Back in the Saddle Again
After far too long in SA it was great to be
back at another border post.
After the briefest of formalities I drove
into Gabarone, the capital, to the only campsite. An ominous grey bank of
cloud threatened rain as I set up home at the camp site, which was
conveniently placed next to the Bull & Bush, the lively haunt of the expat
crowd. Over a beer I got chatting to Mark, who works installing aircon for
larger developments. Next thing I new I was whipped off for a superb Chinese
meal - Gabs has a large Chinese population - and thus began my introduction
to Botswanan hospitality.
Yet another Land Rover Garage - 56,589km
The next morning I was up earlyish for a
trip to my local LR dealer to have a gasket fitted in an attempt to solve my
oil leak. The workshop seemed a whole lot more efficient than the SA lot,
and as I was arranging things I was once again "adopted", this time by Glen
McVeigh, who had lived in Botswana for something like twenty years, and was
leaving Freelander for repairs.
First stop was a Mugg & Bean - a SA
franchise that does great coffee where we were to meet a Mauritian called
Eric, whose wife works for the British Consul. Eric and I share a few
acquaintances from my days as Raleigh diving instructor in Mauritius, so
that kept us busy until lunch - a pretty drunken affair involving what
seemed to be half the free masons in the country - after which it was time
to pick up our cars, and then a swift one at Eric's house...
It was far too late to leave Gabs so I
gratefully accepted Glen's offer of a bed for the night. This involved
driving for about twenty clicks along sand tracks before suddenly pulling up
before a real palace of a country house - there are obviously certain
advantages to the expat's life abroad. Glen and his wife were great hosts,
and after the single barrel Jack Daniels Special Edition came out I was
forced to counter with my bottle of Bruichladdich single malt that had
somehow found its way to a bottle shop in Middelburg, before I spotted it.
It was a late night.
After a grateful farewell, and some useful
route advice, I set off the following morning with a minor hang-over and a
major distance to cover.
Bots is hot - thank god for Liesel's flask
full of ice to keep me going. With no oil now spraying from my manifold I
made good time, first South then North West along the Trans Kalahari
Highway. The name sounds romantic but the route is actually pretty boring -
straight roads, flat landscape, and views that wary from dense scrub all the
way to not quite so dense scrub. When the shadows began to lengthen I turned
of and followed a track to a secluded spot for the night's camp.
This was my first shower with the new water
tank, and replacement pump - and everything worked beautifully - so clean
and refreshed I snacked down on noodles with a black bean sauce of some
kind, while the hyenas howled and the jackals yapped and my big fire cast
orange shadows far into the night desert.
Morning came with the rising of the sun -
I'd heard the predators moving around the car in the night, but sounds in
darkness can be deceptive - the only tracks around the car were mine, and
the only surprise in the light of day as that the black beans in the sauce
from my evening meal were in fact black beetles that had somehow found a way
into my cooking pot. Mmmmm.
A Walk with A Bushman
I continued North West, but this was to be a
short leg as I was hoping to catch SA playing their first match of the Rugby
World Cup. I arrived at the Thakadu Camp in Ghanzi five minutes late - I'd
stopped to help a family with a wheel change ("weren't you afraid to
stop?"). I'd lost a day somewhere, so instead of SA I got to watch England
annihilate Georgia - very satisfying.
Afterwards I chatted with Chris, the
proprietor of the lodge, and as a result I somehow found myself on a walk
with a bushman the following day. The bushman in question was white, tall,
and carried no poisonous arrows that I could see. Still, Jan knew his bush,
and although the game was scarce (only hares in fact), we spent a lot of
time examining tracks and talking about the Boer war.
The Okavango Delta, or not.
On then to Maun, the jumping of place for
trips to the famous Delta. I'd chosen the Audi camp - a well known transit
stop for travellers, where I teamed up with a German called Steffi who was
travelling around in a 26 year old beetle. Using this as base I was
able to form a rough plan of what I wanted to do. Unfortunately what I
wanted to do, and what I was able to do, were two different things.
Botswana openly advertises itself as an
upmarket destination - for which you can also read expensive. It goes
further, however in that is actively attempts to exclude the independent
traveller. Now I've no problem with people who like to be treated lie cattle
when they travel. That's their choice. But suddenly I'm being denied my
choice because I can't get into the 'concession' areas without joining an
overpriced organised tour (what the fuck do I want a 4x4 transfer for?).
I've driven 40,000km and now they are telling me I can't drive into their
precious delta. Well fuck you and goodbye. And I hope you can get that
mokoro out of your arse without major surgery.
Here's my advice - steer well clear of Maun
- if you really want to travel by mokoro and see lots of reeds while being
eaten alive by mosquitoes then drive around to Seronga (or take the local
river taxi) and hire a mokoro for a tenth of what you'd pay for an
crime tour. me - I was so pissed off with the
whole approach that I changed my plans and decided to head for the Tsodilo
These hills are in the North West of
Botswana at eh end of a notoriously difficult road which turned out to be
pretty easy - it had just been re-graded. The hills rise out of the plains
in dramatic fashion - it's easy to see why this place is held sacred by the
Steffi and I arrived too late in the
morning to do much except for sweat - it is seriously hot in Northern
Botswana at this time of the year, but after repeated visits to the (free)
air-conditioned museum, we were in good enough shape to start walking in the
late afternoon, when the heat of the day is beginning to drop of a little.
We were guided around Female hill which has some good rock paintings,
including the famous Van Der Post panel. It took us a couple of hours to
complete the walk, but our reward was a cool shower (again free) in the
ablution block, and then down the sandy track to our camp-site between
Female hill and Male hill.
It was a great camping spot - solitude,
cool breeze, stars and the sounds of the desert. There is something very
special about this place, which is a place of pilgrimage for many of the
peoples and religions of the area. The night was punctuated by angry gust of
wond screaming between the monoliths - had we offended the gods? We survived
to climb to the summit of Male hill in the cool of the early morning, so I
guess the answer was no.