Some people choose funny places to tie the knot or make their vows. Some jump out of planes strapped together; find the highest mountain, or deepest lake. Others choose the most romantic church they know, or their favourite spot in the garden with their nearest and dearest gathered around. The possibilities are endless. Recently , our friends Craig and Cheryl , chose the majestic cathedral of the Makgadikgadi Pans in central Botswana to share their celebration.
driving onto The Pans
Familiarly known as 'The Pans' - its real name Makgadikgadi Pans is far more evocative. It bounces around the mouth like the thirst for water in this ultimately arid zone. I have known teenagers try to say Makgadikgadi while burping. Its an enigmatic name for a place of magical mystery that defines the terms 'wide open' and 'curve of the earth'. 16000km2 of bleached white salt pans fringed with spikey marsh grasses. Dryer than bone during the winter months it fills with shallow water from the Nata River during the summer rains and becomes an important breeding site for pelicans and flamingoes on their migratory paths. Strange creatures live here like meerkats and brown hyenas. Bigger ones pass through from time to time, like elephants and lions. It is like a vast empty page on which to conjure up your own creative endeavours. Write your story here.
Which is what Craig and Cheryl decided to do.
Their eclectic group of friends and family members gathered at Gweta Lodge - an oasis in the center of Gweta Village north of The Pans. We, who had the least distance to cover, probably arrived last on the saturday evening. We arrived as the giant red ball of the sun slipped below the earths fringe of mopane trees. The party was in progress as we stepped through the gloaming to the warm welcome of a happy crowd. There were old pals to reunite with, and many new ones to meet. There were parents and cousins, and grandparents, and toddlers. All of whom, apart from the young, seem to have tapped into the elixir of eternal youth. I sipped my delicious glass of red hoping this was it, and tried to meet as many as possible.
Morning dawned bright and clear. A beautiful clear desert day with skies a true blue, and air as fresh as a mountain stream. The camp site was a flurry of activity. Early risers watched the late ones emerge from canvas rubbing their eyes and heading for showers. The Gweta team were busy loading camping gear onto safari vehicles ready to head off and set up camp on site. The catering team were a blur of activity. Its no mean feat to put an event like this together. I set off for Nata to buy fuel as Gweta was out of diesel. It was a 100km trip and once there I met pals from Kasane and Francistown and linked up for the return run. Back in Gweta more guests had gathered and time was running short to get to the venue in time for the ceremony. In haste we flung stuff in to vehicles; made space for lifts, packed more stuff in, started up and waited for the convoy. Then we were off. Its so easy to get lost in The Pans so we all needed to follow someone who knew the way. Those that had them primed their GPS machines. We opened cold beers and tagged on to the dusty tail of the line up. Our way took us through villages and kraals on a spaghetti bolognese of sandy tracks, past stunted trees whose branches whipped our windscreens. Some Kalanga horsemen stopped us to ask for food and drinks. We gave them whatever we had to hand.
Bride To Be on her way, with daughter who later deliverd a great speech
An hour or so later the landscape opened wide to grasslands peppered with distant cattle herds and kalanga horses. We met up with friends leading another arm of the convoy who had lost a vital member of their tail - the grooms parents. We stopped on the edge of the wide salt pans and climbed on vehicles searching for dust clouds that would suggest a vehicle driving around. We posted sentry on the highest piece of ground and made like meerkats scanning the horizon. Soon the bride's car came past, followed by the VIPs who were to perform the ceremony. 'Well they can't start without the parents eh?" we thought as on they went. We waited and looked and searched, and chatted, and eventually decided to press on and see if they were at the wedding. They were. They had a GPS. We were late and missed the actual ceremony, which was held in a guazy gazebo bedecked with fairy lights on the edge of a grassy island overlooking the vast vastness of shimmering white.
The speeches were tear jerkers. There were giant bonfires to hold back the cold desert night; cool boxes galore and feasty food deluxe. Caig's cousin cranked up the music system and the party on the Pans eased naturally into being.
Being a Harley man, Craig had invited his Harley to the party. It was parked on the edge of proceedings, the chrome gleaming enticingly. The keys were in and it was a small matter of time before the first adventurer fired up the big engine and opened the throttle. The Pans are notorious for an unstable surface however. What looks like endless miles of calcrete - like that place in Australia where they set the land speed records - is however a crust that in places conceals glutinous grey mud. Its always a safe option to follow someone else's tracks - but when you are riding free who cares about the safe option? They went down, one after another. Despite the fact that Craig's brother already had a massive deep burn on his leg from falling with the Harley the day before - there were several attempts. Most of the falls happened within view of the party - some were impressive. Luckily, and by some quirk of fate, there were no more injuries.
so far so good
It grew dark and the fires blazed cheerily. The music was great. I remember thinking it a particularly appropriate place to listen to Dark Side of the Moon. The camp fires created two different atmospheres. The one in the hub was crowded with people sitting, walking around, chatting, laughing. The other fire was a bit further away and here was a more circumspect crowd - or so i thought. but trouble was brewing. Some people wanted to make this fire enormous - piling on huge leadwood boughs without a thought for the environmentalists. In the crowd was one who particularly cared for the disappearance of Africa's hardwoods. He works with wood, and knows how scarce it is. They couldn't agree and it became a game. More wood was piled and then pulled off, and then piled on again. Our pal tried to explain his viewpoint, and eventually, in extreme frustration climbed into his bakkie and drove it right through the fire. Thank heavens he didn't get stuck on the top. I just saw people scattering, grabbing chairs, looking shocked. The people at the other fire, turned. They saw that it had turned out fine and no one was hurt, and they resumed their conversation. 'Is there any more wine?'. The people at the circumspect fire regrouped and the moment was gone.
oh wait, are those headlights in the distance?
There were some in the party that needed to return to Gweta that night, so that they could be at work in Francistown the following morning. Against all advice they set off into the night in completely the wrong direction. It is so easy to get lost here in daylight. Night time is a given. There was half a moon still but that didnt seem to help. For three hours the wedding party watched their headlights driving back and forth in the distance, like some phantom creature or UFO , they drew closer apparently mistaking our lights for Gweta, then took off again reappearing from random directions. Finally they pulled in again to pick up a guide.
One by one, and two by two, people drifted away from the fire to climb into their bedrolls and sleep under the magnificent stars.
*names have been omitted to protect the innocent