We arrived in Kasane, Botswana today to pick up supplies for our final 2 nights of camping at Ihaha Camp located along the banks of the Chobe River. Depending on the route you take, Kasane is about 33 km and at least 1 1/2 hours drive from Ihaha. We spent the night in Ihaha last night and it was by far the best camp site we’ve experienced in Botswana. The wildlife was abundant with elephant, zebra, cape buffalo, giraffe, impala, and pesky monkeys raiding our site in the early morning hours. Over a cup of coffee in the morning we were treated to a herd of impala grazing on the grasses along the river in front of us along with large flocks of egret, African skimmers and the occasional fish eagle.
On our way to Kasane we encountered a giant herd of Cape buffalo blocking our way. With patience and trepidation we slowly passed wondering if the “herd instinct” would kick in and would we be attacked by this giant hoard of easily agitated beasts. Joyce was freaking a little but we made it through and it was another of those “wow!” moments we won’t forget.
We didn’t return to Ihaha today and are now spending our 2 camping nights at Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane which is also on the banks of the Chobe River. We were already booked at the lodge for one night on the 25th. You may wonder why we didn’t return to our camp and I will attempt to describe the last 5 or 6 days that led to our decision to not return to Ihaha…..
Part 1. The roads from HELL, the deep river crossings, the belligerent elephant and sand, sand roads, deep bumpy sand roads, very deep sand roads and more sand roads!!
We arrived back in Maun on the 17th after 3 nights in the heart of the Okavango and stayed at a nice lodge along the banks of the Thamalakane River about 15 km from Maun. I was getting over my cold and still feeling a little weak but Joyce was still in the grips of this nasty virus and still coughing her lungs out and had very little energy so I put on my shiny armor, drove 15 km to Maun, gassed the truck up and went grocery shopping. Water is an important commodity so I picked up several 1 litre bottles and 3 larger 5 litre bottles “knowing” we would be able to get more along our route over the next several days. I mentioned in my Namibia summary how road conditions weren’t for the faint of heart. Well, Botswana roads put Namibian roads to shame and not in a good sense. I am amazed our truck didn’t split in half after the hundreds of literally airborne episodes we experienced flying through the bumps and dips all while travelling no more than 15 km/hr through deep rutted sand roads and paths.
Our first stop after leaving Maun was Southgate camp site in Moremi Game Reserve. The drive was 72 km and took about 3 1/2 hours. The road was gravel for about 15 km and then came the sand, ruts, dips and narrow pathway passing as a so-called main road. Fortunately the sand wasn’t too deep so this was a good introduction for me on how to maneuver sandy rutted roads without bogging down. Southgate was nothing to speak of really. Located beside a small village we had a good camping spot but unfortunately had to listen to a generator all night long. They sold firewood (but not water) so we built a fire and I prepared our brai rack to get it nice and hot for the pre-made burgers I purchased back in Maun. Yum, looking forward to this. Burgers are prepped with MSG laden spice, the canned corn is in a pot on the gas burner, the stars are shining brightly, the generator is humming along and the beers are cold. What can be more perfect than this? Well, we both thought the burgers (two of them) seemed a little large and thick. They had round plastic pieces covering the tops and bottoms and after burning the heebie jeebies out of them I decided to slice off the burnt tops to make a more appealing and presentable offering to my Princess wife who sat idly by admiring my camping know-how and bush man instincts. What came next was one of several “oh no!” situations that were to follow over the next several days. So, I cut the top off of the most charred burger and lo and behold, another plastic separator simmering in the middle. I did the same to the second burger. Same plastic separator so obviously my two burger purchase was in fact a four burger purchase. I thought they were a little expensive for just two burgers. The canned corn dinner was very nice and off to bed we went.
The next morning I purchased more firewood from the local village mafia as we were told it was not allowed to sell firewood inside park boundaries and yes, we can buy more water at out next camp site. They have a Tuck Shop so they sell water and all kinds of stuff. Good because 15 or so litres of water isn’t really that much when you stop to think about it. Next stop, Xakanaxa camp site 45 km away.
The sand got deeper and deeper as we headed out with every intention of doing this short journey in what I figured would be about 1 1/2 hours but turned into another 3 1/2 hours of bush crashing, bone jarring and white knuckle hold on for your life 15 km per hour dust spewing “test your vehicle in this stuff and if it lasts then you are lucky” so-called roads through the wilds of Moremi. Unfortunately there really wasn’t much “wilds” but lots of tufted guinea fowl who didn’t get out of the way and we wondered how much blood and guts we left in our path. I mentioned to Joyce we hadn’t seen any bird remnants so far but she logically concluded they were probably cleaned up by the local hyenas. I had to stop caring if I squashed any of them because if I slowed down to less than 2500 RPM in second gear we may end up stuck and on the menu for the other carnivores that surely lurked nearby.
Finally as Xakanaxa camp site came into view the sand and ruts got deeper and our spirit of adventure was really starting to be challenged but fortunately just to the right of us, and not very far from our camp site was the Tuck Shop, our water supply savior. We pull over, get out and greet the shop keeper in our typical friendly manner and asked if he has water? He says, nope, no water. I say you’re kidding right? He says nope, not kidding. Well shit! Now what? We have three tablespoons of drinking water left plus some delta swamp water in our washing tanks. What are two simple, inexperienced African adventurers to do? Well, he says, you can drive to Third Bridge, it’s only 15 km away and they have plenty of water. Okay but I would kind of like a confirmation that they do indeed have water, after all, you were supposed to have water, so he radios 3rd bridge and they do have lots of water and they will put 20 litres at least aside so I daun the armor, leave Joyce at our camp site and say “it’s only 15 km, shouldn’t take more than 1 1/2 hours tops return”. Watch the fort darling and I’ll be back in no time.
So off I go not realizing I’m heading into a partial abyss of sand, stone and relentless sun and heat in this beautiful Botswanian landscape. One hour later and I’ve probably covered 8 km and I see a sign. “Fourth Bridge”. Fourth bridge?’ Where the hell is Third Bridge? Am I going backwards? This is a log bridge with a sign that reads ” no speeding over the bridge”. Well duh! It was actually a piece of cake for the Joe explorer I was feeling at the moment. I overcame 4 foot deep sand so far so bring it on! Bring it on it did. Another 7 km of sand. Am I in the bloody Sahara desert for crying out loud? No but close and finally I see a sign. Yes, Third Bridge! Oh no, a partial Third Bridge that extends half way across a river then abruptly ends leaving at least 100 metres of water leading to the far bank of the river. Now, as I approach the bridge there are several elephants grazing nearby. A beautiful sight to behold but a logistical challenge because the rule of thumb when attempting to cross a river is, if you can walk through it you can drive through it. The trick being getting out of your vehicle with elephants all around you and actually walking through the river. Not going to happen here. Now I’m not 100% positive that I need to cross the river to get our much needed water so I slowly back up, turn around on solid ground and think to myself,”now what?”. Well there always seems to be a way to get information when you truly need it and not far from the bridge was a Staff quarters for the local park administration so I drive up, yell hello and find that yes I indeed do need to cross the semi bridge/water crossing to get our water. Okay so I go back to the semi bridge and guess what? One of the elephants is now standing leisurely on the bridge in front of me. Here is where I am really pissed off because the whole time I wanted to video this experience I thought my camera was back at camp when in fact it was sitting right beside me in our little pack on the front seat beside me. The elephant isn’t too happy I’m invading his space. He flares his ears as a sign to move away or else so I sit and wait slowly moving forward, slowly backing up until finally the elephant moves on and I stare at the water crossing wondering if I’ll sink the truck, have a huge liability insurance payment and ever be found alive again. I put the truck into first gear and plow forward down the log ramp at the end of the bridge and breathe a sigh of relief as I quickly sink to the bottom of a fairly shallow water crossing. I made it, got more water and then crossed the water in front of a safari van full of tourists waiting at the banks with my head held high,waving at them like this African adventurer has no fear! Bring it on baby! (Or maybe not).
After what amounted to 2 1/2 hours of driving to cover 30 km I pull into our campsite knowing Joyce is probably a little worried. She was but had her own story to tell. Not long after I departed a large troop of baboons had decided to stop by the camp for a visit. Surrounded by these pesky simians, Joyce did what any brave adventurer would do when faced with peril. Now I’m just repeating what she told me here but apparently she stood up, grabbed the largest stick available and proceeded to thump her chest and scream hysterically while running around in circles in the sand raising small dust clouds that eventually caused the baboons to have sneezing fits and run off in a state of panic or confusion or maybe just not wanting to get involved with this obviously crazy and unpredictable being. She did get some great pictures before they all left. Wow, what a lady! Later I was informed that she in fact didn’t go ballistic and sat quietly taking photos, looking around her constantly and wondering if she was going to have to make a run for it to the nearby camp site. Wow, still a great lady!
I described my leisurely outing, showed off the rewards for my efforts (water) and we set up camp and within minutes a large male elephant decided to stop by for a visit. He was no more than 30 feet away, very relaxed and not bothered by our presence. It was a wonderful sight and it helped to reduce the “what will tomorrow bring” anxiety that lingered in the back of my mind. I’ve forgotten what was on our fine dining menu that night but I think it was a delicious can of Bobo beans I got on sale in Maun with a side of toast and packaged “Mrs. Moo” individually wrapped cheddar cheese slices. Yummy!
The next morning at 6:15 am we crawled out of our camper and were met by a beautiful sunrise. Our plan was to get an early start for the 3 1/2 hour, 148 km drive to Savute camp located in Chobe National Park. That was our plan.
The first destination before Savute was an area called Kwai where we were told there could be several water crossings. We were told at the camp headquarters that they hadn’t heard of any issues but best to get updated in Kwai. Kwai was about 35 km drive from Xakanaxa and the relentless sand roads continued to get deeper, ruttier and bumpier. The drive is getting very tiring but we have no choice and have endured a 2 1/2 hour drive so far so we are definitely not making Savute in 3 1/2 hours. We finally arrive in Kwai and are told there is only one water crossing but there is a detour so no problem. No problem indeed.
We continue on and reach the detour, hang a right, go through some fairly thick bush and sand, of course sand, and end up at a river. There are sticks planted in the sand at the water’s edge to indicate ” do not cross here” so we proceed down a path through more brush and sand and reach the shore of the same river. No sticks here so we guess this is where we have to cross. What kind of detour is this? Shit and damn! So, I slowly inch the truck forward down the sandy slope into the river. The water is fairly clear but is ominously darker a little further out.
I inch forward and can feel the slope getting steeper so I stop and wonder now what? Again, I’m a little pissed off now because before Joyce could pull out our video camera to record our imminent deaths I jam the gear into 1st, rev the engine and proceed hell-bent on making it to the other side. I pop the clutch and we surge forward and down and down we go and a giant wave of water flows and crashes over the hood of our truck. Oh, my, god! I keep the pedal practically to the mats, the RPM is flying off the scale the engine is whining and we pull up the slope of the far side of the river and we made it! Holy shit we made it but we still have about 110 km to go. As we proceed onward I’m waiting for all of the water to take its toll on the engine but fortunately there were no issues so we lurched and bounced and flew sideways from one sandy rut to another and proceeded to Suvute. My brain is exhausted, my knuckles are really sore and tired, my optimism is waning and finally after another 3 1-2 hours we reach Savute and our camping site sucks big time. It is 35 C outside and we pull into this huge sand pit with one tree in the middle and no shade. This place looks like a giant rugby pit in the middle of some god forsaken outer planet circling some foreign sun in a far distant galaxy. We are not impressed and we are tired and we are not happy but here comes another one of those “oh no” moments. So, way back when we purchased our first supply of groceries back in Namibia we figured we would need cooking oil so we bought a 1 litre plastic bottle of canola and stashed it in our grocery cupboard. We had an earlier instance when the lid of a jar of Nescafe had come loose and spilled all over the place causing a coffee dust nightmare to clean up. We hadn’t used any oil to date and were cognizant of the fact that there was a serious spillage potential so we should get rid of it at out next stop. Get rid of it we did. We park the truck, hot, tired, upset at our camp site, dehydrated and not having a very good time at the moment, open the back of the truck and see liquid on the floor. I slowly reach down to touch this fluid, feel the smooth lubricating touch between my fingers, go to the back storage cupboard, look inside and say ” oh no!”. The whole bottle of oil had spilled and oozed its way throughout all of the cupboard shelves (it was on the top shelf of the cupboard) and had made it’s way through every nook and cranny along the floor and side cupboards. It was 35 C outside, we were drained of energy and then we had to deal with this. It is what it is and was what it was.
Part 2. Getting stuck in knee-deep sand, changing plans, getting very tired of the sand.
The next morning we packed up the truck and set out to do a late morning/early afternoon drive around the area. We had a map but unfortunately many of the road markers are very old and the signage has faded with time so most times we didn’t really know exactly where we were at any given time. We used the sun (which didn’t really help because we weren’t going in a straight line!) and a few hills in the area as landmarks only having to stop twice to ask a passing vehicle “where the hell are we on this lousy map we have?”. Everyone we have ever asked for directions had on board GPS but not us. Nope, don’t need one, they just get you lost everyone tells us. We crash through some narrow paths through the bush and I’m getting worried there could be a fair bit of scratch damage adding up as Joyce yells “look out for that tree” on more than one occasion and I say yes I see it damn it, I’m trying to avoid other stuff can’t you see? Jeez! We finally make it back to camp after several comments of the “I think we passed here already” kind. After setting up again I start thinking about the distance we will be travelling over the next few days and secretly wonder if we’ll have enough fuel. We’re at 1/2 a tank but we have two 20 litre jerry cans full of fuel secured onto the back of the truck. I think the cans are full. They must be. Don’t they fill them up for you before you pick up your rental? No-they-do- not! Empty. No fuel, nothing, dry as a bone. Hmm. Better ask around if there is any fuel available in the area. What do you mean there is no fuel in the area? What do other stupid people do who assume they have jerry cans full of reserve “just in case of emergency fuel”? They run out and die in the scorching heat in the middle of nowhere. That’s what they do! Well fortunately I met a tour operator who had a camp nearby and he agreed to sell us two jerry cans of 20 litres each. Negotiated price, $160.00 USD. And he threw in six 1 litre bottles of water. We were getting low again for crying out loud. Later that afternoon we get a visit from the Park Ranger and one of the tour guides representatives. Seems their camp site is booked tonight, can they move over and share our football field of sand? What goes around comes around. Cost $180.00 USD. Just kidding, I wish I thought of that at the time though so they moved in and we sat by in envy watching as their guests had a feast prepared for them as we cooked up spaghetti and tomato sauce in the bug infested lights above our cooking stove and washing tub. I can’t (won’t) say for sure but I think we probably had a fair bit of hidden protein added to our sauce.
The next morning we arose early to make the 1 1/2, 33 km drive to Linyanti, our next stop for the night. Apparently the sand is much more dense in the cool mornings so much easier to negotiate than the soft hot afternoon sand. A couple of Germans we spoke with the day before did the journey in the opposite direction and got stuck once but it really wasn’t too bad. Okay here we go and close to an hour into our journey, driving in circles and finally asking someone with a GPS how the hell do we get to the main road, we’re on our way.
Probably about 10 km into the actual journey part we pull up behind a big tractor pulling a trailer going about 5 km/hr. Shit, are we going to have to follow you guys all the way to Linyanti? Pull over for Pete’s sake!. They finally do, I pass a waving thanks, proceed about 1 km, misjudge a giant 4 lane sand quagmire and get stuck, bogged down and stuck up to here. We get out and look around at the tires and see that we are essentially being supported by a huge sand divot in the middle of the two tracks. We are not going anywhere, but in the distance the tractors hum slowly grew louder and our saviors came around the corner, looked at us and continued on their merry way. We were pretty sure they sign languaged something to the extent that they would be back. When, who knows but not long after that they came back and pulled us out and told us we will never make it to Linyanti. Cost, $40.00 USD and worth every red penny. Okay that was really lucky because if any other 4 x 4 came by they would not be able to stop let alone stop and pull us out. We were that stuck.
We head back to Savute formulating a “Plan B” on the way which was basically formulated for us upon our return when we were told not to bother trying to conquer the alternate route to Linyanti never mind the one we just tried to conquer so our plan B was to do the 148 km journey to Ihaha camp. Before we left Savute we had the Wildlife Office call Ihaha camp reservations and they confirmed we could have a spot for the night but we might have to share it. This is great, we won’t be stuck without a site, we will share! So off we go on what turned into a 5 1/2 hour 148 km journey of “will this ever end” fun and excitement!
We were told at the Wildlife Office that there was actually a tar road about 65 km from Ihaha so we looked forward to this and after the first 4 1/2 hours of a never-ending driving nightmare into the distance is that a black road we see? YES!!! Thank the gods that have spared us and leadeth us from stuckdom to tar road salvation! The road is now about 2 km away, our excitement is palpable, the sand road is getting deeper and I am a little too comfortable “cruising” at 35 km/hr when all of a sudden the sand gets real deep, I mis-shift from 3rd trying to get into 2nd to keep the rpm’s up and boom. We plunge into the sand and stop dead in our tracks. I think we could have cried right there and then. We were ready to hang up the shoes, get out of the truck and commit hari kari right on the spot. The tar road is calling “come, come my dears, I am your savior” so I try rocking the truck back and forth as if I was stuck in the snow. It doesn’t work that way in the sand I so unfortunately found out so I get out of the truck to a burning clutch/transmission smell and proceed to lay large sticks in front of both front and back wheels. I get back in, shift the gears to low 4 x 4 and miraculously proceed to inch forward at a snail’s pace. Sweat is pouring in my eyes, my eye floaters aren’t helping with my vision either (another story), my heart is pounding and we finally, inch-by-bloody-inch make it out to freedom. This was the last “oh no!” of our epic journey to date.
Ihaha camp was beautiful as I previously mentioned. We spent the night not having to share our site and packed up the next morning to pick up supplies for the remaining two nights we had booked in Ihaha. To end this story and what was the straw that broke the camels back was the “road” we had to drive to exit the national park area and make it back to the tar road leading to Kasane. It was a very difficult sand path that seemed to go on forever and represented every road condition challenge we had faced so far. It was that bad and I’m amazed we didn’t get stuck.
We made it to the pavement and it took us only 20 minutes to reach Kasane. On the way I looked at Joyce and said “do you think they have room at the lodge”? She looked at me and our minds were made up. I really did not want to deal with the road back to camp. In hindsight I wish I did but at the moment we thought we had had enough and it was time to gain our strength back and prepare for the next stage of our adventure.