Swamp Airstrips

South African political milestone: 17 March 1992 – SA (whites only) voted YES! for One Man, One vote.

My survey team was reinforced by the addition of Zulu surveyor Elija Ndlovu who flew back with us to Maun at the end-of-March weekend home. I was especially excited that Sheila would join me, now that (we were under the illusion that) she had someone to care for her little dairy.

Coincidentally, the day before she flew in on the Turbo Air flight from Lanseria, near Jo’burg, 3rd April, my boss, John Riley, asked me to supervise the grading of some Okavango Delta airstrips over the weekend. So, when she touched down, I dropped her extraneous luggage off at our mess, then joined the convoy that consisted of my yellow Land Rover, a Bell wide-wheel water-cart, aptly dubbed a Dungbeetle, and a grader.

We headed west of Maun to the Karunaraga Gate in the Buffalo Fence, then snaked our way towards the three airstrips that needed our attention.

The bouncing of the Dungbeetle pounded holes in the fuel drums that I had tied to it, losing three-quarters of our fuel. The grader that had gone on ahead was waiting at the deep Kiri River crossing to help me through, but we made it, the water flooding in the doors. We passed Xaxaba strip, going on to nearby Delta Camp which we reached in the twilight of evening. With Sheila and I in one hut, and the drivers and assistants in another, this was to be our base for the weekend.

We had a splendid meal overlooking the Boro River, one of several waterways that are part of the Okavango Delta system. The seasonal flood was just beginning to make its presence felt, and the level was rising. Our hostess was the charming Anne Uren, whose son Richard (16) was home from school for the holidays. Poor deprived kid.

makoro2The grader started with the Delta Camp airstrip at first light. I ordered more diesel by radio, then went to search for an access for the Dungbeetle to load water to spray on the strip. Dual purpose, its huge wide tyres were used to compact the sand. This was three kilometres away at Oddballs Camp, the economy camp where clients pitched their own tents. Both camps were owned by Peter Sandenburgh of Maun and were served by local polers with their mekoro, or dugout canoes.

Besides a mokoro ride, Sheila spent her day sketching. She is an artist of huge talent.

In the mid afternoon, the grader moved to Xaxaba airstrip to tackle that. Rob Stone, one of the Basil Read Construction blouies arrived with the company 4×4, loaded with another two drums of diesel.

And two pretty girls! They spent the night there before returning. It is noteworthy that Rob, time and again, proved that his charm was a chick-magnet!

After dealing with Xaxaba, we crossed the floodplane to Gunn’s Camp on Instwe Island. There were no roads. On the way there the grader sank into a quagmire from which it only escaped after an hour with help from the villagers who carried tree trunks to the monster which pushed them into the mud until it was able to inch its way onto more solid ground. It was late afternoon before we managed to do a half-job there and allow the two machines to leave for Maun, which they reached well after dark.

Sheila and I had lunch at Gunn’s with Gunther, a handiman who was looking after the camp, but there were no visitors at the time. We stayed on another night at Delta camp and went for a mokoro trip and for a walk on Chief’s Island the next morning. It was heaven.

The Yellow Submarine

The Yellow Submarine

On our way back my Landy stalled in the Kiri River, but it started again, and, with the help of some local folk pushing we were on our way once more. However, my Landy was soon to become known as The Yellow Submarine.

About peterjearle

Writer of thriller novels. 6 Published: 'Purgatory Road', 'The Barros Pawns', and the Detective Dice Modise Series:'Hunter's Venom - #1' 'Medicinal Purposes Only - #2', and 'Children Apart - #3; and 'Tribes of Hillbrow'; all from Southern Africa.
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