A trip down memory lane in the old Kalahari
My first encounter with the Three-Lane Highway to Kang in Botswana was in the dark.We left Zeerust late and it was almost 11 that night when we arrived at George and Tarina Joubert, at whose place we slept over. The Three-Lane Highway got its name because there were three twin-track roads next to each other. The left-hand track was for the old eighties’ Landies with their narrow wheel alignment.The middle track, which was slightly wider, was for the Chev C20 and Ford F250 bakkies. Then there was a third row, which was very wide. It had gravel patches but it was more ditches than anything else. This was where the cattle trucks, that transported cattle from the Ghanzi farms to the BMC (Botswana Meat Commission) on Lobatse, drove. And heaven help you if you drove on the wrong track and someone from Botswana saw you. Because you mess up the track with the sand wall that the wheels make, so the guy who comes after you struggles to drive properly.The track was so deep in places that you could leave the steering wheel and the car would stay on the track on its own. George and Tarina waited for us and even at that time of the night treated us with braaied marinated springbok fillet. We completely forgot that we were tired and ended up chatting until the wee hours of the morning. The year was 1988 and the group that would tour our neighbouring country that July consisted of myself, my wife Hettie, father-in-law Kobus van der Spuy, and a friend of my wife, Elize Momsen.
The four of us drove in my Nissan Safari station wagon. My brother-inlaw Chris van der Spuy, Hettie’s cousin Daantjie Hattingh, and Foera Fourie and Jaco Heunis drove together in a Land Rover. For months Chris and I dreamt about the Botswana trip and together we made plans.We were very excited to be here.
From soccer balls to coffins
Those years George and Tarina had the only shop in Kang. George transported all his supplies, including petrol and diesel in 210-litre drums, with a big truck from Lobatse and Zeerust. It was, however, never a done deal that you would get fuel there.You had to make sure via radio-telephone that George would be able to keep some fuel for you. Tarina was a qualified nurse who helped to bring many of Kang’s babies into the world. George in turn was appointed by the government as caretaker of Kang’s landing strip.When an airplane was due to land there George and his crew had to ensure that there were no cattle, donkeys, goats or people on the strip. The two ran the shop and it was always such a pleasure to walk through it.You could buy anything from sweets, clothes, saddles, medicine (for people and animals), Primus stoves and paraffin to toys, car parts, guns and coffins. And there was also a specific aroma that you only find in a real farm shop. The next morning we tackled the ThreeLane Highway again, headed towards Ghanzi. It was on this road where I had my first lesson in sand driving. I was seriously chuffed with the Safari but the thing didn’t want to drive properly in the sand. Until an oldish gentleman who farmed near Ghanzi followed me and stopped me. “You know, you’re only making the corrugation worse,” he said. My wheels are too firm, he indicated, and summarily started deflating the closest tyre.When we started up again, I was even more impressed with my Safari. I couldn’t believe how well it ran. Now there was no other road in the world I wanted to drive on more than a twin-track sand road. That night we made camp next to the road in a open patch of sand and everyone slept in a row next to the vehicles.
Caves and toilet tricks
The next day we visited the Drotsky Caves near Ghanzi. There was only a twin-track path with space to turn around – nothing else. The caves were a fantastic experience and much bigger than I thought.We were also well prepared – Daantjie had brought a roll of line, which we fastened to a tree at the cave’s mouth and unrolled as we moved deeper into the cave.There were beautiful stalagmites, stalactites and unusual limestone formations. Some looked like drops while others were thin and flat and made spooky noises when you touched them. There were also funny bugs that live in total darkness and obviously thousands of bats. In some places we had to sail along on our stomachs while other places were huge caverns.The only light we had was a 12-volt battery and a spotlight. This we also used to shoot video because when we put the light off it was like the Egyptian darkness during the Bible’s 10 plagues. July is also very cold in the Kalahari and the next morning I see Oupa Kobus shovel a load of coals, take a roll of toilet paper, and walk to the bushes. The shovel with the coals didn’t make sense so Chris and I decide to follow him. Oupa spreads the coals out, throws a thin layer of sand over it, and goes about his business. Later in the camp we cautiously ask about the shovel and a very embarrassed Oupa says, no, the Kalahari’s cold is just too intense. He didn’t want his bottom to freeze like it did the previous morning.
From there we drove to the Aha Hills and en route Daantjie gave tobacco to cattle herders in exchange for clean borehole water.They smoked the tobacco with the marrow bones of a springbok and we used the water to take a bath in a cattle trough. It was heavenly to wash off the dust and bat droppings from the cave. From there we headed east again to the big road to Shakawe. At Etsa No.5 we bought petrol that was measured off in buckets. I also remember that Daantjie shot a pheasant with his slingshot from the Landie’s roof while the car was in motion.We braaied the poor thing that night but we couldn’t eat it – the meat was just too tough.
A different kind of anti-freeze
Our next destination was the Tsodilo Hills where we wanted to see the rock art.The twin-track toTsodilo was terribly thick sand and our vehicle struggled. Chris’s 3.0 V6 Landie was prone to overheating and it wasn’t long before steam was bellowing out of the Landie’s engine. He had to stop a few times to put water in the radiator and soon the watering can was empty. There was a lot of beer in the Landie, but it would have been such a waste to put it in the radiator! The only other source of liquid was therefore the beer in its processed form. Chris, Daantjie, Foera and Jaco took turns. Each one stood in front on top of the Landie and aimed for the radiator’s small hole. And each one managed to fill the radiator enough for them to continue driving. And so the journey through the thick sand continued. Luckily the camp wasn’t too far now and we stayed over at Tsodilo for two enjoyable days. From there we went to Shakawe Fishing Camp where we stayed for another two days. But the corrugation had taken its toll. At one stage I wanted to unload a box from the Safari but when I picked it up I had only the sides in my hands. The contents remained where it was – the bottom had completely disintegrated. From the fishing camp we went through the border at Shakawe and we camped for two days at the Popa Falls and drove through the Mahango Game Reserve. We also went further through the Caprivi to Katima Mulilo and just outside Katima we camped underneath a massive jakkalsbessie tree. It was here that we saw a very funny thing the next morning. As it started getting light outside, we see Oupa Kobus’ eyes don’t look right. He wanted to put drops in during the night but in the dark he took the wrong bottle and put Mercurochrome in his eyes! It burned more than he expected so, of course, he rubbed his eyes.The area around his peepers was blood red and the stuff made red tracks in his wrinkles.We all had such a good laugh, but he had no idea why – until Hettie gave him a hand mirror. The next few days Oupa Kobus almost always had his sunglasses on, but he had to take it off every now and again so we could laugh again.
Yikes and yells
Our tour continued and we went to the Vic Falls and afterwards back to the Chobe and Moremi parks in Botswana. At Maun’s air field there used to be a eatery called Duck Inn where you could find delicious hamburgers and slap chips. In a small office there we organised a motorboat to take us to Guns Camp, a lodge on one of the islands somewhere in the Delta. There we camped for another
two days.The camping was very basic, in a kind of Robinson Crusoe style, and the fire wood was very expensive. But those round palm seeds that lay in heaps under the trees burn just as nicely in a boiler as they do in a braai. The people at the lodge organised makoro trips for us, which was a real experience, especially for my wife Hettie. Our group divided into smaller groups of two and each group had a makoro with its own poler. Our boat had a leak and I put some grass at the bottom so the seating would be a bit drier.The driest place, however, is right in front. And being the gentleman that I am, I told Hettie she could sit there, and we set off armed with cooldrinks and cameras. But it wasn’t long before there was a bloodcurdling scream like never before heard in the Okavango. A big spider landed in Hettie’s lap and because she couldn’t jump out or run away she could only sit there and scream. Soon it was swarming around Hettie because I didn’t know that the spiders spun their webs between the reeds and that the person sitting in front would be caught first.To this day she still believes I let her sit there on purpose. We also had the opportunity to see the Okavango from the sky and I still remember how the pilot made a long turn with us over Chiefs Island. It was time to head home and at John and Ursula Seaman’s Sitatunga Camp just outside Maun we prepared our vehicles for the long trip. Ursula was of Swedish descent but had learnt some Afrikaans working at Jo’burg General Hospital. Upon hearing that Hettie and I had four children, she asked in all seriousness if we’d never heard of ‘ghizinzbeplanning’ in her heavy Afrikaans accent. I remember this and our wonderful holiday with incredible people and a lot of fun as if it was yesterday.We didn’t have the camping freezers and all the cool camping gadgets of today but our meat was fresh and our beer always cold. The lamb chops and sausage was put in marinade in a large plastic container with a sealable lid and the meat stayed fresh. At night everyone in the group put their tipple of choice for the next day on the ground so it could get cold. Early the next morning we would wrap it in our bedding and so it stayed cold the whole day.We had an enjoyable tour but I have to admit that some of today’s camping gadgets make it even more enjoyable to go on a camping tour holiday.
FILLING UP. Foera and Oupa Kobus refuelling at Etsa No.5 with petrol measured off in buckets.
UNDERNEATH THE STARS. We didn’t mind sleeping out in the open.
THREE MUSKETEERS. Foera, Jaco and Chris.
NATURAL REMEDY (above). Chris and Foera had to have accurate aim to fill up the radiator. The pipe (inset) did its rounds – everyone had a turn to take a puff!
MARITAL BLISS... The makoro trip almost resulted in a divorce.
THE ROAD NOT LESS TRAVELLED. A look at the three twin-tracks of the Three-Lane Highway.
ROCK ICICLES. Jaco taking a pensive look at the stalactites.
CAVEMAN. Daantjie inside the Drotsky Caves.