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The chill of evening came just after a burnt-orange and indigo sundown. It is that kind of cold that gets in your bones - and it only gets worse when the jackals call to each other in the distance. The millions of stars in the milky way above seem just above head height. It feels as if you could pick them like buffalo thorn berries - but they would prick your fingers and draw blood if you tried.
The wood for the fire was collected during the day and we met no other car or person all day. Looking around cautiously for predators, we cut and dragged the logs to the camp. We saw only Gemsbuck, Springbuck and vast open spaces.
Johan and Oom Koos share a joke and Kobus turns the venison boerewors on the coals. A good Cape Merlot fills my glass and the fire throws sparks heavenward and warms my cold feet.
Freedom. Wilderness. Friendship. Africa.
We left South Africa early the previous Saturday and slept over at Mopipi. The water leaked in Kobus’ trailer and their clothing and sleeping bags were wet and freezing cold.
All that night, the lions roared and the jackals called close by. After that, the border post at Kopfontein, then Gaberone, Metsimothlabe, Mokgopeetsane, Molepole, Lethlakeng, Kudumelapje and through the gate at Khutse, our last stop for water.
Here in the Central Kalahari, Change is sweeping through an ancient way of life like the restless, bitter wind that scatters sand and pierces sun-soaked days in the Kalahari Desert. The Bushmen of southern Africa have hunted and foraged here for thousands of in the endless savannah. Now, as then, this diminutive, nomadic people are tied unrelentingly to the land and age-old skills of hunting and foraging.
We saw none of them in the vastness.
We spend our first night at Moreswe after 60 kilometers or so on sandy roads in the park.
Today I sit on top of the African Expedition pickup with my Canon and try to absorb in the overwhelming sense of vast space around me. Kobus is driving like he’s late for a meeting and next to me my friend Johan chats non-stop, a cold Heineken in his hand and a wide smile on his face.
He slaps me on the back every so often to emphasise a point or to make sure I get a joke. We talk about God, family, friends and Africa. He laughs at some of my answers, gives me some eland biltong made by Oom Koos and passes me another beer.
Those of you with the cushy high-pressure, highly-paid management jobs: you don’t know what stress is and how much we really suffer.
Yep, life certainly is tough in Africa.
Travel in Botswana
Citizens of 67 countries, including Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US, do NOT require a visa. For citizens of other nations, a visa must be obtained prior to arrival. As of February 2009, a visa from the Botswana embassy in Washington costs US$107; for more information and a complete list of countries which do/don’t require visas, see:http://www.botswanaembassy.org//index.php?page=visa-consular.
Botswana’s main airport is Sir Seretse Khama in Gaborone. Most flights arriving in Botswana are from Johannesburg in South Africa. (There are no international flights besides South Africa and Zimbabwe.) The airport in Maun can also be reached via Johannesburg or Gaborone. The distance between Gaborone and Maun - a wildlife tourism attraction spot - is more than 1000km.
Trains to/from South Africa have been withdrawn since 1999. A rail link runs from to and from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe was due to be started in April 2006, but was delayed. The present state of this service is unknown (which was to be operated by National Railways of Zimbabwe), especially since Botswana Railways stopped the last domestic passenger service in April 2009.
There are several entry points by road to Botswana: In the south at Gaborone, providing access from Johannesburg; in the west providing access from Namibia; the north providing access from Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe; and at Francistown in the east, providing access from Harare. All road access is good and the primary roads within Botswana are paved and well maintained.
Coming from Namibia, you can either go north to Maun, or south along the Trans-Kalahari Highway to Lobatse.
There is a regular bus service from Johannesburg to Gaborone, which takes six hours. There is also service from Windhoek, Namibia via the Caprivi Strip which will drop you in Chobe National Park, in northern Botswana. There is also bus service from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. See Intercape Mainliner for information on service from Namibia and Zimbabwe. Private shuttles ran until 2004 from Windhoek directly to Maun and in late 2005, such a service was starting up again.
Through a combination of coaches, combies and trains, you can get anywhere in Botswana without any trouble, though public transport is spotty away from big cities and major axes but hitchhiking is popular and very easy. However, hitchhiking should only be done in desperate circumstances, as Botswana driving is often very erratic and it can be a harrowing experience to have a stranger drive you somewhere. It is advisable to arrive at the bus station quite early, as the busses do fill up quickly, and it is not uncommon to spend several hours standing in the aisle waiting for a seat to free up (remember to bring water, as the buses are often not air conditioned).
The roads are paved and well maintained, so travel by car is also not a problem, provided that one keeps a close eye out for the cows, donkeys and goats that spend much time in the middle of the road.
The Trans-Kalahari Highway is an old cattle route, now newly paved and easily drivable with a 2-wheel drive. It runs from Lobatse to Ghanzi in Botswana, making the connection from Windhoek, Namibia to Gaborone, Botswana.
It is a long and uneventful drive, but you get a good feel for the Kalahari Desert. Fuel is available in Kang at the Kang Ultra Shop, which also offers a respectable selection of food, overnight chalets, and inexpensive camping.
There are many bus companies in Botswana. One of the biggest is Seabalo. From Gaborone you can travel by bus to any bigger city in Botswana.
Botswana Railways operates Botwana’s railways. The main line goes from Lobatse, near the South African border, via Gaborone to Francistown at the Zimbabwean border. However, effective April 1, 2009, all passenger services have been withdrawn.
The language of business in Botswana is English and most people speak it, although in the more rural areas many people do not speak English, particularly the older generations. The primary indigenous tongue is Setswana, and is the mother tongue of the overwhelming majority of the population. It is not difficult to learn basic greetings and such, and using these in conversation will make people very happy.
Setswana- Hello – Dumela (Dumela Rra- pronounced borra - when addressing men, Dumela Mma- pronounced bomma- when addressing women)
Botswana’s currency is the Pula; 100 Thebe = 1 Pula. In Setswana, pula means "rain" and thebe means "shield." Rough conversions are 5:1 (USD) 6:1 (EUR), 10:1 (GBP) and 1:1.3 (South African Rand).
Most of the accommodation establishments in Botswana are located near the larger towns and cities, but there are also many secluded game lodges tucked away in the wilderness areas.
People in Botswana are very friendly and the crime rate is low. Nevertheless, crime has been on the rise over the past several years, so always be aware of your surroundings. Basic common sense will keep you safe from the predatory wildlife in rural areas.
Botswana’s HIV infection rate, estimated at 24.1%, is the 2nd highest reported in the world. Exercise regular universal precautions when dealing with any bodily fluid and remain aware of this high rate of infection. Take precautions accordingly. Wear rubber gloves when dressing someone else’s cut, even if they are a child - and unless you have a death wish, NEVER, EVER HAVE UNPROTECTED SEX. If you form a serious relationship, you had both better get an HIV test before taking things further.
The northern part of Botswana, including Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta is in a malaria zone, so it is advisable to take the relevant precautions.
Seek medical advice before traveling to these areas. The drinking water is safe in urban areas unless otherwise indicated.
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