We survived yet another night in Africa, this time in a community camp where the only person for miles around seemingly materialised from nowhere, took our money and informed us, very casually, that “yes sometimes we get lions” before, just as mysteriously, disappearing back into the bush with her baby on her back. After a nervous wait for the sun to rise before getting out the car we made our way back through the forest that felt more like driving through parts of England than the road towards the Botswana border.
Less than an hour later we were across the border and in one of the countries (and continents’ for that matter) most famous parks, Chobe NP. The Northern section is truly stunning with several tracks running along high ground overlooking the Chobe river. The bird life here is fantastic, and we were soon spotting Africa Fish Eagles a plenty dotted throughout the trees above, along with a whole host of animals, large troops of baboons, hippo, springbok, impala, buffalo, zebra and the animal most prolific in Chobe, the ever-present elephants. Just moments in we were witness to several huge herds nonchalantly crossing from Namibia to Botswana and visa versa, blissfully unaware of how easy they make boarder hopping look.
After a couple of chats with fellow game viewers that went nowhere till finally we were told by a passing car that there where 3 lion cubs about 3 kms down the track and we hastily made way, only to annoyingly find the first car in a convoy of 4 stuck in the middle of the road. After watching them battle in vain against the soft sand we decided to get out to help them all the whilst trying our best to explain to the french lady that lion had been spotted only a kilometre away and that she probably shouldn’t allow her two small children (eye level to most lion) to run around in the bush while they were all focussed on trying to get the car unstuck. The message clearly wasn’t received or maybe, and probably more likely, she was just keen to downsize to a one child family. We helped one car and trailer through the sand before watching it and the next car get stuck, it was at this point where I decided it was time to let the battelers pulling trailers deal with the poor decisions they had made and stick frank into low range, head through the patch of sand, up into the bush and around the bewildered convoy because we were on the hunt for lions. We never managed to find the Lion in the end and both came to the conclusion that they had probably moved off to hunt some french kids. We did however have to negotiate our way around a large herd of elephant who, after deciding to use the road as a place to chill, seemed oblivious to us and our tank trying to nervously squeeze between them and the trees.
As we were too cheap to get a camp inside the park we headed just outside to our home for the night with low expectations, only to be confronted with one of the most stunning sunsets we have ever witnessed along with some incredible wildlife to boot. Botswana has very few fences so as not to disturb migratory patterns for the animals and as such the majority of them are free to wander as they please, lending an exciting, if not terrifying nights sleep.
After being treated to a sunrise that was just as spectacular as the sunset we set about our plan of heading to the gate then through Savuti and down to the South Easterly section of Chobe, but 20kms of soft sand towards the gate soon put our aspirations in jeopardy. We were then stopped 7kms short of the gate by an old Botswana Defence Force army truck stuck smack bang in the middle of the lonely track. The captain waved us down (completely unnecessary due to the big truck blocking the path) to explain that the guys in the back were new recruits and after spending the previous night in the freezing cold and in lion territory, sat in the back of the open truck, he needed to get back to cell reception to call his superiors to get help sent. Somewhat reluctantly we decided to help, turned around and set back along the road we had just battled along with Tash squeezed in the middle very uncomfortably on the centre console whilst we bumped along for 10 very slow and very painful kms. We finally found signal and the captain managed to order in the replacement truck but after saving the day, again, we had now came to the realisation that we would not have enough time to make it through the park and if even if we did it would be extremely rushed and no one likes game viewing at 60km an hour. So having helped some of Botswana’s newest army recruits, satisfied that we had done our good deed for the day we finally arrived at the gate, 3hrs behind schedule where the lovely lady at the gate informed us we had no luck of getting a campsite inside the park, and so with little option left we managed to talk our way into a free camp just next to the gate. We had a lovely afternoon by the waterhole and decided to head back to our secluded camp at the gate and after hearing lion on approach I reluctantly plucked up the courage to get out of the back to cook some dinner, making Tash very aware that I was risking my life for steamed broccoli. With the lion roars getting louder and closer we sat uncomfortably inside our very cosy dining room, living room and bedroom, little did we realise this was something we would have to rapidly get used to……
The following day came along with high spirits again as we were the first into the park thanks to the location of our informal settlement. Arriving into Savuti 90mins later we were greeted by a spotted hyena running across the road, with little else in the area deciding to come out and play. Leopard rock disappointingly didn’t live up to its name in any way shape or form but that wasn’t the only disappointment for the day.
It turns out that people book campsites for Chobe and Moremi sometimes as far as 12 months out, and so once again we were flat-out of luck with any hope for getting a place to stay for the night. With this in mind we had a large distance of deep sandy tracks to cover in a relatively small amount of time and so the need to press on was ever-present, however, not enough to deter us from stopping in at the only waterhole for miles around. We were the only car there, and for good reason as at first large flocks of quelia and warthog seemed to be only thing around, till afew buffalo and a large bull elephant came down for a drink. Things got a little tense when another bull of a similar size joined. Just as they had decided that there was no need to kick off, a third and even larger bull came to the party. Tensions soaring, this unbelievably continued again and again until there where a total of 10 big bulls all drinking alongside each other. The bachelor party starting getting a little raucous and slightly out of control as is tradition. The tension inside the car was as palpable as it was around the water as we were now surrounded and fully aware that if anyone did decide to settle any scores they wouldn’t worry about denting Frank which at this point felt more like a toy than a truck thanks to the presence of these massive animals. Thankfully nothing more than a few minor disagreements settled by some flapping of ears and kicking of dust were seen and we were able to start the car and slink off.
Setting off again we decided to take a short cut which soon saw us hopelessly lost in a seemingly never-ending field of dry grassland, before eventually finding our way to the gate, where our next mission of finding a place to park for the night was made easier by 3 french tourists showing us to a camp they had stayed at in exchange for the use of our compressor, Frank to the rescue yet again. On arrival the place seemed ok, if not a bit pricey for the very basic set up, never the less we were situated on the edge of a small river, far away from other campers. As 3 elephant drank just across the water from us we realised we might have found quite a good spot. Just as the sun set, and to my absolute delight, a honey badger strolled into our camp and had a little sniff and poke around before happily bouncing off into cool dark evening
The next morning we stepped out to find 2 large elephant just outside our van, and another two right next to our bush toilet and bucket shower. Thankfully they seemed less than bothered by our presence although I was a little unnerved by the new set of eyes standing 3 meters away peering over the open roofed toilet at me. A closer look around the camp revealed that a large hippo we had seen in the river the previous afternoon had walked within a meter of us and a hyena (or two) had also decided to pay us a visit overnight.
Throughout the day we were visited by several elephant walking in and around our camp, only a few feet away from us, with only one taking offence to my new fishing spot, which was clearly in her way. There could only be one winner in this unnerving stand-off and it was decided quite quickly that it wasn’t going to be me after slowly dropping the rod (line still in the water) and backing off. The old matriarch slowly waded into the river and amazingly navigated around my float before heading back up the bank and headed off to her next spot. By far the highlight of the day however came once the old girl had moved off. With Tash at the fire and me with my head in the bonnet i was suddenly ordered to turn around as Tash had almost been knocked over by an impala that came hurtling through our camp at a rate of knots, I hardly caught sight of the thing but Tash was very excited, that excitement lasted for a little over a second as the bushes started rustling again, we both stood frozen in fear for what felt like minutes as we had now come to the sudden realisation that something was chasing that impala. We had heard that lion were in area and I’m sure both our hearts stopped for a second till a wild dog burst out of the thick bush in pursuit of the impala hardly breaking stride as it had a quick look at Tash whose jaw had just about hit the floor at this point. The adrenaline now turned to absolute joy as we looked at each other without any need for words.
After navigating yet more elephant using our camp as a main road and cleaning up the remnants of the party that a hyena had with our stuff we made tracks for Moremi NP, taking the less developed road through the picturesque region of Khwai village. This turned out to be the right decision as not 10 mins into the north gate we saw lion, far out in an open vlei along with zebra, springbok, hippo and some very nervous red lechwe.
Looking at a map we realised we would have to push quite hard to make it through Moremi in a day and thus thought we would be best to have a look at the local campsite, which seemed to have more than enough room. A quick chat with the staff on the gate and all we could get out of them was “no, its full”. Disappointed and not really knowing what to do we headed back through the camp where we met Anna and Manuel, a german couple, who after chatting for half an hour offered for us to stay at their campsite with them, doing precisely that we settled in for a fun night around the fire soon realising that we had similar itineraries and plans to get away from the big tour groups and hope of getting even further off-road, where Manuel could finally use his winch that he had been lugging around for two weeks. One of the most stunning sunrises awoke us the next morning and after taking 400 photos in-between mouthfuls of muesli and chatting for far too long we set off south for black pools, hoping to catch ze Germans in the next camp later that evening to carry on where we had left off.
Our drive took us through the infamous 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st bridge crossings, however the bridges themselves were only required at the 4th and 3rd where we had to navigate a small river crossing, but non-the-less we could now say that we had driven through the Okavango Delta. 2nd and 1st bridge were dry and we decided the risk of driving through an old river bed was far less than driving over another rickety old wooden bright that I would have thought twice about walking over, let alone driving 3 tonne Frank on. Moremi is an ever-changing landscape and before we knew it we were through the river crossings and driving in a burnt field that, from the smell and the footprints, couldn’t have passed through too recently. This suddenly stopped and gave way to more dry grassland interspersed with dense green bushland indicating we had reached the black pools area. Not 2 mins in and we came around a bend to see a large elephant rolling around in the dust just off the road, swerving to avoid the grey mass that was now flailing to its feet we stopped just past the incident only to look back to see the elephant sheepishly looking at us as if it were embarrassed and didn’t like being caught taking a dust bath. Sadly, despite driving around for the rest of the afternoon, not much else wanted to say hi to us, aside from 2 little honey badgers that ducked into the bush on the drive back to camp.
Despite being desperate to walk around after a whole day inside the car we arrived into camp late and with not too much fire wood left we chose to stay in the truck for the evening, soon realising all we had in the cupboard that didn’t require heating up was a handful of cereal each, cramped, hungry and tired we went to bed hoping for a better day the next day.
Waking up to realise our tiny dinner meant we had eaten our breakfast didn’t make for the best start, and after another drive around black pools we found some fresh leopard spoor but it produced little else in the way of sightings, we did however bump into Anna and Manuel who informed us that they had spent 7 hours the previous afternoon trying to pull another 4×4 out of the river. Despite standing in the river and digging out the wheels and axle and even diving under the car they could not get it to budge even with 2 cars and a winch trying. It seemed whilst the river was low it could still be quite tricky to navigate.
Having hit 11am and still running off the handful of cereal from the night before we decided to head for Maun, and the supermarkets, but we stopped en route to help a guy waving us down in what we thought was yet another broken down car till we realised it was Rinus, a guy we had met from Windhoek and his girlfriend Helga having lunch on the side of the road, who directed us to the best camp in the area. A 20 min chat later we set off for food and a place to plan for the next stop, the Central Kalahari. Stay tuned as we leave the Delta and head for the desert.