Sunday, 25 November 2012

Quicksand and Sinkholes

Hi everyone! This is Wandering Is again. About a year and a half after our trip to Botswana, I'm finally posting my last few entries. If anyone is still reading, I hope you enjoy. 

August 21, 2011
I like to think of myself as hardcore. And in many ways, this trip proved that I am; or at least, I can be. I have walked across a waterfall and jumped into a pool on top of Vic Falls. I have jumped headfirst off a bridge 111mietres in the air. I have watched a pride of lions take down a kill mere feet away. I have sat in awe an arms-reach away from the world’s largest land mammal. I have camped every weekend, made hitchhiking my preferred method of transport, and been impressively unclean. I have ridden in the back of, on top of, and on the bumper of moving vehicles. But a lot of that pales in comparison to my last weekend in Bots. Chloe and I, and our 50km hike across the Sowa Salt Pan – some of the country’s most unforgiving landscape.

Thomas and Bettina walking in the distance
Friday saw Thomas, Chloe, Bettina and I heading to Nata. We didn’t really have any definite plans – just a rough idea of visiting the Bird Sanctuary and then hiking a little onto and camping on the Pans. When asking for directions in the lodge by the filling station, the man mentioned in passing that you could really walk all the way from Nata to Sowa. And so the seed was planted.

The result of Thomas hijacking my camera 
After a hitch in the back of a Landy pick-up (God bless Toyota!) we arrived at the Sanctuary. The prices were fairly extortionate so we decided to just pay the entrance fee and then sneakily (coughillegallycough) camp on the Pan. From the gate it was an 8km walk to the lookout bird-hide on the edge of the main Pan, and after about 3 hours of hiking we were greeted by the sight of the water which we had been told was no longer there. It was the perfect backdrop for many photo-shoots in the varying light, and we took full advantage. We decided it was the perfect place to set up camp and spent hours really just relaxing and lazing about.

The whole afternoon Chloe and I had been talking about continuing on to Sowa and whether it would even be possible. After going through the list of food several times we rationed it out and figured we would have enough. Start walking early Saturday morning, do about 35km, camp on the Pan, and continue on to finish in Sowa on Sunday. Easy! Thomas seemed more than a little concerned with our resolve and total lack of real planning. But we pacified him the best we could with fervent reassurances that we would be fine and knew exactly what we were doing.

Chloe and Bettina

Up is down, and down is up.
Uncensored joy

With sunset we rushed back out onto the water for some more photo-shoots. At one point the horizon totally faded away between layers of blues, purples and greys; creating a mirror image on the water where it was hard to tell up from down. Dark dropped swiftly after dinner and before we knew it we were smacked by a torrent of bugs attracted to our firelight. I was too slow on the reaction and ended up pulling bugs out of everywhere under my clothing for the rest of the night. The stars rivalled Khama, once again enclosing us in a glittering dome. I had a snowglobe moment as the immensity of the universe pushed down on me. Laying side-by-side on our sleeping bags in the sand, we sang everything from Christmas songs (O Come all Ye Faithful, Silent Night) to school church songs (Children of the Light) to Setswana hymns. Our night was spent under the stars as we opted to leave the fly off and embrace the cold for the full experience. I was proud of Bettina – we managed to sway the city diva into a Camping Queen!

No fly = a cold night!

On the pan again
Morning came early and around 7:30 (after a breakfast of peanut butter and bread, of course) we parted ways and Chloe and I started on our massive undertaking. I can only imagine what I looked like to Thomas and Bettina, a mere speck on the vastness of the Pans, weighed down by my 60 litre pack carrying (amongst other things) all 10 litres of our water. It’s pretty impossible to describe what it feels like walking on the Pans. I got a taste of it at Kubu, but this time the distance added a new twist. Lonely Planet warns against driving on Pans, and here we were walking on them. With only a hand drawn map, no compass, and no real measure of our path or the distance to our destination. In hindsight, fairly reckless. But once again we were utterly emboldened by our surroundings and just didn’t even consider the possibility of failure. When we got to Maureen’s house in Sowa we found out that our trek was even more dangerous than we had imagined. Quicksand and sinkholes that have claimed cars were one thing. Wildlife was another. Whoops!

Keep calm, and hike on.
The walk itself was filled with our voices and laughter, and at times the heavy silence of the emptiness surrounding us. By no means was it easy, and our moods sank at the low points. At one point walking along the vet fence through savanna, no longer able to seen the Pan, worrying about snakes, and not really knowing where we were I felt a heaviness on my boots and resolve that almost couldn’t be ignored. Lunch was eaten crouched in the savanna with us quiet, dehydrated, and depressed. But the high points of the walk outweighed the lows and re-energised us almost as much as our beloved dried dates. Making the decision to ditch the vet fence (our only clue to our location) and head for the Pan was a turning point. Rounding a bend and seeing wide-open white vastness and water with flamingos as far as the eye could see renewed our faith in our strength and ourselves. Better yet, the Sowa Salt Mine in the distance served as a much better guide than the vet fence ever had. Setting up our tent in the middle of the Pan, becoming a stark bump in the vastness, ushered in a quiet dinner and some time for reflection before we finally crawled into our sleeping bags and texted Thomas “goodnight” at 6pm.

World's quietest campsite.
Leaving on Sunday morning was hard. At our 4am alarm we decided another hour of sleep would do us good, and at 5 that hour stretched further to just before 6. Walking along a set of tire tracks and watching the sunrise we walked slower and slower, realising that when we reached the edge of the Pan our escape from reality would be over. And it came too soon. Before I knew it we were sitting on Maureen’s couch, than in her car on her way back to Francistown, then in the Chinese restaurant (which finally opened!!!) having lunch before heading back to our respective homes.

The weekend was many things. Laughter. Friends. Sunsets and rises. Silence. Doubt and weakness. Resolve and strength. And, of course, yet another challenge annihilated.   

No comments:

Post a Comment