Saturday, July 28

Honnets at Chobe

Brett: We met Marys folks at Nata Lodge ($12pppn) - it was really great to see them after 1y, 1m and 1w. We had a big steak in the restaurant while we caught up on a few stories and then drove to Kasane in the morning. We had lunch at the Chobe Safari Lodge with its great setting overlooking the river and then headed into the park (a nice treat from the Honnets). The new one way system and the time slots for guided vs private is in place, but most people still seem to ignore it. It is busy and the tracks are one car wide, so it does make some sense. It was really amazing the number of ellies we saw on the river front - we kept getting road blocked by them. There were tons of zebra and buffalo too.

We camped at the brilliant Ihaha Camp Site, which is spread out along the water front. There was as much activity in the camp site as there was on the game drives. On the first night, a large heard of elephants walked through the campsite to our right of us. Chobe is definitely the best place for spotting Elephants. A large heard of buffalo walked through our campsite on day two before sunrise, between and around our cars. The baboons were a bit of a pest in the day and very cunning, watching as you walk away from your car. There were some fish eagles in the trees around the camp. On the second night, a leopard killed a buck in campsite six (a few along from us). On the third night,we heard lions close by and when we woke up, there were lion prints going past our tent, towards the bathroom. On the fourth night, we were chased back into the tent on a loo break by a hyena and then we were woken up by a buck running through our campsite, probably trying to escape from something.

On our last day in the park, we started coming across some soft sand heading up a hill and away from the river and came across a nice Dutch couple stuck in a rental 4x4 (why do they come with such rubbish tyres?). They had been digging for about 2 hours, but we managed to free them in a few minutes with a strong tug.We really enjoyed our five nights of luxury camping in Chobe - they were really relaxing and just what we needed to wind down. We took a boat ride along the Chobe river and saw elephants swimming across the river (amazing!), lots of hippos and crocs. We also ate really well, with the Honnets make up for lost time with great home cooking and lots of braais.

We left Chobe and headed for Woodlands Stopover ($10pppn) in Francistown. The day wasn't too eventful, except that I had to throw my fruit away at the Health Checkpoints - you can't carry raw meat (foot and mouth) or fruit (fruit flies) across the country, even if it was bought inside the country. You also have to drive through a dip and dip the soles of all your shoes. The campsite was nice, but not great to see warning signs on the turnoff from the main road warning guests not to stop due to hijacking risks. The campsite was full of people returning from school holidays - all carrying everything they could imagine.

We left before sunrise the next morning to get a head start (10 minutes to wake up and leave - we are getting good at this). We had 720km ahead of us and we were much slower than the Honnets as we were taking it easy on the car and needed to stop every 2 hours to check radiator water levels. The tar roads in Botswana are good (off-road tends to be hectic sand) and we made good time, although we were in no danger of getting caught in the famous speed traps. The Martins Drift / Groblersbrug border was easy, but took 1h30 because it was so busy. It is weird to have your passport scanned rather than the details be written into a log book. It was good to be back in South Africa. The traffic in Mokopane was hectic, taking about an hour to get through - parts of town also had a pretty seedy feel. The rest of the route along the N1 to Pretoria was easy, although we never really moved from the slow lane. We were driving extra carefully to not strain the engine up all the really steep hills through Pretoria. We stopped at a Shell Ultra city in Midrand, next to a taxi with its music up loud and all the passengers dancing to celebrate a football win and then just as we reached Joburg, the Honnets caught up with us. We drove back to their house together, hooting as we entered their street, just as we did when we left. Getting back was really surreal - Mark and Dom were standing in the driveway, just as they had done when we left - the only proof that we had been away a while was baby Murray in their arms. Even more surreal was the welcome back party the next day, which was pretty much exactly the same as the one we had when we were leaving.

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