Botswana and the Caprivi Strip

Sunday, September 28, 2014
Chobe National Park, Botswana
We were all quite sorry to leave our lovely chalets next to the river on Friday morning but eager to experience our next country, Botswana.
 
We followed the road east towards the Caprivi Strip and entered Mohango Game Park . This was a much greener area than Etosha and there were plenty of animals around but always at a distance. We saw buffalo for the first time and also a hippopotamus but nothing was close enough to get any good photographs. There were also some new species of antelopes and several interesting birds including the colourful lilac breasted roller, the national bird of Botswana.
 
We watched families of baboons playing by the river whilst Blessed cooked spaghetti bolognaise for us for lunch. The border crossing was very quiet. Each office was manned by three or four members of staff but only one seemed to be doing any work. The man at the Botswana immigration office was a bit of a character and there was some cheerful African music playing for us to listen to as we waited. We were the only people there and it really didn't look as if they ever got busy.
 
We stopped at the supermarket in the first town we came to. I was going to withdraw some Botswanan Pula from the ATM but there was such a long queue that I decided against it . We could use US dollars or credit cards in the lodge, we had been told. We made some small purchases in the supermarket and caused something of a stir by wanting to pay by credit card.
 
The Drotsky Chalets were down by the river, and very nice indeed. Spacious and well appointed they all had large airy wooden verandahs overlooking the gardens and pool. We had arrived earlier than usual and so were able to relax for a while. As we were going to be staying there for two nights I took the opportunity to do some washing.  
 
Blessed and Mbusi were going to be cooking our dinner here. We were taken by a little raft style boat with chairs attached a short distance along the river to the camp site. We had chicken stew and rice which everyone enjoyed. Then the mood changed as Blessed outlined the plan for the following day. We were all looking forward to a full day's boat trip in the Okavango Delta. The first blow was that, instead of having the lodge's buffet breakfast, Blessed would be doing breakfast and we would have to get the boat back to the camp site again in the morning . Then it seemed that we would be travelling along the river on a boat without any cover, in the full sun. What's more we would return for lunch which Blessed would prepare at the camp site again, before going out once more in the afternoon. This threw doubt upon our actually reaching the Delta itself. There were lots of complaints and the rumblings of discontent continued on the boat ride back to the lodge. People wanted breakfast at the lodge and a full day's trip to the Okavango Delta (as promised in the itinerary) in a covered boat. Finally it was decided that we would start even earlier than scheduled to try to avoid the heat of the day. We were to assemble for a transfer to the camp site for breakfast at 6.30 am. As we dispersed for the night there were still mutterings about strongly worded letters being sent to Explore.
 
Most people had stopped moaning by Saturday morning. The sun was just rising as the boat transferred us along the river to the camp site for our breakfast of cereals, boiled eggs, bread, tomatoes and minced beef . We then boarded a slightly larger boat and set off down stream.
It was very peaceful and there were wonderful reflections of the papyrus covered riverbanks in the still water. It was a day of birds and our two serious birders, Peter and Alan, were in their element. I soon lost track of the names of all the birds but was very impressed with the large number of varieties including storks,egrets, cormorants, herons, African jacanas, martins, swallows, kingfishers and the stars of the show, masses of colourful bee eaters emerging in clouds from their nests in the muddy banks.
 
We had hoped to see hippos but there were none to be found. We did see a couple of crocodiles however, and an interesting water monitor. It became increasingly hot and we were all pleased when we finally rounded a bend in the river and found ourselves back at the lodge. I just had time for a cold beer and another attempt at sending some emails before we were off by boat to the camp site again for lunch - egg and potato mayonnaise with salad. Then we had a relaxing afternoon before setting out once more for the sunset river trip.
 
This time we headed down stream. The heat had deterred some of the group who had chosen to stay by the pool but it was starting to cool down and we had a pleasant trip. There were fewer birds around, at least at first, but we saw an enormous crocodile on the bank just by our lodge and later we saw the shape of two large elephants and heard them crashing through the reeds but were unable to get a good view of them . The guide also tempted a fish eagle out of the trees by tossing a fish into the water. None of us was quick enough to capture it in a photograph as it swooped down to seize the fish.
 
Tonight we had dinner at the lodge. Botswana is the most exclusive of the African countries when it comes to safari lodges and the prices are ridiculously high. I imagine that the reason we had been eating at the camp site until tonight was that the prices at the lodge were way beyond our budget. It was a nice treat therefore to eat in, and the meal was very good. Afterwards we had a beer at the bar whilst watching Match of the Day.
 
Breakfast was once again at the camp site but we were getting used to our little trips up and down the river by now. We had a long journey ahead of us, more than 500 kms, and would need to make two border crossings. We would, at the end of the day, be in Botswana once more, but to reach Kasane it was easier to cross back into Namibia, drive along the Caprivi Strip and then cross back into Botswana. Blessed had piles of immigration forms for us all half completed for the various exits and entries.
 
It wasn't far to the Namibian border and the Botswanan staff there were as pleasant as they had been upon our arrival. Back in Namibia we had a short supermarket and toilet stop and then set off along the 450 kms long Caprivi Strip. This narrow strip of land was given to the Germans by the British to allow them to link their territories of South West Africa and Tanganyika . In return the British secured Zanzibar. In fact the German plan came unstuck as they found that they were not after all able to navigate along the Zambezi River between the two countries because of the Victoria Falls. Today the strip belongs to Namibia and the road that passes along it is very long and very straight.
 
It is quite a green area and there was some agriculture and quite a lot of wildlife. We weren't planning to game view but couldn't resist stopping when we came across a female ostrich with about a dozen young. Lunch was a quick affair of cold meats and salad. As usual the women all lent a hand in the preparations whilst the men looked on. As we were packing up to leave a small group of children appeared from nowhere. Blessed packed up the left overs for them and they shyly drew closer for photographs. As the truck drove off we saw them darting to the rubbish bin and fighting over the plastic bottles and other bits and pieces we had left. 
 
It was very hot and sticky on the truck and we were relieved to reach Katima Mulilo, the capital of the Caprivi region where we had a stop to spend the last of our Namibian currency . We soon reached the border post and had to walk over a disinfected mat to prevent the transmission of foot and mouth disase and also carry our other shoes with us to be similarly treated. We had to walk to the Botswanan offices and the sun was sinking low by the time we got there.
 
The last part of the journey took us through Chobe National Park where we saw several groups of elephants, but the game drive would come tomorrow. Tonight we just wanted to get to our accommodation.
 
Kwalapo Lodge was classified as "simple". The cold towels and welcome drinks gave the impression that it was a more superior establishment and indeed they were trying very hard. We had fridges, aircon, hair driers, wide screen TV's etc but unfortunately not the electricity supply to go with it. As soon as we all got to our rooms and set about showering and plugging things in to charge we were plunged into darkness. I had just emerged from a (cold) shower and had to stumble around in the pitch dark trying to find my clothes and then rummage around until I found my torch .

We all arrived at dinner looking a little dishevelled. The buffet dinner was more African than we had had previously. There were fried fish heads, meaty oxtail on the bone and spicy beans. It was good and Blessed really tucked in. The power was back on by the time we returned to our rooms but we all got hopelessly lost in the maze of footpaths connecting the identical looking chalets which were scattered over a large area and inadequately signposted.
 
Once again I had creatures within my mosquito net but wasn't bothered by them and indeed didn't notice them until I rose at 5.15am. At 5.45 we left in two jeeps for a game drive through Chobe National Park. There were lots of elephants in the park and for the first time we saw hippos in large numbers. We were getting rather blase about the birds and the various antelopes but got a good close view of some buffaloes and an amusing troupe of baboons.

Our guide was good but there were lots of vehicles on the same route all jostling for position when there was something interesting to see . At one point the drivers stopped to confer and then we accelerated hard to reach an area where lions had been spotted. After waiting a few minutes about seven of them appeared from the bushes some distance away. They strolled into view and then almost as quickly disappeared into the shade of some more bushes.
  
Back at the lodge we had a late breakfast and then relaxed for a few hours before the afternoon boat trip.

We were driven to a nearby hotel where we had an insight into how the moneyed visitors to Botswana lived before boarding a sizeable boat for our afternoon trip on the Chobe River. There were scores of other boats chugging around and we were worried that this would spoil the experience but in the end it turned into a most enjoyable few hours. 

We sailed around a low lying island on which there was an abundance of wildlife, mainly elephants, cape buffalo, hippos and crocodiles. During the wet season the island was submerged but once it dried out it was very green and fertile and the buffalo moved in and stayed for the whole of the dry season . The elephants were there each day too but they swam over each morning and returned to the mainland each evening. The island was at one time disputed territory, with Namibia and Botswana both claiming it as theirs. The international court at the Hague was called upon to settle the dispute and today a Botswanan flag flies proudly on the island. 

We sailed slowly all around the island stopping to take photographs and eventually returned to the moorings at sunset. Back at the lodge we had electricity thankfully and after another tasty buffet dinner most people retired early. Tomorrow we would be moving on to our final country, Zimbabwe.

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