Camp Kwando

I can’t say that last night was the best night we have had. The noisy campers continued talking at the top of their voices to well past midnight last night and almost managed to set off their car alarm just before midnight too. Then at 5:15am the people next to us left their chalet and managed to shine their car lights right into my eyes as they left. That was the end of my sleeping for the night. I wanted to get up and start banging some dishes in the campers ears to give them some of their own medicine but I restrained myself for Helen’s sake (she was still sleeping).

We had agreed to leave no later than 10am but everyone was ready to leave earlier than that and so we pulled out at about 9:30am. We were heading into Namibia and the Caprivi strip. The route took us through the Chobe National Park (on the tar road at 80km/h though) to the Ngoma border post.  We did see a herd of elephant crossing the road and a herd of zebra on the side of the road. The border post must be one of the most beautiful you could experience as it is right on the river (in fact the river is the international border). The Botswana side was relatively quick and painless and then across the river and into Namibia. That side took a little longer as we had to do an Ebola check (not kidding) and then passport control (including lengthy forms … I wonder what they do with all those paper forms) and then road tax and then police check where you had to fill in the engine and vin numbers of the cars in a large book (I wonder who will ever look at that again). An hour later and we were actually driving on the Trans Caprivi Highway toward Katima Mulilo.

Growing up as a child I saw reports on Katima Mulilo and thought it was an army base only (given the fighting that was always described in the region) but it is a thriving small town now. There is a new shopping mall in town now which includes a Pick ‘n Pay (though when we got there it was closed and no one seemed to know why). We had to go the other supermarket which was chaotic to say the least. The queues to check out where 10-15 people long. The one we were standing in suddenly had the cashier leave and so we ended up merging with another line (making it about 20-30 people long). Bryan tried paying with credit card with no success and eventually just paid cash. It was lunch time and the only alternative seemed the KFC across the road. What we discovered is that everyone in KM seemed to be trying out the KFC for lunch (including a significant proportion of the Namibian army). The process of getting our orders was extremely slow and painful. Steven (one of our group … whose children had their first KFC today!) discovered that they had been open for 2 months only and clearly the staff needed a lot more training. We eventually all got our lunch and about an hour later we were on the road again.

We followed the road west to Kongola and then we turned south down to our lodge for the night (Camp Kwando on the Kwando River). In total the drive was just over 200 kms but it took us most of the day as we arrived around 3:45pm. The lodge is right on the river and all our rooms have views over the river. They are nicely appointed. Some of the group went for a late afternoon run out of the lodge on a sandy road back the main road and back again. Stephen and I did some late afternoon birding around the camp and added two more lifers and took our birding tally up to 122 for the trip. The Caprivi strip is a birders paradise and some birds are only found here so we are hoping to add significantly to our tally.

As there are no self-catering facilities here we are eating in the restaurant for the next two nights. They are very relaxed here and quite happy for us to bring our own wine (which we did). The expectations at dinner were quite high after getting the starter which was African Spinach Surprise with a tomato sauce. It was really very good but that definitely was the high point of the dinner. The main course was sirloin steak but they must have been marching the cows before they slaughtered it and well done was the only way it seemed to come. The desert was pumpkin pudding (maybe to celebrate 4 July?) which tasted similar to Malva pudding. The company and conversation were excellent again though.

Until tomorrow … P, H. S, M & C (and she deserves to be last given her comments today about my physique)

 

Senyati Safari Camp

We had planned to spend today in Chobe but we found out that we could only in between 9am and 2:30pm as it is peak season and the early morning and late afternoon drives are reserved for tour operators only. So we decided to rather have a leisurely day at Senyati. After breakfast some of us went on a drive along the Zimbabwe border.  The camp is very close to the border (700 meters away) and there is a road that runs right along the border. We had been warned that two years ago some of their visitors had crossed the white poles and had been arrested by the Zim anti-poaching police and that we should remain this side of the white poles at all times. Stephen wanted to put his feet on the other side to say that he had been into Zim without having his passport stamped so he did that (and fortunately wasn’t arrested!).

The drive south did not yield much in the way of game and so we also headed north and saw jackal, giraffe, impala, elephant & kudu and a saddle billed stork. The road north took us eventually right into the Botswana/Zim border post and post two Botswana army holding some serious armaments but they waved to us and we headed back onto the main road and back to camp.

It was a leisurely afternoon napping and watching game from the main hide. You can get really close to elephants as they come down to drink as they have a ‘elephant bunker’ at the hide which is basically a tunnel underground that then has a view point right in front of the waterhole. Yesterday apparently an elephant put its trunk into the bunker and sniffed the people inside. Today Lara got splashed with mud by the elephants while she was there. It is also a good place to see birds and we added another few birds to our trip list (now at 116) including also seeing a Owlet as well. You can see a lot of game just sitting at the waterhole.  We have some elephant, impala, kudu, zebra & baboon and some of the group also saw hyena (and I can hear them ‘laughing’ as I type this right now).

Dinner this evening was another group braai with good conversation and good company once again. It was a relaxing and chilled today before we move on again tomorrow. The only downside of today was that a group of campers arrived around midday and made a huge noise (and continue to do so – especially their young children). We are hoping they run out of energy soon!

Until tomorrow … P, H, S, M & C

Victoria Falls

We are staying at Senyati Safari Camp for 3 nights. The reason being that we wanted to go today to Victoria Falls. Last night during the boat cruise, Janet (a Scot by descendant and ever looking to save a dollar), asked Charles whether his company could transfer us to Vic Falls and he agreed to do it for almost half the price of what the lodge wanted to charge us. So we booked it through him instead. We had to meet him at the jetty in Kasane at 7:30am. You don’t want to take your own car into Zimbabwe and so the transfer is much easier. Charles had arranged for us to drive to the border post (only 10 kms away from Kasane), leave our cars at the border and walk across the border post and then have a Toyota Quantum pick us up on the Zimbabwe side and drive us to Vic Falls.

It was remarkably quick to get through the border as there was no one there at all and so we simply got our passports stamped to exit Botswana and then walked into Zimbabwe, filled in the paperwork and got them stamped in Zimbabwe. Our driver for the day (Alexander) was waiting for us and we all loaded into the Quantum only to discover it only had 13 seats and we were 14 people. Charles just said ‘squash up’ and Michael offered to sit on the floor and the problem was solved. Alex told us it was 75 kms into Victoria Falls and about 45 minutes (though the speed limit was 80 km/h!).

About a minute of driving and there was a police roadblock and I was immediately thinking here comes our first problem with Michael sitting on the floor. A long conversation ensued in Shonga and so we didn’t understand what was said but then we were off again. I asked Alex what the story was and he said that he knew the policeman and he wanted to try to sell us something and he was telling him to get lost!

Just under an hour later we were in Vic Falls and Alex dropped us off at the National Park entrance. It is a $20 entrance fee for SA citizens. We spent about an hour and half in the park looking at the Vic Falls. This is the 3rd time I have seen them and they are impressive. The sound of the water is what strikes me each time I have seen (or should I say ‘heard’) them. You can walk along the edge and get different views of the falls and get wet to varying degrees as well. We had come prepared with ponchos to protect the photographic equipment and it was definitely needed. At stages the mist is so hard it is like hard rain. Even with the poncho my shorts was drenched and my cap was totally wet.

After finishing the viewing of the Falls I was keen for another visit to the iconic Victoria Falls Hotel. Everyone was hungry and so I managed to persuade everyone that we should go to the hotel for at least a drink and those that wanted to eat could. It turned into lunch and I think that while it was very pricey (everything is now US-based in Zim), it was worth the price. It is one of the last bastions of Colonialism. It is a beautiful hotel with a spectacular view of the railway bridge to Zambia and you can see the mist rising from the Falls. It is also very well maintained and the service was still excellent. Many people felt the need to have one of the cocktails (even though it was midday only). Michael had a ‘I presume’, Lara a ‘David Livingstone’ and Stephen a ‘Old Fashioned’. Some of us (like me) just stuck to the ‘cheap’ option of Zambezi beer (which is really nice). Most of us had a toasted sandwich or bruschetta for lunch (and at $15 for a toasted sandwich it was relatively pricey). But I would say the cost is really worth it to enjoy the view sitting on the patio with an amazing view, great service and lovely company. Chloe so enjoyed it she asked whether she could celebrate her 18th birthday at the Victoria Falls Hotel (and I could be persuaded to say yes to that!).

After lunch we went briefly to the local market. Everything is ‘bargainable’ but it is very similar stuff to what you can buy in Cape Town so we didn’t see much point. The one family with us (let’s call them the Bluers) bought to little wooden bowls for $2 each. Most the rest of the vehicle were irritated with the bargaining and the traders trying to solicit your business. Alex asked what else we wanted to do and we said ‘take us to the bottle store’. Not that some of us needed more alcohol after the cocktails (I won’t say who except they were the ones drinking the ‘I presume’ and ‘David Livingstone’ on empty stomachs) but some of us did really enjoy the Zambezi beers and wanted to get some to drink later in the trip. That also gave an opportunity to buy Mazoe Orange (not sure if I spelt that correctly) for one of the many Zimbo’s now living in CT. While we were doing that some of the group walked onto the railway bridge to view the falls and see some crazy people bungee jumping off the bridge.

Alex also did some trading while we in the bottle store.  He traded $ for Pula. I asked him what he was doing and he said the guy wanted to go to Botswana and buy fuel as fuel is almost 50% cheaper in Botswana than it is in Zim.  I couldn’t understand why you would want to a 150 km round trip to save 60c (US $ cents) for  tank of fuel. Alex explained that they bought fuel in bulk (1000 liters). He said the guy he was trading with was a local policeman and did this fuel trading as a ‘side line’. He says they buy the fuel and re-sell it in Zim at about 10c per litre cheaper. They make around 50c per litre and so that is roughly $500 in profit. I said surely you can’t import 1000 litres of fuel without paying frees and he said strictly that is true but no one enforces it and in fact, the guy he was dealing with was a local policeman. He then said “Zim is run by corruption”. A final stop at the large tree (Baobab Tree) and then we were back to the border again (the hours drive back in a hot Quantum with poor airflow).

We were pleased to arrive back the border and after a relatively quick time we were through both Zim and Botswana border posts and back into our cars and back to the lodge. We had a few hours to relax and then organised a communal braai for the whole group for dinner.

Until tomorrow …. P, H, C, S & M

 

Chobe River

We had a leisurely morning at Elephants Sands as we only need to travel about 250 kms to our next stop. The elephants had finally left the watering hole at some point in the night. The lady at reception said that they won’t come back until around midday again. We continued heading north and soon we were riding near the Botswana-Zimbabwe border. Our destination was Senyati Safari Camp which is about 20 kms outside of Kasane. Kasane is on the far North West tip of Botswana and is on the Chobe River. The other side of the river is the Caprivi Strip (and therefore Namibia) and Vic Falls and Zimbabwe on the East and Zambia on the North East.  There is a point where all four countries theoretically meet in the river.

We arrived at Senyati just after midday and on checking in we discovered that we could do a Chobe River sunset cruise but they depart at 3pm and we had to be at the departure point in Kasane by 2:45pm. That didn’t leave us much time so we quickly unpacked and then headed into Kasane to do some shopping and to draw some more cash (as the river cruise costs P360 which is +- R500 or $40 per person). As we hadn’t had lunch and the KFC was right next to the Spar, some of us did as the locals do and bought KFC for lunch.

By this stage it was almost 2:45pm and the departure point was the jetty behind the Spar (which was pretty easy to find). We had a 14-seater boat for the 14 of us and after meeting Charles (our river pilot and guide) we were off. First we went downstream toward Zimbabwe and the Falls and we saw numerous birds including nesting Yellow Billed Storks with their chicks. There was so much bird life it was almost impossible to know where to look at times. We then went upstream toward Chobe National Park and after paying the park entrance fees (there is a parks office on the side of the river) we headed up into the National Park. There is a lot of game on the river banks and we saw Crocodile, Hippo, Buffalo, Kudu, Impala, Elephant and Red Lechwe.

We also saw a lot more birds and that included two different Night Herons both of which were lifers for us (one of them quite rare to see and was spotted by the youngest member of our group – Ben – who is 8 years old). In all we saw 5 lifers today (one of the best days we have had for lifers in years) and included one lifer right at Senyati as well. We are now up to 109 bird species for the trip and we have another 12 days still to go so I will be disappointed if this isn’t one of our best birding trip tallies as well. We have seen surprisingly few birds of prey so far and I am sure we will see more during the next week.

One of the highlights of the cruise today (and there were lots of highlights) was seeing a herd of elephant swim across the Chobe River to the island. The island was actually disputed territory between Botswana and Namibia and they eventually had to take the matter to the International Court in The Hague to resolve the dispute and it was declared to be Botswana’s land. They have erected a flag pole with the Botswana flag on it to remind the Namibians in case they forget whose land it is!

The sunset was also quite incredible and you almost couldn’t stop yourself from taking numerous photos of the sun setting over the Caprivi with the river in the foreground. My only regret is that the WiFi and cellphone signal is so bad that I can’t post any pictures on the blog for you to see. It was a fantastic cruise and well worth every cent we paid for it. I would do it again without hesitation.

Until tomorrow … P, H, C, S, M

Elephant Sands

We left Maun heading east toward the Makgadigadi Pans. The drive today was only 270 kms, which is pretty short compared to the other days we have done. The GPS was predicting an arrival time of 2:30pm and I couldn’t understand why it would take us so long to do such a short distance. What I hadn’t factored in was that we were driving through to Pans and both are national parks and the speed limit was down to 80 km/h.

What was really funny is that they take the speed limit down to 80 because of the wildlife and we saw nothing in the National Parks area at all. However, before we entered the National Park we saw an elephant on the side of the road. It is the strangest thing to be driving 120 km/h and see an elephant standing there. The other thing about the 80 km/h limit is that you have a lot (and I really mean a lot) of other animals crossing the national roads all the time and they don’t take the speed limit down from 120 km/h for them. And while I am thinking of it, I don’t think I have ever seen so many donkeys in the rest of my life than I have over the last 4 days in Botswana. What do they do with the all the donkeys is what I wonder about?

We stopped at Gwede for a quick toilet break and lunch. As there is no fuel station and nothing else around we “borrowed” the toilets at one of the lodges. They didn’t seem to mind at all (fortunately) and after a quick lunch we headed on toward Nata where we refueled and then headed for Elephant Sands (where we are overnighting).

Elephant Sands is about 1.5 km off the main road and really does seem in the middle of nowhere. As we arrived we were amazed to see a herd of elephant in the middle of the camp. You can see why it is named as it is. I went to check in and the rest of the group just vanished and I found them all posing on the edge of the boma taking photos of themselves with the elephants within spitting distance.

The camp is quite incredible in that the chalets/tents and reception/boma surround a watering hole. The elephants come through constantly to drink and bathe and then move on. Since we arrived at just after 3pm until now (10pm) there have been multiple elephants in the waterhole. It is just non-stop action. You have to be careful where you are as the elephants exit between the chalets/tents on a regular basis. Getting to dinner this evening (we took the car) involved a little stand off with a group of elephants leaving the waterhole. It really is quite an incredible venue and the best view of elephants you could ever hope for. The birding was also incredible and we ticked off a number of species for the first time on the trip including some we aren’t meant to see in the area (Common or Indian Myna). We are now up to 74 bird species for the trip so far.

Dinner tonight was in the boma and included one of my favorite dishes – pap and sous (tomato and onion). It was as good as I could remember eating when I was growing up (for some reason my wife doesn’t know how to make it). There were also plenty of vegetables (what we all had been feeling like) and they let us BYO wine (for a small fee) which made the meal even better.

The only thing stopping us from a good nights sleep is the noise of the elephants bathing and drinking (and dare I say it … farting … sorry Mom).

Until tomorrow ….

P, H, C, M & S

Moremi

We went to Moremi Game Reserve today. It is not far from Maun but to get to South Gate you have to travel about 40 kms to the turn toward Moremi and then another 30 kms to get to the gate.  The first 15-20 kms are on tar road and then you’re on sand roads the balance of the way.  I say sand and gravel because it really is sand. After we got onto the sand we let our tyres down to about 1.5 bar as that makes it a smoother ride. It did improve but the road is really rutted so you don’t get a smooth ride at all.

Once you turn toward Moremi we had read you could view game from that point onward and they were right.  On the 30 km stretch before the gate we saw Elephant, Giraffe, Kudu, Impala, Buffalo, Steenbok and numerous birds. When we stopped at the gate everyone remarked at how much we had seen and we weren’t in Moremi yet. Once inside Moremi the roads are single track and at times they were very sandy.  No one got stuck though I suspect everyone’s cars were scratched as the thorn bushes are pretty close to the road. We saw everything we saw outside the gate (including quite a few herds of elephants and some with very small calves) as well as Tsesebe, Zebra, Baboon and most importantly another lifer for me taking my tally to 400!

We had hoped to get to Third Bridge but there was no way we could do that and get back before dark and you don’t want to drive on those roads in the dark. While Helen concluded that she had seen enough of Moremi roads to know she didn’t want to come back unless it was a plane bringing her, I think I would definitely like to spend more time in Moremi and in fact would like to stay inside. I suspect the game viewing could be incredible if we had more time (that said even though we didn’t see any predators). Stephen felt similarly to me – maybe because the birding was incredible and maybe because he drove from midday through the rest of the day (he did extremely well given the roads). I gave up the driving seat because of a splitting headache which I have unfortunately not yet shaken (I am lying on my bed typing this blog with one hand while everyone else is at dinner in the restaurant).

We do have some pics which I just don’t have the energy to post right now but will do so over the next few days. WiFi has been none existent and cellphone reception also not great.

Until tomorrow … S (he really does deserve to be first today because of his driving – he did a great job and the R200 I paid for him to join me on the 4×4 training course paid off today), C (for putting up with the very back seat which is way worse on those roads), H (for also being in the back seat and letting me have the front seat even though she said she wished she’d worn her sports bra today), M & P

 

Audi Camp

We were up at dawn today so that we could have breakfast at 7am when they opened for breakfast which enabled us to be on the road as early as possible. We were headed to Maun on the Trans Kalagadi Highway and we needed to be in Maun early afternoon as some of the group (everyone excluding us) had booked to do an hour flight over the Okavango Delta.

IMG_1758There is really not a lot to see between Kang and Maun. It is 550 km of road and basically 2 towns between and nothing else. The terrain is pretty much bushveldt for the whole 550 kms. Occasionally there is a small herd of cattle or some goats on the side of the road but no other sign of civilization.  It does make you wonder where the people are who own the goats and cattle. We did see a reasonable amount of wildlife though even though we were driving at 120 km/h. We saw a lot of Steenbok (one of the convoy said they stopped counting at 20) and numerous birds.  There were numerous Crowned Lapwings on the side of the road and we also saw some birds of prey (including some White Backed Vultures). It was quite amazing that you could sight things at 120 km/h.

Our only stop was at Ghanzi (one of the two towns on route to Maun) and that was to refuel and but something for lunch. There was a brand new mall in the town and half the shops were still empty though there was a Shoprite in the mall (not a lot of variety). We kept heading for Maun and no further stops got us to Maun at 1:30pm. The place where we are staying is Audi Camp which is just to the north of Maun on the river.  Us and the other family (name rhyming with Boyles) are staying in the ‘House’, the one couple (let’s call then the Whiters) are staying in a permanent tent (has beds in case you’re wondering) and the finally family (let’s call them the Wattsons) are camping.

Michael helped out with the tent erection and the rest of our family (after dropping off our bags) headed back into Maun.  Helen and Chloe to do some food shopping for the whole group (at the Woolworths which we had been told was to found in Maun and caused a traffic jam when it opened) and Stephen and I to go to Toyota to fix the fuel filter and then to the National Parks office to get the permit to get us into Moremi. One of my staff had very kindly called in advance to TIMG_1761oyota to warn them that we were coming and they had said they could fix the issue quickly. Quickly is all relative though in a town like Maun. The service manager took our details and then drove the car into the garage section (after I showed him how to turn it on!). The guys actually fixing the car were very chatty and showed us how to drain the fuel filter (water builds up from the poor quality diesel) and they changed the filter as well. The longest time was taken in trying to find an Allen Key (no 5)!

After the car was fixed we headed to the National Parks office to get the Moremi permit. All the while we were getting whatsapp messages from Helen explaining how the Woolworths was a joke – basically no fresh produce (and definitely no meat). They headed to the Spar to buy the rest of what we needed. Getting the permit was relatively painless (though it is pretty expensive). We picked up Helen and Chloe and headed back to Audi Camp. We still had enough time before sunset to do some birding around the camp and managed to spot a lifer in the camp itself (now up to 399). The others in our group did an hour flip over the delta in a plane (actually two planes) and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience.  We have done that previously and so didn’t want to do it again (which turned out well as we needed to fix the car).

IMG_1763The accommodation we had booked was advertised as self-catering with a kitchen. As it turns out the kitchen was taken away to make a laundry (though their advertising brochures still say kitchen!). The patriarch of the family whose name rhymes with Boyles said “what they mean by self-catering is you cater for everything yourself including plates, cutlery etc”. When you’re not prepared for that it does make it slightly harder but we managed to have a braai though the steaks were pretty poor and hardly got eaten in the end (that was the only passable meat Helen could find though in town). The company was still pretty good!

Until tomorrow … M (because he has helped with the braai every night), S (because he helped with the car, permit etc today and birded with me even if it was briefly), C (because she complains she is always last), H & P (because they complained I never put myself last)