We arrived at the border between Namibia and Botswana around noon and were once again pretty much the only ones going from one country to another. The whole experience turned out to be the easiest border crossing so far with welcoming policemen greeting us with a warm “Welcome to Bots!”.
Even though we were driving under full sunshine we could tell that there had been rain - the landscape was slowly changing from sandy and dry to lush and green. The biggest difference to Namibia: no more fences and therefore lots of animals on the road: goats, cows and donkeys just casually strolling by and sometimes blocking our way. So, it was inevitable that within the first hour of driving we killed a few animals by impact. Noooo, not what you’re thinking, we’re talking smaller scale: due to the humidity caused by the rains there were millions of insects in the air - flies, beetles, butterflies, dragonflies - you name it. Many of them unfortunately found a sudden death on our front bumper.
"…our first missions after entering a new country is always to get a new SIM card for our phone or, how we like to call it (…) the BURNER."
One of our first missions after entering a new country is always to get a new SIM card for our phone - or, how we like to call it to give the whole thing a little more edge - the “burner”. We stopped in the first village at the very evidently painted orange building of the Orange phone company and walked in to find out that not only could you get SIM cards, but also clothes, food, kitchen supply, cigarettes and alcohol. Except, we couldn’t buy any of these things because the guy would only take cash. And you might have already guessed it: of course, we are not THAT prepared for a new country. After all, changing money beforehand is for beginners, right? So, I drove to the gas station where I found out that the ATM didn’t work and got the info that the next option to get cash was 200km south. I returned to deliver the good news and the shop owner simply decided to give us the card for free. Pretty warm welcome in Bots.
We continued south to stop-over at the Palm Afrique Lodge where the only ones sharing the campground with us were the owner’s two friendly dogs.Our big plan was to continue to Maun the next day and from there enter the Okavango Delta with our 4x4 rental. Maun is the travel hub for people coming in and out of the Delta, with offices for the campsites run by the national parks that cover the area of the Delta. There we would have to book spots and get directions for the camps.
The next day we got up early under a blue sky with a couple more clouds than yesterday, but not really something to worry about. The weather forecast was predicting more rain for the next days but we knew that this would be happening since the rain season had just begun.
When we entered Maun after a short drive, it took us quite a while to figure out where we had to go for booking our camps - different camps meant different offices that weren’t too easy to find. We also needed to stock up on food and alcohol but had to stick to food since we got to the liquor store 2 minutes after 5 - the closing time for selling alcohol as a measure against COVID. We maybe should have known that this was the first bad sign. Already being behind schedule, we drove around for another 30 minutes in order to find a refill for our gas bottle only to find out that it was still all the way full. Hmmm, things weren’t really going that smoothly. Whatever - we were about to enter the Delta on a tight schedule and off we went.
About an hour outside of Maun the street became a dirt road with already some pretty impressive muddy puddles to cross. On the horizon we could see dark clouds towering. As it was getting dark, we could see lightning in the distance and hear thunder rumbling. The puddles turned into small lakes and before we even reached the gates of the park, we already had to detour a couple of times through the Bush since we got already way above the car’s water level restriction and we did not have a snorkel. The water holes we did enter were giving us a lot of trouble since our tires were not exactly suitable for that kind of underground.
Heart rates inside the car went up as breathing frequencies went down and we both became pretty quiet in the break of dusk. Bjoern was doing all the hard work driving while I saw the idea of continuing further into the dark growing more and more unreasonable. We watched herds of zebra and wildebeest running and grazing in a more lush and green landscape than we had ever seen on our trip thus far, promising an even more abundant flora and fauna ahead. At the same time, we were also realizing that we were not getting there with the car we had and the weather that was coming up. After all, we were still driving on the “good” road and the “difficult” roads were still to come inside the park. There already had been a couple of deep water holes we wouldn’t be able to cross anymore once there would be more rain.
Stressed out and heavy-hearted we finally decided that we had to turn around. It was such a sad and disappointing experience, even more so because we realized that Boggy would have laughed at those puddles and would have taken us safely across them. Sure, we probably would have gotten a little wet since Boggy and the whole Defender fleet are surely not winning any waterproof awards. But who cares? This was the experience we wanted to have with the car we had rebuilt and now it was not going to happen at all.
After we had safely made it back out of the bush we returned to Maun, booked ourselves in the Old Bridge Backpacker Hostel and washed down our disappointment and frustration with pizza and a drink. The next day we woke up and needed to come up with a new plan: Entering the Delta with our own car? Too much water already. Entering the Delta by traditional canoe with a local guide? Not enough water yet. Booking us in to a guided safari? No worries about the water, but our financial advisor almost suffered a heart attack when looking up the numbers on this option.
So, what do you do when you can neither enter via water nor via land and on top of that your wife’s Birthday is coming up the next day and she is already looking at you with those sad eyes?
Yep, that’s right. You go all out like Kanye would and call Captain Joe to get the helicopter ready...
TRAVEL TIME: December 13-15, 2020
Ghanzi: Palm Afrique Lodge