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Botswana Botswana Explorer’s route 2018: What could possibly go wrong?


Peter Connan
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Preamble:

 

Just more than a year ago, a friend from a 4x4 club invited me on a guided journey through Botswana. It looked really interesting, and the prices were very reasonable (which is rare for guided trips), but I already had a trip on for that period, and so did he.

However, he contacted the guide and arranged a special trip, and then invited me again. This time I couldn’t say no!

This trip would be a major departure from my normal modus operandi. Normally, I travel alone or with a small band of friends, and normally I am the primary planner. This time we would be in a fairly large group. We also normally do our own catering, whereas this time the guide would be responsible for most of the food (we were required to cater for four breakfast/brunches and four evenings and snacks along the way, as well as all our own drinks. Another departure was that we would leave the kids at home, and take Alex (@xelas) instead.

The purpose of the trip was to see areas of Botswana not many people see, and to drive roads less travelled. The guide specified that only serious 4x4 vehicles should be considered and that trailers would not be allowed. In short, we were going to look for just a little bit of trouble…

The proposed route looked like this:

 

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Within two days of the trip being advertised within our club, it was fully booked. The group would consist of 10 Nissan Patrols and whatever the guide arrived in. We were to meet up with the guide at the Sikwane border post at 09h00 on the morning of the 29th of April. The Patrols would meet up at the Wimpy in the town of Swartruggens at 06h00.

 

Preparations started months in advance. Most of the vehicles had more than two occupants, some as many as five. We had to carry enough fuel for 800km of tough 4x4 going and food and water for at least four days. Combine this with accommodation as we would be wild-camping all the way, and it becomes a sizeable load, and finding room for it all was quite a challenge. Apart from this, vehicles had to be serviced and preparations had to be made for forging. As the day of departure came closer, reports of more and more heavy rain in most of the areas we would be travelling through came flooding in.

Edited by Peter Connan
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Day1:

 

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The road to Swartruggens was already quite a challenge. Quite a lot of mist and surprisingly heavy traffic made for a tiring drive, but from there we would start taking dirt roads.

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A "comfort break" on the road between Swartruggens and the border

 

We arrived at the border with time to spare, and after clearing the formalities we formed up 100m up the road, for the first of many morning briefings. Most of us had met JJ (the guide) at one of the three preparatory meetings, but now we also met his son Justin and Piet, chief cook and bottle-washer.

Our first target was the town of Mochudi, where we were to fill up with fuel and buy whatever supplies we needed. And pretty much immediately upon entering the town, the wheels started falling off. Somebody neglected to follow the convoy rule (always keep the guy behind you in sight), and the group got split in two. The filling station we were looking for was not on anybody’s GPS and by the time we realised we were in trouble, the radios were out of range. After a fair amount of rushing around like headless chickens, we managed to find the rest of the group, and the filling station. At the shops, we lost more time.

 

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Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah

 

Our next destination was the “kaplyn” heading up the Eastern border of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. “Kaplyn” translates directly as “chop-line”. Basically, Botswana is criss-crossed with these. They normally consist of a fence (though not always) and a “road”, often just a track, serving as border between two areas. Sometimes they are used for veterinary control (this one was, and thus there was a fence, and the ubiquitous foot-and-mouth-disease road-block on the A1), and sometimes they are used as patrol routes for the army during anti-poaching operations. Often, they double as a fire-break, with a wide band being cleared. After a false start, we found the right track and headed North.\

 

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The cutline

 

Immediately we were in soft sand, and the speed dropped down to 20-30km/h. T

 

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"skilpad", the other Alex's car, cresting a small rise.

 

he intention ahd been to reach the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, but by 16h00 we were nearing the village of Lephephe, a good 80km short of the CKGR, and it would be many miles before we would find another suitable camping spot, so we pulled up in a line just off the road and made camp for our first night.

 

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Rough camp

 

At least this gave Alex and me a chance to go looking for birds. We walked down the road, seeing almost nothing, but the moment we turned away from the road the bush came alive with birds. By now the light was pretty dim as the clouds came over and we struggled to get close, but we saw several beautiful birds.

 

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White-backed Vulture

 

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Golden-breasted Bunting

 

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Crimson-breasted Shrike

 

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Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler

 

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Violet-eared and Blue Waxbills

 

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Violet-eared Waxbil

 

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Marico Sunbird

 

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European Bee-eater

 

As we walked back, we planned to set up a watering point in the morning…

 

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Full moon rising

 

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Weather closing in.

 

Sonja and I decided to sleep on the ground, so after dinner (provided by Piet and JJ) we rolled out a ground sheet, retrieved our sleeping bag and pillows from the rooftop-tent and spread out the car’s awning. Alex opted for the security of his tent, as it was likely that there were scorpions about.

 

 

Edited by Peter Connan
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An opportunity that doesn't come around often - I am very keen to read this one. Thanks Peter - and also for the photos, they really add to the story. 

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@Peter Connan what a fun trip, looking forward to reading and seeing more of your adventure when you have time.

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@Peter Connan A safari that goes back to it's expedition roots! Enjoying so far and looking forward to more....

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It is such fun to rad about something one would never have the courage or the skill to attempt oneself! @Peter Connan but was @xelas more or less trouble than your kids?

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Excellent start - I always enjoy reading about these truly off the beaten path locations 

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Fantastic: what an adventure! Love reading about these undertakings, moreso when it involves a couple of Safaritalkers hooking up and doing it together. Looking forward to more @Peter Connan and @xelas. I think the only thing that would have made this better...

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Is if I had been invited to come along as well... ;)

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Thanks for all the kind comments.

@Towlersonsafari, answering that question would be risking household strife.

 

@Game Warden, my sincerest apologies.Seems like i may need to invest in a 4x4 bus...

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1 hour ago, Towlersonsafari said:

It is such fun to rad about something one would never have the courage or the skill to attempt oneself! @Peter Connan but was @xelas more or less trouble than your kids?

 

According to my wife, I am one big kid myself :D. Big kids ... big troubles :P. As I was not left somewhere in the bush, I recon I have behaved well enough :o ...

Edited by xelas
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1 hour ago, Game Warden said:

Is if I had been invited to come along as well... ;)

 

No invitations have been handled out ... but for details you will have to wait a bit longer ...

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Judging by one of the photos in Post #2, not everyone left their kids behind. Or was that just a condition of Alex coming along?

 

This looks like a lot of fun. Just like the trips I guide in the Outback of Western Australia - except your tracks look a little less travelled.

More please.

 

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2 hours ago, xelas said:

 

According to my wife, I am one big kid myself :D. Big kids ... big troubles :P. As I was not left somewhere in the bush, I recon I have behaved well enough :o ...

 

So next time you visit me - I can put you up with the kids..... :)

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This sounds like a great trip, although I would never attempt it myself. What could possibly go wrong? I can't wait to hear about it :)

 

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Wow - what an adventure!     Already some nice bird photos. 

 

I will have to check but your route brings to mind Nicholas Luard's epic journey he recounted in The Last Wilderness: A Journey Across the Great Kalahari Desert."

 

 

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A great start to the report. I will enjoy reading your report of a trip I would never attempt!

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Thank you @xyz99 , @offshorebirder. and @TonyQ

 

Nate, parts of the route was inspired by Livingstone, but due to "modern" factors, we couldn't follow the route exactly.

 

@Soukous, most of the participants did bring their children. I thought this trip would be too much driving and too little relaxing for the kids to enjoy. The fact that a number of the guys have said that, if they did something like this again, it would be without their families kind-of justifies that belief.

 

I would love to join one of your Australian adventures.

 

@xelas and @Elsa Hoffmann:lol:

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6 hours ago, Peter Connan said:

Seems like i may need to invest in a 4x4 bus...

 

If you do, I'm sure you'll have a waiting list of eager Safaritalkers for your next trip :)

 

 

 

Something like this will do the trick :)

 

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A nice place to start @Game Warden!

A single row of seats per side, with opening windows and built-in gimbal mounts, and roof-top-tents on top, and we're cookin' with gas!

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If interested, I have 24 years of connection with this producer :D!

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As it has become popular on Safaritalk, also this trip report will be a joint/shared effort to show you all facets of this incredibly adventure. Peter should  subtitle his posts with From driver seat; and I will subtitle my posts with From passenger seat. I sincerely hope we will keep our threads interesting, different, and enjoyable for all of you readers!

 

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That big safari bus looks like something @graynomad built!

 

 

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Preamble:

 

Everyone who has met Peter knows he is a kind ans soft soul; when he sent me that email on 26th of January 2017 (yes, I have remembered the date!) I have shamelessly exploited yhis qualities to push my way into an extraordinary adventure! And I am not sorry for doing so :P.

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Day 1 (29th March):

 

 

The day started really early, specially for me after having only a couple of hours of so so sleep on the plane the previous night. Up at 2 am and off at 3 am. This is the Team A(dventure):

 

from right to left Sonja, Peter and Alex

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I have napped most of the way so have nothing to add; only when the sun was up I have started to function properly ;). Some people came very prepared, with maps et all

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And our vehicle do looked mean and ready to chew up any type of the road we might encounter

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This trip was for the Nissan Patrol owners so a loud "Huhuuuum?!" was heard when JJ came with his vehicle. He asked everyone to be kind to his Hilux saying that also Toyotas have feelings :lol:!!

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There were driver's meetings every morning and every evening. Our first was right after we crossed the border with Botswana. In yellow shirt is Justin and in olive one the leader, JJ (and Justin's father). 

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Those meetings were very important for drivers and navigators; JJ usually started his speech with "Because we have a foreigner in our group, I will speak English ..." and after second sentence he switched to Afrikaans :blink:;

by the end of the trip I have understand the short version of his long speech "Our primary target is this location. If not possible then we are going to other location. In the evening we will camp. Watch your tail and Good Luck!"

 

 

Every gas station manager's wettest dream: to have 11 off-road equipped vehicles with double tanks and double jerry cans stopping at his station :D; these guys have probably closed the station after we have left ...

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Some participants have had also other agenda on their mind, as this guy:

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Once off the tar road the real fun begun. Just a track, a sandy one, yet for our group this one was like walk in the park 8or drive on the parking lot).

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Our first night stop, and first camping in the wild. Peter provided me with a really sturdy tent, a sleeping mat and a sleeping bag. And the shovel. But more about the shovel later on ...

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One thing JJ as tour leader was very strict about was the morning and the evening socialising around the fire. Although our group was quite big, I think in total there were 35 persons, these gatherings were held each day (weather permitted) and all have enjoyed them. Even me although again, most of the conversation was in Afrikaans.

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But after the setting up of the tents and sitting down around the fire, it was birding time for Peter and me. At least that was our original plan. Which showed some cracks already the next morning :(.

Anyway, this first evening we went around the camp. There I thought Peter was at my side the whole time. Now I can see he was birding in an entirely different universe :huh:; just look at the number of his birds posted above. This one is the only one that has qualified to make them company.

 

Brubru

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