We woke up at around 7am on our second morning at Ihaha rest camp in the Chobe National Park in northern Botswana, having only slept for about three hours the night before. The massive tree branch that had snapped in the middle of the night, crashing onto our roof tent and car was now lying about a metre away from the vehicle. We were tired, sore, hot and still in shock but those evil Camping Gods were not done with us yet.
The nightly police patrol that came to our “rescue” the previous night had notified the camp manager of what had happened and shortly after we got up out of our Toyota Prado (we slept in the car), he came by to assess the damage itself. In the bright morning sunlight it was very clear what happened that night. The massive branch that was probably weakened by the heavy storm yesterday early evening, had just snapped from the main trunk, showing a visible crack from where it broke. We could also see the minor dents in the hood of our car, found and put back the side mirror which had come off and assessed how ruined our rooftop tent was.
The damage done to our tent meant that, because of the bent frame, we could not put back the cover after we folded it up. With the camp manager’s help and with the use of our rubber camp hammer, we banged the frame into its original position...or nearly enough so that we can pull the cover back on.
We were, sad to say, done with Ihaha for this trip. We had booked for one more night, but given all that happened and that we had nowhere to sleep (car-sleeping isn’t that comfy, especially when you have as much stuff as we had), we were ready to pack up and get to Kasane, which we did. We thanked the manager for his help and told him we were off. As he waved us off, we exited camp site No.9 and drove along a shortcut the camp manager told us about that would lead us back to the main tarmac road to Kasane, which saved us almost 2 hours of driving back through the park. Less than an hour later and we were entering the small town of Kasane.
We drove along the main road and opted to pop into The Garden Lodge, located on the left, as your are passing that popular stretch of the main road in Kasane, where most of the lodges, self-catering apartments and guest houses are situated. The lady at the reception looked surprised, to say the least, as we dragged ourselves and our bags through the front door. They had a cosy little cottage available to rent along with eight comfortable rooms, a great-looking pool, a massive, green lawn and waterfront access to the Chobe river and needless to say, we checked in immediately! We spent the afternoon relaxing at the lodge - swimming in the pool, having coffee out on the small balcony that is part of the cottage and sipping drinks up on the main deck of the lodge with a great open view of the river.
We strolled through Kasane that afternoon and later on went to our favourite local bar and eatery at the very relaxed Thebe River Lodge. A pizza, chicken schniztel and some cocktails later and the shock of our “dance with death” the night before slowly began to subside and we were able to laugh about it a little as well. This night in Kasane replaced the night we were supposed to have in Ihaha. Tomorrow we were back to our planned itinerary of heading down to Nata, where we would spend two nights at the Nata Lodge. We had not been there before, and we figured why not pop in for a bit on our way back home. No need to rush and get to Gaborone on the same day.
By 10am the following morning we were on the road to Nata, a relatively short 307km away. The road was rather uneventful except for the few elephants along the road through the Lesoma Valley and a weird shuddering of the car every time we took off from a standstill. Hmm, I suppose we’ll check that out when we get to Nata. When we arrived at the little town we stopped at the petrol station to check whether the air pressure in our tyres was up to asphalt-levels. They seemed to be good, but the shuddering was still present at low speeds. We made it to Nata Lodge by around 14h and as we checked in at the reception we could see the very refreshing looking pool, lots of shade-casting trees and a fully-stocked bar as well. We made our way to our designated chalet, number eight, where we unpacked, had a light lunch and sipped coffee on the back porch.
Later that afternoon we headed down to the poolside where we sipped cocktails while relaxing on the beach chairs under the shade. It would seem our holiday had finally begun, just five days into our trip! As the sun set, the dining tables were arranged, candles lit and we had a very pleasant evening, dining under the stars in the middle of Botswana. Ihaha seemed like a very bad nightmare not too long ago.
The following day was another one spent in paradise. Sun bathing, reading and chatting by the pool was how we spent pretty much the whole day. The lodge wasn’t that full either, so it was quite peaceful and relaxing. At the poolside we met a middle-aged couple from South Africa who, it turns out, were on their first ever camping/overlanding trip and they were on the last leg of a 10-day adventure around Botswana. Coincidentally they had also camped at Ihaha… on the same night as we did… just three campsites down. They were telling us a story they heard about "some campers" who were at campsite No.9 and were nearly crushed to death by a massive branch falling in the middle of the night. Dina and I looked at each other and burst out laughing. The two campers stared at us curiously and Dina replied “We asked how Ihaha was for you….not for us... WE are those campers!” They couldn’t believe they had come across us here of all places. We recapped our adventure to their disbelief and chatted about both our experiences in Ihaha during the storm. Their brand new roof top tent kept them bone-dry, while we sat in our car as the rain soaked our tent and mattress!
Earlier that day I asked at the reception if they had a mechanic present to have a look at our vehicle. They didn’t but they had the number of one in town who would be able to come and have a look. The receptionist kindly made the call for me and relayed the message that the mechanic would be here within the next half an hour or so. Mr. Kenny the mechanic arrived shortly afterwards and gave the underside of our Prado a check. He looked at the tyres, the shocks, but nothing seemed to be shaking when the car was lifted. He presumed that it might be the shocks that were worn and were causing the shuddering. If we weren’t going offroad then we should be fine to get back to Gaborone. I thanked and paid him for coming and assessing the issue (call him if you need mechanical assistance while in Nata on (+267) 77809338). I was rather thankful it was just the shocks...or so I thought.
Dinner was a pleasant affair again, this time with a little more guests present. A drink by the pool after everyone else had turned in, had us reflecting on this whole trip and what had happened and how Nata Lodge really is a great spot to come and relax for a few days. It’s literally an oasis in the desert! We were heading back to Gaborone the next day and I guess this was a good way to end our first trip of 2019. Oh, but it wasn’t going to be that easy, not at all.
The following morning we skipped breakfast, made some sandwiches for the road and by 9am we were out of Nata Lodge and making the final home-stretch back home. Nearly there.
The road to Francistown from Nata is still in a sad state of disrepair, well, sections of it at least. We passed the second largest town in Botswana and less than 20km later I heard a bump and glanced in the rear view mirror as something black was left on the road behind us. “Probably a stone or something,” I assured my co-driver. Not two minutes later, with nothing on the read in front of us, we felt a bump again and once more something black rolling on the road behind us was seen in the rearview mirror. “This can’t be good,” I thought and as I slowed down a bit, I wondered if there something wrong with our tyre. At that moment a car from behind passed us by and they hooted and pointed to the back of our car, mouthing the words “Check your tyre!” Dina and I glanced at each other and the same thought ran through our heads “Oh no, what NOW?!”. We pulled off to the side of the road, put on our hazards and got out to inspect the damage. The rear-right Bridgestone Dueller all-terrain tyre looked like it had run over a gauntlet of nails, scalpels, razors and hunting knives all at once. It was completely shredded and bits of rubber were actually falling off, which was what I had seen in the rearview.
There was nothing left to do in the nearly 40-degree heat but pull up my metaphorical sleeves and get to changing that tyre. A police van slowed down to ask if we were ok and with a hot and sweaty smile and a thumbs up from us, they carried on. With Dina’s help, I changed the shredded piece of rubber relatively quickly and within 30 minutes we were back on the road, increasing our distance from Francistown.
As we neared Palapye, Dina asked if we should maybe stop and check the other rear tyre. I assured her that there was no need as we had changed the problematic tyre and what were the odds that we’d get ANOTHER flat on the same trip? My wife gave me that look of “Ok, if you say so…”
We passed Palapye and as we entered Mahalapye she asked again and I said “No need”....again. Oh Jovan, Jovan, when will you learn?
We were nearing home and soon we’d be able to relax and forget all about these various mishaps we’ve had along the way. As we passed Rasesa, a mere 50km from Gaborone I felt the Prado start wobbling again….
“Oh no…. Not again….”
Yup, it happened again, this time the rear-left succumbed to the pressure and heat and started falling apart as well. We limped another 100 metres or so to a road-side picnic spot, where we stopped to check the tyre-situation. And of course, thanks to the Evil Camping Gods, the other rear tyre was also kaput! Not shredded as badly as the first (probably because we stopped to check sooner), but still beyond any patching we could have done on the spot
We had already used our one and only spare tyre and were stranded a mere 50km from home. I called my dad in Gaborone and asked if he could buy a new tyre and have someone bring it to us to change. He could do that, but we had no means of removing the rim from the old tyre and placing it onto the new one. We ended up calling a friend of ours, Dragan, who has a newer model Prado with the same size wheel. We told him what happened and where we were and he grabbed his spare wheel, jumped in his pickup and made the drive from Gaborone to where we were stranded. Less than an hour later we were changing yet another tyre, putting on Dragan’s spare and dumping our torn and shredded one into the back of his pickup.
We drove in convoy the rest of the way back as we had no idea whether any of the front tyres would give up on us as well! And to add insult to injury, the Gods of Camp opened up the heavens and drenched us with another heavy thunderstorm as we dragged ourselves the last few kilometres to Gaborone. We parted ways with our knight in shining armour and got home at around 19h that night, tired, annoyed, wet, aching and swearing that we will never, ever go camping again...or at least until the Camping Gods released us from this curse!
Maps & Locations of Our Accommodation
Contact Garden Lodge in Kasane
Contact Nata Lodge just outside of Nata
Contact Mr Kenny the mechanic in Nata on (+267) 77809338
"We are a Botswana-based family of 3, with a passion for going out into nature and the bush any chance we get!"