Day 9 (continued):
When we reached the customs building we began filling out our forms, but then realized that we needed to register the car. All the information needed had been provided by Britz, so that made it easy. Once we had everything finalized & had paid all the necessary fees, we were on our way. We were probably in & out of in less than 10 minutes. It was great!
Immediately, once we crossed into town: donkeys. We thought it was fun, and they seemed so out of place to us. When we think of donkeys, we think of North & South America. I mean, we have donkeys (a.k.a. burros) that roam wild here in Arizona near Lake Pleasant. None the less, we were entertained. As we passed through the town, and out toward the middle of nowhere, the donkeys did not seem to disappear. Donkeys lined the streets and occasionally blocked the streets. NOTE: One thing that Brad’s co-workers had warned us about was donkeys. Brad was told that there were going to be tons of donkeys. We learned quickly that the best way to get them to move was to honk the horn and do your best to not stop…. They will move… I preferred a more gently approach. Roll down the window, and ask nicely. Both methods were effective.
The other thing we noticed very rapidly were the potholes… and the size. Some looked as if they could swallow a car. The potholes, much like donkeys, never disappeared. They, too, were everywhere and constantly slowing us down. There were several points that we had to attempt to veer off the road to avoid a pothole or several. Sometimes, off road was the only way around the potholes… Kind of defeats the purpose of the road.
We were astonished that Namibia’s roads were so pristine, and yet right across the border, Botswana was a different story. I’ve never seen roads in such poor condition. …and as Brad would say, “as soon as you start getting comfortable, and thinking you are in the clear, they pop back up”. There were a few big potholes that we had hit, and the scary thing for us was, that with no phone service, and being in the middle of nowhere, if we popped 2 tires, we were screwed.
Anyways, back to the journey itself. Botswana (aside from the roads) was beautiful.. It was very lush and green, and there were many massive termite mounds to be seen. ….and donkeys. haha. There were also, large numbers of goats and cattle, as well. About half way through our drive, the weather began to change drastically, and surprise (not surprised), we were in a massive down-pour. This had us a little on edge. With the amount of rain that was falling (basically like driving through a waterfall), and the number of potholes on the road…. We were driving at snail speed in attempt not to die and/or be stranded. Eventually, though, as they always do, the storm cleared, and we were back in the sun.
The time did eventually come for a bathroom break…. Note: That’s the other thing… On the drive from Rundu to Maun, there were almost no places to stop and eat or use the restroom. We were really surprised. It was mostly small villages & townships. Because of the lack of amenities, we ended up having to find an area where we could pull over. Sure enough, being a guy… This was no issue for Brad. For me on the other hand, it’s a slightly different story. It requires balance and willingness to bare my “goodies”, as Ciara would call them, to the elements. When I was out of the car, I found that the muggy air was almost too much to bear while I wandered off into the bushes while simultaneously studying the ground for snakes or anything else that might have wanted a bite of my derriere. All that I could see were ants… a decent sized beetle, a spider that I was keeping an eye on, and a millipede that had wandered off in search of some privacy. Me on the other hand, that was the best I was going to get. So, I did my business as quickly as possible and made my way back to my car, which in a sense felt a little but like a walk of shame.
We turned back on the main road continuing our journey to Maun. It was another day without lunch, and surviving on granola bars, and other snacks, but it wasn’t too bad considering the most strenuous activity of day so far had been putting my luggage in the car and squatting in the bushes.
We arrived to Maun that evening. We were on the city outskirts as the sun was setting, and by the time we reached our hotel (which I think I had to find off memory again), Rivernest Boutique Cottages, it was dark. We checked in & took our times getting our bags to our spacious suite (it had a small kitchen & a living room). Once we were settled, it was time to find dinner. Because our hotel was not serving, and thank God for that, the hotel receptionist directed us to Sedia Riverside Hotel which was only a few minutes back up the road towards town.
Finding our way back to Sedia was a little difficult because part of the road was flooded & Brad was convinced that we were going the wrong way…. I, however, was persistent about following the road we were on because of the street-side sign. I think he thought I was nuts, but the key is that I was right. Within a minute or so, we were there. We told the man at the gate that we were there for dinner & had no issues getting in to park. We walked into the beautifully decorated hotel, and headed toward the restaurant which was out on the patio. We got a table with no issue, and our server was kind enough to walk us through our options: Buffet (which was mostly picked over) or the Menu.
The menu was a no brainer, and I ordered a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables which was to die for. As simple as it was, after not having a real satisfying meal since Walvis Bay, it truly entertained my tastebuds! I finished it off with a hot fudge sundae in order to satisfy my sweet tooth. We, also, had a couple of enchanting dinner guests… A couple of cats that I’m assuming live on the property. They were hoping for a handout!
We were back in the car, when I realized that I had left my purse on the chair next me. As I started to head back in, our waiter was coming out after me to deliver it. I was really nervous because that bag had all of our money, my passport… everything. So it was a real delight & a testament to the integrity level of the hotel & the staff when I learned that nothing was missing. It was a big part of why I was thinking I may want to stay there the next time I return; that and because the food was so good!
When we got back to the hotel, I made it a priority to start washing my underwear, so that I wouldn’t be bogged down with it when I got to Victoria Falls. We then spent a little time watching Planet Earth on my iPad, before we called it a night.
The next morning we were up bright and early for another big adventure. A mokoro ride on the Okavango Delta (through Delta Rain). NOTE: I was interested in using another company, but had no way of getting a hold of them, it seemed as if they went out of business or their middle man did. Delta Rain’s prices seem to be pretty reasonable & they were prompt in their reply. A lot of company’s seem to respond in Africa time, which is slower than a Mexico minute, and sometimes they just don’t reply at all. But first breakfast, we headed into the dining portion of our hotel. The lady took our order of eggs and bacon (which also came with beans & tomatoes). We were able to take our time eating because he had plenty of time until we were to be picked up. However, our driver ended up arriving a bit early, so we did our best to get ready a few minutes prior. Our driver gave us a run down of the plan before Brad & I loaded up into the back of the massive 4×4 vehicle before we headed out toward the delta.
The road was incredibly rough and bumpy, and many parts were flooded. Even our driver struggled a couple times getting us through, but he did. We passed by marsh lands that seemed to be a hang out for some local donkeys, small farm lands, and through a village. Once we were unloaded we waited a little bit before our driver introduced us to our mokoro guide. I cannot tell you what his name was, I couldn’t pronounce it there, and I can’t even remember it here from home, but I remember his smile. Our guide loaded up his mokoro with our massive cooler of lunch food, and our chairs for sitting in. Once we were ready to go, he instructed me to sit in the middle and Brad to sit in the front. I was incredibly jealous because part of my beautiful view included Brad’s head… Once we were both seated our guide pulled the boat back into the deeper water and began to push us along with the pole. We were off.
The delta was stunning! The grasses that emerged from the water were close to 2 feet tall, and the thousands of waterlilies were scattered throughout the water. We were pushed through clearings where motor boats would pass through, or our guide would take us down incredibly narrow paths which meant you would occasionally get smacked in the face with the reeds.
After about an hour or so of floating, we were beached. Our guide led us under a large tree where a clearing had been made by previous visitors. Here, we dropped our belongings & took a minute to cool off before heading out on foot.
I was completely unaware that we would be trekking through the wilderness on foot, and was unprepared. I was in flipflops, and some of the grasses were up to my waste. We stayed on the trampled paths, and wove through the grasslands as a small herd of three. Occasionally, I feel the sharp grass roughly scrape my shins and the tops of my feet, but I kept going with an enthusiastic spirit in hopes of seeing something grand.
In the distance our guide pointed out zebra, wildebeest, and antelope that had been grazing. We watched them as they watched us, unsure of whether or not they should move on. We kept searching for larger animals like elephants or giraffes, but none could be seen in the heat of the day. We saw a crane in the far off distance & a beautiful bee-eater, but nothing else. We had been walking for near a half hour, and there was no cloud cover or breeze to break the searing sun from our skin. We decided to turn back at the lack of wildlife to be seen.
When we returned to the tree, we set up our lunch. There were chicken legs (I opted out, in fear of food poisoning), pasta salad, rolls, and a bean mix concoction. Everything tasted so good, and cold food and water were a refreshing option in the shade.
Eventually, other groups began to show up. We started speaking with a Dutch couple who had been driving from Victoria Falls. (They had our same route, just about, but were just going the opposite direction.) We had a good chat about our experiences, and they had warned of what was to come. They told us that the road up to Victoria Falls was in bad shape. They told us that the potholes were terrible, and that there was awful flooding for close to two kilometers at one point. They told us that we would probably need a snorkel to get through. This news made us a little uncertain of our future because our vehicle did not have a snorkel! Aside from that, It was nice to have a little bit of a social visit.
With our lunch finished, and conversation beginning to dwindle, we decided we were ready to head back. We asked our guide to take us back a little bit early. What caught us off guard was how brutal the ride back would be. It seemed as if there were no clouds left in the sky, not a single breeze left to grace us with its presence. The sun was beating down on us, and it was almost unbearable. Brad was wearing his jacket at this point in an attempt to keep his fair freckled skin from burning, and I was using mine to keep the sun off my legs. I felt as if I couldn’t win. I had to pull my jacket on. It almost felt as though my skin were going to begin melting off my bones. At one point we had to stop so that our guide could rinse off his face in the cold delta water. About halfway along our journey back, our guide pulled us up into a clearing and pointed out the small cluster of hippos at the other end. It felt bold to be coming up behind the hippos, and you never know if one may come up behind you and capsize your boat. I prefer a death that excludes hippos…
When we got back to the main shore, we were glad to see our driver waiting for us. He was early. He was willing to snap a cute picture of Brad and I together before we all loaded up into the vehicle to head back. The journey back was once again rough, but this time I was very sunburned & doing all that I could to stay away from the sun, which included moving into the middle seat. I, also, had a full bladder & could not wait to get back to the room.
That evening, before heading out for dinner, we made it a point to wash away the filth that had set in our our boat ride and wash a few more clothes before our departure the next day as it began to pour rain (thankfully, it came after our mokoro ride, but a light rain would have been enjoyed on the boat). While I showered, Brad took the car up the street to fill the back tire back up with air because we didn’t want it to get any lower over night since we had an activity planned the next morning.
Dinner ended up being a big cheesy pizza from Debonair’s Pizza. This was the same place we had eaten at in Kruger the year prior, but this time it was one thousand times better. NOTE: Maybe it was just because we were craving pizza, or maybe it’s because quality control isn’t as big of a deal in Africa as it is in the states. The other thing I have to say about Debonair’s in Maun is that the service was impeccable. The gentleman there that acted as our server was great. He was incredibly friendly, and on top of his game. I was really impressed. He was better than a lot of American servers, and I’m sure he will make it far with Debonair’s if he stays with the company.
After dinner, we ran over to the super market next door to grab a sweet treat. The debate was more oreos or to mix it up. We mixed it up. We each got ourselves and ice cream bar… and Brad chose better. Do I remember what I got? Not particularly (an ice cream version of an American candy bar… not a Snickers, otherwise there’d be no regrets), but I remember that Brad’s was better.
We wandered to the car and drove back to the hotel. We were in for the night. I finalized some things for my sister-trip to Spain, and then we ended up watching a movie again, and began to get organized for our early departure the next morning.
We were up with the sun again. We made sure our bags were completely packed up & that was nothing was left behind before loading up the car & heading to grab some breakfast. We ordered the same as the day before, but today it seemed harder to eat, especially for Brad who was having some minor stomach issues. Our appetites just were not their usual selves. Being as it was, we dropped our key at the front desk and drove towards Maun International Airport for our helicopter ride with Helicopter Horizons. We were meeting at 8:00 AM, and had a take off time arranged for 8:30 AM for a 45 minute ride.
When we arrived at the office, we were given our tickets to get us through airport security, and made our payment. We were then instructed to head to the airport, and pass through security. So we did just that. We showed the man at the screening area our tickets and our passports. From there, another man met with us and put us in the back of his sedan along with one of our pilots. It was a short drive over to the landing pad. There, we then met our other pilot. We watched as the two arranged the helicopter for our door-less excursion, and admired the surrounding areas. We were then briefed on safety precautions and instructed on how the head sets worked. It was easy. With in minutes, we were strapped in and ready for our very first helicopter ride, which happened to be over the Okavango Delta.
With clearance from traffic control (which you could hear taking place through the headphones), we began our ascent into the moist Botswana air in search of the swampy delta & all that reside there. We passed over the township, and the fence (which is intended to help reduce the issues had with foot and mouth disease), and after about five minutes or so, you could begin to see the tall grasses and vast openness. Within minutes we began to spot the giraffe and zebra and antelope. …and after a few more minutes, the elephants began to reveal themselves. We were finally seeing elephants!!! It was what we had been waiting for. Not too far below we could see herds of elephants scattered within the trees, and giraffes eating, and antelope leaving a dark trail in the grass-filled waters. It was beautiful.
In that moment, I was jealous of God’s view. I wish I could always see the world that way. It makes me wonder how it feels to take in the views from Mount Kilimanjaro or Mount Nyirangongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m sure it’s far more satisfying the beautiful view I can have here at home from the McDowell mountains which over look the valley of the northeast Sonoran Desert.
The flight went quick, and I was sad for it to end, but it was an incredible start to our day. We had a long one ahead of us. On our way back to the car, we stopped into the gift shop, but found nothing for us. Instead, we headed to the gas station. We had an 8 hour drive ahead of us, and needed to make sure we were prepared. We got gas & Brad had confirmed that our tire was still good from the fill the day before.
It was on: an eight hour drive first to the east and then North & into Zimbabwe for our final stop at Victoria Falls. The drive was interesting. A little ways outside of Maun we experience another road stop (we experienced several on this trip, many that haven’t been mentioned), but this one was slightly more intense. For some reason, they had us get out of the car while they asked us what we had in it. All we had was luggage, and that’s what we said; they didn’t even inspect our vehicle. They were looking for any type of animals or foods they may have been of any cause for concern. Naturally, we don’t just pick up stray steenbok, and tote them around in our vehicle. So we were told we could go. NOTE: They had several veterinary check-points through our road trip where they could check livestock for traces of diseases. We were often stopped at these, and then quickly waved through, usually after verifying Brad’s drivers license.
Road conditions were pretty much the same, many potholes & many donkeys… For a while, we had a “spotter”, as Brad calls them. A driver in front of who has to dodge the potholes first. This, in my opinion, also made things a little more interesting and entertaining. Eventually things began to improve as we neared Motopi, and headed into Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. This is where we had our first free-roaming elephant sightings. We were able to get a few pictures of big beauty playing shy behind a tree.
Once we were out of the National Park, the road began to be flooded. (If it wasn’t one thing in Botswana, it was another.) When the Dutch people had told us of flooded roads, they made them seem impassible, and like there was only one spot. However, there were several spots that we passed through where water was flying up and away from the car as wheels went crashing through. My immediate assumption was that the flooding had probably subsided & that we wouldn’t have to worry about any impassible flooding. I thought we would be fine since the other couple had driven through a couple days prior… What I didn’t realize was that the worst was still ahead. Finally, we reached the extremely flooded area. We were hesitant. There was a medical vehicle ahead of us that seemed to sit a little lower and, also, did not have a snorkel. The driver fearlessly charged into the water at a mellow speed. Our only option was to follow with no one behind us. The water was probably a little over knee-deep (granted I’m 5’6″) and did probably go on for at least a mile. Brad did his best to stay just behind the vehicle in attempt to avoid his wake. The water was lower this way, and the last thing we wanted was to flood the engine.
It was a stressful time in the drive. I took video and pictures, and did my best to encourage Brad and remind him to stay close enough the car ahead so that the water stayed low. Eventually, we all made it through. …and I had to laugh as we reached the end where many vehicles sat debating or waiting to tow out other bold drivers. We did it.
After that the drive became a breeze. We stopped in Nata for fuel & hoped for snacks but we decided to opt out because it didn’t seem like they had great options, and instead just took advantage of a bathroom break. As we headed further north we went through a few national parks, and from there we began to see more of the free roaming elephants. We had one large bull try to intimidate us into fleeing by throwing his head up and down while simultaneously flapping his large ears in unison. He was magnificent: a beautiful reminder of the intelligence and majestic nature of the largest earth-roaming mammal.
During our drive, we got hit with a few rain storms, some heavier than others. We also stopped at the gas station in Pandamatenga for snacks, which was really just water & a KitKat because we were trying to use our Botswana Pula (the currency). As we drove further north we passed through beautiful fields of flowers full of large birds. Brad won’t admit to it, but I think he refused to stop for photos… I think he was burnt out on being in the car.
Eventually we made our way into Kasane, the Northern city of Botswana. From here, we headed to the Customs office to fill out paperwork and get our passports stamped so that we could leave the country. Little did we know about the “fun” that was about to unfold once we crossed the border.
It was Bye, Bye Botswana. Hello, chaos.
…to be continued.