25-Sep-2009 -- Some years back I led an expedition to visit a secondary confluence off the island of Inhaka Mozambique, and when we had somewhat of a disaster, I did not make the last few kilometres. So, when I wanted an excuse for a short visit to Botswana, I looked up the Confluences in Botswana, and 25S 24E had not been visited.
An email later my friend, Jakob Jordaan, with his daughter Aninca and my uncle Winston Ilsley had taken up the challenge. My wife Daleen, an avid adventurer completed the team. This Confluence lies in Botswana, about 100 km slightly east of due north, from the border post of Bray in the far Northern Cape.
On Wednesday 23 September 2009, the three loaded Land Rovers headed out west from Pretoria 400 km to our friends, the Potgieter's farm near Stella in the Northern Cape. This would be our last evening in civilisation for a few days. Early on Thursday morning we drove the last 200 km to the Botswana border at Bray along a very good dust road. The South African border was neat and computerized, but the Botswana border post was located under a tent, in the blazing sun. The poor officials! At least it seemed like a temporary arrangement as there were signs of building work taking place.
Border proceedings completed, taxes paid, we headed north along a narrow sand road which I had "seen" on Google Earth. Information about this area of Botswana is very sketchy as it is not a popular tourist destination. It is mostly divided up into a checker board of small cattle farms, each about 25 km². The population is probably less than 1 person per 2.5 km². There is no electricity, water is from the odd borehole and single room mud huts are the only form of shelter. Botswana has had a very good wet season, and most of the trees still had leaves on them. The cattle are in excellent condition, and many had already had calves. This time of the year, the day temperatures are over 35 °C, but nights can drop into single figures. Each farm is surrounded by a simple 6-stranded wire fence, with wooden poles at intervals. The further we drove, the more obvious it was that this was not going to be easy, as the bush was almost impenetrable. However, most fences had a sand track on either side. Most of the tracks had not been travelled in a long time and were badly overgrown. The wider tracks are sometimes fenced on both sides and form fire breaks between the farms. Also known locally as "cut lines", they criss-cross the Botswana landscape almost directly east-west and others north-south.
From the data I had collected from Google Earth and with the aid of Tracks for Africa (Overlanding software for the GPS) and a bit of good luck, we managed to find a track running due east in the general direction of the Confluence, some 50 km further. The entry gate was unlocked and so we headed east in the thick sand. Even with deflated tyres, the heavily loaded Land Rover Turbo Diesel's ploughed through the heavy sand with some effort. At the first kraal (African name for a cattle pen) we stopped and asked the local people, as best we could as they do not speak much English (The local language is Setswana, or one of the several dialects), if we could continue along their ground. They were happy for us to continue, but we did not try to explain the purpose of the trip. To these people who are largely cattle herders, an FM radio is a miracle, how would one explain a GPS? Every four or five km we would come to a gate. These are very basic gates and need some effort to open them, but fortunately they were not locked. Each gate had to be closed by the vehicle in the rear, to keep the cattle on the correct farm. Every so often we would find another kraal, and again our communication skills would be tested. The attitude of the local people was so positive. Our arrival was always welcomed by beaming smiles. They would accept a cold drink or an apple, things which they do not get to taste too often in this hot, arid area.
What we did not know was that not all the farms would have interconnecting gates. This meant that we often would have to backtrack, or take the next fence north, then south until we could find a gate. The slow progress was made worse by the dust and heat.
About 12 km from the Confluence, we decided to call it a night as there was an approaching storm and we wanted to set up camp before it arrived. We pitched the roof top tents on top of the Land Rovers, fired up the gas shower and prepared a tasty meal over the coals. The onset of night brought with it the sounds of the African bush with the scary call of jackal in the distance. Shortly after going off to bed, the storm arrived, the high winds plucking at the tent and rocking the Land Rover alarmingly. I had left the side awning out and had to climb out into the storm to take it down before it was shredded by the wind. The next morning we set off early trying to find a gate in the fence, and after a few kilometres found one south of our camp. Now we could head off east again. The excitement mounted as we managed to find gate after gate, almost like playing a giant game of snakes and ladders!
With about 1 km to go, the tracks no longer ran in the right direction, and we headed off into the bush, making lots of s-bends around thorn bushes and small trees, through long grass, until we were about 150 meters from the Confluence. From here we would go on foot.
At the Confluence, we found it a challenge to get to the exact spot, but after a few minutes the two GPS's seemed to settle and we got a zero fractions position, with 4 m accuracy! The time was 11:13 h. The photo shoot followed and some ice cold champagne sealed the deal.
With the rest of the day to spare, we backtracked to a cutline running due south. This one was obviously more used, and about 36 km further we decided to call it a day. We drove into the bush until we found a nice tree and made camp for the night. During the day we had seen many kudu and several other small buck species. A huge spotted eagle owl watched us set up camp with a suspicious eye. He would entertain us during the night with more than a few hoots.
Some major far reaching problems were solved philosophically around the fire that evening and when Saturday morning arrived, we decided to just stay put at the campsite for another night. Fortunately, a call via the satellite phone cancelled our forward plans, and after a lazy day and another stunning night under the African sky, we headed home early on Sunday, the 500-km trip taking about 8 hours due to the slow going for the first 200 km. We arrived back in the heat of the weekend traffic, wishing we had stayed in the bush!
Confluencing is a great activity and it takes you to places you would not normally get to. What a way to de-stress!