Botswana had been on my Bucket List since my brazen love affair with elephants began some years back. All I knew when I began my search for a suitable tour was that I had to go, that whatever I did needed to be affordable, and although I wanted to be right in the middle of those beautiful wide-open spaces teeming with wildlife, I wasn’t prepared to camp. Camping and rheumatoid arthritis aren’t good bedfellows, but I also didn’t have the budget or appetite for an upmarket lodge where I would probably only get a tiny taste of the bigger experience. After all, I can sit drinking ice-cold G&T’s watching the sun dip below the horizon at home, all the while hoping that an elephant herd might just appear out of nowhere!
And so it was that I boarded an overland truck-cum-bus for an eight day accommodated journey starting in Windhoek and ending in Victoria Falls.
As a first time “overlander”, this is what I learned:
- Water really is the essence of life, and your new best friend on an overland trip. Bottled water that is, not the tap variety. Drink loads of it to stay hydrated, especially in the scorching summer months.
- The Overland crew have a language of their own and you’ll learn some choice phrases in no time. “Bushy bushy” is code for the nearest shrub or bush when there isn’t a proper toilet in sight and you absolutely have to “go”. In Botswana cattle are left to their own devices and are jokingly referred to as “Botswana policeman” because they’re always on the road.
- Overland truck drivers are expert at slowing down for and avoiding “Botswana policemen”, donkey carts (aka “Botswana 4×4’s”), stray livestock and herds of elephant who want to occupy the road at the exact time you want to pass.
- You are going to have an “African Massage” for most of the journey, whether you signed up for it or not. Overland trucks are not luxury coach tours and bouncing along discovering parts of your body you hadn’t met before are all part of the experience.
- “Bushy bushy” beats public toilets at border posts hands down. No exceptions here. Rather commune with nature!
- You are not going to be able to stop for every photographic opportunity, so prepare for a lot of “drive-by shooting” at uber-fast shutter speeds. Granted, National Geographic won’t be buying up your photos in a hurry, but the trade off is that your pics will capture life on the road authentically, as it happened.
- Packing a hairdryer is a complete waste of time in summer. You may use it once – like on the last night when the group meets for a farewell dinner. Rather use the space in your bag for extra deodorant and extra mosquito repellent.
- The more you pack, the more you have to carry. And worry about.
- Complimentary hotel shower caps stop at least some water from the Victoria Falls Rainforest getting in your camera equipment.
- Forgetting your toothbrush is not a complete train smash. In southern Africa, Mother Nature had the foresight to provide the “toothbrush bush”. Just make sure there isn’t a big cat tucked away in there when you stop to pluck a twig.
- Your tour guide is focussed on keeping between 12 and 20 people from diverse backgrounds happy simultaneously. Compromise is king if you are the only person who wants to do yet another early morning game drive and everyone else would rather head for the border at first light before the mad rush.
- Expect the unexpected. The unplanned things add a new dimension to the overall experience.
- Border control officials do have all day and you’re always going to get someone who bucks the system or jumps queues.
- Being without Internet connectivity is not as traumatic as you might imagine. It’s actually incredibly liberating, so kick off your shoes and enjoy the ride. Remember to keep those shoes close by though for the inevitable human stampede when the truck eventually approaches a wi-fi zone. And finally:
- Overseas tourists really shouldn’t join tours of Africa expecting the guides to barbeque the same way they do “back home”. African tours employ local guides to do what they do best – provide an “all African experience”. Interfering or taking over is rude and let’s face it, none of us really want steaks like you make each 4th of July while we are immersing ourselves in all things African. (Yes folks, it really happened on my tour!)