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!
New Year, the pot bellied pig.
…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… . 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!
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.