Botswana - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 46

Somewhere on the road to Maun

Sunday 27th April

We are now on the truck having just passed through the Namibia/Botswana border. We have a long drive ahead of us now before we reach Maun so I thought I’d take the opportunity to catch up on some of the events of the past few weeks.

Namibia was a fantastic country and complete surprise. For all the time I spent planning for this trip, I never really researched any particular country too much other than to learn about a few highlights. I think it fair to say that I knew pretty much nothing about Namibia other than a few vague guidebook references to the Skeleton Coast, Walvis Bay and the capital city of Windhoek. Ultimately, we never really saw any of those places but instead were immersed deep into some of the most beautiful places in the whole continent. The Namibian dunes are the highest in the world and they have a unique beauty about them. Of all the things we did in Namibia, the images of stunningly gorgeous dunes will stick in my memory for good. The quad biking was also a huge thrill and instantly transported me back to my pre-teenage years.

We are starting to get a good idea about how to travel through Southern Africa. In reflection, I think we spent way too much money in South Africa. The rental car was a big factor there but also the many lodges and B&Bs really took a toll on our budget. It took us too long to find and hook up with the backpackers trail. I still don’t think that South Africa can be considered the ‘real’ Africa, either. In many respects, I think we are yet to experience the real Africa. We enjoyed ourselves while we were there and were exposed to some truly wonderful experiences but the whole country had a much-westernised feel to it and we never really felt very far from home. The highlights from South Africa would definitely have to be Kruger, Sodwana Bay and the Drakensberg (in that order). That’s not to say that we enjoyed the other parts of the country any less, it’s just that these places really had a profound effect on us both. Visiting Mike & Corinne’s parents was also a real treat for us.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the past few days as to what we are going to do after reaching Victoria Falls and the termination of this overland safari tour. We are provisionally booked with Nomad on the Victoria Falls to Dar Es Salaam to Nairobi tour but I think we will forgo that in favour of independent travel instead. I want for us to have as wide a possible experience of Africa and sitting in the truck for most of the country will preclude us from getting out and experiencing Africa raw. I’m pretty sure that we can travel independently for a lot less money also. I have no regrets about participating in this tour. Quite the contrary, I think this has been a wonderful experience and I really don’t think that we could have covered the vast empty distances of the Namibian desert independently anyway. It would have been a shame to go to Africa and not take in at least one overland safari tour.

In a sense, we have been easing into Africa with baby steps. When we arrived, we were immediately taking under the wing of Helen and Wim for the first week, which helped us get our bearings. We then travelled around one of the easiest countries to travel around and with our own rental car and a cell phone to boot. Now we are on an organised overland tour, under the guidance of people who live and breathe Africa and from whom we’ve learned a great deal. Along the way so far, we’ve learned a lot about Africa, the people, the infrastructure and the general way of life and our confidence is building by the day. I feel a lot more comfortable about independent travel now that I did when we first arrived. I’m not sure how we would have managed if we were just dropped in the middle of Africa and needed to fend for ourselves from the get go. In retrospect, I’m very glad that things have gone the way they’ve gone.

Theron, our tour leader and driver, was giving me some first class advice yesterday during my turn to spend time up front in the driver’s cabin. The thing about travelling with an overland safari tour is that you get very little freedom to explore places that you want to explore and for the amount of time that you want. You are restricted to the predetermined route and timeline as set out in the tour. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the tours are designed to take in the best that the various countries have to offer and to please the majority. It is restrictive nevertheless. We only spend two nights respectfully, for example, in the national game parks such as Etosha and Chobe. We spent four nights in Kruger and desperately wanted to extend our stay by another couple of nights when it was time to leave there. Since we want to maximise our game viewing activities, we are going to work out a custom schedule for continuing our travel further up North but this time with public transportation.

There are several options available to us with regards to independent travel after reaching Victoria Falls such as flights, trains and luxury coaches. Theron is going to help us explore some of these options at the end of this tour. We will likely travel up through Zambia to the South Luawanga game park for a few days as this is supposed to be a really good one that Theron has repeatedly and highly recommended. Then, we will probably travel over to Lilongwe (the capital of Malawi) where we can pick up some good, reliable transportation options up through into Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. Once there, we will hop over to Zanzibar for a few nights of diving before heading on up to Arusha where all sorts of safaris into the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater can be readily arranged.

According to Theron, once in Arusha, we can arrange a 4x4 vehicle with driver/guide and food supplies for a several night personally arranged safari into the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater for a lot less money that we originally thought possible. If what he is telling us is correct, this can be done for just a few hundred US dollars and will give us the most freedom and flexibility once inside the park. One of the downsides to travelling in a group on a truck is that you cannot stop the truck to see something of interest at will – as was the case in Kruger in our rental car. I have a particular fondness or bird viewing and photography yet most of the others in this group are largely interested in seeing the large game animals. With a guide and just the two of us, we should have a better time in the game parks.

Theron has also told us that the best place to by curio souvenirs is in Victoria Falls. Accordingly, we may pick up some more Africa carvings and artwork there to add to the box that we sent home from Cape Town.

Bertie & Mags, Helen and Wim’s friends that we met in Kosmos, have offered us a few nights stay in their six-person lodge that they are staying in at Victoria Falls. I received an e-mail from them the other day and was able to confirm this with them. Once we get to Vic Falls, we are to head for Lokhutula Lodge, also known as the Safari Lodge Hotel. We arrive on the 3rd and they will be there from the 2nd till the 9th so this should give us plenty of time to acclimatize and work out our options for continuing our journey. The number of people that we have met and made arrangements to meet later on during our trip is amazing. At this rate, we will have a place to stay in every country that we intend to visit before we leave Africa.

We still don’t know what’s happening, if anything, with visiting Iris as my e-mails to here have all bounced back due to her mailbox being full. I sent an e-mail to Helen explaining this but I’ve not heard back from her yet either. We were originally going to meet Iris in Gabarone on or around April 12th but our progress has been a little slower than originally anticipated. I would still like to visit her but I’m not sure of the logistical practicalities of doing so until we are able to communicate with each other. It would be a shame not to meet her in her own country.

We have pretty much decided not to take the laptop with us for the two nights stay in the Okavango Delta. Instead, Sandy is leaving her camera behind and we will take both 1Gig memory cards as well as the 512Mb memory card so that we have plenty of space to accommodate all the photos we are expecting to take. There should be an abundance of birdlife in the delta, which I am very much looking forward to. When we are on the Makorro for the two to three hour trip up the river to our camp, we can always put the cameras in zip-lock bags but it is a little riskier with the laptop. You never know when a Hippo is going to surface and tip us out of our boat. Leaving the laptop will also give us more space and weight allowance for taking all that we need into the delta. We will be completely isolated out in the bush for the two days and nights and will be living very primitively.

Interestingly, Theron just stopped the truck along the side of the road and the guides are now hiding the meat that’s currently in the fridge. Apparently, there are some stringent checks that are being carried out by the Botswana authorities to prevent meat from being brought into the country. Never a dull moment here in Africa.

Out travel gear has been holding up pretty well by and large. I’m still very happy with most of the things that I brought with me. The padlocks have been really useful, although we’ve lost one of them. Luckily, Sandy had a spare tucked away in her kit bag. We use them to lock shut the zippers on our backpacks, which makes them impossible (or at least extremely difficult) to get into. This, in turn, gives us a little bit of reassurance that our tings are safe. The padlocked backpacks will not stop the most determined thief with a sharp knife but it will shut out all the opportunistic thieves and that’s where the biggest problems will likely be. We’ve kept our passports and money tucked away in the backpacks a few times so it’s been great to be able to lock them. We’ve also used the universal plug a few times so that was a good buy. The selection of clothes (those that we didn’t send back home from Cape Town) that remain with us is now also just right. They wash and dry very well, don’t weight too much collectively and are proving to be quite durable. Our shoes and sandals are have also been very successful. The water sandals, on the other hand have not been used once yet. We brought them with the intention of using them on the beach and whilst diving but at Sodwana Bay, we could not wear them because of the type of flippers that we rented. When we get to the Sinai Peninsular in Egypt, we will see if they prove useful or not. Probably the most utilised pieces of equipment (other than the backpacks themselves, of course) are the headlamps. They strap around the head and have a very bright light which we use for illuminating what we are eating in around the campfire in the evenings, walking around at night (to the toilet, for example) and for reading and using the laptop in the tent at night. We’ve not put the Maglight flashlight to much use yet since the headlamps are much easier to use and leave you with two free hands. The insulated drinking bottle turned out not to be much use and we’ve stopped using the platypus water bag (although we did use that a lot in the Drakensberg). My nail clippers are used almost every day (my one luxury item) and the Leatherman utility knife has been out to use several times. There are some items in my kit bag that we’ve not used yet, such as the door alarm and door locking mechanism. We’ve stopped using the iPod, although we did use it a lot when we had the rental car. The extension cord and various plug adapters have been used extensively – not only for our own equipment but also for others that have borrowed things as well. I did buy a small pocket calculator the other day and this has proven useful as well.

We’ve used a selection of things from our three (small, medium and large) medical kits already but since we’ve been drinking bottled water, we’ve not used any purifying tablets yet. In fact, there is a lot of stuff in the medical kits that we’ve not used but it is a very nice feeling to know that they are there. The same applies to the Epinephrine injection pen that we carry with us in my day-pack at all times. Much of what we are carrying with us might be considered overkill – until the day arrives that we need to use any of it.

We’ve used our sleep sheets perhaps once or twice but we will definitely keep these for some of the backpacker’s places that we will stay at in the future.

I’ve gone through quite a number of CDs and also a few DVDs over the past few weeks and I’ve even replenished some of my supplies of these on the road once. I’ve burned CDs full of digital photos for a number of people that we’ve met along the way, including several members of our tour group.

In Swakopmund, the sand got absolutely everywhere and even into the sleeve of CDs. Little grains of sand got between the CDs and cause several of them to get scratched in the process. Even the laptop screen is now showing scars of travel with several small scratches on the screen. I now keep our two certificates from the Cango Cheetah farm sandwiched between the screen and the keyboard when the laptop is closed to try to prevent any further scaring. The outside of the laptop looks like someone has taken a wire brush to it. Curiously, when it’s plugged into the mains power supply, touching it almost anywhere with the skin of my forearms or thighs results in a mild tingling of electricity. I’m getting quite good at typing with my arms raised slightly above the keyboard. I’m not sure why it’s doing this but I suspect it has something to do with the earthing of the case being exposed due to the scratches in the outer coating.

My ‘silly’ hat has been fantastic. It may make me look a bit comical but it does an excellent job of keeping the sun off my head and shoulders. Even in the blistering heat of the Africa sun, I’ve only once used sun cream (I’ve always been reluctant to coat my skin with chemicals). When we get to the delta, the density of mosquitoes will increase exponentially so I will borrow some 100% strength DEET insect repellent from Leslie, one of the other English members of our group. I used some of Ruth’s 80% DEET repellent a few nights ago and it instantly stopped anything from landing on the exposed areas of my body that were covered in it. Ordinarily, it’s not a good idea to use such high percentage strengths of DEET repellent (especially so in children) but since it’s just for a couple of nights, I think it will be OK.

As usual, everyone in the truck is now sleeping. We all usually nod off after about an hour on the road. Whether this is due to the constant six o’clock wake ups or the persistent rattling and humming of the truck travelling down the road, I don’t know. It’s probably a combination of both.

We’ve not had to pay anything to cross any borders yet (with the exception of a R5 fee for the car at the Swaziland border) but this will change in a few days when we get to Zimbabwe. All the Brits on the truck will each have to fork over about $65 to cross over into that country (necessary since our trip terminates there) except for Kevin & Leslie who already obtained their visas in London. It will be one of the only places in the world that I’m aware of where they will not accept their own currency at their immigration border.