Tag Archives: Botswana

Steve’s Vegan Safari – Zambia and Botswana

Steve Cox has joined me on a few little trips before, by way of the Dangerless Sports Club’s bungy jumping jaunts around Europe. This was a bit different though, and I was very happy to have his company, and even more so since he happily and wholeheartedly joined in with the vegan theme. We had a great time travelling around Zambia and Botswana…and he lived to tell the tale…despite some occasionally experimental and less successful cooking!
Over to Steve…
After 24 hours travel I arrived at Victoria Falls international airport, got my visa and picked up my bag.  Like a bottle of natural spring water I was looking for a sign with my name on which I was told would be there for my connection to meet Jon.  Instead I got an introduction into how things work in Africa, there was no sign and there was not going to be a sign so it was time to head to Maramba River Lodge.  The journey was relatively uneventful – I got my Zambian visa, then across the bridge by the falls and into the taxi on the other side of the border.  The taxi was genuinely terrifying, I was convinced it would burst into flames or fall apart at any moment and the lack of working seatbelts in the back made me automatically feel much better about the whole situation. #RoadSafetyMatters
Camping at Maramba
Camping at Maramba

At the lodge I have to say it was a good camp site, hot showers and good facilities.  Quickly we headed out to Victoria Falls and Jon and Agne did the jump whilst Leo and I watched on with great interest.  First night there Jon and Agne and myself had an adventerous vegan meal (their own words) lots of new and exciting things were tried, many of them turned out to be orange in colour which was good because I like the colour orange.  Not sure who knocked over the bag of Wasabi coated nuts I guess some things are best left a mystery but I hope the monkeys liked them – I am sure they were a surprise.  Agne then headed off to get ready for her return flight and I was getting tired so it was time to get some sleep to the sound of Hippos doing whatever it is Hippos do at 8pm.  I slept great that night, from what I can gather Jon also had a good nights sleep, no noise apart from the Hippos*.
* I take it this is a veiled reference to the snoring? 😉
Next day I saw my first Elephants just outside the lodge as we went into Livingstone to get some essentials and take Agne to the Airport.
The local gang own the road...
The local gang own the road…
We waved goodbye to Agne who had a bit of a crappy journey back by all accounts with flight cancellations, d’oh. >.<
Changeover day.
Changeover day.


Sunday I went to Victoria Falls and got some good pics.  Victoria Falls.  Very Big.  Very Wet.  Much Funs.

Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls


Got back just in time to head off to Botswana and set off down the road.  I say road and this time I mean an actual road, you know with actual tarmac and stuff – something of a rarity on the holiday I later came to realise.  One of the nicest things about crossing borders in Africa is the number of people willing to help you get through the organised chaos that is the border, that and the people with the machine guns.  After negotiating our way to Botswana, not drowning on the ferry and just about scraping over the line with fees for the car and visa it was onward to our next destination, another nice place where I can happily report I had no problems lowering the tone of with my presence.  The beware of the crocodile signs right by our spot right next to the gentle slope down to the river proved to be a highlight worthy of remembrance.

After not being eaten by the crocodiles it was off into the wilds for some 4×4 action and even if I do say so myself, some exceptional map reading and navigations skills exhibited by yours truly.  Saw some giraffes on the way, zebra, warthogs and went over some very bumpy sand, some smooth sand, some slidey sand and even some hiding holes in the sand sand. There were probably more types of sand we encountered but there is only so much I can remember about sand in a day.  That night we stayed at this place with a bucket shower just outside one of the national parks and had a close encounter with an elephant eating a tree in the dark.  I kid you not it was actually eating the whole tree.  Think Jurassic World when the troopers are looking for the giant escaped dinosaur and you see the tree and then you realise the dinosaur is in fact the whole damn tree, it was a bit like that…Largest. Elephant. Ever.  I won’t deny it – I bravely hid behind the van trying to cast Dispersing Orb.

Before the Elephant Came to Dinner.
Before the Elephant Came to Dinner.


Over the next few days we saw a fair few new types of sand, experienced new definitions of the word road that I didn’t even know existed and saw plenty from the antelope family, all of the big 5 (including the fearsome African Donkey) but no Lions.  We did have an interesting spin round a circuit with a water feature trying to get to a road we wanted to use.  Some lake / pond / river thing had inconveniently appeared right where the road was and had swallowed it up, so we went into the water and had a bit of a dip whilst some water buffalo looked on. Oh and we also did a bit of rallying on a large piece of mostly solid road with lots of sand on it which allowed us to get up a bit of speed on the way to Maun. Colin McCray would be proud.

Pan Driving.
Pan Driving.


Eventually we hit the Nwetwe and Sua Pans and stayed at Kubu Island camp.  This place was literally in the middle of no-where but the pans were awesome to see, a desolate dry huge lake bed for miles in every direction, worth taking a snap or two of that one.  At night it was pretty impressive although I think Jon got the better view as he did some paramotoring there so it probably looked pretty awesome from up there.

A little bit of Kubu Island
A little bit of Kubu Island

If you do ever go to Kubu Island and find a blue towel hanging up somewhere at one of the camps please let Jon know it’s probably his.*

* Yes, and also about 5 pairs of shorts/swimming trunks at various stops down Africa!
Kubu Island out of the way we headed ever onwards and looked around the area, more pans some more camp sites which looked pretty good but it was too early in the day to stop so it was onwards to the next location.  En-route we had a new passenger, one of the rangers in the parks who control the entry and exit points from various places, he got a lift to the town and we had a chat to him about his job and how things were going in Botswana.  Dropped him off at Nata and then headed down to a camp site that had an artificial river and a lot of elephant activity at night.  Stayed up and once it got a bit dark there were elephants all over the place, herds of elephants coming to the river to get the fresh water all hustling and bustling, bathing and interacting with each other.

We then headed back north toward Chobe and stayed at this place with an amazing view across the Chobe river, stunning it was. I took one of the paid safari tours through Chobe National Park for the late afternoon / evening tour and got to see loads of animals.  There was lots of everything but the highlight was the lions, we saw them waking up from their day napping in the sun and after a bit of yawning and saying hello to each other they all got up and headed off to catch their dinner.

The journey back to Zambia was much faster as we passed through the same border point again – as we had an idea of how it worked!
We paid the ferryman...before he got us to the other side.
We paid the ferryman…before he got us to the other side.
With one last night at Maramba River Lodge I hired out a Doom Tent (maybe they meant dome tent, I don’t really know) to stay for my last night which had a fold up bed.  A bed.  AN ACTUAL BED!  So shower and real bed that day felt good and a beer where I met somebody who lives not 20 miles down the road from me.  Small world.
The Tents of Doom.
The Tents of Doom.


So last day arrived, an uneventful journey back to Victoria Falls airport just some walking in the sun dodging the guy trying to get me to sit on his bike with him so he can pedal me to the other side of the border and charge me whatever it was he wanted to charge.  After a long journey I was finally back home and that 5L mini-keg of black cherry beer which had been waiting so patiently for me got my full attention.

Overall I had a great time on the trip and hopefully Jon enjoyed the company a little bit too.  I wasn’t even bothered by the vegan diet.  Although I will confess to missing milk with my coffee in the morning but aside from that it wasn’t really that bad once I got into the swing of it, didn’t really notice much of a difference.  That’s not to say knowing it was only going to last for two weeks wasn’t a factor. 🙂

Thank you Steve! Glad you had a good time – thank you for your company and masterful navigationing, and for getting into the spirit of it all! Where to next?

Reflections

Looking back at the route we travelled, it seems as if the waters closed behind us and it is no longer safe to travel that way.  Maybe it isn’t really much worse than at the time – our encounter with the Egyptian army was perhaps a sign that things were tense there even then. But the expansion of violence across the region is more than worrying so I’m glad we did this journey just in time.

Egypt - Human Conflict is not
El Alamein, Egypt – Human Conflict is not new to the Sahara

Having passed through the region did start me on a chain of thought – thinking about some of the horrific things people have done – for example videoing themselves cutting other people’s heads off. It makes us all wonder how someone can do that…they must have something wrong with them? It is obviously  inhuman? To be honest I have avoided seeing any of those videos – knowing they exist is bad enough. But I have also seen other things lately that I find disturbing for other reasons. I watched Earthlings for the first time, or rather I watched part of it. The abattoir sequence was too much for me as an engineer – the effort and ingenuity that must have gone in to creating a machine to manipulate a living sentient animal was really disturbing. All to make the process more efficient and make a few more dollars profit. Then there was an article on the BBC, looking into the brutal gang rape of a woman in India, and the attitudes of the perpetrators. This was in some ways more disturbing than anything  –  though I think people should read it, you have to admire Leslee Udwin who had the bravery to listen to those people, to expose and document the underlying issues. I was left speechless, I’m glad she wasn’t.

It seemed to me though that all of these things, though very different and some far more horrific than others, had something in common – the objectisation and devaluation of the victim by the social or cultural group around those perpetrating the act, and the rationalisation of individual actions on that basis. This is not inhuman – it is a very human trait. People can do almost anything if it is normalised by their peers. We find excuses for everything. I think we need to recognise that and deal with it – WE are those peers. It never starts out as these extreme examples, but the more we accept prejudice and the devaluing of others – even if it does make ourselves feel better – the more likely these attitudes form the foundations which develop into extremes?

From a vegan perspective, once we open our eyes it seems obvious that what we were led to believe was normal and necessary, was not. In most cases vegans have had to go through the process of accepting that we are wrong – since we have mostly been brought up as part of the animal-consuming society – accepting guilt for our time as non-vegans and doing something about it. I think it is important however not to stop there and keep our eyes open – being vegan is not the answer to everything, and having made that step once we should not close our minds to seeking out other opportunities to improve our interactions with the world, human and non-human. Its not easy – we natuarally fall back into habit and can’t think through every ramification of all our actions each day – even vegans mostly just go shopping like everyone else and pick the things they do every week without thinking. Its not difficult being vegan, its difficult questioning our own beliefs and assumptions then changing our habits where necessary – but perhaps we should all try that a bit more often rather than simply defending our current selves without thinking?

This trip has been a great adventure, but it is not in all ways a great example in this overcrowded world.

Our travels through Ethiopia made me wonder quite how many humans this planet can support – and not just in terms of how much food we can produce, but how many other species are forced into smaller and smaller spaces and then into extinction by our very existence.

Ethiopia - Live Sheep travel on the roof.
Ethiopia – Live Sheep travel on the roof.

Most Ethiopians consume very little compared to more ‘developed’ nations, but still we saw a country of visibly eroding landscapes where biodiversity was being ever reduced under pressure from the human population and their domesticated animals, amid a thriving international Aid industry.

Ethiopia - a beautiful country under pressure.
Ethiopia – a beautiful country under pressure.

We can give ourselves some time by moving to a vegan way of life, as well as becoming healthier and avoiding the unnecessary cruelty of animal production – which in themselves are reason enough. But in my own lifetime the human population of the planet has more than doubled – if we don’t do something serious about that soon, that time might not be enough. We all know the feeling of awe and beauty we get from the sight of a wild, natural landscape? We know it is good. Maybe we should start taking that particular natural instinct to heart and ask whether its acceptable to claim the majority of this land for ourselves at the expense of other earthlings? In Africa, there are estimated to be 30,000 lions left alive. In the same continent there are in excess of 1,100,000,000 humans. Since we have assumed the mantle of ‘top predator’, perhaps we should adjust our numbers and land claim to a more appropriate level for that position in the food chain?

One in 30,000
One in 30,000

Instead, we are on course to accelerate our uncontrolled growth – the UN’s population projections are really quite alarming, especially in some of the resource-limited regions. I’ll leave you to go check those details – Wikipedia is actually a fairly good starting point. But even here, we are inclined to look at it as a regional problem – we’re OK because we are developed countries and our population isn’t increasing so fast. We’re doing OK then and its not our problem? And anyway when we talk about resources and population, the definitions are all about how much food for humans the world can support – being vegan will solve that too…

Abu Dhabi - Sustainable Population Growth with Local Resources?
Abu Dhabi – Sustainable Population Growth with Local Resources?

But human population is not a geographically localised problem. Our actions back in Europe have direct consequences all over the world. Botswana has a very low population density – but vast areas of the country are given over to beef production for export, and they built huge fences to prevent the wildlife migrating (partly to meet European disease control standards). This not only cuts down the range of wild animals, but has led for example to large scale deaths of zebra when they couldn’t migrate from dry areas to areas with water. It IS free-range cattle, probably cheap for Europe – but at what cost to wildlife? But moving on into South Africa it was obvious that these current pressures on wildlife and biodiversity are just the latest in a long succession, and not by any means all are related to animal farming. We can be just as speciesist, albeit indirectly, while being vegan – when we buy fruits, vegetables and drink wine from Africa (or anywhere else for that matter) we are using the best land, long claimed for ourselves and fenced off to exclude other species. That has the same effect – reducing biodiversity and the capacity of wildlife to survive by migrating. Is it enough that vegans use less of this exclusive best land?

South Africa - This Land is Our Land
South Africa – This Land is Our Land

Even the game reserves and national parks often have the appearance of little more than a grand scale zoo for human entertainment – often fenced, nearly always featuring artificial waterholes to concentate the wildlife at suitable viewing spots. And then we create more problems – fencing the wildlife in, taking away their ability to migrate and concentatrating them in specific locations. The local environment can’t support this concentration and there are said, for example, to be too many elephants.

Floodlit Artificial Waterhole - Bringing the Wildlife to the Guests
Floodlit Artificial Waterhole – Bringing the Wildlife to the Guests

People lobby to have them culled to control the numbers. Is this always our solution? There are not too many elephants – there may be in certain areas that we have concentrated them in – but the real problem is too many people. And unlike elephants, the human population is a global problem – our global markets mean we have an impact wherever we are. Yes, being vegan reduces that impact considerably and we could sustainably feed everyone if we were vegan – but we continue to treat the entire planet as our personal food factory. For me, that is not acceptable. When will we start to do something about our own population rather than resorting to culling and ‘managing’ other species to treat the symptoms? We can be a very self-deluding species at times – always defending whatever it is we want or makes us feel better about ourselves with excuses in the guise of reason, rather than being open to self-criticism and change. That much is clear from our treatment of each other.

I do feel guilty about the amount of resources we have used in our Western lives and travels – especially in this last round trip to Europe to finish the trip to Cape Town. I have some making up to do. If we are to survive, we can’t go on with this number of humans using more and more resources. It is too easy to make a small step and then settle down into thinking we’ve done enough since we have done more than most. Its not enough. Go vegan, stay vegan – it is easy and takes nothing away from our enjoyment and quality of life – there is no sacrifice in doing that much, so no excuse not to. And don’t increase the population. Doing these things would be a start. But only a start.

I’m glad to have seen so much of this world, but despair at our apparent inability to control our own destruction of it. Isn’t it time we stopped looking at each other and finding excuses not to take responsibility for our own actions or inactions…all of them and not just our own pet issues?

“Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess” Martin Luther King, May 5th 1966. The year England won the football World Cup. Now there are more than twice as many of us. Those 3 lions on an England shirt may soon be all the lions there are to watch outside a zoo.

Vegan Meals Part IV

Last time I talked about vegan meals on the road, we were crossing from Malawi into Zambia. The more south we have gone in the last couple of months, the less we have gone out to eat and started cooking more and more in the car. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, there are better stocked supermarkets; secondly, there isn’t as much traditional foods to try, but rather a mix of different cuisines, mostly meat-based; and thirdly, the places we have been staying in lately have “game” on the menu, basically the animals we see running around wild end up on people’s plates. No thank you.

Home-made Bloody Mary in Lusaka
Home-made Bloody Mary in Lusaka

When we got to Lusaka, I thought I got rid of yet-another-illness of the stomach and we got some tomato juice and pickles and celebrated with a Bloody Mary. A day later I ended up going to the hospital (unrelated to the drink) and found out I have multiple infections in my digestive system and got put on yet another platter of pills, so Jonathan had to drink all the consecutive gin&tonics and Bloody Marys for a few weeks.

Lusaka lunch
Lusaka lunch

While in Lusaka, we had gone out to eat twice (not counting chips). The first meal was at the mall, and we ate in an Indian fast-food place, which was alright and even good by mall standards. The second time we ate at a backpacker place where we had gone to check out the wifi and the bar. Jonathan ordered a veggie burger, while I opted for the beans and rice; the food was quite yummy despite taking about an hour to make and driving us into hunger-induced bad tempers. I found the “veggie burger” option in a few places actually, which is a nice addition to the usually predictable chips.

Indian snacks bought in Lusaka
Indian snacks bought in Lusaka, nicest one on the far left

Before leaving Lusaka, we found a little Indian shop that sells Indian snacks, so of course we had to buy some. The most bizarre looking one ended up being the insanely oily but addictive one, whereas the others left us mostly indifferent. They are good to munch on before lunch, but they are so oily that everything in the front of the car gets oily as well.

Holiday Inn buffet dinner, first course
Holiday Inn buffet dinner, first course

After Zambia we headed to Zimbabwe, and in Harare went out to eat the first night – to the Holiday Inn restaurant. They had a buffet which surprisingly had quite a few (accidentally) vegan options. On top of that, they apologized tremendously that they didn’t have more for us, and only charged us the price of one meal. Incredible? We had some salads and then some sadza (maize meal) for the first time on the trip, and I wasn’t impressed. I know it is a staple in many countries but it was just a bit bland and reminded me of baby food – or kindergarden food.

Holiday Inn buffet dinner, second course
Holiday Inn buffet dinner, second course

The other amazing thing about Harare of course was that we visited V Delights – the Vegan Friendly Products (read interview here) restaurant, which is completely vegan. There are many items on the menu, all catered for different kinds of people, some are vegan African dishes, some more Western ones, then there are a whole lot more “healthy” options, and then again more options suited for new vegans or transitioning vegans. The pies and the cookies we had in V Delights were just out of the world. If you are ever in Harare, you have to stop by there!

Tea and pies at Vegan Friendly Products / V Delights
Tea and pies at Vegan Friendly Products / V Delights

While staying in Victoria Falls, we went to one restaurant twice – and had some tapas. There were a few vegan options (I had maize again, this time with some spinach things inside) but the second time we came the food quality had dropped significantly. Their gazpacho was too salty, their toasted bread was soggy, but overall it wasn’t so bad I guess.

The last place I want to talk about (before mentioning that we are going to check out the Ethiopian restaurant here in Windhoek!) was called La Marmite in Windhoek. We accidentally stumbled upon the place in the “Zoo” park in the center, thinking we would only have drinks but then saw the menu and decided to try out the vegan options. The food was pretty good, and the dishes are supposedly variations on Western African cuisine. I had a stew with okra, Jonathan had another stew with groundnut sauce, and we also shared spring rolls and salad. Windhoek has a lot of places to eat and drink, and I am sure traveling vegans would have no problem finding food here.

La Marmite in Windhoek
La Marmite in Windhoek

The rest of Namibia – not so much. In Botswana and Namibia a lot of expensive lodges (where sometimes we end up staying because they do cheap-ish camping) the menus pride themselves on having extravagant game steaks – gemsbok, springbok, kudu, oryx, and so on. The first place we stayed in Namibia, in Gobabis, was one of those places. I think I already mentioned how awful the service was in a previous post, but let me add that the menu was incredibly un-vegan, and when we tried to get something altered, it came as is, so I ordered potato wedges, asked for “no mayo” and they still brought mayo. Trying to ask for some olive oil instead of creamy dressing turned into another ordeal. This is sadly the way it is in most places where expensive guests are catered for. We had another buffet experience, this time in the Etosha Park, and I ended up eating sad salad and boiled rice with mustard. Only after we paid we were told “oh yes there is a separate thing for vegetarians” like the waiter couldn’t have told us earlier or figured something was wrong as he saw a pile of sad rice with nothing on it on my plate. Oh well – I was just getting my cold then and I was already in no mood for food anyway.

Potato leek soup and salt&vinegar Simba crisps
Potato leek soup and salt&vinegar Simba crisps

As for us cooking our own meals, we have come up with some real highlights lately. We have been buying leeks because I personally love them and Jonathan makes a really nice potato leek soup. Sadly one day I decided to make it, with a special twist (pickles) but I didn’t manage to achieve the taste I wanted, which was a shame. Otherwise we’ve had a lot of curries and chillies, there was a particular evening meal I remember well. We bought a box of white wine, which was quite fancy (by our standards) and I wanted to make a few dishes. I made a stew / chilli with cabbage, cauliflower, potato, beans and so on. I also made guacamole (the avocados are good again) and Jonathan toasted some brown German bread as we had no tortilla chips to go with the guac. It was truly magical, the whole combination!

Nice dinner in Troopy with guacamole and home-made "toasties"
Nice dinner in Troopy with guacamole and home-made “toasties”

And then just the other night Jonathan made one of his coconut curries which was supposed to be very good for my sinuses, as I was really ill at this point. There was chilli sauce and ginger, and many other ingredients, and they blended so well together that we had to restrain ourselves to leave some for the next day’s lunch.

Coconut curry
Excited for some coconut curry

A word about chakalaka: what is it? where does it come from? It is a tasty canned mixture of tomato gooeyness with some veggies and curry flavoring – and quite spicy too! It has an unforgettable taste and smell, I mean I recognized somebody else having it in our campsite yesterday. It can be put on bread, it can be used in stews and sauces and curries. We mostly put it on bread, but sometimes we also use it in sauces. They even make chakalaka packet soup! Which we had once as well, it didn’t look like much but it was spicy and it was better than tomato packet soup.

Chakalaka
Chakalaka

We’ve had a lot of snacks, most of them quite unhealthy, so instead I am adding a picture of me snacking on tomato paste, something I do quite often. We are done with our adventure for now, excited to try out the Ethiopian restaurant in Windhoek(we really miss Ethiopian food) and overall it hasn’t been hard being vegan on the trip at all! I do realize we have the option of cooking for ourselves, which a lot of times saved us, but in reality everywhere will have at least rice or maize and some vegetables. However, Ethiopian food has been the most memorable by far on the whole trip, both in terms of availability and quality of taste!

Tomato paste snack being devoured by Katana
Tomato paste snack being devoured by Katana

Central Kalahari

It was the morning in the heart of wilderness in Botswana. We woke up uneasy, the night was full of noises – there was a thunderstorm and heavy rain, and some sort of animal, like a bat, kept attacking the sides of the car. As we slowly got up and started making coffee, the campsite got overrun by bees. Not necessarily angry bees, just very annoying and persistent. They kept coming into the car or hanging out by the open back doors, so much so that we had to run away from them twice.

Butterflies feeding frenzy on elephant poo
Butterflies feeding frenzy on elephant poo

The main big dirt road was covered in elephants signs, but we only saw cattle and horses. We got on to the main highway back to Maun, and in the city went to the Choppies supermarket again – it has become our favorite, although they don’t sell alcohol. We bought some canned foods, seeing as how we weren’t sure whether the veterinary fences and checkpoints to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve would let us through with fresh produce. Among the cans was something called “Hot Chakalaka”, and let me tell you, the name does not get uttered without Jonathan singing “Chakalaka-laka-laka” and doing a silly dance. The cool thing about the branded Choppies chakalaka is that it has the sign “vegan” on it!

We had a short discussion where we were going to stay before our epic Kalahari journey, but the opportunity presented itself in the form of “Drifters” campsite just about 50 km from Maun east. There were no other campers, but we had a lovely chat with the owners/managers and spent a pleasant evening camped on the bank of the river.

Sunset camping at Drifters
Sunset camping at Drifters

The next day we had a very early start to drive to the Matswere gate of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. This involved driving down the paved road, and then turning directly south, and I mean 180 degrees south, down a dirt road alongside the “buffalo” fence (some controversial form of foot-and-mouth disease prevention they have in Botswana with the cattle/wildlife fences). The drive was a bit bumpy but went by quickly, especially as we encountered a kudu inside the two parts of the fence! He followed our car, matching our speed, for about 500m, and then as easy and graceful as ever could be, jumped the fence and was off into the forest. I guess the fence doesn’t really work on all animals.

And then we were at the Matswere Gate, picking up a photocopied map of the northern part of the reserve, and we were off into the wilderness for three days!

Matswere Gate - off into the wild!
Matswere Gate – off into the wild!

The first half of the first day we drove around without seeing vast amounts of wildlife together. By the way, here is something you should know about us traveling vegans: we did not have a picture book to identify the different animals, so we partially made them up: bambi to describe small antelopes, springooks which are in real life called gemsbok, impala and puku were interchangeable, and there was one particularly annoying type of bird that would fly up as we drove past it and cackled at us for some time until we picked up speed and it couldn’t keep up: we called it the clockwork bird. Jonathan is convinced they are not real birds at all, but rather strange devices for spying or some such nonsense. And of course the doggy-foxy things which are in reality three different varieties which we weren’t sure about when seeing them: wild dogs, jackals and special African foxes.

Giraffe behind wildebeest - all behind a curtain of rain
Giraffe behind wildebeest – all behind a curtain of rain

This part of the Kalahari desert is not what you would typically think of as a desert: it is covered in thorny bushes and short trees, the pans are open expansive spaces of short yellow grass. Some parts of the reserve look completely dead, burned, parched, while others are thick luscious greenery.

Wildebeest
Wildebeest

The long yellow grass is so inviting to felines that it is a real shame not to be able to spot them, they are very good at hiding and morphing into surroundings. On our first day we saw many types of horned-hoofed animals, such as gemsbok, impala, wildebeest, kudu, hartebeest, as well as many birds, both heron-like and vulture-eagle-like. We saw foxes and jackals, giraffes, and one lioness! Towards the late afternoon it suddenly started raining, and we drove without seeing anything out of side windows. When the rain cleared, we came upon Phokoje Pan, near our campsite, and  saw a huge herd of gemsbok, with another huge herd of impala and some wildebeest all grazing together in the open. The gemsbok were making huge dust clouds because the males were running around like mad, fighting each other. We stopped to take photographs of the double rainbow that had formed above Troopy, and the scenery was spectacular.

Double rainbow on the pans
Double rainbow on the pans

As we pulled ourselves away and were ready to drive the last 500m or so to our campsite, we came upon an animal, probably hartebeest, legging it at incredible speed first on our left, then crossing the track and disappearing off on the right side. I thought to myself that it must be something other than us, and of course immediately we see it: a lion! We slowly drove up closer and stopped, with the engine off, to admire the great feline. She was all alone, which is very unusual, and not very interested in the huge herds of dinner that were grazing on the pan, nor the hartebeest that ran away from her. She kept picking at something on the ground, possibly finishing the last bits of her latest meal. She looked over a few times at us, but again seemed vaguely uninterested in us, mere humans. Eventually she finished and slowly wandered off into the bushes. It was a bit unnerving to discover that our “campsite” was slightly uncomfortably close to the sighting of the lioness.

The lovely feline
The lovely feline

These campsites in the park are truly completely wild: they have a hole in the ground and an empty bucket where I guess you are supposed to pour your own water for showering. There is also a fire pit, and nothing else. The great plains of the Kalahari, everything it encompasses, all the dangers, all are out there to get you while you sleep!

It had just rained, so there was a stampede of millipedes in the wet sand where we parked. One of them was trying to climb up my foot, and then I sneezed really loud and it actually got scared and curled into a ball! What strange creatures. We had no visitors in the evening, but I can’t say with certainty about the night – I slept like a log.

Bat-eared fox
Bat-eared fox

In the morning we packed up quickly and drove back to the pan, to see if we could spot the lioness again, but alas, we weren’t so lucky. The herds of antelope were still there, munching away and dozing off in the morning sunlight. It was actually a cold, wet morning, not the usual desert weather of course, but then the rainy season is just coming to Botswana now. We drove through Piper Pans, spotting many more foxes this time, and what looked like a dragged trail on the sand from the side of the pan into the thick bushes – possibly a cheetah or a leopard, but impossible to see through the vegetation. When we got closer to Xade, southwest end of the reserve, we started seeing more and more traces of elephants. After Xade we drove to Xaka, our campsite, only to get confused by the lack of signs of any kind in this part of the park, and the lack of the “hole” facilities at this camp. In some ways it is better that way, instead of using the smelly spider-covered “hole” that many campers before have used. The terrain near Xade and Xaka is similar but it seems the rains have gotten here first: the scenery was more green, the grass was full of vitality, and the thorny bushes were particularly nasty, especially to Troopy’s sides. The sandy track was covered in a thin layer of wetness, which actually made the sand less tricky to drive on.

Having a snack on the side of the road
Having a snack on the side of the road

The next morning we packed up really quickly and drove to the nearest watering hole to spot any animals, but there were only birds. We had a quick breakfast and had a long (or so we thought) drive ahead of us to the Southern gate. The track was truly isolated at this point, there were many footprints on the track, some including cats and elephants, but we didn’t see anything until suddenly I spotted an elephant’s back and ears in the bushes. By the time we reversed the car, he was already gone. We met two German cars in a convoy going the opposite direction, but that was it for people in that part of the reserve. It started raining more heavily towards lunchtime, and soon the tracks became more muddy than sandy, the car was sliding from side to side or jumping up and down from the fresh tracks of the German car. It was around this time we also realized that the previous day, when we stopped for a snack, we forgot to put our cardboard box back in the car, embarrassingly littering the reserve with the box which contained a pair of Jonathan’s vegetarian shoes, a water bottle and some socks and plastic bags.

Kudu
Kudu

Before hitting the Southern Gate, we passed one of the very few San villages still left in the reserve. One of the few issues Botswana faces as a country is the re-settlement of the San people from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and it is still a raging human rights debate. We also saw giraffes again and the odd antelope-type animals, but as soon as we exited the reserve it was all cattle again. We had a very long, wet, miserable drive from the southeast point of the park down south to the main highway, and then from there to Kang. We got to Kang already in the dark, and had a very hard time finding accommodation, as it turned out later, because of the power cut. But what an exciting and beautiful storm it was that brought the electricity down! As the sun was starting to set, coloring the sky red and orange, there was a huge thundercloud in front of us on the massive straight flat road. The orange sun and its surroundings were underneath the cloud, behind a wall of rain, and the thundercloud was a menacing dark purple and blue and heavy on top. There was spectacular lightning as well, and the whole ordeal felt like the end of the world. The best bit – we had to drive through it.

The awesome sunset storm
The awesome sunset storm

In Kang another strange phenomenon happened – after finding a few accommodation spots in the dark, we were told twice that the place was full – but then a kind manager in a guesthouse took pity on us and let us stay in a communal part of the establishment with a clean room, TV, shared (clean) bathrooms and a lovely rowdy crowd outside – all without working lights! Jonathan was so tired from the whole day of rough driving that he fell asleep mid-cider. I was too busy getting the knots out of my hair to notice.

Kalahari wild watermelon - we didn't end up trying it
Kalahari wild watermelon – we didn’t end up trying it

The next day I lost one of our bets – we decided it would be fun to find out what would happen if I didn’t talk for 24 hours. I immediately lost it in the morning, because I woke up and asked what time it was. Then we tried to do it again during the day, and I lasted one hour. I have a cold bucket of water coming to me at some point when the knee heals. We drove to Ghanzi, with tons of millipedes and dung beetles on the road and (the latter) hitting the windscreen. We even saw a vulture devouring a small feline on the side of the road! From Ghanzi we went to stay at Thakadu Camp – and at night one of the other cars got broken into and their camera stolen! Lucky it wasn’t us. There were also a billion strange bugs inside and outside of Troopy, we spent the last hour before bed basically butchering them – sorry fellow vegans! But massive flying ants and beetles of all sizes landing on your face when you’re falling asleep is just about the most unpleasant thing there is. The next morning we headed to Namibia!

Rain (Victoria Falls to the Aha Hills)

4th November

Thunder is rumbling across the savanna just like elephants don’t. The storm clouds are all around us and their winds rush through the parched camp in dusty turbulent gusts – a clear warning of an imminent deluge. The rainy season is not here yet, but all the signs are that its coming soon.

We are in Botswana for a second night before heading across Chobe National Park towards Maun. Tonight we’re at the Senyati Safari Camp – where we have our own individual toilet, shower and washing up block. A tiny lizard just scared Katana as it hid from the weather under her pillow as she was lying on our little veranda. Still in the early stages of recovery from the rafting injury, she’s doing well but its a bit rough. The knee is very painful and can’t bend yet, and its awkward and exhausting getting in and out of Troopy, the bunk and walking about with a stick. Luckily she has me to wait on her hand and foot!

Running Repairs at Senyati
Running Repairs at Senyati

After the rafting, there was the bungy jump. I was a bit nervous doing that after the previous day’s drama, but its a jump I’ve been looking forward to for over a decade so it had to be done. I even took Leo with me. As it turned out, it was a great jump – the scenery was pretty special, with the Zambezi churning through the gorge below in green and white breaking waves – and the hot weather made for a nice smooth bounce on stretchy elastic!

Taunting the Zambezi
Taunting the Zambezi

8th November

Thunder is rumbling round the limestone hills just like the elephant who was here just before us probably didn’t. It seems I never got to finish or post my last blog above – internet access has been very patchy, and we have been travelling around Botswana’s more empty spaces. Tonight we are again camping wild, at a place called ‘The Dancing Spot’ in the Aha Hills of Botswana’s North Western Kalahari. We are the only people to have come here since the last rain, but some big round prints in the raindrop-speckled sand suggest a very big elephant came through earlier and poked around the rubbish someone had tried to bury. By the look of the sign, elephant dancing is boisterous! We have a campfire going, which survived the last thunderstorm and we hope will deter too much interest from wildlife…yes, I’m still nervous after the last elephant encounter! It is good to get away from the tourist circuit though – and this place is very much off the beaten track.

Elephant Deterant Fire

Meanwhile, I have to admit that Katana was not the only casualty in Vic Falls – Troopy was also the victim of some tired end-of-day poor driving on the campsite – whilst discussing where to park I failed to notice an overleaning tree and we rolled back into it – pushing the spare wheel into the back door. A new door is required at some point, but it all works still so will be OK for now. Also – the driveshaft oil leak came back, and when it was taken apart we found the bearing had not been correctly installed at Toyota Kenya, so we are lucky I guess not to have had a more serious failure. In any case, we had the oil seal replaced in Vic Falls, but by the time we had travelled 70km to Botswana, it was leaking again! I’m hoping we have the problem solved this time though – and we had a good time at the garage in Kasungula where I went to try and buy the tool to do the job myself, but ended up helping their mechanic do the job and promising to send them my copy of the Haines manual when we get to Cape Town – very friendly guys there, who were very impressed by the good old Haines manual. If we get to Cape Town without the oil leak recurring, I think they’ve earned it!

After Vic Falls we stayed in Kasane, where we ran into the French couple we first met in Malawi again whilst stocking up in the supermarket (we have met them 6 times now, as I write this!). The campsite by the Chobe Riverfront was roamed by Warthogs, Baboons and Pythons that we saw, and apparently crocodiles which we didn’t. Then after stocking up and getting Troopy sorted we went on to Senyati, where we sat in the bar and discussed the route through Chobe, but in the end decided that a rough road for 2 days through the park was a bit too soon for Katana’s healing knee. All this time we were cooking our own food – we are definitely now back in the world of big, well-stocked supermarkets which makes things easier to be sure of vegan meals, but is also somehow disappointing – its as if we are already being slowly transitioned back to things we are used to in London. We are often nostalgic for Ethiopian food, and even the ‘charms’ of Wadi Halfa!

After another night at a lodge with a swimming pool and a nice meal out at the restaurant for a change, we diverted from the route to Maun and headed into the Makgadikadi pans on sandy tracks for a day of wildlife watching and experiencing the wild open grassy plains of the savanna. No lions were spotted, but we did come across a group of meerkats – another first for the trip.

Meerkats do not sound Russian...
Meerkats do not sound Russian…

After some playing making fresh tracks we then raced 10km across a (dryish) salt lake, running ahead of a thunderstorm – I didn’t want to find out how sticky it gets when wet . We also dropped by a huge, 7-trunked, 500 year old Baobab tree and were suitably awed. Then the rain caught up with us and we slipped and crawled out of the pans in the mud, picking up a puncture but making it to Planet Baobab for the night.

This week has been about travelling onward, seeing Botswana, and letting Katana’s knee heal properly. That is not to say we haven’t done anything but travel by car – today we drove out into the wild North West of Botswana and visited Drotsky’s Caves, which necessitated a bit of mountaineering to get down into the stalactite and bat filled caverns.

We have booked our passage through the Central Kalahari National Park – staying at 2 campsites in the park on the way South. These campsites are 1-group-at-a-time arrangememts so it will be just us and the lions. Hopefully no more close encounters with elephants! We’ll check in with an update once we come out the other side.