Travel, fast and slow

Posted on 30 August 2019

In the time it takes me to settle down with my laptop in the shade of a baobab on Kubu Island, 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 the hunter-gatherers following the berries and buck on foot, to the guy with the TV dinner on his lap, watching National Geographic on television. My man, Bowen, reckons that driving a Toyota Landcruiser moves you to the latter end of that continuum, and I have discovered that travelling in a Landrover with two artists is close to the former part of 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.

Win: 1 of 2 copies of ‘Death on the Limpopo’ by Sally Andrew

The creative geniuses with whom I travel are my man Bowen Boshier, wilderness pencil artist, and our friend Peter van Straten the 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, goddammit.

On my first trip with these two men, the Landrover broke down many times. I lost track after breakdown number eighteen. 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 my man in the direction of a Toyota, and I got his story about watching National Geographic. On this current adventure, we have had no mechanical problems so far, (since the first trip we have replaced just about everything on this Landrover) 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.

But, I am 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 under them. My man would prefer to stay until the ants built mounds around his tires, 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 encircle. The men wander off at dawn, but by sunset have not yet crossed the island. The 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 flavor, 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 breeze comes all the way from across the pans and cools my ears. 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.

Words: Sally Andrew

Featured image: Alessandro/ Flikr

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