Day 9 & Night 9 – Serondella

Serondella

Today I went to the Serondella Picnic Site – for a picnic. I find something indescribably wonderful about picnic sites. It is something to do with the fact that: for one it is outdoors; secondly it is a designated official space; and thirdly its purpose is to eat. I think there’s also something fantastic about people needing a designated beautiful place to stop and eat their sandwiches when they are in a National Park surrounded by nothing but miles upon endless miles of what could also be considered to be great spots to stop and eat one’s sandwiches. It is something about the rules that I love, and the fact that we all follow these rules. It felt Germanic or English but also Botswanian because it felt well ordered, civilized, everything had a place and function and rules even out here in this great wilderness and those rules were being respected. All throughout Botswana along the tarred roads I had noticed the prolific number of picnic spot signs with a nice picnic table under a shady tree.

Serondella Picnic Site

This Serondella Picnic site was absolutely idyllic. I have fantastic memories of picnic sites in Austin, Texas, growing up by the lakes, and there was something about this place which really reminded me of there. It was grassy, tree-shaded, and overlooking the brilliant blue, sparkling river. I had fresh food from Kasane and ate a lovely picnic of fresh bread, cheese and ham and fresh fruit, looking out from the picnic site across the Chobe River to a herd of elephants roaming on the island in the river.

This Serondella Picnic Site is in fact the old camp site. The location is much more convenient  for visiting the Chobe Riverfont than Ihaha as it is centrally located to the game drive loops, it is much closer to Kasane, and is definitely situated in an area of greater game density than at Ihaha, and it was very pretty. Given this we’re certain campers have been moved out to the much more remote Ihaha to encourage more people to think they’ll have at least one night in Kasane which will mean for most staying in a lodge – so it forces greater tourist spending in the area.  Don’t get me wrong, Ihaha is very beautiful, but it is 30km along a very sandy road so it is very slow going and takes an hour without any stops from the main entrance gate nearest to Kasane. I don’t blame the authorities for doing this as they need to try and distribute the tourist dollars as far as possible into the Botswanian economy and communities, but given absolutely no one else was camping when we were at Ihaha I did wonder if the Botswana Government had perhaps either made prices too high or made things too challenging for self-drive campers, but campsites were sitting empty all over Botswana so something wasn’t right, Botswana felt empty.

We also saw our first Buffalo today, lone bulls and great herds with calves.

Night 9 

Ihaha Campsite, Chobe River Front again

I went back to Ihaha campsite in the afternoon. I was cutting an onion up for a stew we were preparing before going on a game drive. I looked up and no more than 10 feet a way a lone adult buffalo bull, absolutely huge, was standing there looking at me. He had silently just materialized out of the Bush, like the Tardis in Doctor Who. One minute there’s nothing, the next minute there’s a massive hulking great big beast flaring his nostrils at me. There was nothing between me and the bull, and all I had was a small vegetable knife in my hand. I was acutely aware that these are one of the most deadly animals in Africa as they have been rejected out of their large protective herds as they’re too old, so they are very vulnerable and consequently skittish and charge unprovoked. They and Hippos vye for the title of Africa’s Greatest Man Killers. If this bull had charged I wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Very, very slowly, keeping eye contact with the buffalo, wishing I could read its mind to detect any warning signs, I moved sideways, not making any sudden movements or sounds, to get nearer to the vehicle. I managed to get within reach of the passenger door when the bull decided I wasn’t a threat and he started to move away back into the bush. After 10 minutes he’d vanished.

And, not for the first time that trip, I remembered to breathe and I had an early PIMMS O’Clock to celebrate not prematurely going on the Great Safari in the Sky. I then went on another lovely evening game drive, leaving a sensational stew to bubble over the fire. However the experience of that Buffalo left me thinking about all the other things the bush was hiding and how without any warning it had been on top of me without anywhere to escape to. I became as skittish as the buffalos and that night I have never eaten a dinner so quickly. The slow-cooked stew had been absolutely delicious, a real taste sensation, but I inhaled it more than chewed it, and the moment it was dark I was up the tree-house ladder quicker than a ferret up a trouser leg.

Thoughts that night turned to the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, about evil lurking in the African bush, and even up in the tree house I was nervy. I took the video camera up there on night vision to try and film anything that walked by below. Most of the resulting footage looks like scenes out of the Blair Witch Project. My second night alone in the bush, being 30km away from the nearest human and help, having that Buffalo quite so close and able to creep up on us quite so suddenly, I was definitely freaked-out. This was hardcore camping and I wondered if I had been horribly naïve.

I think the guides described Ihaha as being “more remote in nature.” It was amazing and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but if you ever go there don’t be surprised to find yourself thinking about the Blair Witch and Heart of Darkness.

5 Responses to “Day 9 & Night 9 – Serondella”

  1. Robert O'Toole Says:

    The official policy is “high cost low volume tourism”. Or perhaps “hard slog empty campsite” for those of us who are prepared to DIY.

    Ihaha is beautiful, even more so because you have to work for it.

  2. Wilma Says:

    Wow… your journal is wonderful! I have only read bits and pieces yet but hope to read all of it – apart from your great adventure, your writing style is very entertaining! Thanks for sharing!!

    When did you go?

  3. Erik Says:

    this is the part that really gives me the creeps. Off for a selfdrive in nov, through namibia and botswana. I wonder how can you be more or less certain that your safe in your rooftent….i guess you’re not.
    Though unlikely anything would happen, did you had encounter while sleeping?

    (these things really freak me out when my mind wanders off in the ‘wrong’ direction thinking about it. This and car-breakdown…)

    • wilddogsandenglishmen Says:

      Hello Erik

      This is the best bit! You are in for the best experience of a lifetime. I’ve done exactly what you’re doing also in Namibia, and to do both countries in one trip is possibly one of the most amazing travelling experiences one can have in a lifetime. You are very safe in your rooftent. Common sense is your best weapon. Don’t park under a tree. Have a good torch at night with working batteries. Never take food or smelly stuff in your tent or in the vehicle underneath where aromas could attract unwanted attention – this is the biggest cause of elephant attack stories on parked vehicles. Things like oranges are just a complete no-no. Try and do what you can in daylight and go to bed early etc. Very few animals can climb up ladders! Elephants at night just see you as a large boulder and walk around you. Lions can’t jump up. I really felt snug and safe up there, and had a great time sticking my head out of the tent flaps and shining my torch to see all those eyes flashing back at me! You’re really fine up there. After a day in the bush, cooking, game-driving I was always too tired and fast asleep at night to ever be disturbed and slept brilliantly.

      Car breakdown – the whole reason I did this blog was because I came across a really daft couple who should have known better, and I came away thinking they’d had such a close call that if any of my knowledge or experience can help to prevent their situation I may end up saving a life one day. I was on an evening game drive and came across a couple who had broken down. They had no map, no GPS, no satellite phone. They were surrounded by a large herd of ellies who were getting a bit fractious. I managed to get them into my vehicle and drove them to the nearest lodge for help, (where I was pretty disgusted by the lack of help and care the lodge owner at the time showed, but at least they were safer than being lost and left in the bush alone.) You MUST have back-up. A good rental company will give you all the equipment like a satellite phone. You really must have a GPS, as the roads are not always obvious. The maps I’ve recommended were good, but I was driving by GPS a lot of the time. A satellite phone which is charged and tested as working before you set off – very, very sensible. This is always a real concern, but I was also very impressed by how helpful fellow campers were and how much fellow self-drivers help each other along the way, like helping people who’d got stuck in sand. Lodge owners proved to be less friendly to self drivers in trouble, but I guess they had their own experiences and reasons for being like that.

      Don’t worry so much, just be as prepared as you can be and use your common sense. You’ll have an amazing time. Those eyes in the bush at night will go with me to the end of my days, they’re not something to be afraid of, they were magical.

      Kathy

  4. Erik Says:

    Yes I read about the couple that were so unprepared. I guess that’s just a little to much whoopsie daisy for me.

    But – OK, you just convinced me.

    (as a controller, I like to be in control, I guess)
    GPS navigation: check
    Sat-phone (just in case): check
    Ploughed through the insurance policy

    for others to know:
    => flying doctors is often covered as part of medical emergency transport,
    => when driving in a well equipped vehicle (with additional equipment as jerrycans, tow-ropes etc etc) on marked/mapped (paved or unpaved) roads, even the insurance companies recon you’re practicing “normal caution”. So in case of an accident or breakdown additional costs are covered (except costs for the rental verhicle).
    But be sensible get it confirmed in writin by your insurance company prior to your departure

    (@Kathy=> off topic: when you were in Ugab, did you actually see rhino’s passing by? just asking as were heading there as well)

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