HEADBANGER – THE IMAGES
by Brian Neebe
Chapter 2 – THE MAGIC OF SAVUTE.
May 1976 – June 1976.
The bottom pin indicates the split in the marsh road. South to Maun, east around the marsh.
Welcome to Botswana
The small police station is still there. The immigration hall is now beyond. This was a gravel road all the way to Kasane.
This is a more recent map of the country copied from a magazine, indicating the network of tarred roads that exist today. In 1976 most of them were still gravelled. Following the previous trip, the aim here was to cross the Kalahari from east to west, something that was unheard of back home at the time. Boy ! Were we in for a surprise. This track was clearly indicated on a wonderful map of Botswana I had acquired, but no distances were given, besides the map scale of 15.8 miles to the inch. It proved a very good test for four wheel drive. I still have the map today, but it is too tattered for reproducing here.
This was my first trip with the HEADBANGER as such, although that name only came about many years and trips later. It was also my introduction to many other aspects of the country and a life long friendship with Richard and Shelagh Spring. The road ahead was a rough ride…………………….
Kanye to Sekoma Pan
We left the graded road at the hill top village of Kanye for a ‘road in progress’. This was easy going and I thought that if this was it, it was going to be a piece of cake. This took us to Sekoma Pan where we spent our first night on the road. The next morning the true Kalahari hit us.
Sekoma to Kang
A slight morning dew on the track helped at first, but by mid morning the sand became very soft reducing speed to 2nd gear for miles on end. It a was a good test for the little 2.25l – 4 cylinder motor, but stops for cooling off were frequent. The small settlement of Kang passed in a blur just after mid day, even at the speed of 10mph. But the best was still to come.
Kang to Takatshwane
Past Kang it got very slow. The noonday heat turned the sand grains into little ball bearings that just seemed to roll away under the tires. We called a halt at some stage to sit it out until it cooled off. A steenbok came past us, and I also got down on the track to ponder the situation.
It was about 250 miles from Sekoma to Ghanzi and we were now about half way. We drove for another 2 hours then pulled into the bush for the night. Game was becoming obvious with sightings of free-ranging gemsbok, hartebeest, springbuck and kudu in small numbers. And it was also lion country. We stayed close to the vehicle that night.
Relief came early afternoon the next day at Takatshwane, where the soft ended and another graded gravel road took over. What bliss! We rolled into Ghanzi with the setting sun and sore eyes, having taken 3 days since Mafeking. (Now Mafikeng)
The Kalahari Arms Hotel – Ghanzi.The young fellow my age running the hotel at the time came from Cape Town, and we struck up a lifelong friendship. When we arrived the famous Arms Bar was in full swing with an interesting assortment of battered four-wheel drives littering the front area like horses tethered to hitching rails. It was that sort of wild place.
Inside there was a record Cape buffalo mount on a wall. As I stood admiring the size, Richard said that if I was impressed with the head, I should see the ‘arse-end’ on the other side. I looked for the room, but never found it!
In December 2000 I passed this way for the last time. The old buildings had gone, replaced with modern structures that looked out of place. The end of an era.
Kalahari lion hunt
Some lions were knocking off cattle on an outlying farm. Permission was granted by the Wild Life Dept. and a hunt was arranged for the Sunday. I heard about it in the bar and Richard managed to get us all a ‘seat’. About 9 of us piled into an old two wheel drive Dodge and took off into the open Kalahari. The tracking was tough, with spoor hardly recognizable at times. Some local bushmen led the way on horseback, and every now and then the hunters would go for a ‘walk about’ to read the signs. Two lionesses ended up getting clean bullets which was very sad to me, but solved the farmer’s problems. Life in the Kalahari could be brutal for many.
Ngamiland and Maun
At this time, there was only one place that counted in Maun and that was Croc Camp. There was also the Okavango River Lodge next door, but Croc was first in line. From Bobby Wilmot’s hunting camp back in 1973, it was now a dedicated tourist camp and was already becoming very well known. We pulled in after a quick fuel-up at Rileys back in Maun. It had an idyllic setting on the banks of the Thamalakane River, with a constant passing of assorted river traffic in mekoro – the traditional dug-out canoes.
We went for a morning’s polling in a mokoro. Traffic was brisk, with plenty of greetings and long chats by the passing polers. Some of them seemed a bit risky, however.
Moremi was very undeveloped in 1975 still. It was all at first a blur of wild bush and I was quite nervous about it all. This wasn’t Kruger and stay in your car stuff. At South Gate, very much the same as today, we took on an obligatory guide named Eliot and set off for Third Bridge along a narrow single track through the wonderful wild bush. Eliot was a great comfort and very informative. Slowly he brought the bush into perspective with very keen eyes and I began to settle down. On arrival at Third Bridge, we set up below some lofty trees about 100m from the pole bridge. Nearby was an open thunder box of dubious use enclosed within a Mopane pole stockade. He showed us the river and pole bridge, and said he would bathe after sundown when the crocs were no longer around !! He got a really good fire going and we set up camp. We elected to sleep in the back of the van, while Eliot put up a small tent without attached groundsheet. When he refused food on the grounds that he didn’t want to have to get up in the dark, and asked for the spade to take with him to bed, my nervousness returned for an uneasy night.
The next day was much more revealing with an abundance of varied game including wild dogs which he got very excited about. We did the usual loop track via Xakanaka to Khwaai where he left us. The camp here was further west from where it is today under a good stand of Knobthorn trees and we settled in on our own feeling much more secure and confident. It was a really good preparation for what was to come at Savute.
Savute was remote, wild and wonderful, and all about the life-giving flowing channel. The diversity of game and easy access was a photographers paradise, and as a rank amateur, I wound off about 8 rolls of film here. We found it so good, that after 5 days we went to Kasane for fuel and came back for another 5. The camp had been upgraded since our visit in 1973 to the extent that it now had two big blocks. Refuse was still collected in 44-gallon drums and dumped into a massive pit behind the camp. This attracted all sorts of nightly predators that came through the camp as well. It was all very informal. Returning here after ‘73 was a dream come true, and had a profound influence on the rest of my life. Here are some pics of ’76.
A long single track, often straight through the bush, took us back to Kasane and the wide clear Chobe River. It was quite unlike the weed infested sluggish snake we had seen back in ’73. Here we stayed at Serondela Camp right on the river bank and had lions walk right past the van one night roaring their heads off. The noise made the vehicle vibrate extensively. At Kasane, we fueled up for the road ahead back into Rhodesia and Vic Falls. This was already my 4th visit to this place, and there would be many more.