Once again Team Land Rover Botswana last weekend returned into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) to deliver donations to people living there. This year the charity expedition attracted a big turnout and although the mission was accomplished, it was a case of more vehicles, more problems as the CKGR sand humbled the roaring Landies. Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES reports
On the map, Metsiamanong (22° 26’ 3.552” S, 24° 13’ 54.156” E) is right in the heart of Botswana. If the country’s geometric centre point could be calculated, it would surely be closer to Metsiamanong than anywhere else.
Metsiamanong is in the middle of nowhere. Getting there requires a strictly 4X4 Wheel Drive vehicle as well as expert off-road driving proficiency.
After two previous expeditions that went only up to Mothomelo settlement, this year Team Land Rover Botswana (TLRBW) took the challenge and decided to go further into the CKGR on a mission with a bigger purpose: to deliver food, clothing and sanitary pads to Metsiamanong.
After months of planning the expedition, members from around the country congregated at Khutse Game Reserve gate on Friday for a night before the team’s departure on Saturday morning.
Twenty-two vehicles, including friends of the Land Rover Club driving Toyotas, lined up for a long convoy into the park.
Prior planning allowed for fast and smooth entrance at the CKGR gate. The itinerary included two drop-offs of donations at Gugama and Mothomelo settlements before a camp-out at Metsiamanong – all in Day One – about 107km. Day Two was at leisure at Metsiamanong before departing on Day Three via Gope.
The CKGR road with its mean sand wrecked havoc on the planned itinerary. After the first settlement, the sand began to separate the chancers from the drivers.
The vehicles pulling the trailers took the first sand assault. Trailers that were not designed for the terrain broke down first while others broke the vehicles pulling them. The camaraderie of the expedition dictates that when the vehicle following you stops, you also have to stop and assist if there is a problem.
As the Kalahari sand got heavier there were too many stops at the time to make it at Metsiamanong on Saturday. After running out of sunlight the expedition leaders then made a decision to camp out at Mothomelo and make that the basecamp because driving at night is not allowed in the game reserve.
Other vehicles and trailers did not even make it to Mothomelo due to various mechanical failures. There are penalties for those Land Rovers that get stuck and have to be pulled out of the sand.
The charges get steeper if a non-Land Rover vehicle tows one off it brings the name of the Landy into disrepute.
The following morning on Sunday, after delivering donations to the people of Mothomelo, only skilled drivers and vehicles without trailers were allowed to proceed to Metsiamanong. The road stretches between Mothomelo and Metsiamanong is notorious for testing the limits of any off-road vehicles ever made. The team did not want many ‘casualties’ like the previous day.
The drivers and vehicles that proceeded were up to the challenge and arrived at Metsiamanong in good time. Although the name metsiamanong literally means ‘water for vultures’ there is no water source at the settlement.
There is no borehole, river nor pan that could provide water. The people, who number less than 25, rely on a monthly supply of water by government trucks. The settlement is one of the few inside the CKGR that resisted government’s attempts to move them out of the game reserve. With an outsider’s eye, it is a tough place to live, especially for the children. The weather is harsh as the desert is very cold in winter and scorching hot in summer. Lions roam freely about and medical facilities are two days away.
It is for this tough life that TLRBW decided to assist these unfortunate communities.
“We chose CKGR because since they are in the middle of nowhere with challenging terrain to reach, our vehicles can access them.
“We thus would be complementing other donors who would like to donate but cannot access them,” said the TLRBW chairperson, Sylvester Toteng.
Toteng also said: “This year we had new clothes and shoes from Woolworths and had food hampers from LR Spares, chicken from Moleps Poultry, sanitary pads from Total Village staff as well as individuals’ donations”.
After three years of doing the expedition, some of the TLRBW members have already developed close relationships with the families in the CKGR and have become their extended families. “The interaction with our beneficiaries is also a point to note as we have opened up to them and they are also open to us.
“As such that we understand their challenges of water, amongst other things, but we comfort them and encourage them to hope for the better.
“We do also encourage them to find ways to improve their livelihoods and make sure the young ones attend school.
“However, we don’t impose ideas on them, but do what friends would do to others to get them to a better level in life.”
At the end of the expedition we exited the Khutse gate with all the team members and vehicles intact although some had to be towed out. Only one unlucky Toyota Land Cruiser broke a wheel bearing and could not find anyone to pull it out. It had to be left behind.
The TLRBW are really passionate about their vehicle brand and one could sense they were kind of glad that it was not one of the Landies that was left behind, despite the Landies having had countless bonnet-up moments along the way.