Day 8 – Chobe River

Chobe River Front, Chobe National Park

Starting at the main Savuti waterhole on left we went a couple of kilometres to the Savuti airstrip and drove to the Ghoha entrance gate GCHOHA 18° 23.25’S; 24°14.732’E (now c 28km from Savuti). This is c 80km to Ngoma.  Again I went through the process of signing forms and books in triplicate and vouchers were exchanged.  The cross-road ahead is the cut line crossing the main road. The cut line marks the end of Chobe National Park and the start of the Chobe Forest Reserve. The main road looks like it goes straight on – but this will entail a very rutted road of very deep sand and Leadwood trees which puncture 4×4 tyres. This is very thick, heavy sand, churned up by lorries, and we’d read life will be a lot easier if you avoid it. So instead at the T-junction after the gate from leaving Chobe we took the cut-line turn left up the cut line itself after exiting the gate and after c. 7.7km later took a right turn (CUTTUR 18°21.82’S; 24°10.633’E) just after the end of a band of Mopane trees. This is the detour route track and we saw more people driving along here with us than we did the whole of the rest of the trip. Which considering this isn’t the main road I found bemusing. It rejoins the main track again at DETORI 18°10.147’S; 24° 28.545’E. It shadows the main road and crosses back over the main road at DETOR2 18°15.25’S; 24°19.087’E (this is c.16.6km from Gchoha Gate). 3.5km later you will pass through Kachikau  – marked on some maps as Kachekabwe – KACHIK 18°9.143’S; 24°30.172’E. After 10km you will get to Kavimba – KAVIMB 18° 4.192’S; 24° 35.02’E – it has 2 baobab trees in the road. MABELE 17° 59.182’S; 24°38.858’E

About 11.5km later you leave the Chobe Forest Reserve, and find the Ngoma Bridge and scout hut. Sign in at the scout hut at Ngoma where you will be asked to sign the register. The road here goes left to Namibia, right to Kasane. We had intended to go straight on, taking the riverfront road, but instead had to go to Kasane to try and get our fridge or battery sorted out and restock on all our fresh supplies we’d lost. So, we turned right and blasted up to Kasane on the tarred road to restock on food/ fuel etc before turning back onto the river road and approaching this evening’s campsite from the opposite direction.

We entered Kasane having telephoned Safari Drive to ask them for the details of a mechanic or electrician or someone who could help us sort out our fridge. Unfortunately our contacts at Safari Drive had gone away for a long weekend and were not contactable, which didn’t fill us with a great deal of reassurance. The person they had left in charge had to phone a friend herself to find out who in Kasane could help us, and in the end we had to do a lot of phoning around using our UK mobile phones which was expensive and not great service. People didn’t seem to want to be bothered to help us. On a Sunday I would have understood this, but not on a Friday. It became clear that Safari Drive did not have contacts in Kasane who were properly associated with the company in any real way, so people felt they could walk away from our problems and it was not their responsibility. One guy called Michael was too busy going away for the weekend so he recommended us to Bean who was a fridge expert and who happened to be in the same car park as us at the time I was phoning around. We thought our luck must have improved when we established this coincidence and he checked out our fridge and told us we needed a new battery. We ended up buying a battery from a spare auto parts place over the road which did the trick for all of 24 hours, but because there was actually something wrong with the recharging system and not the battery even the new battery was flat in no time at all. We found our new battery had run out of juice at 4pm on the Saturday night and by the time we tried phoning around again it was Sunday, when everyone gave the predictable excuse that we wouldn’t get any help on a Sunday. It was a complete farce and did blight our experience of the bush because we had to do without cool/ cold fresh food and spend more time in Kasane than we’d have chosen to.  More than anything there was just a feeling that people could have helped us and the problem could have been sorted in no time at all, people just couldn’t be bothered to help. We had originally planned to stay at the Chobe Safari Lodge campsite in Kasane because of the swimming pool and other facilities available to campers, it seemed a great value way to enjoy lodge luxury and the photos on the Internet looked fabulous. However before we departed Safari Drive changed our itinerary because, they told us, Kasane had become over-developed and after a recent visit they advised us against going there. As an alternative they had given us the choice of either Ihaha Campsite or a lodge which was actually over the border in Zimbabwe, but the basic principal had been to stay clear of Kasane. We didn’t want to travel to Zim because we didn’t want to line Bob’s pockets, so we chose Ihaha campsite, which is in the Chobe National Park, 30km from Kasane on the riverfront. However, because of the fridge fiasco we needed to visit Kasane daily, to either try to get repairs, to restock food and we also wanted to enquire about a boat trip. Given what we found at Chobe Safari Lodge I can understand why Safari Drive advised what they did but we’re really glad we got to see Kasane. It was exhausting but it was full of life.

Kasane itself is a jumble of a place with large hotels along the riverfront who all own the river trip market. It is a rough-and-tumble mellay of life, noise, music, colour, clattering and clamouring for attention. It was chaotic and vibrant. It had a pulse. Global brands such as Shell, Coca-Cola and Spa were mingled with local businesses. South of the main high street was a tumble of activity. The Shell petrol station had massive queues 12 cars deep of people filling up huge drums of fuel. And I’ve never seen so many staff. People came and went, trucks filled up, people chatted in groups. The forecourt was turned into a kind of piazza. The supermarkets were meeting places. Groups of people gathered outside every shop. Women carried jars and items on their heads. Babies were carried in slings on womens’ backs. Music mingled with the noise of cars, people and livestock animals. Music blared over speakers down the high street.  Massive modern advertising hoardings dominated the roadsides which in turn were dominated by a different story of modern Botswana: “Prove you’re a real man, get yourself and your partner an HIV test today.” There was a very smart and impressive looking police station, a hospital, and a mixture of shops. It was a far cry from the formula of Dr Livingstone’s Africa, bottled and preserved in the sanitized luxury tents of lagoon-facing lodges, the people following some kind of script and code of behaviour. Here is was unscripted, alive and kicking with a pumping pulse and real problems and I found it highly refreshing. I liked Kasane very much.

The business of buying a new battery from the auto parts place was a shambolic, hectic, but strangely good experience. A rather hassled looking shop proprietor sold us our battery. He was the boss because he was wearing an impressive leather jacket and was the only Indo/ Asian I had met in Africa. There was a jumble of people tumbling in and out of his shop. A woman took my Pula and gave me a receipt and another woman who was very petite was left to wheel this enormous and massively heavy battery out to the car. In the process of doing that we had to do a dance with a few other cars to get ours parked directly in front of the shop. Then we had the business of trying not to run the battery over any toes of the crowd of people who had gathered outside of the shop on other business. Then we had to get someone else from in the shop to come out to carry the battery down over a ledge to street level. He in turn and the original girl were very helpful and helped us to find the old battery in the car, take out the front seat to remove it, remove it and install the new battery. In the middle of all this the lovely lad helping us got an electric shock. But he was fine. In the end this lovely boy and young woman spent half an hour struggling to help us, and didn’t want anything in the end except a bit of a chat as we were standing there encouraging the boy. They were not going to leave us standing there trying to work out how to fit that battery ourselves, they were really happy to help. I gave them both a hug and with massive smiles and thank you’s we parted company and I felt delighted that since the Bush Mechanic at North Gate I’d again found some people in Botswana who had been willing to help when we needed help. That boy and young woman at that Auto Parts shop in Kasane should be very proud of themselves, they turned out to have the best manners and be the best brought-up people we had met on our entire trip, their parents should be very proud of them. They could teach JC and his wife a thing or two. 

Serondela, The Chobe National Park, Botswana

The Serondela area is situated in the North East of the Chobe National Park. It includes the Chobe riverfront area of the Chobe National Park and Kasane, the main town in the area. The majority of Hotels and Lodges are based around Kasane, just outside of the Chobe National Park. The Lodges in Kasane are mainly large hotel or motel style with a lot of rooms, or a lot more than you may have been used to in the luxury camps in other parts of the country. The Serondela is actually an outcrop of land jutting into the Chobe river along the various loops along the river front. We went here to visit the Chobe Riverfront. In the dry season animals move onto its banks from the whole of northern Botswana, especially massive herds of Elephant and buffalo.

The road by the Chobe River is slightly raised above the river and gives a good view in places to the flats and floodplain below. For two Brits who consider the Thames quite big, this looked like a Sea more than a river. Looking across to what looks like the other side, we were just looking at the first of a series of islands which break up the main river. Way over on the far other side is a different country: Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, a leftover from the Germans in the war which they had used as a corridor throughway. The track along here is very sandy in parts and takes you directly from Kasane to the Ngoma gate. Ngoma is the entrance used by visitors from Namibia, with the border crossing nearby. Looping off from this main track are the game-viewing tracks which take you down to the flats by the river.

The game densities are at their best between Kasane and where we were staying out at Ihaha. We were warned vehicles may also be dense in number here, but we rarely saw another vehicle the whole time. Entrance to the Chobe National Park Park is through the Sedudu Gate which is 4 Kms West from Kasane. Four-wheel drive vehicles are essential due to deep sand in some areas and massive pot-holes on the game loop tracks leading down to the flats.

Things to look out for, all of which we saw:

  • Africa’s highest concentration of elephants – This is elephant paradise – over 65,000 of them. We didn’t see 65,000, but I think we saw most of them.
  • Especially fantastic is to see by the bank or by river boat the large family groups of elephants who troop down to the river to drink and bathe – at any time of the day, but especially late in the afternoons just before sunset.
  • Amazing water fowl
  • The lookout point and great spot to watch elephants at 17 ° 50’ 408 S; 25° 00’ 277 E and a great place to have a picnic – this is the site of the old serondela campsite
  • Huge herds of buffalo
  • Hippos
  • Crocodiles
  • Sunbathing Water Monitor
  • Termites and termite mounds
  • Bee eaters (on the sandy banks)
  • African Fish Eagles
  • Tawny Eagles
  • Vultures
  • Kingfishers
  • Impalas
  • Warthogs
  • Hornbills
  • Guineafowl
  • Kudu

Safe Game Driving = “Don’t panic Captain Mannering!”

We were surrounded by great herds of elephants on numerous occasions throughout Botswana. The key to a safe and wonderful Ellie experience seemed to be: “Don’t Panic Captain Mannering”. Ed used his common sense, kept his cool, turned off the engine, sat quietly and patiently, didn’t encroach on their space, and when we had the opportunity he’d gently start-up the engine and pull away slowly to back off without making any sudden moves or noises. The elephants soon lost interest in us and became far more interested in whatever it was they were doing, which was either eating, drinking, or moving on to places to do one of these activities. 

  • Drive slow. Never ever go above 40km ph.
  • Before you move or stop anywhere be aware of your surroundings to make sure you have a swift escape route.
  • Bear in mind that in sand an elephant will be able to run faster than your vehicle will go.
  • The key is to keep your distance.
  • A relaxed elephant won’t let you closer than 25m, a grumpy one will charge at 250m.
  • Are there any small calves? Keep your distance, mothers will get stressed.
  • Are there any males in musth? (dripping willy and glands on their faces) they’re excitable – give a wide berth
  • Seepage on their temporal glands on the sides of their heads? They’re stressed – give a wide berth.
  • If you find your car surrounded by elephants, try to relax.
  • If your vehicle is stationary and switched off and you are suddenly surrounded, relax. Don’t start the engine. Just sit and enjoy – there really is no cause for concern. Only when they’ve passed and are a distance away should you start up your engine and move away.
  • When you start your engine stay stationary – do not start engine and move at the same time.
  • Wait.
  • Then move.
  • Don’t do what you can see professional guides doing.
  • Do not panic.
  • Do not rev your engine.
  • Just sit quiet and still until the animals have passed.
  • Ideally switch off your engine.
  • Mock charge – when you’ve annoyed one elephant in the herd – a lot of ear flapping, head shaking, loud trumpeting – runs at you with ears spread out, head held high and trumpeting loudly.
  • Stand your ground. It will move away at an angle, head held high and turned, back arched, tail raised, occasional head shake
  • Teenagers often do this, testing and showing off.
  • If you flee or back off when this happens you are likely to provoke the animal into a full charge. No matter how terrifying, but its meant to be, that’s the whole point.
  • In a real emergency steadily press your accelerator further down as the elephant gets closer – not normally needed – but don’t beep your horn, and don’t rev up and down.
  • Full charge: ears folded back, head down, running at full speed. The only option you have is to drive away as fast as you can.

One Response to “Day 8 – Chobe River”

  1. Joyce Chika Says:

    Accommodation, boatcruise and game drive in CHOBE

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