Botswana Adventure 1998
Participants: Pete & Sandy van Gysen – Isuzu Blazer
Terry & Maria Purdon – Rocsta Diesel
Alan van Schoor – Toyota Hilux
There were times when I thought that this trip would never happen. It was difficult enough juggling the itinerary to meet the uncertainties of the shipping industry, but my main concern was the delight which friends and fellow club members seemed to derive from regaling Maria with stories (both true and untrue) of what happened to those foolhardy enough to sleep on the ground in the wilds of Botswana. They never got to see the terror in her eyes when I had to inform her that I had no intention of fitting a rooftop tent to the Rocsta, nor did they have to calm her down when she woke up sweating from a terrifying nightmare, babbling something about hyenas.
Nonetheless, plans were made, campsites booked and we finally set off from Melkbos on a cold winter morning at the end of May. I think, for all of us, the adventure would only start once the wheels left the tar, but we had over two thousand kilometres to cover before this happened.
At Vanrhynsdorp we took the Calvinia turnoff and from here on it was new territory for me as we headed towards Uppington and our first night’s stopover at Die Eiland. As the road flattened and straightened, I took the opportunity to check the accuracy of the waypoints which I had spent so many hours laying off from my AA map and laboriously entering into the GPS. To my surprise most were within a kilometre or two and despite well-signposted roads, there is a certain amount of satisfaction to be derived in knowing exactly where you are and when you are going to reach your destination. This knowledge was to prove extremely useful once we got off the beaten track where reliable signposting is few and far between.
Kuruman, Vryburg, Mafikeng, Lobatse and Gaberone. Names, which until recently, I have only heard or read about in the media. Now each conjures up some memory, be it only the smell of diesel at a dusty filling station or the taste of breakfast at a quaint roadside “kafee”.
We made the mistake of arriving in Gaberone during rush hour traffic. I don’t know what made me think it would be any different from any other big city – it wasn’t! Our destination was supposed to be CitiCamp – a name gleaned from the pages of an old issue of Getaway magazine, but this was not to be. Nobody we asked, had heard of it and the answering machine which intercepted our call to the contact number provided, was not about to divulge it’s location.
Plan B was to head back out of town to a sign we had passed about 15 km out, advertising camp sites available at the local Lion Park. We arrived well after sunset, just as the gates were being closed, and after loading up with a hefty pile of firewood, were directed to the campsite somewhere out in the inky blackness. To this day, I’m not convinced that we found the right place, but spent a comfortable night nonetheless, listening to the roar of lions which, we presumed, were constrained somehow from wandering around the camp. This, I felt, was an ideal introduction for Maria to the Botswana bush. Mochudi, Mahalapye, Palapye, Serowe, Letlhakane. Names I had never heard of until I first opened the AA map of Botswana, but they were just dots on a broad stripe of red. It was at Letlhakane that the fat stripe came to an end for us and gave way, first to yellow and then to a thin dotted line. This was our first dirt and there was no holding Alan back – he disappeared ahead of us in a thick cloud of dust. Up until now, his enthusiasm for motoring in Botswana had been somewhat subdued after being caught for speeding shortly after crossing the border.
We had stopped in Serowe for supplies as it was going to be rough roads and bush camps for the next three days as we explored the Makgadikgadi Pans and became familiar with the wildlife along the Boteti River. While the women folk went off to buy groceries, the task of locating sustenance of a more liquid nature was left up to the men. I learned two things during this expedition which may be of use to future travellers. Firstly, when someone directs you to the “mall” – don’ expect too much! A parking lot and more than one shop fits this description in Botswana. Secondly, wine is not big in this part of the world, especially the boxed variety. If this is your preference – take your own even if you have to pay the duty.
When we eventually caught up with Alan, he had reached the first pan and fresh tracks on the crust indicated that he had already tested the surface to ensure that it was safe for the rest of us to venture forth. There was no sign of any water so we decided to take the short cut directly across the pan towards Kubu Island. We set off with plumes of dust trailing as we followed a fairly well worn track which stretched ahead over the shimmering white surface, threading it’s way between islands of grass. I must say I was surprised at the amount of vegetation around. I had pictured a far more barren landscape.
The track we were following lead directly to the familiar campsite under the giant baobab which one sees featured in the various trail guides and magazine articles on Kubu Island ….. we didn’t even bother to look for another spot – this suited us just fine! After setting up camp and clambering to a suitable vantage point to watch the sun set, we settled down to absorb the atmosphere and listen to the overpowering silence. The adventure had begun!
Cautionary notes in various publications concerning the dangers attached to crossing the pans had made me wary about planning a route across the major pans before checking local conditions. The track thus far, plus our growing confidence in satellite navigation had kindled our pioneering spirit so, before setting off the next morning, we had planned a new route which would take us across Ntetwe Pan to Gweta where we would join the main Nata-Maun road for a short distance before cutting through the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park to come out at Khumaga where we planned to spend the next two nights.
One hundred odd kilometres later we reached Gweta in identically coloured vehicles and those who emerged were also liberally coated in the fine, powdery dust of soda-ash. This was to provide the undercoat for many layers to come. The quick dash down the tar road managed to dislodge some of it, but it wasn’t long before a signboard indicated the turn-off to the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park and it was back to dirt track again.
The entrance fee to all parks in Botswana is rather stiff , even if you are just taking a short cut, so we were determined to get our money’s worth. Keen eyes scanned the surrounding bush as we trundled across grassy plains, ensuring that not even the smallest animal would go undetected, but we arrived at the Khumaga gate somewhat disappointed having spotted only a couple of Gemsbok and a dried up Wildebeest carcass. Maybe all the animals had trekked north after all?
Camp Xwaraga (20 25.6’S 24 31.2’E) is outside the park, on the opposite bank of the Boteti river, about 6 km from Khumaga. We weren’t quite sure what to expect as it is off the beaten track and not well publicised as yet, but with hindsight, I think I can safely say that the time we spent here provided some of the main highlights of the trip.
We arrived to find the camp deserted. The sandy areas around the ablutions and reception hut and even the campsites themselves, had been freshly raked to remove all traces of previous human occupation. We chose campsite No.2 for no particular reason I can remember (they were all equally as enticing) and wasted no time in setting up camp and taking a stroll to survey our surroundings. A short walk through the bush brought us out on the river bank, but no river….. only two greenish looking pools, the one occupied by a family of hippo and the other by a couple of mean looking crocs. We didn’t venture any further as the realisation dawned upon us that we were now really in the wilds of Botswana and anything might lurk behind the next bush.
This was to prove a wise decision after chatting to the local game-scout who made an early appearance the next morning. He informed us quite casually that the campsite was frequented by lion, elephants and sundry other wild beasts and pointed out droppings and a freshly broken tree in the neighbouring campsite which attested to the recent presence of a herd of elephants. Needless to say, we curtailed our wanderings to the immediate vicinity of the campsite thereafter.
The day spent at Xwaraga was officially designated a “park-off” day. We occupied ourselves with various chores – the guys with minor vehicle maintenance and the woman-folk with the laundry. It was here that we became familiar with the intricacies of Sandy’s “Sputnik” – a wonderful invention when there are no Laundromats handy. Even Alan managed to master the controls and soon had his whites “whiter than white” even though the water looked rather murky when he had finished. We soon had the entire area bedecked with assorted attire and anyone arriving would have been excused for thinking they had stumbled across a flea-market on sale day.
We had arranged a game-viewing drive for that evening, and promptly at seven the Landcruiser pulled up complete with elevated seats, million cp. portable spots, and blankets for our legs (Huh!). For the next couple of hours we were captivated by the night-life of the Boteti. African Wildcats, Civets, Genets, Springhares, Eagle Owls and a host of other nocturnal creatures were transfixed by those powerful beams stabbing into the darkness. Our driver Steve, CO-owner of the camp, was determined that we should see something more exciting before returning and when a sudden roar emanated from the darkness off to our left, instead of heading in the opposite direction, he swung off the track and ploughed straight into the bush towards the menacing sound. A chill ran up my spine… maybe a blanket wasn’t such a bad idea after all!
If a mouse had been hiding in that bush it would not have escaped those brilliant shafts of light illuminating every shadow, but nothing… maybe he saw us coming???. With adrenaline still pumping we headed back to camp with Alan dejectedly sweeping his light to and fro. Suddenly there she was, caught in the beam, a magnificent lioness seemingly on a mission. She paused to stare at us briefly before melting away into the bush. Now why did those bushes look so familiar?… surely we weren’t back at the campsite already?.
It was a restless night, not only for us, but also for those denizens of the surrounding bushveld who did not have a flimsy piece of fabric to crawl into. We were woken on numerous occasions by the thunder of hooves in the riverbed and the occasional passage of heavy bodies crashing through the undergrowth. Maybe I could fit a rooftop tent to the Rocsta – tomorrow in Maun!.
Before leaving next morning, I took a stroll around the camp with the game-scout. One didn’t need to be a tracker to see that there had been a lot of activity during the night, but I might have missed the lion spoor around the ablution block and the fact that she had lain down to rest outside the reception hut, her tail twitching in the sand.
It was with some regret that we left Xwaraga and headed for Maun, but the trip had only just begun and there was bound to be further adventure in store for us as we travelled northwards towards those mystical names on the map… Moremi , Savuti and Chobe.
It was a relatively short drive, the first 60 km being good, but dusty dirt road before hitting the 80 km stretch of highway into Maun. The plan was to spend the afternoon in this busy little metropolis stocking up with fuel and provisions as this would be the last chance before Kasane in the northernmost tip of Botswana. Of course, we had to do the tourist thing and visit Riley’s Hotel – funny how the beer always tastes better when someone else pours it for you.
We spent the night at Island Safari Lodge where we treated ourselves to a meal in the restaurant. The cuisine was excellent, but I realised that we hadn’t been doing too badly in the food department, thanks mainly to our master-chef, Pete, who could make bullybeef stew taste like stroganoff. I fell asleep that night gripping the panga at my side after being warned by the camp watchman of “Namibians” who were in the habit of slitting the tent to see what they could steal. And we thought the bush was dangerous!
An early start next morning saw us on our way to Moremi full of expectations of the roads to come. Phrases like “challenging driving” and “extremely treacherous in places” in various publications we had read, had whetted our appetite and was one of the reasons we were here. But, you can’t believe everything you read, or maybe it’s all relative. This is not to say that the sand isn’t thick or deep, I think it depends on your previous experience rather than your vehicle’s capabilities. On one occasion we came across a heavily laden Landcruiser with trailer in tow, well bogged down in the sand. On checking the tyres, we found that not only were they more suitable for rock climbing, but they were pumped to the full manufacturers specs of 450 Kpa. As air hissed out all round, the drivers main concern was how she was going to pump them up again. A hefty tug from Alan saw her on her way and when we next met, we found that they had completed the rest of their journey uneventfully.
The softer areas of Moremi had their moments too. Listening to Pete and Alan over the radio, extolling the virtues of their respective vehicles’ performance in 2WD, I could not resist the temptation of stopping in the thickest patch of sand I could find. The whole convoy came to an abrupt halt, but only the Rocsta continued blithely on it’s way as the air turned blue from abuse aimed in my direction from drivers hastily locking hubs. Talk about no sense of humour!
We were heading for Xakanaxa, the public campsite recommended to us by locals in the know. Time was on our side as we drove leisurely through the Park stopping frequently to marvel at the abundance of all types of game. At Third Bridge I strolled across first with video in hand to capture the vehicles bumping across this well-known landmark. As a result, I now have documentary evidence of Maria setting a record time for the crossing in a Rocsta which I will be submitting to that famous Guinness publication.
The GPS lead us unerringly towards Xakanaxa where we arrived in good time to set up camp and make ourselves comfortable before nightfall. This was probably just as well as it allowed us to identify the hippo paths leading out of the reeds and position our tent accordingly. One luckless camper in site No.1 made the mistake of pitching his tent a bit too close to one of these hippo highways, not taking into account their compulsive urge to defecate when emerging from the water. The result was a stipple coating over his tent that would have made any plasterer envious.
Although we had avoided this hazard – in our search for a grassy spot we had ignored the fact that we had carefully placed our tent in the middle of a hippo buffet. But, I am happy to report that these 3 ton beasts do not consider a two-man dome tent as a delicacy and will quite contentedly munch the grass from around the guy-ropes and leave you with a freshly mown lawn when you wake up. On this occasion the excreta was inside the tent!
We spent three days in the idyllic surroundings of Xakanaxa. The fact that some unfortunate woman had come face to face with a buffalo outside the ablutions and been badly gored a few days previously was soon forgotten and we felt that this was the way life should be.
Mornings and evenings were set aside for game drives although the area teemed with animals at any time of the day. As we became more adventurous, these drives took us deeper and deeper into the dry floodplains of the Okavango where a myriad of tracks ( not shown on any map), explored this usually flooded landscape. It was here that the GPS came into it’s own – faithfully indicating the direction of the camp and keeping track of the route we had taken in case it became necessary to retrace our course. It was comforting to know that we weren’t lost even when there was no obvious way home!
Reluctantly, one has to curtail one’s driving in this part of paradise as fuel is limited to what you can carry. Before leaving, the Rocsta thirstily glugged down 20 litres to ensure we would reach Kasane without having to dig out the jerry cans again. On our way to North Gate and Savuti, a brief detour to the Dombo hippo pools provided yet another bonus. Our first hyena (believe it or not) and a pack of Wild Dogs. This made our day and we left Moremi feeling that there wasn’t much that we that missed.
We crossed the notorious Magwikhwe Sand Ridge without incident and if it hadn’t been for an abandoned Land Rover in the middle of the track, we would probably still be looking for it! As we neared Savuti the verdant vegetation of the delta gave way to hardier foliage more suited to the arid conditions found here. The roads too became worse and there were times when I found 4WD relieved a labouring engine as we chugged through thick patches of sand.
We made Savuti camp early in the afternoon in time for a late lunch. Now every campsite has it’s ‘critters’ which vary in the degree of annoyance they cause. Savuti’s speciality are the Yellowbilled Hornbills which flock silently into the trees above you as soon as there is any chance of a free meal. This would not be a problem if they had better control of their bowel movements and when a large yellow dollop landed on my lap, who could blame me for thinking that it was mayonnaise fallen from my tuna sandwich. As I scooped it onto my finger ready to pop into my mouth, I’m not sure what made me look up and notice the true source of this tasty offering.
The new Savuti campsite is still in the process of construction, or so we were told. In the meantime, campers are compelled to endure what can only be described as rather primitive conditions. Nevertheless, once tents are up and tables and chairs set out, anywhere can seem like home.
We had only one night planned here, and since Savuti has always been one of those mystical names for me, I did not want to miss the opportunity of seeing as much as possible in the time available. Maria and I left the others to relax while we set off to explore our surroundings.
The water-hole is only a short distance from camp and this is as far as we got. I think that every elephant for miles around had arrived there first, so we spent a fascinating hour watching their antics in the mud. One thing that struck us was the large number of huge bulls laden with ivory. None on the herds we came across in Moremi or later, along the Chobe river, included individuals to match the sheer bulk of these giants.
An uneventful night saw us back on the road again early next morning. As we passed the pumphouse supplying water to the camp and surroundings, I noticed the freshly broken walls which, the previous evening, had shown no sign of crumbling. Apparently, they have yet to devise a method of keeping the local leviathans away from fresh water.
More thick sand in store, this time made worse by the fact that a stretch of this road was in regular use by heavy construction vehicles which have the habit of increasing the depth of track to a level which just about had the Rocsta scrabbling for traction, but a bit of speed, a thump here and there, and most obstacles can be overcome. In fact, I have in my possession, a letter from the Minister of Transport, thanking me for single-handedly flattening the middel-mannetjie over the entire route between Maun and Kasane!
After about 70 km the sandy track gives way to a regular gravel road from Kachicau to Ngoma Bridge and from here it’s tar for the last 50 odd kilometres into Kasane where we needed to stock up again before heading for Serondela, our proposed campsite for the next three day on the banks of the Chobe River.
Shopping is not one of my favourite pastimes, but I felt Sandy and Maria needed some moral support in a strange town with no familiar Shoprite or Pick ‘n Pay sign in sight. Everything we needed was available if you knew where to look and with a little patience, while we waited for a reluctant hen to produce the required number of eggs, we soon had all items on the list ticked, and set off to rendezvous with Pete and Alan who were sampling the local brew at the Chobe River Lodge.
The short drive from Kasane to Serondela was one of the most exciting of the trip – a vast herd of buffalo, numerous elephant herds and three different lion prides (two feeding at kills next to the road), were but a few of the animals we encountered along this 17 km stretch of road running alongside the river. Chobe was certainly living up to it’s reputation of ‘wall-to-wall’ game.
Serondela is notorious for it’s baboon population and we had been warned to take precautions against their lightening fast raids on unwary campers. After setting up camp we wasted no time in deploying our secret weapons – three fairly realistic looking rubber snakes which we draped conspicuously around the campsite and sat back to watch the fun – but not a single baboon in sight….. very disappointing!
It would appear that they time their arrival and departure from camp to coincide with meal times. The first I knew of their presence was when a brief scuffle ensued around the table where preparations for the evening meal were about to commence. I turned to see Sandy locked in what appeared to be mortal combat with a baboon almost her size. The argument was over an onion which Sandy obviously prized and was not going to relinquish at any cost. The baboon was no match for her and skulked furtively back into the bushes while the rubber snakes stared on menacingly and our hero calmly continued with her chores.
The park authorities employ somewhat more drastic methods of discouraging these thieving primates by carrying out regular blitzes through the campsite around sunrise and sunset and woe betide any baboon that ends up in the sights of that high-powered rifle. The corpse hanging in a nearby tree bore testimony to their serious intent, but did not appear to have the desired effect. No sooner had the squad passed than the baboons emerged from hiding and took up their favourite spots in the trees overhanging the river.
The sight that greeted me early that first morning in Serondela will remain etched in my memory. The campsite was alive with birds and animals – Guineafowl and Francolins scratched and pecked in the dirt, a herd of Impala grazed peacefully on the open campsites while a family of Warthogs scuffled hungrily amongst the leaves. The baboons gathered in small groups and busied themselves with morning ablutions or wandered nonchalantly about looking for tasty titbits. The scene was one of utter peace and tranquillity.
Day one at Serondela and our plans to take a river cruise on one of the many boats that run sight-seeing tours from the Chobe River Lodge unfortunately did not materialise. Seems that they are more popular than we had anticipated and one has to book well in advance – a pity really as the placid waters of the slow flowing Chobe River looked a lot more inviting than the turbulent oceans most of us were used to. Nevertheless, I understand the hotel serves an excellent bar lunch, much enjoyed by the others while Maria and I opted to explore the river bank in the dubious comfort of a 4×4.
One does not have to travel far in Chobe to observe the wildlife. Short drives in any direction will always provide something interesting or exciting. Up until now we had considered it a rare occurrence to see hippo out of the water during the day, but here it seems that the cold waters of the river drive them to seek the warmth of the sun and one can often see dozens of them packed like sardines, as they bask in the muddy wallows that line the river bank.
If you haven’t previously visited Victoria Falls, Serondela is ideally situated for a day trip into Zimbabwe to view this awesome spectacle. This was my reason for setting out the next day, but Alan and Sandy saw it as an opportunity to pay a lot of money in order to launch themselves into thin air, tied to the end of a long rubber band. I didn’t detect too much disappointment though, when we found out that, to do this, one has to cross into Zambia. One border crossing is enough for Alan, even on a good day, so it was decided to give it a miss. The Falls were spectacular, but with the river level being higher than normal, much of the view was shrouded in spray. I suppose we should have hired a rain-coat from one of the many peddlers offering such wares in the parking lot, but after a bad experience with a street-wise money-changer on our arrival, I was not too keen to do business with anyone who wasn’t sitting behind a desk. Tourists beware!
After a giant hamburger and a few pints of the real Zambezi in a local hotel, it was a pleasure to relax while somebody else did the driving and it seemed I had hardly closed my eyes before Alan was pulling up sharply just before the border post to let a large herd of elephants cross the road ahead of us. Seems you just cannot get away from them in this part of the world.
Our final night in Chobe and we decided to celebrate it with friends we had made along the way. We were treated to a spectacular sunset as we sipped sundowners next to the river and all thoughts of crocodiles appeared to be forgotten as we sat entranced at the waters edge. Once again Pete did us proud with his culinary expertise and the main course was followed by one too many grapes soaked in Witblitz courtesy of our “Villiersdorp vriende”. These proved a lot more palatable than Wolfgang’s schnapps and had very similar effect!
An early start was necessary the next morning as our plan was to drive the 360 km to Maun in one day. This may seem a simple enough objective, but the miles of bouncing over rough roads and ploughing through thick sand (often simultaneously) put quite a strain on both passenger and vehicle alike. Nevertheless, we rolled into Maun just before sunset and headed for Sitatunga Camp situated about 12 km south-west on the road to Toteng. We were hoping for quieter, more secluded surroundings than those camps to the north and this we certainly found. It was dark when we arrived and all was in blackness. Once we had located the owner, the place became a hive of activity – lights were switched on, the donkey boiler was coaxed into life and a large pile of wood was dragged across to our braai. By the time we had set up camp, the fire was roaring and Pete was doing his potjie thing under the close scrutiny of a number of domestic animals who had gathered to watch proceedings.
In the light of dawn we found ourselves in a pleasant glade of trees, a lot bigger than it had appeared in the gloom of the previous evening. Before setting off for Maun for yet another shopping expedition, we took the opportunity of visiting the crocodile enclosures, the inhabitants of which, provide the main economy of this camp. This afforded us the chance of studying these fearsome creatures up close, but watching them is akin to watching paint dry. I believe though, that they were all very much alive and awaiting the opportunity to pounce, should anyone be foolish enough to venture over the intervening fence.
Although we were officially on our way home, no-one was yet keen to hit the tarred highways and face those thousands of kilometres of relatively uninteresting driving. Our route, therefore, was planned to follow, as much as possible, those thin dotted lines on the map which preferably displayed the legend – “4×4 required”. From Maun we set off for Ghanzi, from where we would head due south, through Bere, Hukuntsi, Mabuasehube, Tshabong and return to South Africa via McCarthy’s Rest. This route was amended slightly as our plans firmed up and we ended up crossing the border at Middlepits and heading for the Twee Rivieren in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park.
After leaving Maun rather late we got only as far as Ghanzi that evening. This suited us fine and we had no trouble locating the Kalahari Arms which provided a comfortable campsite and the last opportunity for hot showers and a meal out before venturing into the wild and sparsely populated regions of the southern Kalahari. There were complaints next morning of the campsite being rather noisy what with traffic, music and voices carrying clearly over the night air. Funny how the roar of a lion, the braying of zebra or the “laugh” of a hyena were never considered as noise even when they appeared to originate from right outside your tent.
The recently tarred “Ghanzi Highway” probably would have saved us some time, but we chose the more direct route to Bere along the original dirt road. This route is still well maintained for the first 27 km, but after the turnoff to Xade, in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the deterioration is very noticeable and makes for some interesting driving. It was on this stretch of road that Alan experienced the first car troubles of the trip in the form of a glowing red light showing up on his instrument panel. Ignoring it wasn’t going to make it go away and by the time we reached the Ghanzi highway again, he had determined that it was the voltage regulator. Unpacking the spares box confirmed that this vital component was not included, but I am sure there was sufficient other stuff there to rebuild the entire engine.
The nearest civilisation was Ghanzi, so while we made ourselves comfortable on the side of the road, Alan took to the highway and was back within three hours having found exactly what he needed at the local Midas store. This illustrated the advantage of driving a Toyota in this part of the world – I shudder to think how far I would have had to travel to find my nearest friendly Rocsta dealer!
We crossed the tar and continued southwards along a sandy track which seemed to stretch endlessly over flat grassland sprinkled liberally with Acacia and assorted scrub. For the next few hours we drove leisurely through this Kalahari landscape without seeing any sign of human habitation and when we felt it was time to stop for the night we simply selected a suitable spot alongside the road and set up camp as the sun slowly sank in a fiery display of colour.
We were on the road again early next morning after a very quiet and uneventful night. I was somewhat concerned to note that the trail marker displayed on the GPS did not quite match the route on the map and showed us heading in a more westerly direction, but since we were convinced that we had not missed a turnoff at any point, we continued along the narrow track on the lookout for any landmarks that might assist with our navigation. In this flat and featureless countryside, I was afraid that this was rather too much to expect. Suddenly the bush came to an abrupt end and we found ourselves on the edge of a vast open pan dotted with hundreds of animals of the domestic kind. Amongst the host of cattle, goats and donkeys we picked out a few herd boys and headed in their direction with a view to confirming that we were on the right track. Unfortunately, communication problems left us not much the wiser, although they did manage to convey to us the fact, that a loaf of bread and a packet of cigarettes would be much appreciated on their part.
The road continued on the other side of the pan, but had turned into a wide sandy highway more suited to driving cattle than vehicles, so it was back into 4 wheel drive as we made our way slowly up the opposite side of the depression. Shortly thereafter, we came upon a large sign announcing our arrival in the village of Hunhukwe. This definitely was not on our map, but there was a pan of the same name well off to the west of the indicated track which tended to confirmed that the GPS was correct after all1 Our arrival coincided with the monthly visit of the mobile clinic from Kang and these kind folk were able the confirm that we were indeed on the right track and need only follow the sand highway which would lead us, via Lehututu, to Hukuntsi, our next fuel stop. In return we were able to assist them by pumping a somewhat deflated tyre on their vehicle. We set off once gain, and the highway turned into a dual carriageway with one track for northbound and another for southbound traffic, but this Botswana boulevard was not built for high speed cruising. The sand was thick and the tracks deep, although we found, for the most part, the vehicles performed well in two wheel drive. The Tropic of Capricorn was crossed without undue ceremony and an hour or so later we passed through the small village of Lehututu and enjoyed the brief luxury of a short stretch of tar leading into Hukuntsi where we filled tanks and visited our last Botswana bottle store.
A further short stretch of tar as far as Lokhwabe and we once again located our sand track heading southwards towards Mabuasehube. This game reserve forms a rectangular extension to the east of the Gemsbok National Park and has now been incorporated into the main park. Being the dry season, we were not expecting to encounter much wildlife in this area and our plan was to skirt the park and rather spend a couple of days at Twee Rivieren in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park.
The never-ending Kalahari landscape had ceased to hold our attention and even as we neared the park, the sight of an occasional Gemsbok did little to arouse our original enthusiasm. It therefore came as quite a surprise when Sandy’s excited voice crackled over the radio, telling us that there were lions in the grass next to the road. This was too good to be true, but sure enough, there they were – two young males and a female. They were obviously not as used to vehicles as their northern counterparts and bounded off through the tall grass to observe us from a safer distance. It would appear that no-one had pointed out to them that the park boundary lay some 15 km further to the south, nor informed them about the lack of water.
We continued onward, far more alert now, taking the detour road around the park. As evening approached, we had some difficulty locating a suitable camping site as there were very few clearings amongst the bush big enough to accommodate all three vehicles. Eventually, Pete, with a keen eye for such detail, located an ideal spot where the long grass had been cleared to some extent by the activity of ground squirrels. We never actually got to meet these cute little creatures, but I suspect they spent some days afterwards recovering from our rude intrusion. We camped much closer together that night, possibly because of the restricted space, but I suspect that the lion sighting earlier, probably had something to do with it!
Inevitably on a trip like this, there will be an occasion when one’s stomach objects to something eaten or drunk resulting in an urgent and unscheduled call of nature. At times like these, one can only hope that (a) it is daylight or (b) there are comfortable amenities on hand or (c) there are no dangerous animals around. Unfortunately for me, tonight was the night and none of the above applied! I can assure you that there is nothing more frightening than heading off into the darkness armed only with a toilet roll and a spade.
Anyway, we all survived the night and woke to a really chilly morning. Packing up camp is not much fun with numb hands and when I came to put the camp showers away, they were stiff as boards – the remaining water having frozen solid inside them. Needless to say, we wasted no time getting back on the road again with heaters working overtime, and by the time things started warming up, we were well on our way. The trail remained much the same and only started to show signs of improvement as we neared Tshabong, where we stopped briefly to fill up and sample the freshly made pies available from the small cafe at the garage. These were truly delicious – matched only by those we had bought at the pie shop in Maun. A definite must for the hungry traveller.
From Tshabong we took the road to Middlepits which initially, is very bumpy, but improves progressively as you leave civilisation. After about 50 km, it joins the Molopo River and follows the dry riverbed westwards with the boundary fence between Botswana and South Africa visible, every now and again, on the high bank above. It was on this isolated stretch of road that one of life’s great mysteries was revealed – the secret of the “Botswana Bush Drag”!
We had come across a road sign, somewhere near Ghanzi, warning us of this phenomenon and I recall at the time, scenes of high speed perversion crossing my mind. Now finally, here we were, faced with the real thing – an ancient little tractor moving slowly down the middle of the road dragging an enormous tree behind. We pulled over and got a cheery wave from the wizened old driver as he covered us in a cloud of dust, but the result was worth it – for the next few kilometres we sailed serenely over the freshly swept surface more comfortably and quietly than on any tarred road.
Our arrival at Middlepits and the formalities of the border crossing somehow marked the end of our adventures and although we still had the Kalahari Gemsbok Park to look forward to, the documentation of this final leg of the trip will have to be the subject of a future article. In all, we travelled 6143 kilometres, but it was the 2880 km of dirt roads that brought the most enjoyment and were part of the reason for setting out in the first place.
When I started the account of this journey, my intention was a brief description of the trip with a few of the highlights, but putting thoughts into words, has brought the memories flooding back and helped to relive the experience. I sincerely hope that those who read it will find it interesting enough to continue to the end.