From : The Livingstone Weekly
By : Gill Staden
4 March 2012
My header is from Sua Pan, Botswana.
Livingstone to Nata Lodge – First Part of my Travel Story
I left Livingstone on Thursday 16th February to cross to Victoria Falls Town. I was using a Hemingways 4×4 and had, I thought, all the right documents. On reaching the Zim side of the border the Customs lady was not happy; the letter of authority for me to drive the car did not have the company logo on it. She also mentioned that the letter was from Peter Hemingway and not from Hemingways Limited and … how did she know that Peter Hemingway was the owner of Hemingways? I sort-of said to her that it was pretty obvious, but she would not agree. She had a discussion with one of her colleagues in the local language and I heard the word ‘discretion’ – I don’t suppose there is an equivalent word in the local language which was why it popped up in English. Eventually the decision was made by my Customs lady and she told me that I needed a CVG.
You have to get a clearing agent and they must get a CVG – Customs Vehicle Guarantee. We have to make sure that you do not disappear with the vehicle in Zimbabwe.
A clearing agent was found quickly (of course?) and wrote out a piece of paper which cost me another
US$30, making my total for crossing the border US$85. I thought that this was a pretty heavy amount but knew that Zambia can charge over US$100 when they feel inclined … Finally I was allowed to leave …
I spent the night at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge with friends. Josh and I set off for Kazungula around 9am on our journey to Nata Lodge, Botswana. The Kazungula road was quiet; we
only saw some ground hornbill for a bit of entertainment. The Kazungula border was painless; the
Botswana side costing P120 (US$17) – quite a difference from US$85.
Kazungula now has a start of a shopping centre so there was no need to go into Kasane. We got some breakfast at Bimbos, filled up with fuel and bought a Botswana Sim card for the phone. Then we headed south towards Nata.
The road to Pandamatenga was still the old road but was fine to drive. We saw a few lone elephant bulls along the road and a large monitor lizard which escaped my camera because, at that point, the camera battery decided to go flat.
Pandamatenga is the centre of a farming community. Just north of the town there are enormous fields of crops – it is quite a spectacle to drive through this flat landscape with fields stretching for miles.
After Pandamatenga we came to the road works. I think it has to be over 2 years that the Botswana government has been working on this stretch of road and very little of it has been completed. So it was a case of driving on the new road, driving on a diversion and driving on the old road … it seemed to take a long time.
Eventually we reached Nata, passing straight through to Nata Lodge about 15 km south. Arriving at the lodge we booked in and enquired about a drive onto Sua Pan. They didn’t have one going that day so we decided to try it out ourselves. I was not looking forward to this – the pan would be wet. Anyhow, after dumping our bags in our chalet we headed for Nata Bird Sanctuary a few kilometres further south.
It cost us P125 (US$18) for the two of us and the vehicle to enter the Sanctuary. We asked the lady at the office if it was safe to drive and she told us to keep to the main tracks, not to go onto the grass, and we could get as far as the hide beside the pan. Off we went.
The first puddles were quite tame and we sauntered through without too much of a problem. Then we came to a bigger one and I drove through quite nervously. The next puddle was large and we could see some vehicles in the distance so, with my heart in my mouth, I started to drive. We got through with a bit of slipping and sliding to arrive at the next dry spot quite close to the vehicles we had seen … they were stuck …
There was a Jenman overland truck and another lorry which had been called to extricate the stricken Jenman vehicle. It too
had got bogged down. That was enough for me: This is as far as we go, I said. We watched the men trying to put poles under the vehicles; listened as they revved the engines trying to get out. No use. I knew we couldn’t help although we did give a bit of advice (?) and said that they should reduce the pressure in the tyres – it might help.
We left them and drove back through the puddles and just sat for a while with a beer on the road. We were not going to reach the pan and would not see the birds – flamingoes and pelicans. But at least we were not up to our axles in mud and could look forward to the rest of our holiday.
We went back to Nata Lodge for dinner under the stars. There was a group of very sad-looking tourists at one table and I wondered if they had anything to do with the stricken truck on the pan.
In the morning there was a beautiful sunrise through the palm trees. I sat and had tea on the veranda of the chalet and enjoyed it and the birds which were constantly rummaging through the bushes by the chalet picking at the fruit.
The rooms at Nata Lodge are spacious with everything you need – especially the kettle, teabags and coffee. The shower is ‘outside’, so morning ablutions are done under the sun. The veranda is a private place to sit and relax with a book or, for me, my notepad and pen. Breakfast was served outside on the terrace and I noticed that the lodge had a bird-feeding area. There was water and lots of food down. The birds were great entertainment as they hopped about from tree to tree and down to the bird feeding area. Someone had even thrown down some bread left over from breakfast so the barbets and bulbuls were feasting nicely. Thank you very much.
Nata Lodge is a popular spot for travellers. It is 200 km from Francistown; 300 km from Kazungula; 300 km from Maun. It is surrounded by palm trees and, I am told, this was the reason why the first owner of the lodge chose the spot. Apart from being a good stop-over it is also easy to get onto Sua Pan … although getting off Sua Pan might be a bit more difficult in the wet season. I intend to do a trip when it is dry so that I can drive around. The birds will have gone but there are animals too – wildebeest, zebra, jackals.The sunsets can be glorious.
Getting back to breakfast at the lodge … I noticed the group of tourists sitting around gloomily and asked them if they belonged to the stuck truck. Yes. They had got stuck early the previous morning, had spent several hours on the pan before being given a lift back to Nata Lodge. They were now waiting for another vehicle to arrive so that they could continue their journey onto Moremi – their own truck was still bogged down.