Saturday, October 13, 2007
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
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!
Johannesburg, South Africa, to Palapye, Botswana
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
Approaching the border
at Martin's Drift
Here is the
Groblersbrug/Martin's Drift border procedure, as best I
- 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
- 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
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
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
546 kilometers Johannesburg
(Kempton Park) to Palapye.
Tom Goetz's Homepage