Don’t fucken drive for 20 hours to arrive in the middle of the African wilderness at night. That’s what we did. Looking back, the journey to Botswana’s Okavango Delta brought us all a lot closer. Closer together, and closer to death.
We traversed a fairly docile 1200km from the north-east of South Africa to the north-west of Botswana. The landscape outside the car window consisted of dirt, rocks, shrubs, small trees and a few buildings. I slept for a lot of it. Rat put in a noble effort keeping the driver, Johan, company. The man in the passenger seat should always stay awake to support the driver. Play some music, drink some coffee, eat a chocolate bar. Whatever, just don’t fall asleep. That’s what bastards do.
By the final afternoon we are all starting to fizz. Some jokes are made that would have received an awkward silence in most social circles, but are met with rapturous laughter from our depraved and fatigued minds. Maun is our penultimate stop. This is where we – and everyone else heading out on safari – fill the jerries with diesel and stock up on food and wine.
The sun sets when we’re about halfway between Maun and the southern end of the Moremi Game Reserve. The sky is really beautiful. Purple, orange, yellow etc… You know what a nice sunset looks like. There’s a dust cloud behind the car. Everything is really fucking nice.
We all go wild as we pass a few elephant herds. Johan steers us into a small campsite called Dizhanna. They have a couple of free sites but the best ones are taken. Johan says a bit further up there is another campsite called Dijara. Off we go again, with the light quickly fading.
The road there is flooded so we take a detour, a sandy track that skirts the flooded area. Harry spots some hippos bathing in a pool. While we are ogling the big fat family of secretly deadly mammals we almost run into a couple of buffalo. The collective excitement inside the car is at fever-pitch. A bunch of Australians are absolutely losing their shit at the sight of huge African animals casually walking around the car.
So much so that nobody has been paying attention to the state of the track. As Johan goes to set the car in motion, it grinds into the ground. The car tyres are buried in deep sand.
The doors open and everyone sets off in a different direction with their own idea of how to get the car out. Johan, the only one of us with real experience, yells at us to stay by the car. Oh yeah that’s right, the animals.
A few cars come by and stop to help. Some of their drivers are blind drunk. The first few attempts at digging and pushing only serve to fill our orifices with fine sand. Finally someone rocks up with a snatch strap and pulls us out. Onwards we plow.
Johan keeps the pace of the vehicle at a brisk 50kmh. This makes for a bumpy ride but greatly reduces the risk of becoming bogged again.
We arrive to where the Dijara campsite is supposed to be, only there is nothing here. No reception, no fire pits, no toilets. A few small clearings indicate where the sites used to be. The unanimous decision is to charge back to the first campsite. This decision is a good one until we come to a fork in the road.
“Left,” I shout, pretending to know my way around the labryinth.
So left we go, down a straight sandy track that gets softer and softer. Johan accelerates more and more. The car is slowly biting in. We all hold our breath. The track only gets softer and we come to a stop. Bogged again, but thanks to me we are off the main track with little hope of rescue.
All hands get to digging the car out. Until this point we had kept ourselves relatively clean but now our shirts are off and we’re down in the dirt shoveling the chassis free. Tom and I are working at one side, Johan and Harry on the other. Rat lends a hand where he can. If we were attractive men this would be an outdoorsy woman’s wet dream. The full moon lights our predicament. We shove mats under the tyres. Johan reverses out and just keeps going, gunning it all the way back to the fork.
The four of us, left behind, huddle together. I’m brandishing the spade ready to spank any beast that dares attack us. Steadily we walk towards the car. As we get close we hear some rustling in the bushes a short distance away. The noise gets a little louder, the thing a little closer. We pick up the pace and whisper aggressively,
“SHH!!! What was that?”
Finally we reach the car and pile in. The second we shut the doors the biggest elephant ever stomps across the track behind us. The thing is bigger than a Winnebago. No doubt it would have crushed us if we had gotten in its way. Unless, of course, I gave it a good smack with my spade. Safe to say all members of the party were thrilled to be on our way the hell out of there.
Back at the original campsite we all work in unison to unpack the car and set up our camp. All the stories from the journey are told and retold with unbounded enthusiasm. With the fire going, dinner on and two bottles of wine being passed around we look up and see the moon is halfway through its eclipse. Not a bad end to our first day in Botswana.
H F Peniston