"Dammit", l thought as l pulled up at the Studio at 2:30 am on Saturday 9 October, "They've only just started packing!". My cunning plan to arrive half an hour late and avoid doing any work fell through. Those who were even more cunning, and arrived at 3:00, were also disappointed.
Eventually, somewhat later than the scheduled time of 3:00 am, the convoy of a Land Cruiser, a Hilux 4x4 and rather unsuitable, non-macho Monza hit the road. The day's travelling was uneventful (besides getting lost in the bustling metropolis of Gaborone - even with a map). The Monza was abandoned at Lethlakeng police station, and the sand roads started. We stopped about 20 km befopre Khutse and set up camp (to avoid paying the exorbitant camping fees). We retired after supper, only to be rudely awakened by Brian Tucker (in my case by Chris "eyes of a cat" Kirchhoff’s foot in my ribs) howling for help - an insect had crawled into his earl After helpful hints like "flush it out with urine" and "stick in a knitting needle - like Mountains of the Moon", reason prevailed, and the offending beetle was coaxed out by Dr. Battersby and his hairpin. After most of a bottle of OB's (of course it was someone e|se's!) and a Blonde (Gauloises), Brian was back to his normal (?) self.
On Sunday morning we entered Khutse and set up camp about 50 km into the reserve. l was struck by how dry and arid lt was - how could anything live here? The next few days proved me wrong. Although not in vast quantities, we saw
gemsbok, steenbok, springbok, giraffe, red hartebees, kudu, ostrich and the largest herd (30-40) of eland l’ve ever seen. For the twitchers, there was ample bird life. The something-or-other korhaan with its acrobatic mid-air tumbling was particularly interesting. That night, the drama with invertebrates continued. There were many scorpions around, and Chris was stung on the hand while he was sleeping. Unlike Brian, there was no pathetic squealing from Chris. He took it in a far more manly way, and we only heard about it the next morning.
A typical day's routine consisted of an early morning walk (for some), breakfast (for all), and a game drive before it got too hot. Lion spoor were seen on the road not too far from the campsite, but we never saw or heard any. The rest of the day was spent hiding from the sun under a canopy lovingly built from an army surplus parachute. Considering the fact that 3 engineers, a geologist and a Kraut bio- mechanicist were involved in its construction, it is surprising that it got beyond the design stage. When it had cooled down enough, we would set off on a late afternoon game drive. We spent an hour at the at the artificially fed waterhole (the only water in the reserve at that time of the year) late on Sunday afternoon, but no animals came to drink. Perhaps we were too close. The game are not used to cars and are very skittish.
We were rewarded at the waterhole late on Monday night, though. As we drove up, a pair of gleaming eyes disappeared into the bush surrounding the waterhole. We got out of the bakkie and slowly approached the water. With the aid of a torch, the eyes were seen to cautiously zig-zag closer to the pool. Eventually, 10 m from us on the other side of the pool, we were watching a brown hyena (there was much learned debate as to what it was) drinking! A special moment - certainly a more "real“ experience than seeing a lion from the comfort of an air-conditioned car in the Kruger Park!
Eventually, of course, the last day arrived. Brian won an impromptu shotput competition, leading to allegations that he was on steroids. If he was though, l think he should ask for a refund. On that morning's game drive, Graham found a large scorpion hole, and decided to dig out the poor animal. The tunnel was a spiral, with two turns, down to a depth of about half a metre, resulting in an excavation a metre square! The scorpion that reluctantly emerged was large and rather pissed off.
That wasn’t the last of the digging for that day. While sweltering in the midday sun, we decided to do something to cool down. The bakkie was loaded up with empty water drums, and the main manne went off to the pumphouse which services the waterhole. The innocuous-looking little two-cylinder Lister diesel engine proved to be a real bastard. It would chug promisingly for a few seconds, and then die. As the trip had been trouble-free so far, l was just waiting for a game ranger to drive up and bust us. The Explorer when-will-we-ever-learn curve was tending to never, as usual. No-one did arrive, however. The number of theories explaining why the engine wouldn’t start was incredible. After the nth tantalising yet fruitless sputter, we were all exhausted from turning the starting handle (even Brian), and were about to give up. But, in desperation, having tried everything else, we let Mike (the obnoxious Kraut whom people wisely tend to ignore) have a go at the controls. As much as I hate to admit it, his theory (which was to rev the shit out of the poor little thing for about 5 minutes ~ a very Teutonic approach) was right, and soon the drums were filling up with murky, brackish water. In the meantime, those back at camp were digging a pool, which was linedwith a tarpaulin. 200 litres of water later, and Voila ! The pool deck at the Khutse Sun! The feeling of immersing your body in water for the first time in four days (perhaps not such a unique experience for some) was wonderful.
Unfortunately, it was soon time to pack up, and an hour later we were on the road. That night we again camped outside the reserve. The next day, the inevitable brush with officialdom occurred. Brian was sitting on the roof rack of the Land Cruiser as we drove up to the Police station to collect the car. This was in violation of some subsection of the Botswana Traffic Code, which was read at length to him. He was not charged, but the policeman advised Chris to give Brian a klap. Chris obliged, to much laughter from the officers! On the way home, the jinx struck again, and we managed to lose each other in Gaborone. But that was the last of the drama, and we arrived home early in the evening.
Now for the pseudo-philosophical bit. The wardens in the reserve told us that it had rained a few days earlier. lt seemed as though the rain had not had much effect. The pans were dry and covered with brown grass - the only green was leaves on some of the trees. l was quite pessimistic - how could animals survive here? But that changed almost overnight. Monday afternoon's game drive took us back in the direction of the entrance to the park, and it was a revelation. Dark thunderclouds were massed on the horizon, boding more rain. Many trees had donned their bright green spring leaves, and the ground was covered with tiny green shoots. There were shrubs with yellow, white and blue flowers, and most of the animals had young. The air was full of expectancy, of the promise of new life. lt was truly a stunning transformation.
l would like to thank Chris for organising an excellent trip, and my fellow travellers for fine company and a good time. Another trip next year, a little later in the season would be worth the effort. Any takers?