Friends of ours have never been to the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, even though they grew-up in Botswana. Well they did try once to get there in their small Ford Focus – somebody at the last village, before the pans, wisely told them to turn back as they wouldn’t make it.
So we decided to take them with us for a night out on the pans last weekend
This so happened to coincide with the major publicized Makgadikgadi Epic, which was an event primarily for sky divers, but quad bikes and boating was also advertised. Yes, we were wondering about the boating on the Makgadikgadi. It sounded a fun thing to visit.
One small problem was that it was being held in Nata, which is directly on the opposite side of the pans to us in Letlhakane. As a crow flies, not that far, but it is actually quicker and safer just to drive around the pans.
Other friends of ours were taking some clients open pan camping just past Nata, so we planned to camp with them or nearby. This meant that we would have no ablution facilities, so we needed to take water, toilet paper, shower etc with us. This got me going with a water system for our trailer so getting water and showering would be easy.
We got a 50l water tank with the trailer and we had our own 50l tank, so I mounted both onto the roof of the trailer. I connected them together with piping and devised a tap, which protruded slightly out from the edge. A garden hose fitting was attached so we could easily use water where ever we needed it.
Our submersible pump shower could just be put into a water tank and powered by the trailers electrics.
The road on the eastern side of the Makgadikgadi Pans, is great as you pass through some forests before dropping down onto the fringes of the pans, but mostly the going is very slow. Streams, now dry, have cut deep through the road making the trip all the more exciting.
When we reached Nata, we tried to phone our friends that were already camping – they claimed cell phone reception was brilliant in the area. Of course we couldn’t get hold of either of them. But this was no problem as I had directions to find them.
The directions were simple, drive out of town until you see a wind sock, find a road just after that, follow it right the way down until you hit a T-junction, turn right and we will be somewhere there.
We saw an airstrip and at the end of it, there was the windsock. We drove just past it and found a track. This was so easy.
After a few kilometers the track was blocked by a fence, no gate, just a fence, there was no way round it, it was not a T-junction, so we couldn’t go right. We couldn’t go anywhere; we battled in turning the car and trailer totally around and headed out.
We were back on our cell phones, still we couldn’t get hold of them. We headed back to the tar, drove a bit further down and found another track, after quite some distance the road just fizzled out. Back on the cell phone, still no response.
We battled once again to turn the car and trailer, as we had found ourselves in a patch of small trees and with my limited ability of reversing a trailer we didn’t have much fun.
You can imagine the mood in the car was deteriorating quite quickly, we had been driving for over 5 hours, it was hot, dusty and people were hungry. One last attempt on the cell phone was also unsuccessful – so we headed for Pelican Lodge, on the outskirts of Nata.
It is a lovely lodge and thank goodness they had a camp site for us, which had its own private ablution and electrical point. Smiles began to appear on the faces of our group. I had done all the water works for nothing, plus I hadn’t brought my electrical cable to connect us into the mains – obviously I wasn’t expecting a electrical point in the middle of the Makgadikgadi.
Our improved mood was dealt a blow. We had just finished erecting our tents when a vehicle drove in and claimed that we were in their spot; they had merely popped out to get fuel for their car. As all the other campsites were empty I apologised to them and convinced them to use another one.
With camp set-up and lunched served with a drink or two, everybody was happy again and it was now time to get to the Makgadikgadi Epic. Thank goodness it was well sign posted.
We were told to park and join the queue, which was already about 50m. Our Motswana friend some how managed to get around the procedure and got us in.
It was some walk from the car park to the main marquee, which had been erected on the edge of pan that was still full of water, from the rains earlier this year. So yes, they could have boating. It was almost like a day at the sea, with gazebos lining the small beach.
Strangely we had arrived just at the right time as the first two planes with sky-divers was just taking off. The weather up until this point had not been good enough to dive.
Some landed perfectly on their feet, one skidded along the beach on his bum, just stopping before crashing into the spectators, another guy touched ground, ran a few paces then nosed dived into the sand. It was all rather fun to watch.
The quad biking that had been advertised, was actually the road safety department, that had set up a course even with robots. So you could take a small quad and learn the rules of the road. It was definitely not quads flying over dunes and across the pans as I assumed.
The dustbin that was next to our ablution, which we assumed was for our use turned out to be the only one for all the campsites. When we realized this we placed it in a position that all could use it. However, the people who accused us of taking their site, sneaked in and took it to their new campsite, where we couldn’t see it. Some people!
We were sitting round the fire chatting after a scrumptious dinner when a massive overland tour truck, pulled up and parked almost on top of us. They crashed, banged and partied until midnight, then again, still dark, at 5 in the morning, leaving about an hour later.
With the wind howling and dust being blown everywhere, we packed-up and decided to have breakfast at home. We all had a fun and enjoyable weekend.