Botswana: Day 5 – Tsodilo Hills

Brrrrrrrrrr…..  We got up early the next morning to find that the weather had turned colder still.  It was Monday 11 June and this was our last morning in the delta.  The fast flowing water of the delta panhandle looked cold and uninviting

Fortunately Vermaak, assisted by Bjorn and Sam, the houseboat captain, soon had coffee on the boil and a hot breakfast prepared.

Suitably sustained we stood around enjoying the cameradrie and our last few minutes on the houseboat before leaving to go back to land.

This is the sign advertising the houseboats on the Okavango.  We enjoyed our stay on the houseboat and soon forgot about the discomfort of not always having hot water to shower.

After an hour of skimming along at high speed in an aluminium boat, we were cold and stiff.  The ride back took less time as we were travelling in a southerly direction, with the flow of the water.  We slowly disembarked at Swamp Stop.

This is the quirky bathroom at Swamp Stop.  An upside down mokoro has been turned into a base for hand basins.

We continued on our journey exploring the region around the Okavango Delta.  We turned off the main road and travelled 35 km along a very poorly maintained gravel road to Tsodilo Hills, a World Heritage Site that is known for being the only hills in Botswana as well as its famous Bushmen paintings.  The dark green trees on either side of the road are Zambezi teak (was previously known as Rhodesian teak) trees and are known for their hard wood.  Many have been cut down to make railway sleepers and furniture.

Tsodilo Hills are 400 m above the ground level.  There are four hills, the tallest is the male hill, the next is the female hill and the small ones are the children and the grandchildren

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We left our vehicles under the trees in the parking area.

Douwe from Mpafa Tours introduced us to our guides who would take us on walk to the Bushmen paintings.

We saw some of the 4500 Bushmen paintings that this area is famous for.  Today Tsodilo is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is sometimes referred to as the ‘Louvre of the Desert’.

The painting of a whale and a penguin indicates that the Bushmen in this area travelled as far afield as the Namibian coast.

It is quite apt that this rock is the shape of Africa as this area gives an archaelogical record of 100 000 years of changes in this part of the Kalahari desert.

This is the entrance to one of the Bushman caves.

This is one of many pieces of pottery on display in the small museum at Tsodilo Hills.

After a picnic lunch is the car park at Tsdilo Hills, we continued our trip towards the Namibian border.  We were going into the Caprivi Strip, the narrow strip of land attached to the north eastern part of Namibia.  Before it was colonised this area was called Itenge.

When the British took control of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) in the late 1800’s, this strip of fertile land was part of the Bechuanaland Protectorate.  In 1890 Queen Victoria gave this area to Germany and in return the Germans dropped their claim to the island of Zanzibar.  This is how this little strip of Bechuanaland became part of German South West Africa and later independent Namibia.

The South African Army was stationed in this area in the 60’s and 70’s and the willife suffered as a result.  This area now has four Game Reserves and the wildlife has recovered substantially.  We were greeted by a herd of rare roan antelope just across the Namibian border.

We turned off the main road at about 4.30 pm onto a dirt road leading to our camp fot the next three nights.  This part of the Caprivi has many Jackal Berry trees.

Ngepi Camp is situated on the upper reaches of the panhandle of the Okavango delta.  This area boasts over 500 species of birds and is a birders’ paradise.

We left our vehicles in the car park and gathered at reception to be allocated our accommodation.

Our tree house was built from wood and reeds and supported by the branches of a large Jackal Berry tree on the very edge of the delta.

The bedroom was very comfortable.  We noticed the thick green blanket at the bottom of the bed.  This was going to be very welcome as we could feel the temperature dropping.

The basins were made of aluminium.  This is Marion’s bathroom and it had a reed wall.

Our bathroom overlooked the river and had no wall around the basin area.

The shower had a reed screen.

We enjoyed the view from the wooden patio overlooking the delta.  We were warned that hippos wander about in the evenings.

A local fisherman stopped near our camp to sell us some fish that he had caught.  We turned down his offer as Vermaak was busy preparing our dinner.

As darkness fell, we heard hippos grunting very close by and it got very, very cold.

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Botswana: Day 4 – Okavango Panhandle

The Okavango Panhandle is the main watercourse supplying water to the Okavango Delta.  It takes 4 to 6 months for the water, that falls as rain in the Angolan highlands in the north, to flow south along the Cubango River. It then flows through the Caprivi strip in Namibia.  When this great river enters Botswana it becomes known as the Okavango River.  The flood starts in April and usually peaks in August.  The water becomes trapped between two fault lines in Botswana and hence does not continue its journey and spill into the ocean as most rivers do.

Map of Okavango

On the morning of Sunday 10 June it was cold and crisp.  After a hot breakfast on board our houseboat, we piled into the aluminium boats for a speedy ride to meet our polers who were to take us for a trip on a mokoro or dug-out canoe.  If you ever visit Botswana in winter, make sure you take warm clothes, including beanies and gloves, as the temperature often drops below zero at night.

We arrived safely at Seronga where we climbed aboard a truck that would take us to the area where we were meeting our guides.

We stopped at a small village to pick up the young members of the local community who were to act as our guides and polers on the mokoro trip.

We disembarked from the truck that had taken us to Mbiroba Camp.

The Mbiroba Camp is a community project and employs 106 local people.

The mokoros are now made of fibre glass.

The old fashioned mokoros were made from Ebony or Sausage tees that were often 300 years old.  Conservationists convinced the community to use the fibre glass mokoros in order to save the trees in the delta.

Our young poler explained that in the days before fibre glass mokoros, this Ebony tree would probably have been cut down and turned into a mokoro.

Travelling in a mokoro is a silent, peaceful experience.  You are very close to nature as you glide along the channels between the reeds and papyrus.

Coenie and Tina were ahead of us.  We were all wearing warm jackets as it was cold on the waters of the delta.  We sat on small chairs that had no legs.  This was comfortable as we could lean against the back.

Murray and Juliet looked very comfortable in their mokoro.

We arrived at an island in the panhandle and were introduced to our guide called Technique.  It was a good name as he had the ability to pass on information in an interesting way.

This hole is made by an aardvark or antbear to get at the termites.  There can be up to 350 kg of termites in one heap.

Ant hills are used by the locals as a compass as they all lean or point west.  This is because the rains come mainly from the east in the delta and wash away some of the mud on one side.

Technique pointed out many interesting things such as this strangle fig that had killed its host tree.

This is a knob tree.  They have a much shorter lifespan than other hardwood trees in the delta.

On our return trip the water lilies had opened to make the most of the wintery sun.

Lilies and papyrus.

On our return trip we saw cattle wading in the waters of the delta.

We got back into the truck for the return trip to Seronga.  On the way back we passed some more villages.

We passed the Seronga Police station.  Our guides told us that they were keen soccer players and were playing a match against the police soccer team that afternoon.

We drove past the local school.  We boarded the aluminium boats and headed back to the houseboat moored in the panhandle.  We felt very priveleged to have met the young community members who were so keen to impart their knowledge to us.

Botswana: Day 3 – Okavango Delta

On the morning of Saturday 9 June we went to the Maun Airport to take a trip over the delta in a light aircraft.

Les sat up front with our pilot, James, who came from the UK.

We flew over a small portion of the Okavango.

It is an amazing mixture of land and water.

We were lucky enough to see four of the twelve rhinos that have been released into this area.  All the original rhinos were killed by poachers.

We flew over the Okavango for an hour and in that time saw only a small percentage of this huge inland swamp.

We left Maun and travelled along the western side of the Delta towards Sepupa.  We stopped alongside the road and Vermaak rustled up lunch.

We stopped at one of the many veterinary check points.  While waiting to disinfect our shoes and tyres we photographed these people in their donkey cart.

We stopped near Sepupa and left our cars at Swamp Stop with an armed guard.  Interestingly, our Garmin said ‘not recommended’ which usually means it is not very safe to stop.  We then boarded small aluminium boats and began the ride to our houseboat inside the Okavango Delta.  This photo taken by Marion shows the speed at which we travelled.

During the ride of nearly one and a half hours, we stopped a few times to photograph some of the many fish eagles.  The ride took so long as we were travelling in a northerly direction, against the flow of the water.

We were very grateful to see our houseboat, Madikubu, which means the ‘biggest hippo’ and even more grateful to see that Douwe, Vermaak and Bjorn were there with our luggage.  This was to be our home for the next two days.

This lovely photo taken by Marion, shows the calm and quiet evening while we were moored in the panhandle of the delta.  A cold front had moved over Botswana and the temperature dropped very quickly after sunset. We then enjoyed drinks with the rest of our group and had a lovely meal produced by Vermaak.  We were looking forward to the next day when we were going to explore the Okavango in mokoros.

Botswana: Day 2 – Nata to Maun

We left Nata Lodge after a hearty breakfast on Friday 8 June and travelled 10 kms to the small town of Nata.  We filled up with diesel and headed west towards Maun which is situated on the edge of the Okavango Delta.

File:Okavango Delta map.png

We travelled through very dry and flat countryside towards Gweta.  The veld on either side of the road was over-grazed.  We passed through a small village called Seroga.  Although Botswana has a population of only two million people, it does seem fairly populated when you drive through.  This is because most of the villages and settlements of the Batswana people are on the sides of the roads.  The land away from the roads has very few human settlements.  Botswana has a very small population when compared to other African countries.

We passed a lot of vultures feeding on a donkey carcass.  The vehicle that had killed the donkey was standing on the side of the road.  it was a stark reminder of what can happen to an unwary driver on the roads in Botswana.  Animals roam freely over the roads and are often the cause of accidents.

About 30 km from Gweta we noticed that the countryside had changed.   The grass was more lush and we saw some palm trees.  We passed Planet Baobab which is another of the many lodges and camps all over Botswana.  Although when contacted, many of them say they are fully booked, they are often empty on arrival during the off peak season.  Many of them take temporary bookings from tour agents, only to find that the agents cancel at the last minute and they are left without guests.

At 1 pm we arrived at Drifters Camp on the banks of the Boteti River, which forms part of the Okavango Delta.  Here we had a lovely lunch prepared by the staff at Drifters Camp.

This is the Boteti River, which flows from the Okavango Delta.  In the rainy season it flows into the Makgadikgadi Pan.

Maun, Botswana

We arrived in Maun in the late afternoon.  It is a bustling town with an eclectic mix of modern and mud buildings.  We filled up with fuel in Maun.  During our fuel stop one of our party had their camera equipment, laptop and money stolen while refueling.  There are hawkers who distract the driver and passengers while their friends quietly help themselves to your luggage.  There is a lot of theft in Botswana and it is advisable to always watch your vehicle and make sure you lock it while filling the tank.

We drove across the Okavango River to the Island Safari Lodge on the edge of Maun.

This peaceful lodge, on the banks of the Okavango, was an oasis of quiet after the busy town of Maun.

We watched someone get a lift across the river.

Small craft were going up and down the river with tourists or carrying out business.

Botswana: Day 1 – Johannesburg to Nata

Botswana

We had been wanting to visit Botswana for a number of years, but were not keen to camp and finding accomodation on the internet was extremely difficult.  Having never been there before, we decided to book a guided trip with Mpafa Travel for June 2012.  This seemed a good option as we would travel in our own vehicle and stay at lodges throughout the trip.  All catering would be done by Mpafa Travel.

We left Johannesburg for Nata on Wednesday 6 June to meet up with our guide and the rest of the group at Nata Lodge.  Part of the trip on the South African side was through the province of Limpopo.  The trip from Johannesburg to Nata is 913 kms and takes about 10 hours.  We decided to stay over somewhere along the route.  We had lunch at Mokopane (formerly Potgietersrus) and then drove to the Botswana border at Grobler’s Bridge.  The border post on the Botswana side is known as Martin’s Drift.

At the border we had to pay 180 Pula to the Botswana authorities for our vehicle.  Here we experienced our first ‘rip-off’ with currency exchange.  Because we did not have pula we were charged R250 when we should have paid about R198.  After that we drew pula from an ATM.  This is the best way to avoid extra commission costs.

We decided to stop over at Palapye.  We arrived in the late afternoon on 6 June.

Desert Sands Motel

There we stayed at the Desert Sands Motel.  It was reasonably priced,  clean and tidy and recommended by Mpafa Travel.  Having driven around on our arrival, we decided that there was not much choice.  Believe me, Palapye is not a honeymoon destination.  It is mainly a stopover for truckers and people who, like us, are travelling to the tourist areas in the north.

Travelling in Botswana can be frustrating as the speed limit constantly changes.  There are lots of small villages on the side of the road and then the limit drops from 120 km to 80 km or 60 km.  We were warned that the traffic police hide behind trees and will issue spot fines which must be paid in Pula.  Needless to say, we carefully stuck to the speed limits.

Although narrow at times, the roads in Botswana are fairly good.  Some roads have collapsing shoulders which are very hazardous.  Never be tempted to travel after sunset as there are many donkeys, cattle and other animals straying on the roads.

We stopped at Francistwon to have lunch and buy bottled water and snacks for the trip.  Francistown is a delightful and busy town with tree lined streets and plenty modern shops.

The next day we continued on our trip to Nata.  On arrival at Nata Lodge things began to look up.  The accomodation was stunning.  Later that afternoon we met our guide Douwe, chef Vermaak and his assistant Bjorn.

We then set off for Makagadikgadi Pan to have sundowners and socialise with our new friends.

We watched the sunset on the Makgadikgadi Pan.  It was dry and deserted.  As the sun set we began to feel the cold that is experienced in Botswana at night.  Becasue Botswana is a vast, very flat country, it cools down quickly and often reaches temperatures below freezing.