From Gaborone through the Kalahari to Okavango… and out

We left our host Ingrid in Gaborone abominably late, considering the length of the trip ahead of us: 500 something km. That does not sound much for a South African highway, or for the German Autobahn, but we were unsure of the road conditions after Palapye, and we had also been warned that even if the road was good, it was not advisable to go too fast because of the frequent animals crossing the road (we already heard some bike-hits-cow stories in SA, so we were not too keen on that experience).

So even knowing all that, we only managed to leave at 10:45. Partly due to an amazing breakfast prepared for us by Ingrid, partly because it just takes us a shitload of time still to pack our bags. But hey, we know it will get better.
But though we knew we had to push it a bit – and we did – we still had an amazing ride. The change in landscape from Southern to Northern Botswana was stunning. The way the sky seemed to fill the whole view after a while, over the completely flat land, was mesmerizing. Fortunately not too mesmerizing, as there WERE loads of suicidal animals around, and a fresh donkey corpse at the side of the road showed us that some succeeded.
Trying to keep alert was also helped by our intercom, which we managed to extend to include our friend Tine, who is accompanying us until Zambia in her Landrover. I think she had to stick the microphone in her bra and sling the loudspeakers around her neck to hear and talk to us, but it worked. So well that she could treat us to some Brenda Fassie songs from her stereo. Loudly singing “I am no weekend, weekend speciaaaal!” while rolling along these endless roads into an equally endless sky was quite something.

The tricky bit came when it was getting dusky and we were still looking for a campsite. Turned out that Lethlakane, the town we intended to stay in, is actually a mining town. So lots of crappy expensive hotels, and no real campsite. Except a scrapyard/dump site, which a local hotel offered us as “this will be our campsite when we manage to clean it up, but you can stay here”. 50 Pula per Person were definitely overprized, but a lot cheaper than any hotel. So we put up our tents next to a derelict bus and actually had a nice evening with slightly burned couscous and red wine.

 

The next day we were a bit better and managed to leave at 9:30. As it was only 350 km that day, and a brand new (chinese) road to drive on, we had a lot more time to stop and enjoy the scenery. Stomped around in the salt pans a bit and frightened cows and donkeys, passed the outer skirts of the Kalahari and took some pictures of the creative “housenumbers” there.

But after a while, it also got a bit dull. Not much happening on those very straight tar roads. Annes solution to this was to just ride through in hopes of reaching the campsite early enough to enjoy some reading and maybe swimming time. Which led to Tine and Jan being a bit exhausted and quite hungry when we reached Maun, so we stopped for a wrap at Nando’s. The riding day ended shortly thereafter at the amazing Okavango River Lodge. Half of the campsite is submerged in water – the barbecue places and the lights sticking out of the water very picturesque at night. And there are crocodile warning signs, but the only thing we saw were swimming cows (which we first quite excitedly thought were Hippos…). After setting up the tents we still had time left to jump into the pool and enjoy some nice cool white wine in the warm afternoon sun (bless Tine and her cooler box!).

The next days we spent relaxing and exploring the area. We did a daytour with Mokoros on the Boro river, which is a unique experience we’d recommend to everybody, especially people who are a bit too nervous for their own good. We uploaded a short clip to give you a feel on youtube: …

Our guides on this trip were Alex and Extra, and while Extra still struggles a lot with his English, Alex was an amazingly knowledgeable guy who could explain everything we came upon on water or land. We did not see much wildlife on our walking tour, as it was already very hot and also not the best time of the year, but his explanations of the wildlife and the plants made it entertaining. Of course we have already forgotten nearly all of it, shame on us.

After a day of relaxing we got up insanely early at 4am to go with the Landrover to the Moremi Game Park. Again we were not that lucky with a lot of wildlife, mainly because the bush is quite thick right now which makes it hard to spot anything hiding in between. We saw elephant droppings nearly everywhere, both fresh and old, but started fearing at some stage that we might never see the producer itself. Seemed like they were planning this, run on the road, poop, run away and hide in the bushes giggling while frantic car drivers look out for you. Anyway, the landscape was quite enjoyable as well, and we saw lots of wildlife we had never seen before: Tsessebe antelopes, Lechwe antelopes, a huge waran and lots of birds. And in the end, elephants! Tine also stopped complaining that she had bought an expensive 4WD for nothing, as Moremi gave her abundant opportunities to do some proper offroading in sand and through water.

We left the Okavango River Lodge the next day for Nata. The road runs next to the Salt Pans again, and after some kms we could see a storm building up in front of us. We prepared for the rain, but what came down was in the end neglectable. The tough part was the wind, though! At some stage we had the same angle on our bikes than we would have in a tight bend, to prevent us being blown off the road. In addition, Jan had some problems with his accelerator, which infrequently just cut off the speed. So with the wind and Jan’s bike probs, we did not manage to make much distance and only reached our camp ground, the Nata Lodge, at 4:30. But that left us still with enough time to set up tents and prepare our last braai together, joined by two funny South Korean backpackers. The next day, we left early for a short guided tour to the Salt Pans, where our guide Joy prepared us an early morning breakfast of tea and rusks. And after that, it was time to say goodbye to Tine, who had to go back to Joburg. We had some tears in our eyes when the Landi turned out off the driveway. Felt like we only truly left SA now.

We started off in the other direction, towards the border to Zambia. As we had been warned by our friends Birgit and Rainer (fellow motorcyclists from Frankfurt who are also on their way up), we were on the lookout for Elephants. And sure enough, just after the first road signs also had warned us, there we spotted a group of three right next to the road! And a bit later, a mother with a little one! Jan’s respect for the animals prevented him to go back and take pictures with the camera, and we hoped our GoPro video might do the job. Unfortunately it didn’t, so we don’t have much to proove our sightings. But we learned that we need to use the camera here, so we will be prepared for the next time!

Our plan was to reach Kasane and look for a campsite once we get there. Thanks to our Maps4Africa maps (thanks Nicolaas and Lida for this amazing gift!) on the Garmin which also points out sights and camp grounds, we found a small campsite next to Kazungula, just 10km from the border. Lyia lodge was quite different to our previous camp grounds, which had all included more luxurious accommodation, bars and pools. At Lyia lodge, the electricity comes from a generator which is turned on between 6 and 9 pm, and the hot water is produced by lighting a fire below a barrel. We were the only guests, and probably also the only people who set up a tent there before, as we quite soon had four very amused visitors. We chatted and joked quite some time away with the caretaker Alex, his friend Kevin and the two kids (whose names were quite unfamiliar Tswana for us so we unfortunately forgot them…), and went to bed early for our last night in Botswana.

The next morning, we left for the Kazungula border post as early as we could (we’re getting there, but packing still takes more time than expected…). As we had heard before, the trucks were already lining up for the ferry, but we could roll past on our bikes. After what felt like two kilometers worth of waiting truckers, we reached the border office on the Botswana side. After finishing the border procedures, we got a lovely goodbye by a group of cows who slowly walked past all the cars, people and below the sign that explained that no lovestock was allowed beyond that point.

Though we were still too much involved in sorting ourselves and our last tasks out, we really enjoyed Botswana. The Northern part of the country is diverse and beautiful. People are generally a bit more reserved than in South Africa, but they are polite, helpful and often speak very good English (apart from Alex from Liya lodge…). Engaging with Botswaneans was normally easy-going, mutually respectful. Probably also because they lack the painful history of South Africans. The classic superiority-inferiority-distrust jumble we often felt radiating through conversations in SA was blissfully absent, at least to our fleeting experience.

Together with the great roads, all that should make Botswana a full scale winner, BUT the incredible slowness or complete unavailability of an internet connection drove us (ok, Tine and Anne) close to desperation. In Botswana of all places!! Why?!? (Of course it helps to enjoy the Okavango delta if there is no internet connectivity to distract, but it did not help that the same was true for the campsites…)

4 thoughts on “From Gaborone through the Kalahari to Okavango… and out

  1. Dale McKinley

    Hey Jan and Anne – good to hooked into your blog and to read that the trip through Botswana was good and without major mishap. Am sure there are going to be many adventures ahead as you move further into the heart of the continent. We had a lovely ULHC hike and braai on Saturday and really miss you two – everyone sends their warmest greetings. Speak again soon! Onward and to the left!! Dale

    1. Admin Post author

      Hi Dale, we miss you guys and the hikes, too. So far we could not really get a hike done – too many things to do, guide needed or horrendous park fees to be paid… SA is a hiking heaven.
      Hugs we send and onwards we move! Best,
      Anne & Jan

  2. Nicolaas du Toit

    I’m keeping an eye on your progress…. Travel safe and enjoy! I’m still jealous…. Nicolaas

    1. Admin Post author

      Thanks Nicolaas for the T4A maps. Have helped us a lot not getting lost and keeping our bearings in the right direction. Feel free to share our adventure with whoever might be interested.
      We hope you are both well. Best regards, Anne & Jan

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