Discovering Botswana with Franklin University

By Ettienne Froneman

 

Educational tour with a twist

Every year we get a group of students from Franklin University, Switzerland, to do a tour of Botswana’s highlights. This time it was a bit different….

Professor Zanecchia wanted to go through the National parks this time. Was probably the biggest challenge of my career but we aced it!!!

 

Starting our safari

Landrovers always have the bad reputation of breaking down in desperate times, but on the first day of our trek we had problems with the 3 Landcruisers in our fleet. After blood sweat and loads of frustrating moments we made it back on the road heading towards Linyanti. Me, leading with the Landrover carrying all our food and most of the cooking equipment, Raymond following me with a Hilux carrying all our tents and chairs and the 3 Landcruisers carrying our people, we were on our way.

As we crossed the Chobe part of our journey we realised that we won’t be able to make it all the way and I remembered about a spot on the banks of the Chobe river, Muchenje camp. I quickly popped in at reception and we were lucky because they had 4 campsites open(we are a total of 32people) so it worked out perfectly.

 

Setting up camp

We unpacked all the equipment,pitched all the tents and assembled the while kitchen and bobs your uncle camp was set up and ready for the group coming in any minute.

We were a bit stressed because it was a very long and hot day with a few delays and frustrating moments, to our surprise when the group arrived everyone was singing and happy to see the very small pool and knowing they had cold beer to enjoy and cool down a bit.

Safe to say after a hearty meal the day was done and dusted and we had a happy group of students and professor. We all headed to bed pretty early cause we knew what was ahead of us the next day.

 

Happy start to a hot morning

Woke up the next morning with a chirpy song in the heart and a massive sweat on our bodies, 7:30am and the sun was boiling hot, a full 36° that early in the morning.

After breakfast we packed the last bit of our equipment and hit the road again. After passing a village called Kachikau the real adventure started…..

 

Adventure awaits in 4×4

Its the start of our 135km 4×4 route. At first it was easy and the roads was fairly good for Botswana standards but the we hit the thickest of thick sand,or so we thought anyway.

Traveling at a avarage speed of 25kmph we made it to the turnoff at Goha gate. Just before we turned of we met a few South Africans that came from the direction we are heading to. “Are you going to Linyanti?” one of them asked. After saying yes we are, he giggled and said: “I hope you have lots of cold water or beer, because this is going to be a long day for you, Goodluck!!!”

Little stressed and bleak about what this gentleman told us we turned left and started moving closer to our destination. After about 8km of actually very good road, we discovered that what we thought was thick sand was actually a walk in the park,pun intended. Safe to say that we crossed the thick sand mostly in “Low range and diff lock” and a very slow speed but we made it through. 

 

Delicious dinner awaits

Same story as yesterday, we got our Campsites and pitched up camp and started getting ready for my famous “Potjie”.

The group arrived in Linyanti about 1 hour 30 minutes after us, very hot but very happy about the elephants and buffaloes roaming on the grass plain right next to the river in front of us.

I’ve been doing tours with Prof Zanecchia for about 5years now and the question he never ever forget to ask, ” So tell me,did you pack the Potjie pot?”

My reply everytime obviously being “Yes prof, I always do cause i know how much you love it”

Fire was burning, onions and meat was in the pot and the aroma of a traditional Afrikaans potjie was hanging all over Linyanti. 

After about 4 hours of cooking and tasting, my potjie was ready. Bianca, the tour leader always working with me on these trips, made a vegan potjie and we accompanied it with rice and a nice green salad.

After everyone dished up the camp was dead quite,all you could hear is a hyena in the background and plates getting scraped by knives and forks….. This went on till the potjie was finished. 

No the noise started cause all the dishes and pots and pans were being washed. Fire was burning and all the work was done everybody gathered around it. One of the very quite and shy girls came to sit with her torch shining into my face and said :” That was the best meal I’ve ever had in my life”

I felt very pleased and enjoyed the big compliment but my good feeling didn’t last long sadly, a big breeding herd of Ellies started to enter our campsite.

 

A visitor in the night

After waiting for them to pass by the whole group decided to head to bed and get a good nights rest. Me, Raymond and Bianca decided to have a cold beer around the fire before we go to bed as it was the first 5minutes we had since this morning 5am to relax. 

We all said goodnight and went to sleep. Or so we thought anyway. Just as my head touched the pillow and I entered dreamland, the nonchalant and little caring honeybadger entered our campsite.

Now look, this is my favourite animal by far, but you do not want it digging around your stuff nor do you want to chase it away,these guys can’t really be scared by anything. I think even Chuck Norris has a bit of fear for these guys. 

So I got my Chuck Norris pants on and got out of my tent, picked up a empty box and threw it into his direction hoping to just buy a bit of time when he runs away to pick up the crate of food i forgot to put away. To my biggest surprise he actually did runaway and gave me a few minutes to make sure the camp is badger proof. Packed all the stuff away i thought he’d be interested in and went to bed.

 

Heading to Khwai

Next morning we woke up nice and early again to head down to my favourite spot in Botswana, Khwai. Got out of camp early to start the drive in cooler sand because the the sand is not as loose as when its hot.

All went well until we got to a spot where a Dutch couple got stuck and I had to change lanes to get passed them…. As karma would want it I got stuck and Raymond got stuck behind me….

The Landcruisers however made up for their reputation destroying first day and made it passed all of us. After getting to some harder soil the 3 of them stopped and walked back to come and help us get out of the sand. After a 45 minute fight with the sand and the scourging heat we made it and and was on our way again.

We entered Goha gate heading into Savuti and guess what????

Ahead of us is a massive thunderstorm and its been pouring down with rain!!!!!! The rain made the very loose sand road turn into an amazing smooth surfaced road and made our travelling day so much easier!!!!

After passing the Sandridge road we turned onto Marsh road and our day just keeps getting better and better!!!!

 

A pleasant surprise

I stopped at a spot where there’s a waterhole and about 40 elephants playing in it, when i heard Bianca loose her canon softly shouting :” Look dude there’s a massive lion!!!!”

We drove a bit closer,staying on the road obviously,to our surprise there was 3 male lions and 3 females just chilling in the shade. Now I’ve seen plenty of lions in all of southern and eastern Africa, but i need to tell you, these 3 males was MASSIVE!!!! The one male sitting up straight looked like a horse with a main, he was huge and so was his two buddies. 

After sitting there for a while and taking in the fact that we just saw something so amazing we had to keep heading south west as we still had a fair bit of driving left. 

 

And the surprises keep on coming

We made it we are almost at the gate. But wait…. Holy hell look at that!!!!! Two Cheetahs right next to the road!!!!! This day is just one of the best I’ve ever had,also considering that its 49° at the moment, but that didn’t bother me much!!!! Its two cheetahs sitting next to us!!!!!

After a while of sitting there and staring at the beautiful creatures we head to the gate and exit the park,only after a few kilometers of driving I realized that i was so surprised I even forgot to take pictures of anything

 

But moving on

Getting to the main road, if you can call it that, we turned towards a village called Mababe to look for water and something very cold to drink. To our luck there was a guy called Lucky that had a little shop with a few freezers that helped us with our need.

So here we go again, last 32km left of terrible gravel road then we are at Khwai. After drinking 3 cold Fantas and stooping to pick up a 25l water can that someone lost we arrived at our camp.

Man oh man!!!!!! Was this place beautiful!!! Our campsite had a full HD full horizon bush television. In front of us there was a small river, Mbudi river, filled with hippos, elephants and buffaloes. One thing I forgot to mention was that when we came in to the camp there was a very terrible smell hanging in the air about 200m from our campsite but we didn’t think much of it, probably something that died somewhere.

Same as all moving days we set up.camp and.got everything ready for the group arriving soon. After all that was done we realised we have a bit of a issue, we are running out of drinking water and not Mababe of Khwai village has any  bottled water left…..

 

Looking for water

The group arrived and I decided to head through to Maun to go buy more supplies. Bianca and Raymond took over and started with cooking duties, it was braai time.

I left Camp and came across the reason for the terrible smell we got earlier today. That lion we saw this morning was big, but this guy looks like his bigger brother and believe it or not this dude killed a baby elephant!!!!! Yes you read that right, A BABY ELEPHANT!!!! Sadly i was in a hurry and had to go.

I drove all the way to Maun in the dark and for the first time in a very long while had the privilege of jumping into a nice cold pool and have some ice in my glass….the small things in life that can make us happy 

Here round about 10pm i got a message from Bianca :” Massive lion male sitting 5m from our campsite with a full belly” Now if that’s not the highlight of the day i wont know what is…. The guy left everyone in peace and left the campsite to go look for another spot to go sleep and so did I.

Woke up the next morning and literally spent 3 hours of the morning driving around looking for 5l bottles of water and nowhere to be found. I always said its not about who you are but about who you know. Friends of mine owns a lodge just outside of Maun, Sitatunga lodge, where I stayed last night. I called the manager Tom, he said he’s got plenty of water I can buy from him and he will even help me with big cooler boxes to carry it back to camp, what a legend!!!!!

After all the shopping and buying cigarettes for Bianca and Raymond i made it back to camp. It was about 15° warmer than Maun was!!!

 

Experiencing Khwai

Everyone was very happy about the cold cans of Coke that I bought and all the drinking water!!!! I was just happy I could get some sirloin steak to put on the braai tonight!!!

Now Khwai is a very animal rich area and the group actually saw Wild dogs this morning,one of the most endangered predators in Africa…. How awesome is that???

Afternoon tome the group went on a 2hour Mokoro trip on the Mbudi river and we started the fires and started cooking. Massive meal for our last night….. Sirloin steaks, salads, potatoes you name it we had it!!! 

After a nice meal we had a few drinks around the fire and shared a few stories and then BAMM!!!! 3 scorpions entered our “lounge” area…. And three big thick tailed guys as well….

So safe to say we all went to bed and had a good nights sleep, there was actually a nice breeze blowing over the river into our direction. 

Fell asleep very easy and was hoping to have a good nights rest but the bush had other plans…. If it wasn’t hyenas giggling like they’ve won the lottery it was hippo’s giving us a full show of their mating call. 

None the less we got a bit of sleep.

 

Making our way to civilization

After a nice and cold breakfast the next morning we packed up camp, the group enjoyed their last short game drive, where they obviously saw loads of animals again including wild dogs that had a massive meal cause their faces was covered in blood.

We slowly made our way back to civilization, Maun.

Got to Maun, dead tired, dirty and happy and sad at the same time.

Was in a way happy that the 5 days was a success and that we made it,but I was deeply sad to be out of the bush, away from complete nature and tranquility but very happy I could take a nice shower and be presentable again

This was by far the most challenging tour of my careers but also by far the best. At the end of the day we have lots of stories to tell and a massive experience behind our belts!!! 

 

Cant wait to go back again.