Many years ago, I traveled around Southern Africa for about a year. I went there mainly because my friend Carol was living with a Greek Cypriot (named Theo, surprisingly enough) in Gaberone, the capital of Botswana. As all good Kiwis do, when I was about 25 I decided it was time to do my OE (Overseas Experience) which is a long-time tradition here. I don’t know when it started, but it’s been going for a long time. My parents went overseas after they were married. In those days, people tended to go to England and then travel around Europe and they were no exception. But being broke at the time, Dad worked his way across on a tramp steamer, and Mum (judging by the photos of her ) partied her way across on a cruise liner. Dad definitely got the short straw there.
Nonetheless, he seemed to have had fun. He often told the story of the crew member who went missing in Marseilles. After two days, the skipper sent my dad out to track him down. My dad was a strong guy having rowed for most of his youth and was about 6’2″, so I figure the skipper thought he would be more than able to manhandle the errant shipmate back on board. Dad must have had good detective skills as well, because he eventually tracked the miscreant down. He had been holed up with a hooker for two days – perhaps more. Dad said when he found him they were both fast asleep surrounded by empty bottles of red wine, the crumbs of many loaves of bread and empty cheese wrappers. They were probably tired as well. As a child I was never really sure what to make of the story and was mildly shocked by it; now I think it sounds like a great way to spend several days.
But I digress. Gaberone – or Gabs as we called it – which is a dry, dusty town, where nothing much of anything happened except a lot of drinking by the ex-pats and everyone dogs that constantly barked at night.
One of my planned trips was to the Okavango Delta, and over the Easter weekend Theo announced he would drive us all up there. What he didn’t mention was that he also had to take a refrigerated meat cabinet up to Maun, the town at the entrance to the delta, for his cousin Andreas, the local butcher. This cabinet was about 8-foot long, very heavy, and we were driving a small pickup – or buckie as they call them in Southern Africa. The distance from Gabs to Maun is over a 1000km, so the plan was to leave as early as possible, about 6am. We left at 2pm – the combination of a Greek and Africa was too much for time to handle so it gave up trying.
Now this buckie had a very small cab, so Carol, Theo and I piled in. It was a bench seat and the middle seat was hard – very hard. By the time we left, tensions were running high between Carol and Theo which turned into a running domestic for the whole of the trip. When we reached Nata, which was about 300kms from Maun, the sun was just setting over the edge of a long, straight and very dusty road. It’s a tiny town and Theo told us the story as we were arriving about the time a local shot a water buffalo, which really pissed off the rest of the herd so they ran through the town and trashed it.
We pulled into the petrol station to fuel up and stretch our legs. Carol went off to investigate the chocolate supplies while I did the routine single people do when couples are fighting – that is, make consoling noises and say things like: “Just leave her alone for a bit and she’ll be fine.”
Theo must have been more agitated then he let on. The driver’s side window was sticking so he gave a little wriggle to straighten it and it promptly exploded, showering the two of us with small bullets of glass. This was not good. It may have been April in Africa and hence bloody hot during the day ( I once put a thermometer out in the open sun in Carol’s garden and got scared when it went over 46 degrees C, so I picked it up and threw it into the bushes) but we were driving through the desert and it cools down fast at night. Real fast.
Needless to say, when Carol got back to the buckie and saw the window, the domestic showed no signs of stopping any time soon. We rugged up as best we could – in hoodies and all our spare clothes – and set off. The road, which runs through the Kalahari desert, has since been sealed, but in those days it was, without doubt, one of the worst roads in Africa. Huge corrugations, sandy and full of potholes. Add in a 8-foot long refrigeration cabinet on a light buckie – and not centred but positioned on one side – meant that every half-hour or so we simply ran off the road into huge piles of sand that created mini-dunes along the side. Meantime, the middle seat had become harder than concrete, so whoever sat there was almost in tears after half an hour, making wriggling hopping movements to try and restart the blood flow in their butt. At least when I was in the middle it meant that the domestic between Carol and Theo was subdued for a while. As the night wore on, a combination of freezing desert air blasting through the driver’s window, gut-wrenching jolts as we hit the two-hundred foot deep corrugations in the road, and the continual sniping, made it truly a journey to hell, if not hell itself. Carol and I resorted to eating masses of chocolate. As she said: “What other option do we have?
At least when I was in the middle it meant that the domestic between Carol and Theo was subdued for a while. As the night wore on, a combination of freezing desert air blasting through the driver’s window, gut-wrenching jolts as we hit the two-hundred foot deep corrugations in the road, and the continual sniping, made it truly a journey to hell, if not hell itself. Carol and I resorted to eating masses of chocolate. As she said: “What other option do we have?
After a while, things simmered down and Theo told us about previous trips he had made to Maun – in particular that he had often seen lions roaming alongside that road. A short while later we skidded off the road yet again and became stuck in the deep sand. Carol and I bailed out and pushed the damn thing up onto the road, watching as the wheels gripped and Theo and the buckie disappeared into the darkness. The African night is very black so once the buckie’s light disappeared we were alone, in the dark, in the middle of the desert. Carol and I simultaneously remembered the lions and ran as fast as we could after those back-lights. To be honest, I half suspected that it was a plot by Theo to get rid of us. But he did stop. Perhaps it was because we had the remaining chocolate in our pockets.
It took us more than 10 hours to drive 300kms. We got to our lodge around 3am and collapsed onto our beds, exhausted. When we woke up, I went to take a shower but there was only a bath. I was stiff and sore and the thought of a nice soothing bath was heaven. I turned on the tap, and all that came out was freezing cold water the colour of iron filings. By that time, I didn’t really care so I sat in the cold water and ate some more chocolate. Although some red wine and bread would have been nice too.