The River and the Rain - Botswana 2007

Nov 26th, 2007, 12:41 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 35
The River and the Rain - Botswana 2007

Okie - I'm a newbie here, but just got back from a great time in Botswana, so I'm writing up my trip report. I don't want to do this a load of seperate times for different sites, groups etc, so after the first blurb I've put the 'camp summary' stuff up front for each place and the 'general whiffle' for each day following, that so you don't have wade through stuff you don't want to.

This was a repeat visit to several camps and new for others, so I've tried to give an over-view about what I liked (or disliked) about each. The more 'high-end' the camp is, the more I think they should meet/exceed expectations, so yeah - I'll nit-pick on some of the camps' presentation/activities!

No apologies for the over-use of exclamation marks and smilies, the trip deserved it. Many apologies for the lack of good descriptions and poor English... time, space and my skill is limited!

Out-bound Flight - Carrying All My Baggage

Well - we haven't had more then a couple of days' break for a year - we're stressed, tired and need to be away from everything... Heathrow airport - shudder... but it has to be done if I want to get to Africe.

After some agonising, we've decided to check our bags through to Maun, so that we have the option to go via the transfer lounge if the flight is running late (yeah - I trust BA about as far as I can throw a Boeing aircraft!). We figure that it's more important to make sure we get there, then the checked luggage - and if we end up needing to run for the connection and our luggage is only checked to Jo'burg, we have no chance of getting it sent on. The nice lady at the BA check-in tells us it can't be done for local connections, but we explain that Maun isn't in South Africa, and she figures out the required airport code eventually... We wonder if we will ever see the bags again!

Of course, the flight is on time, so we go through immigration (the transit lounge was horrible the one time I tried it - never again!), do a quick 'paranoia' check to make sure the bags aren't dumped on the Jo'burg baggage carousel and go off to drink those nice (ridiculously cheap) lattés in the café for an hour or so. The connecting flight to Maun boards on time, but is stuck behind about 10 other planes, so has a slight delay. As we board, the luggage trolley comes by with just our bags on it - much to our delight and much to the consternation of other passengers... We're alright Jack, dunno where your bags are though!

(One point to note - the hand luggage racks on the smaller (mid-week) Air Botswana connection are too small to take the full carry-on bag size permitted by BA so quite a few frustrated passengers were unpacking bags! Definitely don't take a hard case.)

David's rep in Maun meets us at the airport, she is a bit annoyed at the delay since there are other clients waiting, although how it's my problem baffles me - it's not like I stole the wheels or something! Anyway - we meet Max, our guide, who is pretty chilled out, and do the (very windy - as in open vehicle doing 60mph) drive down to camp. A pretty smooth trip overall...

Meno-A-Kewna - The River Running!

We had a great time here (again) - although having a full day out at Nxai pan for the first day following a long-haul flight is a little knackering! We soon bounced back, however, and had a great time. The tents are just as we remember - nice and comfortable (I later hear them described as 'small' - but only with an expectation of palatial accomodation can they be described like that). The shower/toilet area has been upgraded, so it has a reed screen around it - still bucket showers (which I rather like myself). The dining table is new too - and if I could fit it in my luggage I have nicked it immediately - it has set-in glass display panels for all sorts of interesting oddments. The game was on the low side, due to the early rains - but we expected that, so no problem. We did see some elephant, zebra and kudu still around, but the big herds are heading into the pans... a *lot* of lion about however - take earplugs if lion calls bother you while trying to sleep. Good food (that chilli-sherry stuff is just the best condiment ever!), nice accomodation, friendly staff and a real focus on working with the village - I love this place!

The next day the trip to Nxai is a long - 2 hours+ driving to get there, several hours (and lunch) at the pan, then on to see Baine's Baobabs, then 2 hours back. As we drive to the park gate, we see what come to be called 'bee-patches' - areas of disturbed ground that at first look like a lot of spoor, but on closer inspection are some type of ground burrowing bees... a lot of bees... we move off promptly! These patches occur frequently over about a 3 mile area - anyone with any idea on what these bees are? Not something I've seen before (sadly no photo - stupid me).
In the pan we see impala, zebra, a lot of vultures, some nice ele with a big, big guy leading them. No predators however - but then, you take what you get... The wind is hot and much water is drunk to maintain hydration levels, the long flight hasn't helped any here. When we get there, the baobabs are in leaf, and pretty spectacular - kind of green leaves and those purple trunks. As we head back we see gemsbok - some of the only ones for this trip!
And at dinner we bump into Geoff again (a guy we did a sleep out with on the pans a few years ago) - he hasn't changed any, but we spend a while catching up over the fire I know there are lots of places to visit, but this is one of the reasons I like going back to southern africa, you keep unexpectedly meeting people you know - it's a small world.

The lion are seriously loud during the night - I enjoy hearing them roar, but by 3:00 AM even I'm muttering 'shut-up you *&^%$' as I pull the pillows over my ears! The next morning I've decided to take a miss while I sort out the bags - 3 weeks living out of bags every night needs some organisation or it turns into total chaos - I like to know where to find my 'smalls' in the morning (For the flight, a bit of everything goes into each bag to make sure we get something to wear if a bag goes missing - so there's some re-arranging to do.) DH goes for a walk with Max, and apparently wanders around every tree following lion spoor to see what they were doing - running in circles and yelling in my opinion!
After lunch and siesta ( I'm good at siesta ) we go for a drive along the Boteti river - still dry down here although it's running again further upstream - we see the usual suspects (giraffe, elephant, zebra, kudu, impala, steinbok, vultures...). The hippos (against all my expectations) have made it - they are still slugging it out in a water-hole in a river that hasn't run for at least 15 years! Amazing endurance... I swear they'll have desert dwelling, carnivorous hippos in 20 years time! (<-- Okay, maybe it takes a bit longer then that )
Back at dinner we meet David again - so another night of catching up. He's still himself - nothing much will change that I think And tonight we have our first rain - not much, but a promise of what's to come... Pula!

The next day we are kinda getting used to the early wake-up (3:00AM UK time!) and bounce out of bed ready to meet a bright new day. Guess the rain helped a lot! We go for a walk with Dabe, a bushman guide, who demonstrates fire-starting faster then I have ever seen - takes him about 3 minutes start to finish (and no blisters - we've done this before and got fire, but the blisters were pretty spectacular too...) Following Dabe, I get within about a meter of a woodpecker feeding an adolescent and teaching it how to hunt insects - really cool! Sneaking up on birds is always fun We visit the hide, which has been redone, has surrounding walls and is now huge - with a bed for sleep-outs. Some of the other guys on the walk have a tendancy to wander off randomly - weirdly they are also ones who swear the lions were right next to their tent in the night?!? - kinda makes you wonder what they'll do if they find one snuggled down under a bush! We are all herded back safely, however, and spend some time watching stuff at the waterholes. (There are a number of new waterholes put in around the Boteti area, which is definately a good thing - the few David could run from camp as a stop-gap measure were just not enough for the big herds in the dry season. Great for game-viewing, but really not good for the animals!)
After lunch, we go off with David to look for the location of the river water. This might sound a bit strange (and clearly does to the other couple with us on the drive who elect not to bother going) but this river hasn't had water for about 20 years... 20 years...!There are people living on it's banks who have only heard about running water from their grandparents! The migrating herds head out of the Makgadikgadi every year to contest for water in a very few waterholes available. Man - this river needs to run again! Here's hoping...
We drive up river and bush-crash a bit to find the area where it is running - I have never seen a man with a bigger grin on his face then David has at this point! Then we follow down-stream to locate the end point. The kids along the way are - well, not swimming, but at least rolling in the water. I doubt they can swim and they need to learn to watch out for the crocs - a whole new danger they've never had to worry about! The boys are in some state of undress, so we politely stay in the vehicle and look at interesting dead trees while they organise themselves and chat with David. They have caught fish - okay, it's about 3 inches long, but it's a fish, dammit - and they intend to make the most of it! The river end is about 5 kms ahead, and one of the boys comes with us to show the crossing points and where the fence breaks are (since everyone has built their cattle kraals in the riverbed). When we get there, a lot of baffled kids and their excited mothers/grandmothers are watching the water inch forwards - this is a very big deal to these guys! A couple of beers (and my total competance in Setswana) later, we are watching the river creep forwards inch by inch... David digs a few meters trench, just to encourage it along!!! Driving back down the river bed, we measure the distance to go - a touch under 25 kms before it crosses the Makgadikgadi game-park fence. We have a new drinking toast that night... "To the river and the rain". Man - I sure hope it makes it, but it has a long way to go still.

The next day we leave (with regret) for another great place we've been before, but on our way we stop to look at the full-on Boteti River closer to Maun. It looks fanastic - like a Delta area, complete with water plants, jacana, lilies - the full works! Maybe one day it will look like this at Meno-A-Kwena and the hippos will have their perseverance rewarded...

Deception Valley Lodge to follow...
Ysandre is offline  
Nov 26th, 2007, 06:48 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
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Only your bags on the trolley! I am sure you weren't popular. Hope you did not flaunt it. You are right about the small Air Botswana overhead luggage compartments. But I've also noticed they are more lenient on what you can put down by your feet.

I got to the 60 mph drive to camp. More tomorrow.
atravelynn is offline  
Nov 26th, 2007, 11:08 PM
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 395
Ysandre - I look foward to your pictures from Meno. We're going to send 4 nights there in March 08 with a 2night sleepout at CKGR.

Do you have any idea what the game viewing at Meno is likely to be in March? We're hoping to catch the migration annual migration into CKGR.
amolkarnik is offline  
Nov 27th, 2007, 08:43 AM
Join Date: May 2004
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Ysa: what a treat to discover your report after seeing your comment on my photo thread. I got to hear about you checking the Boteti River in person while at DVL. Near the end of my trip when flying to Makgadikgadi Camp we made it a point to veer slighly out of the way and see where the river flowed to. Coincidentally I was on the plane with Geoff who would be my guide and told me how much he loves Meno and that he often guides there so I imagine it is the same Geoff that you know.

Can't wait to hear about your DVL sightings to see what I missed after leaving. I don't imagine it will be the same as your first visit with a lion kill right in camp and leopard drinking around the corner but I'm sure there was something special this time too. I know the leopard we left you with was pretty spectacular!
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Nov 27th, 2007, 02:04 PM
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Wow - people actually read my long-winded stuff? I just don't seem to able to keep it brief here (my boss complains about my brevity in work documents!)

atravelynn - erm, we didn't say much for fear of being lynched! I guess it was because our bags went via a separate route for 'onward transfer' and got put in the front cargo hold - nice to be comforted by seeing them though.

amolkarnik - photos will follow once I get my PC software glitch sorted. I haven't been there in March, but I guess you will get good game in CKGR, not so much at Meno itself since the herds won't come back until the pans dry out. Maybe someone who has been in the region during the wet season can tell you more... Be aware that the drive from Meno -> CKGR is long (and probably windy...) Good idea to have a sleepout, I'm sure you'll have a great time!

PredatorBiologist - Really pleased to have met you - very cool! Glad you saw the Boteti in flow, I'll post here about where it got to when I have the info - don't know yet how far it ran. The leopard was awesome - I've woffled on at great length in my trip report


Ysandre is offline  
Nov 27th, 2007, 04:58 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
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The chilli-sherry stuff might just get me to Nxai Pan. How can I pass up the best condiment ever?

Burrowing bees, now that's a new one and another reason to go to Nxai Pan.

I'm impressed you made a fire out of sticks and stones, even if blisters were also a result.

Very cool to see the Boteti with water. Once every 20 years!

How nice you met Predator. Looking forward to your time at Deception Lodge.
atravelynn is offline  
Nov 27th, 2007, 10:56 PM
Join Date: Nov 2006
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Ysandre - I had a chat with David about the game viewing at Meno and he was honest about it. I dont expect much. The main reason for picking Meno is for mobile trips they offer to CKGR plus day trips to Nxai. Makgadikgadi might also not work out depending on whether there is still water tehre or not.
amolkarnik is offline  
Nov 28th, 2007, 12:27 AM
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 3,528

Makgadikgadi area is a great experience even without the zebra herds .... the pans/quad bikes, the meerkat den, brown hyena den (this was 2004- the researchers at Jack's camp knew to find them.... don't know about now). Did hear lions at night, but didn't find them during the day. Meerkat experience was fantastic, though .....

HariS is offline  
Nov 28th, 2007, 09:26 AM
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Hari- The problem with Makgadikdagi I am told in March is that the pans may still contain water and would render any access on quads impossible. However Meno said they would be quite happy to make trips to Nxai pans (good concentrations of herds).
amolkarnik is offline  
Nov 28th, 2007, 12:30 PM
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Amol - yeah, after even a bit of rain the pans themselves turn into corrosive gloop pretty fast, so I can see that quad biking isn't the best idea in March. But it would best fantastic to see the area really green!

Anyway - here's my next (way too long) instalment...

Deception Valley Lodge - Clouds Across the Kalahari Skies

A short flight down to Deception Valley Lodge and we are back in one of my favourite spots. Great hospitality here - Adriaan and Wanda are superb hosts! The chalets are very nice indeed - sitting room, bedroom, stoep - all very private. Rooms have power 24/7 (although limited voltage/power, so don't plan on plugging in hairdryers, irons etc - dunno why you would need to, but mentioned for the record...), also a minibar (small fridges work OK), outdoor shower and an indoor bathtub (never tried the latter, but it looks nice if baths are your thing!). The main area has had a big covered deck added since we were last here - very nice for dinner outside and afternoon tea. The cooking is really too good, and starts the whole 'hey, I'll diet when I get home' syndrome... the iced tea is the best I've ever had anywhere (remind me to get the recipe next time!). The central kalahari has had rain too and the whole area is starting to get green, which has the predictable effect on the game concentrations at the waterholes - but with the expert tracking this lodge has you still get to see some exciting things: a very nice leopard, cute bat-eared foxes and the best eagle-owl sighting I've ever had.

As we arrive Wanda comes out to greet us, and immediately remembers the awesome lion-sighting we had last visit (OK, I guess lion don't kill from the lodge stoep every day then!). Kutta (one of the bushmen trackers) also remembers us. Given the number of guests they have through, I'm pretty impressed they remember details from our last visit, because what they say can't have been swotted up just because we're repeat guests! We settle right back in - although that new decking confuses the hell out of me when I try to find my way out of the main lodge...

After a lunch and siesta, we head out for a drive with Douw (our guide) and Kutta (our tracker). Douw has recently joined the team and he's a good addition - very friendly, knowledgable and enthusiastic, he'll go a long way I think. Kutta has tracked for us before, and this guy is awesome - especially when he knows us and we aren't both as shy as we were before. He speaks Naru (sp?), Afrikaans and a bit of English - I speak English, a bit of Afrikaans and about 2 words in Naru - this doesn't matter at all, we just wave our hands about a lot and scribble in the sand! Douw does a good job at translating, although his Naru isn't up to Ardriaan's standard. The most amazing thing is how green it is - this is the first time I've been here after any significant rains - all the lilies are sprouting, the bush is going green and it feels like April in England (except about 20 degC warmer!). We see a huge variety of birds, including a nice tawny eagle and lots of steinbok (these guys are a dead cert, and my favourite antelope).

Over dinner we meet a group from America - it takes me a few days after that to figure out that the group leader is PredatorBiologist from this forum ;P My notes say 'clearly involved in conservation, amusing with the chat over dinner' - I can recommend him as a dinner guest anytime He turns out to be handy to have around too...

Sleep like the proverbial log and the morning coffee is enlivened by a snake Bill has caught - way to go!!! I'll leave the full story for Predator to tell himself - but at this point no-one has a positive ID, and no-one is volunteering to check for toxicity by getting bit... yeah, we're all for scientific method and all that, but maybe not *quite* that dedicated to the cause!

After this excitement, the morning is a little quiet, until Adriaan calls in that there is a leopard... Douw asks if we want to go look (<-- this almost certainly counts as a dumb question!). The guys are in pretty thick bush by the time we get there (mainly due to us wanting to stop by every bird we see...), but Kutta can track landcruisers too, so no problem. We find the guys, and the leopard - I'm a bit worried in case we stress out the cat or are getting in the way of their shots - sure hope we didn't... it's always a tricky thing when you aren't the only vehicle at a sighting, and I hate to think how it must be in some more 'tourist' areas :/ Sadly, the other guys are catching a flight, so my last sighting of PredatorBiologist is him disappearing off into the bush - hope you had a great time, man!

We keep with the leopard for about another 30 min, and get great photo ops - really nice to have a totally relaxed animal actually *doing* stuff, not just sleeping! We stop and take way too many pictures, and then... (and I'm beginning to think this is a setup job!...) the vehicle won't start! Goodie!!! - a flat battery, thick bush and a hungry leopard Douw radios for a jump-start, the leopard goes off to get breakfast (or so it seems) and we take a coffee-break. While Douw is trying (and failing) to get found by Roberto on the road, Kutta comes back from checking the tracks to indicate the leopard has decided to sleep just under the tree about 50 yards away! Hmm - well, the leopard is clearly pretty relaxed, Kutta isn't freaking... (actually, thinking about it, I doubt Kutta is freaked by *anything*) - I'll finish my coffee then. Finally (after much running around by Douw and radio guidance from Kutta), Roberto finds us and some very large jumper cables get us going again. After this Douw is kind of reluctant to turn off the engine - you can see how that would be... I guess this could be a problem if you were majorly into photography, but we're just happy amateurs, and this stuff happens - no big deal. Pretty soon the leopard moves on and we follow until we loose it in *really* thick bush. We spend the rest of the drive removing various livestock from shirts / hats / seats due to the amount of bush-crashing involved!

That afternoon we have new arrivals - an English couple on a 'round-the-world' trip, who seem pretty unhappy with everything around the world! I hope they have some better memories then their annecdotes indicated There are also four Germans who are cool - we get the German guys for our companions, which is fine by me. The real highlight of the evening drive is 3 eagle-owls just sat right out there - no hidding inside a tree, they just pose for the camera... awesome! Plenty of birds, including lots of korhaan and some nice bat-eared foxes too, so no compliants here At dinner, Douw realises that the jumper cables from this morning weren't in either his 'cruiser or Roberto's - ooops! Could be fun trying to find those again...

The next morning the dodgy battery has been fixed and (thankfully) the jumper cables were found in the garage A major cold front has come over, and it is pretty much the kind of weather we'd expect in the UK. Glad we have those biking jackets with us because it's really cold! The cloud is heavy and grey, but we pile on the jackets and head out. Unsurprising the local wildlife is pretty disgusted with this weather, and won't shift from under the nice warm tree / bush / duvet it's snuggled under... The german guys are a bit disappointed - we get macro lenses out and go for termite photos in a big way (this was plan B once we knew the rains were early!). Kutta finds a nice millipede hiding in a bush, one of the big black ones a.k.a. 'The mombasa train'. At least it's nice weather for siesta - no-one can complain about not being able to sleep... And it rains again - not a huge downpour, but at least a bit

The afternoon is another chance to go for a walk with Kutta and Spring to see the traditional skills of survival. DVL doesn't make out the guys live like this the whole time (it's a damn tough life with no modern technology, metal or medicine!). Kutta is proud of his heritage, however - and it's nice to see Spring seems interested in it too, it's really easy to loose these skills and it takes a lot of painful experimentation to develop them! I do the whole Bi tuber drinking - whew, that's bitter, but it kinda grows on you (like quinine in tonic water I guess). 'Thank you' in Naru is 'Enkwe' (as close as I can write it) - I have a terrible accent that Kutta and Spring have a good giggle about

Our last evening this time in DVL - we plan on having some of Wanda's seriously mean Springboks after dinner (a potent blend of Creme de Menthe and Amarula) but the Creme de Menthe is out, so Wanda improvises with an orange liquer - works well, but packs one serious punch! To be taken in moderation...

The following morning we do our last game drive and find a nice herd of giraffe with a cute baby. They are always so curious about what you are... very sweet. On the way back we find fresh leopard tracks but despite Kutta and Duow's best effort to find, it's has crossed the reserve boundary, so no joy. "During the rainy season the guides are less commonly seen since they disperse into the bush..." - I think the german guys thought they might be out there until the next dry season We sadly go back for lunch and our flight out, promising to keep in touch and be back soon - green season safari next time maybe!

Really sad to be going, we've been here a few days and it already feels like home! On to Jack's Camp next for something new...
Ysandre is offline  
Nov 28th, 2007, 01:53 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
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That's great you crossed paths with Predator. Were the eagle owls a family? Your report is most entertaining. Looking forward to Jack's.
atravelynn is offline  
Nov 29th, 2007, 07:31 AM
Join Date: May 2004
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Ysa: so sorry about the Creme de Menthe:-< That was my doing! There was a very fun party from the U.K. and one of them hung an English rugby poster in the lounge to rile up Adriaan so post dinner I thought it was appropriate to force everyone to toast the Springboks with of course a sprinbok shot and that must of wiped them out.

Eagle owl sightings must have been great, I missed those. Looking forward to the rest of the trip and will be posting my DVL experience shortly (but its loooong).
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Nov 29th, 2007, 03:10 PM
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Enjoying your report. Love your humor and can see why PB enjoyed your company.
Look forward to hearing about your time at Jacks.
cybor is offline  
Nov 30th, 2007, 09:11 AM
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Thanks guys

Lynn: Yes - 2 adults and a (very noisy) juvenile. Just goes to show mother nature only had one template for juveniles the world over!

Predator: I take it all back! You stole my Springboks?!?! (<-- Joking - Amarula goes great with orange too, a good plan for Xmas I think...) Really enjoyed your report btw, looking forwards to more.

Cybor: Jack's will follow tomorrow, still another 5 camps to go - you have been warned!
Ysandre is offline  
Nov 30th, 2007, 09:37 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
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I asked about the owls because I also once saw a family of Eagle Owls in Africa and locally I watch a pair of Great Horned Owls that raise 1 or 2 chicks each year.

Looking forward to Jack's.
atravelynn is offline  

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