Another Adventure in Botswana
Lake Ngami, discovered by Oswell, Murray & Livingstone – from David Livingstone: Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, Including a Sketch of Sixteen Years’ Residence in the Interior of Africa, and a Journey from the Cape of Good Hope to Loanda on the West Coast, Thence Across the Continent, Down the River Zambesi, to the Eastern Ocean. London: John Murray, 1857.
Where David Livingstone had success, unfortunately we did not… a little bit of travelogue:
We had been searching for Lake Ngami the whole morning and were beginning to conclude that it had ceased to exist, despite it being an ‘Internationally Important Wetland,’ according to the sign which we’d found facing belly up at the roadside. It was, after all, the dry season.
We had driven across the eastern side of what, we assumed, had been the lake. The landscape was dry and desolate, populated only by a scattering of dead trees and the occasional hopeful-looking bird. We’d retraced our route.
Regaining the original road, we decided to go for one last try down the uneven track where we’d concluded the important-looking sign had pointed. After sometime driving on the worsening roadway, we passed several rondavels. I waved to a group of Herero women in their traditional costumes with their iconic cow horn-shaped headwear. We saw goats and chickens roaming around contentedly, and a bunch of small children who waved cheerily at us. We waved back. There was a lot of waving to be done.
But there was no sign of the lake.
We pressed on through the village; everyone looked puzzled but friendly, grinning at us with white-toothed smiles. I peered at the map; this couldn’t be right.
Defeated, we decided to turn around. The vehicle slid uncomfortably in the soft sand. The wheels turned, but we were going nowhere. The engine stalled. We started up again, but the rear wheels dug further into the sand. We stalled again.
My husband got out and circled the vehicle; I watched him in the side mirror staring at the back wheels, hands on hips. He disappeared from view and returned with a handful of twigs which he started to stuff under the wheels.
Another try and again the wheels failed to grip. The group of children which we waved at earlier appeared, attracted by the sound. An older youth with them approached and informed us in excellent English, that a spade would be fetched. We needed to ‘dig deep’. A smaller child disappeared in the direction of the nearest rondavel. Moments later he returned, armed with a small spade with a broken handle.
With great enthusiasm the little team of helpers gathered round my husband, all intent on assisting with the digging. Small boys burrowed under the vehicle and renewed attempts were made to drive out. But the wheels continued to sink into the sand. ‘We need to dig deeper’, came the cry.
An older man wandered over, an un-lit cigarette clamped between his lips. After a short conference with the helpers, two of them disappeared, reappearing with two large roof tiles. The tiles were positioned under the rear wheels; my husband gripped the steering wheel and started the car. There were crunching noises and an ominous burning smell. The afternoon shadows lengthened.
More digging, another attempt, the front of the car rose higher. From this an unusual angle a red and white-painted mast in the distance caught my eye.
I fished in my bag for my cell-phone and scrabbled for the receipt on which I’d written Carlton’s cell number. Just in case, I had said back in his little office, when we’d picked up the vehicle.
My cell-phone rang out. ‘Carlton?’ ‘Yes?’ I explained the problem. ‘Have you engaged the 4-wheel drive?’ I summoned my husband and relayed instructions relating to a small knob under the steering wheel. He complied, started the engine and pressed the accelerator. The car moved off. There was a cheer; they’d done it! Rewards were dispensed to our gallant team. We didn’t mention my phone call as we waved goodbye.
©2018 Chris Hall