Thursday, 7 July 2011

Spring Break...KUBU!

I have been grappling with the idea of writing this post since leaving Kubu Island on Sunday morning. Actually earlier, since while on the island I knew that it would be hard to put the experience into words. But since Fais, Thomas and I are leaving tomorrow for our next weekend adventure I have to get this out today.

We’ve been fortunate enough to do really wonderful things since we arrived in Botswana. Many of the local people I’ve talked to haven’t ever been to Kasane, or Khama, or Lepokole. Sometimes we even have to explain what and where they are. All of those trips have been mind-blowing, and beautiful, and so hard to put into words that my thesaurus can’t handle it. Kubu was just as incredible, but in a very different way. I wouldn’t say that it was better than any of the other places we have visited, mainly because they just don’t compare.

Kubu Island is a rocky island (duh) in the Soa Pan of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park area. Basically the Pans are what’s left of the huge, 16,000km squared Lake Makgadikgadi which dried up centuries ago. The area is of colossal archaeological significance, as there have been multiple finds that are evidence of prehistoric human activity. Kubu Island itself is a national monument and considered sacred by indigenous groups in the area. (Thanks to Wikipedia for this info!)To read more about Kubu check out their website

Chillin with Amantle (on the right)
Chloe, Fais, Thomas and I left for Kubu on Friday July 1st – both Canada Day and Sir Seretse Khama Day here in Bots. Lyndsay opted to spend the weekend in Kasane, and Chloe had quite the adventure getting down to the Ghetto. After securing a safe hitchhike for herself on Thursday night, Team Francistown raced to find her a place to stay. It was down to the wire but just before she arrived Mma Tshabo (Fais’ mom) graciously gave permission for her to stay with them.  For the first time transportation didn’t top our list of worries; Thomas’ home-stay dad Mots had lent us his 1998 Toyota Windom. “Amantle”, as we named her (Setswana for “something good”) saw us safely almost all of the way to Kubu. We were all filled with true road-trip spirit—belting out Don’t Stop Believing and I’m Yours proudly—and the ride was much more comfortable than any bus could ever be.

In Mmatshumo we left Amantle sitting in the shade and jumped into (after a semi-patient four hours of waiting) the pick-up that would take us to Kubu. The ride was the bumpiest and most engaging ride so far. Ducking under overhanging thorn trees and bushes while winding down the dirt road over rocks and ditches we frequently burst into exuberant laughter.

After about 30 minutes of ducking, weaving, and wincing, we caught our first site of the Pans. This is where the trip gets a little hard to describe. Because of our long wait in Mmatshumo, we had missed the sunset. Earlier we have been bitching about waiting around, but all that fell away when we left the trees and brush behind and emerged onto the Pans. The sky was painted in the soft watercolour pinks, purples and blues that can only be seen stretching behind a recently set sun. Slowly, the soft pinpricks of stars joined the canvas. Sitting in the back of the truck, racing across the impossibly flat sand in the growing darkness, we all threw our arms out into the strangely warm air in reckless abandon. “I believe God will give us energy and we will fly like never before”. For the rest of the ride we sat in comfortable companionship, staring at the spreading stars and every now and then trying to voice our emotions before falling silent again, realising that it was impossible to find the words.
Top Chef Botswana: Boy's Team
Arriving at Kubu we quickly set up camp in the dark at Site 11: Impala. As Chloe and I pitched the tent Fais and Tom started in on their first attempt at winning Top Chef Botswana. Earlier we had decided to make cooking for the weekend a little more interesting—Girls vs. Boys. Each team was responsible for one lunch and one dinner. The boys blew their whole budget on dinner; point one, girls! But it was a delicious dinner; peri-peri chicken cut over a salad with cheesy bread on the side and banana boats for dessert. After some stargazing, campfire songs, and a loud and proud Oh Canada to celebrate Canada Day we headed to bed, much warmer than in Khama.

Blurry but delicious. Peri-peri chicken salad
Thomas in the sunrise
The alarm went off at 5:30am to rouse us for the sunrise. None of us were interested in leaving the warmth of our sleeping bags. Turned out to be a very good thing since when I left the tent at 6:40 the sun still hadn’t come up. Determined to see the rise and get some good photos, I grabbed my camera and Chloe and I ran down to the edge of the island. Standing at the edge of the island, staring out onto the Pan, we were washed in the warm glow of the African sun slowly climbing over the horizon. Soon the boys joined us and a full fledge photo shoot started our day at Kubu.

After a breakfast of cinnamon buns (courtesy of me and Chloe), the exploring began. It is hard to talk about the pans because when they are described they just seem boring. White. Big. Flat. Quiet. Those are the most accurate adjectives to describe the landscape. Not exactly awe-inspiring words. But to experience it is completely different. Walking out onto the pan myself, I felt a sense of peace settling over me—the quiet sinks over you until you feel like you’re dreaming. But the longer I walked the more the silence became deafening; I still felt peaceful and settled but I was aware of the alien power of the Pans. The silence and solitude of the white void are both friend and foe.
The empty expanse of the Pans

Baobab fruit
The rest of the day was spent hiking around the Island. We climbed the rock formations, walked through “The Shrine”, looked at the remains of a settlement of the Great Zimbabwean Empire and ended up back where we started. The whole Island is only 1km long. So after lunch we started out again, this time walking barefoot on the salt and sand, eating the fruit of the baobab tree and paying our respects to the gigantic baobab that guards the entrance to the island. We made it back onto the Pans just in time to have another photo-shoot, this one in front of the setting sun.

Team Ftown and Chloe
Chloe and some yoga in the sunset

Back at camp Chloe and I set up our bid for Top Chef. Using a 2.25 litre cooking pot, a couple of sticks, and a copious amount of aluminum foil we whipped out a dinner of pasta in a tomato basil sauce with vegetables and sausages, grilled zucchini, red pepper, and onions, garlic bread, and roasted sausages. It might have taken a couple hours to cook but we were declared the clear winners of Top Chef Botswana: Round One. Success!

Earlier we had planned to do our star-gazing for the night out on the Pans, so after dinner we put a log on the fire and headed out. After stumbling around the island in the dark trying to find our way to the Pans (even with headlamps it was confusing) we finally found the road and lay down a couple paces off from it. Lying four in a row on Chloe’s sleeping mat we made our own constellations and laughed at the funny moments of the past few days. I could have stayed there all night but we were rudely interrupted by the noise of a pack of hyenas uncomfortably close in the darkness. Spooked, we booked it off back towards our campsite, turning around every now and then expecting to see eyes glowing back at us.

As Chloe put it as we were walking around the island earlier in the day, Kubu Island is somewhere where I would come back to. I’ve tried my best to describe it, but I have no doubt that I didn’t do it justice. The only way that you will ever truly be able to understand is to go and see it for yourselves. If you go, let me know and I’ll jump at the chance to once again be a tiny speck fading into the mirage; walking on the Pans into the distance.                 

1 comment:

  1. "...the ride was much more comfortable than any bus could ever be."

    Must have been a good driver with lots of experience driving on the left side of the road!