← Robin and Robert at the beginning of their journey
This trip report chronicles a twelve-day, self-drive journey through the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park in Botswana in August 2008 by two Canadians, Robin and Robert. The self-drive is followed by two days on the Chobe River in a houseboat. The report is written by Robin and credit for the photos must go to Robert.
The report begins with our itinerary, which is accompanied by a map of Botswana on which our route is highlighted.
The itinerary is followed by a list of trip highlights, where I have inserted a few appropriate photos. Note that you may enlarge the photos by clicking on them.
Following the highlights, there is a day to day journal, which is accompanied by many more photos.
After much reading and online research, we drew up an itinerary and then contacted Safari Drive ( http://www.safaridrive.com), specialist African operators based in the UK, who had been recommended in the Bradt Guide. ( http://www.bradtguides.com) Safari Drive shared their expertise and offered advice, provided us with a fully equipped Land Rover, looked after our campsite and lodge bookings, arranged all land transfers and generally made things a whole lot easier. Bradt’s recommendation was well founded we discovered.
This Botswana segment of our six-week journey through southern Africa was preceded by four weeks in South Africa and Namibia. We flew into Cape Town from Calgary via Heathrow and self-drove through the Karoo to Upington and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. From there we drove to Fish River Canyon and Aus, and then on to Sossusvlei. After the dunes, we drove through the Namib Desert to Swakopmund and then on to Windhoek. From Windhoek, we drove into Botswana.
You may view the trip report and photos from South Africa and Namibia at:
13 August 2008 Hilltop House, Windhoek, Namibia http://www.thehilltophouse.com
14 August Tautona Lodge, Ghanzi, Botswana
15 August Motsentsela Tree Lodge, Maun, Botswana, http://www.motsentselatreelodge.com
16 – 18 August South Gate Campsite, Nxai Pan National Park, Botswana
19-20 August Third Bridge Campsite, Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
21-23 August North Gate Campsite, Moremi Game reserve, Botswana
24 August Savuti Campsite, Chobe National Park, Botswana
25-27 August Ihaha Campsite, Chobe National Park, Botswana
28-29 August Ichobezi Mukwae, Namibia, http://www.ichobezi.co.za
30 August Stanley Safari Lodge, Livingstone, Zambia, http://www.stanleysafaris.com
Watching the giraffe necking as we ate breakfast one morning →
The elephant visit at Third Bridge campsite on our first night in the reserve - our favourite encounter of the whole trip.
The giraffe necking.
The elephant stampede near Third Bridge at dawn.
Crossing the border from Botswana to Zambia - a whole new experience!
One of many elephant encounters →
The hyena digging through our fire pit at Third Bridge Campsite.
The success of the slingshot – thank you Luangwablondes.
The many encounters with elephants.
The game drive on the Chobe River with Matthias at sunrise - 39 species of birds and 11 species of mammals.
Watching the giraffes as they struggled to chew up the sausages →
The cemetery at Kachikau.
Breakfast with the lions, breakfast with the bee-eaters, breakfast with the giraffes, breakfast with the lilac-breasted rollers…so many wonderful ways to start the day.
The giraffes eating the sausages! No, we were not feeding the wildlife!
← The Chobe Waterfront
Our first view of the Chobe River and its floodplain - thousands of zebras and impalas.
The leopard encounter at Nxai Pan.
Being lulled to sleep by the grunting and snorting of hippos, the roaring of lions, the whooping of hyenas, the singing and drumming from Khwai Village…
Sunrise on the Chobe River →
The sound of the fish eagles!
The view across the Chobe River and its floodplain to Namibia from Ihaha Campsite.
The visit to Injambwe.
The company of Harold and Marion at Nxai Pan, Karin and Tobias in Moremi and Chobe, and Bruce and Sheila, Mike and Isobel, Betts and Wilfred, Diane and Denis, and Matthias and Cheston on the Ichobezi.
Robert outside our room at Hilltop House
The final leg of our six-week journey through Southern Africa was the part of our trip that I had anticipated and looked forward to the most. Although we had visited southern Africa twice previously, including a year-long sabbatical in Cape Town in 2004-2005, this would be our first visit to Botswana. It was to be new territory for Robert and me, and we looked forward to visiting the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta and the adjacent Chobe National Park, both of which we had heard and read so much about. We would be camping with a roof-top tent, a little more rustic than our camping experiences in South Africa and Namibia, where we have stayed in permanent tents with ensuite bathrooms and well-equipped kitchens.
Our camping trip would begin in the bustling town of Maun and, after a side trip to Nxai Pan National Park in the Kalahari Desert, we would travel northeast through Moremi and then Chobe to the small town of Kasane, a distance of about 300km. We would be visiting in the dry season, when game is easier to spot because the animals are forced to congregate near permanent water or artificial waterholes. We would be completely on our own, with no armed rangers looking out for us in the campsites should any large predators wander through. We would be self-driving in a rented Land Rover, and the driving conditions, we had been warned, would be tough, with deep, loose sand. Route finding would present another challenge. We were looking forward to a little adventure and a few challenges, although we would have the full support and in-country back-up of Safari Drive should we get into difficulty. Our books promised some of the last pristine wilderness in Southern Africa and wildlife that wouldn’t disappoint - in short, the experience of a lifetime. We couldn’t wait! Botswana was calling!
The day before our journey into Botswana was spent in Windhoek, Namibia. Late morning, we saw our friends, Anne and Mark from Regina, Saskatchewan, who had been our traveling companions for the first four weeks of our journey, off at the Hosea Kutako international airport. We then spent the remainder of the day running errands in preparation for our departure for Botswana first thing the following morning. We began at Wernhil Centre, where there is a Woolworths, an up-market South African grocery store chain. We purchased all of the non-perishable food items that we would need for our twelve days of camping, having been warned that the shopping in Maun, Botswana, from where we would begin our safari, was rather limited. We picked up a few old favourites from our sabbatical – Woolworth’s muesli rusks and butternut soup, Ceres brand Whispers of Summer, Medley of Fruits and Secrets of the Valley juices, sparkling juices Grapetiser and Appletiser, and Mrs. Ball’s chutney.
Our grocery shopping complete, we headed to a Barclays Bank ATM to withdraw Namibian dollars that we were then going to convert to Botswana pula. We had tried to purchase pula in Canada and at Heathrow airport but with no luck. We each withdrew N$2000 using our Canadian bank cards, the maximum daily limit that we were able to withdraw. We then walked a couple of blocks to the nearby Namibia Bureau de Change off Independence Avenue where we converted the N$4000 to 3200 pula. We felt a tad vulnerable walking around with that much cash, but we would be required to pay our park fees, which would total 3000 pula (~CDN$485) for twelve days, in cash at the park gates. We would also need cash to pay for petrol, as gas stations don’t accept credit cards. We had been warned that the bank machines in Maun were often out of order and that the line-ups at the banks would be lengthy. We were trying to save ourselves some time by purchasing pula before we arrived in Maun.
Our room at Hilltop House
From the mall, we headed to The Hilltop House, a well known B&B in Windhoek. Our room was lovely, very large with hardwood floors, a stone fireplace and a balcony that overlooked the secluded garden and swimming pool. That evening, we followed the advice of the owners Angela and Allen and headed to Joe’s Beerhouse, which was within walking distance. It was a lovely restaurant, with canvas sides, a thatch roof and a huge central bar. The lighting was subdued and provided by ingeniously modified fish traps. Around the bar were huge tables each with two long benches that held a total of about 16 people. The restaurant, which must accommodate over 200 people, was insanely busy, although the service was prompt and the atmosphere surprisingly quiet and calm. On one side of us sat a young German couple, who had just arrived in Windhoek earlier in the day and, on the other, a family of twelve Namibians celebrating a birthday. The youngest member of the family, who was seated next to me, seemed fascinated by the mix of Canadian and German accents next to him. Joe’s Beerhouse is known for its game with good reason. The menu offered everything from the fairly common kudu, springbok and gemsbok to the more unusual zebra and warthog. Much as I wanted to try something different, I couldn’t bring myself to eat zebra, so I ordered the springbok instead. We enjoyed what was our best meal of the trip. The springbok practically melted in my mouth and was served with the most delicious mielie pap. Robert’s warthog was, not surprisingly, much like roast pork and also very good.
We enjoyed the company of the German couple who regaled us with tales of their travels in Egypt. They ordered the kudu and a venison platter and declared both to be delicious. Our server asked if the four of us would be willing to try a new brand of African beer for them and we readily agreed. Free beer! The Germans were quite disgusted with the beer and we agreed that it was watery and poor even by Canadian standards. The conversation eventually turned to the Olympics in Beijing. The couple was scandalized that Germany had won only three medals to that point. They were fairly certain that Canada had yet to win a medal and we admitted that they were likely correct! We paid N$250 (about CDN$33.00) for dinner, which included a bottle of wine - ridiculously cheap for such a fantastic meal. Returning to The Hilltop House, we had just settled down to watch our first Olympics when the power went out. As the rest of the neighbourhood seemed to have power, we called Allen and Angela, who live off site. Allen arrived within ten minutes and power was quickly restored. Still on game drive hours and wishing to get a reasonably early start in the morning, we retired before ten, enjoying our very comfortable bed and cozy room.
The following morning, in anticipation of beginning our journey to Botswana, we were awake before dawn. We enjoyed a lovely sunrise as we packed our two weeks supply of food into the Yaris. I was thankful that we weren’t flaunting our generous food supply in front of the workers, who had not yet arrived at a nearby construction site. We savoured The Hilltop House “health breakfast” of muesli, fresh fruit, yogurt, freshly squeezed orange juice and multigrain toast on the balcony which adjoined our room. It was another beautiful, clear morning, and the view of the mountains with the city in the foreground was lovely. We cringed as we watched workers on the construction site work at dizzying heights with no safety harnesses. We left The Hilltop House around 8:30am, after bidding farewell to Allen and Leopold, a staff member who had been particularly attentive during our stay. We stopped at two banks on the way out of town to withdraw more cash to convert into pula, but my bank card was rejected at both machines. In desperation, we stopped at the Hosea Kutako airport and converted some of our American dollars, which we needed for Zambia, into pula. On our way out of the airport, we saw a grey lourie, a beautiful bird with a long tail and very pronounced crest, which is more commonly known as the “go-away bird”, for its comical “go way-y-y” call.
The first of many warning signs
From the airport, we continued east for 200km on the Trans-Kalahari Highway (B6) towards Gobabis. About 30km east of the airport, we passed our first “watch-for-warthogs” signs. Warthogs are often described as being rather grotesque, but I believe that they are not without some appeal. They are brownish-grey and pig-like in appearance, with bristle-like hairs scattered over their bodies, a mane of long hair down their backs, wart-like lumps on their faces and upward pointing tusks on their snouts. They run with their thin tails erect, which gives them a certain endearing quality. We were to see many warthogs along the highway this day. While the highway had been busy in both directions near Windhoek, we soon found ourselves alone on the road. We took to hugging the centre of the highway so that we would have more time to avoid the suicidal warthogs which would inevitably dash out onto the highway in front of us.
A village on the way to Ghanzi
We saw many southern yellow-billed hornbills in the trees along the highway, with their distinctive large, curved yellow bills and noisy “wurk” “wurk” “wurk” calls. We were in cattle country but, thankfully, the cows were kept off the highway and safely behind fences. Around Vitvlei, what trees there had been disappeared and the vegetation consisted mostly of scrubby bushes and long grass. It was incredibly dry and dusty.
Herero woman in Gobabis
We drove into Gobabis to top up the tank, not certain when there would be petrol available again. We encountered several Herero women in town, wearing their distinctive, long Victorian gowns and colourful horn-shaped headdresses that remind me somewhat of elongated graduation caps. The hats are said to represent the horns of a cow, which would make sense since the Herero are proud cattle farmers. The Herero live mostly in the central and eastern part of the country, and make up the third largest ethnic group in Namibia, numbering around 100,000. The crinoline and layers of petticoats that the women wear under their Victorian dresses made them look enormous and the men who walked beside them very thin. This impractical style of dress was introduced to the Herero women in the 1800s by missionaries who were shocked at the Herero’s semi-nakedness. As I sat in the car in mid-winter, rather warm in my shorts and T-shirt, I couldn’t imagine how these women survive the summer temperatures of the Kalahari Desert.
Village houses along the highway near Gobabis
From Gobabis, we continued east on the B6 for 120km to Buitepos, the Namibian border post. We saw two lilac-breasted rollers, surely one of southern Africa’s prettiest birds with its brilliant blue wing feathers and lilac throat and breast. We also saw several pale chanting goshawks perched in thornbushes which, while admittedly very pretty with their coral pink legs and white upper wings, we had grown very tired of while visiting South African parks.
About 20km west of the border, having not encountered a picnic site for many kilometres, we stopped for a very late tea break at the entrance to Zelda’s Guest Farm. We arrived at Buitepos just after noon and were only at the border post for about ten minutes, long enough to have our passports stamped, names dutifully entered into a computer, and to fill out immigration forms confirming that we were indeed leaving Namibia.
Village store near Buitepos
From Buitepos, we traveled about half a kilometre further down the highway to Mamuno, the Botswana border post. Here again our passports were scrutinized, our names entered into a computer and we were required to fill out an immigration form. Canadians do not need a visa to enter Botswana but are granted a one-month entry permit when they arrive. We paid 40 pula for the permit and a wheel tax for the vehicle, which was another 20 pula.
We used our “Dumela rra!” or “Hello sir!” in Setswana, the national language of Botswana, for the first time, which was met with wide grins. The immigration officer immediately responded with “Re teng” or “I’m well” and then “Le kae?” or “How are you?” We would get better at these conversations as the days went on, and we were always warmly received when we made the effort to greet the Batswana in their language. Perhaps because of our efforts, we were in and out of immigration in about 15 minutes. The two border posts took about 30 minutes in total, although there is also a time change at the Botswana border, and we lost an hour going east. It was just after 2:00pm when we entered Botswana.
Donkeys along the highway east of the border
In Botswana, we continued east along the Trans-Kalahari Highway, although it was now known as the A2 rather than the B6. There was a petrol station at each border post and we debated having lunch in the Engen Station’s picnic site on the Botswana side, but decided instead to carry on. One important difference in the highway on either side of the border was immediately apparent. While again the road was narrow, two-lane, with no lines or shoulders, there was a total absence of fences on the Botswana side. Horses, goats, chickens, sheep, cattle, donkeys and ostriches wandered freely across the highway.
Cows crossing the Trans-Kalahari Highway
The area adjacent to the highway was heavily grazed and barren. Needless to say, we drove slowly and with great caution. We stopped at the first picnic site for lunch but rejected it when we found the site covered in huge quantities of poop. Several kilometres later, we rejected the second site for the same reason. Obviously, the horses, donkeys, goats and cows agreed that these picturesque sites were a good place to stop and eat. At the third picnic site, by now rather hungry, we ate amongst the poop.
Rondavel on the road to Ghanzi
We passed many rural villages and saw our first donkey carts, a popular mode of transport in this part of the country we discovered. We also saw many people on horseback. The villages consisted of small groupings of traditional African homes known as “rondavels.” These round huts were small and had no modern amenities like running water or electricity. Most had mud walls, although some were constructed of stone. All had cone-shaped, thatched roofs.
The entrance to Tautona Lodge, Ghanzi
Dodging around large herds of goats and many donkeys, the latter which would stubbornly refuse to move off the highway, we continued to Tshootsha, where there was a Shell station and a police checkpoint. The police took one look at us and waved us through.
We arrived in Ghanzi, where we were to spend the night, just before 5:00pm. We immediately headed to the Shell station to refuel. We felt a tad out of place in this small, bustling town, which looked remarkably prosperous considering its location in the middle of the nowhere and surrounded as it is by the inhospitable Kalahari Desert. However, it is a convenient overnight stop for weary travelers driving between Windhoek and Maun, the launch site of most Botswana safaris. Our fuel tank again full, we stopped at the Barclays Bank ATM, where Robert lined up with the locals outside the bank to withdraw more pula. I sat in the car and tried as discreetly as possible to take pictures of Robert looking so completely out of place. Our Canadian bank cards were rejected yet again.
Just east of Ghanzi, we turned south and drove for roughly five kilometres along a very rough gravel road to reach Tautona Lodge, where we were assigned to cabin #4.
Cabin #4 at Tautona Lodge
It was an enormous two-bedroom, four-person log and thatch cabin with a large sitting area, kitchen and bathroom. There were mosquitoes in the cabin, which seemed appropriate since this was the first night we were to take Malarone to protect ourselves against malaria, which is prevalent in the Okavango Delta. Tautona Lodge was a tad on the far side of prime, but perfectly acceptable as a place to put our heads for one night. Some people might have been alarmed by the enormous spiders that occupied the cabin, but our year in Australia had cured us of any trace of arachnophobia. Safari Drive had not recommended Tautona Lodge and had suggested Edo’s Camp instead, a Ker and Downey Camp located some 30 minutes north of Ghanzi ( http://www.kerdowney.bw). Edo’s had looked lovely and had offered the opportunity to track white rhino on foot and visit with the San to learn more about their culture and traditional way of like. While tempting, Edo’s required a minimum two-night stay and we were reluctant to give up a night in Moremi, so we chose to stay at Tautona Lodge. I suspect that if there were a next time, we would stop at Edo’s.
One of two bedrooms in our cabin
While Robert downloaded the pictures from the camera to our laptop, I washed up our picnic lunch dishes and stashed some items in the small fridge. At 7:00pm, we headed to dinner in the main building. We were the only diners for the first fifteen minutes, but we were eventually joined in the massive dining room by two young German women, who had just come from the Moremi Game Reserve. We eavesdropped on their conversation with the waiter and were pleased to learn that they had obviously had a wonderful time in the park. Dinner was far from memorable, with rather cold butternut soup, salty and overcooked lamb chops and mushy vegetables. We tried a St. Louis lager, which is made in a brewery in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, and found it a tad watery. Returning to the cabin, we turned on the television and were delighted to find coverage of the Olympics. To our amusement, the channel was based in Angola, so the commentary was in Portuguese. At 9:00pm, we did manage to find some news coverage in English and were relieved to discover that nothing untoward had happened in the world in the past few weeks. We spent a very comfortable night and were surprised, given the lodge’s isolated location in the middle of the desert, that we didn’t hear any animals in the night.
An arrow-marked babbler
We rose at 6:00am, packed the car and were at breakfast when the dining room opened at 7:00am. Outside the dining room, we were greeted by a large flock of arrow-marked babblers, which are pretty birds with arrow-like streaks. However, as their name suggests, these birds are best known for their call. It begins with an excitable whirring sound started by one bird, which is then taken up by the rest of the flock until it resembles loud, hysterical giggling. Quite entertaining!
Vultures along the Tautona road at dawn
After a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, we headed back down the lodge’s rough road. We were dismayed to see several cheetahs and a pack of wild dogs caged in enclosures beside the road, which we had somehow missed on our drive in. The animals had obviously just been fed, as there were more than two dozen African/ white-backed vultures sitting on the fence and nearby trees. While we did appreciate the opportunity to have a good look at these elusive creatures and acquire some great photos of the vultures, it was sad to see the animals living under those circumstances.
Village east of Ghanzi
Back on the A2 by 7:30am, we headed east towards Maun, our destination for the night. We were to meet a Safari Drive representative at the airport in Maun at noon, which was the reason for our early start. We had been warned that the road between Ghanzi and Maun is fast and narrow and has domestic animals wandering all over it, resulting in an extremely high accident rate. Many vehicles turn over trying to avoid the animals.
Women cutting the grass with sickles
Safari Drive had told us that we would need to drive slowly and allow four hours to cover the 290km. It sounded much like the highway that we had endured the day previously between the border and Ghanzi. We set out with due caution. It was a lovely sunny morning and it was apparent that it was going to be very hot. We passed a group of twelve women who were cutting the waist-high grass next to the highway with sickles. What back-breaking and hot work!
As promised, the road was littered with cows, horses, donkeys and ostriches. We saw several very large flocks of over one hundred helmeted guineafowl along the highway. They are rather silly birds that look much like a chicken, but with a bright blue neck, a red cap with a yellow crest, and delightful black feathers with white polka dots. Their call is very loud and rather grating, and their unfortunate habit of singing before dawn gives them a poor reputation. They are one of my favourite birds!
Our first vet fence, near Kuke
Just after Kuke, we were stopped at our first veterinary fence. These fences, which are also known as buffalo fences, were constructed in the 1960s to protect cattle from hoof and mouth disease, which is carried by wild buffalo. They also prevent the encroachment of cattle into wildlife areas.
After a short exchange of greeting in Setswana, the inspector asked if we had any meat or other products such as fresh milk from cloven hoofed animals (cows, sheep, pigs, deer, goats etc). We assured him that we didn’t. We explained that we were going to shop for our perishable food items in Maun and so did not have any restricted items. I could see the inspector eyeing our large cooler, but it was buried under a pile of stuff and not easily accessible. Instead, he searched our small lunch cooler and our large Tupperware tub, which was packed full of juice and UHT long-life milk. The interrogation complete, I was required to get out of the vehicle, walk through a shallow pan of chemicals and wait for Robert on the far side of the fence. Robert, who was driving, first had to get out of the vehicle and walk through the same pan of chemicals. Then he was instructed to get back in the car while the tires and undercarriage of the Yaris were sprayed with chemicals. Eventually, he was waved through the fence and we carried on.
Baobab along the A2 highway to Maun
From Kuke to Maun, the scenery was very pretty. We passed several huge and very beautiful African baobab trees, those gnarled giants of Africa that are often referred to as the “upside-down tree” because they look as though they have been planted upside down, with their roots reaching to the sky. We spotted several steenboks, which are small, reddish-brown and white antelope, which large eyes, huge ears and very short tails. Very cute! We spied many hornbills and crowned plovers, attractive, tall birds with long red legs, a red bill and distinguished by a white circle surrounding a black cap.
School children on Maun's main street
We arrived in Maun at 11:00am to find a bustling, insanely busy town. Maun is a tourist town and the launch site or finishing point for people heading in or out of the Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park. The Botswana government follows a low-volume, high-cost tourism policy, which means that safaris in Botswana are not cheap. The majority of visitors fly into Maun from Johannesburg, change planes and travel by small aircraft with a safari company from one luxurious safari camp to the next. The cost of this privilege in peak season is about US$800 per person per night, not including the air transfers between camps.
Self-drivers rent a 4x4 vehicle and utilize the scarce public campsites in the park and reserve - still not cheap by any means and mostly out of the reach of all but international visitors. We like the independence of self-drive, where we are able to determine our own route and set our own pace. While tourists on fly-in safaris see not much more than the Maun airport, self-drivers stay in Maun long enough to stock up on supplies and get organized for their safari. This is what we would be doing for what remained of the day.
Shop in Maun
The long main street of Maun was chaotic, littered with cars, trucks, safari vehicles, taxis, men in impeccable business attire, mothers with babies on their backs, young adults with cell phones glued to their ears, policemen in snappy uniforms, women carrying all manner of things on their heads, school children in uniform, stray dogs, workers in blue coveralls and even donkeys and goats. Surely this was rush hour! As we watched, a herd of goats brought the traffic on the main street to a halt. Apparently, goats have the right of way in Maun.
"Modern" home in Maun
It was incredibly hectic and noisy. On either side of the narrow street was an eclectic mix of thatched rondavels, big banks, ramshackle huts, modern office buildings, small sheds advertising everything from haircuts to “apolstry” cleaning, large grocery stores and informal stands selling “sweeties” and other small items. It was an odd mix of old and new, rich and poor!
Safari vehicles with roof-top tents in Maun
The traffic moved at a snail’s pace, providing us with the opportunity to try to take it all in. We pulled into a parking lot just off the main street near the Barclays Bank and made another unsuccessful attempt to withdraw pula from their ATM. While I stayed with the car, Robert walked down the street to the Standard Bank to try their machine.
There was much shouting, whistling and honking and, had I not experienced the small towns of the Eastern Cape in South Africa, I might have found it intimidating and a bit overwhelming. As it was, I rather enjoyed watching the frenetic activity around me. I felt very out of place but quite safe, although I was rather relieved when I saw Robert making his way towards me from down the street. I realized how much I must stand out when I saw how out of place Robert looked. However, it didn’t seem to matter. No one hassled us and, in fact, no one paid us the slightest bit of attention.
Maun car wash
Having failed to get cash from the Standard Bank ATM, Robert decided to try his luck with his MasterCard and a teller at the Barclays Bank. As he headed into Barclays, I suggested to Robert that it was time to name drop and make certain that the teller saw the name on his credit card - not that we’re related in any way to the founders of the bank! Thankfully, he emerged some ten minutes later with the pula we needed. Knowing how much cash Robert now had on him, I was rather glad of the security guard with the alarming-looking weapon, who was guarding the entrance to the bank.
Maun "sweetie" stand and the local hair salon and barber
From the bank, we drove further north along the main street to the famous and insanely busy Riley’s Garage, where we filled the Yaris prior to returning it to Avis. We maneuvered with some difficulty around trucks, cars, combis and safari vehicles to reach the pumps. We remembered Safari Drive’s advice and ensured that the gas pump was set to zero before the attendant began filling our vehicle.
The airport was a beehive of activity with small planes landing and taking off constantly. As we pulled up to Avis at five minutes past noon, I spotted a large green Land Rover with a roof top tent. The dust cover on the spare was emblazoned with “Safari Drive.” We pulled into a parking spot beside the Land Rover and immediately felt very small in the Yaris. I jumped out of the car, anxious to have a look at what would be our home for the next twelve days. It looked great, and I am certain that I was grinning from ear to ear.
The Land Rover
We were no sooner out of the car when we were greeted by Albert Michau, the Safari Drive representative in Botswana. If Albert was surprised that we had managed to arrive so close to the appointed hour, he didn’t say so. I was impressed with his punctuality, as we have experienced “Africa time” on many occasions. Albert suggested that we relocate both vehicles behind the Avis building to an area that was fenced and secure, where we could have the vehicle briefing and transfer our belongings from the Yaris to the Land Rover.
That done, Albert began by reviewing a notebook that he had handed to us. It contained our day-to-day itinerary, driving guidelines with detailed route information, the vehicle registration, a letter of permission from Safari Drive for us to drive the vehicle, emergency contact numbers for Safari Drive in Botswana and our permit to enter the national parks and reserves, which included our campsite reservations. Albert also reviewed with us the “Southern Africa Trip Book” that Safari Drive had sent to us several months earlier. It contained all of the general information that we needed to self-drive through Botswana and covered topics such as clearing customs and crossing borders, safety and security, the vehicle and all of its equipment from the tire inflator to the Engel fridge, off-road driving tips, what to do with rubbish when in the parks, tips for cooking over an open fire, shopping, fuel, money, national park fees and rules, and how to use the satellite phone should we get into trouble. Robert and I had reviewed this book thoroughly before leaving Calgary and had a list of questions for Albert, which he answered patiently.
The roof-top tent
Paperwork reviewed and questions answered, we next moved on to the vehicle. It was a 2003 four-door, forest green Land Rover Defender, which looked enormous and reassuringly sturdy to me. While Robert and I had been deep in conversation with Albert, his colleague, Letsapo or “Lets” had set up the roof top tent and neatly spread out on a tarpaulin most of the vehicle’s contents. So intent were Robert and I on reviewing the written material with Albert and ensuring that we were well prepared for our adventure, that we hadn’t even noticed this flurry of activity behind us.
Robin peering out of the tent
My eyes were immediately drawn to the roof top tent, and Robert and I took turns climbing up the ladder and peering inside. It looked very cozy and surprisingly roomy, and I couldn’t wait to spend a night in it. The next forty-five minutes were spent reviewing all of the vehicle equipment with Albert and Lets, from the gears, fuel tanks, high lift jack and sand ladders to the satellite phone, lanterns, dishes, braai equipment and chargers for the lights and phone. Everything had its place in the vehicle and Lets neatly reloaded the vehicle as he and Albert reviewed each item. Were it not for Albert’s thoroughness, I might have started to feel a bit panicky at this point, wondering if we would remember all of the information and details. I couldn’t imagine that we lacked a single item. Our “fully-equipped” Land Rover certainly had everything. When the time came for Lets to close up the tent, I was surprised at how quickly and easily it was accomplished. After answering a few more questions, Albert handed us the keys to the Land Rover and he and Lets wished us a safe and pleasant trip. We were on our own!