On Saturday 25 May 2013 we left the Island Safari Lodge at Maun, where we had stayed the previous two nights, and continued to follow some of the routes taken by Val’s great-great grandfather Fred Green.
When planning our trip we had looked at the possibility of going to Gweta on the road to Francistown, and trying to visit Green’s baobab, which is about 30 km south of the town. Two things made the possibility remote: first, there was no accommodation available in Gweta at the time we would be passing that way, and, secondly, we were told that the way to Green’s baobab lay along a sandy track, for which one needed a 4×4 vehicle and our little Toyota Yaris wouldn’t make it, so we had to make do with pictures found by Google. There is a video of it here.
In July 1858 Fred and Charles Green and George Bonfield left Hereroland with five wagons and went to Lake Ngami. Bonfield stayed there with one wagon while the Green brothers set off for Matabeleland with the other four wagons by way of the north side of the Makgadikgadi Pans, and at Gootsa Pan they carved on a baobab “Green’s Expedition 1858”. Apparently the inscription can still be read today, which is why we thought it might be interesting to see it. But it didn’t seem possible, so we tried to follow the course of the Boteti River instead.
After filling up with petrol we left Maun at 9:30 am, and drove east towards Francistown, and there were several herds of cattle crossing the road in single file, like the game in Etosha. We stopped to take photos of one lot, and those who had already crossed gathered and looked at us reproachfully, while those who had not yet crossed stopped, wondering when we would get out of the way, perhaps. We saw lots of people riding asses, usually in pairs, and they seemed to be cowboys, watching the herds.
At 10:12, 67 km after leaving the Island Safari Lodge, we turned south, where a sign pointed to Makalamabedi. The road was narrower, and looked less travelled. After about 8 km we came to the main object of this part of our journey, the Boteti River bridge, so we stopped to take photos of it and the river. The river was surprisingly large, and full of water. When reading about Fred Green travelling along it, I had always pictured it like a Namibian river or like the Taokhe River we had seen a couple of days ago, dry, with water in it only after rain. But the Boteti (or Botletle, as some called it) was wide and beautiful, and though not as large as the Okavango farther north, was similar, as the outflow of the delta. No wonder the Green brothers spent so much time here. As Tabler (1973:45) puts it:
Shelly, Bushe and Green, going to Lake Ngami, were on the Botletle River in September 1851, when they met Livingstone. Shelley and Bushe returned to Kolobeng late in December, and Green was at Winburg, O.R.S. early in March 1852, just returned from Ngami and intending to start for the Lake again as soon as he could.
When travelling by ox wagon, drinking water for the oxen is always an important concern, and there was plenty of that in the Boteti River, at least at this point.
We drove on to Makalamabedi, and beyond the bridge the road was full of potholes of Albanian rather then Free State proportions, one drove into and out of them, and was lucky to be able to travel at 40 km an hour. The thought of driving all the way to Serowe on such roads was a bit daunting. Perhaps we should have been sensible and gone via Francistown instead.
At Makalamabedi there was another foot-and-mouth disease control point, and we had to drive through a dip and stand on a mat again. Val asked the bloke there how he was, as one does, and he said he wasn’t well, or “good” as people say nowadays. He had a headache. Val said “We’ll pray for you”, and he and the woman with him said, rather incredulously, “You know how to pray?’ He then asked why we were travelling on this road, which we had begun to wonder ourselves, and he clearly thought we were nuts to do so. So we told him about Fred Green hunting elephants along the Boteti or Botletle river, and how we wanted to see where he had been.
Halfway through the town the potholed tar road changed to gravel, and then we were able to travel a bit faster, 65-70 km/hour, which gave us hopes of reaching Serowe before midnight. The river was visible in glimpses caught through the trees.
We came to a tarred road again, and were a bit confused, as the map seemed to differ quite a bit from the territory. Though not as bad as the earlier bit, this one was still potholed, though in Free State rather than Albanian fashion, so we were able to travel at about 70-80, in a zig-zag course to avoid the larger potholes. Some had been repaired, and others marked for repair. From the maps it seemed that the road had only been tarred fairly recently, but the contractors must have done a shoddy job, and cut corners.
Then we joined another tarred road, which from the map appeared to be an older one, and was in better condition. It went due south, though the river was somewhere on our left, and according to the map, we were somewhere around Khumaga. At one point we stopped to take a picture of a sign which showed that we were pretty far from anywhere. The next place was Rakops, 66 km ahead, though we had been seeing signs from about 130 km mark. We still had 415 km to go to Serowe, and we had only covered about 200 km.
There was bush at the sides of the road, and the verges had not been cleared as on other roads. Every now and again there were long skid marks on the light coloured tar, and I wondered if these were where someone travelling at high speed suddenly braked to avoid an animal coming out of the bush. One might just see a cow, but a goat or even a donkey could be hidden until it actually came out into the road.
A bit closer to Rakops the bush opened out, and there was a vast flat expanse stretching over to the west, with a line of trees about a kilometre away to the east, which we took to be the Boteti River still. It took a while before we realised that this must be a westward extension of the Makgadikgadi Pans.
A bit further along we came across a congregation of vultures gathered around the carcass of a donkey that must have been knocked down by a vehicle. It wasn’t, however, in one of the places where the bushes grew along the edge of the road, but rather along a stretch through the flat pan, where you could see for miles to the horizon. There must have been 50-60 vultures, with more circling overhead, and a few crows dropping in to join them. I’d read somewhere about “carrion crows” but this was the first time I had seen them. The only animal actually eating was a starving dog. The vultures seemed to be waiting for someone to say grace or something, and more kept arriving as we watched.
I suppose donkeys are the most vulnerable of domestic animals when it comes to being run over. Goats are the most intelligent, and think twice about crossing a road when they see a car coming. Cows cross the road regardless. Sheep mill around. But a silly ass will stand its ground in the middle of the road and simply ignore approaching vehicles. When the vehicle is a 26-wheeler with a sleepy driver on a dark night, the vultures have a good brunch the next day.
We eventually reached Rakops, 247 km from Maun, at about 1:15 pm. The main road by-passed Rakops, but we drove in to the town to try to see the river again, still marked by the line of trees in the flat pan. We came to a bridge and crossed it, and the river still had water in it there, and several animals grazing along its banks.
We drove back to the main road, and continued, now travelling south-eastwards, still with the river on the left, marked by the line of trees and a string of villages. Though the main road (now a good one, with no potholes) by-passed the villages, it still had lots of speed limits of 80 or 60 km/h.
About 40 kilometres from Rakops the road crossed the river again, still with water, and still fairly wide, though only about half the width it was when we first crossed it a couple of hundred kilometres upstream. According to the map the Boteti River flowed into Lake Xau, and there was a road going round the southern end of the lake, but we did not go that way, as it was getting quite late and we still had a long way to go to Serowe.
We drove around the end of the Mopipi Pan, about 60 km from Rakops. The Mopipi Pan is a kind of eastward extension of Lake Xau, and that seemed to be the end of it, where the mighty Okavango eventually ended up. It was also the end of the flat open country, and we were back in the land of mopani trees, looking golden in the afternoon sun.
We had covered only about half the distance to Serowe, but the road surface was better now, and we drove faster. We looked for a sitplekkie beside the road, but there were none. We passed the town of Letlhakane with its mine, and an enormous mine dump, and after passing that there were fences on either side of the road At sunset we reached a place called Paje, and tried to phone Lentswe Lodge in Serowe, where we were supposed to be staying. The booking paper we received gave detailled instructions on how to leave Gaborone, and thereafter gave exact kilometre measurements to the turn-off over 200 km further on, and where to turn off from there, giving distances, but no landmarks, which was of no use to people coming from a different direction.The cell phones didn’t seem to be working, just as the credit card machines didn’t seem to be working either.
We reached Serowe in the gathering dusk, and came to the road from Palapye, which had a big shopping mall on it, and it seemed that that was where we were supposed to turn up the road we had just come down, managed to work out the way to Lentswe Lodge from there, 600 km from Maun. It was fully dark when we arrived, and there was also a mix-up with our booking, and they were only expecting us on Monday. The guy at reception, who introduced himself as Geoffrey, said he had been on leave, and the people who had filled in for him had left a bit of a mess. But he managed to sort out a room for us, and led us to it along a rough path, with steps going up and down, and then, when we were settled there, we went back the path to the bar, and had fillet steak and eggs for supper, which was excellent. Geoffrey brought us a packed breakfast for the morning, and we went to bed, as we were tired after a long day’s driving. It was the last night of our holiday — we had seen everyhing we had come away to see, and the next day we would be homeward bound.