Both Vanessa and I were really looking forward to this trip, myself particularly so after my "failed" trip last year when I had the retinal detachment and had to be airlifted out of Moremi for urgent surgery in Pretoria. This put a damper on the whole experience as it happened on day 4 of that trip. Although I got to go back eventually I only had vision in one eye which wasn't a whole lot of fun. The fun part was being able to fly in and out in a chopper, the former paid in full by travel insurance (yes had it not been for travel insurance it would have been a different story). Now when we travel to Botswana we become patrons of Okavango Air Rescue which allows one to use their service if needed - and experience has proven we are not immune to medical emergencies.
Having had retinal detachments and cataracts in both eyes now there is always a risk of a recurrence, and of concern when in remote areas but one cant let that stop the travelling.
For this trip we were going with friend Ollie from Ollie Rood Photographic Safaris, my third trip with him. We arrived in SA on the 19th August and as usual stayed with my parents in Pretoria for a few nights before embarking on the 2 week trip to the Central Kalahari and Nxai Pan. We left early the following Tuesday drive up to Rakops which app 43km from the gate to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The biggest advantage on doing it this way is there is less organisation in Pretoria however I do miss the hustle and bustle of arranging my own trip and also driving my own (rental) 4X4 myself.
We entered Botswana at the Stokpoort Border Post this time - a small post which does not encounter much traffic unlike the alternative post not too far away where there are long queues and it takes ages. We were through both sides of the border in record time. The short section of gravel on the Botswana side is a breeze until one hits tarmac again. Definitely be doing that again. Its a long road to Rakops, made even more complicated by the numerous livestock on the road. Animals have right of way and it is an offence punishable by a fine if you inadvertently knock one over. I think the donkeys know that and will stand in the middle of the road and not budge until you are right up on them. Definitely not a country to drive at night. In Australia we try and stay off rural roads at night too - kangaroos being the big problem
. Limpopo River - Border between SA and Botswana
We stopped off to refuel twice, draw money and get a few provisions. We also stopped just before Rakops to have a chat to locals driving their donkey cart down the main road. The driver requested we email him the photos so details were exchanged. I messaged him on Facebook on my return with the photos - he was much obliged. Technology is catching on all over the world which is fantastic to experience first hand. The donkey cart is still a very important means of travel in Botswana. Sadly the donkey is now been targeted by the Chinese for their skins and gelatine under the skin which is used in traditional medicine too I believe. They are being stolen and slaughtered left, right and centre. When we were in Botswana the government had just turned down plans for a donkey abattoir thank goodness. The donkeys would have had to come from somewhere ! The Chinese are a curse in Africa - rhino horn, ivory, donkeys, killing all the indigenous birds for meat, trees in Namibia, trees in Mozambique ...... The list goes on and on.
We arrived in Rakops around 5pm and decided to camp overnight at Rakops River Lodge. It would be a short hour long drive to the Matswere Gate the next morning. The camp site had ablutions and overlooked the Boteti River.
Early the next morning I tripped over the entrance to the tent as I got out and landed heavily on my left wrist. A bad sprain. Seriously cheesed off. It took 5 days before I could hold my camera comfortably and shoot.
We left around 8am and arrived at the gate an hour later. After all the formalities were over we left for Passage 1 our first 4 night camping spot overlooking the Passage Valley. I love this camp site - its large, miles from any other camp site and there are few vehicles on the road. If we saw 3 vehicles in 5 days it was a lot. You truly are on your own. The only facilities are a long drop toilet and a shower with a bucket. There is no running water so all water is brought in with us - 5L a day per person for showers, dish washing. We took in extra bottled water for drinking. Makes the 83L Cape Town residents are permitted a day positively luxurious. Its amazing how little water one actually needs if you follow the basic principle of wet, lather, rinse.
Passage 1 is set on a hill overlooking the valley looking west which allows for beautiful sunsets. It has several large shade trees (although just coming out of winter they didn't have a whole lot of leaves yet). The acacia trees were in full blossom and you could smell their perfume while in the car.
On the right is Ollie holding the sign to Deception Pan which has rotted and fallen over - just like most of the sign posts depicting the various campsites. It is Africa after all. Nothing gets repaired. There is no longer running water at the main gate to the park and the ablutions are disgusting. Yet they all seem to sit around all day twiddling their thumbs. I doubt they will ever get repaired again. Africa just rots away. I don't get it.
Vanessa taking a photo on Deception Valley
What a huge relief to finally be under the wide blue skies of Africa surrounded by the African bush, the birds, lions roaring at night, the call of the jackal, owls and nightjars. Its the thing I miss the most about Africa. A time to recharge the batteries . Problem is time always goes so quickly. When you are having a good time it flies by, when you are working it goes at snail pace !
The rudimentary "ablution block" with long drop enclosure left and shower right. No doors BTW.
The routine is to go out on an early game drive, get back mid morning and relax during the heat of the day (it was well over 30 degrees in late August) and then go out for a late afternoon game drive with sundowners, G&T for Vanessa and Ollie and beer for me. Pretty simple life. There are not many roads in the area - the road we came in on and the road to Passage 2 and 3. No loops. Sandy roads but not a problem at all. We would have to decide on each drive as to which way we would go. We heard lions roaring at night but a long distance away. On the first game drive we did heading west we came across a male lion lying under a tree very close to the road. He looked like he had had a fight with a porcupine and came off second best with quills in his neck, nose, upper leg, chest. He had blood around the mouth so the assumption is the porcupine lost the battle. These injuries, on the surface look innocuous, however the quills, like hooks, have barbs and are not easy to remove - they certainly will not just fall out on their own accord. They often migrate deeper as the animal moves, soften up, become infected and form abscesses. Death is the result.
He didn't hang around for too long and eventually moved off into the thick bush. This was the first Kalahari lion we have seen - in 2016 we did not see lions at all.
The kalahari sunsets are spectacular.
Late afternoon on our game drive we would stop in the valley, have a sundowner and watch the sun go down. On 2 nights we saw the space lab flying over. Quite amazing.
It was new moon our first few nights building up towards a full moon as we left Botswana. Idyllic days. There were literally hundreds of Kori bustards in the pans pairing of for the mating season. These are the worlds largest flying birds. We also saw many bat eared foxes. They are adorable with their large "radar" ears which, when hiding they flatten, always operate in pairs, male and female and mate for life. In the heat of the day they lie under the nearest shade tree while early morning and late afternoon they forage for food - insects and small rodents.
The days were hot, low 30s and evenings cool. After 4 nights at Passage we relocated to Sunday Pan 4, a similar campsite but closer to the Pan which has water. The bird life is spectacular and difficult to photograph. Pale chanting goshawks are numerous, Hornbill, Ant Eating Chat, Swallow Tailed Bee eaters, Secretary Birds and my favourite the Crimson Breasted Shrike. See gallery below.
Sunset - spectacular at this time of the year
Kori bustard in full flight on the left
Part 2 to follow.