We pick up our 4-wheel drive from Maui rentals in Johannesburg - a brand-new Toyota HiLux with only 200km on the clock. The man shows us the cutlery and cooker, the water tank, tables and chairs, linen, how the fridge worked, and we play with unfolding the tent on top. Increasing nervousness builds up as he explains the high and low 4-wheel drive, and puts in a compressor for pumping up the tyres, a tow-rope, and a massive device for jacking up the beast when on rough ground. Two spare wheels, extra fuel tank etc etc. Do we really know what we've let ourselves in for? Feel relieved we rented a satellite phone at the airport.
|I doubt Margaret has ever been in such a place before, but we urgently needed gin.|
In the morning we eventually find the National Parks Office to get our entry permits for Khutse Game Park - we note Margaret's proper greeting to the official, asking what was her name, how she was and so on, before getting down to business. Then to stock up with 3 days of food and water in a smart (rather expensive) supermarket. On to Liquorama for emergency booze supplies - Liquorama is at the bottom of Kgali Hill, near the site of Precious Rambotswa's First Ladies Detective Agency, and the arid landscape as we head off North-West towards the Kalahari will be familiar to any readers of the McCall-Smith books.
We stop for charcoal and lemons at the wonderfully-named, thriving town of Molepolole, and after 100km or so the tarmac ran out and we have another 100km on an unmade road. This was fairly solid under a layer of sand, and so we crack along at a good pace, listening to the fine Congolese music we had borrowed.
Mile after mile of rough road - great fun.
The usual charming, friendly welcome at the Khutse park gates, although we have learnt by now to greet people properly, so we ask whether they are well, how did they sleep etc etc, before we get down to filling in the register. Note that the entry 2 rows above was a man from Cambridge, but do not recognise the name and so it doesn't count as a good coincidence. Deflate the tyres to deal with the sandy tracks coming up, and then can't find the compressor. Convinced we have left it behind somehow, but the park wardens assure us they can find us one when we come out. Feel incompetent.
We are incompetent, but nevertheless go into low 4-wheel drive and set off. In this mode, you start in 2nd, go up to 5th gear at about 30 kph, top-speed is 40kph which fortunately is the maximum speed in the park. Having been told that trick is to keep moving, we try and keep our speed up as the track turns into 2 parallel ruts full of soft sand. This requires some serious concentration, and we have about 55km of this before our allocated camp-site.
The video below gives a flavour, but this was an easy bit. It gets tougher later.
|Mr Lion avoiding his family responsibilities|
We sit there for hours with our binoculars, watching the birds and not knowing what they are – a large flock of some pigeon-like things keep circling, sometime clockwise, sometimes anti-clockwise, and we hear the whoosh of wings as they go past. A very large eagley thing sits on a nest on top of tree, red behind beak, grey head, black body.
|A very cautious giraffe, not keen on drinking with a lion so close|
Eventually we set off again, Kate driving, and we hit about 20km of really tough track. Negotiating the deep soft sand is like a slalom on ice, and we’re drifting , steering into the skids, scraping the sides on bushes, but keeping the speed up. Can’t relax enough to film it, but Kate keeps calm, trying not to miss a gear-change as the vehicle rapidly slows down in the sand. But we get going OK even when we almost stop, and maybe we would be fine starting from a standstill. But don't feel like testing it when there is nobody around.
It’s a relief to get to our beautiful site, which is inside the Central Kalahari Game Reserve – any further north and they advise going in convoy. Off to have G and Ts sitting looking over a ‘pan’ - a dried up mineral bed. Hot and utterly quiet, with a colony of meerkat-looking things. Also these huge ungainly birds, which I claim can’t fly. But then they take off with much flapping of vast wings. Find out afterwards these are Kori Bustards, apparently the largest flying creatures.
|Having a shower, having filled a bucket with our precious water|
Gin and tonic in a 'pan' - hot, empty, completely quiet, wonderful.
Then the next morning we drive out of the Park, quite professional by now, get the tyres back to full inflation, stop at Molepolele to buy some fine Botswanan music, and toddle back to Gabarone and dinner with our friends in the Golf Club. The next morning we head back, getting lost in Gabarone until we turn the TomTom back on again and the lady's gentle tones guide us back to frontier. We listen to the great music all the way back to Johannesburg, where with some relief we hand back our vehicle in one piece, after doing around 1600 km in 6 days.
Early on in the trip I wondered if we should have gone on a short organised trip up north to the Okavango Delta and seen masses of game. But we can do that another time - the peace, solitude and adventure of the bush all contributed to a fine experience.