12 Oct 2013

Rock Painting: Limited Guided Visits

Botswana: Tsodilo

About 400km Northwest of Maun lies the remote area called the Tsodilo Hills.  This is the only Unesco World Heritage Site in Botswana and evidences the earliest human settlers in the region.  Paintings from the San and Bantu tribes are represented here, the former distinguished by the use of red pigment (the Bantu only painted in white.)  The best preserved of these date from around 2,000 years ago, although it is thought this region has been inhabited for at least 30,000 years.  The Bantu (modern day descendants of whom still live in the area) are relatively recent comers, having been present for only the last about 1,000 years.  Their appearance coincided with the early domestication of animals, which is evidenced by their depiction of domestic herd animals. 

Apart from their archaeological significance, the hills are also imbued with deep spiritual importance for the local people.  Many legends have sprung up around them over the millennia, one of which is that this is where the first human set foot on the earth – there are a number of foot shaped imprints on one of the hilltops.

The geology of the hills is also interesting.  They rise up about 400m from the otherwise totally flat bush and, from the top, give a great panorama of the surrounding area.  When we were there we could see a number of bush fires stretching for many miles.  These are not uncommon in the dry season and we were told that fire beaters go out in the relative cool of the night to try to curb them by beating the flames with bunches of twigs.  But during the day the fires are left unhindered as the intense heat and often strong winds makes trying to stop them futile. 

In addition to the distinct animal and geometric paintings, the rock itself is vividly streaked with the colours of many of its natural constituent minerals.  Perhaps this was inspiration for the first artists? 

There are about 4,500 paintings here in total depicting both animal and human forms and also unexplained patterns and grids.  

Unfortunately, it is now not possible to walk freely around the network of trails here.  Up until May this year entry was unrestricted and it was possible to hike and camp for days.  But now the area has been granted community concession status, and visitors must be accompanied by a guide at the equivalent cost of £6/hour.  Camping has also gone from being free to £20 per night which, by Botswana standards, is extremely expensive.  The facilities and service are also limited.  Rather than the desired effect of empowering the local community, we thought that the result of this would probably be to reduce the already low volume of tourists to the area.  We saw no one else on our visit and wondered what the guides do during what must be long intervals between intervals.  This seems to be another concession project which will not work.

One of the most striking paintings was of a near anatomically perfect penguin and spouting whale.  This is remarkable in a drought stricken area well over 1,000km from the coast, and must mean that the nomadic San people were extensive travellers.  We still wondered how they would have known the full shape of a whale in so much detail when normally only the humps and flukes are visible.  Maybe they found one washed up on the shores of Namibia?

Disappointed not to be able to explore the hills for longer and alone, we headed back down the sandy trail towards the main road.  From there we continued south to the string of villages unoriginally named “Etsha 1” to “Etsha 13” – no prizes for guessing how many villages there are.  These were established in the 1960s by refugees from Angola who split into 13 different groups and settled alongside this otherwise remote highway.  We spent the night camping at the very underwhelming *Ngoma Island Lodge*, before continuing back towards Maun the next day.  From here we would make our final foray into the Botswana bush – the legendary Chobe National Park via Savuti.

Days in Africa: 35
Km driven: 774km
Km total:  5,044km

1 comment:

Ursula Staubli said...

Hello Josi and John, Can you still remember the Abadi-lodge in Namibia. That was on 17/09/13. We are the two Swiss travelers (Ursula and Benno), who were traveling with Thys. In the meantime, we are back home in Switzerland and have with great interest your trip report follows. A very big compliment for creating the reports, and, of course, that you have defeated the Van Zyl's Pass. We will continue to follow your journey with joy. Greetings Ursula and Benno