Maybe that title is a little misleading. I’m really going to focus on Botswana and Zimbabwe, but honestly – “Botswana/Zimbabwe: Some Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went” is a lousy title, so there you have it. Literary liberty, for all!
I had a blast in Botswana and Zimbabwe. Are there things that I wish I had done differently? Ok, no. But there are things that I wish I had brought, or hadn’t, or things I wish I had known before I went.
I was in Botswana in December/January, what should be the rainy season, aka – summer. So temperatures soared during the day, and would cool off only a little at night. We did a camping tour with Intrepid Travel, and their (general) packing guide said to bring a 3-season sleeping bag. Obviously, that was crazy talk, but I had no idea of how cool it might get at night. A silk sleeping bag liner and a fleece liner are sufficient for summer nights in Southern Africa in Botswana. We found when it was too hot, the silk liner didn’t stick to us, and if it got cooler in the early-hours of the morning, a fleece was enough to keep us warm. Anything more was too much. (And I get cold easily! If it’s under 20C, I sleep under a blanket or two.)
As part of our camping trip,we went up the Boro river, in the Okavango Delta, to bush camp for two nights/three days. We were told to bring 5L of water each, plus fill our water bottles – giving everyone around 6 – 7L of water. Our guide brought an addition 40L of water, which was to be an ’emergency supply’. Somehow, 20L went missing (used in cooking, really, instead of treated river water), and with the temperatures reaching close to 45C every day…..we went through a lot of water. Bring more water than you think necessary if going bush camping. In retrospect, 15L for the two of us would have been ideal. (Side note: We didn’t ended up dehydrated – our guide went to another camp to ‘borrow’ 10L, and we paid a poler to go down to the town to bring back 20 500mL bottles…..and some beer)
Something else that would have been useful was a light-weight long sleeved shirt – something to throw on to protect shoulders in particular from the sun, but didn’t add any weight or heat. One would have been sufficient, maybe two if I hadn’t been able to do laundry. (As it was, we had an opportunity every couple of days to do laundry. With the temperature so high, and the air so dry, clothes dried out in an hour – and this is for hand-washed, hand-wrung shirts and undergarments.)
Neutral-coloured clothing – anything non-garish, no neons, no jewel colours, no loud patterns – are ideal for safaris, especially walking safaris. They say ‘no blues, no yellows, no reds, no whites’ but what they mean is no colour that will stand out from the environment. Sky blue is ok, dun yellow is ok, and a dusty rose/red is ok. Greys, khaki, pale colours….these are all fine.
On the clothing theme, long light-weight pants will be your best friend on a walk safari. At least where we were, we ended up pushing through reeds or long grasses that were a little scratchy. Having something covering our legs was very helpful. If you have them (or want to buy them) convertible ‘zip’ pants that convert into shorts are even better. Once you’re out of the grasses, you can switch to something cooler, and you’ve got a two-in-one piece of clothing – pants for a cool/wet day, shorts for a warm day.
The Fiancé bought a Panama hat (when we were in Panama) and has used it for all over our sunny trips ever since. However (as you can see in the photo above) it doesn’t really shade the back of his neck. He wishes he had brought a wide-brim hat to protect his face/neck from the sun.
It was sunny nearly the whole time we were on vacation (with the exception of one morning of rain). When we went swimming (either in hotel pools, or in the Boro river) the Fiancé put on his rash guard, and I…..didn’t because I had left it at home, thinking I didn’t need one more t-shirt. If I could back – I would bring one less t-shirt, and the rash guard instead. It would have been great at keeping my shoulders and back out of the sun, but dries quickly, a must have when you’re on road to a new town nearly every day.
In Zimbabwe, (at the time we were there at least) they use the American dollar. Which is great for us because it’s easy to get in Canada. We brought $500 each – a couple of $100 bills, $50 in $1 bills, and the rest in $20. In hindsight, I wish we had brought $5 and $10 bills (in addition to the $1 bills) – very frequently we would pay a bill (in a restaurant, café, or shop) and they would have to go on a hunt for change. We burned through our $1 bills very quickly – if we had had $5, we could have kept the $1s in reserve for bottles of water, or tips.
Given how little rain we had, more sunscreen and aloe vera lotion would really have hit the spot. We figured we would only need sunscreen for our arms, faces, and maybe feet, so how much could we possibly use? More than we brought, so we had to buy some in Nata. With the temperatures in the 40s (that’s Celsius) every day, we would often sweat off the sunscreen that we had just applied, so we would apply it again (and again, and again). And after our two-day bush camping experience in the Okavango Delta, I ended up with a sunburn on my shoulders, and upper arms. (Some of our tour mates ended up with massive burns on their legs from white-water rafting). Aloe vera lotion would have hit the spot on those burns.
While the roads in Botswana, and from Botswana to Vic Falls, are paved and fairly smooth, there are the occasional bumps or potholes. Or the driver needs to slow down because of cows (or elephants), or speed up to pass someone. A small-mouth water bottle is the best. We brought two wide-mouth bottles, and it took some concentration (or a break in driving) to adequately drink (and not get it down our fronts.)
One thing we brought that was incredibly useful was a small bottle opener. When we did our boat cruise on the Chobe (and when we had beers brought up the Boro in the Okavango Delta) it was the most sought after piece of equipment. (To be fair, one of the Swiss had a bottle opener on his Swiss Army Knife – but that was still only 2 bottle openers for 16 people). Not only does it come in handy – it’s a great way to get to meet your travelling companions! It adds no extra weight, and in my case it’s a key chain, so double useful. (As was the Swiss Army knife.)
We brought a portable solar panel from Goal Zero. It turned out not to be as helpful as we thought it would be. In the Okavango Delta, it ended up being too hot – phones overheated while trying to charge, and that’s when they were in the shade. It ended up being dead weight. Every hotel lodge/campground we stayed at had electrical outlets for charging, and with the exception of the one night at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, and the two nights in the Okavango Delta, we were staying at hotel campgrounds. (The solar panel was far more helpful when I was in Mongolia.)
One piece of electronics that turned out to be worth it’s weight was a large battery with 3 USB ports (ours is a Uniden model). This was great when there was a line up for the electrical outlets – we could charge our phones up easily. When we upgraded to a hotel room, we could then charge the battery pack. It was by far more useful than the solar panel.