Botswana blog: days 14-15

There is one redeeming quality in a 24-hour stomach flu: it only last 24 hours. When we awoke on the 14th morning, my husband was finally feeling human again. As you might recall from my last post, he had gotten violently ill the previous night (at 2am) and nearly scared a hippo to death with his noises. After a cocktail of drugs, prescribed by the local air rescue doctor, and a full day and night in a real bed, he was cured.

And thank goodness – because it was time to hit the road!

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Makgadikgadi is a land of giants

After spending three nights in Maun, I was desperate to get back to our routine. Waking up just before sunrise and watching colours splash across the Botswana wilderness; sharing a pot of coffee and rusks during a morning game drive; cooking breakfast in the park, wherever we decided to stop the 4×4; spending the day looking for wildlife or reading or driving to our next destination; arriving at camp and relaxing for a bit; heading out for an evening game drive and stopping for sundowners; watching the life-changing African sunsets fill the endless sky, sipping a glass of wine or gin and tonic; making a braai and cooking dinner; enjoying a s’more by the campfire while staring up at the milky way and the clearest night sky you could ever imagine; falling asleep in our rooftop tent.

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Day 14: Maun – Makgadikgadi

We departed the bustling town of Maun after breakfast, sad to say goodbye to our friends but eager to get on the road. Originally we planned to head to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) for two nights; we learned, however, that the rains had made the track into CKGR impassable. With only one 4×4 we didn’t want to risk getting stuck. CKGR is now high on our list for our next overland trip!

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We managed to surprise this guy

Our alternative was Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve, about 2 hours from Maun. There are multiple entrances to the park and we had a booking at Tiaan’s Camp, on the eastern side. Because we arrived in the morning, we drove straight to the park entrance at Kumaga – where we found a river crossing complete with water ferry.

After safely crossing the ferry (I was happy for Ricky to take on this challenge) we drove into the park. We were told the riverfront was the best place for game, but looking at the map and the vastness of the area, we still wanted to see what we could find in the park itself. We spent many hours driving around the Makgadikgadi, with no luck. We did find an amazing, secluded campground (with just two sites) smack in the middle of the park, and made a booking to stay there the next night. We were sure that would provide us with the extreme camping experience we craved – 50k from any human establishment, no running water or electricity, and the possibility of animals visiting camp at night. We were quite excited for that experience.

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Intimidating

We made our way back to the ferry, via the riverfront, as our campsite for this night was on the other side of the river. At one point on our way back we found ourselves in the middle of a journey of giraffe – over 50 of them. What an amazing feeling, to be surrounded by 50 of the most peculiar and graceful creatures in Africa!

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That night was uneventful as the campsite was closer to a local community than to the park itself. No animals made any visits that night and we slept soundly.

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Day 15: Makgadikgadi

The next morning we awoke and took our time with breakfast. Once we made the ferry crossing again (it was starting to become an expensive park trip!), we decided to start by driving along the riverfront. We stopped counting the number of large male elephants we passed; most seemed to be on their way to the river for a drink or a bath.

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We decided to check out Nxai Pan National Park, which is located just north of Makgadikgadi, and included in our park entry fee. The gate attendant gave us detailed driving directions, as the salt pans were quite wet and impassable. We saw dozens of elephant on the way to the Baobab picnic site, about 20k from the entrance. We also saw hundreds of baby giant African bullfrogs jumping out of muddy sections of the track (we had to be extra careful not to run them over). When full grown, males can be 2kg (4.4lb)!

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I just love the colours in this image

We also saw giraffe and gemsbok (my personal favourite) along the drive. The gemsbok were very difficult to photograph, as they ran off immediately when they sensed our presence.

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Gemsbok peering at us over the tall grass

Around lunchtime we arrived at the baobabs and got out of the car to stretch and eat. Baobabs are such unworldly trees. They remind me of something out of a Dr. Seuss book; these baobabs were the largest we had seen anywhere in the country.

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According to one of our earlier tour guides, baobabs were once used as jail cells – they can be hollow inside and so once they are cut into, they provide a naturally closed, claustrophobic space in which to house prisoners!

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Truck for size comparison purposes – what a baobab!

We lunched next to a massive salt pan. I had never seen something so beautiful, eery and alien. The mud would be deadly if we tried to drive across. We would certainly lock up the wheels with the stick, salty, thick substance. It’s actually amazing to see the natural barriers in Botswana; certain places are simply unreachable during the wet season.

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That’s not a lake!

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Not at all tempted to drive into the abyss…

After lunch we drove back to the park’s entrance and then into the Makgadikgadi again. We arrived at our remote campsite (Njuca Hills campsite) before sunset. Walking around the campsite to see the facilities, we checked out the bucket shower and drop toilet. As Ricky leaned in to look at the toilet, I looked up and saw he was about to stick his head into a MASSIVE Argiope spider nest, with the spider right in his line of vision. I pulled him back immediately and probably screamed a little bit. Spiders are not my favourite creature – I love what they do for pest control but would rather not see them!

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After that close encounter we drove out into the park for sundowners. If Montana is known as Big Sky Country, this part of Botswana should be known as Endless Sky Country. Just, wow.

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We were surrounded by limitless blue sky and clouds, with beautiful grasslands. The only sounds were occasional birds and crickets. As we took in the sunset, we discussed the future and our blessed lives, finding a full realisation of happiness and joy in that place. Clearly happy to be back in the wild after a few days of civilisation, I pretended we weren’t nearly done with our trip.

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Before daylight disappeared completely we went back to camp. While I was hopeful we would have visitors at camp, I was totally unprepared for the kinds of visitors we received. The second our headlamps were turned on, we were overrun by insects. I’ve never seen so many praying mantis in one place. While they are beautiful and unique, having dozens of them of all sizes climbing around you as you cook is actually just frightening! There were also the usual moths and other creepy crawlies – just multiplied by ten from the usual Botswana evening. I quickly realised that, while this campsite was an amazing experience for one night, I wouldn’t want to spend a weekend here. Not during high bug season, anyway!

We went to bed early simply to get behind a closed door. Reading our books and listening to the sounds of the Makgadikgadi, we tired quickly and slept soundly. What an excellent second-to-last night in Botswana.

Next time: rhinos, rhinos, rhinos!

 

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