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Pink Aardvarks

Stage 66 (47): Elephant Sands to Planet Baobab

Mornings here are truly beautiful; of course we’re up early enough to see the entire process of a slowly lightening sky and the subsequent sunrise. It’s often quite breezy at this time, I guess the effect of the sun warming the earth. I’m getting relatively good at this stumbling about in the dark to semi-dark, getting dressed, tent down and packed up, duffel bag carried to the truck, filling the water bottles and getting myself a coffee, all by 5:30 or very shortly after that time. Instant coffee only to start, but I’m used to it now; the real coffee not usually put out until 5:45 or so. Line up for the breakfast table / help yourself routine at 6:00. Get it all down and try to get going before 6:30.

In truth, I’d prefer to be out on the road by 6:00 absolute latest, or 30 min before the actual sunrise - the first hours of the day are the best and anything is better than the last inevitably very warm to hot hours of the day. But TDA has its rules and reg’s restricting us to sunrise/sunset.

The first couple of hours this morning see us again continuing south on the elephant highway; we see a few more elephants - a lone male right by the edge of the road, and then a large group off in the distance. But no other large animals (other than some good-looking cows as we near the Nata junction). And although it’s a Sunday, a surprising number of flatbed trucks pass us by, also headed south, most seemingly empty of cargo.

  • Rachel zooming by

We get to Nata easily enough and hit the only coke stop of the day; an ice cream and a coffee for me, and a couple of packets of biscuits to get us through the rest day tomorrow. Crosswinds in the morning varied from about 9:00 to 11:00 as we go south. Turning more or less due west after Nata, the wind direction shifts as well unfortunately and we’ve now crosswinds from about 13:00 to 15:00, as predicted. Bugger.

The road west was first paved back in ‘92-‘93 and clearly needs a serious upgrade. Whole sections washed out completely now are ‘gravelled’ over with crushed calcrete. Lots of potholed sections as well. We’re all over the roadway in these sections, but there’s almost no traffic. I recall only a very few trucks, with the majority of remaining vehicles being SA-registered 4x4s packing loads of safari gear. The bush is now dominantly mopane trees and scrub; not inspiring at all. Occasionally the view opens up to pans or alkaline flats, grasslands, but mostly it’s the mopane scrub. Lots of flies, too, but these are really only a nuisance as or when we pass by the odd cluster of grazing cattle. The day warms appreciably but never gets to the forecast 32° (I think); maybe the breeze helps and sometimes clouds mask the sun, so it’s all ok.

The mind wanders somewhat on these days, and I recall the Chobe River guide telling us about the Botswana flag. For those who don’t know the history of this country, the flag consists of a sky blue field representing water (so important to this Kalahari county) cut by a horizontal black stripe (the Batswana people) framed by dual thin white stripes (reflecting the plurality of the nation). No red for blood as Botswana is peaceful and strives for consensus; no colours of the dominant political party. The guide goes on to stress the tolerance of Botswana; only intolerance and racism are not tolerated. The young man’s passion and sincerity is impressive.

The last 30 km or so are a bit of a slog, but David leads mostly and I take the odd turn in front, so it passes. We see the turn-off to the Planet Baobab camp a little sooner than anticipated and we’re both very relieved. I confess to being tired. I’d booked us a twin-bedded hut, fortunately, so we don’t have to find a place providing a hint of shade in the now glaring sun of a mid-afternoon. A shower, water, electrolytes and a beer or two later, all is again good with the world.

  • difficult to miss this turnoff to camp

Planet Baobab definitely on the quirky side; Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Toure - Talking Timbuctu on the bar’s audio system with an eclectic mix following. Later in the evening, a local guitar player strums and a trio (sisters, I think) of pre-teen girls are moved to dance along. Chandeliers constructed of empty beer bottles, meandering pathways every which way thru this large camp lit by old oil lamps now electrified. Bush babies chatter away in the rafters of the dining room and in the acacia trees nearby. Dinner is a surprisingly quick and really good steak frites. I look forward to the rest day tomorrow.

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