We awoke the next morning, clearly not having been murdered by our host. We packed the roof tent up and set off straight away. We had a mission in Maun and were way behind schedule. The plan was to go and pick up the entrance permits for the campsites in Moremi, get the car looked at and stack up on groceries for the next 4 days. We would then head off to Moremi (another apparent long drive despite hardly any distance, due to the road conditions) and camp 2 nights in the south of the park before driving north into Chobe for another 2 nights and then on to Kasane. All of our campsites had to be booked in advance but for some reason you couldn’t just print off a confirmation and turn up; you had to go to the camp’s offices in Maun, register and collect your permits. We were informed we could just turn up to the national park office and sort all out there. How wrong we were. Bear in mind we were on a very tight schedule and were aiming to be rolling out of the town by 10am. When we got to the park office to enquire about the permits we were informed we would have to go to another office, she couldn’t give us an entrance permit to the parks unless we had a confirmed reservation at the campgrounds and to get that we would have to go to their office, oh but they each had a different office – great!
So we drove off in search of the 1st one, unsuccessfully, turning around on numerous occasions until after about half an hour we realised it was in the back of a building hidden behind a bank. Andy got to work while I went and changed some of our Namibian cash. Eventually we were sorted. Next we got the car looked at while I headed to the supermarket (the other camp office didn’t open until 9 and we couldn’t waste a single minute). I stacked up on sausages, biltong, meat and more meat; Nige got filled up with fuel and we jumped back in ready to hit the office. Unfortunately, we got stuck behind the whole of Botswana on their way to church. Of course, it was Sunday morning! We were lucky to have moved 300m over the next half an hour but eventually we spotted the office on the right. We pulled in, sorted out our reservations (very expensive I will add) and made the call not to bother heading back to get permits; we would just get them on entry into the park since we had enough cash. It was now 9:30 – we had succeeded in the mission, so we decided to fill our bellies with breakfast at one of the cafes in the Lonely Planet’s recommended Motsana Arts cafe on the way, which even had wifi! We knocked back the most delicious breakfast, updated family, friends and the world with our adventures thus far and then said goodbye to modern life as we headed off for the wilderness.
Well…this was where the real adventure began! So off we headed on a sand track, pleasantly surprised by the ease of the driving conditions. We must have been going a few hours when we spotted some amazing wildlife in the form of antelope and ostriches. The scenery of the Okovango Delta is unlike Namibia, in that it doesn’t really change at all. Wide expanses of flat land covered in reeds and rushes; interspersed with trees spread as far as the eye can see. Who knows what lies in those grasses. We had to traverse through some flooded ground, not too bad really before we reached the entrance to the park. Here we bought our permits and enjoyed a chat with the ranger, who was very keen to help us. We bought a new map, from which he indicated the routes we needed to take today and once we left due to the closure of those we originally wanted to take. Rain was forecast and he was unsure if they would have recovered or not. He was extremely helpful but did little to curb my concerns about the travelling over the next few days; taking detours meant covering more ground and we were already struggling to cover the distance we planned for within the hours of daylight. With trepidation, on my part, we ventured on.
“Oh if we break down or get stuck, does someone come along and check the route at the end of the day?” I enquired; jumping into the car.
“No. But this is a very busy route.” Came the response. Hmm, (looking into the deserted landscape) I thought. So far we had seen no other vehicle all day and there were no other names on the log book. We were pretty much heading into the park at the last possible time in order to get there before the campsite gates closed.
The next couple of hours were quite uneventful: the odd deep puddle that we had to get out of the car to inspect, but otherwise it wasn’t too bad.
I was just contemplating how successful the day had been, a smile on my face, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed a huge creature sat in the track enjoying the sun.
“ANDY!” I screamed. He slowed down to a halt. “You just..I mean…you just missed a lion’s paw by about 1cm. You just nearly ran over a MALE lion!” Obviously my adrenalin levels had taken on new heights. I had seen a lioness on safari in South Africa before, after tracking down for about 3 days. But here, in broad daylight, in the middle of the track just sat there was a huge male lion! I just couldn’t believe it. My heart was pounding. Andy had not even noticed it!
“Let’s drive back and have a closer look” he suggested. I was unsure. I thought we should just soak up the experience and not interfere with nature. He started reversing.
“Wow!” He exclaimed, looking in the wing mirror. “I want to get a photo; I’m going to turn around slowly.”
We stared through the mud splattered windscreen at the magnificent beast and took a moment. It was just incredible and we couldn’t believe how lucky we were to be so close to this beautiful creature. The photographs just weren’t doing him any justice: dappled with mud flicks all over the glass, so I hesitantly wound the window down and got my zoom lens on the case. I leant out and managed to get a much closer look at him. He was totally unperturbed by our presence. Having taking a few shots we decided it was time to leave him to his peace. Andy began a 20 point turn and there…right where I had been hanging out of the window, right next to where my head and arm had been, was his big brother!!! Just sat there under the trees. I never thought to look around for any others when I stupidly hung out of the open window! Hearts racing is an understatement, mine was doing a 100m Olympic sprint finish!
We drove on to the campsite arriving at the ranger station in around two minutes. We informed them of our run in with the local wildlife – they seemed totally unbothered. They comforted us with the fact that there were NO gates/fences to the campground but not to worry the lions would leave us alone. Jeepers! “Oh, but do make sure that you do not go to the bathroom on foot in the night. You will need to drive there if you have to go.” Considering that would mean stepping out of the roof tent into the dark night and packing the whole thing up in order to drive to the toilet, we weren’t so sure this option was favourable. Instead we opted for a 4l empty water bottle to empty our bladders into (via a mug from which I could funnel it more easily, in my case). Such rules were enforced after a young boy was tragically killed by hyenas in 2000.
Xakanaxa campsite is not really a campsite at all, well not in the usual sense of the word. It is more an empty strip of land with a building (the bathroom) and bins demarcating the different pitches. Ours was a grassy spot backed onto by reeds and looking out over the expanse of grasses. It was pure wilderness and it was great. In the distance we would spot the odd elephant meandering along, but other than them and a few 4wds carrying tourists to the lodge up the track, we appeared to be the only inhabitants of this area other than the wildlife.
We set up camp and decided an early dinner and bed would be necessary here. We did not fancy sitting about in the dark with who knows what watching us from the rushes. On our way to take a shower we came across human life; a couple from the Netherlands who had just arrived from the north end of the national park. They were keen to hear about our route in as they were off the way in the morning, and us to find out how the road north was. It was clear that this was not an even exchange: they left the conversation pretty happy about the easy ride back to Maun, whilst we were made aware of the boggy, flooded conditions which had lead to them being stuck for hours and part of their vehicle falling off. Excellent! They gave us a few tips, such as removing the spare tyre from under the truck and sticking it in the boot to give better clearance, told us about how a bull elephant had ventured into their campsite earlier and just mooched about while the woman was sat there frozen still until it moved on and then wished us luck.
That evening we cooked up a meaty feast, headed into the tent come dark and snuggled in for the night ahead; an orchestra of crickets and grunting hippos lulling us into sleep…well Andy slept!