Namibia as it never happened – the Kalahari and Botswana instead – part 2


 

18th of May – Wednesday – Tsabong – Mokolodi Game Reserve (510 km)

The morning started with us visiting the Tsabong hospital so a doctor could check Olivier’s foot. The atmosphere was a unique African hospital’s one. First of all you don’t know what to do, neither are there sign. So we waited in a line where people were waiting. Then the lady gave us a paper to fill out and she charged us the doctor’s fees (5 euros – looks like standard). Afterwards we waited with other people in a hall like space. The hospital was relatively nice and tidy. Nothing to exceptional… Some big mommas were interested what two white boys were doing in such a small desert town. Three guards escorted some inmates from the nearby prison and it looks like they were happy to be out of the joint (even if at the hospital). One old papa was curious about our travel as well. Two nurses took the temperature, blood pressure and weight of everyone in the queue then after about 30 min we got into the doctor’s office. Young, skinny fellow… Didn’t even have a good look at the foot and prescribed antibiotics and sent us to the nurse to clean it. Then we waited for the nurse, who eventually bandaged the foot, we bought the antibiotics (60 cents for 1 week) and were surprised that in 1,5 h we managed to do everything.

The road from Tsabong toGaborone(capital) was not particularly eventful. It is quite long and boring actually and it was a bit frustrating that we couldn’t use our foreign cards at the ATMs. Luckily we had some SA rands with us and once again we were at the mercy of the exchange rates. From the desert like landscape we passed through rain towardsGaboroneas the climate, vegetation and landscape changed as well. The country and infrastructure became greener, more densely populated and better developed.

We arrived at the Mokolodi Game Reserve, south ofGaborone. We paid for the tent sight just to discover that well, it was actually a tent sight, in the middle of the reserve, with one donkey-boiler shower, one outside toilet but luckily a sink and a fire place. No one in sight, just us, a hoard of baboons ravaging the toilet and the night falling fast… Well what can you do? We set up the tent, chased away the baboons and as man does, he makes fire. So because probably the previous campers used up all the twigs and branches, you know I was born in the East, so yeah. I started taking some from our bush shower. But I swear just a couple J So now we had fire, the tent and we started cooking our beloved omelet with wieners. Soon some park rangers came and informed us that close buy others will be camping and … are we making a fire with fire wood from the bush? “No, no it is prohibited”…”Oh”, we said. So we gave them 5 euros, they brought wood for a good campfire and it turns out that most probably they didn’t go far to get them (from the bush of course).

While shivering in the tent and sleeping we heard baboons howling, then Oli thought he sensed a big impala next to the tent…

19th of May – Thursday – Around Gaborone – 120 (km)

So we got up early in the morning to discover that we had visitors around the tent. There were impala hoof prints and plenty of baboon tracks. So the 6th sense of Olivier ws right J

We decided to take it easy and pay for a 2 hour game drive around the park. Can’t say we saw much and a couple of zebras and kudus compared to Kalahari lions are you know… Not enough anymore 😛 The lady driver showed us once again that African people are more straight forward. I told her that their national motto “PULA” means something “that hangs between the legs of a male”. And she responded quite frankly. “Ah, penis you mean, then why didn’t you say so?”

After the game drive the Mochudi rock carvings were on the list andGaborone. The rock carvings were a disappointment. First of all no one stood guard at this ‘relic’ which tells the tail of how the Tswana people came from this big hole in the ground. Actually it looks like a big, deep puddle with some foot prints carved next to it…So we decided to visit Bocca Dam, but got so mingled in small unpaved roads that we feared for the car’s safety. So, finally we got toGaboronewhich dear God is the strangest capital I have ever seen and there are no street signs whatsoever. On one street you have a flashy government building, on the other some run down houses. But I must admit. It has a specific charm this little place. You see government people, with ties and fancy suits mingling on the same streets as street vendors and the capital has this small African vibe going on, and compared to Joburg andPretoriait is safe. It really feels safe.

We spent the night outside the park, next to it, at a private tent sight/hostel with proper facilities and no baboons ravaging our toilet.

20th of May – Friday – Mokolodi Lodge – Border Crossing – Mafikeng – Kimberley (600) km

It was the day we came back to South Africaand left Botswana. We filled up the tank as much as we could, abusing the fact that gas is sooooo cheap in Botswana(80c/l) and crossed the border at Ramatlabama. Sounds funny, huh? These guys at the border control are always cool and I can tell you J It ain’t a Schengen crossing. So we got out of the car, the guy asked us whether we have “animals, statues or other things to declare (AK 47?)” and we opened the trunk, he gave it a fast look and we were good to go. Strangely all SA border patrols asked us whether we like SA. Yeah, am, we do? And what if we say no? J

Then as we reached Mafikeng it felt like civilization again but I must admit the rural side of theNorthwesternProvinceis quite run down. Then there were works on the highways, no proper signs so we stopped to ask a big momma the road to Vryburg. She thought we wanted to pick her up for hitch hiking, so eventually we gave her a lift to Vryburg. I asked her whether she was working, studying there. She said “self employed”. I don’t wanna know what that means…

We passed thevillageofTaungand the map said there is some prehistoric skull. (turns out one of the oldest humanoid skulls). But as usual it was some 40 km out of town, next to some quarry. I went to the gate and asked how much is it to get in. Two guards, in typical African fashion replied “Am, no, no. It is closed. Yes, yes… Closed.” Then I insisted that we want to see it and one of them replied “Well you know we could let you in for a small favor.”  Well I though to myself, not the first bribe I have to give in my life. “So, name your price?” I asked. “Well it is not a bribe you know, just a small favor. 50 rands.” Now that is the entry fee for a proper park but what the hell. And the dumber one of them accidently managed to screw it up. “But the skull is not here. No, no. It is inPretoria. In the museum. Here it is only a replica”. Aha. You should’ve kept your mouth shut idiot. “Well in that case bye. Don’t think I will give you 50 rands just to see a fake skull.”

So we got back on the road, stopped to overnight inKimberley. We took a tour at the Big Hole and saw it. And it is what it says to be, a big mother of a hole, 800 m deep, that got filled up with water but there is still a good 140 m from the surface to the water level. And they managed to get out 2.5 tons of diamonds from there, including the famous yellow Tiffany diamond. J

Then we walked around town but discovered that the ‘sparkling city’ is just another run down, dirty mining town. We found a cheap camp place, but ended up not paying (no one was there) and we searched half an hour for one restaurant and one pub.

21st of May – Kimberley – Karoo National Park – Oudtshoorn (745 km)

The road to Beaufort-West was fast, long, desolate and we managed to get into the Great-Karoo, one of my favorite SA places. A huge, vast land where sheep graze, yellow grass is at the mercy of the wind and amazing rock formations litter the landscape. We got into Beaufort-West way ahead of time so we decided to visit theKarooNational Park. And what a priceless gem my friends… We were expecting this run down park. It has recently been renovated, it is only 2.5 euros to get in for SA residents and it is fabulous. It has just amazing landscapes, herds of Mountain Zebra, ostriches, Kudus and somewhere up the 4×4 trails black rhinos and lions. We saw, I must admit, the best sunset in the whole ofSouth Africa.

The sky becomes flooded with every imaginable shade of orange, pink, violet. One side of the sky is a dark, flame like orange as it turns into pale pink and a light violet color. It has been one of the best surprises.

We decided to push to Oudtshoorn and drove the last leg of the journey in the night. We found a good, and cheap hostel and decided that for 10 euros each we deserve a good ostrich steak with some good wine J

22nd of May – Oudsthoorn – Cape Agulhas – 362 km

Early risers. Yes, we became early risers during this trip. We drove up to theCangoCaves, passing some amazing scenery and decided to take the adventure tour. The two of us, a Dutch lady and her at least 65 year old mother (she turned out to be the most flexible of all of us, not kidding) and a Canadian couple.

The first three halls of the caves are just simply amazing. The stalagmite and stalactite formations, combined with the water flow formations provide for a unique spectacle of natural beauty. These formations are hundreds of thousands of years old, and unfortunately sometimes subject to human behavior. But the caves are well managed and I would not recommend claustrophobic and overweight people taking the adventure tour. We managed to pass through the “Kitchen”, the “Chimney” and the “Letter Box”. The worst one is the chimney and the narrowest is the letterbox. A 27 cm high opening so if you have a huge belly you might get stuck. And they told us that once a big momma got stuck and they did have to use 5 l of oil to get her out. J

After the Caves we went and visited an ostrich farm (it is the ostrich capital of the world with over 120.000 of them), stood on some ostrich eggs (they can support 140 kg) and even managed to feed them and sit on one of them.

We continued our journey, passed into the Western side of theGarden Route. And to my astonishment, this land that in March was all dry and yellow became a splendid array of green hills. Soon after, we reached the southern most point of our trip as well as that ofAfrica.Cape Agulhas…  We were standing at 5000 km on our mileage meter. At a point like this you have to stop and sit down next to the ocean and just take it in…The point where the warm Indian Ocean and the cold Atlantic meet, where nothing stands between you and theAntarctica. And it was my dad’s birthday as well J So I couldn’t attend it, again. But I know he understands me.

 

23rd of May – Cape Agulhas – Hermanus – Stellenbosch – 220 km

We packed up the tent for the last time and headed over the hills towards Hermanus. Amazing landscape, some rain and wind but we were spoiled with the countless rainbows that guided our way into Hermanus. The whales haven’t yet decided to come back, but maybe next time.

We drove back in rain but with a huge sense of calm, enlightenment, adventure and wisdom. A trip like this puts things back into perspective and makes you realize that the world is not such a small place and there are many hidden treasures that are yet to be discovered.

Tips and advices

–              when travelling in a desert always have: sufficient gas (full tank), proper equipment (we didn’t have shovels so the frying pan had to do), ample water (4, 5 l each)

–              when in the desert bear in mind that day temperatures even in winter months can go up to 3O C but night temperatures fall close to 0 C. So if sleeping in a tent, have extra warm clothes and blankets (we still froze even with these)

–              drive safely – the distances are huge, hundreds of kms of nothing, with scattered traits of civilization; in countries like Botswana always look out for animals, goats, cattle on the road

–              have all the necessaries for camping: knives, torches, tent etc.

–              do not fully trust maps: you are inAfricaand reality might be better or worse than on the maps or you might end up with a fully paved express way where the map doesn’t show anything

–              be friendly to the locals as they will help you out (thanks bartender in Tsabong for helping us find a place; thanks Big Momma in Tsabong for letting us stay at your place; thanks funny old guy in Kimberley for coming 2 km with us and pointing the way)

–              always have enough cash on you.Botswanadoesn’t have enough ATMs and European banks will not really allow you to withdraw money there

–              always let people know about your whereabouts. You will only find mobile phone signals close to towns and internet is well… You might just forget about it.

–              always call up the embassies to see what papers you need to enter a country. Web pages and even border guards will not be of great help and provide the wrong info. But if not, you might just end up being turned back fromNamibiaand ending up doing a fantastic adventure like we did

 

Costs per person

–              car rental 11 days + wash – 210 euros

–              gas 11 days (5200 km) – 210 euros

–              campsites, accommodation, park entries – 145 euros

–              Food – 90 euros (including restaurants)

–              Total – roughly 650 euros 

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