Desert and Delta

Trip Start Oct 19, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Botswana  ,
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

My time in Botswana is drawing to a close and I'm taking some time out of arranging onward travel to update my blog.. I leave here on Sunday for Lusaka on my way to Lilongwe.

Autumn has crept up on us, with about a 10 C drop in temperature and cloudy skies, which actually makes it more humane, but makes a jumper a necessity for the evenings. Gabs is fragrant with fermenting marula fruit covering the floors of the intricate network of walkways that run the length and breadth of the city. However getting about Gabs has been seriously hampered by my own stupidity of smashing a beer bottle on my foot and slicing my toe, so I hobble about with bandaged foot, bemoaning of snake bites to alarmed Batswana. The Batswana have a pathological/ irrational fear of snakes, so it causes great amusement to me, to nonchalantly shrug my shoulders as I talk of fangs, venom and pierced skin...

The Desert Road trip

5 o'clock on a Friday morning, four sleep deprived and weary travellers loaded up a diplomatic 4 x 4 with bags, hiking boots, beer and snacks and then hit the gate... After a quick repair job the 4 weary travellers hit the road to Namibia. We drove through fantastic scenery as the sun started rising burning off the mist that clung to the valleys around Kanye, bathing everything in a surreal, ethereal light. Stopping regularly to change drivers and stretch our legs we made it to the Botswana / Namibia border by lunchtime. The drive in itself was uneventful, the roads are good, there was no other traffic to speak of and the main hazard were kamikaze dumb-arse donkeys that just stand in the middle of the road. The goats at least have a little road sense and scamper out of the way, but the donkeys, just stand there looking in a state of abject wretchedness. Having crossed the border with no hassle we drove all the way to Swakopmund on the coast, this drive took us about 14 1/2 hours. We arrived at the B&B, showered and headed out to a restaurant called the Tug, were we sat in an old converted Tug boat watching the waves crash on the beach as we tucked into fresh seafood.

The next day's plans of driving to Sossusvlei, were dashed, when we heard it would take twice as long to drive as the rains had washed away the roads making the speed limit 30 km/h as opposed to 60. The prospect of 6 hours driving on top of the 14 1/2 of the previous day convinced us to stay an extra night in Swakopmund. The culture is very Germanic and there were hardly any black Namibians as we wandered around this quiet seaside town, encountering shops with barred gates across the entrances. "No there's no crime, its just a precaution" was the response when we queried the need for these metal barred gates. That afternoon we piled into the car and drove to the longest dune in Namibia Dune 7. Climbing was tough going as our feet sunk into deep sand giving little purchase. But we made it to the top and were rewarded with fantastic views....see photos. I decided to walk along the ridge of the dune, feeling the sand shifting under your toes is a very unsettling and yet exciting feeling. We walked along a bit further and shared a bottle of wine as the sun went down.

The next day we went quad biking on the lunar landscape / dunes just outside of Swakopmund....Our guide was a complete cowboy and adrenalin freak and had both Daphne and I somewhat concerned at times.

Death on the Dunes

Our concern was not alleviated and only grew after Daphne crashed into my quad bike sending me scrambling in the sand fearful of my life and limbs. Picture the scene - The sun is baking, burning the back of your neck a raw red, sweat is pouring down your face, dripping into your eyes, mixing with the fine sand that has been blown up into your face stinging your eyes, coating your dry lips and choking the back of your throat. The distance is a blur as you blink thinking you are seeing water (okay its the coast, so you are seeing the sea!!), you hear a distant drone of an insect, that gets louder and louder invading your brain, pestering your mind. You turn to see a mad Amazonian woman astride a quad bike bearing down on you at full throw yourself off your trusty steed getting a mouthful of sand as she careers into your quad bike, toppling it over just inches from you. Not quite how it went down...

Basically we had to get up a dune on the bikes to meet up with the rest of the group. I was just in front of Daphne and was going up the dune, when I lost momentum and so came back down, turned to get up another route, but the turn was too sharp so I just started sliding back down the dune. Having just managed to control the bike, I hear this "AAAAAAAAGGGHHH" from behind me and so realising that Daphne has done pretty much the same thing as me, I jump of my bike and scramble to safety as she ploughs into my stationery bike, scrapping her leg between them and pushing my bike over on its side. We both started laughing, relieved that the 'accident' had not been more severe, if I hadn't have got off the bike my leg would have been squashed under the quad bike... and got back on the bikes.. However the rest of the trip was somewhat marred and we were very thankful when we got back to base.

We then visited Walvis Bay, having lunch on a lagoon there before heading back through wind swept countryside and storms, to Windhoek, where we spent a night, before the drive home. Windhoek is a pretty town set in hills with a population of about 250,000. We didn't really see much of it, arriving late in the evening and then departing early morning. We were about 20 minutes from Daphne's house, when she asked if anyone else could smell burning. Yes our engine was on fire...luckily there was a gas station near by, so we limped in. With the help of some very keen young petrol attendants, we patched the car and slowly made our way into Gabs. It was a long weekend with a lot of time spent in a car, numerous junk snacks consumed, much laughter and gossip and the time spent on Dune 7 made it worthwhile.

The Delta

I couldn't leave Botswana without another visit to the Delta. So I arranged a trip up there pre-season to see the guys I had met last year. I arrived in Maun, the gateway to the Delta on Friday night and spent it drinking with Jim, the young Watson fellow of previous blogs. There was another Watson fellow in town, Lindsay who I had met in Cape Town and so the three of us, joined pilots, tour guides and a motley crew on a payday piss-up. Every last Friday of the month, is treacherous as the numbers of drink drivers increase from 1 in 2 to 1 in 1 and the bars overflow with Batswana getting plastered, spending their monthly wages. The sight of someone staggering to their car, unable to walk properly or focus and then get in and drive off, at 20 Km/h is common-place.

Jim negotiated the mean streets of Maun and we made it safely back to the house that he is currently 'house-sitting' in. It is a sweet one bedroomed wooden construction in a compound with 3 - 4 other houses and fierce dogs - 2 Daschunds and a Bassett hound - all of which barked the whole night - joy! Lindsay and I took over Jim's bed and turfed him out onto the sitting room floor - what a Gent. We then trooped into town the next morning so I could catch a 9:30 flight over the delta to Shinde in the far north. It was fantastic, the delta was so green and there was so much water. They have had non-stop rain which has made it very difficult to get supplies in as trucks keep getting stuck and planes are unable to land on flooded airstrips.

I saw some beautiful sunsets and although didn't go on any specific game drives, saw giraffes, sable, zebras, elephants, lechwe, hippo, crocs and loads and loads of impala as I was driven from one camp to another in a land cruiser that was submerged under flooded roads and crossings. New roads have had to been carved out of the bush as previous pathways are now impassable.

Unfortunately, my penultimate night was spent with my head in a make-shift bowl, heaving my guts up, listening to the orchestra of the night - lions calling, hippos laughing, frogs and insects chattering and mosquitoes whining above my head. This prevented any midnight drives and put pays to doing pretty much anything on my last day, including a walking safari which I will just have to do when I next come back to Botswana.
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