Monday, 8 April 2013

Becoming a Bush Pilot

After the long and hard road to Livingstone, it was time to take stock. We only had 3 weeks to get to Cape Town, but now, after all that driving, the odds were shifting in our favour. A quick check of the sat nav, revealed we were only 3 days drive from the Cape if we headed straight for it, so there was a time for a bit more fun on the final leg of the trip. For us, that meant heading straight west into Botswana and Namibia, to visit the Bushmen for a while.

A grand way to start a more fun based bit of the trip was a visit to Victoria Falls. Anna had been before, but not when the river was in full flow. The locals call it the 'Smoke That Thunders', and it was hard not to agree as you approached the falls; you heard them well before seeing them. The rate of flow was incredible, and it was impossible not to get soaked as you looked at them. Later in the afternoon, we wound our way down to the riverside to the scarily named Devil's pool (though the scariest thing in reality was fighting off the insistent baboons with sticks and stones who thought we might have food). Overall an amazing day - a true natural wonder.
Epic falls

They look innocent (note tiny baby), but they were soon to be chasing us down the path!
Awesome whirlpool-iness at the Devil's Pool - the bridge you can just see in the background is the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe
Getting very wet from the Smoke that Thunders

Feeling a bit more chipper and rested, we headed on to Botswana by crossing the Zambezi river on a barge (approved level of border), and landed in town just in time to take a cruise into the Chobe National Park. It's pretty wet in Botswana right now, so driving isn't so easy, but the cruise was a great way to get up close to some pretty amazing Elephants without being in too much danger (they can't swim as fast as they run!) A nice treat for Valentine's day, followed by a very fancy meal (inc. roses and chocolates) at the amazing lodge we were staying at (fortunately we were allowed to camp in the car park).

On the border between Zambia and Botswana - approved on the James' scale of proper borders
Elephants are in great danger all over Africa, but in Chobe, this is just not true. Numbers are booming (which is pretty good, because I really love elephants, and half a memory card full of photos to prove it). Our best elephant based experienced was driving along the road between Chobe and Maun. We saw our first triangle beware signs with pictures of elephants on them, which usually obviously means you wont see any. Then 10 minutes later we saw a sign that had been bent in half and joked that there must be elephants nearby. Sure enough, another 10 seconds and we saw a couple of huge males grazing by the side of the road. Sadly a few minutes late for the best photo opportunity ever.

Getting up close and personal with the elephants

Our next stop was Maun, a dusty, end of the world type town, which marks the edge of the Okavango Delta. The main reason we were going was my obsession with a tv show called 'Bush Pilots' ( The show follows rookie pilots who turn up in Botswana, usually from the UK, with a bare minimum of flying experience, and try to find their first flying job. Our trip to Maun was basically the fan tour. We stayed at the hostel where they bunk whilst waiting for work, ate at the Bon Arrivee restaurant outside the airport where they hang out, and obviously took an incredible tourist flight over the Delta itself (for any Mum's reading, we found a pilot will well over 100 hours experience, don't worry!)

The delta is an incredible place. Because it gets so completely flooded in the wet season, the population has always been limited to a few small villages hemmed in on the higher ground, who get around in canoes. This has meant that the area is wonderfully remote, and rammed full of wildlife. Really amazing from the air (though Anna did need to make use of the facilities a couple of times in response to the pilot dipping the wing to look at elephants!)

Looking healthy and happy - notably, pre-flight
Our worrying small vessel
Flying low over the swamps, lovely reflection of the clouds and sky in the water

We capped off our trip to Botswana, by driving as far as we could into the Delta, and staying at the Swamp Stop. As you'd expect, this had the most insects I've ever seen anywhere, and no mozzie spray was strong enough. Though our main guilt was the number of beautiful butterflies getting caught in our grill as we drove along. It was more or less like driving through a wall of them, so not much I could do.

Butterfly trap, but the car is still going strong!
The car was still going incredibly well, though my level of improvisation was gradually increasingly. Some rain water had gotten into our front differential, and the oil needed changing (which unfortunately involves squeezing oil in, up hill). Although my first attempt with a piece of gas hose taped to the end of squash bottle was thoroughly unsuccessful, I managed to get the oil in using our pump powered camping shower. Fortunately, there have been showers in every campsite since then - not looking forward to the first oil based shower! The car needed to be in top shape from here though, as we were about to take a slightly less trodden route to Nambia...