Saturday, October 13, 2007
Johannesburg, South Africa, to Palapye, Botswana

We got up at 6:15 so we'd be ready when Kea Campers came to pick us up, and by 8:00 we'd settled our bill with Emerald's and were good to go.  Though we had called yesterday and confirmed our pre-established pickup time of 8:00, by 8:30 Kea had not arrived, and the Emerald's receptionist called them for us again.  The guy at Kea insisted that either Tom or I had called yesterday afternoon and said we did not need a ride to the depot.  Of course, that wasn't true, and we know the receptionist had not garbled our confirmation, because we were standing right next to her when she called.  Incompetent liar.  In any event, he then sent someone to collect us.  Mighty big of him.  What they didn't know is that this is all going in my trip report!

Kea finally arrived at 8:45, and a few minutes later we were at the rental depot.  The rental agent filled out the requisite paperwork, in slow motion, and pretty soon he brought the vehicle around, a Nissan TRAX single-cab, manual-transmission, 4x4 pickup truck, with a pop-out camper on the back with a bed, refrigerator, two-burner gas stove, and sink. 

Home away from home for the next 10 days!

The Kea fellow spent some time showing us how stuff worked, though he didn't seem that familiar with the vehicle himself, and then, just when we thought we could finally leave, another guy came up and said he needed to gas up the air conditioner before we left, but that it would only take ten minutes.  We figured his ten-minute estimate was on the low side, but when it took well over an hour, we were really at the end of our patience.  Eventually, finally, at 11:15, we left.  Hooray!  

As we pulled away from the rental depot and onto the highway, the stairs on the back of the camper fell out of their locked position and hung freely behind us, due to a faulty latching mechanism.  Later we'll have to rig some way to keep them in place while driving.

Heading north from Kempton Park to the South Africa-Botswana border at Groblersbrug/Martin's Drift, we took the R21 to Pretoria, where we caught the N1 toll road northeast as far as Mokopane (Potgietersrus).  [Many towns in South Africa have changed names since the fall of Apartheid.]  The tolls were 5.80, 27, 22, and 8.50 rand. 

And they say Americans cause global warming

Cruising up the N1, northern South Africa

In Mokopane we pulled over at a little shopping center, where Tom waited by the truck to guard our stuff while I went in a store and bought meat pies for lunch and sandwich fixins for later.  I was kind of nervous about this town because I'd read just days before on an Internet message board that Mokopane is notorious for "smash-and-grab" robberies of tourists, one poster recently being robbed here on his way back to Johannesburg from Botswana, losing the photos from his entire trip!

Having obtained some food, I popped into the bottle store next door to secure some beverages.  Already paranoid about this town, I noticed I was being followed around the store.  Quickly, I grabbed the first acceptable bottle of something I could find and marched straight for the checkout.  Only when paying did I realize that the man who had been following me was now bagging my purchase.  Apparently he'd been as suspicious of me as I was of him and had been watching to make sure I didn't shoplift.  So much for preconceptions.

Necessities now in hand, we headed northwest from Mokopane on the N11, and the road got bad.  It was narrow and riddled with potholes, and Tom was playing dodge'em pedestrians on both sides.  I'm glad I wasn't driving!  After several kilometers, the road improved, but Tom still had to be on constant lookout for stray goats, cows, donkeys, and people in the roadway.  

About 4:30 we reached the South Africa-Botswana border crossing at Groblersbrug/Martin's Drift.  Crossing a border with a rental vehicle was new ground for us, but we muddled through.  Luckily, there was hardly anyone but us crossing this late Saturday afternoon, so at least we didn't have crowds to contend with.  Kea kept us so late, it's a wonder we got to the border post before it closed at 6:00 p.m.

Approaching the border at Martin's Drift

Here is the Groblersbrug/Martin's Drift border procedure, as best I recall:

- On the South Africa side (Groblersbrug/Grobler's Bridge), park your vehicle and go to the main building in the middle of the parking lot.  

- Go to the customs window first.  They'll want to see your Letter of Authority from the rental place and certificate of registration.  Get a gate pass.

- Go to the immigration window.  They'll stamp your passport and your gate pass.

- Get back in your car and drive on.  

- Another officer will stop you and take your gate pass.  He also opened our hood and looked at the certificate of registration's chassis number and checked under our hood, I guess looking for chopped car parts.

- You are now leaving South Africa.  

- On the Botswana side (Martin's Drift), park your vehicle and enter the main building, which looks like an elementary school.

- Get some condoms.  They are free at Botswana border crossings and national park entrances.  (One in four adult citizens of Botswana is infected with HIV.)  Supposedly, the free-condom packages used to be decorated with the Botswana flag, but they were just plain and boring when we got ours.

- Go to the immigration window first.  They'll give you a form.  Fill it out and go back to the window.  They'll stamp your passport and have the driver sign a vehicle register book found on the counter.  The officer will ask for the vehicle registration number, write it on a gate pass and stamp it.  Take this with you.

- If you've nothing to declare, the passenger is done and can wait for the driver outside.  (I stayed with Tom, but I saw some other passengers get kicked out.)  

- Get customs to stamp your gate pass.

- The driver goes to the cashier's window, just past customs.  This is where you pay a tax to get a road permit for the vehicle.  We could not buy pula, Botswana's currency, before crossing the border, yet Botswana asks for the road tax in pula.  They allowed us to pay in rand.  It was 60 pula or 80 rand.  They will give you a "Department of Customs and Excise Official Receipt."

- I've read elsewhere about the necessity of buying a road disc for your vehicle from the cashier.  This is no longer done.  

- We asked the cashier about getting a double-entry permit since we'd be leaving Botswana in a few days to go to Zambia and then returning, but she wouldn't do it and said we had to pay each time.

- Get back in your vehicle and proceed to the gate.  The officer will take the gate pass and look at the road permit.  Get the road permit back.  That is yours to keep as a nice souvenir.

- Welcome to Botswana!!

Crossing the Limpopo River

Just past Martin's Drift, we fueled up in Sherwood, Botswana.  This is the only filling station we came across in Botswana that takes credit cards.  All other stations were cash only, in pula.  There is no self-service; the filling station attendants in South Africa and Botswana do the fueling for you.  The fuel price in Botswana is set by the government, so there's no use driving around trying to find the best price; it's all the same.  We topped off our 90-liter tank and filled both of our 20-liter jerry cans, purchasing 95.45 liters of unleaded petrol for 5.42 pula per liter.  That's $3.49 per gallon.

A few kilometers later we stopped again and changed some dollars to pula at a usurious rate.  The rate should have been 6 pula per US$1.  They were giving closer to 5 pula per US$1.  The currency exchange in Sherwood at the filling station was closed, and the only ATM we found looked sketchy, so I changed $100 to pula here just to have a little walking-around money.

By this time the sun was getting pretty low in the sky.  We'd realized hours ago that, thanks to Kea causing us such a late start, we weren't going to get to our intended stop for the night, the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.  Unfortunately, our main guidebook, "Botswana, The Bradt Safari Guide," didn't cover southern Botswana, so we didn't know where to look for a place to stay.  But at the border, Tom had seen a poster for a camp in Palapye, so that's where we headed.

It was after dark by the time we reached Palapye.  Driving at night in Botswana is not recommended.  There's no such thing as streetlights here, and tonight there wasn't even a moon to help light our way.  It was a serious kind of dark that we weren't used to.  There were animals and pedestrians everywhere.  As we followed signs for Camp Itumela, leading us on a circuitous route down a series of dusty, unpaved roads, I wondered, could this really be the way to anywhere?  As we drove up to the secured gate of the campground, a guard emerged from the dark to open the gate and waved us in.

A campsite at Camp Itumela was 40 pula per person.  Quite a bargain, when at that point I would have paid ANYTHING to stop for the night.  It was interesting and difficult setting up the camper for the first time after dark.  The camper has some flaws, but we'll make do.  The sink leaks and needs a washer, the mosquito netting is missing a semi-necessary strap, and after we were all set up, we had some "extra" parts.  Also, the handle for the driver's-side window fell off the first time Tom used it, and thereafter had to be reattached each time it was needed.  

Camp Itumela was pretty entertaining, not with wildlife, like Khama Rhino Sanctuary would have been, but with budget overlanders and South Africans on holiday.  We made sandwiches for dinner and then headed over to Itumela's thatch-roofed outdoor bar for some beers.  The Rugby World Cup is held once every four years, and the England vs. France semifinal was tonight.  They had the game on the big-screen in the bar, and the South Africans were beside themselves with excitement.  It was a lot of fun, and England won in a very close match.  The crowd was thrilled!

Tom relaxes in the camper

546 kilometers Johannesburg (Kempton Park) to Palapye.

Continue to October 14

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