Swim gala, building, visitors, a breakdown and covid-19

Tobias’ parents and brother arrived to spend 2 weeks with us before heading back home with their eldest son. We managed to squeeze in a bush trip while they were here, heading to our beloved Mababe. They spent the rest of their holiday lazying around at our home and catching some vitamin D.

Just a week after they had left we welcomed Oma (grandma) Kristin from Norway into our home. Her plan was to spend 3 weeks in Botswana traveling with a close friend. But her friend had to abandon the trip due to health issues. This meant that grandma had the choice of joining us to Gaborone the day after her arrival or to stay behind by herself. As we were taking our kids down for the North vs South schools swim gala, which both our boys managed to qualify for. She obviously joined in on a day spent in the car to make the 1000 km journey to the capital. Just 200 km short of ending the long day our car suddenly overheated and I managed to let it roll into the shade of a tree. Opening the bonnet I discovered that the pipe from the engine to the radiator had burst…

Within a few minutes I had the pipe removed and asked a friendly passer by to help me find a new pipe in the nearest town 20 km away. The only thing left to do now was wait…

Two hours later they had returned and the pipe was in place. The radiator filled up with the last of our drinking water and we were ready to roll, arriving late that evening. The following day I took the boys to meet up with the northern team for a team practice and to get their gear. All in orange they were ready for the races.

The first races were to start off in the afternoon and both the boys and us parents were excited. The southern team had created a fantastic atmosphere, complemented by the northern supporters in orange! The stands were filled with cheering parents, family and friends.

Two days of exciting races came to an end and the boys were happy to score some medals. Robin earning 2 and Nicolas 4.

Now we just had to wait for our car to be cleared. I had taken it to a mechanic to make sure the cylinder head was alright. Unfortunately for Oma Kristin the corona virus was in full swing in the rest of the world and she decided to take the next possible flight home, after she had conferred with her doctor son and daughter. She had spent a total of 3 nights in Botswana! After having gotten off the plane she spent the next day sitting 10 hours in a car, see her grandchildren swim and then fly back home again… at least we got to see her! Looking forward to a longer visit next time.

We eventually made our way home safe and sound without car troubles. Although covid-19 was a reality in most parts of the world, Botswana only confirmed its first cases yesterday. The government did close schools a few weeks ago and encouraged social distancing early to minimize any potential spread. How realistic the numbers are is difficult to say, as testing is limited. And flights in and out of the country were ongoing until a few days ago. We have had the kids home and I have stopped treating patients. We have so far enjoyed the days together doing schoolwork and reading with the kids. But also training together and engaging the kids in other activities such as baking, gardening, fixing and cooking. Learning something really useful for their later life.

Because of the travel restrictions all the tourists have cancelled their holidays to Botswana. Meaning that one of the country’s biggest industries has stalled. And with that many have lost their job… when we moved into our own space we decided to employ two women to help with the household and to support them and their families in exchange for their service. Even though the government will go into a total lock down in 2 days we will try and continue to support these two ladies and hope that things pass quickly. The lock down will also mean that the building process will have to come to a halt. Luckily we have managed to do quite a bit in the last few weeks and we are now done with the walls to window level.

The site finally resembles a house and the next step is the ring beam. When this will continue we’ll have to wait and see. But for the foreseeable future we will not be moving into that house yet. Luckily the landlord of our current space is very helpful and has dropped the rent considerably.

We hope you all stay safe and make the best of the isolation that awaits us.

Adventurous into the new year

After the wedding, a part of the family decided to stay on for some quality time. We celebrated Christmas together at the grandparents’ house, totaling 16 members. Because of this we agreed that everyone was to give one gift to one person. Thus minimizing the amount of gifts and more importantly the amount of wrapping paper. It also decreased the stress level for each and everyone, and allowed us to have more fun together. We had a wonderful Christmas Eve with Norwegian pork ribs and sour cabbage. Sitting together until late at night.

On the second Christmas Day we all helped getting everything ready for a few days in the bush, packing tents, bedding, drinks, food and a whole lot of other stash into the cars. To be ready to leave the following day. And by lunch time after a hectic morning we were off to Mababe. Where we arrived a few hours later and set up camp at a magnificent spot overlooking the river. Matilda being the youngest at 4 and great gran Doris being the oldest at 82 we had a lovely mix of generations. Of course we had taken an extra mattress for Doris!

To make cooking easier, we had split the gang into smaller groups. Every group having the responsibility of catering for one day and enjoying freedom for the rest of the stay. The kids were included of course and did their parts with enthusiasm. Helping where they could.

Of course we also went on safari drives to see what we would see. The highlights being lions walking on the road in front of us and not minding us at all. And the hippos at the hippo pool close to our camp. Playing around and creating a spectacle. The rainy season brings a lot of greenery to the eye as well as small animals to adore…

…or fear…

After some lovely days in the bush with lots of laughter, fun and relaxation we headed back to town to go on the next adventure. Coming home we found a broken pipe having flooded the whole floor…

Once fixed, we got packing. Next up, a trip along the western side of the Okavango for some boating and fun on the river.

The swamp stop at Sepopa was our destination where we spent the next 4 days. The kids all got a chance at driving the boats, understanding the physics of using a tiller-arm surprisingly quickly.

Because the flood was very low this year, the water was restricted to the main channel. Meaning most of the hippos in the area were in the main channel with us. When the water is high, it lifts the papyrus and creates small lagoons within the papyrus for the hippos to seek refuge, gaining access from underneath the floating plants. On one of our trips with both the boats, when everyone decided to join, we drove over several families of hippos hiding in the water below the boats. The hippos blowing bubbles as we drove past. Grandpa, in the first boat, came across quite a big family of hippos on our way home and decided to slow down to see how many hippos there were, after having warned me in the second boat. I stayed back and watched as hippos popped up here and there before submerging below the surface again. As the first boat slowly made its way past the hippos. My uncle steering the first boat luckily looked back just in time to see the head of a hippo emerging 2 meters behind their boat and taking a leap at their boat. Twisting the accelerator the boat flew away from the hippos head, which would have been in the back of the boat had he not reacted. I then decided to take the speedy version and got our boat flying way before the submarines, speeding past hippo air bubbles dodging emerging hippo heads. Everyone’s adrenaline was pumping as we reached the other boat, exchanging a few comments and happiness for the good ending. Unfortunately no one took pictures or a video of the incident and no one was keen on doing another take. But the incident will not be forgotten I’m sure! Being in the Okavango we didn’t want to miss the chance of catching a tiger fish. A distant cousin of the piranha it is well equipped with razor sharp teeth and a ferocious fish when hooked. And not an easy fish to land. A lot of casting and hours spent on the river finally paid off and we were lucky to catch a few of these beautiful fish. Making sure they were not hurt we released them back into the water after a short picture shoot.

Also this trip came to an end and after 6 weeks of accommodating family from Germany the time for their return home had come. We saw them all off at the airport sad that they were leaving. The house has become quiet and we are getting back into everyday life. Not much longer and the school holidays will come to an end. The second year of our life abroad to commence and looking forward to all that awaits us.

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Bush wedding

Aunty Yvonne, better known as pompai, and, now uncle, Dennis decided to have their wedding in Botswana! Weeks of planning and organizing finally came to an end as visitors from Germany started trickling in. The official day charging at us at great pace. We started off meeting everyone for a gathered dinner at Okavango River Lodge, a local lodge along the dry river bed. The following day all the girls headed off to a farm while the boys took the groom to another lodge along the boteti river. A long day of fun, drinking and talking came to an early end as we needed to get up early the next day for the long drive to Khwai. 2 trucks and our cruiser were packed with just over 50 guests, ready by 9 and heading out to the bush. Hoping to arrive at the camp for lunch. Unfortunately one of the trucks had different plans and just an hour into the drive we needed to have a closer look, finding out that the prop shaft was loose, missing some bolts and the rest being loose. We managed to fix that and could continue, the pace not as high as we hoped. Arriving at the camp well after lunch time, we were welcomed with fantastic snacks.

Sable alley is the name of the camp where we now were to spend 4 days in wonderful company. The free choice of chilling in camp or going on safaris was a luxury. Most of the guests made use of every opportunity to go on safari both mornings and evenings, whereas we used the opportunity to sleep in and enjoy the view form the pool and the deck. Animals coming to the waterhole or walking past in the distance.

On the third day in camp, the official day had arrived. Heading out to a fabulous spot on an open floodplain the scene was set for the wedding ceremony. All the guests were seated and awaiting the arrival of the bride, marveling at the rain clouds building up all around us, wondering whether the skies would open up… Thunder rolling in the distance and lightning bolts presenting a show around us, luckily we all stayed dry.

After a lovely ceremony we enjoyed the setting sun with drinks and delicious snacks. Congratulating the newly weds and posing for the photographer.

Everyone headed back to camp after the sun had set. A romantic sight met us as we saw the candle litt table on the grass between the deck and the waterhole. We were to have dinner 20 meters from 20 hippos occupying the waterhole in front of the lodge. Luckily they didn’t decide to join us for the festivities. In contrary to the elephants.

As we were devouring the main meal the guide made us aware of 4 elephants approaching the table. They were wandering along the water’s edge, quietly coming closer to where we were seated. Conversations seized and all our eyes were fixed on the four gentlemen making their way passed the table and between us and the hippos. Their calmness reassuring our guests that this was nothing out of the usual. Talk and chewing soon commenced and the desert was up next. But the enjoyment was short lived. Just having finished the desert we saw another elephant rapidly approaching our table on its way to the waterhole. It had come through camp and seemed unaware of our party. One of the guides let the elephant know that we were directly on his path. It stopped just 5 m from the table pausing to contemplate what to do next. An eternal moment later it shook its head at us and continued parallel alongside the table for a refreshing drink of muddy water. A joint sigh went through most of the group as guests were glad they had just survived this encounter. From there speeches were cut short and once the cake had been served people were relieved they finally could get back onto the safe deck. Where the bridal couple performed their dance to open the dance floor, inviting everyone to dance long into the night.

Another day of chilling and safari drives before our fantastic stay came to an end and it was time to head back. Everyone had found a spot in the 2 trucks and the drive home began. One hour into the drive, a few small drops of rain started to hit those sitting on the open vehicle. Little did they know that this was going to last for another 3-4 hours and all the way back home.

Instead of easying off the rain intensified soaking every inch on every passenger down to their knickers. At times I couldn’t see the road more than 10m ahead. By the time we got to town the passengers were ice cold and freezing, teeth clattering and fingers paralized.

We now had a few days in town to prepare for the final episode of this epic wedding adventure. The final show to go down at the Old Bridge Backpackers. The day started with rain, everyone expecting a wet wedding. Friends from all over Botswana had made their way to the venue and were waiting for the bridal couple to arrive. Roughly an hour before their arrival the rain stopped and the clouds gave way for the setting sun. The orange light creating a wonderful atmosphere.

The night was spent partying and dancing in the sand. After a week of wedding adventures new friendships had been made and unforgettable experiences shared. We look back at a week that flew by but still felt like it was months ago since the arrival of the first guests at the airport. I guess time flies when you have fun!

Break down in the bush

The months fly by, visitors have come and gone, and while we were waiting for the next batch of foreigners to arrive we decided to take a little family trip to the bush on our own. The car was packed and ready to roll when we pulled into the school parking lot to pick up the kids. A little lunch pack for the road in hand we were ready to roll towards Khwai. Cruising and joking around, the landscape was flying by, spotting the odd antelope and Elefant along the way. Just 10 km out of Mababe village in the middle of the bush the car suddenly made a horrible grinding noise!! Shifting the leaver into neutral we let it roll to a halt. Unsure what it could be I tried to engage the gear but the grinding continued and there was no traction. Our car did not move. After examining the car I found the front drive shaft had slipped out of the wheel hub… mentally preparing to overnight by the side of the road and somehow getting towed back to town, I started loosening the bolts of the wheel. Not sure how to fix this the safari seemed over before it had started. Shortly after our stop a safari vehicle came driving along the road. The friendly driver called Andy was a qualified mechanic back in the day and had now started his own safari business. Ironic that Handy Andy suddenly appeared and could help us out. Together we managed to get the drive shaft back into the wheel hub only to find out that the gap for the snap ring had totally worn off…

So I took a bolt off the roof rack and undid the suspension to remove one of the washers, using these parts to secure the axle in place.

Our safari could continue a few hours later. The sun now having set a long time ago, we drove through the dark enjoying a little night safari, spotting 3 hyenas on the road just a few kilometers from the campsite. Setting up the tent in the dark was adventurous and the kids helped, shining the torch, making a fire and getting some food ready. We all crawled into the sleeping bags together once we had gotten some food in our bellies.

Back in town our car was parked over the pit and taken apart. Luckily Maun has a Toyota dealer who could supply all the necessary parts. Though it took a few week before all the parts had arrived. While waiting for the new axle and accessory parts I found a little leak from the stearing rack and got at it.

After 4 weeks of fixing we could finally drive the car off the pit, all lubricated and sealed and ready for new adventures. Doing it myself probably took a bit longer, but at least I know what was done and that it was done proper. I also learned quite a bit along the way. Some struggles here and there and challenges arising because of the lack of special tools made it very satisfying finally finishing the job. And it sure helped having an experienced “fix it yourself” dad by your side.

Sleeping under the open sky

New visitors arrived to spend some time with us. A very good friend and two of his kids took the long journey to experience adventures with us. His youngest, a son, and very good friend of our boys was as excited as our boys as they finally met up again after not having seen each other for nearly a year. His sister at 14 joined, not wanting to miss any of the fun and adventures during the Norwegian autumn holiday. They were met by a wall of heat as they exited the plane. One evening in town is all they got before we headed into the bush and on a camping trip the next day. Our first journey took us North-West to Moremi, a place we had visited just a few months earlier. Having set up camp we enjoyed the evening around the campfire, telling stories and catching up on the year gone by.

We didn’t have to ask the kids twice whether they wanted to get up before sunrise to go an early morning drive. So the next morning before the darkness of the night crept away, we got up and started driving. Of course we had to stop for some coffee and hot chocolate and watch the sun begin it’s journey across the sky.

The water had been prepared the night before and was still hot when we poured it out of our flask. This saved some time in the morning and allowed for some extra minutes of sleep. Cooking water in the bush isn’t done as quickly as at home…

We continued driving the rest of the day seeing the usual game of antelopes, elephants and gazelles. After an hour’s lunch break in the shade and some fun out of the car we started heading back to camp.

Driving along a river bank Nicolas spotted a lioness in the shade on the opposite side! We crossed the riverbed at a dry spot further down to get a closer view. Just as we passed a big waterhole occupied by a group of hippo we spotted a pride of lions scouting the area for a snack.

7 lions in total with three cubs and 4 females. We had just spent a few minutes there when an impala came strolling towards the waterhole. One lioness was quick to evaluate the situation and darted off behind some bushes to get into a better position, 2 of the females followed, getting into strategic ready positions. Unluckily the impala got a bit spooked and managed to get into safety before the lions could launch their attack. It was still a lot of fun witnessing the attempt.

We got back to camp as the sun was setting and enjoyed making dinner while enjoying a cold drink. Later that evening just as the kids were getting ready for bed, Nora heard a noise close to camp and pointed the spotlight in the direction of the source. In her amazement the beam hit a leopard staring back her just 30 m away. The leopard was very relaxed and we all got a good view as it slowly and peacefully walked around our camp. Once we couldn’t see it anymore we heard it calling, a noise best compared to someone sawing a piece of wood.

We left Moremi after 2 fantastic nights and days, feeling lucky with the sightings we had had. Back at home we had one night to get things sorted for the next trip, taking us eastward to Botswana’s salt pans, by the way the largest in the world.

Our plan was to find a spot in the open and sleep under the open sky counting shooting stars before falling asleep. The vast space and flat surface of the pans was a lot of fun, playing some soccer and throwing the frisbee. The kids enjoyed running around after 3 hours of sitting in the car.

As it quickly got dark after sunset the sky revealed its magnificence. Millions of stars covering the dome above our heads. Without the moon and other light pollution shooting stars were easy to see. Unfortunately the wind picked up pace and transformed the peaceful spot into a sand blower. There was no counting shooting stars once we cuddled into our sleeping bags. The sand whipping our faces made it impossible to keep the eyes open.

The wind didn’t tire before we left camp after a quick breakfast, having enjoyed some coffee as the sun showed its glow on the horizon. Before we headed on to the tar road all the kids got a chance to drive our cars on the open and flat pans. They thought that was a lot of fun!

Our drive took us to the next stop, Meno a Kwena lodge. A lodge on the high bank of the Boteti river bordering the Makgadikgadi pans national. With little water everywhere, animals came down to the remaining puddle right in-front of the camp. With the river bank being so high the view was amazing.

It was a huge relief to wash the sand out of our ears and hair, before joining a bushman family on an educational walk. They told us about their way of living, reading tracks, making fire, playing games and they managed to find a scorpion 30cm down in the sand.

The following day we took a safari into the park where we got to see hundreds, if not thousands of zebra grazing in the riverbed and drinking from the remaining waterholes. Staying at the camp being served meals and having a wonderful view from the deck in-front of you tent is quite lovely, for a few days. We still prefer camping on our own. The journey back home meant that our guests had come to the end of their stay. We saw them off at the airport and sent them northwards back home to chilly and wet Norway. Luckily we had talked about the next visit in 2020, this time with the whole family and for more than a week. Looking forward to that!

An experience of a lifetime

Two land cruisers and a trailer packed, we were ready for a 10 day trip with our guests from the north. The 1981 model had just been serviced by myself and my dad, ready for the 1000 km round trip. We left Maun towards the east, to a place called Gweta. A little settlement at the edge of Botswana’s salt pans. We parked our cars at the lodge and only took the necessary bags for a night under the open sky. Our guide then drove us on a dusty road past some huge baobab trees and onto the Ntwetwe pan.

Spending the evening by the campfire telling stories we eventually slipped into the bedrolls, gazing up at the magnificent sky filled with millions of stars. Falling asleep counting shooting stars was a lot more fun than counting sheep. As the horizon was becoming lighter we woke to watch the sun rise from our beds.

After breakfast and some coffee our guide took us back to our cars. On the way back we stopped to see some meerkats warming themselves in the sun. Wonderful little creatures which came pretty close to us as we were sitting around their burrow.

Back at our cars the journey continued eastward for another 100km before heading north. The road heading north was an interesting drive, seeing quite a bit of wild animals along the way, making the 300 km journey seem a lot shorter. Later that afternoon we arrived in a place called Kasane, a village on the Chobe river in the north eastern corner of Botswana, bordering to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. It became apparent that Kasane was right on the edge of the Chobe game reserve as we drove through the little town we saw warthogs, elephant, Buffalo and other antelopes walking in between the houses.

Early the next morning, before sunrise we were picked up to be taken to Victoria falls. The border took som time, with a lot of other travelers wanting to enter Zimbabwe and the issuing of the visas proving to be a slow process. Finally whith the visas in all our passports we were all ready for some breakfast, before heading to the falls themselves.

The sight of the mighty Zambezi river thundering over the edge and falling downward was jaw dropping. Getting a cool down from the spray was pretty relieving as the temperature was rising.

From the falls we headed to the local market, where craftsmen and women were selling souvenirs and other products.

A bit of hustling and bartering later we had all acquired some small goods. The traders’ persistence and willingness to swap goods for clothing gave us a little insight into how tough their situation seems. Vic Falls itself most probably not reflecting the true situation in the rest of the country. Talking to locals we learnt that it is a lot tougher in many parts of the country. There is a new currency called “bonds”, which changes its value by the hour and other currencies have become illegal. The prices in the local supermarket were shockingly high! We left Zimbabwe in awe, that the people were so open, friendly and helpful even though the situation sounded so challenging.

Back in Botswana we had a few days in Kasane and decided to take an evening cruise on the Chobe river. Enjoying game viewing in a different style. Being in a boat is a lot less bumpy and not as dusty as on the back of the car. The boat also made it possible to see birds and other animals from a very close distance.

From Kasane we followed the road heading south west, homeward bound. Stopping over in Savuti for a few nights to see what we could see. And with these guests of ours we didn’t have to wait long before the next fantastic sighting revealed itself, a leopard lying in a tree! Having heard lions roaring all night, not far away from our tents we were optimistic to find them when we headed off on our morning drive. It didn’t take long until we spotted them by a nearby waterhole. Later that day, just after sunset, we were lucky to be parked right next to the male when it performed it’s familiar roar. The shear volume and depth it created was felt right to the bone.

Later that night as we were seated around the fire Øyvind, suddenly noticed a male Elefant on its way towards us, leisurely heading straight to where we were sitting. We slowly moved away towards one of the cars, giving it some space. It stood next to our chairs for a few minutes using its trunk to smell around, before slowly moving on, passing our car just a few meters from us. His size felt quite intimidating.

From Savuti we drove on to our last stopover, Mababe. As we pulled into one of our favorite spots it became clear that elephants owned this area. As we were about to unpack our gear an elephant came strolling into camp. Not minding us he started shaking the acacia tree, causing the pods to drop, then proceeding to gracefully picking them up with his trunk and flicking them into his mouth. He was not going to move away, and other elephants were coming close, also showing interest in an evening acacia pod snack. The sun steadily loosing height and dropping towards the horizon we decided to find another spot, with less acacia trees, to set up camp before dark. Luckily for us, this led to us seeing a leopard perched by the side of the road in hunting mode.

It had its eyes on a family of three warthog not far from us. Unfortunately the leopard sneaked off into the nearby bush following its meal, making it impossible for us to follow and witness the result of the hunt.

Safely back in Maun, after having had two flat tyres on the bumpy road home, we could look back at some fantastic experiences. Our guests had spent their first time in Africa. In the course of 2 weeks we saw the big five, travelled over 1000km, visited Zimbabwe, had been on different camping trips, had close encounters with wild animals, experienced a lion roar close by, saw lions at a kill, saw 3 leopards, one trying to hunt, saw some lovely sunsets and enjoyed each other’s company. They were truly lucky to see what they saw in such a short time! We look forward to next time and sharing new adventures.

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First time in Africa, straight into the bush

A week ago one of Nicolas’ school friends and his family arrived in Maun, to experience this part of the world and see where Nicolas is living. We picked them up at the airport in our safari vehicle, giving them the first taste of Botswana air. After only one night in “town” we packed the cars and headed for the wilderness. The newbie’s excitement of seeing cows, goats, donkeys and dogs along the tar road amused us slightly. None of us really remembering that feeling of being in Africa for the first time, we were glad to share that experience with them.

Once at the campsite we set up the tents and let the newbies cook dinner on the fire.

While the kids entertained themselves we adults enjoyed the quietness of the African wilderness, sipping cold beers and listening to the sounds of the bush.

Everyone felt a lot safer during daylight hours. Nervousness creeping in with the darkness of the night, as unfamiliar sounds filled the surroundings. Just as we sat down for dinner the first night lions began to roar their familiar moan not far away. Our visitor’s eyes got pretty big!

Sitting around the fire a bit later a little sound was heard and Øyvind turned to shine his torch at a hyena walking past camp just 10 m behind us, adding some more spice to the wilderness experience. Otherwise the night was calm and everyone woke before sunrise to go on an early morning drive. We had packed snacks and drinks to be out the whole day. After having enjoyed a few cups of warm coffee just after sunrise near a dried up water hole we continued our drive seeing warthogs, antelopes, Elefant, Zebra and other wild animals. Driving through a little forest coming around a bend we spotted two rhinos in an opening! A mother and her young. What a sighting!! The drive continued and not long after the rhinos we spotted a pride of 5 lions at a giraffe kill!

Being out the whole day we stopped for a late breakfast on an open plain with a herd of zebra and wildebeest.

Later that day we hung up the hammocks underneath a sausage tree enjoying a break from driving. Playing in the shade the kids climbed some trees, played a game of soccer and had some delicious bush snacks.

After the second night in the bush we headed back to town, where Nicolas’ friend joined him to school. We are now getting ready for the next trip, taking us to the north east of Botswana and over to Victoria falls in Zimbabwe.

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