We gave the Landy a good service at the excellent Foley's Africa in Livingstone and prepared it for 2 additional passengers while we were awaiting the arrival of friends Jan & Paul.
They arrived on 4th March and we welcomed them with a few beers and a fantastic African meal including a bowl of very tasty Mopane worms! The next couple of days revolved around the magnificent Victoria Falls that we saw from the ground (which was like being in a torrential rain storm) and in all its glory from the air by helicopter. We also plucked up the courage to dive off the Zambezi gorge Superman style on a zip wire!!
Next we were crossing the river by ferry to Botswana. After a bit of a grilling from the agricultural control boys we had our tomatoes, peppers and cucumber confiscated. We quickly scoffed a couple of tomatoes each before chucking the rest in the bin. A quick shopping trip in Kasane topped up the lost veg then we were on our way into Chobe & subsequently Moremi national park for 8 nights.
At 2 o'clock in the afternoon you don't expect to see too much game, and for Paul who was on his first trip to Africa this was an outstanding introduction to the wildlife here. On our 30 km drive to the campsite we saw more elephant than we have seen anywhere else, giraffe, numerous antelope species, buffalo and 3 lions crossing the road in front of us. We even had a large family of banded mongoose join us for dinner at our camp! The next day's game drive did not disappoint either, we had a very close encounter with a pair of lions. As we rounded a corner we almost ran into the male who was standing stock still eyeing up a couple of buffalo.
After two nights on Chobe river front we moved to Savuti which yielded our best lion sighting. We found a bachelor group of five male lion lazing in the grass next to the swamp, they were so relaxed and it was a real thrill to sit with them as the sun went down.
As with all the campsites in Botswana that we stayed at there were no fences so the wildlife wandered in and out as it pleased. In Savuti we had a couple of elephants stroll right past us one afternoon and we would often wake up to find strange animal tracks around the camp.
With the road flooded between Savuti and the North Gate at Moremi, we had to detour via the South gate which required a bit of rally driving to get to the park before dark, but we made it by the skin of our teeth. Once in the park we had to pull a stranded family out of the mud, so we ended up having a bit of a night drive!
It was at North Gate that we discovered Paul has some special healing powers. He picked up a dried coiled up millipede thinking it would make a nice souvenir, he put it in his top pocket for safe keeping and off we went. Many hours later he got it out and realised it had changed shape, on putting it on the ground it straightened out and sped off!!!
Our final camp was Xakanaxa which was in a lovely position on the edge of the delta. We had our most extraordinary wildlife sighting here where we spent 4 hours tracking and watching a pack of African wild dog. There are estimated to be only about 3000 left in the wild and it is one of the most endangered species in Africa so it was a privilege indeed to spend so much time with them. Our time in the park ended with a sunset boat ride around the nearby lagoons of the delta.
Maun provided an opportunity to sleep in a proper bed, enjoy a nice meal and restock the beer chest! We then headed north for a few days to the Tsodilo hills. We had a fantastically isolated campsite in the bush at the foot of these ancient hills and it gave us the opportunity to eat, drink and be merry.
Although we didn't have to share our camp with any other people there was a gang of cows that would wander through each day. One afternoon with our washing hanging on the line one of them made a grab for a pair of my pants and before we could make chase it had chewed them up and swallowed them whole!! The "Pant-eater" never got another pair but was often sniffing around the camp after that!
We had a long drive day back down south to Gweta on the edge of the massive Makgadikgadi salt pans where we spoilt ourselves to a luxury mud hut. The next day we headed out to follow a track running between two of the biggest pans allowing ourselves to venture onto the pan proper to camp each night. Paul and I sent the girls out in front to walk the track to make sure all was safe before venturing onto the pans as at this time of year they can be quite treacherous.
This was an awe inspiring environment, at times the only thing you could see was the horizon in all directions. We had two fantastic nights out here and one especially memorable one sleeping out under the stars with nothing but the distant call of jackals for company.
With 3 of the big five ticked off the list we went to Khama Rhino Sanctuary with the expectation of ticking off 1 more. We had no idea how lucky we were about to be! We decided to take a night drive. On approaching the first water hole we were looking at some nearby impala when on the other side a leopard emerged to have a drink. To our surprise it then started stalking the impala. Although it didn't make a kill it was thrilling to watch it hunting and get within 3ft of its prey. With the inevitable rhino also spotted that completed our "Big 5" in Botswana :-)
Our last night with Jan & Paul was spent in a classy Gabarone hotel, where our rather dour waitress made the night. Her quote of the night was, "Your steaks are overcooked, the chef did not hear me. There is nothing they can do about it. Enjoy your meal." We had to smile!!
We dropped Jan & Paul at the airport the next day after a few hours by the pool and headed back to South Africa.
The last few weeks have without doubt been the best of our whole trip. The wildlife, scenery and company have all been exceptional!!