Day 14 and Night 14 – Leroo-La-Tau

Their View

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My View

Leroo-La-Tau Bush Lodge and its adjacent campsite, Xwarga, is a very convenient stopover en route to/from Makgadikgadi (unpronounceable) Pans National Park or Nxai Pan National Park and the infamous CKGR or Central Kalahari Game Reserve. We allowed 2 hours to get there from Nxai Pan and although Safari Drive had not given us any directions to get there we had our GPS and easily found it along the tarred roads with just about 6km of sand at the end.

Leroo-La-Tau is situated on the bank overlooking the dry Boteti River on the edge of the Makgadikgadi National Park. Although the Boteti last flowed in 1989/90 it still sustains a number of permanent water holes which are the lifeblood of a unique ecosystem.

The ‘footprints of the lion’ lodge was really lovely. A beautiful reed, wood and thatch building, it was stunningly pretty and  made an instant fantastic impression. The cool floors, dark wood, and barn-like roof rises up at one end to a second floor lounge area and balcony. One end housed a curio shop and the reception desk, the middle of the room was dominated by the dining table, and the end was the bar area. Through the glass doors there was a beautiful garden at the back which opened onto a wide, dry lawn which took you down to the edge of the Boteti river. In the middle of the garden there was something that looked like a nice pond, but it turned out had been at one time the swimming pool.

However despite a lovely first impression the Bush Lodge greeted me with a blank face. I went into the lodge but no one was there. We waited and waited and eventually a young lad came in sweeping the floor. He didn’t notice me at first and I made him jump when I said: ‘hello’. I asked if I could check in, and he replied: “Come again?” Clearly I was not expected. He went and got a crumpled piece of paper and pointed at it saying my name wasn’t there, they didn’t have anyone booked to stay that night. I then asked him if he could go and find the manager. He disappeared. After about half an hour it seemed no one was coming, so I phoned Safari Drive back in the UK. Once again, there had  been a muddle over our booking, the lodge didn’t have our booking.

As I waited I found some leftover coffee standing on a sideboard and helped  myself and went to sit outside to try and relax in the canvas chairs in the area they called their Boma which overlooked the dry Boteti river channel.

The view was lovely and it was wonderful to just sit and watch the large herds of zebra and wildebeest making their way up and down the river channel. They looked so tired and folorn, especially the wildebeest with their hunched shoulders like they’re carrying a great burden, and all the more when they made their plaintive moos. “uuuuu I can’t believe I’ve got to go and find water AGAIN woe is me.” Their processions trudged past in a dusty parade. As they crossed the river channel in front of us they stopped stock-still and looked at to us. They stood there watching us watching them, like a stand-off. After some time they got bored and moved on. As the wildebeest crossed paths with the zebra, I thought of Billy Connolly’s line: “I’m not a wildebeest; I’m one of those stripy buggers over there.”

Our check-in hiccup turned out to be OK as there was no one else staying there, so it wasn’t a problem, but it took an hour to sort out. It turned out the manager had been down at the campsite sorting out an elephant problem, once he was back at the lodge everything got sorted out. The tent was a gorgeous meru canvas tent. The two beds inside were covered in beautiful crisp white linen, with super comfy soft duvets and pillows. The bathroom was at the back, with a really lovely shower that was surrounded by a wood and glass screen. There was a sink and toilet as well, with lovely fluffy towels. I spent the first hour at the Bush Lodge washing off the bush from camping. It took a while, and that hot shower was heavenly.

At lunchtime I ate lunch with the Lodge Manager. It was lovely to have him join the guests for lunch. The lunch was delicious, plates of cold meats and cheeses, salads and breads. The manager was a nice person and quietly spoken. He had a gentle manner and a lovely big warm smile that frequently beamed. He was doing a sterling job here because what was evident was that he was obviously running around like a headless chicken trying to do a job which was like painting the Forth Road Bridge with a toothbrush. He explained he had been delayed getting to us that morning because Elephants had come up and destroyed the area around the swimming pool at the campsite to get to the water. He then explained the lodge itself did have a swimming pool but they don’t clean it or keep the water refreshed, so the elephants don’t come, but at the campsite they do so they get the elephant problem. I thought about the high fences they had had at the Elephant Camp at Savute. The manager was clearly very proud of the lodge and seemed very pleased to have us there.  He told us our activities would include a game drive later, followed by dinner, and then a night game drive and if we wanted another dawn game drive in the morning. The night game drive was especially interesting to us because we’d not had a single one as you can’t drive after dark in the National Parks.

Later that day we set off on our game drive. The lodge gave us a cool box with some beers, which was great, and we were sensible enough to take warm clothes to wrap up against the cold. Our guide, Petros, was incredibly smartly dressed, he looked like a film star. His skin was like polished ebony, and his frame was very tall and strong looking, but with very fine almost aqualine features and beautiful cheek bones. He wore a leather bush hat and very smart clothes. He carried himself very confidently, and talked with great knowledge. Petros was a man who seemed to have come from somewhere and was still going places, essentially he a proud young man with self respect. However like most in Botswana he was not without his own story. His mother had died from Asthma, apparently her asthma had got so bad they couldn’t treat it anymore with the inhalers, and she died. Petros explained that asthma is a massive problem. His brother worked in the nearby mine as an accountant. I do not know if Petros’ mother died of asthma as a result of the mines but it was the mines in The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency which took Mme Momwatsme’s father’s life, the dust of the mines getting in to the lungs and causing  fatal lung diseases many years later. The South African mining industry is notorious, there’s a reason they’re called Blood Diamonds.

The mines in Botswana have a better history than those in South Africa. They’re open cast mines, so better for the miners. In the 60’s Botswana hit the jackpot and found diamond mines of its own which propelled Botswana and its economy into its own as the world’s leading producer of diamonds. However the diamonds don’t last forever and when the mines run dry there is a massive deficit in the economy to be found. Time is running out as fast as the diamonds. The worry is if the people turn entirely to tourism to fill the gap they will build new developments that will destroy the wilderness environment, habitats and animals that draw the tourists there in the first place. The Botswana government has been absolutely outstanding, ruling with tremendous integrity, bringing Botswana into the twenty first century with a very healthy economy, balancing tricky neighbours to the South and East, ensuring education for all. They were led by the very wise President Seretse Khama, then President Sir Ketumile Masire and now President Festus Mogae. The real test of the latter’s leadership strength and integrity will be how he handles the future in the face of so many uncertainties. 

Petros drove us to the campsite near the lodge, where we picked up a South African family from the campsite who were really lovely, salt of the earth stock. We got chatting to them and the subject of course got on to where we’d been and where they were going. The Dad was noticeably shocked to hear we’d driven the Sandridge Road (“NOT the Sandridge Road to Savute?!”) and the sandy road to Nxai Pan. Even their kids “ooh’d” and “ah’d”. He said he had driven both and got stuck on both. I couldn’t help but feel like we had beaten them at Rugby, except better, we’d beaten them at their own game.

The game drive took us down onto the dry river bed of the Boteti river, where we saw a horrific number of zebra carcasses rotting like deflated black and white balloons. We also noticed the enormous obese vultures in the palm trees, and the South African lady we were with commented they looked so huge and fat they looked like massive fruit in the trees. Vulture Fruit. With all the meat lying around rotting and a large population of bloated, fat vultures, there was clearly far too much, the vultures had gorged themselves and couldn’t eat any more. And the zebra population was too big. The corpses were not as a result of lion kills, they were just dying of lack of water or natural causes.

Petros explained that the glut of zebra and wildebeest we were seeing was due to the lack of lions hunting them, because the lions have been hunted too much by the local farmers. Ironically, local inhabitants refer to the area as: “The Place of the Kalahari Lion” but sadly this is nolonger the case and there are apparently not many left. The local farmers used traditional methods to kill the lions such as poison and traps because they’d incorrectly thought the lions were hunting their livestock. However it turned out that a researcher from Oxford found out, according to the Bradt guide, that they were actually losing livestock when they had weak old women acting as their cowboys moving the cattle, the cattle would stray and the women couldn’t control them, providing effectively a buffet for the lions. With some proper fencing and changing their ways so the cattle could be moved by people who were physically up to the job, meant fewer strays, and the job got too hard for the lions, which went and found easier pray elsewhere. However, reputations and habits are hard to change, so the lions still get a raw deal, and as long as they are hunted the area will continue to see this bizarre glut of what should be the lions prey: zebra. As we headed through the river channel we saw the corpse of a baby zebra that had got itself stuck in the mud at the watering hole and had died only a few days before. It was tragic. But so it goes. The image of all the living zebra kicking up a great cloud of dust as the sun set, silhouetting the zebras against the fire glow fog of the dust was incredible and highly evocative.

The riverbed was dry and the watering holes were almost dried up, so the zebra were having to dig with their hooves into the sandy mud to get down to water. Apparently they take the sand into their mouths to suck the water out. Bizarrly there were some pools of water but because there was no fresh flow in and out of them, they had gone stagnant, and it was amazing in this place where all the animals were clearly in distress trying to find water, they didn’t go anywhere near the stagnant pools which must be poisonous.  In this dry, sandy, dusty, desert landscape we then came across something quite improbable, a pod of hippos. But unlike the hippos we’d seen in the Chobe river who were in Hippo Heaven and we’d seen mating, these hippos looked lost, forgotten and forlorn. One lifted its heavy head and looked back at us and with the mud on its face it looked like it had been crying. They were covered in dried mud, huddled together, next to a particularly stagnant pool of poisonous water. Petros explained they had stopped mating about 12 years ago, a clear indication of how dire things had got for them, so we were looking at the last of the Boteti hippos, unless the river flows again to bring back fresh water, which it is not looking likely to do in time for these poor creatures. It was Darwinian but it was cruel to see.  But so it goes.
 
Night 14              

After sunset the temperature plummeted. And you can not prepare for just how cold it got. I wore two skiing fleeces, ski hats, gloves, and we were still freezing to the bone. When we got back to the lodge the guests sat down with Petros and the manager for dinner. Having the company of two people who could really educate us about the area was fantastic. The meal was really delicious, a lovely casserole and warm bread.

And one of the most amazing joys of the holiday, the lodge manager had brilliantly put hot water bottles in the beds, so under the thick duvet and blankets, I was snug as a bug in my toasty bed.

Xwaraga Campsite

The campsite is just down the road from the lodge and it looked really fantastic. This lovely bush site has 5 cleared pitches beneath camelthorn acacia trees. The campsites are select and secluded and slope down the banks of the Boteti River and each site is enclosed by natural vegetation with easy access to a central bar area and swimming pool as well as the ablution facility (shared).  The ablutions have hot water, and the bush bar sells cold drinks, braai packs and fire wood. Game drives & night drives are available on request. The pitches are very widely spaced apart, a stunning looking swimming pool, a pool bar, it looked like it could have been the best campsite of the whole trip.  Apparently it had all the mod-cons like flushing loos, and we saw it had firewood bundles for sale, which is handy. The campers are also able to do the same activities as the people at the lodge for a cost, such as the game drives. It was so incredibly cold out there not having a swimming pool at the lodge was definitely not a problem, but if it had been hot I would have wondered why I was paying all that money to stay in the lodge when the campers got the relief and refreshment of the pool. The only problem with the campsite was elephants which daily were raiding the site to get to the water in the pool, and were causing havoc and destruction. People we spoke to said that they’d not had much sleep in the campsite due to a very lively night with the elephants in the camp, but that is quintessentially what bush camping in Botswana is about. If you’re coming through here or doing the trip the other way around I’d really highly recommend this lovely campsite.

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