Botswana in a Nutshell
Or rather - in a motorcar.
Yes, you can travel and see Botswana without having a 4x4.
Written by Terry Baker
Botswana is a lovely country with a
wide variety of landscape. It is about the size of France but has a
population on only around 1.6 million people and 43 000 elephants in one
of its many game reserves, namely Chobe.
We bought a good map of Southern Africa, which included Botswana and a
book on travelling in Botswana, both of which were very handy.
The only other preparation was a discussion with friends Michel and
Verena who have a 4 x 4 and happened to also be going to Botswana over
the same period we had planned to. Michel lent us a 2-man tent, a
20-litre jerry can for fuel and a plastic water container of similar
size as well as 2 air mattresses and a gas bottle with cooker. We did a
bit of shopping of our own and bought a small air compressor, plastic
boxes for food and clothing, 2 camping chairs and a few odds and ends. I
spent the Friday before we left modifying the roof rack to take the load, as it appeared to me to be inadequate as
We only left around midday on Saturday the 19th April 2003, as the
packing took rather longer than anticipated.
Our first stop was Ellisras, a small town to the North-west of Edenvale
and about an hours drive from the border. We spent the night in a chalet
at the local hotel that has very nice facilities including a restaurant.
Before I continue I must point out that although we were prepared to
camp we normally use B & B's when travelling in South Africa as they
are reasonably priced, easy to find, and normally don't need booking.
This allows a lot of flexibility and freedom to stop where you want or
stay longer at a destination if you feel like it. Botswana was a bit of
an unknown to us and we were led to believe that booking is essential
wherever you go, thus all the camping gear.
Botswana is the biggest campsite in the world. Evidently you can camp
anywhere, as long as you pull 500m off the road. This is all well and
good if you are in a group consisting of two or more 4x4's and are
prepared to take the risk of wild animals and people. Some members of my
team were not too inclined to camp this way, especially as we do not
have a 4 x 4 (and I hasten to add, my team consisted of Hilary and
myself). In addition, this camping rule
obviously only applies where there are no fences, which is roughly half
Sunday morning we left after breakfast for Tom Burke, a well-known name
to me, where we would fill up with petrol before crossing the border
into Botswana at the Martin Drift border post. This was the first lesson
we learnt. Just because the name is familiar and is shown on the map,
does not necessarily mean anyone is home when you arrive. Tom Burk
consisted of a farmers "co-op" which was closed, and a police
station that was probably open.
After we made a U-turn in front of the police station and turned back
onto the main road to Martin's Drift, a Rolls Royce with foreign number
plates overtook us. We arrived at the border post as did the Rolls and
proceeded to the customs counter with the lady from the Rolls in front
of us. The customs official on the other side had never had a Rolls
through there before and enquired on the spelling of Rolls and the value
of it. As we were leaving I heard the woman say "What do you mean
it exceeds the value for import?"
Before we proceeded for the customary vehicle inspection at the gate I
reversed just enough to peek at the small print on the Rolls' number
plate, which read "ZAMBIA". That solved that problem. The next
problem was a bit more severe. On checking our engine and chassis
numbers and relaying them over the radio, the official asked
"What !, no one said we needed to bring proof of ownership and
registration certificate ???" Well the numbers are ok (obviously
not tampered with), and do not check out on the computer as
"stolen". "Just remember to bring them next time"
exclaimed the official. More on this later.
The Rolls Royce arrived at the Botswana side of the border post as we
were leaving to fill up with petrol at the nearby service station. To
our surprise the petrol price was cheaper in Botswana than in SA. We
also filled the jerry can strapped to the roof as a safety measure.
We soon reached the first of many vet fences where you are stopped and
prevented from transporting meat and animal products due to
foot-and-mouth disease in certain areas. On the return trip you must
also pass through a trough of disinfectant to sanitise the vehicles
tyres. The same applies to any shoes you are carrying or wearing unless
of course if they are new and have never been worn.
We stopped under a tree for lunch before proceeding to Selebe-Pikwe.
Selebe-Pikwe is the name derived from the two towns Selebe and Pikwe
before they amalgamated. It is a small copper & nickel-mining town
with enough pollution to make up for the rest of Botswana that has very
little if any pollution at all. The old power stations, that incorrectly
led me to believe
Selebe-Pikwe was a coal-mining town, is evidently redundant and no
Figure 1 - Lunch under a tree
Francistown, our next destination, was
our first night of camping. The River Lodge Hotel had camping facilities
and we decided to make use of these.
It was an uncomfortable experience. Blowing the mattresses up with the
small and inadequate compressor took forever and was very noisy. During
the night the plug came out of Hilary's mattress and let all the air
out. As a result she used the mostly flat mattress as a second ground
sheet. It was also cold and we were too tired to sort the blankets and
sleeping bags out during the night.
Next morning we arose packed up and headed North after topping up with
fuel. The idea is never to pass a service station without topping up.
Only once you are familiar with the place can one safely get to know how
far the next petrol is to be found.
Distances are long and civilisation far apart. Just about 20 km before
Nata is a Rest Camp with camping facilities and this is also the
entrance to one of the many large "Salt Pans" We stopped there
to see what the prices were like but the place appeared to be deserted.
Whilst I was reading the signs and trying to decipher the prices on the
menu a lady pitched up and clarified things a bit. One price for the
car, then add on one for each occupant, and repeat all this at different
rates if you also want to visit the Salt Pan, or if you want to camp.
Anyhow it was still early enough, so we decided to continue, and stop
here if we return along the same route back.
We filled up again with petrol at Nata then stopped just past the
service station where some goats were having a siesta. I needed to check
the fuel cap and have a look at the map. That reminds me - always check
the fuel cap yourself, and when you say "fill it up" that
means to overflowing.
Nata is the split where you can either
go west to Maun, or north to Kazankula and Kasane. We headed north for a
few hours until we had to stop for a troop of elephants crossing the
road from a water hole just east of the main road.
Shortly after that we came across a village called Pandamatanga. It was
a bit of a mouth full so we just referred to it as Pandamonia or just
Panda for short.
Just north of Panda we came across a rest camp, Panda Rest Camp and
decided to stay for the night, hiring one of their cute little chalets.
The chalet is more like a thatch roofed "Wendy House" with two
beds inside, but adequate and we needed a decent sleep. Panda rest camp
also has camping facilities and better chalets complete with own
ablutions, a restaurant and a pub. We met the owners in the pub over a
couple of Amstels, an Englishman named Dave and his South African wife,
Ronel. There was also the owner of the
neighbouring Rest Camp, an Austrian named Andrê, and a local farmer,
Dave gave a lot of tips on where to stay and where to get fuel. Before
having this rest-camp Dave owned a "safari" company and he
knows the area well, having been in Africa for 18 years.
Figure 2 - Entrance to Panda Rest Camp
While we were chatting at the pub a
large "overlander" (4 wheel drive bus) arrived with about 10
young tourists aboard to camp for the night. We got chatting to one
young guy who I thought was an American by his accent, but who turned
out to be a Canadian.
Figure 3 - Panda Campsite
Hilary and I had the restaurant to
ourselves for the evening.
Tuesday morning we got up leisurely and had breakfast after which we
watched the overlander leave with it's cargo of tourists. We also
followed soon afterwards and stopped to check out the neighbouring rest
camp. Andrê was nowhere to be seen but we got chatting to his wife who
it turns out has been there for 2 years and formerly worked in Edenvale.
The camp is lovely and new but does have to use a generator for
electricity. Evidently they have
been quoted about P240 000 to get the grid extended from Panda. (1 Pula
= about R1.70)
We did not see many other camps along the route. Panda is only about 60
km from our next destination of Kazankula. On the way we turned left
onto a dirt road to visit a monument for soldiers killed in action in
about 1972. We never found our what war or skirmish was
responsible for this.
On arriving at Kazankula we went straight to Toro Rest Camp, which is on
the Chobe River and situated between Kazankula and Kasane. We checked in
Figure 4 - Setting up
the tent at Toro
Kazankula and Kasane are only about 8
km apart. There is very little at Kazankula except for a service station
and the two border posts, one to Zimbabwe and one to Zambia. It is also
the confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers. The exact confluence
spot is at the border post to Zambia where you have to drive onto one of
2 ferries operated by the Zambia Ferry
Toro Camp was recommended to us by Dave (of Panda) and is unusual in
that each campsite has its very own ablution facility, which consists of
a toilet, shower and wash-hand-basin on one side and the
"kitchen" on the other. As Dave said it looks a bit like a
"concentration camp" because all the sites are arranged in a
rectangular array - all perfectly lined up, but very practical. They
also have all other facilities apart from the campsites.
The owner and his family come from Pretoria and opted out of the
"rat-race" to the Chobe River about 2 years ago. Good move.
Figure 5 Toro Campsite on the Chobe River
Hilary took many fabulous photos of
birds at this spot with the Minolta before
it was nationalised (stolen) in Zambia.
Figure 6 Botswana's national bird -The Lilac Breasted Roller.
Taken before the Minolta was
nationalised in Zambia
Kasane is a lovely little town with
shops, hotels, service station and all amenities and is also on the
Chobe River. Geared for the tourists, American and European, it has some
expensive hotels and decent shopping. There were quite a lot of safari
tour operators in evidence. We did some shopping at the local Spar for
fresh supplies before heading for Zambia.
Whilst we were shopping in Kasane, whom should we bump into but the
Canadian we met at Panda Camp.
Wednesday morning we set off for the Zambian border post. One of the
Botswana customs guys insisted that we would require registration papers
for the car by the Zambian authorities. He suggested we would get away
with photocopies or a fax of the registration paper and referred me to a
little courier office a few meters away and suggested that they may be
able to help with fax facilities. The lady boss at the courier office
said they normally do not offer this service but was willing to receive
a fax for us without charge.
In the service manual, in the car's cubby-hole we found the telephone
number of the dealership that we bought the car from. Hilary phoned them
and got put through to the lady from the finance house that is on the
dealership floor. She located a copy of the registration papers and
promptly faxed them to us. This allowed us to proceed to the ferry,
which crosses the Zambezi River to the Zambian side.
Figure 7 - Namibia on the left, and Zambia on the Right - From
the Botswana side.
This exact spot is where the 4
countries namely Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet. I took a
photo from the bank of the river looking toward Zambia and Namibia
across the two rivers of Chobe and Zambezi.
Of the two ferries one had a broken hydraulic cylinder that raises and
lowers the ramp and the other had engine problems. The one with the
broken hydraulic cylinder was loaded ready to leave, while the other was
still being worked on. We bet on the one with engine problems and won,
as it was "repaired" first. There were quiet a lot of trucks
waiting to board, but because of their length, a couple of cars can
"squeeze" in per crossing. There was not more that about a
45-min wait before we were allowed on. The ferries are in a bad state of
disrepair. Where a 50-mm pin had fallen out due to wear, some
"engineer" had replaced the pin by a truck's half-shaft. A
long length of chain held the whole contraption together where a circlip
or split-pin would have sufficed, as well as oily rags and string. We
were glad to drive off on the Zambian side.
Figure 8 - Zambia, here we come! On the Ferry looking back at the
fully laden "broken" ferry.
Arriving on the Zambian side made one
feel as though you were at last in the real Africa, in fact this is what
I imagine most of Africa to the North of us to be like and it really
makes Botswana a first world country.
There is no order, no signs to queue here for this, and then proceed
there for the next…etc. After one queue we returned to the car ready
to drive off, only to be told by someone that we had not yet paid our
motor vehicle Third Party Insurance.
The guy selling the car insurance had a little office the size of a
toilet. I just burst out laughing and asked him where his desk was.
Copies of other peoples Insurance Policies were falling off his lap onto
the floor as we spoke.
Any smattering of Tswana used in Botswana was totally lost as soon as
you cross the river. They have their own languages, about 53 of them,
and English, thank goodness. This also makes one realise where the
original evolutionary borders really are, as opposed to the artificial
ones introduced by colonials.
I got chatting to a very friendly lady
in the customs office that wrote down a few places of accommodation, in
and around Livingston, on a piece of paper for us. Travelling on a
British passport, Hilary had to pay GBP35 or USD 65 for a visa. This to
be paid in the foreign currency. The problem here was we had 2 x GBP20
notes, but the customs office had no change. Some of our USD notes had a
small head on them which notes are not acceptable by the Zambia banks.
Eventually the friendly lady official agreed to take the USD, including
the notes with small heads. There is no charge for a visa for visitors
on South African passports.
Figure 9 - Hilary in front of the Zambian Ferry Engineering
Company's office. Yes, the blue
corrugated iron building.
After we returned to the car to depart yet again, someone else
approached us to remind us that we had not yet paid for the ferry.
Eventually, after having repeated this process 3 times and when we had
done all the necessary, we edged toward the gate where a soldier with an
AK47 had stood in for the customs inspector. The gate consists of a
primitive piece of barbed wire that is dragged across the dirt. The
soldier was more interested in confiscating a 2 litre plastic bottle of
cooking oil that some poor woman had brought with her from Botswana than
in us trying to exit. He simply pointed us toward the custom officer who
was having a conversation with a long lost friend further up the queue
of trucks trying to enter Botswana.
Figure 10 - An abandoned South African car and trailer with
customs office in background. It is obvious the car had been there for
some time. One wonders what happened to the owners.
Wheels were flat, but otherwise untouched.
The town of Livingston is 60 km from
the border and the first few kilometres from the border are so poor that
you could just as well be on dirt. The good news is that the road in
being upgraded by Group 5 and it was good to vehicles with Gauteng
registration plates so far from home.
When we got to a remote a spot where we felt relatively safe, we stopped
alongside the road for a drink and snack. I noticed a strange thing that
looked like a seedpod being blown rapidly and erratically along the
ground. What gave it away as not being a seedpod, nor the wind, was the
fact that it was following the contour of the ground closely where the
scraper had made ridges. It was exceedingly fast and the only conclusion
I came to is that it was a spider of some sort. My immediate remark to
Hilary is that it must be a Ghost Spider if there is such a thing,
because it was white and ghostly. I happened to see another one doing
the same dances a few minutes later and a bit further down the road.
A problem during lunch was flies. Yes, flies. We closed all the windows
and tried to get rid of the flies. Twenty minutes later we were still
trying to get the remaining flies out of the car.
Figure 11 - Stopping for lunch on the road to Livingston.
We stopped at the Information sign in
Livingston, which turned out to be Wildside Travel, which is next door
to a curio/coffee shop where a lot of tourists were having afternoon tea
and cake. After getting yet more information on accommodation and
directions to a reputable money changer, from the Scottish employee in
the travel agents, we went and converted R300 into Zambian Kwatcha 180
000, yes 600 Kwatcha to the Rand. There are only notes, no coins and
notes come in domination's of 10 000 We then returned to the teashop and
found an empty table to join the rest of the tourists, mostly German,
for tea. Apart from the Curio/Coffee shop and the Livingston Museum
there does not seem much else in Livingston worth visiting.
Two recommendations for the same Rest Camp is enough for us, so we
headed straight for Marumba River Lodge and checked in there.
Figure 12 - Our chosen camping spot at Marumba River Lodge
Thursday morning I was as excited as a child with a new toy. To see Vic
Falls has been one of my life long ambitions and today was the day.
One can see the spray from the falls a long way away and I had seen it
from the road leading into Livingston. We were fortunate in that the
Zambezi was very full and everyone kept telling us, there was a lot of
water. Livingston is only a few kilometres from the falls, and we were
camping halfway between Livingston and the falls so the anxiety had been
building up. We drove straight there and parked in the parking lot where
many vendors were displaying their carvings and copper bangles. The fee
to go in seemed a bit pricey, 98000 Kwatcha but there was no going back
now, and the fee we were told allowed us to visit the whole day with
multiple entries. This seemed to make it an absolute bargain. When I set
my eyes on the falls that was it. Now I am ready to die. I told Hilary
if we see nothing else on this holiday, this has made the whole trip
Figure 13 - My first view of Victoria Falls
Vendors were renting raincoats and
umbrellas, but I wanted the full experience so I went as I was, and did
I get wet. One cannot believe that a waterfall can actually create so
much rain. It was unbelievable. I know now what David Livingston must
have felt like when he first set eyes on Vic Falls.
Figure 14 - Knife Edge Bridge - Looking back having crossed it and
got a little wet.