Tweespoor­ing the Botswana wilds

Land Rover AFRICA Magazine - - CONTENTS - Schalk Ver­wey

Wild an­i­mals, dodgy traf­fic of­fi­cials and treach­er­ous river cross­ings are just some of the things that Schalk Ver­wey and his fam­ily came across dur­ing their re­cent Botswana trip.

A mul­ti­tude of game, spec­tac­u­lar rivers and su­perb camp­sites had Landy nut and happy trav­eller Schalk Ver­wey and his fam­ily gasp­ing in amaze­ment on their ad­ven­ture through Botswana. Here is the sec­ond in­stal­ment of their epic African ad­ven­ture.

We ex­ited the Mabuase­hube gate (on our way to Tautona Lodge near Ghanzi) with a mix­ture of gusto and an­tic­i­pa­tion. The tweespoor track proved less chal­leng­ing than the road to the gate from the south, and we pro­ceeded un­event­fully via Hukuntsi to Ghanzi with am­ple day­light to spare. Want­ing to leave early the next morn­ing, we filled up at Ghanzi and pro­ceeded to Tautona Lodge, oth­er­wise known as the Lodge of the Lion.

The lion’s share

There is a badly cor­ru­gated 5 km stretch of road from the high­way (A3) to the lodge. With the tyres still be­low pres­sure com­ing from Mabua, the Landy han­dled it well, but we passed a group of bik­ers who clearly strug­gled with the heav­ily laden bikes. Sadly, as we were merely there overnight, we did not have time to visit the lion fa­cil­i­ties at the lodge. Tautona of­fers a va­ri­ety of op­por­tu­ni­ties to get up close with chee­tah and lion. The chee­tah feed­ing is quite some­thing, but view­ing the kings of the Kala­hari, hold­ing month-old lion cubs and spend­ing time in the cage with the older cubs was ex­cep­tional.

The long arm of the law

We left for Maun the next morn­ing. Apart from the road­works and the nor­mal cat­tle and don­key en­coun­ters (Botswana’s equiv­a­lent to speed bumps), the go­ing was good. Charl and I took turns to drive. Set­tling into ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion and lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, roughly mid­way be­tween the road-split at Se­hithwa and Maun, a uni­formed lady stepped into the road in front of us, sig­nalling for us to pull over to the side of the road. I was con­vinced that I drove be­low the speed limit. I donned my best pos­si­ble smile, and walked up to the traf­fic of­fi­cer who in­formed me that I had been do­ing 77 km/h in a 60 km/h zone, and I was wel­come to in­spect the read­ing on the radar. Some­how we must have missed the last 60 km/h sign. I ex­plained to the lady that I was gen­uinely un­der the im­pres­sion that it was an 80 km/h zone and there­fore not speed­ing on pur­pose.

With a smile, she in­di­cated across the road to a some­what di­lap­i­dated Botswana spe­cial Cruiser bakkie parked un­der the shade of a soli­tary tree. “Go speak to the fat man,” she said. I no­ticed a very of­fi­cious-look­ing in­di­vid­ual fill­ing half the Cruiser’s cabin, sport­ing a Darth Vader ex­pres­sion on his face. Greet­ing him po­litely, the first words from Darth Vader, with­out look­ing up was an emo­tion­less, “You must pay 500 Pula (R560).” Tak­ing a deep breath, I kept up the smile and in­sisted that we have hon­oured the Botswana traf­fic laws ever since we en­tered the coun­try, and that this was an hon­est mis­take. Darth Vader looked up into my eyes and stared at me for a long while. With a glim­mer of hu­man­ity in his eyes, he said, now with a hint of emo­tion, “How much do you want to pay?” Think­ing back, I should per­haps have tried, “noth­ing”, but I de­cided on half. He clearly was not hint­ing for a bribe (do­ing the pa­per­work in du­pli­cate and me hav­ing to counter sign), so meet­ing halfway seemed the right thing to do. With a mut­tered, “Okay”, he looked down again and con­tin­ued fill­ing in his forms as I walked back across the road to fetch the cash. In the mean­time, the next per­son was stopped and sent across, an­nounc­ing with mock bravado that he was caught do­ing 117 km/h. This some­how posed some form of jus­tice; a true trans­gres­sor would get his day, I got some lee­way and DV would be rewarded for the bit of hu­man­ity and good­will shown to­wards me.

Tweespoor­ing in Moremi

We stuck to our plan and took the di­rect road to North Gate along the eastern fence. It turned out to be a good de­ci­sion. The road, re­cently re­done, was still only slightly more than a tweespoor, good enough to sus­tain the speed limit in the park, but not much more. We en­tered Moremi at South Gate, and noth­ing apart from the nor­mal for­mal­i­ties was re­quired. We skid­ded through un­scathed. We toyed with the idea of tak­ing the round trip via Third Bridge and Xakanaka as we had made good time get­ting through Maun. We were promptly es­corted to our camp­site away from the river, but spa­cious and close to the ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties (which were ex­cel­lent, clean and in good work­ing or­der). On a pre­vi­ous visit, we had camped at the river. It was fan­tas­tic be­ing close to the wa­ter, with amaz­ing sun­sets and the sounds of the river life at night. How­ever, the pres­ence of an­i­mals in the camp was ex­cep­tion­ally high, es­pe­cially large hyena and lion, and vis­i­tors had to be es­corted on ev­ery trip to the ablu­tions. With plans to stay for three nights, we set up full camp and did a cou­ple of ex­cur­sions each day. The tweespoor trails were in good con­di­tion and, as ex­pected, Septem­ber was a dry month, so we had no dif­fi­culty in get­ting to places like the Hippo Pool and do­ing the cir­cle route east of the camp (partly along the river). The drive to Hippo Pool was cer­tainly worth the visit. It is a large ex­panse of wa­ter with a clev­erly con­structed look­out point to the side, perched high above the pool. Be­ing a bit dis­tant, hippo sight­ings re­quires a de­cent pair of binoc­u­lars or a long cam­era lens, but the view over the pool is mag­nif­i­cent. Com­pared to pre­vi­ous vis­its to North Gate, the nights were sur­pris­ingly de­void of an­i­mal sounds, save for the ele­phants graz­ing among the tents. Fall­ing asleep re­quired some con­cen­tra­tion in try­ing to ig­nore the noise and the fear of an ele­phant step­ping on a tent rope or dis­lodg­ing a branch onto the tent. Af­ter some time spent re­lax­ing and re­cov­er­ing, we de­cided to, once again, leave camp long be­fore sun­rise and tackle the cir­cle route. The early morn­ing views along the river were great, with quite some ac­tiv­ity from the hip­pos. The first plains just slum­bered in the morn­ing haze, with hardly any an­i­mal life. On the last grassy plain, our for­tunes changed, of­fer­ing an­other amaz­ing en­counter with the king of the jun­gle. Just be­fore the look­out point, our path con­verged with a pride chas­ing a prey. Un­for­tu­nately, the grass was tall and we could only fol­low the chase in­ter­mit­tently. Right in the mid­dle of the small plain, a li­on­ess ap­peared at the top

of a clear­ing with a num­ber of small cubs, pa­tiently await­ing the out­come of the chase. It did not bring the same ex­hil­a­ra­tion as the Mpay­athutlwa lion en­counter, but still of­fered amaz­ing sights, and made the early morn­ing drive worth the while.

Be­tween a rock and a hard place

Some of our trav­el­ling com­pan­ions had got stuck in the river cross­ing north of the Kh­wai vil­lage on a pre­vi­ous trip, so we de­cided to scout the cross­ing later that af­ter­noon in prepa­ra­tion for the de­par­ture to Savuti the fol­low­ing day. It turned out to be a per­ti­nent de­ci­sion; if we had been in a hurry the next morn­ing and had missed the poorly signed de­tour, we might have landed our­selves in a spot of bother. Since our last visit, the orig­i­nal cross­ing had broad­ened and deep­ened con­sid­er­ably. We opted for the de­tour and were for­tu­nate to find an SKL game ranger com­ing through the new cross­ing as we ar­rived. The short­est route sported a deep rut which the Landy would most likely have been able to clear, but the game ranger ges­tured fever­ishly for us to stick to the same path he took. Fol­low­ing the sug­gested horse shoe-shaped route we crossed the fur­row just a bit fur­ther down­stream; but hav­ing to drive much fur­ther through the wa­ter made it a more en­joy­able wa­ter cross­ing. The bow wave only just reached the top of the bon­net as we breached the fur­row, and hav­ing a snorkel on the Landy, we were not in any trou­ble. We scouted the old cross­ing from the other side and drove back through the new cross­ing. The Blue Shop at the cen­tre of the Kh­wai vil­lage sports a huge fridge stocked with ice cold beers, ciders and soft drinks. Due to the heat wave, we had de­pleted our stash of cold drinks and grate­fully re­plen­ished our stocks. We spent a quiet evening around the camp fire on the last night and left the next morn­ing for Savuti. On the way to the gate, I had trou­ble find­ing the binoc­u­lars. Men­tion­ing it in pass­ing, the re­sponse from the back was, “It’s prob­a­bly packed in some­where; we’ll find it when we un­pack.” Alas, that was not to be…

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