The second half of our stay in Botswana had two parts – a tour to the Tsodilo Hills, west of Maun, and some time in Gaborone, the capital.
We decided to visit these because they came highly recommended in the guidebook. (Warning: this blog contains no animal photos, except for those painted on rocks.) To get there, we did a three-day camping tour, just the two of us with a single guide/driver. This involved driving at least 200 miles each way, and two nights camping. Fortunately the campsite had washing facilities and no wild animals roaming through at night!
The main attraction there is the rock art, some pictures painted by San people about 300 years ago, and some more recently by Bantu people. However, to our minds the hills themselves and their multi-coloured rock formations were even more impressive, and by far the most scenic area of Botswana that we’d seen.
There are three hills at Tsodilo, rising out of an otherwise flat countryside. With reference to legends about their origin, they are known as Male, Female and Child. While there we did three walks with a local guide. Following our arrival, we did part of the Lion trail, which took us to both the Male and Female hills.
The next morning we did the Rhino trail, which involved some steep climbing up the Female hill and then a circular walk back to ground level.
In the late afternoon we did the Cliff trail, with some more amazing rock formations as well as more paintings.
In between the latter two walks, we had several hours to kill at our campground while the sun was at its hottest. With nothing else to do, we were content to sit and read, but it made us realise the importance of shade as we sought refuge from the burning sun. There was little to be had, so we sheltered at first under the roof of the women’s toilet block; when that shade diminished, we moved inside the toilet block itself – despite being roofless, the building provided some shade, and as we were the only campers, there was no-one to object.
We also experienced, more strongly than ever before, the need for water in a hot, dry climate. We had taken large quantities of water (and other drinks) with us, but they were quickly consumed and we were gasping for more. Of course, there were no shops anywhere near – but fortunately the water from a local borehole proved safe to drink.
On our return from the Tsodilo Hills we spent one night at the Okavango River Lodge, with good food and views over the river. The next day we caught a bus at 6 am which took us to Gaborone after a long (ten hours) and boring journey – the landscape was flat, comprising nothing but dust and scrubby trees.
The hotel we’d chosen in Gaborone was very close to the bus station, enabling us to walk rather than take a taxi. That, we discovered, was about its only advantage. The reception staff were extremely unhelpful, at first denying that we had a reservation (this had been confirmed by email and phone) and then grudgingly agreeing to give us a room provided we paid cash. The promised wifi did not exist, except in a small business centre which was advertised as being open till 7, but was closed when we enquired at 4.30. And so on…..
We had booked two nights in Gaborone, so we could spend the intervening day exploring the capital of Botswana. We woke to find that the weather was cloudy, grey and miserable – our first day without a hint of the African sun. When we ventured outside, we found it was actually very cool – hard to believe that a few days earlier we had been struggling to find shelter from the fierce sun.
Our guidebook calls Gaborone ‘A Shopping Paradise’ – whoever wrote that could not have visited the city, because it is anything but. The so-called Main Mall is scruffy and depressing, as is the Africa Mall, both of which are described in the guidebook as ‘must see’. The ‘trendy restaurants and coffee shops’ did not exist. However, we did manage to find an internet café, and a smart hotel to have coffee. We admired the statue of Seretse Khama, the first president, and the parliament building (though it needed a lick of paint). We tried to visit the museum and art gallery, but it was shut.
In the afternoon we got a taxi to an out-of-town mall which (unlike those visited in the morning) was a genuine mall, quite big and smart. Our main reason for the outing was to climb a nearby hill, with supposedly great views, but we were totally unable to find the paths mentioned in the guidebook. We returned to the mall, but found that most of the shops closed at 3pm on Sunday. We consoled ourselves with a drink in an Irish pub before returning to our hotel.
Unfortunately we can’t recommend Gaborone as a tourist destination.
The next day we flew from Gaborone to Johannesburg. This was not because we wanted to visit the city, but because Jo’burg seems to be the unavoidable hub for all air traffic in southern Africa. We stayed overnight in a guesthouse close to the airport, because the following morning we were off to Madagascar!