What a day

When I woke up after a vivid nightmare a couple of morning’s ago, I was extremely relieved that the simple act of opening my eyes, could get me out of the situation that my dreams had forced me into. Fast forward five hours and you have no idea how much I was wishing that every time I opened my eyes, I would be able to wake up back in my nice warm bed. Instead I had become that guide. I was now about to get my guests into their fourth Land Rover of the morning, due to the string of incidents that had left these usually unstoppable machines scattered across the central Timbavati.

So how exactly does one guide go through four vehicles in one drive? The simple answer is the 180mm of rain that had fallen the day before. This downpour had left all of the rivers in full flood and a reserve soaked to the brim. With so much rain, it goes without saying that there was no chance of off-road driving due to just how saturated everything was. It wasn’t just the off-road driving that was a concern, but even driving on some of the roads presented their own challenges. As we had seen a day of rain, even moving a tyre-width off of an established road could be troublesome. One had to be careful to stick to the two-tracks criss-crossing the reserve. For two and a half drives, that generally hadn’t been a problem for me (one or two close calls aside), but when we discovered some fresh lion tracks down a road less travelled, things were about to change.

I had been watching the road as I meandered through the puddles to see just how firm it was, and it was a case of “so far, so good”, but when I emerged from a small Mopane thicket, I noticed that the road was looking very wet. I said to my guests that it was now officially getting too wet to continue. So, I stopped the vehicle, put it into reverse, and about two seconds later, felt the very sensation that I was dreading; a sinking feeling. In reversing, I had missed the track by no more than a tyre width, but it was enough for my vehicle to move onto the boggy substrate and under the weight of the vehicle, the tyres simple sank in the spongy mud. I immediately stopped and tried to continue forward, but the damage was done. Despite having forward momentum, there was no way that I was getting out of the sludge beneath my treads.

We all alighted from the vehicle so that Glen and I could inspect the situation. Despite thirteen years in the bush, these were still situations that I was not used to dealing with, so I followed Glen’s lead, and we all began collecting logs, branches, and anything else that we could throw under the Land Rover’s tyres as we jacked them up one-by-one. After packing logs underneath each tyre, we tried again, but to no avail. We made slow backward progress towards drier ground, but it was a case of close but no cigar; forwards, backwards, forwards, backwards. After an hour and a bit, we still weren’t going anywhere. Glen gave the accelerator and steering wheel the final effort, but it was to no avail. We were properly stuck and this was going to require a radio call.

Two vehicles were sent; one for me to take the departing guests back with and one to assist with getting my vehicle unstuck. When Steven arrived, we all jumped in, said goodbye to the trackers and started heading back to camp with a sigh of relief…But, as we were about to find out, things were far from over. As we were driving down the road, I got a radio call from Civilised (he was driving the rescue vehicle). I answered him, but no reply came because, as I rounded the corner, I realised why he was radioing me. The rescue vehicle had gotten stuck, simply driving on the road! The problem was, despite my guests being in a perfectly mobile vehicle, there was no way of driving around Civilised’s vehicle without us getting stuck again! We had only one option, and that was to get Civilised’s Land Rover unstuck so that we could get into his vehicle and head back to camp. Fortunately, we had the right tools, and a few planks under the jacked-up wheels allowed us to get the vehicle out without much stress. We transferred the guests to the third vehicle, and off we set for camp…a simple task…or so it seemed.

Arriving at the flowing Nlharalumi River, we only had to navigate the concrete crossing, submerged below the river, to get onto the right side of the river and head back to camp. Easy, and seeing as we crossed this causeway earlier, it should have been nothing. And it wasn’t, at least not until I felt the stomach-wrenching feeling of my front right tyre going off the concrete and into to river below…and then the back tyres…and then the realisation that I had now become one of those guides that I normally laughed at and judged in a not-so-quiet manner. Fortunately, I knew that a friend from Kings Camp was on his way back to their camp on this very route, and he wasn’t too far out. The only problem was, he had my girlfriend in his vehicle, and I knew that the second she saw this sight, she was never going to let me live it down. Regardless of the future issues that this present situation was causing, I picked up the radio and made the call I needed to make. Grant had to come and hand over the fourth vehicle of my drive, so that I could eventually get my guests back to camp. I was a dejected man and walking across the river with my guests in tow, I genuinely felt as close to tears as I ever had on game drive. It was a feeling that I never thought I would experience after so many years of guiding. In fact, the last time I felt that bad was probably when doing a game drive as a young intern before I became a guide and drove my vehicle into a ditch whilst following mating leopards. I guess an incident such as this was a little overdue then.

Tanda Tula - Land Rover stuck in the river

Fortunately, fourth time was a charm, and we got back to camp safely, albeit a little later than expected and with some great stories to tell…and a great deal of embarrassment to hide. I headed back out in the rain to retrieve my Land Rover off the bridge and arrived to find a tractor waiting to pull it out…but only if we could find a tow rope long enough.

We eventually did, got the D-shackle and walked to attach it to my vehicle when my friend said, “what was that?” to the sound of the bolt of the shackle falling into the muddy river below!! Could things really get any worse? Fortunately, all worked out well; we found the bolt, towed the vehicle, and I managed to get it back to camp in time to turn around and return my guests back across the very same concrete crossing that had dominated me in the previous round.

Thankfully, this time around, there were poles pegged along its edge to show the area’s best avoided. It was only when seeing them that I realised that it was the large cut-away on the one side that was my undoing, and I felt a little bit better when my friend told me that this was the very same spot that he too, had once performed the very same magic trick of making the right tyres of a Land Rover disappear into a river. Truth be told, it did little to console me, but thankfully, my afternoon drive was one that saw me start and end in the same vehicle. The fact that the three Nharhu males decided to spend the evening serenading us with their roars did it’s fair share to help pick me up again.

Tanda Tula - Nharu male lions in the Greater Kruger, South Africa

It was perhaps a very fitting end to my day that a quote popped up in my social media that more than summed up the day’s activities; it read “the only difference between a disaster and an adventure is your attitude”, and for that very reason I am most grateful to Sam, Amanda, Gary and Daniele for their wonderfully positive attitudes throughout the whole adventure that was our last morning drive, and for trusting me to drive them back across the same concrete crossing to get out of camp! I say this because I know that the first story they will tell their mates about, from their African adventures, won’t be about the roaring lions or Glen tracking down a leopard…but rather about their guide who managed to go through four vehicles in one drive!

Until next time