Inevitably, I was destined to return to Maun, Botswana, several times to tie up loose ends. Arriving in Uniondale at the beginning of March 2004, we were camping out in our quaint little Victorian cottage with a mountain of work to do to get it comfortable. There were floors to replace, shelves, cupboards and work-tops to install, walls to remove and top-to-toe painting to do.
A lot of winnowing of chaff has to go on when finding tradesmen and labour in a new town – reliable and honest ones, that is. However, there was at least some progress before I set off for Maun again on March 23rd.
Leaving a bit late, I only found myself in the little town of Hanover by nightfall, but it was an amusing delight when, looking for a B&B, I found 3 Darling Street. I stayed there more than once, going up and down, due to the friendly hospitality there by the owners; Lawrence, a theatrical make-up artist, Derek, a Brit ex-soldier, and the comedian, Mark Banks. The Three Darlings’ Treat. Seldom there all at the same time, they were always welcoming and intelligently amusing!
Phillipstown, Hopetown, Kimberly, Warrenton, Hartswater, Vryburg, Mafikeng, through the border, towing Nigel Rollo’s trailer to return to him in Gaborone where he kindly put me up. The next day he suggested I turn west at Mahalapye and take the rural tarred back road to Serowe. There was almost no traffic and the scenery of bush and hills was idyllic. From there, Letlhakane, Orapa, Rakops, Mothopi, Maun.
I spent two weeks tying up sales and contracts, during which time, late March, I got the nasty news that my mum, now in an Australian home for the elderly, had broken her hip and needed an operation. With this sign that she was possibly on her last legs, I decided to visit her before the year was out!
My return journey was on her 89th birthday, Tuesday 6 April. It was a reverse of my outward trip, but this time in Gaborone, I spent the night with friend Keith Spackman and his wife, Gwen. Keith had agreed to buy my Maun home and needed to sign some documents. At the border, I cleared Sheila’s Toyota Venture’s paperwork so that it could be finalised at our nearest Customs Office in Mossel Bay. I spent that night again at the 3 Darlings, entertained by make-up artist Lawrence’s stories of backstage hilarity. I was home by 13h00, Thursday.
Shortly thereafter we were visited by Sheila’s son, Timothy Simkin and a friend, then by my daughter, Nicci Earle who arrived Saturday 10th. That Monday, Nicci drove me down the beautiful scenic Prince Alfred Pass, and we began the, sometimes painful, process of rebonding as father and daughter.
By Tuesday 27th April 2004 I headed north again. This time a completely different route which would take me northwest through Namibia. From Uniondale I headed to de Rust, through the Swartberg Mountain pass of Meiringspoort, on to Prince Albert, Leeugamka (N1) Frazerburg, Williston, through the pass at Theekloof. Dirt road to Brandvlei. 200km to Pofadder, 50km to the border post on the Orange River at Onseepkans. It was closed so I slept in the bed of the truck under the unbelievably bright beautiful stars. Next day, waiting for the border post to open, there were guinea-fowl pecking around the post.
On to Karasburg, Grunau, Keetmanshoop, turned off on gravel roads to Stampriet and Leonardsville where I found a B&B for bed only. On Thurs 29 I got back on the tar at Gobabis. Through the border; Charles Hill, Ganzi, Maun by lunch time.
Another busy two weeks in Maun, evacuating my home and moving my remaining possessions to one of my remaining two properties, and improving both of them for eventual sale, if I could find a buyer.
Headed home on 12th May, I took the Gantzi route to the border and Lichtenburg, Ottosdal, Makwassie, Wesselsbrom, Bultfontein, to Bloemfontein where I slept in the cab on a backroad. I set off while it was still dark: Colesburg, Middleburg, Graaf Reinet, Aberdeen, Willowmore, arriving in Uniondale by lunch.
The next day, Friday 14th May, Sheila became a granny for the first time. Her son, Nicholas Simkin’s son, Ronan was born.
Keen to buy more property on Uniondale as a way of investing the money we were receiving from Botswana, there were two stands for sale side by side on the high street, Voortrekker Road, that interested us. I put in offers which were accepted.
On Wednesday 9th June, I left for Maun again, much earlier this time and only stopped to sleep in the cab between Morwamosu & Kang in the Kalahari, arriving in Maun at noon the next day. Once again, it was a matter of finishing tasks and winding down affairs.
One of my company properties, Hotshots, had a bed, fridge, electricity and a phone installed before I left, so emails and contact with Sheila was easy. Distraught, one day she phoned to say that her Alsatian male had killed my Staffy-Llasa Apso cross, Sprocket, and she had personally dug his grave in the garden.
The one thing Hotshots did not have was water. I was digging a well under the concrete floor and got six metres down without any sign when my labour refused to continue, afraid it would collapse, although there was no chance of that. However, I shored it up with roof sheets and dug on myself. Still nothing. I tried to get Water Africa to insert a 6m well-point down the bottom, but their man James Alexander refused to go into it.
My friend, Rob Riggs, kindly took me along one weekend to spend a night at his Cattle Post way out on the desert. We visited the nearby Qihaba Caverns, or Drotsky’s Caves. The only sign of commercial development was a rusty notice not to litter and to enter at your own risk. There was not another soul around.
Shortly after that, on early July, Jimmy Zondagh and Andries Stander from Uniondale arrived in Maun with their families, visiting the Okavango on holiday. I joined them for a braai one evening at Audi Camp. It was odd seeing them out of context in my old world.
In mid-July, despite the dry well, I sold the Hotshots property to Anthony Michler, who said he’d put a borehole down, and was then able to return home.
Again heavily loaded, I chose a route from the border through Welkom, Orange Free State, to spend a night with old friends, Herman & Anne van Hees. I barely made it home; my Nissan engine was on the point of seizing. It was to cost me R15500-00 for replacement.
Work continued at 10 Rose St. After Botswana’s heat, we had to get used to Southern Cape winter cold and frosts. -1deg temp. From home we could see the peak of snowcapped Mannetjiesberg, part of the Kammanassie Mts.