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The African Underworld – by JM

Posted by on June 5, 2012

Another adventure starts with us committing to some friends two months earlier that we are serious about travelling an unknown very long distance for one night of a Heavy Metal Music Fest in another village. As our date of reckoning approached we came up with lots of good reasons why we should stay home this particular weekend, driven by the silent thoughts of nightmare travel conditions and utter exhaustion at the end of a short trip. I checked vehemently into finding out bus schedules and even plane availability, with almost no success as everyone who “knew” had a different story for the schedules. We did manage to ascertain one certain time which was a 6:00 am bus from Gaborone, which lies 1 to 2 hours east of us, depending on how we get there. Our destination was 8 to 9 hours west of us, so with the serious added time and effort to get to the bus station early enough to avoid the possibility of having to stand the entire time, we considered hitch hiking. That has been a pretty good alternative here in our little village where there is an abundance of cars. This was to be a whole different story going a very long distance.

All stops and named cites is this story have red stars

All stops and named cites is this story have red stars

here were 4 of us, and Carol and I elected to go the hitching route, while the other two would go in to Gaborone the night before and sleep on someone’s cement floor and get up at 4:00 am to get to the bus station. We waited until late to avoid the freezing cold standing that we might have faced in the earlier hours. As it turned out, the hitching got off to a good start. We got a ride immediately from our home to the main road. 15 minutes later we got our 2nd ride for an hour to the last town shown on the map going on our Westerly route.

When we got dropped off we were in the only “hitching” location and alongside 10 other “hitchers”. We were banking on being the only older couple and looking like the most likely to have money to pay.  We had a large sign I

The sign didn't work

The sign didn't work

handmade that we waived in front of everyone that indicated our desired destination. As it turned out, the sign was more of a hindrance as we learned no one was going that far and we really needed to take many small hops to get there.

Most of the locals there hitching decided they had waited too long after we had been there about 30 minutes and sought for other routes and luckily we were left almost alone to hitch on our own. Just then, a Khombi (minibus that is rated for 16 but usually carries 25 people) came by and was going to a small town not on our map but on the only road there was going our direction. We jumped aboard with 23 others and barely drove off down the tar road with all the weight.

Like sardines in a can

Like sardines in a can

Fortunately, every mile or so someone got off the Khombi and we enjoyed more and more leg room. An hour later the Khombi was taking a right onto a dusty road that we had no intention of following, so we reluctantly left the Khombi on a long stretch of barren highway, along with a nice woman and her little girl.  She comforted us and said she hitched this road a lot and never had to wait more than a couple hours. It was noon or so and we were about ¼ of the way to Ghanzi.

There is literally nothing at this "bus stop" including buses

There is literally nothing at this "bus stop" including buses

After about only 30 minutes or so our 4th ride came along and we gladly jumped in. They were some cool local artists and we had a good conversation, but only for an hour when they reached their destination and let us out, this time alone. For 2 hours we strained to see a vehicle going either direction. We walked a bit in the bush, ate lunch and read books. I found this skull nearby and

We don't want this to happen to us

We don't want this to happen to us

we hoped that this would not be a Before and After shot.

 

 

The first car that came by, did so at 100 miles an hour and didn’t slow to our pleading gestures. A second car did the same and we suddenly found ourselves on the phone (fortunately there was good cell coverage – not sure what we would have done had that not been the case!) calling some of the local other PCVs that lived on that road.  They were quite far from where but suggested if we got stranded they could look for friends with cars to probably come get us. It was now 3:00, and we were not even half way there and it was looking hopeless. We called the hotel and cancelled the room out of courtesy. We were going to stay somewhere, but not in Ghanzi!

Finally we flagged a car that was going the other direction from ours and they reluctantly offered to accept 10 times the normal amount of money to take us the estimated 25K to the main road, where we figured we’d have a better chance of catching a ride. First, they had to go up the road 1 mile to drop off something and then would come back. We were in!  To our luck, another car came our direction just then but drove by us very fast as we frantically waived for it to stop. After passing us, however, the brake lights went red and our hearts skipped a beat! A ride! Yeehaa! We felt a small tinge of sorrow about the other guys who promised to come back, but we remembered the price they were going to charge and felt it really was ok.

This woman was going more than just the 25 K to the main road, and was even turning on the main road in our direction. She took us another couple hours to Kang where she was ending her journey, but she was able to drop us off at a location where we were lucky enough to catch an instant ride heading all the way to our destination! We couldn’t believe it. Now it was 6:30 pm and dark and we had 2 more hours to go. The only problem was that there was no cell coverage for the next two hours and we had cancelled our hotel at the only place to stay in Ghanzi on the biggest tourist attraction weekend of the year! Uuugh! If they gave our room away, we are screwed! So we just waited and waited, continually pressing the redial button on our phones until it went through, just 30 minutes outside of town and so very fortunately for us, our room was still available!

So 6 rides and 11 hours later we arrived in Ghanzi, very happy to be there and marveling at the good fortune that had come our way all day. The weekend had begun! The hotel was VERY nice. Hot showers with great pressure and nice beds and a great restaurant and all walking distance from everything.

We met up with our friends who had their own stories about the bus ride and losing their phone (alarm clock) the night before and not waking up on time for the only bus at 6:00 am, only to find there is also an 8:00 bus that worked out  fine.

So we all had a nice meal and enjoyed the evening and a good night’s sleep. We woke late in the morning and spent all of thirty minutes completely exploring the “town”. Ghanzi is very remote and situated in the middle of tribal peoples called the Sans People. They are primitive and being pushed more and more out to the dessert as the small villages and towns become more and more progressive. There was some decent artsy jewelry made by the Sans People in a store that we all enjoyed.

Then we spent the rest of the afternoon at a very nice lodge 7K outside of town. We went there on recommendation and because it was the only thing to do  while we waited for  the bands to start at the Metal Fest.

The lodge had many large (some 80 acres or more) cages that housed 9 lions, a bunch of cheetahs, the almost extinct wild dog and a bunch of other animals.

Here kitty kitty kitty

Here kitty kitty kitty

We figured this might be our only opportunity to actually see a lion in Africa. We only saw one cage that had one lion in it and it was quite far away, but it was fun anyway.  A bit curiously though, right next to the that lions cage was the cage of donkeys, which we learned were fed to the lions each Monday. LIONS The wild dogs were the coolest animals. They had such a ferocious and intimidating growl that we were all scared to death to get close to their heavy cages, even for a good picture. They seemed to have dark blood-red eyes that pierced your soul as

A friend for Timber

A friend for Timber

they growled and flashed their teeth. Truly something evil right out of a horror movie. Even in the middle of the day!

 

On the way there we had gotten a ride from a man who mentioned  he was going to Molepolole, our home town, on Sunday morning and had room for 3 people! He was planning on leaving around 8 to 10 the next morning and gave us his number! This was music to our ears, as the only bus out of Ghanzi was a 6:00 am the next morning, which we all dreaded, knowing we were going to be up late at the Metal Fest. We ended up walking the 5 K back to the main road because there were no vehicles going our way, but it was a nice day with time to kill. Back at the Hotel we had some food and prepared for our big night!

We got to the festival around 9 and what a sight. Others there were seriously into their Metal Fest Spirit! It was like Halloween with everyone wearing the same theme. All black leather suites with studs and accessories that left nothing to the imagination.

Frying pans are a part of Heavy Metal here

Frying pans are a part of Heavy Metal here

There was plenty of energy in the air and everyone was very nice and happy to be there. We got lots of attention, as we always do everywhere we go, but it was a very comfortable atmosphere and there was no thoughts of worry or fear. The bands started playing and it was pretty loud, fast, trashy Heavy Metal music played on inadequate equipment with a sub-par sound system that was not properly microphoned. But the sights were cool and fun and the whole thing came off  well and we all had a really great time.

Some of them were drunken cowboy/heavy metal

Some of them were drunken cowboy/heavy metal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of them are Halloween Heavy Metal guys

Some of them are Halloween Heavy Metal guys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the night, the MC acknowledged the prestigious presence of us Peace Corps members and brought some of us on stage. Carol enjoyed some

Carol still can't resist getting on stage!

Carol still can't resist getting on stage!

solo dancing and singing on stage while my friend and I got the honor of performing a drum solo! That was the highlight of my Peace Corps experience so far! I was onstage, behind miked up drums, in front of 100 people all clapping and waving their arms at my drumming fun! I enjoyed about 1 minute of mediocre drum soloing on a drum set that left a huge amount of room for improvement, and then the drum stick completely crumbled in my hand! I was quite satisfied!

JM drum Solo at Ghanzi Metal Fest

JM drum Solo at Ghanzi Metal Fest

 

 

So, as all good things must come to an end, so did our fun that night. We went home to a heavy sleep and woke in a panic at 9:00 am! We tried calling our ride and got no answer. Plan B! Send Nate for some  food then hit the road hitching  and pray for a ride the full way home!

In the middle of our showers we got a call from Nate saying he was at the bus rink and the only other bus was leaving for Gaborone in 15 minutes! We raced through the checkout process and made it in the nick of time. We got seats and once again sat marveling at our good fortune. We wondered why no one knew there was a 10:00 am bus. Even the locals have no idea.

Anyway, we were set, with the only issue now being that we would arrive in Gaborone about dusk and it would be difficult to hitch back to Molepolole. We figured we had no options and were grateful just to get closer to home in 10 more hours.  Just as the bus starts to move out to the road, the phone rings and it is our ride asking us if we are ready. Not having been able to get a hold of him for 20 phone calls, we thanked him for his offer and told him we were on the bus. After a few minutes of thought we discussed the fact that if we get off at Kang in 2 hours, he could pick us up we would have a nice ride all the way to Molepolole, which would be just too awesome. When we tried to call him, we were out of cell range again and now had the dilemma of leaving the bus in Kang and hoping to hook up with him or staying on the bus and facing whatever sleeping demons we would encounter later that night. As we approached Kang, once again inside cell range, we finally got a hold of him and arranged to get picked up.  He was 80 K behind us. We nervously watched the bus leave us in Kang.

His name was Peter and he had some experiences with Peace Corps people and liked them and so he wanted to help us and had offered to take us for free. That was a relief to us, as our money was down to nothing and no way to get more. When he pulled up to the gas station in a brand new, 2012, giant 18 wheeler, all decked out with the latest electronics and comforts inside, we knew we were in for another adventure. He was hauling a double trailer with 61 cattle going to slaughter. After some great conversation, mostly fun stories from him, we found him to be a South African (white) that had been here for 30 years and owned a huge trucking company. He had 48 big rigs and his biggest was a double-decker, double trailer, that carried 108 cattle every week across the country. He had a fridge and was putting a microwave and coffee machine in. He travelled with his wife and you could see her taste in the $200,000 USD cab we were riding in.

A great ride while it lasted

A great ride while it lasted

Two thing didn’t go as planned. First he told about how he  put a governor on all his trucks to stop his drivers from driving too fast. So all the trucks drive at a maximum of 90 KPH (roughly 56 MPH), and most of the time we did about 80. This almost doubled our trip time! Now we would be totally screwed getting into Gaborone after midnight! Worse yet, the second plan that went afoul is that we had neglected to understand that his route was taking him through Lobatse, a town far South of our destination, and Molepolole was on his plan for Tuesday! OMG! We were so stuck! This nice comfy, free ride was turning into trouble for us.

With no other options, we kept our woes to ourselves and accepted  fate. At least we were comfortable and in good company. About 6:30 pm we passed a point that was the closest, geographically, we would come to our home, so we asked him to drop us there and we would take our chances with another hitch.

We bid farewell and climbed out of the massive truck and stood in the cold along with a couple dozen others all trying to hitch to somewhere. As luck would have it, a nice woman offered to change her route and go out of her way in order to take us to our home village, one hour a way. The only catch was that she had a very small pickup truck and we would all have to ride in the back. We put on every stitch of clothing we brought with and climbed in to the freezing steel back and laid down together like the guys in the movie “Alive”. It was cold! Every now and then we would climb a bit of high hill and the air would warm just enough to keep us encouraged, but we finally made it home around 8:30 pm and collapsed with a giant bowl of hot oatmeal followed by a long nights rest. Never let it be said that a little bit of luck won’t go a long way!

A few more pictures of the fest:

 

There were about 100 people

There were about 100 people

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King of the plastic chairs

King of the plastic chairs

 

A few new friends

A few new friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standing with the self proclaimed Taliban Warlord Beast

Standing with the self-proclaimed Taliban Warlord Beast

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