No longer growling…

Posted on 17 February 2020

It takes time to find your happy pace, reflects Sally Andrews.

Getty/Gallo Images

In the time it takes me to settle down with my laptop in the shade of a baobab on Kubu Island in Botswana’s Makgadikgadi, a helicopter lands on the dry salt pans, four humans pop out, scuttle around, take photographs, have a drink and take off again. I watch the flying machine disappear, like a noisy insect into the hazy blue sky.

There is a continuum of ways of travel, ranging from hunter-gatherers seeking berries or antelope on foot, to the guy with the TV dinner on his lap, watching National Geographic on television. My partner, Bowen Boshier, reckons that driving a Toyota Landcruiser moves you to the latter end of that continuum, and I have discovered that travelling in a Land Rover with two artists is close to the former part of the spectrum. Not that we are seeking food – the vehicle is laden with supplies – but we are gathering experience, images and stories. And it seems that the slower we travel, the more we find. Sometimes we spend hours packing, then once we are finally moving, we get no further than a leadwood tree catching the morning sun. ‘Oh my god, the light,’ they say, and climb onto the roof of the vehicle and whip out their cameras.

The creative geniuses with whom I travel are Bowen, wilderness pencil artist, and our friend Peter van Straten a surrealist oil painter. I am a writer, with a love of beauty and nature, and my brain can move in unusual directions, but it lacks the capacity for multiple visual orgasms that these two seem to possess. I am also by nature a fast and efficient person and delays and slow driving get me making soft growling noises at the back of my throat. I want to get there, goddamnit.

On my first trip with them, the Land Rover broke down many times. I lost track after breakdown number 18, but we met a number of warm and wonderful mechanics (including Suipie, Jan and Danie) and got to know some roadside ditches intimately. It was after this trip that I started nudging Bowen in the direction of a Toyota, and I got his story about watching National Geographic.

So far, we have had no mechanical problems on our current adventure (we have replaced just about everything on this Land Rover) but our speed of travel is not much faster. ‘Oh my gosh, look at the grass in the wind,’ they say, ‘we’ve got to video that.’

I’m no longer growling, as we have finally arrived at our destination, the place we get to leave our tents up long enough for the crickets and the scorpions to make homes beneath them. Bowen would prefer to stay until the ants build mounds around the tyres, but Peter has an almost normal life with family and such, so this is a whistle-stop tour, only three weeks long.

Once at Kubu Island, I walk quickly along the pans, around the low island of rocks and ancient baobabs. It takes less than an hour to circumnavigate. The men wander off at dawn, but by sunset have not yet crossed the island. They show me photographs of the lines of white quartz on the smooth rock, the furry texture of a baobab pod, the tangled limbs of a fallen tree’s roots and branches. Each of the fat baobabs have a shape and flavour, a personality and history that could take many years to discover.

Today I stop my pacing, and sit with Bowen who is drawing a baobab. I stay very still and gaze through the curves of the giant tree’s branches, out at the flat white pans. A raven gurgles like stones plopping into water. A cooling breeze comes all the way from across the pans. In my stillness, at last, I find I am moving really fast. I travel to a place thousands of years old. My genes have come home. I have traversed space and time to this spot. Now. Here. NowHere. If you are an impatient gal like me, it can take a while to arrive. While I have been rushing to get somewhere, the artists have been Nowhere all along.

Sally Andrew is the author of Death on the Limpopo – a Tannie Maria mystery

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