Out of the bush and into the jungle

Due to the time it took to cross the border, we headed for the nearest large town to stock up and find a camp. This was Zeerust, about an hour due south of the border. We stocked up, got some mobile coverage again and headed for a camp on the edge of town. It was a spartan affair, and we made a quick pasta dinner and we started to feel the temperature drop considerably compared to what we’re used to – even Gareth put his fleece on – must be a day to note!

We were going to head to the Pilansberg park area, but on the way had a resurgence of the steering wobble problems, and so decided to head into the Jo’burg sprawl and get it looked at by another mechanic. We found a nice campsite far enough outside of the sprawl to be in the country, but close enough to get to the garage in half an hour.

We met Hugo, a Dutchman in his Iveco van who was waiting for his wife and son to turn up the following day at the airport, and had a good chat. He popped around as our dinner was cooking and asked “if we like whiskey?”. Bear, woods and Pope, Catholic sprung to mind and we popped over to his van for a nose around and to take him up on his kind offer Smile

In the morning, we headed to the garage and they thought it was because of a wheel imbalance due to a missing weight. They swapped the front right wheel for the spare to check their theory and it seemed to work. So we went off to get the original balanced and checked. We then put the original back on instead of the spare and initially it was ok. We went into the town to get supplies. We ended up in a massive mall and it was such a culture shock from being in the bush with not many around. Sadly, on the way, the wobble returned and we called the guy to try and squeeze in on a Friday afternoon. He was amenable and started looking at all sorts, even convincing himself that the driver’s side shock was a bit bent. Hopefully not as that’s a few more quid as you have to replace them in pairs…

He tried checking a few more things, but none of these sorted the problem out, so he said he wanted to give it a full going over on Monday to get to the bottom of it. We phoned the campsite again knowing they were expecting a caravan club to descend on the place and she said that not the full amount of people were coming. So we got some more supplies and headed back in the dusk, slightly paranoid about stopping at lights as stories of car-jackings went through our heads. It was all fine though and we pitched up.

In the morning we bumped into one of the two Brit accents in the caravan club party and they invited us to their dinner that evening of Oxtail stew done in a potjie, a massive cast iron pot with three legs that just sits in the fire. We went round and had a great time and the food, cooked for about 5 hours, was fantastic.

We are now spending a leisurely Sunday chilling, doing internet research on possible causes of the wobble, a bit of planning and waiting for the garage to open tomorrow.

Wet pants and pot bellied pigs

We were now heading for the South African border, albeit a few days away. We stopped for a couple of nights at a camp site near Serowe. The reviews had said it was a bit run down but that the staff were friendly and it was cheap. We phoned ahead to book and were told they would be expecting us. We arrived to what looked like a deserted site, all locked up and no-one around. After wondering around for a while a girl eventually turned up and nonchalantly showed us to our camp site. Or rather she waved in the general direction of a couple of sites so we picked one which was big and had some shade and power. The ablutions, which she pointed vaguely at saying “toilet, shower, shower, toilet”, were very basic and not the cleanest we’d used, but they would do. However, they had no roof, which in a dry country like Namibia is not a great problem, but Botswana does have rain…

Our first night was nice and quiet and the following day was fine as we chilled and did some planning. We found out that there was a beautiful-looking gorge nearby that you could walk up. We decided to stay another day and do it in the morning. The weather was good and the rainy season now seemed to be over so we left our chair and table out and went to bed. We should have heeded the warning that one of the guys at Makgadikgadi had given. There had been a bit of rain a week ago but it wasn’t much. We’d speculated that it was the last of the season but he said no, Botswana always goes out with a bang. There was a big storm to come. He was right.

The rain started at about 3am. We woke up but it was only light so we decided the chairs, which are padded canvas, would be ok as they were tucked under a tree. Then it got heavier and heavier. Thunder and lightning were rolling around with one strike alarmingly close and very loud! By daybreak the thunderstorm had stopped but the rain carried on. And on, and on. Most of the rain we’d had so far in Africa was from short and sharp storms. This one was more like the UK. It just kept raining. The chairs were soaked and had a puddle about 3 inches deep in them…

Now we don’t mind roughing it a bit but using a loo without a roof in the rain is not very pleasant. The loo roll is soggy before you use it, pants and trousers are wet before they go back on, water rolling down your face and back. Nice. The forecast was for the rain to continue for another day. The gorge walk was going to be a wash out and Angela certainly didn’t fancy another soaking on the loo. So we decided to head off to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. We found Mokolodi backpackers, 10km outside the city, which had availability for the whole weekend. It was Easter and the whole of South Africa would be on the move. We were staying in Botswana until the Tuesday when hopefully the mayhem would have subsided.

As it turned out, the whole of Botswana also seemed to be on the move. From the number of cars on the road, it seemed like the capital city was being evacuated and most of it was heading north, fortunately in the opposite direction to us. It was such a change from the months of quiet roads. Despite the occasional explosion of traffic in places like Lilongwe and Lusaka, we hadn’t seen anything like this stream of traffic on the open roads in Africa so far. Even more different were the types and ages of the cars. They were mostly new or fairly new, with lots of BMWs, Mazdas, Mercs, all sorts. We expected them to be South Africans heading north but they weren’t, they were mostly Botswanan cars. So different from the battered wrecks driven by most of the locals in the other countries we’d visited (that is where they had cars at all). By no means is all of Botswana well off; there are plenty of poor people, especially in the rural areas. But it was a real surprise to see the level of relative prosperity there seemed to be.

That was probably with the exception of the ‘black taxis’, the mini buses that transport those without their own vehicles. These were in as poor a condition and driven equally as badly as those we’d seen elsewhere. The drivers seem to be a law unto themselves and the cars are notoriously overloaded and badly maintained. We passed an accident, one of many there would be over the weekend, with one of these buses on its roof. About 20 cars had stopped either side of the road, some presumably to help and others seemingly to gawp.

Despite the traffic we had a good trip. Our lodge was tucked away down a small residential road on the edge of the bush. We were shown to a small space under a tree where we just about managed to fit the car and get it level (a must for a good night’s sleep). The staff were really friendly, the ablutions (which had roofs…) immaculate and the shared kitchen area had all you could ask for. Ducks and chickens wondered around alongside 5 cats, 2 large dogs and a pot bellied pig called New Year (which is when she’d arrived, not when she was going to be eaten…). It was brilliant. We were greeted by the owner, Hendrick, who let us settle in and then pulled a couple of beers out of the fridge for us. After a good long chat he invited us to dinner the following night on the proviso that we cooked the meat which he’d provide. We had a great time (and a fabulous slab of steak) and reciprocated the following evening, Easter Sunday, with a roast chicken we were planning. Even better, he’d bought some dessert – Malva pudding and custard. Yum. He sent us away with the remains of the custard (yes there was some left). What a star!

DSC05608 (Medium)

New Year, the pot bellied pig.

DSC05610 (Medium)

Fast asleep…

DSC05604 (Medium)

…and enjoying a good old scratch behind the ears

On Easter Monday we were rudely interrupted by a low-flying and very loud pair of military jets roaring back and forth across the sky throughout the day. Our host told us that it was the President, who obviously liked to keep his hand in with his PPL… Smile. Wonder if that counts as misuse of government equipment? Or maybe as el presidente he is actually a paid up member of the armed forces or is just practicing for their next Independence Day…

During our stay we met a German couple who, about 8 years ago, had taken 2 years travelling from Alaska to Cape Horn on a motorbike. Hats off, especially to her as the pillion. They had stayed at the backpackers a few days ago en route to the Kalahari. but had to return after an accident when their 18 month old Land Rover Defender had been hit by a park ranger’s vehicle. The ranger had been driving too fast and although our man had tried to pull out of the way the park vehicle hit him. We really felt for them. The Land Rover was immaculate but the crash had stoved in the front wing, bumper and bull bar. That was going to be expensive. The police had been called but pronounced it as knock for knock. Of course we weren’t there but, after all the warnings we’ve had about southern African roads, the nearest we have come, on two occasions, to being hit by another car was in a national park by either a park vehicle or a game drive vehicle, both being driven much faster than the park limit that we were obeying. We could fully believe they were not at fault. They were planning a trip to their embassy but we didn’t hold out much hope for them. Still, there was a silver lining. Kubu Island was still closed when they were in the area of the Pans. The news that it was open enraged the husband (why was he told that it was closed???!!!) but now he knew there was no way he was going to miss it again so plans were changed and they were heading up there again once the car was fixed.

We also met a South African couple who’d got grass wrapped round their prop shaft, with the result that the seal had  gone and they were losing quite a bit of diff oil. Not a good thing so they left early to start nursing their car the 400km home.

We thoroughly enjoyed our 4 days there but had to head off before our visas ran out. We also had to pay a visit to another Landy man as we were still having problems with the steering after the pot-hole we’d hit in Zambia. We put it down to a dodgy replacement bush that had been installed in Livingstone. The guy agreed and put the old one back in. He also told us our prop-shaft was very worn so we had that replaced with a recon unit. While we were waiting a lady turned up with a Disco with a window that wouldn’t close. She had a chat with the boss and then approached us saying “I hear you’re from the Land of Hope and Glory.” She was a Brit who had been out here for 40 years, her English accent still pristine. She wanted to know all about our trip and gave us some useful contacts for later on. She constantly referred to Britain as the Land of Hope and Glory. She was lovely and it made us smile, although we weren’t entirely sure we agreed with her. We chatted for about an hour until our car was ready, when we parted with hugs.

Then off for the 30km trip to the border. It was quiet and easy, although it took us some time to get the carnet sorted out. It hadn’t been stamped when we originally left SA 5 months ago, as the officer said we were going into a country within the same economic union. We weren’t convinced but he wouldn’t stamp it and we were concerned that this would cause us problems going back into SA. So we asked the border officials here. They weren’t sure as they get the query so rarely, but after about half an hour of checking forms and making phone calls they told us it was fine and to get it stamped when we leave SA. Reassured, we set off through the border gate, stopping for the customs officials. No-one had ever looked at the car at any of the other border crossings, despite the efforts we’d taken to to ensure we didn’t have meat, fruit, firewood, etc. on board (even giving a load of stuff away when we crossed from Namibia to Zambia) but we expected the checkpoint into South Africa to be much more thorough. Indeed it was the most extensive check we have had at a border to date. He asked what was on the roof, got us to open the fridge although didn’t do more than look at it and sent us on our way!

DSC05612 (Medium)

Our fantastic National Luna fridge-freezer (post border crossing)

Maybe we have honest faces? Or maybe it’s the fake Black Mamba we have sitting on the dash board, a tip we’d picked up from other travellers. Or maybe he just couldn’t be arsed. Whatever, we were back in South Africa and heading in the general direction of the Kruger National Park and, beyond it, Mozambique.

Kubu Island

A quick email exchange with the booking office assured us that Kubu Island was open. Hooray! A 3 hour drive took us to the office in Mmatshumo, where we paid and got instructions about which tracks to use. Then we were on our way.

DSC05407 (copy) (Medium)

Kubu Island here we come

We first saw Kubu Island on the Top Gear Botswana special, where the gang drove across the full 70km width of the salt pan to get there. The place looked stunning and so it was on our ‘must see’ list for our trip. As we were here just after the rains, we couldn’t cross the whole pan as it was still too wet, and in any case it would probably be daft to do it on our own even in the dry season. But we could cross the pan from the south and this road was safe for a single vehicle. The track started off as sand between bushes but then we hit the edge of the pan. It was beautiful.

DSC05420 (copy) (Medium)

DSC05422 (copy) (Medium)

Crossing Sua Pan

Sua means salt and the place wasn’t short of it…

DSC05470 (Medium)

Salt crystals on the pan

It was strange driving across the pan. It was firm but the salt crust crackled under the wheels, and the wide open landscape around us was just an amazing place to be. After 2 and a half hours we finally saw the island. An outcrop of granite about 1km long and 15 metres high.

DSC05427 (Medium)

Approaching Kubu Island

We just about got there for sunset, after quickly registering and finding a camp site under a shady African Star Chestnut Tree. The following morning we got up early and walked around to the other side if the island to watch the sunrise across the pan.

DSC05462 (Medium)

No need for words

We walked back to camp up and over the top of the island, visiting some of the ancient Boabab trees that are scattered across it.

IMG_1484 (Medium)

DSC05502 (Medium)

Huge old Baobab tree

DSC05595 (Medium)

This one reminded us of an elephant

They are the most incredible trees, some of which seem to have grown literally out of the rock and some had lifted rocks up amongst their roots and branches.

DSC05596 (Medium)

Unfortunately the island was also covered in a patchwork of low scrub, herbs and grasses, several of which had savage barbs or finely-hooked seed heads which stuck into our skin and clothes, the latter slowly burrowing their way deep into the fabric and jabbing into our legs. We ended up scratched to pieces and pulling sharp seed heads out of our clothes for days!

DSC05475cropped (Medium)

Every rose has its thorn…

After lunch we copied our photos across to the laptop. As Angela sat there, PC in lap, a Violet-eared Waxbill flew onto the arm of her chair, then onto the top of the laptop. The warden later told us they were after water, so we filled up the frying pan from our Trangia for them. The starlings found it first, same as at home, and then the other birds, including the waxbills, joined the party.

DSC05493 (Medium)

You’re meant to drink it, not sit in it…

DSC05494 (Medium)

Not quite what the Trangia was designed for…

DSC05498cropped (Medium)

A pair of Violet-eared Waxbills

As well as lots of birds there were plenty of insects and other small creatures around. This fella had made a home on our route to the drop toilet. Even Angela had to admit that he was pretty handsome. We’ve read that the zig zag in the web is probably there so that birds, etc can see it and don’t fly through and destroy it.

DSC05486 (Medium)

DSC05485 (Medium)

Amazing spider

In the afternoon we recced the island for the best spot to photograph the sunrise. Then we got dinner on and left it slowly plopping on the fire while we went out to watch the sunset. We walked right out on the pan, opened some sparkling wine that we’d bought especially for the occasion, sat on the damp salt pan and supped as the sun sank below the horizon. Magic.

DSC05516 (Medium)

We then turned our backs on the island and waited for the moon. It was full and one of the most beautiful moon rises we have ever seen.

DSC05547 (Medium)

We lay on the pan and watched the stars before the moonlight bleached them out, with a gentle warm wind blowing across the pan to keep us cosy. Awesome.

As we headed back to the island, the heat radiating from it was palpable. Not surprising as the rocks had been baked in the hot sun all day. Our curry awaited us, followed by an early night ready for another sunrise. We’d left the water tray out and during the night a Jackal came and had a nervous drink. 

We had a perfectly clear sky for the sunrise. We’d found a spot where we could watch and photograph it from behind the Baobabs on the island shore, imitating many a photo from previous visitors.

DSC05576 (Medium)

DSC05573 (Medium)

IMG_1458 (Medium)

Kubu at dawn – the best place we’ve visited in Botswana

DSC05483 (Medium)

The pan was stunning in the early morning light.

Reluctantly we broke camp and left Kubu Island behind us, to head south once more. As we drove back across the pans we came across a couple of South Africans who were stuck up to their axles in the mud. They had a shiny new Ford Ranger, fully kitted out with all the off-road gear you could think of. But they’d made the mistake of leaving the track and had paid for it. Twice! They’d already been stuck further back and had spent the night out there. Someone else had pulled them out this morning only for them to make the same decision again with the same result – what do people say the definition of insanity is again? They had a winch so we attached that to our car and, after Gareth helped them dig the wheels free, they slowly reeled themselves across to the path. We encouraged them to stay on the path this time and left them to it. Hopefully they’re not still out there…

Kubu Island was a truly magical place. We’ve heard that, to protect the site, they are building a new campsite nearby and once it is open you won’t be able to camp on the island, only visit it. We feel very lucky and privileged to have stayed there.

Who wants to drive across the pans anyway?

We met Crispin to look at the car. He’d got hold of the second hand track-rod we needed and he took a look at the belts and we agreed that the problem was the belt tensioner. The water pump, which was only 3 years old, felt as if the bearing was going, so we needed a new one of these too. Armed with a shopping list for the only Landy spares shop in Maun, we headed off to get the parts we needed for Crispin to fit. He got the track-rod from a guy called Tiaan, and we paid him a visit to pick up a second hand tailgate lock while we were there, as ours was playing up. It was a fantastic place with bits of Landies every where and several rolling chassis – Gareth could have stayed for hours… We stayed for 2 nights at the Old Bridge Inn backpackers place about 9km outside Maun. We ordered food at the bar and as we were eating it the ground started shaking. It wasn’t very much – a bit like someone shaking their leg and shaking the bench you were sat on. It wasn’t either of us, so it must have been an earthquake. A bit of surfing later told us it was 6.5 on the Richter scale (the largest in Botswana) and the epicentre was a few hundred kms away. All very exciting!

With the car all sorted, we left Maun with 2 full Jerry cans, a full water tank and 15 extra litres. We had to be fully self-sufficient as we were off to the Makgadikgadi Pans. Our ideal plan was to drive across them, but with all the rain, this is impossible for a single car – a boat perhaps. We stayed in Tiaan’s camp just outside the park. It is a great camp and gave us time to fit the tailgate door lock. A tiny spring had given up and stopped the whole lock working on the central locking (ask Angela about it if you want to learn the full colourful story – she’d already replaced it once before we left the UK and was hoping never to have to do it again….).

To get into the park you had to either drive some distance from the tar road north of the pans, or catch the ferry from near Tiaan’s camp. There is only one ferry, which takes one car at a time, and there’s a bit of a monopoly pricing structure. For the 50 metre crossing it was 150 pula – not far off £15 quid… each way.

IMG_1445 (Medium)

The only way in from where we were

It was a little bit wobbly getting on as the car probably weighs as much as the boat, but we were on and heading across the Boteti river for the short trip.

DSC05360 (Medium)

Expensive per metre..

We signed in to the park and drove the short distance to meet Jess who works for Elephants for Africa in the park. She used to work with our friend Fi and we’d arranged to meet up. She, Hayley and Gapi (who are the full time on-site researchers) told us about the work they do in trying to understand the elephant population in the park and to resolve some of the conflict between the eles and the local farmers. Unusually the elephants here are all males. With no females around to get their testosterone flowing they don’t come into musth and get all aggressive with anything around, so they are all pretty relaxed. They seem to form similar groups to breeding herds (i.e. female-led herds) which is not something that has been seen elsewhere. They come and go, arriving from different directions and generally socialising with the same group while they’re here but may leave with a different group. The researchers hope to understand some of this behaviour.

After our chat we went for a drive along the river to see what we could see. It’s a relatively short drive and we went to Hippo Pool and saw some elephants playing in the river. One big one strode purposefully into the river and then flopped on his side in the middle of the river – it was really comical.

IMG_1426 (Medium)

A bit of aquarobics going on with gentle pushing matches

On the way out we took a small loop inland which turned out to be largely boring scrub land with nothing to see.Then Ang spotted a Pale Chanting Goshawk carrying a snake. It landed in a tree and then began to scoff it.

IMG_1434_cropped (Medium)

Note the snake dangling down over the branch

We were back in the park the following day as Jess had organised a trip to one of the government-run campsites there and invited us to join them. They charge £2.50 per person instead of the private ones charging $50 each! A few of her friends came over and with 11 of us, we set off in a 4 vehicle convoy. We got to the site, the guys all put their tents up and we took a paddle in the nearest pan.

DSC05371 cropped (Medium)

It might not be deep, but it’s all gloopy in there

We then headed off to a bigger pan on the edge of the biggest one, Ntwetwe pan. On the way we came across a massive herd of zebra (must have been 500 or more) that were away from the river as there was water in the pans.

DSC05372 (Medium)

Part of the convoy

DSC05373 (Medium)

Lots of zebra in the background (only part of the herd)

We went through some water and mud crossings that we may not have done on our own, such is the beauty of a convoy. The pans were stunning and we made the most of the afternoon. It was dark by the time we arrived back at camp and set about a braai for all. A great time was had chatting with the guys.

In the morning, we were up for sunrise.

DSC05389 (Medium)

Sunrise over the pans

We made our way back and went for another river drive as we had time before our official permit ran out at 11am. This time there were more hippos in Hippo Pool and we snapped this one:

DSC05403 (Medium)

Then it was off to pay the ferryman again and retreat to Tiaan’s Camp for a final night. Tomorrow we plan to head deeper into the main salt pan, to an island that is meant to have the most beautiful views and incredible sun sets. We’re booked in but we’ve heard conflicting reports about whether it is accessible or not after all the rain? We really hope so… We will soon find out.

Amorous Lions, Were-rabbits and cats in camp

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) is supposed to be a good place to see big cats at this time of year, and the camp sites have no fences. Leopards and lions in your camp – why wouldn’t you go?…

Our original plan was to drive down the tar road to Rakops, then take the dirt road into the park. This dirt road is notorious during the rainy season and has been known to take a few days just to drive its 42Km. The mechanic told us the road that follows the vet fence down to the gate is much more interesting to drive than the tar and saves time and distance. It was a sand road of about 72Km, that was more or less dead straight. Interesting – no, but probably was much quicker as we could get up to around 60KPH on the reasonable sand and still be able to catch it when we hit a few patches of really soft stuff.

We drove through the park towards our first camp (the way the availability worked out, we were staying one set of camps one night, another the next and then back to the first set for the final night). We had visions of the Kalahari as a sandy desert. It is in the south and western regions of the CKGR and in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park that we visited when we left South Africa earlier in the trip. Up in the north of the park, where we were, it was a very different scene.

DSC05345 (Medium)

Who said that deserts were all sand?

After we looked at our pitch for the night to see if there was anything we needed, we headed up to the nearest water hole to see what was happening as it was getting on for 3pm. When we got there, we saw a game drive vehicle parked up. That only happens if they’re having a sundowner, it’s broken down or they’ve seen something interesting. As it was at a water hole, we decided on the later and went for a chat. He was a very friendly guy (usually they can be a bit sniffy about giving vital information to tourists) and said there was a male and female lion sleeping the other side of the bush. We took up a perfect position looking at the water hole assuming they would be thirsty when they woke up. After about 2 hours, they did wake up and we found out they were a breeding pair, so they just mated very affectionately and went back to sleep. Apparently during this time they mate every 15 minutes, for 3 or 4 days, and are not interested in anything else including eating and drinking, so our position by the water hole instead of nearer them was a bit of a bad call..

IMG_1407 (Medium)

IMG_1408 (Medium)

Should have picked a better spot…

We waited for an extra half hour to see if anything changed, but they were still asleep, so we headed off at a bit of speed to get back to camp before 7pm, which is a nominal time you are supposed to stop driving. It was dark as well, and we stopped off in another empty camp to get some stones to try out a more wood efficient method of cooking as we were pot cooking, not cooking on the rack. This involves lighting the fire at the centre of 3 bits of wood in a star shape and feeding the wood in or out to control the temperature. The stones are placed such that you can put the pot on top of them. It worked fine and indeed was better on wood than our standard offering of torching a reasonable amount of wood.

The yellow lights we have in the rear of the car and on a tether usually keeps the level of bugs down, but here the number of praying mantis flying into them and then staying in the car was amazing. They were also landing on us and flying in our faces which wasn’t great either. We eventually found using the red night vision mode of the head torches was the best method of beating the prayers.

As we were only here for 3 days and you allegedly need to be up early to have a chance of seeing cats, we got up at 5:15am each morning, which anyone that knows us will realise is a remarkable feat. No breakfast as we’ll get that en-route and off we went. We drove down Deception Valley first. A couple spent time here in the 70’s and wrote ‘Cries of the Kalahari’ about their experience. Our experience was one of weeping as there were no cats there. We stopped for avocado on bread with some olive oil for breakfast (a surprisingly good and quick breakfast, the idea for which we’d picked up from a lovely young German couple we’d met at Nyika Plateau) along with the Earl Grey (as you do in Africa) on the Deception Pan. Three Bat-eared Foxes wandered across the pan as we munched.

DSC03289 (Medium)

Bat-eared foxes mooching along

Then we drove further down the valley before turning back. At about 9:20pm and normally way beyond cat sighting time, we saw a Black-backed Jackal on the road and a vulture in the air and thought “eh-up”. As we looked further in the bush we saw a large Cheetah just walking away from us. It was great to see one mobile and not lying down rather fatly, and flatly, after a kill.

We headed up to Leopard Camp, the site we would be staying at next, and had a very long and lazy lunch under the shade of the trees, before heading out again later in the afternoon. Not much action, just a few Jackals, Gemsbok and Springbok on the pans, and despite staking out the waterhole again before sunset we didn’t see anything more than birds coming for an evening drink.

The following morning we were up again early and headed to the waterhole, but again nothing doing. The same for the pan. So we drove north into the Passarge Valley, which we’d been told was beautiful and there was lots of game. It was pretty and there were areas full of swaying thistle-like flower heads, but the game had obviously moved on.

DSC05357 (Medium)

Thistles in the desert

Then, at exactly the same time we’d seen the Cheetah, give or take a couple of minutes, two animals shot across the track in front of us. It was a Caracal chasing a Steenbok. They tore into the bush but the cat was obviously distracted by us the the little antelope got away. The Caracal stopped for a look at us and then sat down. We watched each other for about 5 minutes – he seemed completely relaxed with us being there despite us ruining his breakfast. They’re brilliant looking cats with long ear tufts. They are normally nocturnal but we were told that now the weather was cooler the cats come out more during the day. Eventually he wandered off into the bush and we lost sight of him.

IMG_1420 cropped (Medium)

Cool Caracal

We had a late breakfast at a nearby campsite and headed back to Sunday pan. Lunch there and an the later afternoon spent looking for animals but no more cats. Sunday waterhole was rammed with people looking for the lions. A group of three cars with German tourists were using walkie talkie’s to chat with each other as they watched the waterhole and a car full of South Africans with the girls sitting on the roof as if they were at St Tropez kept driving round the waterhole. We decided to head back to our camp site for some peace and quiet.

It was dark by the time we got there and Angela was a bit twitchy about large predators watching from the shadows. Then she heard a rustle in the undergrowth. As she flailed wildly with Slasher in an attempt to stave off the imminent onslaught of claws and teeth, a terrified rabbit shot out of the bushes and fled the camp site. As Gareth handed her a medicinal G&T to calm her still-shaking hands he consoled her with the words “don’t worry, it must have been a Were-rabbit…”.

The final morning started as early as the others. Up in the dark and checking the boundary for shining eyes we saw another cat. This time it was a small one, an African Wildcat, which is very much like a large domestic tabby. In the torch light we watched it circle round half the camp before disappearing, again very relaxed in our presence.

We were on the road before sunrise and about 100 metres up the track we saw a Bat-eared Fox cross in front of us, just as Gareth noticed a noise from the engine. “That doesn’t sound right”. He slowed down to have another listen when there was a clattering and a nasty acrid burning smell. At the same time the battery warning light came on. Shit. The fan belt had gone. We’d just replaced it before we set off for the CKGR as the old one was partially damaged. Now the new one had gone. Thank god we weren’t far from the camp site. Gingerly we backed down the narrow sunken path back into camp. The belt was completely shredded and the thin strips had wrapped around various parts of the engine. It took ages to get it all out. Fortunately we had a spare which we fitted. The alignment of the belt wheels was off so we used a trick that Gareth had learnt, fixing a small coin in behind one of the wheels to adjust the alignment. We’d done it earlier in the trip to resolve a squealing noise but when it was serviced in Livingstone they had obviously removed it. This may be why the belt had now given up and partly damaged the old one. With the coin in place and the alignment looking good we gave up on the idea of a morning game drive, had some breakfast and headed out of the park. One of our worries was that the water pump might have been damaged in the process of the belt failing, as it was making a slight noise. We had another spare belt but not a spare water pump and we really would be in trouble if that failed in the middle of the park.

As it was we had no problems getting back to Maun. Gareth even saw another Caracal en route. Sadly no leopards, but we hadn’t done too badly on the cat front. Angela is now holding out for the Kruger National Park in South Africa to get her leopard fix.

DSC05344 (Medium)

The sandy but event free track home

We stopped again at Drifters, where we had already booked dinner. We had a delicious meal on a table set out on the river front. The managers, Wayne and Sarah, were a lovely couple. They had met on safari, he as the guide and she as a tourist – how romantic! They now ran this place, with the help of their young son, appropriately named Leo. With his guiding experience, he gave us lots of advice on where to visit on the rest of our trip, and we also got some great tips, as well as a pack of Boerworst, from a really nice South African couple camping alongside us. We had a really relaxing weekend and caught up on some sleep. Now we are heading back into Maun again, to get the track rod replaced and with a couple of new problems to discuss with the mechanic…