Monday, March 8, 2010

Girls to the right. Gents to the left

   The truck bounced along the highway, but could not succeed in bouncing the grin off my face. I had left the safe confines of my relatives and had ventured out on safari. I was headed to Botswana to explore Maun, the Okavango Delta, Moremi, Chobe National Park, and the famous Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. No seat belts tied me down in my open air transport and I felt free and alive. My companions began chatting amongst themselves as we sped along the highway. I attempted to write about the experience, but quickly gave up as the pen sprawled illegible across the jouncing page. Instead I stowed my pen away and took in the world passing by my non-existent window. Gradually, I too was drawn into conversation. Tentative relationships sparked as we discussed where we were from and other trifling banter that crossed our midst. We were strangers thrown together by circumstance of adventure and that was all that united us at this point. Time would change that, but for now we were polite in our greetings.

   Our first stop of the day was the border. I excitedly added another stamp to my passport and gloried in being in Botswana. The landscape had been steadily getting more arid and isolated the farther we got from Johannesburg. No significant towns passed us by as we zipped across flat expanses of terrain. With the border behind us though, Karel seemed to relax into his role of tour guide. He turned in his seat to chat with us, but soon enough jumped into our world through the back window of the cab. I loved his South African accent and jovial mannerisms. His smile was infectious as he described the history of Botswana and its people. He had obviously done this many times before, as no questions stumped him despite only walking the planet for twenty some-odd years. He talked to everyone and brought us all together a little more in our adventure experience. When he climbed back into the front seat, you could feel the tension drift away behind us. The thoughts to day dream over were camping in game parks with the sounds of animals as backdrop, spying those same animals at day break and relaxing at the end of the day with a meal cooked over an open fire. Perhaps not everyone’s idea of a perfect vacation, but I was excited beyond words. This was the Africa I had envisioned through the years of my youth. Now I was here and about to immerse myself in all its offerings.

   My delighted musings slowly dissipated with the realization that we had been bouncing and bumping along for quite some time without a stop. Scanning the horizon did not materialize any towns to view and I began to squirm on my bench. The day shone hot and many had doffed layers as we streamed through the countryside. Removing a sweater did not dispel the tightening around my mid-section though. My discomfort led me to notice other's wiggles as well. I began to reach a saturation point. How was I to delicately ask for a bathroom break within a group of relative strangers, I wondered?

“Karel, when are we going to stop next?” Sue piped up.

“Yes,” I thought. Thank God!

   Disappointment wrenched my tortured bowels (recovered yet? I wondered to myself), as Karel stated that it was still a ways to our destination.

“I have to use the toilet,” Barb stated.

“I do too!” I exclaimed with hope.

   Several other murmurs of the same filtered up to the front of the cab. Karel turned around and waved his hand out the window with a huge grin.

“There is nowhere around to stop,” he said. “If you have to go, this is your water closet.”

   Desperation was amongst us and agreement went out. Masters pulled the mighty Samil to the side of the dirt road we travelled on now. As soon as it stopped people dropped from the sides with haste.

“Girls on this side,” Karel hollered out. “and gents on the other.”

   Roughing it struck home as the ladies sought out scrub brush to squat behind. Privacy and decorum departed as relief washed through our band of travelling companions. For this is what we now were. Kleenexes were shared around to those in need, with lopsided grins as thanks. We stretched legs and numb bums. Laughter aided in letting go of a few more tensions. This was Africa. This was the start of our 16-day excursion and it would surely get rougher from here. With an empty bladder, my smile returned.

   “Ok. Let’s go!” Karel yelled to our little bunch of tourists. We climbed back up a little less hastily then our descent moments before and were headed back onto the rough road again. A picnic lunch on the side of the road was soon a memory, as we set destination for Nata Lodge. Before the day was through we would have our first lesson in how to pitch a tent, our homes from now on out. We would also be instructed in checking underneath said tent for scorpions before taking it down in the morning and warned of the perils of leaving shoes outside overnight for fear of said scorpions again. Karel had a way with words and everything seemed to have dangers linked to it. I realize it was prudent to keep us all aware of the potential dangers that could befall us on this very real tour into the wilds. I also think he enjoyed the looks of trepidation that crossed his stead’s faces as he proclaimed, “Ja. Really!” Spiders, snakes, scorpions and spaghetti, all things to be feared if not respected in the proper light. We would be cooking our own meals and woe be to those who feared their turn at the potje pot. That would be another night though. Nata Lodge had most of the comforts of home, so a cold beer, hot meal and washroom were enjoyed for the night. And enjoy it we did.


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