No Signs, No Lines, No road

Leaving Etosha we were through to Tsumeb, a surprisingly pleasant and pretty town, not too dissimilar to parts of Harare with lovely Jacaranda and bougainvillea trees lining the streets. We found a pretty average camp that under normal circumstances would be nothing to write home about if it weren’t for the random olympic sized swimming pool and the best shower either of us had ever experienced.

Squeaky clean we made our way towards Grootfontien. A quick stop off and a token picture at the oldest meteorite in the world, after which we made camp in a very strange but quite lovely deserted campsite come game farm for the evening.

Since we weren’t too sure if Beani would survive round two with the lions we decided it was time for a new battery, and after the standard ordeal of fitting the new one we headed North. After spending 7 weeks in Namibia we resisted the urge to head up to Epupa Falls and settled for the lovely communal areas bordering Angola and, of course, our first sighting of the Okavango River. We drove along its banks till the beginning of the Caprivi strip where we found a fantastic river bush camp.

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After much deliberation we decided to stay a second night thanks to the stunning views across the Okavango and the camp sites that seemingly jut out into the river. The only thing interrupting the sounds of the mid afternoon river running past was the dude fixing the “fence” at our camp site, jolly but clearly quite annoyed at the pesky hippo that “keep giving me work”.

Having survived the night, sure that the hippo were having another go at the newly erected fence, and then helping a stranded Israeli family with battery issues (thanks to our new-found expertise) it was time to put Namibia in our rearview mirror and head for greener pastures. Botswana.

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We had planned to sneak into the game farm that straddles the main road to the border post, after successfully doing so we shot through the border and before we knew it we had a different map sprawled out in front of us. Fuelled by excitement and coffee we decided it was time to once again ignore the advise of everyone and head down the Eastern panhandle of the Okavango delta and cut across to Chobe that way instead of following the highway on the Western side of the delta. After a slightly hair-raising but amazingly FREE ferry across the river we were back on dirt and once again gathering stares, waves and requests for sweeeeeeets from the locals.

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The road is shaped by the flood plains and dotted with small but stunning villages, all home to a standard mix of traditional mud huts, hugely fortified kraals, shebeens with the best names and stubborn livestock with the odd suicidal donkey. We came across a broken down van, its occupants defeated with hands on hips and no chance of a mechanic or tow service, after trying to help for about half an hour we gave up and taking note we cautiously made it down the road to the largest village on the Eastern side of the delta where we were hoping to find someone who could tell us if we could get across to Chobe from there. A highly debated topic thanks to this area being famous for a flood plain that flows in both directions depending on which river has more water flow at any one point in time.

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Coming into the seemingly deserted camp we bumped into a team of four heading up a conservation project trying to limit and hopefully ultimately resolve lion human conflict in the area. Due to the complete lack of fences in Botswana and majority of the population relying on subsistence farming, shootings and poisonings of the lion are an all too familiar sight in the area. After chatting to the guys for quite some time, and having to drag myself away before I got involved and quit the trip to save lions, we worked out that it is indeed possible to cross to Chobe from the Eastern side, however, this meant driving to the furthest village on the only road and asking the locals if the old Botswana Defence Force resupply route to Linyati was swamped or not. That afternoon instead of a lovely sundowner over the delta we spent a good hour or so cleaning the burst long life milk container, which will now forever be known as “the incident”. “The incident” prompted a policy change where milk doesn’t live in the top shelf of the kitchen come pantry come scullery come laundry anymore and after much swearing and some laughter we settled down for dinner and tried to come to grips as to what we were actually getting ourselves into come first light.

We arrived at a very cool but very remote village and came across a security guard at the local school, with maybe 10 words of english at his disposal, he pointed us in the direction of a lodge that no-one seemed to know was there. 10 minutes into an increasingly sandy two spoor track we came across an old gent with an axe slung over his shoulder that informed us there was nothing out here but an old cattle post. After a 10 point turn we headed back for the “town”, this time with the goal of just finding the “road” or at the very least someone who believed in its existence. A few awkward and tight turns later we were out of road and basically driving on people’s doorsteps till two guys jogged across the sand seeing that we were clearly going nowhere fast. One guy spoke very good english and had an old lodge shirt on saying that he part times at a lodge near Chobe and that there is indeed a road that the Botswana Defence Force used to use, it is open and its tough but it shouldn’t be flooded. We shelled out some cigarettes, water bottles and sweets to the now 15 strong crowd that had gathered and meandered through the huts in the general direction of where the guys were pointing. To our astonishment we had found a road that continued out of the town, we hastily unpacked the sat phone and got the compass out and stuck Frank into low range as the sand got deeper and deeper and the going tougher and tougher. The road had clearly been used by big trucks which helped us a bit as we drove along with one tyre in the rut and the other up on the middle giving us just enough clearance to keep up speed in order to clear deep sandy patches and the many tree branches that had grown into the path of the road. All said and done we were actually managing quite well, that was till we came across a large tree that had fallen across the road. It was too thick to chop down and too big to drag out the way so bean decided to clear the larger logs on the side of the road and make a little path around the fallen tree. This seemed to do the trick till the car came to a grinding halt. The front tires had gone over a long, thick log and, similar to a seesaw, lifted the opposite end at such an angle that it managed to wedge between the chassis and the fuel tank and then drive into the ground as we went forward. None of us were that keen on the pole-vault and quickly jumped into reverse but to no avail. The log was dangerously positioned right up against the fuel tank and the only option was the axe. So out it came and 20 minutes later, with all ten fingers still intact, we were through the log and managed to slide it out. Unbelievably with no damage done to frank we were back on our way heading further and further into the unknown.

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About an hour in and with half a tank left I made the horrifying discovery that apparently there is no fuel at our destination, or in the entirety of the Chobe/ Moremi area for that matter. We pulled off the “road” (with some difficulty) and decided to have lunch as we plotted our next move. If we were to continue we would have to spend the night on the track and if our calculations were correct we would, by the skin of our teeth, just make it into Savuti, leaving us short of a guaranteed fuel station by 150kms of sand roads . For a good 15 minutes we scanned the map along with both the lonely planet book and tracks 4 Africa book but we couldn’t find any inkling of a place to refuel apart from Maun or Kasane, with no other choice we begrudgingly decided to turn around and head back towards civilisation. Turns out this was indeed the right decision as was confirmed by everyone we chatted to the following few days, with locals in the area telling us its one of the toughest roads in Botswana. Whilst sad that we could cross without loading a further 100l of diesel into our bedroom we were impressed that Frank had not only made it over half way across but that he did so with relative ease. This car is a serious piece of kit and reaffirms our decision to buy the old beast daily.

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For anyone thats thinking about it, if you can find the road and if the beginning point jst past Seronga isn’t flooded the stretch is definitely doable. You will need at least 200 – 250 litres of fuel to get to the closest station once crossing on the ferry, be ready for a night somewhere along the track closer to Linyati as you will have to forge new routes but it beats the hell out of driving along the Western side, all highway to Maun, which we couldn’t even bring ourselves to do. This led to us heading back the way we came, jumping back on the ferry, crossing the border back into Namibia, spending another night in Divundu and then crossing the Caprivi Strip towards Katima Mulilo.

We finally used the diesel cans on the back to make it through to Katima Mulilo and stocked up yet again and were now finally getting ready to enter Chobe….The easy way. All said and done this area really is amazing, 20km in any direction and you are in another country: East – Namibia, North East – Angola, North – Zambia, West – Zimbabwe and South – Botswana. Stick with us as we take on Chobe and Moremi for what is guaranteed to be a special week or so.

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