We’re on a 2-day transit road trip from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg. This is serious traveling, no dillydallying allowed. We are destination bound and it is a long trek, over 600 bone-crunching miles through Zimbabwe, all of Botswana, and a bit of northern South Africa to boot. And since this is Africa there are numerous unexpected stops- a highway check by the Zimbabwean army, a road blockage due to an obstinate rhino and then a baby hyena, slow downs due to bad tarmac and, of course, the mandatory pit stops.
But along the way we spot herds of zebra, elephants and kudu. Our driver, Manuel Tjituke, is a pedal-to-the-metal kind of guy, and while he drives fast, he is always safe. He is also quite a diplomat. After being caught on radar just outside of Francistown, he begs forgiveness to the roadside police. Once granted, Manuel strolls a few steps away and takes a pee in the field next to the cops. Highway bravado.
His sidekick, Haimbodi “Hofni” Holni, supplies the tunes—great road music from Namibia called heroro. My entire body bounces to the rhythms, but much of that comes automatically from the rough road ride. The truck, Pavarotti, is half empty of passengers on this run so I get to move around, stand and stretch regularly. But balance is crucial. One false step and you will take a header on the deck. It is a lot like being on a sailboat in rough seas.
And then there are the road sights. Endless scrub bush of the Kalahari, small villages of rondavels—round, thatched-roofed huts, giraffes nibbling high in the trees, and a small flock of red-eyed doves roadside. My Okavango Delta guide from earlier, FNB, told me that this bird has two calls. The morning call sounds like, “work harder, work harder”, repeated throughout the day. But by afternoon, chants from the dove change to, “drink lager, drink lager.”. In fact, Botswanan humor can be found in nicknames from other birds. The yellow-billed hornbill is called the “flying banana” due to its large yellow beak. Likewise the scarlet-breasted shrike has been labeled the “flying tomato”.
One of the cool roadside attractions is the baobob tree. This stark, leafless, shiny-barked wonder is an arboreal abstract. It looks like a giant plucked a 40-foot tree from the ground and stuffed it back in the ground upside down. The trunk, fat and swollen, looks more like a tuber. Its branches resemble roots instead of limbs. This bizarre tree is surreal, Dali-esque and under a scimitar-shaped moon high in the sky, it delivers a pleasing spookiness to the African nighttime landscape.
We finally enter Palapye in the waning daylight, a drab railroad town just north of the Botswana-South Africa border. I, too, feel upside down just like a baobab tree. It has been a long, tough day doing the overland safari. No worries. A warm dinner with a cool glass of Windhoek draught awaits.