Lake Malawi – Domwe Island

For our last stop before parting ways we decided to head back north to Lake Malawi. You can’t visit Malawi without visiting the lake which makes up 1/3 of its overall border and it was the perfect time on the way back towards the airport from where we just were in the south.

We decided to do this properly and booked for Domwe Island, run by Kayak Africa out of Cape McClear. We were nervous that we were arriving later than the 3pm “ferry” because the road from Setemwa took a bit longer than expected. Well, it turned out the “ferry” was just a dinghy that is used to shuttle guests to the island and we were the only ones around that night so it didn’t much matter what time we got there.

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One the “ferry”

The island and the camp were quite neat. We opted for self-catering so brought all of our own food with us. We booked one camping platform with our own things and one tented platform with one of their tents (we couldn’t bring our rooftop tent with us – too difficult to detach from Fiona so we left them both in the secure parking lot on the mainland.) There are only 6 platforms on the island and since we had 2 of them it was an intimate affair. The first night we were the only ones there and we were joined by one other couple the second night.

We quickly settled into reading, playing Scrabble and a game or two of cards while sipping a few beers and glasses of wine. A perfect, relaxing way to spend the evening.

The camp staff were very attentive, going out of their way to help carry our things and show us around the kitchen while we were making our food. They introduced us to the local civet and bush pigs too.

Around a campfire on the beach the first night and this civet showed up to see what was going on. 

The next day we lazed in bed before a bacon and egg breakfast and chatted through the morning. We decided to stop being lazy and embarked on an early afternoon kayak around the southern point of the island. Now, my mom isn’t known for her kayaking skills but Dad gracefully accepted the added excitement of having her as a partner. We had them set-off first as I grabbed my camera, ready to photograph should any unexpected swimming occur but, much to my disappointment, they paddled away as if they had been doing this their whole lives!

Cheryl and I followed (we too got away with no problems) and we paddled around the island. As we were going along we realized how much bigger the island was than we had expected and after getting ~1/3 of the way around we decided to take a break on a beautiful beach and have a swim and some snacks. We read, relaxed some more and all took a dip. Mom even got her hair wet! Something which was quite the remarkable event during my childhood. Now she did it so nonchalantly. Camping changes a woman.

After an hour or so on the beach the weather started to turn. We went from enjoying a warm, sunny afternoon to dark clouds and a battering wind which whipped the lake into a sea of waves large enough to easily tip a kayak. I helped my parents off through the growing white-caps before Cheryl and I pushed off ourselves. Somehow neither boat tipped and we were able to make it rather quickly back around the island and mostly out of the wind.

It turns out that was exercise!

We enjoyed some more drinks and hot showers when we got back and dinner tasted exceptionally good that night.

We spent the night continuing our card battles – they culminated in a parents vs. kids Pinnacle tournament which we split 1:1 before getting too tired to continue, given the early morning the next day. The trophy is still up for grabs.

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Cooking dinner.  I don’t think it had anything to do with my culinary skills but the food tasted exceptionally good that night after kayaking.

The next morning we were up at 5am for my parents to begin their journey home.

And what a journey it is. Three modes of transport (boat, Fiona, plane) and six different legs (boat off island, car to Lilongwe airport, plane to Joburg, plane to Dakar, plane to DC, car to home). All taking over 36 hours. The things they do to spend time with their children.

Although I was sorry to see them leave I definitely enjoyed the time together with my parents. It may not have been the relaxing time away they originally had in mind but I hope it was even better than they had imagined. Judging by the smiles on their faces (and subsequent Facebook posts) I don’t think they would have changed a thing.

If you are interested in my Dad’s view of the trip you can find a link to his photos on Google+ here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/107872419851815923146

Next stop: Not sure. Either West into Zambia for a few days in Lower Zambezi National Park, further North into Malawi or South into Mozambique and back along the beach front. Essentially anywhere but East. That would be back into the lake and we just did that.

Into Malawi we go

One last drive through South Luangwa National Park and we were on our way to Malawi. This is the only night that we hadn’t pre-booked for while my parents were with us so we knew it was a bit of a gamble. Do we stay one more night in South Luangwa and have a very long drive the next day or do we cut off some of that drive by doing it in the afternoon instead? If so, how far do we go?

We decided to not stay in South Luangwa or even on the Zambian side of the border. Rather, we pushed through to shorten our drive the next day and not have to do a border crossing at typically the busiest time of the day (morning) and on a Monday at that.

The border was an interesting experience (especially for my parents I’m sure) but we made it through with relatively limited issues, just a small delay as we waited for all our American visas to be processed and they had to fire up the generator to print out the confirmation of our third party insurance purchase. The biggest issue was that the sun had now set by the time we got out of there and we had to drive in a new country, in the dark, with no reservation or destination for the night, and no book on Malawi to to recommend a spot or us.

We quickly found out that driving in Malawi was going to be different than any other country we’d been to on our trip so far. It turns out that Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa and this translates into people being on the roads at all times of day, everywhere. People walking, riding bicycles, carrying heavy loads, two or three abreast at times and it’s not like they’re wearing reflective gear at night time either. Add to that some roads with potholes that have wiped out the side of the road, cars without their lights on and massive trucks going in both directions and you start to get the picture.

I guess this is why we’d been warned not to drive at night.

Pictures from driving during the day the next day.  At least this bike stayed off the tar, that wasn’t the case the night before.

We found a place on our route on the GPS whose name sounded lovely: “Barefoot Safari Lodge – Camping.” Done and done. Let’s hope they have space. Luckily, space wasn’t an issue (just like packing our car) but when they offered us two <slightly questionable but overall decent> chalets at half price we couldn’t pass up the opportunity not to set up our tents in the dark so we happily settled in for a quick dinner and went to bed.

3 countries in a day

We were up and out of our campsite before dawn on our last morning in Ihaha, Chobe. We had one heck of a day ahead of us. One last drive along the river front to get to the park gate and on to the boarder yielded no final hurrah in terms of animal sightings. In fact, we saw barely anything moving for the first 30 minutes until a heard of giraffe and kudu came to bid us adieu.

Once we hit the tar road we were all business. Through the park gate and the nearby Ngoma boarder post we were cruising at 120kph back toward Katima Mulilo with high hopes that the spare parts we had ordered had arrived on time and that the mechanic remembered we were arriving to get them installed. With all fingers and toes crossed we nervously pulled into the local Midas. Sure enough our leaf springs and bush kits had arrived and were out and ready for us to have them loaded into our car. As we pulled around the corner to the mechanic he too was ready with extra guys on hand to install them as quickly as possible (still to take ~3 – 4 hours.)

All going according to plan.

Cheryl and I headed to a coffee shop / restaurant to do some final things on the internet, eat some breakfast. (Actually we had already had breakfast in the car so at 10am I ordered a chicken burger. A bit odd given the hour but definitely delicious.) We had meant to finish up with enough time to do our food shopping (only buying non-perishables because we weren’t sure what could be taken across the border into Zambia.) but to our surprise Fiona was out of surgery with beautiful new leaf springs installed before we left the restaurant.

We are on schedule.

We split up (Cheryl to start shopping, Josh to go to the bank and pick up the pick-up) before coming back together for a couple of more errands (fill up with diesel, buy some stools so everyone has a place to sit when my parents join us) and headed out.

The crossing into Zambia took much longer than necessary thanks to an American couple in front of us in line who were in anything but a hurry. 6 lines and 5 payments later we entered into Zambia having spent significantly more on border fees then we had expected. Time to hit the road again.

It is 3pm. We are a bit behind schedule but still ok.

As we pulled out of the border something happened that we hadn’t anticipated. The road was horrible. We expected them to be bad but this was a whole new level. How can you even consider this a road?

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It is 4:00pm. We had over 600km to drive. We are way behind schedule

Our average speed for the past hour was 20kph. How do you even call this a ‘tar’ road? We had been warned that a part of the road some 400kms away from us was “very bad.” If that means this wasn’t “very bad” we would be driving all night.

Luckily the roads cleared up considerably once we got passed Livingstone and were on our way. We drove well into the night despite the many warnings against doing so and only had to slow down at the “very bad” section we had been warned about. Though it still felt like a highway as we could easily avoid the potholes at 90kph.

We finally made it to Lusaka just before 1AM and then embarked on the mission of finding the Air BnB that we had booked. Mom and Dad had been picked up by the local driver who knew the place so they made it without issue. (Good thing too because we were still a few hundred kms away when their plan landed.) Unfortunately for the owner we didn’t know the place and they were woken up with a phone call from two lost customers in the middle of the night.

We pulled into the driveway around 1:30 and Fiona’s purring engine woke my parents so they came outside and greeted us with lots of hugs and kisses.

Finally made it.

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Desert Adventure – Day 6

Things had gone too smoothly. Plans had been achieved a little too easily the previous two days. Our last day of our desert adventure and of course something had to go wrong. We found ourselves in the Hoarusib river where we camped last night searching for the track that was purported to be there. It wasn’t. We drove back and forth and (literally) around in circles. No tracks.

“Do we just go for it ourselves?” we both thought. (I’m sure Cheryl thought this too…)

Our thoughts flashed back to the day before when we drove through the same river much lower down. There we had at least some tracks to follow. We also saw the signs of people who didn’t follow the tracks and had really bad days. (read: deep ruts in the mud with shovel marks all around.) We remembered driving yesterday when we had to turn around lower down in this river and drive around a mountain just to get back into it because we couldn’t find tracks and got stuck.

“I think we’ve got to use Plan B.” we both agreed.

Disappointed we decided to back-track out of the river bed and take a northerly route passed fields with massive herds of oryx, springbok and zebra mixed in with the occasional herd of cattle, to the Khumib river. From there we would be able to join the numbered gravel road to get us back on track.

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Sunrise in the Hoarusib River valley

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We take ‘Leave No Trace” seriously.  Covering our tracks after filling in our fire pit from the night before.  Yes, I’m sweeping the desert…

This time things worked according to plan and although the day was a bit long we ended up all the way in the north of Namibia at Epupa Falls drinking a beer and G&T on the banks of the Cunene river.

My only gripe on the day is this: The proper numbered road was extremely deceptive. We started out feeling great. Cruising along at 50-60km / hour when we noticed a small warning sign. It seemed benign enough. The sign made it look like there was a small bump that would cause a mild inconvenience on our otherwise unobstructed pathway back to (momentary) civilization. It did not state that we were about to enter a technical 4×4 track and that I should slow way the heck down. Suddenly, our open gravel highway turned into a steep incline with loose rocks, axle twisters and big dips. It’s like the road builders got together and said to themselves “what’s the most understated sign possible but where we are still warning people?”

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You can see how good the road was that we were on when we saw a sign just like this one.  Who would have guessed what lay ahead?

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Don’t go off the path to the right.  You may fall in a ravine.  But of course I knew that from the sign that was 6km back.  At least the track here was relatively good or this could have been really interesting.

Next time we saw any sign, like the one that showed a mild bend in the road approaching, we decided to take it very seriously. (This one said next 5km under it which we were amazed at. How do you have a 5km bend in the road? World’s slowest turn?) The bend it turned out wasn’t mild at all but a series of zig-zags and along a sheer drop that eventually led down into a shallow ravine. “These are some of the most subtle and understated sign posts of all time” we thought.

So you can imagine how slowly we proceeded after seeing this sign, half tucked behind a bush.

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The funny thing was, after taking a photo and getting psyched up for what lay ahead, it turned out that there was no real obstacle up ahead after this one. Not even that many turns.  And we had gotten our hopes up!

At least they put signs up though. That’s more than we can say for some other roads we’ve been on.

Desert Adventure – Day 2

Since we didn’t make it as far as we thought we would yesterday, we weren’t going to make it as far as we thought we would today either. Originally we had designs on making it all the way to Palmwag today. Not gonna happen.

We woke up with the sun and went about our business of packing up the tent (we packed up the rest of the camp the night before in case of a rain storm and needing to make moves out of the rive bed in a hurry…) We had a bit of a leisurely breakfast and set out again after covering our tracks at the campsite and filling in our braai pit so we didn’t spoil the wilderness for the next people driving through.

I hadn’t mentioned in the last post that as it was getting dark we could no longer find the way to continue up the Ugab river and assumed we would have more luck in the morning. We didn’t. The tracks just seemed to end no matter which way we tried. We tried and tried again, almost getting ourselves stuck. Still no way to go.

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It turns out this was the correct way to go. Someone had tried to go that way and had a really bad day a few days before. Impossible to pass.

Plan B was to backtrack all the way back down the river and take an exit out to a well-graded road up and around the river to the Rhino Camp. As this was our only option (besides back tracking all the way to the main road) we took it. A few hours of driving through river bed (we didn’t get stuck this time) up craggy hills and through Mars-like landscape and we arrived at the Rhino Trust campsite.

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Driving out of the riverbed from the night before we realized it was questionable whether we were actually allowed to stay there. No one said anything though so we assume it was fine. (It may be because we saw no one but still.)

We decided not to stay but made some pleasantries to find out about the roads north. All clear. Though there’s no way we were making it to Palmwag, they said. They were right.

We drove through steep canyons and out into an incredible desert where we spent almost the entire afternoon. The scenery was stunning. A lot of it also looked very similar and it was tough to tell where you were going.  At one point we found ourselves getting turned around but luckily Cheryl quickly noticed (after 15 minutes – mind you, I hadn’t noticed anything amiss) that the sun was on the wrong side of the car and we turned around again to correct our mistake.

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Looking out across the desert.  No flowing sand dunes here. The colors varied but mostly a red dirt-like material.  And lots of dust.  Lots and lots of dust.

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One of the welwitschia plants for which the area is famous

As the sun was getting low the desert gave way to the Huab river (again mostly a dry river bed) and we descended into the valley. It was some of the most beautiful landscapes either of us have ever seen. There was no doubt in either of our minds: we would be camping down there for the night.

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Checking to make sure this water was driveable.  It got quite deep in the track but we decided we could do it.  Fiona had no trouble but it did make our hearts race when we dropped in and it was deeper then we thought.  Doesn’t look like it but it went up almost to the hood! Also shows the great contrast between down by the river bed and the desert beyond that we had been driving through all day.

When the road to the Huab River look-out point wasn’t passable we decided to set up camp on some high ground just above a reed-filled area. Our mistake was that we were right next to a bush which blocked our view to one side. Naturally, as the sun dipped behind the mountains and the moon came out, so did the lion grunting: coming from the direction behind the bush.

“It’s far away” I assured Cheryl.

“It’s just the echo that makes it seem close.” Cheryl agreed.

More grunting. Louder this time.

“Maybe let’s move the fire closer to the car.” I offered. We did.  We dug a new braai pit and picked up the fire with a shovel to move closer.  The next couple of hours were spent listening and watching before going to bed. No cats in sight. Though we heard them throughout the night.

In and around our campsite for the evening.  The scenery was absolutely stunning.  We could have stayed there for days!

The next morning as we were packing up I heard more grunting. This time from the other direction. It sounded very close. Very, very close. I called out to Cheryl to listen with me. Nothing. Was I just hearing things?

We finished packing and as we were driving out from our campsite, just around on the other side of a koppie (small hill) we found the tracks. Two sets of very clear cat tracks. Maybe 40 meters from camp.

We tracked them for a while but couldn’t spot them. Bummer.

Cat tracks near camp.  The close-up is of a smaller set, not the ones from the road.  We drove down that track on the left but never found the lions.

You may be thinking: “This is nothing new, you had 13 lions in your campsite in Mana Pools!” and you’d be quite right. The big difference here is that we weren’t in a protected area. This wasn’t a national park. This was truly out in the wild. Desert (adapted) lion are quite rare so it would have been an amazing sighting to have seen them out in the open at our camp. Let alone anywhere in the riverbeds.

On we go!

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One last picture, just for fun. 

Into the great Etosha National Park

We had heard so much about Etosha that by the time we arrived there we no longer knew what to expect:

“You have to just camp by a waterhole the whole day – it’s the only way to see things in Etosha.”

“All the game is hidden, nobody is seeing anything there any more.”

“Etosha has the best game in Southern Africa.”

“The campsites are awful and there are too many people.”

There’s only one thing to do when you hear such diverging opinions about a place: go there and see for yourself. So that’s what we did.

We took the road north-west from Maun, Botswana and crossed into Namibia at the base of the Zambezi Strip (previously the Caprivi strip but they changed the name a couple of years ago just to keep tourists on their toes.) The road out of Botswana was deceptive. At first we were cruising along at 120kph when out of nowhere the road disappeared into a bottomless pothole. Cheryl didn’t see it in time. Or the next one. Then I didn’t see a couple after that. We needed an alignment. It was described by the technician when we took it in as “Bad, real baaaaad.” Glad we got it fixed.

We spent a night in Rundu, Namibia where we stayed at the Kaisosi river lodge. We only pulled in pretty late so we didn’t see much of the river but we did enjoy our own shower and toilet for a change. Good place for a quick stop.

After getting the alignment in Rundu and doing a few errands we drove on to Tsumeb and stayed at a great campsite that was more of a resort called Kupferquelle. We did all of our shopping except when I needed to get propane to fill up our cylinder the next day the two shops in town were closed. It was explained to me that, even though it was indeed mid-week it was “like a Sunday” because it was a public holiday so the shops were closed. Classic. This is why we got two gas cylinders in the first place even when people said we only needed one. Stick to your guns. Cheryl did get some work done that she needed to do that day though and we were soon dashing off at full speed towards Etosha National Park.

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There was a line (read: one car in front of us) at the entrance gate so we got out and had a quick selfie with the sign.

We arrived in Etosha three things immediately stood out to us:

1. There were paved roads.

  • It turned out that just the entrance roads from the main gate were paved. Most of the roads in Etosha are dirt roads but they are extremely well maintained. The speed limit in the park is the fastest I’ve seen anywhere at 60kms an hour and there were multiple times that we found ourselves pushing this limit in order to get to a waterhole in the morning. What a difference to the flooded, overgrown, pothole-ridden, mud-filled roads we’d been driving on in other parks.

2. The staff was rather rude.

  • The staff here have to deal with a lot more people then the other parks we went to. These tourists are probably also more demanding. I guess I’m not surprised they have bad days every now and then. It was just a shock after everyone else we’ve encountered so far on our trip has been overly friendly.

3. There were a lot of people.

  • Coming from a bunch of parks where we saw barely anyone, especially when camping in the remote campsites in Zimbabwe and the Central Kalahari, it was a disturbing to see so many cars on the road. That said, it wasn’t as crowded as, say, Kruger and definitely nowhere near the Pilanesberg but there were a lot of cars. All in all though we found there was space on the roads so we didn’t have a lot of “traffic jams” except for a couple of times when we were at sightings of exceptional animals that were rather stationary (e.g. some cheetah by the side of the road.) We were often lucky enough to be at these early to get a good spot though and the roads were often big enough for everyone to see.

Overall, the positives of Etosha definitely far outweighed the negatives for us. The campsites, though quite cramped and rather uninspiring, were well kept and all had lovely waterholes with interesting game coming around. Speaking of game, we had some great sightings! Lots of lion, rhino, cheetah and a leopard. On top of all of the other great game like black-faced impala, ostrich, elephants, massive herds of zebra, a honey badger; we saw a ton. (For a list of all noteworthy sightings see below.)

Every day we got up and out the gate of the camp as soon as they were open and drove straight to a waterhole which we would choose the night before. Once there we would just wait. Two mornings we were greeted by a pride of lions when we arrived. Even on our way to the waterholes we would see lion (the big male crossing the road below is one such example), hyena and lots of other great game. The trick was to enjoy them but not for too long so you still get to the waterhole before the crowds of tourists in rental vehicles and safari buses get there. This way you stake your claim to a great spot and just sit and enjoy without having to jostle for space later on.

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Cheryl spotted this guy 100 m off the road and he proceeded to walk right in front of us. 

Our best sighting at a morning waterhole was a pride of lions clearly playing with each other. After an hour or so we even saw a live kill! Mind you it wasn’t what either of us expected a live kill to be. The adult male was going off to have a look at a crane or some other big bird but gave up and sauntered back to the pride. Out of the blue he pounced and as he came up he had a small korhan (bird that lives in the grass and makes lots of noise as you drive past) in his jaws. It was really fun to see. He definitely did not want to share the bird with the others but he kept getting a bunch of feathers stuck in his mouth. Then he played keep-away from the younger male and a female until he eventually he gave up on eating it entirely. How cool!

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Playing early in the morning

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This bird was his and he wasn’t sharing!

Besides the lions, my favorite part about Etosha was the waterhole at Okakuajo camp. It is a floodlit waterhole with a fence on one side to keep the people in the camp (and maybe some animals out.) Almost every night it is visited by rhinoceroses and elephants looking for a drink. We wound up spending two nights at this camp (due to an on-the-fly change from 2 nights in Olifantsrus to only 1 night so we could go back to the Okakuajo waterhole.) At one point on our second night we saw 6 rhino at one time at the waterhole. One of them was a bit belligerent and clearly didn’t like that some other rhinos had the audacity to drink water at the same time as him and we got to witness an intense stand-off with a lot of grunting and charging. I can’t imagine that I’ll have another opportunity to see something like this so I took hundreds of photos (most of which are extremely blurry because I had to have a long shutter speed but luckily rhino have a high propensity to stand still and play like a rock for a while) and we stayed to enjoy them for hours.

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Mama rhino and her baby.  Notice they cut off some of the rhino horns, like this female’s.  We think it was an anti-poaching method since it doesn’t hurt the rhino this way.

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Two rhinos with a lot of grunting and harumphing.  Eventually one got bored but not after a few charges. It was too dark to capture any of the charges nicely though.

Day 0:

Didn’t see much as we entered the park a bit late and had to drive back to the main gate to sort out that we reside in South Africa so are supposed to pay less then residing in ‘foreign’ which was the other option (besides, of course, Namibia). Still did see some nice plains game on the side of the tar road though.

Day 1:

Jackals playing, lots of black-faced impala, giraffe, honey badger, hyena, eland, steenbok, a couple elephants, and of course zebra, kudu, springbok etc.

Day 2:

11 lions, jackals, 3 cheetah (and a missed kill), lots of elephants, 5 rhino, lots of different birds (I’ve turned into quite a “birder by convenience” as Cheryl calls me. I’m interested in birds when there’s not something else interesting to see. Sounds about right.) and of course all of the other good stuff.

Day 3:

More rhino, hyena eating, 1 big male lion crossing road right in front of us, 7 additional lion just lazing around, leopard, and a really cool waterhole experience with giraffe, zebra and a rhino all trying to drink at the same time.

Day 4:

Tons and tons and tons of elephants, 3 more lion (another solitary male and 2 females), lots of cool kudu and herds of zebra and of course the great rhino experience I described above.

Day 5:

Got up early to head straight out of the park. Took a quick waterhole stop and saw a few jackals. No big bang hurrah to say goodbye but we left with great memories from the previous days.

Next stop: Swakopmund!

Epic sightings in the CKGR!

Now it’s off to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR). This is a massive reserve right in the center of Botswana. If you look at a map of the country you can’t miss it. It’s about the same size as Portugal in total. Yet, in that whole area there are only around 50 campsites and they are all tucked away on their own away from other people. There is no running water or electricity at any of the campsites but they do set up a long-drop toilet (read: hole in the ground with a toilet over it, kind of gross) and a place to hook up a bucket for a shower if you bring enough water. It forms a major part of the larger Kalahari region and is mostly sandy ground. It is an arid landscape but is covered with grasses, bushes and small trees so the bush itself is quite thick. The antelope in this park are all varieties that don’t need much water and we’ve seen thousands of oryx and springbok. But those aren’t why we came. We came because of its reputation for big cats. Lots of big cats.

We set off for the CKGR nice and early after filling up our drinking water and lashing some wood to the top of the Hilux for our braais and fires while we are in the reserve. With 5 days of remote camping we need ~8-10 liters of water per day for Cheryl and I but that’s if we don’t want to shower. We brought 100 liters. Way more then enough. We plan to take a showers or two.

We were less then 20 kms off the tar road when we stopped for the first time. Morris and Gill’s trailer lost a diesel jerry can. Got it back on and tied it down and we were off again. 10 kms later and we stop to check to make sure it’s all good. Now the spare tire is missing. After a scouting mission we got the spare back and we were on our way again. Luckily the trailer had all of its dirt road wobbles in the first 30 kms. It’s been working great since.

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Morris and Gill driving in front of us to make sure nothing else falls off

Once in the park the first night’s game drive was already spectacular. 2 cheetah and a male/female lion pair. It was quite dark at this point already so the photos didn’t turn out very well but not to worry. The next morning Cheryl and I got out early as the sun rose and found the cheetahs again. It turns out there were three. This time they hung out right in the road with us and we had them all to ourselves for over 45 minutes. Phenomenal. We even came across another pair of cheetahs later that morning. The CKGR is living up to its reputation for big cats already and we’re only 24 hours in.

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A bit dark but a great time with this lion

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The mom cheetah stayed on watch as the two (almost fully grown) cubs played and lay around

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The two cubs just plopped down in the road in front of us

The next day the four of us (Cheryl, Me, Morris and Gill) piled into Fiona (our Hilux is named Fiona) and decided to take a longer drive down to some further away water holes because there are only a few in the entire park. The water holes themselves are a bit pathetic but that was all right with us given what we saw on the way there. Two more cheetah. A lioness literally lying on top of her kill. Two leopards crossing the road right in front of us. And many other interesting things. For all of the big cats we were the only people there to see them. We stopped back at the lioness later in the day on our way back from the waterhole and she was still just laying there, obviously very full. What a day.

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Cheryl’s eagle eyes spotted these leopards. They got up and decided to cross the road right in front of us.

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She literally fell asleep on her kill. Not interested in us in the slightest.

With that great of a morning we decided to relax in the afternoon and make another poitjie stew. We toasted in celebration over a nice fire and went to bed early because we had a long drive the next day.

Cheryl and I scooted out early because we decided to take the 145km route to our next campsite, Motopi 2, in the Northwest corner of the park. The mantra for our trip has quickly developed into: if there is an option with something interesting that is a bit longer, we’ll probably take it. (More on deciding if a detour is worth it in another post.) Morris and Gill were going a bit straighter of a route that would only take ~100kms. We came across another set of Cheetah (I have hundreds of cheetah photos at this point) but didn’t see much else the rest of the day.

I write this post our last night in the park. We get up before the crack of dawn tomorrow for a long drive out of the park and back to the Makgadikgadi pans. Right now Cheryl and her mom are locked in an epic battle of the wits where they make up funny words and put them on a board with wooden letters all while huffing and puffing and cursing the gods for giving them such bad letters. I think they call it scrabble. Morris is packing.

 

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Girls playing scrabble. Morris was packing in the background.

Overall we’ve stayed at 3 different campsites in CKGR. For those interested they were Sunday 2, Kori 4 and Motopi 2. The set-ups are all the same. Braai pit, bucket shower, long-drop toilet. Not much to speak in terms of amenities but we didn’t come here to collect little bars of soap and tiny bottles of shampoo. We came for the isolation. And it is glorious.

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Quiet campsite in the CKGR

Mud in Mana

Our drive in was epic with water and mud constantly splashing up and over our wind screen. After that we came across mud hole after mud hole. Some of them had ways around. Some didn’t. Some had ways around the original ways around which had become mud holes of their own. One such place an official game vehicle (driven by actual rangers) got stuck. I pulled them out. I told you we had become experts…

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Not sure if this was a mud hole or a river. Made for interesting driving either way.

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One mud hold had a lion in front of it

 

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Sometimes you’ve got to get out of the vehicle to check the best way through. This one we banged our rear bumper hard. Found out later that day someone else went through and cracked their bumper. We came out unscathed.

 

With no rain the roads dried over the 6 days. The mud became hard. Now instead of mud we had ruts. Deep ruts. These were just as difficult as the mud. I learned to drive slow so as to avoid the dagger eyes from my passengers after the bumps caused heads to bang against the side of the car. Slow was better.

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Going slow over these was a better idea.

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Our Hilux got a bit muddy too. You should have seen underneath when I cleaned it after we got out.

 

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Nothing to do with mud.  Just a road.

 

What this is all about

An epic trip like the one Cheryl and I are about to start on requires an epic blog.  This is it.

Epic.

As we go throughout the trip I hope to share some of the heart-wrenching, giggle-worthy, jaw-clenching, head-shaking, mortality-questioning, and nerve-tingling things we encounter.  They could be about anything from pancakes to bribery to leopard encounters or any other surprises along the way.  I’ll make sure to post some of our thinking for taking this trip and how we made it all happen as well but that’s for another time.

Once we get back this may also be a space for plenty of other meandering thoughts and celebrations.  Then again, it may not. But I hope so.