We’re in Zambia now and in hindsight knowing that cell coverage and WiFi availability would be sketchy we should have provided a little route information in our first post but when you are sitting outside in Johannesburg and the wind is howling and its close to freezing and the internet is slow we tend to keep things short so we’ll start at the beginning…
After a total of 29 hours of travel, 23 hours flying, we arrived in Johannesburg and were met by a nice fellow named Resistance who proceeded to take us to our accommodation. We spent our first three nights at a great lodge, Safari Club SA located near OR Tambo airport. We were warmly greeted by the hotel owners, Jose(sp?) and Alastair MacDougall. The lodge is set in a beautifully manicured setting with a nice welcoming sitting area and restaurant and a separate indoor-outdoor bar. Our room was cozy with a comfortable bed and spacious bathroom. Over the next three days we enjoyed excellent breakfasts and dinners but more importantly we shared great conversation with Jose and Alastair. They are a lovely couple who put their hearts and souls into their business. We highly recommend Safari Club SA and we are looking forward to stopping in for a visit when we return to Joberg in early September.
To date we’ve covered just under 2,000 km and have so far camped in the bush for 6 nights in 3 locations, stayed at a nice little lodge just outside of Francistown for one night, camped 2 nights in a so-so campsite in the North Eastern District of Botswana near the Nata Bird Sanctuary and Sowa Pan and spent 2 nights in a beautiful bungalow at Wildtrack Safaris-Eco Lodge situated in the centre of the the newly formed Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (the largest of its kind in the world). Departing Wildtrack on the 31st we made our way to the Kazungula border crossing where after 2 hours of the most bizarre red tape infested customs process we crossed the Zambezi river from Botswana to Zambia and made our way to Livingstone for 2 nights where we regrouped, picked up a SIM card and loaded up on groceries for our next leg through the wilds of Zambia.
July 20 to 22, Blouberg Nature Reserve
We started off heading north east towards the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana driving approximately 430 km and stayed at Blouberg Nature Reserve in the lowveld of Limpopo Province where we had a nice campsite located in a very dry and dusty bushveld. Blouberg Nature Reserve harbours the biggest breeding colony of Cape Vultures in the world and hosts more than 1000 breeding pairs. Getting to the reserve was a little bit of a challenge as our GPS told us upon turning right to leave our vehicle and walk to our destination. Walk? We’re in the middle of nowhere. This was nothing new for us and we have had a very hard time feeling confident using the GPS. In Joburg we had to resort to Google maps to find our hotel after picking up our truck, we were told to turn left when we left Mapungubwe when we new for a fact we had to turn right, we were told to turn left into a farmers field when we were looking for Woodlands and were told to turn left or right or straight or some other bloody thing several other times. When we last visited Africa we used maps. We were told GPS can get you lost. Well whoever told us that was right so now we travel praying to the powers that be that we are in fact going in the right direction and not towards Antarctica or Bolivia or some other place that is not remotely close to where we want to go.
July 22 to 24, Mapungubwe National Park, Mazhou Campsite
Continuing about 150 km north our next stop was Mapungubwe National Park. The park is in South Africa and is located near and on the Limpopo River and the borders of Botswana and Zimbabwe. The park is split in half, the Eastern and Western sections separated by farm lands. The campsite is partially fenced primarily to keep out elephants but monkeys, baboons and enyala roam freely around the site. The enyala are small to mid-sized and are very similar to a white-tailed deer. They are habituated and would literally walk up to you and sniff and lick your hands with the expectation of food. This is great but unfortunately they have become this way because without a doubt, people feed them. Not a good thing. Every evening at sunset two Bush Babies would leap effortlessly through the trees surrounding our site. Quite amazing the distance they can leap and they do so without any sound whatsoever. We didn’t get any pictures of them but we did a little further along in our travels. Before we arrived at our camp we picked up groceries at a Choppies grocery store. Near the check out they had a CFC stand, Choppies Fried Chicken. It looked great so we figured we would be lazy our first night at the campsite and we were very happy we did this as the 4 bundles of firewood we purchased at the park gate might as well have been wet noodles. It was impossible to start a fire, more like a smudge so our CFC chicken came in very handy that evening.
July 24 to 26, Tuli Wilderness, Tuli Block Botswana, Molema Campsite
About 65 km from Mapungubwe we passed through the Pont Drift Border crossing to the Tuli block in Botswana where Molema Camp offered an unfenced wild experience although to our surprise and delight, all 5 sites had a little toilet, open air shower and dish washing station complete with hot water. Rustic but a luxury for sure because elephant, lion and leopard can frequently stop by for a visit so walking to the ablution block (toilets) in the pitch black with only a headlamp or flashlight can can kind of raise the hair on the back of your neck a little. Camping near us were two German couples who we shared a morning game drive with but it was the evening before that the excitement really kicked in. It was dark and I was in the process of searing/charring our Peri Peri chicken. The evening was quiet and relaxed when all of a sudden, four bright headlamps were pointing our way and quickly making their way towards us. Through the darkness the Germans were running towards us, pots full of rice and chili con carne in hand. Elephants! Elephants have invaded our campsite! We had no choice but to run! The minutes turned into about an hour so we offered them some bowls and utensils and we proceeded to chow down all the while keeping our lights and my super duper 1000 lumen flashlight pointed towards their camp. As the ruckus at their campsite settled down all of a sudden we heard noises behind and to the side of our site. Oh oh, more elephants! We all stood and watched and shined our lights waiting in anticipation for the next invasion. Fortunately or not (it all depends if you like this kind of action or not, we do) the beasts (the elephants ha ha) dispersed and we were able to wish our visitors a good night. Joyce and I sat looking at the incredible night sky listening for any further visitors but none arrived so off to bed we went hoping we would have another encounter tomorrow but alas, it was not to be.
At this point in time I was really getting into building fires and cooking on the brai over the fire embers. I chopped wood and collected kindling and used my bare hands to move burning logs to place them exactly where they needed to be. I need to come up with a better way of moving burning logs!
July 26 to 27, Francistown, Woodlands Stopover Lodge
Located just outside of Francistown and about 170 km from the Tuli the Woodlands was a bit of a surprise. We were expecting a lodge complete with a little restaurant and maybe a bar with good WiFi so we could upload some pics and and get the blog updated. Well, this wasn’t really a “lodge”, just a reception office that sold some frozen lasagne and soups and bread and stuff and beer(yes!) and red wine or sparkling white. Our lodging was surprisingly beautiful with a comfortable bed, a microwave for heating our frozen lasagna and a nice bathroom with rain shower and lots of hot water. Joyce was in heaven as she could wash and dry her hair and rid her body of the dust and grime that had accumulated. There were two rooms side by side and as we were unwinding with a cool drink and doing some tech catch-up, our neighbours arrived.
Christian and Nishi (sp?) are a wonderful couple from Norway who have taken a year off to travel. We immediately hit it off and spent the remaining afternoon and evening chatting about whatever subject came to mind. Nishi suggested we share dinner with them so while she cooked up a dish of rice and eggplant spiced with chilies we nuked our lasagna and we sat down and shared our dinners, sipped our drinks into the wee hours of the night. Well, actually until around 9:00 pm which seems to be bedtime for most of us older travellers.
July 27 to 29, Nata Lodge Campsite
Located just off the main A3 highway approximately 170 km north west of Francistown, the lodge offers bungalows, permanent tent sites and a very sandy and confusing campsite. There are too many lights around the sites so we had to keep most of our screens zipped up and we were located near a dish washing station which also acted as a security guard station. It was a little bothersome having a guy sitting at the station constantly looking over at us. To add to that his buddies would show up in the evening and they would chat and shoot the breeze while we were hoping for a little privacy.
We spent 2 nights here but this would have been a better place to just break up the journey and spend one night. The site is located near the Nata Bird Sanctuary which sits on the edge of Sowa Pan. In the wet season thousands of Flamingo gather and a very large variety of bird life can be viewed. Being we’re in the dry season now there is really nothing much to see so we spent the day dealing with slow internet and low on supplies we had a nice chicken schnitzel dinner at the lodge.
July 29 to 31, Wildtrack Safaris-Eco Lodge
Continuing a further 220 km north we spent 2 nights at Wildtrack Safaris-Eco Lodge. As mentioned, the lodge is centred in the newly formed Kavango-Zambezi Trans frontier Conservation Area. This area forms a continuous corridor connecting Chobe National park and the Sibuyu Forest area of Botswana with Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe allowing the free movement of wildlife throughout the areas. The main lodge is spectacular and incorporates a large beamed thatched roof and hosts an amazing collection of African art. Our bungalow was thatched roofed with a huge bed, a giant soaker tub in the bathroom and an outdoor shower open to the incredible nighttime Botswana sky. The staff were exceptional and the food (much of it traditional Botswanian fare) was delicious. The lodge offers morning and late afternoon game drives of which we did one afternoon drive. There were some recent brush fires in the area so the wildlife was limited but we did see plenty of elephant, giraffe, Sable, Kudu and other game. All in all a very nice stop if you are heading south or north. Kudos to Johnathon and Jacques for the obvious effort they have put into managing the lodge with guest comfort and enjoyment top of mind.
July 31 to August 2, Kazangula border crossing, Livingstone, Zambia
After being treated at our departure to several local African songs sung by the staff of Wildtrack we continued a further 170 km to Livingstone, Zambia. It is about a 70 km drive to the Kazangula border crossing where you cross the Zambezi River to either Zambia or Zimbabwe. The customs process at this crossing has got to be the most inefficient, time consuming process in the world. Clearing Botswana immigration was a snap. A simple departure form, a stamp and you are on your way to the car ferry (one truck, two pickups capacity). You drive on to the ferry, pay 200 Pula and you cross the river and you drive off to the point of no return, the Zambian side of the river and the awaiting quagmire of trucks, dust, fumes and “Agents” swarming to offer their services for the customs chaos that awaits! After 2 hours of filling in ledgers asking for engine serial numbers, chassis serial numbers, make, model, colour, engine size, registration information, police clearance papers (we didn’t have these), passport info, for the toll fee then repeating the same process for Interpol, and then the same process for the road tax you then proceed to pay the associated fees at several different offices. Total insanity. When we last crossed this border it was by foot so the process was simple.
Below is the first step of many more!