Botswana blog: days 16 & 17

 Day 16 – Makgadikgadi to Khama

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Our night in Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve was the quietest night of the trip. Only occasional gusts of wind punctuated the silence. We awoke many hours later, with the sun’s first beams. Crisp and clear, it was a breath-taking morning in the Botswana wilderness.

We checked around camp for evidence of wildlife, but found no animal spore. It seemed our presence through the night hadn’t attracted the interest of any of the local animals (other than praying mantises). As we soaked up the morning rays, I made coffee and Ricky set up our dining table (a rustic metal foldable with two black canvas camp chairs). Breakfast was a ritual on this trip – moments we cherished where we discussed the game plan for the day(s) going forward. Today was no different – except that it would be our last full day in Botswana.

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The day’s trip was just a few hours, driving the 4×4 tracks out of the park to the ferry, crossing again and then driving entirely on tar to Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Before we set out on our Botswana journey, a number of friends and acquaintances had encouraged us to make a visit to Khama. It was a “must see” destination, apparently, and our expectations were high.

On the drive out of the Makgadikgadi, we came across a few herds of gemsbok, my second favourite antelope (next to kudu). They’re so mystical and ancient looking – I asked Ricky to stop driving a number of times so I could watch them. We also saw a number of single male elephants making their way to the river. After crossing on the ferry, it was smooth sailing to Khama.

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An enthusiastic young employee greeted us at reception and encouraged us (successfully) to sign-up for a rhino tracking experience the following morning. Since it was to be our last few hours in Botswana, we were both extremely keen to try something new and to see rhino on foot. After spending the last of our pula, we were given our campsite assignment and drove through the deep sandy tracks to our home for the night.

Per our daily routine, we went on an afternoon game drive through the park. The sanctuary is 8,000 hectares – a respectable but manageable size. We followed one of the outer tracks around the eastern side of the park, in search of rhino. It didn’t take long. Soon, we were face to face with a mother and a very young calf. The baby was adorable and spunky – he kept chasing zebra that came close to his mom. He was clearly destined to be an intimidating figure!

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After watching the pair for a few minutes, we drove further into the park and found two more mother-calf pairs on either side of the road. We parked the car and watched, amazed at the four dinosaur-like creatures nibbling grass beside us. The babies mostly stayed next to their mothers, venturing forward momentarily to check us out before running back for reassurance. We decided that was a perfect sun-downers spot and enjoyed our gin and tonics in the 4×4.

Khama Rhino Sanctuary was established in 1992 and is a community based organisation. They started with just a few rhino, growing to over 50 today, and have been very successful in both raising and protecting rhinos. We interacted with a number of staff members, all from the local community, who were passionate about the animals in their care. It is truly an amazing place.

Sunset arrived and we drove back to camp. As we began cooking dinner, revelling in the lack of creepy crawlies at this campsite, a bush baby came to check us out. It jumped from branch to branch behind our heads, finding just as much enjoyment in observing us as we did observing it.

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We had a lovely dinner of pasta and boerie, followed by our nightly s’mores at the campfire, all accompanied by delicious red wine. As Ricky went to wash the night’s dishes, a group of waterbuck walked through camp. They must not have heard us, but Ricky’s headlamp gave them a fright and they ran off. A few metres further on the path a group of female kudu ambled past. What a cool end to the evening!

Day 17

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It was another quiet and clear night and we slept soundly. We awoke early to join the rhino tracking, which turned out to be just the two guides and us. After driving for twenty minutes, the tracker found fresh rhino spore and we hopped out of the vehicle. We spent four hours tracking the female rhino on foot, learning tracking methods and recognising how fresh their footprints were. It was an amazing and informative experience, culminating in a close sighting of five white rhino (including one six month old)!

We were taken back to camp and wished well on our journey. It was time to head home. We packed up Blake for the last time and got back on the road. Khama is just two hours from the border, then a further three to Johannesburg.

We were home by mid-afternoon and exhausted. Our lovely rescue dog, Sherlock, was over the moon to see us (and we him) and we fell onto the floor in a pile of cuddles. I’d love to go back, to do it all over again soon, but there is something about getting home…!

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While this is the final post for the storyline of our Botswana trip, I’ll be posting soon with my top recommendations for an overland trip through Botswana. Please keep in touch and follow along!

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