After the heart-warming send-off of our “Heart of Africa Expedition” from South Africa, we soon got to work. Across the Limpopo and into the Kalahari, we set up camp at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. It’s how it should be – 24/7 security – you don’t mess with Botswana’s rhinos, the message is crystal clear from from the President down. Political will is what’s needed to solve Africa’s poaching crisis.
The next morning Shovashova Mike left on his mountain bike to follow the fence line across the Kalahari. He’s going to cycle to Africa’s heart. We eventually found him with his forearm cut to the bone after a nasty fall. We stitched him up and by the time we were done it looked a bit like a croc bite, but at least it’s clean and we pumped him full of antibiotics to avoid infection.
In our Landies we crossed the Makgadikgadi, the largest salt pans on earth, and around the Mopani fire we reminisced about once circumnavigating these moonscape pans on five land yachts, each sail decorated with bushman art; our backsides six inches off the ground, overtaking ostrich and springbok at breakneck speed.
Around the campfire we are never short of stories. It is the African way. And what a great Land Rover adventure this journey to the Heart of Africa is proving to be. With Botswana behind us now – having crossed almost half the country through an unfenced national park larger than Kruger, with our only lifeline being the Kafue River, one of the major tributaries of the great Zambezi – the sense of adventure is growing. With our three Landies in a row, led by ‘Indhlovukasi’ the big 130 Defender, we cross an imaginary line in the bush, where an old yellow broken down sign tells us we have entered the Kafue National Park. There is not a boom or ranger in sight.
The powder-like sand track becomes really soft. We stop to let air out of our tough Cooper tires. Brad Hansen, the expedition naturalist, comes walking over to me: “lion, leopard and hyena tracks up ahead,” he says with a big grin on his face.
And so we push on through beautiful Miombo woodland and open dambos to camp at Nazhila Pans. We are visited by two raiding honey badgers and elephants cracking branches as they feed on the camp’s Mopani trees.
Bruce cooks up a great chicken stew and a distant lion roars from across the pan. The mountain bike team leaves at the crack of dawn. There are now a team of three cyclists. They are meant to try not to wake us but speaking in loud whispers and accidentally setting off the Landy alarm, they do! “Hey!”, shouts Shane to Leith, “how many sugars in your coffee Boet?”… “Bugger off! See you at Itezhi Tezhi!”, shouts Ross from his tent. “Have fun with the tsetse flies,” adds Brad with a chuckle.
I lie in my tent patiently thinking: it’s all about humour, camaraderie and a passion for Mama Africa that make these expeditions work so well. But tomorrow we’ll sneak itching buffalo beans into their lycra, let their tyres down and hide their saddles, if they don’t learn to keep quite in the mornings.
Kafue National Park, although previously hammered by poaching, is exceptionally beautiful and the animal numbers are slowly increasing. If the habitat can be preserved with better anti-poaching commitments and community buy-in, there’s always the opportunity to introduce more wildlife and with that will come more tourism. Let’s hope for the best, it’s certainly a beautiful piece of Africa.
One expedition Landy behind the other, we take the spinal track heading north up the west side of Itezhi Tezhi Lake to set up camp at Kasabushi. It’s a stunning spot on the banks of the Kafue, we all wish we could chill out here for a day or two, but we’ve got an expedition to run, with every tyre revolution taking us closer to the ‘Heart of the continent’ – with loads of humanitarian work to keep us motivated along the way.