A trip down mem­ory lane in the old Kala­hari

Go! Camp & Drive - - Contents -

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.

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