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Venturesome Overland

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Dug out a few of my many poetry books. Going to start each day with a random reading. Let art and literature help keep us whole during these strange, strange days. My reading today is Neruda’s Keeping Quiet. Share something you love. 📚 #poemsforthepandemic #poetryforthepandemic #poetry #poems #literature #librarianlife #librarian #covid_19 #coronavirus #bewell #staywell #read #readinglife
Things are still pretty chilly here in Montana, but Spring has been breaking through from day to day. I found this little adventurer hitching a ride with #totothelandrover just the other day. Spring also means the desert is calling. Toto will get her first taste of Utah in the coming weeks, a place very close to our hearts. #defender #defender110 #best4x4byfar #landroverdefender #landroverphotoalbum #overland #ladybugs #utahoverland #montanaoverland #venturesomemore
Happy International Women’s Day to all the amazing women in my life, all over the world. #internationalwomensday #internationalwomensday2020 #feministasfuck #whorulestheworld #womenoverlandingtheworld #womenwhoexplore #sheexplores #kukonje #botswana #overland #overlandafrica #africaoverland
Today is my 111th birthday! Just kidding! I’m only one year old. 🎂 My name is Giada Katsana Tawana Motswana Letiahau. It means the Jade Kitten Lion Cub from Botswana. Letiahau is the name of my caretakers’ favorite place in the CKGR. I was born on the campus of the University of Botswana. When I was a little kitten a gentleman named Peter shared his lunch with me every day and taught me not to be afraid of people. I liked him so much I even let him pick me up. He let me sleep in his office when I was being bullied by bigger cats. An American lady fell in love with me at first sight when she saw me napping in a patch of sun outside her office building. She brought me food and played with me and turned on the water spigot so I could get a drink. She asked Peter if she could take me home and he said yes. She tricked me with some tuna fish one morning and stuffed me into a cat carrier, but don’t worry - I scratched her good. I met a vet who was nice, even though she stuck me with needles. She *did* get the fleas out of my ears, though, so it was ok. I lived at the vet for a month. They said I was very cute and cuddly, which is true, if I say so myself. In one year I have been in four countries and two US states. I took four plane rides, even one all by myself! I miss Peter but I feel happy here. I have a warm little house with big windows and lots of sun. My short caretaker has made up for stuffing me in that carrier by making me comfy nests all over the house. I sleep in the bed and walk on the table, which I’m not supposed to do, but I don’t ever get into trouble because I know how to roll on my back and act extra cute when I’m naughty. I know English and Setswana, but don’t follow orders in either language. My favorite things are my rubber ball and my tall caretaker. I like eating, wrestling with the rug, playing with my toy mice, looking at birds, watching other cats on TV, and “hunting” my caretakers. Sometimes I bite, but not hard (unless it’s the vet, in which case I draw blood). My birthday wish is that all cats everywhere have warm, happy homes and people who love them. ❤ #adoptdontshop #adventurecat #internationalcat #catsofinstagram

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Ever since we had moved to Botswana nearly a year ago, I had been itching to travel to the vast salt pans that dominate the country’s middle. With a trip planned in March to visit the Nata Community Library, I had been eyeballing Kukonje Island (labeled Kukome on Google Maps) as a likely candidate for a great wild camp stopover on our way north. But, every time I checked in on the Africa travel forums and Facebook groups, the story was the same – the pan was flooded, and the island inaccessible.

A nearby coordinate marker on the crowd-sourced traveling app iOverlander was labeled “Pebble beach toward Kukonje”, and the description suggested that it was a back-up possibility should the road to Kukonje Island’s campsites prove to be impassable. Given Botswana’s recent stretch of historically rainy wet seasons, settling for the backup campsite was looking likely. There was only one way to find out.

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These cattle, in what can only be a retaliatory move, occupied an abandoned veterinary fence guard station. Botswana is slowly decommissioning (through both intention and plain old neglect) its vast network of vet fences.

A rocky prominence of Baobab and camel thorn trees, Kukonje Island rises from the eastern stretches of Sowa Pan in central Botswana. Sowa is one of the largest salt pans in Africa, and part of the biggest network of salt pans on the globe – the Makgadikgadi. The remnants of an ancient inland sea, the Makgadikgadi Pans sprawl over some 12,000 sq miles of Botswana (a land area larger than Belgium). For perspective, South Camp at Nxai Pans National Park, where we stayed over the Easter holidays, at the northern edge of the Makgadikgadi complex is nearly 300 miles from Kukonje.

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Characterized by endless stretches of billiard table-smooth salt flats, the Pans are punctuated by “islands” that break up the mesmerizing continuity at irregular intervals. Rising just over a few dozen or so vertical feet from the pans themselves, these islands can be seen across incredibly long distances, and they have been waypoints of migration, commerce, culture, and spirituality for thousands of years.

One can see why.

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The salt pans have a notorious and well-deserved reputation for stranding overland travelers since humans have started trekking across its expanse. The sheer barrenness, the disorienting sense of space, the shifting skyline (the curvature of the earth itself is easily perceived here), and bottomless sinkholes of slippery mud that are nearly impossible to distinguish by sight from the hard-packed salt, all conspire to lure the inattentive traveler into paradoxical dead ends where the horizon stretches in 360 degrees. Getting stranded or lost is no laughing matter.

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But that’s a possibility only when the pans are dry. We found Kukonje Island, a mere three miles from the primary gravel road, surrounded by water as in ancient times – a true island. Botswana’s rainy season hadn’t given up just yet, so we were relegated to the substitute campsite on the gravel by the “shore” of the vast salt pans. Kukonje shimmered in the distance, tantalizingly just out of reach.

Initially a bit disappointed, this proved to be one of the best wild camps we have had in Botswana, and maybe anywhere. We simply chose a spot on the pebbles among the random clumps of widely spaced thorn trees. The isolation and silence were overwhelming – even the birds, one’s constant companions in this country, stayed away. For a day or so we did hardly anything but chase the meagre shade around the Pajero and stare into the void, barely speaking. Perfect.

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The Island itself will have to wait for a future adventure.

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6 comments on “Kukonje Island

  1. elzbthbkr says:

    Oh I loved this so much. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anthony Alcock says:

    Beautiful post Steve.

    Glad to see the Pajero is serving you well and getting you to some great places over there.

    Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lcdeweyblog says:

    Stay oriented and be safe. Interesting info and great photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah, it’s definitely easy to get turned around out on the pans, even with a good sat nav. We took a few wrong turns before we finally found where we were going. The crazy tangle of vet fences doesn’t help the situation in that area, either.

      Like

    2. Thanks Anthony! It has served us well so far – but it’s looking like I’ll need to replace a front axle soon. Stay tuned for more!

      Like

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