When Lesley Sutton from Land Rover last spoke to Kingsley Holgate, their Boundless Southern Africa Expedition to link two oceans, nine countries and seven Transfrontier Conservation Areas, they were having difficulties in following the Old Cattle Trail from Nxai Pan to Pandamatenga in Botswana. In some areas the old trail had grown closed with vegetation and fallen trees, and was now just an elephant path heading North East. As always these expedition dispatches from the bush are best told in Kingsley’s words…
We reach Pandamatenga and kiss the tar, the battle of the cattle trail is behind us as are the flooded Makgadikgadi Pans, Baines’ Baobabs, the elephants and wildlife along the pools of the Boteti River, the wide open plains of Nxai Pan and the beautiful Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area that links Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana.
With the thorn scratched, mud splattered Landies all in a line we arrive in Kasane on the Chobe River where the Botswana Department of Environment and Tourism sponsors two nights of luxury at the Chobe Marina Lodge. That’s the great thing about Botswana – one moment you can be watching elephant from a river boat at sunset, the next you can have ice in your Captain, a hot shower (we need it), great food and a group of traditional Tswana dancers performing to drums and xylophones on a deck overlooking the Chobe, all part of the wonderland of the Kavango Zambezi TFCA.
The Chobe National Park is massive – it’s the second largest national park in Botswana and has one of the greatest concentrations of game found on the African continent. The park compromises four distinct eco systems: the Serondela found in the extreme North East in the Chobe River area with lush plains and dense forests; Savuti Marsh in the West, about 50km North of the Mababe Gate; Linyanti Swamps in the North-West; and the hot dry scrubland in between. A major feature of the Chobe National Park is its elephant population, currently estimated at around 120,000.
Four countries and a calabash
“Throttle back my friend,” says Garmap navigator Mad Mike Rumble to the boatman as just upstream from the Kazangula Ferry we get to the spot where Zambia, Namibia’s Caprivi, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet. In geography it’s known as a quadripoint, a point on the Earth that touches four distinct regions.
We’re all washed clean and rested, and heading up the Zambezi in a boat to a point just below the confluence with the Chobe, the water level still high from the flooding upstream. “Right here,” / / -17.79222; 25.26444 (Zambezi-Chobe confluence)says Mike with a grin looking down at his Garmin GPS. I lean out over the boat, someone hands me a little enamel basin which is used to spoon in a small amount of water into the traditional calabash we’re carrying from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.
“How many bits of water are in here now?” asks Ernest Mokganedi from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism who’s visiting us for the end of the Botswana leg. I shake the calabash, making sure that the four country Zambezi water mixes with the rest. So on an aluminium boat in the middle of the Zambezi, the expedition team gets to thinking back to the other beautiful places where we’ve stopped to add water to the symbolic calabash.
There’s Indian Ocean water from the start of the expedition, Tugela River water from the lip of Africa’s highest waterfall high up on the Drakensberg Mountains, there’s thimble fulls of water from the Bushman’s, the Sanqu, the Umhlatuze, the Umfolozi, Hluhluwe, uMkuze and Pongola Rivers in KZN and from lakes Bangazi, St Lucia and Sibaya. There’s Mozambican water from the Futi Corridor and a pan in the beautiful Reserva Especial De Maputo. “Don’t forget the Usuthu River in Swaziland,” says Ross, “and the Crocodile, Sabi and the Olifants in the Kruger National Park.”
I give the calabash another shake. There’s water from the Masangir Dam in Parque do Nacional do Limpopo and in Gonarezhou. What about the Runde, Save and Mwenezi. Too many to mention – the Luvubu at Crooks Corner, water from the flooded Shashe as we swam and wade across to Greater Mapungubwe.
Then there’s water gathered from the Makgadikgadi Pans and from amongst the elephants and hippos the Boteti River – Africa’s all about symbolism and so we get everybody on the boat to also endorse the Scroll of Peace and Goodwill to link nature, culture and community that we are carrying from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.
We end another day on our Boundless Southern Africa journey with a game drive along the banks of the Chobe as massive herds of breeding elephant come down to the water’s edge to drink, bath and blow dry themselves with dust.
Two water monitors scurry in the grass, pods of hippos grunt and snort at the passing Landies, there’s giraffe, crocs and saddle billed storks and the Africa anthem cry of a Fish Eagle all against the backdrop of a red ball lowering in the west as the sun sets over the majestic Chobe.