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Summer in the Okavango Delta
Most tourists visit the Okavango Delta during the winter. In winter the swamps and rivers are full of water, which is flowing down from the highlands of Angola. During the summer the Delta dries up. Not completely, because summer is our rainy season. But the floodplains and swamps that would be underwater in the main tourist season become a vast expanse of lush grassland.
This summer Gillian and I took our holiday in the Delta, staying at Oddballs Camp. We arrived by light plane. The pilot had to make several passes to encourage an elephant to move off the airstrip. (The same elephant later came to visit us at our tent – it takes a proprietary interest in the place and likes to check out new arrivals). When we left there was a pack of African wild dogs on the runway to see us off. So no complaints about the wildlife viewing !
People often ask us what the Delta is like in the off-season, and now we know. There are baby animals galore, taking advantage of all the greenery. The bird life is prolific. All the summer migrants are here. You can walk everywhere – no need for a dugout canoe. And it is really, really quiet. We were the only guests and had the camp to ourselves.
A great start to 2023!
January 17 2023
The Kolobeng River
It is the very end of the dry season in Botswana. In 10 days or so the first rains will arrive. Here in the village of Manyana the last rains were back in April. But the Kolobeng River, springfed, is still flowing.
The never-ending flow of water led Dr David Livingstone to establish his mission station alongside the river in 1847. The very first mission station in Botswana, now preserved as a national monument. It is a few kilometres upstream.
Here in Manyana village he conducted weekly clinics and church services under a giant fig tree, a tree which is still standing.
This is a peaceful backwater of Botswana which sees very few tourists, but it is a great place for both hikers and history buffs, and Gillian and I really enjoyed our visit.
December 23 2022
It’s the off season for self-drive tourists. So we have time to do a little work on our Tswapong Trails project.
The Tswapong Hills are criss-crossed with old foot tracks. These were once the only way to get from village to village. Nowadays most use the tarred roads even though these take the long way round. But the old tracks are a great recreational resource for hikers.
So we are doing our bit to keep them open. Right now we are working on a 9 km self-guiding trail, with numbered stops about every 10 minutes along the way. There are porcupine warrens; hyaena and aardvark burrows; the anvil stones used by the local baboons to break into the hard shelled mogwagwa fruits; a viewpoint over the Lotsane floodplain; and a lot of interesting trees. Reflective markers mean that you can walk it at night if you want to experience the sounds of the forest at night.
A walk in the hills is part of the tourist offering at Segaigai Farm, but the old foot tracks are available for everyone. Come and walk one of them if you are passing !
November 13 2022
The road less travelled
While the north of Botswana is rich with wildlife and luxury lodges there are other parts that seem more remote and offer great wildlife viewing just driving along the road. We recently travelled to the Tuli block for a weekend camping by the side of the Limpopo River. We were at a rustic campsite within a game reserve. We hardly noticed the fact that there was no electricity with hurricane lamps in the individual ablutions and water heated for you by a ‘donkey’. On the way down to our campsite we came upon a waterhole with about 25 elephants drinking and bathing. It was wonderful to watch the orderly way in which they accessed the clean drinking water in turn then went off to dust or water bathe, from tiny babies to the matriarch. At our campsite we could see hippos in the water not far away and were visited by a couple of bushbucks. It was a great location to sit and watch birds around the campsite and in the trees across the river in South Africa. Other animals we saw as we drove around the reserve and along the roadside included zebra, warthog, eland, hyrax, vervet monkeys, baboons, giraffe, impala, kudu, wildebeest, klipspringer, springhare, hyena and banded mongoose. Our campsite cost less than $20US/ night for the two of us and the rich wildlife viewing was free. Who said Botswana was an expensive place to visit?
24 September 2022
My favorite place in Botswana
It’s no secret I love animals, and up there with dogs are elephants for me. I’ve had the pleasure of being to Elephant Sands a few times and it’s amazing every single time. This is a must visit whilst in Botswana!
19 August 2022
A unique Christmas Brunch
Being home in Kalamare is always so different. Our house there has always been like a holiday home, a place to go to get away from our “normal” lives. When we are there we kind of become different people. We break away from the chains of the busy town life and just go back to basics, and we LOVE IT!
One thing that is always a must is cooking outside on the fire. There is always a fire going. From the morning when we boil water for bathing to late at night when we sit around the fire and tell stories while sipping on some smokey tea brewed on the fire. So naturally, we always find an excuse to stay outside and prepare breakfast, lunch, and supper outside!
My sister was craving my magwinya (ma-g-wi-n-ya), so I agreed to indulge her cravings and make some only if she made the side dish. Magwinya are fat cakes, they are prepared the same as doughnuts, without sprinkles and chocolate dip. They are very popular in Botswana. Most people enjoy having them with tea for breakfast, but you can enjoy them with a stew or soup as well.
My family enjoys my magwinya, It has become my signature dish! But I usually prepare them on a stove so cooking them on an open fire was going to be a first for me. First, I prepared the dough. I mixed flour, sugar, salt, and dry yeast together. The secret of good magwinya is in the dough. It’s important to get the right consistency with the dough. After letting it sit in the sun for about 30 minutes I started the fire. I put oil in a cast-iron pot. Once the oil was hot enough then it is time to cook.
I was really nervous about cooking on an open fire, I was worried about how I would be able to control the heat. It is easy enough to do on a stove, but on an open fire, that’s another story. But I handled it like a pro if I have to say to myself. As expected, as soon as the smell of the magwinya filled the yard, my family started to come closer to wait for the first round to come out. Like a pack of hungry hyenas waiting for a pack of lions to be done with a carcass so that they can have their turn!
In the meantime, my sister was busy cooking some goat seswaa (se-s-waa) and spinach that she picked from my fathers’ garden. Seswaa is pounded meat. It is cooked in a pot with water and salt. Cooked until it is falling off the bone and pounded with a wooden spoon.
This was a uniques lunch because a typical Christmas lunch is the usual 7 colours. A meal with different starches, meat dishes, and salads of different colours. This was a simple meal, prepared around the fire. As good as the meal was, I think the company of my family, all sitting there, enjoying each others company made it even more special!
1 July 2022
The Dikate Hills
Something that has always intrigued me in Botswana is the number of archaeological sites found on hilltops.
The first Bantu peoples to arrive here about 1400 years ago preferred to live on hills. They were herdsmen. A hill with rocky ramparts and a flat top was a good place to keep your livestock at nights, easily defended against predators and cattle thieves. A hilltop also provides cooling breezes; a commanding view of your surroundings; and some relief from mosquitoes during the rainy season. The very best hills would be surrounded by cliffs and have just one possible route to the summit plateau. A promising hilI might be occupied for a thousand years, and one telltale sign of past occupation is the deep and very rich soil on the plateau and the characteristic assemblage of plants that grow in it.
Occupied hills also seem to have a lot of fruiting trees associated with them. The Bantu peoples certainly knew about horticulture, but whether the trees were deliberately planted or simply grew from discarded seeds is hard to know.
The Dikalate Hills are about 15 km from the A1 highway at Topisi, and accessible by 2×4 car. But they feel like they are in the middle of nowhere. The view from the top can’t have changed much in the last millennium
The first photo below shows the Child Hill, viewed from the Female Hill. Both were occupied in prehistoric times. The tree in the foreground is a small-leaved rock fig, Ficus tettensis. The fruits are delicious.
The second photo shows the view to the south from the summit of the Female Hill. Strange that in Botswana some hills have gender ! There is an old trail along the foot of the hills in the distance. Great country for hiking ….
23 June 2022
A Day out at the Yacht Club
One of the places you absolutely have to visit if you’re in Gaborone. Beautiful views of the Gaborone Dam!
15 May 2022
An abandoned house in Lephephe wells
There is a lot of history in Botswana. The sparse population and the dry climate means that many buildings are still standing, unused, a century after they were abandoned. Standing mute, just waiting for their stories to be told.
This is the remains of one of them, in the tiny village of Lephephe Wells. Lephephe Wells was a bustling place for a few decades in the latter half of the 19th Century. It was an important stop on the ‘Missionary’ road to the north: a place where travelers could rest, have their wagon repaired, and restock with water and provisions before moving on to the huge village of Shoshong and then striking out into the unknown.
Missionaries, traders, big game hunters, gold seekers and adventurers all passed this way. Famous names such as David Livingstone, Robert Moffat, Emil Holub and George Gordon-Cumming.
But the missionary road lost its importance in 1889 when Khama III and his people abandoned Shoshong in favour of Old Palapye, a long way to the east. And when the Cape to Cairo Railroad reached Palapye Road in 1896 Lephephe Wells was far from the line of rail. By 1900 the traders, wheelwrights, blacksmiths and hoteliers had all gone. But the stories remain…….
If you want to visit Lephephe Wells, or the neighbouring villages of Sojwe and Hatsalatladi we can get you there, and our guide notes will pass on some of the stories.
April 26 2022
Cooking mapakiwa with dad
My dad has been retired for the past 7 years. When he retired he stuck around for a while in Palapye, but then later decided that there really was nothing for him to do in Palapye. So he packed his bags and moved back to his home village, Kalamare. Kalamare is a small village situated amongst the eastern hills of Botswana. His new life now is taking care of the house and his vegetable garden at Kalamare and visiting his cattle post from time to time.
I try my best to visit him as often as I can. When I’m there we try to spend as much time together as possible doing things together. We go for walks, we share meals together and do some gardening together. On this particular visit, I had promised to show him how to cook mapakiwa (ma-pa-kee-wa). These are Setswana bread rolls. People generally cook them in an oven but the best way in my opinion is outside on the fire.
My father had already collected firewood, so as he made the fire, I started making the dough. It’s a simple mixture of flour, water, yeast, salt, and sugar. Some people (aka my mother), prefer to use baking powder as a raising agent, but I am more comfortable using yeast. Once the dough has raised, into the pot it goes! You cook it with coal. We put coal under the pot and on top of the pot. You have to keep controlling the temperature so that it doesn’t burn. So we sat outside under the stars and had a lovely chat while we waited for the bread.
Once the bread was almost done, we brewed some tea over the fire and had it with our bread. A wonderful combination if I have to say so myself!
March 23 2022
A lazy Sunday afternoon at CNS, Palapye, enjoying their traditional game meat and lerotse sorghum with a wine while listening to Trinity Mpho as a pre-Valentines Day celebration.
February 14 2022
‘Madombi Le Nama’
Dumplings and Beef, one of Botswana’s most loved dishes. Today we indulged in the national delicacy with the troops. For me, it’s definitely up there in my top choices for any meal, I would happily eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Count me in!
January 18 2022
The Beauty of the Rainy Season
Right now in Botswana it’s the rainy season. Everyone gets excited when it rains. After months of no rain everything is dry and dusty. The first rains signal the ploughing season and crops are planted. I love this time as the bush turns from bare branches to lush green in a matter of days such that you feel you are in a slow motion David Attenborough documentary. Wild flowers begin to pop up everywhere as pictured below. And the rain cools things down from the searing heat.
December 7 2021
A fun run in a game farm!
‘Whatever you do, don’t run’ is the advice always given to visitors to the big national parks in Botswana. Even Usain Bolt couldn’t outrun a lion, and running makes you an inviting target for a chase. So going jogging or cycling in the big national parks of Botswana would be foolhardy, and there are only a few spots where you are allowed out of your vehicle.
But everyone in Botswana bis fond of wildlife, and many of us also like to exercise. Kenmoir Game Farm, just outside Gaborone, is one place where you can watch wildlife and take exercise at the same time. They have a farm run every Saturday where you can run on one of three trails – 5.5; 12.5 and 21.7 km. The 21.7 km trail is also open to cyclists. In these days of Covid-19 the only race is against the clock, but who cares about times if you come across a business of banded mongoose or a herd of wildebeest ?
Kenmoir Farm is not on the standard tourist circuit. It caters mostly to locals. But if you are going to be in Gaborone on a Saturday morning this is a great way to spend some time, and tourists are welcome to join in.
I’ve borrowed these pictures of Kenmoir Farm from their website. The site also gives you the directions of how to get there, some downloadable GPX files to help you navigate the longer courses, and posts the times to beat. Entry is limited to control numbers and you have to register in advance, which you can do online here https://www.thetrail.run/virtual-races/.
December 5 2021
The Great Outdoors!
One of the things we enjoy about running this company is that it provides an excuse to get out in the great outdoors. There have always been plenty of opportunities for this in Botswana, but when I was a university academic it was often hard to make the time. Now I have to do it to check out the opportunities available to our clients.
This image was taken from the flanks of the female Swaneng Hill near Serowe. You can see the male Swaneng Hill in the background. The flat top of the male Swaneng hill was fortified by the Tsweneng tribe, who gave the hills these names. The plant that looks a bit like a cactus in the foreground is a ‘Transvaal Candelabra’, a species of Euphorbia.
I lived in Serowe for a year, but never found time to climb the hill and look at the fort. Always too many things to do for and with my students. But I finally ticked this one off last week, and now there is a guide note waiting for any clients who want to follow in my footsteps…
August 11 2021
Welcome to Our Office!
Welcome to the home of DIY self drive tours. This is our office and it is based in the charming town of Palapye, Botswana. Palapye holds a very special place in all of our hearts and it is here that most of the team reside. The 68 sqm structure sits on a farm located at the foot of the Tswapong hills which makes for a lovely view from the office. This structure is made entirely out of timber, it has wooden pine floors and walls made from rhino board. Construction of the office started in early May of 2021 and was completed three weeks later.
While it’s still under construction and still needs to undergo some more painting(done by us) as well as fittings here and there, we hope our vision and ideas for the space will come together nicely and this will be where we run our day to day operations for DIY.
August 12 2021
Look who we found!
This cutie is a Western Stripe-Bellied Sand Snake, Psammophis subtaeniatus. They are typically found in pairs. A pair will travel everywhere together and share a burrow. Our friend Clement says that in his part of Zimbabwe these snakes are venerated as ancestors, and must not be touched or harmed in any way. I haven’t the heart to tell him that many of these snakes have historically been captured and shipped from southern Africa to Europe as terrarium pets. Perhaps something he wouldn’t really want to know.
This snake was in a mopane tree on the track between our house and the company office, side by side with his mate. I ran back to the house to get a camera, but on my return the female was heading back down their hole at the base of the tree. Only the male stayed on to be photographed.
If I manage to get a photo of them together next time I will post it here.
These snakes are completely harmless and it is nice to have them around.
August 11 2021