Although Karin Clark is no greenhorn when it comes to overlanding, she had never been on a trip to Botswana or roughed it for longer than a weekend at a time. Hearing about Leisure Wheels’s 4×4 Safari to Ngamiland and the Okavango Delta with Kalbas Nell, Karin and hubby Glen agreed it was time for something a bit more demanding.
This is her story….
We started preparing weeks in advance. Our cabbie – a Toyota Hilux double cab – had to get ready too. The suspension was lifted, a differential lock was fitted and an intercooler was added. I insisted on a rooftop-tent. There was no way I was going to fold and roll all our sleeping gear every morning and search for my pajamas among a myriad of bags and stuff. So Roofie, the tent, was inaugurated two weeks prior to departure, to familiarise ourselves with the whole schpeel.
It was great being so far removed from the danger of wild animals, the irritation of sand and grass accompanying me into the tent and the anticipation of a bug creeping into my ear, but each morning I woke up feeling like the princess who had slept on a pea. Roofie demanded some modification. After weighing up several options, we decided to glue two good quality yoga mats to the base of the tent for additional padding and bought an automatic mattress (my term for our blow-up mattress) and voila! Having learnt from previous experience, I realised there were a few things I had to take for myself…to make life a little easier in the middle of nowhere (some things men just never think of). So when we left on our nine-day trip, I was more than ready. My ablution bag was stocked with teeny weeny Tresemé travel shampoo and conditioner bottles from Dischem, a pink battery operated lantern, a very concise make-up bag, two hand mirrors and loads and loads of Wet-Wipes.
There was no way that a water shortage was going to prevent me from sanitising the sour spots and wiping off my make-up at night. There are many things I’m willing to sacrifice in the name of adventure, but my make-up is not one of them. Everyone had to meet up at Khama Rhino Sanctuary near the town of Serowa, in Botswana, a day before the trip proper got underway. It’s a beautiful place. I was so impressed with (and grateful for) the female-friendly campsite and ablution facilities. We spent the rest of the day just lazing. Meanwhile, all our fellow safari members arrived. That night the yoga mats did their trick and after a pleasant sleep I crawled out of the tent before dawn to go for a shower and do my make-up before anyone could witness “the unpainted canvas”. I just thought: to hell with what anyone thinks. I’m not bothering anyone or holding anyone up by sticking to my routine. It’s important to me.
Finish and klaar. Our first real off-roading day started that morning after breakfast. We drove around and reached the nearby Serwe Pan in the afternoon, where we were lucky to see rhinos wallowing in the mud. We had a wonderful sundowner under a breathtaking sunset and went back to the campsite for our first taste of Kalbas’s assistant, Shorty’s, amazing bush cooking. The following day we headed for Kubu Island. It was a wonderful drive via Letlhakane through little villages, over a section of Sowa Pan, and eventually onto the ancient super lake of isolation – the great Makgadikgadi Pans. This is an experience you cannot explain to anyone.
There is no substitute for seeing the vast nothingness of the Makgadigadi Pans yourself. To top it all, there were wild horses etched against the white glare of the horizon – a picture perfect moment we all took advantage of. Kubu Island (Kubu is Tswana for hippo) is unlike anything I could have imagined. The granite outcrop with majestic baobab trees overlooking the salt lake in the middle of nowhere is the stuff of poetry. We mere mortals just cannot find the right words to describe the inert beauty of this place. Kubu Island was our “dry camp” – no ablution facilities.
I said a silent thank you for the stack of Wet-Wipes I had brought along. One perspires a lot during the day, so there’s simply no way you can completely skip a shower. By now my hair was really taking a turn for the worse. Where it started hanging loose over my shoulders on the first day, it now regressed to a ponytail. In retrospect, I only opened those Tresemé bottles twice on the trip, but hey, at least I came prepared. We enjoyed another beautiful sunset and the most divine steaks prepared by Kalbas and Shorty before heading off to bed. Our journey continued the next morning to the gateway town of the Okavango Delta – Maun (which is Tswana for place of reeds).
Here we stocked up on snacks, fuel and drinks at Riley’s garage. My favourite find was a ready mixed can of gin and tonic for P7.50 (about R9.50). Adjacent to the garage was a real deli. Needless to say, all the women flocked there while the men were filling up the vehicles. The deli had the most mouthwatering cakes on display. We oohed and aahed, but eventually left drooling empty handed (and mouthed) since they didn’t sell slices of cake and no one had the appetite (or guts) to buy a whole cake for themselves. Our campsite for the night was just outside Maun, Situanga, where wood cabins awaited us – a real grounding experience after a few nights of being really “high”.
At dinner Kalbas surprised us. He had bought one of those cakes at the deli and gave each of us a slice for desert. How sweet! The next day presented an optional scenic flight over the Delta in an eight-seater plane. Already being untrue to my sworn acrophobia by sleeping in the Roofie, we opted to laze around the pool instead. We remained in Maun for another day since Lady Luck was playing tricks on us. Our Hilux was giving problems and Kalbas’s Cruiser was making a funny noise, but both problems were fixed in a jiffy by a very clued up mechanic in Maun. After an exhausting and stressful day we were relieved to once again sleep in our wood cabins in Situanga.
The next morning we were on our way again and headed back south via Maun to Sehithwa from where the road changes direction to get around the Okavango Delta. This unique ecosystem is a true oasis situated in the middle of the largest continuous stretch of sand in the world, the Kalahari basin. This again is difficult to describe if you are not the poet and wordytype. We arrived at the beautiful Nguma Island Lodge where we set up camp for two nights. We enjoyed a breathtaking sundowner cruise on the waters of the Delta and spotted the most beautiful fish eagle. The following day we had the option of a full day or half day makorro trip. Since Mother Nature has a will of her own, we were eventually restricted to the half-day trip as we had to wait for the rain to clear. We travelled in the makorros through crystal clear channels tunnelling through papyrus, reeds and tall swamp grasses, dotted with water lilies. Michael, our poler cum guide, told us that the stem of these lilies could be used as a straw, since it filters the water completely. He told us that necklaces were made from the lilies by young men wishing to court a young lady. A lot of time and effort goes into making a perfect necklace. When we finally beached the makorro, Michael gave me a necklace, and crowned me Queen of the Delta. I felt so special!
We enjoyed another relaxing evening at Nguma. The following day we backtracked towards Maun and headed to Kazakini Camp just outside Moremi – our final destination – where we were going to spend our last few days. After another great dinner and chit-chat we crept in for what we envisaged would be a peaceful night’s sleep. Every now and then we were woken by branches being snapped by elephants and the roar of lions in the distance. Just as everyone started to relax, two hyenas created a stir by trying to steal the garbage bin outside Kalbas’s tent. Kalbas the Brave managed to chase them off, but they came back later, and took off with Shorty the cook’s cooler box.
The following morning the lid of one of the black pots and the half-chewed cooler box was retrieved a few metres from the campsite. The hyenas were not fussy. The cooler box didn’t contain any meat, but they tucked into the bananas and avocado pears with gusto. The next day was set aside for solo driving so we could enjoy Moremi Game Reserve at our own leisurely pace. On our last day we embarked on a circular route to South Gate, Third Bridge (where we had lunch), Xakanaxa and back to South Gate. We encountered hordes of wildlife: elephants, zebra, wildebeest, hippos and red letchwe, to mention but a few.
It took us the entire day since we often had to slow down to dodge mud holes caused by the late rains, and just as we reached the campsite at 7pm it started pouring. Thinking it wise to “hold it in” until we got back to the camp, I had to weather the storm on the open toilets at the camp with only my husband’s extra large drymac protecting me from the elements…and possible embarrassment. And no, I didn’t have raccoon eyes – my mascara was waterproof. The rain kept pouring down, harder and harder. It got so bad that Kalbas and Shorty had to stop preparing dinner. Kalbas spoke to camp management and rented a huge lapa, complete with kitchen and gas stove where we could all kuier for the last time. He later mentioned that he paid only P50 (R60) to use it.
Although everyone was a bit irritable, worn out and wet at first, the OBS (Old Brown Sherry) revived the spirits and soon everyone was having a great time. We all received our certificates for surviving the journey and had one last heavenly serving of Shorty’s steaks. I was filled with strange emotions on our last day. Would we ever be back to see these beautiful places again? I consoled myself with the thought that I had a full memory card, and my pictures would go on our wall of remembrance. Every time I go to my very own, comfortable, private loo, I will walk past these wonderful places again in the dim lights of the hallway.
What a great safari!