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News and Notes from Southern Africa, Vol. VI: USA! USA! Edition

@cosedivine just casually being epic
@cosedivine just casually being epic
Image: mtdrift

Howdy, kids. It’s been quite a while since I rapped atchya’. So, what’s been happening over in Botswana since, uh... checks notes... March? Well, quite a lot, I’ll tell you.

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But, I’m not going to take the lazy path and post a bunch of links to our blog to catch you up on our adventures.

Actually, I am going to do that:

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Don’t leave just yet!

I am also going to bring you in this very post Overland & Expedition-exclusive content, content that has never yet graced the pixels of any screen that is capable of rendering the Internet in visible form.

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Read on, fellow adventurers.

On the road in the Kalahari.
On the road in the Kalahari.
Image: @cosedivine
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So, any interesting news to report?

First, Julie’s Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Botswana has been renewed for next year. That means we’ll be living in Botswana for another year, which, as you can imagine, makes us pretty happy. Or, “chuffed” as they say in these parts.

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We already flew back home to Montana for a few weeks in June and July (where I started writing this post), and we’re back in Botswana now planning more travel starting in September.

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Specifically, we are headed back to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Khutse Game Reserve, but visiting parts of those territories that we missed in previous trips. It involves driving a road in far western Botswana that is only permitted for one party per day - something I’m really looking forward to. We’ll be joining up with our Botswana friends Jovan and Dina from Road Beneath Our Feet and their Toyota Land Cruiser Prado for the final leg of that journey.

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So, Botswana is a damn big country, and there’s a whole lot more of it to see. But, we’ve also got our eye on Namibia (again), Angola (especially now that the visa situation for Americans has eased up), Zambia, Lesotho, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), South Africa, and Mozambique.

Given work demands (Julie has three classes to teach this semester), it’s hard to predict what we’ll actually accomplish, but we are feeling a whole lot less FOMO knowing that we’re privileged to have 12 more months to explore this endlessly amazing part of the world.

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Greater Kudu and friend, the red billed oxpecker
Greater Kudu and friend, the red billed oxpecker
Image: @cosedivine

Are you becoming a brand?

Second, as you may have noticed in the links above, we’ve embarked on a rebranding effort for our blog and social media - say goodbye to MTdrift, say hello to Venturesome Overland. Follow us on the ‘Grams!

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@venturesomeoverland 

We’ve got a hashtag, and everything: #venturesomemore

http://venturesomeoverland.com

Cool, cool.

Lastly, we have embarked on a continuing partnership with Wild Wheels - the outfit that loaned us the wet-dream Land Cruiser for our adventure back in December - to explore more of southern Botswana. We’ll be borrowing more Land Cruisers and HiLuxes (HiLuxi?) from them over the next few months, so stay tuned for updates on that as well.

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How about the Pajero?

Not a whole lot to report on this front other than the fact that it needs a new front axle on the passenger side. The inner CV boot has torn, and the joint is now pretty dry. I’ll need to bring the Paj back to the Serbian for replacement, which is still as frustrating as ever.

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But, such are the compromises we make, and this one I can deal with.

Over the last five months or so Julie and I have also dialed in our camping set-up for the Mitsubishi. We went with a simple platform built from a single piece of MDF plywood that we can move into different positions for driving, sleeping, and cooking. I drilled a bunch of holes in it for securing ratchet-straps and bungees, and it’s worked pretty well so far.

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With our air mattress, we have a fairly comfortable sleeping arrangement. But the headroom is minimal, and even with the elastic mesh screens we bought for the windows, ventilation is still not fantastic. It’s cramped, and there’s a lot of shuffling of baggage and bins in camp. Again, compromises. But they are worthwhile when you get to places like this:

Giraffe, Nxai Pans National Park
Giraffe, Nxai Pans National Park
Image: @cosedivine
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The baobabs, out of frame here, are pretty tall at Nxai Pans.
The baobabs, out of frame here, are pretty tall at Nxai Pans.
Image: mtdrift
Weather drama - Makgadikgadi Pans National Park
Weather drama - Makgadikgadi Pans National Park
Image: mtdrift
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Lilac Breasted Roller
Lilac Breasted Roller
Image: @cosedivine
“What are you lookin’ at?”
“What are you lookin’ at?”
Image: @cosedivine
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In any case, this basically stock samurai warrior from the Far East has taken us to some pretty spectacular locales, and never once given us a problem. We got stuck in the mud at Nxai Pans National Park in April, but extracted ourselves with our Frontrunner Sand Lizards in no time.

Where have you been?

Speaking of Nxai Pans, we’ve taken a few trips since our last update (linked up at the top), including to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) to meet up with our friends from the States, Makgadikgadi Pans National Park, Nxai Pans National Park, Kubu Island, the Nata Bird Sanctuary, and Kukonje Island.

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Nile Monitor, Makadikgadi Pans National Park
Nile Monitor, Makadikgadi Pans National Park
Image: @cosedivine

Without a doubt, the most arduous journey into the wilderness was through the CKGR. We loaded up the Pajero with six 20L jerry cans of extra fuel at our starting point in the Khutse Game Reserve (including approximately another 80 L in the tank), and sputtered into the Puma petrol station at Rakops at the end with less than .5 L to spare - 696kms in total.

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Lotta fuel up in here.
Lotta fuel up in here.
Image: mtdrift

With the fuel consumption computer working overtime, we logged a low of 1.8km per L in the deepest of the sand that plagues the southern Kalahari. This was really the first time I had ever underprepared for a trip on the fuel front, and we were thankful to meet up with our friends from Montana in their rented HiLux near the end of the expedition. They had been traveling south from Victoria Falls, and it was a quite a strange experience to meet them in the middle of nowhere in Botswana. In fact, I think the first thing I said to my friend James after we had a big ol’ hug was, “Well, this is fucking weird.”

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If we had run the tank dry, we had support, but with some careful driving we managed not to. Happily, most of the roads in the northern parts of CKGR are hard pan - as rigid as concrete when dry - and I was able to use 2WD and hypermile the big Mitsu with frequent forced upshifts using the transmission’s manual mode. I think it may have actually made a difference in the end - bumping up the average fuel consumption to 6km per L felt pretty fantastic.

We saw some giraffes.

Piper Pan waterhole, CKGR.
Piper Pan waterhole, CKGR.
Image: @cosedivine
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And lions.

About 20 feet from the road. CKGR
About 20 feet from the road. CKGR
Image: @cosedivine
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Nice kitty. CKGR
Nice kitty. CKGR
Image: @cosedivine

The route we took is one of the most notoriously difficult in the country, and the Park staff at the entrance gate were skeptical when I explained to them our travel plan. The Pajero just doesn’t give much of an impression as an “overland” vehicle, especially compared with a lot of the rigs we see here (stealth overland!), so I got big lectures on checking the oil, and lowering the tire pressures.

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I will admit that I was just a little nervous to tackle this particular track. However, I think some of the hand-wringing over its difficulty is overstated, ASPW, included. Other than undercalculating our fuel needs we never felt like if we encountered trouble that we would be hopelessly stranded.

A few traditional villages of the San people (or Bushmen, as many of them prefer to be called) still line the road, even deep within in the Park, and the government of Botswana sends huge MAN tanker trucks on the route to supply them with water. The trees overhanging the road are trimmed into oddly square shapes by their passing. In fact, the only truly close call I’ve had on the road in this country was meeting one of these water trucks head-on around a blind curve in the absolute middle of nowhere. With some difficulty in low range we churned through the sand on the side of the road to let it pass - smiles and waves exchanged all around.

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That’s not to say there wasn’t any solitude or silence - there was plenty of both. Was it an exhilarating adventure that tested the limits of what we could and would do in an overland expedition? Yes. Will you die of exposure and thirst driving from the south into the wilds of the CKGR? You will not.

Anything else?

We had a splendid visit back home in the old US-of-A. Stops included New York to visit my brother and his wife and their first child who was born while we were in Africa last year, Massachusetts, Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon, and, of course, our wonderful home in Missoula, Montana - that great vortex of awesomeness of the Inland Northwest.

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I went backpacking with a good friend, took in some minor league baseball, drank beer with actual hops in it, hung out with the family, played silly games with my nephews (Joe, the 10-year-old, is disturbingly skilled at cornhole, like, Olympic level), and generally soaked in the excellent vibes. We’re happy to have another year in Botswana, but Montana ain’t such a bad place to come home to.

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Also, we are missing our semi-annual trips to Utah in many years, and despite how incredible southern Africa is, there is no substitute for the slick rock country and the gritty sandstone. Currently I am re-reading Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire (spend $8, get yourself a hard copy), as I do every year come rain or shine, as consolation:

For my own part, I am pleased enough with surfaces - in fact, they alone seem to me to be of much importance. Such things for example as the grasp of a child’s hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of friend or lover, the silk of a girl’s thigh, the sunlight on rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind - what else is there? What else do we need?

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What else do we need. Get out there and find some surfaces that please you.

As always, go forth and explore, my friends!

Julie being epic, again. Makgadkigadi Pans, Botswana
Julie being epic, again. Makgadkigadi Pans, Botswana
Image: mtdrift

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