Comments received by email

Stephan de Lange  sent this email

Date:

Wed, 28 Nov 2007 7:17 pm

Excellent trip report. During Sept. and Oct. 07 I did a solo trip of 28 days in Botswana, mainly Sua Pan and Lekhubu Island, Green and Chapman’s Baobab, Savute, Kwai Concession , Moremi and Tsodilo Hills.

One item missing in your report however is the “technical” asspects of the fuel consumption of the Land Rover. You mentioned that you bought a 2nd Jerry can (metal fuel container made famous by the Germans during the 2nd World War and the Americans gave it the name). Did you ever used it? Pouring fuel from the can be a story on its own! Was the Land Rover a diesel or petrol version?

 

The Sand Ridge Road can be a problem especially if you encounter game or animals along the route, then you can get stuck very easily or if you encounter traffic from the front. Fortunately I never got stuck in the any of the parks but recovered several vehicles. My Land Rover’s tyres were down to 0.8 BAR and I did have an electrical as well as a mechanical air-pump to inflate once back on “normal” or tar roads.

 

I would like to comment regarding guidebooks in general: Although many are written by people who visited some of the places, there is also a tendency of sharing information among authors, readers and Internet. I made the discovery recently where the exact paragraphs of information – road conditions and directions – where in three different guidebooks and all where wrong! What you did is an example of proper planning BEFORE arriving in Botswana. Well done.

 

Travelers to Botswana should not only rely on Veronica Roodt’s Shell maps of Botswana and her maps of the various parks either. In general these maps are very good but some of the tracks on earth does not appear on her maps and there are many GPS waypoints that is wrong. It is however one of the best road maps of Botswana.

 

Private lodges in Botswana. Boy, can I comment on this subject! I once had the luxury to visit several of these as a guest but will never do it again. The amount of money spend did not justify the experience. These lodges are for those who can report back home that they were in Africa! Although nice to eat as much as possible, pay through your neck for any drinks and to go on game drives with other people does not give you the same experience as to do it yourself or with a private guide. You experienced both as well as the “dark-side” of lodge keepers!

 

Let me just inform other readers: the guide and/or driver of a game view vehicle does not know where to find animals! He might know more than you because his eyes are more trained to look (not find) for animals than you. Certain animals do have behavior routes but they do break them as well!. Savute is apparently renowned for its packs of lions, colourful brochures, guidebooks advertise this, but they forgot that we are talking about wildlife and nature which are unpredictable. Pack of 30+ are mentioned to roam around Savute Camp and its nearby pumped waterhole.(Savute is not a park but the name of the campsite along the banks of the Savute river – dry. It is situated in south of the Chobe National Park).

 

This size of pack need a great amount of meat, e.g. Zebra, Blue Wildebeest and Buffalo which are not available during the “best” or winter season due to lack of grass and water, regardless of the waterhole. Rare sightings of huge packs will only be seen at the start of the raining season when food is very scares which creates a problem for many self-drive tourists – mud!

 

You were very fortuned to see any Lions around Savute, I only heard them at night but saw one lioness at a great distance lying under a tree on a self-drive game drive along the Marsh road. You made a comment to follow a game view vehicle; not a bad idea but you could have followed any other vehicle as long as the driver of said vehicle know how to look for animals otherwise you followed another “rookie” tourist!

 

My experience of safari operators – open vehicle operators – is a bad one and I feel sorry for the tourists that use them. They sit in the blazing heat, covered with power dust and rock and roll over the sandy tracks. Some of these drivers are Kamikaze pilots and their egos are the size of an Elephant. The smaller the group, the better they behave and pay more attention to detail. Few do assist self-drive tourists but that is not the norm as you experienced in Moremi.

 

Most of the lodges – private – belong to foreigners and very few to South Africans. Wilderness Safaris is a South Africa company with many lodges in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia and they are EXCLUSIVE. You as a self-drive tourist can not hope to get assistance from them when you in trouble – mechanical or provisions. Quite understandable as distances are great to get these and they want to provide them for their high paying guests. They also do not want their guests to come into contact with the “slep” of the earth – as said to me by a lodge manager! Many of the lodge managers or keepers are from South Africa but also from around the world. The owners pay a great amount of money for the exclusive right to any area to operate and will not tolerate others in that area, they will not assist other people with breakdowns either, which is sad. But what happens if they are in trouble! Personally I will assist, not to help the driver but to help the guests and WILL charge or WILL insist on a reward for my time!

 

People believe that these lodges are great for the economy of Botswana – not always! The hugh amount of concession fees go straight to the government and very little to the population. Very few jobs are created and only those around the lodge or nearby village will benefit selling curious or services to these tourists. You contributed to the economy of Botswana in a more positive way than these lodges by paying for food, fuel and accommodation (Nata).

 

But on the other side of the coin as you mentioned, trouble is on the horizon. By 2012 most of the lodge’s management must be in the hands of the locals and White man must go! I do not agree with this at all; I am a white South Africa, born in South Africa. My family dates back to the arrival of the French Huguenots and I also have the right to follow any occupation like a non-white, more precise; a black man. Do not get me wrong, there are good black managers BUT they are as scares like hen’s teeth! There are many stories and many examples where once fine lodges disappeared due to black management. One example is Le-Roo la Tau. During August 2007 this private concession area in Makgadikgadi National Park, changed hands. The lodge is owned by a consortium of local people, only the management was sold to a new White man. But, the campsite next to the lodge was supposed to belong to the local people of the nearby village. The income generated by this campsite went straight to the pockets of the local village but the locals – some of them did their training in Gaberone,  got tired to look after the campsite, to much work to keep it clean, to much work to plan for stocking-up their bar etc, etc. I’ve seen many community campsites go under and the main culprit is: laziness! Not only in Botswana but very visible in Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa! Another good example is the National Parks of Botswana. You mentioned the BUNKER for ablution at Savuti Camp and little about the ablution at Kwai Gate. The Bunker was build with foreign capital, originally had solar electricity and solar water pump. Today a great number of mirrors are gone or broken, the solar lights no longer work because the batteries are missing (stolen?) and the solar pump is replaced by a diesel generator paid and maintain by Savuti Elephant Lodge! The ranges do not range at all, they have only enough fuel to get to Kasane or to Maun to receive their monthly pay, collect provisions and to bank entrance fees. Maintenance of the roads does not happen neither do they remove fallen trees from the roads and new tracks are created – originally by them, followed by tourists. The campsites are terrible – conditions. You mentioned about the black soil at Savuti even getting under your nails. Well, the reason for this is wood ash and charcoal:

 

The Savuti camp and other campsites are supposed to be serviced daily. The main job is to REMOVE tourist’s ash and charcoal from the fire place; collect it and to be dumped at a nearby hole. No, they do not do this, they rake the ash from the fire place to the surrounding area. You can just imagine the amount of ash generated by thousands of tourists cumulating at the campsite where you pitch your tent! You do not see this practice at the nearby lodges. There they collect the ash and dump it in a hole to keep the surroundings clean. It is called proper management! Management of ash was done few years ago at Lekhubu (Kubu) Island along Sua Pan, but for the past three years no longer and suddenly the campsites are grey to black of all the ash!

 

Service in general. You had problems with your fridge which could have spoilt you holiday. Bad management from the company you used! But  backup service indeed and you paid a fortune on satellite phone calls.

 

You mentioned changing batteries in Kasane, but why? Firstly, after the rotten food in Savuti you managed to drive to Kasane, with a “dead” battery? Only the old Series III diesel engines was this possible as running of the engine did not require any electricity. Later models had a diesel injector pump that needed a small amount of current to keep the shutdown valve open. The same for later models, like the Defender 200 and 300 Tdi’s. Current Tdi5’s and recently released Ford engines require more electricity to run the onboard fuel management computers. All petrol driven engines need electricity to run. I presume your vehicle was a 300 Tdi as this is a very popular model in the safari business. Many safari vehicles have two batteries, one main for the vehicle it self, and another – auxiliary – for the freezer/fridge. These two batteries are connected in two ways; either direct, which is not the way to do it and I think it was not the situation in your case as you continued your journey with a dead fridge. The second method is to connect two batteries with a split charge system. There are various after market versions, many American systems e.g. Warn, do not last in Africa and is very expensive. You can even do it yourselves, but in the safari business they use local – South African – contraptions – split chargers – which does work in the hot, dusty and bumpy Africa. In short, the auxiliary battery never received a charge from the main battery! I hope you insisted on compensation for the bad service!

 

With this “electrical” problem you can not except that the guy selling batteries will have the knowledge to rectify your problem – he sells batteries. This is a common problem in Africa. Very few people have the ability to have a wider field of knowledge. Look at the current situation in the UK. A recent report showed that less than 15% of UK residents know how to read a road map, but these people want to cross Africa from North to South with their GPS! You can not rely on a GPS completely, you need to read maps to plot your way on a GPS. Some “people will call this “occupation” hazard! This was very short sighted from the company you used and bad service provided.

 

Just a correction on the spelling of the dude in Zimbabwe; Robert Mugabe.

 

The diamonds are running empty very soon for Botswana and recently they were searching for other Kimberlite pipes without success. Soon the prices of National Parks will be raising sky high again as what happened in Etosha in September 2007. Botswana’s motto for tourism is: high income, low spending. Meaning, charge the hell out of the tourists without spending on infrastructures e.g. proper ablution, proper and maintained hides ( all bird/game hides in Botswana was originally erected by private groups or companies and not visualized or erected by local Batswana people! The local people were only the labours!)

 

When I downloaded your PDF document, I spent the whole night till the small hours of the morning reading it. Very interesting indeed. Your photographs are great, nice close-ups.

 

Once I have finished my own guidebook, “Tsodilo, mountain of the gods. A 4×4 guide to Northwest Botswana” I will send you a copy (e-book version). Nearly completed in my mother tong – Afrikaans – and will be translated in English and German. A guide that you need to include in your luggage as I also cover many aspects of vehicle maintenance tips for the less informed person. To those reading your blog, when you do have a problem with a fridge, flat tyres or lack of fuel, do not rely on lodge people for assistance but approach fellow travelers first for help! I speak of experience as I had many problems while solo in the remote of Botswana and Namibia. Always help others, even if you don’t know the difference between a flat or star screwdriver! A bottle of water, a cup of coffee or moral assistance is wonderful.

 

If you ever plan to visit the south again, drop me an email.

 

Stephan de Lange

Television video editor, Freelance 4×4 Specialist Tour Guide, Photographer.

Email: opsafari@mweb.co.za

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9 Responses to “Comments received by email”

  1. Alexwebmaster Says:

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  2. Bárbara Says:

    Hi there,

    I’ve been looking for the pdf document in this amazing website, but I can’t find it. Please let me know where I can download it from. I’ll be self-driving through Botswana with a couple of friends in the next holidays, and I’m sure this would help us get prepared. Your printable pdf would be very handy. You impressed Stephan de Lange and other commentators, so I’m sure it’s great.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Buhveique Says:

    Wonderful site.. Will come back again soon

  4. Kelli Garner Says:

    I enjoy this site, it is worth me coming back

  5. Makita Batteries Says:

    I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case. WoW 🙂

  6. Lisa Walpole Says:

    Thanks so much for all that info.
    I used your blog as a guide to plan my own self drive trip around Botswana.
    I’m going to be putting up my own blog as I foudn there isn’t much info up on the net about it.

    I contacted “Joyce Chika”, the travel agent you mentioned you met in Kasane and she was able to book all our accomodation!!
    This saved us a ton of money as she gets local prices (much less than travel agents abroad) and Joyce was really helpful and lovely to deal with.
    She even arranged to change money for us when the ATM wasn’t working in Kasane.
    I can highly recomend her!

    Thanks again for all your help.

  7. Joyce Chika Says:

    Thank you Lisa

  8. smijef Says:

    I looked at this blog long ago and found it very interesting. The most interesting part for me was about Peter, the mechanic from Nata. Peter is a good friend of mine who has relocated to Australia.

    I lived in Nata for a time myself so I know Peter fairly well. Your description of him was wonderful and brings back many memories. It could be said that he is somewhat less than reliable in certain situations (such as yours). Once in 1994, he was kind enough to let me use his workshop to make some major repairs to my Series III Landy. After giving me some instructions to get me started, he left, telling me he was just going to the other side of the village to run an errand, and would be back shortly to help me along. He was gone for three days.

    He did come back though. He helped me finish the job, and I got a great story out of the experience.

    Peter is a wonderful person and the most innovative mechanic I’ve ever met.

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