Click here for a gallery photos from our journey from Kazungula through Chobe National Park
We arrived in Botswana from Zambia via the Kazungulu Ferry on a Wednesday and faced the usual odd African tradition of requirements for 3rd Party Insurance and Road Tolls with no way to acquire the Botswana Pula we needed to pay the fees without using the awful illegal money traders on the Zambian side of the Zambezi.
The difference between countries was shocking and immediate. As we pulled onto the Bots side, the ferry shore landing was paved to the river’s edge, a remarkable difference from the muddy chaotic Zambian side. There were signs, and I mean road signs, signs for the immigration and customs office, signs everywhere! A distinct change from the Zambian “Guess where you are now, cause we’ll never tell” approach to signage.
But there was no way to get the money we needed to pay at the border post. Luckily the trusting Bots Border Agent directed us to the Bureau de Change just a mile or so up the road and trusted us to come back.
We did come back, eventually. Rather than waste out precious US currency, we decided to drive the 10 miles into the border town of Kasane to find the Barclays ATM to withdraw cash. Along the way the heavens opened and of course we had to take refuge in the swank Chobe Marina Lodge for a beer and a pizza as the rains passed.
While there we decided to stay in town that night and head out to Chobe the next morning. We tried in vain to avoid returning to the border by finding the Customs and Immigration office in town, but alas they didn’t have the proper forms for registering our vehicle so next on our list was food, liquids and accommodation – in that order!
We stopped at the Spar grocery and picked up our basics – wine, meat, coke, water, cigarettes, in that order and toddled along to the Water Lily Inn as recommended by my less than trusty Lonely Planet (soooo out of date).
There was no room at the inn and a month before Christmas I wondered if we too would be spending the night in a manger somewhere. Fear not dear readers, we found delightful refuge in the Old House Lodge down the road. Previously just a restaurant housed in a completely different location, I can attest that the Old House Lodge has beautiful rooms, a delightful gift shop that enticed a few dollars from my wallet and a great bar and restaurant.
A delightful addition to the scenery were the family of Warthogs, big Mama and her 3 little ones that roamed through the gardens nibbling on the grass, kneeling down to ensure each blade was trimmed to a perfect grassy green pelt for the guests. It was amazing to see them up close and fearless, they were clearly wild as once finished with the upkeep of the Old House Inn they ambled out the front gate and off to their next green pasture.
Luke and Danny who run the place with their family are friendly and extremely generous with their expertise in the region. I settled in at the bar while Nichol went back to pay the car permit at the border for the car.
Once Nichol returned we indulged a small amount of internet surfing which was disrupted by the rain or poor wifi signal so G&Ts and smooth red wine were the order of the evening. I spent some time chatting with a few ex pats at the bar but with an early morning on the horizon it was early to bed.
Well, for me anyways, Nic stayed up late and began fooling around with this blog, its set up and trying to optimize how the photos are presented. The Carousel photo feature you now see was his doing that night.
So happy and feeling just a little productive we hopped in the car and headed off to Chobe National Park, Botswana.
Chobe is truly one of the premier National Parks in Southern Africa. Known for its Elephants and often regarded as a high end tourist destination for the rich and famous, I can tell you that Chobe is accessible to anyone with decent car (not even a 4×4) just good tires and relatively high clearance and a tent – depending on the time of year of course.
I write this after the end of day 2 in Chobe and forgive me f I am a bit harsh. We made mistakes, but it seems Chobe is making some too.
Because we started in Kasane, the first in-Park Camp, Ihaha is a mere 15 kms in. It sees like far too short a distance to consider as the stopping point on our first day.
The Siddidu entrance to Chobe National Park is 4 kms from Kasane, and then you drive through the portion with Ihaha. The Park staff at the gates are fairly useless and little advice on the best approach to visiting the park or where to stay and why explains our short but wonderful experience in the Northern part of the park.
While short, the off-track trail along the Chobe River is beautiful and filled with a stunning variety of wildlife. We saw Crocs and Waterbuck, Silverback Jackals basking in the midday sun paying us no attention as we drove by, Buffalo and Zebra graze together on the riverbanks, herds of cows wander both the Namibian and Botswana side of the river and sneaky Likkewaan (long lizard thing) slither along through the newly sprouted grass along the riverbank in search of duck eggs. We saw all these and Elephants in the distance and 3 lionesses and a young male Lion pacing on a ridge overlooking the riverfront.
We stopped in at Ihaha only to use the toilets but their campsites were beautifully positioned along the waterfront and we would only realize later the missed opportunity we had as we pushed on past towards our chosen destination of the Savuti Camp in the south.
As you drive through to the southern portion of Chobe, you exit and reenter the Park and pass through villages and drive on a tar road which comes to an abrupt end as soon as the villages end. A sandy but passable road brings you south and eventually into the Savuti Campsite.
Formerly run by the government, the camps within the park are now Privately run. You must still have a reservation at one of the camps before you can buy your park permits to enter the park in the first place. Our reception was not especially welcoming and the signage is a bit confusing but once arrived we read the very long list of things you are not allowed to do and got settled in.
Up until now, most of our campsites have been unfenced, open to any Elephant, Hippo, Croc or Impala that wanted to join us for dinner (as long as we weren’t on the menu, thank you very much). This you know if you have been following the blog.
No camp has been especially alarmist about this and aside from a few signs saying that wildlife is present and to be sensible, we have not felt unsafe.
Chobe’s rules were strongly worded enough that we really took them seriously, no walking to the toilets at night (like I was gong to do that anyways), no food left outside (we clean up pretty thoroughly but have been now to leave a full plastic bucket of soapy water with our dinner plates out overnight) and an ablution block (toilets and showers) that is like the designer from Alcatraz Island was brought in to reverse engineer a WW1 bunker. This damned thing has 10 ft high walls to keep the elephants out, steel spring mounted doors and inside the ground is landscaped to form hill up to the top of the 10 ft high walls to allow those things (lions etc I presume) that can jump in to get out (people too maybe). There are also small escape ramps for snakes and other creepy crawlies to get out.
Again, like fuck would you catch me dead going out there after dark. I will happily hang on to the front bumper of the Land Rover and squat and hover like my Mama taught me in US Truck Stop toilets!!
Anyways, we had dinner, lit a massive fire as we couldn’t ignore the tree damage and Elephant poop in our campsite (IN our campsite)!!
We had a quiet night with no animal visitors as far as we could tell and in the morning packed up all the food like stuff and left the in-theory-non-edibles like the camp chairs, iron cooking pot, table, extra tent poles etc and headed off for a 4×4 adventure.
We may have driven it like we stole it in soft sand in Namibia and traversed the Liuwa Plains, but Nichol was feeling he hadn’t pushed the Land Rover anywhere near its limits. So today was going to be a venture into the marshes and come hell or muddy water, he was going 4×4-ing! So we took the never-used road east into the pans started our adventure, you know what Disney told us – Hakuna Matata Baby!!
** Quick note for my parent’s sake, we did tell our camp manager where we were going and when to expect us back and that we would spend the night in the car if there was any problem. There wasn’t any problem, so read on with a sigh of relief.
Our first ten minutes out of the camp was marked by the harsh reality of the circle of life and of course of death. We saw two dead Elephants by the side of the road. It is the end of the dry season and with the rains coming so late this year it is to be expected that some wildlife is not going to make it into next season.
Yes, they smelled and god those things are big.
We drove on looking for the herds of Elephants we had been told would be moving deeper into the forest looking for something to eat and looking to ride out the no-doubt difficult terrain of this now-unused road.
Nichol was hoping for lots of water and lots of mud. He was also wondering how much the tusks on those elephants might fetch him but personally I think the stench of a rotting Elephant carcass was enough to convince anyone to earn the money the old fashioned way.
As we drove on we saw lots of evidence of Elephants, the poop but more than that, the utter devastation to the woodlands. For long stretches of the road, the trees were no more than 6 feet high and the cracked and dead trees at times seemed to outnumber the live ones. So much poop, but none of the Elephants that Chobe is famous for.
Then we started to see them. But not the way you will ever see advertised in a tourist brochure.
One after another, we saw dead Elephants. Big ones that were old and huge, baby ones that seemed too small for this, some by water holes, some between trees and some in the middle of the road forcing us into the bush to drive around them.
If it wasn’t so sad it would have been comical, every kilometer we saw one after another. 11 dead Elephants and those were the ones visible from the road. We still hadn’t seen a live one yet. I dubbed this part of the the drive the Valley of Death. Some had gone to die in the famed Elephant Graveyards where bones of other Elephants were bleached and scattered, but too many were lying where their last gasps brought them.
I was despairing that there were any live Elephants left in Chobe National Park when we came around a corner to everyone’s surprise drove past two live Elephants by the side of the road. A mother and her baby skittered off into the bush and we slowly drove forward to see if they were alone or in a larger group.
Thank God, we had found some alive and as we rounded the next corner we saw the larger group of 15 or so near a waterhole off to the lefthand side of the road, gathered under a large tree, butts in for scratching, heads out for watching.
We watched and marvelled as always at these great mammals and then rolled on again.
Sadly, there were another 6 dead Elephants we would see on the drive but 10 more live ones too. At 25 live to 17 dead, the elephants weren’t batting 500 as they would say and clearly the rains couldn’t come soon enough.
For Nichol too. The road was sandy but doable even in high gear, we did test out the diff-lock as we entered what seemed to be a simple puddle. When the front left tire started to sink treacherously into a now-hidden Elephant hole Nic decided against testing how deep it was and whether it would swallow our front end whole and changed from 4 wheel low into diff-lock to provide extra traction to the now half sunk front left tire and slowly but surely the Land Rover backed up out of a potentially hazardous situation.
The rest of the puddles were shallow and sandy, no marshes and no mud. We were several hours into our drive when it became clear that the roads were not going to lead us to the campsite before sunset and no further 4×4 challenge was presenting itself.
We turned around and came home the way we came, a disappointment all around but knowing the road and the puddles made the ride back faster, giving us some time to explore the trails around our campsite before 5 pm, which was the magic witching hour we had told Willy the Manager was when we expected to send out a search team if we weren’t back!
Aside from a funny train of 4 Tortoises walking along the road, our whole day was pretty much Elephants and dead things and abandoned but good roads, sigh.
Sadly we saw more dead Elephants in the pans (now dry waterholes) around our camp and even 3 live ones, but ratio still wasn’t good and despite the fun pushing the Landy through the dips and valleys of dry Elephant holes testing its strength and stamina, our return to camp left us with questions about why so many many Elephants were dying.
There is no question that a late rainy season can explain some of the deaths, but if we saw so many so close to, or even on the road, how many are further in the bush? A late Spring will reveal many starving deer felled by a cruel winter in Canada’s forests, but this seemed extreme.
Apparently not just to us, in discussions with some of the Camp Staff we were told that samples of the dead Elephants are being sent for analysis to see if maybe a disease like Anthrax is to blame.
But we also wondered if the thousands of Elephants that live in the park may just have reached a number far outstripping (literally) what the forests can bear. The trees are now permanently disfigured and stunned, the overgrazing has left large tracts of dead fields and the question has to be asked of conservationists if enough is enough already and some sort of population control needs to be considered. Surely dead, starving Elephants is not the goal of protection and conservation.
“Oh, and we learnt that the deep-throated noise that moved around our camp last night was not an elephant or a Hyena, no – it was was a Bullfrog! So aside from the tortoise train, we had had little to laugh about on day 2 in Chobe National Park.”
Day 3 in Chobe was redemtive ndeed. Laziness set in to both Nic and I and aside from waking up late, we sat and drank coffee for several hours, fighting off the growing need to pack up and move on.
To persuade us to sit and relax was a menagerie of Chobe’s smaller inhabitants. As we sat in the shade we were entertained by a bevy of little tree squirrels, a posse of mongooses (or is it mongeese?) and several African Hornbills and other birds.
The squirrels were bold and played around our feet looking for crumbs and ready to nibble on our toes if we weren’t looking out. The mongeese came one by one until we had about 10 of them running around under the car (doing a chassis inspection for snakes or other creepy crawlies) and then fighting and playing under and in the elephant proof water tap. They climbed into the tires, rolled around in the leaves and generally delighted us for far too long. The older large African Hornbill spent at least an hour trying to fly up and attack his refllection in the aluminum table hunging off the Land Rover, tried grabbing the dish cloth off the table and when none of these worked would attack the electric cord of the external flourescant light.
But the time came and we had to do last night’s dishes, pack up and get on the road. After checking our communal wallet we realized that we didn’t have enough cash for 2 nights in Moremi as well as the park fees, so today we drive straight to Maun on the South end of the Okavanga Delta to restock, refuel and withdrawe more money.
So, until we can post the drive from Chobe to Maun chronicles, I leave you with this: In life there is good and bad, life and death. I for one will be trying to treasure the good, live the life and remember to take the time to watch the little things around me (especially if they are Mongeese!) Love you all…. Emma