Touring Botswana had been great thus far. We relished the chance to slow down and get to know folks along the way. Parts were available at decent prices, so we took advantage of the opportunity to get some much needed maintenance and modifications on the trailer and the Jeep. Now, we had to buckle down and face the red tape and bureaucratic hurdles to the continuation of our journey. During our time in Namibia, we let ourselves get distracted by the trip and forgot to renew our Carnet, the guarantee that we are not permanently importing the Jeep. It expired prior to entering Botswana, but we didn’t think it would cause us any trouble. We found out differently. Five southern African nations are members of the South African Customs Union, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. For us, this means that the Jeep, on its Carnet, is stamped into South Africa when it arrived in port, and out of the last one we visit. Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem, unless the Carnet expires. Once it expires, and the vehicle is still in one of those countries, the SACU wants its import duty on the vehicle. They get this by filing a claim on the vehicle with the agency that issued it to us. When we told them that we were out of South Africa, they said that wasn’t good enough, we had no stamps showing we were out of the SACU. Happily, our request for an extension was granted, and we were eventually issued a Letter of Grace good for three months from the expiration date of the Carnet, or about a week and a half from when we got the letter!
As we had on previous trips to cities, we found a base camp just outside Gaborone, this time at a small lodge with a secure camp site in the yard behind the chalets. It was quiet and staffed by friendly folks that were eager to help us at every turn. While we were there, another traveling couple arrived and shared the site with us for a few days. We shared stories around the campfire, both of travels past and future plans. They had been as far north as Sudan, speaking highly of every country they had visited. While we were there, they went to the Angolan Embassy in Gaborone to see about getting a 30 day tourist visa, something that can be difficult to get if you aren’t in your home country, only to return with the visa that day! This was quite a score for them, as most people settle for the 7 day transit visa due to the strict requirements of the Angolans. At this embassy anyway, they were glad to see tourism on the rise in their home country and expedited the visa process for our friends. We also shared tasty treats with them, Jen had made some kumquat marmalade and they introduced us to hot crossed buns. Both are definitely on our list for the future.
While the communications were going back and forth, from us to the Carnet issuing agency in Chicago to South Africa, we received a letter at home from Chrysler, letting us know they wanted to fix a problem with the airbags. All we had to do was take it to a dealer to get the work done. As it happens, Gaborone has a Jeep dealership, so we went in to see about getting this recall work done. They could do the work, but needed to order a part from South Africa. They would call us when the part came in, and we let them know when we needed to have the work done to get out of the country on time. Since we had to wait, we decided to head to a bird sanctuary where someone had told us about massive flocks of flamingos. While it was on the way out of the country, we couldn’t be sure we would have time to stop after the work was done. We arrived a couple of days later to find a different view of the same pans we had seen at Kubu Island, they were full of water! The rainy season this year was wetter than normal, and the far north end of the Sua Pan was still a lake. While this meant that the flamingos were elsewhere, we got a kick out of seeing water stretch to the horizon in the middle of a desert. After a day spent in Nata, we headed back to Gaborone to get the airbags fixed on the Jeep. Unfortunately, it turns out that the part was not in South Africa, as the dealership thought, it had to be ordered from the US and wouldn’t be in until mid September. This was too late for us, we had to be out of Botswana, and the SACU, before the end of August. We will find time to get these repairs done in South Africa at a later point.
After we found the part wouldn’t make it to Gaborone in time, we headed north, along the same route we had just driven, stopping in Francistown. As often happens, we changed our plans, and decided to cross into Zimbabwe near Francistown instead of further north, closer to Victoria Falls. We had seen how badly potholed the road north of Francistown was, and decided to take a chance that the Zimbabwean roads were better. Our last night in Botswana, we stayed at a lodge near the border. Since we were the only ones there, they offered us a chalet at camping prices, as they would have had to do more work to set up the campsite. Not only did they offer this, they also invited us over to watch rugby and offered to share their knowledge of Zimbabwe, as they had lived there for many years previously. As we looked over the maps and discussed the state of Zimbabwean roads, we also discussed what we would see in Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls was on the list for sure, as was Matobo National Park, where Cecil John Rhodes is buried. We had heard that this park was a beautiful collection of rocky hills stretching for miles. After the endless flat countryside of Botswana, this sounded pretty good to us. We also wanted to see numerous sights in the highlands of eastern Zimbabwe. Here, it is high enough to grow pine forests, which would be a welcome sight reminding us of home.
The next day, we drove the few miles to the border post, and fairly smoothly exited Botswana, getting our Carnet stamped, and entered Zimbabwe nearly as easily. Everyone at the border was happy to get us checked into their country, chatting with us about what to see as they processed our documents. Finally through, we looked back on our time in Botswana happily. We saw amazing sights, met so many wonderful people, made new friends, and had stunning experiences. That said, we also waited weeks for parts and documents. We are looking forward to keeping a quicker pace in Zimbabwe.
We learned a lot in Botswana:
This is Africa. Nothing here moves at the speed we are used to at home. While this may frustrate some at first, it was nice to sink into this pace of life and enjoy the moment.
Courier shipping (UPS and FedEx) does not work like it does in the US. Most places in the world do not have the postal systems we do at home. This allows for more time to enjoy where you are!
Baboons are naughty! They are also smart and can open zippers. We thought we knew this, then they showed us they can find Velcro, and like to make a mess too.
Elephants are nearly silent when they walk. This caught us unawares when one came into camp with little warning. They also have a smell, which is a better warning of their presence.
It really is better to fix something than replace it. We were able to find the damaged transistor on our water filtration system and replace it. At home, we would have replaced the entire ballast. Cost difference, $20.
It is better to go find out for yourself, as many times, what is reported to you does not always reflect all the facts. Go check at that embassy on getting the visa, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Terrain is under-rated. It may just seem like a backdrop, but it gives you a sense of place.
Botswana by the Numbers
Miles Driven: 3,836
Days in Botswana : 69
Nights Spent in Hotels: 1
Dinners Hosted: 8
Baboon Break-Ins: 1