The day before we went to recce the route to Qorokwe Lagoon, (with the view to having a big company camp-out the coming Easter Week-end) Sheila and I went to see Craig Hilton-Barber‘s art exhibition at Riley’s Hotel. Sheila, as an artist herself and I as an artist of sorts, were impressed. His work is rich and solid Africa.
The next day several of my work-mates, John and Julie Riley, Gavin Allwright, Bradley du Plooy, Adie de Koning and others, and new friend Steve Empson, an auto electrician with aspirations of being a safari operator, set off towards the tiny village of Ditsiping. Fortunately, as we went through the Buffalo Fence at the Daonara gate, we met up with the poler from my previous visit, Jet, on a donkey cart. He agreed to guide us and boarded the Yellow Submarine. We turned off north westward onto a track that had seen no traffic for years.
Being up close to elephant for the first time was a thrill that repeated throughout the coming years in Botswana. The populations, even then, were of the highest density in Africa.
Qorokwe, on the Santantadibe River, was flanked by an island surrounded by waterways bedecked with water-lilies, and choosing shallow solid-bottomed crossings became a nightmare. Some of us got stuck, but eventually we made it through and we spent the night on a smaller island. The Yellow Submarine had a strong roof-rack, where, on a canvas covered mattress, Sheila and I were to spend the night under the stars.
We erected several tents brought with us for the coming weekend’s visitors. The first truck to leave after Sunday breakfast got stuck at the crossing. Adie went to help and also got stuck in the mud. The rest of us tried to leave after lunch but everyone got bogged down except one vehicle, which, with Steve, went back to Maun. Oh, no, not another night in paradise!
Steve had started his Safari Operator’s dream by acquiring a Mercedes Unimog which he had decked out with game seats. By 10 o’clock the Monday morning, he was back with this to save the day. After pulling the remaining vehicles through, except for the Yellow Submarine, he got the ‘Mog firmly down onto its belly. We spent another night in heaven, shame. However, John had dispatched one of the company’s Bell “Dungbeetles” that evening. By the light of the next day it managed to suck the ‘Mog and the Submarine from the mud. Before we left Jet and two of Steve’s men to look after the camp, Jet showed us another crossing that seemed to hold more promise.
We paid out the labour at noon the following Thursday and assembled at the Boro River crossing to join the ten vehicle convoy! Sheila and I viewed the proceedings with apprehension, being people who preferred only one or two friends as company. Ahead of the rest, we negotiated the new crossing first and without mishap. Jet was pleased to see us. The convoy mostly got stuck, and Steve in his ‘Mog spent until nightfall hauling vehicles through. There were forty-five of us, excluding cooks and servants.
After breakfast Jet took Sheila and I on a mokoro trip to explore the smaller lakes in the area. The waterways are indescribably beautiful and the birdlife prolific. There were plenty of hippos, but we saw no crocs. Keith Spackman had brought his own canoe. His boss from Stuart Scott Consulting Engineers was also there; Eddie van der Heiden, an ex-Rhodesian, like Keith. Eddie was a double amputee, having lost his legs in a Rhodesian Bush War land-mine incident.
While others went on game drives, I mostly fished and Sheila sketched. Her results later found their way onto cards that we had printed with the intention of selling in packs of six.
On Monday 20th April 1992, the last day, we went on an early morning game drive with Steve in his ‘Mog during which Sheila was able to take some close-up photos of elephant. After breakfast, we headed back to Maun, where Sheila left on the chartered flight back to Lanseria Airport in South Africa, to check on her dairy managers.