COL­UMN

Go! Camp & Drive - - Contents -

It’s al­most a quar­ter cen­tury ago, but Chris van der Watt still won­ders what hap­pened to the guy from the Free State who smug­gled the Lee-Met­ford into Botswana un­der­neath his car­a­van bed.

It’s spring 1993 and we find our­selves on the banks of the Zam­bezi River. It’s a quiet Saturday af­ter­noon and we’re re­lax­ing in the camp­site of the Hippo Lodge. The army colours have dis­ap­peared; it’s only the dull brown of the river that flows by. We’re a party of four guys with a Land Cruiser farm bakkie that Wil­lie de Graaf from Maun was kind enough to lend us. We ar­rived last night in the dark af­ter a cus­toms of­fi­cial (on the Namib­ian side no­gal) de­cided we were too late. He just didn’t care that the ferry op­er­ated on Africa time. Af­ter a good night’s rest and with the dust of Moremi, Savuti and Chobe washed off, we plan our tiger­fish strat­egy with only a worn two-man boat at our dis­posal. EX­CEPT FOR OURS, there is only one other camp spot oc­cu­pied. On this spot is a white Cortina bakkie with Free State num­ber plates and an old­ish white-and-blue Gypsey car­a­van. While we’re en­joy­ing our af­ter­noon cof­fee be­fore tack­ling the tiger­fish, Kerneels saun­ters over and in­tro­duces him­self to us. We soon re­alise this guy is hun­gry and thirsty: hun­gry for com­pany and thirsty for what­ever is in the glass he has in his hand. Turns out he has a fill­ing sta­tion some­where in south­ern Free State and de­cided about a week ago that he was go­ing to go see what it looked like “up in Africa”. So he and Ti­tos hitched the Gypsey and started driv­ing north. Ti­tos is a petrol jockey, but has now been given the re­spon­si­bil­ity of get­ting Kerneels’ chair ready, keep­ing his glass full, and un­hitch­ing the car­a­van (yes, in that order). We ac­tu­ally just want to en­joy the peace and quiet af­ter al­most a day’s jour­ney from the Vic Falls, through Liv­ing­stone, to Sesheke. But Kerneels is in the mood to talk. His bakkie is not a 4x4 and his car­a­van is not the off-road type, and he says, in re­sponse to our ques­tions, that he came on the tar road through Namibia and the Caprivi. But they’re leav­ing the tar roads be­hind now. They “also want to see what the veld and the an­i­mals look like”. He probably senses our scep­ti­cism re­gard­ing his plans: “No guys, I might not have a fô-baai-fô, but I’ll drive on any road with this Ford and this Gypsey.” We in­di­cate that we have to go see if we can pique the in­ter­est of a few tiger­fish. WE TAKE TURNS with the boat and two stay on the bank. The boat’s en­gine had just started sput­ter­ing, and here comes Kerneels, glass in hand. And Ti­tos obe­di­ently fol­lows with cooler box and camp chair. Again our peace is dis­rupted by a prat­tling about noth­ing and more noth­ing. In be­tween we do man­age to get a word in about our trip, and about the oc­ca­sion when the hyenas of Savuti tried to drag us out of our tents. We also men­tion that we didn’t have a weapon with which to de­fend our­selves – not even a sling­shot. Kerneels im­me­di­ately chimes in: He’s not that stupid; he brought his .303 LeeMet­ford along... We ask if he has an im­port per­mit for the gun, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing he wants to drive home through Botswana and over Savuti. Full of bravado he

We ask if he has an im­port per­mit for the gun, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing he wants to drive home through Botswana and over Savuti.

an­swers: No one knows about this weapon. We tell him in no un­cer­tain terms that we see flash­ing red lights for him. Firstly, he’s not go­ing to make it over Savuti with his bakkie and car­a­van, and se­condly he is go­ing to be in huge trou­ble if an of­fi­cer of the law or any other of­fi­cial finds that gun. But then, if some­one con­stantly drinks from the foun­tain of wis­dom, there is noth­ing that can be done for him. His gun is hidden un­der his bed, and he did say he could tackle any road with his bakkie and car­a­van. By sun­set we walk back to camp with two small­ish tiger­fish – that’s af­ter we very firmly told Kerneels we had to go pack, be­cause we were head­ing off to the Nakatwa Lodge in the Kwando early the next morn­ing. AT FIRST LIGHT, as we get the Cruiser go­ing, it’s dead quiet in the Gypsey – as ex­pected. We chat about Kerneels and his plans only once, and we soon for­get about him. We en­joy the ele­phants dig­ging out tree roots at the cor­ner of the wooden house, lions that roar so close by you can feel it, and hip­pos grunt­ing in the river. Time flies past and we re­luc­tantly have to re­turn home to our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. It is when we stop at the Ngoma bor­der post that we see it. The white bakkie is brown, but the car­a­van looks the worst: In front the paint has been stripped and it’s badly dam­aged by rocks, and the win­dows have fallen in (or maybe out). He can’t say we didn’t warn him. We quickly make our way into the cus­toms of­fice be­cause Savuti is still a long way off. And there, in that of­fice, we see Kerneels. And he sees us. He rushes over, a be­wil­dered look on his face. His voice is shaky as he lets rip: “Man, am I glad to see you guys... you have to help me, please... They searched my car­a­van and found the gun and now they want to lock me up...” For a mo­ment we’re speech­less. Of course we want to help – we were af­ter all raised prop­erly – but the harsh re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion stops us be­cause the last thing we need is to be seen with Kerneels and be held up (or locked up) with him. Out of one mouth we ex­plain that we’re in a hurry and that we wouldn’t be able to do any­thing for him in any case. We turn away, com­plete the pa­per­work with­out look­ing up, get the nec­es­sary stamps, and rush to the Cruiser. That night around our last big fire (to keep the hyenas away of course) we won­der what hap­pened to Kerneels, or what’s still go­ing to hap­pen to him. We did ex­pressly warn him, though. To­day, af­ter all th­ese years, I still some­times won­der: What hap­pened to him and Ti­tos with the Cortina, the Gypsey and the Lee-Met­ford?

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