Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Guma Camp ( Botswana) and onward to Ngepi Camp in Namibia

Saturday 2nd July

We spent another night at Drifters by the banks of the river, with a huge campfire, then we headed back to the bustling township of Maun, after comparing supermarket reviews with the other females in the group!

This time we managed to retrieve the card from the Bank and reactivate it over the phone, which was a major challenge as we ran out of phone credit part of the way through and had to make a dash to a Shell shop to get more credit to complete the process.

Security is so tight: to enter any of the banks here, and in South Africa, you can only go through the door via a glass cubicle one at a time. You step in and when the door closes behind you then the door in front of you releases so you can enter the bank. All of the ATMs have guards too.

Some observations:

Queuing: It is quite an art here as well as a necessity. It's Africa time: which basically means there won't be enough staff and you will have to wait until someone decides to respond or you make a fuss. Even in the supermarket if you want decent steak then you have to ask for it and wait for it to be vacuum packed. In the Bank there was a sign instructing clients to not jump the queue, and that they were not to reserve places in the queue! I did write some postcards but my attempt to send them was thwarted by a queue of 25-30 people all looking as if they had been there for weeks! Even a guy leaning on the fence outside saw me go in, and on my way out just shook his head and said "Too many people"!

Church ladies: Erin and I were fascinated by the outfits of a few of the large elderly ladies in town. Having done some reading about the history of Botswana I think the dress is explained by the large number of churches and the missionaries that first came to Botswana in the 1800's. Seretse Khama (who was the Chief then) gave permission for the London Missionary Society to come to Botswana and a number of his children converted to Christianity and now there are some amazing 'churches' that merge traditional Botswana spiritual beliefs with faith healing and Christianity, and have amazing names.

These women had long dresses with a frill of lace around the bottom of the skirt and long sleeves. Their hats were the most interesting though : sort of a huge flat triangle made out of the same fabric as the dress with the flat side of the triangle shading their faces. Some had shawls as well. Whilst one woman had a grey dress, the others had added a Botswanian flair using bright floral material. I'd love to have taken a photo and to find out if my theory is correct, but didn't want to appear rude!

Braais and barbecues: we have come to the conclusion that Afrikaners eat a lot of meat - usually vacuum-packed slabs of rump steak. But they cook it very slowly over the coals so it is still pale whereas they think Ewan is burning our meat/chicken when he cooks it more quickly and browns it. There's lots of spices and sauces involved , and I have to admit that Gerritt's super rump on the first night was delicious.

We managed to find all of the bits and pieces we needed and even found a hardware (I think Ewan was experiencing Bunnings withdrawal symptoms!). He bought some adhesive strips of foam rubber so we could stop water coming in the car doors on the wetter roads, and 15 metres of washing line ( which Erin and I have put to good use!)
Leaving the bright lights of Maun behind we headed off down a tar road (yay!) for 300 kilometres to reach Guma Lagoon Camp.

We encountered a food inspection point to prevent foot-and-mouth disease. On everyone else's advice I had hidden our steak in the dirty washing bag. Unfortunately I totally forgot that I had put it back in the fridge to keep cold temporarily so it was confiscated. We could have cooked it and taken it with us as COOKED meat is acceptable, but we didn't bother ( and I hate most steak anyway!).

It was a very long straight road with lots of animals - cattle, horses donkeys and goats - to be avoided. It's a bit dauntng trying to work out, as you hurtle along at 90kms, whether any of them are going to choose that exact moment to launch themselves across the road.

I did nearly overturn the trusty Land Rover when I swerved to miss an enormous pothole, forgetting that it is so top heavy because of the tents. It gave us all a fright, but we survived.

We finally made it to Etsha 13 and Ewan did a repair job on the doors before we launched ourselves into the water-soaked roads (12kms) to reach the Guma Lagoon Camp. We were first to arrive and we had been told that the water was only (!!!) knee deep. Being brave adventurers we set off and attempted to keep within the white posts in the water which showed the best way to go. It was a lot of water to plough through but it was Kalahari sand on the bottom not mud, so we made it without drama. At one point some small boys jumped on the back of the car ( twice!) and refused to let go until Ewan stopped and yelled at them. Sometimes the water is so high you have to get a boat or a truck to get here so we were lucky.

The view from our campsite
It is like an oasis on this island: gone is the black sand and now we have green grass! Heaven. It is known for its fishing and birdlife and we have a lovely shady spot to camp with HOT SHOWERS!!! Erin and I spent hours doing the washing and we had a very peaceful night with no hyenas, lions, hippos etc to keep us awake.

However, there are crocodiles in the lagoon and apparently some tree snakes and scorpions. It would be so boring to be somewhere without something to look out for!

There's a lovely bar and sitting area in amongst the trees on the bank of the lagoon, where I am sitting now. We've booked in for dinner here: spicy beef and bean stew, which will be a welcome relief from braai-ing.

Sunday 3rd July:

A day of rest: it is amazing how quickly you settle into 'Africa' time: it seems very easy to just sit and do absolutely nothing. After more washing this morning we just relaxed for the day and wandered around the camp, just sitting with the others (and moving the washing so it would get direct sunlight and dry!). There was a tiny swimming pool to deter guests from diving into the lagoon and being consumed by crocodiles, but we didn't venture in.

Monday 4th July.

 Up early and away enroute to Namibia. But first a trip to the Tsodilo Hills: sacred ground for Botswana and archaeologists. It was declared a World heritage site predominantly because of ancient 'bushmen' rock paintings that have been dated back 30-50000 years (depending on who you believe). We went on a 2 hour rock climb and walk which was challenging after a week of sitting in the car and not walking far, because of potential attack by wild animals.

The paintings were great, mostly red ochre: although it isn't clear what has been used for them to last so long. Thus some people question their authenticity. Our guide was a local San tribesman whose family has lived there for generations. His name was Xoanthe: any 'X' is pronounced with a click of the tongue which we find impossible to do despite practicing on long car trips.

The road there was supposed to be much improved, but there were some significant potholes which we hit as we are under strict instructions not to swerve for anything, and everything, including us, bounces up and resettles. I'm not sure the suspension in Land Rovers is one of their greatest features! I had a drive on the sandy gravel road and tried to avoid the potholes and the donkeys, goats and cattle: so far so good.

Then we headed for the Namibian border stopping at a Choppies supermarket to buy rump steak and fresh milk. We were scrutinised by the local children who are shy but interested in us.

The border post seemed to be well-staffed but exceptionally slow. We even had to complete paperwork about the car including the chassis and engine numbers. I think next time Ewan will simply make them up as no-one checked.

At the Namibian border post we almost had the red meat and fresh milk confiscated again! A friendly policwoman eventually asked us if the meat had bones, then one of the policeman inspected the 'cooler box' and they looked at the meat and decided that as it had no bones it was probably OK. Then we had to convince them that as we had only just bought the milk it would be OK so she did us a big favour and told us we could keep it, but next time to be careful. The connection between meat , meat with bones and milk and foot-and-mouth disease seems a little tenuous but at least this time we didn't lose anything!!

We drove through the border with new stamps in our passports and headed for the Ngepi Camp, sighting some zebras on the way.

In Namibia you don't stay in the actual national parks as we had been doing, you stay in private camps on the border of the Parks. This camp is on a river which seems full of hippos judging by the bellowing in the middle of the night. Water buffalo were moo-ing in the night too.

If we really wanted a swim there is a cage in the river that keeps you and the crocodiles separate. We are still pondering the sign that suggests you don't wee while swimming?

LouLou and Hugo in the bath with a view!
One well-camouflaged green mamba:
look from middle of photo to top left hand corner
The amenities are unique here. perched on the river bank, 3 sides are brush walls and the other looks out over the river. There is a wooden throne in one of them and a bath you can heat water for by lighting a fire or waiting for the solar power to work. There was a moment of excitement this morning when 2 of the kids were in the bath and one of them had a pee over the edge of the deck and on to a green mamba tree snake: highly venomous - a bite results in death within 15 minutes. It didn't seem to suffer, but I'm not sure I will be having a bath here!!

Lots of choices for things to do here, even bike-riding. Ewan was going off to investigate, but he's not convinced that he would survive peddling through the sand, or wants to.

It seems there are no Americans in this part of Africa as the day passed quietly!


LAUNDRY: We have gone for the advanced option in the washing machine range - a large bucket with a tightly sealed lid. Agitation is provided by the endless potholes and the general state of the roads : just add filthy dusty clothes, washing powder and water. Seal lid and place in back of vehicle. Arrive at destination, admire the disgusting colour of the water , wring out, refill bucket, wring out again and hang out to dry (trying to ignore the fact that the rinse water was as putrid as the washing water). I can see why brown is the fashion colour of choice here ( it just verifies Ewan's colour sense! ).

CLEANING: You soon learn to put everyting in black plastic bags so that the layer of dust that settles on everything in the car is not too unbearable. Everything is so dusty you just learn to live with it.
Ewan decided to unpack the car completely and spring clean at Guma Camp, but within a few minutes on the next gravel road we were back to square one.

COOKING: Thank God for barbecues, or braais as they are here: huge campfires every night have helped. The gas cooker is the standby and has already produced lots of cups of tea of course. Due to the dutch heritage of our fellow travellers we have been introduced to the joys of coffee and rusks, although they are breakfast food and we like them for morning /afternoon tea, which the others find strange.

Fortunately the water in Botswana is fine, probably as there is so much of it. Boiling it is a useful precaution for drinking water though, so no-one has been ill yet.

DISHWASHING: Whilst disliking the performance of heating water and doing the dishes, the views from the 'kitchen window' have been truly superb. Today's was a silvery expanse of water with clumps of pampas grass  and papyrus framing it. (remember pampass grass? All the rage in the 70's in big pots: reminds me of Stevenson St.).  

Have to go and polish the silver,

your domestic goddess in transit


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