Mariska Ford (December 2013)
Our journey began when my new romantic companion asked me to join him on an overland safari. I was in love and extremely excited about my first visit to Botswana. We met up with the rest of our convoy and began our epic journey through this spectacular country. We visited Nata, Kasane, Chobe, Savuti and Maun.
However, the place where our journey ended will forever be engraved in my soul. In Maun, we parted ways with our convoy and decided to suck the last marrow out of this trip and spend one last evening at Baines Baobabs. Keep in mind that it was the middle of summer and my Camel-man’s 4WD had a blown power steering pump, rendering the air conditioner un-propelled. As the overland explorers of years gone by, sweaty and dusty with unassisted steering, we traversed our wilderness. Love conquers all and we made our way to the Nxai National Park gate to obtain a permit to camp at Baines Baobabs.
Baines Baobabs got their name from the famous English artist and explorer, Thomas Baines who was a member of the Livingston expedition. He painted the constellation of trees in 1862 during his journeys through the Makgadikgadi pans in Botswana. I can fully comprehend why he was inspired to take out his paint and easel in the middle of nowhere while traveling across this desolate part of the continent. In a landscape known for its areas of ‘nothingness’, the sight of these is bound to let the muse arise within your deepest soul.
After 30 kilometres, we arrived at a desolate mystical constellation of trees in the middle of nowhere. It was extremely hot but the welcoming green leaves of the ancient giants were like a silent sentinel inviting us to take cover. We were the only two people there and we set up camp under one of the majestic trees.
The sound of silence is the one thing I will never forget. It is such a rare commodity in modern society that we forget that it even exists. We walked out on the pan and lay down on the arid ground amongst the remnants of fossilized guano. I remember closing my eyes, expecting to hear something. But there was nothing, only silence. At first, it was almost frightening, but what the sound of silence did for my soul was incalculable.
Silence lost her melody when we heard rumbling weather in the distance. We opened our eyes and saw that a thunderstorm was brewing on the horizon and rolling towards us. No time for making a fire or even dig out the gas. There was only time to take a photo and grab what we needed for the night. We had to move fast, because the clouds were hurrying along. The land was calling out to be comforted by rain.
We reached our rooftop tent just before the first drops of rain greeted the barren earth. We opted for smoked mussels, crackers and Amarula liqueur for dinner.
For desert, my romantic travel companion read me a short story from Roald Dahl’s Tales of the unexpected after which he fell asleep without any trouble. I listened to the rhythms of rain on canvas and dosed off only to be woken by one of the most magnificent and fear-provoking sounds, a lion calling in the dark.
“Don’t worry, he is very far away.” said my heavy-eyed sleeping partner in a vain attempt to comfort me. Much later that night I exchanged all my horrid premeditated nightmares for much-needed sleep.
The next morning we arose with mixed emotions. Love was in the air but I detected fear in my Livingston’s eyes, almost to the same extent I experienced the previous night. The object of his fear was not a lion in the distance, but a wet slippery pan that we needed to cross – well knowing that the slightest disruption of the pan crust could expose a bottomless and unforgiving trap of clay and mud.
Fortune, however, favoured the brave and with a short running start from the pan’s edge, we charged straight across feeling the sagging sensation as the vehicle moaned and groaned like a tired swimmer reaching out for the pool’s edge. Digging ever deeper into the bottomless pan searching for grip, the front wheels crawled safely but exhausted onto the opposing pan edge.
Relieved, we rewarded our adrenalin infused bodies with an ice-cold St. Louis lager and savoured the moment. There is something about-facing adversity while traveling. It either binds people together or separates them. In our case, Baines Baobabs inspired us to spend time with no regrets and a lifelong commitment was conceived. Nine months later in the spring air of September we forever sealed our promise of marriage with a silent kiss.