(aka – We drove across the Kalahari Desert in 2WD and got another flat tyre)
We spent our last night in the CKGR at Deception Camp 1, then set out on Wednesday morning to drive out of the Reserve, get back on the sealed road at Rakops and head south towards Orapa. We got a mere 6kms down the track when Tyre Dog pressure monitoring system started letting us know that we had a puncture.
So we pull over to a clear flat spot off the single vehicle-width track, grab our 2 jacks and other tyre-fixing stuff and get on with it.
Just as Greg was getting the first jack underneath, 2 government Landcruiser utes stopped. I thanked them for stopping, explained that we had a flat tyre but we were okay and thought they would just keep on driving, but they pulled both vehicles off the track and all 6 passengers got out to assess the situation. Within seconds the 2 drivers were on the green mat-covered ground with Greg, sussing it all out. Someone got a jack from one of the utes, so we had 3 jacks, and they got to work.
The group works for a mobile health unit, based in Ghanzi. They had visited the 2 lodges within the Reserve and were on their way to a clinic in Rakops. There were 2 Health Care workers including Registered Nurse Onalethata Matsenkule who trained in Melbourne and lived in Australia for 9 years. He has even visited Adelaide! In addition to the 2 drivers, there was a mechanic and a female assistant mechanic.
We had an almost heart-stopping moment when one of the drivers moved out from under Clancy a split second before the jack collapsed in the soft sand, but otherwise it all went smoothly. I chatted with Onalethata while Greg and the men replaced the tyre. I showed off Clancy’s interior, the guys chatted about how fantastic 1H and 2H Toyota engines are, then Greg showed them the electrical features of the camper. We gave the group a 6-pack of Sahara Cider, thanked them all profusely and waved them off to get to their health clinic.
The rest of our drive out of the Reserve was uneventful, although the last part of the unsealed road back to the B300 sealed road near Rakops was the worst of the whole CKGR route.
We pulled off the road at the turn-off to Rakops and had a very late lunch. Just as we were finishing, a government car pulled up beside us ….. it was our friends the drivers and health workers! We were happy to see them and let them know that the rest of our drive out of the park was fine.
It was such a lovely experience, meeting this group of friendly, helpful locals. Shame about the tyre – we’re up to 5 punctures for this trip so far. Hopefully not on track to match Season 1’s tally of 10 punctures and 2 blow-outs.
Kubu Island is a site that I have wanted to visit for many years, ever since I watched Andrew St Pierre White’s videos about his visits. Kubu Island is a granite island that rises out of the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana. Kubu Island is covered with Boabab trees and is a complete contrast to the flat salt Makgadikgadi Pan surrounding it. The Makgadikgadi Pans are the largest salt pan complex in the world covering 16,000 square kilometres.
We stopped at Mmatshumo village on the way into Kubu Island to get our permit and pay our camping fees, totalling 480pula (about A$70). Its then a 50km drive along a variable road to Kubu Island. We camped at campsite No. 1 (since we were early). We retired during the heat of the afternoon (remember its winter in Botswana – 32C). Then around sunset we climbed up Kubu Island to watch the sunset from the top. You could see the shadow of the island stretching eastward over the pan.
Kubu Island is regarded as a monument, and sacred to the local people. There is archaeological evidence that people have been using the island for ceremonies for more than a thousand years.
It was a cool windy night, so we made use again of the diesel heater to heat the cabin.
The ‘it’s so hard to work out how to book at Botswana’s wildlife reserves’ theme continues with our current venture into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve CKGR.
The Reserve has 3 kinds of campsites:
– privately run ones which charge loads of money but provide everything. We drove into one near the DWNP Kori campsites by mistake and it had a game drive vehicle and nice-looking semi-permanent tents including a bathroom tent. We met a couple of the staff who were going for a walk. One of them asked us if we had any cigarettes, but as we don’t smoke we weren’t able to assist.
– sites run by the Department of Wildlife & National Parks DWNP which provide a concrete braai area, drop toilet, bucket shower, although the actual bucket seems to be missing about 50% of the time
– Bigfoot Tours sites which cost 12 times the price of the DWNP – 350 pula per person vs 30 pula per person for DWNP sites.In the case of the Bigfoot one we had a look at at Letiahou, it had absolutely nothing apart from an ashy braai area. Bigfoot also doesn’t bother to answer emails.
Everyone pays the same park and vehicle entry fees – 120 pula per person, 50 pula per vehicle under 3.5 tonnes.
In order to get into the CKGR, you have to have some accommodation booked.
We visited the DWNP office in Ghanzi on Friday afternoon, to see if we could get a booking somewhere, anywhere in the park. The nearest DWNP campsite to the north-western gate Tsau, is San Pan, which is about 90kms from the gate. We asked if we could book a night there, and then several nights at Deception Valley, which is about 40kms from the north eastern gate Matswere. A very helpful young DWNP ranger was able to get us the night at San Pan, but all 6 Deception campsites were booked out. On paper, or in some central computerised booking system, but not really. More on that later. So then we asked if we could get 4 nights at San Pan. 6 phone calls later ( !?!?! ) – success! We got our 4 nights in the CKGR, and figured we’d work out the details of where we would actually stay later. Apparently it is possible to pay by cash or credit card at the office, but the finance person wasn’t there, so we had to pay cash at Tsau Gate the next morning.
We wild camped just off the track to Tsau Gate, about 9kms west of it, so we could enter the reserve early. We weren’t sure how long it would take us to drive to San Pan.
I still wasn’t quite convinced that we’d get into the reserve without any hassles. The DWNP is a bit notorious for double-booking sites, or having no confirmation of bookings and various other obstacles, and all we had was the code of the camp written on a piece of paper. It did all go smoothly though. We found our booking details written on a piece of paper on the staff noticeboard in the tented office just near the main office building which is ‘under renovation’, we had the correct money to pay (entry gates to reserves here are notorious for not having any change), we got an official hand-written receipt stamped with the official DWNP stamp and we were good to go. Total cost for 4 nights camping for 2 people, 5 days of entry into the reserve for 2 people and vehicle entry for 5 days was 1690 pula, around AUD$240.
We spent 2 nights at San Pan, a large single campsite that has a fireplace, drop toilet AND a bucket. We used our own shower set-up in the shower space as it had a good concrete floor. On the day we were at San, we had 2 lots of visitors – a French couple who were running low on diesel and came to ask if we had any spare that they could buy. We had about 1/2 a tank and 3 full jerrycans, so Greg tipped a jerrycan into theirs, and they drove off to one of the Bigfoot campsites near Passarge Pan.
Then later in the afternoon, a Scottish/German couple drove up, having booked the campsite a day or so earlier … see what I mean about double-booking?! We were happy to share with them, but they decided to go a bit further south to Phokoje campsite as they were leaving via the south gate.
Yesterday(Monday) morning, after 2 nights and a full day at San, we headed east, intending to stay at one of the 6 Deception camps or one of the 4 Kori camps nearby. When we visited the Kori camps in the middle of the afternoon, 2 were empty, one had one vehicle and one had about 6 permanent-looking tents and no people or vehicles. Later in the day we checked out the Deception camps. 3 were occupied, 3 were not, so we took Campsite 1, which looked like it had been vacant for a while.
It seems that people or tour operators book the campsites as soon as the season opens, and then because they have no ‘skin in the game’, ie haven’t paid any money, they don’t bother cancelling the bookings if their plans change. The sites appear to be booked in DWNP’s database, but many go empty and other people miss out. Meanwhile, DWNP is missing out on a lot of entry and camping fees because the sites are not actually occupied.
We’ve seen a lot more wildife that we expected to. Conditions in Bots are pretty dry this year and we didn’t see much in and around the Trans-Frontier Park, but have since heard that there’s a lion whose territory includes the Mabua Entry Gate campground.
There are several permanent, artificially fed waterholes in the northern CKGR area and they keep herds of gemsbok and springbok from straying too far. Which also helps keep lions & other predators and black-backed jackals & other scavengers close. We haven’t seen a lion or any other predators, but the French couple told us they had seen one at Letiahau the night before we met them. The second couple saw some bat-eared foxes at Kori campsites. We saw a lone giraffe just a few kms from San Pan and when we were near Tsau Gate outside the Reserve we saw elephant dung but no elephants. We haven’t seen any evidence of any within the Reserve. Last night a honey badger tipped our washing up trough over, to get to the water in it, and Greg saw a rabbit during the night.
We seem to be turning into bird-watchers. My favourite bird is the crimson-breasted shrike, which has a bright red front, black back and a long white stripe down each wing. I first saw one when we camped at the quarry south of Mabuasehube Gate, have seen them occasionally since then and we were visited by 2 this morning. We have also seen a couple of yellow-billed hornbills today and many other smaller birds that we don’t know the names of. A bird book is on the next list of what we need to acquire or bring for our next trip. I’ll try and find one locally.
We’re reading a great book, Cry of the Kalahari, which was written by ecologists Mark and Delia Owens, about the 7 years they spent studying lions, brown hyenas and other wildife in Deception Valley in the CKGR, from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. They lived in a tent the whole time they were here, but back then, there were no DWNP or Bigfoot campsites, and very few, if any, roads or tracks. They drove an ancient Land Rover, then a slightly younger Land Cruiser, used a compass to mark locations and get directions because GPS hadn’t been invented, dealt with bushfires, at least one major flood and one very long, very devastating drought, re-supplied at Maun when it was just a village and learnt a lot about the wildlife they studied. They went on to write 2 more books about their lives in Africa, and last year Delia wrote and published her first novel ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’. My bff Sally sent me a copy of ‘Crawdads’, which is a really great read, and when I finished it, I found out about Delia’s other, earlier books and her amazing life in Southern Africa.
Wouldn’t that be a great title for one of Alexander McCall Smith’s Sunday Philosophy Club Series books? Perhaps he could do a cross-over, where Isabel Dalhousie visits Mma Precious Ramotswe in Gaborone, Botswana, and they go off on a safari together; then Precious visits Isabel in the UK and is constantly amazed at the grey skies and how much it rains there.
Anyway …. when we were fitting out Clancy the Camper, we decided that marine carpet would be good for most of the vertical and horizontal surfaces as it would decrease the amount of condensation in our living space. It’s worked really well. We do still get some condensation on the ceiling, but in the current climate with humidity around 10% most of the time, it evaporates very quickly.
Something we hadn’t thought about when deciding on marine carpet is how fantastic it is for holding velcro and thus the seemingly endless number of remotes, chargers, sensors, switches and other assorted paraphenalia we have managed to accumulate and stick to the carpet-covered walls. We’ve stuck strips of velcro to the back of the battery charger, fire blanket, at least 4 remote controls for lights, a thermometer, a USB charger or two (and many of the charging cables come with their own thin double-sided velcro as well), the carbon monoxide sensor, 2 small banana boxes full of miscellanea and probably a couple more things I can’t see at the moment and have forgotten about. We also have a fridge temperature monitoring system, but it came with magnets on the back, so we also have a couple of strips of metal glued to the carpet. Otherwise, the sensor would have got the velcro treatment too.
We also use long strips of velcro to hold the bluetooth speaker to the dashboard. We’re currently listening to Jo Nesbo’s latest Harry Hole book, Knife, but only when we’re on sealed roads. Too bouncy when we’re on unsealed roads and tracks.
There are 2 large storage spaces in Clancy’s living space – a short, wide area at the front and a taller, wide area at the back. By some minor miracle, I found some fabric-sided storage boxes at Ikea which are the perfect dimensions to fit in the front storage area. We each have one for our clothes and there’s a bit of space left over for our carry-on travel packs and other assorted stuff. We use the taller area at the back for our bedding, mattresses, TV & printer (both stored in their boxes) and various other items. Holding everything in was a bit of a challenge and Greg came up with a couple of timber bars that slot into brackets. We put a rolled-up deflated mattress behind each bar to hold it all back and that works well on sealed roads, but on bumpy tracks the timber would dislodge and a lot of it would fall out. Last time we tried elastic bands which did sort of work most of the time, but this time we’ve got it figured out. Greg bought metres and metres of thin double-sided velcro on Ebay and we wind short pieces of it around the timber bars at each end, with a very long piece wound in a figure-8 pattern in the middle. Nothing has moved, nothing has fallen down so that seems to be a success.
There’s also a strip of the same thin double-sided velcro holding the fire extinguisher in our living area in place. The extinguisher sits in a holder which is screwed to the wall, and the velcro is just to make sure it doesn’t jump out of its holding bracket.
We’ve spent the last 5 nights camping in and around the Kgalagardi Trans-Frontier Park and the adjoining Wildlife Management Areas.
Friday – quarry just south of the Wildlife Management Area next to the KTFP, south of Mabuasehube Gate Saturday – camping area just inside Mabuasehube Gate. We tried to get a campsite at Khiding, further inside the park, but there were no vacancies. Allegedly. We’ve mentioned/complained about the crazy, fragmented booking systems for National Parks and Wildlife Reserves in Bots before, and it’s no better. The people at the entry gates to the parks have no idea if or where there are vacancies, but if you don’t have accommodation booked inside the park, you can’t get in. There are 3 campsites at Mabuasehube Gate, and we apparently got the last vacant site, but one of the 3 sites was unoccupied the whole time we were there. I’m sure it would be a similar story at all the campgrounds inside the park as well. People book, don’t need to pay until they are at the entrance gate, don’t show up and someone else misses out. Sunday and Monday – Jacks Pan, north of the KTFP north-east corner. We met a South African couple, Quentin and Natasha, here and had a lovely time swapping stories. They love Botswana as much as we do and spend as much of their spare time here as they can. The night before we arrived at Jack’s Pan, they had a horrible night with a group of loud, rude campers who got drunk, played loud music almost all night and were nasty when Natasha asked them to quieten down. I can imagine how they must have felt when they heard and saw Clancy approaching their little haven. When we first met them, we assured them that we are quiet, don’t play music, don’t drink much and keep ‘campers hours’ – in bed early, sleep at least 12 hours. And we kept a reasonable distance between our campsite and theirs. On Sunday night, we heard a lion roar several times quite close to our campsite. The next morning, we chatted with Quentin and Natasha and they had seen the lion amble past their campsite just after sunset and head towards the pan. They lost sight of him then, but tracked his footprints in the morning and realised that he had been lying on the vehicle track at the edge on the pan, and that’s when he started roaring. Apparently there are 2 lions who live in the area – this big one and his smaller brother. We stayed here on Monday night and didn’t see or hear him again, unfortunately. We spent about an hour sitting in the car just after sunset, in case he walked the same way as he’d done on Sunday. Tuesday – Peach Pan, north of the KTFP
We’re on our way to Hukuntsi now, and plan to get to Ghanzi tomorrow.
The Barking Gheckos at dusk at Jacks Pan (turn on the sound)
It seems hard to believe now, that the first time we visited this beautiful country the only thing I wanted to do was go to Gaborone. It’s not far from the SA/Bots border and I’d read so much about it in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. I just wanted to see it for myself, and maybe catch a glimpse of the Tiny White Van.
We’re now visiting Bots for the 4th time and each time we fall a bit more in love with the place, the people, the incredible scenery and the overall ‘vibe’. And we keep on finding more places to see and more reasons to visit.
We crossed the border at McCarthy’s Rest/Tsabong yesterday and almost as soon as we’d arrived in Bots, we relaxed and heaved a sigh of something close to relief that were back here. Our last full day in Sth Africa had been a bit of a trial – the last big town before the border, Kuruman, is a rough place and we were glad to get out of there. Then the first place we tried for a campsite didn’t offer camping any more, despite multiple signs on the road advertising same. And then when we got to the next place, OppiKnoppi, we got our first flat tyre. At least we were able to spend the night there, in a nice cabin that cost us R150pp – around $30 total.
Last night we stayed at the Tsabong Eco-Tourism Camel Park, which is about 10kms out of Tsabong, and 30kms from the border. We have a powered campsite, which has a braai (of course!), huge stack of firewood, outdoor sink and we also have our own bathroom area with toilet, shower and fancy washbasin. And plenty of hot water! We got here early enough yesterday afternoon that we were able to do a load of washing, Greg got some stuff done and I had an afternoon nap. A couple of groups of camels wandered past our campsite, but otherwise we had our space to ourselves. Lovely place, I’d recommend it to everyone visiting this area
We’re heading ‘bush’ and will be off the air for about a week. Going to the eastern part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park at Mabuasehube, then west to Kaa, leaving the park and heading to Hukunsti, where we’ll have internet access again hopefully, Kang and then north to Ghanzi. Sadly we’ll miss the Heavy Metal Festival in Ghanzi, but we’ve read about it and it looked like a hoot! Then to the CKGR – Central Kalahari Game Reserve. That’s the plan.
See you in a week!
When we were parked at the Midas car park in Kuruman, several men tried to mug Greg and steal his daypack with his passport and other assorted items in it. I was sitting in Clancy, which was all locked up with the windows up, watching and listening in horror whilst trying to get the driver’s side door open.
We drove 15kms out of our way to a farm which, according to signposts, offered camping. When we go there 2 extremely disinterested women told us there was not camping but we could stay in the B&B part. No thanks. I commented as we were leaving that I felt like leaving all their gates open, but being a nicely brought-up country gal, I closed them.
Then we drove to the next place that offered accommodation and got a flat tyre just after we arrived. First of the trip.
The good bits
Greg absolutely would not let go of his pack and the would-be thieves got nothing. He rolled under the car to get away from them, yelled ‘Help’ several times and people came to his aid. As Mr Rogers would say … in bad situations, look for the helpers. They are always there. I think it was a very good thing that I didn’t get out of the car as that would have given the ‘thieves’ the opportunity to try and grab hold of as much as they could from the front of the car!
Greg got quite a few scratches and grazes on his arms and legs, but is otherwise fine.
We were able to spend the night in a nice cabin at the OppiKnoppi Guest Farm which gave Greg the chance to fix the tyre while I cooked dinner in the cabin. The hosts charged us a very reasonable R150 per person, around $30 in total.
I bet at least 50% of you now have that Willie Nelson song ticking over in your brain. Sorry about that!
We headed out of Jo’burg yesterday morning. Finally. We really enjoyed spending 10 days at Airport En Route. It’s the longest we’ve spent anywhere apart from home in … forever. We settled into a nice little routine of Greg working on stuff on Clancy – new roof box, diesel-powered heater for our living space that we can also use to heat our outdoor shower tent, water heater for our showers. When he needed things from the hardware, or we needed something from the supermarket, Greg would ride his bike to the shops. I cooked, read a lot and did my best to maintain the campers’ kitchen to the high standard the owners keep it. There’s something about a very clean kitchen that seems to make us want to keep it that way, and our hostess Marion thanked me for keeping it so clean, but she still liked to splash plenty of Ajax around.
Most of the time, we were the only people there, but a couple of nights before we left there was a family from French Guiana who stayed overnight. And where is French Guinana? Just north of Brazil, and east of Surinam. If you have read ‘Papillon’, you’d recognise it. It was a former French penal colony and our host David took great delight in pointing out that all their campers were from former penal colonies – ie, us and the French Guianans.
We’re on our way to the SA/Bots border crossing at McCarthy’s Rest, north-west of Jo’burg. We drove through the centre of Jo’burg yesterday, we hadn’t meant to, but we got to revisit some of the places we got to know quite well when we stayed in an Airbnb in Maboneng on our first trip to Sth Africa. We were driving along and all of a sudden I realised we were in that trendy area. It looks better at night when all the pretty lights are on and there are plenty of people out and about, but it still looked good.
Last night we stayed at a campground just off the N14, at Barberspan Lake, 300kms west of Jo’burg.We had a lakeside campsite, and were the only ones there! There were only 6 campsites, but loads of A-frame chalets which were also all empty. I guess it gets busy during school holidays, at least I hope it does, for the sake of the owners and their staff.
Tonight we’re staying at the Red Sands Country Lodge, just a bit west of Kuruman. It’s an impressive set-up … lots of rondeval-style cabins, campsites with private facilities plus campsites without their own bathrooms, restaurant, bar, pool etc etc. We’re just staying in an ordinary campsite and using the shared bathroom, but we do have our own sink, braai and bench with power points and light. It’s very nice and at the lower end of what we pay for a campsite – R240, around $25.
We’re planning on crossing into Botswana tomorrow and have read various reports of what food we can and can’t take across. We know we can’t take fresh meat, and why would we when Botswana beef is so good and so cheap? But then we’ve read of people having UHT milk confiscated, no idea why, and fish and all kinds of other fresh food. Seems like it depends on whether the customs officer is hungry or not! When we crossed from Namibia to Bots earlier this year, we had apples and potatoes taken, despite a notice in the office with information on maximum allowed quantities, and what we had was nowhere near the limit.
Our plans to only stay a couple of days in Jo’burg while we get a few things done have sort of gone out the window. Greg has been building another fibreglass box on the roof to hold 2 more tyres with solar panels covering them. It’s taking a bit longer than anticipated, but we don’t really mind. We like it here at Airport En Route, and our hosts Marion and David don’t seem to mind us spending some extra time here. There have only been a couple of other overnight campers – one family at the start of their trip and another at the end of theirs – so most of the time we have the lovely campers’ kitchen and bathroom to ourselves.
The weather here is gorgeous at the moment, especially considering it’s winter here too – up to 25C during the day, down to -3 a couple of mornings, sunshine, clear skies. It’s much colder at home. The countryside here looks like Adelaide in summer – very brown and dry. A combination of frequent morning frosts and not much rain. Apparently it’s not usually so warm at this time of the year and the locals are worried that they may be in for a hot summer. I’ve been feeling like one ear is blocked, as if I’m still on a plane and when I mentioned it to Greg, he reminded me that we’re at an altitude of 1750m here! Which also explains why I thought it was taking longer to cook and bake stuff. It’s the altitude.
We returned the rental car on Sunday and now if we need anything from the supermarket or hardware, Greg rides his bike. It’s about 4kms to the nearest large hardware store and there’s a good shopping centre nearby.
While Greg has been adding, subtracting and modifying stuff on Clancy, I’ve been cooking, refining my bread recipe and doing lots of reading. It’s all been very laid-back and low-key and I’m sure we’ll be happy to get on the road to Botswana, but for now, we’re happy doing what we’re doing.
We follow a lot of Overlanders on social media. Recently I read the final post of a guy who had been travelling for several years and he included the last lines from the movie, The Martian, in which Mark Watney says:
At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.
Seems like very good advice for overlanders as well as astronauts.
We hit our first problem before we’d even landed in Jo’burg. On the flight from Singapore to Joburg, we realised that we’d forgotten to bring the keys to the camper part of Clancy. We’ve brought almost 90kgs of luggage and no keys. Excellent. Actually, we’d forgotten to bring any keys at all, but we’d left a car key here with David and Marion at Airport En Route, the vehicle storage place/campground that has been Clancy’s home for the last 4 months. And from now on,the first and last items on our very long lists of stuff we need to bring will be KEYS!
It all worked out okay though. We were able to spend our first night here in an ensuite room at Marion and David’s, which meant we didn’t have to scurry 30m across frosty lawn to the toilets in the middle of the night. The next morning Greg got to work on the camper door lock and managed to lever it open, and we could then access the set of keys we’d left in the camper.
Greg re-installed the injectors he’d removed at the end of Season 1 to get refurbished, and that all went smoothly, got Clancy started without too much trouble and we’re now back to sleeping in the camper, but we’re using the nice camp kitchen here while we can.