Botswana – Heat, Wind and the Big Five

Wildlife galore!

I let out a big sigh, the strong wind had changed direction again and I was pedalling furiously against it, progressing very slowly and getting very tired. Head wind saps my energy and I need to stop fairly regularly to recoup my strength and be able to keep going.

Often I found the perfect excuse to stop!

No one had mentioned the wind when talking about Botswana. I had read about the long distances, about having to sleep in the enclosure of telephone masts to be safe from the wild life which is everywhere in the country but wind, wind wasn’t in my consciousness and here I was battling against it.

It was true about the wildlife though, I experienced it on my first day in the country  from the safety of a boat in Chobe National Park. Hundreds of birds, a matriarch  leading a herd of elephants by the waterside, baboons playing, buffaloes, crocodiles… We got very close to some huge crocodiles feeding on an elephant carcass but had to move on quickly as the stench of the roting flesh was unbearable, making us gag.

Huge crocs feeding on an elephant carcass
Sunset at Chobe National Park

From Chobe I decided to have a brief foray into Namibia where I began to experience the heat, the wind and the long distances without water. In spite of that, I loved the Caprivi Strip, the trees there have so many different shapes, heights and colours. The trees and the interesting traffic signs provided amusement to the otherwise flat landscape.

Not the traffic signs we see in Europe!

I left the Caprivi Strip at Divundu, still in Namibia, to follow the Okavango River to the Okavango Delta. The Okavango Delta is a swampy inland delta formed where the Okavango River reaches a tectonic trough in the Kalahari. All the water reaching the delta is evaporated and does not flow into any sea or ocean.

Fishermen in the Okavango river

The Delta is in Botswana and as I re entered the country, the wind became less predictable, constantly changing direction, but the flatness of the terrain allowed me to get a rhythm, the rhythm of the road: I cycled for about 30 Km, had second breakfast; cycled another 30 Km, was hungry again and had lunch, usually leftovers from whatever I had cooked the night before; kept going for a bit longer and by about 80 Km I began to get tired, pushed on for a while looking for a safe place to stay the night and as soon as I found one stopped.

I kept riding until I found a safe place to spend the night

There was something different about Botswana. People didn’t ask me for money as I passed by, a first after months of constant demands. Only then, by the absence of these demands, I realised how stressful it had been at times. How in other countries I had avoided stopping by the side of road anytime I saw people because I didn’t want to get asked for money, food, water, my bike…

Proud of her people’s traditions, she kindly let me camp by her house

Botswana is one of the less populated countries in Africa and it is their Government’s policy to give everyone a piece of land where to build their house, keep cattle or open a business. The villages in Botswana looked very tidy, round or square huts with grass roofs. Often hidden in the bush they had signs to indicate their location and huge water tanks with drinking water. Life felt easier than in other countries I’d cycled through. Maybe that’s why the attitude of the people was different.

You always found something like this by the side of the road to indicate people lived nearby

It was great to be able to find drinking water anywhere there were people but with temperatures over 40 Celsius, the water got warm really quickly in my bottles. I was drinking more than 6 litres a day and the water wasn’t quenching my thirst, I drank and drank but my mouth and throat were always dry and my tongue stuck to my palate, I had to find a solution. Asier suggested wrapping my water bottles in wet cloths and it worked, the water stayed cool for longer, what a relief!

Wrapping the bottles with wet cloths and keeping them wet made a huge difference

I met with Asier in Maun, the heart of the Okavango Delta. On the road you get close to people really quickly and by now Asier was my pal. We had met  for the first time in Nakuru in Kenya and our paths crossed again in Malawi and in Zambia where agreed to meet in Maun, cook a Spanish omelette, have some beers and explore the delta together.

Time for Spanish omelette!

The Delta was everything it promised to be. We drove through deep sand to get to a campsite in the middle of the Moremi Game Reserve. The BaTawana people concerned by the rise of hunting in the Okavango Delta declared the area a Game Reserve in 1963. It was the first wildlife sanctuary to be created by an African tribe in their own area and now wildlife thrives in the Reserve.

It was just four of us and out guides in Moremi

We were setting up the tents when some elephants decided to walk through our pitch and we had to make a run for the vehicle for safety. A whole family of elephants went by, two babies with fuzzy downy hair still covering their heads were playing with one another in the middle of the herd, their small trunks going all over the place. I love how uncoordinated they look, how funny.

Moments later we were running to our vehicle for safety!
Baby elephants are really funny

It was late in the evening when we heard a conmotion amongst the elephants and it was only in the morning that other campers told us there had been lions in the campsite trying to hunt the baby elephants and the adults had scared them away. The lions must have been very close to us because before going to sleep Asier had told me how he had seen some yellow eyes reflecting back the light of his torch when he was walking to the tent. In the light of the morning I thought how in the middle of the night I had gone behind the tent to relief myself and  shivers run down my spine.

The lions were still very close to the campsite in the morning and we managed to get very close to one of them. He didn’t seemed to be bothered by us, he just sat there watching us watch him and in his own time, stood up, turned his back on us and walked away.

The night before he’d been marauding in the campsite
He turned his back and walked away

It was not only the elephants that had new babies. We saw a newborn wilder beast, the umbilical cord still hanging out of his mother who hadn’t yet expelled the placenta, baby jirafes, baby impala. All the animals giving birth just before the rains when food would be plentiful. I just hoped the rains would arrive in time because throughout my months in Africa, the pattern of the rains seemed to be broken, raining when it should’ve stopped and having dry weather when it should be raining. Climate change exposing its ugly face.

Our guide looking for animal tracks

The lack of rain would also have a huge impact on the communities living in the delta. We had a chance to go into its heart when we took a mokoro trip through its narrow canals. The mokoros are the traditional canoes used in the Okavango Delta. They are propelled forward by standing in the stern and pushing with a long pole. The traditional mokoros were made by digging out the trunk of a tree but now they are made of fiber glass. Dreamer, our mokoro punter, still had one of the traditional ones in his village right in the middle of the Delta.

Today’s mokoros are made of fiber glass

We silently moved through the water keeping an eye for hippos which are known to position themselves under the mokoros and pushed them up to overturn them. We didn’t see any but we glided pass beautiful water lilies and water birds.

The canal was barely wide enough to get through
Birds flew as we went by

After these wonderful times together, Asier and I said goodby at a cross roads hoping to meet again in Namibia in 2019, little did we know that we would meet again briefly once more before leaving Botswana.

Time for farewells (thanks Asier for the photo)

There was, one more thing I wanted to do before leaving Botswana, I wanted to pay a visit to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary in the hope to see the last of the Big Five left for me to see.

Cycling long hot days in relentless wind I arrived at the Sanctuary and went on the search of rhinoceros with one of the sanctuary’s guides. It didn’t take long before we found them by a small pond – a huge bull, two females and two younger males.

Young bulls relaxing

The bull came really close to the hide where we were, he was huge and covered in mud. He went over to a tree  to sharpen his horn. I was speechless and very moved. The whole scene was bathed in a beautiful light:  impala coming for a drink, warthogs wallowing in the mud whilst the rhinos relaxed by the water. I don’t know how long I spent watching these incredible animals in silence.

The huge dominant bull came very, very close!
Impalas shared the waterhole with the rhinos

For a while I’d been trying to decide where to enter South Africa, should I go to Zimbabwe or enter via Botswana? I met so many South Africans who told me to avoid the Zimbabwe border that in the end I’d decided to enter through a small border near Gabarone, the capital of Botswana. At the Rhino Sanctuary I met yet more South African campers who told me I had made the right decision AND I was to avoid Pretoria and Johannesburg at all costs!

I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn getting closer and closer to South Africa, the southernmost country on this trip. The plan was to spend New Year’s eve with Lucy and Liz, a mother and daughter pair I had met in a campsite 300 km from the border.

At the Tropic of Capricorn

It was really nice to know I’d meet some friendly faces soon after going into South Africa because now it was not the wind or the heat that worried me. I was worried about being hurt.

 

 

18 thoughts on “Botswana – Heat, Wind and the Big Five”

  1. Txuri, yo también me quedo sin palabras sabiendo que has estado a dos pasos no solo de rinocerontes, también de leones, elefantes y cocodrilos. Lo mejor es que siempre encuentras gente buena en tu viaje. Gracias por compartirlo. Un abrazo enorme

  2. Wow my dear Blanca, what an amazing and very inspiring post! Thank you for sharing your incredible journey. I very much enjoyed reading your story of Boswana and surrounding and seeing the stunning pictures. Looking forward to reading your next post on South Africa. Hope you continue enjoying your travel adding to your memorable experience. Keep safe.
    Lots of love and a big hug Ziba xxxx

  3. Sounds like Botswana had magical elements- it’s gentle and “content” people, and amazing wildlife.

    So glad you didn’t go through Zimbabwe- just not the right time. But then that gives you a good reason to go back one day

  4. Blanca, what a riveting read!! I do hope you will be publishing a book- you certainly already have a title!! Here’s to less wind and more freedom!

  5. Botswana sounds wonderful (apart from the wind..) What a privilege to see those amazing animals in their natural habitat!
    Looking forward to seeing you soon and joining your adventure in South Africa!
    Lots of love Kath xxxxx

  6. Yet another account that has enthralled me!
    Alexander McCall Smith with his novels couldn’t describe Botswana better than you Blanca!
    Please continue to take care and let us share this incredible journey with you via your blog.
    Love, Maureen x

  7. What a wonderful account of yet another amazing experience… and stunning photos! I look forward to the next instalment and a belated Happy New Year but early happy lunar new year of the . Safe travels. Lots of love, Patricia

  8. You’re doing amazing and incredible things, darling Blanca, and I know you are having a wonderful time. Seems I’m your only reader anxious that my dear friend may be trampled by elephants, eaten by lions or used for watersport by hippos. And that’s not even the scary part…! Good job I have a lot of faith in your personal safety radar!
    huge hug, carol xxx

  9. What a fabulous post. I have been transported from my Sunday morning bed in Dublin to the Okavanga Delta. Best wishes on next section.

  10. So grateful for receiving these updates, I know they must be difficult to do when you are there just keeping going. Just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you taking time and effort to share. We are all very privileged.

    take care Blanca loads of love
    Maureen xxx

  11. Wow! You are amazing.
    I have a dream on cycling in africa sometimes in the future. But the problem is I am really scared of animals. Cycling through eastern Europe was very hard for me with all the wild dogs. Can’t imagine having lions sneaking around….
    You are an inspiration, doing this trip alone! Keep in pedalling

  12. What a great pleasure to read your wonderful post about your fantastic journey! I enjoy very much your beautiful descriptions of life and nature.
    Keep gooing well! Love from Jef and Chris

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