When we decided to visit our children in Katima Mulilo (I shall use the shortened term Katima in this blog) situated at the far NW corner of the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, in May 2004, it would be our 2nd opportunity to venture into parts of Africa which were prohibited to us during the apartheid years.
Our first trip was to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana to fill a childhood dream – to see the Victoria Falls on my 50th birthday. I had been able to do this as it was post 1994 when South Africans were once again permitted to travel into Africa. We didn’t expect to go again as soon as 4 years later. This time though we would see a lot more of Botswana and most of the Caprivi.
I think that it is pertinent to note here that we did this travelling into other Southern African countries before we attained the exalted level of Senior Citizens. Generally the roads in Africa are rough and towns are far apart so travelling as a Senior Citizen on one’s own or as a couple is not advisable unless you are very adventurous.
The total distance from Durban to Katima is 1540kms (950 miles) so there was no doubt that the journey would have to be done in stages. Although we were much younger than we are now it would still prove to be a long journey but we also saw and learnt a lot about this area of Africa. The stopovers would be 2 nights in Johannesburg, 2 in Nata in Botswana and then on to Katima. We left South Africa at the Groblersbrug (Grobler’s Bridge) Border post and entered Botswana via the Martin’s Drift post. Each stop went smoothly and we were on our way within 10 minutes of stopping at each gate.
Arriving in Botswana
One of the first things we noticed was how quickly the mountains on the border of the 2 countries dissipated into what must be the flattest land in the world.
Then there were the donkeys. The donkey is a very important animal in Botswana and they are everywhere. Not only are they used for pulling carts and carrying loads but the people also drink their milk and eat their meat. It is not unusual to see donkeys lying in the road or just ambling along aimlessly. Seldom were they in herds or even more than one but there certainly were dozens of them. Unfortunately, today thousands have been trafficked for their skins which are considered valuable for Chinese traditional medicine and the Botswana Government has had to legislate against this poaching.
A group of donkeys grazing
The further we drove northwards to Nata, our second stop on this trip, the flatter the land seemed to become and the less the vegetation there was; we could see for miles, quite literally. There had also been very heavy rains and the fields and roads were full of water. Every 50kms or so there was a police road block checking drivers’ licences which was a bit intimidating to begin with but they were always polite and professional so we felt quite comfortable.
A flooded area on the roadside
We arrived at Nata Lodge late afternoon and were warmly welcomed. This type of welcome was something we were to experience throughout Botswana and Namibia. We checked in and were directed to our unit where we received quite an unexpected surprise. There was no kitchen or any other catering facilities. Stupidly, I had not checked to see whether or not it was self-catering. We were so accustomed to self-catering facilities when we travelled in South Africa that it never occurred to me to check this. Nata Lodge turned out to be Bed & Breakfast only! Fortunately we had some basics with us which we used for the 2 suppers that we were there. My Girl Guide training came to the fore – Be Prepared. To have dinner in the restaurant was expensive and not in the budget.
The flooded road which greeted us as we arrived at Nata Lodge
Entrance to Nata Lodge
The following day we booked a tour to visit the Nata Bird Sanctuary and the Makgadigadi Salt Pans. We were in luck here as lunch was provided and very good it was too. Due to the heavy rains which had been experienced just prior to our visit the Salt Pans were flooded. We did see a great number and variety of birds but unfortunately not the National Bird of Botswana, the Kori Bustard. Conversely, we saw many Purple-breasted Rollers which we don’t see in South Africa and had encountered for the first time when we went to Zimbabwe in 2000. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were able to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
Mural at entrance to the Bird Sanctuary showing the Kori Bustard
A flooded salt pan
After breakfast the next morning, when we went to check out, the lady at the Reception Desk was very surprised to learn that we had no dinner bills. There are no other restaurants or lodges in the area so we left her wondering how we had managed it. It was another lovely day to enjoy the 3rd and final leg of our trip to Katima Mulilo