First stop, Botswana. There were two astonishing elements to our arrival in the country. Firstly, the infrastructure was in visibly better shape than any we had seen – we enjoyed smooth journeys on wide, newly tarmacked roads! This is one indication of the country’s relative prosperity, due in part to the diamond trade (which even I was aware of, thanks to the film Blood Diamond). Secondly, we were told at the border that Botswana operates ‘strict’ control of foot and mouth disease (apparently to meet EU stipulations on exporting beef) and therefore it is forbidden to bring meat into the country. We made lame attempts at looking innocent while the leaders assured officials we had no meat on board. I’m sure the burgers in the truck’s freezer didn’t contain proper meat anyway, and the ham was certainly of dubious descent.
Foot and mouth checkpoints and livestock fences (hundreds of miles long) are features of driving through Botswana. At each checkpoint, all vehicle tyres and every pair of shoes on the truck have to pass through a muddy pool of disinfectant. The logistics of getting shoes out of lockers made this into a bit of a rigmarole, and we became less conscientious about it. Suddenly one official announced that all backpacks were to be searched. I had visions of being arrested for smuggling a pair of hiking boots and one flipflop (the other sadly lost in Zanzibar), but fortunately his enthusiasm wasn’t matched by thoroughness because he failed to spot any footwear in his vicinity.
Once we were back on the road, we saw that Botswana was the most desolate and arid place we had travelled through yet. Much of it is covered by the Kalahari Desert, however there are two major attractions, the Okavango Delta - which had been billed as a ‘highlight’ of this tour - and Chobe National Park. The latter was our first stop, supposedly for yet more game viewing opportunities. The first few days since Livingston confirmed my suspicions that our new tour leaders had a penchant for even earlier-morning starts than the last ones, only this time with unshakeable joviality – not always reciprocated at 5am! Despite a valiant early start, the wildlife of Chobe was not cooperating and we returned to camp, frozen and muttering. But it did make us realise why it is sensible to include several game reserves on a trip - they can’t guarantee animal action!
However, our evening cruise on Chobe River made up for it. We saw several crocodiles close-up for the first time, although we were preoccupied with giggling in a very juvenile fashion at a fellow passenger with a ridiculous moustache. When said moustache wasn’t silhouetted distractingly against the sky, the sunset was definitely one of the finest so far.