The Four Wheel Drive Club of Southern Africa

Moremi and Khwai – June 2008

Since our return from Botswana late on Sunday afternoon, I have been browsing through the photos taken on the outing. Today – Saturday – in anticipation of the one week reunion of the outing (that must be a record for the quickest reunion in itself!) I loaded some of the photo files on a memory card, and arranged prints to be made. When I later sat filing the prints, the memories came flooding back. (During the week I was too excited when I noticed that not all the photos were out of focus and/or blurred due to camera and vehicle shake! By the way, I had long since given up on resting the camera on the vehicle’s window. With two boys in the car that is a sure recipe for a blurred photo!)

First of all, the photos on my camera included numerous photos I do not recall taking. And no – not due to excessive straf doppies the night before, even though I did seem to get way more than my reasonable share. At times I thought I was drinking straf doppies for three. The extra photos are due to my two sons, Marcus and Stefan, taking my camera to “help” take photos, usually when I was using the video camera. The video is for my wife, Charmaine, who was with us in spirit but not in the flesh. Camping she can still handle to some extent, but the dust! No way José. But back to the photos: for the first time on an outing there are actually photos of me on my camera! And I must admit, some of the photos taken by the two boys I would happily lay claim to – for example the photo of Thorsten negotiating the water crossing in his 4×4, unlike Justin who tried the water crossing without a 4×4 and took Thorsten’s video camera for an unplanned underwater excursion!

But, back to the outing.

We left home on the Friday to overnight at Mafuta, Louwrens’s base camp. Last year for the Tuli outing I left home early on the Saturday morning, and met the group at Sherwood. This seemed OK at 8am, but the afternoon by 3pm after more than 12 hours driving it was a different story, and I was no longer enjoying myself. Friday night was a great introduction to the outing, with Louwrens – who arranged our daily breakfast and dinner – already in Maun busy with final preparations for the trip, and in his absence Thorsten acting as host at Mafuta. Already the principle of sitting around a late night camp fire was initiated.

On Saturday we met the rest of the group at Sherwood, and left for Audi Camp in Maun. Sadly, in the week before the outing, there were several articles in the news about theft of goods from vehicles overnighting in Maun, including Audi Camp where we were to overnight.

On arrival at Audi camp all of us started erecting ground tents and rooftop tents. As the two boys and I were for the first time to overnight in a 1.2m wide rooftop tent, I was a bit apprehensive. First of all, whether the tent will survive the combined weight – being not the newest tent around – and secondly, the question of fit. I am not the smallest guy around, and seem be becoming rounder as the years go by. And the two boys – they also seem to take up more and more space as they grow older. Must have something to do with the rate at which they are growing. Added to that the camera equipment, passports, etc which I was not prepared to risk being stolen and which also ended up in the rooftop tent. I am glad to say that we survived the night (in fact the entire outing) without a breakdown in accommodation, or a break-in in the vehicle.

The next morning we learned that instead of again staying at Audi camp that night as per the itinerary, we would leave for Khwai immediately after the plane flight over the Okavango Delta. Now, some of you will not know this, but I am not very good when it comes to driving in a car as a passenger, or on a boat. Or in a plane. Maybe it has something to do with my dearest mother always asking me – way back when I was a youngster – if I am feeling nauseous already (with the implication of “if not now, then when!”) But, I had decided to do the flight. I also wanted my sons to experience the flight, and I was not prepared to let them go alone! And what an experience it was. As Thorsten said before, that flight gives one an overall view of the Delta. To my absolute astonishment I noticed that the Delta is not only marsh, but that there are areas of clear water. And speaking of clear water – some of the water appeared bright blue from the air. And I expected a mud like slush. Initially I battled a bit to see the wildlife until I got used to them appearing so small.

So, after the plane flight, on to the Khwai Wildlife Reserve. This reserve is right alongside the Moremi Wildlife Reserve, where we were going later in the week, but is under effective control of the local inhabitants who fortunately appreciate the value of tourism and allow certain tour operators access to the area.

And did we have a great time at Khwai? For me, the unforgettable memory will always be the night we were visited by a pride of lion. Not to forget the nightly visit of the hyenas, that boldly walked right into the camp. Unfortunately for me the first time that happened my sons had already gone to sleep, and when the hyena walked into the camp it was between where I was sitting at the campfire, and where my sons were sleeping in the rooftop tent! While the hyena did not display aggression in any way, I was in principle not very happy with the situation. Fortunately my sons were well prepared and disciplined, and understood that once they go to bed at night they may not leave the tent before sunrise and without being accompanied by me.

And, for the record, they did not wake me once during the entire outing. Not that I can say the same of my own bladder, which seems to get a mind of its own when the temperature falls overnight. And no, trying to ignore it does not work! Nor does counting sheep, hyenas or lion!

An afternoon I will always remember was our last afternoon in Khwai. The group went their separate ways exploring the area that morning, and by chance happened to meet in the shade of a few trees late in the afternoon. The river was close by, and the hippos and elephants were taking a bath. Standing next to the vehicles we witnessed a stork flying in, catching a fish, only to lose it to a fish eagle that appropriated it and flew off with the fish to eat it in a nearby tree. Incredibly, this was photographed on video and by camera. I was able to take a couple of pictures, and I look forward to seeing the video.

The next day it was on to Moremi. If I seem uncertain of the dates, it is because at one point I had to stop and work out what day of the week it was, counting the days from the Friday we left home! We entered the Moremi Wildlife Reserve at North Gate, and travelled over several wooden bridges – aptly named First, Second, and Third Bridge – to arrive at our camp site just after Third Bridge. And what luxury. In addition to our own trees to park under, there was an ablution block! While basic in facilities, and old in condition, with (sometimes) hottish water, but it was there, and it was a welcome change to bush three close to tree four, with spade in hand.

That is, for those of us who did not pack the entire bathroom in addition to the kitchen sink. Special mention must at this point be made of certain individuals, or shall we say families, who insisted on bringing a personal bathroom. With running water. Hot running water. In which they bathed and showered more than once a day. Every day. In the middle of the bush.

Not to mention a certain individual, who shall be named as Sim, who insisted on taking a shower not only twice a day, but sometimes also before the evening meal! Not in privacy, but in partial full view of the rest of us sitting at the campfire. But, he is forgiven for such excess, as he entertained us every night with song. Sim, thanks. You made every evening around the campfire special.

Special mention must also be made of the wildlife, especially the cats. Not only did we see lion, but we also saw leopard and wild dog (OK, a wild dog is not a cat, but nearly as good from a sighting point of view). As in Khwai, the predators did not stay out of the camp, and the nightly visits by especially the hyenas continued, to the shock of some club members who just about bumped into hyena on the way to their tents!

We did not suffer any hyena related damage or injury that I am aware of. A group who camped close to us at Third Bridge did however lose their meat right off the fire to a hungry hyena.

On Thursday our group was treated to a water day. That is, a day (or half a day) on an aluminium power boat being steered through the numerous alleyways of the Delta. During the morning trip we joined (yes, we were supposed to go on the afternoon trip – sorry again, Thorsten – but how was I to tell the boys that we are not getting aboard when the tour operators had already given them orange life jackets to wear) we encountered elephant, hippo, crocodile, some buck, and an incredible amount of birds, some of which even allowed us to try and photograph them. Attempting this on a boat, without a tripod or similar appliance, is a bit tricky, as I found when I tried to photograph several floating flowers. Between the movements of the flowers in the water, the movement of the boat, and the fact that the wind constantly blows the boat away from the flowers it was not as easy as I anticipated. I mean, how difficult can taking a photo of a flower be? Not to mention the number of birds who decided that they prefer not to be photographed, and flew off. Now trying to photograph a bird in flight is bad enough, but to try from a boat moving in the water and being blown by the wind – the less said the better. Thank goodness for digital photography. I can still recall the days when I paid hard-earned money to have negatives developed and printed to get positive confirmation that just about all the photos taken were either out of focus or blurred by camera shake! Now I can see the same on my own PC without incurring the cost of development and print!

For the record though, our compliments to the guides who steer the boats. They really did a great job, pointing out the birds and animals we encountered, and stabilising the boat immediately when we neared an animal or bird. And last but not least, somehow they managed not to get lost in the Delta. How they manage that I do not know, as I believe we criss-crossed the Delta in just about every possible direction and waterway! And I checked – no GPS in sight!

As on any self-respecting 4×4 outing, a number of obstacles had to be undertaken. OK, in a game park not so much obstacles as water crossings, and, at this point I have to thank Louwrens and Justin who decided not to risk one particular water crossing, even though Lourens’ Land Cruiser would probably have made it easily. Our Ford Ranger would also have done so initially, but the concern was whether the Ranger could handle the deep water for the length of the water crossing, as the crossing was both deep and long. Being who I am, I would probably have given it a go, with possible disastrous consequences if the crossing turned out to be too deep and too long.

Later, however, several water crossings, and a couple of mud baths, were negotiated successfully. Again, thanks to the group who allowed us to accompany them for the sundowner drive on Thursday afternoon, even though you insisted on churning up each and every mud hole you could find before allowing us access to the resulting slush. We had a ball of a time. I took a couple of nice photos of the sunset, and of a family of giraffe walking in the sunset.

Apart from the thankfully uneventful trip back home, which included an overnight stay at Nata Camp where we had dinner in a real restaurant, driving back to camp that afternoon during and just after sunset was a fine way to end a wonderful outing to Moremi.

Jaco van der Merwe