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Sunday, 26 July 2009

June Crew Rosta.

When you have had your month of 'Standby', you start to go up in the Crew bidding process again. So in June 2009 it was a case of 'bottom bid', so she did not bother to put any bids in.
Consequently her rota was a bit uninspiring this month. It started out well with a visit to Perth, Australia. She has visited Perth before, and on that occasion went on an open top bus city tour. Unfortunately this time it was raining and she was not feeling well, so I think it was just a tour of Australian TV? She was due to go to Birmingham, England, but swapped it for a Manchester so that she could see us prior to our Botswana trip. The new Air Emirates Cabin Crew Uniform had been issued to all crew. It had just been worn by the A380 crew up till now. So it was nice to see the new look. The changes are subtle but make a big difference to the overall look. The material now has a thin red stripe in it. The jacket and skirt are slightly more fitted, the blouse has a red piping on it, the skirt now has red kick pleats, to match the red shoes and bag.
She only had 36 hours break before doing another Manchester visit on the day we left for Botswana. We had a quick meeting with her at Manchester Airport just prior to us getting our BA flight to London, she then got the train into Manchester to get some 'Wellies'?
Back in Dubai, she had three turnarounds to India before starting some annual leave, attending a Festival where the aforementioned Wellies came in handy!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Botswana Self Drive Holiday. Last Day.

Wednesday 24th June, we left South Gate Camp and headed back to Maun. We had not seen as much game as we had expected to, but this was due to the unseasonable rain. I was pleased to have got out onto the Delta both by Moroko and Moter boat. It had also been great just to experience the wilderness in a tent! I was also very impressed that we had not got stuck or broken down once! Not even a flat tyre! The 4x4 driving course in Wales had really paid off.
We took the main road, this is a dirt road as far as the village of Shorobe. The road joins the Chobe road just before reaching the vet fence. The road was in good condition, very hard sand, with a few rain puddles.
We were stopped at the vet fence and the guard there checked that we were not taking any uncooked meat into the areas where the domestic cattle are. He really checked us out, taking well over 10 minutes looking through every thing. Just past Shorobe, I stopped at the woman where we had brought the firewood from on the way through. I wanted to drop off all our left over provisions, I also gave her my Primark Dressing Gown and a load of other things I did not want to cart back home with me.
We had decided to book in at the Motsentsela Tree Lodge in Maun for the last night. The Bradt book says that you can book this through Travel Wild. There office is opposite the airport, so this was our first stop. The Bradt Book is out of date, as Travel Wild no longer deal with the bookings for the lodge, you phone and book direct. We wanted to hire a car for the last day, thinking this would be cheaper than getting around by Taxies. However, hiring a car was far to expensive, the prices started at over £70.00 for the day! So that idea was quickly scrapped!
We drove up the road to Mac & Brenda, Mac was out in Moremi rescuing a motorist who was stuck on the North Gate road! We chatted to Brenda about our plans for the night, and she asked us how we were going to get to the Tree lodge? When we said we would get a Taxi, she suggested that we keep the Land Rover for one more night, free of charge. Such a generous offer, and saving us a lot of money.
The company that Mac & Brenda run is called Mechto Ltd, they rent 4x4s, and offer a breakdown service. The 4x4 that we rented from them was such a good vehicle, and so well equipped, I would recommend them.
We got lost going to Motsentsela Tree Lodge! but found it in the end. We almost did not get in, when you book they give you the code to the ‘key pad’. So, I was looking for a key pad on the gate and could not see any thing. Then I saw a silver padlock and looked at it. It was the padlock that needed the code, I was being far to high Tec looking for a digital key pad.
Upon arrival, lunch was ready and waiting for for us, we sat on the deck and had a very nice lunch, we heard the call of the Fish Eagle, one has a nest just past the main lodge. Our accommodation was in a very large ‘tent’, it had a fantastic bathroom, with a bath and unlimited amounts of hot water.


During our short stay we were constantly fed and watered, and treted like Kings! In the evening a resident Spotted Genet could be seen in the large Leadwood tree by the main lodge. We were given hot water bottle when it was time to go to bed. We really needed the hot water bottles, as this was one of the coldest nights in Maun in a long time, it got down to -3. I was so cold I wish I had kept my dressing gown for one more day!

Do you want a hair cut?The next day our flight from Maun left at 14.30, and the BA flight from J’Berg was at 23.00. Once again this flight was full. Finally was arrived home at 15.00. Happy to be home, but missing Africa already! Next African adventure, planning for Kilimanjaro.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Botswana Self Drive Holiday.Day Seven. Moremi Game Reserve. South Gate Campsite.

This was our last day in the Moremi Game Reserve, some fellow campers reported that they had seen heard of Buffalo on Bodumatau Road. We were heading to South Gate Campsite, so took this route. We saw a few Zebra at Botelele Pool,
but once past there the roads became waterlogged and to deep to cross. We had to turn back and use the main road up to South Gate. We stopped for a long time at the Bodumatau Logoon, it is a very relaxing spot.We got to the South Gate Camp site in very good time. This was a very pleasant site, with large, clean pitches, that had a concrete table & chairs. This site again had the new ablution blocks, and these had hot water.
As we had arrived earlier than we had expected. After lunch we went out to have a look at Santawani Lodge. This lodge is signposted as soon as you leave Moremi, you take the right had fork in the road. The road was dead straight, very deep sand, this road also goes to Maun, I think we almost got there as we missed the turn for the lodge!! We did see a lot of wildlife on this road, a few herds of Zebra, Giraffe and some very large Bull Elephants. I was really disappointed that I did not see any Wild dogs, as there is a Wild Dog Research Station along this road. We got back into South Gate Camp just as the gates shut and settled down for the night.
Hyenas were around again, calling loudly to each other, they but ran off with a metal plate left out by some other campers! This was the first night that we did not hear lions calling.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Botswana Self Drive Holiday.Day Six.North Bridge (Khwai) Campsite to Xakanaxa Campsite.

As I said we were booked for 2 nights at North Gate (Khwai) Campsite. But we found that this was our least favourite campsite, It was dirty, I think this was due to the lack of a designated ‘campfire’ space, so fires had been lit all over the pitches, resulting in black sand. This campsite is also very close to the Khwai Village, we hardly had any sleep due to the village dogs barking all night long and very loud singing, but it was Sunday, maybe it was a long church service?
The other issue was the villagers using the ablution blocks- I don’t blame them, if I lived in a hut with no running water I would use them as well! But it means there is no hot water left.
A Hyena had woken me at about 04.00, I smelt it again. It was right against the back left hand wheel, and it Whooped for ages, deafening us and making any more sleep impossible. The nights in Moremi were very cold, I was glad of my winter PJs and wolly socks. If I go again in June, I will take at hat to sleep in as well!
So we decided to explore the area then head off back down to Xakanaxa.
We set off on the road that runs beside the river Khwai and around the floodplains. Unfortunatly due to the height of the flood, most of the roads were under water and we could not get very far. The other small roads were mud filled tracks, thease were the worst roads we drove on in the Game Reserve.As we drove to Xakanaxa we pulled of the main road to an area signposted ‘Hippo Pool’ and sat there for a few hours watching Hippos and bird life. It was an idyllic spot.


We set up camp again in Xakanaxa, this time at 17.30 the warden did come up to us to ask why were were there! He told us that we had camped in a spot reseved for 'Cars that break down'. I asked him if we should set off to North Gate?- it is against Park rules to drive in the dark. He shrugged and drove off!
We had not seen any Zebra, Buffalos or Wildebeest on our journeys, and that =no Cats! Each night we had heard the roaring of Lions, but the sound was getting further and further away. We think that the recent good rainfall had dispersed the game.
We just relaxed, enjoyed the sunset and the stars, we again had a close encounter with a large Bull Elephant, as he walked through the camp breaking branches. He passed within a few yards of our car, causing me leap to get into the drivers seat in fear!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Botswana Self Drive Holiday. Day Five. Xakanaxa Campsite to North Bridge (Khwai) Campsite.

The motor boat ride ensured an early start today as it was booked for 07.00. At this time in the morning, with the sun just coming up It was very cold out on the water. I got a very good view of all three lodges as we passed! The reed fence next to Camp Okuti, divides the Lodge from the Xakanaxa Boat Station and Campsite. This is the next lodge in the line of three, Camp Moremi, latest price $360 pppn. The Delta was so quiet, once our guide turned off the engines, it was a good view from the top deck of the boat. We did come across the most enormous crocodile in the Xakanaxa Lagoon. We heard one Fish Eagle Cry, but couldn’t see it.
We had a long way drive today, from Xakanaxa to North Gate for 2 nights, so as soon as we got back from the boat ride we set off. The German couple had told us that the drive through Paradise Pools was lovely, so we took the fork in the road towards Paradise Pools.
As soon as we drove out of the camp, our way was blocked by a large heard of Elephants. Three of whom were laid in the road, dusting themselves. We turned of the engine and just waited for them to finish, they took there time! We passed the Xakanaxa airstrip next, a plane had just landed, and had disturbed a troop of Baboons, they were running all over the airfield. It was a good greeting for the guests going to the Lodges.
The drive through Qua Ledibe was very picturesque, the road wandered through old, established Mopane Woodlands, we saw herds and herds of Elephants. A lot of trees had been felled by the Elephants and blocked the road, we had to create our own rout to get round the trees, the road did not look as if it was in use, the track was very overgrown, and since we set off we had not seen another human, we wondered if the Germans had duped us!?!
As we got further, the road got worse. I checked the Map and GPS, so knew our position. But with the flood levels being so high we came to a part where the water was getting deeper, we had forded water several times up to this point, but now it looked very deep. I think if we had been in a group we would have risked it, but as we were alone the thought of getting stuck for an unknown length of time caused us to turn back.
Is this the road?

We arrived again at the Airstrip. Then took the ‘main’ road to North Gate. Even this road was in a bad condition, with many deep, muddy pools and one major river crossing.
It was quite late by the time we arrived at North Bridge, and the campsite. We just had time to cook and set up camp before it got dark.

Botswana Self Drive Holiday. Day Four. Third Bridge to Xakanaxa.

It was an early start today, to get packed up and to the Mboma Boat Station for the Mokoro trip at 10.00. Once again the drive was easy, it did not take 1 hour. The road did have some very deep patches of sand, but the car & driver coped well with it and we didn’t get stuck. There was very little wildlife to see, just a few Giraffe and Warthogs.
The Mboma Boat Station has both Mokoros and moter powered boats.

A Mokoro is a type of canoe commonly used in the Okovango Delta. It is propelled through the shallow waters of the delta by standing in the stern and pushing with a pole, in the same manner as a punt. Makoros are traditionally made by digging out the trunk of a large straight tree, such as the Sausage Tree. To preserve the old trees, modern Makoros, are made from fibergass.
Our ‘Poler’ was called Dainel, he was a very good guide and extremely well informed about the plants and animals of the Delta. He punted us out to the small Island, where we got out of the Mokoro to look at a Bee Hive in a tree.
The big tree on the island was used by a Leopard as a scratching post, the trunk had lots of deep scratches on it.
After the relaxing ride through the swampland, we drove back to Third Bridge Campsite to have lunch. As soon as we drove over Third Bridge, heading for Xakanaxa, we were greeted by a large herd of Elephants.
This drive was lovely, passing through some beautiful old Mopani forests. The Delta was on the left hand side, the water levels were very high at times, we saw herds of Elephants, Hippo, Red Letchwe, Water Buck & Impala. The roads were like a maze and I was very glad to have the Veronica Roodt Moremi Road Map and Gamin handheld GPS. With out these we would have got very lost.
As we got very close to Xakanaxa Capsite, we almost went the wrong way, as the sign post had been removed. This was at the junction where there are three Lodges, Camp Okuti, Xakanaxa and Camp Moremi. I was very surprised when I saw these three Lodges, as they are right next to the camp site. So close that one of the Camp Okuti ‘rooms’ is up against the fence that separates the campsite from the lodge!
The Campsite was great. We were not booked in at it, but took a chance. There was plenty of room, as the pitches are large The site is adjacent to the Xakanaxa Boat Station. With the pitches all along the river. We were next to a German couple who had driven from Savuti.
That evening as we sat in the dark looking up at the Milky Way, we heard trees breaking and twigs snapping, the noise got louder & louder. The culprit was a very large Elephant walking through the camp! Later, we were woken by the sound again, this time very close to us, so close I felt the tent rustle as an Elephants ear brushed against the canvas. We stayed very still, and quiet for what seemed like ages, then the Elephant trumpeted! It was right next to us.
The next morning we checked out the tracks in the sand, the Elephants footprints were the largest I have ever seen, but more worrying were the tracks of a Spotted Hyena next to the car, and Leopard tracks over the Elephant prints! We didn’t hear that?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Botswana Self Drive Holiday. Day Three. Kaziikini Campsite to Moremi Game Reserve .

It was a very short drive from Kaziikini Campsite to the South Gate Entrance to the Moremi Game Reserve. The park gates open at 06.00, we arrived at about 10.00.
According to the Bradt Safari Guide to Botswana, May to October is the best time to visit if you are driving yourself, as this is the dry season. However, early in June Botswana had very unseasonal rain in June, over 100mm fell in 24 hours. The rain fell as the annual flood approached Maun. Because of this expectations for the flood are high, and water levels in the Thamalakane River are rising at over 3 cm per day. Despite this, the roads from South Gate were dry, a little sandy in places, but we did not get stuck.
We had been told that if you wanted to go out onto the lagoon in a Mokoro, it was advisable to book. So we drove to the Mboma Boat Station and booked our Mokoro for 10.00 the next day.
We could have gone out there and then, and the 'Poler' was surprised that we had come to book!!
The drive from the boat station to Third Bridge campsite was about 1 hour, the roads were very sandy.

Third Bridge Campsite was lovely, our pitch looked out onto the lagoon and I could see (and hear) Elephants in the water.
The only problem with this site is the troop of Baboons who live here. You have to lock every thing away or they will have it. One jumped into a fellow campers Land Rover and stole a bag of apples whilst they were chatting to us.
All through the park new ablution blocks have been built. They are very nice, they have a Male and Female side, with 3 toilets and 3 showers in each side. There are solar panels for hot water, but you have to run the water for a long time to get hot water. The young baboon's were having fun useing the panels as a slide!

That night Hippos grazed next to out tent, and a Hyena looked to see if we had left any scraps! I could smell the Hyena, they smell like very smelly Cats!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Botswana Self Drive Holiday. Day Two. Maun to Kaziikini Campsite.

The stay at Thamalakane Safari Lodge included breakfast, this was served in the open dining area that overlooked the river. The was a good selection of cereals, juices & yoghurt's, and you could chose the 'English' option. (fired egg, bacon, toast etc). After breakfast, we had a list of things to do!
Moremi Game Reserve does not have any shops or petrol stations, so you have to take all your supplies with you, we needed to go into Maun and get our supplies for the next six days.
We had booked our campsites in Moremi with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, we had done this in England and I had paid a small deposit. We had to go to the office and pay the rest of our bill in full, prior to getting to the park gates.This is different than in South Africa's Kruger Park, where you pay the deposit, then settle the account at the park gate. We had to have a Permit prior to arriving at Moremi South Gate.
Maun is a small town and we found the Office of the National Parks and Wildlife Service with out any problem. The office was full of tour operators booking up the campsites for the next 3 months! I felt lucky to have got our booking.
We went to the supermarket and got our food, to a very nice butchers for the meat, and most importantly to the Bottle Store for beer and wine! Filled the Land Rover FULL with petrol, then went for a cup of tea!
One of the best things about Southern Africa is that you get a recognisable Cup of Tea, served with cold milk. We went to Hillary's Coffee Shop, this is located near to the airport. I had a massive slice of pecan pie with ice cream....it was SO sweet! Whilst we ate our pie, ballet exams were going on in the adjoining building and all the Mums were waiting at Hillary's for the little ballerinas to finish. Now sitting under the Hibiscus trees listening to the tinkle from the piano really brought back memories from the late 1980s, when i was doing the same thing, waiting in Amanzimtoti, for my small ballerinas to finish the exams!!
We set off on the tar road towards Moremi. We had to purchase our firewood, so stopped just before the Tar road finished to do this.
The Tar road finished just past Shorebe, then the sandy dirt road starts. This road was in very good condition all the way to the 'Vet Fence', we passed through the check point with just a quick check and chat, and arrived in good time at Kaziikini Campsite. the journey was far faster than we had anticipated, only 2 to 2 1/2 hours from Maun. This campsite is run by the local community, it was very clean, with outside ablution blocks. unfortunately the hot water was not working, but at this early stage in our travels this was not a problem. There was a dinning hall and bar, the campsites were situated under trees, so it was very shady.
Check in.
We set up camp & cooked our dinner, but our timing was not good and I ended up washing up in the dark, this is not a good idea when you must boil the water, wash, dry and pack every thing away because of the resident Hyenas!
If there were any Hyenas in camp that night, I did not hear them, I did hear the Lions roaring...very far away at about 04.00, but that was all.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Botswana Self Drive Holiday. Day One. LHR to Maun. Thank to Mac and Brenda at Maun 4x4 for a fab Land Rover!

The day had arrived, Botswana or to be more specific The Okovango Delta. I have been waiting years for this trip.
First, it was a British Airways, (or should we call them South of England Airways?) flight from Manchester to Heathrow, arriving into the new terminal five. Terminal Five is massive, but we had plenty of time to get to the gate and get on the 747-400 going to Johannesbugh.
Our seats were great, a window and an aisle right at the back of the aircraft. The plane was packed, not a seat to spare. The flight was full of Rugby Fans going to see the Lions in South Africa. The crew left the bar open, so that you could help yourself and the flight had a real party atmosphere, one fan was singing songs till we were over Chad, when there were crys of 'shut up!!'. He did, and most of the passengers slept as the flight headed for EGoli.
The flight arrived as scheduled at 06.30.
The airport is getting ready for South Africa hosting the football world cup in 2010. Getting through passport control was very easy, and all the staff very efficient. It took a long time for the bags to appear, and although the airport has six baggage carousels only one was in use?
We had time to enjoy a full South African breakfast at the airport, before checking in for the flight with Air Botswana to Maun. The plane was brand new and this flight took two hours.I had booked the fully equipped 4x4 over the Internet. It is all ways a worry when booking over the Internet as to whether 'firms' really exist or not, especially when they are not international companies. So, I was very relived when we were met by the people we had booked our hire car with! They are called Mechto Ltd, they rent out 4x4s, offer breakdown recovery and service vehicle, and they were fantastic. This is a link to the web page;
http://www.maunselfdrive4x4.com/
Very quickly we were take to the home of Brenda & Mac, and shown the Land Rover we were hiring for the week.
It was just what we needed, a Land Rover Td5. It had a long range fuel tank, a large tank full of fresh drinking water, 2 spare tyres, a fridge /freezer, a cool box, all the camping equipment we needed, plates, cups, even matches and tea towels. It also had an electric light that plugged into the cigarette lighter and an electric pump to pump up the tyres. This was our home for the next seven days......Mac & Brenda did us proud!
I booked a campsite at the Thamalakane Safari Lodge for the first night, to give us chance to get to know the workings of the tent.....I need not have worried, it was very easy, just folding out like a book. The photos on the website http://www.thamalakane.com/ do not do the lodge justice, it is undergoing a renovation project and was a fantastic place to stay.

Thamalakane Safari Lodge is on the banks of the river, it has a campsite, lodges, a swimming pool, a restaurant and bar, as well as sitting areas inside and out.

We sat enjoying our first sundowner, a Gin & Tonic whilst listing to the sounds of the hippos in the river...bliss!