"Perception of true values is sharpened by stripping off the conventions and the luxuries of life, by stepping out of the busy whirl of civilisation for a while and seeking solitude by simple living in lonely places." - Sir John Hunt
OKAVANGO EXPEDITION 9th to 22nd December 1984
The boy who joins an active Scout Troop is looking for the adventure, challenge and comradeship that the movement has to offer. The skills he learns become little more than useless and boring if they are not put into practice through meaningful activities. One way of realising the Scout’s ambition is to provide an interesting programme throughout the year and, in order to retain the boy in his mid teens, what better activity than an adventurous expedition to a remote area he would not normally visit with his parents?"Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind"
As I had been to the Okavango once or twice previously, Norman called on me for information when he was plaming his Troop Expedition, 1984. Among my first questions to him were, 'Why the Okies?' and 'Who would be eligible to go?' His answers were that it was a unique region and the signs were that it may only have a limited life due to development in Botswana. As for who could go, it would be open to the whole Troop, because they may never have another opportunity.
Many questions arose such as:
How much would it cost?
Will we be able to get a Currency allowance from the Reserve Bank?
When is the best time of year to go?
Where is petrol available?
Who should we get to be Quartermaster?
What about boats for the swamps?
And a hundred other questions, from the mundane to the critical.
So, it was with considerable interest that I sat back and watched the plans for the Okavango Expedition unfold and develop. I was privileged to be included in the Expedition, and was able to watch it come to fruition; to see the way that the newest members of the Troop, those who were leaving, and former members were integrated into a compact and harmonious group. I was able to watch the way that the inevitable administrative problems were overcome; the way that minor disasters were dealt with, or averted; and the way that, despite adverse weather and
mechanical problems, the whole expedition ended on a high note, resulting in an unforgettable experience for all who took part.
This, then, is the story of the Okavango Expedition, as told by one of the members; the story of a considerable achievement under the guidance and inspiration of one man who made it all possible.
OKAVANGO EXPEDITION MEMBERS 1984
(Click to see big picture)
Back row: I. Ritchie, N. Scott, C. Yeatman, A. Savin, G. Crisp, P. Hartley, K. Nortje, D. Heath, G.Williams, H. Mc Neilage, M. Ross.
Front Row: A. Carter, G. Ross, W. Herring, C. Crockett, L. Crockett, R. Blundell, M. Ralphs, C. Lombard.
Norman Scott - Group Scout Leader
Ken Nortje - Leader Trainer
Malcolm Ross - Parent
Troop Leader - Peter Hartley
Senior Scout - Donald Heath
P.L. Graham Williams
A.P.L. Havelock McNeilage
P.L. Robert Blundell
A.P.L. Christopher Lombard
"The Okavango is a river, a river which originates as trickles of summer rain in the mountains of Angola, then obscurely flows inland through the remote thirstlands of Northwest Botswana, where it eventually disappears into the Kalahari Desert."
The idea of an expedition to the Okavango Swamps, Botswana was first mooted several years ago by a group of Senior Scouts but, owing to difficulties at that time, had to be abandoned.
In drawing up the Troop programme for 1984, I decided that I would again look into the possibility of organising an expedition and in February, 1984, preliminary preparations were undertaken to assess whether a trip in December, 1984 would be practicable. From the outset, I felt that the original group of seniors should have first option and that current
members of the Troop would be invited to make up numbers. This meant that the original number of five Scouts whom I intended to take, could possibly increase to twelve.
Information regarding Botswana and the Okavango in particular was gathered, the size of the contingent was considered and the availability of suitable four wheel drive vehicles looked into. While I was thinking of how to overcome the problem of finding the extra transport — I only had one Land Rover - Ken Nortje in Harare read of the proposed trip in our Troop programme and offered the use of his Land Rover.
Thus, the problem of transport was solved. A short while later Malcolm Ross, a parent in the Group, enquired as to whether I would like the use of his Land Cruiser. A quick calculation revealed that the size of the contingent could now be increased from twelve to nineteen, and so the offer was gratefully taken up.
The original plan involving five Scouts needed reviewing, for with a larger contingent a number of administrative problems arose, but to compensate new possibilities presented themselves. The administrative problems concerned: feeding the Expedition members, finance including foreign currency, additional insurance cover, letters to parents, Provincial Headquarters, National Headquarters and the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture. The possibilities that arose were souvenir ‘T’ shirts, plates and mugs and a special Expedition badge. Detailed preparation got under way in June 1984 and by September I was ready to advertise the trip.
I chose Friday 14th September to launch the Expedition. A film on the Okavango was shown and Mr. John Stakesby—Lewis kindly showed his own expedition slides and gave a talk on the area. The response was favourable, and after selection in late October, the names of contingent members were announced.
The careful selection of participants, former as well as current Troop members, paid off, for there were no problems between any members for the entire trip. It was quite refreshing to see juniors and seniors working together and enjoying themselves, yet on occasions the juniors knew when to leave the seniors to “do their own thing”.
The expedition proved of great value to the Scouts for it put the training received, both at the Scout Hall and at camp, into perspective. It also highlighted the need to undertake any allotted task properly, for ones own benefit and the benefit of others, especially in the remote areas to which the expedition travelled. Another, and perhaps more important aspect, is that the Scouts gained a deeper understanding of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses and those of their companions.
It is my sincere hope that journeys similar to this one will continue to feature on our Troop programme, if not every year then every two to three years. From my own view point, the preparations leading up to the Okavango Expedition were well worth the effort and I consider myself privileged to have led a contingent of First Class young men.
GROUP SCOUT LEADER
Although the expedition was only to be launched on Monday, there was an anticipatory tingle surrounding the Park on Sunday afternoon.
Rev. Haynes conducts the Expedition Service before our departure
After the monthly midday service, a film of the XV World Jamboree was
shown, after which Norman was presented with a book on the Okavango — a gift from the Group Committee to show their appreciation of all the work that Norman put into the trip. The rest of the afternoon involved a little bit of preliminary packing, and a lot of the usual Gordon Park horseplay.
Left to Right: Glen Crisp, Andy Blundell, Peter Hartley
Everyone was up with the “sparrows” on Monday, setting a trend for the rest of the expedition. At breakfast, the expedition was formally launched; ’T’shirts, mugs, plates and ‘muckanics” overalls were handed out, and soon we were on the road, we passed through Plumtree, Ramokgwebane and reached Nata Lodge where we camped for the evening just as the sun was going down.Dinner - Nata Camp
clockwise starting from left: Graham Williams, Havelock Mc Neilage, Wayne Herring, Collin Crockett, Leslie Crockett
Early Morning - Nata Camp
Craig Yeatman (on the Landie tailgate) & Graham Williams
Our first "Morning-Mugging" occurred on Tuesday — Norm’s way of making sure that everyone was awake. Travelling that day was terribly hot, but we managed to squeeze in a spot of rugby when we stopped for lunch at the roadside, as well as changing a tyre on the wee-wee Land-Cruiser! We entered Maun at 3 p.m., and educated the locals until 4.30 p.m. when we moved up to our campsite beside a river. Ken, our trailblazer, decided to mark the route with half the contents of his trailer, and for his efforts was awarded a first—grade Noddy badge the following morning!Malcolm, Christopher and Ken attend to the first puncture of the trip.
Crossing the Makgadikgadi Pans
After the “Awards ceremony” on Wednesday morning, and a quick trip into Maun, we trundled off towards Moremi. The trip was very long and it was a relief to arrive at the Xakarnaxa campsite on the edge of the swamps, have a quick swim, and then establish camp.Ken presents a Noddy Badge (First Class) to Glenn for leaving the cold drink in Bulawayo.
Stuck in sand
clockwise starting from left:-
Andy Blundell, Craig Yeatman, Leslie Crocket (climbing out Landie), Ken Nortje, Mark Ralphs
Iain removes the stitches from Colin's appendix operation (and thats Colin biting on the stick in pain!)
Thursday, Friday and Saturday were spent on the Okavango, with a typical day consisting of early morning boat trips; hikes and Landie—trips for each of three groups, followed by breakfast.
Game viewing by vehicle
The rest of the day could, be spent on the swamps, fishing and swimming; out in the Landies; or just wandering around the swamp fringes, relaxing next to pans and serenading elephant — Donald was good at the latter. On Thursday evening, we had the first of our campfires, and Norman (having been in the sun all day) kept breaking out in some sort of gargled lament inbetween each song. Maybe it was feedback from his wheelchair batteries.......
Graham and Chris riding Shotgun
Preparing for a morning on the Swamps.
clockwise starting from left: Havelock, Peter, Leslie,
Friday night witnessed the birth of the infamous Red Knacks Tribe of the Okavango, led by Big Chief Norman. Peter, feeling a bit left out, decided to form the Red—Lips tribe by violently chewing a piece of rope — needless to say he was the only member of that tribe........Inflating one of the three dinghies
A feature that began to emerge from the Oky’s campsite was the original bathing arrangements invented by those that bathed — (I’m not suggesting you didn’t wash, Mr. Ross....... its the original bathing techniques I am referring to).
On Sunday morning camp was down by 8.a.m., when everyone joined for a Scouts Own Service. It was memorable for the setting — under a beautiful tree on the side of the swamps — for the way it was prepared and presented, and for the fact that we were coming together to thank the Lord for the beauty that we were sharing, and for the companionship we were enjoying. Shortly afterwards we were off, heading for Savuti.
The scenery between Moremi and Savuti was remarkable for the contrasts between the dry, semi—desert scrub and the frequent patches of impassable mud — Ken was stuck four times, and even the Land Cruiser bogged down once. The late afternoon provided excellent game viewing, including two lion sightings (one nearly a lion—feeding!) — needless to say, we lagered the Landies in a tight circle that night, with all the juniors on the outside as peace—offerings to any hungry lions!
Graham presents Ken with a leather bound album in appreciation for the help he gave the Troop.
Monday was spent travelling again, from Savuti to Chobe through some of the driest conditions we had seen. When we eventually arrived in Chobe that afternoon, we established the campsite and then dashed off for showers — very welcome after the previous two day’s water shortage!
When the sun peeked into the campsite on Tuesday morning, the area resembled an overworked Chinese Laundry, with clothes hanging from every available rope. Several clean, smart expeditioners went off to explore the Chobe Game Lodge that morning, returned to the camp for lunch, a sleep and a walk with the rest of the contingent, and then found themselves back at the Chobe Lodge that evening for sundowners. It rained a trifle that night, and the camp was a bit of a shambles, but Wednesday morning had everyone up very early, examining the Lion spoor 10 metres from our tents!
The day was a lazy one, with a couple of group walks; a lot of sleeping; and a Landle trip down to the Chobe Lodge (we saw you sneaking off, Norman). The seniors were woken very early on Thursday morning by Lion on our campsite, so the fires were built up (while everyone else slept) and we had a fairly early start to the day.
The drive through to Kandahar fishing camp at the Victoria Falls was fairly uneventful, barring minor hold—ups at
Kazangula border post. After bumbling around in the Falls Village for a while, we eventually arrived at Kandahar — a beautiful site on the banks of the river, with the constant murmur of the Falls massaging everyone’s travel-weary nerves. After popping up to the A’Zambezi Lodge Hotel for sundowners — (Ken was so eager to get there that he went into spasms and we had to carry him to the Landie) — we had supper, followed by a superb campfire watched over by the Patron Father of campfires — Father Abraham.
Everyone wandered around the Falls Village the following morning, discovered the Victoria Falls Hotel swimming pool and then met for lunch at a picnic site just above the Devil’s Cataract. That afternoon, the camp pots were scrubbed, and all but the bare essentials packed in preparation for our departure on Saturday. At 5 p.m. everyone began to clean themselves up, and soon it was as if Cinderella’s fairy Godmother had waved her wand over Kandahar, as a contingent of sparkling scouts emerged into the sunlight. Soon we were on our way to the Grande Finale of the Botswana trip — dinner at the Victoria Falls hotel.
As we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks on the verandah, the contingent attracted some admiring glances from the Tourists (and the tour guide was attracting admiring glances/stares/photographs from Iain). The dinner was superb, in a very smart, fully—booked Restaurant. Comemoration plates and mugs were presented, and then Ken Nortje was made an honorary member of the 8th (Lucky, hey........... Ken, I mean!)
The dinner aptly concluded a 14-day example of what the 8th’s brand of scouting is about, and the memories of this trip will linger for a long time. As Ken pointed out in a campfire yarn — whatever your individual motive for going on that trip, remember that what you saw and experienced for those 14 days you may never be privileged enough to enjoy again.
Treasure the Memory.
(Click to see big picture)
Map of our Okavango Expedition - all 2200km's.