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Day 71: Botswana and Stuff (Part 3)

April 12, 2012

I suggest you read part 2 of this if you haven’t already (part 1 is not really related to Botswana). On with the story!

So we left Maun at midday (ish), and drove towards Gweta, our next planned stopover. Gweta, other than being a nearby stopping point to break up the drive, is next to the Nxai (no, I can’t pronounce it) and Makgadikgadi (can’t pronounce this one either) salt pans, which are HUGE and have lots of elephants and zebras and things to see in them (incidentally, for anyone who watches Top Gear, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans were the ones that they all crossed in the Botswana challenge episode). Sadly, by the time we got to Gweta, the last tour had already left, and there was absolutely nothing else to do in Gweta, so we continued on to Francistown. Again, Francistown was a convenient stopping point on the way to Gabarone, the capital of Botswana. Francistown was also pretty empty, and by the time we got there it was 9pm, and everything was closed, except for a few greasy fast food joints. Played some pool, then went to bed. Another early morning, left Francistown and went to Gaborone, which took about 4 hours. This road apparently can have elephants walking along it:

(Me: where are they? J: they’re late!)

We also crossed over:
 

Once in Gaborone, we’d decided to go to one of the national parks to look at the animals there, and the Lonely Planet books gave us an idea of price and stuff like that. Unfortunately, it gave us the wrong idea. Very wrong.

To go on a self-drive, you needed to be a member of their park, otherwise you had to take a guided tour. Becoming a member involved filling out some forms, paying membership fees, and then paying for any ‘guests’ you were bringing. Got all this done because we didn’t fancy being crammed in with all the other tourists, and went into the park. The roads were just dirt, but they started off ok, apart from the occasional bump designed to slow cars down. We got to the lake without any problems anyway.

 

Then we ran into trouble. Basically, the Lonely Planet guidebook said that 4WD vehicles were only necessary in the rainy season, which it wasn’t. They also said that the park was open to all vehicles. Ours is a Ford Focus, and because of the book (and the fact that we weren’t stopped on our way in by the many people who saw our car), we assumed we wouldn’t have any problems with the roads. How wrong we were. After continuing on from the lake, we decided to take the outside road, in the hopes of seeing more animals. A few false turn-offs later (the map didn’t show all the roads, and the signs were few and far between), we got onto the path we wanted, and found ourselves on a really rough section of road. Rocks everywhere, big bumps, ditches. We had to go super slowly to avoid damaging the car, and as it was, some bumps scraped really loudly on the bottom of the car. Saw some nice animals though:

Eventually we finished the first part of the loop, and we started on the second part. Actually getting to the right bit was again tricky due to the inaccurate map and lack of signs. When there were signs, they were very general, and could have applied to multiple path intersections. The second loop was where we hoped most of the animals would be, just because the habitat was slightly different, and it was more spaced out. Unfortunately, we did not see anything we hadn’t already seen, and the roads were much much worse. We were all clenching our fists because of the stress, and Jasmine was blocking her ears so she couldn’t hear the sound of the car scraping past trees and bushes and rocks and over bumps. I took out my Rubik’s Cube to keep me occupied and not thinking about how badly the car was doing. You know it’s bad when solving a Rubik’s Cube as fast as possibly is stress-relieving. It started getting dark as we were leaving, so we took some time to watch the sunset:

Slowly, painfully, we got back to the entrance – the drive was bad for me, I can only imagine how it was for Tony! We decided that we didn’t want to stick around in Gabarone, so we refuelled the car and drove for the border.

We assumed that getting across the border at 8pm would be easier than in the middle of the day, but apparently, everyone in Botswana drives at night from South Africa to Botswana. With their headlights super bright. And they don’t turn them down when they pass you. So that was interesting, and a little worrying. Waited in a long queue (we were apparently just behind a bus of people), and finally got through. Again, easy, but not so quick. And then we drove all the way home! Got back at a little after midnight, and went to bed.

So that was Botswana. Scenery-wise, it was all very much the same, and you couldn’t even tell the difference between the Kalahari and the other parts. But the delta was very nice, and we enjoyed ourselves a lot!

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