2014: Botswana part 1

19 – 25 October 2014

We left Nunda Lodge early and relished the trip to the Botswanan border, which is through a park: elephants and our first Roan antelope of the trip bidding us farewell. The border formalities from Namibia into Botswana were straight-forward and friendly. Although as we were leaving, we were waved down as our back door was open. It turns out the lock had given up the ghost, so ratchet straps were employed to get us on our way again.

It’s a pretty long drive from the border to Maun, but as it’s all on tar we were making good time. That is until about 40km out when we spotted a Land Rover, with three young lads who were volunteering at a school close to the border, broken down on the side of the road. They were there with very few tools, and not much knowledge of an engine, so Marcello offered to take a look for them. This resulted in a change of fuel filter and several attempts to pull-start them, but unfortunately we couldn’t get them going. We did comment that this was the first time we’d had to tow a fellow Land Rover! Feeling defeated, we towed them to a garage where their school’s director arranged for a mechanic to meet them. We forgot to get their contact details, so we hope they weren’t stranded there for too long!

Driving back into Maun, we re-familiarised ourselves with lay of the land and where we would need to come the following day to book for Khwai and Chobe. We did attempt to be more adventurous and try a new camp, but having looked around the Island Safari we decided that Audi camp, where we’d stayed before, was the better option.

Our first stop the next morning was to see Chris, the mechanic that had helped us out with a place for Marcello to service Charlie last year. It was great to see him again, plus he got one of his guys to work his magic on our back door lock: no replacement necessary.

Next was to check availability for Khwai Community camp. We’d really enjoyed our experience here last year: unfenced and with elephants, hyena and wild dogs coming to pay us a visit. We’d only spent one night before and had wished we could have stayed longer, so we were looking forward to going back. Luckily there was plenty of availability, probably due to not everyone enjoying the lack of facilities. However we weren’t as lucky at Savuti or Ihaha in Chobe. Initially we were told they were both fully booked, but thankfully on checking again later, there had been a cancellation at Savuti for a night. That’s the only thing about travelling on a pretty flexible schedule; you’re not quite sure where you’re going to be when, so can’t really pre-book anything. Anyway, all’s well that ended well, so we stocked up on groceries, water and fire wood and were ready for the off.

Our anticipated three hour drive to the Khwai Community Camp turned out to be a lot longer. First off, we ignored the GPS and followed the signs to Khwai, meaning we hadn’t avoided Moremi as we’d intended. Luckily the park attendant took pity on us and let us transit through without incurring the park fees. Then, once we got to the Khwai Consession, we remembered what trouble we’d had finding the right roads previously. They obviously change due to the rains and, on arriving at various water crossings, we weren’t keen to attempt them unless we knew we were heading in the right direction. And we didn’t exactly want to wade through to check the depth for fear of the crocs!

Anyway, after taking the plunge (excuse the pun) and a couple of successful river crossings we headed in the general direction of the camp, albeit not on many roads our GPS knew about and made it just after lunch. With ellies grazing in the river in front of us, we settled in for whatever awaited us … what we certainly didn’t anticipate was what we will refer to as the “mouse saga”.

As we were having a drink in front of the fire with another couple who had joined us, I heard some rustling in our rubbish bag nearby. When I turned to look, I saw the end of a tail inside the bag. Marcello jumped up and chased it away and we chastised ourselves for not tying it off the ground somewhere. Well, no harm done … or at least that’s what we thought.

The night was fairly quiet, albeit with the sound of hippos grazing and hyena and lions in the background. We were awake and packed up early although, we discovered, not early enough to avoid the onslaught of hundreds of flies as the sun rose: horrible, annoying things. Then, when I got our rusks from the back of the car for our game drive breakfast, I noticed that the packet had been nibbled through and the rusks munched. On closer inspection of our crate of fresh goods, corn on the cobs and a red pepper had chunks out of them, then we found a bag of pretzels had also been nibbled. We had a good look around the car, but couldn’t see anything other than a few droppings, so decided that it must have been the mouse that was in the rubbish bag, prior to our discovering it.

After a pleasant day, with sightings of giraffe, hippos, buffalo, letchwe and a brief glimpse of the resident leopard’s backside, plus ellies in their usual spot in front of the camp, we settled in for another night. After dinner, including what was left of our corn on the cob, I went to get something from the front of the car. As I opened the door, I caught sight of a mouse poking its head out from under the driver’s seat! Here-in follows a comedy scene of us running from door to door, trying to catch said mouse as it ran under seats, behind the fridge, around walking boots etc etc. After a good 15 minutes of this we didn’t see it anymore, so we assumed (hoped) that it had got fed up and jumped out.

The next morning, we unpacked everything from the car and had another good look around, but didn’t see the mouse again, so felt reasonably safe in the assumption that it had in fact gone. Another chilled, but fairly quiet day. We did enjoy having an ellie walk right past our camp, along with impala and waterbuck grazing very close by though. In the evening, after our bush-shower (the photos say it all!), I started to prepare a couscous salad for supper and asked Marcello to grab an onion from the crate in the back. I then heard a shout of “the bastard’s right in here” and low and behold, the mouse had decided to start his snacking early. This was his downfall as we had daylight on our side. After emptying everything from the car again, with me on one side and Marcello on the other, each equipped with tongs, we finally cornered him: Marcello managing to grab its tail between the pincers. Unfortunately I was too late with the camera, but Marcello said it was like the mouse knew its vacation had come to and end as it didn’t even squeak or struggle as it was unceremoniously flung from the car into the bushes.

Now, confident that we were mouse-free, we finished packing up and headed towards Chobe. We’d heard that some lions had killed a buffalo the day before and, in fact, we’d heard the poor buffalo’s screech without realising what it was. However this time we didn’t find them. The drive towards Savuti, our camp for the night, was fairly uneventful, mainly the bouncing around of the sandy track to keep us entertained. We started to think we wouldn’t see much at all, but as we got closer to the marsh, about 10km from the camp, we noticed a few cars parked up and discovered a pride of two mature males, around five or six lionesses and about the same number of cubs all dozing under the bushes. By this time it was late morning, so we decided to leave them to sleep and come back that evening.

The evening’s game drive turned out to be one of our best so far. We got back to the lions just as they were rising from their slumber and watched them walk off into the distance, unfortunately too far away for us to see much of them. We then drove closer to the marsh, where we’d spotted a huge number of elephants earlier that morning. Wow, were we in for a treat. As we drove around the marsh, we realised quite how big a gathering it was. There must have been in excess of three hundred elephants, all drinking and grazing in the dusk. There hadn’t been any rain yet, so all the animals were staying pretty close to where the water was. We hadn’t seen a gathering of elephants like this since we were in the Babwata park in the Caprivi the year before. It was amazing to see such huge numbers and to see them so chilled with each other, and us. Then to top the evening off nicely, we came across a leopard dozing under a big tree. What a perfect, and very special, last evening in Botswana … for now … we’ll be returning in a few weeks’ time. Next up: a fleeting visit to the Caprivi and into Zambia.

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