As we were headed to the airfield in Maun, we could already see black clouds piling up on the horizon. So, even though we were still sad about the turn of events we could tell the we had made the right call.
Captain Joe was greeting us at his helicopter, which almost looked like a toy due to its size and weight. He too told us that rain for days was coming our way but he was confident that we would stay dry during our experience in the air.
When we had walked into the booking office for the flight, we were still kind of hesitant: is this kind of thing too touristy? Is it worth the amount of money? But we had decided that this was the only experience we were going to get out of Botswana at this point and - also in light of the upcoming birthday - we decided to go for it. Because, after all, this trip was about experiences and before we had left, we agreed on one thing: we would be spending money on experiences, not stuff.
And we didn’t regret one minute of it. The Delta is actually a great place to be seen from above. Thousands of water ways meandering through lush green grassland, sometimes ending in larger water holes and then continuing their way down south. The new perspective allowed us to see a great number of animals - and Captain Joe made our flight even more memorable with risky manoeuvres just above the ground and quick turns whenever is trained eye would spot some wildlife. We saw hippos bathing, giraffes snacking on trees, zebras galloping with their young and large elephant bulls drinking from water holes. It was a one-of-a-kind birthday present - which was topped by an amazing Birthday Braii and dinner by the fire - thanks, Mr. Benz!
We left Maun high on adrenaline with the plan to visit the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans where we had planned to book an experience with the San People. The San are a tribe of hunter and gatherers with a long history - which is unfortunately also one of extermination. Today, there are only about 100.000 San living in the southern part of Africa and some of are trying to preserve their cultural heritage by leading a traditional life. They are supporting themselves by offering tourists to be part of their daily live.
"…Botswana had only opened up to tourism two weeks before we got there."
Sadly, due to COVID, at the time we were there they were still trying to get back on their feet and recover from the financial losses they had experienced - Botswana had only opened up to tourism two weeks before we got there.
Nevertheless, we entered the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in order to at least drive through the park and do some game watching. To get to the gate we had to cross a river which we did in absolute pouring rain - I have never before experienced so much water coming from above!
The two ferrymen were not bothered by it and took us safely across the river and we bought our tickets at the main entrance, apparently being the only costumers. Driving through the park, we seemed to be all by ourselves - for a very long time. We drove for hours and hours, seeing not many animals but instead endless grassland up until the horizon.
Gaborone was our next stop. It didn’t make any sense for us to stay in Botswana since rain season was full on. So, we had decided to get a test done and head to the north-eastern part of South Africa where the mountains were calling. The lady at the park gate had already told us that the streets at the southern exit had been flooded so we had to take a huge detour on our way to Gaborone: we had to exit at the north-western gate and drive a huge circle all the way until the eastern border of Botswana and from there to the capital - Gabs, as the locals like to call it.
Hours and hours of driving through pouring rain took a toll on our mood and even more so when we found out that the roof tent was leaking and we would not be able to spend another night camping until the return of the car in Gaborone. So, after a couple of not so nice hotels along the way we arrived in Gaborone and were like: f*** it, let’s book a room at the local Hilton.
And boy, did we enjoy the rest: A huge, comfortable bed, a TV, a fitness center and even a vegan hipster breakfast with specialty coffee! No adventures, but much needed comfort.
Getting the COVID test done was easy for us, being experienced Africa travellers by now and after two nights of luxury we were off to Johannesburg.
Thanks again to the nice policemen at the border who were totally understanding of the fact that we had lost our license plate in the bush and waved us through with a laugh.
TRAVEL TIME: December 15 - 19, 2020
CAMPGROUNDS / HOTELS:
Xhumaga : Boteti River Camp
(before entrance to Makgadikgadi Pan, owner operates the ferry)
Gaborone: Hilton Garden Inn