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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Part of the convoy

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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.

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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:

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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.

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