Chasing sunrise: Out of Namibia and into Botswana

We dragged ourselves away from Etosha around mid-morning and hit the road east. Our destination was Rundu at the base of Namibia’s finger. A solid 4 hour drive we’d also resolved to try and fix the major niggles with the 4WD given it wouldn’t be long until we’d be leaving Namibia. Getting low beam lights and a new canopy lock was top of the list. Some googling revealed a canopy shop in Tsumeb, a town we’d be going through. They didn’t have the lock we needed but they also had a branch in Rundu so kindly called them for us to see if they had it in stock, they did. We also asked them where we could find a garage. It turned out there was one just across the street and round the back of a building. With no signs we would never had found it.

On their lunch break for another 15 minutes we drove down the road and did a good supermarket shop. They brought us straight into the workshop when we got back. The night before at camp with the help of google we’d figured out the fuse box and checked the low beam fuses, all were good. It turned out both the bulbs had blown. We decided to ignore the reason why both had gone at the same time (we know they were both working). The bulbs were surprisingly expensive, but Africa isn’t cheap. We did cheekily ask one of the guys if he had a spanner so we could tighten our lose roof tent bolt (it squeaks whenever someone moves at night), he kindly did all of them for us.

The road to Rundu was long and straight. It was hot boring driving that with tiredness became quite hypnotic, so we switched and took it steady. We finally arrived as it was going dusk. We were super excited because the town is next to the river that forms Namibia’s border with Angola. The town itself is on a slight rise so it looks out over Angola. It is also known as being like an Angolan town in Namibia as so many Angolans live there. We were excited to see it the next morning.

We found a lodge with a campsite. There was no one else on it so we had our pick of sites. Naturally this meant we were indecisive as to which was flattest (the site was on a slight slope) so we fluffed for quite a while before finally settling on one. For the first time it wasn’t cold at night, in fact it was positively hot and we had all the tent flaps open. A sign of things to come.

We’ve only ever had a rough plan for our Chasing Sunrise journey. We had thought we’d drive Namibia’s Caprivi Strip (it’s finger), then at the end drop into Botswana briefly to visit Chobe National Park. But having watched a documentary earlier in the year on the Okavango Delta where a group pf environmental scientists traced its source in Angola and spent a few months canoeing it’s length all the way to the delta, Marie really wanted to go there. Having decided to do both we didn’t know whether we’d do each as a side trip from Namibia and drive the Strip in between or whether we’d stay in Botswana and do the long drive between them.

Mohembo border crossing is only 2.5 hours from Rundu. But needing to wait until the canopy lock shop opened at 8am we had a lie in, which resulted in us moving slowly when we finally did get up. We were able to replace the missing rear canopy latch but the 2nd had also sheared off the night before and the latch hole was smaller. We bought a 2nd anyway with the intention of finding a man with an angle grinder to cut the hole bigger somewhere down the track. At least from the outside it was still in place so looked secure and we could just tie that side of the door off with paracord inside (by opening the side flap) so it couldn’t be reached to be cut.

It was a very long, hot drive on a completely straight road. The scenery was quite different to elsewhere, most obvious was more trees. The people were also friendlier too.

As we turned off the highway towards the border we met the Okavango River for the first time. At 1,500kms it is the 3rd longest river in Southern Africa. Marie was very excited to see it. Seeing water after the complete dry of Namibia was refreshing. The road turned to gravel and it passed through Bwabwata National Park. You don’t have to pay the entry fee if you are transiting to the border, you just have to record your details in a log book. We kept our eyes peeled but saw no exciting wildlife.

There was only one other vehicle at the border so immigration was fast and getting the vehicle out literally just involved recording its details in a log book and signing it. The Botswana border post was only 200m away. It was no busier but was more modern. We filled in an immigration form for a free visa on arrival and then came getting the vehicle in. We provided its paperwork it was entered in the system and we paid a fee. We’d saved some Namibian dollars back to pay the fee but it turned out that from 1 August they’d stopped accepting any foreign currency, even Namibian. We could pay by credit card so this was not a problem other than leaving us with money we couldn’t change or use as there wasn’t a single tout there.

The customs woman pointed out that they sold drinks and snacks and would accept Namibian dollars. We bought 2 of every snack and with the balance of the rest of our money they gave us drinks. We ended up with 9 big cans of coke and Fanta. Not something we’d choose but we’d drink them and it was definitely preferable to wasting the money.

On the Botswana side of the border the road was sealed, only it had a lot of pot holes and the edges had disintegrated so they were all ragged and it had only been a narrow road to begin with so it still didn’t make for the easiest driving. The scenery also changed, somehow it looked like we’d imagined Botswana to be. It had a lot of short trees and bush.

We stopped in the first town to try and find an ATM. We asked someone, it didn’t have one, the nearest was in the town of Gumare 150km further down the road. Having local money is important and we figured we had enough time to get there before sunset so we pressed on. We did. Just. We rolled into town and hit the ATM and the supermarket as the sun was getting low. None of the information sources we had showed any campsite within 100km. But there were a few guest houses, we picked one to go and ask. They would have been happy to have had us park up but the manager said she didn’t have the right permits that allowed her to do that, she told us the name of one that probably would. It was hard driving in the dark but we got close and then asked at a fuel station and they directed us the last part.

The woman on reception was really helpful, she let us set up camp in the corner of the guesthouse, we think we were a novelty, she gave us the key to a room nearby to use the bathroom. We were stoked, we didn’t have a plan B and we were tired. It had been a very long day but we were in Botswana!

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