And one last piece of music, with beautiful photos
We left the Beautiful Country of Botswana yesterday and drove back into South Africa. Border crossings here are a bit confusing – no road signs, very limited signage on the Customs and Immigration buildings and usually long queues of people at the only open desk, with at least 6 other officials sitting around watching proceedings, but not actually doing anything much. The other people queuing have usually been much more helpful in telling us how to do things than the officials behind the desks.
Anyway, after a wrong turn at the Botswana border … 3 roads, 2 dead ends and one that actually crossed into South Africa, we filled in some forms and got on our way. We were heading to the Mapungubwe National Park, on the Limpopo River right at the northern border of Sth Africa with Zimabwe, but the road was absolutely dreadful, the worst I’ve ever been on. Potholes everywhere, edges of the road crumbling away … so bad that Greg got car sick and he was driving! And we drove through a thunderstorm, which slowed us down a bit more. There was no way we’d get to the National Park before dark, so we tried to get a campsite at a private game reserve which advertised camping on their billboard, but after we’d driven through the enormous security gate and found the host … no camping. It wasn’t a completely wasted trip though, we were greeted just inside the gate by a giraffe and 6 zebras!
We headed down the road to Alldays and found Munala Game Lodge, a campground complex with restaurant, bar, swimming pool, cabins and tent sites. Yay! Pieter, the host, drove us around and showed us possible places to pitch our tent. He apologised that the actual caravan park was full …. of miners who work at the local diamond mine, which happens to be the largest in the country. Venetia Diamond Mine is owned by De Beers and you can read about it here. There is no acccommodation on-site, so I guess the locals are doing well out of providing services for the miners. Before we got here, I noticed a group of 3 long tin sheds that looked like workers’ quarters, but now realise it was probably more miners’ accommodation.
Pieter is an aquaculturist, and he assured us that mosquitoes and other insects wouldn’t be a problem here. He visited us this morning and asked if we’d heard the lion during the night – er, no, thank goodness. And he’d just killed a python over on the lawn.
Now we’re heading east to Kruger National Park, with a stop-over at Mapungubwe National Park on the way, to see what’s there.
We headed south from Kasane to the Woodlands Rest Camp yesterday, just a few kms north of Francistown.
As we drove out of Kazungula, where the borders of Zim and Zam meet Botswana, we saw giraffe grazing by the side of the road! We stopped and got out of the car, but they were a bit wary of us. We got back in the car and turned around to get a closer look and they weren’t at all bothered – more used to vehicles than people, I think. There were 3 of them.
I decided that giraffes were my favourite African animal because of their purple tongue, but then a few hundred kms further south, we saw a group of 5 zebras! Again, we hopped out of the car and walked a short distance off the road to get a better look and spent quite a while watching them watching us. I think we got to see as much wildlife on the A33 as we would have if we’d done a game safari tour thing in Chobe National Park.
Our night at the Woodlands Rest Camp was very nice – a little oasis in the desert, with beautiful grassy campsites, a swimming pool and good amenities block. There were several groups of campers, and they all seemed to be staying there for a while, unlike us who were just using it overnight. We had a very interesting chat with the owner this morning. Originally from Zim, her 4 siblings now all live in Australia, but her daughter still lives with her young family in Zim, in Harare and it’s …. difficult.
We’re heading back to South Africa today. I’ll be sorry to leave Botswana, it’s been an absolute pleasure travelling here.
I’ve been thinking, and telling people, that we were going to Zambia to see Victoria Falls. WRONG! The best way to see Vic Falls is from the Zimbabwean side and we’ve just spent the day getting to and from the falls and navigating our way through Zimbabwean border bureaucracy. Very interesting.
We’re staying in the campground at the Chobe Safari Lodge, which is on the banks of the Chobe River at Kasane. It’s at the northern tip of Botswana, where it meets the borders of Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Lodge offers a range of tourist activities, including river cruises, game drives, a visit to a Namibian village and a couple of different trips to Victoria Falls. We chose the unguided bus transfer which took us to the border, where we were then picked up by another bus and taken to the falls.
When we booked yesterday, we were told that a visa to get into Zimbabwe would cost us USD $30 each, and that we could pay in Botswana pula, South African rand, USD, euros and probably a couple of other currencies in cash or by credit card. When we actually got to the immigration desk, we were told that the law had changed today and the visa fee is now USD$50, no other currency accepted, no credit cards. Um, today? Really? On a random Saturday in January? Pffttt, I strongly doubt it, but we were completely at the mercy of the immigration officials so we had to do whatever they told us if we wanted to see the Falls. We had enough USD to pay for our visas, but the other 5 people travelling with us only had $50 between them. We lent them some money and a South African guy exchanged some dollars for euros, and we finally got through and on our way.
The whole country works in USD. Prices at service stations, supermarkets and cafes are in USD and it’s very expensive. Not surprising for the top tourist destination in the country, but it must be difficult for the locals. Fuel is USD $1.55/litre, a tin of baked beans was $1, a pack of 6 bread rolls was $1 and a fancy bread roll in a cafe was $10.
As I’m writing this, we have a pack of monkeys playing around our tent and scampering up the nearby trees. One picked up a banana skin that Greg had left beside the tent and took it up a tree, then dropped it on Greg’ head. Another grabbed the bread roll packet, but dropped the last roll in the pack and one of his mates got it instead. Entertaining, but a bit too close for my liking. I hope they don’t have rabies.
Anyway, The Falls were amazing – spectacular, vast, huge volume of water pouring over, quite misty in places, and like it was constantly raining in parts. We took our raincoats and were glad to have them. We spent about an hour at the Falls, when walked into town to find some lunch and have a look around.
Going back through Immigration was far less eventful, we swapped buses again and got back to our tent before 5pm. We’re spending another couple of nights here because we want to do an afternoon river cruise tomorrow, on the recommendation of our fellow-travellers today. We saw some elephants this afternoon, and a few other animals. When we were driving to Vic Falls, we saw 2 park rangers with guns – the bus driver told us they were patrolling and looking for poachers, and that they were having success in reducing the number of animals being poached.
Edited to add that I forgot to mention that all the ATMs in Vic Falls dispense USD only. The German guy I lent the USD $100 to repaid me with a $100 note – the first one I’ve ever seen!
I know, I could just write it in a notebook, but sharing is more fun …
The first day we were in Jo’burg, we noticed windscreen washers at traffic lights. Since then, I’ve been making a list of other entrepreneurial traffic light sellers and the range of wares and services they offer: Tag Heuer and Rolex branded wall clocks; bubble guns (actually, they looked really fun!); sunglasses; gym membership; car cigarette lighter plugs, adaptors and cables; raspberry ice blocks in plastic bags and even a guy busking with a guitar. That didn’t seem to work so well because all the cars had their windows up and their aircon on. I’m not quite sure how a complicated transaction like choosing an adaptor or cable would work in the limited time that one is stationary at a traffic light, but I guess it does or these guys would seek other selling outlets.
We’ve also seen lots of stalls set up by the side of the road, selling food, drinks including a type of local moonshine, mobile phone sim cards and recharge options and my 2 favourites – decorative bamboo screens and panels north of Jo’burg, and reed brooms and rakes just outside Gaborone.
Greg bought internet data when we were in Gaborone and it took a while so he got chatting to the woman who served him. She loves the north of Botswana, around Kisane and across the border into Zambia. She complained about how terrible the traffic had been that morning, because school had just restarted after the summer holidays … you know, just like we do at home. We drove into Francistown at 3.30 yesterday afternoon and yep, the after-school traffic was chaotic, just like at home.
I still don’t ‘get’ tipping, probably never will. Do I tip? Who do I tip? How much?
I tip waitresses in restaurants and cafes about 10% of our bill, and when we buy fuel, I tip the young man who pumps the fuel, and the one who washes the windscreen. Usually only about 50c each, but they’re happy to accept it, seem happy with the amount and it’s probably about half of what they might spend on lunch. I don’t know if it’s the done thing, but I do it anyway.
‘No plastic’ seems to be universal – at home, in Scandinavia, Russia, the US and now in Africa. Doesn’t matter what language we speak, we all understand that ‘no plastic’ means we don’t want a shopping bag.
Sometimes all you need to do to have an adventure is just show up.
We spent last night at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, which is between Gaborone and Francistown, Botswana’s second largest city. We scraped in just as the sanctuary was closing at 7pm, and had a slightly easier 2.5km drive on sandy tracks than the rocky drive to our previous campsite. Thank heavens, it was dark by the time we got there. We’ve crossed the Tropic of Capricorn now, so I guess we’re in the tropics.
Nice campsite, with a couple of ablution blocks for a dozen or so campsites. There were chalets nearby as well. Something that really surprises me is that campground bathrooms here have full-sized baths as well as showers, in separate cubicles. We’ve struck it at 2 out of the 3 campgrounds we’ve stayed at so far … and the third was very rustic, with the outdoor showers heated by donkey boilers.
We didn’t see any rhino at the Rhino Sanctuary – I think they were much further away than the camping area. The sanctuary looks huge on the map of the local area.
That adventure I mentioned above? Well, actually, this one was a combination of just showing up and placing far too much trust in Nigel the GPS. According to our maps, there were 2 ways to get to Francistown – back the way we had come, or drive on some secondary roads to avoid back-tracking. Uh, yeah, seemed like a good idea at the time … Our friends Kelly and Mark spent their honeymoon in Botswana, and they can probably guess exactly how this turned out (or could have), but I’ll tell the story anyway.
The secondary road started off sealed but that ran out after a few hundred metres and it became an okay unsealed road, with the added attractions of occasional small groups of cows and donkeys on and beside the road. We drove through a village where most of the housing was traditional thatch-roofed mud huts with external pole supports. A lot of them had no windows, just a door. After the village, the road got worse, and worse, and worse. Deeply rutted in places, lots of corrugations – things that would be fine to drive on in our own 4-wheel drive, but not in a 2-wheel drive rental car. Finally we got to a section that was so chopped up that there wasn’t anywhere wide enough and level enough to drive on safely.
We realised that we could get ourselves out of trouble by turning around and going back the way we’d come, or risk not being able to get out of trouble further down the track, and possibly not be able to get any help. There had been a couple of vehicles drive past, and a couple of carts being pulled by donkeys, but it was a quiet road, probably because it was so chopped up. Everyone takes the main road.
So we turned around and drove back the way we’d come. I was happy to get a second look at the village with its mud huts, and relieved that we’d made it back to the sealed road without mishap. So … no more shortcuts or unsealed roads for us or our little Corolla.
We are staying in Francistown tonight, in a hotel. Very nice room with air-conditioning and an assortment of toiletries, including a condom. In a country whose population has been decimated by AIDS, that seems very sensible.
I’ve walked up and down this shopping mall 3 times and just can’t find a postcard anywhere, so here’s a virtual postcard that I’ll share with everyone else who reads this blog. We’re actually in Gaborone, in Botswana and I still can’t quite believe we’re really here.
We drove across the border yesterday and spent last night, our second night of camping, at Mokolodi Nature Reserve, which is 15km south of Gaborone. Trip Advisor rates it as the #1 tourist activity in Gaborone, and we really loved staying there, although actually driving to the bush campsites was a bit tricky. 3.5km of really rough rocky track, but Mr Adventure managed it beautifully, even in a Corolla. He does love a challenge. I timed the drive back out this morning and it took 30 minutes to do the 3.5kms.
There are 8 campsites, each with their own kitchen sink with running water, toilet, shower with hot water heated by a ‘donkey’ (44 gallon drum turned on its side with space for a fire underneath). As we were driving in, we saw a group of impala and an ostrich – wow, those birds are big! We had the camping area to ourselves until late in the evening when 2 young employees drove up and introduced themselves as our ‘security’ – they stayed a bit further down the track and left early this morning. I think they were there in case of wild animal attack, but we didn’t see anything overnight, although Greg found some large hoof/paw prints this morning and there was some scat on the track, but our knowledge of African animals is pretty limited so we don’t know what we missed. We slept in the tent with the sides rolled up, so it felt like we were sleeping under the stars. It was lovely. I think I sent you a link to the Alexander McCall Smith Traditional camping area, but it was much, much further away and only seemed to have traditional hut-type accommodation, no provision for self-catering. The 3.5kms we drove was far enough, but it would have been good to see the McCall Smith area.
And now we’re in Gaborone. We drove past a mob of baboons a couple of kms from the outskirts of the city. They were just ambling across the road. I’ve been looking for the Tiny White Van, but haven’t found it yet. Maybe Mma Ramotswe is out investigating a case on the Tlokweng Road, or out at Molopolole. We’ve seen a few traditionally-built ladies, and I’ve noticed that many of the female manequins in clothes shops are closer to a size 14 than all those skinny ones we have at home. Little kids stare at us because we’re the only white-skinned people in this shopping centre. I smile and make funny faces at them, and they smile back. It’s obviously not touristy here – which is why I can’t find postcards.
We drove past the turn-off to Ramotswa yesterday afternoon. I’d intended to stop and get a photo of the town sign, but we didn’t go through the town, and it’s a bit dangerous stopping by the side of the road here – the locals use the edges of the road as another lane. We drove through a roundabout this morning and I realised that the lane markings are really just a suggestion – the 2 lanes had at least 3 cars abreast, and the one on the far left wanted to make a right turn AND DID … across the other 2 cars.
Heading north soon, to Francistown and eventually to the northern border with Zambia.
Much love, and thanks so much for sharing your love of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency with me. I’m so glad we’re here. Jxxx
And to everyone else reading this – if you know and love Alexander McCall Smith’s series, you’ll know what I’ve been talking about. It you haven’t read it yet …please do. It’s beautiful .. and it’s one of the main reasons we’re here.