On Wednesday 11th September we crossed the border from Zimbabwe to Botswana, the fourth African country on our trip. This was the quickest and easiest border crossing we have ever experienced – and it was free too! No expensive visas as in Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, not everything was wonderful in Botswana.
Our first destination was Kasane, just a few miles over the border. We stayed overnight in an attractive self-catering cottage.
That afternoon we went on a boat trip on the Chobe River, rather different from the ‘booze cruise’ we did on the Zambesi. There was some confusion about which boat was being used, and we ended upon a small, cramped and not very comfortable one. Although we’d been told to take drinks for ‘sundowners’, there was in fact no opportunity to have them. The consolation however was that we were able to see lots of animals at close quarters, including crocodiles, elephants, hippos, giraffes and buffalos.
From Kasane to Maun
Our next destination was the town of Maun which is about 200 miles south-west of Kasane as the crow flies. However, there is no direct road between the two, suitable for ordinary vehicles. Travel by bus therefore involves going from Kasane to Nata, and then from Nata back to Maun, which is a huge detour. We didn’t fancy hiring a 4WD, and therefore surfed the Net to find out if there was any kind of public transport making the direct journey.
We discovered that there is a tour called the Botswana Adventurer which leaves Kasane every Thursday. It is a one-week round trip, but we were told we could join the tour and leave it when it reached Maun. So that is what we did. This time we were a group of seven, including a Dutch couple on honeymoon, and an Australian family: father even older than us (!), with daughter and her boyfriend.
We did not enjoy this trip very much. We assumed that it would be similar to the camping trips we’d done in Namibia, but this proved not to be the case. To begin with, the ‘roads’ were far worse – in fact, they were not roads at all, just sandy tracks with many rocks and bumps. And we did the whole journey in an open safari vehicle, which meant we spent almost all day jolting violently and lurching wildly from side to side.
If the days were bad, the nights were worse. We do not mind camping – in the right circumstances we positively enjoy it. But this (we discovered, having had no prior warning) was ‘wilderness camping’, i.e. no facilities at all, except those erected by the tour guide and his assistant. Moreover, there was nothing at all to stop wild animals entering the camp. We were given a briefing about this on the first night: how you must flash a torch around when visiting the temporary toilet, and how to distinguish dangerous and non-dangerous animals by the colour of their eyes! We may be wimps, but this scared us – especially one night when we lay in our tent listening to lions roaring not far away.
There were positive aspects of the trip though. Travelling through the Chobe National Park and the Moremi Game Reserve, we did see a lot of animals. By this stage we were quite blasé about elephants, hippos and zebras, but we had not previously seen lions, and we saw several on this trip, including a lioness with two young cubs. Another highlight was finding a leopard in a tree, very close to our vehicle.
The final day and night of the trip were (for us) much better than the rest. We camped a few miles outside Maun at a campground which did have facilities – including a bar. And we visited the Okavango Delta, a famous wetland area, where you glide through the reeds in a mokoro, a kind of canoe which seats two people and is propelled by a ‘poler’ (not at all unlike punting in Cambridge). It was a much smother and more pleasant experience than travelling by road!
We had a clear day in Maun, to explore the town and catch up with some ‘business’ (such as getting our washing done). The town itself was disappointing – lots of shops, but not much else. The campground where we were still staying (albeit in a chalet) did not have wifi, and we were keen to check recent emails and put up a blog. So we took a taxi into town and headed for an internet café that we’d spotted.
Unfortunately, it transpired that there was a town-wide power cut, so all the computers were idle. And we were told that the power was likely to be off at least until 4pm, which was frustrating, to say the least. However, after some searching we found an internet café with a generator, so all was well – except that after 30 minutes, their power failed! Fortunately, it returned later, so we were able to have a longer session in the afternoon. And we found a posh hotel with a restaurant in an attractive garden, where we were able to eat, drink and fill in the time between other activities. So perhaps Maun was not so bad after all.