Don’t Get a Crossing Named After Yourself

We once again woke up to a little more rain here in the Timbavati this morning, but fortunately, it does seem as though this weather system is eventually nearing its end. I know we should never really complain about rain in Africa, but with 285mm having fallen over the past week, we are at the point where the grounds are so saturated that any further rain is not very useful to either the environment or the animals, and especially not to us humans driving around in this lush green wonderland at the moment. 

Before we begin with my story, it is perhaps worthwhile quantifying that amount of rain in terms of what we usually experience. To begin with, Tanda Tula and the areas of this central part of the Greater Kruger are technically classed as semi-arid areas, receiving on average, only 450mm a year. In comparison the United Kingdom receives more than 1200mm every year, the USA has a country-wide average of 720mm, and globally, some 870mm fall across the earth each year. This means that in the past seven days, we have received two-thirds of what we usually expect to get over the entire summer. Whilst not as bad as the 430mm we received in 36 hours back in 2012, very few can recall a time when so much rain has fallen for such a prolonged period in the Timbavati.  

The good news is that this has set the bush up for another mild winter for the animals, and we should be seeing the spectacular greenery that brings life to summer for some time to come; what we really cannot wait for though is for the roads to dry up so that we don’t get that sudden sinking feeling as often as we presently are. 

With my past set of guests, we got stuck driving on the road on two separate occasions, but we all took it in good spirits and made the most of it; on the first occasion help was close at hand (and not in the form of the elephant who came wandering past us), whilst second time around, we took a little walk to go and see some nearby rhinos and made the most of the sticky situation. These moments brought back memories of a rather trying day when – almost three years ago to the day – I managed to go through four vehicles in one drive (you can refresh your memory by reading this blog about it). In the years that have followed, that particular road has still yet to receive an official name, but amongst many guides in the area, it is referred to as either Chad’s Track to Vohndo’s Rd (Vohndo being my Tsonga nickname – it means “cane rat”, but sadly it’s a story so boring that is doesn’t even warrant a blog about it). Many guests visiting Tanda Tula are often surprised that our roads have names at all – there aren’t any signs, after all. The truth is that they are all names; some are a reference to their locations; Nhlaralumi River Rd is unsurprisingly a road that runs along the Nhlaralumi River (at least for now, it is still a river!); Ridge Rd runs along the top of a small ridge, the half a dozen Ingwe Drives in our concession no doubt all produced leopard sightings of note at some point in the past. There are however a few roads – like Chad’s Track – that are so-called because of something that happened there. I am very happy to say that the next story I recount does not end up with the guides naming a crossing after me, but it will live on in Timbavati folklore for many years to come. 

Where I used to work in northern Timbavati, there were some massive dams on the rivers, and one, in particular, had a smaller inlet that was crossable with a 4×4 vehicle for most of the time, except when the dam was full. It’s fair to say that I know as little about vehicles as I do about the breeding habits of beluga whales (which is only fair, as we don’t get many whales here in the Timbavati); so when I wanted to try and cross this particular crossing one day, I thought it best that I found out from our workshop manager just how deep I can drive the vehicle before I risk breaking it (remember, we live in a semi-arid area, so our Land Rovers are not fitted with snorkels for crossing deep water courses). The workshop manager told me to look out over my driver’s door towards the front tyre; I did so. He then asked if I could see the little black grill on the side of the vehicle, which I could. He then told me in no uncertain terms that if I get water anywhere near that, I would be doing game drives on a bicycle for the foreseeable future. Armed with this knowledge, I entered the 40m crossing hoping to make it through – not to prove I was a brave guide, but more because it was a shortcut to where I wanted to go. “Sadly” for me, before my back tyres had even entered the water, the front of the Land Rover had dived down so far that the water was almost lapping at the little black thingamajig on the side (for the more well versed, Google tells me it is called an “air intake filter”), and I decided that for the longevity of my guiding career, I should stop and put the car in “R” (Google tells me that stands for “reverse”) and go backward. And that was where I left that crossing, and it didn’t enter my mind until one afternoon when a colleague called me, barely being able to contain himself. 

Keith had been watching birds at the wall of the dam when suddenly a very wet tracker from the neighboring lodge appeared. It didn’t take Keith long to surmise from the amount of water dripping from the tracker that the guide had gotten stuck, and this was confirmed when the said tracker asked if Keith could come and pull them out. Keith naturally said “of course”, and drove around to where the vehicle was no longer showing any signs of forward momentum. Rounding the corner to the aforementioned crossing, Keith arrived at the scene that didn’t leave him grabbing for his towrope, but rather for his camera, as he had never seen such a sight before!   

The guide in question had the same idea as me to cross this crossing to avoid the trip around. Upon arriving, he must have seen my vehicle tracks driving into the watery crossing. Glancing 40m to the other side, a set of tracks belonging to another Land Rover – but not mine – were emerging from the water. I can only assume that another guide had tried the same thing from the other side but had come to the same conclusion as me, and he too had reversed. Unfortunately for our guide around which this story revolves, an assumption was made that a vehicle had driven into the crossing, and come out safely on the side, and he decided to follow suit.   

I am not sure at what point said guide started second-guessing his decision, but from all accounts, he rightly realized that he was committed to this path and had to carry on come hell or high water…unluckily for him, the water was not just high, but very high! Never mind the air intake filter, the water was soon lapping at his dashboard, but still, his momentum took him forward…by the time he stopped, the water was almost lapping at the guests’ chins!!! 

This is the sight that greeted Keith, and it was one that still brings a smile to my face whenever it pops up in my memories! 

Fortunately for all involved, the guests were able to safely extricate themselves from the vehicle and swim to the bank. More useful help than Keith soon arrived and pulled the vehicle from the crossing, back to camp, and straight to the workshop. As it turned out after this whole ordeal, it wasn’t only the crossing that got a new name that day, but the amphibious Land Rover got one too – from that day onwards we referred to it as The Submarine! I think we saw it on top of a flatbed trailer more often than we saw it driving around the bush after that. 


Just like my guests found the fun (and funny) side of me getting stuck last week, I am sure that those guests still sit around and share a laugh and fond memories of their experience. As I mentioned in my last blog about getting stuck; the only difference between a disaster and an adventure is your attitude! A good attitude goes a long way to getting through these tougher-than-usual situations! 

And that is it until next time…hopefully I won’t be having too many more adventures out there until then!