Where is my cow?

Botswana is a cattle country and most Botswana are farmers who have always owned cattle as security and a sign for wealth. Cattle is even the third largest income for Botswana, after diamonds and tourism. Logical if the cows outnumber the people by a million. If those cows were serious about life, they could win the election and run the country.

On our way towards the salt pans, the biggest in the world, it was clearly to see how many cows were roaming this country. Everywhere along the road you would find a small group of cows grassing and sometimes we needed to hit the brake as a few cows wanted to cross the road to a better spot.

When we moved from the tar road into, what we in Holland would describe as “is this a road???”, we would only find cows along the way. The path, if that is how you could describe it, was nothing more than an open space, with trees on one side behind a fence and on the other side the surroundings would change from trees, grass land or pans. As the path continued we crossed multiple dry rivers. One was even filled with barrels to make the road a bit easier.

We were looking left and right to find anything else besides cows, but nobody in the vicinity of a 50km radius. And that would make us think, who would those cows belong to? And how would you know where your cow or cows (when you are rich) are, when they have every freedom to walk anywhere? Thinking about it wouldn’t help find that out, so we moved on. I would figure that out once we would have internet again.

Our first stop was Kukonje Island, an island with trees and rocks and 1 campsite in the middle of the Sua Pan. To reach it, we had to drive over the pan for 15km. With crossing the pan, there could be a risk of getting stuck as the pan fills itself with water during the rainy season, which ends in April. Now you might think, as it was the end of May, we would have no problem of crossing the pan. Even I thought, after looking at the pan, we had a chance, but looks are deceiving. The pan may have a dry crust on the top, but underneath water could still be there, which would be mixed with the soil making it muddy. With a car, heavy as ours, we would go through the crust and would get stuck in this mud.

Did we try to cross? Most definitely, as I was too curious about the island even though we were warned. If you don’t see tracks, don’t drive onto the pans. After a few metres or so, Inge felt the car slipping and stopped the car. This didn’t feel right so we turned and parked our car on the border of the pan. Half an hour later we met some guys on a quad bike who were stuck for more than 3 hours trying to get their bike out of the mud.

When we set up camp, secludedness enveloped us as nobody was around anymore. In the distance we heard a few coyotes and of course a few cows, while the sun was setting in. As the pan stretches for 100 km, it is a beautiful sight as it looked like the sun was sinking into the pan. Before the evening fell we collected wood from a veterinary post close by which was abended to make a campfire. Fish was on the braai menu with corn.

We woke up when the sun was shining into our tent. We were up for another day of exploring the salt pans. Our next destination was Kubu Island, on the other side of the pan.

A big gravel road brought us along small villages where we could stock up on some food and drinks. Just before the pan the road slowly changed in a sandy path surrounded with bush until we reached the pan itself. The view looked more like something you will find on the moon or Mars. The greyish flat ground, due to the salt drying up, was occasionally interrupted by small or large outcrops of granite. Kubu Island, for instance, is one of the biggest granite outcrops, dated back from 2,5 million years ago. It’s filled with fossils and ancient artefacts. It has also been used for ages by tribesman as a base to hunt wild during the rainy season, when the pan is filled with lush green grass and water.

Due to the distance we still had to cover, we travelled further up north. We stopped halfway as the sun was going down. There was no campsite in sight, so another wild camp was in place, in the middle of the bush. Again, cows where everywhere to find, but this time accompanied by cowboys. They were herding the cows to their designated areas.

Now the clue of finding out where the cows are and whom they belong to is actually quite simple. The cowboys are tracking the animals by radio frequency due to a microchip which is in the stomach of the cow. Finally we have solved the mystery.

Love, Chris & Inge

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