Trip Preparation and Planning

scan0021.jpgscan0021.jpgBotswana flag

Background

I have always enjoyed camping. I grew up going camping in Cornwall. Before this trip I had spent only one holiday in Africa doing a self-drive camping trip around Namibia for a fortnight, also in a ‘camping equipped’ Landrover. Having had this experience of driving and camping around Namibia I felt I was now an “Old Africa Hand”.  

Having heard of the tremendous game viewing in Botswana and of the sense of authentic African wilderness where the game roams free as it always has, a landscape unspoiled by humans and without the restrictive fencing of Namibia, with all the fun of adventure camping, so Botswana was a natural next choice for us to return to Africa. 

When people said to the roads in Botswana were more challenging than in Namibia I nodded in gleeful anticipation not in the least bit put off by the idea of a few bumps: Who wouldn’t enjoy a bit of a 4 x 4 challenge? As well as the South West of England and Namibia I have also ventured around a few states in the USA (California, Utah, Colorado, Arizona) in an RV, also self-drive camping.  

Having absolutely no mechanical knowledge I would be utterly useless in the event of anything really going wrong with a vehicle. I enjoy a good BBQ when the British summer weather allows but other than that I don’t have Ray Mears Bush Skills.  In the event of an emergency I would be able to paint a very nice ‘help’ sign and wave my arms around enthusiastically and make suitable squeaking noises, but otherwise I am about as handy as a chocolate tea pot in the African bush.  

Equipped with only a very sturdy sense of humour, a real desire to see Elephants in the wild again, blind optimism (which verged on the outright naïve in our case), and a healthy dose of ‘whoopsie daisies’ to get around, I was greener than England and you may as well have painted ‘you can see me coming a mile away’ on the back of the vehicle.

 This account of our trip is intended to help others like me who are considering doing something similar themselves. I have written this because without similar help and advice from Internet blogs I would have been ill-equipped to have dealt with some of the realities of such a trip. I was the definition of soft-bellied POME, but thanks to the advice and passed-on experience of those who have traveled this path before, I got back to tell the tale of the best adventure of my life, and pass on these tips to others. 

As ever this comes with the usual health warnings, this is just an account of my holiday and experience, it is just my personal view and if you choose to take any of this as advice for your own travels, apply with liberal doses of humour and common sense, and definitely do all of your own research and fact-finding.

 

 

 Safari Drive

http://www.safaridrive.com/

The route 

Self-drive means normally needing to do a loop, and Botswana gives plenty of opportunities for very exciting and wonderful loops of various sizes, depending on what time, budget and ‘daring-do’ you have. There is no sense of needing to stop off at space fillers in order to complete a circuit, the options and choices are incredible, depending on what it is you want to see. However you don’t have to work it all out for yourself, there are experts to help.

Safari Drive is a UK company who specialise in self-drive camping in Botswana and Southern Africa. They have been going for about 30 years. Charles and Meregan who run the firm are your definition of sturdy Brits turned “Old Africa Hands”. Safari Drive prepare your itinerary,  work out your route, give you a detailed checklist and trip book prior to departure full of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” and handy tips, make all the National Park campsite and accommodation bookings and flight arrangements, send you a free copy of the Bradt guide, a free Veronica Roodt map of Botswana, and a reasonably useful trip book that provides handy details for trip preparation, they get your paperwork and permits sorted to be able to travel around the parks, provide a fully-equipped Landrover, and provide back-up support for when you are in Botswana. I went with them and Clare was the main contact in the UK, Bonnie and Albert on the ground in Botswana. I would never have been able to do this trip without Safari Drive and recommend them very highly indeed.  

If you want to see Game, concentrate your route around the North of the country and in the dry season when the Game focuses around more concentrated water sources. If you also have more enthusiasm and ‘daring do’ than sense, like me, then listen when people say ‘know your limits’ and be cautious of entering much into places like the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and the great (unpronounceable) Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. 

Safari Drive were (rightly) cautious of sending a Moonraker like me onto one of the world’s greatest salt pans, in case I thought I was on the world’s biggest cheese board and reached for my rake. They sent us on a route instead that skimmed the outer edges of these great wild places to get a delicious taste without the ‘I’m lost’ experience the CKGR and Makgadikgadi Pans would have promised.

 Trip Research  

bradt.jpg   scan0021.jpgscan0021.jpg

Supplement your tour operator’s advice with a lot of your own research and reading, from which I can recommend the following: 

  • Bradt’s guide to Botswana written by Chris McIntyre – essential, don’t leave home without this; Chris McIntyre is also the owner of Expert Africa where I ordered my maps from, which used to be Sunvil Africa, so he really is an “Old Africa Hand” and his experience and expertise are invaluable in this book. Safari Drive gave us a free copy as part of our trip pack. Bradt published a new edition of this and I found both useful.
  • Lonely Planet Botswana & Namibia
  • Internet Blogs such as Fodors where you can chat to and get advice from other travelers, I picked up a lot of tips from them:
  • There is someone on the Fodors blog who goes by the name of luangwablondes, and he/she was enormously useful and informative and pointed me in the direction of things like Ron’s Grocery and the next tip:
  • Garmin GPS unit which comes with Mapsource Software. Tracks 4 Africa website (http://www.tracks4africa.com) – T4A Maps Pro Botswana – loaded onto the PC and synchronized with the GPS unit so I then had the Botswana maps on the unit;
  • Google Earth – you can view many of the Tracks 4 Africa tracks in Google Earth. This is perfect for initial planning;

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  • Shell Veronica Roodt maps (I ordered from Sunvil Africa/ Expert Africa who provide them via mail order) – essential  – I used the national Botswana map and the individual maps for each of the National Parks visited;
  • I created waypoints on our GPS unit using the waypoints on Veronica’s maps and from Chris McIntyre’s guide.
  • Shell Guide to Botswana – must read – ordered from the same place as the maps.
  • www.flickr.com – photo web site which is brilliant to get a good preview of where you’re planning to visit and to an idea of what lies ahead. Flickr has photos uploaded from people who have traveled there before which are geo-tagged to the location. This is a tremendous traveling research tool, I really highly recommend it.
  • Other tour operators:
  • African Travel and Tourism – http://www.atta.co.uk
  • The Botswana Tourism government website: http://www.botswana-tourism.gov.bw
  • http://www.botswana-travel-guide.com
  • http://www.botswanatourism.co.bw
  • http://www.botswanatourism.org.uk

 Safari Drive didn’t (but would have if I had requested) provide a GPS unit as well. Preparing your own GPS unit in advance of the trip will help you to be very familiar with the routes and maps in your own minds before leaving. This will become important once on the trip itself when you may want to concentrate on the possible game viewing and sights and not just worry about the driving directions.  

Food packing 

Bush Tucker doesn’t have to be a trial; it can be the real highlight of a trip like this, especially if you bring a few bits and bobs from home. I took packets of casserole mixes and added fresh ingredients which we bought when I was there to create some of the best slow cooked stews I’ve ever eaten. I strongly suggest you take these sauce packets which you can easily create a meal out of quickly. I was very glad of these after a lot of driving and when I was keen to see the animals at dusk, but also didn’t want to be caught hanging around where animals could get to me or my food and stuff after dark. Also you can’t drive around the National Parks once it is dark, so juggling food preparation and evening game drive timings for lone self-drivers is important. The slow-cooked stew became a brilliant meal for my own peace of mind and comfort but also just made lots of practical common sense.

Luggage Packing 

 If you are doing fly-in trips on the little Sesna planes from lodge to lodge the expectation is that the lodges provide you with everything you need from toiletries to doing your laundry, so you really don’t need to take much – and you can’t because your luggage limit is restricted to something the size of a knat’s hanky anyway.  Even if you are allowed to take more, follow the principal that less is definitely more, because everything you take has to go in the back of that Landrover, and adds to the general chaos that can ensue once everything has had a good bounce over the roads and has been tossed around the cab like a mixed salad.

This is where lots of little bags come in very handy indeed. Having clothes packed into smaller soft bags (so all socks and pants together in one, T-shirts in another, etc) helps to reduce the rummage-factor amongst two weeks of supplies and equipment which are all in the back of the Landrover. Every day you need to set up camp or pack camp away, so struggling to find an elusive clean pair of pants is a battle you don’t need.  Having lots of smaller bags is brilliant, so you can take your camera, torches, loo roll and night stuff into your tent and not get stuck without them and so you can organise your stuff in the vehicle. Another great tip is to put your full itinerary with addresses in an open pocket in your luggage, so if it has gone missing, people know where to send it on to. I used Bonnie’s details in Maun on our luggage labels flying through Jo’Burg in South Africa. 

Snow & Rock are a great source to help stock up for your expedition. Craghopper trousers are enormously useful with all their pockets. A good web site for stuff is http://www.safariquip.co.uk/ and a list of useful stuff includes: 

  • Blankets – to cover bear legs on early morning chilly game drives
  • A fleece – you will need layers to strip off/ add on
  • Woolly hat, gloves
  • Earplugs – lots of them so you’re not scrabbling around trying to find strays
  • Spare charged camera batteries
  • Sunblock and Lipblock
  • Leatherman tool
  • Small pocket torch
  • Long life candles
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Binoculars
  • Veronica Roodt Maps
  • Star maps
  • Plastic wallets for maps
  • Tin opener
  • funnel for water – so you can get water out of larger containers without waste,
  • Bottle opener
  • Corkscrew
  • Knife/ scissors
  • Head-torches
  • A LOT of batteries for: torches, lamp headsets, cameras, GPS (we went through 4 sets for this alone), video camera, etc.
  • Car cigarette-lighter charger
  • Plastic ‘baggies’ for putting food into
  • Plastic bags for putting clothes into
  • Plastic bags to seal things up in from animals and dust and sand
  • Plastic bags to put medicines into so you wouldn’t have bulky bottles
  • Plastic bags to put coffee powder, sugar etc into, so you wouldn’t have bulky packaging
  • Did I mention plastic bags
  • Antiseptic wet wipes – these were incredibly useful to try and keep the bush  at bay
  • Mozzie repellant
  • First aid kit esp plasters and bandages and headache tablets
  • small plastic water drinking bottles

Money matters
The currency in Botswana is Pula. People from various sources had talked about cash in Botswana as a problem. A lot of places apparently don’t take credit cards or other currency, and there are only ATMs in Maun and Kasane, and the National Parks won’t let you in without you paying your fees fully for the duration on entrance, and they only accept Pula cash. This means 240 Pula per day for a couple and, 50 Pula per day for the vehicle (or 10 if it is Botswana registered).  The National Park fees are only payable on the gates and are not pre-payable.  You can pre-order Pula cash in the UK before departure through Lloyds TSB travel service which is delivered within a few working days to the local TSB branch of your choice to pick up. This is an excellent service, saves you money as it is 0% commission/ fees.  Otherwise on arrival in Maun or in Kasane you can get cash out of ATMS and banks, but expect to have to pay fees.  

 Mozzies and Malaria 

 

This is down to your own personal preferences and choices, but we went to our local doctor who recommended we take Malarone to prevent Malaria as it has fewer side-effects compared to other drugs. It cost us a small fortune but it meant we were not going to get Malaria, which by all accounts I believe to be a rough business. On top of the drugs some useful anti-mozzie things include: mozzie repellant coils; sprays that were so high in DEET (the stuff that does the job in the repellant) it melts the bottle label and everything it comes into contact with; a mosquito net; face wipes; and plug-ins for lodges.  However, it is so VERY cold in Botswana in June that mozzies had no hope of surviving so we didn’t encounter a single one on our trip. And I developed a nasty all-over body rash allergic reaction to the Malarone, so had to stop taking it anyway. So all-in-all a spectacular waste, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.  

 Weather 

 Africa: hot, sunny and dry? NO. In June it is dry and sunny during the daytime but is absolutely freezing at night. It was minus 9 in Johannesburg and the airport was closed by snow when we were there. On my last night I wore everything I had plus the blankets from the lodge so we could sit outside and enjoy a final cigar, and I was still frozen. I’m a sturdy Northerner who is used to the cold. I had packed thermals, ski hats and gloves, as I’d been prepared for it being a bit nippy, but even then I barely had enough to keep us warm; for the unprepared this could have been really problematic. The locals were all wearing woolly hats and winter coats at this time of year. 

2 Responses to “Trip Preparation and Planning”

  1. Chris McIntyre Says:

    Hi Kathy –

    Thanks for pointing me in the direction of your amazing website!

    Well done. That’s a huge work of recording and writing, after what was
    clearly such a great trip.

    As you realise from my book – I love those self-drive trips across Botswana; they’re always great and a real adventure! Well done for having so much fun, and then doing a website that will be so useful and interesting for anyone else who’s thinking of doing the same.

    It’s so fun and written so lively – an excellent antidote to my sometimes
    over-dry, factual style.

    Glad the maps and book were useful; that really makes the work importing the maps, and for me of writing the book, all worthwhile!

    Thanks again – and very best regards –

    Chris
    – – – – – – – –
    web: http://www.expertafrica.com
    http://www.botswana-travel-guide.com

  2. Adam Draper Says:

    Hi there – great journal of your trip! My wife and I are meeting a friend in Windhoek this summer and doing a self-drive trip for approx. 18 days through Namibia and Botswana; pretty much just hitting the highlights.

    We’re mixing things up and doing about 2/3 camping and 1/3 lodges (mainly in Botswana at the end of the trip). My handyman skills sound like they rival yours. We are primarily interested in game viewing and just a unique experience, which your journal entries convey quite well and have me really looking forward to this adventure. I’ve been to Tanzania before and I get the feeling this is a totally different vibe/experience.

    Would love any suggestions you have on things in Namibia you stumbled across that were great experiences (other than the obvious Etosha and Sossusvlei). We’re starting at the dunes and then heading to Etosha; towards Caprivi strip and down to Maun. One question for you: is the only way to get from Moremi to Chobe to go back down through Nata? Our agent has us doing that but I’m not sure why. Thanks much for the information.

    Adam

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