The Cactus Patch
Volume 6       November 2003      Number 11

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

On 27 Sept. we set off for a week's holiday. It happened to be World Tourism Day, but we didn't contribute much to the industry that day. After taking the newly paved back road north from Molepolole (no traffic!) we spent the night at the Serowe museum. Basic, but the price was right.

Next day we continued north by the diamond mines and then northwest around the Mkgadikgadi Pans, stopping to look at Sesamothamnus in bloom.

At Maun we checked into the Sedia Motel - big mistake. The pool was slimy, the tap water looked like tea, the air-conditioning was inadequate and the TV cut out in mid movie. There were nice trees of sycamore figs with a red billed hornbill that teased resident cats and the pizza was good. (I chose the place because it is on the Thamalekane River next to where the botanist Peter Smith lived.) Next time will try something cheaper. We had thought of camping, but I forgot the tent! And anyway the newspaper in the hotel told of robberies from tents in the area -- including at the Sedia!

On the 29th we headed along the western edge of the Okavango and then drove over to the Tsodilo Hills on the gravel road (in our car! - up until recently this was four wheel drive only.)

Laurens Van der Post called these hills mountains of the gods and Polly was duly impressed as the tallest (the Male Hill) suddenly came into sight. She had never been there and so I promised this trip for a significant birthday. (See the photo for the significance. I wouldn't give her age away myself.) We met friends from the bird club at the gate (unplanned) and then went to the site museum which was marvellously air conditioned. Water is now working (although the showers are cold), but the livestock is worse than ever - a cow ate a bar of soap which Polly left out to dry. Hopefully the long awaited fence will soon be up.

Polly showing her age beneath 'van der Post's panel.

When it was cooler we walked along the edge of the Female Hill (larger but shorter) to see the rock art. Polly was not impressed by the baobabs which are unusually tall and skinny. That night we camped next to the museum (sans tent) and in the cool of the morning we went to the other side of the Female Hill to see a panel called the dancing penises (the rest of the figures are there as well). After a further walk to more paintings and a specularite mine (they dug out the shiny rock and ground it up for body ornament), Polly turned back. I continued on to the end of the arm of the hill but then gave up when I could see around the corner to a second arm which is only halfway to the zebra rock painting that has been used as a museum symbol.

I met Polly back in the shade of a rock shelter (#9) and asked if she had looked at #10. She replied she saw the post but nothing was there. I then pointed out the large rhinos which are used as the symbols of the Botswana Society - hard to miss, but I think the day was getting hot. We went back to the cool of the museum and when it cooled off a bit went to the base of the Male Hill. This was not so impressive as it lacks the rock art. (There is also a Child and Grandchild, but I've never been to them.) That evening, a windstorm blew up dust so we couldn't see the stars.

Next day we left the dust and drove over to the Okavango River at Mohembo, but didn't take the ferry across. Instead we went south past the Delta, eventually reaching D'Kar where I spent a fortune on San (Bushman) art at the Kuru Trust where modern painting imitates the past. (Polly managed to cut expenses by convincing me to buy next years' calendar with four Tsodilo-theme paintings rather than one expensive one which I saw first. I still had to get a print of a Ceropegia as it was not in the calendar.)

Finally we reached Ghanzi and checked into the Kalahari Arms where we had camped back in 1969. This time we had a lovely chalet with TV, hot shower and a pool right outside. It was so nice Polly opted for two nights. The only place to shop in Ghanzi was Ghantzi Crafts which was not as good as the Kuru Trust and had literature from Survival International which is in disfavor here because of the blatant lies it tells about San treatment. (In '69 we bought San crafts from the back of a grocery store. I wish now that we had bought everything in that store room.)

All good things come to an end and on the 3rd of October we trekked across the new Trans Kalahari Highway to home. (Incidentally, since the 30th was Botswana Independence Day and the next day was also a holiday, the whole week only cost me three days leave time.)

After a week back at work to recover, I was off again on the 13th of October to Francistown. On the 14th we joined up with the Environmental Heritage Foundation there and proceeded north to three towns on the Zimbabwe border which want to start environmental parks. After speeches and introductions we toured a rock outcrop featuring Aloe chabaudii which is rare in Botswana (although common across the border). The leaves had spots where bugs had fed. Aloe zebrina was also present, but this is widespread in Botswana.

Next we went to an outcrop overlooking the border where the remains of a Botswana Defence Force encampment could be seen. There was an interesting rectangle of Commiphoras which had been used as a fence and taken root. There were short and tall plants of Aloe littoralis which had no bug spots.

Finally we went to some short hills with the remains of grain storage bins which might be part of the Zimbabwe ruins complex. Aloe excelsa which just crosses the border from Zimbabwe as well as the stemless Aloe aculeata were here. There were also huge trees of Euphorbia ingens. I hope these areas do get the protection they deserve.

It is exceedingly hot here now. Our only hope is some cooling rain, but none is in sight.*

All this running about has given me a chance to try out a new book, "Trees of Botswana" by Moffat Setshogo and Fanie Venter. It has a leaf drawing and distribution map for each species. (A few trees are given the full treatment including color plates.) It is a handy size for fieldwork and is available from SABONET (Southern African Botanical Diversity Network) c/o NBI (National Botanic Institute) Private Bag X101, Pretoria (Pub. #18, 2003).

The three tree aloes are all fairly mapped, but Euphorbia ingens is still poorly done. The map shows only two spots (one at the far north and the other at the southern end of the distribution). The specimen cited for the species is Hargreaves & Larsen 6583 from the area between Palapye and Serowe (in the middle of the country). Why isn't this on the map? It seems Fanie did the maps from Pretoria (he now lives in New Zealand) and Moffat (who teaches at the University of Botswana) looked at local material for citations. The two have never even met!

At any rate, it shows the need for more collection. (Granted itís hard to press a candelabra tree.)

*P.S. I wrote this on Friday the 17th. On Saturday it clouded over and the temperature dropped. By Sunday it was pouring rain! (We even had a touch of hail.)

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