Monday, March 21, 2016

Roads


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.  Inigo Montoya


Roads are strange places in Botswana. Sure, they are sometimes paved and when they are, they are often painted with traffic-directing marks just like roads everywhere. But here, roads are so much more.




In many places, such as the Makgadikgadi Pan salt flats, the only feature for as far as you can see is the road. It is the reference and anchor. It is the life line back to safety if something goes wrong.

It it the cleared space where the game can be easily viewed. The verge of the road is the feeding ground for bee-eaters, vultures, elephants, lizards, and more insects than you can imagine. Closer to town, it supports herds of cattle and goats, and many, many donkeys.

It is place you can stand (or squat as I did for the photo above) without worry of being run over and view the world in a wholly unnatural and man-made way. 

But out here in the back of beyond where you are about as alone as you can get in Botswana and still be on a tarred road, it is still more.

We passed signs telling us to watch for game - a triangle with a some sort of gazelle-like silhouette in the middle. While not surprising, I was surprised to not see signs warning of elephants. We passed a sign with the same triangle surrounding an airplane silhouette. You see, the road is a landing strip for emergency and planned flights to ferry people in and out of the outback. We find these things actually marked on the maps here. Even though we knew such places were designated, the sign still took a minute to register. (hence, no photo here).

Road signs are rare here. Occasionally, there is a sign telling you that there is a side road or that the speed limit is changing when passing through a settlement. If you get told the speed limit, you only get told once and if the sign is too faded to read, well, too bad. I'm little fuzzy on how much anyone cares.

You can drive for miles and see nothing but the impromptu homemade signs that the locals use to mark tracks into the bush to their home or farm. In the pans, however, these don't exist since there are no people there. So, seeing a sign of any sort out here is a bit of a surprise.

Roads here are sources of heightened awareness. The animals and potholes keep you much more alert than any amount of mere vehicular traffic would. 

The road itself is a sign that this land is just a little less wild than it once was. Tamed just enough to let us visit without specialized skills or equipment. It is the beginning and end of the intrusion of the outside world. Fifty feet off the road to either side it is still just as wild as it ever was. Just as exciting and scary. Just as awe inspiring.