Words and pictures by Dr Peter Baker
July is safari season for my family, and last year was no exception. Our plan was to visit the Nxai Pan, which had thoroughly impressed us when we’d visited it a couple of years before. These days, it’s run privately, as are all parks in Botswana. Our route would take us to the Makgadikgadi, then to Maun, Moremi, Savuti, Chobe and into Zimbabwe. On our journey, we would roughly follow the course of the Zambezi Valley, all the way from the swamps to the point where Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique meet.
Our first night on the road was spent at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, where we arrived after a painless border crossing at Martin’s Drift. Unfortunately, the border crossing hadn’t been a sign of smooth things to come – Khama was fully occupied, thanks to two overland vehicles full of youngsters. Luckily, space was found for us in the teachers’ dormitory rooms in the students’ accommodation. It was perfect, as was our trip’s lovely first braai under the twinkling Milky Way. Nxai Pan National Park was our next destination, which we reached via a crossing of the Makgadikgadi and a night at Gweta Lodge, where we had a riotous good time – entertained by the owner and a few bottles of very acceptable wine.
The next day, after a casual and leisurely pack-up, we cruised around the various pans and islands, taking in the clear skies and morning air on our way to camp. A few years earlier, we had stayed at the main Nxai camp, and its excellent ablutions had caused us to name it one of the best campsites in Botswana. So, you can imagine my horror when I arrived at the office to check in and was told that the ablutions had been recently ‘elephantised’ to a state of total oblivion! I went to see for myself, and the elephant had done a proper job of destruction – not only the plumbing, but also the solar panels had been totally demolished.
Trampled ablutions aside, Nxai Pan was wonderful, with fantastic game and scenery for us to enjoy. Interestingly, it’s one of the very few places where you will see springbok and impala living and grazing side by side. A few days later, after trundling down dirt road after corrugated dirt road, our Toyota started faltering. Luckily, by this stage we weren’t far from Maun, and we’d planned to stop there anyway. Strangely, I’ve always found that dealership services get better the further you are from home. Over the countless tens of thousands of kilometres that I’ve travelled on this beautiful continent, the best service has been in the far outposts of Maun, Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Kampala. The service there is extremely competent, cheap in comparison, quick, and the people are always eager to please. I think our local automotive service industry could definitely learn a thing or two from them!
When we arrived at the Toyota dealership in Maun, they welcomed us, and everyone from the tea lady to the service manager sprang into action. In no time at all, there were two mechanics under the truck. Their diagnosis wasn’t good news – the brakes were kaput and oil was leaking from the tappet gasket. I was particularly peeved because my vehicle had recently spent four months at a mechanic’s in Centurion, and I had paid R8 000 for new front brakes.