Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Beautiful Botswana Safari . "The Night of the Blister Beetles!" Part 2.

We left the solitude of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park to set off on the next stage of our journey to Moremi and the Okavango Delta via Ghanzi and Maun.

Ghanzi is a cattle town and since the development of the Trans - Kalahari Highway it has become less of a frontier town and more of a tourist resort. Food and other provisions are readily available. We had booked in at Thakadu a game lodge on the outskirts of Ghanzi which also provides luxury tents as well as camping. The lodge had a swimming pool, proper toilet block, as well as a restaurant serving lovely food by the water hole. All the facilities were clean and well looked after. We were pleased to have a proper shower and after a good an really inexpensive meal we took to the roof tent. Security on the site was good, so we slept peacefully! 

 The swimming pool, just what you need when the temperature is 40 C

The waterhole by the restaurant.

The site is used by tour operators, but still has a very peaceful ambiance.

We left early the next day heading for Maun our last stop before setting off into the wilds again. We needed water and Harry knew of a water stop in Maun where we could fill up. After a few trips down the back lanes we found the water plant and managed to fill both vans with Botswana water, fresh and clean with a slight Botswana tang, but perfectly drinkable.

Maun is an extremely busy frontier town and filled with tourists. It certainly is a town of extremes from shanties on the outskirts to an international airport and very busy.

Maun is the gateway to the Okavango Delta and one of the fastest growing towns in Botswana. Donkeys and goats are everywhere! The name "Maun" means " place of reeds", a throw back to the time when there was more rain. On the outskirts of Maun we found our next night halt, the evergreen Drifters Camp. Here we would encounter the night of the blister beetles!

At this point I feel we should be playing some Hitchcock movie music. We arrived at Drifters camp just north of Maun to be told they had a slight beetle infestation, but that it was over the other side of the camp and shouldn't cause us a problem as the beetles did not fly. We pitched camp and it was a beautiful spot.

As evening drew on we noticed the beetles were gathering, but really did not take too much notice. We lit our fire and cooked a meal, sitting out under the trees. As we went up to the toilet block we noticed the beetles, crunched a few and carried on as normal. As the evening drew on the beetles massed, they were attracted to the fire and the white lights, we beat a few off and then decided to go to bed. As I got into the tent I felt a scratch on my neck but thought I had caught it with my ring and scratched myself. The morning told a different story. I had two enormous blisters on by neck and Den had one on his shoulder, they were filled with nasty yellow fluid and looked very angry. We hastily packed up and as we did so the beetles just came from everywhere, the toilet block was completely covered with black beetles, it was truly like a movie scene! We decided to leave immediately, the camp site wardens were oblivious to the beetle problem they had, we did wonder how the party they were expecting that day fared?

Here's the little blighter, looks innocent and unassuming but beware he packs a nasty secret. We travelled back to Maun and got advice from the pharmacy, cream and sterile needles to pop the blisters. We were warned us not to let any of the fluid touch new skin as it would blister again. Another lesson well learned, it's little creatures that are dangerous not big ones. The blisters took a week to heal and I wore a fetching scarf to keep the wounds covered. The blister beetles can also kill cattle if they get eaten. We thought afterwards that perhaps the green well watered grass, at Drifters had attracted them.

 Later that day we travelled to Maun Airport as Fiona had not been well, so had decided to fly back to Jo'Burg, leaving us with Harry to finish the trip. Fortunately, she managed to get a flight that day without too much of a wait, Maun Airport is certainly a busy little place. We said our goodbyes and went back to the shopping centre to stock up on drinks for the next part of the journey. As the day had almost gone we decided to pitch up at Audi Camp the other side of Maun before setting off to Moremi, here we had a pleasant beetle free stay, with plenty of cold beer in lovely surroundings and another great African steak in the restaurant.

Audi Camp a great stopping off place and worth a second visit!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Beautiful Botswana Safari - Red Sands and Silent Nights. Part 1.

Following our trip to South Africa 18 months ago we decided another trip was in order. We arranged to hire a 4X4 and do an overland trip through Botswana with Den's sister and brother -in -law. Never say never we thought!! Not really into "wilding" it would be a big trip for us and with Den's "special birthday" looming, we thought we would take the plunge and do it while we still were fit enough.

With the help of Fiona and Harry in South Africa the Avis bakkie was booked, no turning back then. It looked sturdy enough and Harry did a reccy to check everything out, if he was happy with the vehicle then so were we.

The pictures were scary enough. Note the loo and the outside shower, we were obviously in for excitement of some kind. At least the sun would be shining. With thoughts of being eaten by lions we set off!

After the long flight to Jo'Burg and a restful sleep we were ready for the van. Den and Harry went to fetch it and we were soon packing our new found friend, a Ford Ranger, Den named him Elvis....who knows why? Harry was also making friends with his new super duper bakkie, complete with ceramic flushing loo, numerous fridges and freezers and a large comfy roof tent. Ours was a more modest affair but perfectly formed with freshly laundered bed linen, towels and everything we would need for an extended trip in the wilderness. I was pleased to note that we could get up in the roof tent without going outside, could be a handy feature with animals about. We were pleased Harry and Fiona were going with us, we are not brave enough to go solo. Strangely enough we did meet other loan European travellers on the road though much younger and braver or more fool hardy than us!

To be fair to Avis the van looked the part and packing it was a straight forward job.

Harry is an experienced over lander and had planned a route through Botswana booking all the sites. You would expect this to be relatively easy but Botswana is very hot on animal conservation and seriously restricts the number of tourists allowed onto camp sites and in conservation areas. Harry had spent the best part of a few months just booking sites. We also had to make sure that all the documentation was correct for going through the Botswana border crossings. Newbies take note, a first trip to Botswana would be best done through a travel company, there are lots of options. Also in some areas you have to be travelling with another vehicle to be allowed in. A brilliant book which really tells you about everything you need to know about Botswana is The Shell Tourist Guide to Botswana. Don't leave home without it, you will also need Tracks for Africa. with a hand held Garmin. We were lucky as Harry was very well prepared and Fiona had the medical kit, she was a trained nurse.

We also had available a satellite phone for emergencies, no use trying to find a wi-fi connection in the Kalahari, McDonalds were not exactly on every corner.. Insurance comes with the Avis package, we used our bank insurance for medical cover ( check safaris are covered ) Also be aware that Botswana is in a red malaria zone so suitable precautions are needed. We decided on the Malarone, expensive but effective although you do need to spray your clothes and cover up at dawn and dusk. We did not find the mozzies a problem but it was extremely dry. To be totally self sufficient you also have to take all your water, fuel and food. We found  no water in the Kalahari but were fine with the 100L of water we carried, Harry carried 200L, at least we wouldn't die of thirst, although hair washing had to take a back seat. The currency for Botswana is Pula, not available in the UK.  Once were suitably packed we were ready for the off.

On the move we headed for our first destination the Red Sands Lodge still in South Africa on the border of the Kalahari at Kuruman. Our first day took us through some interesting scenery for around 600 k. Lots to see on the way including ostrich and the fascinating farms in the transveld. Harry showed us the farms he grew up on. We were still amazed by the numbers of people walking along the busy roads. The contrast between poverty and affluence.

From shanty towns to government housing.

In Africa everyone is walking.

Our trip to Kuruman was rather eventful as we had to stop enroute to get our batteries fixed as we had some loose wires.Gosh, that town is like the last frontier,  Also our freezer wasn't working, so we were not best pleased with Avis, if we had been on our own we would have had to have got it fixed as life in the desert without a fridge and freezer would have been impossible. A little battle to be taken up later! We paid for the wiring to be fixed but decided to live without the freezer. The fridge worked enough to keep drinks coolish. The temperature was creeping up to 40 C, so anything below 10 C  was a bonus.

We arrived at the Red Sands Lodge at around 4.00 pm A lovely place to stay which lives up to it's name, everything was red. We had a lovely room and a great meal in the restaurant.

The lodge also had a camp site. The next morning we set off for the long sandy drive to the Botswana border and on to Mabuasehube Pan in the Kgalagdi Transfrontier National Park and our first taste of "proper wilding".

The next days driving proved somewhat challenging. Yes this was a proper road! We made the border crossing into Botswana at McCarthys Rest. Not too stressful at the border but they did ask Den for his driving license, though they didn't look at it! 300 Pula for insurance and a quick search for illegal meat supplies by the border police and  we were through. The tomatoes we had brought with us were not strictly allowed but they let us through and reminded us to bury the tomato seeds when we had finished with them. It's amazing how strictly the border is patrolled with constant veterinary checks, tyre and shoe disinfectant dips and monitoring of vehicles.

Eventually we arrived at our first real camp site, it turned out to be a true wilderness spot, no water and no loo. Lots of cute little meerkats though, african honeybees and birds in lions, though we did find some evidence they may have been around. The Kalahari is truly a stunning place incredibly silent at night and the stars are amazing. We slept in peace.

A day time visitor.

Morning has broken.

The Kalahari is probably one of the last few real wilderness places and a beautiful place, but so dry. The rains were late and when we left, everyone in Africa was waiting for water. The pans were bone dry.

The lack of rain meant a lack of animal life. We decided to move on after two silent nights. We were lucky however that the meerkats kept us company.

We said goodbye to this beautiful place, we had enjoyed it's beauty, serenity and even a shower in the great outdoors. The only camp site visitor we had was a huge hyena that came one night, sadly Den and I slept through the nocturnal visit. Harry and Fiona said it was the biggest hyena they had ever seen!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Living with April. Review of IH 630RL.

Time to review the first 6 months with April. Since putting a deposit down on our IH van with Nick Whale Motor homes at the Malvern Show last year and patiently waiting the arrival of our new motor home in April 2015, we have been on a bit of a roller coaster.


We have been very pleased with April overall. She drives well, is comfortable and more than satisfies our living needs. We have had to think carefully about how and what we load into her, but that has been a positive experience overall and we've managed to get rid of a load of junk. April fits beautifully on our drive and the unobtrusive colour means she happily blends into the background. We have found the slate grey colour perfect for us and so much easier to keep clean! So far, we have not noticed that we are too warm in the summer because of the colour and we did have some very hot days this year in France. White may be more, reflective but we can honestly say we haven't noticed any difference. The larger fuel tank means we can go a long way on a tank without worrying about filling up. We have found the water and gas more than adequate for our needs. If anything we were mildly embarrassed when we filled up the gas tank as it only cost £1.79.

Living: The bed is fabulous and really comfy. We have used a mattress enhancer from M &S and that works well for us. The duvet and mattress cover are in cotton duvet covers and roll up neatly in the back locker. I have been using a cotton throw on the seats just recently, but I think I will probably make something that fits better, even possibly getting the knitting needles out! I can see an Aran throw may work here. The big IH cushions live on the front seats during the night and are comfy by day.

The TV works brilliantly and is in the perfect place for a bit of night viewing. We usually only use the TV at home in the colder weather although it did work in France. It's really easy to use and tune in! The top cupboards provide massive storage. The heating is great and we have left it on very low all night when it's been cold.

Kitchen: The kitchen has loads more space than it would at first appear. The worktop extension is a valuable bit of extra room. The sink is adequate although I do leave a washing up bowl in the toilet compartment and we use site facilities when we can. The cooker works well although I have used the electric hob plate less than I thought I would and the oven slightly more. All my pans and crockery fall into the large kitchen drawers. We took out the heavy cutlery drawer and use a small light weight one. We have even used the little outside table, a handy spot for the wine bottle. I like the fridge, it's smaller than my last one but seems to hold more. We found a neat little pop up waste bin that also slots into the front door pocket.

Bathroom & Shower: The toilet and shower all functions as you would expect. With hind site we were glad our van arrived without an all round shower curtain, as the bathroom is a little cosy! We use site facilities where we can, although I do like to brush my teeth in the bathroom it works fine! We just need to remember to secure the bathroom cabinet door after use, as it was a mystery bump for a while! The toilet is great, I think I prefer the bench type it feels more secure.

Front Room: Grand title for two swivel front seats but they work well, although one had to have a handy file rubbed over its bits to get it to move more smoothly. The front door pockets provide handy storage for the electric leads and we keep the chocks in the front as a step for my little short legs which don't touch the floor. It also means we have a bit more room in the boot. Our shoes and boots fit in the floor locker, just as well we both have little feet! The side cupboards behind the drivers seat are the glory holes storing keys and other bits and bobs. We also carry two wicker baskets for other "things" like wine and groceries. We put up a pole for our home constructed mozzy/fly screen but truthfully we have not needed to use it yet. The little blighters seem to fly in through the big door and out again through the roof lights or windows. Strange but flying things don't seem to hang around in April but time will tell!

Boot: Well everything has been in and out and chairs have been changed and new table has been bought. To cut a long saga short, everything fits in, just!! When we take bikes the Thule tow bar on the back works well. We have also tried out the gas BBQ and that is perfect!


 We paid a lot of money for April and although most of our warranty issues have now been fixed, the question remains should the manufacturer and the dealer have been more diligent about what they were sending out.

In our quest to be truthful and with the words to any readers I may have, of "caveat emptor", buyer beware, ringing in our ears,there is rather a long list, of warranty issues. We could go into a whole chapter on whose fault it is, but readers can draw there own conclusions. Suffice it to say, that we do now have a near perfect van, although there are a few finer points left to clear up, when the habitation check is due. We live in hopes that nothing else can go wrong.

So here is the list:

Complications with the specification of the Fiat van and the options available. No one seemed to have the information we needed at the time. Eventually we found it ourselves.
Huge problems with the alarm. Nearly had to cut short our holiday in France.
Satellite receiver fixed with stick tape, which kept falling off.
All outside decals poorly fitted around the windows. They were replaced.
Black finish on outside grills flaking off. Replaced.
Fresh water tap too near to exhaust, melted. ( No this is not a joke)  Replaced.
Front blind fixing held on with sticky tape. Replaced with screws.
Front locker not straight. Still to be fixed.
Carpet on rear side wall bubbled up when it was hot weather.
Rear and side lockers not straight. Obviously the fitters had been having a wonky 5 minutes. This was fixed.
Mirrors in bathroom stuck with tape. Now fixed with mirror screws.
Battery charger. Still not convinced it is right. Time will tell.
Protruding screws from kitchen splash back. Fixed.
Wiring and lights. Where do I start ? Finally fixed.

The pictures probably do not show the full glory of the wonky cupboards. The first time I noticed it, I thought it was the wine! The cupboards were at least 3 cms out from right to left.

This list may appear to be picky, but each fault had it's own story. 

To be entirely fair to IH, all the work has been almost finished, hopefully quality control will improve. We had no problems getting the dealer and IH to fix issues I guess it was the inconvenience involved which proved the most frustrating. IH van are excellent products and we do not regret buying one, it is perfect for our needs.

Would we do it all again??

Um......... yes and no, but differently. 

I think we would look for a new van that had already been built.

The further from home the dealer, the more complicated things are.

Things we may want to add later, possibly an inverter to help charge up phones and ipads when not on an EHU.  Roll on our next trip!