Africa journal part 1: logistics

Posted in Family, Travel at 5:42 pm by ducky

Jim and I, having no kids of our own, borrow nieces and nephews when they turn (about) fourteen.  We had a friend from Botswana who encouraged us to visit, and The Niece was up for it, so we went to Africa!  This post talks a little about where we went, how we got there, where we stayed, what the accommodations were like, etc.   This post will have almost no observation/analysis/personal notes: it probably isn’t that interesting unless you really like Jim and/or I, or you are planning/thinking about a trip to Botswana yourself.  (See the next postings for analysis and personal notes.)

We spent twenty-four days total away from our home, although we spent about seven days getting there and back: one day from Vancouver to Seattle (via Bellingham to pick up The Niece), one night to Frankfurt, one day in Frankfurt, one night to Johannesburg, one day drive to Botswana, and then the reverse (except we flew to Jo’burg instead of driving).

The Safari

The centerpiece of the trip was a seven-night/eight day overland (i.e. driving) safari with Chobezi, camping for one or two nights in one place, then driving to the next interesting place. We travelled in a group of eight: us three, two Belgian men in their early twenties, one guide/driver, and one cook.

We found and booked the trip online (and when I say “we”, I mean “Jim”), with what turned out to be a South African booking agency.  This meant that we knew very little about what the safari would be like.  We knew where we would be stopping, and we knew that we were going overland and camping in tents with foam matresses, but that was all we knew.  We knew so little that we even had trouble rendezvousing with Chobezi at the pickup point!

We camped at four places: at Serondela and Savute Marshe in the Chobe National ParkMoremi Game Reserve, and an island in the Okavongo Delta.

A typical “moving” day would have us get up around 0630h, eat breakfast, pack our gear, tents, and sleeping rolls, wait for the guide and cook to pack everything else (they turned down help), and drive to the next site, looking for game along the way.  We’d set up our tents and bedrolls, then take a siesta, sunbathe, hang out, whatever, until about 1630h, when we’d do an evening game drive before dinner.  A non-“moving” day would be the same except that we’d go for a game drive early in the morning and not tear down/set up camp or drive to the next site.

We rode around in a “safari car” or “safari truck” — a converted Land Cruiser with elevated bench seats.  The truck we used on our safari has five seats plus some storage in the back, plus it hauled a trailer full of stuff when we moved camp.  I believe most safaris rely more heavily on airplanes to get people from one place to another; I don’t recall seeing another safari car with storage.

Safari Car

Our safari car

Here are some other safari cars:

Some other companies' safari trucks

Some other companies' safari trucks

The tents were quite big.  The Niece and I could stand up in them.

Ducky Standing up in tent

Ducky Standing up in tent

I had never seen bedrolls these before: they were relatively thick foam matresses, with sheets, pillow, and a comforter placed on them, that we could zip up and roll up.


Bedrolls unfurlled (L) and in bondage (R)

Bedrolls rolled up

Bedrolls rolled up

The tents and bedrolls were heavy, but because we were car camping, it didn’t matter.

Camp hygiene

The camp had a it latrine with a toilet seat frame over it, and canvas walls set up around it. Jim once commented that in terms of value per ounce, the toilet seat was way, way up there!

Next to our tents they put little canvas bags that served as wash basins.  Every morning, they would put hot water in the basins for us to wash with.  That was really nice!

We also didn’t realize it until near the end, but we had a shower available as well.  Apparently the first day, our guide asked me if I wanted a shower.  “Maybe later”, I said, and he waited for me but I never got around to asking.  I don’t remember this: probably I thought he was kidding.  (A shower?  While camping?)

At our second stop (at Savute Marsh), we stayed in a campground, with hot showers and sinks and flush toilets and everything.  They also had neat washbasins with built-in washboards, so clearly you were allowed (encouraged?) to wash your laundry in the sink.

There were probably twenty campsites at the Savute Marsh campground, filled mostly with self-driving South Africans. You would think that would impede the wildlife viewing, but in fact did not, as you will read about in my elephants post.

Camp food/cooking

Cooking was done on an open fire.  They brought along something that looked like an iron coffee table, and put that over the fire.

Kitchen facilities

Kitchen facilities

Breakfast consisted of cold cereal, tea, porridge (oatmeal), and fruit.  On moving days, lunch was usually sandwiches (cold cuts), potato salad, and fruit.  Dinner was always a hot meal, with a meat course, starch (potatos, rice, or “pap” — sort of corn/maize porridge), and a vegetable dish (e.g. carrots and potatos).  The food was really, really yummy — the cook did a great job.

Jim and I normally try to eat vegetarian, with Jim being better at sticking to his values than I.  I wimped out and ate the meat in Botswana because it was just easier.  (Jim had told the South African booking company that we were vegetarians, but that piece of information never got to the guides.) Jim just didn’t eat the meat for a few days.  The cook and guide noticed, and asked Jim, who said that he preferred to not eat meat.

The next day, the cook announced that “for the man who does not eat meat, I fixed something special.”  With a flourish, he revealed… chicken!  (In many languages, “meat” means “mammal meat”.)  Faced with that level of attentiveness and care to his needs, Jim (sigh) ate the chicken.

Mokoro camp

For our last two days, we said goodbye to our driver (although we kept our cook) and went out to an island in the Okavango Delta by boat(s).  First we took a speedboat to the Boro village, where we transferred to mokoros — poled dugout canoes — for a two-hour water voyage to our camp.

Getting ferried by what are essentially African gondolas sounds very romantic.  The reality was less so.  The boats were very tippy, so you had to be careful about shifting around.  The seats were basically institutional plastic chairs with no legs, just dropped into the boat, so weren’t that comfortable.  We went there in the afternoon and came back in the morning — and the camp was west, so we had the sun in our eyes both times.  Perhaps because it has been an extremely wet year, there were thousands of gnats, which hovered right at sitting-person-level.  To catch the gnats, many water spiders built webs right at sitting-person-level.  (Note: neither the gnats nor the spiders bit.  They were just annoying.)

Gnats during Mokoro ride

Gnats during Mokoro ride

One of the Belgian youths turned his seat around so that the back of his head caught the gnats and spiders, and the sun was not in his eyes.  That would have been much more pleasant.  Going out in the morning and back in the afternoon would have also been more pleasant.

We went on a game walk on the island, something that we couldn’t do elsewhere.  In other areas, we had been pretty much stapled to the truck because of the small but real danger from lions.  While we did get a safety lecture before our walk on what to do if we encountered lions, hippos, snakes, or wildebeests, I presume that the dangerous animals are rare on that island.  (We did not see any lions, hippos, or snakes, and the wildebeest were a long way away.)

It was nice to get some exercise, and we saw larger herds of animals than we did from the safari truck.  (The truck is noisy.  It can’t really sneak up on a herd the way we could on foot.)  However, we couldn’t get as close on foot, in part because of the need to be stealthy, in part for safety reasons.  While we saw lions from several meters (and in one case, ONE meter, see below) from the truck, on the walk we were usually more like 500m or 100m from herbivores.

Lion hidden from truck behind bush.

One example of how close we got in the truck

We also didn’t see much on the walk that we hadn’t already seen from the truck, aside from an aardvark den (a hole in the sand).

The locals who guided or poled us to the island did sing and dance for us on the second night, and we got a mini-tour of their village, and that part was nice.  Aside from that, however, I could have done without the Okavongo Delta part of the tour.


We spent several days in Gaborone (“Gabs”), the capital.  We ran out to tour the diamond mine in Jwaneng the day after we landed (since the mine only gives tours on Fridays). The mine could have been any heavy equipment plant in North America, except that the second language was Setswana and not Spanish (US) or French (Canada) and there were two more baboons than I would have expected in North America.

Ducky looking out over open-pit diamond mine

Ducky looking out over open-pit diamond mine

We spent the weekend wandering around Gaborone — checking email, letting Katie run on a treadmill at a gym, shopping for things the airlines ban, buying local GSM chips for our cell phones, trying and failing to find local maps, wandering around shopping malls and bazaars — and waiting for our friend B.  We were supposed to leave Gabs on Sunday, but our friend B. sadly had to go to a funeral on Sunday, so we had an extra day in Gabs.

We were going to go to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Serowe, but because of the funeral, we had to cut something, so we cut the rhinos.  We found out later that our friend B. is from Serowe; had we realized that, we would have cut something else.

Serowe is also the hometown of Sir Seretse Khama, the first president of Botswana.  Botswana is, unlike its neighbours, a bastion of peace and (relative) prosperity, in large part due to this one amazing man.  Please pause now and read his Wikipedia entry before going on to my next Africa journal blog posting.

1 Comment »

  1. Best Webfoot Forward » Africa journal part 3: people said,

    August 17, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    […] also part 1 and part 2 of my Africa […]

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