The shock-absorbers survived the test-run into Etosha so we set of early the next morning to spend the whole day there. We said goodbye to the friendly (and free) campsite and set off towards a lesser used west gate to enter the park. We passed through the security checks and bumbled off into the bush.
A few kilometres in we come across a small herd of elephants grazing right by the road. We park the truck, kill the engine and watch them for a bit. These large, gentle beasts don't just eat leaves, but finger-thick branches too. We watched one first strip most of the leaves off a small tree, then eat many of the smaller branches too. Afterwards it crossed the road in front of us, gave us a cautious glance, and upped it's pace to a brisk walk to rejoin it's companions. A good start to the day.
Etosha is so densely packed we saw plenty of springboks, elephants, giraffes, zebras, and other antelope animals. Once we passed by a lonely waterhole but spotted a large bull elephant making a bee-line for it a few km's out so we turned around, returned to the waterhole, and waited. We recorded this video of it's arrival:
After a day of wildlife spotting, we made it to the gate an hour and a half before sunset and decided to do a loop round Dik-Dik drive to try and see some of the smallest deer. After a few minutes of searching we came across some of these diminutive creatures and fell in love with them. We watched them stand up on their back legs to reach low leaves. Unfortuntely they are hard to photograph without a long lens.
Just before sunset, we left the park and drove down the road to a rest-stop where we waited until it was dark. The traffic subsided and we camped there for the night. Early in the morning we left for the Caprivi strip, our next target being Rundu. The drive was long, hot, dry, and uneventful.
Approaching Rundu, we decided to head off the road down a track into cowland. The area looks like a golf course, with grassy knolls, water pools, and sandy bunkers, only it's also populated by cows. We leave the track and weave in and out of some trees to a suitable rest point next to a large pond. Across the pond, two locals are washing at the bank and look curiously as we set up our truck. Wild camp procedure is followed and the ladder stays in the truck in case we decide to leave in the night. As it gets dark it starts to rain and the patter of raindrops drowns out the sounds of distant cowbells.
The next night we stayed at a lodge on the river but the storm had cut power to the entire town. Powerless, we were forced to drink warm beer and cider by the riverside, the other side of which was Angola. The only guests that night, we chatted to the owner and staff about the history of the area and learned local preachers are lecherous adulterors, Angolan economic strategy lacking, and corruption in the area rife. We slept well, occasionally interrupted by the sound of honking hippos in the river and the next morning headed to the Botswana border.
Crossing to Botswana
Leaving Namibia was far easier than we imagined but entering Botswana we hit a snag. Our truck was searched by the border police and we were found to be carrying contraband. I let the customs officer into the back of the truck, showed him we had no illegal bush-meat and as he turned around to leave his eyes caught sight of illegal materials.
Twelve apples, four lemons, and an avocado. After an extended but fruitless search I had to write details of the "seizure" in an official log, though my entry subtracted an apple which I ate on my way to the 'disposal area' (red sulo bin).
Shortly after we left the main road to go to a village in search of a shop. We didn't find a shop so turned around to head back and were flagged down by a group of men. A huge articulated lorry had attempted the same manoeuvre and become stuck in the sand. The double trailer was just on the road but the tractor unit had dug itself in. From the logs and piles of sand it was apparent they had been struggling for a while. I agreed to help tow the truck out Using their equipment.
Wild camp in bush
The tarred road in Botswana worsened and the potholes grew to several feet wide and a foot deep. Cars and trucks both veer of the side of the road to avoid them. Helpfully, you can spot them from half a mile away by looking for gravel sections as the side of the road where veering vehicles have trampled the grass. As sunset approached, we took a disused track off one side of the road, cut down a fallen tree branch with an axe, and followed the trail into the bush and wild-camped there for the night. Regularly passing elephant dung gave us hope of animal sightings. Two miles away thunderstorms roared and illuminated our truck with bright flashes. During the night we experienced several bursts of rain, lightning, and thunder. Disappointingly we saw no elephants.
Campsite in Maun
We set up for a few days as a riverside lodge where we were able to camp in an area behind the swimming pool. We rested here for a few days and decided to book a scenic flight over the delta before heading to the game reserves in our truck.
We shopped around a few private charter companies before finding one that had a group we could join for a one hour scenic flight over the Okavango. The next morning we got up at 6am, had breakfast, and got a cab to the airport. We gave our passports to the operator, had only our middle names transcribed onto our boarding pass, then were handed them back. After the other (all German) passengers arrived we walked across the road to the small airport. Security was standard, no liquids, knives etc, and the departure lounge seated about 20. We were allocated to a smaller group - us and another couple were the only passengers. We did not have to wait and walked straight out onto the tarmac, got into a minibus and by the time I had done my seatbelt up it was time to take it off as we had arrived at the plane. The plane was a top-wing 7 seater 2,2,2,1 formation front to back. We were in row 3, the German couple in front of us, and pilot in front of them. The co-pilot seat and rearmost seat remained empty. We were excited as the plane taxied to the runway but as soon as the plane took off we both realised we were destined to be travel-sick. The plane was very light and the morning air full of turbulence, our position behind the wing did not help, nor did the beer and cider from the night before. The first 15 minutes were beautiful as we watched the waterlogged landscape expand and signs of human-interference disappear. Literally hundreds of elephants could be seen roaming in large herds below. Even from the plane families of three generations could be seen following forked paths in single file.
The next 45 minutes however became an ordeal. The symptoms of motion sickness progressed despite our intense focus on the horizon, deep breathing, and desperate pressure point application. I recalled the ravings of a former colleague who had determined that an organism called the Hagfish was the first species to introduce motion-sickness into the evolutionary timeline. Its given name wasn't cruel enough I thought. Occasionally I would steal a glance sideways to observe scores of elephants or buffalo. Kim saw a rhino. Most of the trip was spent trying to quell emetic thoughts and sensations. As the symptoms progressed from nausea, to light-headedness, hot flashes, and peripheral neuropathy my glances exclusively rotated between the horizon, the GPS, and the sick bag in the seat pocket. We eventually landed as our symptoms peaked but we felt unwell until the evening. Inexplicably the German couple in front of us experienced no symptoms whatsoever and attempted to make cheery small talk until we parted at the terminal. We spent the rest of the day recovering at the lodge. I attempted to replace the fuse in our broken inverter only to have it immediately burst into sparks and flames again.
Kim has made a video of our first day in Botswana: