We decided to take the new lockdown regulations seriously. The borders had been opened and our long awaited Botswana trip was once again a possibility. We seized it!
On 1 January 2021 we took our covid tests and the next day we headed for the border. We arrived after lunch and the border was closed. They were sanitizing after discovering a covid case. It became clear that this situation was not going to be resolved the same day so we found a place to stay for the night, a beautiful place right on the banks of the great grey green greasy Limpopo River.
If you are a fan of Rudyard Kipling’s stories like my children, then it was a fantastic experience and it created wonderful expectation of the land just beyond the river.
Travelling in January is not something that first time visitors to Botswana usually attempt, particularly after the recent cyclone which had brought a huge amount of rain, reported to be the most in 20 years. But we are the adventurous sort and the thought of seeing Botswana lush and green and teaming with herds of zebra and baby animals had great appeal.
We crossed the border first thing in the morning without a hitch. Botswana was beautiful. We spent our first night at Khama Rhino Sanctuary. From there we headed to Nata and then to the Makgadikgadi pans. Covid meant that travellers were very few so we had most campsites to ourselves and lots of time to meet locals. We enjoyed chatting to the local guides about the area and the unusual amount of rain. We enjoyed the Makgadikgadi pans, they were full of water and beautiful. We crossed the Boteti river on the pont, which the children loved. We visited the Nxai pans and saw the most fantastic herds of zebra with so many foals.
We learnt so much about the zebra migration in Botswana and the movement of the animals in this fantastic part of the world. We visited the magnificent Baines Baobabs, nothing like the usual pictures, as they were green and beautiful and the pans came almost right up to them so that when you sat under their shade it felt like you were on some deserted island with the water lapping at your feet. We crossed the edge of the pans and marvelled at the millions of river frogs in every puddle along the road. We got stuck in deep sand on more than one occassion. But really our biggest adventure was yet to come.
We had not planned to visit Moremi game reserve at first but becoming captivated by the country and the stories of the locals we decided to head up to Maun to meet some local friends and get the low down. The rains had made many of the roads inaccessible but the North gate into the reserve was believed to be the best bet. After a night in Maun we made our way north to Khwai. As was our experience in the rest of Botswana, the reserve was quiet. We spent our first night at the North gate of the reserve and decided to head toward the Xakanaka camp the following day. The roads were really bad. We had carelessly left our high lift jack behind so our equipment was limited. We would need to be careful.
We realized quite quickly that to get to Xakanaka would not be possible. With the roads so bad travel was slow and we would not make it back to the north date before night fall so we found one of the private Boga sites to set up camp for the night. It was beautiful. Very near to a small pan we saw lots of hippos and two lionesses with their two cubs. We watched a herd of lechwe eyeing the lionesses all evening. After a tiring day of driving we decided to stay put for another night so it was only the following day as we headed back towards north gate that disaster came to strike. It had rained heavily the night before and the roads were looking worse than ever but we were not far from the gate and starting to feel like the adventure was coming to a close. Little did we know that we were far from it.
At around 10 in the morning we came across yet another large puddle in the road and despite days of navigating successfully we took this one completely wrong. A 1 ton camping trailer on the back only made matters worse and we got completely and utterly stuck in the mud! From then until around 7pm we tried everything we could. We had some wedges to put under the wheels and we used wood to create further leverage but no matter what we tried we just sank deeper and deeper into the mud. How we wished we hadn’t been so foolish as to forget our high lift jack now!
At night fall we set up our tent (half in a mud puddle) but fortunately the rooftop bed meant we could stay dry at least. We had not seen one other car in the four days we had spent in the reserve. This and the fact that our water tank and supplies would not last very much longer made us start wondering about our options. How much longer could we wait in the hope that someone else as crazy as we are braves these roads and stumbles on us. By midday the following day it had been more than 24 hours and the possibility of anymore passing us was looking unlikely. We decided that it would be necessary for one of us to walk to find help. My husband insisted that it should be him. We had done some field guide training in the time leading up to our trip and he decided that midday would be the best time to risk it but we were by no means prepared for a walking Safari through a big five reserve, alone.
In hindsite we have had a lot of discussion about whether this was the best decision to take. We have heard horror stories about people taken by lions when attempting such things. The facts remain that as a vehicle alone and little equipment, your options are limited. Our story ends well. My husband did not meet any dangerous animals on his path and we were helped by a wonderful group of local people (with a high lift jack!) We spent the night at a lodge on the Khwai river where we debriefed our harrowing last 2 days to some local guides and lodge owners. We will need a bit more training before attempting a walk in the wild ever again!
But mostly we were reminded of the important lesson to travel these areas with the right equipment and preferably with more than one vehicle. But when all is said and done we must remember that we are the lucky ones. We have a capable vehicle and a sturdy tent. We may have had a short stint in the wild but we do not travel this road on foot, past elephants and the like, to get our groceries and supplies and our children do not have to walk every day to get to school.
Botswana is a beautiful country. It is wild and that is in many ways what makes it so remarkable and truly special.
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