A short blog for a short visit
We leave Namibia after spending 15 days there. We feel that we have come to know the country a little and to enjoy its assets a lot. By way of contrast, we have just two days in Botswana, visiting a small slice of the north east corner. Formerly called Bechuanaland, it became independent in 1966, renamed Botswana. It is notable for its flat landlocked terrain, its sparse population of 2 million, its stable democratic government and its fast growing economy.
In spite of our morning team talk session when Jan gives us our instructions, the first thing we do on our way to the border is to turn right instead of left out of the camping ground. As we go, I question Martin as to whether we are travelling in the right direction, but neither of us are sure. When we arrive at the Zambian border 10 minutes later, we know we have taken the wrong direction. A number of national borders meet close to each other here – Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Angola is also not far away. We back track past the camping ground to the Botswana border.
There are no problems with passport control, but we fail when we come to the food control check point. The lady official searches our vehicle including the frig and finds offending plums, pears and grapes which we hoped to have for lunch. Standing at the check point we chat cordially to her while we eat some of the items and then we hand over the rest. There is no point in being annoyed about it, for she is only doing her duty and though she wants to take our fruit, she does it with the most amiable of manners. When we are asked to wipe our feet and drive the vehicle through a depression filled with water, I wonder if the exercise is effective against foot and mouth disease. The water is so dirty.
Our destination in Botswana is Chobe National Park, well-known for its impressive herds of elephants. But we have to be content with the likes of puku, impala, kudu, buffalo, giraffe and a range of birds. Apparently Chobe hosts the largest surviving elephant populations in the world, currently estimated to exceed 120,000. The problem is that they are migratory and during the wet season from November to March or April they gather in the south east of the park, a good 200 miles away. We are in the north in early April and obviously it is still the wet season with overcast skies, cool temperatures and intermittent showers. I don’t think we see even one solitary elephant. Well, I will just have to come again, perhaps during a September!
We have two incursions into the national park. The first begins in the dark and cold at six in the morning. We bump along on the back of a safari land cruiser on the rutted and pot holed dirt track and I am soon suffering motion sickness. There aren’t enough animals to keep my mind off my discomfort, but I endure the cold and damp of the three and half hours game drive without disgracing myself and recover back at the camp site with a good breakfast of scrambled eggs and a sleep.
The second visit is more pleasant and more entertaining. At three o’clock we are off on a cruise on the Chobe River. The large river boat chugs along the banks, stopping whenever we spot any wildlife – giraffe, warthogs, monkeys, hippo, impala. But it is not the animals that provide the main entertainment. The action of stopping and starting doesn’t do the boat battery any favours and eventually it refuses to start. We are marooned. The passengers grin at each other, unworried about our situation. After all, we are only a stone’s throw from the shore. Some gather around the driver and his aide as they lift the floor to expose the two large engines and the one very small battery. They wait expectantly for the driver to produce his tool kit, but he has not a single one. He stands up and gazes around his passengers.
‘Has anyone got a Leatherman?’ he asks. A young woman produces a multi-tool from her hand bag and hands it over. He screws and unscrews various motor parts, including the motor cover but he achieves no results. He then produces a piece of rope and winds it around the fly wheel, pulling it to start the motor. I am reminded of our boating days on the Tauranga harbour when Martin did similar operations with temperamental engines. Still the river boat remains silent and motionless.
We continue to enjoy the little theatre, but as the afternoon darkens into early evening, we wonder how long we will be there. It is time to get help. The men decide to call their companion boat some distance away. When it arrives and manoeuvres alongside, they produce jump leads, sling them over and restart our motor. At last we are on our way, late for dinner at the camping ground restaurant, with amused memories of absent tool kits and faulty motors rather than the wildlife of Chobe.
At dinner I meet a young New Zealand woman who, as part of a group, is cycling from Khartoum to Cape Town. It puts our expedition in perspective; sometimes I am tempted to think we are adventurous and bold in our choice of travel, but she and her group take the prize for bravery and energetic enterprise.