LAND ROVER BOUNDLESS SOUTHERN AFRICA EXPEDITION DIARY 9

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Another oddball dispatche from Kingsley Holgate’s Boundless Southern Africa Expedition – a journey to link 2 oceans, 7 Transfrontier Conservation Areas, 9 countries, more than 30 Nature Reserves and Game Parks and the communities in and adjacent to these areas, and again it’s a story best told in Kingsley’s words…

Mud floods and soccer

The school children sing and chant, we’re at the soccer field at Nata having a Land Rover supported Boundless Soccer Challenge day, a build-up to 2010, a game for nature, culture and community. More than 20 mud splattered Land Rovers line the field, Lesley Sutton from Land Rover with volunteers who’ve driven up from South Africa to be part of the expedition for a few days.

They’d had an incredibly tough time of it, winching, pushing, pulling and wading their Landies from Lekubu Island in the South in an attempt to follow the track that heads North between Ntwetwe and Sowa Pans. Normally the pans would be bone dry at this time of year, now it was flooded by the highest winter rainfall in over 80 years. They hadn’t slept for 24 hours, backs were stiff and fingers were torn, but all agreed that getting the two expeditions to meet made it one of the greatest 4×4 adventures of the year.

Barefoot soccer in the bush, there’s a Man-of-the-Match and a winning trophy. After the expedition the best Man-of-the-Match youngster will get the opportunity to attend a World Cup game – it’s proving great fun and you’d be amazed at the soccer talent in these deep rural areas.

The volunteers help us to distribute blankets to needy orphans, the Kalahari nights are cold. We wave goodbye to our mud-covered friends, they head East and we continue West to Planet Baobab, a funky place with great food, a jolly pub decorated with old black and white photographs from Drum Magazine, a welcoming pool, themed Tswana village accommodation and wide canvas hammocks slung from the spreading branches of a giant baobab. It’s a great place to unwind and explore the Pans.

But there’s still a few hours of light left as we race the Landies along a narrow track to the shoreline of the completely flooded Ntwetwe Pan. With minutes to spare we get a fire going and set up our camp chairs to watch the yellow red sunset. It’s unbelievable, the memories come flooding back from years ago when we’d circumnavigated these great pans sailing with the wind in three-wheeled land-yachts and wearing goggles to avoid the dust. Now it’s just water, even the grass islands are covered. “It’s the sort of thing you only see once in a lifetime,” says Hugh Roe, stoking up the fire for Renoster Coffee.

Boteti, Baines’ Baobabs and beyond

The hippo pools in the Boteti River are full. Our camp is stretched canvas under the camel thorn trees – it’s all part of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. Lions roar throughout the night and elephants trudge through camp. There’s two massive crocodiles in a lair and Dave Pusey, the naturalist on the expedition adds cheetah, oryx, kudu, wildebeest, zebra, impala, steenbok, giraffe, bushbuck, black backed jackal, bat eared fox and ostrich to his scribbled notes.

Later that day Annelie Muller sketches a picture of Baines’ Baobabs in the expedition journal, below which she writes: Baines’ Baobabs – 5 old timers, 6 juveniles and a scattering of babies – these old grey monsters are beautiful, veritable sages of the Kalahari, the wrinkled elephants of the plant kingdom – this cluster of baobabs made famous by great adventure artists Thomas Baines.

As part of linking the Transfrontier Conservation Areas from East to West across Africa, the expedition is also visiting more than 30 game reserves and national parks – next on the list is Nxai Pan which is part of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park made famous for an annual zebra migration. ‘Be careful,’ said the game warden when we’d ask him about the Old Cattle Trail to Pandamatenga that’s marked in a dotted line on the map, ‘it’s so overgrown that at times you’ll lose the track.

Elephants have knocked over mopani trees – it’s hardly ever used.’ He was right. The thorn branches tear at the Landies and at times it’s only an elephant track. We camp near a waterhole – elephant dung and tracks everywhere. At night there’s the coughing sound of a sawing leopard at night, the cry of jackal and the hysterical laughter of a hyena. I ask some of the expedition members to scribble their thoughts into the journal.

Johan Louw, the expedition coordinator writes: I have the feeling of how it must have been for those early pioneers tracking with their cattle to Pandamatenga… it takes me back to a time long before me, now in a sense experiencing what the early travellers felt when venturing through unchartered landscape.

Eugene le Roux writes: It’s tough on the Landies and for us not knowing whether or not we’ll get through. My tent is surrounded by lion tracks and the track has become an elephant trail.

Rob O’Brien, the assistant cameraman writes: In my old Landy, it’s the same one that Ross Holgate used when they circumnavigated Africa, now it’s getting scratched to hell and back, as I push on through unspoilt, untamed wilderness. The autumn shades of the trees are beautiful…

Dave Pusey writes: Fresh tracks of breeding herds of elephant lead the way, a path they have followed for centuries as we move from pristine mopani woodland to forests of giants Kiaat trees.

Mandisa, who’s travelling with Eugene, writes that he’ll even put up with Eugene’s snoring rather than sleep alone with a leopard around. Babu Cossa, our Mozambican Portuguese and Shangaan interpreter says: ‘Why you take it Papa King – it’s too difficult, but I suppose Boundless expedition means No Boundaries, and look at the Landies now, the Makgadikgadi mud is gone, they’d been brushed clean by the bushes…’

Mad Mike just grins – he’s our Garmin man who’s doing the mapping. ‘Happy Tuesday’, he says.

I look at the team, their faces lit by the flames around the fire. The leopard coughs again. It’s how it must have been for the early cattle trailers driving their livestock North. I hope we can get through this way to Pandamatenga – We’ll keep you posted.