Another Adventure in Botswana
It’s a good two-hour drive from Maun to the entrance of the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta. Not that it’s particularly far, maybe 100km, but on the second half of the journey, the tar runs out and you’re on a so-called gravel road, which is actually more like sand, scree and boulders. But, heigh-ho, this is Africa, and we’re on holiday.
We set out on a bright winter morning, fuelled by a good breakfast at our lodge. We fill up the tank of our trusty hired 4×4 and proceed, on the watch for the donkeys, cattle and goats who all graze happily at the side of the road and might suddenly step out onto the highway seeking pastures new on the opposite verge.
At Shorobe, halfway distance-wise, the tar road runs out and a little further along, the warning signs for cattle on the road change to warning signs for wild animals.
Soon we spot an elephant splashing about in a small waterhole near the roadside. We stop and roll down the windows. The elephant looks at us. Somehow he seems wilder, being outside the reserve. But he’s not interested in us. He wanders off to conceal himself behind a bush. No paparazzi, please!
We spy a group of giraffes and wonder at how they can disappear behind the slenderest of trees. ‘Now you see me, now you don’t’. Next there are groups of docile bokkies, all big eyes and stumpy little tails.
At about eleven o’clock we arrive at the South Gate of the Reserve, shaken by the road but stirred by the sights. We have until about 4.30 if we are to avoid driving back in the dark (which is not recommended, given the state of the roads). I understand that the gates close at 5.30. We have plenty of time.
The map we are given when we sign in is short on information, but we spot a sign after the first waterhole and follow a narrower, sandier track which promises a lagoon. We nod to a handful of giraffes. We pass several dried up patches of mud, which may or may not have been part of the lagoon (it is the dry season after all). But we convince ourselves that lions are hiding in the long grass (they probably are). We see zebra and buffalo, lots of them! The track winds bumpily away, through a profusion of birds. Two hours in, we’ve no idea where we are, but never mind, we have plenty of time.
A little further on, we spot a lone hippo. We turn off the engine and listen to him grazing. We watch spellbound as he tucks into his lunch and will him to look up and pose for the camera, but he turns his back on us.
We move off and he gazes up at us; we get the photo. As we leave the open grassland behind and return to the bush we wonder where we might within this large expanse of wilderness.
We pass what we think is a familiar lump of splodged elephant dung by a fork in the road. Have been here before? Without any signs around, the map is not helpful to our dilemma.
We head off down the untried fork. As the afternoon shadows lengthen I have the feeling we are headed in the wrong direction. However, on the plus side, we are passing a series of shallow waterholes and there are animals everywhere.
Eventually we come to a battered wooden sign at another fork. The only name we can match to the map is ‘Third Bridge’; this is definitely the wrong direction. Another vehicle draws up containing a party of cheery people from Namibia, looking for their campsite and also lost. I pass them our map; we all decide that they are heading the right way.
We turn around again. I’m looking at the time. It’s doubtful that we will make it back to the Gate before 4:30, but never mind, we’re enjoying the animals, although not stopping anymore, unless said animal is blocking the road, like the big bull elephant, and the herd of buffalo.
An hour later we are back at the original fork. There is only one choice left. We follow. We reach a vehicle which is waiting for two others to pass. We tuck in behind and watch a honey badger shoot across the path of one of the on-coming safari trucks. The track widens out and vehicle in front stops; as we draw level, we see that it’s our Namibian friends. Clearly one of us is heading in the wrong direction. We shake our heads and decide to follow them for a bit. Maybe we’ll find a sign up ahead.
There is a sign: ‘First Bridge’ and a few yards on, there is the bridge. Now we know which of us is wrong. It’s us. On the plus side, we know exactly where we are, and we know that if we turn around we’ll get straight to the Gate. On the minus side, it’s about 40 km away, another hour.
Off we go again, bumping over the sandy track. This will be interesting. Pressing on through the narrow bush-lined tracks, we slow down only slightly for the evening-time animals, and we arrive at the Gate at little before 5:30. The sun is sinking fast, but what are headlights for? At least we’re not marooned in Moremi with only the thin walls of the 4×4 between us and marauding animals. Heigh-ho, this is Africa, and we’re on holiday!
©2018 Chris Hall
Photographs ©2018 Cliff Davies