Installment 4: Botswana
Shortly after our arrival we left for a river cruise on the Chobe River in Chobe National Park. Over the next few hours we experienced an abundance of wildlife before watching the sun set on the Chobe.
And that evening we had our first currency exchange. Botswana uses its own currency - the "pula" - with a currency exchange rate of about 10.5 pula to one US dollar. Almost all gas stations in Africa only accept cash (in local currency) for fuel, so currency exchanges were necessary. Luckily the US dollar and South African rand can be used for exchange purposes at most banks or currency exchange stands at border crossings.
Up early the next morning to get the bikes squared away, everyone was selecting their choice. We had ordered our rental months before and Executive Rentals had done an excellent job filling our requests (even some factory lowered F700GS models). The bikes appeared in good shape although a few surprises would show up during the tour. However, considering the condition of the roads these rentals are used on, we had minimal problems over the next three weeks.
I had pre-ordered an F800GS which turned out to be an excellent choice (for me). Great gas mileage, more than enough suspension travel and easy to handle at both slow and moderate speed on pavement and in the African sand & gravel. If I was ordering one myself I would get the optional rider modes to defeat the traction control for really poor road conditions, but that is about the only change.
The first day of riding from Kasane to Nata defined the riding in Botswana. Mostly good pavement roads with some sections of the worst degraded road surface I had seen in my life. On the really bad sections the cars & trucks would be driving in the ditch on either side of the road. We would mostly weave our way through the potholes but sometimes had to alternate sides of the road or ride brief sections on the shoulder.
And another agricultural stop with the mandatory "bleach-the-boots" routine.
Our first day also brought about our first two "misadventures". While avoiding potholes one rider got caught in the soft shoulder and had an unplanned off-road excursion into the ditch and back onto the road. All at highway speed!
"No harm, no foul."
Someone also had a slow speed spill on the (unpaved and sand filled) entry road into our nightly accommodation, the Nata Lodge. The sand proved to be an excellent landing zone as the bike appeared completely unharmed.
The Nata Lodge was a very nice place. Each unit had an walled outdoor shower if you wanted to look at the stars while cleaning up after sunset.
The next day we headed west from Nata to Maun, BT. Same challenges as the previous day with one detour to the Planet Baobab camp & lodge. Although a short detour, the road conditions off the pavement were always challenging due to sand, washboard and exposed rocks.
We arrived early in the afternoon to the Maun Lodge and quickly changed to prepare for a short flight into the Okavango Delta.
We were picked up from the airstrip by our safari vehicles for a late afternoon game drive into the delta by Swampland Safari Trails.
In a very short time we saw 3 lions, a leopard feasting on a recent kill, elephants, hippos and a variety of other wildlife and birds.
Rene had told us we needed nothing but a toothbrush for our overnight stay, and we (mostly) listened. But, of course, we were rewarded with the first rain shower in 6 months resulting in some wet and cold tourists. Luckily the very low humidity had us dried out in an hour or two.
Our evening accommodation was a tent camp set up by the guiding company. After an excellent meal and some prolonged discussion with enjoyment of local adult beverages (Amarula & beer) we retired for the night.
This tent camp was set up in the middle of a wildlife refuge with essentially no barrier to animal movements through the camp. We were warned to stay close to the tents if we had to get up during the night, and given our earlier predator sightings everyone followed the recommendation.
Up at sunrise for a morning game drive, we experienced even more wildlife including another leopard.
We came back to the tent camp about 11am to enjoy a full breakfast before driving out of the camp on a long, dusty, bumpy trip back to the Maun Lodge. We saw some more wildlife on the trip out.
Some jokers added some "spice" to the drive with seating adornments or full-facial coverings to keep out the dust.
The next day was a straightforward ride. Including our second "Agricultural" roadblock where everyone is required to clean the soles of their shoes and boots in a bleach solution.
Our stay in Ghanzi, BT was at the Kalahari Arms Hotel. Beautiful grounds and a very interesting local grocery store across the street. You learn a lot from things like supply stores. But there are almost more questions than answers.
The next day had us spending our last few pula before exiting Botswana and entering Namibia. Although we had no trouble exiting Botswana (line up, have your passport examined & visa cancelled) there was a delay at the Namibia border entry. An "official" insisted on seeing everyone's International Driver's Permit. The only problem with that was that none of the countries we were travelling in require an International Driver's Permit. This rather suspicious shakedown was taking place right at the Namibia border entry fence, but out of view of the official Customs building. Rene, Piet and Mike had gone ahead to start the paperwork for taking the rented motorcycles into Namibia and not noticed the rest of us being stopped. But in a few minutes Rene was back arguing with the "official" and demanding his supervisor come back to discuss the matter. After 5 minutes of lively debate we were allowed to go to the official Namibia Customs entry post.
We used the next 30-45 minutes of time to finalize the paperwork and have our lunch break before going on to the capital of Namibia, Windhoek.
Next up, Namibia