Monday, 18 July 2011

Leaving Botswana, but not without some challenges!

Saturday 16th July: Maun to Serowe

After no luck with the power being restored in Maun, we spent the night at Drifter's again.

With Gobi ( the Land Rover ) seeming to be in a happy state of mind again, we set off for the first leg of the journey towards Johannesburg: 485 kms to Serowe and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.

The good news is that for the first 80 kms we sped along  the tar highway until.......... the clutch went and we had no way to change gear. Ewan managed to get it into 4th gear and decided we would head for the next big town, Orapa, which is a diamond mining town a mere 350kms away. Of course the key issue was to NOT STOP at all, as we couldn't change gear.

This would be very straightforward on most deserted highways but in Botswana there are 2 impediments to that plan:

1. The unpredictable behaviour of the goats, cattle and donkeys wandering untethered on the side of the road. Without a doubt, the donkeys are the most stupid: some simply stand in the middle of the road and don't move as you approach - we simply had to drive around them and hope that the one neurone in their brain didn't suddenly fire, urging them to move,just as we arrived! The goats just straggle around, but if a baby kid suddenly decides it needs its mother on the other side of the road off it goes, so it was a case of trying to anticpate the pace it will move at , and thus avoid it.
The prize for the best road safety awareness goes to the cattle. We passed through a couple of cattle centres so there were large herds being moved across the road. It was very stressful when we would see a string of cattle heading across the road in single file with no gaps between them for us to squeeze through. However, often one of the cows would stop and watch us approach , thus stopping those behind from going across the road. Phew!!

2. The foot and mouth inspection points: it is a mystery to us how they can be all over the country on every highway, so where exactly is the disease?? The approach varies from a closed boomgate and an inquisition about redmeat, plus an inspection of our fridge to a wave of the hand or often a thumbs up sign and a permanently open bom gate. We were praying for the latter I can tell you. I wrote some signs to give the inspectors as we sailed past and didn't stop along the lines of : WE CANNOT STOP - THE CAR IS BROKEN - WE HAVE NO RED MEAT!!! We gave one to one person and she looked very confused, but no-one followed us so that was good!. The rest we just sailed through and waved back when they didn't seem interested in stopping us. We did almost have to stop at one to avoid a car coming in the opposite direction but Ewan managed to get it back into 4th gear with a lot of grating of non-existent gears.

We were basically doing the Botswanian version of the movie Speed, except we were a Land Rover, not a bus and we didn't have a bomb, just a bomb of a car!

When we approached Orapa, it didn't look too hopeful so Ewan decided we could probably make it to Serowe, as it is bigger. So we just bypassed the turn-offs for any of the towns and kept right on going!

The scenery was desolate as we were driving through the Kalahari desert: very arid, low bushes and no trees, not unlike central Australia. We were close to the edge of the Malagidiki salt pans too so even less vegetation then.

The problem was not so much intake as we had plenty of food on board, the problem was the output. I promised Erin I wouldn't describe how she had to use a bowl when she got really desperate, and then when she threw the contents out of the window half of it splashed back onto the car, so I won't mention it. So after six hours non-stop we made it to the Rhino Sanctuary, where we were booked in for 2 nights, and at the reception area the car died when we had to stop.

We managed to crawl the 2.5 kms to our campsite in first gear in low range - I walked faster than the car moved! So that was the end of Gobi for us.

We set up camp and tried to work out what to do. We contacted the car hire company - Just Done It  - to let them know, but they weren't sure what to do either.

After a freezing night when the silence was so complete we resorted to Ewan's music to break it, the next morning Ewan asked the campers in the next site for a ride to the Reception, as we were in the middle of a game park and walking around is not a great idea (totally forgot that the day before!).

The guy who took him was surprising on 2 counts. Firstly: he is the nephew of the current President of Botswana and a grandson of the famous Botswana first President Seretse Khama. The second was that he ahd a gun which he was cleaning: scary!

Our last morning camping
Our last photo with Gobi
To cut a long story short we decided we had better pack up,  leave Gobi there and head for Jo'Burg  ( over 600kms away) using bus, plane or hitch hiking. We had to be there by Thursday for our flight to Turkey, and Monday and Tuesday were both public holidays because of Presidents Day ( very inconvenient for getting a car fixed, as Ewan pointed out to the President's nephew! ).

We managed to get Gobi back to the Reception area after we packed our bags and then a miracle occurred! A woman driving a 4WD with a trailer approached us and asked if we had any diesel to spare as she was about to run out. She was enroute to Jo' Burg after dropping her son Waldo at school in Thadazimbi  in northern South Africa, and invited us to travel with her!! Unbelievable generosity! Talk about a good samaritan!
Sonja, the good samaritan

Ewan managed to extract some diesel from good old Gobi after several tasty mouths full and we piled into her car. Sonja turned out to be an afrikaans woman who over the last 20 years has lived in Namibia and now Maun in Botswana. Her husband is in wildlife conservation and she is a potter. It was a very comfortable car and  she was happy to answer all of our questions whilst she drove for over ten hours to get us to the guest house. We arrived after 9pm exhausted but very relieved that we had made it to Jo'Burg and had a few days to see the sights. We missed out on the rhinos but what the hell!!

We fell into bed and slept very soundly.

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