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Memories

1974 Kalahari Expedition

This expedition was notable for a number of "firsts"; it was the first time we attempted an expedition in January and thus during the rainy season, so we had to allow for sufficient cover in case it rained. It was the first time we had taken girls along, so special provision had to be made for them. It was the first time we had taken the School bus rather than the truck and this nearly turned the expedition into a disaster.

It was also the thirteenth expedition I had organised and there was some dark muttering before we left about this.By the time we set off in early January, it was obvious that this was to be an exceptional rainy season. I had had reports from Botswana telling me that water had been over the road in a number of places and I had made contingency plans to visit another part of the Makgadigadi if the Mumpswe area was under water.

We found out that by the beginning of January most areas in Botswana had already had more rain than they usually had in a full rainy season. Many of the roads were in a parlous state and the Makgadigadi was flooded.

The bus breaks down
We travelled through to Plumtree the first day and spent the night there at Gaul House, Plumtree School. We had a braaivleis in the rain--fortunately we were able to make a fire in an empty garage. We got off to an early start the next day to be greeted at the Customs Post with a cheery "Your bus has broken down 15 Km down the road ! " It seemed that the trip was to start with disaster and things looked even blacker when we arrived at the bus to find that the right front wheel had come off. Neil Todd very kindly agreed to see that the bus was towed back to Rhodesia and repaired while we went on to Francistown to see what could be done about getting our goods to camp. We did take with us as many tents and tarps as we could fit into the trailers.

Bill Haskins to the rescue
In Francistown Ken Hart had already made enquiries about hiring a truck so we knew we could get to camp. Then Bill Haskins came to our rescue and offered us the use of his firm's truck to transport our goods, for which we were extremely grateful. In view of this generous offer--for which he would take no payment--and because of the bad state of the roads, we decided we would need to go out towards Orapa which was on a good road. Nthane was the nearest point of the Makgadigadi and so it was here that we decided to camp, although I had visited the same area with the Townsend girls the previous August. However, we would hardly have recognised it as the same place because of the transformation wrought by the rains.
The bulk of the group pressed on while Ken Bedwell and five boys went back to the stranded bus to fetch as much as possible in the truck. It was raining off and on all the way, but it stopped soon after we reached camp. This enabled us to put up all the tents and tarps. before the rain came down again. By 4 p.m. we had a fairly organised camp and were able to take a breather while we waited for the truck to arrive. It came about 5 p.m. and once again luck was with us as we had a dry spell while we unloaded everything and got it under cover. The truck returned immediately to Francistown.

Setting up camp
Sunday was spent in getting the camp organised while John Greenacre motored back to the bus to fetch the skinners. Basil stayed with the bus which was towed to Bulawayo for repairs. .He then drove down to Nthane without further trouble. The one good thing about this incident, which was apparently caused by metal fatigue, was that it happened while the bus was full of goods and travelling slowly on a soft sandy road and not going along the main road with a full complement of boys. Once the skinners were safely installed we could get down to the serious business of collecting.

Water everywhere
The amount of water in the area was fantastic. Every pan was full and every depression held some water. The road to Musa on the edge of the Makgadigadi proper was too wet to traverse, so we were not able to get down to the main pans for the first five days. However, there was plenty to do above the escarpment and everybody was kept very busy. Because many of the plants were in flower we were able to collect specimens we had not been able to previously. Plenty of birds were nesting, so we now have a lot of breeding records for the area.

Every time a group went out we had reports of new pans. Each of these usually held a pair of Knob-billed duck as well as a variety of other water birds. However, Khahobele Pan, which is about 2 km long by 1 km wide, was in many ways the most interesting. It was here that we found the Flamingoes and the Whiskered Terns nesting. There were also several species of Crane and a flock of 30/40 Night Herons: The boys were delighted to find hundreds of duck, mainly the Fulvous Tree duck and the Red-billed Teal. In the vegetation growing in the water we found Greater Reedhens and Red-knobbed Coot.

When the road to Makgadigadi and Musa finally dried off enough to allow safe passage, we visited the area with at least one group every day. Unfortunately, the water in the pan had receded somewhat as the rains were less frequent, so we did not find many waders within reach. We did find some smaller pans where there were some waders and it was in one of these that we found a small colony of Cattle Egrets, which is a first breeding record for this area. There were also many pairs of Lesser Moor hens nesting along the margins of this pan.

The rain did hamper us to a certain extent, but this was not serious. In some ways it helped to bring the camp together, such as on the evening when the Heavens opened in the middle of supper. Everyone retreated to the big tent where an enjoyable sing-song ensued. Of course the rains had enabled many birds to move into the area--without this there would have been few water-birds. The rain and general dampness did nothing to dampen people's spirits, although the invading hordes of Mopani Worms were hardly welcomed. Seldom have I seen so many caterpillars in this area--they were stripping the Mopani trees bare.

The camp proceeded very smoothly and after the initial disaster to the truck, everything except one of the electric generators functioned well. Ken, Michael Tett and I spend several afternoons stripping the entire motor down and putting it together again. Although we did get it to start again once, it stubbornly refused to run. In the end we gave it up and it had to be repaired when we got home.

A few of PJG's views on things
From my experience of this trip, would say that while mixed parties of boys and girls can go on this sort of expedition, it does pose a number of problems in organisation. I feel from this point of view that "unisex" trips are very much easier. Of course, there are advantages with mixed groups; and I can see no reason why groups of girls should not make similar trips. In fact I cannot understand why more trips are not made by other schools.

I would like to thank all those who helped us in so many ways. In particular, I wish to thank Bill Haskins who came to our aid in our hour of need. The Government of the Republic of Botswana gives us Permission to visit the Makgadigadi and the Department Of National Parks and Wildlife encourages us in our efforts. The National Museums of Rhodesia Supply the skinners who are so essential to the preservation of specimens, and the National Herbarium identifies all plant specimens. We had a lot of adults on this trip who all contributed a lot to its success, and I want to thank them all for their help. Neil Todd and Ken Hart helped us with arrangements in Francistown. Finally, would like to thank all those firms whose kind donations where much appreciated.

Peter Ginn

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