Tweespooring the Botswana wilds
Wild animals, dodgy traffic officials and treacherous river crossings are just some of the things that Schalk Verwey and his family came across during their recent Botswana trip.
A multitude of game, spectacular rivers and superb campsites had Landy nut and happy traveller Schalk Verwey and his family gasping in amazement on their adventure through Botswana. Here is the second instalment of their epic African adventure.
We exited the Mabuasehube gate (on our way to Tautona Lodge near Ghanzi) with a mixture of gusto and anticipation. The tweespoor track proved less challenging than the road to the gate from the south, and we proceeded uneventfully via Hukuntsi to Ghanzi with ample daylight to spare. Wanting to leave early the next morning, we filled up at Ghanzi and proceeded to Tautona Lodge, otherwise known as the Lodge of the Lion.
The lion’s share
There is a badly corrugated 5 km stretch of road from the highway (A3) to the lodge. With the tyres still below pressure coming from Mabua, the Landy handled it well, but we passed a group of bikers who clearly struggled with the heavily laden bikes. Sadly, as we were merely there overnight, we did not have time to visit the lion facilities at the lodge. Tautona offers a variety of opportunities to get up close with cheetah and lion. The cheetah feeding is quite something, but viewing the kings of the Kalahari, holding month-old lion cubs and spending time in the cage with the older cubs was exceptional.
The long arm of the law
We left for Maun the next morning. Apart from the roadworks and the normal cattle and donkey encounters (Botswana’s equivalent to speed bumps), the going was good. Charl and I took turns to drive. Settling into casual conversation and listening to music, roughly midway between the road-split at Sehithwa and Maun, a uniformed lady stepped into the road in front of us, signalling for us to pull over to the side of the road. I was convinced that I drove below the speed limit. I donned my best possible smile, and walked up to the traffic officer who informed me that I had been doing 77 km/h in a 60 km/h zone, and I was welcome to inspect the reading on the radar. Somehow we must have missed the last 60 km/h sign. I explained to the lady that I was genuinely under the impression that it was an 80 km/h zone and therefore not speeding on purpose.
With a smile, she indicated across the road to a somewhat dilapidated Botswana special Cruiser bakkie parked under the shade of a solitary tree. “Go speak to the fat man,” she said. I noticed a very officious-looking individual filling half the Cruiser’s cabin, sporting a Darth Vader expression on his face. Greeting him politely, the first words from Darth Vader, without looking up was an emotionless, “You must pay 500 Pula (R560).” Taking a deep breath, I kept up the smile and insisted that we have honoured the Botswana traffic laws ever since we entered the country, and that this was an honest mistake. Darth Vader looked up into my eyes and stared at me for a long while. With a glimmer of humanity in his eyes, he said, now with a hint of emotion, “How much do you want to pay?” Thinking back, I should perhaps have tried, “nothing”, but I decided on half. He clearly was not hinting for a bribe (doing the paperwork in duplicate and me having to counter sign), so meeting halfway seemed the right thing to do. With a muttered, “Okay”, he looked down again and continued filling in his forms as I walked back across the road to fetch the cash. In the meantime, the next person was stopped and sent across, announcing with mock bravado that he was caught doing 117 km/h. This somehow posed some form of justice; a true transgressor would get his day, I got some leeway and DV would be rewarded for the bit of humanity and goodwill shown towards me.
Tweespooring in Moremi
We stuck to our plan and took the direct road to North Gate along the eastern fence. It turned out to be a good decision. The road, recently redone, was still only slightly more than a tweespoor, good enough to sustain the speed limit in the park, but not much more. We entered Moremi at South Gate, and nothing apart from the normal formalities was required. We skidded through unscathed. We toyed with the idea of taking the round trip via Third Bridge and Xakanaka as we had made good time getting through Maun. We were promptly escorted to our campsite away from the river, but spacious and close to the ablution facilities (which were excellent, clean and in good working order). On a previous visit, we had camped at the river. It was fantastic being close to the water, with amazing sunsets and the sounds of the river life at night. However, the presence of animals in the camp was exceptionally high, especially large hyena and lion, and visitors had to be escorted on every trip to the ablutions. With plans to stay for three nights, we set up full camp and did a couple of excursions each day. The tweespoor trails were in good condition and, as expected, September was a dry month, so we had no difficulty in getting to places like the Hippo Pool and doing the circle route east of the camp (partly along the river). The drive to Hippo Pool was certainly worth the visit. It is a large expanse of water with a cleverly constructed lookout point to the side, perched high above the pool. Being a bit distant, hippo sightings requires a decent pair of binoculars or a long camera lens, but the view over the pool is magnificent. Compared to previous visits to North Gate, the nights were surprisingly devoid of animal sounds, save for the elephants grazing among the tents. Falling asleep required some concentration in trying to ignore the noise and the fear of an elephant stepping on a tent rope or dislodging a branch onto the tent. After some time spent relaxing and recovering, we decided to, once again, leave camp long before sunrise and tackle the circle route. The early morning views along the river were great, with quite some activity from the hippos. The first plains just slumbered in the morning haze, with hardly any animal life. On the last grassy plain, our fortunes changed, offering another amazing encounter with the king of the jungle. Just before the lookout point, our path converged with a pride chasing a prey. Unfortunately, the grass was tall and we could only follow the chase intermittently. Right in the middle of the small plain, a lioness appeared at the top
of a clearing with a number of small cubs, patiently awaiting the outcome of the chase. It did not bring the same exhilaration as the Mpayathutlwa lion encounter, but still offered amazing sights, and made the early morning drive worth the while.
Between a rock and a hard place
Some of our travelling companions had got stuck in the river crossing north of the Khwai village on a previous trip, so we decided to scout the crossing later that afternoon in preparation for the departure to Savuti the following day. It turned out to be a pertinent decision; if we had been in a hurry the next morning and had missed the poorly signed detour, we might have landed ourselves in a spot of bother. Since our last visit, the original crossing had broadened and deepened considerably. We opted for the detour and were fortunate to find an SKL game ranger coming through the new crossing as we arrived. The shortest route sported a deep rut which the Landy would most likely have been able to clear, but the game ranger gestured feverishly for us to stick to the same path he took. Following the suggested horse shoe-shaped route we crossed the furrow just a bit further downstream; but having to drive much further through the water made it a more enjoyable water crossing. The bow wave only just reached the top of the bonnet as we breached the furrow, and having a snorkel on the Landy, we were not in any trouble. We scouted the old crossing from the other side and drove back through the new crossing. The Blue Shop at the centre of the Khwai village sports a huge fridge stocked with ice cold beers, ciders and soft drinks. Due to the heat wave, we had depleted our stash of cold drinks and gratefully replenished our stocks. We spent a quiet evening around the camp fire on the last night and left the next morning for Savuti. On the way to the gate, I had trouble finding the binoculars. Mentioning it in passing, the response from the back was, “It’s probably packed in somewhere; we’ll find it when we unpack.” Alas, that was not to be…