Sunday, August 21, 2011

Life in Botswana: November 1990

A New Adventure - International in Scope

More excerpts from my parent's journal: Life in Bostwana.

Ed and I have had another one of our "adventures". On Saturday, Nov.17, we drove to the far side of Gaborone Dam in the Suzuki jeep to mark the new, additional site for the Yacht Club. Afterwards we decided to drive the length of the Dam, and drove about 12 km to a closed gate. When we started to turn around to return home, the motor stopped. Nothing we tried, including pushing, would start the jeep again.

We thought it would be closer to walk southward toward the Ramotswa road than to walk the 12+ km back to the gate and the road home. This was about 10:30 am. I was in sandals, with a plastic bag for a hat, and carrying a bag with tissues, glasses (not sun), my camera and a hardcover book. Ed had no sunblock but he did have a hat (we later shared) and he was carrying our video camera. We had no water, no wallets, but I did have P17 in my bag.

Gaborone Dam
We followed a car path which followed a fence until it petered out in a rocky, thicketed meadow by the Notwane River. We came to a fence which led down to the water, followed it and swung around the end of the fence into what turned out to be a cattle pasture. We followed along the river, about 15 ft from it, when suddenly we heard a loud splash at the river's edge. We concluded from the huge disturbance we saw in the water that it had to be a crocodile (we had heard reports of a second one). We headed inland a bit before continuing and maintained a respectful distance from the shoreline.

We came to the Notwane Dam and considered crossing the water via the dam spillway which would take us to a visible road. The only problem was that there was an eight foot drop from a cement wall to the curved, sloped spillway wall. We considered various ways of doing this but I was really worried that Ed would break a leg, fall on the rocks, or in the water with the croc, so we decided against that and instead to walk around the dam to the road.

Notwane Dam
Just as the route around the dam appeared blocked we came to another gate, open, and saw a new road, newly graded. We set out, certain that it would lead to the main road. At least we could see if there there were snakes or crocs on a dirt road. We walked along this road in the blazing, hot sun, for over three hours. Then we saw a windmill! How wonderful to see signs of human beings, the first we had seen since we started down the road.

We approached the borehole (dry) and saw two rondavels. After a loud "ko ko" brought no response from the first we went to the second. We asked for water, "metsi", and they brought us a clean, quart-size tin can nearly full. Tasted terrific! We asked the direction to Ramotswa and they pointed in the direction we had been going, so we continued on our way.

Both of us were only momentarily refreshed by the water and were individually wondering how much longer we could go on when Ed spotted another rondavel and a car! Ed asked the driver how far it was to Ramotswa. He said it was 20km, on the other side. "What do you mean, the other side? "In Botswana - this is Bophuthatswana - South Africa." Ed pointed to the ground "This is Bophuthatswana?" "Yes." We were astounded! We had walked 10 miles straight into South Africa without knowing it and without seeing any people.

The driver agreed to drive us to the border at Ramotswa for 20 rand. We offered him our 17 pula and off we went, 5km on the same dirt road and then 15 more to the BOP border post. Our driver beat a hasty retreat.

Well, the immigration people didn't know what to do with us. The BOP commander said it was "like you had come from the sky". After much conferring among themselves they decided to ask the South African police who were posted there to advise and train the BOP immigration and customs people. The SAP were nice, if somewhat sceptical at first, and sat us in a cool office, gave us cold Cokes and offered food, which we declined. 

One of the BOP officers went over to the Botswana border post and came back, saying that it was all closed up (it was about 4:30). The SAP kindly offered to drive us 50-60 km to the Kopfontein gate, opposite Tlokweng, giving us (and themselves) a cold beer as soon as we left the compound and another one half-way. They returned immediately for a goodbye celebration, as they were all returning home on Wednesday, after four months in post. The SAP thought we would have to get our passports in order to leave Bophutha-tswana, but the senior BOP officer said "No problem" and had his man escort us on foot across the border to Botswana immigration, who were incredulous when they heard the story from the officer in Setswana and our version in English. How happy we were to be home - almost.

By now everyone whose phone number we knew by heart was at the Marine Ball (we were supposed to be there also) except for our Canadian friends, the Loves. Thank goodness they were home! They drove to Tlokweng to vouch for us. Ed meanwhile wrote a summary of what had happened for the supervisor and we filled out forms. They still required our passports so Ed drove back with the Loves (I remained as hostage, reading my book), got them and returned. We finally reached home - and water, water, and food, at 8:30. We were very tired.

The jeep was recovered Tuesday evening. Nothing was touched, not even my shovel inside the open-backed vehicle. We learned later that the Botswana-South Africa border fence (which we went around) extends to the center of the Notwane River, about 500 meters below the Notwane Dam, and goes midstream to the Dam wall, through it and the Dam itself, continuing up the river. At the point where we rounded the fence, the point of South Africa is about 400 meters from the Lobatse highway.

Several morals which result from our (mis)adventure are:

  1. Whenever you leave civilization (people, houses) always take water with you: the corollary is, if you do not have water, don't go to the bush, even in Gaborone.
  2. Better go on a known route, especially when walking, than attempt to find another way home. Going back the same way we had driven was a much shorter (and safer) distance than we walked trying to take a short cut.
  3. Always take a hat
  4. Keep sunblock in the car.
  5. Always take a reasonable amount of money when you drive – anywhere. 
  6. Memorize the telephone number of the Embassy. There's always someone there to answer the phone.
Nancy Ambrose

1 comment:

  1. Wow, What an adventure! If my parents had done that I would have told them to take the first flight home!