On our last post I mentioned that we had wrecked a tyre, so the plan was that we were going to find a local tyre repair place in the small town of Kasane and get them to swap that wheel over for the spare (it is seriously hard work changing a wheel on Colonel K, with each wheel and tyre weighing in at 135kg), before heading south to Francistown where we would find a larger tyre dealer and order in a couple of new tyres. While waiting for the tyres to be delivered (we were expecting a 2-4 week wait for these to get to Botswana), we would go off exploring for a bit, and hope we didn’t get our first puncture of the trip.
At the filling station in Kasane we were told there were no tyre repairers in town but there was a small one in the next “town” along called “TyreMax”, and you can’t miss it because the whole place is tiny. So once in Kazungula, we found TyreMax and asked the guy if someone could swap the wheels over, whilst waiting (its a busy little place), I went into “reception” and enquired about getting a couple of new tyres delivered, after a few sharp intakes of breath from the woman behind the desk, she told me she had that size in stock! No way I thought, this size is impossible to source (even the two new ones we had fitted in the UK took about 3 weeks to get to the dealer, they are old Imperial sizes after all). I was taken through the back to the mad house that was their store room, there was no light, with tyres piled everywhere, but eventually I was taken to a pair of “Apollo” tyres, my heart sunk! These were the correct size, but were a pure road tyre, and weren’t even the correct load rating (very important on a single axle truck weighing nearly 10 tonnes). Back to square one then…………. More out of polite conversation than anything else, I asked if these were the only ones of this size that they had in stock, “oh no” came the reply, “we also have Bridgestone’s but they are very expensive”. When I saw this brand new pair of Bridgestone tyres my eyes nearly popped out of my head! These were my first choice of tyres before we were to leave the UK, but I was told by every dealer that they were not obtainable in my size. I checked the sizes, the load rating, even the date of manufacture, all was perfect, this was unbelievable…….. Now to do a deal. Before we left the UK we paid £800.00 for each Michelin, plus inner tubes and plus flaps (but including fitting), we ended up agreeing to a price here in Botswana of £400.00 each including genuine Bridgestone tubes and flaps, and fitting. Two hours later we were on our way!!!! We were incredibly lucky to find these tyres, and we just hope that these tyres now last the rest of our trip, as I’m sure that type of luck can’t repeat itself too often.
You could tell these guys are used to dealing with split rim wheels like ours, and as they were busy inflating the tyres without a cage over the wheel (this is a seriously dangerous business), there were people walking over the wheel and tyre, people standing around eating, whereas me and Jac were hiding behind the truck! They were a great bunch of guys, (there was about 4 of them working on the truck) and despite the fact that their English wasn’t great we did have a laugh with them.
Kazungula is a small border town where you can get across to both Zimbabwe, and Zambia, and there was a queue of trucks to rival any West African border crossing, it went back for miles, the majority waiting to cross to Zambia. Apparently there is a pontoon crossing here, and one of them was broken, these truck drivers must have the patience of a saint. Luckily we weren’t planning on crossing here.
After getting sorted we set off down the A33 tarmac road towards Nata, this is a strange road with only one town or village along the route (the fantastically named Pandamatenga), there are no other settlements for 300km, but at Panda the landscape changed from deep lush bush and grasslands to a huge sea of various crops, we saw, peas, maize, and sunflower, all stretching deep over the horizon.
Then as suddenly as it appeared, it returned to bush again. Now I must point out that all along this road (apart from where the crops are) there is lots of wildlife including elephants, it must cost a fortune keeping these animals out of this huge area of lush food (elephants in particular have no respect for boundaries or fences).
The other surprise with this road was the odd military presence in heavily camouflaged tents (but not camouflaged enough obviously), just set back from the road side, then we realised that the road (in three different places) would be blocked when deemed necessary and turned into an airstrip. This road does run parallel and quite close to the border with Zimbabwe, so I don’t know if thats why its so multi purpose, but i’d hope that they cleared the area of elephants and giraffe before they were cleared for landing.
That night we stopped at Elephant Sands, a lodge and campsite about 50km north of Nata. We had met a few people on this trip that had recommended this place. It has recently (in the last year) been taken over my the previous owners daughter and husband, and they are investing quite heavily on improving the place, including new tented chalets, and extending the restaurant/bar area.
The campsite (right next to the waterhole and bar), also has some updated ablutions, and is unusual in this part of the world in that there are no set camp areas, it is a bit of a free for all, but is no worse for that. The big attraction of Elephant Sands (apart from the really friendly family that are running it), are of course the elephants themselves, all the accommodation is arranged in a horseshoe shape around the waterhole, and this allows the elephants to wander in and out, but be observed from the safety of the bar or your own stilted tent.
Mike the owner explained when we arrived, that due to the very late and heavy rain’s this year, there weren’t as many elephants at this time, as they have a huge choice of waterholes scattered around the area at the moment, never the less we did see a few elephants over the first two days that we stayed (mostly because we were still in the bar area once everyone else had gone to bed). Mike also explained that during the dry season the waterhole here is the only source of guaranteed water for hundreds of kilometres, (its trucked in tankers and pumped in to top up the water at Elephant Sands), consequently they can be over run with elephants, last year they had over 500 elephants at the small waterhole in one 24 hour spell, this meant that they had to close the campsite for a time and that they had to drain the small swimming pool, as the elephants managed to scale to patio area in a desperate attempt to get to some water! A victim of your own success? Maybe. Elephants have been recorded coming from as far as Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, just to get to a reliable source of water.
After asking the owners about the possibility of self driving the Nxai National Park, or the Makgadikgadi National Park without having to pay the 1,500BWP (£100.00) per day in vehicle park fees, we realised that this wasn’t really an option for us (especially after blowing our budget on 2 new tyres). But an hour or so later they came back and found us , and asked that if we wanted to, we could spend a night camping on their “farm”. We really didn’t understand what they were offering us, and so asked politely “why would we want to do this?”. It turns out that their “farm” isn’t really a farm as we know it but a huge 16,000 ha area of wild unspoilt bush and grassland that is at the moment dotted with pans that are full of water. Wow, this really was an amazing opportunity and obviously we thanked them and jumped at the chance. So the next morning, armed with nothing more than a sketched map, we set out into the bush, Mike had marked were a couple of pans were that were accessible with a vehicle, so we headed for these.
The first one we past was quite small with very little water in it at present, then we came across another much larger body of water so we found a suitable place to park up (not blocking the obvious elephant thoroughfares), and after a few moves we parked up about 8 metres from the waters edge, on a slightly elevated flat area.
There were fresh elephant prints and dung everywhere! But when we first got there (about 10.00am) there was no sign of elephants…….surely they will come though eh? We used the opportunity to collect fallen firewood, as there was lots of it due to the damage caused by the elephants, of course using our “ironman” welding gloves (that we use for cooking on the open fire) to protect us from scorpions lurking under the fallen wood.
Gradually at around noon we started to hear the distant sound of elephants, sometimes eating, sometimes destroying the odd tree, we could even hear them splashing in another waterhole further into the bush, then our first young bull elephant appeared……….. Then for the next 5 or 6 hours it was crazy, there were elephants everywhere!
We were hoping to see a few at close range at this water hole, we ended up counting to approx 60 elephants during daylight, but they just kept coming in during the evening. Many of these huge creatures were quite agitated by us being there, and were especially unhappy about the truck.
That night we had the mother of all camp fires, cooked our fish and vegetables, drank our wine and settled back to listen the drama of the African Bush at Night, and wow what a night. We had elephants moving very close by in the pitch black of the night, it was a perfect clear, but black night with no moon up until much later. I slept like a log….. I’m not sure Jac did.
The birds at the waterhole were quite breathtaking, including, Hornbills, Crimson Breasted Shrikes, Rollers, Bee-eaters, Weaver Birds, and the stunning Shaft-Tailed Whydah.
But that 24 hours was definitely all about the elephants.
After a leisurely breakfast we headed back to Elephant Sands (which was preparing to host a wedding the next day, what a place for a wedding).
Unbelievably we also met the parents of the two English couples that we met a few weeks ago in the Caprivi Strip, Namibia, who had come out to visit them. Later in the day (about 5pm), Jac decided to go off to the ablution block for a shower (I was left typing this blog), when she hadn’t returned after about 15 minutes, I thought I’d better take a look to see what was keeping her………….
Poor old Jac, she was in the shower, covered in soap, when a huge bull elephant decided that he liked the smell of her shower water, as she turned round there he was, face against the 2 foot gap above the wall, ready to do as much damage with his truck as he deemed fit! She ended up wrapped in her towel in full view of the bar (much to the amusement of the guests and staff), at the entrance to the ablutions waiting for the elephant to lose interest. Eventually he wandered off to the water hole, much to the relief of Jac’s who finished her shower very nervously.
If you think I’m exaggerating about an elephant damaging property to get at the water, last year Elephant Sands had 14 WC’s ripped out by elephants as they were trying to get to water, all smashed to pieces.
Bugs…………Living in Colonel K is a constant battle with bugs. Mosquitos are much more prevalent here in Eastern and Northern Botswana, but we are getting more used to them, as we are constantly above 3,000 feet, its a bit cooler as it gets dark, and this allows us to wear long trousers and sleeves if the mossies are bad, with just a bit of repellant on your exposed skin. This seems to work most of the time, and obviously we sleep under a net and take anti-malarial tablets each day. Ants are a different kettle of fish! It is a constant battle to keep on top of them inside the truck, there is always a nest somewhere that needs eradicating, above the bed, above the kitchen wall cupboards, in the air-con unit………. the list is endless. We have found that “Doom Super Strength Multi Insect” seems to sort them out without killing us, but you really don’t want to be in there once we’ve sprayed the place, its nasty! Its not unusual to use almost a whole tin of Doom when we have a bad infestation, but I guess we just have to accept that it is part of life in Africa when moving about, parking under trees for shade, and walking in and out of the living area (Im convinced that we are taking them in on our shoes and clothes).
One day (the night we bush camped at Elephant Sands), we were constantly visited by some African Bees (thats what we call them, not sure of the correct name), these are huge flying black bees, about 30-40mm long, and for some reason they wanted to fly in and out of the truck, when we went to bed that night this was what we found on one of our pictures that we have on our walls……
The buggers had been bringing mud in to build this nest!
Then there’s the more cute bugs like this strange creature that looks like a piece of grass.
We are now in Francistown (Botswana’s 2nd biggest city), catching up on washing clothes etc, and will head over to the border with Zimbabwe and cross over at the Plumtree border crossing (we are not expecting this crossing to be as smooth as the last few that we’ve had). There are a few National parks that we want to visit while in Zimbabwe, so we will see how we get on.
Thanks for reading