It’s been an interesting couple of days. As most of our virtual travelling companions know, we’re not great ones for pre-booking stuff. Usually that works out for us, and we like the flexibility of being able to change our plans because we learn along the way about things that sound interesting.
On Saturday we did actually get ourselves organised and booked a couple of nights at Nambwa Community Camp via their website. It had been recommended to us and had good reviews in our guide books. We received 2 confirmation emails so it all seemed fine and we worked around staying there on Monday and Tuesday. The camp is attached to more up-market accommodation in a national park along the Caprivi Strip, so we paid our park fees and drove 15kms along a truly dreadful sand track. At the park entrance gate, we were kept waiting by a group of 11 ‘tag along’ 4WDs, who seemed to be going to the same place as us. And we knew the campground only had 4 sites, so it was a bit mysterious how we would all fit in. Anyway … we got to the campground and were told that we didn’t have a booking, they had no knowledge of our booking and they were booked out. The tag-along people were all squeezing into one site, there was another large group and the other 2 sites were also taken. The manager got quite nasty and blamed the website, whoever handled their website bookings, US (!!) … just about everyone he could think of, rather than accept any of the blame himself, or offer a reasonable solution. So after some heated words, we drove back along the horrible 15kms of sand, making room for the 11 tag-along vehicles to drive past (only 3 of of the 11 drivers even bothered to wave a ‘thank you’ to us) and headed another 100kms to Katima Mutilo, on the Zambezi River, and on the border of Namibia and Zambia. We camped right on the banks of the Zambezi, at the Caprivi Houseboat Lodge. It was a lovely place and it worked out to be a much better option for us than the Nambwa campground, which would have been severely overcrowded with the group campers.
The downside of not booking ahead is that it seems as if the whole of Botswana is fully booked out. The national parks are managed by multiple private companies, and it’s a very fragmented and difficult process to navigate. We have emailed a few places without success, and went to another one when we were in Kasane yesterday. It seems that the ‘only’ way to do it is to go to Maun and visit each company office separately. However, after our experience in trying to find a campsite in Kasane yesterday, we’ve changed our plans completely. Kasane is a fair-sized town on the edge of Chobe National Park, at the far north-west of Botswana. It is close to the Zimbabwe and Zambia borders, situated on the banks of the Chobe River. Lots of wildlife on the river, lots of tourist activities, lots of accommodation and more tourists at this time of the year than the area can handle. Very much like Broome in winter. When we were there in January we stayed for a few days and loved it. This time we tried 6 places for a campsite. 4 were completely booked out, one had great signs on the road but wasn’t open yet and the 6th was completely empty!
The Tilodi Lodge is about 15kms south of Kasane, well sign-posted on the main road and along the sandy side roads (probably really only suitable for 4WD), nicely set up with fancy permanent tents as cabins, more basic permanent tents in a large area full of trees, nice common areas, pool, permanent waterhole with bar/viewing deck and a day spa with gym, hydrotherapy pool and massage room. The staff let us pitch our tent in the tented area and the manager came to chat with us last night. It’s a complete mystery to us why it’s not full of tourists, like every other place for miles around. More guests arrived late in the afternoon, but we have the tented area to ourselves.
Crossing over the Namibia-Botwsana border was the usual confusing, time-consuming process of trying to find the correct building, filling in forms, getting pieces of paper stamped, waiting ages for the underworked immigration staff to finish their long personal conversations with each other, going to the next window to go through the same process all over again … then repeat all of the above at the Botswana side, although the staff there were more efficient and friendly. There was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in north eastern Botswana a few months ago, so they are very vigilant about trying to stop meat and fresh milk being brought in from Namibia, and they spray the car tyres and make people dip the soles of their shoes in something. The upside of all of that was that within a very short distance from the checkpoint we saw our first giraffe! And a small herd of zebras a couple of kms further along. Driving south from Kasane, near the Zambia border and the turn-off to Zimbabwe, we were amazed to see at least 50 semi-trailers lined along the road, waiting to cross into Zam. Last time we drove that stretch of road, we saw 3 giraffes ….. this time we saw 2 a bit further south past the trucks.
Not much other wildlife this time – the waterhole on the way to Kasane where we saw elephants and our first giraffe last time is now dry.