Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Botswana: Leaving the Kalahari

Previous Post: Deception Pan

This morning's game drive is combined with our return to Maun.

We head again to the waterhole, but it is quiet there.

Actually, it is quiet everywhere - other than ostriches, there really isn't any wildlife out. The morning is hot and windy and the few springbok and other antelope we see are hunkered down, seeking protection from the sun and wind.

We leave the park through the Matswere gate where we entered, but because we need petrol, we are taking a different, longer route back in order to stop in Rakops.

For much of the way the narrow track runs through stands of small leafless trees covered with delicate white flowers. At camp Kaiser called these shaving brush trees. The blossom-laden branches arch over the roadway as if weighted down with freshly fallen snow. It is absolutely beautiful.

Besides adding beauty to the otherwise austere roadside, these flower filled trees also break the otherwise steady wind. Still, for most of the trip I have my hat pulled down over the side of my face as protection from the wind-driven sand.

This road sees little traffic. It is a well-rutted, mostly sand trail. As we travel, the shrubs thin and then disappear entirely as we enter areas where cattle are grazed. These grazed areas are absolutely desolate. There are no flowers, no green leaves, no grass. Every stick is covered by the fine white dust. Could this possibly turn green after the rains? It is the bleakest place I have ever seen and it goes on and on and on.

Occasionally we see a few cattle, all of which look amazingly well-fed.

As the land gets bleaker, the wind gets stronger and the road rougher. Under the deep sand lies a hardpan that is, evidently, dirt, but with the properties of solid rock. Kaiser carefully maneuvers through these rough areas, balancing the need to maintain adequate speed (to plow through the sand) with the need to slowly pick through the mostly hidden hardpan (to avoid damaging the truck). It makes for a very uncomfortable ride.

We notice Kaiser spending a lot of time looking behind us. Finally we stop. The air is hot and filled with dust, but it feels good to be still.

We are waiting for the supply vehicle. Kaiser is worried that they will not get through the deep sand behind, ahead, and all around us. At this point, Kaiser has long since stopped driving in the deep, deep sand of the "road" and instead has been following other tracks through the scrubby brush, parallel to, but a short distance from, the road.

After some time, the supply truck comes into view. It moves toward us slowly, stops, moves again, stops, slowly comes up behind us, and then stops. As it stops, one of the guys jumps out and lopes off into the scattered bushes. He stops at a larger shrub and begins to chop it down with an axe. What is this all about? I barely notice Kaiser head over to the other vehicle in search of an answer to the same question. Now the shrub's "trunk" is being neatly stripped of it's branches. Why would they want a large stick?

The frame on the supply vehicle is cracked. Although he says little, Kaiser is clearly disgusted. (We will learn through the course of the trip that Kaiser takes great pride in his considerable skill as a driver and has little patience with those who are either careless or simply less proficient.) The branch from the shrub will be used as a splint to keep the frame from breaking completely. It is securely attached with a heavy nylon strap. We are skeptical, but soon we are again headed toward Rakops.


As we turn onto the paved main road just outside Rakops, a bushman - fully outfitted in traditional hunting gear - lopes along the side of the paved highway in the opposite direction. In a moment he is gone. The scene is unreal, a mirage.

The road into Rakops looks as though the edges of the smooth pavement has been chewed away by the sand. It is wide enough for one vehicle. When we meet an oncoming vehicle, Kaiser moves onto the hard, sandy shoulder.

The gas station is home to one hand cranked gas pump. A young woman comes out and she and Kaiser take turns cranking the handle.

Once Kaiser is assured that the supply vehicle is at the welder's and that there is money in hand to pay for a repair, we are off again on our way into Maun.

Betty's Discovery B&B
I have been eagerly awaiting our arrival at the Bed & Breakfast, where I anticipate a real bed and running water. But as we get closer to Maun, I begin to worry. The itinerary says only:
Return to Maun overnighting at Discovery Bed & Breakfast, a local owned and operated venture. Laid-out as a traditional homestead would be, the en-suite rondeval circle the open fire pit, which is the meeting place of the establishment. Sitting around the fire, you will meet Betty, the owner, as she prepares traditional fare for dinner on the fire.
What does this mean? Will it be an actual home that has been turned into a B&B, maybe with each "room" a separate rondeval in what was once a family compound? How primitive will it be? What if it doesn't have a hot shower?

I am worrying needlessly.

Betty's Discovery Bed and Breakfast is the handiwork of the dynamic, energetic, and completely delightful Betty Toteng. It is as delightful as she and it quickly becomes evident that staying there will be a joy.

Each "room" is a separate modern rondeval - traditionally styled, but prettied up. Inside each has a large comfortable bed, an en-suite toilet, and thick fluffy towels. Several open air showers with ample hot water are located nearby. A beautifully set table awaits us in the courtyard, along with a selection of South African wines. I am restored to excellent spirits by a hot shower, a glass of good wine, and a chat with Betty.


Too soon Betty is calling us to dinner with her drum.

Dinner is fabulous: Paprika chicken, pulled "meat" (beef), maize meal (which has a consistency and appearance similar to whipped potatoes), greens (cooked dried kale and other vegetables), and squash. It is all very, very good.

As we finish, a group of students entertains us with beautiful singing and delightful dances.

It is a magical evening.



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