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Day Sixty One and Sixty Two – Skid Pans and Baobabs

22nd and 23rd November 2011

storm 27 °C

There are two large salt pans just east of Maun called Mgadikgadi Pan and Nxai Pan, pronunciation here withheld. They are contained within one national park but separated by an A road and bounded in the south by the Boteti River. The Boteti had, until 2009, been dry for a good portion of its length for some years. We knew no different and punching in our destination the sat-nav flickered and off we went. Gradually, as is the case with placing your trust in an electric box that thinks it knows best, we became aware that we were on a ‘more-scenic-than-expected-route.’ It wasn’t the old lady waving us back that stopped us, nor the kids laughing at the white guys going the wrong way, it was the sign staked into the middle of the road surface stating that the road ahead was closed. As if to reassure us, just beyond this sign was our road, as it disappeared over bank and into quite a big river. This was a key moment for us, it was the beginning of our understanding that maps and roads in Botswana are a fluid concept.

We re-routed onto a main road that crossed the river before passing through Mgadikgadi, across the dividing A road and into Nxai Pan. There was bound to be a bridge at the river crossing. An hour later our road led us into a field. Ahead of us two dead cows lay at the waters’ edge; one wasn’t quite dead yet, it pawed weakly with one leg, it was just feet from the river. The track again disappeared under several hundred cubic metres of water and at the bank a large floating pontoon bobbed in slow motion under the rivers current. As we crawled closer a well dressed and very pretty lady appeared from behind a tree; her two colleagues, now apparent, remained seated on the grass. Still the cow kicked, with one leg, slowly, silently. Our enquiries led to a price of one hundred Pula for Redvers to become an ocean going vessel for fifty metres across this great gushing (slowly meandering) torrent (he’d have definitely been submerged) of wetness. We purchased one ticket and drove Redvers into the shallows and up onto our very sturdy looking two vehicle ferry. He took to it very nicely and his sea legs clearly come from growing up on the coast in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The 60cc outboard motor propelled us like a cloud bridging the impassable and we pulled off the other side glorious in our conquest.

The gate to the park lay a hundred metres from the waters’ edge. The guard on duty was questioned by Laura as to the welfare situation of the cows on the other side. There is a park veterinarian but he was away. The cow had been hit by a car earlier in the week and the owner had been very angry. No one had the means to kill it and even if they did, the owner would then seek compensation for his loss. It was a messy situation and the cow would come out last.

As we reached the gates of Nxai Pan the distant sky was deep grey and already we could see sheets of rain falling as bolts of lightning rose to the skies and the crack of thunder came an age after the blade of the light. We asked about the roads. We knew that we would need to drive across a pan; the last time we attempted this we got five metres and took three hours to extricate ourselves. The same old blasé ‘The roads are fine’ was this time post scripted with ‘just go around the edge of the pan or you’ll get stuck.’

To say the roads were impassable would be a lie. We did after all reach our destination. However, of the seventeen kilometres of road we travelled on, at least seven kilometres were submerged. Only under about six inches or so; but, like ‘Doctor Foster off to Gloucester,’ the puddles masked potholes and tiger pits. Every now and then we’d slowly sink into a hole that took an entire wheel, only for Redvers to grunt and drive the other three into pushing their sunken friend out. We drove through the last of the storm and when we finally reached the Pan, I lost Redvers’ back end in the slippery clay and we spun out onto the side of the road. It was only Redvers’ awesome weight that stopped us tipping over and this chapter being a different story. As the colour came back to our faces we giggled, started him up again and continued slip sliding our way to our camp site beneath a great Baobab tree. The thunder storm that ensued washed away any chance of sleep; we sat in the back of Redvers, eating, editing photos and chatting before going to bed to lie wide eyed as the thunder got so close it left our ears ringing.

The next morning we were a little apprehensive about our track back. With all that rain we might struggle through the deeper stuff, but our fears were quashed and, whilst the Pan was now deeper under water, the road was somehow drier than the previous evening. We stopped at Baines’ Baobabs, an explorer who painted a rather disappointing picture of a stunning clump of Baobab trees. Apparently, according to LP, only one main branch has fallen off in the 160 years since Mister Baines painted them. We spent the rest of the day 4x4ing around the park through muddied tracks that looked more like a hippos’ wallow than a road and saw a grand total of one disappearing-into-the-bush elephant and a few zebra.

Posted by ibeamish 08:39 Archived in Botswana

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