Sunday, 20 December 2009

Botswana

Crossing the border from Zambia to Botswana involves: getting off the truck, filling in a form, getting an exit stamp in your passport, getting back on the truck, driving a few hundred metres, getting off the truck, bribing a ferryman (to get us to the front of the ferry queue), waiting for 40 minutes or so, getting on to a dodgy looking open-topped vehicle ferry, sitting on the ferry for 20 minutes as it crosses the Zambezi, getting off the ferry taking with you 2 pairs of shoes (they know that mzungos have more than one pair), filling in another form, getting an entry stamp, walking through a tray of disinfectant (to prevent foot and mouth), dipping your second pair of shoes in the tray then finally getting on the bus again. On a good day, the process takes about 2 hours; on a bad day, it can take up to 7!

Botswana is quite different to any of the other countries we’ve been to: 84% of the country is in fact desert – the Kalahari Desert. Desert is defined by rainfall and can take many forms so, whilst the Sahara is made up mostly of vertiginous sand dunes; the Khalahari Desert is actually pancake flat and covered in acacia scrub.

As we drove through northern Botswana, what became immediately evident was the almost complete lack of villages or small communities. Between the large towns are just miles and miles of acacia scrub spreading in every direction as far as the eye can see with little evidence of human life. Large areas are fenced off as game ranches where wealthy Americans come to hunt during the hunting season which starts in March and lasts for six months of the year. The roads are long and straight, criss-crossing the desert at perfect angles. Alongside the roads are dustbins bearing cartoon images and the words ‘feed me’ painted across them – the first attempt I’ve seen at keeping a country rubbish free.

When you reach a town, you get the sense that Botswana has moved further ahead than many of its neighbours; the houses here are brick with tin roofs and many have individual satellite dishes. In Maun we drove past a fantastic sports complex that was kitted out with all the mod cons including flood lighting; even the prison was smartly built and well kept.

Maun is a hotspot for tourism: it’s the gateway to the game reserves, the luxury hunting lodges and the unique natural wonder of the Okavango Delta. The Okavango Delta is unlike any other delta on earth in that it’s the only river delta that doesn’t head out to sea but instead spreads out like tendrils across the Kalahari Desert only to disappear.

As a delta in the middle of a desert the Okavango Delta attracts wildlife from miles around who thrive off the 18,000sq km of water and reed beds. It’s a unique ecosystem that attracts tourists in equal measure.
The evening we arrived in Maun, we set up camp then cooked enough mince to feed us for two days. The following day we were heading into the Delta to bush camp with no facilities so preparation was key.

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