This is a story of luck, mud, travel experience and Italians.
When you are going to read it, you are going to understand why and how all these aspects came together.
First of all the preparation: in order to undertake such a travel, our group had to be really prepared: timing was only 4 days (Friday to Monday included) and budget was the one of a young employee.
To better understand our situation, this story will be explained through some facts:
Fact 1: forget to sleep in a lodge in Botswana unless you want to spend more than 150$ (yes, USD) per night. It’s not cheap over there.
Fact 2: Botswana has malaria. Yes, you need to take malaria pills in certain areas and certain times of the year. Guess where and when ww were going?
Fact 3: Driving by night is dangerous. This because there are animals. Cows, donkeys and whatever else everywhere!
Planning started around one month and a half before, and we decided that our route and our destination were driven by the plane ticket cost and the availability of 4x4s. Being Easter period, everything was obviously expensive and already booked, but we were lucky enough to get a suitable plane for Windhoek (Namibia) and two fully equipped 4x4s with tent on top were awaiting for us at Hosea Kutako Airport.
Those beasts were impressive at a first glance and we were really proud of them, but hey, sometimes not everything that glitters is gold.
Our planning was involving approximately 800km and crossing the namibian/botswana border in 1.5 days. The itinerary was very tight and our main objective consisted in getting within the second night really nearby the Moremi Game Reserve, the biggest reserve in the Okavango delta.
(From wikipedia) The Okavango Delta in Botswana is a very large, swampy inland delta formed where the Okavango River reaches a tectonic trough in the central part of the basin of the Kalahari. All the water reaching the Delta is ultimately evaporated and transpired, and does not flow into any sea or ocean. Each year approximately 11 cubic kilometers of water spreads over the 6,000-15,000 km2 area. The scale and magnificence of the Okavango Delta helped it secure a position as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa
Fact 4: when you order 4×4 fully equipped it will take you a long time to get them. It took us 4 hours for 2 cars.
After this long wait stuck under a 35C sun, we passed the border when it was night. You remember fact 3? Well – we ended up in a random village searching for accomodation. It didn’t work out. Hence we drove 150km more in the complete dark and we reached the first camp at 22:30. Not discouraged from the long journey we had a braai (bbq) with some wine and beeers and we went to sleep when stars where already up in the sky.
The next day, driving other 400km, we reached Maun, before the tourism office closed. Indeed, this is a compulsory stop if you are planning to visit Moremi Game Reserve by yourself: we did permits for the Okavango Delta there because you cannot make them at the entrance, hence plan accordingly (Cost was approximately 120 BWP per person per day and 50 BWP per vehicle per day).
We had a nice lunch break on a local spot on the road – between airport road and sir seretse khama rd and really nearby we also managed to get fuel, wood, meat and beers: our primary needs were fulfilled.
Left Maun, the tarred road gave way to a narrower but really enjoyable dirt road. Our second night destination was Mankwe campsite, nearby the northern gate of Moremi Game Reserve, a 2.5h drive from Maun.
While on the dirt road, we stopped to appreciate some good sunsets.
And it was time for some epic photos too!
Mankwe campsite was amazing. We were in the real savanna, sleeping in our little spot nearby who knows which wild animals. Obviously, we had a second braai and, when the fire was almost over, we started to really realize where we were.
Stars are amazing in those part of the world.
Fact 5: in a malaria area there are tons of mosquitos. That’s why it’s called a Malaria area.
Hell yeah, before going to sleep, we killed at least 25 mosquitos INSIDE our tent. Despite this little drawback and thanks to our (beloved) malaria medicine, we went to sleep, ready for the next day. The one-day self-driving Moremi Game Reserve
Mankwe campsite is ideally located approximately 45 mins drive from the northern gate. Indications were given by the friendly Mankwe’s owner and we manage to get there after this exciting drive in the middle of bushes and sand. Not a difficult drive though.
Fact 6: coming from Mankwe, you are ALREADY inside Moremi, hence you DO NOT need to pass the gate. We did it because we didn’t realize we were actually there (and maps are not clear).
Guess what we did? Yes, we passed the gate thinking to entering the reserve, instead we were exiting it. Passing the gate will take you to the Khwai reserve, a local community living on the okavango.
And you pass a bridge like this one!
Inside Moremi, there are a lot of wild animals, but there is one little problem:
Fact 7: Okavango Delta is a river delta. It is almost full of water. Yes. water and mud. No, you cannot really move with a 4×4. Yes, we tried. No, we didn’t succeed. You need expert guides living there and boats.
We tried at least twice to cross water/mud in two different points but:
Fact 8: Toyota Hilux fully equipped 2.0 lt are not powerful enough to be considered 4x4s. Yep, they are really heavy and get stucked in the mud even easier than normal 4×4.
One car (mine) got stuck in the mud first time for 20 mins and second time for 5h. There we go – done our Okavango self-driving experience. The other car almost lost the front bumper. We were really lucky to find some local guys who dragged us away from the mud pond with a 5 tonnes truck and a giant chain eventually, after hours of digging and sweating in the middle of the park.
Just to let you know, this was the 5-hours-stuck pond. Pointing on the left side of the photo, you see some deep tracks. There I was.
Traumatized by this sweating adventure, we moved on toward the southern gate and we were again lucky because a group of 30+ elephants crossed our path.
Actually we ran away because:
Fact 9: groups of Elephants with babies are dangerous. They will try to defend their babies and this means they will charge you. You and your 4×4.And for sure you don’t want to explain this to your insurance later.
But we survived without any issue and we started to drive back. Do you remember the 800km we did to get there? We had to drive back this time.
Splitting the trip in two legs – we did 300km at sunset and stopped to El Fari campsite, super nice location to have our last night and last braai. And again, those stars…
Last day of the trip has been also the one that we drove the most and the fastest. We had to take a plane at 5pm but we had to cover 580km. We managed to cover them in 5 hours, even passing through the namibian and the botswana border.
We also were really lucky because we even took a “very dubious” speeding fine, but we arranged to “pay” it “on the spot“.
And the last lucky part was that it started to rain. In Namibia. A very violent rain that actually WASHED our cars and we saved money!
Fact 10: It rains also in Namibia.
And we took that plane. This plane. With this background.
Summing up, this adventure was one of the craziest and luckiest adventures of my life. Not the best shots ever photographically speaking, nor incredibly stunning locations, but I obtained so much life experience and my travel planning skills increased considerably.
I admit – as mentioned at the beginning of the article, we were lucky. But we were covered in mud.
We did some good travelling experience.
And we are Italians.
Fact 11: you need to wait for 40 days after the last malaria exposure to say that you don’t have been infected with it. Today is the 39th day.
Till the next adventure, take photographs, stay travelling!
PS: video will follow soon 🙂