When it rains, it pours: Botswana, Police & Flooding (Africa Part 1)

Since internet was sporadic and unreliable while traveling in Africa, I’m going to break down the trip into three posts. First up – our travels through Botswana!

After 30 hours of travel, Chris and I landed in Johannesburg, South Africa and were picked up by the owner of South Africa 4×4 (the company we were renting the Land Rover Defender from). We chose SA 4×4 because a) they had Land Rover Defenders to rent that they allowed into multiple countries, b) they provided all the necessary camping gear and c) they had the best reviews online. When we got to the shop, the set-up was great. It was a 2014 Defender equipped with a tent on the roof, sound system, a couple jerry cans for extra fuel, sleeping bags, pillows, pots, pans – literally ALL the necessary camping gear, right down to seasoning and olive oil to get us started, and of course the breakdown & safety equipment – spare tire, jack, air compressor, tire plugs, GPS, satellite phone, first aid kit, and fire extinguisher. It was incredible how well-equipped the truck was. I also need to add…driving a manual transmission with your left hand while trying to pay attention to driving on the left side of the road is quite the challenge!!

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Our Defender set-up! Chris Bennett Photo

We left around 1 pm and began our journey towards Bostwana. Around 4 we started looking for places to camp. Our GPS and maps had camp sites listed, so we found one along our route and made our way there. We arrive at the gate but are unable to open it – there is no way to call the site so we end up turning around and looking for another camp site. About 10km down the pavement and about 2 miles down a dirt road we came to our second option, but decided to find another one when the entrance gate noted that it was a nudist area! Finally we got to a town and opted for a guesthouse. We drive up and are greeted by a woman and pay 500 rand (around $45 USD) to stay the night. It was a nice, quiet house that we had all to ourselves (guesthouses are popular in Africa and rent out individual rooms in a larger bunk house). As soon as our heads hit the pillows we were out.

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The nudist camping area!

The next day was our first border crossing – into Botswana. It took about an hour, and we had to get our passports stamped in South Africa first to leave, then cross into Botswana and go through immigration and customs there. Botswana was the only country where we had to pay a customs charge to enter (around $13 USD). Our first night camping was at Khama Rhino Sanctuary. We arrive, set up camp in a hurry and are almost immediately down-poured on. It was an impressive thunder and lightning storm – the sky lighting up constantly and thunder booming so loud we could hardly hear ourselves think. The tent held up surprisingly well – we stayed completely dry throughout the torrential downpours. We did have a couple visitors in the night that we heard scurrying around… one a warthog and the other was likely some sort of wild dog. The following day was spent driving around the Rhino Sanctuary – the Defender did wonderfully –  made the 4×4 requirement feel like a piece of cake! The rhinos were a ways off the road so were hard to see, but there were hundreds of zebra, ostriches, a giraffe, springbok and more!

Our plan was to make our way through the parks in Botswana – the Makgadikgadi Pans, Okavango Delta and up to Chobe National Park and then up to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, at every site we stopped at our plans were thwarted with talk of flooding, closed parks and impassible roads. The amount of rain Botswana received this year was unprecedented, and we couldn’t have planned for it – as no one knew anything about other parks and websites didn’t provide updated information. We had to go to these places to learn they were closed or nearly impassible.

On our route to one of the closed areas, just outside the entrance to a diamond mine, we were ‘hailed’ over for speeding. Literally, the police had a camera set up and would run into the road and wave you down when you got close to them. We had to pay the fine on the spot (about 400 Bostwana Pula). We only had South African Rand, so the officer did a ‘guess-timate’ in his head and settled on 500 Rand (about $40 USD). It ended up being a fairly entertaining stop – the officers were friendly, helpful, and we chatted with them for a bit about our travels. They were the second people who said to be cautious if going to Zimbabwe, as in addition to constant and unnecessary road blocks, the police will pull you over and fine you on the spot for silly things – like your tire pressure being too low or your car being too dirty.

Needless to say, we were feeling a little defeated and very stir crazy. We had been in the car for 4 days and not seen a whole lot because of all the closures. We didn’t want to get to Zimbabwe and be even more annoyed by the hassle from the cops, so we decided to head west instead and go into Namibia.

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