News > BOTSWANA : SEPTEMBER 2018 - EARNED OUR STRIPES, A SPLENDID ARTICLE FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE BY: LYNNE STEVENS
“It looks like fun! Come on.” Bruce’s excitement is tangible as I scan the brochure. ‘Two nights at Sedia Lodge with restaurant facilities, Two nights at Chobe Big Five River Lodge, One night at Cresta Marang with restaurant facilities…
A rooftop-tent is bolted to our Nissan Navara and
There’re no ‘Go ahead vehicles’ to set up our tents or to serve us ice cold G&Ts on our arrival at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, so 7 couples choose a suitable spot under the acacia trees and we pitch our own tents… except those with rooftop tents – we can only do that once we’re finished driving for the day (one cannot drive with an open tent on the car roof!). We mix our own G&Ts and head off in search of the Khama rhinos. A great leathery juggernaut is standing in the middle of the road, its horn trained on us like a gunsight. He’s stamping in his own dung getting his scent on his feet – like prehistoric Facebook. He’s marking his territory, and we’re in it! There may be a 1000 ways to die in Africa, and this is our first!! The second is in the shower block. A thirsty gerbil is looking to share a shower so that he can get some water. But I’m not so generous and I scare him off with a tight little scream and a flick of my towel. Then I feel so bad – it was such a mean act.
It’s our first ‘real bush-braai’. There’s no power-hum from electricity, no music, no generators and no cell phone signal…just bush-noises. As the red wine purls in our glasses, the stars gather in clusters and it’s time for bed and to deal with our first night in the rooftop tent. Bruce nimbly climbs up the ladder and reaches down to give me a helping hand. I’m halfway up when the ladder snaps in half! I rip my trousers, scratch my arms on the acacia thorns and wrench my ankle as I tumble to the ground. I want to cry. I’m also tired and hot and I want to go home!
Bruce jumps down and makes a makeshift ladder with the broken pieces and a table, and so we spend our first night smelling not the scent of the wilds, but Dettol and Germolene as I attend to my injuries. Sunrise is announced by the bush-alarm…guinea-fowl, who run about aimlessly cackling. We have an early start if we want to reach The Makgadikgadi Pans in daylight. Gerald (Leader of the pack) has handed each vehicle a 2-way radio. He tells the convoy of 7 vehicles to halt. ‘Why, what’s wrong?” I’m already tense. ‘To let down our tyres,’ says Bruce.
‘What are you completely mad? Of what use are flat tyres?’ Bruce ignores me and climbs out the car into the 33C heat. ‘Headlights on!” commands Gerald. ‘Really? It’s
Clouds of white dust billow out behind each car. Visibility is virtually nil. The Makgadikgadi Pan was once a vast inland lake. Now it’s 12 000 sq
The girls are unperturbed about the lost vehicles and discuss books to read, movies to see, places to go … but I’m beginning to unravel, emotionally and physically
Kubu Island is a rocky outcrop in the middle of this vast white desert. “Kubu” is Setswana for ‘hippo’ but this is definitely not hippo territory. The Makgadikgadi Pans appear to be inhospitable – ‘Only snakes and lizards here,” says Gerald.
Night falls quickly in Africa as we sit among the huge granite boulders and the giant ‘upside-down’ baobab trees with branches that appear to claw the sky as if begging to be turned the other way and to be given an anchor in the scorched earth below. We raise our G&Ts to a sunset that blazes with the colour of life and watch as the sky turns the boulders pink, as one planet bows to another as if paying homage to each other. The Pans are eerie, lunar-like and hauntingly beautiful.
The convoy lines up in a staggered formation while the dust swirls behind. Each driver stays
Once again the guys get into a huddle and crack open St Louis Beers. Note to self: Check if St Louis is the Patron Saint of Botswana The girls are calm and climb out of their cars to chat. Okay, I’m getting the hang of this now. My gut is starting to unknot. I can do this! Note to Bruce: Make sure that you’re 2nd in the convoy tomorrow, right behind Gerald It’s taken almost 5 hours to travel 100kms across the terrain but we must be getting close to civilisation. We can see forlorn donkeys and skittish goats. Pitifully thin cows are huddled under the sparse shade of an acacia tree. A large untidy nest rests on the bare branches where a vulture lifts his wings briefly, just biding his time, waiting for an easy meal. Gerald finds us and once again we’re on our way this time to Maun, “Place of Reeds”
Maun is 38C, dusty and a frenzy of
Note to self: Read all brochures carefully before committing to a holiday. I re-read it – Yup! It says Sedia Lodge with restaurant facilities – it doesn’t say ‘camp next to Sedia Lodge!’ While Bruce is attending to the ladder, I browse through the market. A little beaded striped zebra stares at me with a quizzical smile, as if to say, “What were you thinking?” We’ve camped on the banks of the River Thamalakane. The balmy night brings visitors more deadly than the Big 5…malaria-carrying mosquitoes. An extra dollop of quinine is needed in my G&T tonight! At first
Our excitement is palpable as we board a 6 seater Cessna to fly over The Okavango Delta. Our fly-guy assures us of a memorable flight – he spots a friend in the sky and the show-off aerial acrobatics are on! He wiggles the wings, banks the tiny plane and swoops down low startling the game. It’s exhilarating stuff as he skims the treetops giving us magnificent views of herds of buffalo, elephants, zebra, various antelope, giraffe, hippos and crocodiles.
The Okavango Delta is 15 000 sq
Marsha has more comforting news. “If the solar panels are damaged, there’ll be no hot showers.” Okay, I can live with that. It’s so hot that a cold shower is a welcome relief. But Marsha’s not finished, “And if the elephants have broken the pumps and the tanks are dry there’ll be no showers at all!” Thanks
Once again tyres are deflated as we tackle the rough corrugated tracks that rattle one’s teeth. The tracks soon change to soft sand. The Nissan Navarra does ‘the Kalahari shuffle’ as it twists and sways in the soft sand making clouds of dust. Our white cars are now ash grey. Gerald calls us on the radio: ‘Engage 4 WD – keep momentum – don’t stop or you’ll sink into the soft sand.’
Note to self: Do not pack your stuff in the bakkie first. You cannot reach your stuff over tool boxes, compressors, gas bottles, jerry cans, groceries, an industrial quantity of water, booze and cooler boxes the size of coffins.
Bruce excitedly points out a campsite on a swathe of green reeds but a pathway of flattened reeds tells its own story. I flatly refuse to set up camp there and select another spot. Marsha hurries over and points out a
The last torch is switched off and the darkness swallows the campsite. Muffled grunts come from Phil and Bev’s site as two hippos further flatten the reeds. My body is aching and sore from being tossed about in the car, and I thankfully snuggle down to watch the stars and the winking fireflies from our rooftop eyrie. Suddenly a loud crash startled the camp awake. A huge hyena has swung a powerful paw and tipped over the rubbish bin. It gobbled up our braai-bones and slinked over to the dying fire where it licked the grid clean. Marsha has left a greasy pan outside her trailer – the bush-dishwasher licked that clean too. Then with a hysterical
‘Dead Tree Island’ is so called because all the trees have drowned because of too much water. Really? Too much water? In Africa? That should have been my first clue…
Bruce ignores me and engages low-range gear and slowly drives through the river. Muddy water pours over the bonnet and my profanity knows no boundaries. …and then we’re through and climbing up the bank on the other side. ‘Did you get that? Did you film that?’ Bruce asks excitedly. ‘No!” I snap, “I was too busy praying!” We stop for coffee and Tess waves away the dancing dragonflies and gathers a posy of fallen sausage tree flowers. “Did you smell their fragrance?” she asks. Bruce laughs. “No, the stench in our car is rather overpowering!”
But my torment isn’t over yet! The only way off Dead Tree Island is back across the river. Terry gives me a reassuring pat on the back, but Bruce is still learning the tricks of the Nissan and fails to check that the low-range gear is fully engaged as he falls into
4th Bridge looms. It’s made of loose logs that
Later that night neighbouring adventurers pay us a visit. “Didn’t you hear us
Majestic African fish eagles throw back their heads and call to each other. The evocative “Call of Africa” awakens us. Another river to ford and this time Kath and Gavin need to be pulled out. Their car has now lost its front number-plate somewhere in the depths of this murky river. It appears that we each take turns to experience this bush-pain.
The outside temperature sensors on our cars no longer appear to be working. They’re all registering the temperature of the river we’ve just plunged through… 20C River weeds drip as they dry and clog the radiators. A dead buffalo lies bloated in the shallows and an old lion is tugging out yards of pink entrails. A journey of giraffe are ahead and we stop to watch two lofty young lovers ‘necking’. Long necks tenderly intertwine obliviously to our presence. Herds of buffalo, zebra and impala pass by, also unnoticed by the young lovers. A kori bustard, Botswana’s National Bird struts passed us like a giant regal chicken on steroids. Intent on catching something to munch for its lunch, it also ignores us. There are more log bridges to cross and more rivers to ford. I’m nervous as we no longer have another spare tyre and more mishaps seem certain. At Paradise
Now bridges and gates are unimaginatively named. 1st Bridge, 2nd Bridge, North Gate, South Gate and so on, but we soon learn the necessity for this, for although Botswana is a land of extremes with white deserts, lush wetlands, tawny gold savannahs and mopane veld, it all looks exactly the same to the inexperienced eye. The roads are just sandy tracks of either soft powder or rough corrugations, and fences are only red markings on a map.
It’s scorching hot as we head for Savuti Camp, Chobe Game Reserve. Gerald’s recovery vehicle heads the convoy, and gets stuck!! Once again the guys spring into action to dig him out the soft sand. The girls chose to walk across ‘The Bridge over the River Khwai’ (seriously) while the logs roll and clatter under the wheels as the guys drive the cars slowly across one at a time. A sign says “Do not speed across
Baboons and monkeys too…and lions can saunter in and out at will as discovered by the Americans pitched next to us! Never ever leave your tent after dark! Note to self: Rubber flip-flops are ideal for wearing in public showers.
We’ve been up since dawn,
It’s past midnight and to call a spade, a spade, I desperately need Doug’s assistance. But Bruce is groggy with sleep and slow to follow me down the ladder, so I grab a plastic packet. OMG! I no longer have any modesty or dignity while Bruce stands by fending off the
The vultures are circling – there’s a kill! It’s an elephant - and the
A majestic lion is lying under a tree close to the road. He yawns at us showing huge fangs. He tosses his massive mane and rolls over, turning his back on us in disdain. Tired and hot, but exhilarated we head back to camp. Kath is standing waving her arms at us like a demented traffic cop. Everyone else is standing in a line, eyes focussed upwards …on an enormous elephant. Bruce almost drives into it before he puts the car into reverse and slowly backs away. We’re so close I can see its toenails. Remember! Never run! Only food runs! But an elephant’s food can’t run…it eats trees …and we’re camped under it. It sniffs delicately at our chairs, slurps across our table and wraps a muscular trunk around the cooler-box. Bruce whispers in my ear, “Are you sure that you threw away all the lemons?” I can only manage a terrified nod.
And then with a small puff of
We gather around for morning coffee and our daily briefing. “Did you hear the wind last night?” asks Marsha. Bruce wisely remains silent. There’s no beating about the bush for us as Gerald leads the hunt down to ‘The Marsh”. A lone elephant is drinking at a waterhole. A herd of wildebeest approach and cautiously challenge him for
I no longer wince every time the acacia trees scratch the paintwork of the car. The days are cloudless and scorching. The sand is blisteringly hot. Tiny flies bite and mosquitoes whine. Hats and buffs are soaked in water to encourage cooling evaporation and kisses are sweaty and salty. But the darkness brings a moon dressed in a silvery borrowed radiance. The stars sigh and the cool breezes
Now all baby animals are cute, but baby
David Livingstone was probably the first European to gaze upon the Falls. In 1855 he said, “Scenes so lovely they must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” He named the falls “Victoria” in honour of the British queen, but the locals call it ”Mosi-oa-Tunya’…The Smoke that Thunders. Part of the rock face is dry (it’s the dry season after all) but nevertheless 500 million litres of water per minute cascading over a mile wide rock face is still very impressive Very brave or very foolish tourists are sitting on the edge of the Falls on the Zambian side in a natural rock-pool known as “Devil’s Pool”. Surely this must be the most dangerous infinity pool in the world!! Other very brave or very foolish tourists are gearing up for a 111m bungee jump off the bridge on the Zimbabwean side. Really? Why would anyone come to a 3rd world country and jump off a bridge over
An iridescent bridge of hope and promise arcs over the Falls – God’s promise. Bruce catches and releases a tiger-fish while Raye lands her barbel and donates it to the guide. My feet are now so swollen from the heat and from traipsing along the footpaths of the Vic Falls, that Bruce taps off some melted ice water from the cooler box into a bucket, and voila! a Kalahari foot-spa. I haven’t got the heart to tell him that it’s the bucket that I use to wash the dishes! The other girls also have foot-spas…perhaps they brought along 2 buckets…? It’s our 14th
And now we’re home – and nothing’s changed – home is still the same. But something inside of us has changed…and that changes everything. I place my little striped beaded zebra with his amused smile on my bookshelf. It’s Botswana’s National Animal. I smile back at him – we too have earned our stripes.