When we arrived at Lentswe Lodge in Serowe, Botswana, the previous night, it was dark. From the balcony we could see street lights in the distance, but had little sense how close or far away they were. When dawn came, we looked from the balcony at a spectacular view over a plain.
When we arrived at dusk it felt as though we were in the middle of an urban area, so we weren’t prepared for the magnificent view we saw when the sun came up.
We packed up and left at about 8:00, and stopped on the road below the Lentswe Lodge to take a photo of our cottage perched on the hillside up above before driving into Serowe and filling up with petrol. One of the garage attendants brought us a form for a competition to win a tractor, and I filled it it. It was just the kind of thing we would win, so I thought I’d better Google for a suitable agricultural project to donate it to, just in case we did.
We set off again and as we approached Palapye saw a rather large industrial conplex, and as we passed it saw that it was the Marupule Colliery, next to a power station, which we passed at 8:50, 38.4 km from the Lentswe Lodge.
We drove through Palapye, and turned off to Martin’s Drift, and at 9:45, 75.6 km from Serowe, stopped at a sitplekkie to eat the packed breakfast they had given us at Lentswe Lodge – a sausage, a small carton of yogurt, two boiled eggs, a mince jaffle and an apple. I ate most of mine, and threw the carton in the bin, though there was rubbish strewn all over the ground, more outside the bin than in it. It was certainly not clean like the Namibian sitplekkies, but as it was on the right-hand side of the road, we wondered if it were not South African travellers coming through the borders who were making all the mess.
We reached to border at Martin’s Drift at 11:15, 158 km from Serowe, and crossed the Limpopo River back into South Africa. The Limpopo didn’t look nearly as impressive as the Okavango, or even the Boteti!
Once again, the immigration officials on the South African side were more surly and less professional than those on the Botswana side. We were also amused by signs in the toilets, welcoming people to South Africa, to give first-time visitors their first taste of South African culture and customs.
That sort of thing seems to be common to welcome people to a country. In 1966 I left South Africa in a hurry, to escape the clutches of the Security Police, driving through the night to cross the border with Rhodesia (as it then was) at Beit Bridge, a bit downstream from Martin’s Drift. It was just after UDI, and tension was high, but relieved when we saw the desks where one had to fill in immigration forms, each with a neatly-printed notice with the exhortation, “Please do not allow your children to scribble on the blotting pads.”
Why is it that one’s first introduction to a country is so often a notice prohibiting something or other?
There were about 50 cars parked on the grass next to the parking area, covered in dust, and we wondered if they had beren confiscated as vehicles whose papers were not in order, possibly stolen, but if they were, it seemed that the real owners had made no attempt to claim them. There were also some police vans parked there, and I got the old feeling that one used to get, returning to apartheid South Africa after a visit to a neighbouring country, that one was returning from freedom to a police state. Why is that? It was much more pronounced in the 1960s or the 1980s, but why now. I know in my head that it isn’t so, but emotionally it still feels a little like it. Is it perhaps a result of the Marikana massacre?
Beyond the border post, the countryside feels different too. There are cultivated fields with irrigation sprinklers instead of natural bush. The verges are narrower, there are more wires by the side of the road. Botswana felt wild, this now feels tame and civilised. We turned off for Lepalale, formerly known as Ellis Ras, and drove through it looking for somewhere to eat, as it was 12:30 and getting on for lunch time, but saw nothing, so headed out for Vaalwater, and passed through some bush-covered hills, as wild as anything we had seen on Botswana.
At Vaalwater there was a restaurant that looked closed, and a Hotel-Bar, which looked more like a local watering hole than a place geared to providing meals.
Beyond Vaalwater the Waterberg mountains were beautiful, as I remembered them from passing this way with Stan Nussbaum 13 years ago. We went on into Modimolle, formerly known as Nylstroom, and had lunch at the Wimpy. They did a reasonable steak egg and chips, small enough to eat, and I knew to avoid their hamburgers at all costs.
We left at 2:56 pm, having covered 408 km from Serowe, and drove along the old road to Bela Bela, formerly Warmbaths. The road was quite narrow and winding, and there were obviously many, like us, driving here mainly to avoid the toll road. But this road is also far more interesting, and I always love seeing the sign to “De Nyl, s’n oog” (The Nile, its source). From Bela Bela we drove along the R101 where the speed limit was 120 km/h, so it was no slower than the freeway, though we went at about 110 most of the way to Pienaar’s River.
After that it started to get more built up, and at Temba, north of Hammanskraal, the speed limit was 60 in many places, and when we started to encounter pedestrian crossings with humps, we went on to the toll road. It cost just over R18.00, and a bit further on there was another toll gate, where we had to pay another R8.00. We had no more South African cash money, so Val used her credit card, and so it cost about R26.00 from Hammanskraal — I wonder what we would have had to pay if we had gone on the toll road at Modimolle? But Hammanskraal is within Tshwane, and so people from there, coming to work in Pretoria, would have to pay over R50.00 every day, and they are the poorer people. There are protests against e-tolls that are about to be introduced on most of the Gauteng freeways, but these older toll roads are just as iniquitous, when a 20c per litre increase in the fuel levy would pay for the lot.
We got home at 4:30, having covered 538,7 km from Serowe, 1140.5 from Maun, 1545 from Shakawe, 1836.4 from Rundu, and 2338,4 from Odibo, which was about the furthest point we had reached from home. Over the whole trip we used 5,6 litres of fuel per 100 km.