Botswana - the land of the friendly Setswanans

May 27, 2008 - Kasane, Botswana

Tweny minutes drive and a polite and hasslefree border crossing was all it took to get from Ngepi Camp into Botswana - the sixth country so far on the trip. Chico was still going strong and the the roads appeared to be in good shape, putting our minds at rest over the driving ahead.  We stopped in Shakawe , the first town after the border, where we got petrol, pulas (Botswanan money) and re-stocked on groceries. At the Barclays ATM, which was located in a rather makeshift looking container with one thirsty cow drinking from the muddy puddle right next to it, I inserted my card and on the screen a greeting reading "Welcome Ms Sandell to Barclays, what can we do for you this afternoon?" appeared. I almost jumped and looked for hidden cameras around me. The contrast between the scene around me - the cow, the dusty market place and carts pulled by donkies, and the technology in front of me was one of those moments where you feel that this part of the world really has one foot still in old, rural, poor and traditional ways but the other one firly planted in the role of being an emerging market where people are quickly catching on to the changes and innovations of Western society.

Ancient Tsodilo Hills
We left the modernities of Shakawe and headed to what would surely be one of thos places where boths feet where two African feet would be firmly placed inin the history and ancient stories of this amazing continent.  Tsodilo Hills is the place in the middle of the vast flat plains that is the Kalahari, where four hills poke up from nothing, and the place where the San people believes is the place their ancestors come from. It is a spiritual place, not unlike Uluru in Australia, where thousands of rock paintings have been found, most of which dates back to about 2000 b.c.. For a long time Tsodilo has been difficult to get to by car, but with the building of a new dirt road last year it has been made easier, although it would still prove to be the most daunting challenge Chico had been put through this far.
Remaining in first gear, at below walking speed, we trudged our way, kilometre by kilometre through to the modest campsite placed just next to one of the hills. At the camp we were throughly surprised to hear that they were equipped with running water, even hot showers (!) and electricity. This was certainly more than we had expected.  When we then asked how much the camping was and were told that is was free, we could hardly believe it - the ancestors must have approved of us!
So spending our first night in the bush of Botswana we, or Mike rather, made a big bonfire and grilled steaks corked up some wine and enjoyed giving the budget an easy start in the supposedly expensive Botswana.
The following morning we decided to sleep in and eventually mozied our way ove to the office where our guided tour of the area would start. We were introduced to KT, our local Owambokosho guide, who were to take us on the walk through the hills. We were also joined by Elisabeth, a giggly university student from Gaborone, who was in the area to write her thesis on the impact tourism in the Tsodilo area has on the local San community. Together the four of us set into the bush.
KT, being a bit shy, but stilll very knowledgeable about the surroundigns took us on little paths showing us beautiful red paintings on the rockwalls illustrating humans and their tools, but in particular various types of animals in the area; giraffes, rhinos, kudus, zebras, elephants, hyenas, snakes and scorpions. In one site even whales and penguins were drawn, indicating the nomadic nature of the San, as Tsodilo probably is 1500kms from the nearest whale or penguin...
I have seen some rock paintings before like the aboriginal paintings in Uluru and Viking painintgs in Sweden, bit never honestly been too impressed. In Tsodilo on the other hand I discovered the real beauty of this ancient art for the first time.  The colours where so bright and the raw esthetic value was something completely different from before. The white rhino was different from the black (there is quite small difference in real life), and the brown hyena looked different from the spotted - that degree of detail have I never been able to see before.
We climbed to the top of the female hill, called so according to KT because it being short and fat like a female and watched the amazing view from up there. KT also showed us numerous plants, berries and fruits. One of them, the fruit of the baobab tree had a strange texture like chalk, but was qute tasty.
We decided to meet KT the following morning outside his village for him to take us to the nearby San village. The little San village, much like KT's own, is very poor. There is no electricity or sewage, no school or medical clinic and harldy any employment. The people get by by growing maize and other staple crops and by cattle herding. The tour of the village was not so much a tour as a visit to one of the families at their kraal where we were invited to sit down and meet the family and (of course) buy some home made necklaces and earrings made fro seeds, porcupine spikes and ostrich shells. We were only there for a short while and I can't say that it was very informative as we couldn't understand a word of what eachother was saying without KT's somewhat limited translations, but it felt real and relaxed and that was the most important. It wasn't the white folks who came to "look at" villagers dressed up in clothes they never usually wear and doing dances they would never usually do, but just poeple meeting people. We had a good time, I think they did as well and they were benefited from the money they made from selling their crafts.
Following our visit to the village we dropped KT off and paid him a fee, which he insisted we didin't have to, and steered towards the main road and the Okavango delta. Tsodilo was all together a last minute decision, and in hindsight very well worth it as it was a spectacular break from the well-beaten tourist trail.

The Okavango Delta
We reached, Maun the jumping point to the lower Okavango delta by dusk and by the end of the night found ourselves having booked a three day trip by dug-out canoe, a mokoro in Botswana, that would take us deep into the delta.
We spent a day in Maun preparing for the trip as we were required to bring our own supplies. Tent, sleeping bags, food, drinking water and other gear, plus Mike myself and our guide/poler were all to fir in one half tree trunk. To pack light was of the essence...
We did not suceed in the packing department as when we were introduced to Khume, our poler, and set off in his mokoro we only had a couple of centimetres of wood above the surface and every movement we made resulted ina little trickle of water coming in from the sides. Swiftly we were demoted to the fibre glass version of a mokoro which was not as visually pleasing but a whole lot more comforting way to pass through the crocodile and hippo infested waters were to spend the following three days in.
The trip ended up being an amazing experience. Seeing only a handful of people over the whole trips we spent a few hours in the mokoro travelling along the narrow reed channels making our way to the camp sites Khume had chosen for us. The sites were both on small islands, of which there are hundreds if not thousands  in the delta, and we were completely isolated from the world around us. The scenery around us was just stunning.
In between the mokoro we went on long walks with Khume around the islands and saw plenty of wildlife around us. But even more special than spotting the wildlife was just the walking arund in this untouched paradise where no human activity is interrupting animals or plants. At night Khume made a fire and we cooked our meals on the fire sheltered by a huge Sicamor fig tree on the bank of one of the channels and fell asleep listening to the wildlife aroudn us. The wildlife did even get a bit too close on the second night where, shortly after having gotten into our tent we heard the hoofs and heavy breathing of a buffalo right outside our tent. We lay absolutely still as a 500kg angry buffalo is the last thing (after an elephant perhaps) you want stepping on your tent. Eventually he left as silently as he had appeared and we could breathe again.
Unfortunately Khume was one of the least interesting people I have ever met, and for sure the worst guide I have ever had as he barely spoke a word, so that aspect of the trip was a real disappointment, and one unfortunately makes a big difference as it was just the three of us for such a long time. But despite Khume, Mike and I had a brilliant tree and had to pinch ourselves on the last day when we were at the camp site and I thought I could hear something in the reeds just in front of the camp. As I stood up a big elephant bull became clearly visible and we watched him quench his thirst and have half the reeds in the delta for lunch with no one else but us in sight.

Back in Maun
We spent the following three days back in Maun where we got upgraded at the backpackers from camping to a permanent tent as compensation for the less than average guide experience. It was lovely just to have a few days to laze around in town where plenty of facilities were available and plenty of other travellers to meet. One of them was Flo, a French/Swiss guy who we initially met as we were looking for another passenger who would bring the price per head down on the scenic flight we had planned for the following morning.
The flight was a brilliant way of getting the third dimension to the delta. Having only sat in a mokoro and travelled on foot with bushes and reeds standing metre tall the macro perspective was missing, which the flight certainly provided. In a six-seater plane, pilot included, we took off from Maun airport and did a big loop over the same channels we had gone through only a few days earlier. We saw hordes of buffalos, giraffeas and elephants, but this time it was all about the amazing landscape underneath us. Everywhere we looked there were labyrinths of waterways and and animal tracks leading to and from those waterways making intricate patterns across the islands.
After a somewhat shaky landing we headed from cappucinos and croissants at a nearby French cafe with Flo and killed the remainder of the day in town followed by dinner and wine back at the backpackers where Flo borrowed a gutiar and we stayed around the bonfire singing until the morning hours.

The Makhadikhadi Pans
It was also Flo who told us about what was to become the next highlight of our trip - the Mkahadikhadi Pans in the Northern part of the Kalahari.
Following a few hours bus trip we found our way to the place to stay for the night called Planet Baobab. A rather bizarre place in the middle of the semi-arid desert which housed a 19metre long swimming pool and a large bar with huge chandellieres made from empty beer bottles. This was the place that was organising our trip into the pan. In order to bring the price of our trip down somewhat we decided wait around for a day at Planet Baobab to see if any other people would join. We were in luck as Jenny, and Aussie girl from Bronte, and Diana and Fabio, a Spanish/Italian couple, also signed up for the trip. Together with Dabone, our head guide, and his young apprentice we headed out into the wilderness. It is a several hours long drive through the bush to get to the Ntwetwe pan we were heading for. On the way we passed thousands year old Baobab trees and a burrough where some meerkats who had been acustomed to  having humans around lived. They are so relaxed about having people around that they even try to climb on to you to get a better vantage point to check for birds of prey or tivalling clans. They are such brilliant little animals, you just can't help but laught when they get up on their hind legs making little squeeking sounds and constantly turning their heads 90 degrees back and forth.
We reached Ntwetwe just in time for sunset. However what we arrived to was something we had not quite expected. In the vast emptly flats of the salt pan, where all you can see in all directions is an endless flat expanse of salt-crusted gravel where nothing living exists.  In this un-earth like place were two guys who had prepared a big wlcoming fire, thick matresses with clean, starched white linen, a private bush toilet, a wash basin with hot water, freshly baked bread, enough food to feed an army and a cooler box filled with beers, gin and tonics and amarula. - Hey, I thought we had booked the budget trip?!
Indulging in all this luxury we ate and drank as the sun set and and the moon rose over one of the most spectacular places I have seen on this Earth. When it was time for bed we dragged our thick, warm, comfy bedrolls away from the camp and into the nothingness and went to sleep under the brightest moon I have ever seen. Despite it being a cold night we slept like  babies. Perhaps it was that feeling of being in nowhere where nothing else really matters and where no one can reach you that made the sleep so deep and relaxed. I don't know, but whatever it was, it induced deep dreamless sleep and I woke up quite chirpy as the sun rose over the pans.
Camping out in the Makhadikhadi Pans - who would have thought?! The experiences and sights of this trip are truly ones I will always remember.

North to Kasane and Chobe NP
We made the trip to Kasane following our return back to Planet Baobab. As we were waiting for our bus North we met Mr and Mrs Radipitse, a lovely elderly Setswanan couple, who were driving back to Kasane after having visited their children in Gaborone. The gave us a lift all the way up to Kasane and dropped us off outside the Chobe Safari Lodge where we were to camp for the night. We paid the small fee Mr Radipitse had asked for and as a 'thankyou' gesture we invited them in for a drink at the lodge. As they had been away from their children in Kasane for a while Mr Radipitse wanted, understandably, to get home to see them, but his lovely Mrs, seemed somewhat enchanted by the fance lodge that was housing a campsite at the back of it, and convinced her husband to go for a quick frink with us. I think she really enjoyed the feeling of luxury of sitting in the plush bar of the fancy resort. We had a nice chat and Mr Radipitse somewhat randomly invited to come and visit him at his work at the Department of Prisons the following day. We didn't end up going, but it was a nice gesture all the same.
We stayed at the campsite at the Chobe Safari Lodge for three nights despite them having a problem with theft on their premises. The local warthogs, baboons and cerebus monkeys had all seemes to have taken a liking for human belongings and it was entirely thanks to the guards with slingshots who constantly patrolled the campsite that we left the place with all our posessions in hand. 
Kasane is the gateway to Chobe National Park, Botswanas most renowned national park and during the three days there we did a cruise on the river where we saw hordes of elephants that had come down to the river in the afternoon to cool off in the muddy water. Old bulls, mothers with their young ones and juveniles playfully fighting eachother in numbers I have never seen before made for a spectacle I thought you would have to watch BBC to see.
We also went on an early morning game drive inside the park and couldn't have believed what we were about to see when our driver could hear Impalas crying out distress calls. He quickly turned the car around to where the noise was coming from and when we saw a leopard drag the impala it had just killed into the bush I think all six of us on the car, including the guide, though we were dreaming.  

The End of Botswana
In Kasane we also made up our minds on the "Zimbabwe or not Zimbabwe issue". With the recent election we were not sure what to do, whether it would be safe to go, and whether we should even support Mugabe's government by paying visa fees to enter. In the end, after much talking to people, reading news etc, we decided that the urge to see what we have seen on TV with our own eyes were stronger and that the people of Zimbabwe sho rely on tourism should not be punished for the madness that one man has drawn a country into.
We decided to be wise about where to spend our money, but to in the end make the short trip across the border into the Zim town of Victoria Falls. Unfortunately the cold morning air on the day of our game drive the previous day had given me a cold so I wasn't physically feeling too good about the walking and carrying the backpack, but still very excited about entering a country the world is so closely watching, for all the wrong reasons at the moment.


As usual, see our new photos...


Johanna the pilot
Prepare for takeoff
Our six-seater
Birds-eye view over the Okavango Delta


rouky debelak:
May 28, 2008
hey hey hope you are all over with the cold.counting the weeks now,so excited.great elly pictures.this trip should last you 3 lifetimes of adventure.... love
May 29, 2008
Again beautifull pictures. It's a delight watching em during worktime.. makes it at least a little bit better to do...
keep up the good spirit and enjoy yourselfs! looks like the journey of a lifetime!
May 30, 2008
Dear Mikes and jo
How are you well i hope, you look as if you've both lost weight would you like me to bring you some pasta. Everyone here is fine. Bet you can't wait to see mum and dad. Miss you, take care.
All my love
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