money is in a few people’s hands only or in the main towns like Gaborone or Francistown (which we didn’t visit).
  6. Beautiful country and amazing to see game and the bird life was incredible.
  7. They worry a lot about ‘foot and mouth’ disease and I wonder whether it really is a big problem and whether their checkpoints make any real difference.

Thoughts on Zimbabwe:

  1. Vic Falls is beautiful but you get a sense that it is an outlier of a town in Zimbabwe (given most of its revenue must come from tourism).
  2. You also get a sense that corruption is the way of life. My sense is police checkpoints would be hard to get through without a local guide.

Thoughts on Namibia:

  1. Infrastructure is much better than Botswana (even in the Caprivi) and just seems better run and better organized (much closer to SA).
  2. Besides the shops in the Caprivi (which were absolutely horrendous, I really do wonder how the locals survive there), the shops are much better stocked and run and much closer to what we have in SA (even in the remote areas).
  3. As we have noted before, there is a strong German influence and that almost seems to be getting stronger and not weaker.

IMG_1778The highlights of the trip remain the Chobe River cruise (pic on left) and lunch at the Vic Falls Hotel. Final bird tally of 159 (though we have a few photos we are hoping a friend can identify for us which might add in a few more!) including 17 lifers (now up to 413).

Until next time … P, H, S, M & C

 

Windhoek to Oewerbos

Today’s drive went without incident (thankfully). It was the longest drive of the trip being just over 800 km and including the last border crossing from Namibia to back into SA. Thankfully PG Glass had my car ready with a brand new windscreen installed and we collected it immediately they opened at 7:30am Namibian time (which was 8:30am SA time). We packed up and left Windhoek at 8:15am. We stopped to refuel twice (once at Mariental and then at Keetmanshoop) and also stopped for lunch at Keetmanshoop. Otherwise we drove straight through (and straight is a key word as the road is very straight and the landscape is desolate).

We arrived at the border at about 5pm (SA time) and as this was the 6th border crossing of the trip we now have it down to a fine art. Paperwork for Namibia pre-filled in so no waiting to do that and then back in the car to the SA side. It all went very smoothly.

Tonight we are staying at Oewerbos which is just over the SA border on the side of the Orange River. Immediately after crossing the border we turned right and then followed the river for about 12 kms before we arrive at Oewerbos Camp. It is a beautiful setting on the river looking across to Namibia.

They have a bar and pizza oven at the river side and we met for a drink, our last group photo and pizza for dinner. The talk over dinner was about the highlights and lowlights of the trip, the things we would do again and the things we would do differently. It was pretty unanimous that the Chobe River cruise was a universal highlight. The periods of sickness for various people were the universal lowlight (for their period of sickness). Once again it was an enjoyable night with good company and conversation. It is our last night together as tomorrow we will be home.

Until tomorrow (when I will send out some thoughts on Botswana and Namibia) …

P, H, S, M & C

PS: That’s a picture of the view of from Guma Lagoon Lodge

IMG_1359

Ghanzi to Windhoek

We left Ghanzi this morning at 7am. We had 500 kms to do to get to Windhoek and a border crossing so we figured it would take us at least 5-6 hours. There was not really anything in Ghanzi to keep us there so we left early. The accommodation in Ghanzi was minimalist and the cold was not staying out of it. When we left at 7am the temperature outside was -2 C.  The road from Ghanzi to Windhoek has a lot of warnings about ‘Beware of’ followed by kudu, warthog, horses, cattle. There clearly is a reason for it because after about 45 minutes of driving the lead car dodged a few guinea fowl but unfortunately one flew up and hit IMG_1801our windscreen. We were driving at 120 km/h and the impact shattered the windscreen entirely.

The impact was massive – Helen and I both could feel the windscreen shatter from the force. The two cars behind us said the impact was impressive in that the guinea fowl flew up about 50 meters in the air (like a soccer ball) and there were feathers everywhere. The window was very badly damaged and so we pulled over and applied ducktape to the top and one of our group had a sticker for cracks which we applied to the middle to try to hold it all together. Fortunately I had a small square uncracked in my line of vision still. Helen was a little shaken and so she had some tea while we stopped.

One of our group (Bryan) has an office in Windhoek and he got the numbers of the places who could possibly replace the windscreen and my PA kindly called them (thank you again Cecilia!) and found out that PG Glass had the windscreen and could replace it for us this afternoon. It is a 2-3 hour job and then it has to set overnight. Fortunately we were heading to Windhoek and overnighting here. They said to get the car to them as soon as possible. We managed to get to Windhoek around 12:30pm (there is an hour time change as Namibia is one hour behind Botswana and SA) and so we got the car to them around 1pm. We will collect it tomorrow at 7:30am when they open as we have a long drive tomorrow (800 kms).  We are very pleased that we are OK and that we were heading for Windhoek where the windscreen could be relatively easily replaced.

What I have failed to mention though is that about 2-3 minutes after we hit the guinea fowl, a male kudu decided to cross the road between us and the next car and they almost hit the kudu (which would have been a far worse result). An hour later we saw another car who had hit a cow (cow dead on the side of the road). We also managed to kill another sparrow and we found it stuck in our front grill (when we took the car to PG Glass we discovered it).

We are staying tonight at Arrebbusch Lodge just on the outskirts of Windhoek. It is right next to the airport situated inside Windhoek (Eros Airport). We have the best wifi and cellphone signal we have had in over 2 weeks and so everyone seems to be catching up with world news, emails etc. It is incredible how much has happened in the two weeks (including Portugal winning Euro 2016, an about to be new UK Prime Minister etc etc). We had pretty much forgotten there was anything but open expanses and wild animals.

IMG_1805Tonight we went to Joe’s Beer House for dinner. Bryan had booked when we were in Botswana already but when we got there they didn’t have our booking. After a bit or arguing they said they would make a plan and about 40 minutes later we actually got a table. Joe’s is a Windhoek institution and even on a Monday night the place was packed. The food was pretty good so long as you like meat! Michael and I had Gemsbok fillet which was very tender and tasty. Helen had Eisbein and it was massive. Even when she was full it looked as if she hadn’t made a dent in it. Chloe had Gemsbok lasagna and Stephen had a trio of Kudu, Gemsbok and Springbok. It was an enjoyable evening even though we had to wait for the table.

Until tomorrow …. P, H, S, M & C

Guma Lagoon to Ghanzi

No blog post yesterday because we didn’t do much (at least the Temples didn’t) and the WiFi was very ‘sketchy’. The other 3 families went on Mokoro’s but we all opted out. Firstly, we have done it before and while enjoyable it wasn’t something needing to be repeated and secondly, it was pretty windy and cold. I haven’t mentioned much about the weather in the blog posts mainly because there has been nothing remarkable about it. It is usually quite chilly in the mornings (between 2-7 degrees) and then it heats up during the day eventually getting to around 24-28 degrees. But at Guma Lagoon it felt much colder. The wind was blowing off the lagoon and straight into our accommodation or the main lodge area which made it feel pretty cold (especially in the morning).

We spent the day at the pool area which was more sheltered and we just read, played Frisbee, watching TV shows and just relaxed. It was just what I felt like and I was glad we did it. At about 3pm the group got back from the mokoro trip and unfortunately young Ben had felt unwell toward the end of the trip and he was pretty unwell the rest of the afternoon and evening. Unfortunately, Lara (Stephen’s girlfriend) who also stayed behind to work also developed a similar thing and so she spent the afternoon and evening in her accommodation as well. The end result was that Chloe ended up sleeping in Stephen’s bed last night and Stephen (very generously) slept on the floor. Fortunately both Ben and Lara and slightly better today (though neither is fully recovered).

This morning we left Guma Lagoon and are now starting our long trek back home. We need to do over 2000 km in the next 4 days. Today we went from Guma Lagoon to Ghanzi (about 400 kms). It takes about an hour to get back to Etsha (nearest main road) and we had to follow the process to get out as we did to come in. We then had to re-pump up our tyres and back onto the ‘main’ road. The road was appalling for about 100 kms. Very bumpy and numerous potholes. Not really pleasant driving.

To add to the frustration, when going through one small town two of the four cars in our convoy were pulled off for speeding. Bryan & I were in the front and we were not pulled off. You can figure out who was … we’ll call them the lawbreakers in future. What was quite annoying is that the back car was waved through originally and then he stopped to wait for the 3rd vehicle and ended up getting a fine as well. As you can imagine how annoying that was. Spot fines of Pula420 and Pula320. About 25 minutes of paperwork and then we were on the road again.

There was nothing on route for lunch to be purchased and supplies are running low and so it was pretty much biscuits and Marmite for lunch for everyone. We got to Ghanzi at about 3:30pm and filled up our cars (fortunately multiple fuel stations as the first one was out of diesel) and we purchased some snacks and some lunch for tomorrow.

We are staying at Thakadu Lodge which is about 2-3 kms out of Ghanzi and about 3 kms off the main road. The lodge to get to the lodge was very bumpy and now that we are here we will do dinner here (they do have a restaurant). The accommodation is pretty basic but it has a bed and en-suite bathrooms and there is Wifi in the lodge area.

Until tomorrow …

S (because of his sacrifice of his bed last night), P, H, M & C

Mahango National Park

This morning three of us (me, Stephen and the male Bluer who is with us) decided to get up at sunrise and head to the Mahango National Park.  It is part of the greater Babwata National Park but separate from the main park. The eastern boundary of the park is the Okavango River. It is about 45 minutes drive from our lodge and the first challenge we had was to get the owner to come and unlock the gate (he seemed surprised anyone would go out at sunrise).

Our aim was to do some birding without feeling guilty stopping regularly and holding up the other people who are traveling with us. It really did work out well. The road follows the river for most of the way and the game was prolific. In fact I would say we saw the most we had seen of any of the parks we have visited so far. The guidebook did say the game life was substantial especially in the dry season (as everything comes to the river for water) and they were absolutely correct. We saw giraffe (a large journey of them – two of them fighting), a massive herd of buffalo (could have been 500), elephant (we are getting bored with them now), impala, baboon, vervet monkey, red lechwe & kudu. Still no lion or leopard though they are found in the park. In addition we saw numerous birds including another lifer (taking my lifer tally to 413 in total and 17 for the trip). Our birding tally for the trip now stands at 148.

On the way back we made a quick stop at Divindu to see if we could get some additional food but both of the supermarkets in town are really appalling. For instance, neither of them had any kind of chocolate at all. It does make you wonder where you would actually buy food (especially perishables) in a place like this. Even though it is sparsely populated you would think that there is a market opportunity for a properly stocked supermarket (if not for the locals at least for the tourists that must be regularly coming through).

The rest of the day was just spent chilling (and in my case trying to do a little work using ‘edge’ signal on the cellphone). Most the group spent some time on the island (sun tanning, reading or doing nothing). One of the group also tried their hand at fishing on the river but unfortunately caught nothing. Late afternoon we went on a sunset river cruise both up and down the river from our lodge. The cruise was nothing like that of the one in Chobe River but was still enjoyable. We saw some birds, a few crocs (including two who decided to jump into the river right in front of us) and we cruised in the Angolan side of the river as well. The other bank of the river is Angola and our guide told us that they are allowed to cross into Namibia to come and get healthcare in particular (no border post or any formalities for these people).

Half of the group braai’ed for dinner and the rest of us (including us) had pasta for dinner (we were tied of braais). We ate together and once again it was an enjoyable and relaxing evening.

Until tomorrow … P, S (because he came birding with me this am), H, M & C

Mobola Lodge

We left Camp Kwando after breakfast this morning but at least not before seeing two owls that roost in trees in the lodge (they were lifers for us). We were heading for the western side of the Caprivi strip to Mobola Lodge which is just outside Divindu. The lodge is on the Okavango River and about 250 kms away from Camp Kwando.

We had been warned that the two towns we would pass though – Kongola and Divindu – did not have significant shopping facilities and so we should try both places for any food. We needed to refuel and also had been warned that Kongola’s only fuel station was prone to run out (especially of petrol). As we pulled in there was a fuel truck refilling their tanks. They had diesel but the petrol had run out from the one pump and we had to wait for them to fill the other one so that Bryan could re-fuel as well. The queue of cars had built up significantly by the time we left (30 minutes after we arrived) but at least we had fuel. The shop though was a disaster and we couldn’t really buy anything.

To get to Divindu you drive through the Babwata National Park. It was about 150 kms of driving and I spotted only one left slight turn and one slight right turn over the entire 150 kms. Otherwise the road was dead straight and the speed limit was 100 km/h. It was terribly boring driving and absolutely nothing to see either. The guidebook said you would be lucky to elephant droppings on the road and they were right. I don’t think I even saw that.

We stopped at Divindu at a newly built supermarket. Don’t get the impression of a modern supermarket – that would be entirely wrong. It was a warehouse with shelves. Fortunately they did have some fresh bread at least though nothing else was fresh with the frozen meat having sell by dates of May on it. We bought a few non perishable things (like crisps) and a loaf of bread and headed on to the lodge.

The lodge is right on the side of the Okavango River. We are staying in a family chalet which is really nicely appointed and has a view over the river. They have a suspension bridge across to an island in the river and they have a small bar on the island. The view from the island across the main river is spectacular. They open the bar for sunset drinks (which we did). Fortunately the owner also has a well-stocked freezer with meat in it and so we were able to buy a kudu fillet from him and some other braai meat for this evening. The kudu was pretty tender and quite tasty. We all joined together for the braai (as we have done previously) and once again it was good company and conversation over dinner.

As I type this Helen is already asleep beside me and I can feel I will not be awake for much longer. The cellphone reception continues to be terrible and so I am hoping this posts quickly so I can follow her.

Until tomorrow … P, H, S, M & C

Mudumu National Park

The plan was to visit Mudumu National Park today and so we agreed to have breakfast immediately it opened (7am) and then head to the park. The owners of the lodge had given us instructions of how to find the park office (as that is where you need to pay for the permits) and then where we could drive. They said it would take us no longer than 20 minutes to get to the office but we soon realised that we had driven past it. Bryan put one of the points in the park into his GPS and we headed off to Hippo Pools but never found the park office. After a lot of discussion we eventually ended up at one of the lodges and Bryan got instructions from the guy where the park office was and we headed back to find it (and did). Unfortunately we had consumed an hour already by this stage.

We got the detailed instructions of where to go and the lady said you drive left out of the office and ignore the no entry sign as that takes you onto the park roads. We did that and not 500 meter down the road we met the people who were in front of us getting their permit, stuck in the sand. We jumped out and dispensed our significant 4×4 knowledge and said they need to let their tyres down (which they duly did) and engage 4×4 mode (which they also did) and then reverse back and then go forward (which they fortunately also did). Our significant advice got them unstuck and they were off. While some of us were dispensing our advice, the others in the group were letting down our tyres so that we didn’t get stuck either.

The ‘roads’ in the park are really tracks and we managed to find some less well-traveled ones. At times the grass was almost as high as the car. Michael elected to sit on the roof of the ‘Beast’ and hold onto the roof racks for stability with his feet dangling through the sunroof. While that gave him a good view, unfortunately it gave him a good view of the landscape only as game was very sparse. We saw a hippo, a sole male Red Lechwe, some zebra and a few birds. We eventually gave up and decided to head back to Camp Kwando.

After an afternoon of relaxing, catching up on emails, reading etc, some of us (two vehicles with 8 people out of the 14) decided to head back and try the eastern side of the park. At the park office they said there were two waterholes and at the furthest one there was a hide. So we headed to that section. We again saw very little getting through to the hide but did side a herd of elephant coming down to drink (just as we were driving away). We also saw a Roan Antelope (again a solitary one) which are generally harder to see than lion. He was spotted by Ben (the 8-year-old who is the youngest in the group of us … I am now calling him ‘eagle eyes’ Ben). At the other waterhole we saw zebra & baboon and managed to see two Meyer’s Parrots – they are special birds of the region (not a lifer as we had seen them previously when we came to the Okavango Delta).

This evening was a special dinner as it was Bryan’s (one of the group’s patriarchs) birthday today. We had told the staff at the Camp and so they made him a cake and after we had eaten our main course they came out signing in the local language with every second word (or at least it sounded like it) being ‘Bryan’. After some singing and dancing they presented Bryan with a cake and one of the staff informed all the guests at dinner that it was Bryan’s birthday and then they sang happy birthday to him in the local language and another two songs to welcome all the guests.

And so ended another day in the Caprivi strip …

Until tomorrow …. P, H, S, M & C